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1 Beautiful heroine of Tochmarc Étaíne[The Wooing of Étaín], wife of Eochaid Airem, and lover of Midir, whose name is widely cited in Irish literature. Although her sometime epithet Echraide[horse-rider] suggests hippomorphic links with the Welsh Rhiannon and possibly Epona of the Continental Celts, she may have been originally a sun-goddess, as T. F. O'Rahilly asserted (1946). Étaín's divinity persists in Tochmarc Étaíne even though the story has her reborn as the daughter of the Ulster king Étar (1). Her identity is partially confused when Midir creates fifty women who look like her. When Eochaid Airem chooses one of these to replace his lost wife, she is revealed to be a daughter of the true Étaín from a previously unannounced pregnancy; Eochaid refuses to see this unnamed, incestuously begotten daughter, but according to Tochmarc Étaíne she mates with Eterscél.

In Togail Bruidne Da Derga[The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel] Étaín is portrayed somewhat differently. Here she is the divine daughter of Étar (1), who has saved herself to be the lover of Eochaid Feidlech, a brother of Eochaid Airem, bearing him a daughter, Étaín Óg. This second Étaín marries Cormac of Ulster, who has a daughter from a previous marriage, Mes Buachalla. In this version Mes Buachalla, not Étaín's offspring or double, marries Eterscél. In still other versions, Étaín and Eochaid Airem produce a daughter named Ésa, whose daughter is Mes Buachalla. In genealogical tracts Étaín (1) is described as becoming the wife of the mortal king Cormac Connloinges. Étaín's servant Cruacha gave her name to Cruachain, fortress home of Queen Medb, who T. F. O'Rahilly asserts may have been a double for Étaín.

Throughout early Irish literature, Étaín's allure was proverbial, as one of Eochaid Airem's retainers explained: ‘Every lovely form must be tested by Étaín, every beauty by the standard of Étaín.’ Her name became known in English through the poetry of W. B. Yeats and the play by Fiona Macleod[pseud. of William Sharp], The Immortal Hour (published 1907), later the basis for Rutland Boughton's opera (1914) of the same title. See also Sir Samuel Ferguson, ‘Aideen's Grave’ (1865); E. H. Moore, The Story of Etain and Otinel (London, 1905); James H. Cousins, Etain the Beloved and Other Poems (Dublin, 1912); Moireen Fox [pseud. of Móirín a Cheavasa], Midhir and Etain (Dublin, 1920); Micheál Mac Liammóir, Where Stars Walk (1940, 1962).

2 2, Achtan. The mother of Cormac mac Airt in unusual circumstance. Art, son of Conn, is travelling to the Battle of Mag Mucrama (Co. Galway) when he rests for the night in the house of the smith Olc Acha. The smith tells Art of the prophecy that great honour will follow if Art were to sleep with Olc Acha's daughter, Étaín. Anticipating that he will die the next day in battle, Art tells Étaín that if she conceives a child she should take it to be fostered by Art's friend Lugna in Connacht. She does become pregnant and so sets out for Lugna's stronghold, but falls into her labour pains along the Connacht borders, delivering the child in brushwood during a thunder-storm. A she-wolf takes the child away to its lair, and Étaín goes on to seek protection from Lugna. Later one of Lugna's retainers finds the child crawling on all fours and names him Cormac mac Airt.


Subjects: Religion.

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