The magic cup: An Irish legend

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9780070242500: The magic cup: An Irish legend

A Quest for the Holy Grail

In this novel of legendary Ireland, Andrew Greeley takes you back into a long-ago time of mists and magic, faith and love. Here you will meet Cormac MacDermot, the young king destined to lead Ireland out of paganism to Christianity; his aged father, now on the throne, and the seductive witch-queen who holds the country in thrall. Here also is the lovely slave girl Brigid. As light-footed as an Irish pixie, she will help Cormac seek the magic cup that will confirm his right to be High King of Ireland.

Over mountain and river they will journey, beset by perils. But when their enemies capture Brigid, and Cormac strives to save her, he will see that the little slave girl is a great deal more than she seems.

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About the Author:

Priest, sociologist, author and journalist, Father Andrew M. Greeley built an international assemblage of devout fans over a career spanning five decades. His books include the Bishop Blackie Ryan novels, including The Archbishop in Andalusia, the Nuala Anne McGrail novels, including Irish Tweed, and The Cardinal Virtues. He was the author of over 50 best-selling novels and more than 100 works of non-fiction, and his writing has been translated into 12 languages.

Father Greeley was a Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona and a Research Associate with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. In addition to scholarly studies and popular fiction, for many years he penned a weekly column appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers. He was also a frequent contributor to The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter, America and Commonweal, and was interviewed regularly on national radio and television. He authored hundreds of articles on sociological topics, ranging from school desegregation to elder sex to politics and the environment.

Throughout his priesthood, Father Greeley unflinchingly urged his beloved Church to become more responsive to evolving concerns of Catholics everywhere. His clear writing style, consistent themes and celebrity stature made him a leading spokesperson for generations of Catholics. He chronicled his service to the Church in two autobiographies, Confessions of a Parish Priest and Furthermore!

In 1986, Father Greeley established a $1 million Catholic Inner-City School Fund, providing scholarships and financial support to schools in the Chicago Archdiocese with a minority student body of more than 50 percent. In 1984, he contributed a $1 million endowment to establish a chair in Roman Catholic Studies at the University of Chicago. He also funded an annual lecture series, “The Church in Society,” at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois, from which he received his S.T.L. in 1954.

Father Greeley received many honors and awards, including honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland at Galway, the University of Arizona and Bard College. A Chicago native, he earned his M.A. in 1961 and his Ph.D. in 1962 from the University of Chicago.

Father Greeley was a penetrating student of popular culture, deeply engaged with the world around him, and a lifelong Chicago sports fan, cheering for the Bulls, Bears and the Cubs. Born in 1928, he died in May 2013 at the age of 85.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1 T hick gray clouds trailing their black shadows across the valley floor chased the clear sky beyond the horizon. The sun flashed an occasional quick shaft of light on the singing throngs that straggled through the valley towards the green hill in the distance. Despite the thick, pungent smell of harvest in the August air, the bishop’s wife shivered with cold. Fearfully, she handed the somber stranger a dish of curds. “The sun passes quickly,” she said, her wavering voice betraying the fear she felt for this red-haired man with the thick muscular arms. He could tear her apart with a single movement of those arms. She promised herself again that she would yield her life and honor only after a fierce fight. Perhaps the children could flee down the hill while she resisted. He was so strong her final battle could only last a few seconds. She drew the heavy black mantle around her pale blue tunic, hoping he did not see her slender shoulders tremble. The stranger took the wooden bowl with elegant courtesy. For such a powerful man he had graceful, gentle-looking hands. He ate his food with surprising delicacy. “As quickly as human life,” he said gravely, sounding almost like her husband preaching a funeral sermon. She did not know whether to sit with him on the rough, bleached bench at the entrance of their tiny hill fort or return to the house. The children were safe at the door, playing with the stranger’s huge wolfhound. She stood by the bench, still shivering beneath her mantle and watching him eat as though she were a servant in attendance at a feast. She was feeding the chickens at the wall of the hill fort when he appeared suddenly at the entrance, a tall, grim young man with huge eyebrows of flaming red, a fierce wolfhound at his side, a dangerous shillelagh gripped menacingly in his hand. He drank in the lines of her body with thirsty, piercing blue eyes. The servants were purchasing food, Enda was in Tara; she and the two little girls were completely defenseless. He had given the usual greeting, “Jesus and Mary be with this house,” respectfully enough, but his knuckles were white around the handle of the cruel club. He wished to see the good Bishop Enda. The bishop was in Tara with the Holy Abbot Colum. Might he wait for their return? It might be many hours. He had come a great distance; he would wait, if the gentle lady granted permission. Indeed, he had come many miles. His gray pilgrim’s tunic was covered by thick dust. His handsome young face was drawn tight with weariness. The bishop’s wife forgot her fear long enough to remember the duty of hospitality. She wrapped herself quickly within the protective vastness of her cloak and ran to the house to fetch him food. The wolfhound inspected the frightened chickens with interest, tried to get a response from an indifferent cow, then trotted after her to the door of the house. She could feel his vicious fangs sinking into her neck. Instead the dog offered his huge head to her daughters to be petted. The younger girl pulled his big ear. The dog barked delightedly. “Would you like a cup of mead?” she asked politely. Her heart was still beating rapidly, but confidence was flowing back into her body. “Better that it be saved for the fair. There will not be enough to drink in all of Royal Meath for Dermot MacFergus’s celebration.” There was a flash of silver in his hard blue eyes, anger in his resonant voice. His feet seemed to push against the ground, as though to shove the offending earth away. “It has been thirty years since there was a harvest festival. My husband says many are coming simply to see what such festivals are like.” His grim face turned towards her, his eyes devoured her. “One can become quite thirsty in thirty years—especially if one is Irish.” His countenance was brightened by a quick, warm smile. It vanished just as quickly. He continued to stare at her intently. “It may be many more hours before Bishop Enda and the holy abbot return. They may have to wait long before the king will see them—if he will see them at all,” she said. She was afraid again. If only he would leave. Her fingers tightened on the plain silver broach at the neck of her mantle. “I imagine that the king will see his cousin no matter what the royal concubine Finnabair may say. The O’Neills are a determined lot, especially when they are clergy.” Another hint of the smile. His smile made her want to caress the lines of weariness out of his face. “She will destroy all Ireland with her black magic before she is finished. We Christians are no match for her.” She spoke primly, struggling to keep her emotions in order. “Does the wife of a bishop believe in fairy lands and fairy princesses, Lady Ann?” He asked ironically—this time only his eyes smiling. So he knew her name. Her face was hot with embarrassment. “Of course, I do not, but there is something strange and unearthly about her beauty. It is also said that she really came seeking King Cormac.” She felt the broach bend under the pressure of her fingers. Oh, Enda, come home quickly. I am confused and frightened. He raised one of his massive eyebrows quizzically. “The monk?” “He is not a monk. He is a scholar and a pilgrim in Rome fighting for the successor of St. Peter against the Goths. He is also the strongest warrior, the finest athlete, and the most noble poet in all Ireland. The young women grow faint at the mention of his name.” “Do the poets say he grows faint at the sight of women? I have heard no one sing of his success in love.” The stranger stood up abruptly and turned to stare across from the Hill of Slaine to the Hill of Tara. He gripped his deadly club as though he were about to swing it in battle. The wolfhound turned away from the children, stopped wagging his tail, watched his master for a moment, and then, bored by a false signal, returned to the delights of having his ear pulled. She felt compelled to defend the absent High King. “No one doubts his ability to succeed in love if he should choose.” She added quickly, “May the Lord Jesus and his holy Mother protect King Cormac from the witch Finnabair, should he ever return.” Thank God he was pacing up and down, no longer consuming her with his passionate eyes. She felt a firm but friendly nudge against her thigh. She gasped in dismay. The great wolfhound nudged her again and looked up at her with big, happy eyes, his mouth open in a vast affectionate grin. Despite herself, Ann patted the immense head. She grinned back and released her tight grip on the broach, letting the cloak fall open. The stranger had turned sharply at the sound of her cry. The warm smile, the silver flash in his eyes. “You must forgive Podraig. He has a weakness for beautiful women.” Lady Ann’s face flamed once more. Childbearing and the rigors of life in Ireland had only refined her brown, slender good looks. Still, even the Irish, masters of the elegant compliment, were hesitant about flattering the wife of a cleric. She rewrapped her cloak tightly. “You call your dog after the great saint who lit yonder fire?” She did her best to cover her confusion—and her pleasure—by being shocked at the irreverence to her husband’s sainted predecessor. “Go away, Podraig,” the stranger said, shoving the great gray dog gently. “You can make friends with the lovely lady after she has grown weary listening to me.” Her shaking legs could no longer support her. She collapsed to the bench, feeling grateful for its sturdy support. Podraig ignored the command. Placing his massive head on her lap, he looked up with adoration. “My husband the bishop says that in his head King Dermot is a Christian, but in his heart he still yearns for the old religion.” She felt like she had no more strength than rainwater in a barrel. “I would think that other parts of him might also be involved.” His voice was hard. She couldn’t see his eyes, which were cast downward. “When Queen Muirne was alive he performed the old rite of inauguration—as bloody and obscene a ceremony as you will find on all the earth. Yet when Queen Ethne was here he was a devout and pious Christian who came to yonder church each Lord’s Day for the Eucharist. Now that he has a pagan concubine, he proclaims a harvest festival.” He sat down next to her on the bench. Instead of being more afraid, she was sorry for his great weariness. He was so tired. The poor man had come a long way. He would never be able to sleep unless he let the tension flow out of his body. If he was going to rape her, he was going to rape her. Rapists don’t talk about the Eucharist. Of course, she would not put her arm around him, as one would do with an exhausted child who was falling asleep. She banished the thought of holding him in her arms. “Yet he has had a hard life,” she said. “His three queens dead, his two sons, Colman Mar and Colman Bec killed in battle, King Cormac gone—perhaps never to return. Finnabair brings consolation to his old age. He has ruled long. My husband the bishop says he has ruled well as Irish kings go.” The blue eyes regarded her coldly for a moment. He was really quite young—in his middle twenties probably; the eyes made him look older. “If political skills and military victory were enough, Dermot would be a great king. The king is Ireland. When he sways back and forth Ireland sways. He keeps power that way but Ireland suffers.” “Even now,...

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