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Cath Gabhra


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Narrative from the Fenian Cycle. Its distinction within the cycle is that it portrays the Fianna in an unattractive light and shows their power coming to an end with the death of Oscar. The reigning high king of Ireland, Cairbre Lifechair [of the Liffey] refuses to pay a tribute to the Fianna when his daughter Sgiamh Sholais [Ir., beauty of light] is betrothed to be married. Cairbre resolves that he would rather die in ridding the country of the Fianna than try to rule Ireland blighted by their immorality. He provokes the final conflict by killing Fionn mac Cumhaill's servant Ferdia, obliging the Fianna to declare war. The bloodbath is at Gabhair, coextensive with the modern Garristown in north-west Co. Dublin; variant texts place the battle near Skreen, Co. Meath. The pitched battle includes all the Fenians as well as the family of Sgiamh Sholais's suitor, a prince of the Déisi (Co. Waterford). The climax of the action comes when a mortally wounded Cairbre casts his spear through Oscar's heart. Fionn weeps for the only time at the death of any Fenian, and he is killed by Aichlech. Oisín escapes. Some chronicles date the battle at ad 284. A rival story of the death of Cairbre names the battle as Cnámross.

An early translation of the text of Cath Gabhra is vol. 1 of the Transactions of the Ossianic Society, by Nicholas O'Kearney (Dublin, 1853; repr. New York, 1980); trans. into French by H. d'Arbois de Jubainville (Louvain, 1884).

Subjects: Religion.


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