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LIBRETTI FOR STAGE WORKS

Op.7 - Diarmuid and Gráinne

Words by Michéal Mac Liammóir adapted from his unpublished English translation of his play Diarmuid agus Gráinne

used with permission.

ACT ONE

 

Scene One

A curtained room in Tara. The Wise Woman of the Hills and the old Nurse are talking together. They are old women in long black cloaks.

WISE WOMAN  

And is it tonight the betrothal feast will be held?

 

NURSE  

It is tonight surely. They are preparing rich meats and dishes, ale and mead, bowls of sweetmeats and loaves of fine white bread in all the kitchens of Tara. It will be a grand night. The newest of all foods, the oldest of all drinks.

 

WISE WOMAN  

Aye, that is so. [She chuckles]

NURSE  

Why are you laughing, Wise Woman? [The chuckles grow louder] Why are you laughing? By the Gods, your laughter is thin and high like the clashing of battle swords and blades in the wars of old times.

WISE WOMAN  

I laugh because of the secrets I have.

 

NURSE  

And what are they?

WISE WOMAN  

Och, my secrets are…my secrets. Dark and terrible they are,

like the great woods of Connacht in a twilight of November.

 

NURSE  

Have they to do with the High King?

 

WISE WOMAN  

They have not, nor yet with the Queen.

 

NURSE  

Then it is of Gráinne you are speaking? Of the child I nursed at my breast?

 

WISE WOMAN  

Gráinne the fair may be one of those who are in my thoughts, one of those three great wayward ones who are in my secret thoughts.

 

NURSE  

Ah, see now, there are three great ones who live in your secret thoughts, Wise Woman of the Hills.

WISE WOMAN  

Aye, that is so.

NURSE  

Oh, you are thinking of Fionn Mac Cool.

WISE WOMAN  

That is true for you, old Nurse. And now, can you guess the third?

NURSE  

The third…the third…ah now…no, by the Gods, I can think of no one.

WISE WOMAN [mysteriously, coming closer]

Then I will tell you.  The third is Diarmuid, grandson of Duibhne.

NURSE  

Oh, that will be one of the men of the Fianna.

WISE WOMAN  

One of the men of the Fianna?  That is a strange way to speak of the pulse of Fionn’s heart, for Diarmuid is different from all the other men of the Fianna. Indeed he is different from all the other men of the five parts of Ireland.

 

NURSE  

How is he different, Wise Woman?

 

WISE WOMAN  

I will tell you. On his brow there is a star. A little shining star.

 

NURSE  

Oh, that should have been put there by the Green People of the Raths.

 

WISE WOMAN  

Listen, and I will tell you. [lowering her voice] One time, when Diarmuid with three others of the men of the Fianna were hunting, they came at the full of night to an old cabin in the woods, and a light shining out through the door of the cabin.

NURSE  

Ah, that’s wonderful. You’d think it was out of an old tale.

 

WISE WOMAN  

They went into the cabin, and who should be in it but an old man, and he bade them welcome. And in company with the old man there was a young beautiful girl and a cat.

 

NURSE  

The Gods look down upon us!

 

WISE WOMAN  

The old man gave them a room to sleep in, and no sooner were they inside their beds than a young girl came into the room, and the brightness of her beauty shone out through the darkness like the light of the moon.

 

NURSE  

And what was the name of the young girl?

 

WISE WOMAN [with a chuckle]

Her name was Youth. And the three men that were with Diarmuid were speaking with her and whispering. But to each of them she said: I belonged to you once, I never will belong to you again.

NURSE  

Oh, she was right surely.

WISE WOMAN  

Then Diarmuid himself went over to her, and whispered to her with words of sweet honey and fine melodious songs. But this is what she said to him: I belonged to you once, I never will belong to you again.

NURSE  

She was hard and cold indeed, like the high waves of the sea.

WISE WOMAN  

And then she said: But come nearer to me, Diarmuid, and I will put a star of love on your brow, the way no woman will ever see it shining there without giving you her love.

NURSE  

That is a wonderful thing now…

She is interrupted by the entrance of Sive, the tiring maid of Gráinne: a dark-looking woman. She carries a jewel box and some ornaments in her hands.

SIVE  

What is this, old Nurse? You are gossiping here with the Wise Woman while Fionn Mac Cool and his men are coming nearer to Tara with every minute that passes. My shame on you, old Nurse.

NURSE  

Oh Sive, the Wise Woman of the Hills has grand talk. She could tame the red foxes of the woods with her stories, she would coax the birds from the branches with her tales.

SIVE  

Fine talk she has, that’s true!... [she is drawn into the gossip]

Was it of Fionn and Gráinne you were speaking, Wise Woman?

WISE WOMAN  

It was, maybe.

NURSE  

Of Fionn and Gráinne, and of Diarmuid O Duibne as well.

SIVE  

Of Diarmuid O Duibhne! Is it he that has the star?... [Two slaves walk across the stage bearing wine and fruits]

Hush! Hush now, I say! For in Tara every word that is spoken over the fires at twilight has grown to be a fabulous story at the dawn of day. And let you cease your gossip! I know well it was of Diarmuid’s love star you were speaking!

NURSE  

Ay, that is true, Sive, and what I’d like to know…

WISE WOMAN  

Will you cease your talk, old Nurse! Oh, why will you be telling everything I say to you to every prattling serving boy and woman in the Halls of Tara?

SIVE  

Indeed, and if it’s of myself…

NURSE 

Diarmuid would have a strange and a wild life, if every woman that sees him would give her love to him.

 

WISE WOMAN  

It’s easy to see that you never laid an eye on the son of Donn, or heard any stories of his fame at all.

NURSE  

Why do you say that?

SIVE  

Doesn’t the world know of the cap of feathers Diarmuid wears? Doesn’t all the world know of the cap of blue eagles’ feathers he wears, pulled down over his brow? Ah, if Gráinne knew of the story of that star and of the way he has hidden it under the blue cap of feathers, it’s little love she’d give to Fionn Mac Cool.

WISE WOMAN  

Hush, Sive! Silence! You speak rashly about things you cannot understand when you speak of Gráinne and Diarmuid. Because you have a learned a little of the wisdom of the green hills and of the hollow hills, because I myself have taught you to brew charms and drugs and sleepy draughts, you think you know all…But you do not know all…You do not even know how soon your share of knowledge may be called for. You are a child yet, a child without knowledge, without wisdom…

SIVE  

Yet I know some things, Wise Woman.

WISE WOMAN  

Aye, you are learning. But of what is stirring in Tara tonight you know nothing. But hush! Let us part! I hear a stir and a murmur in the air, and soon the betrothal feast will begin. Do not forget these words of mine tonight, and when Gráinne calls you to her aid be ready with the strongest brew you have.

SIVE  

When Gráinne calls me to her aid? I do not understand, Wise Woman.

WISE WOMAN  

You do not understand. But look to the feast tonight. Look to the feast, I’m saying! And when young Diarmuid enters, mark him well! [to Nurse] Come now, old Nurse, the feast begins and old crows must fly away and not disturb the game. Oh! I am weary tonight. My grief for Fionn Mac Cool… [absently] Outside the walls of Tara the night creeps softly down. The wind is rising among the gaps of the hills. A red star…hangs low among the branches of the trees without these walls…

She and the Nurse walk slowly off together. Sive watches them and walks out in the other direction. Then the two slaves come, and when they have placed the two braziers into the two opposite corners of the stage they draw back the curtains before which the scene has been played and disclose the Middle Court of Tara

 

Scene Two

The Middle Court of Tara. Banquet spread. At the back of the stage stand Gráinne and Sorcha looking through the curtained window

SORCHA  

They are gathering together on the green below. [Silence] Your father is putting welcome before each man.

The nobles are all making a circle about him where he stands.

GRÁINNE [after a pause]

I see a red star hanging low among the branches of a tree.

SORCHA  

How the torches flare! Look, Gráinne, look well! The flower and the pick of the men of Ireland!

GRÁINNE  

Wind is stirring the grasses of the hillside. Wind is crying among the gaps of the hills.

SORCHA  

The light of the flames puts the colour of wine onto everything. The helmets of the warriors seem to be made of shadow and fire.

GRÁINNE    

Ah,  the wind is quieter now.  The night is very dark.

SORCHA 

Their cloaks are heavy with fine ornaments; their shirts are of linen that is whiter than milk; they have claps of bronze and brooches of gold…It is a handsome company we will have in Tara tonight, my daughter.

GRÁINNE  

What a great space the darkness makes. There is no end to it, no end. To run…to run like a hare…away through the darkness.

SORCHA  

Have you forgotten that you are to be betrothed tonight to Fionn? Ah, but your blood is cold, like ice.

GRÁINNE [smiling]

My blood is cold?

SORCHA  

Ay, cold. For do you not know this, that there is no woman in Ireland who would not give her two eyes to be in the place you stand tonight. To be the wife of Fionn!

GRÁINNE  

I have no mind for marriage.

SORCHA  

Gráinne! My shame you are!

GRÁINNE  

I have no mind for marriage, I say. I have no wish for it. What is Fionn Mac Cool to me? He has grey hair; his eyes are losing their fire, and his tongue its ready wit…I know he is no longer young. He will be slow and stern and harsh, and puffed up with pride…no, but I have no mind for marriage.

SORCHA  

You are a foolish child…You are like a young hare running on the green hills with no thought at all of tomorrow.

[She turns impatiently away and looks through the window again] But hush, hush!...

GRÁINNE 

What is it you see?

SORCHA  

I see Óisin, son of Fionn. [she points] The man in a long green cloak with metal clasps, his shirt white and fine, and a fillet of red gold round his head, who stands by a pillar of the house, that is Óisin, son of Fionn.

GRÁINNE  

He is a comely man.

SORCHA 

Oh Gráinne, Gráinne! There is Fionn himself! Do you not see?

GRÁINNE  

Where is he?

SORCHA  

He stands near Óisin now, his hand upon his shoulder. Now he talking to your father. [Pause]

GRÁINNE  

I see a grey-haired man with deep eyes, a long mantle of purple on him, and a helmet of shining bronze fashioned with great wings. His fingers are covered with jewels and now he is smiling, but I think for all that he is a hard and a heavy man.

SORCHA [engrossed]

Oh, he has moved away. Maybe he is coming into the house. No, for the others follow him…Oh, I must be ready to greet them!

She goes off hurriedly. Enter Dirring the Druid. The Queen, as she passes, motions him towards Gráinne

DIRRING  

Your life and health, daughter of the High King of Ireland! Hail, Gráinne, daughter of the King!

GRÁINNE  

Hail, Dirring!

She kneels before him and receives his blessing. Then she turns back to the window

DIRRING 

What are you looking at from the window, Gráinne?

GRÁINNE  

I am looking at the darkness.

DIRRING 

At the darkness?

GRÁINNE  

Yes. I see a red star shining through the darkness of a tree. I see the grasses stirring in the wind on the side of the hill. I see blackness rising up out of the earth like a raven. All these things I see, Dirring, and yet I see them not. For the light of the torches spills like blood upon my father’s guests, and they stand in front of the darkness in shapes of ruddy flesh and forms of gleaming bronze, with eyes that glow in the fireshine. I am watching first the darkness of the night, and then the great men of the Fianna who are coming to Tara for my betrothal feast.

DIRRING [coming closer to her and pointing out of the window]

And do you know who that man is?

GRÁINNE  

Which man is that?

DIRRING  

That fine and noble man who wears a robe of purple and a helmet fashioned with wings?

GRÁINNE  

Yes. I know.

DIRRING  

Well, Gráinne?

GRÁINNE  

That is Fionn Mac Cool, the man who is to be my husband. [The murmur of voices outside swells into a cheer] Oh, my grief! my grief! that I am not as free as the birds of the air, or with wild things of the woods! Oh, isn’t it a great wonder and a great shame that it was not for his son Óisin that Fionn asked me, and not for himself at all? For Óisin would be more fitting for me than a man who is older than my own father.

DIRRING  

Be calm now, little fawn. Be a good child.

GRÁINNE  

Tell me now, Dirring, tell me…Who is that dark-browed white-skinned man who stands on Óisin’s right hand?

DIRRING  

That is Goll, the son of Morna. He is called Goll the Ready Fighter.

GRÁINNE  

And who is the brown-haired slim-bodied man who stands and talks with Óisin?

DIRRING  

That is Osgar, the son of Óisin…It is a fine company of men…

GRÁINNE [after a slight pause]

And tell me, Dirring, tell me…Who is that tall young sweet-worded man, whose cheeks are like the rowan-berry, whose brows are like the stroke of a pen, whose eyes are like mountainy pools at evening, he who wears a cap of blue feathers on his head and stands between Óisin and Fionn?

DIRRING [shocked by the look in her eyes]

That is the apple of Fionn’s eye, the greatest (next to himself) in all the battalions of the Fianna, the man most beloved of women in all Ireland.

GRÁINNE  

And what is his name?

DIRRING  

His name is Diarmuid, the grandson of Duibhne.

GRÁINNE [turns from the window and sits, preoccupied]

That is a goodly company, indeed.

DIRRING [watching her curiously]

And at the head of all that company, Gráinne, is Fionn, he who is to be betrothed to you in Tara tonight.

[He is startled by the look in her eyes] The blessing of the Gods be with you, daughter of the King!

He leaves. Gráinne rises abruptly, moves downstage and claps her hands three times. Sive and the Nurse enter, carrying a cloak, a headdress, a little copper mirror, jewels and paints for the face

GRÁINNE    

Put on my cloak and crown, Sive and old Nurse.

Business of dressing Gráinne. They hand her the mirror and the paints. She looks intently at her face and begins touching her lips and eyes with colour, and hanging the jewels about her neck

NURSE 

Oh my thousand treasures, how fine you will be with your shining jewels and crown!

GRÁINNE  

No, the amber rings, Sive.

SIVE  

And the brooch of yellow gold.

NURSE  

And the bracelets of findrinny.

GRÁINNE  

Come, tell me Sive and my old Nurse, are you envious of me tonight?

NURSE  

Ah Gráinne, little moon of the sky, would not the stars and the sun themselves be envious of your light?

Would not the silver trout be envious of your joy, and he leaping with strength of his own joy in the stream?

SIVE  

Why, who could breathe the air without being envious of beauty like your beauty?

Of strength like your strength? Of happiness like your happiness?

GRÁINNE  

Happiness? Do you think that I am happy, Sive?

SIVE  

How could you be otherwise, unless…

GRÁINNE  

Yes…unless…?

SIVE [confused] 

No, no…I meant to say another thing…

NURSE  

Of course you are happy, child, like the speckled thrushes in the month of May!

SIVE  

You have everything in the world that heart can desire!

GRÁINNE  

Ah, you don’t understand. Even you, Sive, even you do not understand. You are all the same in this place. To be fine and handsome, proud and laughing, to have jewels and rich stuffs and mirrors of polished bronze or copper, and to live in Tara…you all think that is enough…to live in Tara by the Gods! Where you’d watch the sun lying motionless on the wall and hear the minutes and the hours crawl by with feet of heavy stone and see the clouds that are free chasing each other on the hillside without, or see the torches flaming on the drinking horns and pots of mead at evening time, or a great shadow—the shadow of a watchman it may be—passing your door at night, and how all your life is watched and watched, and how it slips out and slides away from you like a great shadow itself…and they say: Oh fortunate Gráinne! to be so loved of Fionn Mac Cool! Fionn Mac Cool! From one prison to another! From one greybeard to another…Oh, isn’t it a great thing to be the bride of an old man whose fame is ranked and raved over the fire by the companies of bloody and brutish hunters or of grey-haired lisping women?

NURSE and SIVE  

Ah, noble Gráinne!

SORCHA [enters]

What, you are looking in the mirror still? My jewels are so heavy round my throat! So, is everything in order?

Gráinne, you are pale tonight. [Gráinne is silent] You are pale, I say, Gráinne. Too pale, it may be, with those amber braids. And silent too…This is strange for your betrothal night. You should be glad and laughing.

[Sounds of talking and laughter outside]  Hush  now,  they are coming in. 

[She seats herself on the throne] Take her aside until the moment of betrothal.

 

Gráinne goes out with Sive and the Nurse

 

Scene Three

Enter High King with slaves, followed by Óisin, Goll, Osgar, Caoilte, Dirring and other men and youths. They go on one knee before the Queen and then break into groups around the throne

KING [taking Sorcha’s hand]

Men of Fianna!

MEN  

Hail, High King of Ireland, hail!

KING  

I put a hundred thousand welcomes before you once more, men of the Fianna.

May be the blessings of the Gods be on you all.

MEN  

The blessings of the Gods on the High King of Ireland!

KING  

Bring Gráinne forth! [Two slaves go out]

Tonight I ask a special blessing of love on my daughter and on your great chief.

Gráinne enters in a cloak of ceremony and is saluted by the company. She bows her head to the High King and stands motionless. The messenger to Fionn returns and stands aside. The company face the door

MEN  

Fionn! Fionn Mac Cool!

Fionn enters; his eyes meet the eyes of Gráinne. He turns without a word and bows to the King, then takes his place by the throne with folded arms. His face is expressionless

KING  

Bow down your heads now, Gráinne and Fionn Mac Cool. Receive the blessing of Angus, Lord of Love!

 

The harps play; they kneel. Dirring the Druid passes before the King and holds a branch of hazel over the bowed heads of Fionn and Gráinne. Pause. Gráinne raises her head shyly and meets the fixed gaze of Fionn. She shrinks back at first but then tosses her head and looks at him half-mockingly

 

DIRRING [half audible]

By the sun and the moon and by the secret of the earth will these two be bound…and may the blessings of joy and peace flow from the great Lord of Love, from him who is crowned with flaming light, from him whose hair is molten gold, whose limbs are mighty…Rise up now, Fionn and Gráinne. Rise up, I say. [He leads them aside]

KING [to Sorcha]

Did you see his face when he first looked upon my daughter?

SORCHA [looking round the room]

Often are great men turned to fools by any lovely face. You are always talking of your daughter…

DIARMUID [at the door: the men of the Fianna salute him]

Hail, High King of Ireland! Hail, wife of the High King!

[He goes on one knee and receives blessing from the King and Druid] May the Gods bless and save you all.

KING  

You are late, Diarmuid?

DIARMUID  

Your pardon.

KING 

Is Fionn satisfied? I give you your pardon, Diarmuid.

FIONN  

Diarmuid.

DIARMUID [rising and going to him]

Your pardon that I am late, Fionn Mac Cool.

FIONN 

What kept you so long from my side?

 

DIARMUID 

A strange thing it was. A wise woman that met me in the shadows of a great thorn tree where I stood, and she spoke to me of love, and of a broken friendship.

FIONN 

What did she say?

DIARMUID  

She said that sorrow was at hand. I told her that I must be present at the betrothal of my friend. She said…

FIONN 

What did she say?

DIARMUID  

She said there was no need. She said my time was not yet come. [Pause]

FIONN  

Forget those words. But Diarmuid, I must speak with you. Stay with me a little, for I am chilled with ecstasy and fear.

 

DIARMUID  

Fear, say you, Fionn?

 

FIONN 

Aye…aye…Diarmuid, do you see this women here? [He indicated Gráinne, who all this time has been watching them]

 

DIARMUID  

I see a young girl straight and tall, a young girl more beautiful than a bough of the apple tree under blossom, one lighter and more swift than a golden fawn of the woods, softer and more sweet than the honey of the bees, wilder and more frail than the cold clouds of dawn.

FIONN  

Frail?

 

DIARMUID  

Aye Fionn, for there is that in the glance of her eyes that tells of fleeting wishes and of passions lighter than a moment’s thought…but her hair is like the blossom of the furze and her skin is warm and white like new milk, and her lips are as red as red roses in the land of the Sidhe…she is a golden candlestick on the table of kings…Why should you be afraid?

 

FIONN  

Diarmuid, pulse of my heart, I am afraid. For there are women in the world whose beauty is wrapped in disaster, women who have death in the honey of their lips. When she is near I hear a strange music playing in the air about my head…

 

DIARMUID  

Hush, she is coming towards us. She would speak with you alone, maybe.

 

FIONN  

No, do not leave me for a little while. Stay with me, Diarmuid, for a short time only.

 

GRÁINNE  

You were speaking of me, Fionn and Diarmuid?

 

FIONN  

We… [he stammers and stops]

 

DIARMUID 

We were praising your beauty, daughter of the High King.

 

GRÁINNE  

Oh, do not praise my beauty. Praise my strength.

 

DIARMUID  

Strength, Gráinne, is one of the treasures of a man…not a woman.

 

GRÁINNE [smiling]

And yet it is the hidden strength of women that bids men to run hither and thither for their sakes.

 

FIONN  

You speak in riddles, Gráinne.

 

GRÁINNE  

No, but I speak plainly.

 

FIONN  

You speak in riddles. I cannot understand riddles.

 

DIARMUID  

And yet it may be, daughter of the King, that Fionn Mac Cool could ask you some riddles himself that would pet even your wits to the test.

 

GRÁINNE  

I am ready for them.

 

DIARMUID  

Ask her those riddles, Fionn.

 

FIONN  

I will. Tell me, if you can, those three things that I will ask you, Gráinne.

 

GRÁINNE  

I am waiting, Fionn Mac Cool.

 

FIONN  

What is the best of jewels?

 

GRÁINNE [swiftly]

The knife, Fionn Mac Cool.

 

FIONN 

What is sharper than a spear’s head?

 

GRÁINNE [crossing between them, then looking from one man to another]

The wit of a woman…between two men.

FIONN  

What is swifter than the wind?

GRÁINNE  

A woman’s mind, O Fionn.

DIARMUID  

Those were well answered, Gráinne the fair.

GRÁINNE  

I would answer seven times as many…but why should I be asked these questions, Fionn Mac Cool? Is it not enough that I am beautiful? Is it not enough that my lips are like blood spilt on the snow, that my hair…how do the words of the old song go? [She looks mockingly at Diarmuid]…that my hair is like the blossom of the furze and my skin like new milk? Is it not enough [in a lower tone, a little bitterly] that I am to belong to you?

FIONN  

Be silent. Be silent. Your beauty troubles me.

He puts his arm round Diarmuid, and they go upstage together. Enter Sive: Gráinne stops her

 

GRÁINNE  

Sive!

 

SIVE  

Princess?

 

GRÁINNE  

Oh Sive, is it not a pitiful thing that I should be given in marriage to Fionn. For indeed I feel a great coldness in my heart when he is speaking to me, and no flame of love at all.

 

SIVE [glibly]

Oh Gráinne, oh daughter of kings and oh honey mouth, those are strange words for the bride of Fionn.

GRÁINNE  

Why must I marry him? Why must I marry him? A man of grey hair and of slow heavy thoughts like the mountain fogs.

SORCHA [coming over from throne]

Oh what are you speaking, Gráinne, to your tiring-woman? Come away! Come with me into the second court, for there are ladies there and warriors from Allen who would speak with you. [Laughter. They go out]

FIONN  

Oh Óisin, oh Diarmuid and oh Goll! The beauty of this woman troubles me. For her head is thrown back high and proud, and if her voice is gentle itself her lips and her eyes have all the scorn and all the laughter of the world.

 

DIARMUID 

And her hands, Fionn…her hands are restless and swift like the flight of white birds over the sea’s breast, like the rushing of the wind through the green shadow of a wood.

 

FIONN  

No, but she troubles me.

 

ÓISIN  

Do not let your heart be shaken by these fantasies, my father. All will be well.

 

GOLL  

These are but dreams and shadows. The beauty of this woman has disturbed your brain, and your thoughts are driven like a flock of geese to the rim of the world.

 

DIARMUID  

And there lies madness, Fionn… [Fionn leads Diarmuid aside and they talk together]

FIONN  

Her beauty and her scorn are the cloaks of disaster. Danger like a wild thing of the wind looks out of her eyes and laughs at me. [Laughs suddenly]

DIARMUID 

Why should we not be happy, Fionn? Listen, the air shakes like a purple flower. There is laughter and the murmur of festivity, and red wine waiting in the drinking horns. And Gráinne waits for you. Why should we not be happy?

FIONN  

Stay with me for a little, Diarmuid, stay with me here, and tell me of the strange and wonderful things. Tell me of lovely faithless women.

DIARMUID  

Of whom should I speak to you tonight? Of all the beautiful treacherous women of the world? The people of Munster have a story of a woman of the eastern world who…

CAOILTE [while the above conversation continues]

He is disturbed indeed.

GOLL  

He is raving like a fool at the rising of the moon. Do you see him now, Óisin? Who would think the blood would burn so yet in Fionn Mac Cool?

CAOILTE  

What are you saying, Goll?

ÓISIN  

Do you mean that my father is old?

GOLL  

He is no longer young.

ÓISIN  

And he speaks like one out of his wits?

GOLL  

Aye. For who but one whose wits were gone would cry out for beauty and for peril? Who but a fool would say disaster looked out of the eyes of Gráinne?

ÓISIN  

Be silent, Goll! or by my hand, I’ll strike the head from your shoulders with my sword!

CAOILTE  

For shame! We are guests in Tara.

GOLL  

You shall find me ready for a fight, Óisin! Be we at home in Allen, or in the halls of Tara, or in the courts of the kings of the Eastern World itself!

ÓISIN  

Oh listen now! Listen, men of Ireland, the treacherous coward of the world! Stand back now away from me…stand back well, I say, for if you come any further towards me on the floor maybe the stars themselves would be quenched and dimmed with the red spurts of blood I’d send hurtling from my sword’s point through the high air.

GOLL  

By my sword, Óisin, it’s wild bad talk you have spoken on this night, and take care now that it’s not my sword you’ll feel yourself, thrust in like a thin flame of anger through your cold trembling rat-headed body!

ÓISIN  

By the sun and moon! [They fight]

MEN [crowding about them]

Shame, shame! To brawl at Tara!

KING  

Come now! What is this tumult? Your men are wrangling, Fionn.

FIONN  

Óisin and Goll, my shame upon you both!

DIARMUID  

Put up your hands, the two of you! This is a feast of love, not the red field of battle!

CAOILTE  

They will bring blood and shame upon us all in Tara.

SORCHA [entering with Gráinne]

What is this noise?

OSGAR  

They are beside themselves.

GRÁINNE  

What are they fighting for?

OSGAR  

Who can tell, daughter of the King?

CAOILTE  

For a mad trifle.

FIONN 

Oh, they are like wild beasts. Part them, Diarmuid!

DIARMUID  

I will do that. Put up your swords now, Óisin and Goll Mac Morna. [They fight still] Put up your swords, I say!

[He draws his own sword] Is it the fire of battle you would be kindling in place of the fire of friendship and love, the way you’d have Tara laid bare with your quarrellings and bickerings and the wind and the wolves howling in the darkness. Where before there was wine and bronze torchlight and red gold and the company of kings?

ÓISIN  

Do not meddle with us, Diarmuid!

 

GOLL  

Make a great space about us!

DIARMUID  

No, but you shall stop!

Diarmuid knocks down the sword of Óisin, and knocks Goll’s sword to the ground. He picks up the second sword from the floor and hands it back to Goll. As he does so the cap of blue feathers drops from his head, revealing the star of love on his brow

FIONN  

That was a shameful brawl, Óisin and Goll Mac Morna.

 

DIARMUID  

Shameful it was indeed.

 

FIONN  

Come now, Óisin my son. Come, Goll Mac Morna. I will have no hatred or fierce looks on this night of all nights. Let you make a new bond of friendship now. That is the wish of Fionn. [He joins their hands] The pardon of the High King for this offence!

He leads them upstage to the King. Gráinne, who has crept round the wall to watch the fight, seizes the feathered cap and offers it to Diarmuid, who has just sheathed his sword. He turns and sees Gráinne with the cap. Instinctively he hides his brow with his left hand, but she has seen the star of love and starts back with a wild gesture. He takes the cap from her with his free hand, replaces it on his head and bows his thanks, then turns and joins the group of men. Gráinne sinks back towards the wall, and remains there lost in thought. Sive joins her

KING [coming forward]

We’ll speak of it no more. I put a hundred thousand welcomes before you all in Tara tonight. Let us move to the table. Cuan and Darrach, pour out wine for us. [They take their places. Gráinne remains by the wall] Gráinne, you will take your place for us.

GRÁINNE  

I will come presently, my father. I am preparing a toast for the feast.

The slaves pour out the wine. The company drink together. Gráinne claps her hands

 

GRÁINNE  

Sive!

SIVE  

I am here, noble lady.

GRÁINNE  

Sive, you are wise in the matter of drugs and potions.

SIVE [starting and then smiling slyly]

There are some secrets that I know…

GRÁINNE  

Sive, all these people here are tiring me tonight…I wish for them to go.

SIVE  

If that were possible.

GRÁINNE  

It must be possible. If they will not go from me, then I will go from them. But I will not go alone.

SIVE  

Princess?...

GRÁINNE  

I will do as I wish. And you, Sive, you must help me…What must I do to cast these people into sleep?

SIVE  

I have a potion…

GRÁINNE  

Then give it to me.

SIVE  [looking craftily at her]  

What reward will you give me, princess?

GRÁINNE  

Ach! [She tears a necklace from her throat and throws it at the feet of Sive, who snatches it up] Now, speak.

SIVE [producing a phial]

I have it here.

 

GRÁINNE [taking it in her hand]

Ah!...how must I use it, Sive?

SIVE  

You must pour it into the wine they are drinking…

GRÁINNE  

Will that mean death?

SIVE  

It will not, but a long and deep slumber. When they have drunk deeply of this potion, one has but to strike upon the little harp of sleep, and they will fall like stones into a trance as deep as the shadows of the sea.

GRÁINNE  

The little harp of sleep?

SIVE  

That is the harp I was given by a man of enchantments that came from the North. It is made of apple-wood, and its strings are of fine silver that is woven in a country of the Eastern World. When they hear that chord they’ll sleep until the dawn whitens in the sky.

GRÁINNE  

And then we shall be far away from Tara.

SIVE  

What are these words, princess?

GRÁINNE  

It is nothing. Bring me the great golden cup, and when I make this signal strike upon the harp.

 

She takes her place at the centre of the table. Exit Sive

KING  

More wine, more wine for my guests, Cuan and Darrach! Pour out more wine and mead, and set fruits and meats upon the table! Fionn, I drink to you. I drink with all my heart to your happiness and to my daughter’s joy.

FIONN  

I drink to you, High King of Ireland, to your life and health. And to the life and health of your Queen. And I drink…to Gráinne of the golden hair…I drink…

DIARMUID  

These are good toasts indeed, and I will make another. I praise the High King of Ireland, and I praise his Queen. Men of the Fianna, let us drink now to Fionn and Gráinne, to the strength and loveliness of all Ireland.

ALL  

To Fionn and Gráinne.

GRÁINNE [when the tumult has died down, softly]

Oh, my love, my love! Oh, thousand treasures and oh pulse of my heart!

The murmur of voices rises a little again

OSGAR  

The mead is even better than the red wine or the ale…

 

CAOILTE  

Ah, who remembers the story of the cloak of grey feathers now?

 

KING  

A story, a story out of the old days! A story out of the old days…

 

SORCHA  

Diarmuid should know a hundred thousand of them…

 

GOLL  

Where are the story tellers and the bards?

 

FIONN  

Gráinne is pale and silent.

 

ÓISIN  

These ripe cool fruits slip down the throat like wine…

 

GRÁINNE  

Why does she not bring the cup? [looks at phial] This should be a powerful and a sleepy draught!

Ah! [Enter Sive with the golden cup] Is there wine in it?

SIVE  

There is, princess.

GRÁINNE   

Then hold it here.  [Pours  drug  into  the cup] That fills it to the brim. [She rises]

Voices from the table   Gráinne…

GRÁINNE [in a loud clear voice]

Give this cup now to Fionn Mac Cool. Say it is myself that sends it to him, and bid him drink deep for love of me.

[lowering her voice] Then when I make the sign do as I bade you.

SIVE  

I obey, princess. [goes to Fionn with cup]

FIONN [rising and lifting the great cup]

Oh Gráinne the beautiful, I drink first to yourself, who are my share of the world and the thousand treasures of my heart. And I drink to all this company of bravery and of love. May all the blessings of the earth and air fall too upon my comrade and my friend, upon Diarmuid the grandson of Duibhne. [He drinks]

KING  

Let the great cup be passed from lip to lip that every one may join in that toast. Then let the harpers play!

The drink is circulated with cheers and cries. It reaches Diarmuid last of all. Gráinne has risen and is watching him closely. She makes a gesture with her hands and her cloak falls to the ground. The harp is struck. At the sound all the feasters except Diarmuid and Gráinne sink into sleep, their heads in their hands

 

Scene Four

Diarmuid and Gráinne are left alone at the table: both are standing. The lighting darkens from amber to deep red like the light of dying torches. Silence

GRÁINNE  

Put down the cup!

DIARMUID [putting down cup slowly]

What does this mean? [No answer] Gráinne, daughter of the High King of Ireland, what does this mean? Why have all these people fallen at the feast as though the wine they drank contained some subtle poison? They fell without a struggle, without a cry…Oh! you are smiling, Gráinne. You know more than your eyes or your lips will tell. But I will know your secret. I will pluck it out of your mouth. [Sternly] What have you done, daughter of the King? What have you poured into the wine? Come… answer me. You will not speak? Then I will waken Tara. [turns to go]

GRÁINNE  

Stay! [He stops and turns round again to look at her. Hesitates. They move closer towards each other. Pause]

Diarmuid O Duibhne. [Pause] Diarmuid O Duibhne.

DIARMUID  

I hear your voice, Gráinne the beautiful.

GRÁINNE  

You hear my voice, but you will not listen to my words.

DIARMUID  

I may not listen.

GRÁINNE  

But hear me, son of Donn. Hear my words. Give me an hour, a minute…

DIARMUID  

I may not hear you.

GRÁINNE [coming closer to him]

Do you see all these sleeping people, Diarmuid? Do you see them? They are heavy and helpless with the magical draught I have poured into their wine, and they will be there without a stir, without a movement, until the grey ones of the eastern sky bring the dawn, until the birds wake among the leaves and the wind sighs through the hills, until the day is come…

DIARMUID  

And then?

GRÁINNE  

And then we will be far away from Tara.

DIARMUID  

You look at me strangely, daughter of the King.

GRÁINNE  

Can you read my eyes?

DIARMUID  

I may not look at them.

GRÁINNE  

Can you read my eyes?

DIARMUID  

I dare not look at them.

GRÁINNE  

What do you read in my eyes?

DIARMUID  

No, but I will not look…I will not look…I have no wish to read the thing that is written in your eyes.

GRÁINNE  

Then tell me, what is the thing that is hidden in my heart? Can you not tell me that? Can you not tell me that, Diarmuid of the sweet words? Then I will tell you.

She leans her head upon his breast: slowly he puts his arms around her. She looks up at him

GRÁINNE  

When the sky grows pale in the east, and the grasses on the hills are blown slantwise by the winds of dawn, we will be far away, Diarmuid. When the morning brightens we will be far away from Tara.

DIARMUID [taking her hands and suddenly holding her at arm’s length]

Set me free, Gráinne. For though there is sweetness in your touch it is a sweetness that is slumb’rous with poisonous warmth, and there is the glimmer of poison in your eyes.

GRÁINNE [draws him down upon the seat she has vacated, and kneels at his feet]

Take me out of this house, Diarmuid. Take me away from my father, away from Fionn, away…to some desolate place where there is nothing but the wind and the shadows of great hills, and the moon smiling at herself in dark waters, and your two eyes like stars in the emptiness of a dream.

DIARMUID  

I will not bring you away with me. I will not meddle with any woman that is promised to Fionn.

GRÁINNE  

Ah! what is Fionn Mac Cool to me?

DIARMUID  

Your love is promised to him.

GRÁINNE  

And what is he to you?

DIARMUID  

He is my captain and the friend of my heart. My word is pledged to him. I will not bring you away with me. [He rises to his feet]

GRÁINNE  

Then, if that is so… [She rises and suddenly makes a gesture with both hands outstretched, a mystical sign] I put you under Druid bonds to come with me out of Tara tonight, before the awakening of these people from their sleep. I put you under Druid bonds to do this thing.

DIARMUID [aghast and helpless]

What are these bonds you are putting on me, daughter of the King? Is it not a strange thing that you should choose myself from all the warriors and sons of Kings that are here tonight?

GRÁINNE  

It is not without cause that I have given you my love, Diarmuid

DIARMUID  

What was the cause?

GRÁINNE  

I was standing by the door there when you parted the men that were fighting together, and your cap of eagles’ feathers fell to one side, and my eyes were opened then and I gave you the love that I have never given to any man…Ah! you have taken my love from me, Diarmuid; you hold it now in your two hands. You may break my life on the green stones like a hawk’s egg if you will.  Do what you choose with it! You have poured wine into my veins and filled my heart with fire…Do with my life what you will, I’m saying, for already you’ve taken all my peace from me. Stars and moon you have taken, and east and west, aye and the golden sun itself out of the sky you have taken…

DIARMUID  

Oh Gráinne, these are wild and terrible words you are speaking here tonight.

GRÁINNE  

What is it that is terrible in my words?

DIARMUID  

You are betrothed to Fionn!

GRÁINNE  

But I do not love Fionn! It is you that I love, Diarmuid. Oh, why will you not take me away from this place?

DIARMUID  

I do not love you, Gráinne.

GRÁINNE  

Yet you put your arms about me, son of Donn.

DIARMUID  

Yes, you are very beautiful.

GRÁINNE  

And you shall kiss my mouth.

DIARMUID  

Gráinne!

GRÁINNE  

And though you will not take me, you shall follow me this night out of Tara. [Pause]

DIARMUID  

Oh Gráinne, the heart of a woman is like the tangled twilight of a great wood, where the boughs and the leaves and the branches entwine the hands and feet and lead the poor wanderer into dim and unknown places. The heart of a woman is mysterious and wayward surely. And why should you give this love to me and not to Fionn Mac Cool, the best lover of women in Ireland?

GRÁINNE  

Oh, why will you be for ever talking of Fionn Mac Cool? Always and always of Fionn Mac Cool. I tell you Diarmuid, it is you that I love; and you will follow me this night out of Tara, for I have put you under Druid bonds to do it.

DIARMUID  

Daughter of the High King!

 

GRÁINNE  

I am listening.

 

DIARMUID  

I cannot do this thing.

 

GRÁINNE  

You are under bonds, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

It is true. [Pause]

GRÁINNE  

Look into my eyes, Diarmuid.

He slowly raises his eyes. Then suddenly he takes her in his arms and kisses her mouth

DIARMUID  

Oh, my share of the world!... [Suddenly he thrusts her away] Oh, you are terrible, terrible! You are shameless and terrible! And when you are in my arms I become wild and forgetful, and now I will never know peace again. I have kissed your lips, Gráinne of the enchantments, and everything is changed―it is all terrible now, a world of endless darkness and pitiless ravening winds. What have you done to me this night, in Tara? What have you done to me this night? Oh my grief, my grief that I am not a hundred thousand miles away, my grief that I ever set eyes upon your hair of amber and gold or on your white sweet throat or on your curving treacherous lips. Ah, don’t touch me! Don’t touch me, I say! Stand back away from me, for there is that in your touch, Gráinne, that would make me mad. Ah! you are shameless, shameless I say, to do what you have done tonight, and I do not know any gap or cave or western corner of Ireland that will hide your shame or mine. Go out now from the door and let the darkness fall about you as a cloak might fall. And if I do follow you, it is not as a lover I will come, but I will keep my word to Fionn Mac Cool.

GRÁINNE  

Follow me, Diarmuid O Duibhne…

She opens the curtains and disappears, beckoning and smiling. Bewildered and like one in a dream, Diarmuid follows her out. The light falls on the empty cloak of Gráinne. Curtain

ACT TWO

 

Scene One

A dark place in Faery. Two tall figures, fantastically dressed, stand one at each side of a great tree whose branches disappear into a faintly coloured twilight. A third figure, carrying a lighted taper, runs swiftly past them and vanishes into the shadow. There is a murmur of wind

First FIGURE  

One passes me in the wind just now who knows all about the mortal clan.

 

Second FIGURE  

About their loves and hates?

 

First FIGURE  

Aye, their loves and hates, their friendships and their battles.

 

Second FIGURE  

One who knows of Fionn Mac Cool and of the Fianna of Ireland?

 

First FIGURE  

Of more than that it may be. Tales of the lovers he knows, stories of Diarmuid and Gráinne the fair.

 

Second FIGURE  

Oh, we must catch him! We must pluck his secret from him!

A third figure of the people of Faery enters running and dancing. As he runs he sings to himself

Third FIGURE  

Nine days and nights, nine days and nights, and still they leave unbroken bread behind them everywhere.

 

First FIGURE  

There he goes! There he goes!

 

Second FIGURE  

Catch him! Catch him, as he passes, by the hair.

 

Third FIGURE  

Unbroken bread they leave behind for Fionn in every cave and wood, unbroken bread.

 

Second FIGURE  

There, catch him now!

 

First FIGURE [running after the third, and dragging him back by the hair]

Stay! Stay with us here and tell us more. Is it of Diarmuid you are speaking, of the friend of Fionn?

 

Third FIGURE  

Oh, let my hair go! You will pull it from my head!

Second FIGURE  

But tell us more. Is it of Diarmuid you are speaking, of the friend of Fionn?

Third FIGURE  

Oh, it is surely not of Diarmuid alone, but of Gráinne, of beautiful white Gráinne.

First FIGURE  

And what is that you were saying about unbroken bread?

Second FIGURE 

Aye, what was that?

Third FIGURE  

Unbroken bread? The son of Donn leaves unbroken bread behind him where they have slept.

Second FIGURE  

Why does he do that?

 

First FIGURE  

Yes, it is strange. Why does he do that?

 

Third FIGURE  

Nine days and nights, nine days and nights, nine days full of the golden blossoms of the sun, nine nights pale with the silver blossoms of the moon, and still they leave unbroken bread, still they leave unbroken bread.

First FIGURE  

You do not answer our question.

 

Second FIGURE  

No, you run and dance and call out your words to the wind and cry out your stories to the air, and laugh and mutter of unbroken bread, and yet you will not tell us what it means.

 

First FIGURE  

Tell us now! Tell us now! Why does he leave unbroken bread behind him where he and Gráinne have slept?

 

Third FIGURE  

Why, I will tell you if you do not pull my hair…Diarmuid has kept his word to Fionn Mac Cool. He has kept his word to Fionn Mac Cool, and to prove that he has never made his own wife of Gráinne, daughter of the King, he leaves unbroken bread for Fionn to find in every place.

 

Second FIGURE  

Go tell it to the players of the pipes, tell it to the dancers of the wind.

 

First FIGURE  

Diarmuid has kept his word to Fionn Mac Cool.

 

Third FIGURE  

But will it always be so?

 

First FIGURE  

Whisper it in the dark places under the raths.

 

Second FIGURE  

Whisper it in the rushes in the pool.

 

Third FIGURE  

Will it always be so? Will it always be so? The children of the earth are wild and passionate too.

 

Second FIGURE  

And in a hut among the leaves of a wood… [The Third Figure shakes his head]

 

First FIGURE  

Or in a cavern by the green waves of the sea?

 

Third FIGURE [nodding his head]

Ah, will he change, will he change to her then?  Will he always keep his word to Fionn Mac Cool?

Second FIGURE  

Or will the dewy leaves or branches of great trees whisper secret thoughts in his ear?

First FIGURE  

Or the dim, storm-loud shadows put secret love into his breast?

Third FIGURE  

Ah, ah, ah! will he change to her then?

Angus, the God of Love, goes swiftly past them in the twilight

 

All Three FIGURES  

Hush! Hush! Hush!

 

First FIGURE  

Angus is passing on his way to earth.

 

Third FIGURE  

Angus of the birds is passing on his way to them.

 

Second FIGURE  

Look, look! The plumes of his wings are like pale petals of flame.

 

First FIGURE  

Why is he masked and cloaked in shadows of dim silver?

 

Third FIGURE  

Ah, who can tell, who can tell?

 

First FIGURE  

But love should wear no mask?

 

Second FIGURE  

Love should wear no mask.

 

Third FIGURE  

To Diarmuid and Gráinne love is unborn. Unmasked his face would terrify them.

 

Second FIGURE  

Is it to Diarmuid and Gráinne he is going?

 

Third FIGURE  

Aye, he is going towards the lovers of the hills and the woods.

 

First FIGURE  

He is on his way to them.

 

Second FIGURE  

Love is on his way to them.

 

Third FIGURE  

The birds are singing in the fire about his head.

 

First FIGURE  

Come, come away! Let us follow him.

 

Second FIGURE  

Let us follow him. Through the dim air let us follow him; up through the air to where the mortal clan fight their hard battles, and kiss softly when the darkness fades.

 

Third FIGURE  

Come! Come!

 

The scene fades

 

Scene Two

A hut in a wood. Gráinne is lying on a pile of skins, stitching a strip of embroidery with a needle of bone. She is humming to herself. At the back of the hut there are three doors, the middle door being open, and through it one sees the leaves of the wood hanging in a silver twilight. There is a suggestion of loneliness and desolation. Diarmuid enters with a spear which he throws down in a corner; then he sits down and watches Gráinne. Presently she speaks without lifting her eyes from her work

 

GRÁINNE  

Nine days and nights we are travelling together, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID [watching her, idly]

Aye, that is so.

 

GRÁINNE  

Nine days and nights we are travelling together, and you have never given me your love.

 

DIARMUID [turning away]

You know well I’ll never break my word to Fionn Mac Cool.

GRÁINNE  

Nine golden days and nine black nights of stars we have wandered through the woods and glens, and yet you have not changed to me, Diarmuid O Duibhne.

DIARMUID  

I will never change, I say. I will keep my word to Fionn. Nine times I have left unbroken bread behind us whenever we have been together, you and I, to prove to Fionn that my word still binds me. I will always leave unbroken bread.

GRÁINNE  

No.

 

DIARMUID  

You think your will is stronger than my own, Gráinne?

 

GRÁINNE  

I know my passion is stronger than your will, son of Donn. It is stronger than the will of all the men of Ireland. It is stronger than myself, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

Stronger than yourself?

 

GRÁINNE  

Yes, it is stronger than myself. The black wind out of the north is not so strong as is the desire in my heart for your love. The green mountains of the waves when they leap towards the moon are not so strong. There is nothing under the sun, Diarmuid, that is as strong as my desire for you.

 

DIARMUID  

Hush!

 

GRÁINNE  

Ah, why will you never listen to my words?

 

DIARMUID  

Hush, I say!

 

GRÁINNE  

What is it that you hear?

 

DIARMUID  

I hear nothing but the whispering of the leaves, the murmuring of the boughs about the walls of this hut.

 

GRÁINNE  

Then why is it that you bid me hush?

 

DIARMUID  

Because I know…

 

GRÁINNE  

Oh, what is coming to you, Diarmuid?

 

DIARMUID  

I know that one is drawing nearer to us through the twilight. One that is stronger and more fair than mortal man.

 

GRÁINNE  

A man of the Sidhe?

 

DIARMUID  

Be still, daughter of the King.

 

Angus appears in a dim rose-coloured light at the door in the middle of the hut. He stretches his arms out in blessing

 

DIARMUID  

Angus! Angus of the birds!

GRÁINNE  

Angus! Great God of Love! [They kneel at his feet]

ANGUS  

Rise up, oh wandering children of the earth. Rise up and be prepared for what I have to say to you this night, I who have travelled through the flaming silence of the twilight to this secret place among the shadows of great trees where you are living with your fear, I who have travelled from dim lands beyond the world to tell you of your danger, I who have travelled down through haunted woods and glens to save you. Rise up, for I will tell you what is coming.

 

DIARMUID  

My foster-father!

 

ANGUS  

I bring you tidings of grief and sorrow. Stories of danger I bring you, and tales of bloody peril.

GRÁINNE  

It is of Fionn he is speaking.

 

ANGUS  

Stories of Fionn I bring to you this night.

 

DIARMUID  

Oh, what are the stories of Fionn?

 

GRÁINNE [sitting down and covering her face with her hands]

What stories would they be but stories of revenge? Stories of hatred and battle? Tales of hunting and pursuit and blood?

 

ANGUS  

He is in pursuit.

 

DIARMUID  

And he is near?

 

ANGUS  

He is in this wood whose boughs and leaves rustle against your walls.

 

GRÁINNE  

My grief, my grief! he will kill us if he finds us here, and our blood will flow in red streams, and our bodies be thrown like stones into holes and caves of the earth, or flung to the wild things of the woods.

 

ANGUS  

My sorrow for you, Diarmuid, my sorrow for you this night.

 

DIARMUID  

Oh, I am not afraid of Fionn. I would meet him in any place at all. I would meet him on the summit of the hills, or in the darkness of the glens, or in this little hut itself. I would meet him face to face without fear, without shame, and I would tell him the truth.

 

ANGUS  

And the truth, my foster-son?

 

DIARMUID  

I have never broken my trust with him. I have never made my own woman of the daughter of the King.

 

ANGUS   

I will help you, Diarmuid. I will give protection to yourself and the daughter of the High King.

 

Suddenly a horn blows three blasts outside, and there is a distant sound of swords and axes and of marching feet. Diarmuid and Gráinne start and look at each other

 

GRÁINNE  

It is Fionn! It is Fionn Mac Cool!

 

DIARMUID  

He is approaching us, and there are others with him, armed men and warriors.

 

GRÁINNE  

I will never go back to him.

 

ANGUS  

Listen to my words, wandering children of the earth.

 

GRÁINNE  

Oh, Angus! Angus of the birds!

 

ANGUS  

Listen to my words, and I will save you.

 

DIARMUID  

We are listening, my foster-father.

 

ANGUS  

This is what you have to do. Let each of you come under my cloak, and you will be invisible to the eye of man, and I will bring you with me out of this place. I will bring you away by dark forgotten paths to secret places of the waters where you will be safe.

 

GRÁINNE  

Oh, we will go with you.

 

Angus stretches out his arms under his cloak

DIARMUID [suddenly]

I will not go.

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid!

 

DIARMUID  

I will not go, I say. I will stay in the place. I will meet Fionn face to face.

 

The tumult outside comes nearer and grows louder

 

GRÁINNE  

Oh, he will kill you. He will kill you, my share of the world!

 

DIARMUID  

I will stay here, daughter of the King. [to Angus] But let Gráinne come under your cloak, my foster-father. Take her and give her shelter and peace. Give her the shelter than I could not make for her, and the peace that I could not give her. Take her far from this place to the great cavern that is by the sea under Ben Adair, and if I am alive I will follow you; and…if I am killed tonight…bring Gráinne back with you to Tara and give her to her father, the High King of Ireland, and he will do well with her, or ill.

 

GRÁINNE  

Oh, why will you stay in the wood of misfortune and death?

 

DIARMUID  

I will not come.

 

GRÁINNE 

Diarmuid! [He looks at her without moving] Diarmuid! [She moves a step nearer to him; he makes no move]

Diarmuid, son of Donn… [She puts her arms about him]

DIARMUID [forcing her hands to her side]

May you go well, daughter of the King.

GRÁINNE  

Oh!...

 

Pause. Then she straightens herself and walks slowly towards Angus, who holds out his arms; 

she creeps under his great cloak

 

ANGUS  

Farewell, my foster-son

.

He vanishes from the door of the hut

 

Scene Three

Diarmuid stands motionless for a while, then crosses over and shuts the door and bars it heavily as the two side doors are barred. Then he picks up his helmet and takes his armoured belt and sword in his hand and looks at them silently

DIARMUID  

Strange! Strange and pitiful! [He fastens his belt about him, and takes up his shield and spear] That I should deck my body about with the bright cold armour against the friend of my heart. Strange and pitiful, aye, and wild and terrible. That we should meet as enemies in this lonesome house among the trees, where there is no sound but the wind crying among the boughs outside, or the stoats and the weasels making a stir among the dead leaves. Oh, Fionn Mac Cool! Fionn Mac Cool of the Fianna of Ireland! That we should meet in battle and in hatred, as though this field were the red field of battle and of death. That we should meet with hard cold eyes and with lips pressed tight with rage…My  curses, my curses on the love that Gráinne gave me on that night of feasting in Tara! My curses on the bonds of Gráinne that dragged me out into the wilderness of the hills, and my curses on the beauty of Gráinne that will never let me be at peace! The grief in my heart is like the highest waves of the sea when they break into foam against the black rocks on a night of storm, or like the voice of a hound in the shadows when the moon is full, or like the endless clouds of a twilight of November when there is no sound but the curlews crying in the wind, and all the wine and honey and all the ale and mead of the Country of the Young would not cure my sorrow, my sharp bitter grief this night!

Blows are struck on the left hand door of the cabin

DIARMUID  

What is that noise? [He picks up shield and spear and crosses to the door] Who is there? Who is there?

Voices of MEN [outside] 

No enemies of yours are here, Diarmuid O Duibhne, but Óisin and Osgar and their men.

DIARMUID  

No enemies of mine?

Voices of MEN  

No enemies but friends, for we know well, Diarmuid, that whatever you have done has some reason and cause we cannot understand.

DIARMUID  

Aye, you are right surely.

Voices of MEN  

We are your friends, Diarmuid. We will believe nothing but the story from your own mouth.

DIARMUID  

You are my friends, you say?

Voices of MEN  

Come out to us, Diarmuid, and you shall pass through our ranks as a friend.

DIARMUID  

I will not come.

Voices of MEN  

Come out to us! Come out to us!

DIARMUID  

I will not come. I will wait till I see at which of these three doors stands Fionn himself.

Tumult at the door on right. Diarmuid cross to it

 

DIARMUID  

Who is there?

Voices of MEN  

Friends of your own we are, Diarmuid son of Donn. Caoilte and Goll and their men stand here at this door.

 

DIARMUID  

You are my friends?

 

Voices of MEN  

Come out to us, Diarmuid, and we will let you pass as a friend.

 

DIARMUID  

I will not come!

 

Voices of MEN  

Why will you not come, Diarmuid? We are your true friends.

 

DIARMUID  

It is because of that, and because Óisin and Osgar are my true friends as well, that I will not come. I will not have it that the wrath of Fionn fall upon you for my sake.

Voices of MEN  

Come out to us, come out to us!

DIARMUID  

I will not come! [Tumult and clashing of arms at middle door. Diarmuid crosses to it] Who is there?

FIONN and Voices of MEN 

No friends of yours are here, Diarmuid of the treacherous lips, but Fionn Mac Cool of the Fianna of Ireland and three hundred fighting men along with him who will make a thousand red and bloody wounds in your white body.

FIONN  

And let you open the door, Diarmuid, or we shall break it open with our axes and our spears, and let you come out and face us now, or we shall know that you are not treacherous and false alone but a coward as well.

DIARMUID  

Fionn Mac Cool of the Fianna of Ireland, these are words of wild hatred to one who was your friend.

FIONN and Voices of MEN  

Open the door! Open the door!

DIARMUID  

I will do that and I will pass among your ranks without fear.

He flings the door open. Fionn appears with his spear ready in his hand; behind him are many armed men with wild  faces. They face each other, Fionn with his spear still raised

FIONN  

Oh treacherous son of Donn! Oh false friend whose lips never spoke the truth. Oh worthless comrade whose lips I have always believed. I have found you at last. [He lets the spear drop a little and Diarmuid watches narrowly] You stand before me in all your shame and all your treachery, you who have lied and smiled at me, you who have spoken sweet words with your honeyed lips and tricked me while I was asleep, you who have sold my love and stolen my beloved. I have found you at last.

DIARMUID  

You do not speak the truth.

FIONN  

Oh, is it not a great wonder that the earth does not shake beneath your feet to hear these words, that the sea does not rise in floods and torrents higher than the mountain tops, that the sun does not topple out of the sky like a fallen torch! I do not speak the truth when I say that you are smooth and false and treacherous, I that was drugged at the feast of my betrothal in Tara and that woke to find my thousand treasures stolen from my side, and you yourself vanished like a thief at the break of day from a house he had robbed.

DIARMUID  

You wrong me, Fionn.

FIONN  

Would that were true, Diarmuid. I would that there were any words or deeds in me that could wrong you, that could make what you have done to me less terrible than the truth. But there are no words…there are no deeds…you have betrayed me.

DIARMUID  

Fionn, you wrong me.

FIONN  

No! Diarmuid, you have betrayed me as no man in Ireland or in the great world has ever betrayed his friend. You have taken all sight out of my eyes and all strength out of my hands, and my fear is great that you have taken all trust out of my heart. You have left me hard and cold, like a stone of the hills.

DIARMUID  

Fionn, Fionn Mac Cool, you will listen to me.

FIONN  

Ah, your voice! that was like the sweet harp-string to my ears, it is cruel and sharp to me now like a knife.

DIARMUID  

You will listen to my words, Fionn!

FIONN  

Like a knife your voice is, that once was warmer than wine.

DIARMUID  

Fionn! You must listen to my story!

FIONN  

Jagged and gleaming it is, like a cold knife that stabs and stabs at my heart.

DIARMUID  

Fionn!

FIONN  

Oh, do not speak to me, Diarmuid. Do not speak to me. Let me keep my cold heart and hard thoughts, for indeed when a man has been broken and shattered by treachery as I have been, what can he do but to become cold and grey and dumb, like a stone of the hills?

DIARMUID  

I have never broken my trust with you. I have never used Gráinne for love.

FIONN  

Oh, you are lying to me. You are more treacherous than the wind that blows out of the east.

DIARMUID  

The unbroken bread I have left behind me in every place is my proof to you that Gráinne still belongs to you.

FIONN  

How can I believe these words, Diarmuid?

 

DIARMUID  

These are true words that I have spoken.

 

FIONN  

Ah, I would kill you with my own hands, faithless friend, treacherous enemy, secret shameful lover!

 

DIARMUID [with sudden anger]

Don’t touch me!― Ah, what is it to me if you believe me or not? What is it to me if you stand there shaking like an old tree in a great wind, with anger against me that was your friend? What is it to me if your eyes are filled with tears and your hands twitching with rage because you think that I have done you wrong? What is it to me, I say? I who have been faithful and true to you always, who have never broken my word to you, who have told no lies but the truth only. But what is the truth to your mind this night, Fionn Mac Cool? What is the truth to your mind this night? A poor useless ragged thing you’d fling away from you like a bone at a feast, a thing you’d despise and mock and fling away as you would bruise and break and fling away your love for me and mine for you. You have no care for the truth. You will not listen to the truth. You will listen only to the anger and bitterness of your own heart. But what is that to me? What is it all to me now? It is less to me than the trampled mud and the broken twigs of the earth under my feet. I will become cold and hard like yourself, Fionn Mac Cool, and if it is like a stone your heart has become towards me, my heart for you shall be like flint, like ice-bound rock, like the swords of the fierce gods of Lochlann! You to have spoken this night of your love that you say you have betrayed, you that will not believe my sacred pledge to you, you that will not listen to my words, you that pursue me with three hundred fighting men to hack me to pieces before you have heard my story, you have called me false friend, treacherous enemy, secret shameful lover. You lie, you lie, you lie! And the liar is seven times a fool, Fionn, when he lies about his friend, for he can never know but that one day his lies may become the truth.

FIONN  

Oh Diarmuid son of Donn, why do you speak these bitter words against me?

 

DIARMUID  

I? Bitter against you?

 

FIONN  

You are terrible, Diarmuid, when you speak with such anger against me.

 

DIARMUID  

And you, Fionn, are terrible when you march down upon me with three hundred fighting men at your heels who would make a thousand words in my body at a word from you. You are terrible, when you will not believe I speak the truth. You are terrible when you will not listen to my story.

 

FIONN 

You do not understand the pain I have endured.

 

DIARMUID  

And you do not understand the grief I have suffered.

 

FIONN  

Diarmuid!

 

DIARMUID  

I have no other thing to say.

 

FIONN  

Diarmuid!

 

DIARMUID  

All that was in my mind I have said.

 

FIONN  

Diarmuid, listen to me!

 

DIARMUID  

And now let your tell your men to do with me what they will.

 

FIONN  

Listen to me, Diarmuid!

 

DIARMUID  

You will do that.

 

FIONN  

Understand me…

 

DIARMUID  

You will do that, Fionn.

 

FIONN  

Listen to me, Diarmuid!

 

DIARMUID  

You will do that, Fionn Mac Cool.

 

A pause. They look steadfastly at each other. Finally Fionn’s eyes waver and fall. He bows his head, then lifts his hand

FIONN [in a loud lifeless voice]

Let Diarmuid O Duibhne pass through your ranks without hurt, without harm, warriors and fighting men. Let him pass through your ranks now a friend, and let no man lay a hand upon his body for his harm. That is the wish of Fionn.

He drops his arms. Diarmuid walks past him across the stage, then suddenly turns round facing him

 

DIARMUID  

All that is finished. I am cold now, and strong and swift like a young hound that follows the deer on the hills when the wind is high. I am free and unfettered and I am full of desire. I will go out now and break off the leaves and the flowers of the wood with my two hands. I will climb the branches; I will scale the boughs. I will pluck the topmost blossom and the sweetest fruit of the tree, and I will taste it with my mouth.

FIONN  

Gráinne…

 

Diarmuid looks at him triumphantly and passes out, his shield and spear raised. He disappears among the men outside the middle door. A pause

 

FIONN [suddenly]

Let him not pass! Let him not pass, warriors and fighting men! Let you hack him to pieces!

Let his blood flow in red streams on the naked earth!

Voices of MEN  

He is gone! He has escaped us, Fionn! He has gone! He has gone!

CAOILTE  

He rose on the staves of his spear and went like a flame!

Voices of MEN  

He has gone!

FIONN  

He rose on the staves of his spear and went like a flame!

His back to the audience, he raises his two arms in a great gesture of despair

 

ACT THREE

 

Scene One

A sea cavern. Gráinne is lying on a rock watching through the mouth of the cavern the dark starless evening. Behind her stands Angus, impassively watching her. The waves break softly at intervals outside the cavern

ANGUS  

You are silent, Gráinne. For a long while I have watched you through all the pale hours of this day, lying there on the rocks, and since the dawn broke you have been silent. You have spoken no word. You have offered no prayer.

[Gráinne looks at him dreamily and holds up one hand. A long wave breaks outside the cave]

And your body is shaken by desire, Gráinne. It is shaken by desire and passion as the waves are shaken by the wind.

GRÁINNE  

Oh Angus, Master of Love!

 

ANGUS  

You call me by my name, and yet it is not love that speaks through your words, Gráinne.

 

The wind gives a sudden cry

GRÁINNE  

Listen!

 

ANGUS  

Desire is gnawing at your heart. Desire and fear are eating your heart away, and in the dim tumult of your soul there is no peace.

 

GRÁINNE  

The waves would destroy the black rocks. They would bruise them with their lips; they would kiss them into dust.

 

ANGUS  

Ah, white daughter of the human clan, why will you never look in my face?

 

GRÁINNE  

The waves are kissing the black rocks. They are falling on them with long sweet murmurings; they are swooning as they fall with loud dark battle-cries of love. But for me there are no kisses, no dark murmurings, no sweet battle-cries. I must lie in this sea-haunted place in loneliness, and wait…Oh, why does he not come? Why does he not come to me, Angus? Why must I wait and wait in this dark place, where there is no sound but the roaring of the wind and the beating of the waves and the far lonely music of your voice that seems an echo of their voices, telling me of things that I can never understand?

 

ANGUS  

Diarmuid is on his way to you, daughter of the King.

GRÁINNE 

Angus, Angus! oh, speak again!

 

ANGUS  

He is on his way to you. He is threading the narrow lonely paths of danger in the darkness of the night. He is thrusting aside the matted thorny boughs of the blackberry and the furze; he is fighting his way through the stormy gaps of the hills; and though the storm rises with angry cries from the sea, and though the wind and the rain tangle his hair over his eyes, and the shapeless evil spirits of the night pull at his cloak with cold crooked fingers as he passes, he is on his way to you, Gráinne, he is coming to you.

 

GRÁINNE  

He is coming? He is coming to me?

 

ANGUS  

He fights his way through the clamour of the wind and the storm as they rise together out of the secret places of the dark. He runs shouting along the strand where the foam hisses at his feet and the fog writhes about his head and his eyes are fixed always on the cave where you lie waiting for him, Gráinne the fair.

 

GRÁINNE  

He is coming to me!

 

ANGUS  

And yet there is no love for him in your heart, Gráinne. There is no love in your heart but only desire, and desire makes your voice tremble and shake like a torch flame in the storm.

GRÁINNE  

Oh, he is coming! He is coming to me!

Gráinne is in an ecstasy of expectation, her finger held up as though she actually heard the footsteps of Diarmuid. Angus goes slowly out of the cave unseen by Gráinne

DIARMUID [his voice is heard outside mingled with the wind]    

Out!  Out!  Out and away from me, green witches of the sea, grey witches of the air!

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid! Diarmuid!

He appears with blowing cloak at the mouth of the cave. Gráinne rushes to meet him and sinks slowly to her knees in front of him. Her hands stretch out towards him. He holds her two hands and looks down at her, his face changing slowly from an expression of desire to one of grief

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid, pulse of my heart!

 

DIARMUID  

The storm is rising still without.

 

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid of the sweet words!

 

DIARMUID  

The winds and the waves are roaring in loud battle, and the night is full of evil shadows. I have travelled far.

 

GRÁINNE  

But you have come to me, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

There were loud voices in the storm, loud voices crying and calling to me of the vengeance of Fionn.

 

GRÁINNE  

But you have escaped from Fionn, my thousand treasures! You have escaped from Fionn at the end of it all, and we are safe together. Is there no joy in your heart, Diarmuid, that we are together again?

 

DIARMUID [breaking from her]

Ah, would that my eyes had never seen your hair of golden light and golden shadows! Would that my ears had never heard your voice softer than the song of the birds! Would that my mouth had never known the red sweetness of your lips!

GRÁINNE [following him softly and crouching at his side]

My heart cries out to you, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

My grief! my grief upon the world!

 

GRÁINNE  

Why are the shadows so upon you, Diarmuid? Why are the clouds so low upon your heart?

 

DIARMUID  

I have seen Fionn,

 

GRÁINNE  

You have seen him? Seen him face to face?

 

DIARMUID  

Aye.

 

GRÁINNE  

And…and… [she puts her hand timidly on his arm, as though to convince herself of his safety] Ah, my great joy!

DIARMUID  

Joy?

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid, show me your great spear?

DIARMUID  

My spear? [He gives it to her]

GRÁINNE  

No…no…Diarmuid, show me your sword. [He draws it and gives it to her] No blood? There is no blood?

DIARMUID  

What is this talk of blood?

GRÁINNE  

Why did you dry your spear? Why did you wipe your sword? Why did you clean your knife?

DIARMUID 

I do not understand, daughter of the King. What is in your thoughts?

GRÁINNE  

Oh, I would laugh and dance and clap my hands to see Fionn’s blood upon your sword. Why did you wipe his blood away?

Why did you wipe away the rust that was our happiness?

DIARMUID   

What are you saying? I will hear no more.

GRÁINNE  

Or was it with an axe you did it, Diarmuid? Or with your own two hands? My thousand treasures, was it with your hands you did it? How did you rid us both of Fionn Mac Cool?

DIARMUID  

Be silent. Fionn is not dead.

GRÁINNE  

Not dead?

DIARMUID  

Those are my words.

GRÁINNE  

Fionn is not dead?

DIARMUID  

He and three hundred fighting men are in pursuit. They will track us down for all his broken words of sorrow. They will track us down and hack us into pieces.

GRÁINNE  

What, he was sorrowful when you spoke to him?

DIARMUID  

He said that I was false and treacherous; that I had betrayed his love and stolen his beloved like a thief.

GRÁINNE [bitterly]

Fionn sorrowful! And you, what did you say?

DIARMUID  

Who knows what savage words I spoke to him?

GRÁINNE  

But when you fought…what then?

DIARMUID  

There was no fight between us, Gráinne.

GRÁINNE  

What?  [she starts away from him in disgust]

DIARMUID  

Why is this anger on you, Gráinne?

GRÁINNE  

Oh, don’t speak to me. Don’t speak to me.

DIARMUID  

But tell me what it is, Gráinne.

GRÁINNE  

Ah! if the black ones of the storm were here in this cave with me, I would get more love and more happiness from them than I will ever get from you, Diarmuid of the sweet words. If Muadhan the young fighting lad were here, or the three fierce champions of Muir-na-Iocht were here, I would get strong love and deep kisses from them. But I am weary of the world, Diarmuid. I am weary of the slow timid sons of the earth. If the black ones of the storm were here in this cave tonight, if the green ones out of the sea…

Thunder drowns her words and frightens her. She puts her hands over her ears. When it has died away she looks dumbly at Diarmuid

DIARMUID [with sudden anger]

Then come! Come! [Lightning] Come, black ones of the storm, green ones of the sea!

Thunder peals closer to the cave

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid! Diarmuid!

DIARMUID  

Come out of the darkness of the storm! Come into this cave where there is torchlight and warmth, meat and drink in pots of red bronze, and the white flesh of an amorous daughter of Kings! Come in out of the storm! Come in out of the sea!

Lightning and thunder

 

Scene Two

Suddenly at the mouth of the cave appears a figure of a man clothed in fantastic green. He carries a square jewelled board and a closed bag that glimmers faintly in his hands. His appearance is strange and wild and scarcely human

CIACH  

Out of the sea I come and out of the blackness of the storm.

DIARMUID  

There is a welcome before you in this place.

CIACH 

There is a welcome for me from you, Diarmuid of the Fianna of Ireland, but what of my welcome from this daughter of kings?

 

GRÁINNE   

Oh, he is of the people of the dark places.

 

DIARMUID  

But bid him welcome, Gráinne, bid him welcome. Bid him welcome, I say.

 

GRÁINNE  

Why, he might fill this lonely cavern by the tide with every sort of evil. His friends might flow in out of the tossing waters, out of the howling storm!

DIARMUID  

Who knows? Who knows what hides behind the curtains of the dark?

 

CIACH  

You wrong me, noble people. No shape of wickedness or evil am I, but Ciach a warrior, and I have come to shelter from the darkness of the storm.

 

GRÁINNE  

No shape of wickedness? Ah, his long green hands! What darkness can he need to shelter from with us?

 

DIARMUID  

To shelter from the storm? That’s enough. Why, you are welcome here. Gráinne, put a welcome before him. Put a welcome before this man.

GRÁINNE  

He knew our names and we had never told him what they were. How pale he is! How strangely he is dressed! Yet I will welcome him…

DIARMUID  

You are dreaming, Gráinne. Do the thing that I have bid you do.

GRÁINNE [she looks coldly at Ciach] 

You are welcome here.

CIACH  

Hark! The winds are lashing the waves till they leap and roar like angry hounds.

There is no quietness in the night. [He listens and chuckles quietly to himself]

DIARMUID  

What is it that you hear in the storm?

CIACH  

Hush! There are voices in the storm.

DIARMUID  

What voices are they?

CIACH  

Voices rising up out of the sea…

DIARMUID  

What do they speak of?

CIACH  

Of love they speak.

GRÁINNE  

Voices crying on the wind…

DIARMUID  

Of love they speak… [A long silence]

CIACH [with a sudden laugh]

Why, what is this silence falling like a cloud between us here? I am welcome here…there is shelter in this place…shelter from the bitter storm. Will you play chess with me, son of Donn?

GRÁINNE  

Do not play with him.

CIACH  

Will you play chess with me, Diarmuid O Duibhne?

DIARMUID  

There is no board, there are no men in this place.

CIACH  

I have a chessboard of white bronze that is set with pale cold stones of the sea. I have chessmen of green bronze and findrinny in a bag that is made of the scales of a fish. [He spreads out the board and empties the chessmen onto a flat-topped rock]

 

GRÁINNE  

Do not play with him.

CIACH  

Will you play with me, Diarmuid?

DIARMUID  

Are you a good player?

CIACH  

A game will tell you that.

GRÁINNE  

Oh, do not play with him, Diarmuid.

CIACH  

We will play chess together, Diarmuid of the women. [He sets up the men on the board]

 

DIARMUID  

I will play with you.

CIACH  

But we will not play without stakes, Diarmuid.

GRÁINNE [tonelessly]

Ah!...

DIARMUID  

What stake would you play for?

CIACH  

Listen! Listen to the wind, how it cries and calls across the sea! It is speaking of love…

 

DIARMUID  

What stake would you play for?

 

CIACH  

…and when the thunder rolls, it is telling of the anger of love that is not satisfied.

 

DIARMUID  

What stake would you play for, man of the Fomor?

 

CIACH  

Why, we can speak of that when the game is played.

 

DIARMUID  

Let it be so.

 

They sit down to play. Gráinne crouches on the floor near to them and watches the game. The light grows dimmer and the figures of Ciach, Diarmuid and Gráinne become almost invisible in the shadow. A greenish twilight brightens slowly outside the mouth of the cave and the roaring of the wind and waves grows less. In the twilight Angus appears, and with him are the three people of Faery. They carry green rushes in their arms and they are peering into the cave

 

ANGUS  

The hour draws near.

 

First FIGURE  

Pull down the curtains of the night.

 

Second FIGURE  

Make a dim sheltered sweetness of the dark for love.

 

Third FIGURE  

These are the shadows that shall watch their love tonight.

 

ANGUS  

The hour draws near.

 

First FIGURE  

Pull down the curtains of the night.

 

Second FIGURE  

Strew the cold floor with rushes for their bed.

 

Third FIGURE  

These are the green waves that shall sing their bridal song.

 

ANGUS  

The chessmen move across the little squares of bronze. The cave is dark and still. The players’ thoughts are cold and quiet as pearl and findrinny, but for all that blood and death hang smiling overhead, and love all pale and trembling shall follow them.

 

It darkens

 

First FIGURE  

Oh, see! Oh, see!

 

Second FIGURE  

The curtains of the night are drawing down.

 

Third FIGURE  

The shadows of the waves are pale like love.

 

ANGUS  

The hour draws near. Away, away! Hover above them in the hollows of the air and watch over their sleep of love with song and music until the dawn whitens the gates of the East. Away, away! [Figures vanish] Diarmuid, my foster-son, my joy and my grief for you this night. My joy and my grief for you and for this woman of ivory and gold who has given that which is sweeter, redder and more terrible than the blood of an enemy spilt on the snow by murderous hawks.

Angus goes. The warm dull light in the cavern steals back and reveals the three figures by the big rock. The hand of Ciach is upraised and holds a chessman. He puts it triumphantly on the board and watches Diarmuid maliciously. At last he rises

 

CIACH  

The game is finished, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

Aye, that is so.

 

CIACH  

The game is finished and it is I who have won.

 

DIARMUID  

It was a good game and well played.

 

GRÁINNE  

Why has the wind ceased crying in the air? [rising] There is a silence in the cave as though the night held its breath.

 

CIACH  

And my stake, Diarmuid?

 

DIARMUID [rising and facing him]

What is your stake, Fomorian?

A slight pause; they look steadfastly at each other. Then Ciach springs away with a laugh, and goes swiftly towards Gráinne. He slides his arms around her waist

CIACH  

Give Gráinne to me, son of Donn. Give me white Gráinne for a wife. That is my stake.

 

DIARMUID  

Take your hands from her body!

 

CIACH  

That is my stake.

 

DIARMUID  

Take your cold dark hands from her body, I say!

 

CIACH [without moving] 

That is my stake, Diarmuid of the sweet words.

DIARMUID [drawing his sword]

Take your hands from her, Ciach of the Fomor, or by the Gods I will strike at you with my sword!

CIACH  

Give me white Gráinne for a wife, Diarmuid. That is my stake. [He caresses her and laughs defiantly]

DIARMUID  

Gráinne, will you put this man from you.

GRÁINNE [suddenly angry]

Why should I put him from me, Diarmuid? Why should I put him from me? Am I not going with yourself for many golden days and for many black nights of stars, and you have never shown me as much desire for love as this cold man out of the storm is showing me now.

DIARMUID  

Take your green otter’s hands from her body, Ciach, or I swear I will stretch you out dead on the floor of this cave, and the great crabs shall come sidling out of the sea to feast on your flesh, and the evil ones of the waves shall rot your bones and marrow into cold slime.

CIACH  

Give me white Gráinne for a wife.

DIARMUID  

Draw and defend yourself!

He rushes forward; Ciach draws and they fight. Gráinne with a strange cry, half of fear and half of joy, goes to the back of the cave and watches them. Ciach falls with a scream on his lips; Diarmuid places one foot on his body and drives his sword through his heart. There is a short struggle

CIACH [dying]

I see the marks of tusks upon your throat, Diarmuid…I see the marks of a great boar’s tusks upon your proud white throat…

He dies. The wind gives a sudden cry, and a peal of high far-away laughter is heard outside the cave

 

GRÁINNE  

What is that laughter?

 

DIARMUID  

That is the laughter of the Fomor who keen his death.

 

GRÁINNE  

He is dead! He is dead!

 

DIARMUID  

Let the waves of the sea take back his body to themselves.

He drags the body to the mouth of the cave and throws it outside. The thin high piercing laughter is heard now faintly and with it confused and distant singing

Scene Three

As Diarmuid returns Gráinne creeps close to him

 

GRÁINNE [softly]

Why did you kill him, Diarmuid?

DIARMUID  

He was my enemy.

GRÁINNE  

Was there no other cause that you killed him?

DIARMUID  

What other cause?

GRÁINNE  

Did you not kill him…because…

DIARMUID  

Because?

GRÁINNE  

Because you were jealous, Diarmuid? Because when you saw his cold green hands upon my body you were jealous?

DIARMUID  

I killed him because he was my enemy.

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid… [in a low voice] Oh, you anger me. You anger me.

DIARMUID  

And why is that, daughter of the King?

GRÁINNE  

Oh, I could kill you. I would see you dead, my grief! Cold and dead at my feet!

She rushes at him suddenly and sticks a knife into his side. He staggers slightly, then straightens up and continues without moving the knife

DIARMUID  

Oh Gráinne, woman who never took a step aright, though you are as beautiful as a tall blossoming tree in the Country of the Young, though your hair is the colour of yellow flag-flowers in the summer and your body is white like the foam and your eyes clearer than the dew of the grass, yet your love is as frail as smoke and your hatred as nimble as flame. I have lost my own people by you and by your Druid bonds, Gráinne, and the friends of my heart and the friends that used to hunt with me and fight with me and play with me. I have lost the peace of the hills and the music of the woods and the freedom of the waters by you. Oh Gráinne, little white fawn of the mountains, it was a bad night that you gave your love to me in Tara of the Kings, and not to Fionn Mac Cool to whom you were given for a wife.

GRÁINNE  

Oh Diarmuid of the sweet words, whose voice is like wine to me, or like the sleepy music of harps that are played in a wood of silver and gold, I had no power over the love I gave you on that night of feasting in Tara, for I saw the little shining star on your forehead, and my heart fell down before you at that moment, and when you came near me it was as though great fires were kindled in the darkness of my mind, and as though honey were flowing through my body in golden sweet streams.

DIARMUID  

Oh Gráinne, beautiful daughter of the King, I am weary of the fight.

GRÁINNE  

My love and my thousand treasures…if you are weary…

 

DIARMUID  

I am weary indeed, Gráinne.

 

GRÁINNE  

Why, I will cut heather and rushes and spread them for your bed.

 

DIARMUID  

Will you do that for me, daughter of the King?

 

GRÁINNE  

I will go out into the night, Diarmuid; I will climb over the rocks and the stones, until I come to where green rushes grow. I’ll cut them for your bed and spread them softly…Give me a knife, Diarmuid, to cut the rushes with.

 

DIARMUID [pointing to the floor]

Why, there are rushes spread.

GRÁINNE  

Then I will gather heather and more rushes.

DIARMUID  

There is no need.

GRÁINNE  

Give me a knife, son of Donn.

DIARMUID  

Oh Gráinne of the ready tongue and of the wayward forgetful mind, why do you not look for the knife in its sheath?

 

GRÁINNE  

What do you mean?

 

DIARMUID  

The knife is in its sheath where you yourself placed it.

 

GRÁINNE  

Ah!

 

She sees, as if for the first time, the knife in Diarmuid’s side and staggers back as though blinded, her hands to her face. A long pause

 

DIARMUID  

Draw the knife from its sheath with your own hands, Gráinne.

 

She comes towards him slowly, shaking with sudden tears. She draws the knife out and looks at it. Then, shuddering, she throws it far away from her. She sinks to the ground at his feet and puts her arms about him. His face changes as he bends towards her; slowly he takes her into his arms

 

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid, Diarmuid!

 

DIARMUID  

Hush, my share of the world. The waves shall sing our bridal song tonight.

 

GRÁINNE  

You will leave broken bread behind us in the place tomorrow, Diarmuid. You will leave broken bread behind us in the place for Fionn Mac Cool…

 

Diarmuid bends towards her and kisses her lips. The waves break softly at intervals outside the cave. They turn away to the cavern entrance, through which the moonlight floods, and meet in a warm embrace

ACT FOUR

 

Scene One

A great room in Rath Gráinne, the home of Diarmuid and Gráinne many years later. There are copper shields and tapestries and great skins hanging on the walls, and a long settle covered with figured cloth occupies one side of the stage. A huge window is at the back, and in front of this stands Sive, her back to the audience. Outside the night is falling and the room is in shadow. A red moon is rising slowly out of the mist. Sive draws a curtain half across the window so that only a portion of the darkening sky remains visible

SIVE  

The colour of rust is on the moon. The colour of rust or of blood that was spilled long ago is on the moon tonight.

How cold the air is!

A sound of men’s voices, talking and shouting, and of laughter, is heard from another room. Sive turns and lights two great torches, and heaps coal into the braziers. Luan suddenly rushes into the room, wild and dishevelled. He nearly collides with Sive, then sees who it is and starts back

LUAN  

Oh Sive, great stories I have heard tonight. Strange wonderful things I have seen on the hillside, and on the side of Ben Bulben in the twilight.

 

SIVE  

What is your talk? Have you no thought at all to be rushing in on me like this? For all you know your master might have been here, or his lady, aye or Fionn Mac Cool himself.

LUAN  

Ah, but you must listen, Sive!

SIVE  

You must learn to be more gentle. You must learn to have manners.

LUAN  

But I have something to tell you!

SIVE  

What is it?

LUAN  

A strange thing I’ve seen on the hills tonight. A strange fearful thing I’ve seen. A big fierce long-tusked boar I’ve seen, running wild on the shoulder of the hill and raising his snout to the moon.

SIVE [with a very slight start]

A wild boar you’ve seen? Is that so strange and wonderful?

LUAN  

Strange and wonderful he was if you could have seen him, Sive. He was bigger than all the boars of Ireland, and when I saw him first standing there without a movement on the ridge of the hill and his eyes on the moon rising up out of the fog, I thought there was like a dark curl of flame about his head and a cloud of green smoke twisting up from the ground where he stood…

SIVE [half whispering]

What did you do then?

LUAN  

Great fear I had, and I made a rush to get away, and I cut down through the two dark woods of the old well till I got home again. Ah, it’s a good thing to be safe in the rath to watch the torchlight shining on the walls, and see the doors shutting out the bad thing of the night.

SIVE  

A great boar with flame and smoke about him, standing alone on the side of Ben Bulben…

 

LUAN  

Aye, spears of flame there were about him, and big curling clouds of smoke…

 

SIVE [abruptly]

Cease your chatter. What made you come into this room at all? Whom are you seeking?

LUAN  

My master Diarmuid and his lady.

 

SIVE  

And why do you wish to see them?

 

LUAN  

A message I have to them from Fionn.

 

SIVE  

A message? What message?

 

LUAN  

The message is from Fionn Mac Cool to Diarmuid and to Gráinne. It is not for your ears, Sive.

 

SIVE  

What is this talk? Not for my ears?

 

LUAN  

It is not.

 

SIVE [half to herself]

Why should Fionn send a message to his hosts? Will he not be at the feast tonight? At the last feast of their new friendship?

 

LUAN  

Their new friendship?

 

SIVE  

May the Gods look down upon your ignorance that didn’t know of the bitterest quarrel Ireland ever saw.

 

LUAN  

A quarrel? Between whom?

 

SIVE  

Between Fionn and your master, who else?

 

LUAN  

Oh, tell me of that quarrel.

 

SIVE  

I will not. Isn’t that an old story now, and isn’t it a better thing to forget a quarrel than to remember it?

 

LUAN  

Aye, maybe.

 

SIVE  

And they themselves have forgotten it. It is better so. Diarmuid is a rich man, aye and a powerful man, and our mistress could well see that he and Fionn must be friends again.

 

LUAN  

Why did she see that?

 

SIVE  

Our mistress is a woman. Fionn is the greatest fighting man in Ireland. He is the most powerful friend in the world…aye, and the worst enemy… [She turns away and busies herself about the room]

LUAN  

Fionn is a great man surely.

 

SIVE  

Gráinne was wise to remake the friendship between himself and Diarmuid…

[She breaks off] What is that you have in your hand?

[pointing to a ring in his hand] That is a ring of Fionn Mac Cool’s. Isn’t it often I saw it on his hand. Give it to me.

 

LUAN  

I will not.

 

SIVE  

Give it to me.

LUAN  

I will not.

 

SIVE  

Give it to me, I say.

 

LUAN  

I will not.  I will not.

 

SIVE 

Was it Fionn gave it you?

 

LUAN  

Maybe it was.

 

SIVE  

Maybe it was? [She threatens him] How dare you?

LUAN  

It was for Gráinne he gave it me, and a message along with for my master.

 

SIVE  

And you won’t tell me that message?

 

LUAN  

I will not.

 

SIVE  

Where was it you saw Fionn?

 

LUAN  

In a clearing of the great wood of Eas Dara he was, talking with three strangers.

 

SIVE  

Strangers?

 

LUAN  

Aye, big black men they were in shirts of green and long straight cloaks of black, and they were talking of Diarmuid and…

 

SIVE  

And of what else?

 

LUAN  

Talking and whispering they were of the great boar of Ben Bulben.

 

SIVE  

Hush!

 

LUAN  

Why, what is the matter?

 

SIVE [suddenly, after a pause]

Tell nothing of that story to your master or his lady. Tell nothing of that story of the strangers, or of the wild boar you saw lifting his snout to the moon on the shoulder of the hill.

LUAN 

But…but Diarmuid will hear that story of the boar I saw if I tell him or if I don’t.

 

SIVE  

Why?

 

LUAN  

Didn’t I tell you all the Fianna were there as I came in through the hall of the seven doors, Óisin and Osgar and all of them; and they said they would have great sport tomorrow chasing and hunting him on the side of the hill.

 

Sive looks at him with impotent fury for a moment. Then she goes over to the window

SIVE  

You are a fool, Luan. A fool…  [She turns and looks out into the night]

The moon is high up in the sky now, but the colour of rust is on it still. Ah! the air is very cold.

LUAN [turning to look at her]

Aye, it is the last night of the year. Ah! there are bad things crying out in the darkness tonight. It’s a good thing to see the torchlight shining on the bronze and the copper, and to shut out the cold and the blackness with a door of fine strong oak.

 

Scene Two

Diarmuid enters with Gráinne. He leads her to the long settle, where she lies back among the cushions. Half smiling he watches her for a moment, stroking her hair

GRÁINNE  

Is all ready for the feast tonight?

 

SIVE  

It is, princess.

 

DIARMUID [turning to Luan]

What is your business?

 

LUAN  

Out in the woods at the hunt I was today, noble person, on the side of the hill where the deer were gathered and in the hollows of Eas Dara, and I bring you a message from Fionn Mac Cool.

DIARMUID  

From Fionn?

 

GRÁINNE  

Is Fionn out here in the rath? You have been running hard.

 

DIARMUID  

Aye, your hair is tossed and your clothes are torn…Where did you see Fionn?

 

LUAN  

In the clearing of the wood of Eas Dara I saw him, noble person.

 

GRÁINNE  

Why did you run so fast?

 

LUAN  

I ran because…

 

DIARMUID  

Why did you run?

 

LUAN [after a warning glance from Sive]

Ah, it was nothing, master…a fear I had of the bad things that wait in the shadows on the last night of the year.

Gráinne looks straight at him and then glances over her shoulder. She is silent

DIARMUID  

Come, you must have no fear of the shadows. What is the message from Fionn?

 

FIONN  

He bade me tell you, noble person, that a messenger of his own people came westward from Allen of Leinster with news that have troubled him, and asks you to forgive him that he left the hunt today.

 

GRÁINNE [looking at Diarmuid]

When will he be here?

 

LUAN  

Soon, princess, very soon he will be here, for he was on horseback and I was on foot. He will be here tonight before you sit down to eat and drink, and he will tell you his story.

 

DIARMUID  

It is well.

 

LUAN [crosses and kneels before Gráinne. He offers the ring]

Fionn Mac Cool sends you this ring, lady.

GRÁINNE [taking ring]

May you go well.

 

Diarmuid looks at her keenly for a moment; she meets his eyes and slowly draws the ring onto her finger. Luan looks boldly at Sive, bows to Diarmuid and Gráinne and goes

SIVE  

That is a fine ring, princess.

 

GRÁINNE  

Fine indeed.

 

SIVE  

The stones are coloured like wine, or like red gold that has the light of flames going through it.

 

GRÁINNE  

They are red like the sun that goes down in the west on an evening of storm, or like the moon that rises out of the mist when the night is dark and blood is to be spilt on the earth.

 

SIVE [starts slightly and glances at the window]

Will you dress in the cloak of ceremony for the last feast tonight, noble lady?

 

GRÁINNE  

No…

 

SIVE  

But Gráinne…princess…are you not feasting tonight? Will you not wear the cloak of gold with the pale stones?

 

DIARMUID [suddenly]

Leave us, Sive.

Sive goes out. Gráinne removes her cloak and stretches  languidly  on  the  settle  and  examines  the ring. Diarmuid comes slowly to her from behind, bends down and looks at the ring on her finger. He sighs and turns to look out of the window

GRÁINNE  

There is something you forgot to tell me tonight, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

What is that?

 

GRÁINNE  

You did not tell me that Fionn had left the hunt.

 

DIARMUID  

Why, it was such a small thing. Why should I tell you?

 

GRÁINNE  

Yes, it was a small thing. Did he leave suddenly?

 

DIARMUID 

He rode away through the trees of Colooney as the twilight fell, and eastward to the great wood of the quicken trees.

 

GRÁINNE  

He is a strange man.

 

DIARMUID  

He is our friend.

 

GRÁINNE  

Yes, he is our friend now. We are no longer lovers that wander without shelter through the wild woods

where the rain lashes the boughs about our heads, and the darkness of the night makes our feet

to stumble among the stones of the hills. [She twists the ring on her finger]

DIARMUID  

I would not lose his friendship for all the riches of Ireland, for all the cattle of the plain of Meath, for all the gold and bronze and copper shields of the south.

GRÁINNE  

No, why should you? We have so much power already; we have so many silks and shields, cattle and horses and lands, and bowls of gold and polished copper.

DIARMUID  

Gráinne!

GRÁINNE  

Ah, I know…I laugh too much at the world.

DIARMUID  

You laugh too much at Fionn.

GRÁINNE  

I do not laugh at Fionn.

DIARMUID [suddenly]

Why do you twist that ring upon your finger? Let me see it.

She passes it to him; he hands it back

DIARMUID

No, I wish to see it on your hand.

She puts it back; he takes her hand and gazes intently at the ring

 

GRÁINNE  

Why do you sigh, my share of the world?

 

DIARMUID  

I was troubled last night by evil dreams.

 

GRÁINNE [startled]

By evil dreams?

DIARMUID  

Aye…there came a wild thing into my dreams that snatched you from me, and I saw you then as though you were far away, yet close and bright and clear like the flowers of the grass, and by your side…

GRÁINNE  

Speak!

DIARMUID  

By your side stood Fionn.

Gráinne suddenly rises and goes over to the window

DIARMUID

Gráinne, where are you? Where are you, Gráinne?

GRÁINNE  

How red the moon is tonight! She is like a shield that has been stained with blood. There are long cold fingers of cloud that are stretched across her face. They cut away her light as though they were black battle knives. They are like stains of anger on a shield, like stains of bloody anger on a shield of rust.

 

Scene Three

 

As Fionn enters Diarmuid starts, then rises mechanically and bows his head. Gráinne turns from the window

FIONN [at the door]

Your life and your health, Diarmuid. Gráinne, my greeting to you this night.

GRÁINNE  

Happiness from the gods on you, Fionn.

FIONN 

Diarmuid, you will forgive me for this day… you will forgive me that I left the hunt without warning.

DIARMUID 

It was nothing.

FIONN  

Did you get my message?

DIARMUID  

I did…you are troubled, Fionn, with news from Allen?

 

FIONN  

Aye, there is trouble in Allen, and trouble in Sliebh Cua.

 

DIARMUID  

What is the trouble?

FIONN [hesitating]

Raids on my cattle there are, and tales of unrest, stories of discontent from Conan Maol and…

DIARMUID [smiling]

Stories of discontent from Conan Maol? That is no new thing at all.

FIONN  

Ah, there are things that trouble me now, Diarmuid, more than they would have troubled me at one time.

There is weariness over my mind, a mist over my thoughts.

DIARMUID  

And these rumours from Allen and Sliebh Cua have disturbed you?

FIONN  

Aye, they have…they have…

GRÁINNE  

There is something else in your thoughts, Fionn.

FIONN [looks at her for a moment in silence]

That is true.

GRÁINNE  

Yes, it is true. Your eyes are restless and mournful, like one whose dreams are too vivid not to seem terrible when the dawn whitens in the sky.

FIONN  

My dreams trouble me.

DIARMUID  

Dreams! Dreams!...

FIONN  

When the night goes away from us, she takes with her our dreams like shining dragons with their starry eyes and scales of glittering fire…then the dawn comes and we awake; and with the dawn ride down the dragons of new dreams with scales of lead and eyes like frozen coins. And youth…

DIARMUID  

Youth is the bright dragon of your dreams.

FIONN 

Youth is the bright dragon that the darkness brings. Youth is like the night.

GRÁINNE  

And age? Is that not like the night? Like the darkness of night that falls on the mountains when the earth is tired.

FIONN  

No, age is like the grey and rain-washed break of day. Age is like the dawn. That is the sorrow of life.

 

DIARMUID  

The dragon of the dawn with scales of lead.

 

FIONN  

Diarmuid, I cannot feast tonight. Give me your pardon for that…I cannot feast tonight.

 

DIARMUID  

Why, Fionn, if you have no mind to feast let it be so.

 

GRÁINNE  

Have you a mind for sleep, Fionn Mac Cool?

 

FIONN  

For sleep? Aye, for sleep.

 

DIARMUID  

Then there will be no feast tonight.

 

FIONN  

But Diarmuid…

DIARMUID  

It shall be so. There shall be no feast while my friend, my chief guest, is not at the table.

 

FIONN  

You are my friend, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

I think that I am nearer to you than before. Our friendship was broken by an evil chance. It is remade by a new understanding. It is sealed by a new bond. It has been through the fire and flames have made it firm.

 

FIONN  

That is true. Is it not true, Gráinne?

 

GRÁINNE  

It is true indeed.

 

DIARMUID  

Why do you smile, Gráinne?

 

GRÁINNE  

I smile because our friendship is remade.

 

FIONN  

Is it not well? Should we not all be happy?

 

GRÁINNE  

I must give you thanks, Fionn.

 

FIONN 

For what?

 

GRÁINNE  

For this ring. It has given me great joy.

 

FIONN  

It is a small token only.

 

GRÁINNE  

Come, tell me…will you not feast with us tonight?

 

Fionn, who has been looking at her intently, starts as though he were suddenly reminded of something

FIONN  

Your pardon, Gráinne. Your pardon, both. I am troubled and weary. I would sleep. Your pardon.

 

DIARMUID  

We understand it well. [He claps his hands: his slaves appear] Let food and drink be brought to the men of the Fianna in the room of the seven doors. There will be no feast tonight. [The slaves go out]

 

FIONN  

I will go now.

DIARMUID  

You go with our love and blessing, Fionn. And may the Gods give you a sound sleep. May your sleep be sound and sweet this night.

 

FIONN  

My blessing be with you, Diarmuid, and with your Gráinne of the undying beauty.

 

GRÁINNE  

A sound sleep to you, Fionn.

 

FIONN  

Diarmuid, I…

 

DIARMUID  

What is it, my friend?

 

FIONN  

Diarmuid, if…

 

DIARMUID  

If?

 

FIONN  

No, it is nothing. My blessing be with you both.

 

He looks at them sadly for a moment and goes out

 

Scene Four

 

Diarmuid and Gráinne are left alone

GRÁINNE  

He is strange tonight.

 

DIARMUID  

How, strange?

 

GRÁINNE  

He is full of secrets. Troubled by dreams and visions and wrapped in a cloud of grief he is, and yet there is a fierceness in his eyes, a wildness, something that waits and watches and will not be at peace.

 

DIARMUID  

Age is coming upon him. His mind is shaken and unquiet.

GRÁINNE  

But why is that?

 

DIARMUID  

Who knows? Who knows? Because the world changes, and hope flickers, and light fades out of the sky, and the hair grows grey, and lines and shadows creep about the brows and lips. Because all things must change and wither, and the leaves fall from the tree, and mist covers the tops of the hills, and the tide wears away the stones of the strand, and the shadows droop and  gather  in the glens. Because every day when we awake we have forgotten the dreams of the night, and because every night when we sleep the dreams of the day are like a troop of thin shadows in our minds, without sense, without meaning.

 

GRÁINNE  

You speak as though these words came from your own thoughts, Diarmuid, and not from Fionn’s at all.

 

DIARMUID  

The thoughts are my own, and they are Fionn’s, and they are every man’s when the night is dark and the flare falters in the torches and the day is done.

 

GRÁINNE  

Or when the wine has been left untested at the feast. And the year is done. This is the last night of the year.

 

DIARMUID  

Aye, the last night of the year.

 

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid, why should you be sad tonight?

 

DIARMUID [caressing her]

Aye, why should I be sad? I who have houses and lands and cattle and a woman of beauty at my side, shields of red bronze on the walls, and wine and meat and linen in the cupboards.

GRÁINNE  

Why are you sad, my pulse?

 

DIARMUID  

I, sad? I who have won back the good will of the High King and the friendship of Fionn Mac Cool.

I am not sad, Gráinne, I am not sad.

 

GRÁINNE  

Yes, you are sad.

 

DIARMUID  

There was a song made by Daire of the poems, and in that poem he made a great keening and lamenting because of a young boy that was changed by a woman of the Sidhe into a white hound running and leaping on the hills, and when he came back to his own shape again he was grey and withered and his friend…

 

GRÁINNE  

Yes, his friend, Diarmuid?

 

DIARMUID  

He had forgotten him.

 

GRÁINNE  

Why do you think of this song tonight?

 

DIARMUID  

I do not know, I do not know.

 

GRÁINNE  

I do not trust Fionn.

 

DIARMUID  

Why is that?

 

GRÁINNE  

I do not trust him, his eyes are restless. They watch me always. I do not trust him.

 

DIARMUID  

Ah, you are dreaming, Gráinne.

 

GRÁINNE   

No, no, he watches us. He watches us both. Always he is watching. Watching and waiting, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

What is in your thoughts?

GRÁINNE  

I am afraid, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

You afraid, little fawn?

 

GRÁINNE   

Do you remember when we were in the woods together, in the thick woods of Dubhros where the stars looked through the leaves and saw us lying in a shadowy place. Your head was in my lap and I made a sleepy song for you out of the secret words of the wind, and you looked up and smiled though no bird sang.

 

DIARMUID  

You had no fear then.

 

GRÁINNE  

And there was a day high on the summit of Ben Adair when the sun was warm. We lay on the heather in an open place. I heard the bees drone in the tall blue air, and under us low blue waves lapped and lapped. We heard the baying of Fionn’s hounds and turned and ran and hid in a great cave close to the water’s edge.

 

DIARMUID  

You had no fear then.

 

GRÁINNE   

I had no fear then though we were betrayed. I had no fear in the caves or in the bogs, in the hills or in the plains, because I knew…

 

DIARMUID  

You knew?

 

GRÁINNE  

Who was our enemy.

 

DIARMUID  

And now you know no longer?

 

GRÁINNE  

I am afraid, Diarmuid, I am afraid…

 

DIARMUID  

Aye, why should I be sad? When we slept among hills and woods and lonely rocks on beds of rushes or of soft green boughs, when the stars shone above us in the sky or the wind tangled the hair over our eyes. I know…I know, white Gráinne. I know that longing when the blood turns wild at the calling of the cuckoo in deep woods, or at the rushing of the rain through slanted blowing grass, or at the hot still perfume of the yellow furze.

 

GRÁINNE  

Your lips were on my lips one twilight when the curlew cried and the wind was hushed, and though Fionn’s fighting men has run us down and we were hiding in a barren place where there was nothing but grey clouds and greyer colder stones, yet we were happy and I knew no fear.

 

DIARMUID  

And now—you are afraid?

 

A slave enters with a bowl of wine which he puts on the table; as he passes Gráinne she starts. He is about to go

 

GRÁINNE  

Put out the torches.

 

He puts the torches out, leaving the stage in a dimness which makes the space of sky beyond the window seem fairly luminous

GRÁINNE  

Go. [He goes out]

 

DIARMUID  

Why do you have the torches quenched?

 

GRÁINNE  

Give me your lips, Diarmuid. Bend down your head towards me. Give me your lips.

 

Diarmuid takes her into his arms. As their lips are about to meet, he starts as though he had heard some sound

DIARMUID  

Hush! [He half pushes her away]

 

GRÁINNE  

Your lips, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

Did you not hear a call?

 

GRÁINNE  

Bend down your head to me, son of Donn.

 

DIARMUID  

A call out of the blackness it was, a hunting horn and the voice of a hound calling out of the dark.

 

GRÁINNE  

Your lips, give me your lips, Diarmuid.

 

DIARMUID  

Calling me to follow it is.

 

GRÁINNE  

You will not go. There is no sound in the night. Give me your lips, my treasure, my life, give me your lips! You will not go from me into the blackness of the night where all the evil shapes of November would take you from me.

 

DIARMUID  

I must follow the voice of the hound.

 

GRÁINNE  

Stay with me, stay with me, Diarmuid!

 

DIARMUID  

Bring me my spears!

 

GRÁINNE  

You are going from me!

 

DIARMUID  

Bring me my spears!

 

GRÁINNE  

You will take the big spears with you, Diarmuid. You will take the great fierce one with you, and the spear of Red Victory.

 

DIARMUID  

Bring me the Little Wild One and the Spear of Swift Death.

 

GRÁINNE  

Take the big spears with you, Diarmuid! Take the big spears with you!

 

DIARMUID  

Do as I bid you!

 

His eyes are fixed on the door. Gráinne looks at him for a moment, then fetches the two spears and his hunting coat

 

DIARMUID

Call my hound to me! Call Mac an Chuill!

GRÁINNE  

Do not go, Diarmuid, do not go from me into the darkness!

 

He rushes out

 

Scene Five

There are three great blasts on a horn outside

GRÁINNE  

That is the call of Fionn! Óisin! Osgar! Caoilte! Goll! [She wheels round in terror] Sive! Sive!

She claps her hands; Sive enters

GRÁINNE  

Go out, Sive, and strike upon the shield of battle! Awake the house! Drag out the men of the Fianna from their beds!

Go, Sive, go quickly!...Stay! Go into the sleeping room of Fionn Mac Cool and tell me…what is there…

 Sive goes. Gráinne remains motionless

GRÁINNE  

The last night of the year!...

A tumult of voices outside. Sive enters

 

SIVE  

Princess!

 

GRÁINNE  

Speak!

 

SIVE  

The sleeping room of Fionn is empty.

 

GRÁINNE  

Yes, it is empty. [suddenly beside herself] The shield of battle! The shield of warning! Why do you not strike upon the shield?

 

SIVE  

They are striking, princess.

 

GRÁINNE  

To me it is all silent.

 

Enter hastily Óisin, Osgar, Caoilte and Goll

 

ÓISIN  

What is the matter?

 

CAOILTE  

Who strikes upon the shield of battle?

 

OSGAR [pointing at Gráinne]

Look! Look! Look!

CAOILTE  

What is it, Gráinne the fair?

 

OSGAR  

What is the matter?

 

GOLL  

She is pale, like death,

 

GRÁINNE  

There was a horn that blew in the darkness of the night, and a wild thing that passed on the side of Ben Bulben.

 

OSGAR  

What are you saying?

 

GRÁINNE  

The sleeping room of Fionn is empty.

 

Horns backstage, very distant

GOLL  

What was that?

 

CAOILTE  

Who is it that follows a chase in the blackness of the night?

 

SIVE  

That was the call of Fionn. [She is silent, looking at Gráinne]

 

GOLL  

Did you hear?

 

CAOILTE  

Let us go to the window. [They rush to the window]

 

OSGAR  

Look!

 

ÓISIN  

I see a torch that flames through the mist…

 

GOLL 

…and something that moves swiftly in the shadow.

 

CAOILTE 

There are three shapes that move swiftly…

 

GOLL  

Look!

 

ÓISIN  

There are two men and a beast…

 

OSGAR  

Oh!

 

CAOILTE  

Oh! The torch has burnt out. There is nothing now but the black shape of the hill.

 

ÓISIN  

It is Diarmuid and my father who are out on Ben Bulben.

GOLL 

What is it that they fight?

 

The others are about to speak when Sive holds up her hand as a signal for silence. All turn to look at Gráinne

 

GRÁINNE [her voice passionless and cold, her face the face of a sleep-walker]

It is the wild boar of Ben Bulben out there in the blackness, and Diarmuid fighting him.

ALL [variously]

That cannot be true! The wild boar of Ben Bulben!—May the Gods look down upon us! That is no hunt at all!—That would be a fight, a bloody and terrible fight!—Diarmuid is a strong man.—Why did Fionn go?—There is one that holds a torch. It is no hunt but a fight.—A fight! A fight between a man and a beast!—There is one that tilts at the beast with a spear. —The green boar of Ben Bulben!—The last night of the year it is.—A dark bad night it is and the moon is red. —The moon is coloured like blood.

SIVE  

Have no fear, princess.

ÓISIN 

Diarmuid will win the fight.

CAOILTE  

They are cheering on the hill.

Óisin turns from the window and stands watching Gráinne; the others remain watching impatiently

 

GRÁINNE  

He is fighting the boar of Ben Bulben and the night is dark. Fionn it was that called him in the shadow. Fionn Mac Cool it was.

 

OSGAR  

Let us go! Let us see Diarmuid as he kills the boar! Let us go to the hill.

 

CAOILTE  

Come, Óisin, come! Let us watch the fight! Let us see how Diarmuid kills the great boar of the west.

 

ÓISIN   

I will not leave Gráinne.

 

GRÁINNE 

Mac an Chuill, the hound of Diarmuid, has fled in terror from the boar. Diarmuid is alone.

 

ÓISIN  

Fionn Mac Cool is with him, princess.

 

CAOILTE [half turning from the window, to Osgar]  

She speaks as though she stood upon the hill and watched the fight.

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid has loosed the Spear of Swift Death. He aims it now at the face of the boar.

GOLL [also turning, to Caoilte]

Terror has made her mad.

OSGAR 

Come, let us watch the fight!

ÓISIN  

I will not leave…

OSGAR and CAOILTE  

Oh, let us watch!

ÓISIN  

I will not leave her alone.

GRÁINNE  

A-ah! The wild boar has rushed at him… The earth is out from under his feet…He has fallen…he has fallen…

CAOILTE  

How can she tell what happens when the night is so dark?

 

GOLL  

And she does not even look into the darkness.

 

SIVE  

She is looking into the darkness with the eyes of her love.

 

OSGAR [still looking out from the window]

Look! The clouds have hidden the moon. [peers out] I can see nothing now.

GOLL [turns to join Osgar]

No, the night is like a great black cave.

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid has risen…He has caught the boar with his two hands. His grip is terrible. It is like a ring of iron, or like the cold sharp fingers of a winter’s night. He has caught the boar with his two hands. [Faint sounds of cheering on the hill] The boar rushes round and round the hill in a huge circle, but he cannot free himself.

ÓISIN  

Gráinne! Gráinne! Where do you see this thing?

 

SIVE  

Hush!

 

GRÁINNE  

Angus, Lord of Love, where are you this night? Angus of the Birds, where are you hiding this night?

 

OSGAR  

The clouds are passing away from the moon.

 

GOLL  

Look! Look! Do you see that?

 

CAOILTE  

I see nothing but a dim shape that rushes in great circles on the mountain top. It is too dark to see rightly.

 

GRÁINNE  

Ah! the boar has freed himself…he stands there in the red moonlight, waiting…

 

CAOILTE  

Can you see anything?

 

OSGAR  

No, but I think there is nothing stirring.

 

GRÁINNE  

Ah!

 

She staggers; Óisin and Sive rush to help her, but she motions them away. There is a cry of horror from the hill

 

ÓISIN  

Oh, what is on you, Gráinne?

 

SIVE  

What is that mournful cry that rises from the hill?

 

CAOILTE  

Why does Gráinne cry out?

 

OSGAR  

Someone is coming to the rath.

 

GOLL  

Who is it?

 

CAOILTE  

What is it they carry?

 

GRÁINNE [cold and pale but now with passion in her voice]

Open the great gates of bronze that he may pass.

All look at her in amazement. The two slaves go out. Soon is heard the drawing of heavy bolts and the opening of the gates, The light grows dim

 

Scene Six

Diarmuid is brought in on a stretcher; blood is streaming from his throat and chest

GRÁINNE [kneeling by him]

My soul, my soul! Look into my eyes, my soul!

DIARMUID  

Oh golden fawn, oh share of the world, oh honey-mouth…

All the others come and kneel beside him

 

DIARMUID

Oh my brothers and my friends, why do you bow your heads? Why do you kneel and weep? Did I not kill the wild boar of the mountain? Though it went hard with me there in the blackness of the night, in the red dazzle of the moon, and my throat and my breast streaming with blood.

GOLL  

See his breast, how it bleeds!

CAOILTE  

It is torn like a ragged sail in the wind.

ÓISIN  

His eyes are wide with pain.

OSGAR  

There are red tusk-wounds in his throat.

DIARMUID  

Take your cold green hands from her body, Ciach of the Fomor! The chessmen are scattered!

GRÁINNE  

Go, leave him to me.

The back of the stage is now in almost total darkness; only the red glow of the night illuminates the room. The men of the Fianna withdraw from the bier to the back. Óisin hesitates and then follows

 

DIARMUID 

Cool, cool your fingers are…

 

GRÁINNE  

Ah, do not speak, my soul.

 

DIARMUID  

Why…who is it that looks over your shoulder?

 

GRÁINNE  

No-one.

 

DIARMUID  

Who is it that looks over your shoulder?

 

GRÁINNE  

Diarmuid, my pulse, there is no-one.

 

DIARMUID  

Ah, I know now who stands behind you.

 

GRÁINNE  

Whom do you see?

 

DIARMUID  

I see…Fionn Mac Cool. Look into my eyes.

 

A movement at the back. Fionn has entered. He comes slowly forward and gazes at Diarmuid over Gráinne’s shoulder

 

DIARMUID

Who is it that looks over your shoulder?

GRÁINNE  

There is no-one there…Ah!

She glances over her shoulder and meets Fionn’s eyes

FIONN [grimly]

There is joy in my heart tonight, Diarmuid, to see you as you lie there tonight. Your beauty is destroyed and your comely face is marred. I look at you now between the eyes and I laugh at your wounds and I tell you with my own lips that my heart is glad to see the blood on your breast and the gashes on your white throat, you that were proud and beautiful and that now are broken and beaten, lying there before me like a fine blossoming tree that was struck down by the storm.

DIARMUID  

Those are hard words to be speaking to me, Fionn, you that have the power to heal me if you would use it.

 

FIONN 

How could I heal you, Diarmuid?

 

DIARMUID  

There was a time when you were given great knowledge at the Boinn, and with it you were given this gift, Fionn, that anyone to whom you would give a drink of water out of your two hands would be young and well and strong again from sickness and from wounds…Fionn…Fionn Mac Cool…

 

FIONN  

You deserve no drink from me. You have earned nothing from me but the thing you have found this night: the ruin of your beauty, the withering of your strength and the coming of your death.

 

DIARMUID  

Fionn!

 

FIONN  

Your death you have earned from me, I say. You that went to Tara with me as my friend and stole white Gráinne from me.

 

DIARMUID [struggling to speak]

Fionn…

 

FIONN  

I have never forgotten what you did to me, Diarmuid.

 

OSGAR  

See how his breath comes fast.

 

ÓISIN  

His face is white.

 

CAOILTE  

It is whiter than water at evening time.

 

GOLL  

Why is Gráinne so still?

 

They come slowly forward

DIARMUID  

Not for myself or for Gráinne will I weep, nor for you, Fionn Mac Cool, but for Óisin and Osgar and Caoilte and Goll and my comrades…I see Goll stretched out in a lonely place where the wind lifts his hair from his cold white brow; I see Osgar lying dead, his body that was comely and whiter than milk torn like a tree in the wind with a thousand battle-wounds; I see Caoilte an old man fretting after his sons, and death coming upon him in a lonesome house; I see Óisin who will live after you all, an old withered man making a lament for the Fianna in a time when Ireland shall be changed, an old white broken man bending low with the burden of his sorrow beneath the heavy clouds, listening to the voice of the bells…in a time when Ireland shall be changed…Fionn!...Water!...Bring me water!...

Fionn motions to Óisin who brings water in a copper bowl. He pours some of the water into Fionn’s hands

 

DIARMUID

Gráinne!...

Gráinne crosses and kneels by the bier. Fionn who is bringing the water sees the look that passes between them. He lets the water fall. Long silence

DIARMUID

It is well. Look into my eyes, Gráinne…

Gráinne bends over him. Diarmuid dies. The men of the Fianna go on their knees. Gráinne, still kneeling, half turns from the body of Diarmuid; Fionn stretches out his hand to her. She starts back in horror, her hand to her mouth; seeing the ring of Fionn on her finger, her eyes remain fixed on it. The expression of hatred on her face turns slowly to one that is half mockery, half despair. She drags herself slowly to her feet and moves deliberately to Fionn

 

GRÁINNE  

Who is it that you hold in your arms, Fionn Mac Cool?

 

FIONN  

Who but Gráinne the fair?

 

GRÁINNE  

No, no! Do you not see? [she points to the body triumphantly] Gráinne is there!...

 

Fionn with fear in his eyes folds his cloak about her and they go out together. It grows slowly dark. Diarmuid is left alone; the men are kneeling about him in a half circle. No light remains except the red glow of the sky; this too fades. Total darkness

Op 16. - The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric 

Adapted from the old Irish legends by Leon Wiltshire

The lights rise. Óisin and Patric are seated in large chairs after a vigil of prayer. Both have fallen asleep

PATRIC [stirs and opens his eyes] 

Rise up and listen to the song of the Psalm, Óisin; you have slept long enough. No more for you the sound of battle and bloody conquest; age has sapped your strength and vigour.

ÓISIN [opens his eyes] 

I have no pleasure in the song of the Psalms or the priests who sing them, and my strength and manhood have only deserted me since Fionn and his armies are no more. It is the songs of battles that I love.

PATRIC  

Come now, there has never since the world was young been sweeter music than the Psalms and the words of God; it is time now to forget the war-trumpets and serve in the armies of the priests. [He rises and moves towards an alcove]

 

ÓISIN  

Your memory fails you. In my time I have also served the priests, and until now no-one has accused me of doing otherwise. Yet I still say that I have heard much sweeter music than the sound of the monastery bells or the chanting of the priests.

Patric in the alcove pours water and washes

ÓISIN 

I have heard the song of the blackbird in Leiter Laoi, and the sound of the Dord Fian: the sweet notes of a thrush in a shady vale, the sound of the keel of a boat rasping on a shingle shore. Why, the baying of the hounds was of more joy to me than all your church music: yes, even the twelve hounds that belonged to Fionn, when he unleashed them from the Suir, their notes were sweeter than all your harps and pipes. [Patric brings water and Óisin, also washes, rising from his seat. Patric sits again] 

And now that Fionn is no more, do you wish me to forget those sounds and memories?  Better for me to have died with him!  For I tell you bluntly, that the priests and their missals and myself will never see eye to eye, and that if Fionn and the Fianna were still alive, I would leave this monastery with its bells and priests and follow him, as would a fawn follow the deer through the valleys. And were I you, Patric, I would ask God in Heaven to send to earth again Fionn of the Fianna and all his race, for you will never see or hear the like of him again.

PATRIC  

Though I admire you, Óisin, you are putting me on edge. Nor will I intercede with Heaven for the return of Fionn, for I abhor his way of living that only fills the valleys with the sound of the hunting horn and the baying hounds.

 

ÓISIN   

Yet if you had been in the company of the Fianna, my monastic and cheerless friend, even you would have forgotten your priestly robes and fellow clerics and followed him.

PATRIC  

Blaspheming poet that you are, I would not forsake my faith in God for any man who has lived on this earth, east or west; and the priesthood will take sweet revenge on you if you carry on speaking in this vein.

ÓISIN  

Oh, but don’t you see that it was Fionn’s delight to hear the baying of his hounds on the mountains, to see the wild dogs leave their lairs and to see the strength and pride of his armies?

PATRIC  

Because Fionn took delight in those pursuits, it does not follow that every other man must delight in them. Remember Fionn and his hounds are now dead and forgotten by many; and you too, Óisin, will not live for ever.

ÓISIN  

Fionn’s memory will never die. We might lie forgotten but his generosity will still live, and will be remembered by those who are not yet born.

PATRIC  

Little good it does for him, or for you now!  However much gold you and he gave away, Fionn for his treachery and oppression is now lying chained in Hell.

ÓISIN   

Even though you are appointed by the Roman Church with all its finery, I will not believe that Fionn, with all his generosity, is now in the hands of demons and devils.

PATRIC  

I tell you truthfully, Fionn is in bonds in Hell. The man you thought so pleasant and generous, showed no respect for God; and for his sins suffers in the house of Hell.

ÓISIN   

If only Fionn’s friends were alive, Morna’s sons, brown-haired Diarmuid and brave Osgar, they would storm any stronghold, be it Heaven or Hell, and release him.

PATRIC  

Even if his friends were all alive and all the Fianna that ever were, they could not release him from where he is suffering the torments of the damned.

ÓISIN  

Why did God inflict this awful punishment?  Fionn was generous, loved his hounds and his hunting, and always honoured the bards and poets.

PATRIC  

You have just given the reason. Fionn honoured those above God. That is why he rots in Hell.

 

ÓISIN  

You who know the Psalms, Patric, do you still say that the Fianna and the five provinces of Ireland with them could not release Fionn?  Where is your pity, Patric?...the Lord of the Fianna locked in Hell!...Fionn whose heart was without envy, without hatred, a heart full of courage. Is God unwilling to give food to the hungry and charity to the poor?  Fionn never refused to give to the rich or the poor, and yet you say he is locked in Hell!  If this is so, I say God is unjust. Fionn never asked for much: just to listen to the sound of Druim Dearg, to sleep at the streams of Eas Euadh, to hunt the deer along the bays of Gallimh, to hear the tune of the blackbird in Leiter Laoi, the bellowing of the ox at Magh Moir, and the lowing of the calf at Gleann da Mhail, the excitement of the hunt at Sliebh Crot, and sound of the fawns around Sliebh Crua, the scream of the seagulls away over Corrus, the screech of the carrion crows over the battlefield, the lap of the waves vexing the prow of a boat, the howling of the hounds at Drum Leis, the voice of Bran at Cnoc-an-Air, the babbling of the streams around Sliebh Mis.

[He rises and moves slowly towards Patric, who also rises to assist him]  O Patric! My heart cries within me, when I think of what I have become now: a bent old man without suppleness, without fleetness, without strength, going to Mass at the altar; a man with no more battles to wage, no more pleasure of the spoils of war; a man with no more agility for the games, or hunting—the two sports that delighted me.

PATRIC [thrusts him away] 

Enough of this; your mind wanders. Let your past glories remain in the past. The Fianna are gone. Set your mind to what lies before you.

ÓISIN  

Yes!...and when I die, I hope, Patric, that you who have nagged and bothered my soul die with me. For I tell you that if the least of the Fianna were still alive you would not live long after me. [He in his turn thrusts Patric away from him]

Fionn was lucky. The music that led him to the long sleep was the cackling of the ducks from the Lake of the Three Narrows, the scolding talk of the blackbird of Doire an Cairn, the grouse of the heather of Cruchan, the bellowing of the ox from the Valley of Berries, the whistle of the eagle from the Valley of Victories, or from the rough branches of the ridge by the stream; the call of the otter of Druim re Coir, the tune of the blackbird of Doire an Cairn. Ah! Never have I heard sweeter music; would that it would remain with me for ever!  Fionn was indeed lucky, for all I have left me is fasting, going without food or drink and praying.

Better by far, if I had not been baptised!

PATRIC  

In my opinion it did not harm you. You eat and drink enough and then you decry your religion.

 

ÓISIN   

If you think that this is enough, I would rather eat Fionn’s crumbs in the banqueting hall of Hell than receive the last sacrament from you.

 

PATRIC  

Fionn ate what he got from the fruits of the fields, or whatever he could kill on the rough hills. He got his fill of Hell at the end for his disbelief.

 

ÓISIN   

No!...that was not the way!  We ate our fill of all good things and shared with everyone who needed. O Patric, you priest of Rome! Please let me remember the old days; let me talk of Diarmuid and Goll and of the straight-speaking Fergus.

 

PATRIC  

Indeed you may remember and speak of the old days as much as you like, but only after you have made your peace with God and heeded His words. For, let me tell you, you are reaching the end of your days and senility is come upon you.

 

ÓISIN    

Answer me a question if you please, since it is you who have the knowledge of spiritual matters. Will my dog be allowed into Heaven with me, when I go to meet my Maker?

 

PATRIC  

Are you mad?  Have you lost all sense of reason?  No dog or hound of yours will be allowed in the courts of God Almighty.

 

ÓISIN  

Well, if ever I were to meet God and my hound were at my side, I would make whosoever would provide me with food should also provide for my dog; and I think also this, that I would rather have one of my warrior friends of the Fianna at my side than your idea of the Lord of Piety and you together.

 

PATRIC  

Oh Óisin of the sharp and gleaming sword!  It is better to be with God for one day, than the whole of the Fianna of Ireland forever!

 

ÓISIN   

Because I am old and cannot defend them, I tell you, Patric, do not pour scorn and abuse on the great men of the Fianna.

 

PATRIC  

Come now, it’s foolish to be always talking of the Fianna. Remember you are near to death and you should be talking more about the Son of God. It is He that will help you.

 

ÓISIN   

When I was young I would sleep out on the mountain under the grey mists, and if there were deer about I would never sleep hungry.

 

PATRIC  

Your age makes your mind wander. You lose your way between the straight and narrow path and the crooked one. For your own sake, keep away from the crooked path that leads to Hell; take the straight, and the angels of God shall come under your head.

 

ÓISIN  

Were I able to be with Fergus the generous and Diarmuid now, we would choose any path, and the devil take you and your priests!

 

PATRIC  

Say no more, Óisin!  Do not speak out against the priests that travel the whole world spreading the message of God, or you will have to answer to him in a terrible fashion!

 

ÓISIN    

Listen, Patric, I fear no more your priests. In fact, when I hunted the boar in the valley and I could not find it, it would sorrow me more, than to see every priest in the world beheaded.

 

PATRIC  

It is pitiful hearing you talk like this; it is more pitiful than your blindness. For if you had the sight within you, great would be your desire for Heaven.

 

ÓISIN   

What desire would I have for Heaven, that beautiful City, without Caoilte, without Goll, without my father being with me?  Were I with them, the leap of the buck or the sight of badgers between two valleys would be of more delight to me than all the delights of Heaven that you tell me about.

 

PATRIC  

Your thoughts run away with you and will come to nothing. The pleasure and the mirth that you possessed when young and have departed with age; and what is more, if you do not take my advice to give reverence to God this very night, the entry to Heaven will be closed. There will no choice either way.

 

ÓISIN  

Were myself and the Fianna on top of some hill with spears and with drawn bows, we would choose any way, despite your books and priests and Church bells.

 

PATRIC  

You and the Fianna were never united enough. You were like wisps of smoke, or like a stream that flows through a valley. You were like a swirling wind on top of some hill.

 

ÓISIN   

Yet if I were in the company of my strong armed friends that you so decry, I would not be starved through fasting but would be going to sleep with a full stomach at the day’s ending.

 

PATRIC  

Listen, and listen gladly. I will force you to leave all thought of your nonsensical Fianna and make you receive the sacrament of God, the star- maker.

 

ÓISIN   

You make me laugh!...a priest as intelligent and  travelled  as  you  are, t o even think I would desert such a noble body of men as the Fianna!

PATRIC  

However great and noble you think the Fianna were, have you not noticed that the priesthood now get the best places at the feasts, and the best of the meat and the wine?  Your Fionn and the Fianna are slowly forgotten; let them lie where they are, on the flagstones of Hell!  You take the last rites, and take your place in Heaven!

 

ÓISIN   

More lies from the priest who bears the shepherd’s staff!  But if God and my son Osgar were fighting it out hand to hand over the fate of the Fianna and God defeated him, then would I say that your God had a strong argument.

 

PATRIC  

Be converted to God, before it is too late!  It is better to be with God for one hour, than the whole of the Fianna of Ireland forever!

ÓISIN    Why do you say that God and his priests are better than Fionn?  As Lord of the Fianna, a more generous and honourable man never lived. Yet you say a generous man never goes to Hell. Ask of God, Patric!  Ask does He remember when the Fianna were full of life; does He remember one of them who was not generous and valiant in the fight?  We detested treachery and falsehoods. We were victorious in battle because of our truth and strength. You think the sweetest sound is the voice of the priests singing Psalms in the church, to prove to God their sincerity; but are they more loyal or sincere in their words than Fionn or the Fianna?  If my comrades were still alive, I would leave this psalm-crooning monastery very quickly. Alas, they are dead, and the church-bells mock me. Come, my departed friends!  Come, Osgar my long-lost son!  Bring your sharp and victorious swords, and cut loose the chains of the Church that bind me!

 

PATRIC  

Enough, you bumbling idiot!  It is my King that formed the Heavens; it is He that makes the trees to blossom, it is He that made the Sun and the Moon, the fields and the grass.

 

ÓISIN   

If your King took delight in shaping these things, it was not so with my King. His delight was defeating the enemy, the company of his courtiers, the delight and excitement of the chase and seeing his name revered the length and breadth of the land. When the two great peoples came over the Sea, where then was your God?  Where, Patric?  I have heard that your King of Saints never reddened his hands with blood spilled on the battlefield, but many a bloody battle and victory were gained by the Fianna; and what is more, Patric, if Fionn saw your King chained and fettered he would fight tooth and nail to release him. Would it not be just and fair if your King would sever the bonds that bind Fionn in Hell?  In the name of mercy, tell me, Patric, that the Fianna will be received in Heaven by God!  Maybe your King owes me a favour, for am I not among His priests, without food through fasting, without fine clothes, without the sweet sound of the pipes, without honouring the song of the bards, without my hounds and the sound of the hunting horn, without the pleasure of defending the sea-coast, without courting and gaining the love of beautiful women.

 

Patric with a gesture of disgust leaves him. Óisin sinks slowly back into his chair, overcome with fatigue

ÓISIN  

For all the suffering I bear through denying myself these pleasures, I forgive the King of Heaven in my will.

MONKS [offstage] 

Kyrie, eleison!  Christe, eleison!

ÓISIN   

The cold fog of death shrouds me deeply tonight!  Last night was long, I feel today will be much longer, and tomorrow will be

longer still; without the chase of deer or stag and the sweet song of the harp, I yearn, but the hours pass slowly. Time is long.

 

MONKS  

Kyrie, eleison!  Christe, eleison!

 

ÓISIN     

The cold fog of death shrouds me deeply tonight!  Throughout the world no-one bears as much trouble as I; my youth and my strength are gone, chained forever by age; the cold fog of death shrouds me deeply tonight!

MONKS  

Requiescat in pace!

ÓISIN   

I am the last of the Fianna, great Óisin son of Fionn, listening to the voice of the bells; the cold fog of death shrouds me deeply tonight!

 

He dies. Patric advances towards the dead man, closes his eyes, and pronounces a final benediction

 

MONKS  

Kyrie, eleison!

The lights fade into darkness

Op 21 - The Nightingale and the Rose 

Adapted by the composer from the short story by Oscar Wilde

A great mysterious garden shrouded in many shadows. It is dusk: deep, silent dusk. To the left, a great holm oak, deep myrtle green, soars into the sky. Towards the right a sundial, with a rose tree behind it. On the extreme right, the walls of the house whence opens a large window. Another rose tree stands towards the left, under the shadow of the holm; but the largest and most mysterious rose tree lies across the back of the stage like a great spreading portent of ill fate. On the grass beneath the holm oak the Student is discerned, lying with his head in his hands so that it seems that he sleeps; but then he stirs, and his eyes fill with tears

The STUDENT  

She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses; but in all my garden there is no red rose. No red rose in all my garden! Ah, on what little things does happiness depend! I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine; yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.

 

The NIGHTINGALE [from her nest in the holm, wonderingly to herself]

Here, at last, is the true lover! Night after night have I sung of him, though I knew him not; night after night have I told his story to the stars, and now I see him. His hair is dark as the hyacinth, and his lips are red as the rose of his desire; but passion has made his face like pale ivory, and sorrow has set her seal upon his brow.

The STUDENT  

The Prince gives a ball tomorrow night, and my love will be of the company. If I bring her a red rose, she will dance with me till dawn. If I bring her a red rose, then I will hold her in my arms, and she will lean her head upon my shoulder, and her hand will be clasped in mine. But there is no red rose in my garden, so I shall sit lonely, and she will pass me by. She will have no heed of me, and my heart shall break.

The NIGHTINGALE  

Here, indeed, is the true lover! What I sing, he suffers; what to me is joy, to him is pain. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals, Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the market place. It may not be purchased of the merchants, nor is it weighed out in the balance for gold.

The STUDENT  

The musicians will sit in their balcony, and play upon their stringed instruments, and my love will dance to the sound of the harp and the violin. She will dance so lightly that her feet will not touch the floor, and the courtiers in their gay dresses will throng about her. But with me she will not dance, for I have no red rose to give her!

The GREEN LIZARD  

Why is he crying?

 

The BUTTERFLY  

Why indeed?

 

The DAISY  

Why indeed?

 

The NIGHTINGALE  

He is weeping for a red rose.

 

The GREEN LIZARD, The BUTTERFLY and the DAISY  

For a red rose? How very ridiculous!

 

The GREEN LIZARD  

Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!

 

The Student has slowly subsided weeping upon the grass once more, and remains still. Night begins to fall ever more deeply over the garden. The Nightingale spreads her wings and  flies forth from the holm over the garden, lighting upon the tree beneath the oak

The NIGHTINGALE  

Give me a red rose; and I will sing you my sweetest song.

 

The WHITE ROSE TREE 

My roses are white, as white as the foam of the sea, and whiter than the snow upon the mountain. But go to my brother who grows round the old sundial, and perhaps he will give you what you want.

 

So the Nightingale flies to the rose that grows by the sundial

The NIGHTINGALE  

Give me a red rose; and I will sing you my sweetest song.

 

The YELLOW ROSE TREE  

My roses are yellow, as yellow as the hair of the mermaiden who sits upon an amber throne, and yellower than the daffodil that blooms in the meadow before the mower comes with his scythe. But go to my brother who grows beneath the Student’s window, and perhaps he will give you what you want.

 

So the Nightingale flies to the great tree: the grey, mysterious and ominous tree beneath the window of the house at the back of the stage

 

The NIGHTINGALE  

Give me a red rose; and I will sing you my sweetest song.

 

The RED ROSE TREE 

My roses are red, as red as the feet of the dove, and redder than the great fans of coral that wave and wave in the ocean cavern. But the winter has chilled my veins, and the frost has nipped my buds, and the storm has broken my branches, and I shall have no roses at all this year.

 

The NIGHTINGALE  

One rose is all I want, one red rose! Is there no way by which I can get it?

 

The RED ROSE TREE  

There is a way; but it is so terrible that I dare not tell it to you.

 

The NIGHTINGALE  

Tell it to me; I am not afraid.

 

The RED ROSE TREE  

If you want a red rose, you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and your life-blood will flow into my veins, and become mine.

 

The NIGHTINGALE  

Death is a great price to pay for a red rose; and Life is very sweet to all. It is pleasant to sit in the green wood, and to watch the sun in his chariot of gold, and the moon in her chariot of pearl. Sweet is the scent of the hawthorn, and sweet are the bluebells that hide in the valley, and the heather that blows on the hill. Yet Love is greater than Life, and what is heart of a nightingale compared to the heart of a man?

 

She flies soaring into the air, and sweeps over the garden like a shadow. When she reaches the oak, she stands high above the Student

The NIGHTINGALE

Be happy, be happy; you shall have your red rose.  I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart’s blood. All that I ask of you is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though he is wise; and mightier than Power, though he is mighty. Flame-coloured are his wings, and coloured like flame is his body. His lips are sweet as honey, and his breath is like frankincense.

The STUDENT [looks uncomprehendingly up into the branches]

She has form, that cannot be denied to her; but has she got feeling? I am afraid not. In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks only of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish. Still, it must be admitted that she has some beautiful notes in her voice. What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good!

He has risen and walked slowly towards the house, and now he goes in. Silence descends upon the night and upon the garden

 

VOICES in the TREES  

The Moon shines ever more brightly in the Heavens; and the Nightingale flies to the Rose Tree, and sets her breast against the thorn; and the cold crystal stars lean down and listen. And she sings first of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl.

 

A vision appears in the centre of the garden: a naked youth and maiden who walk through the garden with graceful movements. Tenderly they embrace one another with tentative movements, then more passionate embraces: they slowly disappear into the darkness once more

 

VOICES in the TREES

And slowly a rose begins to blossom; pale at first, as the mist that hangs over the river, pale as the wings of the morning, and silver as the feet of the dawn, pale as the shadow of a rose in a mirror of silver, as the shadow of the rose upon a water pool.

The RED ROSE TREE  

Press closer, little Nightingale! or the Day will come before the Rose is finished.

 

VOICES in the TREES  

And so the Nightingale presses closer against the thorn, and her song grows louder as she sings of the birth of passion in the soul of a man and maid.

 

The two ideal lovers appear once again, embracing tenderly as before, and once more vanish into the night

 

VOICES in the TREES

And a flush of pink comes into the leaves of the rose, like the flush on the face of the Bridegroom when he kisses the lips of the Bride.

The RED ROSE TREE  

Press closer, little Nightingale! or the Day will come before the Rose is finished.

 

VOICES in the TREES  

And so the Nightingale presses closer against the thorn, and the thorn touches her heart, and a fierce pang of pain shoots through her. Bitter, bitter is the pain, and wilder, wilder grows her song, for the sings of the Love that is perfected by Death, of the Love that dies not in the tomb.

 

The ideal lovers again appear; this time the man supports the woman with his arm. A red light falls on the scene; the woman falls into the man’s arms. He bears her to the ground, and there lies with her

 

VOICES in the TREES

And the rose becomes crimson, like the rose of the crimson sky, like the ruby crimson of the heart.

Red light floods the scene, tinting the rose crimson; the two lovers appear to sink into the earth

But the Nightingale’s voice grows fainter, and her wings begin to beat, and a film comes over her eyes. Fainter and fainter grows her song, as it were something choking her in the throat. Then she gives one last burst of music.

[Increasing moonlight] The white Moon heareth it, and she forgets the dawn, and lingers on in the sky.

The red rose heareth it, and it trembles all over with ecstasy, and opens its petals to the cold morning air.

Echo beareth it to the purple caverns in the hills, and wakes the sleeping shepherds from their dreams.

It floateth through the reeds of the river, and they bear its message to the sea.

 

The RED ROSE TREE  

Look! look! the rose is finished now!

The Nightingale falls to the ground

VOICES in the TREES  

But the Nightingale lies dead in the long grass, and the thorn is in her heart.

 

Stillness and darkness envelop the scene. Day begins to dawn. The sun rises. The morning light shines into the garden, illuminating all with a silver radiance. And the rose too seems to glow, shedding forth a light of its own

 

The STUDENT [opens his window]

Why, what a wonderful piece of luck! Here is a red rose! I have never seen any rose like it in my life! It is so beautiful that I am sure it has a long Latin name.

 

He comes forth from the house, and steps down to the rose; and reverently he plucks it. The Beloved enters the garden

 

The STUDENT

You said that you would dance with me if I brought you a red rose! Here is the reddest rose in all the world.

You will wear it tonight next your heart, and as we dance together it will tell you how I love you.

 

The BELOVED [frowns]

I am afraid it will not go with my dress. And besides, the Chamberlain’s nephew has sent me some real jewels,

and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.

The STUDENT  

Well, upon my word, you are very ungrateful!

And he throws the rose down upon the ground, quite faded and its radiance extinguished

 

The BELOVED  

Ungrateful! I tell you what, you are very rude; and after all, who are you? Only a student. Why, I don’t believe you have even got silver buckles to your shoes as the Chamberlain’s nephew has!

 

She turns on him in fury, and stamps viciously on the rose, grinding it into the dust with her heel. Then she turns her back on him and strides rapidly out. The Student stands stock still, as if turned to stone. There is a long silence

 

The STUDENT  

What a silly thing Love is! It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true. In fact, it is quite unpractical, and as in this age to be practical is everything I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.

He returns back into the house. The garden glows in the daylight: but the rose has quite faded, and the Nightingale is invisible in the grass

Op 28 - The Children of Lyr 

Adapted by the composer

ACT ONE

Scene One

The Curtain, if there is one, rises. The stage is in total darkness. At the front appears the Bard, as though seen in a vision

The BARD  

The King of Erin, Lyr, had three beautiful children. There were three boys, Aodh, Conn and Ficne; and one girl, Finuidhla, who was the apple of her father’s eye. But on a sad day their mother died, and her father the Bobh Dearg gave his second daughter Aoife to Lyr as wife. At first, Aoife was happy in her marriage, and gave to Lyr her whole love; but she was grieved to see that he cared but little for her, and thought only for her sister’s children.

Slowly the light begins to grow behind the Bard, who gradually vanishes

The BARD

And then came that day when Aoife took her terrible revenge upon the innocent children. On one bright morning of the early summer she set out to visit her father, the Bobh Dearg, and took the children with her…

The scene now disclosed represents the shore of Lough Lein. The lakeside is thickly overgrown right down to the water; above to the left it is to be supposed that a road runs. It is early morning, but the sun has already risen and birds are singing in the trees. The lake sparkles in the spring sunshine, and it is obviously going to be a fine hot day. There is a distant sound of children’s laughter, which then fades away. From above there come the voices of children

FINUIDHLA and CONN 

Come down here! Come down here! Here it is cool!

 

AODH  

It is early yet. We can rest here for a while, and go on to see our grandfather in the evening.

 

FICNE  

Come on, mother!

 

They come into sight, with Aoife, a tall woman of great beauty, struggling along in their wake. Unlike the children, she is not laughing. Indeed, were it not for the fact that she is following them, it would seem that she were angry; her face is not of the kind that is made for laughter. The children sit down and dabble their feet in the waters of the lake with great merriment; Aoife sits down nearby, but further along the lake shore

 

CHILDREN

O how cool is the lake to our feet,

O how cool!

The lake sparkles in the sun,

the lake the spring rains have formed.

Our journey already has been long,

and now we are near to its end.

O how cool is the lake to our feet,

O how cool!

 

AOIFE  

Children…

 

FINUIDHLA  

Yes, mother?

She detaches herself, and joins her mother while the other children continue their song

 

AOIFE  

Did your father say anything to you before we set out today?

 

FINUIDHLA  

No, mother.

 

AOIFE [slightly surprised]

Nothing, girl?

FINUIDHLA  

He wished us goodbye, mother, and…

 

AOIFE  

Yes?

FINUIDHLA  

He bade us take care on the way.

AOIFE [sharply]

Take care? Take care? Why is there a need to take care when I am with you?

FINUIDHLA [simply]

I don’t know, mother.

AOIFE [almost to herself]

Ah! your father…Does he think only… [recalling herself] But wait, child. Did your father say anything else?

 

FINUIDHLA  

No mother, but…

 

AOIFE  

But?

 

FINUIDHLA [simply and innocently]

He looked sad, mother. I think it was because we were going away.

 

AOIFE [rather bitterly]

I am sure it was not because I was going away.

FINUIDHLA  

Why do you say that, mother?

The boys gradually return along the lake shore

 

AOIFE  

Ah! ah! your father!

 

FINUIDHLA  

What, mother?

 

AOIFE  

You, more than me…

FINUIDHLA  

What do you mean, mother? I do not understand you.

 

AOIFE  

But I am prepared…

 

FINUIDHLA  

What, mother?

 

Aoife remains deep in thought. Finuidhla returns to the other children

 

CHILDREN

O how cool is the lake to our feet,

O how cool!

 

AOIFE [rises abruptly]

Come, children, we must be going.

CONN  

But mother, the lake is so cool and the day is so hot!

 

CHILDREN  

The lake is so cool and refreshing!

 

AOIFE  

Come with me, children!

 

CHILDREN  

But the lake is so cool!

 

AOIFE  

Cool? Cool? Then, children, I will go on alone…

 

CHILDREN  

No, mother, wait for us!

 

AOIFE [at the top of the bank]

Cool? No, wait! Why, why? Let me no more delay?

As the children push up through the undergrowth, Aoife draws out from beneath her cloak a druidical wand. It grows rapidly dark as she sweeps it over their heads. When the lights slowly steal back, the children have vanished; in their place, four swans float gracefully on the water. Aoife looks on with grim satisfaction

AOIFE [raising her arms]

Depart from me, you graceful swans,

and make your home in the water cool;

build your nest on the reedy shore

and lie for sleep in the dank pool.

Depart from me, unhappy swans,

and make your music sad and sweet

for all the years

before you your destiny meet.

 

CHILDREN

You, whom we thought loved us always,

now have turned us into swans.

And yet we have our tongues and minds,

and our song will ever be the same:

 

AOIFE

No hand may stay your agony

before one thousand years are past;

and all that you have you shall find lost

before you regain your shapes at last.

 

CHILDREN  

Ah, mother! Ah, mother!

 

AOIFE  

You, however, may not threaten me again. I shall go on my way to my father’s court; and Lyr will not live long when he sees what has become of his beloved children. And you, you are cool for ever, and I have won!

 

 She sweeps rapidly away and disappears up the bank

 

CHILDREN  

Ah! Ah!

 

The light rapidly fades. The voices of the swans are heard behind the curtain

 

Scene Two

The lights rise. The scene now disclosed is the great grange of the Bobh Dearg at Brugh na Bóinne; spiral hangings  cover  the  walls.  Courtiers in long white cloaks line the sides of the stage; the Bobh Dearg is seated at the centre

 

COURTIERS

We are the children of the Tuatha de Danaan that never change or die.

We are the wind and waves on the sea.

We are the eagles on the rocks.

We are the rays of the sun.

We are the children of the Tuatha de Danaan that never change or die.

We are the most beautiful of plants.

We are the lakes in the plain.

We are the word of knowledge.

We are the head of the spear in battle.

Who spreads light on the gathering of the hills?

Who can tell the ages of the moon?

Who can tell the places where the sun rests?

 

Aoife enters

 

BOBH DEARG [cheerfully]

Aoife, my daughter! be welcome to my grange.

AOIFE [coolly]

I thank thee, noble father.

BOBH DEARG  

But the children…where are they?

AOIFE  

The children…the children…but Lyr would not let them come.

BOBH DEARG  

I wonder at that, for those children are dearer to me than my own children.

 

AOIFE  

Those children are dearer to everyone than I!

 

BOBH DEARG  

What is this, Aoife?

 

AOIFE  

Nothing, father, nothing…

 

BOBH DEARG  

Aoife! tell me the truth!

 

AOIFE  

I have told you the truth, father!

 

BOBH DEARG  

Aoife!

 

AOIFE  

I have not lied!

 

BOBH DEARG  

Tell me the truth!

 

AOIFE  

Ah!...It was not Lyr who prevented the children from coming to you, father Bobh Dearg, it was I, your daughter, your own daughter… [her defiance breaks; she hesitates] and their foster-mother.

There are four swans that swim on the Lake of Birds,

singing the sweet music of the Sidhe:

and they are the children of Lyr!

 

BOBH DEARG and COURTIERS  

Aoife! Aoife!― Ah! how dreadful!

 

AOIFE  

But I repent me of what I have done, father, and I beg of you mercy.

 

BOBH DEARG  

Aoife, how long will this dread enchantment last?

 

AOIFE  

For one thousand years, until all who now live shall be dead.

 

BOBH DEARG  

Then, Aoife, since you have condemned these children to life for one thousand years, you yourself shall not escape their fate. A black crow will you become, croaking harshly, and you will fly the length of the earth, until you have found wisdom; and in that same hour that they shall at last find their salvation, shall you also be released from your penance.

 

He draws forth a druid wand; Aoife recoils in horror

 

AOIFE  

Ah!...

 

The scene is suddenly shrouded in total darkness. The voice of Lyr is heard, very distantly, behind the scene

 

Scene Three

The lights again rise to disclose the shore of Lough Lein, as in the first scene; the swans swim on the waters, which are illuminated by the rays of the slowly setting sun

CHILDREN

Our hearts break for our sad father

searching for us through all the world;

leaping at shadows and phantoms and clues

everywhere that he may.

But we, four swans,

drift here on the foam of the lake,

and must swim on the waves

for one thousand years of long torment.

 

FINUIDHLA

But cease! for riding down from the hills our father’s warriors

make their way to the shore; they make their way slowly, with hearts sore.

 

CHILDREN

Their hearts are as dull as their shields,

for their way has been long;

for the de Danaan host have searched for us many years through,

and now they have found us and lost us too.

The followers of Lyr march slowly down to the lake shore, with Lyr at their head. He stops as he hears the swans singing

 

LYR  

O swans, tell me! How come you to have human voices?

 

FINUIDHLA  

I will tell you that, father.

 

LYR  

Father?

 

FINUIDHLA  

Yes, father. For we are your own children, turned into the shape of swans by the evil power of Aoife our mother.

 

ALL  

Ah!...Ah!...

 

LYR  

Ah!...my children!

 

From the other direction there enter with slow steps the Bobh Dearg and his courtiers

 

BOBH DEARG  

Lyr, and you O beautiful swan-children, grieve no more. For Aoife has confessed to me her deed, and I have placed a penance on her, that she may undo some of the wrong that she has done. But there can be no end to your enchantment until one thousand years have passed, and the word of the One who will rise from death has come into Erin. That word alone will cleanse you from Aoife’s curse.

 

LYR  

That word alone will cleanse them from Aoife’s curse.

 

CHILDREN  

That word alone will cleanse us from Aoife’s curse.

 

LYR

I shall never move from this place, my children,

and here I shall build my castle anew,

and on these lakes will I live my life until I must die.

 

BOBH DEARG

It is time when I must go from hence.

But never will I close my eyes in peace,

for to part with the song of these children

breaks my heart in twain.

 

CHILDREN

Tears and wailing rise within our hearts

and our breasts heave as the waves of the lake

when the wind sweeps across its troubled surface,

until the hand of time shall pass.

 

LYR

O comely Conn, O Aodh, O Ficne, and my dear Finuidhla,

I shall never forsake you,

nor shall I ever leave this lake shore where the birds sing.

 

BOBH DEARG

I should never have borne a daughter to such wrong,

and should never have given Aoife to Lyr as wife.

And so, with heavy heart and heavy step, I return to my grange.

 

CHILDREN

Far down the tangle forest of time

our paths are mapped beyond redemption,

until the word of the One who shall rise from death shall remove our grief.

The stage has become almost totally dark as the sunset has covered the land. The Bobh Dearg and his followers slowly depart, and the followers of Lyr also slowly withdraw. Lyr and his children alone remain in the gathering dusk

CHILDREN

Farewell, O father, for we may

never more joy in your company;

the night falls, and with it falls the curtain

on our hopes and happiness.

 

LYR      

My children! My children!

 

CHILDREN

Farewell, O father, the wind bears us away,

and we must bear it company,

and never shall we have our rest again

until His word is heard in Erin’s land.

 

The words of the swans slowly dissolve into the sad but sweet music of the Sidhe. And Lyr alone remains visible on the lake shore, in the deepening shadows of the coming night

 

ACT TWO

 

Scene One

Once more the curtain, if any, arises in total darkness. Slowly the sun rises. On the far left stands the ruin of an ancient monastery, its walls now much broken down. The rest of the stage discloses the lake shore, but the fringe of vegetation along its length is now gone, and the foreshore is barren. And although the lake still glitters in the morning sunlight, there is no sound of birds to sing welcome to the morn: the whole land is now desolate and empty. A bell within the ruined monastery begins to peal a slow tocsin; then within is heard the sound of a monkish voice chanting

 

EVOGH  

Kyrie, eleison! Christe, eleison!

The voice is now joined by the distant voices of the four swans, which occasionally overwhelm it and are then drowned in their turn

 

EVOGH

Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

 

CHILDREN

Our clothing is without a stain,

our bodies are clad in white feathers;

although once we were clad in purple,

drinking wine and not water.

 

EVOGH

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

 

The tocsin of the bell peals out again; and the voices of the swans draw nearer

CHILDREN

Our food and our drink are only the white sand

and the bitter water of the lake,

when once we drank mead of hazel nuts

from round four-lipped cups.

 

EVOGH

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Benedicamus Deo. Deo gratias.

 

CHILDREN

And our beds are now hard ones,

rocks standing out from the water,

where once we spread out upon beds

of the feathers of birds.

Slowly the four swans have come into sight, swimming across the waters of the lake. The bell rings again to toll the close of the service. During the following passage Evogh comes slowly out of the monastery, marvelling at the song

 

CHILDREN

We remember our dead companions:

our grandfather who never deceived us,

the sweet kisses of Lyr our father

when he walked with us along the ridges.

 

EVOGH  

I hear the voices of swans singing the music of the Sidhe, at once sad and sweet, beautiful and sleepy.

 

CHILDREN  

We are the children of Lyr.

 

EVOGH  

Then blessed be the name of the Lord, who hath led me to you.

For many years I have sought you, until I discovered this ruined castle. What is this castle, that you treasure it so?

 

FINUIDHLA  

It is our father’s house.

 

EVOGH  

Your father’s house?

 

CHILDREN

Gone are the noble halls,

crumbled the pillars and walls;

weeds, bent by the wind,

cover the ground. All is passed.

Silence fills the air;

but the wind sighs still,

and our memories rise

from the ground. All is passed.

No warriors remain here,

no victories or alarms;

all, our father and his warriors,

lie in the ground. All is passed.

EVOGH  

O blessed children, come unto me. For I shall tell you of the living Lord, and teach you the meaning of his death.

 

The children leave the water and follow Evogh into the ruins of the castle

 

CHILDREN                        

The bell rings.

 

AODH  

It tolls the end of our mother’s wrong.

 

CHILDREN                        

The bell rings.

 

CONN and FICNE

We greet it with our faery song.

 

CHILDREN                        

The bell rings.

 

FINUIDHLA 

The Lord who was dead has risen again.

 

CHILDREN                        

The bell rings.

 

They have passed within the walls; the bell rings its monotonous tocsin. The stage darkens very slowly

 

Scene Two

When the lights rise we are again in the grange as in Act One Scene Two, but the old spiral hangings are gone. Now the barren walls are hung with a few purple tapestries and a great cross decorates one wall. The King is seated upon his throne; by his side is seated his new Queen. His courtiers line the walls; to one side stands the court bard Daire

KING  

Come now, the time is ripe for revelry. Daire, sing your songs for us.

 

COURTIERS  

Daire, sing your songs for us.

 

KING  

Come, sing.

 

DAIRE  

Of what shall I sing, O King?

 

KING  

Sing to us a beautiful tale, that my new bride may be pleased.

 

DAIRE  

Then, my lord, I will sing to you of the children of Lyr.

 

He comes forward with a harp in his hand. The King looks lovingly at the Queen and smiles

 

DAIRE

On the Lake of Birds they float and sing

the sweet gentle music of the Sidhe.

Into swans were turned the children of Lyr

one thousand years ago.

Their mother envied their father their love

and wrought this wrong upon them.

Into swans were turned the children of Lyr

one thousand years ago.

And still they float and sing and swim

on the Lake of Birds by the ruined castle.

 

DAIRE and COURTIERS

Into swans were turned the children of Lyr

one thousand years ago.

 

QUEEN [abruptly, to herself]

Ah!...the children of Lyr!

 

KING [concerned]

What is it, my sweet bride?

QUEEN  

A crow came today to my window; I had paid no heed to it till this moment, but it croaked Remember the children of Lyr

and once strange thoughts filled my mind. And, by that mind, I have a great desire to see those children of Lyr.

 

DAIRE [continuing]

The swans may not leave the Lake of Birds

until the curse be lifted from them.

DAIRE and COURTIERS

Into swans were turned the children of Lyr

one thousand years ago.

 

QUEEN  

My lord, bring to me those children of Lyr!

 

KING  

My dearest, I may not.

 

QUEEN  

Bring the children to me!

 

KING  

My dearest, I cannot.

 

QUEEN  

Bring to me the children of Lyr!

 

KING  

My dearest, I will not.

 

QUEEN  

By my mind, my lord, I shall never remain in this castle for one night unless you do my will in this matter!

 

KING  

My dearest!...

 

QUEEN  

Unless you do my will!

 

She rises from the throne and moves quickly out of the hall. The King remains in an agony of doubt

DAIRE

By good Evogh they are now tended

Who tells them of the living Lord.

 

DAIRE and COURTIERS

Into swans were turned the children of Lyr

one thousand years ago.

 

KING  

Then, by that Lord who was dead and now lives, the children of Lyr I will have!

 

He rises with sudden resolution and storms out after the Queen. The light rapidly fades

 

Scene Three

Voices are heard in the darkness

 

EVOGH  

Sanctus.

 

CHILDREN  

Sanctus, Sanctus.

 

EVOGH  

Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

 

CHILDREN  

Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloriae tuae!

 

EVOGH and CHILREN  

Hosanna in excelsis!

 

EVOGH  

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.

 

EVOGH and CHILREN  

Hosanna in excelsis!

 

The lights rise once again; and the scene is once again on the lake shore, as in the first scene. Dark clouds cover the sky. The swans once more swim in the water; on the shore stands Evogh

 

EVOGH  

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

 

CHILDREN  

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

EVOGH  

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,

 

CHILDREN        

miserere nobis.

 

KING [offstage] 

Halt!

CHILDREN  

What is it?

 

EVOGH  

’Tis the King! Hush now, my children!

 

KING [arrives breathlessly with his followers]

Most holy man, my wife desires a boon.

 

EVOGH  

My noble liege, I am at your service.

 

KING  

My wife wishes to see the children of Lyr.

 

EVOGH  

She may come to see them most willingly.

 

KING [rather hesitantly]

She does not wish that. She wishes to see these children and honour them at court.

 

EVOGH [startled] 

But the swans may not be taken from the lake.

KING [seeing a way out of the problem]

Shall we not ask the children themselves? What do the swans say?

CONN  

My lord, we will stay with his holy man, who has at last taught us the meaning of death.

 

KING [his control giving way]

Rebellious children!

EVOGH [averting a threat]

Stay, my lord! Lay no hand upon them!

KING [foiled momentarily]

Children, will you follow me?

AODH  

My lord, we may not come.

KING [furiously]

Then I have means to compel your obedience, whether you will or no!

He beckons to one of his followers, who comes forward and proffers to the King four long silver chains

 

EVOGH  

No, my lord, you must not!

 

CHILDREN  

Ah!...Ah!...

 

KING  

You will follow!

 

He places the chains around the necks of the swans. At once there is a violent peal of thunder and darkness descends. When the light steals slowly back, the swans have vanished; in their place stand four wrinkled old people, one woman and three men—the children of Lyr restored to their human form, but one thousand years old. The King with a violent cry covers his eyes and stumbles away with his followers. Evogh stands aghast, and then slowly moves towards the transformed children

 

CHILDREN

Come, father, shrieve us now; our lives are over.

Dig our graves beneath the bell and cover us over.

Lay us upright in our tombs in the cold earth,

and there we will sleep until there comes our second birth.

EVOGH  

Ah, my children!

With great stillness the withered children crumple to the ground and die. The dark thunderclouds slowly descend to cover the scene

 

EVOGH

Proficiscere, anima Christiana, de hoc mundo!

Miserere mei, Domine!

Once more the scene is shrouded in total darkness. The curtain, if any, falls very slowly

Op 41 - Arcturus

FIRST SEQUENCE

 

Prelude   SURTUR

The Curtain rises to disclose an ornate room laid out to accommodate a séance. The medium, Backhouse, is surrounded by a number of guests: Faull, the owner of the house, Mrs Jameson and Kent-Smith, an elderly gentleman

FAULL  

Do you smoke?  No?  Then will you take a drink?

 

BACKHOUSE  

Not at present, thank you. [Pause]

FAULL

Everything is satisfactory?  The material-isation will take place?

 

BACKHOUSE 

I see no reason to doubt it.

 

FAULL  

That’s good. I would not like my guests to be disappointed. I have your cheque written out in my pocket.

 

BACKHOUSE  

Afterwards will do quite well.

 

FAULL  

Nine o’clock was the time specified, I believe?

 

BACKHOUSE  

I fancy so.

 

Mrs JAMESON  

What amazes me, if you must know, is not so much the manifestation itself—though that will surely be wonderful—as your assurance that it will take place. Tell me the grounds of your confidence.

 

BACKHOUSE  

I dream with open