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Sunday, 24 August 2014

Aided Muirchertach Mac Erca - Full Version

The Violent Death of Muirchertach mac Erca.

Aided Muirchertach Mac Erca, tenth to twelfth century composition. The updated English translation used for this story of Mac Erca’s death is based on that by Whitley Stokes, Aided Muirchertaig Meic Erca, Revue Celtique 23 (1902) pp. 395–437. This translation however, leaves out most of the verses, which add much more information than the narrative alone gives. I have therefore endeavoured to translate the verses using the French translation by Guyonvarc’h as a guide but with the help of Dhonnchadha’s vocabulary list, eDill (Electronic dictionary of the Irish Language) and with the help of the scholars of the Old Irish Language discussion group. I have also left the paragraph numbers intact to make referral to the original Irish source easier. Therefore, presented here for the first time is the full English translation of this story. An examination of the sources and dating is then presented after the tale, both from my book with references -  King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition.

1. Muircertach son of Muiredach, son of Eoghan, King of Ireland was in the palace of Cletech on the bank of Boyne of the Brug with his wife, Duinsech daughter of Duach brazen tongue King of Connacht. Muircertach came forth one day to hunt on the border of the Brug, and his hunting companions left him alone on his hunting mound.

2. He had not been there long when he saw a solitary damsel beautifully formed, fair-headed, bright-skinned, with a green mantle about her, sitting near him on the turf mound; and it seemed to him that of womankind he had never seen her equal in beauty and refinement. All his body and his nature filled with love for her, for gazing at her it seemed to him that he would give the whole of Ireland for one night’s loan of her, so utterly did he love her at first sight. He welcomed her as if she was known to him, and he asked tidings of her.

3. “I will tell you,” she said. “I am the darling of Muircertach Mac Erca, King of Erin, and to seek him I came here.” That seemed good to Muircertach, and he said to her, “Do you know me, O damsel?” “I do,” she answered; “for skilled am I in places more secret than this, and known to me are you and the other men of Erin.” “Will you come with me, O damsel?” said Muircertach. “I would go,” she answered, “provided my reward be good.” I will give you power over me, O damsel,” said Muircertach. “Your word for this!” rejoined the damsel and he gave it at once and she sang this song:

His power is not; his person is ready,
But for the teachings of the clerics,
But for the mildness of the day,
By no means would I have come here.

Do not proceed to the will of the clerics
Until your woman is ready.
Do not yourself go through the clerics,
Do not do anything for them.

Do not take the sharp chides of the Clerics
I am the illustrious woman of soft voice,
Every person is better for it having fed of me.
Be not obedient to those sulphurous Clerics.

O woman, do not say this.
Do not rebuke the people of the faith,
The Clerics who believe in Christ.
There is no one more skilful than they.

4. “I will give you a hundred of every herd, and a hundred drinking-horns, and a hundred cups, and a hundred rings of gold, and a feast every other night in the house of Cletech.” “No,” said the damsel; “not so shall it be. What I want is that my name must never be uttered by you, and Duinsech, the mother of your children, must not be in my sight, and clerics must never enter the house that I am in.” “All this you shall have,” said the king, “for I pledged you my word; but it would be easier for me to give you half of Ireland. And tell me truly;” said the king, “what is your name, so that we may avoid it by not uttering it.” And she said, “Sigh, Sough, Sin (Storm), Rough Wind, Winter­ Night, Cry, Wail, Groan.” So then, he uttered this lay:

Tell me your name, O damsel,
You most beloved, star-bright lady,
You who parts me from my family,
Don't hide it from me by withholding it.

Sigh, Roaring, Storm without reproach
Rough wind and winter nights,
Tears, Lament, the silent Wail
And the sound of the weeping cow.

I will give you a hundred heads
Oh damsel without error,
If you would allow me oh maiden to utter your name,
To be saying each, one at a time.

What good would it be to suffer wounds?
Oh king of Ireland, ultimate ruler.
You will die if you say them oh king,
Your strength will come to nothing.

To be injured would not be pleasant at this time
Oh damsel of brightness to mine eyes.
Alas this is indeed too true,
Sigh, Roar and Storm.

You cannot speak this without weakness,
It would be an easy way to your early death,
And you would not be able to come to
The mother of your children, Duinsech.

I will happily to do your will,
Let your mind not be anxious.
Do not say any more words of foreboding,
I will not utter or speak [your names].

5. Each of these things was promised to her, and thus he pledged himself. Then they went together to the house of Cletech.

Good was the arrangement of that house,
Good were its household and staff,
And all the nobles of the clan Niall,
Cheerfully and spiritedly, gaily and gladly,
Consuming the tribute and wealth of every province
In the trophy-decorated house of Cletech.
Above the brink of the salmon-filled Boyne,
Ever lovely above the green topped Brug.

And give thou testimony as to this house,” said the king. So she said:

Never has been built by a king above the waves
A house like thy home above the Boyne,
It will never be out done,
Until the final forces of doomsday.

Cletech the choicest home of Fodla
It is known far and wide
From Thoraid to Carnd Ui Neit
Before it there is no finer, no doubt.

The Clann of Eoghan in that house,
The high race of Niall, who are not in need,
No family is there better amongst
The countries of Alban and Ireland.

O thou, Muirchertaig, without treason,
There was never a hero who came against you
That would come another day.
O grandson of Eoghan, no one like you.

She is suitable for you, no doubt,
Duinsech, daughter of the king of Connacht.
She is desirable of form and of beautiful complexion.
There is no better wife around us.

7. “What shall be done here now?” demanded the damsel. “That which you desire,” replied Muircertach. “If so,” said Sin, “let Duinsech and her children leave the house, and let a man of every craft and art in Ireland come with his wife into the drinking-hall.” Thus it was done, and each began praising his own craft and art, and a stave was made by every craftsman and artist who was therein:

Pleasant, pleasant the noble realm
Of Erin’s land, great is its rank,
It is customary to receive tributes
In the lovely house of Cleitech.

Pleasant, pleasant is the kingdom of the Queen
Pleasant and gentle are its maledictions
Finding good work is easy,
To dance is to have pleasure.

Pleasant, pleasant is the principate,
The King of Ireland holds Royal power,
Although Ireland is close to us,
What man would not find it pleasant?

Pleasant, pleasant is its agriculture,
To the man who lives in the country,
Lots of cattle and suitable work,
Without poverty, it is agreeable.

Pleasant, pleasant the music undoubtedly is,
Musicians with noble qualities,
Has anyone sung more melodiously?
It is nice to hear them always.

Pleasant, pleasant is the art of forging,
The people who practice without hindrance,
For the good of the people and the church,
This power is not unpleasant.

Pleasant, pleasant, be lovely metal work,
To all those who practice together,
There are many servants for us,
It is for us a delightful hill.

Pleasant, pleasant is the valour,
Of Mac Erca of great strength,
In the house of Cleitech of diligent work,
Who would not find this fortress agreeable?
Pleasant, pleasant is every difficult art,
Now in the land of Ireland,
That everyone uses diligently,
Among the nobles, it is pleasing.

8. When the drinking was ended Sin said to Muircertach, “It is time now to leave the house to me, as hath been promised.” Then she put the Clan of Niall, and Duinsech with her children, forth out of Cletech; and this is their number, both men and women, two equally great and gallant battalions.

9. Duinsech went with her children from Cletech to Tuilen, to seek her confessor the holy bishop Cairnech. When she got to Cairnech she uttered these words:

O cleric, bless my body,
I am afraid of death to-night,
A woman of the Síd appeared to me.
I was powerless against her.

O woman, your fate will be good
You shall have heaven, no lie
The journey that you have undertaken,
You do not have to make again.

Arise and go there yourself O Cleric
To the children of Eogan and Conall,
As we are under a yoke together
We are humbled on the hill.

Later you will go to Oenach Reil,
O Duinsech of good virtue,
It is you that will forever,
Prevail over that ancient tree of the fortress.

I thank the son of Mary,
And the king who sees everything,
That you believe in me,
I thank you, O Cleric.

10. Thereafter Cairnech came to the descendents of Eogan and Conall, and they went back together to Cletech, but Sin would not let them near the fortress. At this act the Clan of Niall were dis­tressed and mournful. Then Cairnech was greatly angered, and he cursed the house, and made a grave for the king, and said, “He whose grave this is hath finished; and truly it is an end to his realm and his princedom!” And he went to the top of the grave, and said:

The mound of these bells forever,
Henceforward everyone will know,
The grave of the champion Mac Erca:
Not slack have been his journeys.
A curse upon this hill,
On Cletech with hundreds of troops!
May neither its corn nor its milk be good,
May it be full of hatred and evil plight!
May neither king nor prince be in it,
May no one come out of it victoriously!
During my day I shall remember
The King of Erin’s grave in the mound.

11. So then Cairnech cursed the fortress and blessed a place therein, and then he came forth in grief and sorrow. And the Clan of Niall said to him, “Bless us now, O cleric, that we may go to our own country, for we are not guilty in regards to you”

12. Cairnech blessed them and left a grant to them, namely, to the Clan Conall and the Clan Eogan, that whenever they had not the leadership or the kingship of Ireland, their power should be over every province around them; and that they should have the - succession of Ailech and Tara and Ulster; and that they should take no wage from any one, for this was their own inherent right, the kingship of Ireland. That they should be without fetter or hostage, and that there should be decay upon the hostages if they absconded; and that they should gain victory in battle provided it was delivered for a just cause, and that they should have three standards, namely, the Cathach and the Bell of Patrick (i.e., of the Bequest), and the Misach of Cairnech, and that the grace of these reliquaries should be on any one of them against battle, as Cairnech left to them, saying:

My blessing on you till doomsday,
O Clan of Niall constantly,
Un-plundered are the lands of Mac Erca,
Your adventures will be famous.

Do not kill hostages oh glorious King.
Whether near or far,
Your nobility will want for nothing,
Your sovereignty will be endless.

Your descendants will never be overthrown,
They will never offer submission,
They will not refuse the challenge of combat,
They will never be without prosperity.

You carry out plundering across the land,
Because you are the High King,
Then will be destruction and no submission,
Unless to the king alone.

You possess hostages with strength of arms,
But you are not repentant as the book teaches,
All will flee before you in battle,
Until the end times, nothing the like of it.

You have brothers of your own.
Whether near or far.
The legacy and inheritance of your battles,
Your deeds shall last for all time.

When you threaten, it shall not be gentle,
You will be feared in every land,
Everyone will hear of your good fortune,
In each country, you will be dreaded.

I speak of the truth that
When you shall die O’ king,
I will say prayers from the book for you,
Moreover, the writing shall be in blood.

With the blood of the arm,
The death of your royal lineage,
Will be like gore and blood,
Between Loch Febail and the Sea.

My blessing on your country,
To your men of bright virtue,
Yours will be Ériu forever,
And you have my blessing.

Each of them then went to their own stronghold and their own good place.

13. Cairnech came on towards his monastery, and there met him great hosts, namely the descendants of Tadg son of Cian son of Ailill Olom. And they brought Cairnech with them to make their arrangement and their treaty with Muircertach Mac Erca; and when the king was told of this, he came forth from his stronghold and bade them welcome.

14. But when Muircertach espied the cleric with them, there came a great blush upon him, and he exclaimed, “Why have you come: to us, O cleric, after cursing us?” “I have come,” he answered, “to make peace between the descendants of Tadg son of Cian and the descendants of Eogan Mac Neill.” And Muircertach said to Cairnech:

Go, thou cleric, afar,
Be not near, against our will,
You have placed a curse
Over my royal grave.

The reason I am here,
Ignoring the curse,
Is to seal the treaty
Between the tribes of Eoghan and Tadg.

For both the Gailenga and the Luigne,
And the Saitne Ciandacht are all in agreement.
The men of Ard Dealbna are of the same accord.
The descendents of Aeda Odba being exempt.

Your bloods have co joined,
With Mac Erca’s of great strength,
And it has been written by me in the book,
This treaty with Clann Eoghan and the Gailenga.

Should anyone curse either party,
In this treaty of Sil Eoghan and Sil Tadg,
Be great injury inflicted upon them,
And great hurt be carried always.

If a bondsman kills another,
Such betrayal shall not be good,
His body shall be destroyed,
It will be as nothing.

This is your alliance here,
As granted by heaven in your honour,
I will preserve it in memory,
As I raise this vessel.

Then a treaty was made between them, and Cairnech mingled the blood of both of them in one vessel, and wrote how they had made the treaty then.

15. Then when the treaty had been made, and when Cairnech had blessed them all, and left shortness of life and hell to him who should knowingly infringe the treaty, he quitted them and returned to his monastery. And the king went to his stronghold, and those hosts with him, to guard against the Clan of Niall.

16. The king sat on his throne, and Sin sat on his right, and never on earth had there come a woman better than she in shape and appearance. The king looked on her, and sought knowledge and asked questions of her, for it seemed to him that she was a goddess of great power, and he asked her what was the power that she had. Like this he spoke and she answered:

Tell me, you ready damsel,
Do you believe in the God of the clerics?
Or from whom you have sprung in this world?
Tell us your origin.

I believe in the same true God
Helper of my body against death’s attack;
You cannot work in this world a miracle
Of which I could not work its like.
I am the daughter of a man and a woman
Of the race of Adam and Eve;
I am fit for you here,
Let no regret seize you.
I could create a sun and a moon,
And radiant stars:
I could create men fiercely
Fighting in conflict.
I could make wine—no falsehood—
Of the Boyne, as I can obtain it,
And sheep of stones,
And swine of ferns.
I could make silver and gold
In the presence of the great hosts:
I could make famous men now for you.

17. “Work for us,” said the king, “some of these great miracles.” Then Sin went forth and arrayed two battalions equally great, equally strong, and equally gallant. It seemed to them that never came on earth two battalions that were bolder and more heroic than they, slaughtering and maiming and swiftly killing each other in the presence of every one.

18. “Do you see that?” said the damsel; “indeed my power is in no wise a fraud.” “I see,” said Muircertach, and he said:

I see two battalions bold and fair
On the plain in strife,
No one will believe that there is not
Battle and conflict here.
The brave battalions perform feats.
We will break them with our superior weapons,
We will not cease to smite their bodies,
It is not a displeasing battle.
Never was there such a conflict on earth,
With warlike men who were not worthy,
Never has come two battalions like these I see.

19. Then the king with his household came into the fortress. When they had been a while seeing the fighting, some of the water of the Boyne was brought to them, and the king told the damsel to make wine of it. The damsel then filled three casks with water, and cast a spell upon them; and it seemed to the king and his household that never came on earth wine of better taste or strength. So of the fern she made fictitious swine of enchantment, and then she gave the wine and the swine to the host, and they partook of them until, as they supposed, they were sated. Furthermore, she promised that she would give them forever and forever the same amount; whereupon Muircertach said:

Hitherto never has come here
Food like the food ye see,
No end of wine as if it is wine
A feast worthy of a noble king.

Sufficient for the men of Ireland,
Forever you have this ford.
The beer and wine has made you weak,
Evil is the fairy troop.

Mac Erca:
Bless this green and our strength,
Oh beautiful maiden of magic.
Good fortune to whom it reaches,
If the maiden does not lie.

20. So the descendants of Tadg son of Cian, when the partaking of the magical feast was ended, kept watch over the king that night. When he rose on the morrow he was as if he were in a decline, and so was everyone else who had partaken of the wine and the ficti­tious magical flesh which Sin had arranged for that feast. And the king said:

O damsel, my strength has departed,
My final burial has almost come
After that night even though not injured,
I feel weak and languid.

The wine you consumed, O King,
There is none that has been stronger.
It has consumed your wonderful body,
But it will do no harm to your soul.

We two people are meant to be,
You and me O lovely woman,
You are the damsel chosen for me.

21. Then the king said to her, “Show us something of your art, O damsel!” “I will do so indeed,” said she. They fared forth, that is, Muircertach and all the hosts that were with him. Then Sin made of the stones blue men, and others with heads of goats; so that there were four great battalions under arms before him on the green of the Brug. Muircertach then seized his arms and his battle-dress and went among them like a swift, angry, mad bull, and forthwith took to slaughtering them and wounding them, and every man of them that be killed used to rise up after him at once. And thus he was killing them through the fair day till night. Though great were the rage and the wrath of the king, he was wearied thus, and he said:

I see a marvel on that side,
In the foaming waters of the river,
All those from the battalions I killed
Are alive with gory bodies.

Your sovereignty has come to an end,
I cannot deny it O noble king,
For each of those that your hand has destroyed,
It is fitting that they are still alive.

It is the truth I tell,
I cannot conceal the host from you,
The blue men in battle and contention,
Are more powerful than the great son.

Mac Erca:
I say that I do not hack the heather,
This is not the combat of a strong champion.
I have defeated many hundreds of armies,
By the courageous struggles of my red sword.
To the Cleric who helped you,
Let him write about this brave struggle,
About the multitude who fell miserably,
The blue men with heads of goats.

Mac Erca:
I will deliver proper combat.
So do not revile the cleric.
My memory is recovering now,
I can see the battle.

22. So when the king was weary from fighting and smiting the hosts, he came sadly into the fortress, and Sin gave him magical wine and magical pig’s flesh. And he and his household partook of them, and at the end he slept heavily until morning, and when rising on the morrow be had neither strength nor vigour. And he said:

I am without strength, thou gentle lady,
Even if my fortress were threatened with destruction,
I would be unable to raise my right arm in its defence,
I would be neglecting my duty, which would not be good.

The holy Cleric has spoken,
Your death has nearly come,
He will help you again,
Do not leave with ignorance.

Mac Erca:
It is good to recall completely,
What now the lovely maiden brings.
And today even in oppression,
I will not give up someone like you.

23. As they were saying this, they heard the heavy shout of the hosts and the multitudes, calling Muircertach forth and challenging him to battle. Then in his presence in the Brug were two battalions equally great, to wit, blue men in one of the two and headless men in the other. Muircertach was enraged at the challenge of the hosts, and he rose up suddenly, but fell exhausted on the floor, and uttered this lay:

A heavy shout, a noise which hosts make,
A battalion of blue men to the north of us,
Headless men who begin battle
In the glen to the south of us.
Weak is my strength: unto a host,
‘Twas many times that I have brought victory;
Great was the host, stark their division,
Rude their name, rough their shout.

24. Then he went into the Brug and charged through the hosts, and took to slaughtering and maiming them long through the day. There came Sin to them and gave Muircertach kingship over them, and he rested from battling. And then the king fared forth to Cletech, and Sin formed two great battalions between him and the fortress. When he saw them he charged through them and began to do battle against them.

25. Now when he was delivering that battle, then Cairnech sent Masan and Casan and Cridan to seek him, so that he might have God’s assistance, for the high saint knew of the oppression be suffered at that time. The clerics met him in the Brug, while he was hacking the stones and the sods and the stalks; and one of the clerics spoke and Muircertach answered:

Why do you fell the stones,
O Muircertach, without reason?
We are sad that you are weak,
According to the will of an idolater working magic.

Mac Erca:
The cleric who attacked me,
I came into conflict with him:
I know not furthermore
That the stones are not alive.

Put Christ’s mysterious cross
Now over thine eyes:
Abate for a time thy furies:
For what reason do you fell the stones?

26. Then the soldier’s royal wrath ceased and his senses came to him, and he put the sign of the Cross over his face, and then he saw nothing there save the stones and sods of the earth. Then he asked tidings of the clerics, and said, “Why do you come?” “We came,” they answered, “to meet thy corpse, for death is near thee.” And he said:

Why have you come from the church?
O sons of sweet sounding words.
Do not conceal from me, by our God in heaven
Tell me the truth.

We have come to meet your body,
So that the stories can be told.
We will take you to Tuilén,
Oh good man without conscience.

Mac Erca:
My body should be beautifully cleaned.
Masan and Casan, in the morning,
Take my mutilated body to Cairnech.

We will carry your pitiable body
Until it reaches Tuilén.
It will be a major cause of sadness
In the noble land of Ireland.

Mac Erca:
Oh Clerics, I feel great pain,
As though my soul separates from my body.
Were it not for your guidance
I would be cold in a strange land.

By Cairnech and Tigernach the vigorous,
And the high and noble Saints of Ireland,
We would not let you be in cold hell,
O brave hero with the mighty sword.

Mac Erca:
I ask forgiveness from the king of heaven,
With all my heart.
My pure body is under your protection tonight,
Because you have come to me.

27. The clerics marked out a church there in the Brug, and told him to dig its trench in honour of the great Lord of the Elements. “It shall be done,” said he. Then he began digging the trench, so that it was then for the first time that the green of the Brug was injured. And he was telling the clerics his own tidings, and making God a fervent repentance. He said:

My wrath has ended here,
Since I came over sea to Erin.
I remember the number of years,
I have never seen a day, lasting the fame,
Without a hero’s head and a triumph over him.
I was eleven years without finding domain.
Until then, there was no night
without a head of Leinster or Munster.
I was myself twenty years
In the kingdom of Eogan, son of Niall;
I had every night without a doubt
A head Of Ulster and Connaught.
I was twenty-five years without fail
In the kingship of Ireland.
There was no night so far
Without the slaying of someone in Ireland.
Two years I was east in Alba,
I have killed my grandsire,
I have brought a host there into troubles,
By my deeds Loarn fell.
Two years I was afterwards
In kingship over Danes,
There has been no night there at
Without the heads of two on stakes.
Here is my true confession,
In the presence of the king of kings.
I have been much of my days without weakness,
And I have not been near death.

Now after this confession the clerics blessed water for him, and be partook of the Body of Christ, and made to God a fervent repentance. And he told them to relate to Cairnech how he had made his confession and repentance. So then he said:

Faithful faithful is my wretched body of clay,
Remember, remember my beloved form.
Fearful, fearful is the everlasting beast,
Cold, cold is the stone against my side.

Fearful fearful is the coldness of hell,
The ever-narrow place forever through the ages.
My desire for this place was always distant,
To be [lying] east-west in the graveyards of the Kings.

My body in the mound, my body through the ages,
My body, truly, my body fearful of fire,
Wine, wine in place of water, no lie,
My dead body, it goes and is found by Eve.

‘Til Doomsday, ‘til Doomsday no tribute now,
A meeting, a meeting of my men in assembly.
My power, my power comes to an end in bondage,
Ever true, true this is my grudging arrival.

My burial, burial as a mighty king,
Truly, truly my victory has preceded me.
Evil that it happened to me in my house,
My body, faithful, faithful.

29. The clerics remained for that night in the church of the Brug, and the king went to Cletech and sat there at his lady’s right hand. Sin asked him what bad interrupted his combat on that day. “The clerics came to me,” he answered, “and they put the sign of the Cross of Christ over my face, and then I saw nothing save fern and stone and puff-balls. And since there was no one there to fight me, I came away.” Then Sin spoke:

Never believe the clerics,
For they chant nothing save unreason.
Follow not their unmelodious verses,
For they do not revere righteousness.
Cleave not to the clerics of churches,
If you desire life without treachery:
Better Sin, I as a friend here,
Let not repentance come to thee.

I will be always along with you,
O fair damsel without evil plight;
Likelier to me is your countenance
Than the churches of the clerics.
31. Then Sin beguiled his mind and came between him and the teachings of the clerics, and on that night she made a magical wine for the king and his troops. The seventh night she was at her magic, on the eve of Wednesday after Samhain (Halloween) precisely. When the hosts were intoxicated there came the sigh of a great wind. “This is ‘the sigh of a winter-night,”’ said the king. And Sin said:

I am Rough-Wind,
A daughter of fair nobles:
Winter-night is my name,
I am everywhere at the same time.

Sigh and Wind
Winter-Night so,
I speak the truth,
That your end is coming soon.

If you come thither,
To the door of your house,
Death will come to your lips.
In these words, you will find knowledge.

32. And then she caused a great snowstorm there; and never had come a noise of battle that was greater than the shower of thick snow that poured there at that time, and from the northwest, precisely it came. Then the king came forth and went into the house again, and began reproaching the storm; and he said:

Evil is the night tonight,
Never came one as bad,
I will never see such a night again.

The energy of Cletech is cold,
Your age has been shortened.
Do not say my timeless names,
An evil fate threatens if you do.

Mac Erca.
I will not state them and
I will also avoid them all,
This I declare tonight,
I have no doubt that misfortune is evil.

33. When the feasting ended, then the hosts lay down, and in no one of them was the strength of a woman in childbed. Then the king lay down on his couch, and a heavy sleep fell upon him. Then he made a great screaming out of his slumber and awoke from his sleep. “What is that?” said the damsel. “A great host of demons has appeared to me,” he answered; whereupon he said:
A form of red fire has appeared to me,
And many noble spirits,
The pitiful decline of a great army,
Destroyed by the treachery of magic,
The house of Cletech as a fatal fire,
Round my head blazing forever,
The Clan of Niall in wrongful suffering
Through the spells of witches,
Their shields are wearily laid down
By arrangement of the curse.
Weapons that are crossed,
Wounds that come quickly,
The cry of a mighty host under red fire,
This is what has appeared to me.

34. The king rose up, for the vision which he beheld did not let him sleep, and he came forth out of the house, and in the little church of the Brug he saw a little fire by the clerics. He came to them and said, “There is neither strength nor vigor in me tonight.” And he related his vision and his dream. “And it is hard,” said he, “to show prowess tonight even though hosts of foreign enemies should attack me, because of the weakness in which we are and the badness of the night.” So then the clerics began instructing him. He came in at once and there he said:

Full evil is this storm (sin) tonight
To the clerics in their camp;
They dare not ever sleep,
Due to the roughness of the night’s storms.

Why do you say my name, O man,
O son of Erc and Muiredach?
You will find death—feast without disgrace—
Sleep not in the House of Cletech.

Tell me, you griefless lady,
What number of the hosts shall fall by me?
Hide it not from me, tell without commandment,
What number will fall by my right hand?

No one will fall by you to the floor,
O son of Erc of the high rank:
You, O king, have surely ended:
Your Strength has come to nothing.

A great defect is my being without strength,
O noble Sin of many forms,
Often have I killed a fierce warrior,
Though tonight I am under oppression.

Many have fallen by your effort,
O son of Loarn’s daughter!
You have brought a multitude of hosts to silence;
Alas, that you are in evil easel.

35. “That is true, O damsel,” said he; “death is near to me; for it was foretold that my death and the death of Loarn my grandfather would be alike; for he did not fall in battle, but was burnt alive. “Sleep then tonight,” said the damsel, “and leave to me to watch you and to guard you from the hosts; and, if it is your fate, the house will not be burnt over you tonight.” “Truly, there is coming, with designs upon us, Tuathal Maelgarb son of Cormac Caich son of Cairbre son of Niall of the Nine Hostages.”
“Though Tuathal with all his hosts be coming with designs upon you, have you no fear of him tonight,” said the damsel, “and sleep now.”

36. Then he went into his bed and asked the damsel for a drink, and she cast a sleeping charm upon that deceptive wine, so that when he drank a draught of it, it made him drunk and feeble, without sap or strength. Then he slept heavily and he saw a vision, to wit, that he went in a ship to sea, and his ship foundered, and a taloned griffin came to him and carried him into her nest, and then he and the nest were burnt, and the griffin fell with him.

37. The king awoke and ordered his vision to be taken to his foster-brother Dub Da Rinn6 son of the druid Saignen7, and Dub Da Rinn gave him the meaning of it as so: “This is the ship wherein you have been, as such, the ship of your princedom on the sea of life, and with you steering it. This is the ship that foundered, and your life is to come to an end. This is the taloned griffin that has carried you into her nest, the woman that is in your company, to make you intoxicated, and to bring you with her into her bed, and to detain you in the house of Cletech so that it will burn over you. Now the griffin that fell with you is the woman who will die as well because of you. This then is the significance of that vision.”

38. The king then slept heavily after Sin had cast the sleep-charm upon him. Now while he was in that sleep Sin arose and arranged the spears and the javelins of the hosts in readiness in the doors and then turned all their points toward the house. She formed by magic many crowds and multitudes throughout the house and the sidewalk, and then she entered the bed.

39. It was then that the king awoke from his sleep. “What is it?” asked the damsel.
“A host of demons has appeared to me, burning the house upon me and slaughtering my people at the door.” “You cannot be hurt by that,” said the damsel; “it only seemed so.”

40. Now when they were thus in converse, they heard the crash of the burning house, and the shout of the host of demons and wizardry around it. “Who is around the house?” asked the king. Said Sin, “Tuathal Maelgarb son of Cormac Caib son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, with his armies. He is here taking vengeance on you for the battle of Grainne.” And the king knew not that this was untrue, and that no human host was surrounding the house.

41. He arose swiftly and came to seek his arms, and found no one to answer him. The damsel went forth from the house, and he followed her at once, and he met a host in front of him, so that he went heavily through them. From the door he returned to his bed. The hosts thereupon went forth, and no one of them escaped without wounding or burning.

42. Then the king came again towards the door, and between him and it were the embers and hails of fire. When the fire had filled the doorway and the entire house around, he found no shelter for himself, so he got into a cask of wine, and therein he was drowned, as he went under it every second time for fear of the fire. Then the fire fell on his head, and five feet of his length was burnt; but the wine kept the rest of his body from burning.

43. The day after, when the morning came, the clerics Masan and Casan and Cridan came to the king and carried his body to the Boyne and washed it.

44. Cairnech also came to him and made great grief in bewailing him, and said, “A great loss to Ireland today is Mac Erca, one of the four best men that have gained possession of Erin without trickery and without force, namely, Muircertach mac Erca, Niall of the Nine Hostages, Conn the Hundred-Fighter, and Ugaine Mor.”

The Life of Mac Erca known to me.
No small number of years have I watched him
Since that first night he was born,
Until afterwards, he became as nothing.

Ten years for him in the house of the Druid
Saignen, of a multitude of cattle.
The storm (hero) of great endurance,
Muircertach, strong and powerful.

Two years for him at the house of king
Muiredach the great, of good worth,
Until afterwards, with sorrow he parted,
Afflicting Muiredach with much grief.

Two specific years for him to be
In the house of Loarn, the valorous Erc,
Was Muircertach without avarice,
Until he committed the murder of a relative.

He was thirty years
Amongst the Britons, no lie
In that time taking possession
Of the Saxon and Briton hosts.

Ten years after that
They assembled in a severe attack;
The Saxons and the Britons, without grief,
Their assembly aimed towards Ireland

Twenty years of much strength
As King of Northern Ireland,
In his father’s estate since birth
Muiredach the great, son of Eoghan.

The king of all Ireland [Mac Erca],
The descendent of Eoghan in High kingship.
Twenty five years without end,
Until his life was cut short.

45. And the body was lifted up by Cairnech, to be carried to Tuilen and there interred.

46. Then Duinsech, the wife of Muircertach, met the clerics while the corpse was among them, and she made a great, mournful lamentation, struck her palms together, and leaned her back against the ancient tree in Anach Reil; and a burst of gore broke from her heart in her breast, and straightway she died of grief for her husband. Then the clerics put the queen’s corpse along with the corpse of the king. And then said Cairnech:

Duinsech, Mac Erca’s noble wife,
Let her grave be dug by you here,
The daughter of the king of Connaght clann.
She gave birth to Fergus and Domnall.

Let Duinsech be placed in the tomb,
Such a pity to suffer death.
Daughter of Dauch, we dug her mound,
Until she is buried in her grave.

Twenty-five years of solid time,
In the high kingship of Ireland,
Until the king was caused to depart from us
Mother of his children, Duinsech.

47. Then the queen was buried and her grave was made. The king was buried near the church on the north side, and Cairnech declared the king’s character and uttered this lay:

The grave of the King of Ailech will abide forever
In Tuilen, everyone will hear of it
On the Road of Asail it will be long lasting
Here in this twisting place of famous hosts.

Good was every place during the time of
Muirchertach grandson of Eoghan the fair.
He did not come to Ireland with treachery,
The highest king over him gave him victory

Thirty feet of height in truth,
Was Muircertach, supreme king of Ailech.
No one who came afterwards,
Was equal in strength or reach.

Twenty-five feet in truth
Of the kings body has arrived here,
Five feet having been burnt.
The wine in the vat was not deep enough.

No one will ever force a hostage from
The race of the Kings of Ailech,
Who are feared by every strong house
That is known throughout Ireland.

In the places of the great Irish clerics of old,
The sins of Mac Erca led to his fate.
It will be a long day before I forget this place
All of my life I will watch his grave.

48. When the clerics had finished the burial they saw coming toward them a solitary woman, beautiful and shining, robed in a green mantle with its fringe of golden thread. A smock of priceless silk was about her. She reached the place where the clerics were and saluted them, and so the clerics saluted her. And they perceived upon her an appearance of sadness and sorrow and they recognized that she it was that had ruined the king. Cairnech asked tidings of her and said:

Tell us your origin,
O damsel, without darkening;
You have wrought our shame,
Though beauteous is thy body:
You have killed the King of Tara,
With many of his households,
By an awful, evil deed.

I can tell you,
I can make no denial,
Oh Clerics of power and knowledge,
In exchange for my body,
Give the sky my soul,
I will tell you then,
What I took with fierceness,
From the hero of the world.

If you do oh maiden,
Sorrowful shall be your confession,
Your penance shall be keen,
The irony is a great testimony,
Forgiveness to each man,
We bring to all things,
Through the supreme King of all,
God himself in this place.

49. Then the clerics asked her who she herself was, or who was her father or her mother, and what cause she had from the king that she should ruin him.

“Sin” she replied, “is my name, and Sige son of Dian son of Tren is my father. Muircertach mac Erca killed my father, my mother, and my sister in the Battle of Cerb on the Boyne, and also destroyed in that battle all the Old-Tribes of Tara and my fatherland.” So then Cairnech said and Sin replied:

Say, oh Sin, a statement without question,
Tell truly who was you father,
And what prompted you, oh woman
And who is your family.

I am the daughter of Sige the slender
Of the tribe of Tara above the Boyne
I will not hide the truth
I will put it in order.

Muircertach killed my father,
He has shared great booty in combat,
At the ford of far Cerba,
Called the ford of Sige.

Sige had mastered trickery,
With his speech he brought a host into trouble,
There was no one equal in battle,
No river in Banba so cloaked in red [blood].

Dearer to you is the father that loved you
Than to Muircertach descendant of Niall.
By no means feel forsaken ,
Oh gentle smooth and melodious maiden.

Myself, I will die of grief for him,
The high-king of the western world,
And for the guilt of the sore tribulations
That I brought on the sovereign of Erin.

I made poison for him, alas!
Which overpowered the king of the noble hosts,
Who before had existed in this place,
Grief I have for him who has departed.

For three months I danced with him
Until he fell to my disdain,
After him I will not exist.
Good fortune to you oh great Abbott.

50. Then she confessed to Cairnech, and to God she made fervent repentance, as was taught her, and she went in obedience to Cairnech, and straightway died of grief for the king. So Cairnech said that a grave should be made for her, and that she should be put under the award of the earth. It was done as the cleric ordered, and he said

Sin, not dear were her doings,
Until this day in which we are,
Cold misfortune has brought justice,
Her mocking speech has brought lasting trouble.

They will bury her body underground,
When it has been washed without delay.
It is no longer her body but a corpse that comes.
No submission for the daughter of Sige.

Sige was not a man without valour,
He was not slow to the plunder,
He gave the satisfaction of wealth to Tara.
Sharp was the vengeance of Sin for her relatives.

Of Sin (Sheen)

Many shall be her names who will put one astray.
Unloving is the woman whose name is Sheen,
For whose sake fire shall burn the king,
In the house of Cletty, wine shall drown him.

She was the wanton woman, who slew the heir of Niall,
Her name is in every place and road on a winter’s day,
The sigh of a rapid storm without reproach
And the groan of the milking cow.
Without doubt, these are where you will hear her name.

51. As for Cairnech, he showed great care for Muircertach’s soul, but he did not bring it out of hell. Howbeit he composed a prayer, which from its beginning was called Parce mihi Domine (“Spare me, O Lord”), etc., and he repeated it continually for the sake of the soul of the king. Whereupon an angel came to Cairnech and told him that whoever would sing that prayer continually would without doubt be a dweller in Heaven. So then said the angel:

Whoever should sing strongly,
The prayer of Cairnech of the mysteries,
‘Twould be enough to succor
Judas, who was the worst ever born.

You have (died and) gone to the sky Mac Erca ,
Above us now for our fervent prayer,
You have gone, forever on high,
With your bright body that belongs in hell.

I give thanks to Christ who loves me,
And the holy angel who watches over me,
It has been pleasant in my time,
To be in the presence of the good angel.

There are twenty five years exactly,
Since I arrived here from Rome,
Until this very night.

52. So far the Death of Muircertach Mac Erca, as Cairnech related it, and Tigernach and Ciaran and Mochta and Tuathal Maelgarb; and it was written and revised by those holy clerics, commemorating it for everyone from that time to this.

Dating and Sources.

The Yellow book of Lecan (Leabhar Buidhe Lecain) in which the Story of Mac Erca’s death - Aided Muircertach Mac Erca (The violent death of Muircertach Mac Erca) appears is a Middle Irish composition amalgamated in the fifteenth century from manuscripts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. These in turn were based on older manuscripts. The Yellow Book of Lecan contains many stories of Irish mythology, including nearly all of the Ulster cycle series of legends.

Aided Muircertach Mac Erca is likely a composition of the tenth to eleventh centuries using various sources for some of the details of Mac Erca’s exploits; perhaps using material common to both this story and the above St.Cairnech one and possibly the lost Echtra. Aided can now be found in the existing manuscripts TCD, H 2.16. (Yellow Book of Lecan), cols. 310-320, fourteenth century, TCD, H 2.7., pp. 248-254, fifteenth century, and RIA, 23 O 21, p. 25, nineteenth century. However, the story is also mentioned in the ninth to eleventh centuries Baile in Scail, showing its older provenance.
The story presented here is generally dated to the twelfth century in this version in the Yellow Book of Lecan although certainly the story pre-dates the advent of the idea of purgatory in the twelfth century as hell is here described as being cold  (‘Fearful fearful is the coldness of hell’, Ibid Guyonvarc’h, pg.991).

The original may be of the late tenth century following the death of the great Muircertach O’Neill in 943 who is described in the annals of Ulster as the “Hector of the western world”. In this story, Mac Erca is described in a similar way – “the high king of the western world”. The triple death of Mac Erca at Cleitech is also mentioned in a poem called Fianna Batar I nEmain by Cinaed Ua hArtacain who died in 975. The usage of old Irish words such as Boind for the river Boyne, which had become rare by the year 1000 also show the ancient provenance of the story. 

(The use of disyllabic Boind (river Boyne) is an early feature that had almost entirely disappeared in Ireland by circa 1000”. Hudson Benjamin T. Prophecy of Berchan – Irish and Scottish High Kings In the Early Middle Ages, , Praeger Publishers, 1996 Pg. 13.)

However, the Danaraib, usually said to be Danes are mentioned in the story dating this part to the latter part of the tenth century when the first attestation of the word Danair appears in the annals of Ulster between 986 and 990. This does not mean of course that it had not been used earlier. Whoever they were in reality, possibly Scandinavians operating out of Orkney after this they are no longer mentioned. It is possible that as Mac Erca was said in the story of St. Cairnech to have also ruled in Caithness and Orkney that by the mid tenth century with the Danes operating out of, or settled in the area, they were inserted into the story of Mac Erca’s triumphs. Indeed, just like the brief mention of them in the annals, in this story he rules them for only two years.

A more defined period for the composition of the tale may come from the fact that the story gives equal footing to both the Cenél Conaill and Cenél Eoghan families of the UI’Neill’s. This is surprising as Cenél Conaill power had waned to a significant degree by the ninth century in favour of Cenél Eoghan as pointed out by Brian Lacey in his 2006 dissection of the Cenél Conaill kingdoms of the north. There was only a short period where their influence resumed when they appear as the Ua Mael Doraid and the Ua Canannain families in the mid tenth century. 

It was after the death of Muircertach O’Neill in 943 and Donnchad Donn in 944 - whom his daughter had married - that Ruaidrí ua Canannáin assumed power and may have been High King of Ireland. He died in 950. It is most likely therefore, that Aided was started during this six-year period of Cenél Conaill resurgence. After this, the Cenél Eoghan once more assumed the High Kingship under Domnall ua Néill and Cenél Conaill power had come to a final end. The story was then embellished and added to in the eleventh and subsequent centuries.

Lil Nic Dhonnchadha, in his presentation of the original story considered that the tale was more folkloric in its earlier form and more religious in its later, playing down the three fold death aspect in the later, where the wounding by spear was removed. It is a supernatural tale involving the fairy woman Sin (pronounced Sheen) and her efforts to seduce and kill Mac Erca. The Celtic form of his three fold death is not unique though, very similar deaths being attributed to at least three other Irish kings – Cormac Mac Art, Diarmait Mac Cerbaill and Aed Dub. Its roots have very ancient origins in Indo European tradition. Arthur of course nearly suffers the same fate, being wounded and taken to
water (only his sword symbolically drowns) but misses the last fiery exit; instead much like Mac Erca’s tale, the pagan ‘three fold death’ aspect is broken by later Christianisation of his story. Layamon, writing his versified Brut in the early thirteenth century concerning the history of Britain, appears to know of this tale as he incorporates some of its symbolism into his work in the ‘fortunes wheel’ dream of Arthur where he symbolically makes Arthur survive the triple death!

The updated English translation used for this story of Mac Erca’s death is based on that by Whitley Stokes, Aided Muirchertaig Meic Erca, Revue Celtique 23 (1902) pp. 395–437. This translation however, leaves out most of the verses, which add much more information than the narrative alone gives. I have therefore endeavoured to translate the verses using the French translation by Guyonvarc’h as a guide but with the help of Dhonnchadha’s vocabulary list, eDill (Electronic dictionary of the Irish Language) and with the help of the scholars of the Old Irish Language discussion group. I have also left the paragraph numbers intact to make referral to the original Irish source easier. Therefore, presented here for the first time is the full English translation of this story.

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