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MARY OF THE GAEL

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The Database of Ornament

This ‘legendary romance’ is based upon the ancient and still current (though often
hopelessly contradictory) legends concerning Brighid, or Bride, commonly known as
‘Muime Chriosd,’ i.e. the Foster-Mother of Christ. From the universal honour and
reverence in which she was and is held—second only in this respect to the Virgin her-
self—she is also called ‘Mary of the Gael.’ Another name, frequent in the West, is
‘Brighde-nam-Bratj,’ i.e. St. Bride of the Mantle, a name explained in the course of
hopelessly contradictory) legends concerning Brighid, or Bride, commonly known as
my legendary story. Brighid the Christian saint should not, however, as is commonly
done, be confused with a much earlier and remoter Brighid, the ancient Celtic muse of
Song.

MARY OF THE GAEL

SLOINNEADH BRIGHDE, NUINE CHRIOSD

         Brighde nighean Dughaill Duinn,
         Ic Aoidth, ’ic Arta, ’ic Cuinn.
         Gach la is gach oidhche
         Ni mi cuimhneachadh air sloinneadh Brighde.
         Cha mharbhar mi,
         Cha ghuinear mi,
         Cha ghonar mi,
         Cha mho dh’ fhagas Criosd an dearmad mi;
         Cha loisg teine gniomh Shatain mi;
         ’S cha bhath uisge no saile mi;
         ’S mi fo chomraig Naoimh Moire
         ’S mo chaomh mhuime, Brighde.

THE GENEALOGY OF ST. BRIDGET OR ST. BRIDE,
FOSTER-MOTHER OF CHRIST.

         St Bridget, the daughter of Dughall Donn,
         Son of Hugh, son of Art, son of Conn.
         Each day and each night
         I will meditate on the genealogy of St Bridget.
         [Whereby] I will not be killed,
         I will not be wounded,


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         I will not be bewitched;
         Neither will Christ forsake me;
         Satan’s fire will not burn me;
         Neither water nor sea shall drown me;
         For I am under the protection of the Virgin Mary,
         And my meek and gentle foster-mother, St Bridget.


                                          I

BEFORE ever St. Colum came across the Moyle to
the island of Iona, that was then by strangers
called Innis-nan-Dhruidhneach, the Isle of the
Druids, and by the natives Ioua, there lived upon
the south-east slope of Dun-I a poor herdsman,
named Dùvach. Poor he was, for sure, though it
was not for this reason that he could not win back to Ireland,
green Banba, as he called it: but because he was an exile
thence, and might never again smell the heather blowing over
Sliabh-Gorm in what of old was the realm of Aoimag.
He was a prince in his own land, though none on Iona save the
Arch-Druid knew what his name was. The high priest, however,
knew that Duvach was the royal Dughall, called Dughall Donn,
the son of Hugh the King, the son of Art, the son of Conn. In
his youth he had been accused of having done a wrong against
a noble maiden of the blood. When her child was born he was
made to swear across her dead body that he would be true to
the daughter for whom she had given up her life, that he would
rear her in a holy place but away from Eire, and that he would
never set foot within that land again. This was a bitter thing
for Dughall Donn to do: the more so as, before the King, and
the priests, and the people, he swore by the Wind, and by
the Moon, and by the Sun, that he was guiltless of the
thing of which he was accused. There were many there who
believed him because of that sacred oath: others, too, forasmuch
as that Morna the Princess had herself sworn to the same effect.
Moreover, there was Aodh of the Golden Hair, a poet and seer,

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who avowed that Morna had given birth to an immortal, whose
name would one day be as a moon among the stars for glory.
But the King would not be appeased, though he spared the
life of his youngest son. So it was that, by the advice of Aodh
of the Druids, Dughall Donn went northwards through the
realm of Clanadon and so to the sea-loch that was then called
Loc Feobal. There he took boat with some wayfarers bound
for Alba. But in the Moyle a tempest arose, and the frail
galley was driven northward, and at sunrise was cast like
a great fish, spent and dead, upon the south end of Ioua, that
is now Iona. Only two of the mariners survived: Dughall
Donn and the little child. This was at the place where, on a
day of the days in a year that was not yet come, St. Colum
landed in his coracle, and gave thanks on his bended knees.
When, warmed by the sun, they rose, they found themselves in
a waste place. Ill was Dughall in his mind because of the
portents, and now to his astonishment and alarm the child
Bridget knelt on the stones, and, with claspt hands, small and
pink as the sea-shells round about her, sang a song of words
which were unknown to him. This was the more marvellous,
as she was yet but an infant, and could say no word even of
Erse, the only tongue she had heard.

At this portent, he knew that Aodh had spoken seeingly. Truly
this child was not of human parentage. So he, too, kneeled,
and, bowing before her, asked if she were of the race of the
Tuatha de Danann, or of the older gods, and what her will was,
that he might be her servant. Then it was that the kneeling
babe looked at him, and sang in a low sweet voice in Erse:

         I am but a little child,
         Dùghall, son of Hugh, son of Art,
         But my garment shall be laid
         On the lord of the world.
         Yea, surely it shall be that He
         The King of the Elements Himself
         Shall lean against my bosom,


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         And I will give him peace,
         And peace will I give to all who ask
         Because of this mighty Prince,
         And because of his Mother that is the Daughter of Peace.

And while Dughall Donn was still marvelling at this thing, the
Arch-Druid of Iona approached, with his white-robed priests.
A grave welcome was given to the stranger, but while the
youngest of the servants of God was entrusted with the child,
the Arch-Druid took Dughall aside, and questioned him. It
was not till the third day that the old man gave his decision.
Dughall Donn was to abide on Iona if he so willed: the child
certainly was to stay. His life would be spared, nor would he
be a bondager of any kind, and a little land to till would be given
him, and all that he might need. But of his past he was to say
no word. His name was to become as naught, and he was to
be known simply as Dùvach. The child, too, was to be named
Bride, for that was the way the name Bridget was called in the
Erse of the Isles.

To the question of Dughall, that was thenceforth Dùvach, as to
why he laid so great stress on the child, that was a girl, and the re-
puted offspring of shame at that, Cathal the Arch-Druid replied
thus: ‘My kinsman Aodh of the Golden Hair, who sent you here,
was wiser than Hugh the King and all the Druids of Aoimag.
Truly, this child is an Immortal. There is an ancient prophecy
concerning her: surely of her who is now here, and no other.
There shall be, it says, a spotless maid born of a virgin of the
ancient immemorial race in Innisfail. And when for the seventh
time the sacred year has come, she will hold Eternity in her lap as
a white flower. Her maiden breasts shall swell with milk for the
Prince of the World. She shall give suck to the King of the
Elements. So I say unto you, Dùvach, go in peace. Take unto
thyself a wife, and live upon the place I will give thee on the
east side of Ioua. Treat Bride as though she were thy spirit,
but leave her much alone, and let her learn of the sun and the
wind. In the fulness of time the prophecy shall be fulfilled.’


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So was it, from that day of the days. Dùvach took a wife unto
himself, who weaned the little Bride, who grew in beauty and
grace, so that all men marvelled. Year by year for seven years
the wife of Dùvach bore him a son, and these grew apace in
strength, so that by the beginning of the third year of the
seventh cycle of Bride’s life there were three stalwart youths
to brother her, and three comely and strong lads, and one
young boy fair to see. Nor did any one, not even Bride herself,
saving Cathal the Arch-Druid, know that Duvach the herds-
man was Dughall Donn, of a princely race in Innisfail.

In the end, too, Dùvach came to think that he had dreamed, or
at the least that Cathal had not interpreted the prophecy aright.
For though Bride was of exceeding beauty, and of a strange
piety that made the young Druids bow before her as though
she were a bandia, yet the world went on as before, and the
days brought no change. Often, while she was still a child,
he had questioned her about the words she had said as a babe,
but she had no memory of them. Once, in her ninth year, he
came upon her on the hillside of Dun-I singing these self-same
words. Her eyes dreamed afar away. He bowed his head,
and, praying to the Giver of Light, hurried to Cathal. The
old man bade him speak no more to the child concerning the
mysteries.

Bride lived the hours of her days upon the slopes of Dun-I,
herding the sheep, or in following the kye upon the green
hillocks and grassy dunes of what then as now was called the
Machar. The beauty of the world was her daily food. The
spirit within her was like sunlight behind a white flower. The
birdeens in the green bushes sang for joy when they saw her
blue eyes. The tender prayers that were in her heart for all
the beasts and birds, for helpless children, and tired women,
and for all who were old, were often seen flying above her head
in the form of white doves of sunshine.

But when the middle of the year came that was, though
Dùvach had forgotten it, the year of the prophecy, his eldest
son, Conn, who was now a man, murmured against the virginity

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of Bride, because of her beauty and because a chieftain of the
mainland was eager to wed her. ‘I shall wed Bride or raid
Ioua’ was the message he had sent.

So one day, before the great fire of the summer festival, Conn
and his brothers reproached Bride.

‘Idle are these pure eyes, O Bride, not to be as lamps at thy
marriage-bed.’

‘Truly, it is not by the eyes that we live,’ replied the maiden
gently, while to their fear and amazement she passed her hand
before her face and let them see that the sockets were empty.
Trembling with awe at this portent, Dùvach intervened.

‘By the Sun I swear it, O Bride, that thou shalt marry whom-
soever thou wilt and none other, and when thou wiliest, or not
at all if such be thy will.’

And when he had spoken. Bride smiled, and passed her hand
before her face again, and all there were abashed because of the
blue light as of morning that was in her shining eyes.


                                          II

The still weather had come, and all the isles lay in beauty.
Far south, beyond vision, ranged the coasts of Eire: westward,
leagues of quiet ocean dreamed into unsailed wastes whose
waves at last laved the shores of Tir-na-Hoy, the Land of
Eternal Youth: northward, the spell-bound waters sparkled in
the sunlight, broken here and there by purple splatches, that
were the isles of Staffa and Ulva, Lunga and the isles of the
columns, misty Coll, and Tiree that is the land beneath the wave,
with, pale blue in the heat-haze, the mountains of Rum called
Haleval, Haskeval, and Oreval, with the sheer Scuir-na-Gillian
and the peaks of the Cuchullins in remote Skye.

All the sweet loveliness of a late spring remained, to give a
freshness to the glory of summer. The birds had song to them
still.

It was while the dew was yet wet on the grass that Bride
came out of her father’s house, and went up the steep slope of

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Dun-I. The crying of the ewes and lambs at the pastures came
plaintively against the dawn. The lowing of the kye arose from
the sandy hollows by the shore, or from the meadows on the
lower slopes. Through the whole island went a rapid trickling
sound, most sweet to hear: the myriad voices of twittering
birds, from the dotterel in the seaweed to the larks climbing
the blue spirals of heaven.

This was the morning of her birth, and she was clad in white.
About her waist was a girdle of the sacred rowan, the feathery
green leaves of it flickering dusky shadows upon her robe as
she moved. The light upon her yellow hair was as when
morning wakes, laughing low with joy, amid the tall corn. As
she went she sang, soft as the crooning of a dove. If any had
been there to hear he would have been abashed, for the words
were not in Erse, and the eyes of the beautiful girl were as
those of one in a vision.

When, at last, a brief while before sunrise, she reached the
summit of the Scuir, that is so small a hill and yet seems so
big in Iona where it is the sole peak, she found three young
Druids there, ready to tend the sacred fire the moment the sun-
rays should kindle it. Each was clad in a white robe, with
fillets of oak-leaves: and each had a golden armlet. They made
a quiet obeisance as she approached. One stepped forward,
with a flush in his face because of her beauty, that was as a
sea-wave for grace, and a flower for purity, and sunlight for
joy, and moonlight for peace, and the wind for fragrance.

‘Thou mayst draw near if thou wilt, Bride, daughter of Dùvach,’
he said, with something of reverence as well as of grave courtesy
in his voice : ‘for the holy Cathal hath said that the Breath of
the Source of All is upon thee. It is not lawful for women to
be here at this moment, but thou hast the law shining upon thy
face and in thine eyes. Hast thou come to pray?’

But at that moment a low cry came from one of his companions.
He turned, and rejoined his fellows. Then all three sank
upon their knees, and with outstretched arms hailed the rising
of God.


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As the sun rose, a solemn chant swelled from their lips, ascend-
ing as incense through the silent air. The glory of the new
day came soundlessly. Peace was in the blue heaven, on the
blue-green sea, on the green land. There was no wind, even
where the currents of the deep moved in shadowy purple. The
sea itself was silent, making no more than a sighing slumber-
breath round the white sands of the isle, or a hushed whisper
where the tide lifted the long weed that clung to the rocks.

In what strange, mysterious way. Bride did not see: but as
the three Druids held their hands before the sacred fire there
was a faint crackling, then three thin spirals of blue smoke
rose, and soon dusky red and wan yellow tongues of flame
moved to and fro. The sacrifice of God was made. Out of
the immeasurable heaven He had come, in His golden chariot.
Now, in the wonder and mystery of His love. He was reborn
upon the world, reborn a little fugitive flame upon a low hill in
a remote isle. Great must be His love that He could die thus
daily in a thousand places: so great His love that He could
give up His own body to daily death, and suffer the holy flame
that was in the embers he illumined to be lighted and revered
and then scattered to the four quarters of the world.

Bride could bear no longer the mystery of this great love. It
moved her to an ecstasy. What tenderness of divine love that
could thus redeem the world daily: what long-suffering for
all the evil and cruelty done hourly upon the weeping earth,
what patience with the bitterness of the blind fates! The
beauty of the worship of Be’al was upon her as a golden glory.
Her heart leaped to a song that could not be sung. The
inexhaustible love and pity in her soul chanted a hymn that
was heard of no Druid or mortal anywhere, but was known of
the white spirits of Life.

Bowing her head, so that the glad tears fell warm as thunder-
rain upon her hands, she rose and moved away.

Not far from the summit of Dun-I is a hidden pool, to this day
called the Fountain of Youth. Hitherward she went, as was
her wont when upon the hill at the break of day, at noon, or

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at sundown. Close by the huge boulder, which hides it from
above, she heard a pitiful bleating, and soon the healing of her
eyes was upon a lamb which had become fixed in a crevice in
the rock. On a crag above it stood a falcon, with savage
cries, lusting for warm blood. With swift step Bride drew
near. There was no hurt to the lambkin as she lifted it in
her arms. Soft and warm was it there, as a young babe
against the bosom that mothers it. Then with quiet eyes she
looked at the falcon, who hooded his cruel gaze.

‘There is no wrong in thee, Seobhag,’ she said gently: ‘but
the law of blood shall not prevail for ever. Let there be peace
this morn.’

And when she had spoken this word, the wild hawk of the hills
flew down upon her shoulder, nor did the heart of the lambkin
beat the quicker, while with drowsy eyes it nestled as against
its dam. When she stood by the pool she laid the little woolly
creature among the fern. Already the bleating of it was sweet
against the forlorn heart of a ewe. The falcon rose, circled
above her head, and with swift flight sped through the blue air.
For a time Bride watched its travelling shadow: when it was
itself no more than a speck in the golden haze, she turned, and
stooped above the Fountain of Youth.

Beyond it stood then, though for ages past there has been no
sign of either, two quicken-trees. Now they were gold-green
in the morning light, and the brown-green berries that had not
yet reddened were still small. Fair to see was the flickering of
the long finger-shadows upon the granite rocks and boulders.
Often had Bride dreamed through their foliage: but now she
stared in amaze. She had put her lips to the water, and had
started back because she had seen, beyond her own image, that
of a woman so beautiful that her soul was troubled within her,
and had cried its inaudible cry, worshipping. When, trembling,
she had glanced again, there was none there beside herself.
Yet what had happened? For, as she stared at the quicken-
trees, she saw that their boughs had interlaced, and that they
now made a green arch. What was even stranger was that

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the rowan-clusters hung in blood-red masses, although the late
heats were yet a long way off.

Bride rose, her body quivering because of the cool sweet
draught of the Fountain of Youth, so that almost she imagined
the water was for her that day what it could be once in each
year to every person who came to it, a breath of new life and
the strength and joy of youth. With slow steps she advanced
towards the arch of the quickens. Her heart beat as she saw
that the branches at the summit had formed themselves into
the shape of a wreath or crown, and that the scarlet berries
dropped therefrom a steady rain of red drops as of blood. A
sigh of joy breathed from her lips when, deep among the red
and green, she saw the white merle of which the ancient poets
sang, and heard the exceeding wonder of its rapture, which
was now in the pain of joy and now the joy of pain.

The song of the mystic bird grew wilder and more sweet as
she drew near. For a brief while she hesitated. Then, as a
white dove drifted slow before her under and through the
quicken-boughs, a dove white as snow but radiant with sunfire,
she moved forward to follow, with a dream-smile upon her
face and her eyes full of the sheen of wonder and mystery, as
shadowy waters flooded with moonshine.

And this was the passing of Bride, who was not seen again
of Dùvach or her foster-brothers for the space of a year and a
day. Only Cathal, the aged Arch-Druid, who died seven days
thence, had a vision of her, and wept for joy.


                                          III

When the strain of the white merle ceased, though it had
seemed to her scarce longer than the vanishing song of the
swallow on the wing, Bride saw that the evening was come.
Through the violet glooms of dusk she moved soundlessly,
save for the crispling of her feet among the hot sands. Far
as she could see to right or left there were hollows and ridges
of sand: where, here and there, trees or shrubs grew out of

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the parched soil, they were strange to her. She had heard
the Druids speak of the sunlands in a remote, nigh unreachable
East, where there were trees called palms, trees that rose with
the sunflood and perished not, also tall dark cypresses that
were black-green as the holy yew. These were the trees she
now saw. Did she dream, she wondered? Far down in her
mind was some memory, some floating vision only, it may be,
of a small green isle far among the northern seas. Voices,
words, faces, familiar yet unfamiliar when she strove to bring
them nearer, haunted her.

The heat brooded upon the land. The sigh of the parched
earth was ‘Water, water.’

As she moved onward through the gloaming she descried
white walls beyond her: white walls and square white build-
ings, looming ghostly through the dark, yet home-sweet as
the bells of the cows on the sea-pastures, because of the yellow
lights every here and there agleam.

A tall figure moved towards her, clad in white, even as those
figures which haunted her unremembering memory. When he
drew near she gave a low cry of joy. The face of her father
was sweet to her.

‘Where will be the pitcher, Brighid?’ he said, though the words
were not the words that were near her when she was alone.
Nevertheless she knew them, and the same manner of words
was upon her lips.

‘My pitcher, father?’

‘Ah, dreamer, when will you be taking heed! It is leaving your
pitcher you will be, and by the Well of the Camels, no doubt:
though little matter will that be, since there is now no water,
and the drought is heavy upon the land. But . . . Brighid . . .

‘Yes, my father?’

‘It is not being safe for you to be on the desert at night. Wild
beasts come out of the darkness, and there are robbers and
wild men who lurk in the shadow. Brighid . . . Brighid . . .
is it dreaming you are still?’

‘I was dreaming of a cool green isle in northern seas, where . . .


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‘Where you have never been, foolish lass, and are never like
to be. Sure, if any wayfarer were to come upon us you would
scarce be able to tell him that yonder village is Bethlehem,
and that I am Dùghall Donn the inn-keeper, Dùghall, the son
of Hugh, son of Art, son of Conn. Well, well, I am growing
old, and they say that the old see wonders. But I do not wish
to see this wonder, that my daughter Brighid forgets her own
town, and the good inn that is there, and the strong sweet ale
that is cool against the thirst of the weary. Sure, if the day of
my days is near it is near. “Green be the place of my rest,” I
cry, even as Oisin the son of Fionn of the hero-line of Trenmor
cried in his old age; though if Oisin and the Fiànn were
here not a green place would they now find, for the land is
burned dry as the heather after a hill-fire. But now, Brighid,
let us go back into Bethlehem, for I have that for the saying
which must be said at once.’

In silence the twain walked through the gloaming that was
already the mirk, till they came to the white gate, where the
asses and camels breathed wearily in the sultry darkness, with
dry tongues moving round parched mouths. Thence they
fared through narrow streets, where a few white-robed Hebrews
and sons of the desert moved silently, or sat in niches. Finally
they came to a great yard, where more than a score of camels
lay huddled and growling in their sleep. Beyond this was the
inn, which was known to all the patrons and friends of Dùghall
Donn as the ‘Rest and Be Thankful,’ though formerly as the
Rest of Clan-Ailpean, for was he not himself through his
mother MacAlpine of the Isles, as well as blood-kin to the
great O’Connor, to whom his father, Hugh the King, was
feudatory prince?

As Dùghall and Bride walked along the stone flags of a passage
leading to the inner rooms, he stopped and drew her attention
to the water-tanks.

‘Look you, my lass,’ he said sorrowfully, ‘of these tanks and
barrels nearly all are empty. Soon there will be no water what-
ever, which is an evil thing though I whisper it in peace, to the

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Stones be it said. Now, already the folk who come here
murmur. No man can drink ale all day long, and those way-
farers who want to wash the dust of their journey from their
feet and hands complain bitterly. And . . . what is that you
will be saying ? The kye? Ay, sure, there is the kye, but the
poor beasts are o’ercome with the heat, and there’s not a
Cailliach on the hills who could win a drop more of milk from
them than we squeeze out of their udders now, and that only
with rune after rune till all the throats of the milking lassies
are as dry as the salt grass by the sea.

‘Well, what I am saying is this: ‘tis months now since any
rain will be falling, and every crock of water has been for the
treasuring as though it were the honey of Moy-Mell itself.
The moon has been full twice since we had the good water
brought from the mountain-springs: and now they are for
drying up too. The seers say that the drought will last. If
that is a true word, and there be no rain till the winter comes,
there will be no inn in Bethlehem called “The Rest and Be
Thankful”: for already there is not enough good water to give
peace even to your little thirst, my birdeen. As for the ale, it is
poor drink now for man or maid, and as for the camels and
asses, poor beasts, they don’t understand the drinking of it.’

‘That is true, father, but what is to be done?’
‘That’s what I will be telling you, my lintie. Now, I have been
told by an oganach out of Jerusalem, that lives in another
place close by the great town, that there is a quenchless well
of pure water, cold as the sea with a north wind in it, on a hill
there called The Mount of Olives. Now it is to that hill I will
be going. I am for taking all the camels, and all the horses,
and all the asses, and will lade each with a burthen of water-
skins, and come back home again with water enough to last us
till the drought breaks.’

That was all that was said that night. But at the dawn the
inn was busy, and all the folk in Bethlehem were up to see the
going abroad of Dùghall Donn and Ronald M’Ian, his shepherd,
and some Macleans and Macallums that were then in that

                                          136
place. It was a fair sight to see as they went forth through
the white gate that is called the Gate of Nazareth. A piper
walked first, playing the Gathering of the Swords: then came
Dughall Donn on a camel, and M’Ian on a horse, and the herds-
men on asses, and then there were the collies, barking for joy.
Before he had gone, Dùghall took Bride out of the hearing of
the others. There was only a little stagnant water, he said:
and as for the ale there was no more than a flagon left of what
was good. This flagon, and the one jar of pure water, he left
with her. On no account was she to give a drop to any way-
farer, no matter how urgent he might be: for he, Dughall,
could not say when he would get back, and he did not want to
find a dead daughter to greet him on his return, let alone there
being no maid of the inn to attend to customers. Over and
above that, he made her take an oath that she would give no
one, no, not even a stranger, accommodation at the inn, during
his absence.

Afternoon and night came, and dawn and night again, and yet
again. It was on the afternoon of the third day, when even the
crickets were dying of thirst, that Bride heard a clanging at the
door of the inn.

When she went to the door she saw a weary grey-haired man,
dusty and tired. By his side was an ass with drooping head,
and on the ass was a woman, young, and of a beauty that was
as the cool shadow of green leaves and the cold ripple of run-
ning waters. But beautiful as she was, it was not this that
made Bride start: no, nor the heavy womb that showed the
woman was with child. For she remembered her of a dream—
it was a dream, sure—when she had looked into a pool on a
mountain-side, and seen, beyond her own image, just this fair
and beautiful face, the most beautiful that ever man saw since
Nais, of the Sons of Usna, beheld Deirdrê in the forest, ay, and
lovelier far even than she, the peerless among women.

‘Gu’m beannaicheadh Dia an tigh,’ said the grey-haired man
in a weary voice,’ the blessing of God on this house.’

‘Soraidh leat,’ replied Bride gently, ‘and upon you likewise.’


                                          137

‘Can you give us food and drink, and, after that, good rest at
this inn? Sure it is grateful we will be. This is my wife Mary,
upon whom is a mystery: and I am Joseph, that is a carpenter
in Arimathea.’

‘Welcome, and to you, too, Mary: and peace. But there is
neither food nor drink here, and my father has bidden me give
shelter to none who come here against his return.’

The carpenter sighed, but the fair woman on the ass turned
her shadowy eyes upon Bride, so that the maiden trembled
with joy and fear.

‘And is it forgetting me you will be, Brighid-Alona,’ she mur-
mured, in the good sweet Gaelic of the Isles, and the voice of her
was like the rustle of leaves when a soft rain is falling in a wood

‘Sure, I remember,’ Bride whispered, filled with deep awe.
Then without a word she turned, and beckoned them to follow:
which, having left the ass by the doorway, they did.

‘Here is all the ale that I have,’ she said, as she gave the
flagon to Joseph: ‘and here, Mary, is all the water that there
is. Little there is, but it is you that are welcome to it’
Then, when they had quenched their thirst she brought out oat-
cakes and scones and brown bread, and would fain have added
milk, but there was none.

‘Go to the byre, Brighid,’ said Maiy, ‘and the first of the kye
shall give milk.’

So Bride went, but returned saying that the creature would not
give milk without a rune or song, and that her throat was too
dry to sing.

‘Sing this rune,’ said Mary:—

                        Give up thy milk to her who calls
                        Across the low green hills of Heaven
                        Because of this mighty Prince,
                        And stream-cool meads of Paradise!

And sure enough, when Bride did this, the milk came: and she
soothed her thirst, and went back to her guests rejoicing. It
was sorrow to her not to let them stay where they were, but
she could not, because of her oath.


                                          138

The man Joseph was weary, and said he was too tired to seek
far that night, and asked if there were no empty byre or stable
where he and Mary could sleep till morning. At that, Bride
was glad: for she knew there was a clean cool stable close to
the byre where her kye were: and thereto she led them, and
returned with peace at her heart.

When she was in the inn again, she was afraid once more: for
lo, though Mary and Joseph had drunken deep of the jar and
the flagon, each was now as full as it had been. Of the food,
too, none seemed to have been taken, though she had herself
seen them break the scones and the oatcakes.

It was dusk when her reverie was broken by the sound of the
pipes. Soon thereafter Dùghall Donn and his following rode
up to the inn, and all were glad because of the cool water, and
the grapes, and the green fruits of the earth, that they brought
with them.

While her father was eating and drinking, merry because of
the ale that was still in the flagon, Bride told him of the
wayfarers. Even as she spoke, he made a sign of silence,
because of a strange, unwonted sound that he heard.

‘What will that be meaning?’ he asked, in a low, hushed voice.

‘Sure it is the rain at last, father. That is a glad thing. The
earth will be green again. The beasts will not perish. Hark,
I hear the noise of it coming down from the hills as well.’ But
Dùghall sat brooding.

‘Ay,’ he said at last, ‘is it not foretold that the Prince of the
World is to be born in this land, during a heavy falling of rain,
after a long drought? And who is for knowing that Bethlehem
is not the place, and that this is not the night of the day of the
days? Brighid, Brighid, the woman Mary must be the mother
of the Prince, who is to save all mankind out of evil and pain
and death!’

And with that he rose and beckoned to her to follow. They
took a lantern, and made their way through the drowsing
camels and asses and horses, and past the byres where the kye
lowed gently, and so to the stable.


                                          139

Sure that is a bright light they are having,’ Dùghall muttered
uneasily: for, truly, it was as though the shed were a shell
filled with the fires of sunrise.

Lightly they pushed back the door. When they saw what they
saw they fell upon their knees. Mary sat, with her heavenly
beauty upon her like sunshine on a dusk land: in her lap, a
Babe, laughing sweet and low.

Never had they seen a Child so fair. He was as though
wrought of light.

‘Who is it?’ murmured Dùghall Donn, of Joseph, who stood
near, with rapt eyes.

‘It is the Prince of Peace.’

And with that Mary smiled, and the Child slept.

‘Brighid, my sister dear’—and, as she whispered this, Mary
held the little one to Bride.

The fair girl took the Babe in her arms, and covered it with
her mantle. Therefore it is that she is known to this day as
Brighde-nam-Bratj, St. Bride of the Mantle.

And all through that night, while the mother slept, Bride
nursed the Child, with tender hands and croodling crooning
songs. And this was one of the songs that she sang:

                        Ah, Baby Christ, so dear to me,
                        Sang Bridget Bride:
                        How sweet thou art,
                        My baby dear.
                        Heart of my heart!

                        Heavy her body was with thee,
                        Mary, beloved of One in Three,
                        Sang Bridget Bride—
                        Mary, who bore thee, little lad:
                        But light her heart was, light and glad
                        With God’s love clad.


                                          140

                        Sit on my knee,
                        Sang Bridget Bride:
                        Sit here
                        O Baby dear,
                        Close to my heart, my heart
                        For I thy foster-mother am.
                        My helpless lamb!
                        O have no fear,
                        Sang good St Bride.

                        ‘None, none,
                        No fear have I:
                        So let me cling
                        Close to thy side
                        While thou dost sing,
                        O Bridget Bride!’

                        My Lord, my Prince I sing:
                        My baby dear, my King!
                        Sang Bridget Bride.

It was on this night that far away in Iona the Arch-Druid
Cathal died. But before the breath went from him he had his
vision of joy, and his last words were:

            Brighde ’dol air a glun,
            Righ nan dul a shuidh ’na h-uchd!
            (Bridget Bride upon her knee,
            The King of the Elements asleep on her breast!)

On the coming of dawn Mary awoke, and took the Child. She
kissed Bride upon the brows, and said this thing to her:
‘Brighid, my sister dear, thou shalt be known unto all time as
Muime Chriosd.’


                                          141

                                          IV

No sooner had Mary spoken than Bride fell into a deep sleep.
So profound was this slumber that when Dughall Donn came
to see to the wayfarers, and to tell them that the milk and the
porridge were ready for the breaking of their fast, he could
get no word of her at all. She lay in the clean yellow straw
beneath the manger, where Mary had laid the Child. Dùghall
stared in amaze. There was no sign of the mother, nor of the
Babe that was the Prince of Peace, nor of the douce quiet
man that was Joseph the carpenter. As for Bride, she not
only slept so sound that no word of his fell against her ears,
but she gave him awe. For as he looked at her he saw that
she was surrounded by a glowing light. Something in his
heart shaped itself into a prayer, and he knelt beside her,
sobbing low. When he rose, it was in peace. Mayhap an
angel had comforted his soul in its dark shadowy haunt of his
body.

It was late when Bride awoke, though she did not open her
eyes, but lay dreaming. For long she thought she was in
Tir-Tairngire, the Land of Promise, or wandering on the
honey-sweet plain of Magh-Mell: for the wind of dreamland
brought exquisite odours to her, and in her ears was a most
marvellous sweet singing.

All round her there was a music of rejoicing. Voices, lovelier
than any she had ever heard, resounded; glad voices full of
praise and joy. There was a pleasant tumult of harps and
trumpets, and as from across blue hills and over calm water
came the sound of the bagpipes. She listened with tears. Loud
and glad were the pipes at times full of triumph, as when the
heroes of old marched with Cuculain or went down to battle
with Fionn: again, they were low and sweet, like the humming
of bees when the heather is heavy with the honey-ooze. The

                                          142
songs and wild music of the angels lulled her into peace : for
a time no thought of the woman Mary came to her, nor of the
Child that was her foster-child.

Suddenly it was in her mind as though the pipes played the
chant that is called the ‘Aoibhneas a Shlighe,’ ‘the joy of his
way,’ a march played before a bridegroom going to his bride.
Out of this glad music came a solitary voice, like a child
singing on the hillside.

‘The way of wonder shall be thine, O Brighid-Naomha!’

This was what the child-voice sang. Then it was as though
all the harpers of the west were playing ‘air clàrsach’: and
the song of a multitude of voices was this:

‘Blessed art thou, O Brighid, who didst nurse the King of
the Elements in thy bosom : blessed thou, the Virgin Sister of
the Virgin Mother, for unto all time thou shalt be called Muime
Chriosd, the Foster-Mother of Jesus that is the Christ.’

With that, Bride remembered all, and opened her eyes. Naught
strange was there to see, save that she lay in the stable. Then
as she noted that the gloaming had come, she wondered at the
soft light that prevailed in the shed, though no lamp or candle
burned there. In her ears, too, still lingered a wild and
beautiful music.

It was strange. Was it all a dream, she pondered. But even
as she thought thus, she saw half of her mantle lying upon the
straw in the manger. Much she marvelled at this, but when
she took the garment in her hand she wondered more. For
though it was no more than a half of the poor mantle where-
with she had wrapped the Babe, it was all wrought with
mystic gold lines and with precious stones more glorious than
ever Arch-Druid or Island Prince had seen. The marvel gave
her awe at last, when, as she placed the garment upon her
shoulder, it covered her completely.

She knew now that she had not dreamed, and that a miracle
was done. So with gladness she went out of the stable, and
into the inn. Dùghall Donn was amazed when he saw her,
and then rejoiced exceedingly.


                                          143

‘Why are you so merry, my father?’ she asked.

‘Sure it is glad that I am. For now the folk will be laughing
the wrong way. This very morning I was so pleased with the
pleasure, that while the pot was boiling on the peats I went
out and told every one I met that the Prince of Peace was come,
and had just been born in the stable behind the “Rest and Be
Thankful.” Well, that saying was just like a weasel among the
rabbits, only it was an old toothless weasel: for all Bethlehem
mocked me, some with jeers, some with hard words, and some
with threats. Sure, I cursed them right and left. No, not for
all my cursing—and by the blood of my fathers, I spared no
man among them, wishing them sword and fire, the black
plague and the grey death—would they believe. So back it
was that I came, and going through the inn I am come to the
stable. ‘Sorrow is on me like a grey mist,’ said Oissin, mourn-
ing for Oscur, and sure it was a grey mist that was on me when
not a sign of man, woman, or child was to be seen, and you so
sound asleep that a March gale in the Moyle wouldn’t have
roused you. Well, I went back, and told this thing, and all the
people in Bethlehem mocked at me. And the Elders of the
People came at last, and put a fine upon me: and condemned
me to pay three barrels of good ale, and a sack of meal, and
three thin chains of gold, each three yards long : and this for
causing a false rumour, and still more for making a laughing-
stock of the good folk of Bethlehem. There was a man called
Murdoch-Dhu, who is the chief smith in Nazareth, and it’s him
I’m thinking will have laughed the Elders into doing this hard
thing.’

It was then that Bride was aware of a marvel upon her, for she
blew an incantation off the palm of her hand, and by that frith
she knew where the dues were to be found.

‘By what I see in the air that is blown off the palm of my hand,
father, I bid you go into the cellar of the inn. There you will
find three barrels full of good ale, and beside them a sack of
meal, and the sack is tied with three chains of gold, each three
yards long.’


                                          144

But, while Dùghall Donn went away rejoicing, and found that
which Bride had foretold, she passed out into the street. None
saw her in the gloaming, or as she went towards the Gate of
the East When she passed by the Lazar-house she took her
mantle off her back and laid it in the place of offerings. All
the jewels and fine gold passed into invisible birds with
healing wings: and these birds flew about the heads of the
sick all night, so that at dawn every one arose, with no ill upon
him, and went on his way rejoicing. As each went out of
Bethlehem that morning of the mornings he found a clean
white robe and new sandals at the first mile; and, at the
second, food and cool water; and, at the third, a gold piece and
a staff.

The guard that was at the Eastern Gate did not hail Bride.
All the gaze of him was upon a company of strange men, shep-
herd-kings, who said they had come out of the East led by a
star. They carried rare gifts with them when they first came
to Bethlehem: but no man knew whence they came, what they
wanted, or whither they went.

For a time Bride walked along the road that leads to Nazareth.
There was fear in her gentle heart when she heard the howling
of hyenas down in the dark hollows, and she was glad when the
moon came out and shone quietly upon her.

In the moonlight she saw that there were steps in the dew
before her. She could see the black print of feet in the silver
sheen on the wet grass, for it was on a grassy hill that she now
walked, though a day ago every leaf and sheath there had lain
brown and withered. The foot-prints she followed were those
of a woman and of a child.

All night through she tracked those wandering feet in the dew.
They were always fresh before her, and led her away from the
villages, and also where no wild beasts prowled through the
gloom. There was no weariness upon her, though often she
wondered when she should see the fair wondrous face she
sought Behind her also were footsteps in the dew, though
she knew nothing of them. They were those of the Following

                                          145
Love. And this was the Lorgadh-Bhrighde of which men speak
to this day: the Quest of the holy St Bride.

All night she walked; now upon the high slopes of a hill.
Never once did she have a glimpse of any figure in the moon-
light, though the steps in the dew before her were newly made,
and none lay in the glisten a short way ahead.

Suddenly she stopped. There were no more footprints. Eagerly
she looked before her. On a hill beyond the valley beneath her
she saw the gleaming of yellow stars. These were the lights
of a city. ‘Behold, it is Jerusalem,’ she murmured, awe-struck,
for she had never seen the great town.

Sweet was the breath of the wind that stirred among the olives
on the mount where she stood. It had the smell of heather,
and she could hear the rustle of it among the bracken on a hill
close by.

‘Truly, this must be the Mount of Olives,’ she whispered, ‘The
Mount of which I have heard my father speak, and that must
be the hill called Calvary.’

But even as she gazed marvelling, she sighed with new wonder:
for now she saw that the yellow stars were as the twinkling of
the fires of the sun along the crest of a hill that is set against
the east. There was a living joy in the dawntide. In her ears
was a sweet sound of the bleating of ewes and lambs. From
the hollows in the shadow came the swift singling rush of the
flowing tide. Faint cries of the herring gulls filled the air: from
the weedy boulders by the sea the skuas called wailingly.
Bewildered, she stood intent If only she could see the foot-
prints again, she thought Whither should she turn, whither
go? At her feet was a yellow flower. She stooped and
plucked it.

‘Tell me, O little sun-flower, which way shall I be going?’
and as she spoke a small golden bee flew up from the heart
of it, and up the hill to the left of her. So it is that from that
day the dandelion is called am-Bèarnàn-Bhrighde.

Still she hesitated. Then a sea-bird flew by her with a loud
whistling cry.


                                          146

‘Tell me, O eisireùn,’ she called, ‘which way shall I be going?’
And at this the eisireùn swerved in its flight, and followed the
golden bee, crying, ‘This way, O Bride, Bride, Bride, Bride,
Bri-i-i-ide!’

So it is that from that day the oyster-catcher has been called
the Gille-Bhrigde, the Servant of St. Bridget

Then it was that Bride said this rune:

            Dia romham ;
            Moire am dheaghuidh;
            ’S am Mac a thug Righ nan Dul!
            Mis’ air do shlios, a Dhia,
            Is Dia ma’m luirg.
            Mac’ ‘oire, a’s Righ nan Dul,
            A shoillseachadh gach ni dheth so,
            Le a ghras, mu’m choinneamh.

            God before me;
            The Virgin Mary after me;
            And the Son sent by the King of the Elements.
            I am to windward of thee, O God!
            And God on my footsteps.
            May the Son of Mary, King of the Elements,
            Reveal the meaning of each of these things
            Before me, through His grace.

And as she ended she saw before her two quicken-trees, of
which the boughs were interwrought so that they made an
arch. Deep in the green foliage was a white merle that sang
a wondrous sweet song. Above it the small branches were
twisted into the shape of a wreath or crown, lovely with the
sunlit rowan-clusters, from whose scarlet berries red drops as
of blood fell.

Before her flew a white dove, all aglow as with golden light.
She followed, and passed beneath the quicken arch.

Sweet was the song of the merle, that was then no more: sweet
the green shadow of the rowans, that now grew straight as

                                          147
young pines. Sweet the far song in the sky, where the white
dove flew against the sun.

Bride looked, and her eyes were glad. Bonnie the blooming of
the heather on the slopes of Dun-I. Iona lay green and gold,
isled in her blue waters. From the sheiling of Dùvach, her
father, rose a thin column of pale blue smoke. The collies,
seeing her, barked loudly with welcoming joy.

The bleating of the sheep, the lowing of the kye, the breath of
the salt wind from the open sea beyond, the song of the flowing
tide in the Sound beneath: dear the homing.

With a strange light in her eyes she moved down through
         the heather and among the green bracken: white,
                                wonderful, fair to see.

                                    FIONA MACLEOD.

MLA citation:

Macleod, Fiona. “Mary of the Gael.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 2, Autumn 1895, pp. 122-147. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, General Editor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/egv2_macleod_mary/