Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The History of Ireland (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 32


One day Conchubhar, king of Ulster, went to partake of a feast to the house of Feidhlimidh son of Dall, storyteller to Conchubhar. In the course of that feast the wife of Feidhlimidh gave birth to a beautiful daughter; and Cathbhadh the druid, who was present at the assembly on that occasion, foreboded and foretold of this daughter that great misfortune and mischief would befall the province on her account. When the warriors heard this, they sought to put her to death on the spot. ‘By no means,’ said Conchubhar; ‘but I will take her and put her to nurse so that she may become my wife.’ Deirdre was the name that Cathbhadh the druid gave her. Conchubhar placed her in a dwelling apart, with a tutor and a nurse to bring her up; and no one in the province was permitted to go into her presence but her tutor, her nurse, and Conchubhar's censorious woman, who was called Leabharcham. She continued under these regulations until she was marriageable, and until she excelled the women of the time in beauty. One snowy day it chanced that her tutor killed a calf to prepare food for her; and when the calf's blood was shed on the snow, a raven began to drink it. And when Deirdre observed this, she said to Leabharcham that she would like to have a husband having the three colours she beheld, namely, his hair of the colour of the raven, his cheek of the colour of the calf's blood, and his skin of the colour of the snow. ‘Such a man is in the household with Conchubhar; he is called Naoise, son of Uisneach.’ ‘Then,’ said she, ‘I beseech thee, O Leabharcham, send him to speak to me in secret’; and Leabharcham informed Naoise of this. Thereupon Naoise came secretly to visit Deirdre, who revealed to him how greatly she loved him, and besought him to elope with her from Conchubhar. Naoise consented to this with reluctance, as he feared Conchubhar. Himself and his two


brothers Ainle and Ardan, having Deirdre and thrice fifty warriors with them, proceeded to Alba, where they were maintained in service by the king of Alba till he was informed of Deirdre's beauty, and asked her for his wife. Naoise and his brothers became enraged at this, and fled with Deirdre from Alba to an island in the sea, having previously had many conflicts with the king's party. Now when the story ran in Ulster that the sons of Uisneach were in this sad plight, many of the nobles of the province said to Conchubhar that it was a pity that the sons of Uisneach should be in exile on account of a wicked woman, and that they should be sent for and brought back to the country. Conchubhar consented to this at the request of the nobles; and he gave Fearghus son of Rogh, Dubhthach Daol Uladh, and Cormac Corluingeas as sureties that he would act towards them in good faith. Upon these conditions, Fearghus son of Rogh sent his own son Fiachaidh to the children of Uisneach; and he brought them and their followers to Ireland, and Deirdre with them; and no tidings whatever of them are related till they reached the green of Eamhain.

On the green they were met by Eoghan son of Durrthacht, prince of Fearnmhagh, accompanied by a large host with intent to deal treacherously with the children of Uisneach at the direction of Conchubhar; and when the childrcn of Uisneach arrived, Eoghan went to bid Naoise welcome, and in welcoming him thrust a spear through him. When Fiachaidh son of Fearghus saw this, he sprang between Eoghan and Naoise; and Eoghan dealt his second thrust at Fiachaidh, and slew him, together with Naoise; and forthwith Eoghan and his host fell upon the children of Uisneach, and slew them, and made dreadful slaughter upon their followers.

Now when Fearghus and Dubhthach heard that the children of Uisneach had been slain in violation of their guarantee, they proceeded to Eamhain, and came into conflict with the party of Conchubhar, and they slew Maine son of


Conchubhar, together with three hundred warriors of his followers. They burned and plundered Eamhain, and put Conchubhar's women to death; and they and Cormac Conluingeas assembled their supporters from all sides; and their host at that time numbered three thousand warriors; and they thence marched into Connaught to Meadhbh and to Oilill, where they found welcome and were taken into service. When they had arrived there, there was no night that they did not send parties of plunderers to ravage and burn Ulster. They continued to act thus till they ravaged the district of Cuailgne—a deed from which sprang much mischief and contention between the two provinces; and in this manner they passed seven years without an hour's truce between them. Within that time Fearghus knew Meadhbh, and she conceived of him, and bore him three sons at one birth, namely, Ciar, and Corc, and Conmhac, as the poet says:
    1. Meadhbh conceived in fair Crunchain
      Of Fearghus, who deserved not reproach,
      And brought forth triplets faultless, strong,
      Ciar and Corc and Conmhac.
From this Ciar is named Ciarraidhe in Munster, and O Conchubhair Ciarraidhe is of his progeny. From Corc is named Corca Moruadh; and from Conmhac is named every Conmhaicne in Connaught; and whoever reads the poem composed by Lughair, Oilill's poet, beginning, The children of Fearghus, children beyond all, he will plainly find that these three sons of Meadhbh wielded great power and authority in Connaught and in Munster. This is proved by the territories that are named from them in these two provinces.

Now as to Deirdre, who gave rise to the events we have narrated, she remained with Conchubhar a year after the slaying of the children of Uisneach; and little though it be to raise her head or let a smile cross her lips, she did not do it during that time. When Conchubhar saw that neither sport nor kindness had any effect on her, and neither merriment nor


pleasure raised her spirits, he sent for Eoghan son of Durrthacht, prince of Fearnmhagh; and when Eoghan had come into his presence, he said to Deirdre that, since he himself was unable to turn away her mind from her sorrow, she must pass another space of time with Eoghan; and she was thereupon placed behind Eoghan in his chariot. Conchubhar went to accompany them; and as they went along, she cast glances of rage at Eoghan in front of her and at Conchubhar behind her; for there were no two on earth she hated more than these. And when Conchubhar perceived her glancing by turns at himself and Eoghan, he said to her in jest, ‘Deirdre,’ said he, ‘thy glancing at me and at Eoghan is the glancing of a sheep between two rams.’ When Deirdre heard this, she started at the words, and sprang lightly from the chariot; and her head struck against a ledge of rock that stood before her on the ground. Her head was broken into fragments, and her brain straightway issued forth. Thus was brought about the banishinent of Fearghus son of Rogh, and of Cormac Conluingeas son of Conchubhar, of Dubhthach Daol Uladh, and the death of Deirdre.

As it was in the time of Conchubhar and the heroes that Meadhbh held the sovereignty of Connaught, and as she lived ten years after the death of Tinne son of Connraidh, her first husband, and for eighty years after that was the wife of Oilill Mor, and lived eight years unmarried after the death of Oilill till she was slain by Forbhuidhe son of Conchubhar, we shall briefly set down here the manner of death and some account of the more celebrated of the heroes who lived in the time of Meadhbh.