Ireland is no stranger to the woman warrior. One of the first in known history—legend, really—is Maebh, Queen of Connacht. Determined to be equal in wealth as her husband, Queen Maebh started the Cattle Raid of Cooley around 600 AD—all because her husband had one more stud bull than she did.
When the bull she wanted to acquire was determined to be unavailable, she prepared for war.
In her preparation for war, she may have played the game of hurling, a 3,000 year old sport that originated as a training exercise for Celtic warriors. Maebh probably wasn’t the first woman warrior to play, and she certainly wasn’t the last.
Nessa, Queen of Ulster; Muirisc, daughter of the 66th High King of Ireland; Macha, who battled the Fir Bolg to claim Ireland—these ladies of legend are never pictured with a hurl in hand, but maybe they should be. Hurling enthusiasts recognize Cuchulainn as the legend who killed Culann’s hound with his hurl and sliotar. Wouldn’t his wife Aife, another great woman warrior, also have been well able to swing a hurl? And Grainne O’Malley, the Irish pirate queen in the 16th century, probably smashed her fair share of sliotars.
The woman warrior of Ireland never died. She was reborn again and again, in feminist activist Maud Gonne. In Anne Devlin, key to Irish independence efforts in the 1798 Rebellion. In Countess Constance Markievicz and Rosie Hackett who fought for Irish independence in the Easter Rising of 1916. In Mary Robinson, Ireland’s first female President. Who could doubt that such fierce fighters also took to the pitch with hurl in hand?
The modern woman warrior holds many of the same characteristics as these legendary ladies. That fire inside is fanned each week as camogie players around the world train tirelessly for battle, though the stakes may not be as high. Without lands to claim, votes to fight for, freedom to attain, from what, then, does the camog draw her passion? What makes up this modern woman warrior with little left to fight for but a medal or trophy?
Are those she encounters her enemy? No warmth or welcome. Eyes firmly on the prize.
Or can she be all things? The warrior and the woman. The friend in life and the foe in battle. Dignified in defeat and gracious in glory.
We fight each week for strength and triumph, and also for fellowship and camaraderie. We fight for heritage and history, and also for who we have become. We fight so we won’t forget the women who came before—the fierce ladies who already claimed the land, won the vote, and laid the groundwork for our equality.
The Nashville Gaelic Athletic Club camogie ladies are all things: woman, friend, foe, beautiful, powerful, athletic, feminine, gracious, warm, fierce, dignified.
We are warriors.
P.S. We also have a lot of fun. If you want to be a modern woman warrior, too, sign up to play in our spring league. We’re holding an Intro to Irish Sports day on March 11, so you can learn the basics before you jump in head first.
All photos by Molly Buckley, woman warrior and incredible photographer.