Eochu Ollathair, the great Dagda, son of Elada was eighty years in the kingship of Ireland.¹
In my previous post, I suggested a teaser about Tea, named daughter of Lugaid, who was linked to a secret. Her name is given as the reason for the naming of Temair, a pairing of Tea with Mur meaning Tea’s wall. Also suggested in my previous post, Tea as daughter of Lug the sun-god descended from Ith ‘corn’ and her marriage to Érimón or ‘ploughman’ presented to us an ancestress who personified the spirit of vegetation. As will be revealed, the unfolding of Tea’s links with a secret gives us an insight into the 4th named ‘king’ of the Túatha Dé Danann, the Eochu Ollathair, a god of many names. In this post I will lay out the breadcrumbs of insights that begin with Tea will lead us to the revelations about In Dagda, the “great father” of the gods in the next post.
In the chronological order of the LGE texts, as edited and translated by R.A.S. MacAlister (1870-1950) accounts of the Eochu Ollathair include;
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min & R1 (313) Then Eochu Ollathair, the great Dagda, son of Elada, was eighty years in the kingship of Ireland. His three sons were Oengus and Aed and Cermat Coem. Over him did the men of Ireland make the mound of the Brug, and (over) his three sons, Oengus, Aed and Cermad Coem. F (314) Eighty to The Dagda, till he died of the gory javelin wherewith Cetlenn gave him a mortal wound in the great battle of Mag Tuired. Min (317) Brigid the poetess, daughter of The Dagda.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (357) From Muirias was brought the cauldron of The Dagda: no company would go from it unsatisfied. R2 (368) The children of Elada s. Delbaeth were Ogma Grianainech and Alloth Alaind and Bresal Brathbemnech and Delbaeth Dana and The Great Dagda.
From the above it is clear that only the scantiest of details about this deity are given in the LGE, even though he has several names and appellations that would suggest he was a god of great importance. He is at first titled Eochu Ollathair. Eochu as MacAlister explains is some corruption to mean “divine horseman” or “horseman son of heaven”.² Eochu is surnamed by “Ollathair” meaning “great father” and is also known as “In Dagda Mór” “the great good god”. His length of reign doubles that of Lug, whose reign doubled that of Nuadu which might indicate his importance as a prosperous or beloved deity. As with the previous gods, he is humanised by assigning him three sons and a daughter and ‘dies’ from a wound inflicted 49 years before, at the First Battle of Mag Tuired.
He is the father of three sons, the most well known in Irish folklore is Oengus, often identified as an ancestor buried at the Brú na Bóinne, the important cemetery near Drogheda on the ridge overlooking the river Boyne. He is also the father of Brigid, an important deity in her own right found elsewhere in Celtic speaking lands in the form Brigindo and Brigantes.³ He is the brother of other persons who are each given titles that suggest their divinity: Ogma Grianainech (sun shining), Alloth Alaind (beautiful), Bresal Brathbemnech (great striker) and Delbaeth Dana (skilled).
Nuadu, Bres and Lug, the previous kings are also assigned children who do not succeed them in the kingship of Ireland. As already discussed in TDD – Bress, kings who die in battle not at the hand of their own people and who are not succeeded by their living sons are deities and not human kings. In Dagda ‘dies’ by wounds inflicted upon him in battle by the Fomorian Cethlenn. His living sons do not succeed him. Delbaeth, who succeeds In Dagda, is I believe, the first of the semi-divine kings of the TDD. Delbaeth is succeeded by his son Fiachra the 6th king who is then succeeded by Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Greine, only after he along with his last living brother (and his brothers’ sons) are slaughtered by one Eogan of the Creeks. Fiachra has three daughters and so the TDD dynasty is passed over to Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Greine as the next male successors of the family line.
This leads us to wonder at the significance of the Eochu Ollathair’s title as the “great father”. The children he fathered isn’t of great number and we are not told of any great deeds as a father that might have given him the moniker. The possible answer lies in a theory put forward by MacAlister. The theory brings us back to Tea and to the secret linked with her. MacAlister spent a great deal of time piecing together the story of Tea in his investigation of Tara and how it came to be called. We begin his long but insightful journey here.
MacAlister refers to extant texts that he hoped might offer insights to aid him in his investigation. I now refer to those texts. The first is the Dindshenchas which, as a ‘lore of places’, gives an account of Tara throughout the ages. These ages of course are not defined as we know them now and in many cases, several accounts are given for the name of a place, and so caution is always advised in taking their writings in a literal sense.
The Dindshenchas comprises of poetry (VD) and prose (PD). It is one of its poems VD (i), which lead MacAlister on his journey in understanding how Tara came to be called so. The following sums up the alleged names of Tara in chronological order as they are given in the poem⁴;
- The hill is originally called Fordruim, and is a hazel thicket.
- The hazel thicket is cleared by Líath who turned it into a corn land and named it Druim Léith or Líath’s Ridge.
- At a later date the ridge came into the possession of Cáin son of Fiachu Cendfindán who in turn named it Druim Cáin, his ridge.
- A daughter of Allod, Crofind is then later assigned to the site, Cathair Chrofind, her ‘fortress’.
- Finally we come to Tea, who succeeds her. Here she is named daughter of Lugaid, wife of Eremón. A house is built for her there protected by a rampart, outside of which becomes her burial place, Tea Múr or Tea’s wall. As already discussed, Tea is paired with Mur to create Temair.
The order of the naming of the cite may not be taken at face value yet it is enough to show that for some length of time the hill held importance and structures were built upon it called after women.
VD (ii), adds to this account by telling us that;
- Temair was founded by Tea daughter of Lugaid.
- Tea was the wife of Géide and asked him for the land as her dower.
- It was a fortress and later her burial-place.
- Eremón had his wife imprisoned (some other lost saga) and gave her (Tea) what she wanted.
- Tea’s name was given to the place and she was buried there.
Persons named Géide and Eremón have been interchanged in VD (ii). In the next passage of the poem Tea is linked with one Tephi;
- Tephi named a daughter of Forand built a stronghold.
- The fortress was called Múr Tephi after her, the king’s wife.
- It is situated in the east, a secret place not hidden, becoming the centre of the graves of many queens.
- The house of Tephi was sixty feet square.
- Tephi was a relative of Bachtir son of Buirech, a native of Spain who was abducted by Camsón.
- Tephi and Camsón built the Ráith to conceal her.
- “The king of Bregon” did not carry off Tephi, “though there was strife between him and Camsón”.
- Camsón made a pledge to his god Etherún that he would restore Tephi dead or alive.
- Tephi died and Camsón sent her body home to Spain in a ship.
- Her grave was called Tephi-rún.
- Temair was built in imitation of Tephi’s grave.
The prose account of Temair ties together these poems by telling us that Tea daughter of Lugaid, son of Ith was the wife of Géide Ollgothach or Teipe-mur the wall of Tephi daughter of Bachtir king of Spain. Tephi lived with Canthon, son of Caithmiu king of Britain. Etherún, the idol of the Britons, secured her return to Spain dead or alive. She was buried in Spain and the rampart built there was called Teipe-múr. This rampart was seen by Tea wife of Eremón who travelled from Spain to Ireland and asked her husband to build a rampart in the same model as Tephi’s.⁵
A glance over any of the Dindshenchas material be it prose or poetry is enough to illustrate to the reader that often several reasons are given for a place name. As with Tea and Tephi we might disregard them as just another example of assigning many names to a place, due to regional variations of the name or that over time the lands were renamed by a number of possessors. After all, as with the LGE, scribes of the Dindshenchas aimed to record all folklore gathered around Ireland relating to place names. This is evident in the passages that tell us Tea is the wife of both Géide Ollgothach and Eremón without any explanation as to why.
And we might stop there. Put the whole matter down to a lost saga relating to both marriages, that at one point was so well known, the scribes did not feel the need to repeat it. That said, what keeps our interest and also MacAlister’s is the name of the second heroin’s grave, Tephi-rún, which means Tephi’s secret. In his own words, this is what propelled his interest further;
A grave is doubtless a dark and mysterious place; nevertheless, this is not a satisfactory name for a grave, and the author’s statements do not satisfactorily explain the word. Nor could anyone, even an ancient Irish etymologizer, be content with “Tephi-rún” as an interpretation of “Temair,” even if he had not had before him the evidently much better etymology Tea Múr. Surely this implies that the word Tephi-rún, whatever its meaning, existed in some form before anyone thought of extorting the derivation of the name of Temair out of it.
The word seems to say to us: “Here is a mystery; what is ‘Tephi’?⁶
Mysteries are the stuff of legend and of religion. The shadowy being that can’t be explained except by the acceptance of blind faith. Shadowy things usually reveal quite concrete explanations as with the landing of the TDD on the mountain. Were they demons who formed a fog over the sun and moon for three days and three nights after their landing OR did the smoke caused from the burning of their ships create the fog? The mystery is a thinly concealed truth. MacAlister looked hard to find Tephi’s concealed truth which lies in a subject already touched upon in the previous post: syncretism.
To recap, MacAlister defined it as follows;
Syncretism implies that the people while accepting the new teaching do not relinquish the old; they merely add Christ to their pantheon.⁷
MacAlister cites evidence of syncretism through the visual remnants of the Scottish Picts’ monumental standing stones as they progressed from pagan belief to Christianity. The stones are classified into three periods; the first and the oldest depict what he believes are pagan symbols, the second and transitionary depict the same symbols in relief accompanied by elaborate crosses while the third and latest dated stones show crosses and patterns completely lacking in those pagan symbols. The pagan symbols, which he believes represented invocations of their pagan gods in the early stages of Christianity sat side by side with symbols of the cross as Christ was added to their pantheon of gods.⁸
Some of the Scottish stones had ogham inscriptions which I discussed in the previous post in relation to ogham stones found in Ireland. The Pictish language being lost to us, their true interpretations prove difficult to cipher however if the Scottish stones followed the Irish model their inscriptions would commemorate the elite in personal name, followed by the name of their descendent and / or preferred tribal ancestor / devotee. An example would look like this: X son of Y of the tribe Z: “X MAQI Y MUCOI Z”. MacAlister observed that on many of the Scottish Picts’ stones inspected by him, the ancestral name had been found intentionally broken off, leading him to believe that the offensive name could be deciphered by the Christian follower.⁹
As Christianity became the stronger faith so too did the process of removing from men’s minds any trace of worship of a pagan religion. Secrecy would have been the only alternative for those with pagan beliefs to worship their deity ancestor without fear of persecution or being ostracised by Christian converters in their community. This is what MacAlister believes surrounds the mystery of Tephi.¹⁰
We are told that Tephi is the daughter of Forann. Forann the Irish equivalent of Pharaoh makes an appearance in the section of the LGE relating to the incoming invaders the Sons of Mil. Two other daughters are assigned to Forann, both called Scota. MacAlister believes they are doublets of each other. Scota daughter of Pharaoh, king of Egypt must make her way to Ireland from that place, while another story claims the Sons of Mil were ‘Scots’ therefore deriving the name from Scythia and so brought Scota to Ireland from that location. When posed with two different accounts of her travels the redactors simply created two stories about two seemingly different women named Scota. Scota is given as the reason the Sons of Mil wander the earth before settling in Ireland.¹¹
Tephi and Scota share the same parentage. They are ultimately connected somehow. MacAlister puts forth the theory and in this case the practice of linking the names using ogham letters on a circular stem-line. He manipulates the first three strokes of ‘S’ and the last three strokes of ‘C’ symmetrically across the stem-line. The full three strokes across the stem-line from the ‘S’ are added to the existing strokes of the ‘O’ creating an ‘I’. The full three strokes across the stem-line from the ‘C’ are added to the existing stroke of the ‘A’ creating an ‘E’. Those strokes removed from the ‘S’ and the ‘C’ create ‘B’ and ‘H’ respectively. Reading anti-clockwise from ‘T’ which has remained untouched, he obtains TEBHI, pronounced tep-hi, as the ‘b’ after a vowel would be hard pronounced like a ‘p’.¹²
In summing up his findings MacAlister writes;
I therefore suggest that Scota was an eponymous ancestress of the Scotic people, to whom divine honours were paid, and that Tephi was a cryptographic way of referring to her, devised at the time when Christianity had become the strongest faith in the country.¹³
How might this discovery help us discover more about In Dagda? Tea / Tephi / Scota give us the breadcrumbs that lead us to the answers. We return back to Forann and disregard the artificial stories relating to Egypt and Scythia and the wandering of the Sons of Mil and the intended Biblical tropes. In Section IV of the LGE relating to an earlier inhabitant of Ireland, Partholon, we are told that his four sons made the first division of the country. Their names are: Er, Orba, Fergna and Feron.¹⁴ In Section V of the LGE relating to Nemed we are told he arrived to Ireland with his four sons and chieftains: Starn, Iarbonel, Annind and Fergus. Yet again in Section VIII of the LGE relating to the Sons of Mil, Éber brother of Eremón has four sons. Their names are Ér, Orba, Ferón and Fergna.¹⁵
Outside of the contents of the LGE, Geoffrey Keating’s History of Ireland, accounts for us referencing books now lost to us the story of Cessair, the first ancestress of Ireland who arrived before the Deluge until overtaken by the flood. All but four escaped it. Their names are Fionntain, Ferón, Fors and Andóid.¹⁶
When the names are grouped in likeness something revealing appears;
FORS FIONNTAIN FERON ANDROID – Cessair
ER ORBA FERGNA FERON – Partholon
STARN IARBONEL FERGUS ANNIND – Nemed
ER ORBA FERGNA FERON – Sons of Mil
What this revelation allows us to consider is that the repetition of the names could imply the recognition of ancestor deities woven into the four bodies of folklore.
On a well-known monument at St. Vigean’s in the county of Forfarshire in Scotland, renamed Angus in 1928, one side bears a cross, the other side Pictish symbols. MacAlister had the good fortune to examine the relic and found low down on its edge, as if intentionally hidden, a small panel bearing the words:
When the words are placed side by side we read DROSTEN IPEUORET ETT FORCUS where three names appear, ETT simply the Latin for AND (et) joining the triplicity. DROSTEN suggests Starn, IPEUORET corresponds to Iarbonel and FORCUS to Fergus. In IPEUORET we might consider the similarity between a carved P and R, and with R to N and T to L in Irish capitals.
Staying in Scotland, the Newton stone’s inscription also bears resemblance: AIDDARRNNN VORRENN which MacAlister believes is the name of a deity later corrupted by the exchanging of the vowels to become Feron. In closing out the mystery, MacAlister believes that Tephi’s secret lay in the cryptic ogham inscription intended to incite Scota who is a daughter to a pre-Celtic deity called Forenn. These findings brought MacAlister to ask himself, “But why should this Celtic ancestress be made the daughter of a pre-Celtic divinity?” ¹⁷
I will let this question simmer until the next post where we will continue the journey that eventually leads us to In Dagda and show how history repeats itself in gathering the masses under a new religion or belief system.