Brefni and Dermot

Justin McCarthy
Chapter II | Start of Chapter

There were keen rivalries and jealousies among the different chieftains, families, and provinces, and it is curious to notice how the Irish poetry of that day, as well as of a much later day, harps continually on the perils to which the country was subjected by the want of union among the leaders and people. "While your tyrants joined in hate, you never joined in love" were the words of reproach Thomas Moore addressed to his countrymen during the nineteenth century, and he but echoed the remonstrance which had thrilled on many harp-strings through long ages of the past. The quarrels between Irish chieftains found their culmination in an event which belongs to the same romantic order as the story of Helen and the war of Troy. One of the Irish nobles, the Lord or Chief of Brefni, had a beautiful wife, who attracted the admiration of Dermot Macmurragh, the King of Leinster. Macmurragh was a type of the royal savage, as we have known him through all legend and history, a reckless warrior, loving the battle-field and the chase, enjoying revelry of every kind, and utterly selfish in gratifying his desires. The fair Devorgilla yielded herself only too readily to the appeal of her lover, and was carried off by him. The immediate result was a civil war. Brefni took up arms against the chieftain who had so deeply wronged him, and the supreme Sovereign of Ireland espoused the cause of the injured husband. The story was made by Moore the subject of one of his most popular ballads.