The phrase troig mná trogain in exhortative speech


  • Sharon Arbuthnot Queen's University Belfast


Irish, Medieval, Early Modern, Narrative literature, lexicography


The phrase troig mná trogain appears in a number of Irish narrative texts from the medieval and Early Modern periods. It is clearly a reference to an undesirable experience. In light of this, there has been a tendency to interpret the phrase as meaning 'the pangs of a woman in childbirth'. Such an understanding does not seem justified, however, by the established semantic ranges of the words listed in DIL as trog, trogan or trogain. The purpose of this article is to reinstate Kuno Meyer’s century-old suggestion that the last element of this phrase is trogan 'raven' and to refine and build upon this, arguing that ben trogain is a kenning for the Morrígain in her bird-aspect and asking whether the first element of the phrase under discussion might be the word for 'foot'. Following this line of thought, it seems possible that the phrase in question is an allusion to that defining moment in medieval Irish literature when the Morrígain alights upon the dying Cú Chulainn, setting foot upon his spilt intestines.