- retold by storyteller: Shers Gallagher ©2016
Long, long ago, in a time you could barely even think of, as it existed beyond the stars, was a land that those of Irish ancestry call Tír na nÓg – or Land of Eternal Youth. Like the Avalon of the English, it was a place beyond the edges of the map in the northwest sound.
Yet, not even the hardiest of seafarers could reach it unless they were willing to gamble an arduous voyage; or, better yet, be given safe passage by one of its elven folk. But that never happened…unless you happened to be lucky like Oisín, the handsome son of Finn McCool and his deer goddess wife. In fact, the name Oisín means ‘little deer’. And the young son of this legendary hero and goddess wife grew up to be extremely handsome. Tír na nÓg is a place of eternal youth and beauty where sickness and death do not exist. Only music, strength, life and all pleasurable pursuits come together here. Happiness lasts forever, and no one ever goes hungry or thirsty. It is the Celtic version of the Norsk Valhalla. And to get to Tír na nÓg the adventurer needs a guide.
Oisín was out hunting with his father Finn one day when Niamh, a fairy princess from the NW, happened to be in the neighbourhood and meandered onto their path. It just took one glimpse of the fair and handsome son to cause Niamh to fall hopelessly in love, and she flirted and teased. When that didn’t work, she flat out begged Oisín to come home with her. She too was beautiful to him. Yet, he hesitated with all kinds of thoughts of the here and now. It was only when his father gripped him arm, whispering that only a fool would pass up such an offer that he agreed. So, the two young people travelled off on magical horses that were able to not only tread but gallop through water. They arrived on the breath of the wind where the Blessed Realm received them. And there Oisín was offered a life that appeared pleasantly short but was indeed indefinitely prolonged.
As it often happens, homesickness eventually set in and Oisín longed to return to his native land. He could not believe his ears when he heard from a shoemaking elf that one hundred years had passed since he’d been gone. To him it had seemed as only one. After much coaxing and cajoling, Niamh promised to take him back only if he would ride with her and remain seated on her magical horse. She warned him twice and then again not to even touch ground. If he did so, the weight of all those years would descend upon him in a flash. Oisín was no fool. He heeded his beloved’s advice till a pack of youth struggling to lift a huge stone blocking the path of a gateway asked his assistance. Being an agile rider and thinking he could aid them from atop his horse, Oisín readily agreed. He bent and lowered himself just as his foot got tangled in the stirrup and caused him to fall. Upon impact, he withered instantly into an old man.
The Catholic aside was that Oisín was able to tell Saint Patrick his story and be blessed before dying. Whether this is true or not, one thing is for sure: the life of the once handsome son of the hero McCool and deer goddess came to a swift and sad end.