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

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


A land in West Roscommon, as Kerry known of old, Was ruled by Ailill Fair-haired; of him a tale is told: How Flidais,[FN#80] Ailill's[FN#81] consort, each week, and near its end,
To Ro's great son, to Fergus, her herald still would send; 'Twas Fergus' love she sought for; the deeds by Fergus done, In glorious tales recited, had Flidais' fancy won.

[FN#80] Pronounced Flid-das.

[FN#81] Pronounced Al-ill.

When Fergus fled from Ulster, and Connaught's land he sought, To Ailill, king of Connaught, this tale of love he brought: "Now give me rede," said Fergus, "how best we here should act, That Connaught's fame and honour by none may stand attacked; Say, how can I approach them, and strip thy kingdom bare, And yet the fame of Ailill, that country's monarch, spare?" "'Tis hard indeed to teach thee," cried Ailill, sore perplexed; "Let Maev come nigh with counsel what course to follow next!"

"Send thou to Ailill Fair-haired to ask for aid!" said Maev, "He well may meet a herald, who comes his help to crave Let Fergus go to crave it: no harm can there be seen; And better gifts from Ailill shall Fergus win, I ween!"

So forth to Ailill Fair-haired went Fergus, son of Ro; And thirty, Dubhtach[FN#82] leading, he chose with him to go; And yet another Fergus his aid to Fergus brought; Mac Oonlama[FN#83] men called him; his sire one-handed fought.

[FN#82] Pronounced Doov-ta.

[FN#83] Spelt Mac Oenlama, son of the one-handed one.

Beside the Ford of Fenna, in Kerry's north they came, They neared the hold, and from it rang welcome's loud acclaim: "What quest," said Ailill Fair-haired, "hath brought these warriors here?"
"Of Ailill, son of Magach, we stand," they said, "in fear; A feud we hold against him; with thee would fain abide!" "For each of these," said Ailill, "who Fergus march beside, If they were foes to Connaught, for long they here might stay, And ne'er till peace was granted, I'd drive these men away: For Fergus, naught I grant him a tale of him men tell That Fergus 'tis whom Flidais, my wife, doth love too well!"

"It is kine that I ask for," said Fergus, "and hard is the task on me set:
For the men who have marched here beside me, the means to win life I must get."
"I will give no such present," said Ailill," thou comest not here as my guest:
Men will say, 'twas from fear that I gave it, lest my wife from my arms thou should'st wrest:
Yet an ox of my herds, and some bacon, if thou wilt, shall my hand to thee give;
That the men who have marched here beside thee on that meat may be stayed, and may live!"

"I eat no bread thus thrown me!" fierce Fergus straight replied: "I asked a gift of honour; that gift thine hand denied." "Avoid my house," said Ailill in wrath, "now get thee hence! "We go indeed," said Fergus; "no siege we now commence: Yet here," he cried, "for duel beside yon ford I wait, If thou canst find a champion to meet me at thy gate."

Then up and answered Ailill: "'Tis mine this strife must be And none shall hurt mine honour, or take this task from me: None hold me back from battle!"--the ford for fight he sought: "Now Dubhtach, say," said Fergus, "to whom this war is brought! Or thou or I must meet him." And Dubhtach said, "I go; For I am younger, Fergus, and bolder far with foe."

To the ford for the battle with Ailill he hies, And he thrust at him fiercely, and pierced through his thighs; But a javelin by Ailill at Dubhtach was cast, And right through his body the shaft of it passed: And a shield over Dubhtach, laid low in the dust, Spread Fergus; and Ailill his spear at him thrust; And through Fergus' shield had the spear made its way, When Fergus Mae Oonlama joined in the fray, And his shield he uplifted, his namesake to guard; But at Fergus Mac Oonlama Ailill thrust hard, And he brake through the fence of Mac Oonlama's shield; And he leaped in his pain; as they lay on the field, On his comrades he fell: Flidais forth to them flew, And her cloak on the warriors to shield them she threw.

Then against all the comrades of Fergus turned Ailill the Fair-haired to fight,
And he chased them away from his castle, and slew as they scattered in flight;
A twenty he reached, and he slew them: they fell, on that field to remain;
And but seven there were of that thirty who fled, and their safety could gain:
They came to the palace of Croghan, they entered the gates of that hold, And to Maev and to Ailill of Connaught the tale of the slaughter they told.

Then roused himself King Ailill, of Connaught's land the king, With Maev to march to battle, their aid to friends to bring: And forth from Connaught's kingdom went many a lord of worth, Beside them marched the exiles who gat from Ulster birth: So forward went that army, and reached to Kerry's land, And near the Ford of Fenna they came, and there made stand.

While this was done, the wounded three Within the hold lay still,
And Flidais cared for all, for she
To heal their wounds had skill.

To Ailill Fair-Haired's castle the Connaught host was led, And toward the foeman's ramparts the Connaught herald sped; He called on Ailill Fair-haired to come without the gate, And there to meet King Ailill, and with him hold debate. "I come to no such meeting," the angry chief replied; "Yon man is far too haughty: too grossly swells his pride!"

Yet 'twas peaceful meeting,
So the old men say,
Ailill willed; whose greeting
Heralds bore that day.
Fergus, ere he perished,
First he sought to aid
He that thought who cherished
Friendship's claims obeyed:
Then his foe he vainly
Hoped in truce to bind:
Peace, 'tis said, was plainly
Dear to Connaught's mind!

The wounded men, on litters laid,
Without the walls they bore
To friendly hands, with skill to aid, And fainting health restore.

At the castle of Ailill the Fair-Haired the Connaught-men rushed in attack,
And to win it they failed: from his ramparts in defeat were his foes driven back:
For long in that contest they struggled, yet naught in the fight they prevailed -
For a week were the walls of the castle of Ailill the Fair-Haired assailed,
Seven score of the nobles of Connaught, and all of them warriors of might,
For the castle of Ailill contended, and fell as they strove in the fight.

"'Tis sure that with omen of evil this castle was sought by our folk!" Thus Bricroo,[FN#84] the Poisonous Scoffer, in mockery, jeering them, spoke:
"The taunt," answered Ailill Mae Mata, "is true, and with grief I confess
That the fame of the heroes of Ulster hereafter is like to be less, For a three of the Ulstermen's champions in stress of the fight have been quelled;
And the vengeance we wait for from Ulster hath long been by Ulster withheld;
As a pillar of warfare each hero, 'twas claimed, could a battle sustain; Yet by none of the three in this battle hath a foeman been conquered, or slain!
In the future for all of these champions shall scorn and much mocking befall:
One man hath come forth from yon castle; alone he hath wounded them all--
Such disgrace for such heroes of valour no times that are past ever saw, For three lords of the battle lie conquered by mannikins, fashioned of straw!"

[FN#84] Spelt Bricriu. The usual epithet of Bricriu, "Bricriu of the Poison Tongue," is indicated in the verse rendering.

"Ah! woe is me," said Bricroo, "how long, thus stretched on ground, The length of Father Fergus hath here by all been found! But one he sought to conquer; a single fight essayed, And here he met his victor, and low on land is laid."

Then rose the men of Ulster a hardy war to wage, And forward rushed, though naked, in strong and stubborn rage: Against the castle gateway in wrathful might they dashed, And down the shattered portal within the castle crashed. Then close by Ulster's champions was Connaught's battle formed; And Connaught's troops with Ulster by might the castle stormed; But fitly framed for battle were men whom there they met, Wild war, where none showed pity between the hosts was set: And well they struck; each hero commenced with mighty blows To crush and slay, destruction was heaped by foe on foes.

Of the wounding at length and the slaughter all weary the champions had grown,
And the men who the castle of Ailill had held were at length over thrown:
Of those who were found in that castle, and its walls had defended so well,
Seven hundred by warriors of Ulster were smitten to death, and they fell:
And there in his castle fell Ailill the Fair-haired, and fighting he died,
And a thirty of sons stood about him, and all met their death by his side.

The chief of those who perished, by Ailill's side who stood Within his hold, were Noodoo;[FN#85] and Awley[FN#86] named the Good; And Feeho[FN#87] called the Broad-backed; and Corpre Cromm the Bent; An Ailill, he from Breffny to help of Ailill went; A three whose name was Angus-fierce was each warrior's face; Three Eochaid, sea-girt Donnan[FN#88] had cradled erst their race; And there fell seven Breslen, from plains of Ay[FN#89] who came; And fifty fell beside them who all had Donnell's name.

[FN#85] Spelt Nuado.

[FN#86] Spelt Amalgaid.

[FN#87] Spelt Fiacho.

[FN#88] Irross Donnan, the promontory of Donnan (now Mayo).

[FN#89] Mag Ai, a plain in Roscommon.

For to Ailill the Fair-Haired for warfare had marched all the Gamanra[FN#90] clan,
And his friends from the sea-girded Donnan had sent to his aid every man;
All these had with Ailill been leaguered, their help to him freely they brought,
And that aid from them Ailill. took gladly, he knew that his hold would be sought;
He knew that the exiles of Ulster his captives from prison would save, And would come, their surrender demanding; that Ailill mac Mata and Maev Would bring all Connaught's troops to the rescue: for Fergus that aid they would lend,
And Fergus the succour of Connaught could claim, and with right, as a friend.

[FN#90] Spelt Gamanrad.

Hero clans in Erin three of old were found; One in Irross Donnan, oceans Donnan bound, Thence came Clan Gamanra; Deda's warlike clan Nursed in Tara Loochra[FN#91] many a fighting man. Deda sprang from Munster; far in Ulster's north Oft from Emain Macha Rury's[FN#92] clan went forth: Vainly all with Rury strove to fight, the twain Rury's clan hath vanquished; Rury all hath slain!

[FN#91] Temair Luachra, an ancient palace near Abbeyfeale, on the borders of the counties of Limerick and Kerry. "Tara," as is well known, is a corruption of Temair, but is now established.

[FN#92] Spelt Rudraige.

Then rose up the warriors of Ulster, the hold they had conquered to sack;
And the folk of Queen Maev and King Ailill followed close on the Ulstermen's track:
And they took with them captives; for Flidais away from her castle they tore;
And the women who dwelt in the castle away to captivity bore:

And all things therein that were precious they seized on as booty; the gold
And the silver they seized, and the treasures amassed by the men of that hold:
The horns, and the goblets for drinking, the vats for the ale, and the keys,
The gay robes with all hues that were glowing lay there for the raiders to seize:
And much cattle they took; in that castle were one hundred of milk giving kine;
And beside them a seven score oxen; three thousand of sheep and of swine.

Then Flidais went with Fergus, his wedded wife to be; For thus had Maev and Ailill pronounced their high decree: They bade that when from Cualgne to drive the kine they went, From those who then were wedded should aid for war be sent. And thus it fell thereafter: when Ireland went that Raid, By milk from cows of Flidais, the lives of all were stayed; Each seventh day she sent it; and thus fulfilled her vows, And thus the tale is ended, men tell of Flidais' Cows.

Then, all that Raid accomplished, with Fergus Flidais dwell And he of Ulster's kingdom a part in lordship held: He ruled in Mag I Murthemne[FN#92], yea, more than that, he won The land where once was ruler Cuchulain, Sualtam's son: And by the shore of Bali thereafter Flidais died, And naught of good for Fergus did Flidais' death betide: For worse was all his household; if Fergus aught desired, From Flidais' wealth and bounty came all his soul required.

In the days that followed, when his wife was dead, Fergus went to Connaught; there his blood was shed: There with Maev and Ailill he a while would stay; Men had made a story, he would learn the lay! There he went to cheer him, hearing converse fair: Kine beside were promised; home he these would bear: So he went to Croghan, 'twas a deadly quest, There he found his slaughter, death within the west: Slain by jealous Ailill, Fergus low was laid: Flidais' tale is ended: now comes Cualgne's Raid!

[FN#92] Pronounced Maw Moortemmy

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


This is a website about Irish history and culture.