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A plot summary of three sorrowful tales of erin

Critical Note

Read it if you like, ignore it if you prefer, but give no weight to any of the points made if you disagree with them. I make no pretence to any scholarship of Irish or Scottish Myth, nor to any knowledge of Gaelic story-telling tradition.

Like any tale passed down in oral tradition, many versions exist, and there is no definitive source for it. However, early medieval manuscripts such as the Book of Leinster give the tale in a form very close though with interesting differences to the one recorded by Alisdair Carmichael in Barra in the late nineteenth century. Many of the trappings of the Irish mythological cycles are stripped away in the Barra version of the tale.

Cuchullain, the Hound of Ulster, is not mentioned, although in other versions he is one of the heroes Conachar tries to send to Alba to persuade Naoise to return. And instead of being sent away to a king's fortress, the infant child is brought up in a simple green mound far away from any human habitation. Possibly this is a consequence of skillfull storytellers relating their material more closely to the daily experiences of their audience.

There is a clear shift away from anything courtly or formal -- palaces, castles and banquests -- to simple halls and wide countryside. Even though Conachar's palace is mentioned several times, a description of it is never attempted.

Lake of Sorrows

Contrast that with the many passages describing in almost baroque style the natural world. The other minor difference which you will at once notice is the spelling of the main character's name: The stress -- at any rate when I heard it spoken -- was on the last syllable and I have added an accent to the terminal "i" to indicate this.

To my ears the Barra pronounciation is much to be preferred, purely for its mellifluence. But in truth there are many parallels and echoes in the story -- for this folktale, like all folktales, contains elements that mysteriously appear in oral tradition from all around the world. The mysterious stranger announcing to a disbelieving and elderly man that he would have a child recalls Abraham's meeting with God Genesis 18.

A plot summary of three sorrowful tales of erin

Such Biblical references or echoes may be put down to the influence of Christianity on the storytellers. A far older echo familiar to us from the Oedipus myth is the attempt by characters in a drama to avoid a terrible prophecy, and by that very act to bring it about.

  • Most had been discovered completely by accident;
  • The hunter calls three times before he is let into the mound, as does Conachar the King;
  • It made her suddenly angry to think that an entire human being had been preserved for so long by the peat, only to be destroyed in the blink of an eye by the thoughtless actions of men and their machines;
  • Ah, Nora, please don't;
  • Remembering the conversation, Nora suddenly felt her stomach heave;
  • There was little comfort in such memories.

We can hear it chapter three in the simple but marmoreal "agus thill Naois": Comparisons with Helen of Troy are not especially illuminating. The hunter, faint with hunger and thirst beforehand, feels the need for neither after seeing her face. Gealbhan Greadhnach tells Conachar that even though Naoise put out his eye he would have continued to gaze at her with the other, if he could. And of course there are obvious parallels between Menelaus and Conachar who is, however, more like Agamemnon in his vicious ruthlessness.

A plot summary of three sorrowful tales of erin

Perhaps her great perilous beauty suggested something of the fairy-maiden to the Scottish story-tellers. The ubiquitous use of "threes" in the tale is also a staple of fairy-stories. The hunter calls three times before he is let into the mound, as does Conachar the King.

Partly this is a function of the mechanics of oral retelling, but it can be a very effective dramatic technique. Two of the sons of Fearchair Mac Ro go out, fight for a while, then accept the King's bribe. So the sudden, spirited loyalty of Fiallan Fionn amongst so much betrayal "An ta, Chonachair, cha ghabh mi an tairgse sin uait no taing air a shon. And though it is undisputably full of tradgedy, sorrow and tears there is still a deep seam of solemn joy through it, that says no matter how black fate is, it is better to face it down than flee from it.