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Caoihmins Play

[The stage is dark. A young woman, wearing a colorful dress and carrying a candle, steps to the middle of the stage and bows. She begins to speak.]

NARRATOR: In days long ago, the great hero Fin M'Coul lived on the top of the hill Knockmany. His reputation spread throughout the land, for no man could best him in a fight. The giant Cucullin heard of Fin's prowess, and decided one day to test it himself. Fin caught word of this, and he felt great fear of the giant, so he ran home to seek the council of his wife Oonagh.

[The NARRATOR hands the candle to an older woman, wearing a simple peasant dress. OONAGH walks around the stage, using the candle to light lanterns around the set. FIN (Caoimhin) sits at a dining table, and OONAGH steps over to a kitchen counter and begins chopping vegetables.]

FIN: It's this Cucullin that's troubling me. When the fellow gets angry, and begins to stamp, he'll shake you a whole townland; and it's well known that he can stop a thunderbolt, for he always carries one about him in the shape of a pancake, to show to anyone that might misdoubt it.

[FIN claps his thumb in his mouth]

OONAGH [sweetly]: Fin, darling, I hope you don't bite your thumb at me, dear?

FIN: Nay, woman, as you well know: It's my thumb where my prophecy lies. I'm seeing where Cucullin is, and where he goes.

OONAGH: Yes, jewel; but take care and don't draw blood.

FIN: He's coming. I see him below Dungannon, and how to manage I don't know. If I run away, I am disgraced; and I know that sooner or later I must meet him, for my thumb tells me so.

OONAGH: When will he be here?

FIN: Tomorrow, about two o'clock. [He groans.]

OONAGH: Well, my bully, don't be cast down. Depend on me, and maybe I'll bring you better out of this scrape than ever you could bring yourself, by your rule o' thumb.

NARRATOR: [Appears at the edge of the stage, next to a cradle.] This quieted Fin's heart very much, for he knew that Oonagh was hand and glove with the fairies; and, indeed, to tell the truth, she was supposed to be a fairy herself. If she was, however, she must have been a kind-hearted one, for, by all accounts, she never did anything but good in the neighborhood. Oonagh then drew the nine woolen threads of different colors, which she always did to find the best way of succeeding in anything of importance she went about.

[OONAGH ties nine colorful ribbons into three braided rings, then puts one around her right arm, hangs one from a necklace to cover her heart, and puts the third around her right ankle. She walks around the stage, putting out all of the lanterns, and hands the candle to the NARRATOR, who stands at the front of the darkened stage.]

NARRATOR: Having everything now prepared, she sent round to the neighbors and borrowed one-and-twenty iron griddles, which she took and kneaded into the hearts of one-and-twenty cakes of bread, and these she baked on the fire in the usual way, setting them aside in the cupboard according as they were done; and then did she cook two cakes with no griddle inside. She put down a large pot of new milk, which she made into curds and whey, and gave Fin due instructions how to use the curds when Cucullin should come. Having done all this, she sat down quite contented, waiting for his arrival on the next day about two o'clock, that being the hour at which he was expected -- for Fin knew as much by the sucking of his thumb. Now, this was a curious property that Fin's thumb had; but, notwithstanding all the wisdom and logic he used to suck out of it, it could never have stood to him here were it not for the wit of his wife. In this very thing, moreover, he was very much resembled by his great foe, Cucullin; for it was well known that the huge strength he possessed all lay in the middle finger of his right hand, and that, if he happened by any mischance to lose it, he was no more, notwithstanding his bulk, then a common man.

[A light appears above the stage, so you can see once again the inside of the house, with dining table, two chairs, kitchen counter, and cradle, and a door to the right.]

OONAGH: [Looks out the door.] Ho, Fin, here comes the giant. [She places a blanket over the cradle in the corner.] Fin, lie here. You must pass for your own child, so lie there snug, and say nothing, but be guided by me.

FIN: Ah, what man am I, to hide in the cradle so?

OONAGH: Quiet, Fin, and lie there. Leave it to me.

[FIN gets into the cradle and covers himself with the blankets.]

[A man wearing furs knocks on the door.]

CUCULLIN: Gods save all here! Is this where the great Fin M'Coul lives?

OONAGH: Indeed it is, honest man. Gods watch you kindly -- won't you be sitting?

CUCULLIN: [Enters and sits down.] Thank you, ma'am. You're Mrs. M'Coul, I suppose?

OONAGH: I am, and I have no reason, I hope, to be ashamed of my husband.

CUCULLIN: No, he has the name of being the strongest and bravest man in Maire, but for all that, there's a man not far from you that's very desirous of taking a shake with him. Is he at home?

OONAGH: Why, then, no, and if ever a man left his house in a fury, he did. It appears that some one told him of a big basthoon of a giant called Cucullin being down at the Causeway to look for him, and so he set out there to try if he could catch him. Troth, I hope, for the poor giant's sake, he won't meet with him, for if he does, Fin will make paste of him at once.

CUCULLIN: Well, I am Cucullin, and I have been seeking him these twelve months, but he always kept clear of me; and I will never rest night or day until I lay my hands on him.

OONAGH: [Snorts contemptously.] Did you ever see Fin?

CUCULLIN: How could I? He always took care to keep his distance.

OONAGH: I thought so. I judged as much; and you take my advice, you poor-looking creature, you'll pray night and day that you may never see him, for I tell you it will be a black day for you when you do. But, in the meantime, you perceive that the wind's on the door, and as Fin himself is from home, maybe you'd be civil enough to turn the house, for it's always what Fin does when he's here.

CUCULLIN: [Looks surprised briefly, then stands and cracks the middle finger of his right hand three times. He goes outside, and the insides of the house shake and blur horizontally, giving the impression that the house is turning.]

FIN: [Yelps as the house turns.]

OONAGH: Quiet, you.

[CUCULLIN returns.]

OONAGH: Arrah, then, as you are so civil, maybe you'd do another obliging turn for us, as Fin's not here to do it himself. You see, after this long stretch of dry weather we've had, we feel very badly off for want of water. Now, Fin says there's a fine spring well somewhere under the rocks behind the hill here below, and it was his intention to pull them asunder; but having heard of you, he left the place in such a fury, that he never thought of it. Now, if you try to find it, troth I'd feel it a kindness.

[OONAGH leads CUCULLIN out the door.]

NARRATOR: [Appears at side of stage, near cradle.] OONAGH then brought CUCULLIN down to see the place, which was all one solid rock; and, after looking at it for some time, he cracked his right middle finger nine times, and, stooping down, tore a cleft about four hundred feet deep, and a quarter of a mile in length, which has since been christened by the name of Lumford's Glen. This feat nearly threw Oonagh herself off her guard; but what won't a woman's sagacity and presence of mind accomplish?

OONAGH: [From offstage] You'll now come in, and eat a bit of such humble fare as we can give you. Fin, even although he and you are enemies, would scorn not to treat you kindly in his own house; and, indeed, if I didn't do it even in his absence, he would not be pleased with me.

[OONAGH and CUCULLIN enter. CUCULLIN sits, and OONAGH places six of the cakes in front of him, together with a side of boiled bacon, and a stack of cabbages.]

CUCULLIN: [Puts one of the cakes into his mouth and takes a big bite, then roars.] Blood and fury! How is this? Here are two of my teeth out! What kind of bread is this you gave me?

OONAGH: [Coolly.] What's the matter?

CUCULLIN: [Shouting.] Matter! Why, here are the two best teeth in my head gone.

OONAGH: Why, that's Fin's bread -- the only bread he ever eats when at home; but, indeed, I forgot to tell you that nobody can eat it but himself, and that child in the cradle there. I thought, however, that as you were reported to be rather a stout little fellow of your size, you might be able to manage it, and I did not wish to affront a man that thinks himself able to fight Fin. Here's another cake -- maybe it's not so hard as that.

CUCULLIN: [Eyeing the cake suspiciously, then hungrily, and finally taking a big bite from it.] Thunder and giblets! Take your bread out of this, or I will not have a tooth in my head; here's another pair of them gone!

OONAGH: Well, honest man, if you're not able to eat the bread, say so quietly, and don't be wakening the child in the cradle there. There, now, he's awake upon me.

FIN: [Bellows.] Mother, I'm hungry -- get me something to eat!

OONAGH: [Goes back to the counter, takes one of the cakes with no griddle in it and hands it to FIN, who promptly eats it.]

CUCULLIN: [Shocked.] I'd like to take a glimpse at the lad in the cradle, for I can tell you that the infant who can manage that nutriment is no joke to look at, or to feed of a scarce summer.

OONAGH: With all the veins of my heart. Get up, acushla, and show this decent little man something that won't be unworthy of your father, Fin M'Coul.

FIN: [Dressed as an infant, gets up from the cradle, and eyes Cucullin suspiciously.] Are you strong?

CUCULLIN: Thunder an' ounds! What a voice in so small a chap!

FIN: Are you strong? Are you able to squeeze water out of that white stone? [Puts a white stone into Cucullins hand.]

[CUCULLIN squeezes the stone as hard as he can, but to no effect.]

FIN: [With great contempt.] Ah, you're a poor creature! You a giant! Give me the stone here, and when I'll show what Fin's little son can do; you may then judge of what my daddy himself is. [Takes the stone, slyly exchanges the curds, and squeezes the curds until the whey drips out of his hand.] I'll now go in to my cradle; for I scorn to lose my time with anyone that's not able to eat my daddy's bread, or squeeze water out of a stone. Bedad, you had better be off out of this before he comes back; for if he catches you, it's in flummery he'd have you in two minutes. [Returns to the cradle and covers himself in blankets.]

CUCULLIN: [Looking afraid.] I admit that I'm not a match for old Fin, strong as I am; tell him I will avoid him as I would the plague, and that I will make myself scarce in this part of the country while I live.

OONAGH: It's well for you that he doesn't happen to be here, for it's nothing but hawk's meat he'd make of you.

CUCULLIN: I know that, divil a thing else he'd make of me; but before I go, will you let me feel what kind of teeth they are that can eat griddle-bread like that?

OONAGH: With all pleasure in life, only, as they're far back in his head, you must put your finger a good way in.

CUCULLIN: [Puts out his right middle finger, sticks it deep into FIN's mouth, probes around for a moment, then screams as FIN bites the finger off. He waves his hand around, dripping blood.] Cor! He bit my finger clean off, my good middle finger! [Groans, then falls to the floor.]

NARRATOR: And thus did FIN, through the wit and invention of OONAGH, his wife, succeed in overcoming his enemy by stratagem, which he never could have done by force. And thus also is it proved that the women, if we bring you into many an unpleasant scrape, will succeed in getting you out of others worse.

All of the cast step to the front of the stage, link arms, and bow.


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