The Celtic Literature Collective

The Battle of Mag Mucrama

1. Ailill Aulom son of Mug Núadat of the race of Eber son of Mil of Spain was king of Munster, Sadb daughter of Conn Cétchathach was his wife. She had three sons, Éogan son of Ailill and Clan son of Aiill and Cormac son of Ailill, from whom are [descended] the Éoganacht and the Cíannacht and the Dál Cais.

2. Now Lugaid Mac Con of the Corco Loigde was fostorson to Ailil and Sadb. He and Eogan son of Ailill were nursed on the one knee and at the one breast.

3. Ailill went then one Samhain night to attend to his horses on Áne Chlíach. A bed is made for him on the hill. That night the hill was stripped bare and it was not known who had stripped it. So it happened to him twice. He wondered at it. He sent off messengers to Ferches the poet son of Commán who was in Mairg of Leinster. He was a seer and a warrior. He came to speak to him. Both go one Samhain night to the hill. Ailill remains on the hill. Ferches was aside from it. Sleep then comes to Ailill while listening to the grazing of the beasts. They came out of the fairy mound with Éogabu1 son of Durgabul king of the fairy mound after them and Ane daughter of Éogabu1 with a bronze timpán in her hand playing before him.Ferches rises up to meet him andstruck him. Éogabul ran on into the fairy mound. Ferches attacks him with a great spear so that his back brokewhen he reached the fairy mound. Mill had intercourse with the girl. While he was so engaged the woman sucked his ear so that she left neither flesh nor skin on it and none ever grew on it from that time. So that Ailill Bare-ear is his name since then.

4. ‘You have been wicked to me’, said Áne, ‘[in] violating me and slaying my father. I will cause great injury to you for it. I will leave no property in your possession when we part’.

5. That girl’s name is on the hill, that is, Áne Chlíach. Now Brug Ríg was the dwelling-place of Ailill near the Maigue, a great river. Of it the poet said:

‘The river Maigue as long as it shall be a stream (or as long as the stream exist?) 
may it be [as] a tallow rush-light(?) 
without illumination because it passes by 
the court of Aedáu the poet son of Mellán’.

6. On another occasion Éogan son of Ailill and Lugaid Mac Con his foster-brother went to Art son of Cond, mother’s brother to Éogan, when he was making a circuit of Connacht, to get horses and bridles from him. Going past the Maigue they heard music in a yew-tree that was above the waterfall. They carry [him] back with them to Ailill, that is, the man they took out of the tree, for they were disputing about him, that Ailill might judge between them. [He was] a little man with three strings in his timpán.

7. ‘What is your name?’ ‘Fer Fí son of Éogabul’. ‘What has turned you back?’ said Ailill. ‘We are disputing about this man’. ‘What sort of man is this?’ ‘A good timpán-player.’ ‘Let the music be played to us’, said Ailli. ‘It shall be done’, said he.

8. Then he played them a tearful melody so that they began to weep and lament and grieve. He was entreated to stop. He played then a laughter-provoking strain and they began to laugh so that their lungs were almost visible. Then he played them a sleepinducing air so that they fell asleep until the same time next day. He escaped then in the direction whence he had come and he left trouble brewing between them as seemed good to him.

9. Afterwards they rise up. ‘Judge between us, Ailil’. ‘It is of little advantage’, said Ailill, ‘what did you say when, the man was found?’ ‘I’, said Lugaid, ‘said “the music is mine’’. ‘I’, said Éogan, ‘said “mine the musician”’. ‘So it is’, said Aiill, ‘the man is Éogan’s’. ‘It is an unjust judgement’, said Lugaid. ‘[Nay,] it is just’, said Ailill. ‘It is not just’, said Lugaid, ‘justice is not usua1 on your lips’. ‘It is not for you to rebuke him’, said Éogan, 'a vassal like you’. ‘It will be a vassal like me that will shear that head off you and will trample on your cheek’. ‘How would you do that?’ said Éogan. ‘On the field of battle’, said Lugaid. ‘A month from today come that we may meet on Cend Abrat’.

10. That indeed came to pass. They meet a month from that day, each with his army so that the two battle-lines were face to face. There went then into battle on Mac Con’s side his fosterfather, Lugaid Lága son of Mug Núadat. Mac Con took counsel with his jester. Do Déra was his name. He was of the Dáirine. The jester was exactly like Mac Con in form and appearance.

11. ‘Well’, said Lugaid, ‘Éogan will now challenge me to single combat and his ardent spirit-[he being] son and heir of the king and grandson of another-will overthrow me’.

12. ‘[Such words] come ill on your lips’, said the jester, ‘you are utterly doomed. I will go against him’, said the jester, ‘with your diadem on my head and wearing your battle-dress so that all will say that it is you that will fall there. If it happen then that I fall, take yourself off at once for all will say that it is you who have fallen there and the battle will be won. Éogan however will ho looking for you throughout the battle. Then if he sees the calves of your legs you will be wounded’.

13. That is done. The jester is killed. Éogan however knew that it was not Lugaid that he had slain. He begins then to look for him. ‘The battle is over’, said all, ‘Lugaid has fallen’. So it was. Lugaid is defeated. Then Éogan saw through [the midst of] the host Lugaid’s two calves like the snow of one night on account of the radiance of his two calves. Éogan ran after him and made a cast at him and struck him in his calf. Thence comes [the name] Bróngairr (stinking pus) where it (the pus) poured out(?). ‘Has the cast reached [its mark]?’ said ho.

14. With that the battle is over. Of it has been sung:

‘The battle of Cend Ebrat was won 
over Mac Con with. hundreds of spoils( ?). 
After seven years-not precipitate- 
he fought the battle of Mucrama’.

So it came about.

15. After that Lugaid could not remain in Ireland on account of Éogan and he fled into Alba and it was not known how far he had gone. Lugaid Lága had also gone with Mac Con. There were only three times nine of them. They had gone to the king of Alba. Now Lugaid had urgently instructed his followers that they might not be off their guard lest they be recognised and slain by the king of Alba for the sake of the king of Ireland, Art son of Cond. And Mac Con told his followers to obey each other as though each man of them were king over the other, and moreover, that none of them should address him by his own name.

16. Now the king of Alba bade them welcome. They did not tell their names and it was not known whence they had come except that they were of the Gaedil. A pig and an ox [were brought] to them into a house apart every evening for a year.

17. Now the king wondered at the excellence of their appearance and at the preeminence of their prowess both in the winning of battles and conflicts and combat and in surpassing all in fair and games and sporting contests and in the playing of brandub and buanbach and fidchell and [he wondered] that there was no special leader over them.

18. One day, then, Lugaid was playing at fidchell with the king and they saw a man in unfamiliar attire [coming] into the house towards them.

19. ‘Whence is yonder man?’ said the king. ‘Of the Gaedil’, said ho. ‘What art do you practise?' said the king. ‘Poetry’, said he. ‘Have you news of the men of Ireland?’ said the king. ‘Is Art son of Conn’s rule good?’ ‘It is good’, said he, ‘there never before came in Ireland a prince like him’.

20. ‘Who is king of Munstor?’ said the king. ‘Éogan son of Ailill’, said he, ‘for his father is an old man’. ‘And Lugaid Mac Con?’ said the king. ‘His adventures since his banishment by Éogan son of Ailili are not known’. ‘That is a very grievous thing’, said the king. ‘Alas for Ireland that has lost him! And Lugaid’s kindred’, said the king, ‘how are they?’ ‘They are in no good case’, said he, ‘but in bondage and oppression and servitude to Éogan’.

21. When Lugaid heard that’he had taken the king’s gold pieces. He put his finger on two or three of them so that he knocked down the row that was in front of him. The king looks at him. ‘So! a sudden surge of kin-love comes to you’, said the king. He whose tale had been told goes away. At that Lugaid went out.

22. 'Well, warriors’, said the king, ‘that is Lugaid who is going out. I see it in his behaviour’.

23. On the following day another man is summoned to him and the same story is told him. He behaved in the same way.

24. ‘So it is’, said the king, ‘this is Lugaid and it is for fear of me that they do not tell their names. Let a trick be played on them then so that we may find out. Let a pig and an ox on the hoof be given them and tell them that their own people are to prepare them for them. Then they will cast lots. Lugaid will be left out of it. The steward will keep watch’.

25. However, he (Lugaid) took part in the lot-casting about the preparation.

26. ‘Well’, said the king to the steward, ‘find out who presides over the serving <i.e. before whom it is performed>. ‘There was no one there, that is to say, only the steward’. ‘So’, said the king, ‘kill me a batch of mice’.

27. Then a mouse, raw and with its pelt still on, is placed on each man’s portion and it is put before them. And they were told they would be killed if they did not eat the mice. They reddened. After that they became very pale. Never before had there been presented to them a more grievous dilemma.

28. ‘How are they?’ said the king. ‘They are troubled, with their dishes before them’. ‘That is Munster’s dissatisfaction in spite of [full] dishes’, said the king. ‘Tell them they will be slain if they do not eat’.

29. ‘No Luck to him by whom the command was given’, said Lugaid, putting the mouse into his mouth, the king watching him [the while].

30. With that all the men put them [in]. There was one wretched man of them who used to vomit while bringing the mouse’s tail to his lips. ‘A sword across your throat!’ said Lugaid. ‘A mouse must be eaten [even down] to the tail’. Then he swallows the mouse’s tail.

31. ‘They obey you’, said the king from the doorway. ‘I obey them too’, said Lugaid. ‘Are you Lugaid?’ said the king. ‘That is my name’, said Lugaid. ‘Well, you are welcome’, said the king. ‘Why did you hide yourself from me?’ ‘For fear of you’, said Lugaid. ‘I would have avenged your wrong before now had I known you. ‘Help might avail me even today’, said Lugaid. ‘You will get help then’, said the king. ‘I am the king of Alba. My mother is the daughter of the king of the Britons. My wife is the daughter of the king of the Saxons. You will take them all with you to avenge your wrong’. ‘I am satisfied with that’, said Lugaid.

32. So the one man took all these peopie on a single warlike expedition. All the ships and galleys and boats that were on the coast of the Saxons and the Britons were assembled and they were in Port Ríg in Alba and a great concourse of curachs with them. They say that there was one bridge of curachs between Ireland and Alba.

33. Lugaid came then with that army and with that great and mighty host to avenge his wrong on the men of Ireland. He who brought them was no dutiful son. They invaded Ireland and many submitted to him. And they encountered no opposition until they reached Mag Mucrima in Crich Óc mhBethrae to the north of Aidne, northwards from Áth Clíath.

34. Now Mag Mucrima [was so called from] magic pigs that had come out of the cave of Crúachain. That is Ireland’s gate to Hell. Out of it too came the swarm of three-headed creatures that laid Ireland waste until Amairgene father of Conall Cernach, fighting alone (?), destroyed it in the presence of all the Ulaid.

35. Out of it also had come the saffron-coloured(?) bird-flock and they withered up everything in Ireland that their breath touched until the Ulaid killed them with their slings.

36. Out of it then had come these pigs. Whatever [land] they traversed no corn or grass or leaf grew on it until the end of seven years. Wherever they were being counted they would not stay there but would go into another territory. If the attempt to count them succeeded the counts did not agree, for example: ‘There are three of them’, said one man. ‘There are more, seven of them’, said another. ‘There are nine of them’, said another. ‘Eleven pigs’, ‘thirteen pigs’. Thus it was impossible to count them. Nor were they able to slay them for when cast at they disappeared.

37. On one occasion Medb of Crúachu and Ailill went to Mag Mucrima to reckon them. They were counted by them then. Medb was in her chariot. One of the pigs jumped across the chariot. ‘That pig is an extra one, Medb’, said everyone. ‘It won’t be this one’, said Medb, seizing the pig’s shank so that its skin split on its forehead and it left the skin in her hand along with the shank and it is not known where they went from that time onwards. It is from that Mag Mucrima is [named].

38. Mac Con, then, was allowed to overrun Ireland until he reached Mag Mucrima in the west of Connacht. ‘It is time’, said Art son of Cond ‘[to do] battle with the foreigners’. ‘It is, indeed’, said Éogan son of Ailill.

39. Now Éogan went the day before the battle to Díl maccu Chrecga of the Ossairge. He was in Druim Díl. He was a druid and was blind. ‘Come with me’, said Éogan, ‘to satirize the men and to cast a spell on them’. ‘Very well’, said he. ‘I’ll go with you, dear father’, said his daughter. She was an unmarried woman, Moncha, daughter of Díl. His daughter was charioteer to him.

40. As they reached Mag Cliach the druid recognised from Éogan’s speech that he was doomed. ‘Well, Éogan’, said the druid, ‘do you leave any offspring?’. ‘Not so many’, said Éogan. ‘Well, then, daughter’, said Díl, ‘sleep with Éogan and perhaps the kings of Munster for ever will descend from me’.

41. A bed is prepared for the couple. Good the child that was conceived there, that is, Fiacha Mullethan son of Éogan. Fiacha Fer-dá-líach was another name for him, for his father was killed on the day after he was conceived, and his mother died the day he was born. Each of those then was a sorrow, and that is why he is called Fer-dá-líach (Man of two sorrows).

42. Now it is from this that Fiacha Mullethan was named: the pains of childbirth seized Moncha daughter of Díl at Áth Nemthend on the Suir. ‘It is unfortunate that it is not tomorrow morning that you are brought to bed’, said her father. ‘If it were then’, said the druid, ‘the child would take precedence in Ireland for ever’. ‘So [it shall be] then’, said she, ‘unless ho come through my sides he shall come no other way’.

43. She goes from them into the river. She lets herself down about a stone that is in the middle of the ford. ‘It holds me back’, she said. She was in that fixed position until the hour of tierce on the following day. ‘It is time now’, said her father. She coilapses. She dies. Now the head of the infant had widened out against the stone whence he was called Fiacha Mullethan (Broad-crown), ancestor of all the Éoganacht.

44. Art son of Cond, then, went westwards across the Shannon accompanied by great hosts of the men of Ireland. The night before the battle Olc Acha, a smith of the Connachtmen, gave him hospitality. This then is what he (Olc Acha) said: ‘This is a mighty host that Mac Con has brought against you. Fiercely will this herd of the men of Britain and Alba bellow against you. Their mind is not on fleeing for far would be their flight, as far as the Alps [for] some of them. Moreover the man with whom you are going to battle (i.e. Éogan) has behaved badly. On this occasion Lugaid is entitled to dues from him. How many children have you left, Art?’ said he.

45. ‘One son’, said Art. ‘Too little, indeed’, said he. ‘Sleep with my daughter <Achtan was her name> tonight, Art. It is prophesied for me that a great dignity will spring from me.'

46. That was so. Great was the dignity, Cormac son of Art son of Cond.

47. He sleeps with her that night. It was then that Cormac was conceived. He (Art) told her she would bear a son and that that son would be king of Ireland. Then he told her of every hoard he had hidden for the benefit of that son. And he said that he would be killed the following day and he takes leave of her. He told her to bring her son for fostering to his friend among the Connachtmen. And on the following day he went to the battle.

48. Now Lugaid had his plans ready: half the troop had gone from him into the ground; that is to say holes used to be made below the top sod with hurdles across them, a spear broken across the middle(?) and its point [thrust] through the hurdle, where the finest of the men of Ireland were. Moreover the leg of an Irishman used to be tied to the leg of an Albanach so that the Irishman might not take to flight and two Britons were placed one on each side of an Irishman.

49. Then the two battle-lines were drawn up on either side. The kings were in the forefront of the battle, Lugaid Mac Con and Lugaid Lágae and Béinne Britt in the forefront of one battalion, Art son of Cond and Éogan son of Ailill and Corbb Cacht son of Ailill in the forefront of the other battalion.

50. Lugaid then challenged Éogan to single combat. Éogan said he would not go to meet him on that occasion for his (Éogan’s) conduct towards Mac Con had been bad. Moreover, Lugaid said that his place would not be taken by a jester this time even though be should fall, for he would rather be devoured by the wolves of Ireland than remain any longer away from his country.

51. Meanwhile, however, the air above them was black with demons waiting to drag the wretched souls to hell. There were only two angels there. These, however, were above Art wherever he went throughout the’ host because of his being the rightful prince.

52. Then each of the two battle lines rushed towards the other. Terrible then was the attack they launched against each other. Terrible the sights that were there, namely, the white cloud of the chalk and lime [rising] towards the clouds from the shields and bucklers being struck by the sword-edges and by the double-edged blades of the spears and javelins well warded off by the warriors; the crashing and shattering of the shields struck by the swords and stones; the piercing hail of the flights of weapons; the gushing and dripping of the blood from the limbs of the fighting-men and through the sides of the warriors.

53. Now the two Lugaids went through the battle like bears among swine cutting down each man in turn. Each of them wore a crested helmet and an iron corselet and carried a groat sword in his hand. They plied them upon the hosts and laid low many hundreds of them.

54. Éogan son of Aiill and Corbb Cacht son of Ailill were similarly [engaged] on the other side.

55. Eager and stern was this encounter in which the men of Ireland and Alba came together; each almost trod on the other’s feet while they were belabouring each other. Now, when they were at grips, from out of the ground a man would be wounded in the back of his head and overthrown. The men of Alba rose up against them (i.e. the men of Ireland) from out of the ground and closed in around them.

56. Then Art son of Coud and the men of Ireland were defeated and slain. Southwards the rout fled to Áth Clíath in Crich Óac mhBethrae. The grave of the seven sons of Ailill Ulom is to the north
the ford. Taurloch Airt, however, is far away from it northards at Áth Senbó <or na Semant> to the northeast1, where ugaid Lágae son of Mug Núadat struck off his head on the stone iat is in Taurloch. When Bóinne Britt was striking off the head Éogan son of Ailill Lugaid Lagae came upon him. Then he said--for a surge of kin-love had seized him-(Béirme had struck him (Éogan) above his two shoulders):

Low the blow that Béinne strikes, 
high the blow that Béinne strikes; 
at the blow that Béinne Britt 
strikes my fury exceeds its limits.

57. With that he struck Béinne across his neck so that his head was on Éogan’s breast. While he was so engaged Mac Con came up with him. ‘That is bad treatment for allies, Lugaid’, said he. It doesn’t matter to you’, said Lugaid, ‘I shall give you the head of the king of Ireland presently instead of it’.

58. He (Lugaid Lágae) went back after <or against> the rout northwards until he met Art and slew him and struck off his head. Whence is [named] Turloch Airt in Crich Óc mhBethrae.

59. After that Lugaid Mac Con seized the kingship of Ireland by force and was in Tara seven full years. And he took Cormac son of Art into fosterage.

60. Ailill Ólom, however, was still alive. And this was his refrain:

Today my feet are worn out, 
neither sons nor grandsons watch over them. 
This is my just bequest-
I pronounce affliction on Mac Con.

61. This was Mac Con’s refrain after [the death of] his jester: 

No laugh escapes [me] since Da Déra died 
because I have reasons for grief 
at the loss of the little jester of the Dáirine.

62. This was the refrain of Sadb daughter of Conn Cétchathach:

Alas for me! alas for Clíu! 
when Fer Fith was found in his yew-tree.
Because of it fell Art son of Cond 
and the seven sons of Moaulum.

Alas for me! alas for Clíu! 
when Fer Fith was found in his yew-tree. 
It brought about an unequal combat for Art, 
a grave fell to the lot of Corb Cacht.

63. Now on one occasion sheep ate the glassen of Lugaid’s queen. The matter was brought to Mac Con for decision. ‘I pronounce’, said Mac Con, ‘that the sheep [be forfeited] for it’. Cormac, a little boy, was on the couch beside him. ‘No, foster-father’, said he, ‘the shearing of the sheep for the cropping of the glassen would be more just, for the glassen will grow [and] the wool will grow on the sheep’.

64. ‘That is the true judgement’, said all. ‘Moreover, it is the son of the true prince who has given it’.

65. With that one side of the house falls down the cliff, namely the side in which the false judgement was, given. It will remain for ever like that, the Clóenferta (crooked mound) of Tara. Of that has been sung:

The valiant champion, Lugaid, bemused, 
as it seems to me, gave a false judgement. 
From then for all time there remains [as a result] 
of it that the ráth is crooked on this side.

66. After that he was a year in the kingship of Tara and no grass came through the earth, nor leaf on tree, nor grain in corn. So the men of Ireland expelled him from his kingship for he was an ulawful ruler.

67. Then he went westwards to his country with a great migrating company. Lugaid Lágae however did not go with him. ‘To the place’, said he, ‘where I joined issue with my brother because of you and where I slew my kin, I shall not come again. I shall give myself up in requital to the son of the king whom I slew’.

68. Three times then Mac Con commended him (Lugaid Lagae) to Cormac and [each time] he used to turn to him again. Then he bade him farewell. Westwards he went to Ailill to undertake his support. He went into the court to him. Sadb puts her two arms about his neck. ‘Do not go, little son’, she said, ‘the man to whom you are going is wicked; he is not forgiving’.

69. ‘You are welcome’, said Ailill, ‘come to me that we may come to an agreement, that you may make me [your] father and that I may make you [my] son for I have no Sons with me to maintain me.

70. Then he puts his cheek to his cheek. He (Ailill) touched him with a poisonous tooth that was in his head. ‘So it has struck home', he said, ‘and you will lament awhile’. With that he went out from him. Then he met Sadb. ‘Alas!’ she said, looking at him,

This is the thrust by which a king falls,
a poisonous tooth has wounded you. 
Lassitude has begun to transform you. 
Alas the final leave-taking!

71. That came true. Afterwards then Ferches son of Commán came to Ailill. ‘Away( ? ), Ferchess’, said Ailill, ‘off with you after Lugaid’. Within three days Lugaid’s cheek had melted away.

72. Ferches went after him. He (Lugaid) had reached his [own] country at that time. Ho put his back against a pillar-stone in the midst of the host. They saw Ferchess. ‘Do not let him [come] hither’, said Lugaid. The men form a barrier of shields between them. He (Ferchoss) casts it (the spear) towards him across the host so that it pierced his forehead and the pillar-stone behind him resounded and he withered away lifeless.

73. Now Ferchess went [fleeing] before the host into the rapids that he might cast the shavings of his spear[-shaft] for them on the water. From this comes [the name] Ess Ferchiss. It is of that Sadb daughter of Cond used to say:

Alas for me! alas today! 
when Fer Fith was found in his yew-tree.
This it is that will bring me to the grave-
Forchess’s cast at Mac Con.

74. Then said Ailill:

For thirty years up to now 
I have been a worn-out old man 
until the cast of Commán’s son, the poet, 
aroused me from my lethargy.

75. After that Ailill held the kingship of Munster for seven years.

76. That is the battle of Mag Mucrima in which fell Art son of Cond and Ailill’s seven sons and a slaughter of the men of Ireland along with them, of which has been said:

The battle of Mag Mucrima 
in which many kings will fall, 
alas for Art son of Cond! 
he is the outstanding one who dies by reason of the slaughter(?).

77. Others however say that Lugaid Mac Con was thirty years in the kingship of Ireland. Unde dicitur:

Mac Con seized the land of Banba
on every side as far as the bright, clear sea.
For thirty years, splendid the dignity (?),
he was in the kingship of Ireland.