In Irish literary tradition, other goddesses have marked agricultural features and bear names referring to the earth. Legends tell of their death and their burial in the land, which then became called after them. From that moment on, earth and goddess were as one and parts of her body could be seen in the landscape.
The Irish goddess Clidna is etymologically related to the land, for she has a name meaning ‘the Territorial One’.647 Moreover, she is associated with Cúan Dor (‘Harbour of Gold’), the bay of Glandore, in Co. Cork, and remembered as Tonn Chlíodhna (‘Clíodhna’s Wave’), because she was drowned there. She will be studied in more detail in Chapter 4.
Another noteworthy example is the queen-goddess Tailtiu, who was married to the last Fir Bolg King Eochaid mac Eirc and is sometimes said to be the foster mother of the powerful Lugh Lámfhota.648 De Vries explains that Tailtiu’s name was originally *talantiu, cognate with Irish talam, ‘earth’, from IE *tel, ‘flat, flat floor’.649 Tailtiu thus means ‘Earth’ or ‘Plain’. In the Metrical Dindshenchas, she is said to be the daughter of Mag Mór (‘Great Field’) and to have cleared the forests and dug the plain of Brega, situated between the Boyne and the Liffey (mostly Co. Meath). This is indicative of a significant agrarian character. The legend tells of her death, due to exhaustion, and of her interment in a field which became called after her: Mag Tailtiu (‘Plain of Tailtiu’), now Teltown, in County Meath. On her deathbed, she asked to have a feast held in her honour each year. It is known as Óenach Tailten (‘Tailtiu Fair or Assembly’). The legend is the following:‘A chóemu críche Cuind chain éitsid bic ar bennachtain; co n-écius duíb senchas sen, suidigthe óenaig Thalten.
Likewise, the goddess Macha is closely related to the land, agriculture and fertility, for her name can be glossed as ‘a marked portion of land’.651 In Irish, the singular word macha, plural machada, signifies ‘an enclosure for milking cows, a milking yard’, while machaire is ‘a large field or plain’.652 M. J. Arthurs relates her name to Irish mag, Gaulish magos, ‘field’ and supposes that the original form of Macha is *Magosia (‘Plain’, ‘Field’ or ‘Earth’).653
A poem of the Metrical Dindshenchas, entitled Ard Macha [‘The High Place of Macha’], relates that the first Macha, the wife of the third invader of Ireland, Nemed, was murdered and then buried in one of the twelve plains which her husband had cleared:‘In mag imríadat ar n-eich, do réir Fíadat co fír-breith, and roclass fo thacha thig in mass, Macha ben Nemid.
The Lebor Gabála Érenn [‘The Book of Invasions’] gives the same account and indicates that her name was given to the plain where she was buried: Ard Macha, modern Ard Mhacha, anglicised Armagh, understood by mediaeval writers as ‘The High Place of the goddess Macha’. Actually, this place name would have originally meant no more than ‘the high point of the plain’, with ard signifying ‘height’, ‘raised point’ and macha, ‘plain’. The reversion to goddess-imagery in the context of such a placename is significant. Such imagery was enduring:‘Acht is muchu atbath Macha ben Nemid oldās Andind, .i. in dara lāithe dēc īar tiachtain dōib in Hērinn atbath Macha, 7 issī cēt marb Ērenn do muintir Nemid. Ocus is ūaithe ainmnigter Ard Macha.
In those two legends, Macha is clearly associated with the land and agriculture. And yet, Dumézil, who relies on the Edinburgh Dinnshenchas, asserts that Macha does not have an agrarian character. According to him, she has an obvious function of ‘seer’.656 If this attribute is indeed plainly described in the poem, it seems yet difficult to dismiss the idea that Macha is linked to the land. It must be borne in mind that the Edinburgh Dinnshenchas date from the 15th c., which means they are later than the Metrical Dindshenchas. Despite their late date, the Edinburgh Dinnshenchas remain interesting, for they speak of the three Machas and relate how they were killed and buried in a land which was then named after them. The first part on Macha, wife of Nemed, is the same as the one related in the Metrical Dindshenchas and the Lebor Gabála Érenn [‘The Book of Invasions’], apart from the function of foreseeing attributed to her. The second part of the poem depicts how Macha Mong Ruadh (‘Red-haired’) was slain and interred in the field now bearing her name: Mag Macha (‘the Plain of Macha’), surrounding Emain Macha. Finally, the third part tells of Macha, wife of Crunniuc mac Agnomain, who engendered the debility on the Ulstermen and was buried in a place known as Ard Macha (‘Macha’s Height’). The poem is the following:‘Ard Macha, cid dia ta? Ni ansa.
It is interesting to note that Macha is etymologically related to epithets of Gaulish Mother Goddesses. The byname* of the Matres Mageiae, mentioned in an inscription from Anduze (Gard), may be derived from Celtic *magos, cognate withOld Irish mag, gen. maige, meaning ‘field’, ‘plain’.658 Could the Matres Mageiae be understood as ‘The Mother Goddesses of the Field/Plain’? The inscription is the following: Q. Caecilius Cornutus Matris Mageis v(otum) s(olvit) [l(ibens) m(erito)], ‘To the Mothers Mageiae, Q. Caecilius Cornutus paid his vow willingly and deservedly’. The dedicator bears the tria nomina of Roman citizens.
This root is also found in the name of the goddesses Magiseniae, known from some graffiti engraved on a goblet discovered in Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin): Deabus Magiseniis, ‘To the Goddesses Magiseniae’ (fig. 2).659 Their name seems to be composed of Gaulish magi-, ‘broad’, ‘big’, ‘vast’ (*magos ‘field’) and seno-, seni-, sena-, ‘old’, ‘ancient’.660 The Magiseniae might therefore mean something like ‘The Broad Ancient Ones’ or ‘The Old Fields’. From this etymology*, it follows that the Magiseniae were land-goddesses and ancestresses; an aspect reflected in the story of Irish Banba, who simultaneously appears as the ancestress of the divine race and the embodiment of the isle itself. On account of the similarity of the names, some scholars have assumed that the Magiseniae were the consorts of Hercules Magusanus/Magusenus of the military camps, venerated in 22 inscriptions from Romania, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and Rome.661 This is actually not the case, for his epithet is to be related to Celtic magus, ‘servant’ and not to *magos, ‘field’. Magusenus, composed of magus and senos, is ‘the Old Servant’.662
The concept of the land as the goddess’s body is mirrored in accounts specifying that Danu’s and the Mórrígain’s breasts are eminences in Co. Kerry and Co. Meath. Danu, the mother and ancestress of the Tuatha Dé Danann, brings prosperity to the province of Munster. The Lebor Gabála Érenn [‘The Book of Invasions’],663 Sanas Cormaic [‘Cormac’s Glossary’]664 and Cóir Anmann [‘The Fitness of Names’]665 mention that two hills in Co. Kerry are called Dá Chích Anann, that is ‘The Paps of Anu’. These two hills, situated 10 miles east of Killarney, near Clonkeen, have the shape of two breasts and cairn burials at their summit (fig. 3 and 4):‘Nó Muma .i. mó a hana nás ana cach coigidh aili a nEirinn, ar is innti nó adhradh bandía in tsónusa .i. Ana a hainm-sein, 7 is uaithi sidhe isberar Da Chigh Anann ós Luachair Degad.
The Mórrígain’s body also shapes the landscape, for two small mounts, near Newgrange, in Co. Meath, are named after her: Dá Chích na Mórrígana, ‘The Paps of the Mórrígain’.667 In the Metrical Dindshenchas, they are alluded to as “the two Paps of the King [Dagda]’s consort”, that is the Mórrígain:‘[…] Fégaid Dá Cích rígnai ind ríg / sund iar síd fri síd blai síar: / áit rogénair Cermait coem / fégaid for róen, ní céim cían […].
It is worth noting that the Mórrígain is equated with Anu/Danu in the Lebor Gabála Érenn [‘The Book of Invasions’]. This tends to prove that the Mórrígain, who is part of the trio of war-goddesses, was originally a land-goddess possessing fertility and nurturing aspects:‘Badb 7 Macha 7 Annan .i. Mórrígan .i. diatat Da Chich Anann i l-Luachair, tri ingena Ernbais na bantuathaige 7 de bl aithmn.
The Lebor Gabála Érenn [‘The Book of Invasions’] also stipulates that the Mórrígain and Macha are identical. Fertility is also personified by their mother Ernmas, who is a ‘she-farmer’, like Be Chuille and Dianann:‘Badb 7 Macha .i. in Mórrígan 7 Anann .i. diata da chích Anann .i. l-Luachair trī ingena Ernbais na bantūathige.
The Mórrígain is clearly associated with the land and agriculture in an early text, entitled Compert Con Culainn [‘The Conception of Cú Culainn’], dating from the beginning of the 8th c. This legend describes her ploughing a piece of land, which her husband, the Dagda, offered to her. This meadow is called after her: Gort-na-Morrigna (‘Mórrígain’s Field’). It is now identified with Óchtar nÉdmainn (‘Top of Edmand’), situated on the border of Co. Armagh and Co. Louth.673 The text is the following:‘In Gort na Mórrígnae asrubart is Óchtar nÉdmainn insin. Dobert in Dagdae don Mórrígain in ferann sin 7 ro aired leesi é íarom.
Finally, the pattern of goddess’s body shaping the landscape is mirrored in an in-tale* of Compert Con Culainn [‘The Conception of Cú Culainn’], entitled Tochmarc Emire [‘The Wooing of Emer’].675 Cú Chulainn describes his journey to his lover Eimhear and gives onomastic* information concerning the places he passed through. He recounts then the story of the River Boyne, flowing to the north of Dublin, and explains how the goddess Bóinn was drowned in the river after making trial of the enchanted well of her husband Nechtan (see Chapter 4). What is particularly interesting in this legend is that parts of the river are clearly described as body-parts of the goddess. A portion of the river is her forearm and her calf, while another is her neck and another her marrow:‘For Smiur mná Fedelmai asrubrad .i. Bóann insin. Is de atá Bóann fuirri .i. Bóann ben Necthain meic Labrada luid do choimét in topair díamair baí i n-irlainn in dúine la trí deogbairiu Nechtain .i. Flesc 7 Lesc 7 Lúam. 7 ní ticed nech cen aithis ón topur mani tísed na deogbairiu. Luid in rígan la húaill 7 duimmus dochum in topair 7 asbert ná raibhe ní no collfed a deilb nó dobérad aithis fuirri. Tánic túaithbél in topair do airiugud a cumachtai. Ro memdatar íarom teora tonna tairis cor róemaid a dí slíassait 7 a dessláim 7 a lethsúil. Rethissi dano for imgabáil na haithise sin asin tsíth co ticed muir. Cach ní ro reithsi, ro reith in topar ina diaid. Segais a ainm isin tsíth, sruth Segsa ón tsíth co Linn Mochai, Rig Mná Núadat 7 Colptha Mná Núadat íar sin, Bóann i mMidi, Mannchuing Arcait í ó Findaib co Tromaib, Smiur Mná Fedelmai ó Tromaib co muir.
This tale undeniably predates the 10th c., for Tochmac Emire [‘The Wooing of Emer’] was continually revised from the 8th c. to the 10th c. The same story is related in the first version of a poem, entitled Bóand, published in the Metrical Dindshenchas (see Chapter 4).678
Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 85-86.
Mackillop, 2004, pp. 395-396.
De Vries, 1963, p. 138 ; Olmsted, 1994, pp. 292-293, 379.
Gwynn, 1924, pp. 146-159 ; Stokes, 1893, pp. 486-487.
Ó hÓgáin, 2006, p. 325
RIA Dictionary, M, 11-12 ; Olmsted, 1994, pp. 169, 378.
Arthurs, 1952-1953, pp. 25-29 ; Le Roux, 1983, pp. 135-143.
Gwynn, 1924, pp. 124-125.
Macalister, 1940, pp. 132-133.
Dumézil, 1954, p. 17.
Stokes, 1893, pp. 480-481.
AE 1963, 116 ; Gallia, 20, 1962, p. 628. Neither Olmsted nor Delamarre mention these mother goddesses. This interpretation is my own.
The inscription was found Rue du Faubourg de Pierre, in Strasbourg. AE 1980, 653a ; Gallia, 38, 1980, pp. 454-455 ; Delamarre, 2007, p. 123.
Delamarre, 2003, pp. 213-214, 270 ; Demalarre, 2007, pp. 225, 231 ; Lambert, 1995, pp. 34, 37.
The connection is suggested in Gallia, 38, 1980, pp. 454-455. For the various inscriptions dedicated to this god, see RDG, p. 50 ; Delamarre, 2007, p. 124.
Lambert, 1995, p. 60 ; Delamarre, 2003, p. 214 ; Delamarre, 2007, p. 225: e.g. magu-senus with magus ‘servant’.
Macalister, 1941, pp. 122-123, 160-161, 188-189.
Meyer, 1912, p. 3 ; O’Donovan, 1868, pp. 4-5.
Stokes & Windisch, 1897, pp. 288-289. Cόir Anmann is a document explaining the significance and associations of many personal names from early Ireland, like the Dindshenchas elucidates the meaning of place-names.
Stokes & Windisch, 1897, pp. 288-289.
Hennessy, 1870, p. 55 ; Ó hÓgáin, 1999, p. 66 ; Ó hÓgáin, 2006, p. 361 ; Olmsted, 1994, p. 161.
Gwynn, 1906, pp. 18-19, 62-63.
Macalister, 1941, pp. 160-161.
Macalister, 1941, pp. 130-131.
Macalister, 1941, pp. 188-189.
Macalister, 1941, pp. 122-123.
Hennessy, 1870, p. 55 ; Van Hamel, 1933, p. 172 ; Gray, 1982, p. 129 ; Ó hÓgáin, 1999, p. 66.
Van Hamel, 1933, p. 37, §37.
Van Hamel, 1933, pp. 16-68.
Fedelm is another cognomen* for Nuadu.
Van Hamel, 1933, pp. 37-38.
Gwynn, 1913, pp. 26-33, 480-481.