I really like folk stories. So much that, after reading a particularly juicy one, I’ll text
thoroughly-uninterested friends and tell them what it was about, so they can be excited too. This has led to some… interesting retellings.
The Pangs of Ulster, taken from the Táin Bó Cúailnge,
or the Cattle Raid of Cooley
A Very Irish Tale™
Once upon a time in Ye Olde Éire, there lived a man. He lived somewhere around the middle of nowhere, as Ye Olde protagonists do.
One day, a lady comes up to the house! She is--say it with me--v e r y g o r g e o u s. She declares that she will be living there with the man for the foreseeable future, and leaves no room for argument. The man is *more* than fine with this. She’s incredibly awesome. In fact, it seems she can do just about anything, because apart from being damn smokin’, she’s also witty and, more importantly, ridiculously athletic. As the two live together for a while--the man, of course, perfectly accepting that his wife is a normal human person--they fall in love and get married. The woman gets pregnant.
When she’s pretty far along, this lit festival comes to the nearest town. The man really wants to go--I mean, they’re gonna have everything there! Alcohol! Parties! Brawls! So he begs like a puppy for a little while until his wife caves and says fine, they can go--but he’d better keep his nose clean. Terribly excited, the man and his lovely wife head into town.
It’s a great time! Everything is going swell!
Until it’s not.
See, there’s this chariot race. The king has a mad fast chariot, and nobody can beat it, which has led to a lot of people presumably losing bets and also dignity. But the man, all proud and definitely a few drinks in, is like “ahaha! My awesome wife could outrun ur dumb cart!” and of course the king is all like “whatyousay????”
Brimming with royal indignation, the king orders his guards to find the lady in the fair, and after a few moments of mentally strangling her man, she sighs heavily and tells them that she is very obviously super pregnant, and that they are the absolute worst.
Unfortunately, they tell her that the king is going to kill her himbo if she doesn’t show up. Resigned to being the only character with a brain cell, she trudges to the race course, makes it clear how very annoyed she is, and then ✨absolutely dominates ✨.
She goes into labor at the finish line.
Understandably massively pissed off at everyone involved, she starts screaming in pain and anger: “I AM THE GODDESS MACHA, AND YOUR SORRY ARSES ARE APPARENTLY BLOCKHEAD PREPUBESCENT BOYS, AND FROM NOW ON I CURSE YOU TO HAVE LABOR PAINS FOR FIVE DAYS AND FOUR NIGHTS EVERY TIME YOU’RE IN TROUBLE!’
So they did, and also named the town after her children. And that’s where we get Emain Macha (Modern Irish Eamhain Mhacha), or the Twins of Macha.
E.G. RADCLIFF IS A PART-TIME pooka and native of the Unseelie Court. She collects acorns, glass beads, and pretty rocks, and the crows outside her house know her as She Who Has Bread. Her fantasy novels are crafted in the dead of night after offering sacrifices of almonds and red wine to the writing-block deities.
You can reach her by scrying bowl, carrier pigeon, or @egradcliff on social media.
Photo credit Priscilla Du Preez