Eachtra Bhodaigh an Chóta Lachtna

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Irish title for a Fenian tale dating from the 17th century, known in English as ‘The Churl [or Clown] in the Grey [or Drab] Coat’, ‘The Adventure of the Churl in the Grey Coat’, ‘The Lay of the Churl in the Grey Coat’, etc. Scottish Gaelic spelling for the same title is Eachtra Bhodaig … In most versions the action begins when the Fenians are challenged by a lone warrior named ‘Ironbones’, who describes himself as the ‘Son of the King of Thessaly’. If the Fenians cannot defeat Ironbones in a contest, he will exact great tribute. Both sides agree on a foot-race from ‘Bineader’ [Benn Étair/Howth] to a point in south-west Munster, even though the swiftest Fenian runner, Caílte mac Rónáin, is away at Tara. While looking for Caílte, Fionn mac Cumhaill encounters a detestable giant, the Bodach [churl, clown, lout, etc.] of the title, who agrees to run on the Fenians' behalf. Once in the race, the Bodach affects to be unconcerned with its outcome. He rises late in the morning and eats a leisurely breakfast, only to find that Ironbones has left ahead of him. The Bodach passes Ironbones twice before stopping to eat blackberries, allowing his opponent to take the lead. Another time he backtracks to fetch a coat he has dropped. Despite his desultory effort, the Bodach wins the race easily and is then revealed to be Manannán mac Lir, the sea-god.

Standish Hayes O'Grady includes an Irish text and English translation, under the title ‘The Carle in the Drab Coat’, in Silva Gadelica (London, 1892). James Clarence Mangan adapted it as one of the earliest prose works (1840) of the Irish literary renaissance; see The Prose Works of James Clarence Mangan, ed. D. J. O'Donoghue (Dublin and London, 1904). Patriot leader Pádraic Pearse produced an Irish-language version, Bodach an Chóta Lachtna (Dublin, 1906).

Subjects: Religion.

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