Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
The Irish legend of Deirdre and Naoise comes from the Ulster Cycle stories. These are tales from the time when Conchobar mac Nessa was king of Ulster. The story of Deidre and Naoise is one of undying love and tragic consequences for that love.
Deirdre was born to Feidlimid and his wife. Feidlimid was King Conchobar's bard. It happened one night, that as the men of Ulster sat round Feidlimid's table, that the wife was present, great with child. When she left to retire for the night, a great and shrill scream startled the whole house, even those out in the court. The cry came from the child in the womb. All the men started up and sought the source of the scream. When it was known that the child in the womb had screamed, the mother was brought before the men and questioned.
What is that, of all cries far the fiercest,
In thy womb raging loudly and long?
Through all ears with that clamour thou piercest;
With that scream, from Bides swollen and strong:
Of great woe, for that cry, is foreboding my heart;
That is torn through with terror, and sore with the smart.
(The Book of Leinster)
The woman turned to Cathbad the Druid, who knew all, and asked him to give his words of wisdom, for she knew not what the cry meant. Cathbad told them that it was a woman who screamed out her woes for the tragedy that would come in her life. She would be a woman of great beauty, sought after by all men, and the cause of death to great warriors. Her splendid beauty would be beyond all mortal man had ever seen. Cathbad placed his hand upon the mother's belly and said, "Aye, indeed, it is a woman child who is here. Deirdre shall be her name, and evil woe shall be upon her."
Now, present among the men, was King Conchobar. As the younger men called out to have the mother and child slain, Conchobar stood up and declared that the child will be brought up in his care. Conchobar was enamored of the child who would become the greatest beauty of his kingdom, yea, even the whole of existence. He said the child will grow up and become his wife one day, and he would have her trained and raised properly to be his queen. She shall be raised by foster parents and put under the care of Levorcham, a witch. No man, Conchobar said, shall see her, no one will ever go near her except the foster parents and Levorcham. So, when the child was born, she was taken from her parents and sent to Levorcham, to live in one of the king's houses away from his court.
As Deirdre grew, she became ever more graceful and beautiful. Levorcham was always by Deirdre's side. One day they were out watching her foster father skin a calf. There was snow on the ground and the blood of the calf spread on the snow. A black raven flew down to drink the blood. Deirdre had learned the ways of a witch from Levorcham, and exclaimed to Levorcham that the man she would love would be of those three colors she saw. Raven black would be his hair, blood red would be his lips, and his skin as white as the snow. Levorcham told Deirdre that the very man was near by, staying in a burgh at Emain Macha and that his name was Naoise. Deirdre vowed that she would not rest till Naoise and her were united.
Naoise and his two brothers, Ardan and Ainnie, were the sons of Usnach, and nephews of King Conchobar. They were famous for their warrior skills that none could match, and their warrior cry that would ring out with music over the land.
The day came that Deirdre and Naoise did meet. He was outside the burg on the plain, practicing his musical cry. Deirdre heard and escaped from her house. She ran out to the plain where he stood. They flirted with each other before Naoise realized who she was. He then backed away and said he feared the prophecy of Cathbad. Deirdre asked if he was refusing her. Naoise said he was and she sprang upon him, grabbing his ears. She threatened shame and mockery upon him if he did not take her as his wife. He said he would, then cried out full his warrior cry. All the men of Ulster started up when they heard the cry and with weapons ran to the plain. Naoise's brothers reached him first.
Naoise told them that he would take Deirdre for his wife and the brothers chastised him, saying that would bring evil upon them all. That night they took counsel and decided to take their warriors and entire household to another land. Knowing that Conchobar would be coming for them, they left that night.
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Author's note: Please continue to read the story of Deirdre and Naoise at the related link below: Deirdre and Naoise - in Exile. Thank you.