The Celtic Literature Collective

The Death of Fergus Mac Róich

1. Whence is the tragical death of Fergus mac Róich? Not hard to tell.

Fergus was in exile in Connaught after his honour had been violated in the matter of the sons of Usnech; for he was one of the three guarantors that were given to them, the other two being Dubthach Chafertongue and Cormac Conlonges the son of Conchobar. These were all in exile in the west to the end of fourteen years, and (during all that time) wailing and trembling in Ulster never ceased through them, but there were wailing and trembling every night. ‘Tis he who slew Fiachra the son of Conchobar, and Gerg the son of Illand, and Eogan the son of Durthacht. By him, even Fergus, the Tam was brought. Many deeds he did while in the household of Aiill and Medb; and he and his people were more often abroad in the land than in Ailill’s household. Three thousand was the number of the exiled company; and his comrade in Ailill’s household was Lugaid Dalléces, to wit, a brother of Ailill’s was that Lugaid.

2. Once after deeds of valour they were by the lake on Mag Ai, where they had a large encampment, in which games and gatherings were held. Now on a certain day the whole host went into the lake to bathe. ‘Go down, O Fergus,’ said Sill, ‘and drown the men.’ ‘They are not good in water,’ said Fergus. Nevertheless he went down. Medb’s heart could not bear that, so that she went into the lake. As Fergus entered the lake, all there was of gravel and of stones at the bottom of the lake came to the surface. Then Medb went till she was on the breast of Fergus, with her legs entwined around him, and then he swam around the lake. And jealousy seized Ailill. Then Medb went up.

3. ‘It is delightful what the hart and the doe are doing in the lake, O Lugaid,’ said kill. ‘Why not kill them?’ said Lugaid, who had never missed his aim. ‘Do thou have a cast at them!’ said Ailill. ‘Turn my face towards them!’ said Lugaid, ‘and bring a lance to me!’ Fergus was washing himself in the lake, and his breast was towards them. And his chariot is brought to Ailill, so that it was near him; and Lugaid threw the lance, so that it passed out through his back behind. ‘The cast has gone home!’ said Lugaid. 'That is true,’ said all; ‘it is the end of Fergus.’

4. ‘How sad,’ said Lugaid, ‘if I should have killed my foster-brother and comrade innocently.’ ‘My chariot to me!’ said Ailill. All the host began to flee, each man towards the shore, both the exiled and the men of Connaught. Fergus draws out the lance and hurls it after Ailill, so that it passed through the deerhound which was between the two hind-shafts of the chariot. Thereupon Fergus came out of the lake, and straightens himself out upon the hill by the side of the lake; and his soul passed out of him forthwith. And his grave is there still. So this is the tragical Death of Fergus so far.

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