Cuchlain of Muirthemne
DEATH OF CUCHULAIN
CUCHULAIN went on then to the house of his mother, Dechtire, to bid her farewell. And she came out on the lawn to meet him, for she knew well he was going out to face the men of Ireland, and she brought out wine in a vessel to him, as her custom was when he passed that way. But when he took the vessel in his hand, it was red blood that was in it. "My grief!" he said, "my mother Dechtire, it is no wonder others to forsake me, when you yourself offer me a drink of blood." Then she filled the vessel a second, and a third tune, and each time when she gave it to him, there was nothing in it but blood.
Then anger came on Cuchulain, and he dashed the vessel against a rock, and broke it, and he said: "The fault is not in yourself, my mother Dechtire, but my luck is turned against me, and my life is near its end, and I will not come back alive this time from facing the men of Ireland." Then Dechtire tried hard to persuade him to go back and to wait till he would have the help of Conall. "I will not wait," he said, "for anything you can say; for I would not give up my great name and my courage for all the riches of the world. And from the day I first took arms till this day, I have never drawn back from a fight or a battle. And it is not now I will begin to draw back," he said, "for a great name outlasts life."
Then he went on his way, and Cathbad, that had followed him, went with him. And presently they came to a ford, and there they saw a young girl, thin and white-skinned and having yellow hair, washing and ever washing, and wringing out clothing that was stained crimson red, and she crying and keening all the time. "Little Hound," said Cathbad, "do you see what it is that young girl is doing? It is your red clothes she is washing, and crying as she washes, because she knows you are going to your death against Maeve's great army. And take the warning now and turn back again." "Dear master," said Cuchulain, "you have followed me far enough; for I will not turn back from my vengeance on the men of Ireland that are come to burn and to destroy my house and my country. And what is it to me, the woman of the Sidhe to be washing red clothing for me? It is not long till there will be clothing enough, and armour and aims, lying soaked in pools of blood, by my own sword and my spear. And if you are sorry and loth to let me go into the fight, I am glad and ready enough myself to go into it, though I know as well as you yourself I must fall in it. Do not be hindering me any more, then," he said, "for, if I stay or if I go, death will meet me all the same. But go now to Emain, to Conchubar and to Emer, and bring them life and health from me, for I will never go back to meet them again. It is my grief and my wound, I to part from them! And O Laeg!" he said, "we are going away under trouble and under darkness from Emer now, as it is often we came back to her with gladness out of strange places and far countries."
Then Cathbad left him, and he went on his way. And after a while he saw three hags, and they blind of the left eye, before him in the mad, and they having a venomous hound they were cooking with charms on rods
of the rowan tree. And he was going by them, for he knew it was not for his good they were there.
But one of the hags called to him: "Stop a while with us, Cuchulain." "I will not stop with you," said Cuchulain. "That is because we have nothing better than a dog to give you," said the hag. "If we had a grand, big cooking-hearth, you would stop and visit us; but because it is only a little we have to offer you, you will not stop. But he that will not show respect for the small, though he is great, he will get no respect himself."
Then he went over to her, and she gave him the shoulder-blade of the hound out of her left hand, and he ate it out of his left hand. And he put it down on his left thigh, and the hand that took it was struck down, and the thigh he put it on was struck through and through, so that the strength that was in them before left them.
Then he went dawn the road of Meadhon-Luachair, by Slieve Fuad, and his enemy, Erc, son of Cairbre, saw him in the chariot, and his sword shining red in his hand, and the light of his courage plain upon him, and his hair spread out like threads of gold that change their colour on the edge of the anvil under the smith's band, and the Crow of Battle in the air over his head.
"Cuchulain is coming at us," said Erc to the men of Ireland, "and let us be ready for him." So they made a fence of shields linked together, and Erc put a couple of the men that were strongest here and there, to let on to be fighting one another, that they might call Cuchulain to them; and he put a Druid with every couple of them, and he bid the Druid to ask Cuchulain's spears of him, for it would be hard for him to refuse a Druid. For it was in the prophecy of the children of Calatin that a king would be killed by each one of those spears in that battle.
And he bid the men of Ireland to give out shouts, and Cuchulain came against them in his chariot, doing his
three thunder feats, and he used his spear and his sword in such a way, that their heads, and their hands, and their feet, and their bones, were scattered through the plain of Muirthemne; like the sands on the shore, like the stars in the sky, like the dew in May, like snow-flakes and hailstones, like leaves of the trees, like buttercups in a meadow, like grass under the feet of cattle on a fine summer day. It is red that plain was with the slaughter Cuchulain made when he came crashing over it.
Then he saw one of the men that was put to quarrel with the other, and the Druid called to him to come and hinder them, and Cuchulain leaped towards them. "Your spear to me," cried the Druid. "I swear by the oath of my people," said Cuchulain, "you are not so much in want of it as I am in want of it myself. The men of Ireland are upon me," he said, "and I am upon them." "I will put a bad name on you if you refuse it to me," said the Druid. "There was never a bad name put on me yet, on account of any refusal of mine," said Cuchulain, and with that he threw the spear at him, and it went through his head, and it killed the men that were on the other side of him.
Then Cuchulain drove through the host, and Lugaid, son of Curoi, got the spear. "Who is it will fall by this spear, children of Calatin?" said Lugaid. "A king will fall by it," said they. Then Lugaid threw the spear at Cuchulain's chariot, and it went through and hit the driver, Laeg, son of Riangabra, and he fell back, and his bowels came out on the cushions of the chariot "My grief!" said Laeg, "it is hard I am wounded." Then Cuchulain drew the spear out, and Laeg said his farewell to him, and Cuchulain said: "To-day I will be a fighter and a chariot-driver as well."
Then he saw the other two men that were put to quarrel with one another, and one of them called out it would be a great shame for him not to give him his
help. Then Cuchulain leaped towards them. "Your spear to me, Cuchulain," said the Druid. "I swear by the oath my people swear by," said he, "you are not in such want of the spear as I am myself, for it is by my courage, and by my arms, that I have to drive out the four provinces of Ireland that are sweeping over Muirthemne to-day." "I will put a bad name upon you," said the Druid. "I am not bound to give more than one gift in the day, and I have paid what is due to my name already," said Cuchulain. Then the Druid said: "I will put a bad name on the province of Ulster, because of your refusal."
"Ulster was never dispraised yet for any refusal of mine," said Cuchulain, "or for anything I did unworthily. Though little of my life should be left to me, Ulster will not be reproached for me to-day." With that he threw his spear at him, and it went through his head, and through the heads of the nine men that were behind him, and Cuchulain went through the host as he did before.
Then Erc, son of Cairbre Niafer, took up his spear. "Who will fall by this?" he asked the children of Calatin. "A king will fall by it," they said. "I heard you say the same thing of the spear that Lugaid threw a while ago," said Erc. "That is true," said they, "and the king of the chariot-drivers of Ireland fell by it, Cuchulain's driver Laeg, son of Riangabra."
With that, Erc threw the spear, and it went through the Grey of Macha. Cuchulain drew the spear out, and they said farewell to one another. And then the Grey went away from him, with half his harness hanging from his neck, and he went into Glas-linn, the grey pool in Slieve Fuad.
Then Cuchulain drove through the host, and he saw the third couple disputing together, and he went between them as he did before. And the Druid asked his spear of him, but he refused him. "I will put a bad name on
you," said the Druid. "I have paid what is due to my name to-day," said he; "my honour does not bind me to give more than one request in a day." "I will put a bad name upon Ulster because of your refusal" "I have paid what is due for the honour of Ulster," said Cuchulain. "Then I will put a bad name on your kindred," said the Druid. "The news that I have been given a bad name shall never go back to that place I am never to go back to myself; for it is little of my life that is left to me," said Cuchulain. With that he threw his spear at him, and it went through him, and through the heads of the men that were along with him.
"You do your kindness unkindly, Cuchulain," said the Druid, as he fell. Then Cuchulain drove for the last time through the host, and Lugaid took the spear, and he said: "Who will fall by this spear, children of Calatin?" "A king will fall by it," said they. "I heard you saying that a king would fall by the spear Erc threw a while ago." "That is true," they said, "and the Grey of Macha fell by it, that was the king of the horses of Ireland".
Then Lugaid threw the spear, and it went through and through Cuchulain's body, and he knew he had got his deadly wound; and his bowels came out on the cushions of the chariot, and his only horse went away from him, the Black Sainglain, with half the harness hanging from his neck, and left his master, the king of the heroes of Ireland, to die upon the plain of Muirthemne.
Then Cuchulain said: "There is great desire on me to go to that lake beyond, and to get a drink from it."
"We will give you leave to do that," they said, "if you will come back to us after."
"I will bid you come for me if I am not able to come back myself," said Cuchulain.
Then he gathered up his bowels into his body, and he went down to the lake. He drank a drink and he washed himself, and he returned back again to his
death, and he called to his enemies to come and meet him.
There was a pillar-stone west of the lake, and his eye lit on it, and he went to the pillar-stone, and he tied himself to it with his breast-belt, the way he would not meet his death lying down, but would meet it standing up. Then his enemies came round about him, but they were in dread of going close to him, for they were not sure but he might be still alive.
"It is a great shame for you," said Erc, son of Cairbre, "not to strike the head off that man, in revenge for his striking the head off my father."
Then the Grey of Macha came back to defend Cuchulain as long as there was life in him, and the hero-light was shining above him. And the Grey of Macha made three attacks against them, and he killed fifty men with his teeth, and thirty with each of his hoofs. So there is a saying: "It is not sharper work than this was done by the Grey of Macha, the time of Cuchulain's death."
Then a bird came and settled on his shoulder. "It is not on that pillar birds were used to settle," said Erc.
Then Lugaid came and lifted up Cuchulain's hair from his shoulders, and struck his head off, and the men of Ireland gave three heavy shouts, and the sword fell from Cuchulain's hand, and as it fell, it struck off Lugaid's right hand, so that it fell to the ground. Then they cut off Cuchulain's hand, in satisfaction for it, and then the light faded away from about Cuchulain's head, and left it as pale as the snow of a single night. Then all the men of Ireland said that as it was Maeve had gathered the army, it would be right for her to bring away the head to Cruachan. "I will not bring it with me; it is for Lugaid that struck it off to bring it with him," said Maeve. And then Lugaid and his men went away, and they brought away Cuchulain's head and his
right hand with them, and they went south, towards the Life river.
At that time the army of Ulster was gathering to attack its enemies, and Conall was out before them, and he met the Grey of Macha, and his share of blood dripping from him. And then he knew that Cuchulain was dead, and himself and the Grey of Macha went looking for Cuchulain's body. And when they saw his body at the pillar-stone, the Grey of Macha went and laid his head in Cuchulain's breast: "That body is a heavy care to the Grey of Macha," said Conall.
Then Conall went after the army, thinking in his own mind what way he could get satisfaction for Cuchulain's death. For it was a promise between himself and Cuchulain that whichever of them would be killed the first, the other would get satisfaction for his death.
"And if I am the first that is killed," said Cuchulain at that time, "how long will it be before you get satisfaction for me?"
"Before the evening of the same day," said Conall, "I will have got satisfaction for you. And if it is I that will die before you," he said, "how long will it be before you get satisfaction for me?"
"Your share of blood will not be cold on the ground," said Cuchulain, "when I will have got satisfaction for you."
So Conall followed after Lugaid to the river Life.
Lugaid was going down to bathe in the water, but he said to his chariot-driver: "Look out there over the plain, for fear would any one come at us unknown."
The chariot-driver looked around him. "There is a man coming on us," he said, "and it is in a great hurry he is coming; and you would think he has all the ravens in Ireland flying over his head, and there are flakes of snow speckling the ground before him."
"It is not in friendship the man comes that is coming
like that," said Lugaid. "It is Conall Cearnach it is, with Dub-dearg, and the birds that you see after him, they are the sods the horse has scattered in the air from his hoofs, and the flakes of snow that are speckling the ground before him, they are the froth that he scatters from his mouth and from the bit of his bridle. Look again," said Lugaid, "and see what way is he coming." "It is to the ford he is coming, the same way the army passed over," said the chariot-driver. "Let him pass by us," said Lugaid, "for I have no mind to fight with him."
But when Conall came to the middle of the ford, he saw Lugaid and his chariot-driver, and he went over to them. "Welcome is the sight of a debtor's face," said Conall. "The man you owe a debt to is asking payment of you now, and I myself am that man," he said, "for the sake of my comrade, Cuchulain, that you killed. And I am standing here now, to get that debt paid."
They agreed then to fight it out on the plain of Magh Argetnas, and in the fight Conall wounded Lugaid with his spear. From that they went to a place called Ferta Lugdac. "I would like that you would give me fair play," said Lugaid. "What fair play?" said Conall Cearnach.
"That you and I should fight with one hand," said he, "for I have the use of but one hand."
"I will do that," said Conan. Then Conall's hand was bound to his side with a cord, and then they fought for a long time, and one did not get the better of the other. And when Conall was not gaining on him, his horse, Dub-dearg, that was near by, came up to Lugaid, and took a bite out of his side.
"Misfortune on me," said Lugaid, "it is not right or fair that is of you, Conall."
"It was for myself to do what is right and fair," said Conall.
"I made no promise for a beast, that is without training and without sense."
"It is well I know you will not leave me till you take my head, as I took Cuchulain's head from him," said Lugaid. "Take it, then, along with your own head. Put my kingdom with your kingdom, and my courage with your courage; for I would like that you would be the best champion in Ireland."
Then Conall made an end of him, and he went back, bringing Cuchulain's head along with him to the pillar stone where his body was.
And by that time Emer had get word of all that had happened, and that her husband had got his death by the men of Ireland, and by the powers of the children of Calatin. And it was Levarcham brought her the story, for Conall Cearnach had met her on his way, and had bade her go and bring the news to Emain Macha; and there she found Emer, and she sitting in her upper room, looking over the plain for some word from the battle.
And all the women came out to meet Levarcham, and when they heard her story, they made an outcry of grief and sharp cries, with loud weeping and burning tears; and there were long dismal sounds going through Emain, and the whole country round was filled with crying. And Emer and her women went to the place where Cuchulain's body was, and they gathered round it there, and gave themselves to crying and keening.
And when Conall came back to the place, he laid the head with the body of Cuchulain, and he began to lament along with them, and it is what he said: "It is Cuchulain had prosperity on him, a root of valour from the time he was but a soft child; there never fell a better hero than the hero that fell by Lugaid of the Lands. And there are many are in want of you," he said, "and until all the chief men of Ireland have fallen by me, it is not fitting there should ever be peace.
"It is grief to me, he to have gone into the battle
without Conall being at his side; it was a pity for him to go there without my body beside his body. Och! it is he was my foster-son, and now the ravens are drinking his blood; there will not be either laughter or mirth, since the Hound has gone astray from us."
"Let us bury Cuchulain now," said Emer. "It is not right to do that," said Conall, "until I have avenged him on the men of Ireland. And it is a great shouting I hear about the plain of Muirthemne, and it is full the country is of crying after Cuchulain; and it is good at keeping the country and watching the boundaries the man was that is here before me, a cross-hacked body in a pool of blood. And it is well it pleased Lugaid, son of Curoi, to be at the killing of Cuchulain, for it was Cuchulain killed the chiefs and the children of Deaguid round Famain, son of Foraoi, and round Curoi, son of Daire himself. And this shouting has taken away my wits and my memory from me," he said, "and it is hard for me, Cuchulain not to answer these cries, and I to be without him now; for there is not a champion in Ireland that was not in dread of the sword in his hand. And it is broken in halves my heart is for my brother, and I will bring my revenge through Ireland now, and I will not leave a tribe without wounding, or true blood without spilling, and the whole world will be told of my rout to the end of life and time, until the men of Munster and Connaught and Leinster will be crying for the rising they made against him. And without the spells of the children of Calatin, the whole of them would not have been able to do him to death."
After that complaint, rage and madness came on Conall, and he went forward in his chariot to follow after the rest of the men of Ireland, the same way as he had followed after Lugaid.
And Emer took the head of Cuchulain in her hands, and she washed it clean, and put a silk cloth about it,
and she held it to her breast; and she began to cry heavily over it, and it is what she said:
"Ochone!" said she, "it is good the beauty of this head was, though it is low this day, and it is many of the kings and princes of the world would be keening it if they knew the way it is now, and the poets and the Druids of Ireland and of Alban; and many were the goods and the jewels and the rents and the tributes that you brought home to me from the countries of the world, with the courage and the strength of your hands!"
And she made this complaint:
"Och, head! Ochone, O head! you gave death to great heroes, to many hundreds; my head will lie in the same grave, the one Stone will be made for both of us.
"Och, hand! Ochone, hand that was once gentle. It is often it was put under my head; it is dear that hand was to me!
"Dear mouth! Ochone, kind mouth that was sweet-voiced telling stories; since the time love first came on your face, you never refused either weak or strong!
"Dear the man, dear the man, that would kill the whole of a great host; dear his cold bright hair, and dear his bright cheeks!
"Dear the king, dear the king, that never gave a refusal to any; thirty days it is to-night since my body lay beside your body.
"Och, two spears! Ochone, two spears, Och, shield! Och, deadly sword! Let them be given to Conall of the battles; there was never any wage given like that.
"I am glad, I am glad, Cuchulain of Muirthemne, I never brought red shame on your face, for any unfaithfulness against you.
"Happy are they, happy are they, who will never
hear the cuckoo again for ever, now that the Hound has died from us.
"I am carried away like a branch on the stream; I will not bind up my hair to-day. From this day I have nothing to say that is better than Ochone!"
And then she said: "It is long that it was showed to me in a vision of the night, that Cuchulain would fall by the men of Ireland, and it appeared to me Dundealgan to be falling to the ground, and his shield to be split from lip to border, and his sword and his spears broken in the middle, and I saw Conall doing deeds of death before me, and myself and yourself in the one death. And oh! my love," she said, "we were often in one another's company, and it was happy for us; for if the world had been searched from the rising of the sun to sunset, the like would never have been found in one place, of the Black Sainglain and the Grey of Macha, and Laeg the chariot-driver, and myself and Cuchulain. And it is breaking my heart is in my body, to be listening to the pity and the sorrowing of women and men, and the harsh crying of the young men of Ulster keening Cuchulain, and Ulster to be in its weakness, and without strength to revenge itself upon the men of Ireland."
And after she made that complaint, she brought Cuchulain's body to Dundealgan; and they all cried and keened about him until such time as Conall Cearnach came back from making his red rout through the army of the men of Ireland.
For he was not satisfied to make a slaughter of the men of Munster and Connaught, without reddening his hand in the blood of Leinster as well.
And when he had done that, he came to Dundealgan, and his men along with him, but they made no rejoicing when they went back that time. And he brought the
heads of the men of Ireland along with him in a gad, and he laid them out on the green lawn, and the people of the house gave three great shouts when they saw the heads.
And Emer came out, and when she saw Conall Cearnach, she said: "My great esteem and my welcome before you, king of heroes, and may your many wounds not be your death; for you have avenged the treachery done on Ulster, and now what you have to do is to make our grave, and to lay us together in the grave, for I will not live after Cuchulain.
"And tell me, Conall," she said, "whose are those heads all around on the lawn, and which of the great men of Ireland did they belong to?"
And she was asking, and Conall was answering, and it is what she said:
"Tell me, Conall, whose are those heads, for surely you have reddened your arms with them. Tell me the names of the men whose heads are there upon the ground."
And Conall said: "Daughter of Forgall of the Horses, young Emer of the sweet words, it is in revenge for the Hound of Feats I brought these heads here from the south."
"Whose is the great black head, with the smooth cheek redder than a rose; it is at the far end, on the left side, the head that has not changed its colour?"
"It is the head of the king of Meath, Erc, son of Cairbre of Swift Horses; I brought his head with me from far off, in revenge for my own foster-son."
"Whose is that head there before me, with soft hair, with smooth eyebrows, its eyes like ice, its teeth like blossoms; that head is more beautiful in shape than the others?"
"A son of Maeve; a destroyer of harbours, yellow-haired Maine, man of horses; I left his body without a head; all his people fell by my hand."
"O great Conall, who did not fail us, whose head is this you hold in your hand? Since the Hound of Feats is not living, what do you bring in satisfaction for his head?"
"The head of the son of Fergus of the Horses, a destroyer in every battle-field, my sister's son of the narrow tower; I have struck his head from his body."
"Whose is that head to the west, with fair hair, the head that is spoiled with grief? I used to know his voice; I was for a while his friend."
"That is he that struck down the Hound, Lugaid, son of Curoi of the Rhymes. His body was laid out straight and fair, I struck his head off afterwards."
"Whose are those two heads farther out, great Conall of good judgment? For the sake of your friendship, do not hide the names of the men put down by your arms."
"The heads of Laigaire and Clar Cuilt, two men that fell by my wounds. It was they wounded faithful Cuchulain; I made my weapons red in their blood."
"Whose are those heads farther to the east, great Conall of bright deeds? The hair of the two is of the one colour; their cheeks are redder than a calf's blood."
"Brave Cullain and hardy Cunlaid, two that were used to overcome in their anger. There to the east, Emer, are their heads; I left their bodies in a red pool."
"Whose are those three heads with evil looks I see before me to the north? Their faces blue, their hair black; even hard Conall's eye turns from them."
"Three of the enemies of the Hound, daughters of Calatin, wise in enchantments; they are the three witches killed by me, their weapons in their hands."
"O great Conall, father of kings, whose is that head that would overcome in the battle? His bushy hair is
gold-yellow; his headdress is smooth and white like silver."
"It is the head of the son of Red-Haired Ross, son of Necht Min, that died by my strength. This, Emer, is his head; the high king of Leinster of Speckled Swords."
"O great Conall, change the story. How many of the men that harmed him fell by your hand that does not fail, in satisfaction for the head of Cuchulain?"
"It is what I say, ten and seven scores of hundreds is the number that fell, back to back, by the anger of my hard sword and of my people."
"O Conall, what way are they, the women of Ireland, after the Hound? Are they mourning the son of Sualtim? are they showing respect through their grief?"
"O Emer, what shall I do without my Cuchulain, my fine nurseling, going in and out from me, to-night?"
"O Conall, lift me to the grave. Raise my stone over the grave of the Hound; since it is through grief for him I go to death, lay my mouth to the mouth of Cuchulain.
"I am Emer of the Fair Form; there is no more vengeance for me to find; I have no love for any man. It is sorrowful my stay is after the Hound."
And after that Emer bade Conall to make a wide, very deep grave for Cuchulain; and she laid herself down beside her gentle comrade, and she put her mouth to his mouth, and she said: "Love of my life, my friend, my sweetheart, my one choice of the men of the earth, many is the woman, wed or unwed, envied me till to-day: and now I will not stay living after you."
And her life went out from her, and she herself and Cuchulain were laid in the one grave by Conall. And he raised the one stone over them, and he wrote their
names in Ogham, and he himself and all the men of Ulster keened them.
But the three times fifty queens that loved Cuchulain saw him appear in his Druid chariot, going through Emain Macha; and they could hear him singing the music of the Sidhe.
Cuchulain of Muirthemne, by Lady Augusta Gregory, , at sacred-texts.com
NOTE BY W.B. YEATS ON THE CONVERSATION OF CUCHULAIN AND EMER. (PAGE <page 23>.)
THIS conversation, so full of strange mythological information, is an example of the poet speech of ancient Ireland. One comes upon this speech here and there in other stories and poems. One finds it in the poem attributed to Ailbhe, daughter of Cormac Mac Art, and quoted by O'Curry in "MS. Materials," of which one verse is an allusion to a story given in Lady Gregory's book:
"The apple tree of high Aillinn, The yew of Baile of little land, Though they are put into lays, Rough people do not understand them." One finds it too in the poems which Brian, Son of Tuireann, chanted when he did not wish to be wholly understood. "That is a good poem, but I do not understand a word of its meaning," said the kings before whom he chanted; but his obscurity was more in a roundabout way of speaking than in mythological allusions. There is a description of a banquet, quoted by Professor Kuno Meyer, where hens' eggs are spoken of as "gravel of Glenn Ai," and leek, as "a tear of a fair woman," and some eatable seaweed, dulse, perhaps, as a "net of the plains of Rein"--that is to say, of the sea--and so on. He quotes also a poem that calls the sallow, "the strength of bees," and the hawthorn "the barking hounds," and the gooseberry bush "the sweetest of trees," and the yew, "the oldest of trees."
This poet speech somewhat resembles the Icelandic court poetry, as it is called, which certainly required alike for the writing and understanding of it a great traditional culture. Its descriptions of shields and tapestry, and its praises of Kings, that were first written, it seems, about the tenth century, depended for their effects on just this heaping up of mythological allusions, and the "Eddas"
were written to be a granary for the makers of such poems. But by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries they have come to be as irritating to the new Christian poets and writers who stood outside their tradition, as are the more esoteric kinds of modern verse to unlettered readers. They were called "obscure," and "speaking in riddles," and the like.
It has sometimes been thought that the Irish poet speech was indeed but a copy of this court poetry, but Professor York Powell contradicts this, and thinks it is not unlikely that the Irish poems influenced the Icelandic, and made them more mythological and obscure.
I am not scholar enough to judge the Scandinavian verse, but the Irish poet speech seems to me at worst an over-abundance of the esoterism which is an essential element in all admirable literature, and I think it a folly to make light of it, as a recent writer has done. Even now, verse no less full of symbol and myth seems to me as legitimate as, let us say, a religious picture full of symbolic detail, or the symbolic ornament of a Cathedral.
"Brightness falls from the air, Queens have died young and fair, Dust hath closed Helen's eye"-- must seem as empty as a Scald's song, or the talk of Cuchulain and Emer, to one who has never heard of Helen, or even to one who did not fall in love with her when he was a young man. And if we were not accustomed to be stirred by Greek myth, even without remembering it very fully, "Berenice's ever burning hair" would not stir the blood, and especially if it were put in some foreign tongue, losing those resounding "b's" on the way.
The mythological events Cuchulain speaks of give mystery to the scenery of the tales, and when they are connected with the battle of Magh Tuireadh, the most tremendous of mythological battles, or anything else we know much about, they are full of poetic meaning or historical interest. The hills that had the shape of a sow's back at the coming of the Children of Miled, remind one of Borlase's conviction that the pig was the symbol of the mythological ancestry of the Firbolg, which the Children of Miled were to bring into subjection, and of his suggestion that the magical pigs that Maeve numbered were some Firbolg tribe that Maeve put down in war. And everywhere that esoteric speech brings the odour of the wild woods into our nostrils.
The earlier we get, the more copious does this traditional and symbolical element in literature become. Till Greece and Rome
created a new culture, a sense of the importance of man, all that we understand by humanism, nobody wrote history, nobody described anything as we understand description. One called up the image of a thing by comparing it with something else, and partly because one was less interested in man, who did not seem to be important, than in divine revelations, in changes among the heavens and the gods, which can hardly be expressed at all, and only by myth, by symbol, by enigma. One was always losing oneself in the unknown and rushing to the limits of the world. Imagination was all in all. Is not poetry, when all is said, but a little of this habit of mind caught as in the beryl stone of a Wizard?
THE Irish text, from which the greater number of the stories in this book have been taken, has been published either in Irische Texte or the Revue Celtique, or by O'Curry in Atlantis and elsewhere, and I have worked from this text, comparing it with the translations that have been already made. In some cases, as in the greater part of "The War for the Bull of Cuailgne," a very small part of the Irish text has as yet been printed, and I have had to work by comparing and piecing together various translations.
I have had to put a connecting sentence of my own here and there, and I have condensed many passages, and I have sometimes tried to give the meaning of a formula that has lost its old meaning. Thus I have exchanged for the grotesque accounts of Cuchulain's distortion--which no doubt merely meant that in time of great strain or anger he had more than human strength--the more simple formula that his appearance changed to the appearance of a god. In the same way, I have left out Levarcham's distortion, which was the recognised way of saying she was a swift messenger.
As to the date of the stories, I cannot do better than quote from Mr Alfred Nutt's "Cuchulain, the Irish Achilles":--
"It suffices to say that we possess a MS. literature of which Cuchulain and his contemporaries are the subject, the extent of which may be roughly reckoned at 2000 8vo pages. The great bulk of this is contained in MSS. which are older than the twelfth century, or which demonstrably are copied from pre-twelfth century MSS.; where post-twelfth-century versions alone remain, the story itself is nearly always known from earlier sources; in fact, there is hardly a single scene or incident in the whole cycle which has reached us only in MSS. of the thirteenth and following centuries. At the same time a not inconsiderable portion of the cycle comes before us altered in language, and to some extent in content, style of narrative, and characterisation, showing that
the saga as a whole remained a living element of Irish culture and participated in the accidents of its evolution.
"The great bulk of this literature is, as I have said, certainly older than the twelfth century; but we can carry it back much farther, apart from any considerations based upon the subject matter. Arguments of a nature purely philological, based upon the language of the texts, or critical, based upon the relations of the various MSS. to each other, not only allow, but compel us to date the redaction of the principal Cuchulain stories, substantially in the form under which they have survived, back to the seventh to ninth centuries. Whether or no they are older yet, is a question that cannot be answered without preliminary examination of the subject-matter. In the meantime it is something to know that the Cuchulain stories were put into permanent literary form at about the same date as Beowulf, some 100 to 250 years before the Scandinavian mythology crystallised into its present form, at least 200 years before the oldest Charlemagne romances, and probably 300 years before the earliest draft of the Nibelungenlied. Irish is the most ancient vernacular literature of modem Europe, a fact which of itself commends it to the attention of the student."
A critical account of this and the other Irish cycles is also given in Dr Douglas Hyde's "Literary History of Ireland."
The Tuatha de Danaan, or the Sidhe, so often mentioned, were the divine race, the people of the Gods of Dana, who conquered the Fomor, the powers of darkness and their helpers the Firbolgs, in the battle of Magh Tuireadh, and possessed Ireland until they were in their turn conquered by the children of the Gael, under the leadership of the Sons of Miled. Then they became invisible, and made their homes in hills and raths.
The Morrigu was their goddess of battle, and Angus Og, Son of the Dagda, their god of youth and love, and Lugh, the Master of many Arts, their Hermes, their Apollo, and Manannan, Son of Lir, their Sea-God, or, as some say, the sea itself.
The spelling of Irish names for English readers is always a difficulty. I have not gone by any fixed rule but have taken the spelling of names from various good authorities. As to pronunciation, the modem is generally used, but we know so little what the ancient pronunciation was, that we are left some freedom, and some words have taken a shape from English-speaking generations, that it is hard to change. Teamhair, for instance, has become Tara through a mistaken use of the genitive; Muirthemne is called by
[paragraph continues] Irish speakers "Mur-hev-na," but others call it Muir'them-me and I am inclined to prefer this for the charm of its sound, and I do not see any stronger reason against using it than against sounding as we do the "s" in Paris. After all, it has not been definitely settled whether Trafalgar is to be spoken in the Spanish or the English way; English poets have given it one or the other emphasis.
This is the approximate pronunciation of some of the more difficult names:--
Aedh Ae (rhyming to "day").
Badb Bibe (as "jibe").
Cuchulain Cuhoolin, or Cu-hullin
Dun Sobairce Dom Se^ve^rka
Glen na (m) Bodhar Glen na Mower (as "bower")
Magh Tuireadh Moytirra
Slieve Suidhe Laighen Slieve se lihon
I give below some names of places that can still be identified--
Ard Inver Mouth of the Avoca, Co. Wicklow
Argatros On the Nore Co. Kilkenny. The Silver Wood
Ath Firdiadh (Ferdiad's Ford) Ardee
Ath Truim Trim
Ath Cliath Dublin
Beinn Edair Howth
Boinne River The Boyne
Brugh na Boinne On the Boyne
Bri Leith In Co. Longford [p. 358]
Cerna Probably River Muilchean, Co. Limerick
Clartha Clara, near Mullingar.
Cleitech On the Boyne
Conaille--Muirthemne Between the Cooley Mountains and the Boyne
Cuilsilinne South-west of Kells
Cuailgne Cooley, Co. Louth
Cruachan In Co. Roscommon
Dun Scathach Isle of Skye
Dun Rudraige Dundrum, Co. Down
Dun Sobairce Dunseverick, Co. Antrim
Drium Criadh Drumcree, Co. Westmeath
Emain Macha Navan fort, near Armagh. A description and plan of Emain are given by D'Arbois de Jubainville in Revue Celtique, vol. xvi
Fearbile In Co. Westmeath
Femen At Slieve na Man, Co. Tipperary
Gairech and Ilgaireth Two hills near Mullingar
Hill of Brughean Mor In Parish of Drumany, Co. Westmeath
Hy Maine A part of Roscommon, bordering Sligo and Mayo
Inver Colptha Estuary of the Boyne
Loch Cuan Strangford Loch
Loch Riach In Co. Galway
Leodus, Cadd and Ork Lewis, Shetland, and Orkney
Magh Ai In Co. Roscommon
Magh Breagh In East Meath
Magh Mucrime Near Athenry, Co. Galway
Magh Slecht Near Ballymagauran, Co. Cavan
Muirthemne The part of Co. Lough bordering the sea, between the Boyne and Dundalk
Road of Midluachair The north-eastern road from Teamhair
Slieve Breagh Co. Louth
Slieve Cuilinn Co. Londonderry
Slieve Fuad Co. Armagh
Slieve Mis Co. Kerry
Slieve Suidhe Laighen Mount Leinster
Sleamhain of Meath Near Mullingar [p. 359]
Sligger Isles Faroe Isles
Sionnan The Shannon
Teamhair Tara, Co. Meath
Uaran Garad River Cruind
Usnech The Hill of Usnogh in West Meath
Wave of Cliodna At Glandore, Co. Cork
Wave of Assaroe At Ballyshannon
Wave of Inbhir Mouth of the Bann
The following is a list of the authorities I have been chiefly helped by in putting these stories together. But I cannot make it quite accurate, for I have sometimes transferred a mere phrase, sometimes a whole passage from one story to another, where it seemed to fit better. I have occasionally used Scottish Gaelic versions, as in the account of Deirdre's birth, and the manner of her death, and in a part of "The Only Son of Aoife." "O'Curry" stands for his two books, "The Manners and Customs of Ancient Ireland," and "MS. Materials for Ancient Irish History," and his contributions to Atlantis.
BIRTH OF CUCHULAIN.--O'Curry; De Jubainville, Epopee Celtique; Nutt, "Voyage of Bran"; Kuno Meyer, Revue Celtique; Duvau, Revue Celtique; Windisch, lrische Texte; Stokes, Irische Texte.
BOY DEEDS OF CUCHULAIN.--Same as "War for the Bull of Cuailgne."
COURTING OF EMER.--Kuno Meyer, Revue Celtique; Kuno Meyer, Archaeological Review; Dr Douglas Hyde, Literary History of Ireland; De Jubainville, Epopee Celtique; O'Curry.
BRICRIU'S FEAST, and THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF ULSTER.--Text, with Henderson's translation, published by Irish Texts Society; De Jubainville, Epopee Celtique; O'Curry; Windisch, Irische Texte.
THE HIGH KING OF IRELAND.--Whitley Stokes, Revue Celtique; O'Curry; Zimmer, Keltische Studien.
FATE OF THE CHILDREN OF USNACH.--Text and Translations published by the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language; Hyde, Literary History of Ireland; Hyde, Zeitschrift Celt. Philologie; O'Curry; Whitley Stokes, Irische Texte; Windisch, Irische Texte; Cameron, Reliquae Celticae; O'Flanagan, Translations of Gaelic Society; O'Flanagan, Reliquae Celticae;
[paragraph continues] Carmichael, Transactions of Gaelic Society; Ultonian Ballads, De Jubainville, Epopee Celtique; Dottin, Revue Celtique.
THE DREAM OF ANGUS.--Muller, Revue Celtique.
CRUACHAN--Kuno Meyer, Revue Celtique; O'Beirne Crowe, Proceedings of Royal Irish Academy; O'Curry; Rhys, Celtic Heathendom.
WEDDING OF MAINE MORGOR.--Windisch, Irische Texte.
WAR FOR THE BULL OF CUAILGNE, and AWAKENING OF ULSTER.--MS. translations by O'Daly in Royal Irish Academy; MS. translations by O'Looney in Royal Irish Academy; O'Curry; Standish Hayes O'Grady's Synopsis in Miss Hull's Cuchulain Saga; Zimmer, Synopsis in Zeitschrift fur Vergleichende Sprachforschung.
THE TWO BULLS.--Windisch, Irische Texte; Nutt, Voyage of Bran; O'Curry.
THE ONLY JEALOUSY OF EMER, and INSTRUCTION TO A PRINCE.--O'Curry, Atlantis; De Jubainville, Epopee Celtique.
THE SONS OF DOEL DERMAIT.--Windisch, Irische Texte; Rhys, Hibbert Lectures.
BATTLE OF ROSNAREE.--Text with Father Hogan's translation; Todd Lecture Series; O'Curry; Kuno Meyer, Revue Celtique.
ONLY SON OF AOIFE.--Keating's History of Ireland; Miss Brooke's Reliques; Curtain's Folk Tales; Some Gaelic Ballads.
GATHERING AT MUIRTHEMNE, and DEATH OF CUCHULAIN--"Brislech Mor Magh Muirthemne," and "Deargruatar Conaill Cearnaig"--published in Gaelic Journal, 1901; S. Hayes O'Grady in Miss Hull's Cuchulain Saga; Whitley Stokes, Revue Celtique; an unpublished MS. in Dr Hyde's possession.
We must be grateful to all these scholars, workers, or compilers, those who have passed away, and those who are living. And I am personally grateful to my friend Douglas Hyde for patient answering of many questions; and to my friend and critic, W. B. Yeats, for his kindness and for his severity.