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

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


Unto Fraech it hath chanced, as he roved from his lands That his cattle were stolen by wandering bands: And there met him his mother, and cried, "On thy way Thou hast tarried, and hard for thy slackness shalt pay! In the Alps of the south, the wild mountains amid, Have thy children, thy wife, and thy cattle been hid: And a three of thy kine have the Picts carried forth, And in Alba they pasture, but far to the north!"

"Now, alack!" answered Fraech, "what is best to be done?" "Rest at home," said his mother, "nor seek them my son; For to thee neither cattle, nor children, nor wife Can avail, if in seeking thou losest thy life; And though cattle be lacking, the task shall be mine To replace what is lost, and to grant thee the kine."

"Nay, not so," answered Fraech, "by my soul I am sworn, That when cattle from Cualgne by force shall be torn To King Ailill and Maev on my faith as their guest I must ride with those cattle for war to the west!" "Now but vainly," she said, "is this toil on thee cast; Thou shalt lose what thou seekest", and from him she passed.

Three times nine of his men for that foray were chosen, and marched by his side,
And a hawk flew before, and for hunting, was a hound with a hunting-leash tied;

To Ben Barchi they went, for the border of Ulster their faces were set: And there, of its marches the warder, the conquering Conall they met. Fraech hailed him, the conquering Conall, and told him the tale of his spoil;
"'Tis ill luck that awaits thee," said Conall, "thy quest shall be followed with toil!
"'Twill be long ere the goal thou art reaching, though thy heart in the seeking may be."
"Conall Cernach,[FN#35] hear thou my beseeching said Fraech, "let thine aid be to me;
I had hoped for this meeting with Conall, that his aid in the quest might be lent."
"I will go with thee truly," said Conall: with Fraech and his comrades he went.

[FN#35] Pronounced Cayr-nach.

Three times nine, Fraech and Conall before them, Over ocean from Ireland have passed; Through the Land of North Saxony bore them, And the South Sea they sighted at last. And again on the sea billows speeding, They went south, over Ichtian foam; And marched on: southward still was their leading: To the land where the Long-Beards have home: But when Lombardy's bounds they were nearing They made stand; for above and around Were the high peaks of Alpa appearing, And the goal that they sought had been found.

On the Alps was a woman seen straying, and herding the flocks of the sheep,
"Let our warriors behind be delaying," said Conall, "and south let us keep:

'Twere well we should speak with yon woman, perchance she hath wisdom to teach!"
And with Conall went Fraech at that counsel; they neared her, and held with her speech.

"Whence have come you?" she said: "Out of Ireland are we," Answered Conall: "Ill luck shall for Irishmen be In this country," she cried, "yet thy help I would win; From thy land was my mother; thou art to me kin!"

"Of this land we know naught, nor where next we should turn," Answered Conall.; "its nature from thee we would learn." "'Tis a grim land and hateful," the woman replied, "And the warriors are restless who forth from it ride; For full often of captives, of women and herd Of fair kine by them taken is brought to me word."

"Canst thou say what latest spoil," said Fraech, "they won?" "Ay," she said, "they harried Fraech, of Idath[FN#36] son He in Erin dwelleth, near the western sea; Kine from him they carried, wife, and children three Here his wife abideth, there where dwells the king, Turn, and see his cattle, yonder pasturing."

[FN#36] Pronounced Eeda.

Out spoke Conall Cernach;[FN#37] "Aid us thou" he cried: "Strength I lack," she answered, "I can only guide." "Here is Fraech," said Conall, "yon his stolen cows": "Fraech!" she asked him, "tell me, canst thou trust thy spouse?" "Why," said Fraech, "though trusty, doubtless, when she went; Now, since here she bideth, truth may well be spent." "See ye now yon woman?" said she, "with your herd, Tell to her your errand, let her hear your word; Trust in her, as Irish-sprung ye well may place; More if ye would ask me, Ulster reared her race."

[FN#37] Pronounced Cayr-nach.

To that woman they went, nor their names from her hid; And they greeted her; welcome in kindness she bid: "What hath moved you," she said, "from your country to go?" "On this journey," said Conall, "our guide hath been woe: All the cattle that feed in these pastures are ours, And from us went the lady that's kept in yon towers." "'Tis ill-luck," said the woman, "that waits on your way, All the men of this hold doth that lady obey; Ye shall find, amid dangers, your danger most great In the serpent who guardeth the Liss at the gate."

"For that lady," said Fraech, "she is none of my She is fickle, no trust from me yet did she win: But on thee we rely, thou art trusty, we know; Never yet to an Ulsterman Ulster was foe."

"Is it men out of Ulster," she said, "I have met?" "And is Conall," said Fraech, "thus unknown to you yet? Of all heroes from Ulster the battle who faced Conall Cernach is foremost." His neck she embraced, And she cried, with her arms around Conall: "Of old Of the conquering Conall our prophets have told; And 'tis ruin and doom to this hold that you bring; For that Conall shall sack it, all prophecies sing."

"Hear my rede," she told him: "When at fall of day Come the kine for milking, I abroad will stay; I the castle portal every eve should close: Ye shall find it opened, free for tread of foes: I will say the weakling calves awhile I keep; 'Tis for milk, I'll tell them: come then while they sleep; Come, their castle enter, all its wealth to spoil; Only rests that serpent, he our plans may foil: Him it rests to vanquish, he will try you most; Surely from that serpent swarms a serpent host!"

"Trust us well," answered Conall, "that raid will we do! And the castle they sought, and the snake at them flew: For it darted on Conall, and twined round his waist; Yet the whole of that castle they plundered in haste, And the woman was freed, and her sons with her three And away from her prison she went with them free: And of all of the jewels amassed in that dun The most costly and beauteous the conquerors won.

Then the serpent from Conall was loosed, from his belt It crept safely, no harm from that serpent he felt: And they travelled back north to the Pictish domains, And a three of their cattle they found on the plains; And, where Olla Mae Briuin[FN#38] his hold had of yore, By Dunolly their cattle they drove to the shore.

[FN#38] Pronounced "Brewin."

It chanced at Ard Uan Echach,[FN#39] where foam is hurled on high, That doom on Bicne falling, his death he came to die: 'Twas while the cows were driven that Bicne's life was lost: By trampling hooves of cattle crushed down to death, or tossed; To him was Loegaire[FN#40] father, and Conall Cernach chief And Inver-Bicne's title still marks his comrades' grief.

[FN#39] Pronounced "Ard Oon Ay-ha,"

[FN#40] Pronounced "Leary."

Across the Stream of Bicne the cows of Fraech have passed, And near they came to Benchor, and there their horns they cast: 'Tis thence the strand of Bangor for aye is named, 'tis said: The Strand of Horns men call it; those horns his cattle shed.

To his home travelled Fraech, with his children, and And his cattle, and there with them lived out his life, Till the summons of Ailill and Maev he obeyed; And when Cualgne was harried, he rode on the Raid.

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


This is a website about Irish history and culture.