The Red Branch Tales

The Red Branch Tales

by Randy Lee Eickhoff

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Randy Lee Eickhoff continues his translation of the Ulster Cycle, often referred to as the Red Branch Cycle, the large corpus of work that is primarily responsible for establishing the cultural identity of today's Ireland.

In this collection of Ireland's famous myths, Eickhoff once again proves his mastery of translation and his ability to give these classic tales new life. Here he presents more than twenty stories that reveal ancient Irish culture as it's seldom been seen before.

All of the characters of Irish myth receive new life and are presented in vibrant and unique ways. In addition, by providing introductions to the tales, Eickhoff gives insight into the legends that formed the identity of a people.

In the pre-Christian era, when warriors fought from chariots, Druids provided the mystical answers to the universe, and men and women believed strongly in magic, these stories begin. Prepare to enter Randy Lee Eickhoff's Ireland.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429973434
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 04/01/2010
Series: Ulster Cycle , #5
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 1,002,587
File size: 386 KB

About the Author

Randy Lee Eickhoff holds several graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in Classics. He lives in El Paso, Texas where he works on translations in several languages, poetry, plays, and novels of which two have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His translation of Ireland's national epic is now a text in not only schools in the United States, but countries overseas as well. His nonfiction work on the Tigua Indians, Exiled, won the Southwest History Award. He has been inducted into the Paso Del Norte Writers Hall of Fame, the local chapter of the Texas Institute of Arts and Letters. He spends his time in El Paso, Ireland, and Italy, lecturing on Dante and The Ulster Cycle.

Randy Lee Eickhoff holds several graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in Classics. He lives in El Paso, Texas where he works on novels, plays, poetry and translations in several languages. His translation of Ireland's national epic, the Ulster Cycle, is now a text used in schools in the United States and overseas. His novel And Not to Yield, based on the life of Wild Bill Hickok, was selected as the Best Novel of 2004 by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage. His nonfiction work on the Tigua Indians, Exiled, won the Southwest Book Award. He is also the author of Return to Ithaca, Then Came Christmas and The Quick and the Dead. He has been inducted into the Paso Del Norte Writers Hall of Fame, the local chapter of the Texas Institute of Arts and Letters. Eickhoff served with distinction in the early phases of the Vietnam War, and was awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star. He spends his time in El Paso, Ireland, and Italy, lecturing on Dante and The Ulster Cycle.

Read an Excerpt


The Beginning of Emain Macha

This tale is found in The Book of Leinster (c. 1160) and is only one of the stories that explain how the Red Branch was established. Another version of the naming of Emain Macha is related in The Pangs of Ulster.

ONCE THREE KINGS, ALL FROM Ulster, ruled equally over Ireland. They were Díthorba, the son of Diman from Uisnech in Meath; Áed Ruad, the son of Bádurn, son of Argatmar, from Tír Áedha; and Cimbáeth, son of Fintan, son of Argatmar, from Finnabair on the Plain of Inis.

Now these three decided that it would be better by far if they took turns ruling over Ireland, and so they made arrangements by which each would rule for seven years before giving way to the other two. They had twenty-one rules written to ensure that each king would hand over the right to rule at the end of his seven years. This would, they thought, be good enough to ensure that each king's reign would be free from interference by the other two kings. As a result, each year there would be a great harvest of fruit and every color dyed into garments would hold fast and true and not fade or shade, and no woman would die again in childbearing.

These rules were hard-held and strict with accounting. First, seven Druids would be made available to chant those spells that would sear the flesh of the false one. Second, seven poets would sing satirical songs shaming the scandalous one. Then seven champions would be named to inflict harsh wounds upon the flesh of the arrogant one who failed in his promised obligations.

But the rules did not need to be enacted, for each of the three kings ruled wisely and carefully attended to the pact that had been drawn up among them. Each of them ruled three times as king for a total of sixty-three years.

One day Áed Ruad rode out along the place called Eas Ruaid, guiding his dappled horse carefully in the swift waters. But a fish jumped after a mayfly and startled the dappled horse, who reared and unseated his rider, pitching him into the swift current, where he drowned. For three days the others searched for his body and, when they found it, they buried him at Sídhe Ruaid, the Mound of the Red Man. He left one child as heir, a daughter named Macha Mong-Ruad, who demanded that her father's rightful place in the succession of rule be granted to her. But the other two kings, Cimbáeth and Díthorba, refused to surrender her father's seventh to her as she was a woman.

Furious at her treatment, Macha brought together a huge army and destroyed the forces of the other two in battle but took only what she regarded as her seventh. She ruled for seven years as Ireland's queen before the death of Díthorba, who fell in battle at the Corann. Five stalwart sons stood staunchly at his burial, and then in turn each — Báeth, Bras, Betach, Úallach, and Borbchas — demanded that Macha defer to the accord authored by their father and the other two. But Macha refused and said, "Why should I surrender what I won on the field of battle? The pact drawn between your father and mine and Cimbáeth no longer applies, for none of you would listen to reason when it was offered."

Incensed, the five sons raised an army and came to unseat Macha from her throne, but the terrible rage of Macha rose up, and she led her army into battle. Oh, the wanton slaughter that rose to feed the ravens that day! Many heads were taken by Macha's blade, and the rest of the army fled in terror into the wilds of Connacht.

But Macha was weary with war after this, and she married Cimbáeth (and a wise choice he made to keep his own head!) and merged his army into hers to regain the strength that she had lost during the last war with the five sons. Then, knowing full well that the five sons stubbornly refused to agree to her might, she cleverly disguised herself as a leper by rubbing herself with rye dough and red dye until it seemed suppurating sores leaked yellow pus from her skin.

She entered the wild forests of Connacht and soon found them in Bairinn, where they were roasting a wild boar slain by Bras over a red fire.

"What's this?" Báeth said, when Macha came up to them, whining about her hunger and begging for a morsel from the roasting pig. "What foulness do we find here?"

"Please," she whimpered, holding forth a hand that seemed more a claw than one with flesh and fingers. "Just a bite or two for a poor old hag."

"Well, now," said Betach. "Let's let the old gal have a bite or two if she has any news about that bitch Macha."

"Don't encourage her," grumbled Borbchas.

"You'd begrudge her a mouthful or two from that big carcass?" Báeth asked, pointing at the pig roasting on the spit over the crackling fire made from beech trees. "Even with your gut we won't eat the whole thing."

So they all sat down and listened to the stories Macha made up on the spot as she ate the sliver of roasted meat the five sons gave to her for news of herself.

Then Bras brought out a skin of mead and they took to swilling it from their own cups, and soon they began to see Macha in a different light. It was Báeth who first noticed her eyes and, squinting his own against the smoke and drink befuddling him at the time, said, "You know, this hag has won — won — beaut — pretty eyes." He pursed his lips, sucking in his cheeks as he contemplated her. "What say we fuck her?"

"Ah, don't be that way here," Borbchas said. "We don't need to be watching your shortcomings."

"And I don't want to be shaming you," Báeth said, rising. He grabbed her and took her off into the woods to the roaring laughter of his brothers.

"Now then," he said, placing her on her feet. "Let's see what you have, old girl."

He reached for the neckline of her dress, but when he pulled it free, he saw Macha's young breasts and frowned, shaking his head against his fuddled vision.

"What —" he began, but then squawked as Macha overpowered him and tied him to a tree with strips of cloth torn from his own clothes. She gagged him to keep him from yelling a warning to his brothers, then made her way back to the fire, pretending to be weary from lovemaking.

"Where is our brother?" the others asked when she stumbled out of the woods and stood warming herself next to the fire.

"Ah, the drink left him and then the shame came upon him after he saw that he had slept with a leper," she said.

The others roared with laughter at this, and Bras leaped to his feet, seizing her and throwing her over his shoulder. "Well, lass, there's no shame in that. We decided that each of us was going to give you a tickle or two when we heard Báeth bawling with pleasure. There must be a knowing way in those legs of yours when you lock them around the waist of a man."

And so it was that each of them took her into the dark of the wood away from the fire and each found himself tied with strips of his own clothing. Then Macha tied them together and marched them meekly to Ulster, where she brought them to the judgment of her warriors.

"Ah, let's kill them and be done with it," growled one. He jabbed a dirty finger at the rafters, where the heads of others lined the beams.

"No," Macha said. "I don't think that would be wise. My rule would become suspect if I let that happen. Instead, let us make them slaves and have them build a mighty fortress around me that will become the Great Hall of the new ruling city of Ulster forever."

And with that, she took a golden brooch out of her cloak and marked out the lines the buildings were to follow in what came to be known as Emain Macha.


The Pangs of the Ulaid

This story was apparently sung to give meaning to the time when Maeve elects to invade Ulster and Cúchulainn is forced to stand alone before her mighty armies. It is the second of two stories intended to provide the origin of Emain Macha. Noinden Ulad is similar to other tales that appear in the Dinnsenchas to give imaginative reasons for the merging of the Otherworld with this world in a story about love between a fairy creature and a mortal.

IN THE WILDERNESS ON THE heights of mountains lived one Crunniuc Mac Agnoan, whose wealth was numbered in the cows he kept upon the mountain meadows. His four sons lived with him for a time, but his wife had died, and a man without a wife is a lonely man indeed. So it was with Crunniuc, who spent each evening alone on his couch, staring at the sun as it set on another lonely day.

One day while he lay alone on his couch, staring through the open door at the sun setting redly in the west, he chanced to see a beautiful woman, richly garbed, coming toward him. Without saying a word, she entered the house and cooked for him, kneading bread and milking the cow herself, and cleaned for him, and ordered the servants to their tasks. She took a seat next to Crunniuc at the table. When evening came, she was the last to leave her couch and smoor the fire. Then she turned rightand laid herself down beside him, placing her hand upon his thigh.

For a long time, she stayed with Crunniuc, who was dizzy with his good fortune, which continued to increase with the woman's presence in his house. But she was happy as well with the choice she had made, for Crunniuc was a handsome man with silver and black hair that curled gently at the nape of his neck and a fine wide forehead above blue eyes that sparkled like gems in the sunlight.

Now it was known that the men of Ulster held great feasts and festivals, and all the men and women worked hard to attend these. So it was that Crunniuc, pleased with his success and the beauty of his new wife, thought they should attend the assembly. Yet, for some strange reason, his wife was reluctant to go.

One day Crunniuc, perplexed by her evasion of his questions, said, "Listen, now. There's a good time to be had at this festival. Everyone will be there, and I want us to go and have a good time as well."

His wife sat still by the fire, staring into the coals, then shook her head and said, "This would not be a good thing."

"But why?" he asked.

For a moment, he thought she would not answer him, but then she sighed and said, "If we go, 'tis certain that you will speak about me in the gathering. That would bring an end to our life together, for we cannot stay together if you tell others about us."

"I won't say a word," Crunniuc promised, sensing her wavering.

"I don't know," she said doubtfully.

But Crunniuc wheedled and begged, and reluctantly she gave in to his whim. So it came that Crunniuc, dressed in his best garb, made his way with his silent and apprehensive new wife to the great fair being held at the king's land. When they arrived, Crunniuc was immediately taken with the great splashes of color in the costumes that seemed richly to express the stations of all who were there. And there were games aplenty to challenge the men and gatherings for the women, who shared new secrets of sewing and spinning and ways to cook pork. Eventually, Crunniuc relaxed as the honey-rich mead found its way down his throat with increasing regularity. Even his wife relaxed somewhat as she engaged the other wives in talk and gossip.

In the ninth hour of the fair, the royal chariot was brought forth and challenges were made and races held around the fort. But the king's horses, a pair of matched black whose hooves struck sparks from the ground, could not be beaten by any there. The people were ecstatic about this, for as the king triumphs, so does the land, and the bards made ready to praise the king, and the poets and Druids of his household cried, "Never have such swift horses been seen as these! In all of Erin there can be none to stand against them!"

"Stuff and nonsense," said Crunniuc thickly (for he had been sampling greatly the rich mead). He looked around blearily, eyeing the rippling muscles of the great blacks. He shook his head. "Pips and pipes, I say!"

A poet nearby heard Crunniuc's loud declaration and said loftily, "I suppose a man like you would have horses that are their match?"

Crunniuc belched and wiped his mouth and said, "Horses? Aye, I have horses! But I wouldn't dust their hooves in such a race. My wife can run as fast as those blacks. Take note!"

The poet eyed Crunniuc with displeasure. "I will do that," he said. Crunniuc nodded and glanced at the cup in his hand and, seeing that it was empty, lurched away to find more mead. "I'll certainly take note of that," the poet muttered and took himself away to the king, where he related the drunken ramblings of Crunniuc.

"He said that?" the king asked, annoyed.

"He did," the poet said.

"Bring the braggart to me," the king demanded. "Then find his wife and bring her forth so we can end this tongue wagging before it gets out."

Guards were immediately dispatched to find Crunniuc, who wasn't hard to discover beside the mead keg. He protested the rough treatment of the guards, who unceremoniously bundled him up to the king, but his protest was more for the spilled mead left soaking into the ground than for the hands the guards laid upon him.

His wife now was found in the company of other women, where she was learning a new way of embossing red thread through white. She looked up at the messengers waiting respectfully before her. "Yes?" she said pleasantly. "Is there something I can do for you?"

The messenger hemmed and hawed and shuffled his feet across the greensward and finally blurted out, "We have come to bring you before the king to answer for your husband's words."

"My husband? What words?" she asked, her gray eyes narrowing suspiciously.

"He claims your foot is faster than the hooves of the king's horses," he said. "Now he's the prisoner of the king."

She shook her head sadly. "Ah, but my husband chose his words badly. As you can see, I am about to be delivered of a child." And she stood so all there could see her round belly beneath her gown. "It would be foolish to expect me to run a race in such a condition."

The messenger started to dig a dirty finger into his nose, then thought better of it and shook his head. "That may be, lady, but you still must come before the king and give him the word."

Shaking her head sadly, Crunniuc's wife followed the messenger to where the king waited impatiently.

"There you are!" he said rudely. He waved a hand at Crunniuc, standing sheepishly at the side, swaying slightly from the drink taken. "This — this —'man' claims that you are faster than my blacks, which have withstood all challenges today. Is there truth to his words?"

Word had spread throughout the crowd of Crunniuc's rash boast, and now many crowded around to see the manner of woman that had brought the insulting words forth.

"This is not right," she said, annoyed at the gaping japes around her. "No woman should be subjected to such ridicule while she is in this condition. I am near my time."

The king glanced at her swollen belly and shrugged. "Nevertheless, your man has made the boast, and I cannot have doubt lingering over my horses. You see how it is," he said, spreading his royal hands in dismissal. "You'll have to run the race."

She pulled her shoulders back and gazed sternly at him, but his eyes did not flinch. Then she turned to all surrounding them and said, "I am close to my time. Help me, here. Please. In the name of the mothers who bore each of you!"

But cruel laughter met her words, and then the king said to his guards, "Enough. Take your swords and strike that man's head from his shoulders for the insult he has given me!"

Obediently, the men turned away, drawing their swords, but she cried out, "Shame upon all here who have ignored my plea. I curse all here for failing to help a woman in her distress." She spat upon the ground, and the crowd murmured uneasily. "Verywell. I'll run your race. But this is only the beginning of the bad times you have drawn upon your people."

"What is your name?" the king asked.

"My name and the names of my children shall cling to this ground forever. I am Macha, the daughter of Sainrith Mac Imbath, and whatever happens this day shall be on your heads forever! Bring up your chariot, great king!"

Flushing at the mockery she made of him, the king ordered his chariot and the great blacks to be brought forth. At the signal, the driver slapped the reins smartly across the backs of the horses, and they leaped forward, but they were not faster than the woman whose white feet seemed barely to touch the grass as she ran away from the horses. Strain as they would, those mighty steeds could not close the gap upon the fleeing woman, and she easily crossed the finish line ahead of them, only to collapse in great pain as her water broke.

She gave a great scream and was immediately delivered of twins, a son and a daughter, and to this day that place is called Emain Macha, "Twins of Macha," in their honor.

But all men who heard that terrible scream suddenly felt a weakness in their bellies as the woman raised herself up on her elbows and glared around the assembly. "From this hour forth, all here down through the ninth generation of the ninth generation, all men will suffer as I have suffered for five days and four nights whenever a great need of your warrior skills comes. In the time of greatest emergency, you shall be helpless in this land that will never know peace."


Excerpted from "The Red Branch Tales"
by .
Copyright © 2003 Randy Lee Eickhoff.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
The Beginning of Emain Macha,
The Pangs of the Ulaid,
The Capture of the Fairy Hill,
The Story of Baili Binnbérlaig,
The Birth of Conchobor the King,
The Tidings of Conchobor Mac Nessa,
The Tale of the Pig-Keepers,
Athirne and Amergin,
The Guesting of Athirne,
The Battle of Etair,
The Battle of Cumar,
The House of the King and High King,
The Tale of Mac Da Thó's Pig,
The Violent Deaths of Goll and Garb,
The Intoxication of the Ulster Men,
Bricriu's Feast and the Exile of Dóel Dermait's Sons,
The Battle of the Gathering at Macha,
The Deprivation of Mongán,
The Vision of Ferchertne,
The Story of Mac Dareo's Hostel,
The Cattle-Raid of Cooley,
The Battle of Rosnaree,
The Story of Fergus Mac Léti,
The Strong Man's Bargain,
The Cattle-Raid of Flidais,
The Colloquy of the Two Sages,
The Trouble of the Ulster Men,
The Wooing of Luaine,
The Hostel of Da Choca,
The Battle of Airtech,
Instructions to Princes,
Author's Note,
Copyright Page,

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The Red Branch Tales 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
The thirty stories that make up THE RED BRANCH TALES come from twelfth century Ireland translated into modern English with the beautiful lyrical prose that Dr. Randy Lee Eickhoff has brought to all his previous translations. The tales provide common themes of life among the various clans with the title providing an obvious clue as to what to expect. The stories vary in content with many dealing with heroism, war, and romance. The anthology is entertaining though like much of medieval literature, formal language is sprinkled with baroque eloquence and comically lewd capers. Also included are "Fragments" of incomplete tales and proverbs. As usual Dr. Eickhoff provides a marvelous collection, that will be of interest to English majors and those readers who recently savored The Canterbury Tales or Beowulf. Harriet Klausner