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The Cooking of the Great Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Translation from the text in the Book of Lismore]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I

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

II

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

Ill

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

IV

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

V

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

VI

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

VII

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

VIII

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

IX

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

X

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

XI

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

XII

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

XIII

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

XIV

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

XV

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

XVI

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

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

Notes

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

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Fulacht na Morrighna

And now for something slightly different…

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

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

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

The usual inneoin of the Daghda here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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