Electronic edition compiled and proofread by Beatrix Färber
Funded by University College, Cork
1. First draft.
Extent of text: 5410 words
Distributed by CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.
Text ID Number: T301020B
Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.
CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts
The present text represents pages 6069. All editorial introduction, notes and indexes have been omitted. Editorial corrigenda are integrated into the electronic edition. Missing text supplied by the editor is tagged sup resp="VH". The Irish version is available in a separate file, G301020B.
Text has been checked and proofread twice.
The electronic text represents the edited text on pp. 6069.
Direct speech is marked q.
When a hyphenated word (hard or soft) crosses a page break, the break is marked after the completion of the hyphenated word.
div0=the saga; div1=the section.
Personal names (given names), place-names and group names are not tagged. Verses within poems, where marked with alphabetic letters by Hull, have been numbered at CELT. Words in brackets supplied by the editor are marked sup resp="VH". The notes mentioned by Hull in the introductory paragraph have been omitted.
This text uses the DIV1 element to represent the section.
Created: Translation by Vernam Hull. The oldest extant Irish manuscript containing the text dates back to the twelfth century. (1949)
Beatrix Färber (ed.)
Beatrix Färber (ed.)
Beatrix Färber (text capture)
As an aid in the elucidation of the text, every effort has been made to furnish an accurate modern English prose translation; but complete accuracy, especially in the verse portions and in the rhetorics, has not been always feasible. Words of doubtful or uncertain meaning, therefore, are provided with question marks and are discussed in the notes. Often these notes, too, supply a more literal rendering than is consonant with good idiomatic English. In order to enhance the readability of the translation, the constant shifting to and fro in the tenses, which is a characteristic trait of Irish narrative style, has been obviated in that on such occasions the past tense has been substituted for the historic present tense. Finally, so as to eliminate every possibility of confusion the orthography of some of the proper names, such as Derdriu and Noisiu, has been normalized, even if the spelling is not recorded in the MSS.
Why was the exile of the Sons of Uisliu? It is not hard [to relate]1The Ulstermen were drinking in the house of Feidlimid mac Daill, the story-teller of Conchobor. Now the wife of Feidlimid was attending upon the host, standing up and she being pregnant. Drinking horns and portions [of food] circled around, and they uttered a drunken shout.
When they were about to go to bed, the woman came to her bed. While she was going across the middle of the house, the infant in her womb screamed so that it was heard throughout the whole enclosure. At that scream each man within arose from the other so that they were shoulder to shoulder (?) in the house. Then Sencha mac Ailella issued a prohibition (?): Do not stir, he said. Let the woman be brought to us in order that may be known for what reason is this noise. Thereupon the woman was brought to them.
Her consort, namely Feidlimid, then said:
- What [is] the violent noise that resounds, (o woman, he said)
That rages throughout your bellowing womb?
The clamor between your sidesstrongly it sounds
It crushes him who hears with ears.
My heart fears
Much terror that wounds severely.
Thereupon she rushed to Cathbad, for he was a seer:
- Hear handsome Cathbad of the comely face,
A prince, a diadem great [and] mighty,
Who is magnified through the wizardries of druids,
Since I myself have not wise words
With reference to which Feidlimid might obtain
The illumination of knowledge,
Because a woman does not know
Whatever is wont to be in [her] womb,
Though it cried out in my womb's receptacle.
Then Cathbad said:
- In the receptacle of your womb there cried out
A woman of yellow hair with yellow curls,
With comely, grey-blue irised (?) eyes.
Her purplish-pink cheeks [are like] foxglove;
To the color of snow I compare
The spotless treasure of her set of teeth.
Lustrous [are] her scarlet-red (?) lips
A woman for whom there will be many slaughters
Among the chariot-fighters of Ulster.
There screams in your womb which bellows
A woman, fair, tall [and] long-haired,
Concerning whom champions will contend,
Concerning whom high kings will ask.
They will be in the west with oppressive bodies of troops (?),
Supported (?) by the province of Conchobor.
Her scarlet-red lips will be
About her pearly teeth
Against whom high queens will be jealous,
Against her matchless, faultless form.
Cathbad thereafter put his hand on the stomach of the woman so that the infant resounded under his hand.
True [it is], he said, that a girl is there, and her name will be Derdriu, and concerning her there will be evil.
Afterwards the girl was born, and Cathbad said:
- O Derdriu, you will destroy much
If you are comely-faced [and] fair of fame.
The Ulstermen will suffer during your lifetime,
O demure daughter of Feidlimid.
- Even afterwards jealousy will be
Ablaze on your account, O woman.
In your time it ishear this
[That will be] the exile of the three sons of Uisliu.
- In your time it is that a violent deed
Will be performed then in Emain.
Even afterwards will be repented the destruction
[Done] under the protection of the very mighty Mac Roig.
- O woman with destiny, it is on account of you
[That will be] the exile of Fergus from the Ulstermen
And a deed for which weepings should lament,
The slaughter of Fiachna mac Conchobuir.
- O woman with destiny, it is for your crime
[That will be] the slaying of Gerrce mac Illadain
And a deed, the penalty of which is not less,
The killing of Eogan mac Durthacht.
- You will perform a horrible, fierce deed
For anger against the king of the noble Ulstermen.
Your little grave will be everywhere.
It will be a famous tale, O Derdriu.
Let the girl be slain, said the warriors. By no means, said Conchobor. I shall carry off the girl tomorrow, Conchobor added, and she will be reared according to my own will, and she will be the woman who will be in my company.
And the Ulstermen did not dare to set him right with respect to it. That, moreover, was done. She was reared by Conchobor until she was by far the most beautiful girl who [ever] had been in Ireland. In a court apart it is that she was brought up in order that no man of the Ulstermen might see her up to the time that she should spend the night with Conchobor, and no person ever was allowed into that court except her foster father and her foster mother and Leborcham; for the last-mentioned one could not be prevented, for she was a female satirist.
Once upon a time, accordingly, the foster father of the maiden was skinning a weaned (?) calf on snow outside in the winter to cook it for her. She saw a raven drinking the blood on the snow. Then she said to Leborcham: Beloved would be the one man on whom might be yonder three colors
p.63that is, hair like the raven, and a cheek like blood, and a body like snow.
Dignity and fortune to you! said Leborcham. He is not far from you. He is inside near to you, even Noisiu son of Uisliu. I shall, indeed, not be well, she said, until I see him.
On one occasion, then, the aforementioned Noisiu was alone on the rampart of the earthwork (that is, of Emain) singing in a tenor (?) voice. Melodious, however, was the tenor (?) singing of the Sons of Uisliu. Each cow and each animal that heard [it], two thirds of surplus milk always was milked from them. Each person who heard it always had a sufficient peaceful disposition (?) and musical entertainment. Good also were their arms. Although the [whole] province of the Ulstermen were in one place about them, they might not gain the victory over them on account of the excellence of the parrying and the self-defence, provided that every one of the three of them put his back against the other. As swift as hounds, moreover, they were at hunting. By virtue of [their] swiftness they used to kill the wild animals.
While, therefore, the aforesaid Noisiu was alone outside, she quickly stole out to him as if to go past him, and he did not recognize her. Fair, he said, is the heifer that goes past me. Heifers, she said, are bound to be big where bulls are not wont to be. You have the bull of the province, he said, namely, the king of the Ulstermen. I would choose between the two of you, she said, and I would take a young bullock like you. By no means! he said. Even because of Cathbad's prophecy. Do you say that in order to reject me? It assuredly will be for that reason, he said. Therewith she made a leap to him and grasped both ears on his head. These [are] two ears of shame and of derision, she said, unless you take me away with you. Go away from me, O woman, he said. You shall have that, she said. Thereupon, his tenor (?) song arose from him. As the Ulstermen yonder heard his tenor (?) song, each man of them arose from the other.
The Sons of Uisliu went out to hinder their brother. What ails you? they said. Let not the Ulstermen slay one another for your crime.
Then he related to them what had been done to him.
Evil will ensue, the warriors said. Although there may be [evil resulting therefrom], you shall not be under disgrace as long as we shall be alive. We shall go with her into another land. There is not in Ireland a king who will not give welcome to us.
That was their decision. They set out that night with their hundred and fifty warriors, women, dogs and servants; and among them was Derdriu mingled in with everybody [else].
For a great while they were under protection all around Ireland, and often through the snares and guiles of Conchobor their destruction was attempted from Ess Ruaid southwestwards round about northeastwards again to Benn Etair. The Ulstermen, however, chased them, then, over [the Irish sea] into the territory of Scotland. They settled down there in the desert. After the mountain game failed them, they turned aside upon the cattle of the men of Scotland in order to appropriate it to themselves. The latter went on a single day to destroy them, whereupon they proceeded to the king of Scotland, and he took them into his household following. They assumed mercenary service with him and placed their houses on the green. On account of the maiden the houses were made so that no-one with them might see her in order that they might not be killed with respect to her.
Once upon a time, therefore, early in the morning the steward went and made a circuit about their house. He saw the couple asleep. Afterwards, he went and awakened the king.
I have not found, he said, a woman equal to you until today. Along with Noisiu son of Uisliu there is a woman worthy of the king of the Western World. Let Noisiu be killed immediately, and let the woman spend the night with you, the steward added. No, the king said, but you shall go every day to beseech her secretly for me.
That is done. However, what the steward said to her at any time she used to relate, at once, that night to her consort. Since one never could attain anything with respect to her, the Sons of Uisliu often were enjoined to go into dangers, battles and hazards in order that they might be killed. Nevertheless, as regards each slaughter they were doughty so that one never could attain anything with respect to them from these attempts.
After consultation with her regarding it, the men of Scotland were assembled to kill them. She related that to Noisiu.
Depart hence, she said. Unless you shall have gone away by tonight, you will be killed tomorrow.
That night they went away until they were on an island of the sea. That was related to the Ulstermen.
Grievous it is, O Conchobor, the Ulstermen said, for the Sons of Uisliu to fall in hostile lands through the crime of a bad woman. It were better to be lenient with them and to feed them and not to slay them and for them to come to the land than for them to fall at the hands of their foes. Let them come, therefore, Conchobor said, and let sureties go for them.
That [message] was brought to them.
We welcome it, they said. We shall go, and let Fergus come for us as surety and Dubthach and Cormac mac Conchobuir.
They went and gave them accompaniment from the sea.
With respect to Fergus, however, by the counsel of Conchobor a contention took place to invite him to ale-banquets, for the Sons of Uisliu said that they would not eat [any] food in Ireland except at first the food of Conchobor. Then Fiachu mac Fergusa went with them, and Fergus and Dubthach remained behind. The Sons of Uisliu came until they were on the green of Emain. Then, moreover, Eogan mac Durthacht, king of Fernmag, came for peace with Conchobor, for he had been at strife with him for a long period. He it is who had been entrusted to kill them, and the mercenaries of Conchobor were about him [Conchobor] in order that they might not come to him.
The Sons of Uisliu were standing in the middle of the green, and the women were in their seats on the rampart of Emain. Eogan, accordingly, went up to them in his body of troops (?) along the green. The son of Fergus, however, came until he was on one side of Noisiu. Eogan welcomed them with a thrust of the great spear into Noisiu so that his back broke through it. Therewith, the son of Fergus threw himself and put both arms around Noisiu and brought him under him and cast himself down upon him, and thus it was that Noisiu was struck from above through the son of Fergus. Thereafter, they [the Sons of Uisliu] were killed throughout the green so that none escaped thence, save those who went by point of spear and by edge of sword; and she was brought over to Conchobor so that she was beside him, and her hands were bound behind her back.
That, then, was related to Fergus and Dubthach and Cormac. They came and performed at once great deeds. Dubthach killed
p.66Mane, Conchobor's son, and by a single thrust Fiachna, son of Feidelm, Conchobor's daughter, was dispatched. Fergus slew Traigthren, son of Traiglethan and his brother. With respect to them, Conchobor's honor was outraged, and afterwards battle was joined between them on a single day so that three hundred of the Ulstermen fell among them. Before morning, the maidens of Ulster were put to death by Dubthach, and Emain was burned by Fergus. Thereupon they went to Ailill and to Medb, for they knew that that couple would be able to support them; and for the Ulstermen, moreover, it was not a refuge (?) of love. Three thousand was the number of those exiled. To the end of sixteen years neither weeping nor trembling ceased in Ulster through them, but each single night [there was] weeping and trembling through them.
A year, now, she was with Conchobor, and during that time she did not smile a laughing smile, and she did not partake of her sufficiency of food or of sleep, and she did not raise her head from her knee. Whenever, therefore, they brought the musicians to her, then she recited this following extempore (?) poem:
- Though fair you deem the eager warriors
Who stride about in Emain after an expedition,
More nobly used to march to their dwelling
The three very heroic sons of Uisliu.
- Noisiu with good hazel-mead
Him I washed at the fire
Arddan with a stag or a fine pig,
A load [was] over Aindle's tall back.
- Though sweet you deem the goodly mead
Which the battle-glorious Mac Nessa drinks,
I had heretoforeocean over [its] brink
Frequent refection that was sweeter.
- As often as modest Noisiu had spread out
The cooking hearth on the martial plain of the forest,
Sweeter was always than each honeyed food
What the son of Uisliu had contrived.
- Though melodious you deem at all times
Pipers and hornblowers,
This is my confession today:
I have heard music that was more melodious.
- Melodious used to deem Conchobor, your king,
Pipers and hornblowers;
More melodious I used to deemfame of hosts (?)
The strain which the Sons of Uisliu used to sing.
- Noisiu's voice [was like] the sound of a wave;
To hear him always was [like] melodious music.
The baritone of Arddan was good
The tenor (?) song of Aindle [on his way] to his ///shieling.
- Noisiuhis sepulchral mound has been made.
Sad was the accompaniment.
For him I have poured outhost over a height (?)
The deadly draught of which he has died.
- Beloved [is] the [little] crop of hair (?) with yellow (?) beauty
Comely [is] the man, even
Sorrowful it is [indeed] that I do not expect today
To await the son of Uisliu.
- Beloved [is] the desire, steadfast [and] just;
Beloved [is] the warrior, noble [and] very modest.
After a journey beyond the forest's fence,
Beloved [is] the
in the early morning.
- Beloved [is] the gray eye that women used to love;
Fierce it used to be against foes.
After a circuit of the foresta noble union
Beloved [is] the tenor (?) song through a dark great wood.
- I do not sleep now,
And I do not redden my fingernails.
Joy, it comes not into my observation
Since it will not lead hither (?) the son of Tindell.
- I do not sleep
Half of the night as I lie.
My reason is agitated about the hosts;
Not only do I not eat, but I do not laugh.
- Joy, today [for it] I have no leisure
In the gathering of Emain[there] nobles are thronged (?)
p.68Nor peace, nor delight, nor ease,
Nor a big house, nor fair adornment.
Whenever Conchobor, moreover, mollified her, then she recited this following extempore (?) poem:
- O Conchobor, what ails you?
For me you have placed (?) sorrow under weeping.
Yes, indeed, as long as I may abide
My love for you will not be of very great account.
- What I deemed most beautiful on earth,
And what was most beloved,
You have carried off from megreat [is] the crime
So that I shall not see it until my death.
- His absence, it grieves me
How the son of Uisliu shows [it] to me:
A jet-black little cairn (?) over a white body;
It was well-known beyond [those of] a multitude of men.
- Both purple cheeks [were] fairer than a river meadow,
Red the lips, eyebrows of beetle color;
The pearly row of shining teeth
[Was] like the noble hue of snow.
- Well-known was his bright apparel
Among the warrior bands of the men of Scotland.
Fair [and] purple [was] the mantlea fitting union
With its border of pure gold.
- Of satin (?) [was] the tunica treasure with substance
On which there were a hundred gemsa gentle multitude.
To adorn it, clear it is,
[Were] fifty ounces of findruine.
- A sword with a golden pommel [was] in his hand,
Two green spears with a javelin point,
A shield with a rim of yellow gold,
And a boss of silver upon it.
- Fair Fergus has committed trespass against us
By bringing us over the great sea.
p.69He has sold his honor for ale.
His great deeds have declined.
- Though on the plain might be
The Ulstermen around Conchobor,
I would give them all without concealment
For the companionship of Noisiu son of Uisliu.
- Do not break today my heart;
Soon shall I reach my early grave.
Sorrow is stronger than the sea,
If you are wise, O Conchobor.
What do you see that you hate most? said Conchobor. You, to be sure, she said, and Eogan mac Durthacht! You shall be, indeed, a year with Eogan, said Conchobor.
Thereupon he brought her beside Eogan. On the following day, they went to the assembly of Macha. She was behind Eogan in the chariot. She had promised that she would not see her two companions on earth on the same occasion.
Well, O Derdriu, said Conchobor, it is a sheep's eye between two rams that you make between me and Eogan.
There was a great stone boulder in front of her. She dashed her head against the stone until she had made a mass of fragments of her head so that she died.
That [is] the exile of the Sons of Uisliu and the exile of Fergus and the violent death of the Sons of Uisliu and of Derdriu.