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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.