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The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes (Author: unknown)

Tale 2

The Death of Conchobar

Version A

¶1] Once upon a time the men of Ulster were greatly intoxicated in Emain Macha. Thence there arise great contentions and comparison of trophies between them, even between Conall and Cuchulinn and Loegaire. ‘Bring me,’ said Conall, ‘the brain of Mesgegra, so that I may talk to the competing warriors.’ At that time it was a custom with the men of Ulster to take the brains out of the head of every warrior whom they slew in single combat, and to mix lime with them, so that they were made into hard balls. And whenever they were in contention or at comparison of trophies, these were brought to them, so that they had them in their hands.

¶2] ‘Well, Conchobar,’ said Conall, ‘until the competing warriors perform a deed like this in single combat, they are not capable of comparing trophies with me.’ ‘That is true,’ said Conchobar.

¶3] Then the brain was put upon the shelf upon which it was always kept. On the morrow every one went his own way to his sport. Then Cet, the son of Matu, went upon a round of adventures in Ulster. This Cet was the most troublesome pest that was in Ireland. This is the way he went, across the green of Emain, having with him three warriors' heads of the men of Ulster.

¶4] While the jesters (of Emain) were at play with the brain of Mesgegra, this is what one jester said to the other. Cet hears that. He snatches the brain out of the hand of one of them, and carries it off; for he knew that it had been foretold of Mesgegra that he would avenge himself after his death. In every battle and in every combat which the men of Connaught had with those of Ulster, Cet used to carry the brain in his girdle to see whether he could compass a famous deed by slaying a man of Ulster with it.


¶5] Once then Cet went eastwards until he took a drove of cows from the men of the Rosses. The men of Ulster overtook him in pursuit after him. Then the men of Connaught came up from the other side to rescue him. A battle is fought between them. Conchobar himself went into the battle. And it was then that the women of Connaught begged Conchobar to come aside so that they might see his shape. For there was not on earth the shape of a human being like the shape of Conchobar, both for beauty and figure and dress, for size and symmetry and proportion, for eye and hair and whiteness, for wisdom and manners and eloquence, for raiment and nobleness and equipment, for weapons and wealth and dignity, for bearing and valour and race. That Conchobar was faultless indeed. However, it was by the advice of Cet that the women importuned Conchobar. Then he went aside alone to be seen by the women.

¶6] Cet, however, went until he was in the midst of the women. He adjusts the brain of Mesgegra in the sling, and throws it so that it hit the crown of Conchobar's head, so that two-thirds of it entered his head, so that he fell upon his head forward to the ground. The men of Ulster ran towards him, and carried him off from Cet. On the brink of the ford of Daire Dá Báeth6 it was that Conchobar fell. His grave is there where he fell, and a pillar-stone at his head, and another at his feet.

¶7] The men of Connaught are then routed to Scé Aird na Con.7 The men of Ulster are driven eastwards again to the ford of Daire Dá Báeth. ‘Let me be carried out of this!’ said Conchobar. ‘I shall give the kingship of Ulster to anyone who will carry me as far as my house.’ ‘I will carry thee,’ said Cenn Berraide,8 his own attendant. He puts a cord around him, and carries him upon his back to Ardachad9 of the Fews. The attendant's heart broke within him. Hence is the saying ‘Cenn Berraide's kingship over Ulster,’ to wit, the king upon his back for (only) half the day.

¶8] However, the fight was kept up after the king from one hour of the day to the same hour on the next day, after which the men of Ulster were routed.


¶9] In the meantime his physician was brought to Conchobar, even Fingen. 'Tis he who would know from the smoke that arose from a house how many were ill in the house, and every disease that was in it. ‘Well,’ said Fingen, ‘if the stone is taken out of thy head, thou wilt be dead forthwith. If it is not taken out, however, I would heal thee, but it will be a blemish for thee.’ ‘It is easier for us,’ said the men of Ulster, ‘to bear the blemish than his death.’

¶10] His head was then healed; and it was stitched with thread of gold, for the colour of Conchobar's hair was the same as the colour of gold. And the physician said to Conchobar that he should be on his guard lest anger should come on him, and that he should not mount a horse, that he should not have connexion with a woman, that he should not eat food greedily, and that he should not run.

¶11] In that doubtful state, then, he was as long as he lived, even seven years; and he was not capable of action, but remained in his seat only, until he heard that Christ had been crucified by the Jews. At that time a great trembling came over the elements, and the heavens and the earth shook with the enormity of the deed that was then done, even Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, to be crucified without guilt. ‘What is this?’ said Conchobar to his druid.10 ‘What great evil is being done on this day?’ ‘That is true, indeed,’ said the druid who then tells the story of the Crucifixion. ‘Awful is that deed,’ said Conchobar. ‘That man, now,’ said the druid, ‘was born in the same night in which thou wast born, even on the eighth before the calends of January, though the year was not the same.’

¶12] It was then that Conchobar believed. And he was one of the two men that had believed in God in Ireland before the coming of the


Faith, Morann being the other man. ‘Well, now,’ said Conchobar,11 ‘it is a pity,’ etc.12 [...] ‘without avenging the Creator.’13

¶13] This rhetoric Conchobar made when Bachrach, a druid of Leinster, told him that Christ was crucified, when Conchobar asked: ‘What wonderful signs are these?’ etc.

¶14] Or, again, it may have been Altus, the consul who had come to the Gaels from Octavian to seek the tribute, who told Conchobar that Christ was crucified.