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THE TAILLTENN FAIR
 THE August sun was shining brightly over the Irish
meadows skirting a narrow river that glittered with
such a silvery light you would never have thought its
name was the Blackwater. Neither would you have
supposed the place on its bank in front of which were
moored scores of oddly built boats was really the very
tiny old village of Tailltenn. No, you would have
declared that it was a gay though rather queer looking
city, and could scarcely have believed that in a week's
time all its noise and
 bustle would vanish and only the few wattled houses of
the village be left.
For Tailltenn in August, when its great fair was held,
and Tailltenn the rest of the year were two very
But never mind about Tailltenn the rest of the year,
for our story begins right in the middle of the fair,
which was surprisingly like our fairs of to-day. And
this seems strange, considering that it was almost
exactly nine hundred years ago; that is to say, it was
August of the year 1013.
But people nine hundred years ago liked to show and buy
things and enjoyed racing and games and entertainment
of all kinds just as well as we do, and anyone who
could amuse was sure to have plenty of folks looking
on. So it was that the Celtic boy, Ferdiad, who had
stopped to watch a specially skilful juggler, soon
found himself squeezed into a crowded circle of people
and presently a red-headed lad
 of about his own age was pushed close beside him.
Both smiled good-naturedly, and, "Look!" cried Ferdiad,
bending his eyes on the juggler, "I have counted, and
he has nine swords and nine little silver shields and
nine balls, and he keeps them all up in the air at once
and hasn't let one fall!"
"He's the best I ever saw!" said the other boy gazing
admiringly at the man, who was dressed in a loose tunic
of saffron-colored linen with a wide girdle of scarlet.
On his legs were long tight-fitting trousers of the
same material and his shoes were of thick leather
without heels and laced with red cords. A short
scarlet cape with a pointed hood lay on the ground
where he had thrown it when he began his performance.
Suddenly, with a few dextrous movements, he caught one
by one the balls and swords and shields he had been
tossing about, and
snatch-  ing up one of the latter began passing it among the crowd.
A few small silver coins were dropped into it and two
or three little silver rings which often passed instead
of coins. People used but little regular money and
generally paid for things by exchanging something else
for them, as perhaps a measure of wheat or honey, which
every one liked; or, if the thing bought was valuable,
often a cow or two did for money.
As now the juggler was coming their way with his
shield, the two boys strolled off together; for though
each had a few silver rings tucked into his girdle for
spending money, they had other plans for disposing of
When they had gone a short distance they stopped and
looked each other over. Both were tall and straight
and well grown for their age, which was about twelve
years; and their bare heads shone in the sunlight,
Ferdiad's as yellow as the other boy's was red.
 wore a tight scarlet jacket with sleeves striped with
green and a kilted skirt reaching just above his bare
knees; below them were leggins of soft leather laced
with cords tipped with silver as were also his
moccasin-like shoes. He had a short cape made of
strips of brown and green cloth sewn together, but as
the day was warm this hung over one shoulder and was
only loosely fastened by a silver brooch. The other
boy, who had come from a little different part of the
country, was dressed in the fashion of his own home.
His jacket was much like Ferdiad's except that it was
yellow, and instead of kilts he wore long tight-fitting
trousers of gray; his cape also was gray figured with
Presently he said to Ferdiad, with a frank smile, "My
name is Conn and my home is in the kingdom of Munster
where my father is a bo-aire. I guess yours must be a
flaith from the colors of your clothes. My
 is a bo-aire, too, and we came to the fair this morning
in our chariot and I drove all the way from near
Kinkora where we live. What is your name?"
"Ferdiad O'Neill," answered Ferdiad; but seeing Conn
look bewildered, "O'Neill," he explained, "means my
father's name is Neill; you know 'O' stands for son
"Yes," said Conn in surprise, "but why do you have
"Well," replied Ferdiad, "my father says that the high
king, Brian Boru, wants people to start having two
names instead of just one. You see, if each family
settles on a second name that they can add to their
first, then you can tell better who folks are and who
are their kin. My father, who is a flaith as you
guessed, don't want to put anything after his own name
for everyone in the kingdom of Meath, where my home is,
knows him as Neill. But he says I may as well begin
with the two names. I
 suppose everybody will have family names afterwhile."
"I suppose so," said Conn, who had been listening with
interest. "I hadn't heard about it before, but if you
can start a family name by adding 'O' to your
father's, then I would be Conn O'Keefe!" and he laughed
at the odd new fashion. "But," he went on, "who is your
"He is Angus the poet," answered Ferdiad with a touch
of pride. "We live beyond Kells on the Blackwater, and
we all came to the fair yesterday. We rowed down the
river in our curragh."
Now do not suppose that these two boys were orphans
because they talked about their foster-fathers. Far
from it! In fact, most Celtic boys, and many girls
too, were extra well supplied with parents; for they
usually had not only their own real fathers and mothers
but also the foster-fathers and mothers with
 whom they lived from the time they were seven, or even
younger, until they were seventeen. This custom of
putting children to be trained in the home of some one
else seems strange to us, but the Celtic people of
those days thought it the best way to bring them up.
Sometimes their foster-parents were close friends of
their own fathers and mothers and took the children for
the sake of the affection they felt for one another;
and sometimes people placed their children with some
one they thought specially fitted to train them, and
then they paid a certain sum of money for it, or, more
likely, a number of cows.
For the Celtic people then had no large cities and few
towns even, but lived mostly in the country and the
more cows they had the better off they considered
themselves. They were divided into tribes or clans
with chiefs of different degrees of rank. A bo-aire,
as was Conn's father, though a respectable chief,
 owned no land but was obliged to rent it of some higher
chief, or flaith, such as Ferdiad's father; but a
bo-aire always had plenty of cattle of his own. So
probably Conn's foster-father received enough fat cows
to pay for the support of the boy.
Indeed, the Celtic laws decided just what must be paid
for feeding and clothing foster children, and decided
also, according to their rank, what they should eat and
wear; and every one paid a great deal of attention to
the laws. It was because of these that Conn had barley
porridge with a lump of salty butter on it for
breakfast while Ferdiad ate oatmeal with saltless
butter which was considered finer; if either had been a
king's son he would have had honey on his porridge.
And because of these same laws Conn and Ferdiad at once
knew each other's rank; for sons of flaiths might wear
red, green and brown clothes, while the colors for boys
of bo-aires were yellow, black and gray.
 But while we have been talking about them, the boys
have not been standing still. They had decided at once
to be friends, and "My foster-father said I was to go
around and find what I wanted to look at," said Conn,
"but I think it would be more fun seeing the fair
"So do I!" answered Ferdiad. "Let's look around and
see what's going on."