Fri, 18 Mar 2005

The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel

— SjG @ 5:09 pm

anonymous, circa. 1100, translated by Whitley Stokes, read as an e-book from

This is a curious old Irish tale, which seems to fall somewhere between standard historical epics and fairy tales. You can still hear quite a little of the oral tradition in its structure, but it also has some surprises. The beginning is very much fairy tale, about how Conaire becomes king, and how he learns of his personal taboos. This portion is mystical and fantastical. It is followed immediately by the tale of how the good king brings peace and prosperity and then, in one grand binge, violates all his taboos. The tale then takes a short detour, setting up the Reavers (the agents of destruction), and giving us their history and descriptions, with each being more terrifying and strange than the previous. After this short detour, we take a very long detour, where these agents of destruction have resolved to destroy Da Derga’s hostel (where the king is spending the night). They review and catalog each individual within the hostel, sparing no details, and their seer predicts how many of the reavers will be slain by each. This is by far the longest section of the tale, and seemed to have been a great opportunity for retellers to toss in their own creative additions. The actual destruction is something of an anticlimax.

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