Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago - Evaleen Stein

The New Home at Kinkora

Angus had disposed of his home rath to a bo-aire who had given in exchange many bags of wheat and silver rings and gold torques and necklaces. Then, loading in an ox-cart such things as they wished to take with them to Kinkora, they had set out for the river Shannon; for as Brian Boru's palace was on the bank of that river, it was easier to make the main journey by boat.

Eileen and her mother and Ferdiad rode in the cart with the driver, but Angus came beside them on a horse, which was considered the only proper way for a poet to ride; his horse had a single bridle and he guided and urged it on, not by a whip, but a small rod of carved yew wood having a curved end with a goad.

They all greatly enjoyed the journey both by land and water, and slept soundly every night at some comfortable brewy, which was the Celtic name for an inn, though, unlike our inns, they were places of free entertainment. Indeed, there were no other kind among the Celts, who thought so highly of hospitality that at every place where four important roads met they built a brewy. It was thought a great honor to be a brewy master and it was usually given to a man who had served his country well. He was given also a large piece of public farm land and many sheep and cows and was expected always to have food and beds ready for travelers. And lest any one should miss his way, a servant stood always at the cross roads to point out the brewy.

In this way they made the journey to Kinkora and were soon settled in their new home.

The second morning after their arrival, Ferdiad was in a meadow near by knocking about a leather ball with a bronze tipped stick when suddenly he threw it down, crying delightedly, "Well, Conn! We have been here two days and I wondered why you didn't come!" and he ran to meet his friend whose red head had just flamed in sight.

Conn laughed with pleasure. "I came the first chance I had," he panted, "and I ran the last half mile. My foster-father has been sick and I had to tend the cows and sheep so I couldn't get away before. How do you like it here?" he added, looking eagerly around. Then, seeing the ball and stick, "Oh," he cried, "why didn't I bring my stick and we could have had a game of hurley!"

"Never mind," said Ferdiad, "come and see where we live now."

"It's inside the high king's dun, isn't it?" asked Conn, looking toward the great earthen wall faced with stone and cement that rose near by enclosing the palace of Brian Boru.

"Yes," answered Ferdiad, "you know the king's poet and doctor and lawyer and the rest of the folks that always attend him have houses inside the dun."

"I know," said Conn, "and these scattered around through the fields are for the millers and farmers and cloth-makers and everybody who does things for the palace folks."

By this time the boys had come opposite the doorway in the great circular wall and had begun to weave their way among a number of tall upright stones, each as large as a man and placed as irregularly as if a lot of people running toward the dun had suddenly been petrified. It was like playing hide and seek for the boys to try to keep together.

"Well," said Ferdiad, as at last the stood before the open door of heavy oaken beams, "the king of Meath has stones before the wall of his dun, only not half so many as these!"

"They're a wonderful protection," said Conn, "and if any army tried to attack Brian Boru's palace they would have a mighty hard time getting inside the dun, for, of course, they would have to make their way between the stones a few at a time, just like we did."

Here the boys stepped inside the enclosure. They did not need to use the small log knocker which lay in a niche in a stone pillar beside the door, as the latter stood open with the keeper blinking in the sun. They crossed a wooden bridge over a moat and this brought them to the door of a second wall of earth thickly planted on top with hazel bushes. Passing through this they came to the very large green space in the center of which was a low mound where stood the wooden palace of Brian Boru. Dotted around near the earthen rampart were a number of round wattled houses where, as Ferdiad had said, the chief attendants of the high king lived.

"I've been here before," said Conn, who had often brought things from the farm of his foster-father, "and I've peeped inside the palace once or twice when the high king was away, but I haven't been in any of the chiefs' houses. Which is yours?" —"Oh, I see!" he added, laughing, as Eileen, catching sight of him, came running from an open doorway.

"Come in, Conn!" she cried, seizing both his hands. "Isn't our house pretty? It has stripes just like the queen's house at the fair!" and she pointed to the red and blue and green bands painted on the plaster that overlaid the wattled walls. "And see how nice it is inside!" she went on, leading Conn within.

"Yes," said Conn, "it is very pretty," and he gazed admiringly around. In the center of the house was a carved pole supporting the thatched roof, in which was a hole to let out the smoke when it was cold enough to build a fire on the earthen floor now strewn with rushes. There were several low tables and seats cushioned with white fleeces, and around the wall behind partitions of wickerwork stood the beds with posts fixed in the ground.

"I helped weave the coverlids!" said Eileen with pride as they peeped into these tiny bedrooms, "My loom is in our greenan," and she led the way to a separate little house shining white in the sun and covered with vines. For no Celtic home was considered complete without such a little bower, or greenan as they called it, for the mistress and her friends, and it was always placed in the pleasantest and sunniest spot.

Here Ferdiad called, "Come on Conn, let's go and take a look in the palace and around the dun. The high king and most of the flaiths have gone deer hunting and father Angus is practicing a new poem, so we'll poke around awhile and then after dinner maybe we can find somebody to tell us a story."

As the boys ran off together, "Be sure and show Conn the queen's greenan all thatched with bird wings!" called Eileen, and Conn smiled, for he had often seen the greenan with its wonderful roof of feathers which were arranged in glistening stripes of white and many colors. So, too, he had seen the great banquet hall of Brian Boru, though he looked in again to please Ferdiad. It was built much in the style of the Hall of Feasting at the Tailltenn fair, only handsomer and more gayly painted, and the heavy door of carved yew wood and the posts on either side were elaborately ornamented with gold and silver and bronze. As they looked inside, "There is where father Angus sits when there is a feast," said Ferdiad, pointing to a seat at one of the long tables next to the high king's throne-like chair.

Back of the banquet hall was a kitchen with open fires and spits for roasting and cauldrons for boiling. There was also on the mound another large wooden house with living rooms and curtained beds, although all the more important folks had each a little round sleeping house all to himself.

Outside the main dun were several smaller circular enclosures protected by ramparts, and in these were stables for the horses and chariots, sheds for cows and sheep and pigs, granaries for wheat and barley, and kennels for the great fierce wolf-hounds that were loosed every night to guard the dun from unwelcome visitors.

By the time the boys had seen everything dinner was ready and afterwards Ferdiad begged Angus to tell them a story. "It needn't be a long one," he said, "but Conn and I have been looking at the big wolf-hounds of the high king and we wish you would tell us about how Cuculain got his name."

Angus smiled, for he knew the boys had heard many times of the exploits of Cuculain (whose name means "the Hound of Culain"), the most famous of all the Celtic heroes, but he knew also that made no matter for the boys loved to hear the same stories over and over. So they went out under a quicken tree near the house where Angus sat on a bench while Ferdiad and Conn stretched out on the grass at his feet.