Irish Mythology |Diarmuid and Graine


Princess Graine sitting in woods, waiting for Diarmuid.

Fionn mac Cumhall was firm in his loyalties. After the disappearance of Sadbh, he spent seven years of his life searching for her almost daily. We know, because we were with him, Bran and I. After a time, he realised that he must take another wife, and so he married Maighnis, and together they had a son, Fiachna. It was many years after her death before Fionn was finally persuaded by his men that he should consider taking another wife.

As the Fianna had grown and prospered, so had their fame and fortune. It came to Fionn’s attention that Cormac, the High King, had begun to fear their power, and worried for the safety of his position. Fionn had ever been loyal to Cormac, and so this news saddened him greatly. In order to reassure the King and cement their relationship, Fionn sent a representative seeking the hand of his young daughter, Grainne, in marriage. This union seemed a perfect solution for all concerned.

Except for Grainne. She was young and beautiful, and did not subscribe to the idea of being given into a loveless marriage simply to forge a political alliance. She wanted strong arms to hold her, a handsome face to smile at her, and passionate lips to kiss her. She wanted the freedom to choose her own husband, and who can blame her? When she met Fionn for the first time on the day of her wedding, she was appalled to find that he looked equally as old as her father.

Fionn, on the other hand, was delighted with the match. Not only did her lineage bring with it much fortune, but she was young, pretty, intelligent and sweet. Just gazing on her rejuvenated him and lifted his spirits. He didn’t notice how Grainne’s eyes roved among the dashing young men of the Fianna, until finally they alighted on the most handsome of them all, Diarmuid, loved by all women.

Diarmuid was everything Grainne desired in a husband; tall, good-looking, strong, a great warrior, and charming into the bargain. She mingled with all the guests, working her way ever closer, until she had him in her clutches. They spent a pleasant evening together, indulging in innocent, harmless flirtation, and no one thought anything of it, for she was Fionn’s new wife, and Diarmuid was his right-hand man.

But Grainne had set her sights on Diarmuid, and in no way intended to let him go. Some say he resisted her advances, that he was put under a geis by Grainne. In the end, nothing matters but that he was smitten by her in return, that he gave in to his impulses and in so doing, betrayed his friend and leader.

Together, Diarmuid and Grainne eloped into the night.

Fionn, always loyal and faithful to wife, King and friend, was deeply hurt and furious. His emotions twisted within him, burning and all-consuming, to the point that they superseded all else. He set all his hounds loose on the couple’s trail.

Bran and I led the chase the length and breadth of Ireland for the space of a year and a half. There are many places of refuge in Ireland which still bear the couple’s names to this day. We came close to catching them many times, too, but always secretly let them go, for we loved Diarmuid as much as did everyone else. We were not the only ones to give them aid; so did several of the Fianna, at the risk of Fionn’s wrath, for Diarmuid was popular with them all. Many adventures were had on both sides during this time, enough to fill the pages of a book in their own right.

Eventually, though, a tentative peace was made between Fionn and Cormac by Aengus Og, who was Diarmuid’s foster father. Fionn agreed to let the young couple be, although his resentment continued to smoulder beneath the surface. Cairpre, Cormac’s son and heir, was also not happy with this arrangement, for he begrudged Fionn’s power and place in his father’s heart, and this was later to lead to Fionn’s downfall.

Many years passed, and Diarmuid and Graine raised a family of four fine sons. Then one day, the opportunity to end old hostilities presented itself in an invitation to join Fionn and the Fianna in a hunt for the old Boar of Benbulben.

Keen to prove himself and rekindle Fionn’s favour, Diarmuid threw himself wholeheartedly into the hunt. So it was that he came first and alone upon the wily old boar. They charged recklessly at one another. Diarmuid dealt the brute a monumental death wound, but in so doing was gored most grievously by the boar’s tusks. Sometime later, Fionn and the Fianna came upon him lying beside his mighty kill. It was clear that his life was soaking away into the turf along with the pool of blood in which he lay.

Fionn had many skills; not only was he a mighty leader of men, a great warrior and strategist, and a mystical diviner of the future, but he possessed also the gift of healing. Watching death claim his one-time best friend and right-hand man, Fionn was reminded of all that he loved about Diarmuid, and he rushed to a nearby stream, cupping its water in his hands, imbuing it with his magical healing powers. But on his way back, he remembered how Diarmuid had broken his heart by stealing his new bride and betraying him, and he let the water slip through his fingers.

Shamed by his son Oisin, and his grandson Oscar, and the rest of the Fianna, for they all loved Diarmuid, Fionn returned to the stream for more water, remembering all the good deeds Diarmuid had done. Knowing, now, that saving him was the right thing to do, Fionn hastened back, but he was too late. Poor, brave, good, handsome Diarmuid was dead.

After Diarmuid’s death, Grainne took up her place as Fionn’s wife. Whether they truly loved one another, is hard to say. Why would he have wanted her? Perhaps out of guilt, and a sense of duty; perhaps as a message to others that he had laid claim to Diarmuid’s possessions. Some say she died later of her grief, but that first she made peace between her sons and Fionn, for they blamed him for their father’s death, and desired revenge. It is also said that she never forgave Fionn for not saving Diarmuid when he had the chance, and that eventually she threw herself under the wheels of Fionn’s chariot one day, taking her life so that in death she could be once again with her lover.

But those who know the truth are long gone, and we that remain can only speculate. So ends the sad story of Diarmuid and Grainne.


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