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!

 

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

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!

Extolling the Holly

hollytree

Poetry specifically describing the properties of different woods is not all that common, although I know of a couple of poems that gives  Ash  prime place. This poem, in keeping with the season, places the holly as the best of winter woods, It also favours the fragrant  honeysuckle,  the woodbine.

The poem is part of the story of  how, Iubhdan, King of the Lupracán, pays a visit to Fergus mac Léite,, king of Ulster. The story contains a great deal of bawdy humour and adventure but it also includes quieter, poetic moments, such as this interlude where Iubhdan advises, the king’s fire keeper on which woods he should choose for the fire and which might have better uses.

“O man that for Fergus of the feasts dost kindle fire, whether afloat or ashore never burn the king of woods.

Monarch of Innisfail’s forests the woodbine is, whom none may hold captive; no feeble sovereign’s effort is it to hug all tough trees in his embrace. The pliant woodbine if thou burn, wailings for misfortune will abound; dire extremity at weapons’ points or drowning in great waves will come after.

Burn not the precious apple-tree of spreading and low-sweeping bough: tree ever decked in bloom of white, against whose fair head all men put forth the hand.

The surly blackthorn is a wanderer, and a wood that the artificer burns not; throughout his body, though it be scanty, birds in their flocks warble.

The noble willow burn not, a tree sacred to poems; within his bloom bees are a-sucking, all love the little cage.

The graceful tree with the berries, the wizards’ tree, the rowan, burn; but spare the limber tree: burn not the slender hazel.

Dark is the colour of the ash: timber that makes the wheels to go; rods he furnishes for horsemen’s hands, and his form turns battle into flight.

Tenterhook among woods the spiteful briar is, by all means burn him that is so keen and green; he cuts, he flays the foot, and him that would advance he forcibly drags backward.

Fiercest heat-giver of all timber is green oak, from him none may escape unhurt: by partiality for him the head is set on aching and by his acrid embers the eye is made sore.
Alder, very battle-witch of all woods, tree that is hottest in the fight, undoubtingly burn at thy discretion both the alder and the whitethorn.

Holly, burn it green: holly, burn it dry: of all trees whatsoever the critically best is holly.

Elder that hath tough bark, tree that in truth hurts sore: him that furnishes horses to the armies from the sidh burn so that he be charred.

The birch as well, if he be laid low, promises abiding fortune: burn up most sure, and certainly the stalks that bear the constant pods.

Suffer, if it so please thee, the russet aspen to come headlong down: burn, be it late or early, the tree with the palsied branch.

Patriarch of long-lasting woods is the yew, sacred to feasts as is well known: of him now build ye dark-red vats of goodly size.

Ferdedh, thou faithful one, wouldst thou but do my behest: to thy soul as to thy body, O man, ‘twould work advantage

From The king of the Lupracán’s journey to Emain, and how the death of Fergus mac Léite, king of Ulster was brought about.

‘Silva Gadelica’ – Standish O’Grady, 1892

I have also included a version of a similar, and far more recent poem,  most probably, English.  This version is  sung by Robin Williamson, a man who, in no small way, influenced my journey as a story teller.

A Crock of Old Cobblers ~ A Holiday Special

iubhdansvat2Fergus mac Léite gets to encounter the underwater world of the  Lupracán, a story which in the late middle / early modern Irish version, almost certainly, inspired Swift’s wonderful satire, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. The Story Archaeologists, ear herbs at the ready, dive right into the tale, but wonder how these small, but proud and fiercely independent, beings  have devolved, over the centuries into the scary  Leprechaun  travesties .that are dragged out every Paddy’s day?

The Saga of Fergus mac Léite  

The king of the Lupracán’s journey to Emain, and how the death of Fergus mac Léite, king of Ulster was brought about.

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 Mabinogi.info.

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.”

golden-apple

“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