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The Dagda and the Mac Óc: Playing with Time and Space

In our story, the Dagda is helped out of trouble
by his son, Óengus Mac Ind Óc, and this in turn helps depose Bres and restore prosperity to Ireland after the defeat of the Fomoire.  However, in Tocmairc Étaíne, “The Wooing of Étaín”, we see the Dagda getting his son out of scrapes.

From the moment of Óengus’ conception, the Dagda is playing with time and space.  He also uses his position as ultimate arbiter of disputes to secure the best land for his son, in an episode reminiscent of Óengus’ scheme to improve the Dagda’s lot under Bres.

Below, I have translated the first 8 sections of Tocmairc Étaíne, as edited by Osborne Bergin and R. I. Best.  You can read their translation on CELT.

There is another relevant episode later in the same saga which I have not included here.  In Sections 12 – 14, the Mac Óc is set tasks of clearing plains and bringing forth rivers in order to secure Étaín for his foster-father, Midir.  Rather than attempting these feats for himself, he simply goes crying (sic) to his Daddy, who goes and achieves these marvels, each in a single night.

The Dagda can clearly play not only with words and justice, but with the very fabric of time and space; or, at least, how we perceive time and space to be.

The Beginning of the Wooing of Étaín

Edited by O. Bergin and R. I. Best

Translated by Isolde Carmody

¶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, & dogeine an Dagda tincheadla mora for Ealcmar oc dul nuad, cona tisad i fairthi .i. a muichi, & diuchtrais dorcha n-aidchi aire, & argart gortai & itaid de.

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

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

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

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

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, & ba slan an bean dia galar ar cind Ealcmair, & nir airigistair & fuirri a bine .i. teacht a coibligi an Dagdai.

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

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

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

¶2] Birt an Dagda a mac coleigh for altrom do tig Midir i mBrig Leith i Teathbai.

The Dagda brought his son, meanwhile,for fosterage  to Midir’s house in Brí Léith [Ardagh Hill, Co. Longford] in Tethba.

Alta Aengus i ssuidiu co cend .ix. mbliadna.

Aengus was fostered there till the end of nine years.

Cluichemag már la Midir i mBrig Leith.

A great playing-field had Midir in Brí Léith.

Tri .l. a mac ann do maccaemaib thiri Erenn, & tri .l. a ingin d’inginaib thiri Erenn.

Three fifties of boys of the dear sons of the land of Ireland and three fifties of girls of the daughters of the land of Ireland [were there].

Aengus bá toiseach doib uili ar med a grada la Midir, ar caime a delba & ar suíri a ceneoil.

Aengus was the leader of them all, because of the extent of Midir’s love for him, and because of the dearness of his form and the nobility of his people.

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.”

¶3] Fearais Aengus deabaid fri Triath mac Feabail (vel Gobair), do Feraib Bolc, ba leaththuiseach don cluichi & ba dalta do Midir.

Aengus had a dispute with Triath son of Febal (or Gobor) of the Fir Bolg, who was one of the two leaders in the game [i.e. the other team captain?], and a foster-son of Midir.

Nibo menma la Aengus a acallaim do Thriath, co n-epert: ‘As imnead dam mac an mogad dom acallaim’ — ar doruimin Aengus co sin robo Midir a athair, & ba toich do rigi Breag Leith fadeisin, & ni fhidir a chairdeas frisin Dagda an tan sin.

Aengus did not want to speak to Triath; and he said: ‘It annoys me that the son of a slave should converse with me,’ becauseAengus had believed until then that Midir was his father, and the kingship of Brí Léith his by birth-right, and he did not know of his relationship with the Dagda at that time.

¶4] Friscart Triath co n-epert: ‘Ni ferr liumsa,’ or se, ‘in t-amus dona fes mathair vel athair dom acallaim.’

Triath answered and said: ‘I don’t like it,’ he said, ‘that an underling whose mother or father are unknown speaks to me.’

Luid Aengus iarum for cai & dubai docum Midir iarna athaisiugud do Triath.

Aengus went after that crying and miserable to Midir after being insulted by Triath.

‘Cid sin?’ ol Midir.

‘What is this?’ said Midir.

‘Triath rom chain, & dorrubai frim eneach nad fil mathair na hathair lium.’

‘Triath has slandered me and thrown in my face [= honour] that I have neither mother nor father.’

‘Is gó,’ ol Midir.

‘It is false,’ said Midir.

‘Ceist,’ ol Aengus, ‘cia mo mathair, can dom athair?’

‘Question,’ said Aengus, ‘who is my mother, from where is my father?’

‘Ni hannsa. Eochaid Ollathar do athair,’ ol Midir, ‘& Eithni ben Ealcmair an Broga do mathair. Misi dot alt fó clith ar Ealcmar, arnabad tocrad do denam dia chind.’

‘Not hard. Your father is Eochaid Ollathair,’ said Midir, ‘and Eithne, wife of Elcmar of the Brug, is your mother. I have fostered you concealed from Elcmar, so that it would not vex him that you were made behind his back [lit: “away from his head”].’

‘Tairsu liumsa,’ ol Aengus, ‘conomm ardama m’athair, arnach rabasa fo clith ba sire fo aithisib Fer mBolg.’

‘Come with me,’ said Aengus, ‘so that I may be acknowledged [?] by my father , and that I may not be concealed any longer, subject to the insults of the Fir Bolg.’

¶5] Docomlai Midir iarum & a dalta leis do agallaim Eachach, co mbadur i nUisneach Midi a medon Erenn, ar ba hann bai teach nEachach, daig ba comfadai uad for cach leth ind Eiriu fodeas & fotuaid, sair & siar.

Midir set out then and his foster-son with him to speak with Eochaid, so that they were in Uisnech of Meath in the center of Ireland, because it is there that was Eochaid’s house, because Ireland was equally long from it on every side; on the south and on the north, to east and to west.

Co fairrnechtar Eochaid ara cind a ndail.

They met Eochaid at the head of the assembly.

Congair Midir in ríg leis for leith do agallaim in meic.

Midir called the king aside to converse with the boy.

‘Cid is ail don oglaech-sa nach tainig riam?’

‘What is the desire of this youth who has not come before?’

‘Is ail do a aidide, dia athair & ferand do tabairt do,’ ol Midir, ‘ar ni comadais do macsu can ferann & tusa a righi nErenn.’

‘His desire is to be recognised by his father, and for land to be given to him,’ said Midir, ‘because it is not proper that your son should be without land, and you in the kingship of Ireland.’

‘Is fo chean dó,’ ol Eochaid, ‘is mac dam. An ferand dutracarsa dó ni folam fos.’

‘He is welcome,’ said Eochaid, ‘he is my son. [But] the land I would give to him is not yet vacant.’

‘Cia ferand sin?’ ol Midir.

‘What land is that?’ said Midir.

‘An Brud fri Boind atuaid,’ ol Eochaid.

‘The Brug, to the north of the Boyne,’ said Eochaid.

‘Cia fil i suidugud?’ ol Midir.

‘Who is in that seat?’ said Midir.

‘Ealcmar,’ ol Eochaid, ‘in fer fil and. Ni hail dam a crad ni bus mo.’

‘Elcmar,’ said Eochaid, ‘is the man who is there. I do not wish to torment him further.’

¶6] ‘Ceist, cisi comairli doberi & don mac sa?’ ol Midir.

‘Question, what advice do you give to this boy?’ said Midir.

‘Tatham do,’ ol Eochaid. ‘Tiad dia Samna isin mBruig, & tuicead gaisgead fair.

‘I have this for him,’ said Eochaid. ‘Let him go on the day of Samain into the Brug, and let him bring arms upon him.

La side & caincomraic sin la firu Erenn, & ni bi neach a fhuath a cheili and,

A day of peace and pleasant encounters is this with the men of Ireland, and no one is angry with his companions then:

& bied Ealcmar a Cnuc Shide an Broga cen gaisced fair acht gablan findchuill ina laim, & a brat diabal imi, & dealg n-oir ina brutt, & tri .l. isin cluichimuigh ara belaib oca cluichi,

Elcmar will be in the Síde of the Brug without weapons on him, except for a fork of fair hazel in his hand, and his cloak doubled around him and a gold pin in his cloak, and three fifties playing before him in the playing-field;

& teis Aengus chuici, & domaithi do dia marbad, & is tacar do nin rubai .i. nir gona acht coro ingealla a réir dó,

Let Aengus go to him and threaten to kill him. [But] it is proper that you might not strike him, that is, might not wound him, provided he promise him his will.

& bad sí riar Aengusa rigi laí co n-aidchi isin Bruigh, & ní leicisiu a ferand do Ealcmar co targha mo reirsea,

And let this be the will of Aengus: kingship [for] a day and a night in the Brug; and do not [you] release the land to Elcmar until he submit [himself] to my will;

& bad ed tacra Aengusa iar tiachtain is i mbithdisli dorochair do a ferand ar anacal Ealcmair arnach ro marbad;

Let it be Aengus’ argument after that happens that the land has fallen to him in perpetual forfeit for sparing Elcmar because he did not kill him,

& is rigi laí co n-aidchi conatechoir, & asbeirsom ‘is laib & aidchib dochaiter an doman.’

and that kingship of day and night is what he had asked for; as it is said, ‘it is in days and nights that the world is spent.’

¶7] Dochomlai Midir iarsin dia crich & a dalta lais,

Midir sets out then for his territory, and his foster-son with him.

& gabais Aengus gaisced immon Samain sin ar cind, & doluid isin mBruig,

Aengus took weapons on the Samain following, and came into the Brug.

& foceird Aengus eisce im Ealcmar co n-ingeall do dia anmain rigi lai co n-aidchi ina ferand.

Aengus attacked Elcmar, so that he promised him in return for his soul [i.e. life] kingship of day and night in his land.

Anais in Mac Óc ann a lla n-isin fo cetoir & in n-aidchi d’adhaig a rigi an tiri & muindter Ealcmair dia reir.

The Mac Óc stayed there the day at once and the following night to direct his kingship of the land, and Elcmar’s people subject to his will.

Doluid Ealcmar arabarach do faedredh a feraind don Mac Óc, & bages bada mora occa.

Elcmar came the next day to the Mac Óc to regain [?] his land, and threatened him greatly at that.

Asbert in Mac Ócc ní leicfed a ferann uad conid reilgedh a reir an Dagda ara mbelaib fer nErenn.

The Mac Óc said that he would not release his land unless it be permitted by the will of the Dagda in front of the men of Ireland.

¶8] Fogellat iarum an Dagda. Concertasidhe cor & caich amal a indell.

They submit then to the Dagda.  He equally arrayed everyone’s contract according to his circumstance.

‘Is lasin n-oclaech sa a feacht sa a ferand as da reir seo’, ol Ealcmar.

‘It is with this youth from now on this land (belongs) from this your decision,’ said Elcmar.

‘Is deithbir ón,’ ol an Dagda; ‘ro slecht do baegholsa llo sidhe & caíncomraic. Tartais do ferann ar th’anacal, ar ba caime lat do ainim oldas do thír,

‘That is best,’ said the Dagda. ‘You were attackd and you unguarded on a day of peace and pleasant meetings. You gave your land because you were spared, for your life was dearer to you than your land.

& rot biasu tír limsa chena, nábó hingoiri duit oldas an Brug.’

And you shall have land from me besides, it will not be more sustaining to you than the Brug.’

‘Cia hairm son?’ ol Ealcmar.

‘Where is that?’ said Elcmar.

‘Cleiteach,’ ol an Dagda, ‘cusna tri tirib fil ime, do macraid gach día isin Bruig ar do belaib oca cluichi, la hurthorad Boindi do thomailt duit asin ferann sa.’

‘Cleitech,’ said the Dagda, ‘with the three lands that are around it, your  boy-troop playing before you every day in the Brug, and the fresh fruits of the Boyne for you to consume from this land.’

‘Is maith,’ ol Ealcmar, ‘dogentar samlaid,’ & beirthi i n-imirghi a Cleitech.

‘It is well,’ said Elcmar; ‘It will be done like that.’ And he made a journey to Cleitech.

lar sin dognith dún and lais, & anais an Mac Óc isin Bruig ina ferand.

After that a fort was made there by him, and the Mac Óc stayed in the Brug in his land.

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