Maidi ibair i cúail crínaig.

Maidi ibair i cúail crínaig.

(stick * of yew * in * bundle * of dried branches)

A yew stick in a bundle of withered branches.

“The phrase occurs in the section of Echtra mac nEchadh Mugmedóin where Niall Nóigiallach and his brothers go into a burning forge and rescue whatever implements they can, and what they have saved from the fire is then to be understood as a reflection of their own strength, intelligence and, therefore, qualification for succession to the kingship. So whereas Niall comes out on top, having saved the anvil and its block (the most important and heaviest tool in the forge), and three other brothers rescue tools and other articles in descending order, poor Fergus can only manage to bring the bundle of withered branches with the single branch of yew in the middle. The text then explains: the single branch of yew represents the only descendant of Fergus worthy of note (the saint, Cairech Dergán of Cluain Bairenn) and the rest of the dead wood represents the rest of his otherwise ineffectual family.” (My thanks to Clodagh Downey for providing that explanation!)

The image of a single item of value in a worthless collection – a pearl among the dregs – has its exact opposite in the metaphor “Cúaille feda i feilm n-airgit” (A wooden stake in a fence of silver), also found in this collection.

Topics: Similes, Metaphors & Kennings