The most complete account of the Deirdre story is found in the 12thC Glenmasan Manuscript, the Iliad of Irish storytelling that recounts the Cattles Raids of Cooley and Mayo and the following tale of the Exile of the Sons of Ulster.
These are stories from the Heroic Age. A period in pre history during which an aristocratic warrior class dominated and who are characterized by dramatic and straight forward stories of fighting and adventure on the part of the chiefs whose lifestyle was principally a mixture of war, glory and heroic deeds. They are vivid prose tales preserved largely through the oral tradition and not written much before the eighth century.
Deirdre’s powerful and dramatic story with its strong elements of lust, treachery and ultimate death, is vividly told. We may question whether the chief characters in the tale ever existed as true historial figures but recent research into place names in the North Lorne area of Argyll raise some intriguing questions: perhaps Deirdre, Naoise and his brothers Arden and Ainle not only existed but did after all reside in Glen Etive, and given the number of place names that memorialise them in the landscape, maybe for some significant period.
In raising the Sheiling for Deirdre and her lover Naoise we will try to bring this story alive again and introduce visitors to that subsequent development in history which led to the establisment of the Irish Kingdom of Dalriada which included most of Argyll and its islands. In doing so we may also reinforce the strong social and cultural ties that link the people of the West Highlands with their Irish friends and neighbours across the water.
In our effort to bring the stories to a wider audience both here in Scotland and in Ireland and beyond we are seeking assistance from friends and associates in both countries.
The ancient stories of the Sons of Ulster and their tragic adventure to Scotland written in the 12th century Glenmasan Manuscript inspired the Swiss composer Marc Jenbourquin to write the lyrical Glenmasan concerto. The Glenmasan Manuscript contains one of the most complete written accounts of the Deirdre and Naoise story.
Growing up in the hills of North Lorne in Argyll I was in my teens before I first heard the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows. Deirdre, Naoise and their followers lived in Glen Etive, my father Neil told me: “People think its just an old romantic story from the mythological past but you know they really did come to live there, perhaps for several years.”
In my mid twenties I fell in love with a beautiful artist, Evelyn Day from Dunmore East in Waterford and in 1967 I brought Evelyn to meet my family in Scotland. During that first visit Evelyn was clearly delighted that my father knew the story of Deirdre but when in 1980 we left Dublin and my career in journalism to return to the wilds of Argyll she soon discovered that in fact very few people in our district knew anything at all about the story.
Evelyn died of cancer in January 2017 but before she died she asked me if I would consider setting something into the landscape high in the hills overlooking Loch Etive to memorialise Deirdre and Naoise. I promised that I would.