Story Archaeology

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

The Dindshenchas of Áth Clíath Cúalann: Dublin


Péist - the water-beast of Irish and Scottish mythology

As we discussed in Dindshenchas: A Magical Mystery Tour, the Modern Irish name for the city of Dublin is Baile Átha Clíath, “The Town of the Ford of the Hurdles”.  The “English” name of Dublin comes from Dublind, “Black Pool”,.

This version is pretty much as translated by Gwynn, with some updating of the English! It includes several stanzas at the end which we did not discuss in the episode, but which connect nicely with other stories…

Áth Clíath Cúalann

Metrical Dindshenchas, Volume 3

poem 13, pp 100 – 103


Ath Clíath fégaid lib colléic:

Behold Áth Clíath before you awhile:

a thuir imthéit Góedel gnáth,

O tower that ever guards the Gael,

cía lóech cía lóiches rodmbrat,

what warrior, what dame has plundered it,

dorat a ainm forsin n-áth?

and given its name to the ford?


Cin mná Adaim dorat forn

The sin of Adam’s wife brought upon us

am-míl cen chond cluiche-drenn:

the senseless rough-sporting beast:

cían ó dorairngert in drúi

long since had the seer foretold

in béist robúi for Licc Benn.

the beast that was on Lecc Benn.


In béist robúi for Licc Benn,

The beast that was on Lecc Benn

secht fichit coss, ceithri chend:

had seven score feet, four heads;

rosiacht a colpa, a dóït:

its shank and its toe reached to here,

roslíg Bóind corbo glend.

it licked up Boyne till it became a valley.


In béist dia roás in sceól,

The beast, from which the tale grew

diamsat eól i míli bóc,

(if you are skilled in a thousand books)

am-míl n-ingnad, rogab tass,

the strange beast, it found rest:

roslass for bruig maic ind Óc.

it was slain on Brug maic ind Óc [i.e. Newgrange, Boyne Valley, Co. Meath].


Cíä sóer rofích in cléith?

Who was the wright that planted the palisade? [= Clíath]

inna méit dosfuc ‘sin n-áth:

in its great size he set it in the ford [= Áth]:

cade in chlíath, is ingnad linn:

what is this palisade, we wonder?

méraid hi lind co tí bráth.

it shall abide in the pool till Doomsday.


Curach a chléib rolá cor

The frame of the beast’s chest made a cast

im hÉrind, or finnad cách,

around Ireland – a coast that everyone knew –

conusforlúaid in muir mer:

so that the restless sea tossed it:

iarum doscer isin n-áth.

then it happened to reach the ford.


Rí na ndúile, forum n-án,

The king of the elements – noble motion –

coimsid rúine do cach óen,

the master of mystery for everyone,

flaith na folad, mac mo Dé

the prince of nature, the son of my God,

is é adchomad cach cóel.

He it is that would protect every weakling.


Innis dam, a Mongáin maiss,

Relate to me, O comely Mongan

úair at eólach cech ernmaiss,

since you are acquainted with every violent deed,

cíä lín dorochair, is glé,

what number fell – it is clear –

hi tulaig na segainne.

in the mound of the skilled one.


A búaid hÉrenn dar dá ler,

O pride of Ireland across two seas,

a mind gel rofitir cách,

O bright diadem whom all men know,

memor latt, a breó dond Í,

you remember, O light from Iona,

aní dosfuc isin n-áth.

the thing that set it in the ford.

The “light from Iona” mentioned in the last stanza is St. Colmcille, one of the most celebrated Irish saints.  It refers to this incident from Book 2 of the Vita Columbae, “The Life of Columba [= Colmcille]” by St. Adomnán.  Our next article, “St. Colmcille and the Water Monster”, will explore this in more detail.


How an Aquatic Monster was driven off by virtue of the blessed man’s prayer.


ON another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, “Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.” Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.

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