Deirdre and Leabharcham, John D Batten, 1892
Deirdre of the Sorrows is one of the best known tragedies of the ancient Irish traditions and has been worked on by more modern writers such as JM Synge and WB Yeats. It is of the Ulster Cycle and its Irish name is Clann Uisnigh.
Originally, these stories were recounted by a special class, the fili (poets), who travelled Ireland and were welcomed by chieftains to stay and entertain their people with the heroic sagas. Until the Christianisation of the island all these stories lived through being told. When the monks brought latin to Ireland they began to write the myths down.
As a result, even today many different tellings of the story exist. Tellers will often embellish with minor devices of their own invention. But essentially the story is a much longer and more detailed version of this:
The Early Days
The bard Fedlimid held a ceili (festival of music) in honour of his local chieftain, Conchur MacNeasa, the King of Ulster. During the night’s celebrations a wailing brought a halt to the proceedings; Fedlimid’s wife was giving birth to a daughter; Deirdre.
Cathbad, the druid, prophesised that this girl would become the most beautiful woman in the world and would, in time, be the cause of many deaths in Ulster, including some of the greatest warriors. The warriors who were gathered insisted that the baby be killed. Conchur MacNeasa would have none of it, instead demanding that the baby grow up in isolation and she would become his wife.
The Troubles Begin
Deirdre grew up knowing only three people; her nurse, her fosterer and Leabharcham her teacher. One day Deirdre watched a calf being killed in the snow, a raven appeared as its blood flowed. That night she dreamt of a man with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as a raven.
She told Leabharcham of this premonition and that if she met such a man she would take off with him. Leabharcham told her that although she was to be married to Conchur that such a man existed; Naoise was the son of another powerful family; Usnach (Clann Uisnigh in Irish).
Deirdre convinced Leabharcham to arrange a meeting. Naoise arrived and Deirdre made quite an impression on him. She told him she wished to run away with him. At first he protested that the Conchur would follow and exact his revenge, but Deirdre persisted and they escaped that night along with Naoise’s brothers Ainle and Ardan. They made for Alba (Irish for Scotland).
Duplicity
Meanwhile Conchur set his men a question – why let the brothers rot in exile when they were more useful to the kingdom as the great warriors they were? The warriors said they were of the same opinion and Conchur said he would send for them to return.
Before he did this he asked Conall what his response would be if while accompanying the brothers, under oath of safe conduct, back to Ireland they were to be killed? Conall replied his response would be swift – kill any who were part of such a scheme against his comrades.
Conchur asked the same of Cuchulainn (the main hero of Ulster Cycle stories). No man would be safe from his vengeance.
Conchur’s third target said he would spare no-one but Conchur, his king. Fergus was despatched with his men immediately.
On arrival in Alba, he called out unseen. The Usneach brothers recognised him as an Irishman and wanted to speak with him. Deirdre was wary and pleaded against this. In the end Fergus compelled them to return in safety to their homeland.

Once again on home soil they had several warnings of what was to happen. All was well until a messenger from the king stole a glance at Deirdre; Naoise gouged his eye out. In retaliation Fergus’s men burnt the house of the Red Branch warriors (comrades of the Usneach). The fighting went on through the night until morning. Conchur, after promising not to harm the Usneachs and Deirdre, had Cathbad cast a spell to disorientate them. They were condemned to death. In the face of the kings treachery no Irishman would commit the executions, the job of which fell to a norseman.
In some versions of the tale Deirdre the escaped from Conchur’s clutches and cast herself into the sea from a height, or leaning from a chariot dashed her head against a rock, or even just died of grief at seeing the bodies of the three brothers.
War
Cathbad’s prophesy was fulfilled when the Ulstermen lost faith in their king’s fitness to rule. War broke out and people killed former allies, including Fergus who crossed swords with his own son. Ulster’s power in Ireland went on the wane. A grassy mound now stands where Emain Macha, Conchur’s palace, once stood.
Pronunciations
Clann Uisnigh; clawn ish-nigUsneach; ish-nawcFedlimid; fay-lim-eejceili; kay-leeConchur MacNeasa; cuh-hoor mak mee-asahLeabharcham; law-war-camAinle; ayn-laArdan; arh-dawnConall; cun-ullEmain Macha; ah-wan mock-ah
BibliographyCeltic Fairy Tales, edited by Joseph Jacobs and illustrated by John D. Batten, London: David Nutt, 1892Mythic Ireland, Michael Dames, Thames and Hudson, 1992A long(er) versionThe official website of Conchur’s palaceCeltic Stories onlineMore Wikipedia
This article was posted by Ronan McDonnell on Thursday, January 29th, 2009 at 05:56. It is archived in Art, History, Ireland, Myth, Wild Places and tagged ancient, History, Ireland, Myths.

Deirdre and Leabharcham, John D Batten, 1892

Deirdre of the Sorrows is one of the best known tragedies of the ancient Irish traditions and has been worked on by more modern writers such as JM Synge and WB Yeats. It is of the Ulster Cycle and its Irish name is Clann Uisnigh.

Originally, these stories were recounted by a special class, the fili (poets), who travelled Ireland and were welcomed by chieftains to stay and entertain their people with the heroic sagas. Until the Christianisation of the island all these stories lived through being told. When the monks brought latin to Ireland they began to write the myths down.

As a result, even today many different tellings of the story exist. Tellers will often embellish with minor devices of their own invention. But essentially the story is a much longer and more detailed version of this:

The Early Days

The bard Fedlimid held a ceili (festival of music) in honour of his local chieftain, Conchur MacNeasa, the King of Ulster. During the night’s celebrations a wailing brought a halt to the proceedings; Fedlimid’s wife was giving birth to a daughter; Deirdre.

Cathbad, the druid, prophesised that this girl would become the most beautiful woman in the world and would, in time, be the cause of many deaths in Ulster, including some of the greatest warriors. The warriors who were gathered insisted that the baby be killed. Conchur MacNeasa would have none of it, instead demanding that the baby grow up in isolation and she would become his wife.

The Troubles Begin

Deirdre grew up knowing only three people; her nurse, her fosterer and Leabharcham her teacher. One day Deirdre watched a calf being killed in the snow, a raven appeared as its blood flowed. That night she dreamt of a man with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as a raven.

She told Leabharcham of this premonition and that if she met such a man she would take off with him. Leabharcham told her that although she was to be married to Conchur that such a man existed; Naoise was the son of another powerful family; Usnach (Clann Uisnigh in Irish).

Deirdre convinced Leabharcham to arrange a meeting. Naoise arrived and Deirdre made quite an impression on him. She told him she wished to run away with him. At first he protested that the Conchur would follow and exact his revenge, but Deirdre persisted and they escaped that night along with Naoise’s brothers Ainle and Ardan. They made for Alba (Irish for Scotland).

Duplicity

Meanwhile Conchur set his men a question – why let the brothers rot in exile when they were more useful to the kingdom as the great warriors they were? The warriors said they were of the same opinion and Conchur said he would send for them to return.

Before he did this he asked Conall what his response would be if while accompanying the brothers, under oath of safe conduct, back to Ireland they were to be killed? Conall replied his response would be swift – kill any who were part of such a scheme against his comrades.

Conchur asked the same of Cuchulainn (the main hero of Ulster Cycle stories). No man would be safe from his vengeance.

Conchur’s third target said he would spare no-one but Conchur, his king. Fergus was despatched with his men immediately.

On arrival in Alba, he called out unseen. The Usneach brothers recognised him as an Irishman and wanted to speak with him. Deirdre was wary and pleaded against this. In the end Fergus compelled them to return in safety to their homeland.

Once again on home soil they had several warnings of what was to happen. All was well until a messenger from the king stole a glance at Deirdre; Naoise gouged his eye out. In retaliation Fergus’s men burnt the house of the Red Branch warriors (comrades of the Usneach). The fighting went on through the night until morning. Conchur, after promising not to harm the Usneachs and Deirdre, had Cathbad cast a spell to disorientate them. They were condemned to death. In the face of the kings treachery no Irishman would commit the executions, the job of which fell to a norseman.

In some versions of the tale Deirdre the escaped from Conchur’s clutches and cast herself into the sea from a height, or leaning from a chariot dashed her head against a rock, or even just died of grief at seeing the bodies of the three brothers.

War

Cathbad’s prophesy was fulfilled when the Ulstermen lost faith in their king’s fitness to rule. War broke out and people killed former allies, including Fergus who crossed swords with his own son. Ulster’s power in Ireland went on the wane. A grassy mound now stands where Emain Macha, Conchur’s palace, once stood.

Pronunciations

Clann Uisnigh; clawn ish-nig
Usneach; ish-nawc
Fedlimid; fay-lim-eej
ceili; kay-lee
Conchur MacNeasa; cuh-hoor mak mee-asah
Leabharcham; law-war-cam
Ainle; ayn-la
Ardan; arh-dawn
Conall; cun-ull
Emain Macha; ah-wan mock-ah

Bibliography
Celtic Fairy Tales, edited by Joseph Jacobs and illustrated by John D. Batten, London: David Nutt, 1892
Mythic Ireland, Michael Dames, Thames and Hudson, 1992
A long(er) version
The official website of Conchur’s palace
Celtic Stories online
More Wikipedia

This article was posted by  on Thursday, January 29th, 2009 at 05:56. 
It is archived in ArtHistoryIrelandMythWild Places and tagged .