Emerald Isle

Honey Mead

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Historical Cycle

The Sweetest Drink

From the earliest times and in every corner of the world, mead was held in reverence. This sweet tasting fermented honey drink was especially loved by the ancient Irish, who shared fireside stories about rivers of mead in mystical lands over the edge of the ocean's horizon, ruled by Mannanan Mac Lír, and even in the place where the dead made their last home.

The name of Queen Medb, who strove with Cúchulainn for dominance of Ireland, also means “medu”, mead, or she who intoxicates, no doubt on account of her great beauty, that men would lose their wits at the mere sight of her.

The hall of the High Kings of Ireland at Tara was called Teach Míd Chuarda, or the House of the Mead Circle, and hundreds would sit there and drink honey wine as they feasted. It was there that Fionn Mac Cumhaill was served mead in a silver cup.

A hazelnut infusion of mead was one of the favourites of the chieftains, even more so since it was thought that hazelnuts imparted wisdom, and so tasty was hazelnut mead that Fionnuala the daughter of King Lír, she who was cursed into a the shape of a swan, spoke of missing it more than almost anything else.

Saint Brigid is said to have called upon our Lord to change vats of water into mead, and she was answered!

The traditional way that people would drink mead with both hands at feasts was by the use of the four-handled cup, the mether, or friendship cup. Having four handles made it easier to pass around, so many people could have a drink of the same cup, but it was important to pass it sunwards to the right, for if you passed it leftwards bad luck would befall the house.

Legend has it that the mether first came about when King Tuathal caught sight of Romans drinking from cups with handles, and he wanted one for himself. So he went to his smith and asked him to make one!

And so the smith did as he was told, but when he handed the cup to the king, he himself was holding the handle, and the king wasn't pleased. So the smith added another handle, and gave it to the king with both hands, but again, the king had no handle to hold the cup. So a third handle was added, but as chance would have it, the third one was pointed towards the smith, and so the king demanded yet another!

And so the mether was made.

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