Every man of them, and his clann (family), arrived to the great hall at Tara on the appointed day. Fionn sat in the Chief Captain’s chair, in the centre, with Goll Mac Morna set in front of him, and every man and woman of them set out in their rightful place. There was Fionn’s son Oisín, and his grandson Oscar, Diarmuid (they say his face was lovely and gay, in the old stories, but I don’t think that means what you might think it means), and Caelte Mac Ronan, Fionn’s brother Caireall Whiteskin, and Goll’s brother Conan the Swearer. Indeed, there were too many to name; they all had their runners and their Poets along, and the whole hall bristled with the banners of war and battle torches of the Gael that each clann carried when visiting.
Each person there was served food to delight the desires, right to the bursting point of their bellies, and then the golden, be-jewelled drinking horns were passed around; they were full of sweet, smooth stuff and none of that moonshine muck, I can tell you. Goll looked at Fionn, and Fionn looked at Goll, and the two of them spread such satisfied smiles that you’d think nothing could wipe them off at all. Music hushed as the Poets stepped forward, as this was their time to shine at any great gathering. It was also their time to get paid, for when the assembled clans were happy with their declamations, gifts were bestowed and they could go home with full pockets as well as full bellies, and sure what Poet wouldn’t want that?
Fergus True-Lips began, and he sang the deeds of Fionn and his ancestors, great and mighty. When he was finished, finally, Fionn’s family weighed him down with costly presents, until even he - who was well used to the benevolence of good men – was astonished and delighted with the tribute. Goll Mac Morna, with his generosity well oiled by fine liquor, realised that he wouldn’t be able to match that standard with what he had about his person, and so he summoned his runner for a word. He asked her, who was near the swiftest and strongest among them, if she had collected the tribute due him from the King of Denmark and Norway. She had indeed, and was able to triple again Goll’s supply of treasure, and leave him well assured that he’d not be shown up as niggardly at this nice gathering of friends and family. Whatever Fionn had given Fergus was doubled again by Goll Mac Morna, to the surprise of all there, and the mild annoyance of Fionn himself.
It wasn’t really the done thing to outshine your Chief like that, but as the Poets progressed, and Goll oiled that generosity more and more liberally, his gift giving prowess was growing at about a steady pace with Fionn’s irritation, and the discomfort of all around him. Eventually, the Fianna Leader queried his second in command, as to where and how he came across such tribute from the King across the Northern seas. Goll, always keen to share a story he loved, regaled the hall to his tale of travels to the land of Saxons, and battle with Fionn’s own father. It was only when he remembered it was that very same battle at which Fionn’s father had been killed, by him, that it started to dawn on him that this might not be the best place to be telling that tale. Fionn closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to salvage the situation by reminding Goll that he had a hundred men to every one of his, and perhaps that should be an end to it. Goll’s response – “Well, so had your father” – put an end to the pretence of calm, and started a riot and a court case that is still sung of. But sure, they are all stories for another day.
©Lora O’Brien 2013