CELT document T301037

The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes



It is a remarkable accident that, except in one instance, so very few copies of the death-tales of the chief warriors attached to King Conchobar's court at Emain Macha should have come down to us. Indeed, if it were not for one comparatively late manuscript now preserved outside Ireland, in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, we should have to rely for our knowledge of most of these stories almost entirely on Keating's History of Ireland. Under these circumstances it has seemed to me that I could hardly render a better service to Irish studies than to preserve these stories, by transcribing and publishing them, from the accidents and the natural decay to which they are exposed as long as they exist in a single manuscript copy only.

In the well-known list of Irish tales preserved in the Book of Leinster and elsewhere, under the title oitte, i.e. “tragical or violent deaths”, eight death-stories of Ulster heroes are enumerated as follows: the deaths of Cúchulinn, of Conall (i.e. Conall Cernach), of Celtchar, of Blái the Hospitaller, of Lóegaire, of Fergus (mac Róich), of King Conchobar himself, and of Fiamain.

The Death of Cúchulinn forms an episode in the story called Brislech Mór Maige Murthemne; and extracts from the version in the Book of Leinster have been edited and translated by Whitley Stokes, in the Revue Celtique, vol. III., p. 175 ff. It is curious that, apart from this twelfth-century version, we have no copies older than the eighteenth century. These modern copies are enumerated by Prof. D'Arbois de Jubainville in his Catalogue de la Littérature Épique de l'Irlande, p. 15. The Death of Conall Cernach is told in a tale, the full title  p.vi of which is The Cherishing of Conall Cernach in Cruachan, and the Death of Ailill and of Conall Cernach. It has been edited and translated by me, from the only two existing manuscripts, in the first volume of the Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, p. 102 ff.

The Death of Celtchar son of Uthechar is found in a very fragmentary and illegible condition in the Book of Leinster, p. 118b. Fortunately there exists a second complete copy in the Edinburgh MS. xl, pp. 9–11. 1 It has not hitherto been edited or translated.

The Death of Blái the Hospitaller has been preserved only in the Edinburgh MS., where it occupies pp. 11–13. It is here for the first time edited and translated.

Of the Death of Lóegaire Búadach we have only one ancient copy, again in the Edinburgh MS., pp. 8–9, hitherto unpublished. There is a shorter and later version, which is practically that of Keating's History, contained in two eighteenth-century mss. in the Royal Irish Academy, numbered 23. B. 21, p. 176, and 23. G. 21, p. 142, respectively. Copies of these I owe to the kindness of Mr. R. Irvine Best.

The Death of Fergus mac Róich is also preserved in a single copy only, again to be found in the Edinburgh MS., p. 5. Our only source hitherto has been Keating's version.

The only tale among those enumerated above which has reached us in fairly numerous copies is that of the Death of Conchobar. Prof. D'Arbois de Jubainville, l.c., p. 13, enumerates four manuscripts 2 in addition to Keating's account, which is also that of 23. G. 21, and 23. B. 21. To these a fifth must be added, the version in the Edinburgh MS. XL, pp. 1–3, which is unfortunately illegible at the beginning. 3 Mr. Edward Gwynn has  p.vii kindly supplied me with a transcript of the version contained in the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum; and Mr. R. I. Best has copied, and placed at my disposal, the version in 23. N. 10, a MS. in the library of the Royal Irish Academy. The tale last mentioned in the list, that of the Death of Fiamain, seems now lost. At least, so far as I know, no copy of it has yet been discovered; nor does Keating give any account of it. Fiamain mac Forrói is mentioned in Tochmarc Emire as one of those Irish youths who were learning feats of arms with Scáthach in Britain when Cúchulinn came there for the same purpose (see Zeitschr. III., p. 250, paragraph 67); and in the poem at the end of that tale (ib., p. 262, l. 8) a Fiamain is enumerated among the young warriors in the Cráeb Rúad at Emain Macha. But whether this was Fiamain mac Forrói or some other Fiamain is doubtful. The only other references to the former that I can find are–first, one in Cináed húa Hartacáin's poem on the deaths of some of the nobles of Erin, which has been edited and translated by Whitley Stokes in Revue Celtique, vol. xxiii., p. 303 ff. Here he is said to have been slain at Dún mBinne, 4 a fort that has not been identified. A battle of Duma Beinne is mentioned in Cath Maige Rath, p. 211. The other reference to Fiamain mac Forrói occurs in a poem in that tale, p. 213: “Seven battles around Cathir Conrói, the wrecking of Fiamain mac Forói, the wrecking of Cúrói, together with the seventeen sons of Deda.”

In addition to these Ulster death-tales, the Edinburgh manuscript contains an account of the death of the redoubtable Connaught warrior Cet mac Magach. Of this story, as it has not hitherto been published, I add an edition and translation.

K. M.


English translation

Edited by Kuno Meyer

The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes


1. The Death of Conchobar

We possess, as stated on page vi, five manuscript copies of Aided Chonchobuir, apart from the account contained in Keating's History. They all differ materially, so that it seemed desirable to print them in extenso. The version in the Edinburgh MS. xl is partly illegible but it appears to be identical in its opening with that of the Book of Leinster.

As is common in the tradition of the oldest Irish tales, these five manuscripts either represent different versions of various ages, or attempts to bring these versions into harmony with each other. We can distinguish the following three different accounts of the events which led to Conchobar's death.

Once when the men of Ulster were at a gathering, the sun was darkened and the moon turned into the colour of blood. On Conchobar's question as to the cause of this disturbance, the druid Cathbad tells the story of the Crucifixion, dwelling on the fact that Conchobar and Christ were born on the same night. Compare the Compert Conchobuir, Revue Celtique, vi., p. 180. This is the account contained in the third version of the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum (paragraph 4). Slight variants of this version are to be found in the account of the Book of Leinster (paragraph 11), where an earthquake takes the place of the eclipse of the sun, and where the druid' s name is not mentioned, and in the Edinburgh account (paragraph 11), in which Conchobar addresses his question to all his druids.

A second version places the gathering at Muirthemne. There, on a certain day, Bachrach, a Leinster poet, arrives from abroad, 5 and on the question for news tells the story of the Crucifixion which he  p.3 has heard on the Continent or in Great Britain. This is the account given most fully in the first version of the Liber Flavus (paragraph 1), mentioned briefly in the Stowe manuscript (paragraph 1), and given as a variant in the Book of Leinster (paragraph 13).

In a third version, the Roman consul Altus visits Conchobar, either with presents from Tiberius (23. N. 10, paragraph 1, and Liber Flavus, paragraph 2), or to exact tribute for Octavian (Book of Leinster, paragraph 14), and being himself a Christian, relates the story of the Crucifixion.

All versions end very nearly alike; only the account in the Book of Leinster breaks off shortly without mentioning Conchobar's death. The other versions say that Conchobar's pity roused him to fury; he uttered a rhetoric beginning “Ba aprainn,” seized his weapons, and rushed madly about, either as far as the sea (Lib. Flav., paragraph 4) or cutting down the wood on Lettir Lámraige (Edinburgh and Stowe version); Mesgegra's brain starts out of his head, and he dies a Christian, the blood gushing from his head being his baptism.

Two late versions—those in the Edinburgh and in the Stowe manuscripts—add the further history of Mesgegra's brain, the existence of which is revealed by God to Buite mac Brónaig, abbot of Monasterboice (died ca. A.D 520), who uses it as a pillow, whence it is known by the name of adart Buiti. In support of this, the Stowe version quotes a poem by Cináed húa Hartacáin, a poet who died in A.D. 975, another copy of which may be found in the Book of Leinster, p. 150 a, l. 26.

Lastly, in the Edinburgh version, the incident of Cenn Berraide, who, in all other accounts, carried the king on his back after he had been wounded by Cet at the Ford of Daire Dá Báeth, is shifted and added on at the end, where it is quite out of place.


2. The Death of Conchobar: Version A

Version A

[1] Once upon a time the men of Ulster were greatly intoxicated in Emain Macha. Thence there arise great contentions and comparison of trophies between them, even between Conall and Cuchulinn and Loegaire. “Bring me,” said Conall, “the brain of Mesgegra, so that I may talk to the competing warriors.” At that time it was a custom with the men of Ulster to take the brains out of the head of every warrior whom they slew in single combat, and to mix lime with them, so that they were made into hard balls. And whenever they were in contention or at comparison of trophies, these were brought to them, so that they had them in their hands.

[2] “Well, Conchobar,” said Conall, “until the competing warriors perform a deed like this in single combat, they are not capable of comparing trophies with me.” “That is true,” said Conchobar.

[3] Then the brain was put upon the shelf upon which it was always kept. On the morrow every one went his own way to his sport. Then Cet, the son of Matu, went upon a round of adventures in Ulster. This Cet was the most troublesome pest that was in Ireland. This is the way he went, across the green of Emain, having with him three warriors' heads of the men of Ulster.

[4] While the jesters (of Emain) were at play with the brain of Mesgegra, this is what one jester said to the other. Cet hears that. He snatches the brain out of the hand of one of them, and carries it off; for he knew that it had been foretold of Mesgegra that he would avenge himself after his death. In every battle and in every combat which the men of Connaught had with those of Ulster, Cet used to carry the brain in his girdle to see whether he could compass a famous deed by slaying a man of Ulster with it.


[5] Once then Cet went eastwards until he took a drove of cows from the men of the Rosses. The men of Ulster overtook him in pursuit after him. Then the men of Connaught came up from the other side to rescue him. A battle is fought between them. Conchobar himself went into the battle. And it was then that the women of Connaught begged Conchobar to come aside so that they might see his shape. For there was not on earth the shape of a human being like the shape of Conchobar, both for beauty and figure and dress, for size and symmetry and proportion, for eye and hair and whiteness, for wisdom and manners and eloquence, for raiment and nobleness and equipment, for weapons and wealth and dignity, for bearing and valour and race. That Conchobar was faultless indeed. However, it was by the advice of Cet that the women importuned Conchobar. Then he went aside alone to be seen by the women.

[6] Cet, however, went until he was in the midst of the women. He adjusts the brain of Mesgegra in the sling, and throws it so that it hit the crown of Conchobar's head, so that two-thirds of it entered his head, so that he fell upon his head forward to the ground. The men of Ulster ran towards him, and carried him off from Cet. On the brink of the ford of Daire Dá Báeth 6 it was that Conchobar fell. His grave is there where he fell, and a pillar-stone at his head, and another at his feet.

[7] The men of Connaught are then routed to Scé Aird na Con. 7 The men of Ulster are driven eastwards again to the ford of Daire Dá Báeth. “Let me be carried out of this!” said Conchobar. “I shall give the kingship of Ulster to anyone who will carry me as far as my house.” “I will carry thee,” said Cenn Berraide, 8 his own attendant. He puts a cord around him, and carries him upon his back to Ardachad 9 of the Fews. The attendant's heart broke within him. Hence is the saying “Cenn Berraide's kingship over Ulster,” to wit, the king upon his back for (only) half the day.

[8] However, the fight was kept up after the king from one hour of the day to the same hour on the next day, after which the men of Ulster were routed.


[9] In the meantime his physician was brought to Conchobar, even Fingen. 'Tis he who would know from the smoke that arose from a house how many were ill in the house, and every disease that was in it. “Well,” said Fingen, “if the stone is taken out of thy head, thou wilt be dead forthwith. If it is not taken out, however, I would heal thee, but it will be a blemish for thee.” “It is easier for us,” said the men of Ulster, “to bear the blemish than his death.”

[10] His head was then healed; and it was stitched with thread of gold, for the colour of Conchobar's hair was the same as the colour of gold. And the physician said to Conchobar that he should be on his guard lest anger should come on him, and that he should not mount a horse, that he should not have connexion with a woman, that he should not eat food greedily, and that he should not run.

[11] In that doubtful state, then, he was as long as he lived, even seven years; and he was not capable of action, but remained in his seat only, until he heard that Christ had been crucified by the Jews. At that time a great trembling came over the elements, and the heavens and the earth shook with the enormity of the deed that was then done, even Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, to be crucified without guilt. “What is this?” said Conchobar to his druid. 10 “What great evil is being done on this day?” “That is true, indeed,” said the druid who then tells the story of the Crucifixion. “Awful is that deed,” said Conchobar. “That man, now,” said the druid, “was born in the same night in which thou wast born, even on the eighth before the calends of January, though the year was not the same.”

[12] It was then that Conchobar believed. And he was one of the two men that had believed in God in Ireland before the coming of the  p.11 Faith, Morann being the other man. “Well, now,” said Conchobar, 11 “it is a pity,” etc. 12 {} “without avenging the Creator.” 13

[13] This rhetoric Conchobar made when Bachrach, a druid of Leinster, told him that Christ was crucified, when Conchobar asked: “What wonderful signs are these?” etc.

[14] Or, again, it may have been Altus, the consul who had come to the Gaels from Octavian to seek the tribute, who told Conchobar that Christ was crucified.


3. Version B

[1] Once upon a time Altus related to Conchobar mac Nessa the crucifixion of Christ. Altus, however, used to visit Conchobar with exchanges of treasures from Tiberius, the son of Augustus the Roman. For at that time stewards of the King of the Romans were equally over the centre of the world and over the islands of the west and east, so that every famous story that would happen there was equally known in the world.

[2] Hence, in that way, the manner in which the crucifixion of Christ was achieved became known to Conchobar. For Altus told him that it was Christ who had made Heaven and earth, and that to redeem mankind He had assumed flesh. Altus was a believer. 'Tis therefore he told every good thing about the crucifixion of Christ.

[3] Conchobar believes in Christ; and then he said that if he were near Christ the men of the world would know what he could do in fighting against the Jews that had crucified Christ. Hence Conchobar said: “It was a pity,” &c. 14 “without avenging the Creator.”


[4] Thereupon he shook himself(?) 15 as if he were going into a battlefield in the presence of Christ, so that Mesgegra's brain jumped out of his head, and then he died there. This is what they say, 16 that he was the first pagan who went into the Kingdom of Heaven, because the blood which he had shed was a baptism to him, and (because) he had believed in Christ.

Finit. Amen.

4. Version C

[1] The men of Ulster were holding a great gathering in the plain of Murthemne. Then towards the gathering came Bochrach, a poet and druid of the men of Leinster, having come out of Leinster after learning poetry. Of him Conchobar asked tidings of Alba and Leth Moga. 17

[2] “There is great tidings indeed,” said he, “which have happened in the eastern world, even the crucifying of the King of Heaven and Earth by the Jews; and He it is whom seers and druids have prophesied. To save and to rescue the men of the world from the sin of Adam He came from holy heaven; and He assumed flesh from the Virgin Mary without the presence of man 18; and to save the human race He went upon the tree of the cross by command of the Jews. About Easter He went from us and arose on the third day after His suffering,” viz., Altus also had told this. 'Tis he who used to come with messages and with treasures and precious things from Tiberius Caesar Augustus, even the king of the Romans, and the king of the world, to Conchobar son of Ness, to Emain Macha. For at that time stewards of the king of the world were equally over the centre of the world and in the islands of the setting and rising sun, so that every famous story that happened was equally known in the whole world.

[3] In that way the manner in which the crucifixion of Christ happened became known to Conchobar. For Altus told him that  p.17 it was Christ who had made Heaven and Earth, and that He had assumed flesh from the Virgin Mary for the sake of redeeming the human race. Altus himself, however, was a believer. 'Tis therefore he told the story of Christ well, and Conchobar believed in Christ.

[4] Or 'tis thus it happened.
On the day that Christ was crucified, Conchobar was at a gathering, and the nobles of the men of Ireland around him. Now when darkness came upon the sun, and the moon turned into the colour of blood, Conchobar asked of Cathbad what ailed the elements. “Thy own foster-brother,” said he, “He who was born on the same night as you, is now undergoing martyrdom and has been put on the cross, and that is what this portends.” At that Conchobar arises and takes his weapons upon him, and he said: “He is indeed my foster-brother and coeval, and 'tis He that was born in the same night with me,” and then he made an onslaught from thence until he reached the sea, and he went into it up to his teeth. 'Tis during the onslaught then that Conchobar sang this lay: “'Twas a pity that the Jews after a King's death,” &c.

[5] And thereupon Conchobar said: “The men of the world would know what I can do in fighting against the Jews for the sake of the crucifixion of Christ, if I were near Him.” Then he rose and made the onslaught, until Mesgegra's brains jumped out of his head, so that Conchobar died forthwith. Hence the Gaels say that Conchobar was the first pagan who went to Heaven in Ireland, for the blood that sprang out of his head was a baptism to him. And then Conchobar's soul was taken to hell until Christ encountered her as He brought the captive host out of hell, so that Christ took the soul of Conchobar with Him to Heaven.



5. Version D

Incipit of the tragic death of Conchobar son of Ness here below.

[1] At the Ford of Daire Dá Báeth, Cet mac Mágach threw the stone at Conchobar, viz., the brain of Mesgegra, king of Leinster. Fingen, the wizard-leech of Conchobar, 'tis he who would not let the stone be taken out of his head. Muma, however, the artificer, 'tis he who put a cover around it outside his head. Bachrach, a Leinster poet, told Conchobar that Christ had been crucified. In Mag Lamraige he told it to him. 'Tis there Conchobar fell in clearing the plain. Seventy-three feet was his length. Fifty feet, however, was the length of Tadg mac Céin, ut dixit poeta, i.e. Flann Mainistrech:— 19

  1. Fifty feet, with abundance of delights, among hosts of strong-bridled distinguished men,
    was the length of the high-king in whom honour was conspicuous, of Tadg mac Céin, from whom are the Cianacht.
  2. Conchobar, famous was his guile, Ness' celebrated son of ruddy beauty,
    high-king of Ulster—he deserved it—by whom the slope of Lámraige was cut down.
    In his grave {} 20 he found seventy-three feet.

[2] Of that stone which ruined Conchobar the poet 21 has sung:— 22

  1. O stone yonder upon the cold tomb of ever-famous Buite, the blessed son of Brónach,
    thou wast a diadem in battles of pursuit while thou wast in the head of the noble son of Ness.
  2. Though thou wast an enemy to him, he hid thee, he nourished thee for seven full years:
    when he went to avenge the King of laws, 'tis then was found his grave through thee.
  3. The hero whom thou didst hit victoriously thereafter found through thee a draught of poison:
    to the son of Cathbad—men wailed—thou didst deal a drink of a serpent's venom.
  4.  p.21
  5. Venomous from the south Cet brought thee upon his back from the noble battle of Ailbe,
    the head of Emain's king thou hast wrecked thereby, brain of the youthful Mesgegra.
  6. From the brake,—all know it,—to the Ford at Daire Dá Báeth,
    Cet mac Mágach 23 sent thee in violation of a bond from him for a cunning fight.
  7. He cleft with thee, the deed was great, the crown of the king's head, a kingdom of hostages,
    for 'tis he that was the best hero on whom wind and sun would shine.
  8. What was foretold thee all along, 24 woe to the Leinsterman 25 in whose company thou wast!
    thou never partedst from the noble 26 d king until thou leftst him in a meeting with death.
  9. On the bare slope of Lámraige hosts of fair bands did homage to thee:
    thy struggle against thy comrade was rare, until thou fellest there out of his head.
  10. The King who has shaped Heaven has revealed thee to the son of Brónach above Bri Breg;
    in a strong fortress in which he slept, where there is a multitude of white angels.
  11. Since Bute with grace of fame has slept on thee without treachery,
    the hosts have eagerly 27 humbled 28 themselves to thee, until thou changedst colour, O stone!
  12. The brain of Mesgegra in the battle, it was a fight against demons of doomed men;
    “pillow of Bute,” until Doom that shall be thy name with every one, O stone!



1. The Death of Lóegaire Búadach: Version A

Version A

Whence is the tragical death of Lóegaire the Victorious? Not hard to tell.

[1] Aed mac Ainninne cohabited with Mugain of the Furzy Hair. 29 She was the wife of Conchobar; Aed was a poet of Conchobar's. They were found out.

[2] Then the poet was seized by Conchobar's command, and the poet asked that his death might be drowning, and Conchobar granted him that; whereupon he was taken to be drowned to every lake in Ireland; and he would sing a spell upon the water so that it ebbed away until there was not a drop in it 30, so that there was not in Ireland any river or lake that would drown him, until they came with him to Loch Lai in front of Lóegaire's house. He was unable to work the spell upon the lake. However, while they were engaged in drowning him, Lóegaire's steward came out of the liss. “Woe is me, Lóegaire!” he cried. “They could not find in all Ireland a place in which to drown a poet till they came to this stead.” Lóegaire arose and took his sword in his hand; and as he was leaping forth he strikes the crown of his head against the lintel of the door, so that it took off the hinder part of his skull, and his brains were scattered over his cloak. And thereupon he slew thirty of the drowners, and Aed escaped from them. And then Lóegaire died. So far the Tragical Death of Lóegaire.

2. Version B

(No translation supplied by Meyer. Cf. the version given in Keating's History of Ireland.)


1. The Death of Celtchar mac Uthechair

Whence is the tragical death of Celtchar mac Uthechair? Not hard to tell.

[1] There was a famous man of the men of Ulster, even Blái the Hospitaller. He owned seven herds of cattle, seven score kine in each herd, and a plough-team with each herd. He also kept a guest-house. Now it was a geis for him that a woman should come in a company to his house without his sleeping with her, unless her husband were in her company. Then Brig Brethach, wife of Celtchar, went to his house. “Not good is what thou hast done, woman,” said Blái the Hospitaller. “Thy coming to me as thou hast come is a geis to me.” “It is a wretched man,” said the woman, “that violates his own gessa.” “'Tis true. I am an old man, and moreover thou art inciting me,” said he. That night he sleeps with her.

[2] Celtchar came to know that; and he went to seek his wife. Blái the Hospitaller went until he was by the side of Conchobar in the royal house. Celtchar also went until he was on the floor of the royal house. There were Conchobar and Cúchulinn playing a game of fidchell; and Blái the Hospitaller's chest was over the play-board between them. And Celtchar plants a spear through him so that it stuck in the wattle of the wall behind him, so that a drop (of blood) from the point of the spear fell upon the board.

[3] “Forsooth, Cúchulinn!” said Conchobar. “Indeed, then, Conchobar!” said Cúchulinn. The board is measured from the drop hither and thither to know to which of them it was nearer. Now the drop was nearer to Conchobar, and it was the longer till revenge. 31 Blái the Hospitaller, however, died.
Celtchar escaped until he was in the land of the Déisi of Munster in the south. 32


[4] “This is bad, O Conchobar!” said the men of Ulster. “This means the death of two. It was enough that we should lose the man who has died, and let Celtchar come (back) to his land,” said the men of Ulster. “Let him come, then,” said Conchobar; “and let his son go for him, and let him be his safeguard.” At that time with the men of Ulster a father's crime was not laid upon his son, nor a son's crime upon the father. So he went to summon him until he was in the south.

[5] “Wherefore hast thou come, my son?” said Celtchar. “That thou mayst come to thy land,” said the lad. “What is my safeguard? “I,” said the lad. “True,” said he.” “Subtle is the treachery which the men of Ulster practise upon me, that I should go on my son's guarantee.” “Subtle shall be his name and the name of his offspring,” said the druid. “Stay thou (here), lad,” said Celtchar, “and I will go there.”

[6] This is done, and hence is Semuine 33 in the land of the Déisi.

[7] However, this is the fine which was demanded for Blái the Hospitaller, to free them from the three worst pests that would come into Ulster in his time.

[8] Then Conganchnes 34 mac Dedad went to avenge his brother, even Curoi son of Daire mac Dedad, upon the men of Ulster. He devastated Ulster greatly. Spears or swords hurt him not, but sprang from him as from horn.

[9] “Free us from this pest, O Celtchar!” said Conchobar. “Surely I will,” said Celtchar. And on a certain day he went to converse with the Horny-skin so that he beguiled him, promising to him his daughter, even Niam daughter of Celtchar, as well as a dinner for a hundred every afternoon to be supplied to him. Then the woman beguiled him, saying to him: “Tell me,” she said, “how you may be killed.” “Red-hot iron spits have to be thrust into my soles and  p.29 through my shins.” Then she told her father that he should have two large spits made, and a sleeping spell put upon them, and that he should gather a large host to himself. And so it was done. And they went on their bellies, and the spears were thrust into his soles with sledge-hammers and right through his marrow, so that he fell by him. And Celtchar cut off his head, over which a cairn was raised, viz. a stone was placed by every man that came there.

[10] And this is the second pest, even the Dun Mouse, viz. a whelp which the son of the widow had found in the hollow of an oak, and which the widow had reared till it was big. At last then it turned 35 upon the sheep of the widow; and it killed her kine, and her son, and killed herself, and then went to the Glen of the Great Sow. 36 Every night it would devastate a liss in Ulster, and every day it lay asleep. “Free us from it, O Celtchar!” said Conchobar. And Celtchar went into a wood and brought out a log of alder; and a hole was dug in it as long as his arms, and he boiled it in fragrant herbs and in honey and in grease until it was soft and tough. Celtchar went towards the cave in which the Dun Mouse used to sleep, and he enters the cave early before the Dun Mouse came after the slaughter. It came, and its snout raised high in the air at the smell of the wood. And Celtchar pushes the wood out through the cave towards it. The hound takes it in his jaws, and puts his teeth into it, and the teeth clave in the tough wood. Celtchar pulls the wood towards him; and the hound pulls at the other side; and Celtchar puts his arm along the log (inside) and took its heart out through its jaws so that he had it in his hand. And he took its head with him.

[11] And that day, at the end of a year afterwards, cow-herds were by the side of the cairn of Horny-skin, and heard the squealing of whelps in the cairn. And they dug up the cairn and found three whelps in it, viz. a dun hound, and a hound with small spots, and a black hound. The hound with the small spots was given as a present to Mac Datho of Leinster; and for its sake multitudes of the men of Ireland fell in the house of Mac Datho, and Ailbe was the name of that hound. 37 And it would be to Culand the smith that the  p.31 dun hound was given, and the black hound was Celtchar's own Dóelchú. It let no man take hold of it save Celtchar. Once upon a time Celtchar was not at home, and the hound was let out, and the people of his household could not catch it; and it turned among the cattle and the flocks, and at last it would destroy a living creature every night in Ulster.

[12] “Free us from that pest, O Celtchar!” said Conchobar. Celtchar went towards the glen in which the hound was, and a hundred warriors with him, and three times he calls the hound until they saw it coming towards them, making straight for Celtchar until it was licking his feet. “It is sad, indeed, what the hound does,” said all. “I will no longer be incriminated for thy sake!” said Celtchar, giving it a blow with the lúin38 of Celtchar, so that he brought out its heart, whereupon it died. “Woe!” cried everybody. “'Tis true,” said he, as he raised the spear, when a drop of the hound's blood ran along the spear and went through him to the ground, so that he died of it. And his lament was set up and his stone and tomb were raised there. So this is the Tragical Death of Blái the Hospitaller, and of Horny-skin, and of Celtchar the son of Uthechar.



1. The Death of Fergus mac Roich

Whence is the tragical death of Fergus mac Róich? Not hard to tell.

[1] Fergus was in exile in Connaught after his honour had been violated in the matter of the sons of Usnech; for he was one of the three guarantors that were given to them, the other two being Dubthach Chafertongue and Cormac Conlonges the son of Conchobar. These were all in exile in the west to the end of fourteen years, and (during all that time) wailing and trembling in Ulster never ceased through them, 39 but there were wailing and trembling every night. 'Tis he who slew Fiachra the son of Conchobar, and Gerg the son of Illand, and Eogan the son of Durthacht. 40 By him, even Fergus, the Táin was brought. Many deeds he did while in the household of Ailill and Medb; and he and his people were more often abroad in the land than in Ailill's household. Three thousand was the number of the exiled company; and his comrade in Ailill's household was Lugaid the blind poet, to wit, a brother of Ailill's was that Lugaid.

[2] Once after deeds of valour they were by the lake 41 on Mag Ai, where they had a large encampment, in which games and gatherings were held. Now on a certain day the whole host went into the lake to bathe. “Go down, O Fergus,” said Ailill, “and drown the men.” “They are not good in water,” said Fergus. Nevertheless he went down. Medb's heart could not bear that, so that she went into the lake. As Fergus entered the lake, all there was of gravel and of stones at the bottom of the lake came to the surface. Then Medb went till she was on the breast of Fergus, with her legs entwined around him, and then he swam around the lake. And jealousy seized Ailill. Then Medb went up.

[3] “It is delightful what the hart and the doe are doing in the lake, O Lugaid,” said Ailill. “Why not kill them?” said Lugaid, who had never missed his aim. “Do thou have a cast at them!” said  p.35 Ailill. “Turn my face towards them!” said Lugaid, “and bring a lance to me!” Fergus was washing himself in the lake, and his breast was towards them. And his chariot is brought to Ailill, so that it was near him; and Lugaid threw the lance, so that it passed out through his back behind. “The cast has gone home!” said Lugaid. “That is true,” said all; “it is the end 42 of Fergus.”

[4] “How sad,” said Lugaid, “if I should have killed my foster-brother and comrade innocently.” “My chariot to me!” said Ailill. All the host began to flee, each man towards the shore, both the exiled and the men of Connaught. Fergus draws out the lance and hurls it after Ailill, so that it passed through the deerhound which was between the two hind-shafts of the chariot. Thereupon Fergus came out of the lake, and straightens himself out upon the hill by the side of the lake; and his soul passed out of him forthwith. And his grave is there still.

So this is the tragical Death of Fergus so far.


1. The Death of Cet mac Mágach: Version A

Version A

Whence is the Death of Cet mac Magach? Not hard to tell.

[1] Once upon a time Cet went into Ulster to seek the slaying of a man, a thing he often did (viz., to slay Ulstermen), for from his childhood he never went without the slaughter of an Ulsterman. 43

[2] So he went westwards, having the heads of thrice nine men of Ulster with him. And Conall Cernach was then sent upon his track to Brefne in Connaught (for winter-snow had fallen), until in an empty house he found him and his charioteer cooking their meal. The horses, however, were under the chariot outside.

[3] “This is Cet,” said Conall, “and it is not fitting for us to fight with him on account of his ferocity and his fierceness. He is a savage man,” said Conall. “Woe!” said the charioteer, “no good comes over thy lips, not to storm the house in which is the pest that is harrying Ulster, and it is no shame for thee to fall in combat together with him; for such is his courage until now.” 44 “O father,” said Conall, “I shall not give my life to any hero of the men of Ireland; but I shall put a token upon the horses.” Conall snatches a lock out of the mane of the horses, and puts a wisp upon the front of the chariot, and goes away eastward to Ulster.

[4] “Woe, Cet!” said the charioteer. “Not woe,” said Cet. “It is well that he has spared the horses. This is Conall('s doing),” said he, “and from this there shall be friendship, and it will be well.” “Woe,” said the charioteer, “that the man who has made a laughter of the men of Connaught should put disgrace upon thee, and thy name will not endure till Doom without thy killing him or putting him to flight this evening.” “Right indeed,” said Cet. They went after him as far as Cet's Ford.


[5] “Now, Conall!” said Cet. “What is that, Cet?” said Conall. “Thou shalt not escape to-day, O evil one,” said Cet. “That is my opinion too,” said Conall, turning towards him. And each of them smites the other, so that their shouting and their panting, and the {} of the horses, and the {} of their charioteers (?) inciting the heroes who were in the ford were heard throughout the wilderness, until both fell to this side and that. Cet, however, died forthwith, and Conall fell into a swoon.

[6] And Conall awoke out of his swoon. “Take the horses with thee to the men of Ulster,” said he, “before the men of Connaught {}” 45 However, the lad was unable to lift him into the chariot, and so he bids him farewell, and he went home. “Now, this is bad,” said Conall, “that a single man of Connaught should have wounded me, 46 while I have vowed that no single man of Connaught should kill me. And I had rather than the kingship of the world that some one of Connaught should wound me again, so that the slaying of me should not rest with one man of Connaught.”

[7] Bélchú of Brefne, however, was the first to come there. “This is Cet,” said he. “And here is Conall,” said he. “And henceforth Ireland will be happy, since these two slaughter-hounds have fallen, who ruined Ireland between them.” So saying, he set the butt-end of his spear on Conall. “Take away 47 thy spear from me, O father,” said Conall. “Thou art alive,” said Bélchú. “No thanks to thee,” said Conall, “I am alive.” “I see it, O Conall,” said Bélchú, “thou wouldst have me slay thee. But I shall not do so, for thou art dead as it is.” “Thou wouldst not dare to wound even my cloak,” said Conall, “thou wretched old woman.” “I shall not kill thee now, but there is something else. I shall carry thee with me to my house, and thou shalt be healed with me; and when thou art whole, I shall fight with thee.”

[8] So then he lifts him on his back, half dragging him behind, until he reached his house. And he brought physicians to him until he was whole. “It will be even so,” said Bélchú to his sons, “this man will escape from me and will do us no good. Kill ye the man  p.41 before he goes from us! Come then to him all of you to-morrow-night, when I will leave the house open before you, and kill him in his bed.” The man of affliction and great woe, even Conall, knew the evil intent which was (harboured) against him.

[9] “Close the house!” said Conall to Bélchú. He goes forward and leaves the house open. “Well now, Bélchú,” said Conall, “come into my bed.” “Nay,” said Bélchú. “Off with thy head!” said Conall, “unless thou come into the bed.” “It must needs be,” said Bélchú. Then Bélchú closed the house. When Bélchú had fallen asleep, Conall opens the house. The sons of Bélchú come towards the bed in which their father was and put their three spears through him, so that they killed him. And then Conall arises and plies his sword upon them, so that their brains were scattered about the walls. And he carries their four heads with him eastward until he reached his house before it was morning. So that is the Death of Cet and of Bélchú of Brefne with his sons.

2. Version B: From MSS 23 G 21, p. 140, and 23 B 21, p. 174 (RIA)

From MSS 23 G 21, p. 140, and 23 B 21, p. 174 (RIA)

(No translation supplied by Meyer. Cf. Keating's History of Ireland, section 34, p. 205.)

Document details

The TEI Header

File description

Title statement

Title (uniform): The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes

Title (supplementary): English translation

Author: unknown

Editor: Kuno Meyer

Responsibility statement

translated by: Kuno Meyer

Electronic edition compiled and proof-read by: Beatrix Färber

Funded by: University College, Cork and The HEA via PRTLI 4

Edition statement

1. First draft, revised and corrected.

Extent: 9310 words

Publication statement

Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2010

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T301037

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only. This book is available for purchase from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (School of Celtic Studies).

Source description

Manuscript sources: Death of Conchobar

  1. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS C I 2, f 5va–8rb.
  2. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 23 N 10, p 16.
  3. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 O 48 (Liber Flavus Fergusiorum), vol. II, f 52ra–b.
  4. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 1223 (olim Stowe MS, D. 4. 2), f 54a3.
  5. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 23 B 21, p 176.
  6. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 23 G 21, p 142.
  7. Dublin, Trinity College, MS H 2 18 (cat. 1339) (Book of Leinster or Leabhar Laigneach, formerly Leabhar na Núachongbála), p 123b–124b.
  8. Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS V, f 7v–8r.
  9. Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS XL, p 1–3.

Manuscript sources: Death of Lóegaire Búadach

  1. Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS XL, I, f 4v–5r.
  2. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 23 B 21, p 176.
  3. Royal Irish Academy, 23 G 21, p 142.

Manuscript sources: Death of Celtchar mac Uthechair

  1. Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS XL, I, f 5r–6r.
  2. Dublin, Trinity College, MS H 2 18 (cat. 1339) (Book of Leinster or Leabhar Laigneach, formerly Leabhar na Núachongbála), p 118b (2nd part missing).

Manuscript sources: Death of Fergus mac Róich

  • Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS XL, I, f 3r–3v.

Manuscript sources: Death of Cet mac Mágach

  1. Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS XL, I, f 4r–4v.
  2. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 23 G 21, p 140.
  3. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 23 B 21, p 174.


  1. Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville (ed.), Essai d'un Catalogue de la littérature épique de l'Irlande (Paris 1883).
  2. Kuno Meyer, 'The Edinburgh Gaelic manuscript XL', Celtic Magazine 12 (1887) 203–18.
  3. Kuno Meyer, 'Goire Conaill Chernaig i Crúachain ocus aided Ailella ocus Conaill Chernaig' ['The Cherishing of Conall Cernach in Cruachan, and the Death of Ailill and of Conall Cernach'], Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 1 (1897) 102–111.
  4. Whitley Stokes, 'Tidings of Conchobar mac Nessa', Ériu 4, pt. 1 (1908) 19–39.
  5. Rudolf Thurneysen, Die irische Helden- und Königsage bis zum siebzehnten Jahrhundert. Teil I und II. Halle/Saale 1921.
  6. Proinsias Mac Cana, The Learned Tales of Medieval Ireland. (Dublin: DIAS 1980).
  7. Ruth P.M. Lehmann, 'Death and Vengeance in the Ulster Cycle', Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 43 (1989)1–10.
  8. Johan Corthals, 'The Retoiric in Aided Chonchobuir', Ériu 40 (1989) 41–59.
  9. Seán Duffy (ed.), Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia (Routledge Encyclopedias of the Middle Ages) (London 2004).
  10. John T. Koch (ed.), Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia (Santa Barbara 2005).

The edition used in the digital edition

Meyer, Kuno, ed. (1906). The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes‍. 1st ed. vii + 35 pp., v-vii Preface, 1-42 Text and Translation, 43-45 Notes, 46 Index Nominum, 47 Index Locorum, 48-52 Glossary, 53 Further Addenda and Corrigenda. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  title 	 = {The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes},
  editor 	 = {Kuno Meyer},
  edition 	 = {1},
  note 	 = {vii + 35 pp., v-vii Preface, 1-42 Text and Translation, 43-45 Notes, 46 Index Nominum, 47 Index Locorum, 48-52 Glossary, 53 Further Addenda and Corrigenda.},
  publisher 	 = {Royal Irish Academy },
  address 	 = {Dublin},
  date 	 = {1906},
  UNKNOWN 	 = {seriesStmt}


Encoding description

Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

Sampling declarations

The present text represents the editor's preface (v-vii), introduction (2-3) and odd pages 3–41 of the translation. For version B of the Death of Lóegaire Búadach and version B of the Death of Cet mac Mágach no translation is supplied.

Editorial declarations

Correction: Text has been checked and proofread twice, all corrections and supplied text being tagged.

Normalization: The electronic text represents the printed text. The editor's corrigenda have been integrated.

Hyphenation: When a hyphenated word (hard or soft) crosses a line break, the break is marked after the completion of the hyphenated word. There are no instances of hyphenated words crossing a page break.

Segmentation: div0=the group of tales; div1=the section comprising one or more versions of the tale; div2=the individual (version of a) tale; paragraphs are marked p. Poems are treated as embedded texts, with stanzas marked lg and metrical lines tagged l.

Interpretation: Names of persons (given names), places and group names are not tagged. Direct speech is rendered q; except where it cannot be nested within or outside the apparatus; then it is rendered '.

Reference declaration

A canonical reference to a location in this text should be made using “Tale”, eg Tale 1.

Profile description

Creation: Translation by Kuno Meyer.

Date: 1906

Language usage

  • The text is in English. (en)
  • Some words are in Irish. (ga)
  • Some words and phrases are in Latin. (la)

Keywords: Death of Conchobar; Aided Chonchobuir; Death of Lóegaire Búadach; Aided Lóegairi Búadaig; Death of Celtchar mac Uthechair; Aided Cheltchair maic Uthechair; Death of Fergus mac Róich; Aided Fergusa maic Róich; Death of Cet mac Mágach; Aided Cheit maic Mágach; prose; medieval; translation

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2010-10-04: File proofed to end (1); addenda and corrigenda added. Header completed; file parsed, SGML and HTML versions created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2010-09-30: Header created, file proofed (1) to p. 23; structural and content markup added. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2010-08-13: Text scanned. (data capture Beatrix Färber)

Index to all documents

CELT Project Contacts



For details of the markup, see the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)

page of the print edition

folio of the manuscript

numbered division

 999 line number of the print edition (in grey: interpolated)

underlining: text supplied, added, or expanded editorially

italics: foreign words; corrections (hover to view); document titles

bold: lemmata (hover for readings)

wavy underlining: scribal additions in another hand; hand shifts flagged with (hover to view)

TEI markup for which a representation has not yet been decided is shown in red: comments and suggestions are welcome.

Other languages

G301037: The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes (in Irish)

Source document


Search CELT

  1. For a full account of the contents of this manuscript, one of the most valuable in the Edinburgh collection, see my article in the Celtic Magazine for 1887, pp. 208–218. 🢀

  2. The Stowe MS. cited by him is now marked D. 4. 2. The copy of Aided Chonchobuir is found on fol. 54a2. 🢀

  3. Another copy of this version is in the Stowe MS. C.I. 2. fo. 5b-8a. 🢀

  4. Forbais Dúin Binni is the title of a tale mentioned in the list in the Book of Leinster, p. 189c; but no copy of it is known. 🢀

  5. The manuscript, indeed, says (Lib. Flav., paragraph 1) that he came from Leinster, though it makes Conchobar ask him for news of Alba (i.e. Great Britain) and Leth Moga (the southern half of Ireland), for which we should unquestionably read Letha (i.e. the Continent). For from meaning either Latium or Brittany, Letha has practically come to denote the Continent. 🢀

  6. i.e. “the Oakwood of the two foolish ones,” not identified. 🢀

  7. i.e. “the Hawthorn of the height of the hound (or hounds),” not identified. 🢀

  8. i.e. “Shornhead.”  🢀

  9. i.e. “Highfield,” near Newtown Hamilton, Co. Armagh. 🢀

  10. to his druids Ed. 🢀

  11. From this point the Edinburgh version continues as follows: “A thousand armed men shall fall by me in the rescue of Christ.” Thereupon he sprang towards his two lances and brandished them stoutly so that they broke in his hand; and then he took his sword in his hand and attacked the wood around him so that he made a plain of the wood, even Mag Lámraige in the land of the men of the Rosses. And he said this: “'Tis thus I should avenge Christ upon the Jews and upon those that crucified Him, if I could reach them.” Through that fury the brain of Mesgegra sprang out of his head so that his own brains came upon him, so that he died of it. And hence all say: “A dweller in Heaven is Conchobar for the wish [I read dúthracht for durtacht.] which he has uttered.” This is the last thing Conchobar said, “Whoever would carry me without stopping under me as far as my house,” said he, “shall have the kingship of Ulster,” &c. [Here follows the story of Cenn Berraide, as above.] God revealed the brain of Mesgegra to Buite the son of Bronach, so that at this day it is Buite's pillow; and everyone upon whom the brain of Mesgegra goes as he goes to death is sure of Heaven. And there is a saying that it will be carried southward into Leinster, and that thereafter Leinster will have superiority. So this is the Death of Conchobar as far as that. 🢀

  12. I cannot translate the rest of the rhetoric. 🢀

  13. Read cen dúleman dígail. 🢀

  14. I cannot translate the “rhetoric” which follows. 🢀

  15. cotnoscrastar, 3 sg. deponent preterite of con-oscraim (con-od-scaraim). 🢀

  16. The Irish is corrupt here. 🢀

  17. See above, p. 2, note. 🢀

  18. cen láthair freasguil = cen láthair ferdai, Ériu 2, p. 198, l. 16. 🢀

  19. From a poem of six stanzas in Laud 610, fo. 74a1. 🢀

  20. I do not understand ní laimthi liacc. 🢀

  21. i.e. Cináed húa Hartacáin 🢀

  22. Another copy in the Stowe MS. B.IV.2, fo. 150b. 🢀

  23. On this form of the name see the notes. 🢀

  24. For this meaning of the phrase ót áis see Ériu 2, p. 87. 🢀

  25. i.e. Mesgegra, who was a Leinster King. 🢀

  26. ráin, a by-form of ran, required by the metre. 🢀

  27. for ruth, lit. “a running,” “speedily.” Cf. for rith, Imram Brain, 2., p. 302, paragraph 5, and see the note, ib. p. 304. 🢀

  28. tairnit, present tense, used, as in German and French, of an action that has been going on for some time and continues up to the present. 🢀

  29. Aitten-chairchech, more usually called Aitten-chaithrech, and corruptly Etan-chaithrech. As to the exact meaning see Ériu 1, p. 117, note b. 🢀

  30. This would appear to be the sense; but go mbenta gach tráig is obscure to me. 🢀

  31. i.e., I suppose, Cuchulinn would have avenged the deed on the spot. 🢀

  32. Now the two baronies of Decies in Co. Waterford. 🢀

  33. A tribal territory of the Déssi, so called, according to the Expulsion of the Déssi (p. 122), from Semon mac Oenguso maic Celtchair maic Uithechair.  🢀

  34. i.e. Horn-skin. 🢀

  35. dofell ar evidently stands for do-ell for. Cf. dosái forsna cethra below. 🢀

  36. Not identified. 🢀

  37. See the story of Mac Dathó's pig, Hibernica Minora, p. 57. 🢀

  38. A lance with deadly qualities, found in the Battle of Moytura and described in Bruden Dá Derga, paragraph 129 (see Meyer's note, p. 45). 🢀

  39. i.e. through their deeds of vengeance. 🢀

  40. i.e. the murderer of the sons of Usnech. 🢀

  41. i.e. Findloch. See Revue Celtique 23, p. 338. 🢀

  42. There is here an untranslateble play on the word bruinne, which means both “breast” and “end”. 🢀

  43. Cf. fer ná dechaid asa náindin riam eret robói gái ina láim cen chenn Connachtaig leis, Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 1, p. 103, 1. 🢀

  44. Here the text seems corrupt. 🢀

  45. romaigset🢀

  46. Something like this seems omitted. 🢀

  47. Literally “take heed”. 🢀


2 Carrigside, College Road, Cork