Curses & Insults

Gurab bás do rinn nosbéra!

Gurab bás do rinn nosbéra!

(May be * death * of * point * that will take him)

May it be death by spear point that takes him!

This is Rónán the cleric's curse on Suibhne, who has just humiliated him publicly, in the Middle Irish tale "Buile Suibhne".

Ní raib clann ná cenélach...

Ní raib clann ná cenélach,
Rub dérechtach díbdathach!

(not * may be * offspring * nor * kindred /
may he be * deserted * extinct)

May there not be offspring or kindred,
may he be abandoned and childless!

This was the curse that Adomnáin inflicted on his opponent, King Irgalach, in paragraph 21 of "Cáin Adomnáin". For more of the same, see "Ben in cluiccín for Domnall" in this collection.

Ben in cluiccín for Domnall...

Ben in cluiccín for Domnall,
ná rup comlann a blíadain.

(strike * the * little bell * on * Domnall /
not * may be * complete * his * year)

Ring the little bell against Domnall!
May he not complete his year!

This curse, portending death within the year to Domnall, is half of a stanza put in the mouth of the cleric Adomnán, in the narrative introduction to "Cáin Adomnáin". According to the story, when Adomnán promulgated his "Law of the Innocents" in the 7th century, a number of kings took exception to the protections he granted in it to women, and they tried to kill him. He countered their swords with his "little bell", which he used to curse them. This is one of the curses, which he instructed his young attendant to carry out with the bell on his behalf. A similar formula from the same text is "Ben clucc ar Cellach Carmain, co raib i talmain ría ciunn blíadna!" (Ring the bell against Cellach Carmain, that he may be in the earth before the year's end!)

Another example of the power of clerical bells is found in Betha Colmáin maic Lúacháin. Colman first pours three "waves" from his bell, Findfaidech, onto the head of Onchú mac Sárán, who recently died. This brings the man back from death. The saint then blesses Onchú at length, and his island as well:

Trí lán ma chluic d'usci úar
do chur esti a n-agaid slúag,
innreth t'innse tairis sin
ní drónfat Gaill is Gædil.

Kuno Meyer, who edited this text, translated this as follows:

Three fills of my bell of cold water
to be cast out of it against hosts—
neither Norsemen nor Gael will invade
thy island against that.

One further example, from the Life of Columba as edited by Whitley Stokes from the Book of Lismore:

Ocus do escain Colum Cille Conall & do benta tri nái ceolan fair, con-asbert aroili duine: "Fogeib Conall cloga," conadh uadh-sin ata 'Conall Clogach,' & roben an cleirech righi fair, & a ciall & a inntlecht acht ancein nobeith ag imtelgadh a cuirp.

And Colm Cille cursed Conall and rang his bell against him 27 times (literally, thrice nine times), which led someone to say, "Conall gets bells," so that he was known as Conall Clogach (Conall-the-bell-guy). And the cleric also deprived him of his kingdom, and of his sense and reason except while he was defecating.

Mallacht a gaiscid fair!

Mallacht a gaiscid fair!

(curse * of his * weaponry * on him)

A curse on his weapons!

This is Lugaid's curse on Ferbáeth, who has agreed to fight his old comrade Cú Chulainn in exchange for the hand of Finnabair, the daughter of Ailill and Medb.

Dá n-ó pill fort!

Dá n-ó pill fort!

(two * ears * of horse * on you)

Two horse's ears on you! May you be a laughing-stock!

This expression of disparagement is found in "Sanas Cormaic" as "da n-ó bill fort" (where the 'b' could be an unusually explicit representation of the eclipsis of 'p' after the neuter noun "ó"). It is also found much later in Keating's "Forsas Feasa ar Éirinn", in the tale of Labhraidh Loingseach. Labhraidh, like King Midas before him, had ears that looked just like a horse's ears. He had his hair cut just once a year, and had his barber, who was chosen by lot, killed immediately thereafter in order to protect his shameful secret. But one year he spared a young barber, the only son of a widow, in respose to the pleas of the boy's mother. The boy promised to keep the secret, but finally he couldn't stand to keep it bottled up entirely, so he whispered it to a big willow tree. Shortly thereafter, Craiftine the harper broke his harp. He cut the makings of a new harp from the same willow tree. When it was completed and he played on it, everyone who heard its music thought it was saying "dá ó phill for Labhraidh Lorc .i. dá chluais chapaill ar Labhraidh Lorc".

Bécán, ní rab ilar a thrétán...

ní rab ilar a thrétán!
Oiret rab grian ar deiseal,
ní rab seiser d'óib Bécán!

(Bécán / not * may be * multitude * his * little herd /
as long as * may be * sun * on * sunwise course /
not * may be * six persons * of * descendants * Bécán)

may his herd not be numerous!
So long as the sun follows its course,
may Bécán not have six descendants!

This curse is found in "Acallam na Senórach" (519). When Bécán, although wealthy, refused hospitalilty to St. Patrick's clerics, Patrick brought death upon him and his cattle and all his people with these words. The CELT edition (= Whitley Stokes, "Acallamh na Senórach" in Irische Texte) has "tredan". Tomás Ó Cathasaigh retained this with the meaing "fasting" in his edition and translation in the article "Curse and Satire" in Éigse xxi. Amending this to "trétán", a diminutive of "trét = herd", gives a better meaning in the context, and a much better rhyme with "Bécán". Dooley and Roe take this meaning in their translation in _Tales of the Elders of Ireland_. A further emendation of the initial consonsant to 'th-' is required by the masculine possessive pronoun "a".

Gurab écen mér dot múnad in airecht.

Gurab écen mér dot múnad in airecht.

(may it be * necessary * finger * for your * pointing out * in * assembly)

May you be beneath notice. May you be insignificant.

From Félire Óengusso 96.15.

Bé Néit fort!

Bé Néit fort!

(woman/wife * of the war god Néit * on you)

Damn you!

A curse quoted in entry #168 of "Sanas Cormaic".

Bás fort béolu!

Bás fort béolu!

(death * on your * lips)

Death upon your lips!

A curse, spoken as a threat by the daughter of Echaid in the tale "Fingal Rónáin". Later in the same tale, Rónán curses her with the words "Mallacht fort béolu!" (A curse on your lips!) Compare Ailill's threat in "Táin Bó Fraích", when he demands that his daughter return a thumb ring: "atbélat do béoil mani aisce úait" ("your lips will die if you do not give it back"). When Moncha dies of childbirth in "Cath Maige Mucruma", the text says simply "atbailet a béoil" ("her lips die"). In "Buile Suibhne", the mad hero curses the old woman who lures him back into his old flighty, fleeing ways with the exclamation "Mallacht for do bhél, a chailleach!" (A curse on your mouth, old woman!)

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