Mesca Ulad

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Irish title for the Ulster Cycle narrative preserved in the 12th-century Book of Leinster and elsewhere usually known in English as ‘The Intoxication of the Ulstermen’. The narrator does not follow a definite plot but instead gives free rein to lengthy passages of description and runs of personal and place-names, as would have been the stock-in-trade of medieval storytellers. Set at Samain, a time of wild revelry, turbulence, and disorder, Mesca Ulad shows the Ulster warriors in less than heroic form. After receiving two invitations to go feasting, the Ulstermen decide to resolve their dilemma by going to both. They spend the first part of the night in the far north, at Dún Dá Bhenn, in what is today Co. Derry. They then set out to cross Ulster to the east to spend the rest of the night at Cúchulainn's fortress in Dún Delgan [Dundalk, Co. Louth], when they lose their way. The most vivid passages portray drunken charioteers bounding southward towards Kerry. Once the Ulstermen arrive, they are initially given hospitality by the Munstermen, their traditional enemies. But there is a trap: the Munstermen have prepared an iron house set within wooden walls, under which piles of faggots have been turned into bonfires. The text, while fragmentary, allows that the Ulstermen did not perish.

See William H. Hennessy, Mesca Ulad (Dublin, 1889);J. Carmichael Watson, Mesca Ulad (Dublin, 1983);Uáitéar Mac Gearailt, ‘The Edinburgh Text of Mesca Ulad’, Ériu, 37 (1986), 133–80;T. P. Cross and C. H. Slover (eds.), Ancient Irish Tales (New York, 1936), 215–38.

Subjects: Religion.

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