Cuchulain of Muirthemne
XVII. Battle of Rosnaree
There was a time, now, after the war for the Bull of Cuailgne, when King
Conchubar got someway down-hearted, and there was a heaviness on his mind.
And the men of Ulster thought it might be lonesome he was, and fretting after
Deirdre yet, and they searched about through the whole province for a wife for
And at last they found a beautiful young girl of good race, whose name was
Luain, and they brought her to Eniain Macha, and a great wedding was made, and
great feasting; and the king grew to be quiet and happy in his mind. But among
the men that came to the wedding were the two sons of the poet Aithirne, that
had such a bad name for covetousness and for cruelty.
The two sons were poets as well, Cuingedach and Abhartach, and when they saw
Luain, Conchubar's queen, and she so beautiful, the two of them fell in love
with her there and then. And they stopped at Emain, and after a while each of
them tried to gain her secret love. But there was great anger and displeasure on
Luain at that, and she drove them from her.
They went home then to their father, Aithirne, and the three of them, to
avenge themselves on Luain, made satires on her, that brought blotches out on
her face. And when her face that was so beautiful was spoiled like that, she
went back and hid herself in her father's house, and with the shame and the
sorrow that were on her, she died there.
Then great anger and rage came on Conchubar, and he sent the men of Ulster to
Aithirne's house, and they killed himself and his two sons, and they pulled his
house down to the ground.
But the rest of the poets of Ulster were not well pleased that Conchubar
should put such disrespect on one of themselves and do such a great vengeance on
him, and they gathered together and gave Aithinie a great burial and keened him,
and it was Amergin that made a lament over his grave.
And then Conchubar stopped in Emain Macha, and the cloud of trouble came on
him again, and he used to be thinking of the war for the Bull of Cuailgne, and
of all that Maeve's army did when he was in his weakness; and he did not sleep
in the night, and there was no food that pleased him.
And then the men of Ulster bid Cathbad, the Druid, go to Conchubar, and rouse
him out of his sickness.
So Cathbad went to him, and he cried tears down when he saw him, and he said:
"Tell me, Conchubar, what wound it is or what sickness has weakened you and has
made your face so pale?" "It is no wonder sickness to be on me," said Conchubar,
"when I think of the way the four provinces of Ireland came and destroyed my
forts and my duns and my walled towns and the houses of my people, and when I
think how Maeve brought away cattle and gold and silver; and how she came as far
as Dun Sescind and Dun Sobairce, and brought away Daire's bull out of my own
province. And it is what vexes me, Maeve herself to have got away safe from the
battle; and it is time for me to go and avenge that time on the men of Ireland,"
he said. "That is no right you are saying," said Cathbad, "for the men of Ulster
did a good vengeance on the men of Ireland the time they gained the battle of
Ilgairech." "I do not count any battle to be a battle," said Conchubar, "unless
a king or a queen has fallen in it; and I swear by the oath of my people,
Cathbad," he said, "that kings and great men will be brought to their death by
me, or else I myself will go to my death."
"This is my advice to you," said Cathbad, "not to set out till the winter is
gone by; for at this time the winds are rough, and the roads are heavy, and the
rivers are full and flooded, and every windy gap is cold. It is best to wait for
the summer," he said, "till the fords are shallow and the roads are smooth, till
the thick leaves on the bushes will be shelters, till every sod of grass will be
a pillow, till our colts will be strong, till the nights will be short for
keeping watch against an enemy. It is best to wait," he said, "till you can
gather together the men of Ulster, and till you can send messengers to your
friends among the Gall." "I am willing to do that," said Conchubar, "but I give
my word," he said, "let them come, or let them not come, I will go myself to
Teamhair to get satisfaction from Cairbre Niafer, my own son-in-law, that did
not come to help me at the gathering at Ilgairech, and to Lugaid, son of Curoi,
and to Eocha, son of Luchta, and to Maeve, and to Ailell, till I throw down the
stones over the graves of their chief men, till I destroy and lay waste their
country, the same way as the men of Ireland destroyed my province."
So then Conchubar sent out messengers to Conall Cearnach, that was raising
his tribute in the islands of Leodus, and of Cadd, and of Orc, and to the
countries of the Gall, to Olaib, grandson of the king of Norway, and to Baire of
the Scigger islands, and to Siugraid Soga, king of Sudiam; to the seven sons of
Romra, and to the son of the king of Alban, and to the king of the island of
And the first to answer the messengers, and to set out for Ulster Conall
Cearnach, for there was great anger on him when he heard of all that had
happened in Ulster in the war for the Bull of Cuailgne, and he not in it. "And
if I had been in it," he said, "the men of Connaught would not have taken spoil
from Ulster, without an equal vengeance being measured to them again." And
Olaib, grandson of the king of Norway, came with him, and Baire, of the Scigger
islands, and their men with them in their ships, and they came through the green
waves, and the seals and the sword-fishes rising about them, towards Dundealgan,
and the place where they landed was at the Strand of Baile, son of Buan.
This, now, is the story of Baile that was buried at that strand.
He was of the race of Rudraige, and although he had but little land belonging
to him, he was the heir of Ulster, and every one that saw him loved him, both
man and woman, because he was so sweet-spoken; and they called him Baile of the
Honey-Mouth. And the one that loved him best was Aillinn, daughter of Lugaidh,
the King of Leinster's son. And one time she herself and Bade settled to meet
one another near Dundealgan, beside the sea. Baile was the first to set out, and
he came from Emain Macha, over Slieve Fuad, over Muirthemne, to the strand where
they were to meet; and he stopped there, and his chariots were unyoked, and his
horses were let out to graze. And while he and his people were waiting there
they saw a strange, wild-looking man, coming towards them from the South, as
fast as a hawk that darts from a cliff or as the wind that blows from off the
green sea. "Go and meet him," said Bade to his people, "and ask him news of
where he is going and where he comes from, and what is the reason of his haste."
So they asked news of him, and he said: "I am going back now to Tuagh Inbhir,
from Slieve Suidhe Laighen, and this is all the news I have, that Aillinn,
daughter of Lugaidh, was on her way to meet Baile, son of Buan, that she loved.
And the young men of Leinster overtook her, and kept her back from going to him,
and she died of the heartbreak there and then. For it was foretold by Druids
that were friendly to them that they would not come together in their life-time,
but that after their death they would meet, and be happy for ever after." And
with that he left them, and was gone again like a blast of wind, and they were
not able to hinder him.
And when Baile heard that news, his life went out from him, and he fell dead
there on the strand.
And at that time the young girl Aillinn was in her sunny parlour to the
south, for she had not set out yet. And the same strange man came in to her, and
the asked him where he came from. "I come from the North," he said, "from Tuagh
Inver, and I am going past this place to Slieve Suidhe Laighen. And all the news
I have," he said, "is that I saw the men of Ulster gathered together on the
strand near Dundealgan, and they raising a stone, and writing on it the name of
Baile, son of Buan, that died there when he was on his way to meet the woman he
had given his love to; for it was not meant for them ever to reach one another
alive, or that one of them should see the other alive." And when he had said
that he vanished away, and as to Aillinn, her life went from her, and she died
the same way that Baile had died.
And an apple-tree grew out of her grave, and a yew tree out of Baile's grave.
And it was near that yew-tree Conall Cearnach landed, and Baire, and the
grandson of the king of Norway. And Cuchulain had made ready a great feast for
them, and for Conchubar that had come to meet them, at bright-faced Dundealgan.
And the Hound bade them a kind, loving welcome, and he said:
"Welcome to those I know, and those I do not know, to the good and the bad,
the young and the old among you." And they stopped there a week, and Conchubar
was well pleased to see the whole strand full of his friends that were come in
their ships. And then he bade farewell to Emer, daughter of Forgall, and he said
to Cuchulain: "Go now to the three fifties of old fighting men, that are resting
in their age, under Irgalach, son of Macclach, and say to them to come with me
to this gathering and to this war, the way I will have their help and their
advice." "Let them go to it if they have a mind," said Cuchulain; "but it is not
I that will go and ask it of them."
So then Conchubar himself went to the great house, where the old fighting men
used to be living that had laid by their arms. And when he came in, they raised
their heads from their places to look at the great king. And then they leaped
up, and they said: "What has brought you to us to-day, our chief and our lord?"
"Did you get no word," he said, "of the way the four provinces of Ireland came
against us, and how they burned down our forts and our houses, and how they
brought their makers of poems and of stories along with them, that their deeds
might be told, and our disgrace might be the greater. And I am going out against
them now," he said, "to get satisfaction from them; and let you come with me,
and I will have your advice." Then the hearts of the old men rose in them, and
they caught their old horses and yoked their old chariots. And they went on with
the king to the mouth of the Water of Luachann that night.
And the next day Conchubar set out with his own men and his friends from
beyond the sea, to Slieve Breagh, that is near Rosnaree on the Boinne. And they
made their camp at Cuanglas, the green harbour, and lighted their fires, and
music and merry songs were made for them. But Cuchulain stopped behind in
Dundealgan to gather his own people, and to make provision for them on the
Now news had been brought to Cairbre Niafer at Teamhair, that Conchubar was
gathering his men to get satisfaction for all that had been done to Ulster in
the war for the Bull of Cuailgne, and that it was likely he himself would be the
first he would come against.
For there was some bad feehng between Cairbre and the men of Ulster, since
the time he drove the sons of Umor into Connaught, with the heavy rent he put on
them, and that after Conall Cearnach and Cuchulain giving their own security for
their good behaviour. They turned on their securities after that, and fought
with them, and Conall Cool, the son of their chief, fell; and Cuchulain, and his
father, and his friends, raised the heap of stones over him that is called Cam
Chonaill, in the province of Connaught.
And Cairbre sent a message to Cruachan, to say to Ailell and to Maeve: "If it
is towards us Conchubar and the men of Ulster are coming, let you come to our
help; but if it is past us they go, into the fair-headed province of Connaught,
we will go to your help." So when Conchubar came to Cuanglas, at Rosnaree, there
was a good army gathered there to make a stand against him; the three troops of
the children of Deagha, and a great troop of the Collamnachs, and of the men of
Bregia, and of the Gailiana. And he rose up early in the morning, and he could
see the moving of men and the shining of spears, and he heard the noise of a
great army, and he said: "We will send some one of our men to bring us word
And he sent out Feic, son of Follaman. And Feic went up to a lull beside the
Boinne, and he began to look at the army and to count it, and it vexed him to
see how many were in it. "If I go back now and tell this," he said, "the men of
Ulster will come and will begin the battle, and there will be no better chance
for me to get a great name and do great deeds than for any other man. And why
would I not go and begin a fight now by myself?" And with that he crossed the
But the men that were in front caught sight of him, and the whole army began
shouting around him, and he had not courage to go against them, but he turned to
cross the river again. But he gave a false leap, just where the water was
deepest, and a wave laughed over him, and he died.
It seemed a long time to Conchubar that he was away, and be said to the men
of Ulster: "What is your advice to us about this battle?" "It is what we
advise," they said, "to wait till our strong fighters and our chief men are
come. And they had not long to wait before they saw troops coming, Cathbad with
twelve hundred men, and Amergin with twelve hundred men, and Eoghan, king of
Fernmaighe, and Laegaire Buadach, and the three sons of Conall Buide.
And then they saw another troop coming, and in the front of it a fierce,
brown man. Rough, dark hair he had, and a big nose and hollow cheeks, and his
talk was quick and hurried. A blue cloak about him, and a brooch of silver as
white as a bird, a heavy sword, and a shield with iron rims. And this is who he
was, Daire of Cuailgne, that was come to get satisfaction for his bull and for
his herds on the men of Ireland. "What is delaying you here?" he said to
Conchubar. "I have good reason for delaying," said Conchubar, "for there is a
great army under Cairbre Niafer before us at Rosnaree, and there are not enough
of us to go against them. And it is not refusing a battle we are, but waiting
till we get our full number." "By my word," said Daire, "if you do not go out
against them, it is I will go against them by myself."
Then Conchubar put on his armour, and took his many-coloured shield, and his
sword, the Ochain. And all the men of Ulster gathered around him, and they
raised their spears and their shields, and it was like a great river breaking
from the side of a mountain, and breaking what it meets of stones and trees
before it, that they went to meet the men of Leinster at Rosnaree on the Boinne.
And when Cairbre Niafer and his friends and his men saw them coming, they
made ready for them, and came towards the river.
And the men of Ulster crossed the river, and the two armies met, and each of
them took to hacking and destroying the other. And the Gailiana pressed heavily
on the men of Ulster, and came in to the middle of them, and cut them down like
trees are cut in a wood. And as for Conchubar he did not give back, where he
was, and Celthair on his right hand, and Amergin the poet on his right hand
again, and Eoghan, king of Fernmaighe, on his left, and Daire of Cuailgne near
him. These few stood against the Gailiana, and fought against them, stout and
proud. But as to the young men and those that were never in a fight before, they
turned round and burst through the battle northwards.
It was just then Conall Cearnach was coming in his chariot, and when the
young men of Ulster saw the face of Conall, they came to a stop, and Conan saw
that they were beaten and running from the battle, and he called out sharp words
to them, for there was anger on him, they to have left the fight, and with no
sign of blood or of wounds upon them.
But they were ashamed then, and content to go back to the battle, when they
had Conall's hand to help them; and each one of them tore a green branch off the
oak trees that were near them, and held it up, and they went with him; for they
knew there would be no running away in any place where Conall's face would be
And it happened just at that time Conchubar, the High King, was taking three
backward steps out of the battle northward, but when he saw the face of Conall
coming towards him, he called to him to stop the army from falling back. "I give
my word," said Conall, "I think it easier to fight the battle by myself than to
stop the rout now."
And just then the three royal poets of the king of Teamhair came in give him
their help, Eochaid the Learned, and Diarment of the Songs, and Forgel the Just,
and they went into the fight against Conall. And Conall looked at them and he
said: "I give my true word," he said, "if you were not poets and men of
learning, you would have got your death by me before this; and now that you are
come fighting with your master," he said, "where is there any reason for sparing
you?" And with that he made a blow at them with a heavy stick that was in his
hand, that struck the three heads off them.
Then Conall drew his sword out of its sheath, and he played the music of his
sword on the armies of Leinster, and the sound of it was heard on every side;
and when the men near him heard it their faces whitened, and each one of them
went back to his place in the battle. And at that time Cuchulain came into the
battle, and the men of the Gailiana gave wild shouts at him, and anger came on
him and he scattered them.
And strength came again into the hearts of the men of Ulster, and their anger
rose, and the earth shook under their feet, and there was clashing of swords on
both sides, and the shouting of young men, and the screams of old men, and the
groaning of chariot-fighters, and the crying of ravens. And there were many
lying in cold pools, the white soles of their feet close together, and the red
lips turning grey, and the bright faces very pale, and darkness coming on their
grey eyes, and confusion on their clear wits.
It is then Cuchulain met with Cairbre Niafer, and he went against him, and
put his shield against his shield and there they were face to face. And Cairbre
said words of insult to Cuchulain, and Cuchulain answered him back and said: "It
is all I ask of you, to fight with me now alone." "I will do that," said Cairbre
Niafer, for I am a king in my way of living, and a champion in battles."
Then each attacked the other, and it was hard for them to hold their feet
firm, or to strike with their hands, in the closeness of the fight And Cairbre
broke all his weapons, but nine of his men came and kept up the fight against
Cuchulain till more weapons could be brought to him. And then Cuchulain's
weapons were broken, and Cairbre and nine of his men came and held up their
shields before him till Laeg could bring him his own right weapons, the Dubach,
the grim one, his spear, and the Cruaidin, his sword. And then they took to
hitting at one another again, and at last Cuchulain took his spear into his left
hand, and struck at Cairbre with it, and he lowered his shield to protect his
body. And then Cuchulain changed it to his right hand, and struck at him over
the rim of his shield, and it went through his heart; and before his body could
reach the ground, Cuchulain made a spring and struck his head off. And then he
held up the head, and shook it before the two armies.
Then Sencha, son of Ailell, rose up and shook the branch of peace, and the
men of Ulster stood still. As to the men of Leinster, when they saw their king
was killed, they fell back; but Iriel of the Great Knees, the son of Conall
Cearnach, followed after them, and did a great slaughter on the Gailiana and on
the rest of the army till they reached to the Rye of Leinster.
And then the men of Ulster went back to their homes. And as to Conchubar, he
went back to Emain, and it was not till a good while after that he got the wound
in his head that Fintan sewed up with gold thread, to match the colour of his
hair, and that brought him to his death in the end.
Cuchulain by John Duncan