Evolution of Deirdriu in the Ulster Cycle
Mathis, Kate Louise
This thesis examines the relationship between the character 'Deirdriu', depicted within Longes mac n- Uislenn, and the woman later referred to as Derdri, Deirdri, Deirdre or Derdrinne. It explores the initial construction and gradual evolution of this character, in relation to the manuscript tradition of Longes mac n-Uislenn and its descendants within the Ulster Cycle. It is proposed that the characterisation of Deirdriu constitutes a form of commentary upon the flawed nature of Conchobor mac Nessa’s kingship of Ulster, but that she is not a figure of sovereignty in the sense in which it has been understood by previous critics of the tradition. The thesis reassesses the contents, structure, and manuscript tradition of the textual witnesses to Longes mac n-Uislenn and Oidheadh Chloinne hUisneach, its later development, and assesses the validity of regarding both tales as primarily concerned with the portrayal of Deirdriu. It is argued that several distinct strands of material relating to the relationships between Deirdriu, the sons of Uisliu, Conchobor mac Nessa and Fergus mac Róich may be identified, ranging from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern period, and that these strands have exercised varying levels of influence upon subsequent revisions of these relationships, up to and including the period of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Irish Renaissance. The conclusions of this thesis proceed from close textual analysis of the primary source material, supplemented, where appropriate, by narratological theory. Chapter 1 introduces the issues to be considered, and reviews the relevant literature to date. Chapter 2 outlines the methodological approaches adopted throughout the following textual analysis. Chapter 3 defines the episodic structure of Longes mac n-Uislenn, and analyses its contents. Chapter 4 presents a detailed consideration of the Glenmasan Manuscript, the earliest extant witness to Derdriu’s evolution within the Early Modern period. Chapter 5 argues that the characterisation of Deirdriu within the Ulster Cycle constitutes a form of commentary upon the flawed nature of Conchobor mac Nessa’s kingship of Ulster – within the earlier tradition – and upon the compromised honour of Fergus mac Róich within the later.