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Sinann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Boand

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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 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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The names of Eogan

This excerpt from the Cóir Anmann (‘The Fitness of Names’) relates the meaning of the epithet’s of Eogan, the progenitor of the Eoganacht of Munster. The name Mog Nuadat (or Mug Nuadat) is especially interesting. ‘Mog’ or ‘mug’ can also mean ‘servant’, possibly indicating that Eogan was a devotee of the god Nuadu. It’s often difficult to be certain about these things, however, since there are many reasons for spurious stories to come about.

Other figures of possible relevance here are Néit and Dáire (possibly another name for the Dagda).

Eogan, son of Mog Néit, had four names, to wit, Eogan Mór (‘Great’), and Eogan Fidfeccach (‘wood- bending’), and Eogan Táidlech (‘splendid’), and Mog Nuadat (‘Nuada’s slave’). Whereof the poet said in the Elucidation:

Four names witbout grief
Were on Eogan Mór:
Eogan Fidfeccach the generous-hospitable,
Eogan Táidlech, (and) Mog Nuadat.

37. Eogan was his name from parental origin…’Tis from this that Eoganacht is said of them (scil. his descendants), in virtue of the blessings which the men of Erin bestowed upon him for his hospitality and generosity towards them, and for rescuing them from the famine in which they were. From this (comes) Eoganacht i.e. bona actio, i.e. a good act (it was) for him (Eogan) to save the men of Erin from starvation.

[Or] Eoganacht i.e. Eogan -icht, i.e. Eogan’s protection to the men of Erin. Or Eogan-necht, that is Eogan’s necht: necht ‘children’, that is the seven Eoganachts are Eogan’s children.

Thence then had he the name Eogan Mór (‘Great’), because he was great above every one, and (so were his children and his kindred after him.

38. Eogan Táidlech ‘splendid’, was (also) said of him. Once upon a time Eogan Mór went into Spain on a visit. He who was then king of Spain was Éber the Great, son of Midna. Now Eogan on that journey met with great affection in Spain. The king had then a stately unmarried daughter, named Bera daughter of Eber, and because of the great reports of Eogan she had given him ‘love in absence’ before he went into Spain. So then Eogan wedded the maiden, and she bore him noble offspring, even a wondrous son, Ailill Ólomm, and a brace of daughters named Scothniam and Caimell.

At that time there used to come in every year a lovely varicoloured salmon from the River of the Elements in Paradise to the river Tiber, and from Tiber to the river Ebro in Spain. Thus was that salmon, with a covering of most beautiful wool, and a kind of every colour through it. Now while Eogan was in Spain that salmon was caught by Éber and that woollen covering was stript from from it and that wool was given to Éber’s daughter. Now of the covering which had been on the salmon the damsel made for Eogan a splendid shining mantle;
and ’tis that mantle which Eogan wore when he came (back) to Ireland. Conn of the Hundred Battles was then in the kingship of Erin. Splendid and shining was the brightness abiding on Eogan from that mantle. Wherefore the name Eogan Táidlech ‘Splendid’ clave to him.

39. Eogan Fidfeccach he was (also) called, why was this? Easy to say. Eogan had three fortresses, and the name of each was Fidfecc. Now Eogan was setting and bending and weaving the wood at each: wherefore he is called Eogan Fidfeccach, from bending (feccad) the wood (fid) in setting it: or Figfecc, from weaving (fige) the same wood.

40. Mog Nuadat, whence is it? Easy to say. Dáire Barrach son of Catháir Mór, ’tis he that reared Mog Nuadat, that is, Eogan son of Mog Néit. Once upon a time the fortification of Dún Aillinne was undertaken by Dáire Barrach. Now there was then in Erin a famous rath-builder, Nuada Long-heel, son of Oengus, son of Fer dá chrích in the district of Cualnge. In him was the strength of a hundred, and he would eat the fill of fifty. This slave was brought to Dáire to fortify Dún Aillinn. When they were in the trench, a-digging it, they came upon a huge stone in the trench, and the slave was unable to raise it The youths of the fortress, and among them Eogan, were on the dyke of the earthwork, watching the slave flinching from the eflfort. The slave asked the youths to put the stone out of the trench. This the youths, save only Eogan, refused. Then Eogan entered the trench, and clasped his two arms round the stone, and he alone lifted it up, and hurled it into the southern angle of the fort. And there it remains thenceforward.

Then said the druid to the slave: “Noble is thy slave to-day, O Nuada!” quoth the druid. Wherefore Mog Nuadat, ‘Nuada’s Slave’, clave to Eogan, and from Nuada he was named, according to this version (of the story).

From Whitley Stokes, ‘Cóir Anmann: The Fitness of Names‘ in Irische Texte mit Wörterbuch Vol 3(2), 1897,
pp301-305.

Notes

1 See for example Byrne, Irish Kings and High-Kings, 2001, p291, and Koch, Encyclopedia of Celtic Culture, 2006, p705.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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