The Death of Fergus Mac Róich

The death of the great Fergus mac Róich, former King of Ulster occurred when he was bathing with
his consort Queen Medb in a lake on Mag n’Aí . Medb’s husband, the king Ailill spied the two of them
together and even though Medb famously chose Ailill for his lack of envy, a wave of jealousy
overcame him at the sight.
To gain revenge he caused his blind brother Lugaid to cast a spear at Fergus. The missile passed
through Fergus, who plucked it out and cast it straight back at Ailill. The spear missed its intended
target but instead killed Ailill’s hunting hound.
Sorely wounded, Fergus staggered from the lake and lay on the hill beside it, where a short time
later he died from his wound. His grave is there to this day at Loughneneane – the ‘Lake of the Birds’
in Roscommon.
Indeed it is from this very site that centuries later his ghost would emerge to recount the epic of the
Táin Bó Cuailnge to Muirgen, the son of Sénchan Torpéist, the chief poet of Ireland.
Muirgen had set out on a quest to recover the lost story of the Táin after his father was taunted and
humiliated by the High King for his inability to recite it.
Shortly into his journey he became surrounded by a mystical fog and the ghost of Fergus appeared
to him adorned in a green cloak, a gold hilted sword and bronze blunt sandals.
In his final act, Fergus agrees to recite the Táin, but only on the condition that Muirgen first
promises to give up his life and abandon his kin, his friends and the woman he loves…

Postscript – like all good Irish stories, there is an alternative version of this tale. In this account the
ghost of Fergus is summoned by the Saints of Ireland, and his recital of the Táin is taken down by St.
Ciarán on the skin of his favourite dun cow at the monastery of Clonmacnoise on the river Shannon.
Hence we get the magnificent 12th century tome of the Lebor na hUidre – ‘The Book of the Dun
Cow’, which contains our earliest written version of the epic Táin.