The Boar of Ben Gulbain

In days long gone, at a time that is long past, the steward of Aengus the greatest magician in Ireland fathered a child by the wife of Donn a member of the Fianna. Donn was away on the battle field with Fionn Mac Cumhail. He had arranged for Aengus to foster his son Diarmuid.  On his return Donn was enraged that his wife had a child by another man, and he killed the child.  But the steward cast a spell that turned the dead boy into a great boar.  He prophesied that the half-brothers would kill each other. To frustrate the prophecy, Aengus placed a binding vow, a geis, on Diarmuid never to hunt wild boar.

Years later Fionn and the Fianna came to Tara, to the hall of Cormac Mac Airt, the High King of Ireland, to claim his bride Grainne, Cormac’s beautiful daughter. Grainne, had no eyes for Fionn, who was by now an old man, but was smitten by the handsome Diarmuid.  Against his judgement she persuaded him to run away with her.  With the help of Aengus, they evaded Fionn’s wrath, married and had a family.

But this was not the end of the story. Grainne invited Fionn to a feast, hoping to renew their friendship. One night during their stay, Diarmuid was wakened by the belling of a hound. Grainne begged him not to heed it, but he armed himself, summoned his favourite hound and climbed Ben Gulbain. He met with Fionn, who told him of how he was tracking a great boar that had killed fifty of his men. Suddenly the boar appeared driving back the Fianna with its fierceness. Fionn warned Diarmuid to leave and reminded him of the geis, the binding vow. Diarmuid refused, ready to meet his fate. As Diarmuid was left alone to face the boar, it was hard to say who was the hunter and who was the prey. The battle roared for hours, then there was silence. Fionn and Grainne, together with their followers climbed back up the mountain. They found warrior and boar so entwined in their killing and their dying that they could not be separated. The men built a great pyre and the spirits of the two dead warriors were released together up into pathways of the stars. They all grieved, but Donn grieved most of all, for he knew that his jealousy had killed his son. 

The Boar of Ben Gulbain
by David Rooney. 

A visual interpretation of the story available to purchase as a screen print.