Let's start in Findabair, a place-name in ancient Ireland that is paid homage to in the town names of modernity; Fennor and Finner for example. Many people have identified this ancient place-name as the townland of Finnabrogue near Downpatrick - and there's some agreement in ancient Greek texts as Ptolemy uses the name in his maps of Ireland (150AD) as the mouth of a river in the northeast of the country between the rivers Boyne and Lagan called Ouinderios.
But lets not get too weighed down by the intricacies of creating an accurate account of history across multiple languages and nationalities, and let's get to talking about Nechtan.
Nechtan is known as the "Findabair of the River" and is considered the Patron Saint of a small church (still surviving) in Fennor on the southern bank of the Boyne River. But this seems to be a modernized Nechtan, a more Christianized version. Indeed, "Saint Nechtan" was both the nephew and diciple of Saint Patrick. Certainly, given Ireland's deep pagan roots, there's more to Nechtan than this?
Scattered across antiquity are clues and mentions of an "Otherworld Nechtan", a dweller in Sid (roughly the "otherworld hill"), and usually named as Sid Nechtain. Sid Nechtain was the keeper and guardian of Tobar Nechtain, "The Well of Nechtain". This well was the husband of the Boyne River Goddess Boann and also the river's source.
Another note about Christian influence: The 7th century bishop Tírechán writes of St. Patrick's visit to the Well of Findmag (or "the white plain"), wherein he mentions the well was worshipped in modum dii, or "as a god", saying that "Druids honoured the well and made votive offerings to it." The Well of Nechtain and the Well of Findmag are thought now to be the same.
So what was Nechtain's role, exactly?
Aside from serving as the well's guardian, Nechtain was also the only being allowed to draw from it (if we exclude his three cup-bearers; otherwise, he was one of four). Why does that matter? Because the Well of Nechtain is also the Well of Wisdom.
The legend says that nine sacred Hazel Trees dropped their wisdom-bearing nuts into the waters of this well. Since this well was also the source of the River Boyne, the salmon of the river became known as the Salmon of Wisdom; making wise any person who ate of them. Nechtain, therefore, and in a manner similar to that of Odin from Norse Mythology, is a sort of unofficial God of knowledge. He controls who drinks from the cups he brings from the well and who catches the salmon in the river.
Finally, for all you language geeks out there, there's a good chance that "Nechtain" is cognate with the Romano-British god "Nodens", the Roman god "Neptunus", and the Persian god "Apam Napat". Alternatively, it could also be cognate to the Swedish "Näcken". Ultimately, most scholars agree that it is derived from the Proto-Indo-European god Nepot.
Certainly there's a lot of room for differing views when talking about ancient gods; especially once considered "Pagan". What are you thoughts on Nechtain? Do you have a bit of information we missed? If so, share it in the comments.
The Celtic Way of Evangelism - https://amzn.com/1426711379
The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming - https://amzn.com/0199656436
Nechtan - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nechtan_(mythology)
Boann - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boann
Tírechán - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tírechán
Connla's Well - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connla%27s_Well