Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Táin Bó Cúalnge from the Book of Leinster (Author: [unknown])

section 21

Then the charioteer arose and put on his hero's outfit for chariot-driving. Of the outfit for chariot-driving which he put on was his smooth tunic of skins, which was light and airy, supple and of fine texture, stitched and of deerskin, which did not hinder the movements of his arms outside. Over that he put on his outer mantle black as raven's feathers.—Simon Magus had made it for the King of the Romans, and Darius gave it to Conchobor and Conchobor gave it to Cú Chulainn who gave it to his charioteer. The same charioteer now put on his helmet, crested, flat-surfaced, four-cornered, with variety of every colour and form, and reaching past the middle of his shoulders. This was an adornment to him and was not an encumbrance. His hand brought to his brow the circlet of red-yellow like a red-gold plate of refined gold smelted over the edge of an anvil, as a sign of his charioteering, to distinguish him from his master. In his right hand he took the long spancel of his horses and his ornamented goad. In his left he grasped the thongs to check his horses, that is, the reins of his horses, to control his driving.

Then he put on his horses the iron inlaid breastplates which covered them from forehead to forehand, set with little spears and sharp points and lances and hard points, so that every wheel of the chariot was closely studded with points and every corner and edge, every end and front of that chariot lacerated in its passage. Then he cast a spell of protection over his horses and over his companion so that they were not visible to anyone in the camp, yet everyone in the camp was visible to them. It was right that he should cast this spell, for on that day the charioteer had three great gifts of charioteering, to wit, leim dar boilg, foscul n-díriuch and immorchor n-delind.

Then the champion and warrior, the marshalled fence of battle of all the men of earth who was Cú Chulainn, put on his battle-array of fighting and contest and strife which he put on were the twenty-seven tunics worn next to his skin, waxed, board- like, compact, which were bound with strings and ropes and thongs close to his fair skin, that his mind and understanding might not be deranged when his rage should come upon him. Over that outside he put his hero's battle-girdle of hard leather, tough and tanned, made from the best part of seven ox-hides of yearlings, which covered him from the thin part of his side to the thick part of his arm-pit; he used to wear it to repel spears and points and darts and lances and arrows, for they glanced from it as it they had struck against


{line 2240-2276} stone or rock or horn.Then he put on his apron of filmy silk with its border of variegated white gold, against the soft lower part of his body. Outside his apron of filmy silk he put on his dark apron of pliable brown leather made from the choicest part of four yearling ox-hides with his battle-girdle of cows' skin about it. Then the royal hero took up his weapons of battle and contest and strife. Of these weapons of battle were these: he took his ivory-hilted, bright-faced sword with his eight little swords; he took his five-pronged spear with his eight little spears; he took his javelin with his eight little javelins; he took his deil chliss with his eight little darts. He took his eight shields with his curved, dark-red shield into the boss of which a show-boar could fit, with its very sharp, razor-like, keen rim all around it which would cut a hair against the stream, so sharp and razor-like and keen it was. When the warrior did the "edge-feat" with it, he would cut alike with his shield or his spear or his sword. Then he put on his head his crested war- helmet of battle and strife and conflict, from which was uttered the shout of a hundred warriors with a long-drawn-out cry from every corner and angle of it. For there used to cry from it alike goblins and sprites, spirits of the glen and demons of the air, before him and above him and around him, wherever he went, prophesying the shedding of the blood of warriors and champions. There was cast over him his protective dress of raiment from Tír Tairngire brought to him from Manannán mac Lir, from the King of Tír na Sorcha.

Then his first distortion came upon Cú Chulainn so that he became horrible, many-shaped, strange and unrecognisable. His haunches shook about him like a tree in a current or a bulrush against a stream, every limb and every joint, every end and every member of him from head to foot. He performed a wild feat of contortion with his body inside his skin. His feet and his shins and his knees came to the back; his heels and his calves and his hams came to the front. The sinews of his calves came on the front of his shins and each huge, round knot of them was as big as a warrior's fist. The sinews of his head were stretched to the nape of his neck and every huge, immeasurable, vast, incalculable round ball of them was as big as the head of a month-old child.

Then his face became a red hollow (?). He sucked one of his eyes into his head so that a wild crane could hardly have reached it to pluck it out from the back of his skull on to the middle of his cheek. The other eye sprang out on to his cheek. His mouth was twisted back fearsomely. He drew the cheek back from the


{line 2277-2310} jawbone until his inner gullet was Seen. His lungs and his liver fluttered in his mouth and his throat. He struck a lion's blow with the upper palate on its fellow

"on its fellow', translating ST

so that every stream of fiery flakes which came into his mouth from his throat was as large as the skin of a three-year-old sheep. The loud beating of his heart against his ribs was heard like the baying of a bloodhound [gap: two words untranslated/extent: 2 words] or like a lion attacking bears. The torches of the war-goddess, the virulent rain-clouds, the sparks of blazing fire were seen in the clouds and in the air above his head with the seething of fierce rage that rose above him. His hair curled about his head like branches of red hawthorn used to re-fence the gap in a hedge. Though a noble apple-tree weighed down with fruit had been shaken about his hair, scarcely one apple would have reached the ground through it but an apple would have stayed impaled on each single hair because of the fierce bristling of his hair above him. The hero's light rose from his forehead so that it was as long and as thick as a hero's whetstone. As high, as thick, as strong, as powerful and as long as the mast of a great ship was the straight stream of dark blood which rose up from the very top of his head and became a dark magical mist like the smoke of a palace when a king comes to be attended to in the evening of a wintry day.

After Cú Chulainn had been thus distorted, the hero sprang into his scythed chariot with its iron points, its thin sharp edges, its hooks, its steel points, with its sharp spikes of a hero, its arrangement for opening, with its nails that were on the shafts and thongs and loops and fastenings in that chariot.

Then he performs the thunder-feat of a hundred and the thunder-feat of two hundred and the thunder-feat of three hundred and the thunder-feat of four hundred, and he stopped at the thunder-feat of five hundred for he thought that at least that number should fall by him in his first attack and in his first contest of battle against the four provinces of Ireland. And he came forth in this manner to attack his enemies, and took his chariot in a wide circuit outside the four great provinces of Ireland. And he drove the chariot heavily. The iron wheels of the chariot sank deep into the ground so that the manner in which they sank into the ground left furrows sufficient to provide fort and fortress, for there arose on the outside as high as the iron wheels dikes and boulders and rocks and flagstones and gravel from the ground.


{line 2311-2341} The reason why he made this warlike encircling of the four great provinces of Ireland was that they might not flee from him and that they might not disperse around him until he took revenge on them by thus pressing them (?) for the wrong done to the youths of Ulster. And he came across into the middle of the ranks and threw up great ramparts of his enemies' corpses outside around the host. And he made the attack of a foe upon foes among them so that they fell, sole of foot to sole of foot, and headless neck to headless neck, such was the density of their corpses. Thrice again he went around them in this way so that he left a layer of six around them, that is the soles of three men to the necks of three men, all around the encampment. So that the name of this tale in the Táin is Sesrech Breslige, and it is one of the three slaughters which cannot be numbered in the Foray, the three being Sesrech Breslige and Imslige Glennamnach and the battle at Gáirech and Irgáirech, except that on this occasion hound and horse and man suffered alike. Others say that Lug mac Eithlend fought along with Cú Chulainn at Sesrech Breslige.

Their number is not known nor is it possible to count how many fell there of the common soldiery, but their chiefs alone have been counted. Here follow their names: Two men called Cruaid, two called Calad, two called Cír, two called Cíar, two called Eicell, three called Cromm, three called Cur, three called Combirge, four called Feochar, four called Furachar, four called Cas; four called Fota, five called Caur, five called Cerman, five called Cobthach, six called Saxan, six called Dauith, six called Dáire, seven called Rochaid, seven called Rónán, seven called Rurthech, eight called Rochlad, eight called Rochtad, eight called Rinnach, eight called Mulach, nine called Daigith, nine called Dáire, nine called Damach, ten called Fiac, ten called Fiacha, ten called Feidlimid. Ten and six score kings did Cú Chulainn slay in the Breslech Mór in Mag Muirtheimne, and a countless number besides of hounds and horses and women and boys and children and the common folk. For not one man in three of the men of Ireland escaped without his thigh-bone or the side of his head or one eye being broken or without being marked for life.