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Contents > Author > Sara Cone Bryant > The Dagda's Harp 1873- Unknown
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Sara Cone Bryant
The Dagda's Harp
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[The facts from which this story was constructed are found
in the legend as given in Ireland's Story, Johnston and Spencer
(Houghton, Mifflin, & Co.)]

You know, dears, in the old countries
there are many fine stories about things
which happened so very long ago that
nobody knows exactly how much of them is
true. Ireland is like that. It is so old that
even as long ago as four thousand years
it had people who dug in the mines, and
knew how to weave cloth and to make
beautiful ornaments out of gold, and who
could fight and make laws; but we do
not know just where they came from, nor
exactly how they lived. These people left
us some splendid stories about their kings,
their fights, and their beautiful women;
but it all happened such a long time ago
that the stories are mixtures of things that
really happened and what people said about
them, and we don't know just which is
which. The stories are called LEGENDS. One
of the prettiest legends is the story I am
going to tell you about the Dagda's harp.

It is said that there were two quite
different kinds of people in Ireland: one set
of people with long dark hair and dark
eyes, called Fomorians--they carried long
slender spears made of golden bronze
when they fought--and another race of
people who were golden-haired and blue-
eyed, and who carried short, blunt, heavy
spears of dull metal.

The golden-haired people had a great
chieftain who was also a kind of high
priest, who was called the Dagda. And
this Dagda had a wonderful magic harp.
The harp was beautiful to look upon,
mighty in size, made of rare wood, and
ornamented with gold and jewels; and it
had wonderful music in its strings, which
only the Dagda could call out. When the
men were going out to battle, the Dagda
would set up his magic harp and sweep
his hand across the strings, and a war song
would ring out which would make every
warrior buckle on his armor, brace his
knees, and shout, "Forth to the fight!"
Then, when the men came back from the
battle, weary and wounded, the Dagda
would take his harp and strike a few
chords, and as the magic music stole out
upon the air, every man forgot his weariness
and the smart of his wounds, and
thought of the honor he had won, and of
the comrade who had died beside him,
and of the safety of his wife and children.
Then the song would swell out louder,
and every warrior would remember only
the glory he had helped win for the king;
and each man would rise at the great tables
his cup in his hand, and shout "Long live
the King!"

There came a time when the Fomorians
and the golden-haired men were at war;
and in the midst of a great battle, while
the Dagda's hall was not so well guarded
as usual, some of the chieftains of the
Fomorians stole the great harp from the
wall, where it hung, and fled away with
it. Their wives and children and some few
of their soldiers went with them, and they
fled fast and far through the night, until
they were a long way from the battlefield.
Then they thought they were safe, and they
turned aside into a vacant castle, by the
road, and sat down to a banquet, hanging
the stolen harp on the wall.

The Dagda, with two or three of his
warriors, had followed hard on their track.
And while they were in the midst of their
banqueting, the door was suddenly burst
open, and the Dagda stood there, with his
men. Some of the Fomorians sprang to
their feet, but before any of them could
grasp a weapon, the Dagda called out to
his harp on the wall, "Come to me, O my

The great harp recognized its master's
voice, and leaped from the wall. Whirling
through the hall, sweeping aside and killing
the men who got in its way, it sprang to its
master's hand. And the Dagda took his
harp and swept his hand across the strings
in three great, solemn chords. The harp
answered with the magic Music of Tears.
As the wailing harmony smote upon the
air, the women of the Fomorians bowed
their heads and wept bitterly, the strong
men turned their faces aside, and the little
children sobbed.

Again the Dagda touched the strings,
and this time the magic Music of Mirth
leaped from the harp. And when they
heard that Music of Mirth, the young
warriors of the Fomorians began to laugh;
they laughed till the cups fell from their
grasp, and the spears dropped from their
hands, while the wine flowed from the
broken bowls; they laughed until their
limbs were helpless with excess of glee.

Once more the Dagda touched his harp,
but very, very softly. And now a music
stole forth as soft as dreams, and as sweet
as joy: it was the magic Music of Sleep.
When they heard that, gently, gently, the
Fomorian women bowed their heads in
slumber; the little children crept to their
mothers' laps; the old men nodded; and
the young warriors drooped in their seats
and closed their eyes: one after another
all the Fomorians sank into sleep.

When they were all deep in slumber,
the Dagda took his magic harp, and he and
his golden-haired warriors stole softly
away, and came in safety to their own
homes again.


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