Discover Ireland’s Legendary Queens this International Women’s Day
Over hundreds of years ago, Ireland was graced with some of the most powerful and impressive queens. These empowered females played a significant part in the identity and history of Ireland. At the time, an appointment as King or Queen was not necessarily through lineage but by their own personal merits, courage and sheer will. Join us as we journey back in time and celebrate International Women’s Day by remembering some of the ancient Queens of Ireland.
One of the most famous queens in Ireland, Queen Maeve was known as the ‘Warrior Queen of Connacht’. Maeve took over from her father, the King of Connacht, when he went on to become the High King of Ireland.
Maeve first married the High King of Ulster, Conchobar mac Nessa, but went on to marry four other kings during her lifetime. Many regarded her as a goddess and a fiercely impressive woman. It was said that Maeve’s great influence was the power behind her husbands going on to become kings.
Queen Maeve featured in the Tain Bo Cuilnge (Cattle Raid of the Cooley) when Maeve was keen to own the great bull of Cooley. She summoned her army to gain possession of the bull. In the end, she succeeded and took the bull back to Connacht with her. Legend has it that the bull was set upon and killed by a white-horned bull owned by her husband Ailill.
The mystery that surrounds Maeve is probably what makes her such an interesting character. To some, she was a goddess and impressive woman, and the reason behind most of her husband’s becoming kings. For others, a feisty and belligerent character who set out to cause trouble. Whatever her true character, Maeve will certainly be known as a unique and memorable part of Ireland’s history and culture.
Born in Naas, County Kildare in 960 AD, Gormlaith became famous in Irish history as the wife of the King of Ireland, Brian Boru. Brian was one of the most well-known Irish Kings of all time.
Gormlaith’s legacy was not that of a typical supporting wife. Their marriage was short lived and her son from a previous marriage, Sitric, was an enemy of Brian. Many stories say that she encouraged Sitric, to fight against Brian in the Battle of Clontarf.
Before her marriage to Brian, Gormlaith reigned as Queen of Dublin as her husband Óláfr Sigtryggsson was the Norse King of Dublin and York.
More history about Gormlaith can be found in the Book of Leinster at Trinity College. The book covers many different stories crafted by abbots and supposedly commissioned by Diarmait Mac Murchada, once King of Leinster.
Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley
Grace O’Malley was an exceptionally strong character in Irish history. It is said that Grace spent most of her life protecting her native land from enemies and defending against English rule.
Grace’s stronghold was at Clare Island in the west of Ireland, where she used her piracy and seafaring ways to protect the west of Ireland against attack.
Grace married Dónal an Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh and gave birth to three children: two boys and a girl.
Eventually, despite her best efforts, English administration found its way to Connacht and it is said that the newly appointed governor Sir Richard Bingham held two of her sons captive as punishment for rebelling against him.
Through her powers of persuasion, Grace was able to coerce Queen Elizabeth I to lift some of the sanctions imposed by Bingham and release her sons. It is said that Grace wrote letters to the Queen making a plea for her situation. As a result, she was granted an audience with the Queen at Greenwich Castle in 1593. In this meeting, it was revealed that the Queen showed great admiration for Grace and her determination. Grace was also the first female sovereign of Ireland to do such a thing.
Queen Aoife MacMurrough
Queen Aoife has many titles throughout Irish history. Known as Eva of Leinster, Princess of Leinster and Countess of Pembroke, Aoife can also lay claim to being the Queen of Leinster. Her Queen title came about following her husband Strongbow’s appointment as King of Leinster following the death of her father Dermot in 1171. Aoife and Strongbow are believed to have had three children – two boys and one girl.
Aoife’s father was king and, as a result, she was well educated. This brought attention to her and Strongbow as the ultimate Irish power couple of the 12th Century. Not only was their marriage widely praised, it ended up changing the face of Irish history forever.
Their partnership led to the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, and centuries of British Rule.
Aoife was said to be a fierce warrior, having led troops into several battles. This earned her the name of Aoife Rua – Red Eva.
Discover more about Ireland’s rich and interesting legacy of Kings and Queens in our guide to the Kings and Queens of Ireland.