Serglige Con Culainn

Serglige Con Culainn (Old Irish: "The Sick-Bed" or "Wasting Sickness of Cúchulainn"), also known as Oenét Emire ("The Only Jealousy of Emer") is a narrative from the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. It originated in the 10th and 11th centuries, and survives in the Book of the Dun Cow, which combines two earlier versions.


The great Ulster hero Cúchulainn is charged with catching two birds each for the women assembled at Muirthemne, but when he hands them out there is none for his wife Emer. He determines to catch two even more beautiful birds for her, which are linked by a golden chain and sing a magical sleeping song. He only grazes them with his spear, however, and is put to sleep next to a stone pillar. He dreams he is approached by two women with whips who beat him so severely as to rob him of his strength, inducing a wasting sickness. He lies ill for nearly a year, until the otherworldly Angus visits him, inviting him to County Roscommon, where he can be cured and introduced to Angus' sister Fand, who wants to be with him. Cúchulainn returns to the pillar where he fell ill, and meets Angus' and Fand's sister, Lí Ban, who explains that she was one of the women who whipped him, but that she wishes him no further harm. She requests his aid in defending her kingdom in Mag Mell.

Cúchulainn still suffers from his wasting sickness, and stalls going to Mag Mell for some time. Finally Emer berates her husband into shaking off the illness, and he journeys to Mag Mell with his charioteer Láeg. He dispatches Lí Ban's enemies and trysts with Fand, but this is discovered by Emer, who confronts Fand. After much discussion both women recognize the other's unselfish love, and request that Cúchulainn take the other. This is interrupted with the return of Fand's husband, Manannán mac Lir, who takes Fand away with him and shakes his cloak between her and Cúchulainn so that they may never meet again. The druids give Cúchulainn and Emer a potion of forgetfulness, and they forget the entire affair.

Cultural references

Augusta, Lady Gregory included the story in her 1902 collection Cuchulain of Muirthemne. Gregory's version was loosely adapted by William Butler Yeats for his 1922 play The Only Jealousy of Emer. The Pogues titled the opening track of their 1985 album Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn" after the tale.


  • MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford. ISBN 0-19-860967-1.

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