Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Irish Legends: Deirdre & Naoise

Watching a calf being skinned upon the fresh snow and a raven who had come to feast upon the slaughter, Deirdre remarked, "My beloved would be a man who would have hair as black as the raven, cheeks as red as the blood, and a body as white as the snow."
When Conchobhar mac Neasa and the Ulstermen were drinking at the house of the storyteller Feidhlimidh, an unborn baby cried out in the womb of Feidhlimidh's wife. She gave birth to a baby girl, but the druid Cathbadh fortold that the child would cause great slaughter, and the warriors called for her to be put to death. However, Conchobhar said that he would take the child, called Deirdre, and have her fostered in a remote secluded place, by the nurse Leabharcham.
Deirdre grew up to be the most beautiful woman in Ireland. One day, as she watched her foster-father flay a calf in the snow, a raven came down to drink the blood. She remarked that the man of her desires must have hair as black as the raven, cheeks as red as blood and skin as white as the snow. Leabharcham told her that there was indeed such a man, and he was Naoise, one of the Red Branch Knights.
Soon after that, Deirdre managed to meet Naoise, and threatened him with shame and derision if he refused to take her away. Naoise took his two brothers Aindle and Ardan and went with Deirdre to Scotland to escape the vengance of Conchobhar in Ireland. However, when the king of Scotland saw Deirdre and how beautiful she was, he became jealous of Naoise, and they were forced to flee to a lonely island.
Naoise and Deirdre loved each other, but the island was small and miserable, and the Ulstermen took pity on them and begged Conchobhar to relent and allow them to return to Ireland. Conchobhar agreed, and sent three warriors to escort Deirdre and the brothers back to Ireland.
On their arrival at Eamhain Mhacha, however, the king had Naoise, Aindle and Ardan slain by mercenaries, and Deirdre taken captive. The three warriors who had escorted them from Scotland were furious at this, and ravaged the whole province before going to join Queen Meadhbh in Connaught.
Conchobhar forced Deirdre to live with him for a year, and at the end of the year he asked her who she hated most in the world. Deirdre answered Eoghan mac Durthacht, for it was Eoghan who had killed Naoise, and at that Conchobhar announced that she was to now live with Eoghan. Next day, Deirdre was forced to travel in a chariot with Conchobhar on one side of her and Eoghan on the other, and the king mockingly remarked that she looked like a sheep between two rams.
At this, Deirdre, who could take no more, jumped out of the chariot and dashed her head to pieces on a rock. She was buried in the same graveyard as Naoise, and a tree grew out of each of their graves. In time, the branches of the two trees intertwined, showing that even death could not kill their great love for one another.

Source: ThinkQuest

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