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Inside ‘A history of Ireland in 100 words’: Loingeas

What was it like to be foreign in medieval Ireland? Find out in today’s entry on incomers and exiles.

To celebrate Seachtain na Gaeilge we’re letting you take a peek inside our book A history of Ireland in 100 words. Today’s entry is Loingeas.

Exile has long been a feature of Ireland’s history. St Columba is said to have gone into self-imposed exile as penance after his role in the battle of Cúil Dreimne in County Sligo in 561. In 1607, the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell, Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell, departed from Loch Swilly, having opted to live out their lives in mainland Europe rather than submit to English rule at home. Their journey to Rome was recorded by a contemporary, Tadhg Ó Cianáin, in a detailed account known as the ‘Flight of the Earls’. In the nineteenth century, famine became the main cause of emigration to the New World.

The topic of exile is frequently reflected in song, in both English and Irish, well-known examples being Percy French’s ‘Mountains of Mourne’, the Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ and ‘Deoraí Tír an Fhia’ (‘The exile from Teeranea’). Related to deoraí, the concept of exile is known in Modern Irish as deoraíocht. In early Irish, though, banishment or exile was more often referred to by the term loinges. This derived from long ‘ship’ (see Long) and originally denoted a fleet of ships or a naval expedition. Today, the word continues in the sense ‘shipping’, and the same word is preserved in the name of Ireland’s former national airline, Aer Lingus.

One of Ireland’s most poignant tales of exile is ‘The exile of the sons of Uisliu’. This tells how, even before her birth, Deirdre was betrothed to the king of Ulster, Conchobar, but she fell in love with the handsome Naoise and the two relocated to Scotland. They were eventually lured back to Ireland, but Conchobar treacherously slew Naoise, causing large numbers of Ulster warriors to go into exile in the enemy province of Connacht. At the end, Deirdre laments her situation in a powerful poem, which culminates in her dramatic suicide. Composed in the Old Irish period, the tragedy of Deirdre and Naoise was revised in the

fifteenth century and incorporated into ‘The three sorrows of storytelling’. It has since spawned many retellings, including plays by W.B. Yeats (Deirdre, 1907) and John Millington Synge (Deirdre of the sorrows, first performed in 1910).

We are fortunate to have the early Irish laws to provide us with some insight into the real-life implications of exile. The deorad ‘stranger, exile’, from which we get Modern Irish deoraí, stands in contrast to the aurrad, a person of legal standing within his own territory. For most of the population, legal protection did not extend beyond their own territory (see Tuath), so people were extremely vulnerable once they left their home. Particular regulations pertained also to glasf hine ‘grey kin’, a term which seems to have referred specifically to the offspring of an Irish woman and a Briton. Glasf hine were forced to rely on their mother’s kin for status and protection, and the term seems to be related to glas. Meaning literally ‘grey hound or wolf ’, this phrase denoted an exile from overseas and one of the few categories of people in early Ireland to have no honour price (see Eineach).

A history of Ireland in 100 words is a book, a banner campaign and an exhibition. Find our more at