Uruisg Choire-nan-Nuallan

27 Jan

It happened long ago that the king of Otlhilam came from the Tower of Athilam to the Glen of the Fawns and Roes to hunt, and his dwelling was

Under a linen covering laid over a birch branch . . .
In sight of the silken-flags in the mastheads of his ships.

And it happened on a day of the days, when they were out hunting, that the king’s son, Talamsan of the golden locks, strayed from the rest, when he was accompanied by only two gillies and his dog, Luran (Darling), and while they were seeking the way, evening came on them, and it happened that the way home took them through the Corrie-of-the-Howlings, and when they were going by the sheiling of the Carlin of the Mountain-foot, she was out, and said to them ‘Turn back, children, (for) the Corrie is not clear (empty) before you’.

‘None but a coward turns back, crooked carlin’, said Talamsan. ‘What cares Talamsan, son of the king of Othilam from the Tower of Athilam, for thyself or for all in the Corrie’.

‘High is thy rank, young hero, but the worst of men is he that will not take advice,’ said the Carlin.

The heroes went on through the Corrie of tlie Howlings until they came to The Hollow-of-the-Mounds (Sloc-nam-Meall), and there they beheld the loveliest maiden eye ever looked at.

Her fascinating blue eye was like a drop of honey
At the point of a garden sapling.
Like breast of swan or down of cana1
Was the hue of her shining bosom.

She had a willow wand in her right hand, and held her left hand behind her. The dog went a step before the men and then stood and began to bark at her.

‘Stop thy dog, Talamsan, the dogs of princes are usually held in a leash until the hunt begins’, said she.

‘Lie down, Luran,’ said Talamsan.

‘That is Luran of thy woe to-night,’ said the maiden who was no longer a maiden, but a howling, venomous, vindictive hag. The willow wand in her hand became an enchanting beetle, and a fiery, scaly serpent lay coiled in her bosom.

Her skin was like the hide,2
Of the grey buck of the cairns,
Which stands between the smith and the spark.
She would crack a nut
Between her nose and chin.

As soon as she got the dog’s name, she called him to her, and he would no longer give heed to his master. What he did was to attack the latter with the Urisk3 for it was the Urisk of the Corrie of the Howlings, handsome though she appeared at the first sight which they got of her.

When the gillies saw what happened, they fled home with the melancholy tale that the Urisk of the Corrie of the Howlings had killed Talamsan, the king’s son.

On the morrow, the king, accompanied by every man within some miles’ distance of him, set out in search of his son. They found the dog, Luran, dead, and without a fibre of hair on him. But they saw not the kings son nor an Urisk, (nor anything) but a new mound in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds.

The king returned home sadly (and) sorrowfully. He had of children but Talamsan and one daughter, brown-haired Slender-eyebrow (Caol-mhala), and Slender-eyebrow vowed that she would never marry any man but one that would kill the Urisk of the Corrie-of-the-Howlings.

Spotted-knee (Breac-ghlùn) son of Torquil, king of Dunadd in Ireland, heard of the vow which brown-haired Slender-eyebrow made. That was Spotted-knee of the seven battles, and seven victories, and seven heroes used to fight on each hand of him.

On a day of the days he landed at the Channel-of-the-Boats (Amar-nan-Eithear) and in the evening ascended the steep hill, and since he had only a Carlin (as he thought) to encounter he did not think it worth while taking his heroes with him, but he took the Swift-footed Slender-houghs (Easgadach).

Who would overtake the swift March wind,
But the swift March wind would not overtake him.

Passing the hill-pasture bothy of the Carlin of the Mountain-foot, the Carlin was out and said: ‘Turn back, children, (for) the corrie is not clean before you.’

‘Go thy way’, Crooked Carlin’, said Spotted-knee, ‘none but a coward turns back. What cares Spotted-knee, son of Torquil, king of Dunadd of the five gables in the north of Ireland, for thyself or all in the Corrie!’

‘High is thy rank, Brave Man, but worthless is he that takes not advice’ said the Carlin.

When Spotted-knee reached the Corrie-of-the-Howlings he beheld the fairest maiden eye ever gazed on, —

Beyond every maiden in appearance,
Surpassing (all) the women of Ireland.

She had a willow wand in her right hand, and said In him, ‘What is thy whence, and which is thy whither? What is the cause of thy journey and travelling?’

‘I am’, said he, ‘Spotted-knee, son of Torquil, king of Dunadd of the five gables in the north of Ireland, and I am going to the Corrie-of-the-Howlings to kill the Urisk of the Hollow-of-the-Mounds at the request of brown-haired Slender-eyebrow, daughter of the king of Othilam in the Tower of Athilam.’

Said the Maiden ‘Is it love of maiden or hatred of Urisk that brought Spotted-knee from Erin? If it be hatred of Urisk, his steel will bend against her breast; if it be love of maiden, slippery is the hold of an eel (by) her tail. There are eight nobles with earls in the Tower of Athilam to night.

Slippery is the threshold in the door of a Tower,
More slippery than that is love for the dead.

I am the daughter of king Stout-spear (Garbh-shleagh) in the Hall-of-Luxury (Talla-nan-Sógh), and my father’s nobles are enjoying a sumptuous-feast to night. Send thy gillie to invite thy heroes, and let all of you come to the Hall-of-Luxury, and you will find such entertainment as thou never hadst on the soil of Erin.’

‘Go, Slender-houghs’ said Spotted-knee, whispering in his ear, ‘hasten hither the heroes, but let them be in their armour.’

Away went Slender-houghs, but before he had barely gone the Maiden changed her form, and Spotted-knee knew that it was the Urisk he had. Her willow wand became an enchanting beetle, and Spotted-knee drew his spear —

Which was beating on the Urisk’s beetle.
And drawing echo from the cliffs of the bens.

But when Slender-houghs and the heroes returned, they found no king’s Son, nor Maiden, nor Urisk — nor anything but a new mound in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds.

But this is what happened on a certain day —

When the yellow crested birds sang
Their sweet pipe-music,

that Young Farquhar of the chase came with his hounds in a leash, when he was passing the summer-pasture bothy of the carlin at the mountain-foot in the evening, the Carlin was out and said —

‘Turn back, children; the Corrie is not clean before you.’

‘No one ever returned who did not forsake, gentle Nurse of the shelling’ said Farquhar. ‘Wilt thou not come with me seven steps? Give me thy blessing and send me away, and I’ll sleep this night under the shade of the Elm in the Glen of the fawns and roes with my three red-haired gillies and my two greedy (eager) hounds.

And my little rough-haired bitch of the sharp-tusk,
That will bring blood on the deer at every bite.’

The Carlin answered:

‘Did Farquhar cast a longing look
Towards the maiden of mildest eye?’

‘I asked neither maiden nor renown’ said Farquhar. ‘I am going to the Ben of venison and hunting to chase the buck, the badger and deer before the sun rises to-morrow.’

Then said the Nurse of the shelling — I’ll go with thee seven steps, and give thee seven blessings, —

Farquhar son of Art, son of Allin (Beautiful)
Daughter of the king of Mann in the Ocean,
Who came over the waves of Innis-Orc (Orkney Isle),
Son of the father who never took tribute
Even from a foe without mercy.

Here is to thee my straight staff4 of the three branches4 of the undecaying apple-tree, which a Monk planted and which a Monk cut on the south side of the enclosing wall of the chapel, and which a Monk blessed three times, and before which will bend the edge of the bronze (weapon), if its stroke be struck by the wicked. Put off the garter of thy left foot, and put a loan5 of it round the bitch’s neck, take a drop of blood from the right ear of (each one) of the two dogs, and call none of them by his name from the time the sun goes down until the bird tastes the water next day, and my blessing be with thee, and be gone.’

Farquhar went away with his gillies and his dogs, and the ‘sorag’6 (murmur?) of the night sang him music, when he reached the Hollow of the Mounds, there met him a maiden, and fair was her appearance —

Her smooth, full bosom
Was like purest snow on the ground.
The tip of her breast
Was like the briar-rose in the bud.
In the warm shelter of the bosky grove.

A willow wand was in her right hand, and the dogs began to bark at her.

‘Stop thy dogs, hero’ said she.

‘I’ll neither incite nor hinder them’ said Farquhar. The dogs had every hair on their bodies standing on end as straight as the bristles of the (wild) boar. The maiden assumed an angry look and transformed herself into an Urisk as terrible and even more terrible than she was either to Talamsan or to Spotted-knee.

‘If thou wilt not stop them, I’ll stop them’ said she, as she attacked one of them with the beetle.

Farquhar drew his spear, and the beating began. If there was no howling in the Corrie-of-the-Howlings before, there was abundance of it there that night between the dogs and the Urisk.

At every bound Bruid (Goader) took
He returned with blood on his mouth.
At every wound Speach (Wasp) gave
The Urisk gave a scream-of-two-screams.

The fiery scaly serpent sprang from the bosom of the Urisk, and attacked Farquhar. But he struck her with the staff of the Nurse-of-the-Shieling, and she went into a coil, and then she swelled and burst.

With the echo of a sound which sent a tremor
On every hoof in the Glen.

Then she went into a flame of fire, which set the Urisk on fire along with her, and in the twinkling of an eye Farquhar had nothing (left) but a small heap of ashes.

He went under the shelter of the birch, and sleep came upon him, for he was tired, and at day-break he was awakened by Brionn (Brindled) licking his forehead. Then sang

The yellow crested birds
Their sweet pipe-music,

and when Farquhar looked about him, he saw that there were many heaps of strange stones in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds. He struck the apple-tree staff on one of the heaps and the heap turned into a man, and Farquhar fled. ‘Fly not with tlie apple-tree (staff) of virtues, Farquhar’ said the man; ‘there is need of thee still in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds’.

Farquhar returned and struck the staff on mound after mound, on every mound in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds, and every mound became a warrior, until nine companies of nine heroes were standing at his side, and among them was Talamsan, the son of the king of Othilam, and Spotted-knee, the son of king Torquil, and Farquhar took them all to the Tower of Athilam.

And he got the king’s daughter and two obeisances,
And his dwelling in the Tower of Innis Stoth (Island of Spray).

And it they have not died since, they are alive still.

James MacDougall, ‘Uruisg Choire-nan-Nuallan‘ in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, 1897, pp328-341.



1 Cotton grass

2 The buckskin apron of a smith, which gave protection from the forge sparks

3 The Urisk, though generally a surly man is here a frightful Hag. But she resembles the Glastick more than one of her own tribe.

4 ‘Staff of the three branches.’ Two of the branches grew on opposite sides of the third branch so as to form a T like figure or cross.

5 Coingheall ‘a loan’. Farquhar was asked to put his leather garter as a temporary belt round the bitch’s neck. This, it was thought, would prevent her from siding with the Urisk.

6 ‘Sorag of the night.’ I have never met this word before, and I am not certain of its meaning.

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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