Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes (Author: unknown)


tale 1

The Death of Conchobar

We possess, as stated on page vi, five manuscript copies of Aided Chonchobuir, apart from the account contained in Keating's History. They all differ materially, so that it seemed desirable to print them in extenso. The version in the Edinburgh MS. xl is partly illegible but it appears to be identical in its opening with that of the Book of Leinster.

As is common in the tradition of the oldest Irish tales, these five manuscripts either represent different versions of various ages, or attempts to bring these versions into harmony with each other. We can distinguish the following three different accounts of the events which led to Conchobar's death.

Once when the men of Ulster were at a gathering, the sun was darkened and the moon turned into the colour of blood. On Conchobar's question as to the cause of this disturbance, the druid Cathbad tells the story of the Crucifixion, dwelling on the fact that Conchobar and Christ were born on the same night. Compare the Compert Conchobuir, Revue Celtique, vi., p. 180. This is the account contained in the third version of the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum (paragraph 4). Slight variants of this version are to be found in the account of the Book of Leinster (paragraph 11), where an earthquake takes the place of the eclipse of the sun, and where the druid' s name is not mentioned, and in the Edinburgh account (paragraph 11), in which Conchobar addresses his question to all his druids.

A second version places the gathering at Muirthemne. There, on a certain day, Bachrach, a Leinster poet, arrives from abroad,5 and on the question for news tells the story of the Crucifixion which he


has heard on the Continent or in Great Britain. This is the account given most fully in the first version of the Liber Flavus (paragraph 1), mentioned briefly in the Stowe manuscript (paragraph 1), and given as a variant in the Book of Leinster (paragraph 13).

In a third version, the Roman consul Altus visits Conchobar, either with presents from Tiberius (23. N. 10, paragraph 1, and Liber Flavus, paragraph 2), or to exact tribute for Octavian (Book of Leinster, paragraph 14), and being himself a Christian, relates the story of the Crucifixion.

All versions end very nearly alike; only the account in the Book of Leinster breaks off shortly without mentioning Conchobar's death. The other versions say that Conchobar's pity roused him to fury; he uttered a rhetoric beginning ‘Ba aprainn,’ seized his weapons, and rushed madly about, either as far as the sea (Lib. Flav., paragraph 4) or cutting down the wood on Lettir Lámraige ( Edinburgh and Stowe version); Mesgegra's brain starts out of his head, and he dies a Christian, the blood gushing from his head being his baptism.

Two late versions—those in the Edinburgh and in the Stowe manuscripts—add the further history of Mesgegra's brain, the existence of which is revealed by God to Buite mac Brónaig, abbot of Monasterboice (died ca. A.D 520), who uses it as a pillow, whence it is known by the name of adart Buiti. In support of this, the Stowe version quotes a poem by Cináed húa Hartacáin, a poet who died in A.D. 975, another copy of which may be found in the Book of Leinster, p. 150 a, l. 26.

Lastly, in the Edinburgh version, the incident of Cenn Berraide, who, in all other accounts, carried the king on his back after he had been wounded by Cet at the Ford of Daire Dá Báeth, is shifted and added on at the end, where it is quite out of place.