THE BATTLE OF ALLEN
Translated, with notes, by Whitley Stokes
Revue Celtique 24 (1903):41–70
Had the story called in Irish Cath Almaine, the Battle of Allen, been produced in Germany, it would have been called a Kindermärchen, a children's tale. But its chief incident—a severed head speaking—occurs, not only in Cormac's Glossary, s. v. orc tréith, where Lomna's head tells Find of his leman's faithlessness, but in the Táin bó Cualnge (LL. 94a 12), the delight of many generations of Gaelic adults, where Sualtam's head repeats his warning to the men of Ulster.
The present edition of this story is based on three manuscripts, here respectively denoted by Y, F and B.
Y is the Yellow Book of Lecan, a codex in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, marked H. 2. 16. The part of the ms. containing our story was written at the end of the fourteenth century. It begins in column 939, line 8, and ends in column 942, 1. 35. In the execrable facsimile edited by Prof. Atkinson in 1896 it begins on p. 206, col. I, 1. 9, and ends on p. 207, col. 2, l. 35.
F is the Book of Fermoy, a fifteenth century codex belonging to the Royal Irish Academy, and described by the late Dr J. H. Todd in the Proceedings of that body, Irish mss. series, vol. I, part I. Our story begins on p. 128, col. 2, and ends on p. 130, col. 2, 1. 13.
B is a paper ms. in the Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels, now marked 5301-20. It was transcribed, sometime after 1643, from a copy made in that year by Dudley Mac Firbis from a vellum belonging to Nehemias Mac Egan of Ormond, “Hibernici juris peritissimo.” It was edited, translated and annotated in 186o by O'Donovan, with the title “Annals of Ireland. Three Fragments.” The part of this edition corresponding with §§ 1-23 of our story begins in p. 32 and ends in p. 50. I collated the whole ms. in May 1895. O'Donovan's notes are generally excellent, but his text is incomplete and sometimes inaccurate, and in his translation of the verse there is much guesswork. In O'Curry's Manners and Customs III, 309-312 portions of B are cited with translations which are no improvements on O'Donovan's.
The rarer words and forms in our story are collected in the glossarial index. Apart from its philological interest, the tale seems worth printing from the light which it throws on the beliefs and superstitions of the mediaeval Irish (see §§ 9, 11, 13, 14, 16), their music, their manners and customs. Note especially the instance in § 26 of a funeral feast composed of seven oxen, seven wethers and seven bacon-pigs.
“Funeral feasts,” says Mr John Rae (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 911, ed., vol. 9, p. 825) “prevail extensively in America, Africa and Asia, and arise partly, like our own anniversary dinners, from a simple desire to do honour to the dead, but partly also from the belief that the dead participate in the good cheer. They are not merely commemorative but communion meals.” Note, too, the vision (§ 11) of the saints Columcille and Brigit heartening, like Homeric deities, their respective clans in battle.
To seek an historical foundation for such a story would be absurd. It will be enough to say that the annalist Tigernach has an entry corresponding with §§ 12, 13 that he quotes the poems of Cú Bretan, § 6, and Nuada § 14, that Almain (now Allen) is a hill about five miles north of the town ofKildare, and that at least two battles were fought there, one in the year 526, the other in the year 718. The latter was the fight in which Fergal, overking of Ireland, was defeated by Dunchad, king of Leinster, and from which our tale has taken its title.
Camberley, December 1902.
THE BATTLE OF ALLEN HERE
(The Yellow Book of Lecan, col. 939).
1. For a long time there was great warfare between Cathal son of Findguine, king of Leth Mogha, and Fergal son of Mael duin, king of Leth Cuinn. Fergal son of Mael duin raided Leinster in order to injure Cathal son of Findguine; so Cathal son of Findguine wasted the whole of Magh Bregh, until they made peace and truce.
2. Then once upon a time Fergal marched from the north, with the Northerners around him, to demand the boroma  (“ tribute”) from the Leinstermen. Long had Fergal been mustering his forces, and this is what every one was saying to him: “If Donn-bó go with thee, I will go with thee.”
3. Now Donn-bó's mother was a widow, and he had never gone for a day or a night out of his mother's house. Donn-bó was in this wise: the brightest and handsomest and dearest boy in Ireland was he. Not in all Erin was there one who was pleasanter or cleverer than he, and from him came the best wanton staves and king-stories in the world. 'Tis he who was best to train horses, to set spears, to plait hair, and whose wit was clearest in his countenance. His mother did not let him go along with Fergal until the king had given Columkill's guarantees and bonds for him that he would come back safe. Those were given to him.
4. Thereafter Fergal comes to invade Leinster ; but there were bad guides before him, and they brought him into all the rugged parts of the province. This is the way the guides brought him, to Cluain Dobhail, in Allen,where they pitched a camp at the edge of the church. They greatly maltreated the church, for at that time there was a certain leper (there), and he had a single cow. Then they came to the leper and unroofed his house, and they dealt him a spear-thrust which went through his mantle, and they killed his only cow, and cooked it afterwards on spits of iron.
5. And the leper said that the vengeance which the Lord would wreak on the Húi Néill for that would be an eternal vengeance; and he came forward to Fergal's tent, wherein were the kingfolk of all Conn's Half then before him. The leper was bewailing his tribulation in their presence; but the heart of none of them moved towards him save the heart of Cú-Bretan son of Congus, king of the Men of Ross; and of this Cú-Bretan had no reason to repent, for of all the kings who were in the tent none escaped from the battle save Cú-Bretan alone.
6. Then said Cú-Bretan son of Oengus, king of the Men of Ross
I dread the red bloody battle,
O Man of valour, I seek it out:
sorrowful is the Son of Mary's servant
after the roof has been taken off his house.
The leper's cow
has been slaughtered after the ox:
woe to the hand by which his mantle was pierced
before going into battle to the son of Bran!
If there be any who would deliver violent battle
in the morning against the son of Bran,
harder than the fight I deem
the leper's lamentation which has been uttered.
7. Then that night, before delivering the battle Fergal said to Donn-bó: “Make minstrelsy for us tonight, O Donn-bó,” quoth Fergal—for Donn-bó was the best minstrel in Ireland both for stories and staves and pipes and every other kind of amusement. Said Donn-bó: “I cannot have a single word on my lips tonight, so tonight let some one else amuse thee. Howbeit in whatever place thou mayst be tomorrow evening I will make minstrelsy for thee. But tonight let Hua Maiglinni amuse us, for he is the king-buffoon of Ireland.”
8. So thus was it done on that night. Hua Maiglinni was fetched to them, and he began reciting the battles and valiant deeds of Conn's Half and of Leinster, from the Destruction of Tuaimm Tenbath, that is of Dinn Righ, in which Cobthach Coelbreg was killed, down to that time. And it was not much sleep that they slept that night because of the greatness of their dread of the Leinstermen, and because of the greatness of the storm, for it was the eve of the feast of Finnian in the winter.
9. On the morrow the Leinstermen marched to Cruachan Claenta, because the Leinstermen are never defeated if they hold their council (of war) there and thence proceed to battle. Thereafter they came to Dind Canann.
10. 'Tis then that Conn's Half and Leinster came together, and then was fought the fiercest battle and fray that had ever been delivered in Ireland. Mighty and manly was the slaughterous, perilous combat fought at that time. Many were the sons of kings and princes and magnates and tanists of lords themselves, and nobles of good race, in lack of their life. Thankful was the javelin-armed foul-mouthed Badb that hour, and sad were the loving mothers, wailing and lamenting and keening for the noble children.
11. Now in that battle the mind of Columkill did not rest or stay for the Húi Néill, for above the battalion of Leinster he saw Brigit terrifying the host of Conn's Half, whereupon Fergal and the Northerners were routed by Aed the king of South-Leinster. And it was he that killed Fergal and Buan son of Baile, king of Scotland. And Donn-bó fell since Fergal had been killed, but Fergal was not killed until Donnbó had fallen (in his defence). “Fergal's Hill” and “Buan mac Baile's berg” are still there.
12. Of the king's soldiers one hundred and sixty were killed there, to wit, Conall Menn, king of the Kindred of Cairbre, and Forbasach, king of the Kindred of Boguine, and Fergal húa Aithechdaí, and Fergal son of Eochaid Lemnai, king of Tamnach, and Condalach son of Conang, and Écnech son of Olcu, king of the Airthir, Coibdenach son of Fiachra and Muirgius son of Conall, Lethaithech son of Cú-charat and Aedgen húa Mathgne, Nuada son of Orc, king of the Foreigners, and ten descendants of Mael-fithrig. Those are the kings of the North who fell in that battle.
13. Now these are the kings of the Southern Húi Néill who were killed there, to wit, Fland son of Ragnall, Ailill son of Feradach, Aed Laignech húa Cernaig, Suibne son of Congalach, Nia son of Cormac, Dub-dá-crich son of Dub-dá-inber, Ailill son of Conall Grant, Flaithemail son of Dlu-thach, king of Corbre Cromm, Fergus hua Eogain. Hic totus numerus de regibus ceciderunt, et alii novem uolatiles. Septem milia ceciderunt in eo bello ab utroque exercito.
Et inde Nuadu húa Lomthuile dixit
At midday in Allen
contending for the kine of Bregia,
the red-mouthed, javelin-armed Badb uttered
a paean round Fergal's head.
Murchad parted from cowards
he increased the strong ones on earth
he turns a weapon against Fergal,
with the vast champions south of Allen.
There died a hundred gracious princes,
with a hundred brawny guardsmen,
with nine ferocious flying madmen,
with seven thousand men-at-arms.
15. On the third of the ides of December as regards the day of the solar month, and on a Tuesday as regards the day of the week, the battle of Allen has been fought.
16. Then Hua Maiglinni, the royal buffoon, was captured by the Leinstermen and Murchad, and he was enjoined to make a “buffoon's shout.” Great, then, was that shout, and melodious, so that many of the men of Erin have “the shout of Hua Maiglinni” from that time to this. Then a blow was delivered across his neck, so that his head was struck off him; and certain scholars assert that his shout remained in the air to the end of three days and nights. Hence is (the saying). “Hua Maiglinni's shout chasing the men into the bog.”
17. Then a certain good warrior of Connaught (Aed Laighen, king of Hy-Many), said to his sons: “Do not leave me, my lads,” quoth he: “your mother's love for you will be the greater if you take me with you.” So they turn towards him and lift him up on the shafts of their spears. “They shall not take thee,” say the Leinstermen, and then Aed Laighen was killed. Aed Allan son of Fergal fled from the battle till he came to Lilcach, belonging to the foreigner called the Pious, and entreated the foreigner for his protection. Prudens was that foreigner's name. So that the angel went on the roof-beam in the shape of the cleric, for he had promised to remain always in that church. Then Aed Allan uttered this stave
On earth we never reached
an Allen that was as smooth:
after the battle we found not
a Lilcach that was as bright.
So that was a victorious day for Leinster. Howbeit Cú-Bretan son of Oengus, king of Fir Rois, was protected because of the quatrains which he had made the night before.
18. Now that night the Leinstermen were feasting and drinking. 'Tis then Murchad son of Bran told one of the troops which were in the house to go into the battlefield for a man's head, and that he would give seven cumals to him who should go for it, “I will go,” says Baethgalach, a valiant warrior of the men of Munster. Forth he fared, wearing his dress of battle and combat, till he reached the place where Fergal's body lay. As he was there he heard the proclamation in the air, for all heard it: “Ye have been commanded from the Plain of Heaven to make minstrelsy to-night for your lord, Fergal son of Mael Duin. Though all ye poets have fallen here together with your lord, let not fear or feebleness prevent you from making music tonight for Fergal.” They heard the music afterwards, both poets and hornplayers and pipers and harpers, and he (Baeth-galach) heard the various melodies ; and never did he hear, before or after, better music. Then he heard a voice (from a head) in the wisp of rushes, and sweeter was that tune than the tunes of the world!
19. Then the warrior went towards it. “Do not come to me,” says the head to him.
“What? how art thou?” asks the warrior.
“I am Donn-bó,” says the head; “and I have been pledged to make music to-night for my lord, that is, for Fergal, not by any means for Murchad. So do not annoy me.”
“Where is Fergal himself?” says the warrior.
“That is his body, the shining one, beyond thee,” says the head.
“A question,” says the warrior: “whom shall I take with me? 'Tis thou whom I most prefer.”
“Indeed thou wilt be brought,” says the warrior.
20. So the warrior went to his house and the head with him, and on arriving he found the Leinstermen carousing that same night. “Hast thou brought anything from the battlefields,” says Murchad.
“I have brought Donn-bó's head,” the warrior answered. “Put it on the pillar yonder,” says Murchad. The whole army recognised the head, and they all said: “It was no luck for thee, O Donn-bó, to be like that, for thou wert the best and most beautiful minstrel in Erin!”
21. “Well,” says the warrior who brought the head from outside, “make minstrelsy for us, O Donn-bó, for the sake of God's Son, (to wit, Jesus Christ, into whose presence he had gone). Amuse the Leinstermen tonight as thou amusedst thy lord not long ago.”
22. Then Donn-bó turned his face to the wall of the house so that it might be dark to him, and he raised his cruinsech (?) on high so that it was sweeter than any melody on the earth's sward; and all the host were weeping and sad at the piteousness and misery of the music that he sang.
23. Now when the host was weary of the sorrow caused by listening to the music, the same warrior went with the head till he reached its body. “Good indeed!” says the head to the warrior: “join my head to my body.” Then the warrior fitted the head to the body and straightway it adhered thereto. That took place in order to fulfil Columkill's word, for Columkill was security that Donn-bó should go northward again to his mother and tell to her and to every one tidings of the battle and Fergal's death.
24. The Leinstermen had delivered this battle of Allen in the absence of Cathal mac Finguini, and Cathal was grieved that the battle was fought while he himself was away. They heard of Cathal's grudge against them, so this was the counsel they framed, to carry to Cathal Fergal's head as a trophy of the action. Thereafter the head was taken westward to Cathal; whereupon Rumann, Fergal's poet, said
Fergal has been slain, a man fair, full of wounds,
a griffin, a champion, a foe
there is one wail like thunder
from the Clew Bay Islands to Mann.
25. Cathal was then dwelling in Glendamain of the Kings at Mount Grud; and he tried to kill the troops that came with the head, for Fergal's destruction, in violation of his Peace, was grievous to him.
26. Then Fergal's head was washed and plaited and combed smooth by Cathal, and a cloth of velvet was put round it, and seven oxen, seven wethers and seven bacon-pigs—all of them cooked—were brought before the head. Then the head blushed in presence of all the men of Munster, and it opened its eyes to God to render thanks for the respect and great honour that had been shewn to it. Then that food was distributed by Cathal to the poor of the neighbouring churches, to wit, Ath Cros Molaga (the Ford of Mo-Laga's crosses) and Tulach Min Molaga (the smooth Hill of Molaga).
27. After that Cathal went with a chosen gathering of the men of Munster to bury Fergal's head, and he himself gave it to the Húi Néill, and he conferred the kingship of the Húi Néill on Flaithbertach son of Aed. Thus then Cathal left them, and at the end of a month and a fortnight he came to Glendamain of the Kings.
28. Now afterwards a great war against Cathal mac Findguni sprang up in Leinster, so Cathal mustered the men of Munster and marched against Faelán, king of Leinster, who had all the Leinstermen along with him. And then the battle of Feile was fought between Faelán and Cathal, and Faelchar, king of Ossory, fell there, and the Leinstermen were defeated.
29. So far the severance of Cathal and the Leinstermen.
It endeth. Amen. It endeth.
 In p. 7 he mistakes Manann (now Slamannan in Scotland) for the Isle of Mann: see Reeves Columba, 391, note d.
 [Stokes lists a number of mistranslations.]
 Revue Celtique, XVI, 220.
 Revue Celtique, XVI, 220, 221. In Rev. Celt., XVI, 220, l. 32, for in drai read ind rai. The numbers of the notes should be 1, 2, 3, and for mata in read matain, and for trem read tren.
 Mugh Nuadat's Half, the southern half of Ireland.
 Conn's Half, the northern half of Ireland.
 a large plain in East Meath. The devastation took place A. D. 717, according to the Four Masters.
 See Revue Celtique, XIII, 32.
 lit. “staves of vanity” (or idleness) “amusing verses,” O'Curry. [In the Glossarial Index, Stokes writes:] rann espa 3, lit. “a quatrain of idleness,” perhaps “a wanton stave,” “a bawdy-song.”
 i. e. “stories relating to kings,” O'Don.
 “harness,” O'Don.
 The first three lines of the quatrain in B mean : “Most beautiful of boys was loveable Donn bó: most melodious were his lays, which mouths titter: most splendid of the youths of Inis-Fail.” I cannot translate the fourth line, which O'Donovan renders by “The brilliancy of his example took the multitude”—a bad guess apparently.
 B has: “until Mael son of Failbe, son of Erannan, son of Crimthann, a successor of Columkill, was pledged for his return alive, and until he also pledged Columkill for himself that Donn bó would return safe to his own house from the province of Leinster” O'Don. F has “until Fergal gave her the security of Columkill that Donn-bó would return to her alive.”
 “This name is now forgotten,” O'Don.
 B has : 'Tis then, Aedan the leper of Cluain Dobaíl, was there before him. The hosts maltreated (him): they killed his only cow and cooked it on spits in his presence, and unroofed his house and burnt it.
 “Hound of Britain.”
 Fir Roiss, a tribe in parts of the present counties of Monaghan, Meath and Louth, Rev. Celt., IX, 15.
 a reference to the nam[e] Fer-gal.
 i. e. Murchad mac Brain, king of Leinster, ob. A.D. 721.
 As to the devotion generally shewn to lepers in Ireland, see The Tripartite Life of S. Patrick, pp. 447, 449, Lismore Lives, pp. 295, 340, and Revue Celtique, XII, 342, 344.
 According to B: “make minstrelsy for us, O Donn-bó, because thou art the best minstrel in Ireland in . . . and on pipes and harps, and in staves and legends and king-stories of Erin; and this morning to-morrow we will deliver battle to the Leinstermen.”
 See the tale, LL. 269a, Zeitschrift f. Celtische Philologie III, 1-14. This destruction is said to have occurred as far back as A. M. 3682.
 i. e. the 11th December.
 i. e. the round hill of Clane, about five miles N. E. of Allen, O'Don.
 Now Duncannon, nearly midway between Clane and the Hill of Allen, O'Don.
 one of the three Irish war-goddesses : see Hennessy's paper, Rev. Celt., I, 32, and Lottner's note, ibid., 55 ; see too Bruden dá Derga § 122 (Rev. Celt., XXII, 294), and Three Fragments, 190.
 the principal patron of the Cenél Conaill, O'Don.
 So at the battle of Dún bolg, A.D. 870, the Leinstermen relied on their patroness S. Brigit, while their opponents, the men of Ossory, trusted their patron, S. Ciaran of Saighir, Three Fragments, p. 190.
 Cenél Cairbri now the barony of Granard, co. Longford. Cenél Boghaine, now Bannagh in the west of the co. of Donegal. O'Don.
 Colgu, Four Masters, 718, Ann. Ul. 721.
 Leathaithaech, ibid., 718
 Mathghamnae, ibid.
 Erc, ibid.
 dechnebhar do hsiol Maelefithrig, ibid.
 Raghallach, ibid., Rogellnach, Ann. Ul. 121.
 As to the beliefs that men struck with panic sometimes become lunatics, and that lunatics are as light as feathers, see the Battle of Magh-rath, p. 231, note o, and Three Fragments, p. 41, note d.
 I know nothing of this poet.
 Ann. Ult. 721, where ui die feriae seems an error for iii die feriae.
 B. has: “Then his head was taken from Fergal and his head was taken from the buffoon.”
 B. has: “the echo of the buffoon's shout was in the air to the end of three days and three nights.”
 B has: “then Aed Laigen son of Fithchellach, king of the Húi Maini of Connaught, fled in rout and said to his sons.”
 This sentence is obscure to me. B has: “Aed Laigen's sons went with Aed Alláin, son of Fergal, to Lilcach a place in which were mo-Dichu son of Amargen and the Pious Foreigner, and there the Húi Néill and the Connaughtmen dug the dyke of the church, and they in the form of the clerics, and 'tis thus they were saved through the miracles of the saints, so that thenceforward there is an alliance of the Húi Néill and the Connaughtmen in that church . . . That day was a victorious one for Leinster.” Lilcach has not been identified. Hennessy conjectured Bective, co. Meath. Erc of Slane is called epscop Liolcaigh “bishop of Lilcach,” in Rawl. 480 (Proceedings of R. I. Academy, Irish ms, series, I, 88).
 For this sentence B has: “At Condail of the Kings the Leinstermen were that night, after fighting the battle, a-drinking wine and mead, joyously and in high spirits, and each of them recounting his trophies, and they jolly and mirthfully talking.”
 B has: Then said Murchad son of Bran, “I would give a chariot worth four cumals (twelve cows), and my horse, and my battledress to the warrior who would go into the battlefield and bring us a token from it.”
 “From the king of seven heavens,” B.
 cf. Pedersen, Tá sé na righ, Celt. Zeitschr. II, 379, where he cites is bés dúibsi infar n-Ultaib, LL. 112b47, is gess dúib infar n-Ultaib, LL. 65b43.
 B has: “so then he heard in the clump of rushes that was next him a dord fiansa that was the sweetest of melodies.”
 cf. huas tao lebrán ind línech “over my booklet the lined one,” Sg. 20; a rosc a nglé se, “his eye this bright one,” St P. II, 5; do ráith a aithig in trúaig “for her vassal, the wretched one.” Brocc. h. 60.
 For other instances of a severed head talking, see the Táin bó Cualnge, LL. 94a 12, and Cormac's glossary, s. v. orc tréith.
 B has: “thou shalt take me,” says the head: “but if thou bring me, may the grace of Christ be on thee if thou bring me to my body again.”
 B has: “I will bring thee indeed,” says the warrior; and he returns with the head to Condail.
 “Hast thou brought a token with thee?” B.
 B has: “All the host knew it, that it was Donn-bó's head, and this is what they all said: “Sad for thee, O Donn-bó! Fair was thy form! Make minstrelsy for us tonight as thou halt made it for thy lord in the morning.”
 “So his face is turned, and his plaintive dord fiansa rose on high, so that all were wailing and sorrowing” B. [In the Glossarial Index, Stokes writes:] dord fiansa 22 B. is variously explained as = dord fiannachta, Ir. Texte IV, 398 “wild song,” “murmuring music of Find and his warriors” the battle-cry or war-chorus, “a species of wooden gong music produced by striking together the handles of a number of brazen [?] spears so as to accompany or blend with the voices of a chorus of singers” O'Curry, Manners and Customs III, 311, 317, 377, 378, 380, 571.
 So St. Ciaran replaces Cairbre Crom's head, Lismore Lives, preface XVIII.
 F has: “and the word of God and Columkill was fulfilled for his safe return northward to his mother.”
 For § 23 B has: “The same warrior conveys the head to its body, as he had promised, and adjusts it to its neck. In a word, Donn-bó reached his mother's house, for these are the three wonders of this battle, Donn- bó's getting home alive in consequence of Columkill's word, and the shout of the buffoon Hua Maigleini for three nights in the air, and the nine thousand prevailing over the twenty-one thousand.” O'Donovan compares the three wonders of the Battle of Moira, p. 282, viz. the defeat of Congal Claen, the madness of Suibne Geilt, and Cennfaelad's loss of his “brain of forgetfulness.”
 A valley near Molana, in the barony of Coshmore and Coshbride, in the county of Waterford, O'Don. F. M. 945, note p.
 In the county of Tipperary, F. M. 1058, note y.
 See above § 1.
 Cf. “the funeral baked meats,” Hamlet i, 2. But the “baked meats” here, and in Romeo and Juliet IV. 4, are said to mean “pastry.”
 For the usual practice of treating the heads of conquered kings (putting them under the conqueror's thigh), see Three Fragments 212.
 Now Aghacross, N. of Fermoy.
 Now Mitchelstown, co. Cork: see Mart. Gorm. Jan. 20, gl. 3, and Ann. Ult. 1505, note 10.
 he died, according to the Four Masters, in 744, iar ndeighbhethaidh, “after a good life.”
 This seems to be the battle of Belach Ele, Four Masters, 731. If so, the f of Feile is prothetic.
 he died, according to the Four Masters, in 737.
 Perhaps we should read (with the Four Masters, 731) “Cellach son of Faelchar.”