The Wooing of Luaine and the Death of Athirne

Tochmarc Luaine 7 Aidedh Aithairne Andso1
Yellow Book of Lecan, Book of Ballymote

Trans. Whitley Stokes



The following tale is taken from two fourteenth century mss., the Yellow Book of Lecan (Y) and the Book of Ballymote (B), which here agree so closely that both copies seem to have been made from the same codex. But the scribe of the Book of Ballymote has modified the spelling of his original a little more than the scribe of the Yellow Book. The tale belongs to the Conchobar-cycle of romance, and turns on the Irish belief in the supernatural power of offended poets. It thus affords a parallel to the story of Nede and his uncle Caiar as told in Cormac's Glossary, Codex B, s. v. gaire, and printed with an English translation in Three Irish Glossaries, London, 1862, p. XXXVI-XXX. It is now for the first time edited, with the omission of some uninteresting and occasionally incomprehensible verses ; but O'Curry gave a precis of it in his Manners and Customs, III, 373. This precis is both inaccurate and incomplete. To support the statement that Luain (as he miscalls the heroine Luaine) was « brought in triumph to Emania, where she was solemnly espoused by the King, after which happy event he soon forgot his grief and recovered his cheerfulness », there is not a word in the Irish story, which tells the girl's sad fate and the punishment of her murderers with brief and stern simplicity. The vengeance taken by the Ulstermen on the lustful poet and his sons was to wall them in (somewhat like unchaste vestals and nuns), and then to burn their fortress. O'Curry softens this down to « they killed, not only himself, but his two sons and his two daughters, and levelled the house with the ground. » Dr Atkinson also, in the « contents » prefixed to the facsimiles of the Yellow Book and the Book of Ballymote, has made a precis of our story ; but, like O'Curry, he omits all mention of the lengthy interpolation which mars its continuity. This interpolation gives an account of the four Manannans, and of the dealings of Manannan son of Athgno with the men of Ulster after the deaths of Derdriu and her lover. It contains some details which I have not met elsewere, and which supplement the tragic tale of the sons of Uisnech.



The Wooing of Luaine and the Death of Athirne here

1. After Derdriu's death from him2 Conchobar mac Nessa3 was in grief and sorrow and exceeding great dejection; and nought of music, or brightness, or beauty, or delight in the world appeased his spirit, but he was ever and always sad and mournful. The magnates of Ulster were telling him to search the provinces of Erin if perchance he might find therein the daughter of a king or lord, who would drive away from him his grief for Derdriu. To that he assented.

2. His two messengers were brought to him, namely Lebarcham, daughter of Ae and Adarc4, and Lebarcham Rannach, daughter of Uangamain. Hideous indeed and horrible were the forms of those messengers5 ***

3. Then the two messengers searched Erin, both forts and goodly towns, and in them they found no unmarried woman who could heal Conchobar's grief. Now Lebarcham, daughter of Ae and Adarc, chanced on the dwelling of Domanchenn son of Dega in the province of Ulster itself, and there she beheld a maiden loveable, curly-headed, pure-coloured, who surpassed the world's women in her time, namely, Luaine daughter of Domanchenn. Lebarcham asked whose daughter she was. « The daughter of Domanchenn son of Dega», they answer. Lebarcham said that it was Conchobar who had sent her to seek Luaine for him, for she was the one girl in Ireland who had upon her the ways of Derdriu, both in shape and sense and handiness. « That is well », says her father; and thus he accepts in consideration of a proper bride-price to her.

4. The messenger came to the place where Conchobar was biding, and tells him the tidings of the girl ; so then she said : « There I beheld a maiden

gentle-beautlful, ripe for marriage, yellow-haired, etc6.

5. So love for the girl filled his brain(?) and he could not bear not to go himself and see her clearly. Now when he beheld the maiden there was no bone in him the size of an inch that was not filled with long-lasting love for the girl. She was afterwards betrothed to him, and the maiden's bride-price was bound upon him, and he turned back again to Emain.

6. At that time came Manannán son of Athgno, king of Mann and the Foreigners' Isles, with a vast sea-fleet, to raid and ravage Ulster and take vengeance on it for the sons of Uisnech ; for this Manannán had been a friend of theirs, and 'tis he that fostered the children of Náisi and Derdriu, to wit, Gaiar the son and Áib-gréne the daughter.

7. There were four Manannáns, and not at the same time were they.

Manannán son of Allot, a splendid wizard of the Tuath dé Danann, and in the time of the Tuath dé Danann was he. Orbsen, now, (is) his proper name. 'Tis that Manannán who dwelt in Arran, and from him Emain Ablach is called, and 'tis he that was killed in the battle of Cuillenn by Uillenn of the Red Eyebrows, son of Caither, son of Nuada Silverhand, contending for the kingship of Connaught. And when his grave was dug, 'tis there Loch n-Oirbsen7 broke forth under the earth, so that from him, the first Manannán, Loch n-Oirbsen is named8.

8. Manannán son of Cerp, king of the Isles and Mann. He was in the time of Conaire son of Etirscél9, and 'tis he that wooed Tuag daughter of Conall Collamair, Conaire's fosterson, and from her Tuag Inber is named10.

9. Manannán « son of the sea », to wit, a famous merchant who traded between Erin and Alba and the Isle of Mann. He was also a wizard, and 'tis he was the best pilot who was frequenting Ireland. 'Tis he too that would find out by heavenly science (i.e.) by inspecting the air, the time there would be fair weather or storm, et de aen Manannán nominabatur, et ideo Scoti et Britones eum deum maris uocauerunt, et inde filium maris esse dixerunt ma11 ut deum, et ideo adorabatur a gentibus ut deum, quia transforma(u)it se in multis formis per gentilitatem.

10. Manannán son of Athgno was the fourth Manannán. 'Tis he that came with the great fleet to avenge the sons of Uisnech, and 'tis he that had supported them in Alba. Sixteen years were the sons of Uisnech in Alba, and they conquered from Slamannan12 to the north of Alba ; and 'tis they that expelled the three sons of Gnathal son of Morgann, namely Iatach and Triatach and Mani Rough-hand, from that territory, for their father held sway over that land, and it was the sons of Uisnech that killed him. So the trio came in exile to Conchobar, and 'tis they that killed the three sons of Uisnech as deputies of Eogan son of Durthacht13.

11. So Manannán fell to plundering Ulster greatly. The Ulstermen gathered to give battle to Manannán. They said that Conchobar's ordeal of battle against the sons of Náisi was not good. A movement of peace was made between them (the Ulstermen) and Manannán ; and Bobarán the poet, the fosterer of Gaiar son of Náisi, was sent at the time of the peace and the answer. Then said Bobarán :

Gaiar son of famous Náisi, fosterling of great-pure Manannán, therefore he came hither, to raid this country, etc.

12. And peace was then made between (Conchobar and) Manannán, and friendship with Conchobar; and the eric for his father was given to Gaiar by desire of the lords of Ulster, and the two others, Annli and Ardan, were left against Conchobar's honour. A cantred of Liathmaine14 was given for land to Gaiar, to wit, the land of Dubthach Chafertongue, for he was (then) warring against Ulster along with Fergus. Thus they parted in peace, and thenceforward they were friends.

13. The doings of Luaine, however, this is now enquired into here.

14. When Athirne15 the Importunate and his two sons, Cuindgedach and Apartach, heard of the plighting of the maiden to Conchobar, they went to solicit her, to beg for boons from her. So when they beheld the damsel, the three of them gave love to her, and desire for her filled them so that they preferred not to be alive unless they should forgather with her. They took by turns to beseeching the damsel, and they declared that they would cease to live, and that for each man of them they would make for her a glám dicinn, unless she would have commerce with them.

15. Said the damsel : « Unmeet it is for you to say this, and I to be a wife with Conchobar ».
« We cannot remain alive, » say they, « unless we go in unto thee ».
The damsel refused to lie with them. So then they make three satires on her, which left three blotches on her cheeks, to wit, Shame and Blemish and Disgrace, black and red and white16.
Thereafter the damsel died of shame and bashfulness.

16. So then Athirne fled with his sons to Benn Athirni above the Boyne, for he feared that for the deed he had done vengeance would be inflicted upon him by Conchobar and the Ulstermen.

17. Now touching Conchobar. Long it seemed to him to be sleeping without a wife. So he came, and beside him the magnates of Ulster, to wit, Conall Cernach and Cuchulainn and Celtchair and Blai Brugaid, and Eogan son of Durthacht, and Cathbad and Sencha17, to the fort of Domanchenn son of Dega — of the Tuatha dé was his kin18, and there was his land. So there they found the damsel dead, and the people of the fort bewailing her. Great silence fell on Conchobar concerning that matter, and the grief upon him was second (only) to his grief for Derdriu.

18. Conchobar was saying, « what vengeance would be just therein ? » The magnates of Ulster answered that this would be the fitting punishment for it, to kill Athirne with his sons and his household ; « and many a time, » say they, « Ulster has found reproach of battle by means of him ».

19. Thereafter came the damsel's mother, even Bé-guba, and was wailing sadly and sorrowfully in the presence of Conchobar and the magnates of Ulster. « O king, » she said, « it is not the death of one person only which will result from yonder deed, for I and her father will die of grief for her. That yon death would carry us off was fated and promised according to the wizard's prophecy, when he was saying

Women-troops grieve at the destruction of men by Athirne's words, etc.

20. Then said Cathbad: « Beasts of prey » quoth he, « will be sent against you by Athirne, namely, Satire and Disgrace and Shame, Curse and Fire and Bitter word. 'Tis he that hath the six sons of Dishonour, to wit, Niggardliness and Refusal and Denial, Hardness and Rigour and Rapacity. Those will be hurled against you », quoth he, « so that they will be in battles against you ».

21. Then too was Domanchenn egging on and censuring the men of Ulster.

22. « A question », says Conchobar : « how will ye act, O men of Ulster ?» It was Cuchulainn who counselled the destruction of Athirne the severe. It was Conall the combative, the righteous, who looked on. It was Celtchair the wounding that conspired. It was Munremar the famous that planned. It was Cumscraid19 the custodian(?) that decided. It was the heroic, haughty, severe, two-edged youths of Ulster that determined that counsel, to go and destroy the abode of Athirne.

23. Then said [Domanchenn to Luaine's mother] :

Sad indeed is that, O Bé-guba, sad is the lot that has slain thee :
'tis heavy grief one has from it, to see thee over Luaine's grave, etc.

24. A mighty lamentation was then made about the damsel, and her death-chant and her funeral game were performed, and her grave-stone was planted. Sad and sorrowful indeed were her father and her mother, and sad it was to be in presence of the wail that they were making.

25. Then said Conchobar:

On the plain is this grave of Luaine, daughter of red Domanchenn :
never came to yellow Banba20 a woman that was harder to entreat.

Celtchair :

Will you tell us how that is, O champion, O Conchobar,
Luaine and Derdriu of the companies, whose was the fairer converse ?

Conchobar :

I will tell thee how that is, O Celtchar son of Uthechar :
better was Luaine, who never uttered falsehood, there was no rivalry between them.
Sad is any prophecy that carries her off, that from it she should go to death,
that from it her barrow should be dug, that from it her grave should be conspicuous.
Bé-guba and Dega's son, and Luaine — 'tis death that will cut me off —
on the same day they went on the journey, so that they have only one grave.
Athirne of the four children, evil for him the deed he has done :
they all will fall, man, sons, wives, in vengeance for this grave.

26. Conchobar was then mightily bewailing the damsel and after that he took to egging-on the Ulstermen against Athirne.

Then the Ulstermen followed Athirne to Benn Athirni, and walled him in with his sons and all his household, and killed Mór and Midseng his two daughters, and burnt his fortress upon him.

27. The doing of that deed seemed evil to the poets of Ulster, wherefore Amargen21 said then :

Great grief, great pity, the destruction of Athirne the greatly famous, etc.

Athirne's tomb here, let it not be dug by you, O poets, etc.

Woe (to him) that wrought the man's destruction, woe to him that caused his slaughter !
He had a hard javelin — lasting its brightness — which Cridenbél the satirist22 used to make.

He had a spear which would slay a king, etc.

I will make his death-chant here, and I will make his lamentation,
and I will plant his grave here, and build his fair barrow.

Fert Athairni. Finit.


Notes :


1. The title is taken from the Book of Ballymote

2. see Ir. Texte, I, 82 ; II 2, 150, 177.

3. see Revue Celtique, XXIII, 331.

4. ingen Oa 7 Adairce, Seirgl. Conculainn.

5. Here I omit ninety-six alliterative hendecasyllabic lines, each ending in a trisyllable accented on the antepenult, and describing Conchobar's two she-messengers.

6. Here I omit about fifteen rhetorical lines (mostly hendecasyllabic ending in a trisyllable) in which Luaine is associated with legendary beauties and compared to Clothru, to Sadb daughter of Ailill and Medb, to Emer, to Medb, to Mugaine.

7. now Lough Corrib, co. Galway.

8. See the dindsenchas, Rev. Celt., XVI, 276, and as to this Manannán, Rev. Celt., XVI, 143.

9. See the Bruden Dá Derga, Rev. Celt., XXII, pp. 20 et seq.

10. See the dindsenchas, Rev. Celt., XVI, 150.

11. The Latin is here so corrupt that I cannot correct it. See Cormac's glossary. s. v. Manannan.
[This more or less means : And they called him Manannan, and for this reason the Scots and the Britons called him the god of the sea, and from that they claimed he was the son of the sea and a god, and for this reason he was worshiped by pagans as a god, because he took many forms to go among the pagans. (E.S.)]

12. See Rev. Celt., XXIV, p. 42, note 1. Slamannan (Sliab Maanann) is a parish « on the south-east of Stirlingshire » (Reeves).

13. See Ir. Texte I, 76, where the murder is ascribed to Eogan, and Ir. Texte II 2 , 143, 170, where the slayer is called Maine Redhand.

14. Liathmuine i n-Ultaib LU. 39b , which seems to have become the bed of Lough Neagh : see the dindsenchas, Revue Celtique, XVI, 153, and Tigernach, ibid., 413.

15. For more as to Athirne see Talland Etair, Revue Celtique, VIII, 48 et sq. and the Book of Leinster, p. 117. In his Lectures on Ms. Materials, p. 383, Rev. Celt., XVI. 328, O'Curry confounds him with Ferchertne, who was his father.

16. Of the same colours were the blotches caused by an unjust judgment.

17. See as to these heroes Rev. Celtique, XXIII, 303 et seq.

18. Hence perhaps his dwelling was called sid (leg. síth) Domanchinn, supra §3.

19. i.e. Causcraid Mend Macha, LL. 97b 28.

20. one of the names for Ireland.

21. Chief-poet of Ulster, Athirne's fosterling and pupil, see LL. 118a 5.

22. See Revue Celtique, XII, 125.



Sources : Whitley Stokes, Revue Celtique, 24



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