The Begetting of the Two Swineherds

De Chopur in da muccida
Book of Leinster & Egerton 1782

Trans. Alfred Nutt



'The Begetting of the Two Swineherds,' has been edited and translated (into German) by Professor E. Windisch (Irische Texte, III. 1) from the fifteenth century ms. Eg. 1782. A shorter form of the story is preserved by the twelfth century ms. the Book of Leinster. Up to a certain point the two versions agree closely, and give the incidents with great fulness, but after a time the Book of Leinster scribe (or the scribe of the older mss. copied into the Book of Leinster) seems to have tired of his task, and to have merely jotted down the heads of the story. As no English version is accessible, and as the tale is of the greatest interest to students of romance and folk-lore, I propose to give the narrative part almost entire, availing myself of a translation of the Book of Leinster version (kindly made for me by Professor Kuno Meyer) up to the point where it ceases to give the story in full detail, and rendering the latter portion from Professor Windisch's German translation of the Eg. version.



Whence is the Begetting of the Swineherds ? Not hard, viz. the swineherd of Ochall Oichni and the swineherd of Bodb, the latter king of the sid of Munster, the former of the sid of Connaught. The sid of Bodb, that is Sid ar Femen. The sid of Ochall is sid Cruachan. There was friendship between the two. They had two swineherds, called Friuch and Rucht : Friuch was Bodb's swineherd, and Rucht Ochall's ; and there was also friendship between them, viz. both possessed the lore of paganism, and used to shape themselves into any shape, as did Mongan, the son of Fiachna.

The friendship of the two swineherds was of this sort, viz. when there was mast in Munster, the swineherd from the north would come with his lean swine to the south ; and vice versa.

People tried to make mischief between them. The men of Connaught said the power of their swineherd was greater. The men of Munster said theirs was greater. One year there was great mast in Munster ; the swineherd from the north came southward with his swine. His comrade bade him welcome. "They are hounding us one against the other. These people say thy power is greater than mine." "It is certainly not less," said Ochall's swineherd. "We can test that," said Bodb's swineherd. "I shall hinder thy swine, though they feed on the mast, they shall not be fat, whilst mine shall. And thus it fell out. Then Ochall's swineherd went home with his lean swine ; they hardly reached there what with their wretched state. People laughed at him when he reached home. "Thou wentest in an evil hour," said they to him ; thy comrade's power is greater than thine." "That is not good," said he. "We shall have mast in our turn, and I shall play the same trick on him." And so it happened. Bodb's swine dwindled away, so that every one said their power was equal on both sides. Bodb's swineherd returned from the north with his lean swine.

Then Bodb took his swineherd's office from him. The man in the north also had his taken from him. Then they were two full years in the shapes of ravens, one year in the north, in Connaught, on Dun Crilachan, another year on Sid ar Femen. There the men of Munster came together on a certain day. "What a noise the birds are making !" said they ; "for a whole year have they been slanging each other and never ceasing." While they were saying this, Fuidell mac Fiadmire, the steward of Ochall, came towards them on the hill. They bid him welcome. "What a noise the birds are making before your eyes ! One would think they were the same two birds which we had in the north last year." Then they saw the two ravens change into human shape, and recognised them for the two swineherds. They bade them welcome. "It is not right to welcome us," said Bodb's swineherd; "there will be many corpses of friends, and great wailing through us two." "What has happened to you ?" said Bodb. "Nothing good," said he. "Since we went from you, we have been two years in the shape of birds. You have seen what we have done before your eyes. In that wise we were a whole year in Cruachan, another year on Sid ar Femen, and the men from the north and the south have seen the power of both of us. We shall now go into the shape of water beasts, and be under seas to the end of two other years."

Thereupon one of them went into the Shannon, the other into the Suir, and they were two years under water. A whole year they were seen in the Suir devouring each other, another year they were seen in the Shannon.


[Up to this point the Book of Leinster version, save for greater concision of style, corresponds closely with that in Eg. 1782. But from this onwards only the bare facts of the transformations are given. I therefore quote the remainder from Professor Windisch's translation of the Eg. version.]


One day the men of Connaught had a great gathering at Ednecha, on the Shannon, and there they saw the two beasts, each as big as a mound or the peak of a hill, and they assailed each other so furiously that fiery swords darted out of their jaws and reached to the sky. The folk came about them from every side. They came out of the Shannon, and as they touched the shore, lo ! before the eyes of all, two men-shapes, and they were known for the two swineherds. Ochall bade them welcome. "What were your wanderings?" said he. "Truly wearisome wanderings our wanderings ! You have seen what we did in your sight. Two whole years have we been in this wise in seas and waters. Now we must take fresh shapes, that each may further test his comrade's might." And they went each his own way.

Now for another space of time they were two champions. One took service with Bodb, king of the sid of Munster, the other with the king of sid Nento-fo-hiusce (that is, Fergna). Every feat of Bodb's men was by the hand of the champion ; 'twas the same with his comrade of Sid Nento. The fame of each soon spread throughout Ireland. None knew whence either came. Bodb went into Connaught, for the men of Connaught had a great gathering at Loch Riach (I omit a long description of the troop he took with him). Never had come a better warrior host, nor shall there come its like to the end of the world. Seven-score women and the same number of children died beholding them. (Bodb and his followers sit upon the men of Connaught, literally, and crush the life out of the most of them ; a parley between the two kings winds up with a challenge from Bodb's champion, Rinn.) Then the three Connaughts spake together, and there was found no man among them to go forth against Rinn. "'Tis a shame," said Ochall ; "our honour is lost." Then saw they somewhat, a host from the north (I omit a long description of the brilliant appearance of the strangers). When they came the men of Connaught stood up and made place for them, whence the saying, "until the day of doom Connaught men under the yoke. The tending of the sons of kings and queens, the tending of hounds, such is their lot for ever.


[The indignant scribe has here interpolated the following remark : "This is entirely untrue, for at that time there were no Connaughtmen in the world. For they are of the seed of Fergus MacRoig, and at that time he was not born. 'Tis the men who aforetimes were in the land that is now Connaught that stood up." This historical gloss dates back in all probability to the common original of both the Book of Leinster and Eg. 1782. It is just the remark that an eleventh century scribe, familiar with the systematisation of Irish legend that had taken place in the previous hundred years, might be expected to make. The value of an interpolation like this is twofold. It proves how carefully the scribe followed his model, even when it outraged his scholarly convictions, and it proves the lateness of the historical scheme in which he believed so firmly. For, as we shall see, our story in its present form can hardly be carried further back than the ninth or eighth century. ]


The host sits down and welcome is proffered. "Welcome to you," said Ochall. "We have trust," said Fergna. "Tis pitiful," said Mainchenn, a druid from Britain ; "from now on and for ever, Fergna, when thou seest a king, thou and thy seed shall lag in his tracks. Till now thou wast Fergna the Straight, from henceforth thou shalt be Fergna the Crooked, and yield tribute for thy kingship for ever. Where hast thou left thy horses ?" "On the plain." "There lay before thee land and dominion, but another came before thee and has chosen them." "Who is that?" said Fergna. "Bodb, king of the sid of Munster," said he. As they saw him in the gathering, a score of men fell dead before him for horror and deadly terror. In all the three Connaughts there was found no man to fight against Rinn. Then said Faebar, "I will go against him." "Unwelcome tidings," said Rinn. Therewith they shocked against each other, and fought for three days and three nights. They smote each other in such wise that their lungs were visible. Then they were separated. Thereafter they went astray and became two demons, and a third of the folk died for fright at them. The next morning they lay ill, but Bodb took the field afterwards and carried off a full victory.

Then came two other hosts to the gathering, one from Leinster, the other from Meath, three times fifty was the count of each of them, namely, Breg mac Mide and Lore mac Maisten. Leinster's king went to the king of Connaught, Meath's king went to Bodb. Two heroes each had fought with one another on the field, and smote each other so that their lungs became visible. The hosts rose up thereafter one against the other, and a battle was fought between them, and the four kings fell, namely, Lore and Breg, and Ochall and Corpre Cromm, king of Dalriada. It was in Sid Nento-fo-hi-uscib. Bodb cleanses the battlefield thereafter, and went to his own land, and takes the two champions with him, namely, Rinn and Faebar.

Thereafter they go into the shape of water beasts, that is, the shape of two worms. One went into the spring of Uaran Garad in Connaught, the other in the river Cruind in Ulster.

Once upon a time Medb went from Cruachan to the spring after she had washed her face, a small bronze vessel in her hand that she might wash her hands. She dipped the vessel in the water, and the beast went swiftly into the vessel, and every colour was to be seen upon him. Long she stood beholding it, and the colour of the beast seemed beautiful to her. The water vanished, and the beast remained alone in the vessel. "Pity it is, thou creature," said the queen, "that thou dost not speak and tell me somewhat of my fortunes after I have won the sovereignty of Connaught." "What wouldst thou soonest ask ?" said the beast. "I would fain know how it is with you in your beast shape ?" said she. "Truly a plagued beast am I, and in every shape have I been." Then he gave her good counsel. "Fair as thou art, thou shouldst take to thee a good man to be with thee in thy sway." "I have no wish," said she, "to take a man of Connaught, to have the upper hand of me." "We know a man for thee, Ailill" (here a lengthy eulogium, which I omit). The beast added, "Food shall come to me from thee every day, to this spring. Crunniuc is my name." Medb went home, and the beast went back into the spring.

That very day Fiachna mac Dare went to the river Cruinn in Cualgne. As he was washing his hands he saw somewhat, a beast on a stone before him, and no colour but was on it. "'Tis well so, Fiachna,' said the beast. Fiachna was frightened, and stepped back a little. "Don't run away or be frightened; it will be better for thee to speak with me." "What have we to say to each other ?" said the king. "That thou art a lucky man and shalt find a ship full of treasures in thy land." "After that," said Fiachna. "House me and treat me well," said the beast. "How can I treat you well?" "Give me food." "Why should I, you are only a beast?" said Fiachna. "In reality I am a man, Bodb's swineherd." "Thy name ?" "Tummuc" "We have heard of thee," said Fiachna. (The story then tells how Fiachna found his treasure, and how he fed Tummuc with his own hand for a year, Medb doing the same by Crunniuc.)

One day Fiachna went to the river. "Come and talk with me," said he to the beast. "Well it is for thee," said the beast, "blessing of corn and milk, of sea and land upon thee, for thou hast been very friendly towards me. Now I am looking forward to a great combat with the beast I told thee of last year, that is in Connaught at this time." "How may that be?" asked the king. "Not hard to say; to-morrow one of thy cows shall drink me, whilst one of Medb's shall drink my comrade. Therefrom shall two bulls be born, and there shall be great war in Ireland on our account. Fare thee well." All came true, as he said.

The names of these beasts in their divers shapes were these : Rucht and Ruccne as swineherds ; Ingen and Ette as ravens ; Bled and Blod, two sea-beasts ; Rinn and Faebar as champions ; Crunniuc and Tummuc, two worms ; Finn and Dub, two bulls, Whitehorn and Black of Coolney, the finest bulls ever seen in Ireland, their horns were decked with silver and gold by the provinces of Ireland. In Connaught no bull dared bellow before the bull of the West, nor in Ulster did any dare bellow before the bull of the East. Joint's.


[It may be well to give what corresponds in the Book of Leinster to the foregoing pages translated from Eg. 1782. The language is obscure, and Professor Meyer has had to leave several words unrendered. ]


Again they were two stags, and either of them would gather the ... of the other so that he made a ... of the abode of the other.
They were two champions wounding each other.
They were two spectres, either of them terrifying the other.
They were two dragons, either of them beating (?) snow on the land of the other.
They dropped down from the air and were two worms. One of them went into the well of Glass Cruind in Cualgne, where a cow of Dáre mac Fiachnai drunk it up ; and the other went into the well of Garad in Connaught, where a cow of Medb and Ailill's drank it, so that from them sprang the two bulls, The Whitehorn Ai and the Dun of Cualgne.
(Their names were) Rucht (Snout) and Rucne, when they were swineherds.
Ingen (Talon) and Eitte (Wing), when they were birds.
Bled (Whale) and Blod, when they were sea-beasts.
Rind (Point) and Faebar (Edge), when they were champions.
Sc£th (Shadow) and Sciath, when they were spectres.
Crunniuc and Tunniuc, when they were worms.
The Whitehorn of Ai and the Dun of Cualgne, when they were cattle.



Sources : Alfred Nutt, Voyage of Bran



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