3) The River Inny: Eithne

The motif of the divine lady drowned in the river is found again in the story of the goddess Eithne, whose name is eponymous of the two rivers called Inny, an Eithne in Irish. The major one flows from Lough Sheelan and joins the River Shannon at Lough Ree in the centre of Ireland (Co. Westmeath and Longford) and the smaller one flows in the peninsula of Iveragh (Co. Kerry).1774 Eithne’s name is derived from the Irish word ét, ‘envy’ and means ‘She who causes Envy’.1775 A legend, contained in an early text in Old Irish, entitled Ferchuitred Medba, recounts that Eithnewas drowned in the stream of Bearramhain while she was pregnant by the mythical King Conchobhar mac Neasa.1776 Their son Furbaidhe was cut from her womb and the river was called after her:

‘7 Eithne ingen Echach Fedlig, ben aili don Concobur cetna, mathair Forbaidi mic Concubuir 7 is aire atbertha Forbaidi dhe .i. a forbud .i. a gerrad do roinduib (sic) a broinn a mathar iarna bathad a nGlais Berramain frissa raiter Eithne indíu 7 is uaithi sloindter ind aband .i. Eithni.

And Eithne, the daughter of Eochaid Feidhleach, another wife of the same Conchobhar, the mother of Furbaidhe son of Conchobhar. And the reason why he was called Furbaidhe i.e. he was hacked i.e. he was cut with spear-heads from the womb of his mother after she was drowned in the stream of Bearramhain, which is called today the Eithne, and it is from her that the river is named, i.e. Eithne.1777

The same tale is related in Cath Boinde [‘The Battle of Boind’], dating from the early 10th c.,1778 and in the c. 13th-century Cóir Anmann.1779 Another poem, entitled Carn Furbaide [‘The Carn of Furbaide’], contained in the Metrical Dindshenchas, offers a slightly different story. It tells that Eithne was the wife of Conchobhar and Lugaid drowned her while she was expecting Furbaidhe in a river which now bears her name:

‘Atá sund Carn uí Chathbath fors'rimred arm imathlam, lechtán láechda laích col-lí, fertán fráechda Furbaidi.
Furbaide Fer Benn, ba brass, mac do Chonchobar chomdass: Ethne a máthair, moltait raind, siur do Meidb is do Chlothrainn.
Luid Ethne sin cóiced cain co m-báe h-i fail Chonchobair: dia m-bátar and immalle de dorónad Furbaide.
Iarsin mostic Ethne anair dia h-assait i Cruachan-maig: dolluid Lugaid ara cend co bun síd-maige Silend.
Sáeb-écht doróni Lugaid for mnaí Conchobair chubaid: tuc am-mac tria tóeb immach iarna bádud balc-thorrach.
Is uaithi ainmnichther de ind abann dian ainm Eithne, ó mnaí, ní scél cleithe cruind, atá Eithne arin abaind. […]
Here stands the Carn of Cathbad's grandson against whom a nimble weapon was wielded; Furbaide's heath-clad grave, martial monument of a glorious soldier.
Huge was Furbaide, surnamed Fer Benn, son to comely Conchobar: Ethne, whom verses extol, was his mother, the sister of Medb and Clothru.
Ethne came to the pleasant province and made her home with Conchobar: when they lived together there Furbaide was begotten by him.
Presently Ethne journeys from the east to be delivered in Mag Cruachan: Lugaid came to meet her at the fairy plain of Bun Silenn.
Lugaid committed a foul crime upon shapely Conchobar's wife: he drew her son forth from her side after drowning her in ripe pregnancy.
[From her is named thenceforth the river that is called Ethne; from the woman—'tis no grudging secret—the river bears the name of Ethne.] […]1780

Even though Eithne is not represented as a river-goddess in Irish mythology, like Bóinn or Sionann, in this legend clearly lies the pattern of the lady who, after being drowned, becomes the river. The divine lady is eponymous of the river she embodies.


Hogan, 1910, pp. 403-404.


Ó hÓgáin, 2006, p. 192.


For details about Conchobhar, see Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 109-112 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 99-100.


Bergin, 1913, p. 18, lines 17-22.


O’Neill, 1905, pp. 176-177 ; Wong, 1996, pp. 234, 241.


Stokes, 1897, p. 396 ; Wong, 1996, pp. 233, 241.


Gwynn, 1924, pp. 30-31.