Togail Bruidne Dá Derga

Last updated

Togail Bruidne Dá Derga
"The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel"
Also known asOrgain Bruidne Uí Dergae ("The Massacre of Ua Derga's Hostel") (first recension)
Language Old Irish and Middle Irish
Manuscript(s)Three recensions:

Recension I: RIA MS 23 N 10; BL MS Egerton 88; NLI MS G 7; TCD MS H 3.18; Lebor na hUidre
Recension II: Yellow Book of Lecan; RIA MS D IV 2; Lebor na hUidre; BL Additional 33993; BL MS Egerton 1782; BL MS Egerton 92; Book of Fermoy; TCD MS H 2.17; TCD MS H 3.18


Recension III: BL MS Egerton 1782; TCD MS H.1.14.
Genreprose narrative of the Ulster Cycle and Cycle of the Kings
Personagesprotagonists: 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 . [1]

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. [2]


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. [3]

Manuscript tradition

The tale exists in three recensions:

Recension I

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

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. [4]

Recension III

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. [5]

It has been argued that Geoffrey Chaucer's The House of Fame borrows features from the Togail Bruidne Da Derga. [6] A version of the saga appears in the second half of Sons of the Swordmaker, a 1938 novel by Irish author Maurice Walsh.

See also


  1. Carney, p. 483; West, p. 413, quotes Rudolf Thurneysen as ranking the Togail after the Tain.
  2. Byrne, pp. 59–64.
  3. Jeffrey Gantz (trans.), Early Irish Myths and Sagas, Penguin Classics, 1981, pp. 37–106
  4. Máire West, "The genesis of Togail Bruidne da Derga: a reappraisal of the 'two-source' theory."
  5. Lucius Gwynn. "De Sil Chonairi Móir", in Ériu 6 (1912): 130–43
  6. McTurk, pp. 67–68.

Primary sources

Recension I

Recension II

Secondary literature

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Donn</span> Figure in Irish mythology

In Irish mythology, Donn is an ancestor of the Gaels and is believed to have been a god of the dead. Donn is said to dwell in Tech Duinn, where the souls of the dead gather. He may have originally been an aspect of the Dagda. Folklore about Donn survived into the modern era in parts of Ireland, in which he is said to be a phantom horseman riding a white horse.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Étaín</span> Fictional character

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.

<i>Tochmarc Étaíne</i> Irish Mythological Text

Tochmarc Étaíne, meaning "The Wooing of Étaín/Éadaoin", is an early text of the Irish Mythological Cycle, and also features characters from the Ulster Cycle and the Cycles of the Kings. It is partially preserved in the manuscript known as the Lebor na hUidre, and completely preserved in the Yellow Book of Lecan, written in language believed to date to the 8th or 9th century. It tells of the lives and loves of Étaín, a beautiful mortal woman of the Ulaid, and her involvement with Aengus and Midir of the Tuatha Dé Danann. It is frequently cited as a possible source text for the Middle English Sir Orfeo. Harvard professor Jeffrey Gantz describes the text as displaying the "poetic sense of law" in Irish legal society.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ulster Cycle</span> Grouping of Irish myths

The Ulster Cycle, formerly known as the Red Branch Cycle, is a body of medieval Irish heroic legends and sagas of the Ulaid. It is set far in the past, in what is now eastern Ulster and northern Leinster, particularly counties Armagh, Down and Louth. It focuses on the mythical Ulster king Conchobar mac Nessa and his court at Emain Macha, the hero Cú Chulainn, and their conflict with the Connachta and queen Medb. The longest and most important tale is the epic Táin Bó Cúailnge. The Ulster Cycle is one of the four 'cycles' of Irish mythology and legend, along with the Mythological Cycle, the Fianna Cycle and the Kings' Cycle.

Mesca Ulad is a narrative from the Ulster Cycle preserved in the 12th century manuscripts the Book of Leinster and in the Lebor na hUidre. The title Mesca Ulad occurs only in the Book of Leinster version. The story is set during Samhain, and follows the Ulaid as they attempt to attend two feasts in the same night: the first at Dún Dá Bhenn to the north, and the second at Cúchulainn's fortress in Dún Delgan to the east. The men become intoxicated at the first feast and head south towards Kerry by accident. In Kerry, they are shown false hospitality by their traditional enemies the Munstermen, who offer them a place to stay. The Ulaid accept, and the Munstermen light a bonfire beneath the wood and iron structure. The Ulaids survive.

Lebor na hUidre or the Book of the Dun Cow is an Irish vellum manuscript dating to the 12th century. It is the oldest extant manuscript in Irish. It is held in the Royal Irish Academy and is badly damaged: only 67 leaves remain and many of the texts are incomplete. It is named after an anachronistic legend that it was made from the hide of a dun cow by Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise.

Cormac Cond Longas was the eldest son of Conchobar mac Nessa by his own mother, Ness, in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. His foster father was Fergus mac Róich.

Eterscél Mór, son of Íar mac Dedad, a descendant of Óengus Tuirmech Temrach, of the Érainn of Munster was, according to medieval Irish legend and historical tradition, a High King of Ireland. He succeeded Eochu Airem.

In the Ulster Cycle of early Irish literature, the Lúin of Celtchar is the name of a long, fiery lance or spear belonging to Celtchar mac Uthechar and wielded by other heroes, such as Dubthach, Mac Cécht and Fedlimid.

The Yellow Book of Lecan, or TCD MS 1318, is a late medieval Irish manuscript. It contains much of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, besides other material. It is held in the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tochmarc Emire</span>

Tochmarc Emire is one of the stories in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology and one of the longest when it received its form in the second recension (below). It concerns the efforts of the hero Cú Chulainn to marry Emer, who appears as his wife in other stories of the cycle, and his training in arms under the warrior-woman Scáthach. The tochmarc is one of the 'genres' of early Irish literature recognised in the manuscript corpus.

Fled Bricrenn is a story from the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. Bricriu, an inveterate troublemaker, invites the nobles of the Ulaid to a feast at his new bruiden at Dún Rudraige, where he incites three heroes, Cúchulainn, Conall Cernach, and Lóegaire Búadach, to compete for the "champion's portion" of the feast. The three heroes perform several feats, and travel to Connacht to be judged by Ailill and Medb, and to Munster to be judged by Cú Roí, and on each occasion Cúchulainn is proclaimed champion, but the other two refuse to accept it. Eventually, back at Emain Macha, the three heroes are each challenged by a giant churl to cut off his head, on the condition that they allow him to cut off their heads in return. First Lóegaire, then Conall, takes up the challenge and cuts off the churl's head, only for him to pick it up and leave, but when the churl returns the following night they are nowhere to be seen. Only Cúchulainn lives up to his side of the bargain. The churl spares his life, reveals himself to be Cú Roí in disguise, and announces that Cúchulainn's bravery and honour make him undisputed champion.

Cín Dromma Snechtai or Lebor Dromma Snechtai is a now lost early Irish manuscript., thought to have been written in the 8th century AD.

Egerton MS 1782 is the index title of an early sixteenth-century Irish vellum manuscript housed in the Egerton Collection of the British Library, London.

Mac Cécht is the patronymic or cognomen given to one or two warrior champions from Connacht in the Ulster Cycle of early Irish literature. The personages may be identifical or may have been conflated at some stage, although the connection is nowhere made explicit and different fathers are ascribed to them in the tales.

Compert Con Culainn is an early medieval Irish narrative about the conception and birth of the hero Cú Chulainn. Part of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, it survives in two major versions.

The Clanna Rudraige, Anglicised as Clanna Rory, is according to Irish mythology an ancient tribe that ruled the ancient province of Ulaid in Ireland. The people that lived in this province, also called the Ulaid, are claimed as being descended from the Clanna Rudraige and in medieval texts are often referred to by that name.

In Gaelic Ireland, a bruiden was a building offering shelter, drink and food, often translated as "hostel", "banqueting hall" or "inn."