Étain and Midir



He took her for his second wife

as if she wouldn’t care,

that second wife would be enough,

as if first wife would shrug and turn

back to her broideries and her bairns.

He told her that he loved her,

and when first wife, in her jealousy

as was surely only right and just,

cast the spell that sent her fluttering,

bright butterfly-wings beating,

over the stormy sea,

beyond the reach of prince and druid,

he followed her, or at least he tried,

or at least he said he tried.

And when he took her back again,

years later when she had a life

as someone he had never met,

and found a love who cherished her

and kept her by his side,

he never saw how many lives

by his golden hand lay blighted,

never a frown creased his golden brow.

She followed him with backward glances,

leaving husband and her child,

because her prince would have it so,

and being golden and beautiful,

that is how the story fell out.


Such has ever been the way of the world,

and probably always will be.


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

21 thoughts on “Étain and Midir”

  1. What a tragic tale, and so beautifully told. I certainly hope that is not always the way it will be. I was especially struck by the lines “he followed her, or at least he tried, or at least he said he tried” — that taps into so many bad relationships that I can relate to both sides of it.

    1. It’s a very strange story to us, points up the differences between our expectations of human relations and ancient people’s. Midir bulldozes everything in his path and Étain more or less lets him do it, going back to him, knowing that he’ll repudiate his first wife, presumably having got bored with her by now, and leaving Etain’s children behind. They had notions of love that were very different to ours, but the way they went about getting what they wanted was more or less familiar.

    1. I’m glad some of the beauty of the story comes over. There are some lovely bits to the story and some inexplicable parts too. Human relations at the end of the Iron Age were not exactly as they are now.

      1. There are some things that don’t change, that masculine I want, I get attitude, and the female, I’m just flattered syndrome. But there’s more in this story that makes it an odd one. Who’d want to be second wife when the first marriage was a love match? Why did it take Midir so long to find her? When he did, she was already married to someone else, a king, who she married willingly and had children with, yet when Midir snapped his fingers, back she went. There’s magic, of course that plays a part in it, but the basics must have been a recognized reaction at the time. We just can’t understand it anymore.

      2. I would never wish to be second wife period but I think these days the whole ‘friends with benefits’ thing is a horrible modern parallel. I also think when you take so long to meet the one you love there is always going to be that question of why – very true – a universal truth. You’re right though – except in cases of arranged marriages (you know of what I refer)

      3. Although most of the wealthy people married out of interest, the stories are almost all of love matches, so the idea was a common one. They weren’t hidebound by religious taboos either, so sex wasn’t ever ruled out between people who weren’t married. There’s a lot of passion in this story, but it isn’t where we would expect it. People were different then, women didn’t expect their men to bow down before them and shower them with rose petals. They wanted warriors and strength. It was their form of security I suppose.

      4. They knew what was best for survival, which is something we’ve lost certainly. Freedom of choice has its limitations when you think of the stupid choices many of us make 🙂

      5. Very true. I think even today we make choices based upon survival though, maybe we’d never admit that … but it takes a very strong will to try to do it all alone doesn’t it? xo

      6. It does. And when I think of all those women who stay with abusive partners out of a misplaced sense of love, duty, devotion, I don’t know, it makes my blood boil.

    1. And yet it counts as a love story. Étain went back to Midir and counted herself fortunate. Once she’d made up her mind, it didn’t seem to matter to either of them about the collateral damage. They were funny in those days.

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