At a time when the Fianna of Ireland (a band of warriors led by the great Fionn Mac Cumhaill) were coming to their end, a woman called Niamh Chinn Óir (Niamh of the golden hair) came to the shores of Ireland from Tír na nÓg (The country of the young). She was in love with Fionn’s son Oisín. Niamh asked Oisín to come with her to Tír na nÓg and he did. But in Tír na nÓg all sense of time is lost and so three hundred years had passed in what seemed like three to Oisín who after that time wanted to come back to hear the stories of how the Fianna had fared. Niamh told him he must stay up on his horse because if he touched the soil he would turn into a withered old man.
Come to Tír na nÓg with me
Every day I ride a white horse through blue mist. I ride past castles white with smiles. Waves ferry me high and low over the turrets and belfries of kingdoms lost. I see marvellous riders, soul bearing keepers on errands of magic and mercy when I am going to the green and brown wooded shore to search through trees, the shadows of trees. Sometimes shafts of sunlight awaken the dim, then hope shows her face again but I never see him. It must be a hundred years since he left and still hope beguiles with her lying fingers, pointing, telling me to look again for my lost rider…
Have you seen him?
… with his ringlets of gold the same as my own, calling out my name and in a thousand years, I fear I will be doing the same.
It was on the green and brown wooded shore I first saw him. It was a fancy of mine to watch mortals in their short lives. He was with a band of men, dirty, scarred from many battles, carrying an immense tiredness that was visible to me. Long livers I thought to myself. There are a few that are extraordinary but I knew it would not be long before they would all be dead. I could see the end of their lives in the flickering fire reflecting in their eyes. One took a knife from one of the many scabbards across his body, cut a sliver of meat from the animal on the spit, held it up over his head, dropped it into his open mouth. The next man did the same and then the next. They shared drinks, plenty, until the laughter came. They were used to laughter but that day it held the pain of parting inside it because whether they knew it or not, all the ghosts of endings were surrounding them. One stood out to me because he was like me. Amber skinned with golden hair and though he was covered in earthiness I could see his heart beating red with love as I rode my white horse into the darkness of the Fianna’s camp.
Imagine it, me, on my watery horse, my watery hair, flecked with gold and silver. Imagine the blue of my eyes shimmering like the sea on a sunny day. Imagine the pink of my cheeks showing the true nature of my heart. The wine of my lips holding the dream of every kiss, the sheen on my amber skin exciting the tips of the calloused fingers on the hands of every man. They backed away in awe and then I spoke:
I come from The Land of the Ever Young which is how it is named but for myself, I call it home. It is far out into the ocean hidden by mist and wave and beyond all reckoning for the mortal man and woman. It is the place where springs the wondrousness of youth, where time passes in the blink of an eye and yet is ever renewing, so that autumn is the evening, winter is the night, spring is the bird chorus in the morning and summer is the daytime. And on every shore, a white horse is waiting so that no one feels they cannot leave. My home has riches beyond all reckoning and yet it has peace. The children play on a gentle shore because the shore is gentle to them. They climb the highest trees because the trees will catch them if they fall. The sheep have golden fleeces, there is feasting but no greed, there is song that is sweetly sung along with singing birds. That is the place I am from and I am come now because I am in love with the golden haired one whose name is Oisín.
Oisín, I wish for you to come with me and be my husband.
My words echoed. There was silence but for the crackling fire, a twig breaking under a nervous foot, a held breath until Oisín stood before me and said he would come with me even though he loved each and every man there and that leaving them was the measure of his love for me. I told him, My father and mother would welcome him, bring him into our fold as their own with honour and respect, because they already knew he had lived a life full of that and I would bear our children and we would be happy. And he kissed his father who was Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the leader of that band of men and he kissed his son Osgar and his friends and comrades, Luadaidh and Caoilte and Diorraing and Goll and every man in that glade on that day had tears flowing down their faces. When we rode away men were crying out loud behind us for Oisín of the golden hair was loved by them all.
When he came with me to Tír na nÓg he was initiated by me. On my watery horse we took wing over the foam. We sunk and arose into the depths of splendours unknown; cities of endings with turrets of gold, silvering secrets in the hearts of the fallen, crowned with an everlasting joy.
We had the children I promised: Blathnaid was our girl after the flowers and two boys that I called Fionn and Osgar after those that he missed the most. There was nothing but mortality that could have ruined it and so it came as it was destined to come. The mortal awoke in Oisín to go back to see his son Osgar, his father Fionn and all the friends he missed. He wondered how they had fared and even though I told him they were gone, he would not believe me. I tried to show him the difference between time passing here and there. But he had begun his life in mortal time and so he struggled with what I was telling him. He wanted to go back and so I had to help him go, for no-one is imprisoned in the land of the ever young. And as he went I said, Please believe the one who truly loves you, that I tell you no lie and please listen to me when I say, If you put your feet on the ground of Ireland you will wither and die and I and our children will never see you again. Stay on your watery horse for your whole time there for the sake of us all my darling. And he said he would heed all that and he kissed me and he kissed our children and he rode away passing all that he saw on his way, and he rode away, and he rode away.
And now every day I ride a white horse through blue mist. I ride past castles white with smiles. Waves ferry me high and low over the turrets and belfries of kingdoms lost. I see marvellous riders, soul bearing keepers on errands of magic and mercy when I am going to the green and brown wooded shore to search through trees, the shadows of trees. Sometimes shafts of sunlight awaken the dim, then hope shows her face again but I never see him. It must be a hundred years since he left and still hope beguiles with her lying fingers, pointing, telling me to look again for my lost rider…
Have you seen him?
… with his ringlets of gold the same as my own calling out my name and in a thousand years, I fear I will be doing the same.