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.
O nobles of the land of comely Conn, hearken a while for a blessing, till I tell you the legend of the elders of the ordering of Tailtiu's Fair!
Three hundred years and three it covers, from the first Fair at Taltiu to the birth of Christ, hearken! Taltiu, daughter of gentle Magmor, wife of Eochu Garb son of Dui Dall, came hither leading the Fir Bolg host to Caill Chuan, after high battle.
Caill Chua, it was a thicket of trees from Escir to Ath Drommann, from the Great Bog, a long journey, from the Sele to Ard Assuide. Assuide, the seat of the unt, whither gathered the red-coated deer; often was the bugle first sounded east of the wood, the second time on the edge of Clochar.
Commur, Currech, Cr’ch Linde, Ard Manai where the spears used to be; the hounds of Cairpre killed their quarry on the land of Tipra Mungairde. Great that deed that was done with the axe's help by Taltiu, the reclaiming of meadowland from the even wood by Taltiu daughter of Magmor.
When the fair wood was cut down by her, roots and all, out of the ground, before the year's end it became Bregmag, it became a plain blossoming with clover. Her heart burst in her body from the strain beneath her royal vest; not wholesome, truly, is a face like the coal, for the sake of woods or pride of timber.
Long was the sorrow, long the weariness of Tailtiu, in sickness after heavy toil; the men of the island of Erin to whom she was in bondage came to receive her last behest. She told them in her sickness (feeble she was but not speechless) that they should hold funeral games to lament her - zealous the deed.
About the Calends of August she died, on a Monday, on the Lugnasad of Lug; round her grave from that Monday forth is held the chief Fair of noble Erin. White-sided Tailtiu uttered in her land a true prophecy, that so long as every prince should accept her, Erin should not be without perfect song.
A fair with gold, with silver, with games, with music of chariots, with adornment of body and of soul by means of knowledge and eloquence. A fair without wounding or robbing of any man, without trouble, without dispute, without reaving, without challenge of property, without suing, without law-sessions, without evasion, without arrest.
A fair without sin, without fraud, without reproach, without insult, without contention, without seizure, without theft, without redemption: No man going into the seats of the women, nor woman into the seats of the men, shining fair, but each in due order by rank in his place in the high Fair.
Unbroken truce of the fair and while through Erin and Alba alike, while men went in and came out without any rude hostility. Corn and milk in every stead, peace and fair weather for its sake, were granted to the heathen tribes of the Greeks for maintaining of justice.
From the lamentation for Tailtiu of the Sele to the reign of Loegaire mac Neill was held by the fairy host a fair every single year, By the Fir Bolg, who were there, and by the Tuatha De Danann, by the Children of Mil thereafter down to Patrick after the first coming of the Faith.
Said Patrick, 'Victorious was the proud law of nature; though it was not made in obedience to God, the Lord was magnifying it.' Till Patrick came after Christ was held the fair of Tailtiu that subdues curses; many a dead man his mat bewailed in the graveyard of the wealthy FŽni. A tomb with one door for a man of art; a tomb with two doors for a woman; graves without doors . . . over lads and maidens.
Records from pillars over graves decked with arms, bearing of candles to watch the dead, mounds over noble foreigners, and walls built over the dead of great plagues.
For ever endures the wall of Tailtiu, where numbers of women were buried, and the wall that hides many dead, where Eochu Garb was buried. On the wall of Eochu, compact of stones, twenty seats of the kings of Tara; and on the smooth wall of his wife twenty seats of their queens.
A royal chamber for mighty Munster to the left of the kinds of Tara; the three parts of Connacht, not straitened, upon the seats of the men of Olnecmacht. The warriors of Leinster, land of renown, between them and the province of Ulster; let us name them, from the right hand side:
Erin, that belonged to her king in fee, The Ulstermen, before the faith of the Cross, who came with their chariots to the first games, the Leinstermen before the men of Munster, and Connacht in well-remembered order.
The Stone of Grop, the Stone of Gar, the Stone of the Sick Men, the Leper's Stone beside the seats; the Rocks of Counting, the Wheel of Fal Fland, the Pillar of Colman, the Cairn of Conall. Forbidden for Tailtiu is a cast at random; forbidden, to ride through it without alighting; forbidden, when leaving it for a meal, to look at it over the left shoulder.
A fair green with three marvels it possessed: a man without a head walking about it, the son of a boy of seven years, held on a finger, the fall of the priest from the air. The three heinous spoils Patrick forbade in it; stealing of oxen in the yoke, slaughter of milch cows, burning of empty byres - no pristine tradition [he taught].
Patrick preached - so it is a judgement - that none who did such things should find peace, so long as Tailtiu shall stand, for ever, so long as its royal raths endure. The Eastern Rath, the Rath of the evil West, the Rath of Lugaid, the Rath of Lort, the Rath of Lorc, the Rath of Cœ, the Rath of Canu - hail! the Rath of the Seed of Tadg, the triple rampart of Tailtiu.
The triple rampart of Tailtiu, famed beyond all lands, the spot where the kings used to fast, with laymen, with clerics, with hundreds of headmen, that no disease might visit the land of Erin. In the triple rampart of Tailtiu, about tierce, Jesus granted to Mac Eirc to take away the three plagues from Erin - it is not unknown.
That the custom of gall-cherd should be put away, the sinking of the ships off Bregmag, and the pestilence of the sons of Aed Slaine: to Mac Eirc it was no disgrace. Though Tailtiu was a sanctuary for the flock, God gave friends to guard it, Patrick, Brigit, white Becan, Mac Eirc, Eithne, Adamnan.
Let us speak of what came next after the establishment of the faith in the Trinity; the triple bands of Tailtiu, the companies who go to make trial of the warriors' fair-green. Men on the dun, first, to visit it; men between two duns, after them; men behind the dun, to ratify the truce; those are the three chief beginnings.
Patrick whom every king invokes after traversing Tailtiu thrice; Mac Eirc, Ciaran of Carn from Mag ‡i, these are its three guarantors. Five hundred fairs, turn about, that is, certain with uncertain, from the Fair of Patrick of Macha to the Black Fair of Donchad.
Two score of kings held the fair, by four kings it was dedicated; all the noble line of kings was sprung from Niall except Ailill alone. One king from Loegaire descended, one king of the race of Cairpre, nine princes of the seed of noble Aed, seven princes of the family of Colman.
Sixteen kings out of Meath sprung from Eogan were at the Fair, and ten kings - these came from the territory of Conall, o nobles! Four score years (this is true) all but one year, Tailtiu lay deserted, alas how long! and the green of Cormac without a chariot.
Until there came in his serried array the king's comely-bearded grandson, and the son, who drinks the heady mead, of the daughter of the king who thwarted the Fair. The King of Temair, chosen thence, Maelsechlainn of secure Slemun, - like the River Euphrates rises on high the one champion of Europe.
The glory of the noble West of the world to my aid! a new Cormac ua Cuinn, offspring of Domnall son of Donchad, comes hither to the princely seat. He brought the cornfield of the Gaels out of danger, he brought Erin out of shipwreck, he raised the Fair of Tailtiu from the sod; though of ancestral use, it was unknown.
Too little he counts it, what he has given us of good; little, what he has given us of corn, of milk, of malt, what of treasure, of victual, of vestment; what of gold, of silver. Too little he thinks it, all that he contrives for our profit; too little all the fish, the honey, the mast; too little, what we hold, when the corn-rick is roofed, a fair to every tribe.
Too little, he thinks, we enjoy of the enduring world; too little he thinks it, to make each of us a king; too little, each full throng that follows him, till he has brought us to the Fair of Tailtiu. He desires, though our life here should be long before going other-where, that he should bring us into the house of God after achieving his design.
Christ be with Maelsechlainn of the sages! Christ with him against misfortune, against tribulation! Christ with him to protect and prosper him against war, against battle! Kings that have not attended our meeting ought not to shun us:
Maelruanaid, Flaithbertach,, Fland, Aed, Cathal, Donnchad, Domnall. Ua Lothchain's full good wishes to you, O youths of the noble Fair! thus I greet you after a lucky strain, so long as there be observance of the Fair, o nobles!
Victorious Boirche, the man of might, son of Ross Ruad, well-attended king, the staunch loud-voiced herdsman, used to call the horned kine. From harsh Inber Colptha to Dun Sobairche north-eastward they came at his call, seeking him from every quarter. In the spot where he met his dappled kine, for fear of wolf-packs and worryings, their master and great guardian would sleep with them nightly.
Know ye the ancient story of the sea that goodly Boirche confronts? eastward lies the seals' green plain, one of the Three great Moans of Mac Lir. Spotted Bennán, not mild of mood, wrought a wanton's deeds: a buck was he to gore the son of Mac Lir, the wise white maiden's paramour. Therefore, in anguish of heart, did Manannán let loose - it was a wanton crime - Loch Ruide, Loch Cuan of the curraghs, and the third rapid water, Loch Da Chaech. Ibel, that loved music, died above the teeming sea, of the wound he took in the combat: at the Leap that the great plain felt, the noble maiden has her home.
Rath Rogein was formerly its name in the reign of Bresal of the white shoulder, till presently Mor came there, the daughter of Rithir, son of Derlam. Fifty years she lived in the Rath after parting with eager Bresal of the keen spear, when Bresal disappeared under Loch Laig, and his warriors raised a cry. When a woman said (so runs the tale) that Bresal would never come home, Mor fell dead before the eyes of all: hence the name clave to the Rath.