Ir.: conn: head, leader, chief; céad: hundred; cathach battles.
"Chief/Head of a Hundred Battles"
ca. 110 - 157 CE
Irish Pseudohistorical King
Legendary high king of Ireland, he was the son of Fedhlimidh Rachtmar, the high king, and Ughna, daughter of the king of Lochlinn1. Between the kingship of he and his father, Conaire Mór ruled Ireland. Conn challenged Conaire to battle, defeating Conaire in Meath.
Supposedly, at Conn's birth, five roads to Temhair were discovered, which had never been noticed before: Slighe Asail, Alighe Miodhluchra, Slíghe Cualann, Slighe Mór, and Slighe Dála. Slighe Mór later became the dividing line between Leath Chuinn and Leath Mhogha.
For most of his reign, Conn was at war with one king or another. In particular, his war with Eoghan Mór2--also called Mogh Nuadat ("slave of Nuada")--led to the partition of Ireland into half. The origin of their feud is in the earliest Irish pseudohistory, with the feud between the brothers Eber and Eremon, the two sons of Mil Espaine--in other words, the original Milesians who came to Ireland.3 Conn was descended of Eremon, while Mogh Nuadat was descended of Eber. When Mogh Nuadat realized that Conn, as a descendant of Eremon, had gained dominion over him, he rebelled. Geoffrey Keating lists ten battles that Mogh Nuadath won over Conn:
the Battle of Brosnach and the Battle of Samhpait; the Battle of Sliabh Musach; the Battle of Gabhran; the Battle of Suama and the Battle of Grian and the Battle of Ath Luain; and the Battle of Magh Croich... the Battle of Asal and the Battle of Uisneach
At the battle of Magh Lena, the two kings divided Ireland into two sections: Leath Mhogha and Leath Chuinn, or, "Mogh's Half" and "Conn's Half." This division (supposedly) lasted up through the age of Brian Bórúmha (ca. 1000 CE). Keating also says that because of this division, Conn slew Mogh Nuadath in his bed.
The division of Ireland between Conn and Mogh Nuadat is likely indicative of an Irish social hierarchy: that is, "Conn", ruling the northern half, is the "head", while "Mogh", ruling the southern half, is the "slave". According to "The Settling of the Manor at Tara", the north and west (Ulster and Connacht, of whom Conn is ancestor) in Ireland were associated with war and knowledge, while the south and east (Munster and Leinster) were associated with slaves, musicians, and farming. This cosmology was likely created for the benefit of the Uí Niell clan (of whom Conn is the ancestor).
In "Cath Mag Mucrama", it's stated that Conn's daughter Sadb is married to Ailill Aulom, son of Mogh Nuadat. His sons are Art, Connlae, and Asal, the last who murdered Eochu Bélbuide, which ultimately leads to Conn's death.
There are some legends that say Conn had a hand in the settling of Dalriada in Scotland.
Conn was killed at Temhair in 157 CE when Tiobraide Tireach the king of Ulster sent fifty warriors disguised as women to kill him. This enmity between Connacht and Ulster, of course, is reminiscent of the Ulster Cycle, and the enmity between Medb and Conchobhor mac Nessa.
Relationship with Pwyll
In Ireland and the Grail, John Carey argues that Pwyll has his origin in the mythical Irish king Conn Céadcathach. While other figures in the Mabinogi have names which signify divinity or have cognates in Irish literature or Gaulish deities, "Sense" and his son "Care" have names which are more like the invented names found in "Culhwch ac Olwen" than anythink like the rest of the Mabinogi. However, pwyll has an Irish cognate ciall, "sense", which in turn is often paired with the word cenn or conn, both of which mean "head". Ergo, ciall cenn (or ciall conn) becomes, in Welsh, pwyll pen--Pwyll Pen Annwfn.
But beyond this, Carey notes the similarities of the first branch of the Mabinogi with the stories surrounding Conn and his progeny. In Baile in Scail, Conn blunders into the Otherworld, is initially attacked, then finds himself and his companions at the house of Lugh, who offers friendship and his descendents the kingship of Ireland. Conn is also offered a mead cup by Sovereignty. In Echtrae Connlai, Conn's son Connlae climbs on the Hill of Uisnech, and is lured to the Otherworld by a fairy woman and disappears. Carey compares these stories with the first and third branches of the Mabinogi, and finds a close comparison between them: Pwyll, like Conn, blunders into the Otherworld, is initially attacked, then becomes a friend of Arawn, like Conn with Lugh. Pryderi, like Connlae, disappears, causing chaos for his father. Also, the story of Connlae seeing the fairy woman from the Hill of Uisnech parallels Pwyll seeing Rhiannon from the hill Gorsedd Arberth.
Keating, Geoffrey. The History of Ireland. ca. 1350? Found at CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T100054/index.html.
The Annals of the Four Masters. A six-volume work of the 16th century (IIRC). It can now be found at CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G100005A/index.html
"Baile in Scaíl." The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. ed. Caitlin and John Matthews.
Ancient Irish Tales. ed. T. Cross & H. Slover. Barnes and Noble, 1995 (reprint).
1. Lochlinn: presumably Scandanavia, though some scholars narrow this down to Denmark. Probably due to the Viking raids, the Scandanavians--under the guise of the people of Lochlinn--often figure in the pseudohistorical Irish and Welsh tales, as they were written in the Viking and post-Viking age of conquests. It is unknown if they would have been as prominent in the original, oral tales; if anything, Lochlinn often stands in as the typical "far away place" that, say, Sarras would play in the medieval romances. It's possible that Lochlinn may even have originally designated the Otherworld, as many wives seem to come from there, comparable to the later "fairy wife" in folklore.
2. Eoghan Mór: eponymous founder of the Eoghannacht clan.
3. Eber and Eremon: the theme of warring brothers who found a nation or are the origin of civilization is common in western culture; compare to Romulus and Remus, or Cain and Able.
4. This type of story is reflected in "The Colloquy of the Old Men" in which we are told of how Oisín went off with a fairy woman; and in the story of "The Voyage of Bran" in which Bran sails to Tír inna m-Ban, the Land of Women.
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Mary Jones © 2004