|Togail Bruidne Dá Derga|
|"The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel"|
|Also known as||Orgain Bruidne Uí Dergae ("The Massacre of Ua Derga's Hostel") (first recension)|
|Language||Old Irish and Middle Irish|
Recension I: RIA MS 23 N 10; BL MS Egerton 88; NLI MS G 7; TCD MS H 3.18; Lebor na hUidre
|Genre||prose narrative of the Ulster Cycle and Cycle of the Kings|
|Personages||protagonists: Conaire Mór son of Eterscél, Da Derga, Mac Cécht, Conall Cernach, Ingcél Cáech, sons of Dond Désa; Lé Fer Flaith, son of Conaire; etc.|
Togail Bruidne Dá Derga (The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel) is an Irish tale belonging to the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. It survives in three Old and Middle Irish recensions, it is part of the Book of Dun Cow. It recounts the birth, life, and death of Conaire Mór son of Eterscél Mór, a legendary High King of Ireland, who is killed at Da Derga's hostel by his enemies when he breaks his geasa . It is considered one of the finest Irish sagas of the early period, comparable to the better-known Táin Bó Cúailnge .
The theme of gathering doom, as the king is forced through circumstances to break one after another of his taboos, is non-Christian in essence, and no Christian interpretations are laid upon the marvels that it relates. In its repetitions and verbal formulas the poem retains the qualities of oral transmission. The tone of the work has been compared with Greek tragedy.
After Conaire Mór has already broken several of his taboos, he travels south along the coast of Ireland. He is advised to stay the night at Da Derga's Hostel, but as he approaches it, he sees three men dressed in red and riding red horses arriving before him. He realises that three red men have preceded him into the house of a red man (as Dá Derga means "Red God"), and another of his geasa has been broken. His three foster-brothers, the three sons of Dond Désa, whom Conaire had exiled to Alba (Britain) for their crimes, had made alliance with the king of the Britons, Ingcél Cáech, and they were marauding across Ireland with a large band of followers. They attack Da Derga's Hostel. Three times they attempt to burn it down, and three times the fire is put out. Conaire, protected by his champion Mac Cécht and the Ulster hero Conall Cernach, kills six hundred before he reaches his weapons, and a further six hundred with his weapons. He asks for a drink as he is cursed with a magical thirst, but all the water has been used to put out the fires. Mac Cécht travels across Ireland with Conaire's cup, but none of the rivers will give him water. He returns with a cup of water just in time to see two men cutting Conaire's head off. He kills both of them. Conaire's severed head drinks the water and recites a poem praising Mac Cécht. The battle rages for three more days. Mac Cécht is killed, but Conall Cernach escapes.
The tale exists in three recensions:
Recension I is the earliest version of the saga, which briefly summarises the main events of the narrative. It is alternatively known as Orgain Bruidne Uí Dergae (The Massacre of Ua Derga's Hostel), the title given in Lebor na hUidre, to keep it distinct from the later recensions.
Recension II, a composite text, is the most famous version of the tale. On the basis of a number of contradictions, inconsistencies and duplicates in the tale, scholars such as Heinrich Zimmer, Max Nettlau and Rudolf Thurneysen suggested, each in his own way, that the recension represents a conflation of two, possibly three, variant sources. However, Máire West has pointed out the weaknesses inherent to their approach and instead favours the more flexible view that the author drew from a greater variety of written and oral sources.
The youngest and longest version is represented by Recension III, to which further materials have been added, including a king-list, a version of Tochmarc Étaine and further dindsenchas lore.
The translation by J. Gantz, in Early Irish Myths and Sagas (1986) has an introduction that discusses its probable relationship to a king's ritual death, more fully explored by John Grigsby, Beowulf and Grendel 2005:150-52.
A related tale is De Sil Chonairi Móir.
It has been argued that Geoffrey Chaucer's The House of Fame borrows features from the Togail Bruidne Da Derga.A version of the saga appears in the second half of Sons of the Swordmaker, a 1938 novel by Irish author Maurice Walsh.
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Étaín or Édaín is a figure of Irish mythology, best known as the heroine of Tochmarc Étaíne, one of the oldest and richest stories of the Mythological Cycle. She also figures in the Middle Irish Togail Bruidne Dá Derga. T. F. O'Rahilly identified her as a sun goddess.
Eochu Airem, son of Finn, was, according to medieval Irish legend and historical tradition, a High King of Ireland. He succeeded to the throne after the death of his brother, Eochu Feidlech, and ruled for twelve or fifteen years, until he was burned to death in Fremain by Sigmall Sithienta. He was succeeded by Eterscél. The Lebor Gabála synchronises his reign with the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. The chronology of Geoffrey Keating's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn dates his reign to 82–70 BC, that of the Annals of the Four Masters to 131–116 BC.
Conaire Mór, son of Eterscél, was, according to medieval Irish legend and historical tradition, a High King of Ireland. His mother was Mess Búachalla, who was either the daughter of Eochu Feidlech and Étaín, or of Eochu Airem and his daughter by Étaín. In the Old Irish saga Togail Bruidne Dá Derga he is conceived when his mother is visited by Nemglan who flies in her skylight in the form of a bird, and is brought up as Eterscél's son.
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