THE INSTRUCTIONS OF THE KING
Ethne bore to Cormac a son, her firstborn, named Cairbry, who was King
of Ireland after Cormac. It was during the lifetime of Cormac that
Cairbry came to the throne, for it happened that ere he died Cormac was
wounded by a chance cast of a spear and lost one of his eyes, and it was
forbidden that any man having a blemish should be a king in Ireland.
Cormac therefore gave up the kingdom into the hands of Cairbry, but
before he did so he told his son all the wisdom that he had in the
governing of men, and this was written down in a book which is called
The Instructions of Cormac. These are among the things which are
found in it, of the wisdom of Cormac:—
Let him (the king) restrain the great,
Let him exalt the good,
Let him establish peace,
Let him plant law,
Let him protect the just,
Let him bind the unjust,
Let his warriors be many and his counsellors few,
Let him shine in company and be the sun of the mead-hall,
Let him punish with a full fine wrong done knowingly,
and with a half-fine wrong done in ignorance.
Cairbry said, "What are good customs for a tribe to pursue?" "They are
as follows," replied Cormac:—
"To have frequent assemblies,
To be ever enquiring, to question the wise men,
To keep order in assemblies,
To follow ancient lore,
Not to crush the miserable,
To keep faith in treaties,
To consolidate kinship,
Fighting-men not to be arrogant,
To keep contracts faithfully,
To guard the frontiers against every ill."
"Tell me, O Cormac," said Cairbry, "what are good customs for the giver
of a feast?" and Cormac said:—
"To have lighted lamps,
To be active in entertaining the company,
To be liberal in dispensing ale,
To tell stories briefly,
To be of joyous countenance,
To keep silence during recitals."
"Tell me, O Cormac," said his son once, "what were thy habits when thou
wert a lad?" And Cormac said:—
"I was a listener in woods,
I was a gazer at stars,
I pried into no man's secrets,
I was mild in the hall,
I was fierce in the fray,
I was not given to making promises,
I reverenced the aged,
I spoke ill of no man in his absence,
I was fonder of giving than of asking."
"If you listen to my teaching," said Cormac:—
"Do not deride any old person though you be young
Nor any poor man though you be rich,
Nor any naked though you be well-clad,
Nor any lame though you be swift,
Nor any blind though you be keen-sighted,
Nor any invalid though you be robust,
Nor any dull though you be clever,
Nor any fool though you be wise.
"Yet be not slothful, nor fierce, nor sleepy, nor niggardly, nor feckless
nor envious, for all these are hateful before God and men.
"Do not join in blasphemy, nor be the butt of an assembly; be not moody
in an alehouse, and never forget a tryst."
"What are the most lasting things on earth?" asked Cairbry.
"Not hard to tell," said Cormac; "they are grass, copper, and a
"If you will listen to me," said Cormac, "this is my instruction for the
management of your household and your realm:—
"Let not a man with many friends be your steward,
Nor a woman with sons and foster-sons your housekeeper,
Nor a greedy man your butler,
Nor a man of much delay your miller,
Nor a violent, foul-mouthed man your messenger,
Nor a grumbling sluggard your servant,
Nor a talkative man your counsellor,
Nor a tippler your cup-bearer,
Nor a short-sighted man your watchman,
Nor a bitter, haughty man your doorkeeper,
Nor a tender-hearted man your judge,
Nor an ignorant man your leader,
Nor an unlucky man your counsellor."
Such were the counsels that Cormac mac Art gave to his son Cairbry. And
Cairbry became King after his father's abdication, and reigned seven and
twenty years, till he and Oscar, son of Oisín, slew one another at the
battle of Gowra.
The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland.
T. W. Rolleston, ed. Illustrations by Stephen Reid.
London: G. G. Harrap & Co., 1910. 181-185.
Woodcut — "The Fortunatus Woodcuts." Dr. Michael Haldane. Link.