The Celtic Literature Collective

The Tragic Death of Connla
The Death of Aoife's Only Son

What was the cause for which Cu Chulainn slew his son?

Not hard to tell. Cu Chulainn went to be taught craft of arms by Scathach, daughter of Ardgeimm, in Letha, until he attained mastership of feats with her. And Aife, a neighboring princess, went to him, and he left her pregnant. And he said to her that she would bear a son. “Keep this golden thumb-ring,” said he, “until it fits the boy. When it fits him, let him come to seek me in Ireland. Let no man put him off his road, let him not make himself known to any man, nor let him refuse combat to any.”

That day seven years the boy went forth to seek his father. The men of Ulster were at a gathering by Tracht Eisi (Strand of the Track), when they saw the boy coming towards them across the sea, a skiff of bronze under him, and gilt oars in his hand. In the skiff he had a heap of stones. He would put a stone in his staff-sling, and launch a stunning shot at the sea-birds, so that he brought them down, and they alive. Then would he let them up into the air again. He would perform his palate-feat, between both hands, so that it was too quick for the eye to perceive. He would tune his voice for them, and bring them down for the second time. Then he revived them once more.

“Well, now,” said Conchobar, “woe to the land into which yonder lad comes! If grown-up men of the island from which he comes were to come, they would grind us to dust, when a small boy makes that practice. Let some one go to meet him! Let him not allow the boy to come on land at all!”

“Who shall go to meet him?”

“Who should it be,” said Conchobar, “but Condere son of Eochaid?”

“Why should Condere go?” said the others.

“Not hard to tell,” said Conchobar. “If it is reason and eloquence he practises, then Condere is the proper person.”

“I shall go to meet him,” said Condere.

So Condere went just as the boy took the beach. “Thou hast come far enough, my good boy,” said Condere, “for us to know whither thou goest and whence is thy race.”

“I do not make myself known to any one man,” said the lad, "nor do I avoid any man.”

“Thou shalt not land,” said Condere, “until thou hast made thyself known.”

“I shall go whither I have set out,” said the lad.

The boy turned away. Then said Condere: “Turn to me, my boy; Conchobar will protect thee. Turn to Conchobar, the valiant son of Nessa; to Sencha, the son of Coscra; to Cethern, the red­bladed son of Fintan, the fire that wounds battalions; to Amergin the poet; to Cumscraid of the great hosts. Welcome he whom Conall the Victorious protects.”

“Thou hast met us well,” said the lad. “Therefore shalt thou have thy answer. Turn back again!” said the lad. “For though thou hadst the strength of a hundred, thou art not able to check me.”

“Well,” said Condere, “let someone else go to speak to thee!” So Condere went to the men of Ulster and told them.

“It shall not be,” said Conall the Victorious, “that the honor of Ulster be carried off while I am alive.” Then he went towards the boy. “Thy play is pretty, my good boy,” said Conall.

“It will not be less pretty against thee,” said the lad. The lad put a stone in his sling. He sent it into the air, so that its noise and thunder as it went up reached Conall, and threw him on his back. Before he could rise, the lad put the strap of his shield upon his arms.

“Someone else against him!” said Conall. In that way the boy made mockery of the host of Ulster.

Cu Chulainn, however, was present at the time, going towards the boy, and the arm of Emer, Forgall’s daughter, over his neck. “Do not go down!” said she. “It is a son of thine that is down there. Do not murder thy only son! It is not fair fight nor wise to rise up against thy son. Turn to me! Hear my voice! My advice is good. Let Cu Chulainn hear it! I know what name he will tell, if the boy down there is Connla, the only son of Aife,” said Emer.

Then said Cu Chulainn: “Forbear, woman! Even though it were he who is there,” said he, “I would kill him for the honor of Ulster.”

Then he went down himself. “Delightful, my boy, is the play which thou makest,” said he.

“Your play, though, is not so,” said the little boy, “that two of you did not come, so that I may make myself known to them.”

“It would have been necessary to bring a small boy along with me,” said Cu Chulainn. “However, thou wilt die unless thou tellest thy name.”

“Let it be so!” said the lad. The boy made for him. They exchanged blows. The lad, by a properly measured stroke with the sword, cropped off Cu Chulainn’s hair. “The mockery has come to a head!” said Cu Chulainn. “Now let us wrestle!”

“I cannot reach thy belt,” said the boy. He got upon two stones, and thrust Cu Chulainn thrice between two pillar-stones, while the boy did not move either of his feet from the stones until his feet went into the stones up to his ankles. The track of his feet is there still. Hence is the Straw of the Track (Tracht Eisi) in Ulster.

Then they went into the sea to drown each other, and twice the boy ducked him. Thereupon Cu Chulainn went at the boy from the water, and played him false with the gae bulga; for to no man had Scathach ever taught the use of that weapon save to Cu Chulainn alone. He sent it at the boy through the water, so that his bowels fell about his feet.

“Now, this is what Scathach never taught me!” cried the boy. “Woe that thou hast wounded me!”

“It is true,” said Cu Chulainn. He took the boy between his arms, and carried him till he let him down before the men of Ulster. “Here is my son for you, men of Ulster,” said he.

“Alas!” said the men; and “It is true,” said the boy. “If I were among you to the end of five years, I should vanquish the men of the world before you on every side, and you would hold kingship as far as Rome. Since it is as it is, point out to me the famous men that are on the spot, that I may take leave of them!” 

Thereupon he put his arms round the neck of one after another, bade farewell to his father, and forthwith died. Then his cry of lament was raised, his grave made, his stone set up, and to the end of three days no calf was let to their cows by the men of Ulster, to commemorate him.

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