The Characters Speak

Is mór ní súigios lesrach banscáile.

Is mór ní súigios lesrach banscáile!

(is * great * thing * that absorbs * thighs * of woman)

A woman's thighs can absorb a lot!

In the tale "Aided Fergusa" found in "Silva Gadelica", Fergus falls in lust with Bébó, the queen of a very small race of Otherworld folk. The tale then relates the following:

Ocus in uair ro búi Fergus ic comriachtain ria tug lám ar mullach a cinn ocus ro fhiarfaig in rigan de cid imar chuir in lám ar a bathais.
"Ingnam lium," arsé, "in ball ferrda ina bfuilit secht nduirn ocus gan innatsa acht trí duirn gan a dhul trét chenn sechtair. Ocus is uime sin do chuires mo lám ar do chenn."
"Léig as alé, a Ferguis," ar sí. "Is mór ní súigios lesrach banscáile! "

And while Fergus was having sex with her he put a hand on the top of her head and the queen asked him why he put the hand on the crown of her head.
"I'm amazed," he said, "my manly part being seven handwidths and you being only three handwidths that it doesn't go right out through your head. That's why I put my hand on your head."
"Well, stop it, Fergus," she said. "A woman's loins can absorb a lot!"

Dámadh ór in duille donn...

Dámadh ór in duille donn
chuiris di in chaill,
dámad airget in gheal-tonn
ro thidhluicfed Find.

(if were * gold * the * leaf * brown /
that puts * f rom it * the * wood /
if were * silver * the * bright-wave /
would bestow * Finn)

If the brown leaves
that the trees shed were gold,
if the bright waves were silver,
Finn would give it all away.

In "Acallam na Senórach" Saint Patrick asks Caílte, one of the last surviving members of the Fianna, if Finn was a good lord. He replies with this short encomium ("ocus ro ráid Cáilti in formolad bec-so"), which praises above all his dead leader's generosity, and does so in terms of the natural beauty that the poets return to again and again in the Fiannaíocht. Generosity was arguably the greatest virtue a man could have among the Gael. See "Eochair ferta féile", "Cendaig in mes mór", and especially "Sladbrad ocus guin duine" in this collection.

Deog dam!

Deog dam!

(drink * for me)

Give me a drink!

Only one of the men of Scotland survived the Battle of Mag Rath, and he managed to swim home. Upon reaching shore, his lord asked him "Scéla lat?" (Do you have news?) His reply was "Deog dam!" Only after being given three cups of ale was he able to relate the sad news, after which he fell dead. A very similar exchange is found in the story of how Colum Cille liberated the hostage Scannlán by miraculous means (i.e. he sent an angel). In Geoffrey Keating's telling of the story, Scannlán was aflicted by a terrible thirst because his captors had fed him salted meat with no drink to follow. According to Keating, Scannlán was also rewarded with three drinks. The modern proverb "Is túisce deoch ná scéal" (A drink comes before a story) sums up this anecdote rather nicely! And finally, for another version of this latter, see the discussion of "Trí búada insci" in this collection.

Áluinn duille an liubhair-si...

Áluinn duille an liubhair-si,
psaltair Cháoimhghin cháidh.
Áille duille mh'iubhair-si
i nGlinn Bolcáin báin.

(beautiful * leaf * of the * book-this /
psalter * of Caoimhín * holy /
more beautiful * leaf * of my yew /
in * Gleann Bolcáin * fair)

Beautiful is the leaf of this book,
the psalter of holy Kevin.
More beautiful the leaf of my yew
in fair Glen Bolcáin.

This stanza is from a poetic exchange between Suibhne Geilt (Mad Sweeney) and Saint Moling, his final protector. The first half stanza is spoken by Moling, the second by Suibhne. The theme of the beauty of the ordered religious life versus the beauties of the wild wood, or untamed nature, is further developed in this poem. This is also a constant theme in the poetic arguments of Oisín and Saint Patrick in the Fiannaíocht, or Fianna Cycle.

Condrecat lochta ocus fulachta sund indiu.

Condrecat lochta ocus fulachta sund indiu.

(meet * faults * and * cooking pits * here * today)

Today has been a bloody shambles.

This is Medb's comment to Fergus on the outcome of the final battle in the Táin. The version given is from the YBL version, except that I've recplaced "correcad" with the better form of the verb found in the LL version, which is "Condrecat lochta ra fulachta and so indiu." The play of the sounds of the words "lochta" and "fulachta" marks this as a clichéd expression, but why "faults" should meet "outdoor cooking pits" to produce an image of battlefield carnage is no longer apparent.

Is teóir i n-éim!

Is teóir i n-éim!

(is * help * in * timeliness)

That's timely help! That was in the nick of time!

A commonplace expression, and Cú Chulainn's exclamation just after Fiacha mac Fir Aba has rescued him from the joint onslaught of twenty-nine warriors, in the LL Táin.

Dar fír ar cubais!

Dar fír ar cubais!

(by * truth * of our * conscience)

Upon our conscience! By what we deem right!

The first thing that Fergus exclaims upon hearing Medb's plan to wipe out a company of her own allies at the beginning of the Táin, before going on to tell her "Over my dead body!" ("Ní dingnea bás dóib-siút acht intí dogéna bás dam-sa!") Keating uses the expression "Dar mo chubhas" in an Early Modern Irish poem, and the modern version of the same is "Dar mo chúis!" For another example of the Early Irish use of the potent word "fír" (truth), see "For fír th'ainich ocus t'anama!"

Ní·airciu a n-áthu la linni.

Ní·airciu a n-áthu la linni.

(I cannot see * their * fords * with * pools)

I can't tell the ford from the deep water.

In the Táin, Cú Chulainn meets Lóch in single combat in a river ford, as was the usual practice. This time, however, the Morrígan also joins in attacking him, in the successive forms of an eel, a wolf, and a hornless heifer leading a herd of cattle that churn up the riverbed. Cú exclaims (in the YBL and LU versions) that he can no longer be sure of his footing, using what appears to be a proverbial expression for confusion.

Ní ar thóin mná dano gabus-sa inso.

Ní ar thóin mná dano gabus-sa inso.

(not * for * posterior * of woman * indeed * I took * this)

I didn't undertake this for a woman's backside.

The Morrígan appears to Cú Chulainn as a beautiful princess in an effort to seduce him away from his burdensome duty as the sole protector of Ulster. He rebuffs her with these words in the LU and YBL versions of the Táin.

Rat·meliub mar meles muilend múadbraich!

Rat·meliub mar meles muilend múadbraich!

I will grind you * as * grinds * mill * fine-malt)

I will grind you the way a mill grinds malt!

This is the first of a series of threatening images that Cú Chulainn flings at Fergus, warning him what will happen if he does not come for a parley right away. The passage is found at the conclusion of the LL Táin. See also "Rot·naisc mar nasces idu feda!"

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