The Tain Bo Culaigne
Here Followeth The Muster of The Men of Erin
The three Conarè from Sliab Mis, the three Lussen from Luachair, the three
Niadchorb from Tilach Loiscthe, the three Doelfer from Deill, the three
Damaltach from Dergderc, the three Buder from the Buas, the three Baeth from
Buagnige, the three Buageltach from Mag Breg, the three Suibnè from the Siuir,
the three Eochaid from Anè, the three Malleth from Loch Erne, the three Abatruad
from Loch Ri, the three macAmra from Ess Ruaid, the three Fiacha from Fid
Nemain, the three Manè from Muresc, the three Muredach from Mairg, the three
Loegaire from Lecc Derg, the three Broduinde from the Berba, the three
Bruchnech, from Cenn Abrat, the three Descertach from Druim Fornacht, the three
Finn from Finnabair, the three Conall from Collamair, the three Carbre from
Cliu, the three Manè from Mossa, the three Scathglan from Scairè, the three
Echtath from Ercè, the three Trenfer from Taitè, the three Fintan from Femen,
the three Rotanach from Rognè, the three Sarchorach from Suidè Lagen, the three
Etarscel from Etarbane, the three Aed from Aidnè, the three Guarè from Gabal.
Then said Medb to Fergus: "It were truly a thing to boast of for thee, werest
thou to use thy mightiness of battle without stint amongst us to-day, forasmuch
as thou hast been driven out of thine own land and out of thine inheritance;
amongst us hast thou found land and domain and inheritance, and much good-will
hath been shown thee!"
Thereupon Fergus uttered this oath: "I swear," [et reliqua,] "necks of men I
would break from necks of men, arms of men from arms of men, scalps of men from
scalps of men, so that heads of men over shields would be as numerous with me as
bits of ice on the miry stamping-ground between two dry fields that a king's
horses would course on. Every limb of the Ulstermen would I send flying through
the air before and behind me this day, if only I had my sword!"
At that Ailill spoke to his own charioteer, Ferloga, to wit: "Fetch me a
quick sword that wounds the skin, O gilla," said Ailill. "I give my word, if its
bloom and condition be the worse at thy hands this day than the day I gave it
thee on the hillside of Cruachan Ai, though thou hadst the men of Erin and of
Alba to rescue thee from me to-day, they would not all save thee!
Ferloga went his way, and he brought the sword with him in the flower of its
safe-keeping, and fair flaming as a candle. And the sword was placed in Ailill's
hand, and Ailill put it in Fergus' hand, and Fergus offered welcome to the
sword: "Welcome, O Calad Colg ('Hardblade') Letè's sword!" said he. "Weary, O
champion of Badb! On whom shall I ply this weapon?" Fergus asked. "On the
men-of-war around thee," Medb answered. "No one shall find indulgence nor
quarter from thee to-day, unless some friend of thy bosom find it!"
Whereupon, Fergus took his arms and went forward to the battle. Ailill seized
his weapons. Medb seized her weapons and entered the battle, so that thrice the
Ulstermen were routed before them from the north, till Cualgae and sword drove
them back again.
Conchobar heard that from his place in the line of battle, that the battle
had gone against him thrice from the north. Then he addressed his bodyguard,
even the inner circle of the Red Branch: "Hold ye here a while, ye men!" cried
he; "even in the line of battle where I am, that I may go and learn by whom the
battle has been thus forced against us thrice from the north." Then said his
household: "We will hold out," said they, "for the sky is above us and the earth
underneath and the sea round about us, and unless the heavens shall fall with
their showers of stars on the man-face of the world, or unless the furrowed,
blue-bordered ocean break o'er the tufted brow of the earth, or unless the
ground yawns open, will we not move a thumb's breadth backward from here till
the very day of doom and of everlasting life, till thou come back to us!"
Conchobar went his way to the place where he heard the battle had gone three
times against him from the north, and he lifted shield against shield there,
namely against Fergus mac Roig, even Ochain ('the Fair-ear') of Conchobar with
its four ears of gold and its four bracings of red gold. Therewith Fergus gave
three stout blows of Badb on the Ochain of Conchobar, so that Conchobar's shield
cried aloud. Whenever Conchobar's shield cried out, the shields of all the
Ulstermen cried out. However great the strength and power with which Fergus
smote Conchobar on the shield, so great also was the might and valour wherewith
Conchobar held the shield, so that the ear of the shield did not even touch the
ear of Conchobar.
"Hearken, ye men of Erin!" cried Fergus; "who opposes a shield to me to-day
on this day of battle when four of the five grand provinces of Erin come
together on Garech and Ilgarech in the battle of the Cattle-raid of Cualnge?" "A
gilla that is younger and mightier than thyself is here," [Conchobar answered,]
"and whose mother and father were better! The man that hath driven thee out of
thy borders, thy land and thine inheritance; the man that hath driven thee into
the lairs of the deer and the wild hare and the foxes; the man that hath not
granted thee to take the breadth of thy foot of thine own domain or land; the
man that hath made thee dependent upon the bounty of a woman; the man that of a
time disgraced thee by slaying the three sons of Usnech that were under thy
safeguard; the man that will repel thee this day in the presence of the men of
Erin; Conchobar son of Fachtna Fathach son of Ross Ruad son of Rudraige, High
King of Ulster and son of the High King of Erin!"
"Truly hath this happened to me," Fergus responded. And Fergus placed his two
hands on Calad Colg, and he heaved a blow with it backwards behind him, so that
its point touched the ground, and he thought to strike his three fateful blows
of Badb on the men of Ulster, so that their dead would be more in number than
their living. Cormac Conlongas son of Conchobar saw that and he rushed to Fergus
and he closed his two royal hands over him. "Full of hate, not of friendship is
this, O Fergus my master! Ungentle, not heedful is this, O Fergus my master! Let
not the Ulstermen be slain and destroyed by thee through thy destructive blows,
but take thou thought for their honour to-day on this day of battle!" "Get thee
away from me, boy!" exclaimed Fergus; "for I will not remain alive unless I
deliver my three fateful strokes of Badb on the men of Ulster this day, till
their dead be more in number than their living."
"Then turn thy hand slantwise," said Cormac Conlongas, "and slice off the
hill-tops over the heads of the hosts on every side and this will be an
appeasing of thine anger." "Tell Conchobar also to fall back again to his place
in the battle," [said Fergus.] So Conchobar went to his place in the battle.
Thus it was with that sword, which was the sword of Fergus: The sword of
Fergus, the sword of Letè from Faery: Whenever he desired to strike with it, it
became the size of a rainbow in the air. Thereupon Fergus turned his hand
slantwise over the heads of the hosts, so that he smote the three tops of the
three hills, so that they are still visible on the moor, and these are the three
Maels ('the Balds') of Meath.
Now as regards Cuchulain. He heard the Ochain of Conchobar smitten by Fergus
macRoig. "Come, O Laeg my master," cried Cuchulain: "who dares thus smite with
those strong blows, mighty and far-away, the Ochain of Conchobar, and I alive?"
[Then Laeg made answer, saying: "The choice of men, Fergus macRoig, the very
bold, smites it:]
"Blood he sheds, increase of slaughter," said Laeg;
"Quickly unloose the bands, gilla!" cried Cuchulain. Then Cuchulain gave a
mighty spring, so that the bindings of his wounds flew from him to Mag Tuag
('the Plain of the Bows') in Connacht. His bracings went from him to Bacca ('the
Props') in Corcomruad. The dry wisps that were stuffed in his wounds rose to the
roof of the air and the sky as highest larks fly on a day of sunshine when there
is no wind. Thereupon, his bloody wounds got the better of him, so that the
ditches and furrows of the earth were full of streams of blood and torrents of
the hero, Fergus macRoig!
Hidden had lain Fairyland's
Battle now hath reached the shield,
Shield of my master
This was the first exploit of valour that Cuchulain performed on rising out
of his weakness: The two women lampoonists that made a feint of weeping and
wailing over his head, Fethan and Collach to wit, he smote each of them against
the head of the other, so that he was red with their blood and grey with their
brains. His arms had not been left near him, except his chariot only. And he
took his chariot on his back, and he set out to attack the men of Erin, and he
smote them with the chariot, until he reached the place where Fergus macRoig
"Turn hither, O Fergus my master!" he cried. Fergus did not answer, for he
heard not. He spoke again, "Turn hither, Fergus my master!" he cried; "and if
thou turn not, I will grind thee as a mill grinds fresh grain; I will wash thee
as a cup is washed in a tub; I will bind thee as the woodbine binds the trees; I
will pounce on thee as hawk pounces on fledglings!" "Truly this is my lot!"
spake Fergus. "Who of the men of Erin dares to address these stiff, vengeful
words to me, where now the four grand provinces of Erin are met on Garech and
Ilgarech in the battle of the Raid for the Kine of Cualnge?"
"Thy fosterling is before thee," he replied, "and fosterling of the men of
Ulster and of Conchobar as well, Cuchulain son of Sualtaim. And thou didst
promise to flee before me what time I should be wounded, in pools of gore and
riddled in the battle of the Tain. For, I did flee before thee in thine own
combat on the Tain."
Fergus gave ear to that, and he turned and made his three great strides of a
hero back. And as he turned, there turned all the men of Erin. Then the men of
Erin broke their ranks westwards over the hill. The battle raged around the men
of Connacht. At midday Cuchulain came to the battle. At the time of sunset at
the ninth hour, the last company of the men of Connacht fled in rout westwards
over the hill. At that time there did not remain in Cuchulain's hand of the
chariot but a handful of its spokes around the wheel, and a handbreadth of its
poles around the shell, with the slaying and slaughtering of the four grand
provinces of Erin during all that time.
Then Medb betook her to a shield-shelter in the rear of the men of Erin.
Thereafter Medb sent off the Brown Bull of Cualnge along with fifty of his
heifers and eight of her runners with him around to Cruachan, to the end that
whoso might and whoso might not escape, the Brown Bull of Cualnge should get
away safely, even as she had promised.
Then it was that the issue of blood came upon Medb, [and she said: "Do thou,
Fergus, undertake] a shield-shelter in the rear of the men of Erin till I let my
water flow from me." "By my troth," replied Fergus, "'tis an ill hour for thee
to be taken so." "Howbeit there is no help for me," Medb answered; "for I shall
not live if I do not void water!" Fergus accordingly came and raised a
shield-shelter in the rear of the men of Erin. Medb voided her water, so that it
made three large dikes, so that a [mill] could find room in each dike. Hence the
place is known as Fual Medbha ('Medb's Water').
Cuchulain came upon her as she was thus engaged, on his way to the battle,
and he did not attack her. He would not strike her a blow from behind. "I crave
a boon of thee this day, O Cuchulain," spake Medb. "What boon cravest thou of
me?" asked Cuchulain. "That this host be under thine honour and thy protection
till they pass westwards over Ath Mor ('the Great Ford')." "Yea, I promise
that," said Cuchulain. Then went Cuchulain around the men of Erin, and he
undertook a shield-defence on one side of them, in order to protect the men of
Erin. On the other side went the governors of the men of Erin. Medb went to her
own place and assumed a shield-defence in the rear of the men of Erin, and in
this manner they convoyed the men of Erin over Ath Mor westwards.
Then Cuchulain took his sword in his hand and gave a blow to the three
bald-topped hills of Ath Luain over against the three Maela ('the Bald Tops') of
Meath, so that he struck their three heads off them.
Then Fergus began to view the host as it went westwards of Ath Mor. "It was
thus indeed it behoved this day to prove, for following in the lead of a woman."
"Faults and feuds have met here to-day," said Medb to Fergus. "Betrayed and sold
is this host to-day," [Fergus answered.] "And even as a brood-mare leads her
foals into a land unknown, without a head to advise or give counsel before them,
such is the plight of this host to-day."
Then Cuchulain turned to where Conchobar was with the nobles of Ulster before
him. Conchobar bewailed and lamented Cuchulain, and then he uttered this lay:
"How is this, O Cualnge's Hound
Hero of the Red Branch,
Great woe, champion, hast thou borne
Battling in thy land's
"Every morn a hundred slain,
Every eve a hundred more
the host purveyed thy fare
Feeding thee with cooling food!
"Five-score heroes of the hosts,
These I reckon are in
While their women-- fair their hue--
Spend the night bewailing