| 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 |
KELLS IS RAIDED
 THE curragh in which they had come to the fair was
pointed up the Blackwater which it parted in long
ripples of silver as Ferdiad and Angus pulled at the
oars. They were all very proud and happy over the
honor Angus had won the night before, and Eileen had
hugged and kissed him and begged to hear all about it.
But, "There, child," said her father, "I will tell you
by and by. We must hurry now to reach Kells, for you
know we want to stop there to see the new high-cross
they have been putting up, and we must be home by dark,
for we cannot sleep in the curragh, neither can we camp
in the forests; there are too many bears!"
Indeed, for much of their way after
leav-  ing Tailltenn the great trees came close to the water's
edge and in their deep shadows prowled many dangerous
beasts; for a large part of Ireland was still wild and
unsettled. Now and then they passed open bog lands
with perhaps a glimpse of blue mountain tops in the
distance; and sometimes the river led through meadows
where cows and sheep were grazing near the homes of
their owners. As I have told you, most of the Celtic
people lived in the country and their homes, which they
called "raths" were much alike. There was always a
round or oblong house in the middle of a piece of
ground enclosed by a circular wall of earth often
planted on top with a prickly hedge to better protect
the place from the attack of enemies or wild beasts.
Even the palaces of the kings were built much the same,
only larger and finer, and they were called "duns"
instead of raths.
But the curragh on the Blackwater had been
 making good progress and before long they could glimpse
through the trees the stone walls of Kells, while
clustering about rose the thatched roofs of the round
wattled huts where lived the young students.
For Kells was not a town but a monastery where a number
of monks lived and studied and taught, and in their
spare time made beautiful painted books. There were
many such places in Ireland and the Celtic monks had
become so famous for their learning that people not
only from their own country but even from Britain and
Gaul (which we now call England and France), sent their
sons to be educated by them. Much of Europe was then
very heathenish and ignorant, and had it not been for
those Celtic monks, many of whom went as missionaries
and started schools in other countries, the world would
not be nearly so wise as it is to-day.
As they now drew near Kells, "Shall we go to the
monastery landing?" asked Ferdiad.
 "No," said Angus, "I see the monks working at the new
high-cross on the hill yonder. We will land there and
go up and look at it."
In a few minutes they had all climbed to the hill top
where the new stone cross had just been put in place.
It was very large, more than twice as high as a tall
man, and wonderfully carved with scenes from the Bible
as it was meant to tell its story to people who had no
books of their own. There are to-day more than fifty
of these great Celtic crosses standing on the hills of
Ireland and artists from many countries copy them
because of their beauty.
"Oh, father, isn't it fine!" cried Eileen.
"Yes, indeed!" said Angus; "it is one of the finest I
have seen. Who of you made it?" he asked, turning to
the monks who were standing by.
One of them was about to answer him when
 suddenly there came a sharp jangle of bells from a tall
round tower of stone near the monastery.
"Hark!" cried the monk, and as they all paused a
moment, there came another wild peal of the bells, and
crashing through the woods beyond Kells they could see
a score or more people from the country round about
running frantically for the tower. Some were carrying
children in their arms and others driving before them a
few cows or sheep, while from the door of the monastery
the brown-robed monks were already pouring out, their
arms filled with precious books and such sacred things
of gold and silver as they had been able to snatch from
the monastery church. For everywhere the young
students were running about shouting, "The Danes!
The Danes!" and everybody knew that those fierce
pirate raiders from across the northern sea were
heathens who thought no more of stripping a Christian
 altar than of driving off a herd of cattle and killing
their helpless owner.
"Can you see them coming yet?" asked Angus anxiously of
"No," they said, "they are probably burning the paths
they have raided, but they will be here quickly! We
must hurry to reach the tower!" For the monks were no
fighters, and, moreover, they all knew they would be
far outnumbered by the raiders.
Angus at once snatched up Eileen, who was screaming
from fright, and bidding Fianna and Ferdiad to follow,
they all ran like deer down the hill.
By this time the country folk had given up hope of
saving their cattle and sheep and were trying only to
save themselves as both they and the monks and their
pupils crowded to the foot of the tower and scrambled
as fast as they could up a wooden ladder which led to a
door high above the ground. For the tower was
 not only a belfry for the monastery church but also a
place of refuge from just such sudden attacks as the
Danes were now making. And how often these places of
refuge were needed in those wild warring times is
proven by the many ancient towers, solitary and
deserted, which still rise from innumerable Irish hills
and valleys. And very good strongholds they were when
every one was inside, the ladder drawn up and the great
door barred. If the raiders tried to come too close
they were apt to get their heads cracked by a few of
the big stones of which there was always a good supply
to be dropped from the high windows.
As Angus and the rest now joined the others at the foot
of the ladder, Angus saw that Fianna and Eileen got
safely in and then telling Ferdiad to climb up too,
turned to see if he could help the others. But Ferdiad
waited to pick up a child that was lost from its
parents and running about crying helplessly. He handed
 to safety, and just then a group of belated country
people came screaming that the Danes were at their
At this there was a wild rush for the ladder by those
who were still outside. Angus, who supposed Ferdiad
had gone in long before, climbed in with the last of
the monks he had been helping, and in the struggle to
gain the door no one noticed that Ferdiad was pushed
off the ladder by a burly countryman wild with terror,
and that the lad fell some distance to the ground.
For a few moments he lay stunned, and when he came to
himself the ladder was drawn up as out of the forest
came rushing a troop of wild Danes. Some wore chain
armor and helmets with cows' horns fastened in front
making them look like demons, while others were clad in
tunics made from the shaggy skins of beasts; but all
carried shields and spears and short swords and were
shouting in loud fierce voices.
 Ferdiad's heart quaked and he crouched back at the foot
of the tower where he had fallen and where, luckily,
some bushes made a fairly good screen.
When the raiders came nearer and found there was nobody
to fight, part of them began swarming into the
monastery and church and huts of the pupils looking for
anything on which they might lay hands, while others
started driving off the flocks of the country folks,
and still others quarreled among themselves over the
booty they had brought from the raths they had
Ferdiad, who had all the while been looking sharply
about, all at once fairly held his breath as his gaze
fell on a sheltered nook in the monastery wall. The
Danes being for the time busy elsewhere none of them
saw as did Ferdiad that a monk, clutching his robe as
if trying to hide something beneath it, had seemingly
crawled out of the wall and was creeping
 through the bushes in the direction of the tower.
Ferdiad guessed at once that he had come out of the
underground chambers; and sure enough, the tangle of
bushed hid a hole in the wall just big enough for a
man's body. This hole was the opening of a secret
passage leading from the bee-hive shaped stone chambers
such as were built under most monasteries and important
houses as a place to hide valuables or the people
themselves if attacked too suddenly for them to reach
the nearest round tower.
Now this monk of Kells, Brother Giles, had been with
the last of those fleeing from the monastery when all
at once he had remembered the most precious thing in
all Kells and which no one else had though to try to
save. This was the marvelous angel book of Saint
Columkille of which Ferdiad had told Conn the monks
said there was no other like it in all the world! That
it could for a moment have been forgotten would seem
unbelievable were it not that
 every one knows that when people are frightened and
must pick out what they most care for, as at a fire,
they often bring away very silly things and leave the
At any rate, the moment the monk thought of the book he
rushed back and snatched it from the drawer where it
was kept, then, finding the Danes were already coming
toward the door of the monastery, he hurried down the
winding stair to the undergroung chambers, hoping to
hide there. But in a few moments the Danes discovered
the stair and he could hear them groping their way
down, for it was very dark there. At this he began
stealthily to feel his way to the secret passage, and
because of the darkness he managed to escape from the
raiders who were poking in corners for what plunder
they could find. The monk, hiding the precious book in
its golden case, had just come out of the passage when
Ferdiad saw him.
As the boy looked, suddenly Brother Giles
 straightened up and made a dash for the tower hoping to
reach it before the Danes saw him.
Forgetting his own danger, Ferdiad tried to call to him
that the ladder was up, but could not make him hear.
But the poor monk had scarcely run half way till with a
fierce shout one of the raiders started in pursuit.
Ferdiad's eyes grew wide with horror as the monk sprang
forward desperately only to sink lifeless on the ground
beneath the sharp thrust of a Danish sword. As the man
paused a moment Ferdiad could see his wild cruel face
and red-scarred forehead, then suddenly as the dead
monk's robe fell apart the Dane caught the gleam of the
golden case which held the painted book, and snatching
it up greedily ran off with it before Ferdiad's
strained gaze could make out just what the object was.
FERDIAD'S EYES GREW WIDE WITH HORROR.
In a little while the other raiders came out of the
monastery, having stripped it of every bit of gold and
silver they could find, and as they
 could not set fire to the stone buildings they had to
content themselves with burning the thatched huts of
the students. While these were still smoldering they
took themselves off toward the seacoast, driving before
them the sheep and cows they had stolen from the
As soon as they were sure it was all over, the people
one by one crept down from the tower, the country folk
going sadly back to try patiently to rebuild their
desolate homes while the monks began to set things in
order about Kells.
Everybody was amazed and delighted to find Ferdiad had
escaped with his life, though of course no one had
known he was not safe in the tower. The body of
Brother Giles was borne sorrowfully into the monastery;
and then, when they began to bring back the gold and
silver things they had saved and to take stock of what
the Danes had stolen, first of all the Abbot discovered
that Saint Columkille's book was gone. He was filled
with dismay and
re-  morse that he had forgotten it, and kept muttering
despairingly "The angel book of the blessed Saint
Columkille! May all the saints forgive me!"
The monks, too, looked at each other white and
terrified, fearing a curse on Kells because of their
unbelievable carelessness. For none of them knew that
Brother Giles had given his life in the vain effort to
save the beautiful book, and they felt sure that the
Celtic people would blame them when it was known the
precious volume was lost, for it was even then famous
As Ferdiad heard them lamenting, presently an idea
occurred to him. "Reverend Father," he said to the
Abbot, "perhaps it was Saint Columkille's book that
Brother Giles was carrying when the Dane struck him. I
saw the man take something from his robe as he lay on
the ground, but could only get a flash of gold. I
couldn't see just what it was, as the Dane turned
 from me when he picked it up and he ran off right
The Abbot listened gravely, but only said, "Perhaps,
boy. But it might have been a golden candlestick you
saw; we had many such. And even if it was the book,
the Dane will care for nothing but the gold of its case
and will surely destroy it when he rejoins his people
and looks at it; they have burned countless precious
volumes before this!" and the Abbot sighed bitterly.
But, somehow, Ferdiad got it into his head that the
book the angels had made would not be destroyed, and he
wished more than anything else that someday he might
Meantime, Angus, seeing there was really nothing he
could do to help restore order at the monastery, had
brought down the curragh and he and Ferdiad had moored
it at their landing. Fortunately their rath, being on
the other side of the river from Kells, had escaped
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