1. The Birth and Early Life of Mael Duin


LONG AGO, there lived among the Eoganacht clan of Ninuss, in the kingdom of Thomond, a warrior named Alill Ocar Agha (or ‘Alill of the Edge of Battle’). He was a hero and a chief among his clan and family, and he was famed as a brave fighter.

The king of Thomond led a raid into Kildare, and Alill and his men accompanied him. There, they camped one night near a church, beside which was a convent of nuns.

During the night, while the camp was quiet, Alill went near the church. When the young prioress of the convent came out to ring the bell for nocturns, Alill seized her, threw her down to the ground, and raped her.

“But we are in an unblessed state!” the young nun cried. “And this is the time of my conceiving! What is your tribe, and what is your name?” she pleaded. “Who are you?”

“I am Alill Ocar Agha,” he boasted, “and I am a chief of the Eoganacht of Ninuss, in Thomond.”

And he left her there by the church, not caring whether she would become pregnant or not.

The king continued his raid, until he had had enough of killing and taking hostage the people of Kildare. Then he took his army back to Thomond, and Alill went with it.

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In time, the young prioress bore a son, and she named him Máel Dúin. She knew that she could not keep the child; so as she was a friend of the queen of the kingdom of Aran, she took her baby there.

“Take my child,” she pleaded. “Please, raise him as your own, for I cannot.”
The Queen of Aran loved her friend, and so she agreed, and took the baby, and raised Máel Dúin as her own son.

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Not long after Máel Dúin had been taken into the royal household of Aran, the Eoganacht of Ninuss were attacked in their homes by reavers from Leix, a province in the kingdom of Loígis.

Alill’s house was surrounded, and he fled for shelter to a church named Dooclone. The reavers followed him there, and slew him in the church, and then burned it down over his body. The ruins of the church stand there to this day.

And so Alill Ocar Agha of the Eoganacht lived and died, but left a son in the world.

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Máel Dúin was brought up with the three sons of the king and queen of Aran, as if he was one of their own.

He slept in the same room with them, and was fed from the same breast and the same plate, and drank from the same cup. He had the same tutors, and played the same games. And he was a lovely child; everyone who saw him had no doubt that there could be any other child in the world who as beautiful in body and spirit as the young Máel Dúin was.

He was high-spirited and generous, and he loved all sorts of manly exercises. In ball-playing, in running and leaping, in throwing, in chess-playing, in rowing, and in horse-racing, he surpassed all the youths that came to the king’s palace, and he won every contest.

As he grew up to be a young man, the noble qualities of his mind gradually unfolded themselves, and he became expert in stories, and histories, and poetry, so that he knew all the stories of his people.

There was no other young man Máel Dúin, in all the lands of the Eoganacht.


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