Bran and Sceolan were the two faithful hounds of Fionn
Mac Cumhal, they were always with him wherever he went. They were
so wise and knowing that they seemed human in knowledge, many times they
displayed magical skills related to fairies. These two hounds were
not ordinary animals, they were not born of an ordinary bitch, but of a
Tuatha de Danann woman.
Fionn's mother, Muire and her sister Tuiren would
frequently stay with him at Almhuin, the headquarters of the Fianna where
he lived. Iollan Eachtach, a Fianna chief, asked Fionn for Tuiren's
hand in marriage, which was granted under the condition that if for
any reason Tuiren was displeased with her bargain, Iollan should allow
her to return freely.
Iollan already had a sweetheart among the Tuatha de Danann,
she was Uchtdealb of the Fair Breast, and when she heard that Iollan was
married she was bitterly jealous. She took on the appearance of Fionn's
woman messenger and, going to Tuiren's house, she said: 'Fionn sends all
good wishes and a long life to you, and bids you prepare a great feast,
and if you will come aside with me I will tell you how it must be'.
Tuiren went aside with her, but when they were out of sight Uchtdealb took
out a rod and smote her with it. Immediately she turned into a most beautiful
little bitch hound, carrying unborn pups. Still in the form of Fionn's
messenger, Uchtdealb led her away to Fionn's house and said to him, "Your
dear Aunt wishes you to foster and take charge of this little bitch, as
she is with young, and she knows you will not let her join the chase when
her time is near." Fionn did not find this request strange at all
and grew very fond of the swift and clever hound.
In the meantime, it became known that Tuiren had disappeared,
and Fionn called Iollan to account for it. Iollan claimed that she
had gone and he could not find her, but, being pressed very hard he begged
for time to search for her. When he could not find her he went to
Uchtdealb and told her what danger he was in. She consented to free
Tuiren if he would be her sweetheart forever and flee together. She
then went to Fionn's house and freed Tuiren from her shape, hastily fleeing
the countryside with Iollan. But the two whelps were already born,
and after finding out the real story from his unfortunate Aunt, Fionn kept
them by his side all his life. One was a jet black pup, the other
grey. The black pup he named Bran, the grey was called Sceolan.
The grey hound was the most dangerous and seemed only
to be controlled by Bran, who, like his master, was gifted in a remarkable
degree with the foreknowledge of evil; so was able to give his lord many
warnings to keep him from danger. More than once, when victory was
not for the Fianna leader, Bran showed the deepest sorrow. He would
come to Fionn, a pitiful wet and weary sight, lay down before the chief
and howl bitterly. In this way, Fionn would have ample warning.
The Irish wolf-dog had a lithe body, a slender head, and
was as fleet as the wind. Bran is described in Bardic legends as
"A ferocious, white-breasted, sleek-haunched hound; standing as high as
mid-chest of a full grown man; fiery, deep black eyes that seemed to swim
in sockets of blood." Sceolan was described as, "Slightly smaller
than the black beast, small headed, having eyes of a dragon, the claws
of a wolf, the vigour of a lion; and the venom of a serpent." In
the same ancient poem Fionn himself, is described in highly ornate bardic
language, as he leads the hounds by a chain of silver attached to a collar
of gold: "A noble, handsome, fair-featured Fianna prince; young, courteous,
manly, puissant, powerful in action; the tallest of the warriors;
the strongest of the champions; the most beautiful of the human race."
The Fianna generally went to hunt accompanied by about
three thousand hounds; Bran leading, the wisest and fleetest of all.
The Fianna formed a godly army, a thousand or more knights - each
wearing a silken shirt and a chotan of fine silk around their neck, a green
mantle and fine purple cloak worn over to protect it; a golden diademed
helmet on the head, and a javelin in each man's hand.
The beautiful lady and Fionn's splendid hound disappeared
altogether and were seen no more. But in memory of the event, the
cliff from which he leaped is still called Coegg-y-Bran (Cliff of Bran);
while the lake and the castle beside it are called Tiernach Bran (the Lordship
of Bran) to this day. So the name and memory of Fionn's hound, and
his wisdom and achievements are not forgotten by the people. Many
dogs of the chase are still called after him, for the name is thought to
bring luck to the hunter and sportsman.
But the Cailleach Biorar (the Hag of the Water) is held
in much dread, it is believed that she still lives in a cave on the hill,
and is ready to work her evil spells whenever opportunity offers.
Her house is reputedly under the cairn, also a beaten path is said to be
where she traverses to the lake. Many efforts have been made to drain
the lake, but the Hag of the Water always interferes, and so the lake has
never been successfully drained of water.