Everybody is familiar with the story of St Patrick and how he had ventured to Ireland as a young man and how grateful we should be to him for ridding the country of all snakes. That story is of legendary status, it’s folklore but there was another man, well before St Patrick’s time that we in Ireland should be showing our appreciation to. In a time when snakes slithered freely about the towns and villages of Ireland, there was a greater threat residing in our country. Our appreciation should be shown to a man that saved the people of Ireland from a reign of terror. The stories about this warrior were also legendary but over time he was eventually forgotten about and the stories disappeared forever, until now. They had said that he was ten feet tall, handsome and a mighty man with a Hurley. Although his sporting ability was also legendary, it wasn’t that talent for what he was remembered. Ronoc was the man that had freed Ireland from that most terrible of creatures, the Irish dragon.
There was a time in Ireland that you couldn’t walk out your front door in safety, for fear of a dragon swooping down and catching you in his long claws, bringing you to his nest and having you for dinner. The story of Ronoc must be told with a bit of background information. It was said at the time that Ireland had four dragons in the country, four brothers that controlled a province each. They were the last of their kind but this was of little consolation to the people of Ireland at the time, the average life expectancy of one such dragon in those times was estimated to be in the region of three hundred years. The Connacht dragon was a mere thirty years old; he was the baby of the family. His oldest brother controlled Ulster, the best of the feeding grounds and Munster and Leinster were hunting grounds for the twins. The dragons met up once a year but they didn’t get on with each other particularly well. The Connacht dragon as I have already said was the youngest, his name was Gok, he was also the smallest of the four, and he had only one horn on his nose, whereas a fully-grown dragon would have three. He envied the colours of his brother’s scales, he was small and was a pale green colour, which made him look like a friendly dragon, but of course there is no such thing as a friendly dragon. When Gok was just a baby, his mother had died, his father had followed her soon afterwards from a mixture of heartbreak and old age. Syrus was the oldest and most feared, he was always grumpy and he held a reign of terror in Ulster. At one hundred and seventy years old, he was a middle-aged dragon; he was fully grown and had the three fierce looking horns on his nose. His scales were a dark green and his belly was a light shade of red. The twins were a mere eighty- six years of age; in comparison to human years they were the equivalent of our teenagers and acted as such. Zuru was the dragon in Munster and Zuzu had Leinster under his control. The twin’s scales were a browny red and their bellies were a pale red, they had two horns on their noses, a sign that they were about to become adults. Their annual meeting had just ended and they were flying back to their individual territories in the four provinces. There had been the usual bickering between the four and Gok was teased and bullied as usual because he was the youngest. Syrus laid down the law as head of the family but this year he hadn’t much to say. Zuru and Zuzu hadn’t grown up much since their last meeting and Syrus had described these annual meetings as pointless, until they had matured. His point was clarified when the twins had tied Syrus’s wings together as he slept. He was furious on awakening and stumbled around trying to free his wings as the twins rolled around the ground laughing. He cancelled the following years meeting as he wanted them to grow up before he saw them again, it suited all four. It was agreed that they would meet again after two years had passed and Syrus had warned the twins to grow up by then. Gok was the happiest of the four; it meant two full years of peace and quiet for him.
The provinces of Ireland had been under the threat of these dragons since times clock began ticking. Many great warriors had lost their lives trying to defeat the fearsome dragons and no man was able to match their strength and agility. The fact that they could blow fire from their mouths and nostrils gave the dragons a big advantage over the warriors. None of the four brothers had ever faced a challenge from a warrior of any kind. Their father had told them stories of armies of men coming with the intention of slaying him and of his killing every last one of them. The dragons lived very contently, they didn’t know what fear was, they had never experienced the emotion. They hunted when they wanted to and they rested when they wanted to, they were free to do anything that they wanted to whenever they wanted to. They would eat humans if they felt the urge but the dragons preferred a fat cow or a well-fed pig. They would steal the fattest and best cows, pigs and sheep around the country. This annoyed the farmers of Ireland greatly.
The King of Ireland at the time was a man named Donnacha. King Donnacha was afraid to send his army to fight the dragons for fear he would have a mutiny on his hands. He had sent messengers to every corner of Ireland to offer a huge reward to any warrior that could defeat a dragon and a Kings ransom to anyone that could rid the country of all four. Only one warrior availed of the opportunity to gain instant riches. Irelands most famous warrior at the time was Calaigh, he was left with little choice but to try and slay one of the dragons. The people regarded him as the fiercest man in Ireland. He listened to the people tell him how big and strong he was and how he would easily defeat the menacing beasts. He listened and listened until he was convinced that he was invincible. He decided to travel to Connacht and face the youngest of the dragons first. He felt that Gok could be slain easily and then he could travel to Munster and Leinster and leave Syrus and Ulster till last. A huge crowd gathered in Connacht when word spread of Calaighs mission, they gathered to witness their champion defeating the young dragon. Gok wasn’t impressed with being disturbed and at first wondered what all the fuss was about. When he realised why Calaigh was there he laughed to himself, he played with the warrior for a while, keeping the crowd both entertained and hopeful. He soon tired of the game though and ended Calaighs challenge in a ball of flames. The crowds ran for their lives and Gok flew low over their heads as they scattered. He was delighted with himself, at last he had a story to tell his brothers, when they would meet again.
In a small village in Leinster a boy named Ronoc had just turned eighteen years of age and he entered manhood with ease. He was a gifted hurler and the pride of the parish as well as his parents. He was also at that young age, the village’s best hunter and main provider, he was fast becoming their top warrior and even the biggest of men feared his strength. His strength of mind and his intellect were probably his greatest assets. Ronoc like everyone else in his village grew up in fear of Zuzu. The village that Ronoc grew up in was the envy of the rest of Leinster, they had the most fertile lands for growing crops and their lands were rich in grass for livestock. This had pros and cons for the villagers, as well as being prosperous it also attracted Zuzu, who enjoyed feeding on the nicely fattened cattle and the plump sheep and pigs. It was in fact his favourite feeding ground and it had been many years since Zuzu had killed a villager, so long that no one in the village remembered it. He fed on the best of their livestock, which annoyed the villagers greatly, but what could they do about it? No man was going to challenge the might of Zuzu.
On his eighteenth birthday Ronoc was presented with a new sword by the local blacksmith, as was tradition in the village for many years. Ireland was a dangerous place at that time and a new sword was both protection from wild animals and a deterrent to any man that wished to fight. With his gleaming new sword by his side, Ronoc decided one day that he would go fishing to a nearby lake. He sat on the edge of the lake and threw his line and hook in. There were no fishing rods in those days, so he just sat there with the line in his hands waiting for a fish to bite. Ronoc had only been there for a few minutes when he heard the familiar flapping sound of Zuzus wings approaching. He looked up just in time to see the great wingspan of the dragon-flying overhead. Ten minutes or so passed before he heard the flapping wings approach again; this time though Zuzu had a cow in his claws, the cow had a red ribbon around his neck. Ronoc immediately recognised his family’s cow and was so angered that he stood up and drew his sword and waved it at the beast. Zuzu on seeing the sparkling new sword circled Ronoc before landing on the bank some ten feet or so away from him. Zuzu sized up his challenger and growled and puffed smoke as he walked towards Ronoc. Ronoc stopped him in his tracks, ‘is that not your brother down there’; Ronoc said pointing to the water. Brothers or not the one golden rule among dragons was that they never, ever, ever were allowed into each other’s territories. Even their meeting place was in the exact centre of the country and was common ground for the brothers to meet. Zuzu was furious at seeing his twin in the lake, he thrust his head down towards the water, but his brother disappeared and only ripples remained, he had been looking at his reflection. Before Zuzu could get his head back out of the water Ronoc had stepped forward and with one fierce swing with his shining new sword, he had cut the dragons head off. A little boy that had been watching from a distance went scampering towards the village, screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘Ronoc has killed Zuzu, Ronoc has killed the dragon’.
The villagers had a huge party and the celebrations lasted for many weeks, they went to the lakeside to taunt the headless dragon everyday until they grew tired of it. They were at last free from the reign of terror that had been inflicted on them all their lives and the relief was immense. Word spread quickly of Ronocs slaying of Zuzu, King Donnacha heard of the great feat and went personally to congratulate the young warrior. He gave Ronoc a healthy reward, a reward that Ronoc shared out among the villagers. The King asked him would he consider freeing the rest of the country from their torment. Ronoc was quick to explain that he had just caught Zuzu off guard and that going to pick a fight with a dragon was not going to work. He told the King that he would try and think of a way to rid the country of the other three dragons but it would take time. The King was happy that Ireland at last had found a warrior capable of taking on the dragons. He would wait to hear from Ronoc and as per Ronocs wishes he sent a messenger all around the country to try and keep the story quiet, if the other dragons got wind of the death of their brother, they would kill everyone in the country. Weeks passed by but Ronoc was struggling to come up with a plan, the people of Ireland were getting impatient and around the country the story of Ronoc had grown some legs. He was now ten feet tall and threw boulders for sport; he would eat a whole pig in one sitting and wash it down with a couple of gallons of milk. The execution of Zuzu had also been exaggerated and at the last telling of the story, Ronoc was swinging the dragon by the tail around the lake and Zuzu was begging for mercy before he was decapitated.
After a month or so, Ronoc announced to the villagers that he was going to Munster for a few weeks. He wouldn’t tell them any more than that, only to say that he would be home soon and to prepare for another huge party. His mother Laroc and his father Lagref were sick with worry; they would have preferred that their son be a farmer, like most other sons in the village. A dragon slayer was not exactly the career that they had envisaged their first born getting into. Although they were worried, they were also very proud of their son, he was the most famous warrior in Ireland, the stories continued to grow about how fierce the warrior Ronoc was. As fierce as he was, he still kissed his mother goodbye before setting off for Munster. Ronoc walked for three full days and passed through many villages on his way. After the three days walk, he needed to rest and arrived at a village in the centre of Munster. The locals had indeed heard of the great and fierce Ronoc but were slow to believe that the man that stood before them was that very warrior. They gave him food and drink and allowed him to rest in the village for two days. With his strength back up, Ronoc decided it was time to acquaint himself with Zuru.
The locals pointed him in the direction of Zuru’s nest, the local holy man blessed Ronoc as he set off. On approaching the mountain that was home to Zuru, Ronoc stopped to eat and rest for a while. He hoped that his plan would work; he was Ireland’s greatest hope of freedom. He checked the plan over in his head and when he was happy with it, he started the final climb, ready to face the dragon. He arrived at the summit and saw the huge nest built on the face of a cliff. He could see Zuru, preening himself and looking quite content and comfortable. Ronoc placed a white rag onto the top of his sword and waved it furiously. Zuru on seeing the white flag stood up and looked towards the young warrior. With a kick of hind legs he was airborne and flew straight at Ronoc, he landed facing him. With a small puff of flames he set the rag on fire and growled at Ronoc. ‘I have been sent here by your brother Zuzu’, Ronoc said. The dragon eyed him up and down, ‘and why would my brother send you to talk to me?’ asked Zuru as he licked his lips menacingly. ‘He has my family held captive and said that he would kill them, if I didn’t deliver this message to you’. Zuru looked at Ronoc inquisitively, ‘and what would that message be then?’ Zuru moved closer to Ronoc as he spoke. Ronoc gulped hard, the dragon’s nose was almost touching his own and he could feel the heat from Zuru’s nostrils. ‘Your brother fears that he is dying’, Ronoc said calmly. ‘Dying’, the dragon repeated, ‘dying from what?’ ‘He’s not quite sure, but he sent me to warn you just in case you were to suffer the same fate’, Ronoc added. ‘What’s this warning then’, Zuru asked impatiently. Ronoc composed himself and left one hand on the handle of his sword, he knew that he would get just one chance. ‘Your brother said that it all started with a growth on his foot, it grew to the size of a melon and he said that he has become very weak and tired, it all began with that growth on his foot’, Ronoc watched as Zuru bent down his head and began to examine his feet in great detail, as he did this Ronoc in one swift movement drew his sword and struck the dragon, cutting his head clean off. After a huge sigh of relief Ronoc took a canvass bag from his pocket and placed the head of Zuru inside, he threw the bag over his shoulder and began the descent down the mountain. As he approached the village that had looked after him so well, he smiled broadly. Every man, woman and child had gathered in the village square on hearing of Ronoc’s return. With all the villagers surrounding him, Ronoc took the bag from his shoulder and opened it, emptying the head of Zuru out onto the ground. The younger children ran as the dragon’s head rolled out along the ground. The rest of the villagers cheered loudly and Ronoc enjoyed a huge party there before he set off for his home village with Zuru’s head back in his bag.
On his return home, his mother Laroc was the first to greet him. She had waited at the gates everyday since Ronoc had left for Munster. She was overjoyed to see her son approach the village; the young children ran to meet the great warrior and danced around him accompanying him in to the village square. Ronoc hugged his parents and then turned to the villagers that had gathered in anticipation. He again emptied the contents of his canvass bag out onto the ground, on seeing the dragons head the locals cheered and clapped, congratulating the young warrior on another great achievement. The party got under way and the heads of Zuzu and Zuru were placed at the top table as ornaments of victory. King Donnacha arrived during the night and he again rewarded and congratulated Ronoc. This time though he gave Ronoc twice as much as before and again Ronoc shared it out among the villagers, the people of his village were becoming quite wealthy from the warriors endeavours. The party went on for longer than the last one and the King begged Ronoc to rid the country of the last two remaining dragon’s. Ronoc again asked for the slaying to be kept quiet and again he asked for time to figure out a plan to kill both Gok and the fierce some Syrus.
It was to be two months later before Ronoc had thought up of a plan to rid Connacht of the young Gok. He again told the villagers to prepare for a huge party as he set off for Connacht. His parents Laroc and Lagref again waved him goodbye at the gates and wished him well. They worried greatly but were strong on the exterior; his mother began praying for him as soon as he was out of sight. The road to Connacht was longer than the road to Munster and so Ronoc walked for three days and rested in a hospitable village before walking for another two days and resting and eating at a village in the centre of Connacht. The villagers cheered his arrival but again they were expecting a giant of a man and not the ordinary looking warrior that had arrived. His legend was growing though and there wasn’t anywhere in Ireland that hadn’t heard of the great warrior, Ronoc. The villagers fed him well and Ronoc told them the stories of how he had slain the two dragons, Zuzu and Zuru. The true stories were disappointing in comparison to the ones of exaggeration that they had heard. After three days rest Ronoc was ready to meet Gok. The villagers showed him where to locate the dragon’s nest and Ronoc set off to climb the mountain. He again, after arriving at the mountain sat down to eat and rest before beginning the climb. On arriving at the summit Ronoc saw the huge nest and Gok was asleep in the middle of it. Dragon’s however do not actually sleep, they merely close their eyes and rest, so it would be impossible to sneak up on one and remove his head. Ronoc stood at the summit and again waved a white rag. Gok on seeing the rag fluttered his wings and jumped from his nest, flapping his wings with ease he flew in Ronoc’s direction. He circled the warrior first, ‘another warrior to slay the dragon, I presume’, he said as he landed. ‘No, no’, Ronoc replied, ‘I am merely a messenger, with news for you’, Ronoc again told the story of Zuzu sending him there to warn his brother of the terrible disease that was upon him. Gok glanced at his feet and looked up quickly, ‘I don’t see anything, I don’t seem to have this dreaded disease’, he said as he walked towards the reversing Ronoc. ‘Lucky you arrived here’, Gok said, ‘I was about to go and look for some lunch, but you will save me that task’. Ronoc swallowed down hard and had to think quickly. ‘Your brother’, he started, ‘also said that he had a huge growth on the back of his neck’. Dragon’s like most species don’t like the idea of dying but unlike most other species, dragons’ were serious hypochondriacs, to tell a dragon that he could have a life threatening illness was enough to drive him mad. Gok swung his head around one way and then the other but he couldn’t see anything. He returned to face Ronoc. ‘Would you have a look for me’, the dragon said, ‘and I will let you walk free’. Ronoc agreed and walked around the dragon. ‘Bend your neck down a bit’, Ronoc said, ‘I think there’s something there’. Gok bent his neck down without thinking, the worry of a fatal disease confused the dragon, Ronoc drew his sword and relieved Gok the burden of carrying his head. He again put the dragons’ head in his bag and set off back towards the village.
Three days of celebrations followed the slaying of Gok in Connacht and it was nearly a week after that Ronoc finally made it back to his own village. The head of Gok was shown to the villagers and another party commenced. King Donnacha again arrived during the celebrations with a huge reward to congratulate the dragon slayer; again Ronoc divided out his reward among the villagers, and the party this time went on for two months. With their newfound wealth, the villagers weren’t too keen to get back to work. This disappointed Ronoc, the village was in serious disrepair, their farms needed maintenance, fences needed to be mended, the livestock were being neglected but none of the villagers cared anymore, they had wealth beyond their wildest dreams and were spending it quickly. Eventually the village became so run down that most of the villagers built larger houses and moved outside the safety of the village walls. Ronoc and his parents stayed in the village and Ronoc and his father Lagref began the much-needed work that was necessary to try and restore their home to what it had once been. The worked long hours everyday and after a few months they had the village back to its former glory. The locals that had moved out soon ran out of money and were forced to return to the gates of their old homes and beg Ronoc to let them in. Ronoc held a village meeting and warned the people that everyone had to do their fair share of work to make the village prosperous once more. He warned them that if they didn’t keep the rules that he was putting in place, he would throw them out of the village and let them fend for themselves. The villagers readily agreed to Ronoc’s rules and promised to keep the village the way it should be kept. They genuinely regretted their behaviour and were ashamed that they had let a little wealth go to their heads as it did. They promised that if Ronoc managed to slay Syrus and the King gave him the promised Kings ransom, that they would still work the land and save the wealth for their later years.
Although Ronoc had proved his ability and the people believed him to be a through champion, not many were convinced that he could defeat Syrus. Syrus was wiser than his three younger brothers, he was stronger and he wasn’t in the habit of talking to humans. To catch Syrus off guard would be Ronoc’s greatest triumph; Ronoc knew that would not be easy and nearly two years passed before he thought of a reasonable plan. King Donnacha arrived in the village the night before Ronoc was due to depart on his mission. He offered his finest chariot to use for Ronoc’s trip to Ulster. Ronoc thanked him but declined his offer, ‘I’m not going to Ulster’, he said, as he was about to leave. ‘I’m going to the centre of the country’. Laroc and Lagref were again at the gates of the village to wish their son well on his journey. Although he was now a great warrior and a dragon slayer, he was still yet only nineteen years of age. All the villagers and the King and his men gathered to wish him luck. Most thought that they wouldn’t see him again and Ronoc himself wasn’t too sure if he would be returning. Ronoc left the village and started towards the centre of Ireland, his bag was thrown over his shoulder and the heads of the three slain dragons bumped about inside.
After just a day walking Ronoc arrived at the centre of the country. There were no villages in this area and he had brought his own food and drink. He found the meeting place of the dragons; there were four large nests side by side. Ronoc placed the heads of Zuzu, Zuru and Gok into a nest each and he then sat back and rested, waiting for the arrival of Syrus. Darkness fell and Ronoc surrendered to his tiredness, he fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of slaying dragons with a shiny new sword. The next morning as the sun began to rise; Ronoc was awoken by the sound of huge wings flapping. It was Syrus and Ronoc peeked out from behind a rock to see the mightiest of the four dragons. He couldn’t believe his eyes, the dragon was a monster, the eldest of the brothers was huge, his wings were twice the size of Goks and his head, if Ronoc could manage to remove it, would never fit into his canvass bag. Syrus examined the remains of his brothers; he let out a roar that shook the earth and rocks. Ronoc jumped out from his hiding place, he had his sword drawn and was ready for battle. Syrus looked at the warrior, ‘are you responsible for this’, Syrus asked. Ronoc nodded, ‘yes it was me that did this to your brothers, and you must prepare for your own death now’, he said defiantly. What happened next was to shock Ronoc more than anything else ever had in his life. Syrus the mightiest of the four dragons dropped to his knees and begged Ronoc to spare his life. Ronoc put away his sword and for sparing his life, Syrus promised to leave Ireland and never return. Legend has it that Syrus flew to Wales and set up a home there.
On his return home, the villagers, most of who were amazed that they were seeing him alive again, greeted Ronoc. King Donnacha paid out a Kings ransom and Ronoc was the celebrated hero of Ireland. With such a service provided for his country, it is only fitting that we remember the stories of Ronoc. He would go on to have many more adventures; all his stories were lost in time up until now. He lived to the grand old age of one hundred and twelve years old and was buried with the skulls of Zuzu, Zuru and Gok. Many of the people of Ireland didn’t believe the story of Syrus begging for mercy, they thought that Ronoc had in some way tricked the dragon into fleeing Ireland. It didn’t matter though how he had achieved the monstrous task, Ireland was free from the terror of the four brothers. It would be many years later when St. Patrick arrived on Irish shores to rid the country of snakes. When you walk around Ireland now, you should thank a warrior named Ronoc for the freedom to do so and the end of the terror of the Irish dragon.