The Metrical Dindshenchas - Volume 1

The Metrical Dindshenchas - Volume 1

The Metrical Dindshenchas is a series of ancient legends connected with the origin of Irish place-names. They come to us from the distant past and survived mainly by word of mouth over the centuries before being written down in manuscripts by Christian monks in medieval times. There are five volumes in all. Some of the material is presented here, selected because it relates to sites already featured in Mythical Ireland.

Volume One

Temair Breg, whence is it named?
declare O sages!
when did the name part from the stead?
when did Temair become Temair?

Was it under Partholan of the battles?
or at the first conquest by Cesair?
or under Nemed of the stark valour?
or under Cigal of the knocking knees?

Was it under the Firbolgs of the boats?
or from the line of the Lupracauns?
tell which conquest of these it was
from which the name Temair was set on Temair?

O Duban, O generous Findchad,
O Bran, O quick Cualad,
O Tuain, ye devout five!
what is the cause whence Temair is named?

There was a time when it was a pleasant hazel-wood
in the days of the noble son of Ollcan,
until the tangled wood was cut down
by Liath son of Laigne Lethan-glas.

Thenceforward it was called Druim Leith-
its corn was rich corn-
until there came Cain free from sorrow,
the son of Fiachu Cendfindan.

Thenceforward it was called Druim Cain,
the hill whither chieftains used to go,
until Crofhind the chaste came,
the daughter of all-famous Allod.

Cathair Crofhind ('twas not amiss)
was its name under the Tuatha De Danand,
till there came Tea, never unjust,
the wife of Erimon lofty of mien.

Round her house was built a rampart
by Tea daughter of Lugaid;
she was buried beyond the wall without,
so that from her is Temair named.

The Seat of the Kings was its name:
the kingly line of the Milesians reigned in it:
five names accordingly were given it
from the time when it was Fordruim till it was Temair.

I am Fintan the poet,
I am a salmon not of one stream;
it is there I was exalted with fame,
on the sod-built stead, even Temair.

The churchyard on the Hill of Tara.



Temair free from feebleness hides not
the glory due to women for its building;
the daughter of Lugaid obtained in her possession
an open plain that it were pity to pillage.

The wife of Gede begged a dower
from her husband, as I have heard,
the clear-hued fortress, stately ascent;
keen was the game for graves.

The abode was a keep, was a fortress,
was a pride, a rampart free from ravage,
whereon was to be the grave of Tea after her death,
so that it should be an increase to her fame.

Erimon the lowly had
a wife in the very midst of imprisonment;
she got from him all her eager desires;
he granted everything she spoke of.

Brega Tea, a teeming home,
is famed because Tea was a noble dame;
the funeral mound under which is the great one of the standards,
the burying ground that was not rifled.

The daughter of Pharaoh, with tale of warriors,
Tephi the bright, who used to cross the hill-slope,
framed a stronghold (hardy the labourer!)
with her staff and with her brooch she traced it.

She gave a name to her fair stronghold,
the king's wife gracious and lovely:
the Rampart of Tephi, who would affront an army,
who would dare without dread any deed.

Not hidden is the secret place that it should not be spoken of,
the Rampart of Tephi in the east, as I have heard;
in such wise at that place with no unworthy tradition
did many queens build their sepulchres.

The length and breadth of the House of Tephi
not ignorantly the learned measure-
sixty feet in full;
diviners and druids beheld it.

I have heard in many-cornered Spain
of a maiden fair and indolent, heroic in fight,
offspring of Bachtir son of Buirech;
Camson, gentle champion, bore her away.

Tephi was her name, from every warrior;
ill-luck to him whom her entombment should wear out!
a rath of sixty feet, full measure,
was built by them for her concealment.

The king of Bregon free from sorrow did not bear her away,
though there was strife between him and Camson,
that she might be restored to her . . .
were it for better or for worse, or were she dead.

The tutelar of Camson, not hidden,
Etherun (he was transitory),
and the host of the clear grey eyes
were sent by him as a pledge for the restitution of mighty Tephi.

The sad death of Tephi who came to the north,
was a deed not concealed for a moment;
Camson launched a vessel without payment
with her over the surface of the cold and treacherous sea.

The chief of Britain sent them from the shore,
(for Etherun was pure;)
with the lifeless body to do it honour in the rampart
in the south, on which settled the name Tephirun.

It was after this likeness in this place
was made boldly the first frame
of Temair, that has no match nor mate
for beauty and for gaiety.

'Temair' is the name of every lofty and conspicuous spot
whereon are dwellings and strong keeps;
'Temair' is the name of every peaked and pointed hill
except the far-seen Emain.

Temair of the cantred, and of the house,
without hurry, without frenzy of heroes,
was mother of the wealth of every tribe
till a foolish crime destroyed her.

It was a shield of lords and chiefs
it was a home of heroes, valiant in fray,
Temair free from feebleness and faintness
hides not its glory from womankind.

Duma na nGiall, Mound of the Hostages at Tara


Temair noblest of hills,
under which is Erin of the forays,
the lofty city of Cormac son of Art,
son of mighty Conn of the hundred fights.

Cormac, constant was his prosperity,
he was sage, he was poet, he was prince;
he was a true judge of the men of Fene.
he was a friend, he was a comrade.

Cormac, who gained fifty fights,
disseminated the Psalter of Temair;
in this Psalter there is
all the best we have of history.

It is this Psalter that tells of
seven warlike high kings of Erin;
five kings of the provinces it makes,
the king of Erin and her viceroy.

In it is set down on every hand
what is the right of every king of a province,
what is the right of the king of Temair eastward
from the kind of every songful province;

The correlation, the synchronising of every man,
of each king one with another together;
the limits of every province marked by a stone-rick,
from the foot to the full barony.

Baronies thirty in number it finds
in the baronies of each province;
in each province of them there are
seven noble score of chief fortresses.

Cormac knew the number being king;
he made the circuit of Erin thrice;
he brought away a hostage for every walled town,
and showed them in Temair.

Duma na Giall (purity of palms),
is called from the hostages Cormac brought;
to Cormac was revealed in their house
every marvel that is in Temair.

There was revealed to Fergus, as it is,
the place in which is Fergus' Cross;
the Slope of the Chariots marks the limits
between it and the Crooked Trenches.

The Crooked Trenches where they slew the maidens,
The Crooked Trenches of the crooked dealings
west from Rath Grainde below,
they remain free from decay both of them.

Eastward from Rath Grainde in the glen
is the Marsh of strong Temair;
east of the Marsh there are
Rath Nessa and Rath Conchobair.

The Measure of the Head of grim Cuchullin
lies north-east from Rath Conchobair;
the dimension of his Shield under its Boss
is wonderful and huge.

The Grave of Mal and Midna
is in Temair since their slaying:
thence is their grave and their sepulchre,
on account of the head they boasted.

Let us consider too the Hall of the Heroes
which is called the Palace of Vain Women;
the House of the Warriors, it was no mean hall,
with fourteen doors.

The Mound of the Women after their betrayal
was hard by the upper structure;
south of it are Dall and Dorcha,
they were bowed down both alike.

Dall is south-west of sad Dorcha,
from them was called Duma Dall-Bodra;
each of them killed the other
in fighting over their alms.

The dwarf came, to his sorrow,
to interpose between them,
so they killed the dwarf
under their feet, through their dimness of sight.

Westward from the Grave of this dwarf
are Mael, Bloc, and Bluicne - foolish their wisdom!
over them are the three stones
that the Prince of great Macha flung.

The secret Rampart of the three Whispers
is between the Hall and the Heroes' Well;
the Stone of the Warriors is east of the road,
over against the Rath of the Synod.

The Rath of the Synods, noble excellence,
lies north of the Precinct of Temair;
eastward from the Rath beside the Stone
is the house whence Beniat escaped.

The Synod of Patrick was at the noble Rath,
The Synod of Brendan and of Ruadan,
The Synod of Adamnan thereafter,
assembled to curse Irgalach.

Below from the Rath of the Kings (it is not false)
are the Grave of Cu, the Grave of Cethen, the hill of the Ox;
east of the Rath is
the grave of Maine son of Munremar.

There remains south of the Rath of the King
the Rath of Loegaire and his Keep
and his Grave on the floor of his Keep;
the righteous one of the Lord overcame him.

Behold the noble House of Mairise
chief for beauty in Erin;
it is high to the west, very high to the north,
level eastward of it,–it was a triumph of the mason.

It is there was situated
the house, on the margin of Nemnach;
about this house away across Meath
were scattered the houses of Temair.

Temair, whence Temair Breg is named,
Rampart of Tea wife of the son of Miled,
Nemnach is east of it, a stream through the glen
on which Cormac set the first mill.

Ciarnait, hand-maid of upright Cormac,
used to feed from her quern many hundreds,
ten measures a day she had to grind,
it was no task for an idler.

The noble king came upon her at her task
all alone in her house,
and got her with child privily;
presently she was unable for heavy grinding.

Thereupon the grandson of Conn took pity on her,
he brought a mill-wright over the wide sea;
the first mill of Cormac mac Art
was a help to Ciarnait.

The Caprach of Cormac is in the Rath of the Kings;
eastward from the Rath of the Kings (that is the truth of it)
is the Well of the Numbering of the Clans,
which is called by the three names:

Liaig Dail Duib Duirb, Tuath Linde,
and Tipra Bó Finne,
three names to designate it,
to make known the well of Temair.

Another spring (mighty force),
which flows south-west from Temair;
Calf is its name, though it never sucked a cow;
Cormac's Kitchen is on its margin.

There rise north of Temair
Adlaic and Diadlaic of the host;
two springs flow diverse thence
down to the Carn of the Boys.

Between the two Carns of the Lads
is the Deisel of Temair south of Crinna,
a sward that brings luck before going to death,
where men used to make a turn right-hand-wise.

North of the great hill
is the Rath of Colman, the brown Domnan;
the Grave of Caelchu under a like heap of stones,
lies north-east from the Hall of the Women of Temair.

Caelchu son of Loarn son of Ruad
son of Cormac Cas, who loved victory,
was the first hostage out of the men of Munster;
from him descend the princes of Ros Temrach.

The House of Temair, round which is the rath,
from it was given to each his due;
honour still continues to such as them
at the courts of kings and princes.

King and Chief of the Poets,
sage, farmer, they received their due,
couches that torches burn not,
the thighs and the chine-steaks.

Leech and spencer, stout smith,
steward, portly butler,
the heads of the beasts to all of them
in the house of the yellow-haired king.

Engraver, famed architect,
shield-maker, and keen soldier,
in the king's house they drank a cup;
this was the special right of their hands.

Jester, chess-player, sprawling buffoon,
piper, cheating juggler,
the shank was their share of meat in truth,
when they came into the king's house.

The shins were the share of the noble musician,
of the castle-builder and artificer, round the bowl;
the cup-bearer, the lusty foot-servant,
both consumed the broken meats.

A charge on the prince of Meath,
were the cobblers and comb-makers,
the due of the strong skilled folk
was the fat underside of the shoulder.

The backs, the chines in every dwelling
were given to druids and doorkeepers.
there was protection for maidens with never an "ach"!
after serving the house of Tara.

Colum Cille, who used to redeem captives,
broke the battle against Diarmait;
before he went away over-sea
the lords of Temair gave him obedience.

The faith of Christ who suffered in the flesh
has brought all strength to nought;
because of the sorrow of the people of God in its house
He gave not protection to Temair.

Sunset from Hill of Tara


This world, transient its splendour!
perishable gathering of an hundred hosts;
deceitful to describe is the multitude of delights,
save only the adoration of the King of all things.

Perished is every law concerning high fortune,
crumbled to the clay is every ordinance;
Temair, though she be desolate to-day,
once on a time was the habitation of heroes.

There was no exhaustion of her many-sided towers,
where was the assembly of storied troops;
many were the bands whose home was
the green-soiled grassy keep.

It was a stronghold of famous men and sages,
a castle like a trunk with warrior-scions,
a ridge conspicuous to view,
in the time of Cormac grandson of Conn.

Fair is the title that adorns it,
the name he chose [to mark it out] among cities;
the Fort of Crofind, pen of victory,
excels Boand, millstone of combat.

When Cormac was among the famous
bright shone the fame of his career;
no keep like Temair could be found;
she was the secret place of the road of life.

Strong before hosts was the might
of this king who used to ride through Temair;
better for us than tribes unnumbered
is the tale of his household retinue.

The great house with thousands of soldiers
was not obscure to posterity;
the shining fort with distinctions of the illustrious,
seven hundred feet was its measure.

Fierce folly did not hold sway over it,
nor strictness of harsh wisdom;
there was no violence to annoy it,
six times five cubits was its height.

Nine walls it had, fierce fight could not demolish,
with nine ramparts round about them;
with noble equipment of the noble scions,
it was a fort illustrious and impregnable.

The dwelling of the king, commotion of lances,
whereon was poured out the sparkling wine,
was a refuge, a keep, a fortress,
there were thrice fifty chambers in it.

Thrice fifty heroes with coronets,-
(it was a castle not foolish and brawling)
that was the tale, according to the counts of fortresses,
in every chamber of the number.

Goodly was the throng in this wise,
the gold gleamed from their weapons;
thrice fifty stately couches there were,
and fifty men to each shining couch.

Seven cubits, without any dividing,
before the crowded warlike company,
with blazing torches burning,
that was the measure of the hearth.

Other seven, I have heard,
made in truth a brightness beyond denial,
majestic, notable, noble,
beautiful chandeliers of brass.

This sunny shining citadel,
festive, martial, with cask-staves,
therein, amid radiant hospitality,
were doors twice seven in number.

This was the right of that king-
a vessel from which that host would drink,
a vast capacity was the full content thereof,
three hundred draughts there were in that vessel.

Harmonious and stately was the carouse
of the fiery chieftains and noblemen;-
there were none neglected of the number;
three hundred cupbearers dispensed the liquor.

Nine times fifty beakers to choose from;
this was the custom,-a plentiful choice for all;
except what was carbuncle, clear and strong,
all was gold and silver.

Thrice fifty steaming cooks,
in attendance unceasingly,
with victuals, an abundant supply,
on the jolly kings and chieftains.

Fifty noble stewards
with the lordy honourable prince,
fifty festive spruce lackeys,
with [each] fifty of kingly champions.

Fifty men standing
guarded the sturdy wolf,
as long as the king was a-drinking,
that no trouble might visit him.

It was glory to the prince that was greatest,
every day [his retinue] was more numerous;
thirty hundreds whom he kept in attendance
the son of Art counted daily.

The chief company of the good genuine poets
who declared the rule of their assembly,
along with the professors of every art in general,
'tis certain whatever that company says is not folly.

Let us tell in full tale the household
of the house of Temair for posterity;
this is their right number,
thirty thousands in all.

When Cormac was in Temair,
beyond all high prowess for his great might,
a kingly equal to the son of Art Oenfer
was not to be found among the men of the world.

Cormac, fair of form,
was the firm set foundation of the kingdom;
he was born of white-skinned Echtach,
[he was] son of the daughter of Ulc Acha.

Since Solomon was . . .
who was better than all progenies together,
what offspring that would match Cormac
hath the earth devoured, O God?

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