This, now, is the story of the two bulls, the Brown of Cuailgne, and the White-horned of Cruachan Ai, and this is the way it was with them- for they were not right bulls, but there was enchantment on them.
In the time long ago Bodb was king of the Sidhe of Munster, and it is in Femen, of Slieve-na-man he was, and Ochall Ochne was king of the Sidhe of Connaught, and it is in Cruachan he used to be. They used at one time to be fighting one against the other, but afterwards they made peace, and were good friends. Now Bodb had a swineherd, whose name was Friuch, and Ochall had a swineherd whose name was Rucht, and they were friendly with one another the same as their masters. And they had the knowledge of enchantments, and could turn themselves to every shape. And when there was a great plenty of mast in Munster, the swineherd from Connaught would bring his lean swine to the south, and in the same way, when mast was plentiful in Connaught, the swineherd would bring his swine northward, and would bring them home again fat.
But after a while some bad feeling rose up between the two, for the men of Connaught and the men of Munster began to set them one against the other. So one year when there was great mast in Munster, and Rucht brought his herd from Connaught, so soon as his comrade Friuch had bade him welcome, he said:
“The people are all saying your power is greater than mine”.
“It is no less any way”, said Ochall’s herd.
“We will soon know that,” said Friuch. “I will put an enchantment on your swine, and even though they eat their share of mast, they will not be fat, like mine will be”. And so it happened, he put an enchantment on the Connaught swine, and when Rucht went home with them they could hardly walk at all, they were so thin and so weak, and all the people were laughing at the state they were in.
“It was a bad day for you, you went to the South,” they said, “for your comrade has greater power than what you have.”
“That is not so,” said he. “Wait till it is our turn to have mast, and I will play the same trick on him”.
So the next year he did as he had said, and the Munster swine pined away, so that every one said their power was the same. And when Bodb’s swineherd went back home to Munster with his lean swine, his master put him out of the place. And Ochall put his herd out of his place as well, because of the swine coming back in so bad a state from Munster.
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One day, two full years after that, the men of Munster were gathered together near Femen, and they took notice of two ravens that were making a great cawing.
“What a noise those birds have been making all through the year!” they said. “They never stop scolding at one another.” Just then Findell, Ochall’s steward from Cruachan, came towards them on the hill, and they bade him welcome.
“What a noise those birds are making!” he said; “any one would think them to be the same two birds we had in Cruachan last year.” With that, they saw the two ravens change into the shape of men, and they knew them to be the two swineherds, and they bade them welcome. “It is not right you to welcome us,” said Bodb’s swineherd, “for there will be many dead bodies of friends, and much crying on account of us two.”
“What has happened you all through this time?” they asked.
“Nothing good,” he said. “Since we went from you we have been all the time in the shape of birds, and you saw the way we were scolding at one another all through this year. And we were quarrelling in the same way the whole of last year at Cruachan, and the men of the North and of the South have seen what our power is. And now,” he said, “we will go into the shape of water beasts, and be under the water for the length of two years.” And with that one of them went into the Sionnan, and the other into the Suir, and they were seen for a year in the Suir, and for a year in the Sionnan, and they devouring one another.
And one day the men of Connaught had a great gathering at Ednecha, on the Sionnan, and they saw these two beasts in the river; each one of them looked to be as big as the top of a hill, and they made such a furious attack on one another that fiery swords seemed to be coming from their jaws, and the people came round them on every side. They came out of the Sionnan then, and as soon as they touched the shore, they changed again into the shape of the two swineherds. Ochall bade them welcome.
“Where have you been wandering?” he asked them. “Indeed it is tired we are with our wanderings,” they said. “You saw what we were doing before your eyes, and that is what we were doing through these two years, under seas and waters. And now we must take new shapes on us, till we try one another’s strength again.” And with that they went away.
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It happened a good while after that there was a great gathering of the men of Connaught at Loch Riach, for Bodb was coming on a friendly visit to Ochall. And Bodb brought a great troop with him, the most splendid ever seen; speckled horses they had, and green cloaks with silver brooches, and shoes with clasps of red bronze, and every one of them had a collar of gold, with a stone worth a newly-calved cow set in it. When Ochall saw what grand clothes and horses they had, he called to his people secretly, and asked could they match Bodb’s people in dress and in horses and aims, and they said they could not. Then Ochall said: “That is a pity, and our great name is lost.” But just then a troop of men were seen coming from the North, and black horses with them, that you would think had been cast up by the sea, and bridle-bits of gold in their mouths. And the men bad black-grey cloaks, and a gold brooch at the breast of each, and a white tunic with crimson stripes, and fifty coils of bright gold round every man. And every man of them had black hair, as smooth as if a cow had licked it. And they stopped a little way off, and then the men of Connaught stood up and gave up their place to them. There was a Druid from Britain there, and when be saw them make way he said: “From this out, to the end of life and time, the Connaught men will be under the yoke, attending on hounds and on Sons of kings and queens for ever.”
Then after they bad been feasting for a while, Bodb asked could any Connaught man be found that would fight against his champion Rinn, that was with him, and that had a great name, but no one knew where he came from. And at first there could no one be found, but then a strange champion came out from among the men of Connaught, and he said, “I will go against him.”
“That is no welcome news,” said Rinn. Then they fought against one another for three days and three nights, and before the end of that time the two armies began to join into the fight, and a troop came from Leinster and joined with Bodb, and another troop came from Meath and joined with Ochall. And four kings were killed there, and Ochall among them, and then Bodb went back to Slieve-naman. But as to the two champions, they were seen no more, and it was known they were the two swineherds. After that they were for two years with the appearance of shadows, threatening one another, the way that many people died of fright after seeing them.
And after that, they were in the shape of eels, and one went into the river Cruind, in Cuailgne; and after a while a cow belonging to Daire, son of Fachna, drank it down. And the other went into the Spring of Uaran Garad, in Connaught; and one day Maeve went out to the spring, and a small bronze vessel in her hand, and she dipped it in the water, and the little eel went into it, and every colour was to be seen on him. And she was a long time looking at him, she thought the colours so beautiful. Then the water went away, and the eel was alone in the vessel.
“It is a pity you cannot speak to me,” said Maeve.
“What is it you want to know?” said the eel.
“I would like to know what way it is with you in that shape of a beast,” she said; “and I would like to know what will happen me after I get the sway over Connaught.”
“Indeed it is a tormented beast I am,” he said, “and it is in many shapes I have been. And as to yourself,” he said, “handsome as you are, you should take a good man to be with you in your sway.”
“I have no wish,” said Maeve, “to let a man of Connaught get the upper hand over me,” and with that she went home again.
But she married Ailell after that, and as for the eel, he was swallowed down by one of Maeve’s cows that came to drink at the spring.
And it was from that cow, and from the cow that belonged to Daire, son of Fachna, the two bulls were born, the White-horned and the Brown. They were the finest ever seen in Ireland, and gold and silver were put on their horns by the men of Ulster and Connaught. In Connaught no bull dared bellow before the White-horned, and in Ulster no bull dared bellow before the Brown.
As to the Brown, he that had been Friuch, the Munster swineherd, his lowing when he would be coming home every evening to his yard was good music to the people of the whole of Cuailgne. And wherever he was, neither Bocanachs nor Bananachs nor witches of the valley, could come into the one place with him. And it was on account of him the great war broke out.
Now, when Maeve saw at Ilgairech that the battle was going against her, she sent eight of her own messengers to bring away the Brown Bull, and his heifers. “For whoever goes back or does not go back,” she said, “the Brown Bull must go to Cruachan.”
Now when the Brown Bull came into Connaught, and saw the beautiful trackless country before him, he let three great loud bellowings out of him. As soon as the White-horned heard that, he set out for the place those bellowings came from, with his head high in the air.
Then Maeve said that the men of her army must not go to their homes till they would see the fight between the two bulls. And they all said some one must be put to watch the fight, and to give a fair report of it afterwards. And it is what they agreed, that Bricriu should be sent to watch it, because he had not taken any side in the war; for he had been through the whole length of it under care of physicians at Cruachan, with the dint of the wound he got the day he vexed Fergus, and that Fergus drove the chessmen into his head. “I will go willingly,” said Bricriu. So he went out and took his place in a gap, where he could have a good view of the fight.
As soon as the bulls caught sight of one another they pawed the earth so furiously that they sent the sods flying, and their eyes were like balls of fire in their heads; they locked their horns together, and they ploughed up the ground under them and trampled it, and they were trying to crush and to destroy one another through the whole length of the day.
And once the White-horned went back a little way and made a rush at the Brown, and got his horn into his side, and he gave out a great bellow, and they rushed both together through the gap where Bricriu was, the way he was trodden into the earth under their feet. And that is how Bricriu of the bitter tongue, son of Cairbre, got his death.
Then when the night was coming on, Cormac Conloingeas took hold of a spear-shaft, and he laid three great strokes on the Brown Bull from head to tail,and he said: “This is a great treasure to be boasting of, that cannot get the better of a calf of his own age.” When the Brown Bull heard that insult, great fury came on him, and he turned on the White-horned again. And all through the night the men of Ireland were listening to the sound of their bellowing, and they going here and there, all through the country.
On the morrow, they saw the Brown Bull coming over Cruachan from the west, and be carrying what was left of the White-horned on his horns. Then Maeve’s sons, the Maines, rose up to make an attack on him on account of the Connaught bull he had destroyed. “Where are those men going?” said Fergus. “They are going to kill the Brown Bull of Cuailgne.” “By the oath of my people,” said Fergus, “if you do not let the Brown Bull go back to his own country in safety, all he has done to the White-horned is little to what I wilt do now to you.”
Then the Brown Bull bellowed three times, and set out on his way. And when became to the great ford of the Sionnan he stopped to drink, and the two loins of the White-horned fell from his horns into the water. And that place is called Ath-luain, the ford of the loin, to this day. And its liver fell in the same way into a river of Meath, and it is called Ath-Truim, the ford of the liver to this day.
Then he went on till he came to the top of Slieve Breagh, and when be looked from it he saw his own home, the hills of Cuailgne; and at the sight of his own country, a great spirit rose up in him, and madness and fury came on him, and he rushed on, killing everyone that came in his way.
And when he got to his own place, he turned his back to a hilt and he gave out a loud bellowing of victory. And with that his heart broke in his body, and blood came bursting from his mouth, and he died.
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Source: Cuchulain of Muirthemne, London 1902.