| 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 STORY OF THE DEDANAANS
 WHEN the boys had come to the fair green a large circle
of people had already gathered to listen to the story
tellers, for they liked these almost better than the
racing. Several men in gay mantles stood in the midst
of the circle tuning the small harps they carried; for
usually parts of the stories were in poetry and this
they always chanted to the music of their harps.
Ferdiad and Conn, however, did not stop here but passed
beyond where was a smaller group made up of the boys
and girls who had come to the fair and who had a story
teller especially for them. All were seated on the
grass and the two lads soon found a place by Eileen who
was watching for them.
 "Did you have a good time this morning?" asked Ferdiad.
"Yes," declared Eileen, beaming; "see this lovely
torque mother bought me, and she got some wonderful
silk from the merchants of Gaul,"—here she
paused,—"Hush!" she whispered. "See! they are
going to shake the chain of silence!"
A tall man had arisen shaking in his hand a short chain
of bronze hung with silver bells, and at this signal
everyone stopped talking, and Fergus, the story teller,
stood up ready to begin. Those for the grown folks
circle were already asking their hearers if they would
rather listen to stories of battles, of cattle raids,
courtships, fairies, or histories of Ireland; for to be
a story teller in those days was no simple matter; one
must study for years and was expected to have hundreds
of different stories in his mind ready to tell at a
moment's notice. It was by listening to these that the
 of people got not only entertainment but education.
But while the grown folks were choosing, the children's
story teller had decided to tell something of the
people who had lived in Ireland before the coming of
"Long, long ago," he began, "our beautiful land was the
home of many different people. One after another they
came, the newcomers fighting and driving out the
others, till at last a race called the Firbolgs held
sway. After they had been here for some time, one day
away up somewhere to the north of us a strange
rose-colored cloud floated over the seashore, and when
it melted away the Firbolgs found that a great number
of strangers had landed from boats which they
themselves at once burned, showing that they meant to
"They were the DeDanaans!" cried some of the children,
"and they live now in the fairy mounds!" for every one
had heard of these
 marvelous strangers the memory of whom is still
cherished in Ireland.
"Yes," went on Fergus, "they were the DeDanaans; but
though wise in all magic arts, they lived above ground
and had not yet become fairies. They were a beautiful
god-like people with fair skins and blue eyes and hair
as yellow as cowslips."
"Where did they come from, sir?" asked Conn, who had
been listening attentively.
"From the 'Land of the Ever Young,' " answered Fergus.
"And where is that, sir?" ventured Conn once more.
"Well, boy," said Fergus, a bit severely, "it is called
also the 'Land of the Ever Living' which is the same as
the 'Land of the Dead,' " and Conn said no more.
"The Firbolgs," continued Fergus, "talked to the
DeDanaans and at first thought they would not fight
them. Then they began saying
 among themselves how slim and light were the spears of
strangers, who were a slender people, while their own
were big and heavy like they were. So deciding they
were much stronger and better armed, they went back and
attacked the DeDanaans. But they were terribly fooled
in the strangers, who threw their light sharp spears
much faster and farther than the clumsy ones of the
Firbolgs. So the golden-haired DeDanaans won the
battle, though they did not drive the Firbolgs from
Ireland but let them still keep a certain part for
Now the DeDanaans were a wonderful people, full of
wisdom and skilled in the arts of magic and in the
making of beautiful things. They had come from four of
the chief fairy cities in the Land of the Ever Young,
and from each they brought a precious gift; there was
an invincible sword, a magic spear, an enchanted
cauldron from which hosts of men might be
 fed and it would never be empty, but most wonderful of
all was the Stone of Destiny, and on this all the high
kings of Ireland, for hundreds of years, stood when
they were crowned."
"My foster-father said it always roared when the crown
was set on the king's head!" broke in Ferdiad.
"Yes, indeed, boy," said Fergus, "it roared like a
lion; but only if the king was lawful. If he had no
right to the crown then the stone was silent, and you
may be sure there was trouble ahead for the false
"Where is the stone now?" asked another boy.
"Well," said Fergus, "for a long time it was kept at
Tara, the ancient Celtic capital,"—Here another
boy broke in, "When we came to the fair, about ten
miles from here we passed a great big mound with an
earth rampart around it and old looking ruins that my
father said was Tara. What happened to it?"
 Fergus took all these interruptions in good part, for
the boys' and girls' story teller always expected them
to ask many questions.
"Tara," he said, "was for ages the famous capital of
all Ireland and the high king had his palace, built of
smooth boards carved and painted, on top of the mound
you saw protected by the rampart of earth. It was all
very splendid, but long, long ago, one day Saint Ruadan
became angry at the high king and laid a curse on Tara,
and since then no one has dared to live there. But you
know I was talking about the Stone of Destiny that the
DeDanaans brought and which was first kept at Tara.
Now about the time the curse was laid on the place the
king of Scotland sent and begged his brother, who was
high king of Ireland, for the loan of the stone for a
year. The Scottish king wanted to stand on it when he
was crowned. The stone was loaned to him but never
again has Ireland got it back!"
Nor has it come back to Ireland to this day;
for more than two hundred years after our
story, the English king, Edward I, took this
magic stone from Scotland to London. It is
now the famous Coronation Stone which is
part of the throne on which the English kings
sit when they have been crowned in Westminster
Abbey; and perhaps some day you may see it
Meantime Fergus went on with the story of
the DeDanaans. "After they had ruled in
Ireland for a long while," he said, "another
people, this time our own Celtic race, led by
their king Miled, sailed to Ireland from somewhere
away off to the east. When the DeDanaans
saw them coming, by their magic arts
they raised a terrible storm hoping in this way
to keep the boats from landing. But though
many of the boats were destroyed, there were
such hosts of Celts that they managed in spite
of the storm to land enough men to attack the
 DeDanaans, who were obliged to retreat before
them till they came right here to the Blackwater
where Tailltenn is now. Here they made a
stand and a great battle was fought, and the
Celts won. But the DeDanaans were not
driven out of Ireland, you know."
"Yes," said some of the children eagerly,
"we know. They are fairies now!"
"That is right," said Fergus; "the DeDanaans
cast a spell over themselves making
them invisible; and this spell they can put on
or off as they please, and even now they rule
unseen over part of Ireland. Where we can see
only green mounds and ruined walls, as at
Tara, and under all the pleasant hills, there rise
their fairy palaces where they live in continual
sunshine and feast on magic meat and ale that
keeps them everlastingly young and beautiful."
"I saw a DeDanaan fairy once!" spoke up
one little boy.
"So did I!" declared another, and then the
 children all fell to discussing and disputing about how
many they had seen till Fergus had to stop them by
telling them to scamper off for he was through for the
But the boys and girls were quite sure of what they
said, and, no doubt, they were right, for everybody
knows that to this day there are said to be more
fairies in Ireland than in almost any other land.
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