Literature / The Wooing of Étaín

The Wooing of Étaín is a mythological romance of Irish Mythology, set after the time when the mortal Gaels conquered Ireland, and the immortal Tuatha Dé Danann retired into their subterranean palaces, becoming the Aes Sídhe, the people of the fairy mounds.

Midir of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Lord of Brí Léith, takes to wife Étaín, daughter of Ailill, regarded to be the most beautiful woman in Ireland. But his first wife Fuamnach does not approve of the marriage, and maliciously turns Étaín into a dragonfly, then summons a storm that blows the insect away.

Many tribulations later, the dragonfly ends its odyssey in the drinking cup of a Gaelic woman, wife to Etar, a Lord of Ulster, and is accidentally swallowed. The lady gets pregnant and gives birth to Étaín, the daughter of Etar (or so everybody thinks). As Étaín II grows up, word is she is the most beautiful woman in Ireland. And so it is no wonder the young High King of Ireland, Eochaid, sues for her hand, which she graciously grants.

But Midir has never stopped looking for Étaín, and eventually finds out what happened, recognizing his own wife in the queen of Ireland. But Étaín has forgotten her former life among the Aes Sídhe and is scrupulous to leave her new husband, forcing Midir to resort to cunning and magic to wrest her from Eochaid.

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Provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Baleful Polymorph: Étaín's transformation into a dragonfly by the jealous Fuamnach.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Étaín was reborn 1002 years after her first birth and spent 14 years as a dragonfly, so she must have been 988 years old when she was transformed.
  • Reincarnation Romance: Only one of the lovers is reborn. Midir seems to love her no less even though she does not remember him.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Midir and Eochaid compete for Étaín.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Étaín is only Ireland's most beautiful woman, but close enough.