Conaire Mór

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[cf. , hound, i.e. warrior].

Legendary high king of early Ireland, the leading figure of the story Togail Bruidne Da Derga [The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel]. Conaire's birth was highly unusual. His mother is normally thought to have been Mes Buachalla, the abandoned stepdaughter of Étaín Óg, who was fostered by a poor cowherd. Her beauty does not go unnoticed, and she is visited by a divine figure, who gets her with child. Mes Buachalla is betrothed to Eterscél, because it has been prophesied that a woman whose family is unknown to him will bear him a child; Conaire therefore sometimes bears the patronymic mac Eterscéle. An alternate version, found in Tochmarc Étaíne [The Wooing of Étaín] has Eochaid Airem impregnate his daughter in unknowing incest; the child of that union is described as mating with Eterscél to produce Conaire.

Regardless of his parentage, Conaire is fostered by Donn Désa, whose own sons, Fer Lé, Fer Gair, and Fer Rogain, become dangerous marauders. When Eterscél dies, a bull feast is held which determines that Conaire will be the next king. On his way to accept the kingship, Conaire is visited by a man in bird form who gives his name as Nemglan and describes himself as ‘king of Conaire's father's bird troop’. Nemglan warns Conaire of a series of ‘observances’ [Ir. airmitiu], chief among them that he should give birds a privileged place because he is of their kind, and also that he should not pass Tara on his right hand nor Brega on his left (i.e. not make a right-hand or sunwise turn around Tara). But before he is the guest at Da Derga's Hostel, Conaire has broken all the observances. Marauders including his foster-brothers invade the house and decapitate him. At the end of the story his severed head thanks Mac Cécht (2) for slaking his thirst. Apart from the story, the Gaelic-speaking settlers in Dál Riada claimed to be the ‘seed of Conaire Mór’.

Subjects: Religion.

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