ONE DAY, the youths of the Royal Court were at play, competing among themselves in tests of strength and skill. Máel Dúin was winning every contest, and at last one of his companions, consumed with envy, burst out in anger and frustration:
“To think that you, whose clan and kin no one knows, whose father and mother no one knows, can beat us in every game of skill and strength, on land or on water, on horseback or on the chess board! What shame for us, who are born to royalty!”
And the others who were there agreed, and laughed at Máel Dúin.
On hearing this, Máel Dúin ceased his playing, and stood in silence, deep in thought, for until then, he had believed that he was the son of the King and Queen, and that their three sons were his brothers.
Confused and surprised, he went to the Queen.
“Who are my mother and father? I will neither eat nor drink until you tell me the truth.”
“Why are you asking me that?” said the Queen. “Pay no heed to the jealous nonsense of your companions. I am your mother, for no mother ever loved her son more than I love you.”
“This is true, and I do not doubt your love,” replied Mael Duin. “But I must know who my parents are. So please, tell me who they are.”
And as Máel Dúin insisted on knowing the truth, the Queen at last took him to meet his own mother, the prioress, who at first refused his request.
“My dear son,” she said, “it will make you no happier to know who he was, nor will it in any way profit you. He has been dead for many years.”
“Be that as it may,” replied the youth, “but it is better for me that I know.”
And so the prioress relented, and told her son: “Your father was Ailill Ocar Agha, chief of the Eoganacht of Ninuss.”
Soon afterwards, Máel Dúin travelled with his three foster-brothers to Ninuss, where his father’s people lived, for they were his own blood. He was greeted warmly and made welcome, and so much honour was shown to the four visitors that soon they all became happy and content, and Máel Dúin forgot all the abasement and trouble he had undergone. He heard many stories and memories of his father.
One day, it happened that a number of young men were in a churchyard, amusing themselves. The game was to compete in throwing a stone clear over the charred roof of the church, for it had been burned many years ago, and Máel Dúin was there contending among the others.
Máel Dúin was about to cast his stone, and to steady himself, he had placed his foot on a scorched flagstone.
A rude fellow named Briccne, a monk attached to the church, was close by, and he said to Máel Dúin:
“It would be better for you to avenge the man who was burned to death here, than to be amusing yourself by throwing a stone over his bare, burnt bones!”
“Who was he?” inquired Máel Dúin.
“Why, this is the Dooclone church,” replied the monk, and the one who was slain here was your own father. It was Allil Ocar Agha who died on the rock on which you rest your foot.”
“Who slew him?” asked Máel Dúin.
“Reavers from Leix attacked us. They slew our chief and burned this very church over his body,” replied Briccne. “And they are still sailing in the same fleet.”
On hearing this, Máel Dúin dropped the stone that he held in his hand. He fastened his cloak around him, and buckled on his shield.
And he left the gathering at Dooclone church, and began to ask everyone he met whether they knew the whereabouts of the reavers’ ships. For a long time, he could find no news of them; but finally he met some people who knew where the fleet lay. They told him that the reavers’ home was a great distance away — and that to reach it would require a long and dangerous sea voyage.