Cú Chulainn is confronted by swans once again as a man, at the great feast of Samhain, which is being celebrated by the Ulster men beside a loch. A flock of beautiful birds alights on the water, Cú Chulainn demonstrates his skill by capturing all of them and giving them to the women, who desire to wear a bird on each shoulder. Only Cú Chulainn’s wife does not get any birds and she is greatly incensed by this. Her husband promises her two of the finest swans he can find.
Soon two birds alight on the loch linked together by a chain of red gold. The birds begin to sing sleep inducing tunes and the host falls asleep. Cú Chulainn wishes to attack the birds, but his wife sensing their supernatural powers warns him against casting at them. Despite this he persists, his javelin pierces the wing of one of the birds and then they both submerge. Later two supernatural women, Fand and Li Ban, clearly otherworld beings, appear to the hero, having put aside their bird form, they beat him until he becomes unconcious.
The raven goddess at one point went in search of the love Cú Chulainn, but she was denied. For this she turns aganst him and hinders him in single combat by turning herself into an eel, a heifer and a wolf.
Cú Chulainn’s encounters with ravens were usually non-friendly and they are usually malevolent otherworld birds which he seeks to overcome. In one tale the hero is resposible for destroying a large flock of ravens. The birds are described as being huge in size, and capable of swimming on the waves, and their evil nature is stressed. Cú Chulainn persues them and destroys the entire flock with his sling. He performs a strange ritual with the last bird. He cuts the head of the bird and bathes his hands in its blood, he then sets the head on a rock which was then called Srub Brain ‘Reven Bil’. It was believed that the bathing of his hands in blood would endow him with some form of supernatural power.
In an account from the Táin Bó Cuálnge which describes the way in which Cú Chulainn achieved mastery overcertain wil beasts. After decapitating the three sons of Nechtan Scéne, the heron is returning to Emain Macha in a chariot with the heads. He and his charioteer see a herd of wild deer ahead of them. They go in chase of them and th horses become stuck in the bog. Cú Chulainn gets out of the chariot and chses the deer catching two of them which he attaches to the back poles of the chariot. They proceed to Emain when they see a flock of swans above them. The hero brings down eight of them alive with a small stone from his sling, then he brings down a further sixteen of them alive. These he fastens to his chariot also. Later he asks the charioteer to take the birds. the horses have become unruly, and the charioteer dare not move because the antlers of the stags have filled the entire space between the two shafts of the chariot. Cú Chulainn then proceeds to hypnotise the deer and the horses ‘ I swar by the god by whom the Ulstermen swear because of the look I shall give at the horses they will not depart from the straight way; at the look I shall give at the deer they will bend their heads in fear and awe of me; they will not dare move, and it will be safe for you even although you go infront of their horns.’ Thus it was he proceeded to Emain Macha: the wild deer behind his chariot, and the flock of swans flying over it, and the three heads of Nechtan Scéne’s sons ... arranged in his chariot’
EMER, THE WOOING OF
# 166: According to the most ancient tradition, CuChulain, it seems, was unmarried, but stories of tochmarca, or 'wooings,' were popular in early Irish literature, and we are not surprised to find that ere long the
greatest of all the Ulster heroes, though still a boy, was supplied with a wife. 'The Wooing of Emer' exists in several versions, the oldest of which was composed as early as the eighth century. The wandering and incoherent character of the narrative is probably due in large part to the fact that the author has added to the simple tale of CuChulain's wooing numerous themes derived from older sagas, notably the account of how CuChulain went to learn feats of arms from the amazonian Scathach. CuChulain's dialogue with Emer is couched in a veiled and highly poetical language which was comprehensible only to the initiated and hence means little when rendered into modern English. It can be found in full in Cross' and Slover's ANCIENT IRISH TALES.
# 548: CuChulain's perilous adventure in the land of Scathach was contrived by Forgall Monach, the hostile father of his future bride Emer, when he discovered that the young hero had been to his fort to woo the maiden. Forgall was a nephew of Tethra, King of the Fomoire, and his fortress in Brega was called Luglochta Loga, 'The Gardens of Lugh'. Before CuChulain drove to it in his chariot, nine men had been searching every province in Ireland for a whole year in the hope of finding in some stronghold a maiden it might please CuChulain to woo, but their search had been of no avail. Though Forgall's fortress was in Ireland, the journey there was a metaphorical adventure into a mysterious world. Conversing in riddles with Emer, CuChulain says that he passed the night in 'the house of a man who calls the cattle of the plain of Tethra', and he has come 'between the TwoProps of the Woodland, from the Darkness of the Sea, over the Great Secret of the Men of the Gods, over the Foam of the Two Steeds of Emain, over the Field of the Morrigan, over the Back of the Sea Pig, over the Valley of the Great Ox, between the God and his Prophet, over the Marrow of the Woman Fedelm, between the Boar and his Dam, over the Washingplace of the Horses of the Gods, between the King of Ana and his Servant, to the Food Storehouse of the Four Corners of the World, over Great Ru in and the Remnants of the Great Feast, between the Vat and the Little Vat, to the Daughters of the Champion of Tethra, King of the Fomoire, to the Gardens of Lugh.' When the hero goes a-wooing, the drive from Ulster to Brega becomes
a ceremonial progress into the world beyond. On returning from the land of Scathach, CuChulain set out again in his scythe chariot for Forgall's fortress, leaped over the three ramparts of the fort and 'dealt three blows in the fort, so that eight men fell from each blow, and one escaped in each
group of nine, namely Scibur, Ibur, and Cat, the three brtothers of Emer.'
Forgall fell to his death from a rampart as he fled from CuChulain, and the
triumphant hero carried off Emer and her foster-sister with their weight in
gold and silver. Escaping towards Ulster, they were pursued by Forgall's
men, and CuChulain had to pause at various historic places on the way to do
battle with them. But the incidents of the struggle were no mere
contingencies. During the punning conversation of the lovers at their first
encounter, CuChulain had seen the breasts of the maiden over the bosom of
her smock. And he said: 'Fair is the plain, the plain of the noble yoke.'
'No one comes to this plain,' said she, 'without leaping the hero's
salmon-leap, bringing out two women with their weight in gold and silver,
and at one blow slaying three times nine men but saving one man in each
group of nine.' In the event, CuChulain and his adversaries were simply
going through the motions of a drama, the course of which had been
preordained before the action began.
The Boyhood Deeds of Cu Chulainn
"This boy," said Fergus, " was reared in his father's and his mother's
house, by the seaside northwards in the plain of Muirthemene, where someone
gave him an account of the macrad or "boy-corps"of Emain Macha; how that
Chochobar divides his day into three parts: the first being devoted to
watching the boy-corps at their sport, especially that of hurling; the
second to the playing of chess and draughts; the third to pleasurable
consuming of meat and drink until drowsiness sets in, which then is
promoted by the exertions of minstrels and musicians to indulge favorable
placidity of mind and disposition. And, for all that we are banished from,"
continued Fergus "by my word I swear that neither in Ireland nor in
Scotland is there a warrior like his (i.e., Conchobar's) counterpart. The
little, lad then, as aforesaid, having heard of all this, one day told his
mother that he was bent on a visit to Emain Macha to test the boy-corps at
their own sports. The objected that he was immature, and ought to wait
until some grown warrior or other, or some confidential of Conchobar's
should in order to insure his safety, bind over the boy-corps to keep the
peace toward him. He told his mother that that was too long an outlook,
that he could not wait, and that all she had to do was to set him a course
for Emain Macha, since he did not know in which direction it lay.
"It is a weary way from here," said the mother, for between thee and it
lies Sliab Fuait".
"Give me the bearings," said he; and she did so.
"Away he went then, taking with him his hurly of brass, his ball of silver,
his throwing javelin, and his toy spear; with which equipment he fell to
shortening the way for himself. He did it thus: with his hurly he would
strike the ball and drive I a great distance; then he threw his javelin,
lastly the spear. Which done, he would make a playful rush after them all,
pick up the hurly, the ball and the javelin, while, before the spear's tip
could touch the earth, he had caught the missile by the other end.
" In due course Cu Chulainn reached Emain Macha, where he found the
boy-corps, thrice fifty in number, hurling on the green and practicing
martial exercises with Conchobar's son Follamain at their head. The lad
dived right in among them and took a hand in the game. He got the ball
between his legs and held it there, not suffering it to travel higher up
than his knees or lower down than his ankle-joints, and so making it
impossible for them to get in a stroke or in any other way to touch it. In
this manner he brought it along and sent it home over the goal. In utter
amazement the whole corps looked on; but Follamain Mac Conchobar
cried:"Good now, boys, all together meet this youngster as he deserves, and
kill him; because it is taboo to have such a one join himself to you and
interfere in your game, without first having had the civility to procure
your guarantee that his life should be respected. Together then and at once
attack him and avenge violation of your taboo; for we know that he is the
son of some petty Ulster warrior, such as without safe-conduct is not
accustomed to intrude in to your play".
"The whole of them assailed Cu Chulainn, and simultaneously sent their
hurlies at his head; he, however, parried all the hundred and fifty and was
unharmed. The same with the balls, which he fended off with fists,
fore-arms, and palms alone. Their thrice fifty toy spears he received in
his little shield, and still was unhurt. In turn now, CuChulainn went among
them, and laid low fifty of the best: five more of them," said Fergus,
"Came past the spot where myself and Conchobar sat at chess-play, with the
young lad close in their wake.
"Hold, my little fellow", said Conchobar, "I see this is no gentle game
thou playest with the boy-corps."
"And good cause I have too," cried Cu Chulainn:"after coming out of a far
land to them, I have not had a guest's reception."
"How now, little one, said the king, "knowest thou not the boy-corps"
conditions: that a newcomer must have them bound by their honor to respect
"I know it not", said the boy, "otherwise I had conformed, and taken
"Tis well," said the king: "Take it now upon yourselves to let the boy go
"We do," the boy -corps answered.
"They resumed play; Cu Chulainn did as he would with them, and again laid
out fifty of them on the ground. Their fathers deemed they could not but be
dead. No such thing, however; it was merely that with his blows and pushes
and repeated charges, he so terrified them that they took to the grass.
"What on earth is he at with them now?" asked Conchobar.
"I swear by my gods," said CuChulainn, "that until they in their turn come
under my protection and guarantee, I will not lighten my hand from off
"This they did at once. Now," said Fergus in conclusion, "I submit, that a
youngster who did all this when he was just five years old, needs not to
excite our wonder because, now being turned of seventeen years, he in this
Cattle-Raid of Cooley cut a four-pronged pole and the rest, and that he
should have killed a man, or two, or three men, or even, as indeed he has
Conchobar's son Cormac Conlonges spoke now, saying. " In the year after
that, the same little boy did another deed."
"And what was that?" Ailill asked.
"Well," continued Cormac, " in Ulster there was a good smith and artificer,
by the name of Culann. He prepared a banquet for Conchobar, and traveled to
Emain Macha to bid him to it. He begged Conchobar to bring with him only a
moderate number of warriors because neither land nor domain had he, but
merely the product of his hammer, of his anvil, and of his tongs. Conchobar
promised that he would bring no more than a small company. Culann returned
home to make his last preparations, Conchobar remaining in Emain Macha
until the meeting broke up and the day came to a close. Then the king put
on his light convenient traveling garb, and betook him to the green in
order to bid the boy-corps, farewell before he started. There, however, he
saw a curious sight. One hundred and fifty youths at one end of the green
,and at the other, a single one and he was taking the goal against the
crowd of them. Again, when they played the hole-game and it was their turn
to aim at the hole, it being his to defend it, he stopped all thrice fifty
balls just at the edge of the hole, so that not one went in; when the
defense was theirs and it was his turn to shoot, he would hole the entire
set without missing one. When the game was to tear one another's clothes
off, he would have the mantles off them all, while the full number could
not even pull out his brooch. When it was to upset each other, he would
knock over the hundred and fifty and they could not stretch him on the
ground. All which when Chonchobar had witnessed, he said: "I congratulate
the land into which the little boy has come; were his full-grown deeds to
prove consonant with his boyish exploits, he would indeed be of some solid
"To this doubtful expression Fergus objected, saying to Conchobar, "That is
not justly said; for according as the little boy grows, so also will his
deeds increase with him."
"Have the child called to us," said the king," that he may come with us to
share the banquet,"
"I cannot go thither just non," said the boy.
"How so? Asked Conchobar.
"The boy-corps have not yet had enough of play."
"It would be too long for us to wait until they had,' said the king
"Wait not at all; I will follow after you."
"But, young one, knowest thou the way?"
"I will follow the trail of the company, of the horses, and the chariot's
"Thereupon Conchobar started ; eventually he reached Culann's house, was
received in becoming fashion, fresh rushes were laid, and they fell to the
banquet. Presently the smith said to Conchobar, "Good now, O king, has any
one promised that this night he would follow the to this dwelling.?"
"No, not one," answered Conchobar (quite forgetting the little boy); but
wherefore do you ask?"
" It is only that I have an excellent ban-dog from which when his chain is
taken off no one may dare to be near him; for saving myself he knows not
any man, and in him resides the strength of an hundred"
"Conchobar said, "Loose him then, and let him guard this palace"
So Culann did; the dog made the circuit of his country, then took up his
usual position whence to watch the house, and there he couched with his
head on his paws. Surely an extraordinary, cruel, fearce and savage dog was
"As for the boy-corps, until it was time to separate, they continued in
Emain Macha; then they dispersed, and each one to his parent's house, or to
his nurse's, or to his guardian's. But the little fellow, trusting to the
trail, as aforesaid, struck out for Culann's house. With his club and his
ball he shortened the way for himself as he went. So soon as ever he came
to the green of Culann's fort the ban-dog became aware of him and gave
tongue in such a way as to be heard throughout all the countryside; not was
it to carve the boy decently as for a feast that he was binded, but at one
gulp to swallow him down. The child was without all reasonable means of
defense; therefore as the dog charged at him openjawed he threw his playing
ball down his throat with great force, which mortally punished the
creature's inwards. Cu Chulainn siezed him by the hind legs and banged him
against a rock to such purpose that he strewed all the ground in broken
"The whole company within had heard the ban-dog's challenge, at the sound
of which Conchobar said, "Tis no good luck has brought us on our present
"Your meaning?" asked the others.
"I mean that the little boy, my sister Dechtire's son, Setanta mac
Sualtach, had promised to come after me; and he even now must be killed by
"To a man the heroes rose; and though the fort's doors were thrown open,
they stormed over the ramparts
to seek him. Speedy as they were, yet did Fergus outstrip them; he picked
up the boy, hoisted him on his shoulder, and carried him to Conchobar.
Culann himself had come out, and there he saw his ban dog lie in scraps and
pieces; which was a heart's vexation to him. He went back indoors and said,
"Thy father and thy mother are welcome both, but most unwelcome thou."
"Why, what hast thou against the little fellow?" asked Conchobar.
"It was no good luck that inspired me to make my feast for thee, O
Conchobar; my dog now being gone, my substance is but substance wasted; my
livelihood, a means of living set all astray." Little boy ",he continued
"that was a good member of my family thou tookest from me: a safeguard of
raiment, of flocks, and of herds."
"Be not angered thereat," said the child;" for in this matter myself will
pronounce a just award."
"And what might that be?" inquired Conchobar.
"The little boy replied,"If in all Ireland there be a whelp of that dog's
breed, by me he shall be nurtured till he be fit for action as was his
sire. In the meantime I, O Culann, myself will do the a ban-dog's service,
in guarding of thy cattle and substance and stronghold."
"Well hast thou made the award," said Conchobar; and Cathbad the druid,
chiming in, declared that not in his own person could he have done it
better, and that henceforth the boy must bear the name Cu Chulainn,
"Culan's Hound." The youngster, however, objected; "I like my own name
better: Setanta mac Sualtech"
"Say not so," Cathbad remonstrated; "for all men in the world shall have
their mouths full of that name."
"The boy answered that on those terms the name would be well pleasing to
him, and in this way it came to pass that it stuck to him. Now the little
fellow," continued Cormac Conlonges the narrator of all this, "who when
just touching six years of age slew the dog which even a great company did
not dare to approach, it were not reasonable to be astonished though the
same at seventeen should come to the border of the province, and kill a
man, or two or three, or four, on the Cattle-Raid of Cooley."
Another exiled Ulsterman, Fiacha mac Firaba, taking up the recital, said
that in the very year following that adventure of the dog, the little boy
had performed a third exploit.
"And what was that?" Ailill asked.
"Why it was Cathbad the druid," continued Fiacha, " who to the north-east
of Eamain Macha taught his pupils, there being with him eight from among
the students of his art. When one of them questioned him as to what purpose
that day was more especially favorable,Cathbad told him that any stripling
who on that day should for the first time assume arms and armor, the name
of such an one forever would surpass those of all Ireland's youths besides.
His life, however, must be fleeting, short. The boy was some distance away
on the south side of Emain Macha; nevertheless he heard Cathbad's speech.
He put off his playing suit and laid aside his implements of sport; then he
entered Conchobar's sleeping house and said, "All good be thine, O king."
"Conchobar answered, " Little boy, what is thy request?"
"I desire to take arms."
"And who prompted thee to that?"
"Cathbad the druid," answered the boy.
"Thou shalt not be denied." Said the king, and forthwith gave him two
spears with sword and shield. The boy supped and brandished the weapons and
in the process broke them all to shivers and splinters. IN short, whereas
in Emain Macha Conchobar had seventeen weapon-equipment's ready for the
boy-corp's service--since whenever one of them took arms, Conchobar it was
who invested him with the outfit and brought him luck in the using of
it-the boy made fragments of them all. Which done, he said "O my master, O
Conchobar, these arms are not good; they suffice me not." Thereupon the
king gave him his own two spears, his own sword, and his own shield. IN
every possible way the boy tested them; he even bent them point to hilt and
head to butt, yet never broke them: they endured him. "These arms are
good", said he, "and worthy of me. Fair fall the land and the region which
for its king has him whose arms and armor are these."
"Just then it was that Cathbad the druid came into the house and wondering
asked," Is the little boy assuming arms?"
"Ay, indeed," said the king.
"It is not his mother's son we would care to see assume them on this day,"
said the druid.
"How now," asked the king,"was it not thyself that prompted him?"
"Not I , of a surety."
"Brat," cried the king. "What meanest thou by telling me that it was so,
wherein thou hast lied to me?"
"O king, be not wroth," the boy pleaded; "for he it was that prompted me
when he instructed his other pupils. For when they asked him what special
virtue lay in this day, he told them that the name of whatsoever youth
should therein for the first time take arms, would top the fame of all the
other Erin's men; nor thereby should he suffer resulting disadvantage, save
that his life must be fleeting, short."
"And it is true for me,"said Cathbad;"noble and famous indeed thou shalt
be, but transitory ,soon gone."
"Little care I," said Cu Chulainn, "nor though I were but one day or one
night in being so long as after me the history of myself and doings may
"Then said Cathbad again "Well then, get into a chariot, boy and proceed to
test in thine own person whether mine utterance be true."
"So Cu Chulainn mounted a chariot; in divers ways he tried its strength,
and reduced it to fragments. He mounted a second with the same result. In
brief whereas in Emain Macha for the boy corp's service Conchobor had
seventeen chariots, in like wise the little fellow smashed them all; then
he said, "These chariots of thine, O Conchobar, are no good at all, nor
worthy of me."
"Where is Iubar mac Riangabra?" cried Conchobar.
"Here I am ," He answered.
"Prepare my own chariot and harness my own horses for him there"
"The driver did his will, Cu Chulainn mounted, tested the chariot, and it
endured him. " This chariot is good, " he said, " and my worthy match"
"Good now, little boy," said Iubar, "let the horses be turned out to
" Too early for that yet, Iubar; drive on and round Emain Macha."
"Let the horses go out to graze."
"To early yet, Iubar; drive ahead, that the boy-corps may give me
salutation on this- first day of my taking arms."
"They came to the place where the boy-corps was, and the cry of them
resounded, " These are arms that thou hast taken."
"The very thing indeed," he said.
"They wished him success in spoil- winning and in first-slaying but expressed regret that he was weaned away from them and their sports. Cu Chulainn assured them that it was not so, but that it was something in the nature of a charm that had caused him to take arms on this day of all others. Again Iubar pressed him to have the horses taken out, and again the boy refused. He questioned the driver, " Whither leads this great road here running by us?" Iubar answered that it ran to Ath an Foraire ( the Look-out Ford) in Sliamb Fuait. IN answer to further questions with which he plied the charioteer, Cu Chulainn learned that the ford had that name from the fact that daily there some prime warrior of the Ulstermen kept watch and ward to see that no foreign champion came to molest them, it being his duty
to do single combat on behalf of his whole province .Should poets and musicians be coming away from Ulster dissatisfied with their treatment, it was his duty, acting for the whole province , to solace them with gold and other gifts. On he other hand, did poets and musicians enter his province, his duty was to see that they had safe-conduct up to Conchobar's bed-side. This sentinel's praise then would be the theme of the first pieces, in diverse forms of verse, the poets would rehearse upon arriving in Emain Macha.
"Cu Chulainn inquired whether Iubar knew who it was that on this particular day mounted guard. " I know it well," the charioteer replied; it is Conall mac Amergin, surnamed Cernach (the Victorious) Ireland's pre-eminent warrior. "
"Onward to that ford, then, driver!" cried the boy.
"Sure enough at the water's edge they came upon Conall, who received them with, "And is it arms that you have taken today, little boy?"
"It is indeed,"Iubar answered for him.
"May his arms bring him triumph and victory and drawing of first
blood,"said Conall. "The only thing is that in my judgment thou hast
prematurely assumed them, seeing that as yet thou art not fit for
"For all answer the boy said "And what dost thou here, Conall?"
"On behalf of the province I keep watch and ward. "
"Come," said the youngster. " for this day let me take the duty."
"Never say it, " replied Conall, " for as yet thou art not up to coping
with a real fighting man."
"Then will I go down to the shallows of Loc Echtra, to see whether I may
draw blood on either friend or foe."
"And I ,said Conall, "will go to protect thee and to safeguard, so that
thou wilt not run into dangers on the border."
"Nay " said Cu Chulainn. "Come not".
" I will so, Conall insisted, "for were I to permit thee all alone to
frequent the border, the Ulstermen would avenge it on me".
"Conall had his chariot made ready and his horses harnessed; he started on
his errand of protection and soon overtook Cu Chulainn, who had cut the
matter short and had gone on before. They now being abreast, the boy deemed
that, in event of opportunity to do some deed of mortal daring, Conall
would never allow him to execute it. From the ground therefore he picked up
a stone about the size of his fist, and took very careful aim at Conall's
chariot-yoke. He broke it in two, the vehicle came down, and Conall was
hurled prone, so falling that his mouth was brought over one shoulder.
"What's all this, boy?"
"It was I: in order to see whether my marksmanship was good and whether
there was in me the material of a good warrior."
"Poison take both thy shot and thyself as well; and though thy head should
fall as a prize to some foe over yonder, yet never a foot further will I
budge to save thee!"
"The very think I crave of thee, " said the boy;"and I do this in this
particular manner because to you Ulstermen it is taboo to persist after
violence is done to you." With that Conall went back to his post at the
"As for the little boy, southwards he went his way to the shallows of Loch
Echtra, and until the day's end abode there. Then spoke Iubar: "If to thee
we might venture to say so much little one, I should be more than rejoiced
that we made instant return to Emain Macha. For already for some time the
carving has been going on there; and whereas there thou has thine appointed
place kept till thou come--between
I on the contrary can do nothing but join the messengers and jesters of his
house, to fit in where I may for which reason I judge it now fitting that I
were back in time to scramble with them."
"Cu Chulainn ordered him to harness the chariot; which being done, they
drove off, and Cu Chulainn inquired the name of a mountain that he saw. He
learned that it was Sliab Morne, and further asked the meaning of the white
cairn which appeared on a summit. It was Finnchairn; the boy thought it
inviting and ordered the driver to take him thither. Iubar expressed great
reluctance and Cu Chulainn said, "Thou art a lazy loon, considering that
this is my first adventure quest and this is thy first trip with me. "
"And if it is, " said Iubar, "and if I ever reach Emain Macha for ever and
for ever may it be my last!"
" Good now, driver," said the boy when they were on the top of the hillock;
" in all directions point out to me the topography of Ulster, a country in
which I know not my way about." The charioteer from that position pointed
out the hills and the plain lands and the strongholds of the province.
"Tis well, O driver; and what now is yon well-defined glen seamed plain
before us to the southward?"
"That is the plain of Bray (Mag Breg)."
"Proceed then and instruct me concerning the strongholds and forts of that
plain," Then Iubar pointed out to him Tara and Tailltiu, Cletty and Knowth
and the brug of Angus mac Oc on the Boyne and the stronghold of Nechtan
"Are those sons of Nechtan of whom it is said that the number of Ulstermen
now alive exceeds not the number of them fallen by their hands?'
"The same," said Iubar.
"Away with us then to the stronghold of Neectan's sons."
"Woe waits on such a speech; and whoseoever he be that goes there I will
not be the one."
"Cu Chulainn said, "Alive or dead, thither shalt thou go, however."
"Alive I go then ,and dead I shall be left there."
They made their way to the stronghold, and the little boy dismounted upon
the green, a green with this particular feature; in its center stood a
pillar stone, encircled with an iron collar, test of heroic accomplishment;
for it bore graven writing to the effect that any man (if only he were one
that carried arms ) who should enter on this green,must hold it taboo to
him to depart from it without challenging to single combat some of the
dwellers In the stronghold. The little boy read the Ogam, threw his arms
around the stone to start it, and eventually pitched it, collar and all
into the water close at hand.
"In my poor opinion" ventured, Iubar " it is no better so than it was
before; and I well know that this time at all events thou wilt find the
object of they search: a prompt and violent death."
"Good, good, O driver , spread me now the chariot-coverings that I may
sleep a little while."
"Alas that one should speak so; for a land of foemen and not of friends is
"Iubar obeyed, and on the green at once the little fellow fell asleep. Just
then it was that Foioll mac Nechtain issued forth, and, at the sight of the
chariot, called out, " Driver do not unharness those horses!" Iubar made
answer that he still held the reins in his hand- as sign that he was not
about to unharness them.
"What horses are these?"
"Conchobar's two piebalds."
"Even such at sight I took them to be, " said Foill; " and who has brought
them into these borders?'
"A young bit of a little boyo; one who for luck has taken arms to-day ,and
for the purpose of showing off his form and fashion has come into the
"Never let it thrive with him" said Foill; " were it sure that he is
capable of action, it is dead in place of alive that he would go back to
"Indeed he is not capable, nor could it be rightly imputed to him: this is
but the seventh year since his birth." Here the little one lifted his face
from the ground; not only that but his whole body to his feet, blushed deep
at the affront which he had overheard and said, "Ay, I am fit for action!"
"But Foill rejoined, " I rather would incline to hold that thou are not."
"Thou shat know what to hold in this matter, only let us repair to the
ford: but first, go fetch thy weapons; in cowardly guise thou art come
hither, for no drivers nor messengers nor folk unarmed slay I. " Foill
rushed headlong for his weapons, and Iubar advised the boy that he must be
careful with him. Cu Chulainn asked the reason, and was told that the man
was Foill mac Nechtain Scene, invulnerable to either point or edge of any
"Not to me should such a think be spoken." He replied, " for I will take in
hand my special feat: the tempered and refined iron ball, which shall land
in his forehead's midst and backwards through his skull shall carry out his
brain, so leaving his head traversed with a fair conduit for the air." With
that, out came Foill ma Cechtain again; the little lad grasped his ball,
hurled it with the exact effect foretold and he took Foills' head.
"Out of the stronghold now the second son emerged on the green, whose name
was Tuachall mac Nechtain, and he said, "Belike thou art inclined to boast
of that much". Cu CuChulainn replied that the fall of a single warrior was
for him no matter of boast, and Tuachall told him that in that case he
should not boast at all, because straightway he would perish by his hand.
"Then make haste for thy weapons, " said the boy, " for in cowardly guise
thou comest hither. "
"Away went Tuachall; Iubar repeated his admonitions. "Who is that?" asked
the boy. He was told not only that he was a son of Nechtan but also that he
must be slain by the first, stroke or shot or other attempt of whatsoever
sort, or not at all; and this because of the extraordinary activity and
skill which in front of weapon's points he displayed to avoid them. Again
Cu Chulainn objected that such language ought not be addressed to him. Said
he, " I will take in my hand Conchobar's great spear, the Venomous; it
shall pierce the shield over his breast , and after holing the heart within
him, shall break three ribs in his side that is farthest from me." This
also the boy performed, and took the victim's head before his body touched
" Now came out the youngest of the sons, Fiannle mac Nechtain, and said, "
But simpletons they were with whom thou hast had to do." Cu Chulainn asked
him what he meant, and Fainnle invited him to come away down and out upon
the water where his foot would not touch bottom, himself on the instant
darting to the ford. Still Iubar warned the boy to be on his guard. " how
is that then?" said Cu Chulainn.
"Because that is Fiannle mac Nechtain; and the reason why he bears that
name is that it were a f`ainnle (swallow) or a weasel, even so for
swiftness he travels on the water's surface, nor can the whole world's
swimmers attempt to cope with him. "
"Not to me ought such a thing be said, " objected the boy again : for thou
knowest the river which we have in Emain Macha, the Callan: well, when the
boy-corps break off from their sports and plunge into it to swim, on either
shoulder I take a lad of them, on either palm another, nor in the transit
across that water ever wet as much as my ankles.
"Then he and Fainnle entered the ford and there wrestled. The youngster
clasped his arms around him and got him just flush with the water; then he
dealt him a stroke with Conchobar's sword and took his head, letting the
body go with the current. To finish up, CuChulainn entered the stronghold
and harried it;
then he and Iubar fired it and left it burning brightly, then turned about
to retrace their steps through Sliab Fuait, not forgetting to carry with
them the heads of Nechtan Sceine's sons.
"Soon they saw in front of them a heard of deer, and the boy sought to know
what were those numerous and restless cattle.
Iubar explained that they were not cattle, but a heard of wild deer that
kept in the dark glens of Sliab Fuait. He being urged to goad the horses in
their direction,did so; but the king's fat horses could not attain to join
company with the hard-conditioned deer. Cu Chulainn dismounted therefore
and by sheer running and mere speed captured in the moor two stages of
greatest bulk, which he made fast to the chariot with thongs. Still they
held a course For Emain Macha, and by-and by, when nearing it, perceived a
certain flock of whitest swans which used to congregate from rocks and
islands of the sea and for feeding's sake, infest the country. Cu Chulainn
questioned further, and wished to know which was the rarer thing: to bring
some of them back to Emain Macha alive, or to bring them dead. Iubar did
not hesitate to say that bringing them back living would be the more
creditable by far; "for", said he, "you may find plenty to bring them in
dead; perhaps not one to bring them in living."
" Into his sling Cu Chulainn laid a little stone, and with it at a cast
brought down eight swans of the number. Again he loaded this time with a
larger stone, and now brought down sixteen. " Driver, bring along the
birds," he said.
"But Iubar hesitated. I hardly can do that."
"And why not?"asked the boy.
"Because if I quit my present position, the horse's speed and the action
being what they are, the chariot wheels will cut me into pieces; or else
the stag's antlers will pierce and otherwise wound me."
"No true warrior art thou Iubar; but come, the horses I will gaze upon with
such a look that they shall not break their regulation pace; as for the
gaze that I will bend upon the stags, they will stoop their heads for awe."
"At this Iubar ventured down and retrieved the swans, which with more of
the thongs and ropes he secured to the chariot. IN this manner they covered
the rest of the way to Emain Macha.
"Lebocham, daughter of Aed and messenger to the king perceived them now and
cried, "A solitary chariot-fighter draws near to thee now, O Conchobar, and
terribly he comes! The chariot is graced with the bleeding heads of his
enemies; beautiful white birds he has which in the chariot bear him
company, and still unbroken stags bound and tethered to the same. Indeed if
measures are not taken to receive him prudently, the best of the Ulstermen
must fall by his hand."
"I know that little chariot-fighter," Conchobar said: "the little boy, my
sister's son, who this very day went to the border. Surely he will have
reddened his hand; and should his fury not be timely met, all Emain Macha's
young men will perish by him. "
"At last they hit upon a method to abate his manly rage (the result of
having shed blood), and it was this: Emain Mach's women all (six score and
ten in number) bared their bosoms, and without subterfuge of any kind
trooped out to meet him ( their maneuver being based on Cu Chulainn's
well-known modesty, which, like all his other qualities, was excessive).
The little fellow leaned his head against the rail of the chariot and shut
them from his sight. Then was the desired moment; all unawares he was
seized, and soused in a vat of cold water ready for the purpose. In this
very vessel the heat generated by his immersion was such that the staves
and hoops flew asunder instantly. IN a second vat the water escaped ( by
boiling over); in yet a third the water was still hotter than one could
bear. By this time, however, the little boy's fury had died down in him;
from crown to sole he blushed a beautiful pink red all over, and they clad
him in his festive clothes. Thus his natural form and feature were restored
" A beautiful boy indeed was that: seven toes to each foot he had, and to
either hand as many fingers; his eyes were bright with seven pupils apiece,
each one of which glittered with seven gem like sparkles. On either cheek
he had four moles: a blue, a crimson, a green, and a yellow one. Between
one ear and the other he had fifty clear-yellow long tresses that were as
the yellow wax o bees, or like a brooch of white gold as it glints in the
sun unobscured. He wore a green mantle silver-clasped upon his breast, a
gold-thread shirt. The small boy took his place between Conchobar's knees,
and the king began to stroke his hair. Now the stripling who by the time
seven years were completed since his birth, had done such deeds: had
destroyed the champions by whom two-thirds of the Ulstermen had fallen
unavenged,--I hold," said Fiachna mac Firabl, the narrator, "that there is
scant room for wonder though at seventeen he comes to the border, and kills
a man, aye, two or three, or four, all in the Cattle Raid of Cooley."