Táin Bó Cúailnge

27. The Battle of Garech

About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Joseph Dunn

Thereupon arose all the men of Ulster at the one time in the train of their king, and at the word of their prince, and to prepare for the uprising in response to the call of Laeg son of Riangabair. And in this wise they arose: stark-naked all of them, only their weapons in their hands. Each one whose tent door looked to the east, through the tent westwards he went, for that he deemed it too long to go round about it.

“How arise the Ulstermen now to the battle, O Laeg my master?” asked Cuchulain. “Manfully they rise,” said Laeg: “stark-naked all of them except for their arms only. Every man whose tent-door faces the east, through the tent westwards he goes, for he deems it too long to go round about it.” “I pledge my word!” cried Cuchulain: “at a fitting hour have they now in the early day risen around Conchobar!”

Then spake Conchobar to Sencha son of Ailill: “Come, O Sencha my master,” said Conchobar; “stay the men of Ulster, and let them not go to the battle til there come the strength of a good omen and favourable portent, till the sun mounts to the roof-tree of heaven and sunshine fills the glens and lowlands and hills and watch-towers of Erin.” They tarried there till the strength of a good omen came and a favourable portent, till sunshine filled the glens and slopes and heights and watch-towers of the province.

“Come, O Sencha my master,” said Conchobar; “rouse the men of Ulster to battle, for it is time for them to proceed thither.” Sencha roused the men of Ulster to battle, and he spake these words:—

“Now shall Macha’s kings arise,
Large-hearted folk!
Weapons let them shatter:
Let them fight the battle:
Let them plow the earth in anger:
Let them strike on shields!
Wearied all the hands;
Herds loud bellowing:
Steadfast the resistance:
Furious the retainers:
Battle-lines shall prostrate fall
’Neath the feet of others!
Prince and lord prepare for battle.
Perish shall their race!
Manful contest there shall be;
Their foes they lie in wait for
And slay them all to-day!
Deep draughts of blood they drink:
Grief fills the hearts of queens:
Tender lamentations follow:
Till soaked in blood shall be the grassy sod
On which they’re slain,
To which they come.
If for Cualnge’s kine it be,
Let Macha’s kings! Let them arise!

Not long was Laeg there when he witnessed something: the men of Erin all arising at one time, taking their shields and their spears and their swords and their helmets, and urging the men-of-war before them to the battle. The men of Erin, every single man of them, fell to smite and to batter, to cut and to hew, to slay and to destroy the others for a long space and while.

Thereupon Cuchulain asked of his charioteer, of Laeg son of Riangabair, at the time that a bright cloud came over the sun: “Look for us! How fight the Ulstermen the battle now, O my master Laeg?” “Like men they fight,” Laeg answered. “Should I mount my chariot, and En, Conal Cernach’s (‘the Victorious’) charioteer, his chariot, and should we go in two chariots from one wing to the other on the points of the weapons, neither hoof nor wheel nor axle-tree nor chariot-pole would touch the ground for the denseness and closeness and firmness with which their arms are held in the hands of the men-at-arms at this time.”

“Alas, that I am not yet strong enough to be amongst them now!” cried Cuchulain; “for, were I able, my breach would be manifest there to-day like that of another,” spake Cuchulain. “But this avow, O Cucuc,” said Laeg: “’tis no reproach to thy valour; ’tis no disgrace to thine honour. Thou hast wrought great deeds before now and thou wilt work great deeds hereafter.”

Then began the men of Erin to smite and to batter, to cut and to hew, to slay and to destroy the others for a long space and while. Next came to them the nine chariot-fighters of the champions from Norseland, and the three foot-warriors along with them, and no swifter were the nine chariot-men than the three men on foot.

Then came to them also on the ford of hosting the governors of the men of Erin. And this was their sole office with Medb in the battle: to smite to death Conchobar if it were he that suffered defeat, and to rescue Ailil and Medb if it should be they were defeated. And these are the names of the governors: