maynooth | plain of nuada and seat of learning
Updated: Sep 4
Lectures start today. That’s right, at nearly fifty, I’m going back to school. Maynooth University, to be precise, for a BA in Irish Medieval and Celtic Studies, History and English. I must be mad.
First up, it’s Celtic Civilisations at 11am, followed by English Prose and Fiction at 12pm, and finally History; Vikings and Normans at 1pm. If you know me at all, I think you’ll guess that I’m as happy as a muc in muck! That’s ‘pig’ in mud, for the non-Irish among you! 😃😂😜
After my interview back in May, I walked out the door straight into this…
… and my heart started to flutter; I was falling in love, and knew instantly how much I really wanted to study there.
The university is split into two campuses; north and south. South side is the old part, north is more modern, and where I will probably spend most of my study time. On Thursdays, however, I will have five hours of free time spread between three lectures, and some of that I will use to explore; the south campus has an old church, a museum, and Maynooth Castle stands guard at the entrance. Also, there are rumours of mysterious tunnels beneath the old buildings…
It also boasts the oldest yew tree in Ireland standing in its grounds; it’s said to be 700 years old, and I can well believe it. I mean, just look at it! Yes, something else which I think you will realise makes me very happy. I think this university and me were made for each other. 😃
Of course, being such an old institution, Maynooth University has its own set of resident ghosts. Room 2, located in a building called Rhetoric House (now the History building), is where two students in C19th, took their lives 19 years apart from each other. It’s claimed that a ‘diabolical presence’ made itself known to them, and caused them to jump out of the window to their deaths in terror. Dark stains on the floor of Room 2 are said to be human blood (allegedly confirmed by the college’s chemistry department) which can’t be removed or covered up. Creepy, huh?
In 1860, as a result of all this, Room 2 was converted into an oratory of St Joseph, and the window sealed. The room has since become a waiting area between offices.
Maynooth actually means ‘Nuada’s Plain’ in Irish, and if you have read any of my books or early blog posts, then you will understand why this thrills me; Nuada was the King of the Tuatha de Danann, and it was he who was responsible for leading the Danann into Ireland.
Nuada lost his sword arm in the First Battle of Moytura against the Fir Bolg, who ruled at the time. It was cut from his body in single combat with Sreng, the enemy’s champion. Nuada was carried from the battle ground and tended by his skilled physicians, Dian-Cecht and his son Miach, a surgeon, and daughter Airmid, a herbalist.
He survived, and the next day when Sreng saw him, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He challenged Nuada to another armed combat, and cunningly, Nuada agreed, on the condition that Sreng tie his sword arm behind his back and fight with only his left hand. Sreng refused, and relinquished power to the Danann.
Unfortunately, though, despite how well-loved Nuada was as a King, he was unable to continue in that role, as the King was required to be whole and unblemished if the land and the people were to prosper.
Nuada and his Sword of Light
In the years to come, as Nuada healed, Dian-Cecht worked with Creidne, one of the Danann’s leading craftsmen, and fashioned a fully functioning ‘arm of silver’ for Nuada. Perhaps this was the world’s first bionic arm, or at least a prosthetic one, created over four thousand years ago.
Miach somehow managed to grow skin and blood over it, and thus in due course, when Bres was deposed for being a bad King, Nuada, now considered whole again, was elected as High King. He ruled for another twenty years, until his death at the hands of Balor in the Second Battle of Moytura.
Nuada also carried the Sword of Light, known in Irish as Cliamh Solais in Irish (pronounced Klee-uv Shull-ish), and is considered to be one of the lost Four Treasures of Eirean. It was made in the northern city of Findias (or Gorias, depending on which version you read) by a powerful fílí and magician named Uiscas.
Undoubtedly, the High King’s great sword came to have symbolic meaning for the people; it represented strength, power, unity, physical prowess and identity. But what did its title mean? Did it refer to the illumination of knowledge, justice, truth? Or was it something more obvious, like a laser, for example, or a flame thrower.
Reading about Nuada all those years ago began my fascination with Irish mythology. I never thought then that he would spark the idea for a book series, a blog, and all the other things which have grown from it; storytelling, tour guiding, even the Bloggers Bash, which I would never have been a part of if I hadn’t met Sacha through blogging.
The coincidence is not lost on me; going to Maynooth to learn more about ancient Ireland and its mythology kind of feels like a full circle has been completed. Well, almost. And it’s fitting that it should take place here, where Nuada’s legacy remains.