The Celtic Literature Collective

Timna Chathaír Maír
The Testament of Cathair

This is the testament of Cathair to his descendants, to his ten sons aforesaid from all of whom there was offspring; and how he left land and chattels and something of his wealth to each son of them. He said to Rus Failgech, for he was the most dear to him of them, and to him he gave headship and supremacy’ over his children and endowment in chattels and wealth and in the goods of the Laigin:

‘My rank and my lordship 
my beauty and my fame 
my nobility and my endurance 
my cherished ancestral possessions 
my power and my protection 
to my chosen champion Rus, 
to my noble Failge of the red blade 
to my champion stout as oak
to my chariot fighter triumphant in battle 
to my lion for daring
to my headstrong brilliant lord. 
May he be head and king of the province,
this festive Rus Failgech!

May he be a protector of the derbfine!
May he be a triumph of fame, meet for praise (?) 
in increasing goodness (?) under heaven.

For he has the gift of generosity 
May he not hoard wealth 
who apportions good grants to everyone,
flower of the kindreds of the Gáiliain. 
Fair is the handsome diadem, 
my dutiful son, rich in offspring. 
He will extend his sway (?) over the Ui Thairsig 
victorious in battle on the frontier. 
He will stoutly conquer the plain of Tara. 
Let him not be a traitor to kinship! 
The fair-haired radiant ridge-pole, 
may he be the moon of the provinces, 
may he be the long summer sun,
may he be a fierce blazing fire, 
may he be a billowing fruitful sea, 
my famous soldier son!
May the virtue of my blessing be as great 
upon his illustrious and noble seed! 
Cathair, the torch of Ireland, 
his noble honoured father
has chosen8 him over his brothers. 
May my ordinance be held in honour!’

And he gave ten shields with bands of gold, ten swords, ten horns and ten gold rings to Rusa Failge, and he said to him: ‘Your children will be exalted among my descendants for ever.

2. And he said to Dáire Barrach son of Cathair:

‘My keen-edged weapons 
to this haughty, active Dáire 
to my brilliant mettlesome son 
to my famous firm generous one
a hero among heroes of tradition
a hero skilful with his shield (?).
Chief of the rulers of North Laigin, 
he will harry the lands of Desgabair. 
Do not accept money for protection. 
Thy daughters will be lucky in childbirth 
if they know their ancestry. 
Thy redfooted hounds will hunt 
south around death-dealing Gabhrán. 
High-headed horses will race 
in cool wide Ailbe.
Cathair, head of this province, 
gives thee his blessing, 
thou handsome young Dáire, 
so that thou mayest be generous to poets. 
Thou, son of famous Eithne,
so that thou mayest be a victorious warrior, 
my stripling over the Gáiliain!’

And he gave eight slaves, eight women, eight horses and eight horns to Dáire Barrach.

3. He said to Bresal Einechglas:

‘My sea with its full harvest 
to my sweetvoiced Bresal.
May each fierce warrior of thy numerous line 
be the steersman of a well-laden fleet! 
a spear against fierce men, 
men and women of thy fair kindred 
to love thy dutiful son
Many hounds and horses 
are thine, and well-watered land, 
beauty upon the women of thy race. 
The lords of thy fair country 
will poise socketed spears. 
Inber nAimirgin shall be thine 
after taking possession of the ancient heritage. 
From thee will arise there 
warriors who will subdue every lordship 
by violence of a daring hand. 
They will not hoard possessions, 
making mean, unfair contracts,
a band of well-formed men 
with Bresal mighty and furious. 
May he be a ruler of sword-land, 
a champion for planning the hunt (?), 
my victorious prince with goodly retinue
who will treat old friends handsomely. 
Cathair, head of this province, 
bestows these benefits
upon thee, blessed Bresal.
On account of thy father’s love for thee, 
he has sent thee from him to the sea.

And he gave to Bresal Einechglas six ships, six tunics trimmed with gold, six horses with bridles decorated in gold, and he gave him his own six oxen with all their trappings.

4. He said to Fergus Luasgán:
‘Fergus is an untrustworthy man, 
wayward like a child, 
(warlike mariner full of prowess, 
strong sage of husbandry), 
...the successful Gáliáin 
Luasgán fierce, gleaming, 
fit for poetical compositions,
thou shalt not be the venerable head of the province, 
thou shalt not be honoured like thy father. 
Strong kingship will not be transmitted 
from thy spiritless descendants.
I declare that a true male heir 
shall be raised from thee after a time.
Save for that much of thy good fortune, 
I, Cathair, lord of Ireland, thy own father, assert— 
to him (sic) it is clear from thy prating:
thou shalt not be a king with championship, 
thou shalt not be a lord with valour 
over thy male kindred.'

And he gave no bequest to Fergus.

5. He said to Ailill Céthech:

‘Mighty Oilill, a radiant form, 
among estates of ancient holdings,
the smiter, rich in children and in fame, 
a man with many descendant kindreds, 
from thee will be begotten brilliant ones,
men and women who will be powerful. 
A quiet prince while playing chess 
above ramparts and great plains; 
the (warlike) temper of a king over great battles
of the province of Labraid Loingsech. 
Hounds, ale, horses and teams,
women, well-bred fosterlings, 
a harvest of honey, wheat of the first reaping, 
mast for feeding goodly swine 
shall be in thy populous household, 
many women and pet animals, 
musicians for ale-feasts.
I am Cathair the triumphant. 
I am thy druid and thy father. 
It is plain from my pronouncements— 
it is not in drunkeness that I boast of thee—(?)
that thou shalt be a noble rock.’

He gave then his chess and his skill at chess to Ailill Céthech.

6. He said to Crimthann:

‘Crimthann, my game-loving hero, 
restrainer of childish angry ones, 
seek barren lands 
between lofty mounds. 
Thou shalt not be a branch of dried wood.
The children of Labraid Loingsech 
will be revered among famous companies. 
Of thee, Crimthann, shall be begotten 
The holy three, merciful and elect. 
Of thee warriors shall be begotten, 
O my son, fair, venerable and famous. 
They will be a rich and happy seed, 
thy fair children, without withering away,
thou strong and blessed Crimthann! 
Cathair, lord of this country,
prophesies and promises 
among the hosts of the mighty province 
hounds, horses, with women [and] youths.
May there be majesty in thy great houses, 
learning in the speech of judges, 
companies of women with jewelry. 
Save only that thou art not king of the province
naught shall be lacking to thy glories, 
my heroic Crimthann.’

And he gave six horns and six cloaks and six oxen with all their harness to Crimthann.

7. Then he said to Eochu Timine:

‘My stalwart Eochu Timine, 
he shall not hoard property in land (?)
he shall not raise strong men from the land. (?) 
May the great kindred not be arrogant! 
May he not be the onset of a bear. (?)
My imprecation (?) and my curse be upon him for ever
apart from his handsome brothers! 
Harsh is the deed in which he takes part, 
to outrage the dignity of a noble father, 
frolicking (?) in an exalted bed, 
grievous partnership in a mate.
Impure and ignoble
is the marriage-bed, 
father and unruly (?) son 
tumbling and wantoning 
with a fickle shameless woman, 
with keen and noisy ardour.
For it was not he who purchased her 
with bride-price and fore-purchase 
but his more cunning father, 
Cathair, the famous king of Cuala. 
...common churls
He was scorned and spurned,
among the company of his brothers. 
No one of his children equal in rank,
will be a king rich in herds
at the horse-festivals.’

And Cathair gave no bequest to his son, and he did not forbid his being with his brothers as a husbandman.

8. He said to Aengus Nic, son of Cathair,—and he gave him nothing:

‘Nic, I have no wealth in free land 
for the son of hapless (?) Muchna 
who shall have an unhappy wandering fate
among the groups of the derbfine, 
without contract, without inheritance, 
without a share over the handsome plain 
among the nine famous tribes (?) 
because of the great shame
of begetting children upon kinswomen.
I, Cathair the valiant, 
head of Ireland of the wide valleys,
slept in the same dwelling— 
I and honoured Eithne 
and a gentle fairhaired boy, 
one Monday night when drunk, 
so that we made a tryst in the dark, 
I and pregnant Eithne. 
Of our begetting it was no choice fruit,
a son who was not fit to live long, 
a disgrace that is worthy of death (?). 
It were a pity that he should have long life, 
For Nic will be no champion.’

9. And he said to Cétach, son of Cathair:
‘Cétach, head of this country,
splendid first-born who resembles his father, 
noble youth of a great kindred, 
king of russet Raigne,
... ) man-child of five households, 
warlike leader whose deeds are mighty, 
a shelter (?) for the people of his derbfine, 
a son who has not increased great progeny (?),
grandson of mighty Fedlimid, 
a prince who will not leave male offspring 
among men of his kindred (?).
Tara will not be thronged, 
peopled by his heroic children. 
The vigour and vow of his children 
does not unite a complete territory. 
Cathair, generous son of Fedlimid, 
prophet of true knowledge, 
prince to whom is clear over royal Tara 
the fate of his beloved sons, 
as my eloquence proclaims— 
his son will be in privations 
among tribes and families
without dwelling or patrimony 
until the doom of fires 
in which each hundred is consumed.’

10. Fiacha Baiced came to his father, and he was the youngest of his children, and he was asking his father for land. And Cathair said: ‘I have nothing for you, and I will give you my blessing since you have no land. And be in fosterage with your brothers until you have strength.’ But Fiacha wept then in the presence of his father. Cathair said then to Fiacha: ‘Do so, my son,’ said he, ‘and take my blessing. Abide a month with each of your brothers, and abide seven years with Rosa Failge, who first received my blessing. The reason why Cathair gave that instruction to Fiacha was that he might obtain the kingship by virtue of his blessing. Fiacha did everything that Cathair asked of him. And then Cathair said to Fiacha:

‘Honoured is the unique youngest son, 
Fiacha, a man in many hundreds, 
lucky offspring of ardent Berba! 
His brethren will serve him. 
He will seize pleasant Aillenn. 
He will hold famous Carman. 
He will rule venerable Almain. 
He will strengthen Naas with splendour.
Ladru the steersman with plenteous cargo (?)
splendid salmon over Airgetros, 
he will seize Maistiu of the kings. 
He will settle Feimin under justice. 
He shall travel around land-rich Echtge. 
He shall have a share in blood-red Cruachu. 
He shall make noble Ailech red with blood. 
Some time he shall march against Emain. 
He shall overthrow the princes of Tara. 
He shall augment the Fair of Tailtiu. 
He shall lead the Lagin on an expedition overseas. 
He shall seize Inber nEtair.
Stout spear-points shall be scattered 
against the kings of the splendid provinces 
by thy fair bright children of equal rank 
till their tombs be as many 
in mounds over the plains 
of the province of triumphant Cathair, 
as the sands of the grey sea. 
Success in speech and judgement, 
the kingship of Labraid Loingsech 
be thine, thou manly Fiacha! 
May the virtues of the blessing be as many 
for thy seed for ever, 
my honoured Fiacha! 
Thou hast come to thy inheritance 
prosperously and nobly!’

Fiacha Baiced abode with his brothers as Cathair bade him, and from that he was called Fiacha Baiced. And he was for seven years with Rosa Failge, and it was with Rosa that he first took arms, so that it is from someone of the kindred of Rosa Failge that each man of the descendants of Fiacha Baiced should take arms for the first time.

Cathair Mór was for three years in the kingship of Ireland, until he fell at Mag Aga at the hands of Conn Cétchathach and the Luaigne of Tara. The Luaigne of Tara were heroes of battle and warfare, for they had the office of military service for the king of Ireland for a long time until Find Mac Cumaill later destroyed them. And it was they who were smiters in battle for Conn Cétchathach as the poet said:

‘The Luaigne of Tara, race of kings, 
triumphant men, fierce warriors; 
it was they who won every battle 
for the prosperous king, for Conn.’

Lebor na Cert : The Book of Rights. ed. and trans. Myles Dillon. Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1962