A New Version of the Battle of Mag Rath

Author: Carl Marstrander

An electronic edition

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p. 233.


THE feast of Tara is celebrated by Domnall son of Aed son of
Ainmire, and these are the three feasts of Ireland: The feast
of Emain, the feast of Tara and the feast of Cruachain. And he
summoned the men of Ireland to this feast at Tara. A couch was
prepared for Domnall in the midst of the royal palace at Tara
and afterwards the host were seated. The men of Munster in the
southern quarter of the house. The men of Connaught in the
western part of the house. The men of Ulster in the northern.
The men of Leinster in the eastern side of it. The center of Ireland
around Domnall in that house. Thus was the court made. The
King of Leinster on the couch opposite in the east, the King of
Munster on his right hand, the King of Connaught at his back, the
King of Ulster on his left hand. This, however, is how they would
have been arranged if one of the O’Neills in the south had held
the kingdom - namely, the King of Leinster beside him, the King
of Ailech on his left hand, beside him the King of Ulster, the King
of Munster on his right hand, the King of Connaught at his back,
concerning which this was said:

‘Tara, noble the abode
For every king, if you but reckon them:
around whom - good the prop,
the chief of every territory takes his place.

On his right hand sat
the King of Caisel, a fair host:
The King of Leinster, glorious the festival,
close beside him.

The seat of the high King of Ailech,
on his left a rank with fame:
The King of Ulster, noble the telling,
by the King of the north.

p. 235.

The lordly King of Connaught took his seat
behind him, splendid the ranks:
for noble ancient lore,
for triumph and for judgements.

I gloried in this story
It is true though I testify it:
The noble wondrous settling
of the populous house of Tara.’

Then was everyone seated by Domnall according to rank, profession
and lawful claim to celebrate the feast; on his left hand the
King of Ulster - namely, Congal Caech, his fosterson - that is,
Domnall’s: it was he who had reared him. This is why he is called
Congal Caech. One day on going into the garden of the King, a
bee chanced to fly in his direction and destroyed the eye in his
head, so that is why he was named Congal Caech. The Ulstermen
demanded the eye of his son. Judgement was left to Domnall.
‘I command,’ said Domnall, ‘that the swarm which has caused
the damage be destroyed, until the guilty one fall.’ But the
Ulstermen were not satisfied with this and there was strife with
Congal thenceforth.

Thereupon the food was distributed to the host. Twelve hen
eggs were brought in upon a dish and placed at the corners of the
couch. Whilst Domnall was standing up serving the eggs, Congal
ate one of them. Domnall seated himself and the eggs were brought
down. ‘The woman who brought the eggs’ said Domnall, ‘told
me that there were twelve. A curse on her to tell such a lie to
my face.’ ‘I ate one of them,’ said Congal. ‘Then you may
finish them,’ said Domnall, ‘for I will not eat the remains of a
theft.’ ‘You make me out a thief,’ said Congal. ‘We give
God thanks, O Domnall, that it is not after eating your food we
address you.’ ‘I will give you a golden egg,’ said Domnall,
‘and speak no more of the egg to me.’ ‘Rise up, men of Ulster,’
said Congal, ‘that you eat not the food of Domnall. I leave this
answer with you, O Domnall,’ said Congal, ‘I will do battle with
you on this day month, that one of us may bring about the death of
the other because of that egg.’ The men of Ulster were let out
around Congal. This caused a great stir among the men of Ireland.
‘Take no heed,’ said Domnall. ‘God will decide between us one

p. 237.

day or other. But give ear to the proclamation that you may be
in readiness on that day.’

Congal went straight to Scotland, to Domnall son of Eochaid
Buide to fetch the men of Scotland with him, so that they arrived
a fortnight before the battle. They were quartered out every
night for a week; but the Ulstermen thought this nightly quartering
oppressive. He set out at their head to Mag nGlass, to Domnall’s
mother and he left not a cow or an ox, or a woman or a boy in the
place. Then said he:

‘Agreeable to me the way I left Mag nGlass;
I left neither butter nor milk there:
I left neither cow nor youth
with Domnall - not pleasantly did I prophesy.’

‘It will be awful in his company.’ said Domnall. Thereupon
the men of Ireland gathered round Domnall. But Congal went
to the other side. This happened in the autumn. Then he
(Congal, that is) saw a cleric cutting his particular load [of faggots]
whereupon he said:

‘Long life to the little cleric. Not so false the oath I swore
concerning the prince Domnall . . . . . namely Domnall son of
Eochaid and Domnall son of Aed.’

The shrines and relics and the saints of Ireland were placed
between them, but it was impossible to pacify them, for Satan was
with Congal and it was with him he used to take counsel. ‘Do
not take back the word,’ said Satan, ‘that you uttered before the
men of Ireland, for you will not obtain your treasures if you recant;
but if you gain victory you will be King of Ireland.’

The tent of Domnall was then pitched and one of his men went
to play chess with him. A dwarf was seated on the house-post
to watch the host. Sharp are the eyes of dwarfs, sharp their wits.
Dunchad, however, grandson of Mael Macha, the chosen hero and
champion and the hundred-slayer, the noblest of the world’s
warriors, a trusted officer of Domnall, it was he who was charged
to go up with his two foster-brothers against Congal. The hosts
raised a great shout on entering the battle. But it was a long fight
that was made there for three whole days, every province [being
present] from the day he attacked them to the last day. Many
were the nobles that fell therein. Great the havoc and slaughter
of heroes that took place there throughout those three whole days.

p. 239.

There was pride there and exceeding shame, and many were the
streams of blood upon the fair skin of a delicate youth rushing
into danger for shame. Fierce were the arrows of the heroes and
doughty champions protecting their javelins and their shields
and their bodies whilst they were smiting each other with spears
and swords. Frightful also the turmoil all over the battlefield,
the din and crashing of the bright shields, the swish of the swords
and sabres, the clatter and rattling of the quivers and reins, the
whirring of arrows and the crashing strokes of the weapons. And
as they were felling one another, the points of their fingers and their
feet almost met, so that they were falling from their standing
owing to the slipperiness of the blood under their feet, and their
heads were struck off them sitting. A gory, wound-inflicting, sharp,
bloody battle was commenced and . . . of ash in the hands of foes
there. Even if there were a raven on the eye of Congal, he would
not push it from him because of the astuteness and keenness and
fierceness of the champion Dunchad. At one moment Dunchad
wounded the horse under him. ‘Congall’s horse has been killed,’
said all. ‘Let my horse be given to him,’ said Domnall. ‘The
shield of Congal has been broken,’ said all. ‘Let my shield be
given him,’ said Domnall. ‘The sword of Congal has been broken,’
said all. ‘Let my sword be given him,’ said Domnall. Whenever
Congal was pressing forward, the battle would turn in his
favour. ‘Who gives this power?’ said Congal. ‘The host of
Leinster,’ said all. ‘We fear them not,’ said he, ‘the valour
of a dog on a dunghill that.’ ‘And who this?’ said he. ‘The
men of Munster,’ said all. ‘We fear them not,’ said he, ‘until
they attain the valour of one man; a hedge of white hazel
are they.’ ‘Who gives this power?’ said he. ‘The men of
Connaught,’ said all. ‘We fear them not,’ said he; ‘a boiled
cow’s udder are they, a long exhausted host.’ ‘And who this?’
said he. ‘The men of Ossory,’ said all. ‘A pig’s belly between
its two sides are they; we fear not that host.’ ‘Who brings this
force?’ said he. ‘O’Neill of the South,’ said all. ‘We fear
them not,’ said he. ‘The men of Meath were unhorsed . . . .
that is, they lower one end though they raise the other.’ ‘Who
makes this loud thundering uproar?’ said Congal. ‘The head
of Eogan Mór and Conall,’ said all. ‘That will not be agreeable,’

p. 241.

said he, ‘for that dense mass of shields cannot be broken through
or passed by. We fear that host.’ ‘How is Domnall now?’ said
he. ‘He is praying to his God now,’ said they. Then Congal

‘When a king pays his vows
to the other king whom he does not see:
it is he who does not go out against anyone,
the son of Aed, son of Ainmire.’

‘I will go and give him his own terms.’ He sets out then over
the battlefield until he came to the tent. ‘Wait, O Congal,’
said the champions. ‘I am going,’ said he, ‘to give his own
terms to Domnall, so that the men of Ireland may see me submitting
to him as they have seen me rise against him.’ ‘Wait a little,
O Congal,’ said Domnall, ‘We have sent two hostages to the house
of the King of truth because of our contention, that He may pass
judgement for us and that we may submit to the new judgement
of God.’ ‘Not so shall it be,’ said Congal. ‘Truly so,’ said

Afterwards Congal and Conall Clocach the royal fool chanced
to meet in the battle. ‘Sing a stave, Conall,’ said Congal, ‘to
show who will overcome in the battle.’ Conall said:

‘A boy walks the road of the Raths
around which were dug the graves of roth:
sescbaid where is here the caech,
upon which the famous Congal fell.’

‘Falsely you recite the stave,’ said Congal, ‘not so is it but

‘A boy walks the road of wheels,
around which are the graves of heroes;
sescbaid where is here the stone,
upon which the wry-eyed Congal fell.’

‘It will be true,’ said he, ‘I shall fall there.’ Now he hurled
himself upon the host like a huge mad bull, who has received an
evil blow. And such was the attack and the onslaught he made
upon the host, that at the same moment he plied on them both
spears and swords, shields and bucklers and hand-stones. He

p. 243.

did not cease from the onset he made, until he was face to face
with Dunchad, that celebrated hero, and shore his head from off
him over the rim of his shield. ‘Hateful to me now,’ said the
spy, ‘is the varied music I hear throughout the battle, the swish
of the swords in the hands of heroes and doughty champions (and
the crushing) of heads and bones.’ ‘In the name of God this,’
said Domnall, rushing into the battle. The onslaught which the
men of Ireland made on seeing the face of Domnall, it was that
routed the host, so that the batle was gained over the men of
Ulster, and the king himself fell therein - namely Congal the Longheaded.
Whereupon a slaughter was made of them, and none
escaped of the men of Scotland save only the brave man of Domnall’s,
who crossed over swimming. ‘What tidings have you?’ said
Domnall, son of Eochaid. ‘Give me a drink,’ said he. A cup
of ale is given to him and he drank it at one draught. ‘Another
drink,’ said he. Another cup was given to him and he drank it.
He drank three cups in this way. ‘What tidings have you?’
said Domnall. ‘What tidings do you seek?’ said he. ‘You
will never again see a man of those who went forth from you save
myself alone,’ and forthwith he dies.

Thereafter the heads were brought before Domnall son of Aed.
The head of Dunchad and his two fosterbrothers were brought to
him. Whereupon he said:

‘The two Flands that are in the place,
they have been champions of the king to-day:
Alas! they have changed their colour,
Dunchad the renowned, he comes not.’

There fell also the King of Meath; a son of Domnall’s mother
he was said to be. The place where he was killed is as Domnall said:

‘Though Faelchu be slain to-day
I shall not get . . .
he will be taken into the place . . .
to the distant day of doom.’

and he said further:

‘The boy who will be born to-day
renowned battle will be his story:
[he will be king] and chief, it will be soon;
tarry to lament Faelchu.’

p. 245.

. . . he escaped from battle and his horse along with him
into the ford and he killed both, whereupon Domnall said:

‘Not hidden are the limbs of Congal,
Red is his breast whom I speak of:
The scabbard in which he was obeyed,
It will hold weapons no more.

They were not a host without watchfulness
the youths in Congal’s company:
They were not a people without a king in battle,
the son of Scandlán at the heads of nobles.

His name shall be . . . . .
spreading afar:
woe to him who has before him a deed of valour
. . . . . . . . .’

Then Congal was brought into the abandoned fortress and they
washed him and his head was placed upon the mound of the rath.
Whereupon Domnall said:

‘The head of Congal this upon the rath.
It is not the head of a man timid and terrified:
A chief not easily encountered for his valour with spears;
the head of a hero, one would not speedily venture against.

Valorous was he whose head this is,
When there was battle, he was not feeble:
Though Congal Caech has fallen,
many a hero has fallen by the point of his spear.

He was wont to proceed east and west
through the long battle, that the host was waging:
Not feeble was its owner in real battle,
before whom was reddened the bleeding spearpoint.

He went before all to the comely battle,
on Tuesday, then he hurled a spear:
so that prone in his blood fell
the man in the woful fight he waged.

p. 247.

He made an onset on cruel Wednesday,
he wrought a harsh deed with horror:
so that by Congal Caech did fall
four score heroes by his hand.

He made an onslaught on dark Thursday,
so that defeat was wrought before his spearpoint:
and he slew fifty of the host,
that day he was no pitiable feeble man.

On Friday he set out.
It was a rare feat, it was a litter of wounds:
five score comely noble men,
wonderful was the round of wounds.

On Saturday to the battle came
Congal, before pursuing the spoil:
So that he slew a hundred famous nobles,
many were the lamentations for the dead.

On Sunday came a slaughter,
the journey of Congal was fierce:
he slew two-hundred and fifty
when our hosts were slaughtered by the men of Ulster.

On Monday he ventured on his combat,
He was not pitiable whilst he lived:
He slew four sons of kings,
four score along with them.

He himself met his fate on the . . . Tuesday,
there where force was brought against force:
It was a deed of destruction, a rare slaughter,
It was there a great churchyard were needed.

His journey was in vain,
a head is required for a head (?).’

© 2006 Thesaurus Linguae Hibernicae

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