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The Giant of Tara


A long time ago, when children were taken seriously, the Hill of Tara was the seat of Ireland's Kings. From there they would rule the country, overlook the other hills or issue invitations for the big feasts that Tara of the Kings was famous for.
In the days of King Conaing, a huge giant came from the Highlands of Alba and went to live on the Hill of Tara. This giant had supernatural strength that was given to him by a powerful druid, but he was told that his strength would cease the moment he'd break his word.
The giant scared all of Tara's people away, and those who didn't flee in time or ventured to challenge him were turned into squirrels and had to collect nuts for the hungry giant.
Since then King Conaing stayed in Cashel where he built a new castle in which he lived with his wives, his children and his grandchildren.
For many years it seemed that nothing would change, for every knight and nobleman who dared to fight the giant of Tara was turned into a squirrel. Meanwhile Áine, the King's daughter, grew up to be a beautiful young lady. The best of Ireland's young men would come to the castle and ask for her hand, but - to her father's despair - she declined all of their offers.
One day Art, a young farmer, rode back from the village where he had sold his wheat, and as he passed the castle, he saw the most beautiful girl leaning out of a window, balancing a crown on her head. Her hair was as black and shiny as the raven's plumage, her eyes were as dark as the lakes of Killarney at night, her cheeks as rosy as the rising sun, her lips as full and red as the roses of the summer, and her arms as pale and slender as the necks of white swans.
'If I went up to the castle and asked to marry her,' he thought, 'the King would just laugh at me and send me back to my fields. But then again, what more could he do than to say no? You will never reach the sky if you didn't have a try,' he said to himself and jumped off his horse.
Now as it was raining and the streets were very dirty, his horse was completely covered in mud. Of course Art wanted to make a good impression, and therefore he tied his horse to a tree in the wood and approached the castle on foot.
He arrived there just as King Conaing and his druids were riding out to sacrifice to Ogma. The King looked down to Art and said, 'What can I do for you?'
'I want to marry your daughter.'
As he had expected, the King answered him with a smile. But his chief druid paled and stared at Art. Then he said to the King, 'This is the man who will rid Tara of the giant.'
King Conaing's face became serious. 'In that case,' he said, 'I will gladly allow you to marry Áine.'
'I'll be back as soon as Tara is free,' replied Art and turned around.
'Wait!' the druid shouted after him. 'To fight the giant, you'll have to know everything about him and yourself.'
'What is it I have to know?' asked Art.
'The water of the Boyne will supply you with all the knowledge you need. Wash your hair in the Boyne, and as long as it is wet, you will know exactly what you need to know.'
'But what,' said the King to his druid after Art had left, 'what about the geis?'
'I dare not think about it,' answered the druid.
For there was a geis on Áine that she shouldn't marry the man who approached the castle without a horse, and whoever disobeys his geis has to die.

Art went back to his horse and rode straight to the Hill of Tara. He washed his hair in the Boyne and came to the hill as the giant was having his afternoon nap, his head lying beside the Royal Enclosure and his legs on either side of the long Banquet Hall.
Art dismounted, went up to the giant's head and tapped him on the shoulder. The giant opened one eye, blinked at him and roared, 'What do you want, you tiny squirrel? You want to collect nuts for me, is it?'
'I've come to challenge you,' replied Art with a firm voice.
'Challenge me?' laughed the giant. You know that I can squash you with my little finger, don't you?'
'Of course I know that,' answered Art politely, 'but there are other things that I can do and you can't.'
Art had sensed the giant's haughtiness at once, and he was right. 'You wish,' rumbled the giant and got up. 'There is nothing that I can't do!'
'So how about a competition?' asked Art.
'What kind of competition?' said the giant.
'I will do three different things,' answered Art. 'If you should be able to repeat any of them, you may do whatever pleases you most - which is probably to turn me into a squirrel. But should you manage none of the things I do, you'll have to return to Alba after releasing all your squirrels from their spell.'
'That sounds all right to me,' said the giant and told Art to start.
Art shook his hair which was still dripping wet, looked around and, seeing the archway that led into the Royal Enclosure, he walked right through it.
'Do that,' said Art.
'You know that I can't do that,' answered the giant and grew red with anger. 'I'm too big!'
Art checked his hair which was still damp and, looking at the giant, he knew that he was blind on his right eye. So Art covered his left eye with his left hand, and with his right he picked up a stone and threw an apple down from a tree.
'Do that,' he said to the giant.
The giant covered his right eye and picked a stone.
'The left eye,' insisted Art, and with a groan the giant covered his left eye and threw the stone which flew high into the sky and landed on another hill without getting any apple down.
Meanwhile Art's hair was dried up by the wind, but just before the last drop disappeared, Art knew that he would be King of Ireland himself.
Now on the Hill of Tara there stands a stone called Lia Fáil, and whenever a rightful king passes this stone, it gives out a great roar.
So Art went up to the Lia Fáil, and just as he reached the stone, it gave out a roar that loud that the frightened giant bit his fingernails.
'Do that,' said Art, and the giant made a pass at the Lia Fáil, but the stone remained silent.
'This was child's play,' said Art. 'Now release the squirrels, and off to Alba you go!'
'I'll tell you what I'll do,' replied the raging giant. 'I'll squeeze you to death between my fingers!'
And he bent down to Art and had him between his thumb and his index finger, but - as he had broken his word - all strength had left him, and Art could easily shake his hand off him. Then he pushed the weak giant down the hill and saw him running away as fast as he could.
In this moment all the squirrels turned back into knights and noblemen, and Art got on his horse and rode back to Cashel.

Meanwhile, in the castle, the King discussed the geis with his wives.
The first wife said that it was most important for the kingdom to rid Tara of the giant, and that Conaing had to keep his word and sacrifice Áine, his only daughter, for the sake of Ireland. His second wife, who was the mother of Áine, suggested to tell Art about the geis, because she thought that Art would be reasonable enough to withdraw his request to marry her. His third wife asked the King whether Art had seen Áine yet.
'I don't know,' King Conaing replied thoughtfully. 'But I don't think so, as no one in the castle has ever seen him before.'
'So why don't we marry Ethné, our granddaughter, to him? She's as young and beautiful as Áine, and he'll never know that it's not her.'
The King thought that this was the best plan, and his granddaughter Ethné agreed to marry the hero of Tara. Soon everything was arranged for the wedding of Art and Ethné.

Returning back from Tara, Art - whose fame had reached Cashel even faster than himself - was triumphantly received by the people. The King led him into the castle where the wedding feast was prepared.
But when he entered the assembly hall, Art took one look at Ethné and said, 'You can't fool me! This is not your daughter!'
The King froze to the spot. All colour went out of his face, and two guards tried to catch him as he collapsed, but it was too late.
Then the door opened, and a servant entered with the drinking horns.
Art looked at the servant in admiration and said, 'This is your daughter, and her I want to marry!'
The King, who just had regained his conscience, looked very puzzled.
'This is Brigit, one of my servants,' he said. 'What makes you think that she's my daughter?'
'I saw her leaning out of the window with a crown on her head.'
Brigit blushed. 'Well,' she explained, 'as I was tidying up, I wondered what it would feel like to be a queen, and so I put on the crown and overlooked the country.'
The King burst out laughing. 'So you want to marry my servant, do you?' he uttered.
'Yes,' answered Art, and Brigit smiled at him and took his hand.
And so it happened, probably for the first time ever, that a farmer and a servant had a royal wedding.

Unfortunately King Conaing had to resign because due to his fall he had become lame, and according to the law of Tara the King had to be without any blemish in his appearance. So Art himself became King, and with Brigit he moved to the Hill of Tara where they lived happily for many years.


© 6238 RT (1997 CE) by Frank L. Ludwig