Aine the Irish goddess of love and fertility

Aine, Goddess of Love and Fertility

The old Irish gods and goddesses, much like those of other traditional (cf. Greek, Roman, Norse), were known to be patrons of distinct favour. We have moon gods and sun gods, gods of war and gods of love. In Irish lore, Aine (or Áine) was the goddess of love and fertility.

She was the daughter of Egobail who, in turn, was the foster-son of Manannán mac Lir. She is known to have a sister, Aillen.

Áine conspired with many mortal men in the ways of the flesh. It is said that Ailill Ollamh, king of Munster, raped Áine. When his act was done, she cut off his year and killed him with her magic. It was this act that earned him the name Ollamh – meaning one-eared.

Áine’s spirit was said to dwell on Cnoc Áine (Knockainy), or Áine’s Hill in Co. Kerry. Every year, residents would climb the hill on Midsummer’s Eve (June 24) and invoke Áine of the Wisps to protect them against illness and to grant fertility to their lands and livestock. They would carry torches for her to bless and then they would wave those lit torches around their own crops and cattle to ensure health and prosperity. This practice continued long into the nineteenth century.

In the fourteenth century, a new tale arose in which Maurice, the first Earl of Desmond (located in the southwest of Ireland) raped Áine and she bore him a son, Gearóid Iarla (AD 1335-1398). When Gearóid died, it was said that he only slept, and he would be seen to ride a white horse around the banks of Lough Gur (Limerick) every seven years. Gearóid, who became the third Earl of Desmond, was a marvellous poet whose manuscripts are preserved in various works including The Poem-Book of Earl Gerald and the Book of the Dean of Lismore.

Midsummer festivities are held in Áine’s honour.

Peter J Merrigan
Peter J Merrigan was first published at the age of 17 in the Simon & Schuster anthology, Children of the Troubles. He has studied extensively and maintains a passion for pre-Christian Ireland. He is the author of the Ailigh Wars Saga novels, set in Iron Age Ireland.