Recovering the harp of the Daghda

The Irish legend translated from the Magh Tuireadh

Professor Eugene O’Curry presented one of the earliest versions of the story of the recovery of the Daghda’s harp, in English translation with the original Gaelic taken from the Battle of Magh tuireadh, Harleian MSS. 5280, British Museum. You may find the full text of the lecture in the library, in Volume 3 of O’Currie’s Lectures, lecture number XXX beginning on page 213. A small part of the legend of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the story begins after a great battle against their foes, the Fomorians.

The Fomorians having been defeated with great slaughter, such of them as were still able, retreated from the field, under their surviving leader Breas, who had been captured, but obtained his libery by a strategem. The story proceeds in these words:—

Lugh [the the Dé Danann king] and the Daghda [their great chief and druid] and Ogma [their bravest champion] followed the Fomorians, because they had carried of the Daghda’s harper, Uaithne was his name. They [the pursuers] soon reached the banqueting house in which they [the Fomorian chiefs] Breas, the son of Elathan, and Elathan, the son of Delbath, were and where they found the harp hanging upon the wall. This was the harp in which the music was spell-bound, so that it would not answer when called forth, until the Daghda evoked it, when he said what follows here down:

Come Durdabla; come Cóircethairchuir; come Samh; come Gamh' [that is, come summer, come winter] from the mouths of harps, and bellies and pipes. Two names now had the harp; namely, Durdabla, and Cóircethairchuir. The harp came forth from the wall then, and killed nine persons [in its passage]; and it came to the Daghda; and he played for them the three [musical] feats which give distinction to a harper, namely, the Suantraighe [which from its deep murmuring caused sleep]; the Gentraighe [which from its merriment caused laughter]; and the Goltraighe [which from its melting plaintiveness caused crying].

He played them the Goltraighe until their women cried tears. He played them the Gentraighe until their women and youths burst into laughter. He played them the Suantraighe until the entire host fell asleep. It was through that sleep they [the three champions] escaped from those [the Fomorians] who were desirous to kill them.

Dr. O’Curry goes on to say, I must confess that these names applied to the harp of the great Daghda and the musicals sounds which he evoked from it—evidently descriptive names, as they are—are among the most unmanageable phrases I have ever met. The first name applied here to the harp, Durdabla, can, by taking its component parts at their ordinary value, be analysed in this way: Durd, or dord, a murmur, and abla, the possessive case of aball, a sweet apple tree. The second name, Coircethaircuir, can be analysed in the same way: Coir, signifies arrangement, adjustment, and cethairchuir, componded of cethair, four, and cor, and angle, or rather a beak like the beak of an anvil, signifies quadrubeaked, or quadrangular; so that the second name would simply signify the quadrubeaked or quadrangular hamonious instrument.

For a more lyrical version of this legend, please visit The Harp of the Dagda Mór where it is retold by a modern-day storyteller.

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