THE JUDGEMENT OF CORMAC
Once upon a time it happened that Cormac was at play with the two sons
of Luna, and the lads grew angry in their play and came to blows, and
Cormac struck one of them to the ground. "Sorrow on it," cried the lad,
"here I have been beaten by one that knows not his clan or kindred, save
that he is a fellow without a father." When Cormac heard that he was
troubled and ashamed, and he went to Luna and told him what had been
And Luna seeing the trouble of the youth, and also that he was strong
and noble to look on, and wise and eloquent in speech, held that the
time was now come to reveal to him his descent. "Thou hadst indeed a
clan and kindred," he said, "and a father of the noblest, for thou art
the son of Art, the High King of Ireland, who was slain and dispossessed
by mac Con. But it is foretold that thou shalt yet come to thy father's
place, and the land pines for thee even now, for there is no good yield
from earth or sea under the unlawful rule of him who now sits on the
throne of Art."
"If that be so," said Cormac, "let us go to Tara, and bide our time
there in my father's house."
So the two of them set out for Tara on the morrow morn. And this was the
retinue they had with them: a body-guard of outlawed men that had
revolted against mac Con and other lords and had gathered themselves
together at Corann under Luna, and four wolves that had been cubs with
Cormac when the she-wolf suckled him.
When they came to Tara, the folk there wondered at the fierce-eyed
warriors and the grey beasts that played like dogs around Cormac, and
the lad was adopted as a pupil by the King, to be taught arms and poetry
and law. Much talk there was of his coming, and of his strange
companions that are not wont to be the friends of man, and as the lad
grew in comeliness and in knowledge the eyes of all were turned to him
more and more, because the rule of mac Con was not good.
So the time wore on, till one day a case came for judgment before the
King, in which the Queen sued a certain wealthy woman and an owner of
herds named Benna, for that the sheep of Benna had strayed into the
Queen's fields and had eaten to the ground a crop of woad that was
growing there. The King gave judgment, that the sheep which had eaten
the woad were to be given to the Queen in compensation for what they had
destroyed. Then Cormac rose up before the people and said, "Nay, but let
the wool of the sheep, when they are next shorn, be given to the Queen,
for the woad will grow again and so shall the wool."
Detail of July from Les Très Riches Heures
"A true judgment, a
true judgment," cried all the folk that were present in the place; "a
very king's son is he that hath pronounced it." And they murmured so
loudly against mac Con that his druids counselled him to quit Tara lest
a worse thing befall him. So he gave up the sovranty to Cormac and went
southward into Munster to rally his friends there and recover the
kingdom, and there he was slain by Cormac's men as he was distributing
great largesse of gold and silver to his followers, in the place called
The Field of the Gold.
So Cormac, son of Art, ruled in Tara and was High King of all Ireland.
And the land, it is said, knew its rightful lord, and yielded harvests
such as never were known, while the forest trees dripped with the
abundance of honey and the lakes and rivers were alive with fish. So
much game was there, too, that the folk could have lived on that alone
and never put a ploughshare in the soil. In Cormac's time the autumn was
not vexed with rain, nor the spring with icy winds, nor the summer with
parching heat, nor the winter with whelming snows. His rule in Erinn, it
is said, was like a wand of gold laid on a dish of silver.
Also he rebuilt the ramparts of Tara and made it strong, and he enlarged
the great banqueting hall and made pillars of cedar in it ornamented
with plates of bronze, and painted its lime-white walls in patterns of
red and blue. Palaces for the women he also made there, and
store-houses, and halls for the fighting men—never was Tara so populous
or so glorious before or since. And for his wisdom and righteousness
knowledge was given to him that none other in Ireland had as yet, for it
was revealed to him that the Immortal Ones whom the Gael worshipped were
but the names of One whom none can name, and that his message should ere
long come to Ireland from over the eastern sea, calling the people to a
sweeter and diviner faith.
And to the end of his life it was his way to have wolves about him, for
he knew their speech and they his, and they were friendly and tame with
him and his folk, since they were foster-brothers together in the wild
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. 175-178.