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Monday, December 2, 2013

Queen Medb of Rathcroghan

Article contributed by Catriona Kelly, TY Student

Queen Medb of Rathcroghan
Queen Medb (Maeve), Celtic warrior and daughter of the high king of Ireland, Eochaid Feidlech. Famous as the leading heroine in the story of the Táin Bó Cuailgne (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), and one of Ireland's most popular attributes in mythological tales. Having received the province of Connacht as a gift from her father, no king could rule there unless they married the Queen Maeve. Maeve had many husbands, each marriage with a tale of its own. A woman of great power and desire. Queen Maeve lived an interesting and fascinating life.

Maeve’s father first married her to Conchobar Mac Nessa, king of Ulster because he had supposedly killed Conchobar's father in battle. She had one son, Glaisne however the marriage did not last and she left him. Instead Maeve’s sister, Eithne married Conchobar. In rage, Maeve murdered her own sister. Her sister had been pregnant at the time and miraculously the baby, named Furbaide, survived. 

Maeve’s husband in the Ulster cycles, Aillil Mac Máta whom she had, had an affair with prior to their marriage became king of Connacht and they had seven sons and one daughter together. All of the sons called Maine. They originally all had different names however when Maeve approached a druid and asked which of her sons would in the future kill her earlier husband, Conchobar whom she wanted dead. The druid replied, "Maine". Maeve became concerned as none of her sons were called Maine. Therefore she renamed all of her seven sons. The prophecy was fulfilled, when her son Maine Andoe went on to kill Conchobar. 

One night, Maeve and Aillil were engaging in pillow talk, discussing each other’s wealth. What started out as a discussion soon ended in an argument. Disputing which of the two had the most wealth. They compared every piece of land, all of their animals, jewels and most prized possessions. They were equal in every aspect, except Aillil had one magnificent white horned bull, Finnbennach, that Maeve could not match. 

Maeve was enraged and decided that there was only one bull on the island that could compete with Finnbennach. And that bull was the brown bull Donn Cúailgne, owned by a chieftain, Dáire Mac Fiachna. Maeve sent messangers to Dáire offering wealth, land and other valuables in return for the loan of this incomparable bull. Dáire agreed to the offer. They feasted over the agreement. Only when some of Meave's messengers were having a drunken conversation did they let slip in the company of one of Dáires servants that even if Dáire denied them Donn Cúailgne they would have forcefully taken him anyways. When this news reached Dáire he was angered and cancelled the arrangement. Maeve did not stand down and went to battle with him. This marked the battle between the provinces of Connaught and Ulster.

An Ulster warrior called Cúchulainn defended Ulster single handed, because the remaining Ulster warriors were afflicted by the curse of Macha. The curse was that the men of ulster shall fall weak and helpless in the hour of need. Cúchulainn was ruled out from this curse because he was not a man at the time the curse was forced upon ulster. During the battle, Maeve’s army lost confidence. Maeve offered her daughter's hand to her army if they succeeded in defeating Cúchulainn. 

It was soon the turn of the great warrior Ferdia to face Cúchulainn. Ferdia and Cúchulainn were foster brothers and neither of them wanted to fight - however neither of them wanted to be dishonoured by refusing to fight. After three days of fighting it was Cúchualainn who succeeded in defeating his brother. Despite Maeve’s army being devastated, she somehow secured the brown bull of Cooley. The Donn Cúailgne was brought back to Cruachan to fight Aillil's white bull. The white bull was defeated and impaired on Donn Cúailgne's horns. Donn Cúailnge travelled back home to Cooley and later died from his wounds. The Táin Bó Cúailgne is one of the most remarkable mythological tales in the Irish language.

In Queen Maeve’s later years, she often went to bathe in the pool on Inchcleraun, and island on lough Ree. Furbaide, the surviving son of Maeve’s sister Eithne, sought revenge for his mother and killed Maeve while she bathed. Queen Maeve is said to be buried in her home of Rathcroghan, County Roscommon.

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