Last week in the new spirit of the stay-cation by spending holidays at home, we ventured to the glorious northwest, of Sligo and Donegal and what a delight it was. As is often said it is hard to beat this country if we only had the weather. Well we have had it indeed and words like ‘glorious’ are well merited. Sligo is a beautiful county with the towering mass of Benbulben standing sentinel of all it surveys. Our ultimate destination was Harvey’s Point, a hotel on the shores of Lough Eske at the foot of the impressive Blue Stacks, more of that another day. But let’s tarry and linger awhile to talk of great poems and stories that came to mind as we passed by under Benbulben’s Head and recall its association with the Fianna and the poet W.B. Yeats who did so much to revive a knowledge and appreciation of our Celtic Heritage.
A Story of Love and Loss
Legendary home of the Irish third century warriors known as the Fianna, Ben Bulben (or Benbulben, Benbulbin, Binn Ghulbain) is a large glacial rock formation in the Darty Mountains. Ben Bulben is said to be the final resting place of Gráinne (daughter of Cormac mac Airt, High King of Ireland) and Diarmuid. The folk tale Toraiocht Diarmaid agus Grainne/ The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne), one of the great Irish love stories, details the elopement of Gráinne with Diarmuid Ua Duibhne who was one of the Fianna. Gráinne was however betrothed to the giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna. At the betrothal feast Gráinne first saw Fionn and was horrified to see he was older than her father.
When Gráinne saw Diarmuid she became enamoured by the young warrior and decided that being with him was a preferable to marrying Fionn. Unfortunately the wedding plans had developed too far, with tributes having been paid and agreements made. Gráinne realised that breaking that calling the wedding off now would lead to blood shed between the High King and Fionn, but she could not bring herself to marry him.
She put the wedding guests asleep with a potion then asked Diarmuid to leave with her. But Diarmuid was a loyal Fianna warrior and refused to betray Fionn his leader. Left with no other choice she places a geis on Diarmuid, forcing him to elope with her. The couple fled for their lives and were chased over all across Ireland, always hiding and evading Fionn. Along the journey they received aid from Aengus Og, the foster father of Diarmuid who hid Gráinne under a cloak of invisibility on one of the occasions when Fionn got close.
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