Tochmarc Emire: Wikis


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Tochmarc Emire ("The Wooing of Emer") is one of the stories in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology and one of the longest when it received its form in the second recension (below). It concerns the efforts of the hero Cúchulainn to marry Emer, who appears as his wife in other stories of the cycle, and his training in arms under the warrior-woman Scáthach. The tochmarc ("wooing" or "courtship") (along with cattle raids, voyages, feasts, births and deaths) is one of the 'genres' of early Irish literature recognised in the manuscript corpus.



"Cuchulainn Rebuked by Emer", illustration by H.R. Millar, c.1905.

In his youth, Cúchulainn is so beautiful that the Ulstermen become worried that, without a wife of his own, he will steal their wives and ruin their daughters. They search all over Ireland for a suitable wife for him, but he will have none but Emer, daughter of Forgall Monach. However, Forgall is opposed to the match. He suggests that Cúchulainn should train in arms with the renowned warrior-woman Scáthach in the land of Alba (Scotland), hoping the ordeal will be too much for him and he will be killed. Cúchulainn takes up the challenge. In the meantime, Forgall offers Emer to Lugaid mac Nóis, a king of Munster, but when he hears that Emer loves Cúchulainn, Lugaid refuses her hand.

Scáthach teaches Cúchulainn all the arts of war, including the use of the Gáe Bulg, a terrible barbed spear, thrown with the foot, that has to be cut out of its victim. His fellow trainees include Ferdiad, who becomes Cúchulainn's best friend and foster-brother. During his time there, Scáthach faces a battle against Aífe, her rival and in some versions her twin sister. Scáthach, knowing Aífe's prowess, fears for Cúchulainn's life and gives him a powerful sleeping potion to keep him from the battle. However, because of Cúchulainn's great strength, it only puts him to sleep for an hour, and he soon joins the fray. He fights Aífe in single combat, and the two are evenly matched, but Cúchulainn distracts her by calling out that Aífe's horses and chariot, the things she values most in the world, have fallen off a cliff, and seizes her. He spares her life on the condition that she call off her enmity with Scáthach, and bear him a son.

Leaving Aífe pregnant, Cúchulainn returns from Scotland fully trained, but Forgall still refuses to let him marry Emer. Cúchulainn storms Forgall's fortress, killing twenty-four of Forgall's men, abducts Emer and steals Forgall's treasure. Forgall himself falls from the ramparts to his death. Conchobar has the "right of the first night" over all marriages of his subjects. He is afraid of Cúchulainn's reaction if he exercises it in this case, but is equally afraid of losing his authority if he does not. Cathbad suggests a solution: Conchobar sleeps with Emer on the night of the wedding, but Cathbad sleeps between them.[1]

Recensions and manuscript sources

The Wooing of Emer exists in two (main) recensions. The earliest version is extant only in Rawlinson B, where it lacks the first part, and has been dated by Kuno Meyer to the tenth century.[2] An Old Irish original transcribed in the Middle Irish period appears to lie behind this text. The longer recension written in the Middle Irish period (LU, Stowe D iv 2, Harleian 5280, 23 N 10 and two fragments) represents a greatly expanded version of the narrative.[3]

  • Leabhar na hUidre (LU): p 121a-127b (Dublin, RIA). Second part missing.
  • Stowe D IV 2: f 74Ra-78Vb (Dublin, RIA). Complete.
  • Rawlinson B 512: f 117Ra-118Rb (Oxford, Bodleian Library). First part missing.
  • Book of Fermoy 23 E 29: p 207a-212b (Dublin, RIA). Fragment
  • Egerton 92: f 24Ra-25Vb (London, British Library). Fragment
  • Harley 5280: f 27R-35Rb (London, British Library). Complete.
  • 23 N 10 (formerly Betham 145): p 21-24 & 113-124 & 11-12 & 25-26 & 125-128 (Dublin, RIA). Complete.
  • Book of Leinster (LL), f 20a46 ff (Trinity College Dublin). Variant of § 30 as found in Echtra Machae.

Editions and translations

  • Meyer, Kuno (ed. & tr.). "The Oldest Version of Tochmarc Emire." Revue Celtique 11 (1890): 433-57. Text edited from Rawlinson B 512.
  • Meyer, Kuno (ed. & tr.). "Mitteilungen aus irischen Handschriften. Tochmarc Emire la Coinculaind." Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 3 (1901): 226-63 (229-63). [version of Harleian 5280 with variants from LU, Stowe D IV 2, Fermoy/Egerton 92 and 23 N 10]. Available online at CELT
  • Hamel, A.G. van (ed.). Compert Con Culainn and other Stories. Mediaeval and Modern Irish Series 3. Dublin, 1933. 16-68. Based on Stowe D IV 2, with variants from LU, Harleian 5280 and Rawlinson B 512.
  • Meyer, Kuno (ed.). Verba Scáthaige fri Coin Chulaind. Anecdota from Irish Manuscripts 5. 1913: 28-30.
  • Thurneysen, Rudolf (ed.). "Verba Scáthaige nach 22 N 10." Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 9 (1913): 487-8. Available from CELT
  • Meyer, Kuno (tr.), "Wooing of Emer", Archaeological Review 1 (1888): 68-75, 150-5, 231-5, 298-307.
  • Meyer, Kuno (tr.). In The Cuchulinn Saga in Irish Literature, ed. Eleanor Hull. Grimm Library 8. London, 1898. 57-84. Abridged version of Meyer's translation above. Available from Internet Archive
  • Kinsella, Thomas (tr.). The Táin. Oxford, 1969. 25 ff.
  • Guyonvarc'h, C.-J. (tr.). "La courtise d'Emer, Version A." Ogam 11 (1959): 413-23. (French)
  • d'Arbois de Jubainville, H. (tr.). L'épopée celtique en Irlande. Paris, 1892. (French)
  • Agrati, A. and M. L. Magini (trs.). La saga irlandese di Cu Chulainn. Milan, 1982 (Italian)

Further reading

  • Baudiš, J. "On Tochmarc Emere." Ériu 9 (1923): 98-108. Available from Scéla.
  • Edel, D. Helden auf Freiersfüßen. 'Tochmarc Emire' und 'Mal y kavas Kulhwch Olwen'. Studien zur Frühen Inselkeltischen Erzähltradition. Amsterdam, Oxford, and New York, 1980.
  • Findon, Joanne. "Gender and Power in Serglige Con Culainn and The Only Jealousy of Emer." Language and Tradition in Ireland: Continuities and Displacements, eds. Maria Tymoczko and Colin Ireland. Amherst & Boston, 2003. 47-61.
  • Findon, Joanne. A Woman's Words: Emer and Female Speech in the Ulster Cycle. Toronto, 1997.
  • Findon, Joanne. "A Woman's Words: Emer versus Cu Chulainn in Aided Oenfir Aife." Ulidia. 139-48.
  • Ó Concheanainn, T. "Textual and historical associations of Leabhar na hUidhre." Éigse 29 (1996): 65-120, especially 94.
  • O'Curry, E. Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of ancient Irish History. New York, 1861. 278-2.
  • Oskamp, H.P.A. "Notes on the history of Lebor na hUidre." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 65C (1966-67): 117-37, especially 126-7.
  • Sayers, William. "Concepts of Eloquence in Tochmarc Emire." Studia Celtica 26/27 (1991-1992): 125-54.
  • Thurneysen, Rudolf, H. Hessen and G. O'Nolan. "Zu Tochmarc Emire." Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 8 (1912): 498-524.
  • Thurneysen, Rudolf. Die irische Helden- und Königssage. Halle, 1921. 377 ff.
  • Toner, Gregory. "The Transmission of Tochmarc Emire." Ériu 49 (1998): 71-88.

Related stories

In a related story, Aided Óenfir Aífe ("The Death of Aífe's Only Son"), Connla, the son Cúchulainn fathers on Aífe in Tochmarc Emire, comes to Ireland at the age of seven to seek out his father. His extraordinary skills make him seem a threat, however, and because of a geis placed on him by his father, he refuses to identify himself, and Cúchulainn kills him in single combat, using the Gae Bulg.[4]

In another related story, Aided Derbforgaill ("The Death of Derbforgaill"), the Scandinavian princess Derbforgaill, whom Cúchulainn rescues from being sacrificed to the Fomorians in some versions of Tochmarc Emire, comes to Ireland with her handmaid, in the form of a pair of swans, to seek Cúchulainn, who she has fallen in love with. Cúchulainn and his foster-son Lugaid Riab nDerg see the swans, and Cúchulainn shoots Derbforgaill down with his sling. The slingstone penetrates her womb, and to save her live Cúchulainn has to suck it from her side, but since he has tasted her blood he cannot marry her. Instead, he gives her to Lugaid, and they marry and have children. One day in deep winter, the men of Ulster make pillars of snow, and the women compete to see who can urinate the deepest into the pillar and prove herself the most desirable to men. Derbforgaill's urine reaches the ground, and the other women, out of jealousy, attack and mutilate her. Lugaid notices that the snow on the roof of her house has not melted, and realises she is close to death. He and Cúchulainn rush to the house, but Derbforgaill dies shortly after they arrive, and Lugaid dies of grief. Cúchulainn avengeds them by demolishing the house the women are inside, killing 150 of them.[5]

In Táin Bó Cúailnge ("The Cattle Raid of Cooley"), two of the warriors Cúchulainn faces in single combat, Fer Báeth and Fer Diad, are his foster-brothers and fellow trainees under Scáthach.[6]


The story was adapted as a dramatic musical program, "Celtic Hero", for the National Public Radio series Radio Tales.


  1. ^ Thomas Kinsella, The Táin, Oxford University Press, 1969, ISBN 0192810901, pp. 25-39
  2. ^ Kuno Meyer, "The oldest version of Tochmarc Emire" Revue Celtique 11 (1890): 433-57.
  3. ^ For a full discussion of the relationship between the two recensions and the various manuscripts, see Gregory Toner, "The Transmission of Tochmarc Emire." Ériu 49 (1998). 71-88.
  4. ^ Kinsella 1969, pp. 39-45
  5. ^ Carl Marstrander (ed. & trans.), "The Deaths of Lugaid and Derbforgaill", Ériu 5 (1911): 201-18
  6. ^ Kinsella 1969, pp. 129, 168f.

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