Nera and the Hill of Cruachan
King Aillil, husband to Queen Medb whose famous cattle raid started a war with Cú Chulainn, was deep in his cups as the sun set on Samhain night, red and cloud-torn over the ancient fortress of Rathcroghan. Bothered by the whispering winds, he took a notion that it would be a good test of courage if one of his warriors would go out and put a wicker knot on the ankle of a gallowed corpse, and promised a sword of solid gold to the one who did.
Now you might think there wasn't much danger in bothering a corpse, but on Samhain night it was said among the old people of Ireland that the dead had power and could walk again, especially in that place, so not a man stirred or raised his head save only for Nera, warrior of Connachta.
Boldly he set forth, his way lit only by a guttering rushlight, and he found the swinging body, upon which he set the wicker ring. Stepping back to admire his handiwork, he almost fell tail over top when the corpse kicked, asking for a cup of water in a croak like an old door opening!
Not wanting to offend the revenant and understanding that being hanged could be a thirsty business, Nera agreed and hefted the body up on his back, where it clung fast. He set off as quickly as he could towards the nearest house, but didn't it erupt in flames as he approached.
Shielding his face with his hands, he was spurred by the corpse like jockey on a horse to the next house, but it sank immediately into the waters of the lake upon which it sat!
"There's your water, " muttered Nera, but the claws of the body dug into his neck.
"A cup," it cursed, "a cup! I am no bullock to lap the living lough!"
So onwards they went, until at length, when the fear was growing on Nera as his rushlight was near to gone, they came to a house and entered. An old couple within bade them worried welcome and gave the hanged man a cup, from which he drank three times. Upon swallowing the third, what did he do but spit out the lot onto the old people, who died on the spot, clutching their faces.
"What did you do," cried Nera, "didn't they give you your water!"
"I was not hanged for my courteous nature," said the corpse, and so Nera brought him back to where he belonged on the gallows. Heaving a sigh of relief that the ordeal was over, he set off towards to Rathcroghan, but fell into a deep hole in the darkness, finding his way out only by a strange light which beckoned him on.
When he emerged into that Samhain night, he saw before him a great fire blazing and the whole hall in ruins, heads cut off everyone, and a rampaging Sidhe army red with slaughter howling through the once-fair streets! Night-mares and great ravens capered amid the blackened beams and sightless eyes stared aghast from coal-cairns.
Weeping with horror, he followed the fairy folk into their deep mound when they were done with their deadly business, setting foot only where they had stepped and repeating their passwords, until he came to a green and warm land.
There he met a woman of the fairy people and forgot at once his anger and sorrow, staying with her for what seemed like an endless summer, carrying her wood and lighting her fire, until a spark caught on his finger one evening and it all came back to him in a rush. Hands shaking with rage he swore his vengeance on the fairies but she calmed him, telling him that he had seen but a vision, and if he warned King Aillil the warriors of Connachta could destroy the fairy mound before they themselves were attacked next Samhain.
She put a summer flower in his hair and kissed him farewell, bidding him to remember their love and the child he had given to her, and he fled the land of the young as quick as he could.
Well when he returned he found he had been gone only an hour, and the King scoffed at his wild stories, but then Nera remembered the flower in his hair, and he presented it to the king as proof. Upon seeing this, the King fell silent, holding up the flower in the firelight, and the very next day himself and his armies laid waste to the fairy mound, until not one stone stood upon another.
Nera, it is said, found his lady love before the King's cold iron fell, and they lived and loved happily ever after, which as we all know is rare enough in those or any times.
Shown on the map below is the fabled site of Rathcroghan. While you're enjoying this site you might enjoy a little Celtic and Irish music, or just the one or two songs if you're not interested in the whole albums. Don't forget you can get some very nice Irish jewelry for yourself or someone else as well, or for the craftier maybe make your own!
Further Tales from the Ulster Cycle
||The Death of Cuchulainn|
Cúchulainn, although still a young man, had made many powerful enemies, but none more bitter and dark than Queen Medb of Connaught, whose armies he had routed and whose ambitions he'd thwarted. Long into the dark nights of winter, year after year she brooded on the humiliations visited upon her, for undying is the wrath of a Queen.
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||Ferdiad Crosses the Ford|
Queen Medb had invaded Ulster and the lands of the north, thinking it would be an easy victory since the men of Ulster were crippled with birth pangs as a result of a curse place on them, but Cúchulainn had dogged her every step savagely.
Attacking her supply wagons, ambushing her men from the trees, burning tents at night, he fought sing ... [more]
||A Hero Is Born|
Queen Nessa had been known as a gentle and sweet natured woman when she was a maid, but through the hardships of the world she became cold and ruthless. Still, for all that she was still a rare beauty and an indomitable warrior, which many men find to be an irresistible combination!
And so it was with King Fergus Mac Ríoch, master of all ... [more]
||Cuchulainn Meets His Son|
They say the fury of a storm in a high tempest has nothing on the fury of a woman scorned, and few women have ever felt quite so scorned as Aoife the warrior-queen after she found out that her lover Cúchulainn had married another woman, Emer! She had borne a son for him, but in her wrath she decided to turn the child against him.
She spok ... [more]
||The Two Wives of Cuchulainn|
In the age of heroes, forgotten by all but the storytellers and the legend-weavers, when champions strode the land of Ireland, their halls and Duns now covered in moss, echoing to no songs but those of the blackbird and the red-breasted robin, the people of Ulster were gathered together for a great celebration at Emain Macha, the capital of Ulster. ... [more]
||Queen Medb Invades Ulster|
A quarrel arose between Queen Medb of Connacht and the King of Ulster regarding who had the most wealth, but all of his men were cursed with the pains of a pregnant woman giving birth so they couldn't ride out to meet her marching army. Only Cúchulainn who had the blood of the Sidhe running through his veins could even walk, let alone fi ... [more]
||Cuchulainn Becomes a Warrior|
Cathbad the Druid was well known throughout the lands of Ireland for his subtle skill and cunning ways, he could make birds speak the language of men and the very stones themselves sing, it was said! But like all Druids, he could also tell the portents of the day, as the ripples may be seen from a rock cast into a still pool in the deepest forest.
||The Naming of Emain Macha|
Cruinniuc was a farmer in the northern part of Ireland back in the days of legend, and often legends are told of heroes and their mighty deeds, but this tale is about humbler folk who change the path of history nonetheless.
Cruinniuc wasn't a bad sort but his life had been struck with ill fortune for years – his wife had passed away an ... [more]
||The Trials of Cuchulainn|
The chariot games in Ireland of old were a great event – the mightiest of kings, warriors, princes and champions from around the world would travel from afar to watch and join the fiercely contested races. Each man and his team of horses would thunder round the track, and the cheers of the onlookers would shake the hills.
And so it was for ... [more]
||How Cuchulainn Was Named|
It was the time of heroes in ancient Ireland, when giants walked the land, before Fionn MacCumhaill had sent the seven shadows of the Glen back to their dark and restless sleep with his flashing sword, and even before his son Oisín had slain the worm of the lakes, when Setanta was young.
He it was who became one of the mightiest heroes of ... [more]
||Nera and the Hill of Cruachan|
King Aillil, husband to Queen Medb whose famous cattle raid started a war with Cú Chulainn, was deep in his cups as the sun set on Samhain night, red and cloud-torn over the ancient fortress of Rathcroghan. Bothered by the whispering winds, he took a notion that it would be a good test of courage if one of his warriors would go out and put a ... [more]
||The Feast of Bricriu|
Bricriu of the venomous tongue he was called, and well named indeed he was, for he loved nothing better than to cause trouble and spread rumours and half-truths to unsettle people. As such he decided to hold a great feast, although he knew that by his reputation few would be interested in attending, so he made a special effort to entice them.
He ... [more]
One of the most famed legends of old is that of the war that was fought over the Brown Bull of Cualgne. Now while it might seem an odd thing for us today to think of a war fought over a bull, the matter is not so simple as it might seem, and the bull was no ordinary bull either! For it was in the time of Cú Chulainn, the hound of Chulainn, t ... [more]