Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
Page: 110“The Carving of mac Datho's Boar.” The story runs as follows:
Once upon a time there dwelt in the province of Leinster a wealthy hospitable lord named Mesroda, son of Datho. Two possessions had he; namely, a hound which could outrun every other hound and every wild beast in Erin, and a boar which was the finest and greatest in size that man had ever beheld.
Now the fame of this hound was noised all about the land, and many were the princes and lords who longed to possess it. And it came to pass that Conor King of Ulster and Maev Queen of Connacht sent messengers to mac Datho to ask him to sell them the hound for a price, and both the messengers arrived at the dūn of mac Datho on the same day. Said the Connacht messenger: “We will give thee in exchange for the hound six hundred milch cows, and a chariot with two horses, the best that are to be found in Connacht, and at the end [pg 242] of a year thou shalt have as much again.” And the messenger of King Conor said: “We will give no less than Connacht, and the friendship and alliance of Ulster, and that will be better for thee than the friendship of Connacht.”
Then Mesroda mac Datho fell silent, and for three days he would not eat or drink, nor could he sleep o' nights, but tossed restlessly on his bed. His wife observed his condition, and said to him: “Thy fast hath been long, Mesroda, though good food is by thee in plenty; and at night thou turnest thy face to the wall, and well I know thou dost not sleep. What is the cause of thy trouble?”
“There is a saying,” replied Mac Datho, “'Trust not a thrall with money, nor a woman with a secret.'”
“When should a man talk to a woman,” said his wife, “but when something were amiss? What thy mind cannot solve perchance another's may.”
Then mac Datho told his wife of the request for his hound both from Ulster and from Connacht at one and the same time. “And whichever of them I deny,” he said, “they will harry my cattle and slay my people.”
“Then hear my counsel,” said the woman. “Give it to both of them, and bid them come and fetch it; and if there be any harrying to be done, let them even harry each other; but in no way mayest thou keep the hound.”
Mac Datho followed this wise counsel, and bade both Ulster and Connacht to a great feast on the same day, saying to each of them that they could have the hound afterwards.
So on the appointed day Conor of Ulster, and Maev, and their retinues of princes and mighty men assembled at the dūn of mac Datho. There they found a great feast set forth, and to provide the chief dish mac Datho [pg 243] had killed his famous boar, a beast of enormous size. The question now arose as to who should have the honourable task of carving it, and Bricriu of the Poisoned Tongue characteristically, for the sake of the strife which he loved, suggested that the warriors of Ulster and Connacht should compare their principal deeds of arms, and give the carving of the boar to him who seemed to have done best in the border-fighting which was always going on between the provinces. After much bandying of words and of taunts Ket son of Maga arises and stands over the boar, knife in hand, challenging each of the Ulster lords to match his deeds of valour. One after another they arise, Cuscrid son of Conor, Keltchar, Moonremur, Laery the Triumphant, and others—Cuchulain is not introduced in this story—and in each case Ket has some biting tale to tell of an encounter in which he has come off better than they, and one by one they sit down shamed and silenced. At last a shout of welcome is heard at the door of the hall and the Ulstermen grow jubilant: Conall of the Victories has appeared on the scene. He strides up to the boar, and Ket and he greet each other with chivalrous courtesy:
“And now welcome to thee, O Conall, thou of the iron heart and fiery blood; keen as the glitter of ice, ever-victorious chieftain; hail, mighty son of Finnchoom!” said Ket.
And Conall said: “Hail to thee, Ket, flower of heroes, lord of chariots, a raging sea in battle; a strong, majestic bull; hail, son of Maga!”
“And now,” went on Conall, “rise up from the boar and give me place.”
“Why so?” replied Ket.
“Dost thou seek a contest from me?” said Conall. “Verily thou shalt have it. By the gods of my nation I swear that since I first took weapons in my hand I [pg 244] have never passed one day that I did not slay a Connacht man, nor one night that I did not make a foray on them, nor have I ever slept but I had the head of a Connacht man under my knee.”
“I confess,” then said Ket, “that thou art a better man than I, and I yield thee the boar. But if Anluan my brother were here, he would match thee deed for deed, and sorrow and shame it is that he is not.”
“Anluan is here,” shouted Conall, and with that he drew from his girdle the head of Anluan and dashed it in the face of Ket.
Then all sprang to their feet and a wild shouting and tumult arose, and the swords flew out of themselves, and battle raged in the hall of mac Datho. Soon the hosts burst out through the doors of the dūn and smote and slew each other in the open field, until the Connacht host were put to flight. The hound of mac Datho pursued the chariot of King Ailell of Connacht till the charioteer smote off its head, and so the cause of contention was won by neither party, and mac Datho lost his hound, but saved his lands and life.
The Death of Ket
The death of Ket is told in Keating's “History of Ireland.” Returning from a foray in Ulster, he was overtaken by Conall at the place called the Ford of Ket, and they fought long and desperately. At last Ket was slain, but Conall of the Victories was in little better case, and lay bleeding to death when another Connacht champion named Beälcu found him. “Kill me,” said Conall to him, “that it be not said I fell at the hand of one Connacht man.” But Beälcu said: “I will not slay a man at the point of death, but I will bring thee home and heal thee, and when thy strength is come again [pg 245] thou shalt fight with me in single combat.” Then Beälcu put Conall on a litter and brought him home, and had him tended till his wounds were healed.
The three sons of Beälcu, however, when they saw what the Ulster champion was like in all his might, resolved to assassinate him before the combat should take place. By a stratagem Conall contrived that they slew their own father instead; and then, taking the heads of the three sons, he went back, victoriously as he was wont, to Ulster.
The Death of Maev