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


{line 1-22}

section 1

ONCE upon a time it befell Ailill and Medb that, when their royal bed had been prepared for them in Ráth Crúachain in Connacht, they spoke together as they lay on their pillow. ‘In truth, woman’ said Ailill, ‘she is a well-off woman who is the wife of a nobleman’. ‘She is indeed’ said the woman. ‘Why do you think so?’ ‘I think so’ said Ailill, ‘because you are better off today than when I married you’. ‘I was well-off before marrying you’, said Medb. ‘It was wealth that we had not heard of and did not know of’, said Ailill, ‘but you were a woman of property and foes from lands next to you were carrying off spoils and booty from you’. ‘Not so was I’, said Medb, ‘but my father was in the high-kingship of Ireland, namely Eochu Feidlech mac Find meic Findomain meic Findeoin meic Findguill meic Rotha meic Rigeoin meic Blathachta meic Beothechta meic Enna Agnig meic Óengusa Turbig. He had six daughters: Derbriu, Ethne and Ele, Clothru, Mugain and Medb. I was the noblest and worthiest of them. I was the most generous of them in bounty and the bestowal of gifts. I was best of them in battle and fight and combat. I had fifteen hundred royal mercenaries of the sons of strangers exiled from their own land and as many of the sons of native freemen within the province. And there were ten men for each mercenary of these, and nine men for every mercenary and eight men for every mercenary, and seven for every mercenary, and six for every mercenary, and five for every mercenary, and four for every mercenary and three for every mercenary and two for every mercenary and one mercenary for every mercenary. I had these as my standing household’ said Medb, ‘and for that reason my father gave me one of the


{line 23-53}provinces of Ireland, namely, the province of Crúachu. Whence I am called Medb Chrúachna. Messengers came from Find mac Rosa Rúaid, the King of Leinster, to sue for me, and from Cairbre Nia Fer mac Rosa, the King of Tara, and they came from Conchobor mac Fachtna, the King of Ulster, and they came from Eochu Bec. But I consented not, for I demanded a strange bride- gift such as no woman before me had asked of a man of the men of Ireland, to wit, a husband without meanness, without jealousy, without fear. If my husband should be mean, it would not be fitting for us to be together, for I am generous in largesse and the bestowal of gifts and it would be a reproach for my husband that I should be better than he in generosity, but it would be no reproach if we were equally generous provided that both of us were generous. If my husband were timorous, neither would it be fitting for us to be together, for single-handed I am victorious in battles and contests and combats, and it would be a reproach to my husband that his wife should be more courageous than he, but it is no reproach if they are equally courageous provided that both are courageous. If the man with whom I should be were jealous, neither would it be fitting, for I was never without one lover quickly succeeding another

lit. without a man in the shadow of another.

Now such a husband have I got, even you, Ailill mac Rosa Rúaid of Leinster. You are not niggardly, you are not jealous, you are not inactive. I gave you a contract and a bride-price as befits a woman, namely, the raiment of twelve men, a chariot worth thrice seven cumala, the breadth of your face in red gold, the weight of your left arm in white bronze. Whoever brings shame and annoyance and confusion on you, you have no claim for compensation of for honour-price for it except what claim I have’ said Medb, ‘for you are a man dependent on a woman's marriage-portion’. ‘Not so was I’ said Ailill, ‘but I had two brothers, one of them reigning over Tara, the other over Leinster, namely, Find over Leinster and Cairbre over Tara. I left the rule to them because of their seniority but they were no better in bounty and the bestowal of gifts than I. And I heard of no province in Ireland dependent on a woman except this province alone, so I came and assumed the kingship here in virtue of my mother's rights for Máta Muirisc the daughter of Mága was my mother. And what better queen could I have than you, for you are the daughter of the high-king of Ireland’. ‘Nevertheless’ said Medb, ‘my property is greater than yours’. ‘I marvel at that’ said Ailill,


{line 54-85}‘for there is none who has greater possessions and riches and wealth than I, and I know that there is not’.

There were brought to them what was least valuable among their possessions that they might know which of them had more goods and riches and wealth. There were brought to them their wooden cups and their vats and their iron vessels, their cans, their washing-basins and their tubs. There were brought to them their rings and their bracelets and their thumb-rings, their treasures of gold and their garments, as well purple as blue and black and green, yellow and vari-coloured and grey, dun and chequered and striped. Their great flocks of sheep were brought from fields and lawns and open plains. They were counted and reckoned and it was recognised that they were equal, of the same size and of the same number. But among Medb's sheep there was a splendid ram which was the equivalent of a cumalin value, and among Ailill's sheep was a ram corresponding to him. From grazing lands and paddocks were brought their horses and steeds. In Medb's horse-herd there was a splendid horse which might be valued at a cumal. Ailill had a horse to match him. Then their great herds of swine were brought from woods and sloping glens and solitary places. They were counted and reckoned and recognised. Medb had a special boar and Ailill had another. Then their herds of cows, their cattle and their droves were brought to them from the woods and waste places of the province. They were counted and reckoned and recognised, and they were of equal size and equal number. But among Ailill's cows there was a special bull. He had been a calf of one of Medb's cows, and his name was Findbennach. But he deemed it unworthy of him to be counted as a woman's property, so he went and took his place among the king's cows. It was to Medb as if she owned not a penny of possessions since she had not a bull as great as that among her kine. Then Mac Roth the herald was summoned to Medb and she asked him to find out where in any province of the provinces of Ireland there might be a bull such as he. ‘I know indeed’ said Mac Roth ‘where there is a bull even better and more excellent than he, in the province of Ulster in the cantred of Cúailnge in the house of Dáire mac Fiachna. Donn Cúailnge is his name’. ‘Go you there, Mac Roth, and ask of Dáire for me a year's loan of Donn Cúailnge. At the year's end he will get the fee for the bull's loan, namely, fifty heifers, and Donn Cúailnge himself returned. And take another offer with you, Mac Roth: if the people of that land and country object to giving that precious possession, Donn Cúailnge, let Dáire himself come with his bull


{line 86-117}and he shall have the extent of his own lands in the level plain of Mag Aí and a chariot worth thrice seven cumala, and he shall have my own intimate friendship’.

Thereupon the messengers proceeded to the house of Dáire mac Fiachna. The number of Mac Roth's embassy was nine messengers. Then Mac Roth was welcomed in the house of Dáire. That was but right for Mac Roth was the chief herald of all. Dáire asked Mac Roth what was the cause of his journey and why he had come. The herald told why he had come and related the contention between Medb and Ailill. ‘And it is to ask for a loan of the Donn Cúailnge to match the Findbennach that I have come’ said he, ‘and you shall get the fee for his loan, namely, fifty heifers and the return of Donn Cúailnge himself. And there is somewhat besides: come yourself with your bull and you shall get an area equal to your own lands in the level plain of Mag Aí and a chariot worth thrice seven cumala and Medb's intimate friendship to boot’. Dáire was well pleased with that and in his pleasure he shook himself so that the seams of the flock-beds beneath him burst asunder, and he said: ‘By the truth of my conscience, even it the Ulstermen object, this precious possession, Donn Cúailnge, will now be taken to Ailill and Medb in the land of Connacht’. Mac Roth was pleased to hear what Mac Fiachna said.

Then they were attended to and straw and fresh rushes were strewn underfoot for them. The choicest food was served to them and a drinking feast provided until they were merry. And a conversation took place between two of the messengers. ‘In sooth’ said one messenger, ‘generous is the man in whose house we are’. ‘Generous indeed’ said the other. ‘Is there among the Ulstermen any who is more generous than he?’ said the first messenger. ‘There is indeed’ said the second. ‘More generous is Conchobor whose vassal Dáire is, for though all Ulstermen should rally round Conchobor, it were no shame for them’. ‘A great act of generosity it is indeed for Dáire to have given to us nine messengers that which it would have been the work of the four great provinces of Ireland to carry of from the land of Ulster, namely, Donn Cúailnge’. Then a third messenger joined their conversation. ‘And what are ye saying?’ he asked. ‘Yon messenger says that the man in whose house we are is a generous man. He is generous indeed, says another. Is there any among the Ulsterman who is more generous then he? asks the first messenger. There is indeed, says the second. Conchobor, whose vassal Dáire is, is more generous, and if all Ulstermen adhered to him it were indeed no shame for them. It was


{line 118-146}generous of Dáire to give to us nine messengers what only the four great provinces of Ireland could carry off from the land of Ulster’. ‘I should like to see a gush of blood and gore from the mouth from which that talk comes, for if the bull were not given willingly, he would be given perforce’.

Then Dáire mac Fiachna's butler came into the house with a man carrying liquor and another carrying meat, and he heard what the messengers said. He flew into a passion and laid down the meat and d rink for them, and he did not invite them to consume it, neither did he tell them not to consume it. Thereafter he went to the house where Dáire mac Fiachna was and said: ‘Was it you who gave that excellent treasure, the Donn Cúailnge, to the messengers?’ ‘It was I indeed’, said Dáire. ‘Where he was given may there be no proper rule, for what they say is true, that if you do not give him of your own free will, you will give him by force by reason of the armies of Ailill and Medb and the guidance of Fergus mac Róig’. ‘I swear by the gods whom I worship unless they take him thus by force, they shall not take him by fair means’.They spend the night thus until morning. Early on the morrow the messengers arose and went into the house where Dáire was. ‘Guide us, noble sir, to the spot where Donn Cúailnge is’. ‘Not so indeed’ said Dáire, ‘but if it were my custom to deal treacherously with messengers or travellers of voyagers not one of you should escape alive’. ‘What is this?’ said Mac Roth. ‘There is great cause for it’ said Dáire. ‘Ye said that if I did not give the bull willingly, then I should give him under compulsion by reason of the army of Ailill and Medb and the sure guidance of Fergus’. ‘Nay’ said Mac Roth, ‘whatever messengers might say as a result of indulging in your meat and drink, it should not be heeded or noticed nor accounted as a reproach to Ailill and Medb’. ‘Yet I shall not give my bull, Mac Roth, on this occasion’.

Thus the messengers went on their way back and reached Ráth Crúachan in Connacht. Medb asked tidings of them. Mac Roth told her that they had not brought back his bull from Dáire. ‘What was the cause of that?’ asked Medb. Mac Roth told her the reason for it. ‘There is no necessity to "smooth the knots", Mac Roth, for it was certain’,

lit. it was known

said Medb, ‘that he would not be given freely if he were not given by force, and he shall so be given’.


{line 147-220}