The Tain Bo Culaigne
The Combat of Calatin's Children
Then was it debated by the men of Erin who would be fit to contend and cope
with Cuchulain at the morning hour early on the next day. What they all said
was, that Calatin Dana ('the Bold') would be the one, with his seven and twenty
sons and his grandsons Glass macDelga. Thus were they: Poison was on every man
of them and poison on every weapon of their arms; and not one of them missed his
throw, and there was no one on whom one of them drew blood that, if he succumbed
not on the spot, would not be dead before the end of the ninth day.
Great gifts were promised to them for engaging to do battle and to contend
with Cuchulain. And they took the matter in hand, and it should be in the
presence of Fergus that the covenant would be made. But Fergus refused to have
part therein, for what they all contended was that they would hold it as a
single combat, a combat, to wit, of Calatin Dana and his seven and twenty sons
and his grandson Glass macDelga; for their contention was that his son was a
limb of his limbs and a part of his parts, and that to Calatin Dana belonged all
that proceeded from his body.
Fergus betook himself to his tent and to his people and he breathed his sigh
of weariness aloud. "Grievous it seems to us, the deed to be done here on the
morrow," quoth Fergus. "What deed may that be?" asked his people. "The slaying
of Cuchulain," answered Fergus. "Alas," said they, "who should kill him?"
"Calatin Dana," he replied, "with his seven and twenty sons and his grandson
Glass macDelga. For this is their nature: Poison is on every man of them and
poison on every weapon of their arms; and there is no one on whom one of them
draws blood, that, if he succumb not on the spot, will not be dead before the
end of the ninth day. And there is no one of you that would go and learn for me
and be witness of the battle and fight and bring me news how Cuchulain died on
whom I would not bestow my blessing and armour." "I will go thither," spake
Fiachu son of Ferfebè.
They abode so that night. Early on the morrow Calatin Dana arose with his
seven and twenty sons and his grandson Glass macDelga, and they went forward to
where Cuchulain was. And there went also Fiachu son of Ferfebè. And when Calatin
arrived at the place where Cuchulain was, they forthwith hurled their nine and
twenty spears, and not one of them went past him by a misthrow. Cuchulain played
the edge-feat with his shield, so that all the spears sank up to their middles
into the shield. But for all that, theirs was no erring cast, not one of the
spears was blooded or reddened upon him.
Thereupon Cuchulain drew his sword from the sheath of the Badb, to cut away
the weapons and lighten the shield that was on him. While thus engaged, they
rushed in upon him and delivered their nine and twenty right fists at the same
time on his head. They smote him and curbed him withal, till his face and his
countenance and visage met the sand and gravel of the ford. Cuchulain raised his
warrior's shout aloud and his cry of unequal combat, so that there was not an
Ulsterman alive in the camp of those that were not asleep but heard it.
Then came Fiachu son of Ferfebè after themand he saw what they did and a
qualm of love came over him, and he drew his sword from the sheath of the Badb
and dealt them a blow, so that he cut off their nine and twenty right fists from
them at one stroke, and they all fell backwards from the intensity of the
exertion and hold which they had.
Cuchulain raised his head and drew breath and gave a sigh of weariness and
perceived who it was that had come to his aid. "A ready relief, O
foster-brother, what thou hast done," said Cuchulain. "Although for thee a ready
relief," said Fiachu, "yet is it not so for us. Even though we are the best
division of three thousand of the Clann Rudraige in the camp and station of the
men of Erin, we shall all be brought under the mouth of spear and of sword,
however feeble thou mayst deem the blow I struck, if this treason be found in
"I give my word," quoth Cuchulain; "so soon as I raise my head and draw
breath, and unless thou thyself tellest the tale, not one of these ever will
tell it, not a man of them shall reach the camp alive!" With that, Cuchulain
turned on them, and he fell to smiting and hewing them, so that he sent them
from him in small disjointed pieces and divided quarters eastwards and westwards
along the ford. A single man got away from him, trusting to his speed while
Cuchulain was busied beheading the rest; it was Glass macDelga. And Cuchulain
raced after him like a blast of wind, and Glass ran on round the tent of Ailil
and Medb, and all he could pant out was, "Fiach! Fiach!" when Cuchulain fetched
him a stroke that cut off his head.
"'Tis quick work was made of that man," quoth Medb. "What debt (fíach) was
that he spoke of, O Fergus?" "I know not," Fergus answered, "unless it be some
one in the camp and quarters that owed him a debt. It is that which troubled his
mind. But be that as it may," continued Fergus, "it is a debt of blood and flesh
for him. And upon my word," Fergus added, "now are his debts paid to him for
good and all!"
In this wise fell Calatin Dana ('the Bold') at the hands of Cuchulain,
together with his seven and twenty sons and his grandson Glass macDelga. So that
for evermore in the bed of the ford is still the rock whereabout they had their
strife and struggle; and the mark of their sword-hilts is in it and of their
knees and their elbows and of their spears. Hence Fuil Iairn ('Blood of Iron')
to the west of Ath Firdead ('Ferdiad's Ford') is the name of the ford. It is for
this it is called Fuil Iairn, because of the 'blood over weapons' that was
Thus then the Combat of the Clann Calatin.