Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Shangrila St. Patrick's Day, Part 2 - Deirdre of the Sorrows

St. Patrick's Day is both a religious holiday and a celebration of all things Irish. This year, I'd like to do a three-part post (yes, like a shamrock) about a haunting song I heard on the radio one day...

Deirdre of the Sorrows is one of the best known Irish myths. Rather than summarizing it myself, I've taken parts of the story from several tellings and weaved them together; the names and particulars change from story to story, but it should be fairly intelligible...

From all about deirdre:

A girl-child was born to Siobha on the night of a full moon. Her proud father, Feidhlim cradled her gently in his arms and named her Deirdre. He took her to the druids and asked them to foretell his infant's future. The druids looked towards the stars and glanced sadly at the newborn. "What do you see?" Feidhlim asked the druids anxiously. They answered "This child will cause great trouble. She will grow up to be the most beautiful woman in Ulster but she will cause the death of many of our men."

When the Red Branch Knights heard the druid's prognosis, they were uneasy and wanted the child immediately killed. They journeyed to the King and urged him to take action. King Connor was reluctant to deny the child's life and came up with a plan. "Deirdre will be reared far away from here and when she comes of age, I will make her my bride." This was deemed a satisfactory solution all 'round and King Connor set about finding an appropriate guardian for the child. He sent her deep into the forest to stay with a wise old woman called Leabharcham, who would care for and teach her.

From Little Shamrocks:

Despite the best attempts of Leabharcham to influence Conchobar not to marry her, he was more determined than ever. However, prior to her wedding to Conchobar, Deirdre met a young warrior called Naoise and fell in love with him. Deidre, Naoise and his two brothers, Ainle and Ardan, all the sons of Uisnech, fled to Alba (Scotland). For several years, they were happily married and had a daughter, Aigrene. No matter where they went, the local King insisted on having her as his wife and tried to have Naoise and his brothers killed. After fleeing to a remote island, they felt safe until Conchobar eventually tracked them down.

Conchobar lied that he had forgiven Naoise and Deirdre and sent Fergus mac Róich, an honorable warrior, to invite them to come back to Ulster and to guarantee them safe passage. Fergus was detained on the return journey and sent them off to Emain Macha with his son to protect them. After they arrived, Conchobar sent Leabharcham as a spy, to see if Deirdre had lost her beauty in her many years away. Leabharcham, to protect Dierdre from a marriage to Conchobar, lied to him, telling him that Deirdre had lost all of her beauty. However, Conchobar sent another spy named Trendhorn, who told him that Deirdre was as beautiful as ever.

From A Song in the Night:

Deirdre begged not to go, but Naoise was a warrior and he missed his place in the hall at Tara, and eagerly agreed to accept Fergus' vow of safe conduct. But Connor used cunning treachery to make sure that the foursome were left alone on the shores of Ireland.

None of the Fionna would fight against one of their own, and many stood beside Naoise and his brothers in defense of his wife. But at the end of the day all had fallen to treachery or to the mercenaries called out by the King. Then Connor looked at the bloody field outside his door and regretted what he had done. And he sent to Naoise and his brothers, who remained standing in a tight shield wall around Deirdre, and offered them his friendship and asked for their pardon. The brothers laughed in relief and lowered their shields and sheathed their swords and went forward to greet their king. When their guard was down Connor gestured to his mercenaries and said, "Kill them."

Deirdre stood over the grave of her husband and her brothers. The man she loved was dead and the man she now hated she was to marry. She had no more will to live.

From Celtic Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs:

Deirdre kept sitting on the brink of the grave, constantly asking the gravediggers to dig the pit wide and free. When the bodies of the brothers were put in the grave, Deirdre said:—

Come over hither, Naois, my love,
Let Arden close to Allen lie;
If the dead had any sense to feel.
Ye would have made a place for Deirdre.

The men did as she told them. She jumped into the grave and lay down by Naois, and she was dead by his side.

The king ordered the body to be raised from out the grave and to be buried on the other side of the loch. It was done as the king bade, and the pit closed. Thereupon a fir shoot grew out of the grave of Deirdre and a fir shoot from the grave of Naois. and the two shoots united in a knot above the loch. The king ordered the shoots to be cut down, and this was done twice, until, at the third time, the wife whom the king had married caused him to stop this work of evil and his vengeance on the remains of the dead.

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