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Conor Mac Nessa


At the time of Christ, as said, there reigned over Ulster - residing at Emain Macha (Emania) - a king noted in ancient song and story, Conor Mac Nessa. He was the grandson of Rory Mor, a powerful Ulster ruler who had become monarch of Ireland, and who was the founder of the Rudrician line of Ulster kings. The memory of Conor Mac Nessa is imperishably preserved in the tale of the sons Of Usnach and in the greater tale of the Tain Bo Cuailgne. His first wife was the Amazonian Medb (Maeve), a daughter of Eochaid the Ard-Righ of Ireland (High King). Conor separated from her and she became Queen of Connaught. He found his happiness with her sister, Ethne, whom he took to wife then, and who proved to all that was indicated by her name - Ethne, that is "sweet kernel of a nut".

He was a patron of poetry and the arts, and a practical man who is said to have struck from learning, the oppressive shackles of tradition that hitherto had cramped and bound it. Till this day the learned professions, both for sake of monopoly and of effect upon the multitude used an archaic language that only the initiated understood, and that awed the mass of the people. Conor ordered that the professions should not henceforth remain in the hereditary possession of the ancient learned families - but should be thrown open to all, irrespective of family or rank. Conor's reverence for poets was such that he saved them from expulsion, when, once they were threatened with death or exile, because having grown so vast numbers, and got to be lazy, covetous, tyrannous, they had become an almost unbearable burden upon the multitude. Conor gathered twelve hundred poets, it is said, into his dominion, and protected them there for seven years, until the anger of the people had abated, and they could scatter themselves over Ireland once more.

Conor died by a brain ball that sunk into his skull - fired by the hand of Cet Mac Magach, the Connaught champion, whom he had pursued after a Connaught cattle raid. The legend attached to Conor's death is curious. The brain ball fired by Cet did not directly kill him. It sank into his skull - and his doctor, Faith Liag, would not remove it, because that would cause instant death. With care, Conor might live long, carrying the brain ball. Henceforth, however, he must be moderate in all things, avoiding violent emotion, which was rare in those days for kings.

Under his doctor's wise care, he lived for seven years. But one day, his court was thrown into consternation by finding broad day suddenly turned into blackest night, the heavens rent by lightning, and the world rocked by thunder, portending some dread cataclysm. Conor asked his wise men for explanation of the fearful happening. The druids and wise men told him that there had been in the East, a singular man, more noble of character, more lofty of mind, and more beautiful of soul, than the world had ever before known, or ever again would know - he was the noblest and most beautiful, most loving of men. And now the heavens and the earth were thrown into agony because on this day, the tyrant Roman, jealous of his power over the people, had nailed him high upon a cross, and between two crucified thieves, had left the divine man to die a fearful death. Conor was so fired to rage at this thought, that he snatched his sword and tried to fiercely hew down a grove of trees. Under the strain of the fierce passion that held him the brain ball burst from King Conor's head - and he fell dead.

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