Deirdre (/ˈdɪrdrə, ˈdɪrdri/; Irish: [ˈdʲɛɾˠdʲɾʲə]; Old
Irish: Derdriu /ˈderʲðrʲĭŭ/) is the foremost tragic heroine in
Irish legend and probably its best-known figure in modern times.
She is known by the epithet "
Deirdre of the Sorrows" (Irish: Deirdre
an Bhróin). Her story is part of the
Ulster Cycle, the best-known
stories of pre-Christian Ireland.
1 In legend
2 Cultural references
6 See also
Deirdre was the daughter of the royal storyteller Fedlimid mac Daill.
Before she was born,
Cathbad the chief druid at the court of Conchobar
mac Nessa, king of Ulster, prophesied that Fedlimid's daughter would
grow up to be very beautiful, but that kings and lords would go to war
over her, much blood would be shed because of her, and Ulster's three
greatest warriors would be forced into exile for her sake.
Hearing this, many urged Fedlimid to kill the baby at birth, but
Conchobar, aroused by the description of her future beauty, decided to
keep the child for himself. He took
Deirdre away from her family and
had her brought up in seclusion by Leabharcham, a poet and wise woman,
and planned to marry
Deirdre when she was old enough. As a young girl,
living isolated in the woodlands,
Leabharcham one snowy
day that she would love a man with the colours she had seen when a
raven landed in the snow with its prey: hair the color of the raven,
skin as white as snow, and cheeks as red as blood.
Leabharcham told her she was describing Naoise, a handsome young
warrior, hunter and singer at Conchobar's court. With the collusion of
Naoise and they fell in love. Accompanied by
his brothers Ardan and Ainnle, the three sons of
Uisneach and Deirdre
fled to Scotland. They lived a happy life there, hunting and fishing
and living in beautiful places; one place associated with them is Loch
Etive. Some versions of the story mention that
children, a son Gaiar and a daughter Aebgreine who were fostered by
Manannan Mac Lir.
"Deirdre's Lament", drawing by J.H. Bacon, c.1905.
But the furious, humiliated Conchobar tracked them down. He sent
Fergus mac Róich to them with an invitation to return and Fergus's
own promise of safe conduct home, but on the way back to Emain Macha
Conchobar had Fergus waylaid, forced by his personal geis (an
obligation) to accept an invitation to a feast.
Deirdre and the sons of Uisnech on to
Emain Macha with his
son to protect them. When they arrived, Conchobar sent
spy on Deirdre, to see if she had lost her beauty. Leabharcham, to
protect Deirdre, told the king that
Deirdre was now ugly and aged.
Conchobar then sent another spy, Gelbann, who managed to catch a
Deirdre but was seen by Naoise, who threw a gold chess
piece at him and put out his eye.
The spy managed to get back to Conchobar, and told him that Deirdre
was as beautiful as ever. Conchobar called his warriors to attack the
Red Branch house where
Deirdre and the sons of Uisnech were lodging.
Naoise and his brothers fought valiantly, aided by a few Red Branch
warriors, before Conchobar evoked their oath of loyalty to him and had
Deirdre dragged to his side. At this point,
Éogan mac Durthacht threw
a spear, killing Naoise, and his brothers were killed shortly after.
Fergus and his men arrived after the battle. Fergus was outraged by
this betrayal of his word, and went into exile in Connacht. He later
Ulster for Ailill and
Medb in the war of the Táin Bó
Cúailnge (the Cattle Raid of Cooley), the Irish Iliad.
After the death of Naoise, Conchobar took
Deirdre as his wife. After a
year, angered by Deirdre's continuing coldness toward him, Conchobar
asked her whom in the world she hated the most, besides himself. She
answered "Éogan mac Durthacht," the man who had murdered Naoise.
Conchobar said that he would give her to Éogan. As she was being
taken to Éogan, Conchobar taunted her, saying she looked like a ewe
between two rams. At this,
Deirdre threw herself from the chariot,
dashing her head to pieces against a rock.
There are many plays based on Deirdre's story, including George
Deirdre (1902), William Butler Yeats' Deirdre
(1907), J. M. Synge's
Deirdre of the Sorrows (1910), John Coulter's
Deirdre of the Sorrows: An Ancient and Noble Tale Retold by John
Coulter for Music by Healey Willian (1944), and Vincent Woods' A Cry
from Heaven (2005). Novels include
Deirdre (1923) by James Stephens,
The Celts (1988) by Elona Malterre, and The Swan Maiden by Jules
LÉ Deirdre, a ship in the
Irish Naval Service
Irish Naval Service from 1972 to 2001,
was named after her.
^ [dead link]
^ Monaghan, Patricia. 2008. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and
Folklore. Checkmark Books. pg 123
^ Hitt, J.G. 1908.
Deirdre and the Sons of Uisneach: A Scoto-Irish
Romance of the First Century A.D. Marshall Brothers. pg. 46
^ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology Entry for Deirdre[dead link]
University of Cork, Ireland : CELT (Corpus of Electronic
Texts) : Longes mac nUislenn
University of Cork, Ireland : CELT (Corpus of Electronic
Texts) : Longes mac nUislenn (translation by Douglas Hyde)
A Scoto-Irish Romance of the first century A.D., compiled from various
sources by William Graham, 1908
The Exile of the Sons of Usnech
Deirdre of the Sorrows by J. M. Synge
The Lament of Deirdre
John Coulter Finding Aid McMaster University Libraries
"Deirdrê" A detailed retelling of the story for children, by Jeanie
The musical album "A Celtic Tale: The Legend Of Deirdre" by Mychael
& Jeff Danna.
Helen of Troy
Tristan and Iseult
Irish mythology in popular culture
Irish mythology: the
Conchobar mac Nessa
Amergin mac Eccit
Cethern mac Fintain
Cormac Cond Longas
Fergus mac Roích
Ailill mac Máta
Cet mac Mágach
Conganchnes mac Dedad
Lugaid mac Con Roí
Cairbre Nia Fer
Dáire mac Fiachna
Éogan mac Durthacht
Erc mac Cairpri
Garb mac Stairn
Lugaid Riab nDerg
Manannán mac Lir
Donn Cuailnge and Finnbhennach
Macha and Dub Sainglend
Lúin of Celtchar
Brú na Bóinne
Aided Óenfhir Aífe
Compert Con Culainn
Mac Da Thó's Pig
Serglige Con Culainn
Táin Bó Cúailnge
Táin Bó Flidhais
Togail Bruidne Dá Derga
part of a series on Celtic mythology