The Metrical Dindshenchas - Volume 3

The Metrical Dindshenchas - Volume 3

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 Three
Cnogba (Knowth)

[This passage includes reference to Dubthach - Dowth]

Bua, daughter of Ruadri Ruad,
wife of Lug mac Cein of the redspears,
it is there her body was hidden:
over her was a great hill built up.

A hill had Bua in the midst of Bregia,
where the noble woman was laid,
in that spot yonder:–
the name of that hill is Cnogba.

But though easiest to utter
of its names be perfect Cnogba,
yet its more proper style is Cnocc Bui
down from Bua daughter of Ruadri.

Elcmar's daughter dwelt there:
Mider was the woman's darling:
a darling of her own was the prince,
the man from great and noble Sid Midir.

Englec, noble Elcmar's daughter,
was the darling of perfect Oengus;
Oengus, son of the loved Dagda,
was not the maiden's darling.

The illustrious Mac in Oc came
southward to Ceru Cermna
on the blazing hurrying Samain
to play with his fellow-warriors.

Mider came – alas the day!
he came upon her after they had gone,
he carries off with him Englec from her home
thence to the Sid of the men of Femen.

When noble Oengus heard
of the pursuit of his darling,
he went in search of her (I say sooth)
to the famous hill whence she was borne off.

This was the food of his band – bright feast –
blood-red nuts of the wood:
he casts the food from him on the ground;
he makes lamentation around the hillock.

Though it be called the Hill of Bua of combats,
this is the equal-valid counter-tale:
we have found that hence
from that 'nut-wailing' Cnogba is named.

By us is preserved together
the memory of the lay,
and whichever [of these tales] ye shall prefer
from it is named the region of surpassing worth.

The men of Erin building the great mound of Dowth when an eclipse occurs

The men of Erin building the mound of Dowth when an eclipse occurs.

There is another tale–'tis known to me–
of that hill, which Dubthach possesses:
it was made, though great the exploit,
by Bressal Bodibad.

In his time there fell a murrain on kine
in every place in Ireland,
except for seven cows and a bull that increased strength
for every farmer in his time.

By him is built the solid hill
in the likeness of Nimrod's tower,
so that from it he might pass to heaven,
–that is the cause why it was undertaken.

The men of all Erin came to make for him
that hill–all on one day:
the wight exacted from them hostages
for the work of that day.

His own sister said to him,
she would not let the sun run his course;
there should be no night but bright day
till the work reached completion.

His sister stretches forth her hands . . .
strongly she makes her druid spell:
the sun was motionless above her head;
she checked him on one spot.

Bresal came (lust seized him)
from the hill unto his sister:
the host made of it a marvel:
he found her at Ferta Cuile.

He went in unto her, though it was a crime,
though it was a violation of his sister:
on this wise the hill here
is called Ferta Cuile.

When it was no longer day for them thereafter
(it is likely that it was night),
the hill was not brought to the top,
the men of Erin depart homeward.

From that day forth the hill remains
without addition to its height:
it shall not grow greater from this time onward
till the Doom of destruction and judgment.

It is Fland here –bright his art–
who tells this tale–no deceptive speech:
a choice story–spread it abroad, men and women!
lips, make mention of it among excellences!

Dowth at night
Dowth at night under the light of the full moon.

Dubad - Dowth

 Dubad, whence the name? Not hard to say.
A king held sway over Erin, Bressal bó-dibad by name.
In his time a murrain came upon the kine of Erin,
until there was left in it but seven cows and a bull.
All the men of Erin were gathered from every quarter to Bressal,
to build them a tower after the likeness of the Tower of Nimrod,
that they might go by it to Heaven.
 His sister came to him,
and told him that she would stay the sun's course in the vault of heaven,
so that they might have an endless day to accomplish their task.
The maiden went apart to work her magic.
Bressal followed her and had union with her:
so that place is called Ferta Cuile from the incest that was committed there.
Night came upon them then,
for the maiden's magic was spolit.
 'Let us go hence,' say the men of Erin,
'for we only pledged ourselves to spend one day a-making this hill,
and since darkness has fallen upon our work,
and night has come on and the day is gone,
let each depart to his place.'
'Dubad (darkness) shall be the name of this place for ever',
said the maiden. So hence are Dubad and Cnoc Dubada named.
(Note: This story about Dowth is also recalled in the story about Cnogba (Knowth)).

Slane at twilight
The Hill of Slane at twilight.

 Sláine - Slane

 Slaine, whence the name? Not hard to say. Slaine, king of the Fir Bolg, and their judge, by him was its wood cleared from the Brugh. Afterwards, he died at Druim Fuar, which is called Dumha Slaine, and was buried there: and from him the hill is named Slaine. Hence it was said: Here died Slaine, lord of troops: over him the mighty mound is reared: so the name of Slaine was given to the hill, where he met his death in that chief abode.

(Note: This is Slane village, on the river Boyne, only a few miles from Brugh na Bóinne. This probably refers to a mound, or motte, on the top of the hill of Slane, behind the abbey ruins where St. Patrick is supposed to have lit the first Paschal fire in Ireland in defiance of the pagan king of Tara. A tenth-century poem ascribed to one Caoílte Mac Ronáin states: 'Sláine of the Fir-Bolgs of fame t'was he by whom Tara was first raised.' The Hill of Slane lies about 16 km northeast of Tara.)

Nas (Naas)

 Ruadri, son of Cailte of the flocks,
was no faint splendour swift-passing yonder;
father-in-law of Lug with tale of ships,
with prowess of feats in war and slaying of foreign foemen.

The two daughters of Ruadri, the king
of Britain, of conquering white-clad forces
[were] the two wives of Lug,–fruitfulness came to them–
Bui of the Brug and modest Nas.

Nas, mother of Ibic of the horses,
claims of right the brow and the beauty [of the spot],
since she is gone, with the noise of combat,
how should ye know at all the spot where she died?

Nas took in hand a deed unwise:
(truth and not folly) death o'erwhelmed her;
'tis from her Nas was named,
famous perpetually for stern law.

Nas of the Leinstermen, bright with splendid bounty,
'tis there the lady was buried;
from her it is called with clear certitude:
the lore of the ancient hides not this.

Her sister was at Cnogba free from ravage,
after the havoc of her shelter and her precinct:
not tardily came the death-dirge for the lady;
'tis there Bui abode, and was buried.

Cnogba is the Hill of Bui of the battles;
the pillaging violence of hosts does not wreck it;
but 'tis it that, for [repose from] fatigue of fierce deeds,
is the lofty hold of the fiery kings.

The hosts of the pure Gaels came
to bewail the women from the Brug;
from Tailtiu where he raised a fire
whence they came with Lug.

They lifted a cry of lamentation perpetually
for the women free from guilt and guile;
the game of wounds was waged by them
untimely, in no merry wise.

Thence grew the boasted gathering–
(it is not an empty lamentation with the lips)
the assembly of Taltiu with mighty preparations,
held by every hero moreover according to custom.

That was the gathering of accomplished Lug,
happy satisfaction, no small pleasure,
the lamentation of the fair-skinned vocal women of Fáil,
the keening for the daughters of Ruadri the red.

The three sons of Dorchlam (strong testimony!),
Nas Roncc and Ailestar
in the west without respite above troublous Cuan,
Taltiu extinguished them for good.

A rath in Ulster (long the law);
a rath of the province of Connacht the excellent;
a rath of the province of Leinster without weakness,
a site for Nas daughter of Ruad.

The River Boyne in the mist.
Mist on the River Boyne.

Boand I

[Boand is the goddess of the river Boyne]

Sid Nechtain is the name that is on the mountain here,
the grave of the full-keen son of Labraid,
from which flows the stainless river
whose name is Boand ever-full.

Fifteen names, certainty of disputes,
given to this stream we enumerate,
from Sid Nechtain away
till it reaches the paradise of Adam.

Segais was her name in the Sid
to be sung by thee in every land:
River of Segais is her name from that point
to the pool of Mochua the cleric.

From the well of righteous Mochua
to the bounds of Meath's wide plain,
the Arm of Nuadu's Wife and her Leg
are the two noble and exalted names.

From the bounds of goodly Meath
till she reaches the sea's green floor
she is called the Great Silver Yoke
and the White Marrow of Fedlimid.

Stormy Wave from thence onward
unto branchy Cualnge;
River of the White Hazel from stern Cualnge
to the lough of Eochu Red-Brows.

Banna is her name from faultless Lough Neagh:
Roof of the Ocean as far as Scotland:
Lunnand she is in blameless Scotland--
The name denotes her according to its meaning.

Severn is she called through the land of the sound Saxons,
Tiber in the Romans' keep:
River Jordan thereafter in the east
and vast River Euphrates.

River Tigris in enduring paradise,
long is she in the east, a time of wandering
from paradise back again hither
to the streams of this Sid.

Boand is her general pleasant name
from the Sid to the sea-wall;
I remember the cause whence is named
the water of the wife of Labraid's son.

Nechtain son of bold Labraid
whose wife was Boand, I aver;
a secret well there was in his stead,
From which gushed forth every kind of mysterious evil.

There was none that would look to its bottom
but his two bright eyes would burst:
if he should move to left or right,
he would not come from it without blemish.

Therefore none of them dared approach it
save Nechtain and his cup-bearers:-
these are their names, famed for brilliant deed,
Flesc and Lam and Luam.

Hither came on a day white Boand
(her noble pride uplifted her),
to the never-failing well
to make trial of its power.

As thrice she walked round
about the well heedlessly,
three waves burst from it,
whence came the death of Boand.

They came each wave of them against a limb,
they disfigured the soft-blooming woman;
a wave against her foot, a wave against her perfect eye,
the third wave shatters one hand.

She rushed to the sea (it was better for her)
to escape her blemish,
so that none might see her mutilation;
on herself fell her reproach.

Every way the woman went
the cold white water followed
from the Sid to the sea (not weak it was),
so that thence it is called Boand.

Boand from the bosom of our mighty river-bank,
was mother of great and goodly Oengus,
the son she bore to the Dagda – bright honour!
in spite of the man of this Sid.

Or, Boand is Bo and Find
from the meeting of the two royal streams,
the water from bright Sliab Guaire
and the river of the Sids here.

Dabilla, the name of the faithful dog
who belonged to the wife of Nechtain, great and noble,
the lap-dog of Boand the famous,
which went after her when she perished.

The sea-current swept it away,
as far as the stony crags;
and they made two portions of it,
so that they were named therefrom.

They stand to the east of broad Breg,
the two stones in the blue waters of the lough:
Cnoc Dabilla [is so called] from that day to this
from the little dog of the Sid.

The River Boyne at Roughgrange.
The River Boyne at Roughgrange.

Boand II

O Maelsechlainn son of Domnall
of the family of Comgall's daughter!
I will tell thee, O Prince of Meath!
the tale of white bright Boand.

Boand – a blessing on the stream
did Christ fair of form ordain;
so she from glen to glen
is the river Jordan of Erin.

Find Life, Find of the fierce Gaileon,
from the union of two names,
from their meeting is Mag Find named:-
swift Find Life and Mifind.

One of the two Finds, that wins victory,
flows past Tara from the north-east:
there at the Confluence it meets
with white-bellied Boand.

Bo Guairi which flows eastward
past Tailtiu through lough Munremair,
Bo Guairi is the name of the river
which is called great Banna.

And there is ordan and an
from which the river Jordan is called,
so Boand is Bo and find
from the meeting of the two royal waters.

Thither from the south came Boand
wife of Nechtain to the love-tryst
to the house of Elcmaire, lord of horses,
a man that gave many a good judgment.

Thither came by chance the Dagda
into the house of famous Elcmaire:
he fell to importuning the woman:
he brought her to the birth in a single day.

It was then they made the sun stand still
to the end of nine months – strange the tale –
warming the noble ether
in the roof of the perfect firmament.

Then said the woman here:
"Union with thee, that were my one desire!"
"And Oengus shall be the boy's name,"
said the Dagda, in noble wise.

Boand went from the house in haste
to see if she could reach the well:
she was sure of hiding her guilt
if she could attain to bathe in it.

The druid's three cup-bearers
Flesc, and Lesc, and Luam,
Nechtain mac Namat set
to watch his fair well.

To them came gentle Boand
toward the well in sooth:
the strong fountain rose over her,
and drowned her finally.

It was contrived against [the river] on either shore
by Maelmorda, vast of wealth,
by the comely son of Murchad,
that it should not reach the inlet of ships.

God's mercy was shown
on Leth Chuind by that counsel,
so that it escaped the swift night of gloom
unto thee, O generous Maelsechlainn!

Rath Crinna

Rath Crinna, whence the name? Not hard to say: from Crinna son of Conn the hundred-fighter, who was slain there by Eochaid find Fuathnairt, it was named. Eochaid brought his head with him to the house of Tara and set it on a stake of rowan, to spite Art son of Conn, for that was a thing forbidden to him.

For that cause Eochaid was banished into Leinster, and hence come the Fotharta in Leinster to-day. Crinna son of Conn, stout his spear: Dun Crinna was his stronghold: though it is called by his name, short was his span of life therein.

(Note: Crinna was near Dowth and Brug na Bóinne).



Umall, whence the name? Not hard to say. Umall, the servant of Fintan mac Bochra perished there at the hands of the Tuatha De Danann, when the first battle of Mag Tuired was fought between them and the Fir Bolg. Afterwards he was buried in Mag Reid, for that was its name before it was called Umall. Hence it was said: 'Umall, servant of noble Fintan, was buried in Mag Reid: hide not from assemblies of the clans the reason of the name Umall.'

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