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At the time of Christ there reigned over Ulster, residing at Eamhain Macha , a king noted in ancient song and story; Conor MacNessa. He was the grandson of Róry Mór, 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 Táin Bó Cuailgne. His first wife was the Amazonian Medhb (Maeve), a daughter of Eochaid the Árd-Rígh (High King) of Ireland. Conor separated from her and she then became Queen of Connaught.

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He found his happiness with her sister, Eithne, whom he took as his second wife, and who proved to be all that was indicated by her name; Eithne, which means "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. Until his reign, the learned professions, both for sake of monopoly and of effect upon the multitude, used an archaic language that only the initiated could understand, which awed the mass of the people and kept them in ignorance. 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 to such vast numbers, and to have become lazy, covetous and tyrannical, 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, till the anger of the people had abated, and they could scatter themselves over Ireland once more.

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Conor died by a brain ball that sunk into his skull -- fired by the hand of Cet MacMagach, the Connaught champion, whom he had pursued after a Connaught cattle raid. The legend attached to Conor’s death is rather curious. The ball fired by Cet did not kill him immediately. It sank into his skull, and his doctor, Faith Liag, would not remove it, since this could cause instant death. With care, however, Conor might live long, carrying it within his head. Henceforth, however, he must be moderate in all things, avoiding violent emotion, which was difficult in those days for a king to achieve. Under his doctor's wise care he lived for seven years, but one day, his court was thrown into consternation by finding daylight suddenly turned into blackest night, the heavens rent by lightning, and the world rocked by thunder, portending some dread cataclysm.

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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 would ever know again...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 tyrannical Romans, jealous of His power over the people, had nailed Him high on a cross, between two crucified thieves, and 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 gripped him, the brain ball burst from the king's head, and he fell dead on the ground.

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