Story Archaeology

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

Circling the Táin 04: Harder, Faster, Stronger, Better – The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn

A graphic showing a ringed planet, with a bull on the central planet, and images representing characters from the Táin on satelites around the planet

Harder, Faster, Stronger, Better!

In this episode, we get to examine some remarkable exploits of one of the central figures in the Tain tradition: Cú Chulainn.  We explore stories told by some of the characters who know the hero, remembering him as a child.

Join the Story Archaeologists as we try to decide if  the young Cú Chulainn can be considered a ‘child prodigy’  or merely a ‘precocious brat’.

Read the texts for yourself!

Here are links to the texts and translations that we used for the childhood deeds of Cú Chulainn:

The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn.” Ancient Irish Tales. ed. and trans. Tom Cross and Harris Slover. NY: Barnes and Noble, 1996. reprint

The Boyhood of Cú Chulainn, from Táin Bó Cuailgne Recension 1; pp 135-148 [translation]: ed. and trans. Cecile O’Rahilly

The sections we refer to are under the following titles:

  • The Eulogy of Cú Chulainn
  • The Boyhood Deeds
  • The Death of the Boys
  • The Fight between Eógan mac Durthacht and Conchobar [aka Cú Chulainn and the Battlefield Phantoms]
  • The fate of the twenty-seven men and the reason why none dared to wound the Ulstermen when they were in their debility.
  • The killing of the Smith’s Hound by Cú Chulainn and the reason why he is called Cú Chulainn
  • The Death of Nechta Scéne’s Three Sons


Circling the Táin 03: The Birth Pangs of Ulster

A graphic showing a ringed planet, with a bull on the central planet, and images representing characters from the Táin on satelites around the planet

In this episode, we continue our exploration of the troublesome conceptions and births that stand behind much of the material of the Táin tradition. This time, we examine the births of the doomed Deirdre, the fated Cú Chulainn and re-re-visit the importance of Macha’s story.

Join the Story Archaeologists as we attempt to disentangle webs of prophecy and poor decision-making, and try to understand what all these little worms are about!

Read the texts for yourself!

Here are links to the texts and translations that we used for the birth of Deirdre:

from the Book of Leinster (LL)

Longes mac n-Uislenn – edited by Vernam Hull

The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu – translated by Vernam Hull

late version translated by Douglas Hyde



Here are the texts on Macha:

Noinden Ulad; The Story of Macha

More Stories of Macha – Revisited

An original translation of Compert Con Chulainn, the Conception of Cú Chulainn, will be uploaded in the coming days

Need some revision?

You may find it helpful to revisit our episodes on Macha:

Series 1 – Mythical Women; Episode 2 – The Story of Macha

Series 5 – Revisiting Mythical Women; Episode 2 – Revisiting Macha


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

Circling The Tain 02: Portents and Prophecies

A graphic showing figures from the Táin tradition imagined as a planet surrounded by rings and moons, with a couple of comets

The richly interwoven stories that make up the Táin tradition contain a wide diversity of characters. There is much to explore. Even their back stories have back stories!

In this episode, we explore the back stories of two such characters: the well-known Ulster king, Conchobar Mac Nessa, and the lesser-known Ulster hero, Conall Cernach.

Join the Story Archaeologists in the first of two episodes that uncover the significance of a few portentous conceptions and births.

Read the texts for yourself!

Scéla Conchobar, “The Tidings of Conchobar”, from the Book of Leinster.
Compert Conchobair, “The Conception of Conchobar”, from Rawlinson B512 (incorrectly referred to in the episode as from the Yellow Book of Lecan)
Compert Conchobair, “The Conception of Conchobar”, from Stowe 992
“The Conception of Conall Cernach”, from Cóir Anmann, “The Fitness of Names”
“The Conception of Conall Cernach”, translated by Patrick Brown

Links to other books referenced in the episode

“Even Cuneiform writing could not be managed left handed”: “The Ark before Noah” by Irving Finkel (highly recommended)
“The journey across the Alps in Táin Bó Fraoich”: “Worlds of Arthur.”  by Guy Halsall

Need some revision?

You may find it helpful to revisit our episodes on Fled Bricrenn, Bricriu’s Feast:

Fled Bricrenn 1: The Feasting Hall

Fled Bricrenn 2: The Road to Crúachán

Fled Bricrenn 3: Your Head or Mine?

Fled Bricrenn 4: A Head to Head Discussion



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 Crucifixion of the Outcast’ ~ a story by W.B. Yeats


As I  mentioned in our recent Festivus Special, Aisling MacConglinne – A Satirical Tale of Extreme Gastronomy, I had  no more than a superficial familiarity with the text when we selected it for our 2016 mid-winter podcast.

It is one of Isolde’s favourite stories, so I was aware, that the story involved a poet’s vision of a land of sumptuous food.and that ts central theme was  a poet’s satire on the church. However,  I had not read the full text in any detail.

When I began to re-examine the text, I realised that the first part of the story was very familiar to me. This section focused on the quarrel between an abbot and the master poet, MacConglinne. This travelling scholar experienced a distinct lack of hospitality from the monks, and underwent appalling ill treatment at their hands.

While exploring thetext,  I remembered a short story that I had read in the very early seventies. It came from a collection of Irish short stories entitled “The Wild Night Company”, edited by Peter Haining with a foreword by the wonderful Ray Bradbury.   I have no recollection of where I acquired the book but it may be that I was attracted to its somewhat lurid cover. Now, when reviewing the contents of the book , I become aware that this is where I may have first encountered many of the Irish stories that I now know so well. Thy included one of the, if not the earliest, werewolf story, attributed to Geraldus Cambrensis, Oscar Wilde’s ‘Canterville Ghost’,   ‘Teighe O’Kane and the Corpse’ (see Corpse Carrying For Beginners ~a Samhain Special from a few years ago), and the atmospheric, ‘Witch Wood’ by Lord Dunsanywilliam_butler_yeats_by_george_charles_beresford

The W.B. Yeats story, included in the collection, was not one I had previously encountered even though, in 1971, when the book was published, I would have been studying Yeats at degree level.  I found out that it had originally been published in the anthology, ‘The Secret Rose’ (1897).

I was intrigued by the story but, at the time, felt that I was missing information that would allow me to decode its intentions. In ‘The Crucifixion of the Outcast’ Yeats replicates the first part of the story of MacConglinne in some detail,  His un-named poet or ‘ glee-man’ meets with the same  abuse and inhospitality as  MacConglinne,  but fails to escape his intended fate, the punishment of  crucifixion. The second part of the MacConglinne story, where the poet uses a poetic vision to revenge himself on the niggardly abbot and rescue the king from the demon of gluttony that inhabits him, is completely absent. Yeats’ version is a dark and brooding telling but stripped of the dark humour and extravagant satire of the original story it loses the impact of the original, text

Yeat’s partial re-telling is intended to form a diatribe on early medieval church practice. However, the full story offers so much more. It, too, is a  criticism on church law. It  illustrates what happens when the ancient laws of hospitality are ignored but it also points out that the traditional tool of legal satire is still very much alive and kicking.

There are, as mentioned, two sections of the story. The first part describes the treatment MacConglinne receives at the hands of the monks, the beatings, abuse and his, intended, vicious execution. In the second, the poet uses a description of a poetic vision of food to draw the demon of gluttony from the king.

At a first reading, the sections appear different both in tone and style. Both demonstrate the Master Poet’s quick wits and ready word-craft. The second section, however, comedic in style, has a purpose that does connect it to the poet’s initial reception. The king, who has been tricked into swallowing en-spelled fruit, has no poet to guard and guide him. Only a traditionally trained poet, whose innate abilities give him the power to travel the landscapes of both the temporal and the ‘Otherworld’, can save him.  Without this power, the king continues to devour the fertility of the land and neither, he or his people, will derive any benefit from it. The text warns that the land is close to ruin with its king under the curse of gluttony. MacConglinne, when he speaks the satire on Cork in the first art of the story, is not threatening a future event. he is merely stating a current threat.

Cork, wherein are sweet bells,
Sour is its sand,
Its soil is sand,
Food there is none in it.

The king needs his poet and MacConglinne demonstrates that the traditional Master Poet can succeed when the church can only bluster and threaten. The vision of a journey to a land of over-indulgence, is intended to be highly comedic and entertaining and yet it includes the clear message that hospitality is not just about consumption or extravagant feasting. If its cultural and social purpose, protected by the lore of the Master Poet  is lost, then hospitality, however lavish,  devolves to mere gluttony.

By contrasting the creative paucity of the monastic life with the individual master poet’s   free-handed hospitable, ever-flowing feast of words MacConglinne may also be offering a warning to poets.  Through his   luscious and wildly extravagant descriptions, he is surely passing wry comments on the effects of purple prose, perhaps a trait he, a master Poet,is beginning to recognise in non traditionally trained court entertainers..

Even today, the most effective satire juxtaposes dark comedy with exaggerated consequences. The Aisling MacConglinne is an effective satire. It is also a literary story of some skill and well worth reading. However, the Yeats story is also interesting in its own right. I am pleased to have re-encountered it, along with the other stories from a book that I last enjoyed many years ago.

You can read both texts through the links below. See what you think.

The Crucifixion of the Outcast by W.B. Yeats

The full text of Aisling MacConglinne




Winter Special 2016: Aisling MacConglinne – A Satirical Tale of Extreme Gastronomy

Illustration of "The Ghost of Christmas Present" from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"The Midwinter festival has been a time of over indulgence and conspicuous consumption for millenia! This year, we dig in to the Middle Irish story, Aisling MacConglinne, “The Vision of MacConglinne”, a delicious debauch of extreme gastronomy.!

Join the Story Archaeologists in a feast of fantastical food, with a generous side order of sumptuous satire.

Read the full translated text here!

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

A Battle between Equals

Wild boar with pigletsIn a recent episode, 6.01 – The Quarrel of The Two Swineherds, we discussed a magical battle between two equal antagonists. These were Friuch and Rucht, the swineherds attached to the chieftains of Munster and Connacht respectively. As we made clear in the podcast, this pair were in no manner low status menials. As with the cup bearers or door keepers, these were men of high importance. It is clear from their stated abilities that these swineherds are indeed chief poets, upholding the wealth and fertility of the land.

The story tells how they are persuaded, perhaps goaded, into a contest by their own Túaths, who each wish to show off the powers of their own man. The contest begins in a friendly manner with both Friuch and Rucht initiating the other’s pigs’ failure to thrive. But, inevitably, this contest of equals gets out of hand and causes chaos. Both swineherds shape-shift into a series of different creatures – including two great birds, water creatures, stags and Fian Warriors – each for a period of two years,  a sure indication of their marvelous poetic abilities. Finally, in the form of worms, they are swallowed by two cows who will become the dams of two wondrous bulls,  the Finnbend Aí and the Dond Cualngi. If you would like to enjoy the full story of this shape-shifting contest, do listen to the podcast.

This tale serves the purpose of an ‘origin story’ for the Táin Bó Cúailnge, the great battle for dominance between Connaught and Ulster that carries in its path so many other  exploits and hero tales.  However, we also commented on the significance of the parity demonstrated by these two antagonists and its relevance to the stories within the Tain tradition.

Magical battles, especially those involving changes of shape, are not uncommon. We have referenced several of them in other episodes. However, there are differences. This tale does not involve shape-shifting to expiate an escape, as in Cian’s transformation of himself into a pig to avoid the attention of bandits. (See Series 2 episode 9: The Children of Tuirenn). The same is true of Gwion’s multi-formed flight in the Mabinogion story.  Gwion has unintentionally gained the magical benefit from a cauldron of wisdom lengthily prepared by Ceridwen. He shape-shifts desperately in an attempt to evade capture but is eventually swallowed by her in the form of a grain of wheat while she takes the form of a hen. In all his forms, he is trying to out-wit Ceridwen rather than to challenge her.

Neither is it the shape-shifting challenge to a master by an apprentice or junior poet / warrior.  This is definitely a battle between equals, and such parity is more unusual.

In series 2 episode 4 “On the Track of the Dagda” we  discussed the meeting between The  Dagda and Indech’s daughter. This is a battle of words of power. No shape-shifting takes place, but the threat is implicit.

Then the girl said ‘You shall not go to the battle by any means.’
‘Certainly I will go’ replied Dagda.
‘You will not, for I will be a stone at the mouth of every ford you cross.’
‘That may be true,’ he replied ‘but you will not keep me from battle, I will tread heavily on every stone and the imprint of my heel will be on every stone forever.’
‘But you still will not go past me until I summon the Fomorians who are the sons  from the fairy hills, because I will be a giant oak in every ford and in every pass that you must cross’ she countered.
‘Indeed I will go past and I will hack at every oak with my axe and the mark will remain in every oak tree forever.

During the podcast we referred to the folk song ‘The Two Magicians’. The song, perhaps best known in the modern version popularised by Steeleye Span, takes the form of a chase between a Smith and a virginal woman who seeks to evade his advances. The woman shape shifts to aid her escape, just as Gwion does  in the story of his escape from Ceridwen in the Mabinogion,The smith adopts an appropriately predatory form, as does Ceridwen. In some versions of the song the woman escapes the smith. In other versions the Smith catches up with her and takes her maidenhood.

(There’s a more modernised version by the wonderful Magnetic Fields, “Wi Nae Wee Bairn Ye’ll Me Beget“. – IC)

However, although this British song shares some superficial similarities with the stories already mentioned, especially the tale of Gwion and his multi form pursuit, it has less in common with the tale of our two swineherds.

While I was struggling to identify folkloric examples of magical battles between equals,  a few modern versions did come to mind.  That  long-running modern epic, Star Wars, contains plenty of magical battles, involving mind operated force weapons, especially that great favourite, the light sabre. 3341631713_a22f20920dWhereas many of the central encounters are between a master and an up-coming apprentice or junior,  several magical encounters between holders of equal powers can be identified. The force battle between Yoda and Count Dooku comes to mind, or perhaps the meeting between Mace Windu and Darth Sidious is a better example. the-raven-roger-corman_filmAnother of my favourite films also fits the pattern. This is the 1963 Roger Corman film, ‘The Raven’, very loosely based on Poe’s poem. It involves a magical battle between magicians to rescue a third sorcerer who has been transformed into a raven. Starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff, this tongue-in-cheek film is a classic.

A more traditional example can be found in the Finnish Kalevala. The Kalevala is a synthetic compilation of folklore and tales collected and formatted into an epic narrative by the nineteenth century linguist Elias Lönnrot. Lönnrot made a great many field trips to gather as much material as he could from the ancient oral tradition of surviving songs and poems, and formed them into a continuous narrative. There are also more modern translations and retellings of this traditional material.

One of the central characters of this Finnish tradition is Väinämöinen, a wise poet and creator magician. At the start of the first cycle which bears his name, he meets and battles with another, lesser magician, the jealous Joukahainen. The battle takes the form of a contest of songs of power, which, as we have demonstrated in the podcast, is frequently the poetic equivalent of shape-shifting. Joukahainen boasts of his abilities, but Väinämöinen easily defeats him with his own more powerful magical words. Below is an extract from this section of the story retold by Aaron Shepherd from ‘The Songs of Power, A Finnish Tale of Magic’ from the Kalevala’. You can read the whole story through the following link:

Said Joukahainen,
“Yes, I know a thing or two.
I know the fire is on the hearth, and the smoke hole near the ceiling.
A plough in the south is pulled by horse, and in the north by reindeer.
The pike feeds on salmon and lays its eggs when frost arrives.”

“An infant knows as much!” said Vainamoinen.
“What else can you offer?”
Said Joukahainen,

“Iron comes from ore, copper from the rock.
Water is born from the mountains, fire from the heavens.
The titmouse was the first of birds, the willow the first of trees.”

“A toddler has such wisdom!
Can you furnish nothing better?”

Said Joukahainen,
“Back in the beginning, the seas were dug out, and the mountains piled high.
The pillars of the sky were erected, and the rainbow raised.
The sun and moon were set on their paths, and the stars scattered in the sky.”

“Know yourself a fool,” said Vainamoinen.
“For I dug out the seas, and I piled high the mountains.
I stood among the seven heroes who erected the pillars of the sky and raised the rainbow.
And when that was done, we set the sun and moon on their paths and scattered the stars in the heavens.”

This part of the tale, ‘The Songs of Power’, shares resonance with our Irish tale of the Poet-Swineherds and their magical contest. However, Vainamoinen and Joukahainen are by no means equals. Joukahainen is a typical jealous upstart, a young, would-be magician-poet attempting to challenge the older and more experienced master poet.

The latter part of this and later song cycles may have a greater connection with  the story of the ‘Quarrel of the Two Swineherds’, and provide an unexpected connection to ‘The Two Magicians’, the folk song referenced earlier in this article. After the battle of the songs of power, the defeated Joukahainen offers his sister’s hand as a pledge for his life. Although the sister, Aino, dies, Vainamoinin continues his quest for a bride. In a later part of the first cycle, (songs 6-10), Vainamoinen seeks to woo ‘The Maiden of the North’. He persuades the magical smith, Ilmarinen, to aid him. Even with this aid, Vainamoinin undertakes many dangerous adventures in his attempts to win the maiden.

In subsequent song poems, the smith becomes a rival for the maiden himself. He is also set a series of impossible takes to carry out but succeeds with the help of the putative bride. Eventually, it is the smith, rather than Vainamoinin, that she chooses to marry.

So, it seems, this is another epic story-cycle that commences with a tale of two magical equals,  who begin as friends and become rivals. Our Poet-Swineherds do not become rivals for the hand of a maiden, but in their incarnations as the two great bulls they certainly initiate, like Vainamoinin and Ilmarinen, a plethora of epic stories. In this short article I can offer no more than a brief outline of the themes that make up these Finnish song cycles. The stories are entertaining and well worth reading in full.

I am drawing no conclusions from my observations of the story of Vainamoinin and Ilmarenin. I am suggesting no direct connection between the tales. However, I set out to identify another traditional tale of a magical battle between equals. Resonances with the Finnish Kalevala have proved unexpected and worth exploring further.

I can leave Star Wars for another time!

Circling the Tain 01: The Quarrel of the Two Swineherds (or “Where It All Began”)

Wild boar with piglets

Welcome to Series 6, “Circling the Tain”. In this series, we will delve into the fascinating web of stories making up the Tain tradition, with the Tain Bó Cúailnge, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”, at its core.

We begin this exploration with the story of two talented swineherds and their shape-shifting,poetic quarrel. Join the Story Archaeologists as they begin to uncover just how much this entertaining story acts as a trailer for the complex of stories that make up the Tain tradition as a whole.


Related episodes

Without too big of a Spoiler Alert, we get excited again about Mongán in this episode! Here are the links to the podcast episodes on Mongán:

Rowing Around Immrama 09: Mongan and His Missus

Throughout this series, “Circling the Táin”, we refer to the Ulster Cycle WordPress site by Patrick Brown. His site is a superb resource for this strand of old Irish literature. Peruse at your leisure!

The Ulster Cycle: Heroic Legends from Ireland – Patrick Brown


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

Uaimh na gCait (Oweynagat)

The Cave of the Cats

Taken from a personal journal entry after an early visit to the cavecave of the cat

…..“There it is, by that house” and we tumble out of the car into the everlasting drizzle. The cave of Cruachán was said to be the most notorious otherworld entrance in folktale and legend. From here, so it was said, the Morrigan once appeared in her chariot, crimson-cloaked, leading the heifer to the brown bull of Cuailnge. This, so it was said,  was the gate that loosed various plagues of otherworld beings into the outer worlds, and here Neera began his quest into the ‘hollow hills’.

At first sight the way in is not impressive. The opening is low and positioned under a small track. But there is a great stone lintel overhung by a verdant hawthorn and the entrance is open.

I have been inside before and know that the path is easier than it looks, although very muddy. However, last time I had no light and could only go so far. Now I have a torch in my hand. I see that my companions are hesitating at the low opening and the depth of the mud, and so I dive right in.

“Come on,” I say from deep down the passage. “It is not difficult.”

My hand slips deep into the mud and squelches into my boots. I try not to remember that the friend who follows me is six foot four.

Now I can see the descending passage clearly. It is a rectangular tunnel well lined with cut stone, even if the floor is dripping with soft mud after the prolific rain. It dips steeply, and then ahead there are stone steps cutting down to a lintelled doorway of dressed stone. Behind it stretches suddenly a great natural cavern, water-washed and wild. It is leaf-shaped and high.

Carefully, watching each step, my companions enter through the portal and we stand together in the cavern.

inside caveWe hold our breath as the cave seems to reverberate around us. Much further along the cave, the floor rises suddenly into a rounded cascade of muddied stone, leaving only a dark opening below the ceiling. It might be possible to scramble up to that crack, but not now. We do not move, for this place is silent and almost disturbing.

I would like to experience the darkness, so I warn my young daughter that I am going to turn off the torch. She doesn’t mind. I click the switch and am dazzled by the sudden darkness. Cloaked in the  blackness the cave seems, no longer, silent., There are  whispers, sounds, words, echoing the  stories that  this Otherworld entrance still remembers.

Shuffling feet, a muffled voice; “A man on the track”. Then from behind me, offering his response to the requested password. “And the heavier is the track”. Is this Nera, tracking the Sidhe hosts on his timeless journeys between the Worlds?

And that sound, a distant grunting, probably nothing, direction is difficult in the darkness, seems to come  from beyond the rock fallen barrier. And yet, there are tales of all devouring  pigs that once surged from the cave, so they say, …in the folktales.

A sudden glow illuminates the cave’s depths. In  the Cattle-Raid of Regamna, the Morrigan came from this cave all regal and red, shining with power.

But not this time. It is us who must return to the mortal World,this time.

With the  renewed torch light, we hand each other through the gate and up into the stone passage, and scramble crouching in the mud towards the lightful world. The mist around us as we leave is thicker. It swirls in the torch-beam, patterning the path. And then we are out, mud-smeared, into the falling rain. We both spontaneously raise our arms to the sky and stretch our exhilaration to the scattering water drops. …..

Chris Thompson

This cave is part of the ceremonial landscape of Cruachan Ai, Cruachan Ai is one of the most important archaeological sites in Ireland, and the other end of the story that begins at Macha’s Navan Fort. For more information on this fascinating place go to


Other Appearances of The Morrigan

The Brown Bull Pat Maguire,County Louth

The Brown Bull
Pat Maguire,County Louth

As discussed in the podcast, there are several other notable appearances which the Mór Rígan makes through Irish Mythology.  Below, I have produced a translation of the Dindshenchas poem, “Odras”.  Before we get to her, here are links to some of her other roles:

Esnada Tige Buichet, “The Melodies of the House of Buchet”.

This is “the other side” of the Odras story.  Odras is not even named in this tale.  If you want to have a go at the Old Irish text, you can read it here.  If you’re happy with Myles Dillon’s “synopsis” (which misses out the passages of rosc poetry), you can read it here.


Táin Bó Cuailgne, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”

The Mór Rígan plays a crucial role in Cú Chulainn’s involvement in the Táin.  There are several versions, which you can compare and contrast!

Recension I, edited by Cecile O’Rahilly can be read here.  Her translation can be read here.  She has also produced an edition and translation of the version found in the Book of Leinster (LL); read the edition here and the translation here.

Every home should also have the version of the Táin by Thomas Kinsella, with illustrations by Louis le Brocquy, published in 1968.  Order it through your local friendly bookshop! ISBN13: 9780192803733, ISBN10: 0192803735


Reicne Fothaid Canainne

This is the eulogistic poem discussed in the podcast.  It gives us a glimpse of the Morrigan in her under-appreciated role as bringer of the dawn and good news.  You can read the edition by Kuno Meyer here, and his translation here.



From the Metrical Dindshenchas, Vol. IV, edited by E. Gwynn

Translated by Isolde Carmody


1. Odras, úais ind ingen,

Odras, noble is the daughter –

fris’ indlem laíd lúaidme,

for whom we prepare this poem which we recite –

Odornatan airme

[daughter] of Pale Dawn of repute

meic Laidne meic Lúaidre.

Son of Latin [learning] son of Repute [?]


2. Ban-briugaid ba brígach

She was a vigourous woman-hospitaller

in gnímach glan gúasach,

that active, pure, dangerous [woman],

céile cáem co cruthacht

beloved and shapely comanion

do Buchatt balcc búasach.

to sturdy, cattle-rich Buchet


3. Bóaire cáid Cormaic

cow-lord of revered Cormac

co roblait in Buchatt,

was this mighty Buchet

dúiscid búar co m-blaitne

He woke the strong herd

cach maitne for muchacht.

every morning, first thing


4. Fechtus luid dia ésse

Once, she went after him –

a ben glésse gasta,

– his brilliant, quick-witted wife

Odras rúad co romét,

Odras, red-headed and great-sized –

do chomét búar m-blasta.

to guard the tasty cattle.


5. Moch dia m-boí ‘na codlud

As soon as she was asleep –

Odras groc-dub gnóach,

Odras, dark-wrinkled [?] and busy –

dosrocht ben in Dagda,

– the Dagda’s woman reached her

ba samla día sóach [?].

In this way, [her] produce [soth] was [taken] from her

[NOTE: This is a very difficult line. Gwynn: “in this wise came the shape-shifting goddess”]


6. Tuc léi tarb in tnúthach,

She took with her the [most] important bull,

in rígan garb gnáthach,

that rugged constant queen,

baí i Líathmuine láthach,

which was in Líathmuine of the warriors,

[Líathmuine = Grey Scrubland.  This was the plane which was flooded to form Lough Neagh]

in fíachaire fáthach.

that sagacious raven-lord


7. Dairis boin in búaball,

The ox covered a cow,

tarb túamann ‘nar taídenn,

the domestic [?] bull in our company

ó Themraig tric táraill

suddenly went from Temar

co slemnaib Fraích Oírenn.

to [the] flats of Óiriu’s Heath.


8. Slemon ainm in tairb-sin,

Slippery” [was] the name of that bull,

dremon in dóel donn-sin:

That wild, clay-coloured beetle [i.e. as we may call someone a “worm”]

a ainm, mer cen mebsain,

his name – demented and undefeated –

‘sed rolen in fonn-sin.

It is [on] that basis [that] it has stuck to it [the place]


9. Luid co Crúachain cróda

She went to blood-stained Crúachán,

iarsind úath-blaid ágda

after the valourous, famous phantom

in Mórrígan mórda,

The exalted Great Queen,

ba slóg-dírmach sámda.

The hosting of warrior-bands was sated.

[NOTE: I have made a deliberate departure from Gwynn’s translation; “There came to blood-stained Cruachu, according to the weird and terrible tale, the mighty Morrigan, whose pleasure was in mustered hosts.”]


10. Luid Odras ‘na h-iarn-gait,

Odras went to steal with force [lit. “iron-theft”]

iarmairt nárbu ada,

a consequence [i.e. response?] that was not justified

‘s a gilla dúr dorthain,

And her sturdy, protecting, serving-boy

[NOTE: I interpret “dorthain” as a diminutive of “turtugud” – a special form of legal and physical protection within one’s home].

torchair i Cúil Chada.

He was felled in Cada’s Nook.


11. Cada ainm a gilla

Voice” was the name of her serving-boy

rofinna mór fíche:

He discovered great feuds

ruc Odras, úair áithe,

Odras brought him, a keen time,

for lurg a búair bíthe.

to look for her submissive herd.

[NOTE: “bíthe” is the verbal noun of “benaid” – to strike.  It literally means “beaten”.  It is also a quality often ascribed to women, usually translated or glossed as “soft” or “demure”.  It seems to me to indicate a woman being beaten into submission.]


12. Iarsin, d’éis a gilla,

After that, surviving her serving-boy,

luid in ben gléis glanda

The bright, pure woman went

co Síd Crúachan cumma,

to the shapely fairy-hill of Crúachan

co fríth úath-blad alla.

so that she found yonder famous phantom.


13. Roléic cotlud chuicce

She let sleep come to her,

in groc-dub cen glicce

the dark-wrinkled [?] one, guilelessly,

nDaire úar Fhálgud

in the cold oak-wood of Fálga [on Sliabh Baghna,near river Shannon]

dia fúair sárgud sicce.

where she found harsh violation. [“sárgud sicce” may be a kenning or euphamism for death].


14. Dosruacht ina tathum,

She came upon her in her rest,

trúag tachur for tulaig,

wretched, that meeting on the moun,

in Mórrígan úathmar

the terrible Mórrígan

h-úaim Chrúachan cubaid.

[came] out of the harmonious cave of Crúachán.


15. Rochan fuirre ind agda

She sang the instruction [?] over her

tria luinde cen logda

through her eagerness, without remission,

cach bricht dían, ba dalbda,

every dilligent incantation, it was magical,

fri Slíab mBadbgna m-brogda.

by the cultivated Scald-Crowish Mountain [Slíab Badbgna = Slieve Baune in East Roscommon]


16. Legais in ben brígach

The spirited woman melted away

fri Segais, sreb súanach,

by Segas, soothing stream,

mar cach linn cen líg-blad:

like any pool, without famous [memorial] stone

nísbaí brígrad búadach.

she had no powers of victory


17. Don tshruthán fháen fhoglas

For the level, pale-green stream

is ainm sáer co soblas,

its noble sweet-scented name

luid ón mnaí thrúaig thadaill

came from the wretched bleding woman

cosin abainn Odras. O.

to the river Odras.




bóaire, briugud & Buchet:

The name Buchet comes from , “cow”, and cét, “hundred”. It refers to part of the definition of a briugu, “hospitalier”, the highest grade of bóaire, “cow-lord” or “strong farmer”.  To reach this noble status, the strong farmer must be able to count his cattle in hundreds, have a large house at the meeting of at least three roads, and dispense food, drink and shelter to all comers.



The site of the royal fort of Connaught and the cave, Ua na gCait, “The Cave of the Cats”, out of which the Mórrígan emerges in this poem and in the Táin Bó Cuailgne.  Crúach means “corn-rick” or “heap”, and the suffix “-án” is a diminutive, often fond form.  So this royal compound is described as “little heap”!

Fraích Oírenn:

It is said in LL that Fraích Óirenn became known as Fraích Slemna after the Mór Rígan took the bull, Slemon, there.  Describing the area as “slemnaib” is perhaps a play on this or just an indication of its later name-change.  The best guess of where this might be is somewhere East of Temair.


This name comes from the word odar, a colour-word originating from fresh or clear water.  See “Many Shades of Darkness” for more on this word.

The Mórrígan Speaks – Her Three Poems

From Cath Maige Tuired, “The Battle of Moytura”


At the end of the Old Irish saga of Cath Maige Tuired, there are three poems attributed to the Mórrígan; one immediately before the main battle, and the other two afterwards, ending the saga as a whole.  These three poems were the main topic of my Masters Thesis in 2005.  I have revisited the work I did on these poems, making some amendments to my translations.  The main thrust of that thesis remains, however, and here are some of the main points:

The poems are in a form called rosc or roscaid.  This is a very archaic, non-metrical, non-rhyming form of poetry which may date back further than our written record of the Irish language.  Its most consistent feature is connective alliteration, where the word or words at the end of one line alliterate with the word or words at the beginning of the next line.  This forms a kind of conceptual chain, where the image of one line is shifted to produce the image of the following line.  Rosc can be notoriously difficult to translate, as there is a scarcity of verbs, a lax attitude to syntax and many archaic and obscure words preserved in the poetic form.

When the poems are taken out of the surrounding prose text, they form a continuous text of their own.  It is my belief that the saga was originally contained entirely in this loose verse-form.  Poetry tends to preserve older forms of language, which are crystalised by the structure of the poem like insects in amber. As the language of the poems becomes more archaic and obscure, the tellers of the story need to add more and more prose to explain what the poems mean.  But they do not abandon the poetic passages, which retain their music and sonorous wholeness.

Both then and now, I am working from the edition of Cath Maige Tuired by Elizabeth Gray, published by the Irish Texts Society in 1982.  References to sections and line numbers are to this edition.

Poem A: Section 137, Lines 683 – 693

This poem is in the present tense, and almost reads like a “live commentary” of the battle itself.  There is not much more description of the actual battle in the prose text: it is largely concerned with the preparations before and ramifications after the battle.  This poem introduces the main action of the battle.

Afraigid rig don cath

Kings arise to [meet] the battle

rucatair gruaide

Cheeks are seized

aisnethir rossa

Faces [honours] are declared

ronnatair feola,

Flesh is decimated,

fennátair enech,

Faces are flayed

ethátair catha -rruba

[incomplete word] ?? of battle are seized

segatar ratha

Ramparts are sought

radatar fleda

Feasts are given

fechatar catha,

Battles are observed

canátair natha,

Poems are recited

noatair druith

Druids are celebrated

dénaitir cuaird

Circuits are made

cuimnitir arca

Bodies are recorded

alat(-) ide

Metals cut

sennat(-) deda

Teeth mark

tennat(-) braigit

Necks break

blathnuigh[i]t(-) [cét] tufer

[A hundred] cuts blossom

cluinethar eghme

Screams are heard

ailitir cuaird

Battallions are broken

cathitir lochtai

Hosts give battle


Ships are steered

snaat(-) arma

Weapons protect

scothaitir sronai.

Noses are severed

At_ci[ú] cach ro_genair

I see all who are born

ruad_cath derg_bandach

[in the] blood-zealous vigorous battle,

dremnad fiach_lergai fo_eburlai.

raging [on the] raven-battlefield [with] blade-scabbards.

Fri uabar rusmebat

They attempt our defeat

re_nar_már_srotaib sinne

over our own great torrents

fri fur fo_abad líni Fomoire

Against your attack on the full [compliment] of Fomoire

margnaich incanaigh

In the mossy margins;

copraich aigid fiach

the helpful raven drives

dorar fri_ar_solga garuh

strife to our hardy hosts

dálaig for_m_desigter rodbadh

mustered, we prepare ourselves to destroy

samlaidh derg_bandaib dam

To me, the full-blooded exploits are like

aim_critaighid conn_aechta

shaking to-and-fro of hound-kills

sameth donn_curidh dibur fercurib fristongarar.

goodly decay of muddy war-bands, your violations are renounced.

Poem B: Section 166, Lines 819 – 827

This is the penultimate section of the saga, and the poem used in the podcast (read it here).  It has a timeless quality to it, and lays out a vision of eternal peace and prosperity.  It is balanced by the last poem (below), which offers a diametrically opposed view.

Sith co nem

Peace to [the] heaven[s],

[NOTE: Síd = peace & Síd = faery – most likely same root]

Nem co doman.

Heaven to [the] world / earth

Doman fo ním,

Earth under sky / heavens

nert hi cach,

Strength in each.

án for_lann,

Cup on a plate

lan do mil,

Full of honey

mid co saith.

Mead to [one’s] satisfaction

Sam hi ngam,

Summer in winter

gai for sciath,

Spear upon a shield

sciath for durnd.

Shield upon a fist

Dunad lonn_garg;

Blade-bristling fort

longa(i)t(-) trom_foíd

Consumption of solid earth

fod di uí

Rights of [the] grandchildren [descendents]

ross for_biur

Forest on a point

benna a_bu

Horns from a cow

airbe im_etha.

Encircling fence {?}

Mess for crannaib,

Mast upon trees

craob do scis

Weary [its] bough

scis do áss

Weary from growth

saith do mac

Wealth for a boy

mac for muin,

Boy on a neck

[NOTE: “Macc for muin” is also a food-portion or ration, deemed appropriate for a free person.]

muinel tairb

Neck of a bull

tarb di arccoin

Bull from[?] a watch-dog

odhb do crann,

Knot for [on] a tree

crann do ten.

Tree for fire

Tene a nn-ail.

Fire from a stone

Ail a n-uír

Stone from earth

uích a mbuaib

[Young?] from cows

boinn a mbru.

Cows from a womb

Brú la_fefaid

[River-]Bank with birdsong

oss_glas iaer errach,

Grey deer before spring

foghamar for_asit etha.

Autumn whence grows corn

Iall do tir,

Flock [of birds, warriors, people] for [the] land

tir co trachd

Land [extending] to the shore

la feabrae.

With sharp edges

Bid_ruad rossaib síraib rith_már,

The great run {time} to the eternal woods / promintory will be fierce

‘Nach scel laut?’

“Have you any story?”

Sith co nemh,

Peace to the heavens

bid_sirnae .s[ith].’

It will be eternal peace.

Poem C: Section 167, lines 831 – 840

This finishes the saga and balances the previous poem.  It is in the future tense, and starts with the verb “at-cí” (sees), which marks it as a vision.

Ni accus bith no_mbeo:

I do not see a world of the living:

Baid sam cin blatha,

Summer will be without flowers

beti bai cin blichda,

Cows will be without milk

mna can feli,

Women without modesty [/ generosity / pudenda]

[NOTE: féle is a defining “virtue” of women; a tlás, a fos, a féile (characteristics of a good woman) = “her yielding / compassion, her perseverance / steadfastness, her modesty / generosity” (ZCP viii)  See more about “féle” in “The Poems of Sinann“.]

fir gan gail.

Men without valour [semen]

[NOTE: gal is literally “steam”; as “vigour”, it is a defining “virtue” of men, hence my reference to semen as male essence.]

Gabala can righ

Conquests without a king

rinna ulcha ilmoigi

walls of spear-points [on] every plain

beola bron,

Sad mouths

feda cin mes.

Forests without mast

Muir can toradh.

Sea without fruit

Tuir bain(b)thine /// Tuirb ain(b)thine

Tower-wall of white metal /// A multitude of storms

immat moel rátha,

around bare fortresses

fás a forgnam locha

Empty their dark buildings

di_ersitir dinn

High places cannot endure

at_rifiter linn

A lake has attempted

lines sech_ilar flaithie

to flood past a multitude of kingdoms

faoilti fria holc,

Welcome to its evil

ilach imgnath

Howling occupies

gnuse ule.

every face

Incrada docredb-

Great unbelievable torments

gluind ili,

many crimes

imairecc catha,

Battles waged everywhere

toebh fri ech delceta

Trust in spiked horses

imda dala

Many (hostile) meetings

braith mac flaithi

treacherous princelings

forbuid bron

A shroud of sorrows

sen saobretha.

on old high judgements

Brecfásach mbrithiom-

False maxims of judges

braithiomh cech fer.

Every man a betrayer

Foglaid cech mac.

Every son a brigand.

Gignitir cen_mair

[People] will be born without surviving

olc aimser

Evil time

i_mmera mac a athair,

in which the son will derange his father

i_mera ingen …

In which the daughter will derange…

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