The Celtic Literature Collective

The Wooing of Becfola

It was once upon a time when Aedh Sláine's son Dermot enjoyed Ireland's royal rule, his fosterling Crimthann mac Aedh being with him as a pledge from them of Leinster. He and Crimthann his alumnus, taking with them their various weapons and one single lad, went of a day to áth truim. They saw a lone woman in a chariot come out of the west and across the ford. Fairer she was than any one of the whole world's women. Dermot enquired: "whence art thou come, woman?" "Not from far," she answered. "What makes thee to be alone?" "I am in search of wheaten grain," said she. "Thou shalt find such with me," said Dermot. "We refuse it not," said the woman. Thereupon he conveyed her to Tara, and she shared his comfortable bed. All in general enquired: "whence the woman, Dermot?" "I will not tell." All said again: "bec a fhola, i.e. his bride-gift to her is but small." "Be that her name," said the magicians, "i.e. Becfhola."

Subsequently the woman pitched her love on Crimthann mac Aedh the king's pupil in lieu of Dermot, and for a long time persevered in soliciting of him. The young man indeed said that at the hour of tierce on Sunday he would proceed to cluain dá chaillech to meet her, for the purpose of carrying her off surreptitiously; but his people dissuaded him from eloping with the king of Ireland's wife.

Then at early morn on Sunday she rises from Dermot. "In what direction is the early rising, woman?" he asked. "To cluain dá chaillech," she made answer. "What signifies that?" The lady said: "eight smocks with embroidery of gold, eight brooches fully set, and three diadems of gold that I have left in keeping there." Dermot said: "go not on Sunday to look for them; a Sunday's journey is not good." She replied: "let there some come with me, for that I will go is certain." "It shall not be from me [that any will bear you company]," said Dermot.

She then and her handmaid went out of Tara southwards into the Duffry of Leinster. There they went astray and wandered until night, when they marked a route of wolves that drew towards them on the hill-side. To escape these she climbed into a tree, but her maid the wolves devoured. Not long had she been in the tree when in the heart of the forest she discerned a fire. She approached it, and saw by the fireside a young man having, as regards both arms and raiment, the fairest aspect in the world: close to whom she sits down. The young man glanced at her but, until he made an end of cooking a wild boar that he had in hand, neither spoke nor turned his face to her. So soon as of his swine he had made a roasted one, he washed his hands and from the fire went down to the loch. She followed after him. The young man got into his craft, she with him. They row now till they attain to a high-jutting pleasant island, and there enter a vast and beautiful palace in which they find not any man before them. Next they partake of diverse meats and of mead delectable. The pair of them retire into the one bed, but up to next morning he never turned round to her nor in any wise molested her at all.

When morning came they heard a hail: "come out, Flann," a voice cried; and certain men came on the scene. The young man rises, girds on his arms [and goes out]. She repairs to the dwelling's door to look after him, and perceives there three that are of equal age, and figure, and valiance; while in another direction she sees other four fully weaponed. Then the eight fight a manly and a virile fight: four of a side. He and his three rout the other four: but all of them (he only excepted) fall foot to foot, lifeless and dead, while he passes back into the fort. "Have good luck of thy valour," she said: "a gallant deed it is that thou hast done." "So it were a good deed, had it but been against foemen that I executed it." She enquired: "whence the young men ?" "Brother's sons [i.e. nephews] were those four that opposed me, and three brothers to me the three others." "What was that for which they strove with thee?" He said: "mis Fedaigh mhic an daill [i.e. 'island of Fedach son of Dall']." "And how camest thou not to make thine own of me?" "Because I am but so bad a match for thee after thine abandoning of Ireland's king, and that as yet the island is not mine. Should it fall to my lot however I will go fetch thee, and thou, if it seem good to thee, shalt be to me for an only wife. But for the present revert to the king; at the foot of the same tree thy handmaid is safe and sound, free of all hurt and risk, and I will myself convey you both to Tara."

Then they made their way to Tara; and when she reached Dermot's dwelling, there was the king rising from his bed on the same Sunday still. "Truly," he said, "it had not been right for thee in violation of God's ordinance to transgress the Sunday." She returned: "by no means have I done so." Even as they were there they saw four young ecclesiastics that came in. The king asked: "What hath occasioned you to transgress the Sunday?" "Injunction of our principal, Molasius of Devenish, it is that hath despatched us to thee." Then they gave the reason as follows: "it was a certain one of the familia of Devenish that early rose to turn out his kine, and he saw eight comely young men (well equipped with armour and weapon) that fought together: in which battle all slew their respective opponents and, saving one man alone, were killed by them. Then Molasius buried the other seven, who left behind them in our hands a two men's load of gold and silver which had adorned their necks, their arms, and their weapons; and the wherefore that we are come to thee is that thou mayest learn the amount of thine own share in said treasure." The king said: "by no means-the treasure that God hath given to him, I will not interfere with him to share it; but of that gold and of the silver be a reliquary and emblems fashioned with cunning workmanship." Which is the very thing that was effected; for of chat gold Molasius' shrine and his pastoral staff were formed.

The young clerics told the king then that at the battle, and at he slaying of all them that fought, the queen had been present. By this time the king was clothed, and he enjoined Becfola to return back again to Fledach's descendant Flann. She rose with alacrity and retraced her way to Flann, after which the two never parted more.


Silva Gadelica. ed. and trans. Standish Hayes O'Grady. 1892. reprint: NY: C. Lemma Publishing Corporation, 1970.

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