Now as to Cruachan, the home of Ailell
and of Maeve,
it is on the plain of Magh Ai it was, in the province of Connaught.
And this is the way the plain came by its name. In the
time long ago, there was a king whose name was Conn, that had the Druid power,
so that when the Sidhe
themselves came against him, he was able to defend himself with enchantments
as good as their own. And one time he went out against them, and broke up
their houses, and carried away their cattle, and then, to hinder them from
following after him, he covered the whole province with a deep snow.
The Sidhe went then to consult with Dalach, the king’s
brother, that had the Druid knowledge even better than himself; and it is what
he told them to do, to kill three hundred white cows with red ears, and to
spread out their livers on a certain plain. And when they had done this, he
made spells on them, and the heat the livers gave out melted the snow over the
whole plain and the whole province, and after that the plain was given the
name of Magh Ai, the Plain of the Livers.
Ailell was son of Ross Ruadh, king of Leinster, and Maeve
was daughter of Eochaid,
king of Ireland, and her brothers were the Three Fair Twins that rose up
against their father, and fought against him at Druim Criadh. And they were
beaten in the fight, and went back over the Sionnan, and they were overtaken
and their heads were cut off, and brought back to their father, and he fretted
after them to the end of his life.
Seven sons Ailell and Maeve had, and the name of every
one of them was Maine. There was Maine Mathremail, like his mother, and Maine
Athremail, like his father, and Maine Mo Epert, the Talker, and Maine
Milscothach, the Honey-Worded, and Maine Andoe the Quick, and Maine Mingor,
the Gently Dutiful, and Maine Morgor, the Very Dutiful. Their own people they
had, and their own place of living.
This now was the appearance of Cruachan, the Royal house
of Ailell and of Maeve, that some called Cruachan of the poets; there were
seven divisions in the house, with couches in them, from the hearth to the
wall; a front of bronze to every division, and of red yew with carvings on it;
and there were seven strips of bronze from the foundation to the roof of the
The house was made of oak, and the roof was covered
with oak shingles; sixteen windows with glass there were, and shutters of
bronze on them, and a bar of bronze across every shutter. There was a raised
place in the middle of the house for Ailell and Maeve, with silver fronts and
strips of bronze around it, and four bronze pillars on it, and a silver rod
beside it, the way Ailell and Maeve could strike the middle beam and check
And outside the royal house was the dun, with the walls
about it that were built by Brocc, son of Blar, and the great gate; and it is
there the houses were for strangers to be lodged.
And besides this, there was at Cruachan the Hill of the
Sidhe, or, as some called it, the Cave
of Cruachan. It was there Midhir
one time, and it is there the people of the Sidhe lived; but it is seldom any
living person had the power to see them.
It is out of that hill a flock of white birds came one
time, and everything they touched in all Ireland withered up, until at last
the men of Ulster killed them with their slings.
And another time enchanted pigs came out of the hill, and
in every place they trod, neither corn nor grass nor leaf would sprout before
the end of seven years, and no sort of weapon would wound them.
But if they were counted in any place, or if the
people so much as tried to count them, they would not stop in that place, but
they would go on to another. But however often the people of the country tried
to count them, no two people could ever make out the one number, and one man
would call out, "There are three pigs in it," and another, "No,
but there are seven," and another that it was eleven were in it, or
thirteen, and so the count would be lost.
One time Maeve and Ailell themselves tried to count
them on the plain, but while they were doing it, one of the pigs made a leap
over Maeve’s chariot, and she in it. Every one called out, "A pig has
gone over you, Maeve !" "It has not," she said, and with that
she caught hold of the pig by the shank, but if she did, its skin opened at
the head, and it made its escape. And it is from that the place was called
Magh-mucrimha, the Plain of Swine-counting.
Another time Fraech, son of Idath, of the men of
Connaught, that was son of Boann’s
sister, Befind, from the Sidhe, came to Cruachan. He was the most beautiful of
the men of Ireland or of Alban, but his life was not long.
It was to ask Findabair for his wife he came, and before
he set out his people said: "Send a message to your mother’s people,
the way they will send you clothing of the Sidhe." So he went to Boann,
that was at Magh Breagh, and he brought away fifty blue cloaks with four black
ears on each cloak, and a brooch of red gold with each, and pale white shirts
with looped beasts of gold around them; and fifty silver shields with edges,
and a candle of a king’s house in the hand of each of the men, knobs of
carbuncle under them, and their points of precious stones. They used to light
up the night as if they were sun’s rays.
And he had with him seven trumpeters with gold and silver
trumpets, with many coloured clothing, with golden, silken, heads of hair,
with coloured cloaks; and three harpers with the appearance of a king on each
of them, every harper having the white skin of a deer about him and a cloak of
white linen, and a harp-bag of the skins of water-dogs.
The watchman saw them from the dun when they had come
into the Plain of Cruachan. "I see a great crowd," he said,
"coming towards us. Since Ailell was king and Maeve was queen, there
never came and there never will come a grander or more beautiful crowd than
this one. It is like as if I had my head in a vat of wine, with the breeze
that goes over them."
Then Fraech’s people let out their hounds, and the
hounds found seven deer and seven foxes and seven hares and seven wild boars,
and hunted them to Rath Cruachan, and there they were killed on the lawn of
Then Ailell and Maeve gave them a welcome, and they were
brought into the house, and while food was being made ready, Maeve sat down to
play a game of chess with Fraech. It was a beautiful chess-board they had, all
of white bronze, and the chessmen of gold and silver, and a candle of precious
stones lighting them.
Then Ailell said: "Let your harpers play for us
while the feast is being made ready." "Let them play, indeed,"
So the harpers began to play, and it was much that the
people of the house did not die with crying and with sadness. And the
music they played was the Three Cries of Uaithne. It was Uaithne, the harp of
that first played those cries the time Boann’s sons were born. The first was
a song of sorrow for the hardness of her pains, and the second was a song of
smiling and joy for the birth of her sons, and the third was a sleeping song
after the birth.
And with the music of the harpers, and with the light
that shone from the precious stones in the house, they did not know the night
was on them, till at last Maeve started up, and she said: "We have done a
great deed to keep these young men without food." "It is more you
think of chess-playing than of providing for them," said Ailell;
"and now, let them stop from the music," he said, "till the
food is given out."
Then the food was divided. It was Lothar used to be
sitting on the floor of the house, dividing the food with his cleaver, and he
not eating himself, and from the time he began dividing, food never failed
under his hand.
After that, Fraech was brought into the
conversation-house, and they asked him what was it he wanted.
"A visit to yourselves," he said, but he said
nothing of Findabair. So they told him he was welcome, and he stopped with
them for a while, and every day they went out hunting, and all the people of
Connaught used to come and to be looking at them.
But all this time Fraech got no chance of speaking with
Findabair, until one morning at daybreak, he went down to the river for
washing, and Findabair and her young girls had gone there before him. And he
took her hand, and he said: "Stay here and talk with me, for it is for
your sake I am come, and would you go away with me secretly?" "I
will not go secretly," she said, "for I am the daughter of a king
and of a queen."
So she went from him then, but she left him a ring to
remember her by. It was a ring her mother had given her.
Then Fraech went to the conversation-house to Ailell and
to Maeve. "Will you give your daughter to me?" he said. "We
will give her if you will give the marriage portion we ask," said Ailell,
"and that is, sixty black-grey horses with golden bits, and twelve milch
cows, and a white red-eared calf with each of them; and you to come with us
with all your strength and all your musicians at whatever time we go to war in
Ulster." "I swear by my shield and my sword, I would not give that
for Maeve herself," he said; and he went away out of the house.
But Ailell had taken notice of Findabair’s ring with
Fraech, and he said to Maeve: "If he brings our daughter away with him,
we will lose the help of many of the kings of Ireland. Let us go after him and
make an end of him before he has time to harm us." "That would be a
pity," said Maeve, "and it would be a reproach on us." "It
will be no reproach on us, the way I will manage it," said he.
And Maeve agreed to it, for there was vexation on
her that it was Findabair that Fraech wanted, and not herself. So they
went into the palace, and Ailell said: "Let us go and see the hounds
hunting until mid-day." So they did so, and at mid-day they were tired,
and they all went to bathe in the river.
And Fraech was swimming in the river, and Ailell said to
him: "Do not come back till you bring me a branch of the rowan-tree there
beyond, with the beautiful berries." For he knew there was a prophecy
that it was in a river Fraech would get his death.
So he went and broke a branch off the tree and brought it
back over the water, and it is beautiful he looked over the black water, his
body without fault, and his face so nice, and his eyes very grey, and the
branch with the red berries between the throat and white face. And then he
threw the branch to them out of the water. "It is ripe and beautiful the
berries are," said Ailell; "bring us more of them."
So he went off again to the tree, and the water-worm that
guarded the tree caught a hold of him. "Let me have a sword," he called
out, but there was not a man on the land would dare to give it to him, through
fear of Ailell and of Maeve.
But Findabair made a leap to go into the water
with a gold knife she had in her hand but Ailell threw a sharp-pointed spear
from above, through her plaited hair, that held her; but she threw the knife
to Fraech, and he cut off the head of the monster, and brought it with him to
land, but he himself had got a deep wound.
Then Ailell and Maeve went back to
the house. "It is a great deed we have done," said Maeve. "It
is a pity, indeed, what we have done to the man," said Ailell "And
let a healing-bath be made for him now," he said, "of the marrow of
pigs and of a heifer." Fraech was put in the bath then, and pleasant
music was played by the trumpeters, and a bed was made for him.
Then a sorrowful crying was heard on Cruachan, and they
saw three times fifty women with purple gowns, with green head-dresses, and
pins of silver on their wrists, and a messenger went and he asked them who was
it they were crying for "For Fraech, son of Idath," they said,
"boy darling of the king of the Sidhe of Ireland"
Then Fraech heard their crying, and he said: "Lift
me out of this, for that is the cry of my mother, and of the women of
Boann." So they lifted him out, and the women came round him and brought
him away into the Hill of Cruachan.
And the next day he came out, and he whole and sound, and
fifty women with him, and they with the appearance of women of the Sidhe. And
at the door of the dun they left him, and they gave out their cry again, so
that all the people that heard it could not but feel sorrowful. It is from
this the musicians of Ireland learned the sorrowful cry of the women of the
And when he went into the house, the whole household rose
up before him and bade him welcome, as if it was from another world he was
come. And there was shame and repentance on Ailell and on Maeve for trying to
harm him, and peace was made, and he went away to his own place.
And it was after that he came to help Ailell and Maeve,
and that he got his death in a river as was foretold, at the beginning of the
war for the Brown Bull of Cuailgne.
And one time the Hill was robbed by the men of Cruachan,
and this is the way it happened.
One night at Samhain, Ailell and Maeve were in Cruachan
with their whole household, and the food was being made ready.
Two prisoners had been hanged by them the day before, and
Ailell said: "Whoever will put a gad round the foot of either of the two
men on the gallows, will get a prize from me."
It was a very dark night, and bad things would always
appear on that night of Samhain, and every man that went out to try came back
very quickly into the house. "I will go if I will get a prize," said
Nera, then. "I will give you this gold-hilted sword," said Ailell.
So Nera went out and he put a gad round the foot of one
of the men that had been hanged. Then the man spoke to him. "It is good
courage you have," he said, "and bring me with you where I can get a
drink, for I was very thirsty when I was hanged." So Nera brought him
where he would get a drink, and then he put him on the gallows again, and went
back to Cruachan.
But what he saw was the whole of the palace as if on fire
before him, and the heads of the people of it lying on the ground, and then he
thought he saw an army going into the Hill of Cruachan, and he followed after
the army. "There is a man on our track," the last man said.
"The track is the heavier," said the next to him, and each said that
word to the other from the last to the first.
Then they went into the Hill of
Cruachan. And they said to their king: "What shall be done to the man
that is come in?" "Let him come here till I speak with him,"
said the king. So Nera came, and the king asked him who it was had brought him
in. "I came in with your army," said Nera. "Go to that house
beyond," said the king: "there is a woman there will make you
welcome. Tell her it is I myself sent you to her. And come every day," he
said, "to this house with a load of firing."
So Nera went where he was told, and the woman said:
"A welcome before you, if it is the king sent you." So he stopped
there, and took the woman for his wife. And every day for three days he
brought a load of firing to the king’s house, and on each day he saw a blind
man, and a lame man on his back, coming out of the house before him. They
would go on till they were at the brink of a well before the Hill. "Is it
there?" the blind man would say. "It is, indeed," the lame man
would say. "Let us go away," the lame man would say then.
And at the end of three days, as he thought, Nera asked
the Woman about this. "Why do the blind man and the lame man go every day
to the well?" he said. "They go to know is the crown safe that is in
the well. It is there the king’s crown is kept." "Why do these two
go?" said Nera. "It is easy to tell that," she said; "they
are trusted by the king to visit the crown, and one of them was blinded by
him, and the other was lamed.
And another thing," she said, "go now
and give a warning to your people to mind themselves next Samhain night,
unless they will come to attack the hill, for it is only at Samhain," she
said, "the army of the Sidhe can go out, for it is at that time all the
hills of the Sidhe of Ireland are opened. But if they will come, I will
promise them this, the crown of Briun to be carried off by Ailell and by
"How can I give them that message," said Nera,
"when I saw the whole dun of Cruachan burned and destroyed, and all the
people destroyed with it?" "You did not see that, indeed," she
said "It was the host of the Sidhe came and put that appearance before
your eyes. And go back to them now," she said, "and you will find
them sitting round the same great pot, and the meat has not yet been taken off
the fire." .
"How will it be believed that I have gone into the
Hill?" said Nera. "Bring flowers of summer with you," said the
woman. So he brought wild garlic with him, and primroses and golden fern.
So he went back to the palace, and he found his people
round the same great pot, and he told them all that had happened him, and the
sword was given to him, and he stopped with his people to the end of a year.
At the end of the year Ailell said to Nera: "We are
going now against the Hill of the Sidhe, and let you go back," he said,
"if you have anything to bring out of it." So he went back to see
the woman, and she bade him welcome. "Go now," she said, "and
bring in a load of firing to the king, for I went in myself every day for the
last year with the load on my back, and I said there was sickness on
you." So he did that.
Then the men of Connaught and the black host of the
exiles of Ulster went into the Hill and robbed it and brought away the crown
of Briun, son of Smetra, that was made by the smith of Angus, son of Umor, and
that was kept in the well at Cruachan, to save it from the Morrigu. And Nera
was left with his people in the hill, and he has not come out till now, and he
will not come out till the end of life and time.
Now one time the Morrigu brought away a cow from the Hill
of Cruachan to the Brown Bull of Cuailgne, and after she brought it back again
its calf was born. And one day it went out of the Hill, and it bellowed three
times. At that time Ailell and Fergus were playing draughts, for it was after
Fergus had come as an exile from Ulster, because of the death of the sons of
Usnach, and they heard the bellowing of the bull-calf in the plain. Then
Fergus said: "I do not like the sound of the calf bellowing. There will
be calves without cows," he said, "when the king goes on his
But now Ailell’s bull, Finnbennach, the White-Horned,
met the calf in the plain of Cruachan, and they fought together, and the calf
was beaten and it bellowed. "What did the calf bellow?" Maeve asked
her cow-herd Buaigle. "I know that, my master, Fergus," said Bricriu. "It is the song that you were singing a while ago."
Fergus turned and struck with his fist at his head, so that the five men of
the chessmen that were in his hand went into Bricriu’s head, and it was a
lasting hurt to him. "Tell me now, Buaigle, what did the calf
bellow?" said Maeve. "It said indeed," said Buaigle, "that
if its father the Brown Bull of Cuailgne would come to fight with the
White-Horned, he would not be seen any more in Ai, he would be beaten through
the whole plain of Ai on every side." And it is what Maeve said: "I
swear by the gods my people swear by, I will not lie down on feathers, or
drink red or white ale, till I see those two bulls fighting before my
Source: Lady Gregory - Cúchullin
of Muirthemne, first published 1910.