Brandubh of Hy Kinsella

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*iping the dripping hair from his face, Aedh sits down and pulls a chair close to the peat fire. "Ahh, it's a cold rain today," he mumbles while stretching his arms towards the warmth. "It's days like this that make me feel every year my soul has tarried on this earth."

"How old are you Aedh?" asks Eva shyly as she chews on a freshly baked cookie.

Aedh doesn't answer at first. He sits back in his chair, takes a deep draught from the pint by his side, and laughs slowly. Finally he answers, "Older than you would guess my lovely lass, older than you would guess." Donal walks in carrying a fresh tray of newly made cookies from the kitchen. He sets it down on the floor, near the fire, where it is within easy reach of Enna, Eva, and himself, then drops onto the oaken floor boards. "I don't suppose you know what I told you last time, do you? I had to leave so quickly and for that I apologize."

"Oh, I know, I know," Enna quickly says, "you told us about an Irish and a Scottish king who were actually brothers."

Aedh nods towards Enna as he smiles and remarks, "Well I suppose maybe you have been listening after all. Now, does anyone remember the name of that Irish king by any chance?"

For a moment, no one responds. Enna looks at Eva, Eva looks at Donal, and Donal then replies, "Brandubh."

Looking appreciatively at Donal, Aedh slowly says, "That's very good, Donal. Very good. Now, let me tell you a little more about Brandubh." Before Aedh continues, he pauses, simply looking at Donal, then he reaches for his Guinness and takes a sip. "Brandubh, means Back Raven in Gaelic and probably refers to the color of his hair. He first became king of Hy Kinsella, being a descendant of Enna Kinsella, and eventually he won the kingship of Leinster. By the end of his reign, Leinster had become a very powerful province, but this was not true when he first won the kingship around the year 600 A.D."

The story had begun and already each of the children listens earnestly, trying not to miss a word. Aedh leans closer to them and continues softly, "Prince Cummascach, the son of the king of Ireland, who was named Aedh like me, went through Leinster on his "free circuit of youth"-- a trip around Ireland allowing all the lands paying tribute to the High King to show their respect by honoring his son with gifts and hospitality. The sons conduct on this occasion was so horrible that Brandubh and the free people of Hy Kinsella decided war with the High King was preferable to Prince Cummascach's continuing crimes, especially those he committed against the women of Leinster."

"What type of crimes?" asks Eva curiously.

"Did he beat them?" wonders Enna. With a very serious expression, he continues chewing on his cookie.

"Oh, I suppose he may have beat some of them. Some, perhaps girls your age or only slightly older, Eva, he took from their parents home and didn't bring them back. He made them do whatever he wanted, and they didn't like the things he wanted. Now a certain amount of this was actually expected when the High King's son went on his "circuit of youth", a trip he could only take once in his life, but this Prince had gone to far. Brandubh's people were furious." Taking another drink, the old man looks toward Donal. "Place another brick on the fire, lad, the cold of this Spring day is creeping in through the beams of the house."

Donal scrambles over to the peat and pulls out a brick, carefully laying it across the burning pile near the tray of quickly disappearing cookies.

"Good. Now, while the Prince and his retinue were feasting, Brandubh and his people set fire to the house they were in, then stood outside to prevent any escape. Glasdam, the prince's jester, was one of the doomed company, but as he had been hospitably entertained a few days before by Brandubh, he now cried out, ' I've eaten at your table, don't let this deed of shame be done to me!'

Brandubh answered him in a booming voice, 'You alone shall be saved. Climb up to the ridge-pole and leap out over the flames to the ground; we will let you go.'

But inside the burning house, Glasdam refused to be saved without his master. Tearing off his fool's mantle and cap while the flames were closing in, he said to Prince Cummascach, 'Take these and escape, they'll not recognize you.' The prince put them on and, leaping out, was allowed to escape, while the poor fool remained behind and was burned to death with the rest."

Aedh pauses, giving the children a chance to let this sink in and also giving himself an opportunity to wet his lips. Wiping some of the froth from his mouth, he goes on, "As you might expect, once Prince Cummascach made it home to Tara, his father, Aedh, was furious. He immediately called together the fighting men of Ireland and went south to collect the famous Boru tribute from Leinster. Brandubh met him at Dunboyke in Wicklow with a much smaller force and, after meeting with the High King, told him he needed time to make his choice, war or paying the tribute."

At the same time Enna and Donal reach for the last cookie but they both hesitate; for an instant they look at one another, then Enna grabs it from the plate. Before he can put the cookie in his mouth however, Donal knocks it from his hands and sends it soaring across the room. "That's enough," cries Aedh in a loud voice, then more softly he adds, "that one will be for the mice, now let me finish."

"One of Brandubh's warriors, Ron Kerr, smeared himself all over with calf's blood mixed with dough of rye, so as to look like a leper. With this disguise he went into the enemy's camp as a spy. Meanwhile, Brandubh met with the king of another province called Ulidia, now East Ulster, in a secret mountain cave far from both armies. The King of Ulidia had brought his army to aid the High King, but Brandubh, after discussing the situation, convinced the other to leave the High King and side with Leinster. The king of Ulidia then said, 'A blood covenant and an agreement shall be made between us.' They seated themselves on the mountain and made a bond of fellowship that should never be broken."

"Even with the extra men the army of Ulidia gave Brandubh, he still saw no hope of success in open battle, so he came up with a plan. He collected 3600 oxen carrying great hampers, in each of which was concealed an armed man covered over with provisions, and he set out by night with these and with a herd of 150 untamed horses towards the monarch's encampment. When they approached the camp, the advance guard, hearing the trampling and the din, started to arms, and questioned the party. They replied that they were a friendly contingent bringing a stock of provisions for the king of Ireland and when the guard, on examining the sacks, saw the provisions, they let them pass. The party passed on till they entered the royal enclosure and, tying bags filled with pebbles to the tails of the wild horses, they let them loose among the tents, which caused a terrible confusion. In the midst of the uproar, the men in the sacks cut themselves loose at a signal and forming into ranks to attack the camp."

Aedh stops to quench his thirst, taking a long draught from his pint glass. Looking down, he sees the expectant faces. "Hurry up, what happened next?" eagerly asks Enna.

With a smile, Aedh continues, "Well, let me tell you about the High King first. You see, St. Columcille once presented his cowl to Aedh, the High King of Ireland, with a promise that as long as he wore it he would not be slain, so the King constantly brought it with him on his expeditions. Just as this battle was beginning, Aedh ordered his attendant to bring him the cowl.

'That cowl,' replied the attendant, 'we have left behind us in the palace of Ailech in the North.'

'Alas,' said the King, 'then it is all the more likely I shall be slain by the Leinstermen.'

"The royal forces were completely surprised and, after a dreadful fight in the darkness, they were routed. The king of Ireland, fleeing from the field, was overtaken and beheaded by one of the Leinster chiefs. Brandubh had begun to extend the power and influence of Leinster by crushing the High King of Ireland."

The pungent smell of burning peat fills the room, the rain spatters against the windows, Aedh lifts the glass to his mouth to finish the last of it. Gazing into the flames before him, he waits contentedly.

Finally, Donal says, "You know more of Brandubh?"

"Aye, but he's only one of the king's of Leinster. I shall tell you of others also. But for now, I must be off."

"No, not yet," whimpers Eva, "cannot you tell us one more."

"Yes, at least a small one."

Slowly he rises, looking down at their pleading eyes, but he waves his arm towards them, "There are others, I have a long day ahead of me. Remember what I have said though, I shall ask you next time." With that he reaches for his cane, pulls a cap down over his head, and walks toward the front door. As he begins to pull the door shut, he hollers back towards the kitchen, "Thank you, Mor, leave my regards with your husband."


The history related in this tale comes from "History of Ireland" by Keating

 

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