CELT document T302002

King Eochaid has horse's ears


Cuislinn Brighde ⁊ Aidhed Meic Díchóime

Edited by Kuno Meyer

King Eochaid has horse's ears

[1] There once ruled a famous king over the Hui Failgi, Eochaid was his name. The king had a great blemish, namely two horse's ears. To hide his blemish he wore a golden crown raised up on his head. However, at the time of shaving he used to go into wildernesses and solitudes and hidden places to be shaved. But the shaver would never come back. He was killed. That was the wage and reward of his shaving.

[2] Now, the king had his brother's son in his household. His name was Angus; however, he was not called so, but Mac Dichoime, for Dichoim (i.e. Unlovely) was his mother's name, and from her the son was so called. For the mother was a good woman, though she was unlovely. He was a splendid, keen, ingenious youth, and it was he who would shave the hosts, and who possessed the an of grooming their horses. He also used to rivet their spears and javelins and blades and sharp broad lances; and he would entertain them by piping and timpan-playing, by lays and songs, by wanton and satirical poems. Likewise he was quick and ready and nimble at swimming and at the chase. He was renowned in the arts of arms and weapons, so that he was a special favourite in the love and affection of men and women. And the queen herself, the wife of Eochaid, did not abhor his stories, and would have consented to lie with him, if that had been her husband's pleasure as much as her own.

[3] Now the queen's name was mentioned in that wise in connection with that of the gentle fair son of Dichoim, so that everybody heard of it. And the king also heard it, and was jealous of his brother's son, and wished to kill him.  p.50 However, he thought it a shame to kill him through jealousy. So he sent messengers to him, inviting him to come with him to visit a certain wilderness. And for two reasons he sent for him above every one else, for he wished to be shaved (the time of shaving having come), and to wreak and avenge his anger and jealousy upon him afterwards when he had been shaved. The hosts thought that a great disgrace, for they were sure that the fair son of Dichoim would not come back after having shaved the king, just as no one had ever come back.

[4] The youth went into the wilderness with the king, and there they found an empty house. “We had better be shaved,” said the king, “since we are alone.” “I am capable of shaving you well,” said the youth, and thereupon he shaves him. “Is that head of mine good and stately after being newly shaved?” asked the king. “It is good indeed,” said the youth, “and may it be better and better!” The king stretches out his hand for his sword to slay the youth. “It is I who will take it,” said the youth, “and who will deal a blow at your head, you parricide, lest you commit parricide on any one else after me. From this day you shall leave your wife and your inheritance and your land and kingship, you big-eared foul-headed horse! Many hosts and multitudes shall behold your head when I have struck it off you!” And the lad unsheathed the sword, and raised it above his head to bring it down upon the king and to kill him. “May God's right hand intervene!” said Eochaid. “Not thus shall it be between us, boy! You shall share equally my rank with me, and you shall always shave me, so long as you will keep your secret of what you have seen of me.” “I will keep it,” said the youth, “and increase of friendship shall come from this event”.

[5] So the two of them went home, and the hosts were joyful thereat. However, it was a sore trouble for the youth to keep his secret, so that he was thrown upon his bed in a wasting lingering illness and in a fever and leprosy and great misery, without strength and energy. One day, to seek healing and cure the youth went to the house of a certain seer-leech who was in Gensille. As he was crossing the moor in Gensille which is called Moin Coimthechta he fell upon his face, so that three streams of blood broke from his lips and nostrils, and thereby he was cured.

[6] On another day, at the end of a year, the host and Mac  p.52 Dichoime went to the same place where he had fallen, and where he had vomited forth his secret, and he informs the host: “Here,” he said, “was I cured, and vomited three streams of blood,” and he uttered these quatrains:

  1. Here was cured
    The son of Dichoim
    By vomiting forth his secret (a rough stream)
    Regarding the terrible fierce Eochaid.
  2. When I went to seek my cure,
    After a year, I had kept a secret,
    Which had thrown me into a wasting,
    Into feebleness and into an evil state.
  3. Streams of blood (I felt the better of it)
    Poured forth over my lips, from my nose,
    My God has ordained them to be trees.
    So that they are now seen here.
Then the hosts saw three straight saplings, and knew not who... 1 He let the host pass on before him, and stayed behind to make a circular enclosure about them, and when he had ended and finished his work he went after the host.

[7] After that a certain artist from the land of Munster came to seek Eochaid, a famous harper he was with poems of satire 2. He happened to come along the road where the enclosure of the saplings was, and he and his company were looking at the saplings. Then said one sapling to another: “Eochaid, the man of the shield, has two horse's ears.” Three times they said that. “That is a good strain for our harp,” said the harper, and he spoke these verses:

  1. The conversation of the saplings,
    (We were not loth at the swift talking,)
    Would make a strain for my harp
    So that it would be a noble famous strain.
  2. Eochaid, the man of the bounding shield,
    Two horse's ears have cleaved to him,
    That was the conversation of the healthy saplings,
    The fruit of whispers and converse.


[8] Then the harper went to the house of the king, and was well received by him. He and his company were taken to the house where the king lay. “Strike up!” said Eochaid. “Harp us something ingenious!” “That is our intention,” said they. They begin to play to him, and what they played was: “Eochaid, the man of the shield, has two horse's ears.” “Let light and a candle be brought into the house!” cried the king. When the light and the candles and shining lamps had come, he said: “Throw yourselves upon the chest of the harpers and bind them!” And forthwith they were bound, and they continued in their fetters till the morning.

[9] On the morrow the host came. “It were better,” said the harpers, “not to kill us till you know our guilt.” “Let every one go out!” said Eochaid. “Confess,” said he, “who it was from whom you obtained that strain.” “This is it,” said they. “The saplings which grew from the vomit of Mac Dichoime sang it to us.” “'Tis true,” said the king. “It is difficult for men to keep close secrets, when even trees cannot keep one. Unbind the harpers!” said he. He takes his helmet off his head: “It is thus I am, ye men of Offaly!” said he, and spoke these verses:

  1. A helmet round my head, 'twas great toil,
    To hide my blemish from every troop,
    From this hour onwards
    It shall not come to protect my ears.
  2. O men of Offaly, behold this!
    Eochaid's ears are two horse's ears!
    Let no one hide in his house
    That he has seen Eochaid's ears.
  3. 'Tis a great task to keep anything secret.
    Hard to do so after me,
    After everybody whom it has killed,
    It was a harsh command, it was rough.
  4. No one shall be able to keep a secret now
    After the son of Dichoim,
    And after the story of the three trees
    I shall not willingly put on a helmet.
“We shall not love and cherish you the less on that account,” said the men of Offaly, “and your sway and kingship over us shall not be less weak.” The king gave the helmet to the harper in payment for the injury which he had suffered.


[10] Then Mac Dichoime went to the saplings and made a double pipe from them. And afterwards he obtained the kingship after Eochaid, and though he had become king he did not part from his pipe.

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Title statement

Title (uniform): King Eochaid has horse's ears

Title (original, Irish): Cuislinn Brighde ⁊ Aidhed Meic Díchóime

Author: unknown

Editor: Kuno Meyer

Responsibility statement

Translated into English by: Kuno Meyer

Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

Funded by: University College, Cork, School of History

Edition statement

1. First draft.

Extent: 2255 words

Publication statement

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

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

Date: 2016

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

CELT document ID: T302002

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Source description

Manuscript Source

  • Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, RIA D 4. 2, 15th century, scribe Eoghain Ó Hachoideirn, fo 52b1–53b2. For a manuscript description see the ISOS online catalogue at https://www.isos.dias.ie.

Literature, editions, translations

  1. Whitley Stokes, Mythological Notes: VII. Labraid Lorc and his Ears, Revue Celtique 2 (1870) 197–199 (from H 2 16, the Yellow Book of Lecan, col. 690, 691).
  2. Käte Müller-Lisowski, Irische Volksmärchen (Jena 1923) (German translation).
  3. Rudolf Thurneysen, 'Die Flöte von Mac Díchoeme', Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 19 (1932) 117–124. (Based on the second part of the manuscript).
  4. Tristano Bolelli (ed), 'La leggenda del re dalle orecchie di cavallo in Irlanda'. In: Due studi irlandesi. Preistoria della poesia irlandese. La leggenda del re dalle orecchie di cavallo in Irlanda. (Pisa 1950) 43–98. (Based on the stories 'Labraid Lorc and his ears' and 'King Eochaid has horse's ears). With Italian translation and glossary.
  5. Máirtín Ó Briain, 'Cluasa capaill ar an rí: AT 782 i dtraidisiún na hÉireann', Béaloideas 53 (1985) 11–74.
  6. Gaël Milin, Le roi Marc aux oreilles de cheval, vol. 197, Publications romanes et françaises (Geneva 1991).
  7. John Carey, 'From David to Labraid: sacral kingship and the emergence of monotheism in Israel and Ireland, in: Katja Ritari and Alexandra Bergholm (eds), Approaches to religion and mythology in Celtic studies. (Newcastle upon Tyne 2008) 2–27.
  8. Ralph O'Connor, Classical Literature and Learning in Medieval Irish Narrative (Woodbridge 2014).
  9. Otia Merseiana 3 is available on www.archive.org.

The edition used in the digital edition

‘Stories and songs from Irish manuscripts VII: King Eochaid has horse’s ears’ (1903). In: Otia Merseiana‍ 3. Ed. by Kuno Meyer, pp. 50–54.

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

  editor 	 = {Kuno Meyer},
  title 	 = {Stories and songs from Irish manuscripts VII: King Eochaid has horse's ears},
  journal 	 = {Otia Merseiana},
  volume 	 = {3},
  address 	 = {London},
  publisher 	 = {Th. Wohlleben},
  date 	 = {1903},
  pages 	 = {50–54}


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Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

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The electronic text covers pages 50–54. The Irish original is available in a separate file, G302002.

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Correction: Text has been checked and proof-read once.

Normalization: The electronic text represents the edited text. Meyer's introduction is integrated into the Irish file. Selected editorial footnotes are integrated into the electronic edition.

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Creation: English translation by Kuno Meyer

Date: 1903

Language usage

  • The text is in English. (en)
  • Some text in a footnote is in Middle Irish. (ga)

Keywords: prose; medieval; Kings Cycle; Disfiguration; Blemish; Horse; translation

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2019-06-05: Changes made to div0 type. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2016-16-03: File captured. (data capture Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2016-05-04: File parsed and validated; SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2016-03-16: TEI header created. Text proofed (1) and encoded according to Irish companion file. (ed. Beatrix Färber)

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G302002: King Eochaid has horse's ears (in Irish)

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  1. Adfeta is obscure to me. 🢀

  2. Should we read co fáthaib airchetail? 🢀


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