Etain (Eadaoin) was a maiden of the Tuatha de Dannan, renowned for her beauty, who fell in love with Midir of the seven-pointed spear. Unfortunately for her, Midir’s wife took exception to this, and Etain had to endure terrible hardship.
Stories of Etain:
Etain met Midir while he was staying with his foster-son, Aengus Óg, the god of love. Midir was wounded, losing an eye while under Aengus’ protection, and this was such a blow to his status that even after his eye was restored, he demanded that Aengus make it up to him. Now, being the god of love, Aengus made it up to Midir by introducing him to the beautiful Etain. The two began a passionate love affair, and all was well with them until the time came for Midir to return home. Midir was already married, to Fuamnach, a powerful woman and his equal in every way. She had raised children and foster-children with him, and was deeply insulted when he brought this strange woman home with him. She took her anger out on Etain, turning her into a shower of rain, which fell in a puddle and condensed into a jewelled fly. However, to Fuamnach’s surprise, the fly Etain did not leave Midir, and his love for her did not diminish. The sound of her wings was sweet music to him, and the fly perched on his shoulder wherever he went.
Fuamnach then sent a storm to blow Etain away. Aengus managed to rescue her for a short time, but the storm found her again, and Etain was blown and battered about for time out of mind. At last, she was blown in through the window of a mortal king’s hall and fell into the goblet of the king’s wife, who swallowed the fly Etain, and became pregnant at that instant. Born again as a mortal woman, Etain grew up with no memory of her past life, though her appearance was the same. When the High King of Ireland, Eochaid Airem, asked for her hand in marriage, she agreed, and was a loyal and good wife to him. At last, Midir found her. He had been searching for her for thousands of years, and begged her to run away with him, but Etain refused to break faith with her mortal husband, demanding that Midir get Eochaid’s permission before she so much as kissed him. Midir managed to trick King Eochaid into giving him permission to kiss and embrace his wife, but Eochaid spent a whole month training and equipping his army to prevent Midir from claiming this prize. This was no obstacle to a man of the Tuatha de Dannan, and Midir simply appeared in the king’s hall next to Etain on the appointed day. When he kissed her, Etain’s memories of him returned, and the two of them vanished from the king’s hall to live their immortal life together.
Etain was faced with terrible hardship, but held onto her essential self, and her love for Midir, through her transformation into a fly. Her integrity and strong sense of values come through in the story when she refuses the beguilement of her faery lover, and insists on keeping faith with her husband. But love wins out, and she follows her heart in the end.
Herstory is delighted to partner with Bard Mythologies, master storytellers and keepers of ancient wisdom. The primary purpose of the Bard is the re-engagement with a unique traditional heritage in order to help us reflect on where we are today. At the very start in August 1995 in the Pearse Museum, was Sandy Dunlop, his wife, Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop and Bill Felton, the creative talent who created all the wonderful images at the beginning of each story. Since then, Clare Island, Co. Mayo has been the location for the Bard Summer School week in July, and The Civic Theatre, Tallaght, plays host to monthly workshops. CandleLit Tales also host incredible nights of mythic storytelling and music around Ireland. Discover more: bardmythologies.com.
Click here to read the myth of Midir & Étain, retold by Karina Tynan from the perspective of the feminine. Herstory is delighted to collaborate with Karina Tynan; writer, psychotherapist and team member of the Bard Summer School. Karina has been inspired by our rich mythology to write a series of retellings of the Irish myths from the eyes and experience of the feminine. Through her empathy and imagination she seeks to meet the light, shadow, creativity and heroism of mythic women It is Karina’s belief that myths are boundless and will forever yield fresh wisdom as they encounter the human imagination. Each retelling is imaginatively recreated while being fundamentally true to the myths themselves.