23D. Iliach’s Clump-fight

By Mythopedia Staff
Translated by Joseph Dunn1914

Then came to them Iliach son of Cass son of Bacc son of Ross Ruad son of Rudraige. He was at that time an old man cared for by his son’s son, namely by Loegaire Buadach (‘the Victorious’) in Rath Imbil in the north. It was told him that the four grand provinces of Erin even then laid waste and invaded the lands of Ulster and of the Picts and of Cualnge from Monday at Summer’s end till the beginning of Spring, and were carrying off their women and their cows and their children, their flocks, their herds and their cattle, their oxen and their kine and their droves, their steeds and their horses. He then conceived a plan in his mind and he made perfect his plan privily with his people. “What counsel were better for me to make than to go and attack the men of Erin and to use my strength on them and have my boast and victory over them, and thus avenge the honour of Ulster. And I care not though I should fall myself there thereafter.”

And this is the counsel he followed. His two withered, mangy, sorrel nags that were upon the strand hard by the fort were led to him. And to them was fastened his ancient, worn-out chariot. Thus he mounted his chariot, without either covers or cushions; a hurdle of wattles around it. His big, rough, pale-grey shield of iron he carried upon him, with its rim of hard silver around it. He wore his rough, grey-hilted, huge smiting sword at his left side. He placed his two rickety-headed, nicked, blunt, rusted spears by his side in the chariot. His folk furnished his chariot around him with cobbles and boulders and huge clumps, so that it was full up to its ........ (?)

In such wise he fared forth to assail the men of Erin. And thus he came, stark-naked, and the spittle from his gaping mouth trickling down through the chariot under him. When the men of Erin saw him thus, they began to mock and deride him. “Truly it would be well for us,” said the men of Erin, “if this were the manner in which all the Ulstermen came to us on the plain.”

Dochè son of Maga met him and bade him welcome. “Welcome is thy coming, O Iliach,” spake Dochè son of Maga. “Who bids me welcome?” asked Iliach. “A comrade and friend of Loegaire Buadach am I, namely Dochè macMagach.” “Truly spoken I esteem that welcome,” answered Iliach; “but do thou for the sake of that welcome come to me when now, alas, my deeds of arms will be over and my warlike vigour will have vanished, when I will have spent my rage upon the hosts, so that thou be the one to cut off my head and none other of the men of Erin. However, my sword shall remain with thee for thine own friend, even for Loegaire Buadach!”

He assailed the men of Erin with his weapons till he had made an end of them. And when weapons failed he assailed the men of Erin with cobbles and boulders and huge clumps of earth till he had used them up. And when these weapons failed him he spent his rage on the man that was nearest him of the men of Erin, and bruised him grievously between his fore-arms and his sides and the palms of his hands, till he made a marrow-mass of him, of flesh and bones and sinews and skin.

Hence in memory thereof, these two masses of marrow still live on side by side, the marrow-mass that Cuchulain made of the bones of the Ulstermen’s cattle for the healing of Cethern son of Fintan, and the marrow-mass that Iliach made of the bones of the men of Erin. Wherefore this was one of the three innumerable things of the Tain, the number of them that fell at the hands of Iliach. So that this is the ‘Clumpfight’ of Iliach. It is for this reason it is called the ‘Clump-fight’ of Iliach, because with cobbles and boulders and messy clumps he made his fight.

Thereafter Dochè son of Maga met him. “Is not this Iliach?” asked Dochè son of Maga. “It is truly I,” Iliach gave answer; “and come to me now and cut off my head and let my sword remain with thee for thy friend, for Loegaire Buadach (‘the Victorious’).”

Dochè came near him and gave him a blow with the sword so that he severed his head, and he took with him the head and the spoils vauntingly to where were Ailill and Medb. Thus to this point, the ‘Clump-fight’ of Iliach.

Táin Bó Cúailnge
English translation by Joseph Dunn (1914)
Cover: Táin Bó Cúailnge trans. Joseph Dunn (1914)