The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne
The tale of the Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne is an epic story of wilful love, broken trust, relentless passion and ultimate tragedy.
Like all such stories which live a long life,and this story is at least seventeen centuries old, it concerns a love triangle. A familiar triangle, the old king, his young wife, the trusted knight.
The three involved in our story are the great Fionn mac Cumhaill, the beautiful but headstrong Grainne, and the noble young warrior, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne.
It's a saga of magic, sorcery, murderous mayhem, bloody vengeance, relentless pursuit and a final act of treachery. In other words, it's a love story.
The Irish Cycles
The Irish Cycles is a collective term given to the stories of Ireland about the doings of otherworld or legendary beings. (The Irish themselves didn't divide their myths into cycles).
The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne is from the Fenian Cycle.
Fionn seeks a wife
The story begins with the aging Fionn mac Cumhaill, leader of the warrior band, the Fianna. And a better fighting man than Finn never struck his hand into a king's hand, and whatever anyone ever said of him, he was three times better
Now, Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) was a legend of a man, and his Fianna were the fearless standing army charged with defending Ireland against foreign invasion and upholding the authority of the High King of Ireland, Cormac mac Airt, (although their oath of allegiance was given, and it should be so, to their leader Fionn).
Fionn is disconsolate over the death of his wife Maignes.
I am without a wife since Maignes died
He is not wont to have slumber nor sweet sleep who happens to be without a fitting wife.
Grainne is chosen for Fionn
Grainne was the daughter of Cormac mac Airt, the High King of Ireland, and renowned for her beauty, wit and also her wilful nature. She was deemed the fairest of feature, and form, and speech, of all the women of the world together and was courted by Ireland's most eligible Chieftains.
After searching the whole of the land for a suitable wife for Fionn, the Fianna decide that she is the worthiest. Arrangements are made for the wedding. Cattle are counted, guests summoned, great cooking pots prepared and Grainne's women prepare a fine rich gown for her.
At their betrothal feast, however, Grainne is distressed to find that Fionn is older than her own father. Repulsed by his age, her eye falls on Diarmuid.
Grainne sees Diarmuid
Diarmuid ua Duibne himself, a freckled sweet-worded man of curling dusky-black hair and two red ruddy cheeks, was the most renowned member of the Fianna, a young warrior trusted and honoured by the great Fionn.
Grainne, sitting at the window of her grianan (a sunny chamber), looked out to watch the young men at their game of hurling, and could not fail to see how Diarmuid surpassed the others in strength, agility and fleetness of foot. She could not avoid comparing him to her intended husband.
Some say that Grainne became enamoured of Diarmuid because of a ball seirce, a beauty spot, on his shoulder, for it is said that these magical spots make men irresistible. But perhaps it was just the attraction of youth to youth. Given a choice, what young women would prefer a stooped greybeard over a lusty youth?
Grainne is determined to have Diarmuid, in place of Fionn. But the betrothal arrangements have gone too far, the tributes have been paid, the gifts handed out, and she cannot break the union without spilled blood between Fionn and her father, the High King. She has only one way to stop the wedding, she must leave before the vows are taken.
She slips a sleeping potion to the rest of the guests and demands that Diarmuid run off with her!
He refuses at first out of loyalty to Fionn, but Grainne lays a geis on him which forces him to agree with her wishes. "Evil bonds are these under which you lay me", he says.
What is a Geis?
It can get confusing
The Irish did not regard spoken curses lightly. A geis can be a curse or, paradoxically, a gift. If someone under a geis violates the associated taboo, they will suffer dishonour or even death. On the other hand, to obey the geis brings power and good fortune.
Traditionally, the doom of heroes came about due to their violation of a geis, either by accident, or by having multiple geasa and then being placed in a position where they have no option but to violate one geis in order to maintain another. For instance, the mighty warrior Cuchulainn has a geis to never eat dog meat, and he is also bound by a geis to eat any food offered to him by a woman. When an old woman offers him dog meat, he has no choice but to break one of them, and this leads to his death.
A beneficial geis might involve a prophecy that a person would die in a particular way. The particulars of their death might be so bizarre that death could be avoided entirely.
There's something very like the Ancient Greek tales in this..
The Pursuit of Diamuid and Grainne
All across Ireland the eloping couple ran and there is scarce a place in the land that does not have a cave, a tree, and all kinds of nooks and crannies under which, or inside of which, Diarmuid and Grainne lay together and hid.
They hid in a forest across the River Shannon, and Fionn pursued them over the water. They concealed themselves under a tree near Lawrencetown in Galway, made a bed at Lough Gur in Co. Limerick and lay hidden from their pursuers in numerous other places all across the land.
They evaded Fionn several times, once with the help of Diarmuid's foster father, Aengus Og, who concealed Grainne in his cloak of invisibility while Diarmuid made an incredible leap high over the heads of the pursuing Fianna.
Final Act of Treachery
In time, Finn appears to call off his ruthless quest for bloody vengeance and Diarmuid and Grainne are left to live in peace. But a final act of treachery shatters their contentment!
Fionn organises a boar hunt near Benbulbin in Co. Sligo, and Diarmuid joins, in spite of a prophesy that he will be killed by a boar. Indeed, the creature wounds him mortally as he deals it a fatal blow.
Fionn and his men come upon Diarmuid dying and Grainne knows she has just one chance to save him. She implores Fionn to show mercy and save his former friend by curing Diarmuid with a drink of water cupped by his magical hands. But Fionn refuses.
Fionn's men beg him to help this once great warrior to live. But still Fionn refuses.
Finally, after his grandson Oscar threatens to fight him, Fionn reluctantly agrees to save Diarmuid. But it was too late, before he could get the water, Diarmuid dies.
Thus, then, the Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne
A Perfect Performance - Dancing on Dangerous Ground DVD : Region 1
The Irish oral tradition of mythic storytelling has resulted in many versions of the legend of Diarmuid & Grannia, and 'Dancing on Dangerous Ground' has taken various strands from several versions of this epic romantic tale.
This is an Irish dance show for the more discerning and appreciative audience.
The two principals are superb. Colin Dunne comes into his own on this show and Jean Butler is, as ever, incomparable.
Top quality dancers, innovative steps and beautiful but simple costumes and sets. Just perfect!
You be the Judge - What would you do?
What should Fionn have done?
© 2009 Susanna Duffy
Leave a message for these Lovers
Gladis on May 22, 2015:
The anime Fate/Zero introduced me to the legend. I reeeeeaaally adored their representation of Dirmuid, so I felt an intense need to look up the original myth. I'm afraid I'm getting mildly obsessed with it now.
mariacarbonara on August 14, 2013:
Great love story.
MaggiePowell on July 08, 2013:
good tale.. I loved learning about it.
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on July 08, 2013:
Reading this I thought, "What the heck is a Geis?" and in the next paragraph there it was lol. You knew your visitors were going to ask?
Paul from Liverpool, England on February 04, 2013:
The Irish don't go for half measures in their epics!
Shari O'Leary from Minnesota on July 05, 2012:
I remember reading about this in a mythology book I read recently. It's a great story, no matter how many times and ways it's told.
WoodlandBard on November 04, 2011:
Great stuff, know this well as we live by CÃ©is Coarran Mountain in Co. Sligo where it is said Grainne's father was born and one of the places it is said Diarmuid and Grainne settled and farmed.
There are lesser known legends of what happened to Grainne after this, wonderful alternatives to being dragged off by Fionn again. Lenses on this from me coming up soon :-)
anonymous on May 04, 2010:
Thanks for this great site. From Denmark dans http://www.tc-dancestudio.dk
Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on January 21, 2009:
Did not know this story. Great lens.
Aaron Howard on January 18, 2009:
I've never known what a Geis was. I love the combination of the old world story and your current research. Often we get lost in stories and never quite understand a facet of the lore or mystery. I can understand why though, nobody wants to put a good book down just to look up a word or a meaning (like 'Geis'). It's nice to have this information before reading a book such as this! Good work!
AslanBooks on January 16, 2009:
Very nice artwork...
The Party Animal from Partytown USA on January 15, 2009:
What a great story - they just do not write them like that any more huh?
Brian Stephens from France on January 14, 2009:
Just love the graphics in this lens, nice piece of work.
Agapantha on January 12, 2009:
Finn MacCool was a cartoon character too