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Illustration for article titled A Badass You May Not Know About: Queen Medb, The Warrior Queen of Connacht

In my series of unlikely/unknown feminist role models, the champion of my heart is Queen Medb. With my Mother's family spread all over Connacht, (Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo) Medb has been in my life for it's entirety. A picture of her burial cairn (Knocknarea) has been predominately displayed above my Grandmother's favorite chair for as long as I can remember.

"What's that?" Young hotfreypie asked, pointing at the image below St. Brigid's cross.
"That's the cairn of Queen Medb..." Grandma hotfreypie would respond, before regaling a tale of her badassery. These were much better than stories of Grandma hotfreypie's own mother seeing a banshee, which terrified me.

Queen Medb ruled the Western Ireland province of Connacht, having been bequeathed the land by her father- and no man could rule the land without marrying her. That's right, a man could only obtain royal status by marriying Medb. Naturally, Medb had a litany of husbands. Medb is featured predominantly in the Ulster Cycle, and one of Ireland's most famous stories, the Táin Bó Cúailnge (or the Cattle Raid of Cooley).

In the Táin, Medb has a dispute with her husband, Ailill, over who is more affluent. Ailill turns up to be the one more wealthy, because of one white-horned bull. Incensed, Medb decides to obtain the even more famous brown bull of Cooley from the neighboring province of Ulster. Long story short, Medb doesn't head the words of a prophetess (who would?), and marches into Ulster. She's eventually routed by Ulster forces, lead by Cú Chulainn (but not before an epic duel with his foster brother, Fer Díad, who is in exile and fighting with Connacht forces) BUT DAMMIT, SHE GETS THAT BULL, which defeats Ailill's bull, causing a truce. Oh, and this time she was having an affair with the legendary hero Fergus. Because why not? Eventually, tired of living in the shadow of his Queen, Ailill ditches Connacht and goes elsewhere.


An important thing to note is that in this conflict, Medb lead her own troops into Ulster, and fought in the battle herself, with her own weapons. Medb didn't need magic to obtain victory, she just needed her own spears and sword.

Medb is also viewed as a fierce warrior goddess, whose name literally means "she who intoxicates." Medb birthed seven sons, (all named Maine, because a druid predicted that her son named Maine would kill the King of Ulster), married numerous times, and ruled well. Although she was killed with a piece of cheese, (one can't make this up) she remains one of Ireland's most beloved women in folklore.

If I ever have a daughter, you bet that she'll be a Méabh (the modern Irish spelling) or an Aoife...but Aoife is a story for another time.

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