[[Irish Myths and The Celtic Revival]]
The Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) is a legendary tale from Irish literature known as the [[Ulster Cycle]] from pre-Christian Ireland of the first century, set most particularly in the Ulster region. Epic in nature, in that it is now a text that informs Irish culture and identifies Irish ideologies, the Táin Bó Cúailnge comprises many different stories and legends. One of the legends from Táin Bó Cúailnge is the story of "The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu," in which [[Derdriu]] and [[Noisiu]] have an ill-fated love affair that provides rich tradition, allusion, and symbolism for later writers.
Other stories from the Ulster cycle known as the [[Fenian or Ossianic Cycle]] about the heroes Finn, [[Cúchulainn]] and [[Ossian]] also carried through time as oral tales and legends and were later represented in stories by Lady Gregory and notably in W.B. Yeats's play [[On Baile's Strand]].
<img src="http://dawngieringer.com/images/thetain.jpg">The foretelling of Derdriu: While the men of Ulster were feasting at the house of the storyteller of [[Conchobor]], [[Fedlimid Mac Daill]] whose very pregnant wife was serving the rowdy men. As she squeezes between the men, harried and tired, a scream lets loose from inside her pregnant belly. The men ask, “Where did that hellish noise come from?”
The druid [[Cathbad]] places his hands on Fedlimid's wife's belly and says, "Although the child is pure as a summer's morn, she will bring evil to all who love her. A woman of the utmost beautiful blonde hair and green eyes, one whom be the object of heroes and the envy of high queens."
The warriors in the room want to kill the baby to avoid the prophecy from coming true, but [[Conchobor]] announces that he will keep the child and raise her himself.
Derdriu falls in love with Noisiu in a legend known as [[The Death of the Sons of Iusliu]], which is the source of J.M. Synge's play [[Dierdre of the Sorrows]].
Noisiu is the man of whom Derdriu had dreamed, but Conchobor will not allow them to be together. Noisiu and his two brothers Ardan and Ainnie, along with fifty men and fifty women, take Derdriu to the island of Alba where they live for seven years until the jealous [[Conchobor]] finds them. He kills Noisiu and his brothers and brings Derdriu back to Ulster with him and makes her his wife. For a year she laments and has nothing to do with him, and he finally asks her whom she hates most, and she answers Éogan, because he is the man who killed Noisiu. The vengeful Conchobor plans to give Derdriu to Éogan, but along the way she plunges her head against a rock and kills herself. Thus is the reason we might call her [[Dierdre of the Sorrows]].
<img src="http://dawngieringer.com/images/Deirdre.jpg">Double-click this passage to edit it.Conchobor, (also spelled Conchubur or Concobar in some contexts) was King Conchobor mac Nessa, who ruled the Ulaid, or the Ulster region of Ireland in the first century when these stories were set. The Ulster cycle, or the Red Branch Cycle, is one of four of Irish "cycles"
We see Conchobor in untold numbers of tales. In "The Death of the Sons of Usliu, in which [[Derdriu]] fulfills the prophecy foretold by [[Cathbad]] before her birth, Conchobor takes the baby Derdriu and raises her, but as she grows and becomes more beautiful, he "is smitten and can hardly wait to take her to his bed."Fedlimid and his wife's role ends here. An ironic aspect of Irish stories and legends is that one never knows if a character or persona will continue or not. Sometimes they end up in odd places in stories with which they have had no previous relationship, but that is the joy of Irish literature.
Remember, too, that most of these tales were revived from an oral storytelling tradition. The stories were told in taverns and homes and changed over time--anomolies and inconsistencies should be expected and should not throw the reader. Just enjoy-- return to [[Derdriu]], [[Noisiu]], [[Conchobor]], or [[ Táin-Bó-Cúailnge]].Cathbad is the chief druid of King Conchobr mac Nessa who foretold the fate of any man who loved [[Derdriu]] and was always close at hand to [[Conchobor]].
Cathbad, as other characters of the Ulster cycle, appears in different tales in odd contexts. The Ulster cycle is one of the mythic "cycles" of Irish literature, also known as the Red Branch Cycle set in Ulster. King [[Conchobor]] plays a major role in all the legends of the Ulster cycle and is not always a good king. In the play [[On Baile's Strand]], he drives [[Cúchulainn]] to madness.
This play is part of the Celtic Revial and plays performed in [[The Abbey Theatre]] in the early twentieth century by Lady Greogry, J.M. Synge and W.B. Yeats, such as Yeats's play [[On Baile's Strand]]
Written by J.M. Synge, the play pulls directly from the The Sons of Uislu and the legend of [[Derdriu]] and [[Noisiu]]. This play adds dramatic effect and detail to the original legend while remaining true to the original story. The plays produced and presented at the Abbey theatre served to revive the Nationalistic spirit of the Irish people by bolstering their sense of pride in their rich cultural history.
<img src="http://dawngieringer.com/images/synge.jpg">Cúchulainn was one of the most famous and still most popular heroes from the Ulster cycle of myths and legends. Much of his life is told in the various tales that comprise the Táin-Bó-Cúailnge, from the strange way his mother conceived him, to his exploits as a young man, to his super-human power and skills in combat.
In one particularly poignant and grievous tale, Cúchulainn kills his son Connla. This tale is restored to life in Yeats's play [[On Baile's Strand]]
<img src="http://dawngieringer.com/images/Cuchulainn.jpg">[[Yeats]] dramatizes Cuchullain's killing of his son in his play On Baile's Strand. In it, he rants against [[Conchobor]] for putting him in such a position that he did not know what he was doing. When he becomes aware, he goes mad and runs into the waves of the ocean, slashing at them as if they are men. These are the final lines of the play:
He was my son, and I have killed my son.
’Twas they that did it, the pale windy people,
Where, where, where? My sword against the thunder.
But no, for they have always been my friends;
And though they love to blow a smoking coal
Till it’s all flame, the wars they blow aflame
Are full of glory, and heart uplifting pride,
And not like this; the wars they love awaken
Old fingers and the sleepy strings of harps.
Who did it then? Are you afraid; speak out,
For I have put you under my protection
And will reward you well. Dubthach the Chafer.
He had an old grudge. No, for he is with Maeve.
Laegaire did it. Why do you not speak?
What is this house? [A pause.] Now I remember all.
He will kill us. O, I am afraid!
[Who is before Concobar’s chair.]
’Twas you who did it, you who sat up there
With that old branch of silver, like a magpie
Nursing a stolen spoon. Magpie, magpie,
A maggot that is eating up the earth!
[Begins hacking at the chair with his sword.
No, but a magpie, for he’s flown away.
Where did he fly to?
He is outside the door.
Outside the door?
He is under Baile’s yew-tree.
Concobar, Concobar, the sword into your heart.
[He goes out. A pause. The fool goes to the great door at back and looks out after him.
He is going up to King Concobar; they are all under the tree. No, no, he is standing still. There is a great wave going to break and he is looking at it. Ah! now he is running down to the sea, but he is holding up his sword as if he were going into a fight. [A pause.] Well struck, well struck!
What is he doing now?
Oh! he is fighting the waves.
He sees King Concobar’s crown on every one of them.
There, he has struck at a big one. He has struck the crown off it, he has made the foam fly. There again another big one.
Where are the Kings? What are the Kings doing?
They are shouting and running down to the shore, and the people are running out of the houses, they are all running.
You say they are running out of the houses, there will be nobody left in the houses. Listen, fool.
There, he is down! He is up again! He is going out into the deep water.
Come here, fool; come here, I say.
[Coming towards him but looking backward towards the door.] What is it?
There will be nobody in the houses. Come this way, come quickly; the ovens will be full; we will put our hands into the ovens.
Text from Yeat's play On Baile's Strand, accessed from Project Guttenberg. This is a work in progress. Go back to [[ Táin-Bó-Cúailnge]]Ossian is a hero from the Fenian branch of the [[Ulster Cycle]]. Much controversy exists about his origins, with James MacPherson, a Scottish author, claiming him for Scotland. In her national tale The Wild Irish Girl, Sydney Morenson's protagonist rails against Mac Pherson.
The Irish claim him for their own, and [[Lady Gregory]]'s book Gods and Fighting Men includes extensive stories of Ossian. A clip from Yeats's preface indicates the importance of this hero to their culture:
When I asked the little boy who had shown me the pathway up the Hill of Allen if he knew stories of Finn and Oisin, he said he did not, but that he had often heard his grandfather telling them to his mother in Irish. He did not know Irish, but he was learning it at school, and all the little boys he knew were learning it. In a little while he will know enough stories of Finn and Oisin to tell them to his children some day. It is the owners of the land whose children might never have known what would give them so much happiness. But now they can read this book to their children, and it will make Slieve-na-man, Allen, and Benbulben, the great mountain that showed itself before me every day through all my childhood and was yet unpeopled, and half the country-sides of south and west, as populous with memories as are Dundealgan and Emain Macha and Muirthemne; and after a while somebody may even take them to some famous place and say, "This land where your fathers lived proudly and finely should be dear and dear and again dear"; and perhaps when many names have grown musical to their ears, a more imaginative love will have taught them a better service.
<img src="http://dawngieringer.com/images/ossian.jpg">Despite Conchobor's attempts to keep Derdriu from her prophesied fate, we all know from reading tragedies like Oedipus Rex that trying to avoid one's fate does not pay!
One day Derdriu watches as Conchobor skins a calf in the snow and she told her nurse that she would marry a man with hair like the raven drinking the blood of the cow, lips as red as the blood, and skin as white as the snow.
Soon thereafter, Derdriu sees [[Noisiu]], who fits the desciprtion (this color combination and symbolism seems to be a recurring theme in myth and legend, does it not?): he is handsome, a strong warrior, hunter and singer.
They fall in love and Noisiu and his two brothers flee with Derdriu to the island of Alba, where they live for seven years. We know Yeats as the premier Irish poet, but we don't often think of him as a playwright. Yeats was instrumental in what we now call the Irish, or Celtic, Revival. He, [[Lady Gregory]] and H.M. Synge implemented folk and fairy tales as well as ancient myth and legend as the basis for many plays which they presented at [[The Abbey Theatre]]. Yeats's [[On Baile's Strand]] is an excellent example of Yeats using the hero Cuchulainn to warm the hearts and passions of the Irish and imbue them with pride in their culture.
<img src="http://dawngieringer.com/images/yeats.jpg">Where Yeats and Synge's plays [[On Baile's Strand]] and [[Dierdre of the Sorrows]] were presented in the early twentieth century.
The Abbey Theatre
<img src="http://dawngieringer.com/images/theabbeytheatre.jpg">Gods and Fighting Men is a book by Lady Gregory in which the legends of the Fenians and [[Ossian]], in particular, are chronicled. [[Ossian]]'s dying words:
It is long the clouds are over me to-night! it is long last night was; although this day is long, yesterday was longer again to me; every day that comes is long to me!
That is not the way I used to be, without fighting, without battles, without learning feats, without young girls, without music, without harps, without bruising bones, without great deeds; without increase of learning, without generosity, without drinking at feasts, without courting, without hunting, the two trades I was used to; without going out to battle, Ochone! the want of them is sorrowful to me.
No hunting of deer or stag, it is not like that I would wish to be; no leashes for our hounds, no hounds; it is long the clouds are over me to-night!
Without rising up to do bravery as we were used, without playing as we had a mind; without swimming of our fighting men in the lake; it is long the clouds are over me to-night!
There is no one at all in the world the way I am; it is a pity the way I am; an old man dragging stones; it is long the clouds are over me to-night!
I am the last of the Fianna, great Oisin, son of Finn, listening to the voice of bells; it is long the clouds are over me to-night!
<img src="http://dawngieringer.com/images/ossian2.jpg">This production by Dawn Gieringer provides an overview of how one set of Irish Myths and Legends, the [[ Táin-Bó-Cúailnge]] from the Ulster cycle of Irish myths, is the root of a rich set of characters, settings and a strong cultural ideology that the playwrights of the Celtic Revival, W.B. Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, and H.M. Synge use not in an allusive way, but in a direct way that informs the main plot, characters and themes in their plays.