[Ir. An Bhóinn, Boand; (river of) the white cow (?)].
The principal waterway of Leinster, eastern Ireland; the waters of the Boyne rise in the Bog of Allen in Kildare and run north, west, and then east for 70 miles through counties Offaly, Westmeath, Meath, and Louth, emptying into the Irish Sea at Drogheda. The river takes its name from Boand, the pre-Christian Irish goddess, and has been identified with the Bouvinda mentioned in Ptolemy's Geography (2nd cent. ad). It may also have borne the name Eithne, Ethlinn, or Ethniu. The valley of the Boyne includes some of the most important archaeological sites in Ireland, including New-grange (Brug na Bóinne in Irish narrative), Knowth, and Dowth. The estuary of the Boyne was called Inber Colptha in Old Irish narrative, the site of many heroic departures and landings. In Altrom Tige Dá Medar [Nurture of the Houses of the Two Milk Vessels], Eithne loses her veil of invisibility while bathing in the waters of the Boyne, after which she dies in the arms of St Patrick. At Slane, St Patrick lit the pascal fire that would begin his challenge to the paganism of nearby Tara and thus the Christianization of all Ireland. One of the many places Fionn mac Cumhaill was thought to have caught the salmon of knowledge was the ‘Pool of the Boyne’, Linn Féic; and one of the many places he was thought to have been killed was the Ford of Brea or Áth Brea on the Boyne. The valley is also rich in Christian associations, as it contains the early monastic ruins at Monasterboice and the 12th-century ruins at Mellifont.
The most resonant associations of the Boyne in the Irish imagination for the past three centuries has been with the defeat of Catholic forces under James II at the Battle of the Boyne, 3 miles W of Drogheda, 1 July 1690. This loss, together with another at Aughrim and the humiliating Treaty of Limerick (both 1691), quashed Catholic and nationalist aspiration until the rising of 1798. See Harry Boylan, The Boyne: A Valley of the Kings (Dublin, 1988). See also DUB CHOMAR; SHANNON; SINANN.