The Wooing Of Isolde
 
     If you were to stroll round Dublin's fair city, smiling at nothing in particular or watching the big mullet slapping through the Liffy's grimy shallows, or smelling the coffee roasting in Bewley's, or listening to what the pigeons and the preacher have to say to each other on Stephen's Green, you wouldn't be wasting your time, to my way of thinking.  But if you began reading the destinations on the buses you'd eventually see one for Chapelizod.  And there is a story in that.  Not many people remember now that Chapelizod is named after Isolde, the beautiful Isolde, Isolde of the White Throat, long ago daughter to the King of Dublin.
 
     She was to be married to March son of Meirchion - King of Cornwall. Arthur High King of the Britons sent March's kinsman Tristan over to Ireland to fetch the lady to her wedding.
 Tristan was a great harper, but like many a bard of those days he was also a warrior.  And he had magical skills.  For while his music could charm the birds from the bushes, he had other power.  If anyone would wound him, that one would die.  And if he was to wound anyone, that one would die.  So conveying the most beautiful lady of the western world across hills of brigands, through forests full of heraldic beasts and over a sea awash with lonely pirates was no particular trouble to him.
 
     It was a sultry day they sailed away from Dublin the sea like a millpond.  The sails hung limp.  The oars were out.  The rowers were sweating at them and cursing the weather quietly and thoroughly.  Tristan and Isolde sat together in the bows.  He played the harp to her awhile.  They play chess a while.  And after a while, being thirsty, they sent a page below for some refreshment.
 But, the first bottle the page put his hand upon, as fate would have it, was the flask of love potion made for Isolde by her father's wizard, to be drunk only as directed between Isolde and March at their wedding.  The page brought up a couple of half gills of it, Tristan and Isolde each took a sip, and fell at once and forever in love.
 
     As this fact fully dawned on them they stared horror stricken, each with arms outstretched to the other, for how could their love ever be, since Isolde was promised to March?  And Tristan, being a man of honour, under oath, insisted on delivering Isolde to King March as promised.
 So there was Isolde in March's castle, refusing to speak or eat and Tristan stalking the wilds of Albion, seeking to ease his grief in quest, combat, dragon slaying and such.  Finally this life of stolen glimpses, servants' messages, and midnight assignations proved unbearable.  The lovers eloped together to the Caledon woods, that cloaked old Scotland from Forth to Clyde and from Berwick to Galloway, the wildest and deepest woods in all the lands of Arthur.
 
     Now messengers were sent to Arthur from the enraged King March, who demanded justice.  And Arthur sent for his wisest councilors and debated long on this.  For Tristan could not be brought back by force, and March would not be propitiated with gold. When he had taken full counsel, Arthur set off for Caledon with King March and his retinue.  Arriving there, the finest poets and harpers were sent forward, through the groves to, Tristan.  These he would never harm.  And the poets and harpers presented the King's words so well that Tristan and Isolde came willingly to Arthur and agreed to abide by his judgement, whatever it might be.
 
     Arthur decreed that Isolde should spend the half year when the trees were in leaf with one man, and the half year when the trees were bare with the other.  King March was to have the first choice, as the injured party
 
     March thought to himself, 'In winter the nights are longer, and the days seem longer', and he said: 'I will have Isolde when the trees are bare'.
 
At that, Isolde laughed aloud and clapped her hands and she said:
    'Blessed be the judgement
    blessed the tongue that utters it
    and blessed the pen that wrote it down
    three trees there are, loyal and true
    the holly, the ivy, and the yew
    that keep their leaves all year through'
 
     So Tristan was wed to Isolde, and so this story ends.  Some say Chapelizod is where she was buried years later in Dublin.  Some say a little ruined chapel stood there till Victorian times. a little Christian chapel on an ancient site.  At all events, it's under a building site now.  As for King March's castle, well, the ruins of that are parts of a farm that stands in Cornwall to this day.  But where Tristan's grave might be, or what became of his wonderful music, no one knows.
of early Celtic origin;
first texts c. 1550
From - Robin Williamson's
'The Wise & Foolish Tongue'
Also known as 'The Crane - Skin Bag'
 
 
 
These pages designed by,
A. Madpoet
ap Taliesin