THE TEETH OF ST. AEDH



Saint Aedh and the Teeth of Sliabh Scoilt:  An Epic of the Ancient Irish

 

How did Aedh Mac Carthin fight and win such glory to stretch from Ireland to Rome? It will be told.

There were sad days at Armagh as Patrick lay dying.  And the saint on his deathbed called to his household.  Blessings and prayers he said for each, wishes and instructions as well.

Then came Aedh Mac Carthin, the strongest man, Aedh Mac Carthin, a great and prideful prince of Leinster who carried the Saint on shoulder over river and stream.  To him Patricus spoke:

 

 ‘My journey cannot be made

In chariot or on foot

Nor will your arms carry

me to God’s house.

A final pilgrimage I make

and after I am under way, you,

Son of Cartin, strong and humble,

will be tasked with

greater weight than mine.

The benighted and ignorant

the druids and their plots.

Rivers you will cross

and the sea as well, bearing

the holy word as you bore me.

The Lord grants me these visions

that I may share them and you may

turn the right side of your face

to honor His will.’

For a month only had Patricus lay in the earth when a chariot drawn by wretched horses and bearing a wretched messenger did come to Armagh. The driver upon hearing the saint had died wept bitterly and cried out:

 

 ‘Woe to all my people,

murder and pestilence devouring

mother and son to the last.

Brutally are we oppressed

merciless our enemies,

hard their treatment of us.

Our own gods let us suffer

and the god of the saint

takes him from us.

Bitter news must I take back,

lots yet will be drawn,

sacrifice yet will be made.’

‘And where is your tribe,’ asked Aedh, ‘to labor still under the yoke of false idols?’

‘Our lands lie beyond the river Bandon, unvisited by saint or priest.’

Aedh Mac Carthin heard this and spoke:

 

‘This river I will cross,

your people I will teach,

God will drive back your enemies.

Make room in your chariot for me,

Make room in your heart for courage.’

 A hard journey, flying across plain and over mountain. The horses became so gaunt that a child could lift them with his two hands, and one hand only for the lean driver.  The chariot’s wheels creaked and shook, its walls offered no shelter. At the Bandon’s banks the water rushed and flooded, the charioteer worried and fretted.

 

 ‘So weak are we,

 that men and horses will be carried to sea.’

 Aedh Mac Carthin had stayed fit and strong and lifted horses and chariot in one hand, the driver in the other and so carried them across the swift flood.

 

 On the other side they found

the people in sore grief,

the house of the chief in disorder.

Said the charioteer: ‘They draw lots to choose who will go to our enemies, as tribute and sacrifice. Fire and sword will they bring if the victims are not gathered and delivered swiftly.’

 

 But Aedh Mac Carthin prayed outside

the hall of the chieftain.

Tasach the king welcomed Aedh

His people took heart and gathered

What numbers they could and went

to meet their foes.

With the Bandon between them, the two armies taunted one another, King Ferchu and his druid demanded their tribute. This was the force of King Ferchu, eager and swarming on the far side of the river, that waited for King Tasach and Aedh Mac Carthin:

 

Swarming and fierce, haughty with strong arms

Legion overwhelming enraged

Flaming shields, brave spears

Shouting challenges, eyes mad

Charge of a horse

Fury of boars

Taller than oaks

Sprung from giants

A great ivory tooth to

Fill a fist hung about the

White necks of Ferchu and

The thirteen greatest warriors

The very teeth of Sliabh Scoilt

The giant that sired their race.

The Fourteen gathered at the bank

Armies stretched behind them.

The Avenger of Patrick stepped into the ford, answered their demands with a challenge of his own. The Fourteen laughed at him.

 

He who stood with no sword,

stood with no shield,

stood with no spear.

Cúlfhaicail they chose, a mighty

wrestler, from their number

to go into the ford and duel.

The water boiled with their struggle.  Fish leapt from the depths to escape in such numbers both armies did not want for food that night.

Aedh Mac Carthin at last gripped Cúlfhaicail

he thrust him into the churning water

and there he drowned.

He took the tooth from Cúlfhaicail’s neck

and prayed on the shore for as much

strength in the battles to come.

‘Well does this please me,’ said King Tasach to Aedh, ‘but there is as much work to be done tomorrow.’

Across the Bandon, the Thirteen grew alarmed and chose Meilteoir to fight the next day.  So hard was the fighting that no stone was left in the river and both armies built houses from the plentiful rocks.

But Meilteoir met the same fate as Cúlfhaicail

and was drowned in the ford and

Aedh Mac Carthin took the tooth from about his neck.

The Twelve took counsel that night, Ferchu and his eleven warriors.  They choose Cnaígh, swift and sure. So hard the struggle that only a hand’s-breadth of water was left in the river and both armies crowded atop their stone houses to escape the flood.

Cnaígh was a mighty fighter but

at last Aedh Mac Carthin gripped him and

held him upside down, drowning

him in the hand’s-breadth of water.

A third tooth was taken from the

heathens and the Eleven that remained

slept little that night.

’Well have you done, Patrick’s arm,’ said King Tasach, ‘but these are merely the baby’s teeth — truer challenges lay ahead.’

In the morning Aedh Mac Carthin donned St. Patrick’s breastplate and went to the ford.  And while he performed baptisms in the water the remaining Eleven took counsel among themselves.

‘Most hard, this,’ spoke King Ferchu ‘but let us use cunning and deceit:

The teeth of a man’s head work best

When they crush meat between them

And so will it be with us.’

And so while Corrán Séill went forth to fight at the ford with honor, Leiceann, Drandal and Teanga hid in the tall reeds, and there waited with cowardly hearts and cruelly cunning heads.

Hard was the fighting that day so that the river rolled in its bed and flowed uphill in its fear.

Aedh Mac Carthin at last gripped Corrán Séill

and crushed him so that all his bones broke.

Wearily he walked back to shore

were an otter swam to him and

said, ‘Beware, man of Patrick.

Onne fang you have pulled but

three more await.’

The otter then brought the

champion the last three

stones in the river.

With three good casts Aedh Mac Carthin

knocked the three warriors

dead in the reeds.

The foolish only, from that

day to this dare to trap an

Otter from the Bandon.

Upon seeing this, Tasach embraced the saint’s champion and bade him to baptize him, which Aedh Mac Carthin gladly did.

Of the remaining seven warriors six fell, one the next day, two the day after, and three on the third day.  Tasach threw down his idols of clay and ordered all his people to follow him.  Across the water Ferchu chief of the heathens grew sore afraid and went to his druid, chastising him for the loss of the prized warriors of the tribe.

‘Only Géarán remains!’ he said.

‘Great his skill,

powerful his anger

no fear crosses his brow,

no weakness nests in his arm.

‘But still I worry, druid.  Use your magic and great cunning to aid this last best fighter.’

The next day a messenger crossed the Bandon and came to Aedh Mac Carthin, saying that Géarán feared he would be killed like his brothers and begged to be baptized before the fight.  The holy man could not turn from this request and waded into the river Badon, crossing to Géarán who waited on the other side.

The druid crept to the bank and slipped into the water.  His skin turned to scales and he changed his form to a great pike and swam beneath the surface where Géarán stood.

Aedh Mac Carthin crossed the river, fording to his doom.  Géarán drew his blade, the sword seeking the strong-man’s head above, the pike biting and pulling at his feet below.

 Aedh Mac Carthin dashed his hands into the water

deep into the current and seized

the druid.  No thrashing could free

him from that grip, no cunning could save him

from being lifted, and Géarán’s blade

cleft through scale and fin,

meat and bone did not slow it.

Aedh Mac Carthin caught Géarán up in his arms

so fierce did he shake him

that his limbs broke and his ribs

cracked.  In the churning waves the strong man

hurled him where he struggled and sank.

The saint then went to the bank, tooth in hand, to rest from the struggles in the ford. Tasach led his people against their enemies and a great slaughter did they make of them.

Aedh Mac Carthin built a church in a fine valley and to teach them the story of their Savior took each tooth and had carved the Stations of the Cross upon it.  Tributes to the last day of Christ from the condemnation of the Savior to His burial in the rath, so that the pagans of the land might learn.

Ri Tasach had each of the holy relics mounted in a base of gold, to show his devotion to his new faith, turning pagan idols into holy Christian symbols, as Aedh Mac Carthin had converted his own people.

It is known that Aedh Mac Carthin was brave until the very end of his life.  Hear the tale:

Saint Aedh stayed long in the lands of his adopted people before traveling to Clogher to become bishop there.  Miracles and wonders he performed so strong was the passion of the Lord upon him.  And always with him he bore the fourteen teeth of Sliabh Scoilt with him.

In a vision he saw his fourteen relics strung on a necklace about the bosom of the world, from Armagh to Rome.  He determined to take a pilgrimage to the holy city then, leaving his war-prizes to mark the way for those who would follow. The first he left at Patrick’s grave, and then turned across the sea, bearing his great load.  He had not the luck that his master and teacher Patrick had, and to Rome he never has come.  He wanders still, building that pilgrim’s road.

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If you’re at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, then you probably already know Adrian Simmons.  You want more?  You got it.   Wondering how Gandalf can turn a blind eye to Sarumon’s shenanigans?  Gotcha covered.  Curious as to which actor best potrayed Gandalf? Also covered.


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