Derdriu and the Exile of the Sons of Uisliu

The Prophecy at Derdriu's Birth

While the men of Ulster were drinking and feasting at the house of Conobhor's storyteller, Fedlimid Mac Daill, the bard's wife was coping with the management of the house, supplying the food and drink to the boisterous Northerners. Heavily pregnant, she was finding the going tough and was near her wit's end. Eventually when the men passed out unconscious, she headed off to her bed. As she prepared to lay herself down a scream let loose from inside her, and the men leaped to their feet, staring at each other in alarm. "Where did that hellish noise come from?" they shouted. Sencha Mac Ailella of the clan of Ulster, with the levellest of the heads there that night, said "No one move! Bring that woman of Fedlimid here to me". Though her mouth was shut, the sound came from her. Brought into their midst, her husband Fedlimid asked her what terrible sound had come from her womb.

She turned to the druid Cathbad with tears flowing and said that she was uncertain, saying that no woman knows what her womb bears. Cathbad replied sadly, describing her child as "A woman of the utmost beautiful of blonde hair and green eyes, one whom be the object of heroes and the envy of high queens".

He then placed his hands on the swollen belly and felt the life stirring within. "Although the child is pure as a summer's morn, she will bring evil to all who love her". Fedlimid's wife fell to the floor in pain and dismay and was carried to her bed of wolf and bear skins, where the child burst forth. Cathbad declared to all there that night that much violence would accrue from this birth.

All the warriors declared to kill the babe there and then, but Conchobor stood firm among them all, saying that the child was to be put into his care and was not to be harmed in any way, saying "This woman I shall keep for myself. "

Derdriu meets Noisiu

Derdriu was reared by Conchobor in a woodland retreat, apart from all other habitations, and away from the eyes of other Ulster-folk. The only ones permitted to see her were her foster mother, foster-father, and the satirist Leborcham, a man as bent as a ram's horn in frame and brain. Even as she was growing to adult years, Conchobor was smitten, and could hardly wait until the time came to take her to his bed.

One winter's day Dedriu was sitting by her foster father, who was skinning a calf on the snow outside their house. A raven landed where the offal was strewn and began drinking the spilt blood of the beast. " I wish to have", said Derdriu, "a man with those three colours there: hair like a raven's wing, cheeks flushed with blood and his body white as falling snow". Leborcham, overhearing her, said "The object of your wish is hunting not far from here: his name is Noisiu, he is Uisliu's son". She slipped away from her foster-father and searched through the forest for her elusive desire but did not see him. Her foster-father, missing her and fearful of Conchobor's vengence, found and took her home before she had strayed too far. " I will sicken and fail until I see my heart's desire before me" she exclaimed.

But the day came when she was out by the well and heard the most melodious sound coming through the tree's to her. Leaving the pail by the short stone wall, she rambled away until she spied a youth approaching the verge of the forest from the trail to Eamain Macha. It was Noisiu: she knew it instinctively, and approached him with a haughty mein.

"That is a fine heifer going by," he said. She replied "Indeed it is, for the heifers grow big where there are no bulls". Knowing she must be the famed Derdriu and therefore Conchobor's property, he warily retorted "Sure you have the bull of the province to all yourself, the King of Ulster", but she faced him square on and said " A hoary old animal! I'd rather have a game young bull like you. "
"Rather what you will, young Derdriu: there is Cathbad's prophecy to contend with. "
"Could it be you are rejecting me?" Derdriu exclaimed.
"So it appears I am," replied Noisiu.

With that Derdriu flew at him and grasped him by the ears of his head and bound him to her by a sort of sorcery, and Noisiu gave out a wail of anguish that was heard for miles around. Now Noisiu's brothers and other men of Ulster were hunting nearby and were startled to hear the sound of pain and fear, for they recognised the voice, and went to investigate. Finding the pair still bound together, his brothers took Noisiu apart and he told them what had happened. And though it was said that the sons of Uisliu were famed in battle, they realised that their predicament was dreadful.

"Evil will indeed come of this" said one of the brothers, "for though you are bound by a geas not of your making we will not abandon you; you will not be shamed as long as we live. We will leave Ulster with you and that woman. There is no king in Ireland that would deny us a welcome. "

And so it was that they left that night, the sons of Uisliu and the woman and their clan: three hundred fifty men, three hundred fifty woman, and the same in hounds and menials.

Next - Exile and Revengenext