Celtic Goddess


Name:  Macha

County:  Armagh/ Ard Macha

Province:  Ulster / Ulaid / Ulidia

Father: Aed the Red

Mother: Ernmas the ban tuathid (female druid)

Husbands: Nemed   Cimbaeth   Crundchu

Related Sites:   Emain Macha

Type of Deity:  Triune/ Threefold

Associated Deities:  Morrigan, Danu, Badbh, Nemon, Fea

Properties: Fertility, Agriculture, The Earth, War & Death

Associated Trees:  Hawthorn Holly

Associated Herbs: Mistletoe

Macha is part of a tradition of a deity who appears over spans of time in differing guises to live among mortals and help them in whatever way she can unless they offend her and then she can wreak a terrible revenge in the form of a powerful curse.

The first Macha was the wife of Nemhedh leader of the third of the invasions recounted in the Leabhar Gabhála (The Book of Invasions) she died in one of the twelve plains cleared by her husband and it was for this reason named after her; Ard Macha which means the high plain of Macha.

The second Macha ruled over Ireland alone for a time and repelled by force those who contested her sovereignty.  She took one of her rivals Cimbaeth in marriage and she was the dominant partner in the union.  When the five sons of another rival continued to oppose her she sought them out and enticed each of them one by one into the forest to sleep with her, and there bound each in turn.  After reducing them to servitude she forced them to build the royal fort of Emain Macha.

The third Macha put a curse on the men of Ulster whereby at a certain time of year they were all struck down and suffered the pains of labour.

The story begins when Crundchu an Ulster farmer had lost his wife.  A mysterious lady named Macha entered his house and took upon herself all the wifely duties.  She was not a common mortal but was kin to the swan-maiden.  At a feast the horses of the king were successful in a race; the poets praised him and said there was nothing in Ireland faster than his horses.  Crundchu forgetting that this was just courtly sycophancy blurted out indignantly that his wife could run faster, thereby breaking a geis which Macha had put on him to remain silent about her extraordinary abilities.

The king in a rage, his pride severely wounded, ordered that she should prove the words of her husband.  She begged for a respite as she was heavily pregnant at the time, but the king would not grant one and she had to run the race.  She ran and out-raced the horses but at the end of it she fell with a scream, and died in the act of giving birth to twins.  With her last breath she cursed the Ulstermen: for nine generations let them be subjected to the pains that were at that moment afflicting herself, and let them be incapacitated in times of stress.

In later generations the Ulstermen were struck down periodically with childbirth pains and their enemies such as Queen Medb of Connaught used this to advantage in The Táin Bó Cuailgne and The Battle of Muirthemne.

The Celtic Warriors of Northern Ireland collected the severed heads of their slain enemies and called it 'Macha's Acorn Crop' or 'The Mast of Macha' Tributes were paid to her every year at the Assembly of Macha which occurred near the time of the festival of Lughnasadh during August.

Macha is also known as a Triple Goddess through her association as Goddess of War & Death with the Morrigan.  Also she is linked to Danu as the Fertile Woman aspect of that Goddess.  In one of her incarnations she is killed by Balor at the Battle of Magh Tuiredh.

Stories, Myths and Legends associated with Macha

The Táin Bó Cuailgne

The Battle of Muirthemne

The Fair of Tailtiu

The Courting of Emer

Dindshenchas Teamhair (Tara)

  The Story of the Tuatha De Danann

Death Tales of the Tuatha De Danann


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