Táin Bó Cúailnge

15. The Combat of Loch and Cuchulain, and the Slaying of Loch son of Mofemis

About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Joseph Dunn

Then it was debated by the men of Erin who would be fitted to fight and contend with Cuchulain and ward him off from them on the ford at the morning-hour early on the morrow. What they all agreed was that it should be Loch Mor (‘the Great’) son of Mofemis, the royal champion of Munster.

It was then that Loch Mor son of Mofemis was summoned like the rest to the pavilion of Ailill and Medb, and he was promised the equal of Mag Murthemni of the smooth field of Mag Ai, and the accoutrement of twelve men, and a chariot of the value of seven bondmaids. “What would ye of me?” asked Loch. “To have fight with Cuchulain,” replied Medb. “I will not go on that errand, for I esteem it no honour nor becoming to attack a tender, young, smooth-chinned, beardless boy. ’Tis not seemly to speak thus to me, and ask it not of me. And not to belittle him do I say it, but I have a doughty brother, the match of himself,” said Loch, “a man to confront him, Long macEmonis, to wit, and he will rejoice to accept an offer from you; and it were fitting for him to contend with Cuchulain for Long has no beard on cheek or lip any more than Cuchulain.”

Thereupon Long was summoned to the tent of Ailill and Medb, and Medb promised him great gifts, even livery for twelve men of cloth of every colour, and a chariot worth four times seven bondmaids, and Finnabair to wife for him alone, and at all times entertainment in Cruachan, and that wine would be poured out for him.

They passed there that night and he engaged to do the battle and combat, and early on the morrow went Long to the ford of battle and combat to seek Cuchulain, and Cuchulain slew him and they brought him dead into the presence of his brother, namely of Loch. And Loch came forth and raised up his loud, quick voice and cried, had he known it was a bearded man that slew him, he would slay him for it. And it was in the presence of Medb that he said it. “Lead a battle-force against him,” Medb cried to her host, “over the ford from the west, that ye may cross, and let the law of fair fight be broken with Cuchulain.” The seven Manè the warriors went first, till they saw him to the west of the edge of the ford. He wore his festive raiment on that day and the women clambered on the men that they might behold him. “It grieves me,” said Medb. “I cannot see the boy because of whom they go there.” “Thy mind would not be the easier for that,” quoth Lethrenn, Ailill’s horseboy. “if thou shouldst see him.” Cuchulain came to the ford as he was. “What man is that yonder, O Fergus?” asked Medb. And Medb, too, climbed on the men to get a look at him.

Then Medb called upon her handmaid for two woman-bands, fifty or twice fifty of her women, to go speak with Cuchulain and to charge him to put a false beard on. The woman-troop went their way to Cuchulain and told him to put a false beard on if he wished to engage in battle or combat with goodly warriors or with goodly youths of the men of Erin; that sport was made of him in the camp for that he had no beard, and that no good warrior would go meet him but only mad-men. It were easier to make a false beard: “For no brave warrior in the camp thinks it seemly to come fight with thee, and thou beardless,” said they. “If that please me,” said Cuchulain, “then I shall do it.” Thereupon Cuchulain took a handful of grass and speaking a spell over it he bedaubed himself a beard in order to obtain combat with a man, namely with Loch. And he came onto the knoll overlooking the men of Erin and made that beard manifest to them all, so that every one thought it was a real beard he had.

“’Tis true,” spake the women, “Cuchulain has a beard. It is fitting for a warrior to fight with him.” They said that to urge on Loch. Loch son of Mofemis saw it, and what he said was, “Why, that is a beard on Cuchulain!” “It is what I perceive,” Medb answered. Medb promised the same great terms to Loch to put a check to Cuchulain.

“I will not undertake the fight till the end of seven days from this day,” exclaimed Loch. “Not fitting is it for us to leave that man unattacked for all that time,” Medb answered. “Let us put a warrior every night to spy upon him if, peradventure, we might get a chance at him.” This then they did. A warrior went every night to spy upon him and he slew them all. These are the names of the men who fell there: the seven Conall, the seven Oengus, the seven Uargus, the seven Celtri, the eight Fiach, the ten Ailill, the ten Delbrath, the ten Tasach. These are the deeds of that week on Ath Grenca.

Medb sought counsel, what was best to be done with Cuchulain, for she was sore grieved at all of her host that had been slain by him. This is the counsel she took: To despatch keen, high-spirited men at one time to attack him when he would come to an appointment she would make to speak with him. For she had a tryst the next day with Cuchulain, to conclude the pretence of a truce with him in order to get a chance at him. She sent forth messengers to seek him to advise him to come to her, and thus it was that he should come, unarmed, for she herself would not come but with her women attendants to converse with him.

The runner, namely Traigtren (‘Strongfoot’) son of Traiglethan (‘Broadfoot’) went to the place where Cuchulain was and gave him Medb’s message. Cuchulain promised that he would do her will. “How liketh it thee to meet Medb to-morrow, Cuchulain?” asked Laeg. “Even as Medb desires it,” answered Cuchulain. “Great are Medb’s deeds,” said the charioteer; “I fear a hand behind the back with her.” “How is it to be done by us then?” asked he. “Thy sword at thy waist,” the charioteer answered, “that thou be not taken off thy guard. For a warrior is not entitled to his honour-price if he be taken without arms, and it is the coward’s law that falls to him in this manner.” “Let it be so, then,” said Cuchulain.

Now it was on Ard (‘the Height’) of Aignech which is called Fochard to-day that the meeting took place. Then fared Medb to the tryst and she stationed fourteen men of those that were bravest of her bodyguard in ambush against him. These were they: the two Glassinè, the two sons of Buccridi, the two Ardan, the two sons of Liccè, the two Glasogma, the two sons of Crund, Drucht and Delt and Dathen, Tea and Tascur and Tualang, Taur and Glesè.

Then Cuchulain comes to meet her. The men rise against him. Fourteen spears are hurled at him at the same time. The Hound defends himself, so that neither his skin nor protection (?) is touched and he turns in upon them and kills them, the fourteen men. Hence these are the ‘Fourteen men of Fochard.’ And they are also the ‘Men of Cronech,’ for it is in Cronech at Fochard they were slain. And it is of this Cuchulain spake : —

“Good my skill in champion’s deeds.
Valorous are the strokes I deal
On the brilliant phantom host.
War with numerous bands I wage,
For the fall of warlike chief—
This, Medb’s purpose and Ailill’s—
Direful (?) hatred hath been raised!”

This is the reason why the name Focherd clung to that place, to wit: Fo ‘Good’ and Cerd ‘Art,’ which signifieth ‘Good the feat of arms’ that happened to Cuchulain there.

Then came Cuchulain and he overtook the hosts pitching camp, and there were slain the two Daigri, the two Anli and the four Dungai of Imlech. And there Medb began to urge on Loch: “Great is the scorn that is made of thee,” said she, “that the man that killed thy brother should be destroying our host here before thee and thou not attack him. For sure we are that such as he yonder, that great and fierce madman, will not be able to withstand the valour and rage of a warrior such as thou art. And, further, from one and the same instructress the art was acquired by you both.”

“I will go forth and attack him,” cried Loch. Loch went to attack Cuchulain, to take vengeance on him for his brother, for it was shown him that Cuchulain had a beard; so they met on the ford where Long had fallen. “Let us move to the upper ford,” said Loch, “for I will not fight on this ford,” since he held it defiled, cursed and unclean, the ford whereon his brother had fallen. Now when Cuchulain came to look for the ford, the men drove the cattle across. “The cattle will be across thy water here to-day,” said Gabran the poet. Hence Cometh Ath Tarteisc (‘the Ford over thy Water’) and Tir Mor Tarteisc (‘the Great Land over thy Water’).Thereafter they fought on the upper ford between Methè and Cethè at the head of Tir Mor, and they were for a long space and time at their feats wounding and striking each other.

Then it was that the Morrigan daughter of Aed Ernmas came from the fairy dwellings to destroy Cuchulain. For she had threatened on the Cattle-raid of Regomaina that she would come to undo Cuchulain what time he would be in sore distress when engaged in battle and combat with a goodly warrior, with Loch, in the course of the Cattle-spoil of Cualnge. Thither then the Morrigan came in the shape of a white, hornless, red-eared heifer, with fifty heifers about her and a chain of silvered bronze between each two of the heifers. She bursts upon the pools and fords at the head of the cattle. It was then that Cuchulain said, “I cannot see the fords for the waters.” The women came with their strange sorcery, and constrained Cuchulain by geasa and by inviolable bonds to check the heifer for them lest she should escape from him without harm. Cuchulain made an unerring cast from his sling-stick at her, so that he shattered one of the Morrigan’s eyes.

Now when the men met on the ford and began to fight and to struggle, and when each of them was about to strike the other, the Morrigan came thither in the shape of a slippery, black eel down the stream. Then she came on the linn and she coiled three folds and twists around the two feet and the thighs and forks of Cuchulain, till he was lying on his back athwart the ford and his limbs in the air.

While Cuchulain was busied freeing himself, and before he was able to rise, Loch wounded him crosswise through the breast, so that the spear went through him and the ford was gore-red with his blood. “Ill, indeed,” cried Fergus, “is this deed in the face of the foe. Let some of ye taunt him, ye men,” he cried to his people, “to the end that he fall not in vain!”

Bricriu Nemthenga (‘Of the Venom-tongue’) son of Carbad arose and began to revile Cuchulain. “Thy strength has gone from thee,” said he, “when a little salmon overthrows thee even now when the Ulstermen are about to come out of their ‘Pains.’ Hard it would be for thee to take on thee warrior’s deeds in the presence of the men of Erin and to repel a stout warrior clad in his armour!”

Then at this incitation Cuchulain arose, and with his left heel he smote the eel on the head, so that its ribs broke within it and he destroyed one half of its brains after smashing half of its head. And the cattle were driven by force past the hosts to the east and they even carried away the tents on their horns at the thunder-feat the two warriors made on the ford.

The Morrigan next came in the form of a rough, grey-red bitch-wolf with wide open jaws and she bit Cuchulain in the arm and drove the cattle against him westwards, and Cuchulain made a cast of his little javelin at her, strongly, vehemently, so that it shattered one eye in her head. During this space of time, whether long or short, while Cuchulain was engaged in freeing himself. Loch wounded him through the loins. Thereupon Cuchu lain chanted a lay.

Then did Cuchulain to the Morrigan the three things
he had threatened her on the Cattle-raid of Regomain,
and his anger arose within him and he wounded Loch with
the Gae Bulga (‘the Barbed-spear’), so that it passed through his heart in his breast.

For truly it must have been that Cuchulain could not suffer the treacherous blows and the violence of Loch Mor the warrior, and he called for the Gae Bulgae from Laeg son of Riangabair. And the charioteer sent the Gae Bulga down the stream and Cuchulain made it ready. And when Loch heard that, he gave a lunge down with his shield, so that he drove it over two-thirds deep into the pebbles and sand and gravel of the ford. And then Cuchulain let go the Barbed-spear upwards, so as to strike Loch over the border of his hauberk and the rim of his shield. And it pierced his body’s covering, for Loch wore a horn skin when fighting with a man, so that his farther side was pierced clear after his heart had been thrust through in his breast.

“That is enough now,” spake Loch; “I am smitten by that. For thine honour’s sake and on the truth of thy valour and skill in arms, grant me a boon now, O Cuchulain,” said Loch. “What boon askest thou?” “’Tis no boon of quarter nor a prayer of cowardice that I make of thee,” said Loch. “But fall back a step from me and permit me to rise, that it be on my face to the east I fall and not on my back to the west toward the warriors of Erin, to the end that no man of them shall say, if I fall on my back, it was in retreat or in flight I was before thee, for fallen I have by the Gae Bulga!” “That will I do,” answered Cuchulain, “for ’tis a true warrior’s prayer that thou makest.” And Cuchulain stepped back, so that Loch fell on his face, and his soul parted from his body and Laeg despoiled him. Cuchulain cut off his head then. Hence cometh the name the ford bears ever since, namely Ath Traged (‘Foot-ford’) in Cenn Tire Moir (‘Great Headland’).

It was then they broke their terms of fair fight that day with Cuchulain, when five men went against him at one time, namely the two Cruaid, the two Calad and Derothor. All alone, Cuchulain killed them. Hence cometh Coicsius Focherda (‘Fochard’s Fortnight’) and Coicer Oengoirt (‘Five Warriors in one Field’). Or it may be, fifteen days Cuchulain passed in Fochard and it is hence cometh Coicsius Focherda on the Táin.

And deep distress possessed Cuchulain that day more than any other day for his being all alone on the Táin, confronting four of the five grand provinces of Erin, and he sank into swoons and faints. Thereupon Cuchulain enjoined upon Laeg his charioteer to go to the men of Ulster, that they should come to defend their drove. And, on rising, this is what he said: “Good, O Laeg, get thee to Emain to the Ulstermen, and bid them come hence-forward to look after their drove for I can defend their fords no longer. For surely it is not fair fight nor equal contest for any man for the Morrigan to oppose and overpower him and Loch to wound and pierce him.” And weariness of heart and weakness overcame him, and he gave utterance to a lay: —

“Rise, O Laeg, arouse the hosts,
Say for me in Emain strong:
I am worn each day in fight,
Full of wounds, and bathed in gore!

“My right side and eke my left:
Hard to say which suffers worse;
Fingin’s hand hath touched them not,
Stanching blood with strips of wood!

“Bring this word to Conchobar dear,
I am weak, with wounded sides.
Greatly has he changed in mien,
Dechtirè’s fond, rich-trooped son!

“I alone these cattle guard,
Leave them not, yet hold them not.
Ill my plight, no hope for me,
Thus alone on many fords!

“Showers of blood rain on my arms,
Full of hateful wounds am I.
No friend comes to help me here
Save my charioteer alone!

“Few make music here for me,
Joy I’ve none in single horn.
When the mingled trumpets sound,
This is sweetest from the drone!

“This old saying, ages old:—
Single log gives forth no flame;
Let there be a two or three,
Up the firebrands all will blaze!

“One sole log burns not so well
As when one burns by its side.
Guile can be employed on one;
Single mill-stone doth not grind!

“Hast not heard at every time,
One is duped?— ’tis true of me.
That is why I cannot last
These long battles of the hosts!

“However small a host may be,
It receives some thought and pains;
Take but this: its daily meat
On one fork is never cooked!

“Thus alone I’ve faced the host
By the ford in broad Cantire;
Many came, both Loch and Badb,
As foretold in ‘Regomain!’

“Loch has mangled my two thighs;
Me the grey-red wolf hath bit;
Loch my sides has wounded sore
And the eel has dragged me down!

“With my spear I kept her off;
I put out the she-wolf’s eye;
and I broke her lower leg,
At the outset of the strife!

“Then when Laeg sent Aifè’s spear,
Down the stream—like swarm of bees—
That sharp deadly spear I hurled,
Loch, Mobebuis’ son, fell there!

“Will not Ulster battle give
To Ailill and Eocho’s lass,
While I linger here in pain,
Full of wounds and bathed in blood?

“Tell the splendid Ulster chiefs
They shall come to guard their drove.
Maga’s sons have seized their kine
And have portioned them all out!

“Fight on fight—though much I vowed,
I have kept my word in all.
For pure honour’s sake I fight;
’Tis too much to fight alone!

“Vultures joyful at the breach
In Ailill’s and in Medb’s camp.
Mournful cries of woe are heard;
On Murthemne’s plain is grief!

“Conchobar comes not out with help;
In the fight, no troops of his.
Should one leave him thus alone,
Hard ’twould be his rage to tell

“Men have almost worn me out
In these single-handed fights;
Warrior’s deeds I cannot do,
Now that I must fight alone!”

Although Cuchulain spoke thus, he had no strength for Laeg to leave him.

This then is the Combat of Loch Mor (‘the Great’) son of Mofemis against Cuchulain on the Driving of the Kine of Cualnge.