I couldn’t resist it, I think it’s a fabulous word. As I think I mentioned, I’m currently researching forestry and the importance of trees in Medieval Ireland. In the course of it I’ve run across this word, which gives me the perfect opportunity to tell you about eDIL – the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (http://www.dil.ie/) a digital dictionary of medieval Irish based on the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials covering the period c.700-c.1700.
I ran across timthacmang when I was trying to research Eó Mughna, an extremely famous tree from period that I’ll be discussing later. In that context it was in the description of the girth of the tree: eDil define it thus:
(a) act of surrounding: go raibhe an mádh áluinn iar n-a thiomthacfang d’fhearann aggarbh, Desi- d. p. 14 n.
(b) girth, circumference: Eo Mughna, ba mar in crann | tricha edh a th.¤ , Fél 258.21 = timcumang, Gwynn Cat. 216.4 = himtacmang,Met. Dinds. iii 144.10 . beim … ina th.¤ ar medon, St. Ercuil 1323 . .lx. míle cémenn ina t.¤ , CCath. 18.
(c) dress, equipment: tiomthacmung tigerna, eter each ┐ erredh, Misc. Hag. Hib. 44.6 .
Eó Mughna is one of the five bíle – usually now translated as “sacred trees” – especially notable important trees recorded in Irish history. Obviously the tree pictured at the start of this is not that tree, the original was supposed to have grown at Bealach Mughna, now known as Ballaghmoon, Co Kildare, and to have fallen at the same time as the great Ash Bile Tortan near Navan in County Meath during the reign of Aed Sláne. Fantastic stories exist about famous trees in Ireland, and this one is no different. It was an oak tree and was supposed to grow acorns, hazels and apples at once, which would have been extremely convenient had it been true, all three being off particular economic worth. Particularly since it was said to yield 900 sackfulls of acorns, which were well regarded as animal feed.
I’ve started following up on sources and I have fallen down a rabbit hole about ‘The Metrical Díndsenchas’ – it’s magnificent, and I may be some time. Díndsenchas, I am told, means something like ‘lore of places’ and explores the origins of place-names and traditions concerning events and characters associated with those places.
For now, just to wrap this post up just a little better, I will say that it would appear from my reading so far that areas were proud of their trees, and bragged about them in the same way they bragged about their best singers, or players or fighters. There were many trees recorded in Irish writings and laws, they were regarded as greatly economically, religiously or politically valuable, a matter I will be going into in a lot more depth in following blog posts, this post is to try to get me to start.
I also need to clear up that the tree pictured above is actually the King Oak, in the grounds of Charleville castle, a photo taken at least 7 years ago considering the then age of the son I’ve left in for scale (He’s now almost 21 and has longer hair than I do) The tree is a penunculate oak (Quercus robur), and has been heavily pollarded for timber over its life. Pollarding is a practice (known as far back as Roman times) where upper branches are removed to encourage denser growth below for better harvesting. The tree is commonly held to be between 400 and 800 years old, so I feel somewhat justified using it’s image in a blog about the medieval period 🙂
Oh wait! There’s more.. I can’t resist pasting this here, from The Metrical Dindshenchas as mentioned above, translated by Edward Gwynn, Electronic edition compiled by Beatrix Färber, Saorla Ó Corráin and funded by University College, Cork and The Connacht Project, the Centre for the Study of Human Settlement and Political Change, NUI Galway and the HEA via the LDT Project – this is about the great Ash Bile Tortan near Navan.
- Fallen is the Tree of Tortu, whose skirts conquered many a storm: […]
even so would they disperse.
- The Tree of Tortu looks down on strife: name ye among the wise him who writes of it! here it stands from the time that it was green till the season of its decay.
- Sad are all the men of Tortu, mourning for that single tree; dearer to them is the thing they see than all things that are gone from us.
- When the men of Tortu used to meet together round the huge conspicuous tree, the pelting of the storms did not reach them, until the day when it was decayed.
- Though it is withered now, it had not an early end: long has it been on earth: the King who created its form has brought it low again.
Ultan of Tech Túa
- Fifty cubits is the thickness of the tree that overpeered the array of the forest: three hundred cubits, famous count was the full height of its timber.
- Three landmarks of Erin, thou seest, are shorn of their strength, the Tree of Ross, the mighty Tree of Mugna, and the red-sided Tree of Tortu.
- Deep was the sound of the Tree of Tortu in the storm’s fierce torment: the moaning of the wind on winter nights has torn from it here many a swarm of leaves.
- It found an abode over strong Tortu from the time of the sons of mighty Míl, until its colour faded and it fell, in the time of the sons of Aed Slane.
- A wind laid the Tree low—none that is not hard of heart can bear the loss—and it crushed thrice fifty victims of the Conaille, at their fair.
- Beldame, though thou breakest faggots from its bole on thy hearth, there was many a fair youth that has slept under its bright branches.
Ultan of Tech Tua
- The woman who loosed their fair locks, many a trim sandal hath she loosed: gleefully she laughed at the felling of Tortu’s Tree.
- All that meet the eye must fall: they joined in stubborn conflict: the wind withdrew not its hand until it brought down the Tree’s pride.
- To all things comes decay: all men in the world go toward death: they are but red earth and lifeless clay, all folk that gathered round the Tree.
- The plain of Tortu is a plain without a ruler since it lost its noble tree: two parts of its prosperity are gone since the Tree fell.
- Adam’s transgression of old hath undone the children of the free people: such is the lot in store for us since their mighty Tree withered.
- Deserted is Ochann, and noble Tlachtga, since Ailill, son of Nathí, is gone, the chief of strong troops, that rode through Meath: a death not like that of any other Tree.
- I am Mochua: I bid Croin not to grieve excessively: from the roots of the illustrious Tree many a tree might spring.
- On a certain summer’s day I was in the wood of tufted leafage, having an errand to perform: the crown of Tortu’s Tree gave me shelter.
- No comfort have I, though the winds stir the treetops of the wood to laughter: to-day a solitary housewife breaks faggots from the Tree of Tortu.
Though the wind made rough sport with it, it could not break the Tree while it was young; but it brings to the ground all that is old: this I know by the Tree of Tortu.