Étaín

Étaín

Long, long ago, in ancient Ireland there lived a prince of the Tuatha De Danann. His name was Midhir. One day he was riding about the countryside around his home near Bri Leith, when he came across the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Dressed in a purple gown, she was washing her long hair at a river. He stopped to ask the girl her name. She was Étaín, and the moment she looked into Midhir’s eyes, she fell in love with him, and he with her.

Midhir lost no time in asking Étaín to be his wife, and so smitten was she that she said yes, and left all behind her and went with Midhir.

Now, Midhir was already married to Fuamnach, and, while Fuamnach appeared like she was pleased to see Midhir return with Étaín as his wife, she wasn’t. She was jealous and cast a spell to turn Étaín into a pool of water, the water dried up, and, in its place remained a purple butterfly. The butterfly Étaín flew to Midhir and wafted around him, and Midhir recognised the beautiful scent from the butterfly as Étaín. From then on, the butterfly Étaín perched on Midhir’s shoulder and they were never seen apart.

Fuamnach was furious that her trick had not worked and conjured up a magical storm. The storm caught the butterfly Étaín up in it and blew her away from Midhir. For seven long years, it blew the butterfly Étaín around, never letting her rest. One day she found herself at Brú na Boínnne, the home of Aengus Óg, the foster son of Midhir and Fuamnach. Aengus recognised Étaín, and he built her a room made of glass to protect her from the storm and keep her safe. He filled it with flowers and made it as comfortable as he could, and Étaín lived there happily, for a short time, until one day she mistakenly flew outside.

The storm, ever ready to capture Étaín, gathered her up once more, and, for another seven years, Étaín knew no rest, until it blew her in the window of a banquet hall of a mortal King. The butterfly Étaín rested on one of the rafters of the hall, but so tired and exhausted was Étaín, that she fell off the rafter and landed in the goblet of the King’s wife. The King’s wife drank the wine without even noticing the butterfly Étaín in it.

Nine months later the mortal King and Queen had a daughter and they named her Étaín, and she was the most beautiful child to be seen, just as beautiful as she had been in her previous life. Étaín grew into a beautiful woman and looked just as she did, but she couldn’t remember anything of her old life. Being so beautiful, she had many admirers, but Eochnaidh, the High King of Ireland at the time, wooed her and made her his wife. Together they returned home to Tara.

Sometime later, Étaín was walking the fields around her home in Tara, when she came across a stranger. Midhir, who had been searching all this time, was delighted to have found Étaín again. He soon realised that Étaín didn’t recognise him, and had no memory of her life before. He tried to convince her of who he was, but she chose to stay with Eochnaidh. Soon afterwards, she was troubled by dreams of Midhir and Brí Leith.

Now that Midhir had found Étaín, he couldn’t leave her again. He turned up at Tara one day and challenged the King to a game of chess. Eochnaidh decreed that the winner of each match would decide the prize. Eochnaidh won the first match and demanded a forest fully grown. One suddenly appeared. Eochnaidh, now realising that Midhir was one of the magical sidhe race, foolishly decided to play a second match, which he won. He demanded for his prize a road through the bog which Midhir made appear. Feeling very confident now with two wins, Eochnaidh agreed to a third match. This time Midhir won, and, for his prize, he claimed a kiss from Étaín. Eochnaidh, fearing that his wife would be taken from him, told Midhir to come back in a month.

During this time Eochnaidh built barricades around Tara and trained his guard to protect him and Étaín. On the day Midhir was to return, Eochnaidh placed Étaín in the Great Hall at Tara, surrounded by an army ready to repel any invader. Midhir entered the fort by magic, and appeared beside Étaín in the Great Hall. He took her in his arms and kissed her. Étaín remembered everything, the storms, the life she had before, and she remembered Midhir, and their love. She kissed him passionately, and, as the King and his men watched, Étaín and Midhir rose up in the air, surrounded by light, and disappeared out the window, never to be seen again.

“Empty needles are the pen with which I create my story, yarn is my ink.” – Ruth