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 Hill Folk."
The king and ail 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 shortlived 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 and said:
"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.
Jacobs' Notes and References
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 Beitrage, ii. (Zeits. f deutsches Altertzem, 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 Condla, 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 fifth century.
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-na n-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, morenique sinistrum,
Sacrorum, Druidae, positis repetistis ab armis,
Solis nôsse 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 p tunt: 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-na n-Og (orbe alio).
One of the most pathetic, beautiful, and typical scenes in Irish legend is the return of Ossian from Tir-na n-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-na n-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 represented.
Jacobs, Joseph, ed. Celtic Fairy Tales.London: David Nutt, 1892. Amazon.com: Buy the book in hardcover or paperback.