Carn Furbaide, the cairn of Furbaide Fer Benn son of Conchobar and Eithne Úathach, seems to be on Carn Hill in Co. Longford, a proverbial stone’s throw from Midir’s sid on Brí Leith / Ardagh Hill. (See Hogan’s Onomasticon Goedelicum, Letter C).
As ever, terms with notes below are in bold, and the notes are at the end of the poem.
From the Metrical Dindshenchas, Volume 4, poem 10, pp 30 – 35
Edited by Edward Gwynn
Translated by Isolde Carmody
Cuán Uá Lotchán cecinit
Cúan Uá Lotchán chants:
1. Atá sund Carn uí Chathbath
Here stands the Cairn of Cathbad‘s grandson
fors’rimred arm imathlam,
against whom a handy weapon was wielded;
lechtán láechda laích col-lí,
heroic headstone of a beautiful warrior,
fertán fráechda Furbaidi.
Furbaide‘s heathery grave.
2. Furbaide Fer Benn, ba brass,
Bold was Furbaide Fer Benn,
mac do Chonchobar chomdass:
son to comely Conchobar:
Ethne a máthair, moltait raind,
Eithne was his mother, verses praise her,
siur do Meidb is do Chlothrainn.
sister to Medb and to Clothru.
3. Luid Ethne sin cóiced cain
Eithne came to the pleasant province
co m-báe h-i fail Chonchobair:
to be at home [i.e. living] with Conchobar:
dia m-bátar and immalle
when they lived together there
de dorónad Furbaide.
Furbaide was begotten [lit. made] by him.
4. Iarsin mostic Ethne anair
After that [conception], Eithne comes from the east
dia h-assait i Cruachan-maig:
to give birth in the plain of Crúachán:
dolluid Lugaid ara cend
Lugaid came to head her off
co bun síd-maige Silend.
at the bottom of the fairy plain of Silenn.
5. Sáeb-écht doróni Lugaid
Lugaid committed a perverse slaughter
for mnaí Conchobair chubaid:
upon shapely Conchobar’s wife:
tuc am-mac tria tóeb immach
he took her son out through her side
iarna bádud balc-thorrach.
after drowning her, stout and pregnant.
6. Is uaithi ainmnichther de
From her is named
ind abann dian ainm Eithne,
the river that is called Ethne [the river Inny];
ó mnaí, ní scél cleithe cruind,
from the woman – it is not a meagre, hidden story,
atá Eithne arin abaind.
that the river is called Ethne.
7. Is aire sin, sorcha dend,
Because of this, (bright his colour),
rolen Furbaide Fer Bend:
that “Excised” stuck to the Horned Man:
dá beinn bátar fora chind
from the two horns that were on his head
Fhurbaide fhossaid fhorfind.
of steadfast greatly-fair Furbaide.
8. Secht m-bliadna deëc a áes,
Seventeen years was his age,
rosílad Hériu ar gáes,
His wisdom was spread throughout Ireland:
robriss bern trí cét, cen chlith,
he broke a breach of three hundred – it is not hidden –
issin chath oc Ilgáirich.
in the battle at Ilgáirech.
9. Dul do dígail a máthar
To go and avenge his mother
romídair tri mór-láthar,
he had decided, through great consideration,
co torchair leis, láechda in bedg,
so that he felled, heroic the act,
máthair Lugdach trí-ríab-nderg.
the mother of Lugaid Three-Red-Stripes
10. Dolluid Lugaid, lúad ar chacht,
Lugaid came, a fated journey,
aníar ina iarmoracht,
from the West, in pursuit of him,
co torchair leis Fer bláith Bend
so that he felled the polished Fer Benn
im-mulluch Sléibe Uillend.
on the summit of Slíab Uillenn.
11. Cloch cach fhir roraind in fadb,
A stone for every man that the axe split,
is de dorónad in carn:
That is how the cairn was made:
bás maic ind ríg tre chin mná,
the death of the king’s son because of the violation of a woman,
is é sin in gním diatá.
That is the deed from which it (the Cairn) comes.
12. Rucad in cend selat sair
The head was then brought eastward
dia breith co tech Conchobair,
to bring it to Conchobar’s house,
co torchair a glaicc Lugaid
so that there fell from Lugaid’s grasp
in dét in maicc mór-phudair.
the tooth of the much-mourned son.
13. Uillend fáebur-derg fosfúair
Ullenn of the red-blade found it,
mac Find uí Baiscne brat-rúaid:
son of red-cloaked Find ua Baiscne:
tánic di chéin cían im gail
he (i.e. Lugaid?) came from far away in fury,
conid ‘sin tshléib tathamair.
so that it is on that mountain that he died.
14. Rí nime doní cech ní
King of Heaven, maker of all things,
uaisle é ‘ná cech ard-rí,
he is higher than all high kings:
rí corric bráth, bressim nglé,
King till we reach Judgement Day, with loud acclaim,
is ós chách atá side. A.
high over all is He.
The River Inny, which passes through Ballymahon and Abbeyshrule in Co. Longford before emptying into Loch Ree. It is the river in which Eithne Úathach was drowned, with Furbaide Fer Benn cut out of her belly as she died.
For more on Eithne Úathach herself, see below.
Cathbad is well-known from the stories of Cú Chulainn and Conchobar as a druid or seer. He is also father to Conchobar, and therefore is Furbaide’s grandfather.
His name means “Battle Death”.
Clothru is sister to Medb and Eithne Úathach, all daughters of Eochaid Fedlech, possibly also daughters of Étaín. She is mother to Lugaid Ríab nDerg, “Lugaid of the Red Stripes”, who has three fathers; Bres, Nár and Lothur (aka Trí Find Emna, “Three Finds of Emain”). These three are her brothers, as we discussed in the episode.
Clothru’s name may relate to cloth, “fame, report, distinction, generosity”. There is an intriguing term, clothra, “famous places, assemblies, congregations”, which is redolent of the “tributes of Connacht” mentioned in Aided Meidbe.
A famous king of Ulster at the time of the Táin Bó Cuailgne, which resulted in disastrous war between Conchobar in Ulster and Medb in Connacht.
Conchobar was a son of Ness and Cathbad, although he is usually given his mother’s name as Conchobar Mac Nessa. Like so many of these characters, he seems to have many wives and lovers, although the one that interests us here is Eithne Úathach, with whom he begets Furbaide Fer Benn.
His name means “Hound Lover”.
The seat of sovereignty in Connacht, located at Rathcroghan near Tulsk in Co. Roscommon. According to the Dindshenchas poem on Rath Crúachán, (Metrical Dindshenchas, Volume 3, p 348 ff), the place is named for Crúachu, handmaid to Étaín. Both women were brought there by Midir when he took Étaín back from Eochaid Feidlech (or Eochaid Airem in this version). The poem calls the síd at Rath Croghan Síd Sinche, the Hill of Sinech, which is re-named in honour of Crúachu. Again, this poem disagrees with other sources, as it maintains that Crúachu, not Étaín, was the mother of Medb. (You can compare this poetic re-telling of the story of Midir and Étaín with the truly epic Tocmarc Étaíne, “The Wooing of Étaín”.)
Crúach is a “heap”, “stack” or “rick”, which is a plausible root for the name of a hill. There are homonyms derived from crú, “blood, gore” and, by implication, “slaughter”, providing dindshenchas poets with rich, descriptive fuel.
Eithne’s name is related to that of Eithliu (see Series 1, Episode 3, “Tales of Eithliu”), with the meaning “kernel, nucleus”. As with Eithliu, Lug’s mother, Eithne here gives birth to her child, but cannot raise it herself. While Lug’s mother gives her baby to the sea, Eithne is herself lost to the waters of the River Inny.
The origin of her epithet, Úathach, “Horrible”, is curious. In Aided Meidbe, this explanation is given:
For this reason she was called Eithni Uathac (Eithni the Terrible), namely, she used to eat the flesh of infants so that the children always disliked her to be mentioned
In Cóir Anmann, “The Fitness of Names”, this is the entry for Eithne Úathach:
170. Ethne Uathach ‘horrible’, why so called? Easy to say. When the Déissi took the girl to rear her they used to give her the flesh of children (to eat) so that she might the more rapidly grow up (and be married). For it had been determined that they would get land and a settlement as her bride-price. Or, again, she used to cut off the ends of the little-fingers of her own children so that they might be the longer-lived: for at first no children were left to her, (but all died prematurely). For that cause the children felt a great horror for her. Wherefore she is called Ethne the Horrible.
As we have seen above, Eithne and Eithliu are associated with the conception and birth of children, though not with their upbringing. The entry in Cóir Anmann hints at this, saying that none of her children survived infancy. This exerpt also refers to her cutting off the tips of the little fingers of her children so that they might live longer. Perhaps this “cutting” is related to the birth of her son, Furbaide, whose name means “excised, cut-out”. (see below).
Furbaide Fer Benn
“Furbaide” is an adjectival form of the verbal noun furbad, probably from for-benn, “to strike out, cut out”. It is easy to see why this name would be given to a child born by his mother’s belly being split open by a sword.
Carn Furbaide itself seems to be Carn Hill, near Abbeyshrule in Co. Longford. It is not far from Ardagh Hill, Midir’s Brí Leith. (See Hogan’s Onomasticon, Letter C).
The epithet Fer Benn, “Horned Man / Man of Peaks”, is much more intriguing. In this poem (stanza 7), it is said that he is called Fer Benn because of two horns that grew out of his head. Cóir Anmann gives a more “rationalised” explanation:
256. Furbaide Fer-benn ‘man-horn’, that is, two horns of silver and a horn of gold were out of his helmet, and hence he is called Furbaide Ferbenn.
However, it is impossible to ignore the association of Fer Benn with the names of the Dagda which he gives to Indech’s daughter in Cath Maige Tuired. (See Series 2, Episode 4, “Ar Shlicht an Dagda”, and “Names of the Dagda”). In this passage, I believe there to be a word-game. Dagda first gives his name as “Fer Benn”, which can be understood as “Horned Man”. But when Indech’s daughter uses the name, he says “That is not my name”, and gives his name as “Fer Benn Brúach”. This, in turn, can be understood as “Horned Man with the Big Belly”, but Indech’s daughter is still unsuccessful when she uses it. When the Dagda gives his full name in the form of a rosc poem, the context shifts the meaning of Fer Benn Brúach so that it can be uderstood as “Man of Peaks and (River) Banks”.
As to why Furbaide should share this epithet with the Dagda, we currently have no clue! Suggestions are most welcome.
This is a placename often paired with Gáirech. They seem to lie between Tara and Athlone, and O’Curry located them as a pair of hills near Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. See Hogan’s Onomasticon, Letter I.
Lugaid of the (Three) Red Stripes. He is the son of Clothru and the Trí Find Emna, “Three Finds of Emain”. These are Clothru’s three brothers, Bres (“Uproar”), Nár (“Modesty / Shame”) and Lothur (“Secret Assembly / Conspiracy”). In Aided Meidbe, we are told how Clothru offers herself sexually to her brothers as a means of diverting them from overthrowing their father. Although they do not call off their attack, it ultimately fails, and the implication is that it fails due to their injustices and outrages. A detailed description of this event is given in the Metrical Dindshenchas poem on Drum Criaich (The Metrical Dindshenchas, Volume 4, poem 13, p 42 ff.).
Lugaid is born with two red stripes, as is described in Cóir Anmann, “The Fitness of Names”:
105. Lugaid Réo nderg, that is, a red (derg) stripe (sriab). Two red stripes were over him, to wit, a circle round his throat and circle over his waist His head resembled Nár’s, his breast that of Bres; from the belt downwards he was like Lothar.
His death is described in Aided Derbfhorgaille, “The Violent Death of Derbfhorgaille”, where Lugaid is given to Derbfhorgaille by Cú Chulainn. When Derbfhorgaille is torn apart by the other women of Ulster out of jealousy, Lugaid dies of a broken heart.
Although this poem on Carn Furbaide makes Lugaid the killer of Eithne Úathach, we feel this is a kind of confusion over the roles played by Lugaid and his cousin, Furbaide, in the death of Medb. It is quite a complicated web of means, motive and opportunity!
Perhaps the most famous mythological Irish queen, Medb of Crúachán is a force to be reckoned with. Her name almost certainly refers to “strong, intoxicating”, in the sense of strong alcohol. There are related words meaning to be exhilerated, merry, almost the hysterical high-pitched drunkenness with which I’m sure you’re familiar (through observation, not experience, naturally!).
She is sister to Clothru, who originally holds the sovereignty of Connacht with their father, Eochaid Feidlech. It is possible that Étaín is her mother, although another source says Medb is daughter to Crúachu, Étaín’s handmaid. This latter may be because Medb is so often associated with Crúachán.
While Medb does not have a major part to play in this poem, pretty much every other source agrees that she killed her sister Clothru in order to gain the sovereignty. It is curious that it is not her father, Eochaid Fedlech, from whom she takes the sovereignty, as her brothers attempted to do. It seems to be enough to take it from Clothru, although she is consequently under geis to bathe in the well on Inis Clothrann during the “Tributes of Connacht”. It is this geis that gives Furbaide his opportunity to kill her.
There is so much that can be said of Medb’s exploits between her taking of the sovereignty and her death on Inis Clothrann, but this is not the place for such an epic discussion!
The “fairy plain of Silenn”. This would appear to be the area around Loch Silenn (Lough Sheelin), which borders Counties Cavan, Meath and Longford.
According to Hogan, (Onomasticon, Letter S), this is another name for Slíabh Cairbre, the same location given for Carn Furbaide in some sources. It is worth pointing out that this part of the country is very flat, and that Sliab Uillenn, Sliab Cairbre and Carn Hill are not prominent enough to be marked on Google Maps!
Ullenn mac Find uí Baiscne
Ullenn Foebur-Dercc (“Red-Blade”) is here given as a son of Find Mac Umall / Find uí Bascne (Fionn Mac Cool). He seems to only have an incidental role in this poem, probably in connection with Slíab Uilenn, apparently named for him.
The name, Ullenn, seems to mean “elbow”, as in the Irish instrument, the uileann pipes, whose bellows is worked by the musician’s elbow. It can be figuratively used in many of the senses that we use “arm” – being “on one’s elbow” was to be beside them or helping them, being “under the elbow” was to be oppressed or conquered. It could also be applied to geographical features, such as the bend in a river or, indeed, a hill.