| Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|The story of Ferdiad, a boy of Ireland, in the time of High King Brian Boru, when the Danes were pillaging the Irish countryside. How his foster-father Angus becomes poet to the High King and how Ferdiad himself recovers a lost treasure. Gives a glimpse into the customs and social life of the Celts, with special emphasis on their artistic achievements, including the Book of Kells and the stories of Cuculain. Ages 8-10 |
THE HALL OF FEASTING
 WHEN the story telling was over and Eileen had gone
back to her mother, Ferdiad and Conn hurried up the
mound where stood the Hall of Feasting. The high king
was to give a dinner there later on and the boys wanted
to see what they could.
At big open fires near the Hall cooks were busy turning
spits, made of peeled hazel rods, on which venison and
hares and wild birds were roasting. Others were
tending huge cauldrons filled with boiling beef and
sheep and little pigs. Potatoes, which we call Irish
but which are really American born, had not yet come to
Ireland, because of course you know Columbus did not
find America till more than four hundred years after
our story; but there were
 cabbages and onions and beans, and there were puddings
and red apples and hazel nuts for dessert.
"See, Conn," said Ferdiad, "the door of the Hall is
open; let's go in and look around."
"All right!" said Conn, so the went in and watched as
servants spread linen cloths on a number of tables
standing close to the walls of the long room. There
were seats for these only on the side next the wall,
for nobody was expected to have his back to the center
of the room where the poets always sang their pieces
"These must be the tables for the kings and flaiths,"
said Ferdiad as they strolled along the room, "for see,
there are the hooks in the wall for their shields."
"Yes," said Conn, "and look up a little higher and you
can tell exactly each king's place, for there are the
king's-candles all ready to light," and he pointed to a
number of bronze
 brackets holding very large candles of beeswax with
great bushy wicks. "And that enormous one, bigger
around than I am, is where the high king will sit.
It's just like the one that burns at the door of his
palace at Kinkora when Brian Boru is there, and my
foster-father says that when he goes to war a big
candle like that always burns at the door of his tent
"I suppose where those other handsome cloths are is
where the queens and their ladies will sit," said
Ferdiad, "and down at the end of the Hall where they
are spreading the tables with deerskin must be for the
At every place was laid a napkin, a platter, a cup for
mead and a knife for cutting up the food, all of which
was eaten with the fingers. In front of each was also
a small dish of honey, of which every one was immensely
fond and in which they liked to dip almost everything,
even meat and fish.
 Soon the dinner was ready and servants began bringing
in great dishes of meat which later would be carefully
carved and distributed according to the rank of the
guests. Thus, a certain part of the roast ox was
always given to kings and poets, another special part
to queens, another to flaiths, and so on till all were
served. There was one part, however, that was always
the choicest of all; and of this Conn whispered to
Ferdiad, "Who do you suppose will get the hero's
morsel?" for this tidbit was the portion of the man who
was thought by everybody to have performed the bravest
or most heroic exploit.
"I don't know," answered Ferdiad, "of course there are
lots of kings and chiefs here at the fair, but I don't
know who has done the bravest thing. I dare say it
will be the one who has fought and beaten the most
Just then, "Clear out now, youngsters!" said
 an official-looking man, who with two others had come
into the Hall and taken their places close by the open
As the boys slipped out, "I guess it's time for the
feast," whispered Ferdiad, "but let's wait outside and
see the folks come."
Here one of the men at the door, lifting a large
trumpet he carried, blew a loud blast and immediately a
number of squires, who had been waiting near by holding
the shields of their masters, marched up and handed
them to the second of the three men who knew every
shield and the rank of its owner. At a second blast
from the trumpet the shields were taken into the Hall
and hung on the hooks Ferdiad had noticed in the wall
over the tables. It was a gay sight when all were
placed; most of them were small and round, some made of
wicker covered with leather and coated with lime which
shone dazzling white, others painted in different
colors, while many were ornamented
 with beautiful bands and bosses of gold and silver.
When all were arranged the trumpeter blew a third
blast, and at this the feasters began to arrive.
"There comes the high king!" said Ferdiad, as the aged
monarch, wrapped in a rich purple mantle and attended
by his followers, reached the door of the Hall. As he
was giving the feast, he stood near the door and
greeted each guest before turning them over to the
third of the three men at the door whose business it
was to seat each man under his own shield and to lead
the ladies to the tables spread for them.
"Don't they look fine!" said Conn, as he gazed at the
gayly dressed throng coming up the mound.
"Yes, indeed!" echoed Ferdiad, "and oh, there's my
Angus was with a group of kings and poets who came
directly after the high king, and
 there was a sweet tinkling of musical branches as they
"I wish my foster-father could go to the feast, too!"
said Conn wistfully, flushing slightly at the thought
that he was not of high enough rank to be one of the
"Never mind," said Ferdiad quickly, "I'm sure he is a
brave man from what you have told me about him, and I
don't wonder you think so much of him. I think he was
mighty good to take me into your tent to sleep, and I
know my foster-father would like to meet him."
Conn looked pleased, and as he was not of an envious
disposition, he said he hoped Angus would get the prize
and that the high king would choose him for chief poet.
"And oh," went on the boy, "if he does you will all
come to live at Kinkora where Brian Boru's palace is
and you know our home is near there and most likely you
will go to the same monastery school where I go!"
 "That would be fine!" exclaimed Ferdiad, "and do tell
me more about Kinkora." And talking of this the two
boys wandered off together through the long twilight.
Meantime within the Hall the feasting went merrily on;
by and by the dark fell and all the king's-candles were
lighted, and then, when the feast was over, the chain
of silence was shaken and the poets one by one stood
out and sang their songs. But we have not time in this
story to tell of what they sang nor of how beautifully
they played on their harps, for they were very skillful
musicians as well as makers of songs. Many fine poems
were thus given, but, of course, Angus won the prize of
the jeweled ring and was chosen by the high king to be
his chief poet, while over his shoulders was hung the
wonderful mantle of feathers, which was worn only by
chief poets, and his silver musical branch was replaced
by one of pure gold.
I say of course this happened to Angus,
be-  cause Eileen was quite sure it would, and so was Ferdiad, and
so was I when he came into this story which must move
now for awhile to Kinkora; for Angus and his family
would be expected to live in the poet's house by the
palace of Brian Boru.
But before we go to Kinora I must tell you how Ferdiad
went with his foster-parents and Eileen back to their
home near Kells where Angus wished to arrange his
affairs before quitting it for the court of the high
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