From Lady Greogory’s Gods and Fighting Men (1904).
Part I Book IV: His Three Calls to Cormac
AND another that went to Manannan’s country was Cormac, grandson of Conn, King of Teamhair, and this is the way it happened. He was by himself in Teamhair one time, and he saw an armed man coming towards him, quiet, with high looks, and having grey hair; a shirt ribbed with gold thread next his skin, broad shoes of white bronze between his feet and the ground, a shining branch having nine apples of red gold, on his shoulder. And it is delightful the sound of that branch was, and no one on earth would keep in mind any want, or trouble, or tiredness, when that branch was shaken for him; and whatever trouble there might be on him, he would forget it at the sound.
Then Cormac and the armed man saluted one another, and Cormac asked where did he come from. “I come,” he said, “from a country where there is nothing but truth, and where there is neither age nor withering away, nor heaviness, nor sadness, nor jealousy, nor envy, nor pride.” “That is not so with us,” said Cormac, “and I would be well pleased to have your friendship,” he said. “I am well pleased to give it,” said the stranger. “Give me your branch along with it,” said Connac. “I will give it”, said the stranger, “if you will give me the three gifts I ask in return.” “I will give them to you indeed,” said Cormac.
Then the strange man left the branch and went away, and Cormac did not know where was he gone to.
He went back then into the royal house, and there was wonder on all the people when they saw the branch. And he shook it at them, and it put them all asleep from that day to the same time on the morrow.
At the end of a year the strange man came back again, and he asked for the first of his three requests. “You will get it,” said Connac. “I will take your daughter, Aille, to-day,” said the stranger.
So he brought away the girl with him, and the women of Ireland gave three loud cries after the king’s daughter. But Cormac shook the branch at them, until it put away sorrow from them, and put them all into their sleep.
That day month the stranger came again, and he brought Cormac’s son, Carpre Lifecar, away with him. There was crying and lamenting without end in Teamhair after the boy, and on that night no one ate or slept, and they were all under grief and very downhearted. But when Cormac shook the branch their sorrow went from them.
Then the stranger came the third time, and Cormac asked him what did he want. “It is your wife, Ethne, I am asking this time,” he said. And he went away then, bringing Ethne, the queen, along with him.
But Cormac would not bear that, and be went after them, and all his people were following him. But in the middle of the Plain of the Wall, a thick mist came on them, and when it was gone, Cormac found himself alone on a great plain. And he saw a great dun in the middle of the plain, with a wall of bronze around it, and in the dun a house of white silver, and it half thatched with the white wings of birds. And there was a great troop of the Riders of the Sidhe all about the house, and their arms full of white bird’s wings for thatching. But as soon as they would put on the thatch, a blast of wind would come and carry it away again.
Then he saw a man kindling a fire, and he used to throw a thick oak-tree upon it. And when he would come back with a second tree, the first one would be burned out. “I will be looking at you no longer,” Cormac said then, “for there is no one here to tell me your story, and I think I could find good sense in your meanings if I understood them,” he said.
Then he went on to where there was another dun, very large and royal, and another wall of bronze around it, and four houses within it. And he went in and saw a great king’s house, having beams of bronze and walls of silver, and its thatch of the wings of white birds. And then he saw on the green a shining well, and five streams flowing from it, and the armies drinking water in turn, and the nine lasting purple hazels of Buan growing over it. And they were dropping their nuts into the water, and the five salmon would catch them and send their husks floating down the streams. And the sound of the flowing of those streams is sweeter than any music that men sing.
Then he went into the palace, and he found there waiting for him a man and a woman, very tall, and having clothes of many colours. The man was beautiful as to shape, and his face wonderful to look at; and as to the young woman that was with him, she was the loveliest of all the women of the world, and she having yellow hair and a golden helmet. And there was a bath there, and heated stones going in and out of the water of themselves, and Cormac bathed himself in it.
“Rise up, man of the house,” the woman said after that, “for this is a comely traveller that is come to us; and if you have one kind of food or meat better than another, let it be brought in.” The man rose up then and he said: “I have but seven pigs, but I could feed the whole world with them, for the pig that is killed and eaten to-day, you will find it alive again to-morrow.”
Another man came into the house then, having an axe in his right hand, and a log in his left hand, and a pig behind him.
“It is time to make ready,” said the man of the house, “for we have a high guest with us to-day.”
Then the man struck the pig and killed it, and he cut the logs and made a fire and put the pig on it in a cauldron. “It is time for you to turn it,” said the master of the house after a while. “There would be no use doing that,” said the man, “for never and never will the pig be boiled until a truth is told for every quarter of it.” “Then let you tell yours first,” said the master of the house. “One day,” said the man, “I found another man’s cows in my land, and I brought them with me into a cattle pound. The owner of the cows followed me, and he said he would give me a reward to let the cows go free. So I gave them back to him, and he gave me an axe, and when a pig is to be killed, it is with the axe it is killed, and the log is cut with it, and there is enough wood to boil the pig, and enough for the palace besides. And that is not all, for the log is found whole again in the morning. And from that time till now, that is the way they are.”
“It is true indeed that story is,” said the man of the house.
They turned the pig in the cauldron then, and but one quarter of it was found to be cooked. “Let us tell another true story,” they said. “I will tell one,” said the master of the house. “Ploughing time had come, and when we had a mind to plough that field outside, it is the way we found it, ploughed, and harrowed, and sowed with wheat. When we had a mind to reap it, the wheat was found in the haggard, all in one thatched rick. We have been using it from that day to this, and it is no bigger and no less.”
Then they turned the pig, and another quarter was found to be ready. “It is my turn now,” said the woman. “I have seven cows,” she said, “and seven sheep. And the milk of the seven cows would satisfy the whole of the men of the world, if they were in the plain drinking it, and it is enough for all the people of the Land of Promise, and it is from the wool of the seven sheep all the clothes they wear are made.” And at that story the third quarter of the pig was boiled.
“If these stories are true,” said Cormac to the man of the house, “you are Manannan, and this is Manannan’s wife; for no one on the whole ridge of the world owns these treasures but himself. It was to the Land of Promise he went to look for that woman, and he got those seven cows with her.”
They said to Cormac that it was his turn now. So Cormac told them how his wife, and his son, and his daughter, had been brought away from him, and how he himself had followed them till he came to that place.
And with that the whole pig was boiled, and they cut it up, and Cormac’s share was put before him. “I never used a meal yet,” said he, “having two persons only in my company.” The man of the house began singing to him then, and put him asleep. And when he awoke, he saw fifty armed men, and his son, and his wife, and his daughter, along with them. There was great gladness and courage on him then, and ale and food were given out to them all. And there was a gold cup put in the hand of the master of the house, and Cormac was wondering at it, for the number of the shapes on it, and for the strangeness of the work. “There is a stranger thing yet about it,” the man said; “let three lying words be spoken under it, and it will break into three, and then let three true words be spoken under it, and it will be as good as before.” So he said three lying words under it, and it broke in three pieces. “It is best to speak truth now under it,” he said, “and to mend it. And I give my word, Cormac,” he said, “that until to-day neither your wife or your daughter has seen the face of a man since they were brought away from you out of Teamhair, and that your son has never seen the face of a woman.” And with that the cup was whole again on the moment. “Bring away your wife and your children with you now,” he said, “and this cup along with them, the way you will have it for judging between truth and untruth. And I will leave the branch with you for music and delight, but on the day of your death they will be taken from you again. And I myself,” he said, “am Manannan, son of Lir, King of the Land of Promise, and I brought you here by enchantments that you might be with me to-night in friendship.
“And the Riders you saw thatching the house,” he said, “are the men of arts and poets, and all that look for a fortune in Ireland, putting together cattle and riches. For when they go out, all that they leave in their houses goes to nothing, and so they go on for ever.
“And the man you saw kindling the fire,” he said, “is a young lord that is more liberal than he can afford, and every one else is served while he is getting the feast ready, and every one else profiting by it.
“And the well you saw is the Well of Knowledge, and the streams are the five streams through which all knowledge goes. And no one will have knowledge who does not drink a draught out of the well itself or out of the streams. And the people of many arts are those who drink from them all.”
And on the morning of the morrow, when Cormac rose up, he found himself on the green of Teamhair, and his wife, and his son, and his daughter, along with him, and he having his branch and his cup. And it was given the name of Cormac’s Cup, and it used to judge between truth and falsehood among the Gael. But it was not left in Ireland after the night of Cormac’s death, as Manannan had foretold him.