The Tain Bo Culaigne
Here Followeth The Array of The Host
Said Ailill: "Truly have I succeeded," said he, "in laying waste Ulster and
the land of the Picts from Monday at Summer's end till Spring's beginning. We
have taken their women and the sons and their children, their steeds and their
troops of horses, their herds and their flocks and their droves. We have laid
level their hills after them, so that they have become lowlands and are all one
height. For this cause, will I await them no longer here, but let them offer me
battle on Mag Ai, if so it please them. But, say here what we will, some one
shall go forth from us to watch the great, wide plain of Meath, to know if the
men of Ulster come hither. And, should the men of Ulster come hither, I will in
no wise be the first to retreat till battle be given them, for it was never the
wont of a good king to retreat." "Who should fitly go thither?" asked all. "Who
but macRoth our chief runner yonder?"
MacRoth went his way to survey the great wide-spreading plain of Meath. Not
long was macRoth there when he heard something: A rush and a crash and a clatter
and a clash. Not slight the thing he judged it to be, but as though it was the
firmament itself that fell on the man-like face of the world, or as though it
was the furrowed, blue-bordered ocean that broke o'er the tufted brow of the
earth, or as though the ground had gone asunder in quakes, or as though the
forest fell, each of the trees in the crotches and forks and branches of the
other. But why give further accounts! The wood's wild beasts were hunted out on
the plain, so that beneath them the grassy forelocks of the plain of Meath were
not to be seen.
MacRoth hastened to tell this tale at the place where were Ailill and Medb
and Fergus and the nobles of the men of Erin. MacRoth related the whole matter
"What was that there, O Fergus?" asked Ailill. "Not hard to say," said
Fergus. "It was the rush and tramp and clatter that he heard," said Fergus, "the
din and thunder, the tumult and turmoil of the Ulstermen, who have come into the
woods, the throng of champions and battle-heroes cutting down with their swords
the woods in the way of their chariots. This it was that hath put the wild
animals to flight on the plain, so that the grassy forelocks of the field of
Meath are hidden beneath them!"
Another time macRoth surveyed the plain and he saw something: a heavy, grey
mist that filled the space between the heavens and earth. It seemed to him that
the hills were islands in lakes that he saw rising up out of the sloping valleys
of mist. It seemed to him they were wide-yawning caverns that he saw there
leading into that mist. It seemed to him it was all-white, flaxy sheets of
linen, or sifted snow a-falling that he saw there through a rift in the mist. It
seemed to him it was a flight of many, varied, wonderful, numerous birds, or the
constant sparkling of shining stars on a bright, clear night of hoar-frost, or
sparks of red-flaming fire. He heard something: A rush and a din and a hurtling
sound, a noise and a thunder, a tumult and a turmoil. He hastened on to impart
these tidings at the place where were Ailill and Medb and Fergus and the nobles
of the men of Erin. He reported the matter to them.
"But what was that, O Fergus?" asked Ailill. "Not hard to say," Fergus made
answer. "This was the great, grey mist that he saw which filled the space
between the heavens and earth, namely, the streaming breath both of horses and
men, the smoke of the earth and the dust of the roads as it rose over them with
the driving of the wind, so that it made a heavy, deep-grey misty vapour thereof
in the clouds and the air.
"These were the islands over lakes that he saw there, and the tops of hills
and of heights over the sloping valleys of mist, even the heads of the champions
and battle-heroes over the chariots and the chariots withal. These were the
wide-yawning caverns that he saw there leading into that mist, even the mouths
and the nostrils of the horses and champions exhaling and inhaling the sun and
the wind with the speed of the host.
These were the all-white, flax-like cloths that he saw there or the streaming
snow a-falling, to wit the foam and the froth that the bridles of the reins
flung from the bits of strong, stout steeds with the stress, with the swiftness
and strength and speed of the host.
"These were the flights of many, various, wonderful, numerous birds that he
saw there, even the dust of the ground and the top of the earth and the sods
which the horses flung from their feet and their hoofs and arose over the heads
of the host with the driving of the wind.
"This was the rush and the crash and the hurtling sound, the din and the
thunder, the clatter and clash that he heard there, to wit the shield-shock of
shields and the jangle of javelins and the hard-smiting of swords and the ring
of helmets, the clangour of breast-plates and the rattle of arms and the fury of
feats, the straining of ropes and the whirr of wheels and the trampling of
horses' hoofs and the creaking of chariots, and the deep voices of heroes and
battle-warriors coming hither towards us.
"This was the constant sparkling of shining stars on a bright, clear night
that he saw there and the sparks of red-flaming fire, even the bloodthirsty,
terrible eyes of the champions and battle-warriors from under beautiful,
well-shaped, finely-adorned battle-helmets; eyes full of the fury and rage they
brought with them, against the which neither before nor since has equal combat
nor overwhelming force of battle prevailed, and against which it will never
prevail till the very day of doom and of life!"
"We make not much of that," quoth Medb. "For there are goodly warriors and
goodly fighting-men with us to cope with them." "Thou shalt have need of them,"
answered Fergus. "Truly, I count not on that, O Medb. For I give my word, thou
shalt find no host in all Erin, nor in Alba, to cope with the men of Ulster when
once their anger comes on them!"
Then did the four grand provinces of Erin pitch camp and make lodgment at
Clartha for that night. They sent forth folk to keep watch and guard against
Ulster, to the end that the Ulstermen might not come upon them without warning,
Then it was that Conchobar and Celtchar with thirty hundred bristling
chariot-fighters set forth, till they halted at Slemain Mide ('Slane of Meath')
in the rear of the host. But, though 'halted' we have said, a very brief halt
made they there, but proceeded for a favourable sign to the quarters of Ailill
and Medb, so they might be the first of all to redden their hands.
It was not long macRoth had been there when he saw something: An
incomparable, immense troop of horsemen in Slane of Meath coming straight from
the northeast. He hastened forward to where were Ailill and Medb and Fergus and
the chiefs of the men of Erin. Ailill asked tidings of him on his arrival: "Say,
mac Roth," queried Ailill; "sawest thou aught of the men of Ulster on the trail
of the host this day?" "Truly I know not," answered macRoth; "but I saw an
incomparable, immense troop of horsemen in Slane of Meath coming straight from
the north-east." "But how many numbered the horse-troop?" asked Ailill. "Not
fewer, meseemed, than thirty hundred fully armed chariot-fighters were they,
even ten hundred and twenty hundred fully armed chariot-fighters," macRoth made
"So, O Fergus," quoth Ailill. "How thinkest thou to terrify us till now with
the smoke and dust and the breath of a mighty host, while all the battle-force
thou hast is that we see yonder!" "A little too soon belittles thou them,"
Fergus retorted; "for mayhap the bands are more numerous than is said they are."
"Let us take good, swift counsel on the matter," said Medb; "for yon huge,
most fierce, most furious man will attack us we ween, Conchobar, to wit, son of
Fachtna Fathach ('the Giant') son of Ross Ruad ('the Red') son of Rudraige,
himself High King of Ulster and son of the High King of Erin. Let there be a
hollow array of the men of Erin before Conchobar and a force of thirty hundred
ready to close in from behind, and the men shall be taken and in no wise
wounded; for, no more than is a caitiff's lot is this whereto they are come!"
Wherefore this is the third most derisive word that was spoken on the
Cattle-lifting of Cualnge, even to take Conchobar prisoner without wounding, and
to inflict a caitiff's lot on the ten hundred and twenty hundred who accompanied
the kings of Ulster.
And Cormac Conlongas son of Conchobar heard that, and he knew that unless he
took vengeance at once upon Medb for her great boast, he would not avenge it
till the very day of doom and of life.
It was then that Cormac Conlongas son of Conchobar arose with his troop of
thirty hundred to inflict the revenge of battle and prowess upon Ailill and
Medb. Ailill arose with his thirty hundred to meet him. Medb arose with her
thirty hundred. The Manè arose with their thirty hundred. The sons of Maga arose
with their thirty hundred. The Leinstermen and the Munstermen and the people of
Temair arose and made interposition between them, so that on both sides each
warrior sat down near to the other and near by his arms.
Meanwhile a hollow array of men was made by Medb to face Conchobar and a
warlike band of thirty hundred ready to close in from behind. Conchobar
proceeded to attack the circle of men. And he was far from seeking any
particular breach, but he worked a small gap, broad enough for a man-at-arms,
right in front over against him in the circle of combatants, and effected a
breach of an hundred on his right side, and a breach of an hundred on his left,
and he turned in on them, and mingled among them on their ground, and there fell
of them eight hundred fully brave warriors at his hands. And thereafter he left
them without blood or bleeding from himself and took his station in Slane of
Meath at the head of the men of Ulster.
"Come, ye men of Erin!" cried Ailill. "Let some one go hence to scan the
wide-stretching plain of Meath, to know in what guise the men of Ulster come to
the height in Slane of Meath, to bring us an account of their arms and the gear
and their trappings, their kings and their royal readers, their champions and
battle-warriors and gapbreakers of hundreds and their yeomen, to which to listen
will shorten the time for us." "Who should go thither?" asked all. "Who but
macRoth the chief runner," Ailill made answer.
MacRoth went his way till he took his station in Slane of Meath, awaiting the
men of Ulster. The Ulstermen were busied in marching to that hill from gloaming
of early morn till sunset hour in the evening. In such manner the earth was
never left naked under them during all that time, every division of them under
its king, and every band under its leader, and every king and every leader and
every lord with the number of his force and his muster, his gathering and his
levy apart. Howbeit, by sunset hour in the evening all the men of Ulster had
taken position on that height in Slane of Meath.
MacRoth came forward with the account of their first company to the place
where Ailill and Medb and Fergus were and the nobles of the men of Erin. Ailill
and Medb asked tidings of him when he arrived. "Come, macRoth," quoth Ailill,
"tell us in what manner of array do the Ulstermen advance to the hill of Slane
"Truly, I know not," answered macRoth, "except this alone: There came a
fiery, powerful, most well-favoured company upon the hill of Slane in Meath,"
said macRoth. "It seemed, on scanning and spying, that a thrice thirty hundred
warriors were in it. Anon they all doffed their garments and threw up a turfy
mound for their leader to sit on. A youth, slender, long, exceeding great of
stature, fair to behold, proud of mien, in the van of the troop. Fairest of the
princes of the world was he in the midst of his warriors, as well in
fearsomeness and in awe, in courage and command; fair-yellow hair, curled,
delicately arranged in ridges and bushy had he; a comely, clear-rosy countenance
he had; a deep-blue-gray, angry eye, devouring and fear-inspiring, in his head;
a two-forked beard, yellow, fairly curled, on his chin; a purple mantle with
fringes and five-folded wrapped around him; a brooch of gold in the mantle over
his breast; a shining-white, hooded shirt under red interweaving of red gold he
wore next his white skin; a bright-white shield with figures of beasts of red
gold thereon; a gold-hilted, hammered sword in one of his hands; a broad and
gray-green lance in the other. That warrior took his station on the top of the
mound, so that each one came up to him and his company took their places around
"There came also another company to the same height in Slane of Meath,"
continued macRoth. "Second of the two divisions of thirty hundred it was. A
well-favoured warrior was there likewise at the head of that company;
fair-yellow hair he wore; a bright, curly beard about his chin; a green mantle
wrapped around him; a bright-silvern pin in the mantle at his breast; a
brown-red, soldier's tunic under red interweaving of red gold trussed up against
his fair skin down to his knees; a candle of a king's house in his hand, with
windings of silver and bands of gold; wonderful the feats and games performed
with the spear in the hand of the youth; the windings of silver ran round it by
the side of the bands of gold, now from the butt to the socket, while at other
times it was the bands of gold that circled by the side of the windings of
silver from socket to spear-end; a smiting shield with plaited edge he bore; a
sword with hilt-pieces of ivory, and ornamented with thread of gold on his left
side. This warrior took his station on the left of the leader of the first
company who had come to the mound, and his followers got them seated around him.
But, though we have said they sat, they did not verily seat themselves at once,
but they sat thus, with their knees on the ground and the rims of their shields
against their chins, so long it seemed to them till they should be let at us.
But, one thing yet: Meseemed that the great, fierce youth who led the troop
stammered grievously in his speech.
"Still another battalion there came to the same mound in Slane of Meath,"
continued macRoth. "Second to its fellow in number and followers and apparel. A
handsome, broad-headed warrior at the head of that troop; dark-yellow hair in
tresses he wore; an eager, dark-blue eye rolling restlessly in his head; a
bright, curled beard, forked and tapering, at his chin; a dark-grey cloak with
fringes, folded around him; a leaf-shaped brooch of silvered bronze in the
mantle over his breast; a white-hooded shirt reaching to his knees was girded
next to his skin; a bright shield with raised devices of beasts thereon he bore;
a sword with white silver hilt in battle-scabbard at his waist; the pillar of a
king's palace he bore on his back. This warrior took his station on the hill of
turf facing the warrior who first came to the hill, and his company took their
places around him. But sweet as the tone of lutes in masters' hands when long
sustained, so seemed to me the melodious sound of the voice and the speech of
the youth conversing with the warrior who first came to the hill and offering
him every counsel."
"But who might that be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "Truly, we know him well,"
Fergus made answer. "This, to wit, is the first hero for whom they threw up the
mound of turf on the height of the hill and whom all approached, namely,
Conchobar son of Fachtna Fathach son of Ross Ruad son of Rudraige, High King of
Ulster, and son of the High King of Erin. This, to wit, is the stammering, great
warrior who took station on his father Conchobar's left, namely, Cuscraid Menn
('the Stammerer') of Macha, Conchobar's son, with the sons of the king of Ulster
and the sons of the princes of the men of Erin close by him. This is the spear
he saw in his hand, even the 'Torch of Cuscraid,' with its windings of silver
and bands of gold. It is the wont of that spear that neither before nor after,
but only on the eve of a triumph, do the silver windings run round it by the
side of the bands of gold. Belike, it is almost before a triumph they course
round it now.
"The well-favoured, broad-headed warrior who seated himself on the hill in
the presence of the youth who first came on the mound, namely is Sencha son of
Ailill son of Maelcho 'the Eloquent' of Ulster, he that is wont to appease the
hosts of the men of Erin. But, yet a word more I say: It is not the counsel of
cowardice nor of fear that he gives his lord this day on the day of strife, but
counsel to act with valour and courage and wisdom and cunning. But, again one
word further I say," added Fergus: "It is a goodly people for performing great
deeds that has risen there early this day around Conchobar!" "We make not much
of them," quoth Medb; "we have goodly warriors and stout youths to deal with
them." "I count not that for much," answered Fergus again; "but I say this word:
Thou wilt not find in Erin nor in Alba a host to be a match for the men of
Ulster when once their anger comes upon them."
"Yet another company there came to the same mound in Slane of Meath," said
macRoth. "A fair, tall, great warrior in the van of that battalion, and he of
fiery spirit, with noble countenance. Brown, dark-coloured hair he wore, smooth
and thin on his forehead; a dull-grey cloak girt around him; a silver pin in the
cloak over his breast; a bright, sleeved tunic next to his skin; a curved shield
with sharp, plaited rim he bore; a five-pronged spear in his hand; a
straightsword with ornaments of walrus-tooth in its place." "But, who might that
be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "In very sooth, we know him," Fergus made answer.
"The putting of hands on strife is he; a battle-warrior for combat and
destruction on foes is the one who is come there, even Eogan son of Durthacht,
king of the Fernmag in the north, is the one yonder."
"Another battalion there came thither to the same mound in Slane of Meath,"
continued macRoth. "It is surely no false word that boldly they took the hill.
Deep the terror, great the fear they brought with them. Their raiment all thrown
back behind them. A great-headed, warlike warrior in the forefront of the
company, and he eager for blood, dreadful to look upon. Spare, grizzly hair had
he; huge, yellow eyes in his head; a yellow, close-napped (?) cloak around him;
a pin of yellow gold in the cloak over his breast; a yellow tunic with lace next
his skin; in his hand a nailed, broad-plated, long-shafted spear with a drop of
blood on its edge." "But, who might that be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "In truth
then, we know him, that warrior," Fergus gave answer. "Neither battle nor
battlefield nor combat nor contest shuns he, the one who is come thither.
Loegaire Buadach ('the Victorious') son of Connad Buide ('the Yellow') son of
Iliach, from Immail in the north, is the one yonder."
"Another company there came there too to the same mound in Slane of Meath,"
continued macRoth. "A thick-necked, burly warrior at the head of that troop;
black, bushy hair he had; a scarred, crimsoned face he had; a deep-blue-gray,
blazing eye in his head; a spear set with eyes of glass, casting shadows over
him; a black shield with a hard rim of silvered bronze upon him, a dun-coloured
cloak of curly wool about him; a brooch of pale gold in the cloak over his
breast; a three-striped tunic of silk next to his skin; a sword with ivory hilt
and with ornamentation of thread of gold over his dress on the outside. ""But,
who might that man be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "We know him full well," Fergus
made answer. "He is the putting of hand on strife; a wave of the high sea that
drowneth; he is the man of three shouts; the sea over walls; the man who comes
thither. Muremur ('Thick-neck') son of Gerrcend ('Short-head') from Moduirn in
the north is the one yonder."
"Still another company there came to the same mound in Slane of Meath,"
continued macRoth. "A broad-headed, stout warrior, pleasantly found of limb, in
the front of that troop; he is dried and sallow; he is wild and bull-like; a
dun, round eye, proud in his head; yellow, very curly is his hair; a red, round
shield with hardsilver rim about it he bore; a broad-plated, long-shafted spear
in his hand; a streaked-gray cloak around him; a brooch of copper in the cloak
over his breast; a hooded kirtle girded around him reaching down to his calves;
a straightsword with ornaments of walrus-tooth on his left thigh." "But who
might he be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "I know him indeed," Fergus made answer.
"He is the prop of battle; he is the triumph of every combat; he is the tool
that pierces, is the man who comes thither. Connud macMorna, from the Callann in
the north, is the man yonder."
"There came still another company to the same mound in Slane of Meath,"
continued macRoth. "It is indeed no lying word, it is with might and storm they
gained the hill, so that with the clash of arms they made at the approach of
that company they startled the hosts that had arrived there before them. A man,
comely and noble, in advance of that band; most well-favoured to see of the men
of the world, whether in shape or form or frame; whether in arms or apparel;
whether in size or worth or beauty; whether in figure or valour or conduct."
"Then it is surely no lying word," Fergus said: "A fitting saying is this, 'No
fool 'mongst the naked is he who comes thither.' He is the foe of all others; he
is a power irresistible; the storm-wave that drowneth, the glitter of ice is
that well-favoured man. Fedilmid son of Ilar Cetach of Cualnge, from Ellonn in
the north, is he yonder."
"Still another battalion came thither to the same hill in Slane of Meath,"
macRoth proceeded. "Not often is a warrior seen more handsome than the warrior
that is in the front rank of that company. Bushy, red-yellow hair he wore; his
face slender below, broad above; a deep-blue-gray, beaming eye, and it flashing
and laughing in his head; a well-set, shapely man, tall, slender below and broad
above; red, thin lips he had; teeth shining and pearl-like; a white-skinned
body; a purple cloak wrapped around him; a brooch of gold in the mantle over his
breast; a hooded tunic of royal silk with a red hem of red gold he wore next to
his white skin; a bright, curved shield with figures of beasts in red gold
thereon; a gold-hilted, inlaid swordat his left side; a long, gray-edged spear
along with a cutting bye-spear of attack, with thongs for throwing, with
fastenings of silvered bronze, in his hand." "But who might that man be?" asked
Ailill of Fergus. "We know him full well," Fergus made answer. "He is half of a
battle; he is the dividing of combat; he is the wild rage of a watchhound, the
man who is come thither; Rochad son of Fatheman, from Rigdonn in the north, is
"Another battalion there came to the same hill in Slane of Meath," continued
macRoth. "A stalwart, thick-calved warrior at the head of that company; little
but every limb of him as stout as a man. Verily it is no lying word, he is a man
down to the ground," said he. "Brown, bushy hair upon his head; a ruddy
countenance covered with scars he had; a flashing, proud eye in his head; a
splendid, dexterous man was there, in this wise: Accompanied by black-haired,
black-eyed youths; with a red, flaming banner; with wilful rashness, so that
they seek to rout overwhelming numbers outside of equal combat, with the
violence of assault upon them, without having aught assistance from Conchobar."
"But, who might he be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "Aye then we know him," Fergus
made answer. "A thirst for valour and prowess is he that came thither; a thirst
for madness and fury. The welding of hosts and of arms; the point of battle and
of slaughter of the men of the north of Erin, mine own real foster-brother
himself, Fergus son of Lete, the king from Line in the north, is the man
"Still another company came to the same hill in Slane of Meath," macRoth
continued, "steadfast, without equal. A handsome, untiring warrior in the van of
this company. A blue, narrow-bordered cloth next to his skin, with strong, woven
and twisted hoops of silvered bronze, with becoming, sharp-fashioned buttons of
red gold on its slashes and breastborders; a green mantle, pieced together with
the choicest of all colours, folded about him; five circles of gold, that is,
his shield, he bore on him; a tough, obdurate, straight-bladed sword for a
hero's handling hung high on his left side. A straight, fluted spear, flaming
red and venomous in his hand." "But, who might that be?" asked Ailill of Fergus.
"Truly, we know him well," Fergus made answer. "The choice flower of royal poets
is he. He is the rush on the rash; he is the way to the goal, fierce is his
valour, the man that came thither; Amargin son of the smith Ecetsalach ('the
Grimy'), the noble poet from the Buas in the north, is he."
"There came yet another company there to the same hill in Slane of Meath,
continued macRoth. "A yellow-haired hero in the front rank of that band. Fair
was the man, both in hair and eye and beard and eyebrows and apparel; a rimmed
shield he bore; a gold-hilted, overlaid sword on his left side; a five-pointed
spear that reflected its glare over the entire host in his hand." "But who was
that man?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "In sooth, we know him well, Fergus made
answer. "Cherished, in truth, is that warrior by the people, he that to us is
come thither; cherished, the stout-brow-dealing beast; cherished, the bear of
great deeds against foes, with the violence of his attack. Feradach Finn
Fectnach ('the Fair and Righteous') from Nemed ('the Grove') in Sliab Fuait in
the north, is the one that is come there."
"Another company there came to the mound in Slane of Meath," continued
macRoth. "Three bold, high-spirited youths of noble countenance in the front
rank of that company. Three cloaks of the one colour they wore folded upon them;
three shields wholly alike they bore; three five-pointed, spears in their
hands." "Who were those men there, Fergus?" Ailill asked. "I know," Fergus
answered; "the three princes of Ilath, the three champions of Colph, the three
of Midluachair great in achievements, three seasoned warriors of the east of
Erin, to wit, the three sons of Fiachna in quest of their bull are there, even
Ros and Darè and Imchad, for theirs was the possession of the Brown Bull of
Cualnge. Even had they come alone, they would have offered you battle in defence
of their bull and their drove, even though before them the enemy should not be
"Yet another company there came thither to the same hill in Slane of Meath,"
said macRoth. "Two fair, tender, young warriors at the head of that company; two
green cloaks wrapped about them; two bright-silver brooches in the cloaks over
the breasts; two tunics of smooth yellow silk next to their skin; bright-hilted
swords on the belts; two five-pronged spears with windings of pure bright silver
in the hands. Moreover, their years were nigh the same." "But, who might they
be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "Well do we know them," Fergus made answer. "Two
single, strong-necked champions are they; two united flames; two united torches;
two champions; two heroes; two ridge-poles of hosts; two dragons; two
thunderbolts; two destroyers (?); two boars; two bold ones; two mad ones; the
two loved ones of Ulster around the king; namely Fiacha and Fiachna have come
thither, two sons of Conchobar son of Fachtna son of Ross Ruad son of Rudraige."
"There came also another company to that same mound," said macRoth. "'Tis the
engulphing of the sea for size; red-flaming fire for splendour; a legion for
number; a rock for strength; annihilation for battle; thunder for might. A
wrathful, terrible, ill-favoured one at the head of that band, and he was
big-nosed, large-eared, apple-eyed. Coarse, grizzly hair he wore; a
streaked-gray cloak about him; a skewer of iron in the cloak over his breast, so
that it reached from one of his shoulders to the other; a rough, three-striped
tunic next to his skin; a sword of seven charges of remelted iron he bore on his
rump; a brown hillock he bore, namely his shield; a great, grey spear with
thirty nails driven through its socket he had in his hand. The lines and
battalions were thrown into disorder at the sight of that warrior, as he came
surrounded by his company to the hill, in Slane of Meath." "But who might that
man be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "Ah, but we know him well," Fergus made answer.
"He is the half of the battle; he is the head of strife; he is the head of
combat in valour; he is the sea overbounds, the man that is come thither; the
mighty Celtchar son of Uthechar, from Lethglass in the north, is the man there!
"There came yet another company thither to the same hill in Slane of Meath,"
said macRoth; "one that is firm and furious; one that is ugly and fearful. A
great-bellied, big-mouthed champion in the van of that troop; with but one clear
eye, and half-brained, long-handed. Brown, very curly hair he wore; a black,
flowing mantle around him; a wheel-shaped brooch of tin in the mantle over his
breast; a cunningly wrought tunic next to his skin; a great long sword under his
waist; a well-tempered lance in his right hand; a grey buckler he bore on him,
that is, his shield." "Pray, who might that man be?" asked Ailill of Fergus.
"Indeed, but we know him," Fergus made answer; "the wild, red-handed, rendng
lion; the fierce, fearful bear that overcometh valour. Errge Echbel
('Horse-mouth'), from Bri Errgi ('Errge's Mound') in the north, is the one
"Yet another company there came to the same hill in Slane of Meath," said
macRoth. "A large, fiery man at the head of that company; foxy-red hair he had;
huge, crimson-red eyes in his head; bulging as far as the bend of a warrior's
finger is either of the very large crimson, kingly eyes he had; a many-coloured
cloak about him; a grey shield he bore; a slender, blue lance above him; a
blood-smeared, becrimsoned company around him; himself covered with wounds and
blood in their midst." "Now who might he be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "Well do
we know him," Fergus made answer. "He is the bold, the ruthless, the
swift-moving eagle; the eager lance; the goring beast; the torrent of the
Colbtha; the triumphant hero from Bailer he is the shaft(?); he is the bellowing
hero from Bernas ('the Gap'); the furious bull; Menn son of Salcholga, from Rena
('the Waterways') of the Boyne."
"Yet another company came thither to the same mound in Slane of Meath,"
continued macRoth. "A long-jawed, sallow-faced warrior at the head of that
company; black hair on his head; long limbs are his legs; a cloak of red curly
wool about him; a brooch of white silver in the cloak over his breast; a linen
shirt next to his skin; a gory-red shield with a boss of gold he bore; a sword
with hilt of white silver on his left side; a sharp-cornered, gold-socketed
spear he held over him." "But, who might he be?" Ailill asked of Fergus. "Truly,
we know him," Fergus made answer. The man of three stout blows has come; the man
of three highways is he; the man of three roads, the man of three paths, the man
of three ways; the man of three triumphs; Fergna son of Findchoem, king of
Burach, from Ulster in the north, has come thither."
"Even another company came there to the same mound in Slane of Meath,"
continued macRoth. "A large, well-favoured man in the van of that company. Like
to Ailill yonder, with his pointed weapons, the restrainer, both in features and
noble bearing and fairness, both in arms and apparel, in valour and bravery and
fame and deeds. A blue shield with boss of gold was upon him. A gold-hilted
sword on his left side; a five-pronged spear with gold, in his hand; a golden
crown on his head." "But, who might that be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "Ah, but
we know him well," Fergus made answer. "The root of all manhood; the assault of
overwhelming power; the annihilation of men is he that is come thither. Furbaide
Ferbenn son of Conchobar, from Sil in Mag Inis in the north, is there."
"Yet another company came to the mound in Slane of Meath," continued macRoth.
"A sharp, proud folk; a stately, royal company, with their apparel of many
colours, as well white and blue and black and purple, so that to a king could be
likened each spirited, chosen man in the noble, most wonderful troop. A feast
for the eyes of a host, to gaze on their comeliness and their garb, as if it was
going forth to some great surpassing assembly was each single man of that
company. A trine of noble, distinguished men were in the front rank of that
company. The first man of them with a dark-grey mantle fringed with gold thread
about him; a brooch of gold in the mantle over his breast, a tunic of rare silk
next to his skin; sandals of lamb's skin he wore. Not many men in the world are
better-favoured than is he. A light-yellow head of hair he has; a bright-faced
sword with ivory hilt and with coils of gold thread, in his right hand. He
flings on high the tooth-hilted sword, so that it falls on the head of the
middle man but it simply grazes it. He catches it up in the air again, so that
it falls on the head of the other man, and the first man catches it in his hand,
and it divided not a ringlet nor the skin of the head of either of them, and
these two men did not perceive it.
Two brown, rich-hued, bright-faced youths; reddish-gray mantles around them;
white-silver brooches in their mantles over their breasts; a bright-hilted sword
under their waists; purple sandals they wore; as sweet as strings of lutes when
long sustained in players' hands was the voice and song of one of the men, so
that enough of delight it was to the host to listen to the sound of his voice.
Worthy of a king or of a prince was each man in that company as regards apparel
and appearance; thou wouldst think, at the sight of them, they were all kings.
Neither spears nor swords do they bear, but their servants bear them."
"An over-proud body is that," quoth Ailill; "and who may they be, O Fergus?"
he asked. "I know full well," replied Fergus; "the poets of Ulster are they,
with Fercerdne. The fair, much-gifted, whom thou sawest, even the learned master
of Ulster, Fercerdne. 'Tis before him that the lakes and rivers sink when he
upbraids, and they swell up high when he applauds. The two others thou sawest
are Athirne the chief poet, whom none can deny, and Ailill Miltenga
('Honey-tongue') son of Carba; and he is called Ailill 'Honey-tongue' for that
as sweet as honey are the words of wisdom that fall from him."
"There came yet another company to the mound in Slane of Meath," said
macRoth. "A most terrible, dreadful sight to behold them. Blue and pied and
green, purple, grey and white and black mantles; a kingly, white-gray,
broad-eyed hero in the van of that company; wavy, grizzled hair upon him; a
blue-purple cloak about him; a leaf-shaped brooch with ornamentation of gold in
the cloak over his breast; a shield, stoutly braced with buckles of red copper;
yellow sandals he wore; a large, strange-fashioned sword along his shoulder. Two
curly-haired, white-faced youths close by him, wearing green cloaks and purple
sandals and blue tunics, and with brown shields fitted with hooks, in their
hands; white-hilted swords with silvered bronze ornaments they bore; a broad,
somewhat light countenance had one of them. One of these cunning men raises his
glance to heaven and scans the clouds of the sky and bears their answer to the
marvellous troop that is with him. They all lift their eyes on high and watch
the clouds and work their spells against the elements, so that the elements fall
to warring with each other, till they discharge rain-clouds of fire downwards on
the camp and entrenchments of the men of Erin."
"Who might that be, O Fergus?" asked Ailill. "I know him," replied Fergus;
"the foundation of knowledge; the master of the elements; the heaven-soaring
one; he that blindeth the eyes; that depriveth his foe of his strength through
incantations of druids, namely Cathba the friendly druid, with the druids of
Ulster about him. And to this end he makes augury when judging the elements, in
order to ascertain therefrom how the great battle on Garech and Ilgarech will
end. The two youths that are about him, they are his own two sons, to wit Imrim
son of Cathba and Genonn Gruadsolus ('Bright-cheek') son of Cathba, he that has
the somewhat light countenance. Howbeit it will be hard for the men of Erin to
withstand the spells of the druids."
"Yet another company there came to the mound in Slane of Meath," continued
macRoth. "A numberless, bright-faced band; unwonted garments they wore; a little
bag at the waist of each man of them. A white-haired, bull-faced man in the
front of that company; an eager, dragon-like eye in his head; a black, flowing
robe with edges of purple around him; a many coloured, leaf-shaped brooch with
gems, in the robe over his breast; a ribbed tunic of thread of gold around him;
a short sword, keen and hard, with plates of gold, in his hand; they all came to
show him their stabs and their sores, their wounds and their ills, and he told
each one his sickness, and he gave each a cure, and what at last happened to
each was even the ill he foretold him." "He is the power of leechcraft; he is
the healing of wounds; he is the thwarting of death; he is the absence of every
weakness, is that man," said Fergus, "namely Fingin the prophet mediciner, the
physician of Conchobar, with the physicians of Ulster around him. It is he that
knoweth the sickness of a man by the smoke of the house wherein he lies, or by
hearing his groans. Their medicine bags are the sacks which thou sawest with
"Another company came to the mound in Slane of Meath," continued macRoth. "A
powerful, heavy, turbulent company; they caused uproar in their deeds of arms
for the accomplishment of brilliant feats; they tore up the sad-sodded earth
with the strength of their bitter rage, for the mighty princes of the proud
province of Conchobar would not allow them to proceed to the great camp till all
should be arrived. Two youths, swarthy and huge, in the front of that company;
soft, playful eyes in their heads; about them, dark-grey tunics with silver pins
set with stones; great, horn-topped swords with sheaths they bore; strong, stout
shields they bore; lances with rows of rivets, in their hands; glossy tunics
next to their skin." "We know well that company," quoth Fergus; "the household
of Conchobar and his vassals are those; their two leaders, Glasne and Menn, two
sons of Uthechar."
"There came yet another band to the mound in Slane of Meath," continued
macRoth; "to wit, a band of a numerous body of henchmen. A black, hasty,
swarthy, ----- man in the front rank of that band; seven chains around his neck;
seven men at the end of each chain; he drags along these seven groups of men, so
that their faces strike against the ground, and they revile him until he
desists. Another terrible man is there, and the ponderous stone which powerful
men could not raise, he sets on his palm and flings on high to the height a lark
flies on a day of fine weather; a club of iron at his belt." "I know those men,"
quoth Fergus: "Triscoth the strong man of Conchobar's house; it is he that
flings the stone on high. Ercenn son of the three stewards, he it is in the
"There came another large, stately company to the mound in Slane of Meath,"
macRoth went on. "Three, very curly-headed, white-faced youths in the van of
that troop; three curly-red kirtles with brooches of silvered bronze was the
apparel they wore about them; three sparkling tunics of silk with golden seams
tucked up about them; three studded shields with images of beasts for emblems in
silvered bronze upon them and with bosses of red gold; three very keen swords
with guards adorned with gold thread along their shoulders; broad-bladed
javelin-heads on ashen shafts in their hands." "Who might that be there, O
Fergus?" asked Ailill. "That I know," answered Fergus: "the three venoms of
serpents; three cutting ones; three edges; three watchful ones; three points of
combat; three pillars of the borders; three powerful companies of Ulster; three
wardens of Erin; three triumph-singers of a mighty host are there," said Fergus,
"the three sons of Conchobar, namely Glas and Manè and Conaing."
"Yet another company there came to the mound in Slane of Meath," said
macRoth. "Stately, in beautiful colours, gleaming-bright they came to the mound.
Not fewer than an army-division, as a glance might judge them A bold,
fair-cheeked youth in the van of that troop; light-yellow hair has he; though a
bag of red-shelled nuts were spilled on his crown, not a nut of them would fall
to the ground because of the twisted, curly locks of his head. Bluish-grey as
harebell is one of his eyes; as black as beetle's back is the other; the one
brow black, the other white; a forked, light-yellow beard has he; a magnificent
red-brown mantle about him; a round brooch adorned with gems of precious stones
fastening it in his mantle over his right shoulder; a striped tunic of silk with
a golden hem next to his skin; an ever-bright shield he bore; a hard-smiting,
threatening spear he held over him; a very keen sword with hilt-piece of red
gold on his thigh." "Who might that be, O Fergus?" asked Ailill. "I know, then,"
replied Fergus: "it is battle against foes; it is the inciting of strife; it is
the rage of a monster; it is the madness of a lion; it is the cunning of a
snake; it is the rock of the Badb; it is the sea over dikes; it is the shaking
of rocks; it is the stirring of a wild host, namely Conall Cernach ('the
Victorious'), the high-glorious son of Amargin, that is come hither."
"Yet another company came to the same mound in Slane of Meath," said macRoth.
"Steady and dissimilar to the other companies. Some wore red cloaks, others
light-blue cloaks, others dark blue cloaks, others green cloaks, white and
yellow jerking, beautiful and shiny, were over them. Behold the little,
red-faced lad with purple mantle about him in their midst. A brooch of gold in
the mantle over his breast; a tunic of royal silk with red trimming of red gold
next to his white skin, a bright shield with intricate figures of beasts in red
gold upon it; a boss of gold on the shield; an edge of gold around it; a small,
gold-hilted sword at his waist; a sharp, light lance cast its shadow over him."
"But, who might he be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "Truly, I know not," Fergus
made answer, "that I left behind me in Ulster the like of that company nor of
the little lad that is in it. But, one thing I think likely, that they are the
men of Temair with Erc son of Fedilmid Nocruthach and of Carbre Niafer. And if
it be they, they are not more friends than their leaders here. Mayhap despite
his father has this lad come to succour his grandfather at this time. And if
these they be, a sea that drowneth shall this company be to ye, and the little
lad that is in it that the battle shall this time be won against ye." "How
through him?" asked Ailill. "Not hard to tell," Fergus responded: "for this
little lad will know neither fear nor dread when slaying and slaughtering, until
at length he comes into the midst of your battalion. Then shall be heard the
whirr of Conchobar's sword like the yelp of a howling war-hound, or like a lion
rushing among bears, while the boy will be saved. Then outside around the battle
lines will [Conchobar] pile up huge walls of men's bodies. In turn, filled with
love and devotion, the princes of the men of Ulster will hew the enemy to
pieces. Boldly will those powerful bulls bellow as the calf of their cow is
rescued in the battle on the morn of the morrow."
"Then came there three huge (?), strong, well-braced, cunningly-built
castles; three mighty, wheeled-towers like unto mountains, in this wise placed
in position: Three royal castles with their thirty fully armed battalions,
swarming with evil-tongued warriors and with thirty round-shielded heroes. A
bright, beautiful, glistening shield-guard was on each of the three strong,
stout battle castles, with black, deadly armament of huge, high, blue, sharp
pine-lances, such that one's bent knee would fit in the socket of each smooth,
polished, even and hard spearhead that is on each huge, terrible, strange shaft
of the terrible, awful, heavy, monstrous, indescribable armament that I saw. A
third part of each shaft was contained in the socket of the riveted, very long,
securely placed spears; as high as two cubits was each citadel from the ground;
as long as a warrior's spear was the height of each battle hurdle; as sharp as
charmed sword was the blade of each sickle on the sides and the flanks of each
of Badb's hurdles; on each of the three stout and hard battle-hurdles they are
to be found. Four dark, yet gleaming, well-adorned doors were on each
battle-wheeled tower of the three royal wheeled-towers which were displayed and
spread over the plain, with ivory door-posts, with lintels of cypress, with
stately thresholds set of speckled, beautiful, strong pine, with their blue,
glass door-leaves, with the glitter of crystal gems around each door-frame, so
that its appearance from afar was like that of bright shining stars.
"As loud as the crash of a mighty wave at the great spring-tide, or of a huge
heavy fleet upon the sea when toiling with the oars along the shore, was the
similitude of the din and the clamour and the shouts and the tumult of the
multitude and the to-and-fro of the thirty champions with their thirty heavy,
iron clubs that they bear in their hands. And when the wheeled-towers advance
massively and boldly against the line of heroes, these almost leave behind their
arms at the fierce charge of the outland battalions. Then spring the three
hundred champions with a shout of vengeful anger over the sides and over the
front of the huge iron towers on wheels, so that this it was that checked the
swift course and the great, hasty onslaught of the well-grounded,
swiftly-moving, mighty chariots. The three stout, strong, battle-proof towers on
wheels careered over rough places and over obstacles, over rocks and over
"There coursed the thirty entire chargers, powerful, four abreast, the equal
of ninety entire chargers, with manes more than big, bold and leaping, with
sack-like, distended nostrils, high-headed, towering, over-powering, wonderful,
so that they shook with their ramping the thick shell of the sad-sodded earth.
They flecked the plain behind them with the foam dripping from the swift Danish
steeds, from the bits and bridles, from the traces and tracks of the huge,
maned, mighty steeds, greater than can be told! They excited strife with their
din of arms. They plunged headlong in their swift impatience. They aroused great
terror at their accoutrement, at their armour, at their cunning, at their power,
at their hugeness, at their destructive, terrible, hostile vengeance on the four
grand, proud provinces of Erin. Amazing to me was their appearance because of
the unwontedness of their trappings both in form and in garb. Three wonderful
flights of birds with variety of appearance hovered over them. The first flock
was all red, the second flock was white as swans, the third flock as black as
ravens. Three red-mouthed demons sped around them as swift as hares, circling
the three wheeled towers, and this is what they prophesied:
"Sheaves of battle,
"They wheeled about and brought them twelve battle-pillars of thick, huge,
iron pillars. As thick as the middle of a warrior's thigh, as tall as a
champion's spear was each battle-fork of them, and they placed four forks under
each wheeled-tower. And their horses all ran from them and grazed upon the
plain. And those forty that had gone in advance descend clad in armour on the
plain, and the garrison of the three battle-wheeled towers falls to attacking
and harassing them, and is attacked and harassed in turn by those forty
champions, so that there was heard the breaking of shields and the loud blows of
hard iron poles on bucklers and battle-helmets, on coats of mail and on the iron
plates of smooth, hard, blue-black, sharp-beaked, forked spears. And in the
whole camp there is none but is on the watch for their fierceness and their
wrath and their cunning and their strangeness, for their fury, their
achievements and the excellence of the guard. And in the place where the forty
champions are and the thousand armed men contending with them, not one of the
thousand had a wounding stroke nor a blow on his opponent because of the might
of their skill in arms and the excellence of their defence withal!"
Might of quelling,
Sating of foul ravens!
Sodden ground, blood-red;
Sheaves on sword-blades!"
"They are hard to contend with for all such as are unfamiliar with them, is
the opinion held of them," spake Fergus, "but they are readily to be dealt with
for such as do know them. These are three battle-wheeled towers," Fergus
continued, "as I perceive from their account. Once I saw their like, namely when
as prentice I accompanied Darè to Spain, so that we entered the service of the
king of Spain, Esorb to wit, and we afterwards made an expedition to Soda, that
is, to the king of Africa, and we gave battle to the Carthaginians. There came
their like upon us against the battle-line wherein we were, an hundred
battalions and three score hundred in each battalion. One of the wheeled-towers
won victory over us all, for we were not on our guard against them. And this is
the way to defeat them: To mine a hole broader than the tower in the ground in
the front thereof and cover over the pitfall; and for the battle-line to be
drawn up over against it and not to advance to attack, so that it is the towers
that advance and fall into the pit.
"Lebarcham told me, as I passed over Taltiu, that the Ulstermen brought these
towers from Germany, and the towers held a third of the exiles of Ulster among
them as their only dwelling; and Cualgae ('a Heap of Spears') is their name,
namely battle-penfolds. And herein have ye the sorest of all hardships, for
although all the men of Erin are drawn up against them, it is the men of Erin
that will be defeated. When they take it upon them to engage in battle they
cannot hold out without a combat. Thus will they remain now till morning, every
forty men of them contending with the others. And this is my advice to you,"
said Fergus: "permit me with my division to withstand them, and do ye betake
yourselves to the woods and wilds of Erin, and the Ulstermen shall not find ye
in any place, and I will proceed as an example, depending on my own men-of-war."
"There are men here for ye!" cried Medb. "That will be a force for yourselves,"
Fergus made answer.
"Yet another company came there to the same height in Slane of
Meath," said macRoth. "Not fewer than a division was in it; wild, dark-red, warrior-bands;
bright, clear, blue-purple men; long, fair-yellow heads of hair they wore;
handsome, shining countenances they had; clear, kingly eyes; magnificent vesture
with beautiful mantles; conspicuous, golden brooches along their bright-coloured
sleeves; silken, glossy tunics; blue, glassy spears; yellow shields for striking
withal; gold-hilted, inlaid swords set on their thighs; loud-tongued care has
beset them; sorrowful are they all, and mournful; sad are the royal leaders;
orphaned the brilliant company without their protecting lord who was wont to
guard their lands." "But, who may they be?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "Indeed, we
know them well," Fergus made answer. "Furious lions are they; deeds of battle;
the division from the field of Murthemne are they. It is this that makes them
cast-down, sorrowful, joyless as they are, because that their own divisional
king himself is not amongst them, even Cuchulain, the restraining, victorious,
red-sworded one that triumpheth in battle!"
"Good reason, in truth, there is for them to be so," quoth Medb, "if they are
dejected, mournful and joyless. There is no evil we have not worked on them. We
have harassed and we have assailed them, their territory and their land, from
Monday at the beginning of Samaintide till the beginning of Spring. We have
taken their women and their sons and their youths, their steeds and the troops
of horses, their herds and their flocks and their droves. We have razed their
hills after them till they are become lowlands, so that they are level with the
"There is naught thou canst boast over them, O Medb!" cried Fergus. For thou
didst them no hurt nor harm that yon fine company's leader avenged not on thee.
For every mound and every grave, every stone and every tomb that is from hence
to the east of Erin is the mound and the grave, the stone and the tomb of some
goodly warrior and goodly youth, fallen at the hands of the noble chieftain of
yonder company. Happy he to whom they hold! Woe to him whom they oppose! It will
be enough, even as much as half a battle, for the men of Erin, when these defend
their lord in the battle on the morning of the morrow."
"I heard a great uproar there, west of the battle or to its east," said
macRoth. "Say, what noise was it?" asked Ailill of Fergus. "Ah, but we know it
well," Fergus made answer: "Cuchulain it was, straining to go to battle, wearied
at the length of his lying sick on Fert Sciach ('Thorn-mound') under hoops and
clasps and ropes, and the men of Ulster do not permit him to go because of his
sores and his wounds, inasmuch as he is not fit for battle and is powerless for
combat after his encounter with Ferdiad."
True indeed spake Fergus. Cuchulain it was, wearied at the length of his
lying supine on Fert Sciach under hoops and clasps and ropes.
Then came two women lampoonists from the camp and quarters of the men of
Erin; their names, Fethan and Collach, to wit; and they stood with a feint of
weeping and wailing over Cuchulain, telling him of the defeat of Ulster and the
death of Conchobar and the fall of Fergus in combat.