Speak Irish: Deirdre of the Sorrows

Speak Irish: Deirdre of the Sorrows
By Bob Carney

Not all love stories end with “And they lived happily ever after.” The story of Deirdre of the Sorrows is one such tale. Many years ago in ancient Ireland, in the land of Ulster during the reign of King Conchobhar, a child was born. The child’s name was Deirdre and a druid priest foretold of her beauty, claiming she would become the most beautiful woman in all of Ireland. That beauty, however, would bring war and sorrow upon the land.

When Conchobhar’s Red Branch Knights heard of the phrophecy of the druid, they decided that if they killed the child in her infancy, war would be averted. The king intervened and put the child in the care of the poetess Leabharchan, to teach and raise until she was old enough for him to take her as his bride.

As Deirdre grew, the druid’s words came to fruition. She was the most beautiful woman in all of Ireland.

One day in the middle of winter, Deirdre saw a raven feeding on the corpse of newly killed lamb. She was overcome with emotion and vowed she would only allow love into her heart for a man who possessed hair as black as the raven’s and lips as red as the blood in the snow.

She soon came upon her “prince” when she was out walking early one morning, a young man named Naoise. They fell madly in love with one another, but knew that if the king found out, he would kill them both. They fled north to Alba (Scotland) and were able to live a happy life there, along with Naoise’s men.

King Conchobhar was consumed with rage when he heard what had happened and sent some of his guards to find the couple. They were finally located and the guards reported back to the king.

He couldn’t take them by force as they were under the protection of the king in Alba. Conchobhar had to devise a plan to deceive them and have them return on their own. The king sent his most honorable knight, a warrior named Fergus, to tell the young couple that all was forgiven and that the king wished them only happiness. Fergus had been decieved by his king and unknowingly lured Deirdre and Naoise back to Ireland. When they returned, there was a great feast welcoming them home; they believed that the king had truly forgiven them.

That night, King Conchobhar devised an errand he could send Fergus on, and in the morning, had his guards assemble all of the Red Branch Knights, all of those that had attended the feast the evening before and Deirdre and Naoise in the courtyard. The king soon appeared on the balcony, but instead of the welcome that they expected, he ordred his guards to sieze Deirdre and kill Naoise and his men.

Although they fought bravely, they were outnumbered and one of the king’s knights drove a spear into the spine of Naoise, killing him as Deirdre watched helplessly.

Deirdre was taken to the king’s chambers but she refused to look at him, speak to him or acknowledge his presence. After a year, the king grew tired of her and had enough of her rejection. He made a prize of her to the knight that had slain her beloved. Deirdre could not bear the thought of being given to that man. She was bound and put into a chariot to be delivered, but when the chariot was at speed she flung herself from it and hit her head upon a stone, killing herself instantly.

She was laid to rest next to Naoise and after a time, two mighty trees grew from the graves and became entwined in a loving embrace for centuries after.

In keeping with our love story theme for Valentines Day, this months vocabulary will help you share your love with your prince or princess. There are many retellings of the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows in print and you can even find a couple of good videos on YouTube.


Grá (graw) love  (grá is not used often as a verb in Irish as it is in englishbut more as a noun)

Mo grá thú. (muh graw who) You are my love

Tá grá ag Bob do Mháire. (taw graw ag Bob duh Wahr-ah) Bob loves Mary                                                                                     lit. there is love at Bob for Mary

Tá grá agam duit (taw graw uh-gum gwit) I love you lit. There is love at me for you

Tá grá agam do (taw graw uh-gum do) I love him

Tá grá agam di (taw graw uh-gum dih) I love her

An bhfuil grá agat dom? (ahn will graw uh-gut dum) Do you love me?

Nach bhfuil grá agat dom? (knock will graw uh-gut dum) Don’t you love me?

Tá tú an- álainn! (taw too ahn awl-inn) You are very beautiful.

Mo mhíle grá. ( moh vee-la graw) My thousand loves.

Mo rún (moh roo-in) My secret love.

Tá tú ag féachaint go hiontach. (taw too ag fay-cant guh hee-un-tahk) You look wonderful.

Grá geal (graw gahl) sweetheart or darling

Croí (kree) heart

Tá áthas orm (taw ah-hass or-um) I’m happy

Tá bron orm (taw brawn or-um) I’m sorry

Airím uaim thú. (areem oom who)  I miss you

Ní theastaíonn uaim imeacht  (nee eesh-te-on oom im-ocht) I don’t want to go.

And finally the greatest expression of love I’ve ever heard. “B’fhearr liom thú nó céad bó bainne!”

(bar lum who no kayd bo bahn-ya) I love you more than a hundred milk cows!

*Bob Carney is a student of Irish language and history and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhound and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Rían and Aisling and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be reached at [email protected].

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