Story Archaeology

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Revisiting Sinann in the Metrical Dindshenchas

from the Metrical Dindshenchas, Volume 3

edited by Edward Gwynn; translated by Isolde ÓBrolcháin Carmody.

pp. 286 – 297; poems 53 and 54

Sinann I

Sáer-ainm Sinna saigid dún,

Seek Sinann’s noble name for us

dáig rolaimid a lom-thúr:

as you strive to uncover its origin:

nirb imfhann a gním ‘s a gleó

The deeds and the struggle were not insignificant

dia mbói Sinann co slán-beó.

That made Sinann whole-alive [i.e. immortal?].

 

Rop ingen rogasta ríam

There was once a very powerful girl –

Sinann sholasta shír-fhíal,

Sinann, radiant and ever-compassionate

co fúair cach ndodáil nduthain

Until she met an all-encompassing death

ingen Lodáin laech-luchair.

That daughter of Lodán from heroic Luachair

 

Hi tír tarngire co túi,

In the restful Land of Promise,

ná geib anbthine imchrúi,

Unsullied by storms of blood,

fúair in suthain-blaid rosmill

The eternally reknowned [one] met destruction

ingen Luchair-glain lúaidimm.

That girl from pure Luachar whom I laud.

 

Tipra nad meirb fon muir mass

There was a never-stagnant well beneath the pleasant sea

for seilb Chondlai, ba comdass,

in Connla’s realm, appropriately,

feib adrímem ria rélad,

As we ennumerate in the telling of the tale,

luid Sinann dia sír-fhégad.

Sinann went to gaze upon it eternally.

 

Topur co mbara búaine

The well perpetually flows

ar ur aba indúaire,

on the brink of a bright, cold river,

feib arsluinnet a clotha,

As its reknown is retold,

asmbruinnet secht prím-shrotha.

Seven great streams brim forth [from it]

 

Immas na Segsa so dait

Inspiration of Segas is found here

co febsa fond fhír-thiprait:

excellently, under the true-well:

ós topur na tond tréorach

Before the well of the strong waves

fail coll n-écsi n-ilcheólach.

Stand the many-musicked hazels of the scholars.

 

Síltair sopur na Segsa

The foam of Segas is sown

for topur na trén-chennsa,

over the well of the strong-gentle one [fem.]

ó thuitit cnói Crínmoind cain

Where Crínmond’s sweet nuts fall

fora ríg-broind réil roglain.

Onto its bright, very pure regal breast.

 

In óen-fhecht n-a tuile thrumm

All at once, in a heavy flood,

turchat uile don chóem-chrund,

All erupt from the shapely tree,

duille ocus bláth ocus mess,

leaf and flower and fruit

do chách uile ní hamdess.

For everyone – it is not unlovely!

 

Is amlaid-sin, cen góe nglé,

It is like this, clear without falsehood,

tuitit n-a róe dorise

They then fall in their season

for topur sográid Segsa

Onto the beloved well of Segas

fo chomdáil, fo chomfhebsa.

In the same moment, with the same excellence.

 

Tecait co húais, ra gním nglé,

They come nobly, with clear action,

secht srotha, búais cen búaidre,

the seven streams, their gushing unhindered,

dorís isin topur the

Again into that well

dianid cocur ceól-éicse.

Causing whispers of musical knowledge.

 

Adrímem in uide n-úag

We shall recount the whole journey

dia luid Sinann co sóer-lúad

whereon went Sinann of noble repute

co lind mná Féile fuinid

to the Pool of the Generous Woman where the sun sets [i.e. in the West]

cona gléire glan-foruid.

With the best of her pure household.

 

Ní thesta máin bad maith linn

There is no lack of any desirable talent,

for in saír sin ná saílfinn,

In that noblewoman, that I could imagine,

acht immas sóis co srethaib,

except for streams of expert inspiration

ba gním nóis dia núa-bethaid.

It was a new activity for her new life.

 

Rotheich in topur, toirm nglé,

The well turned back, a clear sound,

tria chocur na ceól-éicse,

Through the whisper of the musical knowledge,

re Sinainn, rothadaill túaid,

before Sinann, who touched it in the north,

cor-riacht in n-abainn n-indúair.

Until she reached the truly-cold river.

 

Rolen sruthair na Segsa

The stream of Segas followed

ben Luchair na lán-gensa

the fully virginal woman of Luachar

cor-riacht huru na haba

Until she reached the brink of the river

co fúair mudu is mór-mada.

So that she met destruction and great frustration.

 

Andsin robáided in breiss,

Then the beauty was drowned,

is rothráiged fo throm-greiss:

and she ebbed [sic!] under heavy blows;

cid marb in ben co mbruth baidb

Although the woman of bubbling crow[-energy] is dead,

[NOTE: Gwynn renders bruth baidb as “warlike ardour”, assuming that badb refers to a battle rather than to a scald crow.]

rolen dia sruth a sáer-ainm. S.

Her noble name follows her river.   S[inann].

 

Desin fri déine ndile

From then, with swift affection,

lind mná Féile fír-gile:

is [known / called] the truly-shining Pool of the Generous Woman:

fail cech óen-airm, cúairt n-assa,

in every single place, an easy journey,

sáer-ainm súairc na Sinna-sa. S.

the pleasant, noble name of this Sinann [is known].      S[inann.]

 

Sinann II

Sinann, cá hadbar diatá,

Sinann, what is the cause of it [its name],

inneósad cen immargá:

I shall tell without deceit:

atbér cen snaidm co solus

I will say [it] clearly without complication

a hainm is a bunadus.

Its name and its foundation.

 

Innisfed do chách uile

I will tell to everyone

bunad Sinna srib-glaine:

the origin of pure-streaming Sinann:

ní chél in dag-blad diatá:

I will not conceal the reason of its good repute,

atbér adbar a hanma.

I will say the cause of its name.

 

Tipra Chonnlai, ba mór muirn,

Connla’s well, it was clamourous,

bói fon aibeis eochar-guirm:

It was under the blue-rimmed ocean:

sé srotha, nárb inann blad,

Six streams, of unequal fame,

eisti, Sinann in sechtmad.

rose from it, the seventh was Sinann.

 

Nói cuill Chrimaill, ind fhir glic,

The nine hazels of Crimall, the clever man,

dochuiret tall fon tiprait:

cast [fruit] onto that well:

atát le doilbi smachta

They are [there] under mysterious control 

fo cheó doirchi dráidechta.

Under a gloomy fog of magic.

 

I n-óen-fhecht, amail nách gnáth,

In the same moment, in an uncanny way,

fhásas a nduille ‘s a mbláth:

their leaves and their flowers grow:

ingnad ciarsad sóer-búaid sin

A wonder is this, though a noble trait,

‘s a mbeith i n-óen-úair abaig.

As is their ripening at the same time.

 

In úair is abaig in cnúas

When the cluster of nuts is ripe

tuitit ‘sin tiprait anúas:

they fall down into the well:

thís immarlethat ar lár,

they scatter below on the surface,

co nosethat na bratán.

So that the salmon eat them.

 

Do shúg na cnó, ní dáil diss,

From the juice of the nuts, no insignificant matter,

dogníat na bolca immaiss;

are formed the bubbles of inspiration;

tecait anall cach úaire

In this way, they come every hour / time

dar na srothaib srib-úaine.

On the green-flowing streams.

 

Bói ingen, ba buide barr,

There was a girl, her hair was yellow,

thall a túathaib dé Danann,

There from the Tuatha De Danann,

Sinann gasta co ngné glain

Powerful Sinann with her pure face,

ingen Lodain luchair-glain.

daughter of Lodan, from pure Luachair.

 

Smuainis ind ingen adaig,

One night, the girl had an idea,

in bind bél-derg banamail,

that melodious, red-lipped woman,

co mbói da hindus cach mblad,

With all reknown in her gift,

acht in t-immus a óenar.

Except only for inspiration.

 

Lá da tánic cosin sruth

The day that she came to the stream

ind ingen, ba cóem a cruth,

that girl, her form was shapely,

co facca, nochor dál diss,

so that she saw, no insignificant matter,

na bolca áilli immaiss.

The beautiful bubbles of inspiration. 

 

Téit ind ingen, toisc úaille,

The girl goes, lamentable quest,

‘na ndiaid ‘sin sruth srib-úaine:

after them into the green-flowing stream:

báiter hí da toisc anall;

she is drowned there through her quest;

conid úaidi atá Sinann. S.

so that from her is Sinann [named].    Sinann

 

Dénum aile, mad áil lib,

Another version, if you wish,

uáim ar in Sinainn srib-gil,

from me, about the bright-flowing Sinann,

cé bethir lim ‘ca légud,

though it is to be read in my verse,

ní ferr hé ‘ná in cét-dénum.

it is not better than the first version.

 

Lind mná féile, ba fír dam,

The Pool of the Generous Woman, I have it true,

ainm na linde ‘nar ‘báided:

is the name of the pool where she was drowned:

is é a dír maras dise,

It is fittingly [named] from her

más fír é fri indise.

If it is true to tell.

 

Dénum aile, is mebair lemm,

Another version I have in mind,

rochúala cách co coitchenn;

everyone in general has heard:

Cú Núadat, ba mór maise,

The Hound of Núada, great was his beauty,

robáite ‘sin chrúad-glaise.

was drowned in that cruel stream.

 

Nó combad Sinann co becht

Or perhaps Sinann is literally

Sín Morainn, tre eterchert:

Morainn’s Collar, by interpretation:

sí in moirenn, aidble gním:

or “she is the sea”, might of deeds:

áille Sinann ‘ná cach sín. S.

Sinann is more beautiful than any storm.    Sinann

 

NOTES

Condla / Connla:

This is still a male personal name in Ireland.  The poem indicates the fittingness of this well being under the sea, implying a general understanding that this is Connla’s realm.

Its derivation seems to be from the verb con-dáili, meaning to share (in) or meet up.  There is possibly another sense (under cunnla in eDIL) meaning “modesty” or “propriety”.  This cluster of meanings is also found in the alternative name for Connla’s Well of Lind Mná Féile – see below.

Crimthann:

This name is explained in the medieval glossaries as sinnnach, “fox”; but it is worth bearing in mind the the glossators (O’Cléirigh in this case) may already have the association between Sinann and Crimthann from some version of the Dinshenchas story.  It may, however, be related to another word, crem / crim, “dog leek, wild garlic”.

The text “Cóir Anmann”, The Fitness of Names, functions quite like a glossry, as the author(s) often has to cast far afield to understand some archaic point of language which he doesn’t understand.  For example, at least one entry “analysing” a name beginning with Eo- (which we now know either to be *ío, “yew”, éo, “salmon” or part of e[o]ch, “horse”) translates this element as the Greek Eu-, “good”.  Fortunately for us, the text also contains scraps of story that we can match up with other sources.  Here is an entry concerning someone called Crimthann:

106. Crimthan Nía Nár . Níadh .i. trén .i. trénfear Naíre .i. Nár thúathach a sídhibh, ben Chrimthain . Is sidhe rug Crimthan lé a n-echtra n-ordhairc a Dún Chrimthain a n-Édur

106. Crimthan Nía-Náre: nía i.e. strong i.e. that is Nár’s champion. Nár, a witch from the sídh mounds, was Crimthan’s wife. It is she that took Crimthan with her on the famous adventure from Dún Crimthain on Howth.

[from Cóir Anmann, edited by Whitley Stoes]

Cú Núadat:

Literally, “The Hound of Nuada”.  I have been unable to find any other reference to a person called Cú Nuadat, but there are many to Mog NuadatMog or Mug means “slave / servant”, and I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that the “Servant of Nuada” and the “Hound of Nuada” might refer to the same person, or at least to people in a similar position.

Nuada himself is the mythological king of the Túatha Dé Danann, who lost his arm at the first Battle of Moytura, and losing the kingship because of this blemish.  He was furnished with a silver arm, and thence became known as Nuada Airgetlam (“Silver-Arm”).  There is little doubt that Nuada (*Nódo in older texts) is the same name as Nodons, the British personage who gives us the Land of Nod et al.

We discuss Núada and the Battle of Moytura in detail in Series 2.

Imbas:

Imbas is a gift or technique central to the poets of ancient Ireland.  Its literal meaning is imb-fhes, “great knowledge”.  Gwynn consistently translates this as “magical lore” in the Sinann poems, but it is perhaps best understood as “inspiration”.  In many texts, it is associated with rivers and wells, especially the wells of Segais and Connla, the mythical sources of the Shannon and the Boyne.  O’Davoran’s Glossary includes a description of imbas greine, imspiration from the river Graney, by which a poet gains (i.e. creates) a poem.  There is also a poetic technique called sretha imbas, stream of inspiration, where every word in a line of poetry alliterates; and a metre called imbas forosna.

Imbas on its own is often taken to stand for imbas forosna, “great knowledge which illuminates”.  As well as the name of a metre, it is also described as a technique associated with the highest grades of poets.

For more on this, see the article “Imbas: Poetry, Knowledge and Inspiration.”

 

Lind Mná Féile:

Literally “The Pool of the Generous Woman”.  Féile is a virtue singularly associated with women, and is therefore often translated as “chastity” or “modesty”.  It seems to me to have a root meaning of “generosity” or “hospitality”, and this seems to have developed into a concept of propriety.  It is also interesting to note that female genitalia is sometimes referred to as Féile!

Lodán:

Sinann’s father, is mentioned in ¶ 17  of Acallamh na Senorach (“The Colloquy of the Ancients”), as the son of Lír.  Ler simply means “the sea(s)”, and the mythological character of Lír is best known as father of “The Children of Lír” and of the sea-loving trickster, Manannán Mac Lír, for whom the Isle of Man is named. Sinann, then, is grand-daughter of The Sea.

For more on Manannán, see “Rowing Around Immráma 12 – In Search of Manannán“.

Lodán is a curious name.  The -án suffix is common as a diminutive (i.e. x-án = “little x”), and is therefore a “fond” form in many personal names e.g. Cíarán = “(my) little Dark One”. However, the word lodán, while straight-forwardly meaning a “little pool”, tends to mean a puddle of filth, even excrament!

Taking lod- as the root of the name makes more sense.  It is quite clear that this means a pool, a lake or a boundary of water.  Interestingly, more than one source glosses lod as the place where sruth-aili emerges. On the surface, it seems prosaic to say that a stream (sruth) comes from a pool. But there is an advanced poetic metre called sruth di aill, “stream from a cliff / stone”, so the association of lod as a source-pool or well-spring of sruth di aill may well have been intended by the poets.  As such, Lodán becomes a fitting father for Sinann.

There is also a place known as Lodan which Hogan (in his “Onomasticon Goedelicum”) places between the River Mulkern and Loch Gur in Co. Limerick – close to, if not encompassed by, the area of Luachair [see below].

Luchair:

Literally “reeds” or “rushes”, a common element in placenames.  However, Lu[a]chair on its own refers to an area of North Kerry and Cork around Sliabh Luachra.  Another meaning for lúachair is “brilliance” or “brightness”, and poetic descriptions of the region of Lúachair often include words invoking fire, light, shining etc.

Segas:

This is most often cited as the name of an otherworld well that gives rise to the great rivers of Ireland.  Vendryes translates it as “forest”, but another word, séganda, means “magnificent” or “skillful”, and ségannacht means “outstanding skill” or “ingenuity”.  Other possible roots are seg, which refers to “milk” (see Sinann below), and sed / seg, meaning “vigour” or “strength”.  It may also relate to saigid, “to seek, strive or aim for”, or ségda, meaning “lucky, happy, fortuitous”.  Then there’s écosc, an “appearance or characteristic” by which someone or something is known for what they are.

However, given the context and characteristics of the well called Segas, I would like to suggest its origin as éces; “scholar, poet, knowledgeable one”.  This word seems to share a root with do-éici, and so might mean “a seer” in origin, just as file originally means “seer”.  That poets and scholars could “see” relates to the immas forosna, which was a way of foretelling events through improvised poetry. It is this immas that Sinann sought from Segas, and this cluster of meanings seems most satisfying.  You can read more about Imbás and Poets here.

Sinann:

In keeping with many names that use the –ann ending, I would propose an earlier form of *Siniu (sinann would then be genetive: sruth Sinann = “stream of Siniu”).  There is the word sín, meaning a “storm” or “bad weather”, used in the last line of the second poem.  This may be the Sin of the story with Muirchertach, whereby he comments on the bad weather, and she replies, “why do you speak my name?”.

However, for our river, I feel the most likely root is with sine, “a teat or breast”.  Indeed, there are stories with female characters (notably, a lake monster in Loch Rudraige!) called Sinech.  The name could derive from sen, “old”, but this does not seem to fit our story, which continually describes her as young.

Sín Morainn:

This is usually translated “Morainn’s Collar”.  There is a tradition that this was a chain or yoke that he wore, but it could also be an epistle used like a talisman.  An entry in Cóir Anmann, The Fitness of Names, mentions it:

107. Feradhach Fechtnach .i. ar feachtnaighi a flaithiusa for Eirinn, nam feachtnach .i. fírén .i. ar fírinne a flaitha adubhradh Feradhach Fechtnach fris, ar is a n-aimsir Fearadhaigh robói an Idh Mhorainn & Morann feissin. Issí an Idh sin Morainn nóghléedh fírinne do chách. Iss aire sin adubradh ind aghnomen fris

107. Feradach Fechtnach ‘the Righteous’, because of the fechtnaige ‘righteousness’ of his reign over Erin. For fechtnach means righteous: that is, for the truth of his reign he was called Feradach Fechtnach. For in his time was the Collar of Morann and Morann himself. It is that Collar of Morann that used to declare truth to every one. Therefore the epithet (Fechtnach) was given to him (Feradach).

Morann’s Three Collars (or three stories of the same collar!) feature in Cormacs Cup and The Twelve Ordeals – W Stokes, the text we examined when discussing The Shocking Revelations Concerning King Cormac Mac Airt in Rowing Around Immráma episode 8.

sí in moirenn:

The principle definition of moirenn [muirenn] given in eDIL is that of “spear”.  However, there seems to be another meaning of “sea” or “waves”, perhaps from imagining the waves of the sea as spears hurled from the depths. This seems a more likely translation in the context of Sinann, although the original audience of the poem may have understood both meanings as present.

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