Tuesday, December 5, 2000

The King of Ireland’s Son by Padraic Column, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

by Padraic Column

In these seven inter-related tales within tales within tales—closely resembling Celtic knotwork—The King of Ireland’s Son learns how to become a hero (and some wisdom along the way) and saves his father’s kingdom from the evil enchanter’s curse of barrenness. In a sub-plot, base-born orphan Gilly the Goatboy also breaks a curse, finds his parents, and is named. Together, the boys break spells, find wives and become men (or maybe it’s really the other way round).

In a nutshell: Conall, the King of Ireland had three sons: the eldest, the King of Ireland’s son, is the main protagonist. We never do learn his name, but he naively played three card games with an enchanter-king, Conall’s great enemy, who wins the third game. The Enchanter-king of the Black Bad Lands puts a geas on The King of Ireland’s Son who now must find his kingdom and pluck three beard hairs within a year and a day, or forfeit his father’s kingdom.

We have the usual archetypical fairytale motifs. The good king and stepmother, brave princes and suffering heroines who undergo trials to win their true loves back from evil.

The King of Ireland’s Son (Caintigern is his stepmother) goes questing and meets Fedelma the Enchanter’s youngest daughter. She and her two sisters help The King of Ireland’s Son to complete the seemingly impossible tasks their enchanter-father, but only Fedelma’s help is true. She is spirited away by the King of the Mists and The King of Ireland’s Son must find her. 

He loses and regains his true love by completing many tasks including gaining the sword of light, the crystal egg and the entirety of the Unique Tale (what came before and what followed after), thus breaking the enchantment. 

The King of Ireland’s Son’s vain and somewhat shallow half-brothers, Dermott and Donall, also have parallel adventures and find justly deserving brides. They all meet their unknown sibling, a long lost kidnapped child of King Conall (who is really the Hunter King) and his wife Caintigern (who is really Sheen/storm)—the childwho must be named in order to become a man. His love too is put to the test, ugly Morag’s love is true and she gains beauty. 

And all’s well that ends well. Gilly, who is really a prince, gains a name—Flann—and is reunited with his family. Conall and Canitigern have their own unfinished story cycle resolved when their children, by saving themselves, save the parents (and the kingdom) as well. And when the King of Ireland went to the Isle of Destiny, his two sons equally ruled over his kingdom; one had rule over courts, towns and harbors, the other ruled over the wastelands and villages where masterless men walked. 

This story is peopled with triads of princesses and hero-princes who must perform all manner of tasks in order to break enchantments. Celtic motifs include feasts, and giants, mists, bogs, and fords where battles are fought, red-eared animals and enchantments, all signifying the Otherworld. Good deeds and right formulae (done in the right order) are what is necessary to signify success.

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