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- Heroic Romances of Ireland Volume 1 - 10/44 -


with fairy oxen, were labouring at the causeway over the bog;] and thereupon much of earth and of gravel and of stones was poured into it. Now it had, before that time, always been the custom of the men of Ireland to harness their oxen with a strap over their foreheads, so that the pull might be against the foreheads of the oxen; and this custom lasted up to that very night, when it was seen that the fairy-folk had placed the yoke upon the shoulders of the oxen, so that the pull might be there; and in this way were the yokes of the oxen afterwards placed by Eochaid, and thence cometh the name by which he is known; even Eochaid Airemm, or Eochaid the Ploughman, for he was the first of all the men of Ireland to put the yokes on the necks of the oxen, and thus it became the custom for all the land of Ireland. And this is the song that the host of the fairies sang, as they laboured at the making of the road:

Thrust it in hand! force it in hand! Nobles this night, as an ox-troop, stand: Hard is the task that is asked, and who From the bridging of Lamrach shall gain, or rue?

Not in all the world could a road have been found that should be better than the road that they made, had it not been that the fairy folk were observed as they worked upon it; but for that cause a breach hath been made in that causeway. And the steward of Eochaid thereafter came to him; and he described to him that great labouring band that had come before his eyes, and he said that there was not over the chariot-pole of life a power that could withstand its might. And, as they spake thus with each other, they saw Mider standing before them; high was he girt, and ill-favoured was the face that he showed; and Eochaid arose, and he gave welcome to him. "Thy welcome is such as I expected when I came," said Mider. "Cruel and senseless hast thou been in thy treatment of me, and much of hardship and suffering hast thou given me. All things that seemed good in thy sight have I got for thee, but now anger against thee hath filled my mind!" "I return not anger for anger," answered Eochaid; "what thou wishest shall be done." "Let it be as thou wishest," said Mider; "shall we play at the chess?" said he. "What stake shall we set upon the game?" said Eochaid. "Even such stake as the winner of it shall demand," said Mider. And in that very place Eochaid was defeated, and he forfeited his stake.

"My stake is forfeit to thee," said Eochaid.

"Had I wished it, it had been forfeit long ago," said Mider.

"What is it that thou desirest me to grant?" said Eochaid.

"That I may hold Etain in my arms, and obtain a kiss from her!" answered Mider.

Eochaid was silent for a while and then he said: "One month from this day thou shalt come, and the very thing that thou hast asked for shall be given to thee." Now for a year before that Mider first came to Eochaid for the chess-play, had he been at the wooing of Etain, and he obtained her not; and the name which he gave to Etain was Befind, or Fair-haired Woman, so it was that he said:

Wilt thou come to my home, fair-haired lady?

as has before been recited. And it was at that time that Etain said: "If thou obtainest me from him who is the master of my house, I will go; but if thou art not able to obtain me from him, then I will not go." And thereon Mider came to Eochaid, and allowed him at the first to win the victory over him, in order that Eochaid should stand in his debt; and therefore it was that he paid the great stakes to which he had agreed; and therefore also was it that he had demanded of him that he should play that game in ignorance of what was staked. And when Mider and his folk were paying those agreed-on stakes, which were paid upon that night; to wit, the making of the road, and the clearing of the stones from Meath, the rushes from around Tethba, and of the forest that is over Breg, it was thus that he spoke, as it is written in the Book of Drom Snechta:

Pile on the soil; thrust on the soil: Red are the oxen around who toil: Heavy the troops that my words obey; Heavy they seem, and yet men are they. Strongly, as piles, are the tree-trunks placed Red are the wattles above them laced: Tired are your hands, and your glances slant; One woman's winning this toil may grant! Oxen ye are, but revenge shall see; Men who are white shall your servants be: Rushes from Teffa are cleared away: Grief is the price that the man shall pay: Stones have been cleared from the rough Meath ground; Whose shall the gain or the harm be found?

Now Mider appointed a day at the end of the month when he was to meet Eochaid, and Eochaid called the armies of the heroes of Ireland together, so that they came to Tara; and all the best of the champions of Ireland, ring within ring, were about Tara, and they were in the midst of Tara itself, and they guarded it, both without and within; and the king and the queen were in the midst of the palace, and the outer court thereof was shut and locked, for they knew that the great might of men would come upon them. And upon the appointed night Etain was dispensing the banquet to the kings, for it was her duty to pour out the wine, when in the midst of their talk they saw Mider standing before them in the centre of the palace. He was always fair, yet fairer than he ever was seemed Mider to be upon that night. And he brought to amazement all the hosts on which he gazed, and all thereon were silent, and the king gave a welcome to him.

"Thy reception is such as I expected when I came," said Mider; "let that now be given to me that hath been promised. 'Tis a debt that is due when a promise hath been made; and I for my part have given to thee all that was promised by me."

"I have not yet considered the matter," said Eochaid.

"Thou hast promised Etain's very self to me," said Mider; "that is what hath come from thee." Etain blushed for shame when she heard that word.

"Blush not," said Mider to Etain, "for in nowise hath thy wedding-feast been disgraced. I have been seeking thee for a year with the fairest jewels and treasures that can be found in Ireland, and I have not taken thee until the time came when Eochaid might permit it. 'Tis not through any will of thine that I have won thee." "I myself told thee," said Etain, "that until Eochaid should resign me to thee I would grant thee nothing. Take me then for my part, if Eochaid is willing to resign me to thee."

"But I will not resign thee!" said Eochaid; "nevertheless he shall take thee in his arms upon the floor of this house as thou art."

"It shall be done!" said Mider.

He took his weapons into his left hand and the woman beneath his right shoulder; and he carried her off through the skylight of the house. And the hosts rose up around the king, for they felt that they had been disgraced, and they saw two swans circling round Tara, and the way that they took was the way to the elf-mound of Femun. And Eochaid with an army of the men of Ireland went to the elf-mound of Femun, which men call the mound of the Fair-haired-Women. And he followed the counsel of the men of Ireland, and he dug up each of the elf-mounds that he might take his wife from thence. [And Mider and his host opposed them and the war between them was long: again and again the trenches made by Eochaid were destroyed, for nine years as some say lasted the strife of the men of Ireland to enter into the fairy palace. And when at last the armies of Eochaid came by digging to the borders of the fairy mansion, Mider sent to the side of the palace sixty women all in the shape of Etain, and so like to her that none could tell which was the queen. And Eochaid himself was deceived, and he chose, instead of Etain, her daughter Messbuachalla (or as some say Esa.) But when he found that he had been deceived, he returned again to sack Bri Leith, and this time Etain made herself known to Eochaid, by proofs that he could not mistake, and he bore her away in triumph to Tara, and there she abode with the king.]

MAC DATHO'S BOAR

INTRODUCTION

The tale of "Mac Datho's Boar" seems to deal with events that precede the principal events of the Heroic Period; most of the characters named in it appear as the chief actors in other romances; Conor and Ailill are as usual the leaders of Ulster and Connaught, but the king of Leinster is Mesroda Mac Datho, not his brother Mesgegra, who appears in the "Siege of Howth" (see Hull, Cuchullin Saga, p. 87), and the Ulster champion is not Cuchulain, but his elder comrade, Conall Cernach.

The text followed is that of the Book of Leinster as printed by Windisch in Irische Texte, vol. i.; the later Harleian manuscript's readings given by Windisch have been taken in a few cases where the Leinster text seems untranslatable. There is a slightly different version, given by Kuno Meyer in the Anecdota Oxoniensia, taken from Rawlinson, B. 512, a fifteenth-century manuscript, but the text is substantially that of the Leinster version, and does not give, as in the case of the tale of Etain, a different view of the story. The verse passages differ in the two versions; two verse passages on pages 37 and 46 have been inserted from the Rawlinson manuscript, otherwise the rendering follows the Leinster text.

The style of the tale is more barbaric than that of the other romances, but is relieved by touches of humour; the only supernatural touch occurs in one of the variations of the Rawlinson manuscript. Some of the chief variations en in this manuscript are pointed out in the notes; the respectful men on of Curoi mac Dari, who seems to have been a Munster hero, overshadowed in the accepted versions by the superior glory of Ulster, may be noted; also the remark that Ferloga did not get his cepoc, which seems to have been inserted by a later band of a critic who disapproved of the frivolity of the original author, or was jealous for the honour of the Ulster ladies.

MAC DATHO'S BOAR


Heroic Romances of Ireland Volume 1 - 10/44

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