Medb of Cruachán - Warrior, Queen, Priestess, Judge of Heroes.
The Táin Bó Cúailnge or Cattle Raid of Cooley is one of Ireland's most famous epic sagas. Forming a core element of the Ulster Cycle of Ireland's ancient lore, it plays out one of the most interesting and engaging conflicts between provinces, Otherworldly powers, and rival rulers.
Here we find Medb of Cruachán, a woman of power, intellect, and will.
Medb was queen over Ireland's western province Connacht, ruling with wisdom and passion from her seat of power at Cruachán (Rathcroghan). Such was her wisdom that heroes would come from all over Ireland to be judged by her in feats of skill and valour.
In fact when King Conchobar of Ulster found himself with three such heroes, Conall Cernach, Lóegaire Búadach and the infamous Cú Chulainn, near coming to blows over who deserved the hero's portion of the feast, he thought to shift his violently explosive problem on to Medb. Such was her skill with words and the ways of the Otherworld, she was able to fulfill her judgement, that Cú Chulainn was the greater hero, whilst still turning the problem back upon Conchobar.
Medb's name is synonymous with the word mead, an alcoholic beverage made from the ferment of honey. Indeed one of the translations of Medb is 'she who intoxicates'. As an equal ruler of Connacht she was free to take as many lovers as she chose. Such were her appetites, it was said that she would take seven lovers in one night. That, or one Fergus Mac Róich - another notable Ulster hero of great renown, stature, vigor, and stamina.
When her right to equal rule was challenged over a matter of wealth concerning her prize white bull, which had left her herds to join those of her husband's, she engaged in very generous negotiations to secure a breeding loan of its only rival in Ireland - the brown bull of Cooley.
Thanks to the drunken braggartry of her envoys, the negotiations failed. What was worse, they had forced her along the path of invasion and conquest. Still, Medb would not be denied, and she called unto her a grand army - laying claim to the heroes of other provinces and their retinues as the judge of their worth. The war against Ulster had begun.
Medb is a multi faceted figure of Irish lore, linked with priestess work in the Otherworld, the sovereignty of Ireland itself as a goddess, and the rites of judgement and right rule. She is a sagas worth of exploration and learning all in herself but the Banshenchus (the Lore of Woman) manuscript, may have described her best; "Glorious, perverse, extravagant and liberal".