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28. The Battle of the Bulls

By Anonymous
Translated by Joseph Dunn1914

As regards Medb, it is related here: She suffered not the hosts to disperse forthwith, but she gathered the men of Erin and led them forth to Cruachan to behold the battle of the bulls and in what manner they would part from one another. For during the while the battle was being fought, the Brown Bull of Cualnge with fifty heifers in his company had been brought to Cruachan.

As regards the Brown Bull of Cualnge, it is now recounted in this place: When he saw the beautiful, strange land, he sent forth his three bellowing calls aloud. And Finnbennach Ai (‘the Whitehorned of Ai’) heard him. Now no male beast durst send forth a low that was louder than a moo in compare with him within the four fords of all Ai, Ath Moga and Ath Coltna, Ath Slissen and Ath Bercha. And the Whitehorned lifted his head with fierce anger at the bellowing of the Brown of Cualnge, and he hastened to Cruachan to look for the Brown Bull of Cualnge.

It was then the men of Erin debated who would be fitted to witness the fight of the bulls. They all agreed that it should be Bricriu son of Carbad that were fitted for that office. For, a year before this tale of the Cualnge Cattle-raid, Bricriu had gone from the one province into the other to make a request of Fergus. And Fergus had retained him with him waiting for his treasures and goods. And a quarrel arose between him and Fergus at a game of chess. And he spake evil words to Fergus. Fergus smote him with his fist and with the chessman that was in his hand, so that he crave the chessman into his head and broke a bone in his head. Whilst the men of Erin were on the foray of the Táin, all that time Bricriu was being cured at Cruachan. And the day they returned from the expedition was the day Bricriu rose. He came with the rest to witness the battle of the bulls. And this is why they selected Bricriu, for that Bricriu was no fairer to his friend than to his foe. “Come, ye men of Erin!” cried Bricriu; “permit me to judge the fight of the bulls, for it is I shall most truly recount their, tale and their deeds afterwards.” And he was brought before the men of Erin to a gap whence to view the bulls.

So they drove the Brown Bull the morning of the fight till he met the Whitehorned at Tarbga in the plain of Ai: or Tarbguba (‘Bull-groan’), or Tarbgleo (‘Bull-fight’); Roi Dedond was the first name of that hill. Every one that had lived through the battle cared for naught else than to see the combat of the two bulls.

Each of the bulls sighted the other and there was a pawing and digging up of the ground in their frenzy there, and they tossed the earth over them. They threw up the earth over their withers and shoulders, and their eyes blazed red in their heads like firm balls of fire, and their sides bent like mighty boars on a hill. Their cheeks and their nostrils swelled like smith’s bellows in a forge. And each of them gave a resounding, deadly blow to the other. Each of them began to hole and to gore, to endeavour to slaughter and demolish the other. Then the Whitehorned of Ai visited his wrath upon the Brown Bull of Cualnge for the evil of his ways and his doings, and he crave a horn into his side and visited his angry rage upon him. Then they directed their headlong course to where Bricriu was, so that the hoofs of the bulls drove him a man’s cubit deep into the ground after his destruction. Hence, this is the Tragical Death of Bricriu son of Carbad.

Cormac Conlongas son of Conchobar saw that, and the force of affection arose in him, and he laid hold of a spearshaft that filled his grasp, and gave three blows to the Brown Bull of Cualnge from ear to tail, so that it broke on his thick hide from ear to rump. “No wonderful, lasting treasure was this precious prize for us,” said Cormac, “that cannot defend himself against a stirk of his own age!” The Brown Bull of Cualnge heard this—for he had human understanding—and he turned upon the Whitehorned. Thereupon the Brown of Cualnge became infuriated, and he described a very circle of rage around the Whitehorned, and he rushed at him, so that he broke his lower leg with the shock. And thereafter they continued to strike at each other for a long while and great space of time, and so long as the day lasted they watched the contest of the bulls till night fell on the men of Erin. And when night had fallen, all that the men of Erin could hear was the bellowing and roaring. That night the bulls coursed over the greater part of all Erin. For every spot in Erin wherein is a ‘Bulls’ Ditch,’ or a ‘Bulls’ Gap,’ or a ‘Bulls’ Fen,’ or a ‘Bulls’ Loch,’ or a ‘Bulls’ Rath,’ or a ‘Bulls’ Back,’ it is from them those places are named.

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