The Cherishing of Conall Cernach
and The Deaths of Ailill and of Conall Cernach

Goire Conaill Chernaig I Cruachain
Ocus Aided Ailella Ocus Conaill Chernaig
Edinburgh Ms. XL with additions from H.2.17.

Trans. Kuno Meyer

The following tale is here edited and translated for the first time from the only two MSS. in which it has come down to us, the Edinburgh codex XL, pp. 3 — 5 and H.2.17, pp. 475b — 476b. As the two MSS. do not agree so closely as to allow the construction of a critical text, they are both printed in extenso.

The Edinburgh version has an introduction containing what is sometimes referred to as the Gaire Conaill (LL. 211b, 8, in the versified dindsenchas of Mag Luirg), or the Goire Conaill Cernaig i Crúachain "The Cherishing of Conall Cernach in Cruachu" (Rev. Celt. XV, p. 473, l. 2). It is illegible in several places.

The story here told belongs to the heroic cycle of Irish legend. It is mentioned in the list of tales of that cycle in the Book of Leinster, p. 189 c.36. But the oldest form of the tale has not reached us; for the versions here printed were evidently rewritten from older materials at a later age (13th century), a fact apparent both from the language and from the general tenor of the narrative. Still there is no reason to assume that the older version differed materially in its contents from these later ones.

There was a fierce man of the men of Ulster, Conall the Victorious, the son of Amargen, the best warrior that was in Ireland. Great was his hardihood. He was a man who never from his childhood so long as there was a spear in his hand went without the head of a Connaughtman with him. He was in deadly fend against the men of Connaught, for they had killed his brothers. However, there was not a man of the men of Connaught, whose son or whose brother or whose father he had not slain. And he killed three sons of Ailill and Medb, and it is he also who killed Belchu of Brefne and his three sons, and it is he who killed the seven sons of Mágu of Connaught, even Anlúan son of Mágu, and Docha son of Mágu, and Mac Corb son of Mágu, and Find son of Mágu, and Scandlán son of Mágu, and Cet, and Ailill son of Mágu. And it is he who killed Ailill son of Mata Muresc of Connaught, for Mata Muresc was his (i.e. Ailill's) mother, and he was the son of Ross the Red of Leinster. And he (i.e. Ailill) went eastward to contest the kingship of Leinster, and he seized the kingship of Connaught in the west on behalf of his mother, and from the land of his mother the son's name (i.e. mac Mata) was bestowed upon him in the west.

At last however, debility and sadness fell upon Conall the Victorious, after his foster-brothers Conchobar and Cuchulinn had been slain, so that great sorrow and misery and leprosy fell upon him, so that there was no strength in his feet to go about. And he considered with himself to which household he should go to be cherished and to be fed.

"Ailill and Medb, truly", says he; "they are the couple that are able to provide for me. But then my enmity towards them is great. However, great as it is, I must needs go there."

Thereupon alone he went until he reached Rath Cruachan, and went into the rath where Ailill and Medb were. And Ailill bids him welcome.

"Tis welcome to thee", says Medb, "O Conall ..... Welcome indeed shalt thou have", says Medb. "A house shall be made (for thee) upon the rampart of the rath."

A house is made for him, and a pig and a bullock-calf and the leadings of Medb and Ailill and twelve cakes and a wether and the caldron of broth are taken (to him), and he consumed all that at one sitting. He makes ..... the rampart of the rath, and he has his fill every night from the men of Connaught, and before morning he would come home.

In that wise were they feeding him a full year, and giving him the same feast as that. This was what used to amuse the men of Connaught every day, he to relate to them how he had killed their sons and their brothers and their fathers. The men of Connaught would bring their spears to him to be set and to be chipped, and he would set them before any cow arose.

Now, great was the power and the honour and dignity of Medb, and great was her desire about every thing, to wit, she used to change thirty men every day, or go with Fergus once. Her husband, however, was of the same age as she, even Ailill, a man without blemish, to wit, without jealousy, without fear, without niggardliness. Good was the shape and the strength and the judgment of that man, viz. when a man was playing against Ailill, a servant of Medb's would come to summon him to a meeting with her. And this is what Ailill used to say: "Wait a little till the play is ended". He also used to have meetings with other women in disregard of his wife, and she was jealous on that score, so that she took Conall Cernach into her household (as a watch) on Ailill, lest he should do such a thing against her permission.

One day early in the morning on May-day Ailill was meeting a woman at the side of the fortress. Conall however was setting spears on the rath. Medb also went out, for she knew their keeping company. There was a haze-bush by the side of the couple moving, and Medb saw that. "Well, Conall", says Medb, "Conall the Victorious has been thy name till to-day. Hence forth thy name shall be Conall the Wicked Wretch. While thou wast Conall the Victorious, no one would have dared to violate thy guarantee. To-day that outrage yonder is close to thee1". Then said Conall: "Truly, here is a revenge for Fergus!" says he, and aims the spear at them so that it passed into Ailill from one side to the other, or maybe he wounded him in an empty house through the thatch above2. Every one came to him, and they carry him with them into the house.

"Who has done it?" all say. "Conall did it", says Ailill. "Woe! it is not true!" says Conall. "It is true", says Medb. "If it is true then", says he, "there is revenge for Fergus in it." "Evil for thee what thou hast done", says Ailill, "to do evil to me3. Take thyself away from my face before I die. For after my death the men of Connaught will kill thee." "Enough for me", says Conall, "if I reach my chariot in front of the fortress." "I shall not die till then", says Ailill.

He went into his chariot. Forthwith Ailill dies yonder (in the house). Then however the men of Connaught hurled their spears at him vehemently. He slays a great number of them. There was a geis on him to go into a ford without its being strained after him. There were miners washing ore in the river above him, and the troubled water reached him, so that it held him fast before every body. Then he fell by them after having wrought a slaughter of Connaughtmen. The three Red-wolves of Martine4 of the Fir Maige (Fermoy) it was who cut off his head; they were from Erne, and they were in the household of Ailill. And in revenge for Cúrói they cut off his head. And while they were slaying him, Medb arrived in the pursuit. It was then Medb said:

"O pale head, which after the decision (of the battle)
The three Red-wolves of Martine carry off.
It is the face of a hero .....,
The head of Conall, son of Amargen."

They took the head of Conall with them in revenge for Cúrói, whose head the men of Ulster had carried with them northward5. And the head is still in the west. Four one-year- old calves would fit in it, or four men playing fidchell, or a couple on a litter. There is a prophecy for the men of Ulster that it shall be taken south again, and the same strength shall come to them again, if they drink milk6 out of it. And hence is the saying: "The destruction of Ulster by the destruction of Ulster7.

The Deaths of Ailill and of Conall the Victorious as far as that.


1. H. has "To-day thou hast allowed it. Yon outrage is plain to thee."

2. H. has "So that it reached his lungs."

3. Here H. has: "That was not what I intended, to do evil to thee."

4. As to the Three Red-wolves see Rev. Celt. XV, p. 473.

5. According to LL. 31b, 6, Cúrói's grave is on Slemish, a mountain in Kerry (lecht Conrúi i Sleib Mis).

6. Perhaps the as as of the Edinburgh MS. is merely dittography.

7. H. has: "Ulstermen they shall be, Ulstermen they were."

Sources : Kuno Meyer, Zeitschrift Für Celtische Philologie 1