Phase 1 Comprehension 5

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( Adapted from ‘The Birth of Bran’ in Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens)


      1. There are people who do not like dogs a bit – they are usually women – but in this story there is a man who did not like dogs. In fact, he hated them. When he saw one he used to go black in the face and he threw rocks at it until it got out of sight. But the Power that protects all creatures had pit a squint into this man’s eye, so that he always threw crooked.

      2. This man’s name was Fergus Fionnliath, and his stronghold was near the harbour of Galway, in Ireland. Whenever a dog barked he would leap out of his seat, and he would throw everything that he owned out of the window in the direction of the bark. He gave prizes to servants who disliked dogs, and when he heard that a man had drowned a litter of pups he used to visit that person to try to marry his daughter.

      3. Now Fionn, the son of Uail, was the reverse of Fergus Fionnliath in this matter, for he delighted in dogs and he knew everything about them, from the setting of the first little white teeth to the rocking of the last long yellow one. He knew the affections of a dog, how a dog may be trained to be obedient, he knew their hopes and the things that worried them. He understood these things because he loved dogs and it is by love that we understand things.

      4. Among the three hundred dogs which Fionn owned were two to whom he gave special tenderness and were his daily and nightly companions. These two were Bran and Sceolan, but if a person were to guess for twenty years he or she would not find out why Fionn loved these two dogs and why he would never be separated from them.

      5. Fionn’s mother, Muirne, went to Leinster to visit her son and she brought her young sister Tuiren with her. Fionn’s mother and aunt were well treated among his people. First, because they were so closely related to Fionn and, second, because they were beautiful and noble women. No words can describe how delightful Muirne was and as to Tuiren, her face was as fresh as a spring morning, her voice more cheerful than the cuckoo calling from the branch and her body swayed like a reed and flowed like a river, so that each young bachelor thought she would surely flow to him. They gazed on Tuiren so gently that she may have imagined that she was being beamed on by the mild eyes of the dawn.

      6. It was to a chieftain, Iollan, that she gave her love and this chief asked for her hand in marriage. Now, Fionn did not dislike this man but, either because he did not know him well or else he knew him too well, he agreed to the marriage on one condition: that Iollan was to return her if ever she was unhappy. Iollan agreed and so the marriage took place.

      7. For a while, Iollan and Tuiren lived together very happily – but Iollan had a past which was soon to catch up with him in the cruellest of ways. He had been in love with a fairy lady called Uct and they had been sweethearts for many years, even though he was a mortal. Whenever she had heard him calling, she would set aside her spinning and fly to Iollan. They went hand in hand in the country to smell the apple-blossom and honey or they stood clasped together gazing at each other. Then Iollan would return to his world and she to hers.

      8. However, for some time Iollan did not visit and Uct was persuaded that he had forgotten her. When news was brought to her that he had married Tuiren her heart ceased beating for a moment and she closed her eyes in despair. Then came such a rage of jealousy that she could not control it. She pondered revenge until at last she had a plan. She knew the arts of magic and shape-changing very well and so visited her former lover and his wife in another guise. As Tuiren walked with her, Uct drew a hazel rod from beneath her cloak and struck it on Tuiren’s shoulder, whose figure trembled and quivered and then whirled inwards and downwards until she changed into the appearance of a dog.

      9. It was sad to see the beautiful, slender dog standing shivering and astonished and sad to see the lovely eyes that looked out pitifully in terror. But Uct did not feel sad. She clasped a chain around the hound’s neck and set out for Fergus Fionnliath, reputed to be the unfriendliest man in the world to a dog. Uct did not want a good home for this dog, she wanted the worst home in the world for her in revenge for the rage and jealousy she felt towards Tuiren. But Uct had made a mistake. She told Fergus that Fionn had sent him this special dog to look after. In fear of offending the mighty Fionn, Fergus reluctantly took the dog in and even more reluctantly he had to cuddle her to keep her from shivering and then, more reluctantly still, he kissed her to calm her nerves. Within a week, this so-called dog-hater could not bear her to be out his sight for even a moment.

      10. Eventually, Fionn discovered that Tuiren was no longer living with her husband and demanded Iollan’s head. Guessing that Uct was behind the catastrophe, Iollan returned to her on condition that she restored Tuiren to her true self. This was done but by then, the dog had given birth to two puppies and no enchantment could change their dog-selves They were called Bran and Sceolan and were sent to Fionn, who loved them forever as loyal and affectionate dogs but also as his own cousins.