Even after closer examination women don’t seem to have played a significant role in the history of Grianán of Aileach. Yet nine names, three queens and six goddesses, representing the land, sovereignty, fertility, war, death and great influence, are found surrounding events at the time of the legendary Tuatha De Dannan near Ulster and Aileach. And none of them was ordinary.
“Eriu, though it should reach a road-end, Banba, Fotla, and Fea, Neman of ingenious versicles, Danann, mother of the gods. Badb and Macha, greatness of wealth, Morrigu – springs of craftiness, sources of bitter fighting were the three daughters of Ernmas.”
Eriu, Banba and Fotla were queens and wives to three grandsons of the Dagda, who according to legend built Grianán of Aileach to grieve for his son Aed. Eriu was wife to Cethor – Mac Greine, son of the sun; Banba to Sethor – Mac Cuill, son of the hazel and Fotla to Tethor – Mac Cecht, son of the ploughshare. “Badb, Macha, and Morrigu were their three goddesses. And “Fea (Badb) and Nemaind (battle goddesses) were the two wives of Net, a quo Ailech Neit.” As the Tuatha De Dannan came to Ireland in a blaze of “dark clouds“, they, like invaders before and after them, faced a respectable amount of defiance from the already established population. In both battles of Mag Tuired between the Tuatha De Dannan and the Fir Bolg, who allied with the Formorians (stronghold at Tory Island, Co. Donegal), “the Badb, and Macha, and Morrigu “ supported the De Danann in their pursuit. Although victorious in the end for the people of the Danann, it was short lived. As Ith, the Scythian, came to Ireland, he found Mac Greine, Mac Cuill and Mac Cecht at Aileach Neit (one of the many names ascribed to Grianán of Aileach) “contending with one another about the valuables of their ancestors”. Suspicious of his praise for the land they decided to kill him to prevent invasion and Ith received his lethal blow in a plain between Grianán and Raphoe. As a result the sons of Iths brother Mil mounted the dreaded invasion to avenge his death. At their arrival each of the three queens took the invaders aside and claimed that this land was named after her and so shall remain the principle name. After everything else failed to drive the Milesians back into the sea, it came to the final battle of Taillte where “Net son of Indui and his two wives, Badb (Fea) and Neman without deceit, were slain in Ailech without blame by Nemtuir the Red, of the Fomoraig”; “Eriu yonder, (fell) at the hands of Suirge”, Fotla at the hands of Etan with pride, of Caicher, Banba with victory”. Dananns reign finished this very day as her followers lost against the Milesians, who would have brought with them besides tools and skills their own deities. Although queens and goddesses they all fell by the hands of old foes and new arrivals. Their deaths did not just put an end to their individual life, legendary or otherwise, it marked the end of an era. In their presented forms these women symbolise each a fading aspect of the trinity of the Great Goddess: Mother of all gods – heaven and humans – earth and protectoress of the dead – underworld. An echo from the beginning of human civilisation and the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Elements which would be absorbed into all changes afterwards.
In the legends of the British Isles Morrigian (Morrigu) always resides in and around water and “in the west where the sun sets”. Standing at Grianán, that would be beyond Lough Swilly where the last red rays of light are channelled through its bay, leaving the hill gently; only to rise again the next day beyond Lough Foyle. And so it begins again.