With some Additions from Rawlinson, B. 512, written about 1560
A glorious king once hold rule over the men of Leinster; his name was Mesroda Mac Datho. Now Mac Datho had among his possessions a hound which was the guardian of all Leinster; the name of the hound was Ailbe, and all of the land of Leinster was filled with reports of the fame of it, and of that hound hath it been sung:
Mesroda, son of Datho,
Was he the boar who reared;
And his the hound called Ailbe;
No lie the tale appeared!
The splendid hound of wisdom,
The hound that far is famed,
The hound from whom Moynalvy
For evermore is named.
By King Ailill and Queen Maev were sent folk to the son of Datho to demand that hound, and at that very hour came heralds from Conor the son of Ness to demand him; and to all of these a welcome was bid by the people of Mac Datho, and they were brought to speak with Mac Datho in his palace.
At the time that we speak of, this palace was a hostelry that was the sixth of the hostelries of Ireland.; there were beside it the hostelry of Da Derga in the land of Cualan in Leinster; also the hostelry of Forgall the Wily, which is beside Lusk; and the hostelry of Da Reo in Breffny; and the hostelry of Da Choca in the west of Meath; and the hostelry of the landholder Blai in the country of the men of Ulster. There were seven doors to that palace, and seven passages ran through it; also there stood within it seven cauldrons, and in every one of the cauldrons was seething the flesh of oxen and the salted flesh of swine. Every traveller who came into the house after a journey would thrust a fork into a cauldron, and whatsoever he brought out at the first thrust, that had he to eat: if he got nothing at the first thrust, no second attempt was allowed him.
They brought the heralds before Mac Datho as he sat upon his throne, that he might learn of their requests before they made their meal, and in this manner they made known their message. "We have come," said the men who were sent from Connaught, "that we might ask for thy hound; 'tis by Ailill and Maev we are sent. Thou shalt have in payment for him six thousand milch cows, also a two-horsed chariot with its horses, the best to be had in Connaught, and at the end of a year as much again shall be thine." "We also," said the heralds from Ulster, "have come to ask for thy hound; we have been sent by Conor, and Conor is a friend who is of no less value than these. He also will give to thee treasures and cattle, and the same amount at the end of a year, and he will be a stout friend to thee."
Now after he had received this message Mac Datho sank into a deep silence, he ate nothing, neither did he sleep, but tossed about from one side to another, and then said his wife to him: "For a long time hast thou fasted; food is before thee, yet thou eatest not; what is it that ails thee? and Mac Datho made her no answer, whereupon she said:
Gone is King Mac Datho's sleep,
Restless cares his home invade;
Though his thoughts from all he keep, Problems deep his mind hath weighed.
He, my sight avoiding, turns
Towards the wall, that hero grim;
Well his prudent wife discerns
Sleep hath passed away from him.
[FN#10] The Irish metre is followed in the first four verses.
Crimthann saith, Nar's sister's son,
"Secrets none to women tell.
Woman's secret soon is won;
Never thrall kept jewel well."
Why against a woman speak
Till ye test, and find she fails?
When thy mind to plan is weak,
Oft another's wit avails.
At ill season indeed came those heralds Who his hound from Mac Datho would take; In more wars than by thought can be counted Fair-haired champions shall fall for its sake.
If to Conor I dare to deny him,
He shall deem it the deed of a churl Nor shall cattle or country be left me By the hosts he against me can hurl.
If refusal to Ailill I venture,
With all Ireland my folk shall he sack; From our kingdom Mac Mata shall drive us, And our ashes may tell of his track.
Here a counsel I find to deliver,
And in woe shall our land have no share; Of that hound to them both be thou giver, And who dies for it little we care.
Ah! the grief that I had is all ended, I have joy for this speech from thy tongue Surely Ailbe from heaven descended, There is none who can say whence he sprung.
After these words the son of Datho rose up, and he shook himself, and May this fall out well for us," said he, "and well for our guests who come here to seek for him." His guests abode three days and three nights in his house, and when that time was ended, he bade that the heralds from Connaught be called to confer with him apart, and he spoke thus: "I have been," he said, "in great vexation of spirit, and for long have I hesitated before I made a decision what to do. But now have I decided to give the hound to Ailill and Maev, let them come with splendour to bear it away. They shall have plenty both to eat and to drink, and they shall have the hound to hold, and welcome shall they be." And the messengers from Connaught were well pleased with this answer that they had.
Then he went to where the heralds from Ulster were, and thus he addressed them: "After long hesitation," said he, "I have awarded the hound to Conor, and a proud man should he be. Let the armies of the nobles of Ulster come to bear him away; they shall have presents, and I will make them welcome;" and with this the messengers from Ulster were content.
Now Mac Datho had so planned it that both those armies, that from the East and that from the West, should arrive at his palace upon the selfsame day. Nor did they fail to keep their tryst; upon the same day those two provinces of Ireland came to Mac Datho's palace, and Mac Datho himself went outside and greeted them: "For two armies at the same time we were not prepared; yet I bid welcome to you, ye men. Enter into the court of the house."
Then they went all of them into the palace; one half of the house received the Ulstermen, and the other half received the men of Connaught. For the house was no small one: it had seven doors and fifty couches between each two doors; and it was no meeting of friends that was then seen in that house, but the hosts that filled it were enemies to each other, for during the whole time of the three hundred years that preceded the birth of Christ there was war between Ulster and Connaught.
Then they slaughtered for them Mac Datho's Boar; for seven years had that boar been nurtured upon the milk of fifty cows, but surely venom must have entered into its nourishment, so many of the men of Ireland did it cause to die. They brought in the boar, and forty oxen as side-dishes to it, besides other kind of food; the son of Datho himself was steward to their feast: "Be ye welcome!" said he; "this beast before you hath not its match; and a goodly store of beeves and of swine may be found with the men of Leinster! And, if there be aught lacking to you, more shall be slain for you in the morning."
"It is a mighty Boar," said Conor.
"'Tis a mighty one indeed," said Ailill. "How shall it be divided, O Conor?" said he.
"How?" cried down Bricriu,[FN#11] the son of Carbad, from above; "in the place where the warriors of Ireland are gathered together, there can be but the one test for the division of it, even the part that each man hath taken in warlike deeds and strife: surely each man of you hath struck the other a buffet on the nose ere now!"
"Thus then shall it be," said Ailill.
"'Tis a fair test," said Conor in assent; "we have here a plenty of lads in this house who have done battle on the borders."
"Thou shalt lose thy lads to-night, Conor," said Senlaech the charioteer, who came from rushy Conalad in the West; "often have they left a fat steer for me to harry, as they sprawled on their backs upon the road that leadeth to the rushes of Dedah."
"Fatter was the steer that thou hadst to leave to us," said Munremur,[FN#12] the son of Gerrcind; "even thine own brother, Cruachniu, son of Ruadlam; and it was from Conalad of Cruachan that he came."
"He was no better," cried Lugaid the son of Curoi of Munster, "than Loth the Great, the son of Fergus Mac Lete; and Echbel the son of Dedad left him lying in Tara Luachra."[FN#13]
[FN#11] Pronounced Brik-roo.
[FN#12] Pronounced Moon-raymer.
[FN#13] Pronounced Looch-ra.
"What sort of a man was he whom ye boast of?" cried Celtchar of Ulster. "I myself slew that horny-skinned son of Dedad, I cut the head from his shoulders."
At the last it fell out that one man raised himself above all the men of Ireland; he was Ket, the son of Mata, he came from the land of Connaught. He hung up his weapons at a greater height than the weapons of any one else who was there, he took a knife in his hand, and he placed himself at the side of the Boar.
"Find ye now," said he, "one man among the men of Ireland who can equal my renown, or else leave the division of the Boar to me."
All of the Ulstermen were thrown into amazement. "Seest thou that, O Laegaire?"[FN#14] said Conor.
[FN#14] Pronounced Leary.
"Never shall it be," said Laegaire the Triumphant, "that Ket should have the division of this Boar in the face of us all."
"Softly now, O Laegaire!" said Ket; "let me hold speech with thee. With you men of Ulster it hath for long been a custom that each lad among you who takes the arms of a warrior should play first with us the game of war: thou, O Laegaire, like to the others didst come to the border, and we rode against one another. And thou didst leave thy charioteer, and thy chariot and thy horses behind thee, and thou didst fly pierced through with a spear. Not with such a record as that shalt thou obtain the Boar;" and Laegaire sat himself down.
"It shall never come to pass," said a great fair-haired warrior, stepping forward from the bench whereon he had sat, "that the division of the Boar shall be left to Ket before our very eyes."
"To whom then appertains it?" asked Ket.
"To one who is a better warrior than thou," he said, "even to Angus, the son of Lama Gabaid (Hand-in-danger) of the men of Ulster."
"Why namest thou thy father 'Hand-in-danger?" said Ket.
"Why indeed, I know not," he said.
"Ah! but I know it!" said Ket. "Long ago I went upon a journey in the east, a war-cry was raised against me, all men attacked me, and Lama Gabaid was among them. He made a cast of a great spear against me, I hurled the same spear back upon him, and the spear cut his hand from him so that it lay upon the ground. How dares the son of that man to measure his renown with mine?" and Angus went back to his place.
"Come, and claim a renown to match mine," said Ket; "else let me divide this Boar."
"It shall never be thy part to be the first to divide it," said a great fair-haired warrior of the men of Ulster.
"Who then is this?" said Ket.
"'Tis Eogan, son of Durthacht,"[FN#15] said they all; "Eogan, the lord of Fernmay."
"I have seen him upon an earlier day," said Ket.
"Where hast thou seen me?" said Eogan.
"It was before thine own house," said Ket. "As I was driving away thy cattle, a cry of war was raised in the lands about me; and thou didst come out at that cry. Thou didst hurl thy spear against me, and it was fixed in my shield; but I hurled the same spear back against thee, and it tore out one of thy two eyes. All the men of Ireland can see that thou art one-eyed; here is the man that struck thine other eye out of thy head," and he also sat down.
"Make ye ready again for the strife for renown, O ye men of Ulster!" cried Ket. "Thou hast not yet gained the right to divide the Boar," said Munremur, Gerrcind's son.
"Is that Munremur?" cried Ket; "I have but one short word for thee, O Munremur! Not yet hath the third day passed since I smote the heads off three warriors who came from your lands, and the midmost of the three was the head of thy firstborn son!" and Munremur also sat down.
"Come to the strife for renown!" cried Ket.
"That strife will I give to thee," said Mend the son of Salcholcam (the Sword-heeled).
"Who is this?" asked Ket.
"'Tis Mend," said all who were there.
"Hey there!" cried Ket. "The son of the man with the nickname comes to measure his renown with mine! Why, Mend, it was by me that the nickname of thy father came; 'twas I who cut the heel from him with my sword so that he hopped away from me upon one leg! How shall the son of that one-legged man measure his renown with mine?" and he also sat down.
[FN#15] Pronounced Yeogan, son of Doorha.
"Come to the strife for renown!" cried Ket.
"That warfare shalt thou have from me!" said an Ulster warrior, tall, grey, and more terrible than the rest.
"Who is this?" asked Ket.
"'Tis Celtchar, the son of Uitechar," cried all.
"Pause thou a little, Celtchar," said Ket, "unless it be in thy mind to crush me in an instant. Once did I come to thy dwelling, O Celtchar, a cry was raised about me, and all men hurried up at that cry, and thou also camest beside them. It was in a ravine that the combat between us was held; thou didst hurl thy spear against me, and against thee I also hurled my spear; and my spear pierced thee through the leg and through the groin, so that from that hour thou hast been diseased, nor hath son or daughter been born to thee. How canst thou strive in renown with me?" and he also sat down.
"Come to the strife for renown!" cried Ket.
"That strife shalt thou have," said Cuscrid the Stammerer, of Macha, king Conor's son.
"Who is this?" said Ket. "'Tis Cuscrid," said all; "he hath a form which is as the form of a king."
"Nor hath he aught to thank thee for," said the youth.
"Good!" said Ket. "It was against me that thou didst come on the day when thou didst first make trial of thy weapons, my lad: 'twas in the borderland that we met. And there thou didst leave the third part of thy folk behind thee, and thou didst fly with a spear-thrust through thy throat so that thou canst speak no word plainly, for the spear cut in sunder the sinews of thy neck; and from that hour thou hast been called Cuscrid the Stammerer." And in this fashion did Ket put to shame all the warriors of the province of Ulster.
But as he was exulting near to the Boar, with his knife in his hand, all saw Conall, the Victorious enter the palace; and Conall sprang into the midst of the house, and the men of Ulster hailed him with a shout; and Conor himself took his helmet from his head, and swung it on high to greet him.
"'Tis well that I wait for the portion that befalls me!" said Conall. Who is he who is the divider of the Boar for ye?"
"That office must be given to the man who stands there," said Conor, "even to Ket, the son of Mata."
"Is this true, O Ket?" said Conall. "Art thou the man to allot this Boar?" And then sang Ket:
Conall, all hail!
Hard stony spleen
Wild glowing flame!
Blood in thy breast
Rageth and boils;
Oft didst thou wrest
Thou scarred son of Finuchoem,[FN#16] thou truly canst claim To stand rival to me, and to match me in fame!
And Conall replied to him:
Hail to thee, Ket!
Well are we met!
Home for the bold!
Ender of grief!
Sea's stormy wave!
Bull, fair and brave!
Ket! first of the children of Matach! The proof shall be found when to combat we dart, The proof shall be found when from combat we part;
He shall tell of that battle who guardeth the stirks,
He shall tell of that battle at handcraft who works;
And the heroes shall stride to the wild lion-fight,
For by men shall fall men in this palace to-night: Welcome, Ket![FN#17]
[FN#16] Pronounced Finn-hoom.
[FN#17] The short lines of this rhetoric have the metre of the original Irish.
"Rise thou, and depart from this Boar," said Conall.
"What claim wilt thou bring why I should do this?" said Ket.
"'Tis true indeed," said Conall, "thou art contending in renown with me. I will give thee one claim only, O Ket! I swear by the oath of my tribe that since the day that I first received a spear into my hand I have seldom slept without the head of a slain man of Connaught as my pillow; and I have not let pass a day or a night in which a man of Connaught hath not fallen by my hand."
"'Tis true indeed," said Ket, "thou art a better warrior than I. Were but Anluan here, he could battle with thee in another fashion; shame upon us that he is not in this house!"
"Aye, but Anluan is here! "cried Conall, and therewith he plucked Anluan's head from his belt. And he threw the head towards Ket, so that it smote him upon the chest, and a gulp of the blood was dashed over his lips. And Ket came away from the Boar, and Conall placed himself beside it.
"Now let men come to contend for renown with me!" cried Conall. But among the men of Connaught there was none who would challenge him, and they raised a wall of shields, like a great vat around him, for in that house was evil wrangling, and men in their malice would make cowardly casts at him. And Conall turned to divide the Boar, and he took the end of the tail in his mouth. And although the tail was so great that it was a full load for nine men, yet he sucked it all into his mouth so that nothing of it was left; and of this hath been said:
Strong hands on a cart thrust him forward; His great tail, though for nine men a load, Was devoured by the brave Conall Cernach, As the joints he so gaily bestowed.
Now to the men of Connaught Conall gave nothing except the two fore-legs of the Boar, and this share seemed to be but small to the men of Connaught, and thereon they sprang up, and the men of Ulster also sprang up, and they rushed at each other. They buffeted each other so that the heap of bodies inside the house rose as high as the side-walls of it; and streams of blood flowed under the doors.
The hosts brake out through the doors into the outer court, and great was the din that uprose; the blood upon the floor of the house might have driven a mill, so mightily did each man strike out at his fellow. And at that time Fergus plucked up by the roots a great oak-tree that stood in the outer court in the midst of it; and they all burst out of the court, and the battle went on outside.
Then came out Mac Datho, leading the hound by a leash in his hand, that he might let him loose between the two armies, to see to which side the sense of the hound would turn. And the hound joined himself with the men of Ulster, and he rushed on the defeated Connaughtmen, for these were in flight. And it is told that in the plain of Ailbe, the hound seized hold of the poles of the chariot in which Ailill and Maev rode: and there Fer-loga, charioteer to Ailill and Maev, fell upon him, so that he cast his body to one side, and his head was left upon the poles of the chariot. And they say that it is for that reason that the plain of Ailbe is so named, for from the hound Ailbe the name hath come.
The rout went on northwards, over Ballaghmoon, past Rurin Hill, over the Midbine Ford near to Mullaghmast, over Drum Criach Ridge which is opposite to what is Kildare to-day, over Rath Ingan which is in the forest of Gabla, then by Mac Lugna's Ford over the ridge of the two plains till they came to the Bridge of Carpre that is over the Boyne. And at the ford which is known as the Ford of the Hound's Head, which standeth in the west of Meath, the hound's head fell from the chariot.
And, as they went over the heather of Meath, Ferloga the charioteer of Ailill fell into the heather, and he sprang behind Conor who followed after them in his chariot, and he seized Conor by the head.
"I claim a boon from thee if I give thee thy life, O Conor!" said he.
"I choose freely to grant that boon," said Conor.
"'Tis no great matter," said Ferloga. "Take me with thee to Emain Macha, and at each ninth hour let the widows and the growing maidens of Ulster serenade me[FN#18] with the song: 'Ferloga is my darling.'"
[FN#18] Literally, "sing me a cepoc," or a choral song.
And the women were forced to do it; for they dared not to deny him, fearing the wrath of Conor; and at the end of a year Ferloga crossed byAthlone into Connaught, and he took with him two of Conor's horses bridled with golden reins.
And concerning all this hath it been sung:
Hear truth, ye lads of Connaught;
No lies your griefs shall fill,
A youth the Boar divided;
The share you had was ill.
Of men thrice fifty fifties
Would win the Ailbe Hound;
In pride of war they struggled,
Small cause for strife they found.
Yet there came conquering Conor,
And Ailill's hosts, and Ket;
No law Cuchulain granted,
And brooding Bodb[FN#19] was met.
Dark Durthacht's son, great Eogan,
Shall find that journey hard;
From east came Congal Aidni,
And Fiaman,[FN#20] sailor bard;
Three sons of Nera, famous
For countless warlike fields;
Three lofty sons of Usnach,
With hard-set cruel shields.
From high Conalad Croghan
Wise Senlaech[FN#21] drave his car; And Dubhtach[FN#22] came from Emain, His fame is known afar;
And Illan came, whom glorious
For many a field they hail:
Loch Sail's grim chief, Munremur;
Berb Baither, smooth of tale;
[FN#19] Pronounced Bobe, with sound of 'robe.'
[FN#20] Pronounced Feeman.
[FN#21] Pronounced Senlay, with the light final ch.
[FN#22] Pronounced Doov-ta.
And Celtchar, lord in Ulster;
And Conall's valour wild;
And Marcan came; and Lugaid
Of three great hounds the child.
Fergus, awaiting the glorious hound, Spreadeth a cloak o'er his mighty shield, Shaketh an oak he hath plucked from ground, Red was the woe the red cloak concealed.
Yonder stood Cethern,[FN#23] of Finntan son, Holding them back; till six hours had flown Connaughtmen's slaughter his hand hath done, Pass of the ford he hath held alone.
Armies with Feidlim[FN#24] the war sustain, Laegaire the Triumpher rides on east, Aed, son of Morna, ye hear complain, Little his thought is to mourn that beast.
High are the nobles, their deeds show might, Housefellows fair, and yet hard in fight; Champions of strength upon clans bring doom, Great are the captives, and vast the tomb.
[FN#23] Pronounced Kay-hern.
[FN#24] Pronounced Fay-lim.