This is a story that has been told to generations of children down through the years and today I will tell it to you, hope you enjoy it.
Tir na nóg. The Land of Eternal Youth.
Once upon a time long, long ago in the west of Ireland there lived a young man called Oisin. One autumn morning he was out exploring the wild hills with the Fianna, they were the ancient warrior hunters of Ireland. It was a bright but cold misty morning. Suddenly from out of the mists they saw a white horse appear and upon its back sat the most beautiful woman that Oisin had ever seen. The sun glistened off her hair and she seemed to be surrounded by a magical glow. The horse and rider came to a stop and the young woman spoke to Oisin and the Fianna. Stepping forward Oisin introduced himself and as their eyes met they fell instantly in love.
“I am Niamh of the golden hair, daughter of the King of Tir Na Nog” she said in a voice that sounded like the most enchanting music that Oisin had ever heard.
“Come with me to my father’s land and there you will never grow old nor feel sorrow. My father has heard wonderful things about the great warrior named Oisin and I have come to take you back with me to the Land of Eternal Youth”
Oisin hesitated for a moment, he thought of his friends and family and how he would be sad to leave them but his hesitation lasted only a moment for he had fallen under a fairy spell and he cared no more for any earthly thing only for the love of Niamh of the golden hair. He quickly climbed up onto the white horse. Oisin promised to return shortly, and they waved goodbye and rode off into the mist. Oisin was never to see his family or his friends ever again.
When they reached the sea the white horse ran lightly over the waves and soon they left the green fields and woodlands of Ireland behind. The sun shone and the riders passed into a golden light that caused Oisin to lose all knowledge of where he was he didn’t know whether they were still crossing water or if they were on dry land. Strange sights appeared and disappeared and Oisin saw many strange creatures, some wondrous, some terrifying. He tried to ask Niamh what these visions meant and were they real or imagined but Niamh told him to say nothing until they arrived at Tir Na Nog.
Eventually they arrived at the Land of Eternal Youth and it was just as Niamh had promised. It was a land where nobody knew sadness, nobody ever aged, and everyone lived forever. Together they spent many happy times but there was always a piece of Oisin’s heart that seemed empty, he began to feel lonely and missed his home in Ireland. He wanted to see his friends and family once again. He begged Niamh to let him return to Ireland but she seemed to be very reluctant to let him go. She finally agreed and gave him the white horse that had brought him to Tir Na Nog but she warned him that when he reached the land of Erin he must not step down from the horse nor touch the soil of the earthly world for if he did then he could never return to the Land of Eternal Youth.
Oisin set off and once more crossed the mystic ocean. Although Oisin thought that only a few years had passed it had in fact been three hundred years. You see time slows down in Tir Na Nog and when he arrived back to his homeland he saw that things had changed. The Fianna no longer hunted the green hills and the grand castle where his family and friends lived was no longer there all that stood were crumbling ruins covered in ivy. With a feeling of horror Oisin thought that he had fallen under some fairy spell that was mocking him with false visions, he threw his arms in the air and shouted the names of his family and his friends but there was no reply, he tried once more but all he heard in reply was the sighing of the wind and the faint rustle of the leaves in the trees. With tears in his eyes he turned and rode away hoping that he would find those he looked for and that the fairy spell would be broken.
Oisin rode for days but found no sign of his people. He rode east and there he saw a group of men in a field, he rode towards them hoping to find some answers, maybe they knew where the Fianna had gone. As he approached he saw that the men were trying to move a large rock from the field, as he came near they all stopped work and gazed at him because to them he looked liked a messenger of the Fairy folk or an angel from heaven. He was far taller than normal men, he carried a beautiful sword and wore bright and shining armour and the horse he rode seemed to float above the ground casting a golden light around both itself and its rider. Oisin looked at them and thought how puny these men looked, the size of the rock would have meant nothing to the Fianna and he began to feel great pity for them. He bent down from his horse, put one hand on the rock and with a mighty heave he lifted it from the ground and flung it away from the field. The men started shouting in wonder and applause, but their shouting changed into cries of terror and dismay when they realised what they had witnessed. They began to run away knocking each other over in the process.
Unfortunately for Oisin the girth of his saddle had snapped as he heaved the stone away and he fell to the ground. In that second his horse vanished into a mist that suddenly appeared and Oisin rose from the ground dressed in rags. Feeble and staggering, he was no longer the youthful warrior he was but a man stricken with old age, white bearded and withered, crippled with arthritis he let out a cry of horror. Oisin now knew why he could find no trace of his people, he had been in Tir Na Nog for a few weeks but here in the earthly realm three hundred years had passed and now he had each of those years repaid.
The men who had run away looked back across the field and seeing what had befallen Oisin they returned. They found him lying on the ground with his face hidden in his arms; they lifted him up and asked who he was and what had happened to him.
With tears in his eyes Oisin said,
“I was Oisin son of Finn, can you tell me where he lives for I cannot find him”
The men looked at each other and then at Oisin, one of them said,
“”Of what Finn do you speak off, for there is many of that name”
“Finn MacCool, captain of the Fianna of Erin” replied Oisin.
The man said “You’re a daft old man and you made us daft thinking you were a young man before. But we now have our wits about us and we can tell you that Finn MacCool and all his generation have been dead for three hundred years. They live now only in songs and stories told. We now follow another, his name is Patrick and he teaches a different way to live”
Oisin was left to wander Ireland a lonely old man. He met Patrick and told him of his family and the Fianna who had disappeared from Ireland hundreds of years ago, the magical land of Tir na Nog and his love for Niamh and as he ended his story a great weariness swept over him and he closed his eyes and went to his eternal rest.
Today we still tell the story of Oisin, Niamh and Tir Na Nog and on a misty autumn morning if you see a shimmering white horse dancing in the waves maybe its Niamh riding her steed as she searches for her long lost love. Or maybe it’s just the crest of a wave, I’ll let you decide.