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Literature / The Exile of the Sons of Uisnech

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The Exile of the Sons of Uisliú, or Deirdre and Naoise, is a story of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, written down in the Middle Ages but set in the Celtic pagan Iron Age. King Conchobar of Ulster locks Deirdre away in a tower from birth, due to a prophecy that she would be incredibly beautiful and men would fight over her. Deirdre is the daughter of Conchobar's poet, but she grows up with foster parents and out of sight of all boys, so she doesn't fall for anyone else before Conchobar marries her. But, well, a pretty warrior-singer called Naoise ruins all that, and Deirdre persuades him to elope with her, incurring the wrath of Conchobar. Naoise's loyal brothers come along for the ride and they all end up in Scotland, where they live simply and happily for a while... Until Conchobar pretends all is forgiven and invites them home, precipitating a brutal, tragic ending. And the outraged exile of Fergus Mac Róich, which will be important later...



  • Abduction Is Love: Deirdre literally pounces on Naoise and says he'll be cursed or at least dishonoured if he doesn't run away with her. He seems to be okay with it eventually.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Due to the aforementioned honour situation, Naoise and his brothers have to fight for Deirdre straight away.
  • Happily Married: They seem to have the most loving relationship in all of Irish mythology, in spite of its strange beginning.
  • Love at First Sight: Deirdre, on watching her foster father slaughter a calf in the middle of winter and watching a raven land and eat the newly bloody snow, begins having visions of a stunningly handsome, fearless young man with raven-black hair, snow-white skin, and blood-red cheeks. This description matches Naoise.
  • Babies Ever After: Inverted somewhat; in some versions of the story, Deirdre and Naoise have a son, Gaiar, and a daughter, Aebgreine, but their happy family life is interrupted by Conchobar's false promises of forgiveness.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Deirdre has the Second Sight; when Conchobar sends Lord Fergus Mac Róich and Fergus' two sons with the false promise of forgiveness (Fergus and his sons themselves don't know that it's a trick), Naoise and his brothers are happy to believe it, but Deirdre can see right through this deception; she desperately warns them over and over even when they're back in Ulster, but Naoise and his homesick brothers feel duty-bound to return.
    • Cathbad the druid also applies here; Conchobhar wanted to be "humane" rather than kill Deirdre at birth, as his warriors demanded when they heard the druid's prophesy. Conchobhar's own selfish desires (in that he wanted to marry Deirdre when she came of age and thus "mitigate any contention") also helped the prophesy come to pass. Cathbad himself curses Conchobhar so that his lineage may never again rule Ulster.
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  • Pregnant Badass: In some versions of the story, Deirdre and Naoise have a son, Gaiar, and a daughter, Aebgreine, while on the lam in the wilderness of Scotland; presumably for their children's protection as well as for their education, Manannan Mac Lir, God of the sea, fosters them.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Deirdre is at least the fairest in all Ireland, if not the world. In accordance to the prophesy, Deirdre is tall and elegant, with "twisted reddish-golden tresses, mesmerizing grey-green eyes, and cheeks flushed like foxglove".
  • Men Are Strong, Women Are Pretty: Inverted somewhat, in that Deirdre is beautiful but she is also daring enough to meet Naoise and courageous and determined enough to live her life in the face of trouble while Naoise, a fearless champion of battle, is also described as beautiful and is also an talanted harper and singer.
  • Damsel in Distress: Deirdre, although inverted in that Deirdre is anything but helpless or shy and, despite the trouble that she faces, she remains determined to live her life.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Naoise; Deirdre falls in love with a handsome young warrior (Naoise) with raven hair, snow-white skin, and blood-red cheeks.
  • Ruleof Three: Naoise and his brothers, Ardán and Ainnle, are the finest warriors of Ulster and all Ireland; the prophesy says that “Ulster’s finest warriors will be forced into exile and die” on Deirdre’s account.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Deirdre; after just over a year in King Conchobhar’s captivity after Naoise’s execution, Conchobhar is furious with her continuing coldness toward him and decides to share her with Naoise’s executioner. On the ride there, Deirdre sees an overhanging rock and sticks her head out of the speeding chariot, dashing her head against the rock.
  • So Beautiful Itsa Curse: Cathbad’s prophesy about the newborn Deirdre fits this perfectly; Deirdre will grow up to be so beautiful that “kings and lords will go to war over her, much blood will be spilled on her account, Ulster’s three finest warriors (who later turn out to be Naoise and his brothers) will be forced into exile and die for her sake, and the kingdom of Ulster will collapse.”

Alternative Title(s): Deirdre Of The Sorrows


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