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Sinann

Like Boann, Sinann is associated with the creation of one of the great rivers of Ireland, and dies as a result of her travails. The source of the Shannon is the same as the Boyne – the well of Segais – and here we have a detailed description of the well and the hazel nuts that fall into it. It seems likely that Sinann herself is an Otherworldly being, travelling to another Otherworldly place where the well of Segais is situated, underwater. Although she herself is an Otherworldly being, she is unable to survive in the Otherworldly underwater realm, or perhaps, like in many tales, her journey changes her irrevocably and she is unable to return. She also has a number of Dindshenchas tales associated with her and the one I’ve chosen is perhaps a lesser-known translation by Maud Joynt. The Metrical Dindshenchas translations are available here, for comparison.

1 Shannon, what is the cause thereof? I will relate (it) without deceit; without riddle, in luminous speech, I will declare its name and origin.

2 I will recount to each and all the rise of Shannon pure of stream; I will not hide its fair renown, I will declare the cause of its name.

3 The well of Connla great of cheer was ‘neath the dark blue-rimmed’) sea; seven streams whose fame was not alike (flowed) from it. Shannon among the seven.

4 Round about that well were set nine hazel-trees of Crimall sage; (wrapt) through a spell of sovran power are they in dark druidic mist.

5 At the same time – as is not wont – their leaves and blossoms grow; a marvel – though a virtue rare! – that they should ripen all at once.

6 As soon as the nuts are ripe, they fall from high into the well below, where they are scattered through its midst, so that the salmon eat them.

7 From the juice of the nuts – no portion mean! – are formed the bubbles of wisdom; thence at all seasons (to earth) they come, borne on (the bosom of) bright-green streams.

8 There was a yellow-crested maid yonder among the De Danann tribes, Sinann the feateous, of aspect pure, daughter of Lotan Lucharmar.

9 The maiden bethought her once at night, the sweet-voiced red-lipt womanly maid, how her condition had every (gift of) fame, save the (gift of) wisdom alone.

10 At day when the maiden of comely form came to the river, she beheld – no mean destiny was hers! – the beauteous bubbles of wisdom.

11 The maiden went – aspiring quest – after them into the emerald stream; in pursuit of them yonder she was drowned, so that from her is the Shannon (named).

12 Another shaping, if ye desire, I put on the Shannon of shining stream; though others besides me read it so, ’tis no better than the first account.

13 The name of the pool where she was drowned (I aver) is “the Noble Lady’s Pool”; ’tis but her due, for from her (it comes), as is truth to tell.

14 (Yet) another story I recall which all have heard far and wide; ’twas Nuada’s hound of beauty great that perished in the cruel stream.

15 Or it may be that “Sinann”, rightly read, is “Sin Morainn”, [”Morann’s collar”] by interpretation; the custom of Morann in grandeur of deeds, fairer than any collar that).

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 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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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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Lusmag

There is a well-known body of Irish placename lore called the Dindshenchas, which can be found in several different Irish manuscripts. The best known Dindshenchas tales are perhaps the Metrical Dindshenchas, which were translated by Edward Gwynn, and these can be found online in four volumes. There are also prose versions, which Whitley Stokes translated in a further four volumes. The following Dinnshenchas tales are from the lesser-known Edinburgh manuscript, which is dated to the fifteenth century. The selection of tales I’ve chosen relate to several well-known gods of the Irish landscape and also offer slightly different versions of the Dinnshenchas, some of which can only be found in the Edinburgh manuscript.

This tale tells us how Dian Cécht, the famous healer of the Tuatha Dé Danann, formed the plain of Lusmag. It mentions Cath Maige Tuired, ‘The Second Battle of Mag Tured’, where the well is also referred to on pages 95 and 97 of the Stokes translation, but notably not in Elizabeth Gray’s more recent translation, which gives a slightly different version of events. It is thought that the tale is referring to the modern day Lusmagh in County Offaly. 

Lusmag, whence is it ?

Not hard (to say). ‘Tis thence that Diancecht brought every herb of healing and grated them on Slainge’s Well in Achad Abla, north-west of Moytura, when there was a battle between the Tuatha De Danann and the Fomorians. Every one of the Tuatha De Danann whom they would lay under that water of herbs would arise smooth and healed of his wounds. Whence Lusmag, “Herb-plain.”

Diancecht brought with him hither
Every herb from precious Lusmag
To the well of the little healths,
North-west of Moytura.

Whitley Stokes, ‘The Edinburgh Dinnshenchas‘, in Folklore IV, 1893, p489-490.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Macha

There is a well-known body of Irish placename lore called the Dindshenchas, which can be found in several different Irish manuscripts. The best known Dindshenchas tales are perhaps the Metrical Dindshenchas, which were translated by Edward Gwynn, and these can be found online in four volumes. There are also prose versions, which Whitley Stokes translated in a further four volumes. The following Dinnshenchas tales are from the lesser-known Edinburgh manuscript, which is dated to the fifteenth century. The selection of tales I’ve chosen relate to several well-known gods of the Irish landscape and also offer slightly different versions of the Dinnshenchas, some of which can only be found in the Edinburgh manuscript.

The following tale explains the origins of Ard Macha – now Armagh. The three Macha’s are well-known, but this version is the only Dinnshenchas that mentions Macha’s vision of the Táin Bó Cualgne. Macha is, of course, somewhat related to that tale, since it is her curse that caused The Debility of the Ulstermen (mentioned in the third explanation below) that puts Conchobar’s army out of action for a while, forcing Cú Chulainn to defend Ulster from the onslaught of Medb’s army by himself.

Cú Chulainn himself rode a horse called the Grey of Macha, which may or may not go some way towards explaining why Cú Chulainn was immune to the labour pains; it is not something that is ever actually explained. The tale of the labour pains itself is thought to be a fairly late addition to the body of Irish myth (see for example Gantz’s Early Irish Myths and Sagas).

Ard Macha, whence is it ?

Not hard (to say). Macha, wife of Nemed,<sup>1</sup> son of Agnoman, died there, and it was the twelfth plain which was cleared by Nemed, and it was bestowed on his wife that her name might be over it, and ’tis she that saw in a dream, long before it came to pass, all the evil that was done in the Driving of the Kine of Cualnge. In her sleep there was shown to her all the evil that was suffered therein, and the hardships and the wicked quarrels: so that her heart broke in her. Whence Ard Macha, ” Macha’s Height.”

Macha, the very shrewd, beheld
Through a vision a–graces which we say not–
Descriptions of the times (?) of Cualgne–
Twas a deed of pride, not of boasting.

Or, Macha, daughter of Aed the Red,<sup>2</sup> son of Badurn: ’tis by her that Emain Macha was marked out, and there she was buried when Rechtaid Red-arm killed her. To lament her Oenach Macha, ” Macha’s Assembly,” was held. Whence Macha Magh.

Aliter. Macha, now, wife of Crunn,<sup>3</sup> son of Agnoman, came there to run against the horses of King Conor. For her husband had declared that his wife was swifter than the horses. Thus then was that woman pregnant: so she asked a respite till her womb had fallen, and this was not granted to her. So then she ran the race, and she was the swiftest. And when she reached the end of the green she brings forth a boy and a girl–Fír and Fíal were their names–and she said that the Ulaid would abide under debility of childbed whensoever need should befall them. So thence was the debility on the Ulaid for the space of five days and four nights (at a time) from the era of Conor to the reign of Mál, son of Rochraide (A.D. 107). And ’tis said that she was Grian Banchure, “the Sun of Womanfolk,” daughter of Midir of Brí Léith. And after this she died, and her tomb was raised on Ard Macha, and her lamentation was made, and her pillar-stone was planted. Whence is Ard Macha, “Macha’s Height.”

Whitley Stokes, ‘The Edinburgh Dinnshenchas‘, in Folklore IV, 1893, p481.

Notes

1 This Macha is mentioned in Lebor Gabála Érenn, ‘The Book of the Taking of Ireland.’

2 Also known as Macha Mong Ruad (‘Macha Red Mane’); she assumes the kingship of Ireland in place of her father, which resulted in her father’s cousins waging war.

3 This is the Macha who caused the debility (or ‘labour pains’) of the Ulstermen.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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