Stories, Myths & Legends

The Siege of Druim Damhgaire (summary)

'The Siege of Druim Damhgaire' is a long account of how Cormac mac Art led his army into Munster in order to exact double the tribute due to him from King Fiacha. Cormac brings his own druids, augmented by those of his faery mistress, who dry up all the water in Munster until the opposing side is about to surrender. This ill-judged expedition looks like succeeding until the Munstermen decide to call in some druidic help of their own. They engage Mog Roith at great expense to release the waters and to win the day for them.

'Do you know anyone in this province who is able to put our affairs in order?' asked King Fiacha of Munster. 'I do not know anyone save your own teacher, Mog Roith, who would come,' said Dil mac Dacreca. 'It was with his help that I raised you. Besides, it was he who prophesied to you, on the day of your birth, that Conn's Half [the north of Ireland] would assail you, as we have seen today, and that no one would be able to help you, if he didn't come, because it is from Side Cairn Breactnatan, with Ban Buanann the Druidess, daughter of Derg Dhualach, that Mog Roith has acquired wisdom over seven centuries. And there are no further enchantments that he cannot accomplish, whether within or without the sidh, whether on this side or the other [of the worlds], because none other, of all the inhabitants of Ireland, has ever been in flesh and bone to learn magic among the realm of the faeries save he. '

Fiacha wonders what manner of recompense the druid will require. Messengers are sent to find out and are told:

A hundred bright white cows in milk, a hundred well-fattened pigs; a hundred strong working oxen; a hundred racehorses; fifty soft white cloaks; after the project is over, the daughter of the first lord of the East or the most prominent after him, to bear me children the first place in the files of Munster's army for my successor who shall have in perpetuity the rank of a provincial king...; that the King of Munster should choose his counsellor from among my descendants;... that I am given the territory of my choice in Munster.

Dil returns to King who, with his council, agrees to this high price. Dil returns to Mog Roith who prepares to leave.

Then Mog Roith told his pupil, Cennmar, to bring to him his travelling equipment: his two noble oxen, swift as swords, from Sliab Mis, called Luath Tren and Loth Lis; his beautiful war-chariot of rowan-wood, with its shafts of white bronze, encrusted with carbuncles, its crystal doors, such that the light appeared as bright as day to those who travelled in the chariot. He also had his sword whose grip was of ivory, the blade hard and blue; his bronze lances, his two sharp five-pronged javelins of shapely wood, so easy to cast, riveted with white bronze; his brown, hornless bull-skin to stretch across the width of the chariot, on its sides and over his thighs.

With an escort of three hundred men, he prepares to choose which part of Munster's territory shall be his own. His representatives each bring him a handful of soil from each region for him to smell and make an augury over; he finally accepts the territory of Corchaille mac Con for his own due to the great number of mineral deposits in its soil. He swears his children to abide by the terms of his contract with Fiachna and sets them to demarcate his boundaries. He also chooses Eimhne, daughter of Aengus Tirech, but allows her to choose whether she will marry himself or his son, Buan. She chooses Mog Roith. All rewards having been agreed upon, Mog Roith causes the waters of Munster to flow once again by giving his magic lances to Cennmar to cast into the earth. The whole of Munster, human and animal, drinks again.

The next day, Mog Roith asked, 'What help do you need now?'

'Cast down the hill [raised by Cormac's druids],' they said, 'because it is a great affliction and calamity for us to have our enemies installed on its heights above our heads on a magic hill, while we are below them at its foot, unable to see them unless we raise our eyes thither.'

'Someone turn my face towards the hill,' said Mog Roith. This was done without hesitation. Immediately he invoked his god and his power and grew so tall that he was scarcely less high than the hill, and his head broadened so that it was as large as the high hill crowned with oak-woods, the sight of which brought terror to all who looked upon him.

It was so that he was able to see his friend, Gadhra, of Druim mac Criadhnaidhi; he who was the son of the sister of Ban Buanann, the druidess, daughter of Derg Dhualach. He came to the side and help of Mog Roith. Beautiful was his appearance that day, the side turned towards Mog Roith and towards the people of Munster, that is; for frightful and monstrous was his appearance and expression on the side which was turned towards Cormac and his armies; he was rough and spiny like a pine and as large as a royal castle.

Each of his eyes was as large as a king's cauldron, and they jutted out of his head; his knees were turned backwards and his heels turned forwards. He held in his hand an iron trident; he was covered in a brown cloudy mantle, horned and bristling with bones and horns; a billy-goat and a ram followed him. All were stricken with terror who saw him in this array. 'Why are you come?' Mog Roith asked him. 'I am come,' he said, 'to bring trembling and terror to the armies so that they will scarcely have the energy of a woman in childbed when it comes to fight.'

And Gadhra took himself off in this guise to Druim Damhgaire; he made three circuits of the hill and gave three harsh cries, showing himself to the enemy so that they were seized with horror and terror; he sapped all the warriors of the best part of their strength and warrior's valour... Then Mog Roith began to blow upon the hill. Each warrior from the North was unable to stay in his tent, so great was the storm; their druids did not know how it had been caused. Mog Roith blew again, saying, 'I turn and return.' The hill disappeared altogether, enveloped in dark clouds and in a whirlwind of fog, so that the company was seized with dread at the cries of the battalions, the uproar of horses and chariots, the confusion of the shattered army resounding as the hill was reduced to its foundations. Part of the army lay plunged in frightful agony, and all gave themselves up to dejection and discouragement.

Shaken by this display, Cormac sends his druid, Colphra to fight, accompanied by his own son Cairpre Lifechair. Mog Ruith is told if their coming and tells his pupil, Cennmar, to prepare for battle

Mog Roith said to Cennmar, 'Give me my poisoned stone, my hand-stone, my hundred-battler and the destruction of my enemies.' It was given him and he began to praise it and put upon it a venomous charm and said,

I charge my hand-stone

That it be not a flying shadow;

Let it be a brand to rout the enemy,

Before the brave host of Clair [Munster].


My fiery hard stone,

Be as a red water-snake;

Woe to him around whom it coils,

Between the swelling waves.

Be as an eel of the sea, like a seal,

As long as seven ox-horns;

Be as a vulture among vultures,

To sever body from soul.

Be as an adder of nine coils

Around the body of the monstrous Colphtha.

From the ground into his head,

A smooth, spear'-headed serpent.


The royal, spear-spoked wheel

Shall be a strong and galling briar;

 Woe to him around whom it comes,

My fiery, vengeful dragon.


Lords and storytellers shall relate

The woe of those whom it strikes;

The proud valour of Colphtha and Lurga

It shall shatter against the rocks.

Prostrate, it shall prostrate them;

In bonds shall it bind them;

The bonds that it binds with

Like the honeysuckle-twined tree.

Their assaults shall be stayed,

Their deeds shall all fail,

Their bodies shall be wolf-fodder,

At the great ford of slaughter.

Even children will be able to bear off

Without combat, without conflict,

Their trophies and their heads,

If that is what they seek.

During the ensuing combat of Colphtha and Cennmar, Mog Roith causes stones and sands to become firebrands in every sod of earth, so that Colphtha is badly bumed. To add to this cows, bulls, ants, boars and even the marsh plants become horrifyingly vocal.

Colphtha sees the blind Mog Roith across the ford and realizes who has made these enchantments. 'Short your existence, the existence of your race,' utters Mog Roith. 'Henceforth I will enchant the druid.'

As he says this, Cennmar places Mog Roith's hand-stone in the ford's waters where it becomes a giant conger-eel, while Cennmar himself becomes a stone. The eel fights Colphtha, breaks his arms and ties nine knots about him, sinking its teeth into his head.

Cennmar transforms him- self, casts one of the magical lances and Colphtha dies. After further single combats, Cormac's druids retaliate, for in their company are three druidesses, Errgi, Eang and Engain, who shapeshift into sheep:

The sheep showed themselves the next morning. They were brown-coloured, with hard and bony heads and horny skins; their noses were of iron. They had the swiftness of the swallow, the agility of the weasel, the rapidity of birds and were able to fend off a hundred warriors during a fray. 'See, our protector! ' said the Munstermen. 'See who returns in the form of three brown sheep, those who are able to plunge a hundred men into the depths of agony and death.' 'I will overthrow them for you, do not doubt it, ' said Mog Roith. He asked Cennmar, 'Where are my druidic tools that I gave you for fighting these druidesses? '

'I have them,' said Cennmar. These tools were the tinder-box of Simon, the flint of Daniel, the tinder of Ether Ilcrothaig. They were given to Mog Roith; the use of these instruments was to give the resolve of stone to the minds and hearts of the Munstermen in the hour of combat; the flaming of the fire against the same colour of the sheep. Mog Roith struck three blows with the tinder-box against the stones. Quickly and deftly taking three stalks of the tinder, which he put in the folds of his robe, he recited a charm beginning, 'Beneath the folds of the litter a company shall rise up ...'

He said to Cennmar, 'Look at these things. What have they become? ' Cennmar looked and said, 'It is good, they are become two bitches and a dog. ' He took them up to examine them, then put them down on the ground and turned their faces towards the North and the sheep.

The dogs set on the shapeshifting druidesses and breathe fire upon them so that, their fleeces on fire, they run into their own army, spreading a venomous gas. As a result, all Cormac's druids are forced to hide because their powers are useless.

The sheep make for an opening in the earth but the dogs chase and devour them. Cormac sends his chief druid, Cithruadh, to offer terms to Mog Roith, but these are refused, Mog Roith then visits his teacher, the druidess Ban Buanann (the Long-Lived Lady), in the Sidh, to ask her help in discovering how the Munstermen should continue the combat.

He spends the night there and she tells him to set forth early and he will bring victory to the people of Munster. As he prepares to depart, Buan, his son, tells of a vision, which he begins to relate in the old and ancient language "A sending came to me..."

Unfortunately we do not hear what it was. The final showdown is between the two sets of druids, who each make up druidical fires to confound the other side. Cormac's druids get theirs going first, then Mog Roith tells Fiacha's men each to bring a handful of rowan-wood, while Fiacha himself is to bring a bundle of wood from the side of the mountain which has grown in the shade of three shelters: from the wind of March, from the wind from the sea and from the wind that causes forest fires. The firewood is carefully built up in the shape of a churn with three sides and angles and seven doors. Cormac's fire, however, is roughly stacked and has only three doors.

The fire is ready,' said Cennmar, 'Now it only needs lighting.' Mog Roith struck his tinder-box. Now the fire of the North was also ready, but all were filled with doubt and anxious haste. Mog Roith said to the Munstermen, 'Quickly, each shave a sliver of wood from your spear-handles.' They did so and gave them to him. He then made a mixture of these with butter and laid the ball on the fire, chanting the while:

I mix a roaring, fierce fire, Clearing woods, blighting grass,

Angry flame of powerful speed, Rushing to skies above, Subduing other fires' wrath, Breaking battle on Conn's race [the North].

Tossed into the fire's heart, the ball lit with a great flame and great uproar. Mog Roith chanted:

God of druids, My God above All other gods...,

'Now, said Mog Roith, 'bring my oxen and ready my chariot; hold your horses ready. If the fires turn towards the North, you must be ready to charge. If this happens, do not delay in charging, as I will do myself. If the fires come from the North, prepare to defend yourselves...'

As he said this, he sent a druidic wind into the atmosphere and into the heavens, so that it formed itself into a shadowy, dark obscurity over Cenn Claire, from which a rain of blood fell. And Mog Roith sang, 'I send a spell with the aid of a cloud. A rain of blood falls upon the grass...'

Mog Roith carefully monitors the, progress of the fires by asking the onlookers. Finally, he decides to see them for himself.

Someone brought to Mog Roith his brown hornless bull's hide, and his encennach, his bird headdress, speckled with flying wings, and his other druidic appurtenances; he rose into the air and the heavens at the same time as the fires and he started to beat the air, so as to turn the fires to the North, all the time chanting this spell, 'I make the druid's arrow...'

Mog Roith is successful in turning the flames northwards.

Mog Roith descended then and mounted in his beautifully ornamented chariot, drawn by fierce and impatient oxen as fast as the March winds, as swift as a bird. He took his brown, hornless bull's hide and turned towards the army. He sent Cennmar to urge the Munstermen forward and all advanced with great vigour following the druid.... 'What is before me? ' asked Mog Roith, as they advanced. But he already knew for he said, 'Is it not Cecht, Crota and Cithruadh? My god has promised me that I shall transform them into stones when they are within my reach, should I but breathe once upon them.' And he sent towards them a druidic breath so that they were transformed into stones, those that we still call Leaca Raighne today.

Cormac concedes defeat and the Munstermen, under Mog Roith's guidance, are victorious.

source: Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom - Caitlín and John Matthews


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