Connla and the Fairy Maiden, by Joseph Jacobs
Connla of the Fiery Hair was son of Conn of the Hundred Fights. One day
as he stood by the side of his father on the height of Usna, he saw a
maiden clad in strange attire coming towards him.
"Whence comest thou, maiden?" said Connla.
"I come from the Plains of the Ever Living," she said, "there where
there is neither death nor sin. There we keep holiday alway, nor need
we help from any in our joy. And in all our pleasure we have no strife.
And because we have our homes in the round green hills, men call us the
The king and all with him wondered much to hear a voice when they saw
no one. For save Connla alone, none saw the Fairy Maiden.
"To whom art thou talking, my son?" said Conn the king.
Then the maiden answered, "Connla speaks to a young, fair maid, whom
neither death nor old age awaits. I love Connla, and now I call him
away to the Plain of Pleasure, Moy Mell, where Boadag is king for aye,
nor has there been complaint or sorrow in that land since he has held
the kingship. Oh, come with me, Connla of the Fiery Hair, ruddy as the
dawn with thy tawny skin. A fairy crown awaits thee to grace thy comely
face and royal form. Come, and never shall thy comeliness fade, nor thy
youth, till the last awful day of judgment."
The king in fear at what the maiden said, which he heard though he
could not see her, called aloud to his Druid, Coran by name.
"Oh, Coran of the many spells," he said, "and of the cunning magic, I
call upon thy aid. A task is upon me too great for all my skill and
wit, greater than any laid upon me since I seized the kingship. A
maiden unseen has met us, and by her power would take from me my dear,
my comely son. If thou help not, he will be taken from thy king by
woman's wiles and witchery."
Then Coran the Druid stood forth and chanted his spells towards the
spot where the maiden's voice had been heard. And none heard her voice
again, nor could Connla see her longer. Only as she vanished before the
Druid's mighty spell, she threw an apple to Connla.
For a whole month from that day Connla would take nothing, either to
eat or to drink, save only from that apple. But as he ate it grew again
and always kept whole. And all the while there grew within him a mighty
yearning and longing after the maiden he had seen.
But when the last day of the month of waiting came, Connla stood by the
side of the king his father on the Plain of Arcomin, and again he saw
the maiden come towards him, and again she spoke to him.
"'Tis a glorious place, forsooth, that Connla holds among short-lived
mortals awaiting the day of death. But now the folk of life, the
ever-living ones, beg and bid thee come to Moy Mell, the Plain of
Pleasure, for they have learnt to know thee, seeing thee in thy home
among thy dear ones."
When Conn the king heard the maiden's voice he called to his men aloud
"Summon swift my Druid Coran, for I see she has again this day the
power of speech."
Then the maiden said: "Oh, mighty Conn, fighter of a hundred fights,
the Druid's power is little loved; it has little honour in the mighty
land, peopled with so many of the upright. When the Law will come, it
will do away with the Druid's magic spells that come from the lips of
the false black demon."
Then Conn the king observed that since the maiden came, Connla his son
spoke to none that spake to him. So Conn of the hundred fights said to
him, "Is it to thy mind what the woman says, my son?"
"'Tis hard upon me," then said Connla; "I love my own folk above all
things; but yet, but yet a longing seizes me for the maiden."
When the maiden heard this, she answered and said "The ocean is not so
strong as the waves of thy longing. Come with me in my curragh, the
gleaming, straight-gliding crystal canoe. Soon we can reach Boadag's
realm. I see the bright sun sink, yet far as it is, we can reach it
before dark. There is, too, another land worthy of thy journey, a land
joyous to all that seek it. Only wives and maidens dwell there. If thou
wilt, we can seek it and live there alone together in joy."
When the maiden ceased to speak, Connla of the Fiery Hair rushed away
from them and sprang into the curragh, the gleaming, straight-gliding
crystal canoe. And then they all, king and court, saw it glide away
over the bright sea towards the setting sun. Away and away, till eye
could see it no longer, and Connla and the Fairy Maiden went their way
on the sea, and were no more seen, nor did any know where they came.
CONNLA AND THE FAIRY MAIDEN.
Source.—From the old Irish "Echtra Condla chaim maic Cuind
Chetchathaig" of the Leabhar na h-Uidhre ("Book of the Dun Cow"),
which must have been written before 1106, when its scribe Maelmori
("Servant of Mary") was murdered. The original is given by Windisch in
his Irish Grammar, p. 120, also in the Trans. Kilkenny Archaeol.
Soc. for 1874. A fragment occurs in a Rawlinson MS., described by Dr.
W. Stokes, Tripartite Life, p. xxxvi. I have used the translation of
Prof. Zimmer in his Keltische Beiträge, ii. (Zeits. f. deutsches
Altertum, Bd. xxxiii. 262-4). Dr. Joyce has a somewhat florid version
in, his Old Celtic Romances, from which I have borrowed a touch or
two. I have neither extenuated nor added aught but the last sentence of
the Fairy Maiden's last speech. Part of the original is in metrical
form, so that the whole is of the cante-fable species which I believe
to be the original form of the folk-tale (Cf. Eng. Fairy Tales,
notes, p. 240, and infra, p. 257).
Parallels.—Prof. Zimmer's paper contains three other accounts of the
terra repromissionis in the Irish sagas, one of them being the
similar adventure of Cormac the nephew of Connla, or Condla Ruad as he
should be called. The fairy apple of gold occurs in Cormac Mac Art's
visit to the Brug of Manannan (Nutt's Holy Grail, 193).
Remarks.—Conn the hundred-fighter had the head-kingship of Ireland
123-157 A.D., according to the Annals of the Four Masters, i. 105. On
the day of his birth the five great roads from Tara to all parts of
Ireland were completed: one of them from Dublin is still used.
Connaught is said to have been named after him, but this is scarcely
consonant with Joyce's identification with Ptolemy's Nagnatai (Irish
Local Names, i. 75). But there can be little doubt of Conn's existence
as a powerful ruler in Ireland in the second century. The historic
existence of Connla seems also to be authenticated by the reference to
him as Conly, the eldest son of Conn, in the Annals of Clonmacnoise. As
Conn was succeeded by his third son, Art Enear, Connla was either slain
or disappeared during his father's lifetime. Under these circumstances
it is not unlikely that our legend grew up within the century after
Conn—i.e., during the latter half of the second century.
As regards the present form of it, Prof. Zimmer (l.c. 261-2) places
it in the seventh century. It has clearly been touched up by a
Christian hand who introduced the reference to the day of judgment and
to the waning power of the Druids. But nothing turns upon this
interpolation, so that it is likely that even the present form of the
legend is pre-Christian-i.e. for Ireland, pre-Patrician, before the
The tale of Connla is thus the earliest fairy tale of modern Europe.
Besides this interest it contains an early account of one of the most
characteristic Celtic conceptions, that of the earthly Paradise, the
Isle of Youth, Tir-nan-Og. This has impressed itself on the European
imagination; in the Arthuriad it is represented by the Vale of Avalon,
and as represented in the various Celtic visions of the future life, it
forms one of the main sources of Dante's Divina Commedia. It is
possible too, I think, that the Homeric Hesperides and the Fortunate
Isles of the ancients had a Celtic origin (as is well known, the early
place-names of Europe are predominantly Celtic). I have found, I
believe, a reference to the conception in one of the earliest passages
in the classics dealing with the Druids. Lucan, in his Pharsalia (i.
450-8), addresses them in these high terms of reverence:
Et vos barbaricos ritus, moremque sinistrum,
Sacrorum, Druidae, positis repetistis ab armis,
Solis nosse Deos et coeli numera vobis
Aut solis nescire datum; nemora alta remotis
Incolitis lucis. Vobis auctoribus umbrae,
Non tacitas Erebi sedes, Ditisque profundi,
Pallida regna petunt: regit idem spiritus artus
Orbe alio: longae, canitis si cognita, vitae
Mors media est.
The passage certainly seems to me to imply a different conception from
the ordinary classical views of the life after death, the dark and
dismal plains of Erebus peopled with ghosts; and the passage I have
italicised would chime in well with the conception of a continuance of
youth (idem spiritus) in Tir-nan-Og (orbe alio).
One of the most pathetic, beautiful, and typical scenes in Irish legend
is the return of Ossian from Tir-nan-Og, and his interview with St.
Patrick. The old faith and the new, the old order of things and that
which replaced it, meet in two of the most characteristic products of
the Irish imagination (for the Patrick of legend is as much a legendary
figure as Oisin himself). Ossian had gone away to Tir-nan-Og with the
fairy Niamh under very much the same circumstances as Condla Ruad; time
flies in the land of eternal youth, and when Ossian returns, after a
year as he thinks, more than three centuries had passed, and St.
Patrick had just succeeded in introducing the new faith. The contrast
of Past and Present has never been more vividly or beautifully