The Tale of Cormac
Ath-Cul-Uain. July 31, 1597. Keen eyes. That's me. "Good eye, Conal, good eye!" At hurl or
at butt, with sliotar or arrow, 'tis I can send a missile winging true.
All my family have good sight. Always have had. Maybe always will.
"Who is he?"
"He's a McIntyre, one of the south bank long-sighted McIntyres."
The question had been asked by O'Donnell himself. A while back. I had sent six arows
straight to the heart of the target. At practice we were. An early day in May, and the
flowers springing up all over. Not that I'm a great one for flowers, or flowery talking,
but 'twas those six flights with the bow did the trick.
For weeks we'd heard the rumours. No more bows and arrows. No more fletching, no more
stretching. Muskets were the coming thing. O'Donnell had decided. They say it was the
Spaniards in the castle convinced him. Survivors of the great fleet from Spain. "Modern
weapons for modern soldiers!" And he bought it, hook, line, and sinker. A hundred and
twenty muskets from the arms merchants! For once we'd meet the Sassanach on fair terms.
Cannon too! Cost a fortune! But that was Red Hugh. The best he could get for his men. No
wonder we loved him, no wonder we served him, no wonder we would follow him to hell and
back. Kinsale was hell, but that's another story.
"McIntyre," says he, "how would you like to become a musketeer?"
"Not hard to answer," says I. "I'd love it."
"Here," says he, "brand new. Never been fired. Look after it, and it'll look after you.
Keep your powder dry!"
Oh, it was a gorgeous weapon! With a barrel shining bright, and a trigger finger light. A
pan for the flasher, lead balls for the bullets. Wadding and rammer. And a bag full of
Weeks I spent training, trimming and aiming. I cleaned it and cared for it, polished it
and slept with it.
"He cares more for that gun of his than he does for me," said Nora Ban to Nora Duv, down
at the spring well, early one morning.
"Seems unhealthy to me," said dark Nora to fair Nora.
"His weapon I like, but his musket I don't," said fair Nora.
What are women coming to anyway? Did you ever hear such brazen talk? And from Nora Ban, too!
I left them to it and returned to my company. Two weeks later came the call to Ath-Cul-Uain.
Clifford and his followers--some were Irish, too--came marching up to Ath Seanaigh and
tried to cross the ford. Tried, and died. And tried again. We beat them before, and we
beat them again.
Then, "Men," cried Red Hugh, "I hear they're trying Cul-Uain. Follow me!"
And follow him we did. Up the river side we went as fast as our horses could carry us.
They were half way across when we got there. Our few guards, woefully undermanned, were
fighting their best.
I jumped from my horse. The first of the foe were already on the north bank. A string in
the middle was struggling over. One figure alone appeared in command.
Raising my musket I zeroed upon him. A flash, and a bang, and he fell in the river.
Sharp-shooting Cormac had his first kill. There were others, of course, but the crush of
the foe was too great for us all. We had to retreat. A strategic withdrawal. The rest of
the story I'll tell you again.
"On the following day, by break of day, the Governor's army rose up to cross the river;
(but) O'Donnell had posted guards upon all the fords of the Erne. However, they got an
advantage at one difficult ford, namely, Ath-Cul-Uain, and to this they resolutely
advanced. The guards of the ford proceeded to shoot against them without mercy, and to
defend the ford against them as well as they were able; but they were not able to defend
it long against the numerous force and army opposed to them, so that the Governor and his
army crossed it, and gained the other side. On this day, however, a lamentable death took
place, namely (that of) Murrough, the son of Murrough, son of Dermot, son of Murrough
O'Brien, Baron of Inchiquin, as he was on horseback, in the depth of the river, outside the
solders, saving them from drowning, and encouraging them to get across past him. But
destiny permitted that he was aimed at by one of O'Donnell's people with a ball exactly in
the arm-pit, in an opening of his plate armour, so that it passed through him, and out at
the opposite arm-pit. No assistance could be given him, and he fell from his horse into the
depth of the current, in which he was immediately drowned."
(The Annals of the Four Masters).
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