Posted on January 19th, 2016 | by Leslie

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Of The Sorrows

Notes on Track 6

The story that inspired this song is one of the remscéla (fore tales) of the Táin Bó Cuailnge.  Fore tales provide context for the main thrust of the saga, and this is one of the Táin‘s most critical.  It describes the circumstances wherein Conchobar (Conor to his friends) makes a fatal error to side with his libido over the good of Ulster, thus damning his kingdom and the people who serve him to destruction.  Bravo!  *applause*

Derdriu is the name of the girl he raises (i.e. grooms) in isolation with the sole purpose of becoming his consort when she comes of age.  The implications of a king staring at a woman’s pregnant body and thinking of her unborn child as a future lover are rather nasty.  Imagine being that child, having this man visit you as you grew up, not quite understanding that look in his eyes?

Sorry, Con, but this is the moment (so early in your kingship) where you cross from questionable ruler to downright unfit to rule.  And it’s not my modern feminist sensibilities that say so: it’s your own council.  This one decision and its consequences (plus a couple more) really do unravel your kingship, your reputation and your legacy.  I guess that’s why you get two songs in a row.  You earned them.

Sources

Various tellings of The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu including:

  • The Tain, trans. by Thomas Kinsella from the Irish epic Táin Bó Cuailnge.  (Oxford UP: Oxford, 1969, 1990) p 8-20.
  •  Ancient Irish Tales, Ed. by T.P. Cross & C.H. Slover.  (Barnes & Noble: New York, 1936, 1996) p 239-247.

Lyrics

He’d been warned of her beauty prior to her birth
A leader of men by the strength of his girth
A leader of men by the wisdom of his breath
Yet his future was shrouded in sorrow and death

Conor kept her life hidden in a deep lonely wood
As from Emain Macha he ruled as he should
And as Derdriu blossomed into a rose
His lust to possess her alarmingly rose

While out in the wood a young man did she spy
Who said, “My eyes have seen a fine heifer pass by”
Her love for him true and her heart and eyes full
She said, “Heifers grow fine where there is no bull”

She’d been raised as the king’s bride regardless of her will
And safe in her hiding he thought her there still
And while he was dreaming of taking her to bed
She left with her lover, fair Naoise, and fled

Conor found her bed empty; his curses filled the sky
“You’ll never escape me although you may try
“Ah Derdriu, my darling, your face fills my sight
“And I’ll burn down my dún before I lose this fight”

He sent Fergus to bring them by his guarantee
And trusting his honour they sailed o’er the sea
But as they approached Emain Macha on the hill
They were ambushed by men who had come for the kill

By the sword Eogan slaughtered the son of Uisliu
And captured and bound his sweet lover, Derdriu
And brought her to Conor, the king of the land
Who claimed for his pleasure her heart and her hand

Neither eating nor sleeping she mourned and she cried
Saying, “Ah, with my Naoise I yearn to have died
“His white skin and red lips and black raven hair
“It’s with him, king of Ulster, you cannot compare”

Enraged by her spurning, with fury in his heart
He promised to Eogan she soon would depart
A ewe between rams in the chariot she rode
‘Til she jumped to her death on the rocks by the road

So come all ye who gather to listen to love’s tale
Remember this story of lust and betrayal
Of promise and warning and falling from grace
And the burden that comes with a beautiful face

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