Historical Irish Corpus
1600 - 1926

The Song of the Sword of Cerball.

The Song of the Sword of Cerball.
Ní fios, Meyer, Kuno
Laoide, Seosamh (Lloyd, Joseph H.)
Composition Date
Connradh na Gaedhilge

Search Texts

1600 1926

L. 613


Dallán mac Móire, to whom the following
poem is ascribed, was ollamh or chief bard
to King Cerball mac Murecáin of Leinster,
who reigned from about A.D. 885 to 909(?).
Several other poems or fragments of poems
ascribed to Dallán have come down to us, all
of them relating to the affairs of his royal
master and the dynasty of Leinster. In a
poem of 20 stanzas be celebrates no less than
forty battles fought by Cerball. The begin-
nigh is (LL. 47 a):

Cerbal Cuirr caem-Life, clód catha for Cond,
ra fhacsin a aebdreche arbath Nógba Corr.

Cerball of the Currach of the lovely Liffey, victor in battle
[over Leth-Cuinn,
Beholding his beautiful face Cnogba Cor did die.

A poem by him on the battle of Belach
Mugna is quoted in LL.52 b, in the Annals
of the Four Masters, A.D. 903, and in Three
Fragments of Irish Annals, p. 216. Lastly,
a poem on the death of Cerball is ascribed
to him (FM. A.D. 904, Three Fragments, pl.
220). It is probable that the poem on Cell
Chorbbain (LL. 201 b), from which there
are quotations in TF. p. 224 and FM. A.D.
904, is also by him.

From these poems, as well as from the
various Annals, we are in a position to follow
Cerball's career from the time of his access-
ion to the throne of Leinster to his death.
He was the son of Muricán mac Diarmata
who was slain by Norsemen in 863. His
fostermother was Gelserc, the daughter
of Derell, a Frankish king, whom I cannot
identify. Cormac mac Cuilennain, the cele-
brated king-bishop of Cashel,was his foste-

L. 614

Cerball succeeded his brother Domnall on
the throne of Leinster. He was a mighty
warrior, and most of his life seems to have
been spent on the battlefield, though he was
also proficient in the arts of peace, if we may
credit his eulogist, who says of him (LL. 201
b 42):

Ba hollom bérla Féne, ba léignid léire mebra,
ba fáid, ba fili forba, ba súi solma na senma.

“He was an ollave in the old Irish tongue, he was a dili-
gent reader of (good) memory,
He was a seer, a perfect poet, he was a ready master of

At one time or another he was at war with
all the neighbouring kings as well as with the
Norse invaders, whom in A.D. 897 he suc-
ceeded in driving from their stronghold in
Dublin. He was the last king of Lein-
ster who held his residence at Naas. In
908 he took part in the battle of Belach
Mugna, in which the King Cormac was slain.
This battle was fought on Tuesday, the 17th
of September, and one year and a day and
a half after the battle -i.e., on the 19th
September, 909, Cerball himself died, of
the effects of a wound which he had received
in the following manner.

After the Battle of Belach Mugna, Cerball
with a large number of prisoners proceeded
to Kildare. There, while riding on a
spirited horse through the street called
Srait in Chéime Cloiche or of the Stone Step,
and passing the workshop of a fuller, his
horse shied and flung him on to his own
lance which his Norse gillie Ulf was
carrying behind him. From this wound he
never recovered. During the year which he
had still to live and which he spent at Naas
(Cerball i n-othrus in tan sain in Nás, LL.
52 b 4), he married Gormflaith, his foster-
brother's Cormac widow, from whom however
he was soon separated in consequence of a
gross insult which he offered to her. See
LL. p. 52 b and O'Curry MS. Materials, p.

He was buried in the cemetery of Naas -
i.e., in Cell Náis or Cell Chorbbain (now
Kill, Co. Kildare “inter patres suos.”
His successor was Finn, of whom however
no mention is made in the Annals.

LL. 47 a. 50.

Mochen, a chlaidib Cherbaill!
bát menic i mórenglaim
Bát menic ac cur chatha,
ac dichennad ardfhlatha.

Hail, sword of Cerball! Oft hast thou been in the great
woof of war,
Oft giving battle, beheading high princes.

Rapsat menic ac dul chrech
il-lámaib rig na robreth,
Bát menic ac raind tána
ac degríg do dingbála.

Oft hast thou gone a-raiding in the hands of kings of high
Oft hast thous divided the spoil when with a good king
worthy of thee.

Bát menic il-láim ragil
bail[e] i mbítis Lagin
Bat menic etir rígraid,
bat menic im-mórdhírmaib.

Oft hast thou been in a white hand where Leinster men
Oft has thou been among kings, oft among great bands.

Mór de rigaib 'ca raba
da rachuris chomrama,
Mór scíath roscáltis i tress,
mór cend, mór clíath, mór caemchness.

Many were the kings with whom thou hast been when thou
madest flight,
Many a shield hast thou cleft in battle, many a head,
many a chest, many a fair skin.

Cethracha bliadan can brón
robá oc Énna na n-ardslóg
Ní rabadais ríamh i n-argg,
acht il-lámaib rig rogarg.

Forty years without sorrow Enna of the noble hosts
had thee,
Never wast thou in a strait, but in the hands of fierce

Datrat Énna, nir breth gand,
da mac fadein do Dunlang,
Tricha bliadan duit 'na seilb,
do Dunlang tucais-[s]iu theidm.

Enna gave thee, 'twas no niggardly gift, to his own son, to
Thirty years thou wast in his possession, to Dunlang thou
broughtest ruin.

Mór ríg rottecht ar eoch ard
co Diarmait rígda rogarg:
Bliadain ar a cóig déc duit
inn airet robá ac Diarmuit.

Many a king upon a high steed possessed the unto
Diarmait the kingly, the fierce,
Sixteen years was the time Diarmait had thee.

I n-aenuch Alend ra hed
rattidnaic Diaramait dúrgen,
Datrat Diarmait in rí nár
d'fhir Mairge, do Muricán.

At the feast of Allen upon a time Diarmait the hardy-born
bestowed thee,
Diarmait, the noble king, gave thee to the man of Mairge
to Murican.

L. 615

Cethracha bliadan co tend
robá il-láim ardrig Alend,
Ní raba bliadan can chath
ag Muricán mórglonnach.

Forty years stoutly thou wast in the hand of the high king
of Allen,
Thou never wast a year without battle while with Murican
of mighty deeds.

Dotrat Muricán rí Gall
i Taig Carmain do Cherball:
Níttuc Cerball do dune
céin robúi ar bith bude.

In Wexford Murican, the king of the Foreigners, gave thee
to Cerball:
While he was upon the yellow earth Cerball gave thee to

Ropo días derg do días glan
i cath Odba na n-óiged:
Da farg[b]ais Aed Findliath fóen
i cath Odba na n-ardróen.

Thy bright point was a crimson point in battle of
[Odba of the Foreigners,
When thou leftest Aed Finnliath on his back in the
battle of Odba of the noble routs.

Ropo derg th'faebur, rofess,
i mbeluch Mugna ratmess
[I] cath Maige Ailbe inn áig
fá ndernad ind immarbáig.

Crimson was thy edge, it was seen, at Belach Mugna thou
wast proved,
In the valorous battle of Ailbe's Plain, thoughout
which the fighting raged.

Romut romaid in cath cain
dia dardáin ac Dún Ochtair,
Da darochair Aed garb glé
isin leccaind ós Líathmuine.

Before thee the goodly host broke on a Thursday at Dun
When Aed the fierce and brilliant fell on the hillside
above Liathmuine.

Is romut romaid in cath
[in] lá romarbad Cellach
Mac Flannacáin, línib slóig,
i Temraig aird úasalmóir.

Before thee the host broke on the day when Cellach
was slain,
The son of Flannacan, with numbers of troops, in high lofty
great Tara.

Is romut rothráiged tess
i cath Boinne na mborbchleass.
Dar'thuit Cnogba, cleth inn áig,
immut fhégad ar th'orgráin.

Before they fled southwards in the battle of the Boyne
of the rough feats,
When Cnogba fell, the lance of valour, at seeing thee, for
dread of thee.

Ropsat fraechda, nirbsat meirb,
rapa laechda do lúathfeidm,.
Dar' thuitt Ailill Frossach Fáil
i tossuch ind immfhorráind.

Thou wast furious, thou wast not weak, heroic was thy
swift force,
When Ailill Frossach of Fál fell in the front of the

Ní rabadais lá madma
ac Cerball na cáemgarda,
Nir atluig lugi n-éthig,
ni thánic dar a bréthir.

Thou never hadst a day of defeat with Cerball of the beau-
tiful garths,
He swore no lying oath, he went not against his word.

Nocho rabadais lá liúin,
fúarais mór n-adhchi n-aniúil,
Fúarais mór rig co rath áig,
fúarais mór cath it chomdáil.

Thou never hadst a day of sorrow, many a night thou
hadst abroad,
Thou hadst found many a king with grace of valour,
many a battle awaiting thee.

A chlaidib rig na rolog,
na sáil bith for merugod,
Fogéba duit th'fher dána,
tigerna do dingbála.

O sword of the kings of the great conflagrations, do not fear
to be astray!
Thou shalt find thy man of skill, a lord worthy of thee.

Cia fésta forsa mbia seilb,
ná chia risa tic re theidm?
Dín ló dochúaid Cerball ass
cia 'ca mbia do lepthanas?

Who shall henceforth possess thee? or to whom wilt thou
deal ruin?
From the day that Cerball departed, with whom wilt thou
be bedded?

Nichatléicfider sech láim
co róis Tech Náis co nerbáig,
Bail itá Find [in] na fled,
atdérthar ritt is mochen!

Thou shalt not be neglected until thou come to Tech Náis
with strong fight,
Where Finn of the feasts is they will say to thee


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