Celtic Knotwork Peacock


When Cormac, son of Art, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, was High King in Erinn, great was the peace and splendour of his reign, and no provincial king or chief in any part of the country lifted up his head against Cormac. At his court in Tara were many noble youths, who were trained up there in all matters befitting their rank and station.

One of these youths was named Socht, son of Fithel. Socht had a wonderful sword, named "The Hard-headed Steeling," which was said to have been long ago the sword of Cuchulain. It had a hilt of gold and a belt of silver, and its point was double-edged. At night it shone like a candle. If its point were bent back to the hilt it would fly back again and be as straight as before. If it was held in running water and a hair were floated down against the edge, it would sever the hair. It was a saying that this sword would make two halves of a man, and for a while he would not perceive what had befallen him. This sword was held by Socht for a tribal possession from father and grandfather.

There was at this time a famous steward to the High King in Tara whose name was Dubdrenn. This man asked Socht to sell him the sword. He promised to Socht such a ration as he, Dubdrenn, had every night, and four men's food for the family of Socht, and, after that, Socht to have the full value of the sword at his own appraisement. "No," said Socht. "I may not sell my father's treasures while he is alive."

Woodcut. And thus they went on, Dubdrenn's mind ever running on the sword. At last he bade Socht to a drinking-bout, and plied him so with wine and mead that Socht became drunken, and knew not where he was, and finally fell asleep.

Then the steward takes the sword and goes to the King's brazier, by name Connu.

"Art thou able," says Dubdrenn, "to open the hilt of this sword?" "I am that," says the brazier.

Then the brazier took apart the hilt, and within, upon the tang of the blade, he wrote the steward's name, even Dubdrenn, and the steward laid the sword again by the side of Socht.

So it was for three months after that, and the steward continued to ask Socht to sell him the sword, but he could not get it from him.

Then the steward brought a suit for the sword before the High King, and he claimed that it was his own and that it had been taken from him. But Socht declared that the sword was his by long possession and by equity, and he would not give it up.

Then Socht went to his father, Fithel the brehon, and begged him to take part in the action and to defend his claim. But Fithel said, "Nay, thou art too apt to blame the pleadings of other men; plead for thyself."

So the court was set, and Socht was called upon to prove that the sword was his. He swore that it was a family treasure, and thus it had come down to him.

The steward said, "Well, O Cormac, the oath that Socht has uttered is a lie."

"What proof hast thou of that?" asked Cormac.

"Not hard to declare," replied the steward. "If the sword be mine, my name stands graved therein, concealed within the hilt of the sword."

"That will soon be known," says Cormac, and therewith he had the brazier summoned. The brazier comes and breaks open the hilt and the name of Dubdrenn stands written within it. Thus a dead thing testified in law against a living man.

Then Socht said, "Hear ye, O men of Erinn and Cormac the King! I acknowledge that this man is the owner of the sword." And to Dubdrenn he said, "The property therein and all the obligations of it pass from me to thee."

Dubdrenn said, "I acknowledge property in the sword and all its obligations."

Then said Socht, "This sword was found in the neck of my grandfather Angus, and till this day it never was known who had done that murder. Do justice, O King, for this crime."

Said the King to Dubdrenn, "Thou art liable for more than the sword is worth." So he awarded to Socht the price of seven bondwomen as blood-fine for the slaying of Angus, and restitution of the sword to Socht. Then the steward confessed the story of the sword, and Cormac levied seven other cumals from the brazier. But Cormac said, "This is in truth the sword of Cuchulain, and by it was slain my grandfather, even Conn of the Hundred Battles, at the hands of the King of Ulster, of whom it is written:—

"With a host, with a valiant band
Well did he go into Connacht.
Alas, that he saw the blood of Conn
On the side of Cuchulain's sword!"

Then Cormac and Fithel agreed that the sword be given to Cormac as blood-fine for the death of Conn, and his it was; and it was the third best of the royal treasures that were in Erin: namely, Cormac's Cup, that broke if a falsehood were spoken over it and became whole if a truth were spoken; and the Bell Branch that he got in Fairyland, whose music when it was shaken would put to sleep wounded men, and women in travail; and the Sword of Cuchulain, against which, and against the man that held it in his hand, no victory could ever be won.

Text Source:
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. 191-194.

Image Source:
Woodcut — "The Fortunatus Woodcuts." Dr. Michael Haldane. Link.

Background courtesy of Windhaven Web Art.

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