It is said that the name Caílte means slender and fierce, which renders it a very suitable name for this character. He was a member of the Fianna who was as known for his athleticism as his willingness to help. He was a great personal friend of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and most of the tales of the deeds of the Fianna involve Fionn and Caílte along with a few of the other more prominent members. Like Fionn, he was descended from the Baoiscne clan, a clan known for its generosity of spirit. There is nothing that he wouldn’t do for his brothers in the Fianna, and certainly nothing he wouldn’t do for Fionn. It is often his interventions that get the Fianna out of trouble. His feats usually involve great speed, as he was particularly known for his lightness of foot.

Stories of Caílte:
While out hunting, the Fianna were accosted by a hag. She refused to let them pass, and demanded that they race her. If they lost she would kill them and eat them. Caílte raced her, overtook her, turned around and cut off her head.

When Fionn wooed Gráinne, she demanded of him the gift of the male and female of every animal in Ireland in one single drove. Caílte ran the length and breadth of Ireland, collecting each animal, and managing to keep them all in one group, and drove them to Gráinne before the sun had set that very day.

He brought a herd of hares to Tara and placed them in a house with nine open doors. By racing around the house all night he was able to keep all the hares in until morning.

The king of Ireland wished to have a fistful of sand delivered to him every morning from each of the four shores of Ireland, as he could tell by the smell of the sand whether any enemies had landed during the night. Three men offered their services. The first man said that he could do the task as quickly as a leaf fall from a tree. The second man told him that he could do it as quickly as a cat slinks between two houses. The third man (Caílte) said that he could finish this task as fast as a woman changes her mind. The king, impressed by this, tasked him with the job. “I have just returned,” Caílte replied, holding out the bags of sand.

Faithful comrade, good friend, and proactive member of the Fianna. You never get the sense that he ever expects to be owed any gratitude or service in return for his feats. He is delighted to possess such athletic skill as it renders him useful, but he does not let pride swell his head. For him, he is but one member of a tribe, and he never begrudges anyone else their place.

Objects in Irish Mythology

Each Hero in Irish Mythology had his favourite sword, and some of these achieved legendary status.

One of the most legendary objects in Irish Mythology was the Gae Bolga, granted to Cuchulainn by Scathach. This was a spear, which separated into many barbs on entering the body. It was impossible to remove, and its wound was fatal. Only one of these existed, and it was the preserve of Cuchulainn, thus further underlining his status as the champion of all Ireland.

Lugh of the Tuatha De Danann carried a sword named FreagarachAnswerer – which cut through anything.

Diarmuid had two swords depending on the type of fighting necessary; Moralltach – Great fury – and Beagalltach – Small Fury. It was with Moralltach that he slew the giant guarding the tree of the berries of youth, and it was because he left his sword at home on the day of his final hunt that he was unable to defend himself against the magical boar that attacked him.

The God Manannan owned a boat named the Wave Sweeper, which could grow to accommodate any number of passengers and did not require oars or sails in order to move.

Irish folktales are full of objects such as magic shoes for swift walking, magic cloaks of invisibility, magic keys to open any locks, and magic sticks that grew to form bridges or supports. Once these objects were used they generally disappeared and returned to the fairy world from which they usually came.

From the fairy world also came the Banshee – which literally means a woman of the fairies. It was said that the Banshee would only walk near the house of one who was about to die.

The Animals within Irish Myth

Many animals within Irish Mythology play important parts.

The Salmom of Knowledge is one such creature, and it has already been described how tasting the skin of this fish was enough to endow Fionn MacCumhal with great wisdom and foresight, making him the most respected of men among his contemporaries.

The Wild Boar is another popular animal in the cycle, and often plays a more sinister role. The most famous boar was the one responsible for the death of Diarmuid. It was in fact an enchanted human. When Diarmuid was a boy he was fostered in the house of Aengus Og, and was close friends with the steward of the household’s son. Diarmuid’s father, Donn, came to visit one day and was jealous of the attention bestowed on this other boy, feeling his more noble child was being slighted. When two hounds began to fight Donn seized his opportunity and broke the boy’s neck and threw the body into the midst of the fight, where it would look like the dogs had killed him. The steward was anguished and called for an inquiry where it was discovered that no mark from a dog was found on the child’s body. It was found that Donn had killed the boy, and in anger the steward struck his son’s corpse with a druidical wand and changed him into a boar. He then promised that one day Diarmuid would meet this boar again, and that then he would be killed. Thus it was when Diarmuid went hunting many years later with the still vengeful Finn, that he was gored by this same boar, Finn having deliberately placed him in danger, and so met his death. This boar, and other boars in Irish mythology have come to represent the wild, mysterious and untamed aspects of ancient Irish life, and are therefore animals to be feared.

Diarmuid and Gráinne

Long ago in Ireland, in the time of the Fianna, one of the greatest and most famous warriors under Finn mac Cumhaill’s leadership was named Diarmuid O’Duibhne.

Diarmuid was the son of a man named Donn, and he was raised with his half-brother, the son of a man named Roc. One day, the son of Roc was frightened by an animal, and he ran between the legs of Diarmuid’s father Donn to hide. Donn squeezed the child between his thighs until he died. When the child’s father, Roc, found his son’s broken body, he wept and raged. Then he performed a magical ceremony, and brought his son back to life in the body of a wild boar. He put a geasa on it to kill Donn’s son Diarmuid, and sent the boar off into the wilds, because he knew that Diarmuid had a geasa on him never to pierce the skin of a pig, and would not be able to defend himself.

Besides the wild boar’s enmity, Diarmuid grew up to be a great warrior, and passed the rigorous tests to become one of the Fianna. The love and loyalty he had for Finn Mac Cumhaill was very strong, but Diarmuid was known for more than his fighting skills. He was a great favourite among women, being very beautiful, and he was born with the Bol Sherca in the middle of his forehead. This was a magical spot that made anyone who saw it fall in love with him. Diarmuid knew that this could cause all sorts of trouble, so he grew his hair down over his forehead to cover it, and tried to keep it out of sight.

Finn Mac Cumhaill was getting on in years, but was still the greatest warrior in all Ireland. He held onto his place as the head of the Fianna, but he was aware that someday, the years would start to tell, even on him. Every year on his birthday, he undertook to leap across a great chasm, because he would rather die as soon as his strength began to fail him, than to live on and slowly decline.

Finn loved all the finest things in life; feasting, storytelling, hunting and good company; and he decided that he had been too long without a wife. So he called his men together and asked for their advice on the matter. They all agreed that the only woman in Ireland fit to be the wife of the great Finn Mac Cumhaill was the daughter of the High King Cormac Mac Airt, called Gráinne. Now, Finn was aware that he was a good deal older than Gráinne, and he was shy of asking for her hand himself, so he sent two ambassadors to speak to Gráinne on his behalf.

GrainneGráinne was the most beautiful woman in Ireland at that time. When she was twelve years old, she had seen a boy playing hurling, and the wind had blown his hair back from his face, and she had fallen in love with him, completely and irrevocably. And as the years passed, she had refused every man who had ever asked for her hand, for love of the boy on the hurling field. But when she heard that the great Finn Mac Cumhaill was asking for her hand, she was flattered. She decided that she had spent long enough waiting for this boy, and she did not know his name or where to find him, so she might as well marry Finn.

When her answer was given, a great feast was held to celebrate the upcoming wedding. Gráinne hid behind a curtain, to spy out and catch a glimpse of her husband-to-be. She Finn’s son Oisin sitting beside him, and was struck by the contrast between them: how much younger and more beautiful Oisin looked than his father. She wondered why Finn had asked for her for himself, and not for his son, and she began to regret her decision. And then Finn moved out of the way, and she saw the man seated on the other side of him: Diarmuid O’Duibhne. The boy from the hurling field who she had loved since she was twelve.

At that moment, Gráinne resolved that she was not going to marry Finn Mac Cumhaill.

She sat down to the feast, saying nothing, and passed around a cup of wine, into which she’d put a sleeping posset. She gave it to Finn, and to all of the Fianna, apart from the leaders of the Fianna. Then, one by one, she asked each of the leaders of the Fianna if they would run away with her. They all refused, such was their loyalty to Finn. Then Gráinne turned to Diarmuid and put him under a geasa to run away with her.

Diarmuid was torn. He had never betrayed Finn, and never wanted to, but he could not go against a geasa put on him by a woman. She told him that she was going to ready herself, and went to her chambers, and while she was gone, Diarmuid consulted with the other leaders of the Fianna. They all agreed: he had no choice. Even though it meant tearing his heart in two, and leaving one half of it with Finn Mac Cumhaill, he could not break a geasa.

Very unhappily, Diarmuid went away with Gráinne. Unused to hard travelling, Gráinne grew weary after a while and asked Diarmuid to carry her, but he refused, hoping she would give up and go back to Finn. Instead, she put him under a geasa to go and find horses for them, and he had no choice but to do as she asked.

They met with Aengus Óg, the god of love, who thoroughly approved of their match, and decided to help them. He told them that they were never going to be able to sleep in a cave with one opening, or a house with one door, or a tree with one branch, and that they would never be able to eat where they cooked, or sleep where they ate. They would have to keep moving if they were to stay ahead of Finn and the Fianna.

When Finn Mac Cumhaill awoke the next day from the sleeping potion, and realized what had happened, his heart broke. It was not Gráinne’s desertion that hurt him, but the fact that Diarmuid had betrayed him. He set out with a grimness and a set in his jaw to catch them up and get his revenge.

For a long time he chased them, and they were always one step ahead. Every time he came across their traces, he grew more and more furious, but every time he found one of the nests that Diarmuid had made for Gráinne, he found that Diarmuid had left a piece of raw meat or fish as a message to Finn that he had not touched Gráinne. Then one day, as Diarmuid and Gráinne were crossing a ford, a splash of water wet her thigh. She said to Diarmuid that whatever courage he might have in battle, that splash of water had more courage than he. And Diarmuid was shamed into making her his wife, and after that he left no messages of purity for Finn.

One night, they slept in a house with seven doors, and Finn and the Fianna caught up with them. A member of the Fianna stood at each door to make sure they couldn’t escape. Aengus Óg came down, and told them that he would spirit them away to safety, but Diarmuid refused. He sent Gráinne away with the god, and stayed behind. Diarmuid went to each door in turn, and at each door, the man who guarded it offered to let him go, till he came to the seventh door, guarded by Finn Mac Cumhaill. Roaring in anger, Finn told him he would kill him if he came out that door. Diarmuid opened the door to face him, and took to the fight. When the Fianna surrounded him, he leaped up with the leap of a salmon, jumped over their heads, and ran away to join Gráinne.

Later that year, Diarmuid got permission from a giant to hunt on his land, provided he did not eat any of the magical rowan berries that grew on the tree where the giant lived. But Gráinne, who was pregnant, longed for the berries, and so Diarmuid killed the giant for her. The berries high up in the tree were sweeter than those below, so the two climbed up into the tree to the giant’s bed, and ate berries and rested a while.

The Mac Morna clan, enemies of Finn Mac Cumhaill, came to make peace with him. Finn said that he would agree to a truce if they brought him either the head of Diarmuid O’Duibhne, or the magical berries of the rowan tree. They decided the berries would be easier to get, so they set out, but of course, they found the giant slain and many of the berries missing.

Finn knew that only Diarmuid could have killed that giant, since it wasn’t one of his men, and he and the Fianna spent that night camping under the tree. Finn had a good idea that Diarmuid was still up there. He challenged Oisin to a game of chess, and as Oisin began to make a move that would lead to Finn beating him, a berry dropped onto the square that he should move to. He made the move, and continued to follow the guidance of the rowan berries. Eventually, Oisin beat his father at chess for the very first time. Finn Mac Cumhaill sprang up, saying “There’s only one man in Ireland who could have beaten me at chess, and that’s Diarmuid O’Duibhne.” And there was Diarmuid, looking down on them from up in the tree. Diarmuid leaped to safety, while Aengus Óg spirited Gráinne away.

After years and years on the run, and all the time Diarmuid and Gráinne had spent living together as man and wife, raising their four sons and their daughter, and never able to stop or rest, they decided to try and make peace with Finn Mac Cumhaill. Finn agreed to put his anger aside, and welcomed them back with a great feast. They were finally able to settle down with their family and live in peace, and Diarmuid and Finn rebuilt their great friendship.

Some years later, Finn asked Diarmuid to go hunting with him. They came across a terrible beast: the wild boar of Ben Bulben. They tracked it through the wilds, and when they cornered it at last, the boar ran straight for Diarmuid. It was the son of Roc, who had been killed so many years before, and it had to fulfil the geasa to kill the son of Donn.

Finn saw the beast charging at him, and reminded Diarmuid of his geasa, to never pierce the skin of a pig. The boar gored Diarmuid, and Diarmuid hit it on the head with the hilt of his sword, killing it. But it was too late, and Diarmuid lay dying. He asked Finn Mac Cumhaill to give him a drink of water from his hands. Anyone who drank water from the hands of Finn Mac Cumhaill would be restored to health, because of his magical thumb. So Finn went to the river, and carried water back to Diarmuid, but at the last moment, he remembered with bitterness, how Diarmuid had run away with Gráinne, and he let the water trickle out between his fingers. But he saw Diarmuid didn’t have long, and the great friendship between them moved his heart, so he went back for water, only to let it trickle through his fingers a second time. The third time he went back for water, and there was no bitterness left in him. He poured the water in between Diarmuid’s lips, but it was too late. Diarmuid O’Duibhne was already dead.


Diarmuid was a young lieutenant of Finn, the now aging hero and leader of the Fianna. At a banquet Grainne, who was at the time betrothed to Finn, fell in love with the young hero Diarmuid. She placed him under a geis, a bond that compelled him to take her from the palace at Tara. Therefore Diarmuid fled Tara with his leader’s fiancée.

Tales of Grainne & Diarmuid
Diarmuid faced the double-edged sword of betraying the geis or betraying his leader. He took Grainne into exile and they fled the Fianna who pursued them to win her back for the king. She had initially tricked Diarmuid into this situation and her powers of manipulation were strong. The couple were chased all over Ireland, but they were assisted by the god of love, Oenghus. They entered the forest of Duvnos which contained the tree of Immortality. In the forest a giant, Sharavan the Surly, guarded the tree of Immortality, and Diarmuid made an agreement with him that Sharavan would leave the lovers in peace if Grainne and Diarmuid did not take any of the berries from the tree. But Grainne soon persuaded her lover to pick berries and Diarmuid killed Sharavan in the process. Soon Finn and his men caught up with the pair, and they entered the forest. Finn knew that they were hiding in the tree of Immortality but decided to try to draw Diarmuid out. He and Oisín played chess beneath the branches and Diarmuid couldn’t resist dropping a berry onto the board to signify to Oisín which move to make. Having been assured that Diarmuid was indeed amongst the branches, Finn sent Garva up to kill him. But Diarmuid won and threw the body down. But Oenghus changed his appearance so that Finn believed the body thrown to the ground was in fact Diarmuid.

Grainne manages to pull Diarmuid away from his allegiance to the king and using the geis draws him into an unbreakable bond to her. From this the love between the two appears to be strong, and Grainne plays a masterful role in the relationship

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