The First Battle of Moy Tura
And so it was when dragons still flew and champions walked the earth that the men of the Fir Bolg had lordship over all of Ireland. They had left Ireland centuries before due to the violence and heavy tribute demanded by the Fomorians, travelling far and wide until they came to the distant land of Greece.
Although they made agreement and treaty with those who dwelt there, they were only given hard rocks and broken land for their homes. Undaunted, they bore enormous bags of soil to their new land and made green and smiling fields of them, but when their neighbours saw the depth of clover and fertile crops they had planted they were moved on again, until they tired of this and decided to return to Ireland in ships made of their soilbags, but not forgetting to repay the Greeks their sentiments by raiding and burning their cities first!
On these woven ships they travelled across the ocean back to Ireland, through tempest and storm, and when they arrived they divided the land up among themselves, living in peace and prosperity for thirty years. This was around the same time as the children of Israel were leaving Egypt's serpentine empire.
One morning Eochaid, the High King of the Fir Bolg awoke from a dream, and he was deeply troubled, afire with fever and cold with night sweats. Summoning his great wizard Cesard the King asked him the meaning of his vision.
"I saw a great flock of black birds," said the king, "coming from the depths of the ocean. They settled over all of us, and fought with the people of Ireland. They brought confusion on us, and destroyed us. One of us, methought, struck the noblest of the birds and cut off one of its wings. " And so saying he implored the Druid prince to reveal by his rituals and sciences what this meant.
This is what Cesard did, and he returned to the king with grim tidings. "Warriors are coming across the sea," he said, "a thousand heroes covering the ocean; speckled ships will press in upon us. All kinds of death they announce, a people skilled in every art, a magic spell, an evil spirit will come upon you, signs to lead you astray and they will be victorious in every contention."
It was then that all the land was covered in a smoke and fog, broiling clouds covered Ireland until the sun itself shone dull and red like the watchful eye of a bloody god, and this was the sign of the Tuatha Dé Dannan, who had burned their mighty fleet of ships when they landed.
And what can we say of the Tuatha Dé Dannan? Themselves sons of Nemed and sons of Ireland, they had travelled abroad and had many adventures. They were renowned for their beauty and grace, they prospered till their fame spread far and wide over the waters and lands. They had a powerful Druid of their own, whose name was the Great Dagda or Dagda Mor. Their kings and princes were fierce and bold, skilled and unrelenting, greatly experienced in the military methods of many nations. Wise was their attitude and distinguished their arms and armour, their music was skillful and their gifts many.
They came and settled in the red hills of Brefne in Connacht, their hearts filled with gladness for having come home at last.
The Fir Bolg knew little and less of these numerous arrivals and so they determined to send someone to investigate and talk with them. Sreng was selected from among their number for he had a face like a flint cliff and was the sort of fellow who'd be like to go through you for a shortcut, although his heart in truth was wise and fair. Strapping on his weapons, armour and shield he went forth to meet the Tuatha.
Bres the handsome, son of Elatha, saw this great lump of a man coming his way and went out to meet him. They spoke and their hearts were gladdened for their tongue was the same, having come from the same line of people.
And Sreng said to Bres, "My flesh and my tongue were gladdened at your pleasant cheerful language, as you recounted the genealogies from Nemed downwards. By origin our two peoples are as brothers; our race and kin are descended from Semeon. This is the proper time to bear it in mind, if we are, in flesh and blood, of the same distinguished race as you."
"Humble your pride, let your hearts draw nigher, be mindful of your brotherhood, prevent the destruction of your own men. High is our temper, lordly our pride and fierce against our foes; you shall not abate it. Should our peoples meet, it will be a gathering where many will be crushed; let him who will bring entertainment, ‘tis not he that will amuse them."
Bres took note of his words and asked him to remove his shield and helm, that he may see the face of the man who spoke so. Sreng removed his helmet and showed Bres his weapons. "And what do you make of these?" he asked.
"I see," said Bres, "huge weapons, broad-pointed, stout and heavy, mighty and keen-edged."
"Woe to him whom they should smite, woe to him at whom they shall be flung, against whom they shall be cast they will be instruments of oppression. Death is in their mighty blows, destruction in but one descent of them. Wounds are their hard plying, overwhelming is the horror of them."
"What do you call them?" said Bres. "Battle javelins are these," said Sreng.
"They are good weapons," said Bres, "bruised bodies they mean, gushing gore, broken bones and shattered shields, sure scars and present plague. Death and eternal blemish they deal, sharp, foe-like, and deadly are your weapons, and there is fury for fratricide in the hearts of the hosts whose weapons they are."
And so the two sat and talked into the night, sharing their stories and their friendship with one another. As the dawn broke in the east they exchanged weapons that their fellows might have a good look at them and parted ways. Streng had to know of course what the Dé Dannan wanted.
"Tell the Fir Bolg," said Bres, "that they must give my people either battle or half of Ireland."
"On my word," said Sreng, "I should prefer to give you half of Ireland than to face your weapons." And so they parted peacefully, on good terms.
When Bres got back to the camp of the Tuatha they were in wonder of the spear he showed them as well as Bres' description of Sreng as a warlike, fearless and hard man, and not a little concerned. So they decided to move camp to the black hill called Sliabh Belgadain, and from its strong summit they laid hold of Ireland.
From that hilltop went forth the Badb and Macha and the Morrigan, to the knoll of the taking of hostages and to the holy heart of Ireland itself in Tara, and they rained down upon the Fir Bolg showers of blood and stinging rains of fire, clouds of dense mist and sorcery, so the Fir Bolg knew no peace for three days and nights.
"Aren't we badly off," said the Fir Bolg, that our own sorcerers are powerless against this magic!" But Cesard and his companions Fathach, Gnathach and Ingnathach stood up and said "Worry not! We will protect you." And they put an end to the Tuatha's sorcery.
But the battle had only started!
The Fir Bolg came from all around, eleven great hosts against the seven of the Tuatha, and they drew up on the plain of Moy Nia. The Tuatha sent poets and druids to the Fir Bolg, to the very High King himself, and gave him their terms. It was half of Ireland they wanted and not an inch less.
The Fir Bolg spoke among themselves and rumbled and discussed, but the prevailing opinion was that if these arrivals were given half, they'd end up owning the place, so the Fir Bolg told them to go to hell.
Truth be told though neither side was fully set up for battle so they cried off until they had arms readied and armour repaired and clothing cut for the conflict. The Fir Bolg made the venomous javelins of the Tuatha Dé Dannan and the Dé Dannan in turn made the broad rending spears of the Fir Bolg. While they were awaiting the production of their weapons they built them two forts, one on either side of the plain, surrounded by a deep trench and sharpened stones, within which lay a well of healing. The Fir Bolg fort was called the fort of the bloody pool and the Tuatha fort was called the fort of onsets.
It took six weeks all in all for the preparations to be completed, during which time the Fir Bolg challenged the Tuatha Dé Dannan to a game of hurling. Brutal and fierce it was with broken legs, arms and heads, and the casualties were buried under the Cairn of the Match.
In midsummer on the appointed day of battle, the two hosts rode out and the poets wept to see their beauty and might, wept for the waste and needless death that the dark gods would drink of from that struggle. The fair limbs of the dé Dannan youth would be broken, the engraved swords of the Fir Bolg would be shattered, many a head would roll.
Shields locked and swords drawn sparkling in the morning sunlight, the Tuatha were packed so tightly that they even wounded one another, and the Dagda led them with ruin and devastation to his left and his right, slaying a hundred and fifty by his own hand. Cirb of the Fir Bolg struck back, pressing hard and pushing the Tuatha from the plain over the course of a day long battle. Many duels were fought and many brave young men lay headless on that red plain when the sun went down.
Each warrior of the Fir Bolg brought back a stone and a head to his king, which they piled into a tall cairn, and their wounded went into the healing pool's thick green waters, upon which the druids and wizards scattered healing herbs so that each man arose whole and fresh, leaving not even a scar to show his wounds.
Upon the morning the two armies faced one another again. Strong, mighty blows were dealt by the warriors on either side, and the bosses of shields were broken as they vigorously parried blows, while the heroes showed their fury, and the warriors their courage. Their spears were twisted by the continual smiting. In the melee their blades broke broke on splintered bones, the fearsome battle-cries of the veterans were drowned in the multitude of agonised shouts. The magicians, wizards and druids cast cunning spells from their pillars, to dismay and confound their foes.
When night fell the Fir Bolg had had the worst of it, although they still managed to bring a head and a stone to their high king.
"Is it you that have been beaten today?" said the king. "Yes," said Cirb, "but that will not profit them." By this he meant that the Fir Bolg had taken a heavy toll for their retreat, and the victory must taste bitter in the mouths of the Tuatha Dé Dannan.
On the dreadful third day of battle, the worst was yet to come. At dawn the Tuatha gathered in their fort and asked who would lead. Dagda mór leapt upon a boulder and said "I shall, for in me you have an excellent warrior!" Not a man for the false modesty, our Dagda, nor should he have been for such folk as these hold no boast against a man as long as he could stand behind it. So they assembled at their side of the plain, brothers, fathers and sons, and they beheld an astonishing sight before them.
The Fir Bolg were dragging out pillars and wooden props to the battlefield, so that even if they were wounded sorely they might still stand and fight. It is for this reason that Moy Nia is known to this very day as Moy Tura, the plain of towers.
Well, they set to it with a will! The Dagad on his end laying down wrath and ruin, and Cirb the Fir Bolg on the other, carving up the battlefield between them until they met in the middle and strove with great savagery and blows that shook the heavens. All day they did battle until at the end, after the sun had set, Dadga finally struck the head from Cirb and that was that. The Fir Bolg were thrashed all the way back to their fort, and the Tuatha took back Cirb's head and many another's as well as their pillars with them.
The mood was grim and glum in the Fir Bolg camp, with their mightiest warrior dead their hearts were heavy with grief and anger. The suddenly from the gloaming night came Fintan the wise and his thirteen warriors, fell handed and fierce, the mightiest men of battle in all of Ireland, so the Fir Bolg grew lighter of step, certain that the tide would turn.
Fathach the poet of the Fir Bolg bore witness to the brutality the two sides inflicted on one another the following day. A flaming mass was the battle, full of changing hues, many braveries and bloodied gauntlets, of swordplay and single combats, of venomous spears and gory swords and javelins, fierce it was and merciless, wedged close and tightly ranked, furious and far-flung, ebbing and flowing with many embloodied adventures. The sons of Fintan fell and their killers killed in turn.
Their seers and wise men climbed up onto pillars and high places, weaving their sorcery, while the poets took note of the feats and wrote down tales of them. As for Nuada, he was in the centre of the fight, as was Sreng, and the bodies and blood pooled about them. And Fathach wrote these words:
"Swiftly advance the hosts marshalling on Mag Nia their resistless might; ‘tis the Tuatha De that advance and the Fir Bolg of the speckled swords. Methinks the Fir Boig will lose some of their brothers there—many will be the bodies and heads and gashed flanks on the plain. But though they fall on every side, fierce and keen will be their onset; though they fall, they will make others to fall, and heroes will be laid low by their impetuous valour."
"Thou hast subdued the Fir Bolg; they will fall there by the side of their shields and their blades; I will not trust to the strength of any one so long as I shall be in stormy Ireland. I am Fathach, the poet; strongly has sorrow vanquished me, and now, that the Fir Bolg are gone, I shall surrender to the swift advance of disaster."
The furies and monsters and hags of doom cried aloud so that their voices were heard in the rocks and waterfalls and in the hollows of the earth. It was like the fearful agonising cry on the last dreadful day when the human race will part from all in this world.
The Fir Bolg fixed their pillars in the ground to prevent any one fleeing till the stones should flee. The Tuatha lunged at them with their keen sharp spears, till the stout shafts were twisted through the quivering of the victims on their points. The edges of the swords turned on the lime-covered shields. The curved blades were tempered in boiling pools of blood in the thighs of warriors. Loud was the singing of the lances as they cleft the shields, loud the noise and din of the fighters as they battered bodies and broke bones in the rear. Boiling streams of blood took the sight from the grey eyes of resolute warriors.
It was then that Bres made an onset on the Fir Bolg army, and killed one hundred and fifty of them. He struck nine blows on the shield of Eochaid the High-king, and Eochaid, in his turn, dealt him nine wounds. Sreng turned his face to the army of the Tuatha De, and slew one hundred and fifty of them. He struck nine blows on the shield of the High-king Nuada, and Nuada dealt him nine wounds.
Each dealt dire blows of doom, making great gory wounds on the flesh of the other, till under their grooved blades shields and spears, heads and helmets broke like the brittle branches hacked with hatchets wielded by the stout arms of woodsmen. Heroes swayed to this side and that, each circling the other as they sought opportunity for a blow. The battle champions rose again over the rims of their emblazoned shields.
Their courage grew, and the valiant men became steadfast as an arch. Their hands shot up with their swords, and they fenced swiftly about the heads of warriors, hacking their helmets. For a moment they thrust back the ranks of the enemy from their places, and at the sight of them the hosts wavered like the water flung far over its sides by a kettle through excess of boiling, or the flood that, like a water-fall, an army splashes up over a river’s banks, making it passable for their troops behind them.
So a suitable space was cleared for the chiefs; the heroes yielded them their places, and agile combatants their stations; warriors were dislodged by them, and the serving-men fled for horror of them. To them was left the battle. Heavily the earth was trodden under their feet till the hard turf grew soft beneath them. Each of them inflicted thirty wounds on the other.
Sreng dealt a blow with his sword at Nuada, and, cutting away the rim of his shield, severed his right arm at the shoulder; and the king’s arm with a third of his shield fell to the ground. It was then that the High-king called aloud for help, and Aengaba of Norway, hearing him, entered the fray to protect him. Fierce and furious was the attack Aengaba and Sreng made on each other.
Each inflicted on his opponent an equal number of wounds, but they were not comparable as an exchange, for the broad blade of Sreng’s lance and his stout spear-shaft dealt deeper, deadlier sounds. As soon as the Dagda heard the music of the swords in the battle-stress, he hastened to the place of conflict with deliberate bounds, like the rush of a great waterfall. Sreng declined a contest with the two warriors; and though Aengaba of Norway did not fall there, it was from the violence of that conflict that he afterwards died.
Eochaid king of the Fir Bolg wrought mightily in his battle fury, but grew thirsty with slaying and went to drink from the strand of Eothail. There three men came upon him and slew him, but he in turn killed them too, including Nuada's own son, and the princes of the Fir Bolg fell there also.
The Dagda came and stood over Nuada, and, after the Tuatha De had taken counsel, he brought fifty soldiers, with their physicians. They carried Nuada from the field. His hand was raised in the king’s stead on the fold of valour, a fold of stones surrounding the king, and on it the blood of Nuada’s hand trickled.
The evil day was done and night's dark shadow covered them all.
The Fir Bolg were sore wounded and heartsick that night, full of heavy reproaches, weary and in deep despair, and they took counsel as to whether they should surrender the country to the Tuatha, leave Ireland entirely, or offer one last ferocious fight. Their anger grew and burned brightly as they raised tombs over soldiers, mounds over brave men, graves over warriors and hills over heroes, and they resolved to fight on, one last day. Sreng the mighty agreed although he was filled with sorrow that events had come to this pass.
He lamented "Resistance is destruction for men; we resolutely gave battle, there was clashing of hard swords, the strong plying of spears on the sides of noble warriors, and the breaking of buckler on shield. Full of trouble are the plains of Ireland, disaster we found about its woods, the loss of many good men."
So in the morning they set out on one final glorious charge, rending and tearing all before them, wild and fiery!
It was then that Sreng challenged Nuada to single combat, as they had fought in the previous battle. Nuada faced him bravely and boldly as if he had been whole, and said:
"If single combat on fair terms be what you seek, fasten your right hand, as I have lost mine; only so can our combat be fair."
"If you have lost your hand, that lays me under no obligations," said Sreng, "for our first combat was on fair terms. We ourselves so took up the quarrel." The Tuatha De took counsel, and their decision was to offer Sreng his choice of the provinces of Ireland, while a compact of peace, goodwill, and friendship should be made between the two peoples.
And so they make peace, and Sreng chooses the province of Connacht. The Fir Bolg gathered round him from every side, and stubbornly and triumphantly took possession of the province against the Tuatha De. The Tuatha De made Bres their king, and he was High-king for seven years.
And this is the story of the plain of Moy Tura Cunga, which can be found today in the surrounds of Cong in the province of Connacht in Ireland.
Marked on the map below is the actual site of the first battle of Moy Tura. If you'd like to visit you can find a good list of hotels, B&Bs and other accommodation here. 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!
You can also read a fine book about the first battle of Moy Tura here, and it's a real page turner.