Comrac Líadaine ocus Cuirithir ‘The meeting of Líadan and Cuirithir’
- Early Irish
- prosimetrum, prose, verse
- Early Irish poetry, Medieval Irish literature about poets
- Early Irish
The wooing of LíadainSummary:
(prose) Líadain, a poetess (ban-éices) of the Corcu Duibne, makes a circuit around Ireland. When business brings her to Connacht, she meets the Connacht poet Cuirithir mac Doborchon, who invites her to an ‘ale-feast’ (cuirm) and suggests that they should come together to produce a child. Although she agrees to unite with him, she tells him to meet her later at her house. The occasion must wait until she has completed her tour.
Cuirithir visits Líadain
(prose) Cuirithir goes south to meet Líadain. He travels in disguise, wearing a poor man’s clothes and being in the company of one servant, while his poet’s garment and spearheads are kept in a bag. When he arrives at the well by her house, he puts on the purple cloak and brandishes his spears. He is met there by Mac Dá Cherda, chief poet and fool (óinmit) of Ireland, who is here identified as a son of Máel Ochtraig, son of Dínertach, of the Déisi Muman, and who is said to go across land and sea with his feet still dry.
(prose) When Mac Dá Cherda has identified himself, Cuirithir asks him to go to Líadain on his behalf and persuade her into a meeting by the well. Mac Dá Cherda, whose presence goes unnoticed initially, enters the house and sits down near Líadain and other women in her presence.
He utters a poem (5 qq, beg. A tech mór), in which he speaks in riddles in order to communicate his message to Líadain without being found out by others in the same room. In this poem, he addresses her as a banscál (laywoman?), whose wisdom/intelligence is not matched among women ‘under a veil’ (fo chailliu). There are punning allusions to the protagonists: to Líadain, in the literal sense of ‘The grey one’, and to Cuirithir, by reference to his father’s name.
Speaking through a wall
Líadain agrees to join Cuirithir. They accept the soul-friendship (anm-chairde) of Cummíne Fota son of Fíachna, who confronts the couple with a choice: either to look at or to talk to each other. Since Cuirithir chooses the latter, they resort to speaking through a wall: whenever Cuirithir goes around the burial-place (martra) to visit her, her house is closed and he remains outside to converse with her; and likewise, when Líadain visits Cuirithir in turn.
A poem, beg. Cuirithir int athéces, follows, in which both Líadain (4 qq) and Cuirithir (1 q) sadly reflect on their unrequited longings for each other. In doing so, Líadain reveals that Cuirithir, now a former poet (ath-éices) without a companion by his side and without cattle, frequents a stone south of the oratory (dairthach) after Mass.
In a final quatrain, in which Líadain addresses Cummíne Fota, the brink of Loch Se(i)ng (?) and Cell Conchinn are identified as the homes of Cuirithir and Líadain respectively.
The ordeal (sleeping with a novice in between)
Cummíne allows Líadain and Cuirithir to sleep together in the same bed, but with a student (léignid becc) between them to prevent them from folly (an-esba). In two verse quatrains (both beg. Másu óenadaig atbir), Cuirithir and Líadain say that they are content to see one another in this way even if it is for a single night. When that night has passed, Cummíne takes the boy to confession and threatens to kill him if he conceals the truth. The boy is in a tight spot, because Cuirithir threatens to kill him if he reveals what has happened. The outcome is that he (Cuirithir) is transferred to another church (cell).
Cuirithir (1 q beg. Di chíanaib) complains that time goes by slowly since he has been cut off from any contact with Líadain. Líadain (1 q) imagines what a bewildered impression Cuirithir must now leave on scholars (rétairi) who are unaware of his situation. Cummíne (1 q) protests, saying that Cuirithir has never been mad (mer). Líadain then recalls (1 q) that what happened that Friday (i.e. the night when they slept together) was not “camping on honey-pastures / on the fleece of her white couch / in Cuirithir’s arms” (tr. Meyer).
Cuirithir leaves for Cell Letrech, in the land of the Déisi, in order to go on a pilgrimage. When Líadain is looking for him, she utters a sad poem (10 qq) beg. Cen áinius. She recalls the happy time when they kept each other company; realises too late that that her ‘bargain’ (caingen) has tormented her lover and ultimately pushed him away from her.
Some of the narrative allusions in the poem are given an explanation in prose: the act by which Líadain has tormented her lover is said to be her quick acceptance of the veil (caille). Despite having learned that Líadain has arrived from the west, Cuirithir steps into his coracle to go on a pilgrimage. Líadain dies on the stone (lecc) on which she used to pray and she is buried under the same (head)stone.
Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.
Secondary sources (select)
page url: https://codecs.vanhamel.nl/Comrac_Liadaine_ocus_Cuirithir
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