A man and his wife wanted a child, so they gave offerings to
the fertility goddesses but without much hope.
An old man who saw more than they did came to them one day and told
them that they would have a daughter but that she will be the cause of much bloodshed,
three heroes would lose their heads because of her.
At the end of the year a daughter was born to this couple. The father
took her and a childless woman three days out of the village where he built them a bothie
that was so well camouflaged that it barely be seen. The father named his daughter Deirdre
For sixteen years Deirdre lived here, learning about the plants and the
animals from her foster-mother. She grew into the fairest maiden in the fairest maiden in
the land untouched by greed or lust.
In the winter she heard the horns of the kings hunting and the fear of
the deer they chased. And one night a storm separated a hunter from his dogs and his
companions. He found shelter beside what he thought was a green mound and drifted off to
In his sleep he dreamt about fairies dancing inside the mound so he
cried out, "Let me in before I die from cold!"
Deidre heard his voice above the storm and against her foster-mother's
wishes she let him in and fed him.
But he began to speak of the men that he knew would want Deirdre for a
wife and remembering her promise to Deirdre's father her keeper made him swear not to tell
of Deirdre and made him leave.
But the first thing he did was to go to King Conchobar of Ulster to
tell him of the fairest maiden in Ireland.
On a May morning the hunter led the king and his men to the bothie, but
he refused to enter it or to go near it for fear of the old woman.
The king knocked on the door and it took a command from him, the king,
to open it. Once inside he realised that he had a great love for Deirdre and took her and
her foster mother and returned to his court.
There he asked Deirdre for her hand in marriage but her heart was not
his so she asked for a year and a day to decide. He granted her the year and a day but
only if she agreed to marry him after that time.
So he surrounded her with noble girls and had her educated.
One day when Deirdre was sitting outside on a hillock she spied three
men approaching Conchobar's castle. From the descriptions that the hunter had given her
she knew these men to be the sons of Uisnech and cousins of Conchobar. She realised that
her heart belonged to Naois, the tallest of the three and so she chased after them.
Hampered by her courtly skirts she cried out for them to wait for her.
When she reached them she placed three kisses on Naois' forehead and one each for his
brothers, Allen and Arden. And Naois realised that he loved her as much as she did him.
Naois knew that this love he and Deirdre felt for one another would
cause strife between himself and his cousin he took Deirdre to Alba (Scotland).
The year and a day began to approach and Conchobar planned a feast to
celebrate his wedding to Deirdre. But as the time drew closer and Deirdre didn't return he
knew that she wasn't coming back, so he sent a messenger to Naois' home to invite him to
the celebration, with the added note that if Naois refused the invitation Conchobar would
never sleep again.
So Naois had to agree. Deirdre knew what was potting and tried to
dissuade Naois from going by telling him of a dream she had in which three white doves
left carrying honey and then three grey hawks returned carrying bloody torques (necklaces
worn by warriors). But Naois had given his word and he and his brothers had to go.
The messenger was unaware of Conchobar's grudge and so he swore to
protect the lives of Naois and his brothers with his and his three sons lives if
When they arrived in Ireland, Conchobar had them stay in a house
reserved for important guests. Then he sent the Prince of Lochlin to see if Deirdre was
still the fairest maiden. If not then Naois could keep her but she was still the fairest
then Conchobar would fight to get her back.
The prince went to the house and looked at Deirdre through the lock in
the door. He lost an eye for his troubles but he reported to Conchobar that she was still
Conchobar sent three hundred men to take Deirdre from Naois but the
three sons of the messenger defeated them all and nothing Conchobar could do could
persuade them to join his army.
They refused because they reasoned that if Conchobar could turn on his
cousins he could just as easily turn on them as well.
They returned to their father in Alba to tell him that they had
performed their duty.
And Naois and his brothers decided that it was time to return to Alba
as well. Conchobar heard that they were on the road and sent his head druid, Duanan
Gacha, to stop them.
Duanan placed a seemingly impenetrable forest before them, but the
brothers were used to hunting in the forest and Naois led Deirdre through it.
A green meadow turned into a lake but the brothers swan through with
Deirdre on Naois' shoulders.
Then the druid changed the lake into rocks with adder poison on their
edges. Arden died first, followed by Allen. Seeing this Naois no longer cared whether he
lived or died and then died himself.
The druid transported them and Deirdre to a plain outside of Ulster.
There lay the three heroes side by side with Deirdre bent over Naois. Through her tears
she swore not to live without him.
The three heroes were buried side by side and as Deirdre sang her elegy
she died and she too fell into the grave. But the king had her body buried on the other
side of the loch.
During the night two mountain firs grew, one from her grave and one
from Naois'. Their branches grew together and twined in a lovers knot.
Time and again the king destroyed the trees and every time they grew
back together again.