Ancient Irish Tales, ed. Tom Peete Cross & Clark Harris Slover [1st edn. Henry Holt & Co. 1936; facs. rep. edn.] (NY: Barnes & Noble Books 1996), 609pp. [ISBN 1-56619-889-5].

CONTENTS - Introduction [vii]; TALES OF THE TUATHA DE DANANN [1]: The Book of Invasions [3]; The Second Battle of Mag Tured (Moytura) [28]; The Fate of the Children of Tuirenn [[49]; The Wooing of Etain [82] The Destruction Op Da Derga’s Hostel [93]. THE ULSTER CYCLE [127]: The Birth of Conchobar [131]; The Birth of Cu Chulainn [134]; The Boyhood Deeds of Cu Chulainn [137]; The Wooing of Emer [153]; The Tragic Death of Connla [172]; The Sick-Bed of Cu Chulainn [176]; The Story of Mac Datho’s Pig [199]; The Debility of the Ulstermen [208]; The Cattle-Raid of Regamna [211]; The Intoxication of the Ulstermen [215]; The Exile of the Sons of Usnech [239]; The Adventures of Nera [248]; Bricriu’s Feast [254]; The Cattle-Raid of Cooley [281]; The Tragic Death of Cu Roi Mac Dairi [328]; Death Tales of the Ulster Heroes [333]; The Phantom Chariot of Cu Chulainn [347]. THE CYCLE OF FINN, OSSIAN, AND THEIR COMPANIONS [355]: The Cause of the Battle of Cnucha [357]; The Boyhood Deeds of Finn [360]; The Pursuit of Diarmuid And Grainne [370]; The Hiding of the Hill of Howth [422]; The Death of Finn [[42[4]; Oisin In The Land of Youth [439]; The Colloquy of the Old Men [457]. TALES OF THE TRADITIONAL KINGS [469]; The Death of Fergus Mac Leide [471]; The Adventures of Connla The Fair [488]; The Adventures of Art Son of Conn [491]; Cormac’s Adventures In The Land of Promise [503]; The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon [508]; The Death of Niall of the Nine Hostages [514]; The Death of Muircertach Mac Erca [518]; The Wooing of Becfola [533]; How Ronan Slew His Son [538]; Stories of Mongan [546]; The Vision of Mac Conglinne [551]. THE VOYAGE OF BRAN SON OF FEBAL [588]. PLACE-NAME STORIES [596]. GLOSSARY [601].

INTRODUCTION: When, more than a quarter of a century ago, Standish Hayes O’Grady presented to the public his well-known collection of early Irish tales, he expressed the fear that “a promulgator of such wares” might be called upon to justify his action; today the publication of a volume of translations from Irish needs no apology. All who have even the slightest acquaintance with the early literature of western Europe now recognize the peculiar importance which attaches to the traditions of ancient Ireland.

The oldest literature of Ireland has been well called “the earliest voice from the dawn of western European civilization.” The significance of this fact has been too often neglected. The allconquering Romans looked upon the native speech of the peoples whom they subdued as vulgar tongues unworthy of notice. If any written literature ever existed in the native language of Gaul, none has come down to us, and French, though based on Latin, (lid not reach the dignity of a literary language until the Roman conquest had been over for at least a thousand years. In Spain the earliest national literature was composed, not in the language of the most ancient inhabitants, but in a form of neo-Latin and is no older than the earliest literary compositions in French. In Germanic territory the beginnings of literature in the German language did not appear until late in the eleventh century.

So powerful was the influence of the Latin tongue that, in the West, only nations outside the Roman Empire succeeded in prem.rving any early records in their native speech. Of the western isls beyond the immediate sway of Rome, few learned the art of writing early enough to record for posterity any native pagan traditions in the vernacular. Chief among these were the Irish, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Icelanders. Of the three, the Irish were the first to receive letters and to develop a national literature, and it in perhaps ultimately to Irish influence that we owe the oldest written records in Anglo-Saxon and in Icelandic.

It is the proud boast of the Irish people that no Roman legion ever landed on their shores. Ireland never became a Roman [vii] province, and thus she preserved her native speech largely unaffected by foreign influences. Ancient Gaelic did not suffer from the contempt with which the older languages were regarded in the Roman provinces. To the early Irish their tongue was a “choice language”; and not long after they had learned the art of writing from the Christian missionaries of the fifth century, they developed a script of their own and began recording their ancient traditions in their own vernacular. Our early Irish manuscripts, though in no case written as far back as the introduction of Christianity, are, in many instances, copied from texts recorded at least as early as the eighth century and embodying pre-Christlan traditions.

Both in age and in variety the literature of ancient Ireland surpasses that of any other western European vernacular during the early Middle Ages. It includes not only numerous religious and legal writings but also a large body of lyric poetry and a long list of epic and other tales written in prose alternating with passages in verse. Early Irish epic and romantic literature comprises, in addition to many outlying stories, three groups, or cycles, known respectively as (1) the Mythological cycle, (2) the Ulster, or Red Branch cycle, and (3) the Finn, or Ossianic cycle. Typical examples from all three cycles, as well as a group of outlying romances and sagas, are presented in this volume.

TALES OF THE TUATHA DE DANANN: The dominating peoples of Ireland’s remotest past are traditionally by represented as the Partholonians, the Nemedians, the Fir Bolg, the Tuatha De Danann, and the Milesians. The accounts of their doings, although ostensibly depicting the very earliest periods of Irish history, were composed, for the most part, later than the oldest sagas of the Ulster group (p. 127). The Tuatha De Danann (Peoples of the Goddess Danu, or Anu) are said to have come to Ireland from the north of Europe, where they had spent many years in learning arts and magic. They are represented as large, strong, and beautiful beings who mingled with mortals and yet remained superior to them. Their principal residences were Brug na Boinne, a district along the river Boyne near Stackallen Bridge in Leinster, and the fairy-mound (síd, “shee”) of Femin in Tipperary. Certain personages in this group, without being definitely labelled as gods, have characteristics that elevate them above the rank of ordinary mortals. For example, Manannan mac Lir, whose name is associated with the Isle of Man, may have been some sort of sea divinity. Angus, often called Mac Oc, son of Boann (Boyne) and the Dagda, is regarded by some students of mythology as a sort of Irish Adonis. Nuada Silver-Arm, Lug Long-Arm, and the Dagda are also, according to the mythologically minded, partially humanized ancient Celtic divinities. / The selections included below under the “Tales of the Tuatha De Danaun” belong, with one or two exceptions, to the so-called Mythological Cycle. [...; &c. ix.]

“The Tragic Death of Ferdiad”, in Ancient Irish Tales, ed., Tom Peete Cross & Clark Harris Slover NY: Barnes & Noble Books 1996), 319ff.
Thereupon Ferdiad gave three severe woundings to Cu Chulainn. Cu Chulainn cried and shouted loudly to Loeg to make ready the gae bulga for him. Loeg attempted to get near it, but Ferdiad’s charioeer prevented him. Then Loeg grew very wroth at his brother, and he made a spring at him, and he closed his long, full-valiant hands over him, so that he quickly threw him to the ground and straightway bound him. And then he went from him quickly and courageously, so that he filled the pool and stayed the stream and set the gae bulga. And he cried out to Cu Chulainn that it was ready, for it was not to be discharged without a quick word of warning before it. Hence it is that Loeg cried out:
 “’Ware! beware the gae bulga, Battle-winning Culann’s Hound! and the rest.”
And he sent it to Cu Chulainn along the stream.
 Thus it was that Cu Chulainn let fly the white gae bulga from the fork of his irresistible right foot. Ferdiad began to defend the ford against Cu Chulainn, so that the noble Cu Chulainn arose with the swiftness of a swallow and the wail of the storm-play in the rafters of the firmament, so that he laid hold of the breadth of his two feet of the bed of the ford, in spite of the champion. Ferdiad prepared for the feat according to the report thereof. He lowered his shield, so that the spear went over its edge into the watery, water-cold river. And he looked at Cu Chulainn, and he saw all his various venomous feats made ready, and he knew not to which of them he should first give answer, whether to the “Fist’s breast-spear”, or to the “ Wild shield’s broad-spear”, or to the “Short spear from the middle of the palm”, or to the white gae bulga over the fair, watery river.
 When Ferdiad saw that his gillie had been thrown and heard the gae bulga called for, he thrust his shield down to protect the lower part of his body. Cu Chulainn gripped the short spear that was in his hand, cast it off the palm of his hand over the rim of the shield and over the edge of the corselet and hornskin, so that its farther half was visible after piercing Ferdiad’s heart in his bosom. Ferdiad gave a thrust of his shield upwards to protect the upper part of his body, though it was help that came too late. Loeg sent the gae bulga down the stream, and Cu Chulainn caught it in the fork of his foot, and when Ferdiad raised his shield Cu Chulainn threw the gae buka as far as he could cut underneath at Ferdiad, so that it passed through the strong, thick, iron apron of wrought iron, and broke in three parts the huge, goodly stone the size of a millstone, so that it cut its way through the body’s protection into him, till every joint and every limb was filled with its barbs.
 “Ah, that blow suffices”, sighed Ferdiad. “I am fallen of that! But, yet one thing more: mightily didst thou drive with thy right foot. And it was not fair of thee for me not to fall by thy hand.” And he yet spoke and uttered these words:

“O Cu of grand feats,
Unfairly I am slain!
Thy guilt clings to me;
My blood falls on thee!

No meed for the wretch
Who treads treason’s gap,
Now weak is my voice;
Ah, gone is my bloom!

My ribs’ armor bursts,
My heart is all gore;
I battled not well;
I am smitten, O Cu!

Unfair, side by side,
To come to the ford.
’Gainst my noble ward
Hath Medb turned my hand!

There will come rooks and crows
To gaze on my arms,
To eat flesh and blood.
A tale, Cu, for thee!

 Thereupon Cu Chulainn hastened towards Ferdiad and clasped his two arms about him, and bore him with all his arms and his armor and his dress northwards over the ford, so that it would be with his face to the north of the ford, in Ulster, the triumph took place and not to the west of the ford with the men of Erin. Cu Chullainn laid Ferdiad there on the ground, and a cloud and a faint and a swoon came over Cu Chulainn there by the head of Ferdiad.
[...]
 “What availeth it me to arise, O gillie?”, said Cu Cu Chullainn [to Loeg], “now that this one is fallen by my hand?”
[...]
 Loeg came and stripped Ferdiad. He took his armour off him and he saw the brooch and he placed the brooch in Cu Chulainn’s hand, and Cu Chulainn began to lament and mourn over Ferdiad, and he spoke these words:

“Alas, golden brooch;
Ferdiad of the hosts,
O good smiter, strong,
Victorious thy hand!

Thy hair blond and curled,
A wealth fair and grand.
Thy soft, leaf-shaped belt
Around thee till death!

Our comradeship dear;
Thy noble eye’s gleam;
Thy golden-rimmed shield;
Thy sword, worth treasures!

Thy white-silver torque
Thy noble arm binds.
Thy chess-board worth wealth;
Thy fair, ruddy cheek!

To fall by my hand,
I own was not just!
It was no noble fight!
Alas, golden brooch!

Thy death at Cu’s hand
Was dire, O dear calf!
Unequal the shield
Thou hadst for the strife!

Unfair was our fight,
Our woe and defeat!
Fair the great chief;
Each host overcome
And put under foot!
Alas, golden brooch!


 “Come, O Loeg, my master”, cried Cu Chulainn; “cut open Ferdiad and take the gae bolga out, because I may not be without my weapons.”
[ back ]
 
[ top ]