Here is Part Eight of Balladeer’s Blog’s look at the various mythological works in Ireland’s Lebor na hUidre, The Book of the Dun Cow. This part features multiple sections. For Part One click HERE.

connla and the maidenTHE ADVENTURE OF CONNLA THE BEAUTIFUL, SON OF CONN OF THE HUNDRED BATTLES (Echtra Condla Chaim meic Cuind Chetchathaig) – Amid the monuments and landmarks on the Hill of Uisnech in central Ireland, Connla and his father Conn, a High King of Ireland, are relaxing with several of their troops around them.

        A beautiful woman in strange clothing catches Connla’s eye and he asks her where she is from. She replies she is from Mag Mell, a mystic island to the west of Ireland, where she says everyone feasts forever without effort and lives in peace.

        conn of the hundredKing Conn and others nearby ask Connla who he is speaking to, because only he is able to see her.  As the smitten Connla continues “chatting her up” his father and others hear the woman speaking but still cannot see her. She makes it clear that she is inviting Connla to come with her to Mag Mell forever, prompting the panicked Conn to call for his Druid Corann.

        The Druid casts a spell that prevents even Connla from being able to hear the woman anymore. She realizes this and leaves, presenting Connla with an apple from Mag Mell before she goes.

        The apple sustains Connla’s interest in the supernatural woman because it provides him all his meals for a month since it renews itself as it is being eaten. A month from their first encounter, Connla again meets the woman while in the company of his father and some of his court, this time at the plain of Arcommin.

        ireland in the time of connConn realizes his son is talking to the supernatural woman again and calls for his Druid Corann once more. The woman scornfully tells King Conn that he should not resort to druidry, as words from Druids are lies from a demon. The worried Conn asks Connla if the woman’s words have a hold on him.

        Connla replies that he feels torn between his and his father’s people and this mysterious woman. When she invites Connla to come with her to Mag Mell, where “there are only women and maidens” he follows her. She leads him to her crystal boat (in some versions it is pearl) and they sail off to the west together.

        Conn never saw his son Connla again, and so his remaining son Art mac Conn became known as Art Oenfer, Art the Solitary Son, who eventually became a High King of Ireland himself. In another myth from an earlier installment, Art mac Conn had a vision of the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.

THE FOUR QUARTERS OF THE WORLD (Cethri Arda in Domain) – This mix of poetry and prose has survived only in fragmentary form.

voyage of branTHE VOYAGE OF BRAN, SON OF FEBAL (Imram Brain mac Febail) – One day Bran, the son of Febal, is walking along and is captivated by beautiful music, which eventually lulls him to sleep. When he wakes up, he sees that the source of the music has left behind a silver bough (branch).

        Bran takes the bough back to his royal home to see if anyone can explain his odd experience. Among his retinue is a beautiful woman he has never seen before. She tells Bran that the silver branch is from a tree on the island of Emain, the home of the sea god Manannan mac Lir.

        The woman proves to be the source of the music which charmed Bran earlier, conjuring it up from an unseen source and singing along with it this time. She sings a song about Emain, where she says dragonstone and crystal fall like rain, thirst and hunger are unknown and it is always springtime.

        She instructs Bran to travel to the island, then disappears along with the silver bough. Bran soon sets sail, commanding three ships, each one captained by one of his foster-brothers. (Similar to the Voyage of Mael Duin, which was covered in an earlier installment.)

        After two days and two nights heading west, Bran and his small fleet of three ships encounter the sea god Manannan mac Lir, riding across the surface of the water in his chariot. Manannan informs Bran and company that to him the sea is like a flowery plain.       

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The sea god also tells the voyagers about the impending birth of his son Mongan mac Fiachnae, an Irish prince. Manannan states that he impregnated Mongan’s mother Caintigern, wife of Ulster’s King Fiachnae mac Baetain. (Prince Mongan was an actual historical figure who died around 625 A.D. Several mythical accounts of his activities have survived.)

        Journeying onward, the voyagers reach the Isle of Joy, where the inhabitants do nothing but laugh, never answering the questions of Bran and the others. A crew member mixes in with the inhabitants of the island and becomes afflicted with their laughing mania, refusing to leave. In another parallel to the Voyage of Mael Duin, this crewman is left behind.

        Next, the voyagers arrive at Emain, where Bran is wary about going ashore, lest it all be an illusion. The woman who advised him to come to the island is watching from shore. She throws a ball of yarn to Bran, holding one end of it as it unravels on its way to our hero.

        Bran catches the depleting ball of yarn and finds he cannot let it go. The supernatural woman on shore pulls on her end of the yarn, dragging Bran’s ship in to port. The other ships and crews follow.

        the voyage of branOur main character takes the supernatural woman as his lover, while she provides other women for each of the crew members of the three ships. What seems like a year of feasting and loving go by.

        At length one of the voyagers, named Nechtan mac Collbrain, feels so homesick that he prevails upon Bran to lead all of them back to Ireland. Bran’s mate reluctantly lets them leave but warns them not to set foot on Irish soil.

        When the ship arrives back at Ireland, Bran and others shout to people they see on the shore. Those people say that Bran and his fellow voyagers are merely legends from the distant past. Nechtan, unable to contain his homesickness, leaps overboard and swims to shore.

        As soon as Nechtan sets foot on the beach, he immediately ages by more than a hundred years, leaving behind only ashes. Bran and the others recognize the danger, so they tell their story to the people on shore and also throw them a written account in ogam letters before sailing off.

wooing of emerTHE WOOING OF EMER (Tochmarc Emire) – This is another myth about the demigod Cuchulainn. As he reached sexual maturity, all the women of Ulster found him so desirable that the other men were concerned that Cuchulainn might simply have sex with all their wives and daughters. 

        The Ulstermen combed Ireland looking for a woman that the demigod would find attractive enough to marry. Only one woman caught his eye – Emer. Her father Forgall Monach refused to let the two lovebirds wed, however.

        Forgall insisted that Cuchulainn learn the arts of warfare from the famous warrior woman Scathach in the land of Alba (ancient Scotland). Forgall hoped that the legendarily deadly woman would kill Cuchulainn in the course of his training, ending the whole matter.

        scathachWhile Cuchulainn was training with Scathach in Alba, Forgall tried to marry Emer off to other men, but when they found out she was the only woman that the demigod wanted as his wife, they all refused. Cuchulainn was just one of Scathach’s current proteges, which included Ferdiad, who came to be our hero’s foster-brother. (He was later forced to slay him during the Cattle Raid of Cooley tale, covered in an earlier installment.)

        Under Scathach’s tutelage, Cuchulainn mastered his legendary spear the Gae Bulga, and became known as the woman warrior’s greatest pupil ever. Aife, Scathach’s twin sister and rival at martial skills, wanted to test Cuchulainn in combat.

        Scathach feared for our hero’s life and slipped a sleeping potion into Cuchulainn’s drink while she went off to fight Aife in his place. Due to the demigod’s incredible strength the potion only knocked him out briefly, and when he woke up he went to face Aife himself.

        Cuchulainn and Aife met in single combat and ultimately our hero defeated her by grappling with her. He agreed to let go of her on the condition that she end her feud with Scathach … and bear him a son. Aife agreed, and by the time Cuchulainn was done training under Scathach, Aife was pregnant with his child.

        emer and cuchulainnBack in Ireland, Emer’s father went back on his word and still said he wouldn’t let his daughter marry Cuchulainn. The demigod had had enough. He raided Forgall’s fortress, killed twenty-four of his men, looted his treasures and eloped with Emer. Forgall fell to his death from his fortress walls.

        King Conchobar of Ulster had the right of the first night over all the men of Ulster. However, he was shrewd enough to not want an angry Cuchulainn on his hands. At the same time, he didn’t want to set a precedent by letting an Ulsterman not have their wife lie in bed with him (Conchobar) on the night of their wedding.

        Conchobar’s Druid Cathbad devised a solution. Emer lay in the king’s bed on her wedding night, but Cuchulainn was placated by the fact that Cathbad slept between the two of them so that they could not have sex. 




Filed under Mythology


  1. Holly

    I like out of the way old stories like this.

  2. Some “Twisted Faerie Tales” suggested in all this. If I could get politicians to stop piddling in my garden, MSM to stop spreading ka-ka across the meadow, I might have time to let two fingers of Proper Twelve moosh reality a bit to see where something might unwind itself. I don’t pull-up all of your categories, but perhaps I should a bit more. You know, broaden my grasp on life. Good stuff. Thanks. Now, for me, schtuff to get after. Catch you on the back side of this Wednesday, Bud.

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