Cuchulain of Muirthemne
V. The Championship of Ulster
After they were gone back to Emain after Bricriu's feast,
a quarrel began between Conall and Laegaire and Cuchulain about the Champion's Portion, and
Conchubar and the chief men of Ulster came between them to settle it. And
Conchubar bade them to go to Cruachan in Connaught, to have the matter judged by
Ailell and by Maeve. "And if that fails you," he said, "what you have to do is
to go to Curoi, son of Daire, at Slieve Mis, in Munster. And it is a true
judgment he will give, for he is just and fair-minded, his house is open to
guests, his hand is good in battle, in leading he is a king. He will give you a
right judgment, but it is only a brave man will ask it from him, for be is wise
in all sorts of enchantments, and can do things that no other man can do."
"We will go first to Cruachan," said Cuchulain. "I agree to that,"
said Laegaire. "Let us go then," said Conall Cearnach. "Let horses be brought, and
your chariot yoked, Conall," said Cuchulain; "and go on the first." "I
would not like that," said Conall. "That is no wonder," said Cuchulain, "for
every one knows the awkwardness of your horses, and the unsteadiness of your
chariot; it is so heavy that each of the wheels raises the sod on each side
wherever it goes, the way that for the length of a year it is easy for the men
of Ulster to know the track it has left after it."
"Do you hear that, Laegaire?" said Conall "It is for you to go
first." "Do not begin to mock at me," said Laegaire, "for I am good at crossing
fords, and I am ready to go up and face a storm of spears before any man. But do not put me
beside chariot kings till I practise going through hard and narrow places, and
racing against single chariots, till the champion of a single chariot will be
afraid to pass me."
With that Laegaire had his chariot yoked, and leaped into it. He drove over
Magh da Gabal, the Plain of the Two Forks, over Bernaid na Foraire, the Gap of
the Watch, over the Ford of Carpat Fergus, over the Ford of the Morrigu, to
Caerthund Cluana da Dam, the Rowan Meadow of the Two Oxen, in the Fews of
Firbuide; by the four ways, past Dundealgan across Magh Slicech, the Peeled
Plain, westward by Bregia. And it was not long till Conall Cearnach followed
after him, and many of the chief men of Ulster with them.
But Cuchulain stayed behind the others, amusing the women of Ulster with his
feats. He did nine feats with apples, nine with spears, and nine with knives,
without ever letting one touch the other. And he took three times fifty needles
from the women, and threw them up, one after the other, so that each needle went
into the eye of the other, and in that way they were all joined together. Then
he gave every woman her needle back into her own hand.
But Laeg, son of Riangabra, went to look for him, and reproached him, and
said: "You pitiful squinter, your courage has gone from you! The Champion's
Portion is lost to you, the men of Ulster have got to Cruachan before this." "I
never thought of it, my Laeg," said Cuchulain; "but yoke the chariot for me
now." So Laeg yoked it, and they set out on their journey. By that time the men
of Ulster were come to Magh Breagh, the Fine Meadow; but Cuchulain, after he was
roused up by Laeg, travelled so fast, and the Grey of Macha and the Black
Sainglain went racing in such a way with his chariot across the whole province
of Conchubar, across Slieve Fuad and the plain of Bregia, that he came up with
the others before they came to Cruachan.
The noise the whole troop made was so great, going at such speed as they did,
that a great shaking came on Cruachan, and the arms fell from the racks to the
ground, and the whole of the dun began to shake, so that every man was trembling
like a rush in a stream. On that Maeve said: "Since the day I first came to
Cruachan I never before heard thunder, there being no clouds in the sky." Then
Findabair of the Fair Eyebrows, daughter of Ailell and of Maeve, went up, for
she had a bird's sight, to her sunny parlour over the great door of the fort, to
tell them what was coming.
"Dear mother," she said, "I see a chariot coming over the plain."
"Tell me what is its appearance," said Maeve, "and the colour of its horses, and the
appearance of the man that sits in it." "I see well," said Findabair, "the two
horses that are in the chariot. Two fiery dappled greys, of the one colour,
shape, and goodness, having the one speed, keeping the one pace; their ears
pricked, their heads high, their nostrils broad, foreheads broad, manes and
tails curled, thin-sided, wide-chested, galloping together. The chariot is made
of fine wood with wicker-work newly polished, the yoke curved, with silver
ornaments on it; it has two black wheels, soft looped yellow reins. I see in the
chariot a big stout man, with reddish yellow hair, with long forked beard. He
has a soft purple coat about him, and it striped with bright gold. His bronze
shield is edged with gold; there is a five-pronged javelin at his wrist, a cover
of strange birds' feathers over his head."
"I know well who that man is," said Maeve, and it is what she said: "A
companion of kings, an old bestower of victories, a storm of war, a flame of
judgment, a long knife of victory that will cut us to pieces, mighty Laegaire of
the Red Hand. His sword cuts through men as a knife cuts through a leek; his
stroke is the back stroke of the wave to the land. And I swear by the gods my
people swear by," she said, "if it is in anger and for fighting Laegaire Buadach
is coming at us, that as leeks are cut close to the ground with a sharp knife,
the same way we will be cut down, as many of us as are in Cruachan, unless we
smooth down his anger by giving in to everything he asks."
"Good mother," said Findabair, "I see another chariot as good as
the first coming over the plain." "Tell me what is its appearance," said Maeve.
"I see," she said, "yoked to the chariot, on the one side a red horse,
taking strong, high strides across fords and splashes, over banks and gaps, over plains
and hollows, with the quickness of birds that the quick eye loses in following.
On the other side a bay horse of great strength; it is at full speed he races
over the plain, between stones and hard places; he finds no hindrance in the
land of oaks, hurrying on his way. A chariot of fine wood with wicker-work, on
two wheels of bright bronze; its pole bright with silver, its frame very high
and creaking, having a curved, firm yoke, with looped yellow reins.
"In the chariot a fair man, with wavy, hanging hair; his face white and red,
his vest clean and white, his cloak blue and crimson, his shield brown with
yellow bosses, its edge worked with bronze. In his hand a bright spear; a cover
of the feathers of strange birds over the wicker frame of his chariot"
"I know who that man is," said Maeve, and she said then: "The growling
of a lion; a flame that can cut like a sharpened stone; he heaps head on head, battle
on battle. As a trout is cut upon red sandstone, so would the son of Finchoem
cut us if he came on us in anger.
"For, by the oath of my people," she said, "as a speckled fish is
beaten upon a shining red stone with iron rods, so would we be broken by Conall
Cearnach, if he came against us."
"I see another chariot coming over the plain," said Findabair. "Tell
me what its appearance is," said Maeve. "I see two horses of the one size and beauty,
the one fierceness and speed, with ears pricked, heads high, spirited and
powerful, with fine nostrils, wide foreheads, mane and tail curled, leaping
together. The one grey, handsome, with broad thighs, eager, leaping, thundering,
and trampling. As he goes, his fierce hoofs throw up sods of earth like a flock
of swift birds after him. As he gallops on his way, he breathes out a blast of
hot breath, a fire comes from his curbed jaws. The other, dark, small-headed,
well-shaped, broad-hoofed, thin-sided, high-couraged, broad-backed, sure-footed,
spirited; he takes long strides in the race; he leaps over streams, he throws
off heaviness, he crosses the plains of the middle valley. They come together
with fast, joyful steps, moving over the plain like a swift mountain mist, or
like the speed of a bill hind, or like a hare on level ground, or like the
rushing of a loud wind in winter.
"The chariot is of fine wood with wicker-work, having two iron wheels, a
bright silver pole with bronze ornaments, a frame very high and creaking
strengthened with iron, a curved yoke overlaid with gold, two soft looped yellow
"I see in the chariot a dark, sad man, comeliest of the men of Ireland. A
pleated crimson tunic about him, fastened at the breast with a brooch of inlaid
gold; a long-sleeved linen cloak on him with a white hood embroidered with
flame-red gold. His eyebrows as black as the blackness of a spit, seven lights
in his eyes, seven colours about his bead, love and fire in his look. Across his
knees there lies a gold-hiked sword, there is a blood-red spear ready to his
hand, a sharp-tempered blade with a shaft of wood. Over his shoulders a crimson
shield with a rim of silver, overlaid with shapes of beasts in gold.
"There is before him in the chariot a driver, a very thin, tall, freckled
man; very bright red hair, kept back from his face with a golden thread, a cup
of gold at each side of his head. A short cloak about him with sleeves opening
at the two elbows; in his hand a goad of red gold to guide his horses."
"That is truly a drop before a downpour," said Maeve. "I know well who that
man is." And it is what she said: "Like the sound of an angry sea, like a great
moving wave, with the madness of a wild beast that is vexed, he leaps through
his enemies in the crash of battle, they hear their death in his shout He heaps
deed upon deed, head upon head; his is a name to be put in songs. As fresh malt
is ground in the mill, so shall we be ground by Cuchulain.
"For I swear by the oath of my people," she said, "that as a mill of ten
spokes grinds very hard malt, so he, with only himself, would grind us to dust
and to gravel, if we had the whole province with us, unless his anger and his
heat go down.
"And what way are the rest of the men of Ulster coming?" she said. And
Findabair answered her, and it is what she said: "Hand to hand, arm to arm, side
to side, shoulder to shoulder, wheel to wheel, axle to axle, that is the way
they are coming. Their horses are coming on us like thunder on the roof, like
heavy waves stirred by the storm; the trampling of their feet makes the earth
shake under them."
And Maeve said, "Let our women be ready before them with vats of cold water;
let the beds be made ready, bring the best of food, the best of ale. Open the
courtyard, have a welcome before them, and surely they will not harm us."
Then Maeve went out by the high door of the dun into the courtyard, and three
limes fifty young girls attending her, with three vats of cold water to cool the
beat of the three heroes in front of the rest. And she gave them their choice,
would each man have a house for himself, or would they have one house for the
three? "A house for each to himself," said Cuchulain. And when the rest of the
men of Ulster came, Ailell and Maeve with their whole household went out and
bade them welcome. "We are well pleased with the welcome," said Sencha for them.
After that, they all came into the fort and into the palace. They went round
from one door to the other, and there was room for them all, and the musicians
were playing music while everything was being made ready. And Conchubar, and
Fergus, son of Rogh, were in Ailell's division, with nine others along with
them, and there was a great feast made ready then, and they stopped there the
length of three days and three nights.
At the end of that time Ailell asked Conchubar what was the business that had
brought them there. And Sencha told him the whole story, about the quarrel of
the women as to who should walk first, and the quarrel of their husbands for the
Champion's Portion. "And they were not satisfied to be judged by anyone but
yourself," he said. Ailell did not seem to be well pleased at that. "Indeed, it
was no friend of mine that left this judgment on me," he said. "There is no
better judge than yourself," said Sencha. "Well," said Ailell, "you must give me
time to think upon it." "Do not make too much delay," said Sencha, "for we
cannot spare our heroes long from us." "Three days and three nights will be
enough for me," said Ailell. "That much will not break friendship," said Sencha.
With that the men of Ulster went home to Emain, leaving Laegaire and Conall
and Cuchulain to be judged by Ailell, and they left their blessing with Ailell
and with Maeve, and their curse with Bricriu, because it was he had first
started the quarrel.
That night the three heroes were given as good a feast as before, but they
were put to eat it in a room by themselves. When night came on, three enchanted
monsters, with the shape of cats, were let out from the cave that was in the
hill of the Sidhe at Cruachan, to attack them. When Conall and Laegaire saw
them, they got up into the rafters, leaving their food after them, and there
they stayed till morning. Cuchulain did not leave his place, but when one of the
monsters came to attack him, he gave a blow of his sword at its head; but the
sword slipped off as if from a stone. Then the monster stayed quiet, and
Cuchulain sat there through the night watching it. With the break of day the
cats were gone, and Ailell came in and saw what way the three heroes were. "Are
you not satisfied to give the Championship to Cuchulain, after this?" he said.
"We are not," said Conall and Laegaire; "it is not against beasts we are used to
fight, but against men."
Then Maeve said to them, "Go and spend the night with my foster-father,
Ercol, and his wife Garmna." So they went, but first they were given their
choice of food for their horses. Conall and Laegaire chose oats two years old
for theirs, but Cuchulain chose barley grain for his. Then they set out, racing
all the way, and Cuchulain winning the race.
Ercol and Garmna bade them welcome, and they knew it was to try them they bad
been sent there, so they sent them out that night, one after the other, to fight
with the witches of the valley.
Laegaire went first, but he could not stand against them, and he came back,
and left his arms and his clothes with them.
Then Conall went, and he was driven back, and left his spear with them, but
he brought his sword that was his best weapon away with him.
Then Cuchulain went down into the valley and the witches screamed at him and
attacked him, and he and they fought together till his spear was in splinters,
his shield broken and his clothes torn off him. The witches were beating him and
getting the better of him, but Laeg saw it, and he called out "O Cuchulain," he
said, "you poor coward, you squinting clown! Your courage is gone from you,
witches to be beating you!" Then great anger came on Cuchulain, and he turned on
the witches and cut and gashed them till the valley was filled with their blood,
and he brought away their cloaks of battle with him, and went back to the house
where his comrades were. And Garmna and her daughter Buan made much of him and
bade him welcome.
They slept there that night, and the next day Ercol challenged them to come
one by one, each man with his horse, to fight against himself and his horse.
Laegaire was the first to go against him, and his horse was killed by Ercol's
horse, and he himself was overcome by Ercol, so that he took to flight, and did
not stop till he got back to Cruachan, and he brought the story there that both
his companions had been killed by Ercol. Conall was the next to run away, after
his horse being killed by Ercol's horse; and his servant Rathand was drowned in
the river as he ran, and it takes its name after him, Snam Rathand, from that
But the Grey of Macha, killed Ercol's horse, and Cuchulain put down Ercol and
tied him behind his chariot and set out for Cruathan. And Buan, Garmna's
daughter, ran out after the chariot for love of Cuchulain to follow him. And she knew
the track of his chariot, for it was no roundabout track it used to
take, but to be breaking through gaps or going over them; and in following it at last
she gave a great leap and fell, and her forehead struck against a
rock, and she died; and it is from this the place was given the name of Buan's
And when Conall and Cuchulain got back to Cruachan, they found the people of
the dun keening them, for by the report Laegaire brought, they were sure they
had been killed.
Then Ailell went to his inner room, and leaned his back against the wall, for
he was not quiet in his mind, and he knew there was danger in whatever judgment
he might give; and he had not eaten or slept for three days and three nights.
Then Maeve said to him, "It is a coward you are, and if you do not settle this
matter I will settle it myself." "It is hard for me to give judgment," said
Ailell, "it is a misfortune for any one to have to do it." "It is easy enough,"
said Maeve, "for Laegaire and Conall Cearnach are as different as bronze and
silver, and Conall Cearnach and Cuchulain are as different as silver and red
After a while, when Maeve had searched her mind, Laegaire Buadach was called
to her. "Welcome, Laegaire Buadach," she said, "it is right for you to have the
Champion's Portion. We give you the headship of the heroes of Ireland from this
out, and the Champion's Portion, and along with that this cup of bronze, having
a bird in raised silver on the bottom. Take it with you as a token of the
judgement, but let no one see it till you come to Conchubar and his Red Branch
at the end of the day. When the Champion's Portion is set out, then bring out
your cup in the presence of all the great men of Ulster, and not one of them
will dispute it with you any more, for they will know by this token that the
Championship has been given to you." With that, the cup was given to him with
its full of rich wine, and he drank it off at a draught "Now you have the
Championship," said Maeve; "and I wish you may enjoy it a hundred years at the
head of all Ulster."
So Laegaire left her, and Conall Cearnach was called up to the queen.
"Welcome, Conall Ceamach," she said; "it is right for us to give you the
Champion's Portion, and a silver cup along with it, having a bird on the bottom
in raised gold." And she said the same to him as she had said to Laegaire
Then Conall went away, and a messenger was sent to bring Cuchulain. "Come up
to speak with the king and queen," said the messenger.
Cuchulain was playing chess at the time with Laeg, his chariot-driver. "I am
not a fool to be mocked at," he said, and he hurled one of the chessmen at the
messenger, and hit him between the eyes, so that it is hardly he could get back
to Ailell and Maeve.
"By my word," said Maeve, "this Cuchulain is hard to deal with."
And then she came down herself to Cuchulain, and put her two arms round his neck. "Give your
flattery to some other one," said Cuchulain.
But Maeve said, "Great son of Ulster, flame of the heroes of Ireland, there
is no flattery in our mind when it is you we have to do with. For if all the
heroes of Ireland should come here, it is to you we would give the Champion's
Portion, for as to bravery and a great name, and as to youth and great deeds, it
is well-known that you are far beyond all the men of Ireland."
Cuchulain rose up then, and went with Maeve into the palace, and Ailell gave
him a great welcome. And be was given a gold cup full of wine, and it having on
the bottom of it a bird in precious stones. "Now, you have the Championship,"
said Maeve, "and it is my wish you may enjoy it a hundred years at the head of
all the heroes of Ulster." "And besides that," Ailell and Maeve said, "it is
our judgment, that as much as you are beyond the heroes of Ulster, so far is your
wife beyond their wives. And we think it right that she should walk before the
women of Ulster when they go together into the drinking-hall."
Then Cuchulain drank at one draught the full of the cup, and bade farewell to
the king and the queen and the whole household. And he went till he came to
Emain Macha at the end of the day. and there was no one among the men of Ulster
would venture to ask news of any of the three until the time came to eat and to
drink in the great hall.
When the feast was laid out, they all stopped their arguing and their
talking, and gave themselves up to eating and to enjoyment. It was Sualtim, son
of Roig, father of Cuchulain, was attending the feast that night, and
Conchubar's great vat had been filled for it. The distributors began serving out
the meat, but at first they kept back the Champion's Portion. Then Dubthach of
the Chafer Tongue said, "Why is not the Champion's Portion given to one of these
three heroes that are come back from Cruachan? They must surely have brought
some token with them, that we may know which one is to have it."
Upon that, Laegaire Buadach rose up and held out the bronze cup with the
silver bird on it. "The Champion's Portion is mine," he said, "and no one can
dispute it with me."
"That is not so," said Conall Cearnach; "here is my token. Yours is
a bronze cup but mine is a silver cup. You see by the difference in them it is to me the
Champion's Portion belongs."
"It belongs to neither of you," said Cuchulain, and he rose up and he said,
"It was only to deceive you and to keep up the quarrel between us, the king and
queen we went to gave you those. It is to me the Champion's Portion belongs, foe
you see my token, that it is far above the others."
With that he lifted high up the cup of red gold, with the bird on it of
precious stones, and all the men in the feasting-hall saw it. "It is I myself
that will get the Championship," he said, "if I get fair play." "It is yours
indeed," said Conchubar, and Fergus, and all the chief men. "It is yours by the
judgment of Ailell and Maeve." "I swear by the oath of my people," said
Laegaire, "that the cup you have with you was not given to you, but bought. You
gave riches and treasures for it to Ailell and Maeve, the way the Championship
would not go to any other person; but by my hand of valour," he said, "that
judgment shall not stand."
Then, with their swords drawn, they sprang at one another, but Conchubar went
between them, and then they let down their hands and sheathed their swords. "It
is best," said Sencha, "for you to go to Curoi for judgement." "We agree to
that,' said they.
So on the morning of the morrow, the three--Cuchulain, Conall, and
Laegaire--set out for Curoi's dun. At the gate of the dun they unyoked their
chariots, and they went into the courtyard, and Blanad, daughter of Mind,
Curoi's wife, gave them a good welcome. Curoi was not at home that night, but
knowing, by his enchantments, they would come, he had left instructions with his
wife how to entertain them; and she did according to his wish, giving them water
for washing, and drinks for refreshing, and beds of the best, so that they were
When bedtime came, Blanad told them they were each to take a night to watch
the fort, till Curoi would come back. "And it is what he said, that you should
take your turn according to age."
Now in whatever part of the world Curoi was, he made a spell every night over
the dun, so that it went round like a mill, and no entrance could be found in it
after the setting of the sun.
The first night Laegaire Buadach took the watch, for be was the oldest of the
three. As he was keeping watch, towards the end of the night he saw a great
shadow coming towards him from the sea westward. Very huge and ugly and terrible
he thought it, and it took the shape of a giant and reached up to the sky, and
the shining of the sea could be seen between its legs. It is how it came, its
hands full of what had the appearance of stripped oaks, and each of them enough
for a load of six horses; and he hurled one of them at Laegaire, but it went
past him. He did this two or three times, but the beam did not reach either the
skin or the shield of Laegaire. Then Laegaire hurled a spear at him, and it did
not hit him.
He stretched out his hand then to Laegaire, and the length of it reached the
three ridges that were between them while they were throwing at one another and
he gripped hold of him. Big and strong as Laegaire was, he fitted like a child
of a year old into his hand.
The giant turned him round between his two palms as a chessman is turned in a
groove, and then he threw him half dead over the wall of the fort, into a heap
of mud. There was no opening there, and the people inside the dun thought he had
leaped over from outside, as a challenge to the others to do the same.
There they stayed until the end of the day, and at the fall of night Conall
went out to take the watch, as he was older than Cuchulain. Everything happened
as it did to Laegaire the first night And when the third night came, Cuchulain
went into the seat of the watch.
When midnight was come he heard a noise, and by the light of the cold moon he
saw nine grey shapes coming towards him over the marsh. "Stop," said Cuchulain,
"who is there? If they are friends, let them not stir; if they are enemies, let
them come on."
Then they raised a great shout at him, and Cuchulain rushed at them and
attacked them, so that the nine fell dead to the ground, and he cut their heads
off and made a heap of them, and sat down again to keep the watch. Another nine
and then another shouted at him, but he made an end of the three nines, and made
one heap of their heads and their arms.
While he was watching on through the night, tired and downhearted, he heard a
sound rising from the lake, like the sound of a very heavy sea. However tired he
was, his mind would not let him keep quiet, without going to see what was the
cause of that great noise he heard. Then he saw a great worm coming up from the
lake, and it raised itself into the air over him and made for the dun, and
opened its mouth, and it seemed to him that one of the houses would fit into its
Then Cuchulain with one leap reached its head and put his arm round its neck,
and stretched his hand across its gullet, and tore the monster's heart out and
threw it to the ground. Then the beast fell down, and Cuchulain hacked it with
his sword, and made little bits of it, and brought the head along with him to
the heap of skulls. He was sitting there, towards the break of day, worn out and
discouraged, and he saw the great shadow shaped like a giant coming to him
westward from the sea. "This is a bad night," he said. 'It will be worse for you
yet," said Cuchulain. Then he threw one of the beams at Cuchulain, but it passed
by him, and he did that two or three times, but it did not reach either his
shield or his skin. Then he stretched out his hand to grip Cuchulain as he did
the others, but Cuchulain leaped his salmon leap at the head of the monster,
with his drawn sword, and brought him down. "Life for life, Cuchulain," he said,
and with that he vanished and was no more seen.
Then Cuchulain wondered to himself how his fellows had made their leap over
the fort, for the wall was big and broad and high, and twice he tried it and
failed. Then anger came on him, and he went a good way back and made a run, and
with the dint of the anger that was on him, and the courage of his heart and of
his mind, he hardly took the dew off the tips of the grass in the run, and he
made one leap over the wall, and lit in the middle, at the door of the house.
Then he went in through the door and gave a sigh. And Blanad, wife of Curoi,
said, "That is not the sigh of a beaten man, but a conqueror's sigh of triumph."
For the daughter of the King of the Isle of the Men of Falga knew well all
Cuchulain had gone through that night.
"The Champion's Portion must now go to Cuchulain," she said to the others;
'for you see by this that you are not equal to him." "We do not agree to that,"
said they; "for we know it was one of his friends among the Sidhe came to put us
down and to put us out of the Championship. We will not give up for that," they
Then she gave them a message she had from Curoi, that the three champions
were to go back to Emain, until he would bring his judgment there himself. So
they bade her farewell, and went back to the Red Branch
It was a good while after this, as the men of Ulster were in Emain, tired.
after the gathering and the games, Conchubar and Fergus, son of Rogh, with the
chief men, went from the field of sports outside, and sat down in the house of
the Red Branch; but Cuchulain was not there that night, or Conall Cearnach, but
all the rest of the chief heroes were in it.
As they were sitting there towards evening, and the day wearing to its close,
they saw a big awkward fellow, very ugly, coming to them into the hail. It
seemed to them as if none of the men of Ulster could reach to half his height.
He was frightful to look at next his skin he had an old cow's hide, and a grey
cloak around him, and over him be had a great spreading branch the size of a
winter shed under which thirty cattle could find shelter. Ravenous yellow eyes
he had, and in his right hand an axe weighing fifty cauldrons of melted metal,
its sharpness such that it would cut through hairs, if the wind would blow them
against its edge.
He went over and leaned against the branched beam that was beside the fire.
"Who are you at all?" said Dubthach of the Chafer Tongue. "Is there
no other place for you in the hall that you come up here? Is it to be candlestick to the
house you want, or is it to set the house on fire you want?"
"Uath, the Stranger, is my name," said he; "and neither of those
things is the thing I want The thing I want is the thing I cannot find, and I after going
through the world of Ireland and the whole world looking for it, and that is a
man that will keep his word and will hold to his agreement with me."
"What agreement is that?" said Fergus. "Here is this axe," he
said, "and the man into whose hands it is put is to cut off my head to-day, I to cut his
head off to-morrow. And as you men of Ulster have a name beyond the men of all
countries for strength and skill, for courage, for greatness, for
highmindedness, for behaviour, for truth and generosity, for worthiness, let you
find one among you that will hold to his word and keep to his bargain. Conchubar
I put aside because of his kingship, and Fergus, son of Rogh, for the same
reason. But outside these two, come, whichever of you will venture, he to cut
off my head to-night, I to cut off his head to-morrow night"
"It is not right for dishonour to be put on a whole province," said
Fergus, "for the want of one man that will keep his word." "Sure there is no
champion here after these two are left out," said Dubthach. "By my word, there will
be one this moment," said Laegaire, and he leaped out on the floor of the hail.
"Stoop down, clown, that I may cut off your head to-night, you to cut off mine
to-morow night." "By the oath of my people," said Dubthach, "it is no good
prospect you have if the man killed to-night comes to kill you to-morrow."
Then Uath put spells on the edge of the axe and laid his neck down on a
block, and Laegaire struck a blow across it with the axe, till it went into the
block underneath, and the head fell on the floor and the house was filled with
the blood. But presently Uath rose up and gathered his head and his axe to his
breast and went out from the hall, his neck streaming with blood, so that there
was terror on all the people in the house.
"I swear," said Dubthach, "if this stranger, being killed, comes
back to-morrow night, he will not leave a man alive in Ulster."
Back be came the next night to have his agreement kept. But Laegaire's heart
failed him, and be was nowhere to be found. But Conall Cearnach was in the hall,
and he said he would make a new agreement with him. So all happened the same as
the night before, but when Uath came the next day, it was the same with Conall
as with Laegaire, his heart failed him when it came to the keeping of his
Cuchulain was there that night when Uath came in and began to reproach and to
mock at them all. "As for you, men of Ulster," he said, "all your courage and
your daring is gone from you; you covet a great name, but you are not able to
earn it. Where is that poor squinting fellow that is called Cuchulain," he said,
"till I see if his word is any better than the word of the others?" "I will keep
my word without any agreement," said Cuchulain. "That is likely, you miserable
fly, it is in great fear of death you are."
On that, Cuchulain made a leap towards him and gave him a blow with the axe,
and hurled his head to the top rafter of the hail, so that the whole house
On the morrow the men of Ulster were watching Cuchulain to see if he would
break his word to the stranger, as the others had done. As Cuchulain sat there
waiting for him, they saw that he was very down-hearted, and they made sure his
life was at its end, and that they might as well begin keening him. And then
Cuchulain said to Conchubar, and there was hanging of the head on him, "Do not
go from this till my agreement is fulfilled, for death is coming to me, but I
would sooner meet with death than break my word."
They were there till the close of day, and then they saw Uath coming. "Where
is Cuchulain?" he said. "Here I am," be answered. "It is dull your speech is
to-night," said the stranger; "it is in great fear of death you are. But however
great your fear, you have not failed me."
Then Cuchulain went to him and laid his head on the block. "Stretch out your
head better," said he. "You are keeping me in torment," said Cuchulain; "put an
end to me quickly. For last night," he said, "by my oath, I made no delay with
you." Then he stretched out his neck, and Uath raised his axe till it
reached the rafters of the hail, and the creaking of the old hide that was about
him, and the crashing of the axe through the rafters, was like the loud noise of
a wood in a stormy night. But when the axe came down, it was with its blunt
side, and it was the floor it struck, so that Cuchulain was not touched at all.
And all the chief men of Ulster were standing around looking on, and they saw on
the moment that it was no strange clown was in it, but Curoi, son of Daire, that
had come to try the heroes through his enchantments.
"Rise up, Cuchulain," he said. "Of all the heroes of Ulster, whatever may be
their daring, there is not one to compare with you in courage and in bravery and
in truth. The Championship of the heroes of Ireland is yours from this out, and
the Champion's Portion with it, and to your wife the first place among all the
women of Ulster. And whoever tries to put himself before you after this," he
said, "I swear by the oath my people swear by, his own life will be in danger."
With that he left them. And this was the end of the Women's War of Words, and
of the quarrel among the heroes for the Championship of Ulster.
Cuchulain by John Duncan