Eochaid Airem

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[Ir., ploughman, tiller].

Also known as Eochaid Óg [young]. A legendary ard rí [high king] of Tara and lover of the beautiful and divine Étaín whose story is told in Tochmarc Étaíne [The Wooing of Étaín]. Eochaid seeks the most beautiful woman in Ireland and finds Étaín, not realizing that she is a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann and already married to Midir, with whom Eochaid's identity is confused. Eochaid was renowned for his horsemanship. His brothers were Ailill Anglonnach and Eochaid Feidlech, with whom he is often confused. He may have two or three daughters. In Tochmarc Étaíne Midir reveals that Étaín was pregnant before he ran off with her; Eochaid commits unwitting incest with this ‘daughter’ to produce yet another daughter, who marries King Eterscél. In other texts Eochaid and the true Étaín produce the child Mes Buachalla, who marries Eterscél. In either version Eochaid is an ancestor of Eterscél's child, Conaire Mór.

T. F. O'Rahilly (1946) asserted that Eochaid Airem's first associations were with the small kingdom of Tethba (parts of modern Cos. Longford and Westmeath) and Mide (Co. Meath) and that only in pseudo-history did he become king of Tara. According to Tochmarc Étaíne, he acquires his epithet, Airem [ploughman], when he instructs Midir in the handling of oxen to build a road, an obligation put upon Midir when he loses a game of fidchell. Previously oxen pulled their burdens with straps tied to their foreheads; Eochaid recommends they pull with their shoulders. In stories separate from Tochmarc Étaíne Eochaid is described as levying a road tax upon the people of Tethba, demanding that they build him a highway laid with tree trunks. A 2nd-century road fitting this description, laid with oak, was discovered in summer 1985. According to the story, however, the people of Tethba so resented the road that one Samain they attacked Eochaid's residence, burning it and killing him.

Subjects: Religion.

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