The Irish Folklore Centre

Providing a focus for the whole Irish folk tradition

This is the first of the ‘Three Sorrows of Storytelling’.  The main elements of this story were contained in a number of versions from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, but there are some substantial differences in the detail.  The themes in this version are shapeshifting, inter-clan strife, an honour-fine and retribution for a terrible deed and incredible journeys to find magical things.

The second battle of Moytirra against the Fomorians was imminent.  Lugh was gathering the Tuatha Dé Danann armies.  His father, Cian, and his two brothers, offered to help and Cian set off north.  As he rode he espied in the distance the three sons of Tuireann; the enmity between his family and theirs was extreme.  Discretion being the better part of valour, he turned himself into a pig and joined a nearby herd in rooting for food.  But Brian, the leader of his enemies, had seen him and recognised that he had changed his form.  Turning his two brothers into hounds he set them to drive out the enchanted pig.  Cian broke from the herd and was immediately speared by Brian, who, showing no mercy, stoned Cian to death.  They buried him.

Lugh was triumphant in battle and, afterwards, asked for news of his father.   No one had seen him so, suspecting the worst, Lugh set out to trace his journey.  Reaching where Cian had been attacked, ‘the earth spoke to Lugh’ and related how his father had died.  He vowed grief and anguish on the children of Tuireann and their offspring.  He went to the king, Nuadhu’s, palace at Tara where all the important people were gathered, including the sons of Tuireann, whom he forced to agree to a fine.  Seemingly simple as ‘three apples, the skin of a pig, a spear, two horses, a chariot, seven pigs, a dog’s whelp, a cooking spit and three shouts on a hill’, he tricked them into acceptance before defining their whereabouts in distant and dangerous places.  The magical things that Lugh had listed would all help him with his upcoming battle with the Fomorians.  On the advice of their father, Brian and his brothers asked for the loan of the god Manannán’s curragh (small boat) which went wherever its occupants requested.  Lugh agreed.

The brothers ranged far and wide, using many stratagems to obtain the items required. When Lugh was told that they were within two of completion he magicked them into thinking they had completed their task, and called them home.  He wanted to ensure he had the weapons he needed to combat the Fomorians.

Lugh required them to deliver the fine to the king at Tara.  Coming to them later in full regalia, Lugh pointed out that they had failed to deliver the cooking spit and the three shouts.  Brian and his brothers were weak with despair.  However, Brian put on his ‘water dress’, and walked the sea looking for the Island of the Fair Women where the cooking spit was to be found.  Once located, the one hundred and fifty women allowed him to take it because of his courage.

The Hill of Miochain was where they had to deliver the three shouts, but it was protected by a guardian champion.  Brian and the champion fought ‘like two lions’; Brian was triumphant.  At which the three sons of Miochain came out to fight the three sons of Tuireann.  The wounds of all the adversaries were terrible, but finally the sons of Miochain ‘fell into the clouds and the faintness of death’ and the three shouts filled the air.  Weak and near death, they found their way home to their father’s house.

Brian asked his father to go to Lugh and request the use of the magic skin of the pig which had marvellous healing properties.  Lugh refused and his revenge was complete.


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