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The Legend of King Cormac

Cormac Mac Airt was the greatest High King that Ireland has ever known and was said to be the man who codified the Brehon Laws, a legal system that was extraordinarily advanced for its time.


Cormac’s father was called Art who was fighting with another man, Mac Conn, over who should be High King of Ireland. Art visited a wise man named Olc Acha who berated him for going into battle against Mac Conn, saying that a battle is not the right way to settle the claim. However, Art would not listen to his council and refused to back down. Seeing that he could not be persuaded, Olc Acha asked him how many children he had to carry on his line, in case he should die in the battle.

When Art said that he had none, Olc Acha consulted with his daughter, Etani, and they came up with a plan. Olc Acha said “Since you’re so determined to go off and get yourself killed, Etani will spend the night with you. She’ll bear you a son, and I will raise him to be your heir, and we’ll say no more about it.” Etani was very beautiful and very wise and after she and Art had lain together, she had a prophetic dream. She dreamed that her head was cut off and a great tree grew out of her neck, spreading its branches all over Ireland. Then a wave came and knocked the tree over. She woke Art up and told him her dream, and he interpreted it for her. He said “A woman’s husband is the head of her, so your head being cut off in the dream means that tomorrow I will die in this battle, but the tree that spreads its branches all over Ireland stands for the son you’ll bear me will grow up to be a great King, and he will not die in battle. The wave that sweeps the tree down means that he’ll die choking on a fishbone.”


The next day, Art went into battle and, as Etani’s dream predicted, he was slaughtered by Mac Conn. Etani was pregnant. Olc Acha drew four circles of protection around the child in her womb so he would be safe from wolves, swords, fire and drowning. Etani was worried that Mac Conn might find out she was carrying Art’s child, and so she decided that she was going to travel to the house of Lugna, a good friend of Art’s, who would be a fine foster-father for her boy. She set out with a handmaiden, but they left very late in her pregnancy, and while she was on her way, having passed into Lugna’s lands, near Keshcorran in Sligo, her birth pains came over her. She had to get down from her chariot and squat down in a bed of ferns to give birth. As soon as the child was born, there was a great peal of thunder. Over in his house, Lugna heard it and said that it was the sign of a King’s birth. Etani was exhausted after the birth, so she lay down and fell asleep, telling her handmaiden to keep watch over the child, but the handmaiden too was overcome with tiredness, and lay down and took a nap. While the two women were sleeping a she-wolf came and stole the baby away.

Etani was devastated when she woke, thinking the child had been lost. When she reached Lugna’s house and told him what had happened, they sent everybody to scour the countryside looking for the child, but he was nowhere to be found. Some years later, a huntsman came across a she-wolf, and tracked her back to her lair, and there in the dirt playing with a pack of wolf-cubs, he saw a healthy, happy baby boy. He brought the child back to Lugna, and Lugna named him Cormac and raised him with his own sons.

Now Cormac grew up believing himself to be one of Lugna’s sons. But one day, he got into a fight with one of his foster-brothers and knocked the boy to the ground. Lugna’s son cried out in anger “It’s a terrible shame to be knocked down by a man who doesn’t even have a father!”. Cormac was shocked by this and went to Lugna to ask him what the other boy meant, and that was when Lugna told him that he was the son of Art, and that he had the blood of High Kings in him, and therefore a claim to the throne. He went to Tara and, on giving insight over a dispute between the Queen and a shepherdess, the people decided that Cormac would be a better king than Mac Conn. Mac Conn was peacefully deposed, Tara was rebuilt, and Cormac ushered in, beginning a new reign of prosperity and abundance. He would become the true Ard Rí or High King of Ireland and he possessed the Testing Cup (a precursor to the Holy Grail) which had miraculous powers for those who drank from it.

Have you the taste for the truth irrespective of how it arrives and, therefore, ‘will you drink deep or just sip?’