"The druids read the smoke and sand"

Part of the Annotated Lyrics Horslips Project
Compiled by Lee Templeton, San Francisco

Her words were sharp; they cut him deep,
    In a war between the sheets.
But when he brought his bull to her
    It meant a woman making war
        Beyond the eiderdown.

The druids read the smoke and sand;
    Told her that she would love again.
The rhythms from the wolfskin drums
    Called men to war in hide and bronze.
        This goddess wore a crown.

Charolais, charolais--
    we are come for you today.
The champions and the Seven Sons are
    come to take away the Donn

But the Fairy Child knew more;
    Saw the host stained red in war,
Saw the hero-light around the head
    Of a dragon-boy just ripe for bed
        Of wives and manly sons.

Recorded On:

  1. The Táin

Source Tune:

Rosc Catha Na Mumhan: also known as Battle Cry Of Munster, The Battle Cry Of Munster March, Boyne Water, Rosc Catha Na Nuimhain

Recordings (Before Horslips):

  1. Rosc Catha na Mumhan, Ceol Potter (A.J. Potter), RTE Light Orchestra, 1973

Recordings (After Horslips):

  1. Further Down The Old Plank Road (paired with Arkansas Traveller), The Chieftains
  2. Gathering Pace, Relativity

General Notes from Album:

The Brown Bull of Cooley, the semi-mythical beast of the Tain certainly wasn't the gentle Charolais, but the tongue-in-cheek lyrics are in keeping with the Tain's eccentric narrative style. We've used a traditional melody Rose Catha na Mumhan which means the Battle Hymn of Munster. This also forms the basis for The March.

Notes on The Táin, Oats Records

General Notes from

It is helped by the fact that the band are musicians of the highest order, but their strength is the magic of the songs and tunes which are constructed quite perfectly. There are no fillers and no tracks which fall below the general standard of excellence. The stand out tracks include Dearg Doom, with its phenomenenal riff which makes it a disco hit 30 years later, Faster Than the Hound and Charolais.

Tony Fisher, ProgArchive review of the Táin, posted Monday, March 21, 2005

'Charolais" makes use of some insidious traditional melodies which are finely crafted into riffs by horslips guitarist John Fehan. The lyrics are excellent and tell of Maeve and her husband arguing over their wealth and leads the concept into fruition. An amazing flute solo by keyboardist/flautist Jim Lockhart is a hint of early jethro tull and could well fit on "Stand Up' or 'Benefit". An amazing guitar solo by John Fehan illuminates the song also and truly wakes up the listner after the two instrumental tracks.

Donal Gill, ProgArchive review of the Táin, posted Saturday, February 5, 2005

Johnny Fean is a brilliant guitarist with a distinct blues feel; he conjures up every possible tone out of his Les Paul on Charolais.

Spectorbassrocks, ProgArchive review of the Táin, posted Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Charolais on You Tube

Second House, Part 1, 1973 documentary on Horslips directed by Melvyn Bragg, posted by BrendanMc, June 21, 2006.

Annotated Lyrics:

"In a war between the sheets"

"Let our goods and our riches be put beside one another, and let a value be put on them," said Maeve, "and you will know which of us owns most." "I am content to do that," said Ailell.

With that, orders were given to their people to bring out their goods and to count them, and to put a value on them. They did so, and the first things they brought out were their drinking vessels, their vats, their iron vessels, and all the things belonging to their households, and they were found to be equal. Then their rings were brought out, and their bracelets and chains and brooches, their clothing of crimson and blue and black and green and yellow and saffron and speckled silks, and these were found to be equal. Then their great flocks of sheep were driven from the green plains of the open country and were counted, and they were found to be equal; and if there was a ram among Maeve’s flocks that was the equal of a serving-maid in value, Ailell had one that was as good. And their horses were brought in from the meadows, and their herds of swine out of the woods and the valleys, and they were equal one to another. And the last thing that was done was to bring in the herds of cattle from the forest and the wild places of the province, and when they were put beside one another they were found to be equal, but for one thing only. It happened a bull had been calved in Maeve’s herd, and his name was Fionnbanach, the White-horned. But he would not stop in Maeve’s herds, for he did not think it fitting to be under the rule of a woman. and he had gone into Ailell’s herds and stopped there; and now he was the best bull in the whole province of Connaught. And when Maeve saw him, and knew he was better than any bull of her own, there was great vexation on her, and it was as bad to her as if she did not own one head of cattle at all. So she called Mac Roth, the herald, to her, and bade him to find out where there was a bull as good as the White-horned to be got in any province of the provinces of Ireland.

Cuchulain of Muirthemne, Lady Gregory, translator, 1902

"This goddess wore a crown"

Medb (Meḋḃ, Medhbh, Meadhbh, Meab°, Meabh, Maeve, Maev; usually pronounced /meɪv/ in English) is queen of Connacht in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. Her father was Eochaid Feidlech, the High King of Ireland. Her best-known husband was Ailill mac Máta, although she had several husbands before him, all of whom were kings of Connacht while they were married to her. Her palace stood at Cruachan (now Rathcroghan, County Roscommon). She was probably originally a "sovereignty goddess", whom a king would ritually marry as part of his inauguration.

Entry for Medb, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"Because the original Tain saga is quite witty in places, and a bit far-fetched in fact, we stuck our tongues firmly in our cheeks and wrote Charolais. And the thing is, the Charolais is quite an expensive animal. It was only introduced in these islands maybe twelve years ago, and the story, the lyric content of the song Charolais basically just sets the earlier scene; the story. It refers to Queen Maeve having a quarrel with her husband."

Eamon Carr, Second House, documentary broadcast in 1973

Official Website of the Irish Charolais Cattle Society

"But the Fairy Child knew more"

'It doesn't matter,' Medb said. 'Wrath and rage and red wounds are common when armies and large forces gather. So look once more and tell us the truth. Fedelm, prophetess; how seest thou our host?'

'I see it crimson, I see it red,' the girl said.

'I see a battle: a blond man
with much blood about his belt
and a hero-halo round his head.
His brow is full of victories.

Seven hard heroic jewels
are set in the iris of his eye.
His jaws are settled in a snarl.
He wears a looped, red tunic.

A noble countenance I see,
working effect on womenfolk;
a young man of sweet colouring;
a form dragonish in the fray'

The Tain, Thomas Kinsella, translator, 1969

"Tell me truly now, Fedelm of the Sidhe, what way do you see our hosts?" "I see crimson on them. I see red. And I see," she said, "A low-sized man doing many deeds of arms; there are many wounds on his smooth skin; there is a light about his head, there is victory on his forehead; he is young and beautiful, and modest toward women; but he is like a dragon in the battle."

Cuchulain of Muirthemne, Lady Gregory, translator, 1902

First Posted: February 9, 2007
Last Revised: February 11, 2007