Úath Beinne Étair ‘The hiding/horror (úath) of the Hill of Howth’

  • Middle Irish
  • prose
  • Finn Cycle
Short Fenian prose tale, with poem. It recounts how Diarmait, who is persecuted by Finn for having carried off Gráinne, daughter of Cormac mac Airt, the King of Ireland, takes refuge in a cave in the Hill of Howth and is betrayed by an old woman.
Harleian 5280 version: The tale opens when Diarmait has carried off Gráinne, daughter of King Cormac mac Airt, from the warrior Finn. Diarmait and Gráinne hide inside a cave in the hill of Howth (Benn Étair), with an old woman (caillech) watching over them. The old woman goes up the hill, sees Finn approaching and asks him about any news. Finn tells her that he intends to woo her on the condition that she betrays Diarmait to him. Believing him, she agrees to this and concocts a plan to keep the warrior in his hiding place. Having wetted her cloak in salt water, she returns to the cave to warn the couple of heavy snow-fall, freezing winds and the inundation of the sea across the land. Much of the text is occupied by a poem beginning ‘Fuit, fuid!’ (“Cold, cold!”) in which she describes how much the landscape has transformed and how the animals cannot find any shelter. When the woman leaves again, apparently leaving behind her cloak, Gráinne discovers that it has the taste of salt and warns Diarmait that he has been betrayed. They leave together and on seeing Finn and his band of warriors, make for the harbour, where Diarmait has spotted a skiff. Diarmait's (supernatural) foster-father Óengus of the Brug, who has come to rescue them, is awaiting them here. The text ends.
  • Middle Irish
  • Middle Irish?

prose (primary)
verse (secondary)
Contains poems
Fuit, fuid
Associated items
Fuit (poem)Fuit (poem)


Finn Cycle
Finn Cycle
id. 578


Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] [tr.] Ní Shéaghdha, Nessa [ed. and tr.], Tóruigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne: The pursuit of Diarmaid and Gráinne, Irish Texts Society, 48, Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1967.
Appendix D: 23 N 10 version, edited and translated.
[ed.] [tr.] Meyer, Kuno [ed. and tr.], “Uath Beinne Etair”, Revue Celtique 11 (1890): 125–134. Corrigenda in Revue Celtique 17 (1896): 319.
TLH – edition: <link> TLH – translation: <link> CELT – edition: <link> CELT – translation: <link> Internet Archive: <link>, <link>
Harleian 5280 version.
[ed.] [tr.] Meyer, Kuno [ed. and tr.], Four Old-Irish songs of summer and winter, London: Nutt, 1903.
16ff Slightly revised edition and translation of the poem.

Secondary sources (select)

Breatnach, Caoimhín, “Explanations of three rare words in the tale known as Úath Beinne Étair and a re-assessment of this title”, Ériu 70 (2020): 73–81.  

Explanations of the three rare words sennin, sincreth and nemceissi in a tale to which the title Úath Beinne Étair has been assigned are proposed. It is also argued that there is little justification for assigning this title to the tale.

Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
June 2011, last updated: January 2024