Geis VI: The Viking Terror: An Interview with Fin Dwyer – Irish History

Another interview! Fin Dwyer of The Irish History Podcast talks to us today about the traumatizing impact of the Vikings on medieval Irish culture. You can also see me draw Fin’s portrait on our Dead Ideas youtube channel!

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Interviewee: Fin Dwyer

Time/place: Ireland, 902 CE

Dead Idea: Geis

A Map of Medieval Ireland, by Adam McKithern


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Glossary of Irish Words and Spellings

Note: “KH” should be pronounced like the ending sound of “Bach”

  • Aífe (EE-fuh) – a warrior woman in the Táin bó Cúailnge, rival of Scáthach
  • aire (EYE-ruh) – lordly class
  • brat (BRAT) – cloak
  • Caier (KEYE-ur)  – king of Connacht in the story Caier and Nede
  • coibche (KWIV-khuh) – bride-price
  • Conall Cernach (KO-nul KAIR-nakh) – curly blond-haired warrior and favorite of Conaire in The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
  • Conaire (KO-na-ruh) – king of Tara in the The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
  • Connacht (KON-akht) – a kingdom in the middle west of Ireland
  • Connla (KON-luh) – son of Cú Chulainn in the Táin bó Cúailnge
  • Críth Gablach (KREEH GOW-luhch) – a law-tract featuring 7 ranks of lords, 7 ranks of farmers, and 7 ranks of kings
  • Cú Chulainn (KOO KHUH-lun) – hero in the Táin bó Cúailnge
  • cúlán (KOO-lun) – men’s hairstyle with shaved front, long back
  • cumal (COO-wul) – unit of measurement roughly equal to 34 acres of land or 3 cattle; lit. “slave girl”
  • dairt (DEERCH) – a heifer, as in “from a needle to a dairt”, the honor-price of the lowest level of farmer which varies from a needle to a heifer
  • Diarmuid (JAR-muhj) – hero in the story of Diarmuid and Grainne
  • Drogheda (DRO-hay-duh) – site of a battle against the Vikings in 902 CE
  • Emer (EV-ur) – woman wooed by Cú Chulainn in the Táin bó Cúailnge
  • féni (FAY-nee) – farmer class, subdivided into 7 ranks according to the Crith Gablach law-tract: 1. 1st fer midboth (FAIR MEE-vuh) lit. “man between huts”; 2. 2nd fer midboth; 3. ócaire (O-keye-ruh); 4. aithech (EYE-chuh); 5. bóaire (BO-eye-ruh); 6. mruigfher (MREE-khur); 7. fer fothlai (FAIR FO-lee)
  • fidchell (FEE-khel) – an Old Irish board game, often called “Irish chess”
  • Forgall (FOR-gul) – father of Emer in the Táin bó Cúailnge
  • fuba and ruba (FOO-buh and ROO-buh) – military service; lit. “attack and defense”
  • fuidir (FEE-jur) – transitional slave
  • geis (GAYSH) / pl. geassa (GAYSA) – mystical personal injunction
  • Grainne (GRAH-nyuh) – woman in the story of Diarmuid and Grainne
  • léine (LAY-nya) – tunic
  • Mac Cécht (Mak KEKHT) – warrior and right-hand man of Conaire in The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
  • Nede (NAY-thuh) – a satire poet in the story of Caier and Nede
  • rath (RATH) – a loan taken from a lord in a clientship contract
  • rosc (ROSK) – a nearly untranslatable type of poem with multiple meanings, often signaled in English by ellipses where parts are left untranslated
  • Scáthach (SKAH-hakh) – a warrior woman in the Táin bó Cúailnge, mentor of Cú Chulainn
  • senchléithe (SHEN-khlay-huh) – hereditary serf
  • sét (SET) – unit of measurement equal to 4/5 of a cow
  • Táin bó Cúailnge (TOYN bo KOOL-nee) – epic featuring Cú Chulainn; lit. “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”
  • Tara (TAH-ruh) – traditional capital of the high kinds of Ireland
  • Togail Bruidne Dá Derga (TO-gul BREEJ-nuh da JAIR-guh) – epic featuring King Conaire; lit. “The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel” or “…of the Red God”
  • toinal (TEE-nyul) – joint conjugal fund
  • Uí Néill (oy NAYLZ) – one of the most powerful clans of medieval Ireland
  • Ulster (UHL-stur) – Anglicized name for a kingdom in northeast Ireland

Main Sources

Ambient Mixer. “A Lively Night at the Tavern.” Ambient Mixer. (Audio Clip). Used under CC license. Downloaded Dec. 18, 2016, from:

Barrett, C. (2006). “Early Gaelic Dress: An Introduction.” Downloaded Nov. 18, 2016, from:

Dwyer, F. (2010-2017). Irish History Podcast.

Dwyer, F. (2013). Witches, Spies and Stockholm Syndrome: Life in Medieval Ireland. Dublin: New Island.

Kenny, G. (2013). “Anglo-Irish and Gaelic Marriage Laws and Traditions in Late Medieval Ireland.” Journal of Medieval History, 32(1): 27-42.

Kinsella, T. (1969). The Tain Bo Cuailnge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mallory, J. P. (1992). Aspects of the Tain. Belfast: December Publications.

MacCulloch, J. A. (1911). The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

O’Connor, R. (2013). The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel: Kingship and Narrative Artistry in a Medieval Irish Saga. Oxford: University Press.

O’Leary, P. (1988). “Honour-bound: The Social Context of Early Irish Heroic Geis.” Celtica, 20: 85-107.

Patterson, N. (1994). Cattle Lords and Clansmen. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Stokes, W. (1862). Three Irish Glossaries. London: Williams and Norgate.

Wyatt, D. R. (2009). Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain and Ireland: 800-1200. Boston: Brill.

Music and graphic design by Rachel Westhoff.

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