Diarmuid and Grainne
Taken from Great Folktales of Old Ireland, compiled by Mary McGarry
Celtic Battle Heroes compiled by John Matthews and Bob Stewart
On the death of his wife, Fionn MacCumhail, the leader of the warrior band of the Fianna, sought the hand of the young and beautiful daughter of King Cormac MacAirt called Grainne. The High King approved of the match but as for Grainne herself, she was less willing, “For,” she said, “Fionn is no longer young, and there may yet come one whom I can truly love.”
But the marriage was agreed to, despite her protestations, and King Cormac feasted Fionn and his Fianna men at Tara. Grainne was commanded to do as she was bidden. However, during the celebrations it chanced that Grainne sat next to Diarmuid, one of Fionn’s bravest warriors, renowned for his courage and high-mindedness. And since the fair Grainne felt nothing for Fionn, who was indeed even older than her own father, she appealed to Diarmuid to save her from a hateful marriage, having at first sight fallen deeply in love with the young hero.
Diarmuid was greatly disturbed, for he could not help loving the princess with all his heart, but he wished to hide this as he put his duty to his chief above all else. However, seeing this, Grainne placed Diarmuid under a geis (a Druidic oath or binding spell or promise. If broken, the one under oath could suffer dishonor or even death) to take her away before Fionn and the rest awoke for the wedding.
Under such a bond, Diarmuid had no choice but to leave Tara with the princess, but forever beware of the wrath of vengeance from Fionn MacCumhail.
So Diarmuid and Grainne fled from Tara, first by chariot, then on foot. Meanwhile, Fionn, burning with jealousy and rage, ordered his tracking men to pursue them. All across Erin they were pursued. Often coming close to trading fatal blows, but the men of the Fianna who cared for the life of their friend Diarmuid always sent one of the hounds to warn them of their approach and they were able to hide successfully or escape.
So the days grew into weeks, and the weeks into months, and still the pair fled from the wrath of Fionn. Nowhere might they rest for more than a night, and to this day, right across Erin are places known as the ‘beds’ of Diarmuid and Grainne, where they are believed to have slept.
After a year and a half of this chase, Aengus Og, Diarmuid’s foster- father and the wisest and most skilled in the magic arts, came to Fionn and asked him to make peace with Diarmuid. Fionn, seeing he could not overcome the hero, told Aengus he was weary of the quarrel and readily agreed to peace on whatever terms Diarmuid chose.
And so Diarmuid and Grainne found peace. They settled far from Fionn in their own home, and their family grew and prospered.