Those days when Conor MacNessa sat on the throne of Ulster were brilliant days in Irelands history. Then was the sun of glory in the zenith of Eires Heroic period - the period of chivalry, chiefly created by the famous Royal or Red Branch Knights of Emania. Though, two other famous bands of Irish warriors gave added lustre to the period- the Gamanraide of the West (who were the Firbolgs) and the Clanna Deaghaid of Mulster led by Curoi MacDaire. All three warrior bands had their poets and the seanachies, who chanted their deeds in imperishable song and story which, down the dim ages, have since held spell bound the clan of the Gael. But the greatest, the most belauded, and the most dazzling of all the heroes of the heroic age was undoubtedly Cuchullain, of whose life and wondrous deeds, real and imaginary, hundreds of stories still exist.
CUCHULLAIN was a foster son of King Conor. "I am little Setanta, son to Sualtim, and Dectaire your sister" he told the questioning King, when, as a boy, in whose breast the fame of the Red Branch warriors had awaked the thirst for glory, he came up to the court of Emania. When he arrived there and the youths in training were playing caman upon the green. Having taken with him from home, his red bronze hurl and his silver ball, the little stranger, going in among them, so outplayed all the others, that the attention of the court was drawn to him. And it was then that the little stranger gave the above reply to the question of the admiring king. The eager attention of the warriors of the Red Branch was drawn to the lad and they foresaw great things for him, when they heard him express himself nobly and wonderfully, on the day that, in Emania, in the Hall of Heroes, he took arms. He stood before the Druids in the Hall of Heroes and exclaimed "I care not whether I die tomorrow or next year, if only my deeds live after me". The greatest, most exciting portion of this heros stories is the account of his fight with his friend, Ferdiad, at the ford, where , single handed, he is holding at bay the forces of Connaught. Ferdiad is the great Connaught champion, chief, of the Connaught knights of the Sword, the Fir Domniann and a dear friend and comrade of CUCHULLAIN, since, in their youth, they were training for the profession of arms. And it is now sore for CUCHULLAIN to fight the soul friend whom the Connaught host has pitted against them. He would dissuade Ferdiad from fighting, by reminding him of their comradeship, when they were together learning the art of war from the female champion, Scathach, in Alba.
"We were heart companions,
We were companions in the woods,
We were fellows of the same bed,
Where we used to sleep the balmy sleep.
After mortal battles abroad,
In countries many and far distant,
Together we used to practice, and go
Through each forest, learning with Scathach".
But Ferdiad had not the tenderness of CUCHULLAIN, and would not let fond memories turn him from his purpose. Indeed lest he might yield to the weakness of temptation, he forced himself to answer Cuchullains tenderness with taunts, so as to provoke the Compat. An fight they finally did. They fought for four days. On the fourth day, CUCHULLAIN rallies to the fight more fiercely, more terribly, more overpoweringly than ever, and at length gives to his friend, Ferdiad, the coup de grace. CUCHULLAIN laid Ferdiad down then, and a trance, and a faint, and a weakness fell on CUCHULLAIN over Ferdiad there.
CUCHULLAIN died as a hero should - on a battlefield, with his back to a rock and his face to the foe, buckler on arm, and spear in hand. He died standing, and in that defiant attitude (supported by the rock) was many days dead ere the enemy dared venture near enough to reassure themselves of his exit - which they only did when they saw the vultures alight upon him, and undisturbed, peck at his flesh.
CONN OF THE HUNDRED BATTLES
The celebrated Conn of the hundred Battles was a son of Feidlimid, the son of Tuathal - though he did not immediately succeed Feidlimid. Between them reigned Cathari Mor, who was father of thirty sons, among whom and their posterity he attempted to divide Ireland, and from whom are descended the chief Leinster families. As Conns title suggests, his reign was filled with battling. Conns strenuous militancy and the suggestive title that it won for him, made him famed beyond worthier men - the greatest pride of some of the noblest families of the land a thousand years and more after his time trace back their descent to him of the Hundred Battles. Conns life and reign were ended by his assassination at Tara. Fifty robbers hired by the king of Ulster, came to Tara, dressed as women, and treacherously despatched the Monarch. Conns son in law, Conaire II, who succeeded him as monarch - for his son Art was then but a child - is famed as father of three Carbris, namely Carbri Musc, from whom was named the territory of Muskerry, Carbri Baiscin, whose descendants peopled Corca Baiscin in Western Clare, and most notable of them, Carbri Riada, who, when there was a famine in the South, led his people to the extreme Northeast of Ireland, and some of them across to the nearest part of Scotland, where they settled, forming the first important colony of Scots (Irish) in Alba, and driving there the edge of the Irish wedge which was eventually to make the whole country known as the land of the Scots (Irish).
CORMAC MAC ART
Of all the ancient kings of Ireland, Cormac, who reigned in the third century, is unquestionably considered greatest by the poets, the seanachies, and the chroniclers. His father Art was the son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and was known as Art the Lonely, as he had lost his brothers, Connla and Crionna - both slain by their uncles. It was at the court of Lugaid at Tara, that Cormac first distinguished himself, and gave token of the ability and wisdom, which were, afterwards, to mark him the most distinguished of Eirinns monarchs.
From his exile in Connaught, Cormac, a green youth , had returned to Tara, where, unrecognised, he was engaged herding sheep for a poor widow. Now one of the sheep broke into the queens garden, and ate the queens vegetables. And King Lugaid, equally angry as his queen, after he heard the case, ordered that for penalty on the widow, her sheep should be forfeit to the queen. To the amazement of Lugaids court, the herd boy who had been watching the proceedings with anxiety, arose, and, facing the king, said, "Unjust is thy award, O king, for, because thy queen hath lost a few vegetables, thou wouldst deprive the poor widow of her livelihood?" When the king recovered from his astoundment, he looked contemptuously at the lad, asking scathingly: "And what, O wise herd boy would be thy just award?" The herd boy, not one little bit disconcerted, answered him "My award would be that the wool of the sheep should pay for the vegetables the sheep has eaten - because both the wool and the green things will grow again, and both parties have forgotten their hurt." And the wonderful wisdom of the judgement drew the applause of the astounded court. But Lugaid exclaimed in alarm: "It is the judgement of a King." And, the lads great mind having betrayed him, he had to flee. He returned and claimed the throne when Lugaid was killed, but at a feast which he gave to the princes whose support he wanted, Fergus Black Tooth of Ulster, who coveted the Ard Righship, managed, it is said, to singe the hair of Cormac - creating a blemish that debarred the young man temporarily from the throne. And he fled again from Tara, fearing designs upon his life. Fergus became Ard Righ for a year - at the end of which time Cormac returned with an army, and, supported by Taig, the son of Ciann, and grandson of the great Oilill Olum of Munster, completely overthrew the usurper in the great battle of Crionna (on the Boyne) where Fergus and his two brothers were slain - and Cormac won undisputed possession of the monarchy. Taig was granted a large territory between Damlaig (Duleek) and the River Liffi, since then called the Ciannachta. He became the ancestor of the OHaras, OGaras, OCarrolls, and other now Northern families. In Cormacs time, the world was replete with all that was good and the food and the fat of the land, and the gifts of the sea were in abundance in this kings reign. There were neither woundings nor robberies in his time, but every one enjoyed his own, in peace. Cormac rebuilt the palace of Tara, with much magnificence. He built the Teach Mi Chuarta, the great banqueting hall, that was 760 feet by 46 feet, and 45 feet high. Until quite recently, the outline of the foundations of this great hall with the traces of its fourteen doorways, were still to be observed on Tara Hill. In the Book of Leinster is related "Three thousand persons each day is what Cormac used to maintain in tara; besides poets and satirists, and all the strangers who sought the king; Galls, and Romans, and Franks, and Frisian, and Longbards, and Albanians and Saxons, and Picts, for all these used to seek him, and it was with gold and with silver, with steeds and with chariots, that he presented them. They used all to come to Cormac, because there was not in his time, nor before him, any more celebrated in honour, and in dignity, and in wisdom, except only Solomon, the son of David. The remarkable king died in the year 267 - more than a century and a half before the coming of St. Patrick. By reason of his extraordinary wisdom, the righteousness of his deeds, judgements and laws, he is said to have been blest with the light of the Christian faith seven years before his death. The traditions about Cormac also state that having been inspired by the faith he made dying request that he should be buried, not with the other pagan kings at their famous burying ground, whence would dawn the holy light that should make Eirinn radiant. Disregarding his dying wish, the Druids ordered that he should be interred with his ancestors at Brugh of Boyne. But when, in pursuance of this, the bearers were bearing his body across the river, a great wave swept it from their shoulders, down the stream, and cast it up at Ros na Riogh, where, according to his wish, he was then buried.