The Enchanted Deer

Irish legends and sagas for younger readers interested in their Irish heritage (and also for young at heart!) Shauna O’Halloran retells story of birth of legendary Oisín and enchanted deer.

The mighty Finn Mac Cumhaill, leader of Fianna, spent many days roaming Ireland, hunting with his men and his pack of hounds. They were expert hunters and warriors, and never failed to run down and catch their prey. One day, while hunting, Fianna and their hounds come across a doe in forest, and decide to chase her down. But they can not catch her; every step they make and turn they take, doe outruns pack, as if it is possessed of special powers. Eventually, doe leads Finn Mac Cumhaill to magical Hill of Allen, where hounds catch up with her, but, curiously, refuse to harm animal. Finn recognises doe is a special creature, and as he goes to return to his camp, doe follows him.

When they reach camp, doe is given shelter there. Later that night Finn retires to his room, and with that a beautiful woman, richly dressed, enters and speaks. She tells him she is doe, and that her name is Sadb, and that she had been cruelly enchanted by an evil druid, but druid’s spell will end if she but enters Fianna camp.

Finn immediately falls in love with Sadb, and she remains a beautiful woman until they are married. Soon after, Sadb discovers she is expecting a child, but it is time for Finn to return to his traveling with Fianna. When he has left, Sadb is once again turned into a doe. After some time, when Sadb knows birth of her child is near, she travels across Ireland to find Finn. She gives birth to a fine baby boy, a human, and leaves him under a rowan tree for his father to find, as Sadb knows she cannot raise him as long as she is a deer. Finn soon discovers baby boy under a tree, and knows instantly that it is his son. He names him Oisín, which means ‘little deer’ in Irish.

Finn raises Oisín until he is seven years old, at which time Fianna have to go to war and Oisín is sent to live with foster parents. But Oisín longs to travel and fight with Fianna again, and when he becomes a teenager, he begs his father and Fianna to let him come with them. Oisín is put to test, and set many challenges to determine if he is ready to become a warrior with Fianna. He must run through dense forest without disturbing a hair on his head, pluck a thorn from his foot while sprinting, and run under a branch no taller than his knees. During these challenges, Fianna chase Oisín, and bury him in sand up to his waist, throwing spears at young man. Oisín passes tests Fianna set him, and he goes on to become a great warrior and a leader of one of bands of Fianna. He becomes famous as a great hunter and as a kind hearted man who carries out good deeds for his people and answers their needs.

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