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THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY
OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



f]








THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING
OF CUCULAIN




'So stood Cuculain, even in death's pangs a terror to
his enemies and the bulwark of his nation."



THE TRIUMPH
AND PASSING
OF CUCULAIN



BY



STANDISH O'GRADY

Author of

'THE COMING OP CCCULAIN": "IN THE GATES OF THE NORTH'
" THE FLIGHT OF THB EAGLE "

ETC.




DUBLIN

THB TALBOT PRESS LTD.
89 TAI.BOT STREET



LONDON

T. FISHER UNWIN LTD.
1 ADELPHI TERRACE



CONTENTS



CHAPTER PAGE

I. VICTORIOUS MEAVE i

II. OF THE TAIN THUS FAR - 8

III. THE MOR REEGA - 17

IV. DESCENT OF THE RED BRANCH - 22
V. QUEEN MEAVE ADMIRES HER ENEMIES - 32

VI. THE RESURGENCE OF CUCULAIN - 40

VII. TRIUMPH - 54

VIII. IN ATHACLIA - 92

IX. HOME - - 101

X. THE RETURN OF CLAN CAILITIN - - 106

XI. FINIS AND PEACE - - 143



College
Library



THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING
OF CUCULAIN



CHAPTER I

VICTORIOUS MEAVE

" The splendours of the firmament of time
May be eclipsed but are extinguished not."



WHEN the sun rose over Fremain on the second
day of the month of Belthine, his light was
reflected only in the innumerable drops of
glistening dew, with which, all over, the immense
plain was begemmed, and a happy silence reigned
save only for the songs of birds in the early
morn, and the cries of pastoral men who kept
watch over their roaming herds ; and from the
plain a thin, soft, fairy mist went up, the breath
of the vernal and dewy earth. For this plain,
like the plain of Tara and the Curragh of the
Liffey, was sacred and untilled from of yore,
since within it Uta the Prosperous had been
interred, whose charred bones and much-

i B

2060P1 9



2 THE. TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULAIN

lamented ashes there in-urned in their house of
unhewn, massive rocks, reposed in the hollow
of a mighty cairn, concealing the sad relics of
the hero. Green-sided and smooth was this
cairn, a grassy and flower-adorned hill, and upon
its top there grew a great elm-tree.

Therefore was the plain sacred and untilled,
unfurrowed by the plough of any husbandman,
nor hardened by his industrious spade. No
farmer gathered there corcur or glaisin or rue,
nor reaped his flaxen harvest ; but the immense
plain lay, from age to age, a pure and undese-
crated soil, and there pious meetings were held
around the grave of Uta by his people, and there
rude parliaments of the princes of the Clan
Uta, and there warlike congregations.

When the moon rose over Fremain on the
night of the second day of the month of Bel-
thin6, her beams were reflected from the
burnished points of innumerable spears, the
bright faces of shields, and the ornamented
handles of swords, and illuminated a hundred
embroidered banners, that floated over the
tent-doors of the kings of the Four Provinces of
Eire. There a mighty din, a vast, confused
uproar, resounded where camped the great host
of the men of Meave, returning from the deso-



VICTORIOUS HEAVE 3

lation of Ulla ; the neighing of war-steeds, the
lowing of herds driven away from their accus-
tomed pastures, and the bleating of countless
sheep, the scouring of the armour of warriors,
the washing of chariots and the noise of files,
the sound of the harp and the cuislenna, the
voices of bards and the reciters of tales, and the
loud laughter of those who jested and caroused ;
and from countless fires ascended sparks and
pillars of dark smoke into the night. For at
noon that day surged thither the vast army of
the Tain, even the rising-out of the four great
provinces of Erin, and there they had pitched
their camps, according to their septs and
nations, with broad streets and squares and
market-places. There for the kings and princes
and nobles of Erin their artificers had constructed
swiftly booths of timber, with the stems of trees
set on end in the earth, interlaced with lissom
twigs and branches. And now, throughout
the vast host, the warriors were cooking supper,
and many a Fenian oven was that night made,
and many a broad-fronted bullock fell before
the brazen axe, while the distributers of ale
passed to and fro from cluster to valiant cluster.

So throughout the immense camp were em-
ployed the rest of the men of Meave ; but the



4 THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCDLAIN

captains of territories and the kings and chief
warriors, having been bidden to feast with the
great Queen, assembled without the royal" pavi-
lion, waiting until what time the thrice-blown
trumpet should sound. They having come
from far from the ends of the camp with their
attendants, along the resounding streets and
ways stood together conversing. Their armour-
bearers stood apart, bearing each man his
master's white banqueting shield.

Then sounded from within the first blast of
the trumpet, and the armour-bearers entered the
pavilion, whose sylvan walls and roof, rough
with leaves and boughs, waxen tapers illumi-
nated, tall as a warrior's spear, not permitted
in the houses of the nobles, and the many tables
shone with the instruments of festivity
vessels of glass and brass, silver and gold. Afar,
at the northern extremity of the vast chamber,
curtained with a canopy of silver, sat the High
King of the Olnemacta, Aileel Mor, son of
Rossa Roe, son of Fergus Fairge, holding in his
aged right-hand a silver staff, and beside him sat
the great Queen. Upon the severed stems of
branches, and brazen nails driven hastily into
the trees, the armour-bearers hanged the
shields of their masters, obeying the voice



VICTORIOUS MBAVE 5

of the wise seneschal, awarding to every king,
and warrior and captain of territory his place,
so that the walls shone anew with the white
shields and their painted warlike symbols, and
with the spear-heads of shining brass.

A second time the trumpet sounded, and
from without, between the armed men who kept
the door, entered in the mighty captains of the
Tain giants of the elder time, godlike heroes,
and founders of nations and warlike tribes,
kings and captains, and fearless champions, the
foremost of the chivalry of Erin, long-haired
warriors, stately, broad-breasted, having noble
eyes. Upon each breast glittered a brooch of
gold or silver, or of burnished brass, confining
their brattas of silk or fine cloth, purple, or green,
or crimson, or of diverse hues. So they entered
the pavilion to the hospitable music of the
harpers of the king, and sat them down, each
champion beneath his own shield. High-raised,
at the northern extremity of the pavilion, sat
the royal pair ; and high-raised, at the southern
extremity, facing the Ard-Rie, sat Fergus Mac
Roy, occupying the Champion's Throne, that
next in honour to the King's.

A third time the trumpet sounded, and there
poured in the retinues, and the armour-bearers



6 THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULUN

entering a second time, warriors of lesser note,
and the captains of the household troops of
Aileel, and sat at the lower tables. To them,
in like manner, the seneschal and his servants
divided the order of their sitting, and no man
disputed his award.

There, then, the great warriors of the Tain
feasted, rejoicing in themselves and their match-
less Queen. But when they had made an end
of eating, the slaves removed the remnant of the
banquet and the instruments of the first feast,
and went round again distributing abundantly
the ruddy, exhilarating ale, and all turned their
attention anew to drinking and conversation,
all except Fergus, upon whom was the care of
the whole host ; but he sat glooming, like a
great rock in the glittering noontide sea, while
he, in a low voice, conversed with his fellow
and dear friend Cairbre, son of Concobar Mac
Nessa. So they drank and conversed, till,
after a space, Aileel smote with his staff the
canopy above his head, and the silver canopy
vibrating, sent forth a ringing, gong-like sound
which stilled the voices of the heroes, so that no
sound was heard save the confused hum of the
great camp of the Tain. Straightway, from the
lower table, arose a stripling having a bardic



VICTORIOUS MEAVE 7

fillet around his temples, and he, crossing to the
right side of the pavilion, at the upper end, hard
by where the High Queen sat, removed from the
wall a harp and its sheath, and presented it,
kneeling, to Bricne, the son of Cairbre, Ard-ollav
of the Olnemacta. Then the sacred bard drew
from its sheath, made of the grey fell of badgers
and lined with soft white doeskin, the gold-
adorned harp, which had delighted the minds
of warriors at many a great "feast of the Olne-
macta, and removing from them the linen wrap-
pings which preserved them, he tuned the sweetly
sounding strings. Anon, beneath his swift and
eager hands) there arose a storm of sweet sounds,
taking captive the souls of those who listened ;
but as thunder shower dies away in heavy single
drops, so subsided that great prelude, note by
sweet dissolving note, and the bard's voice arose
singing.



CHAPTER II

OF THE TAIN THUS FAR

" A hand scattering wealth,
And a light not to be extinguished,
Namely, Cuculain Mac Sualtam,
The eagle of armies and of youth.

'' Agile is he in his boundings,
And swift as the stormy wind ;
As swift as is my gentle, faithful hound
In its noblest contest of speed."

ANCIENT BARD.

His song was of the history of the Tain thus
far, each verse musical with rhymes and the
charm of measured rhythmic speech, not care-
lessly improvised with chance words and the
random inspiration of the hour, after the manner
of many lewd wandering minstrels, but the
perfect fruit of solitary labour and much thought,
that it might be worthy of the great theme,
and worthy of the bards of the Olnemacta
before the ollavs and singing-men of the far-
coming kings, and, as their race is, not willingly
pleased, and also that it might be an enduring
monument, to live through many generations
in the remembrance of his successors, even the

8



OF THE TAIN THUS FAR 9

history of the invasion of Ulster by Queen
Meave.

Of the causes of the war first he sang, of the
great prowess of the Red Branch, and their
haughtiness ; of the pitiless exactions of Ath-
airney, and the death of Mesagera, and of the
pride and magnificence of the great northern
monarch.

Of the Donn Cooalney next, his attributes,
and privileges, and beauty ; of the great insult
to Fergus Mac Roy ; of the far-sent summons
of the Queen, and the gathering of the chivalry
of Erin to the four plains of Ai.

The enumeration of the host then, com-
mencing with the ,. far-summoned kings, those
who dwelt by the great southern sea, and those
whose Duns looked out on the Muirnict, con-
cluding with the Olnemacta, and the guards and
household troops of Aileel, all the nations, septs,
and warlike clans who, from far and near, had
come together to the great hosting, and he
awarded to each its customary honour.

Of the marches of the host of the Tain next,
from the day upon which they evacuated the
four plains, moving eastwards ; how they
crossed the Shannon at the Ford of the son of
Lewy, and went over the Boar's Ridge, and



IO THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULAIN

passed by the tomb of the Plain of Nama, hard
by Tubber Tulsk, and how they traversed
successively the long level country in the midst
of Erin, Tullach Teora Crioch, and the wood of
the fairies, Ocbart and Fair-Glen, and the
rugged ground of Gort Slaney, the two Teffias,
Cam Aile and Delta.

Of Cuculain then he sang, and the nocturnal
slaughter of the men of Meave ; of the compact
and the bloody fights on the shores of the
Avon Dia, and of Fardia, son of Daman, son of
Dary ; of the meeting of the friends, and their
giant strife, and of Cuculain perishing alone in
the immense forest, somewhere between Fochaine
and the sea ; but as he sang there was a sound
of sobbing voices in the immense chamber, where
wept the friends of Cuculain his foster-brothers
and school-fellows. Yet Fergus Mac Roy wept
not, but sat erect in the Champion's Throne,
staring out before him, with eyes of iron.

Of the battles of Murthemney then ; of the
defeat of brave old Iliach, and the dispersion of
his peasants and artizans ; of the fierce attack
of Cethern, and his flight, and how they routed
Fintann and his northern warriors, and Meann
Mac Salcogan ; of the desertion of Roka Mac
Athemian, and of that sad civil strife on " the



OF THE TAIN THUS FAR II

plain of the troops of Fionavar " and the death
of the gentle, good princess.

Of the desolation of the Plains of Ulla last,
when, far and wide, the plunderers of the Tain
traversed the rich domain of the Clanna Rury ;
of the unaccepted challenges at the gates of
Ultonian strongholds, and the dishonour of the
champions of the Crave Rue, till then deemed
invincible, even Concobar Mac Nessa and his
heroes of the Red Branch, once the terror of all
Erin, and like gods beholden upon the far
northern horizon, and aloud the son of Cairbre
chanted their shame, and the warlike star of
Emain Macha blasted in a foul eclipse.

So sang the mighty bard of the Olnemacta,
chanting thus far the history of the Tain ; but
the warriors lifted up their voices and shouted,
for their hearts were elated by that noble strain,
so that their shout was heard to the ends of the
camp, and heard, too, by the sentinels who,
far out upon the plain, kept watch, sitting, each
man armed in his chariot upon the white moon-
lit plain, so loud shouted the kings and captains
of the Tain around the son of Cairbre, and at the
lower tables the bardic students gathered around
the pupils of the Ard-ollav, eager to learn from
them the words of the noble chant.



12 THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULAIN

It was at this time that Fergus Mac Roy rose
from the Champion's Throne, like some vast
rock left bare by the down-sinking billow, when
after a tempest the great waters along the wes-
tern shore rise and fall. So seemed the mighty
captain of the Tain as he arose, and the assembly
was silent until he left the pavilion, and after
that many of the younger knights demanded
that Bailey Mac Buan should sing. An Ultonian
captive he, and doomed ere long to a sorrowful
death. Dear was he to the women of Ulla,
but he loved a maiden not of his own province,
and thus sang the son of Buan to the accom-
paniment of his small tympan :

CUCULAIN AND EMER.

CUCULAIN :

" Come down O daughter of Forgal Manah,
Sweet Emer, come down without fear,
The moon has arisen to light us on our way,
Come down from thy greenan without fear."

EMER:

" Who is this that beneath my chamber window
Sends up to me his words through the dim night ?
Who art thou standing in the beechen shadows,
White-browed, and tall, with thy golden hair ? "

CUCULAIN :

" It is I, Setanta, O gentle Emer !
I, thy lover, come to seek thee from the north ;
It is I who stand in the beechen shadows,
Sending up my heart in words through the dim night."



CUCULAIN AND EMEE 13

EMER:

" I fear my proud father, O Setanta,
My brothers, and my kinsmen, and the guards,
Ere I come unto thy hands, O my lover !
Through their well -lit feasting chamber I must pass."

CUCUI.AIN :

" Fear not the guards, O noble Emer !
Fear not thy brothers, or thy sire,
Dull with ale are they all, and pressed with slumber,
And the lights extinguished in the hall."

EMER:

'' I fear the fierce watch-dogs, (X Setanta,
The deep water of the moat how shall I cross ?
Not alone for myself, I fear, Setanta,
They will rend thee without ruth, Cuculain."

CUCUI.AIN :

" The dogs are my comrades and my namesakes ;
Like my Luath, they are friendly unto me,
O'er the foss I will bear thee in my arms ,

I will leap across the foss, my love, with thee."

EMER :

" Far and wide all the tribes and the nations
Over Bregia, northwards to Dun-Lir,
They are kin to my father and his subjects
For thy life I fear, O noble Cuculain."

CUCULAIN :

" On the lawn within the beechen shadows
Is my chariot light and strong, bright with gold ;
And steeds like the March winds in their swiftness
Will bear thee to Dundalgan ere the dawn."

EMER :

" I grieve to leave my father, O Setanta,
Mild to me, though his nature be not mild :
I grieve to leave my native land, Setanta,
Lusk with its streams and fairy glades.



14 THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULAIN

" I grieve to leave my Dun, O Setanta,
And this lawn, and the trees I know so well,
And this, my tiny chamber looking eastward,
Where love found me unknowing of his power.

" Well I know the great wrong I do my father,
But thus, even thus I fly with thee
As the sea draws down the little Tolka,
So thou, O Cuculain, drawest me.

" Like a god descending from the mountains,
So hast thou descended upon me.
I would die to save thy life, O Setanta,
I would die if thou caredst not for me."

Now Queen Meave was not the only woman
warrior who came upon the Tain : there was
also Queen Fleeas. She ruled a wide territory
on the banks of the Sue, and though once con-
quered by Meave in an ancient war, was still
potent. She was beautiful besides, and between
her and Meave there was great jealousy and
concealed wrath. She now, seeing that the
High Queen was ill-pleased with the praises of
the young Ultonian hero, urged her chief bard
to sing of the contest for the Championship of
Ulla between the three chief heroes of the Red
Branch, for she knew that in his lay Cuculain
would be again celebrated. Though her beauty
was not so all-compelling as Meave's, there were
those to whom she seemed more beautiful.

Now, as her bard sang, Queen Meave's fair
face darkened.



CUCUIyAIN RAISED TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP

" What thunder of ths hoofs of horses is this ?
What rolling of the wheels of chariots ?
Who are these mighty men that come through the defile
To thy still, gleaming lake, O son of Imomain ?

" What magic rites of these, what songs of dririds
Rending thy Faed-Fia, Mananan ?
Who are these that fear not the face of Uath,
Thy terrible face, O Uath of the I<ake ?

" Laeghaire, son of Conud, son of Iliach,
And Conall, the triumphant, and the third,
Cuculain Mac Sualtam in his boyhood,
Like a star, pure and lustrous in the dawn.

" They strive for the Champion's seat of Ulla,
And thither to the lake they have come
To abide by the word of the wise Uath,
Dividing to each warrior his due."

UATH:

" Why from my face have ye torn
Mananan's veil, whereby we live unseen ?
From my magic labours here by Ix>ch Uath
Ye have roused me now in an evil hour."

CUCULAIN :

" Give us pardon for our fault, O mighty Uath,
But these claim the first right against me.
Saying their's is the Champion's Throne of Ulla,
But do thou decide between us three."

UATH:

" Go back, foolish boy, to thy tutors,
Strive not with thy betters, Cuculain ;
But do thou, Conall, the victorious,
And Laeghaire, of the triumphs, contend.

15



1 6 THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULAIN

" Lay here upon this flag thy head, Laeghaire,
With my adze I will cut thy neck in twain.
Do this and the glory I will give thee,
And the Champion's Throne of Ulla shall be thine."

" Then fell thy noble countenance, Laeghaire,
And thus sad-browed didst thou reply
' In the battle-shock contending I will perish,
But not thus, not thus, O son of Imomain.' "

UATH:

" Thou hast won, O son of proud Amargin,

golden-tressed champion of Emain,
Fearless, bow thee down, Conall, the mighty ,
The glory and the championship are thine."

" Back he shrank, Conall, the victorious,
His heavy-tressed locks shook with rage
' I care not for glory if thou slay me
What avails me my glory if I die.'

" Then glowed thy bright face, O Setanta,
And thou layedst thy bright head upon the flag,
Crying, ' Give me the great honour, mighty Uath,
To be Champion of Ulla though I die.

" ' Be my name renowned among the nations,
Be my glory sung through all time,

1 shall live in the list of Ulla's champions,

I fear not thy adze, just and wise Mac Imomain.'

" Then the god leaned down over Setanta,
Drawing back the yellow hair from his white neck,
And beside Cuculain upon the flag-stone
His tears rained down for the boy.

" Three times upon thy neck, O Setanta,
He lowered the cold shining brass,
Then he cried, ' Arise, O Setanta !
Rise Champion of Ulla, O fearless Cuculain.' "



CHAPTER III

THE MOR REEGA

" She could have ta'en
Ixion by the hair and bent his neck."

KEATS.

THEN Queen Meave, no longer able to contain
herself, uttered evil and menacing words against
the bards in general, charging them with insolence
and ambition, and also against that rival Queen
as their ally and protector, whom Queen Fleeas
answered with a like scorn and contumely.
Moreover, through the vast host and amongst
their leaders there was little of unanimity this
night because they were returning victorious
after the devastation of Ulla and were no longer
under fear of any foe, and their thoughts accord-
ing to their clans, tribes and nations were turned
to the division of the mighty creacht which they
had brought out of the North. Moreover,
Fergus, who alone could have restrained the
rising wrath had departed, for tidings had come
to him concerning the Red Branch how that the

spell of the curse of Macha had been lifted from

17 c



1 8 THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULAlU

their souls, that their hosting had been to
Emain, and that they were already on the
march.

When Meave heard the words of Fleeas she
started up from the banquet table and rushing
to the place where were her weapons she turned
her around and spoke thus with a countenance of
fury, while her eyes sent forth flame.

' Too soon, O wife of Aileel Finn, dost thou
begin to brandish an intemperate tongue, for-
getting how late I chastised thee rebellious,
when I scattered to the hills all thy mutinous
clans, having conquered thee in battle and
wasted thy realm and possessed myself of thy
herds. Beware lest now, too, with blows I expel
thee out of this host, thy soft admiring husband
and the singing men thy lovers notwithstanding."

Then arose Aileel Finn, King of the Gamanra-
dians to protect his wife, and with him the nobles
of the Gamanradians and of the Partree, dwellers
by the Sue, and arose the Kings of the Ernai
and the Clan Dega assisting them. Also arose
Eocha Mac Luta, the irresistible might, and with
him the chiefs of Ultonian exiles under Cairbre,
the fair and great, who were in martial service
with Queen Meave. And now indeed it seemed
a feast to which the red swineherd of Bove Derg



THE HOE REEGA 19

had come, because arty feast to which he came
ended in blood and slaughter. For the Maineys
arose on account of their mother and Get with
the giants of Moyrisk in the same cause. So
there was a deafening clamour of enraged voices
and fierce threats, and already many a shield
had been snatched from its place and many a
sword screeched from its scabbard, and the
stormy chamber was lit with the lightnings of
drawn weapons, and fury and "madness governed
all things.

Amid the uproar Fleeas herself moved not,
but sat with her countenance pale and distorted
and wide-staring eyes, and she screamed such a
cry as a woman renders who, in the gloaming
sees some intolerable sight, and who dropping
her burden stands rooted to the spot. So
screamed the prophetic Queen, and simul-
taneously the regal silver canopy sounded,
smitten by the High King. Thereat a sudden
silence, and the warriors stood without speech
or motion ; and in the silence was heard the
whimpering of the hounds fleeing terrified into
the recesses of the vast chamber. Then also
was heard a noise of trampling feet, with sudden
fearful questions and short cries, for, without,
all was terror and commotion. As when in a



2O THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULAIN

city one hears the rush of crowds when a con-
flagration has arisen, or a civic tumult with the
noise of deadly weapons plied afar, so, to com-
pare great things with small, was the noise of the
innumerable trampling feet of those without rush-
ing past the pavilion portending some disaster.
Then a second time Fleeas cried, and with wide-
staring eyes gazed at a certain place. Then
all looked thither, and lo ! at the further end
of the vast chamber, a shape gigantic, as it were
of a woman, seen indistinctly like an image in
agitated water, and as if equipped for war,
and bearing shield and spear. The apparition
came from the north and passed through the
chamber.

Said Fleeas : " It is the Mor Reega, the great
daughter of Ernmas." Forthwith up broke the
assembly in wild disorder, and some came pour-
ing through the wide doorway, trampling down
the guards ; and they brake the bannerstaff on


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