The Hector Cycle II: Aisling Con Choillchaille (Excerpt)

The following text is my response to Alexandra’s very timely call over at Helleneste kai Grammateus for writers, poets and other artists to seriously address the deficit of well-considered and deliberately pagan mythography that has continued since (I would argue) the conversion period. It is part of a much larger and more ambitious project (hence my submitting only an excerpt) that I plan to publish more formally once it is complete.

What was it regarding Cú Coillchaille? Not hard that: his removal from Dun Scathain to Ard Éolaidh and the building of Dun mhic Eoin Eachduine according to the advice of Macha, Druidess to the Southern Uí Chennsalaigh of the Eoganacht at Bile na bhFilidh. What were the place, time and cause of his removal? The place was Bánnair na bhFíachaire .i. Ban-Dair na mBadb Dubha, where the giantess of the Airghialla was slain by Errge Echbél before the coming of the Saxons among the Britons. St. Ronán cursed it and cast it out into the Irish Sea, so that it was the makings of a small island before the reign of Loeghaire and the mission of St. Patrick. The time of Cú Coillchaille’s building of the wondrous Dun and its Castle in that place was the eighth year of Great Charles’ reign amongst the French. Cú Collchaille had wandered among the Saxons and the Italians for six years before returning to Ireland with gold and followers …

Through several episodes, Cú Coillchaille, vying with two other nobles for lordship among the Cenél mBinnig, unites with the druidess, Macha, in a marriage of a limited time. After a number of injustices he must make a choice between taking his immediate household and dependents to a strange island in the Irish Sea to build a new life there or facing outlawry through blatantly corrupt judgments leveraged by his opponents.

… “Strange,” said Cú, “that I should stay amongst my own people when they see so little good in me. It is a poor king who attempts to rule among those who see little benefit in his judgment.”

“Little that benefit to me, a Chúcu,” said Macha. “Your people see only what is before them. They are like the servants of the twelve great nobles.”

“Tell me the tale then,” said Cú.

“There were once twelve wealthy nobles,” said Macha, “who lived in twelve palaces. Each was as different from the next as can be imagined, but each noble governed their own land fairly and well, but the best land was held in common between them: a vast sweeping valley filled with wide meadows, deep forests and steep cliffs where every kind of gemstone could be found. The landholdings of these noblemen and women were so extensive that the commons could only be reached by a long journey of several weeks, so while the twelve shared the best land, they could only tend it with difficulty. The wealthiest of the twelve offered then a great feast to which he invited the other lords and ladies.

“At the height of the feast he said, ‘we have every manner of good but the fruits of that common land shared by all. How shall we gain the goods therefrom without neglecting the lands naturally held by each of us?’

“The others answered, ‘if the land is held by all, then let it be worked by all. Let us each send laborers in equal amount so that we might receive the natural good due to each.’

‘“A good plan,” said the wealthiest of the nobles. “We will do as you say and abide by the results.”

“Each of the twelve thus chose from their own lands servants to go into the valley to tend the herds, coppice the forests, mine for gemstones and generally conduct the business of each noble. Being held in common, the servants would have to cooperate in many matters without dealing directly with their natural lords. For a time, all went well: the land flourished and produced even more wealth for the nobles, the workers built houses for themselves and prospered, enjoying the benefits of living on the land even as they sent the fruits of their work back to their rightful lords.

“In time, however, the servants began to forget the nobles for whom they worked. Life continued, and they still sent goods back to their home countries, but some began to say that if the nobles were so distant, it was as if they didn’t exist at all. Others began to suggest that there was only one lord to whom they owed their due rents, and in time this belief became widely held.

“The wealth and goods that were then sent back to the lands of the nobility began to fall to just one of the nobles. Some of the lords and ladies began to grumble at the confusion, but most simply laughed at the foolishness of the servants and sent the due wealth to its proper owner by other routes.

“In time, the belief of the servants concerning the nature of their lords became so strong that they began to fight among themselves over which servants were right. The battles became increasingly violent and the lords began to wonder at what the final outcome might be. Nevertheless, the goods and wealth continued to flow back to the lands of the nobility, so there was no need for the lords to intervene. On the contrary, the nobles began to send messengers in secret to watch the battles, since they considered them great sport.

“Now one of the nobles had been appointed to tally the dues of the commoners and ensure that each noble received his or her proper amount of wealth. He had been appointed because of his constancy and cleverness, being the fairest and subtlest of the nobles. By many different stratagems he had kept the due rents flowing and maintained a balance in the common lands, but the servants recognized the effects of his schemes. What had once been veneration for their natural lords turned to fear for the one who walked among them secretly. His own servants became the object of scorn and vilification since his ways showed through their actions. In time, those servants who most fiercely insisted that there was but one nobleman began to call him the enemy of the rightful lord and the accuser of servants.  Nevertheless, the wealth continued to flow, and the nobles laughed at the ignorance of the commoners.

“Now over time, there were many servants who looked about them and thought, “what silly, ignorant people we are. We live in a valley where all good things exist, and yet we fight over the number and existence of an aristocracy that we never see. Truly, there is no aristocracy, or if there is they are impotent.” This in itself did not worry the lords, but this idea changed the servants. Many who believed this way spent their time not in working the land but in lying about and playing a game that they had devised for themselves.

“This game was an imitation of working the land, but it produced wealth neither for the servants nor for the nobility. Soon the due rents began to dwindle, whatever schemes could be devised, and the lords of the land began to grow concerned. Then, even those who professed a belief in one noble began playing the game more often than they worked the land, and the aristocracy began to worry.  When, through their ignorance, the game-players began to foul the valley, choke the forests, and destroy the cliffs, the lords of the land decided that the time had come for action …”

“Let the tale have an end,” said Cú.

“Let your own see it’s completion,” said Macha.

“Will you not tell me the ending?” said Cú.

“I will not,” said Macha.

“Can you see the ending?” said Cú.

“I can see the need for your true judgment,” said Macha.

“Then let its end be the same as my own,” said Cú. “I will build a great, magnificent fort near the Sí at Bile na bhFilidh, and you will bear me three sons.”

“I will bear you two sons and a daughter,” said Macha, “and your daughter’s name will be Sorchae Solustar Lésbaire, but your sons will be twins and their names will not follow them until they have performed three great feats. In what way will you build this fort?” said she.

“I will build it with two great courts” he said, “and a forecourt with a broad, stone fence as tall as a man and half again as wide. I will plant two great oaks at its entrance, and two rowan trees at its exit. East and West shall be its doors, and seven beds shall it have.”

“No indeed, a Chúcu,” said she, “but it will have one great court, central and well viewed, with five other, lesser courts upon it. It shall have one great hall and three tall, stately towers of bedecked rooms and silken sheets. Six doors will there be into the hall and eight beds within for wayfarers and commoners alike. Forecourts shall it have three: one to the South opening into the great forest of Sleibh Cuilleann, one to the West opening down onto the sea, and one to the North all enclosed save for the sky. Twelve trees, tall and stately (dá bhile dheug buadach ’s dealbhach), will stand in this court: three oaks, a birch, an ash, a thorn and a yew. Two rowan trees and two holly trees moreover shall grow in that forecourt open under the spreading sky.

“The twelfth tree shall grow of its own accord and shall not be touched until the coming of the cuckoo bird in a man’s form travelling in a wooden egg with the green gander’s chick, bringing with him slings of iron and bronze. Three flocks fly with him: a flock of hawks, a flock of sparrows and a flock of starlings, and the geese of Ireland will fly before him to the West and to the East.”

“A hard, marvelous vision,” said Cú.

“Not true indeed,” said Macha, “for your people and kindreds will have been driven already from the fort, and they will have travelled East but will seize a new land in the West.”

“And will my people ever return to the fort of their forebears?” said Cú.

“Not unless they look upon the daughter of Midir’s wife as she walks with my sons, calling to them with your grandfather’s tongue. Then will they enter Dun Mhic Eoin as champions and behold the greatness of the Síl Srianmhór.”

“What materials will you use to build your fort, a Chúcu?” she said.

“Fire and Earth, Wood and Water,” he said.

“No indeed,” she said.” You will build it of stone and mortar, lime and blood, wool and rushes, wood and bitumen, oil and linen, and beyond these it will be without iron but bronze and silver will be your materials …”

It goes on from there, but I do not want to give too much away. Any feedback will be most appreciated.


3 responses to “The Hector Cycle II: Aisling Con Choillchaille (Excerpt)

  1. Great dialogue, and intriguing allegories. Pretty spare in descriptive detail, but perhaps you’ve intended that to conform to an old style of story-telling. I did find myself wishing for some crumb to let me know something of what they looked like.

    • Thanks for the kind words! Yes, it’s in direct imitation of thirteenth-century Irish storytelling tradition. I know that there’s some inconsistencies using that as a pattern, and the allegory as it stands right now shows a lot of influence from my Christian upbringing, but I’m pretty happy with the way that it’s turning out. There are a few grammatical hiccoughs as well that need sorting out (e.g. Ban-Dair na mBadb Dubha as opposed to Ban-Dair na Badb Dubha), but I doubt too many people will catch them.

      The biggest difference between their style and ours would be, I would say, the lack of description. I offer more in the beginning, but it will still be fairly terse for modern readers. Thanks again!

  2. Khaire Garbhchu!

    Once again, thank you for answering the call to develop and share our own modern mythologies! Yours is a somewhat unfamiliar path for me, but reading your myth gives me greater insight and a visceral feeling of participating. I feel like a guest in your house listening to the story as you tell it. May the moũsai continue to bless your efforts with inspiration and poetic delivery!


    ‘Αλεξανδρα Δοροθια βωνδ
    Helleneste kai Grammateus

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