Conaire the Great – The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel

(see Irish King and Hero Tales on this blog)

In my retelling of this tale set 2000 years ago, I locate the Hostel in which Conaire met his end on a road south of Dublin where it crosses a small river, though some expert guesses have placed it elsewhere. The story says that “the road goes right through the house. There are seven doorways, but only one door, which is used to block whichever doorway is facing the wind.” A reader contacted me to query the arrangement of the doorways. He accepted that a road could run through the house, or more likely compound, but he wondered why there were 7 doorways and only one door: “Was it some strange custom or a turn of phrase from that time? Or am I missing something very plain?”

I mention in the book’s Introduction that this story “has only a tenuous hold on reality” and that King Conaire himself is considered by many scholars to be completely mythical. Magic and fantastic feats abound, and suspension of disbelief is required. Here are my sources for the passage.

Atát .uii. ndorais isa tech 7 uii. n-imda iter each dá dórus 7 ni fil acht óenchomlaid
6775 n-airi 7 imsoíth^ in chomla sin fri each ndorus dia mbi in gáeth. Lebor na hUidre. 6775 is the line number in this 12th-century manuscript.

There are seven doorways into the house, and seven bedrooms between every two doorways; but there is only one doorvalve on it (ni fil acht óenchomlaid n-airi), and that valve is turned to every doorway to which the wind blows. The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel, Whitely Stokes, 1910

comla (redirected from comlaid) — Valve of door, window, etc.; lid; covering; comhla = a gate, portcullis, grate; ar comlaid na slige the door giving on to the road; a c[h]omhla re gáoith shelter against the wind — eDIL (Dictionary of the Irish Language online)

So “dorus” can be understood as “doorway” and “c(h)omlaid” is the door itself. The working of the doorvalve is an early or prescient version of the Internet of Things.


About Richard Marsh

Bardic storyteller and author
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