river boyne
River Boyne Flowing through Trim, photo by William Murphy

I’m thinking Irish stories for the rest of this month, since Samhain is traditionally celebrated at the end of October, from sunset on the 31st to sunset on November 1. It’s a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year and is part of the basis of our Halloween.

Today, we’ll talk about Boann, the goddess of the River Boyne, a river in Leinster, Ireland.

Boann was a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the tribe of the gods. Her husband is Nechtan, the river god. She had two lovers, the Dagda, the good god, the father figure, and Elcmar, his chief steward. She and the Dagda had a son, Aengus, the god of love. In order to hide their affair, the Dagda made the sun stand still for nine months; therefore, Aengus was conceived and born in one day. But that doesn’t really have anything to do with today’s tale.

Today’s story describes how the Rover Boyne was formed, as told in the Dindsenchas. The Dindsenchas, meaning “lore of places” is a group of texts in early Irish literature recounting the origins of place-names and traditions concerning events and characters associated with the places in question.

According to legend, only Nechtan and his three cup-bearers were permitted to visit the Well of Segais, which was the source of all knowledge and inspiration. Though forbidden to by her husband, Boann approached the magical well, which was surrounded by hazels. Hazelnuts were known to fall into the Well, where they were eaten by the speckled salmon. Five salmon in the fountain severed the nuts and sent their husks floating down five streams, which represent the five streams of the senses through which knowledge is obtained. Boann was a prideful woman and challenged the power of the well by walking around it three times counter-clockwise. The waters to surged up violently and rushed down to the sea, creating the Boyne. In this catastrophe, she was swept along in the rushing waters, and lost an arm, a leg, an eye, and ultimately her life, in the flood.

We have the Ohio River and I can kind of imagine the goddess of it. She’d be tough, hard-working, probably have dirt-stained hands, but beautiful nonetheless- and dangerous. I bet she’d be a goddess you wouldn’t want to cross, the kind who would drown you for a minor insult.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

Melissa at Mommy Wants to Read read Don Joseph Pear this week.


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