celtic symbols

Celts: Kings and Druids

"If I break faith with you,
may the Sky fall upon me,
may the Sea drown me,
may the Earth rise up
and swallow me." - Celtic oath

This great Celtic oath calls the very elements to witness. The Celts held a panentheistic or primal holistic concept of deity. They regarded "the Elements" as the most powerful manifestations of the gods, not to be trifled with. This great oath is a most solemn pledge to the elements to destroy those who do not keep their word.

"When the Gaulish commander Brennus attacked Delphi and plundered it of its gold, he was said to have laughed aloud at seeing the temple there, at the way in which the Greeks depicted the gods in human representational form. No doubt, to his Celtic mind, this custom seemed childishly immature, if not barbarously irreverent, for the gods could not be bounded by wood, metal or stone. How was it possible for a god, who could shapeshift into myriads of forms, animal, human and divine, to appear in only one shape?

The state of the land was always a reflection of the kingly rule. If the king was in harmony with his obligations, then the land flourished. If the king neglected his obligations or duty, the land became a wasteland. The soil no longer grew crops, the rains came at the wrong times, unseasonable cold and hot waves, omens in the sky, all pointed to poor stewardship on the part of the king who directed the activities of the people. This theme, so familiar from the later Grail legends, arises from many Celtic stories. They date from a time when the king was sacred: neither human nor divine, but sanctioned by the elements, the manifestations of the gods of the land, and by his relationship with the Goddess of the Land, or Sovereignty.

"Good is his reign. Since he assumed the kingship, no cloud has veiled the sun for the space of a day from the middle of spring to the middle of autumn. Not a dewdrop has fallen from grass till midday."

There are seven recognized proofs of a king who has put his own desires before the needs of his subjects.

The proofs of unworthiness in a king are given as follows:
'Being without truth, without law, defeat in battle, famine during his reign, dryness of cows, ruination of fruit, dearth of crops.'

When the king has broken his obligation to the Goddess of the Land, then the very elements of the land forsake him - 'the suspension of amity between a king and the country', was considered the most grievous rupture. The sacred union of the king and the land is a major feature of Celtic kingship incorporated into the rites of king-making.

The sacred obligations of the king are frequently symbolized by the empowering objects he guards. For example Gwyddno Garanhir possessed a unlimited food-producing hamper." - Caitlin Matthews

The word druid (Irish drui, Welsh derwydd) is derived from the Sanskrit: veda - to see or know, combined with the word for Oak: Gaulish dervo, Irish dour, Welsh derw. The words for wood and wisdom are very close: Irish fid and fios mean tree and knowledge; Welsh gwydd and gwyddon mean tree and knowledgeable one. This close connection suggests that we should think of the druid as 'a knower of the tree' or 'the tree-sage', which would give us a closer feel of what the druid really was - a seer of great knowledge, whose closeness to the natural world put him or her in the position of a Walker of the Thinspace between the collective subconscious of mankind and the unseen collective consciousness of Nature.

The druids, sons and daughters of the Oak, were distinct by reason of their gifts. Male and female druids were gifted people who exhibited excellence in various arts (talents or skills) while maintaining shamanic roles. Druids were the repositories of wisdom/knowledge. Druids, who searched for deeper understanding in the patterns revealed throughout Nature, used that wisdom/knowledge to note the right time for spring sowing or the prognosis of an injured limb.

Some druids specialized in branches of Nature, becoming judges, seers or fáithi, teachers, poets, satirists and battle strategists as well as advisers to kings. A druid was a man or woman of natural wisdom whose advice was sought on all matters of daily life, one who perhaps also fulfilled a craft, one who was married and had a family, one who brought the people together for common celebrations and whose word was law.

In the druid we see the earliest form of tribal leadership - which was spiritual rather than temporal.

The distinctions between king and druid are sometimes blurred in Celtic tradition. For though the king is the assumed leader of his people, it is the druid who really rules, for his or her word is law.

Rome banned the Druidic arts or crafts after sacking of the Druid's centre at Anglesey in AD 64.

The function of the seer or fáithi, to divine the affairs of humans through a close observation of Nature, is one still very much associated with people of Celtic extraction, many of whom possess 'the second sight'.


Once upon a time Eochaid Feidlech came over the fair green of Brl Leith, and he saw at the edge of a well a woman with a bright comb of silver adorned with gold, washing in a silver basin wherein were four golden birds and little, bright gems of purple carbuncle in the rims of the basin.

A mantle she had, curly and purple, a beautiful cloak, and in the mantle silver fringes arranged, and a brooch of fairest gold. A kirtle she wore, long, hooded, of green silk, with red embroidery of gold. Marvelous clasps of gold and silver in the kirtle on her breasts and her shoulders and spaulds on every side.

The sun kept shining upon her, so that the glistening of the gold against the sun from the green silk was manifest to men. On her head were two golden tresses, in each of which was a plait of four locks, with a bead at the point of each lock. The hue of mat hair seemed to them like the flower of the iris in summer, or like red gold after the burnishing thereof.

There she was, undoing her hair to wash it, with her arms out through the sleeve-holes of her smock. White as the snow of one night were the two hands, soft and even, and red as foxglove were the two clear beautiful cheeks. Dark as the back of a stag-beetle the two eyebrows. Like a shower of pearls were the teeth in her head. Green as an olive were the eyes. Red as rowan berries the lips.

Very high, smooth and soft-white the shoulders. Clear white and lengthy the fingers. Long were the hands. White as the foam of a wave was the flank, slender, long, tender, smooth, soft as wool. Polished and warm, sleek and white were the two thighs. Round and small, hard and white the two knees. Short and white and rule straight the two shins. Justly straight and beautiful the two heels. If a measure were put on the feet it would hardly have found them unequal, unless the flesh of the coverings should grow upon them.

The bright radiance of the moon was in her noble face: the loftiness of pride in her smooth eyebrows: the light of wooing in each of her regal eyes. A dimple of delight in each of her cheeks, with a dappling in them, at one time, of purple spots with redness of a calf's blood , and at another with the bright lustre of snow.

Soft womanly dignity in her voice ; a step steady and slow she had: a queenly gait was hers.

Verily, of the world's women 'twas she was the dearest and loveliest and just Etain that the eyes of men had ever beheld. It seemed to King Eochaid and his followers that she was from the elfmounds.

Of her was said: "Shapely are all till compared with Etain, dear are all till compared with Etain."

A longing for her straightway seized the King; so he sent forward a man of his people to detain her.

The King asked tidings of her and said, while announcing himself: "Shall I have an hour of dalliance with thee?"

"Tis for that we have come hither under thy safeguard," quoth she.

"Query, whence art thou and whence hast thou come?" says Eochaid.

"Easy to say," quoth she. "Etain am I, daughter of Etar, King of the cavalcade from the elfmounds. I have been here for twenty years since I was born in an elfmound. The men of the elfmound, both Kings and nobles, have been wooing me: but nought was gotten from me, because ever since I was able to speak, I have loved thee and given thee a child's compassion for the high tales about thee and thy splendour. And though I had never seen thee, I knew thee at once from thy description: it is thou, then, I have reached."

"No 'seeking of an ill friend afar' shall be thine," says Eochaid. "Thou shalt have welcome, and for thee every other woman shall be left by me, and with thee alone will I live so long as thou hast honour."

"My proper bride-price to me!" she says, "and afterwards my desire."

"Thou shalt have both," says Eochaid.

celtic trees

Da Derga's Hostile

Four men in chariots were on the plain of Liffey at their game, Conaire himself and his three foster brothers. Then his fosterers went to him that he might go to the bullfeast. The bullfeaster then in his sleep, at the end of the night beheld a man stark naked passing along the road of Tara, with a stone in his sling.

"I will go in the morning after you," quoth Conaire.

Conaire left his foster brothers at their game, and turned his chariot and his charioteer until he was in Dublin. There he saw great white-speckled birds, of unusual size and color and beauty.

Conaire pursues them until his horses were tired. The birds would go a spear cast before him, and would not go any further.

Conaire alighted and takes his sling for them out of the chariot. Conaire goes after them until he was at the sea. The birds betake themselves to the wave. Conaire went to them and overcame them.

The birds quit their birdskins, and turn upon him with spears and swords. One of them protects him, and addressed him, saying: "I am Nemglan. King of thy Father's birds; and thou hast been forbidden to cast at birds for here there is no one that should not be dear to thee because of his father or mother."

"Till today," says Conaire, "I knew not this."

"Go to Tara tonight," says Nemglan; "'tis fittest for thee. A bullfeast is, there, and through it thou shalt be king. A man stark naked, who shall go at the end of the night along one of the roads of Tara, having a stone and a sling -'tis he that shall be king."

So in this wise Conaire fared forth; and on each of the four roads whereby men go to Tara there were three kings awaiting him, and they had raiment for him, since it had been foretold that he would come stark-naked. Then he was seen from the road on which his fosterers were, and they put royal raiment about him, and placed him in a chariot, and he bound his pledges.

The folk of Tara said to him: "It appears to us that our bullfeast and our spell of truth are a failure, if it be only a young, beardless lad that we have visioned therein."

"That is of no moment," quoth he. "For a young, generous king like me to be a king is no disgrace, since the binding of Tara's pledges is mine by right of father and grandsire."

"Excellent! excellent!" says the host. They made him king of Erin upon him.

And he said: "I will enquire of wise men that I myself may be wise."

Then he uttered all this as he had been taught by the man at the wave, who said this to him: "Thy reign will be subject to a restriction, but the bird reign will be noble, and this shall be thy tabu.

Thou shalt not go righthandwise round Tara and lefthandwise round Bregia.

The evil beasts of Cerna must not be hunted by thee.

And thou shalt not go out every ninth night beyond Tara.

Thou shalt not sleep in a house from which firelight is manifest outside, after sunset, and in which light is manifest from without.

And three Reds shall not go before thee to Red's house.

And no rapine shall be wrought in thy reign.

And after sunset a company of one woman or one man shall not enter the house in which thou art.

Time passes.

"What is this?" asked Conaire.

"Easy to say," his people answer. "Easy to know that the king's law has broken down therein, since the country has begun to burn."

"Whither shall we betake ourselves?" says Conaire.

"To the Northeast," says his humans.

So then they went righthandwise round Tara, and lefthandwise round Bregia, and the evil beasts of Cerna were hunted by him. But he saw it not till the chase had ended.

They that made of the world that smoky mist of magic were elves, and they did so because Conaire's tabus had been violated.

"Judgment goes with good times," says Conaire. "I had a friend in this country, if only we knew the way to his house!"

"What is his name?" asked Mac cecht.

"Da Derga of Leinster," answered Conaire. "He came unto me to seek a gift from me, and he did not come with a refusal. I gave him a hundred kine of the drove. I gave him a hundred fatted swine. I gave him a hundred mantles made of close cloth. I gave him a hundred blue-colored weapons of battle. I gave him ten red, gilded brooches. I gave him ten vats good and brown. I gave him ten thralls. I gave him ten querns. I gave him thrice nine hounds all-white in their silver chains. I gave him a hundred race horses in the herds of deer. There would be no abatement in his case though he should come again. He would make return. It is strange if he is surly to me tonight when reaching his abode."

When Conaire after this was journeying along the Road of Cualu, he marked before him three horsemen riding towards the house. Three red frocks had they, and three red mantles: three red bucklers they bore, and three red spears were in their hands: three red steeds they bestrode, and three red heads of hair were on them. Red were they all, both body and hair and raiment, both steeds and men.

"Who is it that fares before us?" asked Conaire. "It was a tabu of mine for those three to go before me - the three Reds to the house of Red.

Conaire sends his son to hail them.

They reply to his hail, "Lo, my son, great the news. Weary are the steeds we ride. We ride the steeds of Donn Tetscorach from the elfmounds. Though we are alive we are dead. Great are the signs; destruction of life; sating of ravens; feeding of crows, strife of slaughter; wetting of sword-edge, shields with broken bosses in hours after sundown. Lo, my son!"

"All my tabus have seized me tonight," says Conaire, "since those Three Reds are the banished folks."

They went forward to the house and took their seats therein, and fastened their red steeds to the door of the house.

Tis then the man of the black, cropt hair, with his one hand and one eye and one foot, overtook them. Rough cropt hair upon him. Though a sackful of wild apples were hung on his crown, not an apple would fall on the ground, but each of them would stick on his hair. Though his snout were hung on a branch they would remain together. Long and thick as an outer yoke was each of his two shins. Each of his buttocks was the size of a cheese on a withe. A forked pole of iron black-pointed was in his hand. A swine, black-bristled, singed, was on his back, squealing continually, and a woman big-mouthed, huge, dark, sorry, hideous, was behind him. Though her snout were hung on a branch, the branch would support it. Her lower lip would reach her knee.

He starts forward to meet Conaire, and made him welcome.

So he goes towards the house, with his great, big-mouthed whole behind him, and his swine short-bristled, black, singed, squealing continually, on his back.

Now plunder was taken by the sons of Donn Desa, and five hundred there were in the body of their marauders, besides what underlings were with them. This, too, was a tabu of Conaire's.

That was one of Conaire's tabus, and that plunder should be taken in Ireland during his reign was another tabu of his.

There was a good warrior in the north country, "Wain over withered sticks," this was his name. Why he was so called was because he used to go over his opponent even as a wain would go over withered sticks. Now plunder was taken by him, and there were five hundred in the body of their marauders alone, besides underlings.

There was a valiant trio of the men of Cualu of Leinster, namely, the three Red Hounds of Cualu, called Cethach and Clothach and Conall. Now rapine was wrought by them, and twelve score were in the body of their marauders, and they had a troop of madmen.

In Conaire's reign a third of the men of Ireland were reavers. He was of sufficient strength and power to drive them out of the land of Erin so as to transfer their marauding to the other side (Great Britain), but after this transfer they returned to their country.

When they had reached the shoulder of the sea, they meet Ingcel the One-eyed and Eiccel and Tulchinne, three great-grandsons of Conmac of Britain, on the raging of the sea.

A man ungentle, huge, fearful, uncouth was Ingcel. A single eye in his head, as broad as an oxhide, as black as a chafer, with seven pupils therein. Thirteen hundred were in the body of his marauders. The marauders of the men of Erin were more numerous than they.

They go for a sea encounter on the main.

"Ye should not do this," says Ingcel: "do not break the truth of men (fair play) upon us, for ye are more in number than I."

"Nought but a combat on equal terms shall befall thee," say the reavers of Erin.

"There is somewhat better for you," quoth Ingcel. "Let us make peace since ye have been cast out of the land of Erin, and we have been cast out of the land of Alba and Britain. Let us make an agreement between us. Come ye and wreak your rapine in my country, and I will go with you and wreak my rapine in your country ."

"Who will go on shore to listen? Let some one go," says Ingcel, "who should have there the three gifts, namely, gift of hearing, gift of far sight, and gift of judgement."

"I", says Mane Honeyworded, "have the gift of hearing."

"And I," says Mane Unslow, "have the gift of far sight and of judgement."

"Tis well for you to go thus," say the reavers: "good is that wise."

Then nine men go on till they were on the Hill of Howth, to know what they might hear and see.

"What deemest thou," says Ingcel, "of that man's reign in the land of Erin?"

"Good is his reign," replied Fer rogain. "Since he became king, no cloud has veiled the sun for the space of a day from the middle of spring to the middle of autumn. And not a dewdrop fell from grass till midday, and wind would not touch a beast's tail until nones. And in his reign, from year's end to year's end, no wolf has attacked aught save one bullcalf of each byre; and to maintain this rule there are seven wolves in hostageship at the sidewall in his house, and behind this a further security, even Mac-locc, and tis he that pleads for them in Conaire's house."

"In Conaire's reign are the three crowns on Erin, namely, a crown of millet, a crown of flowers, and a crown of oak. In his reign, too, each man deems the other's voice as melodious as the strings of lutes, because of the excellence of the law and the peace and the goodwill prevailing throughout Erin. May the Creator and Sustainer not bring that man there tonight! Sad is the shortness of his life!"

"This was my luck," says Ingcel, "that he should be there, and there should be one Destruction for another. It was no more grievous to me than it was to my father and my mother and my seven brothers, and the king, whom I gave up to you before coming on the transfer of the rapine."

"Tis true, tis true!" say the evildoers who were along with the reavers.

The reavers make a start from the Strand of Fuirbthe, and bring a stone for each man to make a cairn; for this was the distinction which at first the Fians made between a "Destruction" and a "Rout," A pillar-stone they used to plant when there would be a Rout. A cairn, however, they used to make when there would be a Destruction.

At this time, then, they made a cairn, for it was a Destruction. Far from the house was this, that they might not be heard or seen therefrom. For two causes they built their cairn, namely, first, since this was a custom in marauding, and, secondly, that they might find out their losses at the Hostel.

Everyone that would come safe from it would take his stone from the cairn: thus the stones of those that were slain would be left, and thence they would know their losses. And this is what men skilled in story recount, that for every stone in Cairn Lecca there was one of the reavers killed at the Hostel.

Ingcel went to reconnoitre the Hostel with one of the seven pupils of the single eye which stood out of his forehead, to fit his eye into the house in order to destroy the king and the youths who were around him therein. And Ingcel saw them through the wheels of the chariots.

Then Ingcel was perceived from the house. He made a start from it after being perceived. He went till he reached the reavers in the stead wherein they were.

Each circle of them was set around another to hear the tidings - the chiefs of the reavers being in the very center of the circles. There were Fer ger and Fer gel and Fer rogel and Fer rogain and Lomna the Buffoon, and Ingcel, of the seven pupils of the single eye, in the centre of the circles. And Fer rogain went to question Ingcel.



"There I saw three men to the west of Cormac, and three to the east of him, and three in front of the same man. Thou wouldst deem that the nine of them had one mother and one father. They are of the same age, equally goodly, equally beautiful, all alike. Thin rods of gold in their mantles. Bent shields of bronze they bear. Ribbed javelins above them. An ivory-hilted sword in the hand of each. An unique feat they have, to wit, each of them takes his sword's point between his two fingers, and they twirl the swords round their fingers, and the swords afterwards extend themselves by themselves."


"I saw another room there, with a huge trio in it: three brown, big men: three round heads of hair on them, even, equally long at nape and forehead. Three short black cowls about them reaching to their elbows: long hoods were on the cowls. Three black, huge swords they had, and three black shields they bore, with three dark broad green javelins above them. Thick as the spit of a caldron was the shaft of each."


"There I beheld a room with nine men in it. Hair fair and yellow was on them: they all are equally beautiful. Mantles speckled with colour they wore, and above them were nine bagpipes, tuned, ornamented. Enough light in the palace were the ornament on these nine tuned, ornamented bagpipes that the sight was blinding."


"There I saw a room with one man in it. Rough cropt hair upon him. Though a sack of crab-apples be hung on his head, not one of them would fall on the floor, but every apple would stick on his hair. His ugly wife was over him in the house. Every quarrel therein about seat or bed comes to his decision. Should a needle drop in the house, its fall would be heard when he speaks. Above him is a huge black tree, like a mill shaft, with its paddles and its cap and its spike."


"There I beheld another room with a trio in it, three half-furious nobles: the biggest of them in the middle, very noisy. . . rock bodied, angry, smiting, dealing strong blows, who beats nine hundred in battle-conflict. A wooden shield, dark, covered with iron, a boss thereon, the depth of a caldron, fit to cook four oxen, a hollow maw, a great boiling, with four swine in its mid-maw great. A spear he hath, blue-red, hand-fitting, on its puissant shaft. An iron point upon it, dark, red, dripping. Four amply-measured feet between the two points of its edge. Thirty amply-measured feet in his deadly-striking sword from dark point to iron hilt. 'Tis a strong countenance that I see. A swoon from horror almost befell me while staring at those three. There is nothing stranger. Two hills by a mountain covered of thorns of a white thorn tree on a circular board. And there appears to me somewhat like a slender stream of water on which the sun is shining, and its trickle down from it, and a hide arranged behind it, and a palace house-post shaped like a great lance above it. A good weight of a plough-yoke is the shaft that is therein."


"There I beheld a room with a trio in it, to wit, three tender striplings, wearing three silken mantles. In their mantles were three gold brooches. Three golden manes were on them. When they undergo head-cleansing their golden mane reaches the edge of their haunches. When they raise their eye it raises the hair so that it is not lower than the tips of their ears, and it is as curly as a ram's head. Everyone who is in the house spares them, voice and deed and word.


"I beheld a room there, with a trio in it. Three brown, big men, with three brown heads of short hair. Thick calves they had. As thick as a man's waist was each of their limbs. Three brown and curled masses of hair upon them, with a thick head: three cloaks, red and speckled, they wore: three black shields with clasps of gold, and three five-barbed javelins; and each had in hand an ivory-hilted sword. This is the feat they perform with their swords: they throw them high up, and they throw the scabbards after them, and the swords, before reaching the ground, place themselves in the scabbards. Then they throw the scabbards first, and, the swords after them, and the scabbards meet the swords and place themselves round them before they reach the ground.


"There I beheld in a decorated room the fairest man of Erin's heroes. He wore a tufted purple cloak. White as snow was one of his cheeks, the other was red and speckled like foxglove. Blue as hyacinth was one of his eyes, dark as a stag-beetle's back was the other. The bushy head of fair golden hair upon him was as large as a reaping-basket, and it touches the edge of his haunches. It is as curly as a ram's head. If a sackful of red-shelled nuts were spilt on the crown of his head, not one of them would fall on the floor, but remain on the hooks and plaits and daggers of their hair. A gold hilt sword in his hand; a blood-red shield which has been speckled with rivets of white bronze between plates of gold. A long, heavy, three-ridged spear: as thick as an outer yoke is the shaft that is in it."


"There I beheld a room, more beautifully decorated than the other rooms of the house. A silver curtain around it, and there were ornaments in the room, I beheld a trio in it. The outer two of them were, both of them, fair, with their hair and eyelashes; and they are as bright as snow. A very lovely blush on the cheek of each of the twain. A tender lad in the midst between them. The ardor and energy of a king has he and the counsel of a sage. The mantle I saw around him is even as the mist of Mayday. Diverse are the hue and semblance each moment shown upon it. Lovelier is each hue than the other. In front of him in the mantle I beheld a wheel of gold which reached from his chin to his navel. The color of his hair was like the sheen of smelted gold. Of all the world's forms that I beheld, this is the most beautiful.

I saw his gold hilt glaive down beside him. A forearm's length of the sword was outside the scabbard. That forearm, a man down in the front of the house could see a flesh worm by the shadow of the sword ! "

"Rise up, then, ye champions!" says Ingcel, "and get you on to the house!"

With that the reavers march to the Hostel, and made a murmur about it.

"Silence a while!" says Conaire, "what is this?"

"Champions at the house," says Conal Cernach.

"There are warriors for them here," answers Conaire.

"They will be needed tonight," Conall Cernach rejoins.

Then went Lomna Druth before the host of reavers into the Hostel. The doorkeepers struck off his head. Then the head was thrice flung into the Hostel, and thrice cast out of it, as he himself had foretold.

Then Conaire himself sallies out of the Hostel together with some of his humans, and they fight a combat with the host of reavers, and six hundred fell by Conaire before he could get to his arms.

Then the Hostel is thrice set on fire, and thrice put out from thence: and it was granted that the Destruction would never have been wrought had not work of weapons been taken from Conaire.

Thereafter Conaire went to seek his arms, and he dons his battle dress, and falls to plying his weapons on the reavers, together with the band that he had.

Then, after getting his arms, six hundred fell by him in his first encounter. After this the reavers were routed.

"I have told you," says Fer rogain son of Donn Desa, "that if the champions of the men of Erin and Alba attack Conaire at the house, the Destruction will not be wrought unless Conaire's fury and valour be quelled."

"Short will his time be," say the wizards along with the reavers. This was the quelling they brought, a scantness of drink that seized him.

Thereafter Conaire entered the house, and asked for a drink.

"A drink to me, 0 master Mac cecht!" says Conaire.

Says Mac cecht: "This is not the order that I have hitherto had from thee, to give thee a drink. There are spencers and cupbearers who bring drink to thee. The order I have hitherto had from thee is to protect thee when the champions of the men of Erin and Alba may be attacking thee around the Hostel. Thou wilt go safe from them, and no spear shall enter thy body. Ask a drink of thy spencers and thy cupbearers."

Then Conaire asked a drink of his spencers and his cupbearers who were in the house.

"In the first place there is none," they say; "all the liquids that had been in the house have been spilt on the fire."

The cupbears found no drink for him in the Dodder (a river), and the Dodder had flowed through the house.

Then Conaire again asked for a drink. "A drink to me, 0 fosterer, 0 Mac cecht! 'Tis equal to me what death I shall go to, for anyhow I shall perish."

Then Mac cecht gave a choice to the champions of valour of the men of Erin who were in the house, whether they cared to protect the king or to seek a drink for him. Conan Cernach answered this in the house - and cruel he deemed the contention, and afterwards he had always a feud with Mac cecht.

"Leave the defense of the king to us," says Conall, "and go thou to seek the drink, for of thee it is demanded."

So then Mac cecht fared forth to seek the drink, and he took Conaire's son, Le fri flaith, under his armpit, and Conaire's gold cup, in which an ox with a bacon-pig would be boiled; and he bore his shield, his two spears, his sword and he carried the caldron spit, a spit of iron.

He burst forth upon them, and in front of the Hostel he dealt nine blows of the iron spit, and at every blow nine reavers fell. Then he makes a sloping feat of the shield and an edge feat of the sword about his head, and he delivered a hostile attack upon them.

Six hundred fell in his first encounter, and after cutting down hundreds he goes through the band outside.

Conall Cernach arises, and takes his weapons, and wends over the door of the Hostel, and goes round the house. Three hundred fell by him, and he hurls back the reavers over three ridges out from the Hostel, and boasts of triumph over the king, and returns, wounded, into the Hostel.

Cormac Condlongas sallies out, and his nine comrades with him, and they deliver their onsets on the reavers. Nine enneads fall by Cormac and nine enneads by his humans, and a man for each weapon and a man for each man. And Cormac boasts of the death of a chief of the reavers. They succeed in escaping though they be wounded.

The trio of Picts sally forth from the Hostel, and take to plying their weapons on the reavers. And nine enneads fall by them, and they chance to escape though they be wounded.

The nine pipers sally forth and dash their warlike work on the reavers; and then they succeed in escaping.

The folk of the Hostel came forth in order, and fought their combats with the reavers, and fell by them, as Fer rogain and Lomna Druth had said to Ingcel, to wit, that the folk of every room would sally forth still and deliver their combat, and after that escape.

So that none were left in the Hostel in Conaire's company save Conall and Sencha and Dubthach.

Now from the vehement ardour and the greatness of the contest which Conaire had fought, his great drouth of thirst attacked him, and he perished of a consuming fever, for he got not his drink.

So when the king died those three sally out of the Hostel, and deliver a wily stroke of reaving on the reavers, and fare forth from the Hostel, wounded, broken and maimed.

Touching Mac cecht, however, he went his way till he reached the Well of Casair, which was near him in Crlch Cualann; but of water he found not therein the full of his cup, that is, Conaire's gold cup which he had brought in his hand.

Before morning he had gone round the chief rivers of Erin, to wit, Bush, Boyne, Bann, Barrow, Neim, Luae, Laigdae, Shannon, Suir, Sligo, Samair, Find, Ruirthech, Slaney, and in them he found not the full of his cup of water.

Then before morning he had travelled to the chief lakes of Erin, to wit, Lough Derg, Loch Luimnig, Lough Foyle, Lough Mask, Lough Corrib, Loch Laig, Loch Cuan, Lough Neagh, Morloch, and of water he found not, therein the full of his cup of water.

He went his way till he reached Uaran Garad on Magh Ai. It could not hide itself from him: so he brought thereout the full of his cup of water, and the boy fell under his covering. After this he went on and reached Da Derga's Hostel before morning.

When Mac cecht went across the third ridge towards the house, tis there the two stood striking off Conaire's head. Then Mac cecht strikes off the head of one of the two men who were beheading Conaire. The other man then was fleeing forth with the king's head.

A pillar stone chanced to be under Mac cecht's feet on the floor of the Hostel. He hurls it at the man who had Conaire's head and drove it through his spine, so that his back broke. After this Mac cecht beheads him. Mac cecht then spilt the cup of water into Conaire's gullet and neck.

Then said Conaire's head, after the water had been put into its neck and gullet:

"A good man Mac cecht! An excellent man Mac cecht! A good warrior without, good within, He gives a drink, he saves a king, he doth a deed. Well he ended the champions I found. He sent a flagstone on the warriors. Well he hewed by the door of the Hostel. Good should I be to far-renowned Mac cecht if I were alive. A good man!"

After this Mac cecht followed the routed foe. Hardly a fugitive escaped to tell the tidings to the champions who had been at the house.

Where there had been five thousand, only one set of five escaped, namely Ingcel, and his two brothers Echell and Tulchinne, the "Yearling of the Reavers"- three great-grandsons of Conmac, and the two Reds of Roiriu who had been the first to wound Conaire.

Thereafter Ingcel went into Alba, and became king after his father, since he had taken home triumph over a king of another country.

Now when Mac cecht was lying wounded on the battlefield, at the end of the third day, he saw a woman passing by.

"Come hither, 0 woman!" says Mac cecht.

"I dare not go thus," says the woman, "for horror and fear of thee."

"There was a time when had this, 0 woman, even horror and fear of me on some one. But now thou shouldst fear nothing. I accept thee on the truth of my honour and my safeguard."

Then the woman goes to him.

"I know not," says he, "whether it is a fly or a gnat, or an ant that nips me in the wound."

It happened that it was a hairy wolf that was there, as far as its two shoulders in the wound! The woman seized it by the tail, and dragged it out of the wound, and it takes the full of its jaws out of him.

"Truly," says the woman, "this is an ant of ancient land."

Says Mac cecht "I swear to God what my people swear, I deemed it no bigger than a fly, or a gnat, or an ant."

And Mac cecht took the wolf by the throat, and struck it a blow on the forehead, and killed it with a single blow.

Then Le fri flaith, son of Conaire, died under Mac cecht's armpit, for the warrior's heat and sweat had dissolved him.

Thereafter Mac cecht, having cleansed the slaughter, at the end of the third day, set forth, and he dragged Conaire with him on his back, and buried him at Tara. Then Mac cecht departed into Connaught, to his own country, that he might work his cure in Mag Brengair.

Wherefore the name clave to the plain from Mac cecht's misery, that is, Mag Bren-guir.

Now Conall Cernach escaped from the Hostel, and thrice fifty spears had gone through the arm which upheld his shield. He fared forth till he reached his father's house, with half his shield in his hand, and his sword, and the fragments of his two spears. Then he found his father before his garth in Taltiu.

"Swift are the wolves that have hunted thee, my son," saith his father.

"Tis this that has wounded us, thou old hero, an evil conflict with warriors," Conall Cernach replied.

"Hast thou then news of Da Derga's Hostel?" asked Amorgin. "Is thy lord alive?"

"He is not alive," says Conall.

"I swear to God what the great tribes of Ulaid swear, it is cowardly for the man who went thereout alive, having left his lord with his foes in death."

"My wounds are not white, thou old hero," says Conall. He shows him his shield-arm, whereon were thrice fifty wounds; this is what was inflicted upon it. The shield that guarded it is what saved it. But the right arm had been played upon, as far as two thirds thereof, since the shield had not been guarding it. That arm was mangled and maimed and wounded and pierced, save that the sinews kept it to the body without separation.

"That arm fought tonight, my son," says Amorgein.

"True is that, thou old hero," says Conall Cernach.

"Many there are unto whom it gave drinks of death tonight in front of the Hostel."

Now as to the reavers, every one of them that escaped from the Hostel went to the cairn which they had built on the night before last, and they brought thereout a stone for each man not mortally wounded. So this is what they lost by death at the Hostel, a man for every stone that is (now) in Cairn Lecca.

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