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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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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 Fate of the Children of Tuireann (Part 1)

Here we have the first part of a longer story, focusing on the tensions between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the oppressive Fomorians in the lead up to the First Battle of Mag Tured. This tale here shows them as foreigners – from Lochlann, which Joyce says are the Danes, from across the Baltic sea. It is a popular explanation of their origins, although sometimes they are seen as more supernatural entities, not potential invaders, but Otherworldly forces or giants – beautiful like Bres, or hideous and ‘demonic’ in appearance, with one leg and distorted features.

Mythologically the Fomorians are traditionally seen as the arch-enemy of the settlers of Ireland. They first appear when agriculture is introduced to Ireland, by Parthalon and his people (the second wave of invaders in Ireland, according to the Lebor Gabála Érenn – ‘The Book of Invasions’), and are subdued at last when Lugh manages to get a vital piece of information from Bres, the half-Fomorian former king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, at The Second Battle of Mag Tured. Here Bres tells Lugh when it is best to plough, sow, and reap, and with that Lugh spares his life and accepts peace between the two factions. The underlying symbolism seems to suggest that the Fomorians represent not the forces of demonic evil as they are sometimes interpreted as, but that they represent the chaotic, untamed forces of nature. Once the Tuatha Dé Danann finally establish how the people of Ireland  – whoever they may be – should approach nature properly, the Fomorians never make trouble again; peace has been made. 

Whatever the case, the Fomorians are never seen to triumph over Ireland and settle there themselves. At best, they live on the periphery, travelling from their native ‘Lochlann’, or setting up base on the Isle of Aran, where they inflict their havoc intermittently. To this day, Balor in particular is associated with many parts of Aran and County Donegal. 

In this following tale, from P. W. Joyce’s Old Celtic Romances, I’ve chosen to change some of the spellings and epithets to more recognisable forms – where Joyce has Luga the Ildanach, I’ve rendered him as Lugh, the Samildanach (Many-Skilled), for instance. The notes I’ve given in the text are selectively referencing Joyce’s notes.  

When the Tuatha Dé Danann held sway in Erin, a prosperous free-bom king ruled over them, whose name was Nuada of the Silver Hand.

In the time of this king, the Fomorians, from Lochlann, in the north, oppressed the Tuatha Dé, and forced them to pay heavy tributes; namely, a tax on kneading-troughs, a tax on querns, and a tax on baking flags; and besides all this, an oimce of gold for each man of the Tuatha Dé Danann. These tributes had to be paid every year at the Hill of Uisneach;1 and if any one refused or neglected to pay his part, his nose was cut off by the Fomorian tyrants.

At this time a great fair-meeting was held by the king of Ireland, Nuada of the Silver Hand, on the Hill of Uisneach. Not long had the people been assembled, when they saw a stately band of warriors, all mounted on white steeds, coming towards them from the east; and at their head, high in command over all, rode a young champion, tall and comely, with a countenance as bright and glorious as the setting sun.

This young warrior was Lugh of the Long Arms. He was accompanied by his foster brothers, namely, the sons of Manannán Mac Lir; and the troop he led was the Fairy Host from the Land of Promise.2

Now in this manner was he arrayed. He rode the steed of Manannán Mac Lir, namely, Enbarr of the Flowing Mane: no warrior was ever killed on the back of this steed, for she was as swift as the clear, cold wind of spring, and she travelled with equal ease on land and on sea. He wore Mannanan’s coat of mail: no one could be wounded through it, or above it, or below it. He had on his breast Manannán’s breast-plate, which no weapon could pierce. His helmet had two glittering precious stones set front, and one behind; and whenever he took it off, his face shone like the sun on a dry day in summer. Manannán’s sword, The Answerer, hung at his left side: no one ever recovered from its wound; and those who were opposed to it in the battle-field were so terrified by looking at it, that their strength left them till they became weaker than a woman in deadly sickness.

This troop came forward to where the king of Erin sat surrounded by the Tuatha Dé, and both parties exchanged friendly greetings.

A short time after this they saw another company approaching, quite imlike the first, for they were grim and fierce and surly looking ; namely, the tax-gatherers of the Fomorians, to the number of nine nines, who were coming to demand their yearly tribute from the men of Erin. When they reached the place where the king sat, the entire assembly — the king himself among the rest — rose up before them. For the whole Tuatha Dé Danann race stood in great dread of these Fomorian tax-collectors; so much so that no man dared even to chastise his own son without first seeking their consent.

Then Lugh of the Long Arms spoke to the king and said, “Why have ye stood up before this hateful-looking company, when ye did not stand up for us?”

“We durst not do otherwise,” replied the king; “for if even an infant of a month old remained seated before them, they would deem it cause enough for killing us all.”

When Lugh heard this he brooded in silence for a little while, and then he said, ” Of a truth, I feel a great desire to kill all these men!”

Then he mused again, and after a time, said, “I am strongly urged to kill these men!”

“That deed would doubtless bring great evil on us,” said the king, “for then the Fomorians would be sure to send an army to destroy us all.”

But Lugh, after another pause, started up, exclaiming, “Long have ye been oppressed in this manner!” and so saying, he attacked the Fomorians, dealing red slaughter among them. Neither did he hold his hand till he had slain them all except nine. These he spared, because they ran with all speed and sat nigh the king, that he might protect them from Lugh’s wrath.

Then Lugh put his sword back into its scabbard, and said, ‘I would slay you also, only that I wish you to go and tell your king, and the foreigners in general, what you have seen.”

These nine men accordingly returned to their own country, and they told their tale to the Fomorian people from beginning to end — how the strange, noble-faced youth had slain all the tax-collectors except nine, whom he spared that they might bring home the story.

When they had ended speaking, the king, Balor of the Mighty Blows and of the Evil Eye, asked the chiefs, “Do ye know who this youth is?”

And when they answered, “No,” Kethlenda, Balor’s queen, said —

“I know well who the youth is: he is the Samildanach, Lugh of the Long Arms, the son of your daughter and mine; and it has been long foretold that when he should appear in Erin, our sway over the Tuatha Dé should come to an end.”

Then the chief people of the Fomorians held council; namely, Balor of the Mighty Blows, and his twelve sons, and his queen Kethlenda of the Crooked Teeth; Ebb and Sencab, the grandsons of Neid; Sotal of the Large Heels; Luath the Long-bodied; Luath the Story-teller; Tinna the Mighty, of Triscadal; Loskenn of the Bare Knees; Lobas, the druid; besides the nine prophetic poets and philosophers of the Fomorians.

After they had debated the matter for some time, Bres, the son of Balor, arose and said, “I will go to Erin with seven great battalions of the Fomorian army, and I will give battle to the Samildanach, and I will bring his head to you to our palace of Berva.”

The Fomorian chiefs thought well of this proposal, and it was agreed to.

So the ships were got ready for Bres; abundant food and drink and war stores were put into them, their seams were calked with pitch, and they were filled with sweet-smelling frankincense. Meantime the two Luaths, that is to say, Luath the Story-teller and Luath of the Long Body, were sent all over Lochlann to summon the army. And when all the fighting men were gathered together, they arrayed themselves in their battle-dresses, prepared their arms, and set out for Erin.

Balor went with them to the harbour where they were to embark, and when they were about to go on board, he said to them —

“Give battle to the Samildanach, and cut off his head. And after ye have overcome him and his people, put your cables roimd this island of Erin, which gives us so much trouble, and tie it at the stems of your ships: then sail home, bringing the island with you, and place it on the north side of Lochlann, whither none of the Tuatha Dé will ever follow it.”

Then, having hoisted their many-coloured sails and loosed their moorings, they sailed forth from the harbour into the great sea, and never slackened speed or turned aside from their course till they reached the harbour of Eas-Dara.3 And as soon as they landed, they sent forth an army through West Connaught, which wasted and spoiled the whole province.

Joyce, Old Celtic Romances Translated from the Gaelic, 1879, pp37-42.

 

Notes

1 The Hill of Uisneach, in the parish of Conry, in Westmeath, one of the royal residences of Ireland. It is sometimes referred to as ‘the navel of Ireland’; the omphalos, or spiritual centre of Ireland. This is represented by a special stone, the Aill na Mireann, or ‘Stone of Divisions,’ with each division representing one of Ireland’s provinces.

2 The Land of Promise – Tír Tairngire – is often referred to as one of the chief homes of the Tuatha Dé Danann in later legends, and is a sort of Otherworldly fairyland. Joyce notes that it is sometimes identified with the Isle of Man, giving it associations with Manannán, who often plays a prominent role in the later myths and legends.
3 Eas-Dara, now Ballysodare in County Sligo.
 
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Posted by on February 10, 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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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Tráig Tuirbi

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.

Traig Tuirbi, whence is it?

Not hard (to say). Tuirbe Tragmar, father of Gobbán the Wright,1 ’tis he that owned it. ‘Tis from that heritage he, (standing) on Telach Bela (“the Hill of the Axe”), would hurl a cast of his axe in the face of the floodtide, so that he forbade the sea, which then would not come over the axe. And his pedigree is not known, unless he be one of the defectives of the men of art who fled out of Tara before Samildánach,2 (and whose posterity) is in the secret parts of Bregia. Whence Tráig Tuirbi, “Turbe’s Strand.”

Tuirbe Tragmar was a negligent man,
Father of Gobbán with pure desire.
Unknown is his bright pedigree,
From him Tráig Tuirbi is named.

Whitley Stokes, ‘The Edinburgh Dinnshenchas‘, in Folklore IV, 1893, p488-489.

Notes

1 The name is reminiscent of Goibniu, but Stokes notes that the character here may refer to a seventh century architect.

2 An epithet of Lug; ‘Samildánach – ‘many skilled’.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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