: 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

Dagda's harp.

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

children sobbed.

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.