A Tale of Connory Mór

 

This is a tale of Connory Mór, the greatest of all Ireland's kings. Listen well, you.

 

Though he had not one gray hair in his beard, Bresal son of Brosnas was accounted the wisest Druid in all of Ireland, so that when King Eterscélae came to die, it was he who partook of the Bull Feast in order to divine his successor.

The Bull duly sacrificed, Bresal ate and drank his fill of the meat and broth and, wrapped in the bull's hide, lay down beneath the apple trees of the royal dún to dream of the next king. All night druids chanted over him incantations of truth.

In the morning, he arose and told the assembled men of Ireland: He who is to be king will come to Tara stark naked, at daybreak, bearing a stone in his sling.

Men were accordingly dispatched to each of the four roads that led into Tara to await his coming.

 

Young Connory—not yet called Mór, the great—was out hunting with his three foster-brothers when word came to them that the king had died, and that all men were to gather to Tara for the Bull Feast.

Come with us to Tara, his foster-brothers said to Connory, but Connory had spied a number of large, white-speckled birds, of unusual size and color, which he felt inclined to hunt, so he told them: Go on, and I will meet you there.

So they went, and he followed the birds in his chariot, sling in hand: but always the birds preceded him, out of range by the length of a spear cast. All day he followed them, until his horses began to tire. So he jumped from the chariot to follow on foot, and bade his charioteer return home when the horses were rested.

He followed the birds, always a spear-cast beyond him, until at sunset they came to the ocean. Here the birds turned, did off their bird-skins, and stood before him as warriors, with sword and spear.

I am Nemglan, said their chief, king of your father's bird-troops. I hereby lay upon you this geis: that henceforth you kill no birds, for they are your kin by birth.

This I did not know, said Connory. (His father, in fact, was a man of the West who had come in to his mother through the smoke hole in the shape of a bird; but Connory did not know this.) This geis I receive upon me.

This also I lay upon you, said Nemglan: that you lay aside all your clothing, and go this night to Tara, with a stone in your sling; for there your fate awaits you.

This also I receive, said Connory, and did as the man of the waves had bade.

 

So it is that at daybreak on the morning of the next day, the watchers on the road to Tara beheld a tall and beardless youth, barely come to his manly hair, come striding mother-naked toward them, with a stone on the sling.

This is our rightful king, this beardless stripling? said some among the onlookers. Truly, our Bull Feast has been wasted.

This is he indeed, said Bresal, son of Brosnas, wisest of druids. His bird-reign begins today.

So it is that Connory Mór, greatest of all the kings of Ireland, came to be known as the Skyclad King of Ireland. Thirty years he ruled in peace and prosperity—some say it was seventy—until he came to die by treachery and deceit in the hostel of Da Derga.

But that is another tale, for another night.

 

 

 

Retold from The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel

Jeffrey Gantz, tr., Early Irish Myths and Sagas, Penguin (1981)