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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tech Duinn

 For many people Donn is seen as the first ancestor and ultimately the God of the dead in Irish paganism. There is a lot of folk belief behind this and I've previously written about Donn elsewhere but today I thought it might be interesting to take a look at two passages in Old Irish which mention Donn and the story of how Tech Duinn got it's name

Tech nDuinn
Teach nDuind, cidh diatá? Ní ansa. In tan dolotar meic Miled aniar don Erinn, asbert a n-druí fríu: ‘Fear raghas isin crand siúil’, for se, ‘Ocus madh é chanus ar tus dichedla for Tuathaib Dei, maighfidh in cath forro, ocus lindi íarsin co brath a tír: ocus bebais in fer cuirfes in m-bricht.’
Fochres crandchor forro, ocus tachraidh do Dhonn taidhecht isin seól. Dogníther íarom samlaid, ocus luidh Dond isin seól, ocus canaidh tinchetla fríu, ocus doluidh sís iarsin, ocus asbert: ‘Tonga na deo’ ol sé, ‘cona didhemthar cert no cóir duib festa.’
 Canaid-seom dano di thír tinchedla forro-som dia fregra. Iar mallachadh Duinn íarom do Thuaith De dofáinic crith-ghalar fo chétóir isin luing. 
Asbert Amarghen: ‘Bidh marb Dond’, for se, ‘ocus ní seghdha dund congbail im athgabail an ghalair. Ar día ructhar Dond i tír, bíaidh an galar-sa co brath a n-Erinn.’
 Asbert Dond: ‘Berar mo choland-sa’, for sé, ‘a n-oen na n-ínnsi, ocus dobéra mo chinél bendachtain form co brath.’
 Ticc íarom ainbhtine doibh tria thinchedlaibh na n-drúadh, ocus báiter an bárc a m-bái Dond.
 ‘Berar a choland isin carraic n-aird thall’, ol Aimhirghen: conidh de dogarar Teach nDuind. ‘Ticfad a munnter an maighin sin’, ol Amhirghen.
 Is aire sin adellad na h-anmanda peccacha co teach nDuind ría techt a n-ifearn, do reír na ngennti, cédus, co tabraid a m-bendachtain for anmain Duinn. Madh anum fírén imorro fir aithrighe is di chéin adcí-sidhe, ocus ní berar fordul. As i sin tra cédfaidh na ngénnti. Conid desin dogarar Tech nDuind.
 - Gwynn 1906 Metrical Dindshenchas

The House of Donn
 The house of Donn, what origin? Not difficult. When the sons of Mil came from the west to Ireland, their Druid said to them, "A man must go up that mast*", said he, "and then chant his best druidic chants on the Tuatha De, this will rout the battle on them, and after that time  this will be our land forever: and the man will die who casts the spell." 
They set a casting of lots on them, and it was cast to Donn to go** to the sail. Afterwards it was done thus, and Donn moved to the sail, and chanted Druidic spells against them, and returned down after, and said: "I swear by the Gods" said he, "we will be without granting justice or recompense to you henceforth." 
They chanted also from the land Druidic spells against them in response. Then they cursed Donn and afterwards the Tuatha De brought a shaking-sickness immediately on the ship. 
Said Amergin, "Donn shall die", said he, "and not lucky his keeping on account of taking back the illness***. If we carry Donn to the land, the sickness will be in Ireland forever."
 Said Donn, "Take my body", said he, "to one of the islands, and my people will give blessing on me forever."
Afterwards through the spell casting of the Druids a storm was brought on them, and the ship of Donn was sunk. 
"Take his body there to that high rock yonder", said Amergin: it will be called Tech Duinn^. "His people will go to that place there", said Amergin. 
And for that burden the souls of sinners visit Tech Duinn before they go to Hell, according to the heathens^^, indeed, to give their blessings on the soul of Donn. Nevertheless righteous souls, that is penitent men, they see it from a distance, and do not take a detour there. That is then the opinion of the heathens. So it is called Tech Duinn.

Lebor Gabala Erenn:
 Atbert Dond. "Dobersa" ar se "fo gin gai ocus chlaidib innossa na fail i nHerind."
 Ocus deligis in gaeth friu in luing i mbai Dond & Herech da mac Miled & in luing i mbaí Bress & Búas & Buagne. Coro baitte ocna Dumachaib oc Taig Duind. Duma cach fir and. 

The Book of Invasions of Ireland:
Donn said, "I will bring" said he, "under edge of spear and sword now the land of Ireland."
And separated the wind against him [and] the ship of Donn and Herech, two sons of Mil, and the ship of Bress and Búas and Buagne. They were thrown; they drown close to Dumachaib at Tech Duinn. The grave-mound of every man is there.

Comparing the two we can see that the Lebor Gabala Erenn version has a very different tone - Donn is an aggressor who not only wants to conquer Ireland but to kill everything there; because of his bloodlust the wind itself rises up against him and capsizes his ship and he along with several others are drowned. In the Metrical Dindshenchas version on the other hand we are told that Donn was chosen by throwing lots to sacrifice himself in order to break the power of the Tuatha De Danann so that the Sons of Mil could succeed in their invasion. Because of this he was cursed by the Tuatha De and died, but his burial on a "high rock" on an island created a blessing or perhaps we should say created a situation where the souls of the newly dead were obligated to go to Donn's House and bless him. Even the obviously Christianized aspects at the end of the story are telling in that they reveal the pagan belief that the dead were required to "visit" Tech Duinn before moving on elsewhere; even the so-called "righteous men" (one may assume Christian souls) had to see it, if not go into it. The Metrical Dindshenchas version strongly supports a view of Donn as a God of the dead, and his house as a place where souls go after death. 

* crand siúil, literally "sail tree"
** interestingly taidhecht, a form of techt, also means "act of dying"; both fit in this context
*** in other words, if Donn, or his body, was kept on the boat or brought to Ireland the illness would remain.
^ Tech Duinn is literally "house of Donn"
^^ genti, a Latin loanword from gentis, literally "Gentiles" in the sense of non-Jews, extrapolated out to include non-Christians. In texts this can be rendered Gentiles, pagans, or heathens and was often used in particular to refer to the Norse. Given the common usage in the annals of "dubgenti" and finngenti" for Danes and Norwegians I have chosen to go with "heathens" in this translation, however it should be understood to mean non-Christians generally. 

Copyright Morgan Daimler


  1. Wonderful stuff! Thanks for sharing. We honor Donn in our household and in some of our rites. For us he is the Torc bearer, and when our young adults earn their right to wear a torc as a rite of passage Donn is a huge part of that ritual.

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