- The culture, history and people of Ireland and the Irish

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page



At that time debate was held among the men of Ireland who should be the man to go early in the morning of the following day to make combat and fight with Cuchulain. And all agreed that Ferdia, the son of Daman, the son of Dire, was the man who should go; even the great and valiant champion of the men of Irross Donnand, for the manner in which he fought and did battle was like to the manner of Cuchulain. They had got their skill in arms, and valour, and bravery from the same teachers, from Scathach, from Uathach, and from Aife[FN#50]; nor had either of them advantage over the other except that Cuchulain alone could perform the feat of the Gae-bulg. Yet Ferdia was fenced by a horny skin-protecting armour, and this should guard him when he faced a hero in battle and combat at the Ford. So to Ferdia were sent messengers and heralds; but Ferdia denied the heralds, and he refused to depart with them, for well he knew why it was he was called; even to fight against his own friend, his comrade and fellow-pupil Cuchulain; and for that cause he came not with the heralds who were sent.

[FN#50] Pronounced Scaha, Ooha, and Eefa: Scaha and Ooha end with a slight guttural like the ch in the Scotch lock, difficult to express in English.

And then did Maev send to Ferdia Druids, and satirists and revilers, in order that against him should be made three crushing reproaches, and three satires; that the stains of shame, and of blemish, and of disgrace should be raised on his face; so that even if he died not at once, death should be his within the space of nine days if he went with them not. And for the sake of his honour, Ferdia came at their call; for to him it was better to fall before the shafts of valour, of bravery, and of daring than by the stings of satire, of abuse, and of reproach. And he, when he arrived, was received with all worship and service, and was served with pleasant, sweet intoxicating liquor, so that his brain reeled, and he became gently merry. And these were the great rewards that were promised to him if he consented to make that combat and fight: a chariot of the value of four times seven cumals, and the equipment of twelve men with garments of all colours, and the length and breadth of his own territory on the choice part of the plains of Maw Ay; free of tribute, without purchase, free from the incidents of attendance at courts and of military service, that therein his son, and his grandson, and all his descendants might dwell in safety to the end of life and time; also Finnabar the daughter of Maev as his wedded wife, and the golden brooch which was in the cloak of Queen Maev in addition to all this. And thus ran the speech of Maev, and she spake these words, and thus did Ferdia reply:


Of rings great treasure sending,[FN#51] Wide plains and woodlands bending
I grant: till time hath ending
I free thy tribe and kin.
O thou who oft o'ercamest!
'Tis thine what gift thou namest!
Why hold'st thou back, nor claimest A boon that all would win?

[FN#51] The metre of this dialogue and rhyme-system are taken from the Irish but one syllable has been added to each line. The exact Irish metre is that given on page 129.


A bond must hold thee tightly,
No force I lend thee lightly;
Dread strife 'twill be; for rightly He bears that name of "Hound."
For sharp spear-combat breaketh
That morn; hard toil it waketh
The war Cuchulain maketh
Shall fearless war be found.


Our chiefs, with oaths the gravest, Shall give the pledge thou cravest; For thee, of all men bravest,
Brave bridled steeds shall stand.
From tax my word hath freed thee,
To hostings none shall lead thee,
As bosom friend I need thee,
As first in all the land.


Mere words are naught availing
If oaths to bind be failing;
That wondrous Ford-Fight hailing,
All time its tale shall greet:
Though sun, moon, sea for ever
And earth from me I sever;
Though death I win--yet never,
Unpledged, that war I'll meet.


These kings and chiefs behind me
Their oaths shall pledge to bind me: With boundless wealth thou'lt find me, With wealth too great to pay.
'Tis thou who oaths delayest;
'Tis done whate'er thou sayest;
For well I know thou slayest
The foe who comes to slay.


Ere thou to slaughter lure me,
Six champions' oaths procure me;
Till these rewards assure me
I meet, for thee, no foe:
If six thou grant as gages,
I'll face the war he wages,
And where Cuchulain rages,
A lesser chief, I go.


In chariots Donnal raceth,
Fierce strife wild Neeman faceth,
Their halls the bards' song graceth, Yet these in troth I bind.
Firm pledge Morand is making,
None Carpri Min knew breaking
His troth: thine oath he's taking;
Two sons to pledge I find.


Much poison, Maev, inflameth
Thy heart; no smile thee tameth
But well the land thee nameth
Proud queen of Croghan's hold;
Thy power no man can measure;
'Tis I will do thy pleasure;
Now send thy silken treasure,
Thy silver gifts, and gold.


This brooch, as champion's token,
I give of troth unbroken;
All words my lips have spoken
Performed shall Sunday see.
Thou glorious chief, who darest
This fight, I give thee rarest
Of gifts on earth, and fairest,
Yea greater meed shall be.
For Findabar my daughter;
All Elgga's chiefs have sought her; When thou that Hound shalt slaughter, I give in love to thee.

And then did Maev bind Ferdia in an easy task; that on the next day he was to come to combat and fight with six of her champions, or to make duel against Cuchulain; whichever of the two he should think the easier. And Ferdia on his side bound her by a condition that seemed to him easy for her to fulfil: even that she should lay it upon those same six champions to see to it that all those things she had promised to him should be fulfilled, in case Cuchulain should meet death at Ferdia's hand.

Thereupon Fergus caused men to harness for him his horses, and his chariot was yoked, and he went to that place where Cuchulain was that he might tell him what had passed, and Cuchulain bade him welcome. I am rejoiced at your coming, O my good friend Fergus," said Cuchulain. And I gladly accept thy welcome, O my pupil," said Fergus. But I have now come hither in order to tell thee who that man is who comes to combat and fight with thee early on the morning of the day which is at hand." "We shall give all heed to thy words," said Cuchulain. "'Tis thine own friend," said Fergus, "thy companion, and thy fellow pupil; thine equal in feats and in deeds and in valour: even Ferdia, the son of Daman, the son of Dare, the great and valiant champion of the men of Irross Donnan." "Truly," said Cuchulain, "I make mine oath to thee that I am sorry that my friend should come to such a duel." "Therefore," said Fergus, "it behoves thee to be wary and prepared, for unlike to all those men who have come to combat and fight with thee upon the Tain be Cuailgne is Ferdia, the son of Daman, the son of Dare." "I have stood here," said Cuchulain, "detaining and delaying the men of the four great provinces of Ireland since the first Monday in Samhain (November) till the beginning of the spring, and not one foot have I gone back before any one man during all that time, nor shall I, as I trust, yield before him." And in this manner did Fergus continue to put him on his guard, and these were the words that he spoke, and thus did Cuchulain reply:


Rise, Cuchulain! foes are near,[FN#52] All their covenant is clear;
Daman's ruddy son in rage
Comes the war with thee to wage.

[FN#52] The metre is that of the Irish; a literal rendering of the whole dialogue is given in the notes, p. 191.


Here I stand, whose valiant toil
Erin's bands held back from spoil;
Never a foot of ground they won,
Never a foe they found me shun.


Fierce is he in rage; his trust
In his blade's deep searching thrust: Plates of horn protect his side,
Pierced by none his strength who tried.


Fergus, much thine arms excel;
Cease, this tale no longer tell
Land is none, nor battle-field
Where to his my strength must yield.


He is fierce, with scores can fight, Spear nor sword can on him bite;
From that strength, a hundred's match, Hard 'twill be the prize to snatch.


Yea! Ferdia's power I know;
How from foughten field we go;
How was fought our piercing war,
Bards shall tell to ages far.


Loss of much I'd little mourn
Could I hear how, eastward borne,
Great Cuchulain's bloody blade
Proud Ferdia's spoils displayed.


Though in boasts I count me weak,
Hear me now as braggart speak:
Daman's son, of Darry's race,
Soon shall I, his victor, face.


Brought by me, hosts eastward came, Ulster sought to hurt my fame;
Here have come, to ease my grief,
Many a champion, many a chief.


Sickness Conor's might withheld,
Else his sight thy host had quelled; Less the shouts of joy had been,
Raised by Maev, Maw Scayl's high queen.


Greater deeds than done by me
O Cuchulain! thine shall be:
Daman's son thy battle nears;
Hear thy friend! keep hard thy spears.

Then Fergus returned to where the army was encamped: Ferdia, also went from Maev and came to his own tent; and there he found his followers, and he told them how he had been bound to Maev as in an easy task, that he was on the morrow to combat and fight with six of her champions, or to make duel with Cuchulain, whichever of the two he might think the easier. Also he told them how she had been bound by a condition that was easy for her to grant: that she should lay it on these same six champions to see that her promises to him of rewards should be fulfilled in case Cuchulain met his death at Ferdia's hand.

There was no cheerfulness, or happiness, or even melancholy pleasure among the inmates of Ferdia's camp that night: they were all cheerless, and sorrowful, and low in spirit; for they knew that whenever those two champions, those two slayers of hundreds met, one of the two must fall in that place, or that both of them should fall: and if one only was to fall they were sure that that one would be their own master; for it was not easy for any man to combat and fight with Cuchulain on the Tain bo Cuailnge.

Now the first part of that night Ferdia slept very heavily, and when the middle of the night had come his sleep had left him, and the dizziness of his brain has passed away, and care for the combat and the fight pressed heavily upon him. Then he called for his charioteer to harness his horses, and to yoke his chariot; and the charioteer began to rebuke him, if haply he might turn him from his purpose. "It would be better for thee to stay!" said the charioteer. "Be thou silent, O my servant!" said Ferdia, and he then spoke the words that follow, and thus did his servant reply to him:--


'Tis a challenge provoking
To war, and I go
Where the ravens' hoarse croaking
Shall rise for my foe:
With Cuchulain still seeking
The strife at yon ford;
Till his strong body, reeking,
Be pierced by my sword!


Nay, thy threats show no meekness;
Yet here thou should'st stay;
For on thee shall come weakness,
Woe waits on thy way:
For by Ulster's Rock broken
This battle may be,
And it long shall be spoken
How ill 'twas to thee.


An ill word art thou saying;
It fits not our race
That a champion, delaying
From fight, should thee grace.
Then thy speech, my friend, fetter, No foe will we fear;
But, since valour is better,
His challenge we near.

Then Ferdia's horses were harnessed for him, and his chariot was yoked, and he came forward to the ford of battle; but when he had come there he found that the full light of the day had not yet dawned, and "O my servant!" said Ferdia, "spread out for me the cushions and skins that are upon my chariot, that I may rest upon them till I take the deep repose of refreshing sleep, for during the latter part of this night have I taken no rest, on account of the care that I had for this combat and fight." And the servant unharnessed his horses, and he placed together the cushions and the skins that were upon the chariot, so that Ferdia might rest upon them, and he sank into the deep repose of refreshing sleep.

Now in this place I will tell of the acts of Cuchulain. He rose not at all from his couch until the full light of the day; and this he did in order that the men of Ireland should not be able to say that it was from fear or from dread that he rose, if it had been early that he had arisen. And when the full daylight had come, he commanded his charioteer to harness for him his horses, and to yoke his chariot: "O my servant!" said Cuchulain, "harness for us our horses, and put the yoke to our chariot, for early rises the champion who cometh to meet us this day: even Ferdia, the son of Daman, the son of Dare." "The horses are harnessed," said the charioteer, "and the chariot is yoked; step thou into it, for it will bring no shame on thy valour." Then did Cuchulain, the fighter of battles, the skilful in feats, the winner of victory, that red-sworded hero, the son of Sualtam, leap into his chariot. All around him screamed the Bocanachs, and the Bananachs, and the wild people of the glens, and the demons of the air; for it was the custom of the people of the wizard race of Danu to raise their cries about him in every battle, on every stricken field, in every duel, and in every fight to which he went, that thereby in such fight the hatred, and the fear, and the avoidance, and the terror that men felt for him should be increased. In no short time the charioteer of Ferdia heard the roar of Cuchulain's approach; the clamour, and the hissing, and the tramp; and the thunder, and the clatter, and the buzz: for he heard the shields that were used as missiles clank together as they touched; and he heard the spears hiss, and the swords clash, and the helmet tinkle, and the armour ring; and the arms sawed one against the other, and the javelins swung, and the ropes strained, and the wheels of the chariot clattered, and the chariot creaked, and the hoofs of the horses trampled on the ground as that warrior and champion came forward in triumph to the ford, and approached him.

Then that servant of Ferdia arose, and he placed his hand upon his lord: "Arise now, O Ferdia!" said the servant, "for here they come towards thee, even to the Ford;" and this was the speech of the driver of the chariot of Ferdia as he stood before him:

Lo! a chariot yoked with silver, creaking loud, draws nigh;[FN#53] O'er the chariot-wheels a man his perfect form rears high: The warlike car
Rolls on from far
Braeg Ross, from Braina's bounds;
Past that burg they ride whose wooded side the roadway rounds; For its triumphs high in triumph cry its song resounds.

[FN#53] For a literal translation of the above poem and another rendering, see the notes.

Urged by hero-Hound, and yoked by charioteer's hand true, Flies the war-car southward ever; nobler hawk ne'er flew Than he who speeds
His rushing steeds,
That chief of stubborn might;
Soon the blood to flow from slaughtered foe shall meet his sight; Sure for us 'tis ill, for soon with skill he gives us fight.

Woe to him who here on hillock stands, that Hound to wait; Emain Macha's perfect Hound is he, foretold by fate: Last year I cried
That him I spied
Who guards his land from foe:
That battle-Hound, on whom are found all hues to glow: 'Twas then from far I heard that car: its sound I know.

"O my servant!" said Ferdia, "wherefore is it: that thou hast continued in thy praise of this man ever since the time that I left my tent? surely it must be a reward that thou seekest at his hand, so greatly dost thou extol him; yet Ailill and Maev have foretold that it is by me he shall fall. Certain it is that for sake of the fee I shall gain he shall be slain quickly; and 'tis full time that the relief that we wait for should come." Thus then it was that in that place he spoke these words, and thus did his servant reply:


'Tis time that I grant my assistance! Be still: let thy praise of him sink: Peer not, like a seer, at the distance; Wilt fail me on battle-field's brink? Though Cualgne's proud champion, displaying His gambols and pride thou dost see; Full soon shalt thou witness his slaying For price to be paid down to me.


If he who this glory is showing
Be champion of Cualgne indeed;
'Tis not in retreat he is going;
To meet us he cometh with speed:
He comes, nor 'tis slowly he blunders, Like wind his swift journey he makes; As stream, from the cliff-top that thunders; As bolt, from the storm-cloud that breaks.


'Tis pay at his hand thou hast taken, So loudly resoundeth thy praise;
Else why, since our tent was forsaken, Hast sung with such frequence thy lays? Men, like thou, who, when foes are appearing, Would to chant the foe's praises begin, Will attack not, when battle is nearing, But the name of base cowards shall win.

Now the charioteer of Ferdia was not long in that place before he saw a marvellous sight; for before his eyes came the beautiful five-pointed, four-peaked chariot, skilfully driven with swiftness and power. A canopy of green overspread it; thin and well-seasoned was the body of it; lofty and long were the spears that adorned it; well was it fashioned for war. Under the yokes of that chariot sped forward with great bounds two great-eared, savage, and prancing steeds; bellies had they like whales, broad were their chests, and quick-panting their hearts; their flanks were high, and their hoofs wide; their pasterns fine, their loins broad, and their spirits untamable. The horse under one of the yokes was grey, with a long mane and with broad hind quarters; swiftly he galloped, and his leaps were great; the horse beneath the other yoke was black, his mane was in tufts, his back was broad, and eager was his pace. As a hawk, on a day when the wind bloweth hard, darts up from the furrow; as the gusts of the wind in spring sweep forward over a smooth plain upon a day in March; swift as a going stag at the beginning of the chase, after he hath been roused by the cry of the hounds; such was the pace of the two steeds that bore forward Cuchulain and his chariot, touching upon the soil as rapidly as if the stones that they trod on were hot with the fire, so that the whole earth trembled and shook at the violence of their going. And Cuchulain reached the ford, and Ferdia awaited him on the south side of it, and Cuchulain halted his horses upon the north.

Then did Ferdia bid welcome to Cuchulain: "O Cuchulain!" said Ferdia, I rejoice to see thine approach." "Thy welcome would have been received by me upon an earlier day," said Cuchulain, "but this day I cannot receive it as one from a friend. And Ferdia," said he, "it were more suitable that it was I who bade welcome to thee rather than that thou shouldest welcome me; for out in flight before thee are my women, and my children; my youths, and my steeds, and my mares; my flocks, and my herds, and my cattle." "Ah, Cuchulain!" said Ferdia, "how hast thou been persuaded to come to this fight and this battle at all? For when we were with Scathach, with Uathach, and with Aife, thou wert mine attendant; thine was the office to whet my spears, and to make ready my couch." "'Tis true indeed," said Cuchulain, "but it was then as thy younger in years and in standing that it was my custom to perform this office for thee; and that is not my quality to-day; for now there is not in all the world any champion with whom I would refuse to fight." And then each of them reproached the other bitterly with breach of friendship, and there Ferdia spoke the words which here follow, and thus did Cuchulain reply:


Hound! why hither faring,[FN#54]
Strife with strong ones daring?
As if home were flaring,
Woe shall come on thee!
Blood from out thee draining
Shall thy steeds be staining;
Thou, thy home if gaining,
Wounded sore shalt be.

[FN#54] The metre is that of the Irish.


Hot with indignation,
Take I battle-station,
Face yon warrior nation,
Round their warlike king:
They shall see me meet thee,
Count the strifes that greet thee,
Watch, as down I beat thee,
Drowning, suffering.


Here is one to shame thee;
How 'twas I o'ercame thee,
They who champion name thee
Long the tale shall tell.
Ulster, near thee lying,
Soon shall see thee dying;
All shall say, with sighing,
Theirs the chief who fell.


Thine shall be the choosing;
Say, what warfare using
Hosts shall see thee losing
At the Ford this fight?
Swords dost choose, hard-clashing
Cars, in conflict crashing?
Spears, thy life-blood splashing?
'Tis thy death in sight.


Ere the twilight gleameth,
Red thy life-blood streameth:
Small thy stature seemeth,
Like a cliff thy foe.
Ulster's hosts who prated,
And thy pride inflated;
Through them feel thy hated
Spectre sadly go.


Down a chasm appalling
Thou to death art falling;
One thy foe: yet galling
Weapons press thee sore.
Proud thou wert but lately,
Strife shall change thee greatly,
Thee as champion stately
Earth shall know no more.


Cease this endless vaunting,
Speech for ever flaunting,
Thou a chief! a taunting,
Giggling child thou art.
None would pay, or fee thee,
I as coward see thee;
Strength hast none to free thee,
Caged bird! quaking heart!


Ah! in bygone story
We, as peers in glory,
Sports and combats gory
Shared when Scaha taught:
Thou, of all who nearest
To my soul appearest!
Clansman! kinsman dearest!
Woe thy fate hath brought!


Naught this strife avails thee,
Glory fades, and fails thee;
Cock-crow loudly hails thee,
High on stake thy head!
Cualgne's[FN#55] Hound, Cuchulain!
Faults thy soul bear rule in:
Thee to bitter schooling
Frantic grief hath led.

[FN#55] Pronounced Kell-ny.

"O my friend Ferdia!" said Cuchulain, "it was not right for thee to have come to the combat and the fight with me, at the instigation and the meddling of Ailill and Maev: none of those who came before thee have gained for themselves victory or success, and they all fell at my hand; neither shalt thou win victory or success from this battle, by me shalt thou fall." And it was in this manner that he was speaking, and he recited these words, and Ferdia hearkened to him:

Come not near, thou powerful man![FN#56] O Ferdia mac Daman:
Worst of woe on thee is hurled,
Though thy fate shall grieve the world.

[FN#56] The metre is that of the Irish.

Come not near, nor right forget
In my hand thy fate is set:
Those recall, whom late I fought,
Hath their fall no wisdom taught?

Thou for gifts wert passed in sale, Purple sash, firm coat of mail;
Never maid, O Daman's son!
In this war of thine is won.

Findabar, Maev's lovely child,
With her form thy sense beguiled:
Brightly though her beauty glows,
She no love on thee bestows.

Wouldst thou win the prize they bring, Findabar, the child of king?
Many ere now that maid could cheat
Here, like thee, their wounds to meet.

Thou hast sworn, and plighted. troth, Ne'er to fight me: keep thine oath: Friendship's tie thee firm should hold, Come not nigh me, champion bold.

Fifty chiefs, who sought that maid, Fought me, fell, in earth are laid; Well I know that tempting bait,
All have found, and earned their fate.

Ferbay fell, though bold his boast, Him obeyed a valiant host;
Quickly here his rage I stilled;
Cast my spear but once, and killed.

Cruel fate Srub Darry slew,
Tales of hundred dames he knew;
Great his fame in days of yore;
Silver none, 'twas gold he wore.

Though that maid, whom Erin's best
Hope to gain, my heart would charm; South and north, and east and west
I would keep thee safe from harm.

"And, O my friend Ferdia!" said Cuchulain "this is the cause why it was not thy part to come here to the combat and the fight with me. It is because that when with Scathach, with Uathach, and with Aife we abode, it was the custom with us that together we should go to every battle, and to every field of battle; to every fight and to every skirmish; to every forest and to all wildernesses; to all things dark and difficult." These were the words of his speech, and it was in that place that he recited these staves:

Tuned our hearts were beating,
We, where chiefs were meeting,
Brotherly went: when slumbering
One was our couch: we sought
Fierce fights, and fought.
Oft in woods that are far away
Joined we stood in our skilful play; Scathach our feats had taught.

And Ferdia replied to him thus:

O Cuchulain! for beautiful feats renowned, Though together we learned our skill; Though thou tellest of friendship that once we found, From me shall come first thine ill; Ah, recall not the time of our friendship's day: It shall profit thee nothing, O Hound, I say.

"For too long now have we thus waited," said Ferdia; "tell me now O Cuchulain! to what weapons shall we resort?" "Thou hast the choice of the weapons till the night," said Cuchulain, "because thou wert the first to reach the Ford." "Hast thou any remembrance," said Ferdia, "of the weapons for casting, that we were accustomed to practise the use of when we were with Scathach, with Uathach, and with Aife?" "I do indeed remember them," said Cuchulain." "If thou rememberest them, let us resort to them now," said Ferdia. Then they resorted to their weapons used for the casting. They took up two shields for defence, with devices emblazoned upon them, and their eight shields with sharp edges such that they could hurl, and their eight javelins, and their eight ivory-hilted dirks, and their eight little darts for the fight. To and fro from one to the other, like bees upon a sunny day, flew the weapons, and there was no cast that they threw that did not hit. Each of them then continued to shoot at the other with their weapons for casting, from the dawn of the morning to the full middle of the day, until all of their weapons had been blunted against the faces and the bosses of their shields; and although their casting was most excellent, yet so good was the defence that neither of them wounded the other nor drew the other's blood during all that time. "Cease now from these feats, O Cuchulain!" said Ferdia, "for it is not by means of these that the struggle between us shall come." "Let us cease indeed," said Cuchulain, "if the time for ceasing hath arrived." And they ceased from their casting, and they threw the weapons they had used for it into the hands of their charioteers.

"To what weapons shall we next resort, O Cuchulain?" said Ferdia.

"Thou hast the choice of weapons until the night," said Cuchulain, "because thou wert the first to reach the Ford." "Then," said Ferdia, "let us turn to our straight, well-trimmed, hard, and polished casting-spears with tough cords of flax upon them." "Let us do so indeed," said Cuchulain. Then they took two stout shields of defence, and they turned to their straight, well-trimmed, hard, and polished casting-spears with the tough cords of flax upon them, and each of them continued to hurl his spears at the other from the middle of midday until the ninth hour of the evening: and though the defence was most excellent that each of them made, yet so good was the casting of the spears that each of them wounded the other at that time, and drew red blood from him. "Let us desist from this now, O Cuchulain!" said Ferdia. "Let us desist indeed," said Cuchulain, "if the time has come."

They ceased, and they threw away their weapons into their charioteers' hands; and each of them at the end of that fight sought the other, and each threw his arms about the other's neck, and gave him three kisses. Their horses were in the same paddock that night, the men who had driven their chariots sat by the same fire, moreover the charioteers of both those warriors spread couches of fresh rushes for the two, and supplied them with such pillows as are needed by wounded men. And such folk as can heal and cure came to heal and to cure them, and they applied soothing and salving herbs and plants to their bruises, and their cuts, and their gashes, and to all their many wounds. And of every soothing and salving herb and plant that was brought for the bruises, the cuts, and the gashes, and all the wounds of Cuchulain, he used to send an equal portion westward across the ford to Ferdia, so that in case Ferdia fell at his hand the men of Ireland should not be able to say that it was owing to superiority in leech-craft that he had done it. And of each kind of food, and of pleasant, palatable, intoxicating drink that the men of Ireland brought to Ferdia, he would send a fair half northward across the ford to Cuchulain; for the men who provided food for Ferdia were more in number than they who provided food for Cuchulain. All the army of the men of Ireland helped to provide Ferdia with food, because he was their champion to defend them against Cuchulain; yet to Cuchulain also food was brought by the people who dwell in the Breg. And it was the custom with these that they came to converse with him at the dusk of each night.

Thus they remained that night, but early in the morning they arose, and repaired to the Ford of Combat. "What weapons shall we turn to to-day, O Ferdia?" said Cuchulain. "Thou hast the choice of weapons until the night," answered Ferdia, "because it is I who had my choice of them in the day that is past." "Let us then," said Cuchulain, "resort to our great, broad-bladed, heavy spears this day, for nearer shall we be to our battle by the thrusting of our spears this day than we were by the throwing weapons of yesterday: let our horses be harnessed for us, and our chariots yoked, that upon this day from our chariots and our horses we may fight." "Let us turn to these indeed," said Ferdia. They then took to them two exceedingly stout, broad shields, and they resorted to their great, broad-bladed, heavy spears that day. And each of them continued to thrust at, and to pierce through, and to redden, and to tear the body of the other from the dawn of the morning until the ninth hour of the evening; and if it were the custom for birds in their flight to pass through the bodies of men, they could have passed through the bodies of those warriors that day, carrying with them pieces of their flesh from their wounds into the clouds and to the sky around them. So when the ninth hour of the evening was come, the horses were weary, and the charioteers were weak; and they themselves, champions and heroes of valour as they were, had themselves become weary; and "Let us cease now from this, O Ferdia!" said Cuchulain, "for our horses are weary, and our charioteers are weak; and now that these are weary, why should not we be weary too?" and then it was that he sang this stave:

Not like Fomorians, men of the sea, Stubborn, unending our struggle should be; Now that the clamour of combat must cease, Quarrels forget, and between us be peace.

Let us cease now indeed," said Ferdia, "if the time for it hath come." They ceased, and they threw away their weapons into their charioteers' hands, and each of them at the end of that fight sought the other, and each threw his arms about the other's neck, and gave him three kisses. Their horses were in the same paddock that night, the men who had driven their chariots sat by the same fire, moreover the charioteers of both those warriors spread couches of fresh rushes for the two, and supplied them with such pillows as are needed by wounded men. And such folk as can heal and cure came to examine into their wounds and to tend them that night, for they could do nothing more for them, so severe and so deadly were the stabs and the thrusts, and the gashes of the many wounds that they had, than to apply to them spells and incantations and charms, in order to staunch their blood, and their bleeding mortal wounds. And for every spell and incantation and charm that was applied to the stabs and the wounds of Cuchulain, he sent a full half westward across the ford to Ferdia; and of each kind of food, and of pleasant, palatable, intoxicating drink that the men of Ireland brought to Ferdia, he sent a half across the ford to Cuchulain, in the north. For the men who brought food to Ferdia were more in number than they who brought food to Cuchulain, for all the army of the men of Ireland helped to provide Ferdia with food, because he was their champion to defend them against Cuchulain; yet to Cuchulain also food was brought by the people who dwell in the Breg. And it was the custom with these that they came to converse with him at the dusk of each night.

Thus they rested that night: but early in the morning they arose, and repaired to the Ford of Combat; and Cuchulain saw that an evil look and a lowering cloud was on the face of Ferdia that day. "Ill dost thou appear to me to-day, O Ferdia!" said Cuchulain. "Thy hair hath been darkened to-day, and thine eye hath been dimmed, and the form and the features and the visage that thou art wont to have are gone from thee." "'Tis from no fear or from terror of thee that I am what I am to-day," said Ferdia, "for there is not in Ireland to-day a champion that I am not able to subdue." And Cuchulain complained and lamented, and he spoke the words that follow, and thus did Ferdia reply:


Is't indeed Ferdia's face?[FN#57]
Sure his meed is dire disgrace;
He, to war by woman led,
Comes his comrade's blood to shed.

[FN#57] The metre is that of the Irish.


Thou who warrior art indeed,
Champion tried! who wounds dost breed, I am forced the sod to see
Where my final grave shall be.


Maev her daughter, Findabar,
Who all maids excelleth far,
Gave thee, not at love's behest,
She thy kingly might would test.


Gently ruling Hound, I know
That was tested long ago;
None so great is known to fame,
None, till now, to match it came.


All that's chanced from thee hath sprung, Darry's grandchild, Daman's son;
Woman's hest hath brought thee here Swords to test with comrade dear.


Comrade! had I fled, nor found
Fight with thee, fair graceful Hound, Maev my word could broken call;
Croghan hold my fame but small.


None put meat his lips between,
None to king or stainless queen
Yet was born, whose praise I'd gain, None whose scorn would win thy pain.


Thou who deep in wars dost wade,
'Twas not thou, 'twas Maev betrayed: Back with conquest shalt thou ride, Fault hast none thy fame to hide.


Clots of blood my faithful heart
Choke; my soul is like to part:
'Tis with little force my arm
Strikes, to do Ferdia harm!

"Greatly although thou makest complaint against me to-day," said Ferdia, "tell me to what arms shall we resort?" Thine is the choice of weapons until the night," said Cuchulain, "because it was I who had the choice in the day that is past." "Then," said Ferdia, "let us this day take to our heavy hard-smiting swords; for sooner shall we attain to the end of our strife by the edge of the sword this day than we did by the thrusts of our spears in the day that is gone." "Let us do so indeed," said Cuchulain. That day they took upon them two long and exceedingly great shields, and they resorted to their heavy and hard-striking swords. And each of them began to hew, and to cut, and to slaughter, and to destroy till larger than the head of a month-old child were the masses and the gobbets of flesh which each of them cut from the shoulders and the thighs and the shoulder-blades of his foe.

After this fashion did each of them hew at each other from the dawn of the day until the ninth hour of the even, and then Ferdia said, "Let us desist from this now, O Cuchulain!" "Let us cease indeed," said Cuchulain, "if the time has come."

They ceased from their strife, and they threw from them their arms into the hands of their charioteers. Pleasant and cheerful and joyous was the meeting of the two: mournfully, and sorrowfully, and unhappily did they part from each other that night. Their horses were not in the same paddock, their charioteers were not at the same fire, and there they stayed for that night.

It was early in the morning when Ferdia arose, and he advanced alone towards the Ford of Combat. Well did he know that the battle and the conflict would be decided that day; that upon that day and in that place one of the two would fall or that both would fall. And then, before Cuchulain could come, Ferdia put on the armour that he was to use for that battle in the conflict and fight. And this was the battle armour that he used for that conflict and fight; he put a kilt of striped silk, bordered with spangles of gold, next to his white skin, and over that he put his well-sewn apron of brown leather to protect the lower part of his body. Upon his belly he put a great stone as large as a millstone, and over that great stone as large as a millstone he put his firm deep apron of purified iron, on account of the fear and the dread that he had of the Gae-Bulg that day. And his crested helmet that he used for battle and conflict and fight he put upon his head: there were upon it four jewels of carbuncle, each one of them fit to adorn it: also it was studded with enamels, with crystals, with carbuncles, and with blazing rubies that had come from the East. Into his right hand he took his death-dealing sharp-pointed strong spear; upon his left side he hung his curved sword of battle with its golden hilt and its pommels of red gold: upon the slope of his back he took his great and magnificent shield with great bosses upon it: fifty was the number of the bosses, and upon each of them could be supported a full-grown hog: moreover in the centre of the shield was a great boss of red gold. Upon that day Ferdia displayed many noble, rapidly changing, wonderful feats of arms on high; feats which he had never learned from any other, either from his nurse or his tutor, or from Scathach, or from Uathach, or from Aife, but which he himself invented that day for his battle with Cuchulain. And Cuchulain approached the ford, and he saw the many, rapidly changing, wonderful feats that Ferdia displayed on high; and "O my friend Laeg!" said Cuchulain, "I mark those noble, rapidly changing, wonderful feats which Ferdia displays, and I know that all of those feats will in turn be tried upon me; and for this reason if it be I who begin to go backwards this day, let it be thy part to rouse me by reproaches, and by evil speech, so that my rage and my wrath may be kindled, and increase. And if it be I that shall prevail, then do thou give to me praise and approval; and speak good words tome, that my courage may be the greater." "This indeed will I do, O Cuchulain!" said Laeg.

Then did Cuchulain put on his battle armour that he used for the combat and fight. And that day he displayed noble, many-changing, wonderful, and many feats that he had learned from none: neither from Scathach, from Uathach, or from Aife. And Ferdia marked those feats, and he know that each in turn would be tried upon him.

"O Ferdia!" said Cuchulain, "tell me to what arms we shall resort?

"Thine is the choice of weapons until the night," said Ferdia. "Then," said Cuchulain, "let us try the Feat of the Ford."[FN#58] "Let us do so indeed," said Ferdia; but although he thus spoke, it was with sorrow that he consented, for he knew that Cuchulain had ever destroyed every hero and champion who had contended with him at the Feat of the Ford.

[FN#58] i.e. in which all weapons were allowed.

Mighty were the deeds that were done upon that day at the ford by those two heroes, the champions of the west of Europe; by those two hands which in the north-west of the world were those that best bestowed bounty, and pay, and reward; those twin loved pillars of valour of the Gael; those two keys of the bravery of the Gaels, brought to fight from afar, owing to the urging and the intermeddling of Ailill and Maev. From the dawn till the middle of the day, each began to shoot at the other with his massive weapons; and when midday had come, the wrath of the two men became more furious, and each drew nearer to the other. And then upon a time Cuchulain sprang from the shore of the ford, and he lit upon the boss of the shield of Ferdia the son of Daman, the son of Dare, to strike at his head from above, over the rim of his shield. And then it was that Ferdia gave the shield a blow of his left elbow, and he cast Cuchulain from him like a bird, till he came down again, upon the shore of the ford. And again Cuchulain sprang from the shore of the ford, till he lit upon the boss of the shield of Ferdia the son of Daman, the son of Dare, to strike his head from above, over the rim of the shield. And Ferdia, gave the shield a stroke of his left knee, and he cast Cuchulain from him like a little child, till he came down on the shore of the ford.

Laeg saw what had been done. "Ah!" said Laeg, "the warrior who is against thee, casts thee away as a loose woman casts her child; he flings thee as high as the river flings its foam; he grinds thee even as a mill would grind fresh malt; pierces thee as the axe would pierce the oak that it fells; binds thee as the woodbine binds the tree; darts upon thee even as the hawk darts upon little birds, so that never until time and life shall end, shalt thou have a call, or right, or claim for prowess or for valour: thou little fairy phantom!" said Laeg. Up sprang Cuchulain, swift as the wind; quick as the swallow; fiery as the dragon; powerful as the lion; and he bounded into the air for the third time into the troubled clouds of it, until he lit upon the boss of the shield of Ferdia, the son of Daman, striving to strike his head from above, over the rim of the shield. And the warrior shook his shield, and he threw Cuchulain from him, into the middle of the ford, just as if he had never been cast off at all.

And then for the first time the countenance of Cuchulain was changed, and he rose in his full might, as if the air had entered into him, till he towered as a terrible and wonderful giant, with the hero-light playing about his head; rising as a wild man of the sea; that great and valiant champion, till he overtopped Ferdia. And now so closely were they locked in the fight, that their heads met above them, and their feet below them; and in their middles met their arms over the rims and the bosses of their shields. So closely were they locked in the fight, that they turned and bent, and shivered their spears from the points to the hafts; and cleft and loosened their shields from the centres to the rims. So closely were they locked, that the Bocanachs, and the Bananachs, and the wild people of the glens, and the demons of the air screamed from the rims of their shields, and from the hilts of their swords, and from the hafts of their spears. And so closely did they fight, that they cast the river from its bed and its course, so that there might have been a couch fit for a king and a queen to he in, there in the midst of the ford, for there was no drop of water left in it, except such as fell therein from off those two heroes and champions, as they trampled and hewed at each other in the midst of the ford. And so fierce was their fight, that the horses of the Gaels, in fear and in terror, rushed away wildly and madly, bursting their chains, and their yokes, and their tethers, and their traces; and the women, and the common folk, and the followers of the camp, fled south-westwards out of the camp.

All this time they fought with the edges of their swords. And then it was that Ferdia found Cuchulain for a moment off his guard, and he struck him with the straight edge of his sword, so that it sank into his body, till the blood streamed to his girdle, and the soil of the ford was crimson with the blood that fell from the body of that warrior so valiant in fight. And Cuchulain's endurance was at an end, for Ferdia continually struck at him, not attempting to guard, and his downright blows, and quick thrusts, and crushing strokes fell constantly upon him, till Cuchulain demanded of Laeg the son of Riangabra to deliver to him the Gae-Bulg. Now the manner of using the Gae-Bulg was this: it was set with its end pointing down a stream, and was cast from beneath the toes of the foot: it made the wound of one spear on entering a person's body; but it had thirty barbs to open behind, and it could not be drawn out from a man's body until he was cut open. And when Ferdia heard mention of the Gae-Bulg, he made a stroke of his shield downwards to guard the lower part of his body. And Cuchulain thrust his unerring thorny spear off the centre of his palm over the rim of the shield, and through his breast covered by horny defensive plates of armour, so that its further half was visible behind him after piercing the heart in his chest. Ferdia gave an upward stroke of his shield to guard the upper part of his body, though too late came that help, when the danger was past. And the servant set the Gae-Bulg down the stream, and Cuchulain caught it between the toes of his foot, and he threw it with an unerring cast against Ferdia, and it broke through the firm deep apron of wrought iron, and it burst the great stone that was as large as a millstone into three parts, and it passed through the protection of his body into him, so that every crevice and cavity in him was filled with its barbs. "'Tis enough now," said Ferdia. "I have my death of that; and I have but breath enough to say that thou hast done an ill deed against me. It was not right that thy hand should be that by which I should fall." And thus did he cry, as he gasped out these words:

Hound, of feats so fair![FN#59]
Death from thee is ill:
Thou the blame must bear,
Thou my blood dost spill.

Help no wretch hath found
Down this chasm of woe:
Sick mine accents sound,
As a ghost, I go.

Torn my ribs, and burst,
Gore my heart hath filled:
This of fights is worst,
Hound! thou hast me killed.

[FN#59] The metre is that of the Irish.

And after those words, Cuchulain ran towards him, and with his arms and armour about him, carried him northwards across the ford, in order that the slain man might be on the north side of the ford, and not upon the western side together with the men of Erin. Then Cuchulain laid Ferdia down, and there it was that a trance and a faint and a weakness came upon Cuchulain when he saw the body of Ferdia, Laeg saw his weakness, and the men of Ireland all arose to come upon him. "Rise up now, O Cuchulain!" said Laeg, "for the men of Erin are coming towards us, and no single combat will they give to us, since Ferdia the son of Daman, the son of Dare, has fallen by thy hand."

"How shall I be the better for arising, O my servant!" said he, "now that he who lieth here hath fallen by me?" And it was in this manner that his servant spoke to him, and he recited these words, and thus did Cuchulain reply:


Now arise, Battle-Hound of Emania!
It is joy and not grief should be sought; For the leader of armies, Ferdia,
Thou hast slain, and hard battle hast fought.


What availeth me triumph or boasting? For, frantic with grief for my deed, I am driven to mourn for that body
That my sword made so sorely to bleed.


'Tis not thou shouldst lament for his dying, Rejoicing should spring to thy tongue; For in malice, sharp javelins, flying For thy wounding and bleeding he flung.


I would mourn, if my leg he had severed, Had he hewn through this arm that remains, That he mounts not his steeds; and for ever In life, immortality gains.


To the dames of Red Branch thou art giving More pleasure that thus he should fall: They will mourn for him dead, for thee living, Nor shall count of thy victims be small.

Great Queen Maev thou hast chased, and hast fought her Since the day when first Cualgne was left; She shall mourn for her folk, and their slaughter, By thy hand of her champions bereft.

Neither sleep nor repose hast thou taken, But thy herd, her great plunder, hast chased, Though by all but a remnant forsaken, Oft at dawn to the fight thou didst haste.

Now it was in that place that Cuchulain commenced his lament and his moan for Ferdia, and thus it was that he spoke:

"O my friend Ferdia! unhappy was it for thee that thou didst make no inquiry from any of the heroes who knew of the valorous deeds I had done before thou camest to meet me in that battle that was too hard for thee! Unhappy was it for thee that thou didst not inquire from Laeg, the son of Riangabra[FN#60] about what was due from thee to a comrade. Unhappy was it for thee that thou didst not ask for the honest and sincere counsel of Fergus. Unhappy it was for thee that thou hast not sought counsel from the comely, the fresh-coloured, the cheery, the victorious Conall about what was due from thee to a comrade. Well do these men know, that never, till life and time come to an end, shall be born in the land of Connaught one who shall do deeds equal to those which have been done by thee. And if thou hadst made inquiry from these men concerning the habitations, the gatherings, the promises, and the broken faith of the fair-haired ladies of Connaught; hadst thou asked them concerning spear-play and sword-play; concerning skill in backgammon and chess; concerning feats with horses, and chariots of war; they would have said that never had been found the arm of a champion who could wound a hero's flesh like the arm of Ferdia; he whose colour matched the tints of the clouds: none who like thee could excite the croak of the bloody-mouthed vulture, as she calls her friends to the feast of the many-coloured flocks; none who shall fight for Croghan or be the equal of thee to the end of life and time, O thou ruddy-cheeked son of Daman!" said Cuchulain. And then Cuchulain stood over Ferdia. "Ah! Ferdia," said Cuchulain, "great was the treachery and desertion that the men of Ireland had wrought upon thee, when they brought thee to combat and fight with me. For it was no light matter to combat and fight with me on the occasion of the Tain bo Cuailnge." And thus it was that he spoke, and he then recited these words:

[FN#60] Pronounced Reen-gabra.

'Twas guile to woe that brought thee; 'Tis I that moan thy fate;
For aye thy doom hath caught thee,
And here, alone, I wait.

To Scathach, glorious mother,
Our words, when boys, we passed;
No harm for each from other
Should come while time should last.

Alas! I loved thee dearly,
Thy speech; thy ruddy face;
Thy gray-blue eyes, so clearly
That shone; thy faultless grace.

In wrath for strife advances
No chief; none shield can rear
To piercing storm of lances
Of Daman's son the peer.

Since he whom Aife[FN#61] bore me
By me was slain in fight,
No champion stood before me
Who matched Ferdia's might.

He came to fight, thus trusting
Might Findabar be won;
Such hopes have madmen, thrusting
With spears at sand or sun.

[FN#61] Pronounced Eefa. See note on this line.

Still Cuchulain continued to gaze upon Ferdia. And now, O my friend Laeg!" said Cuchulain, "strip for me the body of Ferdia, and take from him his armour and his garments, that I may see the brooch for the sake of which he undertook this combat and fight." Then Laeg arose, and he stripped Ferdia; he took his armour and his garments from him, and Cuchulain saw the brooch, and he began to lament and to mourn for him, and he spake these words:

Ah! that brooch of gold![FN#62]
Bards Ferdia knew:
Valiantly on foes
With hard blows he flew.

Curling golden hair,
Fair as gems it shone;
Leaflike sash, on side
Tied, till life had gone.

[FN#62] The metre and the rhyme-system is that of the Irish. See notes, p. 196.

Comrade, dear esteemed!
Bright thy glances beamed:
Chess play thine, worth gold:
Gold from shield rim gleamed.

None of friend had deemed
Could such tale be told!
Cruel end it seemed:
Ah! that brooch of gold!

"And now, O my friend Laeg!" said Cuchulain, "open the body of Ferdia, and take the Gae-Bulg out of him, for I cannot afford to be without my weapon." Laeg came, and he opened Ferdia's body, and he drew the Gae-Bulg out of him, and Cuchulain saw his weapon all bloody and red by the side of Ferdia, and then he spake these words:

Ferdia, I mourn for thy dying,
Thou art pale, although purple with gore: Unwashed is my weapon still lying,
And the blood-streams from out of thee pour.

Our friends in the East who have seen us, When with Uathach and Scathach[FN#63] we dwelled, Can bear witness, no quarrel between us Or with words or with weapons was held.

Scathach came; and to conflict inciting Were her accents that smote on mine ear; "Go ye all, where a swift battle fighting, German wields his green terrible spear!

To Ferdia, I flew with the story,
To the son of fair Baitan I sped,
And to Lugaid, whose gifts win him glory, "Come ye all to fight German," I said.

[FN#63] Pronounced Ooha and Scaha.

Where the land by Loch Formay lies hollowed Had we come, fit for fight was the place; And beside us four hundred men followed; From the Athisech Isles was their race.

As beside me Ferdia contended
Against German, at door of his dun; I slew Rind, who from Niul[FN#64] was descended, I slew Rood, of Finnool was he son.

[FN#64] Pronounced Nyool.

'Twas Ferdia slew Bla by the water, Son of Cathbad red-sworded was he:
And from Lugaid Mugarne gat slaughter, The grim lord of the Torrian sea.

Four times fifty men, stubborn in battle, By my hand in that gateway were slain; To Ferdia, of grim mountain cattle
Fell a bull, and a bull from the plain.

Then his hold to the plunderers giving, Over ocean waves spangled with foam, Did we German the wily, still living, To the broad-shielded Scathach bring home.

There an oath our great mistress devising, Both our valours with friendship she bound; That no anger betwixt us uprising
Should 'mid Erin's fair nations be found.

Much of woe with that Tuesday was dawning, When Ferdia's great might met its end; Though red blood-drink I served him that morning: Yet I loved, though I slew him, my friend.

If afar thou hadst perished when striving With the bravest of heroes of Greece, 'Tis not I would thy loss be surviving; With thy death should the life of me cease.

Ah! that deed which we wrought won us sorrow, Who, as pupils, by Scathach were trained: Thou wilt drive not thy chariot to-morrow; I am weak, with red blood from me drained.

Ah! that deed which we wrought won us anguish, Who, as pupils, by Scathach were taught: Rough with gore, and all wounded, I languish; Thou to death altogether art brought.

Ah! that deed that we wrought there was cruel For us pupils, from Scathach who learned: I am strong; thou art slain in the duel, In that conflict, with anger we burned.

"Come now, Cuchulain," said Laeg, "and let us quit this ford, for too long have we been here." "Now indeed will we depart, O my friend Laeg!" said Cuchulain, "but every other combat and fight that I have made hath been only a game and a light matter to me compared with this combat and fight with Ferdia." Thus it was that he spoke; and in this fashion he recited:

Wars were gay, and but light was fray[FN#65] Ere at the Ford his steeds made stay: Like had we both been taught,
Both one kind mistress swayed;
Like the rewards we sought,
Like was the praise she paid.

[FN#65] Metre and rhyme-system of the Irish imitated, but not exactly reproduced.

Wars were gay, and but light was fray Ere at the Ford his steeds made stay: Like were our fights, oft fought,
Like were our haunts in play;
Scathach to each of us brought
A shield one day.

Wars were gay, and but light was fray Ere at the Ford his steeds made stay: Pillar of gold, loved well,
Low at the Ford's side laid;
He, when on troops he fell,
Valour unmatched displayed.

Wars were gay, and but light was fray Ere at the Ford his steeds made stay: Lionlike, on he sped;
High, in his wrath, he blazed;
Rose, as a wave of dread;
Ruin his onset raised.

Wars were gay, and but light was fray Ere at the Ford his steeds made stay: Never, till hour of doom,
Ferdia's form shall fade;
High as a cliff it loomed,
Now is but left his shade.

Three great armies went this Raid,[FN#66] All the price of death have paid;
Choicest cattle, men, and steeds
Lie in heaps, to tell my deeds.

[FN#66] The metre is that of the Irish.

Widely spread their battle-line,
Less than half their host was mine; Though to war stout Croghan came,
All I slew, for me a game!

None the battle neared like thee,
None of all whom Banba nursed
Passed thy fame; on land, on sea,
Thou, of sons of kings, art first!

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


This is a website about Irish history and culture.