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When wilt thou arise in thy beauty, first of Erinn's maidens ; 
Thy sleep is long in the tomb, and the morning distant tar ; 
The sun shall not come to thy bed and say : 

• Awake, Darthula ; awake, thou first of women, 

The wind of spring is abroad. 

The flowers shake their heads on the green hills. 

The woods wave their growing leaves.' 
Retire, oh sun, the daughter of Colla is asleep ; 
Never again will she come forth in her beauty, 
Nor move in the steps of her loveliness." 

Macphbrson's •* Poems of Ossian.' 





The larger portion of the following compilation was 
read to the Glasgow Bankers' Debating and Literary 
Society in December last, and has been allowed to 
retain much of its original form, with the addition 
of some explanatory notes, where these seemed 

The previous month of September had been spent 
at Ledaig, near Oban, where, as a holiday task, the 
writer learned something of the history of the clan 
commemorated in the neighbouring vitrified Fort 
of the Sons of Uisneach. Subsequent research 
showed how widely their story was known to Celtic 
scholarship, and in what various forms it had already 
been published. To the general reader, however, as 
ignorant of Gaelic as the present writer, the story 
may serve as an introduction to the comparatively 
unknown, but wonderfully interesting, field of ancient 
Celtic literature, and it is to the general reader alone 
that these notes are now offered. They contain 


nothing for the scholar, unless matter for criticism 
and correction. 

Just as these pages were ready for the press, two 
notable additions to the Uisneach literature appeared, 
both from the hands of eminent Celtic scholars. 
Professor MacKinnon, of the Celtic Chair in Edinburgh 
University, has concluded an able translation of the 
Glenmasan MS. in the Advocates' Library, Edin- 
burgh. This MS. bears date 1238 A.D., but Professor 
MacKinnon considers it cannot be placed earlier than 
the end of the fifteenth century. He adds, however, 
that " the existing copy may well have been transcribed 
from an older MS., whose date Was 1238 A.D. The 
writer of the note [as to the date] had authority of 
some kind when he is so specific as to the day and 
year. One may go further and say that the contents 
of our MS. were reduced to writing long before 1238 
A.D. The Glenmasan MS. must have undergone 
several recensions before the existing copy was 

The other work referred to is a literal translation by 
Mr Alexander Carmichael of the story of " Deirdire 
and the Lay of the Children of Uisnd" as orally 
collected on the Island of Barra. The fact that this 
tale should have lingered on in tradition for so many 


centuries amid the solitudes of the Outer Hebrides, 
and yet be found presenting the same general features 
as in the Edinburgh MS. of 1500 or the Irish books of 
1 100 or 1 1 50, affords a singular evidence of the extra- 
ordinary interest attaching to the central figures of 
the tragedy, " Uisnd's Children of the White Horses," 
and of Deirdre of Erinn, the Darthula of Alban, 
the most beautiful woman of Irish antiquity, " whose 
locks were more yellow than the western gold of the 
summer sun." 

The Celtic Review, for which Professor MacKinnon 
is consulting editor, will be found a mine of accurate 
information on the ancient history and literature of 
the Celtic world, and a perusal of a few of its numbers 
will convince the most stolid Saxon of the debt 
which the world owes to the genius and energy of the 
Celtic races. To still further awaken interest in 
these subjects is the strong desire of the present 

Edinburgh, March 1908. 





Loch Etive — Benderloch — Beregonium — • Dun Mac Uisneach — 
Hector Boece — Dean of Lismore's Book— Bibliography of the 
Story ........ i6 


The Hill of Usnagh— Three Sorrowful Tales— King Lir— King 

Tuathal— Three Ancient MSS. ..... 20 


The Uisneachs' Birth and Education— Skye — Conor Macnessa— 
Birth of Deirdre— Caffa the Druid— Deirdre's Wooing— Flight 
to Scotland ....... 29 


Loch Etive — Deirdre's First Home — Dun Mac Uisneach — Remains 
of the Fort— Clach Manessa— Eilean Uisneachan— Deirdre's 
Drawing-room — Her Children — Adventures at Inverness — 
Dunadd and Duntroon Castle — Scottish Scenery— Recalled to 
Ireland— Deirdre's Lament ..... 40 





Landing in Ireland— The Traitor Borach— Arrival at Emania — Siege 
of the Red Branch House — The Sortie, Surrender, and Massacre 
of the Uisneachs— Deirdre a Captive— Eoghan Mac Durrthacht 
— Deirdre' s Death ,,..,.. 60 


The Origin and Building of Emania— Macha Red Hair— King 
Fergus Mac Roigh's Death— Queen Meav of Cruachan— Conor 
Macnessa's last Days and Death ..... 74 



For some time prior to the summer of 1907 the 
writer had been interested in the connection existing 
in ancient times between the Gaelic-speaking peoples 
of Ireland and of Alban (Scotland). 

The historical records of this connection are few 
and brief until the coming of the Dalriadic Scots to 
Argyleshire, but, apart from historic evidence, its 
existence is amply proved by the great fact of a 
common language, which has left its indelible mark 
on the place-names of both nations. 

In every direction north and west of the Scottish 
Highland Line, where the spoken tongue (after 
allowance for dialectical changes) is still the same 
as in Ancient Ireland, we are not surprised to find 
that Celtic names survive similar in form to those 
which mark the scenery of Old Ireland. Beautiful 


Kintail, at the head of Loch Duich in Wester Ross, is 
the same as Kintale in Killygarvan parish, Donegal, 
or Kinsale in Cork, all three being " The head of the 
brine," marking as they do the limit of the salt 
water at or near the top of sea lochs. There are 
Kin-ards (high heads) Jn Ireland as in Scotland, 
though the meaning of the Scottish headland near 
Fraserburgh is obscured by the absurd map-title 
" Kinnaird's Head " ! The " Bals " ^ of Scotland are 
the "Ballys"2 of Ireland, from the common root, 
" Baile," a town. 

Hundreds of Ards, or Duns, or Bens ^ are common 
to both countries, and the Auchs or Achs * of Alban 
are the Aghs or Aughs of Erinn. 

But it is doubly interesting to observe how even 
in the south and east of Scotland, where Saxon or 
Scandinavian peoples have settled to the utter 
extinction of Celtic as a current language, centuries 
of such domination have failed to touch the vast 
majority of the chief place-names. They remain as 
purely Celtic as in Wales, Donegal, or Galway. The 

^ e.g. Balquhidder, Balmoral, or Ballinluig. 
2 Ballyshannon, Ballycastle. 

* Heights, or hills, or mountains. 

* Auch, Ach, Agh, Augh= " Field," e.g. Auchterarder, Auchnasheen, 
Aghamore, or Aughnahoy. 


southern river systems are almost wholly Celtic ; 
witness the Clyde, the Tweed, the Annan, and the 
NithjOr the smaller waters of the Esks,the Almond, and 
the Avon, the Ettrick, the Teviot, and the Tyne, the 
Dee, the Ken, and the Cree, or the ** bonny Doon " or 
Water of Ayr. The Pentland Hills mark the southern 
boundary, as the Pentland Firth marks the northern, 
of the land of the Pehts or Picts, a purely Celtic 
people at continual war with the British Celts further 
south. From Duns to Dumbarton, from Dalkeith to 
Dalbeattie, from Dunfermline to Dumfries the old 
names remain Celtic, even though the last named 
indicates an incursion of Frisans. Aberdeen, with its 
Dee and Don,^ Dundee and its Tay, Fife, Leith, 
Innerleithen, Peebles, Galashiels, or Melrose, and last, 
and greatest, Glasgow, all tell the same tale. They 
are the names given to places in the dim past of 
Alban by its Celtic people, whose language in 
Eastern and Southern Scotland has perished as a 
spoken tongue. 

The present inhabitants of Lowland Scotland, 
though with much admixture of other blood in the 

1 Both rivers probably included in its name Aber, — Dee — [do]n, 
the ** D " being lost first, in vocalisation, and the vowel sound O soon 
following it. 


eastern districts, are the undoubted descendants of 
these prehistoric clans, with many purely Celtic 
words in their Lowland speech and song to remind 
them of the ancient race ; but otherwise, save for 
some solitary battle-stone or lonely cairn, that race 
is as forgotten as the forest leaves which covered 
their graves. 

With so great a weight of linguistic evidence, and 
so little in comparison from strictly historic sources, 
any surviving word of literature which remains to tell 
something of these far off-days, of the ancestry of the 
peoples of Scotland, of the land the Scots came from, 
of the scenery of wood and mountain of the land they 
invaded and gave their name to, becomes profoundly 
interesting. The dry bones of the Antiquarian 
Museum shake themselves into human form and 
come forth into the sunlight to speak with us face to 
face. The relics of archaeology are precious, but too 
often they are dumb, and compared with them, 
the survivals of literature give us the flash of the 
human eye, the sound of the human voice, and the 
thoughts of the mind across a bridge of twenty 

In this story of Deirdre and the Sons of Uisneach 
we have such a "surviving word" which has come 


down through nineteen hundred years. For its 
leading facts we have to thank these eminent Celtic 
scholars whose labours have done so much in tracing 
out the beginnings of our race. The story is known 
in various forms in Ireland, in the Highlands of 
Scotland, and in the Outer Hebrides. It has been 
published in part, and even in considerable detail, at 
various times, but, so far as known to the writer, the 
full narrative, embracing the wanderings of the heroes 
in Scotland (Alban), has not previously been made 
public in a united and popular form. Being ignorant 
of the Celtic language, the writer has been dependent 
on the labours of others for translations, but he has 
followed safe guides, and has sought to make due 
acknowledgment of these in the narrative. 

To the many visitors to Oban, Loch Etive, and 
Glen Etive, or the village of Ledaig, the story will 
give a new interest in their travels. 


Loch Etive — Benderloch — Beregonium — Dun Mac Uisneach — 
Hector Boece — Dean of Lismore's Book — Bibliography of the 

There must be few tourists in Scotland who do 
not know Connel Ferry Junction, the last station on 
the Callander and Oban Railway before it runs down 
the long loop into Oban. 

From the Junction a new railway line crosses the 
mouth of Loch Etive at the Falls of Lora, and after 
running for two miles with the Bay of Ard-na-Muich 
(The Hill of the Boar) on the left, and the beautiful 
Ach-na-Cree Moss on the right, the train passes under 
the huge cliff of Dunvalanree, the Fort of the King's 
House, and stops at Benderloch Station. Benderloch 
is really the name of the parish, an irregular peninsula 
between Loch Etive on the south and Loch Creran 
on the north. The village near the station is called 
Ledaig, but was formerly called Keills or Cills (the 
church), whose very ancient church (of which a few 
foundation stones remain in the old graveyard) was 



possibly consecrated by St Columba or one of his 
early successors. 

Immediately to the west of the station there lies a 
long dark hillock or dun, about 250 or 300 yards 
from north to south, and about 50 feet in height, 
lying like a huge leech on the green meadow, ringed 
round by low precipices, save where the walls of rock 
are pierced by grassy slopes. The sea end of the hill 
faces south, falling sharply to the northern shore of 
Ard-na-Muich Bay, and commanding a glorious 
expanse of the Morven hills and mountains of Mull 
to the west. 

Southward lies Dunstaffnage Castle, three miles 
off, backed by the endless hills round Oban, while to 
the east rise the crags of Ben Lora, looking down on 
the supposed scene of many an Ossianic legend. 

The guide-books, misled, alas ! by the Ordnance 
Survey maps, say that this hillock is Beregonium, the 
capital of the ancient kingdom of the Picts, and that 
it was destroyed by fire from heaven ! James Hogg, 
the Ettrick Shepherd, visited the spot and swallowed 
the Beregonium delusion like the man and the poet 
he was. There were no critics in his day to ask every 
tale for the faith to be put in it. Hogg came home 
to St Mary's Loch and wrote his poem, "Queen 



Hynde," incorporating the legend of fire from heaven 
and mingling the characters of eight centuries in 
picturesque anachronism. 

On inquiry it was disappointing to find that the 
grand - sounding name Beregonium was a mere 
mediaeval invention, unknown in history until Hector 
Boece, in his Latin History of Scotland (1527), located 
an imaginary King Fergus in a castle of this name 
at Lough-quabre (Lochaber). He was probably mis- 
led by using a copy of Ptolemy, published at Ulm in 
i486, in which, by misprint, Beregonium appears in 
place of Rerigonium at Loch Ryan. Boece located 
Ptolemy's places many miles to the north of their 
correct position. Some later imaginative writer — 
probably Buchanan, who writes of "Bergon" — drafted 
Lochaber twenty miles southward and fixed the 
name Beregonium to our dun at Ledaig, where it has 
since stood in the guide-books, though happily not to 
the oblivion of the true name of this very ancient and 
interesting site, DuN Mhic Uisneach, i.e. the Fort 
of the Sons of Uisneach, and the reader may at once 
ask who were the sons of Uisneach, and who or 
where was Uisneach ? 

Perusal of Dr x^ngus Smith's interesting book on 
" Loch Etive and the Sons of Uisneach," followed by 


consultation of Mr W. F. Skene's " Celtic Scotland," 
and the same author's Introduction to the printed 
edition of "The Dean of Lismore's Book" shewed 
where to look for material, and the writer is indebted 
above all to Professor Eugene O'Curry's " MS. 
Materials of Irish History," and his contribution on 
this story to the Atlantis Magazine. Another 
treasure was found in Dr Joyce's work on Irish place- 
names, and in his " Old Celtic Romances," where 
the Uisneach story is told. These, with numerous 
minor references, supplied what follows. 


The Hill of Usnagh — Three Sorrowful Tales — King Lir — 
King Tuathal— Three Ancient MSS. 

Legend and tradition tell that for centuries before 
Christianity entered Ireland (St Patrick began his 
mission there in 432 A.D.) the sacred druidic hill 
of Uisneach, now the Hill of Usnagh, or Usny, in the 
parish of Conry in West Meath, a few miles west from 
Mullingar, had been regarded as the religious centre 
of Erinn, as it was also the geographical centre. On 
it the sacred Beltane fires had burned, until as a site 
it was robbed of part of its sanctity by having to share 
its honours with other three sites at the will of the 
great Scotic conqueror, King Tuathal Techtmar or 
The Acceptable. This possibly was done for political 
reasons, to minimise the affection for the old site, 
Tuathal being the head of an invading and conquering 
race, reigning on to A.D. 160 or thereby. Though 
essentially pagan in its celebrations, the regard for 
Usnagh held on into Christian times, and so late as 
"mi A.D. the Synod of Uisneach met with fifty 


bishops, three hundred priests, and three thousand 
ecclesiastics." These facts throw some light on the 
almost 'supernatural regard with which these children 
of Uisneach were viewed. Much of the sanctity 
of their place of origin must have attached to their 
persons as descended from the race of the Druids, 
and their terrible death was evidently resented by 
their people not merely on account of the treachery 
which accompanied it, but on account of its sacrile- 
gious character. 

Possibly Uisneach was origihally a person, but 
such personality, if it ever existed, is absolutely lost 
in the dim past, unless it survives in the name of 
Ireland's sacred hill. 

Turning from geography to letters, the ancient 
literature of Ireland contains three great tragedies 
which stand out in a rank by themselves. They are 
collectively called " The Three Most Sorrowful of 
Story Telling of Erinn," The "Tri Thruaighe na 

We shall find ourselves among the highest pinnacles 
of literature if we believe that the second of these, 
" The Tragedy of the Children of Lir," or L6r (the 
Neptune of pagan Erinn), is, as supposed, the original 
on which Shakespeare founded his immortal " King 


Lear." There are, however, few resemblances in the two 
tales, save a very sorrowful father in both. Lir's four 
children combine to make one gentle patient Cordelia, 
and in the Irish tale there is one fearful woman, 
before whom even Regan and Goneril must quail. 
It is nevertheless worth noting that the old romance 
of Lir's son Manannan is common to the Welsh as 
well as to Ireland, having been carried to North 
Wales in the early invasions by the Scots fro^ Ulster. 
The Isle of Man is called after this hero, also possibly 
Slamannan (Slieve Mannan) in Scotland, and Clack- 
mannan, a few miles farther north. These names 
mean respectively the District and Stone of Mannan. 
As Shakespeare was born on the Welsh border it is pro- 
bable he was acquainted with these Celtic legends. 
He gives lona its true ancient name of Colmekill 
when recording the burial of Duncan in " Macbeth," 
and his Queen Mab in " A Midsummer Night's 
Dream " is an Irish lady to whom reference is made 
later. Matthew Arnold and J. R. Green both refer in 
classic sentences to the manifestation of the Celtic spirit 
in Shakespeare's finest work ; while Professor Morley 
ventures to say, " But for the early, pregnant, and con- 
tinuous contact with the race that in its half barbaric 
days invented * Ossian's Dialogue with St Patrick/ 


Germanic England would not have produced Shake- 
speare." The third of the " Three Sorrowful Tales " is 
that of the children of Tuireann, a story of the feuds 
between the Fomorians (a race of sea-pirates) and 
the Dedannan or predecessors of the Milesian (Scotic) 
race, after which we come to what' is probably the 
earliest in point of composition of these three famous 
tales, viz. — 

The Exile and Sorrows of the Children of 
UlSNEACH. Their story as told in the Irish annals 
is so ancient that one hesitates before asking readers 
to believe that its characters lived and died about the 
time of our Saviour's crucifixion, and it is because in 
this undoubtedly very ancient tale that we first get a 
glimpse of our native land in what we are accustomed 
to call its prehistoric times, that the whole narrative 
has a double interest for Scotsmen. 

As an undoubted historic landmark we may take 
the reign of King Tuathal Techtmar, already referred 
to, which is critically fixed as having closed about 160 
A.D., though some writers give a slightly earlier date. 
He was the ancestor of our present King Edward VII., 
as the latter can with certainty trace his genealogy 
back to King Earc of Irish Dalriada in Ulster, father 
of Loarne and Fergus, the first kings of Scottish 


Dalriada, who came to Argyle (Airer Gaidhel = The 
District or Country of the Gael) in 498 A.D., and 
whose ancestors are recorded in the Irish annals for 
centuries further back, all of the royal Scotic blood 
of Ireland. 

Tuathal had a long reign and left a deep mark in 
Erinn, but prior to his ascension there had been an 
interregnum of twenty-five years through rebellion of 
the Servile Tribes of Ireland (the Attach Tuatha). 
Prior to this interregnum several Scotic kings, 
ancestors of King Tuathal, had reigned, though it is 
uncertain if their race penetrated to Ulster until a 
century later, and this point makes it questionable 
whether the Uisneachs were, as Professor O'Curry 
believes, of the Irian branch of the Milesian or Scotic 
race, or, as Mr William F. Skene asserts, of the 
Cruithne or Celto-Pictish race, though Skene's 
curious and uncritical antipathy to the Dalriadic 
Scots may have misled him. In any case, whether 
Scotic or Pictish, the Uisneachs were pure Celtic in 
blood, as was also King Conchubhar or Conor, the 
ruler of Uladh or Ulster, in whose reign they lived 
and died. King Conor lived in pagan times, and 
died in the year 33 A.D. 

The possible truth of the tale is enhanced by its 


simplicity, the probability of its incidents, the absence 
of miracles, exaggerations, and those other absurdities 
which mark tales of the same period and the bal- 
lads of later days ; and, above all, its probability is 
almost certified by the numerous place-names which 
its characters have left in Scotland and Ireland, and 
which have stood unchanged for ages. These are 
referred to later, and as evidence of the story a 
quotation from one of the most learned authorities 
on Celtic literature may be useful. Dr Eugene 
O'Curry, Professor of History and Archaeology in 
the Catholic University of Ireland, speaking of the 
three tales, describes the second and third (those of 
Lir and Tuireann) as "pure romances," but of the 
" Sons of Uisneach," he says it is referred to the 
Milesian (or Scotic) time and race, and is, though 
somewhat "poetised, founded on true history with 
real historical characters." Elsewhere he writes, 
"There is no reason to doubt this story is a true 
one. Almost all the characters introduced into it 
are so well known in Gaedhelic history that to doubt 
the authenticity of its leading facts would be to throw 
doubt on the truthfulness of all our most prized 
chronicles and historical documents." 

The story of the Uisneachs is recorded in part or 


in whole in three ancient MSS., not to mention other 
accounts of later date. 

The oldest is that in the Book of Leinster, a vellum 
MS. compiled about 1150 A.D. by Finn Mac Gorman, 
Bishop of Kildare, and preserved in Trinity College, 
Dublin. The portion in which the story of the Uisneachs 
appears is under a general head of Historic Tales, to 
be told to Kings and Chiefs, "Seven times fifty Stories, 
i.e. five times fifty Prime Stories, twice fifty Secondary 
Stories . . . and these are the Prime Stories : — 
Destructions and Preyings and Courtships and Battles 
and Caves and Navigations and Tragedies and Ex- 
peditions and Elopements and Conflagrations." In 
this section occurs the tract under "Elopement" 
(Aithidhe), entitled "Athed Dheirdri re Macaibh 
Uisnigh," i.e. " Elopement of Deirdre with the Sons of 
Uisneach." This narrative gives many details not 
found in the later Irish MS., and is preferred by 
O'Curry as the most reliable, as it is the most ancient 
version of the story. 

The second in date is preserved in Advocates' 
Library, Edinburgh, forming part of the Glenmasan 
MS., and bears date 1238 A.D.^ It is written, like 

^ See Preface for reference to Professor Mackinnon's recent translation 
of this MS., and his remarks as to the date of this copy. 


other old Celtic MSS., in the Irish characters, and in 
the language then and still common to Ireland and 
the Celts of Scotland. It happily supplies what the 
two Irish versions omit, Deirdre's Lament on 
LEAVING Alban (or Scotland), in which she 
graphically refers to the numerous places in the 
county of Argyle which she and her friends had 
visited in their wanderings. 

The third version is one contained in a vellum 
MS. preserved in the Library of the Trinity College, 
Dublin, compiled, in the year 1391 A.D., by Gilla-Isa 
M6r Mac Firbisigh, one of the hereditary historians 
of Lecain Mac Firbisigh, county Sligo, and written in 
the MS. work known as " The Yellow Book of 
Lecain " (Leabhar Buidhe Lecan). 

In criticising the latter version, Professor O'Curry 
finds in it evidence of some modification of the 
original story ; but he finds that, following the usual 
course of such changes, the ancient more condensed 
narratives tend to become amplified or more storified 
as centuries pass. On the other hand (as in the story 
of the Uisneachs, where several versions of the same 
tale exist, each covering circumstances occurring at 
different times or places) the later amplification 
may be the result of some later editor's endeavour to 


embody all information available from various sources, 
just as in the present work an endeavour has been made 
to collect information on the subject from the various 
accounts and collate them into one narrative. 

Professor O'Curry admits that certain additions 
are obviously anachronisms of a later date, as for 
example where a Norseman is brought in to slay the 
sons of Uisneach (in one of the versions), no 
Norsemen appearing in Ireland until centuries later, 
unless the Fomorian pirates were of that race; 
the reason for the error being that some late editor, 
wishing to remove from the kindly Celts the disgrace 
of the murder, transferred a Norseman from the eighth 
century to the first, and cut off three heads at one 
blow with Manannan Mac Lir's sword ! 

So similar, however, are these more amplified 
versions in the main body of the narrative that 
O'Curry admits that the most learned and critical 
eye is puzzled to tell whether they may not really 
have formed the true original story, and the con- 
densations be only a more modern epitome, the 
greater number of modern features appearing in the 
amplified versions being possibly due to the fact that 
the more detailed narrative was the most popular for 
reading and transcription. 


The Uisneachs' Birth and Education — Skye — Conor Macnessa — Birth of 
Deirdre — Caffa the Druid — Deirdre's Wooing — Flight to Scotland. 

The brightest hour of Ulster's early history, partly 
mythical or legendary, was that of the champions of 
the Red or Royal Branch at Emania, the capital of 
Ulster in the days of King Fergus and Conor 
Macnessa shortly before the Christian era began. 

At that time Caffa (Cathbhad), a druid of the 
Irinian Celts of Ulster, had three daughters. Dectum, 
the eldest, became mother of the famous Cuchulain. 
Albe, the second, was the mother of the three sons 
of Uisneach, Naisi, Ainle, and Ardan (or Dardan). 
The third daughter, Finncaemh, was mother of a 
famous champion, Conall Cearnagh, whose name still 
survives in Dunchonill, one of the Garveloch Isles 
south of Oban. 

The present writer has been unable to get any 
satisfactory evidence as to the father of Naisi and his 
two brothers. A fragment of a tract on the Clan 
Rudhraighe, or the ancient Irinian royal race of 


Uladh (Ulster) gives Rudhraighe (Red Prince) as the 
common ancestor, whose son Congall Claringnech 
had two sons, Caffa (Cathbhad) the Druid and Uislenn, 
the latter of whom is there said to be the father of 
the three sons of Uisneach. But this contradicts the 
earlier statement that Caffa was grandfather of the 
Uisneachs, not their uncle. In several places in the 
"Yellow Book of Lecain" they are called sons of 
Uisle, which resembles the Uislenn of the above 
fragment. If Uisle or Uislenn was not a son of 
Caffa (or son-in-law, and so husband to Albe, the 
mother of the heroes), it may be supposed that these 
names are merely two more of the very many ways 
in which the name of Uisneach is written. 

It is indicative of the familiar intercourse in these 
early times between Ireland and the West of Alban, 
that these five champions were educated at a kind of 
military school at Sgathaig in the Island of Skye. 
This spot can still be identified on a projecting rock 
on the west side of Sleat, near the mouth of Loch 
Eishort, where exist the remains of an ancient castle 
called Dunscath. A little way out into the loch 
lies a tiny islet on which stands a vitrified fort, 
also called Dunsgathaig or Dunscath, probably the 
supposed school of the Amazonian lady champion 


Scathaidh^ and her fair daughter Aife, with whom 
Cuchulain fell in love ! Alban evidently stood 
high at this time as a military training ground, 
for Cuchulain was counselled to go either to Scathaidh 
or to another Alban teacher Domhnall (Donnal), and 
schools of poetry and literature seem to have also 
existed there. Cuchulain's travels and adventures 
in Scotland are full of natural incidents and curious 
allusions to the customs of that early period, and 
throw light on the meanings of many place-names 
which still survive. 

Mr Skene points out as illustrative of the great 
age of these vitrified forts and also of the Uisneach 
story that no personal names (apart from mere 
legend) can historically be associated with any of 
them except with the three forts which are connected 
with the Uisneachs, viz., Dunsgathaig, Dun Mac 
Uisneach at Ledaig, and Dun Deardhui-1, near 
Inverness, referred to later. 

The heights of Dunsgathaig command a glorious 
view of the CuiUin Hills of Skye (not the Cu-chullin 

^ O'Curry's MS. Materials. Skene apparently omits to note 
Scathaidh's gender, to whom he refers as the father of Aife ("Celtic 
Scot.," vol. iii. p. J 28). In the Cuchulain Saga, Aife is said to be an 
Amazonian rival of Scathaidh, conquered by Cuchulain. 


Hills, as some writers call them). Deirdre at a later 
day called the three brothers, " The Three Falcons 
of Sliabh Cuillinn ; " ^ but while Skene claims this 
honour for the Skye hills, Dr Joyce claims it for 
the isolated hill in the south of county Armagh 
now called Slieve Gullion, "The Hill of the Holly 
Trees " — celebrated in Irish song and story. 

It is related of Cuchulain's return to Ireland that 
he passed Ceann Tiree (Land's Head), now better 
known as Cantyre, which has therefore kept its name 
unchanged for nineteen centuries ! On the return 
of the heroes to their native land they found that 
King Fergus had resigned his throne for the fair face 
of Nessa, a lovely but scheming Irish dame who had 
stipulated by an antenuptial contract of marriage 
that Conchubhar or Conor, her son by a previous 
husband (Fachtna the Wise), should hold the royal 
power for one year. For this she carefully educated 
her son ; and the young prince, ever after called Conor 
Macnessa, thus strangely raised to a throne, so in- 
gratiated himself to the senators of Ulster by his 
wisdom, to its warriors by his courage, and to its 
women by his beauty, that at the close of his year's 
probation they refused to follow King Fergus Mac 

^ Pronounce Sleeve Coolin. 


Roigh and defiantly chose Conor as their chief, 
declining to be ruled by a man who had sold 
his kingdom for one woman, and might do so again 
for another. King Conor grew in favour and beauty, 
and the unlucky Fergus was compelled, after some 
fighting, to smother his wrath and accept the com- 
pensations of his beautiful wife. 

Some years later amid certain dire portents, too 
physiologically described in the tale for transcription, 
there was born a most lovely little maid, the daughter 
of Felimid (Feidlimidh), the court historian or secre- 
tary, and in respect that the Druid Caffa (Cathbhad), 
grandfather of Cuchulain and the sons of Uisneach, 
foretold terrible evil to the people of Ulster through 
her, she was named Deirdriu or Deirdre. 

Professor O'Curry says the meaning of this name is 
quite uncertain, and Dr Joyce can only add it " is said 
to mean alarm." 

The prophetic description of the young lady by the 
Druid is peculiarly Celtic in its form : " A maiden, fair, 
tall, long haired, for whom champions will contend, 
whom many high kings will solicit — kings who shall 
[undergo the toils of war in King Conor's pay for her 
sake]. Her lips will be cherry red and her teeth as 
the pearl, wherefore shall mighty kings be envious of 


her lovely, faultless form." So far the text of the 

MS. has been in prose, but there follow here six 

verses of more ancient poetry addressed to the child 

by the Druid, referring to the misfortunes likely to 

come on Ulster, its warriors, and herself through her 

wonderful beauty. All this, of course, would be 

written after the event, and the description was 

probably made from tradition of Deirdre in her prime 

of womanhood. While the earliest MS. of the tale 

is of 1 1 50 A.D. (less than a century after the Norman 

Conquest), Professor O'Curry believes the existence 

of the story can be traced back to 600 A.D. The 

poetry may thus be over twelve centuries old ; and if, 

as is generally supposed, the prose portions represent 

parts, the poetry of which had been lost before being 

committed to writing, these verses may be looked on 

with the reverence due to extreme antiquity. 

The six verses, as translated by O'Curry in Atlantis 

Magazine^ are as follows : — 

" O ! Deirdriu, for whom we have prophesied, 
When thou art a comely-faced famous woman, 
The Ultonians shall suffer in thy time. 
Thou daughter fair of Feidhlimidh ; ^ 

" They shall be jealous even afterwards 
On thy account, oh blushing maiden ! 

^ Pronounced Felimid. 


It is in thy time shall be, hear thou this, 
The exile of the sons of Uisld. 

" It is in thy time a wicked deed 
Shall be hereafter perpetrated in Emhain 
Its wickedness shall be rued, even afterwards 
When shall fall the sons of mighty kings. ^ 

" It is through thee, thou gifted maiden, 
[Shall happen] the exile of Ferghus from Ulster, 
And a deed from which cryings shall come forth, 
The killing of Fiacha, the son of Conchobhar.^ 

" It is through thy fault, thou gifted maiden, 
[Shall come] the killing of Gere, the son of Illadan, 
And a deed of not smaller penalty, 
The killing of Eoghan (Owen), the son of Durrthacht.^ 

" An ugly, fierce deed thou wilt commit * 
On account of the anger of the high king of Ulster. 
Thy grave shall lie in a place not native ; 
Thy history shall be illustrious, oh Deirdriu." 

On hearing such evil bodings, the assembled 
warriors said, " Let her be killed " ; but King Conor 
humanely said, " No ! she shall be nursed, and I my- 
self shall marry her when she is grown." So she was 
reared in an enclosed and separate lis^^ hidden from 

^ The massacre of the Uisneach clan. 

^ See page 64, death of Fiacha. 

^ See page 71, death of Eoghan Mac Durrthacht. 

^ Her own death. 

^ An earthen enclosure ; probably round a separate house in this case. 


and seeing no man, guarded by her nurse, her tutor, 
and visited only by a woman named Lavarcam 
(Leabharcham), a female satirist or court singer 
(chainte). The court satirists of Old Ireland had even 
greater privileges than the court fools of later days, 
and could go anywhere, and say anything. 

Thus the years of Deirdre's childhood fled, and she 
came forth in her beauty to see and be seen by the 
sons of Ulster. " Gossiping Lavarcam " had evidently 
filled her head with some nonsense, and seems to have 
led her to place no trust on the king's promise of 
marriage. One day her tutor shed the blood of a 
calf upon the snow, and a raven hopped up, pecking at 
the crimson mark. The contrast of colours touched 
Deirdre's imagination. " These are the colours," she 
cried, " my beloved must have — his hair like the raven, 
his cheeks like the blood, and his skin like the snow." 
" Dignity and choice to thee!" wished Irish Lavarcam. 
" He is not far from thee . . . Naisi, the son of 
Uisneach." " I shall not be well," said Deirdre, 
"until I have seen him." "Love laughs at lock- 
smiths," and so did Lavarcam. Regardless of the 
king's command she wiled Naisi, unknown to Deirdre, 
to chant on the mound in the centre of the Rath, or 
green, at Emania, where Deirdre might view him 


without being seen, he all unconscious of the beauty 
who was watching him. Language fails the annalist 
to praise sufficiently the sweetness of Naisi's voice in 
song, and one verse in a later part of the story depicts 
some chorus singing by Naisi and his two brothers as 
they returned from the hunting in Alban to their huts, 
where Deirdre awaited them. Their three voices are 
described by three Irish words representing re- 
spectively, the bass strings of the ancient harp for 
Naisi's voice, the tenor, or intermediate strings, for 
Ardan*s voice, and the sweet upper strings for the 
higher notes of Ainl6. 

Returning to that scene at the Rath of Emania, 
Deirdre stole out towards Naisi as if to pass him. 
Though he did not know her, custom in Ireland 
permitted him to speak to himself in admiration of 
the lovely vision ! 

" Beautiful is (she) who passes by " is the nearest 
approach permissible to what Naisi said, and a curious 
conversation followed between the two, revealing 
much of the peculiar liberty, and even power, which 
women then had in Ireland, exceeding anything en- 
joyed by them in the later days of so-called chivalry. 
To the modern reader, it sounds like a Leap-year 
wooing, and poor Deirdre seems to have set her cap 


at Naisi, though probably she had no other covering 
on her beautiful head than her golden hair. 

Naisi fell a victim at once, for no sooner had she 
gone than " he raised his chant out of him," as the 
chronicler says, i.e, he sang aloud in evident triumph. 
His brothers, hearing the sound, came to him, and on 
learning what he told them, sought to divert his 
thoughts from Deirdre, but in vain. He related to 
them how she had touched him and what she had 
said, and they at once admitted, " Evil will be of it, 
yet though there be, thou shalt not be under disgrace 
as long as we shall be alive. We will go with her to 
another country. There is not in Erinn a king who 
will not bid us welcome." 

Deirdre's boldness, though strange to modern ideas, 
was evidently in accordance with some well-accepted 
custom by which a man could not, without shame 
to himself, refuse a woman if she plainly indicated her 
love for him. 

From the narrative, they evidently decided quickly 
to face the call of fate, and that night they fled, 
taking Deirdre with them, also many of their com- 
panions in arms, their attendants, and their women — 
some four hundred and fifty-four persons in all. 

For some time they evaded the pursuit of Conor 


by going westward to Ballyshannon (Eas Ruaidh), in 
Donegal, then south-westward and eastward to the 
Hill of Howth (Ben Edair) at Dublin Bay. Then on 
to Rathlin Island, whence they were compelled to sail 
for Scotland, or Alban, where the Irish chronicler 
leaves them " sheltering in a desert there." 


Loch Etive — Deirdre's First Home — Dun Mac Uisneach — Remains of 
the Fort — Clach Manessa — Eilean Uisneachan — Deirdre's Draw- 
ing-room — Her Children — Adventures at Inverness — Dunadd 
and Duntroon Castle — Scottish Scenery — Recalled to Ireland — 
*• Deirdre's Lament." 

The Irish MSS. give so brief notice of the wanderers' 
life in Scotland that they have to be combined 
with the MS. in the Advocates' Library, or with the 
notice in the Dean of Lismore's Book, both containing 
" Deirdre's Lament." These, with the names of the 
places visited by the exiles, enable us to follow their 
wanderings in Scotland. Their first shelter in Alban 
was probably Loch Etive ; and another proof of the 
great age of the story may be noted in the fact that 
the name " Scot," or " Scotland," is not once mentioned, 
nor is there any reference even to the Dalriadic king- 
dom, for they visited the Alban coasts centuries before 
the Dalriads crossed the seas. Up to the tenth cen- 
tury Scotland was known as Alban, and the war-cry 
of the Celtic men of Galloway at the Battle of the 
Standard in 1138 was still " Albanach ! Albanach ! " 


A very beautiful verse in "Deirdre's Lament" speaks 
of Loch Etive and its glen as her first home : — 

" Glen Etive, oh Glen Etive, 
There was raised my earliest home ; 
Beautiful were its woods in the dawning, 
When the sun (light) fell on Glen Etive." 

Their fleet must have passed through the sound 
now called Kererra, and rounding Dunolly Point, 
crossed to Ardnamuich Bay — to which the Norse of 
later days unnecessarily added the Ness — making it, 
as now, Ard-na-muichnish Point and Bay. 

At the head of the bay lies the little hillock, or 
dun, erroneously called Beregonium, which is still 
called by the Celtic population Dun Mac Sniochan, a 
corruption of Dun Mhic Uisneach. On the top may 
be traced the ancient vitrified fort which the exiles 
inhabited, but probably did not build, as such forts 
are uncommon in Ireland. This may have been 
the headquarters of the small tribe which accom- 
panied them, for it is unlikely that all the four 
hundred and fifty people travelled about on the 
various hunting expeditions. 

Of the age of these vitrified forts no certain word 
can be said. From metallic remains found in them, 
they seem to have been used during the bronze and 


early iron period, but this is no certain proof of the 
date of their erection. 

In Dun Mhic Uisneach few discoveries were made 
in an exploration conducted some years ago ; a 
worn iron brooch of circular form, a piece of 
enamelled bronze, and a much decayed fragment of 
an iron sword were, apart from the bones of animals, 
all that could be found. The fort is chiefly on the 
southern end of the hill, and many of its outer walls, 
as well as the foundation lines of one of the dwelling- 
houses, with four apartments, were uncovered, 
though now hid by the grass. Most of the outer 
walls have fallen down the steep sides of the dun, 
though the foundations, of considerable strength, can 
be traced in various places. There is a shallow well, 
and one of the two grassy slopes leading down to the 
meadow on the east is called "Bealach na Bhan 
Righ " (The Way of the King's Wife or Queen). A 
neighbouring bay is Cambus Naish, a possible cor- 
ruption of the name of the leader, Naisi, whose name 
appears in as many different forms as do those 
of "Uisneach" and of " Deirdre." The Duke of 
Argyll points out that dried seaweed was used as 
fuel in vitrifying these masses of stone, being built 
into the wall like lime, and afterwards heaped round 


the building and fired, when the potash in the sea- 
weed acted as a natural solvent of the silica in the 
stone, and fused it into a solid wall. Microscopic 
scraps of unburnt seaweed were found amid the stones 
when broken up, and thus led to the above supposition. 
A good plan, and much information as to the dun, will 
be found in Dr Angus Smith's book, "Loch Etive 
and the Sons of Uisneach." 

The wanderers did not constantly reside at 
Benderloch, but had some hunting lodges, or huts, 
further up Loch Etive, and in Glen Etive. 

The mouth of Loch Etive, at the Falls of Lora, is 
only two miles from Dun Mac Uisneach, and the 
exiles must have rowed or sailed up past the spot 
where now stands, on the shore near Taynuilt, the 
huge boulder stone called Clach Manessa, or The 
Stone of Manessa. As the name "Manessa" is 
unknown, apart from its similarity to Mac Nessa, it 
has been suggested this may be a monument to King 
Conor, who was always called Mac Nessa after his 
mother ; while Dr Angus Smith mentions that others 
rail at this doctrine, and ask if the " Ma " may not be 
a corruption of the Welsh, " moen," a stone, and the 
boulder be thus a memorial to Nessa herself, the 
"Clach," Alban-Celtic for "stone," being added by a 


later age ignorant of the Welsh-Celtic " moen," just 
as the Norse added " Nish " or " Ness " to the name 
of Ard-na-Muich, making it Ard-na-muichnish. The 
latter name has been further maltreated by the 
addition of the English "Point," when Ard, Ness, 
and Point all have the same meaning, though the 
name, as it now stands, is valuable as proving the 
three nations which have marked it with their 

Proceeding up Loch Etive towards the twin peaks 
of Cruachan (also an Irish name, see page 77), close 
to Taynuilt, on the rising ground south of the loch, 
lies the ancient wood still called Coille Naish (The 
Wood of Naisi), with Ben or Cruach Ardain to the 
south (spelled Ard-dhuine on the O.S. maps), and 
a mile south of Taynuilt is the farm of Ardainaidh 
(Airdeny on the O.S. maps). Associated with a 
rock on the north side, beyond Bonawe quarries, at 
the point called Ruadh nan Draighnean (The Point 
of the Blackthorn), there are traditions of the daughter 
of a king of Ulster who eloped with a legendary 
Earl of Ardchattan, evidently some distorted tradition 
of the real story. 

At Bonawe and Taynuilt the River Awe flows 
into the loch, and the latter turns suddenly north- 


wards along the base of Cruachan, on the slopes 
of which traces of Deirdre's and the Uisneach's 
names are found. A few miles up the loch's 
western shore lies the Bay of Cadderly, off the 
north point of which is a small rocky islet called 
Eilean Uisneachan — the island of the Uisneachs. 
It is only 30 or 40 yards in its longest line, but amid 
its bushes lie the remains of some ancient ruined 
dwelling-places, possibly fragments of the hunting 
lodge which sheltered the exiles ; and, on the 
adjoining shore, tradition tells of the wonderful 
apple orchards of the Uisneachs, long since swept 

At the head of the loch the River Etive comes 
down through the glen, and as the valley ascends the 
scenery becomes grander and more solemn in its 
rocky desolation. A few miles north of Kinloch 
Etive there juts out into the right side of the glen 
a vast rock, standing black pointed and fierce against 
the sky. On the O.S. maps it is called Ben Kettelin 
(or Cetlin). It has another name, however, Grianan 
Dartheil or Deardhuil, the Boudoir or Sunny Room of 
Darthula, three of the many Alban forms of Deirdre's 
name, while in the valley below is Ach-an-Dartheil 
= The Field of Deirdre. Macpherson uses the name 


Darthula in his " Poems of Ossian," but the tale there 
is scarcely recognisable, though not without beauty. 

The Ultonian Chronicle tells of the exiles seeking 
refuge "in a desert in Alban," and no language 
could more graphically describe this wilderness of 
Glen Etive. It was at the head of this glen that 
Robert Louis Stevenson, in " Kidnapped," left Alan 
Breck and David Balfour for some days, safe from 
pursuit in the wilds of Corrynakeigh. 

How long the Uisneachs hunted round Loch Etive, 
or the length of their sojourn in Scotland, we know 
not, but two children were born to Naisi and Deirdre 
while they were in Alban. Gaiar, a son, famous in 
later days, and who, after defeating King Conor 
Mac Nessa, divided the throne with him for a year, 
but subsequently abdicated, preferring to live quietly 
with his friend, and his father's friend, Manannan Mac 
Lir in the Island of Emhain (Aven) of the apple 
trees, now identified with the Island of Arran. The 
other child was a daughter, to whom was given the 
name Aebgreine (pronounced Aev-grein), i.e, "Like 
the Sun." 

By-and-bye trouble arose with the Uisneachs. Not- 
withstanding their 150 hounds, they were unable to 
supply the needs of four hundred and fifty mouths by 


hunting, and it is said they laid their hands on the cattle 
of the country people, who rose in arms. Another 
account, not inconsistent with the above, tells how they 
were invited to lend their military services to the king 
of the Picts at Inverness, and that they went thither, 
evidently travelling up the Great Glen, past Loch 
Lochy and Loch Ness towards the eastern side. At 
Inverness an incident occurred resembling the experi- 
ences in Egypt of Abraham and Sarah. The 
chronicle, as translated by O'Curry, says, " They set 
up their houses at night. It was on account of the 
woman that the houses were so made that none 
should see her with them, that they should not be 
killed on her account. At a certain time now the 
steward [of the Pictish king] went at early dawn, 
making a turn round the house, where he saw the 
couple asleep. 

"He went then and awakened the king. * We have 
not found,' said he, * a wife worthy of thee till this 
day. There is with Naisi, the son of Uisneach, a 
woman worthy of the kings of the western world. 
Let Naisi be killed, immediately ^ and let the woman 
wed with thee.' 'Not so,' said the king, 'but go 
thou and ask her secretly.' The steward performed 
what he was desired towards her before night. She 


told her husband that night at oncer Then the 
chronicle adds, " When no good could be got of her, 
the sons of Uisneach were ordered to go into dangers, 
battles, and difficulties, for the purpose that they 
should be killed." Out of all these dangers their 
valour and skill delivered them, but when another 
conspiracy as to Deirdre came to their knowledge, 
they left suddenly at night for the south, and were 
allowed to go unmolested. 

As already mentioned, our heroine's name is still 
remembered in the valley of the Ness in a vitrified 
fort called Dun Deardhuil, or Cnoc Dheardhuil ; and 
Mr Skene thinks there is also a remarkable identifi- 
cation with the three brothers in a paragraph in 
Adamnan's " Life of St Columba," where ,writing of the 
saint's journey to Inverness, his biographer mentions 
three localities in the Great Glen in which the names 
of the Uisneachs are contained and may be com- 
memorated — the mount or district of Cainle, Arc- 
Ardan and flumen Nesae^ the last the River Ness 
itself ! These place-names, thus proved to exist in the 
sixth or seventh centuries, give some evidence of the 
presence of the Uisneachs in that region in very early 
times, and tell of the dignity attaching to their 
persons. The river Ness, Loch Ness and Inverness 


town may thus be named after the chief of the 

At one period of their life in Scotland, the military 
qualities of the exiles led to their visiting a region 
famous two centuries later as the first territory held 
by the Dalriadic Scots (probably under Cairpre Riata) 
in Alban, Dunmonadh or Dunadd, from which they are 
called " The Three Dragons of Dunmonadh." This 
dun has been identified with Dunadd, sometimes 
Dunatt, a hill 1 50 feet in height, in Crinan Moss, on 
the bank of the River Add (or Airdh), just where the 
Crinan Canal emerges on the waters of Loch Crinan. 

On the opposite side of the valley, and nearer the 
sea, stands Duntroon Castle, whereby hangs a tale ; 
for Naisi, on one occasion of his returning from 
Inverness, forgot his faithful Deirdre and carried a 
gift to some fair daughter of the Lord of Duntroon, 
on hearing which his wife — but here are her own 
words, presented in her Lament : — 

" Upon my hearing of this 
My head was filled with jealousy ; 
I put my little boat on the water, 
Indifferent to me was life or death ; 

" They pursued me on the float, 
Ainli and Ardan, who uttered not falsehood, 


They turned me inwards, 

Two that would subdue in battle a hundred." 

Sken^s translation in Dean of Lismor^s Book. 

Deirdre always speaks with sincere affection of these 
her two brothers-in-law, but in the present instance 
the praise of them is an evident reflection on her 
naughty husband, whom here she does not praise. 
A happy reconciliation followed, for she adds, " For 
Naisi gave his word in truth." 

Though Dun Mac Uisneach was probably the 
tribal headquarters, Naisi and his family moved over 
various parts of the district now known as Argyleshire, 
of which he had some kind of chieftainship. " Deirdre's 
Lament " names several of these places, and her refer- 
ences clearly indicate a personal knowledge of them. 
Some verses are inserted later from this poem, where 
she mentions, amongst other places, Loch Swin and its 
dun, near Crinan on the Sound of Jura ; Innis-draig- 
hende, now Innistrynich on Loch Awe ; Coillchuan, 
which recalls Kilchurn at the head of Loch Awe, whose 
mediaeval castle still adorns the rocky knoll amid the 
meadows of the Orchy, where Deirdre and her brothers 
dwelt ; Glen Laidhe, which Skene connects with Glen 
Lochy, where there is a Ben Laidhe ; Glen Masan, at 
the top of Holy Loch in Cowal ; Glendaruadh is Glen- 


daruel at the top of Loch Ridden, one of the arms of the 
Kyles of Bute where the red funnelled Columba now 
ploughs the waters once stirred by Naisi's galley; 
Glen Urchain is Glen Orchy, near Dalmally ; and Glen 
Eitche is Glen Etive, Deirdre's first home. 

In these ancient Celtic poems the modern reader is 
impressed with the constant sense of Nature's beauties 
expressed in them, peculiar at that early time and 
among a people on the fringe of civilisation. The 
poetic feeling manifested by these children of the 
moor and mountain is in striking contrast with the 
antipathies of later ages down to the eighteenth 
century, when even a Goldsmith could not admire 
the "fine prospects" of Scotland because so many 
were spoiled "by hills," or a Gibbon had no lan- 
guage but that of contempt for the " gloomy heaths " 
of Caledonia. It is pleasant to dwell on these far- 
away times, before international antipathies obscured 
men's vision to the " beautiful " in a land outside 
their own. One Irish writer of the twelfth century, 
quoted by O'Curry and Sullivan, says : — 

" Beloved to me are the beautiful woods of Alban." 
Then, like a true son of Erinn, he adds : — 

" Though strange, I love dearer still 
This tree from the woods of Erinn," 


A line in Columba's song on the outlook from 
lona shows that he too possessed the seeing eye for 

" The thunder of the crowding seas upon the shore " 
is a glorious sounding picture of the western ocean 
which then, as now, beat on that lonely shore. 

Viewing '' Deirdre's Lament " merely as literature, 
and apart from its historic value, it is the earliest word 
on the beauties of our native land which any language 
has recorded. 

Meantime events had been occurring in Ireland 
which were to terminate with alarming suddenness 
these happy days in Alban. News of the exiles had 
not failed to reach King Conor Macnessa. One 
narrative credits Fergus, the ex-king, with proposing 
to recall Naisi and his band, that their services as 
warriors might be recovered for their native land. 
To this proposal Conor rather grudgingly agreed on 
condition that the Uisneachs should make their sub- 
mission to him on their return. 

A more detailed narrative, not inconsistent with the 
other, represents Conor as having given a magnificent 
feast in a new palace he had built. In the presence 
of his flattering guests he asks, " Was ever a palace 
seen so fair as this of mine?" and dissatisfied with 


their shouts of " Never," he bade them guess what it 
lacked. When all were silent, he said it needed the 
presence of these three " renowned and exalted youths, 
these three sun risings of the valour of the Gael, the 
three noble sons of Uisneach." Then those present 
gladly agreed that the three brothers should be sent 
for, as they had conquered a large part of Alban, and 
might be altogether lost to Erinn if not invited to 
return immediately. 

The wily Conor, however, planned to have his foes 
unconditionally in his power, but Cuchulain and 
Conall Cearnagh, to whom he first offered the embassy, 
fiercely refused to go without a clear pledge of safe- 
conduct for the Uisneachs. The jealous king 
avoided giving such a pledge, and with a cloud of 
words beguiled his step-father Fergus to sail to 
Alban and bring back the exiles. The good-natured, 
but stupid, Fergus joyfully departed with his two 
sons, Ulan the Fair and Buine the Red. 

Both narratives agree that Fergus found his 
countrymen at Loch Etive (variously named Loch 
Eitche or Loch n' Eite), in Alban, and at the Dainghion 
Mhic n' Uisneach, the fortress of the sons of Uisneach. 
If this was the dun at the head of Ardnamuich Bay, 
there is still distinctly visible the little gravelled cove, 


which might serve as a harbour, surrounded by rocks 
on each side for some distance. Deirdre and her 
husband were playing chess when they heard the 
shout of Fergus as his boat entered the harbour. 
The distance from the harbour to the top of the dun 
is quite consistent with Naisi's recognition of accent 
in the voice, though too far to distinguish words. 
Evidently even at that early date the Irish Celt had 
an accent different from that of Alban. 

"That is the voice of a man of Erinn," he said. 
Deirdre, in terror, had also recognised the voice, but 
hiding her thoughts, said, " No ! it was the voice of a 
man of Alban." Again Fergus shouted, and again 
Naisi said, " This is the call of an Erinn man," and a 
second time Deirdre refused to have it so, until a 
third call from Fergus brought Ardan to the edge of 
the cliff to look down on the shore and recognise 
King Fergus. 

As Ardan went down to greet his friend, Deirdre 
acknowledged to Naisi that she had, at the first, 
known Fergus' voice. " Why didst thou then conceal 
it, my queen," said Naisi ; and Deirdre answered, 
''Because I saw in a dream last night three birds 
come from Emania of Macha, carrying three sups of 
honey in their beaks. The honey they left with us, 


but took away three sups of our blood." "What, 
then, do you draw from this?" asked Naisi. She 
replied, "That Fergus comes with words of peace 
from Conor; for honey is not more sweet than the 
peace messages of a treacherous man." 

Meantime Ardan had met and kissed Fergus and 
his sons, and was asking for the tidings from Erinn. 
The party climbed the dun and met Naisi and his 
wife, who also kissed them, asking also for news from 
beloved Ireland. Fergus, in all good faith, cheerfully 
told them of Conor's message and their recall to their 
beloved Erinn. Before Naisi could reply, Deirdre's 
quick wit and fears broke in. " It is not meet," she 
said, "for them to go thither, for greater is their sway 
in Alban than the rule of Conor in Ireland." 

"Ah," said Fergus, "the land of one's birth is 
better than all things. It is a cheerless thing to the 
richest and greatest not to see his own country every 

"True," said Naisi, "and Erinn is dearer to me 
than Alban, even if I have more here." 

Deirdre still urged her fears and bitterly opposed 
leaving the happy home in Alban, but her pleadings 
were in vain. " We will go to Erinn," said Naisi, and 
they went. 


It was while on the waters, as she gazed at the 
receding hills of Alban, that Deirdre is said to have 
uttered the Lament which bears her name. "My 
love to thee, beloved land of the east ; sad am I to 
leave thy bays and lochs, thy meadows and thy 
green hills. " 

Many of these historic tales, as they have now 
come down to us, are partly in prose, but it is recog- 
nised that such portions represent only those parts 
of the original poem of which the poetic form has 
been lost, as the oldest versions contain most poetry 
and least prose. Dr Geoffrey Keating (quoted by 
O'Curry), in his preface to his History of Ireland, 
says that history in ancient times was all in verse, 
for its better remembrance and preservation before 
the art of writing was introduced. As ages passed 
and history was reduced to writing, memory failed to 
record the metre in full, and the transcribers had to 
supply the poetic blanks in prose, from oral tradition. 
The following verses are adapted from Skene's 
translation of the " Lament," which appeared in his 
introduction to the Dean of Lismore's Book. A 
literal translation, like Skene's, is invaluable, just as 
the skeleton is to the young anatomist, but the 
ordinary reader is so apt to sigh for some flesh and 


blood, that the present writer has ventured to take 
some liberties with Mr Skene's text for the sake 
of a more harmonious reading. 


" Beloved land, dear eastern land, 
Alban with its wonders,; 
Oh, that I ne'er depart from thee, 
But that I go from thee with Naisi. 

" Belov'd Dun-Fidgha and Dun-Finn, 
And dear the hill above them ; 
Belov'd is Innis-draighen too,^ 
And dear to me Dun Suibhne.^ 

" Coil-chuan too, [Coilchuan ^J 
Where Ainl^ would, alas, resort. 
Too short, too short were these glad days 
With Naisi in the lands of Alban. 

"Glenlaidhe, [Glenlaidhe *] 
I slept beneath thy soothing shelter. 
Fish and deer, and badger too 
My daily feast were in Glenlaidhe. 

1 Innistrynich, Loch Awe. 

2 Pronounced ''Sweeny." Probably Dunrostan, the hill overlooking 
the mouth of Loch Swin, where Castle Sweeny stands. South of 
Crinan, Argyleshire. 

' Kilchum, Loch Awe. 

■* Possibly Glen Lochy, where there is a Ben Laidhe. 


" Glen-Masan, [O Glen Masan ! i] 
High were its herbs, and white their blossoms, 
And sweetly lone our resting-place 
On the green, green grass of Invermasan. 

" Glen Etive, [O Glen Etive !] 
In thee was raised my earliest home. 
Beautiful its woods at the dawning. 
When the sun rose on Glen Etive. 

"Glen Urchain, [O Glen Urchain l^] 
The far-seen glen of gentle slopes ; 
No man more happy was, and joyful, 
Than Naisi was in thee, Glen Urchain ! 

" Glen Daniel, [O Glen Daruel !] 
My love to every dweller in thee ; 
The cuckoo's voice on bending bough 
Sweet sounds upon thy bens. Glen Daruel ! 

" Beloved Draighen and its wave-beat shore, 
Belov'd its waters and its pure white sand. 
Oh, to depart not from thee, Alban, 
But that I go with my beloved." 

Of all the twice ten thousand lines v^rhich the poetic 
fancy of ages has penned on Scotland's hills and 
dales, her mountain bens and trotting " burns," her 
hawthorn blossom and her blooming heather, the 

^ At head of Holy Loch, Argyleshire. 

2 Probably Glen Orchy, whose long \'ista of beauty is enhanced by 
the smoothness of its lateral curves. 


reader may remember that these lines of Deirdre 
are probably the most ancient now in existence. 
With them we forget the nineteen centuries which 
separate her day from ours, and seem to hear her 
voice in the woods of Invermasan, under the shadow 
of Ben More.^ It was natural that she should love 
Scotland, and the verses really afford another proof of 
the verity of the tale. They are the expressions of 
one who had known no joy or peace in her native 
land of Ireland, where her childhood was a dreary 
seclusion and her brief public life a daily terror of 
flight from a hated enemy. In Alban alone she had 
tasted the sweetness of life. There her children had 
been born, and there had passed the too brief years of 
her happy married life. Now all was changed with a 
suddenness prophetic of evil, and with a sad heart she 
watched the distant hills of Alban as hour after hour 
they sank on the horizon and ever nearer arose the 
land where dwelt her enemy. 

^ At Invermasan the River Masan joins the Echaig two miles below 
Loch Eck and about five miles from Sandbank, or Ardnadam Pier, on 
the Firth of Clyde. 


Landing in Ireland — The Traitor Borach — Arrival at Emania — Siege 
of the Red Branch House — The Sortie, Surrender, and Massacre 
of the Uisneachs — Deirdre a Captive — Eoghan Mac Durrthacht — 
Deirdre's Death. 

According to Irish tradition, the returning exiles 
and Fergus landed in Ireland at Ballycastle, opposite 
Rathlin Island, where a rock on the shore is still 
called " Carraig Uisneach " (The Rock or Craig of 

On the very beach they were met by a traitor. 
It had been intended that King Fergus should 
accompany them to King Conor's house at Emania, 
but Conor had resolved otherwise. One of his 
ruffians, Borach, met Fergus with a mysterious 
invitation to an ale bancjuet — they had no potheen 
in Ireland then. 

The Uisneachs could not accept this, as they had 

vowed to break bread in Ireland first at Conor's 

table. Fergus and Deirdre both feared treachery, 

and dreaded this banquet, for, according to Irish 


custom, it would be a mortal affront to refuse, and 
it might go on for days, thus depriving the Uisneachs 
of Fergus' protection. Conor and Borach had fore- 
seen this. Fergus very reluctantly confided his 
trust to his two sons and went to the banquet. 
" Selling his honour for ale," said Deirdre sadly. 
She now entreated her husband to return to Rathlin 
Island until Fergus was free to go with them to the 
king, but Naisi's angry pride and the confidence of 
Fergus' sons led them to Emania. Throughout the 
journey, again and again Deirdre expressed her 
forebodings of evil and her fears and compassion 
for the "beautiful sons of Uisneach." She had no 
selfish complainings ; all her expressions are for 
her husband's and her brothers' danger. Her 
anxieties by day brought dreams of woe at night, 
but to none of these would Naisi listen. When they 
reached Drum-Sailech,^ the ridge where Armagh 
now stands, and saw the Rath of Emania in the 
distance, Deirdre's fears broke out afresh, and for 
the last time she entreated Naisi to turn aside to 
Dundalgan (now Dundalk), there to abide with the 
mighty Cuchulain until Fergus returned. But again 

^ Drum-Sailech, the ridge of the willows. *' Sailech," whence 
Scottish '* Saugh." " Siller saughs wi' downy buds." — Tannahill. 


her husband's pride pushed him on to his fate, as he 
sadly replied, " This we cannot do, my beloved ! for 
it might show we had fear, and we have none ! " 

Their reception was startlingly unfriendly. They 
were not admitted to the palace, but ordered to reside 
in the House of the Red or Royal Branch, where all 
the champions lived. 

Thither they went, notwithstanding Deirdre's con- 
tinued warnings, now partly shared by Naisi, but 
Fergus' son, Ulan, urged them not to show now the 
fear they had ever despised. That night the whole 
company supped together in good cheer, and after 
supper Naisi called for the chess-board, and sat down 
with Deirdre to play. It was their last game, and 
their last night, on earth together. 

No sooner had Conor heard of their arrival than 
all his longing for Deirdre returned upon him, and 
not having seen her during the years of her absence 
in Alban, he sent her old friend Lavarcam, the court 
poetess, to spy. He took a pride in Naisi's renown 
as a warrior, notwithstanding his jealousy of him as 
Deirdre's husband, and resolved to do nothing deadly 
until he heard whether this Irish Helen's beauty 
still shone as undimmed as before. 

Lavarcam was true to her beloved Deirdre, and 


with many tears and embraces warned her of the 
danger to herself and her husband. Then she 
returned to the king and told him that the splendour 
of Deirdre's beauty had faded and gone. Neverthe- 
less, Conor, restless and suspicious, resolved to have 
the report of another ambassador. Failing to get 
any of the Royal' Branch knights to do his errand, 
he ordered a lesser chief, Trendorm, whose father and 
three brothers had fallen under Naisi's sword in battle, 
to play " Peeping Tom." Deirdre, alert as usual, was 
first to catch sight of his face at an upper window, to 
which he had climbed, and silently warned her 
husband as he sat by her playing chess. Turning 
suddenly, Naisi hurled a chess-man at Trendorm's 
face, smashing his eyeball ; whereupon the unlucky 
and vengeful man dropped to the ground and ran 
with his tale to the king, whose rage he did not fail to 
excite by depicting the lordly, and even kingly, style of 
the Uisneachs. " And there is no woman on earth," he 
concluded, "of face and form more beautiful than 
Deirdre." Then murder entered the heart of the 

Of the remainder of the tragedy there are two 
accounts, one of which describes a terrible conflict of 
three days, the king's hired troops assaulting, and the 


Uisneachs defending, the House of the Royal Branch 
Knights, which had been barricaded after Lavarcam's 
warnings. Again and again the house was set on 
fire, and as often the flames were extinguished, though 
not without a continuous loss of men to the small 
band of the Uisneachs. Fergus' gallant and only 
faithful son, Ulan the Fair, was slain through mis- 
understanding by the great champion Conall 
Cearnagh, who, on discovering his disastrous error, 
turned in fearful wrath on Fiera, or Fiacha, King 
Conor's son, who had misled him, and at one blow 
swept off his head. 

On the third day, after a night of ceaseless assault, 
Naisi, as he returned bloody and spent, ordered 
Lavarcam to go to the upper battlement to see if 
perchance Fergus or his men could be seen coming 
to their aid, but nought was visible but the herds of 
cattle on the plains. As a last hope they resolved on 
a sortie, and binding themselves together, the few 
survivors rushed forth, forming in serried ranks 
around Deirdre and the women, who were in the 
centre of the ring. 

Here this part of the narrative is spoiled by a 
ridiculous miracle wrought by Caffa the Druid at 
Conor's suggestion, but the other and earlier account 


followed by Professor O'Curry comes to our aid. 
Evidently the small band was surrounded by Conor's 
troops and were compelled to surrender, or at least 
that some kind of parley was being held. " The sons 
of Uisneach were standing on the middle of the green 
and the women sitting on the mound of Emania," 
that same mound where Deirdre had first seen 

A Prince Eoghan (Owen), a son of Durrthacht, 
King of Farney, who had made truce with Conor 
after long strife, resolved to cement his friendship 
with Naisi's blood, and at Conor's request approached 
the three brothers as they stood on the green. Like 
Joab of old, Eoghan offered them the hand of friend- 
ship and welcome, but turning suddenly aside, fiercely 
drove " a great spear " into Naisi's back, breaking his 
spine. A son of Fergus threw himself on Naisi, 
covering his body, but whether as friend or foe it is 
difficult to tell, as the chronicle merely says, " it was 
in that way he was killed, through the son of Fergus 
downP'^ Then the remainder of the flock were 
slaughtered "all over the green, so that no one 

1 It almost appears that Naisi after falling was stabbed through Mac- 
Fergus' body, and that the latter also lost his life. It is possible this is 
the true account of the death of Ulan the fair, though he is here called 
Fiacha (see Atlantis Magazine, following Book of Lecain). 


escaped then but such as escaped at the point of the 
spear and the edge of the sword, and SHE was 
carried into Conchobhar (Conor) and was placed at 
his hand. Her hands were tied behind her." No 
need to say who "she" was, though the chronicle 
does not name her. So, suddenly and terribly, she 
was in the power of her great enemy at last. 

The later narratives rather improbably and weakly 
cause Deirdre to fall dead with grief beside Naisi's 
body, but this is evidently one of the examples of 
which Professor O'Curry warns his readers, where a 
later editor occasionally adds mere romance for the 
sake of supposed effect. A vigorous healthy woman 
like Deirdre, living continually in the open air, does 
not die suddenly of grief, and it is satisfactory for 
truth's sake that the old account can be safely 
followed, as every line of it bears the impress of fact, 
and leads on through a still more painful and sorrow- 
ful path to the tragic end. 

For one year we are told '^ she'' remained in the 
power of the tyrant, and during that time " she 
laughed not one smiling laugh, nor took sufficiency 
of food or sleep, nor raised her head from off her 

From this point the chronicler, with a kind of 


dumb sense of this woman's terrible grief, seldom 
mentions her by name. It is always "she," — the 
only real human persona in the scene of despair. 
Other names arise and flit by, as in Dante's Inferno, 
inhuman, tormenting demons, hastening the tragedy 
to its close. They brought musicians, but their 
sounds only inspired the dirge in which SHE com- 
memorates the beloved dead. 

Of this dirge, of which some twenty-four verses still 
exist. Professor O'Curry gives a literal translation in 
the Atlantis Magazine. The following verses are 
wholly based on that translation, but to avoid the 
baldness of literality an attempt is made to give them 
a more rhythmic form, though without rhyme, care- 
fully inserting unchanged every line of O'Curry 
which scans freely. 

"Though fair with you, the valiant champions, 
Who came to Aven after marching, 
More beauteous they went from their dwelling 
The three heroic sons of Usnagh. 

" Naisi made mead all brimming, sweat 
I by the fire, his bath made ready ; ^ 
Ardan with ox or fair fat sheep 
With Ainl^ crossed the flooded river. 

^ How like the scenes in the Odyssey, 


" Though sweet to you the rich brown mead 
Macnessa of the battles drinketh ; ^ 
I've seen ere now, the far chased doe 
The food of which was ten times sweeter. 

" When Naisi, noble one, would on-set 
A stack of faggots from the moorland, 
Sweeter than honey was all food 
Since 'twas the sons of Usnagh chose it. 

" Sweet may it be to thee King Conor, 
The sound of pipes and trumpeters, 
Dearer to me the ' Song Renowned,' 
The song the sons of Uisl^ sang. 

" The deep-toned wave-like voice of Naisi, 
'T'was music rare, my ear, to hear it. 
And Ardan's harp joined rich and clear 
As from the hut came Ainle's singing. 

" Naisi now in his grave is lying ; 
Woeful to me that fearful banquet ^ 
When Borach gave in cruel guile 
The bitter draught from which they died. 

" No more I sleep [I cannot sleep]. 
No more I'll deck my nails with crimson. 
No joy upon my mind shall come, 
Since Indie's sons come back no longer." 

1 i.e. Conor. ^ Borach's invitation. 


When Conor sought to comfort her she said : — 

" Oh, Conor ! knowest thou what thou doest, 
Thou hast heaped woe and tears upon me, 
And sorrow lasting as my life, 
Thy love can never be aught to me. 

" That which was loveliest under heaven, 
That which was most belov'd on earth. 
Thou hast ta'en from me ; — Great the wrong, 
Ne'er shall I see him now till death. 

" His absence, oh ! 'tis anguish to me, 
How came dark death on U isle's son. 
Death's blackness deep, round his white body. 
Who once was known the prince of men. 

" Two crimson cheeks of lovely hue. 
Red lips and eyelash chafer-colour,^ 
His pearly teeth shone in his smile. 
Like brightest gleam of winter's cover. 

" Distinguished was his bright array, 
'Mong Alba's men of warrior mould, 
His crimson cloak in graceful sway, 
With bindings fair of ruddy gold. 

"A golden hilted sword in hand. 
Two spears of green with vict'ry pointed, 
A shield with rim of yellow gold. 
And face of silver fair appointed. 

^Beautiful, deep-shining, dark, like the coat of the tree beetle, the 
Melolontha Vulgaris of naturalists (O'Curry). 


" Though here stood ranked upon the plain 
Thine Ulstermen before thee, Conor, 
Without a thought I'd sell them for 
One hour with Naisi, son of Uisl^ 

" Oh, break not yet, this day, my heart ! 
Soon shall I reach my early grave ; 
Sorrow is deeper than the sea. 
And thou ma/st know it yet, oh, Conor ! " 

Her continued grief for the dead and scorn for the 
living roused Conor's jealousy and hate. " What is it 
thou hatest most," he asked her one day. 

" Thee, indeed ! " she flashed back, " and Eoghan 
Mac Durrthacht." 

Then Conor, full of bitterness, laughed and said, 
" Thou shalt be a year with Eoghan " (Owen), and he 
gave her into the hands of her husband's murderer ! 

Next day Eoghan put her into his chariot and 
drove south with her to a Fair at Muirtheimhne, 
an ancient plain extending from the River Boyne at 
Drogheda to Dundalk and Carlingford. On it, at 
the Battle of Brislech, the hero Cuchulain was slain 
and beheaded by Ere, for which Erc'shead was after- 
wards removed from his body by Conall Cearnagh ! 
On the way to the fair, in some rocky passage, Conor 
passed in his chariot, and catching the dark gleam of 
her eye fixed on him, he jeered at her. " Well, oh 


Deirdriu ! it is a sheep's eye between two rams that 
you now cast between me and Eoghan." Stung by 
the brutal scoff in her hopeless misery, she leaped 
from the chariot and falling over some cliff was 
dashed against a rock, and lay at rest for ever. 

It was the end of the sorrows of Deirdre but the 
beginning of Conor's. Like King David, the sword 
never after departed from his house. Remorse and 
grief for the death of her whom he had so adored and 
so wronged darkened his days. King Fergus and 
Naisi's son Gaiar, with many others, returned and 
exacted a fearful vengeance on Conor Mac Nessa and 
on Ulster, driving the former from his throne for a 
season. Ultimately peace was restored, and large 
lands were given to Gaiar as " Eric " or " Were Gild " 
for his father's death, the death of Ainle and Ardan 
remaining " against Conor's dishonour." During this 
war vengeance fell also on Eoghan Mac Durrthacht, 
Naisi's murderer and Deirdre's last oppressor. His 
two daughters were captured and ruthlessly slain by 
a friend of Fergus, their possessions seized and their 
castles given to the flames. Soon after Fergus met 
and slew Eoghan himself, whose house and town were 
also plundered and burned. 

Professor O' Curry speaks of Conor as a co- 


temporary of our Saviour and an undoubted historic 
character, whose descendants continued to be recog- 
nised and identified in various parts of Ireland down 
to the Anglo-Norman Invasion. Indeed, he adds, they 
may be still recognised, and the descendants of 
Fergus Mac Roigh (the ex-king) are still well known 
and distinguished in the O'Connors of Kerry and in 
many families in Connaught. Connaught itself, by 
the way, is named after Cond the " hundred fighter," 
grandson of the great Tuathal Techtmar. 

The names of three great women have been placed 
together in the literature and history of the world, 
distinguished for their beauty and their misfortunes — 
Helen of Troy, Cleopatra of Egypt, and Mary Queen of 
Scots. Whether we view her as a historical character, 
or as a mere appearance in literature, this " Deirdre 
of Alban " equals if she does not excel them all. 

" Beautiful as Deirdre " is still the brighest compli- 
ment to be paid to a woman in Ireland and in many 
parts of the Highlands of Scotland. The poetic frag- 
ments still attached to her name, and all we know of 
her, show her to have been a woman of no little force 
of mind, appreciative of all the beauties of nature from 
their softest to their grandest moods ; quickwitted, 
full of observation (it was always Deirdre who saw 


things first), prompt to act ; brought up in a king's 
house yet independent of the luxuries of life, simple 
in her wants, and full of affection for those around 
her. In her sorrow again she rises pre-eminent. 
Helen in Troy had hope and lived to return to her 
husband's home and happy years there. Cleopatra 
had many husbands, and none of them was her 
husband except the one whom she poisoned. Mary 
Queen of Scots recovered from her husband's murder 
to wed with his murderer. 

But this woman, this poor pagan Deirdre of Ireland, 
almost outside the world's so-called civilisation, and 
before the sun of Christianity had risen upon Ireland, 
reveals a life of purity and honour to which none of 
these great women could aspire. 

She is absolutely faithful to her husband, faithful to 
her friends, faithful to their memory even to death 
itself. Those of the Scottish race who read her story 
will not forget that it is in her life they first get a 
glimpse of their native land, which she loved so well. 

Dun Mac Uisneach at Benderloch Station is her 
monument in Alban, and the green mound of N'avan, 
where she first saw her husband and also saw him die, 
may yet be seen about a mile from Armagh in the 
land which still of right is called " Old Ireland." 


The Origin and Building of Emania — Macha Red Hair — King Fergus 
Mac Roigh's Death — Queen Meav of Cruachan — Conor Mac 
Nessa's last Days and Death. 

Emania is the Latinised form of the Irish Emhain or 
Eamhuin (pronounce Aven). The fort was usually 
called Emhain Macha (Aven of Macha), and its 
foundation, about 400 B.C., is adopted by Tighernach 
Mac Braoin, Abbot of Clonmacnoise, the higher critic 
of the early annalists, as the point from whence reliable 
Irish history may be written. This great annalist's 
reasons for his belief will never be known, as he died 
in 1088 A.D. before finishing his literary undertaking. 
He states that at that time there were three kings 
reigning in Erinn in joint-sovereignty, Aedh-Ruadh 
(Red Hugh), Dithorba and Ciombaoth (Kimbay) ; 
each ruling for seven years and demitting his power 
to his successor : the true successor and his righteous 
rule being guarded by peculiar but potent regulations. 
At last Red Hugh was drowned in a cataract at 
Ballyshannon, near Sligo, afterwards called Eas- 


Ruaidh {i.e, Ruadh's Water), since cut down to 
Assaroe. He was buried above the fall, and the hill 
where he lay was only recently found to contain a 
great sepulchral chamber. He left no sons, but one 
famous daughter, Macha Mongruadh (Macha the red- 
haired), who claimed to succeed to her father's share 
in the sovereignty. On the two remaining kings 
objecting she made war on them, slew Dithorba and 
married Kimbay, like the gallant red-haired Irish- 
woman she was ! But Dithorba's five sons escaped 
to Connaught and plotted her destruction. She 
disguised her beauty and dressed as a leper woman, 
travelled into Connaught, where, after an encounter 
of a most extraordinary nature with the five men, 
singly, she overcame them and brought them bound 
in "one tow" prisoners to Ulster! There her 
courtiers advised their death, but she nobly refused 
to soil the beginning of her reign with " unrighteous- 
ness," and instead condemned them to build for her 
a fort or residence. Taking from her stately neck 
her golden brooch she marked the lines of the path 
with the brooch-pin, and from these words, Eo 
(brooch) and Muin (neck) the fort was ever after 
called Eo-muin or Emhain of Macha. 

It stood as the capital of the Kingdom of Ulster 


for seven hundred years, the province being raised to 

a kingdom by her, and her husband Kimbay was the 

first King of Ulster. It was destroyed in 331 A.D. by 

the three CoUas/ when the ancient Ultonian dynasty 

was overthrown to give place to the Dalriadic race 

who were to colonise Scotland. 

But the name of this Irish Zenobia did not perish 

with her palace. The name Emhain, was called in 

the Erse " An Aven," i.e. the Aven (or the Brooch 

of the Neck). In time the Irish article " an " lost 

its initial letter and the name was written " 'N Aven," 

until now, twenty-three centuries after its foundation, 

its irregular lines are called "The Fort of Navan," 

About a mile from the fort, as already mentioned, an 

adjoining ridge was then called Drum-Sailech, but 

after Macha's death, and possibly because she was 

buried there, the place was called Ard-Macha, the 

height of Macha, which has been slowly changed to 

the modern Armagh. Any who have heard a native 

of the city pronounce its name with the prolonged 

accent on the last syllable, will at once recognise the 

name of Ulster's great queen. The Book of Armagh, 

^ One of these, CoUa Uais (the noble), was ancestor of Fergus More 
of Scotland and therefore of King Edward VII. Another brother was 
CoUa Meann, i,e, the stammerer ; the Lowland Scots word " raant," 
i,e» a stammer, comes from this Celtic root. 


dated 807 A.D., latinizes the city name to Altitudo 
Machae as having existed in 457, when St Patrick 
built a church on the site. 

King Fergus Mac Roigh, whose absence at 
Borach's banquet proved so fatal to the Uisneachs, 
never returned to dwell in Ulster. He lived an exile 
at the court of the King of Connaught at Cruachan 
(near Carrick on Shannon), ready to help in any 
foray against the hated Conor Mac Nessa. In 
Cruachan, Fergus found a kindred spirit in Meav 
(Meadhbh), the king's daughter, who in early youth 
had been married to Conor and is supposed to be the 
Queen Mab of Shakespeare and the fairies! The 
union was unhappy, and she returned to her father's 
home until a strange turn of politics made her Queen 
of Connaught. She and Fergus led a famous 
expedition into Ulster, ostensibly to capture the 
wonderful Brown Bull of Cuailgn6 (Cooley in Louth 
County), but really to harry the lands of Conor, her 
former husband. The narrative of this expedition, 
the " Tain Bo Chuailgne " (or cattle spoil of Cooley), 
is one of the most curious and interesting 
examples of the early Irish literature. It is a strange 
romantic medley, an inexhaustible mine of information 


on old Irish customs, history, chivalry, topography, 
dress, weapons, horses, chariots, leechcraft, and other 
matters of value to the student of history. Professor 
O'Curry, from whose works these closing notes are 
largely collected, says he is not acquainted with any 
tale in the whole range of literature containing more 
valuable information on the ancient life which it 
depicts, and lest the reader should deem the gorgeous 
descriptions of arms and ornaments to be the creations 
of a poet's imagination the professor points to the 
"rich and beautiful collection of the Royal Irish 
Academy," where " the graceful design and delicate 
finish of these unrivalled relics of ancient Irish art " 
attest the accuracy of the ancient poet and annalists. 
Time passed slowly with Fergus at the rath of 
Cruachan. The outlines of the fort are still visible in 
County Roscommon. Ailill, Queen Meav's husband, 
was said to be unkind to his clever wife, and Fergus 
excited his jealousy by befriending Meav. Another 
narrative in the Glenmasan MS. tells a sadder 
tale of the queen's frailty, and that Fergus died 
as the fool dieth at the instigation of Ailill. 
Whether right or wrong. Queen Meav vowed ven- 
geance and poured her story into the ears of Conall 
Cearnagh, who had fled from Ulster to end his days 


at her court. Prompt for his friends, the old warrior 
plunged a spear into Ailill, mortally wounding him. 
Turning to escape for his life Conall soon discovered 
that his own time had come. Three of Ailill's " Red 
Heads" speedily overtook and slew the breathless 
old man, decapitating him, as he in his day had sliced 
off many an adversary's head. Thus were Mesgedhra 
and Ailill avenged. Conall left many famous descend- 
ants, and Abbeyleix, in Queen's County, is called after 
his son. 

They were all killed these ancient heroes ! None 
seemed to dream of dying comfortably in his bed. 
Life for them meant action and the fresh air of 
heaven and the sound of battle. To be deprived of 
these by sickness, and waste under lingering disease, 
was no fate for a Man and a Warrior. "Better a 
terrible end than endless terror." Yet, with all the 
slaughter there is a glorious frankness in their lives 
and a fine chivalry in their fighting which makes one 
love them. There is nothing of the savage, indiscrim- 
ate cruelty of the later Germanic and Scandinavian 
races. Women had a high place amongst them, 
enjoying a freedom and influence beyond that in 
surrounding nations or even in Greece or Rome, and 
unlike Rome, women in Erinn might be won or even 


run off with ! but was never bought or sold. Every- 
man was a Warrior, and sought in woman, a wife 
who could be the Mother of Warriors. The latter 
sentiment was peculiarly strong, yet under it Ireland 
never degenerated morally as Sparta did ; and to 
this day, Ireland and (strange to say) Modern Greece, 
are, statistically, the two most chaste nations in the 

King Conor Mac Nessa. Like the orthodox 
story-teller we have now slain nearly all our heroes and 
heroines, and before closing, the reader may wish to 
hear of the last days of Conor Mac Nessa. His cruelty 
and treachery to the Uisneachs was the black spot 
on an otherwise remarkable reign, lasting during forty 
years. The annalists, while confessing the troubles 
following the murder of Naisi, exhaust themselves 
in dilating on the wisdom, justice, munificence, and 
vigilance which characterised Conor's reign. He 
inherited the worldly wisdom and warlike capacity 
of his famous mother Nessa, for she had led her own 
troops to war, and no less did he possess the intellect 
of his father King Fachtna, whose judgments pro- 
cured him the appelation of " The Wise." 

The enmity of Fergus had an older cause than the 


slaughter of the Uisneachs, personal to himself, and 
to the curious conditions under which Conor came 
to and retained the throne. 

To tell the tale of Conor's death we must proceed 
backwards a few paces, and begin with a certain 
wondrously sarcastic, but very greedy, poet, Aitheme. 
This gentleman took a journey around the Court 
and castles of Leinster, until the dread of his bitter 
tongue had procured a spoil of presents equal to the 
results of a successful foray. The Leinster men eyed 
him as he approached their border near Dublin,^ nor 
did he forget that the laws of hospitality, which gave 
him his spoil and protected it within the borders of 
Leinster, did not debar its unceremonious recovery 
by the givers once he crossed these borders into 
Ulster. Before the guard he had summoned from 
King Conor could come to his aid, the Leinstermen 
pounced on him and recaptured all his captives and 
much spoil. With most of the cattle, Aithern^ ran 
for the Hill of Howth^ at Dublin Bay, where he 
held out until the Royal Branch champions of King 

i**Dubh-linn," from a lady called Black (Celtic, Dubh) drowned 
in a pool in the LifFey. This derivation partly accounts for the local 
pronunciation of Dublin in that city, *' Dear dhorty Doablin." 

2 Then called Ben Edair. Howth is Danish ; probably from Hoved, 
a head. Pronounced ** Hooth." 


Conor came to his aid and swept the men of Leinster 
across the Liffey. 

Some days later Conall Cearnagh met and slew the 
king of Leinster, Mesgedhra, and under a curious 
custom, due more to superstition than cruelty, Conall 
beheaded his victim. The brain as the seat of man's 
intelligence was valued even after death, being deemed 
capable of still directing a mortal blow in the hand 
of an avenger.^ The brain of Mesgedhra was mixed 
with lime and hardened into a ball fit to be thrown 
from a sling or by hand. Conall presented his trophy 
to King Conor, and for some years it lay like a 
snake in the grass, neglected save as a plaything for 
the two court fools. By-and-bye an enemy came 
prowling in disguise to Emania. This was Keth, 
the son of Magach, a wily and bitter fighter from 
Connaught, described as the " most dangerous pest in 
Erinn." Watching his chance, he stole Mesgedhra's 
brain-ball and fled to Connaught, where he waited his 
opportunity to meet and slay King Conor. Some time 
after he forayed South Ulster, and when returning^ 
was overtaken at a ford by the Ulster army under 

^ The Dyak head-hunters of Borneo decapitate their victims and store 
the heads in their dwelling-houses for a similar reason to this day, 
supposing the victor will add to himself the courage, skill, and strength 
of all his victims. 


Conor. Both parties drew up for combat, and the 
Connaught ladies, with characteristic ardour, still 
visible in their descendants, collected on an adjoining 
hill to welcome their husbands and " see the fight." 
By a device of Keth, these fair dames invited Conor, 
in accordance with a custom then common in Ireland, 
to come over and exhibit his fine figure and rich 
armour. As he did so, his enemy suddenly arose 
from among the women and placed the fatal ball in 
his terrible sling {a'anntabhaill). Too late Conor 
attempted to retreat, and fell in front of his own men 
in the ford, with Mesgedhra's brain-ball fixed in his 

The ford where this vengeful sling-cast was made 
was then after called Ath-an-urchair (The Ford of 
the Cast), and is identified with the modern Ard- 
nurcher in the Barony of Moycastle, Westmeath 
county, where it affords another proof to the thou- 
sands already existing of the strange tenacity with 
which place-names cling to a locality during long 
centuries of political storm and strife. 

The blow was not then fatal, and Conor was carried 
back to Ulster, where his physician Fingen predicted 
his death if the stone was removed, but recovery 
under a blemish to his beauty if it was allowed to 


remain. " Better a blemish than his death," said his 
Ulstermen, and accordingly the wound was stitched 
with a golden thread, the colour of Conor's hair. In 
those days all the heroes and heroines had golden 
hair, teeth like pearls, skins like the snow, lips like 
the cherry, and cheeks like blood. The rose was 
evidently not then known in Ireland, and the lily a 
thing of the future. Swans they had galore,^ as 
the sad bondage of Lir's gentle children testifies. 
Deirdre likens her husband's eyes to the deep black 
armour of the tree-beetle. Before the reader smiles 
at the curious simile, let him closely examine the little 
creature and see if in all nature he can think of any- 
thing more beautiful than the dark shining depths of 
its tiny coat. They were children of nature these 
old Irish, and, like all children, observant, even of the 
smallest things of life, which our day perhaps carries 
its head too high to see. It becomes us rather to admire 
than to scoff, and to wish with a sad envy that our 
Pictish and British ancestors had paid less care to 
that painting of their bodies, from which (in spite of 
Mr Rhys) their names are probably derived, and 
devoted their time, instead, to recording the life of 

^ Galore, Irish -Gaelic "go leor" = "plenty of anything," 
«* sufficiently." 


those early days as faithfully as the Irish race has 
done. Let even the Anglo-Saxon be humble; his 
ancestors ran the woods of Germany, blue-painted 
savages, when Ireland was far on the road to Christi- 
anity and civilisation. At that period, notwith- 
standing some possible crimsoning of nails and 
darkening of eyelashes by the ladies, the Scoti of 
Ireland were a stage beyond painting their bodies ; 
and Burton notes this as a point of contrast between 
their descendants, the Dalriadic Scots, and the Picts 
whose land they conquered. 

Returning to King Conor, he, like many patients 
since, was warned to avoid excitement of mind and 
violent exercise of body, advice which he carefully 
followed during the seven remaining years of his life. 
During this time of retirement he must have had 
many thoughts as to some of the misdeeds of his 
early life, and the legend connected with his death is 
so remarkable as to deserve notice. 

The year 33 A.D. was the year of our Lord's 
crucifixion. "There came at that time," says the 
Book of Leinster, " a great convulsion over Creation, 
and the Heavens and the Earth were shaken by the 
enormity of the deed which was then perpetrated, 
namely Jesus Christ the Son of the Living GOD to 


be crucified without crime." King Conor observing 
the sun's eclipse, asked the reason for' the darkness, 
and was told by his Druid Bacrach of the tremendous 
event which was being enacted. " What crime has 
He committed," asked the king. " None," replied 
the Druid. " Then are they slaying Him inno- 
cently } " " They are," said Bacrach. 

The two narratives of what follows, though differ- 
ing somewhat in detail, are quite reconcilable on the 
assumption of the extraordinary character of the 
events having caused in the bosom of Conor emotions 
so utterly beyond control, that he turned with all the 
ardour of his Celtic nature from thoughts of repent- 
ance and faith to fearful wrath at the murderers of 
our Lord. St Peter's sudden attack on Malchus was 
possibly inspired by similar feelings. 

The tract in the Book of Leinster, entitled " The 
Tragic Fate of Conor," as translated by O'Curry, 
resumes : " It was then'^that Conor believed, and he 
was one of two men that believed in GOD in Erinn 
before the coming of the Faith." " Good now," said 
Conchobar. " It is a pity He did not appeal to a 
valiant high King, which would bring me in the shape 
of a hardy champion . . . dealing a breach of battle 
between two hosts. With Christ should my assist- 


ance be. . . . Beautiful the combat which I would 
wage for Christ. ... I would not rest though my body 
of clay had been tormented by them. . . . What is the 
reason for us that we do not express words of deep 
tear-lamentation ? 

" High the King who suffers a hard crucifixion for 
the sake of ungrateful men ; for His safety I would 
go to death. It crushes my heart to hear the voice of 
wailing for my GOD." 

At this point the ancient narrative in the Book of 
Leinster stops, and the translator, Bishop Finn Mac 
Gorman (writing not later than the middle of the 
twelfth century !), offers, as a more credible source of 
Conor's information, the suggestion that it came 
through Altus, a Roman consul, who arrived from 
Britain about that time to demand a tribute from the 
Gaels. So critical an observation made nearly eight 
centuries ago regarding a document known even then 
to be ancient, gives another proof of the great antiquity 
of the story, and also (under due allowance for the 
gradual accretion of the miraculous) of its historic 

Of the remainder of the story no very ancient 
version is now known to exist, but Dr Geoffrey 
Keating (1630 A.D.), quoting from an authority 


ancient in his day and now unknown, ascribes to 
King Conor an agitation so intense, that, forgetful of 
the weakness that had tied him to his chair for seven 
years, he sprang to his feet, shouting, "I would kill 
those who were around my King at putting Him to 
death." Then, tearing his sword from its sheath, he 
rushed out of doors, venting his wrath against Jew 
and Roman by hewing fiercely at the trees of the 
wood of Lamhraige. In the midst of his excitement 
the fatal stone burst from its cavity, followed by 
what the annalist calls " some of his brain," probably 
a haemorrhage, and in that way King Conor died. 
His last words, according to this narrative, distinctly 
confirm Bishop Mac Gorman's suggestion that Conor 
was being told the tale of the Crucifixion some time 
after the event ; and Dr Keating's quotation as to the 
wood where the king died, is curiously confirmed by 
the annals of the Four Masters, where, quoting from 
an ancient poem by Kenneth O'Hartagain (who died 
in 973 A.D.), the following lines occur : — 

" Mac Nessa, the king, died 
By the side of Leiter Lamhraighe." 

to which the Masters have added a gloss, Le. "as 
Chonchobhar was cutting down the wood of 
Lamhraighe, it was then Mesgedhra's brain started 


from his head and his own brain afterward." The 
Book of Leinster (i 150 A.D.) contains the same poem, 
with these lines, but, of course, without the gloss 
supplied by the Four Masters in the seventeenth 

So passed 3way King Conor Mac Nessa in the 
fortieth year of his reign and the fifty-fifth of his 
life ; a " valiant high king " in his time, not to be 
judged too harshly by the light of modern days. He 
lived in the dark merciless days of paganism, when 
to " will " was to " do " whatever whim or desire arose 
in his untamed heart. It was no play to be king in 
those early nation-making days ; no time for tapping 
foundation stones with ivory mallet and merry- 
masons all around, but rather of hard, bloody toil 
in the foundation pit itself, with two-handed sword 
for pick and shovel. There was small choice of 
methods. It was one of two, indeed, the Sword or 
Anarchy, and in the prime duty of his country's 
protection Conor was a true king. If not always 
a " lamb at home," he was ever a " lion in the field." 
He formed and led the Order of Royal Branch 
Knights of Aven, whose renown equals in Ireland 
that of King Arthur's knights in Britain. In early 
Ireland the laws of succession practically ensured a 


line of powerful kings. No right of primogeniture 

existed to burden a land with weaklings and long 

minorities. The Senior was honoured as Patriarch 

of the Tribe, but the Chiefship — the Kingship — went 

to his junior if abler than he, according to the ancient 

Rule :— 

The Senior to the Tribe, 

The Powerful to the Chiefship, 

The Wisest to be Priest ; 

and it was in virtue of his true manhood that Conor 
was Chief when Fergus was honoured only as Senior 
in Ulster. No man could have held the authority 
for the long period of forty years without possessing 
an outstanding merit as Ruler, King, and Leader of 
his people. He and his warriors, and all whom he 
ruled and wronged, have mingled with the dust for 
nineteen centuries, their very names forgotten save 
to the few who have loved to peruse the ancient 
records of their people. If any readers of these 
imperfect extracts still condemn his memory, let them 
recall the pathetic line in which the Ulster historian 
concludes Conor's life : — 

" It was said of him, he was the first man who died 
for the sake of Christ in Erinn." 


Is thy Harp silent for ever, Land of Erinn ? 

Is thy day still dark as the night of Winter ? 

That the Songs of Renown no longer sound 

O'er thy green plains, by the sides of thy shining rivers. 

Are they all dead ? those sons of the heroes of old, 

Who carried the Light of the Truth, making Erinn a name, 

'Mid the chaos of nations around her. 

Bright was thy dawn, and brighter still was thy morning, 

Till the clouds of oppression and wrong fell heavy upon thee. 

Long have they darkened thy sky, 

And saddened the dreams of thy slumber. 

Long has the midnight been, yet dawn may rise sudden upon 

thee : 
The Day-break will come, and thy terrible dreaming be ended. 

Awake ! Land of Erinn, 

Awake from thy slumber of ages. 

Shake first from thy Soul 

The shackles of Rome that enthrall thee ; 

Set the Souls of thy children free, 

And soon from their feet shall melt 

The Fetters of iron. Then shall the Nation sing ! 

Sing, as thy Saints of old, " GoD save Ireland." 

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