The Encounter of Líadain and Cuirithir

Last week, I listened to one of my lecturers read aloud a poem in Old Irish, and I learned a few things:

  1. Old Irish is a language which is meant to be listened to.
  2. Listening to someone read poetry aloud in Old Irish, even when you don’t understand what the hell he’s saying, is… well, let’s just say it’s very pleasant. 😉

The Encounter of Líadain and Cuirithir is a romantic tragedy, and a story I had not yet come across. It is told, as many old Irish stories are told, in both poetry and prose, with the poetry normally being reserved for speech, or to emphasize a particularly important point, or exchange. And because February is the month of love (just look at all the people born in November and tell me it isn’t!), I thought I’d share it with you.

Linguistically, the story dates to the ninth century, but is set back in the seventh century. It concerns two poets, and the love which grew between them, and how it ended in tragedy.

Líadain of Corco Duibne was a lady poet (see… women could be poets in ancient Ireland!) who was touring the province of Connacht, where she met  Cuirithir mac Doborchu, a local poet. Well, it was love at first sight, and being lusty Irish, they spent the night together.

Cuirithir wanted more than a one night stand; “Why do we not make a union, o Líadain? Brilliant would be our son whom you would beget,” he entreated her, no doubt alluding to their combined skills as poets.

Líadain had fallen even more deeply in love, but something held her back… her love for God (you might know he’d poke his nose in at some point, if St. Patrick wasn’t available).

She told him to come for her at her home when she has completed her tour as a poetess. This he does, and the couple then approached Bishop Cummine for guidance.

He was not kind. He instructed Cuirithir to renounce his love and banished him to a monastery far away over the sea. Líadain takes the veil, but never forgets her passion for her lost love.

As he crossed the sea in his coracle, she mourned the cruel loss of her lover from a vantage point on a boulder overlooking the bay, and died of a broken heart.

The Bishop then placed the stone over her grave. What became of Cuirithir, if he ever learned of his lover’s death, we don’t know.

This is part of the poem Líadian composes about Cuirithrir:

I am Líadain,
I loved Cuirithir.
It is as true as they tell it.

It was a short time that I was
in the company of Cuirithir.
Towards him, my companionship was good.

The music of the wood
used to sing around me when I was with Cuirithir
with the sound of the blood-red ocean.

I would have thought
that nothing of whatever things I might do
would bring Cuirithir against me.

One shouldn’t hide it:
he was my heart’s desire,
even if I loved everyone besides him.

A roar of fire
has broke my heart.
It is known that it will not live without him.

I think these words are so poignant, so sad and heartfelt. The passing of centuries has not diminished them. She clearly regrets having turned him down, having let her fear of God come between them. It is a lament that she hurt the man she loves so dearly… look how often she repeats his name: she is obsessed. I really feel for her.

There does seem to be some confusion in the story; the delay to their getting together is attributed to both her desire to become a nun, and her desire to continue her tour as a travelling poetess. Clearly, it can’t be both, so which is it?

If she becomes a nun first and then sleeps with Cuirithir, then clearly they have both sinned, which explains the Bishop’s harsh decision. But if she becomes a nun after Cuirithir leaves her, then clearly her decision to put her career as a travelling poetess first offended him deeply, in which case she should forget about the selfish arse!

If the former is true, then the story is one of chastity, punishment, love of God, and that most heinous of crimes, female lust. But if the latter is true, more than likely the story has an older source, and is a tale of love and tragic misunderstanding which has been tampered with by Christians to suit their moral code.

Was Líadian a historical figure? It’s hard to say. Her name means the ‘Grey One’, or the ‘Grey Lady’, perhaps in reference to the nun’s habit she wore. Her name does crop up elsewhere in the company of three other female poets, but there is no actual evidence that she really existed.

However, medieval writers were wont to put their stories in the mouths of historical personae as speakers of history. It may even be that her story is true, but she did not write it, at least, not in the version which currently exists. Linguistically, some of the rhyme in the text has been found to date specifically to the ninth century.

So, till next time, Myth Lovers…


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Irish Words and Symbols of Love

irish words and symbols of love
irish words and symbols of love

“Love wasn’t like it was portrayed in the movies; I understood that now. It wasn’t an ethereal cloud of hearts and flowers and happy-ever-afters. It was a solid gritty living lump with sharp edges plunging around in my chest, a spiky ball of complex conflicting emotions all rolled into one indistinguishable, exquisite messy mass which extended feelers into every aspect, every layer of my being.”

This is how Cethlenn, the main protagonost of my latest WIP, Swanskin, describes the experience of falling in love.

Of course, it’s different for everyone. Here are some thoughts on love from some of Ireland’s more famous writers;

“Hearts are not to be had as a gift, hearts are to be earned.”

-William Butler Yeats

“You don’t love someone for their looks or their clothes or their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.”

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”

–  both by Oscar Wilde

If you want to tell someone special how much you care this Valentine, here are some things you could say in Irish…

Gráim thú

(pronounced graw-im hoo)

I love you

Is tú mo ghrá

is a more formal way to say I love you

mo chuisle

(pronounced muh khish-la)

my pulse


a chuisle mo chroí

pulse of my heart

grá mo chroí

love of my heart

Which reminds me, around this time last year, Jane Dougherty and I published some retellings of Irish love myths. You can get a free copy on Smashwords, but if you want to download from or, you’ll have to pay 99p/99c… they won’t let us permafree it, sadly. If you haven’t read it, get it… it’s free (on Smashwords) and it’s perfect for the season that’s in it!

GMCFinal version sml

Now for some poetry. I came across this, and thought it was quite sweet…

“The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white- rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.”

– John Boyle O’Reilly

“Love hath a language of his own – A voice, that goes
from heart to heart – whose mystic tone
love only knows.”

– Thomas Moore

Here are some old country Irish marriage proposals, which I quite liked…

  • Come live in my heart, and pay no rent.
  • Would you like to hang your washing next to mine? And the reply – Tis a lonely wash with no man’s shirt in it.
  • November is the time to wed, the harvest’s in and it’s cold in bed.

And some old Irish sayings about love…

  • If he/ she doesn’t hear poetry, they won’t hear anything at all.
  • Love is like stirabout (porridge); it must be made fresh every day.
  • A little fire that warms the heart is better than a big fire that burns.

According to tradition, Irish oysters are an aphrodisiac, especially when eaten with a pint of stout. It’s said to be more powerful magic than standing under the mistletoe at Christmas.

Finally, the Claddagh Ring is a symbol of Ireland that we all know and recognise. It is often used in place of a wedding ring, but in Ireland, it is just as often given and worn as a sign of friendship, as of love.

The design takes the form of a crowned heart nestled within two hands. It symbolises the intention, ‘let love and friendship reign’. It is thought that originally this ring was an heirloom belonging to a family from the fishing village of Clauddagh in Galway.

The Claddagh is a variation of a type of ring known as a fede. The fede dates back to Roman times, when the gesture of clasped hands was a symbol of pledging vows, and represented faith and trust.

Queen Victoria was said to have worn a Claddagh ring. It was only then that the crown was added to the design, and the ring gained popularity as a wedding ring.

There is a lovely story concerning the origins of the Claddagh ring. Richard Joyce, a silversmith from Galway was captured by Algerian Corsairs around 1675 while travelling to the West Indies. He was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith who taught him the craft.

He was freed fourteen years later, when King William III sent an ambassador demanding the release of all British subjects who had been enslaved. Joyce then returned to Galway, taking the ring he had made while in captivity, which he gave to his sweetheart upon their marriage.

Tradition dictates that the ring must never be bought for oneself, but only given as a gift. The people of Clauddagh were said to have handed them down through the generations of their families as heirlooms.

The way the Claddagh is worn can reveal a lot about the wearer; if you are single, you should wear the ring on your right hand with the heart facing outward from your body. If you are in a relationship, you should wear the ring on your right hand with the heart facing inwards. If you are engaged, you should wear the ring on your left hand on the third finger with the heart pointing outwards, and if you are married, you should wear the ring on your left hand on the third finger with the heart pointing inwards.

Who knew the wearing of a ring could be so complicated! Only in Ireland…


Winners of #Grámochroí Twitter Poetry Competition

clover heart on wooden backgroundIt wasn’t easy. We had a lot of entries, and Jane and I had to short-list them down to only ten. The lovely Nina of #Fieryverse then chose the winners. Without further ado, here they are, the glorious shining stars of the #Grámochroí twitter poetry competition!

Deep water forests
of kelp and the moss
green bones of lost ships:
your city of silence
whose streets I cannot walk.

By Yvonne Marjot ‏@Alayanabeth

She writes her love on the wind
In light upon the water
In the pure line of a tern’s dive
From blue to blue
Reading, he smiles.

By Harriet Goodchild ‏@HMGoodchild

the warship left.

in hawthorn trees
he twist a twig ring

now in grief,
hand on the back
of her neck

it became gold.

By John Feaster ‏@JohnFeasterB Feb 9

In addition, we felt that there were others of an equally high standard, which were also worthy of a mention, so here are our four runners up, too.

She meets her love by starlight
A shiver & a shimmer
Two swans rise from the black water

By Harriet Goodchild ‏@HMGoodchild

In a howling wind
the hunt goes past,
wild geese in skeins.
Herne himself,
writhing in mist,
shakes his spear

By  Yvonne Marjot ‏@Alayanabeth

Arise with me
Before dawn
Awakens with its golden flame
Alone together
We’ll weave a fire
So bright it puts the sun to shame

By Éilis Niamh ‏@EilisNiamh

Niamh wept emerald tears
for her lover of so many years
she kissed his lips
bid him farewell
the isle of Eire
his death knell

By Merry Maiden ‏@QueenofCups99

Thank you to everyone who took part; it was quite addictive and a lot of fun passing poem tweets back and forth of an evening! This is not the end of #Gramochroi, so please continue to send in your mythology love poem tweets, and don’t forget to include the hashtag.

neverlastingThank you to Nina of #fieryverse for judging, who was very busy in the final stages of publishing her new book, Neverlasting: Poetry of Love Lust & Lechery, an anthology of love poems which includes three from our very own Jane Dougherty, so please be sure to follow the link and check it out.

If you fancy a bit of extra reading, you can find all Jane’s books at and, and mine are here (uk) and here (us), and you will also find Grá mo Chroí there, if you haven’t yet got your copy.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Irish Mythology | Happy Valentine’s Day – The Persuit of Diarmuid and Grainne

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all, I hope you’re getting some lovin’ today! In the spirit of all things #Grámochroí and true everlasting love, I thought I’d bring you something special.

In Grá mo Chroí, one of the stories I tell is about the fated love of Diarmuid and Grainne. Grainne was destined to marry Fionn mac Cumhall, but he was old and grey. Instead, she fell in love with the young, darkly handsome and dashing Diarmuid. Their story is full of great passion, love which lasts beyond the grave, hate and jealousy which leads a friend to kill, tragedy and deep sorrow. It is a love story unlike any other love story as we know them, and told as only the Irish fili can tell.

If you follow this blog, you know how passionate I am about connecting with our ancient ancestors whom we hear so much about in Irish mythology. One of the ways I love to do this is by visiting the places associated with them.

Sheebeg, the mound of Grainne and Diarmuid's Grave
Sheebeg, the mound of Grainne and Diarmuid’s Grave

Diarmuid and Grainne went on the run so they could escape Fionn’s wrath and be together, never sleeping more than a night in one place. Today, there are still many places around Ireland named for their brief sojourn there. Their presence seems so ingrained into the landscape and the Irish psyche thousands of years later, it’s quite impossible to believe it’s just a story. I think the foundations are rooted as deeply in truth as their final resting place is in Ireland’s soil.

Here is one of the places where they were said to have laid their heads.

Cover Reveal | Grá mo Chroí, ‘Love of my Heart’

GMCFinal Version lge
Available to pre-order on and Launches Wednesday 11th February.

It’s not slushy, it’s not dewy-eyed, it’s not bodice-ripping, but it IS Irish, it IS mythology, and it IS romantic!

Back in November, it seemed like such a good idea; Jane Dougherty and I had got to know each other via our blogs, we had similar interests, and wrote along similar themes. When she agreed to the Grá mo Chroí project, I was delighted… for about five minutes, and then the panic set in.

I don’t/ can’t write short stories. I had never written a love story in my life. And Jane was so much further along the evolutionary path of a writer than I, how could I hope to meet the standard she set? I was going to have to up my game, and quick; we had settled on love stories from Irish myth with a launch date just prior to Valentine’s Day. We had two months in which to gather our thoughts, select and write our stories, edit them, create a book cover, format and publish, and plan and implement something of a blog tour (a big and heartfelt thank you to all our lovely blogging friends who stepped up to the mark here and agreed to help us out!). And in the middle of that, we had the Christmas and New Year holidays.

It was looking like a bit of a tall order. It normally takes me at least a year to write a book (I’m very slow!). But this one came together surprisingly easily, perhaps because it was such a pleasure to have someone to share it with, perhaps because we were able to support and encourage each other, and just maybe the heroes and heroines of these tales really wanted their stories to be told.

These are not your average love stories… how could they be? They come from Irish mythology, they feature brave, fierce warriors like Fionn mac Cumhall, Cuchullain and Diarmuid; powerful Gods and Goddesses like Manannán and Cliodhna; Fairy Queens like Fand; wise and noble High Kings like Cormac mac Airt, and beautiful Princesses like Deirdre and Grainne. They are full of passion, tragedy and poetry, all the ingredients which make a love story clutch at your heart, stir your emotions and excite your senses. They are stories which should not be forgotten.

I have enjoyed working with Jane on this project immensely. You can read what Jane has to say about it here. The tales we have told may not be represented in the way you might expect, and the views of some of the characters may surprise you. These are the stories which spoke to us, and we hope you love them as much as we do.

The Friday Fiction featuring Dax Christopher

Justice in Winter
(The Goddess of Wind and Rain)

Deep in the woods off a long, winding road, and finding no reasons for where she now lay

Was a broken young woman half buried in snow, just married, half clothed in torn rags and the gray

Of the season that later would prey on her heart and remain there until she had seen her last day.

Dismayed eyes spoke of betrayal and hurt and had frozen, uncertain of why she was slain

In a portrait of ice and without any warning, but morning would yield all the answers she’d need.

If only she’d known of the meeting of late she might not have died there under the tree.

But as is often the case, we see everything clearer in the mirror when everything’s done and behind us.

When life gets too warm and cozy it goes without notice until something tragic reminds us.

All the world around her now had bound her down to watch her shake,

Dying with the light of day but trying hard to stay awake.

Silent stillness made her numb and deaf and dumb to everything

Except the burn of frost on skin and Lady Winter’s icy sting.

No one there to even care or listen to her awful story,

Winter claimed her rigid frame and stole her breath in all its glory.

On the floor of nature’s house, a mouse without a chance in Hell,

Our heroine’s dying wish was for the world to know her story well. Continue reading

Irish Mist | A Poem


From Celtic dreams

through Irish mists

warrior-maiden drifts.

Through Scottish glens

past English lakes

a lover’s tryst she makes.

Where wild winds blow,

there will she go

to meet her heart’s desire.

Soft words are hissed,

then lips are kissed

and love is quenched in fire.

Let battle commence

from this day hence,

two forces joined, yet apart.

Lost in life’s maze

till the end of days,

bound by passion of the heart.