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- Heroic Romances of Ireland Volume 2 - 1/27 -
PREFACE TO VOL. II
It seems to have been customary in ancient Ireland to precede by shorter stories the recital of the Great Tain, the central story of the Irish Heroic Age. A list of fourteen of these "lesser Tains," three of which are lost, is given in Miss Hull's "Cuchullin Saga"; those preserved are the Tain bo Aingen, Dartada, Flidais, Fraich, Munad, Regamon, Regamna, Ros, Ruanadh, Sailin, and Ere. Of these, five only have been edited, viz. the Tain bo Dartada, Flidais, Fraich, Regamon, and Regamna; all these five are given in this volume.
The last four tales are all short, and perhaps are more truly "preludes" (remscela) than the Tain bo Fraich, which has indeed enough of interest in itself to make it an independent tale, and is as long as the four put together. All the five tales have been rendered into verse, with a prose literal translation opposite to the verse rendering, for reasons already given in the preface to the first volume. A short introduction, describing the manuscript authority, is prefixed to each; they all seem to go back in date to the best literary period, but appear to have been at any rate put into their present form later than the Great Tain, in order to lead up to it. A possible exception to this may be found at the end of the Tain bo Flidais, which seems to give a different account of the end of the war of Cualgne, and to claim that Cuchulain was defeated, and that Connaught gained his land for its allies. It may be mentioned that the last four tales are expressly stated in the text to be "remscela" to the Great Tain.
INTRODUCTION IN VERSE
When to an Irish court of old Came men, who flocked from near and far To hear the ancient tale that told Cuchulain's deeds in Cualgne's War;
Oft, ere that famous tale began, Before their chiefest bard they hail, Amid the throng some lesser man Arose, to tell a lighter tale;
He'd fell how Maev and Ailill planned Their mighty hosts might best be fed, When they towards the Cualgne land All Irelands swarming armies led;
How Maev the youthful princes sent To harry warlike Regamon, How they, who trembling, from her went, His daughters and his cattle won;
How Ailill's guile gained Darla's cows, How vengeful fairies marked that deed; How Fergus won his royal spouse Whose kine all Ireland's hosts could feed;
How, in a form grotesque and weird, Cuchulain found a Power Divine; Or how in shapes of beasts appeared The Magic Men, who kept the Swine;
Or how the rowan's guardian snake Was roused by order of the king; Or how, from out the water, Fraech To Finnabar restored her ring.
And though, in greater tales, they chose Speech mired with song, men's hearts to sway, Such themes as these they told in prose, Like speakers at the "Feis" to-day.
To men who spake the Irish tongue That form of Prose was pleasing well, While other lands in ballads sung Such tales as these have loved to tell:
So we, who now in English dress These Irish tales would fain And seek their spirit to express, Have set them down in ballad verse;
And, though to Celts the form be strange, Seek not too much the change to blame; 'Tis but the form alone we change; The sense, the spirit rest the same.
THE PRELUDES TO THE RAID OF CUALGNE
TAIN BO FRAICH - Page 1
THE RAID FOR DARTAID'S CATTLE - Page 69
THE RAID FOR THE CATTLE OF REGAMON - Page 83
THE DRIVING OF THE CATTLE OF FLIDAIS - Page 101
THE APPARITION OF THE GREAT QUEEN TO CUCHULAIN - Page 127
IRISH TEXT AND LITERAL TRANSLATION OF PART OF THE COURTSHIP OF ETAIN - Page 143
TAIN BO FRAICH
The Tain bo Fraich, the Driving of the Cattle of Fraech, has apparently only one version; the different manuscripts which contain it differing in very small points; most of which seem to be due to scribal errors.
Practically the tale consists of two quite separate parts. The first, the longer portion, gives the adventures of Fraech at the court of Ailill and Maev of Connaught, his courtship of their daughter, Finnabar, and closes with a promised betrothal. The second part is an account of an expedition undertaken by Fraech to the Alps "in the north of the land of the Long Beards," to recover stolen cattle, as well as his wife," who is stated by O'Beirne Crowe, on the authority of the "Courtship of Trebland" in the Book of Fermoy, to have been Trebland, a semi-deity, like Fraech himself. Except that Fraech is the chief actor in both parts, and that there is one short reference at the end of the second part to the fact that Fraech did, as he had promised in the first part, join Ailill and Maev upon the War of Cualnge, there is no connection between the two stories. But the difference between the two parts is not only in the subject-matter; the difference in the style is even yet more apparent. The first part has, I think, the most complicated plot of any Irish romance, it abounds in brilliant descriptions, and, although the original is in prose, it is, in feeling, highly poetic. The second part resembles in its simplicity and rapid action the other "fore tales" or preludes to the War of Cualnge contained in this volume, and is of a style represented in English by the narrative ballad.
In spite of the various characters of the two parts, the story seems to have been regarded as one in all the manuscripts which contain it; and the question how these two romances came to be regarded as one story becomes interesting. The natural hypothesis would be that the last part was the original version, which was in its earlier part re-written by a man of genius, possibly drawing his plot from some brief statement that Finnabar was promised to Fraech in return for the help that he and his recovered cattle could give in the Great War; but a difficulty, which prevents us from regarding the second part as an original legend, at once comes in. The second part of the story happens to contain so many references to nations outside Ireland that its date can be pretty well fixed. Fraech and his companions go, over the sea from Ulster, i.e. to Scotland; then through "north Saxon-land" to the sea of Icht (i.e. the sea of Wight or the English Channel); then to the Alps in the north of the land of the Long-Beards, or Lombards. The Long-Beards do not appear in Italy until the end of the sixth century; the suggestion of North Saxon-Land reaching down to the sea of Wight suggests that there was then a South Saxon-Land, familiar to an Irish writer, dating this part of the story as before the end of the eighth century, when both Saxons and Long-Beards were overcome by Charlemagne. The second part of the story is, then, no original legend, but belongs to the seventh or eighth century, or the classical period; and it looks as if there were two writers, one of whom, like the author of the Egerton version of Etain, embellished the love-story part of the original legend, leaving the end alone, while another author wrote an account of the legendary journey of the demi-god Fraech in search for his stolen cattle, adding the geographical and historical knowledge of his time. The whole was then put together, like the two parts of the Etain story; the difference between the two stories in the matter of the wife does not seem to have troubled the compilers.
The oldest manuscript authority for the Tain bo Fraich is the Book of Leinster, written before 1150. There are at least two other manuscript authorities, one; in Egerton, 1782 (published by Professor Kuno Meyer in the Zeitschrift für Celt. Philologie, 1902); the other is in MS. XL., Advocates' Library, Edinburgh (published in the Revue Celtique, Vol. XXIV.). Professor Meyer has kindly allowed me to copy his comparison of these manuscripts and his revision of O'Beirne Crowe's translation of the Book of Leinster text. The text of the literal translation given here follows, however, in the main O'Beirne Crowe's translation, which is in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy for 1870; a few insertions are made from the other MSS.; when so made the insertion is indicated by a note.
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