Trans. Standish O'Grady
A righteous king, a maintainer of truth and a giver of just judgments, that had dominion over the happy clanna Rudh-raidhe or “children of Rury”: Fergus son of Léide son of Rury ; and these are they that were his heroes and men of war: Eirgenn, Amergen iurthunnach or “the ravager”, Conna Buie son of Iliach, and Dubthach son of Lughaid.
By that king a great feast was made in Emania, and it was ready, fit to be consumed, all set in order and well furnished forth ; that very season and hour being the same also at which the king of the Lupra and Lupracán held a banquet : whose name was Iubhdán son of Abhdaein.
These are the names of the men of war that were Iubhdan's : Conan son of Ruiched, Gerrchu son of Gairid, and Righbeg son of Robeg ; Luigin son of Luiged, Glunan son of Gabarn, Febal son of Feornin, and Cinnbeg son of Gnuman ; together with Buan's son Brigbeg, Liran son of Luan, and Mether son of Mintan. To them was brought the strong man of the region of the Lupra and Lupracan, whose prize feat that he used to perform was the hewing down of a thistle at a single stroke ; whereas it was a twelve men's effort of the rest of them to give him singly a wrestling-fall. To them was brought the king's presumptive successor: Beg that was son of Beg; the king's poet and man of art likewise: Esirt son of Beg son of Buaidghen, with the other notables of the land of the Lupra and Lupracan.
By these now that banquet-house was ordered according to qualities and to precedence: at one side Iubhdan was placed, having next to him on either hand Bébhó his wife, and his chief poet ; at the other side of the hall and facing Iubhdan sat Beg son of Beg, with the notables and chiefs ; the king's strong man too : Glomhar son of Glomradh's son Glas, stood beside the door-post of the house. Now were the spigots drawn from the vats, the colour of those vats being a dusky red after the tint of red yew. Their carvers stood up to carve for them and their cup-bearers to pour ; and old ale, sleep-compelling, delicious, was served out to the throng so that on one side as on the other of the hall they were elevated and made huge noise of mirth.
At last Iubhdan, that was their king and the head of all their counsel, having in his hand the corn breac or “variegated horn” stood up ; on the other hand, over against Iubhdan and to do him honour, stood up Beg son of Beg. Then the king, by this time affably inclining to converse, enquired of them saying: "have ye ever seen a king that was better than myself?" and they answered : "we have not" " Have ye ever seen a strong man better than my strong man?" "We have not." "Horses or men of battle have ye ever seen better than they which to-night are in this house ?" "By our words," they made answer, "we never have." "I too," Iubhdan went on, "wage my word that it were a hard task forcibly to take out of this house to-night either captives or hostages : so surpassing are its heroes and men of battle, so many its lusty companions and men of might, so great the number of its fierce and haughty ones that are stuff out of which kings might fittingly be made."
All which when he had heard, the king's chief poet Esirt burst out a-laughing ; whereupon Iubhdan asked : "Esirt, what moved thee to that laugh?" Said the poet: "I wot of a province that is in Ireland, and one man of them would lift hostages and captives from all four battalions that here ye muster of the Luchra." "Lay the poet by the heels," cried the king, "that vengeance be taken of him for his bragging speech ! " So it was done ; but Esirt said : "Iubhdan, this thy seizure of me will bear thee evil fruit ; for in requital of the arrest thou shalt thyself be for five years captive in Emania, whence thou shalt not escape without leaving behind thee the rarest thing of all thy wealth and treasures. By reason of this seizure Cobthach Cas also, son of Munster's king, shall fall, and the king of Leinster's son Eochaid ; whilst I myself must go to the house of Fergus son of Leide and in his goblet be set a-floating till I be all but drowned." Which said he indited : -
"A great feast there is to-night in Emania,
but a feast evil to women,
and to men an evil one :
jovial as be the crowds that now enjoy it,
the end will be melancholy dismal gloom ***
"An evil arrest is this thou hast made of me, O king," Esirt went on: "but grant me now a three-days' and three-nights' respite that I may travel to Emania and to the house of Leide's son Fergus, to the end that if there I find some evident token by which thou shalt recognise truth to be in me I may bring the same hither ; or if not, then do to me that thou wilt."
Then Esirt, his bonds being loosed, rose and next to his white skin put on a smooth and glossy shirt of delicate silk. Over that he donned his gold-broidered tunic and his scarlet cloak, all fringed and beautiful, in soft folds flowing: the scarlet being of the land of the Finn, and the fringe of pale gold in varied pattern. Betwixt his feet and the earth he set his two dainty shoes of the white bronze, overlaid with ornament of gold. After assumption of his white bronze poet's wand and his silken hood he set out, choosing the shortest way and the straightest course, nor are we told how he fared until he came to Emania and at the gate of the place shook his poet's rod.
The gate-keeper when at the sound he was come forth beheld there a tiny man, extraordinary comely and of a most gallant carriage, in respect of whom the close-cropped grass of the green was so long that it reached to his knee, aye, and to the thick of his thigh. At sight of him wonder fell upon the gate-keeper ; and he entered into the house, where to Fergus and to the company he declared the matter. All enquired whether he [Esirt] were less than Aedh : this Aedh being Ulster's poet, and a dwarf that could stand on full-sized men's hands ; but the gate-keeper said: "upon Aedh's palm he, by my word, would have room enough." Hereupon the guests with pealing laughter desired to see him: each one deeming the time to be all too long till he should view Esirt and, after seeing him, speak with him. Then upon all sides both men and women had free access to him, but Esirt cried: "huge men that ye are, let not your infected breaths so closely play upon me ! but suffer yon small man that is the least of you to approach me ; who, little though he be among you, would yet in the land where I dwell be accounted of great stature." Into the great house therefore, and he standing upon his palm, the poet Aedh bore him off.
Fergus, when he had sought of him tidings who he might be, was answered : " I am Esirt son of Beg son of Buaidghen : chief poet, bard and rhymer, of the Luchra and Lupracan." The assembly were just then in actual enjoyment of the feast, and a cup-bearer came to Fergus : " give to the little man that is come to me," said the king. Esirt replied : " neither of your meat will I eat, nor of your liquor will I drink." " By our word," quoth Fergus, "seeing thou art a flippant and a mocking fellow, it were but right to drop thee into the beaker, where at all points round about thou shouldst impartially quaff the liquor." At which hearing the cup-bearer closed his hand on Esirt and popped him into the goblet, in which upon the surface of the liquor that it contained he floated round, and : " ye poets of Ulster," he vociferated, "much desirable knowledge and instruction there is which, upon my conscience, ye sorely need to have of me, yet ye suffer me to be drowned ! "
With fair satin napkins of great virtue and with special silken fabrics he being now plucked out was cleaned spick and span, and Fergus enquired : " of what impediment spakest thou a while since as hindering thee that thou shouldst not share our meat ?" " That will I e'en tell thee," the little man replied : " but let me not incur thy displeasure." " Thou shalt not," promised the king: "only resolve me the whole impediment" Then Esirt said [and Fergus answered him]: -
E, " With poet's sharp-set words
never be angered, Fergus ;
thy stem hard utterance restrain,
nor against me take unjustifiable action"
F, "O wee man of the seizure
E, "Judgments lucid and truthful,
if they be those to which thou dost provoke me :
then I pronounce that thou triflest with thy steward's wife,
while thine own foster-son ogles thy queen.
Women fair-haired and accomplished,
rough kings of the ordinary kind [i.e. mere chieftains] :
how excellent soever be the form of these,
'tis not on them the former let their humour dwell [i.e. when a genuine king comes in their way]"
F, "Esirt, thou art in truth no child,
but an approved man of veracity ;
O gentle one, devoid of reproach,
no wrath of Fergus shalt thou know !"
The king went on : "my share of the matter, by my word, is true ; for the steward's wife is indeed my pastime, and all the rest as well therefore I the more readily take to be a verity." Then said Esirt : "now will I partake of thy meat, for thou hast confessed the evil ; do it then no more." Here the poet waxing cheerful and of good courage went on : "upon my own lord I have made a poem which, were it your pleasure, I would declaim to you." Fergus answered : "we would esteem it sweet to hear it," and Esirt began : -
"A king victorious, and renowned and pleasant,
is Iubhdan son of Abhdaein :
king of magh Life,
king of magh faithlenn.
His is a voice clear and sweet as copper's resonance,
like the blood-coloured rowan-berry is his cheek ;
his eye is bland as it were a stream of mead,
his colour that of the swan or of the river's foam.
Strong he is in his yellow-haired host,
in beauty and in cattle he is rich ;
and to brave men he brings death
when he sets himself in motion.
A man that loves the chase,
active, a generous feast-giver ;
he is head of a bridle-wearing army,
he is tall, proud and imperious.
His is a solid squadron of grand headlong horses,
of bridled horses rushing torrent-like ;
heads with smooth adornment of golden locks
are on the warriors of the Luchra.
All the men are comely,
the women all light-haired ;
over that land's noble multitude
Iubhdan of truthful utterance presides.
There the fingers grasp silver horns,
deep notes of the timpan are heard ;
and how great soever be the love
that women are reputed to bear thee [Fergus],
'tis surpassed by the desire
that they feel for Iubhdan"
The lay ended Ulster equipped him with abundance of good things, till each heap of these as they lay there equalled their tall men's stature. "This on my conscience," quoth Esirt, "is indeed a response that is worthy of right men ; nevertheless take away those treasures : of which I conceive that I have no need, seeing that in my lord's following is no man but possesses substance sufficient" Ulster said however: "we pledge our words that, as we never would have taken back aught though we had given thee our very wives and our kine, even so neither will we take again that we now have given thee." "Then divide ye the gifts, bards and professors of Ulster !" Esirt cried : "two thirds take for yourselves, and the other bestow on Ulster's horseboys and jesters."
So to the end of three days and three nights Esirt was in Emania, and he took his leave of Fergus and of Ulster's nobles. "I will e'en go with thee," said Ulster's poet and man of science, Aedh : that used to lie in their good warriors' bosoms, yet by Esirt's side was a giant ; for this latter could stand upon Aedh's palm. Esirt said: " 'tis not I that will bid thee come: for were I to invite thee, and kindness to be shewn thee in the sequel, thou wouldst say 'twas but what [by implication] had been promised thee ; whereas if such be not held out to thee and thou yet receive the same thou wilt be grateful."
Out of Emania the pair of poets now went their way and, Aedh's step being the longer, he said : "Esirt thou art a poor walker." This one then took such a fit of running that he was an arrow's flight in front of Aedh, who said again : "between those two extremes lies the golden mean." "On my word," retorted Esirt, "that is the one category in which since I am among you I have heard mention made of the golden mean !" On they went then till they gained tráigh na dtréinfhear or ”strand of the strong men” in Ulster: "and what must we do now?" Aedh asked here. "Travel the sea over her depths," said the other. To Aedh objecting: "never shall I come safe out of that [trial]," Esirt made answer: "seeing that I compassed the task 'twere strange that thou shouldst fail" Then Aedh vented a strain and Esirt answered him : -
A, " In the vast sea how shall I contrive ? O generous Esirt,
the wind will bear me down to the merciless wave [on which]
though I mount upwards yet [none the less]
shall I perish in the end"
E. " To fetch thee fair Iubhdan's horse will come,
get thee upon him and cross the stammering sea:
an excellent horse truly and of surpassing colour,
a king's valued treasure, good on sea as upon land.
A beautiful horse
that will carry thee away :
sit on him nor be troubled ;
go, trust thyself to him."
They had been no long time there when something they marked which, swiftly careering, came towards them over the billows' crests. "Upon itself be the evil that it brings,” Aedh cried, and to Esirt asking: "what seest thou?" answered: "a russet-clad hare I see." But Esirt said: "not so - rather is it Iubhdan's horse that comes to fetch thee." Of which horse the fashion was this: two fierce flashing eyes he had, an exquisite pure crimson mane, with four green legs and a long tail that floated in wavy curls. His [general] colour was that of prime artificers' gold-work, and a gold-encrusted bridle he bore withal. Esirt bestriding him said: "come up beside me, Aedh;" but again the latter objected : "nay, poet, to do thee alone a skiff's office his capacity is all too scant." "Aedh, cease from fault-finding: for ponderous as may be the wisdom that is in thee, yet will he carry us both."
They both being now mounted on the horse traversed the combing seas, the mighty main's expanse and Ocean's great profound, until in the end they, undrowned and without mishap, reached magh faithlenn, and there the Luchra people were before them in assembly. "Esirt approaches," they cried, "and a giant bears him company !" Then Iubhdan went to meet Esirt, and gave him a kiss : "but poet," said he, "wherefore bringest thou this giant to destroy us?" "No giant is he, but Ulsters poet and man of science, and the king's dwarf. In the land whence he comes he is the least, so that in their great men's bosoms he lies down and, as it were an infant, stands on the flat of their hands. For all which he is yet such that before him ye would do well to be careful of yourselves." They further asking: "what is his name?" were told that he was called "poet Aedh". "Alack man," they cried to Esirt,"thy giant is huge indeed !"
Next, Esirt addressing Iubhdan said: "on thee, Iubhdan, I lay bonds which true warriors may not brook that in thine own person thou go to view the region out of which we come, and that of the "lord's porridge" which for the king of Ulster is made to-night thou be the first man to make trial"
Then Iubhdan, in grief and faint of spirit, proceeded to confer with Bébhó his wife : he told her how that by Esirt he was laid under bonds, and bade her bear him company. "That will I," she said: "but in that Esirt was cast into prison thou didst unjustly." So they mounted Iubhdan's golden horse and that same night made good their way to Emania, where they entered unperceived into the place. "Iubhdan," said Bébhó, "search the town for the porridge spoken of by Esirt, and let us depart again before the people of the place shall rise."
They gained the inside of the palace and there found Emania's great cauldron, having in it the remnant of the "people's porridge". Iubhdan drew near, but might by no means reach it from the ground. "Get thee upon thy horse," said Bébhó, "and from the horse upon the cauldron's rim." This he did but, the porridge being too far down and his arm too short, could not touch the shank of the silver ladle that was in the cauldron ; whereupon he making a downward effort his foot slipped, and up to his very navel he fell into the cauldron ; in which as though all existing iron gyves had been upon him he now found himself fettered and tethered both hand and foot. "Long thou tarriest, dark man !" Bébhó cried to him (for Iubhdan was thus : hair he had that was jet-black and curled, his skin being whiter than foam of wave and his cheeks redder than the forest's scarlet berry: whereas - saving him only - all the Luchra people had hair that was ringletted indeed, but of a fair and yellow hue ; hence then he was styled "dark man"). Bébhó sang now, Iubhdan answering her: -
She, "O dark man, and O dark man !
dire is the strait in which thou art :
to-day it is that the white horse must be saddled,
for the sea is angry and the tide at flood"
He. "O fair-haired woman, and O woman with fair hair
I gyves hold me captive in a viscous mass nor,
until gold be given for my ransom,
shall I ever be dismissed.
O Bébhó, and O Bébhó ! morn is at hand,
thou therefore flee away :
fast in the doughy remnant sticks my leg,
if here thou stay thou art but foolish, O Bébhó !"
She, "Rash word it was, 'twas a rash word,
that in thy house thou utteredst:
that but by thine own good pleasure
none under the sun might hold thee fast, O man !"
He. "Rash was the word, the word was rash,
that in my house I uttered :
a year and a day I must be now,
and neither man nor woman of my people see !"
"Bébhó," cried Iubhdan, "get thee away, and to the Luchra-land take back that horse." "Never say it," she answered : "of a surety I will not depart until I see what turn things shall take for thee."
The dwellers in the town when they were now risen anon lighted on Iubhdan in the porridge cauldron, out of which he could not frame to escape ; in which plight when they saw him the people sent up a mighty roar of laughter, then picked Iubhdan out of the cauldron and carried him off to Fergus. "My conscience," said the king, "this is not the tiny man that was here before: seeing that, whereas the former little fellow had fair hair, this one hath a black thatch. What art thou at all, mannikin, and out of what region come?" Iubhdan made answer: "I am of the Luchra-folk, over the which it is I that am king ; this woman that ye see by me is my wife, and queen over the Luchra: her name is Bébhó, and I have never told a lie." "Let him be taken out," cried Fergus, "and put with the common rabble of the household - guard him well !" Iubhdan was led out accordingly *** said Iubhdan : "but if it may please thee to show me some favour, suffer me no longer to be among yonder loons, for the great men's breaths do all infect me ; and my word I pledge that till by Ulster and by thee it be licensed I will never leave you." Fergus said: "could I but think that, thou shouldst no more be with the common varlets." Iubhdan's reply was : "never have I overstepped, nor ever will transgress, my plighted word."
Then he was conducted into a fair and privy chamber that Fergus had, where one that was a servant of trust to the king was set apart to minister to him. "An excellent retreat indeed is this," he said, "yet is my own retreat more excellent than it" ; and he made a lay : -
"In the land that lies away north
I have a retreat,
the ceiling of which is of the red gold,
and the floor all of silver.
Of the white bronze its lintel is,
and its threshold of copper ;
of light-yellow bird-plumage
is the thatch on it I ween.
Golden are its candelabra,
holding candles of rich light
and gemmed over with rare stones,
in the fair midst of the house.
Save myself only and my queen,
none that belongs to it feels sorrow now ;
a retinue is there that ages not,
that wears wavy yellow tresses.
There every man is a chess-player,
good company is there that knows no stint:
against man or woman that seeks to enter it
the retreat is never closed."
Fer dédh or "man of smoke" the fire-servant, as in Iubhdan's presence he kindled a fire, threw upon it a woodbine that twined round a tree, together with somewhat of all other kinds of timber, and this led Iubhdan to say: "burn not the king of trees, for he ought not to be burnt ; and wouldst thou, Ferdedh, but act by my counsel, then neither by sea nor by land shouldst thou ever be in danger." Here he sang a lay: -
"O man that for Fergus of the feasts
dost kindle fire,
whether afloat or ashore
never burn the king of woods.
Monarch of Innisfail's forests the woodbine is,
whom none may hold captive ;
no feeble sovereign's effort is it
to hug all tough trees in his embrace.
The pliant woodbine if thou burn,
wailings for misfortune will abound ;
dire extremity at weapons' points
or drowning in great waves will come after.
Burn not the precious apple-tree
of spreading and low-sweeping bough:
tree ever decked in bloom of white,
against whose fair head all men put forth the hand.
The surly blackthom is a wanderer,
and a wood that the artificer burns not ;
throughout his body, though it be scanty,
birds in their flocks warble.
The noble willow burn not,
a tree sacred to poems ;
within his bloom bees are a-sucking,
all love the little cage.
The graceful tree with the berries,
the wizards' tree, the rowan, burn ;
but spare the limber tree :
burn not the slender hazel.
Dark is the colour of the ash :
timber that makes the wheels to go ;
rods he furnishes for horse-men's hands,
and his form turns battle into flight.
Tenterhook among woods the spiteful briar is,
by all means burn him that is so keen and green ;
he cuts, he flays the foot, and him that would advance
he forcibly drags backward.
Fiercest heat-giver of all timber is green oak,
from him none may escape unhurt :
by partiality for him the head is set on aching
and by his acrid embers the eye is made sore.
Alder, very battle-witch of all woods,
tree that is hottest in the fight
- undoubtingly burn at thy discretion
both the alder and the whitethorn.
Holly, burn it green ;
holly, burn it dry :
of all trees whatsoever
the critically best is holly.
Elder that hath tough bark,
tree that in truth hurts sore :
him that furnishes horses to the armies from the sidh
burn so that he be charred.
The birch as well, if he be laid low,
promises abiding fortune :
burn up most sure
- and certainly the stalks that bear the constant pods.
Suffer, if it so please thee,
the russet aspen to come headlong down :
burn, be it late or early,
the tree with the palsied branch.
Patriarch of long-lasting woods is the yew,
sacred to feasts as is well known :
of him now build ye
dark-red vats of goodly size.
Ferdedh, thou faithful one,
wouldst thou but do my behest :
to thy soul as to thy body,
O man, 'twould work advantage !"
After this manner then, and free of all supervision, Iubhdan abode in the town ; while to them of Ulster it was recreation of mind and body to look at him and to listen to his words ***
Again, Iubhdan went to the house of a certain soldier of the king's soldiers that chanced to fit on him new brogues that he bad : discoursing as he did so, and complaining, of their soles that were too thin. Iubhdan laughed. The king asked : "Iubhdan, why laughst thou thus ?" "Yon fellow it is that provokes my laughter, complaining of his brogues while for his own life he makes no moan. Yet, thin as be those brogues, he never will wear them out." Which was true for Iubhdan, seeing that before night that man and another one of the king's people fought and killed each other ***
Yet another day the household disputed of all manner of things, how they would do this or that, but never said : "if it so please God." Then Iubhdan laughed and uttered a lay: -
"Man talks but God sheweth the event ;
to men all things are but confusion,
they must leave them
as God knoweth them to be.
All that which Thou, Monarch of the elements,
hast ordained must be right ;
He, the King of kings,
knows all that I crave of thee, Fergus.
No man's life, however bold he be,
is more than the twinkling of an eye ;
were he a king's son he knoweth not
whether it be truth that he utters of the future."
Iubhdan now tarried in Emania until such time as the Luchra-folk, being seven battalions strong, came to Emania's green in quest of him ; and of these no single one did, whether in height or in bulk, exceed another. Then to Fergus and to Ulster's nobles that came out to confer with them they said : "bring us our king that we may redeem him, and we will pay for him a good ransom." Fergus asked: "what ransom ?" "Every year, and that without ploughing, without sowing, we will cover this vast plain with a mass of corn." "I will not give up Lutheran," said the king. "To-night we will do thee a mischief." "What mischief?" asked the king. "All Ulster's calves we will admit to their dams, so that by morning time there shall not in the whole province be found the measure of one babe's allowance of milk." "So much ye will have gained," said Fergus, "but not Iubhdan."
This damage accordingly they wrought that night ; then at morn returned to the green of Macha and, with promise of making good all that they had spoiled, again required Iubhdan. Fergus refusing them however they said : "this night we will do another deed of vengeance : we will defile the wells, the rapids, and the river-mouths of the whole province." But the king answered: "that is but a puny mischief (whence the old saw "dirt in a well") " and ye shall not have Iubhdan."
They having done this came again to Emania on the third day and demanded Iubhdan. Fergus said: "I will not give him." "A further vengeance we will execute upon thee." "What vengeance is that?" "To-night we will burn the millbeams and the kilns of the province." "But ye will not get Iubhdan," quoth the king.
Away they went and did as they had threatened, then on the fourth day repaired to Emania and clamoured for Iubhdan. Said Fergus : "I will not deliver him." "We will execute vengeance on thee." "What vengeance?" "We will snip the ears off all the corn that is in the province." "Neither so shall ye have Iubhdan." This they did, then returned to Emania on the fifth day and asked for Iubhdan. Fergus said: "I will not yield him." "Yet another vengeance we will take of thee." "What vengeance?" "Your women's hair and your men's we will e'en shave to such purpose that they shall for ever be covered with reproach and shame." Then Fergus cried : "if ye do that, by my word I will slay Iubhdan !" But here this latter said : "that is not the right thing at all ; rather let me be enlarged, that in person I may speak with them and bid them first of all to repair such mischief as they have wrought, and then be gone."
At sight of Iubhdan they then, as taking for granted that the license accorded him must needs be in order to his departure with them, sent up a mighty shout of triumph. Iubhdan said however: "my trusty people, get you gone now, for I am not suffered to go with you ; all that which ye have spoiled make good also, neither spoil anything more for, if ye do so, I must die." They thereupon, all gloomy and dejected, went away ; a man of them making this ditty: -
"A raid upon thee we proclaim this night,
O Fergus owner of many strong places !
from thy standing com we will snip the ears,
whereby thy tables will not benefit.
In this matter we have already burnt your kilns,
your millbeams too we have all consumed ;
your calves we have most accurately
and universally admitted to their dams.
Your men's hair we will crop,
and all locks of your young women :
to your land it shall be a disfigurement,
and such shall be our mischiefs consummation.
White be thy horse till time of war,
thou king of Ulster and of warriors stout !
but crimsoned be his trappings
when he is in the battle's press.
May no heat inordinate assail thee,
nor inward flux e'er seize thee,
nor eye-distemper reach thee during all thy life :
but Fergus, not for love of thee !
Were it not Iubhdan here whom Fergus holds at his discretion,
the manner of our effecting our depredations would have been such
that the disgrace incurred by the latter
would have shown his refusal to be an evil one."
"And now get you hence," said Iubhdan: "for Esirt has prophesied of me that before I shall have abandoned here the choicest one of all my precious things I may not return."
So till a year's end all but a little he dwelt in Emania, and then said to Fergus : "of all my treasures choose thee now a single one, for so thou mayest. My precious things are good too"; and in a lay he proceeded to cast them up: -
"Take my spear, O take my spear thou, Fergus,
that hast enemies in number ! in battle
'tis a match for an hundred,
and a king that holds it will have fortune among hostile points.
Take my shield, O take my shield,
a good price it is for me, Fergus !
be it stripling or be it grey-beard,
behind his shelter none may wounded be.
My sword, and O my sword !
in respect of a battle-sword
there is not in a prince's hand throughout all Innisfail
a more excellent thing of price.
Take my cloak, O take my cloak,
the which if thou take it will be ever new !
my mantle is good, Fergus,
and for thy son and grandson will endure.
My shirt, and O my shirt !
whoe'er he be that in time to come may be within its weft
- my grandsire's father's wife,
her hands they were that spun it.
Take my belt, O take my belt !
gold and silver appertain to a knowledge of it ;
sickness will not lay hold on him that is encircled by it,
nor on skin encompassed by my girdle.
My helmet, O my helmet,
no prize there is more admirable !
no man that on his scalp shall assume it
will ever be obnoxious to reproach of baldness.
Take my tunic, O my tunic take,
well-fitting silken garment !
the which though for an hundred years it were on one,
yet were its crimson none the worse.
My cauldron, O my cauldron,
a special rare thing for its handy use !
though they were stones that should go into my cauldron,
yet would it turn them out meat befitting princes.
My vat, and O my vat !
as compared with other vats of the best,
by any that shall bathe in him
life's stage is traversed thrice.
Take my mace, O take my mace,
no better treasure canst thou choose !
in time of war, in sharp set-to,
nine heads besides thine own it will protect.
Take my horse-rod, O my horse-rod take :
rod of the yellow horse so fair to see !
let but the whole world's women look at thee [with that rod in thy hand and]
in thee will centre all their hottest love.
My timpan, O my timpan endowed with string-sweetness,
from the red sea's borders !
within its wires resides minstrelsy
sufficing to delight all women of the universe.
Whosoe'er should in the matter of tuning up
my timpan be suddenly put to the test,
if never hitherto he had been a man of art
yet would the instrument of itself perform the minstrel's function.
Ah how melodious is its martial strain,
and its low cadence ah how sweet !
all of itself too how it plays,
without a finger on a single string of all its strings.
My shears, and O my shears,
that Barran's smith did make !
of them that take it into their hands
every man will secure a sweetheart.
My needle, O my needle,
that is made of the eanach's gold !
Of my swine two porkers take !
they will last thee till thy dying day ;
every night they may be killed,
yet within the watch will live again.
My halter, O my halter !
whoe'er should be on booty bent,
though 'twere a black cow he put into it
incontinently she would become a white one.
Take my shoes, my shoes O take,
brogues of the white bronze, of virtue marvellous !
alike they travel land and sea,
happy the king whose choice shall fall on these !"
"Fergus," said Iubhdan, "from among them all choose thee now one precious thing, and let me go." But this was now the season and the hour when from his adventure poet Aedh returned ; and him the professors presently examined touching Iubhdan's house, his household, and the region of the Luchra. Concerning all which Aedh forthwith began to tell them, inditing a lay : -
"A wondrous enterprise it was
that took me away from you,
our poets, to a populous fairy palace
with a great company of princes and with men minute.
Twelve doors there are to that house
of roomy beds and [window] lighted sides ;
'tis of vast marble [blocks],
and in every doorway doors of gold.
Of red, of yellow and green,
of azure and of blue its bedclothes are ;
its authority is of ancient date:
warriors' cooking-places it includes, and baths.
Smooth are its terraces
of the egg-shells of Iruath ;
pillars there are of crystal,
columns of silver and of copper too.
Silk and satin, silk and satin, bridles *** ;
its authority is of ancient date :
warriors' cooking-places it includes,
Reciting of romances, of the Fian-lore,
was there every day ;
singing of poems, instrumental music,
the mellow blast of horns, and concerted minstrelsy.
A noble king he is:
Iubhdan son of Abhdaein, of the yellow horse ;
he is one whose form undergoes no change,
and who needs not to strive after wisdom.
Women are there,
that in pure pellucid loch disport themselves:
satin their raiment is,
and with each one of them a chain of gold.
As for the king's men-at-arms,
that wear long tresses, hair ringletted and glossy :
men of the mould ordinary with the Luchra
can stand upon those soldiers' palms.
Bébhó - Iubhdan's blooming queen -
an object of desire -
never is the white-skinned beauty
without three hundred women in her train.
- 'tis little they chatter of evil or of arrogance ;
their bodies are pure white,
and their locks reach to their ankles.
The king's chief poet,
Esirt son of Beg son of Buaidghen :
his eye is blue and gentle,
and less than a doubled fist that man of poems is.
The poet's wife
- to all things good she was inclined ;
a lovely woman and a wonderful :
she could sleep in my rounded glove.
The king's cupbearer
- in the banquet-hall a trusty man and true :
well I loved Feror
that could lie within my sleeve.
The king's strong man
- Glomhar son of Glomradh's son Glas,
stem doer of doughty deeds :
he could fell a thistle at a sweep.
Of those the king's confidential,
seventeen "swans" [i.e. pretty girls] lay in my bosom ;
four men of them in my belt and,
all unknown to me, among my beard would be another.
They (both fighting men and erudites of that sidh) would say to me,
and the public acclamation ever was : "enormous Aedh, O very giant !
Such, O Leide's son of forests vast, such is my adventure :
of a verity there is a wondrous thing befallen me."
Of those matters then - of all Iubhdan's treasures - Fergus made choice, and his choice was Iubhdan's shoes. This latter therefore, leaving them his blessing and taking theirs, bade Fergus and the nobles of Ulster farewell (Ulster grieving for his departure) and with him the story henceforth has no more to do.
As regards Fergus however, this is why he picked out Iubhdan's shoes : he with a young man of his people walking of a day hard by Lochrury, they entered into the loch to bathe ; and the monster that dwelt in the loch - the sinech of Lochrury - was aware of them. Then she shaking herself till the whole loch was in great and tempestuous commotion reared herself on high as it had been a solid arc hideous to behold, so that in extent she equalled the rainbow of the air. They both marking her towards them swam for the shore, she in pursuit with mighty strokes that in bursting deluge sent the water spouting from her sides. Fergus suffered his attendant to gain the land before himself, whereby the monster's breath impinging on the king turned him into a crooked and distorted squint-eyed being, with his mouth twisted round to his very poll. But he knew not that he was so ; neither dared any enquire of him what it might be that had wrought this [change] in him, nor venture to leave a mirror in the one house with him.
The young man however told all the matter to his wife and the woman showed it to Fergus's wife, to the queen. When therefore anent precedence in use of the bath-stone there was a falling-out between the king and queen, the king giving her the fist broke a tooth in her head ; whereupon anger seized the queen, and she said : "to avenge thyself on the sinech of Lochrury that dragged thy mouth round to thy poll would become thee better than to win bloodless victories of women." Then to Fergus she brought a mirror, and he looking upon his image said: "the woman's words are true for her, and to this complexion it is indeed the sinech of Lochrury that hath brought me." And hence it was that before all Iubhdan's other precious wares Fergus had taken his shoes.
In their ships and in their galleys the whole province of Ulster, accompanying Fergus, now gathered together to Lochrury. They entering the loch gained its centre ; the monster rose and shook herself in such fashion that of all the vessels she made little bits and, as are the withered twigs beneath horses' feet, so were they severally comminuted and, or ever they could reach the strand, all swamped.
Fergus said to Ulster: "bide ye here and sit you all down, that ye may witness how I and the monster shall deal together." Then he being shod with Iubhdan's shoes leaped into the loch, erect and brilliant and brave, making for the monster. At sound of the hero's approach she bared her teeth as does a wolf-dog threatened with a club ; her eyes blazed like two great torches kindled, suddenly she put forth her sharp claw's jagged array, bowed her neck with the curve of an arch and clenched her glittering tusks, effacing [i.e. throwing back] her ears hideously, till her whole semblance was one of gloomy cruel fury. Alas for any in this world that should be fated to do battle with that monster : huge-headed long-fanged portent that she was ! The fearsome and colossal creature's form was this : a crest and mane she had of coarse hair, a mouth that yawned, deep-sunken eyes ; on either side thrice fifty flippers, each armed with as many claws recurved ; a body impregnable. Thrice fifty feet her extended altitude ; round as an apple she was in contraction, but in bulk equalled some notable hill in its rough garb of furze.
When the king sighted her he charged, instant, impetuous, and as he went he made this rosg or "rhapsody" : -
"The evil is upon me
that was presaged
Then both of them, seeking the loch's middle part, so flogged it that the salmon of varied hue leaped and flung themselves out upon the shore because that in the water they found no resting-place, for the white bottom-sand was churned up to the surface. Now was the loch whiter than new milk, anon all turned to crimson froth of blood. At last the beast, in figure like some vast royal oak, rose on the loch and before Fergus fled. The hero-king pressing her plied her with blows so stalwart and so deadly that she died ; and with the sword that was in his hand, with the caladcholg, best blade that was then in Ireland, he hewed her all in pieces. To the loch's port where Ulster sat he brought her heart ; but if he did, his own wounds were as many [as hers] and than his skin no sieve could be more full of holes. To such pitch truly the beast had given him the tooth, that he brought up his very heart's red blood and hardly might make utterance, but groaned aloud.
As for Ulster, they took no pleasure to view the fight, but said the while that were it upon land the king and the beast had striven they would have succoured him, and that right valiantly. Then Fergus made a lay : -
"My soul this night is full of sadness,
my body mangled cruelly ;
red Lochrury's beast
hath pushed sore through my heart.
Iubhdan's shoes have brought me through undrowned ;
with sheeny spear
and with the caladcholg
I have fought a hardy fight.
Upon the sinech I have avenged my deformity
- a signal victory this. Man !
I had rather death should snatch me
than to live on misshapen.
Great Eochaid's daughter Ailinn
it is that to mortal combat's lists compelled me ;
and 'tis I assuredly that have good cause to sorrow
for the shape imposed on me by Iubhdan."
He went on : "Ulster ! I have gotten my death ; but lay ye by and preserve this sword, until of Ulidia there come after me one that shall be a fitting lord for him; whose name also shall be Fergus: Ros Rua's son Fergus.
Then lamentably and in tears Ulster stood over Fergus ; poet Aedh too, the king's bard, came and standing over him mourned for Fergus with this quatrain : -
"By you now be dug Fergus's grave,
the great monarch's, grave of Leide's son ;
calamity most dire it is that by a foolish petty woman's words
he is done to death ! "
Answering whom Fergus said : -
"By you be laid up this sword
wherewith "the iron-death" is wrought ;
here after me shall arise
one with the name of Fergus.
By you be this sword treasured,
that none other take it from you ;
my share of the matter for all time shall be this :
that men shall rehearse the story of the sword."
So Fergus's soul parted from his body: his grave was dug, his name written in the Ogham, his lamentation-ceremony all performed ; and from the monumental stones [uladh] piled by Ulster this name of Uladh [Ulster] had its origin.
Thus far the Death of Fergus and the Luchra-people's doings.
Sources: Standish O'Grady, Silva Gadelica