The Story of Deirdre
There was a man in Ireland once who
was called Malcolm Harper. The
man was a right good man, and he had a goodly share of
goods. He had a wife, but no family. What did Malcolm hear
a soothsayer had come home to the place, and as the man
was a right
good man, he wished that the soothsayer might come near
Whether it was that he was invited or that he came of himself,
soothsayer came to the house of Malcolm.
"Are you doing any soothsaying?" says
"Yes, I am doing a little.
Are you in need of soothsaying?"
"Well, I do not mind taking
soothsaying from you, if you had
soothsaying for me, and you would be willing to do it."
"Well, I will do soothsaying
for you. What kind of soothsaying do
"Well, the soothsaying I
wanted was that you would tell me my lot or
what will happen to me, if you can give me knowledge of
"Well, I am going out, and
when I return, I will tell you."
And the soothsayer went forth out of the house and he
was not long
outside when he returned.
"Well," said the soothsayer, "I
saw in my second sight that it is on
account of a daughter of yours that the greatest amount
shall be shed that has ever been shed in Erin since time
began. And the three most famous heroes that ever were
lose their heads on her account."
After a time a daughter was born to Malcolm, he did not
living being to come to his house, only himself and the
asked this woman, "Will you yourself bring up the
child to keep her
in hiding far away where eye will not see a sight of her
hear a word about her?"
The woman said she would, so Malcolm got three men, and
he took them
away to a large mountain, distant and far from reach, without
knowledge or notice of any one. He caused there a hillock,
green, to be dug out of the middle, and the hole thus made
covered carefully over so that a little company could dwell
together. This was done.
Deirdre and her foster-mother dwelt in the bothy mid the
without the knowledge or the suspicion of any living person
them and without anything occurring, until Deirdre was
of age. Deirdre grew like the white sapling, straight and
the rash on the moss. She was the creature of fairest form,
loveliest aspect, and of gentlest nature that existed between
and heaven in all Ireland--whatever colour of hue she had
there was nobody that looked into her face but she would
red over it.
The woman that had charge of her, gave Deirdre every information
skill of which she herself had knowledge and skill. There
was not a
blade of grass growing from root, nor a bird singing in
nor a star shining from heaven but Deirdre had a name for
one thing, she did not wish her to have either part or
any single living man of the rest of the world. But on
winter night, with black, scowling clouds, a hunter of
wearily travelling the hills, and what happened but that
the trail of the hunt, and lost his course and companions.
drowsiness came upon the man as he wearily wandered over
and he lay down by the side of the beautiful green knoll
Deirdre lived, and he slept. The man was faint from hunger
wandering, and benumbed with cold, and a deep sleep fell
When he lay down beside the green hill where Deirdre was,
dream came to the man, and he thought that he enjoyed the
a fairy broch, the fairies being inside playing music.
shouted out in his dream, if there was any one in the broch,
him in for the Holy One's sake. Deirdre heard the voice
and said to
her foster-mother: "O foster-mother, what cry is that?" "It
nothing at all, Deirdre--merely the birds of the air astray
seeking each other. But let them go past to the bosky glade.
is no shelter or house for them here." "Oh, foster-mother,
asked to get inside for the sake of the God of the Elements,
yourself tell me that anything that is asked in His name
we ought to
do. If you will not allow the bird that is being benumbed
and done to death with hunger, to be let in, I do not think
your language or your faith. But since I give credence
language and to your faith, which you taught me, I will
in the bird." And Deirdre arose and drew the bolt
from the leaf of
the door, and she let in the hunter. She placed a seat
in the place
for sitting, food in the place for eating, and drink in
for drinking for the man who came to the house. "Oh,
for this life
and raiment, you man that came in, keep restraint on your
said the old woman. "It is not a great thing for you
to keep your
mouth shut and your tongue quiet when you get a home and
a hearth on a gloomy winter's night."
"Well," said the hunter, "I
may do that--keep my mouth shut and my
tongue quiet, since I came to the house and received hospitality
from you; but by the hand of thy father and grandfather,
and by your
own two hands, if some other of the people of the world
beauteous creature you have here hid away, they would not
her with you, I swear."
"What men are these you refer to?" said
"Well, I will tell you, young woman," said
"They are Naois, son of
Uisnech, and Allen and Arden his two
"What like are these men when seen, if we were to
see them?" said
"Why, the aspect and form of the men when seen are
these," said the
hunter: "they have the colour of the raven on their
hair, their skin
like swan on the wave in whiteness, and their cheeks as
the blood of
the brindled red calf, and their speed and their leap are
the salmon of the torrent and the deer of the grey mountain
And Naois is head and shoulders over the rest of the people
"However they are," said the nurse, "be
you off from here and take
another road. And, King of Light and Sun! in good sooth
certainty, little are my thanks for yourself or for her
that let you
The hunter went away, and went straight to the palace
Connachar. He sent word in to the king that he wished to
him if he pleased. The king answered the message and came
speak to the man. "What is the reason of your journey?" said
king to the hunter.
"I have only to tell you, O king," said the
hunter, "that I saw the
fairest creature that ever was born in Erin, and I came
to tell you
"Who is this beauty and
where is she to be seen, when she was not
seen before till you saw her, if you did see her?"
"Well, I did see her," said the hunter. "But,
if I did, no man else
can see her unless he get directions from me as to where
"And will you direct me
to where she dwells? and the reward of your
directing me will be as good as the reward of your message," said
"Well, I will direct you,
O king, although it is likely that this
will not be what they want," said the hunter.
Connachar, King of Ulster, sent for his nearest kinsmen,
and he told
them of his intent. Though early rose the song of the birds
rocky caves and the music of the birds in the grove, earlier
that did Connachar, King of Ulster, arise, with his little
dear friends, in the delightful twilight of the fresh and
May; the dew was heavy on each bush and flower and stem,
went to bring Deirdre forth from the green knoll where
Many a youth was there who had a lithe leaping and lissom
they started whose step was faint, failing, and faltering
reached the bothy on account of the length of the way and
of the road.
"Yonder, now, down in the
bottom of the glen is the bothy where the
woman dwells, but I will not go nearer than this to the
said the hunter.
Connachar with his band of kinsfolk went down to the green
where Deirdre dwelt and he knocked at the door of the bothy.
nurse replied, "No less than a king's command and
a king's army
could put me out of my bothy to-night. And I should be
you, were you to tell who it is that wants me to open my
"It is I, Connachar, King of Ulster." When
the poor woman heard who
was at the door, she rose with haste and let in the king
that could get in of his retinue.
When the king saw the woman that was before him that he
had been in
quest of, he thought he never saw in the course of the
day nor in
the dream of night a creature so fair as Deirdre and he
full heart's weight of love to her. Deirdre was raised
topmost of the heroes' shoulders and she and her foster-mother
brought to the Court of King Connachar of Ulster.
With the love that Connachar had for her, he wanted to
right off there and then, will she nill she marry him.
But she said
to him, "I would be obliged to you if you will give
me the respite
of a year and a day." He said "I will grant you
that, hard though it
is, if you will give me your unfailing promise that you
me at the year's end." And she gave the promise. Connachar
her a woman-teacher and merry modest maidens fair that
down and rise with her, that would play and speak with
was clever in maidenly duties and wifely understanding,
Connachar thought he never saw with bodily eye a creature
pleased him more.
Deirdre and her women companions were one day out on the
behind the house enjoying the scene, and drinking in the
What did they see coming but three men a-journeying. Deirdre
looking at the men that were coming, and wondering at them.
men neared them, Deirdre remembered the language of the
and she said to herself that these were the three sons
and that this was Naois, he having what was above the bend
two shoulders above the men of Erin all. The three brothers
past without taking any notice of them, without even glancing
young girls on the hillock. What happened but that love
struck the heart of Deirdre, so that she could not but
him. She girded up her raiment and went after the men that
the base of the knoll, leaving her women attendants there.
Arden had heard of the woman that Connachar, King of Ulster,
with him, and they thought that, if Naois, their brother,
he would have her himself, more especially as she was not
the King. They perceived the woman coming, and called on
to hasten their step as they had a long distance to travel,
dusk of night was coming on. They did so. She cried: "Naois,
Uisnech, will you leave me?" "What piercing,
shrill cry is that--the
most melodious my ear ever heard, and the shrillest that
my heart of all the cries I ever heard?" "It
is anything else but
the wail of the wave-swans of Connachar," said his
yonder is a woman's cry of distress," said Naois,
and he swore he
would not go further until he saw from whom the cry came,
turned back. Naois and Deirdre met, and Deirdre kissed
times, and a kiss each to his brothers. With the confusion
was in, Deirdre went into a crimson blaze of fire, and
came and went as rapidly as the movement of the aspen by
side. Naois thought he never saw a fairer creature, and
Deirdre the love that he never gave to thing, to vision,
creature but to herself.
Then Naois placed Deirdre on the topmost height of his
told his brothers to keep up their pace, and they kept
pace. Naois thought that it would not be well for him to
Erin on account of the way in which Connachar, King of
uncle's son, had gone against him because of the woman,
had not married her; and he turned back to Alba, that is,
He reached the side of Loch-Ness and made his habitation
could kill the salmon of the torrent from out his own door,
deer of the grey gorge from out his window. Naois and Deirdre
Allen and Arden dwelt in a tower, and they were happy so
long a time
as they were there.
By this time the end of the period came at which Deirdre
marry Connachar, King of Ulster. Connachar made up his
mind to take
Deirdre away by the sword whether she was married to Naois
So he prepared a great and gleeful feast. He sent word
far and wide
through Erin all to his kinspeople to come to the feast.
thought to himself that Naois would not come though he
him; and the scheme that arose in his mind was to send
father's brother, Ferchar Mac Ro, and to send him on an
Naois. He did so; and Connachar said to Ferchar, "Tell
Naois, son of
Uisnech, that I am setting forth a great and gleeful feast
friends and kinspeople throughout the wide extent of Erin
that I shall not have rest by day nor sleep by night if
he and Allen
and Arden be not partakers of the feast."
Ferchar Mac Ro and his three sons went on their journey,
the tower where Naois was dwelling by the side of Loch
sons of Uisnech gave a cordial kindly welcome to Ferchar
Mac Ro and
his three sons, and asked of him the news of Erin. "The
that I have for you," said the hardy hero, "is
that Connachar, King
of Ulster, is setting forth a great sumptuous feast to
and kinspeople throughout the wide extent of Erin all,
and he has
vowed by the earth beneath him, by the high heaven above
him, and by
the sun that wends to the west, that he will have no rest
by day nor
sleep by night if the sons of Uisnech, the sons of his
brother, will not come back to the land of their home and
of their nativity, and to the feast likewise, and he has
sent us on
embassy to invite you."
"We will go with you," said
"We will," said his
But Deirdre did not wish to go with Ferchar Mac Ro, and
every prayer to turn Naois from going with him--she said:
"I saw a vision, Naois, and do you interpret it to
Deirdre--then she sang:
O Naois, son of Uisnech, hear
What was shown in a dream to me.
There came three white doves out of the South
Flying over the sea,
And drops of honey were in their mouth
From the hive of the honey-bee.
O Naois, son of Uisnech, hear,
What was shown in a dream to me.
I saw three grey hawks out of the south
Come flying over the sea,
And the red red drops they bare in their mouth
They were dearer than life to me.
It is nought but the fear of woman's heart,
And a dream of the night, Deirdre.
"The day that Connachar
sent the invitation to his feast will be
unlucky for us if we don't go, O Deirdre."
"You will go there," said Ferchar Mac Ro; "and
if Connachar show
kindness to you, show ye kindness to him; and if he will
wrath towards you display ye wrath towards him, and I and
sons will be with you."
"We will," said Daring Drop. "We will," said
Hardy Holly. "We will,"
said Fiallan the Fair.
"I have three sons, and
they are three heroes, and in any harm or
danger that may befall you, they will be with you, and
I myself will
be along with them." And Ferchar Mac Ro gave his vow
and his word in
presence of his arms that, in any harm or danger that came
way of the sons of Uisnech, he and his three sons would
head on live body in Erin, despite sword or helmet, spear
blade or mail, be they ever so good.
Deirdre was unwilling to leave Alba, but she went with
Deirdre wept tears in showers and she sang:
Dear is the land, the land over there,
Alba full of woods and lakes;
Bitter to my heart is leaving thee,
But I go away with Naois.
Ferchar Mac Ro did not stop till he got the sons of Uisnech
with him, despite the suspicion of Deirdre.
The coracle was put to sea,
The sail was hoisted to it;
And the second morrow they arrived
On the white shores of Erin.
As soon as the sons of Uisnech landed in Erin, Ferchar
Mac Ro sent
word to Connachar, king of Ulster, that the men whom he
come, and let him now show kindness to them. "Well," said
"I did not expect that the sons of Uisnech would come,
though I sent
for them, and I am not quite ready to receive them. But
there is a
house down yonder where I keep strangers, and let them
go down to it
today, and my house will be ready before them tomorrow."
But he that was up in the palace felt it long that he
getting word as to how matters were going on for those
down in the
house of the strangers. "Go you, Gelban Grednach,
son of Lochlin's
King, go you down and bring me information as to whether
hue and complexion are on Deirdre. If they be, I will take
with edge of blade and point of sword, and if not, let
Naois, son of
Uisnech, have her for himself," said Connachar.
Gelban, the cheering and charming son of Lochlin's King,
to the place of the strangers, where the sons of Uisnech
were staying. He looked in through the bicker-hole on the
Now she that he gazed upon used to go into a crimson blaze
blushes when any one looked at her. Naois looked at Deirdre
that some one was looking at her from the back of the door-leaf.
seized one of the dice on the table before him and fired
the bicker-hole, and knocked the eye out of Gelban Grednach
Cheerful and Charming, right through the back of his head.
returned back to the palace of King Connachar.
"You were cheerful, charming,
going away, but you are cheerless,
charmless, returning. What has happened to you, Gelban?
But have you
seen her, and are Deirdre's hue and complexion as before?" said
"Well, I have seen Deirdre,
and I saw her also truly, and while I
was looking at her through the bicker-hole on the door,
of Uisnech, knocked out my eye with one of the dice in
his hand. But
of a truth and verity, although he put out even my eye,
it were my
desire still to remain looking at her with the other eye,
not for the hurry you told me to be in," said Gelban.
"That is true," said Connachar; "let
three hundred bravo heroes go
down to the abode of the strangers, and let them bring
hither to me
Deirdre, and kill the rest."
Connachar ordered three hundred active heroes to go down
abode of the strangers and to take Deirdre up with them
and kill the
rest. "The pursuit is coming," said Deirdre.
"Yes, but I will myself go out and stop the pursuit," said
"It is not you, but we that will go," said
Daring Drop, and Hardy
Holly, and Fiallan the Fair; "it is to us that our
your defence from harm and danger when he himself left
And the gallant youths, full noble, full manly, full handsome,
beauteous brown locks, went forth girt with battle arms
fierce fight and clothed with combat dress for fierce contest
which was burnished, bright, brilliant, bladed, blazing,
were many pictures of beasts and birds and creeping things,
and lithe-limbed tigers, brown eagle and harrying hawk
fierce; and the young heroes laid low three-thirds of the
Connachar came out in haste and
cried with wrath: "Who
is there on
the floor of fight, slaughtering my men?"
"We, the three sons of Ferchar
"Well," said the king, "I
will give a free bridge to your
grandfather, a free bridge to your father, and a free bridge
you three brothers, if you come over to my side tonight."
"Well, Connachar, we will
not accept that offer from you nor thank
you for it. Greater by far do we prefer to go home to our
tell the deeds of heroism we have done, than accept anything
these terms from you. Naois, son of Uisnech, and Allen
and Arden are
as nearly related to yourself as they are to us, though
you are so
keen to shed their blood, and you would shed our blood
Connachar." And the noble, manly, handsome youths
brown locks returned inside. "We are now," said
they, "going home to
tell our father that you are now safe from the hands of
And the youths all fresh and tall and lithe and beautiful,
to their father to tell that the sons of Uisnech were safe.
happened at the parting of the day and night in the morning
time, and Naois said they must go away, leave that house,
Naois and Deirdre, Allan and Arden started to return to
came to the king that the company he was in pursuit of
The king then sent for Duanan Gacha Druid, the best magician
and he spoke to him as follows:--"Much wealth have
I expended on
you, Duanan Gacha Druid, to give schooling and learning
mystery to you, if these people get away from me today
without consideration or regard for me, without chance
them, and without power to stop them."
"Well, I will stop them," said the magician, "until
the company you
send in pursuit return." And the magician placed a
wood before them
through which no man could go, but the sons of Uisnech
through the wood without halt or hesitation, and Deirdre
held on to
"What is the good of that? that will not do yet," said
"They are off without bending of their feet or stopping
step, without heed or respect to me, and I am without power
up to them or opportunity to turn them back this night."
"I will try another plan on them," said
the druid; and he placed
before them a grey sea instead of a green plain. The three
stripped and tied their clothes behind their heads, and
Deirdre on the top of his shoulder.
They stretched their sides to the stream,
And sea and land were to them the same,
The rough grey ocean was the same
As meadow-land green and plain.
"Though that be good, O
Duanan, it will not make the heroes return,"
said Connachar; "they are gone without regard for
me, and without
honour to me, and without power on my part to pursue them
force them to return this night."
"We shall try another method
on them, since yon one did not stop
them," said the druid. And the druid froze the grey
ridged sea into
hard rocky knobs, the sharpness of sword being on the one
the poison power of adders on the other. Then Arden cried
was getting tired, and nearly giving over. "Come you,
Arden, and sit
on my right shoulder," said Naois. Arden came and
sat, on Naois's
shoulder. Arden was long in this posture when he died;
but though he
was dead Naois would not let him go. Allen then cried out
was getting faint and nigh-well giving up. When Naois heard
prayer, he gave forth the piercing sigh of death, and asked
lay hold of him and he would bring him to land.
Allen was not long when the weakness of death came on
him and his
hold failed. Naois looked around, and when he saw his two
beloved brothers dead, he cared not whether he lived or
died, and he
gave forth the bitter sigh of death, and his heart burst.
"They are gone," said Duanan Gacha Druid to
the king, "and I have
done what you desired me. The sons of Uisnech are dead
and they will
trouble you no more; and you have your wife hale and whole
"Blessings for that upon
you and may the good results accrue to me,
Duanan. I count it no loss what I spent in the schooling
teaching of you. Now dry up the flood, and let me see if
behold Deirdre," said Connachar. And Duanan Gacha
Druid dried up the
flood from the plain and the three sons of Uisnech were
together dead, without breath of life, side by side on
meadow plain and Deirdre bending above showering down her
Then Deirdre said this lament: "Fair
one, loved one, flower of
beauty; beloved upright and strong; beloved noble and modest
warrior. Fair one, blue-eyed, beloved of thy wife; lovely
to me at
the trysting-place came thy clear voice through the woods
Ireland. I cannot eat or smile henceforth. Break not to-day,
heart: soon enough shall I lie within my grave. Strong
are the waves
of sorrow, but stronger is sorrow's self, Connachar."
The people then gathered round the heroes' bodies and
Connachar what was to be done with the bodies. The order
gave was that they should dig a pit and put the three brothers
side by side.
Deirdre kept sitting on the brink of the grave, constantly
the gravediggers to dig the pit wide and free. When the
the brothers were put in the grave, Deirdre said:--
Come over hither, Naois, my love,
Let Arden close to Allen lie;
If the dead had any sense to feel,
Ye would have made a place for Deirdre.
The men did as she told them. She jumped into the grave
and lay down
by Naois, and she was dead by his side.
The king ordered the body to be raised from out the grave
and to be
buried on the other side of the loch. It was done as the
and the pit closed. Thereupon a fir shoot grew out of the
Deirdre and a fir shoot from the grave of Naois, and the
united in a knot above the loch. The king ordered the shoots
cut down, and this was done twice, until, at the third
wife whom the king had married caused him to stop this
work of evil
and his vengeance on the remains of the dead.