An Scéal Féin
To the present-day native of almost any Irish-speaking district the use of Leaba Dhiarmuda agus Ghráinne as the current name for a cromlech is quite a commonplace, in fact, I might assert that, so far as my own experience goes, no other is in such general use. How these prehistoric monuments became so universally associated in Ireland with the purely legendary idea of their being the resting places of Diarmuid and Gráinne in their flight should be an interesting question for antiquarians to solve. This employment of the name at any rate is strong evidence of the former widespread knowledge of the ancient romance which deals with the wanderings of the celebrated couple who eloped from Fionn mac Cumhaill and Cormac mac Airt – I say ancient, because, though the form in which the tale has come down to us in manuscript is quite modem, we have nevertheless clear indications that it must have existed even in the Old Irish period.
In despite, however, of the existence of these “beds,” it is unfortunately a fact that nowadays the old romance has all but faded from the memory of the folk. By an American lady, Miss Gertrude Schoepperle, M.A., who visited Ireland expressly for the purpose of investigating and recording the traditions of the tale still extant in its own home, this was felt very keenly. Miss Schoepperle remarked to the writer that the two chief characters of the story were in reality nothing but mere names to most “natives,” and that the only separate incident that seemed to have impressed itself on any considerable number of the Irish-speaking folk was that of the baoith-steanncán or splash of water, which is curiously enough one of the passages omitted from the current published form. All this I can myself confirm from what I have gleaned in my ramblings through various Irish districts.
How interesting it is then to find that some form of the ancient romance has survived as a more or less complete folk-tale at least in one district, viz., Cúil Aodha or Coolea, near Ballyvourney, Co. Cork. The recorder is the excellent seanachaí, Amhlaoibh Ó Loingsigh, or Humphrey Lynch. In several passages of the tale he refers back to the narrator (an scéalaí), and his version, as Miss Schoepperle tells us,” was put together from the narration of several ‘old people’ and considerably elaborated by the collector.” It should be added that the recording of this in a written form is mainly due to the interest displayed by Miss Schoepperle, who offered a prize at the Oireachtas of 1910 (Competition 12) for the best popular tale or legend describing the pursuit and wanderings of Diarmuid and Gráinne. It is scarcely necessary to state that the prize was awarded to Amhlaoibh Ó Loingsigh for the tale that follows.
An analysis of his folk-version, the scene of which is laid in West Muskerry and Duhallow, Co. Cork, shows that it is made up of some genuine detritus of the romance, combined with much heterogeneous matter which in a late re-working up of the tale has been fitted into the narrative. The following is a detail of the chief incidents, the number preceding each being that of the corresponding section of the text :-
1. *The drowning of “Saidhbhín Óin Óin.”
2. Gráinne sees the ball searc or love-spot on Diarmuid
3. Gráinne persuades Diarmuid to elope with her
4. *The use of the bag of sand (to mislead Fionn).
5. Gráinne’s weariness. Diarmuid kills a deer and roasts it.
6. Gráinne uses rushes as bedding.
7. *Gráinne tempts Diarmuid without success. They sleep on opposite
sides of the stream.
8. *Fionn chews his thumb, but the knowledge he gets misleads him. *His delay in setting out.
9. Gráinne’s weariness.
10. The splash of water; G. again tempts D.
11. D. and G. sleep on opposite sides of the glen.
12. D. and G. in a rock cave. Fionn again misled.
13. *G. complains of hunger, and reproaches D.
14. *D. fails to get food. He meets An Bhean Mhothaolach.
15. *The latter provides food for D. and G. by means of her magic tablecloth.
16. *She tells D. of her former friendship for his mother.
17. *D. quarrels with G. owing to her refusal to wash his tunic.
18. *An Bhean Mh. as peacemaker.
19. D. snatches a kiss from G. *They are reconciled.
20. Fionn continues his search for the fugitives, first along the coast, then among the rushes.
21. The pursuit of the venomous wild boar.
22. D. kills the boar.
23. *Conán seeks to incite Fionn against D.
24. Diarmuid is fatally wounded, having been tricked into measuring the boar against the bristles.
25. *Fionn’s anxiety to heal D. *An Bhean Mh. appears. D. can be cured by a drink of water from the hands of Fionn.
26. *An Bhean Mh. rejects two swift runners, and chooses Caoilte, who is ‘ swifter than a woman’s mind,’ to fetch the water.
27. Fionn goes with the water to D. the first time. *Conán incites him against D.
28. Fionn approaches with the water a second time. *Conán again incites him. Osgar’s admonition to Fionn.
29. Fionn approaches with the water for the third time. *Again Conán incites him. *Osgar pursues Conán. Death of Diarmuid.
30. *An Bhean Mh. induces G. to return to Fionn. Fionn forgives G.
31. An Bhean Mh. uses her mantle to test the continence of the wives of
the Fianna, by which means D. and G. are vindicated and Conán is
The incidents marked with an asterisk (*) above do not belong to the original romance, so far as one may judge from its existing late forms in prose and verse.
On the whole it may be remarked that the heterogeneous elements have been used with considerable skill in weaving together a new form of the tale, especially in regard to motivation. One sees an evident desire (1) to free the actions of Diarmuid from all blame, (2) to represent Gráinne as an unsuccessful temptress of Diarmuid’s honour, (3) to show Fionn as perfectly magnanimous in his treatment of Diarmuid, and (4) to lay all the villainy of the deeds on Conán’s shoulders and consequently to blame him for the death of Diarmuid, all this differing considerably from what we read in ” Tóruigheacht Dhiarmuda agus Ghrainne.” Moreover, Conán in the lays and romances is commonly a friend of Diarmuid’s, the change in the present tale having probably arisen in consonance with his character as generally portrayed in the later Ossianic lays and stories.