Emerald Isle

Blathine Lady of the Sidhe

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Ulster Cycle

More dangerous than a poison dart is the bewitching love of a fairy!

Bláthíne, whose name means “little flower” in Irish, was one of the ladies of the Tuatha Dé Danann, that mystical race of warlocks whose hardened red-gold bronze had shimmered in the sunshine when they ruled Ireland. Her beauty was famed throughout this world and the otherworld, but her story is a warning to all who would be tempted by a kiss from the people of the mounds.

Bláthíne lived with her father, whose name was Mend, on the strange magical island of Inis Fir Fálgae, which some have considered to be the Isle of Man. The men of this island were fierce giants, with red or black hair so long it reached all the way to their ankles, but that didn’t deter Cú Chulainn and his friend, the powerful sorcerer Cú Roí mac Dáire, from planning to raid it and steal all of its treasures!

For they had heard of the many strange magical artifacts which Mend kept in his court, wonders of ancient science and wizardry such as the Dagda’s cauldron of plenty, which could feed the whole world. And from this we know that the island was a place half in dream, in the way of the otherworld.

By cunning, by arcane rituals, skill and unrelenting bladework the two heroes passed through many-coloured mists and across waves that looked like meadows, beyond veils of singing spirits and deadly shadows, until they at last landed on the shores of Inis Fir Fálgae. And sure enough when they departed they had more than they arrived with, and indeed, more than they bargained for!

They returned to Eriú with the three treasures of the Fálgae – namely, three red-eared milk-abounding cows who each produced the milk of ten cows every day, with three cranes called the three men of Ochain upon their backs, the great cauldron rich in gold and silver from which a hundred men could come away satisfied, and Bláthíne daughter of Mend.

There was a cauldron in the fort:
The calf of the three cows,
Thirty cows within its gullet,
That was its portion.

They used to go to that cauldron,
Delightful was the struggle,
Nor did they come away from it again
Until they left it full.

There was much gold and silver it,
It was a goodly find.
I carried off that cauldron
With the daughter of the king.

No sooner had they returned than Cú Roí and Cú Chulainn fell to arguing over their loot, for they had both fallen in love with the gentle Sidhe princess on their return journey. Cú Roí said she was his spoil, for it was he who had taken her, but Cú Chulainn would have none of it. The lady, he said, would be leaving with him.

Although Cú Chulainn was a matchless warrior, Cú Roí was powerful in the ways of sorcery, and he caused the earth to open up and swallow the Hound of Chulainn, and then he cut off his hair and humiliating him! Cú Roí made off with Bláthíne and everything else they had stolen from the mysterious island, leaving Cú Chulainn to struggle out of the soil in his own time.

The couple went to the south of Ireland, to Cathair Chonroí, meaning “Cú Roí’s stone fort” in Kerry, among the highest and loneliest peaks of Sliabh Mish, overlooking Bóthar na gCloch, which means Road of the Stones, and there they settled down. Bláthíne became Cú Roí’s queen and was treated well enough, although she was a bit lonely.

None could approach the castle because Cú Roí used his magical powers and the pacts he had made with strange and evil entities to cause the entire tower to spin around at night, so no enemy could find the entrance! It was also wreathed with magical mists and smoke of confusion, to further hide its location.

And that was that for a full year, until Cú Chulainn made his peace with Cú Roí and decided to pay him a friendly visit. In the spirit of mending bridges, Cú Roí instructed his wife to make his old friend welcome, and so she did. She made him so welcome that the two became lovers, and plotted the murder of her husband!

However that was not so easily done, for not only was his fortress impregnable, but Cú Roí’s very soul was hidden somewhere far from his body so that no matter how he was wounded, he wouldn’t die. Using her own kind of magic, Bláthíne flattered his cleverness and wisdom and eventually convinced him to tell her where his soul was hidden – in the golden heart of a salmon swimming in a nearby stream.

Only one more piece of the puzzle remained to fit their murderous plot, and that was how to get Cú Chulainn inside the walls to do the deed. Once again she plied her husband with sweet words and flattery, telling him that his fort was too small for such a magnificent chieftain, until he agreed at last to take down the walls to build a magnificent fort of every pillar-stone standing and lying in Ireland.

And so his men of the Clan Dedad went across Ireland and gathered up every stone of this sort they could find, leaving the fortress undefended, and Cú Chulainn came close with his men.

Cú Roí stood at the gate of his stronghold and looked at the world below in puzzlement.

“Come into the castle,” said she, “and get washed before your warriors come back with their burdens.” Just then he lifted up his head and saw the host of Cú Chulainn coming towards him along the glen, both foot and horse.

“Who are those yonder, woman?” asked Cú Roí.

“They are your people people,” said Bláthíne, “with the stones and oak for building the citadel!”

“If they bear oaks, 'tis swiftly they travel, and it is a wonder if they bear stones,” he replied and raised his head again. “Who are these?” he asked again.

“Herds of cattle,” said she.

“If they are cattle, they are strange cattle for there is a little man brandishing a sword on the back of every cow!” he replied.

But he went inside anyway and she washed him, but while doing so she bound his hair to the bedposts and rails, and took the sword out of its scabbard and threw open the fortress gates!

Then Bláthíne poured milk from the cows stolen from her father into the stream which ran below the walls. It is for this reason that the stream is now called the Finglas, or white stream.

Cú Roí heard nothing until warriors had filled the house with him, and had fallen on him with drawn swords!

He rose up against them and killed a hundred men with kicks and blows of his fists, and he would not die. Any wounds he took bled not and closed at the very moment they were dealt. His attendant stood beside his master and slew thirty heroes before falling himself.

Meanwhile the men of Clan Dedad began to return from gathering rocks and found a host of the men of Ulster before their castle walls. They cast aside their burdens and attacked without hesitation!

Of this battle is is written, the hero Senfiacail first came at the cry and slew a hundred Ulstermen. Though great was the might of his combat, he found his death through Cú Chulainn. Then Cairpre Cuanach came upon them, killing a hundred men, a mighty encounter, and would have grappled with Conchobar of the Northmen if the monster-abounding sea had not drowned him

Cú Chulainn saw the river running white and knew this to be the sign he was awaiting, so he quickly killed the salmon that hid the soul of the wizard before climbing up the ruined walls and cutting off Cú Roí’s head! Then they set fire to the place of magic.

Elated although still with blood on his blade, Cú Chulainn and Bláthíne fled across the high battlements, but Ferchertne, the sorcerer’s faithful poet, had seen the flames leaping high and knew Cú Roí was dead, and so decided to take matters into his own hands.

He recited the Amra or eulogy of Cú Roí, then springing from the shadows he grabbed Bláthíne about the waist so hard that he broke her ribs, and leapt from the heights, pulling her along with him! The two were dashed to the rocks far below and died instantly as Cú Chulainn watched in helpless horror.

So bitter was the taste left in Cú Chulainn’s mouth as he had neither lover nor friend, nor any of the missing treasures, that he swore revenge on the isle that had been the source of his misfortune – but that is a tale for another time! Nor was it the end of Cú Roí’s story, for such enchanters can sometimes reach even beyond the wall of death...

Caherconree or Cú Roí’s stone fort is marked on the map below!

Further Tales from the Ulster Cycle

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