Why is it so hard to draw Cú Chulainn?

I enjoy a powerpoint presentation as much as the next academic. Putting up quotes for all to see is very helpful, but I mainly use it to show daft pictures and to take people unfamiliar with medieval Irish literature. For this reason I am often scanning the pages of Google image search for pictures of Cú Chulainn, Medb, Fergus mac Roich, saints, and the members of Tuatha Dé Danann. What I have taken away from these searches is that all pictures of medieval Irish characters are terrible. So I thought I’d try and answer that question: why is the artistic response to medieval literature so dire? There are obviously many different answers to this question and my response is not going to cover everything. I’m intrigued by your thoughts so feel free to leave a comment below.

Lucky that my breasts are small and humble so you don’t confuse them with Cruachu, or Síd don’t lie

I am going to try to make a specific point about medieval Irish literature but there are a few universalities that need addressing first. Three things to be precise. The first is the clear debt many of these images owe to fantasy tropes. The muscle-bound heroes and scantily-clad women of 80s and 90s fantasy art are all here. Half-decent representation of women is something that fantasy art, and the genre more widely, struggles with.

This is terrible and this isn’t even the worst.

That’s one reason why the art’s bad. The second point is closely tied to this. I was recently at a talk given by Rosie Weetch, one of the curators of the Celts exhibit. As part of their public engagement they asked the attendees of the exhibit what they thought about when they thought of the Celts. Oddly, one of the most common responses was vikings. So representations of medieval Irish characters is caught up in modern popular culture’s obsession with the old north and fantasy Norsemen. This trend has been discussed in a recent article on our Northern obsession. This too produces naff images. Finally there is a New Age aspect to much of this art, which attempts to move the gods away from the Romanising images we see in the historical record.These are common problems with all modern representations of medieval literature. What I want to discuss is Irish literature itself and the peculiarities that make creating visual representations of its characters so difficult. I suggest that it does not, and possibly cannot, work on a representative level. I will propose a reason for this later, but for now lets get involved with an example, the famous Warp Spasm of Cú Chulainn. This is the state of warrior-frenzy that overtakes the young hero in battle. Here is a description of it from the Book of Leinster version of the Táin.

img_0598
I just don’t know what to say really. This is all over the place. I’m sorry.

Then his first distortion came upon Cú Chulainn so that he became horrible, many-shaped, strange and unrecognisable. His haunches shook about him like a tree in a current or a bulrush against a stream, every limb and every joint, every end and every member of him from head to foot. He performed a wild feat of contortion with his body inside his skin. His feet and his shins and his knees came to the back; his heels and his calves and his hams came to the front. The sinews of his calves came on the front of his shins and each huge, round knot of them was as big as a warrior’s fist. The sinews of his head were stretched to the nape of his neck and every huge, immeasurable, vast, incalculable round ball of them was as big as the head of a month-old child.

Then his face became a red hollow. He sucked one of his eyes into his head so that a wild crane could hardly have reached it to pluck it out from the back of his skull on to the middle of his cheek. The other eye sprang out on to his cheek. His mouth was twisted back fearsomely. He drew the cheek back from the jawbone until his inner gullet was Seen. His lungs and his liver fluttered in his mouth and his throat. He struck a lion’s blow with the upper palate on its fellow so that every stream of fiery flakes which came into his mouth from his throat was as large as the skin of a three-year-old sheep. The loud beating of his heart against his ribs was heard like the baying of a bloodhound or like a lion attacking bears. The torches of the war-goddess, the virulent rain-clouds, the sparks of blazing fire were seen in the clouds and in the air above his head with the seething of fierce rage that rose above him. His hair curled about his head like branches of red hawthorn used to re-fence the gap in a hedge. Though a noble apple-tree weighed down with fruit had been shaken about his hair, scarcely one apple would have reached the ground through it but an apple would have stayed impaled on each single hair because of the fierce bristling of his hair above him. The hero’s light rose from his forehead so that it was as long and as thick as a hero’s whetstone. As high, as thick, as strong, as powerful and as long as the mast of a great ship was the straight stream of dark blood which rose up from the very top of his head and became a dark magical mist like the smoke of a palace when a king comes to be attended to in the evening of a wintry day.

This is an evocative image of a bodily transformation and distortion caused by his great anger. This is what it looks like when I try to put myself through the same transformation.

A portrait of the artist as a young Cú Chulainn

I think we can all agree that it is a bit less evocative. There have been many attempts at representing this transformation. Some meet with more success than others. I think the best is the spasm in 2000 AD’s Sláine, as it captures something of the comic grotesquery but even here the visual is a reduction, a flattening of the effect of the writing. This is a transformation to be read or heard, to be recreated in the protean space of the imagination, not delineated on a page.

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I think it’s good because it captures something of the comedy of the transformation. Well, I find it funny, at least.

The transformation here is grotesque. An often over-looked features of popular presentations of the Warp Spasm is what follows after the transformation. After Cú Chulainn distorts himself to wreak bloody vengeance on the men of Ireland, he feels it necessary, on the next day, to show off his natural beauty. He prettifies himself and gets in his chariot to show how really, really good-looking he actually is. Throughout the description we are told that he is beautiful but when we look at the text we may disagree:

cú
Do you even lift, a phopa Fergus?

Beautiful indeed was the youth who came thus to display his form to the hosts, Cú Chulainn mac Sualtaim. Three kinds of hair he had, dark next to the skin, blood-red in the middle and hair like a crown of red-gold covering them. Fair was the arrangement of that hair with three coils in the hollow at the back of his head, and like gold thread was every fine hair, loose-flowing, golden and excellent, long- tressed, distinguished and of beautiful colour, as it fell back over his shoulders. A hundred bright crimson twists of red-gold red-flaming about his neck. A hundred strings with mixed carbuncles around his head. Four dimples in each of his two cheeks, a yellow dimple and a green, a blue dimple and a purple. Seven gems of brilliance of an eye in each of his royal eyes. Seven toes on each of his feet, seven fingers on each of his hands, with the grasp of a hawk’s claws and the grip of a hedgehog’s claws in every separate on of them.

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Seven pupils. This is a pun.

What do seven pupils even look like? The dimples and colours are similar to a description of ideal female beauty that we see in Tochmarc Étaíne. So we may be dealing with a disjunction between medieval and modern aesthetics. That aside, even with beauty we see that a drawing would struggle to capture it. This is why the most successful art based on medieval Irish literature is the more abstract work of Louis Le Brocquy.

I will finish with a possible explanation for this. Medieval Irish art, as seen in manuscripts, tends away from the figurative. It is most famous for the carpet pages in the Book of Kells and the geometric interlace designs. When we do see figures, such as the famous Durrow man or carvings on high crosses, they tend to be abstract.

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This is what the inside of the medieval Irish mind looks like and I won’t be told otherwise.

What I would tentatively conclude from this is that the medieval Irish mind was not as ready as our modern one is to approach texts through figurative images. The visual vocabulary was more abstract. It is a hackneyed observation that we are over-exposed to images in the twenty-first century, but I think this is central to understanding the differences between us and medieval audiences. All of this is merely speculative, however, and I invite you to disagree with me in the comments below. I think that it is so hard to draw Cú Chulainn because, at heart, he is not meant to be drawn.

The Tragic Death of Medb – Double the translations, double the fun.

family
Death is all about family.

This blog post is another experiment. Aided Meidbe, the death of Medb, is a confusing tale. Even in terms of dating the linguistic evidence vacillates, but the version we have surviving seems to be a mid-twelfth century compilation. If you have access to JSTOR, there is an edition and translation in Speculum 13. The text is confusing because it is a tale about death, whose driving action comes from the life of a family. It also makes many references to other Ulster Cycle tales.

For this reason I have prepared, for your delectation, a more literal translation and a much looser one, that tries to fill in some of the gaps. The literal translation comes first, so you can see what I have changed. The second version is much further removed from the Irish and as such I have made some interpretative choices that may be controversial. I’d like to see your reactions in the comments. So enjoy!


Version I: Literal.

What is the cause of the tragic death of Medb, the daughter of Eochaid Feidlech from Tara?

Finn had three sons, Conall Anglonnach, Eochaid Find, and Eochaid Feidlech. Of these Eochaid Feidlech had three sons and three daughters. His three sons were Bres, Nár and Lothur, the Three Finns of Emain. His three daughters were Eithne Uathach, Medb of Cruachu and Clothru of Cruachu. Eithne Uathach, Eithne the Terrifying, was called that because she used to feast on the flesh of children. For this reason children always fled from her. The poets had a line about these three sisters:

terrifying
That would be terrifying, to be fair.

The three daughters of Eochaid Feidlech
A cry throughout the North
Eithne Uathach, Medb of Cruachu
And Clothru.

This last, Clothru, was queen in Cruachu before Medb took the sovereignty by force from Eochaid. One day his three sons were trying to take the kingship away from their father. Clothru came to stop them and restrain them. In spite of this, they went to battle against Eochaid. Clothru came to them and said, “Do you really want to insult your father like this?” she said. “What you do is a great injustice!”
“It is done, all the same”, the young men said.
“Do you have any children to follow you?” their sister asked.
“None at all”, they replied.

“You will likely die, if you go to battle with a cause as unjust as yours. Come to me, each of you, and see if you can leave a child with me. It is my time of conception, after all.”

They did this, and each man went with her. The union was not wholly bad, as Lugaid Riab n-Derg was born of this union, the son of the Three Finns of Emain.

“Don’t go against your father now”, Clothru said. “It’s bad enough that you have slept with your sister, without going into battle against your father.” They were not victorious in their battle because of their injustice.

Fight your father
A noble tradition of father fighting.

Clothru used to spend the tributes she received from Connacht in Inis Clothrand, Clothru’s Island, on Loch Rí. It is said that Medb killed her while she was pregnant with another child. The babe that was cut from her sides by swords was Furbaide mac Conchobuir. After this, Medb took the rule of Connacht and brought Ailill with her, to enjoy the sovereignty. She used to spend the tributes of Connach in Inis Clothrand. It was geis for her not to bathe in a well before the island.

At one time, Furbaide came to Inis Clothrand and he stuck a stake into the flagstone where Medb used to wash herself. He tied a rope to the top of the stake at the height Medb would have been at, since the stake was the same height as her. He then stretched the rope across Loch Rí and then took it back to his house.

ropes
All Furbaide wanted was the beach cottage life.

Whenever the youths of Ulster would play a game, this is the game Furbaide would play. He would stretch the rope between two stakes and then cast a stone at either end, until he struck an apple he placed there off the top of the stake.

One day there was a great assembly of the men of Connacht and the men of Ulster around Loch Rí. Early in the morning Medb was bathing herself in the well above the loch, in accordance with her geis.
“That’s a beautiful body”, said everyone who saw her.
“Who is that?” asked Furbaide.
“The sister of your mother”, everyone replied.

At that moment Furbaide was eating a piece of cheese. He didn’t wait to look for a stone but put the piece of cheese he was eating in the sling. When Medb turned her head towards him, he let fly with his sling and the cheese struck her on the top of her head. He killed her in one cast, in vengeance for his mother.

That is the death of Medb.


Version II: Alternative Translation.

Do you want to hear about the death of Medb of Cruachu, the haughty queen of Connacht, the face that launched a thousand chariots when she sought the Bull of Cuailgne?

This story is not about that cattle raid or its aftermath. This is a story about family. Medb was one of three daughters of Eochaid Feidlech, king in Tara. There was Eithne Uathach, called the Terrible. Children used to flee from her because she ate their flesh. There was Medb of Cruachu herself and there was Clothru of Cruachu, so called because she reigned there before Medb.

three
We all know it’s the magic number. Yes, it is.

The king did not only have daughters, he had sons. And like a good, mythical king he had a triad of sons, triplets so close that their own names are often forgotten in the tales. Bres, Nár and Lothur were better known as the Three Beautiful Ones of Emain. Though their form was fair, their deeds were foul and it all started when they tried to seize the kingship of Connacht from their own father by force.

They had their battalions arranged before the fort of Cruachu. Their sister, Clothru came out of the fort to parlay with them and to stop them trying to take the kingship from their father. You must remember that in Ireland at this time fingal, or kin-slaying, was one of the worst crimes imaginable. Of course, that didn’t stop many people trying to do it.

When Clothru came in front of her brothers, she began to shout at them. “You idiots! Do you really intend to go into battle against your father? There is no way this isn’t a great injustice. You are in the wrong and you know what happens when you go into battle without right on your side?”
“Nevertheless, we must do it,” her brothers replied.
“Since you’re going off to certain death, do you at least have any children? Or is this the end of our family?”
“We have no one to succeed us”, the brothers admitted.

“If you are still dead-set on going to battle tomorrow, then you will die”, said Clothru. “In that case, you’re in luck. It is the time of my conception. If you sleep with me, maybe you’ll leave a child behind and this foolish battle won’t totally destroy us.” Clothru was still right, though, all the Three Beautiful Ones of Emain died in battle the next day.

red stripes
I hope this doesn’t change the way you feel about Wally of the Red Stripes

From this union Lugaid of the Red Stripes was born. He was called Lugaid of the Red Stripes because of his unusual conception. He had all the Three Beautiful Ones of Emain as his father. From his head to his shoulders he looked like Bres. Then there was a red stripe across his body. His torso was that of Nár’s and was separated from his legs, which looked like Lothur’s, by a red stripe. He was a good hero, but his story cannot be told here.

As queen of Connacht, Clothru used to distribute the tributes of that province. She would do this by Loch Rí, so that the island in the lake became known as Inis Clothrand, or Clothru’s island. Sadly, for her, she was not be queen for long. While she was pregnant with her second son, Furbaide, her sister Medb heard a prophecy. This prophecy said something about her sister’s son bringing about Medb’s destruction. So Medb had her sister drowned in a river and the child who was still in Clothru’s womb was violently cut out. That, incidentally, is where Furbaide got his name from. It means, ‘Cut out’. The child, however, survived this violent birth and was taken to be raised in Ulster.

Meanwhile, Medb had assumed the queenship that her sister had held until now. As queen Medb still had to distribute the tributes of the province at Inis Clothrand. On the island named after the sister she had murdered, she had to come and try to claim the queenship of Connacht for herself. A difficult and morbid task. A task, which was mad all the more difficult because Medb had a geis. This geis meant that she had to bathe in the well on Inis Clothrand every morning.

mother
“You drowned her, you murdered her, and you left her children”. Two pop culture references in one here.

Furbaide grew up, knowing of the death of the mother and so he harboured a great hatred for his aunt. One day, as a young child, he went to Inis Clothrand and to the well in which murderous Medb had to bathe every morning. Young Furbaide took a stick, roughly the same height as Medb, and drove it into the ground by the well. Then he took a rope and began to make measurements of the land. He measured how far it was between the stick and the shores of the lake, how high the stick was out of the ground. Then he threw the stick away and took his measuring ropes back to Ulster.

From that day on, whenever the boys of Ulster would play, Furbaide would refuse their offers to come and play hurling. Instead he would take his measuring ropes and recreate the shores of Loch Rí. In the distance he would place an apple, at head height, on a post. Then he would stand, as if he were on the shore and make casts with his sling, until he struck the apple off the post. This was the only game he would play and he wouldn’t stop until he knocked the apple off.

Years later, there happened to be an assembly of the men of Connacht and the men of Ulster by Loch Rí. The warrior Furbaide had come along with all the other young warriors of the province. He was up early one morning, sitting outside his tent, eating a bit of cheese for breakfast. There was a group of his fellow warriors, gathered all together, not far away. Furbaide got up and approached them. The group were excitedly nudging one another and furtively whispering. They could not take their eyes off a sight in the distance. Furbaide came and asked them what they were looking at.
“Your aunt”, one of the lads replied, “and she is absolutely stunning.”
“She’s just washing. Bare-arse naked for all to see”, another chipped in.

Furbaide was silent. He was over-come with rage and excitement at his chance to avenge his mother. But mostly rage. Without thinking, without stopping to stoop down to the lake side to pick up a stone, Furbaide put the cheese he was eating in his sling and cast at Medb.

The hard cheese struck the queen of Connacht on the top of her head. She fell, dead to the ground, killed with one shot. That is the story of the death of Medb.

A story about Mongán and some cross-cultural thoughts (about Deadpool)

This week I’ve a little translation and then a little essay. Two for the price of one. The tale has a very long title, which is this: ‘The Story from which it is inferred that Mongán was Finn mac Cumaill and the cause of the death of Fothad Airgdech’.


 

Mongán was sitting in state in Rathmore in Moylinney. Forgoll the poet then came to him and brought complaints from couples all over the territory to Mongán. But he did recite a new story for his king every night. His knowledge was so great and exhaustive, he had a new story every night from Halloween to May-day. Mongán repaid him with gifts and food.

food
Maybe it was pancakes. We’ve no way of knowing.

One day, Mongán asked his poet about the death of Fothad Airgdech. Forgoll replied, confidently, that he was slain at Duffry in Leinster. Mongán said he was wrong. The poet took great offense. He said he would satirise Mongán with cutting verses, he would satirise his father and his mother and his grandfather. He said he would sing verses over the waters so that fish could not be caught in the estuaries. He would sing overt the woods, so that they would not bear fruit and over the plains so that they would be a barren wasteland.
Mongán tried to calm the poet’s anger, offering him gifts worth seven slave-girls, or twice seven slave-girls, or three times seven slave-girls. More than this, he offered a third of his land, or half his land, or even his whole dominion. At last, he offered the poet anything at all, the only exception being his own liberty and that of his wife, Breóthigern. He would only give Forgoll this if Mongán wasn’t proved right at the end of three days. The poet refused everything that was offered to him, except the woman. Although she was not offered Mongán could not refuse, for the sake of his honour but the she was greatly upset. Her tears fell as quickly as they could be wiped away. Mongán comforted her, as help would certainly come to them.

comfortingh
This is sort of comforting, right?

The third day arrived. The poet approached to enforce his claim but Mongán told him to wait until evening. In their private room, Breóthigern started weeping as she could see no help coming and it was closer to the time when the poet would claim her. Mongán said “Don’t cry, my dear. Someone is coming to help us. Even now, I hear his feet in the Labrinne river”.
So they waited. Again Breóthigern began to cry. “No tears, now”, said Mongán, “I hear the feet of the one who will help us in the Máin”.
They were like this between every two watches that day. She would weep and he husband would still say, “Don’t cry, my love. Someone is coming to help us. I hear his feet in the Laune, in Lough Leane, in Samáir between the Uí Fidgente and the Arada, in the Suir on Femin in Munster, in the Echuir, in the Barrow, in the Ruirthech, in the Boyne, in the Níth, in the Tuarthesc, in Snám Aignech, in the Nid, in the Rí, on the waters of Ollarbha in front of Rathmore”.

water
Knowledge of people in water is just one of his many skills.

Finally night fell. Mongán was on his couch in the hall, with his wife at his right hand, still crying. The poet, Forgoll, was summoning all their bonds and oaths to fulfil their bargain. Just then, it was announced that a man was approaching the fort from the south. His cloak was wrapped tightly around him and in his hand was a headless spear-shaft, of not insignificant size. He used the pole to vault across the three ramparts of the fort, so that he landed in the enclosure. He then leapt into the palace. His final leap took him to the side of Mongán, his hand on the king’s pillow. The poet was at that point behind the king. They all started arguing why this mysterious stranger had come.
“What is the matter here?” asked the stranger.
“I have made a bet with that poet there”, said Mongán, “about the death of Fothad Airgdech. He said that he was killed in Duffry. I said that he was wrong”. The strange warrior agreed with Mongán, the poet was wrong.
“This is a mere peasant”, said Forgoll, “coming here, trying to contradict me”.
“I’ll not stand for that”, said the warrior. “I will prove it to you. We were all there with Finn, with you –”
“Hush!” said Mongán to the warrior, “watch what you’re saying!”
“We were all there with Finn, then”, he continued. “We had come from Scotland and we met Fothad Airgthech just over there on the Larne river. We fought a battle and I threw my spear at Fothad. It went right through him and into the ground behind him. The iron spearhead was stuck in the ground. I hold in my hand the shaft of that spear. If we go outside, you can see the stone I stood on to throw the spear, the iron spearhead will still be in the earth, and a little to the east is the grave of Fothad. He was buried with a stone chest with his two silver bracelets, arm-rings and neck torque of silver in it. The grave is marked by a stone pillar, on the bottom of which is written in ogham: ‘This is Fothad Airgdech. Cáilte slew me in a fight against Finn’.”

grave
In the story he’s a lot more dead.

They all went outside with the strange warrior. Everything was as he said it would be. The stranger was Cáilte, Finn’s fosterling, who had journeyed far to see them. From this it is know that Mongán is Finn mac Cumaill, although he would not let it be said out-loud.


 

Now it’s time for something new: Tom tries to shoe-horn the tale into some kind of modern relevance. This week: Mongán is Deadpool.

I’m not saying that this is the best way of introducing my theory about Mongán being the medieval version of Deadpool, but it is short and should have some of the salient features. This story demonstrates some of the tenacity of Mongán. He survives through the ages, from the mythical past of Finn mac Cumaill to the narrative present. Like many exceptionally long-lived Irish characters he has gone through a transformation – although in this case he transformed from one human into another. Sure, this isn’t an exceptional healing factor but it does make him very difficult to kill.

Also, Finn mac Cumaill is a very famous literary figure. You know this, you’re a well-read person. Mongán is taking on the role of a literary character much in the same way as Deadpool knows he’s a comic book character. This is why he can make references to all sort of crap from outside the Marvel universe. In other texts Mongán is shown to have incredible poetic knowledge. Given the literary  nature of life in medieval Ireland (if you believe the literature), this gives Mongán the advantage of knowing his place, the world, and his place in the world.

The last thing I want to point out is the most difficult. We all know Deadpool is a funny character. At least, he tries to be funny. I’ll leave the final judgement up to you, discerning reader. Does Mongán attain these same heights of comedy? I think the humour is here, but it is hard to see in a text that’s 800-1,000 years old. This tale shows Mongán’s favourite tactic of humiliating the poet, Forgoll. The poet is usually the ignorant straight-man for Mongán to  demonstrate his superior skill to. I’m not saying that Forgoll can do everything a spider can, but I think the relationship has echoes for our merc with a mouth.

I’m sure this isn’t water tight. You’ll all have objections of a Celtic studies, comic book, or both variety. But this is the kind of thing that I think about everyday, so you’ve an insight into my head here. Also, can you blame a guy for trying to jump on a passing bandwagon?

 

thumbs up
No, you can’t blame him. In fact, I think you should probably like the post and share it widely.

The Tragic Death of Derbforgaill.

Yes, it’s been a while. I was going to have some great excuses but they ran out on me. But you seem to have been enjoying the Tatooine Cycle while I’ve been away anyway. So, 2016 starts off with a somewhat wintry tale of mutilation.


 

Derbforgaill was the daughter of the king of Lochlann. Lochlann might be Scandinavia, but we’re not sure – either way it’s far from Ireland. She had heard some of the famous stories about Cú Chulainn and fell in love with him. You remember this, it happened in Othello. So she decided to journey to Ireland to seek him out, maybe get his autograph, maybe sleep with him. She flew across the sea in the form of a swan with her handmaid, a golden chain linking them in case of emergencies.

The eventually reached Loch Cuan in Ulster – better known as Strangford Loch. Luckily, on the day they arrived Cú Chulainn was there with his foster son, Lugaid, the son of the three Finn Emna. They were skimming stones on the lake when they saw the birds, flying towards them linked by a golden chain.

stones
Look, foster son, it’s an Otherworldy encounter
“Foster father,” said Luagid. “I think you should shoot those birds down. You’ve done it before.”

Cú Chluainn threw the stone that was in his hand at the birds and it struck Derbforgaill in the side, so that it was lodged in her belly. The birds immediately transformed back into women, who collapsed on the side of the lake.

“That you, of all people, have been evil to me,” said Derbforgaill, “is bloody ironic. I came here to seek you out, Cú Chulainn.” She coughed up some blood, no one likes having a stone in their belly.

shotme
It’s not a nice way to say “hi”.
“You speak the truth”, said Cú Chulainn. “Let me help you.” With that he bent down to the woman and sucked the stone from her. It came out into his mouth in a gush of blood. Unpleasant for Cú Chulainn but it eased her pain.

“I have come to seek you, Cú Chulainn”, Derbforgaill said. At this stage, we can assume she took her golden necklace off and did something with the maid. In either case, they do not figure any more in our story.

“You are on a hopeless errand now,” Cú Chulainn replied. “I will not sleep with the side I have sucked.”

“Well, this is a wasted trip then. If you can think of anyone like you, that you could introduce me to, that’d be great. It doesn’t look as if I’ll be doing any Animorphing for a while.”

animorphs
Fun fact: medieval Irish literature is hella nineties.
“Let me introduce you to the noblest man in Ireland, my foster son, Lugaid of the Red Stripes”, said Cú Chulainn conveniently.

“As long as I can always see you, that’s fine with me”, said Derbforgaill creepily.

This all turned out great and she married Lugaid and bore him a son. You would have thought this was a step-down for a princess but he was a good man and set to inherit a lot of land. I can’t get into it now, but Lugaid’s parentage is very complicated but landed.

One day towards the end of winter, on a day not so very different from this (if you’re reading this towards the end of winter), there was a particularly heavy snow. The men of Ulster went out and started making big pillars of the snow – the first step in the evolution of the snowman. When the men had finished, the women of Ulster looked at the pillars and came up with an exciting game to pass the late winter afternoon.

“Let’s each go up onto the pillars and piss down them. Get on the top and piss straight down. Then we’ll know whose piss will go the furthest.”

“But why would we want to know that?”

“Because, obviously, whoever’s piss goes down furthest will be the most desirable woman in Ireland. Sometimes you ask the stupidest questions.”

However, the women of Ulster didn’t manage to make much of an impression on the pillars of ice. As they were running out of contestants, they summon Derbforgaill. However, the maiden from Lochlann was not willing to go, because she was not an idiot and she knew what would happen. The other women made her go up onto the pillar and when she unleashed, her piss slashed all the way to the ground.

snow pillar
I’m not Googling “sexy weeing” for you. It’s not happening.
This greatly disconcerted the other women. “If men ever found out about this skill of Derbforgaill’s none of us would be loved again. They’d all be pining for her.”

“Are you sure that having a big bladder is that desirable. I mean I just don’t –”

“Of course it is! We’ll have to do something about this urine hussy.” So all the women conspired together. They decided to mutilate Derbforgaill so that no one would ever find her attractive. They cut out her eyes, plucked off her nose, shaved off her ears, and pulled out her hair. When this had been done they left her in her house.

Cú Chulainn, Lugaid and the rest of the men of Ulster were on a hillock, looking down on the houses below.

“Why do you think there’s snow still on Derbforgaill’s house, Lugaid?” asked Cú Chulainn.

“It can only be one thing. She is dying”, Lugaid replied.
They both sped to the house to find out what had happened. When Derbforgaill heard them both approach she barred the house from the inside.

“Open the door”, said Cú Chulainn.

“I will not. Lovely was the bloom under which we parted”, said Derbforgaill.

Then she recited a poem:

blood
Let me just cough up some blood, sing this song then I’ll die.
Cú Chulainn bids me farewell,
I came to him from my homeland,
Lugaid too, active and vigorous,
I gave him a love that he didn’t take away.

I must go far,
though it is not a good journey.
I don’t know what’s worse
Separation from them or death and destruction.

Our union has no regret
with Cú Chulainn, with Lugaid,
-though there is soon terror and fear-
if it were not for the reproach.

Parting from my union with Riab nDerg
it is a thorn in the heart, blood in the breast.
Cú Chulainn is deprived
and I am unlucky, were it not for the hillside.

Were it not for the hillside of Lugaid’s fort
where every obstruction is reddened.
It was too soon our vain thing,
with the son of three Finn Emnas.

That I will not see Cú Chulainn,
has made me tearful in sadness.
Feeble my people, wretched wailing,
and parting from Lugaid.

My warrior-friend has not betrayed me,
Cú Chulainn, he loved boasting.
I had a noble, joyous companion,
Lugaid son of Clothrann of Cruachu.

Gift of valour, gift of feat surpassing everyone,
for Cú Chulainn, whose form was famed,
Gift of weapons for valorous Lugaid,
Gift of my shape beyond every woman.

Every victory is a defeat afterwards,
for the person you envy.
Every treasure will be wholly unlawful,
every strong man will be sorrowful, or will be doomed.

Full of longing a tryst in this world,
it does not make a path to heaven.
A tryst with death has destroyed, beyond every treasure,
a fair face, though beautiful its lustre.

Not happy is a hard heart,
which trusts other people.
Frequently its shape changes,
its face in time of misery.

When we used to go around Emain,
from Tara, it was not a bad exploit.
Cú Chulainn was joyful there,
and Lugaid son of Clothru.

Cú Chulainn conversing with me,
with deeds, daring, dark.
It is that which was the fullness of my heart,
and laying with Lugaid.

We have parted from our playing,
at which we might have been forever.
Perhaps we may not meet afterwards,
I have been destined to go to my death.

By the time the two men had barged into the house, Derbforgaill’s soul was no longer in her body. Some say that Lugaid died immediately on seeing her corpse. Cú Chulainn was taken by a murderous rage and went to the house of the women. He knocked it down so that it collapsed on the women and not one of them came out of the wreckage alive. Three fifties of the queens of Ulster he killed that day.

necessary
A question that can be asked of Cú Chulainn so many times.
Then he said:

Derbforgaill, bright white breast,
she came to me over the waves’ crest.
She gave me a friend’s grace,
the daughter of the king of Lochlann, the best.

Know, it is between two graves,
my bloodied heart grieves.
Derbforgaill’s face hidden by stone
Lugaid Riab nDerg, too, leaves.

Lugaid was greatly renowned,
he brought about a great slaughter.
That is what he chose,
That is what Derbforgaill intended.

Lugaid was greatly renowned,
he carried bright spearshafts.
At the light of every full moon,
he would behead fifty enemies.

Derbforgaill, famed with beauty,
with purity and modesty.
She did not fall into vanity,
her face over her companion’s shoulder.

Three fifties of women in Emain,
it is I who slaughtered them.
Though I had to pledge it before kings,
Derbforgaill was always more valuable than they.

That is the tragic death of Derbforgaill. Her mound and grave were raised by Cú Chulainn.


 

Lots going on here. Misogyny, sexual taboos, physiological discussions on what makes a woman desirable. This is a very interesting little text. For the poetry (and, indeed, for the prose) I am working very closely with Kicki Ingridsdotter’s edition and translation.
I have given a few talks on this tale myself, commenting on the sexual taboos referenced in the text. Maybe one day I will expand on those thoughts here. Until then just know that I am thinking about it. Always thinking.

Homage-o-meter or The Literary Sources in The Tatooine Cycle

This is a discussion of the medieval source texts used in the Tatooine Cycle. The numbers can be matched to the original post. I was going to just append this to the bottom of it, but it was getting a bit out of hand. So you’ve got another blog post to compare and contrast. I hope you find this useful and that it takes you to all the awesome corners of medieval Irish literature.

ref


 

(1) This is a typical opening line to many medieval Irish tales. The two titles, the tragic death (aided) and destruction of a hostel (togail bruidne), are titles that appear in medieval Irish tale lists. The name Da Theféider is also a reference to hostellers commonly having Da at the beginning of their names. See Da Derga, Da Choca, Da Thó.

(2) The hero who knows all languages is a common companion in the Seven Companions tales model. In this instance I was thinking of Gwrhyr Gwalstawd Ieithoedd from Culwch ac Olwen. Middle Welsh, instead of Irish, but I hope you’ll forgive that.

(3) “Oh twisted sprite!” (a sirite síabairthi) is a common insult used against Cú Chulainn. It possibly draws attention to his warp-spasm or riastrad.

(4) Finn, as the name for Luke, is just a calque. Luke comes from Greek leukos meaning ‘white’, Finn also means ‘white, bright’ in Irish. It also helps that Finn is the name of the hero of the Fenian Cycle, Finn mac Cumaill.

(5) The character of Cenn Obi here is closely modeled on Suibne from Buile Suibhne. This wild man of the woods was driven mad at the cursing of a saint and recites poetry in the wilderness. Hence all the poems.

(6) This is an attempt at the intertextual nature of medieval Irish literature. Most of the tales were aware of the wider tradition and would reference them. The Caladbolg was Fergus’s sword that he used on the Táin before it was stolen by jealous Aillil.

(7) The epithet Aenfer is taken from Art mac Conn. He was called Aenfer (literally one man) because in Echtra Chondla his brother, Connla, was taken away to the Otherworld. So he was left alone, or aenfer, or “solo”.

(8) The mistaken messenger motif is common in medieval Irish literature. Some of the images here are taken from Táin Bó Cúailgne, p. 153.

(9) The great, many doored hostel is common in the togala texts, mentioned above. This particular description comes from Scéla Mucce Meic Da Thó.

(10) The lifting up of the hostel wall is taken from Fled Bricrenn. In this text Cú Chulainn lifts up the side of the wall so that his wife will be first back in. It’s always fun to reverse the gender roles.

(11) Da Thféider’s immense height is similar to the way that the Fenian giants are described in Acallam na Senórach.

(12) Much of the description of his arms and armour is taken from Cú Chulainn’s arming in the Scythed Chariot epidose, TBC p. 200.

(13) The flight to Alba (whether that means Scotland, the Otherworld, or the Alps) is a common feature. Here I was drawing on Cath Maige Mucrama.

(14) Heroes often have special feats. Cú Chulainn and his son could stun birds with their “thunder feat”. In one combat during the Táin Cú Chulainn threw his darts in the air and then leaped nimbly on them so that he could catch birds.

(15) The presentation of armies is usually accompanied by the mistaken messenger motif, mentioned above. They are heavy in physical description, both of the men and their equipment.

(16) The evil eye of Da Thféider, not only represents the power of a fully operational Death Star (*evil cackle*), but is based on Balor from Cath Maige Tuired. This beastly Fomorian had his one evil eye put out by Lug.

(17) This image of slaughter is taken from the Middle Irish preface to Cáin Adomnáin. This was a clerical law protecting non-combatants but at some point in the twelfth century it picked up a narrative introduction. It is good to bear in mind the cleric origin of all the tales cited here.

(18) In the togala texts the hostel usually ends up burning down. Here I am thinking of Togail Bruidne Da Derga and the triple death by fire, drowning, and wounds suffered by Conaire.

(19) The colophon is based on the famous bilingual colophon to Táin Bó Cúailgne found in the Book of Leinster. In the Irish colophon the tale, and whoever recites it, are praised. However the Latin one casts doubt on the veracity of the tale and suggests that it is only entertainment for fools. You can decide for yourself.

The Tatooine Cycle.

This retelling of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope as a medieval Irish epic began as a series of tweets, made on a whim in the middle of November. They can be found with the hashtag #TatooineCycle. I hope that now I have gathered them all together the story still makes sense.

The numbers refer to my discussion of the sources used for this parody, which can be found here.


 

What was the reason for the Tragic Death of Cenn Obi and the Destruction of Da Thféider’s Hostel? (1) Not difficult that.

tatooine cycle

There was once a great queen of Alt Da Rann and Leia was her name. War had sprung up between her people and those of Da Thféider. She sent messengers to ask for aid from the wildman, Cenn Obi. He lived in the wilderness far to the west. These were the messengers she sent: Síd Tríphe Óg, who knew all the languages of man and beast,(2) and the dwarf, Artú.

The messengers became lost on their journey and before long they did not know what land or territory or province they were in “What is this desolate place?” said Tríphe Óg. “We have been cursed to suffer now”. Artú goes to a steep & rocky area. “This is not right” he said. “Before the day is over you will surely perish, oh twisted sprite! (3) No more adventures!”

It was not long before they saw bandits before them in the road. The messengers were captured as slaves. The bandits sold the messengers to a farmer, Eogan his name. He gave them to his nephew, Finn Aiércoisige, (4) to look after. Artú told Finn why they had come to the region: to seek Cenn Obi, the wild man. Their lands and people were being destroyed. Finn knew the holy man who lived in the woods. The geilt would fly from treetop to mountain peak and lived on brook lime & fresh water.(5) The next day Finn and Artú set out into the wilderness to find the wild man. They see him on a hill and he recites this poem:

Come not near to me Finn
Though I knew your father
The wilderness is sweet to me
Who has not heard your name in a long time

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finn replied, “We have a message for you. Come out of the wilderness!” Cenn Obi, then, took them to his dwelling. Cenn Obi fought alongside Finn’s father in Cath na Cóipe. Cenn Obi’s mind was driven from him there and he became a wildman. Finn’s father left Cenn Obi with a sword, the Caladbolg, to pass on to his son. This is same sword Fergus used in the Táin. (6)

“This is a powerful weapon from a better age. Do not point it at your face” said Cenn Obi. With his senses returned Cenn Obi agreed to help the princess and journey east with the messengers. Finn will not leave. Da Thféider’s warriors came to Eogan’s farm. They burned it down and killed Eogan, his wife and his livestock. This is an ill omen for the hospitaller. With right on his side Finn decides to journey with Cenn Obi to Mag Eisleigh.

When they came to the plain of Mag Eisleigh, Cenn Obi recited this poem:

Bees swarm in the evil hive
Scum & villainy, no untrue speech,
In the plain of Eisleigh
Are these the messengers you seek?

In Mag Eisleigh there lived a famous warrior, Eogan Aenfer.(7) He knew the secret paths and possessed a great hound, Cú Bhacca. At that time Aenfer’s people were harassed by bandits and raiders. Finn and his people came to him during his single combats. Aenfer was in the ford against Grí Dó, champion An Botha Mór. “A lucky day for me, Aenfer,” he said, “Meeting you in the ford. You are like a frightened boy, who flees at the first sight of trouble. We will take your lands, horses, and nerf herds!” Before Grí Dó could draw his weapon, Aenfer cast his spear so that it went clean through the other’s chest. With their champion dead the bandit forces melted away. Aenfer hosted Finn, Cenn Obi and the messengers in his hall.

Cenn Obi told him the strife between Leia and Da Thféider. “You know the hidden paths. Can you guide us eastwards quickly?” “I can guide you through the Kestrel’s Run in less than half a day. I am quick enough for a wildman and a beardless boy.” Early on the next day they set out to Alt Da Rann. When they came to the place in which the princess’s army should have been they saw nothing. They wondered what became of them. In the sky they saw a flock of birds, rising over clouds of mist and the shining moon in the middle of the sky.(8)

“Tell me, Eogan”, said Finn, “what are those birds and clouds and moon? For the sun is shining and it is not yet dark.” Cenn Obi replied, “They are not birds but the clods of earth thrown up by the horses of Da Thféider’s army. They are not clouds but the fierce and manly breathing and exhaling of Da Thféider’s men”, he said “That’s no moon. It’s the shining eye of Da Thféider himself that can destroy an army with a single glare.” Before they could flee they were beset by men from Da Thféider’s army and brought as prisoners into the camp.

The captives were brought to the hostel of Da Theféider. The hostel was a great round building famed throughout Erin. The hostel had seven doors, facing all the sides.(9) At night they would be shut tight to protect everyone inside. There was one window that could not be shut, but it was small, not much larger than a child’s ball. The window was opposite the great central fire. Over the fire was a vat from which Da Thféider’s men took their food. These men were known as Láeich Sín. They stood a head taller than other men and were covered in shining armour.

hostels

Cenn Obi, Finn, Eogan and his wolfhound were put in one of the rooms of Da Thféider’s hostel. As night fell the seven doors were closed. When his warriors came to address the captives Eogan and Finn threw them on their backs and took their armour from them. Cenn Obi leaves to find a key to one of the doors. Though Finn would go with him but Cenn Obi recites this poem:

Oh boys, you must stay
My path is a different one
Who is more foolish, the fool or the one following?
God’s grace be with you.

After Cenn Obi left, Artú pressed his ear to the wall of the room. He could hear noises in the hostel and the voice of Leia. Finn decided to rescue Leia. He and Aenfer put on the captured armour and took the dog, Cú Bhacca, on a lead into the hall. When they were stopped by other Láeich Sín, they said “This dog has escaped from the kennels. We are returning him.” As Finn and Aenfer passed through the many doors of the hostel, they found a room guarded by many warriors. Aenfer then loosed his hound, one of the three wondrous hounds of Ireland. It could tear a grown man’s arm from its socket.

After Cú Bhacca killed the guards, Finn entered the room. The princess was inside. “A small Láeich Sín this”, she said. “This is not my armour,” said Finn. “I am Finn Aiércoisige. I am here to rescue you. I came with the geilt, Cenn Obi.” Hearing the destruction of their warriors, other Láeich Sín had come. Finn, Leia and Aenfer were trapped in the corridor. None could prevail against the steel-sided warriors. But Leia seized the corner of the wall & heaved it up.(10) Her companions could pass under the wall. “Pass through, flighty youth”, she said to Aenfer who would not go.

On the other side of the wall was a pit. In the pit were all the remains of the feasts along with the excrement of warriors. They stood up to their haunches in water and bones. The pit was infested with snakes and venomous worms and a great stench. “You have ruined us, princess”, said Aenfer. “I was in control of every action until now, lead astray by a woman!” Then a snake seized Finn’s leg and pulled him into the waste. He was under water up to the point of drowning. Of a sudden he was released from its grasp. The ground began to shake all them. The walls of the pit began to fall and close in on them. As Da Thféider searched for Finn in his hostel, his great steps shook the very earth. With every resounding shake the walls of the pit collapsed and began to fall in on the champions stuck in it. They could not escape up the sides or out in anyway. In their panic they cried out to Artú and Triphe Óg. The two messengers rushed to their aid and were able to free the heroes from the stinking pit. They all ran out to one of the doors but the seven doors of the hostel were still shut firmly against them.

Thereupon Cenn Obi appeared. He lifted the bar over the door & unlocked it with a key. Before they could all flee, they heard a voice: “We meet again, old man”, said Da Thféider. He was so tall a full-grown man would only come to his knee and his voice was like the thunder of waves.(11) This was the armour he wore: twenty-seven waxed tunics next to his skin. Over that an apron of black leather made of the choicest hides. He was bound with a battle belt of cow-hide. Over all he placed his silk cloak, black with a dark border. On his head he placed his warlike battle-helmet. From within it his voice sounded like a roaring lion’s. In his hand he held his battle weapon. The red-flashing, ivory-hilted sword with which he destroyed battalions and armies.(12)

“We meet again, Cenn Obi. The circle is complete. You fostered me and taught me skill in battle. Now I am the master.” Turning from the others Cenn Obi approached and drew his blue-grey sword. Then he recited this poem:

Cold is the snow tonight
My former strength has left me.
Though I be a weak old man
It is only a master of evil thou art.

You will have no victory
Truth of battle against you.
Strike me down now – red the sword-
I shall have power beyond imagining.

Then they began to work their feats on one another. Hacking and slashing, sword blow for sword blow, fiercely contending. At the height of the conflict Cenn Obi put his sword aside. Da Thféider raised his own sharp-striking sword and struck him down. Instead of a corpse, only the wild man’s rags were found on the ground. Lamenting sorely the others fled into the night.

Royal 13 B VIII f.28

They fled out of Erin and took refuge in Alba.(13) It was here the rest of Leia’s people had gone after the massacre at Alt Da Rann. They spent a while lamenting the death of Cenn Obi. It is from this that the poets say:

The tomb of Cenn Obi!
Though none believes he has gone.
After the fight in the hostel,
There is great grief in Alba.

Leia told the others about the hostel and its layout. They began gathering a host to avenge their injuries on Da Thféider. The hostel was well protected on all sides with thick wood and iron bars. The spears and swords would not prevail against it. But if a spear could be thrown through the small window and strike the cauldron, it would spill into the fire and burn the house down. “That is an impossible cast!” cried the warriors. “We will surely die, following a woman over the border!” “It’s not difficult” said Finn. “I used to shoot sparrows in flight with my darts when I was a boy. It can’t be much bigger.”(14)
As the host gathered in the ships to cross the sea, Eogan Aenfer left with his wolfhound. He had to pay tribute to An Botha Mór. This was the disposition of the host as they marched on the hostel of Da Thféider. A company came over the hill of the smooth yew. Three thousand their number with blue cloaks and scallop-edged shields. Another company, no smaller than the last. Green-hooded tunics covered them to their knees. Fierce swords in their hands. A third company on the hill of Eó Mhín. Gold were their cloaks fastened with silver brooches. Broad were their spear heads. The final company approached with Finn at their head. Their swords were ivory hilted and red cloaks covered their shoulders.(15)

As he saw the companies of his enemy arrayed on the hills around him, Da Thféider turned to his steward and said: “This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Cenn Obi. It will soon see the end of all our foes.” Thereafter the Láeich Sín sallied forth from the hostel and met the companies on the field of battle. The warriors began each of them to strike & smite, to hew & cut, to slay & slaughter the others for a long space of time. Abundant was the stream of blood over the white skin of warriors mangled by eager hands. Then Da Thféider came to the field. He had an evil eye. If an army looked at that eye, though they were many thousands in number they would be overcome.(16) Three times Finn’s company surged to the hostel and three times they were driven back by the poisonous power of his eye. Thick were the corpses on that battlefield, so that the feet of the warriors rested on the bloody necks of others.(17)

The red company of Finn prepared a final attack on the hostel. Da Thféider took his place in the van to drive them off. As he opened his baleful eye, Aenfer returned over the hill wooping his war-cry. He took up a sling and cast a stone at Da Thféider. His eye was closed and forced away from the attack. Before he fled the field Da Thféider made a cast at Finn. Artú placed himself before Finn and the spear struck his chest. The company came up to the hostel and Finn prepared to make his cast.Finn readied his own spear. As he threw it, he heard the voice of Cenn Obi “Use your force, Finn”.

hall on fire

The cast flew true towards the hostel. The spear went through the small window and overturned the cauldron over the fire. From this the fire was kindled in the hostel. No water could be found to quench it.(18) So that it spread throughout the walls and doors and burned the hostel to the ground. Of the people of Da Thféider only five out of every hundred survived. He himself fled from the country.

All the people of medicine employed their skill and herbs to seal up the wounds of Artú. A great cheering and rejoicing arose from Leia’s people, celebrating the heroic deeds of the warriors. Aenfer, Cú Bhacca and Finn were honoured in front of the assembled hosts. So far this is the Destruction of Da Thféider’s Hostel and the Tragic Death of Cenn Obi.
Finit. Amen.

A blessing on everyone who will rehearse this tale exactly as it is here and will not add any other form on it.

Sed ego qui scripsi hanc historiam aut uerius fabulam quibusdam fidem in hac historia aut fabula non accommodo. Quaedam enim ibi sunt praestrigia prequelarum, quaedam autem figmenta Lucas, quaedam ad delectationem stultorum. (19)

Echtra Nerai – The Strange Adventure of Nera, part 2.

This is the second and final part of Echtra Nerai. When we last left our hero, he had gone into the síd of Cruachan after all the Connachtmen had been killed. The king there gave him lodgings in a house run by a lone woman on the condition that he bring a bundle of firewood to the king everyday.

Is it spooky? Less than part one. But there are more cows.

This is the only spooky, cow-related gif I could find.
This is the only spooky, cow-related gif I could find.

Nera did as he was told and went off to the house. The woman inside greeted him, as the king had said she would. “Welcome, sir,” she said. “I assume that the king has sent you”. She arranged his sleeping quarters and fed him for the night. On the next day Nera gathered his bundle of firewood and took it to the king’s palace. As he approached the palace he saw a most unusual thing  – it’s not called the strange adventure of Nera for nothing. He saw a blind man carrying a lame man on his back coming out of the palace. The pair walked past him to a well that stood outside of the fortress. Leaning over the well so that the lame man could look down inside it, the blind man asked “Is it there?”. The lame man replied, “It is, indeed. Let’s go back to the palace”. At that the blind man would carry his companion back inside. Nera saw this on the first day and every day he carried the firewood in after that.

Obligatory Game of Thrones reference.
Obligatory Game of Thrones reference.

After a while Nera couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. Before he set out with the firewood, he asked the woman about the two men. “Why does a blind man carry a lame man to the well outside the fortress everyday? Seems like a lot of effort to stare at some muddy water”. “That’s rich, coming from the man who gave a dead man an ankle bracelet”, the woman replied. “But since you ask, they go to check on the crown which is kept in the well. It’s the same diadem that the king wears from time to time”. “Why is it just a blind man and a lame man then?” asked Nera. “That’s easy enough to say, Nera. They are the only men the king trusts. The blind man cannot find the crown and lame man cannot run off with it.”
As he was getting some good answers about his strange adventures, Nera decided to ask the woman about the odd sight that brought him to this land in the first place. “What did you see, Nera?” she asked. “The strangest thing, it was: after I had replaced the dead man, I thought I saw the whole of Cruachan on fire and all the people of Connacht killed.” “What you saw wasn’t true then,” the woman said. “It was only a vision from the people of the síd of what was to come. Connacht and Cruachan will be destroyed unless you go and warn them.” “How can I go and warn them? I’m stuck here delivering firewood and I’ve no idea where they are,” complained Nera. “Leave here the way you came. Your people are still sitting around that same cauldron as when you left them on Halloween. Indeed, the log they threw on the fire as you went out hasn’t even burned down.” This was quite shocking news, as it had seemed to Nera that he had been almost half a year in the house of the mysterious woman. The woman herself continued, “Tell them to be on their guard against the síd. If Ailill and Medb come to destroy it, they will also carry off the crown in the well; the crown of Briun.”

Why has time stopped in Connacht?
Why has time stopped in Connacht?

Nera liked to complain so he didn’t go immediately. Instead he said, “How will they believe that I’ve been away in the síd all this time?”. The woman advised him to take the fruits of summer with him back to Connacht in autumn. As a final gift, she added this “Before you go, I’ll become pregnant by you and bear you a son”. Nera looked shocked. “Be sure to send us a warning when Ailill and Medb come to destroy the síd so that we can escape, along with your cattle.” This was all too much for Nera, who began the evening fulfilling a Halloween dare.
He returned the fort at Cruachan and found all the people there around the cauldron, just as he had left them. After he was seated back at the feast, he showed them the wild garlic and primrose that he brought back with him and told the assembled host the story of his adventures. He got the sword as a reward for tying the withy around the corpse’s foot (I bet you’d forgotten about that) and the people of Connacht swore to invade the síd in a year’s time. During that year Fergus mac Roich came to Connacht in exile from Ulster – a long story that and full of sadness.

For God's sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.
For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.

The next Halloween Ailill and Medb told Nera to go into the síd to rescue his family and cattle before the people of Connacht began their destruction. When he returned to his house in the síd the woman bade him welcome and thrust a bundle of firewood into his hands, “Quickly take this to the palace of the king. For a whole year I’ve been taking the firewood to the palace and I told everyone there you’ve been dreadful sick. Oh, by the way, that’s your son in the corner.”

So Nera went off to palace carrying the firewood. The king was excessively pleased to see him. “I’m glad you’ve come back alive from your sickness!” he said, “Although I’m not too happy that you’ve fathered a son while staying at my hospitality.” “I’m terribly sorry,” said Nera, “I will, of course, bow to your wishes on that matter.” The king told him not worry, that what was done was done and sent him back to his house.

Nera doesn't give a shit.
Nera doesn’t give a shit.

During the time Nera had been away the mysterious woman had given her new-born son a gift: one of the cows from Nera’s herd. Perfectly fair, if you ask me. That night, before he escaped back to Connacht, the Morrigan took this cow east to Ulster and had the Donn Cuailgne, that famous Ulster bull cover it. On her way back, she had a brief run in with Cú Chulainn but this story already has too many characters, so we’ll just move on.
Nera returned to his house and noticed that his son’s cow was missing. He was greatly berated by his wife because of this – in another example of the hen-pecked husband trope. When the cow finally returned his new wife, perspicacious as ever, recognised that it had been with the Bull of Cuailgne. They were going to have to wait another year, for the cow to calf, before they could leave the síd. Nera returned to Connacht empty handed.When he arrived Ailill and Medb asked him where he had been. “I have been in fair lands”, replied Nera, “where there are great treasures and precious things; many fabulous clothes and food and wonderful artifacts. Those who own these things will come to destroy you in a year’s time, unless you do something about it.” “You told us that last year, Nera.”

Rulers of Connacht and dogs have a lot in common.
Rulers of Connacht and dogs have a lot in common.

Next Halloween it all goes down. The army of Ailill and Medb is drawn up in front of the síd. “Be sure to go now and get whatever you’ve left in the síd, Nera. We’re not waiting another year.” Nera went into the síd then, to get his family and, arguably more importantly, his cattle. While he was away his son’s cow had had a bull calf. As it was being driven out of the síd to Connacht, it gave three loud bellows. They were so loud that they were heard throughout the province. Ailill and the exile Fergus mac Roích heard them as they were playing fidchell. Fergus’s usually morose countenance looked even more dark then. He knew that bull calf meant trouble.
When the calf came to Connacht he immediately sought out Aillil’s prize bull, the Finnbennach. They fought in the plain before the fort for a day and a night, until finally the calf was beaten. No real surprise there. As the calf was dying it let out a final, piteous bellow. “Why did the calf bellow like that?” Medb asked her cowherd. Before he could answer Bricriu, famous dick, turned to his Ulster compatriot Fergus: “You let out a cry like that this morning, didn’t you, mate?” Fergus was so enraged by this jibe that he didn’t even put down the fidchell pieces that were in his hand before he hit Bricriu right upside his head. For this reason Bricriu has five fidchell pieces still lodged in his skull. When this commotion had died down, the cow herd replied to his queen, “It gave a cry because it knew it was beaten. If only that calf’s father, the Donn Cuailgne, were here. You’d have a real fight for Finnbennach then.” With that Medb resolved to see Finnbennach and Donn Cuailgne fight if it was the last thing she did. It nearly was.

This is good advice for Bricriu. I don't know why no one told him.
This is good advice for Bricriu. I don’t know why no one told him.

With the excitement over the army could finally invade the síd. This they did and destroyed everything they found. Everything except the crown in the well, the Crown of Briun. It is now one of the three wonderful gifts in Ireland and this is the end of Nera’s strange adventure.


I’m sorry that I haven’t much time for analysis. But I still have time for links.