The Celtic Literature Collective

This that follows is the Birth of Cormac grandson of Conn.
From the Book of Ballymote
Translated by Standish O'Grady, Silva Gaedelica V.II.

Art son of Conn of the Hundred Battles went to fight the battle of magh mucramha against Maccon. Westwards over Shannon he marched with the general hosting of all Ireland, and the night before the battle he passed as a guest in the house of Olc Acha the smith. That night they had unpleasant converse and ill speeches: Olc Acha saying to Art that for his giving battle to Maccon there existed no reason more convenient or litter than there was for his engaging Olioll Olom’s son Eoghan; that as against the former his cause moreover was bad, for that Lughaid [surnamed Maccon] had certain rightful claims upon him. “What amount of children leavest thou?" the smith enquired of Art, who answered: “I know not of any but one son only.” “That is too little,” the smith said: “this night wed thou my daughter, for it is prophesied for me that from me some great dignity must spring.” A thing which was verified, for a great dignity Cormac son of Art son of Conn of the Hundred Battles was.

That night the king mated with Olc Acha’s daughter Etan, and then it was that Cormac was conceived. Art told her that she would bear a son and that he should be king over Ireland. Then too it was that he imparted to her all secret instructions for the boy’s behoof, and declared to her that on the morrow he would be slain. [In the morning] he bade her farewell, saying: “take thy son to his friend of Connacht, to Lughna in Corann, there to be fostered "; and as he had himself premised the king afterwards was killed in the battle.

Accordingly Etan proved to be with child, and [in due time] it occurred to her to repair to Lughna’s house in order that in the same she should bring forth the offspring which she carried. But so soon as she arrived within that country her pains took her, she came down out of her chariot and gave birth to a son. Her maid went off and pulled twigs, which she strewed under her: hence fiodnacha or ‘twigs,’ ‘brushwood,’ i.e. ‘Feenagh,’ in Corann. At the boy’s birth a report as of thunder boomed through the air, and Lughna upon hearing the sound uttered:-

“Noise-thunder-birth of king..."

He went on: “even so: the true prince’s son, Cormac son of Art, it is that is born now; let us go to seek him, for to me it is committed to keep him until he shall be fit to rule the land.”

After her child-bed Etan, having first enjoined her maid to mind the boy till they should be able to proceed, slept. The maid too slept however, and a she-wolf coming to them ravished the child to the spot in which were her whelps: to the stone cave that is hard by craeibhech or ‘locus ramosus,’ i.e. ‘Creevagh,’ at the achail in that which to-day is sídh Chormaic or ‘Cormac’s sídh.' By-and-by the woman started out of her sleep and, because she found not her son, cried out lamentably. Here Lughna came up to her, and asked them what they were about. The woman told him all: that it was towards him she had been on her way, for that to him it was intrusted to foster the child. Then Lughna conveyed her to his dwelling and gave out that, whosoever he should be that procured knowledge of and a clue to the infant, he would grant his own prayer [i.e. would let him name his own reward].

Now one Grec mac Arodh as he ranged the country of a day came by chance over a cave, in front of which he saw wolf-cubs gambol and among them a little urchin on his hands [i.e. on all fours]. “Just so,” he said, and went off to Lughna; then bound him to his terms if he should get him the king’s son. To this Lughna assented, and hence were given to Grec the lands on which the Grecraighe or ‘Grec-posterity’ are established: the guerdon of Grec’s finding of Cormac. This done Lughna and he took. their way to the cave, and by them boy and cubs both were taken out of it; at which point Lughna prognosticating for him uttered

“Conn’s victorious representative I hail..."

In the sequel that same boy was nurtured by Lughna, and none dared to provoke him against his father’s enemies [i.e. against Lughaid Maccon and his faction]. The lad verily was ‘a pasture of the eyes’ of many: for form namely and for vesture, for propriety and for proportion, for ready speech, for gaiety, for comeliness, for pride, for fire, for strength and for high spirit; and the name that was conferred on him by Lughna was corbmac, just as Art had left that it should be given to him.

Once upon a time Cormac and Lughna’s Sons: Ochomon and Nathnach, were at play. He struck one of them and: “oh dear,” cried the patient, “there has stricken me a fellow whose clan and race are unknown, except that he is a gentleman without a father!” whereupon Cormac in great dejection sought out Lughna and recited to him how he had been reviled. “That is not true,” his guardian said: “thou art the very prince’s son, son of Art son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and for thee it stands foretold to hold thy father’s helm; nor so long as he [that now sits there] lords it in Tara will corn, or milk, or mast, or sea-fruit [i.e. yield of fish] or seasons come aright. “Come we therefore,” said Cormac, “that we may visit, and bide our time in, our father’s house in Tara.” “Let us even go,” Lughna answered.

Then the two went their way: Lughna, and Cormac accompanied with his wolves, he having also a body-guard of kerne which from the time of Eochaid Airemh to that present had been in Corann; for it was they that slew Eochaid: too heavy a rent namely that had been imposed on them. They are the firchúl Bregh of to-day, [and are there] because that by way of comradeship they came with Cormac thither.

So they held on till they gained Tara, where welcome was accorded them and Cormac received on the footing of a dalta [i.e. protégé and pupil]. At which time there was in Tara a shehospitaller: Bennaidh, whose roaming sheep came and ate up the queen’s crop of woad. The case was referred to Lughaid [Maccon the king] for judgment, and his award was: the queen to have the sheep in lieu of the woad. “Nay,” Cormac said: “the shearing of the sheep is a sufficient offset to the cropping of the woad; for both the one and the other will grow again.” “That is the true judgment,” all exclaimed: “a very prince’s son it is that has pronounced it!" The one half of that house in which the false judgment had been given slid down the steep declivity [on which it stood], and will so abide for ever: whence claenfherta Temrach or ‘the sloping mounds of Tara.’

Maccon’s rule in sooth was not good: the men of Ireland warned him off therefore, and bestowed it on Cormac. After which, and so long as Cormac lived, the world was full of all good things. His wolves also Cormac continued to have with him; and the reason of that great esteem which Cormac bore to wolves was that wolves had fostered him.

By him was effected the renovation and decoration of Tara as before him she never had been, in respect of both houses and ramparts, and of all other edifices: both laech-houses and ladies’ bowers, and ‘houses of the earth’ [i.e. underground storehouses, cellars, etc.]. Well off too Ireland was during that king’s time: for the multiplicity of her fish the river waters might not be forded, nor her woods traversed easily for the exuberance of their mast; while for the quantity of their honey which by reason of his righteous rule was vouchsafed from heaven the travelling of her plain countries was no ready matter. The numbers of her wild creatures of the chase too were such as, though they should have had nor tilth nor reaping, would have comforted her people with meat in sufficiency.

So Cormac continued to reign in Tara, and by him in due time was constructed the noblest building that ever was erected there; nor though he was opposed by Ulster was he ever divorced from his kingdom, but in the house of Speldn the hospitaller died when in his throat there stuck a salmon’s bone which had been kneaded up among the wheat given to him [in the form of bread]. Such was the cause of his death.

Now what Cormac bequeathed to his confidentials, and enjoined on them, was this not to bury him in the brugh, because it was not one and the same god that he and they that were sepulchred therein adored; but he prescribed his burial in Rosnaree, with his face set eastwards to the rising of the sun.



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

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