Category: Irish Character Profiles

Naoise

Overview
Naoise was one of the three sons of Uisneach, and his tale forms part of the Ulster cycle. He figures in the story of Deirdre, who was foretold as the cause of great sorrow to Ulster before she was born.

Stories of Naoise:
It was said that she would be very beautiful but that she would lead to trouble and strife among the men of Ulster. In order to forestall this, the King of Ulster, Conchobar, had her hidden away and raised in seclusion in order that he might marry her himself when she came of age. Deirdre was not so willing to be married to such an old man, and on seeing a stag killed in the snow, and a raven drinking the blood, she commented that she wished she could marry a man with hair the colour of the raven, cheeks the colour of the snow and lips the colour of the blood. While walking in the woods one day after this she was attracted by the sound of beautiful harp music and came across Naoise playing by a river. He was of exactly the colouring mentioned above, and Deirdre fell instantly in love with him. She pressured him to elope with her. At first he resisted, because he knew of the prophecy surrounding her, but eventually gave in to his own love for her, and the two fled to Scotland accompanied by Naoise’s brothers. They lived there happily for a time, but Naoise grew homesick of Ireland, and when a message came from Conchobar that he had relented and wanted them to return, Naoise was only too glad to do so, despite Deirdre’s foreboding. On returning to Ireland, Naoise and his brothers quickly realized they had been trapped. They made a valiant last stand and may in fact have won had not Conbhobar engaged sorcery on his side. The three brothers were slaughtered, and on seeing their bodies lying in the snow, Deirdre threw herself on top of Naoise and died of grief. However, in the conflict, many of the finest men of Ulster had lost their lives, thus fulfilling the prophecy.

Conclusion:
Naoise is a romantic figure, willing to risk all for his love and fight to retain it. He is depicted as well loved by all and as a mighty warrior in his own right. However, he does not exist outside of this story, and his function is to show the futility of defying prophecies. He is remembered best for his extremely good looks sand his readiness to die for the woman he loved.

Morrigán

Background
Morrigán means “phantom queen” and the Morrigán in Irish Mythology was a deity who could change shape and would influence the outcome in battles by playing with armies psychologically. Rather like Dionysus in Greek myth, the Morrigán could embody the darker side of nature, and work through alternate means, whether through drink or metamorphosis.

The Morrigan is a goddess of battle, strife, and fertility. She sometimes appears in the form of a crow, flying above the warriors, and in the Ulster Cycle, she also takes the form of an eel, a wolf, and a cow. She is generally considered a war deity comparable with the Germanic Valkyries, although her association with cattle also suggests a role connected with fertility, wealth, and the land.

Tales of the Morrigán
One tale of the Morrigán’s changing appearance concerned Cúchulainn. She appeared to the hero in the form of a beautiful young girl and declared her love for him. But he spurned her advances and in revenge she attacked him, first as an eel, then as a wolf, and then as a heifer. Cúchulainn overcame her and in her exhaustion she appeared to him as an old woman milking a cow. She gave him milk and he blessed her.

The Morrigán also represented sexuality, and she ritually mated with Daghda astride a river, with one foot on either bank. She also possessed herbal magic and used it to cast spells. She turned Odras into a pool of water as Odras’ bull had mated with the Morrigán’s cow.

Conclusion
The Morrigán had close associations with magic and death and her dark nature was a danger to her enemies.

Midir

Overview
Midir was one of the lesser lords of the Tuatha de Danann and is said to be responsible for crafting the rivers and lakes in the Irish countryside.


Stories of Midir
The main story concerning Midir relates to his courtship of the fairy maiden Etain. He took her as his consort, thus enraging his wife Fuamach. Fuamach changed Etain into a butterfly and then raised a wind which scattered her hundreds of miles away. The butterfly was swallowed by a regional queen who was drinking wine one afternoon, and nine months later Etain was reborn as a mortal princess and grew to be as beautiful as she was in her previous life. Meanwhile Midir had been searching throughout the land for the woman he loved. By the time he found and recognized Etain in her new form she had been married to Eochaidh, the King of Ireland. Etain did not remember Midir as he tried to seduce her. After a number of meetings however, she began to remember and love Midir again, but her sense of loyalty to Eochaidh would not allow her to leave him. So Midir presented himself in the court of Eochaidh and challenged the King to a game of chess. The first time he allowed Eochaidh to win and then granted him fifty marvelous horses as his prize. But the next time Midir won and claimed as his prize the right to kiss Etain. Eochaidh was angry but could not disagree. The only stipulation he made was that Midir was to wait one month before coming to claim his prize. When the time came for Midir’s return, Eochaidh had the court surrounded by armed men, and he sat with Etain in the centre of the fort, fully expecting Midir to be unable to penetrate the guard. The fairy king appeared through the roof however, and swept down to Etain and carried her off with him. The two were seen circling the fort of Tara in the likeness of swans. Eochaidh roamed Ireland searching for his lost bride and dug up every fairy fort he came across. Eventually he uncovered the stronghold of Midir, but the fairy lord then sent out fifty maidens all in the likeness of Etain and told Eochaidh if he could chose the correct woman he would have her returned to him. Some versions of the story say that Eochaidh chose a woman who was in fact his own daughter, and thus committed incest. Others say a magic bee settled on the correct Etain, thus enabling Eochaidh to win back his wife.

Conclusion
Apart from this story, Midir remains a shadowy figure. He is strongly associated with birds, often seen in the form of a crane or a swan. He is a single minded character who knows what he wants, and adopts any means to get it. Cunning is evident in his means of outwitting Eochaidh. He also has strong connections to the earth of Ireland, fashioning rivers, lakes and fairy forts. Midir comes from the time when the Tuatha de Danann had been driven underground by the more modern Irish, and represents the more mystic less tangible side of the people.

Meas Buachalla

Background:
Daughter of King Cormac of Ulster and Etain, who was daughter of a fairy-woman, she was abandoned because her father had wanted a son and was furious that the only child his wife bore him was a girl-child.

Meas Buachalla’s Story:
Rejected from the time of her birth, Meas Buachalla was cast aside by her father. He ordered his servants to cast the girl-child into a pit, but the baby smiled up at them with such love and trust that they could not bear to harm her. Against the king’s orders, they took her to the cowherds of Tara, who fostered her and loved her dearly. (Meas Buachalla means “the cowherds’ fosterchild”

However, Mess Buachalla’s life was still in danger. If her father ever found out that she was still alive, he might kill her. Her foster family built a house for her to keep her safe and hidden. The walls were high wicker, and there were no doors, only a window and a skylight. One day, one of King Eterscel’s people looked in the window, expecting to see some food or stores that the cowherders kept. Instead he saw the most beautiful maiden he had ever laid eyes on! When the king heard of her, he was determined to make Mess Buachalla his wife. He sent his men to break down her house and carry her off without asking the cowherds. It had been prophesized to King Eterscel that a woman of unknown race would bear him a son, and he was sure that the woman in the prophecy was this beautiful and mysterious maiden.

Mess Buachalla knew nothing of this, safe within her little home. Before the king ever arrived, a bird flew through her skylight, and when he landed on the floor, he cast off his birdskin. This beautiful otherworldly man made love to Mess Buachalla. He told her that King Eterscel’s peple were coming for her, but that the son she bore would be his, and she was to call him Conaire and instruct him to never kill birds.

Meas Buachalla was brought to the King, and he gave her every kind of luxury and sign of respect. Even her fosterers were raised up and made chieftains. When her son was born, she named him Conaire son of Meas Buachalla, and sent him to be fostered among three households so that he could be loved and cared for three times over, and learn all that he could.

In due course, Conaire met with his true father and became the High King of Ireland.

Conclusion:
Meas Buachalla was the daughter of a king and the granddaughter of a fairy woman. Her connection to the Otherworld was strengthened when she met her lover, the bird-man. Thanks to her wisdom and guidance, Conaire received more love, and more perspective, by being fostered by three families.

Manannan

Background
Manannan is regarded as the overlord of the semi-divine Tuatha de Danann.
As such he is the sea god, since it is the sea which surrounds the island of Eire and protects it from harm.

Stories of Manannan
Manannan is very like the Greek Poseidon in that he is depicted as riding the waves in a horse drawn chariot and wearing a huge cloak that flashes with many colours and catches the light just as the sea does. It is said that all the treasured possessions of the Tuatha de Danann are in Manannan’s care, and that he keeps them in a bag made of the skin of a crane! When his young charge Lugh required assistance on one of his quests Manannan granted him a boat called the Wave Sweeper which obeyed the thought of the person in it and did not require sails or oars. This boat also grew in size to accommodate any number of people necessary. Manannan also owned a horse that could travel with equal ease on land or sea, and a sword known as Freagarach – Answerer – which could penetrate any armour. Manannan was wed to the beautiful fairy woman Fand who was said to be flawless in her beauty. The Irish warrior Cuchulainn fell in love with Fand and the two lived together for a time. Manannan was constantly roaming the countryside overseeing the affairs of his people. However, on seeing him pass by one day, Fand remembered the joy of their first days of life together and regretted her liaison with Cuchulainn. She cried out that she had fallen in Manannan’s esteem, but he came to her and shook his cloak between her and Cuchulainn so that they too forgot each other entirely. Then Fand returned to Manannan’s side and the two roamed the countryside together.

Conclusion
Manannan is closely associated with animals of all sorts. He had a herd of pigs, which were cooked and eaten, and then miraculously regenerated for the same fate the next day. He is depicted as a distinguished white haired man, but like the sea is deemed unknowable in any true sense. Like all the Tuatha de Danann he had a strong magical power, and seems to have been a fair over seer of the affairs of the inhabitants of Ireland at this time.

Listen to our Stories
Become a Subscriber
Contact Us

bard@bardmythologies.com

Subscribe to our Newsletter