The Mythical First Woman in Ireland
As part of our celebration of the women who shaped Ireland, we felt it important to celebrate the mythical women whose stories have inspired our culture and heritage. For our first mythical woman, we’re going right back to the beginning.
Irish mythology has no story of the origins of mankind. Instead, our earliest stories tell of this land and the people that came to it. These magical races that were there long before the Celts, these peoples that retreated underground to become gods and fairies. But there were older peoples still; the proud Nemedians, the doomed Partholonians and the very first, the followers of Cesaire.
Cesaire was born somewhere in Northern Africa. She was said by some to be the granddaughter of an Egyptian priest, and by others to be the granddaughter of Noah (yes, that Noah!). Either way, her grandfather knew that a great flood was on the way. To avoid drowning, Cesaire built three arks and set course for an island far west, untouched by any sin and, as such, spared (she hoped) from the flood.
She gathered together one hundred and fifty women of art and skill. Warriors and weavers, healers and poets, bringing with them all the skills they would need to survive in a strange place. Her father and brother, not allowed on Noah’s Ark for their sins, begged her to let them come with her. She took them, and her husband Fintan, on one condition: that they forsake the god of Noah and submit to her.
Cesaire’s voyage lasted seven years, and she traversed the known world, losing two of her ships to storms along the way. When she arrived at last, and set foot on Ireland, three lakes are said to have burst forth in welcome.
Cesaire divided her followers into three groups, and put one man with each group, to keep the women satisfied. Under ancient Irish law, a woman could divorce her husband if he didn’t keep her sexually satisfied. Interestingly, this didn’t apply the other way around!. Her poor father wasn’t up to the task, and soon died. They re-divided into two groups, but Cesaire’s brother, wounded on the long journey, also did not last long. When her husband Fintan discovered that he was the only man among one hundred and fifty women, he fled, and lived wild in the caves and mountains, learning to shape-shift in order to survive.
What became of Cesaire is not clear. In some versions, the flood found her and wiped out her fledgling colony. In others, plague or sickness took them. Many credit her and her followers with being the first occupants of Ireland!
Our thanks to Sorcha Hegarty for this fantastic herstory!