It was the first time keening had been heard in the green land of Ireland. The poetry of mourning, the ritual of the eulogy. Brig keened for her lost son, her impetuous red-headed boy, Rúadán.
Rúadán was dead, killed by the spear of Goibniu, and the smithcraft of the Dé Danann, killed as a spy in the forge..
Why did it have to be her son who was chosen? Why did it have to be him? Not hard, the answer. She herself had played a part in his choosing.
It had been her choosing to give allegiance to Bres, a man of the Fomoire. He was beautiful, yes, and wise in the ways of the land; but he was cruel and miserly. It had seemed fitting when Nuada, leader of her people, the Dé Danann, had been maimed, It had seemed fitting then to choose a chieftain from among the Fomoire, those strange sea people who shared their land,
It had seemed fitting then…
Bres, her husband, had put her people under a great burden of tax, keeping them in poverty. Why, he had even set her own father, the Dagda himself, to work building great ditches of earth.
And battle had not been averted
Now Lug, the Ildánach, master of many crafts, led her people, Lug, who, like Rúadán, was a son and grandson of both the Fomoire and the Dé Danann. Lug, with his Fomorean mother and Dé Danann father. Rúadán, with his Dé Danann mother and Fomoire father
So alike…. only Rúadán was dead.
And all had gone well – at least for the Dé Danann – and now the Fomoire were worried. They sent for Rúadán, one of the few who was welcome in both camps,
“Why is it,” they asked the boy, “that the weapons of the enemy are never blunted? Why is it that warriors we injure return to face us again each day?”
And Rúadán, her son, his father’s son, had answered them.
“Not hard to tell: The warriors were renewed, dipped in the waters of the well of Sláine, Dían Cécht’s well of health.
“Not hard to tell: The weapons are re-sharpened each day in the skilful forge of Goibniu the smith.”
And Rúadán had been sent to the forge of Goibniu to kill the smith, to stop his skill… and she had let him go.
The red-haired youth had found his welcome in the fiery forge as always.
“Make me a spear,” he asked, the ruddy flames lighting his smile, and Gobniu set his hand to the hammer and the iron to the anvil. When the shape of the spear was sharp, Creidne Cerd framed it with rivets and Luchta set it to the shaft.
And Crón took it, finished it with her blood-red mark. She gave it to the red-haired youth.
And this was the moment that Rúadán made his choice. With a cry he lifted the spear and let it fly. It struck the smith, struck him there in his own forge. It wounded him but it did not fell him.
Goibnu plucked the spear from his own flesh and cast it once more. It struck Rúadán full in the breast, struck him and he fell, red in his own blood. There in the forge the youth died.
And Brig mourns for her son who will not be dipped in the waters of the healing well.
And the cadences of her keening are heard in both camps.
Brigid is the much-loved irish saint of kildare as well a pre-Christian Celtic mythical figure. But what connection is there between the two? Just who is Brigid? Sift through the strata of her story with the Story Archaeologists to uncover some unexpected surprises.
Links to other episodes mentioned within the podcast.
Further Discussion on the Well of Sláine: Airmid Revisited Further discussion on Ethliu: Ethliu Revisited Further discussion on Rúadán and the forge of Goibniu Also mentioned in the episode: Corpse Carrying for Beginners and The Cow and the Time Machine Don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest podcasts! By The Story Archaeologists. Music: “Tam Lin” by Gian Castello.
The green grey morning is soft with mist.
Airmed sits on the soft earth of the mound, her yellow cloak spread empty before her covering the damp earth.
All around her lie green herbs, no longer fresh and growing for they were harvested in hope and are now scattered in sadness.
Airmed gathers the measure of her cloak around her and her thoughts are not soft.
She gathers her thoughts to her, garners her memories.
There was her father, Dían Cécht, physician to the Dé Dannan, greatest of healers who, when Nuada the king had lost his arm in battle, had not despaired.
“For though I cannot restore your arm”, he had told the blemished chieftain, “yet will I make you the greater.” And with his healing magic he had constructed a hand of silver so cunning that each joint moved to grip and grasp as easily as a hand of flesh.
Yes; the hand of silver had brought renown to Nuada Lám Argait, and it had kept him the kingship, for no blemished man could be king, but it had not healed the lost limb.
No; that had been left to Míach, her brother. Together, he and Airmed had learned the lore of healing, both becoming wise, each the measure of the other, until Míach had gone the further. With the magic of his learning he had recovered the lost hand of Nuada. For three times three days he had kept it by him, preparing it with spells and incantations, and then, when it was ready, he joined it, bone to bone, sinew to sinew, to Nuada’s arm. There it re-grew and Nuada was whole and healed.
If Nuada was glad of this healing miracle then Dían Cécht was not. A dark mood had descended on her father. Taking up his shining blade he brought it down upon his son’s head, cleaving the skin of his skull.
Míach healed himself.
Twice more, Dían Cécht brought the blade down on his son’s head, each time cutting into the skull more deeply.
Twice more, Míach healed himself.
Again the blade fell, and this time Míach’s brain was split in two and he died.
Airmed sadly buried her brother under a mound of soft earth and watched there as the bare soil softened and grew green with new grass; new grass and green herbs.
And Airmed had guarded these herbs, harvesting them in their time, sorting and recording them. For there were 365 herbs that grew from her brother’s grave, one for each of his joints and sinews, one for each day of the year ,one for each illness that ever had been or ever would be. She gathered and garnered them all.
But her father’s dark mood had not yet fled. He found her where she was. In his jealousy and anger he scattered the plants, destroying their order.
And Airmed sits still on her brother’s grave in the grey green morning. She sits with the basket of her empty cloak before her until the time of his seed healing shall come again.
Airmed is the daughter of the great Dé Danann physician, Dían Cécht, part of a family of healers. Together, they create the healing well of Sláine, which restores injured warriors at the Second Battle of Moytura. But do the meanings of their names tell a different story?
In our revisit to what may seem at first reading, a side story in the great battle saga, join the the Story archaeologists as they re-evaluate the role of Airmed and her family, finding their actions central to the main theme of the epic Moytura story.
In this episode, and our update, we referenced many other episodes, including our entire second series on Moytura.. However, for now, we will include a couple of the most relevant links.
For the story of Dían Cécht, Miach and Airmed in the context of Moytura, go to: The Battle of Moytura Episode 5: The Four Craftsmen.
For examples of laws on sick-lying ( crólige) in context go to : Dindshenchas 09: Tocmarc Étaíne 1 – A Fly On The Wall and Dindshenchas 10: Tocmarc Étaíne 2 – The Re-Born Identity