Goddess & Bishop - Brigid.
St Brigid is also known as Mary of the Gael or Muire na nGael. She is one of the three Patron Saints of Ireland, along with St Patrick and St Columcille. Her feast day is celebrated on February 1st; which coincides with the festival of Imbolc (Imbolg) and marks the beginning of spring. It is a Cross Quarter Day, midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox on the Celtic Calendar. Brigid has many incarnations and has been celebrated since ancient times. There were many women who bore the title of Brigid, but two Brigid’s emerge, the ancient pre Christian goddess one and the modern Christian saint one. Both have been spliced together into one entity, the Brigid we celebrate today.
Brigid is highly regarded as one of the most supreme Irish female deities and the first Irish born saint. She is both Druid and Bishop. Her name translates as ‘Exalted One’; and her presence is powerful. She is the great healer and protector and is said to lean over every cradle and cow shed. She is revered by poets and smiths of all kind. So much myth and legend surround Brigid that she traverses history and myth effortlessly and remains fascinating.
The ancient Goddess Brigid is known as "the goddess whom poets adored" along with her two sisters: Brigid the healer and Brigid the smith and thus is considered a triple Goddess. We are told from the Lebor Gabála Érenn that she was a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
The Tuath Dé or "tribe of the gods" were a supernatural race in Irish mythology and from where the main deities of pre Christian Ireland spring. Brigid is said to be a daughter of the Dagda, and half-sister of Cermait honey-mouth, Aengus, Aed and Bodb Derg (all key players in Irish myth.).
Dagda was a giant of a man who wore a hooded cloak and had a God like status. He was given the Cauldron of Inspiration. He controlled the seasons among other things and was capable of making the sun stand still for nine months, causing his son to be conceived and born all on the same day. He was said to dwell in Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange).
Brigid was the wife of the High King Bres, the half-Fomorian ruler of the Tuatha Dé Danann who was without blemish, with whom she had a son named Ruadán who was slain by the great smith Goibhniu at the second battle of Moytura. Brigid was so bereft at the loss of her son that she wept bitterly and her wailing was such that it started the tradition of keening (caoine), used ever since at Irish wakes. We know him as Ruadán of Lorrah. They had two other sons; Luchar and Uar.
This Brigid was also patron of warfare or Briga. Her soldiers who were male and female were called Brigands and are the first peace keeping force in Ireland. Brigand derives from the Gaelic word "bríg" meaning strength or valour. She is said to have invented the night whistle an instrument used to see in the dark.
She was also known as "Mistress of the Mantle" and "Fiery Arrow". She is synonymous with the warrior-maiden, Brigantia and is said to have inspired Merlin. It is said that her visions reach to the end of the solar system. She is considered sacred to livestock, especially cows and could purify water and imbue it with healing qualities. Three rivers are named for her, the Brigit in Ireland, the Braint in Wales and the Brent in England. She holds the status of a Sun Goddess and hangs her cloak upon the rays of the Sun. She is said to radiate fire and light.
It is said that when she was born flames reached from the top of her head to the heavens resulting in her red hair. She is said to have kept an eternal flame lit beneath the oaks of Kildare a Druidic shrine. Nineteen other priestess women presided over this flame. Brigid's sacred number was nineteen, representing the nineteen-year cycle of the Celtic Great Year, or the time it took from one new moon to the next to coincide with the Winter Solstice. These women were known as the Daughters of the Fire. According to the Irish Text "The Book of Dunn Cow,” on the twentieth day of each cycle Brigid herself would tend the flame. Brigid is said to have been the owner of oxen, sheep and pigs.
Legend tells us of her two oxen named Fe and Men after whom Magh Femhin in Co Tipperary is named, where upon they grazed. . She also possessed the king of boars, Torc Triath, who appears in Arthurian legend. This boar is said to have had poisonous bristles, and carried a pair of scissors, a comb and a razor on his head between his ears. King Arthur's dog Cavall is said to have pursued this boar to retrieve said implements for the purposes of a hair cutting ritual of the gentle and fragile Olwen, another sun associated goddess and daughter of a giant. Brigid also owned Cirb, a powerful ram who was king of sheep from whom Mag Cirb is named. Cirb was a castrated ram who was king of all the flocks of sheep in Ireland, including the seven famous magical sheep owned by the sea god Manannán. These sheep, it was said, could produce enough wool to clothe every man, woman, and child the world over.
The modern Saint Brigid was born around 450 AD in Faughart near Dundalk in Co. Louth and is another powerhouse of a Brigid. . It is believed that she was present at the birth of Jesus anointing his head with three drops of water. She became his foster mother, weaving a mantel to protect him and wearing candles on her head to escape in darkness. Fostering was a common practice among the Celts. She took the baby to save Him from the slaughter of male infants, instigated by Herod.
She was anointed a Bishop and founded a dual monastery for men and for women. She was daughter to a woman called Brocca, a Christian Pict slave who had been baptized by Saint Patrick. Her father is thought to have been Dubhthach, a chieftain of Leinster and a Druid who brought her from Ireland to be raised on the Island of Iona, sometimes called "The Druid's Isle." Brigid’s monastery at Kildare (Cill Dara: "church of the oak"), was built on the site of a pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid, served by a group of young women who tended an eternal flame. The site was under a large oak tree on the ridge of Drum Criadh.
As a child she was very charitable to the lesser well off and it is said that she prayed to be ugly so as no man would wish to marry her. God granted her wish and caused half of her face to be poxed. Her father relented and allowed her to set up a church by allowing her to have as much land as her cloak would cove. She laid her cloak on the ground and caused it to spread and spread until it covered the entire Curragh of Kildare and it is said it is here she founded her church. It is said that her beauty was restored is said as soon as she was consecrated a Bishop. Brigid set up a double monastery, for men and for women and it was renowned throughout the Holy Roman see.
Brigid performed miracles, including healing and feeding the poor. She gave away her mother’s store of butter and her father’s precious jewels. Everything given was immediately replenished twofold.
Brigid is credited with founding a school of art, including metalwork and illumination, overseen by Conleth. This scriptorium made the Book of Kildare, which drew high praise from Gerald of Wales, who felt it surpassed any works he had ever seen and was in fact “the work of angelic, and not human skill"
St Brigid sat by the sick bed of a dying Druid, possibly her father, soothing him with stories about her faith. She told him about Christ on the Cross, picking up rushes from the ground to make a cross. Before his death, the chieftain asked to be baptised. People continue to make similar crosses to hang over the door of their homes to ward off evil, fire and hunger and that is how the making of a Brigid’s cross began. This cross which takes the form of a swastika is in fact a much older symbol representing the sun.
According to myth, Saint Brigid travelled to Glastonbury and set up a small chapel on a place called Bride's Mound. A papal charter of 1168 CE refers to it as one of the seven islands in the Glastonbury Abbey's estate, these being Avalon, Beckery, Marchey, Godney, Meare, Panborough and Nyland. It dates from the 5th Century and is known as Little Ireland because it was a well-known site to Irish missionaries. St. Brigid visited Glastonbury in 488 CE and spent time at Bride's Mound. Relics of hers, including a spindle and a bell, were displayed in the chapel dedicated to her, which had a special opening in the southern wall that healed those who passed through it.
She is particularly renowned for healing women’s ailments. According to historic scriptures, she performed Ireland's first recorded abortion being the first to "help a woman in a difficult situation".
“Brigid, exercising with the most strength of her ineffable faith,
blessed her, caused the feotus to disappear without coming to birth,
and without pain.”
She continued her mission until her death in 525 CE, when she was laid to rest in her abbey. In 835 CE, her remains were moved to protect them from Norse invaders and interred in the same grave that holds the remains of St. Patrick and St. Columcille at Downpatrick.
St Brigid is said to have been given the last rites by St Ninnidh when she was dying. Afterwards, he reportedly had his right hand encased in metal so that it would never be defiled, and became known as "Ninnidh of the Clean Hand". Tradition says she died at Kildare on 1 February 525.
There is a whole school of thought that cites "Brigid or Exalted One" as being a title conferred, as opposed to it being the embodiment of one person, or an amalgamation of several women. This would certainly account for so many personalities emerging beneath the Brigid banner. Brigid’s successor, a woman called Darlughdach, often cited as Brigid’s companion, who was so close to her that they shared the same bed, celebrates her feast day also on February 1st. She is said to have picked up the Baton of Brigid and was present at the founding of a church in Abernethy in Scotland dedicated to Brigid, built by the King of the Picts.
Relics of Brigid can be found all over the world, there are parts of her skull in two sites in Portugal as well as in Co Dublin. There is a portion of her tooth in Sydney and another tooth in Germany. Portions of her renowned cloak or mantle can be found in Bruges Cathedral and her slipper can be found in the National Museum.
The ever living fire of Brigid was the dominion of women and tended by women. It was kept burning in a cell and was surrounded by a circular fence made of twigs, within which no man was permitted to enter. Her flame burned brightly in Kildare for centuries. It was extinguished in 1220 by Henri de Londres, a Norman Archbishop of Dublin. On February 1st, 1993 a flame was relit in the Market Square in the town and is now kept burning at Solas Bhride, by the Brigidine Sisters. Let us hope her flame lives on.
1. Brigid: Goddess, Druidess and Saint by Brian Wright.
2. The patrons of Ireland, or, Some account of St. Patrick and St. Brigid by James Henthorn Todd
3. Life of St. Brigid, Virgin by John O Hanlon
4. St. Brigid, Patroness of Ireland by Joseph A Knowles
5. Brigid's Way: Reflections on the Celtic Divine Feminine by Bee Smith
6. In search of St. Brigid, foundress of Kildare by Mary E Pollard
7. The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland by Mary Condren
Meeting the Hag
I took myself off to the Beara Peninsula during the Halloween Bank Holiday Weekend. Being the eve of Samhain I needed to honour the Goddess of Winter, the daughter of the sun the Cailleach. So I specifically visited the Hag of Beara and Kilcatherine and left my votives there.Mr Nyhan, who taught me in 6th class, used the Gaelic word for Witch ‘Cailleach’ (literally translates "veiled one" caille translates as "hood”) by way of example of pronouncing that harsh guttural consonant ‘K sound in Irish.
It being one of those insights I never forgot, along with. caol le caol agus leathan le leathan, (slender with slender and broad with broad vowels).
The ancients, the ones that speak to the Druid in me divided the year into two portions one associated with the dark and the other the light. The dark half Samhain begins at sunrise on November 1st and ends when the summer part begins at Bealtaine on sunrise on May 1st. Being a November baby, I have more of an affinity with winter.
The Hag or the Cailleach being the daughter of the sun grows younger, more powerful and more beautiful in the hibernal season. This is her time that her powers are their most potent. She holds supremacy over this world and the other world and thus dominion over life and death. She represents the women of Ireland, Mná na hEireann, and we must forever stay in her good books.
She is said to have lived seven lifetimes before being turned to stone and she sits to this day in stone form, facing out to sea in Coulagh Bay on the Beara Peninsula where she is known locally as The Hag of Beara. Many other sites are associated with her too in Sligo, Galway, Meath, Clare, Kerry, Cork and Tipperary and as far away as Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Many megaliths in Ireland are said to be formed from stones she carried in her apron and fell from the heavens as she flew over. Wither this was purposeful or by accident we will never know. Suffice to say, she has left the track of her hatchet on the Irish landscape. Many superstitions and piseogs in Ireland have her at their root, for example, a fine and sunny St Brigit’s Day (February 1 – Imbolic) means she is gathering firewood and we are set to endure a long winter, as happened in 2018!
She was born in the place at the edges of eschaton, in a "the house farthest west in Ireland", in Tivore on the Dingle Peninsula. As Winter Goddess she is the eternal mother and is associated mother to both the Corca Dhuibhne and the Corca Loighdhe. We meet her first in the 12th Century in "Vision of MacConglinne", in which she is named as the "Hooded woman of Beare". She is said to have worn a veil for one hundred years that was given to her by St Cummine. (He was the saint who tested the chastity of lovers by placing an acolyte between them and subjecting them to the ordeal of cohabitation.)
The Winter Goddess is thought to be the wife of Manannán mac Lir, God of the sea. She narrates the medieval Irish poem known as "The Lament of the Hag of Beara" which can be found in Trinity College, Lady Gregory’s translation cites;
I am the Hag of Beare,
An ever-new smock I used to wear;
Today-such is my mean estate-
I wear not even a cast-off smock.
The maidens rejoice
When May-day comes to them;
For me sorrow is meeter,
I am wretched,
I am an old hag.
Amen! woe is me!
Every acorn has to drop.
After feasting by shining candles
To be in the gloom of a prayer
I had my day with kings,
Drinking mead and wine;
Today I drink whey-water
Among shrivelled old hags
The Hag is said to have formed mountains from stones that fell from her wicker basket and even carried a hammer (echoes of Thor) for shaping mountains and valleys as well as a wand for changing the weather. Her staff (a slachdán-wand of power, with which she could control the weather) for example, causes the ground to freeze and when she washes her cloak in the sea storms rise up.
She could cast spells and portents. She is associated with all of the horned beasts of Ireland, the cows, sheep and goats, milk yielding stock, over which she rules and she herds deer in winter. She turns from stone back into human form on November 1st. She is held both in reverence and in fear and rightly so, I can attest to that.
When I visited I parked my car in nearby Kilcatherine and given my close proximity to that site, I dared to visit there first. I ambled through the 7th century graveyard, marvelling at the stunning sea views, that those buried there could not. The day was glorious, with the sky a mirror of the sea. Sun warmed and worshipped me.
I sought out the ancient stone cross and the carving over the doorway of St. Caithighearn; an obscure saint said represent a Cat Diety, but most noted as the nemesis of the Winter Goddess. St. Caithighearn, preached Christianity in Kilcatherine and thus represented a threat to the Cailleach’s powers. One day, after gathering food the Hag returned to Kilcatherine to find Caithighearn asleep, whereupon she stole her book of prayer, and ran off. A cripple who witnessed this thievery alerted St. Caithighearn, amd having chased the Hag recovered her property but turned the Cailleach to stone, with her back to the hill and her face to the sea.
From there I wandered towards the Hag of Beara, negotiating the fence and a few fierce looking horned sheep and picked my way towards the fabled rock. I left a quartz crystal, some wood and a little dropeen of whiskey. The stone felt warm and damp and this bears out local legend which states that the Hag sups from an ancient well of life on the eve of Samhain and that her stone is always damp and warm as her powers are most potent in the winter months.
I thanked her, for breathing life into this time of year and for guarding the otherworld. As I scrambled back up the incline towards my car I turned on my ankle and wondered in that moment if I had somehow infuriated the Goddess by not visiting her sanctuary first. I have nursed an inflamed Achilles Tendon since, so perhaps I did! Teach me to mess with the ancients and I must amend my ways the next time I visit
This woman of mystery honoured so much she wears a veil, has been venerated in many musical compositions and poems and remains one of the more important figures in ancient mythology. She is the daughter of the sun, gaining her life force from the darkest time of year. It is said that she takes on many guises, and often those of the birds and the beasts of her native land. As I drove away I observed a stately heron overhead, flying with an eel in its beak and I was stunned by that, reminded again of the power of this ancient woman.
Augusta, Lady Gregory. The Kiltartan Poetry Book. New York: G. Putnam's Sons, 1919
Hull, Eleanor. "Legends and Traditions of the Cailleach Bheara or Old Woman (Hag) of Beare".
Folklore, Volume 38, No. 3, September 30, 1927. pp. 225-254 Mackenzie, Donald Alexander (1917).
"Beira, Queen of Winter" in Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend". MacKillop, James (1998)
Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280120-1 p. 45.
Monaghan, Patricia (2004) The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit. New World Library. ISBN 1-57731-458-1 Ó Crualaoich, Gearóid (2006).
The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer. Cork University Press. ISBN 1-85918-372-7.
O'Sullivan, Leanne. "On the Beara Peninsula: Written in Stone". New Hibernia Review;
Iris Éireannach Nua, Volume 17, No. 3 2013. pp. 9-14 Ross, Anne (1973, reprint 2004)
"The divine hag of the pagan Celts" in The Witch Figure: Folklore Essays by a Group of Scholars in England Honoring the 75th Birthday of Katharine M. Briggs. ed. by Venetia Newall. London, Routledge and Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-415-33074-2.
Zucchelli, Christine. Sacred Stones of Ireland. Cork: Collins Press, 2016. ISBN 978-1-8488-9276-7
Tailtiu is an Irish Goddess associated with agriculture and the harvest and thus abundance. Her name is said to mean "well formed, beautiful." She was certainly an exceptional woman. We know that she is associated with tillage, grain, corn and clover and with peace and alliances and marriage. What we know of her shows us that she had grit and stamina and was industrious and hardworking. She was an exceptional wife and partner and a loving, influential mother. We also know her to be self-sacrificing, paying the ultimate price, the giving of her life in the pursuit of her labours.
Our first encounter with Tailtiu comes from the Book of Invasions; (Leabhar Gabhála) which gives us an account of the settlers/invaders of Ireland. The narrative traces the history of Ireland back to Noah’s granddaughter Cessair, the first woman into Ireland who arrived forty days before the Flood. It elucidates on the arrival of subsequent settlers: Parthalon, Nemed, the Fir Bolg, the Tuatha Dé Danann and lastly the Milesians. It became the standard history of Ireland (seanchas) as recorded by medieval scholars.
Tailtiu was a lady of high status as daughter of, and wife to a king, and foster mother to the deity Lugh. It is clear from the accounts we have of her, that she was very highly regarded; her husband named their capital after her and her foster son Lugh honoured her by establishing both a harvest festival and funeral games dedicated to her. These games known as the Tailten Games are said to have inspired the Greeks to create the Olympics.
Her father, the gentle Magmor, was a King of Spain and consequently Tailtiu came into her marriage with a significant independent income, not only that she also had at her disposal an arsenal of magical tools and an axe in particular; "Great that deed that was done with the axe's help by Tailtiu, the reclaiming of meadowland from the even wood by Tailtiu daughter of Magmor.” Magmor translates as ‘Great Plain’ making her a daughter of the earth itself. We know that she was industrious, hardworking and self-sacrificing, levelling the plains of Ireland, reclaiming meadows from overgrown forests and making them ripe for tillage and rich with clover. In fact the symbol we most associate with St Patrick, that of the shamrock, was first associated with Tailtiu.
She was married to Eochaid mac Eirc who was the last king of the Fomorian people. As a race of supernatural beings, the Fomorians whose name translates as ‘from beneath the sea’ are described as having dominion over the forces of nature, notably the more destructive ones, including winter, crop-blight, and plague. They were said to have the elemental powers of Land, Sea and Sky. Some of that race were considered ugly, others, exceptionally gorgeous. They had the capacity to change in appearance also and to morph into animals etc. Tailtiu’s husband was considered a fair and just king, “No rain fell during his kingship, but only the dew; there was no year without harvest. Falsehood was banished from Ireland during his time, and he it was who first established the rule of justice there.” One assumes Tailtiu was influential in this, dedicated as she proved herself to be to the harmony and survival of her people.
Teltown in Co Meath, (as gaeilge Tailten) close to Tara was their capital, named thus to honour his wife. During their ten year reign, Ireland was invaded by another supernatural race the Tuatha Dé Danann, Eric resisted the invaders in the first Battle of Magh Tuiredh, but alas perished, becoming the first king to be killed with a weapon. Tailtiu survived. In the aftermath of that mighty battle, Tailtiu visited the battlefield and created a plain, which within a year was covered with clover. She brought life where destruction reigned, and hope after the despair of war.
In ancient Ireland sovereignty and the land were closely associated. The ability of the land to bear crops and fruit was directly linked to the survival of the people. The goddess of the land bestows kinship with the ritual of kinship seeing the monarch ceremoniously wedding the goddess. Furthermore, alliances of kinship between peoples were borne witness to by the goddess. She is most associated with the Plain of Brega which lies between the Boyne and the Liffey rivers. This area is strewn with sacred ritual sites like Tara, Brug na Bóinne (Newgrange), and Knowth. Teltown remained a seat of power during the reign of the Tuatha De Danann. “When the fair wood was cut down by her, roots and all, out of the ground, before the year's end it became Bregmag, a plain blossoming with clover.”
She married a second time an Eochu Garb of the Tuatha De Danann, also called Duach the Dark and she was given Lugh, as a mark of trust, one of their own, a high-born son, to foster. The four festivals that mark the beginning of each season in Ireland are Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain. The period of Lughnasa begins on the first of August, marking the beginning of the harvest which includes the months of August, September and October, ending at the festival of Samhain/Halloween, on the first of November. Harvest time signals the death of the growing season and the seeds of rebirth. All of this sovereignty is born in Tailtiu and the festival of Lughnasa was held at Teltown. It was a time for contests of strength and skill, and a favoured time for contracting marriages and a peace and a truce were declared at the festival, all feuds and conflicts had to be set aside.
The festival of Lughnasa was instigated by Lugh to honour his foster mother Tailtiu. Lugh was Chief Ollam of Ireland, the chief bard of literature and history over all of the bards of Ireland and it had the same status as that of the High King. He was also an ‘Il Dana’ or master of all trades and from this we can deduce that Tailtiu’s influence over his education and development had been vast and comprehensive. He defeated Balor in the second Battle of Magh Tuiredh and thus ensuring the survival of the Tuatha De people. It is said that she was instrumental in the shaping of Lugh, his thoughts, ideals and skills level.
Tailtiu is said to have died of exhaustion, on the first of August, “About the Calends of August she died, on a Monday, on the Lugnasad of Lug”; She died literally, after clearing forests to create the plains of Ireland for agriculture; “Her heart burst in her body from the strain beneath her royal vest; not wholesome, truly, is a face like the coal, for the sake of woods or pride of timber.” Lugh established a harvest festival and funeral games, Áenach Tailteann, honouring her last wishes. “She told them in her sickness (feeble she was but not speechless) that they should hold funeral games to lament her - zealous the deed.” They were the forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.
Such was the regard that Lugh had for this woman, who suffered greatly in her endeavours to make Ireland a fertile and productive land; “Long was the sorrow, long the weariness of Tailtiu.” This was no ordinary woman and the men of Ireland flocked to her deathbed to hear of her last request “…in sickness after heavy toil; the men of the island of Erin to whom she was in bondage came to receive her last behest.” She told them that “so long as every prince should accept her, Erin should not be without perfect song.” She had prepared the way for the Tuatha De Dannan, sacrificing her life to the fertility of the land. She dies to give her people life.
These celebrations reputedly took place on a mound of Uisneach beneath which Tailtiu was interred. Uisneach is the spot in Ireland from which you can overlook all of the provinces and thus she ensures the fertility of the entire island. In her fosterage of Lugh she also oversaw the fertility of the next generation of Kings of Ireland.
Lughnasa is a time to ensure fertility of the land and of the people and is essentially about honouring the death of Tailtiu’s strength and her sacrifice to renew the land’s strength. It was forbidden, to ride through her fort without alighting; and “forbidden, when leaving it for a meal, to look at it over the left shoulder.” Lughnasa is a harvest festival that gives thanks for the bounty of the land and the wherewithal to gather it in.
One feature of the Taillten games is a 'Tailltian marriage'. In this rite, only performed at Lughnasdh, couples could embark on a marriage that lasted for a year and a day only. It ensured the fertility of the couple and if unconsummated the marriage was dissolved the following year and the couple parted without acrimony. Such ceremonies were often solemnized by the Bard.
The games lasted for two weeks and continued down to modern times. New laws were enacted and the bards presented their bardic offerings. There was a ceremonial cutting of the first sheafs of corn, berries and nuts were gathered in and there was feasting, dancing and merriment and bonfires. Echoes of these traditions continue at the Puck Fair in Kilorglin and the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna, both of which happen in August. We know that the Greeks came here to witness the festival and it is thought they inspired the Olympic Games. Legend tells us that St. Patrick visited Teltown during the festival and he received a warm welcome and performed his first public baptism there, recognised by royal edict, and hence in the ancient Irish Calendars, the fifth of April is assigned 'the beginning of the Baptism of Erin'.
Tailtiu’s descendants are responsible for the great Fomorian fort constructions on the Aran Islands, the Isle of Man, Inismurray and Tory Island. We must see her essence in the hills, mountains, plains and forests of Ireland. Tailtiu is of the earth and to the earth she returns. She implores us to enjoy the fruits of the earth but also to protect the earth for future generations.
Gwynn, E., trans., "Poem 33: Tailtiu," The Metrical Dindshenchas, http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T106500D/index.html Binchy, D.A.,
‘The Fair of Tailtiu and the Feast of Tara,’ Ériu 18 (1958) 113-138. Lebor Gabal Erenn.
The Book of Invasions Translated from the Book of Leinster. Edited by R.A.S. Macalister for The Irish Texts Society.
MacKillop, James (1998) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280120-1 pp.309-10, 395-6, 76, 20
Pagan Portals - Gods and Goddesses of Ireland: A Guide to Irish Deities – Kindel Edition
© Máire de Bhál August 4th 2019
Mythical Women - Her Story in History
Scáthach of Alba - We come to know her from the Ulster Cycle of Irish Mythology. Scáthach was the daughter of Árd Greimne of Lethra, the King of Scythia which encompassed parts of Eastern Europe and Asia. She had an equally famous sister called Aoife.
She was a Druidess and a Seer who lived on the island of Skye, Scotland. The annals record her as the teacher of warriors. Renowned as a fiercesome soldier, she ran a training centre for warriors, specialising in martial combat.
She is thought to have trained Cúchulainn and is the one who gave him his infamous spear known as the Gáe Bulg or Belly Spear and instructed him on how to use it. It is thought to have been a barbed harpoon like weapon and designed by her. She made this as a secret gift to him. It's first strike was always fatal.
She lived in a place known as Dún Scáith or the Fortress of the Shadows. It was impregnable fort and was guarded by a band of warrior women the most notable being her daughter Uathach. She taught her warriors how to fight under water and how to pole vault. Scáthach was said to only train warriors who were already skilled and brave enough to penetrate the many defences of her fortress and gain entry.
It is said that Cúchulainn used his infamous “salmon leap” to gain access to her stronghold. Having gained access Cúchulainn is said to have threatened her at sword point in order to gain a place in her much coveted training academy. He needed to become very skilled in order to woo Eimear. Scáthach granted him three wishes. The first was an agreement to instruct him properly, the second was to grant him her daughter's hand (without bride price) and the third was to tell his fortune.
Scáthach forsaw that Cúchulainn would die young in battle, having enjoyed a great and a glorious career. She granted her daughter Uathach to him but it is thought that she also became his lover. All being fair in love and war.
Cúchulainn defended Scáthach in battle, being her champion in her war with her sister Aoife. He also saved the lives of her two sons. He remained on her fort for 7 years and thanks to her instruction became the most famed warrior of Ireland.
Scáthach, the shadow one, is an otherworldly character. Her voice echoes through the generations as a fiercely independant and skilled warrior famed for skill and magic.
- Whitley Stokes, ‘The Training of Cúchulainn’, Revue Celtique, 29 (1908), 109–52;
- ^ P. L. Henry, Celtica, 21 (1990), 191–207.
- ^ Kuno Meyer (ed. & trans.), "The Death of Conla", Ériu 1, 1999 pp. 113-121
- Tochmarc Emire (Recension I), ed. Meyer, lines 16–36.
- Rolleston, T.W. (1986). Celtic Myths and Legends. London: Gresham. p. 192. ISBN 0-946495-84-X