The Stories of Fionn eä Vanwi

So I'll sing farewell to Carlingford, and farewell to Greenore

I'll think of you most day and night, 'till I return once more

'till I return once more

In this tale, sourcing from the Island of Tete, Fionn eä Vanwi is a Human, and takes the role of the storyteller of the Island's history. He becomes a convert to Vahan, converting from the old druidic faiths of the island.

Tuan, the Abbot of Moville

Tuan, the Abbot of Moville, went southwards and eastwards in great haste. News had come to him in Donegal that there were yet people in his own province that believed in gods that he did not approve of, and the gods that were not approved of are treated poorly, even by saintly men

He was told of a powerful gentleman who observed the day of rest on Sunday but didn't observe the days of industry on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

"A powerful person!" said Tuan.

"All that and more," was the reply

"We shall try this person's power," was Tuan's reply.

"He is reputed to be a wise and hard man," said the informer.

"Then we shall test his wisdom and his hardiness."

"He is," there was a muffled whisper, "a magician!"

"We will see about that!" Was Tuan's indignant reply. "I will magician him!"

Tuan was informed, and he headed without delay.

In no great time he came to the great stronghold of the gentleman who apparently followed the ancient ways, and he demanded entrance into the stronghold so that he may proselytize and that he may banish the old gods that the gentleman held true.

But the gentleman refused Tuan's entrance.

The gentleman barricaded his house, and barred the doors. He locked his gates and shuttered his windows. The gentleman would continue the ancient practices, and neither Tuan nor Time would be able to knock down his doors and change his ways. And, though Tuan loomed on the gentleman like a portent and a terror, the gentleman had no fear of Time, and had little repose left to the scythed entity, for as the saying goes: Death comes to All; and Death enjoins to spread this tale most gleefully of all. Unfortunately, a reputation must always be upheld, or you'd be a laughing stock. And Death was a laughing stock to the gentleman, whose name was Fionn Neerlávanwi, the son of Ingni.

But Tuan was little miffed by this obstruction, for a man of God has many routes of battle. The first and most primary method is peaceful force; for to a hospitable heart, the idea of a traveler wasting away outside his gates is unforgivable. The gentleman, however, did not give in without a struggle. He thought that Tuan, once he had hungered long enough, would give up and go away. But he did not know Tuan. The great abbot sat outside the gentleman's door and composed himself. He bent his gaze to the ground, and entered into a meditation from which only death or admission could release.

The first day passed.

The gentleman would send a servant to spy if that deserter of the old gods was still before his door, and each time the servant would reply that he was.

"He will be gone by the morning." Said the hopeful master.

On the morrow the siege still continued, and through that day many servants were sent to spy on the abbot. But the servants returned each time with the same information. "The man is still there," they said.

All through that day no one could leave the stronghold. And the enforced seclusion wracked the minds of the servants, and the lack of work allowed gossip and back-talking to spread. These servants would go in groups or clumps and go to spy on the abbot in turn, and they would look at the lonesome figure and take fright at the spectacle.

"It is a combat that is taking place," they said, "between our master and the abbot."

One guard said to throw a spear at the persistent stranger, or to throw a pebble. But he was shortly repudiated by his master for thinking to throw a spear at an unarmed stranger.

"Hunger has a whip, and it will drive the stranger away tonight." The hopeful master thought.

The household retired to wretched beds, but the master of the house had little sleep. He paced back and forth between his halls at night, and would peer through the spy-holes to see if the stranger was still there, and pacing thence, tormented, preoccupied, he refused to even return the soft nuzzle of his hound's nose.

The next morning he gave in.

The great door was swung wide open, and two of the gentleman's servants carried Tuan into the house, for the saint could no longer stand or walk upright due to the hunger and the outdoor forces to which he had submitted. But his body was as tough as the unconquerable spirit therein, and in no long time he was ready for whatever may come of the dispute between him and the gentleman of the house.

Being reestablished he began his undertaking of the conversion of the master of the house, and the siege he laid against that notable intelligence is long spoken of to those who are interested in those things. The abbot had beaten Fionn, and the latter's heart opened to the stranger, and Tuan went in there to do the will of God.

Fionn's Story

One day Tuan and Fionn were talking about the majesty of God and his love, for as Fionn had received much instruction on the subject he needed still yet more, and Fionn laid as close a siege on Tuan as Tuan had before laid on him. But man works outwardly and inwardly. After a rest, he will have energy, and after energy he needs rest; so, when we have given instruction for a time and after we have received instruction for a time, the spirit faints and requires less difficult tasks. Therefore, Tuan asked of Fionn to tell about himself.

Fionn was at first reluctant, as he was avid for information about the True God. "I do not wish to return to things of the past. Rather I'd look upon the present and the future to come."

"We will do that," Tuan replied, "but first I would like to know you, otherwise, how can I meditate with you and pray for you succinctly? Tell me your past, so that I may know you."

"Let the past be content with itself, for a man needs forgetfulness as well as memory." Fionn replied.

"My son," Tuan said, "all that has ever been done shall only add to the glory of God, and to confess our deeds, good or evil, is part of the instruction we are given. A person must recall its acts and abide by them, or to renounce them through confession and penitence. Tell me your genealogy, and by what descent you occupy these lands and this stronghold, and then I will help examine your conscience if need be."

Fionn obeyed.

I am known as Fionn, son of Ingni, and these are the hereditary lands of my father.

The saint nodded and then stopped. "But you have forgotten to mention your grandfather," Tuan said.

"I have made no mistake," Fionn murmured, "this is my genealogy."

"I do not understand this." Tuan said.

"Today I am known as Fionn mac Ingni, but in earlier days I was known as Fionn eä Vanwi, son of Igni.

"The leader of the ancient Vanwi." The abbot gasped.

"That is my people." Fionn replied.

"But," Tuan objected in confusion, "the Vanwi came not long after the Flood."

"I came with him." Fionn said mildly.

Tuan pushed back his chair hastily, and stared at his host, and as he stared his blood grew chill and the hairs on his scalp crept upwards and stood on end. But Tuan was not long held by fear, for he thought of the might of God, and that mightiness became his, and he soon settled himself. "It is a wonder you tell me," he said,"and now you must tell me more."

"What must I say?" Fionn said resignedly.

"Tell me the beginning of time in Tete, and of your people, and what became of them and all the people thereafter."

The Story Begins

"I came with my father Igni on a ship, and I led with him the people therein. Twenty-four men and twenty-four women of the Clan of Vanwi came with us as well. Before that time no man had yet come to Tete, and in the western parts of the world no human being yet lived or moved. As we came upon Tete the country seemed as an unending forest. For as far as the eye could see, there were trees, and the unceasing songs of the birds is something to behold. The sun shone warmly on that land, and to our sea-weary eyes and to our wind-weary ears we thought we had reached paradise.

"We heard the rumbling of water deeper into the woods, and we followed that sound until we came to a glade where the sun shone and where the earth was darkly green. There I and Igni rested with our twenty-four couples, and we built a city and livelihood for ourselves. Long we lived in peace and harmony, and we saw new animals grow into their full stature.

"Soon we as a people had increased from twenty four couples into five thousand, and we lived in amity and contentment for a very long while. Then, sudden as lightning, a blight arose one night that purpled the skin and bloated the tongue, and on the seventh day of that illness all the Vanwinala died, save for one man."

"There is always one." Tuan muttered.

"And I am that man," his companion affirmed.

Fionn rested his head on his hand, and he remembered back to the incredible ages to the beginning of the world and to the first days of Tete. And Tuan, with his blood running cold, stared back at him.

The Old Man and the First Cycle

"I was so alone." Fionn said, "I was so alone that any sound frightened me. The sound of a rabbit, or the dripping of water from the branch of a tree, whipped me to cover as a crab is scared to its burrow.

"All the beasts knew of my lonesomeness. They walked with sillken pad behind my back, and snarled when I turned to face them. The long, grey wolves with pink and hanging tongues, staring at me with predatory eyes as they chased me to my cave; there was no creature so weak that it could not hunt me; no creature so timid as to not frighten me. I lived so for two and ten years, and I had forgotten speech, and all that a man should know.

"I soon began to learn the ways of the beast. I could run as tirelessly, I could turn invisible and stalk as quietly as the wild cat. I could smell things from far away, and leap as the rabbit does. I could clash and yell and claw and tear as only an animal can do. But at last, near the end of that time, Nerod the son of Felginman came to Tete with a fleet of twenty-four feluccas, and in each fellucas there were thirty couples of people. My heart leapt for joy when I saw the great fleet moving beside the land, and I followed them along the scarped cliffs, clawing into the stone and digging into the dirt to keep my footing. At last the ships found a harbor, and I had found a clear pool from which to drink, then I saw myself in the cold waters.

"I was hairy and tufty and bristled as a boar. I was lean as a stripped bush, and I was greyer than a dove; withered and wrinkled like an empty sack and naked as a fish. I was wretched and starved, and my fingers and toes were capped with curved, yellow claws. I looked like nothing I had ever known, something neither animal nor divine. I cried bitterly beside the pool, and I could do no more than cry and lament at what I had lost between the earth and the sky. The beasts were following me, even then, and they watched from their drowsy covert.

"But then rain began to fall and then swell and a storm soon whipped up, and when I looked below from my tall cliff I saw the great fleet rolling as in a giant's hand. At times they pitched against the sky and were held aloft. They staggered against the sky, and were spun gustily around like leaves in the wind. They were hurled from the dizzying tops of the black crests and were dropped like stones to the flat, moaning gulf, and then were swept into the inky horror that swirled and whirled about between the waves. At times a wave smashed into the ship, baying like a hungry wolf, biting great chunks of wood and cloth. Chasing the ships like wolves, trying and hammering and hammering to beat the wide-crafted bottoms. The waves fell on the ships and sunk them down with a thrust, and the ships did not cease to go down until they sank unto the sand at the bottom of the sea.

"The night came, and not a single round-eyed creature, be it owl or bug, could pierce that blackness. They screeched into the night. The wind strode and lashed the mists to be thick and impenetrable. The wind sang to itself, now it was in a world-wide yell. It whined and drowned out the screams of the sinking sailors.

"There was, at times, a moaning from the yelping sea. I knew it to be the last sighs of men crying for God to save them. I also heard the women, crying for their men, her hair whipping round her brows as she whirled like a top.

"The trees were being dragged from the earth with dying groans; they lept into the air like they were birds. Waves rose upwards to impossible heights from the sea, and I feard that they would soar over my tall cliff and drag me to the crushing bottom. The waves whizzed and sprang and spun across the earth, carrying great clots of dirt from the cliffs and sending many more clots crashing into the ocean. The foam fizzled and the rocks grinded against each other in a rage. Against that horror of blackness I fell asleep. I swooned, perhaps, in terror."

The Stag and the Second Cycle

"I dreamed, and I saw myself changing into a stag in my dream. I felt a new heart beating in my chest, and I arched my back and stretched my powerful limbs.

"I woke and found myself transformed into that which I had dreamed. I stood a while stamping on the rock, my head bowed, breathing through wide nostrils the many savors of the world. I had come marvellously from weakness to strength. I had twisted in the bonds of age and become young again. I smelled the turf again and knew for the first time how sweet it smelled. I made to run, and I was like the wind over land, swift and precise.

"My hooves ringed on the stone, and I learned many things through my nose. Each breeze brought me a new scent to learn. Each gale brought a new tale on its whiff. I smelled the tang of a wolf, and against that smell I scampered away. My roar! Oh, how loud and clear was the voice of the great stag. I easily lifted my nose to the air. I bounded, bounded, bounded; swifter than the wind, light as a bird, powerful as a tempest.

"With unswerving head and steady eye I met all that came. The lonely wolf snarled and leapt sideways. The lumbering bear swung his head in hesitation and thought again. The stags of my race fled from my rocky forehead, or were pushed back and back until their legs broke underneath them and I trampled them to death. I was the leader of the stag herds of Tete.

"I came back from my boundings about Tete, and, standing away, my wide nose took the air and I realized with terror that the scents of men were being blown on the wind. My proud head lay low to the turf, and great big tears rolled from my large bright eyes.

"At times I would approach their camp. Delicately, tenderly, standing among the thick leaves and hiding behind the trunks, I stared and mourned as I looked on the men. Nerod and four couples had been saved from that fierce storm, and I saw them increase and multiply until four thousand couples lived and laughed and were joyful under the sun. The people of Nerod were savage fighters and hunters.

"At one point I came very close, drawn once again by my anguished memory, and all these people had vanished. The place that knew of them was silent: in the land they had moved there was nothing of them but dry bones that glinted in the sun. I felt my age catching up to me, then. The bones lying in the dirt had made my bones feel the great weight of Time. My head grew heavy, my eyes dimmed, my knees would collapse and tremble at times, and always there were the wolves in the darkness that still dared to chase me.

"I went to the cave that had long been my home when I was an old man.

"One day I snuck from the cave to catch a mouthful of grass, for I was closely besieged by the wolves. They made their mad attack and I barely escaped. They sat beyond the cave and stared at me. I knew their tongue. I knew all that the wolves said to each other and all that the wolves said to me as they chased me. But there was yet a mangling in my horns, and there was yet a trample in my hooves. The wolves did not dare to come into my cave.

"'Tomorrow,' they said, 'we will tear out your throat and gnaw on your living haunch'."

The Boar and the Third Cycle

"My eyes rose to the heights of Doom, and I bowed to all that may happen to me. 'Tomorrow,' I said, 'I will go out among you, and I will die,' and the wolves howled in approval and joy.

"I slept, and I saw myself changing into a boar in the dream I had. I felt the beating of a quick and new heart within my breast. I stretched my thick, powerful neck, and braced my eager limbs. I was trembling with a bloodlust. I awoke from my dream, and I had become what I had dreamed.

"The night passed and the red rays of dawn came. As the darkness lifted the wolves called out to me: 'Come out, O Elder Stag. Come out and let us feast.'

"And I, with joyful heart, thrust a black bristle through the hole of the cave, and when they saw that wiggling snout, those curved tusks, and that fierce red eye, the wolves fled yelping, tumbling over each other, frantic with terror; and I was behind them, and I gored them on my tusks. A madness and gladness of lusty, unsparing life; a killer, a champion, a boar who could not be defied.

"I took the lordship of all the boars of Tete.

"Whenever I looked upon my tribe I saw love and obedience: whenever I appeared among strangers they fled away from me. The wolves, too, feared me then, and the great, grim bear went bounding on heavy paws. I charged him at the head of my troop and rolled him over and over; but it is not easy to kill a bear, so deeply is his life packed in that thick, stinking pelt. He picked himself up again and again, but we knocked him down over and over. The bear neither bit nor clawed, so cowed was he. He went whimpering like a baby, and whenever he stood up I would ram myself into his nostrils.

"I challenged everything that moved over the earth. All animals but one. For men had returned to Tete. Stariath, son of Seten, with his people, from whom the Fir Bolg are descended. I did not chase them, and when they chased me I fled. Often I would go, drawn by a memoried and anguished heart, to look at them as they moved among their fields; and I spoke to my mind in bitterness: 'When the people of Igni were here and gathered in counsel my voice was heard, and the men nodded with me; it was sweet to all who heard it, and what I spoke was wise. The eyes of women brightened when they saw me. They loved me when I sang, he who now wanders the forest with a bristled herd.'"

The Hawk and the Fourth Cycle

"I became old again. Weariness came into my limbs, and I was filled with anguish. I stole away to my cave and slept there. I then dreamed my dream and became a hawk.

"I lifted from the ground. The air was my kingdom, and my wide eyes stared outwards for a hundred miles. I soared, I swooped, and swung and hung across the air; motionless as a living stone; over the abyss, I lived in joy and slept in peace on the high eyries. I had my fill of the sweetness of life.

"During that time Beothach, the son of Iarbonel the Red-necked, came to Tete with his people, and there was a great battle between him and the people of Stariath. Long I hung over that combat, seeing every spear that was hurtled, every stone that whizzed from a sling, every flashing sword glittering in the light of the noonday sun. And at the end, I saw that the victory was with the sons of Iarbonel. From his people the Fair nâz Tir came, and although their origin is forgotten, the learned men say that they were gods. The Fair nâz Tir are of the Faery; they are the old gods.

"For long, long years I was a hawk. I knew every stream and every brook. The curving inlets and the hidden glades were known to me. The shapes of the cliffs and the coasts, and how all places looked under sun and moon, these were known. I was still a hawk when the sons of Mandil drove the Fair nâz Tir under the ground, and held Tete against arms or wizardry; and this was the coming of Men.

The Salmon and Doom

"Then I grew old, and I sought for shade from the sun, or for a secluded ledge from which to watch the small creatures that sped like lightning over the foamy sea tops. The green tides of the ocean rose over me and my dreams, so that I drowned in the sea and did not die, for I awoke in deep waters, and I was the salmon of which I had dreamed.

"I had been a man, a stag, a boar, a bird, and now I was a fish. In all my changes I had joy and fullness of life. In the waters, though, joy lay deeper still, life pulsed deeper. For on land or air there is always something excessive and hindering; as arms that swing at the sides of a man, and which the mind must remember. The stag must tuck his legs away to sleep, he must untuck them for movement; the bird must be folded and unfolded so that he may fly and rest. But the fish has but one piece from nose to tail. He is complete, single, and unencumbered. He turns in one, single, fluid motion, and goes up and down in sole movement.

"I flew through the soft element. I joyed in the country of no harshness: in the element which upholds and gives way; which caresses and lets go, and will not let you fall. The home of the salmon is his delight, and the green sea guards all her creatures.

"I was king of the salmon, and, with my multitudes, I ranged on the tides of the world. Green and purple distances were underneath me: green and gold in the sunlit region above. I moved through a world of amber, myself amber and gold, ini those others a sparkle of periwinkle blue, I curved, lit like a living jewel: and in these again, through dusks of ebony all mazed with silver, I shot and shone, the wonder of the sea.

"I saw monsters of the utmost deep go heaving by; and the long lithe brutes that are toothed from nose to tails. The gloom stretched forever beneath me. The warmth was always around me. I knew the sea. I knew the secret caves where the ocean roars to ocean; the floods that are icy cold, from which the nose of a salmon leaps back as at a sting; and the warm streams in which we rocked and dozed and were carried forward without motion. I swam on the outermost rim of the great world, where nothing but the sea and the sky and the salmon were; where even the wind was silent, and the water was as clear as a clean grey rock.

"And then, far away in the sea, I remembered Men, and there came on me an instant, uncontrollable anguish to return to Tete and to be there. I turned, and through days and nights I swam tirelessly, jubilantly; with terror in my heart, and a whisper in my being that told me I must reach Tete or die. I fought my way up the river from the sea.

"Ah! You cannot imagine the difficulty of that journey. A sickness wracked my every bone. A languid weakness creeping through every fibre and muscle. I was held back by the waves; the soft waters had grown hard; and it was as though I were urging through a rock as I strained towards Tete from the sea. I was so tired! I could have loosenend myself just a little bit, and have been swept away in an instant. Only the unconquerable heart of the salmon could brave that toil. The sound of the rivers of Tete racing towards the sea bore up in me the love of her. The gods of the river mumbled in their foamy currents and white-curled breakers, and at last I lay in the sweet water of the curve of a crannied rock, three-parts dead, wholly triumphant.

"As I lay basking in the sun, they saw me also. I saw the dragonflies flash and dart and turn, with a poise, with a speed that no other creature knows. I saw a hawk hover and stare and swoop, but he could not catch the king of the salmon. I saw the cold-eyed cat stretching along the shore. And I saw Men.

"They saw me also. They came to know me and to look for me. They laid in wait at the waterfalls and hid traps for me. They made cords the color of water, or the color of weeds, but I knew their tricks and avoided their meat trapped hooks. Many a wound I got from Men, and many a sorrowful scar. Every beast pursued me in the waters and along the banks. The otter came after me. The cat fished for me; the hawk and the steep-winged, silver-beaked birds dived down on me, and men crept on me with nets the width of a river. My life became ceaseless fleeing and wounds and near escapes. It was a burden and anguish of watchfulness, and then I was caught."

The Man and the End of the Cycles

"The fishermen of the King of Wohlktin took me in their nets. Ah, that was a happy man when he saw me! He shouted for joy when he saw me in his net. I was still in the water when he hauled me in delicately. I was still in the water as he pulled me to the bank. Then my nose touched air and spun from it as fire, and I dived with all my might against the bottom of the net, holding yet to water, loving it, mad with terror that I should quit that loveliness. But the net held and I came up.

"'Be quiet,' the fisherman said, 'be quiet, King of the River, and give in to Doom.'

"I was in air, and it was as if I was on fire. The air pressed on me like a fiery mountain, it beat on my scales and scorched them. It rushed down my throat and scalded me. My eyes felt as if they were to burst from my head, my body felt as if it would swell and burst into ten thousand pieces. The light blinded me, the heat tormented me, and the dry air made me shrivel and gasp. I tried to leap, leap, leap, but I found that I had no strength within me. The fisherman eased me, and told me to be at rest, and though I struggled and writhed, at last the dryness and pain overcame me, and I died.

"But before my death I dreamt. And it was a brief dream, here and then gone before I could fully grasp its sweetness. It was of a hairless figure, paradoxical and alone but young and willful and wild beyond reprieve. The figure faced the sea, and the sun was before him; the moon was behind him. And I felt a new heart in my breast. My limbs grew long. And there was a mind which weighed like a heavy stone.

"Then I woke in my cave as a young and naked man. I went to my forebearers' place and built the stronghold you see before you. I have been born many times. I remember the warmth and darkness and movement and unseen sounds. All that happened I remember, from the time I was in the skies to the swimming in the emerald bays."

"And now," said Tuan, "you will be born again, for I will ablutise you into the family of Vahan, the living God."

This is the story of Fionn eä Vanwi, the son of Igni. No one knows if he died in those distant ages when Tuan was still Abbot of Moville, or if he still keeps watch in his stronghold still, seeing all things, and remembering them for God and for the glory of Tete.

by Peter Fitzpatrick
Diddly aidly dum and a diddly ai a dum and a diddly doodly ai and a diddly doodle daay. That is the sound of the mountain dew in summer, with the young girls picking the mountains flowers in the clear summer air.


Author's Notes

A practise on writing using James Stephens's Traditional Irish Fairy Tales's story on Tuan mac Cairill

Please Login in order to comment!
Powered by World Anvil