Gemma Grant continues her series on Irish Myths and Legends


King Conor Mac Nessa was among the most handsome of Ulster’s kings. He was the epitome of physical perfection and much admired by the womenfolk of Ulster and beyond. The one thorn in Conor’s side was his bard, Atharna.

The chief poet and satirist was a man of greed who demanded a high price for his services. To refuse his requests would result in poisonous mockery of those who offended him. Conor thought up a two-fold plan; how to be rid of Atharna and how to justify a raid on Leinster.

Encouraging Atharna to entertain the king of Leinster, Mesgedra, the bard set forth with his retinue. Overstaying his welcome, King Mesgedra thanked Atharna for his presence and asked how he could repay him. The Leinster king knew of Atharna’s fearsome reputation for demanding a high price for his services.

When the bard told the king he wanted cattle, sheep, gold and of course – women, Mesgedra agreed; a little too readily the poet thought. Suspecting treachery, Atharna sent a messenger ahead of his departure to summon King Conor to escort him safely back to Eamain Macha.

Atharna knew that once he was outside the province of Leinster, King Mesgedra was likely to attack, reclaiming his possessions.

Receiving the news that his bard sought help Conor left, hoping that Atharna would be dead from the blade of a Leinster man, thereby giving Conor the excuse he needed to raid Leinster.

When the two forces met, Conor’s men were driven back by the Leinster men. Conor sent for reinforcements. When Conall of the Victories, left in charge of Eamain Macha, received the summons from his king he left instantly, with a large fighting force of Ulster men. Both armies battled it out, resulting in many casualties before the Leinster men were forced to flee.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own