Meas do Namhaid agus Cultas Ceilteach an Chinn Bhainte / Respect for Enemies and the Celtic Cult of the Severed Head

Meas do Naimhde agus Cultas Ceilteach an Chinn Bhainte

 

Bhí clú ag na Ceiltigh mar shealgairí ceann. Chuir an staraí Diodorus Siculus síos ar an gcleachtadh seo idir 60 R.C. agus 30 R.C. ina Bibliotheca Historica (.i. Leabharlann Staire).  I gceann dá théacsanna ar na Ceiltigh insan nGaill agus i Meán-Eoraip, scríobh sé:  

 

Baineann siad cinn a naimhde a maraíodh i gcath agus ceanglaíonn siad ar mhuiníl a gcapall.  Tugann siad an cheannail fhuilsmeartha (.i. an ceanndáil fhuilsmeartha) dá bhfreastalaithe agus iad ag caintaireacht’ paean’ (.i. dán molta do dhia, go háirithe do Apollo imeasc na nGréagach mar Diodorus) agus ag canadh amhráin bhuaidhe; agus spíceálann siad na céad-thorthaí seo suas ar a dtithe, díreach mar iad a chuireann ar lár ainmhithe fiáine i gcineálacha áirithe seilge.  Balsamaíonn siad in ola an chéadair cinn a naimhde is oirirce, agus caomhnaíonn siad go cúramach i gcófra iad, agus taispeánann siad le díomas do strainséirí iad, ag rá gur dhiúltaigh duine a shinsear, nó a athair, nó an fear féin, tairiscint mhóráin airgid ar an gceann seo.  Deirtear go maíonn cuid acu gur dhiúltaigh siad meáchán an chinn in ór.

 

Sa reiligiún Ceilteach, creideadh go raibh anam fir ina cheann, corplár na mothúchán agus an tsaoil é féin, comhartha na diagachta agus comhartha chumachtaí an tsaoil eile.  De bhrí sin, tugadh sár-urraim don cheann daonna thar gach rud eile, agus inniu cuirtear ‘chultas an chinn bhainte’ ar chleachtadh an chreidimh ársa seo.

     

Ar an Mór-Roinn, insan mBreatain agus in Éirinn mar iarsma chultas an chinn bhainte, faighimid líon mór ceann a snoídheadh i gcloch sa stíl La Tene.

 

Ach níor mhaith leis na Rómhánaigh cleachtadh shealgaireacht na gceann i measc na gCeilteach, agus chuir siad deireadh leis go tapa i gceantair a thit faoina smacht .i. an Ghaill, an Ghailís (Galicia), agus an Bhreatain.  Áfach, mhair an cleachtadh a lán níos faide i measc Ghaeil na hÉireann agus na hAlban.  Faighimid tagairtí do shealgaireacht ceann i litríocht luath agus mheánaoiseach na hÉireann.

 

Sa Rúraíocht, mar shampla, baineann Cúchulainn cinn na dtrí mhac Nechtain agus suíonn sé ar a charbad iad chun iad a thaispeáin do chairde agus naimhde araon.

 

Sa scéal miotaseolaíochta Cath Tánaiste Maige Tuired  (An Dara Cath Maighe Tuireadh), glaoíonn an dia Lugh ar Thuatha Dé Danannagus ar an dia Dian Cécht a ullmhú chun cath a thabhairt i gcoinne na ndeamhan .i. i gcoinne na bhFomhórach:

 

‘Os tusai, a Díen Cécht,’ or Lug, ‘cía cumogg conicid-si ém?’  [‘Agus tusa, a Dhían Cécht’ ar Lugh. ‘Cad é an chumhacht a bheidh agat go dearfa?’]

 

‘Ní anse,’ ol síe. ‘Nach fer géntor ann, acht mona bentor a cend de, nó mani tesctar srebonn a inchinde nó a smir smentuinde, bodh ógsláun lim-su 'sin cath arabhároch.’  [‘Ní deacair a rá’ ar sé.  ‘Gach fear a gointear ann, ach muna mbaintear a cheann de, nó muna scartar seicin a inchinne nó smíor shnáithe a dhroma, beidh sé ógslán liomsa insan gcath lá arna mhárach.’]

 

Leis an ráiteas seo, feicimid tábhacht an chinn mar bhun-fhoinnse an tsaoil é féin.

 

Sa scéal móreachtraíochta "Cath Almaine" a cumadh am éigin tar éis 950 A.D. agus a bunadh ar an gcath a troideadh 11 Nollaig 722 idir Leath Chuinn (.i. na hUí Néill, na hAirghialla, agus na Connachta) agus na Laighin ag Cnoc Almhaine, Co. Chill Dara, foghlaimid faoi Dhonn Bó agus a cheann.  Ba é an fear óg a ba fhearr in Éirinn agus nuair a ghlaoigh an tArd-Rí Fergal mac Máele Dúin ar laochra Leith Chuinn a theacht le chéile in ullmhú ionsaí a dhéanamh ar Chúige Laighean, dhiúltaigh a mháthair cead a thabhairt dó a dhul ar an slógadh seo go dtí go bhfuair sise geall ó Mháel mac Failbe, comharba Choilm Cille, go bhfillfeadh Donn Bó slán sábhailte ar ais chuici.   Maidin an chatha, thaispeáin Naomh Brighid í féin ós cionn na sluaite ar shon na Laighean agus thaispeán Naomh Colm Cille é féin ós cionn na sluaite ar shon na nUa Néill, na n-Airghialla, agus na gConnacht.  Bhí an lá ag Brighid.  Briseadh an cath ar Leath Chuinn.  Maraíodh an tArd-Rí Fergal mac Máele Dúin agus mílte eile ar thaobh Ua Néill.  Dícheannadh mórán acu, Donn Bó ina measc.  An oíche sin, agus na Laighin ag céiliúradh, chuaigh an laoch Laigheann Báethgalach amach ar áit an áir.  Sa dorchadas, chuala sé ceann Dhonn Bó ag canadh go binn dá Ard-Rí marbh.  Chuir bás Dhonn Bó sár-bhrón ar gach duine, na Laighin ina measc.  Faoi dheireadh, trí mhíorúilt Choilm Chille, cuireadh ceann Dhonn Bó ar ais ar a scornach agus tugadh ar ais slán sábhailte chuig a mháthair é.

 

Sna hAnnála stairiúla, is féidir linn feiceáil go gcleachtaíodh urraim an chinn agus seilg na gceann go rialta ar fud na meánaoiseanna agus go dtí deireadh an 16ú haois.

 

Mar shampla, faighimid i 1014 sna hAnnála Locha Cé:

 

Luidh, trá, Maol Muire mac Eochada .i. comfhorba Patraic, co sruithibh 7 mionnuibh conice Sord Coluim Cille, co t-tuc ass cuirp Briain 7 Murchada a mic, 7 cend Conaing, 7 cend Mothla, con ros-adhnocht a n-Ard Macha a n-ioluid nuí  [Tháinig, i bhfírinne, Maol Muire mac Eodhada .i. comharba Phádraig, le sruithibh (.i. le fir léinn) agus le taisí na naomh go Sord Cholm Cille, agus thug sé as an áit sin corp Bhriain (Bóramha) agus corp Mhurchadha a mhic, agus ceann Chonaing, agus ceann Mhothla, gur adhlaic sé in Ard Mhacha in uaigh nua iad.]    

 

Feicimid san iontráil seo nach raibh aon suim ag Maolmuire coirp Chonanig agus Mhothla a bhailliú, cé go raibh siad furasta a fháil ó nach raibh siad in ann dul i bhfad óna gcinn.  Níor thug sé tuilleadh measa do choirp Chonaing agus Mhothla ná ar thug na Lochlannaigh a mharaigh iad.  I bhfocail eile, níor smaoinigh Maelmuire go raibh na coirp tábhachtach.

 

Sa bliain 1186 sna hAnnála Locha Cé, faighimid:

 

Gilla Crist mac Cathmhoeil, rí thoisech Chineoil Feradaigh 7 na clann, .i. clann Oenghusa, 7 clann Duibindrecht, 7 clann Foghartaigh, 7 .H. Cendfada 7 clainni cholla do Feruibh Manach, 7 cenn comairle tuaiscert Erenn, do mharbadh la .H. n-Eicnich, 7 la Muinter choemháin, 7 a chend do bhreth leó dhoibh co fríth uathaib a g-cinn mhís íartain.  [Gilla Críst mac Cathmhaol, rí-thaoiseach Chinéil Fhearadaigh agus na gClann, .i. Clann Oenghusa, agus Clann Duibindreacht, agus Clann Fóghartaigh, agus Uí Cheannfhada agus Clann Cholla de Fhir Mhanach, agus ceann comhairle thuaisceart Éireann, a marbadh le hUí hEighnigh agus le Muintir Chaomháin agus a cheann a rugadh leo dóibh go bhfuarthas uathu i gceann míosa iardain.]

 

Níl mé cinnte ach b’fhéidir gur íoc Cineál Fhearadhaigh agus na Clanna airgead fuascailte do Mhuintir Chaemháin chun ceann Mhic Chathmhaíl a fháil ar ais.

 

In iontráil sna hAnnála Ríoghachta Éireann (.i. Annála na gCeithre Máistrí) sa bhliain 1582 ag baint le Seán Mac Gearailt (mac Iarla Deasmhumhan), feicimid tábhacht na flaithiúlachta agus an mhisnigh i measúnú fir:

 

“...  muna beith gurab i n-aghaidh coróna Saxan baoi  ro badh doiligh díth an deigh-fhir-sin ar a bhucca fri toirbert seód, 7 iolmhaoinibh, 7 ar a angbaigheacht i n-ionadh fedhma.”  [“... muna mbeith gurb i n-aghaidh corónach Sasana a bhí sé, ba dhoiligh díth an dea-fhir sin ar a bhuacacht (.i. ar a fhlaithiúlacht) le tabhairt seód agus iolmhaoine agus ar a ghaisciúlacht in ionad feidhme.]

 

Agus sa bhliain 1599, feicimid arís ard-mheas do mhacántacht agus flaithiúlacht agus mhisneach, fiú amháin i gcinn a naimhde:

 

Gabhaitt-siumh ag cloidhmedh, 7 acc diubhraccadh na c-curadh a c-cuma cáich, go ro fáccbhadh iolar cend 7 fodhb las na feindedhaibh. Ro marbadh an gobernoir Sir Coners Clifort go líon dírímhe uime do Shaxanchaibh, 7 d'Eireannchaibh ... ni tardsat an óicc aithne fair go t-torracht Ó Ruairc fo deóidh gus in airm i m-baoi 7 do-bhert aithne fair gur bó hé an gobernóir baí ann, 7 ro forcongair a dhíchendadh.  [Ghabh siad (.i. na hÉireannaigh faoi thaoiseacht Aoidh Ruaidh Uí Dhomhnaill) ag claoidheamh agus ag diúracadh na gcuradh ... go dtí gur fágadh mórán ceann agus fadhbh leis na saighdiúirí (.i. na saighdiúirí Sasana).  Maraíodh an gobharnóir Sir Conyers Clifford le líon dírímh uime de Shasanaigh agus d’Éirennaigh ...  Níor aithnigh na hóglaigh é go dteacht Uí Ruairc faoi dheoidh go dtí an airm (an áit) ina raibh sé agus d’aithnigh sé gurbh é an gobharnóir a bhí ann agus d’fhorógair sé a dhícheannadh.]    

 

Ba mór an techt an t-í torchair annsin, Ba doiligh mí-diach d'imirt fair. Nír bó sáimh la Gaoidhelaibh Choiccidh Medba a eccsomh, uair ba fer tiodhnaicthe séd, 7 maoine doibh é, 7 ní eibredh gaoí friú. Ní d'aoín leith do gabhadh lasan n-gobernoir as in n-gleótroid sin, uair ruccadh a chorp da adhnacal go h-Oilén na Trinóitte for Loch Cé i m-Barúntacht Maighe Luircc h-i c-Conntae Rossa Comain, 7 ruccadh a chend iaramh go Cul Maoíle i m-Baruntacht Tíre h-Oilella hi c-Contae Shliccigh (chuig Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill).  [Ba mhór an tocht i ndiaidh an duine a thorchair ansin.  Ba dhoiligh an mí-diach a d’imir air.  Níorbh shámh le Gaeil Chúige Meadhbha a bhás, óir ba fhear tíolactha séad agus moaine dóibh é agus níor inis sé gó (bréag) dóibh riamh. Ní ar aon bhealach a ndeachaigh an gobharnóir ón ngleothroid sin, óir rugadh a chrop dá adhnacal go hOileán na Trionóide ar Loch Cé i mBarúntacht Maighe Luirg i gContae Rossa Comain, agus rugadh a cheann iaramh go Cúl Maoile i mBarúntacht Tíre hOilella i gContae Shligigh (chuig Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill).]

 

Iar t-ternámh d'aés an madhma gusin mainistir iompaíd muinntir Uí Dhomhnaill ina f-frithing go c-cendaibh, 7 go f-fodhbaibh a m-bíodhbadh leó 7 tiacchaitt dia sccoraibh go f-faoilte moir, 7 go subhaighe, 7 tuccsat altucchadh buidhe a c-cosccair don Choimde, 7 don ní Naémh Muire.  [Iar d-téarnamh d’aos na maidhme go dtí an mhainistir, d’iompaigh muintir Uí Dhomhnaill ina bhfrithing (ar a gconaire chéanna) le cinn agus le fadhbh a mbíobhaí leo (.i. le cinn agus le fadhbh a naimhde leo) agus chuaigh siad chuig a bpubaill le faoilte mhór agus le subhú agus thug siad altú buí a gcoscar don Choimdhe agus don Naomh Muire.]    

 

Agus mar a fheicimid, díreach mar a dúirt Diodorus Siculus breis agus 1600 bliain roimhe,

 

Tugann siad an ceanndáil fhuilsmeartha dá bhfreastalaithe agus iad ag caintaireacht ‘paean’ agus ag canadh amhráin bhuaidhe.

 

Is suimiúil é nár athraigh an cleachtadh le linn an achair fhada sin.

 

 

 

Respect for Enemies and the Celtic Cult of the Severed Head

 

The Celts had a reputation for being headhunters. The process was described by the historian Didorus Siculus between 60 B.C. and 30 B.C. in his Bibliotheca Historica (i.e., Library of History).  In one of his texts about the of Gaul and Central Europe, he wrote:

 

 

They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses.  The blood-stained spoils they hand over to their attendants while striking up a paean (a poem of praise to a god, especially to Apollo amongst Greeks like Diodorus) and singing a song of victory; and they nail up these first fruits upon their houses, just as do those who lay low wild animals in certain kinds of hunting.  They embalm in cedar oil the heads of the most distinguished enemies, and preserve them carefully in a chest, and display them with pride to strangers, saying that for this head one of their ancestors, or his father, or the man himself, refused the offer of a large sum of money.  They say that some of them boast that they refused the weight of the head in gold.  

 

 

In the Celtic religion, it was believed that a man's head contained his soul, center of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world.  Therefore, the human head was venerated above all else, and the practice of this ancient belief is called the "cult of the severed head". 

 

On the Continent, in Britain, and in Ireland as a remnant of the cult of the severed head, we find a large number of heads which were carved in stone in the La Tene style.

 

But the Romans didn’t like the practice of Headhunting among the Celtic peoples, and were quick to bring an end to the practice in regions that fell under their control, ending the practice in Gaul, Gallaecia, and Britannia.  However, the practice survived much longer among the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland.  We find references to headhunting in the early and medieval literature of Ireland.

 

 

In the Ulster Cycle, for example, Cúchulainn beheads the three sons of Nechtan and mounts their heads on his chariot to show them to friends and enemies alike.

 

In the mythological story The Second Battle of the Plain of Towers, the god Lugh calls on the Peoples of the Goddess Danu and on the god Dian Cécht to prepare to give battle against the demons, i.e., against the Fomhóraigh:

 

“And you, Dian Cécht,” said Lugh, “what power will you truly have?”

 

 

“Not difficult to say,” said he. “Every man who is wounded there, if his head is not reaped from him, or if the membrane of his brain or spinal cord is not severed, he will be young-healthy by me in the battle on the morrow.”

 

 

 

With this statement, we see the importance of the head as a source of life itself.

 

In the epic story “The Battle of Allen” which was composed some time after 950 A.D. and which is based on the battle which was fought December 11, 722 between Conn’s Half (i.e., the Uí Néill, Airghialla, and the Connachta) and the Laighin ag the Hill of Allen, Co. Kildare, we learn about Donn Bó and his head.  He was the best young man in Ireland and when the High-King Fergal son of Mál Dúin called on the warriors of Conn's Hal’ to come together to prepare for an attack on the Fifth of Leinster, his mother refused to give him permission to go on this hosting until he received a promise from Máel son of Failbe, the heir of Colm Cille, to Donn Bó would return safe and sound to her.  The morning of the battle, Saint Brighid showed herself above the hosts on the side of the Laighin and Saint Colm Cille showed himself about the hosts on the side of the Uí Néill, the Airghialla, and the Connachta.  The day was Brighid’s.  The battle was broken on Conn’s Half.  The High-King Fergal son of Máel Dúin was killed along with thousands more on the Uí Néill side.  Many of them were beheaded, including Donn Bó.  That night, as the Laighin were celebrating, the Laighin warrior Foolish-Valor went out on the place of slaughter.  In the dark, he heard the head of Donn Bó singing sweetly to his dead High-King. The death of Donn Bó put great sorrow on all, including the Laighin.  In the end, through a miracle of Colm Cille, the head of Donn Bó was put back on his neck and he was brought safe and sound back to his mother.

 

In the historical annals, we can see that veneration of the head and head-hunting were practiced regularly throughout the middle ages and until the end of the 16th century.

 

For example, we find in 1014 in the Annals of Loch Cé:

 

Maelmuire, son of Eochaidh, i.e. the coarb (heir) of Patrick, came, truly, with streams (i.e., the title given to senior men of learning) and, relics to Sord-Choluim-Chille, and bore from thence the bodies of Brian (.i. Brian Boramha) and his son Murchadh, and the head of Conaing, and the head of Mothla, which he buried at Ard-Macha, in a new grave. 

 

 

We see in this entry that Maelmuire didn’t have any interest in collecting the bodies of Conaing and mothla, even though they were easy to find since they couldn’t go far from their heads.  He didn’t give more respect to the bodies of Conaing and Mothla than the Norsemen who killed them.  In other words, Maelmuire didn’t think the bodies were important.

 

In 1186 in the Annals of Loch Cé we find:

 

Gillachrist Mac Cathmhail, king-chieftain of the Kinship of Feradhaigh and the Clanns, (viz.:—Clann-Aenghusa, and Clann-Duibhinrecht, and Clann-Foghartaigh; and Uí-Cendfada and Clann-Colla, of the Feara-Manach), and head of counsel of the North of Erinn, was slain by O'hEighnigh and the People of Caemhain; and they carried off his head, which was obtained from them at the end of a month afterwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not certain but maybe the Cineál Fhearadhaigh and the Clans paid a ransom to the People of Caomhán to get back the head of Mac Cathmhail.

 

In an entry in the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (i.e., the Annals of the Four Masters) in the year 1582 dealing with Seán Mac Gearailt (i.e., Seán Fitzgerald, son of the Earl of Desmond), we see the importance of generosity and of courage in the assessment of a man:

 

Were it not that he was opposed to the crown of England, the loss of this good man would have been lamentable, on account of his liberality in bestowing jewels and riches, and his valour in the field of conflict.

 

 

 

And in the year 1599, we see again great respect for honesty and generosity and courage, even in the head of an enemy:

 

They (the Irish) proceeded to sword (cut down) champions, and fire on them (with missiles – bullets, javelins, etc.) ... until many heads and dead mens’ possessions / spoils were left by the soldiers. The governor, Sir Conyers Clifford, was slain, together with a countless number of English and Irish about him....  the soldiers did not recognise him, until O'Rourke at last came up to the place where he was, and recognized that it was the Governor that was there. He ordered him to be beheaded... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The death of the person who fell there was a cause of much emotion. It was grievous the tragic end which happened to him. The Irish of the Province of Meave (Connaught) were not pleased at his death; for he was a man of the bestowing of jewels and riches to them; and he had never told them a falsehood. The Governor passed not in one direction from this battle; for his body was conveyed to be interred in the Island of the Blessed Trinity in Lough Key, in the barony of Moylurg, in the county of Roscommon, and his head was carried to Cul-Maoile, in the barony of Tirerrill, in the county of Sligo (to Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the routed party had escaped into the monastery, O'Donnell's people returned back with the heads and arms of their enemies, and proceeded to their tents with great exultation and gladness; and they returned thanks to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary for their victory... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as we see, exactly as Diodorus Siculus said more than 1600 years before,

 

The blood-stained spoils they hand over to their attendants while striking up a paean and singing a song of victory.

 

It’s interesting that the practice didn’t change during that long period.

 

 

 

Cóipcheart (c) 2016  le Gerald A. John Kelly.  Gach ceart ar cosaint.

 

Copyright (c) 2016 by Gerald A. John Kelly.  All rights reserved.

 

 

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