The Celtic Literature Collective

How Ronan Slew His Son

A famous king was over Leinster, even Ronan son of Aed. And Ethne daughter of Cumascach son of Eogan of the Deisi of Munster was by his side. She bore a son to him, Mael Fothartaig son of Ronan, a son the most famous that ever came into Leinster. In his honor all would rise at gatherings and campings and games and fairs and fights and shooting contests. He was the desire of all their maidens and the darling of all their young women, Mael Fothartaig.

His mother died. For a long while Ronan was without a wife. “Why do you not take a wife?” said his son. “You were better with a wife by your side.”

“I am told,” said Ronan, “Eochaid, the king of Dunseverick in the north, has a fair daughter.”

“Truly, you are not a mate for a girl,” said the youth. “Will you not take a sedate woman? That would be more fitting than a little skittish thing of a girl.”

It was impossible to hinder him. Ronan went and slept with her in the north, and brought her home with him. But Mae! Fothartaig went on a journey in the south of Leinster.

She came down from the north. “Where is your son, Ronan?” said she; “I am told you have a good son.”

“I have indeed,” said Ronan, “a son the best there is in Lein­ster.”

“Then let him be summoned to me that he may receive me and that he may receive my people and my treasures and my jewels.”

“He shall come indeed,” said Ronan.

Then Mael Fothartaig came and made great welcome to her. “You shall have love,” said the youth. “Whatever we shall get of jewels and treasures for loving Ronan, it shall go to you.”

“I am well pleased,” said she, “that you should act for my advantage.”

A fair young woman was in attendance on her. The queen sent her forthwith to Mael Fothartaig to solicit him, but the young woman dared not give the message lest Mael Fothartaig should kill her. Then the queen vowed to her that she would strike off her head unless she spoke. MaeL Fothartaig was playing a game of chess with his two foster-brothers, Dorm and Congal, the two sons of his foster-father. They were always about him. The young woman drew near them and began playing chess with them. Then she attempted to give the message but she dared not. She blushed, and the men noticed it. Mael Fothartaig went away.

“What is it that you want to say?” Congal said to the woman. “it is not I that want it,” said she, “but the daughter of Eochaid would like to have Maci Fothartaig as a lover.”

“Do not say it, woman,” said Congal. “You will be dead if Mael Fothartaig hears it. However, I will deal with Maci Foth­artaig on your own behalf, if you wish it.”

The young woman told the queen: “I am well pleased,” said she, “for you will dare to say the message if you lie with him yourself. And you shall deal with him on my behalf thereafter.”

It was done. The young woman slept with Mael Fothartaig.

“Well, now,” said the queen, “you still do not plead for me with him. You would like better to have that man for yourself alone. You shall die then by my hand.”

One day the young woman turned to Maci Fothartaig weeping. “What ails you, woman?” said he.

“The daughter of Eochaid is threatening to kill me,” said she, “for my not pleading with you that she may meet with you.”

“A likely story!” said he. “It was not bad of you that you have taken a safeguard. Woman,” he said, “if I were thrust into a fiery coal-pit that would make ashes and dust of me three times, I would not meet with the wife of Ronan, though all should blame me for it. I will go away, to avoid her.” Thereupon he went with fifty warriors into Scotland. He found great welcome with the king of Scotland. He had hounds for hares, hounds for boars, hounds for deer. Bur Doilin and Daithlenn, two hounds of Mael Fotbaftaig, would kill every quarry in turn before them. Every host that was routed before the king of Scotland, and every fight that was won, it was the doing of Mael Fothartaig.

“What is this, O Ronan?” said the men of Leinster. “Did you send Mael Fothartaig out of the land? You shall die by us unless be return.”

This news was brought to Mael Fothartaig, and he came back from Scotland. This is where he chanced to come from the east, to Dunseverick. Great welcome was made for him. “You do wrong, Mael Fothartaig,” said Eochaid, “that you do not go with our daughter. To you we gave her, and not to yon old churl, Ronan.”

“Bad is that indeed,” said MaeI Fothartaig. He went to Lein­ster and they gave him a great welcome. The same young woman slept with him. “I must have that man from you,” said the daughter of Eochaid to her attendant, “or death upon your head!”

The queen’s attendant told Mael Fothartaig. “What shall I do in this matter, Congal?” said Mael Fothartaig.

“Give me a reward for it,” said Congal, “and I will keep the woman off you so that she shall no longer think of you.”

“You shall have my horse with its bridle, and my clothing,” said Mael Fothartaig.

“Nought will I take,” said Congal, “save thy two hounds, so that they shall be in my entire possession.”

“You shall have them,” said Mael-Fothartaig.

“Go then to-morrow,” said Congal, “and hunt at the ‘Cows of Aife.’” The “Cows of Aife” are stones which are on the side of the mountain. They are like white cows from afar. “Go and hunt there. And the woman shall send her mistress to a tryst with us, and I will put her from you.”

“It shall be done,” said her mistress to her.

It seemed long to her till morning. On the morrow they went to the tryst, and saw Congal before them. “Whither away, harlot?” he said. “You can be about no good walking about alone, or about anything unless coming to a tryst with a man. Go home,” he said, “and take a curse.” Congal went with her to her house. And they saw her coming towards them once more. “Is it thus,” said Congal, “you want to disgrace the king of Leinster, you vile woman! If I see you again, I shall take your head and put it on a stake before the face of Ronan. A bad woman to disgrace him in ditches and brakes going alone to meet a lad.” He laid a horse-whip on her and left her in her house.

“I will spout a jet of blood in your face,” said she.

Ronan came home. Mael Fothartaig’s men came into the house before him. He stayed alone outside hunting. “Where is Mael Fothartaig to-night, Congal?” said Ronan.

“He is out doors,” said Congal.

“Woe is me, my son to be abroad alone, and the number to whom he gives good things!”

“You have made us deaf with talking about your son,” said his wife.

“It is right to talk of him,” said Ronan. “For there is not in Ireland a son better apcording to the wish of his father. For his jealousy on my behalf is the same both with men and women at Ath Cliath and at Clar Daire Moir and at Drochet Cairbri as if it were for his own soul, so that there is ease for me and for you, woman,” said Ronan.

“Truly,” she said, “he shall not get from me the ease that he wishes, even to meet with me to your dishonor. I shall not be alive withstanding him any longer. Congal has taken me to him three times since morning, so that I with difficulty escaped from his hands.”

“Malediction on your lips, you bad woman!” said Ronan. “It is false.”

“You will see a proof of it now,” said she. “I will sing half a quatrain to see whether it will fit with what Mael Fothartaig will sing.” He used to do this every night to please her. He would sing one half quatrain, she would sing the other half.

He came in then and was drying his shins at the fire, and Congal by his side. His jester Mac Glass was at his games on the floor of the house. Then Mael Fothartaig said, for the day was cold:

It is cold against the whirlwind
For any one herding the cows of Aife.

“Hear this, Ronan,” said she. “Sing that again,” said she. It is cold against the whirlwind

For any one herding the cows of Aife.

Said she:

It is a vain herding,
With no kine, with no lover to meet.
(That is, “neither did I come, nor did you take the cows with you.”)

“It is true this time,” said Ronan. There was a warrior by Ronan’s side, Aedan son of Fiachna Lara. “O Aedan,” said he, “a spear into Mael Fothartaig, and another into Conga!!” When. Mae! Fothartaig had turned his back to them by the fire, Aedan planted the spear in him, so that he put its points through him, as he was on his seat. As Conga! rose Aedan thrust a spear into him, so that it passed through his heart. The jester jumped up. Aedan sent a spear after him so that t brought his bowels out.

“You have wrought enough on the men, O Aedan!” said Mael Fothartaig from his seat.

“It was your luck,” said Ronan, “that you found no woman to solicit but my wife.”

“Wretched is that falsehood, O Ronan,” said the youth, “which has been put on you to kill your only son without guilt. By your rank and by the tryst to which I go, the tryst with death, not greater is my guilt to think of meeting with her than that I should meet with my mother. But she has been soliciting me since she came into this land, and Conga! has taken her back three times to-day that she might not meet me. There was no guilt in Congal that you should kill him.” Then a raven carried the bowels of the jester on to the front-bridge . . . of the stronghold. The churls were laughing. Mae! Fothartaig thought it a villainy. He said:

O Mac Glass,
Gather your bowels in,
Though you know no shame,
Churls are laughing at you.

Thereafter the three died. They were taken into a house apart. Ronan went and sat at the head of his son three days and three nights. But Donn, Mael-Fothartaig’s foster-brother, Congal’s brother, went with twenty horsemen to Dunseverick. They docoyed Eochaid to come to the border of the land, as it were to meet Mael Fothartaig that had eloped with his daughter. And they took his head and the heads of his son and of his wife.

Then said Ronan, sitting at the head of his son:

It is cold against the whirlwind
For any one herding the cows of Aife.
That is a vain herding,
With no cows, with no one to love.

Cold is the wind
In front of the warriors’ house:
They were dear warriors
That were between me and the wind.

Sleep, daughter of Eochaid,
Great is the bitterness of the wind:
Woe is me, Mael Fothartaig
Is slain for the guilt of a lustful woman.

Sleep, daughter of Eochaid,
There is no rest for me though thou sleep not,
To see Mael Fothartaig
In his shirt full of blood.

The daughter of Eochaid said:

Woe is me, O corpse in the corner,
That wast the mark of many eyes,
The sin that we committed,
It was thy torment after thy banishment.

Ronan said:

Sleep, daughter of Eochaid,
Men are not mad:
Though thou hast wetted thy mantle,
it is not my son thou dost bewail.

Then came Donn and threw the head of Eochaid on his daugh­ter’s breast, and her mother’s head and her brother’s head.

Thereupon she arose and threw herself on to her knife, so that it came out through her back.

Then said Ronan:

Eochaid has got but one shirt
After having been in a mantle:
The sorrow that is on Dun Ale
is on Dunseverick.

Give ye food, give drink
To the hound of Mael Fothartaig,
The hound of the man that would give food
To any one, whatever reward he might get.

Sad to me is the torture of the hound Dathlenn,
With rods of steel over her sides,
Our reproach is not on her,
It is not she who sold our dear ones.
* * * * 

The men, the youths, the horses,
That were around Mael Fothartaig,
They would not envy any one’s cheer,
While their chief was alive.

The men, the youths, the horses,
That were around Mael-Fothartaig,
* * * *
They would run a race of steeds.

The men, the youths, the horses,
That were around Mael Fothartaig,
Many a time they would set up
Triumphant shouts after lasting victories.

The men of Mael Fothartaig,
I allow that they were not insignificant;
Not well they stood by a man
Who would come when they needed him.

My son Mael Fothartaig,
Whose abode was the tall forest,
Kings and royal princes
Would not part from him without great respect.

My son Mael Fothartaig
Traversed Scotland of coasts:
He was a warrior among hosts of warriors,
When he would achieve his deeds on them.

My son Mael Fothartaig,
He was the support of the host:
The white tall flashing salmon
Hath taken a cold dwelling.

Then the men of Leinster around Ronan began keening. Ronan was thrown on his back. Mael Fothartaig’s two sons, Aed and Mael Tuile, set out after Aedan and seized him. Aed wounded him and riddled him with a spear. “Let me get up, warriors,” said Ronan, “unless you wish to kill me. Is the man dead?” said he.

“Dead indeed,” said the warriors. “Who killed him?” said he.

“Aed slew him,” said the warriors. “Did Mael Tuile wound him?” said he. “No,” said the warriors.

“May he not wound a man till Doom!” said he. “But the palm of prowess and of valor to the boy that slew him.”

Then said Ronan:

It is a great thing
For the son of a churl to slay the son of a king;
That was clear on his day of death
To Aedan, son of Fiachna Lara.

Then the fight was carried near him up to the front of the house, and he said:

This battle on the plain
I await without Mael Fothartaig:
Awaiting the new fight,
He does not support the old champion.

At that a spout of blood broke over his lips and he died forthwith. That is how Ronan slew his son.