The Old Woman of Lia Nothain

14 Feb

Here’s an intriguing one, which I can only conclude contains a relatively obscure reference to the Cailleach Bhéarra. Nothain – a cailleach, an ‘old woman’ as Stokes translates it, is shown here to have a sister who is called Sentuinne, or ‘Old Woman’; I can only assume the Berre mentioned here is the Beare most commonly associated with the Cailleach, suggesting that Sentuinne may be the Cailleach Bhéarra herself. Like the Cailleach of Gleann Cailliche in Glen Lyon – where there is a shrine to the Cailleach and her family – she is married to an old man (called the Bodach in Glen Lyon, the shrine being called either Tigh nam Bodach or Tigh na Caillich).

Nothain being taken out onto the plain at Bealtaine seems to be hint at some sort of seasonal/fertility associations here. Mythological women or goddesses are commonly associated with clearing and dying at plains, which naturally provide pasture or fields for crops to grow, and so their deaths might be seen as a sacrifice for the sake of their people’s well-being. 

Nothain (was) an old woman of Connaught, and from the time she was born her face never fell on a field, and her thrice fifty years were complete. Her sister once went to have speech with her. Sentuinne (” Old Woman”) was her name: her husband was Sess Srafais, and Senbachlach (“Old-Churl”) was another name for him. Hence said the poet:

Sentuinne and Senbachlach,
A seis srofais be their withered hair!
If they adore not God’s Son
They get not their chief benefit.

From Berre, then, they went to her to bring her on a plain on May-day. When she beheld the great plain, she was unable to go back from it, and she planted a stone (lia) there in the ground, and struck her head against it and….and was dead. ” It will be my requiem….I plant it for sake of my name.” Whence Lia Nothan (“Nothan’s Stone”).

Nothain, daughter of Conmar the fair,
A hard old woman of Connaught,
In the month of May, glory of battle,
She found the high stone.

Stokes, The Bodleian Dindshenchas, Folklore Vol III, 1892, p504-505.

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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


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