The Celtic Literature Collective

The Death of Cet Mac Magach

1. Whence is the Death of Get mac Magach?

Not hard to tell.

Once upon a time Cet went into Ulster to seek the slaying of a man, a thing he often did (viz., to slay Ulstermen), for from his childhood he never went without the slaughter of an Ulsterman.

2. So he went westwards, having the heads of thrice nine men of Ulster with him. And Conall Cernach was then sent upon his track to Brefne in Connaught (for winter-snow had fallen), until in an empty house he found him and his charioteer cooking their meal. The horses, however, were under the chariot outside.

3. ‘This is Cet,’ said Conall, ‘and it is not fitting for us to fight with him on account of his ferocity and his fierceness. lie is a savage man,’ said Conall. ‘Woe!’ said the charioteer, ‘no good comes over thy lips, not to storm the house in which is the pest that is harrying Ulster, and it is no shame for thee to fall in combat together with him; for such is his courage until now.’ ‘O father,’ said Conall, ‘I shall not give my life to any hero of the men of Ireland; but I shall put a token upon the horses.’ Conall snatches a lock out of the mane of the horses, and puts a wisp upon the front of the chariot, and goes away eastward to Ulster.

4. ‘Woe, Cet!’ said the charioteer.

‘Not woe,’ said Cet. ‘It is well that he has spared the horses. This is Conall(’s doing),’ said he, ‘and from this there shall be friendship, and it will be well.’

‘Woe,’ said the charioteer, ‘that the man who has made a slaughter of the men of Connaught should put disgrace upon thee, and thy name will not endure till Doom without thy killing him or putting him to flight this evening.’ ‘Right indeed,’ said Get. They went after him as far as Get’s Ford.

5. ‘Now, Conall!’ said Cet.

‘What is that, O Cet?’ said Conall.

‘Thou shalt not escape to-day, O evil one,’ said Cet.

‘That is my opinion too,’ said Conall, turning towards him. And each of them smites the other, so that their shouting and their panting, and the . .. of the horses, and the . . . of their charioteers (?) inciting the heroes who were in the ford were heard throughout the wilderness, until both fell to this side and that. Cet, however, died. forthwith, and Conall fell into a swoon.

6. And Conall awoke out of his swoon. ‘Take the horses with thee to the men of Ulster,’ said he, ‘before the men of Connaught...' However, the lad was unable to lift him into the chariot, and so he bids him farewell, and he went home. ‘Now, this is bad,’ said Conall, ‘that a single man of Connaught should have wounded me,” while I have vowed that no single man of Connaught should kill me. And I had rather than the kingship of the world that some one of Connaught should wound me again, so that the slaying of me should not rest with one man of Connaught.’

7. Bélchú of Brefne, however, was the first to come there.

‘This is Cet,’ said he. ‘And here is Conall,’ said he. ‘And henceforth Ireland will be happy, since these two slaughter-hounds have fallen, who ruined Ireland between them.’ So saying, he set the butt-end of his spear on Conall. ‘Take away thy spear from. me, O father,’ said Conall. 

‘Thou art alive,’ said Bélchú. ‘No thanks to thee,’ said Conall, ‘I am alive.’ ‘I see it, O Conall,’ said Bélchú, ‘thou wouldst have me slay thee. But I shall not do so, for thou art dead as it is.’ ‘Thou wouldst not dare to wound even my cloak,’ said Conall, ‘thou wretched old woman.’ ‘I shall not kill thee now, but there is something else. I shall carry thee with me to my house, and thou shalt be healed with me; and when thou art whole, I shall fight with thee.’

8. So then he lifts him on his back, half dragging him behind, until he reached his house. And he brought physicians to him until he was whole. ‘It will be even so,’ said Bélchú to his sons, ‘this man will escape from me and will do us no good. Kill ye the man before he goes from us! Come then to him all of you to-morrow night, when I will leave the house open before you, and kill him in his bed.’ The man of affliction and great woe, even Conall, knew the evil intent which was (harboured) against him.

9. ‘Close the house!’ said Conall to Bélchú. life goes forward and leaves the house open. ‘Well now, Bélchú,’ said Conall, ‘come into my bed.’ ‘Nay,’ said Bélchú. ‘Off with thy head!’ said Conall, ‘unless thou come into the bed.’ ‘It must needs be,’ said Bélchú. Then Bélchú closed the house. When Bélchú had fallen asleep, Conall opens the house. The sons of Bélchú come towards the bed in which their father was and put their three spears through him, so that they killed him. And then Conall arises and plies his sword upon them, so that their brains were scattered about the walls. And he carries their four heads with kim eastward until he reached his house before it was morning. So that is the Death of Cet and of Bélchú of Brefne with his Sons.

Meyer, Kuno. The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes.