The Celtic Literature Collective

The Driving of the Cattle of Flidais
Leabhar na h-Uidhri
Book of Leinster

FLIDAIS was the wife of Ailill Finn (the Fair-haired) in the district of Kerry.[1] She loved Fergus the son of Róg on account of the glorious tales about him; and always there went messengers from her to him at the end of each week.

So, when he came to Connaught, he brought this matter before[2] Ailill: "What[3] shall I do next in this matter?" said Fergus: "it is hard for me to lay bare your land, without there being loss to thee of honour and renown therewith." "Yes, what shall we do next in the matter?" said Ailill; "we will consider this in counsel with Maev." "Let one of us go to Ailill Finn," (said Maev), "that he may help us, and as this involves a meeting of some one with him, there is no reason why it should not be thyself who goest to him: the gift will be all the better for that!"

Then Fergus set out thereon, in number thirty men; the two Ferguses (i.e. Fergus mac Róg, and Fergus mac Oen-lama) and Dubhtach; till they were at the Ford of Fenna in the north of the land of Kerry. They go to the burg, and welcome is brought to them.[4] "What brings you here?" said Ailill Finn. "We had the intention of staying with you on a visit, for we have a quarrel with Ailill the son of Magach."

"If it were one of thy people who had the quarrel, he should stay with me until he had made his peace. But thou shalt not stay," said Ailill Finn, "it has been told me that my wife loves thee!" "We must have a gift of cows then," said Fergus, "for a great need lies on us, even the sustenance of the troop who have gone with me into exile." "Thou shalt carry off no such present from me," he said, "because thou art not remaining with me on a visit. Men will say that it is to keep my wife that I gave thee what thou hast required. I[5] will give to your company one ox and some bacon to help them, if such is your pleasure." "I will eat not thy bread although offered (lit. however)," said Fergus, "because I can get no present of honour from thee!"

"Out of my house with you all, then!" said Ailill.

"That shall be," said Fergus; "we shall not begin to lay siege to thee and they betake themselves outside.

"Let a man come at once to fight me beside a ford at the gate of this castle!" said Fergus.

"That[6] will not for the sake of my honour be refused," said Ailill; "I will not hand it (the strife) over to another: I will go myself," said he. He went to a ford against him. "Which of us," said Fergus, "O Dubhtach, shall encounter this man?" "I will go," said Dubhtach; "I am younger and keener than thou art!" Dubhtach went against Ailill. Dubhtach thrust a spear through Ailill so that it went through his two thighs. He (Ailill) hurled a javelin at Dubhtach, so that he drove the spear right through him, (so that it came out) on the other side.

Fergus threw his shield over Dubhtach. The former (Ailill) thrust his spear at the shield of Fergus so that he even drove the shaft right through it. Fergus mac Oen-laimi comes by. Fergus mac Oen-laimi holds a shield in front of him (the other Fergus). Ailill struck his spear upon this so that it was forced right through it. He leaped so that he lay there on the top of his companions. Flidais comes by from the castle, and throws her cloak over the three.

Fergus' people took to flight; Ailill pursues them. There remain (slain) by him twenty men of them. Seven of them escape to Cruachan Ai, and tell there the whole story to Ailill and Medb.

Then Ailill and Medb arise, and the nobles of Connaught and the exiles from Ulster: they march into the district of Kerry Ai with their troops as far as: the Ford of Fenna.

Meanwhile the wounded men were being cared for by Flidais in the castle, and their healing was undertaken by her.

Then the troops come to the castle. Ailill Finn is summoned to Ailill mac Mata to come to a conference with him outside the castle. "I will not go," he said; "the pride and arrogance of that man there is great."

It was,[7] however, for a peaceful meeting that Ailill mac Mata had come to Ailill the Fair-haired, both that he might save Fergus, as it was right he should, and that he might afterwards make peace with him (Ailill Fair haired), according to the will of the lords of Connaught.

Then the wounded men were brought out of the castle, on hand-barrows, that they might be cared for by their own people.

Then the men attack him (Ailill Finn): while they are storming the castle, and they could get no hold on him, a full week long went it thus with them. Seven times twenty heroes from among the nobles of Connaught fell during the time that they (endeavoured) to storm the castle of Ailill the Fair-haired.

"It was with no good omen that with which you went to this castle," said Bricriu. "True indeed is the word that is spoken," said Ailill mac Mata. "The expedition is bad for the honour of the Ulstermen, in that their three heroes fall, and they take not vengeance for them. Each one (of the three) was a pillar of war, yet not a single man has fallen at the hands of one of the three! Truly these heroes are great to be under such wisps of straw as axe the men of this castle! Most worthy is it of scorn that one man has wounded you three!"

"O woe is me," said Bricriu, "long is the length upon the ground of my Papa Fergus, since one man in single combat laid him low!"

Then the champions of Ulster arise, naked as they were, and make a strong and obstinate attack in their rage and in the might of their violence, so that they forced in the outer gateway till it was in the midst of the castle, and the men of Connaught go beside them. They storm the castle with great might against the valiant warriors who were there. A wild pitiless battle is fought between them, and each man begins to strike out against the other, and to destroy him.

Then, after they had wearied of wounding and overcoming one another, the people of the castle were overthrown, and the Ulstermen slay seven hundred warriors there in the castle with Ailill the Fair-Haired and thirty of his sons; and Amalgaid the Good;[8] and Núado; and Fiacho Muinmethan (Fiacho the Broad-backed); and Corpre Cromm (the Bent or Crooked); and Ailill from Brefne; and the three Oengus Bodbgnai (the Faces of Danger); and the three Eochaid of Irross (i.e. Irross Donnan); and the seven Breslene from Ai; and the fifty Domnall.

For the assembly of the Gamanrad were with Ailill, and each of the men of Domnan who had bidden himself to come to him to aid him: they were in the same place assembled in his castle; for he knew that the exiles from Ulster and Ailill and Medb with their army would come to him to demand the surrender of Fergus, for Fergus was under their protection.

This was the third race of heroes in Ireland, namely the Clan Gamanrad of Irross Donnan (the peninsula of Donnan), and (the other two were) the Clan Dédad in Temair Lochra, and the Clan Rudraige in Emain Macha. But both the other clans were destroyed by the Clan Rudraige.

But the men of Ulster arise, and with them the people of Medb and of Ailill; and they laid waste the castle, and take Flidais out of the castle with them, and carry off the women of the castle into captivity; and they take with them all the costly things and the treasures that were there, gold and silver, and horns, and drinking cups, and keys, and vats; and they take what there was of garments of every colour, and they take what there was of kine, even a hundred milch-cows, and a hundred and forty oxen, and thirty hundred of little cattle.

And after these things had been done, Flidais went to Fergus mac Róg according to the decree of Ailill and Medb, that they might thence have sustenance (lit. that their sustenance might be) on the occasion of the Raid of the Cows of Cualgne. As[9] a result of this, Flidais was accustomed each seventh day from the produce of her cows to support the men of Ireland, in order that during the Raid she might provide them with the means of life. This then was the Herd of Flidais.

In consequence[10] of all this Flidais went with Fergus to his home, and he received the lordship of a part of Ulster, even Mag Murthemni (the plain of Murthemne), together with that which had been in the hands of Cuchulain, the son of Sualtam. So Flidais died after some time at Trag Bàli (the shore of Bali), and the state of Fergus' household was none the better for that. For she used to supply all Fergus' needs whatsoever they might be (lit. she used to provide for Fergus every outfit that he desired for himself). Fergus died after some time in the land of Connaught, after the death of his wife, after he had gone there to obtain knowledge of a story. For, in order to cheer himself, and to fetch home a grant of cows from Ailill and Medb, he had gone westwards to Cruachan, so that it was in consequence of this journey that he found his death in the west, through the jealousy of Ailill.

This, then, is the story of the Tain bo Flidais; it[11] is among the preludes of the Tain bo Cualnge.


1. Kerry is the district now called Castlereagh, in the west of the present county of Roscommon.

2. i.e. Ailill of Connaught.

3. This sentence to the end is taken from the Egerton version, which seems the clearer; the Book of Leinster gives: "What shall I do next, that there be no loss of honour or renown to thee in the matter?"

4. The Book of the Dun Cow (Leabhar na h-Uidhri) version begins at this point.

5. L.L. and Egerton make the end of this speech part of the story: "There was given to them one ox with bacon, with as much as they wished of beer, as a feast for them."

6. The end of the speech is from L.L.: the L.U. text gives the whole speech thus: "For my honour's sake, I could not draw back in this matter."

7. This passage is sometimes considered to be an interpolation by a scribe or narrator whose sympathies were with Connaught. The passage does not occur in the Book of Leinster, nor in the Egerton MS.

8. "The Good" is in the Book of Leinster and the Egerton text, not in the Leabhar na h-Uidhri: the two later texts omit Núado

9. L.L. and Egerton give "For him used every seventh day," &c.

10. L.L. and Egerton give "thereafter," adopted in verse translation.

11. This sentence does not occur in the Leabhar na h-Uidhri. It is given as in the Egerton version: the Book of Leinster gives "it is among the preludes of the Tain."

Heroic Romances of Ireland, Volume II ed. and trans. A.H. Leahy. London: David Nutt, 1906.

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