The Celtic Literature Collective

The Yew of the Disputing Sons
A foretale for the Battle of Magh Mucrama
Attribued to Cormac mac Culennain

1. Let one of you ask me the history of the wonderful yew: why is it alone called the Yew of the Disputing Sons?

2. Of what wood is the poisonous, handsome tree – subject of such treachery? What nature of friendship originally existed before the disputing sons gave their name to it?

3. From his territory Ailill chose this meadow for the pasture of his horses: from Dun Clare to Dun Gair, from Ane to Dun Ochair.

4. The slender sidhe-folk disliked this invasion of their land; they used to destroy the grass every Samhain – no story to equal this!

5. Ailill went with Ferchess mac Comman to view the fine grass; they saw on the plain three cows and three people herding them.

6. ’These are the thieves! ’ said Ailill, haughtily. ’A woman and two men, without doubt, and their three hornless cows.’

7. ’It is they who have trampled the grass and consumed our property to rob us, singing the sweet music of the sidhe to put the race of Adam to sleep.’

8. ’If they are singing the music of the sidhe,’ said Ferchess mac Comman, ’let us go no nearer until we melt some wax for our ears! ’

9. They could not hear the sweet music after they had thrust wax into their ears. Suddenly, each party saw the other: a surprising encounter!

10. Furiously, Eogabul (of the sidhe) and Ailill grappled point to point; Eogabul was stricken down, and Aine (of the sidhe) was overthrown.

11. Ailill came to Aine, overpowered her and lay upon her; he had knowledge of her then, not by consent but by force.’

12. Aine took her knife to Ailill, no lying testimony mine! She sliced off his right ear from the head bent over her, so that afterwards he was called Ailill Bare-ear.

13. This enraged Ailill then; he thrust his spear into Aine; he did her no honour, he left her dead.

14. As for Ferchess, no one ever escaped him when he had unsheathed his weapon without receiving wounds and bruises, even though it were a friendly demonstration of his battle-skills.

15. Fer Fi retired to the sidhe-mound where his kinfolk lived; many were the lamentations on account of Aine and Eogabul’s deaths.

16. The next day, at dawn, the mounted hosts of the sidhe came out; they burned Dun Clare and Dun Crott, they caused a scouring blaze.

17. ’Let us go to Dun Ochair Mag, ’ they said among them themselves. ’Let us kill Ailill in his house and the daughter of Conn of the Hundred Battles.’

18. ’We have no claim upon fair Conn’s daughter,’ said Fer Fi, son of Eogabul. ’Not without danger, but by valour will I avenge my father.’

19. Fer Fi travelled westwards with Aeblean, his brother; they devised a strategy that was honourable to them, they shaped the Yew of the Disputing Sons.

20. The place that they created the tree was at Ess Mage of the great clans; three came to the tree who desired it for their own: Mac Con, Cian and Eogan.

21. Mac Con claimed the tree forthrightly, both the old wood and the green growth; Cian here claimed it from the seed, both the straight and crooked growth

22. No less comprehensively was it claimed by Eogan, who claimed all that grew above ground and all that grew beneath.

23. Such were the disputes of the men, the sons of one mother; each stalwart fellow claimed the whole tree for himself.

24. ’I shall accept your father’s judgement,’ said Mac Con of the Red Sword. ’Wherever he awards it to you or to me, I shall not appeal if I lose.’

25. Then Ailill gave harsh judgement; Mac Con was greatly annoyed thereby. Ailill awarded the yew to Eogan, and slighted Mac Con.

26. Mac Con then challenged Ailill to a battle to avenge it; so it was, without delay, that the Battle of Cenn Febrat was fought.

27. Mac Con was wounded there and limped thereafter, a sad affair; Da Dera, the fool of the Darine, fell at the hand of Cairpre.

28. This conflict caused the furious battle of Mag Mucrama of the red grasses; on Tuesday it was fought, where the heads of Ireland fell.

29. So fell Art mac Conn, high king of Ireland the unconquered; there fell dreadfully the seven fine sons of Ailill.

30. There was wounded Lug Laga, who performed the daring feat: he slew Art mac Conn the Fair, and Benne Britt of the Britons.

31. There fell the vengeful Mac Con and Ferchess mac Comman, and Sadb, daughter of Conn, from the venom of the beautiful yew.

32. It is no tree but an apparition of the sidhe, its nature is not of this world; not of wood is its trunk, but of an horrific gloom.

33. The tree gave shelter from the cutting winds, enough for three hundred warriors; its seasoned wood would have been sufficient for a house, it was a protection against all dangers.

34. It is mysteriously hidden by the sidhe with artful skill. Only one in a hundred is unlucky enough to find it; then it is everlasting discovery of misfortune.

35. From north and south fell warriors, from the venom of the russet-boughed yew; from east and west they fell – do not seek further to ask me why.

Source: Originall appeared in the Leabhar Laignech (c.12th CE)
From The Celtic Encyclopedia of Wisdom. ed. by John and Caitlin Matthews. Element Books, 1995.

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