Emerald Isle

The Endless Love of Baile and Aillinn

Baile the son of Buan was renowned through Ulster and all of Ireland for his tale-telling, and loved for his his kindly nature, but most of all by by Aillinn, daughter of Lughaidh. From afar they shared sweet messages and poetry, and as time passed she grew to love him more and more, and he in kind. Everyone spoke well of them and looked forward to their first meeting.

But the mischievous wee folk of the ancient places grew jealous when they heard about this, and so they whispered in the dreams of the druids and seers that never in this life would the two be together. In the fogs of sorcerous fires and the rolling of the bones it was proclaimed, but the two lovers paid no heed.

They decided to meet at Ros na Rí, in the house of Mael Dubh on the banks of the Boyne, and each set out on their journey. Baile went south from Emain Macha until he reached trá Baile, that is Baile's beach, where the chariots were unyoked and they began to dance, play music and drink mead in high spirits.

The suddenly they saw in the distance a man approach, and he was a strange sort of man, with limbs of different length and a cold face like stone. He moved in fits and starts, erratically going from one place to the next with great speed, then stopping for a while.

Curious as to the nature of this apparition, Baile went to him and asked him his business.

“To Tuaig-Inber I am going and back northward now from Mount Leinster, and I have no news but that the daughter of Lughaidh, son of Fergus, has given love to Baile, son of Buan, and was coming to meet him, when the warriors of Leinster overtook her and killed her, as druids and good seers foretold of them, that they would not meet in life. This is my news.”

Then the stranger flew swift as an arrow away across the waters.

Struck to his heart with sorrow and grief, poor Baile dropped dead at the news, and his men raised a great mourning over his passing. A tall stone rath they built, and upon it grew a yew tree. In later years, the top of this tree formed itself into a likeness of Baile's head, to the astonishment of all.

Meanwhile the unsettling stranger flew on his way southwards, where he came across the maiden Aillinn, and was likewise asked his news and business.

“I have no news worth lamenting here,” he said, “but by the side of trá Baile I saw the men of Ulster at funeral games, digging a rath and placing a stone and writing the name of Baile, son of Buan, the royal heir of Ulster, who was coming to meet a sweetheart and lady-love to whom he had sworn himself, for it is not their fate to meet in life.”

And off the stranger flew again, as Aillinn gave a great and grievous wail, keening to silence the world, and then swooned into death. Where she was buried an apple tree grew, and after seven years the shape of Aillinn's head grew on its top.

After seven years the poets cut the wooden heads from atop the yew and apple trees, and shaped them into tablets, on which they wrote the love poetry, marriages and wooings of Ulster and Leinster.

Then one Halloween, a great feast was held by king Cormac. He invited poets and men of high art and deep craft to share the celebrations at his table. One of them had brought the tablet of Baile, and another the tablet of  Aillinn. His curiosity aroused, the king had both tablets brought to him, and held one in each hand, facing each other.

Then to the astonishment of all, the two leaped from his hands and stuck together, twining round one another in an unbreakable embrace! And they were kept thereafter like the other jewels and treasures in the treasury at Tara.

Below on the map is marked the river Boyne, in Ireland.


Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland