The Destruction of of Dá Derga’s Hostel

da-dergas-hostelHere is the first part of a modern English adaptation of one of the classic mythological folk tales of ancient Ireland. Hope you enjoy it.

Once upon a time, a famous and noble king of Ireland named Eochaid Feidlech came over the fair green of Bri Leith. At the edge of a well, he saw a woman with a bright comb of silver adorned with gold, washing in a silver basin engraved with four golden birds and with little, bright gems of purple carbuncle on its rim.

She had a mantle of curly fur, died purple with silver fringes, a beautiful cloak, and a brooch of the fairest gold. Under it, she wore a long, hooded gown, hard and smooth, of green silk, embroidered with red gold. There were marvelous clasps of gold and silver on her breasts and her shoulders. The sun shone upon her, manifesting the glistening of the gold in the sun against the green silk. Her hair was plaited into two golden yellow tresses. Each was a plait of four locks, with a bead at the point of each lock. The colour of her hair was like an iris in summer, or like red gold that has been burnished.

She was undoing her hair to wash it, with her arms out through the sleeve holes of her smock. Her hands were as white as freshly fallen snow, soft and even, and her clear, beautiful cheeks were red as foxgloves. Her eyebrows were as dark as the back of a stag beetle. Her teeth were a shower of pearls beneath the blue hyacinth of her eyes. Her lips were red as rowan berries.

She had high, smooth, soft, white shoulders and clear white, long fingers on long hands. Her sides were as white as the foam on a wave, slender, long, tender, smooth, and soft as wool. Her thighs were polished, warm, sleek, and white, her knees, round, small, and white the two knees. Her shins were short, white and straight the two shins, and her heels straight and beautiful. If her feet were measured, they would hardly be found unequal.

The bright radiance of the moon was in her noble face, lofty pride in her smooth eyebrows, and the light of romance in her regal eyes. Dimples of delight sat on each of her cheeks, which were a dappling with freckles the red colour of calf’s blood against skin with the bright luster of snow. Soft womanly dignity could be heard in her voice. She had steady, slow step and a queenly gait.

To King Eochaid, she was the dearest, loveliest, and justest maiden that his eyes had ever beheld. It seemed to him that she must from the elf mounds. A longing for her seized the king. He sent forward one of his man to detain her as he came forward..

“Do you have an hour to spend with me?” the king asked her after announcing himself.

“‘It’s for that that I have come here under you safeguard,” she said.

“My I ask who you are and where you come from?” asked Eochaid.

“Easy to say,” she said. “I am Etáin, daughter of Etar, king of the cavalcade of the elf mounds. I have lived here for twenty years. I was born in an elf mound. The men of the elf mound, both kings and nobles, have been wooing me. None of the got a thing from me, because ever since I was able to speak, I have loved you and given you a child’s love for the high tales of you and your splendour. And though I had never seen you, I knew you at once from your description. It is you, then, that I have reached.”

“No ‘seeking of an ill friend afar’ shall be yours,” said Eochaid. “You shall be welcomed, and for you, I will leave every other woman and will live with you alone so long as you have honour. For dear are all, until compared with Etáin.”

“Give my proper bride price to me!” she said, “and afterwards your desire.”

“You will have both,” said Eochaid.

Twenty-one cows were given to her, and they were married.

* * *

When king Eochaid Feidlech died, he left one daughter, named, like her mother, Etáin. The daughter was wedded to Cormac, king of Ulster. She was barren, so her mother‒the woman from the elfmounds‒gave her a soup that she had made.

“What you have given me is bad,” she said to her mother. “I will bear a daughter.”

“That will not be good,” said her mother, “a king’s pursuit will be on her.”

She remained childless, but for the one daughter that she had borne to Cormac. So, after a time, Cormac, king of Ulster, “the man of the three gifts,” forsook Eochaid’s daughter. At length, Cormac remarried his wife Etáin, but he wanted their daughter to be killed. Cormac would not leave the girl to her mother to be nursed.

He had two of his thralls take her to a pit. She smiled a laughing smile at them as they were putting her into it, and their kindly natures came to them. They carried her into the calf shed of the cowherds of Etirscél, great grandson of Iar, king of Tara. The cowherds fostered her until she became a good embroideress. In all Ireland, no king’s daughter dearer than she. The thralls made a fenced house of wickerwork for her without any door, only a window and a skylight.

King Etercél’s folk saw the house and supposed that the cowherds kept food there. But one day, one of them went and looked through the skylight, and he saw the dearest, most beautiful maiden in the house! He told this to the king, who straightway sent his people to break in to the house and carry her off without asking the cowherds. The king was childless, and it had been prophesied to him by his wizards that a woman of unknown race would bear him a son.

“This is the woman that has been prophesied to me!” said the king.

The next morning she saw a Bird coming in through the skylight to her, and he left his bird skin on the floor of the house, and went to her, and possessed her.

“They are coming to you from the king to wreck your house and to bring you to him by force,” he said. “You will be pregnant by me, and bear a son. That son must not kill birds. You must call him ‘Conaire, son of Mess Buachalla’, the Cowherds’ foster child.”

The kings men arrived and brought to the king along with her fosterers. She was betrothed to the king, and he gave her twenty-one cows and another twenty-one to her fosterers. They were made chieftains, so that they all became legitimate, and from them descended the two Fedlimthi Rechtaidi.

She bore a son to the king, and named him Conaire, son of Mess Buachalla. She made an urgent prayer to the king. She asked that her son be nursed in three households, that of the fosterers who had nurtured her, that of the two honey tongued Mainès, and hers herself. She said that any of the men of Ireland who should wish to do anything for this boy should give to those three households for the boy’s protection.

He was reared in that way, and the men of Erin knew the boy on the day he was born. Other boys were fostered with him, Fer Le, Fer Gar, and Fer Rogein, the three great-grandsons of Donn Désa the champion, a warrior in the army of Muc-lesi.

Conaire possessed three gifts, the gift of keen hearing, the gift of sharp eyesight, and the gift of good judgment. He taught one of the gifts to each of his three foster-brothers. Whatever meal was prepared for him, the four of them would eat. Even though three meals were prepared for them, all of them would eat his meal. The four had the same clothes and armour, and the same colour of horses.

Then the day came when king Eterscéle, died. A bull feast was gathered by the men of Ireland in order to determine their future king. A bull was slaughtered by them and one man ate his fill of its meat and drink its broth. A spell of truth was chanted over him in his bed. Whosoever he would see in his sleep would be king, and the sleeper would perish if he uttered a falsehood. The bull-feaster, and in his sleep, near the end of the night, he saw a stark naked man walking along the road to Tara with a stone in his sling.

Four men in chariots were on the Plain of Liffey playing a game, Conaire himself and his three foster-brothers. His fosterers came to him to tell him to go to the bull feast.

“I will follow after you in the morning,” he said.

He left his foster-brothers at their game, turned his chariot, and drove until he reached Dublin. There he saw great, white speckled birds of unusual size, colour, and beauty. He pursued them until his horses were tired. The birds stayed a spear cast in front of him, but would not go any further. He dismounted, and took his sling out of the chariot to cast at them. He followed them until he reached the sea. The birds settled themselves in the waves. He swam out to them and overcame them. Then the birds quit their bird skins, and turned upon him with spears and swords, but one of them protected him.

“I am Némglan, king of your father’s birds,” said his protector. “You have been forbidden to cast at birds, for there is no one here that should not be dear to you because of his father or mother.”

“Until today,” said Conaire, “I didn’t know this.”

“Go to Tara tonight,” said Némglan, “It will be best for you. A bull feast is being held there, and through it you will be king. But before you go, know that your reign will be subject to restrictions, but the bird reign will be noble. These shall be your your taboos: First, you will not go clockwise around Tara or counterclockwise around Bregia. Second, the evil beasts of Cerna must not be hunted by you. Third, you will not go out every ninth night beyond Tara. Fourth, you will not sleep in a house from which firelight can be seen outside after sunset, or in which light is can be seen from without. Fifth, three Reds shall not go before you to Red’s house. Sixth, no pillaging shall be done in your reign. Seventh, after sunset neither a single woman nor a single man shall enter the house which you are in. Eighth, you will not settle the quarrel between two of your thralls. Now you must go. The stark naked man, who arrives at the end of this night along one of the roads of Tara with a stone and a sling, shall be made king.”

So, in this way, Conaire fared forth. On each of the four roads by which men go to Tara, there were three kings awaiting him, and they had clothing for him, since it had been foretold that he would come stark naked. When he was seen on the road that his fosterers had taken, they dressed him in royal clothes him, placed him in a chariot, and he bound them as his pledges.

“It seems to us that our bull feast and our spell of truth are a failure,” the folk of Tara said when he arrived, “if only a young, beardless lad has been envisioned by it.”

“That does not matter,” he said. “For a young, generous king like me to have kingship is no disgrace, since the binding of Tara’s pledges is mine by right of father and grandsire.”

“Excellent! excellent!” said his hosts.

They bestowed the kingship of Ireland upon him.

“I will inquire of wise men that I myself may be wise,” he said.

This story gets crazier after this, with one of the most epic battles in any myth I’m familiar with. Stay tuned…

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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1 Response to The Destruction of of Dá Derga’s Hostel

  1. Ireland recently repealed a Prohibition amendment so women again enforce individual rights to birth control. Just now the Sinn Fein party won an election, thanks largely to the youth vote. Voters who remember girl bullying–but not the terror bombings and arson–are ousting mercantilist conservatives. There’s a moral in there about respecting rights or making enemies.

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