The Info List - Deirdre

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(/ˈdɪrdrə, ˈdɪrdri/; Irish: [ˈdʲɛɾˠdʲɾʲə]; Old Irish: Derdriu /ˈderʲðrʲĭŭ/) is the foremost tragic heroine in Irish legend
Irish legend
and probably its best-known figure in modern times.[1] 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 3 References 4 Texts 5 Music 6 See also

In legend[edit] 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, Deirdre
told 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 Leabharcham, Deirdre
met 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 Deirdre
and Naoise had children, a son Gaiar and a daughter Aebgreine[2] who were fostered by Manannan Mac Lir.[3]

"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. Fergus sent Deirdre
and the sons of Uisnech on to Emain Macha
Emain Macha
with his son to protect them. When they arrived, Conchobar sent Leabharcham
to 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,[4] who managed to catch a glimpse of 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 fought against 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. Cultural references[edit] There are many plays based on Deirdre's story, including George William Russell's 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 Watson. LÉ Deirdre, a ship in the Irish Naval Service
Irish Naval Service
from 1972 to 2001, was named after her. References[edit]

^ [1][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 Lang (1914)


The musical album "A Celtic Tale: The Legend Of Deirdre" by Mychael & Jeff Danna.

See also[edit]

Gráinne Helen of Troy Tristan and Iseult Loowit Irish mythology
Irish mythology
in popular culture

v t e

Irish mythology: the Ulster


Conchobar mac Nessa Amergin mac Eccit Athirne Blaí Briugu Bricriu Cathbad Celtchar Cethern mac Fintain Conall Cernach Cruinniuc Cú Chulainn Cúscraid Deichtine Deirdre Fedelm Fedlimid Findchóem Furbaide Láeg Leabharcham Lóegaire Búadach Mugain Neas Naoise Sencha Súaltam


Cormac Cond Longas Dubthach Dóeltenga Fergus mac Roích


Medb Ailill Finn Ailill mac Máta Bélchú Cet mac Mágach Etarcomol Ferdiad Findabair Flidais Fráech Mac Cécht Nera


Cú Roí Conganchnes mac Dedad Lugaid mac Con Roí


Achall Aífe Bláthnat Conaire Mór Cairbre Nia Fer Connla Dáire mac Fiachna Emer Éogan mac Durthacht Erc mac Cairpri Fedelm Fir Fálgae Forgall Monach Garb mac Stairn Lugaid Riab nDerg Mesgegra Nechtan Scéne Scáthach Uathach

Supernatural figures

Aengus Bébinn Boann Dáire Étaín Fand Flidais Lí Ban Lug Macha Manannán mac Lir Midir Morrígan Nemain


Donn Cuailnge and Finnbhennach Liath Macha
and Dub Sainglend


Caladbolg Fragarach Gáe Bulg Lúin of Celtchar


Brú na Bóinne Cruachan Cuailghe Dealga Dún Flidhais Eamhain Mhacha Magh Meall Teamhair


Aided Óenfhir Aífe Compert Con Culainn Fled Bricrenn Mac Da Thó's Pig Mesca Ulad Scéla Conchobair Serglige Con Culainn Táin Bó Cúailnge Táin Bó Flidhais Tochmarc Emire Tochmarc Étaíne Togail Bruidne Dá Derga

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