Horses were much admired by the Celts and feature throughout many of the ancient stories handed down from one generation to the next. Irish mythology tells of two foals being born at exactly the same time as the famous warrior, Cú Chulainn. When fully grown, they pulled his chariot and it was said that on the day of Cú Chulainn's final battle, one of the horses wept tears of blood.
Here at Mallon Ireland we have taken inspiration from the story of a magnificent horse named Embarr, which means "imagination". Embarr belonged to Manannan Mac Lir, the Celtic god of the sea, and could travel at great speed over land and sea, crossing between worlds. The legend has been retold for us by local historian and author, Kevin Johnston:
"IN THE DAYS THAT ARE LONG GONE, AT A TIME THAT IS LONG PAST, FIONN MAC CUMHAIL AND HIS BAND OF WARRIORS, THE FIANNA, WERE HUNTING IN THE BARE MOUNTAINS OF CONNEMARA. EACH MAN HAD BEEN CHOSEN FOR HIS FEROCITY IN BATTLE, HIS GENTLE TONGUE AS HE RECITED POETRY, AND HIS GRACE AS HE DANCED. FAMOUS AMONG THEM WAS FIONN’S SON OISIN, WHOSE NAME MEANT YOUNG DEER.
As the evening approached, the Fianna went down to the shore to prepare their evening meal. Oisin had the keenest sight among them and it was he who first saw the commotion in the waves, the noise of splashing over the waters. But he was half blinded by the sun, and could see no detail. “It is an enemy attacking,” he shouted, and the Fianna armed themselves and prepared to do battle.
But it was no army of invaders that left the water, but a beautiful woman, who needed neither reins nor saddle to control the magnificent horse that she rode. She told them that she was Niamh, the daughter of the Kingdom of Youth and she had been told of the beauty of Oisin’s voice when he recited poetry and wanted to hear it for herself. She did not tell them that, now that she had seen Oisin, she had fallen in love with him.
When it was time for Niamh to return to the Land of Youth, she asked Oisin to come with her on her horse, which could easily carry both of them across the sea. Oisin could not refuse her, did not delay her, but jumped up behind her and the horse raced down the claddagh and leapt into the waves. It seemed to be so light that it passed over the water as if the water were sand, so fast that it was like a falcon after her prey, and they soon arrived at a beautiful island, where there was no pain or sorrow, where earth and sea fed the people, and where Niamh’s parents welcomed Oisin as a son. He married Niamh and they had a family together and for a long time they were happy.
As the years passed, however, Oisin began to think of his father and his friends and felt that he had to see them once more. Niamh was reluctant, but agreed to loan her horse to Oisin on condition that he did not put his foot upon the soil of Ireland.
So it happened, and Oisin rode ashore at the claddagh at Galway and went in search of the Fianna. His excitement was great as he approached the camp at Dun Aileen, but no-one was there, and the ground was covered in oak, ash and thorn. He realised that, while he had been at his ease in the Land of Youth, many years had passed by in Ireland. His only choice was to return to Niamh.
He rode slowly now, his heart so heavy that it seemed an extra burden on the horse. Distracted though he was, he saw two men trying to lift a heavy stone. Mindful of Niamh’s warning, he did not dismount, but reached down from the saddle to help. As he took the strain, the girth broke, and Oisin fell to the ground. The two labourers were horrified to see a warrior in the pride of his strength turned instantly to dust. The fairy horse reared and galloped into the breaking waves."