Fráoch and the Water Serpent

Fráoch Mac Idath, of the Connachta was the handsomest warrior in Ériu 1 (Ireland) and Albu
(Scotland), ach níba shuthain – but he did not live long. The whole land was full of his story and
renown, so much so that Findabair, the daughter of Queen Medb (Maeve) fell in love with him simply
from hearing these tales. When he learned this, Fráoch went to his mother who was Béfind of the
Síd or the Otherworld, herself a sister of the goddess Bóand from whom the river Boyne takes its
His mother gifted him twelve red eared fairy cattle and bedecked him in finery for his journey to
Medb’s palace at Crúachan Aí in Roscommon.
The appearance of Fráoch and his host at Crúachan was said to be the most splendid in all the reign
of Queen Medb and King Ailill, and the inhabitants all clamoured to gain a glimpse of his glorious
arrival. They were made welcome and remained at Crúachan for a full fortnight, with great hunting
and sport daily.
One night while he washed in a stream, Fráoch encountered Findabair alone and asked her to elope
with him. Despite her infatuation, she refused and told him that he must gain her honestly. However
as a token of her love, she gave him her most prized ring, a gift to her from Medb and Ailill.
Fráoch then asks for Findabair’s hand, but Ailill demands an extortionate dowry, plus Fráoch’s
promise to accompany them on the great Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley). Fráoch furiously
states that he would not pay such a dowry
‘even for Medb herself’
and so in fear of the couple’s elopement, Medb and Ailill begin to plot Fráoch’s downfall.
To commence their ruse, Ailill flatters Fráoch about his prowess in the water, so to please him
Fráoch strips and dives into a nearby pool. Ailill then calls for a branch of beautiful rowan berries
which overhang the far shore. Fráoch breaks a branch off and throws it to Ailill, who thanks him and
calls for more. At this point the plan comes to fruition as the ferocious water serpent that guards
the berries attacks Fráoch.
In desperation Fráoch calls for a sword, but no one will throw him one, so to save her beloved,
Findabair strips her clothes, grabs a sword and leaps into the water. Enraged Ailill casts his five
pronged spear at her. This passes through the tresses of her hair, but Fráoch catches it and
launches it back at Ailill, tearing his cloak. In the confusion Fráoch takes the sword from Findabair
and beheads the serpent, but he is sorely wounded from the encounter.
To atone for their actions, Medb and Ailill ordered a healing bath to be prepared and while in this
bath a host of his mother’s people came and bore Fráoch away to the Otherworld via the Cave of
Crúachan. He was returned on the next day ‘completely healed, without fault or blemish.’
Findabair declares her love for Fráoch and he is promised her hand in marriage on his return from
Cooley, but it was not to be. A prophecy foretold that Fráoch would die in the water, and this came
true, as he was drowned in a ford by Cúchulainn on the Táin, after which the fairy women came
once again and claimed his body.
The pool of the serpent is called Dubhlinn Fráoch – Fráoch’s Blackpool, the ford where he was
drowned is called Áth Fráoch – Fráoch’s Ford and the Fairy Mound of his burial is called Carnfree –
Fráoch’s Cairn, Co. Roscommon.