Táin Bó Cúailnge

8F. The Harrying of Cualnge

About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Joseph Dunn

After every one had come with their spoils and they were all gathered in Finnabair of Cualnge, Medb spake: “Let the camp be divided here,” said Medb; “the foray cannot be carried on by a single road. Let Ailill with half his force go by Midluachair. We and Fergus will go by Bernas Bo Ulad (‘the Pass of the Cattle of Ulster’).” “Not fair is the part that has fallen to us of the force,” said Fergus; “the cattle cannot be driven over the mountain without dividing.” This then is done. Hence cometh Bernas Bo Ulad (‘the Pass of the Cattle of Ulster’).

Then spake Ailill to his charioteer Cuillius: “Find out for me to-day Medb and Fergus. I wot not what hath led them to keep thus together. I would fain have a token from thee.” Cuillius went where Medb and Fergus wantoned. The pair dallied behind while the warriors continued their march. Cuillius stole near them and they perceived not the spy. It happened that Fergus’ sword lay close by him. Cuillius drew it from its sheath and left the sheath empty. Then Cuillius betook himself to Ailill. “Well?” said Ailill. “Well, then,” replied Cuillius; “thou knowest the signfication of this token. As thou hast thought,” continued Cuillius, “it is thus I discovered them, lying together.” “It is so, then.” Each of them laughs at the other. “It is well so,” said Ailill; “she had no choice; to win his help on the Táin she hath done it. Keep the sword carefully by thee,” said Ailill; “put it beneath thy seat in the chariot and a linen cloth wrapped round it.”

When Fergus got up to take his sword, “Alas!” cried he. “What aileth thee?” Medb asked. “An ill deed have I done Ailill,” said he. “Wait thou here till I come out of the wood,” said Fergus, “and wonder not though it be long till I come.” It happened that Medb knew not of the loss of the sword. Fergus went out taking his charioteer’s sword with him in his hand, and he fashioned a sword from a tree in the wood. Hence is Fid Mor Thruailli (‘Great Scabbard-Wood’) in Ulster.

“Let us hasten after our comrades,” said Fergus. “The forces of all came together in the plain. They raised their tents. Fergus was summoned to Ailill for a game of chess. When Fergus entered the tent Ailill laughed at him.

Cuchulain came so that he was before Ath Cruinn (‘the Ford of the Cronn’). “O master Laeg,” he cried to his driver, “here are the hosts for us.” “I swear by the gods,” said the charioteer, “I will do a mighty feat in the eyes of chariot-fighters, in quick spurring-on of the slender steeds; with yokes of silver and golden wheels shall they be urged on (?) in triumph. Thou shalt ride before heads of kings. The steeds I guide will bring victory with their bounding.” “Take heed, O Laeg,” said Cuchulain; “hold the reins for the great triumph of Macha, that the horses drag thee not over the mass at the . . . (?) of a woman. Let us go over the straight plain of these . . . (?). I call on the waters to help me,” cried Cuchulain. “I beseech heaven and earth and the Cronn above all.”

Then the Cronn opposes them,
Holds them back from Murthemne
Till the heroes’ work is done
On the mount of Ocaine!

Therewith the water rose up till it was in the tops of the trees.

Manè son of Ailill and Medb marched in advance of the rest. Cuchulain slew him on the ford and thirty horsemen of his people were drowned. Again Cuchulain laid low twice sixteen warriors of theirs near the stream. The warriors of Erin pitched their tents near the ford. Lugaid son of Nos grandson of Lomarc Allcomach went to parley with Cuchulain. Thirty horsemen were with him. “Welcome to thee, O Lugaid,” cried Cuchulain. “Should a flock of birds graze upon the plain of Murthemne, thou shalt have a wild goose with half the other. Should fish come to the falls or to the bays, thou shalt have a salmon with as much again. Thou shalt have the three sprigs, even a sprig of cresses, a sprig of laver, and a sprig of sea-grass; there will be a man to take thy place at the ford.”

“This welcome is truly meant,” replied Lugaid; “the choice of people for the youth whom I desire!” “Splendid are your hosts,” said Cuchulain. “It will be no misfortune,” said Lugaid, “for thee to stand up alone before them.” “True courage and valour have I,” Cuchulain made answer. “Lugaid, my master,” said Cuchulain, “do the hosts fear me?” “By the god,” Lugaid made answer, “I swear that no one man of them nor two men dares make water outside the camp unless twenty or thirty go with him.” “It will be something for them,” said Cuchulain, “if I begin to cast from my sling. He will be fit for thee, O Lugaid, this companion thou hast in Ulster, if the men oppose me one by one. Say, then, what wouldst thou?” asked Cuchulain. “A truce with my host.” “Thou shalt have it, provided there be a token therefor. And tell my master Fergus that there shall be a token on the host. Tell the leeches that there shall be a token on the host, and let them swear to preserve my life and let them provide me each night with provision.”

Lugaid went from him. It happened that Fergus was in the tent with Ailill. Lugaid called him out and reported that (proposal of Cuchulain’s) to him. Then Ailill was heard:

“I swear by the god, I cannot,” said Fergus, “unless I ask the lad. Help me, O Lugaid,” said Fergus. “Do thou go to him, to see whether Ailill with a division may come to me to my company. Take him an ox with salt pork and a keg of wine.” Thereupon Lugaid goes to Cuchulain and tells him that. “’Tis the same to me whether he go,” said Cuchulain. Then the two hosts unite. They remain there till night, or until they spend thirty nights there. Cuchulain destroyed thirty of their warriors with his sling. “Your journeyings will be ill-starred,” said Fergus (to Medb and Ailill); “the men of Ulster will come out of their ‘Pains’ and will grind you down to the earth and the gravel. Evil is the battle-corner wherein we are.” He proceeds to Cul Airthir (‘the Eastern Nook’). Cuchulain slays thirty of their heroes on Ath Duirn (‘Ford of the Fist’). Now they could not reach Cul Airthir till night. Cuchulain killed thirty of their men there and they raised their tents in that place. In the morning Ailill’s charioteer, Cuillius to wit, was washing the wheel-bands in the ford. Cuchulain struck him with a stone so that he killed him. Hence is Ath Cuillne (‘Ford of Destruction’) in Cul Airthir.