Oisin was the son of Finn MacCoul, one of the wisest and greatest warriors Erin ever knew. Oisin was a poet and a warrior who loved the hunt. On a warm spring morn, Oisin was on the hunt with his favorite hounds. They had not seen much game, when from out of nowhere a beautiful white fawn appeared.
He and his hounds set off in hot pursuit. The white fawn leapt up and set off with the hounds at her heels. It seemed that every time they rounded a bend or crested a hill the white fawn had disappeared, but the hounds put their nose to the ground, picked up the scent, yelping and baying, they ran on through wood and dale, fen and bog, heather and heath. Just then the fawn led them to the strand in a quiet bay, where the oceans roar was a faint rumble.
As a fairy mist blew in from the sea, the fawn leapt into a rowan bush, and it truly disappeared. In the next gust of wind, the fog blew clear, and standing there was the most beautiful woman Oisin had ever seen. She had gorgeous red hair streaming down to her waist and a gold crown on her head. She wore an emerald green gown, embroidered in silk and gold. And standing beside her was a white stallion, shod with silver shoes, with gold chord woven into his mane and tail.
He rubbed his eyes in disbelief and fell to one knee as he bowed before this royal lady.
The beautiful woman introduced herself. “I am Naihm the princess of the fairy realm. We have watched you grow from a lad to a man, Oisin, and you have grown both wise and strong, kind and brave. Just as the ancient prophesies foretold, I would love to make you my husband and invite you to Tier Na Nog, the land of the ever young, where the rivers flow with milk and honey, where the fruit is always ripe and falls from the branch, where the game is plentiful and you can hunt everyday of your eternal life.
Now, Oisin had heard the tales of Tier Na Nog. He had often dreamed of sailing off to the west to find the fabled land of fairies, where one could live forever in bliss. Here was his dream fulfilled. How many of you young men would go?
Oisin fell under her fairy spell and crossed the strand. After leaping onto the horse, she extended her hand and helped him into the saddle. she turned the steed towards the sea. In that moment, his father, Finn MacCoul, and the Fianna came galloping into the sheltered cove. Fearing that he would never see his son again, Finn shouted, “No, don’t go!”
But it was too late. Because of the fairy spell, Oisin never heard his father’s cry. The white horse shook himself three times as he crossed the sandy shore and leapt out onto the bay. His silver shod hooves barely touched the white foaming crest of each wave. They traveled faster than the wind at their backs, faster than I could tell you and twice as fast as you could tell me. The sights they saw as they raced across the sea were more glorious than words could tell. Oisin held on for dear live to Naihm, the woman who one day might be his wife.
In the distance a beautiful island rose up from the sea. It was clad in great forests. Fish fairly leapt up upon the shore, great flocks of birds whirled in the heavens and even at this distance Oisin could see great herds of beasts grazing in the high meadows.
Again the horse shook itself three times as it crossed the beach and raced down a grand boulevard. On each side of the road there were a dozen giant men, heavily armed, guarding the way. Oisin, as a warrior, could judge from the look in their eye that they meant him no harm. When they recognized their princess, they bowed, and parted, making a path for them. Soon, Oisin could see a grand castle, greater even than Tara, as it rose up before them.
The heavy gates opened. A trumpet sounded their arrival. A great party came into the court yard to greet them. Oisin and Naihm climbed down off their steed as a strange looking lad took the reigns.
The king said: Welcome, welcome! Oisin, son of Finn MacCoul, it shall be as the ancient prophesies foretold!
Oisin, knowing court protocol, dismounts and crosses the court yard. He kneels before the king and queen and asks their permission: “Dear king and queen of the fairy realm, nothing would make me so glad as to call your beautiful daughter my bride. With your blessings, I wish to marry Naihm.” The king took Oisin’s hand and the hand of his daughter, lifting them both he proclaims: “I honor the choosing of my daughter. May the Goddess bless this union and no one put asunder what the fates foretold. May the feasting begin. Strike up the band. May the merriment and joy last forever. Ten thousand blessings on you both!”
All the fairy realm celebrated for nine days and nights with each day’s feasting being grander than the day before!
Oisin and Naihm found great love in each other’s company. Tir Na Nog was even more beautiful than Naihm had said. When they were hungry a feast appeared before them. When they were thirsty a mug of milk or pint of ale would always be at hand.
Oisin and his bride passed many moons in great bliss. But then one early morn, as Oisin set out on the hunt, he saw a drop of dew on a shamrock’s leaf. As it dropped to the ground, it caught the morning sun to make a rainbow appear oh so briefly. But in that moment a tear formed and fell from the eye of Oisin for he missed his ma and da. He missed the green shores of Ireland. He longed to visit with friends and family and told his wife of his desire.
She begged and pleaded, “No, don’t go, for I fear that I will never see you again.”
When she saw that she was powerless to persuade him, she said, “The white steed knows the way. But you must promise me that you will never get down off the horse. Please promise you will never dismount. Tell me true, that you will never touch the ground, for if you do you may not return.” Three times she asked and three times he vowed.
Again the white horse shook itself before setting off across the sea, faster than the wind before it. When Oisin returned to Erin’s green shore, everything had changed. The great race of men and women that he remembered looked puny and weak. He rode for hours without seeing a sign of the Fianna. When he asked a gnarled old woman working in the field, “Where is Finn MacCoul and the Fianna.” The old woman cackled and said:
“Ha, Finn MacCoul? I remember him from an old tale my mother told me when I was a wee lass. The Fianna have not ruled this land for three hundred years or more!”
Oisin rode on. When he found Tara, the castle had fallen into ruin, grown with thorn and thistle throughout. It began to dawn on him that one day in Tir Na Nog was a year in this world. In the year he was gone more than three hundreds years had passed here.
Oisin, saw two puny young men straining to lift a keg of ale into a wagon. Oisin bent from the saddle to help them lift the keg, but with the weight of it the leather strap around the girth of the horse snapped. Oisin fell from the horse. As soon as he touched the earth he aged three hundred years. The young men watched in disbelief as this vital, strong young man began to age and wither. A long white beard sprouted from his chin as his hair on his head grayed and fell out. He shriveled into heap of bones.
In that moment the church bells chimmed the hour, bong, bong, bong, bong. For a new God and a new religion had come to Ireland’s shore. “Please take me to the holy ground for burial,” gasped Ossein. They lifted his shriveled body into the wagon and took him to the church where Saint Patrick himself greeted them. Saint Patrick sat with Ossein through his last night in this world and listened to the tales of Tara, stories of the glory days of Ireland, of Finn, the Fianna, Naihm and Tier na Nog. When the first rays of the new morn greeted the world Oisin left it. Saint Patrick’s scribes wrote down the old stories so they could be remembered for all times. So I could learn them and tell them to you. So you can learn them too, and tell them to your children. SO A thousand years from now we still recall the glory days of Erin!