The Celtic Literature Collective

The Cattle-Raid of Fraech

FRAECH, son of Idath of the men of Connaught, a son he to Befind from the Sidé: a sister she to Boand. He is the hero who is the most beautiful that was of the men of Eriu and of Alba, but he was not long-lived. His mother gave him twelve cows out of the Sid (the fairy mound), they are white-eared. He had a good housekeeping till the end of eight years without the taking of a wife. Fifty sons of kings, this was the number of his household, co-aged, co-similar to him all between form and instruction. Findabair, daughter of Ailill and Medb, loves him for the great stories about him. It is declared to him at his house. Eriu and Alba were full of his renown and the stories about him.

After this going to a dialogue with the maiden occurred to him; he discussed that matter with his people.

"Let there be a message then sent to thy mother's sister, so that a portion of wondrous robing and of gifts from the Sidé (fairy folk) be given thee from her." He goes accordingly to the sister, that is to Boand, till he was in Mag Breg, and he carried away fifty dark-blue cloaks, and each of them was like the back of a black chafer, and four black-grey, rings on each cloak, and a brooch of red gold on each cloak, and pale white tunics with loop-animals of gold around them. And fifty silver shields with edges, and a candle of a king's-house in the hand of them (the men), and fifty studs of findruine on each of them (the lances), fifty knobs of thoroughly burned gold on each of them; points (i.e. butt-ends) of carbuncle under them beneath, and their point of precious stones. They used to light the night as if they were the sun's rays.

And there were fifty gold-hilted swords with them, and a soft-grey mare under the seat of each man, and bits of gold to them; a plate of silver with a little bell of gold around the neck of each horse. Fifty caparisons of purple with threads of silver out of them, with buckles of gold and silver and with head-animals (i.e. spiral ornaments). Fifty whips of findruine, with a golden hook on the end of each of them. And seven chase-hounds in chains of silver, and an apple of gold between each of them. Greaves of bronze about them, by no means was there any colour which was not on the hounds.

Seven trumpeters with them with golden and silver trumpets with many coloured garments, with golden fairy-yellow heads of hair, with shining tunics. There were three jesters before them with silver diadems under gilding. Shields with engraved emblems (or marks of distinction) with each of them; with crested staves, with ribs of bronze (copper-bronze) along their sides, Three harp-players with a king's appearance about each of them opposite to these. They depart for Cruachan with that appearance on them.

The watchman sees them from the dun when they had come into the plain of Cruachan. "A multitude I see," he says, "(come) towards the dun in their numbers. Since Ailill and Maev assumed sovereignty there came not to them before, and there shall not come to them, a multitude, which is more beautiful, or which is more splendid. It is the same with me that it were in a vat of wine my head should be, with the breeze that goes over them.

"The manipulation and play that the young hero who is in it makes--I have not before seen its likeness. He shoots his pole a shot's discharge from him; before it reaches to earth the seven chase-hounds with their seven silver chains catch it."

At this the hosts come from the dun of Cruachan to view them. The people in the dun smother one another, so that sixteen men die while viewing them.

They alight in front of the dun. They tent their steeds, and they loose the chase-hounds. They (the hounds) chase the seven deer to Rath-Cruachan, and seven foxes, and seven hares, and seven wild boars, until the youths kill them in the lawn of the dun. After that the chase-hounds dart a leap into Brei; they catch seven otters. They brought them to the elevation in front of the chief rath. They (Fraech and his suite) sit down there.

A message comes from the king for a parley with them. It is asked whence they came, they name themselves according to their true names, "Fraech, son of Idath this," say they. The steward tells it to the king and queen. "Welcome to them," say Ailill and Medb; "It is a noble youth who is there," says Ailill, "let him come into the Liss (outer court)." The fourth of the house is allotted to them. This was the array of the house, a seven fold order in it; seven apartments from fire to side-wall in the house all round. A rail (or front) of bronze to each apartment; a partitioning of red yew under variegated planing all.

Three plates of bronze in the skirting of each apartment. Seven plates of brass from the ceiling (?) to the roof-tree in the house.

Of pine the house was made; it is a covering of shingle it had externally. There were sixteen windows in the house, and a frame of brass, to each of them; a tie of brass across the roof-light. Four beams of brass on the apartment of Ailill and Medb, adorned all with bronze, and it in the exact centre of the house. Two rails of silver around it under gilding. In the front a wand of silver that reached the middle rafters of the house. The house was encircled all round from the door to the other.

They hang up their arms in that house, and they sit, and welcome is made to them.

"Welcome to you," say Ailill and Medb. "It is that we have come for," says Fraech. "It shall not be a journey for boasting[1] this," says Medb, and Ailill and Medb arrange the chess-board after that. Fraech then takes to the playing of chess with a man of their (?) people.

It was a beauty of a chess-board. A board of findruine in it with four ears and edges of gold. A candle of precious stones at illuminating for them. Gold and silver the figures that were upon the table. "Prepare ye food for the warriors," said Ailill. "Not it is my desire," said Medb, but to go to the chess yonder against Fraech." "Get to it, I am pleased," said Ailill, and they play the chess then, and Fraech.

His people were meanwhile at cooking the wild animals. "Let thy harpers play for us," says Ailill to Fraech. "Let them play indeed!" says Fraech. A harp-bag of the skins of otters about them with their adornment of ruby (or coral), beneath their adornment of gold and silver.

The skin of a roe about them in the middle, it was as white as snow; black-grey eyes in their centre. Cloaks of linen as white as the tunic of a swan around these ties. Harps of gold and silver and bronze, with figures of serpents and birds, and hounds of gold and silver: as they moved those strings those figures used to run about the men all round.

They play for them then so that twelve of the people of Ailill and Medb die with weeping and sadness.

Gentle and melodious were the triad, and they were the Chants of Uaithne (Child-birth). The illustrious triad are three brothers, namely Gol-traiges (Sorrow-strain), and Gen-traiges (Joy-strain), and Suan-traiges (Sleep-strain). Boand from the fairies is the mother of the triad: it is from the music which Uaithne, the Dagda's harp, played that the three are named. The time the woman was at the bearing of children it had a cry of sorrow with the soreness of the pangs at first: it was smile and joy it played in the middle for the pleasure of bringing forth the two sons: it was a sleep of soothingness played the last son, on account of the heaviness of the birth, so that it is from him that the third of the music has been named.

Boand awoke afterwards out of the sleep. "I accept," she says, "thy three sons O Uaithne of full ardour, since there is Suan-traide and Gen-traide, and Gol-traide on cows and women who shall fall by Medb and Ailill, men who shall perish by the hearing of art from them."

They cease from playing after that in the palace: "It is stately it has come," says Fergus. "Divide ye to us," says Fraech to his people, "the food, bring ye it into the house." Lothur went on the floor of the house: he divides to them the food. On his haunches he used to divide each joint with his sword, and he used not to touch the food part: since he commenced dividing, he never hacked the meat beneath his hand.

They were three days and three nights at the playing of the chess on account of the abundance of the precious stones in the household of Fraech. After that Fraech addressed Medb. "It is well I have played against thee (i.e. have beaten thee)," he says, "I take not away thy stake from the chess-board that there be not a decay of hospitality for thee in it."

"Since I have been in this dun this is the day which I deem longest in it ever," says Medb. "This is reasonable," says Fraech, "they are three days and three nights in it." At this Medb starts up. It was a shame with her that the warriors were without food. She goes to Ailill: she tells it to him. "A great deed we have done," said she, "the stranger men who have come to us to be without food." "Dearer to thee is playing of the chess," says Ailill. "It hinders not the distribution to his suite throughout the house. They have been three days and three nights in it but that we perceived not the night with the white light of the precious stones in the house." "Tell them," says Ailill, "to cease from the lamenting until distribution is made to them." Distribution is then made to them, and things were pleasing to them, and they stayed three days and three nights in it after that over the feasting.

It is after that Fraech was called into the house of conversation, and it is asked of him what brought him. "A visit with you," said he, "is pleasing to me." "Your company is indeed not displeasing with the household," said Ailill, "your addition is better than your diminution."

"We shall stay here then," says Fraech, "another week." They stay after that till the end of a fortnight in the dun, and they have a hunt every single day towards the dun. The men of Connaught used to come to view them.

It was a trouble with Fraech not to have a conversation with the daughter: for that was the profit that had brought him. A certain day he starts up at the end of night for washing to the stream. It is the time she had gone and her maid for washing. He takes her hand. "Stay for my conversing," he says; "it is thou I have come for." "I am delighted truly," says the daughter; "if I were to come, I could do nothing for thee." "Query, wouldst thou elope with me?" he says.

"I will not elope," says she, "for I am the daughter of a king and a queen. There is nothing of thy poverty that you should not get me (i.e. thy poverty is not so great that thou art not able to get me) from my family; and it shall be my choice accordingly to go to thee, it is thou whom I have loved. And take thou with thee this ring," says the daughter, "and it shall be between us for a token. My mother gave it to me to put by, and I shall say that I put it astray." Each of them accordingly goes apart after that.

"I fear," says Ailill, "the eloping of yon daughter with Fraech, though she would be given to him on solemn pledge that he would come towards us with his cattle for aid at the Spoil." Fraech goes to them to the house of conversation. "Is it a secret ye have?" says Fraech. "Thou wouldest fit in it," says Ailill.

"Will ye give me your daughter?" says Fraech. "The hosts will clearly see she shall be given," says Ailill, "if thou wouldest give a dowry as shall be named." "Thou shalt have it," says Fraech. "Sixty black-grey steeds to me, with their bits of gold to them, and twelve milch cows, so that there be milked liquor of milk from each of them, and an ear-red, white calf with each of them; and thou to come with me with all thy force and with thy musicians for bringing of the cows from Cualgne; and my daughter to be given thee provided thou dost come" (or as soon as thou shalt come). "I swear by my shield, and by my sword, and by my accoutrement, I would not give that in dowry even of Medb." He went from them out of the house then. Ailill and Medb hold a conversation. "It shall drive at us several of the kings of Erin around us if he should carry off the daughter. What is good is, let us dash after him, and let us slay him forthwith, before he may inflict destruction upon us." "It is a pity this," says Medb, "and it is a decay of hospitality for us." "It shall not be a decay of hospitality for us, it shall not be a decay of hospitality for us, the way I shall prepare it."

Ailill and Medb go into the palace. "Let us go away," says Ailill,, that we may see the chase-hounds at hunting till the middle of the day, and until they are tired." They all go off afterwards to the river to bathe themselves.

"It is declared to me," says Ailill, "that thou art good in water. Come into this flood, that we may see thy swimming." "What is the quality of this flood?" he says. "We know not anything dangerous in it," says Ailill, "and bathing in it is frequent." He strips his clothes off him then, and he goes into it, and he leaves his girdle above. Ailill then opens his purse behind him, and the ring was in it. Ailill recognises it then. "Come here, O Medb," says Ailill. Medb goes then. "Dost thou recognise that?" says Ailill. "I do recognise," she says. Ailill flings it into the river down.

Fraech perceived that matter. He sees something, the salmon leaped to meet it, and caught it in his mouth. He (Fraech) gives a bound to it, and he catches its jole, and he goes to land, and he brings it to a lonely spot on the brink of the river. He proceeds to come out of the water then. "Do not come," says Ailill, "until thou shalt bring me a branch of the rowan-tree yonder, which is on the brink of the river: beautiful I deem its berries." He then goes away, and breaks a branch off the trees and brings it on his back over the water. The remark of Find-abair was: "Is it not beautiful he looks?" Exceedingly beautiful she thought it to see Fraech over a black pool: the body of great whiteness, and the hair of great loveliness, the face of great beauty, the eye of great greyness; and he a soft youth without fault, without blemish, with a below-narrow, above-broad face; and he straight, blemishless; the branch with the red berries between the throat and the white face. It is what Find-abair used to say, that by no means had she seen anything that could come up to him half or third for beauty.

After that he throws the branches to them out of the water. "The berries are stately and beautiful, bring us an addition of them." He goes off again until he was in the middle of the water. The serpent catches him out of the water. "Let a sword come to me from you," he says; and there was not on the land a man who would dare to give it to him through fear of Ailill and Medb. After that Find-abair strips off her clothes, and gives a leap into the water with the sword. Her father lets fly a five-pronged spear at her from above, a shot's throw, so that it passes through her two tresses, and that Fraech caught the spear in his hand. He shoots the spear into the land up, and the monster in his side. He lets it fly with a charge of the methods of playing of championship, so that it goes through the purple robe and through the tunic (? shirt) that was about Ailill.

At this the youths who were about Ailill rise to him. Findabair goes out of the water and leaves the sword in Fraech's hand, and he cuts the head off the monster, so that it was on its side, and he brought the monster with him to land. It is from it is Dub-lind Fraech in Brei, in the lands of the men of Connaught. Ailill and Medb go to their dun afterwards.

"A great deed is what we have done," says Medb. "We repent," says Ailill, "of what we have done to the man; the daughter however," he says, "her lips shall perish [common metaphor for death] to-morrow at once, and it shall not be the guilt of bringing of the sword that shall be for her. Let a bath be made by you for this man, namely, broth of fresh bacon and the flesh of a heifer to be minced in it under adze and axe, and he to be brought into the bath." All that thing was done as he said. His trumpeters then before him to the dun. They play then until thirty of the special friends of Ailill die at the long-drawn (or plaintive) music. He goes then into the dun, and he goes into the bath. The female company rise around him at the vat for rubbing, and for washing his head. He was brought out of it then, and a bed was made. They heard something, the lament-cry on Cruachan. There were seen the three times fifty women with crimson tunics, with green head-dresses, with brooches of silver on their wrists.

A messenger is sent to them to learn what they had bewailed. "Fraech, son of Idath," says the woman, "boy-pet of the king of the Sidé of Erin." At this Fraech heard their lament-cry.

"Lift me out of it," he says to his people; "this is the cry of my mother and of the women of Boand." He is lifted out at this, and he is brought to them. The women come around him, and bring him from them to the Sid of Cruachan (i.e. the deep caverns, used for burial at Cruachan).

They saw something, at the ninth hour on the morrow he comes, and fifty women around him, and he quite whole, without stain and without blemish; of equal age (the women), of equal form, of equal beauty, of equal fairness, of equal symmetry, of equal stature, with the dress of women of the fairies about them so that there was no means of knowing of one beyond the other of them. Little but men were suffocated around them. They separate in front of the Liss. They give forth their lament on going from him, so that they troubled the men who were in the Liss excessively. It is from it is the Lament-cry of the Women of the Fairies with the musicians of Erin.

He then goes into the dun. All the hosts rise before him, and bid welcome to him, as if it were from another world he were coming.

Ailill and Medb arise, and do penance to him for the attack they had made at him, and they make peace. Feasting commenced with them then at once. Fraech calls a servant of his suite: "Go off," he says, "to the spot at which I went into the water. A salmon I left there--bring it to Find-abair, and let herself take charge over it; and let the salmon be well broiled by her, and the ring is in the Centre of the salmon. I expect it will be asked of her to-night." Inebriety seizes them, and music and amusement delight them. Ailill then said: "Bring ye all my gems to me." They were brought to him then, so that the were before him. "Wonderful, wonderful," says every one. "Call ye Find-abair to me," he says. Find-abair goes to him, and fifty maidens around her. "O daughter," says Ailill, "the ring I gave to thee last year, does it remain with thee? Bring it to me that the warriors may see it. Thou shalt have it afterwards." "I do not know," she says, "what has been done about it." "Ascertain then," says Ailill, "it must be sought, or thy soul must depart from thy body."

"It is by no means worth," say the warriors, "there is much of value there, without that." "There is naught of my jewels that will not go for the maid," says Fraech, "because she brought me the sword for pledge of my soul."

"There is not with thee anything of gems that should aid her unless she returns the ring from her," says Ailill.

"I have by no means the power to give it," says the daughter, "what thou mayest like do it in regard to me." "I swear to the god to whom my people swear, thy lips shall be pale (literally, shall perish) unless thou returnest it from thee," says Ailill. "It is why it is asked of thee, because it is impossible; for I know that until the people who have died from the beginning of the world. come, it comes not out of the spot in which it was flung." "It shall not come for a treasure which is not appreciated," says the daughter, "the ring that is asked for here, I go that I may bring it to thee, since it is keenly it is asked." "Thou shalt not go," says Ailill; "but let one go from thee to bring it."

The daughter sends her maid to bring it.

"I swear to the god to whom my territories swear, if it shall be found, I shall by no means be under thy power any longer though I should be at great drinking continually." (?) "I shall by no means prevent you from doing that, namely even if it were to the groom thou shouldst go if the ring is found," says Ailill. The maid then brought the dish into the palace, and the broiled salmon on it, and it dressed under honey which was well made by the daughter; and the ring of gold was on the salmon from above.

Ailill and Medb view it. After that Fraech looks at it, and looks at his purse. "It seems to me it was for proof that I left my girdle," says Fraech. "On the truth of the sovereignty," says Fraech, "say what thou did'st about the ring." "This shall not be concealed from thee," says Ailill; "mine is the ring which was in thy purse, and I knew it is Find-abair gave it to thee. It is therefore I flung it into the Dark Pool. On the truth of thine honour and of thy soul, O Fraech, declare thou what way the bringing of it out happened."

"It shall not be concealed on thee," says Fraech. "The first day I found the ring in front of the outer court, and I knew it was a lovely gem. It is for that reason I put it up industriously in my purse. I heard, the day I went to the water, the maiden who had lost it a-looking for it. I said to her: 'What reward shall I have at thy hands for the finding of it?' She said to me that she would give a year's love to me.

"It happened I did not leave it about me; I had left it in the house behind me. We met not until we met at the giving of the sword into my hand in the river. After that I saw the time thou open'st the purse and flungest the ring into the water: I saw the salmon which leaped for it, so that it took it into its mouth. I then caught the salmon, took it up in the cloak, put it into the hand of the daughter. It is that salmon accordingly which is on the dish."

The criticising and the wondering at these stories begin in the house hold. "I shall not throw my mind on another youth in Erin after thee," says Find-abair. "Bind thyself for that," say Ailill and Medb, "and come thou to us with thy cows to the Spoil of the Cows from Cualnge; and when thou shalt come with thy cows from the East back, ye shall wed here that night at once and Find-abair." "I shall do that thing," says Fraech. They are in it then until the morning. Fraech sets about him self with his suite. He then bids farewell to Ailill and Medb. They depart to their own territories then.

IT happened that his cows had been in the meanwhile stolen. His mother came to him. "Not active (or "lucky") of journey hast thou gone; it shall cause much of trouble to thee," she says. "Thy cows have been stolen, and thy three sons, and thy wife, so that they are in the mountain of Elpa. Three cows of them are in Alba of the North with the Cruthnechi (the Picts)." "Query, what shall I do?" he says to his mother. "Thou shalt do a non-going for seeking them; thou wouldest not give thy life for them," she says. "Thou shalt have cows at my hands besides them." "Not so this," he says: "I have pledged my hospitality and my soul to go to Ailill and to Medb with my cows to the Spoil of the Cows from Cualnge." "What thou seekest shall not be obtained," says his mother. At this she goes off from him then.

He then sets out with three nines, and a wood-cuckoo (hawk), and a hound of tie with them, until he goes to the territory of the Ulstermen, so that he meets with Conall Cernach (Conall the Victorious) at Benna Bairchi (a mountain on the Ulster border).

He tells his quest to him. "What awaits thee," says the latter, "shall not be lucky for thee. Much of trouble awaits thee," he says, "though in it the mind should be." "It will come to me," says Fraech to Connall, "that thou wouldest help me any time we should meet." (?) "I shall go truly," says Conall Cernach. They set of the three (i.e. the three nines) over sea, over Saxony of the North, over the Sea of Icht (the sea between England and France), to the north of the Long-bards (the dwellers of Lombardy), until they reached the mountains of Elpa. They saw a herd-girl at tending of the sheep before them. "Let us go south," says Conall, "O Fraech, that we may address the woman yonder, and let our youths stay here." 

They went then to a conversation. She said, "Whence are ye?" "Of the men of Erin," says Conall. "It shall not be lucky for the men of Erin truly, the coming to this country. From the men of Erin too is my mother. Aid thou me on account of relationship."

"Tell us something about our movements. What is the quality of the land we have to come to?" "A grim hateful land with troublesome warriors, who go on every side for carrying off cows and women as captives," she says. "What is the latest thing they have carried off?" says Fraech. "The cows of Fraech, son of Idath, from the west of Erin, and his wife, and his three sons. Here is his wife here in the house of the king, here are his cows in the country in front of you." "Let thy aid come to us," says Conall. Little is my power, save guidance only." "This is Fraech," says Conall, and they are his cows that have been carried off." "Is the woman constant in your estimation?" she says. "Though constant in our estimation when she went, perchance she is not constant after coming." "The woman who frequents the cows, go ye to her; tell ye of your errand; of the men of Ireland her race; of the men of Ulster exactly."

They come to her; they receive her, and they name themselves to her, and she bids welcome to them. "What hath led you forth?" she says. "Trouble hath led us forth," says Conall; "ours are the cows and the woman that is in the Liss."

"It shall not be lucky for you truly," she says, "the going up to the multitude of the woman; more troublesome to you than everything," she says, "is the serpent which is at guarding of the Liss." "She is not my country-name (?)," says Fraech, "she is not constant in my estimation; thou art constant in my estimation; we know thou wilt not lead us astray, since it is from the men of Ulster thou art." "Whence are ye from the men of Ulster?" she says. "This is Conall Cernach here, the bravest hero with the men of Ulster," says Fraech. She flings two hands around the throat of Conall Cernach. "The destruction has come in this expedition," she says, "since he has come to us; for it is to him the destruction of this dun has been prophesied. I shall go out to my house," she says, "I shall not be at the milking of the cows. I shall leave the Liss opened; it is I who close it every night. I shall say it is for drink the calves were sucking. Come thou into the dun, when they are sleeping; only trouble. some to you is the serpent which is at the dun; several tribes are let loose from it."

"We will go truly," says Conall. They attack the Liss; the serpent darts leap into the girdle of Conall Cernach, and they plunder the dun at once. They save off then the woman and the three sons, and they carry away whatever was the best of the gems of the dun, and Conall lets the serpent out of his girdle, and neither of them did harm to the other. And they came to the territory of the people of the Picts, until they saw three cows of their cows in it. They drove off to the Fort of Ollach mac Briuin (now Dunolly near Oban) with them, until they were at Ard Uan Echach (high-foaming Echach). It is there the gillie of Conall met his death at the driving of the cows, that is Bicne son of Loegaire; it is from this is (the name of) Inver Bicne (the Bicne estuary) at Benchor. They brought their cows over it thither. It is there they flung their horns from them, so that it is thence is (the name of) Tracht Benchoir (the Strand of Horn casting, perhaps the modern Bangor?).

Fraech goes away then to his territory after, and his wife, and his sons, and his cows with him, until he goes with Ailill and Medb for the Spoil of the Cows from Cualnge.

"Tain Bo Fraech" Heroic Romances of Ireland vol. II. trans. and ed. by A.H. Leahy. London: David Nutt, 1906.