Diarmuid Ua Duibhne

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This article is about the Irish mythological figure. For the character from Guy Gavriel Kay's novel, see The Fionavar Tapestry.

Diarmuid Ua Duibhne (Irish pronunciation: [ˈdʲiəɾˠmˠədʲ uə ˈd̪ˠʊvʲnʲə]) or Diarmid O'Dyna (also known as Diarmuid of the love spot) is a son of Donn and one of the most famous Fianna's member in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology (traditionally set in the 2nd to 4th century). He is most famous as the lover of Gráinne, the intended wife of Fianna leader Fionn mac Cumhaill in The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne. Aonghus Óg or Aengus is Diarmuid's foster father and protector. Diarmuid is a highly skilled warrior and well-liked and much valued member of the Fianna, he single-handedly slew 3400 warriors in a battle and he saved Fionn and the Fianna.


Famous weapons[edit]

Aengus owned a deadly sword named Moralltach or Nóralltach, it translates as the great and fierce one, given to him by Manannán mac Lir. In The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne it is said of Moralltach that it left no stroke nor blow unfinished at the first trial. Aonghus gave this sword to his foster-son Diarmuid, in addition to a sword named Beagalltach, the Little Fury. Along with these two swords, Diarmuid is known to have wielded two spears, Gáe Buidhe ("Yellow Spear") and Gáe Dearg ("Red Spear"), which caused wounds that could not be healed. Diarmuid used Gáe Dearg and Moralltach for adventures which were matters of life and death. Diarmuid also used Gáe Buidhe and Beagalltach for lesser adventures.

Vicious curse[edit]

His father, Donn, was a warrior of the Fianna. At a dinner party, Donn, feeling jealous because of the attention given to the son of Aengus' steward, killed the steward's son when no one was looking. Aengus resurrected the steward's son in the form of a boar, but the steward still required Fionn to find out the truth and, upon learning the truth, put a curse upon Diarmuid: He was to be killed by the steward's transformed son.

Magical love spot[edit]

Diarmuid is also famed for his love spot, a birthmark, that makes him irresistible to women. Diarmuid, while hunting one night, met a woman who was the personification of youth. After sleeping with him she put a magical love spot on his forehead[1] that caused any woman who looked at it to fall in love with him.

Loathly Lady and Cup[edit]

One freezing winter's night, the Loathly Lady brazenly entered the Fianna lodge, where the warriors had just gone to bed after a hunting expedition. Drenched to the bone, her sodden hair was snarled and knotted. Desperate for warmth and shelter, she knelt beside each warrior and demands a blanket, beginning with their leader Fionn. Despite her rants and temper tantrums, the tired men only rolled over and ignored her in the hope that she would leave. Only young Diarmuid, whose bed was nearest to the fireplace, took pity on the wretched woman, giving her his bed and blanket. The Loathy Lady noticed Diarmuid's love spot and said that she had wandered the world alone for 7 years. Diarmuid reassured her and told her she can sleep all night and he that he would protect her. Towards dawn, he noticed that she had become a beautiful young woman.

The next day, the Loathly Lady rewarded Diarmuid's kindness by offering him his greatest wish—a house overlooking the sea. Overjoyed, Diarmuid asked the woman to live with him. She agreed on one condition: he must promise never to mention how ugly she looked on the night they met. After 3 days together, Diarmuid grew restless. The Loathy Lady offered to watch his greyhound and her new pups while he went hunting. On three separate occasions, Diarmuid’s friends, envious of his good luck, visited the lady and asked for one of the new pups. Each time, she honoured the request. Each time, Diarmuid was angry and asked her how she could repay him so meanly when he overlooked her ugliness the first night they met. On the third mention that he had promised never to speak of, the Loathly Lady and the house disappeared and his beloved greyhound died.

Realizing that his ungratefulness has caused him to lose everything he valued, Diarmuid set out to find his lady. He used an enchanted ship to cross a stormy sea. Arriving in the Otherworld, he searched for the lady through green meadows filled with brightly coloured horses and silver trees. Three times he spied a drop of ruby-red blood and gathering each drop into his handkerchief. When a stranger revealed that the King’s gravely ill daughter had just returned after 7 years, Diarmuid realised it must be his lady. Rushing to her side, he discovered she was dying. The 3 drops of blood Diarmuid collected were from her heart, spilled each time she thought of Diarmuid. The only cure was a cup of healing water from the Plain of Wonder, guarded by a jealous king and his army. Diarmuid vowed to bring back the cup.

His quest for the healing cup nearly ended at an impassable river. Diarmuid was stumped until the Red Man of All Knowledge, who had red hair and eyes like glowing coals, helped him cross the river and then guided him to the king of the healing cup’s castle. There, Diarmuid called out that the cup should be sent out to him, or else champions to fight with him should be sent out. It was not the cup was sent out, but twice eight hundred fighting men; and in three hours there was not one of them left to stand against him. Then twice nine hundred better fighters again were sent out against him, and within four hours there was not one of them left to stand against him.[2] Impressed, the king gave him the cup of healing. On the return trip, the Red Man advised Diarmuid on how to heal his lady. He also warned the young hero that when her sickness ended, Diarmuid’s love for her would end as well. Diarmuid refused to believe the prophecy, but indeed, it came true. The lady sadly understood that Diarmuid’s love for her had died. She couldn't live in his world any more than he could live in hers.

Diarmuid boarded an enchanted ship to return to the Fianna, where he was greeted by his friends and his greyhound, which the lady had returned to life as her final gift to him.

Diarmuid and Gráinne[edit]

Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne or the usual English title – "The Pursuit of Díarmait and Gráinne" was a very popular Irish romance of a love triangle that had most likely influenced the medieval romance of Tristan and Isolde of the 12th century. Though there has been reference to this tale in the late 12th-century manuscript known as the Book of Leinster, suggesting the original tale was composed around 1100, the surviving text we have of The Pursuit of Díarmait and Gráinne is dated no earlier than the 17th century.

At Allen, Fionn Mac Cumhaill was a much older man than he was in his previous adventures, and over the years he had several wives. When his last wife died, his son Oisín and his companions one day asked Fionn when he would remarry again. Diorruing suggested that the best woman for Fionn would be Gráinne, the beautiful young daughter of Cormac Mac Art, who was the high king of Ireland.

She thought that she would be marrying Fionn's son Oisín or grandson Oscar, not the aging captain himself, so she agreed to the match. Grainne was terribly disappointed when she found her fiance was old enough to be her grandfather or great grandfather. Determined not to marry Fionn, Grainne decided to run away with one of the champions of the Fianna.

Grainne administered drugs into the wine of the guests save for Oisín, Oscar, Diarmuid, Caílte and Diorruing. Grainne approached Oisín, however he refused her request, then she approached Diarmuid. Diarmuid also objected to her advances because Fionn was a friend and his leader. Grainne imposed a geis upon Diarmuid that he must follow and run away with her. His friends were saddened by this, because they knew that Diarmuid would die because the hero had come between Fionn and Grainne. Diarmuid left the palace, knowing that despite being a friend and follower of Fionn, his leader would still hunt him down for the betrayal.

When Fionn Mac Cumhaill woke from his slumber, he immediately sent the Clan O'Navnan to track the fleeing couple down. Diarmuid and Gráinne crossed Ath Luain, and hid in the Wood of Two Tents. Diarmuid's friends: Oisín, Oscar, Caílte and Diorruing were troubled by Fionn's outburst and behaviour. Despite Fionn Mac Cumhaill being their leader and friend, they were also determined to secretly help Diarmuid whenever they could.

In the Wood of Two Tents, Diarmuid had erected a fence around him where there were seven doorways that led to different directions of the woods, with the doorways being the only way through. Fionn told his followers to surround and capture Diarmuid for him. Aengus, Diarmuid's foster father and protector, wanted to help him, but Diarmuid insisted that he would leave on his own. So Aengus took Gráinne away to the Wood of Two Sallows instead. Diarmuid escaped by pole-vaulting over the fence and managed to escape into the wood before anyone could stop him.

In the centre of the Forest of Dubros, there were magical berries from the rowan tree that could restore the youth of an old person. To prevent anyone from eating the berries, the Tuatha Dé Danann had set a surly giant, named Searbhan, to guard the special fruit from all whom seek it. Diarmuid and Grainne, who parted company with Muadhan, entered the forest and asked Searbhan if they could live and hunt games in the forest. Searbhan only agreed on the condition that they not attempt to eat the berries. Grainne had a strong desire to eat the berries from the quicken tree. Diarmuid didn't want to quarrel with the giant Searbhan, but feared that Grainne may fetch the berries herself if he didn't do it. Searbhan refused and immediately attacked Diarmuid with his massive club. At last, Diarmuid used Searbhan's own weapon to slay the giant.

Knowing that Diarmuid must be in the Wood of Dubros, Fionn mac Cumhaill gathered the Fianna and travelled there. He knew that Diarmuid must be sitting on some branches of this quicken tree, which was true, but Diarmuid and Grainne were hidden from sight. So Fionn had a fidchell board set up, where he played some matches against his son Oisín. Oscar and Cailte assisted Oisín in the game, since no one except Diarmuid was a match against Finn in the game of fidchell, an ancient game similar to chess. Diarmuid, who watched the game from above, couldn't resist aiding Oisín in the game. Diarmuid directed Oisín's moves by tossing berries at the chess-pieces. Fionn lost three straight matches to his son. Despite being surrounded, Diarmuid, who was never a coward, revealed himself to his enemy. Fionn ordered men up the trees to kill his young rival. Diarmuid killed seven warriors named Garbh. Oscar, Fionn's grandson, admiring Diarmuid's courage, decided to aid his friend's escape, warning that anyone who harmed Diarmuid would face his wrath. Then, Oscar escorted the heroes safely away through the forest.

Fionn went to the Land of Promise to ask his old nurse Bodhmall to kill Diarmuid. One day while Diarmuid was hunting in the forest beside the river Boyne; the hag flew through the air on a flying water-lily. As she flew past, she hurled poisoned darts that could penetrate his shield and armour. Diarmuid suffered great agony where the darts struck him. With all his might, Diarmuid hurled the Gáe derg (red spear), which killed the hag.

Eventually, Fionn pardoned Diarmuid after Aonghus Og interceded on their behalf; Diarmuid and Grainne lived in peace at Ceis Chorainn for several years. They had five children: four sons and a daughter. Diarmuid had a fort built, which they called Rath Grainia. However, they went for years without visiting Grainne's father Cormac Mac Art and Diarmuid's former comrades. So Grainne persuaded Diarmuid to invited them to a feast, including Fionn and the Fianna. One night, Fionn invited Diarmuid on a boar hunt on the heath of Benn Gulbain, Diarmuid only took his short sword Begallta and his yellow spear, Gáe buide, not his best weapons: his long sword Móralltach and red spear, Gáe derg. He was badly gored by a giant boar. The boar had already killed a number of warriors and hounds. Water drunk from Fionn's hands had the power of healing, but when Fionn gathered water he would deliberately let it run through his fingers before he could bring it to Diarmuid. He had to be threatened by his son Oisín and grandson Oscar to play fair. The ageing Fianna captain feared his grandson's wrath and fetched the water a third time, but this time he was too late: Diarmuid had died. Of all Diarmuid's companions, only Fionn didn't mourn for Diarmuid. After Diarmuid's death, Aengus took his body back to the Brugh where he breathed life into it whenever he wanted to have a chat.[3]

Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne has often been compared with the earlier love triangle between Deirdre, Noísi and King Conchobar of Ulster, titled Longes mac nUislenn (The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu), which was part of the Ulster Cycle.[4]

Diarmuid Ua Duibhne is said to be the founder of the Scottish Clan Campbell. On the Campbell crest is a boar's head, a nod to how Diarmuid died.[5]

Depictions in popular culture[edit]

In the 1999 Irish dance show, "Dancing on Dangerous Ground", Diarmuid was portrayed by former Riverdance lead, Colin Dunne.

Diarmuid appears as Lancer in the 2006 novel Fate/Zero and its anime adaptation, wielding his two spears Gáe Buide and Gáe Derg. He is a chivalrous servant who wishes to do his best to serve his Master Kayneth Archibald El-Melloi and obtain victory within the war for the Grail. He shares a bond of mutual respect with rival Servant Saber Arturia, wishing to face her in an honourable duel to the death. Supplemental material indicates that his Master may have intended to summon Diarmuid as Saber, in which case he would instead have wielded the two swords Moralltach and Beagalltach. In Fate/Zero, Diarmuid's magical love spot appears below his right eye rather than on his forehead.

In the movie Leap Year (2010), the character Declan O'Callaghan tells Anna Brady the story of Diarmuid's love affair as they look at Ballycarbery Castle once reaching the train station in County Tipperary.

In the year 2013, Tower of Saviours, a mobile game app developed by Hong Kong, included Diarmuid as a character.


  1. ^ Gregory, Lady Augusta (1904). Gods and Fighting Men. Book Six, Chapter II. 
  2. ^ Gienna Matson.Celtic Mythology A to Z.New York:Chelsea House,2004:P.75
  3. ^ Heaney, Marie. Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends. Faber & Faber, 1995, p. 211.
  4. ^ The Reader: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 4. Bobbs-Merill Company. 1904. p. 314. ISBN 1278721584. 
  5. ^ Dawson, Jane E.A (2002). The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary, Queen of Scots: The Earl of Argyll and the Struggle for Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press. p. 76. ISBN 0521037492.