Stories, Myths &Legends 

The Feast of Bricriu

Bricriu of the Venomous Tongue prepared a great feast for King Conchobar and his followers.  He built a special house for the purpose, with a chamber set apart for himself:  He knew only too well that his guests, while partaking of his hospitality, would never allow him and his poisonous tongue into their company at the feast.  

Then he proffered his invitations which were received with scant enthusiasm - 'If we go, our dead will outnumber our living, after Bricriu has incited us to strife,' said some. 

 But finally they were persuaded to go to the feast as Bricriu threatened to curse them if they did not go - 'I will stir up strife among the kings, leaders, heroes and lesser nobles, till they slay one another But if that be impossible, I will set mother and daughter at variance.  And if that be impossible I will cause strife between the two breasts of every woman in Ulster so that they will smite each other till they rot and putrefy.'

  However they were right to be doubtful of Bricriu's intentions as he had a hidden agenda which was a plot to set them all against each other.  He promised the curadhmhír  'champion's portion' the choicest piece of meat to three different champions namely; Conall Cernach, Loeghaire Buadhach 'The Triumphant' and Cúchulainn.  The tradition was that whoever was the bravest warrior would get the curadhmhír and if any warrior contested that claim then he would have to fight a combat against the first claimant.

Of course all three are then in violent competition with each other and they come to blows and the house becomes a seething tumult until the wise man Sencha Mac Ailella intervenes to restore a temporary peace.

  Ailill of Connaught is called on to be an arbitrator in the matter.  Bricriu however has a second strategy he goes to each of the wives of the three heroes (who had taken a little too much mead and were slightly inebriated) and takes each one aside and waxes eloquent in praise of the virtues and accomplishments of each and promises that the first woman who enters the hall will be queen over all the women of Ulster. 

 And so the three woman making their way slowly at first as they each near the hall their progress becomes quicker and quicker until they haul up their skirts to their waists so as not to be impeded in the rush for the entrance. 

 They made such a noise that those within thought the house was being beset by enemies and they slammed the door in the faces of the drunken women.  The three husbands decide to help their wives in the venture.  Loeghaire and Conall tore down the pillars of the house to allow their wives access, while Cúchulainn simply tilted the whole building over against his bed, admitting Emer his wife and her attendants, and then slammed it down again so hard that it sank seven feet into the earth.

The shock threw Bricriu and his wife out of their private room, and they fell into the filth in the palace courtyard.  All bespattered recognizable only by his voice, he came into the house and protested at the way his home had been treated.

  Cúchulainn suffered a minor riastradh 'battle-fury' and then when he had recovered he put the house straight.  And again they all sat down to the feast, but not for long; the matter of who would receive the champion's portion was still not settled. 

 The three heroes decided to go forth and prove their claim to the portion. After many competitions and adventures  it is decided by King Ailill that Cúchulainn can have the hero's portion, but the decision is contested by Loeghaire and Conall. 

 Again they venture forth to the hall of Cú Roí Mac Dáire in the south-west of Ireland here after further trials it is decided again that the portion should go to Cúchulainn.  They journey back to Emain Macha and again Loeghaire and Conall contest the decision.  Weary from all their travels and adventures there does not seem to be a way that any of them can back down due to their pride and so a stale-mate ensues where none can gain an advantage over the other. 

One evening as the Ulstermen were gathered at Emain they saw a huge and monstrously ugly churl of a herdsman bachlach enter the hall.  He brought a singular challenge; he would allow one of their heroes to cut off his head on condition that they reverse roles on the following night.  

Loeghaire and Conall both accept and behead the giant but when it comes to their turn to lay their heads on the block they both shirk their side of the bargain.  Finally Cúchulainn takes up the challenge and beheads the giant, who picks up his severed head and walks off. 

 When he returns the next evening, Cúchulainn places his head on the block in readiness to receive the blow, the giant raises his mighty axe to the ridge-pole of the hall, only to bring it down gently upon his neck, saying 'Rise up, Cúchulainn.  Vain is it for any warrior of Ulster or Ireland to seek to contend with you in bravery, and prowess and truth.  Henceforth, to you shall belong the primacy of the warriors of Ireland and the curadhmhír  'the champion's portion' is your rightful claim.  The giant was none other than Cú Roí Mac Dáire who had come to vindicate his previous judgement.

Source: R.A.S. MacAlister - Ancient Ireland, 1936.


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