The Celtic Literature Collective

Death of Crimthann son of Fidach, 
and of Eochaidh Muighmedóin’s three sons: Brian, Ailill, Fiachra

A noble and a reverend king that once upon a time ruled Ireland: Eochaidh Muighmedóin. He had a spouse worthy of him: Mongfhionn daughter of Fidach, and she bore him four Sons: Brian and Fiachra, Ailill and Fergus their names were; concerning whom she sees a dream, and it was this: that they were transformed into four carnivores, as Brian into a lion’s shape, Fiachra into a greyhound’s, Ailill into a beagle’s, Fergus into that of a commonplace dog. Then they carried on with rugging and riving of one another: in the beginning, at every other bout the greyhound would worst the lion; but finally the lion prevails against all three who, meekly, submissively, without a sign of mutiny, give in to him [acknowledge his superiority]. This dream Mongfhionn tells to the magician Sithchenn, and: “just so,” he says, “Brian will be an aggressive and a raging lion, such too his seed after him: as opposed to all other men’s fury they shall be a virulently contentious phalanx, and steadfast to endure others’ onslaughts on themselves; after whom Fiachra and his will be given to war and excursions: he shall hack and hew at Brian’s race, Brian at his; between them both shall be armed strife, mutual mischiefs wrought, and the rule partitioned to the posterity of each alternately; in the end, however, the seed of Brian will prevail over all the other sons’ children, and the pre­eminence be theirs. Ailill will be a hound of the chase, seeking out and striving for lands in provision for his brethren; as for Fergus, his seed will be but a sorry set of plebeians, and ‘tis hardly if ever his race will be made out at all.

In course of time Eochaid died, and between his five sons then was dire contention for his land: Niall by himself of the one part, and Mongfhionn’s four sons of the other. What she hit upon, now that she had failed of getting the kingdom for her son Brian alone (who was the favourite one of her children), was this: by means of solicitation and of magic-practice (for in all sorcery and witchery she was an adept) to allure the men of Ireland to confer the royal power upon his brethren, that she might send him over-seas to learn the art of arms, whereby later he should turn out an eminent hero fit to make the kingdom his.

Accordingly Brian crossed the sea, and with Senach son of Onga in the north of Scotland learned warlike accomplishments until in all feats of arms and valour he was vigorously competent. When then at seven years’ end his training was perfected, he returned from the eastward: a brownhaired, powerful and bull- like man, with solidity of limb, with the strength of nine, and in either hand endowed with equal weapon-skill—such was Brian.

Crimthann reigned over Ireland still, and to Mongfionn it was a sore vexation that Brian was not king. But on a royal progress Crimthann went into Scotland—for thus it was that the king of Tara ever proceeded on his grand visitation: from Tara into the Galianic province [Leinster]; thence into both provinces of Munster [Thomond and Desmond]; afterwards into the province of Olnegmacht [Connacht], thence again into the province of Ulster, and so into Scotland—whereupon Mongfhionn’s sons laid forcible and violent hold on Crimthann’s domain. He upon hearing of this returned out of the east; into Connacht he brought a great host that he mustered, to expel his sister’s sons out of his kingdom; he marched, and pitched camp on the Moy amongst the Connachtmen. Morigfhionn debated with herself, and what she imagined was that to Brian’s brothers she should offer a banquet on the Moy in Tirawley, invite her own brother thither as though to make peace with her sons and, with intent to procure the royalty for Brian, administer to him a poisoned draught.

To her brother’s house Mongfhionn repaired therefore; betwixt Crimthann and her children she patched up a fraudulent peace, and conducted him to the feast. When they had made an end of the entertainment Mongfhionn put into her brother’s hand a poisoned cup, but: “I will not drink,” he said, “until thou first shalt have drunk.” She drinks, and Crimthann after her. Subsequently Mongfhidrin died, on samhain’s very eve, and this constitutes [the tale called] ‘Mongfhionn the Sorceress’s Tragical Death’; and the reason for which samhain-tide is by the common people called ‘the Festival of Mongfhionn’ is that she, so long as she was in the flesh, had [occult] powers, and was a witch: wherefore it is that on samhain-eve women and the rabble address their petitions to her.

Now came Crimthann from the northward, progressing towards his own natural country (that of the men of Munster) until he gained sliabll suide in rígh or ‘the mountain of the king’s sitting,’ and there he died. Fidach his father, his mother, and she that had nursed him, came to the spot where he perished; there they gave way to piteous grief, and all three died upon the very ground. Concerning which the historian vented this:— 

“Crimthann’s poor tumulus, what its origin? ..."

Howbeit that treachery which she had executed on her brother, and her choice of death for herself in hopes that Brian should have been king after her, served Mongfhionn’s purpose not at all: for Niall of the Nine Hostages it was that succeeded Crimthann and ruled all Ireland; nevertheless Brian was his most formidable agent in war and his next in command, out of all countries bringing him in pledges and tribute.

Eventually Brian acquired the sovereignty of Connacht’s pro­vince, while Fiachra took all from cairn Feradaigh or ‘Feradach’s cairn’ to magh mucramha; hence between the two was a vieing and great jealousy, so much so that a war sprang up among them. Between them is fought the battle of Damckiuain, which goes against Nathi and his father: Nathi escapes, but Fiachra is taken and, being brought to Tara, delivered into the hand of Niall his brother. Out of this a second time grows an exceeding great war, between Brian and Nathi: the former having his camp at Damchluain in úi Bhriuin seoia, hard by commaicne ciuile; Nathi with clan-Fiachra posted against him in Aidhne. Brian’s magician, Drithhiu, is brought to him, and he questions him as to what the consummation should be of this war of his and Nathi’s. The wizard said that ‘twas Nathi should be victorious, and have sway even to Slieve-Elpa. Brian’s children are brought to him and he blesses them, telling them that Echen their senior should be their chief after him: four-and-twenty sons Brian had, concerning which fact the poet uttered:— 

“Eochaid muighmedóin’s son Brian . .

Especially he blessed Dái galach, the youngest, and foretold that of him the royal line should be. Then Nathi with his force all in battle array marches on Brian where he with but a little number was in camp; between them a bitter struggle takes place: the [second] battle of Damchluain is won against Brian, and himself pursued out of the fray as far as tulcha Domhnaill or ‘Donall’s tulachs.’ There Enna ceinnselach’s son Crimthann slays him, and Brian’s son Enna ernaiack kills Crimthann presently; in which spot Brian is buried. After a long time Beaedh of ros Cairn came and carried away Brian’s remains to Ros Cairn, where he laid him: whence the ‘Brian’s Sepulchre’ of to-day. Drithliu the magician is slaughtered on the banks of Finnloch, whence aenack Dritkliud or ‘Drithliu’s green’ has its name; and on their account the sennachie sang:--

“Over Conn’s Half Brian assumed sportive sway . .

Niall now loosens Fiachra’s fetters from him, and gives him the rule of Connacht, he henceforth being Niall’s prime agent in war and next in command, bringing him in pledges to Tara. Fiachra son of Nathi, and the son of Fiachra’s own son Amhalgaid [a quo tlr Arnkalgaid or ‘Tirawley ‘], were for pledges in Niall’s hand; in which condition said Fiachra died in Tara, and from him are the úi Flack rack of cúilfabhair in Meath.

Now Eochaid muighmedóin’s sons Fiachra and Ailill with a vast army marched into Munster to lift rent and pledges, and advance as far as Caenraighe or ‘Kenry’ of úi Ckairbre. Then the men of Munster, led by Eochaid son of Crimthann More son of Fidach and by Maige mescorach, gather themselves in order of battle to oppose Fiachra; and a good man indeed was he, Fiachra, to encounter whom they came thither: that for weapon­play was a man-at-arms and, for wisdom, one both to marshal the battle and to rule a country; kingly in form, a warrior with fair hair so long that it fell to his shoulder’s point, whence he is styled Fiackra foltshnditlieack or ‘thread-haired.’ To him accord­ingly the men of Munster give battle in Kenry, and in the light
Maige mescorach wounds Fiachra very sore; nevertheless, by dint of hand-to-hand work this battle goes against Munster and great carnage of them is made, so that in the event Fiachra carries away out of the province fifty pledges, with their entire tribute, and so follows his way to Tara.

But when he was come to the spot now called Forrach in úi meic Uais, there Fiachra died of his hurt. His grave was dug, his lamentation-rite performed, his name written in Ogham; after which, in order that perpetually it should be for a reproach to Munster and a fitting matter with which to taunt them, round about Fiachra’s grave the pledges whom they had brought out of the south were buried and they alive. Every man of them, as they were put quick into earth, said: “it is for uch [i.e. ‘upon an ejaculation of despair] that these tumuli are being founded"; and so said they all. Quoth a magician there: “even such shall be the name of the place, Forrack to wit”; and it was to proclaim these doings that the antiquarian uttered:--

“Eochaid’s son of brilliant lustre . .

So soon as they heard of Fiachra’s death, they of Munster returned out of the west [whither they had been driven after their defeat]; and by Eochaid son of Crimthann son of Fidach, now king of Ireland, Ailill is captured. Right precious too this was in the Momonians’ estimation, for it had been to them a burning thing that the sons of the woman that slew their lord should have forced their way to them: for he, their former lord, was one that upon extern borders had enforced their exactions of reparation, and of all other countries had with aggression taken pledges; had reduced under Munster’s rule and sway the diverse districts of both Ireland and Scotland. Ailill they hewed in pieces then: such was the manner of his death. Between them both [i.e. the two races: Eochaid muighmedóin’s and Crimthann’s] there subsequently was great war, and for a lengthened space; which occasioned them [Munster] to win and to hold the soil on which at this day they still are planted [Thomond]: and the matters [that you have now heard] make up the efficient cause of all later war between Connacht and Munster, of the whole rivalry that they have carried on between them. On which head it was that the historian sang:— “Eochaid’s three sons, Fiachra, Brian, Ailill: by wound had of Maige mescoradi, Fiachra perished after the fight; Brian was mortally wounded at dt~tt Daire; with lofty Eochaid son of Crimthann, Ailill got a poisoned draught; such were the tragic deaths of those haughty three.”

Lughaid menn, son of Angus (called tireach or ‘landgrabber’) son of Fercorb, he it was that first and violently grasped the land of Thomond: for which reason it is called ‘Lughaid Red- hand’s cruel sword-land’; seeing that the countries which the men of Munster acquired by main force were two: that of Ossory in eric of Edirsceoi (whom Leinster slew), and Thomond’s in eric of Crimthann son of Fidach. Howbeit, not because they have any legitimate title to it they possess the same: because that, according to legal right of provincial partition, such ground of Thomond belongs to Connacht’s province, which [properly speaking] extends from Luimneack [the lower Shannon] to the river Drowes.

Such then is the narrative of Crimthann mac Fidach’s violent death; of Mongfhionn’s, and of that of Eochaid muighmedóin’s three sons: Fiachra, Brian, Ailill.