Story Archaeology

Uncovering the layers of Irish Mythology through a regular podcast and related articles

Rowing Around Immrama 09: Mongan and His Missus

A photo of a black raven and a white raven


In our very first Immrám, Immrám Bran, we met Manannán on his way to beget a wonder-child, Mongán. Now that we’ve finished rowing around the open seas, we’ve returned to dry land to find out what happened next.

What we’ve found is one of the funniest stories we’ve ever looked at! So strap in your sides and prepare to get hilarious with the Story Archaeologists!


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Story Archaeology is run on a voluntary not-for-profit basis. If you can afford a donation towards our running costs, we would be very grateful. The “Donate” button is on the right-hand-side of each page, or e-mail us for other ways to support our work.

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by The Story Archaeologists

Music: “Tam Lin” by Gian Castello

Story Archaeology needs you!

Greetings all diggers and scrapers and fragment-collectors…

To The Skelligs - by Éamonn O'Doherty

If you read “The Trials and Tribulations of a pair of Story Archaeologists”, you’ll know that we at Story Archaeology have been on our own technological Immrám for some time now. It certainly can feel very much like “rowing around” when trying to select, construct and set up new computers.

We have conquered one of those islands on our journey. Isolde now has a new PC which is much less terrified of the internet than her previous model. Chris has finally installed the wonders of wi-fi in her own home. So we are ready to strike out on the next leg.

This is where you come in. Please take a listen to this short-cast, which explains why we need your help to continue on our journey. We would be nothing without our wonderful audience. Indeed, we’re starting to get the sense that this audience is in fact a community. So please help tug on the oars, and let’s keep Story Archaeology on this extraordinary immrám of discovery!

Rhiannon, meet Dubh Lacha – You have a lot in common!

"Rhiannon", a painting  by Alan Lee

“Rhiannon” by Alan Lee

The Prequel to the wedding of Pwyll and Rhiannon; from Mabinogi Pwyll

  • Pwyll Peneuic, Lord of seven Cantrefs of Dyfed, goes hunting at Glyn Cuch and becomes separated from his companions.
  • He hears the cries of a pack of hounds chasing a stag, but it is not his own hounds he hears. This pack is dazzling bright white with fiery red ears. He drives off the new pack and allows his own hounds to feed on the stag.
  • The huntsman objects to his actions, and the two bandy words. However, Pwyll knows he is in the wrong, and offers to ‘redeem the friendship, appropriate to the others rank’ (i.e. to the value of one hundred stags).
  • The Huntsman announces that he is Arawn, king of Annwfn, and he wishes Pwyll to take his place for a year. During this time he is also to deal with an enemy of Arawn’s. No-one will recognise that there has been an exchange of rulers, not even Arawn’s wife will see through the glamour.
  • Pwyll carries out the exchange as requested, remembering not to give Hagfen, Arawn’s enemy, more than one blow, as he is warned not to do. However, out of courtesy, he does not sleep with Arawn’s wife.
  • When he returns home, he discovers that Arawn has offered Pwyll’s own wife the same courtesy. (The wives are confused, having no knowledge of the swap.)

While the Irish and Welsh stories are of a different order - the Welsh commencing with a hunt and the Irish with a battle - there are motifs and themes relevant to both:

  • In “The Conception of Mongán” in LU, Mongán’s father Fiachna goes to Scotland to face his ally’s enemy. However, Manannán has arranged this to give him cause to sleep with Fiachna’s wife.
  • The dogs in the Welsh story and the cattle in the Irish story are all Otherworld animals - white with red ears – and cause both Pwyll and Mongán to act impetuously.  They cause Pwyll to act dishonourably and Mongán to drool with desire and swap his wife for them.
  • In the Mabinogi of Pwyll, the men swap over without their wives consent or knowledge. In the story of Mongán and Dubh Lacha, it is the wives who are swapped and everybody knows.

Pwyll encounters Rhiannon

Pwyll encounters Rhiannon, first seeing her from the Mound of Arberth. However, he cannot catch up with her until he asks her to stop her horse.

He realises that; ‘at that moment the faces of every woman and girl he had ever seen were dull in comparison to her face’.

She has come to find him as she has been promised to a man she dislikes and would rather have Pwyll. It is agreed that he will come to claim her at the court of Hyfaidd Hen in one year’s time. She will have everything arranged.

However, Pwyll is so excited and happy at his wedding feast that, to Rhiannon’s horror, he blithely offers a young and princely man whatever gift he desires. This man is Rhiannon’s discarded suitor, Gwawl, and he requests the wedding feast, which includes the bride!

Rhiannon is left to sort out his mess. She puts Gwawl off for a year, when, she promises, another wedding feast will be held. She gives Pwyll clear instructions as to what to do.

Pwyll comes to the feast disguised as a beggar, and asks for enough food to fill his bag. However, the bag is not full, however much food is put inside. Eventually, Gwawl climbs inside to stamp it down. The bag is sealed and the poor suitor is beaten, mistaken for a ‘badger in a bag’.

Rhiannon, meet Dubh Lacha. You have a lot in common!

Rhiannon and Dubh Lacha are quick-thinking and capable women.

Both women have to clear up after the impetuosity and lack of foresight shown by their respective partners.

They both have a lot to put up with.  For a start, both are given away at their own wedding feasts. At least for Dubh Lacha, given away by Brandubh, this is exactly what she has been waiting for.

Rhiannon, on the other hand, has not been exchanged for a herd of cattle, even if they are the most beautiful (Otherworld) cattle in Ireland.

Both women plan calmly and quickly, when put in impossible positions, i.e. exchanged, or given away. They both demand the grace of a year from the usurping partner. Both use this time to get their true partner galvanised into action.

A painting of Pwyll by Alan Lee

Pwyll by Alan Lee

Pwyll merely requires to be told what to do. He carries out Rhiannon’s plan effectively, disguised as a beggar.  Her plan to trick Gwawl into the sack, where he can be dealt with, is carried out efficiently by her would-be husband.

Mongán is not so biddable.  At one point, Dubh Lacha even has to strip off to goad him into action. However, to give him his due, he takes clear and definitive action once he has encountered the ‘hag of the mill’, Cuimne.

Both women and their partners complete their story with the utter humiliation of the offending ’other’. Gwawl, Rhiannon’s ex-suitor, finds himself publicly beaten and forced to give away sureties of non-reprisal before being released. Brandubh is publically stripped of his wealth and ends up sleeping with an ancient hag.

The main difference between the two partnerships is that Rhiannon and Pwyll solve their problems alone, even if Rhiannon seems the more dominant of the two; whereas there is a duplication of characters surrounding Dubh Lacha and Mongán.

Dubh Lacha and Mongán are born on the same night, and promised to each other from birth. They share the same birth date are another couple, Mac an Daimh and his eventual wife.

Mac an Daimh is an engaging character, and there is no equivalence for his role in Rhiannon’s tale.  He is more than the Shakespearean, outspoken servant. He is active confidante and companion to Mongán, just as his wife is companion and confidante to Dubh Lacha.  It is Mac an Daimh’s down-to-earth wisdom and humour that adds greatly to the quality the tale.

There are also a plethora of hags, particularly the hag Cuimne (“Memory”), who plays a central role as the substitute bride.

The two stories are of a different style, and their hero’s origin of a different nature. Yet, if it were possible to introduce our two female protagonists to each other, they would, indeed, find stories to share.

Read  Compert Mongáin ocus Serc Duibhe Lacha dó,  “The Conception of Mongán and Dubh Lacha’s Love for him”, from The Book of Fermoy:

Read  Compert Mongáin, “The Conception of Mongán”, from Lebor na hUidre [LU]:

Read the Mabinogi of Pwyll on

The Text of Immram Brain Part 2: Manannan’s Poem and the Prophecy of Mongan

Here is the second part of the text of Immram Brain, as edited by Séamus Mac Mathúna.  The translation is based on that of Kuno Meyer, although where my translation differs significantly from his, I have included his translation in brackets.

For Chris Thompson’s rendition of part of the poem, see Manannán’s Prophecy of Mongán.

I have also marked the scribe’s glosses with brackets, introduced with .i. in the text and i.e. in the translation. I think many of these glosses highlight the cross-referencing of Christian with non-Christian material, as we discussed in the episodes, Immrám Brain and Mongán and his Missus.

Points of interest, such as the names for various Otherworld places or tricky translations, are marked in bold.

Isolde Carmody

¶32] Luid Bran íarom ara bárach for muir. Trí nónbuir a llín. Oínfer forsna trib nónburaib dia chomaltaib ocus comaísib.

Bran went then the next day onto the sea. Three nines was their complement. One man over [each of] the three nines [was] of his foster-brothers and confidantes.

Óro-boí dá láa ocus dí aidchi forsin muir co n-accae a dochum in fer isin charput íarsin muir.

When he had been two days and two nights on the sea, he saw coming towards him the man in the chariot over the sea.

Canaid in feer ísin tríchait rand n-aile dó, ocus sloindsi dó, ocus as-bert ba hé Manannán mac Lir, ocus as-bert boí fair tuidecht i nÉrinn íar n-aimseraib cíanaib, ocus no-gigned mac óad, .i. Mongán mac Fíachnai, is ed forid-mbíad.

That man sings another thirty verses to him, and he named himself to him [to Bran], and he said he was Manannán son of Lír, and he said it was upon him to go to Ireland after distant ages, and that a son would be born from him, i.e. Mongán son of Fíachna, that is what he would be called.

Cachain íarom in tríchait rand-so dó:

He sang then these thirty verses to him:

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Manannán’s Prophecy of Mongán

A painting of Manannán Mac Lír in his sea-chariot. Loime Studios

Image Courtesy of Loime Studios

From the poem of Manannán Mac Lír in Immrám Bran:


Manannán speaks:


You see me here. I stand before you

As I approach the mortal world.

I will come to the woman who waits in Moy-linney;

I will come, at last, to her own home.


For I, Manannán of the line of Lír,

Will take to my chariot in mortal form

To where my son will be conceived,

Sculpted to mortal fair perfection.


For I, Manannán of the line of Lír,

Will lie with the queen in mutual tryst;

The child, called by us, to the beautiful world,

Acknowledged by Fiachna, his mortal father.


He will melt the heart of every Sídhe,

The darling boy of welcome lands;

He will know secrets, and make them known,

Fearless, in all the fearful world.


He will take the shape of every beast;

Beast of the blue sea, beast of the land.

He will stand as a dragon at the battle-line

And the wolf in the heart of the forest.


The antlered stag, all silver-tined,

On the chariot road-crossed plains of men;

The speckled salmon of the deepest pools,

The seal in the sea or the fair-white swan.


Known throughout the lengthening days,

A king who reigned one hundred years;

As a warrior, strong and fierce and fatal,

His battled fields left rutted red.


His birth shall be of the highest rank;

His death, the deed of a bastard son.

Yet I, Manannán of the line of Lír

Will guide, will teach, will foster him.


Translation by  Isolde Carmody

Re-telling by Chris Thompson

Cormac’s Adventures in the Otherworld – The Texts

Illustration of a medieval king holding a cup

In the podcast episode, we were working off three main texts:

The Twelve Ordeals includes the descriptions of various means for telling truth from falsehood, describes many things decided at Cormac’s Feast of Tara, his adventure in the Land of Promise, and a court case through which Cormac obtained his sword.

Download or view the text as a .rtf file by clicking here: Cormacs Cup and The Twelve Ordeals – W Stokes

Lady Gregory included the story of Cormac’s Adventures in the Land of Promise (the story of Cormac’s Cup) in “Gods and Fighting Men”. She includes it as a chapter in her section on Manannán Mac Lír.

Download or view the text as a .rtf file by clicking here: Cormac in the Land of Promise – Lady Gregory

Standish O’Grady published a later version of the story of how Cormac got his cup. The biggest differences between this and the earlier versions is the interpretation of the visions and Cormac’s attitude to the request for his family in exchange for the Silver Branch. Shocking!

Download or view the text as a .rtf file by clicking here: Cormacs Cup – Standish H OGrady

The Instructions of King Cormac

Tech Midchuarta - diagram of seating for feasts at Tara“O Cormac, grandson of Conn,” said Cairbre, “what are the dues of a chief and of an ale-house?”

“Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

“Good behaviour around a good chief

Lights to lamps

Exerting oneself for the company

A proper settlement of seats

Liberality of dispensers

A nimble hand at distributing

Attentive service

Music in moderation

Short story-telling

A joyous countenance

Welcome to guests

Silence during recitals

Harmonious choruses.”


“O Cormac, grandson of Conn,” said Cairbre, “What were your habits when you were a lad?”

“Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

“I was a listener in woods

I was a gazer at stars

I was blind where secrets were concerned

I was silent in a wilderness

I was talkative among many

I was mild in the mead-hall

I was stern in battle

I was gentle towards allies

I was a physician of the sick

I was weak towards the feeble

I was strong towards the powerful

I was not close lest I should be burdensome

I was not arrogant though I was wise

I was not given to promising though I was strong

I was not venturesome though I was swift

I did not deride the old though I was young

I was not boastful though I was a good fighter

I would not speak about any one in his absence

I would not reproach, but I would praise

I would not ask, but I would give

For it is through these habits that the young become old and kingly warriors.”

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Samhain Special 2014 – A Tale to Remember

A sculpture of Fionn with his hounds by Lynn Kirkham GreenmantleHappy new year to our Story Archaeology listeners! Because we love ye thiiiiiis much, we’re sending out a multimedia feast for our Samhain special.

So, take a look at this video of a live Story Archaeology show, then have a listen to our episode, “A Tale to Remember”, and peruse the attached texts and your leisure. Enjoy!



Texts for this episode:

The Fairy Palace of the Quicken Trees by P. W. Joyce

The Palace of the Quicken Trees by Lady Augusta Gregory

The Chase of Slieve Fuad by P. W. Joyce

from “Fionn and the King of Alba’s Son”



Don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest posts! Related Articles will be posted in the days to come…

Story Archaeology is run on a voluntary not-for-profit basis. If you can afford a donation towards our running costs, we would be very grateful. The “Donate” button is on the right-hand-side of each page, or e-mail us for other ways to support our work.

Check our Reading List for further reading and resources.

by The Story Archaeologists

Music: “Tam Lin” by Gian Castello

Rowing Around Immrama 08 – The Shocking Revelations Concerning King Cormac Mac Airt

Illustration of a Golden Tree

King Cormac Mac Airt is often called “The Irish Solomon”. But was this legendary king quite the wise old judge suggested by that epithet?

Find out with the Story Archaeologists in this long-awaited – and lon-running! – 2 hour dig for truth and justice.


Don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest posts! Related Articles will be posted in the days to come…

Story Archaeology is run on a voluntary not-for-profit basis. If you can afford a donation towards our running costs, we would be very grateful. The “Donate” button is on the right-hand-side of each page, or e-mail us for other ways to support our work.

Check our Reading List for further reading and resources.

by The Story Archaeologists

Music: “Tam Lin” by Gian Castello

The Island of Sheep

ramThey had been two weeks away from land now, fourteen days and fourteen nights on the undulating, heaving, breathing waves.

They were here together, in a vessel that had appeared so strong and stalwart on the good earth. It now seemed no more than a fragile cockle shell adrift on the lucid illimitable sea.

Tadhg smiled wryly to himself. The boat had proved sufficient, so far. It had carried him and his forty brave warriors, along with his sea-reaver prisoner guide, safely, so far.

He had wondered how great this vast wind rippled watery plain really was. How far was it to this enemy land of Fresen that had, so completely, stolen away his wife and his brothers. The Almarach had been vague on this part of the rescue plan.

But, this realm of Manannan was, by no means, an empty land.  They had marvelled as shoals of iridescent salmon danced, dizzily in the sun spattered waters. The cattle and kine of the Water Lord had been varied indeed. Great grey Bull seals dove beneath their boat like javelin shadows and there were others, huge sea beasts, fountain flowing streams into the misty air. It was a diverse and beautiful world, but Tadhg realised that he was longing for the green of grass and earth beneath his feet.

Then, as if his thought had taken shape and substance, there it was. It was a fair green isle, flat and wide, and solid.

And now he stood on the welcome island while his warriors hunted for fresh food, glad to be active. Idly, he kicked at a smooth, grey pebble, lying, immobile, at his feet. It skittered along the surface of the velvet grass.

“It didn’t sink”, he thought with a mental grin.

There was a shout, followed by replying calls from within the trees.

“The hunt is up”, he thought to himself and turned to reach for his great throwing spear. His stomach rumbled. A joint of roasted meat would make a pleasant change

Yes,  they were, emerging from the wooded cover, a group of his best fighters, but there was no sign of any prey? Surelyhis fighters were not running away.

And then, the great beast broke cover. It was a ram. But what a creature! It was the size of a stallion, if not larger, and its magnificent fleece curled and flowed around it. Its horns crowned its head like a coronet of curved knives.

The warriors fanned out warily, seeking to bar its path, and momentarily, the beast slowed, until it stood at bay before them, eyes blazing and nostrils flaring with rage. Tadhg raced to join his men.

“I am sorry sir, we couldn’t hold it”, yelled his lieutenant, “We tried to take down one of the ewes. The ram just went for us”.

The beast was reading itself to charge. It tossed its wild horns, and pawed the ground with huge hooves, sparking the stone.

Tadhg nodded and five javelins flew in unison. The beast did no more than toss his head and five broken shafts fell, shattered around it

Tadhg took a wary step, and then another. Slowly, stealthily he started to flank the huge animal. The ram ignored him, staring with baleful eyes, at the warrior line and the second wave of javelins ranged against it, waiting to fly.

And then, just as the beast began to charge, Tadhg let loose his javelin. It was a lucky cast, as he admitted later, but he watched , in astonishment, as the beast faltered and then sunk to its knees. Then he continued to watch in joyful relief as the ram’s head fell and the creature shuddered and died.

His men, already cheering, were  on the fallen beast, ready to strip it of its skin.

Tadhg took a deep breath and then called his warriors to order.

“Take care in the butchering, lads, he called. That fleece will see us snug on sea drenched nights.

As he walked back to the boat, he was smiling to himself. So, they would not go hungry. If they could take the ram, even one of such gigantic size, then they would feast on a fat wether or two while they were here leaving plenty to prepare for their journey.

They would not starve on the open sea. Where there was one island, there would be others. They would reach their goal and he would save Liban and his brothers from their imprisonment.

He thoughtfully regarded the boat, beached now, until the tide should return it to its element. Yes, they would reach their goal but what wonders might he encounter on the way?