Heroes, Kings & Warrior Queens

Post 25

History & Myth Collection 


Welcome to the second instalment of the History & Myth Series in which I hope to explore some of the vast regions of Irish mythology and history while entertaining you with stories of warriors, kings, queens and mythical creatures from a mysterious and ancient land that sits off the North Western edge of Europe. Ireland is a country steeped in myth and legends, and too often, the lines between the realms of the spiritual and the world of the living converge. The very nature of the climate adds to the mysteriousness of the country influenced heavily by the Atlantic air system often hiding parts of the country in heavy fog and mist as if Manannán mac Lir, the Sea God himself was using his magic to hide Ireland under his spell of invisibility. 

Irish Mythology is complex with a vast amount of literature that by its contradictory nature only adds to the confusion providing a difficult task in researching. Irish myth is unusual in comparison to other myths as it has no creation myth - things just were and Ireland always existed, shaped over time by different invaders. 

This book will focus on the final three cycles of early Irish literature, namely, Ulster, Fenian and Historical Cycles. The material is abundant deriving from many ancient Irish texts, sagas and manuscripts that I will explore further along with their writers in the next book, The Irish Celtic Church. 

The Ulster Cycle, or the Red Branch Cycle, is set around the time of Christ, during or before the 1st century A.D. The stories are set in the provinces of Ulster and Connaught, focusing on King Conchobar mac Nessa of Ulster, Queen Maeve of Connaught, Cú Chulainn, and Emain Macha, the Royal Court of Ulster. The Fenian Cycle follows around the 3rd century, set in the provinces of Munster and Leinster, based on the Fianna warriors led by Fionn mac Cumhaill. The Historical Cycle, or the Cycles of the Kings, is the final cycle that overlaps the Ulster and Fenian cycle covering the period 431 B.C. to the 12th century, exploring the kings of Ireland, ending with King Brian Ború, High King of Ireland. The gods from the mythological cycle appear throughout these cycles interacting with the different figures. 

The characters I have chosen to write about for this book are colourful, resourceful, vibrant and skilled strategists pulled from each of the three cycles. It can be argued that Grace O’Malley, the warrior pirate queen of the 16th century, existed much later, thus should not be included in the Historical Cycle. However, I believe she is suitable to have included here as a well known Irish historical figure. Furthermore, the O’Malley clan features in the historical cycle prior to the 10th century. 

The selected characters’ stories are entertaining with exciting tales of battle and glory. For me, they hold an interest especially due to the legacy they have given us today whether through art, media, literature, place names or through the ancient monuments embedded in our landscape that forever claim their names. 

These are: 

· Brian Ború: the greatest High King Ireland has seen who achieved success in creating a unitary state while reducing the Viking power, even if this was short lived. 

· Queen Maeve: the legendary Queen of Connaught who waged war against her enemies in the north and a woman who embodies the power of women, sexuality and carnal desire. 

· Queen Macha: the first and only High Queen of Ireland takes the throne before the time of the pre-Christian kings and creates the first Royal Capital in Ulster. 

· Grace O’Malley: the great seafaring warrior queen who commanded the seas around Ireland and beyond and who befriended Queen Elizabeth I of England. 

· Fionn mac Cumhaill: the legendary Fenian warrior. 

· Cú Chulainn: the legendary Ulster hero who gallantly defended Ulster from its enemies while making an enemy of the Goddess Morrígan. 

For more information on Ireland’s Ancient Gods, check out the History & Myth Collection on the Ben Kesp Website

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