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Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Ulster Cycle
A Spear of Fire and Blood that Thirsted for Battle
Many and infamous were the weapons of the tribes of Ireland, and fierce the warriors who wielded them in battle, but few were as notorious as the spear of fire and poison, the Lúin Cheltchair, which thirsted for blood so much that it had to be kept in a cauldron of poison, held down with chains by four foreigners – for who would risk their family near such an implement?
It was said to have been found or made by the Tuatha De Dannan on the sorcerous battlefield of Moy Tura, and even the groaning stones of that place don't know whose hand first created it, nor who used it in battle! But the next we hear of the Lúin Cheltchair, it was put to work by the man whose name it bears.
Celtchar the grey, a tall and terrible hero of Ulster, who lived in that place we call the Mound of Down today, was one of the best known warriors of his day – but even he met his match in an argument with Cet mac Mágach, who wounded him in such a way that marital troubles were sure to ensue.
His wife, whose name was Findmór, took to travelling the countryside until she came to the hostel of a man called Blaí Briugu, he who had seven herds of cattle and seven score cattle in each herd. Now he had upon him a geas, or a kind of curse placed upon him and every Irish person at birth, which if broken would surely result in their death.
His curse was that he needed to share the bed of any woman who came to his hostel without her husband being present, and so despite his age and complaints, he did. But keeping his geas didn't spare him from the wrath of Celtchar, who came to his house afterwards and slew him with Lúin Cheltchair!
Celtchar fled the scene, but pursuit was hot on his heels, for Blaí Briugu was well loved and kept the close company of kings and chieftains, as did many of substantial means, and still do today.
In compensation, Celtchar was told he had to rid the land of three scourges – the first was a man whose skin was as hard as the horns of a bull, and no weapon could pierce it. Celtchar told his daughter to marry this impregnable warrior, whose name was Conganchnes Mac Dedad. So she did, and by doing so learned that his weak spot was beneath his feet, where his skin was a soft as a child's.
Well upon learning this, Celtchar had her cast an enchantment of sleeping on her husband, and he gathered a host of men who crept in one moonless night and hammered red-hot iron spikes into the feet of the sleeping Mac Dedad! And that was the end of him.
The second terror that was upon the land was a dog fed, bred and raised by a widow, and the dog's name was Luch Donn, or brown mouse. But no mouse was he, I can tell you, for he grew larger than a man at the shoulder, ate all her sheep and cattle, her sons, and then finally the widow herself! A great monster it had become, some say part sidhe, ravening the land without fear.
Neither had Celtchar any fear, and he devised a plan to deal with the brute. He took a log of alder and made a hollow through it which would just fit his arm, then boiled the log in honey, herbs and grease to make it irresistible. When the dog bite down on the log, its teeth got stuck, letting Celtchar pull its very heart from its chest! And that was the end of that.
The third scourge was also a dog, that had been found in the Mac Dedad's burial chamber. Although it was treate dwell enough, before long it escaped, and grew into an even larger bull of a beast than the other! Many people and livestock did it kill, but it knew Celtchar, and came to him when he called it.
With sadness in his heart he took his dreadful spear, the Lúin Cheltchair, and slew the dog, but when he raised the spear above his head in victory, with the point angled downwards, a drop of the poison and dog's blood fell from its tip and went through him like a hot needle through butter!
And that was the end of Celtchar.
But the story of his spear continued, as was written in one chronicle:
“The man in the centre had a great lance, with fifty rivets through it, and its shaft would be a load for a team of oxen. He brandished the lance until sparks as big as eggs all but flew from it, and then he struck the butt against his palm three times. Before them was a great food cauldron, large enough for a bullock, with an appalling dark liquid in it, and the man dipped the lance into the liquid. If not the lance was not quenched quickly, it blazed up over its shaft – you would have thought there was a roaring fire in the upper part of the house.”
And another tells it:
“And the lance that was in the hand of Dubthach, that was the Lúin of Celtchair son of Uthechar that was found at the Battle of Mag Tuired. Whenever the blood of enemies is about to flow from the lance, a cauldron full of venom is required to quench it; otherwise, the lance will blaze up in the fist of the man carrying it, and it will pierce him or the lord of the royal house.
Each thrust of this lance will kill a man, even if it does not reach him; if the lance is cast, it will kill nine men, and there will be a king or royal heir or plundering chieftain in their number. I swear by what my people swear by, the Lúin of Celtchar will serve drinks of death to a multitude tonight.”
It was borne by one of the warriors who assailed Queen Medb, who fought Cú Chulainn, and her guards spoke what they saw that night:
“A great warrior, his spear reaches to the height of his shoulder. When its spear-heat seizes it, he strikes the butt of the great spear across the palm, so that the fill of a sack-measure of fiery tinder-sparks bursts out over its blade and over its tip, when its spear-heat takes hold of it.
Before him there is a cauldron of black blood, of dreadful liquid, prepared by night by his sorcery from the blood of dogs and cats and druids, in order that the head of that spear might be dipped in that poisonous liquid when its spear-heat comes to it”
A terrible device indeed!
Ráth Celtchair or Celtchar's Fort can be found on the map below, and who knows but that it burns yet under some deep cairn!
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