Irish Queen Maeve and the Faery

by Diana Rankin


In the ancient times, there lived a great warrior queen, Maeve by name. It is said by some that she was a goddess before men made her a mere mortal. At least they gave her the title of queen. No one would have done less for it is said to be in her favor brings good fortune, but to be out of her favor . . . ah, that is unwise indeed. This I learned when I was foolish enough to think I could shortchange the queen.
                It was on a bright day in Ireland when I began my two-mile hike up Knocknarea Mountain in County Sligo where it is said Queen Maeve stands upright in her mountaintop cairn. This I can believe. This enormous memorial measures about 60 yards across and more than 30 feet tall, all created by stone upon stone upon stone, crafting one huge mound of stones with a peak at the center and stones sloping down the circular sides.
                Folklore says that when you visit this Iron-Age Queen, you take a stone to leave with her. This I did, but it was not a stone gathered with respect due this great queen. Rather it was a stone I picked up at the base of the mountain because I had not brought another with me. It was not out of lack of respect that I did not remember a stone, but out of lack of planning. I had no intention of hiking up the mountainside. My companions and I planned only to stop by the site to look at the mountain and the distant grave on top. But our curiosity got the best of us, and we wondered what that great mound we could see only from a distance was like up close. Neither of my friends were up to the hike, so I was the one tasked to make the climb for the purpose of taking photographs so all could see the great cairn of Queen Maeve. It was when I started up the mountain that I remembered I must take a stone to the queen, so I picked up one from the path, a path that was soon to fall away into a cow pasture and a rutted and rugged trail.
                The steep, uphill climb and craggy terrain exhausted me. More than once, I thought of turning back, but would Queen Maeve have turned back. Absolutely not, not this Queen of Connacht. In ancient legend, passed down from generation to generation, it is said that Maeve’s  father, the high king of Ireland, gave her the province of Connacht in the West of Ireland. To rule such a wild and inhospitable, but breathtakingly beautiful land took courage and fortitude indeed, both of which this queen had.  She also had a reputation for being a bit . . . shall we say competitive and always getting what she wanted.
                As the story goes, Queen Maeve and her husband King Ailill had an argument about who was the wealthier. They compared all their riches—coin to coin, cow to cow, jewel to jewel, land to land, slave to slave, castle to castle and so on until it came to one last animal—a bull, a magical bull at that. It seems that the king had a bull that Queen Maeve could not match. What’s a queen to do, especially a queen like this one?
                She sent out searchers to all of Ireland to find a bull, one better than that of the king’s. She was soon to learn of such a bull in Ulster, but the bull was not for sale or even for loan to the great queen. But Queen Maeve wanted the bull, and this was a queen that mere mortal men did not deny. So the queen went to war with Ulster to win the bull. Now this lady did not go to war on the back of a horse in the traditional way of a Celtic warrior queen. This queen did not want to soil her royal white robes or their gold trimming. No horseback riding for Queen Maeve when she went into battle. Instead, she rode in an open car with four chariots around her—one before her, one behind her, and one on each side.
                It is said she captured the Ulster  bull and took him back to Connacht. But two bulls in the same land will never do, and this was no exception. The Ulster bull fought the king’s bull and killed it before finding his way back to Ulster. And once again Queen Maeve and her husband the king were equal in all their riches.
                As you have come to learn, Queen Maeve was not a queen to be taken lightly, which I did not do. Yet, I foolishly believed the stone I brought from the base of the mountain would satisfy her. Little did I know as I continued to put one foot in front of the other, over and over, huffing and puffing up the side of the mountain that I had something much more valuable that this queen would seize from me. A treasured stone I had not brought to her, and a treasure is what she demanded.
                Many years before, in one of the first workshops I gave on my sacred land, one of the participants traveled from Arizona to Ohio to attend. It was she who gave me a faery with a sparkling jeweled skirt. This lovely faery floated around my neck on a silver chain for many a year. She was a favorite of mine, and I cherished her. The wise ones of old warn us that the gods and goddesses often become jealous of our deepest loves. The same could be said of Queen Maeve for when I returned to the base of the mountain and began to shed my coat I found only the chain around my neck, but broken in two and without the faery anywhere.
                Queen Maeve had claimed my faery. Favorite faery though it was of mine, I had to let her go and petition Queen Maeve to treat her kindly as a favorite and beloved faery who once lived with me.  I like to believe the faery had a choice in this, that she was not taken from my neck without her will, but instead that she flew away to serve the great Queen Maeve, goddess that she is.
©Diana Rankin 2012










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