The Celtic Literature Collective

The Battle of Crinna

Over Ireland there reigned an admirable king: Cormac, grandson of Conn; at which period also over the Ulidians was a king: Fergus Blacktooth, who had two brothers: Fergus Longhair, and Fergus called ‘Fire-Bregia? Where Cormac’s mansion was then was in Tara; and that of every king in Ireland as well, for the purpose of holding Tara’s Feast: for a fortnight before samhain that is to say, On samhain-day itself, and for a fortnight after. And the reason for which they practised to gather themselves together at every samhain-tide was this: because at such season it was that mast and other products were the best matured. Here too is the reason for which the Feast of Tara was made at all: the body of law which all Ireland enacted then, during the interval between that and their next convention at a year’s end none might dare to transgress; and he that perchance did so was outlawed from the men of Ireland.

Now the Ulidians with a great muster set out to take part in the Feast, and in advance of themselves sent messengers to examine their own house there, also to reconnoitre Tara. The condition in which these found their tenement was: no thatch, no means of warmth, walls a-gape, and all befouled by the royal town’s cattle and dogs. The emissaries returned and said that the house was not fit to be entered, and that in Tara Cormac had but a scanty force. Then to determine what they should do, Ulidia assembled in general council; and their decision was to throw themselves into order of battle, and to march on Cormac; whereupon they sent him word to come and meet them in line, face to face, with their weapons between them. But Cormac’s strength was not sufficient to give them battle; what he did therefore was to evade them: westwards he departed out of Tara, his confidentials joined him, and he questioned them what plan they should adopt, from what quarter solicit reinforcement. Then it was that Cesarnn, Cormac’s poet, said

“O Cormac, unless that [nearer to hand] thou hast some battle-winning friend, then of Munster crave a champion, mighty, hard-hitting; a lord that may relieve thee of all fear of enemies .

Cormac answered: “if the counsel given by Cairbre be the same as that which Cesarnn has pronounced, the same it is that I will adopt.” Then Cairbre said:- 

“O my gentle Cormac..."

“For Teigue, son of Clan, he it is that must fight the battle of Crinna: in prophecy it stands for him, and [besides] his father was a son of Conn’s daughter Sabia [father’s sister to thee]; thou therefore go south to Teigue and grant him all that which, in guerdon of his coming with thee to fight the battle, he shall demand.”

So Cormac resorted to Olioll Olom’s house, and there great welcome was accorded him. “The object for which we are come hither,” he said, “is to entreat your good will.” “Which thou shalt have,” answered they: Cormac Cas son of Olioll Olom to wit, and Fiacha Broadcrown son of Eoghan, and Olioll himself. Cormac and Fiacha it was that at this time were Olioll’s representatives; and between them his country was divided, for he was not able himself to govern it: from the one ath cliath to the other every second subdivision of the land was allotted to Cormac, the rest to Fiacha, Teigue standing as next heir to either.

They: Olioll Olom, Cormac Cas and Fiacha, then took counsel between them; and what they planned was to lead Cormac to the place in which he should find Lughaid lágha, with a view to his accompanying him northwards to deliver the battle. Accordingly they sought the spot where Lughaid was, and where should that be but in the glen of Aherlach: there they caught him bathing himself and he [consequently] unarmed. In order to hem him in round about, they made of themselves three parties; Cormac approaches him, over his head holds his naked sword, and cries: “death impends on thee, Lughaid!” “A death from me in lieu of my own!" Lughaid answered. “I will not accept it,” said Cormac, “unless it be a king’s head taken in battle.” “It shall be given thee.” “I will not accept it,” Cormac pursued, “unless it be the head of Fergus Blacktooth king of Ulidia.” “Thou shalt have it.” “Pledge thine honour to it,” insisted Cormac. “I do so.” Then Lughaid raised his head, and said: “that he may never thrive that prompted thee! the old counsellor’s advice it is that here has been put in action; and as its inception has been bad for us, so too will its end be an ill one.”

Then Cormac went to Teigue, who with great welcome greeted him, and said: “grandson of Conn’s daughter Sabia, by reason that for thee it is foretold that thou must do it, come thou to avert distress from us!” But Teigue answered: “to fight the battle of Crinna, verily I will not go; for it is not I that am bound to it: neither upon my land is it that men inhabit there, nor is it my home precinct that is ploughed.” Cormac rejoined: “see now to whether of us two it the more legitimately falls to strive for this portion of Conn’s: for thou, Teigue, art son of Sabia his daughter; were I moreover to win my land, to thee and to thy race in perpetuity should be granted all so much as, between the hour at which the battle should be won and night­time, thy chariot might encompass; and that same in excess of thine own just stipend. Howbeit, in order to thine affording us the most precious succour that we could have: the making good our claim to Tara namely, we have but to remind thee of our kinship.” “This matter I will not take in hand, nor go to do battle with Ulidia.” Then Cormac uttered

“Conn’s farewell was a leave-taking” (and so forth)

After all, Teigue did go with Cormac; and a great obnubila­tion was conjured up for him, so that he slept a heavy sleep and that things magic-begotten were shewn to him to enunciate, and power was lent him to declare that which was in store for him. But Cormac, free of sleep, listened to him, et dixit Teigue

“Much valour, much incitement . .

After the singing of that lay Teigué awoke; he passed his hand over his face, and said: “it is time for us to go up to fight the battle.” “Time it is indeed,” Cormac replied, and chanted a lay:- “The revelations, oh the revelations, that Teigue makes before Crinna’s battle . .

Subsequently they reached Crinna, and Teigue said to Cormac: “come thou too, and with a strong force, to fight the battle, because from my country I am come with but a little number: fifty good warriors and thirty chieftains, Lughaid lágha and myself.” “By no means will I bring an army with thee for the battle: but yield me the integrity of my country and of my land, and I will deliver the battle; or else fight it thou, with so many as thou hast brought, and for ever take thy share of land as is prophesied for thee.” Then Teigue formed his people: his young men he placed with himself in the battle’s forefront, his prime warriors in the centre, his greybeards in the rear, whereas the custom which hitherto had prevailed in Ireland was: their greybeards in front, their prime men in the centre, their striplings in the rear; the intention with which this was done being that every man should have a taste of his own contemporaries. Now the object that Teigue aimed at when he put his striplings in front was that dismay should not take them at sight of the greybeards cut up before their faces [i.e. before their own turn came]. Then Ulster made of themselves a battle: their greybeards they posted in front, their warriors in the centre, and their striplings last. Now comes Cormac to Lughaid lágha, and says he: “every chief. and every righteous man to his word! from thee I am entitled to a king’s head in battle, in eric of my father that thou slewest in the battle of Mucramh; also it must be the head of Fergus Blacktooth, king of Ulidia.” “That shall be given thee,” replied Lughaid.

Then the battles proceeded to encounter: Ulidia charged with reckless bounds, so that under the warriors’ feet the earth shook again; that [on both sides] their irrational horses of exotic semblance were routed, were distracted and frenzied, by the bewilderment of reddened point and edge of gold-encrusted weapons; by the blows on blood-red war-shields, by hurtling of sharp-headed javelins, long and thick, and by the rattle of glittering proof mail. Then with simultaneous fall Ulidia’s greybeards and Munster’s striplings fell mutually.

Lughaid, wreaking his fury on the rank and file until he reached him, now got at Fergus through the press, and in so doing was mangled sore; he dragged Fergus’s head to him however, and hewed it from him. With it he went to where Cormac was, and said to him: “here, Cormac, is a king’s head in battle, even as I promised thee, that is: Fergus’s head.” “A blessing of thy valour and of thy skill in arms light on thee, Lughaid,” said Cormac: “had the real king’s head been brought to me I had not prized it more than this his own brother’s head!” “Is that what it is then?" asked Lughaid. Cormac answered: “that it is, indeed” (for on the spot Ulidia make a king of Fergus Longhair; they set the king’s helmet on his head, with the title of king he is saluted by them, and they fight on for their own). “Good now, Lughaid,” Cormac went on: “that which thou didst promise me, that from thy hands I should have a king’s head in battle, if now it is plain to thee that this is not the king’s; for the king I see yet, and his helmet on his head.” “‘Tis evident,” said Lughaid: “into my hurts stuff ye now dry sops, to see whether I can make anything of yonder [i.e. that other] Fergus.” Cormac’s charioteer came, and with the but of Lughaid’s own spear rammed the sops into his wounds; in which guise then he charged into the mass, just on the instant when it befell Teigue and Fergus Longhair, with their respective warriors, to come together. Onward through the battle Lughaid made his way to Fergus with intent to strike off his head as he had promised. On the one side as on the other all the fighting men fell with concurrent fall, but Teigue was on his legs yet. Fergus went to the spot where his brother had been killed, and Lughaid after him; they fought, and upon the same stone on which he had struck off his brother’s head Lughaid took his. Ills helmet fell from his head on the stone, and Lughaid took back his head and diadem to Cormac, saying. a king’s head in battle for thee, Cormac!" “Success attend thine honour and thy name, Lug­haid: I never had wished the king’s head rather than that thou hast given us!" “What means that: that this is not the king’s bead?" “such it is not indeed,” said Cormac. Lughaid assented: “it is true.” “True indeed,” replied Cormac. “Look now, gilla,” said Lughaid, “and see how the battles encounter, or is Teigue still a-foot?" The gilla reported: “he is so.” “What are they at now?" asked Lughaid again. “The greybeards on the one side are facing for the youngsters on the other.” “Put a few more sops into my wounds that, along with the greybeards of Munster, I may vent my death-fury on Ulidia!" The style of king had by the Ulidians been immediately conferred on Fergus Fire-Bregia, and he invested with the kingly helmet; and the Ulidian striplings, accompanying him, betook them to the fight. On the other side, Munster’s greybeards with Lughaid and Teigue did the same, and between the two parties a bitter battle was delivered. The northern striplings are routed, Fergus is slain; upon still the same stone Lughaid takes off his head, then carries it to Cormac. Now what Cormac hit upon, because fear of Lughaid had taken him, was to install Deilenn the magician in his royal seat; and what Deilenn said then was that, unless the freedom of his own race: the culaite of Bregia were granted him, he would not occupy it. Cormac yielded: “that shall be given thee.” Thereupon Deilenn took the royal place, and upon his head assumed the king’s helmet. But Lughaid, having in his hand the head of the third and last Fergus, came up in search of Cormac; with the head he made a shot [as he thought] at the king, and so slew Deilenn wliom he took for him. There men planted the wizard’s monumental stone, whence dumha Deiletrn or ‘Deilenn’s mound.’

After this, Cormac accosts Lughaid and says to him: “no kindly act to me it was, Lughaid, when thou slewest my magician.” “Not him but thyself it was that I desired to kill,” answered Lughaid; and then it was that the poet uttered

“Upon the one flagstone at ráth chró, or ‘the gory rath,’ were slaughtered the three Ferguses...

Here Lughaid heard great outcry to the northward of him, and: “what shouting is it that I hear now, gilla?” he enquired. “The cheering of Munster’s men in the wake of the rout,” said the gilla. As he still was there he heard a roar that came towards them from their front, and Lughaid asked again: “what cry is this from the front, gilla?” “Ulidia’s, as they turn to face the pursuing battle.” Then Cormac said

“Go forth, Lughaid that art not feeble, to encounter Eochaid gunnat... ‘tis time for thee to succour Teigue . .

“True,” said Lughaid: “Eochaid it is that even now has joined the battle and, unless I make my way to him, there is not a man to tackle him; neither is it any young beardless lacYs work, and he wounded and hacked about, to stand up to that man of might; the little rest of my life that yet is in me, ‘tis on him therefore that it shall be expended.” Therewith he arises and comes to where the others fight the fight, and betwixt both armies a battle is delivered indeed: for when they had made an end of flinging and had otherwise used up all their weapons, every man of them with his hand actually tore away another’s inwards: hence dtk an inatkair, or ‘the ford of entrails,’ north­ward of Crinna.

After that, Ulidia was routed; and the ill-informed affirm that in this battle Lughaid slew Eochaid gunnat, but it is not true. Against Ulidia on that day seven battles ‘were broken’: the battles of Grinner, of Ráth chró, of Aircetros, of Conachadh, of Sithbe, of Ath an inathair of druirn Fuaid.

For after the events aforesaid [and the first four of these battles] the Ulidians confer the royal power on Eirnemach, and at Sithbe fight a battle to make good his claim; thence they get as far as Aircetros, where they light another; thence to Conachadh, in like wise to druim Fuaid, and beyond that point they were not followed.

The battle being now finally broken [i.e. won], Teigue repairs to Cormac and says: “that which was promised to me, namely so much land as after the battle my chariot might travel round, be the same now given to me.” “That shall be granted thee,” Cormac answered. But Cormac’s chariot, and his charioteer Maeldóilt or ‘clench-the-fist,’ are assigned to him to guide him in the course which he should take; and Cormac instructed Maeldoilt, saying: “whenever Teigue shall swoon away, gilla, do thou then turn the chariot’s head eastward again.” The gilla asked: “what reward shall be given me for doing this?" “The freedom of thy children and of thy race for ever,” said Cormac, “if to Teigue thou give not either Taillte or Tara.” “That shall be done,” the gilla answered. Teigue starts to make the circuit of his land; and at such times as he fainted off, what the gilla did was to turn the horses’ heads and the chariot eastward again; then when he came to, the driver would turn the horses’ heads back to the westward. In this manner they got as far as the river Liffey; it was then evening with them, and Teigue said here: “good now, gilla, what river is this?“ “Verily it is Liffey.” “Gilla, have we brought away Tara and Taillte?“ “We have not.” “Have we brought either of them?“ “We have not.” “That is an ill thing indeed,” said Teigue: “neither shall that for which thou hast played this trick ever profit thee," then from its sheath Teigue drew his sword, and in that very place [i.e. there and then] made of Maeldoit three portions [i.e. with two cuts], whence cnuic Maeldóit or ‘Maeldoit’s hillocks’ over Liffey.

Teigue thereafter proceeded to Tara, to require of Cormac that he should be treated for his wounds. “Thy treatment shall indeed be undertaken,” said Cormac, “and physicians brought to thee.” Such therefore are called in to Teigue and to Lughaid lágha; but either one of them is bestowed in a house apart, and an enormous fee promised to the leeches in reward of introducing into the patients’ gashes and hurts divers deleterious matters: beetles, awns of barley [and so forth], with intent to work their destruction and death; the object with which they were separated being that neither should see the foul play that was carried on in regard of the other. On this wise then they continued until they were wasted away all but a little; but from Teigue at this point word was sent southwards to the seed of Olioll Qlom: to Cormac Cas, and to Fiacha Broadcrown son of Eoghan, that they should procure physicians to be sent to him to know whether he might be cured at all. Cormac in the mean time went to confer with Lughaid lágha, for [as he thought] he knew beforehand that Lughaid would not live, and said: “by thy valour and thy weapon-play, Lughaid, I conjure thee that (since now no longer thou mayest hope for life) thou tell me how my father, Art son of Conn, comported himself in the hour when by thee he was being slain and his head taken.” “Thou shalt know it,” Lughaid made answer: “he bleated like a he-goat; he bellowed like a bull; he screeched like a woman” (now the reason for which Lughaid said this was that he supposed Cormac would kill him presently, for he was fain so to die rather than to linger as he was). Hereupon, at the question that Cormac had put to him, anger and fury seized Lughaid, a swelling and a suppuration filled him up utterly; and on the instant his coagulated blood, and all that were in his inside of beetles and of worms [there planted by the venal medicine-men], discharged themselves violently and, by operation of this rage that took him, lay before his face on the green. Then in his hand he picked up a prize flagstone, and made for Cormac; but the king evading him cleared out of his way, and Lughaid made a cast of the stone that went a man’s length into the earth. Such then was the occasion of Lughaid’s recovery this time.

In due course the leeches from the south reached Teigue, to examine whether he were curable. His plight was now exceeding feeble, desperate, and out through the wall of the house the physicians heard the moan that he made. “A moan of sickness this that the Chief emits,” says one; “a moan caused by weapon’s point,” said a second; “a moan wrought by some living creature,” quoth the third. “He needs treatment,” said all three.

They enter the house in which Teigue is, and it is voided for them. “This is not a flourishing state of things,” they said. “By no means indeed,” answered Teigue. Said one of the physicians: “manifestly it is no man of the North that will make a good job of thee, but myself.” “I would,” replied Teigue, “that thou, rather than the North, hadst the successful curing of me.” Here the leeches, when the house [as we have seen] was emptied about them so that besides him and themselves there were not any present, take him in hand: under a plough’s coulter they keep a smith’s bellows a-blowing till it is red, then at Teigue’s belly they feign to make a drive of it, and so [by virtue of the emotion wrought in him] the major part of such reptiles, beetles, blood-clots, and all other noxious matters as were in him, flew out and lay before them all upon the floor. Thrice in this fashion the same application was threatened to his paunch; and it left in him neither moan nor sickness, but he was whole. Teigue by the way killed the medicos that had introduced the creeping things into his inside.

Then he retired south to his own home. Cormac sought to evade giving him the land, but Teigue set about preparing to fight him for it; what the king determined to do therefore was to give him the fee of his territory in perpetuity, as he had promised him; and so it shall be for ever.

"Battle of Cath Crinna" Silva Gadelica. Volume II. trans. Standish O'Grady. Williams and Norgate, Edinburgh, 1892. p. 359-368.