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More Stories of Macha – Revisited

FROM THE METRICAL DINDSHENCHAS VOL 4

edited by Edward Gwynn

translated by Isolde ÓBrolcháin Carmody

Poem / story 112  pp 308 – 311

EMAIN MACHA

¶1] Eamhain Macha, cidh diatá? Ní ansa.

Emain Macha, why is it [so called]? Not hard to say.

Macha mong-ruadh, ingen Aedha rúaidh meic Badhuirnn, dorad for macaibh Díthorba in ráith do chlaidhe.

Macha Red-Tresses, daughter of red-haired Aed [“Flame”], son of Badurn [the “Vessel of Badurn” is one of the Twelve Ordeals for truth-telling]; he laid [the task] on the sons of Dithorba [“Fruitless”, “Profitless”] of putting a ditch [around] the fort.

Día m-batar for indarba i fothribh Bairne luidh-si ir-richt chlaimsighe chuco día m-batar ac fuine thuirc allaidh isin chaille.

When they were in exile in the wilds of Boirenn [the Burren, Co. Clare? Or an area of South Co. Down?], she came to them disguised as a leper, while they were roasting a wild boar in the wood.

Berigh gach fer ar úair les h-í do aentughudh fría, & nochengladh-si iarom.

Each of them in turn carried her off to unite with her [a literal translation of this euphemism for rape], and then she tied each of them up.

Beridh-si iarom lei co h-Emain fon chruth sin cóic meic Dithorba .i. Baeth & Brass & Bétach, Uallach & Borbchass a n-anmand-sidhe.

Then she took the five sons of Dithorba with her to Emain in this state; “Fool”, “Boasting”, “Violent”, “Arrogant” and “Rude-Perverse” were their names.

Fororchongairt-sidhe dino in ráith do chlaidhe, ar bá fearr lei moghsaine forro andá a marbudh.

Also she ordered them to make a ditch around the fort, for she preferred to make slaves of them than to kill them.

Rothoraind doibh ímpi ‘ma cúairt día dealg íarsin in ratha, & rosclaidhset-som.

Then she delineated the fort around about her with her [brooch] pin for them, and they made the ditch.

Unde dicitur Eamain .i. eomhuin .i. eo imma mhuin Mhacha .i. delg ímmá braighit.

Therefore it is called ‘Emain’, i.e. eómhuin, i.e. ‘the [brooch] pin at Macha’s neck’, i.e., ‘the pin at her throat’.

[I find it hard to believe, but I didn’t notice the first time round that this synthetic etymology directly draws on the medieval (and modern) tradition of trying to understand what Ogam is for! Éo, “salmon”, is a reconstruction (based on the work of Damien MacManus) of the letter “E” in Ogam – a letter-name that got confused with Ebad, developing into Edad. By analogy, the original name for the following letter, Ío, “yew-tree”, changed into Idad. The kenning-poems on the letter-names clearly points to these letter-names meaning “salmon” and “yew-tree” respectively, and to the two words rhyming. The second element of the synthetic etymology is Muin, a well-attested word for the neck, as this “brooch-pin” interpretation shows.]

Acht chena fégh in Réim Rigraidhi, si desideras inuenire prolixius, & causa breuitatis hic praetermito.

But see further the Succession of Kings, if you wishe to learn the full story, which for brevity’s sake I here omit.

 

¶2] Nó dano is de Eamhuin Macha.

Or again, Emain Macha [is named] from [this]:

Dia luidh Macha ingen Sainrith meic Inboith do choimling fri dha ghabair an righ Choncobair isin aenach, íarna radh do Chrunnchoin ba luaithi a ben andate eich an righ.

Macha, daughter of “Excellent Running” son of “Unfoolish[?]”, came to contest against the two steeds of king Conchobar [“Hound-Lover”] at the assembly, after Crunnchu [“Tree-Grove”] had said that his wife was faster than the king’s horses.

Asbert in rí fri Crundchoin, foghebadh báss mene thísad a ben don coimling.

The king told Crunnchu that he would die unless his wife came to the race.

Tanic iarom Macha do sháeradh a fir, & si alachta, & roreith an cend m-blai frisna h-eocho, & ba luaithe dhi anda dona h-echaibh.

Then Macha came to free her husband, and she pregnant.  She ran against the horses to the end of the green. She was faster than the horses.

Arsisbis iarom mac & ingen d’aen-tairbert, & scredsad in noidhin, co rolai Ullta ina cess, co m-ba coimneart fria mnai siúil cach fear, conidh o sin rolen an cess, & conidh on Macha sin & don eamon rosfuc ata Magh Macha & Eamain Macha.

Then she gave birth to a boy and a girl at one birthing, and the infants screamed, which put the Ulstermen into their debility, so that each man was [only] as strong as a woman in [child-]bed; so that the “cess” stuck to them because of that. It is from this Macha and from the twins (emon) she bore come the names of Mag Macha and Emain Macha.

Poem 27 p124 – p131

[NOTE: I have marked the ends of sections in this poem in the same way as the original author. The dúnad, “closing”, is a means of marking the end of a poem by repeating the first word of the poem. While this may have started as a genuine technique of composition, it becomes a textual convention for marking poetic areas in large manuscripts.]

ARD MACHA

In mag imríadat ar n-eich,

The plain where our horses are ridden

do réir Fíadat co fír-breith,

by the will of the right-judging Lord,

and roclass fo thacha thig

There was buried in a lonely house

in mass, Macha ben Nemid.

the Beauty, Macha [“Plains”] wife of Nemed [“Grove”]

 

Nemed riana baile ar blaid

Nemed, in front of his famous home,

dá sé maige romór-shlaid:

Greatly cut out two sixes [i.e. 12] of plains

ba díb in mag-sa, is maith lemm,

This plain was one of those – I deem it good –

dara rag-sa im réim rothenn.

across which I shall boldly go.

 

Macha, robráena cach m-búaid,

Macha, who showered [forth] accomplishments,

ingen ard Áeda arm-rúaid,

the noble daughter of Áed [“Flame”]  of the ruddy weapons,

sund roadnacht badb na m-berg,

was buried here, Raven of the Raids,

dia rosmarb Rechtaid rig-derg.

when she was killed by [the] Lawman of the red [i.e. bloody] king.

[Gwynn: “when Rechtaid red-wrist slew her”].

 

Hí rochum, cen chúairt cobra,

It was she who cut – without courting help,

do maccaib dúairc Díthorba

For the sons of stern Dithorba [“Fruitless”]

nír gním deólaid, co n-deilg de

It was not a draining deed – with her [brooch] pin

Eómain ós leirg in maige.

Emain, over the expanse of the plain

 

Dia coíniud, ba bunad bil,

For her lamenting – it was a good foundation –

la slúag n-Ulad cach n-aimsir,

by the hosts of Ulster for all time,

dogníthe cen tacha thair

there should be held yonder, without fail,

óenach Macha ‘sin mór-maig. In.

the Fair of Macha in the great plain. [DÚNAD]

 

Is cóir dam a rád i fus,

It is proper for me to tell now,

dáig is dál co n-dánatus,

because it is a gathering of boldness,

scél diamboí cless cen chobair,

The story of how, a feat beyond remedy,

Ulaid h-í cess chomgalair.

The Ulstermen [were] in a debility of one sickness.

 

Laithe doríacht fo glóir glain

One day there came, in pure glory,

co h-óenach cóir Conchobair

to the just fair of Conchobar,

in fer trétach ón tuind tair,

the herdsman from the sea yonder

Cruind cétach mac Agnomain.

Cruinn [“Tree”] son of Agnoman [??] of the hundreds [of cattle i.e. a wealthy bóaire]

 

And tucait, fri h-érim nglain,

Then they bring there, at a clean gallop,

dá ech, nach fégaim samail,

two horses – I have never seen their like –

i n-ech-thress curad, ná ceil,

into the punishing horse-contest – don’t hide it –

fo ríg Ulad in úair-sein.

Under the king of Ulster at that time.

 

Cen co raib a samla sin

Although their like had never been [found]

ar Maig dá Gabra d’ echraid,

in the horse-herds of the Plain of Two White Horses,

atbert Cruind, in mer mongach,

Cruind said, that hairy madman,

ba lúaithiu a ben balc-thorrach.

That his heavily pregnant wife was faster.

 

‘Fastaid acaib in flaith fir,’

“Detain that noble man”

ar Conchobar cath-chingid,

said Conchobar Battle-Strider

‘co tí ben bán in balair’

“Until the pale wife of the cheiftain comes

‘do rith rán rem rogabair.’

To run gloriously against my two mighty horses.”

 

Etha óen-fher ara cend

A certain man was sent for her

ó ríg na fóen-shleg fír-thend

from the king of the unbreakable spear-line

co toirsed ó thuind tríathaig

that she would come from the waves of the sea

do chosnum Chruinn chrín-bríathraig.

To defend Cruinn of the withered words.

 

Doríacht in ben cen fhuirech

The woman arrived without delay

óenach na reb roguinech:

[to the] fair of deadly games

a dá h-ainm thíar cen tacha

Her two names, frequen in the West,

Grían gel ocus glan-Macha.

[are] bright Grian [“Sun”] and pure Macha [“Plains”]

 

A h-athair, nír thréith ‘ca thig,

Her father, not weak in his house,

Midir Brig Léith meic Celtchair

Midir [“Judge”] of Brí Leith [Ardagh Hill, Co. Longford] son of Celtchar [“Lover of Concealment”??]

ina treib thíar cen tuige

in her uncovered homestead in the West

ba h-í sin grían banchuire.

She was the sun [“grian”] of womankind.

 

Mar doríacht co ngairge im glóir

When she came, splendidly bold,

rochuindig cairde a chétóir

She sought a truce at once

co slóg na clann ná claíte,

from the host of unsurpassed families

ó dosrocht amm asaíte.

Because she had reached her time of distress [/ her appointed time]

 

15. Tucsat Ulaid bréithir riss

Then the Ulstermen gave a word

don mnaí théith-mir thúachail-chniss,

to the dearly-astute [?] woman, mad with passion

[Gwynn: “to the quick brisk dame, big with child”]

ná faigbed rath ria rige

that she would not get a prize before the contest

ó chath chlaidbech cloth-Line.

from the famous battle-bladed multitude

 

Iarum rosnocht in mer mend

Then the speechless wildwoman revealed herself

roscaíl a folt ‘ma fír-chend,

she loosed her hair about her very head,

doluid cen om-grith n-áine

She came without rude cries driving her

don chomrith don chomáine.

to the running, to the race.

 

Tuctha na h-eich dia tóeb thair

The horses were brought to her side

dia m-breith sech in saír samlaid:

so that they were brought past the noblewoman like this;

d’ Ultaib in braga co búan

for the Ulstermen of the territory, for ever more,

robo clé mana in marc-shlúag.

that horse-host was a sinister sign.

 

Ciaptar lúatha mairc in máil

However fast were the chief’s horses

eter thúatha fo thrén-dáil,

among the mightily-gathered kingdoms,

lúaithe in ben cen gním ngainne,

the woman was faster, sparing no deed,

eich in ríg ba romaille.

the king’s horses were too slow.

 

Mar rosíacht cenn na céite,

When she reached the end of the course –

(ba sáer a gell glé-méite,)

her conspicuous great oath was free[ly given]

ruc díis cen athbach n-úaire

she bore two [children] without a second time [i.e. at once]

fiad shlúag cathrach Cróeb-rúaide.

witnessed by the host of the Red Branch city.

 

Mac ocus ingen moalle,

A son and a daughter together

rosalt imned tria áine:

were reared by suffering through her splendour;

emon ruc Grían cen gním ngann,

Grían bore twins – no mean feat –

Fír ocus Fíal a n-anmann.

“Truth” and “Generosity” were their names

 

Fácbaid bréithir co m-búaine

She leaves her word for ever more

for cléithib na Cráeb-rúaide,

on the roof-posts of the Red Branch

a m-beith fri tress fo thirbaid,

that they would be hindered when at war

fo chess is fo chomidnaib.

by debility and by a single illness

 

In bríathar dorat andsin

She said the word then

don tshlúag thríathach ba tirbaid:

was a distress to the lordly host:

roslen, nírbo gnó do gail,

it stuck with them – not an occasion for virility –

cosin nómad nó n-arsaid.

Until the ninth aged generation [?]

 

Ó fhlaith Chonchobair Cherna

From the reign of Conchobar of Cerna

[Hogan places this 5 miles north of Tara]

[or “Conchobar of Victories”]

ós trom-thoraib túaid-Emna

over the thick crowds of northern Emain

rosbraith tria báig in bine

the damage she threatened was evident

co flaith Máil meic Rochraide.

until the reign of Mál [“Chief”] son of Rochraide [“Great-Heart”?].

 

Andsin robo marb in ben

Then the woman died

don galur garb, roglinned;

from the rough illness, it was ascertained,

co roclass fo thacha thair

so that she was buried alone yonder

i n-Ard Macha mid-adbail.

in the great centre of Ard Macha [Armagh],

[Gwynn: mid-adbail = “rich in mead”].

 

Dia bás, dia bethaid co m-blaid

From her death, from her life, – [she is] famous

eter srethaib síl Ádaim,

among the streams of Adam’s seed –

na mná cen bríg m-bailb ós bla

the woman, without silencing [her?] power over the field,

rolen a h-ainm in mag-sa. In.

her name has stuck to this plain. [DÚNAD]

 

Co h-Ard Macha, dáltait fir,

To Ard Macha, [where] men gather

ó thuc Pátraic prím-chretim,

since Patrick first brought the prime-faith,

in túaim cen tacha rothag

the unscanty territory which he took

is rúaim ratha, cid romag. In.

it is a wealthy settlement, though a great plain. [DÚNAD]

 

A rí, thuc Emain co h-úar

O king, who brought desolation to Emain

iarna dedail ria deg-shlúag,

after the scattering by [of?] the good host,

m’anmain ní rop trúag it tig

let my life not be sad in your house,

iar salmaib súad h-i sáer-maig. In.

after [singing] psalms of sages in that noble plain. [DÚNAD]

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