Siege of Enniskillen Castle

Depiction of the siege of Enniskillen Castle, 1594, by John Thomas; Cotton Augustus I. ii. 39, British Library.
Depiction of the siege of Enniskillen Castle, 1594, by John Thomas; Cotton Augustus I. ii. 39, British Library.

Your sheriff shall be welcome but let me know his eric, that if my people should cut his head off I may levy it upon the country. Hugh Maguire, Lord of Fermanagh.

Enniskillen.

¶1] Alas for him who looks on Enniskillen, with its glistening bays and melodious falls; it is perilous for us, since one cannot forsake it, to look upon the fair castle, with its shining sward.

¶2] Long ere ever I came to the white-walled rampart amongst the blue hillocks it seemed to me if I could reach that house I should lack nothing.

¶3] I heard, alas for me that heard it, such repute of the fairy castle of surpassing treasure, and how my beguilement was in store, that it was impossible to turn me back from it.

¶4] This was the saying of each man regarding the splendid dwelling of the lion of the Erne—no man in Banbha ever saw a dwelling to equal it.

¶5] And they used to say moreover, whosoever should see the bending wood or the verdant slope, the level beach or the green field, would not take one step away from it.

¶6] After hearing its description when I had slept for a while I beheld no other vision save the splendor of the noble spacious dwelling.

¶7] I proceed on my way, I reach Enniskillen of the overhanging oaks; through the fair plain of bending, fruit-laden stems I was in no wise loth to approach it.

¶8] Ere I arrived beside the place I was startled at the tumult; the baying of their lively hounds and their hunting-dogs driving deer from the wood for them.

¶9] The strand beside the court, on the fairy-like bay of murmuring streams, was crowded with such groves of tapering ship-masts that they concealed the beach and its waves.

¶10] And hard by that enclosure I see a lovely plain of golden radiance, the moist-surfaced lawn of the bright-hued castle, the soil of Paradise, or else its very counterpart.

¶11] Thus did I find the green of the castle—upturned by the hooves of steeds; from the prancing of horses competing for triumph no herb flourishes in the soil of the outer yard.

¶12] The horses of the castle (were) running in contest, again I see them coursing one by one, until the surrounding hills were hidden, no mist upon them save an expanse (?) of steeds.

¶13] I make directly for the coupled fortress of the branch of Lie; those whom I found in the fair mansion— a wondrous content of a mansion were they.

¶14] I found the nobles of the race of Colla in the thronged court distributing treasure, and those who exposed the recondities of the genealogy of the Grecian Gaels.

¶15] I found, moreover, throughout the fortress plenty of poets and minstrels, from one bright, white-surfaced wall to the other—happy the dwelling in which they find room!

¶16] In the other division I found plenty of slender-lipped, satin-clad maidens, weaving wondrous golden fringes in the sportive (?) rampart with fair, sleek hounds.

¶17] All through the house is an abundance of soldiery, reclining by the side walls; their edged weapons hanging above the fighters, warriors of fruitful Druim Caoin.

¶18] A mighty band of elfin youth, either from the Fairy-mound of Bodhbh or from Lear’s Hostel, such that eye dared not regard them because of their splendor, were on the battlements of the bright, wooded rampart.

¶19] A company of artificers binding vessels, a company of smiths preparing weapons; a company of wrights that were not from one land at work upon her—fair pearl of babbling streams.

¶20] Dyeing of textures, polishing of blades, fitting of javelins, exercising of steeds; captives in surety, drawing up of conditions, scholars surveying the list of kings.

¶21] Taking of hostages, releasing of hostages; healing of warriors, wounding of warriors; continual bringing in and giving out of treasure at the wondrous, smooth, comely, firm, castle.

¶22] Part of that day they spent in talking of exploits, in meditating on battle; and a while would be spent by the host of Ushnagh in feasting, in listening to music.

¶23] Thus till supper-time we spent the whole of the fair day in the bright, green-swarded, fertile enclosure; as one hour in length did that day seem to us.

¶24] All began to seat themselves by the smooth walls of the white rampart; hardly in any hostel is there a number to equal the party that was therein.

¶25]  Cú Chonnacht Óg, son of Cú Chonnacht, supple form to which smoke clings, when all that were in his hostel have sat down he seats himself on his regal seat.

¶26] I sat on the right hand of the champion of Tara till the circling of goblets was over; though it had its due of nobles the king’s elbow never disdained me.

¶27] After a while, when it was time for those in the castle to take their rest, beds of down were prepared for the noblest of the alert, instructed host.

¶28] Ere day overtook the people of the hostel a band of them were fitting spears; at daybreak horse-shoes (?) were being fitted within and men were going to catch steeds.

¶29] Shortly after sleep I see around the hawk of Síoth Truim the picked ones of all in panoply of battle, in the gloomless, stone-built, firmly-standing court.

¶30] Ere the coming of morn the valiant youth of the king’s court set out from us; a great, lengthy, dense, spear-armed mass, ignorant they of making treaties of peace.

¶31] It was not long until the gold-ringletted race of Colla rejoined us, after completely subduing every territory, happy the kingdom which is their homeland.

¶32] That day around Loch Erne there is many a stranger woman whose husband is no more; many figures of wounded hostages coming in after the conflict.

¶33] Precious treasures there were in that dwelling, which had not been theirs at the beginning of day: and hard by the place there were cattle which had not been near them the night before.

¶34] Then were the poets of the castle rewarded by Eachaidh’s descendant, who never shrank from combat: small harm was the dearness of their poesy, riches had been got beyond what he allowed to them.

¶35] I went with the school to take leave of Maguire; away from the lofty, brightly appointed court, alas that he suffered me to go.

¶36] When parting from me, he said, shedding tears down his brown cheek, even though I might not be near to the warrior, that he was not parting from me for good.

¶37] I remember that the day I turned my back on the household of the king’s dwelling, such sorrow lay upon them all that the grief of any one of them was not distinct.

¶38] None the better am I that that household is no more, would I had consumed the end of my days; lest I be longlived after they have gone, it is perilous to me that I shall survive.

¶39] Never have I heard of a household so noble as that in the castle—what excellence—under any that sprang from the Collas; that is the pronouncement of every poet regarding it.

¶40] Lifford of the bright lawns, none ever quits it of his own free will; since it beguiles to the place a man from every quarter—alas for him that beholds it.

— The bardic poems of Tadhg Dall Ó Huiginn (1550-1591), UCC Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition.

Continue reading “Siege of Enniskillen Castle”

Towards Alba of the Ravens

Drawing from H. D. M. Spence-Jones' The Church of England, A History for the People, London, c. 1897.
Drawing from H. D. M. Spence-Jones’ The Church of England, A History for the People, London, c. 1897.

This is a poem of Columkille’s, or at least ascribed to him. It is in very irregular metre, or rather changes its metre several times. The literal translation of the first few verses is as follows:–

Delightful to be on Ben Edar (the Hill of Howth) before going over the sea, white, white; the dashing of the wave against its face, the bareness of its shore and its border.

Delightful to be on Ben Edar after coming over the white-bosomed sea, to be rowing one’s little coracle, ochone! on the swift-waved shore.

How rapid the speed of my coracle, and its back turned to Derry! It is misery to me, my errand over the high-sea, travelling towards Alba of the ravens.

My foot in my musical little coracle, my heart pitiable, sorrowful. Weak is the man that cannot lead. Blind totally is every ignorant one.

There is a grey eye that looks back upon Erin, but it shall not see during life the men of Erin nor her women.

My sight over the brine I stretch, from the planking of stout oak. Large is the tear of my soft grey eye, when I look back towards Erin, etc.

Part of this poem may very well be Columkille’s own, but part is as evidently not his. The end of it was probably written by one of the monks of Derry, whose monastery, in after times, almost equalled in fame that of Iona itself.

The verse about the soft grey eye is found in the Leabhar na h’Uidhre in the preface to the Amra of Columkille which shows its antiquity.

Moleesha was the Saint who imposed it as a penalty upon Columkille that he should go into exile and there convert as many souls as there were men slain in the battle of Cooldrevna [Cúl Dreimhne] fought on his account.

Columcille Sang.
(From the Irish.)

Delightful it is on Ben-Édar to rest
Before going over the white, white sea;
The dash of the wave as it launches its crest
On the wind-beaten shore is delight to me.

Delightful it is on Ben-Édar to rest
When safely come over the white sea foam;
The coracle cleaving her way to the West
Through the sport of the waves as she beats for home.

Too swiftly my coracle flies on her way,
From Derry I mournfully turned her prow;
I grieve at the errand which sends me to-day
To the land of the ravens, to Alba, now.

In my good little coracle, tuneful and light,
I have planted my foot, but my heart is sore,
For blind are the ignorant, blind as the night,
And weak is the man who shall lead no more.

How swiftly we travel, there is a grey eye
Looks back upon Erin, but it no more
Shall see, while the stars shall endure in the sky,
Her women, her men, or her stainless shore.

From the plank of the oak where in sorrow I lie
I am straining my sight through the water and wind;
And large is the tear from the soft grey eye
Looking back on the land that it leaves behind.

To Erin alone is my memory given,
To Meath and to Munster my wild thoughts flow,
To the shores of Moy-linny, the plains of Loch Levin,
And the beautiful land the Ultonians know.

In the East there is many a warrior tall,
But many a sickness and plague and care,
And many a heart that is hardened to all,
With scantness of raiment and food, to bear

But ah! in the West how the apple is fair,
How many a tanist, how many a king,
How many a sloe does the thorn-tree bear,
In the acorned oaks how the young birds sing!

Melodious her clerics, melodious her birds,
Her children are gentle, her seniors wise;
Her men are illustrious, truthful in words,
Her women have virtues for love to prize.

And Brendan the truthful is there in the West,
And Colom, descendant of Crivhan is he;
And there in the West shall be Baithin the blest,
And there in the West shall Adamnan be.

Go carry my words to the men that I name,
Unto Comgall the priest of eternal life,
And carry my thoughts upon wings of flame
To the king of Emania the bold in strife.

I give thee my blessing to carry from here,
Take this benediction over the sea,
One seven-fold half upon Erin the dear,
One half upon Alba the same to be.

To the nobles that gem the bright Isle of the Gael
Carry this benediction over the sea;
And bid them not credit Moleesha’s tale,
And bid them not credit his words of me.

Were it not for the word of Moleesha’s mouth,
At the cross of Ahamlish that sorrowful day,
I now should be warding from north and from south,
Disease and distemper from Erin away.

Oh, carry my blessing away to the West,
For my heart in my bosom is broken, I fail;
Should death of a sudden now pierce my breast,
I should die of the love that I bear the Gael.

The Gael, oh! the Gael, how the sound of that name
When I speak it can banish my ruth and my rue;
Belovèd is Cuimin of fair-haired fame,
Beloved are Cainneach and Comgall too.

And, oh! were the tributes of Alba mine,
From shore unto centre, from centre to sea,
The site of one house, to be marked by a line,
In the midst of fair Derry were dearer to me.

That spot is the dearest on Erin’s ground,
For the treasures that peace and that purity lend;
For the hosts of bright angels that circle it round,
Protecting its borders from end to end.

That spot is the dearest on Erin’s ground,
For its peace and its beauty I gave it my love;
Each leaf of the oaks around Derry is found
To be crowded with angels from heaven above.

My Derry, my Derry, my little oak grove,
My dwelling, my home, and my own little cell;
May God the Eternal, in heaven above,
Send woe to thy foes and defend thee well.

Belovèd are Durrow and Derry to me,
And Drumhome of the fruits of the rich ripe hue
Belovèd Raphoe in its purity,
And Surd and Cenannas, I love them too.

And dear to my heart in the western land,
Is the thought of Loch Foyle where the cool waves pour,
And the Bay of Drumcliff on Cúlcinné’s strand,
Delightful the form of its sloping shore.

Delightful it is, and the salt salt main,
Where the sea-birds scream o’er the water blue,
On my coming from Derry afar in pain,
How quiet it is, and delightful too.

— Douglas Hyde (ed.), The Three Sorrows of Storytelling and Ballads of St. Columkille, London, 1895.

Mac Dathó Was His Name

Facsimile of a portion of page 113b of the Book of Leinster, published by the Royal Irish Academy House, 1880 (Dublin). This portion begins with the fourth sentence of section 15 and ends with the first sentence of section 17.
Facsimile of a portion of page 113b of the Book of Leinster, published by the Royal Irish Academy House, 1880 (Dublin). This portion begins with the fourth sentence of section 15 and ends with the first sentence of section 17.

There was a famous king of Leinster. Mac Dathó was his name. He had a hound; the hound defended the whole of Leinster. The hound’s name was Ailbe, and Ireland was full of its fame. Messengers came from Ailill and Medb asking for the hound. Moreover at the same time there came also messengers from Conchobar Mac Nessa to ask for the same hound. They were all made welcome and brought to him in the hall. That is one of the six halls that were in Ireland at that time, the others being the hall of Da Derga in the territory of Cualu, and the hall of Forgall Manach, and the hall of Mac Dareo in Brefne, and the hall of Da Choca in the west of Meath, and the hall of Blai the landowner in Ulster. There were seven doors in that hall, and seven passages through it, and seven hearths in it, and seven cauldrons, and an ox and a salted pig in each cauldron. Every man who came along the passage used to thrust the flesh-fork into a cauldron, and whatever he brought out at the first catch was his portion. If he did not obtain anything at the first attempt he did not have another.

* * *

Boí rí amra for Laignib, .i. Mac Dathó a ainm. Bui cú oca. No-ditned in cu Lagniu uile. Ailbe ainm in chon, et lán hEriu dia aurdarcus. Tancas o Ailill ocus o Meidb do chungid in chon. I n-oen uair dano tancatar ocus techta Conchobair mic Nessa do chungid in chon chetna. Ro-ferad failte friu uile, et ructha chuci-sium isin mh-bruidin. Is í sein in t-shessed bruiden ro-boi i n-hErind in tan sin: .i. bruden Daderga i crích Cualand, et bruden Fhorgaill Manaich, et bruden Mic Dareo i m-Brefni et bruden Dachoca i n-iarthor Mide et bruden Blai briuga i n-Ultaib. Secht nh-doruis isin bruidin ocus VII sligeda tréthi, et VII tellaige inti, et VII core, ocus dam ocus tinne in cach coire. In fer do-theiged iarsin t-shligi, do-bered in n-ael isin coire, et na tabrad don chét-gabail, issed no-ithed. Mani thucad ní don chét-tadall, ni bered a n-aill.

— Scél Mucci Mic Dathó (Story of Mac Dathó’s Pig), Section I,
N. Kershaw Chadwick, An Early Irish Reader, Cambridge University Press.

Táin Bó Cúailnge

But I who have written this story, or rather this fable, give no credence to the various incidents related in it. For some things in it are the deceptions of demons, other poetic figments; some are probable, others improbable; while still others are intended for the delectation of foolish men.

— Colophon (Latin) at the conclusion of the recension of the Táin Bó Cúailnge as found in the Book of Leinster.

Cover (dust jacket) of Táin Bó Cúailnge, edited by Cecille O'Rahilly, and published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 1970.
Cover (dust jacket) of Táin Bó Cúailnge, edited and translated by Cecille O’Rahilly, and published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 1970 (orig. 1967).
"Here begin the youthful deeds of Cú Chulainn..."
“Here begin the youthful deeds of Cú Chulainn…”

The latest edition to my Gaelic library arrived at the house today, a fairly rare Irish/English copy of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, edited and translated by Cecille O’Rahilly in 1967 — and in pristine condition!

SaorDhoire

“Free Derry Corner” in 2005.

Columcille Fecit

Rathlin Island as seen from Torr Head with Fair Head to the left.

This poem, under the title Columcille Fecit, has been attributed to St. Columba.

* * *

Delightful would it be to me to be in Uchd Ailiun
On the pinnacle of a rock,
That I might often see
The face of the ocean;
That I might see its heaving waves
Over the wide ocean,
When they chant music to their Father
Upon the world’s course;
That I might see its level sparkling strand,
It would be no cause of sorrow;
That I might hear the song of the wonderful birds,
Source of happiness;
That I might hear the thunder of the crowding waves
Upon the rocks;
That I might hear the roar by the side of the church
Of the surrounding sea;
That I might see its noble flocks
Over the watery ocean;
That I might see the sea monsters,
The greatest of all wonders;
That I might see its ebb and flood
In their career;
That my mystical name might be, I say,
‘Cul ri Erin’;
That contrition might come upon my heart
Upon looking at her;
That I might bewail my evils all,
Though it were difficult to compute them;
That I might bless the Lord
Who conserves all,
Heaven with its countless bright orders,
Land, strand and flood;
That I might search the books all,
That would be good for any soul;
At times kneeling to Beloved Heaven;
At times at psalm-singing;
At times contemplating the King of Heaven,
Holy the Chief;
At times work without compulsion;
This would be delightful.
At times plucking duilisc from the rocks;
At times fishing;
At times giving food to the poor;
At times in a carcair [solitary cell].
The best advice in the presence of God
To me has been vouchsafed.
The King whose servant I am will not let
Anything deceive me.

Columcille Fecit, Anonymous (attributed to St. Columba).

Death of Conn Cétchathach

Eochaid Bélbuide, son of Feidlimid Rechtmar, was Conn’s brother. He went into Ulster under safeguard, to escape from his brother Conn, for Eochaid was ill-bred and unruly, and was destroying his brother’s rule and authority. Then, however, Conn sent five of his confidential servants to the kings of Ulster, so that Eochaid Bélbuide might not stay with them, or so that they might be well-behaved. These were the five envoys who went for that purpose: Foitin Forbair son of Féige Échtach, Énda son of Daig Laigen, Ailill son of Fingein mac Luchta, Tibraide Tuaithebrach son of Cleitech, and Asal son of Forannán from Formael. They went on northwards from Tara. Then they were told that Eochaid Bélbuide was hunting on Sliab Breg, and they slew Eochaid there, for none was found with him save his hound ut poeta dixit—

  1. Eochaid Bélbuide was slain
    in the battle of Comar, hence the fury caused by it,
    as there was no one in his place,
    he and his hound were taken unprotected.

This deed was displeasing to the kings of Ulster, and they said that for the outrage done to them they would accept no terms (from Conn) but his death, for that before their time such only had been accepted. Howbeit peace was made between them and Conn. The kings of Ulster at that time were Cairbre Gnáthchorad son of Mál son of Rochraide, and Bresal son of Brión. Thereafter some of them died. Bresal, or Tibraide, son of Mál said that he would not accept peace, because he durst not stay henceforth in Ulster for fear of Conn and for fear of the kings of Ulster through Conn’s oppression of them.

What Tibraide did was to go to Scotland, to the king of Scotland, Failbe Findloga, and he was three years with him. Then the king of Scotland advised him to come to Ireland and make peace with Conn. It was all done thus. The Ulstermen bid him be at peace with Conn. He said [gap: text omitted] to make peace?, but he did not venture to come to Conn under safeguard or by himself, so he determined to come to Conn, (himself and his men) disguised as veiled women. At that time Conn was on an eminence preparing the Feast of Tara and . . . the district of Tara, and Conn was alone at that time. Then Tibraide slew Conn, for he was alone and Tibraide had many followers. So that is how Conn was slain.

Finit. Amen.
 
— The Death of Conn of the Hundred Battles.

Provided I Be Famous, I Am Content to Be Only One Day on Earth

Reconstructed Roundhouse at Navan Fort/Emain Macha, County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

‘He did still another exploit,’ said Fiachu mac Fir Fhebe. ‘Cathbad the druid was with his son Conchobar mac Nessa. There were with him a hundred active men learning the druid’s art — that was the number that Cathbad used to instruct. One of his pupils asked him for what that day would be of good omen. Cathbad said that if a warrior took up arms on that day, his name for deeds of valour would be known throughout Ireland and his fame would last for ever. Cú Chulainn heard this. He went to Conchobar to ask for arms. Conchobar asked: ‘Who prophesied good fortune for you?’ ‘Master Cathbad,’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘We know him indeed,’ said Conchobar. He gave him a spear and a shield. Cú Chulainn brandished them in the middle of the hall so that not one was left unbroken of the fifteen spare sets of weapons which were kept in Conchobar’s household to replace broken weapons or to provide for the taking up of arms by someone. Finally Conchobar’s own arms were given to him. They withstood him, and he brandished them and blessed the king whose arms they were, saying: ‘Happy the people and race over whom reigns the owner of these arms.’

‘Then Cathbad came to them and asked: ‘Is the boy taking up arms?’ ‘Yes,’ said Conchobar.

‘That is not lucky for the son of his mother,’ said he. ‘Why, was it not you who instructed him?’ ‘It was not I indeed,’ said Cathbad. ‘What use is it for you to deceive me so, you sprite?’ said Conchobar to Cú Chulainn. ‘O king of the Fían, it is no deceit,’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘He prophesied good fortune for his pupils this morning and I heard him from where I was on the south side of Emain, and then I came to you.’ ‘It is indeed a day of good omen,’ said Cathbad. ‘It is certain that he who takes up arms today will be famous and renowned, but he will, however, be short-lived.’ ‘A mighty thing!’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘Provided I be famous, I am content to be only one day on earth.’

– Táin Bó Cúalnge.

I Myself Shall Be a Hound

“Cuchulain Slays the Hound of Culain”; illustration by Stephen Reid from Eleanor Hull’s, The Boys’ Cuchulain, 1904.

‘Indeed we know that boy’, said Conall Cernach, ‘and we know him all the better in that he is a fosterling of ours. Not long after the deed which Fergus has just related, he performed another exploit.’

‘When Culann the smith prepared a feast for Conchobar, he asked Conchobar not to bring a great crowd with him for the feast he had made was not provided by his possession of land or estate but was gained by the work of his hands and his tongs. Then Conchobar set off together with fifty chariot-warriors, the noblest and most illustrious of the heroes.’

‘Conchobar visited the playing-field then. It was always his custom to pay the boys a fleeting visit to ask a greeting of them. There he saw Cú Chulainn playing ball against thrice fifty boys, and defeating them. When they were engaged in driving the ball into the hole, he would fill the hole with his balls and the boys would not be able to ward him off. When it was they who were throwing at the hole, he by himself would ward them off so that not even a single ball would go into it. When they were wrestling, he alone would throw the thrice fifty boys, yet not all of them together could surround him to throw him. When they were engaged in the game of stripping one another, he would strip them all stark-naked but they could not even take his brooch from his mantle. Conchobor marvelled at this. He asked if the boy’s deeds would correspond (to his present ones) when he attained the age of manhood. They all said that they would. Conchobor said to Cú Chulainn ‘Come with me to the feast to which we are going since you are a guest.’ ‘I have not yet had my fill of play, master Conchobor,’ said the boy. ‘I shall follow you.’ When they had all come to the feast, Culann asked Conchobar: ‘Do you expect anyone to follow you?’ ‘No,’ said Conchobor. He did not remember the arrangement with his fosterling to come after him. ‘I have a blood hound,’ [i.e. a hound brought from overseas, i.e. the whelp of a mastiff.] said Culann. ‘There are three chains on him and three men holding each chain. He was brought from Spain. Let him be loosed to guard our cattle and our stock and let the fort be shut.’ At that point the boy arrived. The dog made for him. He still kept on with the play; he would throw his ball and then throw his hurley after it so that it struck the ball, neither stroke being greater than the other. And he threw his toy spear after them and caught it before it fell. And though the dog was approaching him, it interfered not with his play. Conchobor and his household were so dismayed by this that they could not move. They thought they would not reach him alive though the fort was open. Now when the hound came towards the boy, he cast aside his ball and his hurley, and he tackled the dog with both hands, that is, he put one hand on the apple of the hound’s throat and the other at the back of his head, and dashed him against the pillar-stone that was beside him so that all the hound’s limbs sprang apart. According to another version, however, he threw his ball into the hound’s mouth and it drove his entrails out through him.’

‘The Ulstermen rose up to fetch the boy, some leaping over the wall of the court, others going out by the gate. They placed him in Conchobar’s arms. A great alarm was raised by them at the thought that the son of the king’s sister had almost been killed. At that point Culann entered the house.’

‘‘Welcome, little lad, for your mother’s sake. But as for myself, would that I had not prepared a feast! My livelihood is now a livelihood wasted, my husbandry a husbandry lost without my hound. That hound was not one of the three hounds that were in the brain of Conganchness, as some hold, for it was to take vengeance for Cú Roí’s death on the men of Ulster that Conganchness had gone and that happened long after the Cattle-Raid, but Cú Chulainn was only seven years old when he killed the smith’s hound. Thus the theory held by those people is false; the smith’s hound had been brought from Spain, as is asserted in the text of the tale. The servant who has been taken from me, that is, my hound, maintained life and honour for me. He was defence and protection for my goods and my cattle. He guarded all my beasts for me in field and in house.’’

‘‘That is no great matter,’ said the boy. ‘A whelp of the same litter will be reared by me for you, and until such time as that hound grows and is fit for action, I myself shall be a hound to protect your cattle and to protect yourself. And I shall protect all Mag Murthemne; neither flock nor herd shall be taken thence from me without my knowing it.’ ‘Your name shall be Cú Chulainn (the Hound of Culann) then,’ said Cathbad. ‘I am glad that it should be my name,’ said Cú Chulainn. It were no cause of wonder that one who had done this when he was seven, should have performed a valiant deed now that he is seventeen years old,’ said Conall Cernach.

— Táin Bó Cúalnge.

The Death of the Boys

Navan Fort/Emain Macha, Co. Armagh, Ireland.

‘Another time he was playing ball in the playing-field east of Emain, he alone on one side against the thrice fifty boys. He kept defeating them in every game in that way all the time. Eventually the boy began to belabour them with his fists and fifty of them died. Whereupon he fled and hid under the pillow of Conchobar’s couch. The Ulstermen rose up around him but I and Conchobar stood up to defend him. The boy rose to his feet under the couch and on to the floor of the house he threw from him the couch together with the thirty warriors who were in it.’

‘Then the Ulstermen sat around him in the house and we arranged matters and made peace between the boys and him,’ said Fergus.

The Eulogy of Cú Chulainn

Cú Chulainn & the Bull by Karl Beutel 2003; oil on canvas (20 x 30 inches); Armagh County Museum Collection; purchased through the Art Fund 2006.

‘What manner of man,’ asked Ailill, ‘is this Hound whom we have heard of among the Ulstermen? What age is that famous youth?’ ‘I can tell you that,’ said Fergus. ‘In his fifth year he went to the boys in Emain Macha to play. In his sixth year he went to learn feats of arms to Scáthach and went to woo Emer. In his seventh year he took up arms. At the present time he is seventeen years old.’

‘Is he the most formidable among the Ulstermen?’ asked Medb. ‘More so than any one of them,’ answered Fergus. ‘You will not encounter a warrior harder to deal with, nor a spear-point sharper or keener or quicker, nor a hero fiercer, nor a raven more voracious, nor one of his age to equal a third of his valour, nor a lion more savage, nor a shelter in battle nor a sledge-hammer for smiting, nor a protector in fighting, nor doom of hosts, nor one better able to check a great army. You will not find there any man his equal in age like unto Cú Chulainn in growth, in dress, in fearsomeness, in speech, in splendour, in voice and appearance, in power and harshness, in feats, in valour, in striking power, in rage and in anger, in victory and in doom-dealing and in violence, in stalking, in sureness of aim and in game-killing, in swiftness and boldness and rage, with the feat of nine men on every spear- point.’

‘I reek little of that,’ said Medb. ‘He has but one body; he suffers wounding; he is not beyond capture. Moreover he is only the age of a grown girl and as yet his manly deeds have not developed.’ ‘Nay,’ said Fergus. ‘It were no wonder that he should perform a goodly exploit today, for even when he was younger, his deeds were those of a man.’

— Táin Bó Cúalnge.

The Three Drinking-horns of Cormac úa Cuinn

Anglo-Saxon drinking horn, made about AD 500-600 from a wild ox or aurochs.

Once on a time Aed Oridnide, son of Niall Frosach, son of Feargal, son of Maelduin, came to establish order in the province of Connacht. He crossed Eas Ruaid, and his table-servants and his drinking-horns were lost therein. Aed came to Corca Tri, and rested at the house of the king of Corca Tri. Fifty of the kings of Erin accompanied Aed.

Aed ate a meal on Sunday night along with the kings: but though he ate he drank not a draught, for he had no drinking-horn, because his horns and his quaighs were lost at Ath Enaig, above Eas Ruaid, as the army was crossing. His way was, that he drank never a draught from any other vessel, since he was weaned from his mother, save only from a horn. A grief it was for the king of Corca Tri and his consort that all should be drinking, and the king of Erin refusing to drink. Angal raised his hands to God, and persisted (?) in taking neither sleep nor food till morning. And on the morrow his wife said to him: “Go,” said she, “to Guaire mac Colmain at Durlas (for that was the home of hospitality and generosity from the time of Dathi onward) to see if you would get a horn there through his hospitable bounty.” Angal, king of Corca Tri, stepped out through the door of the rath, and his right foot stumbled, so that a stone fell from its place in the fort; and it was the stone that covered the mouth of the flue wherein were the three horns that were the best in all Ireland; namely, the Twisted Horn, and the Litan, and the Eel. These were the cups that were brought by Cormac úa Cuinn over the sea; and Nia mac Lugna Firtri, the second foster-brother of Cormac úa Cuinn, had hidden them after Cormac was slain; and Cairbre Lifechair came over the sea, and though he found the other horns, these horns were not found till the time of the saints and of Aed Oridnide mac Neill. For a veil was spread over them by God, till He discovered them to the king of Corca Tri, by reason of his hospitable bounty.

Angal offered thanks to God, and bore off the horns, full of mead all three. He put them in the hands of Aed Oirdnide, king of Erin, who gave thanks to God, and put the Litan in the hands of the king of Ulster, the Eel-Horn in the hands of the king of Connacht, and reserved to himself the Twisted Horn.

Afterwards it descended to Maelsechlainn mac Domhnaill; and he offered it to God and to Ciaran, jointly, till the Day of Judgement.