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A Queen of the Fairies

Anu, Goddess of Munster

Anu or Ana was a goddess, the personification of the rivers, the seas and the oceans, who embodied fertility, abundance, and regeneration. She was the principal goddess of pre-Christian Ireland, the mother goddess of Munster (Mumhan) in the south of Ireland. The bishop, who wrote Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary) in the 9th century, called her mater deorum hibernensium (the mother of Irish gods). The place name Dá Chich Anann, the Two Paps (breasts) of Anu, is a reminder of her status as a goddess.

the two paps or breasts of Anu, two hills in the south of Ireland
Dá Chich Anann – The Two Paps (breasts) of Anu

She was perhaps the wife, daughter or granddaughter of Manannán mac Lir, the chief god of the sea. Wife of Manannán is likely the oldest version. Munster people believed her father was Eogabal (yew god?), her brother was Fer I(Man of Yew), and her sister was Grian, the goddess of the sun. (Grian is the word for ‘sun’ in Gaelic.) Other sources say she was the daughter of a king of Scotland. 

 Different sources say she was the wife, daughter or granddaughter of Manannán mac Lir, the chief god of the sea. Wife of Manannán is likely the oldest version, but like many a goddess, she had several lovers.

The Túatha de Danann were the people of the goddess Anu. The preposition de (of) may have been doubled. The ‘d’ of Danu also means ‘of’ before a vowel so the name is People of of Anu’. Danann is the genitive case of Danu. Compare that with Alba (nominative: Scotland) and Albann (genitive: of Scotland).

The Sons of Míl Espáine sailing to Ireland
The Sons of Míl Espáine Sailing to Ireland

The Túatha de Danann arrived in Ireland at Bealtaine (1 May) and defeated the Fir Bolg and the Fomoire after the two battles of Mag Tuired. The Túatha were themselves defeated by the sons of Míl Espáine who migrated to Ireland from Spain according to myth. (For which there is some archaeological and linguistic evidence that there is some truth to it.) Despite their defeat, the Túatha de Danann still had magic powers, and they deprived the sons of Míl of their corn (grain) and milk until they came to terms. The sons of Míl and the Tuatha de Danann agreed that the Túatha would live in the lower half of the world and the sons of Míl in the upper world. The Dagda assigned a síd (fairy mound) to each of the chiefs of the Túatha. Mounds built up in the Late Neolithic or Bronze Age were believed to be their dwellings. Graves found in them were thought to be proof of fairy occupation. Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) in the Boyne Valley was thought to be the brug (mansion) of the Dagda and Boann, the goddess of the River Boyne and their children.  

Áine, Queen of the Fairies

Many of the Túatha de Danann, the ancient gods of the Gaels, survive in folklore, and

Áine is the fairy who developed from traditions of Anu. She became the wife of Fionn mac Cumhail, known simply as Fionn in the oral tradition. Fionn means fair, a person with white-blond hair and fair skin, and he is associated with thesun. He may be the same god as Lugh (Bright) or the Dagda (Good God, good at doing things). 

Knockainy or Cnoc Áine (Hill of Áine) was her home, also called an Deise Beag, (the Little South), that is, the microcosm representing the south of Ireland. Nearby is sacred Lough Gur. Áine aged with the agricultural year; she was ayoung woman in spring, mature in summer, and old in winter. Ceremonies were held every year on the longest day of theyear, mid-summer in the Gaelic calendar approximately 24 June, St John’s Day. 

Many families claim descent from Áine. To be considered noble among the Gaels, a family had to be descended from theold gods. When the Gaels became Christian, these putative ancestors became legendary heroes or fairies. 

Sources:

Michael Dames, Mythic Ireland, 1992                                                                                 Proinsias Mac Cana, Celtic Mythology, 1970                                                                James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 1998

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