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Irish Myths and Legends

An Gobán Saor - Craftsman to the Tuatha Dé Danann

An Gobán Saor
The Gobán Saor (An Gobán Saor) was a famous craftsman of Irish legend, being a rather more homely version of the smith god Giobhnu. He was as famous for his quick witted responses as he was for his great skill. He had no airs or graces about himself, always creating objects of beauty and craftsmanship, no matter how little the person was able to pay him for the work, and he hated any sign of meanness.

Many of the stories of An Gobán Saor are about outwitting people who try to cheat him out of a fair payment. As a craftsman he had such skill, finesse, deftness and accuracy that he could hammer a nail into a high beam by tossing both nail and hammer into the air. He could fashion a throwing spear while the recipient counted to five, and shape a spearhead with three strokes of a hammer.

Once, while building a monastery the monks demanded that he lower his price. To force him to agree they removed the ladder from the tower he was working on, trapping him. An Gobán Saor started to remove stones from the structure and toss them on the ground, jovially saying that it was as good a way to reach the ground as any. The monks swiftly returned the ladder, and paid him in full.

On another occasion An Gobán Saor and his son built a fort for a foreign King that was of such exquisite quality that this King grew jealous and devious and decided to kill An Gobán Saor lest he replicate his work elsewhere. In this manner his fort would go unrivalled.

But An Gobán Saor was astute. He took but a solitary look at the King and realized his intention. He told the King that he could not complete the work without his 'crooked and more crooked', a tool that he had left at home. Unwilling to let him leave, the King sent his son to fetch it, not realizing that the name of this implement was actually a coded message for Goban's wife who immediately held the King's son hostage, and ransomed him for her own husband and son.

On their way home they came across a group of carpenters who were desperately trying to figure out how to build a bridge without pegs, dowels or nails, as had been demanded by their King. An Gobán Saor helped at once and proceeded to build a sturdy bridge, cleverly using its own weight as a means of holding it together, so it became stronger the more weight was put on it. The carpenters were impressed, but grumbled a bit that he was more able than they at their own trade.

The group stopped at a house where there lived two sisters. An Gobán Saor set them a riddle and advised the sisters to keep the head of an old lady by the hob, and also to warm themselves with their work in the morning, and finally to take a sheepskin to the market and come home with the skin and its worth!

Not to be outdone by these riddles the sisters set about their tasks. One of them dug up a skull, then burnt her carded wool to keep herself warm, but then made a fool of herself by asking for the price of the sheepskin without handing it over.

The other sister had more success. She fetched in an old destitute lady to sit by her fire thus fulfilling the first task. She the warmed herself by her industriousness, and sold the wool from the sheepskin, while keeping the skin as An Gobán Saor commanded.

An Gobán Saor was so impressed by her wit and cleverness that he asked her to marry his son.

Helpful, jovial and always generous. The trait An Gobán Saor found hardest to forgive was meanness, and the trait he liked best was to see the same quickness of wit he had himself. This smartness gave him an air of brightness and an irrepressible twinkle in his eye.

Such was his immense popularity in Irish folklore that a saint was canonized with his name in the seventh century, Saint Gobain. The line between myth and reality blurred forever.

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