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- Heroic Romances of Ireland Volume 2 - 3/27 -


youths abide.

Fair was the palace that there they found, Seven great chambers were ranged it round; Right to the walls of the house they spread, Facing the hall, where the fire glowed red: Red yew planks, that had felt the plane, Dappled the walls with their tangled grain:

Rails of bronze at the side-walls stood, Plates of bronze had made firm the wood, Seven brass bolts to the roof-tree good Firmly the vaulting tied.

All that house had of pine been made, Planks, as shingles, above were laid; Sixteen windows the light let pass, Each in a frame of the shining brass: High through the roof was the sky seen bright; Girder of brass made that opening tight, Under the gap it was stretched, and light Fell on its gleaming side.

All those chambers in splendour excelling, The midmost of all in the ring, Rose a room, set apart as the dwelling Of Queen Maev, and of Ailill the king. Four brass columns the awning supported For their couch, there was bronze on the wall; And two rails, formed of silver, and gilded, In that chamber encircled it all: In the front, to mid-rafters attaining, Rose in silver a wand from the floor; And with rooms was that palace engirdled, For they stretched from the door to the door.

'Twas there they went to take repose, On high their arms were hung; And down they sank, and welcome rose, Acclaimed by every tongue.

By the queen and the king they were welcome made, the strangers they turned to greet; And their courtesy graciously Fraech repaid: "'Twas thus we had hoped to meet." "Not for boasting to-day are ye come!" said Maev; the men for the chess she set: And a lord of the court in the chess-man sport by Fraech in a match was met. 'Twas a marvellous board of findruine fair was prepared, when they played that game, Four handles, and edges of gold it had, nor needed they candles' flame; For the jewels that blazed at the chess-board's side, a light, as from lamps, would yield; And of silver and gold were the soldiers made, who engaged on that mimic field.

"Get ye food for the chiefs!" said the king; said Maev, "Not yet, 'tis my will to stay, To sit with the strangers, and here with Fraech in a match at the chess to play!" "Let thy game be played!" said Ailill then, "for it pleaseth me none the less:" And Queen Maev and Fraech at the chess-board sate, and they played at the game of chess.

Now his men, as they played, the wild beasts late caught were cooking, they thought to feed; And said Ailill to Fraech, "Shall thy harpmen play?" "Let them play," said Fraech, "indeed:" Now those harpers were wondrous men, by their sides they had sacks of the otter's skin, And about their bodies the sacks were tied, and they carried their harps within, With stitches of silver and golden thread each case for a harp was sewed; And, beneath the embroidery gleaming red, the shimmer of rubies showed!

The skin of a roe about them in the middle, it was as white as snow; black-grey eyes in their centre. Cloaks of linen as white as the tunic of a swan around these ties.[FN#4] Harps of gold and silver and bronze, with figures of serpents and birds, and hounds of gold and silver: as they moved those strings those figures used to run about the men all round.

[FN#4] This is the Egerton version, which is clearly right here. The Book of Leinster gives: "These figures accordingly used to run," &c., leaving out all the first part of the sentence, which is required to make the meaning plain.

They play for them then so that twelve of the people[FN#5] of Ailill and Medb die with weeping and sadness.

[FN#5] The Book of Leinster omits "of Ailill and Medb."

Gentle and melodious were the triad, and they were the Chants of Uaithne[FN#6] (Child-birth). The illustrious triad are three brothers, namely Gol-traiges (Sorrow-strain), and Gen-traiges (Joy-strain), and Suan-traiges (Sleep-strain). Boand from the fairies is the mother of the triad:

[FN#6] Pronounced something like Yew-ny.

At every one of the harpers' waists was girded the hide of a roe, And black-grey spots in its midst were placed, but the hide was as white as snow; And round each of the three of them waved a cloak, as white as the wild swan's wings: Gold, silver, and bronze were the harps they woke; and still, as they touched the strings, The serpents, the birds, and the hounds on the harps took life at the harps' sweet sound, And those figures of gold round the harpmen rose, and floated in music round.

Then they played, sweet and sad was the playing, Twelve of Ailill's men died, as they heard; It was Boand[FN#7] who foretold them that slaying, And right well was accomplished her word.

[FN#7] Pronounced with sound of "owned."

'Tis the three Chants of Child-Birth Give names to those Three; Of the Harp of the Dagda[FN#8] The children they be.

[FN#8] The Dagda seems to have been the chief god of the old Celtic mythology.

To those harpers a fairy Is mother, of yore To that Harp, men call Child-Birth, Queen Boand the three bore.

They are three noble brothers, And well are they known; They are kindly and gentle, And tuneful of tone.

One is Joy-Song, one Sorrow's, One, "Song that gives Sleep," And the Harp's strains, their father's, Remembered they keep.

For when Boand was at bearing, Came Sorrow the first, From the Harp, its strings tearing With cry, Sorrow burst.

Then there came to her pleasure For birth of a boy; And a sweet smiling measure The Harp played, 'twas Joy.

And she swooned in her anguish, For hard the third birth: From the Harp, her pains soothing, Sleep's strain came on earth.

Then from Boand passed her slumber, And, "Uaithne,"[FN#9] she cried, Thy three sons, thou sharp Child-Birth, I take to my side.

[FN#9] Pronounced something like Yew-ny.

Cows and women by Ailill And Maev shall be slain; For on these cometh Sorrow, And Joy, and Sleep's strain:

Yea, and men, who these harpers, Thy children, shall hear, By their art to death stricken, Shall perish in fear."

Then the strains died away in the palace, The last notes seemed to sink, and to cease: "It was stately," said Fergus, "that music." And on all came a silence, and peace.

Said Fraech, "The food divide ye! Come, bring ye here the meat!" And down to earth sank Lothar, On floor he set his feet;

He crouched, on haunches sitting,


Heroic Romances of Ireland Volume 2 - 3/27

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