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Life on the Fringe - 13: Irish Legends of the West - Connacht, Connlai, Cormac and Da Derga's Hostel

Updated on May 12, 2019

Connacht, or Connaught in the west... Barren bogland, hardly worth fighting over

Connemara, Connacht (Connaught), largely unsuitable for agriculture or livestock farming. The ragged coastal lands of the west of Ireland make an ideal backdrop for adventure and horror stories
Connemara, Connacht (Connaught), largely unsuitable for agriculture or livestock farming. The ragged coastal lands of the west of Ireland make an ideal backdrop for adventure and horror stories | Source

Connacht and Connlai

CONNACHT* was one of five regions created by the Fir Bholg from Ireland. Traditionally the great rival and mortal enemy of Ulster, Medb of Connacht fought a war against neighbouring Ulster for Donn Cuailnge, the great brown bull of Ulster;

CONNLAI, sometimes also known as Conall/Conal - likely out of confusion with Conall Cernach - was the son of Cuchulainn and Aoife (2), great rival of Scatach (from whom Cuchulainn learnt the arts of war). On defeating Aoife the great warrior and sorcerer Cuchulainn had a child by her.

The young lad stayed with Scatach and learnt from her how to fight after his father went back to Ireland. Grown to be a warrior, he finally went to Ireland. He was warned not to tell anyone who he was if challenged. The folk of Ireland, on learning of his great deeds supposedly sent a champion to meet him as his vessel neared their shore. The champion was Conall Cernach, who was nevertheless beaten and slain by Connlai.

Cuchulainn himself called out Connlai to fight, being denied the right to learn Connlai's name. Cuchulainn's wife, Emer, warned him that this mighty warrior might be his son, but her warning fell on deaf ears. The pair fought long and hard but as it was Cuchulainn finally won. As Connlai lay dying he told Cuchulainn who he was. The father was grief-stricken and sorry for having fought and killed his son

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*Connacht - Connaught has been a recruiting area for a regiment of the British Army since Napoleonic times. The Connaught Rangers is an elite regiment that has seen action across several theatres of war

The early kingdoms of Ireland. Connacht is on the upper left,snaking around the western edge of neighbouring Ulster in the north-east
The early kingdoms of Ireland. Connacht is on the upper left,snaking around the western edge of neighbouring Ulster in the north-east

Cormac mac Airt

Another Gaelic hero who appears in a number of tales. Thought to have been a renowned king halfway through the 2nd Century AD, he is thought to have been the father of Cairbre and Grainne. He was drawn to the Otherworld by Manannan mac Lir, who showed himself in disguise and offered the king three wishes for a bough of three golden apples that gave off healing music when shaken. When Manannan claimed his three wishes he took Cormac's wife and children. Cormac pursued them into an eerie thick mist, to find himself in the Otherworld.

His wife and offspring were given back to him and Manannan gave Cormac a golden cup that would split, he said, if lies were uttered over it but could be made whole once more if three truths were told. On Cormac's death the cup vanished

Cormac mac Airt

Cormac mac Airt, unintentional visitor to the Otherworld
Cormac mac Airt, unintentional visitor to the Otherworld | Source

Da Derga's Hostel

A hostel owned by a Leinster clan chief where weary travellers were welcomed, and Da Derga's hostel was where Conaire Mor went, having broken a 'geis' or bond in doing so. He also overlooked portents on his way and met three riders clothed in red garments, riding red steeds - harbingers of death.

Despite his ride to Da Derga's hostel being thus cursed he went on with his intention. On reaching the hostel his foes set about him and his few men. Although they were able to kill many of their assailants Conaire was killed and the hostel wrecked

Large Iron Age roundhouse, Emain Macha  - the historic Armagh
Large Iron Age roundhouse, Emain Macha - the historic Armagh | Source
Irish Gaelic reliquary, a solid 'safehouse' for valuables, a treasure in itself
Irish Gaelic reliquary, a solid 'safehouse' for valuables, a treasure in itself | Source

More Gaelic myths:

DAIRE was a son of Fionn mac Cumhaill. The story goes that he was swallowed by a monster, but he managed to hack his way out of the monster's stomach and freed others ho had been previously swallowed;

DANI was one of the last Celtic kings who ruled at Tara before St Patrick went there on his mission to convert the Irish to Christianity. Leading an army into Britain and then on to mainland Europe, he was struck by lightning when attacking a tower in the lower Rhine Valley;

DEALGNAID was the wife of Partholan, accompanying him to Ireland. She was the mother of Rury, said to have been the son of her husband. It is also said he was the son of a manservant, Topa, whom Dealgnaid seduced;

DEICHTIRE is - mistakenly? - said to have been the druid Cathbad's daughter and was in turn Cuchulainn's mother by the god Lugh despite being Sualtain's wife. Sualtain was an Ulster chieftain and some say he was Cuchulainn's real father. Another telling is that Deichtire was either the daughter or sister of Conchobar mac Nessa

Next -:14 The big one! Tale of Cuchulainn

The Navan Centre

Re-enactors at the Navan Centre near sunset. In engaging to live life as their ancestors knew it, they allow a younger generation an insight into Irish/Gaelic history
Re-enactors at the Navan Centre near sunset. In engaging to live life as their ancestors knew it, they allow a younger generation an insight into Irish/Gaelic history | Source
The Navan Centre and Iron Age hillfort in Armagh
The Navan Centre and Iron Age hillfort in Armagh | Source
Where to find the centre and its neighbours to learn of Ulster's history
Where to find the centre and its neighbours to learn of Ulster's history

Delve into Ireland's Gaelic past at the Navan Centre

The north of Ireland, Ulster's historic Celtic past restored in the Navan Centre. Take a journey of discovery into the distant past, before Patrick's arrival, in a time of mists and legend, heroic warrior kings, demons and monsters. Spend a day listening to poets, re-enact great battles and look on the treasures unearthed in the region

© 2013 Alan R Lancaster

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