‘He was brought up,’ said Fergus, ‘by his mother and father at the — in Mag Murthemne. The stories of the boys in Emain were related to him; for there are three fifties of boys there,’ said Fergus, ‘at play. It is thus that Conchobar enjoys his sovereignty: a third of the day watching the boys; another third playing chess;1 another third drinking beer till sleep seizes him therefrom. Although we are in exile, there is not in Ireland a warrior who is more wonderful,’ said Fergus.
‘Cú Chulainn asked his mother then to let him go to the boys.
‘“You shall not go,” said his mother, “until you have company of warriors.”
‘“I deem it too long to wait for it,” said Cú Chulainn. “Show me on which side Emain is.”
‘“Northwards so,” said his mother; “and the journey is hard,” said she, “Sliab Fuait is between you.”
‘“I will find it out,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘He goes forth then, and his shield of lath with him, and his toy-spear, and his playing-club, and his ball. He kept throwing his staff before him, so that he took it by the point before the end fell on the ground.
‘He goes then to the boys without binding them to protect him. For no one used to go to them in their play-field till his protection was guaranteed. He did not know this.
‘“The boy insults us,” said Follomon Mac Conchobair, “besides we know he is of the Ulstermen … Throw at him!”
‘They throw their three fifties of toy-spears at him, and they all remained standing in his shield of lath. Then they throw all the balls at him; and he takes them, each single ball, in his bosom. Then they throw their three fifties of hurling-clubs at him; he warded them off so that they did not touch him, and he took a bundle of them on his back. Then contortion seized him. You would have thought that it was a hammering wherewith each little hair had been driven into his head, with the arising with which he arose. You would have thought there was a spark of fire on every single hair. He shut one of his eyes so that it was not wider than the eye of a needle. He opened the other so that it was as large as the mouth of a meadcup. He laid bare from his jawbone to his ear; he opened his mouth to his jaw2 so that his gullet was visible. The hero’s light rose from his head. Then he strikes at the boys. He overthrows fifty of them before they reached the door of Emain. Nine of them came over me and Conchobar as we were playing chess. Then he springs over the chessboard after the nine. Conchobar caught his elbow.
‘“The boys are not well treated,” said Conchobar.
‘“Lawful for me, O friend Conchobar,” said he. “I came to them from my home to play, from my mother and father; and they have not been good to me.”
‘“What is your name?” said Conchobar.
‘“Setanta Mac Sualtaim am I,” said he, “and the son of Dechtere, your sister. It was not fitting to hurt me here.”
‘“Why were the boys not bound to protect you?” said Conchobar.
‘“I did not know this,” said Cú Chulainn. “Undertake my protection against them then.”
‘“I recognise it,” said Conchobar.
‘Then he turned aside on3 the boys throughout the house.
‘“What ails you at them now?” said Conchobar.
‘“That I may be bound to protect them,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘“Undertake it,” said Conchobar.
‘“I recognise it,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘Then they all went into the play-field, and those boys who had been struck down there arose. Their foster-mothers and foster-fathers helped them.
‘Once,’ said Fergus, ‘when he was a youth, he used not to sleep in Emain Macha till morning.
‘“Tell me,” said Conchobar to him, “why you do not sleep?”
‘“I do not do it,” said Cú Chulainn, “unless it is equally high at my head and my feet.”
‘Then a stone pillar was put by Conchobar at his head, and another at his feet, and a bed was made for him separately between them.
‘Another time a certain man went to awaken him, and he struck him with his fist in his forehead, so that it took the front of his forehead on to the brain, and so that he overthrew the pillar with his arm.’
‘It is known,’ said Ailill, that it was the fist of a warrior and that it was the arm of a hero.’
‘From that time,’ said Fergus, ‘no one dared to awaken him till he awoke of himself.
‘Another time he was playing ball in the play-field east of Emain; he alone apart against the three fifties of boys; he used to defeat them in every game in this way always. The boys lay hold of him therewith, and he plied his fist upon them until fifty of them were killed. He took to flight then, till he was under the pillow of Conchobar’s bed. All the Ulstermen rise round him, and I rise, and Conchobar himself. Then he rose under the bed, and put the bed from him, with the thirty heroes who were on it, till it was in the middle of the house. The Ulstermen sit round him in the house. We arrange and make peace then,’ said Fergus,’ between the boys and him.
‘There was contention between Ulster and Eogan Mac Durtacht. The Ulstermen went to the battle. He was left asleep. The Ulstermen were defeated. Conchobar was left [on the field], and Cuscraid Mend Macha, and many more beside. Their lament awoke Cú Chulainn. He stretched himself then, so that the two stones that were about him broke; in the presence of Bricriu yonder it was done,’ said Fergus. ‘Then he arose. I met him in the door of the fort, and I wounded.
‘“Alas! God save you, friend Fergus,” said he, where is Conchobar?”
‘“I do not know,” said I.
‘Then he went forth. The night was dark. He made for the battlefield. He saw a man before him, with half his head on, and half of another man on his back.
‘“Help me, O Cú Chulainn,” said he; “I have been wounded and I have brought half of my brother on my back. Carry it for me a while.”
‘“I will not carry it,” said he.
‘Then he throws the burden to him; he throws it from him; they wrestle; Cú Chulainn was overthrown. I heard something, the Badb from the corpses: “Ill the stuff of a hero that is under the feet of a phantom.” Then Cú Chulainn rose against him, and strikes his head off with his playing-club, and begins to drive his ball before him across the Plain.
‘“Is my friend Conchobar in this battlefield?”
‘He answered him. He goes to him, till he sees him in the trench, and there was the earth round him on every side to hide him.
‘“Why have you come into the battlefield,” said Conchobar, “that you may swoon there?”
‘He lifts him out of the trench then; six of the strong men of Ulster with us would not have brought him out more bravely.
‘“Go before us to the house yonder,” said Conchobar; “if a roast pig came to me, I should live.”
‘“I will go and bring it,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘He goes then, and saw a man at a cooking-hearth in the middle of the wood; one of his two hands had his weapons in it, the other was cooking the pig.
‘The hideousness of the man was great; nevertheless he attacked him and took his head and his pig with him. Conchobar ate the pig then.
‘“Let us go to our house,” said Conchobar.
‘They met Cuscraid Mac Conchobair. There were sore wounds on him; Cú Chulainn took him on his back. The three of them went then to Emain Macha.
‘Another time the Ulstermen were in their weakness. There was not among us,’ said Fergus, weakness on women and boys, nor on any one who was outside the country of the Ulstermen, nor on Cú Chulainn and his father. And so no one dared to shed their blood; for the suffering springs on him who wounds them.4
‘Three times nine men came to us from the Isles of Faiche. They went over our back court when we were in our weakness. The women screamed in the court. The boys were in the play-field; they come at the cries. When the boys saw the dark, black men, they all take to flight except Cú Chulainn alone. He plies hand-stones and his playing-club on them. He kills nine of them, and they leave fifty wounds on him, and they go forth besides. A man who did these deeds when his five years were not full, it would be no wonder that he should have come to the edge of the boundary and that he should have cut off the heads of yonder four.’
‘We know him indeed, this boy,’ said Conall Cernach, ‘and we know him none the worse that he is a fosterling of ours. It was not long after the deed that Fergus has just related, when he did another deed. When Culann the smith served a feast to Conchobar, Culann said that it was not a multitude that should be brought to him, for the preparation which he had made was not from land or country, but from the fruit of his two hands and his pincers. Then Conchobar went, and fifty chariots with him, of those who were noblest and most eminent of the heroes. Now Conchobar visited then his play field. It was always his custom to visit and revisit them at going and coming, to seek a greeting of the boys. He saw then Cú Chulainn driving his ball against the three fifties of boys, and he gets the victory over them. When it was hole-driving that they did, he filled the hole with his balls and they could not ward him off. When they were all throwing into the hole, he warded them off alone, so that not a single ball would go in it. When it was wrestling they were doing, he overthrew the three fifties of boys by himself, and there did not meet round him a number that could overthrow him. When it was stripping that they did, he stripped them all so that they were quite naked, and they could not take from him even his brooch out of his cloak.
‘Conchobar thought this wonderful. He said: “Would he bring his deeds to completion, provided the age of manhood came to them?” Every one said: “He would bring them to completion.” Conchobar said to Cú Chulainn: “Come with me,” said he, “to the feast to which we are going, because you are a guest.”
‘“I have not had enough of play yet, O friend Conchobar,” said the boy; “I will come after you.”
‘When they had all come to the feast, Culann said to Conchobar: “Do you expect any one to follow you?” said he.
‘“No,” said Conchobar. He did not remember the appointment with his foster-son who was following him.
‘“I have a watch-dog,” said Culann; “there are three chains on him, and three men to each chain.5 Let him be let slip because of our cattle and stock, and let the court be shut.”
‘Then the boy comes. The dog attacks him. He went on with his play still: he threw his ball, and threw his club after it, so that it struck the ball. One stroke was not greater than another; and he threw his toy-spear after them, and he caught it before falling; and it did not hinder his play, though the dog was approaching him. Conchobar and his retinue — this, so that they could not move; they thought they would not find him alive when they came, even though the court were open. Now when the dog came to him, he threw away his ball and his club, and seized the dog with his two hands; that is, he put one of his hands to the apple of the dog’s throat; and he put the other at its back; he struck it against the pillar that was beside him, so that every limb sprang apart. (According to another, it was his ball that he threw into its mouth, and brought out its entrails through it.)
‘The Ulstermen went towards him, some over the wall, others over the doors of the court. They put him on Conchobar’s knee. A great clamour arose among them, that the king’s sister’s son should have been almost killed. Then Culann comes into the house.
‘“Welcome, boy, for the sake of your mother. Would that I had not prepared a feast! My life is a life lost, and my husbandry is a husbandry without, without my dog. He had kept honour and life for me,” said he, “the man of my household who has been taken from me, that is, my dog. He was defence and protection to our property and our cattle; he was the protection of every beast to us, both field and house.”
‘“It is not a great matter,” said the boy; “a whelp of the same litter shall be raised for you by me, and I will be a dog for the defence of your cattle and for your own defence now, until that dog grows, and until he is capable of action; and I will defend Mag Murthemne, so that there shall not be taken away from me cattle nor herd, unless I have ―.”
‘“Then your name shall be Cú Chulainn,” said Cathbad.
‘“I am content that it may be my name,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘A man who did this in his seventh year, it would be no wonder that he should have done a great deed now when his seventeen years are completed,’ said Conall Cernach.
‘He did another exploit,’ said Fiacha Mac Fir-Febe. ‘Cathbad the Druid was with his son, Conchobar Mac Nessa. A hundred active men were with him, learning magic from him. That is the number that Cathbad used to teach. A certain one of his pupils asked of him for what this day would be good. Cathbad said a warrior should take arms therein whose name should be over Ireland for ever, for deed of valour, and his fame should continue for ever. Cú Chulainn heard this. He comes to Conchobar to ask for arms. Conchobar said, “Who has instructed you?”
‘“My friend Cathbad,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘“We know indeed,” said Conchobar.
‘He gave him spear and shield. He brandished them in the middle of the house, so that nothing remained of the fifteen sets of armour that were in store in Conchobar’s household against the breaking of weapons or taking of arms by any one. Conchobar’s own armour was given to him. That withstood him, and he brandished it, and blessed the king whose armour it was, and said, “Blessing to the people and race to whom is king the man whose armour that is.”
‘Then Cathbad came to them, and said: “Has the boy taken arms?” said Cathbad.
‘“Yes,” said Conchobar.
‘“This is not lucky for the son of his mother,” said he.
‘“What, is it not you advised it?” said Conchobar.
‘“Not I, surely,” said Cathbad.
‘“What advantage to you to deceive me, wild boy?” said Conchobar to Cú Chulainn.
‘“O king of heroes, it is no trick,” said Cú Chulainn; “it is he who taught it to his pupils this morning; and I heard him, south of Emain, and I came to you then.”
‘“The day is good thus,” said Cathbad; “it is certain he will be famous and renowned, who shall take arms therein; but he will be short-lived only.”
‘“A wonder of might,” said Cú Chulainn; “provided I be famous, I am content though I were but one day in the world.”
‘Another day a certain man asked the druids what it is for which that day was good.
‘“Whoever shall go into a chariot therein,” said Cathbad, “his name shall be over Ireland for ever.”
‘Then Cú Chulainn heard this; he comes to Conchobar and said to him: “O friend Conchobar,” said he, “give me a chariot.” He gave him a chariot. He put his hand between the two poles6 of the chariot, so that the chariot broke. He broke twelve chariots in this way. Then Conchobar’s chariot was given to him. This withstood him. He goes then in the chariot, and Conchobar’s charioteer with him. The charioteer (Ibar was his name) turned the chariot under him. “Come out of the chariot now,” said the charioteer.
‘“The horses are fine, and I am fine, their little lad,” said Cú Chulainn. “Go forward round Emain only, and you shall have a reward for it.”
‘So the charioteer goes, and Cú Chulainn forced him then that he should go on the road to greet the boys and that the boys might bless me.”
‘He begged him to go on the way again. When they come, Cú Chulainn said to the charioteer: “Ply the goad on the horses,” said he.
‘“In what direction?” said the charioteer.
‘“As long as the road shall lead us,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘They come thence to Sliab Fuait, and find Conall Cernach there. It fell to Conall that day to guard the province; for every hero of Ulster was in Sliab Fuait in turn, to protect any one who should come with poetry, or to fight against a man; so that it should be there that there should be some one to encounter him, that no one should go to Emain unperceived.
‘“May that be for prosperity,” said Conall, “may it be for victory and triumph.”
‘“Go to the fort, O Conall, and leave me to watch here now,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘“It will be enough,” said Conall, “if it is to protect any one with poetry; if it is to fight against a man, it is early for you yet.”
‘“Perhaps it may not be necessary at all,” said Cú Chulainn. “Let us go meanwhile,” said Cú Chulainn, “to look upon the edge of Loch Echtra. Heroes are wont to abide there.”
‘“I am content,” said Conall.
‘Then they go thence. He throws a stone from his sling, so that a pole of Conall Cernach’s chariot breaks.
‘“Why have you thrown the stone, O boy?” said Conall.
‘“To try my hand and the straightness of my throw,” said Cú Chulainn; “and it is the custom with you Ulstermen, that you do not travel beyond your peril. Go back to Emain, O friend Conall, and leave me here to watch.”
‘“Content, then,” said Conall.
‘Conall Cernach did not go past the place after that. Then Cú Chulainn goes forth to Loch Echtra, and they found no one there before them. The charioteer said to Cú Chulainn that they should go to Emain, that they might be in time for the drinking there.
‘“No,” said Cú Chulainn. “What mountain is it yonder?” said Cú Chulainn.
‘“Sliab Monduirn,” said the charioteer.
‘“Let us go and get there,” said Cú Chulainn. They go then till they reach it. When they had reached the mountain, Cú Chulainn asked: “What is the white cairn yonder on the top of the mountain?”
‘“Find Carn,” said the charioteer.
‘“What plain is that over there?” said Cú Chulainn.
‘“Mag Breg,” said the charioteer. He tells him then the name of every chief fort between Temair and Cenandas. He tells him first their meadows and their fords, their famous places and their dwellings, their fortresses and their high hills. He shows7 him then the fort of the three sons of Nechta Scene; Foill, Fandall, and Tuachell were their names.
‘“Is it they who say,” said Cú Chulainn, “that there are not more of the Ulstermen alive than they have slain of them?”
‘“It is they indeed,” said the charioteer.
‘“Let us go till we reach them,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘“Indeed it is peril to us,” said the charioteer.
‘“Truly it is not to avoid it that we go,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘Then they go forth and unharness their horses at the meeting of the bog and the river, to the south above the fort of the others; and he threw the withe that was on the pillar as far as he could throw into the river and let it go with the stream, for this was a breach of geis to the sons of Nechta Scene. They perceive it then, and come to them. Cú Chulainn goes to sleep by the pillar after throwing the withe at the stream; and he said to the charioteer: “Do not waken me for few; but waken me for many.”
‘Now the charioteer was very frightened, and he made ready their chariot and pulled its coverings and skins which were over Cú Chulainn; for he dared not waken him, because Cú Chulainn told him at first that he should not waken him for a few.
‘Then come the sons of Nechta Scene.
‘“Who is it who is there?” said one of them.
‘“A little boy who has come today into the chariot for an expedition,” said the charioteer.
‘“May it not be for his happiness,” said the champion; “and may it not be for his prosperity, his first taking of arms. Let him not be in our land, and let the horses not graze there any more,” said the champion.
‘“Their reins are in my hands,” said the charioteer.
‘“It should not be yours to earn hatred,” said Ibar to the champion; “and the boy is asleep.”
‘“I am not a boy at all,” said Cú Chulainn; “but it is to seek battle with a man that the boy who is here has come.”
‘“That pleases me well,” said the champion.
‘“It will please you now in the ford yonder,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘“It befits you,” said the charioteer, “take heed of the man who comes against you. Foill is his name,” said he; “for unless you reach him in the first thrust, you will not reach him till evening.”
‘“I swear by the god by whom my people swear, he will not ply his skill on the Ulstermen again, if the broad spear of my friend Conchobar should reach him from my hand. It will be an outlaw’s hand to him.”
‘Then he cast the spear at him, so that his back broke. He took with him his accoutrements and his head.
‘“Take heed of another man,” said the charioteer, “Fandall8 is his name. Not more heavily does he traverse(?) the water than swan or swallow.”
‘“I swear that he will not ply that feat again on the Ulstermen,” said Cú Chulainn. “You have seen,” said he, “the way I travel the pool at Emain.”
‘They meet then in the ford. Cú Chulainn kills that man, and took his head and his arms.
‘“Take heed of another man who comes towards you,” said the charioteer. “Tuachell9 is his name. It is no misname for him, for he does not fall by arms at all.”
‘“Here is the javelin for him to confuse him, so that it may make a red-sieve of him,” said Cú Chulainn.
‘He cast the spear at him, so that it reached him in his —. Then he went to him and cut off his head. Cú Chulainn gave his head and his accoutrements to his own charioteer. He heard then the cry of their mother, Nechta Scene, behind them.
‘He puts their spoils and the three heads in his chariot with him, and said: “I will not leave my triumph,” said he, “till I reach Emain Macha.” Then they set out with his triumph.
‘Then Cú Chulainn said to the charioteer: “You promised us a good run,” said he, “and we need it now because of the strife and the pursuit that is behind us.” They go on to Sliab Fuait; and such was the speed of the run that they made over Breg after the spurring of the charioteer, that the horses of the chariot overtook the wind and the birds in flight, and that Cú Chulainn caught the throw that he sent from his sling before it reached the ground.
‘When they reached Sliab Fuait, they found a herd of wild deer there before them.
‘“What are those cattle yonder so active?” said Cú Chulainn.
‘“Wild deer,” said the charioteer.
‘“Which would the Ulstermen think best,” said Cú Chulainn, “to bring them dead or alive?”
‘“It is more wonderful alive,” said the charioteer; “it is not every one who can do it so. Dead, there is not one of them who cannot do it. You cannot do this, to carry off any of them alive,” said the charioteer.
‘“I can indeed,” said Cú Chulainn. “Ply the goad on the horses into the bog.”
‘The charioteer does this. The horses stick in the bog. Cú Chulainn sprang down and seized the deer that was nearest, and that was the finest of them. He lashed the horses through the bog, and overcame the deer at once, and bound it between the two poles of the chariot.
‘They saw something again before them, a flock of swans.
‘“Which would the Ulstermen think best,” said Cú Chulainn, “to have them dead or alive?”
‘“All the most vigorous and finest (?) bring them alive,” said the charioteer.
‘Then Cú Chulainn aims a small stone at the birds, so that he struck eight of the birds. He threw again a large stone, so that he struck twelve of them. All that was done by his return-stroke.
‘“Collect the birds for us,” said Cú Chulainn to his charioteer. “If it is I who go to take them,” said he, the wild deer will spring upon you.”
‘“It is not easy for me to go to them,” said the charioteer. “The horses have become wild so that I cannot go past them. I cannot go past the two iron tyres10 of the chariot, because of their sharpness; and I cannot go past the deer, for his horn has filled all the space between the two poles of the chariot.”
‘“Step from its horn,” said Cú Chulainn. “I swear by the god by whom the Ulstermen swear, the bending with which I will bend my head on him, and the eye that I will make at him, he will not turn his head on you, and he will not dare to move.”
‘That was done then. Cú Chulainn made fast the reins, and the charioteer collects the birds. Then Cú Chulainn bound the birds from the strings and thongs of the chariot; so that it was thus he went to Emain Macha: the wild deer behind his chariot, and the flock of swans flying over it, and the three heads in his chariot. Then they come to Emain.
‘“A man in a chariot is coming to you,” said the watchman in Emain Macha; “he will shed the blood of every man who is in the court, unless heed is taken, and unless naked women go to him.”
‘Then he turned the left side of his chariot towards Emain, and that was a geis11 to it; and Cú Chulainn said: “I swear by the god by whom the Ulstermen swear, unless a man is found to fight with me, I will shed the blood of every one who is in the fort.”
‘“Naked women to meet him!” said Conchobar.
‘Then the women of Emain go to meet him with Mugain, the wife of Conchobar Mac Nessa, and bare their breasts before him. “These are the warriors who will meet you today,” said Mugain.
‘He covers his face; then the heroes of Emain seize him and throw him into a vessel of cold water. That vessel bursts round him. The second vessel into which he was thrown boiled with bubbles as big as the fist therefrom. The third vessel into which he went, he warmed it so that its heat and its cold were rightly tempered. Then he comes out; and the queen, Mugain, puts a blue mantle on him, and a silver brooch therein, and a hooded tunic; and he sits at Conchobar’s knee, and that was his couch always after that. The man who did this in his seventh year,’ said Fiacha Mac Fir-Febe, ‘it were not wonderful though he should rout an overwhelming force, and though he should exhaust (?) an equal force, when his seventeen years are complete today.’
(What follows is a separate version12 to the death of Orlam.)
‘Let us go forth now,’ said Ailill.
Then they reached Mag Mucceda. Cú Chulainn cut an oak before them there, and wrote an ogam in its side. It is this that was therein: that no one should go past it till a warrior should leap it with one chariot. They pitch their tents there, and come to leap over it in their chariots. There fall thereat thirty horses, and thirty chariots are broken. Belach n-Ane, that is the name of that place for ever.
1 Fidchill, usually so translated, but the exact nature of the game is uncertain.
2 Conjectured from the later description of Cú Chulainn’s distortion.
3 i.e., to attack them.
4 Gloss incorporated in text: ‘or their decay, or their shortness of life.’
5 Gloss incorporated in text: ‘He was brought from Spain.’
6 The fertais were poles sticking out behind the chariot, as the account of the wild deer, later, shows.
7 Reading with YBL.
8 i.e. ‘Swallow.’
9 i.e. ‘Cunning.’
10 Interlinear gloss, fonnod. The fonnod was some part of the rim of the wheel apparently.
11 i.e. it was an insult.
12 The next episode, the Death of Fraech, is not given in LL.