THE RED BRANCH
“There were giants
in the earth in those days, the same
were mighty men which were of yore men of renown.”
The Red Branch feasted one night in their great hall at Emain Macha. So vast was the hall that a man, such as men are now, standing in the centre and shouting his loudest, would not be heard at the circumference, yet the low laughter of the King sitting at one end was clearly audible to those who sat around the Champion at the other. The sons of Dithorba made it, giants of the elder time, labouring there under the brazen shoutings of Macha and the roar of her sounding thongs. Its length was a mile and nine furlongs and a cubit. With her brooch pin she ploughed its outline upon the plain, and its breadth was not much less. Trees such as the earth nourished then upheld the massy roof beneath which feasted that heroic brood, the great-hearted children of Rury, huge offspring of the gods and giants of the dawn of time. For mighty exceedingly were these men. At the noise of them running to battle all Ireland shook, and the illimitable Lir [Footnote: Lir was the sea-god, the Oceanns of the Celt; no doubt the same as the British Lear, the wild, white-headed old king, who had such singular daughters; two, monsters of cruelty, and one, exquisitely sweet, kind, and serene, viz.: Storm, Hurricane, and Calm.] trembled in his watery halls; the roar of their brazen chariots reverberated from the solid canopy of heaven, and their war-steeds drank rivers dry.
A vast murmur rose from the assembly, for like distant thunder or the far-off murmuring of agitated waters was the continuous hum of their blended conversation and laughter, while, ever and anon, cleaving the many-tongued confusion, uprose friendly voices, clearer and stronger than battle-trumpets, when one hero challenged another to drink, wishing him victory and success, and his words rang round the hollow dome. Innumerable candles, tall as spears, illuminated the scene. The eyes of the heroes sparkled, and their faces, white and ruddy, beamed with festal mirth and mutual affection. Their yellow hair shone. Their banqueting attire, white and scarlet, glowed against the outer gloom. Their round brooches and mantle-pins of gold, or silver, or golden bronze, their drinking vessels and instruments of festivity, flashed and glittered in the light. They rejoiced in their glory and their might, and in the inviolable amity in which they were knit together, a host of comrades, a knot of heroic valour and affection which no strength or cunning, and no power, seen or unseen, could ever relax or untie.