The Celtic Literature Collective

The Tragic Death of Celtchar mac Uthechair

1. Whence is the tragical death of Celtchar mac Uthechair? Not hard to tell. There was a famous man of the men of Ulster, even Blái the Hospitaller. He owned seven herds of cattle, seven score kine in each herd, and a plough-team with each herd. He also kept a guest-house. Now it was a geis for him that a woman should come in a company to his house without his sleeping with her, unless her husband were in her company. Then Brig Brethach, wife of Celtchar, went to his house. ‘Not good is what thou hast done, woman,’ said Blái the Hospitaller. ‘Thy coming to me as thou hast come is a geis to me.’ ‘it is a wretched man,’ said the woman, ‘that violates his own gessa.’ ‘Tis true. I am an old man, and more­over thou art inciting me,’ said he. That night he sleeps with her.

2. Celtchar came to know that; and he went to seek his wife. Blái the Hospitaller went until he was by the side of Conchobar in the royal house. Celtchar also went until he was on the floor of the royal house. There were Conchobar and Cáchulinn playing a game of fidchell; and Blái the Hospitaller’s chest was over the play-board between them. And Celtchar plants a spear through him so that it stuck in the wattle of the wall behind him, so that a drop (of blood) from the point of the spear fell upon the board.

3. ‘Forsooth, Cúchulinn!’ said Conchobar. ‘Indeed, then, Conchobar!’ said Cúchulinn. The board is measured from the drop hither and thither to know to which of them it was nearer. Now the drop was nearer to Conchobar, and it was the longer till revenge. Blái the Hospitaller, however, died. Celtchar escaped until he was in the land of the Déisi of Munster in the south.

4. ‘This is bad, O Conchobar!’ said the men of Ulster. ‘This means the ruin of the Déisi. It was enough that we should lose the man who has died, and let Celtchar come (back) to his land,’ said the men of Ulster. ‘Let him come, then,’ said Conchobar; ‘and let his son go for him, and let him be his safeguard.’ At that time with the men of Ulster a father’s crime was not laid upon his son, nor a son’s crime upon the father. So he went to summon him until he was in the south.

5. ‘Wherefore hast thou come, my son?’ said Celtchar. ‘That thou mayst come to thy land,’ said the lad. ‘What is my safeguard?’ ‘I,' said the lad. ‘True,’ said he. ‘Subtle is the treachery which the men of Ulster practise upon me, that I should go on my son’s guarantee.’ ‘Subtle shall be his name and the name of his offspring,’ said the druid. ‘Wait, lad,’ said Celtchar, ‘and I will go (with thee).’

6. This is done, and hence is Semuinea in the land of the Déisi.

7. However, this is the fine which was demanded for Blái the Hospitaller, to free them from the three worst pests that would come into Ulster in his time.

8. Then Conganchnes mac Dedad went to avenge his brother, even Curoi son of Daire mac Dedad, upon the men of Ulster. He devastated Ulster greatly. Spears or swords hurt him not, but sprang from him as from horn.

9. ‘Free us from this pest, O Celtchar!’ said Couchobar. ‘Surely I will,’ said Celtchar. And on a certain day he went to converse with the Horny-skin so that he beguiled him, promising to him his daughter, even Niam daughter of Celtchar, as well as a dinner for a hundred every afternoon to be supplied to him. Then the woman beguiled him, saying to him: ‘Tell me,’ she said, ‘how you may be killed.’ ‘Red-hot iron spits have to be thrust into my soles and through my shins.’ Then she told her father that he should have two large spits made, and a sleeping spell put upon them, and that he should gather a large host to himself. And so it was done. And they went on their bellies, and the spears were thrust into his soles with sledge-hammers and right through his marrow, so that he fell by him. And Celtchar cut off his head, over which a cairn was raised, viz, a stone was placed by every man that came there.

10. And this is the second pest, even the Dun Mouse, viz, a whelp which the son of the widow had found in the hollow of an oak, and which the widow had reared till it was big. At last then it turned upon the sheep of the widow; and it killed her kine, and her son, and killed herself, and then went to the Glen of the Great Sow. Every night it would devastate a liss in Ulster, and every day it lay asleep. ‘Free us from it, O Celtchar!’ said Conchobar. And Celtchar went into a wood and brought out a log of alder; and a hole was dug in it as long as his arms, and he boiled it in fragrant herbs and in honey and in grease until it was soft and tough. Celtchar went towards the cave in which the Dun Mouse used to sleep, and he enters the cave early before the Dun Mouse came after the slaughter. It came, and its snout raised high in the air at the smell of the wood. And Celtchar pushes the wood out through the cave towards it. The hound takes it in his jaws, and puts his teeth into it, and the teeth dave in the tough wood. Celtchar pulls the wood towards him; and the hound pulls at the other side; and Celtchar puts his arm along the log (inside) and took its heart out through its jaws so that he had it in his hand. And he took its head with him.

11. And that day, at the end of a year afterwards, cow-herds were by the side of the cairn of Horny-skin, and heard the squealing of whelps in the cairn. And they dug up the cairn and found three whelps in it, viz, a dun hound, and a hound with small spots, and a black hound. The hound with the small spots was given as a present to Mac Datho of Leinster; and for its sake multitudes of the men of Ireland fell in the house of Mac Datho, and Ailbe was the name of that hound. And it would be to Culand the smith that the dun hound was given, and the black hound was Celtchar’s own Dóelchú. It let no man take hold of it save Celtchar. Once upon a time Celtchar was not at home, and the hound was let out, and the people of his household could not catch it; and it turned among the cattle and the flocks, and at last it would destroy a living creature every night in Ulster.

12. ‘Free us from that pest, O Celtchar!’ said Conchobar. Celtchar went towards the glen in which the hound was, and a hundred warriors with him, and three times he calls the hound until they saw it coming towards them, making straight for Celtchar until it was licking his feet. ‘It is sad, indeed, what the hound does,’ said all. ‘I will no longer be incriminated for thy sake!’ said Celtchar, giving it a blow with the lúin of Celtchar, so that he brought out its heart, whereupon it died. ‘Woe!’ cried everybody. ‘‘Tis true,’ said he, as he raised the spear, when a drop of the hound’s blood ran along the spear and went through him to the ground, so that he died of it. And his lament was set up and his stone and tomb were raised there. So this is the Tragical Death of Blái the Hospitaller, and of Horny-skin, and of Celtchar the son of Uthechar. Finit.

Meyer, Kuno. Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes.