Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Look at the Names in the Tain Bo Regamna

""Why is it the woman who answers me?" said Cuchulain, "why was it not the man?" 
"It was not the man whom you addressed," said the woman.
 "Ay," said Cuchulain, "(I did address him), though thyself hath answered for him:" 
"h-Uar-gaeth-sceo-luachair-sceo is his name," said she. 
"Alas! his name is a wondrous one," said Cuchulain. "Let it be thyself who answers, since the man answers not. What is thine own name?" said Cuchulain. 
"The woman to whom thou speakest," said the man, "is Faebor-begbeoil-cuimdiuir-folt-scenbgairit-sceo-uath."
 "Do ye make a fool of me?" cried Cuchulain..."
   - Tain Bo Regamna, (Leahy, 1906). 

  This scene occurs in the Tain Bo Regamna after Cu Chulain confronts a woman whom he believes is stealing a cow from Ulster - she isn't, as it happens, but he doesn't know that, nor does he realize she is the Morrigan until much later in their conversation. He comes upon her, a fierce looking woman dressed in red with red hair riding in a chariot pulled by a one legged horse hitched by a pole that passes through it's body. She is leading a cow and accompanied by a man who speaks for her initially as she speaks for him, much to Cu Chulain's consternation.

  In the versions I have seen the names of the man and woman are not translated but are given in the Irish, however I was recently asked to translate them and found the experience quite enlightening so I decided to share what I found here.

"‘hÚargóeth sceo lúachuir sceo. . .ainm in fir sin’, olsí" (Stokes, 1887). 
 "Cold wind-conflict-brightness-strife is his name" she said
Let's break that down word by word and look at each individual meaning: 
Uar - cold, cool, bleak, unfriendly
gaeth - wise, wind, stream, estuary
sceo - strife, conflict, fierceness, and
luachair - marsh, brightness, brilliance
 Note that sceo can also be used as a copula so it's possible alternately to translate the name as "Cold wind-and-brightness-strife" or possibly as "Unfriendly stream-and-marsh-strife". Either way Cu Chulain finds the name "wondrous".

"‘In ben sin at-gládaither-su’, ol in fer, ‘fóebar begbéoil, coimdiúir, folt, scenbgairit, sceo úath hí a hainm’, olse" (Stokes, 1887)
"The woman who you are speaking to," said the man, "is Keen edged-small lipped-plain cloaked-hair-sharp shouting-fierceness-a phantom."
Let's look at each of these one at a time as well: 
 fáebar given here as fóebar - sharp edge, skillful with weapons - an epithet for javelins meaning keen edged
bec - small, little
beoil - bel - lips, mouth
= becbel, given here as begbeoil*, would therefore mean small lipped or little mouthed
cuim - coim - protection, cloak, cover, breast, waist
diuir - petty, mean, plain, ugly
= cuimdiuir as a compound of these two words is a bit tricky and may have several possible interpretations, however since the next immediate word is "folt" (hair) it is logical to look at a combination that makes sense in that context, in this case "plain cloaked" however petty protection or ugly breast and such are possible
folt - hair, locks, tresses
scenb - point, spike, thorn, sharp, prickly
garid - destroys or shouts, calls, laughs
= scenbgarid, given here as scenbgairit, sharp shouting, prickly laugh, thorny call, and so on
sceo - strife, conflict, fierceness, and
uath - spectre, phantom, horror, Hawthorn

  It's interesting to note that both names contain "sceo". Also the interpretation I've given has a certain continuity between the two names, although I will note that I have seen other people translate the woman's name in a way that emphasizes physical ugliness. I believe this version is more accurate and fitting with her nature however as it emphasizes physical prowess and battle. For those who honor or study the Morrigan at the very least this can be food for thought.

* I have seen an alternate version of this which gives it as beo beoil which would mean lively mouth or quick lips. I have also found a version where the words are divided differently - fóebar beo béoil, coim diúir, foltt sgeanb, gairitt sgeo úath  - giving something like "Keen-edged, lively mouthed, plain cloaked, thorn haired, strife shouting a phantom" I don't feel this offers a significant difference in meaning though, but wanted to mention it. 

 Stokes, W (1887) Tain Bo Regamna
  Leahy, A., (1906). Heroic Romances of Ireland, volume II

Copyright Morgan Daimler


  1. Hello Morgan: I'm curious to know where you got your definitions? Thanks, Emily

    1. for Old Irish I look at Quin's Dictionary of the Irish Language (put out by the Irish Texts Society) and the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language based on the RAI's printed text but with more updates as a work inprogress by scholars of the language from various universities.