The Celtic Literature Collective

The Birth of Conchobar

Conchobar mac Nessa was the son of Cathbad the druid, or, as some say, of Fachtna Fathach, king of Ulster. He was a great and admirable king, and well indeed he might be, for the hour of his birth was the hour of the birth of Christ in Palestine. For aeven years before his birth had the prophets foretold that on the me night that Christ should be born, a notable chief should be born in Erin. And this is the prophecy of his father, of Cathbad, on the night on which he was born, to Nessa his wife:

O Nessa, thou art in peril;
Let every one rise at thy birth-giving,
Beautiful is the color of thy hands,
O daughter of Eochaid Yellow-heel.
Be not sorrowful, O wife,
A head of hundreds and of hosts
Of the world will he be, thy son.

The same propitious hour
To him and to the King of the World.
Every one will praise him
For ever to the day of Doom;
The same night he will be born.
Heroes will not defy him,
As hostage he will not be taken,
He and Christ.

In the plain of mist thou wilt bear him
Upon the flagstone in the meadow.
Glorious will be his story;
He will be the king of grace,
He will be the hound of Ulster,
Who will take pledges of Kings:
Awful will be the disgrace
When he falls.

Conchobar his name,
Whoso will call him.
His weapons will be red;
He will excel in many route.
There he will find his death,
In avenging the suffering God.
Clear will be the track of his sword
Over the slanting plain of Laim.

Conchobar was called from the name of his mother, mac Nessa. But her name in the beginning had been Assa, “docile “or” gentle,” and it was on this manner that it was changed to Niassa, “ungentle.” She was daughter of Eochaid Yellow-heel, king of Ulster, and by his desire she had been trained up by twelve tutors, to whom she was ever docile and full of teachableness. But in one night the entire number of her tutors fell by the hand of Cathbad the druid, who from the southern part of Ulster went on a raid through Thin with three times nine men. He was a man of knowledge and of druidical skill; moreover, he was endowed with great bodily strength. Now the girl had no knowledge who they were who bad slain her guardians, but from that moment she turned woman­warrior, and with her company set out to seek the author of the deed. In every district of Erin she destroyed and plundered, so that her name was changed to Niassa (Nessa) after that, because of the greatness of her prowess and of her valor.

Once upon a time, she had gone upon a quest into a wilderness, and her people were preparing food. And seeing a clear beautiful spring of water, the maiden went off alone to bathe. Now while she was bathing Cathbad passed by and saw her. And he bared his sword above her head, and stood between the maiden and her dress and weapons.

“Spare me!” she cried.

“Grant then my three requests,” replied the druid.

“They are granted,” she said.

“I stipulate that thou be loyal to me, and that I have thy friendship, and that for so long as I live thou wilt be my one and only wife,” said he.

“It is better for me to consent than to be killed by thee, and my weapon is gone,” said the maiden. Then they and their people ted in one place. In a favorable hour Cathbad proceeded into Ulster, and the father of the maiden made them welcome and gave m land, namely, Bath Catbbad in the country of the Picts near the river Conchobar in Crith Rois. By-and-by she bore him son, namely Conchobar son of Cathbad. Cathbad took the boy his bosom, and gave thanks for him and prophesied to him; d it was then that he uttered this lay:

Welcome the stranger that has come here!
They have told it to you,
He will be the gracious lord,
The son of gentle Cathbad.

The son of gentle Cathbad,
And of Nessa the young,
Above the fortress of Brig na m-Brat,
My son and my grandson.

My son and my grandson,
Grand ornament of the world,
He will be King of Bath Line,
He will be a poet, he will be generous.

He will be a poet, he will be generous,
He will be the head of warriors beyond the sea,
My little bird from the Brug,
My lamb,--welcome!