Eoghan MacGabhar the Son of the Goat.


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The story of Eoghan MacGabhar the Son of the Goat from our Helen Drever archive.

Part I. 

How Eogen and Flora came to Ardlair

Loch Maree, in Wester Ross, is one of Scotland's most beautiful lochs. Great mountains tower around it and guard its shining waters and its lovely green islands. What wonder that tales of brave romance linger yet in the memories of the old folk who live by its shores!

I don't suppose you have ever heard of Eoghan MacGabhar, which means Son of the Goat? It is an old wife's tale - but it rings true - so listen! –

Nearly six hundred years ago there lived at Ardlair, near the west end of Loch Maree, an old woman named Oighrig, with her son, Kenneth. Theirs was a simple life. Most of their food was raised on their own little bit of ground, and the milk with which they washed it down came from their pet goat, Earba, who usually gave them an abundant supply. But one spring, Earba puzzled her owners by giving very little milk, and they began to think that someone else must be milking her. So said Oighrig to her son - "Kenneth, lad, tomorrow you will follow Earba, and see, if you can, who is stealing her milk. If the thieves are human, we must do something to stop them. But if it is the fairies, Kenneth, that is a bad job indeed, for we can do nothing to them at all, at all!"

Early next morning Kenneth set out after Earba, and lucky it was for him that he was nimble of foot! For Earba made straight for a dark cave high up on the face of a steep rock. And as Kenneth carefully picked his steps up the rock he saw, to his amazement, a little boy dart out of the cave above and begin to fondle the goat. His first thought was “Now isn't my mother the wise woman, for indeed that is a fairy boy, and sure he has bewitched Earba!" But when a beautiful girl came out of the cave and sat down to milk the goat Kenneth said to himself, "No, it is not fairies at all: for indeed no fairy was ever so beautiful as that!" Reaching the rocky ledge he leapt up and faced the startled milker. “Fear not, lady," he said, "I am not here to harm you - indeed, who would expect to find a living being in such a place? I was only wanting to see where our goat, Earba - truant that she is! - has been spending her time.

 

"Well, and glad enough were we to find such a place," said the girl, "for it is hiding we are, and but for your kindly goat we would have starved." Then - hesitating - she said- "I cannot tell you all of our story, but my name is Flora, and this is Eoghan MaoGabhar. Together we have fled for our lives!"

"Tell me no more, lady, but follow me," said Kenneth. "I can show you an easy way down the cliff, and you shall come to our cottage where my mother will be kind to you." And when the young fugitives were welcomed as though they belonged to that humble home they could scarcely believe in their good fortune. They had brought two treasures with them from the cave. One was a beautiful robe of state, made of scarlet velvet, bound and fringed with pure gold. The other was a sword on whose hilt of ivory and gold strange characters were engraved. With true Highland courtesy mother and son asked no questions of their visitors, although - as was natural - they often wondered who they might be. And Oighrig, seeing how Kenneth's eyes followed Flora everywhere, said - "Kenneth, lad, we must not forget that these guests of ours are not like us. Indeed it is sure I am that they are of kingly blood." But Oighrig’s caution came too late, for Kenneth was already deeply in love with Flora. One day it chanced that the great Lord of Kintail from the Castle of Eilan Donan came hunting along Maree side; and, seeing Flora and the boy at the cottage door, he said to Oighrig - "Tell me, mother, who are your visitors?"

Before Oighrig could answer Kenneth answered hastily — "That is Flora, my wife, and the boy is her kinsman. He is called Eoghan MacGabhar, the Son of the Goat."

At that name, the Lord of Kintail started, for he remembered an old Clan saying that with the son of a goat ill fortune would come to Kintail. But he heeded it not, for he was bewitched with Flora's beauty. And he answered Kenneth scornfully—

"She is no wife of yours! Have I not eyes to see that she is far above you?"

So poor Kenneth's story had served no purpose! Flora eyed the newcomer coldly for she liked not his bold looks, but again and again he returned to Ardlair to see her. And one day he told the unhappy girl that unless she would go with him to his Castle of Eilan Donan he would have Oighrig and Kenneth turned out of their little home, and their bit of ground laid waste.

That night Flora tossed, sleepless, in her bed. "Oh!" she thought, miserably, "How can I bring misfortune on those who have been so kind to me? No! Sooner than that I shall go away; and, even if I perish among the mountains I shall at least save my friends. I know they will be good to Eoghan." And with the thought, she rose quietly and stole softly to the door.

But that night Kenneth slept lightly, and, hearing a gentle movement at the door, he rose from his couch of bracken just in time to keep Flora from stealing out into the dark night. The unusual sounds drew Oighrig also from her bed, and she took the now weeping Flora in her arms, and tried to comfort her. When Flora had told her tale and begged to be allowed to go away Kenneth said, "Flora, I love you Yes, even although I know that you are far above me! So let me serve you now by going with you. My mother and Eoghan will come too. What say you?" Then Flora, holding out her hands to him, said simply;

“Kenneth! You see it is because I love you that I feel I ought to leave you!" Then indeed Oighrig’s heart was glad for her son! They all agreed that it would be best to leave the place, so next night saw the little household under cover of darkness stealing towards Poolewe with the faithful goat in attendance. They carried with them, of course, the velvet robe and the sword of state. But they were not to escape the Lord of Kintail, for, all unknown to them, their movements had been carefully watched. When they reached Poolewe they saw a vessel lying, and a boat being rowed ashore from her. Hand in hand Kenneth and Flora went down to meet the boat, meaning to ask a passage to the islands, or anywhere out of reach of the Lord of Kintail. But what was their dismay, when the boat came close, to see from the tartan of the rowers that they were Eilan Donan men! Kenneth and Flora fled like deer, but the ground was rough for Flora, and they were overtaken and carried off, leaving Oighrig and Eoghan horror-stricken on the shore.

When the vessel reached Eilan Donan Kenneth and Flora were separated. He was put among the Castle retainers; and Flora was taken to the Lord of the Castle, who said to her triumphantly -"See you, Flora, jewel of my heart, was I not telling you that you would be here yet! Now, look at me and tell me, is it possible to compare that herd fellow, that clod, with me?" But Flora stood with eyes turned away from him. "Well," said the Lord of Kintail, "if you will not look at me, look around you, and see what I have to offer you. This great Castle, firm on its proud rock! Loch Duich - as lovely in its way as Loch Maree - and the beautiful country that lies around it! The mountains of Kintail that they call the Five Sisters! All is mine, and all may be yours if you will but marry me." At that Flora raised her head proudly and, looking him in the eyes, she said -"My Lord of Kintail and Eilan Donan, you may own the length and breadth of Scotland for all I care! But me you will never own, for I belong to Kenneth!".

The great lord was persuasive, passionate, tender - but nothing would move Flora, and "It is Kenneth I love!" was her only reply to his pleading. His wooing, however, was rudely interrupted when news came to Eilan Donan that the Earl of Ross was raiding Kinlochewe, and Kintail bristled with warlike preparations! Now was Kenneth's chance to make good, and in the fierce fighting against the men of Ross his claymore flashed like the lightning, dealing destruction with every flash. And many was the stout blow he struck for Kintail, for he was indeed a born fighter. After the campaign was over the Lord of Kintail (whose love had had time to cool) showed his gratitude to Kenneth by letting him marry Flora, and by giving him an important post in his service. And only the uncertainty of what had happened to Oighrig and Eoghan kept Kenneth and Flora from being the very happiest couple in all the Highlands!

 

"Eoghan MacGabhar, the son of the Goat." 

Part 11.

How Eagon got back his kingdom.

When Kenneth and Flora were taken captive by the men of Eilan Donan and put aboard the vessel for Kintail, Oighrig, Kenneth's mother and Eoghan, Flora's young charge, were left on the beach at Poolewe. Their only possessions were the sword of state and the velvet mantle that had been brought from the cave where Kenneth found them, and, of course, the faithful goat, Earba.

While they were wondering at they should do, a vessel came into the bay, and they begged the Captain to take them aboard and let them go after Flora and Kenneth to Eilan Donan. The Captain agreed, and in high hopes they set sail. But, as it turned out, he had no intention of going to Kintail, and he landed the old woman and the boy and Earba in the country of a great chief named Mic Ailean Mor.

When they landed the Chief happened to be hunting near the shore and he went down to see who the new arrivals might be. Having questioned them and having seen the mantle and the sword, he guessed that Eoghan must be of noble descent. So he took him to his castle and brought him up with his own sons as a warrior and a gentleman. He was very kind to Oighrig too. He gave her a cosy little hut beside the castle, and a cow for her own use, besides providing for the goat, Earba. And Eoghan continually went to see the good old woman there. He grew up to be a strong, brave youth whom no-one could match as a fighter.

When Eoghan was eighteen orders came from the King of Scotland that war was to be made against a great island kingdom, whose ruler was the queen-widow of a famous Norse King named Olaf Mor. The royal summons was sent to Kintail also and the great lord there combined his forces with those of Mic Ailean Mor - amounting to 20,000 men between them. Eoghan, all eagerness to fight, was put in charge of a thousand men. While they were getting ready a slim Highlander offered his services as Eoghan's page. But Eoghan looked at him with a smile, saying, "What use could you be to me in battle? You are not tall enough and you are besides so slender, almost like a woman." - and the page flushed scarlet. But every day he was there and soon he proved so handy that Eoghan said at last, with a laugh, "Well, if you are determined on coming with me, you can look after the baggage, and save a man." And the page seemed content with anything, so that he might follow Eoghan. Soon they went into action, and at first all went well with the forces of Kintail and Mic Ailean Mor. They got possession of the island of Mull, which they plundered and burnt. Then they put to sea in their vast fleet of vessels, which they anchored in a sea loch.

 

Some of the troops went on shore to invade and plunder the mainland, but the Chiefs and their principal followers stayed for the night on board the vessels. But when morning broke, lo and behold! they found that the queen's fleet had come into the loch in the darkness of night and had completely surrounded them. Mic Ailean Mor, with two sons and Eoghan MacGabhar, was taken captive. So also was the Lord of Kintail, with many of his relations and followers, and they were all Marched before the gallant - but apparently merciless - queen, who in a passionate speech said - "Look you, slaves! - for you are slaves - of a tyrant who persecutes, and thinks to destroy the royal race to which I belong! Look to yourselves, I say! For now vengeance is mine, and this is my decree!"

 

And she went on to order that next morning -at 9 o'clock all the prisoners were to be brought out, seven by seven, beginning with the youngest, and hanged before her eyes! At this terrible sentence, a tense silence was broken by a sudden scream. It came from the page of Eoghan MacGabhar. And the queen, gazing with scorn at his pale face and shaking hands, cried - "Oh coward heart: Do they call you, a man!"

Morning came, and seven youths, the youngest of the warriors were led out to the place of execution. At their head, and bearing himself as proudly as if he were going to his coronation instead of his execution, was Eoghan MacGabhar; and he wore the scarlet velvet mantle fringed with gold, and carried the richly ornamented sword with which his page had insisted on investing him.

The queen's eye was caught by the scarlet gleam. She looked — and looked again, started and half rose, and then, screaming "MAc Olaf Mor Mac Olaf Mor!" (which means 'son of Olaf the Great') she fell to the ground in a dead faint. But what was this! Without a glance at the fallen queen, her chiefs and kinsmen were rushing forward, and kneeling down round Eoghan MacGabhar!

For they too had recognised him, and he was none other than the son of the Queen and Olaf the Great! They raised him on their shoulders and set him on the very throne from which his mother had condemned him to die! When the queen recovered she demanded to know how this wonderful thing had come about, and how her son, who had disappeared in his childhood, came there. The page now came forward, and kneeling at the queen's feet she pulled off her cap — when down fell a mass of golden hair. It was Flora, the queen's young sister, who, faithful to her charge, and unknown to Kenneth, had followed Eoghan MacGabhar into battle.

"Listen,” she said to her deeply interested audience. "When Ewen's father died a dark plot was made to kill the boy. You, sister, were so overcome with grief at the death of Olaf Mor that I spared you hearing it. But, day and night, I never left Eoghan. One night the wife of one of the plotters (to whose child I had been kind) came and told me that if I would save the boy's life I should take him away at once. So, leaving a message for you, sister, we fled that night."

 

 "That message," said the Queen, I never received. I thought that you and my son had been murdered, and I lived but for vengeance!"

 

Then Flora told of their flight, and of its end in the cave at Ardlair; of how the goat, Earba, led Kenneth to them, of the kindness they had received in that humble cottage - and of all the adventures which followed.

 

The Queen joyfully gave up her place to her son, whose first act as King was to release all those who had been condemned to die.

 

A firm alliance was formed between the Clans of Kintail and Mic Ailean Mor on the one side and the descendants of Olaf the Great on the other. Kenneth and Flora went to live at Eoghan's Castle, where, as long as she lived, Oighrig also was an honoured guest. And it is said that the descendants of Earba, the goat, are to be seen in the West to this day! Eoghan married a daughter of the house of Kintail, and helped by his friendship to increase the power and standing of that great Clan.

Is this a true story? You ask. All I can tell you is that the cave of the King's son is still to be seen at Ardlair, and that it is marked on the maps of the district.

 

And in the West, they still have the old saying, which came true in those days of long ago:—

“The Son of the Goat shall triumphantly bear

The mountain on flame and the horns of the deer.

From Forest of Loyne to the hill of Ben Croshen

From mountain to vale and from ocean to ocean."