Story Archaeology

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The Story of Rúadán from Cath Maige Tuired

from Cath Maige TuiredThe Battle of Moytura

edited by Elizabeth Gray

translation and notes by Isolde Carmody

[Terms in bold have notes and discussions below]


544] Tánic didiu frisna Fomore annísin, go tudciset-som fer n-úadaibh de déscin cathai & cosdotha Túath nDéa .i. Rúadán mac Bresi & Bríghi ingene in Dagdai. Ar ba mac-side & ba úa do Thúaith Déa.

124. Things were going against the Fomoire now.  So they brought out one of their men to spy on the battalions and encampments of the Túatha Dé: that is, Rúadán, son of Bres and of Brig, daughter of the Dagda.  [This was] because he was a son and a grandson of the Túatha Dé.

Atcuaid íerum gním an gaphonn & ant sáeir & an cerdou & na cetri lége rouhátar imon tibrait do Fomoraib.

Then he told the Fomoire about the work of the smith [Goibniu] and the craftsman [Luchta] and the goldsmith [Creidne Cerd], and of the four physicians who were encircling the well.

Rofaíded-som afridisie fri marbod neich den óes dána .i. Gaibniu.

They sent him back again to kill one of the Crafted Ones: that is, Goibniu.

Tothloigestar gai ó ssoide, a semonn ón cerdai, & a crand ónt sóer. Debreth íerum amal asbert.

He requested a spear-blade from him, its rivets from the goldsmith, and its shaft from the carpenter.  Then that was given to him as he had stated.

Baí dano ben and fri bleth arm .i. Crón máthair Fíanluig; is í rus-meil gaí Rúadáin.

There was also a woman there sharpening weapons; that is, Crón the mother of Fianlach. It is she who ground Rúadán’s spear.

Dobreth dí Rúadán didiu an gaí ó máthri, conud de sin doberar “gaí máthri” de garmnaib beus a n-Érinn.

The spear was given to Rúadán therefore by his maternal kin, and it is from that that weaver’s beams are also called “the spear of the maternal kin” in Ireland.


554] Immesoí didiu Rúadán íer tabairt in gaí dó, & geogoin Goibninn.

Rúadán turned suddenl after the spear was given to him and he wounded Goibniu.

Tíscais-side an gaí as & fochaird for Rúadán co lluid trít; & co n-érbailt ar bélaib a athar a n-oirecht na Fomore.

He drew the spear out of himself and cast it at Rúadán so that it went through him.  Then he died in front of his father at the parliament of the Fomoire.

Tic Bríc & cáines a mac. Éghis ar tós, goilis fo deog.

Bríg came and keened for her son.  First she cried out, then she wept.

Conud and sin roclos gol & égem ar tós a n-Érinn.

It was [as though? / ] then that weeping and crying were first heard in Ireland.

(Is sí didiu an Prích-sin roairich feit do caismeirt a n-oidci.)

(It is she also who is the Bríg that created a hiss to signal at night.)



áes [óes] dána:

Áes is a word denoting a group or class of persons, very much like lucht below.  It especially applies to members of a profession when followed by a genitive, as in this case with dána.  Dán is a word which has “craft” at its root, but is especially used of poetry, which is seen as a craft or skill.  In Modern Irish, a poem is still called dán.  Áes Dána is sometimes used as a synonym for Túatha Dé Danann, and indeed both can be interpreted as “people of craft / poetry”.

Áes Dána is still a term in use in modern Ireland.  Being a Republic, we do not have an honours system.  The Aosdána was established by the Arts Council in 1981 to honour creative artists of Ireland.  Its members are selected by peers and through election.  From among no more than 250 people, 7 Saoi, “sages”, are selected.  The title is conferred by the President of Ireland and is a life-time position.

You can read more about the modern Aosdána here:




[NOTE: This paragraph also appears in “Texts of Eithliu”]

Bres is introduced as a member of the Fomoire, the undersea people who place the Túatha Dé Danann under a heavy tax, leading to the (second) Battle of Moytura.  That saga (Cath Maige Tuired) features “The Conception of Bres” very near the beginning, and gives some explanation of his name.  His father, Elatha Mac Delbaeth, says he will be so beautiful that after him, any beautiful thing will be called a “bres”.  The name itself seems to originate from bres meaning “fight”, “blow”, “effort”, or “uproar”, “din”; then, by extension, a hero, chief or great man.  Interestingly, there are instances where it seems to mean “beautiful” or “valuable”, but it is hard to know whether this meaning is the root of the saga explanation or vice versa.  I think the naming of the Fomorian king as “Bres” also plays on bras, a word meaning “boastful” or “forward”, particularly implying someone who makes false claims to greatness.  This seems to fit with how Bres is characterised in Cath Maige Tuired.



If you search for the name “Brigit” in a source as supposedly reliable as the Dictionary of the Irish Language, published by the Royal Irish Academy, the first entry is “name of goddess or member of triad of goddesses”.  The main source for this, which has been taken up repeatedly, is Cormac Úa Chuilleanáin’s Glossary.  I have often pointed out the unreliable nature of the glossaries when it comes to understanding language, and this is just as true of this 9th century bishop’s imagining of Ireland before the advent of Christianity.  To give him credit, he does cite Brigit as daughter of the Dagda, and Brig is described as such in our extract from Cath Maige Tuired.

As to the meaning of the name, there are two main candidates: brí, “hill”, and bríg, “power, force, strength”.  Many have gone for the latter as their preferred root, but I favour the former.  My reasoning is partly the strong association between Celtic peoples and the ancestral figure Brigantia, who is the source of the assumption that we, in Ireland, also had a pre-Christian mythical figure of a similar name.  Celtic settlements are identified archaeologically by a distincive hill-top fortification; a type not found on the island of Ireland.  It makes sense to me that a people favouring hill-tops might have an ancestress whose name is related to bri, “hill”.  I can also imagine a development of meaning from “hill” to “high” to “exalted” or “powerful”; bringing us to bríg.  I am open to correction from historical linguists!

There is another curious linguistic connection which has specific relevance to our story.  Brig’s actions are to keen or lament vocally, and she is said to have created an aural signalling system.  There is further the mention of garman, which relates to “calling” (see below).  As well as bríg having a sense of “meaning” or “tenour” – a meaning that has survived into Modern Irish brí - there is a verb, brigaid, which has the meanings “shows, declares, displays”.  I do not know the etymological root of this verb, unless it somehow comes from bríg in its sense of “meaning”, “essence”.  Even if coincidental, the composer of our story seems centrally concerned with acts of vocalising.



The intended verb here is surely caínid, “laments, keens”, rather than cáinid, “satirises” – no matter how much a mother might be cross with her son!  In fact, caínid is where we get the English term “keens”.

In many cultures, funerals are accompaned by professional or semi-professional keeners, and these are very often women.  Keening is generally a very public, very audible expression of grief.  In Ireland, by early Modern times, professional keeners would compose a eulogy for the dead, often ex tempore.  There is evidence to suggest that these poets were often women as well.

Caínid is distinguished from, though related to, égem, “shout, cry”, and gol, “weeping”.  Indeed, this is how Brig’s lament is structured in the story – an initial shout followed by weeping.


Creidne Cerd:

Creidne has two possible roots, both of which seem appropriate to the craftsman working with soft metals.  Firstly, there is créda, “earthen, from the clay”.  There is a somewhat synthetic explanation of créd as “tin”.  Since crédumae is “bronze” and umae is “copper”, then créd must be “tin” as the other ingredient of bronze.  Linguistically, créd- is simply the combinatory form of cré, “earth, clay”, much as con- is a combinatory form of , “hound”.

The second root is crett, “framework”.  It is often used of the “chasis” of a chariot, and then sometimes as made from bronze.  It is also used of the framework or timbers of a boat, a tree-trunk and a human body.  This root-word seems appropriate in the context of our story in terms of the structural role played by the rivets supplied by Creidne Cerd.

Cerd is a term meaning “craftsman, artisan”, most often applied to silver- and gold-smiths.  It can also apply to the craft or skill itself, and thereby to an occupation or way of life.



This is a characteristically tricky colour-word (see “Many Shades of Darkness”).  It has variously been translated as “brown”, “reddish-brown”, “dark yellow” and “red”.  It is used substantively to mean “the Abyss”, “the Pit of Hell”; and the verbal noun crónugud seems to mean “twilight”.

Some illumination of this Abyss may come from the word crúan.  This is some kind of ornamental material, usually translated as “red enamel”, a favourite decoration in medieval Irish metalwork.  In support of the colour as a blood-red, it is used in the poem Buile Suibne in the phrase: caor[a] . . . crúandatha cuilinn, “blood-red berries of holly”.

It is possible that crón is related to crú, “blood, gore”, which becomes cró- in compounds.  The sense of crú extends both to a blood-red colou and to a serious or fatal wound, both of which are appropriate to our story.  It can also be used to indicate race or family relationship, much as we would use “blood” in modern English.



[NOTE: This paragraph is identical to the note on the Dagda in “Texts of Eithliu”.]

aka Eochaid Ollathar.  In Cath Maige Tuired [lines 423 - 426], he gives his full name:

“Fir Benn Bruaich Brogaill Broumide Cerbad Caic Rolaig Builc Labair Cerrce Di Brig Oldathair Boith Athgen mBethai Brightere Trí Carboid Roth Rimairie Riog Scotbe Obthe Olaithbe.”

For now, we shall look at the name by which he is most commonly known; the Dagda.  Firstly, it is worth noting that this apellation always has the definite article; in = “the”.  The Morrigan also always has the definite article, and these two characters are closely linked in Cath Maige Tuired.

As for Dagda, the medieval glossators analysed this as dag-día  “good god”.  However, I have not come across any examples where día, “god”, changes to da.  Día has forms such as deadeu etc., but the -da element of the Dagda’s name is very consistent.  Its genetive form is Dagdae or Dagda, and dative form DagdoDagdea.  Only this last form would be a possible form from dag-día, “good god”.

I propose that it is a dvandva compound; a word that is doubled for emphasis.  As a comparison, note that Irish people sometimes say “at all at all” for emphasis.  In which case, Dagda would be a doubling of da- / dag, “good”, making him “the best of the best”!



I was always a bit non-plussed by the standard translation of this line: “Now this is the Brig who invented a whistle [fét] for signalling at night”.  I could neither make sense of the relevance of the “aside”, nor of why a whistle might be especially good for signalling at night.  However, once I looked into the related meanings of fét, a different picture emerged.

The sense in which fét is a whistle is the sense of a sword whistling through the air, or some other process involving blowing, such as the whistling of the wind.  Fét is very often the word used to describe the hiss of a snake, and I think using a hiss to signal at night would be more effective than a whistle.

Then I came across this intriguing triad from the Book of Ballymote:

tri gotha diabhuil….i. fead ┐ gul ┐ eigeamh

“three diabolical voices i.e. hissing and weeping and shrieking”

All three of these “diabolical voices” are ascribed to Brig in our story: her keening starts with égem, “shrieking”, then moves to gol, “weeping”, and finally she is attributed with fét, “hissing”.  Brig’s role seems to connect with vocalisations, which further connects to the use of the term garman (see below).



This essentially means a “fían band” or “warrior band”.  Fíana were bands of young men whose occupations were hunting and fighting, most familiarly in the many stories of Find [Fionn, Finn] and his Fíana.  The derivation of the word is unclear, but it may come from an abstract noun meaning “driving” >> “hunting”.  Fíanlach would then make more sense as “hunting band”, and it would be appropriate then that their mother, Crón, would be sharpening blood-red weapons.

Fíanlach later developed a general meaning of “group”, not unlike áes (above) and lucht (below).  Perhaps this association suggested this as another character-name in the piece, as I haven’t come across any other characters called Fíanlach as yet.  If you have, please leave a comment or contact us!



This is usually translated as “weaver’s beam”, which feels quite obscure.  Let us follow its uses and senses to see how it relates to our story.

My first association with garman is from a gloss on a kenning for the Ogam letter nin.  In the Tree Ogam, popularised by late medieval scholars in works such as the Auraceipt na nÉces, this letter was given the meaning “ash tree”, despite there already being a letter, ohn, which clearly means “ash tree”, and whose kennings point to that meaning with references to wounding, weapons and warriors (the ash being a favoured material for making spear-shafts).  To return to nin, one of its kennings is bāg ban .i. garman, “boast of women i.e. a weaver’s beam”.  It is worth remembering that garman here appears as a gloss, and so is not part of the original kenning-poem.

While garman does carry senses of beams, shafts and cudgels (appropriate to the later association with ash-trees), it has a more straight-forward meaning as the nominative plural of gairm, “calling”.  The senses in which this veral noun can be used include “cry”, “vocation”, “summons” and the “calling” of the soul from the body at death.  To me, understanding garman principally as “callings” or “cries” makes better sense of its relationship to the kenning bág ban, “boast of women”, and to its appearance in our story which deals so much with keening and vocalisations.

It may be that the transference of garman to the sense of “weaver’s beam” may stem from its association with women: women as keeners, women as weavers and the deeply feminine character of nin.  Rather than meaning “ash tree”, this Ogam letter relates to the fork of a tree, with its kennings as bág maisi, “boast of beauty”, bág ban, “boast of women” and costud side, “establishing of peace”.  This points me to an understanding of nin as vagina, associated widely with forked objects (such as “crutch” <> “crotch”), and with the establishing of peace through sexual relationships between tribal groups.



Goibniu is an n-stem noun with the genitive Goibnann, “of Goibniu”, which gives us the Modern Irish word gabha[nn], “smith”.  However, the sense of the goib- part of the name is a little oblique.

The root meaning of gob or gop isa “beak”, “snout” or “muzzle”, and is where we get the modern slang term “gob” for “mouth”.  The ancient Irish also used gob as a somewhat pejorative term for a human mouth.  It seems most particularly to refer to “beaks”, as it is used figuratively of the head of a spear, which is beak-shaped.  It is also used in the plural, goib, as the end of a set of tongs.  It is these figurative applications that point us to Goibniu; although he may simply have had a particularly pointy nose.



This comes from the root lucht, which might as well be translated as “stuff”, with a similarly broad range of applications. [The Irish often use the word “yoke” to mean “thing”, because it would have been among the first English words learned by agricultural labourers.  Subsequently, if they did not know the English word for something, they would call it a “yoke”].

However, lucht often carries the sense of “load”, “cargo”, “complement”, “capacity”, leading O’Davoran to gloss it as coire, “cauldron”.  It also has a meaning of a group, class or category of persons, and has continued into Modern Irish in this sense; e.g. lucht féachana, “audience” [lit. “group of looking”].  This seems to have a primary sense of the people occupying or possessing a place or piece of land; the “complement” of a household.  It also applies to groups that make up a profession e.g. lucht ech, “horsemen”, and this may be coming closer to the sense of the character Luchta.

Other words from the same root include luchtaigid, “to load”; luchtaire, “cook, dispenser”; and luchtmar, “well-laden, roomy” often in relation to ships.  While it seems clear from stories and glossaries that Luchta worked with wood, it may be in the general sense of wood as a basic substance, a universal cargo.  Or it might come from the extensive association with ships and their carrying capacity, in which case we could call him a shipwright.



The primary sense of this name comes from rúad, the colour of dried blood.  This is also the colour-word used to describe a “red-head’s” hair, so Rúadán could simply be an appropriate name for a red-haired person, with the -án as a commonly-used diminutive suffix.  However, rúad became usedin poetic language to mean “strong”, “mighty” and even “impetuous”; this last coinciding with modern associations of red-heads being “feisty”.  Indeed, the impetuosity can be seen in Rúadán’s hurling of the spear at Goibniu, although there is a stronger association with the colour of bloodstains, especially when paired with Crón (see above).

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