By this time the seven years of preparation had come to an end. A week before the Day of Samhain, the Morrígú discovered that the Fomors had landed upon Erin. She at once sent a messenger to tell the Dagda, who ordered his druids and sorcerers to go to the ford of the River Unius, in Sligo, and utter incantations against them.
The people of the goddess Danu, however, were not yet quite ready for battle. So the Dagda decided to visit the Fomorian camp as an ambassador, and, by parleying with them, to gain a little more time. The Fomors received him with apparent courtesy, and, to celebrate his coming, prepared him a feast of porridge; for it was well-known how fond he was of such food. They poured into their king's cauldron, which was as deep as five giant's fists, fourscore gallons of new milk, with meal and bacon in proportion. To this they added the whole carcasses of goats, sheep, and pigs; they boiled the mixture together, and poured it into a hole in the ground. "Now," said they, "if you do not
eat it all, we shall put you to death, for we will not have you go back to your own people and say that the Fomors are inhospitable." But they did not succeed in frightening the Dagda. He took his spoon, which was so large that two persons of our puny size might have reclined comfortably in the middle of it, dipped it into the porridge, and fished up halves of salted pork and quarters of bacon.
"If it tastes as good as it smells," he said, "it is good fare." And so it proved; for he ate it all, and scraped up even what remained at the bottom of the hole. Then he went away to sleep it off, followed by the laughter of the Fomors; for his stomach was so swollen with food that he could hardly walk. It was larger than the biggest cauldron in a large house, and stood out like a sail before the wind.
But the Fomors' little practical joke upon the Dagda had given the Tuatha Dé Danann time to collect their forces. It was on the eve of Samhain that the two armies came face to face. Even then the Fomors could not believe that the people of the goddess Danu would offer them much resistance.
"Do you think they will really dare to give us battle?" said Bress to Indech, the son of Domnu. "If they do not pay their tribute, we will pound their bones for them," he replied.
The war of gods and giants naturally mirrored the warfare of the Gaels, in whose battles, as in those of most semi-barbarous people, single combat figured largely. The main armies stood still, while, every day, duels took place between ambitious combatants
[paragraph continues] But no great warriors either of the Tuatha Dé Danann or of the Fomors took part in them.
Sometimes a god, sometimes a giant would be the victor; but there was a difference in the net results that astonished the Fomors. If their own swords and lances were broken, they were of no more use, and if their own champions were killed, they never came back to life again; but it was quite otherwise with the people of the goddess Danu. Weapons shattered on one day reappeared upon the next in as good condition as though they had never been used, and warriors slain on one day came back upon the morrow unhurt, and ready, if necessary, to be killed again.
The Fomors decided to send someone to discover the secret of these prodigies. The spy they chose was Ruadan, the son of Bress and of Brigit, daughter of the Dagda, and therefore half-giant and half-god. He disguised himself as a Tuatha Dé Danann warrior, and went to look for Goibniu. He found him at his forge, together with Luchtainé, the carpenter, and Credné, the bronze-worker. He saw how Goibniu forged lance-heads with three blows of his hammer, while Luchtainé cut shafts for them with three blows of his axe, and Credné fixed the two parts together so adroitly that his bronze nails needed no hammering in. He went back and told the Fomors, who sent him again, this time to try and kill Goibniu.
He reappeared at the forge, and asked for a javelin. Without suspicion, Goibniu gave him one, and, as soon as he got it into his hand, he thrust it
through the smith's body. But Goibniu plucked it out, and, hurling it back at his assailant, mortally wounded him. Ruadan went home to die, and his father Bress and his mother Brigit mourned for him, inventing for the purpose the Irish "keening". Goibniu, on the other hand, took no harm. He went to the physician Diancecht, who, with his daughter Airmid, was always on duty at a miraculous well called the "spring of health". Whenever one of the Tuatha Dé Danann was killed or wounded, he was brought to the two doctors, who plunged him into the wonder-working water, and brought him back to life and health again.
The mystic spring was not long, however, allowed to help the people of the goddess. A young Fomorian chief, Octriallach son of Indech, found it out. He and a number of his companions went to it by night, each carrying a large stone from the bed of the River Drowes. These they dropped into the spring, until they had filled it, dispersed the healing water, and formed a cairn above it. Legend has identified this place by the name of the "Cairn of Octriallach".
This success determined the Fomors to fight a pitched battle. They drew out their army in line. There was not a warrior in it who had not a coat of mail and a helmet, a stout spear, a strong buckler, and a heavy sword. "Fighting the Fomors on that day", says the old author, "could only be compared to one of three things--beating one's head against a rock, or plunging it into a fire, or putting one's hand into a serpent's nest."
All the great fighters of the Tuatha Dé Danann were drawn out opposite to them, except Lugh. A council of the gods had decided that his varied accomplishments made his life too valuable to be risked in battle. They had, therefore, left him behind, guarded by nine warriors. But, at the last moment, Lugh escaped from his warders, and appeared in his chariot before the army. He made them a patriotic speech. "Fight bravely," he said, "that your servitude may last. no longer; it is better to face death than to live in vassalage and pay tribute." With these encouraging words, he drove round the ranks, standing on tiptoe, so that all the Tuatha Dé Danann might see him.
The Fomors saw him too, and marvelled. "It seems wonderful to me," 1 said Bress to his druids, "that the sun should rise in the west to-day and in the east every other day." "It would be better for us if it were so," replied the druids. "What else can it be, then?" asked Bress. "It is the radiance of the face of Lugh of the Long Arms," said they.
Then the two armies charged each other with a great shout. Spears and lances smote against shields, and so great was the shouting of the fighters, the shattering of shields, the clattering of swords, the rattling of quivers, and the whistling of darts and javelins that it seemed as if thunder rolled everywhere.
They fought so closely that the heads, hands, and
feet of those on one side were touching the heads, hands, and feet of those on the other side; they shed so much blood on to the ground that it became hard to stand on it without slipping; and the river of Unsenn was filled with dead bodies, so hard and swift and bloody and cruel was the battle.
Many great chiefs fell on each side. Ogma, the champion of the Tuatha Dé Danann, killed Indech, the son of the goddess Domnu. But, meanwhile, Balor of the Mighty Blows raged among the gods, slaying their king, Nuada of the Silver Hand, as well as Macha, one of his warlike wives. At last he met with Lugh. The sun-god shouted a challenge to his grandfather in the Fomorian speech. Balor heard it, and prepared to use his death-dealing eye.
"Lift up my eyelid," he said to his henchmen, "that I may see this chatterer who talks to me.
The attendants lifted Balor's eye with a hook, and if the glance of the eye beneath had rested upon Lugh, he would certainly have perished. But, when it was half opened, Lugh flung a magic stone which struck Balor's eye out through the back of his head. The eye fell on the ground behind Balor, and destroyed a whole rank of thrice nine Fomors who were unlucky enough to be within sight of it.
An ancient poem has handed down the secret of this magic stone. It is there called a tathlum, meaning a "concrete ball" such as the ancient Irish warriors used sometimes to make out of the brains of dead enemies hardened with lime.
"The blood of toads and furious bears,
And the blood of the noble lion,
The blood of vipers and of Osmuinn's trunks;--
It was of these the tathlum was composed.
"The sand of the swift Armorian sea,
And the sand of the teeming Red Sea;--
All these, being first purified, were used
In the composition of the tathlum.
"Briun, the son of Bethar, no mean warrior,
Who on the ocean's eastern border reigned;--
It was he that fused, and smoothly formed,
It was he that fashioned the tathlum.
"To the hero Lugh was given
This concrete ball,--no soft missile;--
In Mag Tuireadh of shrieking wails,
From his hand he threw the tathlum." 1
This blinding of the terrible Balor turned the fortunes of the fight; for the Fomors wavered, and the Morrígú came and encouraged the people of the goddess Danu with a song, beginning "Kings arise to the battle", so that they took fresh heart, and drove the Fomors headlong back to their country underneath the sea.
Such was the battle which is called in Irish Mag Tuireadh na b-Fomorach, that is to say, the
[paragraph continues] "Plain of the Towers of the Fomors", and, more popularly, the "Battle of Moytura the Northern", to distinguish it from the other Battle of Moytura fought by the Tuatha Dé Danann against the Fir Bolgs farther to the south. More of the Fomors were killed in it, says the ancient manuscript, than there are stars in the sky, grains of sand on the sea-shore, snow-flakes in winter, drops of dew upon the meadows in spring-time, hailstones during a storm, blades of grass trodden under horses' feet, or Manannán son of Lêr's white horses, the waves of the sea, when a tempest breaks. The "towers" or pillars said to mark the graves of the combatants still stand upon the plain of Carrowmore, near Sligo, and form, in the opinion of Dr. Petrie, the finest collection of prehistoric monuments in the world, with the sole exception of Carnac, in Brittany. 1 Megalithic structures of almost every kind are found among them--stone cairns with dolmens in their interiors, dolmens standing open and alone, dolmens surrounded by one, two, or three circles of stones, and circles without dolmens--to the number of over a hundred. Sixty-four of such prehistoric remains stand together upon an elevated plateau not more than a mile across, and make the battle-field of Moytura, though the least known, perhaps the most impressive of all primeval ruins. What they really commemorated we may never know, but, in all probability, the place was the scene of some important and decisive early battle, the monuments marking the graves of the chieftains who were interred as the
Click to enlarge
''THE KISSING STONE'', CARROWMORE, SLIGO.--R. Welch
result of it. Those which have been examined were found to contain burnt wood and the half-burnt bones of men and horses, as well as implements of flint and bone. The actors, therefore, were still in the Neolithic Age. Whether the horses were domesticated ones buried with their riders, or wild ones eaten at the funeral feasts, it would be hard to decide. The history of the real event must have been long lost even at the early date when its relics were pointed out as the records of a battle between the gods and the giants of Gaelic myth.
The Tuatha Dé Danann, following the routed Fomors, overtook and captured Bress. He begged Lugh to spare his life.
"What ransom will you pay for it?" asked Lugh.
"I will guarantee that the cows of Ireland shall always be in milk," promised Bress.
But, before accepting, Lugh took counsel with his druids.
"What good will that be," they decided, "if Bress does not also lengthen the lives of the cows?"
This was beyond the power of Bress to do; so he made another offer.
"Tell your people," he said to Lugh, "that, if they will spare my life, they shall have a good wheat harvest every year."
But they said: "We already have the spring to plough and sow in, the summer to ripen the crops, the autumn for reaping, and the winter in which to eat the bread; and that is all we want."
Lugh told this to Bress. But he also said: "You
shall have your life in return for a much less service to us than that."
"What is it?" asked Bress.
"Tell us when we ought to plough, when we ought to sow, and when we ought to harvest."
Bress replied: "You should plough on a Tuesday, sow on a Tuesday, and harvest on a Tuesday."
And this lying maxim (says the story) saved Bress's life.
Lugh, the Dagda, and Ogma still pursued the Fomors, who had carried off in their flight the Dagda's harp. They followed them into the submarine palace where Bress and Elathan lived, and there they saw the harp hanging on the wall. This harp of the Dagda's would not play without its owner's leave. The Dagda sang to it:
[paragraph continues] For the Dagda's harp had these two names; it was called "Oak of the two cries" and "Hand of four-fold music".
It leaped down from the wall, killing nine of the Fomors as it passed, and came into the Dagda's hand. The Dagda played to the Fomors the three tunes known to all clever harpists--the weeping-tune, the laughing-tune, and the sleeping-tune. While he played the weeping-tune, they were bowed with weeping; while he played the laughing-tune,
they rocked with laughter; and when he played the sleeping-tune, they all fell asleep. And while they slept, Lugh, the Dagda, and. Ogma got away safely.
Next, the Dagda brought the black-maned heifer which he had, by the advice of Angus son of the Young, obtained from Bress. The wisdom of Angus had been shown in this advice, for it was this very heifer that the cattle of the people of the goddess Danu were accustomed to follow, whenever it lowed. Now, when it lowed, all the cattle which the Fomors had taken away from the Tuatha Dé Danann came back again.
Yet the power of the Fomors was not wholly broken. Four of them still carried on a desultory warfare by spoiling the corn, fruit, and milk of their conquerors. But the Morrígú and Badb and Mider and Angus pursued them, and drove them out of Ireland for ever. 1
Last of all, the Morrígú and Badb went up on to the summits of all the high mountains of Ireland, and proclaimed the victory. All the lesser gods who had not been in the battle came round and heard the news. And Badb sang a song which began:
but the rest of it has been lost and forgotten.
Then she added a prophecy in which she foretold
the approaching end of the divine age, and the beginning of a new one in which summers would be flowerless and cows milkless and women shameless and men strengthless, in which there would be trees without fruit and seas without fish, when old men would give false judgments and legislators make unjust laws, when warriors would betray one another, and men would be thieves, and there would be no more virtue left in the world.
107:1 This chapter is, with slight interpolations, based upon the Harleian MS. in the British Museum numbered 5280, and called the Second Battle of Moytura, of rather from translations made of it by Dr. Whitley Stokes, published in the Revue Celtique, Vol. XII, and by M. de Jubainville in his L’Épopée Celtique en Irlande.
111:1 I have interpolated this picturesque passage from the account of a fight between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomors in the "Fate of the Children of Tuirenn", O’Curry's translation in Atlantis, Vol. IV.
113:1 This translation was made by Eugene O’Curry from an ancient vellum MS. formerly belonging to Mr. W. Monck Mason, but since sold by auction in London. See his Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, Lecture XII, p. 252.
114:1 See Fergusson: Rude Stone Monuments, pp. 180, &c.
116:1 ? Bagpipes.
117:1 Book of Fermoy. See Revue Celtique, Vol. I.--"The Ancient Irish Goddess of War".