The Madness of SuibhneBecome a Patron!
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Historical Cycle
Pathos and revenge in The Madness of Suibhne
King Suibhne was master of the northern land of Dalriada in Ulster, and a grim and fierce king he was too, yet fair to behold like palest snow, with deep blue eyes. A mighty master at arms, he was called to war often, but latterly to the bloody battle of Moy Rath. As he readied himself he heard in the distance a church bell ringing, and no man of God himself, he was filled with a black rage. In his pagan heart was wrath, and he stormed off to see what was causing the racket.
His wife grabbed ahold of his cloak and tried to calm him down, but so infuriated was he that he ripped it off and stormed away naked as the day he was born. He came to the church of Saint Ronán Finn, son of Bearach, and taking hold of the priest's psalter he flung it away into the lake. He'd have done worse too and was dragging the priest forth from his place of holy worship, when Congai Claon, son of Scannlan turned up to tell him that battle was joined.
With an oath he hurried off to the melee, and St. Ronán didn't mourn for his psalter long as an otter returned it to him. Even so he as still filled with anger at this unjust treatment and cried out to the heavens, "Be it my will, together with the will of the mighty Lord, that even as he came stark naked to expel me, may it be thus that he will ever be, naked, wandering and flying throughout the world. May it be death from a spear-point!"
St. Ronán went to the place where battle was due to commence, and tried to make peace between the two sides, mediating to avoid strife. He didn't succeed, and further Suibhne violated the terms of his truce, killing a man daily because he could! When it became clear that a clash of weapons was inevitable, St. Ronán went between the hosts, sprinkling holy water on both.
Well when Suibhne saw this he was again enraged, and flung a spear through the chest of one of Ronán's psalmists. Thinking to finish the foul deed he then eyed the saint himself and cast his vicious many-angled iron dart. But instead of felling the saint it struck the bell at his chest, splitting it and doing no harm otherwise.
St Ronán turned then and said, "‘I pray the mighty Lord that high as went the spear-shaft into the air and among the clouds of Heaven may you go likewise even as any bird, and may the death which you have inflicted on my foster-child be that which will carry you off, to wit, death from a spear-point. And my curse on you, and my blessing on Eorann. I invoke Uradhran and Telle on my behalf against your seed and the descendants of Colman Cuar"
Shortly afterwards, hard battle was joined! And the two hosts raised three great war cries apiece. Now, when Suibhne heard these great cries together with their sounds and reverberations in the clouds of Heaven and in the vault of the firmament, he looked up, whereupon turbulence and darkness, and fury, and giddiness, and frenzy, and flight, unsteadiness, restlessness, and unquiet filled him, likewise disgust with every place in which he used to be and desire for every place which he had not reached.
Like a mad imbecile he started hopping on first one foot then the other, seized by the curse of the saint. He ran from the field of battle to the disbelief of his men, springing from grass blade to grass blade, scarce even touching the ground so swift was his flight, and he made his way through the long day to the yew tree in the Glenn of Earcain, climbing it and hiding among the leaves.
When his men found him they couldn't talk him down out of it, and in a likewise manner he skipped and hopped far from that place to Cell Riagain in Tir Conaill where he perched on the old tree of the church. There his enemies found him and laughed and wept to see his miserable state. From place to place he hopped, cracked in the head and addled with foolishness, wont to utter crazed verse from time to time, but in one of his few moments of lucidity he himself grieved that he hadn't been slain at Moy Rath.
Through storm and cold and sleeting rain for seven long years he wandered the land of Ireland, encountering many who tell tales of him to this day. Returning to the place he came from, he found his kinsman lying asleep with weariness from searching for him, and his wife living with another man. She tried to return to him but he told her to stay, he was mad, and he was right in that.
Then his kinsman at last found him, the bold Loingsechan, and coaxed him out of his tree by telling him that his whole family had died. A lie in truth but it was reckoned the lesser evil. He was slowly coming to his senses when a wicked old mill hag challenged him to a leaping match, and in so flying he returned back to his old lunacy.
Long and lonely years he wandered the earth, coming in the end to the house of Bishop Moling, who gave over his care to one of his parishioners. Her husband Mongan the swineherd was a jealous man though, and when he saw the care and attention Suibhne was getting from his wife, he took up a spear and pierced him through at the urging of his sister, fulfilling the curse at last.
And that is the sad tale of King Suibhne.
On the map below can be found where Suibhne challenged the Saint at Moy Rath.
We now have an amazing Patreon page as well, where you can listen to the many myths and legends on the Emerald Isle! Exclusive to our Patreon, you can now hear stories of ancient Ireland, folklore and fairy tales and more, all professionally narrated. It's at times like these that it's most important to support artists and creative people whose income might be reduced, so if you'd like to support the work that goes into Emerald Isle, the Patreon can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/emeraldisle
More Tales from the Historical Cycle
Most people have heard of Ireland's famous title, “The Island of Saints and Scholars”, and the reason it was so well known was because of the many fine Irish Catholic universities and colleges that preserved and spread learning throughout Europe. Of them all, there were few finer than the one in Howth, and so wonderful was its reput ... [more]
Very often here in Ireland we walk past the most astonishing buildings, carven stone high crosses, ancient temples and many similar things, but rarely do we wonder who built them. Well as it turns out, legend has it that a surprising number of them were built by a man called Gobán Saor, whose name means “Gobán the Builder,&rdquo ... [more]
I. Once upon a time there was a High King in Ireland by the name of Conn the hundred-fighter, for so many battles had he fought and won to gain his kingship. At the end of his reign was Fionn Mac Cumhaill born. Long was Conn's lineage, although I won't trouble you with the details, but he reigned at Tara of the Kings as Lord of all Irela ... [more]
In the time of High King Lugaid Luaigne, that is around the age when Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his Fianna fought in defence of the great land of Ireland, a dispute arose in the northern Kingdom among the men of the Ulaid, for instead of there being only one king of Ulster, there were two! Well, as anyone who knows anything about kings will tell you ... [more]
St Colmcille is one of the three patron saints of Ireland, and his life is the subject of story and legend. It was by his efforts that Christianity spread not only through Ireland but also Scotland, England and parts of Europe too! He was a tall and powerfully built man with a rich and melodious voice which, it was said, could be heard from one hil ... [more]
From the earliest times and in every corner of the world, mead was held in reverence. This sweet tasting fermented honey drink was especially loved by the ancient Irish, who shared fireside stories about rivers of mead in mystical lands over the edge of the ocean's horizon, ruled by Mannanan Mac Lír, and even in the place where the dead ... [more]
Ancient are the hills and mountains of Ireland, and ancient are her trees, something that the old people who lived here knew well. To them a tree was a mystical thing with its roots reaching down into the underworld of the sidhe mounds, and its branches lifting up high into the heavens towards the sun, moon and stars. Well over ten thousand places ... [more]
The Irish bee has been a beloved part of the culture and folklore as long as there have been people in Ireland, producing honey for cakes and mead as well as beeswax which has no end of uses. Many's the warm summer evening has been filled with their gentle humming above the beautiful flowers they help to pollinate. And yet for all that, old ... [more]
As Saint Patrick travelled across Ireland, spreading Christianity and the light among the pagan tribes, he saw many wonders and defeated many evils, but always more rose up to challenge him. So he took himself to prayer and saw a vision that he should travel to Croagh Patrick – although it was not known so at that time – and spend the L ... [more]
During the darkness of pagan times, the High King of Ireland was a man known as Laoghaire, known for his merciless fury and great strength, and he sat upon the seat of the High Kings in Tara. However, unknown to him, Saint Patrick had landed in a little boat at Colpe in the Boyne estuary, travelling to a place called Ferta fer Feic, or the burial p ... [more]
One of the three patron Saints of Ireland, along with Patrick and Colmcille, St Brigid of Kildare was a devout Catholic in the very first days of the faith in Ireland. Her feast day is the first of February, which previously had been the pagan festival of Imbolc, halfway between winter and spring. Brigid herself was the daughter of a baptised Ch ... [more]
Through many an ancient legend and tale rings the name of the fierce and powerful druid called Mogh Ruith, meaning “slave of the wheel”. Older legends make him out to be the king of the Fir Bolg, or a druid gifted with many lives by the fairies, or that the name was but a title passed down through generations. Some say he had one eye ... [more]
Ireland has had many high kings, some were wise and kind and others cruel and the holders of grudges, but there were few as great as High King Cormac Mac Art, grandson of Conn of the Hundred Battles and son of Art and Ectach, the daughter of a mighty blacksmith. In his youth he stayed at the hall of the king of the north, Fergus Dubhdedach, but ... [more]
Back in the days of Ireland of old, in the times when legends walked the earth and before the light came to drive back the shadows of ancient times, the word of a bard was much feared, for the people had no writing, so all of their words and histories were stored in songs and poems by bardic masters. As you can imagine they were very wary of get ... [more]
In ancient days there was an Irish King whose name was Labraid Lioseach, known also as Labraid the Sailor for a long voyage he took into fairy seas, and when he came back from that voyage he was never seen without a deep hood over his head, except by one man. That man saw him once a year to trim his hair, and after the King's hair was cut, t ... [more]
It was the custom in Ireland of old to lay geases upon champions, heroes and warriors. These were magical forbiddings, deeds they must not do or disaster would follow, and no disaster fell so hard upon a man who broke his geases as upon Conaire Mor! His mother was a woman of the Sidhe called Etain, who had been married to King Eochaid, but disco ... [more]
Tierna the Historian was one of the many chroniclers and monks who wrote the tales of ancient Irish legends, telling us of strange and notable events in the almost forgotten past, the deeds of heroes and kings, and in one case, the disappearance of the High king himself! For it was by Tierna's hand we know that High King Cormac went missing for ... [more]
In the time between the Tuatha Princes and St Patrick, there rose over the people of Ireland mighty High Kings, who held power by force of arms, wit and wisdom. One of the greatest among them was Cormac of the wide purple cloak, whose hair was as golden as the heavy torc around his neck, with teeth like a shower of pearls and skin as fair as snow. ... [more]
Long ago when the fierce Milesians invaded Ireland and defeated the De Danann after many wars and battles, despite their sorceries and all their courage, skill and sciences, the folk of Danann made for themselves eldritch amulets and charms by which they and all their possessions became invisible to mortals, and so they continued to lead their old ... [more]
The Tailteann games were a grand affair in Ireland once upon a time, every bit as celebrated and renowned as the Olympics are today. Having their roots thousands of years earlier, in the time of the Tuatha Dé Danann, lakes were made and gigantic fires were lit during Lughnasadh, the summer feast in July. Druids and poets would compose cea ... [more]