The Info List - Medb

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(pronounced [mɛðv])—later forms Meadhbh ([mɛɣv]) and Méabh ([mʲeːv])—is queen of Connacht
in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. Her husband in the core stories of the cycle is Ailill mac Máta, although she had several husbands before him who were also kings of Connacht. She rules from Cruachan (now Rathcroghan, County Roscommon). She is the enemy (and former wife) of Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster, and is best known for starting the Táin Bó Cúailnge ("The Cattle Raid of Cooley") to steal Ulster's prize stud bull. Medb is strong-willed, ambitious, cunning and promiscuous, and is an archetypal warrior queen.[1] She is believed to be a manifestation of the sovereignty goddess.[2][3][4] Medb
of Connacht
is probably identical with Medb
Lethderg, the sovereignty goddess of Tara, and may also be linked with the Morrígan.[3]


1 Name 2 Marriages and rise to power 3 Medb's children 4 Cattle Raid of Cooley 5 Later years 6 Death 7 Interpretations 8 See also 9 References 10 External links

Name[edit] In Old Irish and Middle Irish her name is Medb
(pronounced [mɛðv]), in early modern Irish Meadhbh or Meaḋḃ (pronounced [mɛɣv]), and in modern Irish Méabh (pronounced [mʲeːv]). This is generally believed to come from the Proto-Celtic *medu- ("mead") or *medua ("intoxicating"), and the meaning of her name has thus been interpreted as "mead-woman" or "she who intoxicates".[5] This is thought to reflect her role as sovereignty goddess. In ancient and medieval Ireland, the drinking of mead was a key part of a king's inauguration ceremony. In myth, a supernatural woman representing the sovereignty of the land chooses a king by offering him an alcoholic drink, thus bestowing sovereignty upon him.[6] However, it is also suggested that the name comes from Proto-Celtic *medwa ("the ruler").[5] The name has been Anglicised as Maeve, Maev, Mave or Maiv (pronounced /meɪv/). There are several place names in Ireland containing the name Medb. According to Kay Muhr of the Ulster Place-Name Society, some of these names suggest Medb
was also an earth and fertility goddess. They include Ballypitmave (Baile Phite Méabha, "townland of Medb's vulva") in County Antrim
County Antrim
and Sawel Pitmave (Samhail Phite Méabha, "likeness to Medb's vulva")[5] in County Tyrone, both in northern Ulster. Other placenames include Maeve's Cairn
in County Sligo, Barnavave (Bearna Mhéabha, "Medb's gap")[7] in County Louth, Boveva (Boith Mhéabha, "Medb's huts")[8] in County Londonderry, Knockmaa (Cnoc Meá, "Medb's hill") in County Galway, Meskanmave (Meascán Mhéabha, "Medb's lump")[9] in County Donegal, Milleen Meva (Millín Mhéabha, "Medb's knoll")[10] at Rathcroghan
in County Roscommon, and Rath Meave
Rath Meave
at Tara in County Meath. Marriages and rise to power[edit] How Medb
came to power in Connacht
and married Ailill is told in the tale Cath Bóinde ("The Battle of the Boyne"), also known as Ferchuitred Medba ("Medb's man-share").[11] Her father, Eochaid Feidlech, the High King of Ireland, married her to Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster, because he had killed Conchobar's purported father, the former High King Fachtna Fáthach, in battle. She bore him a son, Glaisne, but the marriage was a bad one and she left him. Eochaid gave Conchobar another of his daughters, Eithne (or Clothru),[12] but Medb
murdered her while she was pregnant; her son Furbaide
was born by posthumous caesarian section. Eochaid deposed the then-king of Connacht, Tinni mac Conri, and installed Medb
in his place. However, Tinni regained a share of the throne when he and Medb
later became lovers. Conchobar raped Medb after an assembly at Tara, and war ensued between the High King and Ulster. Tinni challenged Conchobar to single combat, and lost. Eochaid Dála of the Fir Domnann, who had been Tinni's rival for the kingship, protected the Connacht
army as it retreated, and became Medb's next husband and king of Connacht. Medb
demanded her husband satisfy her three criteria—that he be without fear, meanness, or jealousy. The last was particularly important, as she had many lovers. While married to Eochaid Dála, she took Ailill mac Máta, chief of her bodyguard, as her lover. Eochaid discovered the affair, challenged Ailill to single combat, and lost. Ailill then married Medb
and became king of Connacht. Medb's children[edit]

'Queen Meave and the Druid', from Eleanor Hull's The Boys' Cuchulainn (1904)

and Ailill had seven sons, all called Maine. They originally all had other names, but when Medb
asked a druid which of her sons would kill Conchobar, he replied, "Maine". She did not have a son called Maine, so she renamed all her sons as follows:

Fedlimid became Maine Athramail ("like his father") Cairbre became Maine Máthramail ("like his mother") Eochaid became Maine Andoe ("the swift") and was also known as Cich-Maine Andoe or Cichmuine[13] Fergus became Maine Taí ("the silent") Cet became Maine Mórgor ("of great duty") Sin became Maine Mílscothach ("honey-speech") Dáire became Maine Móepirt ("beyond description")

The prophecy was fulfilled when Maine Andoe went on to kill Conchobar, son of Arthur, son of Bruide — not Conchobar, son of Fachtna Fathach, as Medb
had assumed the druid meant.[11] Medb
and Ailill also had a daughter, Findabair.[14] Cattle Raid of Cooley[edit] Main article: Táin Bó Cúailnge Medb
insisted that she be equal in wealth with her husband, and started the Cattle Raid of Cooley when she discovered that Ailill was one powerful stud bull richer than her. She discovered that the only rival to Ailill's bull, Finnbennach, was Donn Cúailnge, owned by Dáire mac Fiachna, a vassal of Conchobar's. She sent messengers to Dáire, offering wealth, land and sexual favours in return for the loan of the bull, and Dáire initially agreed. But when a drunken messenger declared that, if he had not agreed, the bull would have been taken by force, Dáire withdrew his consent, and Medb
prepared for war. An army was raised including contingents from all over Ireland. One was a group of Ulster exiles led by Conchobar's estranged son Cormac Cond Longas and his foster-father Fergus mac Róich, former king of Ulster and one of Medb's lovers. It is reported that it took seven men to satisfy her, or Fergus once.[15] Medb's relationship with Fergus is alluded to in the early poem Conailla Medb
míchuru (" Medb
has entered evil contracts") by Luccreth moccu Chiara (c. 600); it asserts that Medb
wrongly seduced Fergus into turning against Ulster "because he preferred the buttocks of a woman to his own people".[16] Because of a divine curse on the Ulstermen, the invasion was opposed only by the teenage Ulster hero Cúchulainn, who held up the army's advance by demanding single combat at fords. Medb
and Ailill offered their daughter Findabair in marriage to a series of heroes as payment for fighting Cúchulainn, but all were defeated. Nevertheless, Medb secured the bull. However, after a final battle against Conchobar's assembled army, she was forced to retreat. Donn Cúailnge was brought back to Cruachan, where it fought Ailill's bull, Finnbennach, killing him, but dying of his wounds. Also, throughout the Táin Bó Cúailnge
Táin Bó Cúailnge
has several encounters with Cúchulainn
in which he kills either her pets or handmaidens and the place in which they were killed is then named after them, which illustrates the importance of landscape throughout the text of the Táin Bó Cúailnge. Examples of this occur when Cúchulainn
"slung a stone and killed a pet stoat as it sat on Medb's shoulder by her neck, south of the ford. Hence the name Meithe Togmaill, Stoat Neck"[17] and when he kills Medb’s handmaid: “He slung a stone at her from the heights of Cuincu and killed her on the flat place that bears her name, Reid Locha, Locha’s Level, in Cualinge” [17] Medb’s behaviour further illustrates the importance of the landscape when she goes to great lengths to permanently alter it to show her contempt for Ulster. “”She preferred to cross the mountain by leaving a track that would show forever her contempt for Ulster… to make the Pass of the Cualinge Cattle.” [18] Later years[edit] Out of jealousy for his affair with Medb, Ailill had Fergus killed.[19] In his old age, after Conchobar's death, the Ulster hero Conall Cernach came to stay with Ailill and Medb, as they were the only household capable of supporting him. Medb
tasked him to keep an eye on Ailill, who was seeing other women. Finding Ailill in flagrante, she ordered Conall to kill him, which he was happy to do in revenge for Fergus. However, the dying Ailill sent his men after him, and he was killed while trying to escape.[15] Death[edit]

'Medb's cairn' at Knocknarea

In her later years she often went to bathe in a pool on Inchcleraun (Inis Cloithreann), an island on Lough Ree, near Knockcroghery. Furbaide
sought revenge for the death of his mother. He took a rope and measured the distance between the pool and the shore, and practised with his sling until he could hit an apple on top of a stake Medb's height from that distance. The next time he saw Medb
bathing he put his practice to good use and killed her with a piece of cheese. She was succeeded to the throne of Connacht
by her son Maine Athramail.[12] According to legend, Medb
is buried in a 40-foot (12 m) high stone cairn on the summit of Knocknarea
(Cnoc na Ré in Irish) in County Sligo. Supposedly, she is buried upright facing her enemies in Ulster. Her home in Rathcroghan, County Roscommon
County Roscommon
is also a potential burial site, with a long low slab named 'Misgaun Medb' being given as the most likely location.

Interpretations[edit] Historians suggest that she was probably originally a "sovereignty goddess", whom a king would ritually marry as part of his inauguration.[20] Medb
Lethderg, who performs a similar function in Tara, is probably identical with or the inspiration for this Medb.[21][22] Her name is said to mean 'she who intoxicates', and is cognate with the English word 'mead'; it is likely that the sacred marriage ceremony between the king and the goddess would involve a shared drink. Medb's "pillow talk" argument with her consort contains suggestions of matrilineality, as does Ailill's taking his name from his mother Máta Muirisc.[23] Recently, Irish and Irish-American poets have explored Medb
as an image of woman's power, including sexuality, as in "Labhrann Medb" (" Medb
Speaks") by Irish-language poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill[24] and "Intoxication" by Irish-American poet Patricia Monaghan.[25] The name "Connacht" is an apparent anachronism: the stories of the Ulster Cycle are traditionally set around the time of Christ, but the Connachta, after whom the province is named, were said to have been the descendants of Conn Cétchathach, who is supposed to have lived several centuries later. Later stories use the name Cóiced Ol nEchmacht as an earlier name for the province of Connacht
to get around this problem. But the chronology of early Irish historical tradition is an artificial attempt by Christian monks to synchronise native traditions with classical and biblical history, and it is possible that the cycle has been chronologically misplaced.[26] See also[edit]

Maeve (Irish name) Irish mythology
Irish mythology
in popular culture


^ Fraser, Antonia (1990). The Warrior Queens. Canada Ltd, 20801 John Street, Markham, Ontario L3R 1B4: Penguin Books: Penguin books. pp. 15, 16, 17. ISBN 0 1400 8517 3.  ^ Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend & Romance: An encyclopaedia of the Irish folk tradition. Prentice Hall Press, 1991. pp.294-295 ^ a b Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Infobase Publishing, 2004. p.319 ^ Koch, John T. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2006. p.1282 ^ a b c Irslinger, Britta. " Medb
'the intoxicating one'? (Re-)constructing the past through etymology". Ulidia 4: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on the Ulster Cycle of Tales, 2013. ^ Monaghan, Patricia. Goddesses in World Culture. ABC-CLIO, 2011. pp.226-227 ^ Bearna Mhéabha/Barnavave. Placenames Database of Ireland. ^ Bovevagh. Place Names NI. ^ Meascán Mhéabha. Placenames Database of Ireland. ^ Millín Mhéabha/Milleen Meva. Placenames Database of Ireland. ^ a b "Cath Bóinde", tr. Joseph O'Neill, Ériu 2 (1905) 173–185. [1] ^ a b Vernam Hull, "Aided Meidbe: The Violent Death of Medb", Speculum vol. 13 issue 1, Jan 1938, pp. 52–61 ^ "Revue celtique".  ^ A. H. Leahy (ed. & trans.), "Tain Bo Fraech", Heroic Romances of Ireland vol. II, 1906. ^ a b Kuno Meyer, "The Cherishing of Conall Cernach and the Deaths of Ailill and of Conall Cernach", Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie vol. 1, 1897, pp. 102–111 ^ Tristram, Hildegard L. C. (1 January 1998). "Neue Methoden Der Epenforschung". Gunter Narr Verlag – via Google Books.  ^ a b Carson, Ciaran. "Guerilla Tactics." The Tain. New York: Penguin Group, 2007. 56–58. Print. ^ Carson, Ciaran. "Guerilla Tactics." The Tain. New York: Penguin Group, 2007. 59–60. Print. ^ Kuno Meyer, "The Death of Fergus mac Róich", The Death-Tales of the Ulster Heroes. ^ Dexter, Miriam Robbins. "Indo-European Reflections of Virginity and Autonomy." Mankind Quarterly, 26 (1–2): 57–74 (Fall/Winter 1985) ^ Byrne, Francis John, Irish Kings and High-Kings. Four Courts Press, Dublin. 2nd edition, 2001 ^ T. F. O'Rahilly: Early Irish History and Mythology, Dublin 1946 – cited in Thomas Kinsella: THE TAIN Dolmen Press, Dublin 1969/1986 ISBN 0-85105-178-2 ^ Dexter, Miriam Robbins. "The Brown Bull of Cooley and Matriliny in Celtic Ireland" in From the Realm of the Ancestors: Essays in Honor of Marija Gimbutas: 218–236. Joan Marler, ed. Manchester, Connecticut: Knowledge Ideas and Trends, 1997. ^ Ní Dhomhnaill, Nuala, "Rogha Dánta/Selected Poems", Raven Arts Press, 1988 ^ Monaghan, Patricia, "The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog," New World Library, 2003, p. 75-106 ^ Francis J. Byrne, Irish Kings and High Kings, Four Courts Press, 2001, p. 50.

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Medb.

Ghosts between the Pages: The Devolution of Medb
from Sovereignty Goddess
to Comic Book Villainess and the Potential Dangers of the Transcription of Oral Tales Medb's Men, or the Battle of the Boyne Carn Furbaide
from the Metrical Dindshenchas Vol 4 Bricriu's Feast The Dream of Óengus The Cattle Raid of Fráech The Cattle Raid of Regamon The Raid for Dartaid's Cattle The Driving of Flidais's Cattle The Adventures of Nera The Cattle Raid of Cooley, recension 1 The Cattle Raid of Cooley, recension 2 The Death of Fergus mac Róich The Death of Cú Chulainn The Violent Death of Medb

v t e

Irish mythology: the Ulster Cycle


Conchobar mac Nessa Amergin mac Eccit Athirne Blaí Briugu Bricriu Cathbad Celtchar Cethern mac Fintain Conall Cernach Cruinniuc Cú Chulainn Cúscraid Deichtine Deirdre Fedelm Fedlimid Findchóem Furbaide Láeg Leabharcham Lóegaire Búadach Mugain Neas Naoise Sencha Súaltam

Ulster exiles

Cormac Cond Longas Dubthach Dóeltenga Fergus mac Roích


Medb Ailill Finn Ailill mac Máta Bélchú Cet mac Mágach Etarcomol Ferdiad Findabair Flidais Fráech Mac Cécht Nera


Cú Roí Conganchnes mac Dedad Lugaid mac Con Roí


Achall Aífe Bláthnat Conaire Mór Cairbre Nia Fer Connla Dáire mac Fiachna Emer Éogan mac Durthacht Erc mac Cairpri Fedelm Fir Fálgae Forgall Monach Garb mac Stairn Lugaid Riab nDerg Mesgegra Nechtan Scéne Scáthach Uathach

Supernatural figures

Aengus Bébinn Boann Dáire Étaín Fand Flidais Lí Ban Lug Macha Manannán mac Lir Midir Morrígan Nemain


Donn Cuailnge and Finnbhennach Liath Macha
and Dub Sainglend


Caladbolg Fragarach Gáe Bulg Lúin of Celtchar


Brú na Bóinne Cruachan Cuailghe Dealga Dún Flidhais Eamhain Mhacha Magh Meall Teamhair


Aided Óenfhir Aífe Compert Con Culainn Fled Bricrenn Mac Da Thó's Pig Mesca Ulad Scéla Conchobair Serglige Con Culainn Táin Bó Cúailnge Táin Bó Flidhais Tochmarc Emire Tochmarc Étaíne Togail Bruidne Dá Derga

part of a series on Celtic mythology

v t e


Kindreds and septs


Uí Briúin

Don O'Conor
Roe O'Conor
Sligo Murtagh O'Conor MacGeraghty O'Finaghty (Finnerty) O'Concannon MacTeige MacBrannan (Brennan) O'Flanagan MacDermot MacDonagh MacManus MacDockery O'Beirne O'Flaherty O'Rourke O'Reilly McGovern McKiernan O'Sheridan

Uí Fiachrach

MacClellan O'Heyne O'Cleary O'Shaughnessy O'Cahill MacKilkelly O'Dowd MacFirbis O'Cann O'Coyne O'Carney O'Towey (Tuffy) O'Gaughan O'Murray

Northern Uí Néill

Cenél Conaill

O'Donnell O'Doherty O'Gallagher Dunkeld MacDevitt (MacDaid) O'Boyle O'Cannon O'Muldorey O'Strain MacMenamin

Cenél nEógain

O'Neill MacLaughlin MacNeil Maclachlan Lamont MacEwen MacSweeney MacShane
(Johnson) MacCaul O'Cahan O'Devlin O'Daly O'Gillan O'Kieran O'Donnelly O'Gormley O'Brallaghan (Bradley) Hamill

Southern Uí Néill

Clann Cholmáin
Clann Cholmáin
& Síl nÁedo Sláine

O'Melaghlin O'Molloy MacGeoghegan O'Higgin MacCary MacAuley

Clan Colla

McCarroll MacMahon McArdle Maguire MacManus McCaffrey MacDonald MacRory Darroch MacDonnell O'Mulrooney O'Monaghan O'Creehan O'Leighnin O'Heany O'Boylan O'Hanratty O'Hanlon O'Rogan O'Garvey O'Keelaghan (Callaghan) MacCann O'Curry O'Hennessy

Uí Maine

O'Kelly O'Donnellan O'Madden O'Downey O'Cleary O'Concannon O'Duigenan O'Naughton O'Mullally MacEgan O'Kearney O'Mulconry


Óengus Tuirmech Temrach Énna Aignech Eochu Feidlech Eochu Airem Medb Findemna Clothru Lugaid Riab nDerg Crimthann Nia Náir Feradach Finnfechtnach Fíachu Finnolach Túathal Techtmar Fedlimid Rechtmar Conn of the Hundred Battles Art mac Cuinn Cormac mac Airt Gráinne Cairbre Lifechair Fíacha Sroiptine Muiredach Tirech Colla Uais Eochaid Mugmedon Niall of the Nine Hostages Columba of Iona Crínán of Dunkeld Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair Brian Ua Néill


Finn and Gráinne The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne An sluagh sidhe so i nEamhuin?


Rathcroghan Hill of Tara Donegal Castle Mongavlin Castle Tullyhogue Fort Clonalis House


Creadran Cille Knockavoe Glentaisie Clannabuidhe Kinsale

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