20 Feb Ardee , County Louth
This picturesque town takes its name from a local branch of a far-flung ancient tribe known as the Fir Deadhadh , or ‘men of campaigning’ and is worth a stop on your tours of Ireland. The river-ford (ath) there was thus known as Ath Fhear Deadhadh. In time this toponymic was understood to refer to a special individual champion , called Fear Deadh or Fear Dia , and hence it was reformulated as Ath Fhir Dia , from which the English version comes.
Early medieval writers speculated that the name might have meant ‘man of the goddess’ or ‘divine man’ , and this heightened his profile so that he was easily adopted into the epic of the Cattle-Raid of Cooley , which was being rapidly developed by storytellers at the time.
Once accepted into the cast of characters for the epic , Fear Dia came to be portrayed as a young warrior , friend , and ultimately rival of the super-hero Cu Chulainn. The two young men had been comrades in arms , but they found themselves on opposite sides when Queen Meadhbh of Connacht launched her attack on Ulster so as Cooley. Cu Chulainn singlehandedly kept Meadhbh’s army at bay , and soon she realised that nobody could oppose him except Fear Dia. She offered Fear Dia all kinds of rewards to take the field against his friend , but he refused until she slyly accused him of being afraid of Cu Chulainn. The epic goes on to describe in detail the tragic combat between the two friends on the river-ford at Ardee.
After 3 days of fighting , Cu Chulainn used the one trick that his friend did not know – he threw a barbed javelin from between his toes into the stomach of his friend , fatally wounding him. Fear Dia died in his arms.
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