Aine [pronounced On-ya] was the ancient sovereignty Goddess of the province of Munster in South West Ireland. Although She was a very powerful, important tutelary Goddess, still very much honoured and respected by the local people up until the 20th century, very little is known about Her. It is through the fragments of history, folklore, legends and the very people of Limerick, that Aine lives and survives today. She has never been Christianised, and traditions (recorded up until the 1970s) relating to Her that were practised remained truly pagan.

Aine is associated with Cnoc Aine, (Knockainey, Co. Limerick). A hill, with three ring barrows upon its summit, now lost to the memories of the older generation and where sheep quietly graze, was once the most powerful, Royal ceremonial centre of Munster. Here Kings undertook the Bas Fis, (coronation ceremony) and within Irish myth, performed a sacred marriage with the tutelary Goddess, to secure the Kingdom. The Oenach festival continued here up until the 20th century.

Legends and traditions grew about the hill to celebrate Aine as the people’s Goddess. At Samhain Aine is said to emerge from the sidhe of Aine, a cairn located to the east of the barrows, with Her red bull. The local people lit bonfires on all nearby sacred hilltops in her honour.

Another important and time-honoured festival was St John’s Eve, (23rd June) which celebrated Midsummer. The men of the locality would process around the summit of Cnoc Aine with lighted cliars (torches) then run down through their cattle and fields to bestow good luck upon them for the forthcoming year. The people understood that Aine and Her sidhe would then undertake a similar procession around the summit and barrows on this very night.

There have been accounts whereby the magical and mundane worlds united and it is said that Aine Herself appeared to local people. On one St John’s Eve night Aine appeared to a group of girls who lingered upon the hill to watch the festivities.

She thanked them for the honour that they had shown Her, but asked them to leave as Her otherworld friends wished to have the hill to themselves. It is said that Aine pulled back Her cloak to reveal a portal into the otherworld, whereby the Sidhe had already started to gather upon the hill.

Another account speaks of a year when the procession decided not to light their cliars, to show respect for a local man who had recently died. They found that although their procession was in total darkness, the supernatural gathering burned their torches even brighter, as if to compensate for the humans. Aine was seen leading the procession! These stories were retold by local people and many 19th century families living around the hill claimed direct descent to Aine, so much was She honoured and loved. They spoke of Her in near human terms as ‘the best hearted woman that ever lived’, yet She reminded them on occasions of Her supernatural nature.

Lana Jarvis
Aine: Goddess of Midsummer, Goddess of the people