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Deirdire
and the Lay of the Childen of Uisne, Orally Collected in the Island of Barra and Literally Translated by Alexander Carmichael (1914)


THE story of Deirdire was written down on 16th March 1867, from the recital of John Macneill, known as 'lain Donn,' brown John, cottar at Buaile-nambodach in the island of Barra. The reciter said that he was then eighty-three years of age—'the same age as General Macneill, were he living, the last of the ancient Macneills of Barra.'

John Macneill was rather under than over medium height, wonderfully well featured and well proportioned, and possessed an active perceptive mind. He was not known as a reciter of tales, but his brother Alexander was.

Alexander Macneill was rather over middle height, well featured and well proportioned, with large, blue, beautiful eyes. He was a famous 'seanchaidh' reciter, and a practised dictater, having dictated many tales to Mr. lain F. Campbell of Islay, Mr. Hector Maclean, Islay, and the present writer, all of which, however, were but a small part of the wonderful volume of old lore that died with him.

The following conversation occurred between Alexander Macneill and the writer. 'I have taken down a good tale from John your brother, Alexander.' 'Indeed, with your leave, John my brother never had a tale, unless he might have had a fragment of one. He never could take a tale in, and he never could give a tale out. You never, by your leave, saw a man going to recite who had less gumption than John my brother. He would not take tales with him, and he would not give forth tales, yet for all that he would be at scraps of lore.' 'This tale that John gave me is very good, but he was not willing to give it to me at all since he did not have it right. He was saying that he had only bits of it.' 'What is the name of the tale, if you please?' 'It is "Deirdire, daughter of Colum Cruitire."' 'There is a good tale there indeed, a beautiful tale. It was with myself that John heard that tale, but he did not have it right at all—he only took bits of it with him. I went one night to "ceilidh" to the house of John. He was telling that story to people who were in before I arrived. I listened to him as long and as patiently as I could, and, Mary Mother! it was not easy for me to listen to my own brother spoiling the good story. There was vexation upon me for the bad treatment of the good tale, but I was keeping check on myself; but at last I could keep check on myself no longer, and I rose softly and dumbly and I left the house and I returned home. The tale of Deirdire is a good tale, and I have the whole of it from beginning to end, and I will give you every word of it if you wish it, and I would like to give it to you before I go.' 'I have no time on this occasion to write the tale of Deirdire, Alexander, but the next time I come to Barra perhaps I will have more time.' ' Your own will, but Deirdire is a good story, and I would like to give you it before I go. There was a lay on Deirdire, too, but I have not the lay. I never took a lay or a song with me. You will not get the lay now from any one in Barra unless you get it from Donald the smith at Breubhaig; I heard that Donald had it. And you will not get the tale from any one in Barra now but from myself, unless the fragments that you got from John my brother.'

The story of Deirdire and the Children of Uisne belongs to the Cuchulain cycle of Gaelic sagas. It is one of the 'three sorrows of story -telling,' the other two being the story of the Children of Lir and the story of the Children of Tuirenn.

The people of the Highlands have retained more of the tales of the Fiann cycle, while the people of Ireland have retained more of the tales of the Cuchulain. cycle. The present is, I believe, the only version of this tale that has been taken down from oral sources in Scotland. It was printed in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, volumes xiii. and xiv., and has since been translated into French and German. Those who are acquainted with our Gaelic tales will not fail to notice the quiet restraint and freedom from exaggeration of this story. The dignity of all the principal characters, and especially of Deirdire herself, is well matched by the dignified and simple yet highly idiomatic diction of the long-descended tale. In the wording of the tale two things call for special mention. Professor Mackinnon has pointed out that the duplication of 'tri tiura pog' (when Deirdire and Naoise meet, p. 56) indicates that when the word ' tiura,' ' teora,' was becoming obsolete the reciter added the modern equivalent 'tn '—three, by way of explanation. Again Professor Mackinnon solves the term 'drochaid shaor' (p. 90), to which neither reciter nor collector could give any clue, as being a corruption of ' tricha cet,' a measure of land.

The lay which comprises the second part of this volume gives a different version of the story and of the manner of death of Deirdire and of the sons of Uisne from that of the prose tale.

The illustration at the beginning of this volume is the much appreciated gift of Mr. John Duncan, A.R.S.A.

NOTE TO THE SECOND EDITION

IN this edition some slight corrections are made in the text and some additions are made to the notes.

[Electric Scotland Note: This book shows the Gaelic text on the left page and the English translation on the right.]

Download this book here! (7.2Mb)

Translation provided by Alex Carmichael

Mychael & Jeff Danna- A Celtic Tale: The Legend of Deirdre Part 1- Narrated by Fiona Ritchie


There are additional parts to this story which can be found on YouTube


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