The Sick-bed of Cuchulain : Notes

1. And it was hence that their arms were inviolable. — That is to say : If a king or knight swore by his sword, or by his arms, that oath was inviolable ; and if the sword, spear, or the arms of a king, chief, knight, or chief poet, were given or pledged as a protection to a person, it was disgraceful and unlawful to abuse that protection. See the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh ; and the Story of Cormac Gaileng in Cormac's Glossary.


2. Teti Breac : the speckled palace. This was one of the three palaces of Emania, the chief city of ancient Ulster. The others were the Craebh-ruadh, or Royal Branch, and the Craebh Dhearg, or Red Branch.


3. One of Cuchulain's own residences.


4. Cuchulain's chief ancestral residence. It had its name from Dealga, a chieftain of the Firbolgs, who built it.


5. Manannan Mac Lir. — Manannan, the son of Ler, the great Tuath de Danann chief, merchant, and navigator, whose chief residence was Inis Manannain, or Manainn, that is, Manannan's Island, now corruptly called the Isle of Man.


6. Eoghan Inbhir, that is, Eoghan of the River's Mouth. The River's Mouth mentioned here is, I believe, Inbher Mor, the mouth of the river Abhainn Mhor, in the county of Wicklow, where the town of Arklow stands. This identification of Eoghan Inbhir is derived from the Book of Leinster, folio 5, where it is stated that Fiachna, a son of Delbaeth, monarch of Erinn, and the six sons of Ollam, were slain by Eoghan of Inbher Mor. They were all of the Tuath De Danann race, and this event, according to the chronology of the Annals of the Four Masters, occurred, a.m. 3470.


7. Magh Mell, that is, the plain of happiness. This was one of the mythological names of the Elysium or Fairy-land of the ancient Gael.


8. This was Inis Labraid or Labraid's Island, the exact position of which is not, as far as I know, ascertained. The name occurs twice in the Annals of the Four Masters ; firstly, at the year of our Lord 919, where it is stated, that the Danish prince, Goffraigh, the son of Imar, plundered the city of Armagh, and the country all round it, westward as far as Inis Labrada, and eastward as far as the river Banna, etc. ; and secondly, it is stated under the year 1108, that Inis Labrada was demolished by the Feara-Manach (the people of Fermanagh). It is evident from this record that Inis Labrada, at the time mentioned, was a fortified place, and it is very probable that it was situated in Loch Erne.


9. Conaire Mor, monarch of Erinn, was slain by British and Irish outlaws, at Bruighean Da Derga, near Dublin, am. 5160.


10. An ale-polluting flea: This sentence, like almost all the sentences of this difficult speech, contains an allusion to forms of expression used in the Laws, which it would require too much space to explain at length in a note here ; all these allusions will, however, become fully intelligible when the great work in preparation by the Royal Commissioners for the publication of the "Brehon Laws" makes its appearance. The general meaning of the sentence is but an exhortation to the young king, to avoid being led into intemperance at the feasts prepared for him by the provincial kings, during his state visits to the different provinces of Erinn.


11. You shall not let prescription close on illegal possession: This is in accordance with the "Brehon Laws", which enacted, that no matter how long a term during which land might be illegally or secretly obtained and overheld, it should not amount to prescription.


12. This also was enacted by the "Brehon Laws".


13. That is, their ancient claims reestablished on oaths


14. The first words of the speech repeated ; as customary with the scribes of old, to show where the piece or poem ends.


15. Dectere: She was Cuchulain's mother, and sister of Conchobar Mac Nessa, King of Ulster.


16. Setanta was Cuchulain's first name.


17. Hill of Trim and Hill of Brugh: Ancient fairy hills and palaces on the left bank of the River Boyne, above and below Slane.


18. Culann was the name of Conchobar Mac Nessa's smith, and it was from him that Setanta derived the name Cu-Chulainn, or Culann's hound.


19. King of Macha. — This was Conchobar Mac Nessa, king of Ulster, but named here from Emain-Macha, the capital city of his province.


**. In ZCP 8, Paul Walsh stated this : The second version of the Serglige Conculaind, of which the beginning is wanting, opens with the words 'the doings of C. will now here be described' (LU 46 b37 = Ir. Texte I 214, 18). Cuchulainn sends Laeg to Emer to announce his sickness and to summon her to his sickbed. She reproaches the charioteer who, though he has access to the sid, does not seek a remedy for his master. She comes to Emain and sings to him a lay of exhortation. 'Then Cuchulainn arose and he passed his hand over his face, and he laid aside his weakness and his heaviness and he stood up and came co mboi in airbi roir" (LU47bl5). What is airbi roir? Windisch op. cit. p. 200 translates 'bis er sich an dem Orte befand, den er suchte'. Thurneysen in his Sagen aus dem alten Irland, p. 92 renders 'bis er zu der Einfriedigung kam, die er suchte', and adds the remark that the first meeting with the women of the síd appears to have taken place in an enclosure which Cuchulainn afterwards sought (p. 89). In Kuno Meyer's Contributions, s. v. 4 airbe, our passage is cited and translated 'till he was on the track which he sought'. All these renderings are erroneous. As Mr. T. F. Rahilly first pointed out to me, Airbe Rofir is the name of a place in Conaille Murthemne. It occurs in the dindsenchas of Lecht Oenfir Áife (RC XVI p. 47) as the spot where Conla was buried by his father: rosfuc leis Cuchulainn iarsin co roadnacht oc Airrbe Rofir, and in a poem ascribed to Cendfaelad mac Ailella as that where Cuchulinn fell (LL 121b 43): doceir Cúchulaind cáin tuir trénfer inn-Äirhiu Rofir. The origin of the name is given as follows in LL 122a24ff, Conall Cernach put his foot into the footprint of the dead Cuchulinn and said: 'rop airrbe rofir inso', whereupon the druid answered: 'bid ed ainm in tíri-seo co bráth Airrbe Rofir. Another explanation of the name is given in the modern version of the Cuchulainn-Conlaoch story, see Éigse Suadh is Seanchaidh (Gill and Co. 1910), p. 70.


20. Magh Luada, that is, the Racing Plain. This place is not now known, a least to me.


21. Bilé Buadha that is, the ancient Sacred Tree, or the victory tree — the winning-post of the racing plain perhaps. Not known to me.


22. Oenach Emna, that is, the fair, or assembly-place of Emania, which I believe to have been the public green, or faithche, of that celebrated city.


23. Oenach Fidhgha, that is, the Fair or Assembly-place of Fidhgha, or of the Woods. The name of this place would agree very well with the place now called the Fews (feadha, or woods), but that this place is situated south of Emania, while the Oenach Fidhgha appears, from our text, to lie to the north of Emania. The place must, however, have been situated in this district, as it is found in an ancient tract in my possession grouped with the following places in Ulster, thus: Lurg, Lothar, Callainn, Fearnmhuighe, Fidhgha, Sruibh Bruin, Bemas, Dabhall, etc. Callainn, which precedes it in this group, is a well-known river near the city of Armagh, and Fearnmhuighe, which follows it, is the present Farney in the south of the county of Monaghan. It is evident, however, that all the places mentioned in the text were within a short distance of Emania, since we find that Laegh came back to that place for his master, and with him returned to fight the battle on the same day.


24. Card. — The word Carn is sometimes thus written.


25. An apple of gold closing it. — The hair was long, bound or platted, falling down behind, and terminating in a hollow ball or globe of gold, such, probably, as those which may be seen in the noble Museum of the Royal Irish Academy.


26. Faelbe Finn, that is, Failbe the fair-haired. Of this man there is no further mention made in our text, nor do I know anything more about him.


27. The Hill, that is, the hill in which the Sidh, or Fairy mansion, was situated.


28. Riastartha, that is, the angered man ; the man whose face became distorted with anger, as Cuchulain's was accustomed to do.


29. If he be beardless he is young.— A beardless warrior of mature age was held in contempt by the ancient Irish, and hence Fand's apology for her beloved Cuchulain's want of that manly appendage.



30. The purring ; that is, the purring or murmur that proceeded from the motion of the wicker, or lathy body of any other chariot, was not less noisy than the rolling of the wheels of his chariot.



31. Three heads of hair — cf "Three heads of hair that were on him. Brown at the skin of the head ; blood-red at the middle ; a diadem of yellow gold at the surface". (Tain-Bo-Chuailgne, in Lebhar na h-Uidhre, folio 58).



32. Findruine. — The precise nature of this metal has not yet been clearly ascertained, but, from a comparison of several passages, it appears to have been a species of white bronze, carved and ornamented.



33. Thirty and an hundred. — In the prose it is three and thirty.



34. Though there is a man of equal fame. — That is, although she had her father, a man of as full fame as Cuchulain, to go to, still she would prefer to stay with the latter.



35. A sidhaighe. — This is the same as Benshee, when applied to a woman, or Fershee, when a man. It signifies a being from the Sidhs, or mansions of the immortals of the invisible world ; — the beings called fairies in our times.



36. The Luachair, that is, the place or district of rushes. This was a rushy district lying to the south of Emania, through which the great road of Midh-luachair, which led from Emania to Tara, passed. Its limits are not known.



création : 30/08/2009