The Women Lugh Wed

I’d been interested in the Irish gods for a long time before I ever knew Lugh had married. His wives are rarely mentioned and even more rarely do we hear anything about them beyond their names listed encyclopedia-like.

From a poem by Flann Mainstrech (d. 1056) found in the Yellow Book of Lecan, according to Hily 2007:

Echtach, daughter of the Dagda with white smoke, Englic, Nás, Buí without treachery/cheating, these are the wives of Lug of many troops

Echtach ingen Deagda déid-ghil – Englic, Nas, Búi cen brath, is iad sin mná Logha línmair.

And from the notes of Metrical Dinsenchas III, translated by Gwynn:

Echtach, daughter of white-toothed Daig, Englec, Nás, guileless Buí
these are the wives of Lug, lord of hosts, who were the flower of gracious queens.

I don’t have the original language of the second, unfortunately, but the difference in Echtach’s parentage is curious.

Nás and Buí, daughters of Rúadrí Ruad, King of Britain, are relatively well-known from the dinsenchas stories on Cnogba and Nás (the hill), but all that’s told of them is that Nás died at Nás, and Buí died on hearing the news, and Lugh made a feast to commemorate them on 1 August. Nás is the mother of Lugh’s son Ibec of the horses (Metrical Dinsenchas of Nás), and Buí (also known as Boí, Bua, or Buach) is also (as Buach, probably a genitive form) called daughter of Dáire Donn. At least one researcher has suggested Buí may be cognate with the Cailleach Bhearre, based on the theory that Buí is the personal name of that goddess (Ó Crualaoich 1988). Nás, according to eDil means, poetically, “death” or “death-commemoration,” though it’s related to násad which is listed on that page as “putting to death” although the longer entry suggests a meaning of “a gathering or assembly of a festive or commemorative nature.” Buí is listed without a meaning, though Wagner (1981) suggests it is related to Indo-European *bovina “cow-like-one,” and suggests a connection to the Boyne River.

Buí and Englic share the dubious honor of possibly having had an affair with Cearmait Milbel, son of the Dagda. Lugh is said to have killed Cearmait in jealousy, and it seems to be uncertain both which of the women was supposed to have been Cearmait’s lover and whether the affair even happened, as once source seems to say that the druid told Lugh a lie about his wife (Bergin 1927). (And if you were worried, Cearmait gets better–the Dagda wanders the world with his corpse until he finds a staff that can restore him to life). In the Bansenchas, oddly, an Englic is listed as “mother of the Dagda’s swift son,” a description often given Cearmait. Perhaps a scribe became confused about their relationship?

Englic is the daughter of Elcmar of the Brugh, who just seems unable to get a break: he’s sent on a year long journey by the Dagda so Boann will be free to become the Dagda’s lover and the mother of his son, Óengus; Elcmar loses his home, Brugh na Boinne, to Óengus; and then there’s Englic. Englic is loved by Óengus (which seems to imply she isn’t Boann’s daughter?). Who she loves depends on the dinsenchas you read–either Óengus or Midir, his older half-brother. In the version where she loves Óengus, she’s carried of by the three sons of Derc son of Ethaman; in the version where she loves Midir, he carries her off. Either way, Óengus is heartbroken and makes a lamentation at Cnogba (Knowth).

But that’s the last we hear of her, except for the mentions of her as Lugh’s wife, so somehow after being carried off, she gets married to someone who, apparently, had nothing to do with carrying her off. Maybe Englic just had a tendency to be carried away–in the Acallam na n’eces, a story is told that Ogma invents ogham writing to warn Lugh that his wife is in danger, carving three beith marks to indicate that, unless this woman is protected by the birch, she will be carried off to a/the síd seven times. Sterckx suggested Englic could be derived from én “bird” + gleic “hostility”, and argued she was cognate with Welsh Blodeuwed, based on the folk belief that other birds were hostile to owls. Hily (2007) argues against this, saying the long e in én makes this derivation unlikely, suggesting instead glicc “acute, shrewd, ingenious, skilled” and the intensifying prefix en- and thus meaning “very skilled, very shrewd.” The latter meaning seems to suggest something more than a young woman prone to being carried off. Isolde Carmody, suggests several other possible meanings: “Stone Track” or “Slab Territory” or “Water Wrestling.”

And that leaves us with Echtach. Oddly enough, this name seems to wander across genders, as Echtach is often the name of Nuada’s father (First Battle of Magh Tured, for example). I have yet to find any information on Daig, though the name appears to mean “flame, conflagration, blaze” and is metaphorically applied to heroes, kings, and saints (eDIL). The only information on Echtach I’ve been able to locate so far comes from Monaghan’s Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, where she is described as a goddess, sister and rival of Echtge, the cannibal daughter of Nuada. The author mentions folktales from Co. Clare pictured Echtach as a spectral owl, which could be an interesting link to Blodeuwed, wife of Lleu. The eDIL gives us échtach (note the long e) as “some kind of night bird, perhaps an owl” or “prowessful, death-dealing, destructive.”

I find these hints and half-complete stories tantalizing. I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed, but suspect that we are unlikely to clear up most of the mysteries solely from research. I envy the people of the culture the dinsenchas came from, so steeped in an oral culture so rich with stories that a name or a sideways mention called up whole plots webs of meaning.  If any of my handful of readers have any cites or stories I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments!


Caer Ibormeith

I saw him in my dreams before I bade him dream of me
So smooth his limbs, so bright his eyes
So sweet the voices of the birds they say are his kisses.
No one could help but love him—
And I saw he knew they did.
So I sent him dreams of me, but never went to him:
I gave him the ache under my breast, I made it his.
He asked his father the horseman to find me
But even a druid could not pierce the mists of my hiding.
He asked his mother the river to find me
But she searched for a maiden and I was none.
He begged his wise brother the king to find me
And the crow in his cunning asked questions
Until my story revealed itself to him.
It was the red crow sent him to me, to my maidens,
Nine hundred on the lake when my father brought him.
I had brought him to break his heart as he had broken theirs,
But when I saw him, the pain of his dark-circled eyes was mine
And the beauty of his yearning pierced my heart.
Ensnared, I forgot to wish for freedom.

We stood, nine hundred, in my shape and waited for him to fail
Our hearts prepared to break, our wings to fly
And when he touched my hand and spoke my name I thought
The world had never been light until
That golden moment bound us in its chains.