The Celtic Literature Collective

The Battle of Gabhra

Cairbre, the son of Art, the son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, had a fair, mild-eyed, dignified, and modest daughter. Sgeimhsholas (Light of Beauty), was her name, and Maolsheachlainn O'Faolain, son of the king or lord of the Decies, came to seek her as his wife. When Fionn and the Fenians of Ireland heard of this, they despatched messengers to Cairbre, to remind him to pay the tribute, viz. twenty ungas (ingots or ounces) of gold, or the right of cohabiting with the princess the night previous to her marriage. Cairbre became very indignant upon hearing this message, and declared he never would submit to either of these conditions. Fionn thereupon sent him word that he should pay either, or that the head of the princess only should satisfy the violation of the privilege. Upon hearing this, Cairbre became exceedingly enraged, and lost no time in despatching heralds to Conall Cionnbagair, king of the province of Ulster; to Criomthan Culbhuidhe, king of Leinster; and to Fiacha Muilleathan, king of Munster, They all assembled at one place, and Cairbre explained to them the nature of his difficulty, and the thraldom under which he and his people were held by Fionn and the Fenians of Ireland, in virtue of certain conditions and regulations as galling as those by which they then were bound by the Lochlonnachs and Fenians of Ireland, being such as they could no longer bear, especially since they were imposed on them by a race of people inferior to themselves; and that there was not a king, prince, lord, or chief, of the race of Conn then in Ireland, who was not oppressed with the slavish yoke of the followers of Cumhall.

The kings and nobles of Ireland, thereupon became exceedingly enraged, and came to the conclusion not to endure or tolerate such slavery any longer. They all returned to their own provinces, and having held council with their people, came to the resolution of expelling the Fenians from Ireland, instead of submitting to them. Cairbre then sent to inform the Fenians that he would never pay them tribute or submit to their exactions or to those of any other individual in Ireland any longer. Fionn and all the Fenians became exceedingly enraged at this announcement; and Fionn sent heralds to Cairbre, proclaiming war against him. Cairbre despatched messengers to summon every king and chief in Ireland: they all assembled to the number of fifty battalions. He also collected the men of Connacht, and the brave men of Teabhtha. Domhnall O'Faolain, king of the Decies, led a powerful body of men to the contest, and numerous hosts from Munster accompanied Fiacha Muilleathan, king of Munster, while those of Ulster with Conall Ceannbagair, and Criomhthan Culbuidhe, with one thousand valiant men of Leinster also attended. When Fionn and the Fenians of Ireland learned that the forces of Ireland mustered with the view of defeating them, Fionn sounded the Barr Buadh, and the Fenians assembled from all the places where they had been stationed, namely, Fionn, Oisin, Oscur, Fiacha, Daolchiabh, Curadh Ceadghoineach, Aodh Beag, sons of Fionn, and the nobility of the Clanna Baoisgne, with Diarmuid O'Duibhne, Fearcaibh O'Duibhne, Siansan O'Duibhne, Cosgarthach O'Duibhne, Goll Mac Moirne, Siansan, son of Duanan Mac Moirne, Eadaoin Mac Moirne, and Modhcorb Mac Moirne. When the seven standing battalions of the Fenians assembled in one place, they sounded their musical horn, the Barr Buadh, their trumpets, and all their musical instruments, and then marched forth in properly arranged ranks and dense columns of brave heroes, strong and powerful in their might, to the mountain of Gabhra. Cairbre too came forward with a force of the warriors of Eire, consisting of ten and twenty times as many heroes as the Fenians brought to the field. And then the two great opposing forces attacked each other, and then was fought the great battle of Gabhra of the hard strokes the greatest that was ever fought in Ireland. And indeed little of the day was spent until the war cries of heroes, the groans of warriors, the cutting asunder of shields, the cleaving of heads, the augmentation of wounds, the mangling of flesh to atoms, pouring blood being spilled in torrents and flowing in the cavities of the earth, became truly pitiable, and innumerable were the exertions of the warriors passing through the field, because of the bodies heaped dead on the plain through the valor of the arm of Oscur. It was then that Goll the invincible, son of Morna, and Fiacha Muilleathan, king of Munster, marched together; and then ensued the continuous battle, the mortal contention, the detestable unceasing blows, and the deadly-mad struggle: sparks of fire flying from the clashing of their warlike weapons. Goll found opportunity of making a dangerous pass at the king of Munster, at which time he hewed the arm from his shoulder, and by the next stroke clove his head in twain. He and the clanns of Moirne attacked the Momonians, and totally vanquished them, so that not one of them survived the carnage. Oisin, son of Fionn, and Domhnall O'Faolain, king of the Decies, engaged one another, and performed a hideous mortal combat. When Fiachra, son of Fionn, saw Oisin in mortal danger in the combat with Domhnall, he hastened to relieve him. He and Domhnall engaged in a great and hard-contested conflict, until at length Fiachra gave the king of the Decies a fatal stroke on the neck, by which he cut off his head. He then proceeded to attack the hosts of the Decies, and totally dispersed them. Diarmuid O'Duibhne, and Criomthan Culbhuidhe, king of Leinster, attacked each other; and that was the strong-nerved, bloody combat, the contention, and the dangerous detestable conflict to such an extent, that they scattered sparks of fire from their armour, and struck showers of blood from the bodies of one another. With every well-dealt blow Diarmuid gave, he cleft the flesh and bones in large pieces, while he himself continued in the enjoyment of activity, strength, and vigour, without intermission of action, of weapons, or of power; until at length he dealt a full stroke of his keen, hard-tempered sword on the king's head, by which he clove his skull, and, by a second stroke, swept his head off his huge body.

At this time Oscur was engaged in hewing and dispersing the Ultonians; he was mangling them in pieces, furious as the straining of a great ship upon her anchors, with the blast of a mighty gale; like a furious madly-raging lion attacking a deer; like a falcon dealing destruction on a flock of smaller birds; or like a route of wolves incited by canine ferocity among a flock of sheep; so that he caused rapid torrents of blood to flow over the plain, while it was painful to listen to the cries of the young men, the groans of the heroes, the shouts of the warriors, and the sound of the strokes. It was diflicult for the heroes to pass over the plain in consequence of the impediments opposed to them by the numerous human bodies slain by the powerful hand of Oscur; and gaping groaning mouths, broken legs, cloven skulls, mangled bodies, rent hearts, disabled hands, and headless tnmks were then scattered over the plain. At that time Goll and the clans of Moirne, Cairbre and the Connacht men were hewing each other, while no fear, weakness, or disparagement had been shown on either side. That was the envenomed, sorrowful, intrepid, irresistible, angry, truly-warlike, deathlike, odious attack which they made upon the persons of each other. It was then that Faolan, son of Fionn, and Daolclabh, son of Criomthan Culbuidhe, king of Leinster, met; and they fought with mutual hatred, anger, valour, intrepidity, strength of nerve, and physical powers, mangling the bodies and heads of one another, until their armour had been rent by the strokes of their broad, heavy, truly-strong, keen-edged swords, until at length by powerful exertion Daolciabh was on the point of entirely yielding to Faolan. When Cosgarthach, son of Criomthan, saw his brother a being vanquished, and about yielding to Faolan, he hastened with vitmost speed across the plain, and attacking Faolan from behind stabbed him with his spear thi'ough the back and heart, so that he instantly expired. When Fionn saw Faolan treacherously slain by the two (brothers), he courageously ran forward and eniinored both Cosgarthach and Daolciabh with valour, courage, power, and intrepidity. Eager were the blows which each dealt on Fionn, while the blows dealt by Fionn upon tliem more than repaid theirs. Long they continued thus without either of the parties displaying the least symptom of fear, weakness, or disparagement. When Oisin, son of Fionn, saw his father in such imminent danger, he hastened to relieve him: he and Cosgarthach fought very boldly and valiantly, neither evincing the least weakness, fear, or disparagement. At the same time Fionn and Daolchiabh were mangling the heads and bodies of one another; and that same was the truly-wonderful contest, the deadly-armed struggle, the fierce frequent-stroked beating, and the ever-telling breach of death they made on the bodies of one another; for Fionn was aged and Daolchiabh youthful. At length Fionn dealt a dangerous blow between the breast and the belly of Daolchiabh, by which he cut him across the middle, and his entrails fell to the ground, when he instantly dropped dead on the plain. Conan Maol thereupon exclaimed, "What shame, Oisin, to have Cosgarthach so long in hands! redouble your blows." Upon the remonstrance of Conan, Oisin grew ashamed, and gave him (his antagonist) a fair blow on the crown, by which he clove his skull to the nose. Then he himself was covered with wounds and clotted blood. After the dreadful conflict he did not rest, but marched forward to attack the assembled hosts, to hew down, behead, and mangle them. Cairbre and Cuire Ceadghoineach then met in conflict, and performed a powerful, bloody, accursed, truly-valiant, hard-fought combat, without any cessation from full-beating and hard blows, accompanied with vigour and loud report upon the bodies of one another, until Cairbre dealt a full blow on the top of Cuire Ceadghoineach's shoulder by which he severed the arm from his shoulder; he clove his head with the next blow; and he (Cuire Ceadghoineach) instantly dropped down dead. Aodh Beag was occupied with hewing down the Connacians with great success, at the time he saw the conclusion of the struggle between Cairbre and his brother: he proceeded forth with utmost speed to encounter him (Cairbre). The two combatants fought resolutely, fiercely, and truly-inimical; and that same was the extremely valorous struggle on account of the enmity and hatred that existed between them, because Cairbre's son had been slain by Aodh Beag in course of the attack he made upon the Connacians, and Cairbre (himself) slew the two brothers of Aodh Beag. They, therefore, redoubled their blows, until their eye-balls distended into hillock-like masses, glaring like the sheen of the firmament, illuminated by brilliant stars of first rate magnitude, and their cheeks swelled like the bellows of a smithy when employed in fanning quenching embers; and they struck one another so extremely venemously and heavily, that their hard shields were colloped in small pieces defending their bodies. They then unsheathed their keen-edged, well-tempered broad swords, and redoubled the well-told blows upon the bodies of one another, until Aodh Beag fell by the fierce, perfectly -full, complete incessant blows of Cairbre. During this time Goll and the clans of Moirne were slaughtering, hewing down, and dispersing the Momonians and Lagenians, and Fionn was assisting them in dispersing, tearing, and mangling them into atoms, until they entirely annihilated them in such a manner that not one of them remained present; while, at the same time, Oscur was worrying the Ultonians without intermission, pity, or kindly feeling, but (continued) mangling, dispersing, and tearing them, until he and the king of Breifne met in hostile struggle. Oscur was then nearly exhausted, in consequence of the destruction he inflicted upon the Ultonians. This was really a momentous struggle, the ever-destructive breach, the wonderful exercise, and the truly-famous, dexterous, and powerful combat in which they engaged, so much so, that no two were ever known in the world capable of uniting greater astonishment to see them engaged hand to hand than they. Oscur was exceedingly surprised that any man on earth was capable of standing in contention with him for so long a time; and, therefore, they redoubled their blows on the bodies of one another to such a degree that the sound and iall of the strokes re-echoed throughout Eirinn; and the bravely-dealt blows of Oscur on (the body of) the king, resounded like thunder over the sea as well as the land. Their bosoms heaved with the intensity of their breathing, they clipped their garments with their broad, keen-edged swords, their hearts expanded, and courage augmented through the excessive feelings of hatred and hostility they entertained towards one another to such a pitch, that they struck sparks of fire from their weapons, while every telling stroke Oscur levelled at the king hewed away his flesh and bones in pieces, he himself, in the meantime, was gathering fresh courage and strength, until he laid the king prostrate upon the earth, and completely severed his head off lais huge body, for there was no man on the field or throughout Eirinn larger and more powerful than he, except Oscur. After this Oscur attacked the Ultonians, and prostrated and entirely destroyed them.

He then proceeded to hew down and deal complete destruction on the Connacians; to mangle, subdue, and annihilate them without cessation, remorse, or compassion. It was then Fergus Finnbheil and Diarmuid Mor, king of Cork, encountered one another (and it is from that same Diarmuid, Corcaigh Mor Mhic Diarmuda is so called to this day). Fergus and he engaged in a furious, valiant, manly, powerfully-puissant combat, to such a degree that it was wonderful to witness the hard, brave, fiery, keen, truly-venomous struggle they made; heads were gashed and bodies mangled without cessation, from the continuously-striking at one another. At length Fergus was prostrated by Diarmuid, whereupon he pierced his heart with his pointed, keen, well-tempered sword. When Oisin saw Fergus fall by the hand of Diarmuid, he hastened to engage him; and they fought with courage, fury, and valorous power, until they struck showers of blood from their bodies. They then redoubled their exertions, dealing quick, laborious, heavy blows; they rendered useless their weapons by the heavy strokes, in consequence of the superior physical powers of the true heroes. Tottering and vanquished were they in consequence of that hard struggle, when, at length, Oisin, son of Fionn, struck Diarmuid Mor a deadly blow, by which he swept his head off his huge body, and he himself was both overpowered and fatigued after that great struggle.

At the same time Oscur was after having dealt complete destruction upon the Ultonians; he then attacked the Connachians, while he kept a sharp look out for Cairbre; for he felt convinced that if he laid his eyes upon him the men of Eirinn would be unable to rescue him unslain. The two sons of Cairbre, fiamely, Conn and Art, met him, and he engaged in a valorous wonderful combat with both. He dealt heavy-pointed venomous strokes upon them, while each of them returned heavy, hot blows. In a short time, however, it was pitiful to hear the roars of the youths caused by the heavy blows of Oscur. At this time the son of the king of Ulster, namely, Breacht, son of Brian, was driven to the last extremity by Caoilte Mac Ronain, and soon after was beheaded. Cairbre, at the same time, was after having slain the six sons of Caoilte Mac Ronain; and numerous were the roars, soothing addresses, sorrowful tears, and cries that thus resounded over the site of that great battle! This was during the time the two sons of Cairbre and Oscur had been engaged. At length Oscur severed off the head of one of them, namely Conn, and soon after cut off the other man's head. He then proceeded to the battle-field in search of Cairbre: he met a brave leader of Cairbre's men, and they immediately engaged one another. It was a piteous sight to see Caoilte Mac Ronain (weeping) over his six sons. When Cuirbre heard his two sons had been slain by Oscur he hastened to engage him in combat. Cairbre made a cast of his spear at him, which pierced him in the back, under the shoulder, and wounded his heart; he fell down on the spot, but exclaimed "Oh, oh! it is the spear of Cairbre which pierces my body, by which it has been foretold I should fall!" Oisin sick and heart-scalded came over him, and soon afterwards Fionn, who shed tears for the fall of Oscur. Fionn never before shed tears for the loss of any one Fenian. All of the Fenians who survived came over Oscur, and none remained on the battle-field, but all assembled to weep the loss of Oscur.

The above is an account of the fall of Oscur, since which time the Fenians never fought a single battle.

Cath Gabhra. ed. & trans. Standish O'Grady. Transactions of the Ossian Society. vol I.