THE MARRIAGE OF KING CORMAC
It happened that in Cormac's time there was a very wealthy farmer named
Buicad who dwelt in Leinster, and had vast herds of cattle and sheep
and horses. This Buicad and his wife had no children, but they adopted a
foster-child named Ethne, daughter of one Dunlang. Now Buicad was the
most hospitable of men, and never refused aught to anyone, but he kept
open house for all the nobles of Leinster who came with their following
and feasted there as they would, day after day; and if any man fancied
any of the cattle or other goods of Buicad, he might take them home with
him, and none said him nay. Thus Buicad lived in great splendour, and
his Dún was ever full to profusion with store of food and clothing and
rich weapons, until in time it was all wasted away in boundless
hospitality and generosity, and so many had had a share in his goods
that they could never be recovered nor could it be said of any man that
he was the cause of Buicad's undoing. But undone he was at last, and
when there remained to him but one bull and seven cows he departed by
night with his wife and Ethne from Dún Buicad, leaving his mansion
desolate. And he travelled till he came to a place where there was a
grove of oak trees by a little stream in the county of Meath, near where
Cormac had a summer palace, and there he built himself a little hut and
tended his few cattle, and Ethne waited as a maid-servant upon him and
Now on a certain day it happened that King Cormac rode out on horseback
from his Dún in Meath, and in the course of his ride he came upon the
little herd of Buicad towards evening, and he saw Ethne milking the
cows. And this was the way she milked them: first she milked a portion
of each cow's milk into a certain vessel, then she took a second vessel
and milked into it the remaining portion, in which was the richest
cream, and these two vessels she kept apart.
Cormac watched all this.
She then bore the vessels of milk into the hut, and came out again with
two other vessels and a small cup. These she bore down to the
river-side; and one of the vessels she filled by means of the cup from
the water at the brink of the stream, but the other vessel she bore out
into the middle of the stream and there filled it from the deepest of
the running water. After this she took a sickle and began cutting rushes
by the river-side, and Cormac saw that when she cut a wisp of long
rushes she would put it on one side, and the short rushes on the other,
and she bore them separately into the house. But Cormac stopped her and
saluted her, and said:
The Milkmaid. Engraving by J. D. Miller
after the painting by George Mason.
"For whom, maiden, art thou making this careful choice of the milk and
the rushes and the water?"
"I am making it," said she, "for one who is worthy that I should do far
more than that for him, if I could."
"What is his name?"
"Buicad, the farmer," said Ethne.
"Is it that Buicad, who was the rich farmer in Leinster that all Ireland
has heard of?" asked the King.
"It is even so."
"Then thou art his foster-child, Ethne the daughter of Dunlang?" said
"I am," said Ethne.
"Wilt thou be my wife and Queen of Erinn?" then said Cormac.
"If it please my foster-father to give me to thee, O King, I am
willing," replied Ethne. Then Cormac took Ethne by the hand and they went
before Buicad, and he consented to give her to Cormac to wife. And Buicad
was given rich lands and great store of cattle in the district of Odran
close by Tara, and Ethne the Queen loved him and visited him so long as
his life endured.
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. 179-181.