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The Warrior Gods of Lugh

This is subtitled an “Irish Battle Chant” in P. J. McCall’s Irish Fireside Songs, but there’s not much more said about it. It’s curious that Lugh is said to be the son of the Dagda, since his father is supposed to have been Cian, though later sources sometimes mistake the fact that he’s often called “mac Ethne” or mac Ethliu” as being a patronymic instead of a matronymic, but I suppose stranger things have happened when it comes to mythical relations getting garbled! 

Unfortunately there’s no reference to where this ballad might come from originally, how old it is, or who might have composed it, but the imagery is beautiful in a highly romanticised sort of way:

Lugh, son of the Dagda (the good god) was a chief of those gods of Light and Life, whose adversaries were the Fir Bolg, the Fir Domnann, the Galioin and their gods, the Fomorians.

Eldest of Plains art thou, Plain of the Triune Mist!
Wave-leafing, foam-flow’ring rivers around thee flow!
Throngs of great heroes, their ringlets by dawn be-kissed.
Over thy meadows of gold under greenness go —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Salient and straight their tall bodies like pine trees be:
Eyes, ocean-skimmers, sky-wingers, blue orbed all!
Teeth that out-glitter the foam from the western sea:
Thin ruddy lips of the Quicken Tree’s burning ball —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Shield to each one his huge disc of Findrinna white —
Sea horse entwined and out-twisted its boss adorns!
Sword to each one his swift falchion blue-beamy-bright —
Wondrous its hilt of deer-branchy red-metal horns —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Woven they halt in strong pliant-knit battle rows:
Fair in their midst the good son of The Dagda stands!
Horns wind for conflict! With lips breathing flame he goes,
Kissing and kindling their swords into flashing brands —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Foemen they scatter bewhirled like ghostless chaff:
Captives they bind under bonds of nine-knotted thongs!
Sweetness o’er bitterness rises their feast’s light laugh,
Rippling its gladness from hearts that are wells of songs —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Matchless in war each is champion, coequal, good!
Peerless in peace each is poet, to curse, to bless!
Lore singer, love lilter, minstrel beneath green wood!
Winner in turn of the final hard game of chess —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

Eldest of Plains art thou, Plain of the Triune Mist —
Wave-leafing, foam-flow’ring rivers around thee flow!
Throngs of great heroes, their ringlets by dawn be-kissed,
Over thy meadows of gold under greenness go —
The Warrior Gods of Lugh!

From P. J. McCall’s Irish Fireside Songs, 1911, pp13-15.

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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Boand

In most cases the Dindshenchas describe how features that are already there get their name. In some cases, though, they describe how features come into existence and in almost all of these examples it is the result of a goddess or female spirit’s actions. Sometimes lakes are created as a result of a grave bursting forth with water, perhaps in some way relating to the tears of grief that are shed over someone so beloved that the water fills up and forms into the lake (metaphorically speaking, that is; it’s not explicitly stated). In these stories the grave can be that of a man or a woman, but sometimes in the versions with the grave of a man springing forth a lake, there are alternative explanations giving that involve a woman, suggesting that these might be later. With the overwhelming majority of tales giving goddesses responsibility for creating or shaping the landscape, it seems safe to assume that these are more likely to be the ‘original’ tales.

Probably the best known of them is the Dindshenchas of Boann. Her name and even her association with the river Boyne is old, with the second century map of Ptolemy recording a river named ‘Buvinda’; in linguistic terms the name draws on the exact same roots as Boann’s name – *Bou-vindā, meaning ‘cow’ and ‘white’ respectively, placing her as a deity with one of the longest historical record of all of them.

There are a few different versions of the Dindshencas, which give differing reasons for her approaching the well that subsequently rises up and chases after her before she is overcome by the waters. In the version below it is said that she approaches the well because ‘noble pride uplifted her’; an alternative version describing the same reasoning has her walking around the well three times widdershins, suggesting or emphasising ill or wrong intent. In the second version of the Metrical Dindshenchas she is said to have gone to the well to wash herself of the sin of adultery she had committed with the Dagda, which resulted in the birth of Oengus mac Óc. In all cases there are definite misogynistic overtones to the story – the sin of sex, the sin of an uppity woman with thoughts beyond her meek and mild station…But like the Dindshenchas of Sinann, which features the exact same well, there are associations of wisdom in the waters that she approaches. One might think that her quest for knowledge may be a more likely reason for her approaching the well, and in her quest she is either overwhelmed or must sacrifice herself to bring the gift from its Otherworldly source into this world.

I’ve chosen to post this version because it gives an interesting pedigree about the names of various parts of the river, which seem to hint at other mythological associations; that the waters are linked with rivers far beyond Ireland is interesting too, and this Celtica article (pdf link) has lots to say about the motivations behind that.

  1. Sid Nechtain is the name that is on the mountain here,
    the grave of the full-keen son of Labraid,
    from which flows the stainless river
    whose name is Boand ever-full.
  2. 5] Fifteen names, certainty of disputes,
    given to this stream we enumerate,
    from Sid Nechtain away
    till it reaches the paradise of Adam.
  3. Segais was her name in the Sid
    10] to be sung by thee in every land:
    River of Segais is her name from that point
    to the pool of Mochua the cleric.
  4. From the well of righteous Mochua
    to the bounds of Meath’s wide plain,
    15] the Arm of Nuadu’s Wife and her Leg are
    the two noble and exalted names.
  5. From the bounds of goodly Meath
    till she reaches the sea’s green floor
    she is called the Great Silver Yoke
    20] and the White Marrow of Fedlimid.
  6. Stormy Wave from thence onward
    unto branchy Cualnge;
    River of the White Hazel from stern Cualnge
    to the lough of Eochu Red-Brows.
  7. 25] Banna is her name from faultless Lough Neagh:
    Roof of the Ocean as far as Scotland:
    Lunnand she is in blameless Scotland —
    or its name is Torrand according to its meaning.
  8. Severn is she called through the land of the sound Saxons,
    30] Tiber in the Romans’ keep:
    River Jordan thereafter in the east
    and vast River Euphrates.
  9. River Tigris in enduring paradise,
    long is she in the east, a time of wandering
    35] from paradise back again hither
    to the streams of this Sid.
  10. Boand is her general pleasant name
    from the Sid to the sea-wall;
    I remember the cause whence is named
    40] the water of the wife of Labraid’s son.
  11. Nechtain son of bold Labraid
    whose wife was Boand, I aver;
    a secret well there was in his stead,
    from which gushed forth every kind of mysterious evil.
  12. 45] There was none that would look to its bottom
    but his two bright eyes would burst:
    if he should move to left or right,
    he would not come from it without blemish.
  13. Therefore none of them dared approach it
    50] save Nechtain and his cup-bearers:
    — these are their names, famed for brilliant deed,
    Flesc and Lam and Luam.
  14. Hither came on a day white Boand
    (her noble pride uplifted her),
    55] to the well, without being thirsty
    to make trial of its power.
  15. As thrice she walked round
    about the well heedlessly,
    three waves burst from it,
    60] whence came the death of Boand.
  16. They came each wave of them against a limb,
    they disfigured the soft-blooming woman;
    a wave against her foot, a wave against her perfect eye,
    the third wave shatters one hand.
  17. 65] She rushed to the sea (it was better for her)
    to escape her blemish,
    so that none might see her mutilation;
    on herself fell her reproach.
  18. Every way the woman went
    70] the cold white water followed
    from the Sid to the sea (not weak it was),
    so that thence it is called Boand.
  19. Boand from the bosom of our mighty river-bank,
    was mother of great and goodly Oengus,
    75] the son she bore to the Dagda — bright honour!
    in spite of the man of this Sid.
  20. Or, Boand is Bo and Find
    from the meeting of the two royal streams,
    the water from bright Sliab Guaire
    80] and the river of the Sids here.
  21. Dabilla, the name of the faithful dog
    who belonged to the wife of Nechtain, great and noble,
    the lap-dog of Boand the famous,
    which went after her when she perished.
  22. 85] The sea-current swept it away,
    as far as the stony crags;
    and they made two portions of it,
    so that they were named therefrom.
  23. They stand to the east of broad Breg,
    90] the two stones in the blue waters of the lough:
    Cnoc Dabilla is so called from that day to this
    from the little dog of the Sid.
 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Harp of the Dagda

The Fomorians, after their defeat, were gathered together in their banqueting hall, and had hung up on the wall a harp which they had captured, when in rushed the Dagda, Lug; and Ogma. Before the warriors had time to get to their feet, the Dagda called out to his harp to come to him. The harp knew its master’s voice, and leaped straightway from the wall, killing nine men on its way, till it placed itself in the god’s hands, who made wonderful music on it. He played for them the three strains of Lamentation, Laughter and Sleep; and while the Fomorians were under the spell of the last, Dagda and his companions returned
unhurt to their own people. — O’Curry’s “Manners and Customs.”

Dagda

“SPEAK, Sword of Tethra, thou canst tell
Where hangs my stolen harp to-night?
Thrice o’er thy blade hath passed my spell —
Thrice ever-Sharp! thrice ever-Bright!
A swordless arm on plain of War,
A harpless hand in Pleasure’s hall —
These be the saddest things by far
That mind of mourner may recall!”

The Sword of Tethra—

“Thy harp, this star-lorn night, hangs high,
O Dagda, ‘neath the Fomor’s ceil.
Where torches mock with gay reply
The grief and anger they reveal!
A bard would wake the Joy of Hearts
For them, whose pride had been dethroned;
Alas! despite his minstrel’s arts.
The harp for thee, her master, moaned!”

Dagda

“Moaned for her master? I am he
Who nursed the Daughter of the Wood,
Who waked her soul to melody
More sweet than wind or falling flood!
Lug — Ogma — Dagda, fighters famed,
With glory’s sun full on our brows,
Victorious, must we slink ashamed,
When no harp chaunts where we carouse!”

The Quest

Forth went the three whose eyes were stars.
Till reached the Fomor’s banquet hall.
Where men drank, brooding o’er their scars.
And women whispered by the wall ;
And never hawk had sight more sharp,
Nor chieftain through the battle’s flame.
Than he, whose fond eyes found his harp.
Hung ‘neath the ceiling’s wattled frame!

“Come forth,” he cried, “thy master calls!
Come forth, loved Daughter of the Wood,
And sing a song in thy own halls,
More sweet than wind or falling flood!
A swordless chief on plain of War,
A harpless bard in Pleasure’s hall —
These be the saddest things by far
That mind of mourner may recall!”

The sentient harp turned with delight,
And leaping forth, the chamber spanned;
And whoso sought to stay her flight
Fell hurt beyond a healer’s hand.
Into her master’s arms she sprang —
Was it Rock Spirit of the Glen,
Whose voice with god-like Dagda’s rang
For ears of women and of men?

The Song of Sorrow! when the heart
Of warrior heard that cry it quailed;
And woman’s, sundered at the smart,
Her sorest grief of life bewailed!
The Song of Laughter! men and maids
Grew blithe as fawns on mountain crest!
The Song of Slumber! under shades
They sank in life-oblivious rest!

“Peace unto Peace!” (thus Dagda cried),
“These two we hold whatever befall —
This blade, to wreathe the battle side,
This harp, to crown the festive hall!
For thou, true friend, on plain of War,
And thou, fond love, in Pleasure’s choir.
Ye be the rarest things by far
That heart of mortal may desire!”

P. J. McCall, Pulse of the Bards (Cuisle na h-Éisge), 1904, p11-13.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Shield of Fionn

Ah me! thou shield of my bright king, ’tis hard that thou shouldst be defaced: woe that thy sturdy lord no longer lives, thou foreguard of the shields of Ireland.

Many a spoiling, many a brave battle thou and thy lord have given: good was the cover of thy chalk round spearheads, thou staunch protection against strokes.

There was not on the firm earth in the time when he possessed thee, there seized not shield a braver man than thy chieftain and thy lord.

He was a poet, a man of science, a battle-hero of assemblies: none was found like him for gifts: he was a brave warrior in stern battles.

He was a craftsman, an excellent metal-wright, a happy ready judge: woe to him that met him in anger: he was a master in every free craft.

Hardly is there on solid earth, unless there be some seer or sage, thou shield of the king of frosty Sígear, one that knows thy career.

Scarce are they too on the same earth, man or woman, that can tell the reason why thy name abroad is called the Dripping Ancient Hazel.

There is not, except myself and Caoilte, man of wisdom, and Fionntan of Dun Fearta, one that knows thy career.

From of old the shield of my king — I tell you it is a true matter — is unknown of men, grieves me no man, until the great battle of Magh Tuireadh.

‘Twas Balor that besought Lugh a short time before his beheading: ‘Set my head on thy own comely head and earn my blessing.

‘The triumph and the terror that the men of Inis Fail found in me, well I wish that henceforth they may be found in my daughter’s son.’

That blessing nevertheless Lugh Longarm did not earn: he set the head above an eastern wave in a fork of hazel before his face.

A poisonous milk drips down out of that tree of strong hardness: through the drip of the bane of no slight stress, the tree splits right in two.

For the space of fifty full years the hazel remained unfelled, but ever bore a cause of tears, being an abode of vultures and ravens.

Manannán of the round eye went to the wilderness of the White-hazel Mountain, where he saw a leafless tree among the trees that vied in beauty.

Manannán sets workmen at work on this tree without slackness: to dig it out of the firm earth: this were a mighty deed.

A poisonous vapour rises up incessantly from the root of that tree until it killed — perilous consequence — nine men of the working folk.

It killed nine others of them of the people of smooth Manannán — the story of the tree well I wot — and blinded a third nine.

Now I say to you, let the prophecy be sought out: around that mighty hazel uncontemned was found the source of many an ‘ah me!’

Lucra was the wright that wrought the plaited blossom-light shield — lord of the Marannmháls of the plain — for Manannán the warrior.

Two virtues of the virtues of the shield, to be untouched in battle or in fray — few were the shields its equal — before it ’twas a rush of utter rout.

A battle in Pict-land that was not weak was the first battle fought by thee, when Mothla son of Meilge was slain, the mighty high-king of Egypt.

Not inferior was the next battle fought by thee, whereof the grief was great, when Dubhthach son of Daire was slain, the mighty high-king of Spain.

‘Twas a quest on which noble Manannán went into Asia with a numerous host, when he slew Fiodhabhlach the active, the many-weaponed high-king of Asia.

These were noble Manannán’s share in thy struggles south and north, till he gave thee, that wert a beloved goodly screen, a marriage-gift to the king of Sigear.

Cairbre made a song of praise on the beauty-scarlet shield — a man of sweetness and delight was he — for the king of the noble island of Sigear.

Fifty ounces of the pure gold Gola gave him for his praising: the better was his worth and the greater his fame, both his and the beauty-clear shield’s.

Cairbre the generous prince, son of Eadaoin, whose honour was good, bestowed the shield on the brave lord on whom it brought no sorrow, on the Daghdha of majestic face.

The Daghdha gave to tall Eitheor the hue-ruddy brown-red shield — to the rod of many a feat in fight, to the son of Conn son of Cearmaid.

It was from that shield that Eitheor of smooth brown face was called “Son of Hazel” — the man of deeds whereof the fame was not feeble — for this was the hazel that he worshipped.

On the day when MacCuill was slain in the battle of Taillte of the great muster, a man whose heavy slaughters abroad were not slight, Sgorán possessed that shield.

For the space of two hundred full years was the golden ancient shield, after a still longer life, in the possession of the kings of Fir Menia (Armenia?).

Manannán of the heroes went after it into the country of Fir Menia, where he gained nine glorious battles over the people of shield-bright Sgorán.

He killed three brave battalions of the splendid oversea army: it was a great affair beyond despite, whereof arose cause for cries of ‘ah me!’

Fifty ounces of the red gold, fifty horses of waving mane, brown-red, a [chess] board that was not shaky (?) in his house, and the chessmen of shield-bright Sgorán [were paid by him].

He gave him a still greater ransom — for Manannán it was no distress — for giving battle with the fifty battalions, thrice fifty shields along with that same shield.

Manannán himself kept it, the much-adorned terrific shield: the cunning man of never feeble deed kept it till Tadhg, son of Nuadha came.

Manannán gave to Tadhg the hue-ruddy, brown-red shield, to Nuadha’s son the well-knit craftsman, together with the chessmen.

The day that comely Cumhall carried off Muirn of the lovely neck by force, the lord of every manly honour, he obtained the shield of onsets.

When comely Cumhall fell in Cnucha above Liffey of the Leinster-men, the smooth steady prince of no small frame, Criomhall obtained that shield.

When Fionn the manly succeeded (?) to handsome, splendid Criomhall, that bright great grasp to which each battle yielded took from Tréanmhór the stout shield.

What of battles were fought by thee under Cumhall’s son of the bright hands, thou brightest shield that hast not been defamed, ’twere hard to number them.

By thee was given the battle of Ceann Cluig, when Dubhthach, son of Dubh, was slain: the battle of Móin Mafaidh without woe, when Deidgheal hard-mouth was slain.

The battle of Luachair, the battle of Ceann Aise, and the battle of Inbhear Dubhglilaise, the battle of Teathbha, stiff was its entanglement, the battle of Cluain Meann of Muirisg.

The battle of Lusga, the battle of Ceann Claire, and the battle of Dun Maighe, the battle of Sliabh Fuaid, whose heat was tense, the rout in which fell rough grey-eyed Garbhán.

The battle of Fionntraigh, whereby the warsprite was sated, where blood and booty were left behind, two bloody battles round Ath Móna, and eke the battle of Cronnmhóin.

The battle of Bolgraighe of great deeds, in which fell Cormac the exact, the battle of Achad Abhla that was not slack, the battle of Gabhair, the battle of the Sheaves.

The battle of Ollarbha, where the strife was fierce, wherein generous Fathadh was slain, the battle of Eise, great were its deeds, and the battle of Ceis Corainn.

The battle of Carraig, the battle of Srubh Brain, and the battle of Beann Eadair, the battle of Sliabh Uighe that was not slack, and the battle of Magh Málann.

The battle of the brave Colamhnaigh, and the battle of Inbhear Badhna, the battle of Ath Modhairn, clear to us, and the battle of Beirge above Boyne.

The battle of Magh Adhair not belittled, and the battle of Dún Fraochan, the battle of Meilge of the mighty struggle, that caused loud cries and wails of woe.

The battle of Beirbhe, great was its deed, the after-battle with the King of Lochlainn of the ships, the battle of Uighe, undoubtful were its tidings, and the battle of the Isle of Gaibiel.

The battle of Móin, the battle of Ceann Tire, and the fortunate battle of Islay; the battle of the Saxons, great was its glory, and the battle of sturdy Dún Binne.

The battle where tall Aichil was slain, the ready-handed high-king of Denmark, the battle of Inbhear Buille in truth, and the battle of fierce firm Buinne.

Twenty battles and twelve outside of Ireland in full sooth as far as Tír na n-Dionn of fame not small, Fionn fought of battles with thee.

Eight battles in Leinster of the blades thou and thy side-slender lord fought: in thy space of grace, no falsehood is this, sixteen battles in Ulster.

Thirty battles without reproach thou gavest in Munster of MacCon — it is no lie but sooth — and twelve battles in Connacht.

Twenty-five victorious battles were fought by thee, thou hardy door, eighteen battles, a rout that was not slack, thou didst gain over the Tuatha De Danann.

Not reckoning thy fierce indoor fights and thy duels of hard swords, these while thy success lasted strong were thy share of the battles of Ireland.

Broken is my heart in my body: I have mourned for many a good equal: thou undefended on the plain, burned by the swineherd.

Thrice nine were we on Druim Deilg after the blood-red battle: sad to relate was our plight: we raised three cries of “ochán.”

Since the forbidden tree that was in Paradise on account of which, alas! transgression was done, never was shaped tree on ground that caused more cries of uchán.

The King of Heaven save me, the good Son of Mary maiden, from Hell of sharpest peril that has caused laments and ucháns.

MacNeill, Duanaire Finn: The Book of the Lays of Finn, 1908, pp134-139.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Brug na Bóinde

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.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Cooking of the Great Queen

Following on from the last post, this next tale also deals with the ‘Cooking Pit of the Great Queen.’ Hyde chooses to render Nechin as ‘Deichin’ on linguistic grounds (and I’ll leave it to the linguists to argue over that point) in his discussion of how the set up described in the last post might have worked, which I will also include as I thought it might be useful. The tale that follows comes from Acallam na Senórach, ‘The Colloquy of the Ancients,’ and Hyde himself gives a little context to the excerpt he’s translated, so I’ll leave the rest up to him:

It is hard to reconstruct a picture of the cooking hearth and the spit and the Indeoin. They seem to have all belonged to the same invention, continuously improved, by which water was used as a motive force to turn rows of spits, and perhaps gridirons, which were so arranged that they could keep at a due distance from the heat, rising when the fire was high, and falling when the fire was low, keeping hot what was already cooked, and cooking what was raw, and melting automatically a proper supply of butter for basting. According to the passage in the Yellow Book of Lecan Nechin [Deichin] was the chief smith of the Tuatha De Danann at Tara. ‘He made a spit with motion that it might reach the fire.’ The MS. H. 3. 18. says that the Dagda’s Indeoin ‘used to lie with the cinders and rise with the flame.’ The Indeoin is thus described: ‘This is how it was, a stick at each end of it, and its axle was wood, and its wheel was wood, and its body was iron, and there were twice nine wheels on its axle that it might turn the faster, and there were thirty spits out of it and thirty hooks and thirty spindles, and it was as rapid as the rapidity of a stream in turning1 and thrice nine spits, and thrice nine cavities (or pots) and one spit for roasting, and one wing used to set it in motion.’

A further notice in the same MS. explains the Great Queen’s Fulacht thus: ‘Three kinds of victuals on it, dressed victuals and raw victuals and butter, and the dressed food was not burnt, and the raw food was dressed, and the butter was not melted but just as was proper.’ The Yellow Book of Lecan adds ‘even though the three were together on one spit.’ This MS. describes the Indeoin, and says, ‘It used to be raised to the height of a man when it was desired, and it was not higher over the fire another time than a fist, on the same legs, without breaking, without diminishing — that was natural, for its material was iron.’

In the Yellow Book of Lecan there is a picture of a single spit beside this description, with several joints spitted on it, their alternate sides being red, as if done over the fire. This redness of course does not show in the facsimile.

The Dagda, the Great Queen, and probably Deichen, are purely mythological characters, but surely there must have been some historical basis for the description of the spit, the cooking-hearth, and the Indeoin.

[The story has just been told of Caoilte’s adventures, and how his servant and his two hounds had been swallowed up in Loch Gur. One of the Tuatha De Danann who lived in a sidh mound near had transformed himself into a deer and had tempted them to pursue him into the lake, where they were drowned. The name of the De Danann chief was Fer Aoi, who is undoubtedly the same being as Fer Fi, who is generally supposed to have lived in Cnoc Aine in the County Limerick. He was brother to Aine who bit off Oilioll Olum’s ear, and his father was Eogabal, who had been killed by Oilioll Olum. It was in revenge for this that he brought about the battle of Magh Muchruime and the death of Eoghan Mor and of Oilioll’s seven sons. There is a long unedited poem about him in the Book of Leinster, and about the enchanted yew tree which he made, which was really not a yew tree at all, and which raised the dispute between Eoghan Mor and Lughaidh Lagha…where he is called Fer I [i.e. ‘Man of Yew’].]

[Translation from the text in the Book of Lismore]

They passed that night at the Rock of Loch Gair, sorrowfully, until the early morning of the next day, and then they proceeded eastwards into Mairtine of Munster and the highway of Cnamhchoill2 and into the old plain of Breogan, and into the Low Ford, and into Bealach na nGeinte mBandruagh across the Ford of Connath the son of Unéit, and from Findmagh Feimen3 and Druin Dil meic da Chreaca and to Uaran Brain on one side of the fairy mound of Feimin,4 and they remain there for it was an extensive thicket and an uninhabited wood. And Caoilte said, ‘Let us hunt here.’ And this they did. And [the loss of] their gillie was a calamity for them. Because it was they themselves who had to make5 a bothy for themselves that night, and a broiling-of-food [indeónadh] was made by them. And Caoilte and Finnachaidh go down to the stream to wash their hands.

‘This is a cooking-place,’ said Finnachaidh, ‘and it is a long time since it was made.’

‘That is true,’ said Caoilte, ‘and this is the cooking-place [Fulacht] of the Great Queen. And it is not to be worked6 without water, and the five sons of Eochaidh of the Red Eyebrows7 it was who made it, Fat Fet Flann En and Enach, and he made the lay.’

The cooking hearth of the Great Queen over there
Escar Aonghabh prepared it,
The Indeoin of the Dagda that was strong
of the nice-workmanship of Grinne8 son of Luchtar.

Of wood was its central-shaft, of wood its smooth wheel,
between water and strong fire,
Of Iron was its body, there was never its like,
with moving hooks9 on one of its two forks.

Twice nine pulleys in its great centre-shaft
with ready activity a-turning.
Thirty spits used to project out of it,
Thirty pot hooks, thirty spindles.

The sail . . . wonderful its shape —
Through the vigour of Grinde …
On the opposite side were . . .
The activity of its spits the activity of its [master] spit.

Thrice nine spits, thrice nine perforations,10
From the Indeoin of the brown Dagda
One [great] spit used to sustain it for cooking11
[There] Eochaidh Ollathuir fell.12

One wing,13 its activity was manifest,
One man used to set-it-a-going
Against [?] a huge fire inside yonder;
It was a splendid piece-of-smiths-work.

The spit of Deichen made by clean Goibniu,
The cooking-hearth, the Indeoin, were perfected by him.
He promised that ‘smiths triad,’14
There was no smith to be compared with Goibniu.

No smith in Magh Ai15 is competent
after Loech, after Ealcha,
my grief (?), it is not for them it is hard;
No more is the cooking-hearth capable of working.

‘That is a joy for us [to hear], Caoilte,’ said Finnachaidh, ‘and those were good men.’ And they departed to their hunting-bothy after that to their companions, and they ate what-they-had-cooked [‘fulacht’], and they slept on their couches.

They went forward then till they reached the Plain of Thorns and into Máin-da-glas, and into Slieve Uighi16 of Leinster, into Cubhat of the druidesses, into Dim Cinn, into Fotharta feda and to Rath Mhdia mursci, and into Ess Gabhair, and across the pool streams of Grissi17 and to Maisten of the Kings. They came into Mullach Maisten18 and to Goibniu’s forge.

‘Tell me, Caoilte,’ said Finnachaidh, ‘was it here the weapons for the Battle of Magh Tuireadh were made, and Deichin’s Spit and the Great Queen’s cooking-place and the Dagda’s Indeoin?’

‘In yonder glen, below there, Deichin’s Spit was made, and Deichin the druid, it was he who made it’ [said Caoilte].

I

It was Deichin who made Deichin’s Spit
for (?) Goibhniu in Glen Treichim,
In the possession of Lugh [the Long-handed]19 of much valour,
It was made in the Tribe of Nuadha.20

II

Eleven men in yonder house
of the fair children of Eithleann,
They made the manly cooking-place,
one of the eleven was their lord [i.e. Lugh].

Ill

Lugh [the Long-handed], Angus óg of the Brugh,21
Cearmat,22 Mider,22 the son of Scala.
Cu and Cian23 and Ceithean from the plain
lucharba Uar and luchair.24

IV

Lugair Tua Ten who was powerful
Confa, Aicher, most lovely the band,
Eni the small, and Eni the big,
Gola the stammerer, and Cessón.

V

In the time of Eirimoin from the South25
In Tara, strong the conflict.
Nine men rose up to attend to it
of the children of Mile of Spain.26

VI

In the time of Iugoine27 the celebrated,
[Presiding] over Deichin’s Spit belonging to the Daghdha
There were eight men in Tara of the flocks
who were able to keep it working.

VII

Aighe and Lughaidh of the ales,
Croine and Ere and Eilleann [and]
Three sons of Glas from Glen an Scáil
Often used they come to it.

VIII

With the king of celebrated beauty
whose name was Eochaidh Feidhleach;28
One man and six [i.e. seven], fair the lot,
were at the cooking of Goibniu’s Spit.

IX

Eoghan Eireann, Eochaidh the Rough
and Cobhthach who used to hurl weapons,
Lughaidh, Finn, Fiacha of the feasts,
Moran and Daire of the white teeth.

X

King Conor in Emania29 had
Deichin’s spit after him [Eochaidh],
Five warriors and one woman, no lie.
Who were able to attend and work it.

XI

Naoise30 and Ceithirnn31 with victory,
[King] Conor,32 Cuchulainn the hardy,33
And Fedlim34 whom men used to . . .
Mesdeghadh [Mesgedradh]35 son of Amirgin.

XII

Four men tended the cooking amongst the Fianna,
One of them was Finn himself,
Oisin, Caoilte, and loved Diarmid,
They used to set-going the Spit of Deichen.

XIII

In the time of Lughaidh [the Long-handed] it had ten sides
And ten edges that were not thin,
These were in Deichin’s Spit of which men used to speak.
Until the time of Eochaidh Feidhleach.

XIV

In the time of Eochaidh Feidhleach son of Finn
Bernn a smith who was not feeble
Makes eight sides and eight edges, of a time, [they lasted]
Down to [the days of] King Conor of the Red Branch.

XV

From Conor the high and renowned
Echelsach of Emania36 makes
Six blades, six with sides thereto,
Until came Finn the Fenian Prince.

XVI

A flock of sharp-points ? Finn made,
A Spit of four sides, fine its points,
four edges . . .
Used to be [then] on Deichin’s Spit.

From Douglas Hyde, ‘The Cooking of the Great Queen,’ in The Celtic Review Volume 10, p338-345.

Notes

1 Caoilte says that it was not worked without water, i.e. that water was necessary to turn it.
2 Now Cleghill, near the town of Tipperary.
3 In Co. Tipperary
4 This was probably Bodb’s sidh.
5 Literally, ‘made.’
6 Literally, ‘to be made’ or ‘done.’
7 He is mentioned in the Dinnseanchas of Ath Liag Finn as having sons contemporaneous with Finn Mac Cumhaill. One of the two provinces of Munster was called the ‘province of Eochaidh Abhradruaidh,’ but in Stokes’s Agallamh, p. 33, he is called ‘righ Uladh atuaidh.’
8 He is called Drinde mac Luchair in H. 3. 18. Luchté, or Luchtaine, or Luchtain, was the carpenter of the Tuatha De Danann.
9 Literally, ‘hooks of activity.’
10 Perhaps for holding the butter.
11 Or ‘ to the west ‘ ? Fuine = cooking, fuined = sunset.
12 This is obscure. It may allude to some story of E. O. (another name for the Dagda) being caught in the apparatus. His name occurs in the Cóir Anmann, and is explained as Oll-athair, i.e. greater was he than his father, or a great father to the Tuatha De Danann was he. See p. 355 Irische Texte, iii. 2 heft.
13 Sciath, usually ‘a shield,’ is used for sciathan, a wing in ‘Cuchulain’s sick-bed.’— Windisch, Irische Texte p. 207.
14 See the triad already quoted. Goibniu or Groibhnenn was the smith of the Tuatha De Danann.
15 Thus Reeves MS.
16 Aliter Sliabh Suidi Laigen, in the diocese of Leithghlinn, now Mount Leinster.
17 The river Griese flows into the Barrow three and a half miles above the town of Carlow.
18 Mullaghmast, a name terrible in after times for the awful act of treachery there carried out against the O’Mores and their correlatives, is about five miles north-east of the town of Athy.
19 The leader of the Tuatha De Danann, the hero of the Battle of Moytura, whose father was the Eithleann mentioned in the next verse.
20 Nuada or Nuadu of the silver hand, king of the Tuatha De Danann. See Battle of Moytura.
21 i.e. Angus of the Boyne, constantly mentioned in Irish romance.
22 These were sons of the Dagda himself.
23 Son of Diancecht, and father of the god Lugh the Long-handed according to some.
24 Gods of the Tuatha De Danann. ‘Brian’ is generally substituted for Uar. Their death is told in the saga of the Death of the Children of Tuireann.
25 When the Milesians conquered the Tuatha De Danann, Eremoin, son of Milesius, took the north of Ireland. From him come the Eremonian families, i.e. the great reigning families of Ulster, Connacht, and parts of Leinster.
26 i.e. of the Milesians in contradistinction to the Tuatha De Danann, who had made the spit.
27 lugain or Ugaine the Great, celebrated for his division of Ireland into twenty-five parts. He died, according to the Four Masters, 594 years B.C. There was evidently once a cycle of saga-telling centring round him and his sons Laeghaire, Lore, Cobhthach, and Breagh, and his grandson Labhraidh Loingseach. The names here mentioned are perhaps taken from such a cycle, now lost.
28 Eochaidh ‘Feidleach,’ Eochaidh ‘of the Long-sighs,’ as Keating uncritically explains the word, was father of Méve (Medb), Queen of Connacht, who waged the celebrated war of the Tain Bo Chuailgne some time before the Christian era. He came to the throne, according to the Four Masters, a hundred and forty-two years before Christ.
29 King of Ulster and the Red Branch. Cuchulain fought under him.
30 He who eloped with Deirdre.
31 Cethern son of Fintan, for whom see Windisch’s Tain Bo Chuailgne p. 605 ff., where he figures conspicuously, a whole chapter of the Tain being given up to him under the title of ‘Cethem’s bloody wound.’
32 King of Ulster.
33 ‘Fortissimus heros Scottorum.’
34 This is the ‘one woman’ mentioned in the last verse. She appears in H. 2. 17., a fourteenth-century vellum in Trinity College, Dublin, as one of the ‘queens’ of the Ulster folk, who by unrobing themselves before Cuchulainn caused him to look down out of modesty and so turn aside from the heat of his passion which King Conor feared he was about to wreak upon the men of Ulster. I do not know anything else about her, but from her being mentioned here she probably figured in some other saga.
35 Of whose brain the ball was made which lodged in King Concubhair’s head.
36 This smith’s son, Amargin Mac Ecelsaiaigh Goband, is several times mentioned in the Táin Bo Cuailgne. The name is variously spelt in the genitive Ecel-salaig, Ecet-shalaigh, and in Cormac’s Glossary, Eculsaig (see under ‘Greth’). He lived on the river, Buais or Bush. In the Book of Leinster, p117b, his story is told bái goba amra i n-Ultaib-i-Eccetsalach goba a ainm, etc. His son Amargin afterwards became ard-ollamh of Ulster.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Fulacht na Morrighna

And now for something slightly different…

There is a popular belief that the Morrígan is a war-goddess and not much more than that, but like any other deity, things are never as simple as they might seem. Aside from her associations with war and magic there are some intriguing references in popular lore and the medieval manuscripts that associate her with the Fulacht na Morrighna, or ‘The Spit of the Morrígan’, often simply referred to as the ‘Cooking Hearth of the Great Queen’ (or variations thereof…).

One of the Irish Triads tells us: “Three things that constitute a blacksmith, Neithin’s spit, the cooking pit of the Morrígan, the Dagda’s anvil,” and the following excerpt from Petrie’s ‘On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill’ explores these connections in more detail, with another excerpt to come in the next post as well. Petrie here has been describing (at great length) the supposed layout of Tech Miodhchuarta, the legendary banqueting hall of Tara, the main political centre of the high kings of Ireland and a highly important ceremonial site. There are some obscure words that Petrie has been unable to translate, so just bear with it:

It appears from notices found in other MSS. that the spit at Tara was known by another name, partly derived from that of its inventor, namely, Bir Nechin, or Dechin, the spit of Dechin, who, according to these authorities, was the chief smith of Tara in the time of the Tuatha-De-Dananns; as in the following passage from the Leabhar Buidhe, H. 2. 16, col. 245.

The usual inneoin of the Daghda here.

Bir Nechin here: Nechin was the chief smith of Temur. He was the first smith who went into Teach Midchuarta, so that he sunk the spot where a fire should rise, and he made a spit with motion that it might reach the fire, and that it might coil into it durunn another time.

This spit, as well as one of another description, called Inneoin an Daghdha, or the spit of the Daghdha, is thus noticed in another ancient MS. in the same library, H. 3. 18, p. 433.

Inneoin of the Daghdha. There is no fixed situation for it, but it used to lie with the cinders and rise with the flame; and its leadhh used to be on the back of each man on the next day.

It was Goivnenn [Goibniu] that made the Bir Deichen. It was Drinne, the son of Luchair, who made the
Inneoin of the Daghdha; and it was thus: a stick at each end of it, and its axle was wood, and its wheel was wood, and its body was iron; and there were twice nine wheels on its axle, that it might turn the faster, and there were thirty spits out of it, and thirty hooks, and thirty spindles, and it was as rapid as the rapidity of a stream in turning: and thrice nine spits, and thrice nine cavities (or pots,) and one spit for roasting, and one wing used to set it in motion.

These cooking instruments, together with a third called Fulacht na Mor-righna, or the spit, or cooker, of the great queen, are also noticed in a fragment of the Brehon Laws in the same MS., and on the same page.

This is the druine dana which is due to the smith when his full remuneration is given him; viz. Bir Deichen, and Fulacht na Mor-righna, and the Inneoin of the Daghdha. Bir Deichen, i. e. a spit which belonged to Deichen, a smith who was at Temur; and it reached from the roof to the fire, in Teach Midchuarta, and the airigithe* of Teach Midchuarta used to be warmed on it, and it used to return into its purse on the next day.

Fulacht na Mor-righna. Three kinds of victuals on it, i.e. dressed victuals, and raw victuals, and butter; and the dressed food was not burned, and the raw food was dressed, and the butter was not dissolved, but as was proper.

The Fulacht na Mor-righna is also noticed in the MS., H. 2. 16, col. 245, as follows:

Fulacht na Mor-righna here, i.e. a piece of raw meat and another of dressed meat, and a bit of butter on it; and the butter did not melt, the raw was dressed, and the dressed was not burned, even though the three were together on the spit.

There went to her [i. e. Mor-righain] on one occasion nine persons, to request that an Inneoin
would be made for them, for they were outlaws, i.e. an Inneoin with nine ribs in it, and each of them carried his own rib in his hand wherever he went, until night, and they joined them all together on its posts when they met at the close of the day; and it used to be raised to the height of a man when it was desirable, and it was not higher over the fire at another time than a fist on the same posts, without breaking without diminishing: the reason was because its material was iron.

George Petrie, On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill in Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy Volume XVIII, 1839, p213-214.

The subject of fulachta (the plural form) is a complicated one, and in archaeology they refer to what are otherwise known as ‘burnt mounds,’ since that’s generally all that’s left of them. Most of them date to around the Bronze Age, but nobody is exactly sure what they were for. At the least they usually consist of a pit and an amount of burnt stones and charcoal, and as the name ‘fulacht’ implies, the most common theory is that they were outdoor cooking pits.

It’s notable that the last paragraph in the excerpt above specifically mentions outlaws approaching the Morrígan, since the fulacht themselves are generally found in places that are not associated with settlements; they are commonly called fulacht fiadh, the latter word meaning ‘wild’, possibly referring to the location of them, or else the wild meats (such as deer) that were cooked and then consumed in them. Outlaws were usually young men who left their tuatha to live outside of normal society (and therefore the law and protections that such status within the tuath brought with it), and made their living as hunters and warriors for hire (or brigandage). 

Many of the fulachta that have been found are large and could have been filled with hot water, which would then have been able to cook meat and any other ingredients added, and provide the perfect setting for a hungry band of hunters, warriors, or whoever else might have had the need to dine al fresco. The stones could have been heated in a fire and put in the water in order to heat it up and then maintain the right temperature as the stew cooked.

Other theories for these burnt mounds, however, suggests the possibility that they may have been used for brewing light ales (a theory which has been successfully tried out), or for dyeing cloth, for leather-working, or for bathing. If these fulachta were used for bathing, it may suggest a ritual/healing function akin to the use of sweatlodges (Tigh ‘n Alluis) in rural Ireland. 

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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