Heroic Romances of Ireland Volumes 1 and 2 Combined
by A. H. Leahy
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At a time like the present, when in the opinion of many the great literatures of Greece and Rome are ceasing to hold the influence that they have so long exerted upon human thought, and when the study of the greatest works of the ancient world is derided as "useless," it may be too sanguine to hope that any attention can be paid to a literature that is quite as useless as the Greek; which deals with a time, which, if not actually as far removed from ours as are classical times, is yet further removed in ideas; a literature which is known to few and has yet to win its way to favour, while the far superior literature of Greece finds it hard to defend the position that it long ago won. It may be that reasons like these have weighed with those scholars who have opened up for us the long-hidden treasures of Celtic literature; despairing of the effort to obtain for that literature its rightful crown, and the homage due to it from those who can appreciate literary work for itself, they have been contented to ask for the support of that smaller body who from philological, antiquarian, or, strange as it may appear, from political reasons, are prepared to take a modified interest in what should be universally regarded as in its way one of the most interesting literatures of the world.

The literary aspect of the ancient literature of Ireland has not indeed been altogether neglected. It has been used to furnish themes on which modern poems can be written; ancient authority has been found in it for what is essentially modern thought: modern English and Irish poets have claimed the old Irish romances as inspirers, but the romances themselves have been left to the scholars and the antiquarians.

This is not the position that Irish literature ought to fill. It does undoubtedly tell us much of the most ancient legends of modern Europe which could not have been known without it; but this is not its sole, or even its chief claim to be heard. It is itself the connecting-link between the Old World and the New, written, so far as can be ascertained, at the time when the literary energies of the ancient world were dead, when the literatures of modern Europe had not been born,[FN#1] in a country that had no share in the ancient civilisation of Rome, among a people which still retained many legends and possibly a rudimentary literature drawn from ancient Celtic sources, and was producing the men who were the earliest classical scholars of the modern world.

[FN#1] The only possible exceptions to this, assuming the latest possible date for the Irish work, and the earliest date for others, are the kindred Welsh literature and that of the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain.

The exact extent of the direct influence of Irish literature upon the development of other nations is hard to trace, chiefly because the influence of Ireland upon the Continent was at its height at the time when none of the languages of modern Europe except Welsh and Anglo-Saxon had reached a stage at which they might be used for literary purposes, and a Continental literature on which the Irish one might have influence simply did not exist. Its subsequent influence, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, upon Welsh, and through Welsh upon the early Breton literature (now lost) appears to be established; it is usually supposed that its action upon the earliest French compositions was only through the medium of these languages, but it is at least possible that its influence in this case also was more direct. In Merovingian and early Carlovingian times, when French songs were composed, which are now lost but must have preceded the extant chansons de geste, the Irish schools were attracting scholars from the neighbouring countries of Europe; Ireland was sending out a steady stream of "learned men" to France, Germany, and Italy; and it is at least possible that some who knew the Irish teachers realized the merit of the literary works with which some of these teachers must have been familiar. The form of the twelfth-century French romance, "Aucassin and Nicolete," is that of the chief Irish romances, and may well have been suggested by them; whilst the variety of the rhythm and the elaborate laws of the earliest French poetry, which, both in its Northern and Southern form, dates from the first half of the twelfth century, almost imply a pre-existing model; and such a model is more easily traced in Irish than in any other vernacular literature that was then available. It is indeed nearly as hard to suppose that the beautiful literature of Ireland had absolutely no influence upon nations known to be in contact with it, as it would be to hold to the belief that the ancient Cretan civilisation had no effect upon the liter ary development that culminated in the poems of Homer.

Before speaking of what the Irish literature was, it may be well to say what it was not. The incidents related in it date back, according to the "antiquaries" of the ninth to the twelfth centuries, some to the Christian era, some to a period long anterior to it; but occasional allusions to events that were unknown in Ireland before the introduction of Christianity, and a few to classical personages, show that the form of the present romances can hardly be pre-Christian, or even close translations into Old or Middle Irish of Druidic tales. It has therefore been the fashion to speak of the romances as inaccurate survivals of pre-Christian works, which have been added to by successive generations of "bards," a mode of viewing our versions of the romances which of course puts them out of the category of original literature and hands them over to the antiquarians; but before they suffer this fate, it is reasonable to ask that their own literary merit should be considered in a more serious manner than has yet been attempted.

The idea that our versions of the romances are inaccurate reproductions of Druidic tales is not at all borne out by a study of the romances themselves; for each of these, except for a few very manifestly late insertions, has a style and character of its own. There were, undoubtedly, old traditions, known to the men who in the sixth and seventh centuries may have written the tales that we have, known even to men who in the tenth and eleventh centuries copied them and commented upon them; but the romances as they now stand do not look like pieces of patchwork, but like the works of men who had ideas to convey; and to me at least they seem to bear approximately the same relation to the Druid legends as the works of the Attic tragedians bear to the archaic Greek legends on which their tragedies were based. In more than one case, as in the "Courtship of Etain," which is more fully discussed below, there are two versions of the same tale, the framework being the same in both, while the treatment of the incidents and the view of the characters of the actors is essentially different; and when the story is treated from the antiquarian point of view, that which regards both versions as resting upon a common prehistoric model, the question arises, which of the two more nearly represents the "true" version? There is, I would submit, in such cases, no true version. The old Druidic story, if it could be found, would in all probability contain only a very small part of either of our two versions; it would be bald, half-savage in tone, like one of the more ancient Greek myths, and producing no literary effect; the literary effect of both the versions that we have, being added by men who lived in Christian times, were influenced by Christian ideals, and probably were, like many of their contemporaries, familiar with the literary bequests of the ancient world.[FN#2]

[FN#2] It seems to be uncertain whether or not the writers of the Irish romances shared in the classical learning for which Ireland was noted in their time. The course of study at the schools established for the training of the fili in the tenth and eleventh centuries was certainly, as has been pointed out, very different from that of the ecclesiastical schools (see Joyce, vol. i. p. 430). No classical instruction was included in this training, but it is not certain that this separation of studies was so complete before what is called the "antiquarian age" set in. Cormac mac Cuninan, for example, was a classical scholar, and at the same time skilled in the learning of the fili. It should also be observed that the course at the ecclesiastical schools, as handed down to us, hardly seems to be classical enough to have produced a Columbanus or an Erigena; the studies that produced these men must have been of a different kind, and the lay schools as originally established by Sanchan Torpest may have included much that afterwards gave place to a more purely Irish training. The tale of Troy seems to have been known to the fili, and there are in their works allusions to Greek heroes, to Hercules and Hector, but it has been pointed out by Mr. Nutt that there is little if any evidence of influence produced by Latin or Greek literature on the actual matter or thought of the older Irish work. On this point reference may be made to a note on "Mae Datho's Boar" in this volume (p. 173), but even if this absence of classical influence is established (and it is hard to say what will not be found in Irish literature), it is just possible that the same literary feeling which made Irish writers of comparatively late tales keep the bronze weapons and chariots of an earlier date in their accounts of ancient wars, while they described arms of the period when speaking of battles of their own time, affected them in this instance also; and that they had enough restraint to refrain from introducing classical and Christian ideas when speaking of times in which they knew these ideas would have been unfamiliar.

It may be, and often is, assumed that the appearance of grotesque or savage passages in a romance is an indication of high antiquity, and that these passages at least are faithful reproductions of Druidic originals, but this does not seem to be quite certain. Some of these passages, especially in the case of romances preserved in the Leabhar na h-Uidhri (The Book of the Dun Cow), look like insertions made by scribes of an antiquarian turn of mind,[FN#3] and are probably of very ancient date; in other cases, as for example in the "Boar of Mac Datho," where Conall dashes Anluan's head into Ket's face, the savagery is quite in 'keeping with the character of the story, and way have been deliberately invented by an author living in Christian times, to add a flavour to his tale, although in doing so he probably imitated a similar incident in some other legend. To take a classical parallel, the barbarity shown by Aeneas in Aeneid x. 518-520, in sacrificing four youths on the funeral pyre of Pallas, an act which would have been regarded with horror in Virgil's own day, does not prove that there was any ancient tale of the death of Pallas in which these victims were sacrificed, nor even that such victims were sacrificed in ancient Latium in Pallas' day; but it does show that Virgil was familiar with the fact that such victims used in some places to be sacrificed on funeral pyres; for, in a sense, he could not have actually invented the incident.

[FN#3] See the exhibition of the tips of tongues in the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain," page 57.

Thus the appearance of an archaic element in an Irish romance is in itself no proof of the Druidic origin of that form of the romance, nor even of the existence of that element in the romance's earliest form: upon such a principle the archaic character of the motif of the "Oedipus Coloneus" would prove it to be the oldest of the Greek tragedies, while as a matter of fact it seems to be doubtful whether the introduction of this motif into the story of Oedipus was not due to Sophocles himself, although of course he drew the idea of it, if not from the original legend of Oedipus, from some other early legend.

The most satisfactory test of the authorship of an Irish romance, and one of the most satisfactory tests of its date, is its literary character; and if we look at the literary character of the best of the Irish romances, there is one point that is immediately apparent, the blending of prose and verse. One, the most common, explanation of this, is that the verse was added to the original tale, another that the verse is the older part, the prose being added to make a framework for the verse, but a general view of some of the original romances appears to lead to a very different conclusion. It seems much more probable that the Irish authors deliberately chose a method of making their work at once literary and suited to please a popular audience; they told their stories in plain prose, adding to them verse, possibly chanted by the reciters of the stories, so that while the prose told the story in simple language, the emotions of pity, martial ardour, and the like were awakened by the verse. They did not use the epic form, although their knowledge of classical literature must have made them familiar with it; the Irish epic form is Romance. They had, besides the prose and what may be called the "regular" verse, a third form, that of rose, or as it is sometimes called rhetoric, which is a very irregular form of verse. Sometimes it rhymes, but more often not; the lines are of varying lengths, and to scan them is often very difficult, an alliteration taking the place of scansion in many cases. The rhetoric does not in general develop the story nor take the form of description, it usually consists of songs of triumph, challenges, prophecies, and exhortations, though it is sometimes used for other purposes. It does not conform to strict grammatical rules like the more regular verse and the prose, and many of the literal translations which Irish scholars have made for us of the romances omit this rhetoric entirely, owing to the difficulty in rendering it accurately, and because it does not develop the plots of the stories. Notable examples of such omissions are in Miss Faraday's translation of the Leabhar na h-Uidhri version of the "Great Tain," and in Whitley Stokes' translation of the "Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel." With all respect to these scholars, and with the full consciousness of the difficulty of the task that has naturally been felt by one who has vainly attempted to make sense of what their greater skill has omitted, it may be suggested that the total omission of such passages injures the literary effect of a romance in a manner similar to the effect of omitting all the choric pieces in a Greek tragedy: the rhetoric indeed, on account of its irregularity, its occasional strophic correspondence, its general independence of the action of the tale, and its difficulty as compared with the other passages, may be compared very closely to a Greek "chorus." Few of the romances written in prose and verse are entirely without rhetoric; but some contain very little of it; all the six romances of this character given in the present volume (counting as two the two versions of "Etain") contain some rhetoric, but there are only twenty-one such passages in the collection altogether, ten of which are in one romance, the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain."

The present collection is an attempt to give to English readers some of the oldest romances in English literary forms that seem to correspond to the literary forms which were used in Irish to produce the same effect, and has been divided into two parts. The first part contains five separate stories, all of which are told in the characteristic form of prose and verse: they are the "Courtship of Etain," the "Boar of Mac Datho," the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain," the "Death of the Sons of Usnach" (Book of Leinster version), and the "Combat at the Ford" out of the Book of Leinster version of the "Tain bo Cuailnge." Two versions are given of the "Courtship of Etain "; and the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain," as is pointed out in the special preface prefixed to it, really consists of two independent versions. It was at first intended to add the better-known version of the "Death of the Sons of Usnach" known as that of the Glenn Masain MS., but the full translation of this has been omitted, partly to avoid making the volume too bulky, partly because this version is readily attainable in a literal form; an extract from it has, however, been added to the Book of Leinster version for the purpose of comparison. In the renderings given of these romances the translation of the prose is nearly literal, but no attempt has been made to follow the Irish idiom where this idiom sounds harsh in English; actives have been altered to passive forms and the reverse, adjectives are sometimes replaced by short sentences which give the image better in English, pronouns, in which Irish is very rich, are often replaced by the persons or things indicated, and common words, like iarom, iarsin, iartain, immorro, and the like (meaning thereafter, moreover, &c.), have been replaced by short sentences that refer back to the events indicated by the words. Nothing has been added to the Irish, except in the Leabhar na h-Uidhri version of "Etain," where there is a lacuna to be filled up, and there are no omissions. The translations of the verse and of the rhetoric are, so far as is possible, made upon similar lines; it was at first intended to add literal renderings of all the verse passages, but it was found that to do so would make the volume of an unmanageable size for its purpose. Literal renderings of all the verse passages in "Etain," the first of the tales in volume i., are given in the notes to that story; the literal renderings of Deirdre's lament in the "Sons of Usnach," and of two poems in "The Combat at the Ford," are also given in full as specimens, but in the case of most of the poems reference is made to easily available literal translations either in English or German: where the literal rendering adopted differs from that referred to, or where the poem in question has not before been translated, the literal rendering has been given in the notes. These examples will, it is believed, give a fair indication of the relation between my verse translations and the originals, the deviations from which have been made as small as possible. The form of four-line verse divided into stanzas has generally been used to render the passages in four-lined verse in the Irish, the only exception to this rule being in the verses at the end of the "Boar of Mac Datho": these are in the nature of a ballad version of the whole story, and have been rendered in a ballad metre that does not conform to the arrangement in verses of the original.

The metre of all the Irish four-lined verses in this volume is, except in two short pieces, a seven-syllabled line, the first two lines usually rhyming with each other, and the last two similarly rhyming,[FN#4] in a few cases in the "Boar of Mac Datho" these rhymes are alternate, and in the extract from the Glenn Masain version of the "Sons of Usnach" there is a more complicated rhyme system. It has not been thought necessary to reproduce this metre in all cases, as to do so would sound too monotonous in English; the metre is, however, reproduced once at least in each tale except in that of the "Death of the Sons of Usnach." The eight-lined metre that occurs in five of the verse passages in the "Combat at the Ford" has in one case been reproduced exactly, and in another case nearly exactly, but with one syllable added to each line; the two passages in this romance that are in five-syllabled lines have been reproduced exactly in the Irish metre, in one case with the rhyme-system of the original. With the rhetoric greater liberty has been used; sometimes the original metre has been followed, but more often not; and an occasional attempt has been made to bring out the strophic correspondence in the Irish.

[FN#4] An example of this metre is as follows:—

All the elves of Troom seem dead, All their mighty deeds are fled; For their Hound, who hounds surpassed, Elves have bound in slumber fast.

In the first volume of the collection the presentation has then been made as near as may be to the form and matter of the Irish; in the second volume, called "Versified Romances," there is a considerable divergence from the Irish form but not from its sense. This part includes the five "Tains" or Cattle-Forays of Fraech, Dartaid, Regamon, Flidais, and Regamna; which in the originals differ from the five tales in volume i, in that they include no verse, except for a few lines in Regamna, most of which are untranslatable. The last four of these are short pieces written in a prose extremely rapid in its action, and crowded with incident. They are all expressly named as "fore-tales," remscela, or preludes to the story of the great war of Cualnge, which is the central event in the Ulster heroic cycle, and appear suited for rapid prose recitations, which were apparently as much a feature in ancient as they are in modern Irish. Such pieces can hardly be reproduced in English prose so as to bring out their character; they are represented in English by the narrative ballad, and they have been here rendered in this way. Literal translations in prose are printed upon the opposite page to the verse, these translations being much more exact than the translations in the first volume, as the object in this case is to show the literal Irish form, not its literal English equivalent, which is in this case the verse. The "Tain bo Fraich" is also, in a sense, a "fore-tale" to the Great Raid, but is of a different character to the others. It consists of two parts, the second of which is not unlike the four that have just been mentioned, but the first part is of a much higher order, containing brilliant descriptions, and at least one highly poetic passage although its Irish form is prose. Fraech has been treated like the other fore-tales, and rendered in verse with literal prose opposite to the verse for the purpose of comparison. The notes to all the five Tana in the second volume accompany the text; in the first volume all the notes to the different romances are collected together, and placed at the end of the volume. The second volume also includes a transcript from the facsimile of that part of the Irish text of the tale of Etain which has not before been published, together with an interlinear literal translation. It is hoped that this arrangement may assist some who are not Middle Irish scholars to realise what the original romances are.

The manuscript authorities for the eleven different romances (counting as two the two versions of "Etain") are all old; seven are either in the Leabhar na h-Uidhri, an eleventh-century manuscript, or in the Book of Leinster, a twelfth-century one; three of the others are in the fourteenth-century Yellow Book of Lecan, which is often, in the case of texts preserved both in it and the Leabhar na h-Uidhri, regarded as the better authority of the two; and the remaining one, the second version of "Etain," is in the fifteenth-century manuscript known as Egerton, 1782, which gives in an accurate form so many texts preserved in the older manuscripts that it is very nearly as good an authority as they. The sources used in making the translations are also stated in the special introductions, but it may be mentioned as a summary that the four "Preludes," the Tana of Dartaid, Regamon, Flidais, and Regamna, are taken from the text printed with accompanying German translations by Windisch in Irische Texte, vol. ii.; Windisch's renderings being followed in those portions of the text that he translates; for the "Tain bo Fraich" and the "Combat at the Ford" the Irish as given by O'Beirne Crowe and by O'Curry, with not very trustworthy English translations, has been followed; in the case of the fragment of the Glenn Masain version of "Deirdre" little reference has been made to the Irish, the literal translation followed being that given by Whitley Stokes. The remaining five romances, the "Boar of Mac Datho," the Leinster version of "Deirdre," the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain," the Egerton version of "Etain," and the greater part of the Leabbar na h-Uidhri version of the same, are taken from the Irish text printed without translation in Irische Texte, vol. i., the end of the Leabhar na h-Uidhri version omitted by Windisch being taken from the facsimile of the manuscript published by the Royal Irish Academy.

I have to acknowledge with gratitude many corrections to O'Beirne Crowe's translation of the "Tain bo Fraich" kindly given me by Professor Kuno Meyer; in the case of O'Curry's translation of the "Combat at the Ford," similar help kindly given me by Mr. E. J. Quiggin; and in the case of the two versions of "Etain," more especially for the part taken direct from the facsimile, I have to express gratitude for the kind and ready help given to me by Professor Strachan. Professor Strachan has not only revised my transcript from the facsimile, and supplied me with translations of the many difficult passages in this of which I could make no sense, but has revised all the translation which was made by the help of Windisch's glossary to the Irische Texte of both the versions of "Etain," so that the translations given of these two romances should be especially reliable, although of course I may have made some errors which have escaped Professor Strachan's notice. The three other romances which have been translated from the Irish in Irische Texte have not been similarly revised, but all passages about which there appeared to be doubt have been referred to in the notes to the individual romances.

It remains to add some remarks upon the general character of the tales, which, as may be seen after a very cursory examination, are very different both in tone and merit, as might indeed be expected if we remember that we are probably dealing with the works of men who were separated from each other by a gap of hundreds of years. Those who have read the actual works of the ancient writers of the Irish romances will not readily indulge in the generalisations about them used by those to whom the romances are only known by abstracts or a compilation. Perhaps the least meritorious of those in this collection are the "Tains" of Dartaid, Regamon, and Flidais, but the tones of these three stories are very different. Dartaid is a tale of fairy vengeance for a breach of faith; Flidais is a direct and simple story of a raid like a Border raid, reminding us of the "riding ballads" of the Scottish Border, and does not seem to trouble itself much about questions of right or wrong; Regamon is a merry tale of a foray by boys and girls; it troubles itself with the rights of the matter even less than Flidais if possible, and is an example of an Irish tale with what is called in modern times a "good ending." It may be noted that these last two tales have no trace of the supernatural element which some suppose that the Irish writers were unable to dispense with. The "Tain bo Regamna," the shortest piece in the collection, is a grotesque presentation of the supernatural, and is more closely associated with the Great Tain than any of the other fore-tales to it, the series of prophecies with which it closes exactly following the action of the part of the Tain, to which it refers. Some of the grotesque character of Regamna appears in the "Boar of Mac Datho," which, however, like Regamon and Flidais, has no supernatural element; its whole tone is archaic and savage, relieved by touches of humour, but the style of the composition is much superior to that of the first three stories. A romance far superior to "Mae Datho" is the Leinster version of the well-known Deirdre story, the "Death of the Sons of Usnach." The opening of the story is savage, the subsequent action of the prose is very rapid, while the splendid lament at the end, one of the best sustained laments in the language, and the restraint shown in its account of the tragic death of Deirdre, place this version of the story in a high position. As has been already mentioned, parts of the fifteenth-century version of the story have been added to this version for purposes of comparison: the character of the Deirdre of the Leinster version would not have been in keeping with the sentiment of the lament given to her in the later account.

The remaining five romances (treating as two the two versions of "Etain") all show great beauty in different ways. Three of the four tales given in them have "good endings," and the feeling expressed in them is less primitive than that shown in the other stories, although it is an open question whether any of them rises quite so high as Deirdre's lament. "Fraech" has, as has been mentioned before, two quite separate parts; the second part is of inferior quality, showing, however, an unusual amount of knowledge of countries lying outside Celtdom, but the first is a most graceful romance; although the hero is a demi-god, and the fairies play a considerable part in it, the interest is essentially human; and the plot is more involved than is the case in most of the romances. It abounds in brilliant descriptions; the description of the Connaught palace is of antiquarian interest; and one of the most beautiful pieces of Celtic mythology, the parentage of the three fairy harpers, is included in it.

The "Sick-bed of Cuchulain" and the Leabhar na h-Uidhri version of the "Courtship of Etain" seem to have had their literary effect injured by the personality of the compiler of the manuscript from which the Leabhar na h-Uidhri was copied. Seemingly an antiquarian, interested in the remains of the old Celtic religion and in old ceremonies, he has inserted pieces of antiquarian information into several of the romances that he has preserved for us, and though these are often of great interest in themselves, they spoil the literary effect of the romances in which they appear. It is possible that both the Leabhar na h-Uidhri version of "Etain" and the "Sick-bed" might be improved by a little judicious editing; they have, however, been left just as they stand in the manuscript. The "Sick-bed," as is pointed out in the special introduction to it, consists of two separate versions; the first has plainly some of the compiler's comments added to it, but the second and longer part seems not to have been meddled with; and, although a fragment, it makes a stately romance, full of human interest although dealing with supernatural beings; and its conclusion is especially remarkable in early literature on account of the importance of the action of the two women who are the heroines of this part of the tale. The action of Fand in resigning her lover to the weaker mortal woman who has a better claim upon him is quite modern in its tone.

The nearest parallel to the longer version of the "Sick-bed" is the Egerton version of "Etain," which is a complete one, and makes a stately romance. It is full of human interest, love being its keynote; it keeps the supernatural element which is an essential to the original legend in the background, and is of quite a different character to the earlier Leabhar na h-Uidhri version, although there is no reason to assume that the latter is really the more ancient in date. In the Leabbar na h-Uidhri version of "Etain," all that relates to the love-story is told in the baldest manner, the part which deals with the supernatural being highly descriptive and poetic. I am inclined to believe that the antiquarian compiler of the manuscript did here what he certainly did in the case of the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain," and pieced together two romances founded upon the same legend by different authors. The opening of the story in Fairyland and the concluding part where Mider again appears are alike both in style and feeling, while the part that comes between is a highly condensed version of the love-story of the Egerton manuscript, and suggests the idea of an abstract of the Egerton version inserted into the story as originally composed, the effect being similar to that which would be produced upon us if we had got Aeschylus' "Choaphorae" handed down to us with a condensed version of the dialogue between Electra and Chrysothemis out of Sophocles' "Electra" inserted by a conscientious antiquarian who thought that some mention of Chrysothemis was necessary. This version of the legend, however, with its strong supernatural flavour, its insistence on the idea of re-birth, its observation of nature, and especially the fine poem in which Mider invites Etain to Fairyland, is a most valuable addition to the literature, and we have to lament the gap in it owing to the loss of a column in that part of the Leabhar na h-Uidhri manuscript which has been preserved.

The last piece to be mentioned is the extract from the "Tain be Cuailnge" known as the "Combat at the Ford." This seems to me the finest specimen of old Irish work that has been preserved for us; the brilliance of its descriptions, the appropriate changes in its metres, the chivalry of its sentiments, and the rapidity of its action should, even if there were nothing to stand beside it in Irish literature, give that literature a claim to be heard: as an account of a struggle between two friends, it is probably the finest in any literature. It has been stated recently, no doubt upon sound authority, that the grammatical forms of this episode show it to be late, possibly dating only to the eleventh century. The manuscript in which it appears, however, is of the earlier part of the twelfth century; no literary modem work other than Irish can precede it in time; and if it is the work of an eleventh-century author, it does seem strange that his name or the name of some one of that date who could have written it has not been recorded, as MacLiag's name has been as the traditional author of the eleventh-century "Wars of the Gaedhill and the Gaill," for the names of several Irish authors of that period axe well known, and the Early Middle Irish texts of that period are markedly of inferior quality. Compare for example the Boromaean Tribute which Stokes considers to take high rank among texts of that period (Revue Celtique, xiii. p. 32). One would certainly like to believe that this episode of the "Combat at the Ford" belongs to the best literary period, with which upon literary grounds it seems to be most closely connected.

But, whether this comparative lateness of the "Combat at the Ford" be true or not, it, together with all the varied work contained in this collection, with the possible exception of the short extract from the Glenn Masain "Deirdre," is in the actual form that we have it, older than the Norman Conquest of Ireland, older than the Norse Sagas. Its manuscript authority is older than that of the Volsunga Saga; its present form precedes the birth of Chretien de Troyes, the first considerable name in French literature, and, in a form not much unlike that in which we have it, it is probably centuries older than its actual manuscript date. The whole thing stands at the very beginning of the literature of Modern Europe, and compares by no means unfavourably with that which came after, and may, in part, have been inspired by it. Surely it deserves to be raised from its present position as a study known only to a few specialists, and to form part of the mental equipment of every man who is for its own sake interested in and a lover of literature.


'Tis hard an audience now to win For lore that Ireland's tales can teach; And faintly, 'mid the modern din, Is heard the old heroic speech.

For long the tales in silence slept; The ancient tomes by few were read; E'en those who still its knowledge kept Have thought the living music dead.

And some, to save the lore from death, With modern arts each tale would deck, Inflate its rhymes with magic breath, As if to buoy a sinking wreck.

They graft new morbid magic dreams On tales where beating life is felt: In each romance find mystic gleams, And traces of the "moody Celt."

Yet, though with awe the grassy mound That fairies haunt, is marked to-day; And though in ancient tales are found Dim forms of gods, long passed away;

Though later men to magic turned, Inserting many a Druid spell; And ill the masters' craft had learned Who told the tales, and told them well;

No tale should need a magic dress Or modern art, its life to give: Each for itself, or great, or less, Should speak, if it deserves to live.

Think not a dull, a scribal pen Dead legends wrote, half-known, and feared: In lettered lands to poet men Romance, who lives to-day, appeared.

For when, in fear of warrior bands, Had Learning fled the western world, And, raised once more by Irish hands, Her banner stood again unfurled;

'Twas there, where men her laws revered, That Learning aided Art's advance; And Ireland bore, and Ireland reared These Eldest Children of Romance.

Her poets knew the Druid creeds; Yet not on these their thoughts would rest: They sang of love, of heroes' deeds, Of kingly pomp, of cheerful jest.

Not as in Greece aspired their thought, They joyed in battles wild and stern; Yet pity once to men they taught From whom a fiercer age could learn.

Their frequent theme was war: they sang The praise of chiefs of courage high; Yet, from their harps the accents rang That taught to knighthood chivalry.

Their heroes praise a conquered foe, Oppose their friends for honour's sake, To weaker chieftains mercy show, And strength of cruel tyrants break.

Their nobles, loving fame, rejoice In glory, got from bards, to shine; Yet thus ascends Cuchulain's voice: "No skill indeed to boast is mine!"

They sang, to please a warlike age, Of wars, and women's wild lament, Yet oft, restraining warriors' rage, Their harps to other themes were bent.

They loved on peaceful pomp to dwell, Rejoiced in music's magic strains,. All Nature's smiling face loved well, And "glowing hues of flowery plains."

Though oft of Fairy Land they spoke, No eerie beings dwelled therein, 'Twas filled throughout with joyous folk Like men, though freed from death and sin.

And sure those bards were truest knights Whose thoughts of women high were set, Nor deemed them prizes, won in fights, But minds like men's, and women yet.

With skilful touch they paint us each, Etain, whose beauty's type for all; Scathach, whose warriors skill could teach Emer, whose words in wisdom fall;

Deirdre the seer, by love made keen; Flidais, whose bounty armies feeds The prudent Mugain, Conor's queen; Crund's wife, more swift than Conor's steeds;

Finnabar, death for love who dared; Revengeful Ferb, who died of grief Fand, who a vanquished rival spared; Queen Maev, who Connaught led, its chief.

Not for the creeds their lines preserve Should Ireland's hero tales be known Their pictured pages praise deserve From all, not learned men alone.

Their works are here; though flawed by time, To all the living verses speak Of men who taught to Europe rhyme, Who knew no masters, save the Greek.

In forms like those men loved of old, Naught added, nothing torn away, The ancient tales again are told, Can none their own true magic sway?


The following list of suggested pronunciations does not claim to be complete or to be necessarily correct in all cases. Some words like Ferdia and Conchobar (Conor) have an established English pronunciation that is strictly speaking wrong; some, like Murthemne are doubtful; the suggestions given here are those adopted by the editor for such information as is at his disposal. It seems to be unnecessary to give all the names, as the list would be too long; this list contains those names in the first volume as are of frequent occurrence; names that occur less commonly, and some of those in the following list, have a pronunciation indicated in foot-notes. The most important names are in small capitals.


Aife (Ee-fa), pp. 117, 129, 1342 141, 148, an instructress of Cuchulain, Ferdia, and others in the art of war.

Cathbad (Cah-ba), pp. 91, 92, 93, 95, a Druid.

Cualgne (Kell-ny), mentioned in the Preface, Introductions, the "Combat" and elsewhere; a district corresponding to County Louth.

Cuchulain (Cu-hoo-lin), the hero of the "Sick-bed" and the "Combat," and of the Ulster Heroic cycle in general.

Deirdre (Dire-dree), the heroine of the "Exile of the Sons of Usnach."

Dubhtach (Doov-ta), pp. 48, 97, 98, 107, an Ulster hero.

Eochaid Airem (Yeo-hay Arrem), the king in the "Courtship of Etain."

Eochaid Juil (Yeo-hay Yool), pp. 63, 70, 76, 79, a fairy king killed by Cuchulain.

Eogan mac Durthacht (Yeogan mac Door-ha), pp. 43, 48, 93, 97, 101, 107; an Ulster hero, the slayer of the sons of Usnach.

Etain (Et-oyn), the heroine of the "Courtship of Etain."

Ferdia (Fer-dee-a), Cuchulain's opponent in the "Combat at the Ford." The true pronunciation is probably Fer-deed.

Fuamnach (Foom-na), pp. 79 9, 10, 19, 26, a sorceress.

Laeg (Layg), son of Riangabra (Reen-gabra), the charioteer and friend of Cuchulain, frequently mentioned in the "Sick-bed" and the "Combat at the Ford."

Laegaire (Leary), pp. 42, 46, 67, an Ulster hero.

Leabhar na h-Uidhri (Lyow-er na hoorie), frequently mentioned, the oldest Irish manuscript of romance. It means the "Book of the Dun Cow," sometimes referred to as L.U.

Mac Datho (Mac Da-ho), king of Leinster in the "Boar of Mac Datho," the word means "son of two mutes."

Murthemne (Moor-temmy), pp. 57, 59, 61, 73, 77, 78, a district in Ulster, with which Cuchulain is connected in the "Sick-bed" (in the "Combat" he is "Cuchulain of Cualgne").

Naisi (Nay-see), the hero of the "Exile of the Sons of Usnach."

Scathach (Ska-ha), pp. 117, 129) 131, 134, 141, 149, 151 a sorceress in the Isle of Skye, instructress of Cuchulain in war.

Uathach (Oo-ha), pp. 117, 129, 134; 141) 149, daughter of Scathach.

Other prominent characters, in the pronunciation of whose names as given in the text no special assistance is required, are:

Ailill mac Mata (Al-ill), king of Connaught.

Ailill Anglonnach, lover of Etain, in the "Courtship of Etain."

Conall Cernach, Conall the Victorious, second champion of Ulster after Cuchulain.

Conor (properly spelt Conchobar and pronounced Con-ower), king of Ulster.

Emer, wife of Cuchulain, appears often in the "Sick-bed." This name is by some pronounced A-vair, probably from a different spelling.

Fand, the fairy princess, in love with Cuchulain, in the "Sick-bed."

Fergus, son of Rog, prominent in the "Exile of the Sons of Usnach," and in "Combat"; step-father to King Conor, he appears in most of the romances.

Ket (spelt Cet), son of Mata, the Connaught champion, appears in the "Boar of Mac Datho."

Maev (spelt Medb), the great Queen of Connaught.

Mider, Etain's fairy lover, in the "Courtship of Etain."











The date which tradition assigns to the events related in the tale of the "Courtship of Etain" is about B.C. 100, two or, according to some accounts, three generations before the king Conaire Mor, or Conary, whose death is told in the tale called the "Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel." This king is generally spoken of as a contemporary of the chief personages of what is called more especially the "Heroic Age" of Ireland; and the two versions of the "Courtship of Etain" given in this volume at once introduce a difficulty; for the sub-kings who were tributary to Eochaid, Etain's husband, are in both versions stated to be Conor, Ailill mac Mata, Mesgegra, and Curoi, all of whom are well-known figures in the tales of the Heroic Age. As Conary is related to have ruled sixty years, and several of the characters of the Heroic Age survived him, according to the tale that describes his death, the appearance of the names of Conor and Ailill in a tale about his grandfather (or according to the Egerton version his great-grandfather) introduces an obvious discrepancy.

It appears to be quite impossible to reconcile the dates given to the actors in the tales of the Heroic and preceding age. They seem to have been given in the "antiquarian age" of the tenth and eleventh centuries; not only do they differ according to different chronologers by upwards of a hundred years, but the succession of kings in the accounts given by the same chronologer is often impossible in view of their mutual relationships. The real state of things appears to be that the "Courtship of Etain," together with the story of Conary, the lost tale of the destruction of the Fairy Hill of Nennta,[FN#5] and the tale of the Bull-Feast and election of Lugaid Red-Stripes as king of Ireland, forms a short cycle of romance based upon ancient legends that had originally no connection at all with those on which the romances of the Heroic Age were built. The whole government of the country is essentially different in the two cycles; in the Etain cycle the idea is that of a land practically governed by one king, the vassal kings being of quite small importance; in the tales of the Heroic Age proper, the picture we get is of two, if not of four, practically independent kingdoms, the allusions to any over-king being very few, and in great part late. But when the stories of Etain and of Conary assumed their present forms, when the writers of our romances formed them out of the traditions which descended to them from pro-Christian sources, both cycles of tradition were pretty well known; and there was a natural tendency to introduce personages from one cycle into the other, although these personages occupy a subordinate position in the cycle to which they do not properly belong. Even Conall Cernach, who is a fairly prominent figure in the tale of the death of Conary, has little importance given to him compared with the people who really belong to the cycle, and the other warriors of the Heroic Age mentioned in the tale are little but lay figures compared with Conary, Ingcel, and Mac Cecht. A wish to connect the two cycles probably accounts for the connection of Lugaid Red-Stripes with Cuchulain, the introduction of Conor and Ailill into the story of Etain may be due to the same cause, and there is no need to suppose that the authors of our versions felt themselves bound by what other men had introduced into the tale of Conary. The practice of introducing heroes from one cycle into another was by no means uncommon, or confined to Ireland; Greek heroes' names sometimes appear in the Irish tales; Cuchulain, in much later times, comes into the tales of Finn; and in Greece itself, characters who really belong to the time of the Trojan War appear in tales of the Argonauts.

[FN#5] A short account of this is in the story of King Dathi (O'Curry Lectures, p. 286). The tale seems to be alluded to in the quatrain on p. 10 of this volume.

There are very few corresponding allusions to personages from the small Etain cycle found in the great cycle of romances that belong to the Heroic Age, but MacCecht's name appears in a fifteenth-century manuscript which gives a version of the tale of Flidais; and I suspect an allusion to the Etain story in a verse in the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain" (see note, p. 184). It may be observed that the introduction of Conor and his contemporaries into the story of Conary's grandparents is an additional piece of evidence that our form of the story of Etain precedes the "antiquarian age"; for at that time the version which we have of the story of Conary must have been classical and the connection of Conor's warriors with Conary well-known. A keen eye was at that time kept on departures from the recognised historical order (compare a note by Mr. Nutt in the "Voyage of Bran," vol. ii. p. 61); and the introduction of Conor into our version of the tale of Etain must have been at an earlier date.

The two versions of the "Courtship of Etain," the Egerton one, and that in the Leabhar na h-Uidhri, have been compared in the general preface to the volume, and little more need be said on this point; it may, however, be noted that eight pages of the Egerton version (pp. 11 to 18) are compressed into two pages in L.U. (pp. 23 and 24). References to the Etain story are found in different copies of the "Dindshenchas," under the headings of Rath Esa, Rath Croghan, and Bri Leith; the principal manuscript authorities, besides the two translated here, are the Yellow Book of Lecan, pp. 91 to 104, and the Book of Leinster, 163b (facsimile). These do not add much to our versions; there are, however, one or two new points in a hitherto untranslated manuscript source mentioned by O'Curry ("Manners and Customs," vol. ii. p 192 to 194).

The Leabhar na h-Uidhri version is defective both at the beginning and at the end; there is also a complete column torn from the manuscript, making the description of the chess match defective. These three gaps have been filled up by short passages enclosed in square brackets, at the commencement of the Prologue, on p. 28, and at the end of the L.U. version. The two first of these insertions contain no matter that cannot be found by allusions in the version itself; the conclusion of the tale is drawn, partly from the "Dindshenchas" of Rath Esa, partly from the passage in O'Curry's "Manners and Customs."

The only alteration that has been made is that, following a suggestion in Windisch (Irische Texte, i. p. 132), the poem on page 26 has been placed four pages earlier than the point at which it occurs in the manuscript. Three very difficult lines (Leabhar na h-Uidhri, 132a, lines 12 to 14) have not been attempted; there are no other omissions, and no insertions except the three noted above. The Prologue out of the L.U. version has been placed first, as it is essential to the understanding of any version, then follows the Egerton version as the longer of the two, then the L.U. version of the Courtship, properly so called.



Etain of the Horses, the daughter of Ailill, was the wife of Mider, the Fairy Dweller in Bri Leith.[FN#6] Now Mider had also another wife named Fuamnach[FN#7] who was filled with jealousy against Etain, and sought to drive her from her husband's house. And Fuamnach sought out Bressal Etarlam the Druid and besought his aid; and by the spells of the Druid, and the sorcery of Fuamnach, Etain was changed into the shape of a butterfly that finds its delight among flowers. And when Etain was in this shape she was seized by a great wind that was raised by Fuamnach's spells; and she was borne from her husband's house by that wind for seven years till she came to the palace of Angus Mac O'c who was son to the Dagda, the chief god of the men of ancient Erin. Mac O'c had been fostered by Mider, but he was at enmity with his foster-father, and he recognised Etain, although in her transformed shape, as she was borne towards him by the force] of the wind. And he made a bower for Etain with clear windows for it through which she might pass, and a veil of purple was laid upon her; and that bower was carried about by Mac O'c wherever he went. And there each night she slept beside him by a means that he devised, so that she became well-nourished and fair of form; for that bower was filled with marvellously sweet-scented shrubs, and it was upon these that she thrived, upon the odour and blossom of the best of precious herbs.

[FN#6] Pronounced Bree Lay.

[FN#7] Pronounced Foom-na.

Now to Fuamnach came tidings of the love and the worship that Etain had from Mac O'c, and she came to Mider, and "Let thy foster-son," said she, "be summoned to visit thee, that I may make peace between you two, and may then go to seek for news of Etain." And the messenger from Mider went to Mac O'c, and Mac O'c went to Mider to greet him; but Fuamnach for a long time wandered from land to land till she was in that very mansion where Etain was; and then she blew beneath her with the same blast as aforetime, so that the blast carried her out of her bower, and she was blown before it, as she had been before for seven years through all the land of Erin, and she was driven by the wind of that blast to weakness and woe. And the wind carried her over the roof of a house where the men of Ulster sat at their ale, so that she fell through the roof into a cup of gold that stood near the wife of Etar the Warrior, whose dwelling-place was near to the Bay of Cichmany in the province that was ruled over by Conor. And the woman swallowed Etain together with the milk that was in the cup, and she bare her in her womb, till the time came that she was born thereafter as in earthly maid, and the name of Etain, the daughter of Etar, was given to her. And it was one thousand and twelve years since the time of the first begetting of Etain by Ailill to the time when she was born the second time as the daughter of Etar.

Now Etain was nurtured at Inver Cichmany in the house of Etar, with fifty maidens about her of the daughters of the chiefs of the land; and it was Etar himself who still nurtured and clothed them, that they might be companions to his daughter Etain. And upon a certain day, when those maidens were all at the river-mouth to bathe there, they saw a horseman on the plain who came to the water towards them. A horse he rode that was brown, curvetting, and prancing, with a broad forehead and a curly mane and tail. Green, long, and flowing was the cloak that was about him, his shirt was embroidered with embroidery of red gold, and a great brooch of gold in his cloak reached to his shoulder on either side. Upon the back of that man was a silver shield with a golden rim; the handle for the shield was silver, and a golden boss was in the midst of the shield: he held in his hand a five-pointed spear with rings of gold about it from the haft to the head. The hair that was above his forehead was yellow and fair; and upon his brow was a circlet of gold, which confined the hair so that it fell not about his face. He stood for a while upon the shore of the bay; and he gazed upon the maidens, who were all filled with love for him, and then he sang this song:

West of Alba, near the Mound[FN#8] Where the Fair-Haired Women play, There, 'mid little children found, Etain dwells, by Cichmain's Bay.

She hath healed a monarch's eye By the well of Loch-da-lee; Yea, and Etar's wife, when dry, Drank her: heavy draught was she!

Chased by king for Etain's sake, Birds their flight from Teffa wing: 'Tis for her Da-Arbre's lake Drowns the coursers of the king.

Echaid, who in Meath shall reign, Many a war for thee shall wage; He shall bring on fairies bane, Thousands rouse to battle's rage.

Etain here to harm was brought, Etain's form is Beauty's test; Etain's king in love she sought: Etain with our folk shall rest!

[FN#8] The metre of these verses is that of the Irish.

And after that he had spoken thus, the young warrior went away from the place where the maidens were; and they knew not whence it was that he had come, nor whither he departed afterwards. Moreover it is told of Mac O'c, that after the disappearance of Etain he came to the meeting appointed between him and Mider; and when he found that Fuamnach was away: "'Tis deceit," said Mider, "that this woman hath practised upon us; and if Etain shall be seen by her to be in Ireland, she will work evil upon Etain." "And indeed," said Mac O'c, "it seemeth to me that thy guess may be true. For Etain hath long since been in my own house, even in the palace where I dwell; moreover she is now in that shape into which that woman transformed her; and 'tis most likely that it is upon her that Fuamnach hath rushed." Then Mac O'c went back to his palace, and he found his bower of glass empty, for Etain was not there. And Mac O'c turned him, and he went upon the track of Fuamnach, and he overtook her at Oenach Bodbgnai, in the house of Bressal Etarlam the Druid. And Mac O'c attacked her, and he struck off her head, and he carried the head with him till he came to within his own borders.

Yet a different tale hath been told of the end of Fuamnach, for it hath been said that by the aid of Manannan both Fuamnach and Mider were slain in Bri Leith, and it is of that slaying that men have told when they said:

Think on Sigmall, and Bri with its forest: Little wit silly Fuamnach had learned; Mider's wife found her need was the sorest, When Bri Leith by Manannan was burned.



Once there was a glorious and stately king who held the supreme lordship over all the land of Ireland. The name of the king was Eochaid Airemm, and he was the son of Finn, who was the son of Finntan; who was the son of Rogan the Red; who was the son of Essamain; who was the son of Blathecht; who was the son of Beothecht; who was the son of Labraid the Tracker; who was the son of Enna the Swift; who was the son of Angus of Tara, called the Shamefaced; who was the son of Eochaid the Broad-jointed; who was the son of Ailill of the Twisted Teeth; who was the son of Connla the Fair; who was the son of Irer; who was the son of Melghe the Praiseworthy; who was the son of Cobhtach the Slender from the plain of Breg; who was the son of Ugaine the Great; who was the son of Eochaid the Victorious.

Now all the five provinces of Ireland were obedient to the rule of Eochaid Airemm: for Conor the son of Ness, the king of Ulster, was vassal to Eochaid; and Messgegra the king of Leinster was his vassal; and so was Curoi, the son of Dare, king of the land of Munster; and so were Ailill and Maev, who ruled over the land of Connaught. Two great strongholds were in the hands of Eochaid: they were the strongholds of Fremain in Meath, and of Fremain in Tethba; and the stronghold that he had in Tethba was more pleasing to him than any of those that he possessed. Less than a year had passed since Eochaid first assumed the sovereignty over Erin, when the news was proclaimed at once throughout all the land that the Festival of Tara should be held, that all the men of Ireland should come into the presence of their king, and that he desired full knowledge of the tributes due from, and the customs proper to each. And the one answer that all of the men of Ireland made to his call was: "That they would not attend the Festival of Tara during such time, whether it be long or short, that the king of Ireland remained without a wife that was worthy of him;" for there is no noble who is a wifeless man among the men of Ireland; nor can there be any king without a queen; nor does any man go to the Festival of Tara without his wife; nor does any wife go thither without her husband.

Thereupon Eochaid sent out from him his horsemen, and his wizards, and his officers who had the care of the roads, and his couriers of the boundaries throughout all Ireland; and they searched all Ireland as they sought for a wife that should be worthy of the king, in her form, and her grace, and her countenance, and her birth. And in addition to all this there yet remained one condition: that the king would take as his wife none who had been before as a wife to any other man before him.

And after that they had received these commands, his horsemen, and his wizards, and his officers who had the care of the roads, and the couriers of the boundaries went out; and they searched all Ireland south and north; and near to the Bay of Cichmany they found a wife worthy of the king; and her name was Etain the daughter of Etar, who was the king of Echrad. And his messengers returned to Eochaid, and they told him of the maiden, of her form, and her grace, and her countenance. And Eochaid came to that place to take the maiden thence, and this was the way that he took; for as he crossed over the ground where men hold the assembly of Bri Leith, he saw the maiden at the brink of the spring. A clear comb of silver was held in her hand, the comb was adorned with gold; and near her, as for washing, was a bason of silver whereon four birds had been chased, and there were little bright gems of carbuncle on the rims of the bason. A bright purple mantle waved round her; and beneath it was another mantle, ornamented with silver fringes: the outer mantle was clasped over her bosom with a golden brooch. A tunic she wore, with a long hood that might cover her head attached to it; it was stiff and glossy with green silk beneath red embroidery of gold, and was clasped over her breasts with marvellously wrought clasps of silver and gold; so that men saw the bright gold and the green silk flashing against the sun. On her head were two tresses of golden hair, and each tress had been plaited into four strands; at the end of each strand was a little ball of gold. And there was that maiden, undoing her hair that she might wash it, her two arms out through the armholes of her smock. Each of her two arms was as white as the snow of a single night, and each of her cheeks was as rosy as the foxglove. Even and small were the teeth in her head, and they shone like pearls. Her eyes were as blue as a hyacinth, her lips delicate and crimson; very high, soft, and white were her shoulders. Tender, polished, and white were her wrists; her fingers long, and of great whiteness; her nails were beautiful and pink. White as the snow, or as the foam of the wave, was her side; long was it, slender, and as soft as silk. Smooth and white were her thighs; her knees were round and firm and white; her ankles were as straight as the rule of a carpenter. Her feet were slim, and as white as the ocean's foam; evenly set were her eyes; her eyebrows were of a bluish black, such as ye see upon the shell of a beetle. Never a maid fairer than she, or more worthy of love, was till then seen by the eyes of men; and it seemed to them that she must be one of those who have come from the fairy mounds: it is of this maiden that men have spoken when it hath been said: "All that's graceful must be tested by Etain; all that's lovely by the standard of Etain."

Grace with Etain's grace compare! Etain's face shall test what's fair!

And desire of her seized upon the king; and he sent a man of his people in front of him to go to her kindred, in order that she might abide to await his coming. And afterwards the king came to the maiden, and he sought speech from her: "Whence art thou sprung, O maiden?" says Eochaid, "and whence is it that thou hast come?" "It is easy to answer thee," said the maiden: "Etain is my name, the daughter of the king of Echrad; 'out of the fairy mound' am I" "Shall an hour of dalliance with thee be granted to me?" said Eochaid. "'Tis for that I have come hither under thy safeguard," said she. "And indeed twenty years have I lived in this place, ever since I was born in the mound where the fairies dwell, and the men who dwell in the elf-mounds, their kings and their nobles, have been a-wooing me: yet to never a one of them was granted sleep with me, for I have loved thee, and have set my love and affection upon thee; and that ever since I was a little child, and had first the gift of speech. It was for the high tales of thee, and of thy splendour, that I have loved thee thus; and though I have never seen thee before, I knew thee at once by reason of the report of thee that I had heard; it is thou, I know, to whom we have attained." "It is no evil-minded lover who now inviteth thee," says Eochaid. "Thou shalt be welcomed by me, and I will leave all women for thy sake, and thine alone will I be so long as it is pleasing to thee." "Let the bride-price that befits me be paid," said the maiden, "and after that let my desire be fulfilled." "It shall be as thou hast said," the king answered her; and he gave the value of seven cumals to be her brideprice; and after that he brought her to Tara, whereon a fair and hearty welcome was made to her.

Now there were three brothers of the one blood, all sons of Finn, namely, Eochaid Airem, and Eochaid, and Ailill Anglonnach, or Ailill of the Single Stain, because the only stain that was upon him was the love that he had for his brother's wife. And at that time came all the men of Ireland to hold the festival of Tara; they were there for fourteen days before Samhain, the day when the summer endeth, and for fourteen days after that day. It was at the feast of Tara that love for Etain the daughter of Etar came upon Ailill Anglonnach; and ever so long as they were at the Tara Feast, so long he gazed upon the maid. And it was there that the wife of Ailill spoke to him; she who was the daughter of Luchta of the Red Hand, who came from the province of Leinster: "Ailill," said she, "why dost thou gaze at her from afar? for long gazing is a token of love." And Ailill gave blame to himself for this thing, and after that he looked not upon the maid.

Now it followed that after that the Feast of Tara had been consumed, the men of Ireland parted from one another, and then it was that Ailill became filled with the pangs of envy and of desire; and he brought upon himself the choking misery of a sore sickness, and was borne to the stronghold of Fremain in Tethba after that he had fallen into that woe. There also, until a whole year had ended, sickness long brooded over Ailill, and for long was he in distress, yet he allowed none to know of his sickness. And there Eochaid came to learn of his brother's state, and he came near to his brother, and laid his hand upon his chest; and Ailill heaved a sigh. "Why," said Eochaid, "surely this sickness of thine is not such as to cause thee to lament; how fares it with thee?" "By my word," said Ailill, "'tis no easier that I grow; but it is worse each day, and each night." "Why, what ails thee?" said Eochaid, "By my word of truth," said Ailill, "I know not." "Bring one of my folk hither," said Eochaid, "one who can find out the cause of this illness."

Then Fachtna, the chief physician of Eochaid, was summoned to give aid to Ailill, and he laid his hand upon his chest, and Ailill heaved a sigh. "Ah," said Fachtna, "there is no need for lament in this matter, for I know the cause of thy sickness; one or other of these two evils oppresseth thee, the pangs of envy, or the pangs of love: nor hast thou been aided to escape from them until now." And Ailill was full of shame, and he refused to confess to Fachtna the cause of his illness, and the physician left him.

Now, after all this, king Eochaid went in person to make a royal progress throughout the realm of Ireland, and he left Etain behind him in his fortress; and "Lady," said he, "deal thou gently with Ailill so long as he is yet alive; and, should he die," said he, "do thou see that his burial mound be heaped for him; and that a standing-stone be set up in memory of him; and let his name be written upon it in letters of Ogham." Then the king went away for the space of a year, to make his royal progress throughout the realm of Ireland, and Ailill was left behind, in the stronghold of Fremain of Tethba; there to pass away and to die.

Now upon a certain day that followed, the lady Etain came to the house where Ailill lay in his sickness, and thus she spoke to him: "What is it," she said, "that ails thee? thy sickness is great, and if we but knew anything that would content thee, thou shouldest have it." It was thus that at that time she spoke, and she sang a verse of a song, and Ailill in song made answer to her:


Young man, of the strong step and splendid, What hath bound thee? what ill dost thou bear? Thou hast long been on sick-bed extended, Though around thee the sunshine was fair.


There is reason indeed for my sighing, I joy naught at my harp's pleasant sound; Milk untasted beside me is lying; And by this in disease am I bound.


Tell me all, thou poor man, of thine ailing; For a maiden am I that is wise; Is there naught, that to heal thee availing, Thou couldst win by mine aid, and arise


If I told thee, thou beautiful maiden, My words, as I formed them, would choke, For with fire can eyes' curtains be laden: Woman-secrets are evil, if woke.


It is ill woman-secrets to waken; Yet with Love, its remembrance is long; And its part by itself may be taken, Nor a thought shall remain of the wrong.


I adore thee, white lady, as grateful; Yet thy bounty deserve I but ill: To my soul is my longing but hateful, For my body doth strive with me still.

Eocho Fedlech,[FN#9] his bride to him taking, Made thee queen; and from thence is my woe: For my head and my body are aching, And all Ireland my weakness must know.


If, among the white women who near me abide, There is one who is vexing, whose love thou dost hide; To thy side will I bring her, if thus I may please; And in love thou shalt win her, thy sickness to ease.

Ah lady! said Ailill, "easily could the cure of my sickness be wrought by the aid of thee, and great gain should there come from the deed, but thus it is with me until that be accomplished:

Long ago did my passion begin, A full year it exceeds in its length; And it holds me, more near than my skin, And it rules over wrath in its strength.

And the earth into four it can shake, Can reach up to the heights of the sky And a neck with its might it can break, Nor from fight with a spectre would fly.

In vain race up to heaven 'tis urged; It is chilled, as with water, and drowned: 'Tis a weapon, in ocean submerged; 'Tis desire for an echo, a sound.

'Tis thus my love, my passion seem; 'tis thus I strive in vain To win the heart of her whose love I long so much to gain.

[FN#9] Pronounced Yeo-ho Fayllya, see note, p. 166.

And the lady stood there in that place, and she looked upon Ailill, and the sickness in which he lay was perceived by her; and she was grieved on account of it: so that upon a certain day came the lady to Ailill, and "Young man," she said, "arouse thyself quickly, for in very truth thou shalt have all that thou desirest; and thereon did she make this lay:

Now arouse thyself, Ailill the royal: Let thy heart, and thy courage rise high; Every longing thou hast shall be sated, For before thee, to heal thee, am I.

Is my neck and its beauty so pleasing? 'Tis around it thine arms thou shalt place; And 'tis known as a courtship's beginning When a man and a woman embrace.

And if this cometh not to content thee, O thou man, that art son to a king! I will dare to do crime for thy healing, And my body to please thee will bring.

There were steeds, with their bridles, one hundred, When the price for my wedding was told; And one hundred of gay-coloured garments, And of cattle, and ounces of gold.

Of each beast that men know, came one hundred; And king Eocho to grant them was swift: When a king gave such dowry to gain me, Is't not wondrous to win me, as gift?

Now each day the lady came to Ailill to tend him, and to divide for him the portion of food that was allotted to him; and she wrought a great healing upon him: for it grieved her that he should perish for her sake. And one day the lady spoke to Ailill: "Come thou to-morrow," said she, "to tryst with me at the break of day, in the house which lieth outside, and is beyond the fort, and there shalt thou have granted thy request and thy desire." On that night Ailill lay without sleep until the coming of the morning; and when the time had come that was appointed for his tryst, his sleep lay heavily upon him; so that till the hour of his rising he lay deep in his sleep. And Etain went to the tryst, nor had she long to wait ere she saw a man coming towards her in the likeness of Ailill, weary and feeble; but she knew that he was not Ailill, and she continued there waiting for Ailill. And the lady came back from her tryst, and Ailill awoke, and thought that he would rather die than live; and he went in great sadness and grief. And the lady came to speak with him, and when he told her what had befallen him: "Thou shalt come," said she, "to the same place, to meet with me upon the morrow." And upon the morrow it was the same as upon the first day; each day came that man to her tryst. And she came again upon the last day that was appointed for the tryst, and the same man met her. "'Tis not with thee that I trysted," said she, "why dost thou come to meet me? and for him whom I would have met here; neither from desire of his love nor for fear of danger from him had I appointed to meet him, but only to heal him, and to cure him from the sickness which had come upon him for his love of me." "It were more fitting for thee to come to tryst with me," says the man, "for when thou wast Etain of the Horses, and when thou wast the daughter of Ailill, I myself was thy husband. "Why," said she, "what name hast thou in the land? that is what I would demand of thee." "It is not hard to answer thee," he said; "Mider of Bri Leith is my name." "And what made thee to part from me, if we were as thou sayest?" said Etain. "Easy again is the answer," said Mider; "it was the sorcery of Fuamnach and the spells of Bressal Etarlam that put us apart." And Mider said to Etain: "Wilt thou come with me?"

"Nay," answered Etain, "I will not exchange the king of all Ireland for thee; for a man whose kindred and whose lineage is unknown." "It was I myself indeed," said Mider, "who filled all the mind of Ailill with love for thee: it was I also who prevented his coming to the tryst with thee, and allowed him not thine honour to spoil it."

After all this the lady went back to her house, and she came to speech with Ailill, and she greeted him. "It hath happened well for us both," said Ailill, "that the man met thee there: for I am cured for ever from my illness, thou also art unhurt in thine honour, and may a blessing rest upon thee!" "Thanks be to our gods," said Etain, "that both of us do indeed deem that all this hath chanced so well." And after that Eochaid came back from his royal progress, and he asked at once for his brother; and the tale was told to him from the beginning to the end, and the king was grateful to Etain, in that she had been gracious to Ailill; and, "What hath been related in this tale," said Eochaid, "is well-pleasing to ourselves."

And, for the after history of Eochaid and Etain, it is told that once when Eochaid was in Fremain, at such time as the people had prepared for themselves a great gathering and certain horse-races; thither also to that assembly came Etain, that she might see the sight. Thither also came Mider, and he searched through that assembly to find out where Etain might be; and he found Etain, and her women around her, and he bore her away with him, also one of her handmaidens, called Crochen the Ruddy: hideous was the form in which Mider approached them. And the wives of the men of Ireland raised cries of woe, as the queen was carried off from among them; and the horses of Ireland were loosed to pursue Mider, for they knew not whether it was into the air or into the earth he had gone. But, as for Mider, the course that he had taken was the road to the west, even to the plain of Croghan; and as he came thither, "How shall it profit us," said Crochen the Ruddy, "this journey of ours to this plain?" "For evermore," said Mider, "shall thy name be over all this plain:" and hence cometh the name of the plain of Croghan, and of the Fort of Croghan. Then Mider came to the Fairy Mound of Croghan; for the dwellers in that mound were allied to him, and his friends; and for nine days they lingered there, banqueting and feasting; so that "Is this the place where thou makest thy home?" said Crochen to Mider. "Eastwards from this is my dwelling," Mider answered her; "nearer to the rising-place of the sun;" and Mider, taking Etain with him, departed, and came to Bri Leith, where the son of Celthar had his palace.

Now just at the time when they came to this palace, king Eochaid sent out from him the horsemen of Ireland, also his wizards, and his officers who had the care of the roads, and the couriers of the boundaries, that they might search through Ireland, and find out where his wife might be; and Eochaid himself wandered throughout Ireland to seek for his wife; and for a year from that day until the same day upon the year that followed he searched, and he found nothing to profit him.

Then, at the last, king Eochaid sent for his Druid, and he set to him the task to seek for Etain; now the name of the Druid was Dalan. And Dalan came before him upon that day; and he went westwards, until he came to the mountain that was after that known as Slieve Dalan; and he remained there upon that night. And the Druid deemed it a grievous thing that Etain should be hidden from him for the space of one year, and thereupon he made three wands of yew; and upon the wands he wrote an ogham; and by the keys of wisdom that he had, and by the ogham, it was revealed to him that Etain was in the fairy mound of Bri Leith, and that Mider had borne her thither.

Then Dalan the Druid turned him, and went back to the east; and he came to the stronghold of Fremain, even to the place where the king of Ireland was; and Eochaid asked from the Druid his news. Thither also came the horsemen, and the wizards, and the officers who had the care of the roads, and the couriers of the boundaries, to the king of Ireland, and he asked them what tidings they had, and whether they had found news of Mider and Etain. And they said that they had found nothing at all; until at the last said his Druid to him: "A great evil hath smitten thee, also shame, and misfortune, on account of the loss of thy wife. Do thou assemble the warriors of Ireland, and depart to Bri Leith, where is the palace of the son of Celthar; let that palace be destroyed by thy hand, and there thou shalt find thy wife: by persuasion or by force do thou take her thence."

Then Eochaid and the men of Ireland marched to Bri Leith, and they set themselves to destroy that fairy dwelling, and to demand that Etain be brought to them, and they brought her not. Then they ruined that fairy dwelling, and they brought Etain out from it; and she returned to Fremain, and there she had all the worship that a king of Ireland can bestow, fair wedded love and affection, such as was her due from Eochaid Airemm. This is that Eochaid who ruled over Ireland for twelve years, until the fire burned him in Fremain; and this tale is known by the name of the "Sick-bed of Ailill," also as "The Courtship of Etain." Etain bore no children to Eochaid Airemm, save one daughter only; and the name of her mother was given to her, and she is known by the name of Etain, the daughter of Eochaid Airemm. And it was her daughter Messbuachalla who was the mother of king Conary the Great, the son of Eterscel, and it was for this cause that the fairy host of Mag Breg and Mider of Bri Leith violated the tabus of king Conary, and devastated the plain of Breg, and out off Conary's life; on account of the capture of that fairy dwelling, and on account of the recovery of Etain, when she was carried away by violence, even by the might of Eochaid Airemm.



Eochaid Airemon took the sovereignty over Erin, and the five provinces of Ireland were obedient to him, for the king of each province was his vassal. Now these were they who were the kings of the provinces at that time, even Conor the son of Ness, and Messgegra, and Tigernach Tetbannach, and Curoi, and Ailill the son of Mata of Muresc. And the royal forts that belonged to Eochaid were the stronghold of Fremain in Meath, and the stronghold of Fremain in Tethba; moreover the stronghold of Fremain in Tethba was more pleasing to him than any other of the forts of Erin.

Now a year after that Eochaid had obtained the sovereignty, he sent out his commands to the men of Ireland that they should come to Tara to hold festival therein, in order that there should be adjusted the taxes and the imposts that should be set upon them, so that these might be settled for a period of five years. And the one answer that the men of Ireland made to Eochaid was that they would not make for the king that assembly which is the Festival of Tara until he found for himself a queen, for there was no queen to stand by the king's side when Eochaid first assumed the kingdom.

Then Eochaid sent out the messengers of each of the five provinces to go through the land of Ireland to seek for that woman or girl who was the fairest to be found in Erin; and he bade them to note that no woman should be to him as a wife, unless she had never before been as a wife to any one of the men of the land. And at the Bay of Cichmany a wife was found for him, and her name was Etain, the daughter of Etar; and Eochaid brought her thereafter to his palace, for she was a wife meet for him, by reason of her form, and her beauty, and her descent, and her brilliancy, and her youth, and her renown.

Now Finn the son of Findloga had three sons, all sons of a queen, even Eochaid Fedlech, and Eochaid Airemm, and Ailill Anguba. And Ailill Anguba was seized with love for Etain at the Festival of Tara, after that she had been wedded to Eochaid; since he for a long time gazed upon her, and, since such gazing is a token of love, Ailill gave much blame to himself for the deed that he was doing, yet it helped him not. For his longing was too strong for his endurance, and for this cause he fell into a sickness; and, that there might be no stain upon his honour, his sickness was concealed by him from all, neither did he speak of it to the lady herself. Then Fachtna, the chief physician of Eochaid, was brought to look upon Ailill, when it was understood that his death might be near, and thus the physician spoke to him: "One of the two pangs that slay a man, and for which there is no healing by leechcraft, is upon thee; either the pangs of envy or the pangs of love. And Ailill refused to confess the cause of his illness to the physician, for he was withheld by shame and he was left behind in Fremain of Tethba to die; and Eochaid went upon his royal progress throughout all Erin, and he left Etain behind him to be near Ailill, in order that the last rites of Ailill might be done by her; that she might cause his grave to be dug, and that the keen might be raised for him, and that his cattle should be slain for him as victims. And to the house where Ailill lay in his sickness went Etain each day to converse with him, and his sickness was eased by her presence; and, so long as Etain was in that place where he was, so long was he accustomed to gaze at her.

Now Etain observed all this, and she bent her mind to discover the cause, and one day when they were in the house together, Etain asked of Ailill what was the cause of his sickness. "My sickness," said Ailill, "comes from my love for thee." "'Tis pity," said she, "that thou hast so long kept silence, for thou couldest have been healed long since, had we but known of its cause." "And even now could I be healed," said Ailill, "did I but find favour in thy sight." "Thou shalt find favour," she said. Each day after they had spoken thus with each other, she came to him for the fomenting of his head, and for the giving of the portion of food that was required by him, and for the pouring of water over his hands; and three weeks after that, Ailill was whole. Then he said to Etain: "Yet is the completion of my cure at thy hands lacking to me; when may it be that I shall have it?" "'Tis to-morrow it shall be," she answered him, "but it shall not be in the abode of the lawful monarch of the land that this felony shall be done. Thou shalt come," she said, "on the morrow to yonder hill that riseth beyond the fort: there shall be the tryst that thou desirest."

Now Ailill lay awake all that night, and he fell into a sleep at the hour when he should have kept his tryst, and he woke not from his sleep until the third hour of the day. And Etain went to her tryst, and she saw a man before her; like was his form to the form of Ailill, he lamented the weakness that his sickness had caused him, and he gave to her such answers as it was fitting that Ailill should give. But at the third hour of the day, Ailill himself awoke: and he had for a long time remained in sorrow when Etain came into the house where he was; and as she approached him, "What maketh thee so sorrowful?" said Etain. "'Tis because thou wert sent to tryst with me," said Ailill, "and I came not to thy presence, and sleep fell upon me, so that I have but now awakened from it; and surely my chance of being healed hath now gone from me." "Not so, indeed," answered Etain, "for there is a morrow to follow to-day." And upon that night he took his watch with a great fire before him, and with water beside him to put upon his eyes.

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