Nemed

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"Tuan watches Nemed", an illustration of Tuán watching the Nemedians arriving in Ireland, by J. C. Leyendecker in T. W. Rolleston's Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911

Nemed or Nimeth (modern spelling: Neimheadh) is a character in medieval Irish mythohistory. According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (compiled in the 11th century), he is the leader of the third people – that is, after the Muintir Cessair and the Muintir Partholóin – to settle in Ireland. His people are referred to as the Muintir Nemid (or Muintir Neimhidh, "people of Nemed"), Clann Nemid (Clann Neimhidh, "offspring of Nemed") or Nemedians. They are described as arriving 30 years after the Muintir Partholóin had died out. The Nemedians too became extinct and/or had left Ireland.

Etymology[edit]

The word nemed also means "privileged" or "holy" in Old Irish.[1] The reconstructed Proto-Celtic language root nemos means "sky" or "heaven". In the ancient Celtic religions across Europe, a nemeton was a place of worship (including temples, shrines and sacred natural places).[2][3][4]

Similar roots are found in place names across Celtic Europe, from Spain and Scotland to Galatia (modern Turkey).[3] including the name of the Nemetes tribe of the central Rhine area, and their goddess Nemetona.[2]

Mention is made in Irish mythology of another Nemed, namely Nemed mac Nama, who may or may not be the same as the Nemed mentioned in the LGE. This Nemed is described as a famous warrior king who raised two horses with the Fairy Folk of Sid Ercmon. When the horses were released from the Sid, a stream called Uanob ("Foam River") or Oin Aub chased them from the Sid and released foam over the entire land for a year. Cúchulainn later referred to this river thusly: "Over the foam of the two horses of Emain am I come".[5]

Traditional accounts[edit]

According to the Lebor Gabála, Nemed, like those who settled Ireland before him had a genealogy going back to the biblical Noah. Nemed was the son of Agnoman of Scythia, the son of Piamp, son of Tait, son of Sera, son of Sru, son of Esru, son of Friamaint, son of Fathochta, son of Magog, son of Japheth, one of the sons of Noah. According to other myths, Nemed was descended from the son of Partholón, called Agla, in Eastern regions.[6]

Ireland had been uninhabited since the Muintir Partholóin died of plague. The Muintir Nemid set sail from the Caspian Sea in 44 ships, but after a year and a half of sailing, the only ship to reach Ireland is Nemed's. Also on board are his wife Macha, his four chieftain sons (Starn, Iarbonel, Annind, and Fergus 'Red-Side'), and others. His wife Macha dies twelve days after they arrive and is buried at Ard Mhacha (Armagh). Two quite different dates are given for the arrival of Muintir Nemid: 2350 BCE according to the Annals of the Four Masters, or 1731 BCE in Seathrún Céitinn's chronology.

Four lakes burst from the ground in Nemed's time, including Loch Annind, which burst from the ground when Annind's grave was being dug. The other three lakes were Loch Cál in Uí Nialláin, Loch Munremair in Luigne, and Loch Dairbrech in Mide.

The Muintir Nemid clear twelve plains: Mag Cera, Mag Eba, Mag Cuile Tolaid and Mag Luirg in Connacht; Mag Seired in Tethbae; Mag Tochair in Tír Eogain; Mag Selmne in Dál nAraidi; Mag Macha in Airgíalla; Mag Muirthemne in Brega; Mag Bernsa in Leinster; Leccmag and Mag Moda in Munster.

They also build two royal forts: Ráth Chimbaith in Semne and Ráth Chindeich in Uí Nialláin. Ráth Chindeich was dug in one day by Boc, Roboc, Ruibne and Rotan, the four sons of Matan Munremar. Nemed kills them before dawn the next morning.

Nemed wins four battles against the mysterious Fomorians. Modern scholars believe the Fomorians were a group of deities who represent the harmful or destructive powers of nature; personifications of chaos, darkness, death, blight and drought.[7][8] These battles are at Ros Fraechain (in which Fomorian kings Gann and Sengann[9] are killed), at Badbgna in Connacht, at Cnamros in Leinster (in which Artur, Nemed's first son born in Ireland, dies), and at Murbolg in Dál Riata (where his son Starn is killed by the Fomorian Conand). However, nine years after arriving in Ireland, Nemed dies of plague along with three thousand of his people. He is buried on the hill of Ard Nemid on Great Island in Cork Harbour.

The remaining Muintir Nemid are then oppressed by the Fomorians Morc and Conand, who lives in Conand's Tower, on an island off the coast. Each Samhain, they must give two thirds of their children, their corn and their milk to the Fomorians. This tribute that the Nemedians are forced to pay may be "a dim memory of sacrifice offered at the beginning of winter, when the powers of darkness and blight are in the ascendant".[10] After many years, the Muintir Nemid rise up against the Fomorians and attack the Conand's Tower with 60,000 warriors (30,000 on sea and 30,000 on land), defeating Conand. Morc then attacks, and almost all of the Nemedians are killed in a tidal wave. Only one ship of thirty men escapes. Some of them go "into the north of the world", some go to Britain and become the ancestors of all Britons, and some go south to Greece. The island would again be empty for another 200 years.

The Historia Brittonum—which is earlier than the Lebor Gabála—says there were only three settlements of Ireland, with the Nemedians being the second. It tells us that the Nemedians came from Iberia and stayed in Ireland for many years, but then returned to Iberia. The Lebor Gabála increases the number of settlements to six and makes the Nemedians the third group. The number may have been increased to six to match the "Six Ages of the World".[11] The Historia Brittonum also mentions settlers being drowned while trying to attack a tower at sea. However, in the Historia Brittonum it is the Milesians who attack the tower, which is made of glass.[12]

Preceded by
Partholón
Mythical settlers of Ireland
AFM 2350 BC
FFE 1731 BC
Succeeded by
Fir Bolg

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Uraicecht Becc ("Little Primer") (transl. 1881).
  2. ^ a b John T. Koch, 2006. Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia, Santa Barbara, California; ABC-CLIO p. 1350.
  3. ^ a b Miranda Green, 1996. The Celtic World. Abdingdon, Oxfordshire; Routledge, p. 448.
  4. ^ Ken Dowden, 2000, European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Abdingdon, Oxfordshire; Routledge, p. 134.
  5. ^ http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T106500D/index.html
  6. ^ Kisma Reidling, Faery-Faith Traditional Wisdom, Codex 1, 2004.
  7. ^ MacCulloch, John Arnott. The Religion of the Ancient Celts. The Floating Press, 2009. pp.80, 89, 91
  8. ^ Smyth, Daragh. A Guide to Irish Mythology. Irish Academic Press, 1996. p.74
  9. ^ Note that there were also two Fir Bolg kings called Gann and Sengann
  10. ^ MacCulloch, p.80
  11. ^ Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise (1949). Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover Publications, 2000. p.3
  12. ^ Carey, John. The Irish National Origin-Legend: Synthetic Pseudohistory. University of Cambridge, 1994. pp.5-6

Bibliography[edit]