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Early Irish Board Games

of these words are "wood-sense", "raven-black" and "lasting-blow (?)". [6] These terms and their etymologies tell us nothing about the nature of the games. We will now collect the evidence from the early sources in the order in which we have named them.


The article fithchill in Sanas Cormaic (Meyer, Anec. iv, p.50) gives us some valuable information, though hidden amid much dross.

[Editor's Note: for simplicity we have omitted the original Gaelic from which this is translated, as with other similar cases.]
Fithchill, i.e. cause-sense. i.e. cause and sense (are used) in playing it. Or sinew and sense. Or fuath-cell, i.e. shape of a church, i.e. the fithchill (board) is four-sided in the first place, and its rows are straight, and (there are) black and white on it, and it is a different person who wins (?) every other time. So also the church in all particulars: fed by four gospels in the four quarters of the earth (i.e. it is thus in the church filling the four respective parts of the world with the Gospels); it is straight [i.e. 'upright'?] in judgements with the rows of scripture; i.e. black and white, i.e. good and bad live in the church.

What is probably the most valuable reference to the game, is to be found in the tale of Mac da Cherda and Cummaine Fota [9]

"Good," says Guaire, "Let's play fidchell." "How are the men slain?" says Cummaine. "Not hard, a black pair of mine about one white man of yours on the same line, disputing the approach on the far side (?)" "My conscience, indeed!" said Cummaine, "I cannot do the other thing (?), but I shall not slay (your men), you will not slay my men." For a whole day Guaire was pursuing him and he could not slay one of his men. "That is champion-like, o cleric," said Guaire.


6. Thurneysen, Heldensage, p.84

9. Ed. O'Keefe, Eriu, v, p.32

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