Deep in Irish myth and legend, deeper than even that of Conn Cetchathach, he of the hundred battles, is the strange heritage of Crimthann Nia Nair. Crimthann was High King of Ireland for sixteen years that ran before Christ until eight years after the church determined our Lord was born and so divided the calendar, cutting all of time in two.
This is a dark tale, a shame some would say, a blot, but still it remains deep in the clan memories that fathered half a hundred of the greatest houses in Ireland. Why doubt it? This is not something one would boast of I think, but there are those who doubt not just niggling detail, but all.
English historians and their ilk may doubt, consigning the whole of the Irish kingly genealogies to contrivance and fancy, while proudly standing on their own. One wonders why, if these names are but pretext, this particular genealogical note could ever have escaped a christian monk’s redaction?
The Irish Annals are redolent with short-lived reigns of kings crowned over the corpses of their predecessors and soon similarly removed by fate and yet another king. Crimthann Nephew of Nar held high kingship for fourteen years when many survived less than one. Into just such a world were born three sons to Eochu Feidlech, triplets known as the three fidemna, and their sister Clothru.
These four and their father Eochu, the king from 143 to 131 BC, enacted just such a tableau. These three sons of Eochu Feidlech, known as the three Findemna, Bres, Nar, and Lothar, came against their father, the king, to overthrow him. Their sister, Clothru, afraid that the brothers would be killed in the battle and so die without issue, seduced all three into her bed the night before the battle.
At this point I will confess the I doubt the implications of the legend. I hope you will forgive me the inconsistency. Indeed the Findemna were slaughtered by their father as Clothru had feared. That does not surprise me. However, the fruit of her provision for their posterity succeeded. Rationally one would say she provided for one of the brothers. But wait, the child, Lugaid Riab nDerg, looked like all three.
Not surprising since all three were brothers, but this child, and the man he became, was noted for having red-stripes dividing him into three parts so that his head looked like one Findemna, his chest another, and his lower body like a third. I think this is where biology has been superseded by mythology.
Still, this heritage remains a dark enough chapter where three sons rise up against their father and are slaughtered, leaving no heir but the product of multiple incest. Lugaid Riab nDerg was Clothru’s son, maternity being fairly positive in most cases. Likely it was the product of this incest, or a continuing rebellion that sought to legitimize (likely not the right word) Clothru’s child by placing paternity on the Findemna and in effect placing that child in a royal line. Lugaid Riab nDerg, the “Red Striped” was high king from 33 BC to 9 BC. Was this an invention of Clothru, or of Eochu Feidlech? Could this terrible story be a cover for something worse? Why else tell such a sordid tale and let it remain unless there is some worse truth that it covers?
Perhaps royal bastards of incest in the royal family is easier to stomach than a child with no royal paternity at all. Perhaps that is a possible final answer, but this tale is only half done. Eochu’s triplet sons the Findemna are the reputed fathers of Lugaid Riab nDerg on their sister Clothru and still there is more to this tale because Lugaid Riab nDerg was not the only king Clothru birthed. Yes, there are more tangled roots leading off into Irish Myth and Legend, but more on that next time.