I distinctly remember being told about the pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne and legend of Benbulben back when I was in school.
However (and it’s a big however), it certainly wasn’t the version of the story from Irish mythology that you’re about to read below.
To be fair, my teacher probably thought that telling a class of 7 and 8-year-olds a story about the mass spiking of food and drink along with a dash of infidelity may raise a few eyebrows.
Below, you’ll find the uncensored version of the pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne by a very angry Fionn Mac Cumhaill.
The Story of Diarmuid and Gráinne
This story all begins with the most beautiful woman in Ireland – Grainne, the daughter of Cormac MacAirt, Ireland’s High King. Many a man travelled from far and wide in an attempt to secure Grainne’s hand in marriage, but she wasn’t interested.
It wasn’t until a proposal was made by the great warrior Fionn Mac Cumhaill that Grainne said yes, she would marry him. A valiant warrior and leader of the Fianna, Fionn was deemed a worthy suitor by the High King.
Engagement celebrations soon got underway and a celebratory feast was planned with attendees from across Ireland making the journey to congratulate the happy couple.
Then Diarmuid Arrived on the Scene
On the night of the feast, Grainne was introduced to a Diarmuid. Diarmuid had been one of her husband-to-be’s great warriors for many years… Oh, he was also Fionn’s his nephew.
It was love at first sight. Grainne was drunk with love and was ready to go to any lengths to be with Diarmuid, no matter what it took. And here’s where things start to get a bit mad.
Grainne somehow came to the conclusion that the best way to get some alone time with Diarmuid so that she could express her feelings would be to drug the entire party. Yes, she planned to spike everyone at her engagement party…
Anything for love… right?! All seemed normal at the party and Diarmuid, only having been briefly introduced to his cousin’s wife, didn’t realise that she had taken a shine to him.
Then People Started to Collapse
Whatever Grainne used to spike the food and drinking water started to take effect and people started dropping like flies. After a moment, the only two people left standing were Diarmuid and Grainne.
It was then that Grainne confessed her love to Diarmuid. To his credit, Diarmuid backed off, but not because this mad lunatic in front of him had just drugged a room full of people.
He backed off out of loyalty to Fionn. He had battled with Fionn for many years and his love for him was like that of a father and son. He couldn’t betray that bond.
Or could he? According to legend, Grainne wouldn’t take no for an answer and, after much persistence, the two left the party and ran away together.
The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne Begins
Back at the party, the effects of the drug were beginning to wear off and Fionn and the rest of the party attendees began to come around. It was immediately clear that something wasn’t right.
At first, they thought that one of their enemies may have swooped in under the darkness of night and kidnapped the pair, in an attempt to torment Fionn and Grainne’s father.
Then, after much searching, it became apparent what had happened – Grainne and Diarmuid had fled off into the night together. Fionn, believing that the two had been lovers behind his back was, understandably enough, furious.
A Chase Across Ireland
Fionn pursued Diarmuid and Gráinne across Ireland, far and wide, but they hid inside caves, up great towering trees and between every kind of nook and cranny they could find.
After years on the run, Grainne became pregnant with Diarmuid’s child. Their luck, however, was running out. Fionn and his men began to close in.
Sensing they were in trouble, a heavily pregnant Gráinne and a fearful Diarmuid fled as far across Ireland as their weary legs could take them, eventually arriving at the heath of Benbulben in County Sligo.
Benbulben and the Angry Boar
The couple is said to have arrived at Benbulben in March when a spell of fierce snow had swept across Ireland, bringing with it some of the coldest temperatures that Ireland had seen in years.
Diarmuid knew that if they didn’t find shelter from the cold, death was a certainty. As they began to scout for a place to sleep, they laid eyes upon a great cave off in the distance (rumoured to be the Caves of Keash).
The young couple were about to set off on their journey up to the cave when they heard a grunting behind them. They spun around and realised that they had been followed by an enormous boar.
This was very bad news for Diarmuid, whom, according to legend, had been told that the only living creature that could harm him was a wild boar. The boar charged and Diarmuid dived at it, trying to overpower the wild beast.
After a horrific battle, Diarmuid killed the boar, but he didn’t escape unscathed. The boar had managed to badly gore him during the struggle.
The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne Across Ireland Comes to an End
As Grainne tried to nurse her wounded lover, Fionn and his men stumbled upon the scene. Grainne begged Fionn to save Diarmuid.
She knew that Fionn possessed the magic to heal her lover’s wounds and that a drink of water from Fionn’s hands would be enough to save him.
However, still enraged by the young couples disloyalty, he refused. Diarmuid was dying and Fionn’s men begged him to help their former friend in arms, but still, Fionn refused.
It was only when Oisin, Fionn’s son, stood up to his father that Fionn finally agreed. He went to fetch water but by the time he returned, Diarmuid was dead. A tragic end to one of the maddest tales from Irish folklore.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.