With just over a month to go before the winter solstice, I thought I’d post on one of the famous passage tombs in the Boyne Valley. It also gives me an excuse to trawl through the ancient Irish literature, which I have to say is a favourite past time of mine. The featured site is the eerily named Mound of Darkness or Dowth.
The story can be found in the Metrical Dindschenchas – ancient Irish documents that were put together by monks in the 12th century. The monks strived to record as much of the oral Irish tradition and history as possible, providing a valuable resource to anyone wishing to study old Irish history and mythology. Although, one has to be a little careful when reading through the records, as there is considerable Christian sway threaded through the narrative. For example, in Dowth’s story, the tower is said to have been built to reach heaven, when originally, the oral version would most likely have been to reach out to the Gods of the time.
The name Dowth, or in the ancient literature ‘Dubad’, stems from a darkness that descended on the King Bressal and his sister. The king wanted to build a tower, similar to the great Nimrod’s, which would reach to the sky gods and end a plague (or murrain) that had wiped Ireland of its livestock.
The King’s sister, told him and the men of Ireland, that if they worked on the tower, she would use her magic, so that, whilst they worked the sun would remain in the sky and night would not fall. The full event, which reveals how it all went wrong is below and is taken from the Metrical Dindshenchas.
Dubad, whence the name? Not hard to say. A king held
sway over Erin, Bressal hd-dibad by name. In his time a murrain
came upon the kine of Erin, until there were left in it but seven
cows and a bull. All the men of Erin were gathered from every
quarter to Bressal, to build them a tower after the likeness of the Tower of Nimrod, that they might go by it to Heaven. His
sister came to him, and told him that she would stay the sun’s
course in the vault of heaven, so that they might have an endless
day to accomplish their task. The maiden went apart to work
her magic. Bressal followed her and had union with her: so that
place is called Ferta Guile from the incest that was committed
there. Night came upon them then, for the maiden’s magic was
spoilt. * Let us go hence,* say the men of Erin, * for we only
pledged ourselves to spend one day a-making this hill, and since
darkness has fallen upon our work, and night has come on and
the day is done, let each depart to his place.’ * Dubad (darkness)
shall be the name of this place for ever’, said the maiden. So
hence are Dubad and Cnoc Dubada named.
Dowth passage tomb features in my novel, Dawn Solstice, where Dawn learns a crucial piece of information about Newgrange tomb.
Olivia Kiernan is author of Dawn Solstice
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