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						168                                            William Sayers
charged, and in the early stories of hostellers we find not only idealized descrip-
tions of hostels, but also scenes central to the early Irish conception of successful
rulership. After a period of misrule, failed crops and dysfunctional human
relations, the hostel is the site of a doomed king's last feast and can be viewed as
a passage-way from life, if not always part of the Otherworld. The descriptions
of these hostels bear comparison with the succinct portrayals in Landnámabók.n
In the epic texts dealing with royal and heroic destinies the venues are appropria-
tely vast and finely furnished. One hosteller's tale, Scéla Mucce Meic Dathó (The
Tale ofMac Dathó's Pigj, situates its contention over a valuable hound and the
champion's portion {curadmír) in a hall with seven doors, seven entrances with
fifty paces between each adjacent pait, seven hearths and seven cauldrons. It is
one of five such legendary hostels in Ireland.12 In this tale the attentive but wily
host must try to balance between the competing desires of his guests.13 In Togail
Bruidne Da Derga (The Destruction ofDa Derga's Hostet) the banquet hall is always
open, like the mouth of a yawning man. Inside 'kingly are the customs, the
clamour is a host's, lordly is the sound.'14 When the king Conaire mór'is debating
whether to go to the hostel, even though it would involve the infraction of
additional gessaov tabus, his champion Mac Cecht recalls the layout of the hostel
to him:
'Indeed, I know that house; the road we are on goes until it goes into the house, for it
is through the house that the toad is. There are seven doorways to the house, and seven
[dining and sleeping] compartments between each two doorways and there is but one
door before it and that door is set at the dootway from which is the wind. Even with
the great number that you have here, you may go in the multitude of your host until
you alight on the centtal floor of the house. If it is there that you are going, I will go
in order to light a fire there to meet you.'15
Later, a scout reporting back to his troop on the guests and servants in the
hostel says of the briugu Da Derga:
'Since he assumed the care of the hostel, its doorways have never been closed since the
hostel was built but on the side that the wind against the door would be, and since he
1' On the completion of this article I noted that this idea had also been advanced, although not
pursued in detail, in Marcus 1981, 47.
12   ScélaMucceMeicDathó 1935, par. 1; on hostels in the epic Ulster cycle texts, see McCone 1984
and Sayers 1993.
13   Guest-houses for aristocratic visitors are also a feature of the Old Irish epic tradition (e.g., as
portrayed in Mesca Ulad— Tbe Intoxication ofthe Ulstermen and FledBricrend'— Bricriu'sFeast)
but will not be furthered considered in the present context.
14   'Isríghdain costud, isslúagdaaseiseilbe, isflaitheamdaa uáim' TogailBruidneDaDerga 1936,
11 655f. Translations here are my own unless otherwise noted; for less literal versions and a full
rendering of the saga in English, see The Destruction ofDa Derga 's Hostel 1981.
15   'Am eólachsa ém dia thig, in tsligiforsa taí, téit co téit isa teach, ar is tresin teach atá in tsligi. Atáit
.uii. ndoirsi isa teach 7 .uii. n-imdacha iter cech dá dorus, 7 ni ftl acht oenchomlaid n-airi 7
im-suíthear in chomlai fri cech ndorus día mbí in gaeth. Lin ataí sund ragai it bróin dírmai co
tarblaisfor lár in tigi. Masu ead no téig, tiagsa co n-ardu tenidandar da chind(\\. 279-86).
					
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