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Irish Myths and Legends

Etain - The Beautiful Maiden of the Tuatha Dé Danann

Etain was a maiden of the Tuatha Dé Dannan, renowned for her incredible beauty, who fell in love with Midir of the seven-pointed spear. Unfortunately for Etain, Midir's wife took exception to this, and Etain had to endure terrible hardship as a consequence.

Etain had met Midir while he was staying with his foster-son, Aengus Óg, the God of love. Midir had been wounded, losing an eye while under Aengus' protection, and this was such a blow to his status that even after his eye was restored, he demanded that Aengus make restoration to him. Now, being the God of love, Aengus was able to placate Midir by introducing him to the beautiful Etain.

The two began a passionate love affair, and all was well until the time came for Midir to return to his home. Midir was already married, to Fuamnach, a powerful woman and his equal in every way. She had raised children and foster-children with him and, unsurprisingly, was deeply insulted when he brought this strange woman home with him.

She vented her rage on Etain, turning her into a shower of rain, which fell in a pool before condensing into a jewelled fly. However, to Fuamnach's surprise Etain, now as a fly, did not leave Midir, and his love for her did not diminish. The sound of her wings was sweet music to him, and the magical fly perched on his shoulder wherever he went.

Fuamnach was furious and sent a storm to blow Etain away forever. Aengus managed to rescue her for a short time, but the storm found her again, and Etain was blown and battered about for a long time. At last, she was blown in through the window of a mortal King's hall and fell into the goblet of the king's wife, who swallowed the fly Etain whole, becoming pregnant at that instant.

Born again as a mortal woman, Etain grew up with no memory of her past life, though her beautiful appearance was the same. When the High King of Ireland, Eochaid Airem, asked for her hand in marriage, she agreed, and was a loyal and good wife to him.

But Midir had never finished searching for her and to his joy finally found her again. He had been searching for her for thousands of years and begged her to run away with him.

Etain refused. She honored the bond she had with her mortal husband, demanding that Midir get Eochaid's permission before she so much as kissed him. Midir managed to trick King Eochaid into giving him permission to kiss and embrace his wife but, realizing his error, Eochaid then spent a whole month training and equipping his army to prevent Midir from claiming his prize.

This was no obstacle to a man of the Tuatha Dé Dannan! Midir simply appeared in the King's hall next to Etain on the appointed day and kissed her. When he had done so Etain's memories of him returned, and the two lovers vanished from the King's hall to live their immortal life together.

Although Etain was faced with terrible hardship she held onto her essential self, and for her love for Midir through her transformation into a fly and then into mortal form. Her integrity and strong sense of values come through in this story when she refuses the beguilement of her faery lover, and insists on keeping faith with her mortal husband.

Love won out in the end though, when the beguiling and beautiful Etain followed her heart and returned again to the immortal realm.

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