Táin Bó Cúailnge

23C. The White-fight of Rochad

About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Joseph Dunn

Cuchulain despatched his charioteer to Rochad Rigderg (‘Red-king’) son of Fathemon, from Rigdorn in the north, that he should come to his aid. He was of Ulster. The gilla comes up to Rochad and tells him, if he has come out of his weakness, to go to the help of Cuchulain, that they should employ a ruse to reach the host to seize some of them and slay them. Rochad set out from the north. Thrice fifty warriors was his number, and he took possession of a hill fronting the hosts. “Scan the plain for us to-day,” said Ailill. “I see a company crossing the plain,” the watchman answered, “and a tender youth comes in their midst; the other warriors reach but up to his shoulder.” “Who is that warrior, O Fergus?” asked Ailill. “Rochad son of Fathemon,” he answered; “and it is to bring help to Cuchulain he comes. I know what ye had best do with him,” Fergus continued. “Let a hundred warriors go from ye with the maiden yonder to the middle of the plain and let the maid go before them, and let a horseman go tell Rochad to come alone to hold converse with the maid and let hands be laid on him, and thus shall be removed all fear of his people from us.”

Finnabair, daughter of Ailill and Medb, perceived that and she went to speak to her mother thereof, even to Medb. Now it happened that Finnabair loved Rochad. It is he was the fairest young warrior in Ulster at that time. And Finnabair disclosed her secret and her love to her mother. “Truly have I loved yonder warrior for a long time,” said she; “and it is he is my sweetheart, my first love and mine own choice one in wooing of the men of Erin.” “An thou hast so loved him, daughter,” quoth Ailill and Medb, “sleep with him this night and crave for us a truce of him for the hosts, until with Conchobar he encounters us on the day of the great battle when four of the grand provinces of Erin will meet at Garech and Ilgarech in the battle of the Foray of Cualnge.”

This then is done. Rochad sets forth to meet the horseman. “I am come,” says the horseman, “from Finnabair to meet thee that thou come to speak with the maiden.” Thereupon Rochad goes alone to converse with her. The army surrounds him on all sides; he is seized and hands are laid on him; his followers are routed and driven in flight. Afterwards he is set free and bound over not to oppose Ailill’s host till the time he will come with all the warriors of Ulster. Also they promise to give Finnabair to him.

Rochad son of Fathemon accepted the offer and thereupon he left them and that night the damsel slept with him.

An Under-king of Munster that was in the camp heard the tale. He went to his people to speak of it. “Yonder maiden was plighted to me on fifteen hostages once long ago,” said he; “and it is for this I have now come on this hosting.” Now wherever it happened that the seven Under-kings of Munster were, what they all said was that it was for this they were come. “Yonder maiden was pledged to each of us in the bargain as our sole wife, to the end that we should take part in this warfare.” They all declared that that was the price and condition on which they had come on the hosting. “Why,” said they, “what better counsel could we take? Should we not go to avenge our wife and our honour on the Manè the sons of Ailill who are watching and guarding the rear of the army at Imlech in Glendamrach (‘Kettle-glen’s navel’)?”

This was the course they resolved upon. And with their seven divisions of thirty hundreds they arose each man of them to attack the Manè. When Ailill heard that, he arose with a start with ready shield against them and thirty hundred after them. Medb arose with her thirty hundred. The sons of Maga with theirs and the Leinstermen and the Munstermen and the people of Tara.

Then arose Fergus with his thirty hundred to intervene between them, and that was a hand for that mighty work. And a mediation was made between them so that each of them sat down near the other and hard by his arms. Howbeit before the intervention took place, eight hundred very valiant warriors of them had fallen in the slaughter of Glenn Domain (‘Deep Glen’).

Finnabair, daughter of Ailill and Medb, had tidings that so great a number of the men of Erin had fallen for her sake and on account of her. And her heart broke in her breast even as a nut, through shame and disgrace, so that Finnabair Slebe (‘Finnabair of the Mount’) is the name of the place where she fell, died and was buried.

Then said the men of Erin, “White is this battle,” said they, “for Rochad son of Fathemon, in that eight hundred exceeding brave warriors fell for his sake and on his account and he himself goes safe and whole to his country and land without blood-shedding or reddening on him.” Hence this is the ‘White-fight’ of Rochad.