Áine

Background:
Áine was the wife of Laoghaire Lorc, the high king of Ireland. When her husband was killed by his jealous brother, Áine protected her young son, and raised him to be a great king.

Stories of Áine: 
Laoghaire Lorc was high king of Ireland. His brother Cobhthach was jealous, and killed him. He then poisoned Laoghaire’s son, Aillil. He saw Aillil’s young son Labhraidh as being no threat, and showed his control over the child by gruesomely feeding him the heart of his father and his grandfather. Labhraidh’s mother, Áine, was made to watch while this occurred, held by two strong men to prevent her from doing anything to help her son. She was broken hearted, and the child was so traumatised by this incident that he was struck dumb.

She then cherished her dumb child, making sure that he received an education fit for a king, and also making sure that nobody discounted him as a person because of his affliction. He became so learned under her attentions that he became known as “Labhraidh Ollamh”. Eventually, as he grew older, he got over the trauma and began to speak again.

Cobhthach was jealous of Labhraidh, as he was perceived to be more generous than Cobhthach. And now that speech had returned to him, and that he was an educated man, Cobhthach began to realise that Labhraidh might be a threat to him. Áine advised him to go into exile until he was ready to come back.

When he was old enough to seek revenge, he attacked Lenister and won. He then sent a message to Cobhthach telling him that he would be satisfied with the kingship of Leinster, and invited Cobhthach to a feast. The feast was to be held in a magnificent building made entirely of iron. Cobhthach did not trust Labhraidh and decided to bring with him his entire armed retinue. When he arrived for the feast he was suspicious, and refused to enter. He sent in half his men, and when nothing happened to them, he was somewhat mollified. Áine saw that he was still reluctant to enter the building, and realized that her son’s plan was about to fall apart. She decided to take matters into her own hands.

She whispered to her son “I am nearly dead anyway, regain your honour though me”, and walked straight into the building before he could stop her. Seeing this, Cobhthach believed it was safe to enter. As soon as the last man stepped inside Labhraidh closed the great iron doors, fastened great chains around the entire building and, weeping for his mother, placed faggots all around the building to be set alight. The burning faggots transformed the building into a giant oven. Áine died exultantly, knowing that her husband had been avenged, and that her son had achieved the birthright of which he had been robbed.

Conclusion:
Áine was an extraordinarily strong figure, who survived the death of her husband, protected and raised her son to be a formidable and worthy king, and ultimately had her revenge on the man who had devastated her family.

Maeve

Background:
Maeve (Medb) was one of the daughters of the king of Tara, who killed her pregnant sister. Maeve then married Aillil and took over the territory of Connacht, which would have belonged to her sister had she lived. She was most famous for her role as the queen of Connacht during the Battle for the Brown Bull of Cooley, but she also has many mystical qualities, which mark her out as one of the many Celtic goddesses. She was the goddess of sovereignty and territory, as can be seen from her independent and territorial character. She refused to let any king rule at Tara who had not first mated with her, and she was generally depicted as extremely promiscuous. Her name has strong links to the word ‘mead’ and her constant seducing of different men is related to the intoxicating effects of this drink.

Stories of Maeve:
One evening, Maeve and Aillil began to tease each other about which of them had the higher status. Their teasing quickly grew earnest, as each vied to prove their superiority in the relationship. They were equal in birth, equal in status, and equal in power. To settle the matter, they counted out all their belongings, and the only difference between them was that Aillil had a magnificent white-horned bull, and Maeve had nothing that could compare to it. Unable to bear a subordinate role in her own marriage, Maeve sent messengers to search all of Ireland for a bull as splendid as Aillil’s. There was only one: the Brown Bull of Cooley. Maeve sent messengers to the bull’s owner, Dara of Cooley, offering gold and lands if he would agree to let her have the bull. He was initially inclined to grant her request, until he heard one of her messengers drunkenly boasting that if he would not sell it, Maeve would surely take it by force. Dara resented being dictated to, and refused to part with the bull.

So began the famous Táin Bó Cuailnge, the “Cattle Raid of Cooley”, in which Maeve assembled a great army of her allies from all over Ireland to invade Ulster and take the bull. Thanks to the Ulster exiles in her ranks, Maeve knew all about the curse of Macha, which would put the Ulster warriors out of action for nine days and nine nights. During that time, only the young warrior Cú Chulainn stood between the invading army and the defenseless province. His skill as a warrior was so great that the army were in terrible trouble.

Maeve negotiated with Cú Chulainn, through Fergus MacRoich, to fight in single combat against one of her champions every day, allowing the army to move while the fight was on, and stopping once the fight was over. He made such short work of her champions that she send a small band of raiders north to Cooley to steal the bull. She persuaded her greatest warrior, Ferdia, to fight against Cú Chulainn, who was his foster brother, and this led to the death of the last champion of Connacht. Her followers were then heard to repent that they had ever been guided by such a vengeful woman. On the eve of the final confrontation between the two armies, the Brown Bull of Cooley was smuggled into Connacht where it bellowed on entering new pastures and was heard and set upon by Aillil’s White-Horned Bull. The two animals gored each other to death, symbolizing the wasteful conflict between Connacht and Ulster. Maeve re-invaded Ulster in later years, taking vengeance on Cú Chulainn for the devastation he had wreaked on her army and killing him. Maeve was ultimately killed herself by the son of her murdered sister, and it was thought that she was killed by a sling shot bearing a piece of cheese!

Conclusions:
Maeve was a strong and independent character, with a knowledge of magic and sorcery. She never shirked her part of the work, and knew well how to encourage and lead her followers. She was definitely the stronger partner in her marriage with Aillil. She was always depicted as beautiful but was often seen dressed for war, leading the charge in her own chariot. At times she was depicted as laughable, but she was a strong woman who was not to be crossed. She could be harsh and domineering, and was willing to go to great lengths to assert her rightful status.

Liath Luachra

Background
Liath Luachra was a great warrior woman with a fierce spirit and the steadfast heart of a warrior. She lived in the mountains with Bodhmall, a druidess. Liath was not the marrying kind, preferring Bodhmall’s company, but she took in Bodhmall’s nephew Demne to raise from infancy.

Story of Liath Luachra
When Liath heard that Bodhmall was planning a journey to help her sister Muirne, She decided to accompany her, to ensure that everything was safe. On discovering that Muirne feared for the life of her newly born son Demne, Liath and Bodhmall resolved to take the child and rear him in the wilderness, away from his enemies.

While Bodhmall softly cherished her sister’s child, and taught him wisdom, Liath set about teaching him all the tricks of survival and all the martial skills she possessed. By night she slept with one eye open, keeping guard on her two precious charges. By day she would take Demne and teach him how to learn from his surroundings. Each week she would tell him to study a different animal and not to stop watching until he had learned something important from them. From the ant he learned to have an indomitable spirit. From the fox cubs he learned to be playful, but also to give as good as he got. From the salmon he learned the valuable art of being still, and from this lesson he came home with his arms filled with a large salmon for them to eat.

She would encourage him to race with the deer in the forest. She taught him to seek playmates in the animals of the forest, and to imitate all they did, thus allowing him to pick up the great arts of hunting naturally. She taught him how to cut and peel a birch bark to create an arrow that shot straight and true. She taught him to respect animals, but didn’t foster sentimentality. Demne knew well that to kill was a necessity for survival for them.

In this way Liath encouraged Demne’s independence, yet at the same time ensured that he was taught all he needed to know. When he was older she put a switch in his and, and held one in her own. She ran around a tree after him, hitting him with the switch when she caught up. He learned to run swiftly from this, and his desire to hit her back gave him the impetus to train as hard as he could. She demonstrated the great salmon leap and other great martial feats of the warrior, so that he could aspire to perfect them also. Eventually, when he hit her as many times as she hit him, Liath declared that he was fit to go his own way. So at the age of seven, Demne bid farewell to his foster mothers, and set out with a passing band of travelling bards. He was later to become the great hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill

Conclusion
Finding herself entrusted with the upbringing of a child, she dealt with it as she saw best, by teaching him the tools he would need in life. She put a lot of effort and focus into everything she did in life, from perfecting her own great skills to developing the warrior heart in a young boy. As a warrior she values competency, and the high expectations she had for Demne likely played a great part in making him the great man he was to become.

Caílte

Background:
It is said that the name Caílte means slender and fierce, which renders it a very suitable name for this character. He was a member of the Fianna who was as known for his athleticism as his willingness to help. He was a great personal friend of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and most of the tales of the deeds of the Fianna involve Fionn and Caílte along with a few of the other more prominent members. Like Fionn, he was descended from the Baoiscne clan, a clan known for its generosity of spirit. There is nothing that he wouldn’t do for his brothers in the Fianna, and certainly nothing he wouldn’t do for Fionn. It is often his interventions that get the Fianna out of trouble. His feats usually involve great speed, as he was particularly known for his lightness of foot.

Stories of Caílte:
While out hunting, the Fianna were accosted by a hag. She refused to let them pass, and demanded that they race her. If they lost she would kill them and eat them. Caílte raced her, overtook her, turned around and cut off her head.

When Fionn wooed Gráinne, she demanded of him the gift of the male and female of every animal in Ireland in one single drove. Caílte ran the length and breadth of Ireland, collecting each animal, and managing to keep them all in one group, and drove them to Gráinne before the sun had set that very day.

He brought a herd of hares to Tara and placed them in a house with nine open doors. By racing around the house all night he was able to keep all the hares in until morning.

The king of Ireland wished to have a fistful of sand delivered to him every morning from each of the four shores of Ireland, as he could tell by the smell of the sand whether any enemies had landed during the night. Three men offered their services. The first man said that he could do the task as quickly as a leaf fall from a tree. The second man told him that he could do it as quickly as a cat slinks between two houses. The third man (Caílte) said that he could finish this task as fast as a woman changes her mind. The king, impressed by this, tasked him with the job. “I have just returned,” Caílte replied, holding out the bags of sand.

Conclusion:
Faithful comrade, good friend, and proactive member of the Fianna. You never get the sense that he ever expects to be owed any gratitude or service in return for his feats. He is delighted to possess such athletic skill as it renders him useful, but he does not let pride swell his head. For him, he is but one member of a tribe, and he never begrudges anyone else their place.

Objects in Irish Mythology

Each Hero in Irish Mythology had his favourite sword, and some of these achieved legendary status.

One of the most legendary objects in Irish Mythology was the Gae Bolga, granted to Cuchulainn by Scathach. This was a spear, which separated into many barbs on entering the body. It was impossible to remove, and its wound was fatal. Only one of these existed, and it was the preserve of Cuchulainn, thus further underlining his status as the champion of all Ireland.

Lugh of the Tuatha De Danann carried a sword named FreagarachAnswerer – which cut through anything.

Diarmuid had two swords depending on the type of fighting necessary; Moralltach – Great fury – and Beagalltach – Small Fury. It was with Moralltach that he slew the giant guarding the tree of the berries of youth, and it was because he left his sword at home on the day of his final hunt that he was unable to defend himself against the magical boar that attacked him.

The God Manannan owned a boat named the Wave Sweeper, which could grow to accommodate any number of passengers and did not require oars or sails in order to move.

Irish folktales are full of objects such as magic shoes for swift walking, magic cloaks of invisibility, magic keys to open any locks, and magic sticks that grew to form bridges or supports. Once these objects were used they generally disappeared and returned to the fairy world from which they usually came.

From the fairy world also came the Banshee – which literally means a woman of the fairies. It was said that the Banshee would only walk near the house of one who was about to die.

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