“There was a great champion, from far off lands, called Iron Bones who was a great warrior and a great runner. I don’t know his proper name, or whether he was a king or a prince. Iron Bones was visiting all countries in Europe,and whenever he landed in any country he went at once to the king’s palace, and challenged the king to get any man in his kingdom that could fight and conquer him or beat him at running. If he found someone who could beat him in fighting or running he left the country immediately but if he was victorious he made that country pay tribute to him.
It appears that no one could match him in any country and at last he came to Ireland and went to the palace of the high king. He was admitted to the king’s presence, and he told the king that he was the great champion called Iron Bones, and if the king had any man in Ireland that could fight him or beat him in a race, he (the king) must get the man as fast as possible.
The king, who was very worried with the strange visitor, said he did not think he had any man in his kingdom that would like to fight with him, but he thought he could get one to have a race with him. So he challenged the king to get the runner, and said he only wait until next morning to run against him. On asking the king’s advisers told him that Caoilte Mac Ronán, the swiftest man in Ireland, was the best in Ireland to compete with Iron Bones but they feared that even Caoilte would not be fast enough as they had heard of this great champion from far off lands. ‘He is our only chance’ said the King. ‘I will go in person to get him’.
As Caoilte’s abode was not very distant from the palace the king and his bodyguards set out at once on foot to his rath. On their way they decided to take a shortcut through a grove of trees and as they entered the wood they met a very big man, almost as big as a giant with a big coat down to his heels, huge brógs on his feet as large as little boats and as the weather was wet and the roads very mucky, the big man ploughed up the earth with every stride. Even with his warriors the King felt nervous when he saw the big man whose face was very yellow and dirty with the remains of the last meal he had showing around his huge ugly mouth.
‘Where art thou going in such a hurry’? said the big man to the king who was anxious to get away from him as fast as possible. But the big man caught hold of the king in a grip so tight that he could not get out of his grasp. So the king told him about Iron Bones and that he was going to Caoilte Mac Ronán to ask him to race against Iron hones.
‘Go no further’, said the big fellow. `I’m your man and I will race with him in the morning. Go back and tell him to be ready’.
When the king arrived back at the palace sooner than expected they were all surprised but the king told them that he met a man in the wood who was willing to compete with Iron Bones and that he would be ready to start whenever Iron Bones was ready.
So Iron Bones, was anxious to see the man who was brave enough to compete with him, went out to the wood where the big man was. When Iron Bones saw the big fellow, he asked him his name. ‘Bodagh an chótalachtna’ said the big man.
Iron Bones said he objected to run with such a big, ugly greasy bodach as that, but the bodach told him that whether he was big or ugly or untidy he was a man and by Iron Bones’ own rules if he would not run with him he must depart out of the country at once. They then agreed to run the next morning, at daybreak, from the wood in which they were to Beann Éadair at the sea, a distance of about fifty miles.
That evening the bodach began to cut branches of trees to build a shelter in which to sleep or the night, and when it was finished he invited Iron Bones to come and share the hut with him but Iron Bones refused and laid down instead underneath the shelter of a big rock. He was not very long asleep when he was startled by a great noise. When he went to see what was up he saw the bodach in chase after a wild pig which he soon caught and killed him. He then lit a fire and left the pig to roast while he went away somewhere looking for ale. He soon came back with a barrel of ale under each arm. He invited Iron Bones to come and have supper with him, but Iron Bones refused. The bodach devoured half the hog and drank one of the ale barrels; then he lay down to sleep.
Iron Bones awoke at the crack of dawn and immediately woke the bodach and said he wanted to start the race immediately. The bodach told Iron Bones that he could start if he wanted to but that he wanted to have his breakfast before he started. So he ate the other half of the hog and emptied the other barrel of ale. He then started to run after Iron Bones and it was not very long until he overtook Iron Bones and passed him out as though he was standing. He continued to run on until he came to a place where the blackberries were very plentiful, as they always are in Ireland even to the present day. The bodach began to gather blackberries and eat them in big handfuls and what he could not eat he put them into the pockets of his big coat and in the meanwhile Iron Bones passed him and left him still gathering blackberries.
When the pockets were full the bodach started to run again and soon overtook Iron Bones and passed him with ease but after a while he put his hand into one of his coat pockets to get some blackberries to eat but there was no pocket. He tried the other pocket then but that was also gone: the weight of the blackberries had torn the pockets out of his coat while he was running, but he did not realize that they were lost until he looked for some the blackberries. He to go back again to look for his pockets and on the way he met Iron Bones running as fast as he could and asked if he had seen his pockets on the road.
‘No,’ said Iron Bones, but I saw a couple of sacks about four miles back. ‘They were my pockets,’ said the bodach, and hurried back to get them. When he found them he sat down and had a great big feed of blackberries. When he was satisfied he took out a needle and thread from somewhere inside the big coat and proceeded to sew on the two packets again. He laid back then for a good snooze and later when he woke up he started running again, overtook Iron Bones and passed him our “flying”.
When he came to a well he decided to stop for a meal. He took a bag of groats (crushed grain) which hung on a cord around his neck, mixed it with the blackberries, and began to eat it with a great appetite. Of course Iron Bones arrived and passed him out again but the bodach continued with his leisurely meal until all the groats and blackberries were all devoured. He then took off again as fast as the wind and passed out Iron Bones just as Beann Éadair was coming into sight. He passed him so fast that he turned Iron Bones around like a top so that he did not know for a while where he was.
The bodach caught up Iron Bones as though he was only a feather and placed him in his ship which was turned out to sea. The bodach put his big bróg against the ship’s stern and gave it a mighty shove, and it was said the ship went five miles out into the sea with the force of the bodach’s foot.”
A bodach was a big uncouth rough old man. Cóta Lachtna – A very long coat dirty and torn from being dragged through wet muddy places!
This is an old story told around Irish firesides for centuries. Part of the Myths and Legends taught in Carnaun School in the 50s and 60s, it is thought to have come from the Isle of Man where it was called “Boddagh yn Cooit Laatchagh”. This Bodagh who was the wizard chief of the Island, according to Manx tradition, lived somewhere in the North of the Island. He went to live in Ireland after it is told ‘he rolled into the sea at Jurby Point’. Mannanan Beg Alas Leir (Manannan Mac Lir) was his name in the Island, but he gave himself the name of “Boddagh yn cooit laatchagh” when he decided to run a race against Iron Bones in Ireland.”
Manannan Mac Lir was the God of Sea and the Weather. He lived in the Isle of Man and was a foster father to Lúgh, another god, whose abode was in Lúgh Brúgha in Mágh Muchrama near Athenry. Lúgh’s mother was Ethlenn and lived at Sidhe n’Eitlenn now called St. Ellens / Castle Ellen near Carnaun National School, Athenry.
Written by Finbarr O'Regan
Published here 05 Feb 2021 and originally published 2012
Page 009 of Athenry Mythology
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