Celts: Kings and Druids
"If I break faith with you,
Sky fall upon me,
Sea drown me,
may the Earth rise
and swallow me." - Celtic oath
great Celtic oath calls the very elements to witness. The Celts held a
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
"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.
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.
proofs of unworthiness in a king are given as follows:
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
birds and little, bright
gems of purple carbuncle in the rims of
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
silver in the kirtle on her
breasts and her shoulders and spaulds on
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
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.
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
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.
King asked tidings of her and said,
while announcing himself: "Shall I have an hour of dalliance with
"Tis for that we have come hither under thy safeguard," quoth
"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.
HostileFour 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 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
Conaire pursues them until
his horses were tired. The birds would
go a spear cast before him, and would not go any further.
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."
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
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
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
"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
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
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
Thou shalt not go righthandwise round Tara and lefthandwise
The evil beasts of Cerna
must not be hunted by thee.
And thou shalt not go out every ninth
night beyond Tara.
not sleep in a house from which
firelight is manifest outside, after
sunset, and in which light is manifest from
And three Reds shall
not go before thee to Red's house.
And no rapine shall be wrought in
And after sunset a company of one woman or one man shall not
enter the house in which thou art.
"What is this?" asked
"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.
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
"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
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!"
tabus have seized me tonight," says Conaire, "since those Three Reds are the
They went forward to the house and took their seats
therein, and fastened their red steeds to the door of the house.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
"I", says Mane
Honeyworded, "have the gift of hearing."
"And I," says Mane
Unslow, "have the gift of far sight and of
"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
"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."
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
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.
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
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.
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.
THE ROOM OF CORMAC'S NINE
"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,
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
THE ROOM OF THE PICTS
"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."
THE ROOM OF THE PIPERS
"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
THE ROOM OF CONAlRE'S MAJORDOMO
"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."
OF MAC CECHT, CONAIRE'S BATTLE-WARRIOR
"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."
THE ROOM OF
CONAIRE'S THREE SONS, OBALL AND OBLIN AND
"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
THE ROOM OF MUNREMAR SON OF
GERRCHENN AND BIRDERG SON OF RUAN AND MAL
SON OF TELBAND
"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 ROOM OF CONALL CERNACH
"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
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."
OF CONAIRE HIMSELF
"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
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
With that the reavers march to the Hostel, and made a murmur
while!" says Conaire, "what is this?"
"Champions at the house," says
"There are warriors for them here,"
"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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The nine pipers sally forth and dash their warlike work on the
reavers; and then they succeed in
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.
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
"A good man Mac cecht! An excellent man Mac cecht! A 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
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
Thereafter Ingcel went into Alba, and became
king after his father, since he had
triumph over a
king of another country.
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.
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
heat and sweat had
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.
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.
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
"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
"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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