The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne – a retelling

Everybody knows what a great warrior king Fionn MacCumhaill was and if they don’t they should find out but not from me today they won’t!

I’m going to tell you how like many a man he got a bit cantankerous and stubborn as he aged and being a King, for perhaps too long, his pride caused heartache and mayhem to all and to two young lovers in particular. No one should remain in power too long, if you remember nothing from this story, remember that. 

The story goes that old Fionn lost his wife Maigneis and the grief he had was so great that his aging band of Fianna thought they better do something about it and rather than listening to him or telling him to cry and let it all out these old men came up with the bright idea of replacing the love of his life with a young girl called Gráinne.

Of course that wasn’t going to end well he being ancient and she being young but that was their solution.  

Gráinne was the daughter of High King Cormac mac Airt and a worthy match in all the men’s eyes but not in Gráinne’s.

At their betrothal feast which went on for days and nights as was the custom Gráinne noticed the handsome warrior Diarmuid whose “lovespot” in the middle of his forehead made him irresistible to all.

Gráinne was trained in the art of magic and potions so when she got the chance she slipped a sleeping potion in the drinks of all but Diarmuid and tried to get him to run away with her.

Now Diarmaid was a loyal warrior of the Fianna and loved Fionn so he refused at first but she was oh so beautiful and a little bit scary, she threatened him with a geis (a curse) which all at that time were wary of and so he went and they hid in a forest across the River Shannon.

When the men all woke up with a pain in their heads and a grumpiness no one could endure Fionn noticed the pair were missing and he immediately made everyone get up and out and pursue the runaways all over Ireland.

We know they went all over because there are many a Dolmen on this fair land named Leaba Diarmaid agus Gráinne (the bed of Diarmaid and Gráinne).

Indeed there is one over the road in Aughnacliffe, Co. Longford, near Leebeen Lough, a mighty fine one you should visit it. Some say it’s a portal to the Otherworld

There is a rock now called “Granny’s Rock” out the Tromra Road 500 metres from Knights and Conquest Heritage Centre, Granard town, that is another Leaba Diarmaid agus Gráinne.

So, Diarmaid and Gráinne moved around Ireland with Fionn following. They were helped by many because all knew Fionn would not be kind if he found them and everyone loved Diarmaid, must be the spot in the middle of the forehead.

Even some of the Fianna helped and also Aengus Óg, who we met in an earlier tale (Midir and Etain). Aengus Óg wasn’t too Óg at this stage but a name sticks. He had been Diarmuid’s foster father, and loved the lad and being the God of Love, loved Gráinne too. 

Aengus hid Gráinne in his cloak of invisibility while Diarmuid lept over the pursuers’ heads so they say.

At first Diarmuid refused to be with Gráinne out of respect for Fionn and kept telling her he would be taking her back to marry Fionn and she teased him for that but he eventually  fell in love with her and they were together a long long time hiding on Fionn, they even crossed over to Scotland a while.

After a time Gráinne found out she was having a child and had a craving for rowan berries from the magic Rowan tree guarded by the one eyed giant Searbhán;  Searbhán was friendly at first but he got angry and refused to give up the berries so Diarmuid fought him. Searbhán’s magic protected him from Diarmuid’s weapons, but Diarmuid eventually won by turning the giant’s own iron club against him.

After many other adventures, Diarmuid’s foster father Aengus negotiated peace with Fionn and the lovers settled in Keshcorran, County Sligo where they had five children. Fionn married Gráinne’s sister and all was forgiven. I’m not sure how the sister felt as no one tells her story and what happened next makes you wonder did Fionn really ever forgive.

One day Fionn organised a boar hunt near Benbulbin and Diarmuid joined in even though when he was a little boy a geis was put on him that he would be killed by a boar. He may have been lovely but he was certainly foolish.

The boar wounded him fatally and the only one who could heal him was Fionn. Fionn had the power to heal by letting the dying man drink water from his hands, but he let the water slip through his fingers twice. Oscar, Fionn’s grandson threatened Fionn so he went to the well again but when he returned it was too late, poor Diarmuid was dead.

There are different stories about Gráinne after Diarmaid has died, we like to think Aengus took Diarmuid’s body to his home at Brú na Bóinne and while some say Gráinne grieved until she died, others say that she made her children swear revenge on Fionn and a more peaceful end says she married Fionn eventually and there was peace between the clans.

AGS 2018

I couldn’t decide on Diarmaid or Diarmuid so you must put up with both.

Shes of the Sidhe

(Image is a still from animation by Mary Smyth commissioned by Longford Tourism https://vimeo.com/296777722)

I had been warned not to look into his eyes, that his magic clouds your mind. He makes you think you want to do what he wants you to do. Thousands of hungry, tired men willingly cut down a forest to build a futile road in a bog for a forfeit. Many died. His magic is strong. He mithered them for his pride as he mithered me.

I knew that he wanted me. I met my love when he was buying me for him. We loved each other on first sight but it was not to be. My love is loyal to him. My love helped another pair who followed in our footsteps many moons on from when we met. Their deeds were recorded though ours were missed. Our secret remained a secret until now.

I was taking a chance, being out there, washing my hair. I foolishly thought I was safe. My maidens were with me.  I knew it was him. I felt his dark presence. He frightened yet excited me. I closed my eyes and bowed my head, determined to remain safe from his stare. He lifted me gently, yet forcefully. “Open your eyes and look at me” he commanded. I resisted as much as I was able, for as long as I could but on hearing my maidens scurrying away like rabbits, I lost control of my thoughts,”Don’t leave me” I cried as I opened my eyes and looked deep into the pools of enchantment before me.

I found myself going with him, mounting his horse, wrapping my arms around his broad chest, leaning my head on his back, my love a dream in my mind, fading.

When we arrived at his palace she cried out.”What have you done? She is just a child!” She grabbed me and held me, whispering in my ear. I held her tight and wept for my mother. “You have to stop, you can’t just take what you want, own it all, possess everything.” She shouted at him. Her power amazed me. The strength in her arms, in her voice. He looked at her sadly and left us a while. “You’ll bring death to us all yet.” she whispered.

History has not been kind to her. It very rarely is to strong powerful women that frighten men. Men who write history for men. That is why you don’t know the truth, my truth and hers. You know men’s truth. Her truth is that she was a loving mother and a strong clever woman. Her truth is that she mothered me and set me free. I wanted to go and she knew this.

I grew to love her. She showed me her magic. She commanded the wind. She transformed life. She told me how she never had a choice and was his from birth. She bore a child and another and loved them so dearly she never could leave. She was strong for her children and wise beyond years. Her knowledge was deep. She learned to love and understand her Proud King in time. “He does not mean to harm” she said. ” He sees love and joy and wants to possess it. He is kind, he loves his children, he loves me, he loves his people, he loves his fosterson as his own. Pride is the cross he carries that will hurt us all”

I jumped at her mentioning his fosterson. Should I reveal it? Does she already know? I told her all. She cried out when she heard. “Oh no this cannot be, he will kill him, he will kill you. No!”. But I cried and I wept in my pain so she vowed to help me. She selflessly made him think she got rid of me and not that I ran away. She warned me to never let the truth be known. “He will not let it be seen that your heart is with another.” She transformed me and sent me on the winds to my love who knew me at once for our connection is strong. That time in heaven was blissful. Our love was deep and we entwined our bodies, our souls and our minds. My Aenghus cared for me by day and I loved him by night. My life, My God of Love. 

He never stopped searching for me. He never let anything leave him. He very nearly had me again when he bewitched me with his ways, drawing me away from my love, compromising my truth, playing to my caring nature and my fascination with his power. She came and saved me again. We knew we couldn’t reveal the truth of my love and I, that it was not to be for now or maybe ever more. She sent me off on the wind again to get away. My turmoil from within kept me afloat longer than intended. I must have absorbed some of her magic in the spell. When finally I rested I found myself fall. The darkness came, the end arrived, or so I thought. 

I’m really not sure how long I slept. I woke because the Proud King came. I found myself sitting beside a mortal man. I was confused. I dreamt of my past life, I saw my love, my fear and her in my dreams by night. By day I walked with this mortal king, a handsome man. He seemed to love me in  the way the Proud King did, as his possession and not the way my God of Love had loved. I played my part, not recognising these mortals who spoke as if they knew me all my life. The woman I called Mother, the man Father, this King to whom I was married. I recognised none of them. I only recognised him, the Proud King who wanted to possess me again. I went with him because I knew him. We were of a kind. My training from his wife stayed with me and I transformed us into swans. We flew away and back to the only home I remembered. 

He had changed while I was gone and so had I. I wept to find she had passed to the other side in a most horrific way. I wept because my Aenghus, my God of Love had loved another after I had gone, but so had I though I didn’t recall a moment. The Proud King knew, he said he always knew. He loved them all but his want for me was greater so he sacrificed them all. He was tormented by this need and his guilt. He quickly found I was with child and vowed to treat her as his own. He was a good father I grant him that. I grew to love him. We lived in peace for a while.

It seems that all men have this fault, be they mortal or immortal. My mortal husband Eochaidh’s pride was hurt and so he came to bring devastation to us all. He reduced our mighty mountain to a little hill and took his daughter and mine as his own. Men have injured for their pride amd deep hunger from the dawn of time and will be the destruction of Mother Earth in the end unless we rise again oh Shes of Sidhe!

AGS 2015

Story written for Midir and Etain Anthology, 2015. Digital versions still available here: https://www.creativeardaghcraftshop.com/shop/p/midirandetaindigital