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Deirdre and Naoise - Irish Legend of Great Love

Updated on May 22, 2017
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Mythology is a wonderful world that Phyllis can escape to when her mind needs a break from daily life.

Emain Macha, Where Conchobar mac Ness Ruled

Emain Macha in ancient times was Conchobar's fortress. Today it is called Naven Fort.
Emain Macha in ancient times was Conchobar's fortress. Today it is called Naven Fort. | Source

Prophecy of Cathbad the Druid

The Irish legend of Deirdre and Naoise and their great love comes from the Ulster Cycle stories. These are tales from the time when Conchobar mac Nessa was king of Ulster and ruled from Emain Macha. This is where the prophecy of Cathbad the Druid told of the sorrows of Deirdre. The story of Deidre and Naoise is one of undying love and tragic consequences for that love.

Deirdre was born to Feidlimid and his wife. Feidlimid was King Conchobar's bard. It happened one night, that as the men of Ulster sat round Feidlimid's table, that the wife was present, great with child. When she left to retire for the night, a great and shrill scream startled the whole house, even those out in the court. The cry came from the child in the womb.

All the men started up and sought the source of the scream. When it was known that the child in the womb had screamed, the mother was brought before the men and questioned.

What is that, of all cries far the fiercest,
In thy womb raging loudly and long?
(The Book of Leinster)

The woman turned to Cathbad the Druid, who knew all, and asked him to give his words of wisdom, for she knew not what the cry meant. Cathbad told them that it was a woman who screamed out her woes for the tragedy that would come in her life. She would be a woman of great beauty, sought after by all men, and the cause of death to great warriors. Her splendid beauty would be beyond all mortal man had ever seen.

Cathbad placed his hand upon the mother's belly and said that for sure the child is a woman. He said that Deirdre will be her name and evil woe shall she bring to herself and others.

Druids Were Advisers to Kings

19th century reproduction of a 1719 original engraving by  Bernard de Montfaucon (1655–1741)
19th century reproduction of a 1719 original engraving by Bernard de Montfaucon (1655–1741) | Source

Deirdre's vow

Now, present among the men, was King Conchobar. As the younger men called out to have the mother and child slain, Conchobar stood up and declared that the child will be brought up in his care.

Conchobar was enamored of the child who would become the greatest beauty of his kingdom, yea, even the whole of existence. He said the child will grow up and become his wife one day, and he would have her trained and raised properly to be his queen.

She shall be raised by foster parents and put under the care of Levorcham, a witch. No man, Conchobar said, shall see her, no one will ever go near her except the foster parents and Levorcham.

So, when the child was born, she was taken from her parents and sent to Levorcham, to live in one of the king's houses away from his court.

As Deirdre grew, she became ever more graceful and beautiful. Levorcham was always by Deirdre's side. One day they were out watching her foster father skin a calf. There was snow on the ground and the blood of the calf spread on the snow. A black raven flew down to drink the blood. Deirdre exclaimed to Levorcham that the man she would love would be of those three colors she saw. Raven black would be his hair, blood red would be his lips, and his skin as white as the snow.

Levorcham told Deirdre that the very man was near by, staying in a burgh at Emain Macha and that his name was Naoise. Deirdre vowed that she would not rest till Naoise and her were united.

Naoise Takes Deirdre

Naoise and his two brothers, Ardan and Ainnie, were the sons of Usnach, and nephews of King Conchobar. They were famous for their warrior skills that none could match, and their warrior cry that would ring out with music over the land.

The day came that Deirdre and Naoise did meet. He was outside the burg on the plain, practicing his musical cry. Deirdre heard and escaped from her house. She ran out to the plain where he stood. They flirted with each other before Naoise realized who she was.

He then backed away and said he feared the prophecy of Cathbad. Deirdre asked if he was refusing her.

Naoise said he was and she sprang upon him, grabbing his ears. She threatened shame and mockery upon him if he did not take her as his wife. He said he would, then cried out full his warrior cry.

All the men of Ulster started up when they heard the cry and with weapons ran to the plain. Naoise's brothers reached him first. Naoise told them that he would take Deirdre for his wife and the brothers chastised him, saying that would bring evil upon them all.

That night they took counsel and decided to take their warriors and entire household to another land. Knowing that Conchobar would be coming for them, they left that night.

Deirdre and Naoise

Deirdre and Naoise - illustration from A book of Myths, 1915
Deirdre and Naoise - illustration from A book of Myths, 1915 | Source

In Exile

They journeyed from kingdom to kingdom, seeking refuge, and each time had to leave. Not only was Conchobar and his warriors in pursuit, but the men of the kingdoms feared what Conchobar would do to them if they themselves did not capture or kill the brothers.

They found refuge with King Alba, who gave them land in the woods where they built houses. Deirdre had to stay in the house at all times, so as not to be recognized and bring death upon them all. They had to leave when they found out that the king of Alba wanted Deirdre for himself. For years they traveled from place to place, always just out of reach of Conchobar.

Finally they left Ireland and sailed to an island where they built their homes and lived happily for some time.

Eventually, news of where the exiles lived came to Conchobar. The men of Ulster, in counsel with Conchobar, said it would be a pity if Naoise and his brothers were to be slain by enemies in a foreign land -- that they should be brought home to Ireland and slain in their homeland.

Conchobar thought this over then made plans to send a message to Naoise that a mighty
feast was to be held and all would be forgiven if Naoise, Deirdre, his brothers and the entire household of warriors and servants would come back to their homeland and join with them to celebrate.

Fergus, Dubhtach and Cormac, Conchobar's son, were sent to the island where Deirdre, Naoise and his people lived. The message of peace and celebration was given to the brothers and they were very pleased, after years of being in exile, to finally go home.

Betrayal

Now, Fergus knew naught of the plan Conchobar had contrived, and his intention was to defend, protect and deliver Deirdre, Naoise and his people in safety to Emain Macha. Before reaching Conchobar's court, Fergus, Dubhtach, and Cormac were detained at a feast. Fergus sent Fiacha, his son, ahead with the rest of the troops to guard Naoise and his brothers.

It happened that Eogan, a long time enemy of Conchobar's, had come to Emain Macha to make peace and pledge his allegiance to the king. Conchobar, to test Eogan's loyalty, gave him instructions to slay Naoise and the two brothers.

As the party of Naoise halted on the plain to prepare for the court of Conchobar, the brothers stood on the plain with Fiacha. All the women were resting on the ramparts. Eogan came with all his warriors. As the son of Fergus, Fiacha, moved to Naoise's side, Eogan, came forward as if to greet them. When he was close enough, Eogan thrust his spear as Fiacha threw both arms around Naoise to protect him. Both Naoise and Fiacha were killed immediately by the mighty thrust of the spear that went through them both.

Eogan's warriors then killed the two brothers of Naoise, all the people that belonged to Naoise, women and all, were also killed. Dierdre was captured and bound, then taken to Conchobar.

When Fergus, Dubhtach, and Cormac heard that Naoise and his brothers had been murdered, they marched upon Emain Macha and attacked. Many Ulster men died that day and Fergus burned Emain. Then, Fergus and his men went into exile, to Connaught, and three thousand warriors went with them.

Lament of Deirdre

"Deirdre's Lament", drawing by J.H. Bacon, c.1905.
"Deirdre's Lament", drawing by J.H. Bacon, c.1905. | Source

Death of Deirdre

Deirdre mourned and her sorrow was so deep she did not eat, sleep, nor smile -- she spent her time mourning with her head on her knee, not knowing any joy.

Conchobar had taken her to be his wife, but no love nor warmth did she give him. She was empty and cold. After one year, Conchobar asked her whom she hated more than himself. She said Eogan who killed Naoise. So, Conchobar said Eogan could have her.

Deirdre was put into a chariot behind Eogan and Conchobar. They were making fun of her. Deirdre saw ahead of them a rock jutting out onto the road. She leaned out from the carriage so her head would hit the rock, and there she died, so her spirit could be with Naoise.
~ ~ ~ ~

Conchobar mac Nessa

Conchobar mac Nessa
Conchobar mac Nessa | Source

Deirdre of the Sorrows

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns

Comments

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    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      MizBejabbers, it is so nice to hear from you. Thank you for the visit and comment. I have ancestors of Ireland and France also -- so, I love to delve into Celtic lore and mythology. The Ulster Cycle, Book of Leinster, etc, are wonderful -- I wish it had been taught in school. Thanks for the vote and have a great day/evening.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 

      5 years ago from London

      Nice story, Phyllis. Enjoyed reading your hub!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      5 years ago from Beautiful South

      What a sad story, but then most of the old tales of literature are. I know so little of Celtic lore because it wasn’t taught in school. That’s a pity because the area where I’m from was settled by people of Celtic and French descent. Some of my own ancestors were from Ulster. This is a wonderful hub. Keep enlightening us with your tales. Voted up.

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 

      5 years ago from Florida

      You are quite welcome and thank you for the hub!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Mark, thanks for the visit and comment. Have a great day!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      JT, than you for the visit and comment. I am really happy you enjoyed the story. I love Celtic legends. Thank you so much for the compliments.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      What a tale. thank you

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 

      5 years ago from Florida

      I really enjoyed this hub because I know so very little about Celtic Lore. What a beautiful and tradegic story. I also really appreciated how you put your hub together. I found it to be engaging and a really entertaining hub. Thank you for writing it.

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