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First Battle Of Moytura – Cath Muige Tuired Cunga

First Battle of Moytura - By C Michael Hogan, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13537541

‘The Battle of Moytura at Cong’, also known as The First Battle of Magh Turedh, Maige Tuired, etc.

This text can be difficult to find online, so I thought I’d add a copy here, and maybe do a reading of it at some point over on my YouTube Channel, for accessibility purposes.

The source manuscript for this tale is: Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1319  pp. 90-110 [s. xv]  pp. 90a–99b, or Fraser gives it as H.2.17 (T.C.D.).

TRANSLATION SOURCE:
Fraser, J. “The First Battle of Moytura.” Ériu v.8 (1915), pp. 1-63

This is an Early Modern Irish tale of the conflict fought between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fir Bolg over the sovereignty of Ireland. The CODECS listing is here.

Text of the First Battle Of Moytura

1. ‘Children of powerful Nemed, what is the cause of your assembling? What has brought you here—contest, conflict, or combat?’

‘What has brought us from our homes, wise Fintan, is this: we suffer at the hands of the Fomorians of Ireland by reason of the greatness of the tribute.’

‘Whatever be the tribute, on whomsoever and wheresoever imposed, it is in our power either to bear it or to escape from it.

‘There is among you a party, quarrelsome though few in all the land, that do more to ruin it than the tribute of the Fomorians.

‘Depart if you feel the time is ripe, glorious sons of Nemed; do not suffer wrong, remain not here, but go far hence.’

2. ‘Is that your advice to us, wise Fintan?’ ‘It is,’ said Fintan, ‘and I have yet more counsel for you: you must not go by one route or in one direction, for a fleet cannot be brought together without outbreak of fighting; a large number means quarrelling, strangers provoke challenge, and an armed host conflict. You do not find it easy to live together in any one spot in Ireland, and it would not be any easier for your hosts in seeking new homes.

3. ‘Depart from this land, children of Nemed; leave Ireland, and escape the violence of your enemies.

‘Stay here no longer, pay no more tribute. Your sons or your grandsons will recover the land from which you are now fleeing.

‘You shall travel to the land of the Greeks—’tis no lying tale I tell—and though you set out in thousands, your strength will not be found sufficient in the East.

‘The children of steadfast Beothach shall leave you and go towards the cold North, the children of Semeon to the East though you feel it strange, depart.’

4. So they parted from each other, Fintan and the famous children of Nemed. Beothach, son of Iarbonel, remained, with his ten men and their wives, in Ireland, according to the poet:

Iarbonel’s son, Beothach of the clear-spoken judgments, remained in Ireland. His children went far eastward, to the north-west of Lochlann.

5. Astonishing is the ignorance shown by those who would have it that Tait, son of Tabarn, was sole king over the children of Nemed, for he was yet unborn. He was born in the East, and never came to Ireland.

6. Immense was the fleet, eager the gathering considering from how few sprang the great company that set out from Ireland, for only thirty men had escaped at the taking of Conaing’s Tower, and of these a third remained with Beothach in Ireland. The remaining twenty must have multiplied greatly, for the number of ships that were now leaving Ireland was ten thousand, one hundred and forty.

Those dear friends, then, separated, and sad and sorrowful was the little remnant that remained in Ireland. . .

7. …the mysteries of wizardry, the knowledge, learning, and prophetic powers, the mastery of arms and skill in cunning feats, the travels and wanderings of the sons of Ibath, for it happened that those tales that had all gone abroad from one place came to be told. A different narrative is necessary for each race. Touching the children of Semeon, son of Starn. A storm had driven them from their course till they came to the dry strands of Thrace and the sandy shores of Greece, and there they settled. Thereupon the inhabitants and the champions of the land visited them, and made a compact of peace and concord with them. Territory was apportioned them, but on the sea-shore, on the distant borders, on cold rough stretches and rugged rocks, on the hill-sides and mountain slopes, on inhospitable heights and in deep ravines, on broken land and ground unfit for cultivation. But the strangers transported a great quantity of soil to the smooth, bare rocks, and made them into smiling clover-covered plains.

8. When the chiefs and powerful men of the land saw the smooth, broad and grassy fields, and the wide expanses of fruitful cultivated land, they would expel the occupants, and give them in exchange wild, rugged regions, hard stony lands infested with poisonous serpents. However, they tamed and cultivated the ground, and made it into good fruitful fields, smooth and broad like all their land that was taken from them.

9. But in the meantime the children of Nemed increased and multiplied till they numbered many thousands. The tribute grew heavier and their labour harder till they, now a powerful company, resolved secretly to make wide curved boats of the well-woven bags they used for carrying soil, and to sail for Ireland.

10. Two hundred years had passed since the taking of Conaing’s Tower till the return of the children of Semeon to Ireland. It was at the same time that the famous warlike children of Israel were leaving Egypt in search of the happy land of promise, while the descendants of Gaidel Glas moved up from the south after the escape of the people of God and the drowning of Pharaoh, and came to cold, rugged Scythia.

11. During the two hundred years after the taking of Conaing’s Tower the children of Semeon multiplied till they numbered many thousands, forming strong bold hosts. On account of the severity of the labour and the heaviness of the bondage imposed on them they determined to flee from persecution, endeavour to escape and make their way to Ireland.

12. They made boats of their sacks, and stole some of the vessels, boats, and galleys of the soldiers of the Greeks. The lords and leaders, heads, chiefs and champions of that fleet were the five sons of Dela, according to the poet:

To noble Ireland there set out the five sons of Dela son of Loth the impetuous, Rudraige, Genann, Gann, Slainge of the spears, and Sengann.

13. They made off at nightfall, and manned their ships in the harbour where they had first landed. Slainge, the elder of the company, who was judge among his brothers, harangued them as follows:

‘Now is the time for exertion, care, and watchfulness; fierce and grey with foam is the sea; each fair fleet sets forth to escape from intolerable wrong; the tyranny of the Greeks is unaccustomed; the plains of salmon-bearing Ireland we must strive to win. ‘Give heed to and observe the wrong and injustice you suffer. You have in us five good men to lead the fleet, each of us a match for a hundred.’

‘That is true,’ his followers replied. ‘Let us make the people of this land pay in full for the servitude and the heavy tribute they imposed on us.’ And so they killed every one of the Greeks worth killing that they got hold of, and wasted the neighbouring land and made a devastating incursion over it and burnt it. They then brought their plunder and spoil to the place where their ships and galleys were and the smooth, black-prowed boats they had made of their sacks and bags, that is, to Traig Tresgad.

14.One thousand one hundred and thirty was the number of ships that put out, according to the poet:

‘One thousand one hundred and thirty ships—that, without falsehood, is the number that accompanied Genann and his people from the East.

Numerous, indeed, were the Fir Boig when they left Greece, a stout company that set out vigorously on their voyage, but not in a fleet built of wood.

On Wednesday they put out to the West over the wide Tyrrhenian sea, and after a period of a full year and three days they arrived in Spain.’

From there to noble Ireland they made a speedy voyage; all may proclaim it, they took a period of thirteen days.’

15. So they came to Spain. They asked of their seers and druids for information and direction concerning the winds which should next carry them to Ireland. They sailed onwards before a south-west wind till they saw Ireland in the distance. But at that point the wind rose high and strong, and its violence drove huge waves against the sides of the ships; and the fleet separated into three great divisions, the Gaileoin, the Fir Boig and the Fir Domnann. Slainge put to shore at Inber Slainge in the fifth of the Gaileoin; Rudraige landed at Tracht Rudraige in Ulster; and Genann in Inber Domnann. The wind freshened, and the storm drove Gann and Senganu till they put in at Inber Douglas, where Corcamruad and Corcabaisginn meet.

16. There they landed, and this is the first place to which sheep were brought in Ireland, and Sheep’s Height is its flame.

It was on Saturday, the first day of August, that Slainge put into Inber Slainge; Gann and Genann put into Inber Domnann on Friday; and Rudraige and Sengann at Tracht Rudraige on Tuesday. The latter were anxious as to whether the Fir Boig had reached Ireland or not, and sent messengers all over Ireland to gather all of them that had arrived in Ireland to one place, that is, the Stronghold of the Kings in Tara. All of them assembled there. ‘We give thanks to the gods,’ said they, ‘for our return to thee, Ireland. Let the country be divided equitably between us. Bring hither the wise Fintan, and let Ireland be divided according to his decision.’

17. It was then that Fintan made five portions of Ireland. From Inber Colptha to Comar Tri nUisce was given to Slainge, son of Dela, and his thousand men; Gann’s portion was from Comar Tri nUisce to Belach Conglais, Sengann’s from Belach Conglais to Limerick. Gamin and Sengaun, thus, had the two Munsters. Genann was put over Connacht, and Rudraige over Ulster. The poet describes the division thus:

‘On Saturday, an omen of prosperity, Slainge reached lofty Ireland; his bold career began at Inber Slainge.

At dark Inber Douglas the two ships of Sengann and Gann touched the glorious land.

Rudraige and prosperous Genann landed on Friday. These were all of them, and they Were the five kings.

From Inber Colptha to Comar Tri nUisce Fintan made one division; that was the portion of Slainge of the spears. His host was a thousand men.

From Comar Tri nUisce to famous Belach Conglais was the fifth of wound-dealing Gann. He had a following of a thousand men.

To Sengann, methinks, was given from Belach to Limerick. He was at the head of a thousand men when strife threatened.

Genann was undisputed king of Connacht to the Maigue. Heroic Rudraige was king of Ulster; his were two thousand men in the hour of battle.

Rudraige and Sengann of the spears were, it is certain, the chiefs of the Fir Boig. The Gaileon followed glorious Slainge. A good king were he that had a more numerous host. They entered Ireland from the south, as God saw fitting.

18. The wives of these five chiefs were Auaist, Liben, Cnucha, Edar, and Fuat, as the poet says:

‘Fuat was the wife of Slainge as you hold, Edar of the warrior Gamin, Auaist of Sengann of the spears, Cnucha of fair Genann.

‘Liben was the wife of Rudraige the Red—they made a pleasant company on a visit. However, as for Rudraige, the feat-performing king, I have heard that his wife was Fuat.’

19. The Fir Boig then occupied Ireland, and were masters of it for thirty years.

20. As for the Tuatha Dé Danann, they prospered till their fame went abroad over the lands of the earth. They had a god of wizardry of their own, Eochaid Ollathir, called the Great Dagda, for he was an excellent god. They had bold, hardy chiefs, and men proficient in every art; and they determined to go to Ireland. Then set out those daring chiefs, representing the military prowess of the world, and the skill and learning of Europe. They came from the northern islands to Dobur and Indobur, to S . . . and Genann’s well. There they stayed for four years, and at their coming to Ireland Nuada, son of Echtach, was king over them.

Then those warriors gathered their fleets to one place till they had three hundred ships under way. Thereupon their seers, Cairbre, Aed, and Edan asked the chiefs of the host in which ship they should sail, recommending that of Fiachra. The chiefs approved and went on board. Then they all set sail, and after three years and three days and three nights landed at wide Tracht Mugha in Ulster on Monday of the first week in May.

Now, on the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann in Ireland, a vision was revealed in a dream to Eochaid, son of Erc, high king of Ireland. He pondered over it with much anxiety, being filled with wonder and perplexity. He told his wizard, Cesard, that he had seen, a vision. ‘What was the vision?’ asked Cesard. ‘I saw a great flock of black birds,’ said the king, ‘coming from the depths of the Ocean. They settled over all of us, and fought with the people of Ireland. They brought confusion on us, and destroyed us. One of us, methought, struck the noblest of the birds and cut off one of its wings. And now, Cesard, employ your skill and knowledge, and tell us the meaning of the vision.’ Cesard did so, and by means of ritual and the use of his science the meaning of the king’s vision was revealed to him; and he said:

‘I have tidings for you: warriors are coming across the sea, a thousand heroes covering the ocean; speckled ships will press in upon us; all kinds of death they announce, a people skilled in every art, a magic spell; an evil spirit will come upon you, signs to lead you astray (?); . . . they will be victorious in every stress.’

21. ‘That,’ said Eochaid, ‘is a prophecy of the coming to Ireland of enemies from far distant countries.’

22. As for the Tuatha Dé Danann, they all arrived in Ireland, and immediately broke and burnt all their ships and boats. Then they proceeded to the Red Hills of Rian in Brefne in the east of Connacht, where they halted and encamped. And at last their hearts and minds were filled with contentment that they had attained to the land of their ancestors.

23. Now it was reported to the Fir Bolg that that company had arrived in Ireland. That was the most handsome and delightful company, the fairest of form, the most distinguished in their equipment and apparel, and their skill in music and playing, the most gifted in mind and temperament that ever came to Ireland. That too was the company that was bravest and inspired most horror and fear and dread, for the Tuatha Dé excelled all the peoples of the world in their proficiency in every art.

24. ‘It is a great disadvantage to us,’ said the Fir Bolg, ‘that we should have no knowledge or report of where yon host came from, or where they mean to settle. Let Sreng set out to visit them, for he is big and fierce, and bold to spy on hosts and interview strangers, and uncouth and terrifying to behold.’ Thereupon Sreng rose, and took his strong hooked reddish-brown shield, his two thick-shafted javelins, his death-dealing (?) sword, his fine four-cornered helmet and his heavy iron club; and went on his way to the Hill of Rain.

The Tuatha Dé saw a huge fearsome man approaching them. ‘Here comes a man all alone,’ they said. ‘It is for information he comes. Let us send some one to speak with him.’

Then Bres, son of Elatha, went out from the camp to inspect him and parley with him. He carried with him his shield and his sword, and his two great spears. The two men drew near to each other till they were within speaking distance. Each looked keenly at the other without speaking a word. Each was astonished at the other’s weapons and appearance; Sreng wondered at the great spears he saw, and rested his shield on the ground before him, so that it protected his face. Bres, too, kept silent and held his shield before him. Then they greeted each other, for they spoke the same language—their origin being the same—and explained to each other as follows who they and their ancestors were:

‘My flesh and my tongue were gladdened at your pleasant cheerful language, as you recounted the genealogies from Nemed downwards.

‘By origin our two peoples are as brothers; our race and kin are descended from Semeon

‘This is the proper time to bear it in mind, if we are, in flesh and blood, of the same distinguished race as you.

‘Humble your pride, let your hearts draw nigher, be mindful of your brotherhood, prevent the destruction of your own men.’

‘High is our temper, lordly our pride and fierce against our foes; you shall not abate it.

‘Should our peoples meet, it will be a gathering where many will be crushed; let him who will bring entertainment, ‘tis not he that will amuse them.’

25. ‘Remove, your shield from before your body and face,’ said Bres, ‘that I may be able to give the Tuatha Dé an account of your appearance.’ ‘I will do so,’ said Sreng, ‘for it was for fear of that sharp spear you carry that I placed my shield between us.’ Then he raised his shield. ‘Strange and venomous,’ said Bres, ‘are those spears, if the weapons of all of you resemble them. Show me your weapons.’ ‘I will,’ said Sreng; and he thereupon unfastened and uncovered his thick-shafted javelins. ‘What do you think of these weapons?’ he said. ‘I see,’ said Bres, ‘huge weapons, broad-pointed, stout and heavy, mighty and keen-edged.

‘Woe to him whom they should smite, woe to him at whom they shall be flung, against whom they shall be cast; they will be instruments of oppression. Death is in their mighty blows, destruction in but one descent of them; wounds are their hard plying; overwhelming is the horror of them.

26. ‘What do you call them?’ said Bres. ‘Battle javelins are these,’ said Sreng. ‘They are good weapons,’ said Bres, ‘bruised bodies they mean, gushing gore, broken bones and shattered shields, sure scars and present plague. Death and eternal blemish they deal, sharp, foe-like, and deadly are your weapons, and there is fury for fratricide in the hearts of the hosts whose weapons they are. Let us make a compact and covenant.’ They did so. Each came nigh to the other, and Bres asked: ‘Where did you spend last night, Sreng?’ ‘At the hallowed heart of Ireland, in the Rath of the kings in Tara, where are the kings and princes of the Fir Bolg, and Eochaid, High-king of Ireland. And you, whence come you?’ ‘From the hill, from the crowded capacious camp yonder on the mountain-slope where are the Tuatha Dé and Nuada, their king, who came from the north of the world in a cloud of mist and a magic shower to Ireland and the land of the west.’ (However, he did not believe that it was thus they came).’ It was then Sreng said: ‘I have a long journey, and it is time for me to go.’ ‘Go then,’ said Bres, ‘and here is one of the two spears I brought with me. Take it as a specimen of the weapons of the Tuatha Dé.’ Sreng gave one of his javelins to Bres as a specimen of the weapons of the Fir Bolg. ‘Tell the Fir Bolg,’ said Bres, ‘that they must give my people either battle or half of Ireland.’ ‘On my word,’ said Sreng, ‘I should prefer to give you half of Ireland than to face your weapons.’ They parted in peace after making a compact of friendship with each other.

27. Sreng went on his way to Tara. He was asked for tidings of the people he had gone to parley with; and he told his story. ‘Stout are their soldiers,’ he said, ‘manly and masterful their men, bloody and battle-sure their heroes, very great and strong their shields, very sharp and hard of shaft their spears, and hard and broad their blades. Hard it is to fight with them; ‘tis better to make a fair division of the land, and to give them half of Ireland as they desire.’ ‘We will not grant that, indeed,’ said the Fir Bolg, ‘for if we do, the land will all be theirs.’

28. Bres reached his camp, and was asked for a description of the man he had gone to parley with, and of his weapons. ‘A big, powerful, fierce man,’ he said, ‘with vast, wonderful weapons, truculent and hardy withal, without awe or fear of any man.’ The Tuatha Dé said to each other: ‘Let us not stay here, but go to the west of Ireland, to some strong place, and there let us face whomsoever comes. So the host travelled westward over plains and inlets till they came to Mag Nia, and to the end of Black Hill, which is called Sliabh Belgadain. On their arrival there they said: ‘This is an excellent place, strong and impregnable. From here let us wage our wars, and make our raids, here let us devise our battles and hostings.’ Their camping there is mentioned by the poet in the lines:

‘From the Hill of Belgadain to the Mountain—lofty is the mountain round which we wage our contests. From its summit the Tuatha Dé laid hold of Ireland.’

29. It was then that Badb and Macha and Morrigan went to the Knoll of the Taking of the Hostages, and to the Hill of Summoning of Hosts at Tara, and sent forth magic showers of sorcery and compact clouds of mist and a furious rain of fire, with a downpour of red blood from the air on the warriors’ heads; and they allowed the Fir Bolg neither rest nor stay for three days and nights. ‘A poor thing,’ said the Fir Bolg, ‘is the sorcery of our sorcerers that they cannot protect us from the sorcery of the Tuatha Dé,’ ‘But we will protect you,’ said Fathach, Gnathach, Ingnathach, and Cesard, the sorcerers of the Fir Bolg; and they stayed the sorcery of the Tuatha Dé.

30. Thereupon the Fir Bolg gathered, and their armies and hosts came to one place of meeting. There met the provincial kings of Ireland. First came Sreng and Semne and Sithbrugh the three sons of Sengann, with the people of the provinces of Curói.’ There came too Esca, Econn, and Cirb with the hosts of Conchobar’s province; the four Sons of Gann with the hosts of the province of Eochaid son of Luchta; the four sons of Slainge with the army of the province of the Gaileoin; and Eochaid, the High-king, with the hosts of Connacht. The Fir Bolg, numbering eleven battalions, then marched to the entrance of Mag Nia. The Tuatha Dé, with seven battalions, took up their position at the western end of the plain. It was then that Nuada proposed to the Tuatha Dé to send envoys to the Fir Bolg: ‘They must surrender the half of Ireland, and we shall divide the land between us.’ ‘Who are to be our envoys?’ the people asked. ‘Our poets,’ said the king, meaning Cairbre, Ai, and Edan.

31. So they set out and came to the tent of Eochaid, the High-king. After they had been presented with gifts, they were asked the reason of their coming. ‘This is why we are come,’ they said, ‘to request the dividing of the land between us, an equitable halving of Ireland.’ ‘Do the nobles of the Fir BoIg hear that?’ said Eochaid. ‘We do,’ they replied, ‘but we shall not grant their request till doomsday.’ ‘Then,’ said the poets, ‘when do you mean to give battle?’ ‘Some delay is called for,’ said the Fir Bolg nobles, ‘for we shall have to prepare our spears, to mend our mail, to shape our helmets, to sharpen our swords, and to make suitable attire,’ There were brought to them men to arrange those things. ‘Provide,’ said they, ‘shields for a tenth, swords for a fifth, and spears for a third part. You must each furnish what we require on either side.’ ‘We,’ said the envoys of the Tuatha Dé to the Fir Bolg, ‘shall have to make your spears, and you must make our javelins.’ The Tuatha Dé were then given hospitality till that was done. (However, though it is said here that the Fir BoIg had no spears, such had been made for Rindal, grandfather of their present king.) So they arranged an armistice till the weapons arrived, till their equipment was ready, and they were prepared for battle.

32. Their druids went back to the Tuatha Dé and told their story from beginning to end, how the Fir Bolg would not share the land with them, and refused them favour or friendship. The news filled the Tuathé De with consternation.

33. Thereupon Ruad with twenty-seven of the sons of courageous Mil sped westwards to the end of Mag Nia to offer a hurling contest to the Tuatha Dé. An equal number came out to meet them. The match began. They dealt many a blow on legs and arms, till their bones were broken and bruised, and fell outstretched on the turf, and the match ended. The Cairn of the Match is the name of the cairn where they met, and Glen Came Aillem the place where they are buried.

34. Ruad turned eastward, and told his tale to Eochaid. The king was glad of the killing of the Tuatha Dé’s young soldiers, and said to Fathach, ‘Go to the west, and ask of the nobles of the Tuatha Dé how the battle is to be fought to-morrow —whether it is to be for one day or for several.’ The poet went and put the question to the nobles of the Tuatha Dé, that is, Nuada, the Dagda and Bres. ‘What we propose,’ they said, ‘is to fight them with equal numbers on both sides.’ Fathach went back, and reported to the Fir Bolg the choice of the Tuatha Dé. The Fir Bolg were depressed, for they disliked the choice of the Tuatha Dé. They decided to send for Fintan to see if he could give them some counsel. Fintan came to them.

The Fir Bolg had entrenched a great fort. (It was called the Fort of the Packs, from the packs of dogs that preyed on the bodies of the dead after the battle, or the Fort of the Blood Pools, from the pools of gore that surrounded the wounded when the people came to see them.’) They made a Well of Healing to heal their warriors from their wounds. This was filled with herbs. Another entrenched fort was made by the Tuatha Dé. (It was called the Fort of the Onsets, from the onsets directed out of the battle.) They dug a Well of Healing to heal their wounds.

When these works had been finished, Cirb asked: ‘Whence come ye, and whither go ye? The care of to-morrow’s battle be yours. I will lead the attack with Mogarn and his son Ruad, Laige and his father Senach,’ ‘We will meet them with four battalions,’ was the reply.

35. Six weeks of the summer, half the quarter, had gone on the appointed day of battle. The hosts rose on that day with the first glimmer of sunlight. The painted, perfectly wrought shields were hoisted on the backs of brave warriors, the tough, seasoned spears and battle-javelins were grasped in the right hands of heroes, together with the bright swords that made the duels dazzle with light as the shining sunbeams shimmered on the swords’ graven groves. Thus the firm, close-packed companies, moved by the compelling passion of their courageous commanders, advanced towards Mag Nia to give battle to the Tuatha Dé. It was then that the Fir Bolg poet, Fathach, went forward in front of them to describe their fury and spread the report of it. He had raised up and planted firmly in the midst of the plain a pillar of stone, against which he rested. This was the first pillar set up in the plain, and Fathach’s Pillar was its name thenceforth. Then Fathach in utter anguish wept floods of fervent, melancholy tears, and said:

‘With what pomp they advance! On Mag Nia they marshal with dauntless might. ‘Tis the Tuatha Dé that advance, and the Fir Bolg of the decorated blades.

‘The Red Badb will thank them for the battle-combats I look on. Many will be their gashed bodies in the east after their visit to Mag Tured.

‘…will be the host after parting with the warriors I speak of. Many a head shall be severed with vigour and with pomp.’

36. The Tuatha formed a compact, well-armed host, marshalled by fighting warriors and provided with deadly weapons and stout shields. Every one of them pressed on his neighbour with the edge of his shield, the shaft of his spear, or the hilt of his sword, so closely that they wounded each other. The Dagda began the attack on the enemy by cutting his way through them to the west, clearing a path for a hundred and fifty. At the same time Cirb made an onslaught on the Tuatha Dé, and devastated their ranks, clearing a path for a hundred and fifty through them. The battle continued in a series of combats and duels, till in the space of one day great numbers were destroyed. A duel took place between Aidleo of the Tuatha Dé and Nertchu of the Fir Bolg. The glued seams of their shields were torn, their swords wrenched from their hilts, and the rivets of their spears loosened. Aidleo fell at the hands of Nertchu.

37. By the close of the day the Tuatha Dé were defeated and returned to their camp. The Fir Bolg did not pursue them across the battlefield, but returned in good spirits to their own camp. They each brought with them into the presence of their king a stone and a head, and made a great cairn of them. The Tuatha Dé set up a stone pillar called the Pillar of Aidleo, after the first of them to be killed. Their physicians then assembled. The Fir Bolg too had their physicians brought to them. They brought healing herbs with them, and crushed and scattered them on the surface of the water in the well, so that the precious healing waters became thick and green. Their wounded were put into the well, and immediately came out whole.

38. Next morning Eochaid, the High-king, went to the well all alone to wash his hands. As he was doing so, he saw above him three handsome, haughty armed men. They challenged him to combat. ‘Give me time,’ said the king, ‘to go to fetch my weapons.’ ‘We will allow not a moment’s delay for that; the combat must be now.’ While the king was in this difficulty, a young active man appeared between him and his enemies, and turning to the latter, said: ‘You shall have combat from me in place of the king.’ They raised their hands simultaneously, and fought till all four fell together. The Fir Bolg came up after the struggle was over. They saw the dead men, and the king told them how they had come upon him, and how the solitary champion had fought with them in his stead. The Fir Bolg brought each man a stone to the well for him, and built a great cairn over him. The Champion’s Cairn is the name of the cairn, and the hill is called the Hill of the Three. The strangers were Oll, Forus, and Fir, three physicians, brothers of Diancecht, and they had come to spy upon the physicians of the Fir Bolg, when they came upon Eochaid alone washing his face.

39. The battalions of the Tuatha Dé were straightway drawn up in the plain to the east; and the Fir Bolg came into the plain against them from the west. The chiefs who went out in front of the Tuatha Dé on that day were Ogma, Midir, Bodb Derg, Diancecht, and Aengaba of Norway. The women, Badb, Macha, Morrigan and Danann offered to accompany them. Against them came of the Fir Bolg, Mella, Ese, Ferb, and Faebur, all sons of Slainge. Strong, mighty blows were dealt by the battalions on either side, and the bosses of shields were broken as they vigorously parried the blows, while the men-at-arms showed their fury, and the warriors their courage. Their spears were twisted by the continual smiting; in the hand-to-hand combats the swords broke on splintered bones; the fearsome battle-cries of the veterans were drowned in the multitude of shouts.

Briskly the young men turned about for the number of the exploits around them on every side. The warriors blenched at the clashing of swords, at the height of the heaving, and the fury of the fall. Well-timed was the warding there, and gallant the guarding, and rapid the rending blows. Nemed, Badrai’s son, approached the flank of the Fir Bolg. Then men closed round him, and in the conflict Eochaid’s son, Slainge the Fair, made towards him. The two warriors attacked each other. There was straining of spears and shivering of swords and shattering of shields and battering of bodies. However, Nemed fell at the hands of Slainge; they dug his grave and erected a pillar for him, and the Stone of Nemed is its name to this day. Four sons of Slainge, son of Dela, urged the fight against the Tuatha Dé. On the side of the Tuatha Dé the four sons of Cencal battled with them. They harassed each other till the sons of Cencal fell before the sons of Slainge. The latter were then set on by the five sons of Lodan the Swift, and the five sons of Lodan fell at their hands. Aengaba of Norway began to mow down the enemy and confuse their ranks. Ruad heard this, and rushed into the fray. The three sons of Dolad met him, and he wreaked his anger on them and they fell before him. From another quarter of the battle the three sons of Telle met him, and were slain by him in the same way. Lamh Redolam and Cosar Conaire were killed by Slainge the Fair by the side of the lake. Of those seventeen the gravestones were planted by the side of the lake, for they had been driven back as far as the lake.

40. Ruad and Aengaba of Norway met; they raised their shields against each other, and kept wounding each other till Aengaba had twenty-four wounds inflicted on him by Ruad. In the end Ruad cut off his head,’ and after that went on fighting till nightfall.

41. Ogma, son of Ethliu, made an attack on the host, and his track was marked by pools of crimson blood. From the east side Cirb entered the fray and made an onslaught on the hosts, and three hundred of the Tuatha Dé fell before him.

42. When night fell the Fir Bolg were driven across the battlefield. However, they brought each a head and a stone to Eochaid their king. ‘Is it you that have been beaten today?’ said the king. ‘Yes,’ said Cirb; ‘but that will not profit them.’

43. Next day it was the turn of Sreng, Semne, and Sithbrug, along with Cirb, to lead the Fir Bolg. They rose early in the morning. A flashing penthouse of shields and a thick forest of javelins they made over them, and the battle-props then moved forward. The Tuatha Dé saw the Fir Bolg approaching them in that fashion across the plain from the east. ‘With how much pomp,’ they said, ‘do those battle-props enter the plain and draw towards us.’ And it was then that the plain got its name of Mag Tured, the Plain of Props.

44. The Tuatha Dé asked who should lead them on that day. ‘I will,’ said the Dagda, ‘for in me you have an excellent god;’ and, thereupon, he went forth with his sons and brothers. The Fir Bolg had firmly stationed their props and columns, and marshalled their battalions on the level of Mag Nia (which, henceforth, was called Mag Tured, the Plain of Props). Each side then sprang at the other. Sreng, son of Sengann, began to dislodge the hosts of the enemy. The Dagda set to breaking the battalions and harrying the hosts and dislodging divisions and forcing them from their positions. Cirb, son of Buan, entered the fray from the east and slaughtered brave men and spirited soldiers. The Dagda heard Cirb’s onset, and Cirb heard the Dagda’s battering blows. They sprang each at the other. Furious was the fight as the good swords fenced, heroic the heroes as they steadied the infantry, and answered the onslaughts. At last Cirb fell before the Dagda’s battering blows.

Sreng, Sengann’s son, was pressing back the hosts from their places when he came on three sons of Cairbre Cas of the Tuatha Dé, and the three sons of Ordan. Cairbre’s sons with their three columns fell before the sons of Ordan, as Sreng drove in the hosts. The enemy fell before him on every side, and the fury of the combat grew behind hint

45. After the fall of Cirb the Fir Bolg were driven into their camp. The Tuatha Dé did not pursue them across the battlefield, but they took with them a head and a stone pillar apiece including the head of Cirb, which was buried in the Cairn of Cirb’s Head.

46. The Fir Bolg were neither happy nor cheerful that night, and as for the Tuatha Dé, they were sad and dispirited. But during the same night Fintan came with his sons to join the Fir Bolg, and this made them all glad, for valiant were both he and they.

47. In this cheerful mood the morning found them. The signals of their chiefs roused them on the spacious slopes of their camping-ground, and they began to hearten each other to meet danger and peril. Eochaid, the High-king, with his son, Slainge the Fair, and the soldiers and chiefs of Connaught, came forth to join them. Sengann’s three sons with the hosts of Curoi’s province, took their place at one side of the line. The four sons of Gann with the warriors of Eochaid’s province marched to the centre of the same army. Buan’s sons Esca and Egconn ranged themselves with the men of Conchobar’s province on the other wing. The four sons of Slainge with the host of the Gaileoin brought up the rear of the army. Round Eochaid, the High-king, they made a fold of valour of battle-scarred, blood-becrimsoned braves, and juggling jousters, and the world’s trustiest troops. The thirteen sons of Fintan, men proven in courageous endurance of conflict, were brought to where the king was. A flaming mass was the battle on that day, full of changing colours, many feats and gory hands, of sword-play and single combats, of spears and cruel swords and javelins; fierce it was and pitiless and terrible, hard-packed and close-knit, furious and far-flung, ebbing and flowing with many adventures. The Fir Bolg, in the order told, marched boldly and victoriously straight westwards to the end of Mag Tured till they came to the firm pillars and props of valour between themselves and the Tuatha Dé. The passionate Tuatha Dé made an impetuous, furious charge in close-knit companies with their venomous weapons; and they formed one mighty gory phalanx under the shelter of red-rimmed, emblazoned, plated, strong shields. The warriors began the conflict. The flanks and the wings of the van were filled with grey-haired veterans swift to wound; aged men were stationed to assist and attend on the movements of those veterans; and next to those steady, venomous fighters were placed young men under arms. The champions and serving men were posted in the rear of the youths. Their seers and wise men stationed themselves on pillars and points of vantage, plying their sorcery, while the poets took count of the feats and wrote down tales of them. As for Nuada, he was in the centre of the fight. Round him gathered his princes and supporting warriors, with the twelve sons of Gabran from Scythia, his body-guard. They were Tolc, Trenfer, Trenmiled, Garb, Glacedh, Gruasailt Duirdri, Fonnam, Foirisem, Teidm, Tinnargain and Tescad. He would have no joy of life on whom they made a gory wound. (‘Twas they that killed the sons of Fintan, and the sons of Fintan killed them.) Thus they delivered their assault after fastening their bodies to rough-edged stones with clasps of iron; and made their way to the place appointed for the battle. At that moment Fathach, the poet of the Fir Bolg, came to his own pillar, and as he surveyed the armies to the east and west, said:

‘Swiftly advance the hosts marshalling on Mag Nia their resistless might; ‘tis the Tuatha Dé that advance and the Fir Bolg of the speckled swords.

‘Methinks the Fir Boig will lose some of their brothers there—many will be the bodies and heads and gashed flanks on the plain.

‘But though they fall on every side (?), fierce and keen will be their onset; though they fall, they will make others to fall, and heroes will be laid low by their impetuous valour.

‘Thou hast subdued (?) the Fir Bolg; they will fall there by the side of their shields and their blades; I will not trust to the strength of any one so long as I shall be in stormy Ireland.

I am Fathach, the poet; strongly has sorrow vanquished me, and now, that the Fir Bolg are gone, I shall surrender to the swift advance of disaster.’

48. The furies and monsters and hags of doom cried aloud so that their voices were heard in the rocks ‘and waterfalls and in the hollows of the earth. It was like the fearful agonising cry on the last dreadful day when the human race will part from all in this world. In the van of the Tuatha Dé advanced the Dagda, Ogma, Alla, Bres, and Delbaeth, the five sons of Elatha, together with Bres, grandson of Net, the Fomorian, Aengus, Aed, Cermad the Fair, Midir, Bodb Derg, Sigmall Abartach, Nuada the High-king, Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba, the three sons of Turenn Bigrenn, Cu, Cian and Cethenn, the three sons of Cainte, Goibnenn the Smith, Lucraidh the Joiner, Credne the Craftsman, Diancecht the Physician, Aengaba of Norway, the three queens, Ere, Fotla and Banba, and the three sorceresses, Badb, Macha and Morrigan, with Bechuille and Danann their two foster-mothers. They fixed their pillars in the ground to prevent any one fleeing till the stones should flee. They lunged at each other with their keen sharp spears, till the stout shafts were twisted through the quivering of the victims on their points. The edges of the swords turned on the lime-covered shields. The curved blades were tempered in boiling pools of blood in the thighs of warriors. Loud was the singing of the lances as they cleft the shields, loud the noise and din of the fighters as they battered bodies and broke bones in the rear. Boiling streams of blood took the sight from the grey eyes of resolute warriors. It was then that Bres made an onset on the Fir Bolg army, and killed one hundred and fifty of them. He struck nine blows on the shield of Eochaid the High-king, and Eochaid, in his turn, dealt him nine wounds. Sengann’s son, Sreng, turned his face to the army of the Tuatha Dé, and slew one hundred and fifty of them. He struck nine blows on the shield of the High-king Nuada, and Nuada dealt him nine wounds.

Each dealt dire blows of doom, making great gory wounds on the flesh of the other, till under their grooved blades shields and spears, heads and helmets broke like the brittle branches hacked with hatchets wielded by the stout arms of woodsmen. Heroes swayed to this side and that, each circling the other as they sought opportunity for a blow. The battle champions rose again over the rims of their emblazoned shields. Their courage grew, and the valiant virulent men became steadfast as an arch. Their hands shot up with their swords, and they fenced swiftly about the heads of warriors, hacking their helmets. For a moment they thrust back the ranks of the enemy from their places, and at the sight of them the hosts wavered like the water flung far over its sides by a kettle through excess of boiling, or the flood that, like a water-fall, an army splashes up over a river’s banks, making it passable for their troops behind them. So a suitable space was cleared for the chiefs; the heroes yielded them their places, and agile combatants their stations; warriors were dislodged by them, and the serving-men fled for horror of them. To them was left the battle. Heavily the earth was trodden under their feet till the hard turf grew soft beneath them. Each of them inflicted thirty wounds on the other. Sreng dealt a blow with his sword at Nuada, and, cutting away the rim of his shield, severed his right arm at the shoulder; and the king’s arm with a third of his shield fell to the ground. It was then that the High-king called aloud for help, and Aengaba of Norway, hearing him, entered the fray to protect him. Fierce and furious was the attack Aengaba and Sreng made on each other. Each inflicted on his opponent an equal number of wounds, but they were not comparable as an exchange, for the broad blade of Sreng’s lance and his stout spear-shaft dealt deeper, deadlier sounds. As soon as the Dagda heard the music of the swords in the battle-stress, he hastened to the place of conflict with deliberate bounds, like the rush of a great waterfall. Sreng declined a contest with the two warriors; and though Aengaba of Norway did not fall there, it was from the violence of that conflict that he afterwards died. The Dagda came and stood over Nuada, and, after the Tuatha Dé had taken counsel, he brought fifty soldiers, with their physicians. They carried Nuada from the field. His hand was raised in the king’s stead on the fold of valour, a fold of stones surrounding the king,’ and on it the blood of Nuada’s hand trickled.

49. The Tuatha Dé maintained the conflict keenly and stoutly, after their king was gone. Bres made his way into the ranks of the Fir Bolg to avenge his king, and came to the spot where Eochaid was urging the battle, and fortifying his fighters and exhorting his heroes and encouraging his captains and arranging his combats. Each of them then made for his opponent, and wounds were inflicted where they were undefended. Before the fierceness of their fury and the weight of their blows, soldiers were thrown into confusion. At last Bres was slain by Eochaid; and the Dagda, Ogma, Alla and Delbaeth attacked the latter to avenge their brother. Eochaid was urging the fight, collecting and encouraging his captains, making close and compact the ranks of the soldiery, holding his fighting men firm and steadfast. The four brothers, in their search for Eochaid, drove the hosts before them to the place where they heard him urging the fight. Mella, Ese, Ferb and Faebur, sons of Slainge, met them and each struck at the other’s shield. Their swords clashed and the conflict grew, and the edges of the curved blades cut gory wounds. The four sons of Slainge fell before the other four; and the Gravestones of Slainge’s sons is the name of the place where they were buried. The four sons of Gann then entered the fray. Against them advanced Goibnenn the Smith, Lucraid the Joiner, Dian Cecht and Aengaba of Norway. Horrible was the noise made by the deadly weapons in the champions’ hands. Those combatants maintained the fight till the four sons of Gann were slain; and the Mound of the Sons of Gann is the name of the place where they were buried.

50. Bedg, Redg and Rinne, the three sons of Ordan, set on the Tuatha Dé, and the ranks shook before their onset. The three sons of Cainte met them, but they wearied of the fray; and the Mound of the Wizards is the place where they were buried.

51. Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba, the three sons of Turenn Bigrenn, set on the Fir Bolg host. They were opposed by two sons of Buan, and Cairbre son of Den. The sons of Buan were overcome by the sons of Turenn Bigrenn, and the Gravestones of Buan are the gravestones that cover them, and Cairbre’s tomb is beside the gravestones.

52. Eochaid and his son, Slainge the Fair, now joined in the fray, and destroyed innumerable companies of the Tuatha Dé. ‘Our best men,’ said Eochaid, ‘have been destroyed, our people slaughtered, and it befits us to acquit us valorously.’ So they made their way across the battlefield once again, and mowed down men and slaughtered soldiers and hacked hosts, and confused the ranks with their onsets. After this long-continued effort Eochaid was overcome by great weariness and excess of thirst. ‘Bring Sreng to me,’ he said. That was done. ‘You and Slainge the Fair,’ said Eochaid, ‘must maintain the fight till I go in search of a drink, and to bathe my face, for I cannot endure this consuming thirst.’ ‘It shall be maintained right well,’ said Slainge, ‘though we are but few to wage it in your absence.’ Eochaid then went out of the battle with a guard of one hundred of his soldiers. The Tuatha Dé followed them, and shouted at them.

53. But Slainge the Fair advanced to meet the host, and offered them battle, and prevented them from following the High-king. He was attacked by powerful Lugaid, son of Nuada, and the two fought a cruel, fierce, strenuous fight, in which there were wounds and bruises and gory gashing. As soon as the rest saw that Slainge was prevailing they gave their support to Lugaid. Lugaid and Slainge fell together; and Lugaid’s Grave is the place where Lugaid was buried, and Slainge’s Mound the mound where they buried Slainge.

54. When the Tuatha Dé wizards saw how the king of Ireland was suffering from a burning thirst, they hid from him all the streams and rivers of Ireland till he came to the strand of Eothail. Three sons of Nemed, son of Badrai, followed him, with a hundred and fifty men. They fought on the strand, and a number fell on either side. Eochaid and the sons of Nemed met in combat. Venomous in battle were the sons of Nemed, and tried in fighting against odds was Eochaid. They fought till their bodies were torn and their chests cut open with the mighty onslaughts. Irresistible was the king’s onset as he ceaselessly cut down his opponents, till he and the three sons of Nemed fell. Eochaid’s Cairn is the cairn where Eochaid was buried (it is also called the Cairn of Eothail), and the Gravestones of the Sons of Nemed are at the western end of the strand.

55. As for Sreng, son of Sengann, he continued fighting for a day and a night after his fellows, till in the end neither side was capable of attacking the other. Their swift blows had grown feeble through all the slaughter and their spirits had fallen through all their ills, and their courage faint through the vastness of their disasters; and so they parted. The Tuatha Dé retired to the fastness of Cenn Slebe and to the sloping Glen of Blood, and to the Mound of Tears. There the Dagda said:

‘Soldiers slain without measure, many a wound on heroes; cruel swords have torn your bodies. The Fir Bolg have overcome you (?) . . . about their lands.’

56. ‘What have been your losses in this last battle?’ said Nuada to the Dagda. The Dagda told him in these words:

‘I will tell, noble Nuada, the tales of the dread battle, and, after that, its calamities and disasters I will tell, O son of Echtach.

‘In it fell our nobles before the violence of the Fir Bolg; so great are our losses that few know of them.

‘Bres, son of Elatha, a warrior like a tower, attacked the ranks of the Fir Bolg, a glorious fight, and killed one hundred and fifty of them.

‘He dealt nine blows—savage was the deed—on the broad shield of Eochaid, and Eochaid dealt Bres nine blows.

‘Huge Sreng came and slew three hundred of our host. He dealt nine blows on your shield, Nuada,

‘You, Nuada, coolly dealt Sreng nine mighty blows, but Sreng cut off your right arm, impetuous hero, at the shoulder.

‘You raised a loud cry for help, and he of Norway came up. Sreng and Aengaba fought with a will a well-contested fight of clashing weapons.

‘As Aengaba cried for help, I came up speedily; when I arrived, still unweary, Sreng refused a contest with both of us.

‘Mella, Ese, Ferb and blood-red Faebur fell before us in the same battle.

‘The four sons of Gann fell at the hands of Goibnenn the Smith, of Aengaba of the exploits, of Lucraidh and of Diancecht.

‘Bedg and Rinde and Redg, the three Sons of Ordan of the crafts, were slain surely by the fair sons of Cainte.

‘Eochaid and his son, Slainge the Fair, slew in the battle a great number of the heroes of the Tuatha Dé.

‘In the battle thirst overcame king Eochaid, and he got not the draught he sought till he came to the Strand of Eothail.

‘The three sons of Nemid overtook him on the silent strand, and there they fought till they all fell together.

‘Lugaid, Nuada’s son, methinks, was slain by Slainge the Fair; and Slainge, though so fierce before, was killed in fighting with the Tuatha Dé.

‘Brian, Iucharba and Iuchar, the three sons of Turenu Bigrenn, slew Esca and Econn and Airbe.

‘After that ‘twas Sreng that ruled the fight—and many were those that changed colour—for three days, but neither he nor we turned in the struggle.

‘Weary were we now on either side, and we resolved to separate. Each man’s combats, as I heard, so shall I exactly tell of.’

57. Sad and weary, wounded and full of heavy reproaches were the Fir Bolg that night. Each one buried his kinsfolk and relatives, his friends and familiars and foster-brothers; and then were raised mounds over the brave men, and gravestones over the warriors, and tombs over the soldiers, and hills over the heroes, After that Sreng, Semne and Sithbrug, the sons of Sengann, called a meeting for council and deliberation to which three hundred assembled. They considered what it was their interest to do, whether they should leave Ireland, or offer regular battle, or undertake to share the land with the Tuatha Dé. They decided to offer the Tuatha Dé battle, and Sreng said:

‘Resistance is destruction for men; we resolutely gave battle; there was clashing of hard swords; the strong plying of spears on the sides of noble warriors, and the breaking of buckler on shield; full of trouble are. the plains of Ireland; disaster we found about its woods, the loss of many good men.’

58. They took up their strong, hooked shields, their venomous spears and their sharp swords with blue blades. Thus equipped they made a keen, murderous charge, a wild fiery company, with their spears close-pressed in the onset, cutting their way in a flaming fire of fury to meet any hardship and any tribulation. It was then that Sreng challenged Nuada to single combat, as they had fought in the previous battle. Nuada faced him bravely and boldly as if he had been whole, and said: ‘If single combat on fair terms be what you seek, fasten your right hand, as I have lost mine; only so can our combat be fair.’ ‘If you have lost your hand, that lays me under no obligations,’ said Sreng, ‘for our first combat was on fair terms. We ourselves so took up the quarrel.’ The Tuatha Dé took counsel, and their decision was to offer Sreng his choice of the provinces of Ireland, while a compact of peace, goodwill, and friendship should be made between the two peoples. And so they make peace, and Sreng chooses the province of Connacht. The Fir Bolg gathered round him from every side, and stubbornly and triumphantly’ took possession of the province against the Tuatha Dé. The Tuatha Dé made Bres their king, and he was High-king for seven years. He died after taking a drink while hunting in Sliab Gam, and Nuada, his missing hand having been replaced, became king of Ireland. And that is the story of the battle of Mag Tured Cunga.

This was written in the Plain of Eithne, the Goblin’s daughter, by Cormac O’Cuirnin for his companion Sean O’Glaimhmn. Painful to us is his deserting us when he goes from us on a journey.

— The First Battle Of Moytura ends —

Táin Bó Cúailgne – Cattle Raid of Cooley: A Beginner’s Guide

Rathcroghan Crúachan JG O'Donoghue Illustration - Commissioned by Roscommon County Council

Ever wonder what is the Táin Bó Cúailgne? Or how to pronounce Táin Bó Cúailnge?! Here’s your guide, covering: a summary of the main storyline; the manuscript sources and recensions or versions it was recorded in; and even an audio reading so you can follow along!

I’ve written a review of the Táin before, here, or at least of one version of it.

When you’re a beginner though, it can be a little difficult to get your head around everything from the Táin Bó Cuilnge pronunciation, to the characters, to the locations and the action.

This is, after all, Ireland’s epic legendary tale, telling of the raiding of Ulster by the Connacht Queen Medb and a host of men and women from all over the island, to secure the Donn Cuailnge bull – which was the only match to her husband’s mighty Finnbhennach.

It is a long, long story, populated by many well known names of Irish mythology such as The Mórrígan, CúChulainn, Fergus Mac Roich, and of course Queen Medb and her husband Aillil.

The Cattle Raid of Cooley – Summary:

Medb and Ailill had a disagreement one night (the Pillow Talk) as to who had the most wealth, due to him presuming that he was keeping her in a grand style – even with her being the original Queen of Connacht.

After rousing the household and counting it all, it was found they had an equal amount, except for Ailill having the white bull Finnbhennach (who had originally been in her herds, but decided he didn’t want to be kept by a woman, so the story goes).

Medb was a bit pissed off at this, on account of it changing the power dynamic in their relationship, according to Irish law and custom.

She sent envoys around Ireland looking for an equal or better bull, and found the match of him – the Donn Cuailnge on the peninsula of Cooley, in County Louth.

Then, her envoys messed up the treaty talks with the bull’s owner Dáire Mac Fiachna and put her in the position of having to go raid the bull.

Though she was warned against it by Fedelm the Prophetess, Medb was committed by then. She gathered an army from all the men of Ireland, and travelled from Cruachán in County Roscommon (Connacht), across counties Westmeath and Meath in the central province (Midhe), and on to County Louth in Ulster.

All along the journey (the Táin Trail) CúChulainn was trying to stop them – him being the only Ulster ‘man’ who was available, on account of the Curse of Macha. The majority of the action in the Táin Bó Cúailnge is fights between this boy, and various heroes that Medb has to send against him.

The Mórrígan makes a fair few appearances, as do her sisters, as there’s a lot of Otherworldly elements to the whole tale, and of course they’d be in the thick of all that.

Eventually, the brown bull of Cooley was located and taken back to Connacht, the two bulls fought each other from Rath na dTairbh at Cruachán, following a similar route as the Táin had taken.

Finnbhenach (the white bull) was killed, but the brown bull died too from the strain of it all, once he reached his home in Cúailnge.

The Táin Bó Cúailnge – Sources

Manuscripts

Recension I:

 Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1318  cols 573–958 = section of the Yellow Book of Lecan [s. xivex/xvin]  pp. 17a–53a (facsimile) cols 573–644 Beginning missing.

 Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 E 25 (1229) = Lebor na hUidre [s. xi/xii]  ff. 55a–82b Interpolated by H. End missing.

 London, British Library, MS Egerton 1782 [1516-1518]  ff. 88r–105v Interpolated. End missing.

 Maynooth, Russell Library, MS C 1 [1587]  pp. 1–76 Interpolated. Beginning and end missing.

Recension II:

 Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1339 (H 2. 18) = Book of Leinster [s. xii2]  ff. 53b–104b

 Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS C vi 3 (740) [s. xvii]  ff. 28ra–65vb

Recension III (Early Modern Irish version):

 London, British Library, MS Egerton 93 [s. xv (?)]  ff. 26r–35v. Fragment.

 Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1319 (H 2. 17) [various]  pp. 336–347, 334–335, 111–114, 348–349, 115–118, 350–351 Fragment.

Language

  • Old Irish, Middle Irish, Early Modern Irish
  • Old Irish and Middle Irish; Early Modern Irish (Recension III)

Form – prose (primary), verse (secondary)

Definitely check out: James P. Mallory, ‘Táin bó Cúailnge: an outline of the plot’ in Aspects of the Táin (1992). If you can find a copy!

Source: CODECS main entry – here.

A Reading of the Táin

Want to hear the pronunciation? Go on a journey through the ancient Irish lore with me?

I’ll be adding episodes as often as possible to the playlist over on my YouTube Channel.

See the Playlist: Táin Bó Cúailgne – Cattle Raid of Cooley – A Reading with Lora O’Brien

I’ll be reading from the English translation by Joseph Dunn (1914) with the Irish transcription of Ernst Windisch (1905) on screen side by side. If you want to get started yourself, you can find that here.

Make sure to Join the Mailing List and Subscribe to the YouTube channel so you don’t miss an episode!

Main Rathcroghan Image by JG O’Donoghue

The Mórrígan’s Children

The Mórrígan's Children Meche Snake Serpent

Does the Goddess Mórrígan have any children, and who are they, exactly?

This post started originally with an interesting discussion in our office, at Irish Pagan School / Eel & Otter Press HQ.

My partner, An Scéalaí Beag, believes that Brighid is not only the daughter of his boss, the Dagda, but also of my boss, the Mórrígan.

I disagree.

(There is no evidence for either position, it must be noted.)

Brighid is pretty definitively a daughter of the Dagda, but there’s nothing to say or indicate that her mother is the Mórrígan, besides the relationship between that pair, that I am aware of.

But he has plenty of kids with other people, so… it is purely a matter of speculation and opinion.

I have my reasons for what I believe, and he has his, so we’ve respectfully agreed to disagree.

No really. There was none of this…

Fighting over the Mórrígan's Children - but not
Image shows a side by side of the 2 lads from the American Chopper meme, shouting at each other.

More recently, I decided to finish my draft post on ‘The Mórrígan’s Children’, due to the question from community member Nora, as part of my November Q&A for the Mórrígan series…

“I’ve been watching your series on the Morrigan, and a question has been coming up for me—does the Morrigan herself have any children? I’ve read that Brigid is a daughter of the Dagda, but haven’t found any information on who Brigid’s mother is. And I also read on Samhain about the consummation of the Dagda and the Morrigan. I presume Brigid is not daughter of the Morrigan—at least I don’t get that sense. But still it raised the question for me as to whether or not there is a lineage descended from the Morrigan.”

It seemed to warrant a more involved citation-rich answer than I can really give on YouTube (you can find the rest of the Q&A videos on my Mórrígan Playlist Here though).

Does the Goddess Mórrígan have any Children, according to the lore?

The short answer is, Yes.

But it’s not quite that simple.

First, let’s give a brief mention to the daughter of the Badb (Badbh) – who in turn is referred to as the ‘daughter of Cailitín’ (a dead Druid).

This reference to the Badb having a daughter is a complicated meandering tale presented in a later version of the Oidheadh Con Culainn – ‘The death of Cú Chulainn’, and to my mind the daughter of Badb here seems to be a mortal witch/priest of the Badb, OR possible a Sidhe of the ‘Washer at the Ford’ type.

“Do you see, Little Hound,” asked Cathbad, “Badb’s daughter yonder, washing your spoils and armour? Mournfully, ever-sorrowfully she executes and tells of your fall, when she signifies your defeat before Medb’s great host and the sorcery of the children of Cailitín.”

[Van Hamel, 1933]

This is not to be mixed up with the Badb in her role AS ‘The Washer at the Ford’ – as seen here.

The whole confusion between the roles/function of the Mórrígan and the Sisters, and the actual people – or Sidhe entities – who embody those roles in Irish tradition and folklore, is definitely a story for another day.

We’ll also put aside, for now, the stories of Macha – who most definitely has children (twins, at least)… but is not the Mórrígan.

Méche, Son of the Mórrígan?

This is the most commonly known example of the Mórrígan having children, so we’ll start here.

Berba (Poem 13)
The Barrow, enduring its silence,
that flows through the folk of old Ailbe;
a labour it is to learn the cause whence is called
Barrow, flower of all famous names.
No motion in it made
the ashes of Mechi the strongly smitten:
the stream made sodden and silent past recovery
the fell filth of the old serpent.
Three turns the serpent made;
it sought out the soldier to consume him;
it would have wasted by its nature all the kine
of the indolent hosts of ancient Erin.
Therefore Diancecht slew it:
there was rude reason for clean destroying it,
for preventing it for ever from wasting
above every resort, from consuming utterly.
Known to me is its grave where he cast it,
a tomb without walls or roof-tree;
its evil ashes,–no ornament to the region
found silent burial in noble Barrow.
(The Metrical Dindshenchas)

No mention of the Mórrígan there, or of Meche (Mechi) being one of her children.

She is specifically mentioned in the Bodleian Dindshenchas version though:

“Berba — into it the three snakes which were in the heart of Méche, son of the Mórrígan, were cast, after he was killed by Mac Cecht in Mag Méchi.”

[ Stokes, 1892]

The origin story of the River Barrow (Berba) mentions Méche also in the Rennes Dindshenchas, and in Acallam na Senórach – ‘The Dialogue of the Ancients’.

Nowhere (that has survived) does it tell a story of Méche’s conception, or birth, or father, or any other relationship or interaction with the Mórrígan.

Daughter of Delbaeth

Ah, the oul incest addition. Sure it wouldn’t be a proper ancient tale without it, now would it?

In Lebor Gabála Érenn, we see the Mórrígan as a Daughter of Ernmas (her Mother, by the way, not Father as most folk first presume).

Her father is Delbaeth, who is also the father of some sons; including 3 boys named Brian, Iucharba, Iuchair.

This manuscript has many different versions though, called Redactions or Recensions, with different versions of who – exactly – the Daughters of Ernmas are.

And it’s not until Redaction 3 (Recension C) that we see those 3 boys as the Mórrígan’s children, by her own father.

“The Mórrígan, daughter of Delbaeth, was the mother of the other sons of Delbaeth, that is, Brian, Iucharba, and Iuchair…”.

Macalister, R. A. S., Lebor gabála Érenn: The book of the taking of Ireland, 5 vols, Irish Texts Society 34, 35, 39, 41, 44, Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1932–1942.

Also in Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Mórrígan’s name is given as Anand – though she is also named as one of the Sisters – and Anand is given as the mother to 3 other sons: Glon, Gaim, and Coscar.

The Mórrígan’s Children in the Tuatha Dé Danann

We’ve mentioned the text Acallam na Senórach, and in it we see a lad who’s hosting Fionn in an Otherworldly mound talk about how his household defends themselves each year, from those of the Tuatha Dé Danann who come to dig up their Sidhe (referring to the mound itself, in this case).

Included in the host who came against them were:

“The children of the Mórrígan daughter of Ernmas, with her twenty-six female warriors and her twenty-six male warriors.”

[Stokes, 1900]

The Irish text says ‘Clann na Morrigna’ though, and while this is most often translated as ‘The Morrigan’s Children’, it technically means her family, but this phrasing was also used to indicate a warband.

The Mysterious Adair

(Huge thanks, as ever, to Morgan Daimler for helping me track down the source of this – go support their excellent work on Patreon!)

You’ll see multiple places online mentioning a daughter of the Dagda and the Mórrígan – Adair – as if they know what they’re on about… but I couldn’t for the life of me track down the source for this.

Until I went to the one person I’d seen mention it who definitely knows what they’re on about – Daimler.

They helpfully pointed me to the “index to persons” of the Cath Maige Tuired and provided a picture (thumb is Morgan’s own):

Gray, E. (1983) Cath Maige Tuired. Published by the Irish texts Society.

The reference reads: “The Morrigans daughter Adair (by the Dagda) is said to have been the wife of Eber in the glosses to the forty questions of Eochaid Úa Cérín, edited and translated by Thurneysen, ZCP 13 (1919), 133.”

Now, if anyone has access to a translated copy of the forty questions of Eochaid Úa Cérín, including the glosses… please comment below?!

Are all of those really the Mórrígan’s Children?

So, imagine me, and every other Mórrígan scholar I know, sort of shrugging at this point – if you want a definitive answer.

Yes, the lore says she has multiple children.

Are they children or descendants in the usual sense? No, not really.

Is it possible that she is metaphorically, or symbolically, their ‘mother’? Yes, that’s likely.

‘The Mórrígan’ in the lore is often used as a title, role, or attribute to indicate anything bad, demonic (to the minds of the writers), or scary.

None of these references may actually refer to direct line descendants of the Mórrígan at all, but rather to people or entities who are aligned with what the Mórrígan represented – either in the society at the time of the stories, or in the minds of the authors who later wrote them down.

Hopefully that clears things up… somewhat, at least?!

(If you have any questions, please join the mailing list below for your best chance of a direct response on the blog or on my YouTube… my Q&A list is HUGE now. Comments below are also welcome!)

The Mórrígan – A Month of Questions and Answers

The Mórrígan and Sushi

Funny story about the Mórrígan.

On Sunday 13th October, I was in Dublin presenting at Octocon – ​The National Irish Science Fiction Convention. 

(Details for 2020 are here, by the way – https://2019.octocon.com/2019/10/14/octocon-returns-in-2020/​)

It was a lovely day, filled with lovely people… and a small* amount of wine was consumed. By me. 

AFTER the event (and some more wine), we decided to go for dinner with some lovely friends. We decided on Sushi, because, my friends, I am all about the sushi. Just give me all of the sushi, all of the time. 

The Mórrígan and Eels

As we walked to dinner, the hunger came upon me, for a type of Sushi that has been made clear to me, by Herself (the Mórrígan), that I am not to have. Or at least, I am not to take lightly. But I love it the very best, of all the sushi. 

That is, Unagi.​

Yes, you guessed it. I am spiritually restricted from eating an Eel.

It’s not a ban, exactly. It’s not a ‘never ever’ geis, a taboo, a prohibition. But it is to be taken seriously. 

There’s been a few times where I’ve really wanted it, and the contractual price in return just… wasn’t worth it. 

Well. 

Wine-imbibing Lora decided that eel was on the menu, that night, and consequences be damned. 

No, I didn’t just go ahead and eat it and expect to pay the price – I was tipsy not brain damaged. I did what any reasonable person would do… I went into the restaurant bathroom and had a conversation with a Goddess. 

The upshot of all this was… 

I got my lovely unagi nagiri. 

The Mórrígan’s Price

I agreed to produce a YouTube Video or a blog post EVERY DAY in November, especially answering any Questions about working with Herself or the Sisters that our community would like to throw my way. 

So, if you have any Mórrígan questions, comment below and ask. 

I know some of you are laughing at me right now. I probably deserve that 🤷‍♀️

You can follow along on the Mórrigan Playlist at YouTube… Subscribe to my Channel here – https://www.youtube.com/user/loraobr​ – and hit the bell for notifications so you don’t miss any content updates.

Add this blog to your RSS feed service so you don’t miss any content here either!

And of course I’ll be emailing ye through the mailing list as we go. (Make sure you’re a member, sign up is below!)

Slán go fóill

Lora 💚

*I say a small amount… I’m very tall. Proportionally, the wine volume was small compared to my tall. My blood alcohol levels on the day may not have agreed with this analysis logic, but whatever.

The Badb in Bruiden Da Choca

Badb in Da Coca’s Hostel

Bruiden Da Choca, ‘Da Coca’s Hostel’, is known also as Togail Bruidne Da Choca(e) (‘The destruction of Da Coca’s Hostel’), and is one of the many Badb or Mórrígna stories often quoted or referred to, but rarely read or studied.

Let’s change that?

It is available online, though only in a translation by Whitley Stokes, unfortunately, who is not my favourite scholar by any means.

The Summary on CODECS reads:

After the death of Conchobar, the Ulaid debate who to give the kingship to, and decide on Conchobar’s son, Cormac Cond Longas, who is in exile in Connacht. They send envoys, and Ailill and Medb agree to allow Cormac to take up the kingship. He sets out with a retinue, but Craiphtine the harper, whose wife has slept with Cormac, causes Cormac to break his gessa on the journey. Cormac encounters the Badb in the form of an old woman washing a bloody chariot at the ford. A party of Connachta encounter Cormac’s party. They fight several battles, and heroes on both sides are killed. Cormac’s party spend the night at Da Coca’s hostel, which comes under siege by the Connachta, and Cormac is killed, along with nearly everybody on both sides.

https://www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Bruiden_Da_Choca

The bit with the Badb is what we’ll be looking at here today, though the rest is also quite fascinating with regard to the Ulster Cycle as a whole, and Queen Medb of Connacht in particular.

Badb as the Washer at the Ford

This is the excerpt that is pictured above, and appears on Page 157 of the Revue Celtique text that can be found here:

“Thence they went to Druim Airthir, which is now called The Garman, on the brink of Athlone. Then they unyoke their chariots. As they were there they saw a red woman on the edge of the ford, washing her chariot and its cushions and its harness. When she lowered her hand, the bed of the river became red with gore and with blood. But when she raised her hand over the river’s edge, not a drop therein but was lifted on high; so that they went dryfoot over the bed of the river.”

I was curious as to where this place might be located, as I’m a bit of a freak for finding and visiting (and tour guiding at!) locations associated with the Mórrígan in Ireland… so I did a bit of digging. And found this:

Druim Airthir, where coursed the steeds, was its name, before it was called Druim Criaich.

The Metrical Dindshenchas – poem/story 13

This fits with Drumcree (Droim Cria), Gormanstown, Co. Westmeath. There are a number of lakes nearby, but as the text specifically mentions the Ford, I’m going to opt for somewhere along what is now called the River Deel as the likeliest location, with around the place that the road crosses over it as a likely fording point.

View it on a Map here

Anyway, on with the text, which all too commonly and very frustratingly, leaves out the verse and prophecy parts:

“Most horrible is what the woman does! says Cormac. Let one of you go and ask her what she is doing. Then someone goes and asked her what she did. And then, standing on one foot, and with one eye closed, she chanted to them, saying: « I wash the harness of a king who will perish » etc.

The messenger came to Cormac and told him the evil prophecy which the Badb had made for him. Apparently thy coming is a cause of great evil, says Cormac. Then Cormac goes to the edge of the ford to have speech with her, and asked her whose was the harness that she was a-washing. And then he uttered the lay: « O woman, what harness washest thou? » etc.

The Badb. « This is thine own harness, O Cormac, And the harness of thy men of trust, » etc. Evil are the omens that thou hast for us, says Cormac. Grimly thou chattest to us.”


Badb at Da Coca’s Hostel

The Badb at Da Coca’s Hostel

The Badb appears again further on, once they get to the Hostel.

“Dâ Choca entered the house, together with fifty apprentices, and his wife, even Luath, daughter of Lumm Lond. They make Cormac and his army welcome. Then they (all) take their seats in the house.

Now when they were there, they saw coming to them towards the Hostel a bigmouthed, swarthy, swift, sooty woman, and she lame and squinting with her left eye. She wore a mantle threadbare (?) and very dusky. Dark as the back of a stag-beetle was every joint of her from crown to ground. Her filleted grey hair fell back over her shoulder. She leant her shoulder against the doorpost, and began prophesying evil to the host, and uttering ill words, so that she said this:

« Sad will they be in the Hostel: bodies will be severed in bloods,
Trunks will be headless, above the clay of Dâ Choca’s Hostel. »

Then the Badb went from them, and…

This is reminiscent of her appearance in Togail Bruidne Da Derga, ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’, an earlier tale which has many similar elements. Be careful not to mix them up, though a lot more scholarly work has been done on Da Derga than Da Choca.

In his footnotes, Stokes says:

“Chanting spells, standing on one foot and with one eye shut, is a common incident in Irish magic. So Lugh sings round the Irish army to ensure their success, Rev. Celt., XII, 98. So in the Bruden Dà Derga, LU. 86″32, Cailb chants her baleful prophecy… ‘(standing) on one foot and (using only) one hand and (breathing only) one breath’. Compare also the Dinnsenchas of Loch da Caech, Rev. Celt., XV, 432, where Cicul’s three hundred men come, each using only one foot, one hand and one eye.”

Revue Celtique (1870)

Hopefully now, this has given you a clearer picture around the appearances of the Badb in the tale of Da Coca’s Hostel, and an exciting new physical location associated with the Mórrígan for us to visit.

Watch for that in the Patreon, where we do monthly Site Visits to sacred places in Ireland, and you get to come along!

Join Lora’s Patreon Here.

Enroll in our Intro to the Mórrígan Course Here.


Is the Mórrígan Recruiting?

Mórrígan's Army

As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.

8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Iníon Preacháin asked: “Why do you feel She is showing such an interest in “recruiting” devotees (for lack of better terms) at this time?”

 

Okay, well, the short answer to that is: look around. The world needs Mórrígan devotees, or people who are doing the work for humanity and for communities.

The longer answer is, that it isn’t just at this time. She has been doing this for a long time, and she’s been preparing for a long time, and again, that’s my experience of it, but it also plays out in the lore.

Everybody talks about the Mórrígan as a battle goddess, and she absolutely is involved in battles because battles shape history and battles shape communities and wars are fought, the outcome of which is part of a much bigger picture, and it’s the bigger picture stuff that the Mórrígan is in charge of. In my experience.

And I think, though that is my experience, the lore plays that out, and her role as a prophet or goddess of prophecy is very much an integral part of that, but also her… I was gonna say ‘meddling,’ meddling is the wrong word, but her involvement in seemingly small things and small stories which end up playing a very big role in battles to come or in the outcome of certain battles or wars that are being fought, and changes.

She is a goddess of change.

At this time, we need somebody who knows what’s going on, absolutely, and she needs people on the ground doing the work that – y’know, she can lead the horse to water, but she can’t directly interfere with… I mean, she does directly interfere with people, with individuals, but she can’t shape things on a bigger scale herself. She has to do it through individuals. And I think that’s where the recruitment drive is coming from, but actually the recruitment drive has been going on for a long time. I think that it has become global, now, but this is not new.

This poem, it was one of my first calls from her. (Click to Read Poem)

It was written at Bealtaine of 2004. It’s from the Irish Witchcraft book, which was my first book, but actually she had been calling for a long time before that. I was tattooed with crows, for example, before this poem was written or that book was written. She’s been calling since, I would say, since the turn of the millennium. Since about 2000, there has been a very specific gathering of the forces in Ireland, on the ground in Ireland, around her sites, and the work that she has had me doing here has been to disseminate real information and education because that wasn’t happening back then. At all.

All through the 90s, there was a lot of shite about Irish traditions and Irish culture specifically, and very little that was real. Everybody was shit-scared of her, but really very little about her and certainly nothing of value about her was available to the general public – there wasn’t even the interest and the understanding that the source lore and the literature we have is so important to us now as modern pagans working with her. I mean, that just wasn’t there in the 90s.

Your average pagan now is, believe it or not, much better read and much more versed in the lore than your average pagan was back then. Just from the sheer availability, I think of it, with the coming of the Internet and the raised standards in publishing – and yes, they are raised, believe it or not again, you might not appreciate just how bad things used to be. There was a huge gap between academic research and the access that people could have to academia. Scholarship was very much far removed from the standard pagan community, except in small pockets and some individuals. And that was the teachers, never mind students.

So the work that she’s had me doing since she got her hooks in me is to try and bring some of that to the wider communities, and to teach people the importance of it. Now I’m not academic, I mean, I’ve studied psychology, but that was me going back as a mature student. The only other college learning I have is in art college, so that’s fuck-all useful to anybody, unless you’re artistic, which I am, or was at least, but…yes, so, I’m not an academic, but one of the things that she had me do was get my head around the literature and try and find ways to translate it. I don’t mean translate it from Old Irish – thankfully that work is being done but that is not my work, thank the gods, I’ve never had to learn Old Irish. Morgan Daimler is doing excellent work in that, poor Morgan, we’ll have her worked to death before she has the entire Ulster Cycle translated by the time I’m finished with her. And Isolde Carmody, who is one half of the Story Archaeology team, who you will hear lots and lots and lots about from me, has been doing sterling translation work too.

None of that work was being done at the time though, and the recruitment that we’re seeing now is just a step above that. It’s just where that has reached a kind of a critical mass where it’s spilling over into the wider world and really my feeling is that she was consolidating her base ground for the last decade and in the last five or so years things have kind of stepped up and moved on from that.

As ever, I’m wary of projecting my own stuff because that above has been very much my experience, but then as I started to travel away from my beloved isle and get out and about in the world, rather than everybody coming to me at the Cave and through Rathcroghan Heritage Centre – which is lovely and I much prefer, I have to say, I hate leaving Ireland, moan moan whine whine… Since I’ve started getting out and about in the world, I have noticed there is a mirroring of many people’s experience in that it’s not just my experience, it’s that now is the time.

There’s been a couple of organizations started up in recent years. The Coru Priesthood, for example, and I know some of our course members have started priesthoods in Texas and Connecticut, and eventually I will have to start one here in Ireland. I don’t want to be doing any of this work, to be honest. If I could get away with doing none of this work I would be totally getting away with that and living a much easier life, but my next project is going to be is a priesthood here in Ireland and I’m not sure what that’s going to look like, yet, but before of that I have a serious initiation I have to do, which again, I’ve been putting off because it’s scary.

A lot of that is going on here, and it is very much mirrored out in the world, and I think that the answer to it, to the question ‘why do I feel that there’s such an interest’, is because she’s so concerned with the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is fucked right now. Absolutely fucked.

Anybody in class (or reading this blog) who is not aware of just how fucked the bigger picture is on so many different levels – if you’re going to be on my Facebook, so you’ll find out very quickly if you’re not aware already… and awareness is the first key. It’s through educating ourselves that we understand the work that needs to be done on a big scale, but also on our doorstep and on ourselves.

Part of taking this course, I hope, is doing that work on yourself so that you’re ready then to do whatever work is needed of you out in the world.

 

[Author’s Note: this class was recorded pre Brexit, and pre Trump. And before Ireland had begun to step up and lead the free world with such fantastic examples of social justice and people power as the Marriage Equality Referendum, the Transgender Identity Bill, and our Referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment. FYI.]

 


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The Mórrígan and Her Sisters

Red Haired Woman in a Crowd

As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about our Irish Goddess The Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.

8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Iníon Preacháin asked: “Of Badb, Macha, Anu/Anand, Nemain, Fea, and some list Danu as well… do you feel they are all aspects of the Morrigna?”

Okay, so, ‘the Morrigna’ represents the plural, so yes, they are all aspects of Na Morrigna, as in the Great Queens – that’s what Morrigna written like that means.  I always make a distinction between na Morrigna, as in the plural, or the Mórrígan, ‘an Morrighan,’ the Great Queen, so that would be my feeling on it.

Like I said — in a previous blog post, see it here — aspects is not a term that I would use specifically.  I would see them as sisters, and some more closely related than others. In my experience.

Macha is, I feel, is the closest to her, and I have an interest and kind of perspective, I suppose, in Mórrígan and Medb, that’s — Queen Medb of Connacht —, and working with both of those very, very powerful figures at Rathcroghan for so many years. They very much work together in my experience and both of them feed into the sovereignty of Connacht, of the western province, in Ireland.

Macha is the sovereignty of, or represents the sovereignty of, the Ulster province in the north of Ireland, and Connacht and Ulster have a somewhat troubled relationship in the mythology. I mean, anybody who’s read the — Tain Bó Cúailnge —, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley,” will be aware, Ulster and Connacht have been enemies for a very long time.  So there’s kind of a lot going on there, and of all of those sisters Macha, to me, has alwas been the most, kind of fully formed and distinct from the Morrígan.  

Nemain, I think, is an ancestor, and I think that all of those deities that are there… and again, we will look at this in more detail over the course, but all of those deities, in a sense they may be aspects in the literal understanding of that word. BUT, they are all beings and deities in their own right as well.  So them being aspects of the Great Queen, I think that kind of feeds together and weaves together, but I think they’re working on different levels, if that makes sense.

So you’ve got this kind of top tier of being able to interact with all of those beings individually. You go down a little bit deeper into the root system and they start to blend a little bit closer together and you don’t get those kind of distinctive, individual personalities.  You go down deeper and they’re all kind of part of that same root, and then you go deeper again and you’re still in the ‘Irish zone’ at that level… but then the level below that would be the universal archetypal level, the level of the collective unconscious common to all humanity, that kind of ‘dark goddess’ level.

All of the names which we connect to the Mórrígan, under the banner of ‘Great Queen’, are connected at a deep level so, but we can (and do) also interact with them individually in the day to day. I definitely wouldn’t be a fan of – or allowed to, I’d get my arse kicked – lump them all together or just swap out one for another.

Yeah, don’t try that one at home kids.


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Faces of the Mórrígan – a Perception of Deity

Faces of the Mórrígan

As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.

8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Marjorie asked: “We all experience our gods differently, to some degree. Some of us experience Her as Many and some of us as One with multiple faces. Do you think one is more accurate than the other or, more importantly, is either perception more respectful than the other? To what extent do you think it matters?”

That’s a really good question, and we will go into some of this in the coursework that’s to follow, but my view is that… I personally deal with the Mórrígan, and the Mórrígan for me is a very distinct entity. I mean distinct as in distinct from Macha or Nemhain or Badbh, and those beings and goddesses seem more like sisters than a part of Her. To me.

Now, I completely agree, we all do experience our gods differently, and I also feel that the gods themselves can do whatever the fuck they like and appear however they like. I think that there is a certain amount of (human relational) shaping that has gone into the Mórrígan. So there is a particular form – or rather formlessness – that she takes with that specific guise that has been interacted with by humans.

My theory on gods is that, well…okay, so to go back a bit: I studied psychology in some depth and particularly Jungian psychology as every feckin’ amateur psychologist pagan has done. The reason for that is because it makes a lot of sense and it makes a lot of sense for our spirituality and Jung had a very kind of tuned-in attitude, certainly for his time, and a lot of the stuff that he was conceptualizing has become common parlance. So we often don’t even recognize how much of a contribution Jung has made to psychology and the study of the human mind and the human spirit as well, I think.

I work a lot with archetypes, and I was called a blasphemer for dealing with archetypal god energies on a panel last year. I was very, very bothered (furious actually) by this at the time, but I really didn’t understand that the American culture that the accusation was coming from had a very different understanding of archetypes than I would’ve had.

To me, an archetype is huge, and it’s complex, and obviously I’m not going to be able to just settle it down in just a few sentences. The crux of it is that there are roots and essential sources that I feel are part of the collective unconscious, as in the unconsciousness that is common to all humanity, and those sources are the archetypes, to a certain extent. Each deity stems in some way from an archetypal form, but it’s like they’re all from the same root, maybe, but when they grow in different cultures with different food sources and different light sources and different energy that’s fed to them and different care and cultivation, they grow into very different deities.

Each of those deities are plants, to use that analogy. Each of those plants or trees or whatever grows from the roots is different from each other, but when you trace them right down to the bottom of those roots, you get to the same source. So that’s a very simplified version of how I have always understood ‘deity.’

I think a good example of this the Mórrígan. Na Mórrigna – that is, all of the Mórrígans – but when you take the Mórrígan Herself and you look at Her as a ‘dark deity’ – again, for want of a better description – and you put that in the context of, say, other ‘dark’ deities like Cerridwen or Kali or Hekate, and, y’know, all of those goddesses I would say stem from the same kind of ‘dark goddess’ root or archetype or source, but they have obviously developed very, very differently in very different cultures, and they’ve all ended up being female. Make of that what you will.

Re gender and form… My experience of the Mórrígan is that she’s kind of nominally female. Her form is formlessness, as I’ve said, and she can take any form and does take any form. I think I coined the phrase ‘gender irrelevant’ in relation to Her – she can and does appear in any of them.

The general physical form that she appears to have in modern culture has become black hair, but actually the only description of her apart from her shapeshifting, the only real description of her – showing her essence, I believe – that we have in the lore is as a warrior woman who is carrying two spears and has red hair and red eyebrows and is wearing a red cloak and has a very strange horse, and kind of a chariot that she’s standing on. (See the Táin Bó Regamna video on YouTube.) That’s her base aspect, as far as I can tell.

But generally she just appears, if she appears to me at all, she appears kind of hooded, and like I said, formless, generally human-shaped unless she’s as a crow. But anyway, sorry, I’m wandering off a little bit. We will examine this in more detail through the course and through the content (and check the — Available Classes — for individual class downloads!).

So, I experience her as one being or entity specifically, with or without a face, and I have always interacted with her as the Great Queen. I don’t feel that that’s specifically more accurate than any other interaction or relationship with her, as long as that’s based on a relationship. I feel that if somebody has put the same amount or similar amount of time and effort into building a relationship with that deity as I have, and their perception is different than my perception, then I’m not going to say that mine is right or more accurate and theirs is wrong. I think, ultimately the gods, and our perception of them is often going to be different because we’re all different, and I don’t think that they have a genuine kind of physical, corporeal form in this world anyway. We are experiencing them through the collective unconscious, through ourselves and our connection to our own subconscious and our own unconscious with the collective unconscious. I know I’m kind of throwing a lot – I’m trying to encapsulate, like, literally years’ worth of theory on my part into a couple of minutes.

“Is either perception more respectful than the other?”

I feel that it’s disrespectful to swap her out, if that makes sense. So if you’re going to be dealing with the Mórrígan, and we will through the course – when we’re talking about the Mórrígan, I’m not talking about Macha, I’m not talking about Badbh, I’m not talking about Nemhain. I’m talking about the Morrígan, the Great Queen – and like I said, YMMV on that, and that’s fine, but when I say ‘the Mórrígan,’ that’s who I mean.

What I don’t think is okay is swapping out the Mórrígan, say in the lore, or in how we’re dealing with her or how we’re working with her, and just slotting in any of them into whatever kind of floats your boat at the time. I think that if she’s dealing with you, you’ll know whether it’s the Great Queen or whether it’s Macha or Badbh or Nemhain or Fea or Anu. Nemhain is a different thing, and Badbh is a different thing again, and Macha is definitely her own thing. But again, that’s my perception.

“To what extent do you think it matters?”

I’ve probably covered that? Build your relationship and you’ll see how much it matters because if you disrespect her… [laughter]

Sorry, that’s probably not very helpful, but that has been my experience.


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The Curse of Macha

Macha pregnant-beach-sunset-mother

Sometimes a Goddess fancies a change.

Immortality can get awful boring after a time.

So it was with the Goddess Macha. She decided she wanted a home, friends of her own, a family… and that’s how she ended up on the doorstep of a wealthy merchant in the mountains of Mourne.

She knocked, asked to speak to him in person, and when he arrived down to greet her she made her proposal. She would bring wealth, prosperity, and abundance to his household (being a Goddess definitely has its perks), but in return she wanted a quiet life – to live out her days undisturbed, as a mortal. So he had to promise her privacy, and secrecy, and respect, and the love would come later, she was sure. And so he did.

She turned thrice sun-ways on his step to seal the deal, and stepped into his life as a mortal wife.

The years trundled on and his household prospered, as she had promised it would. She brought abundance and wealth to his life, as she had promised she would.

Love even bloomed, and she became pregnant, as is wont to happen at times, when a man and a woman are in love and doing the things that people in love might do.

The merchant rose in status, and he began to receive invitations for them both to attend all the feasts, and all the fairs – invitations which she always declined, but he attended. Unfortunately, his appetites grew right along with his status, and he began to feast and fair too much, eating and drinking until the wee small hours, and sometimes not even bothering to go home between events.

Macha didn’t mind too much; she kept herself busy, and was delighted when the physician told her she was carrying not one baby, but two – twins!

One month, near the end of her pregnancy, her husband was off again at one of his fairs. This was a big one: the Samhain festival at the court of the King. The merchant paid his tributes and tithes, ate his fill (and more) in the camp kitchens, and contented himself with wandering around the fair grounds, chatting to people he knew, looking through stalls and market tents, watching the competitive events, gaming for profit or loss… and of course drinking. Lots of drinking.

He sat eventually, content to watch the horse racing, and soon there was a cackling crowd, placing wagers on which would win. After a heavy loss, perhaps to salvage some part of pride perceived lost, the wine-soaked sot began to boast that as fast as those horses were, his own wife could out-run any one of them. Even the horses of the King himself, which were known to be the best of the best.

Now, it didn’t take long for this boast to reach the ears of the King himself: for his horses represented his rightful rule, and any slight on them was a slight on his very kingship. He insisted the woman be fetched, and made to race against the best horse of his stable.

Warriors went out, Macha was made travel, and told she would race the next day (as it was a three day festival). She bawled and cursed her husband – and his drunken, pounding, head – all through the night, but it was no use.

She was stood in front of king and crowd first thing in the morning, with the horse lined up next to her. She sweated and swore, for the pressure was doing strange things to her heavily pregnant body, and it looked like mother and babies were in serious distress, to anyone with eyes to see.

The king held firm, and she was made to race – but before she did, she cursed every single man of Ulster, to nine generations on, with a spell that gave each and every one of them the pains of labour and childbirth, to strike them whenever Ulster was under attack.

Macha raced that day, and indeed she won, but the exertion brought on the birth and she died there at the finish. Screaming her curse to the last breath.

This is why Ulster men were in bed each time their province needed them; but sure, they are all stories for another day.


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What Do I Put on a Mórrígan Altar?

So, as part of our 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.

8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog.

[Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Bec Dunn asked: “I want to set up an altar whilst I do this work to connect with Her, are there things to include or definitely not put on?”

Altars are so personal. The short answer is, you can put whatever you want on there.

Me, personally, I always have a real flame on it. That’s not tied to any lore of Hers or anything, it’s just…I don’t know whether that’s a cultural thing for me, or a magical thing, but…I don’t know. It kind of feels like She gets a bit cold sometimes and I like to have a little flame for Her.

It also kind of reminds Her that we’re human and this is what humans do and it’s not necessarily Her nature to want fire or to want a flame, but it is ours. I think that’s always kind of served me well. So, there’s always candles, and when I want to definitely ‘check in with her, the candles are lit and it brings a very clear focus.

And, y’know, obviously, I pick up crow feathers everywhere I go, so there’s lot of different crow feathers from different sites. I’m big on stones and bits of dirt and all the rest of it too, so that’s all good, that’s all on my altar.

I would advise not putting sexualized, male-gaze statues of the Mórrígan on your altar, but again, that’s down to personal taste. Just in case you’re not aware, there has been a lot of backlash (and rightly so) in Facebook Mórrígan groups over deity representation and misogyny,  and particularly representations of the Morrígan for the male gaze, basically where she is holding a sword without the arm strength to do so, and she looks like she’s ready to drop it on her foot. All those kinds of things.

Personally, a lot of the statuary and artwork that’s commercially available at the moment is… well, it really doesn’t do it for me, to be honest.

Image-wise, for the altar then – I’ve always been drawn to images of crows, particularly, and that seems to me to be a good kind of catch-all, particularly if you’re starting out… you can’t really go wrong with those.

There’s some really, really gorgeous ones out there and it’s not going to piss anybody off. I don’t think it’s healthy for us to necessarily put our own interpretations of her, on her. She’s very much a shapeshifter, and her form is formless.

A crow is symbolic of her. A raven, if that’s your thing, but crows specifically are connected to her here in Ireland, rather than ravens. There is one raven reference in the lore, as far as I’m aware, but generally it’s crows. If there’s a choice between a raven and a crow, I would definitely go for the crow.

(thanks to Marjorie for the transcription service from class, much appreciated!)


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