Tochmarc Étaíne : The Wooing of Étaín 2
by Miles Dillon
The second story begins after the interval of a thousand years, when the Tuatha Dé Danann have retired into their fairy-mounds and the Gaels are established in Ireland. But we are still in a period of pure legend, so you must not expect any dates. The king of Ireland in this story was succeeded by a king whose son was killed in Da Derga’s Hostel shortly before the period of Cú Chulainn and the Ulster heroes, according to the learned tradition.
When Eochaid Airem became king of Ireland, the people refused to pay tribute to a king who had no queen. He sent out messengers to find the loveliest girl in Ireland, and they brought him Étaín the daughter of Étar. Eochaid had a brother Ailill, and he fell sick for love of Étaín, and none could cure him. Eochaid went on his royal circuit of Ireland, leaving Étaín to care for Ailill, so that his grave might be dug, his lamentation made and his cattle slain. (The slaying of a dead man’s cattle is of some interest for the religious ideas of the pagan Irish).
One day, as they were together in the house, Ailill confessed to Étaín the cause of his sickness, and she said that she would gladly cure him with her love, but that it might not be in the house of the king. She made a tryst with him on the hill above the court. But at the hour appointed, a magic sleep came upon Ailill, and a man in the likeness of Ailill came in his stead to keep the tryst with Étaín. Three times this happened, and the third time Étaín protested that it was not with him that she had made the tryst. The stranger said : ‘It were fitter for you to come to me, for when you were Étaín daughter of Ailill, I was your husband.’ And he told her that he was Midir of Brí Leith, and that they had been parted by the sorcery of Fuamnach. He asked her to come away with him, and she refused to go without the consent of her husband, the king of Ireland.
That is the end of the second story.
Taken from Radio Éireann : Thomas Davis Lectures : Irish Sagas. Published 1959