Emerald Isle

The Names of the Barrow

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Mythological Cycle

Every name tells a story

The river Barrow, like many rivers in Ireland, was given its name in ancient times. Few now know it once had another and very different name however, for it was when Dian Cécht walked the world, the healer of the Tuatha De Danann, that this river was first named!

Dian Cécht, whose name meant swift power or swift potion, depending on who you ask, was famed throughout all of Ireland and indeed all the world for his skill in the healing arts. In the Dindsenchas, that tome of elder lore, he is called the son of Dagda Mór himself, although the Lebor Gabála Érenn gives his father as Esarg son of Net.

When Mider had his eye put out by a hazel rod, Dian Cécht made him whole again. When Nuada lost his arm and was dethroned as a result, Dian Cécht made him a silver one that worked just as well, and restored his kingship with it to the joy of all the Tuatha.

His achievement was soon surpassed by his own son however, who was called Miach, and who gave Nuada an arm of flesh and blood to replace the silver one. Dian Cécht was displeased and killed Miach, causing his sister Airmed to weep bitter tears over her brother's grave, and from her tears grew all the healing herbs of the world.

Shown up by his son even in death, Dian Cécht scattered the herbs across the world, so that no one person now knows the properties of every healing herb that grows!

Three hundred and sixty five of those herbs did Dian Cécht put into Sláine's well, the Tipra Sláíne, and over them he sang strange lays and mysterious words old when the hills were mountains, so that any who bathed in that well were healed, even the mortally wounded!

It was to this well that Goibniú the smith came to be healed of his spear wound during the Second Battle of Moy Tura, and it was said to be located at Achad Abla, the Field of the Apple Tree north and west of Moy Tura.

Dian Cécht would often boast of his skill with healing, and claimed to be able to restore any but those who were decapitated, and even as late as the twelfth century could be found writings attributed to his knowledge, listing the twelve doors to the soul by which all healing took place.

But as potent as his skills were, there came a time when even he met his match, and so it was with Meiche son of the Morrigan and son of the Dagda. Uncanny were the parents of that child, and uncanny their offspring, for he had three hearts.

Upon examining him, Dian Cécht found there were three serpents in his breast, one in each heart, and if these serpents were allowed to grow they would have consumed all life in Ireland! Often in the old tales the serpent meant destruction or plague, and perhaps that was the meaning here too, and just as often the old tales speak of the changes wrought upon the young when they breathed in the druid-smoke and beheld the strange ur-lights of Tuatha sorceries.

So Dian Cécht took him to the place called Moy Fertaigi, called Moy Mechi afterwards, and slew the child, cutting out his hearts and burning each one to ash for fear of the evil even the dead bodies of the serpents might cause. He cast the ashes into the river nearby, where they stilled the river and killed every living thing in it.

As it was written in the Metrical Dindsenchas:

No motion it made
The ashes of Meichi the strongly smitten:
The stream made sodden and silent past recovery
The fell filth of the old serpent.

Three turns the serpent made;
It sought the soldier to consume him;
It would have wasted by its doing the kine;
The fell filth of the old serpent.

Therefore Dian Cécht slew it;
There rude reason for clean destroying it,
For preventing it from wasting
Worse than any wolf pack, from consuming utterly.

Known to me is the grave where he cast it,
A tomb without walls or roof-tree;
Its ashes, evil without loveliness or innocence
Found silent burial in noble Barrow.

The Barrow, which means “boiling” was on that day called the Berba, which means the Silent Waters, and it can be found on the map below!

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