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King of Ireland's Son


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Usual English title of story from modern Irish oral tradition whose Irish title is Mac Rígh Éireann, also known as A Son of a King of Ireland, Mac Rígh i nÉirinn. Distinguished for giving a sustained Celtic instance of the folk motif of the grateful dead (E341); the story also furnishes an unusually high number of other international folk motifs. On a winter's day when the King of Ireland's Son shoots a raven, the young man is impressed that there is nothing redder than the raven's blood on the snow or blacker than a raven's feather. The combination of the three colours reminds the King's Son of feminine beauty (folk motif: Z65. 1), and so he resolves to have a wife with hair as black as the raven's, skin as white as snow, and cheeks as red as blood. Learning that such a maiden lives in the east, he sets out to find her. But before he goes any distance, he comes upon the funeral of a man who has been prevented from being buried by unpaid debts. The King of Ireland's Son pays the man's debts, sees to it that he is properly buried, and sets out on his quest.

Soon the King's Son encounters a short green man who volunteers to join him in his search for the beautiful maiden, asking only that he have the first kiss from her when she is found. The King's Son agrees, and soon they are joined by extraordinary companions (motif F601) including: (a) a man with remarkable sight (F642); (b) a man with hearing so exceptional that he can hear grass grow (F641; F641.1); (c) a marvellous runner (F681.1) who keeps one leg tied to restrain himself from going too fast; (d) a powerful blower (F622), who holds one finger to his nose to keep from blowing houses down; (e) a mighty stone-breaker (F625), who can turn any rock to powder. Together these seven are invincible, overcoming all difficulties, conquering all giants, striding across all rivers and other obstacles. They also acquire such useful magical objects as a cap of invisibility.

(a) a man with remarkable sight (F642); (b) a man with hearing so exceptional that he can hear grass grow (F641; F641.1); (c) a marvellous runner (F681.1) who keeps one leg tied to restrain himself from going too fast; (d) a powerful blower (F622), who holds one finger to his nose to keep from blowing houses down; (e) a mighty stone-breaker (F625), who can turn any rock to powder. Together these seven are invincible, overcoming all difficulties, conquering all giants, striding across all rivers and other obstacles. They also acquire such useful magical objects as a cap of invisibility.

The palace of the princess of the eastern world turns out to be forbidding, surrounded with rings of the skulls of disappointed suitors on spikes. The princess, however, is more agreeable, and says she would marry the King of Ireland's Son if he can deliver her from enchantments. She gives him a pair of scissors and asks that he keep them until morning. This seems easy enough until she attempts to put an enchanted sleep pin under his pillow and steal the scissors; fortunately the short green man, with the aid of the magical cap, shoes, and sword, returns the scissors so that the King's Son makes good his promise. The second night the princess asks that the King's Son keep a comb, and again the short green man helps him keep his promise. But on the third night the princess raises the stakes, demanding not only that he return the comb in the morning but also that he should return the head of him who was combed with it, or he will lose his own head. During the night the princess's accomplice, the rígh nimhe [Ir., the king of poison], hides the comb in a rock, securing it further with sixty locks, and sits guard over it himself. Yet once again the short green man saves the King's Son, first by splitting the rock with one stroke and second by severing the head of the rígh nimhe. This turn of events infuriates the princess, and so she imposes yet another contest, that a runner must bring back three bottles of healing balm from the western world and beat the princess's own runner set on the same task, or the King of Ireland's Son will lose his head. The swift runner serving the King's Son gets to the well and is half-way back when he is stopped by the princess's runner, a hag, who tricks him into sleep. Further, she puts his head on a horse's skull, spills out his balm, and leaves him snoring. But the other extraordinary companions come to the rescue. The man who can hear grass grow reports the condition of the King of Ireland's Son's runner, and that the hag is about to return instead. The superior marksman shoots the horse's head from beneath the sleeping runner's head. The remarkable blower takes his finger away from his nose and blows the hag as far back as the western world. Thus freed, the King of Ireland's Son's runner revives from his sleep, runs back to fill his bottles, and arrives back to win the race. Even more tests follow, all satisfied by the extraordinary companions, until at last the princess of the east agrees to marry the King of Ireland's Son.

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Subjects: Religion.


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