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In Praise of May

This poem, translated by T. W. Rolleston, is attributed to Fionn Mac Cumhail:

May-Day! delightful day!
Bright colours play the vale along.
Now wakes at morning’s slender ray
Wild and gay the blackbird’s song.

Now comes the bird of dusty hue,
The loud cuckoo, the summer-lover;
Branchy trees are thick with leaves;
The bitter, evil time is over.

Swift horses gather nigh
Where half dry the river goes;
Tufted heather clothes the height;
Weak and white the bogdown blows.

Corncrake sings from eve to morn,
Deep in corn, a strenuous bard!
Sings the virgin waterfall,
White and tall, her one sweet word.

Loaded bees with puny power
Goodly flower-harvest win;
Cattle roam with muddy flanks;
Busy ants go out and in.

Through the wild harp of the wood
Making music roars the gale —
Now it settles without motion,
On the ocean sleeps the sail.

Men grow mighty in the May,
Proud and gay the maidens grow;
Fair is every wooded height;
Fair and bright the plain below.

A bright shaft has smit the streams,
With gold gleams the water-flag;
Leaps the fish, and on the hills
Ardour thrills the leaping stag.

Loudly carols the lark on high,
Small and shy, his tireless lay.
Singing in wildest, merriest mood,
Delicate-hued, delightful May.

From Eleanor Hull’s The Poem-Book of the Gael.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Maclachlan and the Glaistig

Although the title of this tale refers to a glaistig, Maclachlan himself addresses her as a Chailleach, and the confusion between the two beings is common. This is a fascinating tale in some respects, clearly referencing the tradition of Fionn and how he came to possess his powers, as well as the common belief that such powers are gifted to people by the daoine sìth or other kinds of Otherworldly figures like the Cailleach.

 

The first of the MacLachlans of Ardnamurchan lived in Glenahurich. In his herd of horses he had a fine grey mare, whose first foal he wished to keep. But the Glastig frequenting the rocky sides of a neighbouring ravine or waterfall knew this; and because she hated him as an intruder in the place, she resolved to disappoint him.

As soon as the foal was born, she took it and thrust it into a hole opening over an underground stream, in which it was drowned. On the following day MacLachlan found the foal dead in the hole, but thought that it had fallen in accidentally. Next year the same thing happened, the second foal being found dead in the same hole, and in the same underground stream. His suspicion was now aroused, and so he resolved to watch the mare next summer at foaling time.

When the season arrived, he went one day to the hill to see the mare; but the Glastig was there before him, and was busy pushing the third foal through the hole into the stream underneath. He knew well how to defend himself from fairy influence; and, therefore, he seized the Glastig in his arms, and with a great effort succeeded at last in throwing her down.

“Your death is over you, Carlin,” said he, as he stood over her. ” My ransom is mine own,” she replied. “What ransom wilt thou give me?” said he.

“The vision of the two worlds to thyself and prosperity to thee and to thy descendants after thee.” On these terms he let her go.

Some time after, being in the Braes of Lochaber, he took his rod, and went to the river Spean to fish. With the first cast he hooked a fine fish, which he landed on the river bank. Being hungry, he kindled a fire at the river side, and placed the fish upon it.

Soon afterwards he happened to press with his finger a blister which rose on the upperside of the fish. The heat burnt his finger so badly that he put it into his mouth to cool. No sooner had he done this than he obtained the vision of the two worlds, or, in other words, the second sight. The first part of the Glastig’s promise was then fulfilled, and it is said that the other part was fulfilled afterwards.

 

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Song of Summer

A wonderful Bealltainn to you all! Whether or not you’re celebrating just now, or will do at a later date, I hope you have a good one. And if you’re in the southern hemisphere, then I hope you’re having a good Samhainn instead (if you reverse your celebrations to match the seasons).

This is a wonderful poem translated by the prolific translator Kuno Meyer, and it is attributed to Fionn mac Cumhail himself. The Irish is available here!

Summer-time, season supreme!
Splendid is colour then.
Blackbirds sing a full lay
If there be a slender shaft of day.

The dust-coloured cuckoo calls aloud:
Welcome, splendid summer!
The bitterness of bad weather is past.
The boughs of the wood are a thicket.

Panic startles the heart of the deer.
The smooth sea runs apace —
Season when ocean sinks asleep.
Blossom covers the world.

Bees with puny strength carry
A goodly burden, the harvest of blossoms;
Up the mountain-side kine take with them mud,
The ant makes a rich meal.

The harp of the forest sounds music,
The sail gathers — perfect peace;
Colour has settled on every height.
Haze on the lake of full waters.

The corncrake, a strenuous bard, discourses.
The lofty cold waterfall sings
A welcome to the warm pool —
The talk of the rushes has come.

Light swallows dart aloft.
Loud melody encircles the hill,
The soft rich mast buds.
The stuttering quagmire prattles.

The peat-bog is as the raven’s coat,
The loud cuckoo bids welcome,
The speckled fish leaps —
Strong is the bound of the swift warrior.

Man flourishes, the maiden buds
In her fair strong pride.
Perfect each forest from top to ground.
Perfect each great stately plain.

Delightful is the season’s splendour,
Rough winter has gone:
Every fruitful wood shines white,
A joyous peace is summer.

A flock of birds settles
In the midst of meadows,
The green field rustles.
Wherein is a brawling white stream.

A wild longing is on you to race horses.
The ranked host is ranged around:
A bright shaft has been shot into the land.
So that the water-flag is gold beneath it.

A timorous, tiny, persistent little fellow
Sings at the top of his voice,
The lark sings clear tidings:
Surpassing summer-time of delicate hues!

Kuno Meyer, Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry, 1911, p53-54.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 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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The Crane-Bag

A poem from the Duanaire Finn, ‘The Poem-Book of Finn’. There’s a huge amount of interest in these poems, not least this one here, which describes the magical crane-bag of Manannán: Aoife, the daughter of Delbaeth, had been turned into a crane by the jealous Iuchra, and she went to live in Manannán’s household until she died. Manannán made the magical bag out of her skin, and it held many things and passed through many hands – some of which are detailed below.

The poem is not complete, but illuminating nonetheless.

I have a question for thee, Caoilte, man of the interchanged weapons: to whom did the good Crane-bag belong that Cumhall son of Treanmhor had?

A crane that belonged to gentle Manannan — it was a treasure of power with many virtues — from its skin, strange thing to prize — from it was made the Crane-bag.

Tell us what was the crane, my Caoilte of many exploits, or, tell us, man, why its skin was put about the treasures.

Aoife, daughter of dear Dealbhaoth, sweetheart of Ilbhreac of many beauties — both she and luchra of comely hue fell in love with the man.

luchra, enraged, beguiled Aoife to come swimming, it was no happy visit: when she drove her fiercely forth in the form of a crane over the moorlands.

Aoife then demanded of the beautiful daughter of Abhartach: ‘How long am I to be in this form, woman, beautiful breast-white luchra?’

‘The term I will fix will not be short for thee, Aoife of the slow-glancing eyes: thou shalt be two hundred white years in the noble house of Manannan.

‘Thou shalt be always in that house with everyone mocking thee, a crane that does not visit every land: thou shalt not reach any land.

‘A good vessel of treasures will be made of thy skin — no small event: its name shall be — I do not lie — in distant times the Crane-bag.’

Manannan made this of the skin when she died: afterwards in truth it held every precious thing he had.

The shirt of Manannan and his knife, and Goibhne’s girdle, altogether: a smith’s hook from the fierce man: were treasures that the Crane-bag held.

The King of Scotland’s shears full sure, and the King of Lochlainn’s helmet, these were in it to be told of, and the bones of Asal’s swine.

A girdle of the great whale’s back was in the shapely Crane-bag: I will tell thee without harm, it used to be carried in it.

When the sea was full, its treasures were visible in its middle: when the fierce sea was in ebb, the Crane-bag in turn was empty.

There thou hast it, noble Oisin, how this thing itself was made: and now I shall tell its faring, its happenings.

Long time the Crane-bag belonged to heroic Lugh Long-arm: till at last the king was slain by the sons of Cearmaid Honey-mouth.

To them next the Crane-bag belonged after him, till the three, though active, fell by the great sons of Mile.

Manannan came without weariness, carried off the Crane-bag again; he showed it to no man till the time of Conaire came.

Comely Conaire slept on the side of Tara of the plains: when the cunning well-made man awoke, the Crane-bag was found about his neck. Etc.

MacNeill, Duanaire Finn: The Book of the Lays of Finn, 1908, pp118-120.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 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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The Cow Legend of Corofin

This next tale has a little bit of preamble before it with some snippets of lore I thought I’d leave in; a sign of the time, the author is keen on patronising the ‘peasants’ on whom he relies for his stories…But he does make a good point; the tale is indeed very similar to some Scottish legends as well. I wouldn’t agree that the tale is of ancient descent, but rather more the product of the popularity of the Fionn Cycle in more recent times. Nonetheless it’s an unusual tale in that it attributes membership of the Tuatha De Danann (the spelling used below – ‘Danaan’ – is incorrect, but common for this period, influenced by the Greek Danaans) to a smith who is otherwise not usually numbered amongst them in older sources as far as I’ve seen:

Corofin and its neighbourhood is a happy hunting-ground for folk-lore even in these degenerate days. Much more so in 1840, when Eugene 0′ Curry took some pains to gather a few sheaves of that abundant harvest, much of which may still be saved, though till lately left untended. We still hear among the peasantry legends of Claraghmoor (Richard de Clare, 1318), Tige Ahood (Teige Acomhad, 1460), and Maureen Rhue (Mary O’Brien, 1641); with recollections of Ossian, and of the wonderful leap of the hound, Bran, and the deer, from the top of Inchiquin hill; of the discovery of turf-cutting by the warriors cleaning their blood-stained swords in the peat, and throwing the clods on the fire; with wild and sometimes beautiful beliefs in the swan maidens of Inchiquin, the banshees of Rath, and the “cursing-stone of Kilmoon,” the turning of which “maledictive stone” twisted the mouths of the victims awry. But a still more famous story was told by the older generation, and this I adapt from the invaluable pages of the Ordnance Survey Letters. It was told, in 1839, by Shane Reagh O’Cahane, an old tailor and shanachee of Corofin, and it coincides with the shorter form of the legend still told at Tullycomane:

On the ridge of Glasgeivnagh, in Teeskagh townland, in Kilnaboy parish, the high land adjoining the edge of Barren, ages ago, lived Lon mac Leefa (Liomhtha), a Tuatha De Danaan [sic], and the first smith who made edged weapons in Erin. He was strange to behold, for he had only one leg and three arms, the third of which grew out of the middle of his chest, and enabled him to turn the iron on the anvil, while he wielded the heavy sledge with the others. When he walked he would bound over valleys and hills, his one leg acting as a powerful spring. He had gone to Spain, and stolen a famous cow called Glasgeivnagh, on whose milk he lived. His race having been defeated by the Milesians, he long sought a ‘desert’ place sufficiently fertile to support his cow, and at last found it at Teeskagh. There the…(‘Seven Streams of Teeskagh’) still attest the legend how a lady made a bet that she would find a vessel which the cow could not fill, and milked her into a sieve; the milk ran down the hillside, forming the pretty waterfall and streams, which run across a deep gorge to sink into clefts of the rock. Beside the water were shown the ‘Leabas,’ or beds, of the cow and her calf; no grass could grow on them. Many sought to steal the cow, but her hoofs grew backward, so they could never track her (though her footprints remain all over the rocks of the district), for one of Lon’s seven sons, holding her tail, would follow her each day of the week to the top of the hill, and then pull her round and let her graze home again.

Lon’s life of obscurity was, however, to end. Unlike others of his race, who sulked in the ‘sidhs,’ or fairy hills, he longed to astonish the Milesians, by making a famous sword for the most illustrious of their warriors. The fame of Fin mac Cumhal reached him, and he set out in his usual expeditious method, and reached the fort of Ben Edar, or Howth. Springing into the presence of Fin and his astonished court, “I am Lon,” he cried, “skilled in smiths’ art, and a servant of the King of Lochlin; I lay on thee a ‘geasa’ to overtake me ere I reach home.” Off he bounded, and the Fenians were soon hopelessly distanced, except Caoilte, “of the slender, hard legs,” who kept the smith in sight, and coming up with him just as he entered his cave in Garraidh-na-Ceartan, where the ashes of his forge remain, to refute all sceptics, he slapped him on the shoulder. “Stay, smith,” said Caoilte, “enter not thy cave alone.” “Success and welcome, true soldier of the Fionna,” said Lon, in delight, “not for witchcraft did I visit thee, but to lead thee to my forge, and give thee a weapon to make thee famous”; and they worked at the forge for three days. At last Fin and seven of his men arrived, and Lon sold them eight swords. There the work ended, for the anvil was broken under the strokes of Goll and Conan, the sons of Morné.

Meanwhile a party of the Tuatha De Danaan mustered on Ceann Sleibhte (now Keentlae), or Inchiquin Hill, and posted troops on the causeways round Glasgeivnagh, namely, Corad mac Burin, 1 opposite Ballyportry, Corad mhic Eoghain, one mile west of Corofin, and at the Corad Finn itself. Their precautions were of no avail, for the strangers routed the outposts, and exterminated the main army in a pitched battle near Suidhe Finn, where bones are still found.

The legend ends tamely and abruptly, by stating that “an Ulster-man stole the cow.”

This legend is widely spread,2 and of ancient descent; it occurs at Ballynascreen, in Derry, and in Donegal, opposite Tory Island. Professor llhys gives fully the legend (singularly like the myth of Danae), of Balor’s daughter, and Kineely, “the wolf head,” the owner of the stolen cow, Glasgaivlen. Similar legends are found in Glengaulen, Cavan, on the Hill of Tara, and in Kerry. Nor are they confined to Ireland. The Rev. James Campbell tells an identical smith story of Tiree and Argyll: ” Lon mac Liven, son of Una, daughter of Vulcan,” with “one leg, and one eye on the top of his forehead,” comes to Fin, stating that he worked for the Norse King of “Givlen,” and flies, “taking a desert and a glen at each step,” to “a grey, sickly glen,” being overtaken by Caoilte Daorglas, who finds “seven ugly smiths” in the cave, and the tale ends in the splitting of the anvil, and a fierce combat. In Skye a Glasghoilean cow, the property of Fin, had “a bed,” which is still shown. The Scotch stories have more classic affinities (to Vulcan and the Cyclops) than our Clare myth, while the Glas Gavlen cow descends from the sky at Dun Kinealy, and is unmistakably a relative of the rain cows of the Vedas.

From ‘Miscellanea’, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquities of Ireland Volume V, 1895, p227-229.

 

Author’s Notes

1 The Coradh mac am burion of the “Wars of Torlough” in 1317, lay where “Kells Bridge” is marked on the maps, as established, from the recollection of the older peasantry, by our Local Secretary for North Clare, Dr. Mac Namara.

2 Ordnance Survey Letters, Co. Clare. R.I. A., p.66; also those of Cavan and Donegal. “Hero Tales of Ireland” (J. Curtin) Introduction, pp. xliv. and 1. Rev. J. Campbell’s “Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition.” “Hibbert Lectures, 1886” (Professor Rhys), p. 315. “Annals of the Four Masters,” vol. i., p. 18, note. Our Journal, 1852-1853, p. 315. “Journal,” Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, May, 1895, p. 210.

 

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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