Shaping The Clay: The Myth of the First Woman of Ireland A Retelling by Karina Tynan

IMG_0583Introduction : Ceasair was the leader of the first people to come to Ireland. It is said she was the granddaughter of Noah who refused her passage on his Ark because she was not part of a pair. And so, Ceasair made her own journey across many oceans with forty nine women and three men to become the first inhabitants of Ireland.

Shaping the Clay 

I was the first person to set foot on this land. My feet sank into deep green under trees ancient and alight with birdsong. Fish leapt like rainbows on the river showing off to the sun. Forests lurked with wolves who knew the world with never a man in it. The caves whistled, the sea boomed and nothing that I saw needed anything I could bring. But I stayed and I listened, to the air, the water, the hills, to every stream and every mountain and I wondered, at the peculiar slant of light bearing a half light I had never seen before, warning me, telling me that my first step would violate flawlessness. My second would be the beginning of a path that would disturb perfection as it travelled into story and tragedy.

I had come from a place where we had vexed the God who made us, so he was making chaos to discard all but those who would rise to the top. He spoke to his chosen one, Noah who was my grandfather. He told him he would send a flood. His instructions were to make an Ark and set sail bringing with him only mortals he deemed free from sin. Man, woman and beast to go with him in pairs so they could procreate fresh and new. So Noah set to the task of making choices. Righteous man and righteous woman, animals full of health, tame and wild went too. And I, still complete in myself, still sensing for myself because I had made no union with a man, was left behind to find my own way.

Many forsook Noah’s God for the sake of life itself and I did too. I proceeded with my own council. Ceasair made a boat. Ceasair set herself free from restraining goodness. Ceasair made her fate. Ceasair is my name. And those that I brought with me had to bring with them their own sacred accompaniments. Talismans they brought to witness the souls inside themselves for they would need a second seeing on such a quest. The God they knew had forsaken them and so their journeys were their own to make. And for good and for bad, a journey makes a story and a woman is a story and a man is a story.

And so, both separate and together we made our ways not knowing what our fates would bring. And all that way from there we fled from the God of Noah, forsaking the gold and Iron of Meroe, the beauty of the golden suns and shadows of the Tyrrhene Sea, for eighteen days on the Caspian, lost and almost dead of heat. On then to the Cimmerian sea passing by all the wealth of people gathered to point us out from the comfort of their dogmas. On and on, through land, river and sea. To Asia Minor and along by the alps to Spain only to come upon this fair untouched land. And I brought with me forty nine sisters and three men came too and we found a land free from beasts of greed and mountains of fire.

And the promise was fulfilled in the seeing. I smiled when I saw its shores as if they were part of me, my mouth became a wave crisply whitened which made me fresher to look upon. The sun was setting and the colour of the world was changing as we approached and we rejoiced because it was fulfilling a promise that had suffered chance all along the way. So we pressed our feet into the land and stopped in sacred naming, for to name it, as we were on it, was all we would ever do, to harm it.

We separated when we came upon *three sister rivers. I and my sisters and brothers saw it as a sign that we would split our group into three, where three rivers meet to make our parting into a flowing thing. The men who joined us were *Fintan who went with seventeen women. Seventeen also went with Bith (Bih) and sixteen with Ladhra (Laire) and though Ladhra did complain that the numbers were not equal he did his best for them and died doing his best for them there in *Ard Ladhrann (Laouran) called after Ladhra who was the first man to die Ireland.

The women who had gone with him came back to me. I divided us again in equal numbers. Twenty five went north with Bith, twenty five with Fintan. And we made our way as best we could, for alas upon the men were the tasks of many. And so, Bith died too in Sliabh Betha (Shleeve Beha) and the women buried him there in the stone heap of *Slieve Beagh (Shleeve Beg) and returned to me again for they now had no man save ours and because there were fifty again in number and Bith and Ladhra were dead, Fintan forsook us, for he saw with his second sight what we did not.  I see it now but at that time my second sight was blinded by a woman’s love for a man as I had been loved by him on the soft moss of Ireland. Then without him I went to *Cul Cesrach (Cool Sesra) and my heart burst open for without sun for my earth I was lost. For all of my quest though it had been full of toil, though I had weathered storms, though I had been hungry and thirsty and cold; nothing could help me to find a way to stay in this world without my love and so I died into the land and in this land I stayed. It was love that was the death of me, it is love that lives here still.

The women buried me there and named the land where I lay; Carn Cesra (Kayrin Sesra). And the birds stopped singing as I went into the clay and to this day when you hear a bird silence in the morning it is me on my dying day.

Fintan, in parting from me had also parted from the world as he knew it but he did not die. He went to join the land as a changeling would from fish to foul to beast, from river to lake; over Bun Suainmhe (Soovne), over Sliabh Betha, (Shleeve Beha) naming it, to Cenn Febrat (Cein Febrat) to Mic Sin, lefthand-wise from Shannon eastward, to *Tul Tuinne (Tool Tina) and over Loch Dergderc (Lock Derg) flowing through streams, down mountains; being the land, the water, the fish, the bird and the beast.

But sadly the flood of the world was follow us and it washed away the women who had not the sense to die. What was left under water were the names on the land and the spirit of Fintan flowing through it and I lying in it, in love, waiting to tell it. Then I departed from thought and I tell it now to bring life to the ground again, in places where silence can be heard, where everything is connected and everything is life. Where rivers form like veins in sisterhood to share their blood, their water and their wisdom.

Look, the sun is behind the clouds, warmer than it has been for a while. You can still see me emerge from the ploughed earth in girl shaped wisps. Today is a perfect day for it and though I am always here I am not always seen as shapely as this. He has called me out. His rays warm me, the clouds shade me, it is perfect for me to be seen like this. The wisps of air dancing in the earth are me. I am dancing this island’s dance, shaping the very clay. Everything in front of you is united and drawn together by the force of me. Look they are pairing even as I speak. The stallion is in the mare, the bull is in the cow, the wolf is in the bitch, the sun is in the ground making her dance as I continue to watch the worm air the soil of Carn Cesra having named it with my mortal death.


The retellings on this site (though true to the myths them selves) are my own work and copyrighted to me so please ask before using elsewhere.

  • Three sister rivers : The Nore, The Barrow and the Suir are rivers in Ireland in the province of Leinster who meet at Waterford Harbour as they come to the sea 
  • Fintan : It is said the Fintan lived on for hundreds of years after the flood. He survived by taking on the shape of a salmon, an eagle and a falcon.  
  • Ard Ladhrann East coast of County Wexford
  • Slieve Beagh North west of County Monaghan
  • Cul Cesrach in the province of Connaught
  • Tul Tuinne : Co Tipperary
  • Loch Dergderc : Co Donegal

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