Story Archaeology

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Texts of Eithliu

From Tocmarc Étaine, “The Wooing of Étain”

Edited O. Bergin & R. I. Best,

Translated with endnotes by Isolde Carmody.  Terms with related notes are in bold.

View Bergin & Best’s edition on CELT

While this text is included here in relation to “Tales of Eithliu”, we dealt with the whole of Tocmarc Étaíne in 3 episodes in Series 3, “Dindshenchas and the Art of Mythic Cartography“.

¶1] Bai ri amra for Eirinn do Thuathaib De a chenel, Eochaid Ollathar a ainm.

There was a wondrous king of Ireland, the Tuatha Dé were his people: Eochaid Ollathair his name.

Ainm n-aill do dano an Dagda, ar ba hé dognith na firta & conmidhedh na sina & na toirthe doib.

Another name for him, moreover, was the Dagda [GLOSS: i.e. good god,] for it was he that would perform wonders for them and assess the weather and the harvest.

Ba head asbeirdis combo dé asberthe Dagda fris.

It is because of that that it used to be said that he was called “Dagda”.

Bai ben la hEalcmar an Broga .i. Eithni a hainm.  Ainm n-aill di Boand.

Elcmar of the Brug had a wife: i.e. Eithne was her name.  Another name for her was Boand.

Atacobair an Dagda dó a cairdeas collaidi.

The Dagda desired sexual relations with her.

Aroét an ben on Dagda acht nibad oman Ealcmaire, ar med a chumachtai.

The woman would have accepted the Dagda, except for her fear of Elcmar, on account of the extent of his power.

Faidis an Dagda iarum Ealcmar n-uad for turus co Bres mac nEalathan co Mag nInis,

Then, the Dagda sent Elcmar away on a journey to Bres mac nElathan, in Mag nInis;

& dogeine an Dagda tincheadla mora for Ealcmar oc dul nuad, cona tisad i fairthi .i. a muichi,

The Dagda performed great incantations on Elcmar as he went from them, so that he might not return quickly i.e. in the morning

& diuchtrais dorcha n-aidchi aire, & argart gortai & itaid de.

He dispelled the darkness of night for him, and he prevented hunger and thirst for him.

Dobert imorchora mora fair, co torchaidh .ix. mísa fri haenla.

He sent him on great errands, so that nine months went by as one day,

Fo bhith, asbertsom conicfad ider lá & aidchi dia thig afrithisi.

Because he had said that he would return again between day and night to his home.

Luid an Dagda co mnai nEalcmair coléig co mbert mac dó .i. Aengus a ainm,

The Dagda went to Elcmar’s wife so that she could bear a son to him i.e. Aengus was his name.

& ba slan an bean dia galar ar cind Ealcmair,

The womn was recovered from her illness [i.e. her pregnancy] behind Elcmar’s back.

& nir airigistair & fuirri a bine .i. teacht a coibligi an Dagdai.

He did not notice the fault upon her, i.e. the fact of her lying with [lit: “co-lying”] the Dagda.


Ainm do dano an Mac Ócc, a n-asbert a mathair: ‘Is óc an mac doronad i tosach lai & ro geinir etir & fescur.’

His name [Aengus’] therefore was “The Young Son”, because his mother said; “Young is the son conceived at the beginning of the day and born between then and evening.”



Boand II



Edited Edward Gwynn

Translated with endnotes by Isolde Carmody.  Terms with related notes are in bold.

The complete poem, with its companion poem “Boand I”, is translated in full in the article “More Poems About Sinann“.

Read Gwynn’s translation on CELT.

Poem 3, pp 40 – 43


7. Tánic Bóand ann andes

Boand came there from the south,

ben Nechtain cosin cairdes

the wife of Nechtain, to the love-making

co tech Elcmairi na n-ech,

to the house of Elcmar of the horses,

fer dobered mór ndeg-breth.

a man that gave many good judgements.


8. IS ann dorala in Dagda

It is there that the Dagda came

i tig Elcmairi amra:

into the wondrous house of Elcmar:

rogab for guide na mná:

he began pleading with the woman:

rodusasáit re hóen-lá.

he brought her to the birth in a single day.


9. IS ann fastaitís in ngréin

It was then they stopped the sun

co cend nói mís, mór in scél,

until the end of nine months – a great story

ic gorad in rafheóir ráin

warming the splendid great grass

i cléithi in aeóir imláin.

in the roof-tree of the perfect sky.


10. And asbert in ben abus

Then the woman said here:

“Comrac rit, bad é m’óen-gus“:

“Meeting with you, that was my one passion

“Is bad Oengus ainm in meicc”

And Oengus shall be the boy’s name,”

asbert Dagda tre daigbeirt.

said the Dagda, through good judgement.




There is an attested Celtic name, Bovinda = “White Cow”, which would come down to Old Irish as Bóand.  It even shares a linguistic root with Sanskrit govinda. 

Bres mac nEalathan:

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.

It is also worth noting that this Bres is called the son of Elatha.  Elada principally means “art”, “science” or “craft”, particularly the craft of poetry.  This has the same implications as Danu: dán = “craft”, “poem”, so the Túatha Dé Danann can be called “the people of the poetic one.

[Learn all about Bres in Series 2, Episode 2, “Echtrae Breis: The Adventures of Bres“.]


When Brug (gen. Broga etc.) appears on its own where one might expect a placename, it is understood as Brug na Bóinne; the Boyne Valley, particularly the area encompassing Newgrange.  The word bruig itself (O. Ir mruig) refers to a “territory”, “cultivated land”, “notable dwelling”, and especially the hills of the Sídhe.  It is also the root of the term briugu, “hospitallier” – a very important and powerful social role.  A briugu was a strong farmer whose wealth could be counted in hundreds, had a house at the meeting of at least 3 roads, and dispensed hospitality to all who came to the house.  A briugu had the same status as a ríg túaithe, the king or chief of a petty kingdom.

There is also the word brú, “belly”, “abdomen”, “womb”.  One plural form of this word is brugha, and although it may not have the same root as brug, there may be a poetic suggestion from  Brug na Bóinne, “Bóand’s Lands”, to Brú na Bónne, “Bóand’s Womb”.


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.

[Read a translation and hear Isolde reading the Old Irish here.]

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 daDía has forms such as dea, deu, etc., but the -da element of the Dagda’s name is very consistent.  Its genetive form is Dagdae or Dagda, and dative form Dagdo, Dagdea.  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”!

[Learn about the Dagda’s role in The Battle of Moytura in Series 2, Episode 4, “Ar Shlicht an Dagdae: On the Dagda’s Track“.]


The root for this name that we have principally worked with is etne, “kernel”, “nut”; and indeed there are examples of this term used in relation to a womb.  However, the change from a -t- sound to a -th- sound is not a regular one.

I also include Eithliu alongside Eithniu, as liquid consonants (-m-, -n-, -l-, -r-) often get substituted one for another.  I cannot find any alternate root meaning for *eithl- that would not also stand for *eithn-.

There is another significant possible root for the word in ethait, “beast”, “cow”, “flying creature”, and éit, “(herd of) cattle”.  As we have discussed in this episode, Eithniu / Eithliu has many connections with cattle; the Glas Gabhainn, Boand.  The connection with (f)ethait, “flying creature”, may extend this connection to Étaín, who could be understood, in this light, to mean “calf” or “little flying creature”.  In the story “Tocmairc Étaíne”, from which the story of Eithliu’s conception of Óengus is taken, Étaín is turned into a little fly by the jealous (ét = “jealousy”) Fúamnach (“Noisy”, “Stormy”).  The full translation of that story (which is long and convoluted!) can be read here.


This would seem well attested as meaning “spite” or “malice”.  As well as the word elcmar itself, there are also words such as elgnas, “deliberate mischief”, “malicious injury”.  This would seem to fit the stories in which he appears, which concern duplicity and “mischief”.  If Eithniu / Bóand has “Spite” for a husband, perhaps her relationship with “The Best of the Best” is more understandable?

Eochaid Ollathar:

A common name for the Dagda.  Ollathar means “all-father”, a title given to many mythical fatherly characters such as Odin.  Eochaid, sometimes written Eochu or Eocho, is centrally about horses, eich; perhaps best rendered “horseman” or “jockey”.  It is an extremely common personal name, as attested in the Annals.  Many personal names are based on animals: Congal = con, “hound” + gal, “vigour”;  Fiacc = “raven”; Oisín = os, “deer” + ín, “little”.

Mag nInis:

Mag means “plain”, and Inis means “island”.  The place is listed in Hogan’s Onomasticon as in the barony of Lecale in Co. Down. 


Necht is an adjective meaning “pure”, “clean”, “white”; probably from nigid, “to wash”.  It has several appearances as a personal name in the forms Necht and Nechtain, but is usually a female name.  In the context of this Bóand poem, where the deceitful Bóand has betrayed her faultless husband, (remember, in the prose version, it is her husband Elcmar who is “Spite” or “Mischief”), the poet may have used the name Nechtain to reinforce his purity in contrast to Bóand’s sin.  After all, this is the version of Bóand’s story where she is destroyed by the well in revenge for her wrong-doing.

To contrast the two Dinshenchas poems about Boand, see “More Poems about Sinann“.

Óengus Mac Ind Óc:

The son of the Dagda and Eithliu / Boand. These two versions of the story give origins for the two parts of his name.  Oengus [= Aengus] is presented as ’óen = “one” and gus = “passion”.  Surprisingly, this is a pretty accurate linguistic analysis.  Gus is a common element of male names (e.g. Fergus), and its main meaning is “force”, “vigour”, “fierceness”. It is also sometimes used in the sense of a deed or task, and even possibly “nature” (i.e. essence of a person).

Mac Ind Óc is explained in the poem in terms of ind mac óc, “the young son”, because of being conceived and born in a single day.  However, óc is also used as a term for a young man, and thus, a warrior.  So mac ind óc might proprely be translated as “son of the warrior”.

In the light of this birth story, where the Dagda makes Elcmar think that a single day has passed, when it has in fact been nine months, it is worth looking at an episode later in “The Wooing of Étain”, where Óengus seeks to be acknowledged by his father.  The Dagda gives him a strategy for taking Brú na Bóinne from Elcmar, by asking to be made king there for a day and a night.  When this time is up, Óengus refuses to relinquish ownership, saying that all time is made of days and nights.  So the combination of the Dagda and his son, Óengus, seems to have a manipulation of time at its core.

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