I wonder how many locals and tourists that routinely walk in the streets of Temple Bar in Dublin have ever been struck by the beauty of the paintings located at the entrance of O’Reilly’s restaurant. I am talking about the image of Mebd and Deidre. For some reason, the first painting has haunted me for a while and as strangely as it may sound, it has played an important role in my artwork. For years I have been trying to find out who painted this solemn and powerful representation of Mebd. I was in Dublin last week and I went there personally to ask. Unfortunately the name of the artist remains unknown. Was the unknown painter influenced by the Celtic Revival of the XIX century? Too beautiful, too inspiring not to paid a tribute. To share these images on this blog requires the dedication of some words to Queen Mebd of Connacht, the powerful female character of the The Táin Bo Cuailnge and prominent character of the Ulster cycle. She is often regarded as a sovereignty goddess. It is not uncommon to see that Mebd is associated with ‘intoxication’, with an alcoholic drink such as beer or Mead and as a personification of the goddess of the land (Brenneman, 1989, at 346). Her name is spelled in different ways, including, Medb, Maeve, Maebh, Meadhbh, Méadhbh, and Meave.
Several attributes characterise this intriguing character of Irish mythology. O’Sullivan refers to the numerous aspects that are often associated to Mebd. For instance, she is sometimes portrayed as an ‘evil and misguided woman’ that instigates a war over a matter of pride, as a promiscuous woman with many lovers or as a warrior. Interestingly, her ‘blatant sexuality’ is a characteristic that can be interpreted as evidence of her goddess standing. (O’Sullivan, 2001, at 34). It should be noted that in Celtic mythology, it is a function of the goddess of sovereignty to confer kingship to the rightful king of the land of Ireland. In his analysis ‘Serpents, Cows, and Ladies: Contrasting Symbolism in Irish and Indo-European Cattle-Raiding Myths’ Brenneman observes that in Irish mythology, “male leadership was dependent upon the power of wisdom and regeneration known as sovereignty and was possessed by various feminine deities or demadeities.” (Brenneman, 1989, at 343). This particular role of the goddess in kinship is also explained by O’Sullivan in the following terms:
“No king could rule unless he had been chosen by the goddess, and had slept with her. This showed in a metaphorical way that the land (the goddess) and the king had been mated. He would now bring about prosperity and fertility because he had been accepted by the land. Medb’s ability to confer kingship on the men she slept with is a strong sign of her goddess standing. She slept with, and conferred kingship, upon Conchobar of Ulster, but later withdrew her favor because of his pride. Conchobar then raped her showing his wish to take the kingship by force. This incident is one of the causes of the war between Ulster and Connacht. Clearly, the goddess could not allow an unworthy man to take the kingship by force. Taken from this perspective we have a goddess protecting her people as opposed to a promiscuous and wanton woman.” (O’Sullivan, 2001, at 34)
Mebd is not only the subject of numerous works in Celtic studies . She has also inspired WB Yeats to write the ‘The Old Age of Queen Maeve’. In the meantime I will continue wondering who was the artist who created this beautiful painting of Mebd. If anyone would possibly have any clue, please feel free to share any information that you may have.
Walter L. Brenneman, Jr, Serpents, Cows, and Ladies: Contrasting Symbolism in Irish and Indo-European Cattle-Raiding Myths. Source: History of Religions, Vol. 28, No. 4 (May, 1989), pp. 340-354 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062706 .