Tommorrow is 21st June , Midsummer's day or Summer Solstice.
It's my birthday, but also a day (or days) of celebration of another Áine ..the Irish Goddess, Áine of Munster.
Áine (Aww-n-ya) and please don't forget the fada! is strongly associated with County Limerick but she was the Goddess of the whole province of Munster.
My mother hails from Limerick and I spent a lot of my childhood close by Knockainey (the hill of Áine) and visited it on many occasions.
Having an old Irish name can be tricky for pronunciations but I feel it brings a child a sense of belonging to something older and bigger than themselves.
For me it brought a great love and curiosity for Irish history and mythology and a sense of pride of having a connection with a Goddess that was once held above all others in Ireland.
Áine was originally worshipped as a Sun Goddess associated with midsummer and the sun, but she also had dualities as a moon Goddess, Goddess of love, fertility, healing and sovereignty.
The name means 'brightness, glow, joy, radiance, splendour, glory, fame and she is the abundance of summer..
She is also strongly associated with the Land especially crops and animals.
Her blessing includes fertile fields, good luck and health.
She is aligned with the fairies and is often called 'The fairy Queen'
She protects women and can clear away curses and negative energies.
That's a lot of a name to live up to but I try my best!!
Though Áine has many sacred spaces named in her honour, Knockainey is considered her sacred Hill and place of power.
Though a relatively low hill of 537ft , from the summit there are extensive views for miles and Knockainey is considered as archaeologically important as the Hill of Tara in County Meath.
There is recorded history as recent as 1879 where Knockainey was the focal point for sites of rites in Áines honour involving the lighting of fires and the blessing of the land.
Folklore indicates that Áines dwelling place is her hill upon which every midsummer bunches of straw would be lit by locals carried to the summit of the hill and then distributed around to the fields and livestock as blessings from Áine.
The bunches of straw were known as 'Cliara' and the hill is often referred to as Cnoc Áine Cliach.
At one time this hill was the most powerful royal ceremonial center of Munster.
Unfortunately today as it is used for farming the land is not open to the public so it is very difficult to access.
I have been lucky enough though to get permission from the owner to gain access and walk to the summit amidst the brambles and barbed wire.
It's not easy to imagine it now as such an important place of worship but yet (whether it's my imagination or not)
I get such a wonderful feeling when i am there, an electric buzz of energy and something else quite unexplainable.
In early mythology Áine was the daughter of Egobail, Irish God of The Dagda, also one of the Tuatha dé Danann strong enough to control life and death, time and seasons.
It was said she could shape shift into a red mare that could never be out run!
Áine is also strongly associated with Lough Gur in Munster and there are many stories of her appearing in many forms as maiden/crone.
One of the most well known stories is that while Áine was bathing by the shores of Lough Gur the soon to be King of Munster Ailill Aulom saw her was overcome with lust and raped her.
In revenge Áine bit off his ear thus ensuring he could never be King as in old Irish law only an unblemished person could rule.
As an embodiment of sovereignty Áine can both grant and remove a man's power to rule.
In other versions of her she is the wife or daughter of the sea God Manannán Mac Lir and her name is associated with Tobaranna Co. Tyrone, Dunsany Co.Louth, Lissan Co. Derry, and Cnoc Áine near Teelin Co. Donegal just to name a few.
There are many more stories about Áine in Munster folklore but in more recent times the feast of Midsummer was still held in her honour and she is still remembered as the Queen of the Fae and intertwined in the fabric of the land.
To me she is a symbol of all the things I hold most dear, strength, hope, light, love and the connection to the land of Ireland.
I feel honoured to carry on such a wonderful name and to celebrate it with the Goddess every Summer Solstice.
Tommorrow, though I won't make it to Knockainey, I will walk the fields with Áine's sunlight on my face and light a candle in honour of my namesake and ask for her blessings.
*Thank you to Sean Fitzgerald for the use of his stunning art work
You can find Sean on Instagram as @seanfitzgeraldart