Abigail Burnyeat: #MedbToo: Ferchuitred Medba as alternative causa for Táin Bó Cúailnge
The short Middle Irish text Ferchuitred Medba (‘Medb’s husband-allowance’), alternatively titled Cath Boinde, is centred on an account of Medb’s first marriage to Conchobar and its aftermath, presented as explanatory background to the emnity between Conchobar and the men of Ireland, and as a ‘first cause’ of the conflict that led to Táin Bó Cúailnge.
Medb was one of four daughters of Eochaid Feidlech given by their father to Conchobar as compensation after Eochaid had killed Conchobar’s father Fachtna Fáthach; she and her sisters each bore a son to Conchobar. The text tells us that Medb left Conchobar against his will ‘through pride of mind’; afterwards Conchobar, a guest at the Feast of Tara hosted by Eochaid as High King of Ireland, lay in wait for Medb as she went to wash in the River Boyne, and raped her.
In this paper I will explore the text’s positioning of this episode both as a trigger for conflict between Conchobar and the men of Ireland, and as a key event with significant repercussions for the future relationships between Medb and her subsequent partners, in particular her marriage to Ailill. I will argue that the text places Medb’s rape by Conchobar at the heart of the discord between Ulster and Connacht, providing both back-story and motivation for Medb’s actions in Táin Bó Cúailnge, and contextualising the events of the cattle-raid within a complex narrative web of intra- and extra-familial relationships and power struggles.