The Cause of the Exile of Fergus Mac Roig

Fochonn loingse Fergusa maic Roig
Glenmasan MS (Edinburg LIII)

Trans. Donald Mackinnon

Seven fat swine, greatly to be desired;
Seven vats (of wine), seven bullocks;
Welcome to children over and above;
Suitable victuals for them as well."

"We will take counsel with our leaders about that," said Fergus. Thereafter were brought to him Cormac Conloinges, and Uaithne Bright-breast son of Conall Cernach, and Angus son of One-Hand Gaba (Oengus mac Lama Gabaid), and Goibnenn son of Luirgnech (Big-shins), and the other chiefs. And Fergus gave them authority to deliberate. They advised him to accept the terms and to make peace. "Ant it is from the nobles around Conchobar that (these terms) will be demanded," said Fergus. And he was deceived on that point. When Fergus came to know that, he said : "I consent," said he, '*** but if any one of those (conditions) is broken, my friendship with Conchobar is gone for ever. And you have (deceived) me," said Fergus. Thus far about peace.

But regarding the affairs of Fergus. He proceeded warily *** valorously on his footing to Ciarraig *** . That year passed by *** in anxiety and gloom until the time came for Fergus to make a raid through the noble of Ulster. That was the very time when Conchobar prepared a great feast in smooth, beautiful Emain Macha. And he invited all the nobles of the province to consume it. And the rooms and anterooms of the house were filled by the (guests). And they were drinking and enjoying themselves until the nobles were loud-voicing and wordy in their cups.

Then suddenly an unfortunate and unlucky thing happened at the hostel, to wit, (the arrival of) three foreign warriors who were at one time in the household of Conaire son of Etersgel, viz, Dubloingsech son of Tribuait, and Tribuait great-grandson of Loingsech, and Durthach1 grandson of Fiach. And since the time of Conaire son of Etersgel, these men were held in high honour everywhere throughout Ireland, and no one dared refuse to receive them whenever they went. They came that night to Emain. And there was no doorwardry in Emain at the time. And the band came to the hostel without being perceived, and there was no one to attend or serve or welcome them because of the great uproar and drunkenness and unreason of those before them in the fortress. And they looked all round the house, and they saw the beautiful gold-gilded room of the single women, and they entered it forthwith. And they raised their weapons above their heads, and they were instantly recognised. Great silence fell on Conchobar and the others because of this, for they were ashamed to put (the strangers) out of the room, and their being in it was an omen of great misdeeds.

They were not long thus when Fergus burst upon the lawn. And he went over to Emain thereafter, with Bricriu in front of him. And when Bricriu saw that the handsome foreign warriors were in the room, he turned sharply to Fergus and told him the fact. And Fergus himself also witnessed it. He came out upon the lawn and told his chiefs of that great outrage and unseemly clamour. "True indeed," said Bricriu son of Cairbre, "you have paid heavily for your voyaging, Fergus; for were the Ulstermen and Conchobar to promise you *** they would not fulfill it. And the three torches of valour of the Gael have been slain in Emain while under your honour and protection. And the only subject for jest and mockery in Ulster, In Emain, and in all Ireland, is your attendance upon Conchobar after he has violated your safeguard. Tell me now, royal warrior, whither has gone that great renown and the vast power and reputation which you once enjoyed when you are not (now) so much as mentioned in connection with deeds of heroism and valour." And all his people confirmed these words. Great wrath and wild fury took hold of Fergus thereat; and he permitted his men to work all the evil they could. They unloosed their sharp-pointed arrows and their keen-edged spears, and they drew their broad-grooved, straight-bladed swords from their terrible sheaths. And they multiplied the deeds of violence, and extended the ravages, and slew many sons of kings and princes and nobles of Ulster upon the green, to wit, fifty youths who were with Fiacha son of Conchobar and Daire son of Fedelmid. And these two high-born youths came to where they were, viz., Fiacha son of Conchobar and Daire son of Fedelmid, ans Dubthach slew them both.

At that moment the poets arrived on the lawn: viz., Cathbad, gentle druid, and Genann Bright-cheek son of Cathbad and Mesdeagha son of Aimergin, and the sons of Fercertne also. And they found the youths destroyed and mishandled. And they stood over Daire son of Fedelmid and Fiacha son of Conchobar, and raised a great shout of lamentation over them. And they approached Fergus and offered him abundance of cattle and presents of gold and treasure. And they offered him his choice of rooms from among the various rooms of the high king. "And if you do not accept these terms at this time," said they, "you shall have strife and quarrel and much smiting." And while they were saying so, they uttered these words:

A weighty (duty) has been imposed upon us
By Conchobar of deep purpose,
That the nobles and their couches
Be not disturbed.

Although in all Emain
The highest company were gathered,
You would have e seat there
Nigh to Conchobar's fair couch.

If you accept not right and reason,
Presents of silver and gold,
You will have bitter contention
From mighty valorous men.

The poets returned thereafter, and told these tidings to the Ultonians and to Conchobar. The nobles of Emain and the champions of Craobhruadh rose up. Their affairs thus far.

The proceedings of Fergus are related now. He plundered and harried on a large scale, and committed many deeds of violence. And these were the most noted of those deeds, viz. (the slaughter of) Fiacha the Fair son of Conchobar and Daire son of Fedelmid, as Fergus said:

Fiacha the Fair son of Conchobar,
By thine hand he fell;
The death of Daire son of Fedelmid,
Though it was be, was not a deed to benefit.

They harried and scourged and wounded from the great Raith of O'Bresal to the water pool of Daball, and from the borders of Emain to Finncarn (White Cairn) of Foraire (the watching). And some say that it was in this foray that Dubthach slew Laidis and Lennabair, the two daughters of Eogan son of Durtacht, in the fortress of Eogan. And it was by also that Moirenn of the white neck, the wife of Muiremar (Fat-neck) son of Eirgriu, fell, and Ethne of the fair head and bright skin, the wife of Errge Echbel (Horse-mouth), in evidence of which Fergus said these words;

Muirenn white-neck you have slain,
The wife of Muiremar without blame;
Ethne fair-head you have wounded,
The wife of Errge, a cruel quarrel.

Laidis and Lendabair
'Tis thine hand that maimed them;
The fair Ethne from Berramain
'Tis you also that destroyed her.

They committed these ravages, and no one dared to oppose or attack them. And this the road they took their plunder, viz., from the Hill of Fuad and the wood of Conall. And they proceeded in that wise to smooth Uisnech in Meath. And they stayed there that night. And they rose early on the morrow, and deliberated as to which of the provinces of Ireland they should go. Fergus asked Bricriu son of Cairbre son of Ros whether it should be to Finn son of Ros they should go. And some of them said that Curoi son of Daire was the prince of highest renown in Ireland. And Bricriu spoke as follows: "The best province is Connaught. The best king is Ailill. The greatest of warriors is Medb, and *** the chief seat of Council in Ireland is Cruachan," said Bricriu, " because of *** and the chastity of is wife. Their poets are generous, and it is *** we should go at this time." And while he said this, he recited the lay:

"Whither ought we go, has long been debated,
Or whither carry our battle gear,
************ 2
Whether to the North, or to the South ?

Shall we to the powerful Cairbre for a season ?
To the son of Ros, regal his sway ?
Shall we carry our spoils to Boinn,
The bright city where Finn resides ?

You would received a right hearty greeting,
Son of Ros, were you to reach him,
In the house of Curoi, a long stay,
Should you go to his delightful seat ?

Full time for us to go forward
Surmounting every danger, to Ruba3 (?),
To the abode of Medb and Ailill,
Who will succour and sustain us.

Let us leave the stronghold on which we are,
The raider Conchobar can reach here,
Like a destructive shower he has passed,
Full time to find out whither to go.


And Bricriu further spoke: "This is what our old audacity has left to us, - visits to the North, a year in Leinster, a pleasant circuit of Munster, and a permanent abode in Connaught. And it is in the country in which we and our children after us can make a home that we ought to stay. And another thing besides: Connaught is the only province in Ireland were there are two kings. And further: from thence we can easier carry on our forays and wars. In real power Medb is king of Ireland," continued Bricriu, "and the high king of the province is, without doubt, Ailill. Medb is the foremost *** patron of soldiers and of ollamhs, of men of learning and of the chief poets of the world. I tell you, Fergus," added Bricriu, "that in Cruachan are to be found the choicest champions and warriors of the globe, the pick of the best people in the world, and *** to go forward if you consider it very desirable to reside in Connaught."

This was the counsel which they all preferred. "If this is the counsel which you have chosen," said Fergus, "let Bricriu go before us to Cruachan, and let him tell Ailill and Medb that I and the Dubloinges4 follow, and do you yourself tell of my affairs."

Then Bricriu proceeded to Cruachan, and Medb and Ailill welcomed him. And the chiefs of Cruachan kissed him (thrice), men and women, (kings and) princes, women and youths. And they were all blithe to received him. And Medb asked his tidings. And he related the story of Fergus to them, and said to Medb: "You will be king of Ireland, now that Fergus is come to you. And he will end the war of the Ulstermen." Medb was glad to hear this, and said: "He will receive jewels and wealth from me," said she, "viz. a subsidy of three score mighty men and chariots; one-and-twenty cumals of red gold, and wine in Cruachan at all times."

And they were not long there when Fergus was seen approaching them. And Medb rose to meet him and kissed him. And the women and the poets kissed him, and gave a warm welcome to himself and to Cormac Conloinges son of Conchobar, and to all the nobles of Ulster. And Bricriu told Fergus of the discourse and conversation of Medb and of her gifts. And Medb herself addressed him, and said: "I shall give you the billeting of four thousand armed warriors in Connaught, and you yourself will be always in Cruachan with two thousand champions, besides your wives and poets and ollamhs." "That would be a liberal offer indeed, O queen," said Fergus, "should we be welcomed by the high king Ailill." "In the matter of food and drink he is more liberal than I," said Medb. And as she said this she repeated these staves:

Welcome, Fergus of Emain,
Thou upright and true manly prince,
Though your numbers were more numerous
You would receive welcome and greeting.

The billeting of four thousand warriors
Will be given to you in friendly rivalry,
Two thousand for yourself, a fair following,
And not a single night out of Cruachan.

That would be most liberal, O Medb,
What you have said, assuredly,
Were we to receive heartily
The welcome of the high king Ailill.

Though the king be not blithe to meet you,
He is more liberal than I in every way,
More liberal in bestowing treasures,
And more gentle besides.


Fergus was thus served and attended for three days ans three nights in Cruachan. The party were all distributed and quartered and arranged for. The billeting of four thousand was apportioned to the people of Fergus, (the maintenance of) two thousand champions to himself in Cruachan through all time, with their wives and youths and attendants besides, and Bricriu with his fifty poets. For three months they were served in that wise, and held in high honour. The tidings of Fergus thus far.

The affairs of Conchobar and of the Ulstermen are dealt with now. After harried by Medb's people, after Fergus had left them, and after the youths and Conchobar's children had been slain, (the king) asked his nobles and his council what vengeance was due to them for the evils and the murders which Fergus and his chiefs had wrought in Emain. And the counsel they agreed upon was to slay such of the sons of Fergus as were in Ulster. And these were their names, viz., the three Illans of Emain (these were fosterlings of Conchobar), the three Anguses of the eastern district, the three victorious Cobthachs, and the (three) Cairbres of Cuailgne, twelve in all. And there were seven sons of Dubthach as well. They were all slain and massacred.

This deed was reported throughout the whole of Ireland, and the confirmation of its truth reached Cruachan where Fergus and Dubthach and the other Dubloinges resided. Great silence fell upon Fergus and Dubthach and all the chiefs when they heard these tidings. And Fergus wept for his own children and those of Dubthach, and uttered these words:

Goodly were my sons
Whom the son of Ness has destroyed;
The three Illans of Emain,
Manly was their courage.

The three eastern Anguses,
The three victorious Cobthachs,
The three Cairbres of Cuailgne,
Their slaughter has dyed my cheeks.

And the seven sons of Dubthach,
The chafers of Ulster, a bitter tryst,
Brave champions were they;
Great and goodly were they.


Dubthach asked Fergus what vengeance he meant to exact from Ulster for the slaughter of his sons. "All the vengeance I am capable of. Do you bring with you *** to assist yourself in the matter," said Fergus; "and the Dubloinges will be gathered," he added. "If you mean to wait for them," said Dubthach, "your sons will never be avenged. And I go to avenge my own sons," said he. "And you and your people ought to avenge these murders, for it is because of you they were done." And Dubthach rose thereupon, and seized his weapon and took his polished(?) shield, and left the place forthwith. No attendant or warrior followed him.

It was an invariable custom with Dubthach at this time that, when the four great provinces of Ireland were on the march, advancing or retreating, he was ever in the front or in the rear harrying and harassing. And (now) he went forth without taking counsel or leave of any one and reached Ulster territory, where he made great ravages and vast plundering. And he killed many cows and cattle, and burned the kilns and mills of the province at large. And others say that it was in this foray that he slew the queens who we have already spoken of. He returned to Cruachan victoriously, exultingly, and related his story and exploits and triumphs. And they were all glad to hear of them.

That was the very time when Ailill and Medb and Fergus made a great muster for the purpose of raiding and hosting in the province of Conchobar. They proceeded thereafter to the borders of Oriel, and they pillaged and massacred and plundered the whole district. The Oriel men overtook them with Eogan son of Durtacht, the stalwart high king of Farney, at the head of the host. A stubborn battle was fought between them in which Eogan son of Durtacht fell by the hand of Fergus son of Roich. And the stout smiter Garadh, son of One-hand Gaba, fell by (the hand of) Muiredach the stammerer, son of Ailill the Fair, with many others whom we do not recount here.

The battle went against the Ulstermen *** thereafter, and there is no count or reckoning of (the numbers that fell of them) there. The fortress of Eogan son (of Durtacht) was destroyed and its treasures and booty taken away. They marched proudly, victoriously, exultingly back to Connaught. And that was the (greatest) punishment which Fergus inflicted upon Ulster for the slaughter of his sons. They proceeded thereafter to the residence of Medb and Ailill, and boasted of their exploits. And the Connaught men were pleased thereat.

But one thing. That year was passed in Connaught without lack of gold or silver or treasure, without lack of food or drink, and the best of everything in Cruachan (was given) to Fergus. Medb conceived a passion *** for the great warrior Fergus which the latter returned. For a year he was her lover in secret *** and she became pregnant by him.

One day as Ailill went forth from Cruachan he saw the hazel tree off the road a-bobbing. He approached, looked near, and at once recognised who were there, viz., Fergus and Medb in dalliance. And thus was Fergus, with his sword leaning against a tree behind his back. Ailill looked at the sword and took to in his hand. And he drew it from its terrible sheath, purposing to slay Fergus where he stood (in revenge) for the loss of his honour. Nevertheless thus Ailill, with these three qualities ever adhering to him; he was without niggardliness, without jealousy, without fear. So he turned away from them, and put Fergus's sword in the hand of Nera son of Niadul. And he put a wood blade in Fergus's scabbard, and made a vow that he would not deliver his own sword to Fergus until the day of the great fight, when the four provinces of Ireland would meet at the great battle of Tain bo Cuailgne on Gairech and Ilgairech.

Nevertheless they were (themselves) a heavy burden upon Connaught during that time, not to speak of the wives and children and attendants. And to meet the honour of Fergus was to Medb the greatest burden of all, for everything that Fergus promised she had to pay for.


1. In The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel Dubloingsech, Trebuait and Curnach (here Durtach) are said to be from Pictland.

2. The line is obscure.

3. It would look as if rubai was a name for the palace at Cuachan.

4. "Black exile". Fergus's followers, consisting of 3000 men according to some accounts, of 1500 according to others, were collectively spoken of as Dubloinges.

Sources : Donald Mackinnon, Celtic Review 1