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Ailinn is best known today as the female half of what is called the “Irish Romeo and Juliet.” Ailinn, the granddaughter of the king of Leinster, and Baile, heir to the throne of Ulster, fell in love.
Their families will not permit their love and so plans to rendezvous are made, but before this can be accomplished, each meets a mysterious stranger who advises that their beloved is dead. The reason behind this malice is never clear, nor is the identity of the mysterious stranger, variously identified as a ghost or the proverbial wicked Fairy.
Ailinn and Baile both die, but true love bears fruit: a yew tree resembling Ailinn grows from Baile’s grave while an apple tree with apples bearing the image of Baile’s face grows from Ailinn’s. Wands crafted from these trees were used to cut tragic love songs in Ogham script until one day, when the wands were brought close to each other, they magnetically sprang together. No one was ever able to part them, and they became part of Ireland’s treasures stored at Tara.
There may be more to this story than tragic romance. The story may be so vague because hidden within is a suppressed primordial Irish goddess, not a romantic heroine. Dun Ailinne (Hill of Ailinne), located near Kildare, was a site of major spiritual and political significance beginning in the Bronze Age; it was the largest Irish royal fort (hillfort) except for Emhain Macha in the north, also named for a goddess.
Preservation of sacred fire was central to the rites at Kildare, home of the goddess Brigid. Evidence indicates that similar fires existed at Dun Ailinne from an earlier date. Dun Ailinne incorporated a royal cemetery and nearby royal residence, which was abandoned between 695 CE and the end of the eighth century, coinciding with Kildare’s rise to importance as a Chris tian site. Old Irish poems indicate rivalry between Kildare and Dun Ailinne and between Brigid and Ailinn, their respective goddesses. It is theorized that the fire was eventually transported to Kildare when Dun Ailinne lost favour or that the two sites were rivals even in Pagan days.