Táin Bó Cúailnge

24. The Repeated Warning of Sualtaim

About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Joseph Dunn

Now while the deeds we have told here were being done, Sualtaim (‘Goodly fosterer’) son of Becaltach (‘of Small belongings’) son of Moraltach (‘of Great belongings’), the same the father of Cuchulain macSualtaim, of Sualtaim’s Rath in the plain of Murthemne, was told of the distress and sore wounding of his son contending in unequal combat on the Cualnge Cattle-spoil, even against Calatin Dana (‘the Bold’) with his seven and twenty sons, and against Glass son of Delga, his grandson, and at the last against Ferdiad son of Daman.

It is then that Sualtaim said: “Whate’er it be, this that I hear from afar,” quoth Sualtaim, “it is the sky that bursts or the sea that ebbs or the earth that quakes, or is it the distress of my son overmatched in the strife on the Driving of the Kine of Cualnge?” In that, indeed, Sualtaim spoke true. And he went to learn all after a while, without hastening on his way. And when Sualtaim was come to where his son Cuchulain was and found him covered with wounds and bloody gashes and many stabs, Sualtaim began to moan and lament for Cuchulain.

Forsooth Cuchulain deemed it neither an honour nor glory that Sualtaim should bemoan and lament him, for Cuchulain knew that, wounded and injured though he was, Sualtaim would not be the man to avenge his wrong. For such was Sualtaim: He was no mean warrior and he was no mighty warrior, but only a good, worthy man was he. “Come, my father Sualtaim,” said Cuchulain, “cease thy sighing and mourning for me, and do thou go to Emain Macha to the men of Ulster and tell them to come now to have a care for their droves, for no longer am I able to protect them in the gaps and passes of the land of Conalle Murthemni. All alone am I against four of the five grand provinces of Erin from Monday at Summer’s end till the beginning of Spring, every day slaying a man on a ford and a hundred warriors every night. Fair fight is not granted me nor single combat, and no one comes to aid me nor to succour. And such is the measure of my wounds and my sores that I cannot bear my garments or my clothing to touch my skin, so that spancel-hoops hold my cloak over me. Dry tufts of grass are stuffed in my wounds. There is not the space of a needle’s point from my crown to my sole without wound or sore, and there is not a single hair on my body from my crown to my sole whereon the point of a needle could stand, without a drop of deep-red blood on the top of each hair, save the left hand alone which is holding my shield, and even there thrice fifty bloody wounds are upon it. And let them straightway give battle to the warriors, and unless they avenge this anon, they will never avenge it till the very day of doom and of life!”

Sualtaim set out on Liath (‘the Roan’) of Macha as his only horse, with warning to the men of Ulster. And when he was come alongside of Emain, he shouted these words there: “Men are slain, women stolen, cattle lifted, ye men of Ulster!” cried Sualtaim.

He had not the answer that served him from the Ulstermen, and forasmuch as he had it not he went on further to the rampart of Emain. And he cried out the same words there: “Men are slain, women stolen, cattle lifted, ye men of Ulster!” cried Sualtaim.

And a second time he had not the response that served him from the men of Ulster. Thus stood it among the Ulstermen: It was geis for the Ulstermen to speak before their king, geis for the king to speak before his three druids. Thereafter Sualtaim drove on to the ‘Flag-stone of the hostages’ in Emain Macha. He shouted the same words there: “Men are slain, women stolen, cows carried off!”

“But who has slain them, and who has stolen them, and who has carried them off?” asked Cathba the druid. “Ailill and Medb have, with the cunning of Fergus mac Roig, overwhelmed you. Your people have been harassed as far as Dun Sobairche,” said Sualtaim. “Your wives and your sons and your children, your steeds and your stock of horses, your herds and your flocks and your droves of cattle have been carried away. Cuchulain all alone is checking and staying the hosts of the four great provinces of Erin at the gaps and passes of the land of Conalle Murthemni. Fair fight is refused him, nor is he granted single combat, nor comes any one to succour or aid him. Cuchulain has not suffered them to enter the plain of Murthemne or into the land of Ross. Three winter months is he there. The youth is wounded, his limbs are out of joint. Spancel-hoops hold his cloak over him. There is not a hair from his crown to his sole whereon the point of a needle could stand, without a drop of deep-red blood on the top of each hair, except his left hand alone which is holding his shield, and even there thrice fifty bloody wounds are upon it. And unless ye avenge this betimes, ye will never avenge it till the end of time and of life.”

“Fitter is death and doom and destruction for the man that so incites the king!” quoth Cathba the druid. “In good sooth, it is true!” said the Ulstermen all together. Thereupon Sualtaim went his way from them, indignant and angry because from the men of Ulster he had not had the answer that served him.

Then reared Liath (‘the Roan’) of Macha under Sualtaim and dashed on to the ramparts of Emain. Thereat Sualtaim fell under his own shield, so that his own shield turned on Sualtaim and the scalloped edge of the shield severed Sualtaim’s head, though others say he was asleep on the stone, and that he fell thence onto his shield on awaking. Hence this is the ‘Tragical Death of Sualtaim.’

The horse himself turned back again to Emain, and the shield on the horse and the head on the shield. And Sualtaim’s head uttered the same words: “Men are slain women stolen, cattle lifted, ye men of Ulster!” spake the head of Sualtaim.

“Some deal too great is that cry,” quoth Conchobar; “for yet is the sky above us, the earth underneath and the sea round about us. And unless the heavens shall fall with their showers of stars on the man-like face of the world, or unless the ground burst open in quakes beneath our feet, or unless the furrowed, blue-bordered ocean break o’er the tufted brow of the earth, will I restore to her byre and her stall, to her abode and her dwelling-place, each and every cow and woman of them with victory of battle and contest and combat!”

Thereupon a runner of his body-guard was summoned to Conchobar, Findchad Ferbenduma (‘he of the copper Horn’) to wit, son of Fraech Lethan (‘the Broad’), and he bade him go assemble and muster the men of Ulster. And in like manner, in the drunkenness of sleep and of his ‘Pains,’ Conchobar enumerated to him their quick and their dead and he uttered these words:—

“Arise, O Findchad!
I Thee I send forth:
A negligence not to be wished (?);
Proclaim it to the chiefs of Ulster!

The Order of the men of Ulster.

Go thou forward to Derg, to Deda at his bay, to Lemain, to Follach, to Illann son of Fergus at Gabar, to Dornaill Feic at Imchlar, to Derg Imdirg, to Fedilmid son of Ilar Cetach of Cualnge at Ellonn, to Reochad son of Fathemon at Rigdonn, to Lug, to Lugaid, to Cathba at his bay, to Carfre at Ellne, to Laeg at his causeway, to Gemen in his valley, to Senoll Uathach at Diabul Ard, to Cethern son of Fintan at Carrloig, to Cethern at Eillne, to Tarothor, to Mulach at his fort, to the royal poet Amargin, to Uathach Bodba, to the Morrigan at Dûn Sobairche, to Eit, to Roth, to Fiachna at his mound, to Dam drend, to Andiaraid, to Manè Macbriathrach (‘the Eloquent’), to Dam Derg (‘the Red’), to Mod, to Mothus, to Iarmothus at Corp Cliath, to Gabarlaig in Linè, to Eocho Semnech in Semne, to Eochaid Laithrech at Latharne, to Celtchar son of Uthecar in Lethglas, to Errgè Echbel (‘Horsemouth’) at Bri Errgi (‘Errgè’s Hill’), to Uma son of Remarfessach (‘Thickbeard’) at Fedain in Cualnge, to Munremur (‘Thickneck’) son of Gerrcend (‘Shorthead’) at Moduirn, to Senlabair at Canann Gall (‘of the Foreigners’), to Fallomain, to Lugaid, king of the Fir Bolg, to Lugaid of Linè, to Buadgalach (‘the Victorious Hero’), to Abach, to Fergna at Barrene, to Anè, to Aniach, to Abra, to Loegaire Milbel (‘Honey-mouth’), at his fire (?), to the three sons of Trosgal at Bacc Draigin (‘Thornhollow’), to Drend, to Drenda, to Drendus, to Cimb, to Cimbil, to Cimbin at Fan na Coba (‘the Slope of ...), to Fachtna son of Sencha at his rath, to Sencha, to Senchainte, to Bricriu, to Briccirne son of Bricriu, to Brecc, to Buan, to Barach, to Oengus of the Fir Bolg, to Oengus son of Letè, to Fergus son of Letè, to ...a (?), to Bruachar, to Slangè, to Conall Cernach (‘the Victorious’) son of Amargin at Midluachar, to Cuchulain son of Sualtaim at Murthemne, to Menn son of Salcholga at Rena (‘the Waterways’), to the three sons of Fiachna, Ross, Darè and Imchad at Cualnge, to Connud macMorna at the Callann, to Condra son of Amargin at his rath, to Amargin at Ess Ruaid, to Laeg at Leirè, to Oengus Ferbenduma (‘him of the copper Horn’), to Ogma Grianainech (‘Sun-faced’) at Brecc, to Eo macFornè, to Tollcend, to Sudè at Mag Eol in Mag Dea, to Conla Saeb at Uarba, to Loegaire Buadach (‘the Triumphant’) at Immail, to Amargin Iarngiunnach (‘the Darkhaired’) at Taltiu, to Furbaide Ferbenn (‘the man with Horns on his helmet’) son of Conchobar at Sil in Mag Inis (‘the Island-plain’), to Cuscraid Menn (‘the Stammerer’) of Macha son of Conchobar at Macha, to Fingin at Fingabair, to Blae ‘the Hospitaller of a score,’ to Blae ‘the Hospitaller of six men,’ to Eogan son of Durthacht at Fernmag, to Ord at Mag Sered, to Oblan, to Obail at Culenn, to Curethar, to Liana at Ethbenna, to Fernel, to Finnchad of Sliab Betha, to Talgoba at Bernas (‘the Gap’), to Menn son of the Fir Cualann at Mag Dula, to Iroll at Blarinè, to Tobraidè son of Ailcoth, to Ialla Ilgremma (‘of many Captures’), to Ross son of Ulchrothach (‘the Many-shaped’) at Mag Dobla, to Ailill Finn (‘the Fair’), to Fethen Bec (‘the Little’), to Fethan Mor (‘the Big’), to Fergus son of Finnchoem (‘the Fair-comely’) at Burach, to Olchar, to Ebadchar, to Uathchar, to Etatchar, to Oengus son of Oenlam Gabè (‘the one-handed Smith’), to Ruadri at Mag Tail, to Manè son of Crom (‘the Bent’), to Nindech son of Cronn, to ... (?), to Mal macRochraidi, to Beothach (‘the Lively’), to Briathrach (‘the Wordy’) at his rath, to Narithla at Lothor, to the two sons of Feic, Muridach and Cotreb, to Fintan son of Niamglonnach (‘of brilliant Exploits’) at Dun da Benn (‘the two-gabled Dûn’), to Feradach Finn Fechtnach (‘the Fair and Upright’) at Nemed (‘the Shrine’) of Sliab Fuait, to Amargin son of Ecetsalach (‘the grimy Smith’) at the Buas, to Bunnè son of Munremar, to Fidach son of Dorarè, to Muirnè Menn (‘the Stammerer’).

It was nowise a heavy task for Finnchad to gather this assembly and muster which Conchobar had enjoined upon him. For all there were of Ulstermen to the east of Emain and to the west of Emain and to the north of Emain set out at once for the field of Emain in the service of their king, and at the word of their lord, and to await the recovery of Conchobar. Such as were from the south of Emain waited not for Conchobar, but set out directly on the trail of the host and on the hoof-prints of the Táin.

The first stage the men of Ulster marched under Conchobar was from Emain to the green in Iraird Cuillinn that night. “Why now delay we, ye men?” Conchobar asked. “We await thy sons,” they answered; “Fiacha and Fiachna who have gone with a division from us to Tara to fetch Erc son of thy daughter Fedlimid Nocruthach (‘Nine-shaped’), son also of Carbre Niafer king of Tara, to the end that he should come with the number of his muster and his troops, his levy and his forces to our host at this time. Until these two divisions come to us, no further advance will we make from this place.” “By my word,” exclaimed Conchobar; “I will delay here no longer for them, lest the men of Erin hear of my rising from the weakness and ‘Pains’ wherein I was. For the men of Erin know not even if I am still alive!”

Thereupon Conchobar and Celtchar proceeded with thirty hundred spear-bristling chariot-fighters to Ath Irmidi (‘the Ford of Spear-points’). And there met them there eight-score huge men of the body-guard of Ailill and Medb, with eight-score women of the Ulstermen’s women as their spoils. Thus was their portion of the plunder of Ulster: A woman-captive in the hand of each man of them. Conchobar and Celtchar struck off their eight-score heads and released their eight-score captive-women. Ath Irmidi (‘the Ford of Spear-points’) was the name of the place till that time; Ath Fenè is its name ever since. It is for this it is called Ath Fenè, because the warriors of the Fenè from the east and the warriors of the Fenè from the west encountered one another in battle and contest man for man on the brink of the ford.

Touching the four grand provinces of Erin, they encamped at Slemain Midè (‘Slane of Meath’) that night, and Conchobar and Celtchar returned that night to the green in Iraird Cuillinn hard by the men of Ulster. Thereupon Celtchar aroused the men of Ulster.