Ireland’s Most Incompetent Warrior

I’ve got to admit, I’ve always kinda liked Lóegaire Búadach (Lóegaire the Victorious).

Ulster Cycle hero, contemporary of Cú Chulainn, husband to Fedelm Niochride and warrior in Conchobhar mac Nessa’s court, Lóegaire’s main function seems to have been as a comedic extra on the periphery of the principal action. In that respect, Lóegaire Búadach often filled the role of inept everyman, the hapless loser we all have a soft spot for.

Lóegaire first appears in Fled Bricrenn (Bricriú’s Feast) where he’s generally represented as a somewhat inept third contender for the Champion’s Portion (a prize that he and the two other Ulster warrior heroes, Cú Chulainn and Conall Cernach, are competing for). In every competition the three partake in, Lóegaire inevitably comes off worse.

When the three heroes meet an ogre on their way to Cú Roí’s dwelling, Lóegaire is forced to flee without his weapons, horses, chariot and charioteer. Later when the heroes stand guard at Cú Roí’s dwelling, another ogre casts him into a pile of cowshit. When they’re sent to fight the Amazon’s of the Glen, the Amazons strip him of his clothes and weapons and, humiliated, let him leave.

Lóegaire’s most embarrassing story, of course, is the story of how he died.

When King Conchobhar mac Nessa discoverd that his wife was being unfaithful with the poet Aed, he immediately ordered the latter to be put to death. Because of his status as a poet however, Aed was offered the opportunity to choose the manner of his death and, having a secret spell to dry up water, he slyly opted for ‘Death by Drowning’.

Despite several attempts to submerge him in local rivers and springs (that all mysteriously dried up), Conchobhar’s men eventually dragged the poet to Loch Lai (extremely close to Lóegaire’s residence). Here, with Aed’s spell now waning, they were finally able to get him into the water.

Hearing the poet’s yells for help, Lóegaire jumped up for his sword, outraged that anyone would treat a poet in such a manner and determined to save him. So outraged was Lóegaire, that he forget to duck when hurtling out through the door of his dwelling and subsequently managed to have the top half of his head sheared off by the low lintel.

With his clothes coated in gore and half his head missing, Lóegaire demonstrated that, in fact, his brain was superfluous to his fighting ability. In the ensuing battle, he killed thirty of Conchobhar’s men before he finally dropped dead.

And of course, Aed slipped away unharmed.

 

Note: This was originally published on 28 Sep 2016

A Dead Queen and Stones on a Sacred Hill (Irish Mythology)

Heading north in County Sligo, the outline of Knocknarea is clearly visible in the distance. The origin of the hill’s Irish name has been lost to time but there’s no shortage of suggestions, varying from Cnoc na Rí (hill of kings – my preferred option) to Cnoc na Ré (hill of the ages, or possibly, moon) to many others.

Like most of the Sligo mountains and hills, Knocknarea has a cairn (an enormous mound of loose stones dating back at least 2500-3000 years that usually conceals a passage-grave beneath) which is also very visible and is probably one of the biggest in the country.

In Irish, this particular cairn is called Meascán Méabha, which roughly translates to ‘Méabh’s Lump’ and it relates of course to Méabh Leathdearg or Méabh of Connacht (anglicized needlessly to Maeve) who played such an important role in the great Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley). According to the remaining literature, when she died Méabh was buried upright at that site so that she could face her Ulster-based enemies.

That’s all a bit of a fanciful conceit of course, given that Méabh was originally a land goddess (a representation of Mother Earth) transformed into a human personage over the ages. Needless to say, a lot of people continue to take the Táin Bó Cúailnge literally however, and hence get a bit excited when they come to Sligo and visit it. They also tend to get a bit outraged when they learn that the cairn has never been excavated until you point out there are literally tons of cairns all over the locality and given the unlikelihood of Méabh actually being buried there, it makes more sense to focus limited national archaeological resources elsewhere.

Undeterred in their conviction that this is the final resting place of some famous queen, some of them are driven to continue uphill to gather cairn stones as souvenirs which they then carry away with them.

To the point that it’s now becoming something of a conservation issue.

It’s often part of the human condition that we can’t just look at and respect what’s directly in front of us. Driven to interfere and meddle, we often end up destroying the very thing we love. Fortunately, there are still plenty more stones on the cairn but if people keep nicking them, it’ll eventually end up being unintentionally excavated far sooner than expected.