The Celtic Literature Collective

The Battle of Moire
Summary by Myles Dillon

(1-34) The feast of Tara was held by Domnall son of Aed son of Ainmire. The three great feasts of Ireland were the feast of Emain, the feast of Tara, and the feast of Cruachain. 

Domnail sat in the middle of the hail, with the king of Munster and his men on his right in the south end of the hail, the king of Connacht and his men in the west end of the ball behind him, the king of Ulster (Ulaid) and his men on the left in the north end of the hail, and the Leinstermen with their king to the east before him. (But when the kingship belonged to the Southern Ui Neil the king of Ailech sat on the left of the king of Ireland, and the king of Ulster further to the left.) (A poem follows in which a slightly different arrangement is prescribed, for here the kings of Munster and Leinster are on the right, and the kings of Ailech and Ulster on the left.)

(35—60) Congal Caech king of Ulster, who was a fosterson of Domnall, sat therefore on the king’s left hand. (He was called caecls (‘one-eyed’) because once in king Domnall’s orchard a bee had stung him in the eye. The Ulstermen had demanded the eye of the king’s son in forfeit, but the matter was referred to Domnall for judgement and he had decreed only the destruc­tion of the whole swarm so that the guilty bee should perish.. The Ulstermen were not satisfied, and Congal had had a grievance ever since.) Food was served, and twelve eggs were brought to the couch of the king of Ireland. While Domnall stood to serve the eggs, Congal ate one of them. When the dishes were brought down there were only eleven eggs, and Domnall cursed the woman who bad brought them for making a false count. ‘I ate on&of them,’ said Congal. ‘Finish them, then,’ said Domnall, ‘for I will not eat the remains of a theft.’ ‘You make a thief of me,’ said Congal. ‘I thank God, Domnall, that it is not after eating your food that I speak to you.’ ‘I shall give you an egg of gold,’ said Domnall, ‘and do not dispute with me about the egg.’ Congal arose and called on his men to leave the feast, challenging Domnall to battle a month from that day.

(61—80) Congal went to Scotland to Domnall son of Echaid the Yellow, and returned a fortnight before the day of battle, bring­ing with him the men of Scotland. At first he quartered his men upon the Ulaid, but they complained. Then he went into Mag nGlass, the territory of Domnall’s mother, and he left neither ox nor cow nor woman nor child there. Domnall assembled his army, and Congal set out to oppose him. The saints of Ireland sought to reconcile them, but Satan had entered into Congal and bade him not deny the word he had spoken before the men of Ireland. He should not prosper if he denied it, but if he were victorious be would be king of Ireland.

(81—129) Domnall pitched his tent and was playing chess with one of his men, while a dwarf sat on the ridge-pole on guard. For dwarfs have keen eyes and sharp wits. Dünchad, a chosen warrior and faithful friend of Domnall, was entrusted with the battle against Congal, with his two foster-brothers to aid him.

The battle lasted three full days, one province making the attack against Congal each day.’ There was a great slaughter, and the clamour of battle was loud and blood was freely shed. Mighty was the thunder of clashing shields and smiting swords and rattling quivers, and so forth. Though a raven should light upon Congal’s eye, he dared not brush it off, on account of the skill and speed and ferocity of Dünchad. Dünchad killed Congal’s horse, and he gave him his own horse. He split Congal’s shield, and he gave him his own shield. He broke his sword and gave him his own sword. Whenever Congal advanced the battle gathered against him. ‘Who makes this charge?’ said Congal. ‘The Leinstermen,’ they said. ‘We fear them not,’ said he. ‘It is the valour of hounds on a dunghill.’ Thus he derided in turn the men of Munster, Connacht, Ossory, and the Southern Ui Neil. But when he heard that the Northern Ui Neil were come against him, he said that he feared that mass of shields, for one could go neither through it nor past it. ‘How is Domnall now?’ he asked. And when he heard that Domnall was praying to God, he said that he would go to submit to him.

(129—56) Congal went around the battlefield to the king’s tent. ‘Halt, Congal!’ said the warriors. ‘I go to submit to Domnall,’ said he, ‘so that the men of Ireland may see me sub­mit to him, as they have seen me rise against him.’ ‘Wait a while, Congal,’ said Domnall. ‘We have sent two hostages to the house of the King of Truth so that he may give us judgement in our dispute and we may accept it.’ ‘It shall not be so!’ said Congal. ‘It shall be so!’ said Domnall.

Then Congal met Conall Clocach, the king’s jester, in the battle, and asked him to sing a quatrain showing who would be victorious. (The jester’s quatrain is obscure. Congal says it is false and repeats it in an emended form, also obscure to me.) ‘It is true,’ said Congal. ‘I shall be killed there.’ Then he attacked like a mad bull, and rushed through the battle until he came against Dánchad and cut off his head. The watchman said that he did not like the music of the battle.

(157—67) Then Domnall himself went into the fight, calling on the name of God; and when the men of Ireland saw Dom­nail’s face, they made a charge so mighty that they overwhelmed the Ulstermen, and Congal Cendfoda was slain. Then there was so great a slaughter that not one of the men of Scotland escaped, save one man only; and he escaped by swimming. ‘What news?’ said Domnall son of Echaid. ‘Give me a drink,’ said the warrior. They gave him a cup of ale and he drank it at one draught. ‘Give me another drink,’ said he. They gave him another cup and he drank it; and so he drank three cups of ale. ‘What news?’ said Domnall. ‘What news do you ask?’ said he. ‘You shall never see a man of those who went from here, save me alone.’ Then he died.

(168—245) The heads were brought to Domnall son of Aed, and among them the heads of Dünchad and his foster-brothers. Domnall lamented the three warriors in a quatrain, and he lamented Faelchu, king of Meath, his mother’s son, who had fallen in the battle too. Then Congal was borne into his abandoned enclosure, and the corpse was washed, and his head was placed on the rampart of the fort. Domnall then lamented his fallen enemy. (This lament, in 46 lines of verse, brings the tale to an end.)