Cúchullain and Emer

Cuchullain's Wooing of Emer

As was their wont, if the men of Ulster were not at battle with an enemy, they were practising for it, or talking and boasting of it, or just dreaming of the glory of it. There they were one quietish night, with the king Conchobor Mac Neasa, at Eamain Macha, showing off their prowess at it, and at feasting, which was another thing they excelled at. Conchobor had possession of the legendary vat Ol nGuala, which could hold one hundred mesures of their favourite coal-black drink, more than enough to fill and fall the warriors assembled therein.

This night they had strung cords the length of the house, tied from the beams above one door and stretching two hundred and five feet to the other door. Among the jousters were Conall Cernach, the triumphant, son of Amergin; Fergus mac Rioch, bravest of the brave; Laegaire Buadach the victorious, son of Connad; Celtchar mac Uthidir; Dubtach mac Lugdach; Cúchulainn mac Sualtim; and Scel, the son of Bairdene who was the doorkeeper of Eamain Macha, and after whom 'Bairdene's Pass' is named. They performrf the apple-feat and the feats of the sword-edge and javelin.

Cúchullain shamed them all with his vigour and nimbleness, and the men saw that the women of Ulster were warming over-much to him. This upset them, seeing their wives and intended brides flushed at the sight of him, jostling amongst themselves to get nearer him, applauding him and tossing ribald suggestions at him, and they then and there resolved to meet in secrecy and arrange a woman to take him under control. "A man with a wife of his own is less likely to ruin our daughters and steal our wives' ardour," they ageed. There was also the practical aspect: if a youth like Cúchullain was to die young, with no son, it would be a tragedy for all of Ulster.

Accordingly, Conchobor sent nine men into each of the provinces of Ireland to find the unwary Cúchullain a wife. After searching a year in every town and fort and village of note, they returned empty-handed. No king's daughter, nor noble's or landowner's daughter was found to be suitable.

Blissfully ignorant of the goings-on around him on his behalf, Cúchullain had found a girl, by name of Emer, the daughter of Forgall Monach the cunning. She lived at the Gardens of Lug - Luglochta Logo. He set out to woo her, accompanied by his chariot driver Laeg mac Riangabra.

Arriving at the gardens, he found her in the company of her foster-sisters who were the daughters of the landowners around Forgall's fort. Dismounting from the chariot, Cúchullain strode up to Emer, who recognised him. She faced him squarely with fire in her eyes and said:
"May your road be blessed!"
"May the apple of your eye see only good," he replied. Cuchullain felt his breath catch in his lungs at the sight of her breasts which revealed themselves over her bodice, and lapsed into riddle, the better to keep her foster-sisters in the dark.
"I see a sweet country, wherein I could rest my weapon." he said.
And Emer replied, "No man will travel this country you purvey until he has killed one hundred men at every ford between Scenmenn ford on the river Ailbine to Banchuing, where the frothy Brea makes the Fedelm leap."
"In that sweet country, regardless, I will rest my weapon."
And she said again "No man will travel this country until he has done the feat of the salmon leap carrying twice his weight in gold and struck down three groups of nine men with a single stroke, leaving the middle man of each nine unharmed."
"In that sweet country I'll rest my weapon," Cuchullain said.
"No man will travel this country," she said, " who hasn't gone sleepness from Samain, when the summer goes to its rest, until Imbolc, when the ewes are milked at spring's beginning; from Imbolc to Beltine at the summer's beginning and from Beltine to Bron Trogain, earth's sorrowing autumn."
"It is said and done," said Cuchullain, and he returned to his chariot and slept that night in Eamain Macha.

The foster-sisters told their fathers that evening of the raven warrior-youth, who had arrived in a magnificent chariot, and of how he and Emer had spoken in language they did not understand, and how he then left, going northwards across Breg Plain. The land-owners related their tale to Forgall Monach, who recognised Cúchulainn from the tales circulating around the land.
"It is that mad warped one," he said with distaste, "and I will have none such as him wooing my daughter. By my word, they shall not have what they're wanting."

The following day, dressed in Gaulish attire and with two of his assembly dressed likewise, he travelled to the court of Conchobor at Eamain. There he represented himself as an emissary from that land, and told Conchobor the Gaulish kings wished to send tribute to him in the form of gold and wine and other valuables. He and his men were made welcome and a banquet was held in his honour. The Ulster men performed feats of bravery and he supposed to marvel at them, though he said of Cúchulainn:
"He is a jewel above all others, I can see that plainly. If only, though, he were to be sent to train at Alba, to Domnall Mildemail the warlike, he would fight even more ferociously. And if he were to visit Scathach the Shadowy One, and studied the warrior's arts with her, he would surpass by far any other in Europe." It was in this manner that he wished to be rid of the threat of him, for it was unlikely that anybody would survive the trials of one, never mind both, of these characters.

Cúchulainn swore in his fervour that he would go immediately, and Forgall made him swear to it. This was done, and Forgall left for the Gardens of Lug the next morning a much happier man.

Next - Cúchualainn's Trialsnext