This month sees the publication of Irish Legends: Newgrange, Tara & the Boyne Valley by acclaimed author Eithne Massey. To celebrate the launch of this beautiful hardback for children, Eithne has retold the ‘The Deer’s Cry’ – a bite-sized Boyne Valley legend – just for the O’Brien Press Blog!
The Deer’s Cry
St Patrick was a holy man. He brought Christianity to Ireland. There are many stories about him.
But did you know the story of why his most famous prayer is called ‘The Deer’s Cry’?
It happened like this.
When Patrick first came to Ireland, he landed at the mouth of the Boyne and made his way towards Tara. He wanted to see the high king, Laoghaire. He was going to ask permission to tell everyone in Ireland about the new religion. But King Laoghaire’s druids were angry. They didn’t want any other religions in their country.
‘Send an ambush to kill this trouble-maker!’ said the chief druid. ‘He must be stopped before he reaches the king. No one can harm him once he is inside Tara. We are not allowed to harm a visitor. We must hunt him down before he gets here, while he travels through the great forest.’
Patrick and his friends started their journey to Tara. They began to make their way through the great forest. It was springtime. Birds followed where Patrick walked. Foxes and rabbits peered from their burrows, and small red squirrels jumped from branch to branch, keeping him company. Patrick had the gift of bringing animals to him, and even a shy deer came and drank from his hands as he rested by a stream.
‘Why do you waste time with a creature like that, when we are on the way to see a great king?’ asked Conall, one of his followers.
‘God is in every creature,’ said Patrick mildly.
They continued on through the shadows of the wood, and suddenly Patrick stopped dead.
‘I think we might have someone waiting for us,’ he said.
‘You mean someone who means us harm?’ said Conall.
‘Are we in danger? What will we do?’ asked Benignus, the stable boy, looking around him nervously.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Patrick, and he closed his eyes and prayed.
The chief druid’s men could never understand how Patrick and his companions got past them. They lay in wait for hours, their swords drawn. The sun set. The moon rose. The moon set, and then the sun rose again. The soldiers saw nothing but the birds and beasts of the forest. A flock of doves flew into the starry sky; a herd of shy deer passed them in the moonlight.
Patrick reached Tara, and there he defeated the druids in a contest of magic. King Laoghaire allowed Patrick and his monks to travel throughout the land, spreading their good news.
And that is why, ever since then, Patrick’s prayer has been called. ‘The Deer’s Cry’.
Eithne Massey, March 2016
Irish Legends: Newgrange, Tara & the Boyne Valley is available here and in all good bookshops.