This is without a doubt one of the most vanilla folk tales I have read and I am told it is far more stirring as an opera. Given it is Celtic with origins dated to at least 3 AD I am confident operatic variations are a modern innovation.
Connla of the Firey Hair was the son of King Conn of One Hundred Fights. One day as they stood overlooking the plains before their stronghold, Connla saw a beautiful maiden on a horse speeding towards them. He shouted “Lady, where do you come from in such a hurry?”. She replied “I come from the plains of the ever living, where there is no strife, our lives are unending joy and pleasure, we make our homes in the green hills so we are called the hill people”.
Side Note: These guys have the best Epithets ever. I’m not sure heckling pretty girls is good form for a prince though.
Conn was extremely confused and asked his son to whom he was speaking. The lady replied “He speaks to a young, fair maid for whom death and old age do not await. I love Connla and now call him away to Moy Mell, the plain of pleasure where there is no sorrow and Boadag is king. Come with me Connla and you shall be a prince and enjoy youth and beauty until the day of judgement”.
Analysis: The reference to “day of judgement” feels a bit Christian to me. Whilst almost every mythology and religion has its “end time” the concept of a judgey end of days is particularly Christian. Also most of the troubles of my adolescence were the result of the pursuit of pretty girls and pleasure.
Conn became scared and angry by the idea this invisible woman might take off his only son. He called his druid Coran of the Many Spells to deal with this ephemeral hussy. Conran bellowed a mighty spell and the maiden was gone.
Side Note: Not every epithet can be pure gold. I wanted to make a joke about her lacking substance because shes invisible but it felt redundant given shes a being who lives only for pleasure.
Side Note: The story doesn’t specify the spell but this is how I choose to believe it happened – The gathering crowd separates to reveal Conran, a heavy set man, bald but with a large beard, wearing drab brown robes and a gnarled staff. He concentrates, sparks fly loose of his bushy beard. The air falls thick with magic, like the windless pressure before a great storm. He raises his hands in the direction of the maiden and in a deep, intense voice bellows “FUCK OFF!”.
As she popped out of existence the maiden tossed an apple to Connla. Life in the stronghold returned to normal fairly quickly but Connla found himself pining, unable to sleep or eat except from the apple. The apple was always fresh and crisp and became whole again after being bitten.
After a month of this, Connla and Conn stood once again overlooking the plain and Connla again saw the Maiden riding toward him. She greeted him “O Connla, great are you among these short-lived mortals. Come to Moy Mell, the plaint of pleasure and be great forever amongst the undying.”. When Conn heard the maidens voice he roared “Bring me my Druid”. The maiden spoke softly “Mighty Conn, the spells and wards of your druid are little to the undying, when the law comes his kind will be dismissed as whisperers of black lies.”
Analysis: Again this feels like a commentary on the conflict between Christianity and Paganism. As the story progresses I genuinely don’t know if it is intended to show Christianity in a favourable or negative light.
Conn was thoughtful, and looked at his son who had been forlorn since the maiden left over a month previously. Connla was now looking at the maiden intently, bright eyed and keen. Conn asked “what are you thinking my son?”. Connla replied that it was difficult because he loved his people but the maiden was really hot. At hearing this the maiden said “come then Connla, get in my canoe and we will journey to a land of infinite joy”. With a truly epic disregard for the bro-code, Connla of the Firey Hair rushed from them and joined the maiden in her canoe, they left and were never seen again.
Side Note: This whole paragraph feels like an exercise in double and I love it!. Where the fuck does a canoe come into it, they were on the plains. Massively anticlimactic though.
When reading these legends through a modern lens there is a natural subversion that occurs. We anticipate a certain rhythm to our stories and usually a happy …. or explosively tragic ending. These older legends tend to follow a straight line and end just as you would expect. I do however feel there may be a commentary here on the spread of Christianity to Pagan lands and how the “new law” will take our sons, one by one. If this is the narrative they were trying to establish it couldn’t have been more prophetic. I do find comforting consistency in the fact that, no matter what the era men will enthusiastically follow their libido to their own destruction.