The Celtic Literature Collective

Scéla Conchobair maic Nessa
The Tidings of Conchobar son of Ness
The Book of Leinster

1. A wondrous princely man was Conchobar son of Ness, who is here recorded (as king) over Ulster. He was named from his mother, namely, Ness, daughter of Eochaid Yellowheel king of Ulster, was Conchobar's mother. This is why she was named Ness, to wit, there were twelve fosterfathers fostering the girl according to Eochaid's desire. Assa was the name they had for her at first, for it was very easy (assa) to foster her. There was a fierce champion in Ireland at that time named Cathbad son of Ross. Besides being a champion he was a wizard.[1] So he went on a round of championing into the districts of Munster. And he happened with his warrior-band to come to the house of the fosterers of Eochaid's daughter. The girl's twelve fosterers were all slain by him in a single night, and no one knew who had wrought the laughter.

2. After this the girl went a-championing, and took arms and fared forth with three enneads throughout Ireland that she might know who had killed her fosterers. And she laid the tribes waste, she devastated all equally, because she knew not her foes in particular. "Let her be called Ni-hassa (not easy) henceforward," says every one. Hence she was called Ni-hassa.

3. Then she went a-soldiering into the province of Ulster. She went one day there alone to bathe, when to her happened the the champion, Cathhad. He came between her and (her) earshafts and seized her, and they forgathered, so that she became his beloved wife and bore him a son. That, then, was the son, Conchobar son of Cathbad.

4. Bright indeed was the dignity that was born in him, namely onchobar. That then was reasonable, for in the hour that Christ was born, he was born. Seven years before his birth seven prophets were foretelling him, (and they said that) a wondrous birth would be born, at Christ's Nativity, on yonder stone whereon Conchobar was born, and his name would be famous in Ireland.

5. Great was Conchobar's dignity at the end of seven years after his birth. 'Tis then he obtained the kingship of Ulster. This was the cause thereof. His mother Ness, daughter of Eochaid, was unmarried. [2] Fergus son of Ross was then in the kingship of Ulster. He desired the woman, even Ness, for his wife. "Not so," quoth she, "till I get a guerdon therefor, to wit, a year's kingship for my son, so that it may conie to pass that his son may be called the son of a king." "Grant it," says every one, "and the kingship will be thine, though the nominal kingship will be his." So after this the woman sleeps with Fergus, and the kingship of Ulster is nominally Conchobar's.

6. Then the woman began to instruct her son and his fosterers and his household-namely, to strip every second man, and to give (his wealth) to another; and her gold and silver were given to the champions of Ulster because of the result to her son.

7. Now on that day year the end of that time arrived. Thereupon Fergus, claimed his pledges. "A colloquy about it!" say the Ulstermen. They took counsel in a single assembly. They deemed it a great dishonour that Fergus had given them (to Ness) as a bride-price. But they were thankful to Conchobar for his goodly gift to them. This then was their suffrage: "What Fergus sold, let it part from him: what Conchobar bought let it stay with him."

8. So 'tis then that Fergus parted from the kingship of Ulster, and 'tis then that Conchobar was called the overking of a fifth of Ireland.

9. Great, indeed, was the reverence that the Ulstermen gave to Conchobar. This truly was the reverence they had-namely, when any man of the Ulaid married a grown-up girl, she slept with Conchobar on the first night, so that he became her first husband.

10. On earth has been no wiser bairn. He never delivered a judgment at a time when it was not permitted him, in order that he might not deliver a false judgment, so that his crops might not be the worse thereof. [3]

11. On earth, then. has been no mightier champion, and he was never let into danger, i.e., to provide for the son of the king. Champions and war-veterans and valorous heroes used to be in front of him in battles and conflicts, so that there might be no danger to him.

12. When any man of Ulster used to give him a night's hospitality, he vised to sleep that night with the man's wife.

13. Three hundred, three score and five persons in Conchobar's household-that is, the number of days in the year is the number of men that were in Conchobar's household. Among them was a partnership-namely, a man to victual them every night, so that the first to feed them on that night, would come again at the end of the year. Not small was the feeding, to wit, a pig and a deer and a vat (of ale) for every man. There were, however, men within whom, as is told, that did not suffice, for instance, Fergus mac Róig. If true it be, noble was his size-i.e., the heptad of Fergus was not often met with any other, to wit, seven feet between his ear and his lips, and seven fists (ie. 42 inches) between his eyes, and seven fists in his nose, and seven fists in his lips. The full of a bushel-cup was the moisture of his head when being washed. Seven fists in his penis. A bushel-bag in his scrotum. Seven women to curb him[4] unless Flidais should come. Seven pigs and seven vats (of ale) and seven deer to be consumed by him, and the strength of seven hundred in him. It was needful for him then to feed the household for a week (seven days) more than anyone.

14. Now Conchobar himself used to give (?) them the (the feast of) Allhallowtide because of the assembly of the great host. It was needful to provide for the great multitude, because everyone of the Ulstermen who would not come to Emain in Allhallow-eve lost his senses, and on the morrow his barrow and his grave and his tombstone were placed.

15. So Conchobar had to make great provision. The three days before Allhallows and the three days after Allhallows were distinguished by him by feasting in Conchobar's house. Beautiful indeed was the abode. Three houses had Conchobar, to wit, the 7 Cróeb-ruad and the Téite Brecc and the Red Branch. In the Red Branch used to be the heads and the spoils. In the Cróebruad were the kings-that is, it was strong (?) for the kings. In the Téite Brecc, then, were the spears and the shields and the sword-that is, it was speckled with the hilts of the gold-hilted swords and the sheen of the blue spears, their collars and their coils of gold and silver, and with the golden and silvern scales and circles of the shields, and with the service of the cups and the horns and the goblets.

16. This is why their weapons were taken from them (when they were) in one house. Whenever they heard any rude thing, unless they took vengeance for it at once, every man would rise up against another, so that each of them was smiting his head and his shield on another throughout the house wherefore their weapons were taken from them all in the Téite Brecc.

17. Therein was the Ochoin of Conchobar--that is, Conchobar's shield: four rims of gold were round it. And Cúchulainn's Fubán, and Conall Cernach's Lámthapad, and the Ochnech of Flidas, and the Órderg of Furbaide, and the Coscrach of Causcrad, and the Echtach of Amergen, and the Ír of Coiidere, and the Caindel of Nuada, and the Leochain of Fergus, and the Uathach of Dubthach, and the Lettach of Errge, and the Brattach of Mend, and the Luithech of Nóisiu, and the Nithach of Loegaire, and the Cróda of Cormac, and the Sciatharglan of Senchaid, and the Comla Chatha of Celtchar. More than can be numbered were all the other shields therein.

18. Much dignity and delight and fame and conspicuousness was this household of Conchobar. Though there were no champions and heroes therein save, first, Fergus mac Róig, that was enough of valour--the man that in the fight of Gárech on the Cattle spoil of Cdalnge, cut off the three Formaela of Meath--that is, the three blows he gave the earth when his anger with Conchobar came to him, so that those three hills are still there, and will remain there for ever.

19. Though there were no bravery thcre save Conall Cernach son of Amergen the Dark-haired, it would he enough for contention- that is, from the hour he took a spear in hand he was never without slaying one of the Connaughtmen every day, and without destroying (their houses) by fire every night. And he never slept without a Connaughtman's head under his knee. There was not in Ireland a cow-chief's land on which Conall Cernach had not wrought some one's slaughter. 'Tis this Conall Cernach that divided Mac-dá-thô's pig as a trophy of valour in front of the champions of the men of Ireland. The man who avenged the Ultonians on the men of Ireland-that is, for such of them as had been killed, or will be killed till Doom. The man who, when he took a spear into his hand, never went out of his assembly without a Connaughtman's head in his hand.

20. Besides, there was the fanious lad round whom the men of Ireland drive-namely, Cúchulainn son of Sualtani son of Beccaltach son of Móraltach, son of Umendruad (?) out of the elfmounds, and Dolb son of Beccaltach his brother, and Ethne Ingubai, wife of Elcmaire out of the elfmounds, his sister, and Dechter Cathbad's daughter, Cúchulainn's mother. Very cutting and very keen were the deeds of the lad. It was grievous to be against him when he was angry. His feet used to run round, and his ankles, so that they were as swift as a . . . . Every hair which was oil him was as sharp as the thorn of a hawtree, and a drop of blood used to be on every hair. One of the two eyes used to go into his head, and the other out of it the length of a fist. He recognised neither dear ones nor friends. He would slay alike behind hinm and in front of him. Beyond every man in Ireland he had the warlike feats which he got from Scdthach Buanann daughter of Ardgeimm in Letha, to wit, the feat of Catt and the feat of Cuar, and the apple-feat, and the edge-feat, and the supine-feat, and the little-dart feat, and the rope-feat, and the body-feat, and the champion's leap, and the casting of the rod, and the leap over néim (?), and the folding of a noble champion, and the gapped spear, and the bai of quickness, and the wheel-feat, and the edge-feat (?), and the feat on breaths, and the . . . . of . . . ., and the champion's cry, and stroke with power amid the side-stroke, and the run against a spear, amid with straightemiing of the body oii its point, with binding of a hero.

21. Greater (than can be told was) the numbering of Conchobar's household and the nuniber of his houses, to wit, thrice fifty rooms within, amid three couples in each roonm. A wainscot of red yew (was round) the house and the rooms. Conchobar's room on the floor of the house. Forefronts of bronze around it with top-rings of silver and golden birds on the forefronts, and gems of precious stone which are the eyes in their heads. A rod of silver above eonchobar, with three golden apples upon it, for instructing the host, amid when it shook, or the sound of his own voice arose, the host was silent, and though (only) a needle should fall on the floor of the house, it would be heard owimig to the silence in which they were from respect for him.

22. Thirty champions in Conchobar's room carousing. Ólnguala--that is, Gerg's vat, ever-full on the floor of the house. 'Tis it that was brought out of Glenn Geirg when Gerg was slain by Conchobar.

23. A man of great management (was) within-namely, Bricriu son of Carbaid. Nimme sons of Carbaid the Great (were) within- namely, Glaine and Gormainech, Mane, Minscoth, and Ailill, Duress, and Ret and Bricriu.[5] A virulent, foul-tongued man was that Bricriu. He had enough of venom. If he tried to hold in the secret on his mind, a purple boil would grow out of his forehead, and it was as large as a man's fist. So that he used to say to Conchobar, "It will burst from the boil to-night, O Conchohar."

24. Truly many wondrous persons were in Concliobar's house in that wise.


1. So the Galatian Deiotarus was both a king and an augur, Cicero De Div., t, 16, §26: ii. 26, §76.

2. Literally 'in celibacy.'

3. See Strachan, Herodotus Book VI., p. 210.

4. in sensu obscaeno? [In other words, Stokes--and others--are sure that the use of "curb" is a way for the cleric to obscure the fact that it took seven women at once to sexually satisfy Fergus, unless Flidais were to sleep with him. Flidais is mentioned elsewhere in "The Driving of the Cattle of Flidais" and in the Book of Invasions as the owner of magical oxen. --MJ]

5. Only eight are mentioned.

"The Tidings of Conchobar son of Ness" ed. and trans. by Whitley Stokes. Ériu. vol. II. London: David Nutt, 1908.

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