LIFE ON THE FRINGE - 10: The stuff of bad dreams - Ailill, Amhairghin, Aoife and More

The far north, a powerhouse of legend

Ulster coastline, tough, uncompromising - like its mythology
Ulster coastline, tough, uncompromising - like its mythology | Source
Ireland of the early kingdoms
Ireland of the early kingdoms | Source

Ailill Mac Mata, Amhairghin, Aobh and Aoife

AILILL was husband to Medb, queen of Connacht in the western kingdom.

She was seen to be the stronger of the partnership. Ailill's ownership of Flimbhennach, the white-horned bull of Connacht, made his wife insanely jealous even though the bull had been born into her herd. To make up for her supposed loss of face she sought to gain ownership of Donn Cuailgne, the gigantic brown bull of Ulster. This was the beginning of the Tain Bo Cuailgne;

AMHAIRGHIN or AMAIRGEN (and divers other versions of his name abound) was a warrior and Fili, said to be a son of Mil and a member of the expedition of the sons of Mil Espaine that overran Ireland. Being a Fili, he was seen to have good reasoning powers and was asked by those who were then the occupiers of Ireland - the Tuatha de Danann - to mediate in an argument. The disagreement was between them and the sons of Mil Espaine about whom the rulers of the land should be. Amhairghin put forward that the attackers should put out to sea again, to beyond the ninth wave, a magical boundary, and begin their invasion anew. The Tuatha made to hold back the sons of Mil Espaine from landing once more but Amhairghin got the wind to drop and the sons of Mil Espaine were able to land again.

Having been beaten in battle the Tuatha were allocated the Underworld as their kingdom. The sons of Mil Estaine were then given their share of the surface territory. Another dilemma was presented to Amhairghin now, to decide in a dispute between Eber Finn and Eremon as to which should rule Ireland. He offered that Eremon rule first and Eber Finn should assume command on his death. Eber Finn was against this and ireland was split in twain. Eremon would rule the north and Eber Finn the south.

This state of affairs did not last and war broke out, Eber Finn was killed and Eremon became sile ruler over the whole island. Amhairghin as a Fili was also accredited with the composition of a number of poems;

AOBH was the daughter of Bodb Dearg and wife of Lir. She bore him four offspring and on her death Lir wedded her sister;

AOIFE (1) was Lir's second wife, madly jealous of her husband's affection for the children of his first marriage and turned them into swans, to keep that shape for the duration of nine hundred years. It is said her father and the children's grandfather Bodb were so angry with her for this act she was turned into a raven - a bird linked in Celtic belief to be linked with defeat, death and doom.

Another myth points to her being turned into a crane that was then slain by Manannan mac Lir, her skin used to make a bag to carry his valuables;

The children of Lir - turned into swans by Aoife for the duration of nine hundred years
The children of Lir - turned into swans by Aoife for the duration of nine hundred years | Source
Tumbling waters in the Irish hills
Tumbling waters in the Irish hills | Source
Beann Ghulban, the earless and tailless boar faces Diarmaid na Duibhne on the hunt (from a traditional carving)
Beann Ghulban, the earless and tailless boar faces Diarmaid na Duibhne on the hunt (from a traditional carving) | Source

A supporting cast...

AEDA was a dwarf, an entertainer at the court of Fergus mac Leda.

Taken by the Fili, Eisirt, to the court of Iubdan - king of the tiny Falinn folk - he was shown off as proof to his underlings of the existence of a race of giants;

BEAN SIDHE was a female fairy or spirit that would attach itself to a certain kindred. Known in English as 'Banshee', she would start up an eerie wail when one of the kindred was about to die;

BUDB DEARG is mentioned in some sources as the son of Daghda, and to have followed him as father of the gods. In one telling he was father of Aobh, but others point out that she was his foster daughter. He identified the Dream Woman of Oenghus as Caer and took him to her. In alternate years she was a swan. Oenghus became a swan and flew away with her;

BEBO was the wife of Iubdan and therefore queen of Faylinn (see above, Aeda). She visited Ulster with her husband to what the small folk of Faylinn was a race of giants. Iubdan had been put under a 'geis' or bond by Eisirt to go there and on reaching Ulster they were held captive;

BEANN GHULBARN was a giant boar without ears or tail, that had been born a human child to the wife of Donn, was named after the region he roamed and put under a geis by his father Roc to kill Diarmaid na Duibhne. The deed was done when Diarmaid was out hunting with Fionn;

BITH was a son of Noah and father of Cesair. Together with Finlan and Ladra he was one of the three engaged in her attack on Ireland

Gaelic legend

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Aoife or Aife ,Badb and Balor of the Evil Eye

Another legendary woman of Gaelic legend by the same name was a rival of Scatach, who taught Cuchulainn his war skills.

Whilst learning with Scatach, Cuchulainn beat Aoife in mock battle. He later had a fling with her that brought them both a son they named Connlai (see he tale of Cuchulainn;

BADB was an Irish war goddess, shown both as a goddess in her own right and as one part of a trip - the other two being Nemain and Macha. Badb is shown in art form as a raven or hooded crow and her name means 'rage' or 'warlike'. Like the Valkyries in Norse myth, the war goddesses could instill fear into the hearts of whole armies because - even if they did not take part in front line action - they all had to be there.

Badb was thought able to change the course of a battle and choose those who would die there, much like the Norse goddess Freyja. Before battle she could be found beside a stream, washing the armour and weapons of those nobles or warriors she had chosen to die;

BALOR of the EVIL EYE was king of the Fomorii, a giant and ogre with only one eye and greatly feared. It was said the eyelid over his one eye was so great and heavy it had to be levered open by a number of men. When open the eye was so destructive it could kill anyone - whole armies even - he cared to look upon.

As foreseen Balor would be killed by his grandson, he made sure no man would come near his daughter Ethlinn, who was kept locked away in the Glass Tower on Tory Island or perhaps a cave. Cian, sided by a friend - a female druid - managed to gain access to Ethlinn and seduced her.

The tale varies about whether she had one or more children by him. The myth that involves triplets says that Balor threw them into the sea, only one surviving. Either way, Ethlinn's surviving son by Cian fulfilled the prophecy. The child was Lugh, who put out Balor's eye using slingshot. He drove the stone through the back of his grandfather's head, killing a number of the Fomorii with the same stone that carried on on its course out from the back of Balor's skull. Balor's corpse was then hung on a sacred hazel tree, where it dripped poison and fell apart in two halves after a time

Next - 11: Boann, the two Brans, Bres, Bricriu and supporting cast,

Terrifying Balor was himself terrified of dying at the hands of a grandson

Balor on the rampage - few could or would stand against him. Only one would bring him down
Balor on the rampage - few could or would stand against him. Only one would bring him down | Source

Here we are, halfway through the series and a lot of ground to cover yet. Enjoying it? Before you leave this page, here's a book you won't want to put down, 'Celtic Myths and Legends' covers a lot of ground - let's not forget, they occupied a large part of Europe even after the Western Roman Empire was seen off by various Barbarian tribes, and still do. These days they've sort of 'fused' with other sections of society and are harder to tell apart.

Celtic Myths and Legends

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