Wave 1 – Deirdre of the Sorrows

Classic Love Story: Prophecy meets Free Will

This is one of the three great love stories in the Irish Myth tradition.  King Conor MacNessa had taken the kingship from his foster father, Fergus Mac Rioch for a year but had shown such wisdom that it was decided he should stay on as king.  Shortly after this decision, Conor and his Red Branch Warriors were at a feast in the house of Felimid the Harper.  Felimid was in high spirits because his wife was about to give birth.

He asked Conor’s druid, Cathbad, to make a prophecy as to what was in store for the baby.  He told them she would be the most beautiful woman who ever lived but she will cause trouble by splitting the Red Branch in two.  At this the Red Branch demanded that the baby be killed.  But Conor wished to preserve his reputation as a wise king said he would take care of her, in secret, and if she was so beautiful, he would marry her to avoid trouble.

Deirdre was then brought up in a hidden valley by an old nurse, Leabharcham, who was very protective of her.  From time to time, Conor would visit but Deirdre did not have much affection for him.   Who she did have love for is a man with hair as black as a raven, skin as white a snow, and cheeks as red as blood. She had seen the colours in nature and she knew what it meant for her.

Deirdre asked Leabharcham did she know anyone fitting this description.  She told her about Naoise, a warrior of the Red Branch.  She pestered her to let her see him.  Initially Leabharcham refused, but eventually relented.  She told the three Sons of Uisneach of the wonderful hunting in the valley in which they lived and indeed they came to hunt.  Deirdre immediately fell in love with Naoise, and so did he with her.  She asked him to run away with her.  He refused because she had been pledged to Conor.  But she put a geasa on him, so he had to run away with her.

They needed to go far away.  And so they fled with the other Sons of Uisneach and went into service with the King of Scotland.  When the King saw Deirdre he too fell in love with her and would put the three Sons of Uisneach in the front lines in every battle so they would be killed.  When Deirdre realised what was going on, she persuaded Naoise to flee further to a remote island in the North.  They lived there happily.

Meanwhile Fergus Mac Rioch kept raising the subject of the Sons of Uisneach with Conor who would fly into a rage at the matter.  Eventually he persuaded Conor to have them back under a guarantee of protection.  Fergus eventually found them and told them that Conor had been persuaded to forgive them and that they were welcome back.  The three brothers were delighted, but Deirdre was very wary because of a dream she had had.

When they arrived back in Ulster, a local man invited Fergus to come to a feast.  There was a geasa on him so he could not refuse.  It meant leaving the returning party without his protection.  Deirdre tried all she could to dissuade him.  But Fergus had to go and gave them his son as protection.

The party arrived in Emain Macha and were sent to the Speckled House.  Conor asked Leabharcham what Deirdre looked like now.  She said she was now an old hag because of her time in the wilderness.  This abated his jealousy.  But he was still suspicious.  And when he finally found out she was still beautiful his jealousy came flooding back.  He sent his warriors to attack the Sons.

Conor’s men were getting nowhere so he asked the druid Cathbad for help.  He agreed so long as Conor agreed not to kill the Sons of Uisneach.  Conor agreed saying he only wanted Naoise to apologise.  Cathbad sent a spell that put the Sons in a black and hungry sea – though they were on dry land.  They became exhausted.  Conor could not kill them but got Maigne Rough Hand to do it.  Naoise had killed Maigne Rough Hand’s father.  Maigne Rough Hand chopped off their heads, at the same time.

When Fergus returned from the feast and realised what had happened he burned Emain Macha to the ground.  And then took half the Red Branch to Connacht to fight with Conor’s greatest enemy, Queen Maeve.  The prophecy had come true.

Conor put Deirdre on a beautiful horse, courted her and surrounded her with beautiful things.  But she was having none of it.  Conor grew angry at all the rejection.  He said who do you hate more than me?  She said Maigne Rough Hand. II will give you him for a year and then maybe you will become kinder to me.  On the way to Maigne Rough Hand’s country she was placed in a chariot between Conor and Maigne.  But as they passed a place where cliffs hung over the road, Deirdre leaned out and dashed her head against the rocks.   She was buried beside Naoise but Conor had stakes of wood driven in the ground to separate them.  He couldn’t bear the idea of them touching.  But the roots grew down and the branches grew out, and twined together.

The Connections and insights from Participants
Emma Mulgerns – Deirdre of the Sorrows
Karina Tynan – Deirdre’s Story

Oral myth telling is always heard in terms of what it is speaking to in modern life.  Here are the thoughts from the breakout groups.

Connection 1 – Objectification of Deirdre
In the story it is the ‘most beautiful woman’ who is objectified, and finds herself at the end of the story in a desperate situation and totally deprived of agency.  So much so that the only agency she can express is the choice to kill herself.  It is the abuse of power by Conor and the threat of the year with the hated Maigne Rough Hand that drives her to this place.

Connection 2 – Publication of the Mother and Baby Homes Report
The storytelling took place a few days after the Mother and Baby Homes Report was published.
This was the scandal of how women who became pregnant, sometimes due to rape and incest, were put in Homes run by the Church and authorised by the State.  Some 9,000 babies perished, in inferior health conditions, and the mothers were effectively isolated, stigmatised and treated as if they were a disgrace and had sinned.
Discussion pointed out the similar treatment of objectification of women, and the resulting desperation and deprivation of agency.

Connection 3 – The Division of the Red Branch
The consequence of the story was the falling apart of the Red Branch as it split into two parts with one half defecting to their worst enemy, Queen Maeve of Connacht.  This outcome was of enormous significance to Ulster and the Red Branch.  But, the participants reflected, was as a result of the men’s actions, their misdeeds and was brought on entirely by themselves.

Connection 4 – Great Sympathy for Deirdre
There was real sympathy for Deirdre.  And anger that she was unable to live out her own story and succumbed to being the pawn of powerful men. She emerged as the figure with whom the participants had a powerful affinity.

Connection 5 – Leadership and the Bond of Brotherhood
The bond that developed in warrior bonds was acknowledged as a powerful glue and one that grew in the context of enduring hardship, challenge and training together as Red Branch Knights.  Such was these bonds that it needed an ‘outsider’ who was the only one who could carry out the killings of the three Sons of Uisneach.  These bonds were particularly noticeable with the killing of the three brothers.  None of them wished to live in a world without the other two so insisted on being slain together. These loyalties were seen as relevant to sport and business.

Connection 6 – The Demise of the Upstanding Values
It was observed that the values and qualities of leadership, particularly in the case of Conor MacNessa, of wisdom, integrity, honesty, loyalty, benevolence, discernment and selflessness gave way as the story progressed to the vices of lust, greed and self-serving action.  Conor’s journey from greatness is an important narrative trajectory in this story and this causes his and Ulster’s world to fall apart.  The King becomes decidedly un-kingly.
This was seen as a dark descent.  One group drew parallels to the current political situation in the US, the assault of the Trump mob on the Capital and how it is the result of festering emotional wounds that have never healed.

Connection 7 – Red Branch and Maeve
It was observed that one half of the Red Branch, under Fergus Mac Rioch then swore allegiance to a powerful female queen – Maeve of Connacht. And this then, in turn was a critical factor in the Civil War that was the Tain…. The story soon to unfold.

Connection 8 – Jealousy, Anger ….. and Cruelty
One participant mentioned the latent visceral anger and vindictiveness of Conor asking and giving Deirdre to the man she hated most – Maigne Rough Hand – the 45th US President often seems vindictively cruel!

Connection 9 – Geasa and Honour
One of the themes discussed was the way the women in this story (Deirdre) and from last immersion’s story, Gráinne in Diarmuid and Gráinne used geasa to pull the warrior figures, Naoise and Diarmuid, from their brotherhood with its duties, loyalty and oaths.

Connection 10 Goddess Culture meets Warrior Culture
It was observed that it can be said that here we have two mythologies interacting: the goddess culture meets the warrior culture and it is the goddess culture that is consistently ignored.  But then the warrior culture is hardly successful either.

Connection 11 – Beautiful Symbol
One comment was that maybe in the end the natural world of the Goddess does prevail in the intertwining of the roots of the tree, and the branches of the tree where the two lovers are buried.
Conor MacNessa’s wooden stakes and the deaths failed to separate the lovers.

Connection 12 – Prophecies
The group spoke about the presence of prophecies in myths and how the people the prophecies condemned acted in ways which end up ensuring the prophecies unfold, believing them so much that they become self-fulfilling.  Hinting at the power of the mind –  “you become that which you most hate” – when it is focused on preventing an experience rather than creating an alternative.

Connection 13
Geographic range of the story was noted with a full spread of peoples and their network of relationships: Connacht, Ulster, Scotland, Norway.

Wave 9 – Mongan

A King with remarkable gifts

Mongan’s story begins before he was born.  His father, Fiachra Finn, joint King of Ulster with Fiachra Dubh is at war with the King of Scandinavia over a deal with an old hag that the King has failed to honour.  As he arrives in Scandinavia a herd of venomous sheep meet him at the sea shore.   They have giant heads, gnashing teeth and rasping tongues.  It appears Fiachra Finn and his army are doomed.

A beautiful man in a cloak of green and covered in jewellery appears and tells him he will ward off the sheep if he can have a night with his wife.  Fiachra Finn reluctantly agrees.  This enables him to  win in battle.  Belatedly the deal with the hag is now honoured.  The man who appeared reveals himself to be Manannan Mac Lir.  When Fiachra Finn returns to Ulster he finds his wife is pregnant.  Mongan is born.  He is covered in hair which is how he got his name.  Manannan takes Mongan off to the Land of Promise where he learns all sort of skills; shape shifting, poetry, magical knowledge and the ability to tell the future.

When Mongan grows up he takes a tour of Ireland.  When staying with Brandubh, the King of Leinster, he sees the King has a herd of white cows with red ears.  Brandubh says he can have the cows in a friendship ‘without refusal’.

The deal has a catch.  Brandubh insists he wants Mongan’s wife, Dubhlacha. Like his father, with honour at stake he has to agree. Dubhlacha gets him to agree not to trick her nor marry her for a year.  But how will Mongan get his beloved wife back?  He, like his father, meets an old hag on the way to the wedding.  He puts a spell on her and she becomes a beautiful woman.  They go to the wedding.  Brandubh on seeing her only has eyes for her. So Mongan gets his wife back.  Brandubh lies with his new wife only to wake in the morning to find she has turned into a hag again … poetic justice.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here is some of the feedback from participants from breakout groups following the telling of the Mongan story.

Connection 1 – Fighting for the Poorest
Fiachra Finn does a deal with the impoverished old hag to get her to give him the only thing that will heal the illness of the King of Scandinavia, a white cow with red ears.  When one year later, the King fails to honour the deal, Fiachra Finn goes to war with the King.  What we have here is the most powerful in the land willing to go to war to honour an arrangement made with one of the poorest and most marginal members of society.

Connection 2 – The Importance of Trust
The first half of the story is clearly about the consequences of the breakdown of trust.  If one deal or agreement fails, especially one that is so visible, that essentially means any deal could fail.  Fiachra Finn is fighting for a principle, an invisible bond that would hold a society together ….  or not.

Connection 3 – The Prominence of Cattle
One of the insights was as to the prominence and significance of the cattle.  They have an importance both to the livelihood of people but also on a more symbolic level in terms of healing and peace.  They also played an important role in matters of honour, values and pride.

Connection 4 – Why Revenge?
In the Mongan story, Fiachra Finn goes to war for the honour of the deal with the old woman.  Yes to respecting the arrangement even with the poor, the old and the ugly, but why does war have to be the ultimate act of revenge. For many politics and the powerful seem to favour the rich and powerful rather than the poor and vulnerable.

Connection 5 – The Poisonous Sheep
Compare the terrible poisonous sheep!  Contract with present notion of sheep as symbol of docility and unquestioning submission.  But also compare with fearsome image of sheep as engine of Enclosure in England much later (e.g. Thomas More: your sheep, that were … so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I hear it said, have become so great devourers and so wild that they eat up and shallow down the very men themselves.  They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses and cities).

Connection 6 – The Women’s Role: Dubhlacha
Dubhlacha is barely visible in terms of narrative agency and is almost objectified.  The story has a problem in terms of gender.  The only time we hear Dubhlacha’s voice is when she seems to be articulating the core problem in terms of kingship in the story, i.e. the honouring of one’s word.

Connection 7 – The Women’s role: Old Hag that Mongan encounters
She is positioned around the idea of her erotic and aesthetic undesirability but Mongan with a magic wand gave to the hag the appearance of a beautiful princess of Munster.  He also put a love charm on her cheek.  But what was in it for her?  Was she merely the vehicle for a trick to be played on Brandubh and all she got was a night with the King of Leinster, and possibly being the mother of his heir.  In the morning the illusion has disappeared and she was a shrivelled old hag to Brandubh.

Connection 8 – King as Trickster
What we see is a form of Kingship in which the King, Mongan, is able to get what he wants not through force of arms, or even the power/status of the role, but rather through being a trickster.  Is this part of being a good leader, especially when combined with good vision/prophecy or is this behaviour to be seen as questionable /dodgy?  After all an innocent monk passer-by lost his life!

Connection 9 – Accepting a Promise, but what about the Consequences
Like the story of Cormac we have a High King accepting something they value but without any regard to the consequences.  In the case of Cormac it was the life of the silver branch and its powers.  In the case of Mongan it was his desire (is it agreed) for Brandubh’s cattle.  Is this the naivete of the young king?  In both cases though the result is that they are forced into new territory through great loss.  And from that which is learned.

Connection 10 – Arthurian Myth
Here we have a reference at the end of the story to Arthurian Myth.  Does this suggest a common mythic heritage between Ireland and Britain?  And in the case of the early part of the story, with Scandinavia.

Wave 8 – Cormac MacAirt

Ireland’s exemplary High King and the Importance of Truth

Cormac MacAirt is seen as Ireland’s greatest high king and said to be the codifier of the remarkable Brehon Laws, a system of restorative justice.  This story tells of his journey to wisdom.

He is the son of Art who is killed during his battle with Lugaid MacConn but not before he has slept with Cormac’s mother Achtan, a woman with all kinds of wisdom.  Before he is born Achtan’s baby has four circles of protection given to him by Achtan’s father: from wolves, swords, fire and drowning.

The first of these protections is important because Achtan, fleeing the threat of Lugaid, gives birth to Cormac in a bed of ferns but drops off to sleep.  When she wakes the child is gone.  Years later he is found by a huntsman in the company of wolves.

He is fostered and learns in time of his circumstances and that he has the blood of a high king.  He has to go to Tara.  On the way he learns of an injustice done to a poor old woman.  He rights the judgement which makes him out as the rightful King.

All is well in Tara for many years until a stranger with a Silver Branch comes to visit.  It sets up an exchange which means Cormac losing his precious wife and two children.  But it is in his remarkable other world journey set up by Manannan MacLir that he learns the importance of truth.  This sets up a time of great prosperity and abundance until, as prophesised, he dies choking on a fish bone.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here is some of the feedback from participants from breakout groups following the telling of the Cormac MacAirt story.

Connection 1 – The Otherworld Journey
Some saw this as an inner journey or even a cosmic journey.  In so many ways the King is a very public, high profile figure and would be given power by the people.  That power would be to be utilised in the context of those in the tribe/community of the King.  In a sense the otherworld journey takes the King away from these external matters to issues of a very personal nature.

They also illustrate that even the so called powerful can experience a real sense of powerlessness.

Connection 2 – The Death of “Ego”
From a psychological point of view the first part of the Kings journey can be seen as being about ego and achievement.  The otherworld journey is where it all falls apart in the outer world.  The King has no control over events.  The death of the ego is what happens on the journey.  The King on return is in a sense twice born.  Though as we know from the Conaire Mor story not all Kings make it back and Conaire suffers the triple death after breaking his geasa.

Connection 3 – The Agreement
Why would a great King agree to something without ever knowing what it was?   Naïve. Perhaps.  But surely this is the point.  There are still very important lessons to be learned even for the most successful.

Connection 4 – The Pivotal Position of Truth
What is so clear from the otherworld journey is the pivotal position of truth.  It is central in the ‘cooking the pig’ detail and of course the cup of truth.  No cooking when a lie is told and the cup falls apart.  The obvious comparison was made by a number of participants  to the US president whose whole style is built on untruths!

At least that is for those who are not supporters.

Connection 5 – The Stranger on the Horse
Cormac’s life was all going well, prosperity, stability and abundance ….  and then along comes a stranger with a silver branch.  And then he does a deal without any thought for the consequences, or a possible downside.  And what exactly was the gift of the branch – sending folk off to sleep when sad!  But there is a light in the darkness.  The great loss as a reminder of what really matters, looking inward becomes inevitable and then there are the great insights from the otherworld.  And then order is restored.  We are back to where we once were but things are now different.

Connection 6 – The Peaceful Transfer of Power
Lugaid, when he and everyone else see the rightness of Cormac’s judgement, over the lady and the field of woad and the shearing for a shearing, willingly hands over power.  What this suggests is a mythic valuing of mechanisms for the transfer of power and removing power from leaders.  Powerful in the context of Trump contesting the US election with his unproven allegations of voter frauds.

As a point of reflection if there is a myth or mythology known by everyone in a culture, it would surely act as a social/cultural sanction to support a particular tradition, for example, around a vital matter such as the transfer of power.  No shared body of stories no sanction!

Connection 7 – Significance of the Protective Circles
A comment was made about the significance of the protective circles: wounding, drowning, fire, sorcery and wolves.  The latter was obviously very significant when it is wolves that do the sucking of the baby Cormac.  Sorcery would imply perhaps dark druid threats and real world dangers.  The implication being that druidic wisdom was able to offer important protections against dangers the powerful might face.  There are their kingly powers and druidic powers.  In this case working together.

Connection 8 – The Fish Bone
For the exemplary king to die or something as insignificant as a fish bone is somehow ironic.
Even the most powerful and successful are ultimately rendered powerless, even something as tiny as a fish bone – yes a fish bone can kill an exemplary King!

Wave 7 – Balor of the Evil Eye

The Second Battle of Moytura – Cosmic Battle between good and evil?

The Fir Bolg were the sensible, hard-working and humble people who ruled in Ireland for a short period of time until a shining beautiful peoples arrived in a magical mist and promptly buried their boats indicating they were here to stay.  These were the Tuatha de Danann and they brought four magical gifts: sword, spear, cauldron and stone, Lia Fail.  An equal division of Ireland was proposed, but the Fir Bolg decided to fight.   This was the First Battle of Moytura. They were roundly defeated but not before cutting off the arm of Nuada, their King.  The Fir Bolg were dispatched to Connaught and the Tuatha de Danann took the rest.

The rules at the time were that no man with a blemish could be king so Breas the beautiful was appointed.  He was half Formorian and half Tuatha.  It was thought this might unite the two people.  But Breas had no gift for Kingship and imposed heavy taxes and also allowed the Formorians to come in and do the same.  Breas’s worst crime though was meanness.  He became the subject of the first satire, that was uttered by the poet, Cairbre.  It destroyed Breas’s reputation.  The Tuatha de Danann rose up against him and he was deposed.

Breas ran to the Formorians for help.  An army was raised to restore Breas’s rule and it was to be led by Balor, the one eye hero with a look that was so poisonous it killed everyone in its way.  Meanwhile and some time earlier, Balor’s daughter, Eithne and a Tuatha de Danann called Cian had had a child called Lugh, whom Balor learned would be the death of him.  Lugh, when he heard of the impending battle between the Tuatha de Danann and the Formorians decided to go to Tara.  He knocked at the gate.  They asked what skill he brought.  He mentioned many. To each offer the response was that they had already had every one of the skills he mentioned.  It was only when he said he had all the skills that it was decided to let him in.  They were all very impressed and they asked him to lead them into battle.  He was samhildanach, with all the skills.

His first task in preparing for the looming battle was to find out every one’s unique skills. He did establish these. But one role was particularly important.

It concerned the Daghda, the good god, good at everything.  His role was to entice the goddess of war, the Morrigan over to his side.  She protected herself by standing astride a river.  He made love to her anyway.  She was pleased and decided to join the Tuatha De Danann.  The Formorians then decided to shame him, digging a huge hole and filling it with porridge and meat.  No problem to the Daghda, he ate it all and more.  He met a beautiful Formorian woman.   Had to disgorge all the food to seduce her too.  They slept together and she too joined the Tuatha de Danann side.

Everyone had done their jobs so well, particularly the Daghda and Lugh, that they were ready for battle. The Fomorian troops arrived with Balor at their head. Just as his five attendants were starting to pull up his eyelid, Lugh took his sling and flung a stone through Balor’s eye. The eye rolled back in his head till it pointed behind him at the Fomorian army, turning them all into stone. And that was how the Tuatha de Danann defeated the Fomorians.   Dian Cecht’s son, Miach, was a physician of even greater skill than his father. He managed to grow Nuada’s arm back and restore him to wholeness.  But Dian Cecht was terribly envious of his son Miach’s skill, and in a jealous rage, he killed him. Miach’s sister, Airmed, wept tears of grief over her brother’s grave, and from that grave sprung up all the healing herbs of the world.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the most significant connections and insights from participants following the telling of the story. Oral Myth Tellings are always heard in terms of modernity.

Connection 1 – The Four Functions / Gifts
The four gifts of the Tuatha de Danann had been outlined as the four functions from the Jungian Psychology perspective in the presentation on the  Wednesday session by Mairin Ni Nualain – herself a trained Jungian.  This was sword as mind, spear as sensation, stone as intuition, cauldron as feeling.  In the discussion the cauldron was seen as a symbol of the leader’s cosmic relationship with the land and the respect for nature.

Connection 2 – The Great Cosmic Battle
Every mythology has its cosmic battle in Greece it is the gods and the giants, in Norse Myth it is the Aesir and the Vanir, in India the Battle of the Devas and the Asuras.  In Ireland it is the battle of the Tuatha de Danann and the Formorians.  On an initial level it is natural to interpret this as a battle between good and evil.  It could also be read as a battle between open mindedness and single mindedness.  Lugh has all the skills and Balor just one eye but the discussions were to complicate matters somewhat!

Connection 3 – The Complicated ParentageThe two protagonists behind the battle both have parents that are Tuatha de Danann and Formorian.  Lugh is the result of an encounter between Tuatha de Danann, Cian and a Formorian, Balor’s daughter, Eithne.  Breas in turn is the result of a meeting with Ealatha, a king of the Formorians and a maiden of the Tuatha De Danann called Ériu.  Ealatha wished to make love and she consented.  Breas was the result.  With such a clear parental split in both protagonists how are we to read the Second Battle.  Is this every battle is a brother battle?  Are we essentially fighting ourselves?

Connection 4 – The Tuatha de Danann’s Able-ism
No defects, as in physical defects are allowed in a leader.  Hence Nuada loses the kingship when he loses his arm in the first battle.  Breas is beautiful and unblemished physically and he is appointed king.   But he proves to be seriously blemished in a number of critical ways.  It seems inappropriate that physical perfection is valued over an ethical perfection and a basic competence.  So does the Breas story undermine the ideology of perfection and able-ism

Connection 5 – The Theme of ChosennessOne of the recurring theme of the Immersion was the contrast between the Myths of the Not Chosen and the Myths of the Chosen.  In particular the focus was on comparing the Chosen People’s Myth of the English (Chaobang’s talk on English as Chosen) and the Not Chosen Myths of the Book of Invasions, Lebor Gabálla.  The thinking had been that Chosen People’s Myths can have a very destructive effect on the culture of the Not Chosen.  Look at 800 years of Colonial history and the attitude of the Chosen to the Not Chosen.

The binary simplicity of this constrict was challenged in the discussion of the Second Battle of Moytura and the Tuatha de Danann not adopting a ‘Chosen People’ mindset in the way they were treating the Formorians.  Is discrimination, jealousy, ‘othering’, elitism and violent intrigues not all too evident in their behaviour.  Another participant suggested the porridge pot of Daghda could be seen as a symbol of swallowing the uncomfortable culture of the coloniser.

Connection 6 – Second Battle and Irish Colonial History
Comparison was made to the paradox of the Normans – in some cases brutal and destructive to the colonised (i.e. in England), in others they integrated into what was already there (e.g. in Ireland) or even gave rise to diverse and flourishing intellectual and multi-cultural societies (e.g. in Sicily).

Colonisation is not necessary a one way exploitative experience!

Connection 7 – The Origami Group
One of the retelling groups decided to use origami as an expression of the mythological cycle.  The symbolism of holding, visible and occluded sides (in relation to Chosen vs. Not Chosen): fractal creation and re-creation.  (Video of Presentation to be posted).

Wave 6 – Nemed and the Fir Bolg

Mythology of the Not Chosen

A – Nemedians
Hope, Greed, Oppression and Anger

The land of Ireland lay empty after Partholon’s passing for thirty years.  Another group of people then arrived, led by Nemed, who was a distant relative of Partholon.  These people made huge change to the landscape clearing twelve plains and firmly marking their presence on the land.  Nemed had set out with thirty four ships, each crewed by thirty over a year previously.

Near the start of their voyage, the Nemedians came upon a tower of gold jutting up out of the sea, covered by sea water at high tide and laid bare by the sun’s rays at a low ebb, they were inflamed by greed at the sight of it and assaulted the Tower of Gold.  So intent were the Nemedians in taking the tower they did not notice as the sea began to rise around them sweeping their boats away and through their greed and inattention all but one ship was lost and most of Nemed’s men were drowned.   He managed to get all of the women on to the remaining ship however and arrived in Ireland with his four sons and a good host.

When they arrived four new lakes burst forth as a sign of their welcome.  Nemed’s wife, Macha, was the first of his company to die in Ireland and was buried in a place called Ard Macha, after her.  Nemed and his people had to fight against the Formorians just as Parthalon had but these were not bloodless, magical battles.  The Nemedians fought fiercely and slaughtered two great Formorian kings, Gann and Sengann.  The Formorians were so enraged by this that they attacked the Nemedians on two later occasions and though Nemed and his people won both battles, the losses were heavy and the hatred on both sides only grew.  As well as the great work of clearing twelve plains, the Nemedians’ built two royal forts, setting in place foundations and structures that were vital for the enduring wellbeing of the people. One fort was built by Nemed’s people and the other by four Formorian brothers who dug the whole royal fort in one day but before the sun rose the next day, Nemed killed the four builder brothers so that they would not improve upon the fort that they had built for him.

Nemed’s people thrived in Ireland for many years but a plague came upon them and killed two thousand of their number with Nemed himself among the dead.  The Formorians saw their chance to strike at the Nemedians while they were weakened by this tragedy and took over Ireland making it a vassal state and imposing huge taxes on the people.  Two thirds of their corn, their milk and their children had to be delivered every year on Samhain to the Formorians, who were led by two kings, Morc and Conand.   The anger and sorrow grew in the hearts of the Nemedians until they could bear it no longer and gathered together to attack the Formorians.  They assaulted the Tower of Conand  on Tory Island and took it by force.   But Morc arrived with reinforcements and the magic of the Formorians caused the sea to rise.  Distracted by their battle fury the Nemedians did not notice the water rising and almost all of them were swept away and drowned.    A few survivors managed to escape on the last ship.  They split up going their separate ways.  Some went North and some went East to Greece and of them we will hear again. These exiles were to prove significant in the rest of the Book of Invasions.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the connections and insights made by participants based on the Bard assumptions that oral storytelling is always heard in terms of modernity.

Connection 1 – Losing touch with Nature
The symbolism of the failure of the Nemedians to be aware of the rising tide while being so obsessed with greed for the Tower of Gold was discussed.  It is a basic responsibility of a sea farer to have an awareness of nature and sea.  And yet this distraction of gold meant they quickly lost touch with nature/sea.  As often with myth the action had unintended consequences,  in this case a disastrous one!

Connection 2 – The Cycles of Immigrants
The Nemedians were the third group of invaders to arrive in Ireland.  This seems to highlight the recurring importance of a diaspora and of people coming in from outside to move things on.  This the Nemedians clearly did with the clearing of twelve plains, the building of forts and what was a very distinctive impact on the landscape.  The mythology of ‘the people from somewhere else’ is beginning to take shape.

Connection 3 – The Fragility of Human Life
As well as the initial drowning the Nemedians were impacted by wars and by plagues (caused Nemed’s death).  In the context of the Covid 19 crisis this was all seen as a reminder of the fragility of the human relationship, both with each other and with nature.

Connection 4 – A Rough Time
The Nemedians of all the invaders had a particularly rough time with the experience of drownings, war and plague.  Was this due to their own failings, hubris, greed, even cruelty (to the builders of their forts)? Or was it just the vicissitudes and precariousness of life.

Connection 5 – The Indigenous People – The Formorians
The matter of the Formorians as the indigenous people was discussed.  They are invariably portrayed as monstrous and cruel (oppressive taxes).  Is this the recurring theme of the demonising or othering of indigenous people so characteristic (as we were to see later) of some of the practices of Chosen People Myth which have been raised during this Immersion 2.  The question was raised, are we to see the Formorians as the Cowboy  and Indian villains or as representative of an Irish Dreamtime – those who sung the world into being.  Or perhaps as symbolic representatives of the relentless tests of nature.

Connection 6 – Islands as strongholds of the Old Culture
One recurring theme is the Formorians are from and return to the islands off the coast of Ireland.  They then are to be seen as strongholds of the old, pre-Invasion culture.

Connection 7 – Exile and return
Though the Nemedians were to flee and flee to the North, the East and to Britain, two of them were to return as the Fir Bolg (East) and the Tuatha de Danann (North), setting up the cycle of immigration, exile, immigration, exile and so on.

Connection 8 – Theme of Fair Taxation
For the first time the relationship of centre to tribe is highlighted with the matter of unfair taxation being a cause of resentment and war by the oppressed.

Connection 9 – Gaslighting of Myth Telling
In part prompted by the theme of the Immersion 2, Chosen and Not Chosen, the under matter of ‘gaslighting’ of myth telling by a chosen culture was discussed.  Perhaps there are elements of ‘gaslighting’ in the Nemedian story as neither the indigenous people nor the new arrivees are presented in a favourable light.

Connection 10 – The Nature of the Fighting changed
The Battle of the Partholonian/Formorian was very much druidic, one leg, one eye etc.  and no one died.  Here the fighting became fierce and two great Formorian Kings were killed, Gann and Sengann.  This motif of the change in the nature of fighting was noted in the Cú Chulain Ferdia Battle at the Ford (see Immersion 1)  and in a historical context with the arrival of the Vikings.

B – Fir Bolg
The Ideology (Division) of the Fifths

Ireland was left empty for 200 years after the Nemedians were scattered.  The survivors of the Nemedian attack on Conand’s Tower who fled to Greece following Semeon,  and faired very badly there.  There were enslaved for 200 years and made to labour long hours under the hot sun, carrying heavy sacks of clay on their backs.  Their task was to carry the clay to rough mountain peaks until the mountains had such a covering that they became as flowery and fertile as the plains.  They became known as the Fir Bolg, which means the men of the sacks because of these sacks of clay that they were always hauling. These were the “bag men” of Ancient Ireland!

But the Fir Bolgs kept their spirits up by telling each other stories of Ireland, their birth right.  And at last the day came when they were able to escape.  They used the very same sacks that had been their burden to build canoes and coracles and fled from Greece.

The Fir Bolg fleet, such as it was, did not hold together on the voyage and the people landed at different times.  One group, led by the Chieftain Slainga, and his wife Etair, landed first on Saturday the 1st August and then the Chieftains, Gann and Segann, landed on Tuesday with their wives and Oist and Fuath and all their followers and on Friday the last of the Fir Bolg arrived led by the Chieftains, Genann and Rudraige and their wives Liebar and Connacha.  They met together and decided that since they were all kin they would consider this the one taking of Ireland and not fight among themselves.  No lakes burst forth when they landed and they cleared no new plains nor had they to fight against the Formorians for dominion over Ireland.  They did decide to divide Ireland between these five chieftains and that was the first division of the provinces we still know today.

This decision was the very significant establishment of the Four Provinces that was five Cuige because of the very important Fifth Province. This was the Ideology we saw outlined by Fintan mac Bochna in the Settling of the Manor of Tara in Nine Waves Immersion 1. They named the Southern-most province, Munster, and it became the land of poetry and music.  Leinster, in the East, was the land of prosperity and Connacht the land of wisdom, while in the North, the stony soil of Ulster bred strong men and women and became the land of warfare and strife.  In the centre, Meath was the province of the High King, which unified all the others with the seat of the Kings at Tara and the seat of the Druids at Uisneach.

The Fir Bolg ruled Ireland for thirty seven years and had nine kings in all that time. Their first high king of Ireland, Slainge, was the first person ever to be the King of all Ireland. But he only ruled for a year before dying of the plague.  The last king, Eochy, ruled for ten years and during his reign there was no wet except for the dew which fell at night and no year without harvest.  Falsehoods were expelled from Ireland and the law of justice was enacted for the first time, but at the end of thirty seven years, King Eochy was brought news, a new group of people had come to Ireland and they had burned their ships behind them on the beach.     The Tuatha de Danann had arrived!

The Connections and insights from Participants

Below is the material recorded from the small group discussions after the Fir Bolg telling.

Connection 1 – The Fifth Province and the Distributed Power
The Fir Bolg are the bagmen of the world, the humblest and simplest of folk.  Some see them as the Elves (Lord of the Rings) of the Irish.  They take on the task of labourer.  Yet they bring the sophistication of the division of Ireland into five provinces that was later elaborated by Fintan MacBochra in the Settling of the Manor of Tara.

This is bottom up thinking from the humble bag men, an ideology of distributed power, the idea of the sacred centre and the role of that place as a balancing function (kidney) in society. This is a very different mythology from the linear, centralising and hierarchical logic of the Greco Roman Culture. So significant then that the Romans never reached Ireland.

Connection 2 – An Appreciative Framing
What is clear in this Fir Bolg world view is that each of the provinces bring something to the whole: Munster – music, Connacht – wisdom, Leinster – prosperity, Ulster – warfare and the Centre – unity and balance.  Rather than criticising and ‘altering’ this is a philosophy of appreciating.  The assumption being that the whole, in this regard, will be greater than the parts. In each case we are looking at strengths and positive outstanding qualities. This is so different from the modern tendency to “other” and to demonise!

Connection 3 – Immigrants and Innovation
Here is a classic example of the new people bringing in new ideas, and exchanging learning with people who are already here.  Some participants commented on how this is obviously a very different philosophy from the ‘build the wall’ in contemporary political culture (especially US and UK). This whole Mythology can be seen as a culture of one invasion after another. We are all in this sense, from somewhere else, it is just a case of how far back we go!

Connection 4 – Truth and Justice
In addition to the Ideology of the Fifths, the Fir Bolg were also credited with bringing prosperity (harvests), truth (absence of falsehoods) and law of justice.  Much came from these visitors from very humble beginnings.

Connection 5 – Nothing is permanent
In spite of thirty seven years of prosperity the experience (again) of plagues, there is to be a new threat, the arrival of another set of invaders, strange magical people who arrive and then buried their boats – the Tuatha de Danann.

Connection 6 – Not Chosen Theme …. Again
What we know of these people was that they were descended from the Nemedians. We also know that they went to Greece where they fared very badly. They were effectively enslaved. Here again we have the recurring theme of “not chosen-ness”.

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