CUCHULAIN, THE BOYHOOD DEEDS OF
Among the most striking of the many narratives dealing with CuChulain is a group of episodes from his childhood. The incidents in the selection brought in Cross and Slover’s ANCIENT IRISH TALES not only serve to illustrate his precocity, a trait which is widespread among heroes of the folk, but also to exemplify the conditions of child-fosterage among the ancient Irish. This and other tales of CuChu-lain’s youth are incorporated in the great Ulster epic ‘The Cattle-Raid of Cooley’, where they are represented as told to King Ailill and Queen Medb of Connacht by several of the Ulster exiles enlisted in the Connacht army. They form a body of tradition which was probably old at the time when the epic was composed.
In Jeffrey Gantz’s ‘Early Irish Myths and Sagas’ is ‘The Boyhood Deeds of CuChulain’ presented in the earlier, less refined Lebor na huidre version. Fergus and a number of other Ulaid(the Irish name for Ulster)
chieftains have transferred their allegiance to Connachta in protest at Conchobar’s treacherous slaying of the sons of Uisliu; and now, with the Connachta about to attack Ulaid, the exiles are describing to Ailill and Medb the boyhood feats of the great hero of the north. The first exploit recalls the opening episode of the Welsh tale ‘Peredur’: a naive, callow youth leaves his unwilling mother (he does not have a father, possibly because his real father is understood to be either royal or divine) and goes forth to find his proper companions (the boy troop of Emuin Machae in the one case, the knights of King Arthur’s court in the other). CuChulain’s feats with his ball and hurley and toy javelin and his complete dominance over the boy troop are superhuman and at the same time pure play; Peredur, though merely precocious, is yet more mature, for, as well as outrunning deer, he dispatches enemy knights and even kisses women. The second extract explains how CuChulain once saved Conchobar in battle. Even at this early stage of the Ulster Cycle, Conchobar’s role has deteriorated; and already CuChulain, as his sister’s son, appears as his natural heir. The third extract explains how Setanta came to be known as CuChulain. Such stories are common in Irish saga, but this explanation is unusually convincing – why else would a young hero be called the ‘Hound of Culand’? The mystery is rather in why the central character of the Ulster Cycle, a figure whose divine origin is manifest, should have been given a name so much more appropriate to a mortal hero, especially when his original name suits him so well.
In the case of both Pryderi and CuChulain, there are objections to the new name: Rhiannon asks whether her son’s own name does not suit him better, while CuChulain himself expresses a preference for his original name; but, in each case, the advice of a wise elder (the Chieftain of Dyved in the Welsh tale, Cathub in the Irish one) prevails. The fourth extract seems modelled on the tradition that Achilles chose a short life in order to win great fame. The episode at the end, where CuChulain is seized by his riastarthae, or battle fury, and has to be cooled off in vats of water, is entirely typical of him, as is his shyness in the presence of bare-brested women. The antiquity of these extracts is open to doubt: the mythic element is slight, and there is considerable humour.
# 166 – 236
CUCHULAIN, THE DEATH OF
Near to Slieve Fuad, south of Armagh, CuChulain found the host of his enemies, and drove furiously against them, plying the champion’s ‘thunder-feat’ upon them until the plain was strewn with their dead. Then a satirist, urged on by Lewy, came near him and demanded his spear (it was a point of honour to refuse nothing to a bard; one king is said to have given his eye when it was demanded of him). ‘Have it, then,’ said CuChulain, and flung it at him with such force that it went clean through him and killed nine men beyond. ‘A king will fall by that spear,’ said the Children of Calatin to Lewy, and Lewy seized it and flung it at CuChulain, but it smote Laeg, the king of charioteers, so that his bowels fell out on the cushions of the chariot, and he bade farewell to his master and he died.
Then another satirist demanded the spear, and CuChulain said: ‘I am not bound to grant more than one request on one day.’ But the satirist said: ‘Then I will revile Ulster for thy default,’ and CuChulain flung him the spear as before, and Erc now got it, and this time in flying back it struck the Grey of Macha with a mortal wound. CuChulain drew out the spear from the horse’s side, and they bade each other farewell, and the Grey galloped away with half the yoke hanging to its neck.
And a third time CuChulain flung the spear to a satirist, and Lewy took it again and flung it back, and it struck CuChulain, and his bowels fell out in the chariot, and the remaining horse, Black Sainglend, broke away and left him. ‘I would fain go as far as to that loch-side to drink,’ said CuChulain, knowing the end was come, and they suffered him to go when he had promised to return to them again. So he gathered up his bowels into his breast and went to the loch-side, and drank, and bathed himself, and came forth again to die. Now there was close by a tall pillar-stone that stood westwards of the loch, and he went up to it and slung his girdle over it and round his breast, so that he might die in his standing and not in his lying down; and his blood ran down in a little stream into the loch, and an otter came out of the loch and lapped it. And the host gathered round, but feared to approach him while the life was still in him, and the hero-light shone above his brow. Then came the Grey of Macha to protect him, scattering his foes with biting and kicking. And then came a crow and settled on his shoulder. Lewy, when he saw this, drew near and pulled the hair of CuChulain to one side over his shoulder, and with his sword he
smote off his head; and the sword fell from CuChulain’s hand and smote off
the hand of Lewy as it fell. They took the hand of CuChulain in revenge for
this, and bore the head and hand south to Tara, and there buried them, and
over them raised a mound. But Conall of the Victories, hastening to
CuChulain’s side on the news of the war, met the Grey of Macha streaming
with blood, and together they went to the loch-side and saw him head-less
and bound to the pillar-stone, and the horse came and laid its head on his
breast. Conall drove southwards to avenge CuChulain, and he came on Lewy by
the river Liffey, and because Lewy had but one hand Conall tied one of his
behind his back, and for half the day they fought, but neither could
prevail. Then came Conall’s horse, the Dewy-Red, and tore a piece out of
Lewy’s side, and Conall slew him, and took his head, and returned to Emain
Macha. But they made no show of triumph in entering the city, for CuChulain
the Hound of Ulster was no more.
CUCHULAIN, THE PHANTOM CHARIOT OF
The Christian writers of early Ireland were more kindly disposed toward their native pagan traditions than were the other newly converted peoples of medieval Europe. Holy men associate freely with fairy beings, St Patrick listens with delight to the exploits of Finn and Oisin, and he even uses his divine power to call back CuChulain from the grave that the stiff-necked Loegaire, pagan high-king of Ireland, may be led to accept the new faith. Whoever conceived the idea of bringing together the most distinguished ancient pagan champion and the most beloved of Christian saints had a truly poetic imagination.
CUCHULAIN, THE SICK BED OF
This, like numerous other early Irish sagas, is a compilation based on several versions of the same story. The tale in its earliest form probably told how a mortal hero, having fallen under a fairy spell, was lured by the fairy people to the Happy Otherworld, where he was healed of his malady or assisted the supernatural folk in their tribal feuds. In Cross’ and Slover’s ANCIENT IRISH TALES, the present form of the story the double visits of the fairy messengers to the ailing CuChulain, the double account of Loeg’s experiences in the fairy realm, as well as other repetitions and inconsistencies are the result of the unskilled work of the compiler and interpolater to whom the oldest extant versions are due. Noteworthy also is the fact that in this tale, as in THE WOOING OF EMER, CuChulain’s wife Emer plays a prominent part.
# 236: ‘The Wasting Sickness of CuChulain & The Only Jealousy of Emer’ is
one of the more remarkable Irish tales: part myth, part history, part soap
opera. Even the text is unusual, for it is a conflation of two different
versions. After the first quarter of the tale, there appears an
interpolation (which is omitted in the translation brought in J. Gantz:
‘Early Irish Myths and Sagas’) detailing CuChulain’s advice to Lugaid
Reoderg after the latter has been made king of Temuir; when the story
proper resumes, CuChulain is married to Emer instead of to Eithne Ingubai,
and Loeg is making a second trip to the otherworld with Li Ban. The two
versions have not been well integrated, and much evidence of confusion and
duplication remains; but it is hard to say which tradition is older.
Throughout the rest of the Ulster Cycle CuChulain’s wife is named Emer,
just as Conchobar’s is named Mugain and not Eithne Attenchaithrech. The
story opens on a historical note, with a description of how the Ulaid
celebrated Samuin (Samhain), the annual end-of-the-year assembly; but the
arrival of beautiful, red-gold-chained, otherworld birds on the lake at Mag
Muirthemni and the appearance of the women, one in green and one in
crimson, who beat CuChulain with horsewhips testify to the story’s mythic
origin. The central idea is also that of the first section of the Welsh
‘Pwyll Lord of Dyved’: the shadowy rulers of the otherworld have need of
mortal strength; the pursuit of the hero by the otherworld beauty,
moreover, is common to the second section of ‘Pwyll’. Much of the tale is
related in verse, and, while the poetry is neither particularly old nor
particularly dense, it is clear and brilliant and affecting:
At the doorway to the east,
three trees of brilliant crystal,
whence a gentle flock of birds calls
to the children of the royal fort.
Near the end of the tale, the tone shifts towards the psychological an
unusual circumstance in these stories – as Fand and Emer fight over
CuChulain; the writing, which seems very literary at this point, is
emotional but never sentimental. Even the poetry assumes a gnomic quality:
Emer complains that ‘what’s new is bright … what’s familiar is stale’,
while Fand merely points out that ‘every rule is good until broken’.
Although Fand ultimately yields – after CuChulain has been moved by Emer’s
plea – she admits that she still prefers CuChulain to her own husband;
CuChulain, seeing her leave, wanders madly into the mountains of Ulaid
(Ulster), and it requires the spell of Conchobar’s druids and Manandan’s
magic cloak to make him forget.
The story is the original source for Yeats’s play THE ONLY JEALOUSY OF
Cú Chulainn (extracts)
Chain bearing aquatic birds appear in the tale of Cú Chulainn’s conception. The Ulster aristocracy is afflicted with a flock of destructive birds which lays waste to the plain of Emain. The king and his noblemen decide to hunt the birds. they get nine chariots ready, and the Kings daughter Deichtine acts as charioteer for Conchobar her father. There is a long persuit of the destructive birds, the charioteers heard them sing in beauty and grace as they flew, ‘ lovely and choice was that bird flock and the accompanying bird song. There were nine score birds and a chain of silver between each pair of birds. Every twenty birds in a seperate group and nine groups of them. Three birds seperated themselves from them until nightfall, and they went before them as far as Brugh of Boyne. The supernatural element of the birds is demonstrated by the silver chains, indicating they are under metamorphis. After various adventures have befallen Deichtine and Conchobar, the god Lugh comes to the girl and begets the hero Cú Chulainn on her. In another version of the story Deichtine and her followers are themselves the wonderful, destructive birds.
Cú Chulainn is confronted by swans once again as a man, at the great feast of Samhain, which is being celebrated by the Ulster men beside a loch. A flock of beautiful birds alights on the water, Cú Chulainn demonstrates his skill by capturing all of them and giving them to the women, who desire to wear a bird on each shoulder. Only Cú Chulainn’s wife does not get any birds and she is greatly incensed by this. Her husband promises her two of the finest swans he can find. Soon two birds alight on the loch linked together by a chain of red gold. The birds begin to sing sleep inducing tunes and the host falls asleep. Cú Chulainn wishes to attack the birds, but his wife sensing their supernatural powers warns him against casting at them. Despite this he persists, his javelin pierces the wing of one of the birds and then they both submerge. Later two supernatural women, Fand and Li Ban, clearly otherworld beings, appear to the hero, having put aside their bird form, they beat him until he becomes unconcious.
The raven goddess at one point went in search of the love Cú Chulainn, but she was denied. For this she turns aganst him and hinders him in single combat by turning herself into an eel, a heifer and a wolf.
Cú Chulainn’s encounters with ravens were usually non-friendly and they are usually malevolent otherworld birds which he seeks to overcome. In one tale the hero is resposible for destroying a large flock of ravens. The birds are described as being huge in size, and capable of swimming on the waves, and their evil nature is stressed. Cú Chulainn persues them and destroys the entire flock with his sling. He performs a strange ritual with the last bird. He cuts the head of the bird and bathes his hands in its blood, he then sets the head on a rock which was then called Srub Brain ‘Reven Bil’. It was believed that the bathing of his hands in blood would endow him with some form of supernatural power.
In an account from the Táin Bó Cuálnge which describes the way in which Cú Chulainn achieved mastery overcertain wil beasts. After decapitating the three sons of Nechtan Scéne, the heron is returning to Emain Macha in a chariot with the heads. He and his charioteer see a herd of wild deer ahead of them. They go in chase of them and th horses become stuck in the bog. Cú Chulainn gets out of the chariot and chses the deer catching two of them which he attaches to the back poles of the chariot. They proceed to Emain when they see a flock of swans above them. The hero brings down eight of them alive with a small stone from his sling, then he brings down a further sixteen of them alive. These he fastens to his chariot also. Later he asks the charioteer to take the birds. the horses have become unruly, and the charioteer dare not move because the antlers of the stags have filled the entire space between the two shafts of the chariot. Cú Chulainn then proceeds to hypnotise the deer and the horses ‘ I swar by the god by whom the Ulstermen swear because of the look I shall give at the horses they will not depart from the straight way; at the look I shall give at the deer they will bend their heads in fear and awe of me; they will not dare move, and it will be safe for you even although you go infront of their horns.’ Thus it was he proceeded to Emain Macha: the wild deer behind his chariot, and the flock of swans flying over it, and the three heads of Nechtan Scéne’s sons … arranged in his chariot’
Those days when Conor MacNessa sat on the throne of Ulster were brilliant days in Ireland’s history. Then was the sun of glory in the zenith of Eire’s Heroic period – the period of chivalry, chiefly created by the famous Royal or Red Branch Knights of Emania. Though, two other famous bands of Irish warriors gave added lustre to the period- the Gamanraide of the West (who were the Firbolgs) and the Clanna Deaghaid of Mulster led by Curoi MacDaire. All three warrior bands had their poets and the seanachies, who chanted their deeds in imperishable song and story which, down the dim ages, have since held spell bound the clan of the Gael. But the greatest, the most belauded, and the most dazzling of all the heroes of the heroic age was undoubtedly Cuchullain, of whose life and wondrous deeds, real and
imaginary, hundreds of stories still exist.
CUCHULLAIN was a foster son of King Conor. “I am little Setanta, son to
Sualtim, and Dectaire your sister” he told the questioning King, when, as a
boy, in whose breast the fame of the Red Branch warriors had awaked the
thirst for glory, he came up to the court of Emania. When he arrived there
and the youths in training were playing caman upon the green. Having taken
with him from home, his red bronze hurl and his silver ball, the little
stranger, going in among them, so outplayed all the others, that the
attention of the court was drawn to him. And it was then that the little
stranger gave the above reply to the question of the admiring king. The
eager attention of the warriors of the Red Branch was drawn to the lad and
they foresaw great things for him, when they heard him express himself
nobly and wonderfully, on the day that, in Emania, in the Hall of Heroes,
he took arms. He stood before the Druids in the Hall of Heroes and
exclaimed “I care not whether I die tomorrow or next year, if only my deeds
live after me”. The greatest, most exciting portion of this hero’s stories
is the account of his fight with his friend, Ferdiad, at the ford, where ,
single handed, he is holding at bay the forces of Connaught. Ferdiad is the
great Connaught champion, chief, of the Connaught knights of the Sword, the
Fir Domniann and a dear friend and comrade of CUCHULLAIN, since, in their
youth, they were training for the profession of arms. And it is now sore
for CUCHULLAIN to fight the soul friend whom the Connaught host has pitted
against them. He would dissuade Ferdiad from fighting, by reminding him of
their comradeship, when they were together learning the art of war from the
female champion, Scathach, in Alba.
“We were heart companions,
We were companions in the woods,
We were fellows of the same bed,
Where we used to sleep the balmy sleep.
After mortal battles abroad,
In countries many and far distant,
Together we used to practice, and go
Through each forest, learning with Scathach”.
But Ferdiad had not the tenderness of CUCHULLAIN, and would not let fond
memories turn him from his purpose. Indeed lest he might yield to the
weakness of temptation, he forced himself to answer Cuchullain’s tenderness
with taunts, so as to provoke the Compat. An fight they finally did. They
fought for four days. On the fourth day, CUCHULLAIN rallies to the fight
more fiercely, more terribly, more overpoweringly than ever, and at length
gives to his friend, Ferdiad, the coup de grace. CUCHULLAIN laid Ferdiad
down then, and a trance, and a faint, and a weakness fell on CUCHULLAIN
over Ferdiad there.
CUCHULLAIN died as a hero should – on a battlefield, with his back to a
rock and his face to the foe, buckler on arm, and spear in hand. He died
standing, and in that defiant attitude (supported by the rock) was many
days dead ere the enemy dared venture near enough to reassure themselves of
his exit – which they only did when they saw the vultures alight upon him,
and undisturbed, peck at his flesh.
CONN OF THE HUNDRED BATTLES
The celebrated Conn of the hundred Battles was a son of Feidlimid, the son
of Tuathal – though he did not immediately succeed Feidlimid. Between them
reigned Cathari Mor, who was father of thirty sons, among whom and their
posterity he attempted to divide Ireland, and from whom are descended the
chief Leinster families. As Conn’s title suggests, his reign was filled
with battling. Conn’s strenuous militancy and the suggestive title that it
won for him, made him famed beyond worthier men – the greatest pride of
some of the noblest families of the land a thousand years and more after
his time trace back their descent to him of the Hundred Battles. Conn’s
life and reign were ended by his assassination at Tara. Fifty robbers hired
by the king of Ulster, came to Tara, dressed as women, and treacherously
despatched the Monarch. Conn’s son in law, Conaire II, who succeeded him as
monarch – for his son Art was then but a child – is famed as father of
three Carbris, namely Carbri Musc, from whom was named the territory of
Muskerry, Carbri Baiscin, whose descendants peopled Corca Baiscin in
Western Clare, and most notable of them, Carbri Riada, who, when there was
a famine in the South, led his people to the extreme Northeast of Ireland,
and some of them across to the nearest part of Scotland, where they
settled, forming the first important colony of Scots (Irish) in Alba, and
driving there the edge of the Irish wedge which was eventually to make the
whole country known as the land of the Scots (Irish).
CORMAC MAC ART
Of all the ancient kings of Ireland, Cormac, who reigned in the third century, is unquestionably considered greatest by the poets, the seanachies, and the chroniclers. His father Art was the son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and was known as Art the Lonely, as he had lost his brothers, Connla and Crionna – both slain by their uncles. It was at the court of Lugaid at Tara, that Cormac first distinguished himself, and gave token of the ability and wisdom, which were, afterwards, to mark him the most distinguished of Eirinn’s monarchs. From his exile in Connaught, Cormac, a green youth , had returned to Tara,
where, unrecognised, he was engaged herding sheep for a poor widow. Now one of the sheep broke into the queen’s garden, and ate the queen’s vegetables. And King Lugaid, equally angry as his queen, after he heard the case, ordered that for penalty on the widow, her sheep should be forfeit to the queen. To the amazement of Lugaid’s court, the herd boy who had been watching the proceedings with anxiety, arose, and, facing the king, said,”Unjust is thy award, O king, for, because thy queen hath lost a few vegetables, thou wouldst deprive the poor widow of her livelihood?” When the king recovered from his astoundment, he looked contemptuously at the lad, asking scathingly: “And what, O wise herd boy would be thy just
award?” The herd boy, not one little bit disconcerted, answered him “My
award would be that the wool of the sheep should pay for the vegetables the
sheep has eaten – because both the wool and the green things will grow
again, and both parties have forgotten their hurt.” And the wonderful
wisdom of the judgement drew the applause of the astounded court. But
Lugaid exclaimed in alarm: “It is the judgement of a King.” And, the lad’s
great mind having betrayed him, he had to flee. He returned and claimed the
throne when Lugaid was killed, but at a feast which he gave to the princes
whose support he wanted, Fergus Black Tooth of Ulster, who coveted the Ard
Righship, managed, it is said, to singe the hair of Cormac – creating a
blemish that debarred the young man temporarily from the throne. And he
fled again from Tara, fearing designs upon his life. Fergus became Ard Righ
for a year – at the end of which time Cormac returned with an army, and,
supported by Taig, the son of Ciann, and grandson of the great Oilill Olum
of Munster, completely overthrew the usurper in the great battle of Crionna
(on the Boyne) where Fergus and his two brothers were slain – and Cormac
won undisputed possession of the monarchy. Taig was granted a large
territory between Damlaig (Duleek) and the River Liffi, since then called
the Ciannachta. He became the ancestor of the O’Hara’s, O’Gara’s,
O’Carroll’s, and other now Northern families. In Cormac’s time, the world
was replete with all that was good and the food and the fat of the land,
and the gifts of the sea were in abundance in this king’s reign. There were
neither woundings nor robberies in his time, but every one enjoyed his own,
in peace. Cormac rebuilt the palace of Tara, with much magnificence. He
built the Teach Mi Chuarta, the great banqueting hall, that was 760 feet by
46 feet, and 45 feet high. Until quite recently, the outline of the
foundations of this great hall with the traces of its fourteen doorways,
were still to be observed on Tara Hill. In the Book of Leinster is related
“Three thousand persons each day is what Cormac used to maintain in tara;
besides poets and satirists, and all the strangers who sought the king;
Galls, and Romans, and Franks, and Frisian, and Longbards, and Albanians
and Saxons, and Picts, for all these used to seek him, and it was with gold
and with silver, with steeds and with chariots, that he presented them.
They used all to come to Cormac, because there was not in his time, nor
before him, any more celebrated in honour, and in dignity, and in wisdom,
except only Solomon, the son of David. The remarkable king died in the year
267 – more than a century and a half before the coming of St. Patrick. By
reason of his extraordinary wisdom, the righteousness of his deeds,
judgements and laws, he is said to have been blest with the light of the
Christian faith seven years before his death. The traditions about Cormac
also state that having been inspired by the faith he made dying request
that he should be buried, not with the other pagan kings at their famous
burying ground, whence would dawn the holy light that should make Eirinn
radiant. Disregarding his dying wish, the Druids ordered that he should be
interred with his ancestors at Brugh of Boyne. But when, in pursuance of
this, the bearers were bearing his body across the river, a great wave
swept it from their shoulders, down the stream, and cast it up at Ros na
Riogh, where, according to his wish, he was then buried.
Cuchullain goes into Battle
from Tain Bo Cuailnge
His Armor and Clothes
He equipped himself in his array of battle and fighting and combat. Of that
battle array which he put on may be counted twenty-seven skin-tunics, waxed and
smoothed, and closely braced on with strings and chains and thongs, so that his
fury may not exceed his reason, whenever his manly rage should boil up.
He put on over these his battle-girdle of hard-tanned leather, cut from the
backs of seven full-grown ox-hides, which encircled him from his hips to his arm
pits, and which he wore for the purpose of repelling javelins, points, and
sharp-pointed irons, spears, and darts; so that they always rebounded from
him . . .
He then put on his apron of striped satin, with its border of mottled
white-gold, over the softer part of his lower body; he then put on his apron of
brown leather, cut from the backs of four full-grown well-tanned ox-hides, over
his battle girdle of ox-hides, and his apron of striped satin . . .
Then the royal champion took his battle-arms of battle and contest and
strife. These then were his battle-arms:
Shield great, curved, black-crimson; in the
hollow of which a full-grown hog would
fit; (and it was) bound with a rim of
silver, so sharp as to cut a hair against
a stream, so that whenever the champion
used it as a weapon, it was equally that
he would cut with his shield, and it was
chased with figures of golden animals.
8 missive shields (thrown vertically to slice through the enemy)
Gae Bulgae such was the nature it used to be set
downstream and cast from between the
toes; it made one wound as it entered a
man’s body but it had 30 barbs when one
tried to remove it and it was not taken
from a man’s body until the flesh was cut
away about it.
his favorite light spear, made of bronze
8 little spears
8 short spears
8 little swords
Tooth (ivory)-hilted, bright-shining, short sword
8 little darts
His Sidhe Companions
He then put on his ridged Helmet, from every recess and every angle of which
issued the shout, as it were, of 100 warriors; because it was alike that women
of the valley, and hobgoblins, and wild people of the glen, and demons of the
air, shouted in front of it, and in rear of it, and over it, and around it,
wherever he went, in excited frenzy at the spurting of the blood of warriors
His Magic Cloak
He then threw his Mantle of Invisibility over him, manufactured from the
precious fleeces of the land of the immortals, which had been brought to him by
Mananann Mac Lir, from the King of Portugal.
The Warp Spasm
It was then that the Warp-spasm overtook his form; his hair twisted about
his head like the tangle of red Hawthorn used to re-fence the gap in a hedge.
If a royal apple tree weighted down with fruit had been shaken above his head,
scarcely one apple would have reached the ground through it, but each would be
spiked on a bristle of his hair as it stood up on his scalp with rage.
His body contorted and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and
shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and
organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream.
His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins
and knees switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front.
The balled sinews of his calves switched to the front of his shins, each big
knot the size of a warrior’s bunched fist.
On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each
mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child.
His face and features became a red bowl; he sucked one eye so deep into his
head that a wild crane couldn’t probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his
skull; the other eye fell out along his cheek.
His mouth weirdly distorted; his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the
gullet appeared, his lungs and liver flapped in his mouth and throat, his lower
jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram’s
fleece reached his mouth from his throat.
His heart boomed loud in his breast like the baying of a watch-dog at its
feed or the sound of a lion among bears.
Malignant mists and spurts of fire – the torches of the Balb – flickered red
in the vaporous clouds that rose boiling above his head, so fierce was his fury.
The hero halo rose out of his brow, long and broad as a warrior’s whetstone,
long as a snout, and he went mad rattling his shields, urging on his charioteer
and harassing the hosts.
Then, tall and thick, steady and strong, high as the mast of a noble ship,
rose up from the center of his skull a straight spout of black blood darkly and
magically smoking like the smoke from a royal hostel when the king is coming to
be cared for at the close of a winter day.
He mounted his beautiful, flesh-seeking, four-peaked chariot, with speed,
with velocity, with full cunning, with a green pavilion, with a thin-bodied,
dry-bodied, high-weaponed, long-speared, warlike body made of spruce and wicker,
with iron wheels of rust yellow, poles of white-gold, a bright arching body of
copper, and a curved yoke of pure gold and two braided reins of pure yellow.
Two horses wearing Loricas of beautiful iron, which covered them from their
faces to their tails; studded with little blades, little spikes, little lances,
and hard-pointed spears; and every motion of that chariot brought some sharp
point next anyone who it approached; so that every angle and every face, and
every point, and every head, of that same chariot, was a sure path of cutting
The “Grey of Macha” under one yoke of the chariot; broad-hipped, fleet,
bounding, fierce, swift, flying, ferocious, war-leaping, long-maned, noisy and
thundering, curly-maned, high-headed, broad-chested; throwing up huge clods of
earth that it cuts up with its very hard hooves. Its victorious stride over
takes flocks of birds; a dreadful flash to its breath, a ball of flaming red
fire, and the jaws of its bridle-bitted head shine.
The Black, its partner under the other yoke; tufty-maned, ready-going,
broad-backed, jet black, hard-headed, compact, narrow-hooved, narrow-chested,
strong, swift, arrogant, braided-maned, high-spirited, fleet, fierce,
long-striding, stout-blow-dealing, long-maned, long-tailed, swift at running
after fighting, driving round paths and runs, scattering wastes, traversing
glens and plains.
The approaching (invisible) clamor, and the rattle and the whistling,
and the noise of the missive shields, and the hissing of the spears, and the loud
clangor of the swords, and the friction of the arms; the dangling of the missive
weapons, the straining of the ropes, and the loud clattering of the whole, and
the creaking of the chariot, and the tramping of the horses, and the triumphant
advances of the champion and the warrior threw terror into the enemy camp.
He drove around the hosts of his enemies in a furious succession of narrowing
circles; driving them closer and closer together; assailing them with his deadly
weapons at all points; and brushing close to them and through them, with his
armed chariot, tearing, maiming, and killing them in all directions and escaping
himself in the sudden confusion and disorder into which he threw them.
After the Battle
When Cuchullain returned after battle three vats of cold water were prepared for him. His battle-fury was still so great that unless he were cooled-off he might attack his own people within the fort. Upon entering the first vat, it would boil over, and the second became so hot no one could endure it, but the third became only moderately warm.