Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Emania. Capital of Conachúr mac Nessa’s Ulster kingdom; located near modern-day Armagh in Northern Ireland, where Conachúr has Deirdre raised after it is prophesied that a retainer’s child named Deirdre, “Troubler,” will bring evil to Ireland. The girl’s witchlike foster-mother Lavarcham teaches her respect for the king, but the attempt to train her in isolation from human society fails when Deirdre makes friends with the old guards in the castle in which she is kept. As she develops a sense of herself and makes her first forays into the outside world, she meets Naoise and his brothers, young warriors related to and serving under Conachúr. Deirdre and Naoise become lovers.


*Scotland. After Deirdre coerces Naoise into elopement, she and her lover and his brothers go to Scotland, turning their backs on their community and civilized space. While a free life in the Scottish wilderness brings joy, the fugitives cannot rest, for Deirdre’s beauty has attracted the king of Scotland.

Red Branch

Red Branch. Conachúr’s lavishly decorated Ulster fortress, in which he has Deirdre and Naoise stay after their return to Ireland. When Conachúr breaks his promise and lays siege to the building, it becomes a death trap. Deirdre and her warriors make brave sorties among the troops before the six great doors in the belief that Fergus will come to their rescue. Eventually the Red Branch is burned down, and the defenders must flee. The forces thus set in motion conclude in the cattle raid of Cooley and the apocalyptic clash between Ulster and the remainder of Ireland.

Deirdre Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Fackler, Herbert V. That Tragic Queen: The Deirdre Legend in Anglo-Irish Literature. Salzburg: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1978. Various nineteenth century versions of the Deirdre story are explored, and their bearing on early modern treatments of the legend is suggested. Stephens’ work is firmly located in its various contexts. The analysis stresses the distinctive character of Stephens’ imaginative reinvention of the bardic material.

Foster, John Wilson. Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1987. A critically sophisticated overview of the context in which Stephens’ work was created. The relationship between Deirdre and works of other contemporary fabulists is evaluated, providing a significant sense of the novel’s genre. The originality of Stephens’ rhetorical strategies and modernizing emphases in Deirdre are also incisively assessed.

McFate, Patricia. The Writings of James Stephens. London: Macmillan Press, 1979. A thematic survey of Stephens’ prose, plays, and poems. Discussion of Deirdre focuses on the story’s origins in Irish myth, and Stephens’ update of the original are highlighted. The study contains a chronology and a comprehensive bibliography.

Martin, Augustine. James Stephens: A Critical Study. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1977. A comprehensive account on the whole of Stephens’ writings. Discussion of Deirdre is included in the account of Stephens’ artistic involvement with Irish myth, folktale, and saga. Analysis concentrates on Stephens’ focus on the significance of jealousy in the plot.

Pyle, Hilary. James Stephens: His Work and an Account of His Life. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965. This study remains the most accessible source of biographical information about Stephens. Influences on his work, such as the poetry of William Blake and Eastern philosophy, are also discussed in detail. The full range of Stephens’ writings are also considered in the light of an intimate knowledge of the contexts in which they were produced.