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was with difficulty each kept up with the other ; so they raised their robes to the rounds of their limbs to compete in the attempt to go first into the hall. For what Bricriu had said to each of them regarding the other was, that whosoever should first enter should be queen of the whole province. The amount of confusion then occasioned by the competition to enter the hall first was as if it were the noise of fifty chariots approaching.

The whole palace shook, and the warriors sprang to their arms and made essay to kill one another within.

"Stay,' quoth Sencha, “they are not enemies who have come; it is Bricriu who has set a-quarreling the women who have gone out. By the God of my tribe, unless the hall be closed against them the dead will outnumber the living.'

And indeed a hairpulling almost ensued; and “each woman went out under the protection of her spouse, and there followed the Ulster women's war-of-words," " with the three fair ladies (to use O. Henry's modern expression) “calling each other synonyms,” until even the old Iago Bricriu had enough and implored them to desist until the feast was over.

For the “light touch” I know of no terser, pithier description of a practical joke than the following extract from the Cattleraid of Cualnge. The style of the telling is peculiarly appropriate to the chief actor in it, for laconic King Ailill was a dry and sagacious old chap, much like a canny Scotchman. Toward the beginning of the Cattle-raid, Queen Medb, with her usual impetuous and strong-willed manner, decided to divide her army and approach the enemy from two directions; but the real object of her feminine stratagem was to send Ailill one way while she and the attractive Fergus, with whom she had become 'enamored, were to go the other. Medb was a passionate and artful lady.

It is there, then,” says the story,'' “ that Ailill said to his charioteer Cuillius, 'Find out for me to-day Medb and Fergus. I know not what has brought them to this union. I shall be pleased that a token should come to me by you.'


16 Bricriu's Feast, translated by George Henderson, Irish Texts Society, Vol. 2, p. 21.

17 Ibid., p. 23. 18 Cattle-raid of Cualnge, op. cit., p. 44.

“Cuillius came where they were in Cluichre. The pair remained behind, and the warriors went on. Cuillius came to them, and they heard not the spy. Fergus' sword happened to be beside them. Cuillius drew it out of its sheath, and left the sheath empty. Cuillius came to Ailill.

"So?' said Ailill.
"So indeed,' said Cuillius. •There is a token for you.'
“It is well,” said Ailill.
“ Each of them smiles at the other."

That crafty exchange of smiles marked the beginning of a convulsing series of taunts and teasings of the blunt and awkward Fergus. The incident continues :

As you thought," said Cuillius, it is thus that I found them, in one another's arms.'

“It is right for her,' said Ailill; 'it is for help in the Foray that she has done it. See that the sword is kept in good condition,' said Ailill. *Put it under your seat in the chariot, and a cloth of linen around it.'

“Fergus got up for his sword after that.
Alas !' said he.
“What is the matter with you?' said Medb.

An ill deed have I done to Ailill,' said he. "Wait here while I go into the wood,' said Fergus, ‘and do not wonder though it be long till I come.'

“It happened that Mebd knew not the loss of the sword. He goes thence and takes the sword of his charioteer with him in his hand. He makes a wooden sword in the wood. Hence there is Fid Mor Drualle in Ulster (Great Wood of the Sword Sheath).

“Let us go on after our comrades,' said Fergus. All their hosts meet in the plain. They pitch their tents. Fergus is summoned to Ailill to play chess. When Fergus went to the tent, Ailill began to laugh at him.”

To show how shrewdly Ailill understood his wife, let us quote one of numerous curtain-lectures in which Ailill's dry sarcasms, while amusing him, passed as wasted words upon literal-minded Medb. During the Cattle-raid, she had, for expediency's sake, plied the ancient and honorable art of bribe-giving; and the

prize she offered to each and every combatant who would enter single combat with Cuchulin was her fair daughter Findabair. Fer Diad was finally induced by this means to enter the fight, but he was nervous and fearful, and he rose in the wee sma' hours to set out. In courtesy he drove his noisy chariot around to Medb and Ailill's tent for a morituri salutamus.

“Does Ailill sleep now,' '' said Medb, when she heard the greeting

“Not at all,' said Ailill.
“Do you hear your new son-in-law greeting you?' '
“Is that what he is doing?' said Ailill.

“It is indeed,' said Medb, “and I swear by what my people swear, the man who makes the greeting yonder will not come back to you on the same feet.'

“Nevertheless we have profited by the good marriage connection with him,' said Ailill. *Provided Cuchulain fell by him, I should not care though they both fell. But we should think it better for Fer Diad to escape.'" That is neat irony; for little was Medb's solicitude with the welfare of her 'new son-in-law'!

Medb herself is one of the richest comedy characters of literature. Her philosophy of action was to cut the Gordian knot. Dilemmas exhilarated her vigorous and pliant imagination. “The end justifies the means," was her creed; and no moral scruples as to veracity and masculine conceptions of honor ever lay heavy on her conscience to interfere with brilliant strategies. “Woman's weapons” of tears and flattery, scolding and cajolery she used abundantly; and the promises she made to achieve her ends were flamboyant. The wilder and more ridiculous her schemes, the more confidently she pushed them to completion. And she was brave,- dear, yes! She led the army. This is how she rode in her war-chariot :

“Chariots in front of her, at her sides, and behind, the way no sod from the feet of the horses of the army or foam from their mouths would touch her clothing."

And when she walked from tent to tent on inspection she always had a body-guard of fifty soldiers or more to make a roof

19 Cattle-raid of Cualnge, op. cit., p. 107.


and walls of their shields, in order that her courageous body might be protected

Here is a sample of her bold and spicy war maneuvers :

“Medb came, after looking at the host, and she said it were folly for the rest to go to the hosting, if the cantred of the Leinstermen went.

“Why do you blame the men?' said Ailill.

“We do not blame them,' said Medb; ‘splendid are the warriors; when the rest were making their huts, they had finished thatching their huts and cooking their food; when the rest were at dinner, they had finished dinner, and their harpers were playing to them. It is folly for them to go,' said Medb; 'it is to their credit the victory of the hosts will be.

“It is for us they fight,' said Ailill.
““They shall not come with us,' said Medb.
“Let them stay then,' said Ailill.

“They shall not stay,' said Medb; they will come on us after we are gone,' said she, “and seize our land against us.'

What is to be done to them,' said Ailill, ‘will you have them neither stay nor go?'

"To kill them,' said Medb.

Here is another of her charmingly unorthodox but efficient plans :

King Ailill was chosen arbitrator to award the supremacy to one of the three contending Ulster heroes. “He neither ate nor slept till the end of three days and three nights." 'Coward, Medb then called him. “If you don't decide, I will !' Difficult for me to adjudge them,' Ailill said. It is a misfortune for one to have to do it.' “There is no difficulty,' quoth Medb, 'for Loigaire and Conall Cernach are as different as bronze and findrinni (white bronze), and Conall Cernach and Cuchullin as different as fiindrinni and red gold.'”

Thereupon she called each of the three heroes in succession to private audience to her, and bestowed upon him a loving-cup in token of his supremacy among the Ulster heroes: a bronze cup

20 Cattle-raid of Cualnge, op. cit., p. 7. 21 Bricriu's Feast, op. cit., p. 75.


to Loigaire, a white bronze one to Conall, and a gold one to Cuchullin. And to each flattering speech of presentation she appended the sweet and womanly request that the true leader of the Ulster heroes return home quietly and without boasting, as she could not bear to witness in her court the jealousy and disappointment of the two rivals.

In this, as in most situations, Medb's scheme was successful, from her point of view. The battle between the three rivals when they discovered the ruse was the fiercer for Medb's interference, but it did not occur in her territory.

Once upon a time her overweening vanity and her love of the dramatic led her into a wild plan which was almost the death of her. The anecdote does not appear in the old manuscripts but has come down by word of mouth among the Irish peasants. Lady Gregory incorporates it into her compilation of Cuchullin lore."

“Let us make some good plan now,' said Medb, 'for I am sure it is that hot rude man Conchobar, king of Ulster, that is coming to attack us. Let us make a pen before him,' she said, ‘of all the army standing on three sides and thirty hundred men ready to shut the mouth of it on him when he comes in. For we must take these fellows alive and not kill them, for it would be unworthy of our name to do more than make prisoners of them, and they so few.' Now this was one of the most laughable things that was said in the whole course of the war," continues the story

“Conchobar and his thirty hundred of the best men of Ulster to be taken alive."

Conchobar was wroth and rose in his majesty to attack the Connaughtmen when he heard of Medb's boast.

“But for all that,” it goes on, “Medb did make a pen of the army of Ireland to shut up Conchobar, and she had men ready to close it up when once he would be in. But it is what Conchobar did, he never so much as looked for an opening, but when he saw the army before him, he went straight through it, and he broke open a gap of two hundred on the right hand and two hundred on the left hand, and went through them all and

22 Cuchullain of Murthemne, p. 257.

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