CELT document E860001-003

The Death of Dermid


Introductory Note

[King Cormac had affianced his daughter Grania to Finn, son of Comhal, the Finn Mac Coole of Irish, and Fingal of Scottish tradition. In addition to his warlike accomplishments, Finn was reported to have obtained the gifts of poetry, second sight, and healing in the manner referred to below. On his personal introduction, his age and aspect proved displeasing  p.13 to Grania, who threw herself on the gallantry of Dermid, the handsomest of Finn's attendant warriors, and induced him reluctantly to fly with her. Their pursuit by Finn forms the subject of one of the most popular native Irish romances. In the course of their wanderings, Dermid, having pursued a wild boar, met the fate of Adonis, who appears to have been his prototype in the Celtic imagination. Finn, arriving on the scene just before his rival's death, gives occasion to the most pathetic passage of the tale. The incidents of the original are followed in the piece below, which, however, does not profess to be a translation. The original may be perused in the spirited version of Mr. O' Grady, "Publications of the Irish Ossianic Society," vol. iii. p. 185. It is from this Dermid that Highland tradition draws the genealogy of the clan Campbell, "The race of brown Dermid who slew the wild boar."]

Samuel Ferguson

Whole text

    The Death of Dermid

  1. Finn on the mountain found the mangled man,
    The slain boar by him. "Dermid," said the king,
    "It likes me well at last to see thee thus.
    This only grieves me, that the womankind
    Of Erin are not also looking on:
    Such sight were wholesome for the wanton eyes
    So oft enamour'd of that specious form:
    Beauty to foulness, strength to weakness turn'd."
    "Yet in thy power, if only in thy will,
    Lies it, oh Finn, even yet to heal me."
  2. "Feign not the show of ignorance, nor deem
    I know not of the virtues which thy hand
    Drew from that fairy's half-discover'd hall,
    Who bore her silver tankard from the fount,
    So closely follow'd, that ere yet the door
    Could close upon her steps, one arm was in;
    Wherewith, though seeing nought, yet touching all, p.14
    Thou grasped'st half the spiritual world;
    Withdrawing a heap'd handful of its gifts,
    Healing, and sight prophetic, and the power
    Divine of poesy : but healing most
    Abides within its hollow : virtue such
    That but so much of water as might wet
    These lips, in that hand brought, would make me whole.
    Finn, from the fountain fetch me in thy palms
    A draught of water, and I yet shall live."
  3. "How at these hands canst thou demand thy life,
    Who took'st my joy of life?"
    "She loved thee not:
    Me she did love and doth; and were she here
    She would so plead with thee, that, for her sake,
    Thou wouldst forgive us both, and bid me live."
  4. "I was a man had spent my prime of years
    In war and council, little bless'd with love;
    Though poesy was mine, and, in my hour,
    The seer's burthen not desirable;
    And now at last had thought to have man's share
    Of marriage blessings; and the King supreme,
    Cormac, had pledged his only daughter mine;
    When thou, with those pernicious beauty-gifts,
    The flashing white tusk there hath somewhat spoil'd,
    Didst win her to desert her father's house,
    And roam the wilds with thee."
  5. "It was herself,
    Grania, the Princess, put me in the bonds p.15
    Of holy chivalry to share her flight.
    'Behold,' she said, 'he is an aged man,
    (And so thou art, for years will come to all;)
    And I, so young; and at the Beltane games,
    When Carbry Liffacher did play the men
    Of Brea, I, unseen, saw thee snatch a hurl,
    And thrice on Tara's champions win the goal;
    And gave thee love that day, and still will give.'
    So she herself avow'd. Resolve me, Finn,
    For thou art just, could youthful warrior, sworn
    To maiden's service, have done else than I?
    No: hate me not—restore me—give me drink."
    "I will not."
  6. "Nay, but, Finn, thou hadst not said
    'I will not,' though I'd ask'd a greater boon,
    That night we supp'd in Breendacoga's lodge.
    Remember: we were faint and hunger-starved
    From three day's flight; and even as on the board
    They placed the viands, and my hand went forth
    To raise the wine-cup, thou, more quick of ear,
    O'erheardst the stealthy leaguer set without;
    And yet should'st eat or perish. Then 'twas I,
    Fasting, that made the sally; and 'twas I,
    Fasting, that made the circuit of the court;
    Three times I cours'd it, darkling, round and round;
    From whence returning, when I brought thee in
    The three lopp'd heads of them that lurk'd without— p.16
    Thou hadst not then, refresh'd and grateful, said
    'I will not,' had I ask'd thee, 'Give me drink.'"
    "There springs no water on this summit bald."
    "Nine paces from the spot thou standest on,
    The well-eye well thou knowest it bubbles clear."
  7. Abash' d, reluctant, to the bubbling well
    Went Finn, and scoop'd the water in his palms;
    Wherewith returning, half-way, came the thought
    Of Grania, and he let the water spill.
  8. "Ah me," said Dermid, "hast thou then forgot
    Thy warrior-art that oft, when helms were split,
    And buckler-bosses shatter 'd by the spear,
    Has satisfied the thirst of wounded men?
    Ah, Finn, these hands of thine were not so slack
    That night, when, captured by the king of Thule,
    Thou layest in bonds within the temple gate
    Waiting for morning, till the observant king
    Should to his sun-god make thee sacrifice.
    Close-pack'd thy fingers then, thong-drawn and squeezed,
    The blood-drops oozing under every nail,
    When, like a shadow, through the sleeping priests
    Came I, and loos'd thee : and the hierophant
    At day-dawn coming, on the altar-step,
    Instead of victim straighten'd to his knife,
    Two warriors found, erect, for battle arm'd."
  9. Again abash'd, reluctant to the well
    Went Finn, and scoop'd the water in his palms,
    Wherewith returning, half-way, came the thought
    That wrench'd him; and the shaken water spill'd.
  10.  p.17
  11. "False one, thou didst it purposely! I swear
    I saw thee, though mine eyes do fast grow dim.
    Ah me, how much imperfect still is man!
    Yet such were not the act of Him, whom once
    On this same mountain, as we sat at eve
    Thou yet mayst see the knoll that was our couch,
    A stone's throw from the spot where now I lie
    Thou showedst me, shuddering, when the seer's fit,
    Sudden and cold as hail, assail'd thy soul
    In vision of that Just One crucified
    For all men's pardoning, which, once again,
    Thou sawest, with Cormac, struck in Rossnaree."
  12. Finn trembled; and a third time to the well
    Went straight, and scoop'd the water in his palms;
    Wherewith in haste half-way return'd, he saw
    A smile on Dermid's face relax'd in death.

Document details

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Title statement

Title (uniform): The Death of Dermid

Author: Samuel Ferguson

Responsibility statement

Electronic edition compiled and proof-read by: Beatrix Färber

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

Edition statement

1. First draft.

Extent: 2010 words

Publication statement

Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2016

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E860001-003

Availability: The works by Sir Samuel Ferguson are in the public domain. This electronic text is available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of private or academic research and teaching.

Notes statement

The Irish text was edited by Standish Hayes O'Grady.

Source description

Editions and transation(s)

  1. Standish Hayes O'Grady, Toruigheacht Dhiarmuda agus Ghrainne; or, The pursuit after Diarmuid O'Duibhne, and Grainne the daughter of Cormac mac Airt King of Ireland in the third century. With translation and notes, Transactions of the Ossianic Society 3 (1855), 40–211., esp. 185ff. Reprinted Dublin 1880–81.
  2. Nessa Ní Shé, Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (Dublin 1971).

Life and Work of Sir Samuel Ferguson

  1. Mary Catherine Guinness Ferguson, Sir Samuel Ferguson in the Ireland of his Day (Edinburgh/London 1896).
  2. Arthur Deering, Sir Samuel Ferguson, Poet and Antiquarian (Philadelphia 1931).
  3. Malcolm Brown, Sir Samuel Ferguson (Lewisburg) 1973.
  4. Robert O'Driscoll, An ascendancy of the heart: Ferguson and the beginnings of modern Irish literature in English (Dublin 1976).
  5. Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish and Fíor-Ghael: Studies in the idea of Irish nationality, its development and literay expression prior to the nineteenth century (Amsterdam/Philadelphia 1986).
  6. Terence Brown and Barbara Hayley (eds), Samuel Ferguson: a centenary tribute (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy 1987).
  7. Maurice Harmon, The Enigma of Samuel Ferguson, in: O. Komesu, M. Sekine (eds), Irish writers and politics (Irish Literary Studies 36) (Gerrards Cross 1989) 62–79.
  8. Peter Denman, Samuel Ferguson: the literary achievement (Gerrards Cross, Bucks. 1990).
  9. Eve Patten, 'Samuel Ferguson: a tourist in Antrim', in: Gerald Dawe and John Wilson Foster, (eds), The poet's place: Ulster literature and society: essays in honour of John Hewitt, 1907–87 (Belfast: Queen's University of Belfast, Institute of Irish Studies, 1991).
  10. Gréagóir Ó Dúill, Samuel Ferguson: Beatha agus Saothar (Baile Átha Cliath [=Dublin] 1993).
  11. Gréagóir Ó Dúill, Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810–1886), in: Eamon Phoenix (ed), A century of northern life: The Irish News and 100 years of Ulster history, 1890s–1990s (Belfast 1995) 182–186.
  12. Sean Ryder, 'The politics of landscape and region in nineteenth-century poetry', in: Leon Litvack, Glenn Hooper (eds), Ireland in the nineteenth century: regional identity (Dublin 2000).
  13. Eve Patten, Samuel Ferguson and the culture of nineteenth-century Ireland (Dublin 2004).
  14. Peter Denman, William Carleton and Samuel Ferguson: lives and contacts, in: Gordon Brand (ed), William Carleton, the authentic voice (Gerard's Cross 2006) 360–377.
  15. Eve Patten, Samuel Ferguson's Hibernian Nights' Entertainments, in: James H. Murphy (ed), The Irish book in English, 1800–1891. The Oxford History of the Irish Book, 4 (Oxford: 2011).
  16. Matthew Campbell, 'Samuel Ferguson's Maudlin Jumble', in: Kirstie Blair, Mina Gorji (eds), Class and the canon: constructing labouring-class poetry and poetics, 1780–1900 (Basingstoke 2013).


  • Poems of Sir Samuel Ferguson are available on www.archive.org.

The edition used in the digital edition

Ferguson, Samuel (1918). ‘The Death of Dermid’. In: Poems of Sir Samuel Ferguson‍. Ed. by Alfred Perceval Graves. Dublin: Talbot Press, pp. 12–17.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {Samuel Ferguson},
  title 	 = {The Death of Dermid},
  editor 	 = {Alfred Perceval Graves},
  booktitle 	 = {Poems of Sir Samuel Ferguson},
  publisher 	 = {Talbot Press},
  address 	 = {Dublin},
  date 	 = {1918},
  pages 	 = {12–17}


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Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

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Profile description

Creation: 1858–1864

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  • The poem is in English. (en)

Keywords: Irish mythology; poetry; Celtic revival; 19c

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(Most recent first)

  1. 2016-10-06: Text and Introductory note captured. (data capture Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2014-06-14: SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2014-06-10: File proofed (1, 2); structural markup applied according to CELT practice; bibliographic details added; file parsed and validated. (ed. Beatrix Färber)

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