The Champion’s Portion 6

Chapter Six

That first night, the three heroes were invited to partake of a fine feast but they had to remain alone in the closed partition. As soon as the food and drink were laid out and the slaves withdrew, a monstrous cave cat from the Sídhe mountains suddenly appeared, its malevolent yellow eyes and teeth gleaming wickedly in the fire and candlelight.

With a bound, both Conall and Laoghaire leapt from their benches to the rafters overhead, abandoning both weapons, food and drink in their haste to avoid the furious attack of the great beast.

Cú Chulainn remained calmly seated at the bench and when the beast stalked nearer, preparing to pounce, Cú Chulainn swiftly drew his sword and slashed at the snarling cat. The iron blade clashed harshly as if he had struck stone and the keen blade slid off the beast’s shoulders.  

The cat remained transfixed in a baleful crouch but evinced no further movement.  Cú Chulainn remained seated and watchful but availed himself to the full of the prepared food and drink.

As sunrise penetrated gaps in the shingled roof overhead, the monstrous beast bestirred itself and vanished as abruptly as it had first appeared just as Ailil swept into the room before Laoghaire and Conall could descent from the rafters where they had spent an uncomfortable and hungry night.

‘Well then?’ inquired Ailil, ‘does that not suffice?  Surely you have your champion here?’

‘Not so,’ insisted Laoghaire.  ‘Indeed,’ added Conall, ‘it is not against beasts that we are competing but in the strife of combat and battle that we seek a judgement.’

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On the second night, Ailil directed them to the valley of Ercol where they had to fight the black spirits of the Tuatha Dé Danann which guarded it.  Laoghaire went first but could not withstand their assault and fled, leaving his weapons and his chariot there. Conall was served a similar fate and was driven back, barely managing to hold on to his spear.

At the sight of Cú Chulainn, the dread shapes screamed and hissed as they attacked him, hacking at his shield and cloak until both were dented and rent, and his spear blunted.  The black shapes swarmed around him, thrusting and slashing and Laeg braced himself before screaming out, ‘Cú Chulainn, is that the best you can do, you pathetic little bollix, if you let a few empty cloaks get the better of you.’ 

Spurred on by his servant’s words, Cú Chulainn felt the blood course more violently through his veins, pumping him up so that the hair on his head sparkled with energy and light. He bounded forward with renewed valour at the spirits and slashed and stabbed and thrust and stamped forward until he was alone in a pool of black blood but with the trapping of his friends.

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On the third night, Ercol, lord of the valley, challenged each of them to single combat on horseback.  Laoghaire was first to be unseated and Ercol’s horse killed his mount and he fled from the valley back to Crúachan as soon as the beating he received allowed.

Conall also was forced to retire and his horse killed too.

The Grey of Macha killed Ercol’s horse with its mighty iron shod hooves and Cú Chulainn defeated Ercol and bound him by the neck to the back of his horse and set out for Crúachan.

‘Well,’ said Ailil, knowing full well that whatever he decided, nothing would please all three men in front of him. ‘That’s clear, then, isn’t it?  I mean, from what you told me and from what I can see, I award the Champion Portion to Cú Chulainn.’

‘Hold on there just a moment,’ insisted Laoghaire.  ‘We’re not here to fight against wild beasts or the folk of the Tuatha Dé Danann or the Sídhe for it is well known that Cú Chulainn has connections with that lot.’

‘He’s right,’ rumbled Conall, ‘The Champion’s Portion is about battle valour and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of that yet.’

Epochs & The Book of Invasions

I have been going on about archeological and geological times frames, periods and epochs recently and I want to try and put this into some kind of framework with regard to Ireland and the first people to inhabit the island.

The tables below show the most recent information I can find with reference to the periods mentioned.


pre 8800 BCE


8800 – 4900 BCE


4900 – 2100 BCE

Nomadic hunting and gathering groups Transition between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, the “Middle Stone Age”. Start and end dates vary by geographical region. begining with the Holocene warm period and ending with the start of the Neolithic era. Ireland initially colonised during this period, most probably from Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales through existing land bridges.


c. 3800 – Farming widely adopted in Ireland over just a few centuries. Herding, polished stone axes, megalithic tombs and pottery almost identical to those found in Britain, suggesting a common origin or on-going contacts between the islands. Late Neolithic Grooved style pottery replaced by new Beaker tyle ceramics c. 2500 BCE


Bronze Age

2100 -500 BCE

Iron Age

1100 – 1 BCE

Roman Age

56 BCE – 420 CE

Britain Ireland


The arrival of the irish language?

2100- 750 2100- 1500

The megaliths and the use of copper and tin, ushered in the early Irish Bronze Age

Early Iron Age

700- 400

Developed Iron Age

400 – 1 BCE


Initial contact with Roman World

Late Iron Age

AD 1 – 400

  1500 – 1200        
  1200 – 500    

Before I go any further I want to assert the fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the earliest inhabitants of Ireland – during the Meseolithic and / or Neolithic Era – spoke Irish, Gaelic, or any form of a Celtic language until thousands of years after the first arrivals, no matter what the Lebor Gabála Érenn, The Book of the Taking of Ireland or, as it is more commonly known, The Book of Invasions, claims. This is a collection of poems and prose narratives that presents itself as a chronological “history” of Ireland and the Irish, the earliest of which was compiled by anonymous scribes during the 11th century and is regarded as part of the Mythological Cycle of Old irish documents followed by the Ulster Cycle, from which I drew the the inspiration for my novel, Raiding Cooley. Updated in the 12th century with Christian overtones, the aim of which was to provide Ireland and its kings with a genealogical lineage dating back to the earliest biblical times.

The difficulty here is trying to match the Mythological origins of Ireland with the hard archeological, genetic and linguistic evidence currently available.

The Lebor Gabála tells of Ireland being invaded six times by six groups of people:

The people of Cessair, the descendants of Noah, (direct evidence that biblical stories were incorporated into a sanitised version of the mythology), who first came to Ireland clung to the coast but later abandoned the country. Next were the people of Partholón, but he and his people died of a plague. Nemedians, supposedly from Scythia, were next but they left, having been continually harrassed by fierce sea robbers, the Formorians, from their base on Tory Island.

The Fir Bolg, (or Bag Men), descendants of the Nemedians returned, supposedly from Greece but more likely from Gaul and are credited with the erection of the great stone forts such as Dún Aengus on the Aran Islands as well as the division of the island into the five fifths – Ulaidh, Laighin, Connachta, Dá Mumhain and the central territory of Midhe. The fifth group were the Tuatha Dé Danann who were credited with magical powers and later came to represent Ireland’s pagan gods. Under their king, Nuada of the Silver Hand, they defeated the Fir Bolg and later destroyed the power of the Formorians who still infested the island.   To them, the great passage tombs at Newgrange are ascribed as well as the Stone of Destiny upon which the High Kings of Ireland were later crowned on the Hill of Tara.

The final group, the Milesians, represent the Irish people (the Gaels) and arrived sometime between 1700 – 1000 BCE after extensive travelling from (again) Scythia, Greece, Egypt (?) and Spain.

Archeologically, it seems certain then that different groups of people, some from the north of Atlantic Europe and some from the South, reached Ireland at different times since the start of the Meseolithic period.

So, who were these first people, and where did they come from? I will come back to this in  later blogs.