I am fascinated by what values my Irish ancestors saw as worthy of mythologising. Having examined these, I believe they offer an insight into how we can improve in the future. Moreover, we have lost touch with some of our national identity. Should we reclaim it, is it even relevant anymore?
Women ruled just as effectively, if not more so, than men in ancient Ireland. Think of Medb, the Queen of Connacht who was brilliant and ruthless as a leader. Yes, it was a monarchical system so, logically, it could be argued that she took power by default. The question still arises, in the superior, modern democratic system that we currently have, why is it that we have not had a female leader since our modern state was founded? This is not a critique of democracy but of the misogyny that must be somewhat present for this not to have occurred.
Women were warriors in ancient Ireland which does make one question the concept of gender stereotypes. CuChulainn went to Scatach, the legendary Scottish warrior Queen, to receive his training to be a warrior King. She was the very best at her trade and honed his fighting skills, teaching him to use a spear that enabled him “to rip (a person’s) innards to shreds”. I love the fact that she was the best warrior available in the Emerald Isles to train the young CuChulainn and it asks another question of modern Ireland, why were Irish women not allowed to serve in the Irish military until 1979?
CuChulainn married Emer, who was “wise, modest and chaste”. This was the female Irish archetype at the time. Not that women were expected to be as pure as this. Medb was evidence of this as she “took many male lovers”.
This is not to glorify the role of women in Irish mythology. Chonchobar sent nine men to “find a wife for CuChulainn” in a process which women were not included in. In fact, there was a male only conversation about “which of the women of Ireland CuChulainn might take”. That women were seen as objects for men to “take” was abhorrent. Doubtless we have evolved, yet the tale of CuChulainn highlights that the theocratic cloak that covered up the bravery and courage of Irish women has still be fully uncovered. Is anyone seriously suggesting that there are no women that could lead Ireland more effectively than our last two Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and Brian Cowen?
CuChulainn was pre-ordained to “right all wrongs”. It is interesting to interpret this as the great Irish hero attempting to choose the correct moral course of action and not just superficially slaying other clans of fellow warriors. Maybe this higher level of ethics was what set him apart from other warriors. It would be imprudent to draw too many conclusions about his morality as he was an extremely violent man, staking his claim as a warrior by slaying Chonchobar’s slobbering, snarling jowly mutt. Still, as a trait for Irish people to aspire to, doing the right thing remains a worthwhile goal. When you think about it, we should all aspire to this goal. If we all chose, to the best of our ability, to “right all wrongs”, I think we can definitively say that we would have a better country. Especially now that we have, largely, managed to resolve our disputes through peaceful means and not with the spear.
CuChulainn’s education was revealing. Three talented experts in their fields were found to mould his character. The disciplines chosen were revealing. Poetry, fighting and caring for the weak. With the obvious exception of the redundant field of learning to fight, it would be beneficial if we could revisit our roots here and teach our young to care for other people. A cursory look at the despicable levels of homelessness on our streets tells us that we have gone wrong somewhere. Once religious schools are finally phased out from Irish society and we have belatedly discarded all vestiges of theism in our primary and secondary schools, we need to begin to teach children ethics in school. Nothing will have more long term benefits for our society than teaching young people to help the weak and care for other people. We are more focused on personal finance than personal morality in modern Irish society. Paying our way and saving are, of course, part and parcel of doing the right thing, so we can do both.
150 “warriors” were played Hurling in Emain Macha when Setanta first arrived. Indeed, he played hurling himself as a child, oftentimes by himself, in order to build his strength. With the Anglicisation of Ireland after the first British plantations arrived in the 16th Century, our national sports of Hurling and Gaelic Football have been constantly eroded away with other alternatives. I am indicative of this too as I follow British football. Would the great dilution have happened if we were not colonised for generations? Should we move towards promoting our own sports or continue to diversify as we are at the moment? Every Irish citizen has, and should have, the freedom to choose the sport they want to play and support. Yet, there should be a duty on us collectively to promote Gaelic Games and keep the tradition alive.
Ireland was a land of warriors, poets, of wise sages, storytellers and of magicians. We loved nature. Artists and sages were prominent in local communities.
We liked a drink, even back then. Think of the wine that Deirdre drunk that sent her into a stupor and ended up with her beginning her epic journey.
The tale of CuChulainn can point us towards parts of our past that we have lost touch with. Traits that we should not have discarded. Certainly, we should keep alive our great tradition of playing and promoting Gaelic Games. Women should lead in Ireland as much as men do. Hopefully, the election of Varadkar, a gay son of an immigrant and the youngest Taoiseach in our history, can open up the path for a woman to lead the nation. It speaks volumes that it was possible for him and not a woman, though. However, the most important lesson for all of us, woman and man, is the need to focus on “right(ing) all wrongs” and helping the “weak” in Ireland. If we all did that…