Here is Part Five of Balladeer’s Blog’s look at the various mythological works in Ireland’s Lebor na hUidre, The Book of the Dun Cow. For Part One click HERE.
THE EXPULSION OF THE DEISSI (Tucait innarba na nDessi i mMumain ocus aided Chormaic) – Once believed to be a genuine historical narrative, The Expulsion of the Deissi has long been recognized as yet another case of mere quasi-historical myth-making.
The story deals with the expulsion and wandering of the former vassals called the Deissi, who were actually a loose confederation of people, but this legend elevated them to the status of a dynastic family. Like so many myths in world history, this highly embellished tale served the political purpose of a unifying origin myth, raising the Deissi Muman from defeated wanderers to a temporarily fallen noble dynasty.
The Expulsion of the Deissi survives in various forms, with The Book of the Dun Cow‘s account categorized as Version B.
I. Around the 100s to 300s A.D. when Cormac mac Airt was a High King of Ireland and ruled from the political and religious capital Tara, his “wanton son” Cellach abducted and raped Forach. She was the daughter of Forad, a brother of Oengus Gaibuaibthech (Oengus of the Dread Spear), the fiery military champion of the family, here supposed to be ancestors of the Deissi Muman.
Oengus’ spear was said to be the Luin of Celtchar, the spear of the god Lugh which he passed down to ancient Irish heroes like Celtchar mac Uthechar, Dubthach, Fedlimid and Mac Cecht. Right after Oengus finished a revenge quest for another family member who was recently killed, he led his troops to Tara to deal with Cellach.
II. When Cellach refused to return Forach to her family, Oengus and his men attacked. During the battle, Oengus killed Cellach with his spear and blinded the villain’s father Cormac mac Airt in one eye.
Because no man may rule as king if he has a physical defect, Cormac had to abdicate in favor of his son Cairbre Lifechair. Cormac remained furious with Oengus and his family, and from his ringed fortress outside of Tara, he waged war on them, ultimately driving them from the region.
III. Driven into Leinster, the Deissi were permitted to stay by King Fiachu Bacceda, who helped them drive off and occupy the land of the Ui Bairrche people.
After roughly 30 years, the Ui Bairrche military leader Eochu Guinech retook his people’s land, forcing the Deissi to flee south to Ard Ladrann, which thus became known as the Land of the Wandering Host.
IV. Former High King Cormac mac Airt still hated the Deissi and continued harassing them militarily. He even tried to divide the Deissi by offering a separate peace to some of the clan, but they were persuaded to stay loyal.
When the new king of Leinster, Crimthann mac Ennai, passed away, his sons decided to attack the Deissi and forced them out of Ard Ladrann.
V. The Deissi briefly settled in Osraige, but the king and his troops burned all their homes, then drove them further west into Munster.
VI. Oengus mac Nad Froich, the king of Munster, proposed a political marriage with the arriving Deissi. He wanted to marry Ethne the Dread, the legendary female warrior who had become a foster member of the Deissi. Her father was the late Crimthann mac Ennai, and her mother was a woman of the Deissi.
At Ethne’s birth a Druid prophesied that she would one day help the Deissi seize a permanent homeland for themselves. Ethne was fed on the flesh of young boys to accelerate her growth and enhance her martial prowess. She went on to be a prominent warrior.
VII. So smitten with Ethne was King Oengus mac Nad Froich that he told her he would grant her any three demands as a dowry. Ethne demanded land for the Deissi, the ousting of the people of Osraige who had burned them out, and that the Deissi be made as permanently free as the Eoganacht Dynasties of Munster.
Oengus granted all three demands, but driving out the people of Osraige proved difficult. Even King Oengus’ troops combined with the Deissi forces were unable to win the war on Osraige.
VIII. Lugaid Laigde Cosc, a seer-judge of the Dairine of Munster, foretold to the Deissi that whichever side of the war drew first blood in the latest battle, to be fought the next day, would wind up routed and lose the war.
The Deissi’s Druids cast spells to transform one of their side’s soldiers into a red cow. Early the next day, the Osraige forces slew the cow for food, thus drawing first blood, and were routed by the Deissi side. The Osraige army was driven across the Lingaun River, which became the border between the Deissi lands and the Osraige.
IX. The rest of this “history” of the Deissi names prominent subsequent members of the dynasty, among them Oengus of the Dread Spear’s foster son Corc Duibne, a product of incest who suffered a cursed life because of it until a Druid priest and his wife lifted the curse.
The main account of the descendants of the Deissi includes a branch of the family who supposedly traveled across the sea to settle the part of Wales called Demed, later renamed Dyfed.
SOON I’LL EXAMINE THE NEXT SEVERAL INSTALLMENTS OF THE BOOK OF THE DUN COW.
27 responses to “BOOK OF THE DUN COW: PART FIVE”
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