The Dindshenchas of Knowth – Cnogba
From the Metrical Dindshenchas, Volume 3, poem 4, pp 40 – 46
Edited by Edward Gwynn;
Translated by Isolde Carmody
Notes to the text appear at the end. Terms with notes below are marked in bold.
Fland Mac Lonnán cecinit.
Fland Mac Lonnán chants:
1. Búa, ingen Rúadrach rúaid
Búa, daughter of red-haired Rúadrí
ben Loga mic Céin cleth-rúaid,
wife of Lug, son of Cian, of the ruddy spears,
is ann rofoilged a corp;
it is there her body was buried;
fuirri romúrad mór-chnocc.
Over her was built a great hill.
2. Cnocc ic Búa i medón Breg,
Búa has a hill in the midst of Brega,
baile i tartad in deg-ben,
the place in which the good woman was laid
isin phurt-sin sund ana;
in that precinct over there;
is ainm don chnucc-sin Cnogba.
The name of that hill is Knowth.
3. Acht cid étromma ria rád
But, though lightest to say
d’anmannaib Cnogba comlán
Of all of Knowth’s [Cnogba’s] names,
dílsi dó cnocc Búi amach
More fitting for it is “Búa’s Hill” from now on
ó Búa ingin Rúadrach.
From Búa the daughter of Rúadrí.
4. Ingen Elcmair ann robái:
There was a / the daughter of Elcmar there
ba lendán Mider don mnái:
Midir was beloved of the woman
lendán di-si féin in flaith
she herself was beloved of the noble
fer a Síd Midir mór-maith.
The man from Síd Midir, great and good.
5. Englec ingen Elcmair áin
Englec the daughter of splendid Elcmar
lendán Óengussa imláin;
[was] beloved of perfect Óengus;
Oengus mac in Dagdai dil
Óengus the son of the dear Dagda
nírbo lendán don ingin.
Was not beloved of the girl.
6. Dolluid Mac in Óc ergna
the discerning Mac in Óc came
fodess co Cerainn Cermna
sunwise / southward to Cerainn Cermna
‘sin tShamuin teintig thríallaig
It was Samain of fires and journeys,
do chluiche fri comfhíannaib.
For a game against the other Fíana
7. Dolluid Mider, messu de,
Midir came, worse still,
he caught up with her after them:
berid Engleic leis ó thig
he takes Englec with him from the house
assin co Síd Fer Femin.
Out of there to the Síd of the Men of Femin.
8. Ó rochúala Óengus án
When splendid Óengus heard [about]
a lenmain imma lendán,
the abduction of his beloved
dothéit dia fochmarc, fír dam,
he went to seek her, (I have the truth),
cosin rochnocc óa rucad.
To the great hill from where she was taken.
9. Rob é lón a shlúaig, líth nglé,
This was the provisions of his host, clear feast!
cnói cró-derga na caille;
blood-red nuts of the forest;
léicid a lón de for lár,
he lets go his rations onto the ground,
feraid guba immon cnocán.
He performs a lament around the little hill.
10. Cía ‘dberar fris cnoc Búi drend,
Though it is called “Búa’s hill” of the encounters
is é in cotarsna comthend,
it is the opposite just as strongly,
fuaramar conid de atá
We have found out it is so [called]
don chnó-guba-sin Cnogba.
For that “nut-lament”, “Cnogba”.
11. Cométar ocainn ‘malle
We have preserved together
a mebrugud na láide,
the memory of the poem,
ocus cía bé dlug bías duib
and whichever reason will be with ye [i.e. ye prefer]
is uáithe in brug dar búadaib.
It is from that [story is named] the territory higher than victories.
12. Senchas aile-so, is éol dam,
This is another history, it is known to me,
a chnuic út atá oc Dubthach:
of the aforementioned hill which Dubthach has:
dorónad, cid mór in mod,
it was made, however great the work,
lasin mBresal mbó-díbod.
By that Bresal Bó-díbad
13. Díbad ar búaib bái ria lind
There was a plague / destruction on cattle in his time
in cach inad i nÉrind,
in every spot in Ireland,
acht secht mba is tarb tuilltís tress
except for seven cows and a bull whose strength would swell
oc cach brugaid ria remess.
for every hospitaller in his lifetime.
14. Tócaibther leis in cnocc crúaid
The harsh hill was built by him
fo chosmailius tuir Nemrúaid,
in the likeness of Nimrod’s tower,
co mbad de tísad for nem;
so that from it he might go [up] to heaven;
is é fáth ara fuaibred.
That is the reason it was attempted.
15. Fir Érend dia dénum dó
It was the men of Ireland who made it
in chnuicc sin uili i n-óenló:
that whole hill in one day:
rothócaib díb giallu in gein
the person [i.e. Bresal] took hostages [legal sureties] from them
fri hobair in laithi-sin.
For the work of that day.
16. Adubairt fris a fiur féin,
His own sister said to him,
nách leicfed rith don rogréin,
that she would not let the great sun run [its course]
ní biad adaig, acht lá glan
there would not be night, but pure day
co roiched súas in sáethar.
Until the labour reached up [i.e. was completed]
17. Sínid uaithe a fiur for fecht,
His sister proceeds [lit. stretches from herself] on her course,
doní co dron a drúidecht:
Firmly she performs her magic:
nir utmall grían ósa cind;
The sun was not restless [i.e. was still] above her head;
rofasta hí ‘sin oen-rind.
She stopped it in one point.
18. Dolluid Bresal, báes rongab,
Bresal came, a frenzy seized him,
ón chnucc dochum a shethar:
from the hill towards his sister:
dorónsat slúaig deccra de:
the host made of it an affliction fosfúair i Ferta Cuile.
He found her at the Mound of the Fly / Hollow / Chambers
19. Luid ina gnáis, ciarbo chol,
He went to have intercourse with her, though it was incest,
don tsiair, ciarbo shárugod:
to the sister, though it was rape:
frisin cnoc sin sunda amne
thus, on this hill here,
adberar Ferta Cuile.
It is called “Mound of Incest” [pun on col]
20. In uair nár lá dóib iarsin,
Then it was not day for them after that,
is dóig linn corbo adaig,
We think that it was night,
ní dernad in cnocc co cend;
The hill was not made to the top [i.e. not finished]
tíat for cúlu fir Érend.
The men of Ireland go back [home].
21. Atá in cnocc óshin ille
The hill is from then to now
cen tuilled air ar airde:
without swelling on its height:
ní ba mó achach ósheo immach
it is not greater [i.e. will not increase], alas, from now on
co tí in bráth briste brethach.
until Judgement Day’s broken judgement [i.e. the end of the world].
22. Fland sunna, solus a dán,
This is Fland, bright his craft,
innises sin, ní sóeb-rád:
who recites this, it is no false-speaking:
rogu sceóil, scáilid mná is fir,
the best of stories, scatter it, women and men,
mebrugaid beóil oc buádaib.
Mouths recall it in victories.
A population group and plain in the Meath area, but distinct from Mide. Seems to cover the East Midlands, parts of modern Counties Dublin, Meath and Kildare.
Bresal seems to have the same etymological root as the chaotic king Bres Mac Elathan, i.e. “Uproar , Din”. Bó-díbad is literally “Cow-Destruction”, and this Bresal is reknowned for the cattle plague that occurred during his lifetime. He is elsewhere cited as a son of Rúadrí / Rúadraige, which may, by reference to external sources, connect him with the Búa of the first section of this poem.
“Cow”. There are a number of mythological women with some version of “cow” in their names or titles: Bóand, “White Cow” of the Boyne River; Caillech Bóí Bére, “Veiled One, Cow of Beare” of the Beare Penninsula in the South West. This Búa is described as wife of Lug, along with her sister, Nás, “Death?”. Búa is also given as daughter of Rúadrí, “Ruddy King”, who is elsewhere given as father to Bresal Bó-Díbad (see above).
Hogan seems to refer this to Cerenn and Cerne. This latter is probably 3 miles SSE. of Navan, and 5 miles N. of Tara. It is listed alongside Cnogba in a number of sources as neighbouring territories.
Knowth, Co. Meath; part of the Boyne Valley neolithic complex, one of its three main tumuli (artificial burial mounds or passage tombs) along with Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne) and Dowth (Dubad / Dub Aedha / Duibfhid).
In this poem, it is given different synthetic etymologies:
- cnocc Búi = “Búa’s Hill”
- cnó-guba = “nut lament”
To find out about the fascinating archaeology of Knowth, visit these websites:
Official page: http://www.newgrange.com/knowth.htm
This site has excellent images of Knowth’s many decorated kerbstones: http://www.megalithicireland.com/Knowth.htm
This term means “infringement, violation” and comes to mean “sin”. While it certainly is used in legal senses, it seems to me to carry an implication of violating “natural law”. It particularly refers to “incest”, and thereby to a degree of kinship which is an impediment to marriage. Caude Lévi-Strauss, one of the founders of modern anthropology, saw incest as a “universal” tabu i.e. not culturally specific. It still represents a wrongness of a primordial nature.
Gwynn translates this word as “a marvel”, which seems to me a stretch. While the word can refer to something marvellous or out of the ordinary, this is a secondary meaning. The principal sense of deccair, which continues into Modern Irish, is of something difficult or troublesome. It means “a marvel” only in the sense of something hard to accomplish. In the context of the poem, however, I feel “affliction” is a better rendering; Bresal’s people consider his “stupor” as some trouble or difficulty that has come over him and caused him to rape his sister.
We have met Elcmar before, as he is the husband of Bóann at the time of her conception of Óengus Mac Ind Óc with the Dagda. (See “Texts of Eithliu”). It is also he who holds the seat at Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne) when Óengus comes to claim his inheritance by more verbal trickery concerning time and space. Since his name means “Spite”, it is tempting to see him as a perpetual “fall guy” for the manipulation of those around him.
Englec ingen Elcmair
While Englec is given as a daughter to the long-suffering Elcmar, we mustn’t assume the she is therefore Bóand’s daughter – after all, Óengus is Bóand’s son but not Elcmar’s. Besides, while the last section of the poem concerns incest between a brother and sister, it would have been as clearly marked if that were an issue here.
For Englec’s name, it could be understood as “Stone Track” or “Slab Territory” or perhaps even “Water Wrestling”!
I have been unable to find another reference to this place, but as we pointed out in the episode, Knowth is surrounded by many “satelite” mounds.
The term ferta means a “(grave-)mound”, but it is the term cuile that is more provocative. It could be the genitive of cuil, “fly” (the insect), cúl, “nook, hollow” or cuile, “pantry”. This last is curious (although less likely to be in the genitive singular) because it is a room particularly associated with women, and seems sometimes to mean “bedroom”.
There is also a term, “ben chuil” meaning “concubine”. Bé Chuile is one of the bantúathad, “wise women” of the Túatha Dé Danann who speaks during the second muster of the troops before the Battle of Moytura. (Sections 116-7, lines 509 – 513).
When the place is named as Ferta Cuile the second time, we have heard about the col, “incest”, and so now we can understand Ferta Cuile as “Mound of Incest”.
Hunting and / or warrior bands. We will be hearing much more about these gangs when we dive into Find Mac Umaill!
Literally “sun-stop” i.e. a solstice. In Modern Irish, we term it gríanstad, with the same meaning.
This term means “lament”, but is distinguished from terms that mean wailing or sobbing. Its entry in the “Dictionary of the Irish Language” notes;
Especially of lamentation or keening, as part of ancient funeral rites.
This term is usually translated as “lover”, but it can be confusing in how sentences are constructed in terms of who loves whom! In fact, I think I got it backwards when we recorded the episode. I have solved the problem by translating it as “beloved”. It makes a bit more sense of the love triangle, but I don’t think it affects the overall shape of the story. (Official apologies to Óengus Mac Ind Óc!)
Lug, son of Cian
This Lug, husband of Búa (see above), is the same Lug who plays such a tricky role in Cath Maige Tuired. You can hear about his exploits there in Series 2 – The Battle of Moytura: Episode 3 – Techt Lugo.
Midir plays a central role in the tale Tocmarc Étaíne, “The Wooing of Étaín”, sometimes referred to as “Midir and Étaín”. In that tale, he is foster-father to Óengus, and sends Óengus to get Étaín from her father. By the end of the tale, Étaín has been born again to a different mother, and married to another man, from whom Midir abducts her. So, in common with the tale in our poem, Midir has a close relationship (whether positive or negative) with Óengus, and abducts or elopes with a woman. It may seem strange, then, that his name seems to mean “Judge” or, more precisely “he judged”.
Óengus mac in Dagdai / Mac ind Óc
The story of Óengus’ conception by the Dagda and Bóand is told both in the second poem on Bóand (see “More Poems about Sinann”) and at the opening of Tocmarc Étaíne (see “Texts of Eithliu”), which also describes how he gets his epithet, Mac Ind Óc, “Son The Young”. He very often appears alongside his father, the Dagda, (whom we discussed in depth in Series 2 – The Battle of Moytura: Episode 4 – Ar Shlicht in Dagdae), and they often perform tasks for one another. In Tocmarc Étaíne, “The Wooing of Étaín”, Óengus is fostered to Midir, whom he believes to be his natural father at first. Óengus has to fetch Étaín from her father as part of a reparation for injurydone to Midir. These two have a close yet fraught relationship.
“Red King”. He is given as father to Búa at the beginning of this poem, but elsewhere is given as father of Bresal Bó-díbad. In the last story of this poem, Bresal rapes his sister, who is otherwise unnamed. The implication may be that, since this is a Dindshenchas on Cnogba / Cnocc Búa, that Bresal’s sister is another Búa, or even the same as the one married to Lug.
The line ‘sin tShamuin teintig thríallaig is translated by Gwynn as “on a blazing, hurrying Samain”. But, given that Samain is a crucial time of the year, I feel it makes more sense as “it was Samain of fires and journeys”. Samain, in its modern form of Hallowe’en, still involves bonfires and the children’s “Trick or Treat” journey around the houses of the neighbourhood.
secht mba is tarb
“Seven cows and a bull” who are said, in this poem, to be the sole bovine survivors of the cattle-plague of Bresal Bó-díbad. This is also said to be all that remained to the hospitaller, Buchét, and his wife, Odras, in the tales Esnada Tige Buchét, “The Melodies of the House of Buchét”, and the poem on Odras (Metrical Dindshenchas, Volume 4, poem 49, pp 196 – 199). Indeed, the qualities of the one remaining bull in our present poem seems to be that it grows stronger oc cach brugaid ria remess, “for every hospitaller in his lifetime”. I feel this is a passing reference to the stories of Buchet and Odras.
Síd Fer Femin
This is now Slievenamon, north of Clonmel in Co. Tipperary.
This is often referred to as Brí Leith, mythological home of Midir. It is now known as Ardagh Hill or Slieve Golry in Co. Longford. Hogan notes (s.v. sliab) that “in districts of a flat surface a very inconsiderable elevation is called sliabh”, even though the term is usually rendered “mountain” in English. Size is relative.
“Nimrod’s tower” i.e. the Tower of Babel. This is the Judeo-Christian myth of the tower built so that mortals could ascend to Heaven. In the story, God destroys the tower and punishes mankind by making them speak mutually incomprehensible languages. The medieval Irish were fascinated by this story, especially since they knew Latin only as a written language, and spoke a different language to their closest neighbours in Britain.
- Posted in: Articles ♦ Dindshenchas 02: Dindshenchas and Dreamtime ♦ Series 03: Dindshenchas and the Art of Mythic Cartography ♦ Texts and Translations
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