Aife

She was a female-warrior and a sorceress from Ireland who lived in Scotland with other Druidesses. Their task was to initiate and train young Celtic noblemen in the art of love and war. Queen Aife loved her chariot and horses more than anything else. She met with Cuchulainn and did battle with him. Cuchulainn won the fight by cunning and forced her to give three things in return :

Cuchulainn asked her to teach the secrets of war to their son and after the initialisation to send him to Ireland. She trained Conlaech, but when he arrived in Ireland and met his father, Cuchulainn did not recognise him. They fought together and the result was that Cuchulainn killed by his own son.

In Irish mythology, Aife is also the name of the second wife of Lir. She too was a sorceress and on becoming jealous of Lir's children, by the previous marriage, she changed them in swans.

 

Creide ( or Cred)

She was the daughter of Guaire Aidne, King of Connacht. She married Marcan, an elderly chieftain of Ui Maine, but she did not love him; it was a political wedding. Marcan already had a wife and a son called Conu. Conu made sexual advances towards Cred but was repulsed by her. A prince from the Isle of Skye, Cano Mac Garnait, came to the High King's court. He saw Creide and fell in love with her, and she with him. However, because Cano Mac Garnait was under a compliment of hospitality to Aedh Slaine, the High King, she refused to make love with him. Before leaving Ireland, the Prince Cano arranged a meeting with her at the lake in an attempt to beguile her. He gave her a stone which he said contained his life, but Cred's stepson thwarted the plans and, in her anguish, Cred dropped the stone which fragmented. Cano died three days later.

Deirdre

Deirdre of the Sorrows was the daughter of Felim Mac Dall, an Ulster chieftain. Before she was born, Cathbad the Druid prophesied that she would be the most beautiful woman in Ireland, but, because of her beauty only death and ruin would befall the land. The King Conchobar decided she would have to become his wife when she reached the age of choice. Despite the best attempts of Deirdre's foster mother to dissuade Conchobar from marrying her, he was determined to proceed. However, before the wedding, Deirdre saw a young warrior called Naoise and fell in love with him. She was not shy and she engineered a meeting. Naoise was very unsure of himself and felt unworthy of her love. Deirdre put a geis on Naoise which obliged him to love her and flee with her and his two brothers Ainle and Ardan to Alba (Scotland). For several years, they lived happily and had a daughter called Aigrene.

Conchobar pretended that he had forgiven Naoise and Deirdre and sent Fergus Mac Roth, an honourable warrior, to invite them to come back to Ulster with an assurance of peace. On arriving at Conchobar's court, Deirdre became aware of the masquerade and deception. She saw Conchobar's bitterness and knew that only vengeance brooded in his heart. Fergus had to leave Naoise and Deirdre and, as soon as he departed, Conchobar ordered his warriors to attack. Naoise and his brothers were killed and Deirdre was forced to wed Conchobar. But he possessed only her body and nothing else Conchobar was a vengeful man and regarded this state of affairs as the ultimate insult. In retaliation, he gave her to Eoghan Mac Durthacht, the warrior who had killed Naoise, to do with her as he wished. To prevent her escape, her hands were bound and she was placed in Eoghan's chariot. During the journey, Deirdre managed to throw herself from the chariot and was killed.

From her grave grew a pine tree, and from Naoise's grave grow another. The two trees met and became so intertwined that nothing could part them.

Dervorgilla

Dervorgilla came from Norway and was a stranger in Ireland. She had listened to so many tales about Cuchulain that she decided he would have to be her only love. She left Norway accompanied by her maid alone. To accomplish the journey the both changed into swans and flew to Loch Cuan in Ireland. Cuchulain and his brother wandered near to Loch Cuan and on seeing the swans they decided to hunt them.

A stone cast by Cuchulain at the swans injured Dervorgilla's hip. Dervorgilla and her maid immediately swam to the shore and changed from swans into women. Cuchulain removed the stone from Dervogilla's hip with his mouth and the stone turned into blood. Dervorgilla said to Cuchulain that she had flown to Ireland to wed him to which Cuchulain replied that he could not marry her because his lips had touched her hip. So, Dervorgilla asked Cuchulain to choose himself the man she had to marry. Cuchulain suggested that she marry his brother Lugaid who was with him. Dervorgilla accepted this proposal in order to continue to see Cuchulain and subsequently became Lugaid's wife and bore him children.

On a snowy winter's day the men made tall pillars of snow. As a challenge to determine who was the best wife, the women would climb to the tops of these pillars and in competition would urinate on their pillar. The first woman to melt through the pillar with her urine was declared the winner and the best wife. Dervorgilla did not like such challenges, but, because she was a stranger, she was obliged to compete. At the end of the challenge, the women noticed that it was Dervorgilla who had melted through her pillar first and won the competition. They were very much afraid that all of the men would fall in love with such a mighty woman so they fought with her, scratched her face, pulled out her hair, broke her nose, gauged her eyes, and tore her lips in order she would never again be desirable by any man.

Cuchulain, Lugaid and the warriors were on a hill near the fortress and they noticed that the snow had only stayed on Dervorgilla's roof. Lugaid realised that she was dying and they ran to Emain Macha and approached Dervorgilla's house. She heard them coming and secured her door so that they would not gain entry and see her condition. Before dying, she sang a beautiful poem. When Lugaid gained entry to the home and saw her he also died from the anguish. Cuchulain ordered a grave to be dug for Dervorgilla and Lugaid, surmounted by a standing stone. During the burial a file (poet/bard) sang laments in their memory.

 

Emer

 

Emer was the daughter of Forgall Manach, lord of Musca. Cuchulain desired her hand in marriage because he fell in love with her at the first sight. However, Emer's father was not in agreement and tried to prevent this wedding by asking the young hero to perform lots of tasks. Cuchulain complied with all of the requests only to find more obstacles placed in his path as each task was achieved. He sent Cuchulainn to Scathach thinking that he would never come back But the hero did come back and eloped with Emer much to the fury of Emer's father. In order that he could fulfil his ambition Cuchulain had to fight with Emer's warrior sister, Scenmed. It was only when Cuchulain defeated her, that he and Emer could finally establish themselves in the Cuchulain fortress. However, Cuchulain spent most of his time playing the field and fell in love with many women while Emer was patiently waiting for him.

When he fell in love with the beautiful Fand, the wife of Manannan Mac Lir, Emer felt that enough was enough and she decided to kill Fand. She discovered the spot where Cuchulain and Fand were meeting and went to the spot and argued with Fand over him. But, she saw that Fand was really in love with Cuchulain and she demonstrated her own love by saying that she will give him up for the greater good. It was then that Fand realised the depth of Emer's own love, and also the fickleness of Cuchulain's emotions. Fand decided that she should return to her own husband. As he was Manannan Mac Lir , the sea God, he was able to help them by shaking his cloak between Fand and Cuchulain to ensure that they never would meet again. Cuchulain became lovesick and Conchobar’s druid gave him and Emer a magic drink of everlasting forgetfulness.

 

Etaine

Etaine means "jealousy". She was the daughter of Ailill of Echraidhe. The god Midir fell in love with her and through the intercession of Oengus, the love god, he made arrangements and wed her. Etaine went to live with him in Bri Leith as his second wife but the first wife became jealous and with the help of her father, a sorcerer, she turned Etaine in a pool of water.

The pool of water was blown by the wind into a great storm, then just as quickly the storm was changed into a fly, confusing Midir who was searching for her. Realising what had happened, he finally found her in the form of the fly. But the first wife, still jealous, asked the sorcerer to create a strong wind which blew the fly away.

Seven years later, the fly was blown into Oengus's dwelling. The love god gave the fly back to Midir whereupon, the first wife and her father created another wind which blew her away again. Seven years later, the fly was blown through the roof of Etar, a Ulate warrior. His wife was drinking at the time when the fly fell into her glass and was swallowed.

Etar's wife became pregnant as a result and gave birth to a daughter, by coincidence she was named Etaine. She grew into a great beauty and the High King Eochaid wanted to wed her. Etaine fell madly in love with the king and they married whereupon she accompanied him to Tara. The king had a brother called Ailill, who also fell in love with Etaine and became very lovesick and was in fear of dying. Etaine was too sensitive a person to let Ailill die and she promised to meet him in secret.

During all this time the god Midir had continued his search and found Etaine. But before approaching her he sought out Ailill and made him fall into a deep sleep from which, on waking, was cured of his passion for Etaine. Midir, then in the guise of Ailill, kept the meeting with Etaine. At this meeting Midir discovered that Etaine had no remembrance of him and that she was really in love with the King, Eochaid. Midir made Etaine fall in a deep sleep and carried her back to the Otherworld. Eochaid discovered what had happened, followed Midir, and forced him to release Etaine She returned to Tara and lived long years with the King and gave him a daughter, also named Etaine.

 

Grainne

 

Grainne was the daughter of Cormac Mac Art, the High King of Ireland and lived at Tara. She was promised in marriage to Finn Mac Cumhal, the Fianna's commander. On the night before the wedding, Grainne decided " to play the field" because she was not really interested in the elderly Finn Mac Cumhal. She made a proposition to Finn's son, Oisin, who rejected her proposal indignantly.

Then, she turned to a young warrior, Diarmuid, whom she persuaded to elope with her. Being a honourable man, he at first refused to get romantically involved, but she tricked him with a geis (a magic spell), which gave him no choice but to give in to her desires and he rapt her.

Thus, the pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne by Finn began. At first, Diarmuid avoided the advances of Grainne because he wanted to be loyal to Finn, but over a period of a number of years Grainne used all her powers and finally seduced him. Diarmuid was now well and truly under the 'spell' of this capricious and wilful woman and, in time, grew to love her.

During these years, Finn had become extremely angry and increased his efforts in an attempt to find the lovers. His pursuit continued for sixteen years until Oengus, the love god, interceded. A peace treaty was agreed and Finn came to dine in Diarmuid's fortress. The following day, they went hunting. To ensure a fair fight during the hunt, Diarmuid had to break a geis (a spell bestowed on him by his foster father) making him invulnerable and he was wounded by a magic boar. Finn could have saved him but he chose not to do so, instead he watched as Diarmuid was gored to death by the boar.

At first, Grainne asked her sons to seek vengeance on Finn, but later relented. Having changed her mind, she asked for a meeting with Finn instead. Finn agreed to the meeting and they fell in love. Grainne went back to live with him at his fortress but Finn's warrior's refused to have anything to do with her, they had no respect for Grainne and said that they would not exchange even one of Diarmuid's fingers for twenty of Grainne's fingers.

 

Macha

Macha was the second wife of Crunniuc of Ulster. As Crunniuc's first wife died, a beautiful woman appeared at his fort and took on the role of his wife. She called herself Macha and became pregnant by Crunniuc. One day, at a royal gathering, Crunniuc claimed that his wife, as pregnant as she was, could run faster than the king's horses.

Macha was summoned and told she must race against the king's chariot and that Crunniuc would be executed if she refused. She pleaded with the king and the assembly to allow her to have her babies before she was forced to race, but they refused.

The race began and, pregnant as she was, Macha reached the winning post first. As she reached it, she gave birth to twins; a son and a daughter whereupon all of Ulster's warriors fell weak with women's birth pangs. Then Macha pronounced her curse upon them: when the time of oppression fell over them, each one of them would be overcome with the weakness of a woman in childbirth, and the curse would remain upon them for five days and four nights to the ninth generation.

 

Medb (Maeve)

Medb means "she who makes men drunk". She had two sisters, Ethné and Clothra and had several lovers. With her husband, Ailill, the king of Connacht, they had seven sons and a daughter. She was the heroin of the famous "Tain Bo Cuailgne" ( the cattle raid of Cuailgne). This raid started because Medb discovered that her possessions, which were considerable, were not as extensive as her husband's. Medb wanted to have the fabulous Brown Bull of Cuailgne to have equal status with Ailill who owned the White Horned Bull of Connacht. She raised an army which she personally led into battle. Standing proud in her chariot, she appeared very determined, forceful, strong, devious and bloodthirsty. She met Cuchulain as champion of Ulster but lost the battle, being killed by the spear of Conchobar's son.

 

Nessa

Nessa was the daughter of Eochaidh Salbuidhe. She was a female warrior until her wedding to Fachtna. Nessa had a son, Conchobar, and when Fachtna died, his half-brother Fergus Mac Roth was elected to the throne. Fergus was in love with Nessa but Nessa would only agree to become his wife if he would let her son Conchobar rule as king first, for at least a year. Nessa then instructed Conchobar how to be an exceptional monarch and when the time came for Fergus to reclaim the throne, Conchobar was able to refuse his claim with the support of the people. Fergus offered his services and joined with Medb. Later, Nessa's granddaughter was also to become a famous female warrior.

Scathach

Scathach had a school of martial arts in the Isle of Skye. All the famous warriors of Ireland were said to have been trained by her. Her most famous pupil was Cuchulain. In return for her instruction, Cuchulain helped Scatach with her own battles, in particular against Aife.

Sin

 

Sin was a druidess. All of her family had been killed by the High King Muirchertach. The king was hunting one day and met Sin and, although he did not know everything about her, he fell in love with her. Muirchertach already had a wife and children and he asked Sin to become his mistress to which she agreed on two conditions: the King would submit to her will in all things, and, no Christian cleric would ever set foot in the palace while she resided there. The King agreed to this and once installed in the fort, she demanded that the King eject his wife and his children.

They hurried to the Christian bishop and the bishop ordered to the king to send Sin away, but the king refused. Sin performed some feats of magic to impress the King and he did all she wanted. But after several months, the King began to worry about his soul and asked the bishop to help him. The king promised the bishop that he would send Sin away, but, when he returned to the fort, he tried but found he could not do it. The fort was set ablaze and, to escape, the king climbed into a vat of wine and drowned. After all of these happenings, Sin realised that she had genuinely grown to love the king and after his death she was overcome with grief and died herself.

 

 

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