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Deirdre

Deirdre

[deer-druh, -dree; Irish dair-druh]
Deirdre, beautiful heroine of Irish legend. A druid prophesied at her birth that she would bring great misfortunes. Deirdre, chosen to be the wife of Conchobar, king of Ulster, fell in love with Naoise, the son of Usnach, and fled with him and his two brothers to Scotland. After a long idyllic stay there, they were enticed into returning to Ireland by Conchobar, who then treacherously killed the sons of Usnach. Deirdre, her heart broken, died on her lover's grave. This legend was very popular with the writers of the Irish literary renaissance, notably Yeats, Synge, and James Stephens.

In medieval Irish literature, the heroine of The Fate of the Sons of Usnech, the great love story (written in the 8th or 9th century) of the Ulster cycle. A Druid foretold at Deirdre's birth that many men would die on her account, and she was raised in seclusion. A woman of great beauty, she rejected the advances of King Conor (see Conchobar), married Noísi, one of the sons of Usnech, and fled with him to Scotland. Lured back to Ireland, Noísi and his brothers were murdered, and Deirdre killed herself to avoid marrying Conor. In the 20th century the story was dramatized by William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge.

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Deirdre or Derdriu is the foremost tragic heroine in Irish mythology. Her story is part of the Ulster Cycle.

Deirdre was the daughter of Fedlimid mac Daill, a bard. When she was born, Cathbad the druid prophesied that she would be very beautiful, with twisted yellow tresses and mesmerizing grey-green eyes, but that kings and lords would go to war over her, and Ulster's three greatest warriors would be forced into exile for her sake. Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster, decided to have her brought up in seclusion by Leabharcham, an old woman, and marry her when she was old enough. However, she met, fell in love with, and eloped with Naoise, a handsome young warrior, hunter and singer, accompanied by his two brothers--the sons of Uisnech. They fled to Scotland, but wherever they went the local king would try to kill Naoise and his brothers so he could have Deirdre. Eventually they ended up on a remote island, where Conchobar tracked them down.

He sent Fergus mac Róich to them with a message of safe conduct home, but on the way back to Emain Macha Fergus was waylaid, forced by his personal geis to accept any offer of hospitality. He sent them on to Emain Macha with his son to protect them. After they had arrived, Conchobar sent Leabharcham to spy on Deirdre, to see whether or not she had lost her beauty in her long years of travel. Leabharcham, trying still to protect Deirdre from a marriage to Conchobar, told him she had lost all her beauty. However, Conchobar had sent another spy, Trendhorn, who told him that Deirdre was as beautiful as ever, although not before having his eye put out by a silver chess piece, thrown by Naoise. The next day, Naoise and his brothers, Ardan and Ainle, faced Conchobar outside Emain Macha, aided by a few Red Branch Knights, before Conchobar evoked their oath of loyalty to him and had Deirdre dragged to his side. At this point, Éogan mac Durthacht threw a spear, killing Naoise, and his brothers were killed shortly after. Fergus and his men arrived immediately after this. He was outraged by this betrayal of his word, and went into exile in Connacht, and fought against Ulster for Ailill and Medb in Táin Bó Cúailnge (the Cattle Raid of Cooley).

Frustrated by Deirdre's lack of love for him, Conchobar offered her to Éogan mac Durthacht, the man who'd murdered Naoise. She committed suicide by leaning out of her chariot and dashing her head against a rock. In some versions of the story, she died of grief.

There are four plays based on Deirdre's story: George William Russell's Deirdre (1902), William Butler Yeats' Deirdre (1907), J.M. Synge's Deirdre of the Sorrows (1910), and Vincent Woods' A Cry from Heaven (2005). There are also two books: Deirdre (1923) by James Stephens and The Celts (1988) by Elona Malterre as well as the reference to a Deirdre Taylor in ABC's Desperate Housewives, as Mike Delfino girlfriend.

The Deirdre (P20), a ship in the Irish Naval Service (now decommissioned), was named after her.

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