Táin Bó Cúailnge

8C. The Killing of the Squirrel and of the Tame Bird

About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Joseph Dunn

Then Cuchulain made a threat in Methe that wherever he saw Medb he would cast a stone at her and that it would not go far from the side of her head. That he also fulfilled. In the place where he saw Medb west of the ford he cast a stone from his sling at her, so that it killed the pet bird that was on her shoulder.

Medb passed over the ford eastwards, and again he cast a stone from his sling at her east of the ford, so that it killed the tame squirrel that was on her shoulder. Hence the names of those places are still, Meide in Togmail (‘Squirrel’s Neck’) and Meide ind Eoin (‘Bird's Neck’). And Ath Srethe (‘Ford of the Throw’) is the name of the ford over which Cuchulain cast the stone from his sling.

Then Reuin was drowned in his lake. Hence is Loch Reuin. “Your companion is not afar off from you,” cried Ailill to the Manè. They stood up and looked around. When they sat down again, Cuchulain struck one of them so that his head was split. “It is well it was thou hast essayed that; thy mirth was not seemly,” quoth Manè the fool; “it is I would have taken his head off.” Cuchulain flung a stone at him, so that his head was split. Thus these people were slain: Orlam, first of all, on his hill; the three sons of Arach on their ford; Fertidil in his ... (?); Maenan on his hill. “I swear by the god by whom my people swear,” cried Ailill; “the man that scoffs at Cuchulain here I will make two halves of. But above all let us hasten our way by day and by night,” Ailill continued, “till we come to Cualnge. That man will slay two-thirds of your host in this fashion.”

Then did the men of Erin deliberate about going to ravage and lay waste Mag Breg and Meath and the plain of Conall and the land of Cuchulain; and it was in the presence of Fergus macRoig they discussed it.

The four grand provinces of Erin moved out on the morrow, and began to harry the plains of Breg and Murthemne. And the sharp, keen-edged anxiety for Cuchulain came over his fosterer Fergus. And he bade the men of Erin be on their guard that night, for that Cuchulain would come upon them. And here again he sang in his praise, as we wrote it before, and he uttered the lay:—

“If Cuchulain, Cualnge’s Hound,
And Red Branch chiefs on you come,
Men will welter in their blood,
Laying waste Murthemne’s plain!

“Woe to him possesses wealth,
’Less he find a way to ’scape;
And your wives will be enslaved.
And your chiefs fill pools of blood!

“Far away he held his course,
Till he reached Armenia’s heights;
Battle dared he, past his wont,
And the Burnt-breasts put to death!

Hardest for him was to drive
Necht’s sons from their chieftest haunts;
And the smith’s hound—mighty deed—
Hath he slain with single hand!

“More than this I’ve naught to say,
As concerns Dechtird’s son;
My belief, in troth, is this:
Ye will now meet with your fate.”

After this lay, that was the day that Donn (‘the Brown Bull’) of Cualnge came into the land of Marginè to Sliab Culinn and with him fifty heifers of the heifers of Ulster; and there he was pawing and digging up the earth in that place, in the land of Marginè, in Cualnge; that is, he flung the turf over him with his heels. While the hosts were marching over Mag Brag, Cuchulain in the meanwhile laid hands on their camps.

It was on the same day that the Morrigan, daughter of Ernmas, the prophetess of the fairy-folk, came in the form of a bird, and she perched on the standing-stone in Temair of Cualnge giving the Brown Bull of Cualnge warning end lamentations before the men of Erin. Then she began to address him and what she said was this: “Good, now, O luckless one, thou Brown Bull of Cualnge,” so spake the Morrigan; “take heed; for the men of Erin are on thy track and seeking thee and they will come upon thee, and if thou art taken they will carry thee away to their camp like any ox on a raid, unless thou art on thy guard.” And she commenced to give warning to him in this fashion, telling him he would be slain on the Táin, and she delivered this judgement and spake these words aloud:—

“Knows not the restless Brown of the truly deadly fray that is not uncertain?—A raven’s croak—The raven that doth not conceal—Foes range your checkered plain—Troops on raids—I have a secret—Ye shall know. . . The waving fields—The deep-green grass . . . and rich, soft plain—Wealth of flowers’ splendour—Badb’s cow-lowing—Wild the raven—Dead the men—A tale of woe—Battle-storm on Cualnge evermore, to the death of mighty sons—Kith looking on the death of kin!”

When the Brown Bull of Cualnge heard those words he moved on to Glenn na Samaisce (‘Heifers’ Glen’) in Sliab Culinn (‘Hollymount’), in the north of Ulster, and fifty of his heifers with him and his herdsman accompanied him; Forgemen was the name of the cowherd. And he threw off the thrice fifty boys who were wont to play on his back and he destroyed two-thirds of the boys.

This was one of the magic virtues of the Brown Bull of Cualnge: Fifty heifers he would cover every day. These calved before that same hour on the next day and such of them that calved not at the due time burst with the calves, because they could not suffer the begetting of the Brown Bull of Cualnge. One of the magic virtues of the Brown Bull of Cualnge were the fifty grown youths who engaged in games, who on his fine back found room every evening to play draughts and assembly and leaping; he would not put them from him nor would he totter under them. Another of the magic virtues of the Brown Bull of Cualnge was the hundred warriors he screened from the heat and the cold under his shadow and shelter.

Another of the magic virtues of the Brown Bull of Cualnge was that no goblin nor boggart nor sprite of the glen dared come into one and the same cantred with him. Another of the magic virtues of the Brown Bull of Cualnge was his musical lowing every evening as he returned to his haggard, his shed and his byre. It was music enough and delight for a man in the north and in the south, in the east and the west, and in the middle of the cantred of Cualnge, the lowing he made at even as he came to his haggard, his shed, and his byre. These, then, are some of the magic virtues of the Brown Bull of Cualnge.

Thereupon on the morrow the hosts proceeded among the rocks and dunes of the land of Conalle Murthemni. Cuchulain killed no one from Sailè (‘the Sea’) around Dorthè in the land of Conalle, until he reached Cualnge. At that time Cuchulain was in Cuincd, that is a mountain. He had threatened that, where he would see Medb, he would hurl a stone at her head. It was not easy to do this, for it was thus Medb went, with half the host around her and their canopy of shields over her head. And Medb ordered a canopy of shields to be held over her head in order that Cuchulain might not strike her from the hills or hillocks or heights. Howbeit on that day, no killing nor attack came from Cuchulain upon the men of Erin, in the land of Murthemne among the rocks and dunes of Conalle Murthemni.