The Celtic Literature Collective

Life of St. Cellach of Killala

A king that ruled over Connacht: Eoghan Bél, son of Cellach son of Olioll Molt son of Dathí son of Fiachra son of Eochaidh Moyvane:—Every province in Ireland he used to ravage, and would return victorious, bringing his prey with him; neither out of his own province was prey ever driven from him successfully, for it was in front of him the defeat was always. But when he might not (before it actually left his confines) overtake such prey attempted on him, then would he on that very day provisionally harry the self-same country into which his prey was lifted. Why, even the Munster- and the Leinstermen obeyed him and (their kine having now many times been driven forcibly) were fain to court his favour.

At all events, betwixt this Eoghan and the children of Niall a great feud fell out; till not these only but the whole two provinces stood opposed, province to province: Connacht and Ulster. Their conditions were unequal however, inasmuch as never had Eoghan Bél suffered loss of a battle, nor was salvage ever had of him; while of his preys taken and triumphs won of Conall, and of Eoghan, and of Oriel, the frequency was beyond counting; for so long as Eoghan Bél lived never a day’s peace was made with them, but every quarter of a year (aye, every month) he raided them and put them to the sword’s edge. Thus then the children of Niall deemed it a hard thing, and a grievous, in this wise ever to endure violence of Eoghan Bél and of Fiachra’s progeny; the remainder of Connacht too being all upon them. Ulster in general therefore, casting about what they should do, were resolved on muster and preparation for a foray in full numbers, and so fell upon the land of Connacht.

Two kings they were that at this time ruled them [Ulster]: Fergus and Donall, Muirchertach mac Erca’s two sons; on Connacht now these made great preys, and all before them to the Moy ravaged completely, utterly: at driving of which stealths they were a gathering five battles strong. Clan-Fachrach’s braves set out indeed to pursue, but never a cow was taken from the others nor a sword dulled on them until, at the bridge of Martra, Eoghan’s family and household overtaking them pressed them hard and sore in fight, and at sceickln na gaoithe Eoghan himself too caught. them up. He (seeing the so great host) to Fergus, to Donall, and to Ulster’s nobles despatched ambassadors (men of science and of art) who should bid them abandon the prey in its integrity and so depart in peace, or otherwise be challenged presently to battle. The envoys sought Fergus and Donall, to whom they delivered Eoghan’s mandate; but they, as having their prey in front of them and being therefore high in spirit and cheery to abide the fray, denied all restitution. Of clan-Neill and of Ulster there were there five battles, with them of Oriel added; one huge battle of clan-Fiachrach, and Connacht’s braves besides in their own separate companies, but all under Cellach’s son Eoghan Bél.

When Eoghan heard that which from clan-Neill his poets brought him back, he dismounted; for they told him that for this time war was his one alternative, nor should he ever [so said Ulster]—no, though he stood the battle—win back a single cow. Then Connacht armed and, sudden, swift, unsparing, charged upon clan-Neill. At sight of Eoghan’s standard and of the banners that so many a time had had their preys, Ulster turned: either side in hate quivering to reach the other, and between them there the battle of Sligo was delivered. It was won against the North of Ireland: their prey was captured from them, and innumerable slaughter of their people made; Fergus and Donall moreover perished there; Eoghan Bél too being hurt heavily, so that it was upon spears’ shafts he was borne away. For three days (as some say) he lived on, or (as yet others have it) for a week; to and from him the nobles went and came, their lamentation for him being very great the while.

Upon the king now, upon Eoghan Bél, the surgeons plied the hand; but in the end it was a thing assured that he must die, and the children of Fiachra sought counsel of him who he might be that in his room they should make chief. Eoghan Bél said: “your plight is strait; two sons I have: Cellach (disciple to Kieran of Cluain) and Muiredach the younger son that by his youth is not as yet fit for inauguration. My counsel to you is this therefore: repair to Cluain, to Kieran where he is, and him entreat with craving of his consent that Cellach be dismissed with you to be made chief, seeing that ye have none other that is fit. In which matter be careful to beseech him instantly.” This done, Eoghan prescribed the manner of his burial: in the open field in the borders of clan-Fiachrach, with his spear red in his hand and his face toward the North; “for,” said he, “so long as my grave shall confront them, I having also my face turned to them, against Connacht they shall not endure in battle.” Thus he was laid accordingly, and the rest which he prophesied was accomplished veritably: for wheresoever afterwards clan­Neill and Connacht chanced to meet, it was defeat that fell on them [the former] and on the North in general. Wherefore Niall’s children arid the North were determined thus: that with a great host they would come to ráth ua Fiachrach, lift Eoghan and carry him off northwards over Sligeack. So they did, and away there in the fiat land of loch Gill [lough Gill] he was buried with his mouth downwards. But as Eoghan Bél had instructed them to go, so too clan-Fiachrach went to Clonmacnoise and to the place where Kieran was in prayer; who when they were come to him bade them be welcome, and bestowed them in a cubicle. That night they were well provided, and to Kieran shewed their errand afterwards; but his disciple he denied them utterly. Nevertheless, and for all he thus refused their prayer, in Cluain they tarried yet a second night and until Cellach came to visit them. They conferred with him, and supplicated him that he would go with them; so that in the end he yielded to bear them company, and departed on the morrow nor of his spiritual master took farewell at all. The thing was told to Kieran: how that without counsel had of him his disciple thus was stolen away. Kieran said: “if he be gone indeed, then may the choice that he hath made not thrive with him, but with that he undertakes let him have malison: so may it be that, at the last, pernicious grief come at him, and ‘death by point’ be that which shall displace him. I, acting for my Lord that is Heaven’s King and Earth’s, bequeath moreover that for all time such death by point be that which, beyond every help and without fail, shall take him whosoe’er he be that thus deserts his student-life.”

As for Cellach: him Fiachrach’s children led away, and conferred on him clan-Fiachrach’s chiefry from the Rodhba to the Codnach. For a while he held it, but when he heard that his preceptor cursed him the life misliked him. At which same time Colman’s son quaire was so that throughout Ireland his fame and honour now excelled: clan-Fiachrach of Aidhne being by way of territory all his own. Thus, and without delay, things (in respect of land tenure) went ill between the pair, in whom anon it was notorious that either hated other. Yet even so they trysted, and set a meeting at which they made peace; but of Guaire’s part guile entered into this their pacification, and towards Cellach he acted traitrously: killing there all so many as he might lay hold on of his people, Cellach with thrice nine of his following escaping forth out of the camp privily.

Now was he for a full year ‘under wood’ [i.e. a fugitive and outlaw in the forest], weariness filling him and remorse that ever he forsook his student-life, as well as for much good that Kieran had done for him. Continually he rebuked himself, so grieved he was for that which it was befallen him to do. “Woe is me (he cried) into whose head it entered ever for grossness of this wretched fleeting world to quit my learning and my master!" then he said

“Alas for him that for any of the vile rude World’s estates forsakes the clerkly life—woe to him that for a transient world’s royalty gives up a faithful God’s great love! Alas for him that in this life takes arms, unless that for the same he shall do penance; better for one are the white-paged books with which canonical psalmody is chanted. Grand as may be the art of arms, ‘tis yet of slender profit and fraught with heavy toil; of it one shall have but a most brief life, which in the end must be exchanged for Hell. But of all callings stealth is the worst: sneaking, perjured, nimble thieving; he that commits it, though at one time he have been ne’er so good, thenceforward is but as a wicked one. Of all which evil things a large portion is fallen to Cellach son of Eoghan now: from table to table as he wanders with a gang of villains, let him beware of death. Alas for him who to have black murk servitude of Hell abandons Heaven, blest abode of saints; O Christ, O Ruler of Battles, woe to him that deserts his mighty Lord!"

This great fit of penitence having taken Cellach, the plan upon which he hit was that the nine his companions in the late war with Guaire should seek out Kieran of Cluain his tutor; he himself being shy of trusting to Kieran, by reason that previously he had disobeyed him. Outside of Cluain he waited therefore, and until there he met with certain of his whilom condisciples and fellow clerics. They bade him welcome and kissed him; into the town he entered with them and, all unknown to Kieran, that night abode there. Along with him on the morrow the heads of the community went to the place where Kieran was, to supplicate for peace and mercy; and to his master there he bent the knee. Then, though his first displeasure had been so great, Kieran repenting him of the curse which he had laid on Cellach vouchsafed him peace: “my son (he said), if I might do it, thy curse I would revoke; which since I may not, God never be for that less favourable to thee, nor for my utterance of such be thy place in Heaven cut off.”

The Holy Spirit’s grace, and love of the Trinity, entered into Cellach then’; and he enjoined his people to go back to the spot in which Muiredach his brother was (and where the youth chanced to be at the time was in the king of Luighne’s house): “be with him,” Cellach said, “and cleave to him continually.” As Cellach prescribed to them, so they went their way and became thence­forth people of Muiredach’s.

As for Cellach, zealously he bent his head to study, pursuing it strenuously, with circumspection; and for each degree of increment in his learning, thrice, so much his almsgiving, his charity, and all other his good works progressed. Fame of his piety overspread Ireland, men loved him with an universal love and, Cellach in all things acting according to his preceptor’s word, Kieran was well pleased with him. Priest’s orders were conferred upon him now, in which long time he rested; but then came the clergy of his tribe and elected him to a bishopric: episcopal orders were laid on him, and for a bishop’s see he had Killala. This greater bishopric of his henceforth he administered indeed, but for the most part was in Clonmacnoise rather than in his diocese. In all Ireland was none of more renown for honour, for piety, for clerkly bearing; none whom the erudite cherished more dearly, and all denominations of them adhered to him.

He once upon a time, on episcopal visitation bound, with a great company of clerics mounted came to Kilmore of the Moy, and where Guaire son of Colman chanced to be that day was in Dúrlas Guaire, his confidentials (many in number) with him. In his immediate fellowship were his own son Nar mac Guaire too, and Ferchoga’s son Nemedh, an uncontaminated [i.e. utterly devoted] fosterling to Guaire, to whom this man Nemedh said: “in guise unfriendly, and ill-disposed of mien, Cellach the bishop hath given us the go-by.” Guaire made answer: “it matters not; I will send after him messengers to bid him come speak with me,” and so despatched to Cellach a man of the confidentials (the precise time then being noon of a Saturday). To the bishop the envoy said: “in that ye passed him by [a while ago] Guaire is but ill pleased with thee; yet come even now and speak with him.” “I will not go,” Cellach returned: “‘tis vesper-time, and no transgression of the Lord’s-day do I; but here to-morrow I will say my hours and will give Mass, the which (if it so please him) let him come to hear, and afterwards confer with me; he has no long way to come. But, should he not care to do this, then will I (he again consenting) on Monday go to him.”

Back again to Guaire the messenger departed, and repeated to him all Guaire’s utterance; in addition he set forth that Cellach had refused [peremptorily] to come with him, and accused him that to Guaire he bore no love at all. By reason of this, great anger entered into Guaire and he said to his emissaries: “return to Cellach; warn him that this night he quit the country; if he go not, then shall the church in which he is be burnt upon him: it and his people all.” The same messenger then, having again sought Cellach, disclosed Guaire’s message fully. “God betwixt me and the unrighteous,” he replied, and up to Monday’s morning never left the spot. Out of it he departed then and came into the borders of loch Con, where he spent the night; next he gained the loch which men to-day call Claenloch, and gazed upon it until forth before him in the loch he saw an island (oilén Etgair is its name) over which it was revealed to him that much angelic ministration was performed. He drawing near enquired whether there [in the island] were any benediction of some saint; but they [of the country] said that never had saint conferred a blessing on it. Then Cellach said: “even so; here it is that ‘tis ordained for me to be a hermit.” His people jeering at him and, again, dissuading him from all project of abiding in the island, he rejoined: “that I must stay here is decreed; but take ye your departure, for in my bishopric your [own appointed] places are many [and are various].”

Loath as they were they did so and, saving four clerics in his company, left Cellach all alone; which four were Maelcróin, Maeldálua, Maelsenaigh, and Macdeoraidh: Cellach’s condisciples once. From Shrovetide until Easter they continued in performance of their office, serving God zealously; through Ireland the noise went forth that holy bishop Cellach (his bishopric abandoned) lived a hermit’s life; then Easter-time came round and his brother Eoghan Bél’s son Muiredach visited him often, nor, but by his counsel, did anything at all. All which when Guaire heard, rage possessed him and enmity to Cellach; so that, ill as things stood between them previously, now they were worse by far; fot he feared that Muiredach (through prompting of his brother Cellach, as well as for his own inherent qualities, and cognisance of being himself apt matter of a chief) would grasp at the main power. Over and above which, his son Nar, and Nemedh son of Ferchoga, daily and nightly plying Guaire with forged and wicked tales of him, harped on it to Guaire that he must slay holy bishop Cellach. A treason they contrived between them then, which was: to bid Cellach come visit them, and to have poison all ready made against him; for hateful as he was to Guaire, yet would the king not that in his very presence weapons were used upon him. So they did: with intent on Cellach they prepared poison, then to the island where he was in his loch sent messengers with charge that, Cellach refusing, they should invite his coridisciples to repair to Guaire in order that hither and thither betwixt the two they might do friendly message-bearers’ office. In his isle these envoys lighted upon Cellach (who just then read his hours) and saluted him. He greeted them, and they told him that from Guaire they came to fetch him, both to a great feast which the king had for him, and to speak with him. “No more will I go thither,” Cellach said, “nor for sake of the perishable poor world’s feast or favour neglect mine offices.” “Never do their bidding,” the condisciples cried, “and in Guaire it is but fondness to imagine that by things such as these thou mayest be drawn to love him.” The envoys said: “suffer then that thy condisciples come with us; so shall Guaire be well pleased with thee, and whatsoever privy errand he shall have to send thee they will convey.” Cellach said: “I will not hinder them, nor yet constrain them to it;" and when Maelcróin with the others heard him, all four together accompanied the envoys in their return to Guaire, where he was in Dúrlas. He gave them welcome and rejoiced to see them come; with meat and drink they were provided sedulously.

Then a banquetting-house apart was set in order for them, and thither for their use the fort’s best liquor was conveyed. On Guaire’s either side were set two of them and, with an eye to win them that they should quit Cellach, great gifts were promised them: all the country of Tirawley; four spinster women such as themselves should choose out of the province, with these their wives sufficient complement of horses and of kine (such gifts to be by covenant secured to them); and of arms a present adequate equipment to be furnished to each one. That night they bode there, and at the morning’s meal with one accord consented to kill Cellach. Thence they departed to loch Con; where they had left the boat there they found it, and then pulling off reached Cellach. He was thus: his psalter spread before him as he said the psalms; he never spoke to them; he made an end of psalmody and, looking on them, marked their eyes unsteady in their heads and clouded with the hue of parricide.

“Young men,” said Cellach, “ye have an evil aspect; since ye went from me your natures ye have changed, and I perceive in you that for king Guaire’s sake ye are agreed to murder me.” Never a tittle they denied, and he went on: “an ill design it is; but follow now no longer your own detriment, and from me shall be had gifts which far beyond all Guaire’s promises shall profit you.” They rejoined: “by no means, Cellach, will we do as thou wouldst have us, seeing that, if we acted so, not in all Ireland might we harbour anywhere;" and even as they spoke, into Cellach they plunged their spears in unison; yet he made shift to thrust his psalter in between him and his frock. They stowed him in the boat amidships, two of themselves in the bow, and so gained a landing-place; thence they carried him into the great forest and into the dark recesses of the wood. Cellach said: “this that ye would accomplish I esteem to be a wicked work indeed, [the which would ye even now renounce] in Clonmacnoise ye might shelter safe for ever; or should it please you to resort rather to Bláthmac and to Dermot (sons to Aedh Sláine) now ruling Ireland [with them ye would be secure];" then he indited:--

“O ye young men that terrify me, to Heaven’s high King pride is abominable; distorted as your eyes are, the secret of your hearts is more perverted still. As against me ye have consented—cruel resolve foreboding viol~ce; the shame of it shall long endure to you, and parricide bring you repentance yet. Ye being they that kill me [visibly] are not, as I believe, my veritable slayers; but Kieran’s curse, my tutor’s [strikes me]—a burn is hottest in the after-pain. The curse is very bad for me, yet seek I not to shun my butchering; but to you it shall be a plague and a consternation that on me ye ever plied the bloody hand. A certain One I have upon my side, the like of whom existeth not: with Christ my cause is bound up closely, the angels’ Heaven shall be my dwelling-place. Treason it was when ye were determined to fall on me unrighteously; but death by point shall in the end work your destruc­tion and, O ye young men, Hell awaits you!”

“Farther to advise us in the matter is but idle,” they retorted; “we will not do it [i.e. thy bidding] for thee.” “Well then,” he pleaded, “this one night’s respite grant me for God’s sake.” “Loath though we be to concede it, we will yield thee that,” they said; then raised the swords which in their clothes they carried hidden, and at the sight of them a mighty fear took Cellach. They ransacked the wood until they found a hollow oak having one narrow entrance, and to this Cellach was committed, they sitting at the hole to watch him till the morning. They were so to the hour of night’s waning end, when drowsy longing came to them and deep sleep fell on them there. Cellach, in trouble for his violent death, slept not at all; at which time it was in his power to have fled (had it so pleased him), but in his heart he said that it were misbelief in him to moot evasion of the living God’s designs. Moreover he reflected that even were he so to flee they must overtake him, he being after Lent [just passed] but poor and feeble. Morning shone on them now, and he (for fear to see it and in terror of his death) shut to the door; yet he said: “to shirk God’s judgment is in me a lack of faith, Kieran my tutor having promised me that I must meet this end;" and as he spoke he flung open the tree’s door. The raven called then, and the scallcrow, the wren, and all the other birds; the kite of cluain-eo’s yew-tree came, and the ‘red hound’ [wolf] of druim mic Dair (yclept the brécaire i.e. ‘the deceiver’) whose lair was by the island’s landing-place. “My dream of Wednesday’s night last past was true,” says Cellach: “that four ‘wild dogs’ rent me, and dragged me through the brackens; that down a precipice I fell then, nor evermore came up ;“ and he pronounced this lay:--

“Hail to the Morning fair that as a flame falls on the ground—hail to Him too that sends her—the Morning many-virtued ever new! O Morning fair so full of pride—O sister of the brilliant Sun—hail to thee, beauteous Morning, that lightest my little book for met Thou seest the guest in every dwelling—shinest on every tribe ahd kin—hail O thou white-necked, beautiful, here with us now—O golden-fair and wonderful! My little book with chequered page tells me my life hath not been right; Maelcróin—’tis he whom I do well to fear: he it is that comes to smite me at the last. O scallcrow and O scallcrow, grey-coated, sharp-beaked, paltry fowl! the intent of thy desire is apparent to me, no friend art thou to Cellach. O raven, thou that makest croaking! if hungry thou be now, O bird! from this same rath depart not until thou have a surfeit of my flesh. Fiercely the kite of cluain-eo’s yew-tree will take part in the scramble; his horn-hued talons full he’ll carry off, he will not part from me in kindness. To the blow [that fells me] the fox that’s in the darkling wood will make response at speed; he too in cold and trackless confines shall devour a portion of my flesh and blood. The wolf that’s in the rath upon the eastern side of druirn mic Dair: he on a passing visit comes to me, that he may rank as chieftain of the meaner pack. On Wednesday’s night last past I saw a dream: as one the wild dogs dragged me eastwards and westwards through the russet ferns. I saw a dream: that into a green glen men took me; four they were that bore me thither, but (so meseemed) ne’er brought me back again. I saw a dream: that to their house my condisciples led me; for me then they poured out a drink, a draught too they quaffed off to me. O tiny wren most scant of tail! dolefully thou hast piped prophetic lay; surely thou art come to betray me, and to curtail my gift of life. Wherefore should Macdeoraidh, dealing treasonably, seek to burt me? a monstrous act: for brothers two my father and Macdeoraidh’s father were. Why should Maeldálua go about to injure me, he that of a truth bath shewn me treachery? for sisters twain my mother and Maeldálua’s mother were. Why should Maelsenaig lust to harm me, he that in the con­spiracy bath used me guilefully? for well I wot that he is a pure man’s son—Maelibair’s son Maelsenaig. O Maelcróin and O Maelcróin, thou art resolved on a deed that is iniquitous! for ten hundred golden ingots Eoghan’s son had ne’er consented to thy death. O Maelcrdin and O Maelcróin, pelf it is that thou hast taken to betray me! for this World’s sake thou hast accepted it, accepted it for sake of Hell. All precious things that ever I had—all sleek-coated young horses—on Maelcrdin I would have bestowed them that he should not do me this treason. But Mary’s great Son up above me thus addresses speech to me: ‘thou must have earth, thou shalt have Heaven; welcome awaits thee, Cellach.'”

By them now Cellach was lifted out of the tree, and first of all Macdeoraidh struck him; afterwards Maeldálua, Maelsenaigh and Maelcrádin [in order] struck him; and in such fashion there they did to death the holy bishop, Eoghan Bél’s son Cellach; then after their master, their lord, their sacred kinsman murdered, went their ways to Guaire, who (for all their deed was heinous) met them right joyously. To him [Cellach] the ravens, and the scallcrows, and the forest’s several preying things flocked together (as he himself had presaged for them), and of his flesh and blood consumed somewhat; but every preying creature whatsoever that - much or little ate of him died on the spot.

Touching holy bishop Cellach’s brother Muiredach, son of Eoghan Bél: that same day he came looking for his brother, even as many a time before he came for speech with him and to have counsel of him, seeing that but by Cellach’s precept (his precept namely that was his teacher, his brother and his spiritual father all in one) he did nought. When therefore he came as he used ever to the island’s ferryport, yonder in the island he heard nor speech nor chant of Cellach. The boat indeed they [he and his] got at the port, but the isle when they were come into it they found all void: Cellach not there at all. In haste they returned, and so soon as Muiredach [by questions] heard that the young clerks had been to Guaire’s house, he knew that there Cellach had been pointed out to them to slay. The way that he I took now was by the spot where the Congheilt dwelt, between loch Cuilinn and loch Con. To guard which Congheilt a raging beast opposed them, presently and before his face killing nine of his people. Eochaidh’s son Conall, his condisciple, chid him for this, and said that a king’s son enduring thus to view his people slaughtered by the beast could be but recreant. In quest of the monster Muiredach went forth then and dived into the loch, but the first time found her not; a second time he went, and at the third hit her track, and up out of the loch followed her till he came on her where she slept gorged. Through her and into the earth he thrust his sword; she with the weapon stuck in her [fled and] sprang into the loch. Muiredach followed by the track and fought with her; in which fight he was hurt grievously, but in the end killed the beast, took her head, and to Conall his condisciple with his folk in general carried it ashore. Conall said: “a gallant fight is that thou’st fought, my son: to slay the Congheilt’s monster; whence also thy name shall be ‘Cuchongeilt”’ (and so the practice grew of calling him Cuchon­geilt).

Away they came, and through the wild wood followed on a track of five: followed zealously, until they found the clubs where those had left them. “Even so,” said Muiredach: “for a token to slay Cellach these clubs were brought from Guaire. Let them lie, and follow we the traces of the band.” Again they went upon the trail, and so found the tree with Cellach’s body there: part eaten by the creatures. The gruesome deed lay heavy upon Muiredach, and he said:--

“Dear was he whose body this is: to mine own death his death I liken; the corpse of Eoghan Bél’s son Cellach I see drenched in its own blood. Sister for me is none, alas! in Ireland’s nor in Scotland’s land; my father is dead, dead my mother, now God hath left me brotherless. If it be not with pure Gelghéis, or else with Conall, Eocbaidh’s son, I know not whether with any now kindness there be or yet dear love for me. O loch Claen, and O loch Claen, henceforth thou prosperest no more! for not from slaughter savedst thou that which now is but the corpse of Eoghan’s son Cellach. Thy bands of kerne thou, Cellach, didst renounce to follow psalmody with light; valour’s deeds thou gayest up for books full of all purity. The feasting-house thou didst desert for frequentation of the altar; tributes thou didst forego, O man! in Jesus the Beloved didst place thy love. In vengeance of high Eoghan’s son, ivlacdeoraidh is as good as slain by me; lapped in his own blood shall Macdeoraidh lie, that butchered thus dear Eoghan’s son. His pious clerkly life was good in his beautiful yew-shaded church; dear was his head of hair so fair, dear is his corpse and well-beloved. In vengeance of the white-skinned Cellach, Maeldálua is as good as fallen by my hand; in this foul treason if Maelsenaigh had a part, he too is fallen. As for Maelcróin—rare as the gold is, I would give it to have the ruthless slaying of him.”

This done they lifted Cellach’s body to Dromore, that is called Turlach now; but for Guaire’s fear [that was on them) they of the Turlach would not suffer that it should be laid with them. They came to Liscallan; but the familia of Killcallan, as dreading Guaire, endured not to have him laid with them. Cuchongeilt being vexed at this said that he would be avenged on them for their denial; nor were they gone far from the church when they beheld the same ablaze with fire (fire fallen from heaven) that flamed on high, and in combustion because they yielded not to take in Cellach’s body. Since which time there is not any human inhabiting of the spot.

They being yet there saw towards them two wild deer with a wain, which with great effort they drew between them till they came akreast of the body. Amid that company the stags laid their bier upon the ground, and to all of them that which they saw enacted thus seemed passing strange; but at the miracle which for holy Cellach’s sake was wrought by God they were rejoiced exceedingly. On the bier which the two stags had borne they laid the corpse, then moved it on until they gained the Eskers in the west; there they perceived a church with a cell contiguous, at which cell’s door the deer laid the body from them and the church-bells pealed of themselves. The clergy, being come forth and standing over the body, enquired whose it might be; and when they learned it, for his soul’s rest they sang the psalms with zeal. A bevy of angels likewise, coming down from Heaven, did honour to his soul and to his place of sepulture on earth. Farther: the same deer came daily and, like the oxen, ploughed. Their ploughing done, at noon then they frequented Cellach’s tomb to lick it. Now came Cuchongeilt and, standing at his brother’s grave, said:--

“After my brother that cherished me, sorrowing and wretched I stand here; from the day in which Eoghan’s son ceased to live, no more I seek his dwelling-place. To him that shewed this treason shall be evil, and his high abode be but a desert after him; he that in the eastward butchered thee, upon the Devil’s black flagstones he shall lie. Woe to him that reposes trust in them to go into their house, or that confides in the children of Cobthach’s son Colman; the deed procured by Guaire shall subject him to woe of misery eternal.”

Out of every airt in Connacht they that had loved Cellach and had been friends to him gathered themselves to Cuchongeilt now, so that in one spot they were in number three hundred armed men together. He, seeing that against Guaire he might not as yet find favourable path of war, was resolved that he would go to Marcan king of Hy-Many and of Medraighe; from whom accordingly he had [guarantee of] protection against all Ireland. Cuchongeilt struck his hand in his, and for twelve months Marcan billeted his people; Cuchongeilt himself for that space of time being in Marcan’s house, and with great honour shewn him. But now, the year run out, Marcan said to him:

“to-morrow, Cuchongeilt, depart; yet is not churlishness the cause that this is said to thee, but that on Guaire we may not presume so far as to retain thee longer by us ;“ and Marcan uttered

“Thy visit to my house, Cuchongeilt son of Eoghan, hath been good; O yellow-haired Eoghan’s son, thine increase swelleth as a flood! At morning’s prime to-morrow go on thy way bravely, and for a year abide with them—with Aedh Sláine’s noble sons. Prosperous be the path thou takest, O

son of Eoghan, generous one! from Marcan’s house propitious progress have thou, so shall thy journey’s end be good.”

Eastward over Shannon they held their course: three hundred men all told; and op to Tara where Dermot was, and Bláthmac, Aedh Sláine’s sons, and they found welcome. Cuchongeilt’s folk were quartered abroad over the tuatha of Bregia; while he and a part of his confidentials were of Bláthmac’s own companionship, and high in honour. Now Bláthmac had a haughty spinster daughter (Aife by name) betwixt whom and Cuchongeilt a wooing-match began: either to other gave a mighty love, and they were very few that at the time had any inkling of the courtship. But Cuchongeilt chancing of a day to play chess [with Bláthmac] and the game going hard against him, the daughter came and, standing over her father, to his disadvantage prompted the other to a move. Bláthmac scanning her keenly said: “thou art zealous to prompt against me, daughter, and the game hast taken from me; truly between thee and Cuchongeilt there is friendship.” She made answer: “nor seek I to conceal it.” “Wherefore then, seeing thou acknowledgest the thing, sought ye not my license I”’ Cuchongeilt said: “as yet we have done no wrong, nor, but by thy leave, will act at all.” “That being so I will not come betwixt you and your love, but (many as be they that seek her) will give her to thee: I hold thee to be a son-in-law sufficient for me.” The wedding-feast was held that night; they slept together, and between them for a space all was well; until one night, Aife and Cuchongeilt discoursing gently, she said to him: “brave though thy bodily presence be, and thy renown, yet that thy valour is so poor, thy hardihood so puny, is a great defect in thee.” “Whence hast thou that?" he asked. “From thy negligence to exact vengeance of them that slew thy brother.” “Thy speech is good, young woman,” he rejoined, and then conceived shame for that which his wife had uttered to him. Cuchongeilt being early risen on the morrow sent to his people a privy message; out of all quarters they flocked in to him and, he surrounded by them thus, they marched out of the town. With the design to stay him, Bláthmac and all the gentles of the fort were there; yet would not Cuchongeilt even to do him pleasure halt. In Aife this bred woful grief, and on all men she enjoined that they should hinder him of setting forth: “for if Connacht’s women see him they will love him, and never shall I see him more.” Then, when she might not restrain him, her heart was heavy to her and she indited

“Matter of grief is that which I spoke: I have reproached a crimeless man; ‘tis not God’s Son [but mine own petulance] that hath sent Eoghan’s son to roam. Straightway then sorrow filled me, my strength no more shall know increase; rather than abide in Bregia I would depart to follow after Cuchongeilt. The man of challenges—prize-taker in all conventions—I fear for him; [fear] that, even’though by a circuit he reach his country, to Guaire’s snares he must be obnoxious still. Pleasure I will no more practise—sorrow [henceforth] hath all my heart; to me my death undoubtedly is nearer than to another is [mere] debility of sickness. Alas that ever he came to Tara: he that to maidens is gentle and benign; and readily as he sets out now for Guaire’s country, the time will come when he shall know repentance.

Touching Cuchongeilt and his: westwards they travelled athwart the tuatka of Bregia and of Meath, over Shannon, through Connacht, and so into Tirawley: his very own and proper lands, where straightway their plight was one of hardship; for their numbers were such that they might not shift to hide themselves, and no meat at hand. Cuchongeilt headed for a house known to him of yore in glenn mac ú-Arann in the west, into which house that night they fitted all; and in it Cuchongeilt left them while he went out alone to scour the country. He was not gone far when there he saw a mighty herd of swine, and considered them until he spied a lusty and a weighty hog; then propelled a javelin into him, and so killed him. Now came the swineherd running to him, and enquired: “man, wherefore hast thou killed the swine that was not thine?" “A longing to slay him that came over me, for I hunger,” Cuchongeilt answered; but the swineherd said: “the deed that thou hast done will breed thee penitence yet.” “Step now this way awhile and let us speak together,” said Cuchongeilt, whom the young man for his part sought to shun, but could not compass it. He being then in Cuchongeilt’s power, this latter questioned him: “whose are these swine? is he of this country that owns them?" The swine­herd answered: “if thou be indeed of Connacht’s province, strange it seems to me thou knowest not the four whose is this land: Maelcráin, Maeldálua, Maelsenaigh and Macdeoraidh condisciples four to Cellach son of Eoghan Bél; for all in general have heard how by him this country was made over to them.”

“Thy words are true,” Cuchongeilt said; but he, the swineherd, stood and with scrutiny examined him. “Why starest thou at me so?" “If I be right, and long as it is since last I looked on thee, thou art Eoghan Bél’s son Cuchongeilt.” “The recognition is a sure one,” assented Cuchongeilt, round about whose neck the young man clasped his arms and kissed him thrice; then asked: “and know’st thou me?" “Not as yet.” “I am that little boy whom thou wert wont to see with thine own brother Cellach; and God I thank that to me first of all men in this country he hath guided thee. But hast thou a company? hast thou people?” “I have so; in quest of flesh for whom I am come hither.” “What is their number?" “Three hundred that as one man are skilled in arms, and valiant.” “And for whom a hog is all too little,” said the herd: “but lead them to me hither, that of the swine they may e’en take a night’s sufficiency for all. Henceforth I am of thy part, and am he that for the time to come will guide thee in this land, and will deliver it into thy hand, and instruct thee how thou shalt reach the four that slew Cellach thy brother; for they are in Du’n fidhne where newly they have made a fort with four doors to it, a door for every man of them: Maeldálua, Maelsenaigh, Maelcráin, and Macdeoraidh; whom up to this day their Irachts have opposed. For this their fort’s inauguration then I will convey to them the swine, and take likewise a store of rushes; none the less kill of the porkers so many as shall seem sufficient.” Cuchongeilt answered: “I will go with thee; and thy load of rushes, ‘tis I will carry it.” “I am well pleased,” said the herd.

Away they went then, but previously Cuchongeilt bade his people (their meal well finished) follow after him; first they must let the night grow dark upon them, and then (but by lone and tangled paths) on to Dún fidhne. The swineherd with his hogs made for the dún, Cuchongeilt being his companion: with his rush-load on his back, his weapons girt about him and well hidden in his clothes. To such as questioned him: “who’s that under the load?" the herd would answer: “‘tis a fellow-herd of mine.” Day being ended now, Cuchongeilt’s people [marched, and in time] attained the fort’s vicinity, where as yet none of the swine were slaughtered. Inside the company carousing were in highest glee; and for himself and for his people each man of the four that occupied the fort had an especial door. Cuchongeilt (having about him raiment of the swineherd and accompanied by him) entered into the dún, and on the floor cast down his bundle; then in the midst of the building and among the ministers of the feast they sate them down. Into Cuchongeilt’s hand the swineherd thrust a golden drinking-horn; he drank a draught out of it, and then throughout the dwelling studied his foes curiously. He said to the swineherd: “forth of this house I issue not to-night; but depart thou and fetch our people, bring them, for these all are foolish now and merely drunken.” Even as Cuchongeilt charged him, so the herd went away; and back to the fort led the others, who as they came up were never marked at all till at the four doors at once they stormed into the fort. On the spot were taken the four that once slew Cellach son of Eoghan: Maelcráin, Maeldálua, Maelsenaigh, and Macdeoraidh, round about whom their confldentials all were slain; but to the general it was proclaimed that they should continue in their several carousing seats, seeing that all were friends to Cuchongeilt. Up and down among them he and his people sate after their enemies destroyed, and until morning drank and made merry with them. At early morn they rose from the banquet, and westwards through the country carried off the four in bonds: past (but not very far past) lec turscair, with their right hand to the sea-resounding Moy. Thither four posts, long and thick, were brought to them; the four were laid on these and, they being yet alive, their limbs lopped from them. The trunks were hung up then, and they so choked to death; whence ard na raghi is ever since the designation of that place: as one said “Opportune are these executions, O Cuchongeilt son of Eogan! of Maeldálua, of Maelcróin, of Maelsenaigh, and of Macdeoraidh. Death violent and mutilating and untimely, and the hanging up then of their carcases—my God ‘tis blithe to speak of it, for torment was their rightful due. Long shall their shame endure to them, aye, until advent of stroke-dealing Doom; their souls are with the Devil, and to strangle them was opportune.”

The four being hanged by them thus, Cuchongeilt entered into Hy-Fiachrach’s land and (after many of his people slain) assumed power over them and took their pledges [hostages]. Henceforth his generosity’s and his valour’s fame increased mightily, and, great as Guaire was, to them of all arts and sciences throughout Ireland Cuchongeilt was dearer yet than he. Over Tirawley and Hy-Fiachrach of the North he there and then made himself supreme; while in the south Guaire was lord of Hy-Fiachrach Aidhne. Between the two conflict of war broke out forthwith, nor were it feasible to set forth all violence and evil that by Cuchongeilt was executed upon Guaire: in fine, between them both it wanted but little of both Irachts’ extinction, or even of the whole province brought to an end.

Now Guaire’s daughter Gelgheis was so that she was deep in love with Cuchongeilt, for which love’s sake she ever had refused to lie with man. They [the two kings] being wearied with the war, Cuchongeilt pressed Guaire for his daughter: whom Guaire however would by no means yield to give him. Howbeit his people (to the end the war should cease) beseeching Guaire instantly, he consented; but on these conditions: himself to make the wedding-feast, and Cuchongeilt to come to his house. Cuchongeilt would not in any wise agree to this, so that for a great while they made war on one another still, and up to such time as Guaire (in order to please the great bulk of his people) must needs make peace. He then thus wearied out, Gelghéis was made over to Cuchongeilt and things went lovingly between them; his generous reputation at this time standing high in Ireland. But, though he was placable to Guaire’s folk, the churches of his land he desolated ever, which in Guaire’s sight was an evil thing. Therefore the treason that Guaire put in practice was this: to seek the spot where just then Kieran of Clonmacnoise was with his clergy; whom he would enjoin to go and (in order to their mutual peace and amity) bring back Cuchongeilt; in Kieran’s mouth also was put a promise to Cuchongeilt: that would he but come into Guaire’s house he should unopposed be chief of his own country. Kieran found Cuchongeilt accordingly, and strenuously exhorted him not to let slip the power of Connacht: what though he must adventure himself with Guaire? Gelghéis as well persuading him; for well he knew that Kieran nursed no treachery, nor could she surmise that Guaire would deal guilefully with the saint. Against his natural propensity Cuchongeilt [in the end] consented to bear Kieran company thither (they also being many that entreated him to it) and he uttered:--

“Although I be escorted with a hundred, yet loath I am to set out on the way; but come I back, or come hack not, it is more befitting that I go. An evil vision I have seen: that swine of Colman’s son tore me; for me (should the dream prove a true one) the matter will have ill event. An evil vision I have seen: that swine of Colman’s son rent me; but though thereby I get my death, yet will I not be slack to visit him.”

Here Cuchongeilt’s death is not forthcoming, but that is not purposely on our part (scribe’s note):--

With a company of which Cuchongeilt too was one, Kieran came to Du’rlas Guaire, where for three nights they were ministered to and cared for; and then in Kieran’s presence a bond of peace between Guaire and Cuchongeilt was entered into. But Kieran having now left the town, what Guaire plotted was to execute a parricidal deed on his kinsman, on his son-in-law, and on a foremost saint of Ireland. In Dúrlas Guaire therefore, and by Guaire son of Colman son of Eochaidh, was wrought out a design following which Eogan Bél’s son Cuchongeilt was there and then put to death . . . as one said:--

God having permitted it, Eoghan’s dwelling-place is void to-night; whether of timber or of stone, no house is sprung up there; a lonely wilderness it shall be ever. A protector of women and of children the unconquered hero-warrior was—a leader of armed bands, of bardic companies—well might all men obey him. He was good to serve his friends’ necessity—of largesse to the poets he was prodigal—no ale-drinker in backward houses. At all times he desired music of the strings—the cry of hounds was melody to him—in a great mead-carousing company he had delight, nor e’er consented to a feast in islands. When first the mother happily brought forth Olioll’s grandson Eoghan Bdl, the mouth [i.e. the acclamation] of every country round about welcomed the little blue-eyed thing. Therefore it was that (as I now proclaim) the name of Eoghan Bél adhered to him; to Connacht’s favourite, and to Fiachra’s grandson of the flowing hair, the suffrage of all chiefs was given. With sixteen years completed the stripling’s bulk sufficed him; and upon Hy-Fiachrach thenceforth no man adventured raid or robbery. His mind inclined to Meath, the portion of Flann’s son—his right hand was towards Brendan’s fertile rath—his ‘smooth side’ [i.e. his amity] towards Cruachan of poetic companies—his ‘rough side’ [i.e. his enmity] turned to them of Oriel. He revelled in the attack made to enforce his tribute upon Oriel’s noble men—in despoiling of Eoghaa’s seed, and in checking of their federation. Never was he the man to he a single month—nor at any time was he so long actually—without a progress, whether by land or else by sea, to plunder Conall’s progeny. Yonside of Assaroe upon a time (and a gallant rush it was) eastward or westward Eoghan left not with Ulster a single cow that he brought not into Connacht. Fury fell on Niall’s noble children, dwelling and martial rage occupied them; from the dark Drowes to Keshcorann of the hazel woods they laid all waste. At which time Eoghan’s strength was but a small part of his people: there where he was (with horses and with hounds, with langorous women) in the high burg of Olioll’s grand­son. He (seeing his country’s preys driven past him on their way) like a mighty and a raging bull went into them [Ulster], encountered them. From the children of Niall he rends their prey, but he, Hy-Fiachrach’s king, himself is wounded; then having reachedhis own house dies, and desert is Eoghan’s home to-night. Desert is gentle Cellach’s dwelling too, home of him that by point of weapon mangled lies; Eoghan’s son being beyond all controversy dead, the churches of Connacht are perished away. Gentle Cellach’s dwelling-place is desert, he being torn by weapon’s points. Desert Cuchongeilt’s habitation is, home of one to whom whole countries gave great love. He whom the Moy did most affect: [alas] that by Guaire’s violence he should be fallen! alas for her whom ‘twas his fate to love, woe that he ever gave ear to Gelghéis! Had Kieran but known all, ne’er had he found the death he met—had Brendan of pure piety but known it, or mac Duach. Until for a spell he had denied them first, [to Guaire’s house] he went not with the company—went not till for a time they perpetrated fasting on him, and a three days’ abstinence from meat. To Eoghan’s most comely son said Gelghéis of the blooming cheek: “and wouldst thou then deal treasonably with the honour of Ireland’s exalted saints? Hadst thou to Guaire but given up Dúrlas and the level marshland of the Moy, thou hadst not needed now to go into his house with guarantee of saint or nemhea’. Wit and wisdom are not equal—not equal age and hardihood—gentleness and affection are not equal in you and in clan­Colman.” Cuchongeilt of the conventions answered: “since ye desire it, and to do you pleasure, to the many-retinued house of Colman’s son I will repair.” The clergy and Cuchongeilt in haste equipped them and, Cuchongeilt lead­ing, held straight course to Dgrlas. Though Kieran of Cluain were a man prone to wrath, and potent as were Brendan’s miracles: yet never a look Colman’s son, the destroyer, cast on that perfect band of clerks to heed them. Then in both low places and high they [of Dúrlas] wreak the slaughter; so that at long-haired clan-Colman’s bands Cuchongeilt, as was ordained, perished. Without reprieve they banned him then, those saints cursed murderous Guaire: his life, his death, they blighted both, so that this spot is void and desert.


Silva Gadelica (I-XXXI). ed. Standish Hayes O'Grady. Reprint of the 1892 ed. New York, Lemma Pub. Corp., 1970.