Brandubh of Hy Kinsella

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*t's Aedh, it's Aedh," cries Eva as she bursts through the front door, drawing the scents of Spring inside with her. "Mother, prepare for Aedh, I just saw him on the path."

Mor smiles faintly to herself in the kitchen, reaches for a pint glass, and replies, "Fetch Donal and Enna then. They're out back."

Mor hears the side door shut and shortly, a knock at the front door. Briskly Mor walks through their small rustic main room and opens the front door. Before her stands an elderly man with a wizened walking cane, yet he does not show the brunt of age, "Come in Aedh, the children shall be around shortly."

"Right Ma'am." He takes off his hat and seats himself in the chair by the fire, accustomed to this ritual. In only moments Mor places a pint of Guinness on the table beside him as the children come rushing in to sit about his feet.

"Since your last story, Donal and I have been practicing throwing lances," says Enna excitedly, still out of breath from running.

"And I have been riding my pony," mischievously mentions Eva, "so I'll be able to beat Donal when he races me in his boat." Aedh laughs softly and tousles her hair then holds up a finger to silence their excited voices, each bubbling forth like a new spring.

"I'm afraid my time is short today and I have a story from the far distant past. It took place shortly after St. Patrick converted the Irish, when Leinster was ruled by Brandubh of Hy Kinsella."

"Brandubh," mumbles Donal, concentrating on the name, "doesn't that mean black Bran? Was he an evil man then?"

Aedh takes his first sip of the pint at his elbow. Licking the froth from his lips he remarks, "That's good Donal, but not quite. 'Dubh' is black in Gaelic, but it probably refers to the fact that Bran's hair was very dark, black as a raven. Let me begin though." Taking one more sip, Aedh places the pint carefully down on the table, then leans toward them as if relating a secret.

"We must go back to a time when Ireland was ruled by clans and only a certain clans could rule. I'll start with births." Aedh saw the children’s attention was focused on him, a flicker of pride stirred in him before he began. "The wife of Gabhran (the king of Scotland), who was called Ingheanach, and the wife of Eochy (from a ruling clan of Leinster), named Feidhlim, were both pregnant at the same time, with their children due on the same night. The two women were shut up in the same house with only their midwives, while there was a guard placed outside by Gabhran. Both women gave birth to children; Ingheanach had a daughter, and Feidhlim twin sons. Unfortunately, Ingheanach had plenty of daughters but no sons. When she saw the twins Feidhlim had birthed, she asked for one of them."

Donal's brow knit in confusion so Aedh stopped. "I know, Donal, what you're thinking. This son could not rule Scotland for he's not truly Ingheanach's son, but wait." So amazed was Donal by Aedh's correct guess, that he said nothing, his eyes only growing wider.

Aedh took a long draught from his glass and continued. "When the household, who were on guard, perceived that the children had been born, they asked the queen what offspring she had given birth to, she said that she had given birth to a son and daughter, and that Feidhlim had given birth to a son." A smile flickered across Donal's face as he understood.

"All were delighted at this, most especially Gabhran, the king of Scotland. This son which the queen received from Feidhlim was named Aodhan and Feidhlim's second son was called Brandubh son of Eochy."

"Didn't having the babies hurt?" asked Eva in a slightly worried tone.

"Oh I suppose so," replied Aedh, "but the birth of the first son to a ruling family was a time of great celebration and a great relief to the wife who was expected to produce sons. I'd guess Ingheanach was more relieved her trick was accepted than worried by the pain of childbirth."

Plucking at the woven rug, Eva remarked, "I just hope I don't have twins like poor Feidhlim."

Aedh leaned back in his chair. "A long time after this, Gabhran, king of Scotland, died so Aodhan assumed the throne. Aodhan thirsted for power so he came over the sea to spoil and plunder Ireland, even to conquer it if he could. A large company of the men of England, Scotland, and Wales came with him and they landed first in Leinster. Now it happens that Brandubh, son of Eochy, had become king of Leinster; so Aodhan sent him envoys demanding he submit and give hostages as well as tribute to him, saying that otherwise he would waste the whole territory of Leinster."

Enna sat bolt upright and mentioned "But they are brothers!"

Aedh's eyes sparkled and he only held up a finger again, then continued. "While Brandubh was troubled at this message, his mother, Feidhlim, told him to take courage, that she would stop the attack of Aodhan. Feidhlim went to the camp of Aodhan and asked to see the king."

"When she was brought to him, she looked at Aodhan and asked 'Why have you come to waste Leinster?' "

" 'Hag,' he said, 'I am not obliged to give you any information on that matter.' "

" 'If I am a hag,' Feidhlim said, 'then your mother is a hag.' As you can imagine, Aodhan and his guards were amazed at Feidhlim's audacity, but before she could be rebuked she finished by saying, 'I have something to say to you in secret.' "

"Aodhan brought her into his tent where Feidhlim sat down and looked up at him, 'Aodhan, I am your mother...and Brandubh is therefore your brother. Send to Scotland for Ingheanach, your supposed mother, and she will confess. Until she comes, do not spoil Leinster.' "

"Aodhan could scarcely believe the tale, but did as Feidhlim directed and when his mother arrived, Ingheanach admitted that it was Brandubh's mother who had given birth to him. Aodhan was shocked, for as Donal had guessed, he was not eligible to be king of Scotland. He pledged both the women to keep the matter a close secret lest he should lose the sovereignty of Scotland, then he sent for Brandubh. The brothers embraced and formed a friendly alliance yet never did they explain why this invasion was averted. Aodhan left the country without inflicting injury on it and only years after Aodhan had died did the story begin to circulate."

Aedh exhales a long breath, then reaches for the still nearly full glass beside him. For a time there is silence, then Eva speaks, "Did the brothers go to the Faire of Carman together?"

A chortled laugh erupts from the old man as he struggles to place the drink down without spilling it. Once accomplished, he lets out a laugh that brings a smile to all the children's faces. Finally, catching his breath, he remarks, "No, they did not go the Faire together, and I doubt they raced each other as you would race Donal."

Still chuckling, Aedh stands up and says simply, "I'm late and so must go. Leave my regards with your father." With that he takes his cane and strides out the front door.


The history related in this tale comes from "History of Ireland" by Keating

 

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