idir the Proud, son of Dagda, was married many years to Fuamnach when he took to himself another bride. Her name was Etain, and she was beauteous beyond compare. Fuamnach became jealous of this younger, more beautiful woman, and using her magical charms changed Etain into a butterfly and raised a wind-storm that drove her forth from the palace, and kept her for seven years buffeted throughout the length and breadth of Erin.
At last, however, a gust of wind blew her through a window of the fairy palace of Angus on the Boyne. Unable to release her altogether from the spell of Fuamnach, he made a sunny bower for her, while in the secrecy of the night he restored her to her own form and enjoyed her love.
In time, however, her refuge was discovered by Fuamnach; again the magic tempest drove her forth. Blown into the palace of an Ulster chieftain named Etar, she fell into the drinking-cup of Etar's wife, just as the latter was about to drink. She was swallowed in the draught, and in due time, having passed into the womb of Etar's wife, she was born as an apparently mortal child, and grew up to maidenhood knowing nothing of her real nature and ancestry.
About this time it happened that the High King of Ireland, Eochy, being wifeless and urged by the nobles of his land to take a queen, sent forth to inquire for a fair and noble maiden to share his throne. The messengers reported that Etain, daughter of Etar, was the fairest maiden in Ireland, and the king journeyed forth to visit her.
Eochy found Etain with her maidens by a spring of water, whither she had gone forth to wash her hair. Her hair was golden yellow and her skin as white as new-fallen snow. Never a maid more worthy of love was till then seen by the eyes of men, and it seemed to them that she must be one of those that have come from the fairy mounds. The king wooed her and made her his wife, and brought her back to Tara.
It happened that the king had a brother named Ailill, who, on seeing Etain, was so smitten with her beauty that he fell sick, wasted almost to death. While he was in this condition, Eochy had to make a royal progress through Ireland. He left his brother in Etain's care, bidding her do what she could for him, and, if he died, to bury him with due ceremonies and erect an Ogham stone above his grave to mark the place.
Etain went to visit the brother, and he broke out in an avowal of his passion for her. Etain was now in some perplexity; but she decided that although she was not in the least in love with Ailill, she could not see a man die of longing for her, and she promised that she would become his.
She arranged a tryst with Ailill in a house outside of Tara, for she would not do what she called her "glorious crime" in the king's palace. But Ailill on the eve of the appointed day fell into a profound slumber and missed his appointment. A being in his shape did, however, come to Etain, but merely to speak coldly and sorrowfully of his malady, and depart again.
When the two met once more the situation was altogether changed. In Ailill's enchanted sleep, his unholy passion for the queen had passed entirely away. Etain, on the other hand, became aware that behind the visible events there are mysteries which she did not understand.
The explanation soon followed. The being who came to her in the shape of Ailill was her Danaan husband, Midir the Proud. He now came to woo her in his true shape, and entreated her to fly with him to the Land of Youth, where she might be safe henceforward, since her persecutor, Fuamnach, was dead. He it was who shed upon Ailill's eyes the magic slumber.
Etain, however, was by no means ready to go away with a stranger and to desert the High King for a man without name or lineage. Midir told her who he was, and all her own history of which, in her present incarnation, she knew nothing. Ultimately Etain agreed to return with Midir to her ancient home, but only on condition that the king would agree to their severance, and with this Midir had to be content for the time.
Shortly afterwards, he appeared to King Eochy on the Hill of Tara. He told the king that he had come to play a game of chess wlth him, and produced a chessboard of silver with pieces of gold, studded with jewels. Eochy entered into the game with zest. Midir allowed him to win game after game, and in payment for his losses, he performed by magic all kinds of tasks for Eochy, reclaiming land, clearing forests, and building causeways across bogs.
At last, having excited Eochy's cupidity and made him believe himself the better player, he proposed a final game, the stakes to be at the pleasure of the victor after the game was over.
Eochy was defeated. "What is it that you desire me to grant?" said Eochy."That I may hold Etain in my arms and obtain a kiss from her," said Midir. The king was silent for a while; then he said "One month from to-day you will come, and the thing you desire shall be granted you."
When the appointed day came, Eochy caused the palace of Tara to be surrounded by a great host of armed men to keep Midir out. All was in vain, however; as the king sat at the feast, Midir, more glorious than ever, suddenly stood in their midst. Holding his spears in his left hand, he threw his right around Etain, and the couple rose lightly in the air and disappeared through a roof-window in the palace. The king and his warriors rushed out of doors, but all they could see were two white swans that circled in the air above the palace, and then departed towards the fairy mountain of Slievenamon.
And thus Oueen Etain left the land of men and rejoined her kindred. Eochy, however, would not accept defeat, and after searching Ireland for his wife in vain, he summoned to his aid the Druid Dalan. Dalan tried for a year by every means in his power to find out where she was.
At last he made three wands of yew, and upon the wands he wrote an ogham, and by the keys of wisdom that he had, and by the ogham, it was revealed to him that Etain was in the fairy mound of Bri-Leith. Eochy then assembled his forces to storm and destroy the fairy mound in which was the palace of Midir.
At last Midir, driven to the last stronghold, attempted a strategem - he offered to give up Etain, and sent her with fifty handmaidens to the king, but made them all so much alike that Eochy could not distinguish the true Etain from her images. She herself gave him a sign by which to know her, thereby letting Eochy regain his queen.
She lived with him until his death, and bore him one daughter, named Etain, after her.