August 09, 2021

#08-119: The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel

'30s-style engraving of a strong naked man holding a spear in his right hand and an ornate shield in his left, long hair (from multiple faces?) flowing wildly over his head. repeated images of legs give the impression he is running.
Conaire Mor
(grabbed from an old book)

Note: Read of the killing of Conaire Mor, High King of Ireland, after circumstances forced him to break a number of taboos.

Get Ready: Do you think there are any prohibitions so strong that "the universe" brings about punishment for breaking them? What are they, and how does it work?

You may vaguely recall reading about The Cattle Raid at Cooley, from Ireland's "Ulster Cycle." Another story from that cycle involves the killing of King Conaire Mor at the hostel of an obscure character called Da Derga (meaning "Red God").

When Conaire Mor, son of the High King Eterscel Mor, ascended the throne, several taboos were placed on him. For example, he was never to kill a bird, nor to hunt a certain beast; he was never to travel in certain directions, nor sleep in certain situations; he was never to admit a guest alone after sunset, nor settle a quarrel between two subjects, nor stay more than nine nights away from his seat at Tara. He was not to allow pillaging in Ireland. And he was never to enter the house of a red man if three red men had entered before him.

Now, Conaire had three foster brothers whom he loved as his own life. And when he became king, those brothers grew bored, and fell into petty mischief, which included stealing one ox, one pig, and one cow from a particular farmer every year. When at last this was reported to Conaire, he was in a quandary: the penalty for such pillaging was death, but he could not kill his foster brothers, and so he banished them to Britain.

In his final days a series of events conspired to make Conaire break his taboos one by one. And at the end, he found himself entering the house of the Red Man after three others.

His foster brothers, at the urging of the king of Britain, attacked the hostel and set it to flame three times, and three times it was doused. Conaire slew 1,200 men, and, cursed with a magical thirst, asked his champion Mac Cecht for a drink of water. But all the water had been used in putting out the fires, so Mac Cecht journeyed across Ireland bearing Conaire's cup. However, no lake or river would offer water to the rule-breaking king.

At last, Mac Cecht found a cooperative body of water and returned in time to see Conaire beheaded by two men, whom Mac Cecht killed. He poured water into Conaire's mouth and neck; the severed head then recited a poem in praise of Mac Cecht, who was later killed in the battle, which raged on for three more days.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. conspired
  2. doused
  3. hostel
  4. in a quandary
  5. mischief
  6. obscure
  7. petty
  8. pillaging
  9. taboos
  10. vaguely

  1. not well known
  2. worked together, in a negative way
  3. extinguished; put out
  4. misbehavior; pranks and so on
  5. minor; unimportant
  6. not clearly
  7. going about taking by violence what one wants
  8. a place for people to stay
  9. uncertain what to do
  10. prohibited acts, especially ones involving sacred things

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 9, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. c; 3. h; 4. i; 5. d; 6. a; 7. e; 8. g; 9. j; 10. f