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Togail Bruidne Da Derga


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Irish title for a narrative dating from at least the 11th century, composed possibly in the 8th or 9th centuries, usually known in English as The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel. Although nominally a part of the Ulster Cycle, the settings and character are in Leinster. Texts are preserved in the Book of the Dun Cow [Lebor na hUidre] and the Yellow Book of Lecan. The beginning of the narrative appears to continue from Tochmarc Étaíne [The Wooing of Étaín], and contains a lush description of the resplendent princess of that story. The focus of the action, however, centres on the legendary king Conaire Mór, the innocent victim of relentless fate.

Before Conaire Mór begins his just and prosperous rule at Tara a number of seemingly unwarranted gessa [taboos] are imposed upon him. His is a stained inheritance; his mother, Mes Buachalla, slept with a mysterious bird-man when Conaire was conceived. He is told that: (a) birds must always be privileged in the kingdom; and he shall not (b) pass righthandwise [deiseal, i.e. sunwise] around Tara nor lefthandwise [túaithbel i.e. withershins] around Brega; (c) hunt the ‘crooked beasts’ [cláenmíla] of Cerna; (d) stay away from Tara on any ninth night; (e) sleep in a house from which the light of a fire is visible after sunset and into which one can see from the outside; (f) allow three red men to go before him into a red man's house; (g) allow plundering raiders to land during his reign; (h) allow a lone man or woman to visit his residence after sunset; (i) try to settle a quarrel between two of his subjects. In the course of the narrative, however, Conaire unintentionally violates every one of these. When his three foster-brothers, Fer Gair, Fer Lí, and Fer Rogain, sons or descendants of Donn Désa, take to marauding, Conaire banishes them from Ireland. And when the three Ruadchoin of the Cualu (south of the Liffey) also begin marauding, he exiles them as well. At sea these exiles meet a band of reavers led by one-eyed Ingcél Cáech, a Briton, and together with the exiled sons of Medb, all named Maine, they ravage first Britain and then Ireland. In Britain they slay a local king along with Ingcél's parents and brothers. Setting sail for Ireland, they arrive first at Howth, while Conaire is travelling to Da Derga's hostel (near either Bohernabreena, south Co. Dublin, or Glencree, Co. Wicklow). En route Conaire is enticed by the bizarre-looking Fer Caille [man of the wood]. Once in the hostel Conaire is visited by a hideous female seer, Cailb, who prophesies that all of the defenders will be destroyed, except for what birds can take in their claws. Meanwhile, eager for both revenge and booty, the invaders land at Trácht Fuirbthi (Merrion Strand, Co. Dublin) and advance inland with 5,000 men. The hostel (see BRUIDEN), in many ways a magical dwelling, is usually described as having seven doorways, although some texts describe nine. Ingcél spies upon the hostel, describing the residents to his companions; Fer Rogain, Conaire's foster-brother, identifies the defenders from the descriptions and predicts which will survive. Three times the invaders set the hostel on fire, and three times the flames are extinguished. Many in the hostel are killed, the first being Lomna the fool, as he himself had predicted, but the defenders, including Conaire, slay many of the attackers. When all the available water is consumed Conaire dies of thirst, and two of the reavers decapitate him. At the end of the story Conaire's severed head thanks Mac Cécht for searching all of Ireland to find water to slake his thirst.

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Subjects: Religion.


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