The Ulster Cycle

Heroic legends from Ireland

The Quarrel of the Two Swineherds

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Question: out of what was the quarrel of the two swineherds? Not hard. The swineherd of Ochall Oichni, and the swineherd of Bodb, king of the síd-mounds of Munster (the other being king of the síd-mounds of Connacht. Bodb’s síd-mound is Síd ar Femun; Ochall’s síd-mound is Síd Cruachan).

There was enmity between the king of the síd-mounds of Munster and the king of the síd-mounds of Connacht. Well, they had two swineherds, Friuch and Rucht their names – Friuch, Bodb’s swineherd, and Rucht, Ochall’s swineherd. There was friendship between these two: they each had pagan knowledge, and they would form themselves into every shape, like Mongan mac Fiachna used to.

This was the friendship of the two swineherds: when there was mast in Munster, the swineherd from the north would go south with his skinny pigs; and when there was mast in the north, the swineherd from the south would go north – until strife was stirred up between them. The Connachta said their swineherd’s power was greater. Well, the Munstermen said their swineherd’s power was greater.

So that year there was great mast in Munster, and the swineherd from the north went south with his pigs. His friend made him welcome. “There’s trouble being stirred up between us, me and you,” he said. “These men say your power is greater than mine.” “Well, it’s no smaller,” said Ochall’s swineherd. “That’s something we can find out,” said Bodb’s swineherd. “I’ll put a spell on your pigs so that they will not become fat however much mast there is for them, but my pigs will become fat.”

So that’s what happened, and Ochall’s swineherd went home with his skinny pigs. They hardly made it, they were so wretched. Everyone laughed at them when they reached their country. “An evil hour you went,” everyone said to him. “Your friend’s power is greater than yours.” “That’s not so,” he said. “We will have mast again, and I’ll play the same trick on him.”

And so that’s what happened after that. Bodb’s swineherd goes south the same day the following year with his skinny pigs, into the land of Connacht. And Ochall’s swineherd does the same to his pigs until they wasted away. Everyone said the power of both of them was equal. Bodb’s swineherd went south with his skinny pigs. So Bodb takes pig-keeping off him. And pig-keeping is taken off the man from the north.

Two years they spent after that in the form of hawks – one of the two years in the north in Connacht over Dún Chruachan, the other year at Síd ar Femun. One day the men of Munster met in a single assembly there. “Not small the noise the birds before us make,” they said. “A year they’ve been arguing and carrying on until today.”

Then, while they were speaking, they saw Ochall’s steward coming towards them over the hill, Fuidell mac Fiadmire his name. He was made welcome. “Great is the noise the birds before us make. I’m sure they were the two birds who were in the north last year. And, well, they did the same thing for a year.”

After that, they saw something: the two hawks there were in the form of people. Then they saw they were the two swineherds. They made them welcome.

“Don’t welcome us,” said Bodb’s swineherd. “There will be much lovely destruction and much noise of slaughter from us.” “What has been provided to you?” said Bodb. “Nothing good has been provided,” they said. “Since we left you,” they both said, “for two years until today, we have been in the form of birds. You’ve seen what we have done before you. We had a year in Cruachan in this state, and another year at Síd ar Femun. The men of both north and south have seen our power. So now we will go in the form of sea creatures and be under the sea for the next two years.”

They set out away from them after that, each of them his own way. One went into the river Shannon, the other into the Suir. After that they were two years underwater. One year they were seen biting one another in the Suir, the next year they were seen in the Shannon. Then they were two stags, each massing his herds so as to make a heap of stones of the other’s territory. They were two fian-warriors, each striking the other. They were two ghosts, each frightening the other. They were two dragons, each raising snow over the other’s land.

Then both of them fell out of the air and became two worms. One of them went into the well of the river Cronn in Cooley, from which a cow of Dáire mac Fiachnai drank, and the other into the spring of Garad in Connacht, from which a cow of Medb and Ailill drank, so from them were born the two bulls, the White-Horned of Aí and the Black of Cooley.

Rucht and Friuch, Grunt and Bristle, when they were two swineherds; Ingen and Eitte, Claw and Wing, when they were two hawks; Bled and Blod, Whale and Seahorse, when they were two sea creatures; Rind and Faebur, Point and Edge, when they were two fian-warriors; Scáth and Scíath, Shadow and Shield, when they were two ghosts; Cruinniuc and Tuinniuc, Dewdrop and Sunbeam, when they were two worms: Finnbend Aí and in Dond Cualngi, Whitehorn of Aí and the Brown of Cooley, their names when they were two bulls.

This is how the Brown Bull of Cooley was:

Dark brown, bold, brown-eared, brown-eyed, wide-eyed, big-nosed, smooth-flanked, stout-chested, high-headed, curly-haired, thick-necked, cunning-necked, many-gifted, furious, vigorous, haughty, hairy, stampeding, overbearing, lowing, snorting, aggressive, valiant, strong; with a bullish brow, with the gait of a wave, with the strength of a king, with the charge of a bear, with the heat of a beast, with the stroke of a thief, with the fierceness of a lion; he would find room for thirty young teenage boys from his withers to his rump; stallion of the fast herd, wandering fool, paragon of cattle; stock of husbandry, father of ancient herds, taller than a tree.

Whitehorn however:

That ox, white-headed, white-footed, bloody as from the Crucifixion; blood-red as from driving a wheel, as from bathing in gore, as from grinding purple dye; separating the orphan from the teat with his back, three well-bloody manes, paragon of the cattle of Aí; with a mighty tail, with a horselike breast, with the forequarters of a salmon, with the hindquarters of a chieftain, with feats of sport, the apple of a cow’s eye; victory-wound of the victoriously-wounded, bellowing a cry of reckoning, darling of the herd, double dignity.

Notes and manuscript sources

  • This story comes from the Book of Leinster (c. 1160). Translation © Patrick Brown 2009


  • R. I. Best and M. A. O’Brien (ed), The Book of Leinster Vol 5, p. 1121-1124
  • Thomas Kinsella (1969), The Táin, pp. 46-50

Written by paddybrown

November 7, 2009 at 11:30 pm

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  1. […] The Quarrel of the Two Swineherds […]

  2. […] genesis is dealt with in a tale peripheral to the main story, known as De Chophur in dá Mucado – ‘Contest of the Two Swineherds’ – found in the aforementioned Book of […]

  3. […] from the Book of Leinster and is part of the Ulster Cycle. You can read a more detailed version here in Patrick Brown’s […]

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