The Celtic Literature Collective

A Story of Aedh Baclamh

Aedh Baclamh, spear-bearer of Cerbhall’s son Dermot [the king]: a fit of heavy sickness took him, and for a year he was in a wasting of continued illness; but recovered health then and went to confer with Dermot, to whom he said: “for this year past that I am lying down, how goes the order of thy discipline and peace?” Dermot said: “I perceive not any imminution that it suffers.” “There is a thing whereby I will discover that,” said Aedh Baclamh: “I carrying thy spear laid crosswise in the bend of both my arms will traverse Ireland obliquely, west and south about, until I reach the door of every liss in Ireland, and over their thresholds carry in the spear transversely; so shall the regimen and peace of Ireland be ascertained.”

From Tara therefore Aedh Baclamh (and with him the king of Ireland’s herald to proclaim Ireland’s peace) arrived in the province of Connacht, where he made his way to the mansion of Aedh Guaire of Kinelfechin in Hy-Many. He [at the time] was so that round about his fortalice he had a stockade of red oak, and had a new house too that was but just built, with a view to his wife’s marriage-feast. Now a week before Aedh Baclamh’s arrival the other had heard that he was on his way to him, and enjoined to make an opening before him in the palisade [but not in the dwelling].

Aedh Baclamh came accordingly, and Aedh Guaire gave him welcome. Aedh Baclamh said that the house must be hewn [open to the right width] before him. “Give thine own orders according as it may please thee to have it hewn,” Aedh Guaire said, and (even as he uttered) dealt him a sword-stroke and so took off his head.

Now in this time the discipline of Ireland was such that, who­soever killed a man void of offence, nor cattle nor other valuable consideration might be taken in lieu of him [the slain] but, unless only the king of Ireland should ordain or else permit such to be accepted for him, he [the slayer] must himself be Put to death.

When Dermot had heard of the killing he sent his young men and his executive to waste and to spot who fled to bishop Senan, for it was the one mother they had. Senan the bishop again goes with him to Ruadhan of Lorrha, for it was two sisters to Ruadhan that had nursed bishop Senan: Cael and Ruadhnait were their names. Aedh Guaire found no sanctuary with Ruadhan, however, but was banished away into Britain, where he was for a year; and thither Dermot’s people came to demand him, so that again he was sent to Ruadhan. Dermot came himself to Ruadhan to require him, but the saint bad him put into a hole of the earth which to-day is called poll Ruadháin, i.e. ‘Ruadhan’s Pit.’ Dermot sent his lad to ransack Ruadhan’s kitchen to see whether Aedh Guaire were in it but, the lad being entered into the kitchen, his eyes were blinded presently. When Dermot saw him so, he in his turn went into the kitchen; but found not Aedh Guaire there, and asked Ruadhan where he was (for he opined that Ruadhan would not tell a lie). Ruadhan answered : “I know not, unless that he be under yon thatch.”

Dermot returns home now; but on the way remembers the cleric’s word and so turns back again, goes into the reclusorium, and sees a candle being carried to the place in which is Aedh Guaire: to fetch whom he sends yet another that is a confidential lad to him (Donnan Donn was the lad’s name) and he excavates the place of hiding, but the arm that he extends to take Aedh withers up to the shoulder; whereupon he makes obeisance to Ruadhan, they both [i.e. he and his fellow that was blinded] remain with him, and from that time to this are in Pollruane. Then Dermot carries off Aedh Guaire to Tara.

Ruadhan repairs to the elder Brendan, of Birr, and to Ireland’s twelve apostles; they both [accompanied by the rest] follow Dermot to Tara, and that night fast upon him; while he, relying on his kingly quality and on the justice of his cause, fasts on them (in which night the sons of ‘Tara’s twelve Pillars,’ that were with the king’s steward, died; but on the morrow, the steward adjuring him to it in God’s name, Ruadhan brings them to life again).

In such fashion, and to the end of a year, they continued before Tara under Ruadhan’s tent, exposed to weather and to wet; they [i.e. either party] being every second night without food:

Dermot and the clergy, that fasted on each other.

Where [the other] Brendan (Finnlogh’s son) was at the time was in exploration of the sea, in quest of the Promised Land; and an angel showed him that Ireland’s twelve apostles were before Tara, contending with the king of Erin, who had just done violence to Ruadhan. Brendan came from the sea now and landed at dan Rosarach, where he abode that night and then blessed the dún. Howbeit, whenever Dermot heard of Brendan’s arrival, and how he came to succour the saints and clergy, great fear took him; in so much that he said to the saints: “were ye to give me fifty horses, blue-eyed and with golden bridles, I would yield you up Aedh Guaire.” This came to Brendan’s ears; he summons fifty seals, turns them into the forms of [so many] horses, and drives them before him to the green of Tara. Then it was that the clergy and all Tara’s host welcomed Brendan, who fell to narrate to them all the hardship of the sea; and to the hosts of Tara Brendan’s utterance was sweet. He enquired of Dermot whether in lieu of Aedh Guaire he would accept cattle or other consideration. “I will accept,” Dermot said, “yon fifty blue-eyed horses; but on condition that one shall guarantee them to me for a year and a quarter.” So the horses were made over to Dermot, and the cleric went security for them for that time. [Which being now run out] the horses one day raced on Tara’s green, and the riders (judging their speed to be insufficient) plied them with their horse-rods, at which they became frantic; nor could a pull be got at them before they, taking their riders with them, dived into [lit. ‘put their heads under’] the sea, and both parties of them [men and horses] were turned into seals. Dermot was wroth at this, went into Tara, and Tara’s seven lisses were shut on him to the end the clergy should not enter into Tara, and lest therein they should leave malevolence and evil bequests.

Then meat and ale were given them; and people were assigned to wait on them, also to keep watch and ward over them until in their presence the clergy should have veritably and effectively accomplished the act of consuming and of eating. But that night Brendan counselled them thus: their hoods to be about their heads, and they to let their meat and drink pass their lips down into the bosoms of their frocks and so to the ground, which they did. It was reported to the king that the clergy partook heartily of meat and liquor; he therefore ate meat that night, while in the same the clergy fasted on him by stratagem.

Now Dermot’s wife (Mughain the woman was) saw a dream, which dream was this: that upon Tara’s green was a vast and wide-foliaged tree, and eleven slaves hewing at it; but every chip that they knocked from it would return into its place again and there adhere [i.e. be incorporated as before] instantly, till at last there came one man that dealt the tree but a stroke, and with that single cut laid it low; and the poet pronounced a lay

The wife of Tara’s king of the heavy torques beheld an evil dream

As for Dermot son of Cerbhall: after that dream he rose early, so that he heard the clergy chant their psalms, and he entered into the house in which they were. “Alas,” he said, “for the iniquitous contest that ye have waged against me: seeing it is Ireland’s good that I pursue, and to preserve her discipline and royal right; but ‘tis Ireland’s ‘unpeace’ and murderousness that ye endeavour after. For God himself it is that on such or such an one confers the orders of prince, of righteous ruler, and of equitable judgment, to the end he shall maintain his truthfulness, his princely quality, and his governance. Now that to which a king is bound is to have mercy coupled with stringency of law, and peace maintained in the tuatha, and pledges [hostages] in fetters; to succour the wretched, but to overwhelm enemies; and to banish falsehood, for unless on this hither side one do the King of Heaven’s will, no excuse is accepted from him yonder. And thou, Ruadhan,” said Dermot: “through thee it is that injury and rending of my sway, and of mine integrity to Godward, is come about; and I pray God that thy diocese be the first in Ireland that shall be renounced, and thy church-lands the first that shall be impugned.” Ruadhan retorted: “rather may thy dynasty come to nought, and none that is son or grandson [i.e. lineal descendant] to thee establish himself in Tara for ever.” Dermot said: “be thy church desolate continually.” Ruadhan said: “desolate be Tara for ever and for ever.” Dermot said: “may a limb of thy limbs be wanting from thee that it accompany thee not under ground, and mayest thou moreover lack an eye.” “Have thou before death an evil face [i.e. a repulsive aspect] in sight of all; may thine enemies prevail over thee mightily; and the thigh that thou liftedst not before me to stand up, be the same mangled into pieces.” Dermot said: “the subject-matter anent which our contention is [i.e. Aedh Guaire] take ye away with you; but in thy church, Ruadhan, may the alarm-cry sound at nones always, and even though all Ireland be at peace be thy church’s precinct a scene of war continuously.” And from that time to this the same is fulfilled.

Upon Dermot then came great repentance for having pitted his wrath against the clergy, and he uttered this lay below:- 

Woe to him that with the clergy of the churches battle joins 

Cerbhall’s son Dermot was once upon a time, and the official panegyrists lauded the king, his peace, and all his excellent ways.

Black Aedh son of Araidhe was there, in front of Beg mac Dé (now Dermot it was that had slain Araidhe of Ulster, but had taken to bring up his son Black Aedh). Beg dicit: “I see the valiant wolf-dog that shall spoil the brilliant mansion.” “Beg,” said Aedh, “what hound is that?" “It might chance to be thy­self.” “Why how should that be?” asked Dermot. “Easily enough: this hand of Black Aedh’s it is that in the house of Banbhan and of Bainbhsech [his wife] shall to thy lips administer a poisonous draught, there being about thee at the same time a shirt woven of flax grown from one seed, and a mantle of a single sheep’s wool; in thy horn: ale brewed from one grain of corn; and on thy dish: bacon of a pig that never was farrowed.” Derinot said: “so long as I am alive he [Black Aedh] shall not be in Ireland.” All cried out: “kill him!” “Nay,” said Dermot, “but he shall be expelled out of Ireland.” So Black Aedh is banished into the land of Scotland.

Dermot was one day that he saw a warrior enter into the house to him: “whence art thou come?” he asked. “Not from any great distance [the new-comer answered]; come that thou mayest pass a night with me as my guest.” “Good,” quoth Dermot, say so much to Mughain.” She replied: “so long as I am alive upon no invitation go I.” For all that they [the rest of them] accompany Banbhan [for he it was] to Ráth Bhig--, in which (after they were set down) they saw on the floor of the house apart a gentle and a beautiful young woman [charged] with a bundle of excellent apparel. “Whence the woman ?“ enquired Dermot. “A daughter to me she is,” said Banbhan: “good now, woman,” he went on to his daughter, “hast thou there raiment for Dermot?” “I have so,” replied the woman; and out of the bag that she had drew a shirt, with a mantle, which he takes about him [i.e. puts on]. “‘Tis a good shirt,” said all. “A good shirt it is, of one grain of flax-seed,” said Banbhan: “a fanciful daughter of ours is yonder damsel, and she it was that procured to set a single flax-seed of which she made a strike, and so on till eventually her sowing became a ridge.” “‘Tis a good mantle,” said all. “It is good,” Banbhan answered, “and of one sheep’s wool it was made.” After this meat and liquor were given them. “‘Tis good bacon,” said all. “Good it is,” returned Banbhan, “being as it is of the bacon of a porker that never was farrowed.” “How so?” they asked. “Soon said,” he answered: “certain swine that were with pig and they took knives to them, so that the piglings (and they alive) were extracted out of them and then fattened.” “Good ale,” said all. “Good it is,” said Banbhan, “though it be but a sample of ale from a single grain of wheat [as thus]: of a day that I went out to inspect the ploughing I killed a wood-pigeon; in his crop was found a grain, what corn [it was] was unknown; it was committed to a ridge, and from it in due course there sprang a sicklefull, so that this is its grain and this its ale here.

Dermot looked up after that: “the lower part of this house is new,” said he, “but its upper part is not fresh.” “It was of a time,” Banbhan said, “when we went in currachs to take fish, that we saw the ridgebeam of a house [come floating] towards us on the sea; and under that beam a house was built by me [i.e. I built a house and used that beam in the roof].” “True it is,” said Dermot: “that is the ridgebeam of my house which I caused to be thrown into the sea; and what Ireland’s saints prognosticated for me was that until all these sure tokens should be [i.e. coincide] for me I should not have death: for which reason it was that I cast the beam into the sea.” Also with the same glance that Dermot threw at the beam he saw a small herd, red-headed, with white stars, that grazed; and that was matter of prohibition to him. “Come ye, let us go our ways out,” said Dermot. “By no means,” quoth Suibhne’s son Black Aedh [meeting him in the doorway], for he was even then returned from Scotland whither, after [public] dishonour done him in the convention of Taillte, he was banished by Dermot.

The house is taken upon Dermot now, and burnt over his head; he does earnest penitence, dies and (he having thus, according as Brendan prognosticated to Flann of the Monastery, had punishment on this hither side) went to heaven; as one said:

“Black Aedh of the imposts, Suibhne’s son, was Ulidia’s honourable king:
he it was (and this is no blind darkling mystery) that slew Dermot son of Cerbhall.”

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