Altrom Tige Dá Medar

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[Ir., The Nurture of the Houses of the Two Milk Vessels].

A late Middle Irish narrative of the Mythological Cycle included in the 15th-century Book of Fermoy. Scholarly attention in the story has focused on the dispersal of the immortals, the Tuatha Dé Danann, into the world of men, and on possible distant parallels with the French legend of the Holy Grail.

After their defeat at Tailtiu and Druim Ligen, the remainder of the Tuatha Dé Danann, on the advice of Manannán mac Lir, scattered themselves to the fairy mounds, hills, and plains of Ireland. They chose Bodb as their king, but Manannán appointed them to their dwellings in the fairy mounds. He also instituted (1) féth fíada [the veil of invisibility] to keep them from being seen; (2) the Feast of Goibniu, to protect them against old age; and (3) the Pigs of Manannán, to be killed for food yet preserved for sustenance. Manannán also told them how to lay out their houses in the manner of Emain Ablach. Shortly after this Manannán and others were invited to a banquet at Brug na Bóinne by Elcmar, a magician, and his fosterling, Angus Óg. In the evening, after Manannán ordered the hall cleared, he told Angus Óg that Elcmar was not destined to occupy the splendid palace at Brug na Bóinne and that he, Angus, should expel him. After teaching Angus a powerful spell, Manannán also acknowledged that there was a God above gods, and retold the Old Testament story of the rebellion of the angels and the creation of man.

After Elcmar was expelled, Angus gave a banquet and asked that all present give him a child for fosterage. All complied, including Manannán. Most interestingly, the wife of the steward at Brug na Bóinne bore a child named Eithne (see EITHNE (3)), of surpassing beauty and virtue. Eithne was courted by many suitors, including Finnbarr, who insulted her with a lewd remark, for which he apologized. Because of the insult Eithne fasted for seven days, at which time she accepted milk from Angus's marvellous cow, brought from India, which she milked herself.

When news of Eithne's shame and unwillingness to eat reached Manannán, he summoned her to Cruithín na Cuan in Emain Ablach. Manannán prepared food with his own hands, but Eithne would not eat it, preferring instead milk from his marvellous brindled cow, also brought from India. Manannán then diagnosed her ailment: when she was insulted the demon of the Tuatha Dé Danann left her and she could no longer partake of their food. She might, however, drink from the cows of India, as it was a land of righteousness. At this point she has partaken of the Nurture of the Houses of Two Milk Vessels, hence the title of the story. She remarked that henceforth the Trinity of Three Persons would be her god. From that time, through the many centuries to the coming of St Patrick, Eithne lived only on the milk of the marvellous cows.


Subjects: Religion.

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