Now, I distinctly remember being told the legend of Benbulben back when I was in school, but it certainly wasn’t the one you’re about to read.

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.

But, here it is. The uncensored version!

Benbulben county sligo
Benbulben: Photo by Chris Hill

The Tale of Benbulben

The story begins with Grainne, the daughter of Ireland’s High King – Cormac MacAirt, the most beautiful woman in all of Ireland and a proposal of marriage.

According to legend, Grainne, a highly sought after woman by many a man, had just agreed to marry the one and only Fionn MacCool.

A valiant warrior and leader of the Fianna, Fionn was deemed a worthy suitor by the High King and engagement celebrations soon got underway.

Ben bulben sligo
Benbulben from afar: Photo by Chris Hill

A celebratory feast was planned and attendees from across Ireland journeyed across the land to congratulate the happy couple.

On the night of the feast, Grainne was introduced to a Diarmuid, one of her husband-to-be’s top warriors, and also his nephew.

It was love at first sight.

Drunk with love, Grainne was ready to go to any lengths to be with Diarmuid, and somehow came to the conclusion that the best way to get some alone time with him to express her feelings would be to drug the entire party.

benbulben mountain sligo
Benbulbens Slopes: Photo by Chris Hill

After whatever drug was used to spike the food and/or drink with kicked-in, all but Grainne and Diarmuid were out cold, and Grainne confessed her love.

To his credit, Diarmuid backed off, but not because this mad lunatic in front of him had just drugged a room full of people, it was because he was loyal to Fionn.

However, Grainne wouldn’t take no for an answer and, after much persistence,  the two ended up running off together.

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.

Peeling their weary heads off their wild boar casserole, they realised Grainne and Diarmuid had fled.

Fionn was furious.

A Colourful Benbulben in sligo
A Colourful Benbulben

He pursued Grainne and Diarmuid across the country, far and wide, but they hid inside caves, up 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 Grainne and Diarmuid fled, eventually arriving at the heath of Benbulben in County Sligo, where they were confronted by a giant boar.

This was bad news for Diarmuid, whom legend had told that the only living creature that could harm him was a wild boar.

ben bulbin mountain
The Legend of Benbulben: Photo by Art Ward

The boar charged and Diarmuid dived at it, trying to overpower it 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 in the struggle.

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.

Fionn refused.

Possibly because he was drugged and then abandoned at his own engagement party, who knows..?!

Diarmuid was dying and Fionn’s men begged him to help their former friend in arms, but still, Fionn refused.

Only when Fionn’s son Oisin stood up to his father and threatened to kill him that Fionn wavered.

He went to fetch water but by the time he returned, Diarmuid was dead.

And they all, eh, lived happily ever after...
So there you have it. A slightly mad and colourful bit of Irish folklore that, in hindsight, may have been a little bit much for little ears to hear. The next time you wander upon Benbulben, remember the tale of Grainne, Fionn and Diarmuid. Oh, and be careful to watch out for crazy wild boar!


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