Emerald Isle

Aoibhell Fairy Queen of Love

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland

A rare tale of a kindly fairy, Aoibhell Fairy Queen of Love

Some of the Sidhe in times of old would take a fondness for one particular family, protecting it and helping it rise in the world, and so it was with the O'Briens, who were known as the Dál gCais, or the Dalcassians. Their fairy guardian was called Aoibhell, whose name means burning ardour or beauty, depending on who you ask.

She had herself a harp of shimmering gold, whose music was too beautiful for mortal ears, and anyone who heard it would die soon after. She played that harp for Brian Ború on the eve of his great battle with the Vikings, telling him that although he would be victorious, his life would be forfeit, and so it was.

She laid her love upon a young man of Munster called Dubhlaing uí Artigan, who'd been sent away by the king of Ireland before an important battle, but he'd have none of that and returned to join the king's son. When she couldn't dissuade him she cast an ancient Sidhe charm on him, to make him appear other than he was.

But the king's son saw through the deception and demanded to be taken to Aoibhell – she told them that himself and Dubhlaing would both die in the coming battle, but the prince said he'd bring enough men with him that it would be worth the price.

So she turned to Dubhlaing and said he'd have two full centuries of happy life with her if he but turned aside from the battle, but he said he'd rather have his good name. In anger she laughed and said, “Your prince will fall, and you yourself will fall, and your proud blood will be on the plain tomorrow.” And so it came to pass.

It was her harp that Cú Chulainn heard before his enemies gathered a fell host at Muithemne, and he knew his legended life was coming to an end.

When she wasn't handing out death notices, which is why she was called queen of two dozen banshees, Aoibhell held her midnight court in county Clare, wherein she passed judgement on the husbands of Ireland as to whether or not they were satisfying their wives. Should a husband be found wanting – and it's not clear how this matter was determined – he was ordered by the midnight court to fulfil his manly duties or be plagued by fairies.

Many's the old man with a young wife found himself pricked by invisible thorns after a night of dreaming in the midnight court!

Stories in the south of the country tell of her sister Cliona, and how both of the women fell in love with a young chieftain called O'Caoimh. His fancy was for Aoibhell though and they became engaged to be married. Cliona called on the help of an old wise woman skilled in dark and twisting arts, and Aoibhell began to fade away.

Cliona told her she'd be cured if she renounced the love of O'Caoimh, but Aoibhell refused, so Cliona gave her a lash of a magic wand which turned her into a white cat. Later O'Caoimh, not knowing where his bride to be had vanished off to, agreed to marry Cliona, but the old wise woman confessed to her part in the crime, and gave him the wand to turn the cat back into a woman.

It was Cliona's turn to spend some time as a cat then, for when he heard the full story he tapped her with it and regained his bride in the next stroke!

As it is told, Aoibhell can still be seen dancing and leaping at her moon rock in Kincora, County Clare, marked on the map below, for it is known as a strange and eerie place, and beware should you hear a golden harp!

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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