Friday, 10 May 2013

Notes: The Story of the Finding of Cashel

The Story of the Finding of Cashel 
Myles Dillon
Ériu 16 (1952)

This probably isn't a particularly well-known tale, but there's one thing of interest in here in particular that I thought was worth noting. The tale is pretty short and Dillon provides the original Irish and a translation of it with a goodly amount of preamble and notations. It's one of the notes that's of special interest (to me) in particular, but the tale also has a few other bits and pieces that are worth mentioning too.

The tale is set in the fourth century A.D. and centres on the founding of Cashel, the political centre of the Munster kings, by Conall Corc. Dillon notes that while it's difficult to tell how much of the legend might be based on kernels of historical fact, the tale itself seems to bear genuinely archaic hallmarks – though somewhat corrupted.

The tale begins in autumn, with two swineherds taking their pigs out to snuffle up the abundance of acorns that are available. They fall into a deep sleep for three days and three nights, during which they see a man, Corc, being blessed by an angel. They are shown a vision of all the future kings of Munster and are told how long each king will reign, and the kinds of peace and prosperity that each reign will usher in. Upon waking, one of the swineherds, Duirdriu, goes to his king and tells him of the vision he received, and asks for the place where he received the vision to be given to him; it's implied that the vision means Duirdriu has the right to it, and so the king agrees. Conall Corc buys the land off Duirdriu, and so Cashel is founded and thus begins a great dynasty of kings.

After a list of kings is given, the tale switches to the other swineherd, Cuirirán, who goes into a trance and gives the blessing of the kings of Cashel that he heard in a dream. Dillon doesn't give a translation, noting that the rhetoric is obscure, but the king replies: 'May it be a truth that is confirmed! May it be a power that is enforced!'

The tale then changes scene, with the two swineherds having another vision again after hearing "the sweetest music in the wold on the ridge beside them." They are shown the coming of Patrick, and an angel tells them that, 'He who shall first kindle fire here, entrust the kingship of Munster to him.' Lighting a fire is a traditional Irish way of claiming land as your own so that makes sense; here the idea is broadened to a political claim over the land as well.

Diurdriu goes to Conall and tells him of his vision, and that he had seen that Conall would be the first to kindle the fire. A druid is summoned by Conall, who makes a "druidic divination" for three days and three nights, to confirm that everything was as Diurdriu had said, and that fortune would be his. The druid tells Conall that Diurdriu is correct, and so Conall lays his claim. The tale finishes with the tributes due to the Cashel kings, and mentions the coming of Patrick, who baptised the men of Munster.

The bit of interest is the blessing that the two swineherds are party to near the beginning of the tale, which includes imagery of the three realms: "Blessing of heaven, cloud-blessing..." It's lengthy and is clearly Christian as its presented in the text, but as Dillon notes a similar version can be found in the Book of Rights, where it's attributed to St Patrick himself, as well as another, later version, found in Betha Pátraic. Dillon also notes that:

"Apart from the pious invocation at the end, it is, however, rather pagan than Christian in expression, and bears the mark of antiquity. The heptasyllabic metre common in the earliest law-tracts is here apparent, and a slight revision restores it in the whole of the second clause: 
Bendacht nime nél-bendacht
Bendacht toraid tír-bendacht
Bendacht mara iasc-bendacht
Bendacht gréine grád-bendacht
Bendacht ésca ord-bendacht
Bendacht latha lón-bendacht
Bendacht daithin drúcht-bendacht
Bendacht gaíse gal-bendacht
Bendacht aurith ar-bendacht
Arub ceantaib ciallatar."

I'd say FEAR MY AWESOME DICTIONARY SKILLS, but after checking through to attempt a translation I got as far as this:

Blessing of heaven, cloud-blessing
Blessing of earth, fruit-blessing
Blessing of sea, fish-blessing
Blessing of sun, rank-blessing
Blessing of moon, honour-blessing
Blessing of ale, food-blessing
Blessing of light, dew-blessing
Blessing of wisdom, valour-blessing
Blessing of ...., plough-blessing

I think "ardour" could work in place of valour, too. But with the final two lines we run into difficulties and I turned to Google in hopes of help and found this. Which would've saved a bit of time. But at least far greater brains than I are stumped too. The last line, however, could possibly mean "(it is) on their heads that they are meant." But who knows. Neither Dillon nor eDIL are helpful.

Either way, the fact that several versions of the blessing exist, and the metre is typical of the earliest law tracts, as Dillon notes, does suggest that it's been adopted into a Christian context and tweaked as it seemed appropriate for the occasion, rather than being a product of it. I think it's also striking that almost the exact same kind of imagery can be found in more than a few prayers in the Carmina Gadelica.