Curses & Insults

Millfet lí th'aigthe!

Millfet lí th'aigthe!

(I will destroy * beauty * of your face)

I will destroy the beauty of your face. = I will kill you!

The threat is found in the Metrical Dindsenchas in the 25th stanza of the poem "Ceilbe". The word "lí" can mean "splendor, beauty, luster, beautiful complexion, color".

Ní fes cía cú rot·chac for otrach.

Ní fes cía cú rot·chac for otrach.

(is-not * knowledge * which * hound * shit you * on * dunghill)

No one knows what dog shit you out onto a dunghill!

This insult, which forcefully implies low-born ancestry or illegitimacy, is found as “na fes cia cu rot hac for otrach” in MS Harleian 5280. I've edited it slightly. It is spoken by a frustrated playmate of they boy Máel Dúin. Having been repeatedly bested in sports, the playmate throws the lad's lack of an acknowledged mother and father in his face. The earliest version of this event is found in the LU version of "Immram Curaigh Maíle Dúin" (The Voyage of Mael Duin's Boat), where the reproach is couched in less crude language:

“Tussu,” ol se, “nad fess can cland ná cenél duit, 7 nicon fes mátair ná hathair…”
“You,” he said, “that no one knows your family or tribe nor your mother or father…”

A cruder reproach is found in the version of the tale found in The Yellow Book of Lecan, a more recent manuscript:

“Ale, a Mael Duin,” ar se, “tusu na fes can cland na cenel 7 na fes cia cu rod cumthusin for otrach…”
“Well, Máel Dúin,” said he, “who no one knows his family or tribe, nor knows what hound birthed you on a dunghill…”

The most recent version of this insult was still to heard in the Gaeltacht in the last century:

“Níl a fhios cén cú a chac é ná cén madra gearr a bhaist é (.i. a mhún air)!”

Gurab de lenus pudhar!

Gurab de lenus pudhar!

may it be * of him * that follows * misfortune

May misfortune stick to him!

One of a number of curses in Bethada Náem nÉrenn (The Lives of the Saints of Ireland) directed at bad monks.

Narab marthain duit!

Narab marthain duit!

may not be * remaining in existence * to you

May you not remain alive!

Rule of Tallaght §41.

A eoin re n-ossaib!

A eoin re n-ossaib!

(o * bird * in front of * deer)

O bird before deer!

The insult here, besides simply calling someone a bird, may lie in the parody of the usual heroic image of the bull or boar leading the herd. Cú Chulainn says, for example, in the LL Táin:

"Dodechad ré n-ócaib
im t[h]orc trethan trétaig
re cathaib re cétaib."

I came in front of warriors
as a bold herd-rich boar
before battalions, before hundreds.

See also "A chacc cuirre uidre ittige!" in this collection.

A chacc cuirre uidre ittige!

A chacc cuirre uidre ittige!

(o * shit * of crane * grey-brown * winged)

O shit of a flapping dun-colored crane!

The adjectives that make this a truly baroque insult in Irish probably can't be carried over into English successfully. Our closest equivalent would be a blunt "You crane shit!" The word "corr" (genitive "cuirre") can mean either "crane" or "heron" in Old Irish. The insult is one of five, directed in rapid succession against someone named Bressal or Brénnan in a quatrain edited by Kuno Meyer in "Mittelirische Verslehren" (IT iii 102 §189) and then in "Bruchstücke der älteren Lyrik Irlands". The latter edition is:

A mâelscolb do messair,
a eclas crainn, a chacc cuirre uidre ittige,
a eôin re n-ossaib,
a fhertas a broinn bicire, a Brênaind!

A chride ind eoin ittig!

A chride ind eoin ittig!

(o * heart * of the * bird * winged)

O heart of a fluttering bird!

Or, in more colloquial terms, "You chicken-hearted coward!" Fer Diad hurls this insult at Cú Chulainn as they prepare to meet in single combat in the LL Táin.

Bid móin 7 mothar a feranna-som co bráth.

Bid móin 7 mothar a feranna-som co bráth.

(will be * bogland * and * thicket * their * lands * until * judgment day)

Their lands will be boglands and thickets forever.

This prophetic curse is the opening salvo of a longer litany of ill-will delivered by Saint Colmán against his ecclesiatical enemies in paragraph 59 of "Betha Colmáin".

Gura féis ic faelaib do chorp!

Gura féis ic faelaib do chorp!

(may it be * feast * at * wolves * your * body)

May your body be a feast for wolves!

Spoken by Congal in "Cath Muigi Rath" (p. 189 in FDG). He continues with "ocus gura fáilid fiach ármuige ós do bruinne" (and may the raven of the battlefield be joyful over your breast).

Dolma n-aithisc for fer th'inaid do grés.

Dolma n-aithisc for fer th'inaid do grés.

(slowness * of speech * on * man * of your place * for * ever)

Hesitant speech on your successor forever!

This curse comes to us from the Leabhar Breac and is quoted in DIL s.v. "dolma". For an example of the use of the "fir th'inaid" in a blessing, see "Sonus ocus degfhéth tria bithu d'fhir th'inaid do grés" in this collection.

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