QUEEN MEDB

Most notably Queen Medb was the warrior queen of Connacht, the western province of Ireland.  It is said that her father was king of Connacht before becoming High King of Ireland and she became ruler of Connacht after him.  She had five recognized husbands, and ruled for over 60 years.  She was also said to be the reason her husbands became kings, that to be the ruler of Connacht they had to be 'married to Medb' as in married to the land. The first mention of Medb is in the Cave of Cruachan, Oweynagat, in the form of an Ogham inscription on the lintel stone placed in the cave during the 4th or 5th century AD. She appears in much of the literature of early Ireland, and our most famous epic literary tale, the Táin Bó Cuilnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) revolves around her, despite being known as the Ulster Cycle.

How do you spell her name?

Medb (Old Irish spelling) – Middle Irish: Meḋḃ, Meaḋḃ; early modern Irish: Meadhbh; reformed modern Irish Méabh, Medbh;  Anglicised as Maeve, (All pronounced May-v).

Historically, she would have lived sometime around the years 50BC - 50AD, if she existed as a real flesh and blood queen.  And that is the question - was she real?  

An historical queen, or a sovereignty goddess?  A harridan or a good queen?  These are some of the riddles of Queen Medb.

Parents

Eochaid Feidleach, Father, High King of Ireland at Tara

Crochen Crobh-Derg, Mother, Handmaid to Etain



Queen Maeve





Children

Maine Athramail
Maine Máthramail
Maine Andoe
Maine Taí
Maine Mórgor
Maine Mílscothach
Maine Móepirt
Findabair
 

Eh... why were all her sons called Maine?

Well, they weren't, not originally, but Medb and Ailill did end up with seven sons, all called Maine. Back when they all had other names, Medb asked a druid which of her sons would kill Conchobar (king of Ulster), and he replied, "Maine".  A little bit concerned that she didn't have a son called Maine, she decided to rename 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")
  • 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.  

Medb and Ailill also had a daughter, Findabair.  She got to keep her own name, but was offered around as a prize during the Táin - Medb was bribing Connacht warriors with marriage to the fine Findabair if they'd go against the Ulster hero CúChulainn in single combat.

Maeve and her Lovers

Ok, well, how long have you got?  Yes, there were a serious amount of men who were getting it on with the Queen.  She was a woman of large appetites.

There's a whole Irish text devoted to this very topic, called 'Medb's man-share' (Ferchuitred Medba). The text was also called 'Medb's husband allowance', 'Medb's men', or Cath Boinde (the Battle of the Boyne), it comes from a manuscript called the Yellow Book of Lecan, originally.

In her later years, Maeve often went to bathe in a pool on Inchcleraun (Inis Cloithreann), an island on Lough Ree, near Knockcroghery in County Roscommon.  Furbaide, who's mother she had killed, sought revenge, and set about planning her demise.  He was quite dedicated about it.  But we suppose it's the type of thing that you'd really want to get right.

First, he took a rope and measured the distance between the pool and the shore, and practiced with his sling until he could hit an apple on top of a stake Maeve'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.  Yes cheese.  Queen Maeve was killed by cheese.  Her son, Maine Athramail (he who was originally Cairbre, and most 'like his mother', ascended to the throne of Connacht in her place.  

Medb is buried in Sligo, right?

Well, not exactly.  Maybe.  'Maeve's Cairn' in Co. Sligo, is the best known burial site of Queen Maeve, but it is one of three possible sites.  According to some legends, she is indeed buried in the 40ft (12m) high stone cairn on the summit of Knocknarea (Cnoc na Rí in Irish, Hill of the King/Queen) in County Sligo.  The story goes that she is buried upright, facing her enemies in Ulster.  

In Bronze or Iron Age burials though, it would be common enough to hack an important dead person apart and bury bits of them along different boundaries, for protection and guardianship.  Another story goes that she is buried in the hill of Knockma (Cnoc Medb in Irish, Hill of Maeve), near Belclare in Co. Galway, which is also where Fionnbharr, King of the Connacht Sidhe, holds court.  The Fairy connection is an interesting one, and maybe related to her later associations with Mab, the Fairy Queen?  The boundary theory holds here too though, as the views from the top of Knockma are spectacular.  Very convenient for a guardianship position, we'd say.

Her home in Rathcroghan, County Roscommon is the third, and most likely burial site, with a long low slab named Misgaun Medb being given as the probable location.  In the 'she got chopped up in bitty bits and buried' theory, this is where her soul (most likely to be contained in her head, according to thinking of the time) would be.  Or possibly her heart.  Whatever was deemed the most important part would have stayed at home, with other bits spreading out at lesser sites along the boundaries.