by Bernadette Weyde | June 13, 2014 10:09 am
In the old days Culain, the smith of the gods, was living in the Isle of Man. It was the time when Conchubar was at the court of the King of Ulster and had nothing but the sword in his hand. He was a fine handsome young man, and he had made up his mind to make himself a king. So he went one day to the Druid of Clogher to ask him what he had best do.
‘Make your way to the Isle of Man,’ said the Druid, ‘There you will find the great smith Culain. Get him to make you a sword and a spear and a shield, and with these you shall win the Kingdom of Ulster.’
Conchubar went away, hired a boat and put out to sea. He landed in Man and made straight for Culain’s smithy. It was night when he got there and the red glow of the furnace shone out into the dark. He could hear from inside the smithy the roar of the bellows and the clanging of the hammer on the anvil. When he came near, a great dog, as large as a calf began to bay and to growl like thunder, and brought his master out.
‘Who are you, young man? ‘ said he.
‘Oh Culain! ‘ cried Conchubar, ‘it is from the Druid of Clogher that I come, and he bade me ask you to make me a sword and a spear and a shield, for only with weapons of your making can I win the Kingdom of Ulster.’
Culain’s face grew black at first, but after he had gazed for a while at Conchubar, he saw that he had the look about him of one who would go far, and he said:
‘It shall be done for you, but you must wait, for the work is long.’
So Culain began to make the weapons, and Conchubar waited in the island.
Early one brave morning in May when the sun had just risen over Cronk-yn-Irree-Laa, he was walking on the strand, wondering to himself how much longer Culain would be making his weapons and thinking it was full time for him to return. The tide was going out, and the sun was shining on the wet sand. Suddenly he saw something flashing at the edge of the waves a few paces from him. He ran up to it and, behold, it was the most beautiful woman he had ever put sight on, fast asleep. Her hair was golden, like the gorse in bloom; her skin whiter than the foam of the sea, her lips red as the coral, and her cheeks rosy like the little clouds that were flying before the face of ‘the rising sun. The fringe of her dress of many coloured seaweeds rose and fell with the ebb and flow of the waves. Pearls gleamed on her neck and arms. Conchubar stood and looked on her. He knew that she was a Mermaid and that as soon as she awoke she would slip back into the ocean and be lost to him. So he bound her fast with his girdle.
Then she awoke and opened her, eyes, which were blue as the sea, and when she saw that she was bound, she cried out with terror, ‘ Loose me, man, loose me! ‘
Conchubar did not answer, so she said again, ‘Loose me, I beg you’ in a voice as sweet as the music of Hom Mooar, the Fairy Fiddler.
By this time Conchubar was feeling that he would give all he had to keep her. He answered, trembling, ‘Woman, of my heart, who are you? ‘
‘I am Teeval, Princess of the Ocean,’ said she. ‘ Set me free, I beseech you.’
‘But if I set you free,’ said Conchubar, ‘You will leave me.”
‘I cannot stay with you, Conchubar,’ she cried, ‘Set me free, and I will give you a precious gift.’
‘I will loose you,’ answered Conchubar.
‘It is not for the gift, but because I cannot resist you.’
He unfastened the girdle from her and she said, ‘My gift to thee is this: Go now to Culain who is making your shield and tell him that Teeval, Princess of the Ocean bids him to put her figure on the shield and around it to engrave her name. Then you shall wear it always in battle, and when you look upon my face and call my name, your enemies’ strength shall go from them and shall come into you and your men.’ When she had said this, she waved her white arm to Conchubar and plunged into the waves. He looked sadly for a long time at the spot where she had disappeared, and then walked slowly to the forge of Culain and gave him the message.
Culain finished the mighty shield as the Princess had said, and forged also for Conchubar a golden-hilted magic sword, and a spear set with precious stones. Then Conchubar, in his crimson mantle and white gold-embroidered tunic and armed with his great shield and his mighty weapons, went back to Ireland.
All that the Princess of the Ocean had said came true. When he went into battle he looked at the beautiful face in his shield and cried ‘Help, Teeval!’
Then he felt strength come into him like the strength of a giant, and he cut his enemies down like grass. Before long he was famous all over Ireland for his great deeds, and in the end he became King of Ulster. Then he invited Culain to come and live in his kingdom, and gave him the plain of Murthemny to dwell in.
But he never again saw the lovely Mermaid.
(source: Manx Fairy Tales, Sophia Morrison, 1911, artwork ‘Mermaid’ by Symphonikaa)
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