MACHA (1) Macha is one of a group of Irish goddesses who are concerned with war, fertility and the prosperity of Ireland. Like her sister goddesses, the Morrigan and the Badhbh (Badb), Macha is sometimes perceived as one deity, sometimes as three. She represents the sovereignty and fertility of Ulster (if not the whole of Ireland)
MACHA (2) Macha has a number of zoomorphic associations: she is called Macha the Crow by the 9th century writer Cormac. She is also linked with horses. The goddess gave her name to Emain Macha, the capital and royal court of ancient Ulster.Cu Chulaind has a horse called the Grey of Macha.
MACHA (3) 1.The first Macha is the wife of Nemedh, leader of the third invasion of Ireland. She prophesied the destruction that would be caused by the Bull of Cooley and died of a broken heart. 2.A second Macha ruled Ireland as the only ‘high-king/queen’ of Ireland as a warrior and established Emain Macha
MACHA (4) 3. The third Macha is a divine bride who marries a mortal man. It is this legend which associates Macha with horses. She puts a curse on the Ulstermen by means of a magical paralysis (ces noinden Ulad), so that at their greatest danger, they will become weak for 5 days and 4 nights.
THE LABOUR PAINS OF THE ULAID She gives birth during a horse-race and brings the noinden to Ulster warriors. At the heart of the story we have the tale of how against her wishes Macha’s husband boasts that she can outrun any horse in the land (=the best horses are those of the king).
THE LABOUR PAINS OF THE ULAID When called upon to do this, Macha protests that she is pregant and promises that perpetual evil will fall on the Ulstermen for many generations. She wins against the other horses, and gives birth to twins (explaining the place- name Emain Macha=the Twins of Macha).
Macha and Horses Macha assumes the ability of a horse when she races against the king’s horses at the Ulster Fair. When Cu Chulainn is born, two colts are born at the same time, one is called the Grey of Macha.
THE LABOUR PAINS OF THE ULAID In fact the word Emain can mean twins or brooch in Old Irish. The latter probably a reference to the shape of the fortress of EM. She curses all who hear her, and their descendants to nine times nine generations. They suffer the pangs of childbirth for five days and four nights.
THE LABOUR PAINS OF THE ULAID Small boys, women and the divine hero Cu Chulainn are excepted. The association with horses is reflected in other female Celtic characters: In Welsh myth, the woman Rhiannon is frequently mentioned in the context of the horse (her name can be interpreted as ‘Great Queen/Mother’.
THE LABOUR PAINS OF THE ULAID Medb as well, one of the protagonists of the Tain Bo Cuailnge, is also seen in a similar light. The horse was a major symbol of kingship in early Celtic society (coins, King-names). This strongly suggests that at origin the figure of Macha is a land-goddess protector of the people of Ulster (and possibly sometimes Ireland).
Macha She is forced to run although heavily pregnant. She will curse the Ulstermen for this.
THE LABOUR PAINS OF THE ULAID The Continental Celtic equivalent of the horse-goddess is the widely distributed (=archaelogical artifacts) Epona (divine mare). This concept therefore (horse-goddess associated with kingship, territorial protection) certainly goes back to at least 300BC.
Ces noiden Ulad The concept of men suffering labour-pains is obviously difficult to explain. Some scholars have interpreted the story as an echo of practices through which men tried to transfer the pangs of childbirth from their wives to themselves. (couvade)
Ces noiden Ulad Another explanation is that the phrase is misunderstood and should be ces noindhen meaning debility that lasted nine half-days. In essence, the idea is that the otherworld women can drain away the strength of warriors, as we have seen in the figure of the Morrigan.
Summary of major motifs Motif: a distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition. Theme: the subject of a piece of writing, an idea that pervades a word of art.
Major motifs in this story Macha as sovereignty goddess of Ulster (in origin). The horse as symbol of sovereignty. Magical paralysis (ces noinden). Compare also geis also inflicted by women against men. Explanation about why the Men of Ulster could not fight to defend Ulster in the Tain Bo Cuaigne.