Hi Everyone. Happy International Women’s Day-I hope I find you all well. Time to go back to stuff of Irish mythology and Irish legends this week. In this world, female figures are very much to the fore and their stories continue to fascinate to this day. Here’s a few of my favorite famous Irish women in mythology.
Women in Irish Mythology
- Queen Maedbh
- The Banshee
This ancient goddess of Irish mythology appears in many forms and is associated with war, sovereignty and horses. The city of Armagh takes its name from Macha. Armagh is an anglicized version of the Irish, Ard Macha, which means ‘the heights of Macha’.
Macha is also strongly linked to Navan Fort, the ancient capital and seat of the high kings of Ulster. Its Irish name is Eamhain Mhacha meaning ‘twins of Macha’ and refers to the story where Macha as wife of Cruinniuc, was forced to race against the King of Ulster’s horses while heavily pregnant. She wins the race and gives birth to twins. She then curses the men of Ulster for 9 generations to come, saying they will be cursed with a great weakness at their time of need.
Aine is the goddess of sun, summer and wealth in Irish mythology. She is also associated with love and fertility with power over animals and crops. Geographically, she is most closely associated with County Limerick and the hill of Knockainey which takes its name from the Irish Cnoc Áine. As recently as 1879, the hill was the site of rituals honoring the goddess Aine to bless the land and ensure successful crops.
3. Queen Maedbh
Next up we have Ireland’s ultimate warrior queen. She became Queen Maedbh of Connaught when her father gifted her with the western Irish province. Maedbh had many husbands and no man could become king of Connaught unless they were married to Maedbh. She is famously associated with “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”( Táin Bó Cuailnge). Insisting on equal wealth with her husband Aillil, she went in search of a prize bull after discovering that Aillil was the owner of an impressive white horned bull whcih she could not match. After searching Ireland for a bull to match that of her husband, she set her sights on the Brown Bull of Cooley. She eventually smuggled the prize bull back to Connaught after many bloody battles involving her army and the mighty Cuchulainn.
Before the arrival of Christianity and Ireland’s famous St. Brigid, there was Brigid the goddess. In Irish Mythology, the goddess Brigid (or Brighid, Brigit or Brid meaning exalted one) is the daughter of The Dagda (the Good God) and the wife of Bres, a king of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
She was central in the celebration of the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc and is known as the goddess of healing, poetry and arts and crafts-especially blacksmithing. As a healing goddess she was believed to be present to watch over the birth of every child. Her healing wells can still be found in Ireland to this day. She is also strongly associated with fire and is regarded as a guardian of the home and the hearth.
5. The Banshee
We end on a decidedly dark note with Ireland’s female version of the Grim Reaper. The Irish – Bean-Sidhe means ‘Faerie woman’. She is usually depicted as an old woman with long gray hair, dressed in black with eyes red from crying . The Banshee heralds the imminent death at the home of the soon to be deceased with her terrifying wailing. She does not cause the death but rather gives warning in order for the family to prepare.
As ever, thanks so much for joining me to discover these wonderful stories of Ireland.
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Take care of yourselves and each other,
Slán go fóill!