THE DAGDA'S HARP
: Stories To Tell Children
You know, dears, in the old countries there are many fine stories about
things which happened so very long ago that nobody knows exactly how
much of them is true. Ireland is like that. It is so old that even as
long ago as four thousand years it had people who dug in the mines, and
knew how to weave cloth and to make beautiful ornaments out of gold, and
who could fight and make laws; but we do not know just where they came
from, nor exactly how they lived. These people left us some splendid
stories about their kings, their fights, and their beautiful women; but
it all happened such a long time ago that the stories are mixtures of
things that really happened and what people said about them, and we
don't know just which is which. The stories are called _legends_. One of
the prettiest legends is the story I am going to tell you about the
It is said that there were two quite different kinds of people in
Ireland: one set of people with long dark hair and dark eyes, called
Fomorians--they carried long slender spears made of golden bronze when
they fought--and another race of people who were golden-haired and
blue-eyed, and who carried short, blunt, heavy spears of dull metal.
The golden-haired people had a great chieftain who was also a kind of
high priest, who was called the Dagda. And this Dagda had a wonderful
magic harp. The harp was beautiful to look upon, mighty in size, made of
rare wood, and ornamented with gold and jewels; and it had wonderful
music in its strings, which only the Dagda could call out. When the men
were going out to battle, the Dagda would set up his magic harp and
sweep his hand across the strings, and a war song would ring out which
would make every warrior buckle on his armour, brace his knees, and
shout, "Forth to the fight!" Then, when the men came back from the
battle, weary and wounded, the Dagda would take his harp and strike a
few chords, and as the magic music stole out upon the air, every man
forgot his weariness and the smart of his wounds, and thought of the
honour he had won, and of the comrade who had died beside him, and of
the safety of his wife and children. Then the song would swell out
louder, and every warrior would remember only the glory he had helped
win for the king; and each man would rise at the great table, his cup in
his hand, and shout "Long live the King!"
There came a time when the Fomorians and the golden-haired men were at
war; and in the midst of a great battle, while the Dagda's hall was not
so well guarded as usual, some of the chieftains of the Fomorians stole
the great harp from the wall, where it hung, and fled away with it.
Their wives and children and some few of their soldiers went with them,
and they fled fast and far through the night, until they were a long way
from the battlefield. Then they thought they were safe, and they turned
aside into a vacant castle, by the road, and sat down to a banquet,
hanging the stolen harp on the wall.
The Dagda, with two or three of his warriors, had followed hard on their
track. And while they were in the midst of their banqueting, the door
was suddenly burst open, and the Dagda stood there, with his men. Some
of the Fomorians sprang to their feet, but before any of them could
grasp a weapon, the Dagda called out to his harp on the wall, "Come to
me, O my harp!"
The great harp recognised its master's voice, and leaped from the wall.
Whirling through the hall, sweeping aside and killing the men who got in
its way, it sprang to its master's hand. And the Dagda took his harp and
swept his hand across the strings in three great, solemn chords. The
harp answered with the magic Music of Tears. As the wailing harmony
smote upon the air, the women of the Fomorians bowed their heads and
wept bitterly, the strong men turned their faces aside, and the little
Again the Dagda touched the strings, and this time the magic Music of
Mirth leaped from the harp. And when they heard that Music of Mirth, the
young warriors of the Fomorians began to laugh; they laughed till the
cups fell from their grasp, and the spears dropped from their hands,
while the wine flowed from the broken bowls; they laughed until their
limbs were helpless with excess of glee.
Once more the Dagda touched his harp, but very, very softly. And now a
music stole forth as soft as dreams, and as sweet as joy: it was the
magic Music of Sleep. When they heard that, gently, gently, the Fomorian
women bowed their heads in slumber; the little children crept to their
mothers' laps; the old men nodded; and the young warriors drooped in
their seats and closed their eyes: one after another all the Fomorians
sank into sleep.
When they were all deep in slumber, the Dagda took his magic harp, and
he and his golden-haired warriors stole softly away, and came in safety
to their own homes again.