The Milky Way - the twining branches of Deirdre and her lover Naoise

The Milky Way galaxy and Venus over Síd in Broga (Newgrange passage-mound) at Brú na Bóinne. The Milky Way had many names in Irish myth and tradition. One of the traditions is that two trees grew out of the graves of two lovers who had been buried either side of a lake, and that the branches of the two trees connected in the sky over the lake.

The Milky Way appears to divide into two because of the so-called "dark rift". In this image, you can see the two "branches" of the Milky Way connecting into one – the twining branches, perhaps, of old myths. One Irish name for the Milky Way is Sgríob Chlann Uisnich, the 'Track of the Children of Uisneach', from an old Irish myth about Deirdre and the sons of Uisneach, titled Longas Macc N-Uisnig (The Exile of the Sons of Uisneach).

The Milky Way's twining branches over the River Boyne.

The story appears to be the remnant of an ancient creation myth about the Milky Way. In Uist in the Outer Hebrides, the Milky Way is known as Slighe Chlann Uisne, the Way of the children/family/clan of Uisneach.

Sliabh Chlann Uisne
Nan cursair geala,
Is caoine beus
Na gleus na h-eala.

Declivity of the Clan Uisne
Of the white coursers,
Of fairer carriage
Than the graceful swan.

In a version of the story told by Scottish emigrants in Nova Scotia, 'the origin of the Milky Way is depicted as emerging from two trees separated by a loch, as if to complete an arch between them'. (See Mythical Ireland: New Light on the Ancient Past, pp.281-2). This episode is placed in the well-known Ulster tale of Deirdre, whose lover, Noíse, is one of the Children of Uisneach.

... the sons of Uisneach are killed in a great, unnamed battle, after which Deidire falls into the grave with the men. The bodies of the two lovers are exhumed and reburied on either side of the burial mound. Soon a tree grows from each grave and rises until the two join. This arouses a great deal of vengeful malice in an unnamed king, who orders that the trees be cut down. Soon another pair of trees grows and joins until the king has them cut down as well. This sequence of events recurs repeatedly until the king decides to have the bodies placed on either side of a loch, a distance too great for the trees to span. Between the trees a cluster of stars gathers in a light trail, Sgríob Chlann Uisnich [track of the Children of Uisneach].

The twining branches of the Milky Way over Dowth passage-mound.


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This page was last updated on 12th January 2019 @ 7:40 PM