The Battle of Magh Lena part 2

When we left Conn and Eoghan they had come to a truce. And Ireland had been partitioned into halves, along a line running from Dublin to Galway Bay. Mounds were constructed to mark the edges of this boundary. One stands at the Peninsula of Marey, south of Galway City. And the other, if the legend is to be believed, stood where Dublin Castle would eventually be built. This division meant that both Galway and Dublin’s ports fell under Conn’s rule. And this would prove vital.

For fifteen years they had an uneasy truce, but Eoghan grew bitter, and the lust for revenge always gnawed at his mind. So it was that he spent less time ruling with wisdom, and more and more time seeking just cause to break his truce with Conn. His people would come looking for judgement or aid, but Eoghan would dismiss them, not bothered with providing fair judgement and so his lands grew poor and barren. And even at the king’s table, the fare was meagre.

One day, he did a tour of his holdings, seeking to find where the majority of his wealth lay, and to try and increase their taxes so he himself could benefit more. He arrived at Dublin, only to be met with an enraging sight. The port that lay to the north of the border was bustling. Trade was good, and he knew then that Conn benefited from this trade most.

So, he made straight for Tara and demanded an audience. When Conn came to him, Eoghan informed his rival that their deal was unfair, and that Conn should give the port, and its trade, to Eoghan. Conn refuted this, stating that goods couldn’t not be divided as land was. Eoghan responded by calling an end to the truce, and declaring war once more. He finally had the reason he was looking for.

Conn didn’t hesitate this time and retreated to Connaught where he was safe in his fortresses while Eoghan gathered his armies. However, Conn still had enemies in Ulster and once again Eochaid thwarted him. He led a great army south, pillaging Meath and attempting to hold Tara against him.

Conn had no choice but to leave his forts and face the Ulstermen on the field. He defeated them soundly and many fled north once more. Though Eochaid led his surviving warriors south to Eoghan’s gathering army.

Over the years, Eoghan’s passivity had led to the release of Conaire’s and MacNid-MacLug’s families. So, as soon as they had gathered enough information on Eoghan’s plans, the two former kings betrayed Eoghan and left to go to Conn with their warriors. They gave up the route Eoghan would take north, so Conn would be able to cut Eoghan off and meet his forces in a place of his Conn’s choosing. The two armies met on the hills of Magh Leana, and there, their fates would be decided.

The two kings set up their camps on opposing hills, and once more prepared to do battle in the morning. Conn had no tricks up his sleeve this time, and as he looked at Eoghan’s superior forces, he knew that he would not win in the morning. Eoghan knew this as well, and so, driven more by a sense of irony than the desire to save lives, he sent Conn an offer.  And this was it:

Eoghan was going to massacre all Conn’s warriors down to last, no matter the cost. Then, he said, he would find their families and do the same to them. After, he would hunt down every last friend Conn ever had and bring them to ruin. Finally he would raise Tara to the ground and build it new again so no one would know what had stood there before. Or Conn and all his kin could leave Ireland, and swear to never return for all of time, or be cursed if they did.

Reluctantly, Conn agreed. But the point was raised that he would have to give proof of his honest intentions, as Eoghan had grown paranoid since their truce was declared and increasingly hateful.  As show of good faith, Conn sent his two foster brothers, his best friends, to carry the message to Eoghan. Upon receiving Conn’s capitulation Eoghan became overjoyed. He declared that his time of suffering was at an end, and that he would now relish in the excess of being High-King of all Ireland. He said that no food would go untasted, and no wine undrank.

You see, the long years of hardship, the loss of his father, and Eadoinn, meant his hatred for Conn had festered to a point nearing on madness. And as Conn’s brothers looked at their would-be High-king, they knew that doom was upon them and all the people of Ireland. In his arrogance, Eoghan ordered them to swear fealty to him, but they refused. They said that even if Conn couldn’t be king, they would never see a man such as Eoghan rule Ireland.

Eoghan flew into a rage, and ordered Conn’s brothers seized. Eochaid and the Ulstermen objected to this, insisting that it was dishonourable to attack ambassadors in truce. But Eoghan overruled him, reminding him that he was now High-king, and if they refused to swear allegiance, then it was treason. He dragged them up to the top of the highest hill and lit a fire to so that Conn could see what was going on from the opposite side.  When he could be sure he had Conn’s attention Eoghan drew the great sword of Eadoinn and he beheaded Conn’s brothers, the men Conn loved best in the world. Conn was struck by grief, and declared that they would fight in the morning. There could be no peace between them now.

Eoghan was confident in his victory at set his camp to merriment. But even as he arrived at his own fire, three women appeared to him. They were Eriu, Fodla and Banbha, the three sister goddesses of Ireland. They sang to him, outlining the punishments the land suffered under a bad King. Then they declared that Eoghan was cursed for breaking the Laws of the Kingdom, and that he would be killed for it. Despite his fear, Eoghan rebuked them reminding them that he could only die by his own hand, and showed them the blade given him by Eadoinn. But the Ulstermen heard the goddess’es prediction, and were quiet.

Conn meanwhile, was also approached by the three goddess. They sang to Conn of the blessings that the land received under good Kingship, then, Eriu urged him to attack Eoghan at first light, when his forces were still hungover and sleeping. Conn refused, calling the deed dishonourable, but Eriu was insulted that Conn would allow the people of Ireland to suffer under the yoke of Eoghan’s rule, all to protect his precious personal honour.

While Conn debated, Eochaid of Ulster approached him, he was outraged at Eoghan’s actions in executing the messengers, who were protected by law. And because Eoghan was the initial person to carry out this dishonour, he encouraged Conn to follow the Tuatha de Danann’s advice. And so the Ulstermen switched sides, and though their force was small, this combined with the surprise attack,  Conn’s army might just win the day.

Conn was torn, but eventually decided it was indeed better to attack and be considered dishonourable, than allow Eoghan kingship of Ireland. But the Fianna, the warriors of the greatest strength, wisdom, and honour, disagreed. And so refused to fight until the sun was fully up and all Eoghan’s troops raised Goll Mac Morna, however, knew that Eoghan mustn’t be made king. He was no longer the leader of the Fianna but he still possessed great influence over the warriors of Ireland. So he persuaded Conn’s men to protect their lord, and keep him from the front-lines until Goll felt it right for the Fianna to join and for him to fight Eoghan in Conn’s stead.

As the Sun rose the Fianna stayed camping while Conn and Ulstermen led the charge into Eoghan’s sleeping camp. Eoghan had slept poorly that night and was soon woke by the sound of battle, but by the time he got up and put on his gear, over a third of his forces were killed. Nevertheless, he rallied his men, and they began the battle in earnest, though he knew the two sides were now painfully evenly matched.

The battle that raged at Magh Leana was bloody and the bodies littered the ground in huge piles of mangled human flesh. Many great warriors lost their lives that day, and their like would never be seen in Ireland again. The conflict left many children without parents, and many parents without children. The Fianna observed this until all of Eoghan’s remaining soldiers were armed, awake and the sun shone in the sky. And then joined the fray. Goll sought Eoghan, so that he might end this brutal war. And, so it was that once more, the King of Munster met the ex-leader of the Fianna in single combat.

Goll Mac Morna and Eoghan Mor fought as if nothing else mattered. But it had been years since their last battle, and Goll was aged, while Eoghan was still in his prime. Besides that he had the sword of Eadoinn, and so Goll found himself sorely matched. Eoghan landed a strike on Goll’s shield arm, and the great warrior called out in shock and pain. Hearing this, Conn recognised the cries and went to help. But he was held back by others of the Fianna who instead went to Goll’s aid. Each one landed a hit on Eoghan, but each one received a cut from Eoghan in return.

Goll recovered and again he and Eoghan were matched blow for blow. But, again Goll faltered and Eoghan landed a slice across his leg. Goll called out, and Conn heard his cries. He tried to run ahead, but his personal guard held him back and they went instead to Goll’s aid. They struck at Eoghan injuring him, however, Eoghan managed to place a hit on each of them, driving them back.

Once more, Goll Mac Morna recovered and charged Eoghan, but he was much weakened, and Eoghan landed a nasty cut across Goll’s chest. As Goll collapsed he let loose a last mournful shout. He was not slain, but he could not rise. Upon hearing the Fianna’s cry Conn charged. Eluding those who would hold him back and finally, Conn Cead Cathach faced Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat and the victor would be High-king of Ireland.

Eoghan’s fury was unchecked, and blinding. His enemy of years was at last within reach of his blade and he made devastating strike after devastating strike upon Conn’s shield. Conn’s anger was quieter, though still present. He took each blow with patience, stepping back with every hit. As the distance between them grew, Eoghan over extended himself. Conn side stepped, allowing Eoghan’s swing to glance across his shield, then he jabbed, taking the other King in his shoulder.

Eoghan fell back, as blood drenched his arm, making his hands slippery. Now, Conn was on the attack. He swung his sword high, driving Eoghan backwards. All around the battle was lessening, and though the two didn’t know it, Conn’s troops were slowly winning the field.

Then, Eoghan’s sword slipped in his hand, and he dropped it. But as Eoghan stepped back his foot hit off a fallen spear. He kicked the spear up into his waiting hands, and in one swift motion he rammed it into Conn’s gut. Conn pulled back, yanking the spear out of Eoghan’s hands. He dropped his own weapon and fell to his knees. The High-King felt silence come over him as battlefield became distant. The fighting died down, and all turned to watch, some in horror, some in exultation.

In that moment, Conn knew he was to die, and that Eoghan had won. Eoghan knew it too, and made to gloat, but as he did, Conn noticed Eoghan’s own sword at his finger tips. He grasped it, and rising with the spear still stuck in him, he used the blade to hack off the shaft. He started swinging at Eoghan’s now raised shield. Three times he struck and three times Eoghan blocked, barely. But on the next strike, the shield shattered, sending a jolt down Conn’s arm and breaking Eoghan’s. Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat fell to his knees, and in a furious slash, Eadoinn’s magic sword cut off his head.

And so the battle was ended. Conn was wounded, but the tenacious Goll mac Morna kept him conscious until they could both be healed. Upon the death of their king, Eoghan’s army surrendered. A new treaty was drawn between the provinces, and Conn became High-King of all Ireland once more.

But, the people of Ireland were split over Conn’s actions that day. The argument ran; that if he had not done this shameful dawn-attack, then Ireland would have suffered greatly under the terrible yoke of Eoghan’s reign. Yet, the people would speak behind the King’s back, words like dishonour, and distrust, would haunt him for the remainder of his days.

So, even though Ireland was united once more under Conn. There was still a division within their hearts and minds that would not be healed in Conn’s lifetime…   Conn’s Half and Mogh’s Half remained in spirit. And perhaps it should be considered that Ireland was never whole again…

The Mythological Cycle

The Mythological Cycle is about the set of five Invasions Lebor Gabála Érenn that were core to the formation of Ireland. It is also about the Battles of Moytura where the Tuatha De Danaan were successful in establishing a culture based on the goddess. The final invaders, the Sons of Mil, then beat them at the Battle of Tailtiu to send the Tuatha De underground where they have remained. This cycle also includes the magical Midir and Etain and a number of Voyage Stories such as Bran and Máel Dúin.

Unlike other mythologies that have their stories of how the world came into being, the Irish, quite differently are, the people who came from ‘somewhere else’.  The invasions begin with the much travelled Cesair, her partner the shaman, shape shifting Fintan, two other men and fifty women.  This is followed by the innovative Partholonians, the Nemedians and then the Fir Bolg, the bag men of Archaic Ireland and their wonderful political social idea of the ‘cuige’ the four provinces that are five which set sup the idea of the sacred centre.  These four invasions set up the chief tribe of the Cycle, the Tuatha Dé Danann, ‘the peoples of the Goddess Danu’.  Their success in the Battles of Moytura establishes Ireland as a goddess culture.  This essentially feminine foundation remained until the arrival of Amairghin and the Sons of Mil.  It was then that the Goddess peoples lost the Battle of Tailtui and they were banished underground.  Some see this as a truly tragic day in Ireland’s mythic history.

These invasion stories are complemented with exile stories: The voyages of Bran, Mael Dun and the well known Children of Lir.  The combination of invasion and exile stories establish the Irish as the people from somewhere else, who have gone somewhere else – potentially a globally relevant modern foundation myth!

Cian and Eithne
Fintan MacBochra and the Hawk of Achill
Fir Bolg
Nemed
Parthalon
The Book of Invasions
The Book of Invasions – Part 1: Cesair
The Book of Invasions – Part 1: Cesair (Christian version)
The Book of Invasions – Part 1: Cesair (The World’s Mythologies)
The Book of Invasions – Part 2: Parthalon
The Book of Invasions – Part 3: Nemed and the Fir Bolg
The Book of Invasions – Part 4: The First Battle of Moytura
The Book of Invasions – Part 5: The Second Battle of Moytura
The Book of Invasions – Part 6: The Sons of Mil
The book of Invasions – Part 1: Cesair (Pagan Version)
The Daghda’s Harp
The Manor of Tara

Book of Invasions

Cesair
Fintan MacBochra
Partholon
Nemed
Formorians
Fir Bolg
Lugh
Balor
Danu
Tuatha De Danann
Nuadhu
Breas
Bran
Mananaan Mac Lir
Cian
Eithne

Midir and Etain

Midir
Etain
Eochaid Airem
Aillil
Eadar
Aengus Og

Gods/Goddess of Ireland

Daghda
Morrigan
Macha
Cliodhna
Brigit

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