| 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 NEW HOME AT KINKORA
 ANGUS had disposed of his home rath to a bo-aire who
had given in exchange many bags of wheat and silver
rings and gold torques and necklaces. Then, loading in
an ox-cart such things as they wished to take with them
to Kinkora, they had set out for the river Shannon; for
as Brian Boru's palace was on the bank of that river,
it was easier to make the main journey by boat.
Eileen and her mother and Ferdiad rode in the cart with
the driver, but Angus came beside them on a horse,
which was considered the only proper way for a poet to
ride; his horse had a single bridle and he guided and
urged it on, not by a whip, but a small rod of carved
yew wood having a curved end with a goad.
 They all greatly enjoyed the journey both by land and
water, and slept soundly every night at some
comfortable brewy, which was the Celtic name for an
inn, though, unlike our inns, they were places of free
entertainment. Indeed, there were no other kind among
the Celts, who thought so highly of hospitality that at
every place where four important roads met they built a
brewy. It was thought a great honor to be a brewy
master and it was usually given to a man who had served
his country well. He was given also a large piece of
public farm land and many sheep and cows and was
expected always to have food and beds ready for
travelers. And lest any one should miss his way, a
servant stood always at the cross roads to point out
In this way they made the journey to Kinkora and were
soon settled in their new home.
The second morning after their arrival, Ferdiad was in
a meadow near by knocking
 about a leather ball with a bronze tipped stick when
suddenly he threw it down, crying delightedly, "Well,
Conn! We have been here two days and I wondered why
you didn't come!" and he ran to meet his friend whose
red head had just flamed in sight.
Conn laughed with pleasure. "I came the first chance I
had," he panted, "and I ran the last half mile. My
foster-father has been sick and I had to tend the cows
and sheep so I couldn't get away before. How do you
like it here?" he added, looking eagerly around. Then,
seeing the ball and stick, "Oh," he cried, "why didn't
I bring my stick and we could have had a game of
"Never mind," said Ferdiad, "come and see where we live
"It's inside the high king's dun, isn't it?" asked
Conn, looking toward the great earthen wall faced with
stone and cement that rose near by enclosing the palace
of Brian Boru.
 "Yes," answered Ferdiad, "you know the king's poet and
doctor and lawyer and the rest of the folks that always
attend him have houses inside the dun."
"I know," said Conn, "and these scattered around
through the fields are for the millers and farmers and
cloth-makers and everybody who does things for the
By this time the boys had come opposite the doorway in
the great circular wall and had begun to weave their
way among a number of tall upright stones, each as
large as a man and placed as irregularly as if a lot of
people running toward the dun had suddenly been
petrified. It was like playing hide and seek for the
boys to try to keep together.
"Well," said Ferdiad, as at last the stood before the
open door of heavy oaken beams, "the king of Meath has
stones before the wall of his dun, only not half so
many as these!"
"They're a wonderful protection," said
 Conn, "and if any army tried to attack Brian Boru's
palace they would have a mighty hard time getting
inside the dun, for, of course, they would have to make
their way between the stones a few at a time, just like
Here the boys stepped inside the enclosure. They did
not need to use the small log knocker which lay in a
niche in a stone pillar beside the door, as the latter
stood open with the keeper blinking in the sun. They
crossed a wooden bridge over a moat and this brought
them to the door of a second wall of earth thickly
planted on top with hazel bushes. Passing through this
they came to the very large green space in the center
of which was a low mound where stood the wooden palace
of Brian Boru. Dotted around near the earthen rampart
were a number of round wattled houses where, as Ferdiad
had said, the chief attendants of the high king lived.
"I've been here before," said Conn, who had
 often brought things from the farm of his
foster-father, "and I've peeped inside the palace once
or twice when the high king was away, but I haven't
been in any of the chiefs' houses. Which is yours?"
—"Oh, I see!" he added, laughing, as Eileen,
catching sight of him, came running from an open
"Come in, Conn!" she cried, seizing both his hands.
"Isn't our house pretty? It has stripes just like the
queen's house at the fair!" and she pointed to the red
and blue and green bands painted on the plaster that
overlaid the wattled walls. "And see how nice it is
inside!" she went on, leading Conn within.
"Yes," said Conn, "it is very pretty," and he gazed
admiringly around. In the center of the house was a
carved pole supporting the thatched roof, in which was
a hole to let out the smoke when it was cold enough to
build a fire on the earthen floor now strewn with
rushes. There were several low tables and
 seats cushioned with white fleeces, and around the wall
behind partitions of wickerwork stood the beds with
posts fixed in the ground.
"I helped weave the coverlids!" said Eileen with pride
as they peeped into these tiny bedrooms, "My loom is in
our greenan," and she led the way to a separate little
house shining white in the sun and covered with vines.
For no Celtic home was considered complete without such
a little bower, or greenan as they called it, for the
mistress and her friends, and it was always placed in
the pleasantest and sunniest spot.
Here Ferdiad called, "Come on Conn, let's go and take a
look in the palace and around the dun. The high king
and most of the flaiths have gone deer hunting and
father Angus is practicing a new poem, so we'll poke
around awhile and then after dinner maybe we can find
somebody to tell us a story."
As the boys ran off together, "Be sure and
 show Conn the queen's greenan all thatched with bird
wings!" called Eileen, and Conn smiled, for he had
often seen the greenan with its wonderful roof of
feathers which were arranged in glistening stripes of
white and many colors. So, too, he had seen the great
banquet hall of Brian Boru, though he looked in again
to please Ferdiad. It was built much in the style of
the Hall of Feasting at the Tailltenn fair, only
handsomer and more gayly painted, and the heavy door of
carved yew wood and the posts on either side were
elaborately ornamented with gold and silver and bronze.
As they looked inside, "There is where father Angus
sits when there is a feast," said Ferdiad, pointing to
a seat at one of the long tables next to the high
king's throne-like chair.
Back of the banquet hall was a kitchen with open fires
and spits for roasting and cauldrons for boiling.
There was also on the mound another large wooden house
with living rooms
 and curtained beds, although all the more important
folks had each a little round sleeping house all to
Outside the main dun were several smaller circular
enclosures protected by ramparts, and in these were
stables for the horses and chariots, sheds for cows and
sheep and pigs, granaries for wheat and barley, and
kennels for the great fierce wolf-hounds that were
loosed every night to guard the dun from unwelcome
By the time the boys had seen everything dinner was
ready and afterwards Ferdiad begged Angus to tell them
a story. "It needn't be a long one," he said, "but
Conn and I have been looking at the big wolf-hounds of
the high king and we wish you would tell us about how
Cuculain got his name."
Angus smiled, for he knew the boys had heard many times
of the exploits of Cuculain (whose name means "the
Hound of Culain"), the most famous of all the Celtic
heroes, but he
 knew also that made no matter for the boys loved to
hear the same stories over and over. So they went out
under a quicken tree near the house where Angus sat on
a bench while Ferdiad and Conn stretched out on the
grass at his feet.
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