Blessed is this sacred isle with sites of great antiquity but beloved the county royal where High Kings ruled with equity Blessed was the land of Fail for its...
Last year I was listening to a program on the origins of Irish Horse Fairs. The program said that the first fair was held under the rule of King Ollamh Fodlaat Tara; circa 1200 BC. This was part of the famous Feis Temrach; the feast of Tara which he inaugurated and which was held for three days before and after the November full Moon, every three years.
This fair carried on down the centuries. However I also read somewhere of a list of meals and menus likely to have been eaten at these gatherings and the results have led my poem to its grim conclusion. As a vegetarian I believe that humans are the only species that can voluntary change their diet, as they should. The fact that we don’t simply says that we are happy and that we don’t want to change.
Lugh in the end was stabbed to death and his body was sunk in a lake. His killers were killed at Teltown near Kells where Lugh’s mother was buried too. In time he became a solar deity and his death in myth is how people saw the sun dying; disappearing into water.
The month of August; Lughnasadh in Gaelic is named in his honor. When the sun shines brightest; that is when and how he is still remembered.
The path on the way up to the hill was mucky
so many must have trod it on the days before.
I could hear the din and clatter from where
I was walking; Feis Temrach was in full flow.
Dogs barking, the drunk shouting of men,
the wild cries of cattle and horses that
were tied up to be slaughtered.
Coming onto the hill I seen a man lying
inside the ramparts; drunk.
His woman standing in the drizzle, hunched
against the cold and keeping an eye on him.
Benders filled the hill as far as I could see,
leaking flickering lights and smoke.
Children watched me pass,
women too, from within the benders.
Nervous among this drunken mass of armed
The great hall; nothing but a long ragged bender,
Full of smoke, full of noise and full of sweat.
Full of skins of beer sagging,
like the bellies of sows
which were emptied as fast as they were carried in.
Full of bread and apples and red dripping meat.
At the back of the hall the young men and women gathered,
pulling at each other, cursing at each other,
threatening each other, drinking and falling.
In the middle of the hall were the men on the make,
warriors who were not yet chiefs but not just fighters.
They stood in their circle of spears, red eyed and gaunt.
They drank eyeing each other,
making shapes but under orders to refrain from attack.
This was tradition.
Up at the front about twenty men, kings and lesser kings
that had come clean and swarthy but who were now
drunk and filthy. They had been on the tear for days.
All looking for attention, a deal, a contract of battle.
Then himself; the high king, alone at the top,
sprawled across a chair made of oak and carved
with the symbols of Tara’s high night skies.
He was drunk too, slobbering to a few older women
of status who clung to him, fingering and pawing him.
He had to ride them before this ended and he knew that.
They knew that too. It was tradition.
Their men had fallen in his service, so they stayed close
and pulled at him and pushed at each other.
Days of this had passed and more was to come while outside
the moon dimmed and the rain fell and the year ended.
I watched it all. I was sent to watch.
I was sent here to the feast of Tara to see Lugh;
the next king, the next high king.
After midnight he entered.
A warrior, small and full and young, glistening under a
torn shirt, his hair and beard as black as the night.
He stood at the back and watched too.
There was fire in his eyes,
he wore amber and jet and a curled sneer.
He bit his lip as he looked about.
Everyone turned to watch him.
He drank slow, accepting each jug but he stayed alone.
All night the feast circled him, all night it swirled about him
but he stood silently, biting his lip, brooding like a corralled bull.
Then towards dawn he laid down his jug and smiled at
a drunk redhead who smiled back and nodded him out.
Both of them disappeared into the rain.
That was him. He had arrived. I seen him. I could go now.
Oh we all knew about him, we knew too that he was the
next king, the high king; everyone everywhere knew that.
It was seen in water, in shadows, a fish told someone.
A mad girl, under the moon’s pull used to shout his name.
Lugh had the swagger, the presence, the reputation.
Stories gathered around him like leaves around a stone.
He had forty heads on his door, more than all
the rest but he wanted more,
He had all the women falling for him.
He had a swarm of children to show for it,
all wrapped up in straw and fur.
Many mothers had unbuckled for him, more wanted to,
even the dogs outside whimpered and fell silent when he passed.
The Raths of Meath bore his blessings,
his name was already written on stones at wells.
The king knew him, knew what he wanted and relented to
his rule. When this feast was over Lugh took the reins.
He knew her too, that red cunt who had
took him out. The King had watched her grow.
Her father had fallen when she was a child,
she rode every man she met but stayed with no one.
The King had wanted her, all men wanted her and now;
well now she had Lugh. The circle was closed.
Who would protest her rule, who would complain?
That dark dusky stranger who had arrived one night
knowing everything and overturned all.
At dawn the King upped and left the hall to walk the hill
as he should. Tradition demanded it.
Badgers were held in a wicker cage and although most of
them had been eaten by now a few remained.
They were being tormented by kids and dogs.
I seen the badgers snap and pull at the cage,
a dog had the snout of one and was pulling it apart,
two boys poked them in the eyes with sticks.
The poor beasts grunted and fought well.
On the edge of the hill the king stopped.
A wolf cried in the woods to the west,
a man stumbled past with a naked woman,
the rain fell in thin driving sheets but of Lugh and
the redhead there was nothing. Not a sign.
The king knew he had just three days more.
Old with hair like ash twigs, he knew.
Demands were growing on him that he could not fill.
Age was clubbing him. Tara was torment now.
While returning to the hall he stopped to see his men
wrestling with a horse.
One hit it with an axe, another rushed in and stuck it with a spear.
The horse trashed and trashed then fell.
Blood flowed, the horse tried to get up but fell again,
it kicked and was cut up as it kicked.
It would be in the pot tonight, bubbling and spitting and spilling
down the edges.
The king was sick of eating horse and badger and goose
and swan and frog and crow.
He was sick of the sweet smelling drink,
sick of the sickly smelling women,
sick of the druids and their entrails and blood.
But he had to go on. Three more days. Tradition demanded it.
I watched him stumble back into the hall,
I watched the whole royal circus which tradition demanded.
Leaving it I felt only shame. I knew that it could not last.
Lugh would try, be corrupted and fall.
His name would be revered by those who stabbed him.
I knew that some day another people; virile, strong and
holding to a higher law would come across the hill and wipe
this rabble out. I knew that it would be better.
Better that is if they would release the badgers
and let the horses of Brega run free.
© John Farrelly
The Tara Skryne Valley is a beautiful area to visit and it holds a special place as the cultural centre of Irish heritage and history.
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