The Royal Princess of Tara

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The  ‘Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne’ or ‘The Pursuit of Diarmad & Grainne’, is a tale from the Fenian Cycle of Irish Mythology and is told in various texts in modern Irish and date back to the 16th century, with some of its source material dating back to the 10th century. In many ways it bears similarities to ‘Deirdre an Bhróin’ or ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’ from the Ulster Cycle. Grainne was a Princess of Tara and daughter to the Ard Ri of Ireland Cormac Mac Airt, whom I spoke about last week. Like the tragedy that was to befall Deirdre, Grainne was also too marry a much older man, but for her is was to be the leader of the Fianna, Fionn MacCumhaill, whom although getting on in his years, was still considered a mighty warrior. The marriage of Grainne to Fionn was a shrewd move on behalf of Cormac. For it ensured the loyalty of the Fianna, whom were at the height of their power at this time.

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Unfortunately for all concerned, Grainne was none too pleased about the arrangement as she had only eyes for one of the Fianna’s young warriors Diarmad O’Duibhne, and so she consulted with the druid Dara. Before the wedding feat a potion was prepared and given to the guests, well all that is but Diarmad and some sympathetic high ranking Fianna, namely Oisín, Oscar and  Caoilte. Out of loyalty to Fionn, Diarmad attempted to convince Gráinne to remain, but she is stubborn and places Diarmad under a Geis (bond). Despite Diarmad’s reluctance Oisín, Oscar and Caoilte advise him against breaking the Geis and so he says goodbye to his friends whom he may never see again, and So that night under the cover of darkness Diarmad and Grainne escaped from Tara.

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The next day Fionn explodes in a fit of rage and with a band of warriors pursues the pair west towards the Shannon. As a result Diarmad and Grainne could never rest for long and had to keep moving to stay ahead of their pursuers. There are many Dolmens or Cromlech’s scattered around the country which are known as Diarmad and Grainne’s bed. The reason for this it would seem is that many times the pair would have nowhere else to shelter. In an attempt to thwart Fionn’s power of vision, would cover the table stone with seaweed, in order to convince Fionn that the pair were under the ocean and thus drowned. On a number of occasions they came face to face with the Fianna, but managed to escape either by Diarmad’s skill or most likely his remaining friends within the Fianna, aiding their escape. Eventually after 16 years on the run, Diarmad’s foster father Óengus negotiates a truce between the pair, Fionn and Cormac. As part of the truce, Cormac gives another daughter to Fionn and Diarmad receives the O’Duibhne lands in the west of Ireland.

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For some years the peace remained, and Grainne had four sons and a daughter with Diarmad. During a lengthy feast which Grainne arranged for her father and Fionn, Diarmud was awoken by the howling of a hound. He was so perturbed by this that the next morning he set out with his hound to find the cause. On the foothills Ben Bulben he encounters Fionn and a Fianna hunting party, whom are hunting an enchanted boar. Knowing that Diarmad is also under a Geis never to hunt pig, Fionn warns Diarmad to stay away, also knowing that Diarmad would never back down from danger. To cut a long story short, Diarmud encounters the wild enchanted Boar and strikes it with his slingshot, but to no effect. Unfortunately before Diarmad can draw his sword the Boar attacks and although Diarmad strikes the boar down with a mighty strike, it is too late, he was mortally wounded as the boar had disembowelled him and left him with his entrails exposed.

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Now Fionn also had the power to heal the wounded by simply letting them drink from his hands, but he refused to help the dying Diarmud. This infuriated the Fianna whom pleaded with Fionn to help the dying man. But Fionn in his old age had become bitter and twisted at the perceived betrayal. Eventually it is Oscar whom steps forward and threatens Fionn.  If he does not assist their former friend that ‘either he or Fionn would not leave the mountain alive’. And so Fionn reluctantly agrees to help. He brought water to Diarmad three times from a nearby well, but on the first two occasions he let the water drain from his hands before Diarmad could drink, and by the third time, it was too late, Diarmad had died from his injuries. Grainne is distraught at the news of her husband’s death and plans that her four sons will take revenge for their father, but Fionn’s power of foresight allows him to evade this and eventually woes Gráinne and takes her back to the Hill of Allen as his wife. After Fionn’s death fighting Grainne’s Brother Cairbre during the battle of Gabhra, there is no mention of what happened to Grainne or her children.

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All that remains of Grainne is a rather enchanting Rath located on the northwest corner of the Hill of Tara. This is without a doubt my favourite site in Ireland. Right from the very first time I stepped foot on Tara, I was instantly drawn to this location for some unknown reason. Quite simply put, I have always felt at complete peace when I am here, it’s like a second home to me, but I still have not been able to figure out why. I can still vividly remember my first trip here many years ago. I arrived with a friend whom wanted to see the Lia Fail but I decided to go wandering and stopped off at Grainne’s Rath. Much to the dismay of my buddy, I stayed here for some time soaking in the atmosphere. And when he finally found me, according to him, two hours had passed? The sheer size of this Rath which is only a short walk from the Royal Enclosure just goes to show how important Grainne was as a Royal Princess at Tara. Despite the many texts which portray her in a bad way as cold, calculating and malipulative.

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About edmooneyphotography

Photographer, Blogger, Ruinhunter, with an unhealthy obsession for history, mythology and the arcane.
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43 Responses to The Royal Princess of Tara

  1. Chas Spain says:

    Fascinating – thanks for the post and the images

  2. oglach says:

    You know exactly why you feel you at peace at Tara; I don’t blame you for not admitting it, I wouldn’t either. But you know.

    • I’m intrigued, pm me to discuss😃

      • oglach says:

        There’s a reason that you do what you do, and why you do it so well; you are not in Ireland. Ireland is in you. I realise how insane that sounds, but it’s a natural fact.It doesn’t matter if one believes in trans-migration of the soul, or believes in anything of a spiritual nature; when you go somewhere and experience the feelings that you did, it’s simply indisputable that you’ve been there before. I’m a man of science, but there are some things that science has not yet explained. Do you look at your photography often? Do you ever wonder why you hunt for ruins? There are no ruins. Reminders. Thanks for the post and putting up with my nonsense.

        • Thats not insane at all, I have always had an unhealthy link to the past, And never even thought of it the way you put it. Now you got me thinking!!!
          Science is cool, but it can never answer everything. There are just some things that we dont know, or as I like to believe, we have forgotten. Which is why I try to keep an open mind. Yes the first time I was here I obviously was drawn there for a reason, although physical memory was missing, I did feel like i belonged there or was welcome? If that makes sense?
          Really appreciate the eyeopener, its got the ould grey matter working overtime and please feel free to send your ”nonsence” my way anytime 🙂

  3. Ali Isaac says:

    Love that story, Ed. Although Ive been to Tara, I’ve never been to Grainne’s rath. I do understand the sense of peace you felt, though. I have experienced it twice, once on Shee Mor, which is near to Grainne and Diarmuid’s grave actually, which I also went to, and once in a field near Teltown. There was no obvious evidence of any ancient structure in that field, but the feeling was so overwhelming, that I decided to set an event from my book there.

  4. You had better start your own tour company Ed!! I’d join you for sure!

  5. chirose says:

    What a beautiful and sad story.!! Thank you for the retelling 🙂

  6. willowdot21 says:

    Brilliant post and such atmospheric photos!

  7. noelleg44 says:

    This is a fascinating story – especially to stand on a spot with so much history, But what is a rath?

    • Good question Noelle, I guess some of the terms which I use might not always be understood by all. The Rath in Ireland is a circular earthen wall forming an enclosure which would serve as a fort and residence for a tribal chief.
      Maybe I might do a glossary section to explain certain phrases or words?

  8. Rajiv says:

    Fantastic combination of photography and history

  9. TanGental says:

    What an excellent read. Thanks Eddie. I’m planning my archaeological itinerary now…

  10. Only you could make a mound exciting. The idea of doing ruin tours is great. You might want to think about doing little ruin tours for amateur photographers to get your chops, then do it professionally, ergo $$$. It could be a great tourism draw, since your work is already making so many of us want to visit Ireland just so see the places you have shot.

    Kill two birds with one rath…

  11. colonialist says:

    Much of considerable interest, from the amazing pictures to the legendary story, and also your almost time-suspension experience.

  12. And here I was raised to think that Scarlett O’Hara was the princess of Tara!

  13. beetleypete says:

    Another valuable and interesting history lesson, illustrated by moody and brooding photos. Thanks, Ed!
    Best wishes, Pete.

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