Bruiden Da Choca, ‘Da Coca’s Hostel’, is known also as Togail Bruidne Da Choca(e) (‘The destruction of Da Coca’s Hostel’), and is one of the many Badb or Mórrígna stories often quoted or referred to, but rarely read or studied.
Let’s change that?
It is available online, though only in a translation by Whitley Stokes, unfortunately, who is not my favourite scholar by any means.
The Summary on CODECS reads:
After the death of Conchobar, the Ulaid debate who to give the kingship to, and decide on Conchobar’s son, Cormac Cond Longas, who is in exile in Connacht. They send envoys, and Ailill and Medb agree to allow Cormac to take up the kingship. He sets out with a retinue, but Craiphtine the harper, whose wife has slept with Cormac, causes Cormac to break his gessa on the journey. Cormac encounters the Badb in the form of an old woman washing a bloody chariot at the ford. A party of Connachta encounter Cormac’s party. They fight several battles, and heroes on both sides are killed. Cormac’s party spend the night at Da Coca’s hostel, which comes under siege by the Connachta, and Cormac is killed, along with nearly everybody on both sides.https://www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Bruiden_Da_Choca
The bit with the Badb is what we’ll be looking at here today, though the rest is also quite fascinating with regard to the Ulster Cycle as a whole, and Queen Medb of Connacht in particular.
This is the excerpt that is pictured above, and appears on Page 157 of the Revue Celtique text that can be found here:
“Thence they went to Druim Airthir, which is now called The Garman, on the brink of Athlone. Then they unyoke their chariots. As they were there they saw a red woman on the edge of the ford, washing her chariot and its cushions and its harness. When she lowered her hand, the bed of the river became red with gore and with blood. But when she raised her hand over the river’s edge, not a drop therein but was lifted on high; so that they went dryfoot over the bed of the river.”
I was curious as to where this place might be located, as I’m a bit of a freak for finding and visiting (and tour guiding at!) locations associated with the Mórrígan in Ireland… so I did a bit of digging. And found this:
Druim Airthir, where coursed the steeds, was its name, before it was called Druim Criaich.The Metrical Dindshenchas – poem/story 13
This fits with Drumcree (Droim Cria), Gormanstown, Co. Westmeath. There are a number of lakes nearby, but as the text specifically mentions the Ford, I’m going to opt for somewhere along what is now called the River Deel as the likeliest location, with around the place that the road crosses over it as a likely fording point.
Anyway, on with the text, which all too commonly and very frustratingly, leaves out the verse and prophecy parts:
“Most horrible is what the woman does! says Cormac. Let one of you go and ask her what she is doing. Then someone goes and asked her what she did. And then, standing on one foot, and with one eye closed, she chanted to them, saying: « I wash the harness of a king who will perish » etc.
The messenger came to Cormac and told him the evil prophecy which the Badb had made for him. Apparently thy coming is a cause of great evil, says Cormac. Then Cormac goes to the edge of the ford to have speech with her, and asked her whose was the harness that she was a-washing. And then he uttered the lay: « O woman, what harness washest thou? » etc.
The Badb. « This is thine own harness, O Cormac, And the harness of thy men of trust, » etc. Evil are the omens that thou hast for us, says Cormac. Grimly thou chattest to us.”
The Badb appears again further on, once they get to the Hostel.
“Dâ Choca entered the house, together with fifty apprentices, and his wife, even Luath, daughter of Lumm Lond. They make Cormac and his army welcome. Then they (all) take their seats in the house.
Now when they were there, they saw coming to them towards the Hostel a bigmouthed, swarthy, swift, sooty woman, and she lame and squinting with her left eye. She wore a mantle threadbare (?) and very dusky. Dark as the back of a stag-beetle was every joint of her from crown to ground. Her filleted grey hair fell back over her shoulder. She leant her shoulder against the doorpost, and began prophesying evil to the host, and uttering ill words, so that she said this:
« Sad will they be in the Hostel: bodies will be severed in bloods,
Trunks will be headless, above the clay of Dâ Choca’s Hostel. »
Then the Badb went from them, and… “
This is reminiscent of her appearance in Togail Bruidne Da Derga, ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’, an earlier tale which has many similar elements. Be careful not to mix them up, though a lot more scholarly work has been done on Da Derga than Da Choca.
In his footnotes, Stokes says:
“Chanting spells, standing on one foot and with one eye shut, is a common incident in Irish magic. So Lugh sings round the Irish army to ensure their success, Rev. Celt., XII, 98. So in the Bruden Dà Derga, LU. 86″32, Cailb chants her baleful prophecy… ‘(standing) on one foot and (using only) one hand and (breathing only) one breath’. Compare also the Dinnsenchas of Loch da Caech, Rev. Celt., XV, 432, where Cicul’s three hundred men come, each using only one foot, one hand and one eye.”Revue Celtique (1870)
Hopefully now, this has given you a clearer picture around the appearances of the Badb in the tale of Da Coca’s Hostel, and an exciting new physical location associated with the Mórrígan for us to visit.
Watch for that in the Patreon, where we do monthly Site Visits to sacred places in Ireland, and you get to come along!
Irish Source Lore Manuscripts:
The following is an excerpt from an excellent book, detailed below, which you should absolutely have a copy of in your library!Jeffrey Gantz. Early Irish Sagas.
Oengus was asleep one night when he saw something like a young girl coming towards the head of his bed, and she was the most beautiful woman in Eriu. He made to take her hand and draw her to his bed, but, as he welcomed her, she vanished suddenly, and he did not know who had taken her from him. He remained in bed until the morning , but he was troubled in his mind: the form he had seen but not spoken to was making him ill. No food entered his mouth that day. He waited until evening, and then he saw a timpán in her hand, the sweetest ever, and she played for him until he fell asleep. Thus he was all night, and the next morning he ate nothing.
A full year passed, and the girl continued to visit Oengus, so that he fell in love with her, but he told no one. Then he fell sick, but no one knew what ailed him. The physicians of Eriu gathered but could not discover what was wrong. So they sent for Fergne, Cond’s physician, and Fergne came. He could tell from a man’s face what the illness was, just as he could tell from the smoke that came from a house how many were sick inside. Fergne took Oengus aside and said to him ‘No meeting this, but love in absence’. ‘You have divined my illness,’ said Oengus. ‘You have grown sick at heart,’ said Fergne.; and you have not dared to tell anyone.’ ‘It is true,’ said Oengus. ‘A young girl came to me; her form was the most beautiful I have ever seen, and her appearance was excellent. A timpán was in her hand, and she played for me each night.’ ‘No matter,’ said Fergne, ‘love for her has seized you. We will send you to Bóand, your mother, that she may come and speak with you.’
They sent to Bóand, then, and she came. ‘I was called to see to this man, for a mysterious illnes had overcome him,’ said Fergne, and he told Bóand what had happened. ‘Let his mother tend to him,’ said Fergne, ‘and let her search throughout Eriu until she finds the form that her son saw.’ The search was carried on for a year, but the like of the girl was not found. So Fergne was summoned again. ‘No help has been found for him,’ said Bóand. ‘Then send for the Dagdae, and let him come and speak with his son,’ said Fergne. The Dagdae was sent for and came, asking ‘Why have I been summoned?’ ‘To advise your son,’ said Bóand. ‘It is right that you help him, for his death would be a pity. Love in absence has overcome him, and no help for it has been found.’ ‘Why tell me?’ asked the Dagdae. ‘My knowledge is no greater than yours.’ ‘Indeed it is,’ said Fergne, ‘for you are king of the Síde of Eriu. Send messengers to Bodb, for he is king of the Síde of Mumu, and his knowledge spreads throughout Eriu.’
Messengers were sent to Bodb, then, and they were welcomed: Bodb said ‘Welcome, people of the Dagdae.’ ‘It is that we have come for,’ they replied. ‘Have you news?’ Bodb asked. ‘We have: Oengus son of the Dagdae has been in love for two years,’ they replied. ‘How is that?’ Bodb asked. ‘He saw a young girl in his sleep,’ they said, ‘but we do not know where in Eriu she is to be found. The Dagdae asks that you search all Eriu for a girl of her form and appearance.’ ‘That search will be made,’ said Bodb, ‘and it will be carried on for a year, so that I may be sure of finding her.’ At the end of the year, Bodb’s peple went to him at his house in Síd ar Femuin and said ‘We made a circuit of Eriu, and we found the girl at Loch Bél Dracon in Cruitt Cliach.’ Messengers were sent to the Dagdae, then; he welcomed them and said ‘Have you news?’ ‘Good news: the girl of the form you described has been found,’ they said. ‘Bodb has asked that oengus return with us to see if he recognises her as the girl he saw.’
Oengus was taken in a chariot to Síd ar Femuin, then, and he was welcomed there: a great feast was prepared for him, and ti lasted three days and three nights. After that, Bodb said to Onegus ‘Let us go, now, to see if you recognise the girl. You may see her, but it is not in my power to give her to you.’ They went on until they reached a lake; there, they saw three fifties of young girls, and Oengus’s girl was among them. The other girls were no taller than her shoulder; each pair of them was linked by a silver chain, but Oengus’s girl wore a silver necklace, and her chain was of burnished gold. ‘Do you recognise that girl?’ asked Bodb. ‘Indeed, I do,’ Oengus replied. ‘I can do no more for you, then’ said Bodb. ‘No matter, for she is the girl I saw. I cannot take her now. Who is she?’ Oengus said. ‘I know her, of course: Cáer Ibormeith daughter of Ethal Anbúail from Síd Uamuin in the province of Connachta.’
After that, Oengus and his people returned to their own lan, and Bodb went with them to visit the Dagdae and Bóand at Bruig ind Maicc Oic. They told their news: how the girl’s form and appearance were just as Oengus had seen: and they told her name and those of her father and grandfather. ‘A pity that we cannot get her,’ said the Dagdae. ‘What you should do is go to Ailill and Medb, for the girl is in their territory,’ said Bodb.
The Dagdae went to Connachta, then, and three score charios with him; they were welcomed by the king and queen there and spent a week feasting and drinking. ‘Why your journey?’ asked the king. ‘There is a girl in your territory,’ said the Dagdae, ‘with whom my son has fallen in love, and he has now fallen ill. I have come to see if you will give her to him.’ ‘Who is she ?’ Ailill asked. ‘The daughter of Ethal Anbúail,’ the Dagdae replied. ‘We do not have the power to give her to you,’ said Ailill and Medb. ‘Then the best thing would be to have the king of the síd called here,’ said the Dagdae. Ailill’s steward went to Ethal Anbúail and said ‘Ailill and Medb require that you come and speak with them.’ ‘I will not come,’ Ethal said, ‘and I will not give my daughter to the son of the Dagdae.’ The steward repeated this to Ailill, saying ‘He knows why he has bee summoned, and he will not come.’ ‘No matter,’ said Ailill, ‘for he will come, and the heads of his warriors with him.’
After that, Ailill’s household and the Dagdae’s people rose up against the sid and destroyed it; they brought out three score heads and confined the king to Crúachu. Ailill said to Ethal Anbúail ‘Give your daughter to the son of the Dagdae.’ ‘I cannot,’ he said, ‘for her power is greater than mine.’ ‘What great power does she have?’ Ailill asked. ‘Being in the form of a bird each day of one year and in human form each day of the following year,’ Ethal said. ‘Which year will she be in the shape of a bird?’ Ailill asked. ‘It is not for me to reveal that,’ Ethal replied. ‘Your head is off,’ said Ailill, ‘unless you tell us.’ ‘I will conceal it no longer, then, but will tell you, since you are so obstinate,’ said Ethal. ‘Next Samuin she will be in the form of a bird; she will be at Loch Bél Dracon, and beautiful birds will be seen with her, three fifties of swans about her, and I will make ready for them.’ ‘No matter that,’ said the Dagdae, ‘since I know the nature you have brought upon her.’
Peace and friendship were made among Ailill and Ethal and the Dagdae, then, and the Dagdae bade them farewell and went to his house and told the news to his son. ‘Go next Samuin to Loch Bél Dracon,’ he said, ‘and call her to you there.’ The Macc Oc went to Loch Bél Dracon, and there he saw the three fifties of white birds, with silver chains, and golden hair about their heads. Oengus was in human form at the edge of the lake, and he called to the girl, saying ‘Come and speak with me, Cáer!’ ‘Who is calling to me?’ sked Cáer. ‘Oengus is calling,’ he replied. ‘I will come,’ she said, ‘if you promise me that I may return to the water.’ ‘I promise that,’ he said. She went to him, then: he put his arms round her, and they slept in the form of swans until they had circles the lake three times. Thus, he kept his promise. They left in the form of two white birds and flew to Bruig ind Maicc Oic, and there they sang until the people inside fell asleep for three days and three nights. The girl remained with Oengus after that. This is how the friendship between Ailill and Medb and the Macc Oc arose, and this is why Oengus took three hundred to the cattle raid of Cúailnge.
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