The Man who flew with Eagles

The Man who flew with Eagles

Long long ago a young boy was fishing for crabs off the rocks in Wales one day when he was captured by pirates.   Two of them came up silently behind him when he was bending over his line, threw a sack over his head and carried him struggling to their boat before he knew what was happening. He was a strong, well built young boy and the pirates knew they would get a  good price for him.  They had planned on taking him far around the world to sell as a slave in a distant country but as soon as they set sail a terrible storm blew up and their ship was wrecked off the coast of Ireland.

All of the sailors drowned because they thought it was bad luck to learn to swim.     But the young boy survived. He was used to the rough seas of Wales and battled his way to land where a farmer and his wife found him washed up on the sea’s edge.  He lay, half drowned,  surrounded by the wreckage of the ship, including  pieces of gold and crates of precious cloth.  The kindly couple decided to give him a home and the valuables they found meant they could afford to treat him like a son and welcome him into their family.

The young boy was given a new name and learned to speak Irish.   At first he longed for his family, his mother and father and all his brothers and sisters and the country he had grown up in. But, as the years went by,  the memories dimmed,  He married his adoptive parents’ daughter and took over the farm and he learned to love the country he had spent most of his life in.  He and his wife had seven strong tall sons and two loving daughters and he told them all how lucky he was to have lived such a long and happy life.

But as age closed in him and he felt his death grow near the old longing for his native land returned stronger than it had been in his youth.   He knew that by now his parents would no longer be living and most likely any of his family still alive would have long forgotten him.   But there was a hole in his heart when he thought of where he had been born that nothing his loving sons and daughters could do for him would fill.

He had a mortal fear of ever taking to the sea again since he had nearly died in the storm that brought him to Ireland but his heart yearned for a glimpse of Wales.   Then he remembered stories he had heard from local people that, on certain days when the light was just right, from a particular place on Killiney Hill,  you could catch a glimpse in the far far distance of the mountain tops of Wales.

The old man still had good eyesight but his legs were weak and it took him a long time to climb to the top of the hill and look out to sea.  Day after day he climbed, often not returning till late at night at worn out and exhausted but, most of all, sadly disappointed.  His sons and daughters grew increasingly worried about him. ‘What can we do to help Father?’ they begged him.  They hated to see the deep sadness in his eyes each evening when he returned home.

‘Life me up on your shoulders’, the old man begged.   ‘Life me high into the sky so that I might be able to see further.’   So they did.   Four of them went up the hill with their father the next morning and lifted their father as high as they could on their shoulderss as he peered out to sea.   ‘Higher’, their father begged them,  ‘lLift me higher,  I see nothing but sea.’   They strained their great muscles and held him as high as they could but still he was disappointed and they puzzled what they could do.

The youngest son had an idea and set off to find the wise one, the Ceann Ciallmhar, to seek his advice.  He searched high and low until eventually he caught a trace of smoke on the air and found the white bearded old man sitting back on his great stone chair overlooking the sea.  The young son told him the story and the wise one stroked his beard, smoked his pipe and told him what to do.

That night the seven sons went back and laid a thick platform of stone on the side of the hill.  The next morning they stood on it when they raised their father up on their shoulders and he was higher than he had been the day before.  Yet still he saw nothing but the sea stretching out to the edge of nowhere. That night they laid another layer on the top of the first, slight smaller so they could step up.   Next morning they again raised their father higher than before but still he had no success.

Each night they added a layer until they had built a structure that grew smaller with each layer, a step higher until it reached a small square point and they could go no further.   The next morning as dawn was breaking they helped their father to the top and he stood there alone straining his eyes out to sea.   For an age he stared, raising himself up onto his toes and his gaze narrowed in concentration.  The sun came out from behind a cloud,  lighting up something in the distance.  Excitement rose in his breast, but he could not be sure of what he was seeing.  Were those shapes in the distance, at the edge of sky and sea, just clouds or the far distant mountains of Wales?  If only he could go higher, just a little higher so he could be sure. His heart was breaking with a longing to see his home, when he heard a cry of alarm  from his sons standing below him.  The pointed to the sky as two great eagles swooped down and each took one of the old man’s outstretched arms in their great talons.  Up into the air they raised him, high high above the stone step pyramid and up above Killiney Hill until the old man  could see far beyond the horizon to the sunlit mountain of Wales.   The eagles held him there suspended for only a few seconds as he feasted his eyes on the sight he had so longed to see.  Then they lowered him gently back to earth and into the sorrowful embrace of his sons as they gathered up his dead body.

The sons bore their father home to lay him to rest and all the neighbours commented on the peaceful expression on his face.   As a memorial to the father, the sons kept the step pyramid on Killiney Hill in good condition and it survives to this very day.   It is said that at certain times,  if you stand on the top step and look hard you too can see Wales at the edge of the sea and sky and this can be done even without the help of eagles.