The Dindshenchas (Placename Lore) is a fantastic, but often sadly under-estimated and ignored, body of Irish lore, detailing how some of the most important places in the Irish landscape came to get their name. More often than not these tales shouldn’t be taken literally, but they do give us insights into a lot of the lore and the myths as they were known at the time these poems were recorded.
This Dindshenchas is one of my favourites, detailing the Brug na Boinne (now known as Newgrange, probably the best known of Ireland’s prehistoric megalithic tombs) – the home of Oengus Mac Óc after tricking his own father – the Dagda – out of it. The poem has some fascinating descriptions of the gods, and it also mentions the tale of Oengus’s conception.
Bright is it here, plain of Mac ind Oc!
wide is thy road with traffic of hundreds;
thou hast covered many a true prince
of the race of every king that has possessed thee.
Every bright wonder hath adorned thee,
clear shining plain with scores of hosts,
lucent land of grass and waggons,
virgin mead of birds and islands!
The house of Mac ind Oc above thy stead,
a royal sod with true hospitality;
there come in sooth above thy brown stream
hostages from the fairy-hills of all Erin thither.
The daughter of bold Pharaoh [lies] on thy floor
a kind princess, precious was the diadem;
over her was set the tower in that place,
not sparing was the dirge over her head.
I see the clear pool of Fiacc of the warriors
west of thee,-not feeble the deed-
till the day of Doom-mighty boast-
shall he abide on the slope of the royal rath.
Here slept a married pair
after the battle of Mag Tuired yonder,
the great lady [and] the swart Dagda:
not obscure is their dwelling there.
The Grave of the Matha after his slaying
is plain to see on thee, Brug, studded with horses:
The sea has rotted his bone,
whence pleasant Inber Colptha is [named].
The Hide of the Cow of undying Boadan
over the cheek of his yellow-white stone:
the Precinct of the staunch keen warriors
about the eastern level of noble Nemed.
At the Trench of the gentle Seagulls
it is there was wrought the deed
great the proud feat of the spear
the slaying of Finn whom the bold Luagne smote.
In thee was born a beguiling boy,
Cellach, who plundered the plain on his track;
he was able to face a tribe, he captured thee,
and died in thee a death of pride.
O beaked bark of the strong towers,
the sea-tide visits thy stead:
from the days of Crimthand Nia to Niall
thou wast the burying-place of the fair-haired warriors.
Fintan Feradach, of bloody battles,
possessed thy land, the strong prince;
Tuathal Techtmar, lord of our clans,
thy bare sepulchral soil sustains.
Fedelmed the Lawgiver is in thy tale;
he was a warlike wight on every chase;
they are not at enmity in the ground:
thou hidest Conn the just, the hundred-fighter.
There came not Art, highest in rank,
round whom rode troops on the battlefield;
he found a grave proud and lofty,
the champion of the heroes, in Luachair Derg.
There came not Cormac free from sorrow:
after receiving the Truth (he affirmed it)
he found repose above limpid Boyne
on the shore at Rossnaree.
Cairpre Lifechair lies on thy soil,
Fiachu Sraptine noble and famous,
Muiredach Tirech from the Hill,
the king Eochu father of Niall.
There came not Niall (a cry that is not false)
unlucky for him the course he rowed!
after going seven times to Scotland
the place where his grave is was known.
Thereafter came the pure Faith
to Mag Fail, a law that came not too soon,
so that each lies in burial-grounds of holy men,
to sever them from iniquity and sin.
Thou hidest a brood bold and kind,
plain of the son of the swift Dagda!
let men not punish the worship of the great God;
it is worse for them where they are in torment.
They are transient, thou abidest:
every believing band rides around thee:
as for them, their wisdom has befooled them;
thou shalt attain a noble age.
Boyne, a spot right green and bright,
an omen with sound . . . beside thee
. . . from you of the proud grandson
of Senbec from the stead of noble poesy.
Warlike and splendid is the centre of champions!
swift their stroke, noble their assembly!
it is a fold of glorious chieftains, with a track,
it is a kennel of high-bred whelps, it is glorious.
From Gwynn’s The Metrical Dindshenchas Part II, in Royal Irish Academy Todd Lecture Series Part IX, 1906, p11-17.