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Nethin's spit (bir Nechin, bir Deichin) [tool:pole] [magical item] [Celtic:mythological cycle]

[spit of the first smith of Tara (and made by Goibniu)]
bir Neithin, "Nethin's spit" (Triads of Ireland #120, ed. tr. Kuno Meyer. YBL col.236-243/pp.414-7)
Bir Nechin, the spit of the "chief smith of Temur" (Petrie ed. tr., YBL col. 245/p.419);
Bir Deichen which was made by Goivnenn and belonged to "Deichen, a smith who was at Temur" (Petrie ed. tr., T.C.D. ms. 1337 [olim H.3.18], p433).

The spit which make up one of a trio of tools the Irish triads cryptically describe as the three "that constitute a blacksmith."
The other two tools are the inneóin in Dagda "Dagda's anvil" (tr. Meyer) or "spit of the Daghda" (tr. Petrie p.213) and the fulacht na Morrígna "Cooking-hearth of the Morrigan" (tr. Meyer) or "the spit, or cooker of the great queen (Mor-righna)" (tr. Petrie p.213,4).

The more exact meaning of the triad appears to be that these were special heirloom objects, allegedly preowned by legendary or mythical personages, and passed into the custody of whoever assumes the office of the royal smith.
This further light is shed by the tract on the The Situation of Teach Midhchuarta, the royal banquet hall of Tara, and in the Yellow Book of Lecan (YBL) this tract is found not too many pages removed from its recension of the Triads.

From the description there, it appears that the spit was a vertical pole suspended from the ceiling, overhanging the hearth or fire-pit. The pole could be lowered downwards into the heat or cranked upwards, by means of a windlass, etc.
Clearly, it became customary to employ this particular spit for the express purpose of preparing meats on the occasions of royal banquets. But one might imagine it being used at one time for tool and weapon-making at one-time by its legendary or mythical owner.
In fact, it would make all the sense if the pole called Ness which Goibniu the smith used in the manufacture of spears for the Second Battle of Moytura was an equipment just like the "spit of Nethin".
[It also seems that on the banqueting occasions, the smith was recruited to operate the spit to roast the meat in large quantity -- work in progress.]

[Royal Banquet Hall of Tara]
(1) Situation at Teach Midchuarta
Teach Midhchuarta (Petrie, tr.)
House of Midchuairt (YBL, facsimile version, synopses)
(2) Colloquy of the Ancients
Tech mor Midchuarta 5311 Tech mor Midchuarda 5316 (Stokes ed., Acallamh in Ir. Texte IV)
teach mór midchuarta or 'the great mid-court house.' (O'Grady trans., Colloquy of the Ancients, in Silva Gadelica XII)
Tech Mór Midchúarta, "the Great House of Mid-Court" (Dooley & Roe tr., Tales of the Ancients of Ireland p.52, 148)
(3) The Ordeals of Ireland & Cormac in the Land of Promise
Tigh Midchuarta Tech Midchuarta (Stokes ed. tr., Ordeals of Ireland, Ir. Texte III, § 8)
(4) Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel
Tech Midchúarda "the Mid-court House" (Stokes ed., tr., Togail Bruidne Dá Derga:, p.75-6)
(5) Fate of the Children of Tuireann
Ṫeaċ Míoḋċuarta the House of Miodh-Chuairt (O'Curry, p.184-5, note 193), Teach Midchuarta; that is , literally, the house of "Meadcircling" (O'Curry, p.185, note 193),
Hall of Moycorta (Eoin Neeson tr., p.46)
(6) Prose Tales from the Rennes Dindshenchas, #26
(Ata Long na mBan .i.) Tech Midhcuarta (The House of the Women, that is) Tech Midchuarta [E.] (Stokes ed. tr., Revue Celtique 15&16)
(7) P. W. Joyce, Old Celtic Romances (1sat ed., 1879), p.ix
Cúirt an Mheadhon-Oidhche "The Midnight Court" .

The royal banquet hall at Tara for the King of Ireland, his retinue and guests. It was where the three objects were housed.

[Cauldron at Tara]
.i. coiri cæcdhuirnn bai a Temraig "the Five-Fist Caldron which was at Tara"; .i. cori asicain ansirc; coiri aisic, coire aisicain or ansirc; coire aisic "caldron of restitution" (Stokes ed. tr., Ordeals of Ireland, Ir. Texte III, § 8-9)

A cauldron, and another magical object kept at the banquet hall of Tara. It would preserve the food unspiled until the company arrived, and supplied the proper food for each. That is to say the caldron would be brought out, "and every one was given a fork-thrust out of it. So then his proper portion came out to each, to wit, a thigh to a king and to a poet, a chine [* a cut of meat including the backbone] for a literary sage, a shinbone for young lords, heads for charioteers, a haunch for queens,.."

§ Triads of Ireland

The Triads of Ireland, number 120 name as three appliances of a blacksmith as "Nethin's spit, the cooking-hearth of the Morrigan, the Dagda's anvil." It seems that descriptions of these apparatuses shed light on the rather obscure account of the Sanas Chormaic.

Such a description is provided in the Yellow Book of Lecan, where the text of the triads is followed shortly by a description of the banquet hall of the kings of Ireland at Tara (called the Tighe Midhchuarta), and in it

Despite what the the triad text might suggest at first blush, Nethin's spit, seems to be Nechin was the chief smith of Temur(Tara). Petrie comments that this Nechin is also styled Dechin, and was the "chief smith of Tara in the time of the Tuatha-De-Dananns"
----- spit -----
*1 Meyer, Kuno ed., The Triads of Ireland in Todd lecture series 13 (Hodges, Figgis, 1906) [books.google] [archive] CELT Corupus: Eng. tr.

----- personage -----
*1 Meyer, Kuno ed., The Triads of Ireland in Todd lecture series 13 (Hodges, Figgis, 1906) [books.google] [archive] CELT Corupus: Irish (N/A) Eng. tr.

§ The Situation of the Tighe Midchuairta (Royal Banquet Hall of Tara)

This is a tract*1 that describes the layout of and arrangements at the Royal Banquet Hall of Tara, known as the Tighe Midhchuairta, often rendered "Mid-Court House" but O'Curry construes it as "mead-circling".
Its opening line serving as provisional title, Suidiughadh Tighi Midhchuarta is translated "The site of~" in the Catalog of T.C.D.'s mss., and "The situation of~" by Petrie, but perhaps calling it "configuration (floor plan)" might make more immedidate sense to modern readers.

The tract explains all the rooms in the hall, the capacity of people they can contain, the various occupations of men gathered, and the particular portions of meat they are entitled, etc. It also explains the placement of various fixtures such as candles, vats, and cooking spits.
— Petrie, ed.
—Petrie tr.
*1 Petrie, George, "[Memoir] on the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill", in Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy Vol. 18, 197- provides a transcription and translation of the texts on YBL p.418 and p.419: "Suidiuġaḋ Tiġi Miḋchuarta.. (The situation of Teach Midhchuarta.) [archives]. It also prints a reproduction of the diagram on YBL p.418 and the corresponding one from the Book of Glendalough (in the reproductions, illustrations are redrawn more clearly and texts are given in typeset).

*2 The Yellow Book of Lecan (facsimile version), p. 22: " [414 β 25] Cenn Ardmacha, .. / It contains a series of triads of geography, &c., in Ireland: three fairs, duns, mountains, lakes, streams, plains, deserts, roads, waterfalls, &c., apparently finishing up with the Three Wonders of Connaught [418 α7]
"Next appears the Site of the House of Midchuairt [418 η1], with an illustration [418 α 14], and a few pieces of similar drift [419 α 3]:—.
I unfortunately did not retain a photocopy of these relevant pages when I consulted this book. The existence of this publication also seems to cause Irish Script on Screen site to eschew from delivering the entire Yellow Book of Lecan (Trinty College Dublin, MS. 1318) online.

*3 Henry Duff Traill, James Saumarez Mann, Social England: From the Battle of Waterloo to the general.. (Cassell and Company, limited, 1904), xlix, p. 891 [books.google]. Here is printed a facsimile of a page from the YBL, p.418, containing the diagram of "the House of Midchuairt, or banqueting-hall of King Cormac's place at Tara Hill."

§ Togail Bruiden Dá Derga (The Destruction of Da-Derga's Hostel)

Though the connection with here may be only a tangential or none at all, this parallel seems worth noting. In the tale of The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel, perhaps the most important retainer of Conarire Mór the high-king to be destroyed is Mac Cecht. The reconnoiter (Ingcél) perceives Mac Cecht as a virtual giant, having knees like two hills and eyes like two lakes, etc., with a shield with a boss a large as a cauldron, a spear stretching from roof to ground, and: [§87]
Trcha traiged tromthomisidi in[n]an claidiub glondbémnech o dubdé[i]s co iarndord. Tadbat túdle tentidi forosnae Tech Midchúarda o cléithib co talmandae.
— Stokes ed. p.75
[§87] Thirty amply-measured feet in his deadly-striking sword from dark point to iron hilt. It shew forth fiery sparks which illumine the Mid-court House from roof to ground.
—Stokes tr. p.76

The "fiery sparks" here may not be just idle hyperbole, and perhaps what is described as a sword here also served as an incendiary device of extraordinary length. For Mac Cecht appears to be known for the habitual duty of kindling the king's fire, and that when he strikes the spark it causes such boom as to cause thrice fifty boats of the Irish marauders to recoil. Fer Rogain, a member of the pirates who experiences the din and force, guesses the cause as follows:

[§54] béim spréde Maic cecht oc átúd tened ria rig n-Erend airm hi fói. Cach spréd tra, & cach frass doleiced a tene for lar no fonaidfidé cét lóg & di lethorc fra.
— Stokes ed. p.44
[§54] .. Mac cecht's striking a spark, when he kindles a fire before a king of Erin where he sleeps. Every spark and every shower which his fire would let fall on the floor would broil a hundred calves and two half-pigs.
—Stokes tr. p.45

And not only the sparks, but the fire which was kindled by Conaire Mór the king was gigantic, with even a name, "to wit, torc caille « Boar of the Wood » ([§65], pp.53-4). The fire is supposed to have had seven "outlets", which probably meant seven large flickers of fire jutting out just like the bristles of a boar, and hence the name. There is perhaps some affinity here to the charcter named Fer Caille or "man of the woods", who shoulders a pig, and who himself has a bristle-like head of hair that would skewer apples fallen upon it.

Reverting our attention back to Mac Cecht, a crucial turn of events happens when Conaire Mór is tormented by thirst due to druidry, and sends out Mac Cecht to fill his large golden cup with drink. But note that Mac Cecht carries not only the usual weapons of warfare, but also a "caldron-spit, spit of iron", which he brandishes to knock down or kill eighty-one reavers (marauders):

[§148] Luide íarum Mac Cécht do chuindchid na digi & gabaid Lee fria Flaith mac Conaire foo ochsail & in cúach n-órdai Conaire fo ochsail, & no-m-berbthide dam co tinde and, & birt a scíath & a dá gaí & a cloidem & birt inber n-iaraind ro baí fónd rígcori.
For-ruma chuca amach & do-bert .ix. m-builli dond inbiur iaraind ar dorusss m-Bruidhe & do-thuit nónbur cacha builli. Do-gní íarum foebarchles don chloidem immo chend curro slechd conar ríam ón tig.
— CELT Corpus edition, Togail..
[§148]   So Mac cecht fared forth to seek the drink, and he took Conaire's son Lé fri flaith, under his armpit, and Conaire's golden cup, in which an ox with a bacon-pig would be boiled; and he bore his shield and his two spears and his sword, and he carried the caldron-spit, a spit of iron.
  He burst forth upon them, and in front of the Hostel he dealt nine blows of the iron spin, and at evey blow nine reavers fell.
—Stokes tr.
[from the Harvard Classics edition, p.244]

.. and a bar of iron that was under the king's cauldron. At the entrance of the hostel he dealt nine blows of with the iron bar, and each blow felled nine men.
—Gantz tr.
[Early Irish Myths and Sagas, p.104]

*1 Stokes, Whitley, ed., tr. Togail Bruidne Dá Derga: The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel, RC 22 & 23, and reprinted in 1 volume (Paris: Librairie Émile Bouillon 1902) [archive], but the digibook seems truncated at § 133. Thus Irish text for the remainder will be substituted with the CELT Corpus edition.

*2 (Irish text) Knott, Eleanor, ed. Togail Bruidne Da Derga (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1936) [Mediaeval and Modern Irish Series. , No. VIII] [CELT corpus] (section numbering used by Wh. Stokes adopted in the e-text)



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