Texts

Cath Maige Mucrama‘The battle of Mag Mucrama’

  • Old Irish, Middle Irish
  • prose
  • Cycles of the Kings
Manuscripts
Other
Language
  • Old Irish Middle Irish
  • late Old Irish, or early Middle Irish
Date
9th century (O Daly)
Form
prose (primary)
verse (secondary)

Classification

Cycles of the Kings

Subjects

 Battle of Mag Mucrama
Ailill ÓlommAilill Ólomm / Ailill Aulom (ass. time-frame: Irish legendary history) – king of Munster; reputed ancestor of the Éoganacht and Dál Cais; a prominent figure in various king-tales, such as those revolving around the Battle of Mag Mucrama.
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Sadb ingen ChuinnSadb ingen Chuinn (ass. time-frame: Conn Cétchathach, Ailill Ólomm, Lugaid Mac Con) – daughter of Conn Cétchathach and wife of Ailill Ólomm, king of Munster.
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Éogan Mór mac AilellaÉogan Mór mac Ailella / Éogan Mór / Éogan mac Ailella (ass. time-frame: Éogan Mór mac Ailella) – Eponymous ancestor of the Éoganachta of Munster; son of Ailill Ólomm, king of Munster
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Lugaid Mac ConLugaid Mac Con / Mac Con – often simply Mac Con, a legendary high-king of Ireland from a people based in Munster; said to have defeated Éogan Mór and Art mac Cuinn in the battle of Mucrama after a return from exile following the battle of Cenn Abrat.
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Lugaid LágaLugaid Lága / Lugaid Lágae (ass. time-frame: Lugaid Mac Con) – warrior associated with Lugaid Mac Con
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Ferchess mac CommáinFerchess mac CommáinNo short description available
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Do DéraDo Déra (ass. time-frame: Lugaid Mac Con, Art mac Cuinn) – Jester or fool (drúth) belonging to Lugaid Mac Con in the early Irish tale Cath Maige Mucrama, according to which he stood in for him in the battle of Cenn Abrat and was slain in his stead. He is said to have been of the Dáirine.
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ÉogabalÉogabal / Éogabul mac Durgabuil – man of the síd
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Fer FíFer Fí
Entry reserved for but not yet available from the subject index.
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Contents
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Work in progress

The paragraph numbers given below are those used by O Daly and Stokes in their editions of the text.

[1] §§ 1-2. Introduction

Summary:
§ 1. Ailill Aulom, king of Munster, his wife Sadb and their three sons, Éogan, Cían and Cormac, are introduced.

§ 2. Their fosterson Lugaid Mac Con is introduced.

» People: Ailill Ólom • Sadb ingen Cuinn • Éogan mac Ailella • Cían mac Ailella • Cormac mac Ailella • Lugaid Mac Con

[3] §§ 3-5. Áne Chlíach » entry

Summary: § 3. One Samain night, Ailill pastures his horses on top of the hill that would come to be known as Áne Chlíach and spends the night there. On two such occasions, the hill is miraculously stripped bare, apparently while Ailill is asleep, but the third time, another Samain night, he is joined by Ferchess, a poet, warrior and seer. Ailill falls asleep, but Ferchess stands aside to watch the hill (síd). Ferchess sees Éogabul, the king of the síd, and his daughter Áne coming out of the hill and kills Éogabul with a cast of his spear. Ailill rapes Áne (explicitly in NLI MS G 7 version), who sucks the flesh and skin off his ear, hence the nickname Ó-lomm (‘Bare-ear’) would stick to him ever since.

§ 4. Áne reproaches the king for his and Ferchess’ crimes, promising that great harm will come to him and denying him any property (athgabáil). § 5. The hill is named after Áne.

» Comments: Cf. ‘Iarfaiged nech acaib dam’. This episode also occurs separately in the supplement to the Dinnshenchas Érenn that is preserved in RIA MS D ii 2. » Places: Áne Chlíach » Keywords: Otherworld

[5] §§ 5-9. Fer Fí's revenge and the cause of the conflict

Includes verse: Usce Máge cenbad sruth
Summary:
§ 5. On Ailill's court at Brug Ríg, near the River Maigue. With one quatrain beg. ‘Usce Máge cenbad sruth’ on the River Maigue, which passes by the court of the poet Áedán mac Melláin.

§ 6. One day, when Éogan is making his circuit through Connacht, he and his fosterbrother Lugaid Mac Con go to visit Art mac Cuinn (king of Tara). As they pass the Maigue, near a waterfall, they meet a little man, who sits in a yew-tree above the waterfall playing beautiful music on his three-stringed timpán. Both Éogan and Mac Con want to have the musician, who later (§ 7) appears to be Áne's brother Fer Fí, in their service. A dispute arises and they decide to submit the case to Ailill for arbitration.

§ 7. Fer Fí mac Éogabuil identifies himself at Ailill's court. The two fosterbrothers present their case.

§ 8. Fer Fí demonstrates his musical skills by playing three types of music: music that brings tears, music that brings joy and music that induces sleep. He escapes when the court has been lulled asleep.

§ 9. In spite of this, Éogan and Mac Con continue their quarrel and arrange to meet in battle on Cenn Abrat in a month's time.

» Comments: Cf. § 62 (Sadb´s poem). Cf. the poem beg. ‘Iarfaiged nech acaib dam’. » People: Áedán mac Melláin • Fer Fí mac Éogabuil » Places: Brug Ríg • River Maigue • Cenn Abrat » Keywords: Otherworld • yew-tree • music • timpán

[14] §§ 10-14, 61. The battle of Cenn Abrat

Includes verse: Cath Chind Ebrat ro mebaidNí élai / gáre ó luid Da Dérai
Summary:
§ 10. The armies are drawn up, with one side Mac Con and his aite Lugaid Lága, son of Mog Núadat. Mac Con deliberates with his jester (drúth) Do Déra, who happens to be a perfect look-alike of Mac Con.

§ 11. Mac Con knows or fears that Éogan would overcome him in the fight.

§ 12. Do Déra, however, volunteers to stand in for him.

§ 13. The battle of Cenn Abrat is fought: Éogan slays Do Déra, gains a victory and goes in search of the real Mac Con. As Mac Con flees the site of battle, Éogan catches sight of his radiant white calves and at least manages to wound one of them with a cast of his spear. Bréngairr (stinking pus), presumably referring to a placename, is said to derive from this incident.

§ 14. The battle has come to an end. Quatrain beg. ‘Cath C(h)ind Ebrat ro mebaid’.

§ 61. In a quatrain beg. ‘Ní élai / gáre ó luid Da Dérai’, Mac Con laments the death of his jester Do Déra.

» Comments: The battle is also the subject of the late Middle Irish tale Cath Cinn Abrad. » People: Lugaid Mac Con • Lugaid Lága • Do Déra » Places: Cenn Abrat • Bréngairr » Events: battle of Cenn Abrat

[15] §§ 15-31. Mac Con in Alba

Summary:
§ 15. Mac Con and Lugaid Lága make their escape with a small band of followers (3 x 9) and arrive somewhere in Alba (Scotland or north Britain). They offer themselves to the king of Alba (anonymous), but on Mac Con's instructions, conceal their true identity from him for fear of reprisal. They are also to hide their chain of command.

§ 16. The king of Alba welcomes them and learns only that they are of the Gáedel. For the length of a year, they receive from him dinner (a pig and an ox) in a separate dwelling.

§ 17. During this time, Mac Con and his men excel in warfare, sporting events and board-games (brandub, buanbach and fidchell). The king is amazed by their achievements and the apparent lack of a leader.

§ 18. When Mac Con plays fidchell with the king of Alba, an unknown man arrives. § 19. The man is a poet who brings tidings from Ireland: the reign of Art mac Cuinn, king of Tara, is prosperous. § 20. The poet also reports that Éogan is king of Munster after his father; Mac Con's fate since his exile is unknown and his kin are being subjected to a life in servitude. § 21. Moved by these words, Mac Con knocks over a row of game-pieces. The king tells him that he has just disclosed a swell of affection for his kin. Mac Con leaves. § 22. The king tells his men that it was Mac Con they saw. § 23. Mac Con displays similar behaviour the following day, when another man arrives to tell the same story.

§ 24. The king of Alba devises a test to trick Mac Con into exposing himself as the leader of the group: the next time they are served dinner, some of the Irishmen are to prepare it themselves and will be selected by casting lots. Assuming that Mac Con will not take part in this (implicitly, in avoidance of servile duties), the king of Alba orders his steward (ferthigis) to observe who will be left out of the lot-casting. § 25. However, Mac Con does take part and so the trick fails.

§ 26. The king of Alba modifies the test by letting his steward (ferthigis) observe who will preside over the serving of the food. However, the king's steward sees no one but the steward of the house (rechtaire). The king then orders mice to be killed.

§§ 27-29. The mice are served before Mac Con and his men. They are to consume them raw, on pain of death, and this time the king watches them in person. § 30. The men start their horrible meal. When one of them continually throws up, Mac Con tells him to swallow the mouse whole and so the man obeys him. § 31. Because of this, the king tells Mac Con that he must be the leader of the group. Mac Con drops the façade, reveals his identity and explains his covert behaviour. The king of Alba declares that the pretence was unnecessary; that he will help Mac Con to avenge himself; and that the Saxons and Britons will also come to his aid, since through his mother and wife, he (the king) is well connected to both peoples.

» People: king of Alba » Places: Alba » Keywords: exile • pretence • rechtaire • ferthigis

[32] §§ 32-33, 38. Mac Con invades Ireland

Summary:
§ 32. Mac Con's joint expedition is described: the many sea-vessels of the Saxons and Britons are convened in Port Ríg (Alba). There are so many curachs with them that a bridge of currachs is said to have been between Ireland and Alba.

§ 33. Mac Con, called ‘no dutiful son’, easily overruns Ireland with a great army, proceeding as far as Mag Mucrama (West Connacht). Mag Mucrama is said to be located in Crích Óc mBethrae, north of Aidne and Áth Clíath. § 38. Art mac Cuinn and Éogan learn of the invasion and decide it is time for battle.

» Places: Mag Mucrama • Crích Óc mBethrae • Aidne • Áth Clíath

[34] §§ 34-37. Mag Mucrama in the time of Ailill and Medb

Summary:
§ 34. Mag Mucrama (Mag Mucríma) is said to be named after the magical pigs (mucca gentliuchta) that once emerged from the cave of Crúachan (Úam Crúachna).

§ 34. Some background information is given on the cave and its associations with supernatural evil: it is known as ‘Ireland’s gate to Hell’ (dorus iffirn na hÉrend) and mention is made of two other supernatural infestations that issued from the cave in the age of the Ulster Cycle: a ‘swarm of three-headed creatures’ (in tellén trechend) that laid waste to Ireland until Amairgen, father of Conall Cernach, destroyed it; § 35. (3) and a flock of ‘saffron-coloured (?)’ birds that withered the land until the Ulstermen used their slings to kill them.

§ 36. For seven years, the pigs from the cave laid bare the land, without anyone being able to stop them. First, they defied counting: whenever it was attempted, the pigs crossed over into the next territory, and those who managed to count them arrived at different numbers (3, 7, 9, 11 or 13). Second, the pigs vanished as soon as anyone tried to slay them.

§ 37. One day, Medb and Ailill went to the plain to count the pigs. After the counting, one pig leaped over Medb's chariot and everyone remarked to her that the pig is an extra one. Medb grabbed it by its leg and it left its skin in her hand. With that the herd vanished without a trace.

» Comments: Cf. the variant versions, in prose and verse, in the Dinnshenchas of Mag Mucrama. For the narrative motif of counting as a means of countering evil or the enemy, see for instance Jacqueline Borsje, ‘Druids, deer and ‘words of power’: coming to terms with evil in Medieval Ireland’ in Approaches to religion and mythology in Celtic studies... (2008). » Type: Ulster Cycle • dinnshenchas » Keywords: Otherworld • counting • pigs • birds • monsters • Hell

[39] §§ 39-43. The night before the battle of Mag Mucrama (1)

Summary:
§ 39. One day before the battle, Éogan goes to Druim Díl to ask the blind druid Díl maccu Chrecga to come with him and assist him in battle using his skills in satire and magic spells. Moncha, Díl's unmarried daughter and charioteer, also joins them.

§ 40. They arrive at Mag Clíach. Díl senses that Éogan is fated to die soon. Since Éogan is short of offspring, the druid offers his daughter to him.

§ 41. That night Éogan sleeps with Moncha and Fiachu Muillethan is conceived. Fiachu's epithet Fer-dá-líach (‘Man of two sorrrows’) is explained: the two sorrows refer to the death of his father a day after his conception and to that of his mother on the day of his birth.

§ 42. Fiachu's other epithet Muillethan (‘Broad-crown’) is explained: as Moncha is in birth-pangs at Áth Nemthenn on the Suir, Díl tells her that her son would ‘take precedence in Ireland for ever’ (i.e. as ancestor of the Éoganacht of Munster) only if he were born the next morning. For this reason, she decides to delay the birth of her child. § 43. Moncha enters a ford of the river (Suir), places herself on a stone that prevents the baby from appearing, and waits until tierce. When morning arrives, she dies and Fiachu is born, with a head that has widened from having endured pressure against the stone (hence ‘Broad-crown’).

» Places: Mag Clíach • Áth Nemthenn • River Suir » Events: conception of Fiachu Muillethan » Type: compert • etymology • Cycle of Fiachu Muillethan » Keywords: conception

[44] §§ 44-47. The night before the battle of Mag Mucrama (2)

Summary:
§ 44. Art and his army have crossed the Shannon, marching westwards. On the night before the battle, Art enjoys hospitality at the home of the Connacht smith Olc Acha. Olc Acha tells him that the opposition will be fierce and that Éogan has wronged Mac Con.

§§ 45-46. As Art has only one son and illustrious offspring, i.e. Cormac mac Airt, has been foretold for Olc Acha, the smith offers him his daughter Achtan for the night. § 47. That night Art sleeps with the smith's daughter and Cormac is conceived. Art tells her that she will conceive a son who will be king of Ireland; that hoards have been safely concealed and reserved for their son; that their son should be fostered by Olc Acha; and that he himself (Art) will die in battle.

» Events: conception of Cormac mac Airt » Type: Cycle of Cormac mac Airt » Keywords: conception

[48] §§ 48-58, 60, 62, 76. The battle of Mag Mucrama

Includes verse: Ísel béim benas BéinneIt crína indiu mo chrúiMairg dam-sa de, mairgg do ChlíuMatan Maige Mucrima
Summary:
§ 48. Some of Mac Con's military strategies are described. One half of his army consists of men who set booby traps by placing themselves in pits covered by hurdles and awaiting unsuspecting victims with the spear-point upwards. For every Irishman, there is one Scotsman (Albanach) tied to his leg, preventing escape, and two Britons next to him.

§ 49. The armies are lined up face to face, with key figures in the frontline: Mac Con, Lugaid Lágae and Béinne Britt (leader of the Britons) on one side; Art mac Cuinn, Éogan and Corbb Cacht mac Ailella on the other.

§ 50. Mac Con challenges Éogan to single combat. Because of Mac Con's earlier act of deceit (§ 13), Éogan refuses. Mac Con tells him that he will not repeat his misconduct, because he would rather die than go in exile again.

§ 51. The sky above is thick with demons ready to carry the unredeemable souls off to hell. Two angels accompany Art, the ‘rightful ruler’.

§ 52. The battle, its horrors and the clash of weapons are described. § 53. The ferocious style of combat and the appearance of Mac Con and Lugaid Lágae are described. § 54. Éogan and Corbb Cacht fight likewise. § 55. The men of Ireland and Alba fight vigorously. Men of Alba rise from hidden pits to slay their victims (see § 48). § 56. Art mac Cuinn and the men of Ireland are defeated and slain, apart from a remnant that manages to make their escape to Áth Clíath in Crich Óc mBethrae (cf. § 33).

§ 56. Éogan is beheaded by Béinne Britt. On witnessing the death of his nephew, Lugaid Lágae is overcome with kin-affection and recites a quatrain of verse beg. ‘Ísel béim benas Béinne’. § 57. Lugaid Lágae beheads Béinne Britt. Mac Con reproaches him, but Lugaid Lágae promises to give him the head of the king (Art).

§§ 56 and 58. Lugaid Lágae goes north and beheads Art mac Cuinn on a stone in what becomes known as Taurloch Airt in Crich Óc mBethrae. § 56. According to the text of NLI MS G 7, Taurloch (Airt) is in Áth Senbó or na Semant.

§ 56. Ailill's seven sons are buried just to the north of Áth Clíath. § 60. Ailill has survived the battle and recites a quatrain, beg. ‘It crína indiu mo chrúi’, in which he bewails his fate and curses Mac Con. § 62. His wife Sadb recites two other elegiac quatrains, beg. ‘Mairg dam-sa de, mairgg do Chlíu’, in which she recalls Fer Fí's yew-tree as the cause of the conflict.

§ 76. The outcome of the battle of Mag Mucrama is summarised. A quatrain, beg. ‘Matan Maige Mucrima’, deplores that a conflict between rulers has led to the death of the most distinguished of them, namely Art.

» Events: battle of Mag Mucrama • death of Éogan Mór » Keywords: battle

[59] §§ 59, 63-66, 77. The reign of Mac Con

Includes verse: Ro-huc Lugaid, láechda éoGabais Mac Con tír m.Banba
Summary:
§ 59. Lugaid Mac Con takes the kingship of Ireland, remaining in Tara for seven years with Cormac mac Airt as his fosterson.

§ 63. The story of Mac Con's false judgment is told. When sheep crop the woad (glasen) belonging to Mac Con’s queen, Mac Con judges that the sheep should be forfeited. The young Cormac, sitting next to him, proposes a more proportionate and juster measure: to shear the sheep and take the wool because ‘the woad will grow and the wool will grow on the sheep’. § 64. Everyone agrees that Cormac has pronounced a true judgment. § 65. With that the part of the house in which Mac Con made judgment collapses, hence the Clóenferta (‘Crooked mound’) of Tara. A quatrain beg. ‘Ro-huc Lugaid, láechda éo’ is recited.

§ 66. Mac Con remains another year in the kingship of Ireland, but the earth becomes barren and infertile and his rule is regarded as illegitimate. The men of Ireland expel him.

§ 77. The alternative tradition according to which Mac Con ruled for 30 years, is mentioned and illustrated with a quatrain of verse beg. ‘Gabais Mac Con tír m.Banba’.

» Comments: With respect to Mac Con's 30-year reign (§ 77), compare § 74 (Ailill's poem) and Scéla Moshauluim ocus Maic Con ocus Luigdech. » People: Lugaid Mac Con • Cormac mac Airt » Places: Tara • Clóenferta » Type: Cycle of Cormac mac Airt • dinnshenchas » Keywords: fosterage • bad judgment • fír flathemon

[67] §§ 67-75. The death of Mac Con

Includes verse: Is é forgab dia tuit ríMairg dam-sa de, mairg indíuTrícho blíadnae mad co se
Summary:
§ 67. Lugaid Mac Con, with a large company, heads west. Lugaid Lágae does not join him, because he does not want to revisit the place of kinslaying, and prefers to stay with Cormac.

§ 68. Despite Mac Con's best efforts, Cormac refuses to accept Lugaid Lágae into his household.

§ 68. Mac Con goes to Ailill to seek his support. Sadb, embracing him, urges him to leave because Ailill harbours no good will towards him. § 69. Ailill welcomes Mac Con and offers to adopt him as his son. § 70. As they move closer, Ailill presses his poisonous tooth against Mac Con's cheek. Ailill leaves and Sadb recognises that Mac Con is doomed, reciting a quatrain beg. ‘Is é forgab dia tuit rí’. § 71. Ailill sends Ferchess mac Commáin to track down Mac Con. Within three days, Mac Con's cheek has melted away (from the poison). § 72. Mac Con and his men are back in Munster. As Mac Con leans himself against a pillar-stone, Ferchess is seen to approach them. Even though Mac Con surrounds himself with his men, Ferchess manages to cast his spear at him, attaching his forehead to the pillar-stone. § 73. Ferchess takes flight and throws his wood-shavings (?) into a cataract, i.e. Ess Ferchiss (‘cataract of Ferchess’).

§ 73. Sadb laments the death of her fosterson in a quatrain beg. ‘Mairg dam-sa de, mairg indíu’. § 74. Ailill, on the other hand, is relieved to learn of his death, as he explains in a quatrain beg. ‘Trícho blíadnae mad co se’. § 75. Ailill takes the kingship of Munster and holds it for seven years.

» Places: Ess Ferchiss » Events: death of Mac Con » Type: dinnshenchas

Sources

Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] [tr.] O'Daly, Máirín [ed. and tr.], Cath Maige Mucrama: The battle of Mag Mucrama, Irish Texts Society 50, Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1975.
88–93
[ed.] [tr.] Stokes, Whitley [ed. and tr.], “The Battle of Mag Mucrime”, Revue Celtique 13 (1892): 426–474.
Internet Archive: <link>
LL version.
[corr.] Stokes, Whitley, “The Battle of Mag Mucrime”, Revue Celtique 14 (1893): 95–96.
Internet Archive: <link> Internet Archive: <link>
Addenda and corrigenda
[ed.] O'Grady, Standish Hayes, Silva Gadelica (I–XXXI): a collection of tales in Irish, vol. 1: Irish text, London: Williams & Norgate, 1892.
Digitale-sammlungen.de: <link> Internet Archive: <link> Internet Archive – originally from Google Books: <link>, <link> CELT – various: <link>, <link>, <link>, <link>, <link>, <link>
310–318 LL version.
[tr.] O'Grady, Standish Hayes, Silva Gadelica (I–XXXI): a collection of tales in Irish, vol. 2: translation and notes, London: Williams & Norgate, 1892.
Digitale-sammlungen.de: <link> Internet Archive: <link> Internet Archive: <link>
347–359

Secondary sources (select)

Ó Cathasaigh, Tomás, The heroic biography of Cormac mac Airt, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1977.
Ó Cathasaigh, Tomás, “The theme of lommrad in Cath Maige Mucrama”, Éigse 18:2 (1981): 211–224.
Contributors
Dennis Groenewegen
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