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…


COME ON A JOURNEY OF ANCIENT IRELAND WITH ME.

Join my mailing list and receive your free book, as well as getting your Monthly Myth Fix!

 

The Glade #writephoto

The Glade Sue Vincent's #writephoto Prompt www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
The Glade Sue Vincent’s #writephoto Prompt
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

I haven’t taken part in many writing challenges recently. Quite honestly, its all been a bit of a struggle for a while, writing and researching for the blog, keeping up with all your lovely blogs and comments, writing books and all my motherly duties as well. Sometimes everything seems to conspire to suck the inspiration out of you, and it’s a downward spiral from there. But Sue’s picture really spoke to me; it reminded me of all the old places of Ireland I love with my heart and soul and bones. I need to pay some visits. In the meantime, I wrote this, and added a poem I started when I was about 17, but only finished last year. It seems to fit the prompt. At least to me.


the glade

Beards of moss drape old stones with velvet softness. Stark-raw and already ancient, these great stone-bones once teased and tortured from the earth into grey new skeletons, wherein men danced and dreamed and viewed the stars, survive in hunched fragments of former glory.

Now tumbled and crumbled, they lie discarded, forgotten, memories of magic dormant yet still alive throbbing within them. You can feel it if you touch them, feel the vibration in the air on your skin. Be still.

The earth remembers. Time is meaningless here; there is no rush. She feels her way, creeping slowly over recumbent remains, claiming lost treasure torn from her flesh. She heals the hurt without reproach while no one notices.


ancient places
What cities lie buried beneath each hill?

Monuments born of ancient times,

Forgotten and lost but standing still,

Neglected, disconnected, these are our crimes.

*

What histories are etched into ancient stones?

Tales decayed with the fall of walls,

The sag of dynasty, the crumble of bones,

The march of ghosts through tumbled halls.

*

If we could learn to unlock the past

What shrouds would unfurl from our eyes?

Would realisation be ours at last?

Understanding the what, when, who and why's.

*

The power was strong, up on Shee Mor,

I felt at great peace, content.

At Moytura, where warriors fought their war

no harm for me was meant.

*

At Uisneach, by the lough where Lugh was drowned

I grieved for Eire's loss, watched Beltaine fires leap.

Then to Tara, where High Kings were crowned,

the Sacred Stone sadly lost in eternal slumber deep.

*

These places, their magic floods my soul,

washes me clean of the now.

Their stories surge through me, re-make me whole,

ancient voices tell of the how.

*

Ancestors sing and call me home.

I would go if I knew the way.

Under my feet, beneath the loam

stirs blood, beats heart of a by-gone day.

Head on over to Sue Vincent’s blog to take a look at the other entries, and if you fancy giving it a go yourself, here is what you have to do;

Use the image to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… by Wednesday 25th May and link back to Sue’s post, not this one, with a pingback. Please make sure that the pingback works and if not, copy and paste your link into the comments section of  Sue’s post.

Don’t forget to use the new and shiny #writephoto hashtag in your title:)

Due to the volume of entries, only the first few posts will feature on Sue’s blog during the week and all posts will be included in a round up on Thursday 26th May.

Feel free to use #writephoto logo or include the prompt photo in your post if you wish or you can replace it with one of your own to illustrate your work. Have fun!


Get more mythology straight to your inbox. Sign up to my mailing list.

Or try one of these…

A Poem for Samhain Witches Lament

A Witches Lament | A Poem for Samhain www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
A Witches Lament | A Poem for Samhain
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

I wrote this poem for Samhain last year, and decided to re-post it, because it fits with the season so well, and also with the atmosphere of last week’s poem, The Princess on the Hill.

They hide the truth,

these gaudy costumes,

the carved lanterns,

the trick or treat.

Reality is macabre,

glossed by lies and pretence.

They fear the truth.

*

Once, I was revered.

Earth’s power rose within me,

I cured, I foretold,

I held in my soul

the key to life’s mystery,

and the Goddess spoke through my voice.

Once, I was adored.

*

In those days I could fly…

Yes, really.

But superstition and ignorance

stripped me bare.

Instead, I turn away

and I hide.

Oh, but I could fly!

*

Fires honoured the dead,

they blessed summer’s end,

witnessed the birth of a year

dark and terrible and new.

They brought light, warmth, hope

to where the darkness was.

Now, they consume the living.

*

Women like me,

we burn in the flames,

we drown in the bog,

held down by the weight

of our skills, misunderstood.

They hunt us, they hate us,

women like me.

*

What once made us powerful

thus renders us weak.

The old ways can’t prevent

the onslaught of

the new convictions.

The danger of zealots

makes us only fearful.

*

I was beautiful, then.

With youth on my side,

and the knowing of the universe

filling my heart.

I was invincible, or so I thought,

until I watched them suffer and die.

I am withered and empty, now.

A Samhain Poem | The Princess on the Hill

A Poem for Tlachtga

Éilis Niamh and I were recently challenged by Jane Dougherty to write a circular poem. You can read their circular poems by clicking on their names. It being the season that it is, and the big event drawing ever nearer, my mind has been wandering over the tragic legend of Tlachtga, and so this poem is inspired by her, and dedicated to her.

She lies upon the hill, ragged and torn,

Borne of the night her three sons bold.

Told a story heartless and cruel,

Fuel for revenge of an act most foul.

Howling like wolves that feed on death,

Breath-whispered curses, plotting and schemes,

Dreams of justice wrought by the sword.

Ward, the hill is known as now,

Samhain the festival held there still.

Hill of doom whereon lies her tomb,

Womb-like shelter of a princess wronged.

Prolonged her suffering, glad her end,

Transcend beyond her mortal ties,

Dies. But perhaps she watched them, proud

Vowed and geisa-bound to serve with combat,

Begat in violence, ruled by the blade,

Shade in their eyes,  and hearts ice-dipped.

Worshipped as a Goddess in her still, dark mound,

Drowned in silence, residing only in memory,

She lies on the hill.

Poem | Missing the Point

Original image Philipp Reichmuth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

They are dragged up the hill like beads on a rosary, their guide droning, words buzzing in one ear, dripping from the other like honey, to make room for the three other sites they will visit today.

They want to look through glass, sit in comfort, with information shouted through a mike, like on the bus in Dublin.

Instead, they trudge with shiny shoes over springy grass, bespeckled with sheep droppings, to gaze at bumps on a hill.

They want interpretive centres, toilets, cafés and shops. They want a monument reconstructed, like Newgrange, something physical created for them which their own minds cannot build.

Stop; let the breeze which has blown over this grassy knoll for a thousand years lift your hair and whisper in your ear. Listen; it is rich with the voices of people past. They are glad you are here. Look; they lived lives great and humble here, your very feet tread where did theirs.

Open your heart; feel their joy, their sorrow, their courage. Open your mind; fear not and let them in, for they are fierce and true, and their land we borrow is more than old stones and leprechauns.

A Bealtaine Poem | The Old Ways

the old waysSun has slipped beyond the rim, and

on the hill,

fiery petals unfurl,

a towering blossom of flame,

summer’s herald,

an omen of peace and plenty.

*

Around the Beal-fire maidens sway,

yellow wrapped with starry strings of gorse,

their eyes light filled,

heat leaping in their blood,

summer’s song sweet on their lips

*

while men compete at warrior’s sport.

They attempt the hero leap

over the fire,

urged on by mead, camaraderie, bravado,

a lover’s glance, and

the need to prove their own prowess.

*

Children run between the fires,

soot covered, laughing,

or listen, slack jawed,

to the tall tales the fili tell.

*

And then the cattle drive,

no small feat of a man’s skill

to manoeuvre that fire-crazed stampede

successfully through the inferno.

*

Eriu’s eye has opened. She sees all,

as the fires rise and fall

like the washing of the tides,

the wax and wane of the moon,

the wheel of life and death,

*

scattering ashes into the dry earth beneath,

wherein her pulse beats

cadence with the bodhran

and the dancers feet,

*

and life quickens

in the dark warm recesses

of the feminine.

 

Winter Willows | A Poem

winter willows

Snow falls

Feather soft

For the robin, no perch here.

*

Across the field

mournful cattle low.

Too cold, the dark end of the year.

*

Soft hues of Eire

earth-brown, grass-green, sky-blue,

overcome by stark monochrome.

*

Diamonds sparkle

but the sun’s rays fail

to pull the beast from my home.

*

Silent falls the snow,

No choice but to endure.

Yet the trees hold up strong branches for more.