Deirdre and the Fate of the Sons of Usnech


Deirdre or Derdriu is the foremost tragic heroine in Irish mythology and probably its best-known figure in modern times. She is often called "Deirdre of the Sorrows." Her story is part of the Ulster Cycle, the best-known stories of pre-Christian Ireland. (Wikipedia)

It is the legend of this Gaelic Helen that the poets of the modern Celtic school most love to elaborate, while old men still tell it round the peat-fires of Ireland and the Highlands, Scholar and peasant alike combine to preserve a tradition no one knows how many hundred years old, for it was written down in the twelfth-century Book of Leinster as one of the "prime stories" which every bard was bound to be able to recite. It takes rank with the " Fate of the Sons of Tuirenn ", and with the "Fate of the Children of Lér", as one of the "Three Sorrowful Stories of Erin". (Charles Squire)

So favourite a tale has naturally been much altered and added to in its passage down the generations. There are the two popular versions: the Leinster version and the Glenn Masain version
The Leinster version (c. 1160), is the older version and more starkly tragic, less polished, and less romantic. The idea of Deirdre as a seer, which is so prominent in the Glenn Masain version of the tale, does not appear in the older Leinster text; the supernatural Druidic mist, which even in the Glenn Masain version only appears in the late manuscript which continues the story after the fifteenth-century manuscript breaks off, does not appear in the Book of Leinster.

Deirdre of the Sorrows

Deirdre was the daughter of the royal storyteller Fedlimid mac Daill. Before she was born, Cathbad the chief druid at the court of Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster, prophesied that Fedlimid's daughter would grow up to be very beautiful, but that kings and lords would go to war over her, much blood would be shed because of her, and Ulster's three greatest warriors would be forced into exile for her sake. Hearing this, many urged Fedlimid to kill the baby at birth, but Conchobar, aroused by the description of her future beauty, decided to keep the child for himself. He took Deirdre away from her family and had her brought up in seclusion by Leabharcham, an old woman, and planned to marry her when she was old enough. Deirdre grew up, and one day told Leabharcham that she would love a man with hair the color of the raven, skin as white as snow, and lips as red as blood. Leabharcham told her she knew of such a man — Naoise, a handsome young warrior, hunter and singer at Conchobar's court. With the collusion of Leabharcham, Deirdre met Naoise. At first the young man wanted nothing to do with her, because it was known that she was destined for the king. But Deirdre shamed him into eloping with her. Accompanied by his fiercely loyal brothers Ardan and Ainnle, the sons of Uisneach, they fled to Scotland. For a while, they lived a happy life there, hunting and fishing and living in beautiful places; one place associated with them is Loch Etive. But the furious, humiliated Conchobar tracked them down.

He sent Fergus mac Róich to them with an invitation to return and Fergus's own promise of safe conduct home, but on the way back to Emain Macha Fergus was waylaid by the king's plan, forced by his personal geis (an obligation) to accept an invitation to a feast. Fergus sent Deirdre and the sons of Uisnech on to Emain Macha with his son to protect them. After they had arrived, Conchobar sent Leabharcham to spy on Deirdre, to see if she had lost her beauty. Leabharcham, trying to protect Deirdre, told the king that Deirdre had lost all her beauty. Mistrustful, Conchobar then sent another spy, Gelbann, who managed to catch a glimpse of Deirdre but was seen by Naoise, who threw a gold chess piece at him and put out his eye. The spy managed to get back to Conchobar, and told him that Deirdre was as beautiful as ever. Conchobar called his warriors to attack the Red Branch house where Deirdre and the sons of Uisnech were lodging. Naoise and his brothers fought valiantly, aided by a few Red Branch warriors, before Conchobar evoked their oath of loyalty to him and had Deirdre dragged to his side. At this point, Éogan mac Durthacht threw a spear, killing Naoise, and his brothers were killed shortly after. There are other versions of the death of Naoise. Fergus and his men arrived after the battle. Fergus was outraged by this betrayal of his word, and went into exile in Connacht. He later fought against Ulster for Ailill and Medb in the war known as the Táin Bó Cúailnge (the Cattle Raid of Cooley), the Irish Iliad.

After the death of Naoise, Conchobar took Deirdre as his wife. After a year, angered by Deirdre's continuing coldness, Conchobar asked her whom in the world she hated the most, besides himself. She answered "Éogan mac Durthacht," the man who had murdered Naoise. Conchobar said that he would give her to Éogan. As she was being taken to Éogan, Conchobar taunted her, saying she looked like a ewe between two rams. At this, Deirdre threw herself from the chariot, dashing her head to pieces against a rock. In some versions of the story, she died of grief.

There are at least five plays based on Deirdre's story: George William Russell's Deirdre (1902), William Butler Yeats' Deirdre (1907), J. M. Synge's Deirdre of the Sorrows (1910), John Coulter's Deirdre of the Sorrows: An Ancient and Noble Tale Retold by John Coulter for Music by Healey Willian (1944), and Vincent Woods' A Cry from Heaven (2005). There are also three books: Deirdre (1923) by James Stephens, The Celts (1988) by Elona Malterre, and "The Swan Maiden" by Jules Watson. LÉ Deirdre, a ship in the Irish Naval Service from 1972 to 2001, was named after her.

ART THOU INDEED DEIRDRE OF WHOM I HAVE DREAMED? Illustrator Katherine Cameron "Celtic tales"
Reference: Celtic Tales Told to the Children (1910) by Louey Chisholm, with pictures by Katherine Cameron, THE STAR-EYED DEIRDRE, pp. 1-41
Image source: THE STAR-EYED DEIRDRE, pp. 1-41



The Lament of Deirdre

Note: This is the Glenn Masain version.

King Conchobarof Ulster was holding festival in the house of one of his bards, called Fedlimid, when Fedlimid's wife gave birth to a daughter, concerning whom Cathbad the Druid uttered a prophecy. He foretold that the new-born child would grow up to be the most lovely woman the world had ever seen, but that her beauty would bring death to many heroes, and much peril and sorrow to Ulster. On bearing this, the Red Branch warriors demanded that she should be killed, but Conchobar refused, and gave the infant to a trusted serving-woman, to be hidden in a secret place in the solitude of the mountains, until she was of an age to be his own wife.

So Deirdre (as Cathbad named her) was taken away to a hut so remote from the paths of men that none knew of it save Conchobar. Here she was brought up by a nurse, a fosterer, and a teacher, and saw no other living creatures save the beasts and birds of the hills. Nevertheless, woman-like, she aspired to be loved.

One day, her fosterer was killing a calf for their food, and its blood ran out upon the snowy ground, which brought a black raven swooping to the spot. "If there were a man," said Deirdre, **who had hair of the blackness of that raven, skin of the whiteness of the snow, and cheeks as red as the calfs blood, that is the man whom I would wish to marry me."

"Indeed there is such a man," replied her teacher thoughtlessly. "Naoise, one of the sons of Usnach heroes of the same race as Conchobar the King."

The curious Deirdre prevailed upon her teacher to bring Naoise to speak with her. When they met she made good use of her time, for she offered Naoisc her love, and begged him to take her away from King Conchobar.

Naoiso, bewitched by her beauty consented, Accompanied by his two brothers, Ardan and Ainle. and their followers, he lled with Deirdre to Alba, where they made alliance with one of its kings, and wandered over the land, living by following the deer, and by helping the king in his battles.

The revengeful Conchobar bided his time. One day, as the heroes of the Red Branch feasted together at Emain Macha, he asked them if they had ever heard of a nobler company than their own. They replied that the world could not hold such another. "Yet", said the king, "we lack our full tale. The three sons of Usnach could defend the province of Ulster against any other province of Ireland by themselves, and it is a pity that they should still be exiles, for the sake of any woman in the world. Gladly would I welcome them back!"

"We ourselves", replied the Ultonians, "would have counselled this long ago had we dared, O King!"

"Then I will send one of my three best champions to fetch them," said Conchobar. "Either Conall the Victorious, or Cuchulainn, the son of Sualtam, or Fergus, the son of Roy ; and I will find out which of those three loves me best."

First he called Conall to him secretly.

"What would you do, O Conall," he asked, "if you were sent to fetch the sons of Usnach, and they were killed here, in spite of your safe-conduct?"

"There is not a man in Ulster," answered Conall, "who had hand in it that would escape his own death from me."

"I see that I am not dearest of all men to you," replied Conchobar, and, dismissing Conall, he called Cuchulainn, and put the same question to him.

"By my sworn word," replied Cuchulainn, "if such a thing happened with your consent, no bribe or blood-fine would I accept in lieu of your own head, O Conchobar." "Truly," said the king, " it is not you I will send."

The king then asked Fergus, and he replied that, if the sons of Usnach were slain while under his protection, he would revenge the deed upon anyone who was party to it, save only the king himself.

"Then it is you who shall go," said Conchobar. "Set forth to-morrow, and rest not by the way, and when you put foot again in Ireland at the Dῠn of Borrach, whatever may happen to you yourself, send the sons of Usnach forward without delay."

The next morning, Fergus, with his two sons, Illann the Fair and Buinne the Ruthless Red, set out for Alba in their galley, and reached Loch Etive, by whose shores the sons of Usnach were then living. Naoise, Ainle, and Ardan were sitting at chess when they heard Fergus's shout.

"That is the cry of a man of Erin," said Naoise.

"Nay," replied Deirdre, who had forebodings of trouble. " Do not heed it; it is only the shout of a man of Alba." But the sons of Usnach knew better, and sent Ardan down to the sea-shore, where he found Fergus and his sons, and gave them greeting, and heard their message, and brought them back with him.

That night Fergus persuaded the sons of Usnach to return with him to Emain Macha. Deirdre, with her "second sight", implored them to remain in Alba. But the exiles were weary for the sight of their own country, and did not share their companion's fears, As they put out to sea, Deirdre uttered her beautiful " Farewell to Alba ", that land she was never to behold again.

"A lovable land is yon eastern land,
Alba, with its marvels.
I would not have come hither out of it,
Had 1 not come with Naoise.

"Lovable are Dῠn-fidga and Dῠn-finn,
Lovable the fortress over them ;
Dear to the heart Inis Draigende,
And very dear is Dῠn Suibni.

"Caill Cuan!
Unto which Ainle would wend, alas!
Short the time seemed to me,
With Naoise in the region of Alba.

"Glenn Láid!
Often I slept there under the cliff;
Fish and venison and the fat of the badger
Was my portion in Glenn Láid.

"Glenn Masáin!
Its garlic was tall, its branches white;
We slept a rocking sleep.
Over the grassy estuary of Masáin.

"Glenn Etive!
Where my first house I raised ;
Beauteous its wood : — upon rising
A cattle-fold for the sun was Glenn Etive.

"Glenn Dá-Rῠad!
My love to every man who hath it as an heritage!
Sweet the cuckoos' note on bending bough,
On the peak over Glenn Dá-Rῠad.

"Beloved is Draigen,
Dear the white sand beneath its waves;
I would not have come from it, from the East,
Had I not come with my beloved."

They crossed the sea, and arrived at the Dῠn of Borrach, who bade them welcome to Ireland. Now King Conchobar had sent Borrach a secret command, that he should offer a feast to Fergus on his landing. Strange taboos called geasa are laid upon the various heroes of ancient Ireland in the stories; there are certain things that each one of them may not do without forfeiting life or honour; and it was a geis upon Fergus to refuse a feast.

Fergus, we are told, "reddened with anger from crown to sole" at the invitation. Yet he could not avoid the feast. He asked Naoise what he should do, and Deirdre broke in with: "Do what is asked of you if you prefer to forsake the sons of Usnach for a feast. Yet forsaking them is a good price to pay for it."

Fergus, however, perceived a possible compromise. Though he himself could not refuse to stop to partake of Borrach's hospitality, he could send Dcirdrc and the sons of Usnach on to Emain Macha at once, under the safeguard of his two sons, Illann the Fair and Buinne the Ruthless Red. So this was done, albeit to the annoyance of the sons of Usnach and the terror of Deirdre. Visions came to the sorrowful woman; she saw the three sons of Usnach and Illann. the son of Fergus, without their heads. She saw a cloud of blood always hanging over them. She begged them to wait in some safe place until Fergus had finished the feast. But Naoise, Ainle and Ardan laughed at her fears. They arrived at Emain Macha, and Conchobar ordered the "Red Branch" palace to be placed at their disposal.

In the evening Conchobar called Levarcham, Deirdre's old teacher, to him. "Go", he said, "to the 'Red Branch', and see Deirdre, and bring me back news of her appearance, whether she still keeps her former beauty, or whether it has left her.

"So Levarcham came to the "Red Branch ", and kissed Deirdre and the three sons of Usnach, and warned them that Conchobar was preparing treachery. Then she went back to the king, and reported to him that Deirdre's hard life upon the mountains of Alba had ruined her form and face, so that she was no longer worthy of his regard. At this, Conchobar's jealousy was partly allayed, and he began to doubt whether it would be wise to attack the sons of Usnach. But later on, when he had drunk well of wine, he sent a second messenger to see if what Levarcham had reported about Deirdre was truth.

The messenger, this time a man, went and looked in through a window. Deirdre saw him and pointed him out to Naoise, who flung a chessman at the peering face, and put out one of its eyes. But the man went back to Conchobar, and told him that, though one of his eyes had been struck out, he would gladly have stayed looking with the other, so great was Deirdre's loveliness.

Then Conchobar, in his wrath, ordered the men of Ulster to set fire to the Red Branch House and slay all within it except Deirdre. They flung firebrands upon it, but Buinne the Ruthless Red came out and quenched them, and drove the assailants back with slaughter. But Conchobar called to him to parley, and offered him a ''hundred" of land and his friendship to desert the sons of Usnach. Buinne was tempted, and fell; but the land given him turned barren that very night in indignation at being owned by such a traitor. The other of Fergus's sons was of different make. He charged out, torch in hand, and cut down the Ultonians, so that they hesitated to come near the house again. Conchobar dared not offer him a bribe. But he armed his own son, Fiacha, with his own magic weapons, including his shield, the "Moaner", which roared when its owner was in danger, and sent him to fight Illann.

The duel was a fierce one, and Illann got the better of Fiacha, so that the son of Conchobar had to crouch down beneath his shield, which roared for help. Conall the Victorious heard the roar from far off, and thought that his king must be in peril. He came to the place, and, without asking questions, thrust his spear "Blue-green" through Illann. The dying son of Fergus explained the situation to Conall, who, by way of making some amends, at once killed Fiacha as well.

After this, the sons of Usnach held their fort till dawn against all Conchobar s host. But, with day, they saw that they must either escape or resign themselves to perish. Putting Deirdre in their centre, protected by their shields, they opened the door suddenly and fled out.

The story of Deirdre, oil on Canvas, by A.C. MichaelIllustration from a collection of myths.
Left: "The story of Deirdre" oil on Canvas, by A.C. Michael
Right: Illustration from A book of myths (1915) New York : G. P. Putnam's sons; London, T. C. & E. C. Jack.
Image sources:  
They would have broken through and escaped, had not Conchobar asked Cathbad the Druid to put a spell upon them, promising to spare their lives. So Cathbad raised the illusion of a stormy sea before and all around the sons of Usnach. Naoise lifted Deirdre upon his shoulder, but the magic waves rose higher, until they were all obliged to fling away their weapons and swim.

Then was seen the strange sight of men swimming upon dry land. And, before the glamour passed away, the sons of Usnach were seized from behind, and brought to Conchobar.

In spite of his promise to the druid, the king condemned them to death. None of the men of Ulster would, however, deal the blow. In the end, a foreigner from Norway, whose father Naoise had slain, offered to behead them. Each of the brothers begged to die first, that he might not witness the deaths of the others. But Naoise ended this noble rivalry by lending their executioner the sword called "The Retaliator", which had been given him by Mananndn son of Lér. They knelt down side by side, and one blow of the sword of the god shore off all their heads.
Deirdre's Lament, drawing by J.H. Bacon, 1905
"Deirdre's Lament", drawing by J.H. Bacon, published in Celtic Myth and Legend by Charles Squire (1905)
Image sources:  
As for Deirdre, there are varying stories of her death, but most of them agree that she did not survive the sons of Usnach many hours. But, before she died, she made an elegy over them. That it is of a singular pathos and beauty the few verses which there is space to give will show.

"Long the day without Usnach's children!
It was not mournful to be in their company!
Sons of a king by whom sojourners were entertained,
Three lions from the Hill of the Cave.

"Three darlings of the women of Britain,
Three hawks of Slieve Gullion,
Sons of a king whom valour served.
To whom soldiers used to give homage!

"That I should remain after Naoise
Let no one in the world suppose:
After Ardan and Ainle
My time would not be long.

"Ulster's over-king, my first husband,
I forsook for Naoise's love.
Short my life after them:
I will perform their funeral game.

"After them I shall not be alive—
Three that would go into every conflict.
Three who liked to endure hardships,
Three heroes who refused not combats.

"O man, that diggest the tomb
And puttest my darling from me,
Make not the grave too narrow:
I shall be beside the noble ones."

It was a poor triumph for Conchobar. Deirdre in all her beauty had escaped him by death. His own chief followers never forgave it. Fergus, when he returned from Borrach s feast, and found out what had been done, gathered his own people, slew Conchobar's son and many of his warriors, and fled to Ulster's bitterest enemies, Ailill and Medb of Connaught. And Cathbad the Druid cursed both king and kingdom, praying that none of Conchobars race might ever reign in Emain Macha again. So it came to pass. The capital of Ulster was only kept from ruin by Cuchulainn's prowess. When he perished, it also fell, and soon became what it is now—a grassy hill.

(Charles Squire: The mythology of the British Islands; an introduction to Celtic myth, legend, poetry, and romance, 1905), pp. 190-200

THE STAR-EYED DEIRDRE (Illustrator Katherine Cameron)

ART THOU INDEED DEIRDRE OF WHOM I HAVE DREAMED? Illustrator Katherine Cameron "Celtic tales"
Source: Celtic Tales, Told to the Children (1910) Author Louey Chisholm, Inside cover page

Source: Celtic Tales, Told to the Children (1910) Author Louey Chisholm, P.26

THE HEDGE OF SPEARS. Illustrator Katherine Cameron
THE HEDGE OF SPEARS. Illustrator Katherine Cameron
The Wise Man caused a hedge of spears to encircle the burning House. And as the flames rose higher the sons of Usna came forth with Deirdre the Star-eyed. And around her they placed their shields, and they cleft a way through the Hedge of Spears and came safely to the plain beyond.
Source: Celtic Tales, Told to the Children (1910) Author Louey Chisholm, p. 38



In olden days, when many Kings reigned throughout the Green Island of Erin, none was greater than the great Concobar. So fair was his realm that poets sang its beauty, and such the wonder of his palace that the sweetest songs of Erin were of its loveliness.

In a castle of this fair realm dwelt Felim, a warrior and harper dear unto the King. And it was told him that Concobar with his chief lords would visit the castle.

Then Felim made a feast, and there was great rejoicing, and all men were glad.

But in the midst of the feast an old magician, who was of those that had come with the King, stood up before the great gathering. Long and white was the hair that fell upon his bent shoulders, black were the eyes that gazed into space from beneath his shaggy eyebrows.

"Speak," said the King to the old man, "speak, and tell us that thou seest, for well we know thou piercest the veil that hideth from us the secrets of the morrow."

Silently and with great awe did all the company look at the wise old man, for those things that he had already foretold had they not come to pass? The magician, also silent, looked from the face of one to the face of another, but when his eyes fell on Concobar, the King, long did they dwell there, and when he lifted them, on Felim did they rest.

Then the Wise Man spake:

"This night, O Felim the Harper, shall a girl-babe be born to thee within these castle walls. Loveliest among the lovely shall thy star-eyed daughter be; no harp-strings shall yield such music as her voice, no fairy strains pour forth such wonder-stirring sound. Yet, O Felim, in days to come, because of this fair child shall great sorrow come upon our King Concobar and upon all his realm. In those days shall Erin's chief glory perish, for if the House of the Red Branch fall, who shall stand?"

Then did a cry of fear burst from those gathered to the feast, and leaping to their feet, each man laid his hand upon his sword, for the word that the wise man had spoken would it not come to pass?

"Let our swords be in readiness," they cried, "to kill the babe that shall be born this night, for better far is it that one child perish than that the blood of a nation be spilt."

And Felim spake: "Great sorrow is mine that fear of the child who shall be born this night should be upon you. Therefore, if it please the King, let my daughter die, and so may peace yet reign in the realm. For dear as would be a child to my wife and to me, dearer yet is the common weal."

But the answer of King Concobar came not for a time. His soul was filled with desire to see the star-eyed maiden and to hear the wonder of her voice. Still was the hand of each upon his sword when the King spake.

"Put far from thee, O Felim, the will to do this thing. Bend not thy mind to the death of thine own child. And ye, my people, sheathe your swords. Let the babe live. I, Concobar, will be her guardian, and if ill befall, let it be upon me, your King."

At these words arose a Prince.

"It would be well, O King, but for the word spoken by the Wise Man, for hath he not said, "Because of this fair child shall great sorrow come upon the King Concobar"? If we let the babe live, then must thy people see thee in sore distress, for the word that the Wise Man speaketh, shall it not come to pass?"

"Of that am I not unmindful. Deep within the forest, beyond the Moor of Loneliness, shall her childish days be spent. Gently tended shall she be, but the eye of man shall not behold her, and solitary shall she live as some unmated bird in distant wilderness."

Then with one accord did the people cry, "Wilt thou indeed be guardian to this child, knowing the ill that the Wise Man hath foretold?"

"Yea, truly will I be guardian to the child, and when she be a woman then shall she be my wedded wife. And if with the maiden come sorrow, then be that sorrow upon me, and not upon the land."

"What sayest thou, O Felim the Harper?" cried the people.

"It were better to slay the child than to let that come which hath been foretold."

"And what sayest thou, O Wise Man?"

"That which shall come, shall come."

At the same moment there entered the hall a servant of Felim, and loudly did he proclaim that the girl-babe, who had been foretold, was born. "Right beautiful and strong is the child, most fair to look upon."

"And Deirdre shall her name be," said the Wise Man, "Deirdre the Star-eyed."

And because of the words that the King Concobar had spoken, the life of the babe was spared, and when the days of feasting were past, Concobar returned to his palace, and with him he took the infant child and her mother. Yet after a month he bade the mother return to Felim her husband, but the babe Deirdre he kept.

And deep within the forest, beyond the Moor of Loneliness, did the King command that a cottage be built, and when Deirdre was one year, thither was she sent with a trusted nurse. But on the trees of the forest and throughout the land was proclaimed the order of the King Concobar, that whosoever should hunt, or for other purpose enter the wood, death should be his portion.

Once each week did the King visit the fair babe, and daily were stores of food and milk brought to the lone dwelling. And Deirdre each year grew more fair, but none beheld her beauty, save her nurse, her tutor, and Lavarcam.

This Lavarcam was a woman well trusted of the King, and she alone went to and fro between the palace and the cottage. It was she who told to Deirdre the old tales of knights and ladies, of dragons and of fairies that dwelt in the Enchanted Land.

When Deirdre was seven years old the King no longer came every week to the forest, but twice in the year only, and that as the Spring put forth her first green shoots, and again when Autumn gleaned her harvest of gold.

And when another seven years had sped, then came not the King thither, either when the earth was green or golden, nor in the blue summer nor the hoary winter, but from Lavarcam he heard that it was well with the maid.

One white winter's morning Deirdre looked from her window, and saw lying in the snow a calf. It had been killed by her nurse to provide food for the little household, and its bright red blood dyed the thick-lying snow. As Deirdre watched the flow of the scarlet stream, a raven, black as night, flew down and drank of the warm blood. Then Deirdre smiled.

"Where are thy thoughts, fair child?" asked Lavarcam, entering the room.

"Only did I think," said Deirdre, "that if a youth could be found whose skin was white as snow, his cheek crimson as that pool of blood, and his hair black as the raven's wing, him could I love right gladly."

Then Lavarcam spake: "Such a man have I seen, and one only."

"His name, Lavarcam, his name?" cried Deirdre. "Whence comes he, and where may he be found?"

"The fairest of three fair brothers is this Nathos, the son of Usna, and now is he with Concobar the King."

And Deirdre would thereafter think of none but Nathos, and Lavarcam was much troubled because of the words that she had spoken. And when Deirdre longed grievously by day and night to see this Nathos of whom she had heard, Lavarcam thought of a plan whereby she might end the maiden's dream.

One day, as she came from the palace of the King, she met on the Moor of Loneliness a swineherd and two shepherd lads. And well though she knew that none might enter the forest, she led them to a well in its leafy depths. Then said this woman trusted of the King, "Wait here by this well until the jay cry and the hill-fox bark. Then move slowly on your way, but speak to none whom ye may meet, and when ye leave the wood let not your lips tell those things ye shall have seen and heard."

With these words Lavarcam left the three men, and entered the cottage.

"Come, Deirdre," she cried, "the crisp snow glistens in the sunshine. Let us wander forth."

And Deirdre came, and dreamily she trod where Lavarcam led. Of a sudden the older woman left her side, and bent as though she would gather a woodland flower. At the same moment was heard the cry of the jay and the bark of the hill-fox. Then came Lavarcam to the maiden's side.

"Passing strange is it," said Deirdre, "to hear the jay cry and the hill-fox bark while yet the snow lies thick."

"Heed not strange sounds, fair Deirdre, but cast thine eyes toward yonder well."

And as Deirdre gazed she saw, as in a dream, the forms of three men come slowly through the forest.

"These, Deirdre, are men," said Lavarcam.

"Yet seem they not as the men I have seen ride by across the Moor of Loneliness, for they were fair to look upon, but mine eyes have no pleasure in beholding these strange forms."

"Yet you look upon Nathos, for these men are none other than the three sons of Usna."

Deirdre started. "Idle are your words, false Lavarcam. Yonder walks not a man with skin white as snow, with cheek crimson as blood, nor with hair black as the raven's wing. You lie!" And the maid made haste, and she reached the men, and stood before them.

Amazed at her exceeding beauty, they gazed in silence. "Tell me if ye be the sons of Usna. Speak!"

But in wonder at the loveliness of the maiden, and in fear of the anger of Lavarcam, the men were dumb.

"Speak!" she again cried. "If indeed ye be Nathos and his brothers, then truly hath Concobar the King my pity?

At these words the swineherd could no longer keep silence.

"It is thy exceeding beauty that telleth us that thou art that Deirdre whom the King hideth in this forest. Why mock us by asking if we are the fairest of Concobar's nobles? Clearly canst thou see we are but men of the hills, I a poor swineherd, and these men shepherds."

"Then wilt thou, swineherd, for truly do I believe thy words, get thee to the sons of Usna, and say to Nathos the eldest, that in the forest beyond the Moor of Loneliness, Deirdre awaits his coming. Tell him that to-morrow, an hour before the setting of the sun, he will find her by this well."

"If it be known that I so break the law of the King, I die, yet will I go right gladly."

Then Deirdre left the men, and walked slowly after Lavarcam. And Lavarcam would fain have known what Deirdre had told the swineherd, but the girl told her nought, and was in a dream all that day and all the morrow.

It was in the wane of the morrow that Lavarcam went forth to take counsel of the King. And Deirdre ran with great speed to the well, but no man was there, and she waited long, but none came.

While Deirdre waited by the well, Lavarcam came near to the King's palace. And lo! there, on the ground before her, lay the dead body of the swineherd. Thus was it made known to Lavarcam that in some wise Concobar the King had heard that the swineherd had spoken with Deirdre.

Therefore Lavarcam went not to the palace, but turned aside to the camp of the sons of Usna. And Nathos came out to her, and she told him of the loneliness of the fair Deirdre and of her longing to see him.

Then said Nathos, "But it may not be yet awhile, for Concobar found that the fair Deirdre had spoken with the swineherd, and for that cause lies he yonder, a dead man."

"Yet tarry not long, for if thou wouldst hunt in the forest, beyond the well, then surely wouldst thou see Deirdre the Star-eyed, and none should know."

Seven days passed, and Deirdre roamed in the wood dreaming her dream, when of a sudden there came an unknown sound. Ah, could it be the hunting-horn of which Lavarcam had spoken in her tales of chase? The maiden paused. The horn ceased. Nathos had left the hunt and wandered through the glade. There, against a background of blue haze, encircled by a network of blossoming black-thorn, shone forth the fairest vision mortal eye had beheld."

Speech tarried as Nathos gazed spell-bound. At length the maiden questioned, "Nathos, son of Usna, what wouldst thou?"

"Strange is it that thou shouldst know my name, most fair. No mortal art thou. Fain would I enter yonder cottage, did I but dare, and speak with the daughter of Felim the Harper. Yet it is death should the King know of my desire."

"I am that Deirdre whom thou seekest, and if I be fair in thine eyes, it pleaseth me well. It is for thee I have watched long, for is not thy skin white as snow, thy cheek crimson as blood, and thy hair black as the raven's wing? Lonely are my days in this place, where none dwells save my nurse, my tutor, and Lavarcam."

Never did harp-strings yield such music as her voice, never did fairy strains pour forth such wonder-stirring sound.

"Art thou indeed Deirdre the Star-eyed, and is it that King Concobar keepeth thee here like some caged bird?"

"I am Deirdre, and it is the King's will that I wander not forth from yonder cottage but by the side of Lavarcam. Ill would it please him that I should thus roam the forest alone."

"I love thee, Deirdre, and I would serve thee ever."

"I love thee, Nathos, and I would that I might be ever by thy side. Let me flee with thee from this place."

Nathos knit his brows in thought. "Fair one, if we are seen as we leave the forest, then is it death to us both; and if we are not seen, still is it death, for when it is known of the King that Deirdre is fled, then will the land be searched until she be found, and then shall we die."

"But, Nathos, Concobar is not King in the land of Alba. Let us flee from Erin, and there in thine own land shall we surely find safety."

"Thou speakest well, brave Deirdre. If a host be sent from Concobar to Alba, then shall it be met by a host of mine own land. And a fair land it is. Scented with pine and seaweed are its shores, blue as thine eyes are its waters, and of its setting sun the glory cannot be told."

"Let us go forth," said Deirdre.

"Then let it be now and without delay, or it may never be," and as Nathos uttered these words Deirdre saw a strange look in his eyes, and in a moment he had flung his javelin among the bracken but a few paces apart.

"What beast wouldst thou slay?" cried Deirdre, affrighted.

"It was no beast," said Nathos, "but yonder among the bracken lieth a dead man, if my javelin missed not its mark."

In fear and wonder Deirdre ran to the spot. No man lay there, but she saw on the bracken the form of a crouching man. She saw, too, the tracks that marked his escape.

Nathos followed her, and stooped to take his javelin from the ground. And there, beside it, lay a wooden-hilted knife.

"It is as I thought," he said. "This knife is used but by the hillmen who are in bondage to Concobar. The King seeketh my life. Go thou, then, back to thy lonely cottage, and await that day when he shall make thee his Queen."

"Ask me not to turn from following thee, O Nathos, for thy way must be mine, this day and ever."

"Come, then," and Nathos took her by the hand.

Through the shadowy forest they walked swiftly, until of a sudden he bade her rest among the bracken. Then went he forward and told his waiting huntsmen to return by a long and winding path to the castle of the sons of Usna.

Three days would it thus take them to reach it, and Nathos with Deirdre would be there on the morrow, if, tarrying not, they walked on through the dark night. But Concobar's messengers would follow the hounds, thinking so to capture Nathos.

By dawn, Deirdre, shall we reach the castle, and there may we rest in safety one day and one night. Then must we set out for the hills and lochs of Alba, and with us Ailne and Ardan, for if the King cometh and findeth me fled, then will he slay my brothers."

On and on they sped, through the forest, across the Moor of Loneliness, up the glens and gorges, and over the hills. Above glimmered the pale stars, around them was the screech and the moan of wakeful bird and beast.

It was not till the dawn broke that they rested on the mountain-side. There they stayed till the pink stole through the grey, and the sky gleamed mother-o"-pearl. Then they rose and followed the stream that trickled to the valley below. And now Nathos was glad.

"Look, Deirdre, yonder stands the castle of the sons of Usna." And with that he gave a cry known by the brothers each of the other, and Ailne and Ardan came forth gladly. But when they stood before Deirdre, so great was their wonder at her exceeding beauty, that they stood spell-bound and uttered no word.

Then Nathos spake: "The fair maiden whom ye behold is none other than Deirdre, the daughter of Felim the Harper. From this day I hold her as my wedded wife, and to you she cometh as a sister."

But when the brothers heard, they were filled with fear, for had not the King Concobar vowed that this same fair maid should be his Queen? And had not the Wise Man foretold the sorrow that the daughter of Felim should bring upon the land?

"I ask none to share the sorrow that may come," said Nathos. "To-morrow Deirdre and I set forth for the bay where our galley is harboured, and if so be that we gain the shores of Alba, before Concobar overtake us, there, if he come thither, shall he be met by a host of our own land. Yet, lest the King should follow me hither, and, finding me not, seek to slay you, were it not well that ye leave this place?"

Ardan spake: "Not for fear of that which might come upon us, but for the love we bear you and our fair sister Deirdre will we never leave thee. If sorrow come upon thee, let it be upon us also. Are we not the children of one mother, and if death come, let us face it together like men. Are we not under a bond that we will stand each by each, even unto death?"

Then said Ailne, "As Ardan bath spoken, so let it be, for although the words of the Wise Man come to pass, and sorrow be upon us, yet will we not henceforth leave thee."

But when Deirdre heard how the sons of Usna would thus face death for her sake, she sighed aloud. "Alas, it is not for me to bring sorrow upon the land. Let me even now return to the cottage in the forest, and there with Lavarcam will I live and die, unless it be that Concobar take me thence."

But Ardan answered: "For fear of what may befall us, the sons of Usna, shalt thou never leave us, nor shalt thou go forth from us, but of thine own free will."

Early next morning one hundred and fifty men rode with the three sons of Usna and Deirdre, the wife of Nathos, toward the bay where their black galley was harboured. It was not till night, when on the high ridge of a hill, that they looked backward, and there in the far valley below, where stood the castle of the sons of Usna, they beheld a column of flame.

And Nathos' brow grew dark. "The fire that ye see in the valley below devours the castle of the sons of Usna. The hand that lit the fire is none other than the hand of Concobar the King."

Then they rode on and rested not until they reached the black galley in the golden bay. The scent of the sea and the gleam of its blue waters and dancing waves made them strong and glad and free.

As for Deirdre, who had never beheld the sea and its great wonders, she laughed with joy and sang a song of the ocean which Lavarcam had taught her long since and when its meaning was dark.

At sundown the galley came to the shores of Mull, and because the wind fell they put into a bay, and as they gazed across the waters to the rocky headlands of Alba, they talked long as to whither they should sail on the morrow. Should it be to crave protection of the King, or should it be to where their father's castle had stood before it had been destroyed?

But that night there came a galley from the long island to the north. In it sailed twenty men with their chief. And with the chief came a richly-clad stranger, but so hooded that none might look upon his face.

Steadfastly did the stranger gaze upon Deirdre, as the chief urged the sons of Usna to cross the sea to Alba, and journey inland to the palace of the King.

"But first come, Nathos, to my high-walled castle," said the stranger, "and bring with thee thy wife and thy brothers."

"It were not well to come to a man's castle and know not the man's name," said Nathos.

"My name is Angus," answered the stranger.

"Then, Angus, let me behold thy face, for it were not well to come to a man's castle, having not looked upon the man's face."

So Angus threw back his hood, and Nathos saw that Deirdre's lips grew white, as she said, "Not to-morrow, Angus; but on the morn that follows, if thou wilt come again, then shalt thou lead us to thy high-walled castle. This day have we travelled far and would fain rest."

But Angus turned him again to the sons of Usna and pleaded that they should linger no longer in the isle. "To-night may this island be tempest-swept, to-night may the host of Concobar be upon you, and then what shall befall this fair one? Bring her rather to my castle, and there let her rest in safety with my wife and her maidens."

But as Nathos glanced at Deirdre, he saw that her purpose was firm, and he said once again the words she had spoken, "Not to-morrow, Angus; but on the morn that follows, if thou wilt come again, then shall we come with thee to thy high-walled castle."

Then Angus, frowning, went with the chief and his men to their galley. And as they set sail he asked how many men the sons of Usna had with them. But when it was told him that they numbered one hundred and fifty, he said no more, for there were but thirty that sailed with the chief, and what could one man do against five?

It was not until the strangers had gone that Nathos asked Deirdre wherefore she delayed to visit so great a lord as Angus.

"Thou shalt hear wherefore I went not this day, nor shall go on any day to come to the castle of him who calleth himself Angus. So he calleth himself, but in truth he is none other than the King of Alba. In a dream was it so revealed unto me, when I saw him stand victorious over your dead body. Nathos, that man would fain steal me from you, and deliver you into the hands of Concobar."

"Deirdre bath wisdom," said Ardan. By the morn after to-morrow we must be far hence, for ere the sun shall rise may not yonder chief be upon us with thrice the number of our men?"

And Nathos, though he was sore grieved for the weariness of Deirdre, bowed his head. So they set sail, and through the thick mist of a starless night their galley silently breasted the unseen waves. But when they came north of the long island, they bent to their oars, and as they rowed yet northward Deirdre laughed again for joy, as she listened to the music of the rowers' strokes.

When dawn glimmered they came to a sea-loch, its waters o"ershadowed by the sleeping hills. And there they were told that the King of Alba, who had called himself Angus, had no castle in the west, and had already left for Dunedin. They heard, too, that the chief who sailed with him to Mull was no longer a great lord, and that they had nought to fear.

Greatly did the sons of Usna rejoice, for now might they sail south to the land upon which their father's castle had stood in their boyhood.

But for eight days they lingered by the shores of the sea-loch, and as its salt breath touched Deirdre's cheeks, she grew yet more fair, and as her eyes drank in the glory of Western Alba, they shone with a radiance that dazzled the beholder.

Then when the eighth day was come, they sailed forth and settled close by the ground on which had stood their boyhood's home. And it was with great joy that those who dwelt on hill and shore heard of the return of the sons of Usna, and many gathered around them, doing homage.

Then the hundred and fifty men whom Nathos had brought with him, sent he back to their own Green Isle.

"And thou, Ailne, and thou, Ardan, will ye not also return? Here may Deirdre and I, with a few followers, dwell alone in safety."

But his brothers would not leave Nathos, for were they not under a bond that they would stand each by each, even unto death?

All through the winter they dwelt in peace and content. By day they would hunt and fish, and when night fell Deirdre let fall from her lips such wonder-stirring sounds that their heroic bosoms swelled with dreams of noble deeds and high endeavour.

But when Spring burst upon the land with her blossom and her singing-birds, it was told the sons of Usna that the King of Alba had sworn to burn to the ground every stone that stood on the land that had been their father's, and to slay Nathos, and wed the Star-eyed Deirdre.

So in their great galley they set forth, taking with them fifty men. Northward they sailed, through narrow sea-lochs, until they reached the mountains that had been the childhood's home of their dead mother.

On the summit of a high hill stood the castle where she had once dwelt. Now it was forsaken of all save wandering shepherds and nesting birds, and here, in all the glory of spring, did the sons of Usna make their home. Nor was it long before the chiefs of the mountain-lands swore allegiance to Nathos and did him homage, and he was as a king among the people of his mother's land.

And while yet the wild thyme bloomed, word was brought to the sons of Usna that the King of Alba was dead, and that the King who now reigned would fain sign a bond of friendship with Nathos and his brothers.

And the bond was signed, and for three years the sons of Usna dwelt in peace and great joy. In the north they rested while yet the mountain-sides were aglow with the purple and gold of heather and bracken, but ever before the first frosts came would they sail south to the land that the brave Usna had ruled, where now they could dwell in safety and in peace.

Thence ofttimes in the young summer would they sail southwards. No bluer blue, no greener green, had it been given mortal eye to behold. And throughout the land of Alba was it told of the fame of the sons of Usna, and no poet or bard had a song so fair as that which sang of the wondrous beauty of Deirdre.


In his dazzling palace in the Green Isle of Erin, Concobar dwelt with gloomy thoughts of vengeance. This Nathos who had stolen Deirdre from the forest beyond the Moor of Loneliness should no longer be suffered to live in peace. He should surely die, and Deirdre the Star-eyed should yet be Concobar's Queen.

And the King made a feast so magnificent that such had never been seen in the Green Isle. And to it were called all the princes and nobles of the land over which Concobar held sway.

It was in the midst of the feast, as they sat around the board, that a hush fell upon the great company, while Concobar spoke to them of his discontent. "It is not meet that these three heroes of the realm, Nathos, Ardan and Ailne, should be exiled from our isle for the sake of a woman, be she fair as May. Should dark days befall, sore would be our need, therefore let the sons of Usna be brought hither from their northern, mountain home."

At these words great was the joy of all, for there was not one but knew that it was for fear of the pitiless anger of Concobar that Nathos had fled from the Green Isle.

"Go forth," said Concobar, when he saw the gladness of the people, "go hence to Alba and come not again until ye bring with you the three sons of Usna."

Then spake one among them, "Right gladly we go, but who can bring to thee Nathos, if it be not his will?"

"He who loves me most," answered the King, "he it is that will fail not to bring with him the exiled heroes."

And after the feast the King drew aside a warrior prince, and spake thus: "Were I to send thee to Alba to the sons of Usna, and if at my command thou didst see them slain before thee, what then wouldst thou do?"

""When, O King, would I slay those who did the monstrous deed, even were it at thy command:

Again the King called to him a warrior prince. To him he spake as to the first. And this prince made answer, "If by thy command I saw the sons of Usna lie dead before me, then woke be upon thee, for with mine own hand should I take thy life."

Then spake the King likewise to Fergus, and Fergus answered, "Let what may befall the sons of Usna, never shall my hand be lifted against the King."

"To thee, good Fergus, do I intrust this thing. Go thou to Alba and bring hither with thee Nathos, and Ailne, and Ardan. And when thou art come again to Erin, keep thou thy bond to feast at the house of Borrach, but the three sons of Usna send thou straightway hither."

So it was that on the morrow Fergus set sail in a black barge for Alba, taking with him but his two sons and a steersman.

The bloom of early summer made bright the earth, and Nathos and his brothers had not yet left their father's home for the castle in the north. But the days were hot, and they had pitched three tents on the seashore, one for Nathos and Deirdre, one for Ailne and Ardan, and one in which to eat and to drink. It was on a bright noon that Nathos and Deirdre sat before the tents, playing chess.

The chess-board was of ivory, the chess-men were of wrought gold, and they had belonged to Concobar, for on the day before the sons of Usna fled from Alba, the King had been bunting by their castle, and there had he left the board and men.

As Nathos and Deirdre played, of a sudden was a cry heard from adown the shore.

"Yonder is the voice of a man of Erin," said Nathos, as they paused in their game.

Again a loud cry, and the sons of Usna were called by name.

"Yea, most truly is that the cry of a man of Erin."

But Deirdre said, "Nay, thou dreamest, Nathos. Let us play on."

Then nearer and clearer came a third cry, and there was none but knew that it was indeed the voice of a man of Erin.

"Go, Ardan," said Nathos, "go to the harbour, and there welcome Fergus from the Green Isle, for he indeed it is and none other."

But when Ardan went, Nathos saw that Deirdre's lips grew pale and a great fear looked out from her eyes.

"What terror is it that hath hold of thee?" he asked.

"Hath it not been revealed to me in a dream, O Nathos, that this Fergus who should come with honey-sweet words hath in his mind the shedding of our blood?"

Even as she spake Ardan led Fergus to where the two sat on either side of the chess-board.

Eagerly did the exiled sons of Usna beg for tidings of their friends in the Green Isle.

"I come to you," said Fergus, "with greetings from Concobar the King. Fain would he see once more in Erin the fairest and bravest heroes of his realm. Peace he would pledge with you, and great shall be your welcome, if ye will come back with me."

But before the brothers could answer, Deirdre spake. "Here in Alba is Nathos now lord over lands wider than the realm of Concobar. Wherefore then should he seek forgiveness of the King?"

"Yet," replied Fergus, "Erin is the land of his adoption. Since his boyhood's days Nathos has been a hero in the Green Isle, and it were well that he should yet rejoice in the land, and, if need be, defend it still."

"We have two lands," said Ardan, "and both are dear unto us. Yet, if Nathos will go with thee to Erin, so also will Ailne and I, myself."

"I will go," said Nathos, but he looked not at his star-eyed wife as he spake the words.

That night all rejoiced save Deirdre. Heavy was her heart as she thought she would never again, in shadow or in sunlight, rest in the land of Alba of the lochs.

On the morrow they set sail, and swiftly the galley bore them to the shores of the Green Isle. And when Deirdre stood once more on the soil of her own land, then was her heart glad, and for a brief space she remembered not her fears or her dreams.

In three days they came to the castle of Borrach, and there had Fergus to keep his bond to feast with Borrach. "For," he said, turning to those with him, "my feast-bond I must keep, yet send I with you my two sons."

"Of a surety, Fergus, must thou keep thy feast-bond," answered Nathos, "but as for thy sons, I need not their protection, yet in the company each of the other will we fare southward together."

But as they went, Deirdre urged that they should tarry, and when they had gone further, Nathos found that his wife had vanished from his side. Going back he found her in deep sleep by the wayside.

Gently waking her, Nathos read terror in her starry eyes.

"What aileth thee, my Queen?"

"Again have I dreamed, O Nathos, and in my dream I saw our little company, but as I looked, on the younger son of Fergus alone, was the head left upon his body. Turn aside, and let us go not to Concobar, or that thing which I saw in my dream, it shall come to pass."

But Nathos feared not, for had not Fergus come to them with the bond of peace from the King?

And on the morrow they came to the great palace.

When it was told Concobar that the three sons of Usna and Deirdre the Star-eyed, and the two sons of Fergus were without, he ordered that they should be taken into the House of the Red Branch. And he ordered, too, that there should be given unto them of pleasant foods, and that all that dwelt in the castle should do them honour.

But when evening was come, and all the company was merry, Deirdre was wearied with journeying, and she lay upon a couch draped with deerskins, and played with Nathos upon the gold and ivory chess-board.

And as Deirdre rested, the door opened, and there entered a messenger from the King. And this messenger was none other than Lavarcam, who had been sent to discover if Deirdre were still as fair as in days of old. And when Lavarcam beheld Deirdre, her eyes filled with tears. "You do not well, O Nathos, thus to play upon the chess-board which Concobar holds dearer than aught else save Deirdre, thy wife. Both have ye taken from him, and here, within these walls, are ye now in his power."

Of a sudden Deirdre spake, her gaze fixed as if on some strange thing. "I see as in a dream. As in a dream I see three torches. The three torches are this night put out. The names on the torches are Nathos, Ailne, Ardan. Alas! it is but for the beauty of a woman that these brave ones perish."

The sons of Usna were silent awhile, and the sons of Fergus spake not. Then said Nathos, "It were better, Deirdre, to be a torch quenched for thy sake than to live for aught save thee. That which shall come, shall come."

"Now must I get me hence," said Lavarcam, "for Concobar awaiteth my coming. But, sons of Usna, see ye well to it, that the doors and windows be this night barred."

Then Lavarcam hastened to the King and told him how that the sons of Usna had come to Erin to live peaceably, but how that the beauty of Deirdre had faded until she was no longer fairest among women.

Then was Concobar wroth, and he sent yet another messenger.

To this man he said, "Who was it that slew thy father and thy brother?"

"Nathos, son of Usna, O King!"

"Then go thou to the House of the Red Branch, and bring me word hither if Deirdre be still the fairest among women."

And the man went. But when he found that bar and bolt were drawn across door and window, he knew well that the sons of Usna were warned of the wrath of the King. But espying one open window, he put his eye near to the lower corner that he might glance within. And Deirdre saw the man's eye, and told Nathos, and he, with the ivory bishop that was in his hand, took aim as if with a javelin, and the chessman pierced the spy's eye, and it became blind.

And the man returned to King Concobar and said, "Of a surety Deirdre, the wife of Nathos, is yet of all fair women the most fair."

Then could not Concobar contain his wrath, but burst forth, "Arise, ye Ultonians; the fort that surroundeth the House of the Red Branch set ye in flames."

And the Ultonians set it in flames.

Then came out the younger of the sons of Fergus from the burning fort, and he rushed upon the Ultonians and killed three hundred men. And when King Concobar beheld the onslaught, he cried aloud, "Who hath done this thing?"

And when it was told him that it was the son of Fergus, he said, "To such a hero will I give the choice of lands, and he will be to me as a son, if he will but forsake the sons of Usna."

And the son of Fergus made answer, "I swear to abide by thee and to return not to the House of the Red Branch."

And when he returned not, Deirdre said, "Even as Fergus hath deceived us, even so hath his son."

Then went forth the elder son of Fergus, and he fell upon the Ultonians, and there perished by his hand three hundred men. And when Concobar saw who it was that had done this thing, he called his own son, who had been born the same night as this son of Fergus. "Take these, my magic arms," he cried, "and fall upon the foe."

Then did the son of Concobar strike with his enchanted weapons, and all the waves of Erin thundered at the stroke. And a great warrior, hearing the thunder, came riding across the plain, and in his hand he held a magic sword with blade of blue. Coming upon the fighting men, he rushed at the son of Fergus from behind, and thrust the blue blade through his heart. "I would that mine enemy had fought me fair," said the dying man.

"Who art thou?" asked the stranger.

And the son of Fergus told his name, and of that which had come to pass in the House of the Red Branch.

Then answered the stranger, "I shall not depart hence, no, not until the son of Concobar be slain in the dust," and thereupon he rushed upon the King's son, and with one stroke of the blue blade severed his head from his body.

So he departed, and soon the son of Fergus also lay dead.

And now the Ulstermen surrounded the House of the Red Branch and set fire to its walls. But Ardan came forth, and put out the fire, and slew three hundred men, and after he had gone in, then came Ailne forth, and slew a countless multitude beside.

A glimmering ray of dim grey light now broke, and spread over the forms of dead and dying men.

It was at that hour that Nathos kissed Deirdre and went forth from the House. And there was not a man but quailed as the hero rushed upon the Ultonians and slew a thousand men.

When Concobar heard this, he sent for that Wise Man who in the house of Felim the Harper had foretold the sorrow that would come upon his realm.

And when the old man had come, Concobar said, "I swear that I mean no harm unto the sons of Usna, yet will they slay every Ultonian in the land. Therefore I would that thou wouldst help me by thy magic power."

And the Wise Man believed the words of Concobar, and he caused a hedge of spears to encircle the burning House. And as the flames rose higher the sons of Usna came forth with Deirdre the Star-eyed. And around her they placed their shields, and they cleft a way through the Hedge of Spears and came safely to the plain beyond.

== THE HEDGE OF SPEARS (Illustration) ==

But when the Wise Man saw that his magic availed nought, he laid upon the land yet another enchantment, for the plain upon which Deirdre stood with the sons of Usna, he caused to be covered with tempestuous water.

And the magic sea rose higher and yet more high, so that Nathos raised Deirdre on his shoulder, and there she rested, her white arms around the hero's neck.

But now the waters grew calm, and it was seen that drowning was not their doom.

Then, as the waters withdrew from the plain, soldiers came to bind Nathos, Ailne, and Ardan, and to take them before the King. And Concobar commanded that they should be slain before his eyes.

"If such be our doom, then slay me first," said Ardan, "for I am the youngest of Usna's sons."

Nay," said Ailne, "but let the first blow fall upon me."

Then Nathos spake: "It were not meet that we three, the sons of one mother, should be divided in death. Together have we sowed the seeds in the springtime, side by side have we plucked the fruits of summer; autumn is still afar, yet must we be cut down as ripe corn. But let us fall each by each, that there may not be left the one to mourn the other. With this sword that was given me by a hero of the land may our heads at one stroke be severed from our bodies."

With that they laid their heads upon the block. A flash of the steel, and Alba was bereft of the fairest and noblest of her sons. And the air was rent with cries of lamentation.

Then did a great champion ride across the plain, and to him did Deirdre tell of the fate of the sons of Usna. And under his care the star-eyed maiden came where the heroes lay dead.

And Deirdre kneeled, and she bent low over the head of Nathos, and kissed his dead lips.

Then, at the bidding of the champion, three graves were digged, and in them, standing upright, were buried Nathos and Ailne and Ardan, and upon the shoulders of each was his head placed.

And as Deirdre gazed into the grave of Nathos, she moaned a lay which told of the brave deeds of the sons of Usna. It told, too, of her love for Nathos, and as she ended the mournful strain, her heartstrings broke, and she fell at the feet of her husband, and there did she die, and by his side was she buried.

In that same hour died the Wise Man; and as he died, he cried aloud, "That which shall come, shall come."

And so it was, for on the morrow Concobar's host was scattered as autumn leaves, and the House of the Red Branch perished, and ere long Concobar died in a madness of despair, and throughout the Green Isle was mourning and desolation.

But through the ages has the tale of the wondrous beauty of Deirdre been sung, and yet shall it be told again, for when shall the world tire of the sorrowfullest of "The Three Sorrows of Story-telling,"—the Fate of the Sons of Usna and of Deirdre the Star-eyed?




The Fate of the Sons of Usnech

Deirdre, Old Irish Deirdriu, in early Irish literature, the gentle and fair heroine of The Fate of the Sons of Usnech (Oidheadh Chloinne Uisneach), the great love story of the Ulster cycle. First composed in the 8th or 9th century, the story was revised and combined in the 15th century with The Fate of the Children of Tuireann (Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann) and The Fate of the Children of Lir (Oidheadh Chloinne Lir) into The Three Sorrows of Storytelling (Tri Truaighe Scéalaigheachta). The older version, preserved in The Book of Leinster (c. 1160), is more starkly tragic, less polished, and less romantic than the later version. It describes a Druid’s foretelling, at Deirdre’s birth, that many men would die on her account. Raised in seclusion, she grew to be a woman of astonishing beauty. King Conor (Conchobar mac Nessa) fell in love with her, but Deirdre fell in love with Noísi (Old Irish Noísiu), son of Usnech. They eloped and fled to Scotland with Noísi’s two brothers, where they lived idyllically until they were lured back to Ireland by the treachery of Conor. The sons of Usnech were slain, causing revolt and bloodshed in Ulster. Deirdre took her own life by shattering her head against a rock to avoid falling into the hands of Conor. The later version omits the first half of the story and expands the tragic ending by making Deirdre live for a year with Conor, never smiling, before killing herself.

The story was immensely popular in Ireland and Scotland and survived to the 20th century in Scottish oral tradition; its literary influence continued into the early 20th century, when the Anglo-Irish writers, notably William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge, dramatized the theme.
(Encyclopædia Britannica Deirdre)


Avenging and bright fall the swift sword of Erin
On him who the brave sons of Usna betrayed.



Concobar mac Nessa, king of Ulaid,[CLXX.] ruled in Emain. And his chief story-teller, Felimid, made a feast for the king and for the knights of the Red Branch,[CLXXI.] who all came to partake of it in his house. While they were feasting right joyously, listening to the sweet music of the harps and the mellow voices of the bards, a messenger brought word that Felimid's wife had given birth to a little daughter, an infant of wondrous beauty. And when Caffa, the king's druid and seer, who was of the company, was ware of the birth of the child, he went forth to view the stars and the clouds, if he might thereby glean knowledge of what was in store for that little babe.[CLXXII.] And when he had returned to his place, he sat deep pondering for a time: and then standing up and obtaining silence, he said:—

"This child shall be called Deir-drĕ[CLXXIII.]; and fittingly is she so named: for much of woe will befall Ulaid and Erin in general on her account. There shall be jealousies, and strifes, and wars: evil deeds will be done: many heroes will be exiled: many will fall."

When the heroes heard this, they were sorely troubled, and some said that the child should be killed. But the king said:—"Not so, ye Knights of the Red Branch; it is not meet to commit a base deed in order to escape evils that may never come to pass. This little maid shall be reared out of the reach of mischief, and when she is old enough she shall be my wife: thus shall I be the better able to guard against those evils that Caffa forecasts for us."

And the Ultonians did not dare to gainsay the word of the king.

Then king Concobar caused the child to be placed in a strong fortress on a lonely spot nigh the palace, with no opening in front, but with door and windows looking out at the back on a lovely garden watered by a clear rippling stream: and house and garden were surrounded by a wall that no man could surmount. And those who were put in charge of her were, her tutor, and her nurse, and Concobar's poetess, whose name was Lavarcam: and save these three, none were permitted to see her. And so she grew up in this solitude, year by year, till she was of marriageable age, when she excelled all the maidens of her time for beauty.

One snowy day as she and Lavarcam looked forth from the window, they saw some blood on the snow, where her tutor had killed a calf for dinner; and a raven alighted and began to drink of it. "I should like," said Deirdre, "that he who is to be my husband should have these three colours: his hair as black as the raven: his cheeks red as the blood: his skin like the snow. And I saw such a youth in a dream last night; but I know not where he is, or whether he is living on the ridge of the world."

"Truly," said Lavarcam, "the young hero that answers to thy words is not far from thee; for he is among Concobar's knights: namely, Naisi the son of Usna."

Now Naisi and his brothers, Ainnli and Ardan, the three sons of Usna, were the best beloved of all the Red Branch Knights, so gracious and gentle were they in time of peace, so skilful and swift-footed in the chase, so strong and valiant in battle.

And when Deirdre heard Lavarcam's words, she said:—"If it be as thou sayest, that this young knight is near us, I shall not be happy till I see him: and I beseech thee to bring him to speak to me."

"Alas, child," replied Lavarcam, "thou knowest not the peril of what thou askest me to do: for if thy tutor come to know of it, he will surely tell the king; and the king's anger none can bear."

Deirdre answered not: but she remained for many days sad and silent: and her eyes often filled with tears through memory of her dream: so that Lavarcam was grieved: and she pondered on the thing if it could be done, for she loved Deirdre very much, and had compassion on her. At last she contrived that these two should meet without the tutor's knowledge: and the end of the matter was that they loved each other: and Deirdre said she would never wed the king, but she would wed Naisi.

Knowing well the doom that awaited them when Concobar came to hear of this, Naisi and his young wife and his two brothers, with thrice fifty fighting men, thrice fifty women, thrice fifty attendants, and thrice fifty hounds, fled over sea to Alban. And the king of the western part of Alban received them kindly, and took them into military service. Here they remained for a space, gaining daily in favour: but they kept Deirdre apart, fearing evil if the king should see her.

And so matters went on, till it chanced that the king's steward, coming one day by Naisi's house, saw the couple as they sat on their couch: and going directly to his master, he said:—

"O king, we have long sought in vain for a woman worthy to be thy wife, and now at last we have found her: for the woman, Deirdre, who is with Naisi, is worthy to be the wife of the king of the western world. And now I give thee this counsel:—Let Naisi be killed, and then take thou Deirdre for thy wife."

The king basely agreed to do so; and forthwith he laid a plot to slay the sons of Usna; which matter coming betimes to the ears of the brothers, they fled by night with all their people. And when they had got to a safe distance, they took up their abode in a wild place, where with much ado they obtained food by hunting and fishing. And the brothers built them three hunting booths in the forest, a little distance from that part of the seashore looking towards Erin: and the booth in which their food was prepared, in that they did not eat; and the one in which they ate, in that they did not sleep. And their people in like manner built themselves booths and huts, which gave them but scant shelter from wind and weather.

Now when it came to the ears of the Ultonians, that the sons of Usna and their people were in discomfort and danger, they were sorely grieved: but they kept their thoughts to themselves, for they dared not speak their mind to the king.



AT this same time a right joyous and very splendid feast was given by Concobar in Emain Macha to the nobles and the knights of his household. And the number of the king's household that sat them down in the great hall of Emain on that occasion was five and three score above six hundred and one thousand.[CLXXIV.] Then arose, in turn, their musicians to sound their melodious harpstrings, and their poets and their story-tellers to sing their sweet poetic strains, and to recount the deeds of the mighty heroes of the olden time. And the feasting and the enjoyment went on, and the entire assembly were gay and cheerful. At length Concobar arose from where he sat high up on his royal seat; whereupon the noise of mirth was instantly hushed. And he raised his kingly voice and said:—

"I desire to know from you, ye Nobles and Knights of the Red Branch, have you ever seen in any quarter of Erin a house better than this house of Emain, which is my mansion: and whether you see any want in it."

And they answered that they saw no better house, and that they knew of no want in it.

And the king said: "I know of a great want: namely, that we have not present among us the three noble sons of Usna. And why now should they be in banishment on account of any woman in the world?"

And the nobles replied:—"Truly it is a sad thing that the sons of Usna, our dear comrades, should be in exile and distress. They were a shield of defence to Ulaid: and now, O king, it will please us well that thou send for them and bring them back, lest they and their people perish by famine or fall by their enemies."

"Let them come," replied Concobar, "and make submission to me: and their homes, and their lands and their places among the Knights of the Red Branch shall be restored to them."

Now Concobar was mightily enraged at the marriage and flight of Naisi and Deirdre, though he hid his mind from all men; and he spoke these words pretending forgiveness and friendship. But there was guile in his heart, and he planned to allure them back to Ulaid that he might kill them.

When the feast was ended, and the company had departed, the king called unto him Fergus mac Roy, and said:—"Go thou, Fergus, and bring back the sons of Usna and their people. I promise thee that I will receive them as friends should be received, and that what awaits them here is not enmity or injury, but welcome and friendship. Take my message of peace and good will, and give thyself as pledge and surety for their safety. But these two things I charge thee to do:—That the moment you land in Ulaid on your way back, you proceed straight to Barach's house which stands on the sea cliff high over the landing place fronting Alban: and that whether the time of your arrival be by day or by night, thou see that the sons of Usna tarry not, but let them come hither direct to Emain, that they may not eat food in Erin till they eat of mine."

And Fergus, suspecting no evil design, promised to do as the king directed: for he was glad to be sent on this errand, being a fast friend to the sons of Usna.

Fergus set out straightway, bringing with him only his two sons, Illan the Fair and Buinni the Red, and his shield-bearer to carry his shield. And as soon as he had departed, Concobar sent for Barach and said to him:—

"Prepare a feast in thy house for Fergus: and when he visits thee returning with the sons of Usna, invite him to partake of it." And Barach thereupon departed for his home to do the bidding of the king and prepare the feast.

Now those heroes of old, on the day they received knighthood, were wont to make certain pledges which were to bind them for life, some binding themselves to one thing, some to another. And as they made the promises on the faith of their knighthood, with great vows, in presence of kings and nobles, they dared not violate them; no, not even if it was to save the lives of themselves and all their friends: for whosoever broke through his knighthood pledge was foully dishonoured for evermore. And one of Fergus's obligations was never to refuse an invitation to a banquet: a thing which was well known to King Concobar and to Barach.

As to Fergus mac Roy and his sons: they went on board their galley and put to sea, and made no delay till they reached the harbour nigh the campment of the sons of Usna. And coming ashore, Fergus gave the loud shout of a mighty man of chase. The sons of Usna were at that same hour in their booth; and Naisi and Deirdre were sitting with a polished chessboard between them playing a game.

And when they heard the shout, Naisi said:—"That is the call of a man from Erin."

"Not so," replied Deirdre, "it is the call of a man of Alban."

And after a little time when a second shout came, Naisi said:—"That of a certainty is the call of a man of Erin!"

But Deirdre again replied:—"No, indeed: it concerns us not: let us play our game."

But when a third shout came sounding louder than those before, Naisi arose and said:—"Now I know the voice: that is the shout of Fergus!" And straightway he sent Ardan to the shore to meet him.

Now Deirdre knew the voice of Fergus from the first: but she kept her thoughts to herself: for her heart misgave her that the visit boded evil. And when she told Naisi that she knew the first shout, he said:—"Why, my queen, didst thou conceal it then?"

And she replied:—"Lo, I saw a vision in my sleep last night: three birds came to us from Emain Macha, with three drops of honey in their beaks, and they left us the honey and took away three drops of our blood."

"What dost thou read from that vision, O princess?" said Naisi.

"It denotes the message from Concobar to us," said Deirdre; "for sweet as honey is the message of peace from a false man, while he has thoughts of blood hidden deep in his heart."

When Ardan arrived at the shore, the sight of Fergus and his two sons was to him like rain on the parched grass; for it was long since he had seen any of his dear comrades from Erin. And he cried out as he came near, "An affectionate welcome to you, my dear companions": and he fell on Fergus's neck and kissed his cheeks, and did the like to his sons. Then he brought them to the hunting-booth; and Naisi, Ainnli, and Deirdre gave them a like kind welcome; after which they asked the news from Erin.

"The best news I have," said Fergus, "is that Concobar has sent me to you with kindly greetings, to bring you back to Emain and restore you to your lands and homes, and to your places in the Red Branch; and I am myself a pledge for your safety."

"It is not meet for them to go," said Deirdre: "for here they are under no man's rule; and their sway in Alban is even as great as the sway of Concobar in Erin."

But Fergus said: "One's mother country is better than all else, and gloomy is life when a man sees not his home each morning."

"Far dearer to me is Erin than Alban," said Naisi, "even though my sway should be greater here."

It was not with Deirdre's consent he spoke these words: and she still earnestly opposed their return to Erin.

But Fergus tried to re-assure her:—"If all the men of Erin were against you," said he, "it would avail nought once I have passed my word for your safety."

"We trust in thee," said Naisi, "and we will go with thee to Erin."



Going next morning on board their galleys, Fergus and his companions put out on the wide sea: and oar and wind bore them on swiftly till they landed on the shore of Erin near the house of Barach.

And Deirdre, seating herself on a cliff, looked sadly over the waters at the blue headlands of Alban: and she uttered this farewell:—


"Dear to me is yon eastern land: Alban with its wonders. Beloved is Alban with its bright harbours and its pleasant hills of the green slopes. From that land I would never depart except to be with Naisi.


"Kil-Cuan, O Kil-Cuan,[CLXXV.] whither Ainnli was wont to resort: short seemed the time to me while I sojourned there with Naisi on the margins of its streams and waterfalls.


"Glen-Lee, O Glen-Lee, where I slept happy under soft coverlets: fish and fowl, and the flesh of red deer and badgers; these were our fare in Glen-Lee.


"Glen-Masan, O Glen-Masan: tall its cresses of white stalks: often were we rocked to sleep in our curragh in the grassy harbour of Glen-Masan.


"Glen-Orchy, O Glen-Orchy: over thy straight glen rises the smooth ridge that oft echoed to the voices of our hounds. No man of the clan was more light-hearted than my Naisi when following the chase in Glen-Orchy.


"Glen-Ettive, O Glen-Ettive: there it was that my first house was raised for me: lovely its woods in the smile of the early morn: the sun loves to shine on Glen-Ettive.


"Glen-da-Roy, O Glen-da-Roy: the memory of its people is dear to me: sweet is the cuckoo's note from the bending bough on the peak over Glen-da-Roy.


"Dear to me is Dreenagh over the resounding shore: dear to me its crystal waters over the speckled sand. From those sweet places I would never depart, but only to be with my beloved Naisi."

After this they entered the house of Barach; and when Barach had welcomed them, he said to Fergus: "Here I have a three-days banquet ready for thee, and I invite thee to come and partake of it."

When Fergus heard this, his heart sank and his face waxed all over a crimson red: and he said fiercely to Barach:—"Thou hast done an evil thing to ask me to this banquet: for well thou knowest I cannot refuse thee. Thou knowest, too, that I am under solemn pledge to send the Sons of Usna this very hour to Emain: and if I remain feasting in thy house, how shall I see that my promise of safety is respected?"

But none the less did Barach persist; for he was one of the partners in Concobar's treacherous design.

Then Fergus turned to Naisi and said:—"I dare not violate my knighthood promise: what am I to do in this strait?" But Deirdre answered for her husband:—"The choice is before thee, Fergus; and it is more meet for thee to abandon thy feast than to abandon the sons of Usna, who have come over on thy pledge."

Then Fergus was in sore perplexity; and pondering a little he said:—"I will not forsake the sons of Usna: for I will send with them to Emain Macha my two sons, Illan the Fair and Buinni the Red, who will be their pledge instead of me."

But Naisi said: "We need not thy sons for guard or pledge: we have ever been accustomed to defend ourselves!" And he moved from the place in great wrath: and his two brothers, and Deirdre, and the two sons of Fergus followed him, with the rest of the clan; while Fergus remained behind silent and gloomy: for his heart misgave him that mischief was brewing for the sons of Usna.

Then Deirdre tried to persuade the sons of Usna to go to Rathlin, between Erin and Alban, and tarry there till Barach's feast was ended: but they did not consent to do so, for they deemed it would be a mark of cowardice: and they sped on by the shortest ways towards Emain Macha.

When now they had come to Fincarn of the Watch-tower on Slieve Fuad, Deirdre and her attendants stayed behind the others a little: and she fell asleep. And when Naisi missed her, he turned back and found her just awakening; and he said to her:—"Why didst thou tarry, my princess?"

And she answered:—"I fell asleep and had a dream. And this is what I saw in my dream:—Illan the Fair took your part: Buinni the Red did not: and I saw Illan without his head: but Buinni had neither wound nor hurt."

"Alas, O beauteous princess," said Naisi, "thou utterest nought but evil forebodings: but the king is true and will not break his plighted word."

So they fared on till they had come to the Ridge of the Willows,[CLXXVI.] an hour's journey from the palace: and Deirdre, looking upwards in great fear, said to Naisi:—"O Naisi, see yonder cloud in the sky over Emain, a fearful chilling cloud of a blood-red tinge: a baleful red cloud that bodes disaster! Come ye now to Dundalgan and abide there with the mighty hero Cuculainn till Fergus returns from Barach's feast; for I fear Concobar's treachery."

But Naisi answered:—"We cannot follow thy advice, beloved Deirdre, for it would be a mark of fear: and we have no fear."

And as they came nigh the palace Deirdre said to them:—"I will now give you a sign if Concobar meditates good or evil. If you are brought into his own mansion where he sits surrounded by his nobles, to eat and drink with him, this is a token that he means no ill; for no man will injure a guest that has partaken of food at his table: but if you are sent to the house of the Red Branch, be sure he is bent on treachery."

When at last they arrived at the palace, they knocked loudly with the handwood: and the door-keeper swang the great door wide open. And when he had spoken with them, he went and told Concobar that the sons of Usna and Fergus's two sons had come, with their people.

And Concobar called to him his stewards and attendants and asked them:—"How is it in the house of the Red Branch as to food and drink?" And they replied that if the seven battalions of Ulaid were to come to it, they would find enough of all good things. "If that is so," said Concobar, "take the sons of Usna and their people to the Red Branch."

Even then Deirdre besought them not to enter the Red Branch: for she deemed now that of a certainty there was mischief afoot. But Illan the Fair said:—"Never did we show cowardice or unmanliness, and we shall not do so now." Then she was silent and went with them into the house.

And the company, when they had come in, sat them down so that they filled the great hall: and alluring viands and delicious drinks were set before them: and they ate and drank till they became satisfied and cheerful: all except Deirdre and the Sons of Usna, who did not partake much of food or drink. And Naisi asked for the king's chessboard and chessmen; which were brought: and he and Deirdre began to play.



Let us now speak of Concobar. As he sat among his nobles, the thought of Deirdre came into his mind, and he said:—"Who among you will go to the Red Branch and bring me tidings of Deirdre, whether her youthful shape and looks still live upon her: for if so there is not on the ridge of the world a woman more beautiful." And Lavarcam said she would go.

Now the sons of Usna were very dear to Lavarcam: and Naisi was dearer than the others. And rising up she went to the Red Branch, where she found Naisi and Deirdre with the chessboard between them, playing. And she saluted them affectionately: and she embraced Deirdre, and wept over her, and kissed her many times with the eagerness of her love: and she kissed the cheeks of Naisi and of his brothers.

And when her loving greeting was ended, she said:—"Beloved children, evil is the deed that is to be done this night in Emain: for the three torches of valour of the Gaels will be treacherously assailed, and Concobar is certainly resolved to put them to death. And now set your people on guard, and bolt and bar all doors, and close all windows; and be steadfast and valorous, and defend your dear charge manfully, if you may hold the assailants at bay till Fergus comes." And she departed weeping piteously.

And when Lavarcam had returned to Concobar he asked what tidings she brought. "Good tidings have I," said she: "for the three sons of Usna have come, the three valiant champions of Ulaid: and now that they are with thee, O king, thou wilt hold sway in Erin without dispute. And bad tidings I bring also: Deirdre indeed is not as she was, for her youthful form and the splendour of her countenance have fled from her."

And when Concobar heard this, his jealousy abated, and he joined in the feasting.

But again the thought of Deirdre came to him, and he asked:—"Who now will go for me to the Red Branch, and bring me further tidings of Deirdre and of the sons of Usna?" for he distrusted Lavarcam. But the Knights of the Red Branch had misgivings of some evil design, and all remained silent.

Then he called to him Trendorn, one of the lesser chiefs: and he said:—"Knowest thou, Trendorn, who slew thy father and thy three brothers in battle?" And Trendorn answered:—"Verily, it was Naisi, the son of Usna, that slew them." Then the king said:—"Go now to the Red Branch and bring me back tidings of Deirdre and of the sons of Usna."

Trendorn went right willingly. But when he found the doors and windows of the Red Branch shut up, he was seized with fear, and he said:—"It is not safe to approach the sons of Usna, for they are surely in wrathful mood: nevertheless I must needs bring back tidings to the king."

Whereupon, not daring to knock at the door, he climbed nimbly to a small window high up that had been unwittingly left open, through which he viewed the spacious banquet hall, and saw Naisi and Deirdre playing chess. Deirdre chanced to look up at that moment, and seeing the face of the spy with eyes intently gazing on her, she started with affright and grasped Naisi's arm, as he was making a move with the chessman. Naisi, following her gaze, and seeing the evil-looking face, flung the chessman with unerring aim, and broke the eye in Trendorn's head.

Trendorn dropped down in pain and rage; and going straight to Concobar, he said:—"I have tidings for thee, O king: the three sons of Usna are sitting in the banquet hall, stately and proud like kings: and Deirdre is seated beside Naisi; and verily for beauty and queenly grace her peer cannot be found."

When Concobar heard this, a flame of jealousy and fury blazed up in his heart, and he resolved that by no means should the sons of Usna escape the doom he planned for them.



Coming forth on the lawn of Emain, King Concobar now ordered a large body of hireling troops to beset the Red Branch: and he bade them force the doors and bring forth the sons of Usna. And they uttered three dreadful shouts of defiance, and assailed the house on every side; but the strong oak stood bravely, and they were not able to break through doors or walls. So they heaped up great piles of wood and brambles, and kindled them till the red flames blazed round the house.

Buinni the Red now stood up and said to the sons of Usna:—"To me be entrusted the task to repel this first assault: for I am your pledge in place of my father." And marshalling his men, and causing the great door to be thrown wide open, he sallied forth and scattered the assailants, and put out the fires: slaying thrice fifty hirelings in that onslaught.

But Buinni returned not to the Red Branch: for the king sent to him with a secret offer of great favours and bribes: namely, his own royal friendship, and a fruitful tract of land; which Buinni took and basely abandoned the sons of Usna. But none the better luck came to him of it: for at that same hour a blight fell on the land, so that it became a moor, waste and profitless, which is at this day called Slieve Fuad.

When Illan the Fair became aware of his brother's treason, he was grieved to the heart, and he said:—"I am the second pledge in place of my father for the sons of Usna, and of a certainty I will not betray them: while this straight sword lives in my hand I will be faithful: and I will now repel this second attack." For at this time the king's hirelings were again thundering at the doors.

Forth he issued with his band: and he made three quick furious circuits round the Red Branch, scattering the troops as he went: after which he returned to the mansion and found Naisi and Deirdre still playing.[CLXXVII.] But as the hireling hordes returned to the attack, he went forth a second time and fell on them, dealing death and havoc whithersoever he went.

Then, while the fight was still raging, Concobar called to him his son Ficra, and said to him:—"Thou and Illan the Fair were born on the same night: and as he has his father's arms, so thou take mine, namely, my shield which is called the Ocean, and my two spears which are called Dart and Slaughter, and my great sword, the Blue-green blade. And bear thyself manfully against him, and vanquish him, else none of my troops will survive."

Ficra did so and went against Illan the Fair; and they made a stout, warlike, red-wounding attack on each other, while the others looked on anxious: but none dared to interfere. And it came to pass that Illan prevailed, so that Ficra was fain to shelter himself behind his father's shield the Ocean, and he was like to be slain. Whereupon, the shield moaned, and the Three Waves of Erin uttered their hollow melancholy roar.[CLXXVIII.]

The hero Conall Carnagh, sitting in his dun afar off, heard the moan of the shield and the roar of the Wave of Tuath: and springing up from where he sat, he said: "Verily, the king is in danger: I will go to his rescue."

He ran with the swiftness of the wind, and arrived on the Green of Emain, where the two young heroes were fighting. Thinking it was Concobar that crouched beneath the shield, he attacked Illan, not knowing him, and wounded him even unto death. And Illan looking up said, "Is it thou, Conall? Alas, dreadful is the deed thou hast done, not knowing me, and not knowing that I am fighting in defence of the sons of Usna, who are now in deadly peril from the treachery of Concobar."

And Conall, finding he had unwittingly wounded his dear young friend Illan, turned in his grief and rage on the other, and swept off his head. And he stalked fierce and silent out of the battlefield.

Illan, still faithful to his charge, called aloud to Naisi to defend himself bravely: then putting forth his remaining strength, he flung his arms, namely, his sword and his spears and his shield, into the Red Branch; and falling prone on the green sward, the shades of death dimmed his eyes, and his life departed.

And now when it was the dusk of evening, another great battalion of the hirelings assailed the Red Branch, and kindled fagots around it: whereupon Ardan sallied out with his valorous band and scattered them, and put out the fires, and held guard for the first third of the night. And during the second third Ainnli kept them at bay.

Then Naisi took his turn, issuing forth, and fought with them till the morning's dawn: and until the sands of the seashore, or the leaves of the forest, or the dew-drops on the grass, or the stars of heaven are counted, it will not be possible to number the hirelings that were slain in that fight by Naisi and his band of heroes.

And as he was returning breathless from the rout, all grimy and terrible with blood and sweat, he spied Lavarcam, as she stood watching the battle anxiously; and he said:—"Go, Lavarcam, go and stand on the outer rampart, and cast thine eyes eastwards, if perchance thou shouldst see Fergus and his men coming."

For many of Naisi's brave followers had fallen in these encounters: and he doubted that he and the others could sustain much longer the continual assaults of superior numbers. And Lavarcam went, but returned downcast, saying she saw nought eastwards, but the open plain with the peaceful herds browsing over it.



Believing now that they could no longer defend the Red Branch, Naisi took council with his brothers; and what they resolved on was this:—To sally forth with all their men and fight their way to a place of safety. Then making a close, firm fence of shields and spears round Deirdre, they marched out in solid ranks and attacked the hireling battalions and slew three hundred in that onslaught.

Concobar, seeing the rout of his men, and being now sure that it was not possible to subdue the sons of Usna in open fight, cast about if he might take them by falsehood and craft. And sending for Caffa, the druid, who loved them, he said:—

"These sons of Usna are brave men, and it is our pleasure to receive them back into our service. Go now unto them, for thou art their loved friend; and say to them that if they lay down their arms and submit to me, I will restore them to favour and give them their places among the Red Branch Knights. And I pledge thee my kingly word and my troth as a true knight, that no harm shall befall them."

Caffa, by no means distrusting him, went to the sons of Usna, and told them all the king had said. And they, suspecting neither guile nor treachery, joyfully threw their swords and spears aside, and went towards the king to make submission. But now, while they stood defenceless, the king caused them to be seized and bound. Then, turning aside, he sought for some one to put them to death; but he found no man of the Ultonians willing to do so.

Among his followers was a foreigner named Maini of the Rough Hand, whose father and two brothers had fallen in battle by Naisi: and this man undertook to kill the sons of Usna.

When they were brought forth to their doom, Ardan said:—"I am the youngest: let me be slain first, that I may not see the death of my brothers." And Ainnli earnestly pleaded for the same thing for himself, saying that he was born before Ardan, and should die before him.

But Naisi said:—"Lo, I have a sword, the gift of Mannanan mac Lir, which leaves no remnant unfinished after a blow: let us be struck with it, all three together, and we shall die at the same moment."

This was agreed to: and the sword was brought forth, and they laid their heads close together, and Maini swept off all three with one blow of the mighty sword. And when it became known that the sons of Usna were dead, the men of Ulaid sent forth three great cries of grief and lamentation.

As for Deirdre, she cried aloud, and tore her golden hair, and became like one distracted. And after a time, when her calmness had a little returned, she uttered a lament:—


"Three lions of the hill are dead, and I am left alone to weep for them. The generous princes who made the stranger welcome have been guilefully lured to their doom.


"The three strong hawks of Slieve Cullinn,[CLXXIX.] a king's three sons, strong and gentle: willing obedience was yielded to them by heroes who had conquered many lands.


"Three generous heroes of the Red Branch, who loved to praise the valour of others: three props of the battalions of Quelna: their fall is the cause of bitter grief.


"Ainnli and Ardan, haughty and fierce in battle, to me were ever loving and gentle: Naisi, Naisi, beloved spouse of my choice, thou canst not hear thy Deirdre lamenting thee.


"When they brought down the fleet red deer in the chase, when they speared the salmon skilfully in the clear water, joyful and proud were they if I looked on.


"Often when my feeble feet grew weary wandering along the valleys, and climbing the hills to view the chase, often would they bear me home lightly on their linked shields and spears.


"It was gladness of heart to be with the sons of Usna: long and weary is the day without their company: short will be my span of life since they have left me.


"Sorrow and tears have dimmed my eyes, looking at the grave of Naisi: a dark deadly sickness has seized my heart: I cannot, I cannot live after Naisi.


"O thou who diggest the new grave, make it deep and wide: let it be a grave for four; for I will sleep for ever beside my beloved."

When she had spoken these words, she fell beside the body of Naisi and died immediately. And a great cairn of stones was piled over their grave, and their names were inscribed in Ogham, and their funeral rites were performed.

This is the sorrowful tale of The Fate of the Sons of Usna.


[I.] In the Book of Leinster, a manuscript now in Trinity College, Dublin, which was transcribed about the year 1130, there is a very interesting list of ancient historic tales—187 in all—classified in the manner indicated above, which an ollave was obliged to master, so as to be able to repeat any one of them from memory, whenever his patron required him to do so. (See O'Curry, "Lectures on the MS. Materials of Irish History," pages 243 and 584.)

[II.] Macpherson never sinned in this way. He caught the true keynote; and his "Poems of Ossian," however perverted in other respects, are always dignified in thought and expression. Among other examples of the true interpretation of the spirit of these old romances, prose and poetry, I may mention Miss Brooke's "Reliques of Irish Poetry," published in the end of the last century; the Rev. Dr. Drummond's "Ancient Irish Minstrelsy," published in 1852; Lady Ferguson's graceful and interesting book, "The Story of the Irish before the Conquest" (1868); and Mr. Standish O'Grady's ably written volume, the "History of Ireland" (Vol. I., The Heroic Period 1878).

[III.] With one partial exception. In "The Book of the Dun Cow," "The Voyage of Maildun" is divided into parts or chapters, which are numbered on the margin in Roman numerals, each chapter relating to one particular island; but no spaces are left, and the chapters have no headings. In this tale I have followed the old sub-division.

[IV.] "Deirdrè," by Robert D. Joyce, M.D., M.R.I.A. Boston: Roberts Brothers. Dublin: M.H. Gill and Son.

[V.] O'Curry, Atlantis, Nos. vii. and viii., page 390.

[VI.] See the ballad and air of "The Fairy King's Courtship," in the author's "Ancient Irish Music," page 1.

[VII.] Now Teltown, on the river Blackwater, between Kells and Navan, in Meath. (See note 1 at the end, for this battle.)

[VIII.] The numbers refer to the notes at the end of the book.

[IX.] At the end of the book will be found an alphabetical list of all the names of persons and places mentioned through the volume, with their Gaelic forms, and, in many cases, their meanings.

[X.] Shee Finnaha, Lir's residence, is thought to have been situated near the boundary of Armagh and Monaghan, not far from Newtown Hamilton.

[CLXIX.] The translation that follows is my own, and is of course copyright, like all the other translations in this book. On this fine story is founded the epic poem of "Deirdre," by Robert Dwyer Joyce, M.D.

[CLXX.] Ulaid (pronounced Ulla), Ulster.

[CLXXI.] For Concobar and the Red Branch Knights, see note 15 farther on: and for much fuller information, see my "Social History of Ancient Ireland," vol. i, page 83; or the Smaller Soc. Hist., page 38.

[CLXXII.] The druids professed to be able to foretell by observing the stars and clouds. See Smaller Social History, p. 98.

[CLXXIII.] "Deirdre" is said to mean "alarm."

[CLXXIV.] That is 1665. This inverted method of enumeration was often used in Ireland. But they also used direct enumeration like ours.

[CLXXV.] This and the other places named in Deirdre's Farewell are all in the west of Scotland.

[CLXXVI.] Irish name, Drum-Sailech; the ridge on which Armagh was afterwards built.

[CLXXVII.] These champions, as well as their wives, took care never to show any signs of fear or alarm even in the time of greatest danger: so Naisi and Deirdre kept playing quietly as if nothing was going on outside, though they heard the din of battle resounding.

[CLXXVIII.] The "Three Tonns or Waves of Erin" were the Wave of Tuath outside the mouth of the river Bann, off the coast of Derry; the Wave of Rury in Dundrum Bay, off the county Down; and the Wave of Cleena in Glandore Harbour in the south of Cork. In stormy weather, when the wind blows from certain directions, the sea at those places, as it tumbles over the sandbanks, or among the caves and fissures of the rocks, utters a loud and solemn roar, which in old times was believed to forebode the death of some king.

The legends also tell that the shield belonging to a king moaned when the person who wore it in battle—whether the king himself or a member of his family—was in danger of death: the moan was heard all over Ireland; and the "Three Waves of Erin" roared in response. See "Irish Names of Places," Vol. II., Chap. XVI.

[CLXXIX.] Slieve Cullinn, now Slieve Gullion mountain in Armagh.

[CLXXX.] For a full account of the Highland traditions regarding Dermat, and of the Highland monuments that commemorate his name, see "Loch Etive and the Sons of Uisnach" (p. 255), a very valuable and interesting book, recently published, which came into my hands after I had written the above.

[CLXXXI.] The above legend is taken from "The Boyish Exploits of Finn Mac Cumal," published, with translation, by John O'Donovan, LL.D., in the fourth volume of the Ossianic Society's Transactions, from a MS. transcribed in 1453, now lying in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. But the internal evidence of the language shows that the piece is far more ancient than the fifteenth century. The legend of Finn and the Salmon of Knowledge is still current among the peasantry; and a modern popular version of it may be seen in the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. I. page 110.

As to the process of putting his thumb under his tooth of knowledge, even the English-speaking peasantry of the south still retain a tradition that it was painful; for they say that Finn "chewed his thumb from the skin to the flesh, from the flesh to the bone, from the bone to the marrow, and from the marrow to the smoosagh."

Transcriber's Notes:
Footnotes formatted in Roman.
Endnotes formatted in Arabic.
Inconsistent and archaic spelling retained.



The version given in the following pages of the well-known tale of Deirdre has been translated from the Irish text of the Book of Leinster version as printed by Windisch in Irische Texte, vol. i. Readings from the two parallel texts of the Book of Lecan, and Egerton, 1782, have been used where the Leinster text is deficient or doubtful, but the older MS. has in the main been followed, the chief alterations being indicated in the notes. The only English translation hitherto given of this version is the unreliable one in Atlantis, vol. iii. There is a German translation in Thurneysen's Sagen aus dem alten Irland which may be consulted for literal renderings of most of the verse portions, which, however, are sometimes nearer the original than Thurneysen's renderings.

It was at first intended to place beside this version the much better known version of the tale given by the Glenn Masain manuscript and its variants; but, as this version is otherwise available in English, it has been thought better to omit most of it: a verse translation of Deirdre's final lament in this version has, however, been added for the purpose of comparing it with the corresponding lament in the Leinster text. These two poems are nearly of the same length, but have no other point in common; the lament in the Leinster version strikes the more personal note, and it has been suggested that it shows internal evidence that it must have been written by a woman. The idea of Deirdre as a seer, which is so prominent in the Glenn Masain version of the tale, does not appear in the older Leinster text; the supernatural Druidic mist, which even in the Glenn Masain version only appears in the late manuscript which continues the story after the fifteenth-century manuscript breaks off, does not appear in the Book of Leinster; and the later version introduces several literary artifices that do not appear in the earlier one. That portion of the Glenn Masain version immediately following after Deirdre's lament is given as an instance of one of these, the common artifice of increase of horror at a catastrophe by the introduction of irrelevant matter, the tragedy of Deirdre's death being immediately followed by a cheerful account of the relationships of the chief heroes of the Heroic Period; a still better example of this practice in the old Irish literature is the almost comic relief that is introduced at the most tragic part of the tale of the murder of the son of Ronan.



In the house of Feidlimid, the son of Dall, even he who was the narrator of stories to Conor the king, the men of Ulster sat at their ale; and before the men, in order to attend upon them, stood the wife of Feidlimid, and she was great with child. Round about the board went drinking-horns, and portions of food; and the revellers shouted in their drunken mirth. And when the men desired to lay themselves down to sleep, the woman also went to her couch; and, as she passed through the midst of the house, the child cried out in her womb, so that its shriek was heard throughout the whole house, and throughout the outer court that lay about it. And upon that shriek, all the men sprang up; and, head closely packed by head, they thronged together in the house, whereupon Sencha, the son of Ailill, rebuked them: "Let none of you stir!" cried he, "and let the woman be brought before us, that we may learn what is the meaning of that cry." Then they brought the woman before them, and thus spoke to her Feidlimid, her spouse:

What is that, of all cries far the fiercest,
In thy womb raging loudly and long?
Through all ears with that clamour thou piercest;
With that scream, from Bides swollen and strong:
Of great woe, for that cry, is foreboding my heart;
That is torn through with terror, and sore with the smart.

Then the woman turned her, and she approached Cathbad the Druid, for he was a man of knowledge, and thus she spoke to him:

Give thou ear to me, Cathbad, thou fair one of face,
Thou great crown of our honour, and royal in race;
Let the man so exalted still higher be set,
Let the Druid draw knowledge, that Druids can get.
For I want words of wisdom, and none can I fetch;
Nor to Felim a torch of sure knowledge can stretch:
As no wit of a woman can wot what she bears,
I know naught of that cry from within me that tears.

And then said Cathbad:

'Tis a maid who screamed wildly so lately,
Fair and curling shall locks round her flow,
And her eyes be blue-centred and stately;
And her cheeks, like the foxglove, shall glow.
For the tint of her skin, we commend her,
In its whiteness, like snow newly shed;
And her teeth are all faultless in splendour
And her lips, like to coral, are red:
A fair woman is she, for whom heroes,
that fight In their chariots for Ulster, to death shall be dight.

'Tis a woman that shriek who hath given,
Golden-haired, with long tresses, and tall;
For whose love many chiefs shall have striven,
And great kings for her favours shall call.
To the west she shall hasten, beguiling
A great host, that from Ulster shall steal:
Red as coral, her lips shall be smiling,
As her teeth, white as pearls, they reveal:
Aye, that woman is fair, and great queens shall be fain
Of her form, that is faultless, unflawed by a stain.

Then Cathbad laid his hand upon the body of the woman; and the little child moved beneath his hand: "Aye, indeed," he said, "it is a woman child who is here: Deirdre shall be her name, and evil woe shall be upon her."

Now some days after that came the girl child into the world; and then thus sang Cathbad:

O Deirdre! of ruin great cause thou art;
Though famous, and fair, and pale:
Ere that Felim's hid daughter from life shall part,
All Ulster her deeds shall wail.

Aye, mischief shall come, in the after-time,
Thou fair shining maid, for thee;
Hear ye this: Usna's sons, the three chiefs sublime,
To banishment forced shall be.

While thou art in life, shall a fierce wild deed
In Emain, though late, be done:
Later yet, it shall mourn it refused to heed
The guard of Rog's powerful son.

O lady of worth! It is to thee we owe
That Fergus to exile flies;
That a son of king Conor we hail in woe,
When Fiachna is hurt, and dies.

O lady of worth! It is all thine the guilt!
Gerrc, Illadan's son, is slain;
And when Eogan mac Doorha's great life is spilt,
Not less shall be found our pain.

Grim deed shalt thou do, and in wrath shalt rave
Against glorious Ulster's king:
In that spot shall men dig thee thy tiny grave;
Of Deirdre they long shall sing.

"Let that maiden be slain!" cried out the young men of Ulster; but "Not so!" said Conor; "she shall in the morning be brought to me, and shall be reared according to my will, and she shall be my wife, and in my companionship shall she dwell."

The men of Ulster were not so hardy as to turn him from his purpose, and thus it was done. The maiden was reared in a house that belonged to Conor, and she grew up to be the fairest maid in all Ireland. She was brought up at a distance from the king's court; so that none of the men of Ulster might see her till the time came when she was to share the royal couch: none of mankind was permitted to enter the house where she was reared, save only her foster-father, and her foster-mother; and in addition to these Levorcham, to whom naught could any refuse, for she was a witch.

Now once it chanced upon a certain day in the time of winter that the foster-father of Deirdre had employed himself in skinning a calf upon the snow, in order to prepare a roast for her, and the blood of the calf lay upon the snow, and she saw a black raven who came down to drink it. And "Levorcham," said Deirdre, "that man only will I love, who hath the three colours that I see here, his hair as black as the raven, his cheeks red like the blood, and his body as white as the snow." "Dignity and good fortune to thee!" said Levorcham; "that man is not far away. Yonder is he in the burg which is nigh; and the name of him is Naisi, the son of Usnach." "I shall never be in good health again," said Deirdre, "until the time come when I may see him."

It befell that Naisi was upon a certain day alone upon the rampart of the burg of Emain, and he sent his warrior-cry with music abroad: well did the musical cry ring out that was raised by the sons of Usnach. Each cow and every beast that heard them, gave of milk two-thirds more than its wont; and each man by whom that cry was heard deemed it to be fully joyous, and a dear pleasure to him. Goodly moreover was the play that these men made with their weapons; if the whole province of Ulster had been assembled together against them in one place, and they three only had been able to set their backs against one another, the men of Ulster would not have borne away victory from those three: so well were they skilled in parry and defence. And they were swift of foot when they hunted the game, and with them it was the custom to chase the quarry to its death.

Now when this Naisi found himself alone on the plain, Deirdre also soon escaped outside her house to him, and she ran past him, and at first he know not who she might be.

"Fair is the young heifer that springs past me!" he cried.

"Well may the young heifers be great," she said, "in a place where none may find a bull."

"Thou hast, as thy bull," said he, "the bull of the whole province of
Ulster, even Conor the king of Ulster."

"I would choose between you two," she said, "and I would take for myself a younger bull, even such as thou art."

"Not so indeed," said Naisi, "for I fear the prophecy of Cathbad."

"Sayest thou this, as meaning to refuse me?" said she.

"Yea indeed," he said; and she sprang upon him, and she seized him by his two ears. "Two ears of shame and of mockery shalt thou have," she cried, "if thou take me not with thee." "Release me, O my wife!" said he.

"That will I."

Then Naisi raised his musical warrior-cry, and the men of Ulster heard it, and each of them one after another sprang up: and the sons of Usnach hurried out in order to hold back their brother.

"What is it," they said, "that thou dost? let it not be by any fault of thine that war is stirred up between us and the men of Ulster."

Then he told them all that had been done; and "There shall evil come on thee from this," said they; "moreover thou shalt lie under the reproach of shame so long as thou dost live; and we will go with her into another land, for there is no king in all Ireland who will refuse us welcome if we come to him."

Then they took counsel together, and that same night they departed, three times fifty warriors, and the same number of women, and dogs, and servants, and Deirdre went with them. And for a long time they wandered about Ireland, in homage to this man or that; and often Conor sought to slay them, either by ambuscade or by treachery; from round about Assaroe, near to Ballyshannon in the west, they journeyed, and they turned them back to Benn Etar, in the north-east, which men to-day call the Mountain of Howth. Nevertheless the men of Ulster drave them from the land, and they came to the land of Alba, and in its wildernesses they dwelled. And when the chase of the wild beasts of the mountains failed them, they made foray upon the cattle of the men of Alba, and took them for themselves; and the men of Alba gathered themselves together with intent to destroy them. Then they took shelter with the king of Alba, and the king took them into his following, and they served him in war. And they made for themselves houses of their own in the meadows by the king's burg: it was on account of Deirdre that these houses were made, for they feared that men might see her, and that on her account they might be slain.

Now one day the high-steward of the king went out in the early morning, and he made a cast about Naisi's house, and saw those two sleeping therein, and he hurried back to the king, and awaked him: "We have," said he, "up to this day found no wife for thee of like dignity to thyself. Naisi the son of Usnach hath a wife of worth sufficient for the emperor of the western world! Let Naisi be slain, and let his wife share thy couch."

"Not so!" said the king, "but do thou prepare thyself to go each day to her house, and woo her for me secretly."

Thus was it done; but Deirdre, whatsoever the steward told her, was accustomed straightway to recount it each even to her spouse; and since nothing was obtained from her, the sons of Usnach were sent into dangers, and into wars, and into strifes that thereby they might be overcome. Nevertheless they showed themselves to be stout in every strife, so that no advantage did the king gain from them by such attempts as these.

The men of Alba were gathered together to destroy the sons of Usnach, and this also was told to Deirdre. And she told her news to Naisi: "Depart hence!" said she, "for if ye depart not this night, upon the morrow ye shall he slain!" And they marched away that night, and they betook themselves to an island of the sea.

Now the news of what had passed was brought to the men of Ulster. "'Tis pity, O Conor!" said they, "that the sons of Usnach should die in the land of foes, for the sake of an evil woman. It is better that they should come under thy protection,[FN#42] and that the (fated) slaying should be done here, and that they should come into their own land, rather than that they should fall at the hands of foes." "Let them come to us then," said Conor, "and let men go as securities to them." The news was brought to them.

[FN#42] Literally, "It is better their protection, and their slaying, and coming for them to their own land, &c." If this reading is right (and three MSS. agree), the extended words of the text seem to give the intention: it is, however, possible that the reading should be, "It is better their protection than their slaying" (oldaas for ocus), which would make sense at once. The idea of the text seems to be that the sons of Usnach were, owing to Cathbad's prophecy, thought of as fated men; and it was only a question where they should be put to death.

"This is welcome news for us," they said; "we will indeed come, and let
Fergus come as our surety, and Dubhtach, and Cormac the son of Conor."
These then went to them, and they moved them to pass over the sea.

But at the contrivance of Conor, Fergus was pressed to join in an ale-feast, while the sons of Usnach were pledged to eat no food in Erin, until they had eaten the food of Conor. So Fergus tarried behind with Dubhtach and Cormac; and the sons of Usnach went on, accompanied by Fiacha, Fergus' son; until they came to the meadows around Emain.

Now at that time Eogan the son of Durthacht had come to Emain to make his peace with Conor, for they had for a long time been at enmity; and to him, and to the warmen of Conor, the charge was given that they should slay the sons of Usnach, in order that they should not come before the king. The sons of Usnach stood upon the level part of. the meadows, and the women sat upon the ramparts of Emain. And Eogan came with his warriors across the meadow, and the son of Fergus took his place by Naisi's side. And Eogan greeted them with a mighty thrust of his spear, and the spear brake Naisi's back in sunder, and passed through it. The son of Fergus made a spring, and he threw both arms around Naisi, and he brought him beneath himself to shelter him, while he threw himself down above him; and it was thus that Naisi was slain, through the body of the son of Fergus. Then there began a murder throughout the meadow, so that none escaped who did not fall by the points of the spears, or the edge of the sword, and Deirdre was brought to Conor to be in his power, and her arms were bound behind her back.

Now the sureties who had remained behind, heard what had been done, even Fergus and Dubhtach, and Cormac. And thereon they hastened forward, and they forthwith performed great deeds. Dubhtach slew, with the one thrust of his spear, Mane a son of Conor, and Fiachna the son of Feidelm, Conor's daughter; and Fergus struck down Traigthren, the son of Traiglethan, and his brother. And Conor was wrath at this, and he came to the fight with them; so that upon that day three hundred of the men of Ulster fell and Dubhtach slew the women of Ulster; and, ere the day dawned, Fergus set Emain on fire. Then they went away into exile, and betook them to the land of Connaught to find shelter with Ailill and Maev, for they knew that that royal pair would give them good entertainment. To the men of Ulster the exiles showed no love: three thousand stout men went with them; and for sixteen years never did they allow cries of lamentation and of fear among the Ulstermen to cease: each night their vengeful forays caused men to quake, and to wail.

Deirdre lived on for a year in the household of Conor; and during all that time she smiled no smile of laughter; she satisfied not herself with food or with sleep, and she raised not her head from her knee. And if any one brought before her people of mirth, she used to speak thus:

Though eager troops, and fair to see,
May home return, though these ye wait:
When Usna's sons came home to me,
They came with more heroic state.

With hazel mead, my Naisi stood:
And near our fire his bath I'd pour;
On Aindle's stately back the wood;
On Ardan's ox, or goodly boar.

Though sweet that goodly mead ye think
That warlike Conor drinks in hall,
I oft have known a sweeter drink,
Where leaps in foam the waterfall:

Our board was spread beneath the tree,
And Naisi raised the cooking flame:
More sweet than honey-sauced to me
Was meat, prepared from Naisi's game.

Though well your horns may music blow,
Though sweet each month your pipes may sound,
I fearless say, that well I know
A sweeter strain I oft have found.

Though horns and pipes be sounding clear,
Though Conor's mind in these rejoice,
More magic strain, more sweet, more dear
Was Usna's Children's noble voice.

Like sound of wave, rolled Naisi's bass;
We'd hear him long, so sweet he sang:
And Ardan's voice took middle place;
And clearly Aindle's tenor rang.

Now Naisi lies within his tomb:
A sorry guard his friends supplied;
His kindred poured his cup of doom,
That poisoned cup, by which he died.

Ah! Berthan dear! thy lands are fair;
Thy men are proud, though hills be stern:
Alas! to-day I rise not there
To wait for Usna's sons' return.

That firm, just mind, so loved, alas!
The dear shy youth, with touch of scorn,
I loved with him through woods to pass,
And girding in the early morn.

When bent on foes, they boded ill,
Those dear grey eyes, that maids adored;
When, spent with toil, his troops lay still,
Through Irish woods his tenor soared.

For this it is, no more I sleep;
No more my nails with pink I stain:
No joy can break the watch I keep;
For Usna's sons come not again.

For half the night no sleep I find;
No couch can me to rest beguile:
'Mid crowds of thoughts still strays my mind;
I find no time to eat or smile.

In eastern Emain's proud array
No time to joy is left for me;
For gorgeous house, and garments gay,
Nor peace, nor joy, nor rest can be.

And when Conor sought to soothe her; thus Deirdre would answer him:

Ah Conor! what of thee! I naught can do!
Lament and sorrow on my life have passed:
The ill you fashioned lives my whole life through;
A little time your love for me would last.

The man to me most fair beneath the sky,
The man I loved, in death away you tore:
The crime you did was great; for, till I die,
That face I loved I never shall see more.

That he is gone is all my sorrow still;
Before me looms the shape of Usna's son;
Though o'er his body white is yon dark hill,
There's much I'd lavish, if but him I won.

I see his cheeks, with meadow's blush they glow;
Black as a beetle, runs his eyebrows' line;
His lips are red; and, white as noble snow
I see his teeth, like pearls they seem to shine.

Well have I known the splendid garb he bears,
Oft among Alba's warriors seen of old:
A crimson mantle, such as courtier wears,
And edged with border wrought of ruddy gold.

Of silk his tunic; great its costly price;
For full one hundred pearls thereon are sewn;
Stitched with findruine, bright with strange device,
Full fifty ounces weighed those threads alone.

Gold-hilted in his hand I see his sword;
Two spears he holds, with spear-heads grim and green;
Around his shield the yellow gold is poured,
And in its midst a silver boss is seen.

Fair Fergus ruin on us all hath brought!
We crossed the ocean, and to him gave heed:
His honour by a cup of ale was bought;
From him hath passed the fame of each high deed.

If Ulster on this plain were gathered here
Before king Conor; and those troops he'd give,
I'd lose them all, nor think the bargain dear,
If I with Naisi, Usna's son, could live.

Break not, O king, my heart to-day in me;
For soon, though young, I come my grave unto:
My grief is stronger than the strength of sea;
Thou, Conor, knowest well my word is true.

"Whom dost thou hate the most," said Conor, "of these whom thou now seest?"

"Thee thyself," she answered, "and with thee Eogan the son of

"Then," said Conor, "thou shalt dwell with Eogan for a year;" and he gave Deirdre over into Eogan's hand.

Now upon the morrow they went away over the festal plain of Macha, and Deirdre sat behind Eogan in the chariot; and the two who were with her were the two men whom she would never willingly have seen together upon the earth, and as she looked upon them, "Ha, Deirdre," said Conor, "it is the same glance that a ewe gives when between two rams that thou sharest now between me and Eogan!" Now there was a great rock of stone in front of them, and Deirdre struck her head upon that stone, and she shattered her head, and so she died.

This then is the tale of the exile of the sons of Usnach, and of the
Exile of Fergus, and of the death of Deirdre.




I grieved not, Usna's sons beside;
But long, without them, lags the day:
Their royal sire no guest denied;
Three lions from Cave Hill were they.

Three dragons bred in Mona's fort
Are dead: to them from life I go;
Three chiefs who graced the Red Branch Court,
Three rocks, who broke the rush of foe.

O loved by many a British maid!
O swift as hawks round Gullion's peak!
True sons of king, who warriors swayed,
To whom bent chiefs in homage meek.

No vassal look those champions wore;
Full grief is mine that such should die!
Those sons, whom Cathbad's daughter bore;
Those props, who Cualgne's war held high.

Three bears of might, to war they came;
From Oona's walls, like lions, burst;
Three hero-chiefs, who loved their fame;
Three sons, on Ulster's bosom nursed.

Twas Aife reared them; 'neath her yoke
A kingdom bowed, and tribute brought;
They propped the war, when armies broke,
Those foster-sons, whom Scathach taught.

The Three, who once from Bohvan's skill
All feats have learned that heroes know;
King Usna's glorious sons! 'tis ill
That these afar from me should go.

That I should live, with Naisi dead,
Let none such shame believe of me;
When Ardan's life, when Ainnle's fled,
But short my life I knew would be.

Great Ulster's king my hand had won;
I left him, Naisi's love to find;
Till Naisi's funeral rites be done,
I wait a little while behind.

This widowed life no more I'll bear;
The Three rejoiced, when toil they faced;
Where'er 'twas found, the war they'd dare,
And proffered fight with joy embraced.

A curse on Cathbad's wizard spell!
'Twas Naisi's death! and I the cause!
None came to aid that king, who well
To all the world might grant his laws.

O man, who diggest low the grave,
And from my sight my love would hide,
Make wide the tomb; its room I crave,
I come to seek my hero's side.

Great load of hardship I'd endure with joy,
If yet those heroes my companions were;
No lack of house or fire could then annoy,
No gloom I'd know with them, nor aught of care.

Ah! many a time each shield and guardian spear
To make my couch have piled those noble Three:
O labouring man, their grave who diggest here,
Their hardened swords above well set should be.

The hounds of all the Three their masters lack,
Their hawks no quarry leave, nor hear their call;
The three are dead, who battle's line held back
Who learned their skill in Conall Cernach's hall!

Their hounds I view; from out my heart that sight
Hath struck a groan; behind their leashes trail,
'Twas mine to hold them once, and keep them tight;,
Now slack they lie, and cause me thus to wail.

Oft in the desert I and they have strayed,
Yet never lonely was that desert known
For all the Three a grave to-day is made,
And here I sit, and feel indeed alone.

I gazed on Naisi's grave, and now am blind,
For naught remains to see; the worst is spent;
My soul must leave me soon, no help I find,
And they are gone, the folk of my lament.

'Twas guile that crushed them: they would save my life
And died therefor; themselves three billows strong:
Ere Usna's children fell in cruel strife,
Would I had died, and earth had held me long!

To Red-Branch Hall we made our mournful way;
Deceitful Fergus led; our lives he stole;
A soft sweet speech indeed he'd learned to say,
For me, for them was ruin near that goal.

All Ulster's pleasures now are nothing worth
I shun them all, each chief, each ancient friend;
Alone I sit, as left behind on earth,
And soon my lonely life in death shall end.

I am Deirdre, the joyless,
For short time alive,
Though to end life be evil,
'Tis worse to survive.

And, after she had made this lament, Deirdre seated herself in the tomb, and she gave three kisses to Naisi before that he was laid in his grave; and with heaviness and grief Cuchulain went on to Dun Delga. And Cathbad the Druid laid a curse upon Emain Macha to take vengeance for that great evil, and he said that, since that treachery had been done, neither king Conor nor any other of his race should hold that burg.

And as for Fergus, the son of Rossa the Red, he came to Emain Macha on the morrow after the sons of Usnach had been slain. And, when he found that they had been slain, and that his pledge had been dishonoured, he himself, and Cormac the Partner of Exile, king Conor's own son, also Dubhtach, the Beetle of Ulster, and the armies they had with them, gave battle to the household of Conor; and they slew Maine the son of Conor, and three hundred of Conor's people besides. And Emain Macha was destroyed, and burned by them, and Conor's women were slain, and they collected their adherents on every side; the number of their host was three thousand warriors. And they went away to the land of Connaught, even to Ailill the Great, who was the king of Connaught at that time, and to Maev of Croghan, and with them they found a welcome and support. Moreover Fergus and Cormac the Partner of Exile and their warriors, after that they had come to the land of Connaught, never let pass one single night wherein reavers went not forth from them to harry and burn the land of Ulster, so that the district which men to-day call the land of Cualgne was subdued by them; and from that in the after-time came between the two kingdoms much of trouble and theft; and in this fashion they spent seven years, or, as some say, ten years; nor was there any truce between them, no, not for one single hour.

And while those deeds were doing, Deirdre abode by Conor in his household for a whole year after the sons of Usnach had been slain. And, though it might have seemed but a small thing for her to raise her head, or to let laughter flow over her lips, yet she never did these things during all that time. And when Conor saw that neither sport nor kindness could hold her; and that neither jesting nor pleasing honour could raise her spirits, he sent word to Eogan the son of Durthacht, the lord of Fernmay; as some tell the story, it was this Eogan who had slain Naisi in Emain Macha. And after that Eogan had come to the place where Conor was, Conor gave command to Deirdre that, since he himself had failed to turn her heart from her grief, she must depart to Eogan, and spend another space of time with him. And with that she was placed behind Eogan in his chariot, and Conor went also in the chariot in order to deliver Deirdre into Eogan's hand. And as they went on their way, she cast a fierce glance at Eogan in front of her, and another at Conor behind her; for there was nothing in all the world that she hated more than those two men. And when Conor saw this, as he looked at her and at Eogan, he said: "Ah Deirdre! it is the glance of a ewe when set between two rams that thou castest on me and on Eogan!" And when Deirdre heard that, she sprang up, and she made a leap out of the chariot, and she struck her head against the stony rocks that were in front of her, and she shattered her head so that the brains leapt out, and thus came to Deirdre her death.

This is the Tree of their race, and an account of the kinships of some of the Champions of the Red Branch, which is given here before we proceed to speak of the Deeds of Cuchulain:

'Twas Cathbad first won Magach's love, and arms around her threw;
From Maelchro's loins, the Battle Chief, his princely source he drew;
Two, more in love she knew, of these the wrath was long and dread,
Fierce Rossa, named the Ruddy-Faced, and Carbre, thatched with red.

To all the three were children born, and all with beauty graced,
To Cathbad, and to Carbre Red, and Rossa Ruddy-faced;
A gracious three indeed were they to whom she gave her love,
Fair Magach, brown the lashes were that slept her eyes above.

Three sons to Rossa Ruddy-faced as children Magach bore;
To Carbre sons again she gave, the count of these was four;
And three white shoots of grace were hers, on these no shame shall fall;
To Cathbad children three she bare, and these were daughters all.

To Cathbad, who in wizard lore and all its arts had might,
Three daughters lovely Magach bore, each clothed in beauty white;
All maids who then for grace were famed in grace those maids surpassed,
And Finuchoem, Ailbhe twain he named, and Deithchim named the

To Finnchoem, wizard Cathbad's child, was born a glorious son,
And well she nursed him, Conall wild, who every field hath won;
And Ailbhe glorious children bare in whom no fear had place,
These Ardan, Ainnle, Naisi were, who came of Usnach's race.

A son to Deithchim fair was born, a bright-cheeked mother she;
She bore but one: Cuchulain of Dun Delga's hold was he:
Of those whom Cathbad's daughters reared the names full well ye know,
And none of these a wound hath feared, or therefore shunned a foe.

The sons of Usnach, who like shields their friends protected well,
By might of hosts on battle-field to death were borne, and fell;
And each was white of skin, and each his friends in love would hold,
Now naught remains for song to teach, the Third of Griefs is told.



The Story of Deirdre

Naois laid down by the side of the beautiful green knoll in which Deirdre lived.
Naois missed the trail of the hunt, and lost his course and companions. A drowsiness came upon him as he wearily wandered over the hills, and he laid down by the side of the beautiful green knoll in which Deirdre lived.

There was a man in Ireland once who was called Malcolm Harper. The manwas a right good man, and he had a goodly share of this world's goods.He had a wife, but no family. What did Malcolm hear but that asoothsayer had come home to the place, and as the man was a right goodman, he wished that the soothsayer might come near them. Whether itwas that he was invited or that he came of himself, the soothsayercame to the house of Malcolm.

"Are you doing any soothsaying?" says Malcolm.

"Yes, I am doing a little. Are you in need of soothsaying?"

"Well, I do not mind taking soothsaying from you, if you hadsoothsaying for me, and you would be willing to do it."

"Well, I will do soothsaying for you. What kind of soothsaying do youwant?"

"Well, the soothsaying I wanted was that you would tell me my lot orwhat will happen to me, if you can give me knowledge of it."

"Well, I am going out, and when I return I will tell you."

And the soothsayer went forth out of the house, and he was not longoutside when he returned.

"Well," said the soothsayer, "I saw in my second sight that it is onaccount of a daughter of yours that the greatest amount of blood shallbe shed that has ever been shed in Erin since time and race began. Andthe three most famous heroes that ever were found will lose theirheads on her account."

After a time a daughter was born to Malcolm. He did not allow a livingbeing to come to his house, only himself and the nurse. He asked thiswoman, "Will you yourself bring up the child to keep her in hiding faraway where eye will not see a sight of her nor ear hear a word abouther?"

The woman said she would, so Malcolm got three men, and he took themaway to a large mountain, distant and far from reach, without theknowledge or notice of any one. He caused there a hillock, round andgreen, to be dug out of the middle, and the hole thus made to becovered carefully over, so that a little company could dwell theretogether. This was done.

Deirdre and her foster-mother dwelt in the bothy mid the hills withoutthe knowledge or the suspicion of any living person about them andwithout anything occurring, until Deirdre was sixteen years of age.Deirdre grew like the white sapling, straight and trim as the rash onthe moss. She was the creature of fairest form, of loveliest aspect,and of gentlest nature that existed between earth and heaven in allIreland—whatever colour of hue she had before, there was nobody thatlooked into her face but she would blush fiery red over it.


Deirdre and her foster-mother Nurse
Deirdre and her foster-mother Nurse

Deirdre. O Nurse what cry is that!
Only the birds of the air calling one to the other.--
There is no home for them here. Let them go by to the thicket.

The woman that had charge of her gave Deirdre every information andskill of which she herself had knowledge and skill. There was not ablade of grass growing from root, nor a bird singing in the wood, nora star shining from heaven but Deirdre had a name for it. But onething, she did not wish her to have either part or parley with anysingle living man of the rest of the world. But on a gloomy winternight, with black, scowling clouds, a hunter of game was wearilytravelling the hills, and what happened but that he missed the trailof the hunt, and lost his course and companions. A drowsiness cameupon the man as he wearily wandered over the hills, and he laid downby the side of the beautiful green knoll in which Deirdre lived, andhe slept. The man was faint from hunger and wandering, and benumbedwith cold, and a deep sleep fell upon him. When he lay down besidethe green hill where Deirdre was, a troubled dream came to the man,and he thought that he enjoyed the warmth of a fairy broch, thefairies being inside playing music. The hunter shouted out in hisdream if there was any one in the broch, to let him in for the HolyOne's sake. Deirdre heard the voice, and said to her foster-mother, "Ofoster-mother, what cry is that?" "It is nothing at all,Deirdre—merely the birds of the air astray and seeking each other.But let them go past to the bosky glade. There is no shelter or housefor them here." "O foster-mother, the bird asked to get inside for thesake of the God of the Elements, and you yourself tell me thatanything that is asked in His name we ought to do. If you will notallow the bird that is being benumbed with cold, and done to deathwith hunger, to be let in, I do not think much of your language oryour faith. But since I give credence to your language and to yourfaith, which you taught me, I will myself let in the bird." AndDeirdre arose and drew the bolt from the leaf of the door, and she letin the hunter. She placed a seat in the place for sitting, food in theplace for eating, and drink in the place for drinking for the man whocame to the house. "Oh, for this life and raiment, you man that camein, keep restraint on your tongue!" said the old woman. "It is not agreat thing for you to keep your mouth shut and your tongue quiet whenyou get a home and shelter of a hearth on a gloomy winter's night.""Well," said the hunter, "I may do that—keep my mouth shut and mytongue quiet, since I came to the house and received hospitality fromyou; but by the hand of thy father and grandfather, and by your owntwo hands, if some other of the people of the world saw this beauteouscreature you have here hid away, they would not long leave her withyou, I swear."

"What men are these you refer to?" said Deirdre.

"Well, I will tell you, young woman," said the hunter, "They areNaois, son of Uisnech, and Allen and Arden his two brothers."

"What like are these men when seen, if we were to see them?" saidDeirdre.

"Why, the aspect and form of the men when seen are these," said thehunter; "they have the colour of the raven on their hair, their skinlike swan on the wave in whiteness, and their cheeks as the blood ofthe brindled red calf, and their speed and their leap are those of thesalmon of the torrent and the deer of the grey mountain side. AndNaois is head and shoulders over the rest of the people of Erin."

"However they are," said the nurse, "be you off from here and takeanother road. And, King of Light and Sun! in good sooth and certainty,little are my thanks for yourself or for her that let you in!"

The hunter went away, and went straight to the palace of KingConnachar. He sent word in to the king that he wished to speak to himif he pleased. The king answered the message and came out to speak tothe man. "What is the reason of your journey?" said the king to thehunter.

"I have only to tell you, O king," said the hunter. "that I saw thefairest creature that ever was born in Erin, and I came to tell you ofit."

"Who is this beauty, and where is she to be seen, when she was notseen before till you saw her, if you did see her?"

"Well, I did see her," said the hunter. "But, if I did, no man elsecan see her unless he get directions from me as to where she isdwelling."

"And will you direct me to where she dwells? and the reward of yourdirecting me will be as good as the reward of your message," said theking.

"Well, I will direct you, O king, although it is likely that this willnot be what they want," said the hunter.

Connachar, king of Ulster, sent for his nearest kinsmen, and he toldthem of his intent. Though early rose the song of the birds mid therocky caves and the music of the birds in the grove, earlier than thatdid Connachar, king of Ulster, arise, with his little troop of dearfriends, in the delightful twilight of the fresh and gentle May; thedew was heavy on each bush and flower and stem, as they went to bringDeirdre forth from the green knoll where she stayed. Many a youth wasthere who had a lithe, leaping and lissom step when they started whosestep was faint, failing, and faltering when they reached the bothy onaccount of the length of the way and roughness of the road. "Yonder,now, down in the bottom of the glen is the bothy where the womandwells, but I will not go nearer than this to the old woman," said thehunter.

Connachar with his band of kinsfolk went down to the green knollwhere Deirdre dwelt and he knocked at the door of the bothy. The nursereplied, "No less than a king's command and a king's army could put meout of my bothy to-night. And I should be obliged to you, were you totell who it is that wants me to open my bothy door." "It is I,Connachar, king of Ulster." When the poor woman heard who was at thedoor, she rose with haste and let in the king and all that could getin of his retinue.

When the king saw the woman that was before him that he had been inquest of, he thought he never saw in the course of the day nor in thedream of night a creature so fair as Deirdre and he gave his fullheart's weight of love to her. Deirdre was raised on the topmost ofthe heroes' shoulders and she and her foster-mother were brought tothe Court of King Connachar of Ulster.

With the love that Connachar had for her, he wanted to marry Deirdreright off there and then, will she nill she marry him. But she said tohim, "I would be obliged to you if you will give me the respite of ayear and a day." He said, "I will grant you that, hard though it is,if you will give me your unfailing promise that you will marry me atthe year's end." And she gave the promise. Connachar got for her awoman-teacher and merry modest maidens fair that would lie down andrise with her, that would play and speak with her. Deirdre was cleverin maidenly duties and wifely understanding, and Connachar thought henever saw with bodily eye a creature that pleased him more. Deirdreand her women companions were one day out on the hillock behind thehouse enjoying the scene, and drinking in the sun's heat. What didthey see coming but three men a-journeying. Deirdre was looking at themen that were coming, and wondering at them. When the men neared them,Deirdre remembered the language of the huntsman, and she said toherself that these were the three sons of Uisnech, and that this wasNaois, he having what was above the bend of the two shoulders abovethe men of Erin all. The three brothers went past without taking anynotice of them, without even glancing at the young girls on thehillock. What happened but that love for Naois struck the heart ofDeirdre, so that she could not but follow after him. She girded up herraiment and went after the men that went past the base of the knoll,leaving her women attendants there. Allen and Arden had heard of thewoman that Connachar, king of Ulster, had with him, and they thoughtthat, if Naois, their brother, saw her, he would have her himself,more especially as she was not married to the king. They perceived thewoman coming, and called on one another to hasten their step as theyhad a long distance to travel, and the dusk of night was coming on.They did so. She cried: "Naois, son of Uisnech, will you leave me?""What piercing, shrill cry is that—the most melodious my ear everheard, and the shrillest that ever struck my heart of all the cries Iever heard?" "It isn't anything else but the wail of the wave-swans ofConnachar," said his brothers. "No! yonder is a woman's cry ofdistress," said Naois, and he swore he would not go further until hesaw from whom the cry came, and Naois turned back. Naois and Deirdremet, and Deirdre kissed Naois three times, and a kiss each to hisbrothers. With the confusion that she was in, Deirdre went into acrimson blaze of fire, and her colour came and went as rapidly as themovement of the aspen by the stream side. Naois thought he never saw afairer creature, and Naois gave Deirdre the love that he never gave tothing, to vision, or to creature but to herself.

Then Naois placed Deirdre on the topmost height of his shoulder, andtold his brothers to keep up their pace, and they kept up their pace.Naois thought that it would not be well for him to remain in Erin onaccount of the way in which Connachar, king of Ulster, his uncle'sson, had gone against him because of the woman, though he had notmarried her; and he turned back to Alba, that is, Scotland. He reachedthe side of Loch Ness and made his habitation there. He could kill thesalmon of the torrent from out his own door, and the deer of the greygorge from out his window. Naois and Deirdre and Allen and Arden dweltin a tower, and they were happy so long a time as they were there.

By this time the end of the period came at which Deirdre had to marryConnachar, king of Ulster. Connachar made up his mind to take Deirdreaway by the sword whether she was married to Naois or not. So heprepared a great and gleeful feast. He sent word far and wide throughErin to all his kinspeople to come to the feast. Connachar thought tohimself that Naois would not come though he should bid him, and thescheme that arose in his mind was to send for his father's brother,Ferchar Mac Ro, and to send him on an embassy to Naois. He did so; andConnachar said to Ferchar, "Tell Naois, son of Uisnech, that I amsetting forth a great and gleeful feast to my friends and kinspeoplethroughout the wide extent of Erin all, and that I shall not have restby day nor sleep by night if he and Allen and Arden be not partakersof the feast."

Ferchar Mac Ro and his three sons went on their journey, and reachedthe tower where Naois was dwelling by the side of Loch Etive. The sonsof Uisnech gave a cordial kindly welcome to Ferchar Mac Ro and histhree sons, and asked of him the news of Erin. "The best news that Ihave for you," said the hardy hero, "is that Connachar, king ofUlster, is setting forth a great sumptuous feast to his friends andkinspeople throughout the wide extent of Erin all, and he has vowed bythe earth beneath him, by the high heaven above him, and by the sunthat wends to the west, that he will have no rest by day nor sleep bynight if the sons of Uisnech, the sons of his own father's brother,will not come back to the land of their home and the soil of theirnativity, and to the feast likewise, and he has sent us on embassy toinvite you."

"We will go with you," said Naois.

"We will," said his brothers.

But Deirdre did not wish to go with Ferchar Mac Ro, and she triedevery prayer to turn Naois from going with him—she said:

"I saw a vision, Naois, and do you interpret it to me," saidDeirdre—then she sang:

O Naois, son of Uisnech, hear
What was shown in a dream to me.
There came three white doves out of the South
Flying over the sea,
And drops of honey were in their mouth
From the hive of the honey-bee.
O Naois, son of Uisnech, hear
What was shown in a dream to me.
I saw three grey hawks out of the South
Come flying over the sea,
And the red drops they bare in their mouth
They were dearer than life to me.

Said Naois:

It is nought but the fear of woman's heart,
And a dream of the night, Deirdre.

"The day that Connachar sent the invitation to his feast will beunlucky for us if we don't go, O Deirdre."

"You will go there," said Ferchar Mac Ro; "and if Connachar showkindness to you, show ye kindness to him; and if he will display wrathtowards you display ye wrath towards him, and I and my three sons willbe with you."

"We will," said Daring Drop. "We will," said Hardy Holly. "We will,"said Fiallan the Fair.

"I have three sons, and they are three heroes, and in any harm ordanger that may befall you, they will be with you, and I myself willbe along with them." And Ferchar Mac Ro gave his vow and his word inpresence of his arms that, in any harm or danger that came in the wayof the sons of Uisnech, he and his three sons would not leave head onlive body in Erin, despite sword or helmet, spear or shield, blade ormail, be they ever so good.

Deirdre was unwilling to leave Alba, but she went with Naois. Deirdrewept tears in showers and she sang:

Dear is the land, the land over there,
Alba full of woods and lakes;
Bitter to my heart is leaving thee,
But I go away with Naois.

Ferchar Mac Ro did not stop till he got the sons of Uisnech away withhim, despite the suspicion of Deirdre.

The coracle was put to sea,
The sail was hoisted to it;
And the second morrow they arrived
On the white shores of Erin.

As soon as the sons of Uisnech landed in Erin, Ferchar Mac Ro sentword to Connachar, king of Ulster, that the men whom he wanted werecome, and let him now show kindness to them. "Well," said Connachar,"I did not expect that the sons of Uisnech would come, though I sentfor them, and I am not quite ready to receive them. But there is ahouse down yonder where I keep strangers, and let them go down to itto-day, and my house will be ready before them to-morrow."

But he that was up in the palace felt it long that he was not gettingword as to how matters were going on for those down in the house ofthe strangers. "Go you, Gelban Grednach, son of Lochlin's King, go youdown and bring me information as to whether her former hue andcomplexion are on Deirdre. If they be, I will take her out with edgeof blade and point of sword, and if not, let Naios, son of Uisnech,have her for himself," said Connachar.

Gelban, the cheering and charming son of Lochlin's King, went down tothe place of the strangers, where the sons of Uisnech and Deirdre werestaying. He looked in through the bicker-hole on the door-leaf. Nowshe that he gazed upon used to go into a crimson blaze of blushes whenany one looked at her. Naois looked at Deirdre and knew that some onewas looking at her from the back of the door-leaf. He seized one ofthe dice on the table before him and fired it through the bicker-hole,and knocked the eye out of Gelban Grednach the Cheerful and Charming,right through the back of his head. Gelban returned back to the palaceof King Connachar.

"You were cheerful, charming, going away, but you are cheerless,charmless, returning. What has happened to you, Gelban? But have youseen her, and are Deirdre's hue and complexion as before?" saidConnachar.

"Well, I have seen Deirdre, and I saw her also truly, and while I waslooking at her through the bicker-hole on the door, Naois, son ofUisnech, knocked out my eye with one of the dice in his hand. But of atruth and verity, although he put out even my eye, it were my desirestill to remain looking at her with the other eye, were it not for thehurry you told me to be in," said Gelban.

"That is true," said Connachar; "let three hundred brave heroes godown to the abode of the strangers, and let them bring hither to meDeirdre, and kill the rest."

Connachar ordered three hundred active heroes to go down to the abodeof the strangers, and to take Deirdre up with them and kill the rest."The pursuit is coming," said Deirdre.

"Yes, but I will myself go out and stop the pursuit," said Naois.

"It is not you, but we that will go," said Daring Drop, and HardyHolly, and Fiallan the Fair; "it is to us that our father entrustedyour defence from harm and danger when he himself left for home." Andthe gallant youths, full noble, full manly, full handsome, withbeauteous brown locks, went forth girt with battle arms fit for fiercefight and clothed with combat dress for fierce contest fit, which wasburnished, bright, brilliant, bladed, blazing, on which were manypictures of beasts and birds, and creeping things, lions, andlithe-limbed tigers, brown eagle, and harrying hawk, and adder fierce;and the young heroes laid low three-thirds of the company.

Connachar came out in haste and cried with wrath; "Who is there onthe floor of fight, slaughtering my men?"

"We, the three sons of Ferchar Mac Ro."

"Well," said the king, "I will give a free bridge to your grandfather,a free bridge to your father, and a free bridge each to you threebrothers, if you come over to my side to-night."

"Well, Connachar, we will not accept that offer from you, nor thankyou for it. Greater by far do we prefer to go home to our father andtell the deeds of heroism we have done, than accept anything on theseterms from you. Naois, son of Uisnech, and Allen and Arden are asnearly related to yourself as they are to us, though you are so keento shed their blood, and you would shed our blood also, Connachar."And the noble, manly, handsome youths, with beauteous brown locks,returned inside. "We are now," said they, "going home to tell ourfather that you are now safe from the hands of the king." And theyouths, all fresh and tall and lithe and beautiful, went home to theirfather to tell that the sons of Uisnech were safe. This happened atthe parting of the day and night in the morning twilight time, andNaois said they must go away, leave that house, and return to Alba.

Naois and Deirdre, Allen and Arden started to return to Alba. Wordcame to the king that the company he was in pursuit of were gone. Theking then sent for Duanan Gacha Druid, the best magician he had, andhe spake to him as follows: "Much wealth have I expended on you,Duanan Gacha Druid, to give schooling and learning and magic mysteryto you, I'll hold you to account if these people get away from meto-day without care, without consideration or regard for me, withoutchance of overtaking them, and without power to stop them."

"Well, I will stop them," said the magician, "until the company yousend in pursuit return." And the magician placed a wood before themthrough which no man could go, but the sons of Uisnech marched throughthe wood without halt or hesitation, and Deirdre held on to Naois'shand.

"What is the good of that? that will not do yet," said Connachar."They are off without bending of their feet or stopping of their step,without heed or respect to me, and I am without power to keep up tothem, or opportunity to turn them back this night."

"I will try another plan on them," said the druid; and he placedbefore them a grey sea instead of a green plain. The three heroesstripped and tied their clothes behind their heads, and Naois placedDeirdre on the top of his shoulder.

They stretched their sides to the stream,
And sea and land were to them the same,
The rough grey ocean was the same
As meadow-land green and plain.

"Though that be good, O Duanan, it will not make the heroes return,"said Connachar; "they are gone without regard for me, and withouthonor to me, and without power on my part to pursue them, or to forcethem to return this night."

The druid placed before them a grey sea. The three heroes stripped and tied their clothes behind their heads, and Naois placed Deirdre on the top of his shoulder.
Deirdre. O Nurse what cry is that!
Only the birds of the air calling one to the other.--
There is no home for them here. Let them go by to the thicket.

"We shall try another method on them, since yon one did not stopthem," said the druid. And the druid froze the grey-ridged sea intohard rocky knobs, the sharpness of sword being on the one edge and thepoison power of adders on the other. Then Arden cried that he wasgetting tired, and nearly giving over. "Come you, Arden, and sit on myright shoulder," said Naois. Arden came and sat on Naois's shoulder.Arden was not long in this posture when he died; but though he wasdead Naois would not let him go. Allen then cried out that he wasgetting faint and well-nigh giving up. When Naois heard his prayer, hegave forth the piercing sigh of death, and asked Allen to lay hold ofhim and he would bring him to land. Allen was not long when theweakness of death came on him, and his hold failed. Naois lookedaround, and when he saw his two well-beloved brothers dead, he carednot whether he lived or died, and he gave forth the bitter sigh ofdeath, and his heart burst.

"They are gone," said Duanan Gacha Druid to the king, "and I have donewhat you desired me. The sons of Uisnech are dead and they willtrouble you no more; and you have your wife hale and whole toyourself."

"Blessings for that upon you and may the good results accrue to me,Duanan. I count it no loss what I spent in the schooling and teachingof you. Now dry up the flood and let me see if I can behold Deirdre,"said Connachar. And Duanan Gacha Druid dried up the flood from theplain and the three sons of Uisnech were lying together dead, withoutbreath of life, side by side on the green meadow plain and Deirdrebending above showering down her tears.

Then Deirdre said this lament: "Fair one, loved one, flower of beauty;beloved, upright, and strong; beloved, noble, and modest warrior. Fairone, blue-eyed, beloved of thy wife; lovely to me at thetrysting-place came thy clear voice through the woods of Ireland. Icannot eat or smile henceforth. Break not to-day, my heart: soonenough shall I lie within my grave. Strong are the waves of sorrow,but stronger is sorrow's self, Connachar."

The people then gathered round the heroes' bodies and asked Connacharwhat was to be done with the bodies. The order that he gave was thatthey should dig a pit and put the three brothers in it side by side.

Deirdre kept sitting on the brink of the grave, constantly asking thegravediggers to dig the pit wide and free. When the bodies of thebrothers were put in the grave, Deirdre said:

Come over hither, Naois, my love,
Let Arden close to Allen lie;
If the dead had any sense to feel,
Ye would have made a place for Deirdre.

The men did as she told them. She jumped into the grave and lay downby Naois, and she was dead by his side.

The king ordered the body to be raised from out the grave and to beburied on the other side of the loch. It was done as the king bade,and the pit closed. Thereupon a fir shoot grew out of the grave ofDeirdre and a fir shoot from the grave of Naois, and the two shootsunited in a knot above the loch. The king ordered the shoots to be cutdown, and this was done twice, until, at the third time, the wife whomthe king had married caused him to stop this work of evil and hisvengeance on the remains of the dead.