Prof. Jeremy M. R. F. Chesterfield-Pickles III (alfrecht) wrote in queerhistory,
Prof. Jeremy M. R. F. Chesterfield-Pickles III
alfrecht
queerhistory

Middle Irish Lesbian Story

I've just joined this community, and have shared this particular thing on several lists I'm on. One of my goals, as an academic Celticist, a person interested in historical sexuality and queer studies, and just as a general interest, is to popularize the following story, which has received so little scholarly attention that it is truly sad. It is all the more a gem because, unlike many stories of homoeroticism in various cultures and mythologies, here we have specific information that two people had sex--and in Irish culture, revealing particularities of one's sexual life was considered very bad form (grounds for a no-fault divorce on the part of a wife, in fact), hence the possible embarassment and propensity for lying that are implied in the story--note the entire lack of condemnation or adverse judgment on the woman involved. Anyway, it is found in the Book of Leinster (early 12th century), as well as the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum and in a slightly different version in the Leabhar Cloinn Aodh Buidhe; the king Niall Frossach is a historical 7th century king, who it is said in all the annals had unusual rains associated with his birth, and in the only other narrative concerning him was said to be extremely pious. Enjoy!


Book of Leinster, folio 273b-274a, lines 35670-35711 (Vol. 5, p. 1202), diplomatic text

Bui rí fírén forglide fíal fossad flaithemda i n-ardrígi for Herind .i. Niall Frossach mac Fergaile. Ba maith Heriu fria remis. Boí mess 7 class 7 íth 7 blicht fria lind 7 boí cach óen for a duthaig oca. Dorecmacht fecht n-óen and móraenach I Taltin lais co forglu fer nHerend imme. Ra córaigit dano ríg rogmara 7 rigna rosclethna 7 tóisig na túath. 7 a n-airig. for foradaib airegdaib ind oenaig. Batar im maccaími 7 dreittil 7 láith gaile na nGaedel for dírmaib dronaib tendroscachaib ic ferthain graffand issind óenuch.

A mbatar and dofic ben do shaigid in ríg 7 mac na hucht. 7 dobert i n-ucht in ríg. Ar do rígi 7 ar do fhlaithemnas or si finta damsa tria fhirinni flatha cóich athair collaide in meicsea ar ni fetarsa fessin. Ár thongimse féin fót fhirinni flathasu 7 fón ríg follomnaiges ind uli dúil nach fetar cin o fherscal fri hilbliadna innassa. Tochtais in rí andside. In dernais lanamnas rebartha ri mnaí aile for se. 7 na ceil or se ma dorónais. Ni chel or si. Doringnius.

Is fír ar in rí ra chomraic in bensin ri fer in n-uair remi. 7 in compert ro fhacaibside accisi rolásaide. rolaside triasin comshuathad it maclocsu. Coro chompert it broindsiu. Is é in fersin athair do meicsiu. & fintar cía eside.

A mbátar and dano co cualatar in fothrum assind áer cucu 7 co nfhaiccet in fuath 7 in n-irchóit n-anachnid oc tuttim for lar ind oenaig coro chuir scuru 7 daíni for teiched. Connar thairis issind oenuch acht in rí 7 úathad malle ris.

Crét tú ar in rí. Dune ar se. Cid dottuc fon innassain ar in rí Ní handsa ar se. Sacart Insi Bó Finni me a bunud. & tech doronad acum 7 nirb áil dam sáer isin domun do thabairt do denam a erscoir. Co tánic demon for deilb duine dom shaigid 7 co nderna erscor issin taíg. 7 niro gab logidecht aile. acht shlectain do. 7 ro shlechtusa dó iar sain. 7 rom gabsa andside miad 7 borrfud. & dom thanic tond diummais. & tucad luad for luamna fom. 7 romfucsat na demna leo. & batar accom fhollomnugad fri re .uii. mhbliadan innossa. In tan iarum rucaisiu in mhbreith fíren forglide í mbuaruch forsin nmaí dodechaid dott ail is and donrala ni uasutsu. indé iarum tánic ditsu ar th’imdergad foloiside i n-ardda coro scaíl na demna for cach leth. 7 niro fhétsat m’ fhastudsa. occo issind aer co tudchadsa for lár amal atchisiu 7 corom shaerad tria fhirinni do fhlathasu. 7 iss í ind fhirbreth rucaisiu or se forin lenam.

Ro saerad in sacard 7 rofess athair na naíden tria breith in ríg fon cummasain. Bá la gein ind rígsain ro fhersat na tri frossa .i. fross argit gil. is deside ro cumtaigit scrína 7 ethla name Herend. 7 fross fola for glend Lagen. 7 fros chruthnechta.

Unde Fland Frossach.

Translation

There was a fine, firm, righteous, generous princely king ruling over Ireland, Níall Frassach, son of Fergal. Ireland was prosperous during his reign. There was fruit and fatness, corn and milk in his time, and he had everyone settled on his own land. He called a great assembly in Tailtiu once, and had the cream of the men of Ireland around him. Great kings and wide-eyed queens and the chiefs and nobles of the territories were ranged on the stately seats of the assembly. There were boys and jesters and the heroes of the Irish in strong eager bands racing their horses in the assembly.

While they were there, a woman came to the king carrying a boy child, and put him into the king’s arms. “For your kingship and your sovereignty,” said she, “find out for me through your ruler’s truth who the carnal father of the boy is, for I do not know myself. For I swear by your ruler’s truth, and by the King who governs every created thing, that I have not known guilt with a man for many years now.”

The king was silent then. “Have you had playful mating with another woman?” said he, “and do not conceal it if you have.” “I will not conceal it,” said she, “I have.” “It is true,” said the king. “That woman had mated with a man just before, and the semen which he left with her, she put it into your womb in the tumbling, so that it was begotten in your womb. That man is the father of your child, and let it be found out who he is.”

While they were there they heard a noise coming towards them out of the sky, and they saw a strange malignant spectre falling to the floor of the assembly, putting men and horses to flight; nobody stayed in the assembly but the king and a few people around him. “What are you?” said the king. “A human being,” said he. “What put you in that plight?” said the king. “I will tell you,” he said. “I am in fact the priest of Inis Bó Finne, and I had built a house, and there was no craftsman in the world that I thought good enough to make the woodwork. And a demon came to me in the shape of a man, and he made the woodwork in the house, and he would take no payment except that I should bow down to him. And I bowed down to him then, and I was seized by swelling pride and a wave of vainglory and I was caught up into flight and the demons took me away with them, and they have been ruling me for seven years now. But when you gave that fine righteous judgment this morning on the woman who came to plead with you, we happened to be above you at that time. The vapour, then, which rose from you when you became red flew up and scattered the demons in all directions, and they were unable to hold me in the air, so that I fell down through the truth of your rulership—the true judgment you gave on the child.”

The priest was saved and the father of the child ascertained through the king’s judgment in that way. It was at the birth of that king that the three showers fell: a shower of white silver (it is from that that the shrines and emblems of the saints of Ireland were made) and a shower of blood in Glenn Lagen, and a shower of wheat.

Hence Fland [sic] Frossach.

*****
There are many things which could be said about this--including suggesting the possible moral of the story, "lesbianism saves souls"!--which I've written a paper on, detailing the religious allegorical and historical implications possible in the story, as well as what it means for our understanding of early Irish sexuality.
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