Gemma Grant continues her series on Irish Myths & Legends


Deirdre looked back with a heavy heart at the Scottish isle disappearing into the distance. It had offered a safe distance between them and the wrath of King Conor Mac Neasa of Ulster, Deirdre’s intended. She knew Conor meant them harm and his promises to forgive Naisi for marrying Deirdre would come to nothing.

Deirdre’s sorrows began before she was born, when King Conor’s druid, Catha, predicted her future. While banqueting at the home of Conor’s chief harper and storyteller Felimid, Catha foretold that Felimid’s wife would give birth to a girl whose unsurpassed beauty would split the ranks of the Red Branch Knights and plunge Ulster into bloodshed.

On hearing this, the knights wanted the child killed but Conor intervened by deciding to marry her when she came of age, thereby avoiding war. Catha warned the king that the child would be known as ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’, as she would bring sorrow to all who wanted her.

Conor ordered that the child, when weaned, be placed with her nurse and tutor Leabharcham, in a remote location where none but himself would be able to look upon her. Deirdre left with Leabharcham for a remote location where she grew to womanhood.

One day an old hunter, permitted to provide them with food, killed an animal. When Deirdre saw the animal’s blood on the snow and a raven fly down to peck at the blood, she went into a trance. She informed her nurse that she had just seen the man she would marry.

His hair, she said, would be as black as the raven, his skin as white as snow and his cheeks rosy as blood. The old nurse grew alarmed for Deirdre’s intended, King Conor, was fair haired, but there was one in the kingdom who fitted that description. Sensing that her nurse knew such a man, Deirdre pressed her for his name.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own