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The Boys' Cuchulain by  Eleanor Hull



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[275] "Táin bó Cuailnge." The two oldest versions of the long tale of the "Tain bó Cuailnge," or "Cattle-Raid of Cooley," from which the main part of Chapters ii.-vi. and ix.-xix. of this book are taken, are those found in the old vellum manuscripts known as the "Leabhar na h-Uidhre" (L.U.), compiled about the year 1100 in the monastery of Clonmacnois on the Shannon, and preserved in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, and that occurring in the Book of Leinster (L.L.), preserved in Trinity College, Dublin, the larger portion of which appears to belong to the twelfth century. A version found in the Yellow Book of Lecan corresponds closely to that in L.U., and seems to contain an even earlier text. The text of this older version is in course of publication in Ériu, the journal of the School of Irish Learning in Dublin, and a translation has been made of it by Miss W. Faraday (Grimm Library Series, vol. xvi.). The lengthy L.L. version has been published with a German translation, and copious notes and glossary, by Dr. Ernst Windisch, 1905.

Among the later versions of parts of this long tale, is a copy found in the British Museum (marked Add. 18748) 1800 “AD” , which coincides in the main with that of the Book of Leinster. A translation of large portions of this manuscript was contributed by Dr Standish H. O'Grady of the present author's [276] "Cuchullin Saga in Irish Literature" (Grimm Library, vol. viii.).

The story of "The Education of Cuchulain" in Alba or Scotland, with the amazon Scáth, originally formed part of the tale of "The Wooing of Emer," but separate accounts exist of these adventures. For the details of Chapter vii., I have drawn partly upon the incidents contained in the longer version of "The Wooing of Emer," and partly upon two late manuscripts found in the British Museum (Egerton, 106 and 145). These have since been edited by Dr Whitley Stokes in the Revue Celtique, vol. xxix.

"The Wooing of Emer." This story is taken from Dr Kuno Meyer's edition of the tale found in Stowe MS. 992, and first published by him the Archaeological Review, vol. i.

The story of "Cuchulain's Visit to Fairy-land," usually known as "The Sick-bed of Cuchulain" (our Chapters xx., xxi.), is adapted from the accounts as given in the only two copies known to exist of it, one found in L.U. and the other in a fifteenth-century manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin. It was first published by O'Curry in Atlantis, vols. i. and ii., and later Dr Windisch edited the tale in Irische Texte, vol. i. An English translation will be found in Leahy's "Heroic Romances of Ireland," vol. i.

The story of "Deirdre," usually called "The Tragical Fate of the Sons of Usnach," is one of three favourite titles that for the last two hundred years at least have [277] been known as "The Three Sorrowful Tales of Erin," the other two being "The Fate of the Children of Lir" and "The Fate of the Children of Tuireann." There is, however, no connection or similarity between these tales. The story is found in numerous versions dating from the twelfth century down to the present day, and it has undergone much modification in the course of repetition. It is still a popular story in the Highlands of Scotland, and all round Loch Etive and its neighbourhood are the remains of forts and sites bearing the names of the unfortunate lovers.

No single version contains the entire story, and I have therefore been obliged to combine the accounts given in various versions belonging to different ages, slightly altering the arrangement in order to fit them together. In the chapter called "The Sleep-Wanderer," and in the account of "The Death of the Sons of Usnach," I have drawn largely on a very beautiful and poetic Gaelic folk-version taken down by Dr Alexander Carmichael from the lips of an old man of eighty-three years of age, John Macneill or "Iain Donn" of Barra, and first published by him in the Trans. of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vols. xiii., xiv. It has since been republished under the title of "Deirdre."

Some suggestions I have also taken from a modern manuscript found by Dr Douglas Hyde in the Belfast Museum, part of which was printed by him in Zeit für Celt. Phil., vol. ii.

But the main body of the story follows the medićval version, which has been printed repeatedly, one of the best recent editions being that of Dr. Whitley Stokes in Irische Texte, 2nd series, pt. 2.

In the oldest version, that found in the Book of [278] Leinster, Deirdre is made to survive the sons of Usnach, and is forced to come into Conor's house; but she will neither eat nor smile, and finally she puts an end to her intolerable existence by springing from a chariot and dashing her head against a rock. This version is much ruder and more barbaric than any of those belonging to a later period.

"The Tragical Death of Conla (or Conlaech), Son of Aiffe." Apparently the oldest form of this story, which is the Irish parallel to the Persian story of "Sohrab and Rustem," is that found in the Yellow Book of Lecan, recently edited by Dr Kuno Meyer in Ériu, vol. i. pt. 1; Mr J. G. O'Keeffe gives another ancient version in the same journal. The story is usually told in verse, and is still alive in Gaelic-speaking parts of Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland. Miss Brooke has published one of these poetical forms in her "Reliques of Irish Poetry," 1789.

"The Tragical Death of Cuchulain." The incidents connected with the death of Cuchulain, and immediately preceding and following it, are chiefly taken from, or suggested by, two good but comparatively recent manuscripts in the British Museum (Egerton, 132, and Add. 18947) dating from the early eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries respectively. They contain the cycle of events known as "The Great Defeat on the Plain of Murthemne," "The Death of Cuchulain," "The Red Rout of Conall Cernach," "The Lay of the Heads," and "Emer's Death." Portions of the material from the first of these two manuscripts were translated for my "Cuchullin Saga" by Dr S. H. O'Grady, but these [279] five stories as a consecutive whole have not yet been published. An older (L.L.) version of Cuchulain's death was published by Dr. Whitley Stokes in Revue Celtique, vol. iii.

Murthemne, or Cuchulain's country, formed part of the present Co. Louth, and a great pillar stone is still pointed out by the people as the place of Cuchulain's death, a split in the side having been caused, according to living tradition, by the dying sigh of the hero.

The poem on p. 141 is reprinted by kind permission of Mr T. Fisher Unwin.

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