II) Irish War-Goddesses: Gallo-British Counterparts?

War-goddesses have a very important place in Irish mythology. They are generally three in number and are featured as strong, powerful and horrific creatures, personifying violence, carnage and death occurring on the battlefield. The trio varies from one legend to another, but it is usually composed of the Mórrígain (‘Phantom Queen’ or ‘Great Queen’), Badb (‘Crow’) and Nemain (‘Battle-Fury’, ‘War-Frenzy’ or ‘Panic’).1324 The latter is sometimes replaced by Macha (‘Field’) or Fea (‘Everything Most Hateful’).1325 In the Battle of Magh Rath, Nemain is called Bé Neit, that is ‘the Wife of the Warrior’, because Nemain and Fea are said to be the wives of Nét (‘Leader’), who is described as a god of war in the 9th-century Sanas Cormaic.1326 The Mórrígain is undoubtedly the primary character of the trio: the others being replications of her. A text indeed explains that Badhbh, Macha ocus Mórrígain inna téora Mórrígnae, that is “Badb, Macha and Mórrígain are the three Mórrígna”.1327 This reference obviously indicates that the Mórrígain is the original entity, who could be turned into a triple goddess possessing various facets, names and forms.

Before analyzing the essence, attributes and functions of the Irish war-goddesses, it is important to investigate whether their names can be found in the Gallo-British epigraphy. Despite the gap in time and sources, is it possible to establish etymological correspondences which would evidence that an ancient cult dedicated to war-goddesses was shared by the populations from Ireland and from the Continent?


Mac Cana, 1970, p. 86 ; Sterckx, 2000, p. 71 ; Le Roux, 1983, pp. 111-113. Le Roux’s translation of Nemain as ‘Sacred’ - because of its similarity with the Gaulish goddess Nemetona, whose name signifies ‘sacred wood’ - is inaccurate and irrelevant.


Hennessy, 1870, p. 35.


Nét from Celtic netos ‘leader’. Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 363, 374 ; O’Donovan, 1842, p. 241 ; Meyer, 1912, p. 82.


MS. H. 3. 18 Trinity College, Dublin, p. 82, col. 2 ; Hennessy, 1870, p. 36.