The Death of Derbforgaill

Aided (Lugdach Riab n-Derg ocus) Derbforgaill

Trans. Carl Marstrander



Derbforgaill, daughter of the king of Lochlann, loved Cú Chulainn on account of the famous stories about him. She and her handmaid came from the east in the guise of two swans until they reached Loch Cuan, a golden chain between them.

One day as they were there by the side of the lake, Cú Chulainn and his fosterling Lugaid, that is, the son of the three Finn Emna, they saw the birds.

“Shoot at the birds”, said Lugaid.

Cú Chulainn hurls a stone at them, so that it went between her ribs and was in her womb. There appeared immediately two human forms on the strand.

“You have been evil to me” said the girl, “and it is to you I have come”.

“It is true” said Cú Chulainn.

Then he sucked the stone out of the side of the girl, so that it was in his mouth with the gush of blood that was around it.

“It is to seek you I have come”, said she.

“Not so, girl”, said he.
“The side that I have sucked”, said he, “I will not mate with”.

“You will give me, then, to anyone you like”.

“Indeed I would like” said he “you to go with the noblest man in Ireland, that is, Lugaid of the Red Stripes”.

“That is fine with me” said she, “provided that I may always see you”.

She went then with Lugaid and bore him a child.

One day then, at the end of winter, there was heavy snow. The men make a big pillar from the snow. The women went on the pillars. This was their device.

“Let us make our urine into the pillar to ascertain who will make it go into it the furthest. The woman from whom it will reach through, it is she that is the best match of us”.

It did not reach through from them, however. Derbforgaill is summoned by them. She did not desire it, because she was not foolish. Nevertheless she goes on the pillar. It slashed from her to the ground.

“If the men discover this then, no (one) will be loved in comparison with this woman. May her eyes be snatched out of her head, and her nostrils, and her two ears, and her locks. She will not be desireable then”.

Her torture is done thus and she is brought to her house afterwards. The men were in an assembly on a hillock above Emain Macha.

“(It seems) strange to me, O Lugaid”, said Cú Chulainn, “(that there is) snow on Derbforgaill’s house”.

“She is dying then”, said Lugaid.

They rush with equal speed towards the house. When she heard that she shut the house on herself.

“Open”, said Cú Chulainn.

“Lovely is the bloom under which we have parted”, said she.

It was then said:

Cú Chulainn bids me farewell,
[to whom I came from my homelands ?],
and Lugaid, vigorous with action,
to whom I gave a love which he did not take away from me.

I must go far,
not good the journey I obtained.
The separation from them will be distressful,
unless disaster and death come to me.

With Cú Chulainn, with Lugaid,
with whom there was soon terror or fear.
[If it were not for reproach and atonement ?],
there might be no regret for our union.

The union which was broken with Riab nDerg,
it is a thorn in the heart, blood of the breast.
Cú Chulainn is deprived,
[unlucky if it were not (for) the sloping hillside of the enclosure?].

If it were not (for) the [sloping hillside of the enclosure of Lugaid.
with which every obstruction was reddened?].
It was too soon our vain thing,
with the son of the three Finn Emna’s.

That I will not see Cú Chulainn,
has made me tearful of sadness.
Feeble my people, wretched wailing,
and parting from Lugaid.

My fian-friend has not betrayed me,
Cú Chulainn, he loved boasting.
I had a noble, joyous companion,

Lugaid son of Clothrann of Cruachan.

Gift of valour, gift of feat, surpassing everyone,
for Cú Chulainn, whose shape was famed.
Gift of weapons for valorous Lugaid,
gift of my shape beyond every woman.

Every victory is a defeat afterwards,
with whomever may be envied.
Every treasure will be wholly unlawful,
every strong man will be sorrowful, or will be doomed.

Full of longing a tryst in this world,
[it is not a path to heaven that it makes.
A tryst with death has destroyed, beyond every treasure,
a fair face, though beautiful its lustre?].

Not happy is a hard heart,
[which trusts another people.
Frequently its shape changes,
its face in time of misery?].

When we used to drive around Emain,
from Tara, it was not a bad exploit.
Cú Chulainn was joyful there,
and Lugaid son of Clothru.

Cú Chulainn conversing with me,
with deeds, daring, dark.
It is that which was the fullness of my heart,
and laying with Lugaid.

We have parted from our playing,
at which we might have been forever.
Perhaps we may not meet afterwards,
I have been destined to go to my death.

This is what they say: that her soul was not in her when they came into that house. They say then that Lugaid died immediately upon seeing her. Cú Chulainn went then into the house to the women so that he knocked down the house upon them so that no man or woman came out alive from that house, that is, of the three fifties of queens but he killed them all.

Cú Chulainn said:

Derbforgaill, bright white bosom,
she reached me over the torrent of the ocean.
It was a friend’s grace she bestowed on me,
a daughter of a king of Lochlann, noble.

Since it was between two graves,
my bloodied heart makes sorrow.
Derbforgaill’s face under a hill of stone,
Lugaid Riab nDerg, unfortunate.

Lugaid was greatly renowned,
[good it was that slaughter was expected .
That is what Lugaid chose,
what was intended by Derbforgaill?]

Lugaid was greatly renowned,
[he was carrying his bright spearshafts.
Fifty murderous blows to decapitated enemies,
by the lighting of every moon?].

Derbforgaill, famed with beauty,
with purity and modesty.
She did not fall into vanity,
[her face over her companions' shoulder?].

Three fifties of women in Emain,
it is I who have slaughtered them.
[Though we were to pledge before the king of the tribes,
Derbforgaill was as valuable as they were?].

D. that is dér, daughter of Forgall, king of Lochlann. Her mound and her grave were raised by Cú Chulainn.



Sources: Carl Marstrander, The Deaths of Lugaid and Derbforgaill, Ériu 5



  Summary