Macha in Dinnshenchas

Edinburgh Dinnshenchas

Trans. Whitley Stokes

Ard Macha, whence is it?

Not hard (to say). Macha, wife of Nemed, son of Agnoman, died there, and it was the twelfth plain which was cleared by Nemed, and it was bestowed on his wife that her name might be over it, and ’tis she that saw in a dream, long before it came to pass, all the evil that was done in the Driving of the Kine of Cualnge. In her sleep there was shown to her all the evil that was suffered therein, and the hardships and the wicked quarrels: so that her heart broke in her. Whence Ard Macha, "Macha’s Height".

Macha, the very shrewd, beheld
Through a vision — graces which we say not —
Descriptions of the times (?) of Cualgne —
’Twas a deed of pride, not of boasting.

Or, Macha, daughter of Aed the Red, son of Badurn: ’tis by her that Emain Macha was marked out, and there she was buried when Rechtaid Red-arm killed her. To lament her Oenach Macha, ‘Macha’s Assembly,’ was held. Whence Macha Magh.

Aliter. Macha, now, wife of Crunn, son of Agnoman, came there to run against the horses of King Conor. For her husband had declared that his wife was swifter than the horses. Thus then was that woman pregnant: so she asked a respite till her womb had fallen, and this was not granted to her. So then she ran the race, and she was the swiftest. And when she reached the end of the green she brings forth a boy and a girl — Fír and Fíal were their names — and she said that the Ulaid would abide under debility of childbed whensoever need should befall them. So thence was the debility, on the Ulaid for the space of five days and four nights (at a time) from the era of Conor to the reign of Mál, son of Rochraide (A.D. 107). And ’tis said that she was Grian Banchure, "the Sun of Womanfolk", daughter of Midir of Brí Léith. And after this she died, and her tomb was raised on Ard Macha, and her lamentation was made, and her pillar-stone was planted. Whence is Ard Macha, "Macha’s Height".

Rennes Dinnshenchas

Trans. Whitley Stokes

Macha wife of Nemed son of Agnoman died there (on Mag Macha) and was buried, and it is the twelfth plain which was cleared by Nemed, and he bestowed it on his wife so that it might bear her name. Whence Mag Macha ‘Macha’s Plain’ .

Otherwise: Macha daughter of Aed the Red, son of Badurn — ’tis by her Emain was marked out — was buried there when Rechtaid of the red fore-arm killed her. To lament her, Oenach Macha ‘Macha’s Fair’ was established. Whence Mag Macha.

Otherwise: Macha wife of Crund son of Agnoman went thither to race against king Conchobar’s horses, for her husband had said that his wife was swifter (than they). Thus then was the wife, big with child: so she asked a respite till her womb should have fallen, and this was not granted to her. So then the race was run, and she was the swiftest. And — and she said that the Ulaid would abide under feebleness of childbed whensoever need should befall them. Wherefore the Ulaid suffered feebleness for the space of a nomad from the reign of Conchobar to the reign of Mál son of Rochraide "Great heart". And men say that she was Grían Banchure "the Sun of Womanfolk", daughter of Mider of Brí Léith. And after this she died, and her tomb was raised on Ard Macha, and her lamentation was made, and her gravestone was planted.Whence Ard Machae ‘Macha’s Height’ .

Metrical Dinnshenchas

Trans. Edward Gwynn


1. In the plain where our horsemen ride, there, by the will of the right-judging Lord,
was buried in fair seclusion a lovely woman, Macha wife of Nemed.

2. Twice six plains did Nemed clear before his home, to win renown;
of these was this plain, to my joy, across which I shall wend my steady way.

3. Macha, who diffused all excellences, the noble daughter of red-weaponed Aed,
the raven of the raids, was buried here when Rechtaid Red-Wrist slew her.

4. She it was that, seeking no help, shaped with her brooch for grim Dithorba's sons
— it was no mean feat—Emain, above the sloping plain.

5. To bewail her — it was a worthy beginning — was held by the Ulaid's host in full numbers yonder,
to all time, the Assembly of Macha on the wide plain.

6. It is right that I should now tell (for it is a business needing boldness) the tale
whereof it came that the Ulaid lay in pangs of general sickness—a spell past cure.

7. There came one day in bright glory to Conchobar's appointed Assembly,
from the waters eastward, a man rich in herds, Cruinn son of Agnoman, lord of hundreds.

8. Then they bring, pacing proudly, two horses, whose like I see not,
to the warriors' horse-race—hide it not!—held at that season by the king of Ulaid.

9. Though their like was not found among the horses of Mag Da Gabra,
Cruind, eager and shaggy, said that his wife was swifter, though heavy with child.

10. "Arrest ye the chieftain!" said Conchobar, leader in battle,
"till the warrior's fair wife come to a noble race against my steeds."

11. A messenger was sent to fetch her by the king of the stout levelled spears,
to bid her come from the ocean waves to contend on behalf of idle-speaking Cruinn.

12. The woman came without delay to the assembly of perilous exploits:
her two names, not seldom heard in the west, were bright Grian and pure Macha.

13. Her father, not without might in his home, was Midir of Brí Léith meic Celtchair;
in her roofless dwelling in the west she was Grian, the sun of womankind.

14. When she arrived, fierce for glory, she prayed at once for respite
to the host of undefeated clans, because her hour of travail was come.

15. The Ulaid made answer thereupon to the quick brisk dame, big with child,
that she should find no grace before the contest from the sworded battalion of famous Line.

16. Then the nimble bright lady bared herself, and loosened the hair about her head:
without fierce cry to urge her she came to the race, to the tourney.

17. The horses were brought close beside her, to drive them in this wise past the noble lady:
for the Ulaid of that keep continually that array of steeds was an evil omen.

18. Swift though the prince's steeds were among the tribes, met in might,
swifter was the woman, unsparing of effort: the king's horses were over-slow.

19. When she reached the end of the green—noble was her stake, great and famous
— she bore twin babes, without respite, before the folk of the Red Branch fort.

20. A boy and a girl together — through her glorious deed sorrow was their nurse;
Fir and Fial were the names of the twins that Grian bore, unsparing of effort.

21. She leaves a word enduringly upon the pillars of the Red Branch,
that in time of war they should be in distress, in anguish and labour-pangs.

22. The word she uttered then brought distress to the lordly host;
it clave to them — it was no occasion for valour — till the ninth of nine lives.

23. From the reign of Conchobar of Cerna over the strong troops of northern Emain,
the ill deed by her imprecation wrought their ruin until the reign of Mal son of Rochraide.

24. Then the woman died of that sore sickness, 'twas certain,
and was buried yonder in solitude in Ard Macha, rich in mead.

25. From the life, from the death of the woman, famous among the lines of Adam's seed,
whose virtues were not left unsung over the spot, her name clave to this plain.

26. Since Patrick first brought the Faith to Ard Macha where men gather,
the plenteous stead he chose is a favoured burial-place, even the great plain.

27. O King that broughtest Emain to desolation, after it was deserted by its brave host,
let not my soul be sad in thine house, after singing psalms of poets in the noble plain.

Sources : Whitley Stokes, Folklore 4 and Revue Celtique 16
Edward Gwynn, Todd Lecture Series 11