Dervorgilla came from Norway and was a stranger in Ireland. She had listened to so many tales about Cú Chulainn that she decided he would have to be her only love. She left Norway accompanied by her maid alone. To accomplish the journey the both changed into swans and flew to Lough Cuan in Ireland. Cú Chulainn and his brother wandered near to Lough Cuan and on seeing the swans they decided to hunt them.
A stone cast by Cú Chulainn at the swans injured Dervorgilla’s hip. Dervorgilla and her maid immediately swam to the shore and changed from swans into women. Cú Chulainn removed the stone from Dervogilla’s hip with his mouth and the stone turned into blood. Dervorgilla said to Cú Chulainn that she had flown to Ireland to wed him to which Cú Chulainn replied that he could not marry her because his lips had touched her hip. So, Dervorgilla asked Cú Chulainn to choose himself the man she had to marry. Cú Chulainn suggested that she marry his brother Lugaid who was with him. Dervorgilla accepted this proposal in order to continue to see Cú Chulainn and subsequently became Lugaid’s wife and bore him children.
On a snowy winter’s day the men made tall pillars of snow. As a challenge to determine who was the best wife, the women would climb to the tops of these pillars and in competition would urinate on their pillar. The first woman to melt through the pillar with her urine was declared the winner and the best wife. Dervorgilla did not like such challenges, but, because she was a stranger, she was obliged to compete. At the end of the challenge, the women noticed that it was Dervorgilla who had melted through her pillar first and won the competition. They were very much afraid that all of the men would fall in love with such a mighty woman so they fought with her, scratched her face, pulled out her hair, broke her nose, gauged her eyes, and tore her lips in order she would never again be desirable by any man.
Cú Chulainn, Lugaid and the warriors were on a hill near the fortress and they noticed that the snow had only stayed on Dervorgilla’s roof. Lugaid realised that she was dying and they ran to Emain Macha and approached Dervorgilla’s house. She heard them coming and secured her door so that they would not gain entry and see her condition. Before dying, she sang a beautiful poem. When Lugaid gained entry to the home and saw her he also died from the anguish. Cú Chulainn ordered a grave to be dug for Dervorgilla and Lugaid, surmounted by a standing stone. During the burial a file (poet/bard) sang laments in their memory.
Photo: Strangford Lough, Co Down
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