The Celtic Gods and Their Stories

The Mysterious Birth of Lugh

Gobhan the Architect and his son, young Gobhan were sent for by Balor of the Blows to build him a palace. They built it so well that Balor decided never to let them leave his kingdom alive, for fear they should build another one equally good for someone else. He therefore had all the scaffolding removed from round the palace while they were still on the top, with the intention of leaving them up there to die of hunger. But, when they discovered this, they began to destroy the roof, so that Balor was obliged to let them come down.

He, none the less, refused to allow them to return to Ireland. The crafty Gobhan, however, had his plan ready. He told Balor that the injury that had been done to the palace roof could not be repaired without special tools, which he had left behind him at home. Balor declined to let either old Gobhan or young Gobhan go back to fetch them; but he offered to send his own son. Gobhan gave Balor's son directions for the journey. He was to travel until he came to a house with a stack of corn at the door. Entering it, he would find a woman with one hand and a child with one eye.

Balor's son found the house, and asked the woman for the tools. She expected him; for it had been arranged between Gobhan and his wife what should be done, if Balor refused to let him return. She took Balor's son to a huge chest, and told him that the tools were at the bottom of it, so far down that she could not reach them, and that he must get into the chest, and pick them up himself But, as soon as he was safely inside, she shut the lid on him, telling him that he would have to stay there until his father allowed old Gobhan and young Gobhan to come home with their pay. And she sent the same message to Balor himself.

There was an exchange of prisoners, Balor giving the two Gobhans their pay and a ship to take them home, and Gobhan's wife releasing Balor's son. But, before the two builders went, Balor asked them whom he should now employ to repair his palace. Old Gobhan told him that, next to himself, there was no workman in Ireland better than one Gavidjeen Go.

When Gobhan got back to Ireland, he sent Gavidjeen Go to Balor. But he gave him a piece of advice — to accept as pay only one thing: Balor's gray cow, which would fill twenty barrels at one milking. Balor agreed to this, but, when he gave the cow to Gavidjeen Go to take back with him to Ireland, he omitted to include her byre-rope, which was the only thing that would keep her from returning to her original owner.

The gray cow gave so much trouble to Gavidjeen Go by her straying, that he was obliged to hire military champions to watch her during the day and bring her safely home at night. The bargain made was that Gavidjeen Go should forge the champion a sword for his pay, but that, if he lost the cow, his life was to be forfeited.

At last, a certain warrior called Cian (Pronounced Kian) was unlucky enough to let the cow escape. He followed her tracks down to the sea-shore and right to the edge of the waves, and there he lost them altogether. He was tearing his hair in his perplexity, when he saw a man rowing a coracle. The man, who was no other than Manannán son of Lêr, came in close to the shore, and asked what was the matter.

Cian told him.

"What would you give to anyone who would take you to the place where the gray cow is?" asked Manannán.

"I have nothing to give," replied Cian.

"All I ask," said Manannán, "is half of whatever you gain before you come back."

Cian agreed to that willingly enough, and Manannán told him to get into the coracle. In the wink of an eye, he had landed him in Balor's kingdom, the realm of the cold, where they roast no meat, but eat their food raw. Cian was not used to this diet, so he lit himself a fire, and began to cook some food. Balor saw the fire, and came down to it, and he was so pleased that he appointed Cian to be his fire- maker and cook.

Now Balor had a daughter, of whom a druid had prophesied that she would, some day, bear a son who would kill his grandfather. Therefore, like Acrisius, in Greek legend, he shut her up in a tower, guarded by women, and allowed her to see no man but himself. One day, Cian saw Balor go to the tower. He waited until he had come back, and then went to explore. He had the gift of opening locked doors and shutting them again after him. When he got inside, he lit a fire, and this novelty so delighted Balor's daughter that she invited him to visit her again. After this — in the Achill islanders quaint phrase — "he was ever coming there, until a child happened to her." Balor's daughter gave the baby to Cian to take away. She also gave him the byre- rope which belonged to the gray cow.

Cian Finds Balor's Daughter
Cian Finds Balor's Daughter, from the drawing by H.R. Milliar
Image sources: Charles Squire: p.236
Cian was in great danger now, for Balor had found out about the child. He led the gray cow away with the rope to the sea-shore, and waited for Manannán. The Son of Lêr had told Cian that, when he was in any difficulty, he was to think of him, and he would at once appear. Cian thought of him now, and, in a moment, Manannán appeared with his coracle. Cian got into the boat, with the baby and the gray cow, just as Balor, in hot pursuit, came down to the beach.

Balor, by his incantations, raised a great storm to drown them; but Manannán, whose druidism was greater, stilled it. Then Balor turned the sea into fire, to burn them; but Manannán put it out with a stone.

When they were safe back in Ireland, Manannán asked Cian for his promised reward.

"I have gained nothing but the boy, and I cannot cut him in two, so I will give him to you whole," he replied.

"That is what I was wanting all the time," said Manannán; "when he grows up, there will be no champion equal to him."

So Manannán baptized the boy, calling him "the Dul-Dauna". This name, meaning "Blind-Stubborn", is certainly a curious corruption of the original loldanach "Master of all Knowledge". When the boy had grown up, he went one day to the sea-shore. A ship came past, in which was a man. The traditions of Donnybrook Fair are evidently prehistoric, for the boy, without troubling to ask who the stranger was, took a dart "out of his pocket", hurled it, and hit him. The man in the boat happened to be Balor. Thus, in accordance with the prophecy, he was slain by his grandson, who, though the folk- tale does not name him, was obviously Lugh.

Another version of the same legend, collected by the Irish scholar O'Donovan on the coast of Donegal, opposite Balor's favourite haunt, Tory Island, is interesting as completing the one just narrated. In this folk-tale, Goibniu is called Gavida, and is made one of three brothers, the other two being called Mac Kineely and Mac Samthainn. They were chiefs of Donegal, smiths and farmers, while Balor was a robber who harassed the mainland from his stronghold on Tory Island. The gray cow belonged to Mac Kineely, and Balor stole it. Its owner determined to be revenged, and, knowing the prediction concerning Balor's death at the hands of an as yet unborn grandson, he persuaded a kindly fairy to spirit him in female disguise to Tor Mor, where Balor's daughter, who was called Ethnea, was kept imprisoned. The result of this expedition was not merely the one son necessary to fulfil the prophecy, but three. This apparent superfluity was fortunate; for Balor drowned two of them, the other being picked out of the sea by the same fairy who had been incidentally responsible for his birth, and handed over to his father, Mac Kineely, to be brought up. Shortly after this, Balor managed to capure Mac Kineely, and, in retaliation for the wrong done him, chopped off his head upon a large white stone, still known locally as the "Stone of Kineely". Satisfied with this, and quite unaware that one of his daughter's children had been saved from death, and was now being brought up as a smith by Gavida, Balor went on with his career of robbery, varying it by visits to the forge to purchase arms. One day, being there during Gavida's absence, he began boasting to the young assistant of how he had compassed Mac Kineely's death. He never finished the story, for Lugh — which was the boy's name — snatched a red-hot iron from the fire, and thrust it into Balor's eye, and through his head.

Thus, in these two folk- tales, gathered in different parts of Ireland, at different times, by different persons, survives quite a mass of mythological detail only to be found otherwise in ancient manuscripts containing still more ancient matter. Crystallized in them may be found the names of six members of the old Gaelic Pantheon, each filling the same part as of old. Goibniu has not lost his mastery of smithcraft; Balor is still the Fomorian king of the cold regions of the sea; his daughter Ethniu becomes, by Cian, the mother of the sun-god; Lugh, who still bears his old title of loldanach, though it is strangely corrupted into a name meaning almost the exact opposite, is still fostered by Manannán, Son of the Sea, and in the end grows up to destroy his grandfather by a blow in the one vulnerable place, his death-dealing eye. Perhaps, too, we may claim to see a genuine, though jumbled tradition, in the Fomor-like deformities of Gobhan's wife and child, and in the story of the gray cow and her byre-rope, which recalls that of the Dagda's black-maned heifer, Ocean.

The Great Manannán
The memories of the peasantry still hold many stories of Lugh, as well as of Angus, and others of the old gods. But, next to the Gobhan Saer, the one whose fame is still greatest is that ever-potent and ever-popular figure, the great Manannán.

The last, perhaps, to receive open adoration, he is represented by kindly tradition as having been still content to help and watch over the people who had rejected and ceased to worship him. Up to the time of St. Columba, he was the special guardian of Irishmen in foreign parts, assisting them in their dangers and bringing them home safe. For the peasantry, too, he caused favourable weather and good crops. His fairy subjects tilled the ground while men slept. But this is said to have come to an end at last Saint Columba, having broken his golden chalice, gave it to a servant to get repaired. On his way, the servant was met by a stranger, who asked him where he was going. The man told him, and showed him the chalice. The stranger breathed upon it, and, at once, the broken parts reunited. Then he begged him to return to his master, give him the chalice, and tell him that Manannán son of Lêr, who had mended it, desired to know in very truth whether he would ever attain paradise. "Alas," said the ungrateful saint, "there is no forgiveness for a man who does such works as this!" The servant went back with the answer, and Manannán, when he heard it, broke out into indignant lament. "Woe is me, Manannán mac Lêr! for years I've helped the Catholics of Ireland, but I'll do it no more, till they're as weak as water. I'll go to the gray waves in the Highlands of Scotland."

And there he remained. For, unless the charming stories of Miss Fiona Macleod are mere beautiful imaginings and nothing more, he is not unknown even to-day among the solitary shepherds and fishers of **the farthest Hebrides". In the Contemporary Review for October, 1902, she tells how an old man of four-score years would often be visited in his shieling by a tall, beautiful stranger, with a crest on his head, 'Mike white canna blowing in the wind, but with a blueness in it", and "a bright, cold, curl- ing flame under the soles of his feet". The man told him many things, and prophesied to him the time of his death. Generally, the stranger's hands were hidden in the folds of the white cloak he wore, but, once, he moved to touch the shepherd, who saw then that his flesh was like water, with sea-weed floating among the bones. So that Murdo Maclan knew that he could be speaking with none other than the Son of the Sea.

Nor is he yet quite forgotten in his own Island of Man, of which local tradition says he was the first inhabitant. He is also described as its king, who kept it from invasion by his magic. He would cause mists to rise at any moment and conceal the island, and by the same glamour he could make one man seem like a hundred, and little chips of wood which he threw into the water to appear like ships of war. It is no wonder that he held his kingdom against all-comers, until his sway was ended, like that of the other Gaelic gods, by the arrival of Saint Patrick. After this, he seems to have declined into a traditionary giant who used to leap from Peel Castle to Contrary Head for exercise, or hurl huge rocks, upon which the mark of his hand can still be seen. It is said that he took no tribute from his subjects, or worshippers except bundles of green rushes, which were placed every Midsummer Eve upon two mountain peaks, one called Warrefield in olden days, but now South Barrule, and the other called Man, and not now to be identified. His grave, which is thirty yards long, is pointed out, close to Peel Castle. The most curious legend connected with him, however, tells us that he had three legs, on which he used to travel at a great pace. How this was done may be seen from the arms of the island, on which are pictured his three limbs, joined together, and spread out like the spokes of a wheel.

An Irish tradition tells us that, when Manannán left Ireland for Scotland, the vacant kingship of the gods or fairies was taken by one Mac Moineanta, to the great grief of those who had known Manannán. Perhaps this great grief led to Mac Moineanta's being deposed, for the present king of the Irish fairies is Finvarra, the same Fionnbharr to whom the Dagda allotted the sidh of Meadha after the conquest of the Tuatha Dé Danann by the Milesians, and who takes a prominent part in the Fenian stories. So great is the persistence of tradition in Ireland that this hill of Meadha, now spelt Knockma, is still considered to be the abode of him and his queen, Onagh. Numberless stories are told about Finvarra, including, of course, that very favourite Celtic tale of the stolen bride, and her recapture from the fairies by the siege and digging up of the sidh in which she was held prisoner. Finvarra, like Mider of Bri Leith, carried away a human Etain — the wife, not of a high king, but of an Irish lord. The modern Eochaid Airem, having heard an invisible voice tell him where he was to look for his lost bride, gathered all his workmen and labourers and proceeded to demolish Knockma. Every day they almost dug it up, but every night the breach was found to have been repaired by fairy workmen of Finvarra's. This went on for three days, when the Irish lord thought of the well-known device of sanctifying the work of excavation by sprinkling the turned-up earth with salt. Needless to say, it succeeded. Finvarra gave back the bride, still in the trance into which he had thrown her; and the deep cut into the fairy hill still remains to furnish proof to the incredulous.

The Rise of Lugh, the Gaelic Sun-God

It was as a result of the loss of his hand in the battle with the Fir Boigs that Nuada got his name of Argetlám, that is, the "Silver Handed". For Diancecht, the physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann, made him an artificial hand of silver, so skilfully that it moved in all its joints, and was as strong and supple as a real one. But, good as it was of its sort, it was a blemish; and, according to Celtic cus- tom, no maimed person could sit upon the throne. Nuada was deposed; and the Tuatha Dé Danann went into council to appoint a new king.

They agreed that it would be a politic thing for them to conciliate the Fomors, the giants of the sea, and make an alliance with them. So they sent a message to Bress, the son of the Fomorian king, Elathan, asking him to come and rule over them. Bress accepted this offer; and they made a marriage between him and Brigit, the daughter of the Dagda. At the same time, Cian the son of Diancecht, the physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann, married Ethniu, the daughter of the Fomor, Balor. Then Bress was made king, and endowed with lands and a palace; and he, on his part, gave hostages that he would abdicate if his rule ever became unpleasing to those who had elected him.

But, in spite of all his fair promises, Bress, who belonged in heart to his own fierce people, began to oppress his subjects with excessive taxes. He put a tax upon every hearth, upon every kneading- trough, and upon every quern, as well as a poll-tax of an ounce of gold upon every member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. By a crafty trick, too, he obtained the milk of all their cattle. He asked at first only for the produce of any cows which hap- pened to be brown and hairless, and the people of the goddess Danu granted him this cheerfully. But Bress passed all the cattle in Ireland between two fires, so that their hair was singed off, and thus obtained the monopoly of the main source of food. To earn a livelihood, all the gods, even the greatest, were now forced to labour for him. Oofma, their champion, was sent out to collect firewood, while the Dagda was put to work building forts and castles.

One day, when the Dagda was at his task, his son, Angus, came to him. "You have nearly finished that castle," he said. "What reward do you intend to ask from Bress when it is done?" The Dagda replied that he had not yet thought of it. "Let me give you some advice," said Angus. "Ask Bress to have all the cattle in Ireland gathered together upon a plain, so that you can pick out one for yourself. He will consent to that. Then choose the black-maned heifer called 'Ocean'."

The Dagda finished building the fort, and then went to Bress for his reward. "What will you have?" asked Bress. "I want all the cattle in Ireland gathered together upon a plain, so that I may choose one of them for myself" Bress did this; and the Dagda took the black-maned heifer Angus had told him of The king, who had expected to be asked very much more, laughed at what he thought was the Dagda's simplicity. But Angus had been wise; as will be seen hereafter.

Meanwhile Bress was infuriating the people of the goddess Danu by adding avarice to tyranny. It was for kings to be liberal to all-comers, but at the court of Bress no one ever greased his knife with fat, or made his breath smell of ale. Nor were there ever any poets or musicians or jugglers or jesters there to give pleasure to the people; for Bress would distribute no largess. Next, he cut down the very subsistence of the gods. So scanty was his allowance of food that they began to grow weak with famine. Ogma, through feebleness, could only carry one-third of the wood needed for fuel; so that they suffered from cold as well as from hunger.

It was at this crisis that two physicians, Miach, the son, and Airmid, the daughter, of Diancecht, the god of medicine, came to the castle where the dispossessed King Nuada lived. Nuada's porter, blemished, like himself (for he had lost an eye), was sitting at the gate, and on his lap was a cat curled up asleep. The porter asked the strangers who they were. "We are good doctors," they said. "If that is so,"he replied, "perhaps you can give me a new eye." "Certainly," they said, "we could take one of the eyes of that cat, and put it in the place where your lost eye used to be." "I should be very pleased if you would do that," answered the porter. So Miach and Airmid removed one of the cat's eyes, and put it in the hollow where the man's eye had been.

The story goes on to say that this was not wholly a benefit to him; for the eye retained its cat's nature, and, when the man wished to sleep at nights, the cat's eye was always looking out for mice, while it could hardly be kept awake during the day. Nevertheless, he was pleased at the time, and went and told Nuada, who commanded that the doctors who had performed this marvellous cure should be brought to him.

As they came in, they heard the king groaning, for Nuada's wrist had festered where the silver hand joined the arm of flesh. Miach asked where Nuada's own hand was, and they told him that it had been buried long ago. But he dug it up, and placed it to Nuada's stump; he uttered an incantation over it, saying: "Sinew to sinew, and nerve to nerve be joined!" and in three days and nights the hand had renewed itself and fixed itself to the arm, so that Nuada was whole again.

When Diancecht, Miach's father, heard of this, he was very angry to think that his son should have excelled him in the art of medicine. He sent for him, and struck him upon the head with a sword, cutting the skin, but not wounding the flesh. Miach easily healed this. So Diancecht hit him again, this time to the bone. Again Miach cured himself. The third time his father smote him, the sword went right through the skull to the membrane of the brain, but even this wound Miach was able to leech. At the fourth stroke, however, Diancecht cut the brain in two, and Miach could do nothing for that. He died, and Diancecht buried him. And upon his grave there grew up three hundred and sixty-five stalks of grass, each one a cure for any illness of each of the three hundred and sixty-five nerves in a man's body. Airmid, Miach's sister, plucked all these very carefully, and arranged them on her mantle according to their properties. But her angry and jealous father overturned the cloak, and hopelessly confused them. If it had not been for that act, says the early writer, men would know how to cure every illness, and would so be immortal.

The healing of Nuada's blemish happened just at the time when all the people of the goddess Danu had at last agreed that the exactions and tyranny of Bress could no longer be borne. It was the insult he put upon Cairpré, son of Ogma the god of literature, that caused things to come to this head. Poets were always held by the Celts in great honour; and when Cairpré, the bard of the Tuatha Dé Danann, went to visit Bress, he expected to be treated with much consideration, and fed at the king's own table. But, instead of doing so, Bress lodged him in a small, dark room where there was no fire, no bed, and no furniture except a mean table on which small cakes of dry bread were put on a little dish for his food. The next morning, Cairpré rose early and left the palace without having spoken to Bress. It was the custom of poets when they left a king's court to utter a panegyric on their host, but Cairpré treated Bress instead to a magical satire. It was the first satire ever made in Ireland, and seems to us to bear upon it all the marks of an early effort. Roughly rendered, it said:

"No meat on the plates,
No milk of the cows ;
No shelter for the belated ;
No money for the minstrels:
May Bress's cheer be what he gives to others!"

This satire of Cairpré's was, we are assured, so virulent that it caused great red blotches to break out all over Bress's face. This in itself constituted a blemish such as should not be upon a king, and the Tuatha Dé Danann called upon Bress to abdi- cate and let Nuada take the throne again.

Bress was obliged to do so. He went back to the country of the Fomors, underneath the sea, and complained to his father Elathan, its king, asking him to gather an army to reconquer his throne. The Fomors assembled in council — Elathan, Tethra, Balor, Indech, and all the other warriors and chiefs — and they decided to come with a great host, and take Ireland away, and put it under the sea where the people of the goddess Danu would never be able to find it again.

At the same time, another assembly was also being held at Tara, the capital of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Nuada was celebrating his return to the throne by a feast to his people. While it was at its height, a stranger clothed like a king came to the palace gate. The porter asked him his name and errand.

"I am called Lugh," he said. "I am the grandson of Diancecht by Cian, my father, and the grandson of Balor by Ethniu, my mother."

"But what is your profession?" asked the porter; "for no one is admitted here unless he is a master of some craft."
"I am a carpenter," said Lugh.
"We have no need of a carpenter. We already have a very good one; his name is Luchtainé.
"I am an excellent smith," said Lugh.
"We do not want a smith. We have a very good one; his name is Goibniu."
"I am a professional warrior," said Lugh.
"We have no need of one. Ogma is our champion."
"I am a harpist," said Lugh.
"We have an excellent harpist already."
"I am a warrior renowned for skilfulness rather than for mere strength."
"We already have a man like that."
"I am a poet and tale-teller," said Lugh.
"We have no need of such. We have a most accomplished poet and tale-teller."
"I am a sorcerer," said Lugh.
"We do not want one. We have numberless sorcerers and druids."
"I am a physician," said Lugh.
"Diancecht is our physician."
"I am a cup-bearer," said Lugh.
"We already have nine of them."
"I am a worker in bronze."
"We have no need of you. We already have a worker in bronze. His name is Credné."

"Then ask the king," said Lugh, "if he has with him a man who is master of all these crafts at once, for, if he has, there is no need for me to come to Tara."

So the door-keeper went inside, and told the king that a man had come who called himself Lugh the loldanach, or the "Master of all Arts", and that he claimed to know everything.

The king sent out his best chess-player to play against the stranger. Lugh won, inventing a new move called "Lugh's enclosure".

Then Nuada invited him in. Lugh entered, and sat down upon the chair called the "sage's seat", kept for the wisest man.

Ogma, the champion, was showing off his strength. Upon the floor was a flagstone so large that four- score yokes of oxen would have been needed to move it. Ogma pushed it before him along the hall, and out at the door. Then Lugh rose from his chair, and pushed it back again. But this stone, huge as it was, was only a portion broken from a still greater rock outside the palace. Lugh picked it up, and put it back into its place.

The Tuatha Dé Danann asked him to play the harp to them. So he played the "sleep-tune", and the king and all his court fell asleep, and did not wake until the same hour of the following day. Next he played a plaintive air, and they all wept. Lastly, he played a measure which sent them into transports of joy.

When Nuada had seen all these numerous talents of Lugh, he began to wonder whether one so gifted would not be of great help against the Fomors. He took counsel with the others, and, by their advice, lent his throne to Lugh for thirteen days, taking the "sage's seat" at his side.

Lugh summoned all the Tuatha Dé Danann to a council.

"The Fomors are certainly going to make war on us,"he said. "What can each of you do to help?"

Diancecht the Physician said: "I will completely cure everyone who is wounded, provided his head is not cut off, or his brain or spinal marrow hurt."

"I," said Goibniu the Smith, "will replace every broken lance and sword with a new one, even though the war last seven years. And I will make the lances so well that they shall never miss their mark, or fail to kill. Dulb, the smith of the Fomors, cannot do as much as that. The fate of the fighting will be decided by my lances."

"And I," said Credné the Bronze-worker, "will furnish all the rivets for the lances, the hilts for the swords, and the rims and bosses for the shields."

"And I," said Luchtainé the Carpenter, "will provide all the shields and lance -shafts." Ogma the Champion promised to kill the King of the Fomors, with thrice nine of his followers, and to capture one-third of his army.

"And you, O Dagda," said Lugh, "what will you do?"
"I will fight," said the Dagda, "both with force and craft. Wherever the two armies meet, I will crush the bones of the Fomors with my club, till they are like hailstones under a horse's feet."

"And you, O Morrigú?" said Lugh.
"I will pursue them when they flee," she replied. "And I always catch what I chase."

"And you, O Cairpré, son of Etan?" said Lugh to the poet, "what can you do?"
"I will pronounce an immediately-effective curse upon them; by one of my satires I will take away all their honour, and, enchanted by me, they shall not be able to stand against our warriors."

"And ye, O sorcerers, what will ye do?"
"We will hurl by our magic arts," replied Mathgan, the head sorcerer, "the twelve mountains of Ireland at the Fomors. These mountains will be Slieve League, Denna Ulad, the Mourne Mountains, Bri Ruri, Slieve Bloom, Slieve Snechta, Slemish, Blai-Sliab, Nephin, Sliab Maccu Belgodon, Segais and Cruachan Aigle".

Then Lugh asked the cup-bearers what they would do.
"We will hide away by magic," they said, "the twelve chief lakes and the twelve chief rivers of Ireland from the Fomors, so that they shall not be able to find any water, however thirsty they may be; those waters will conceal themselves from the Fomors so that they shall not get a drop, while they will give drink to the people of the goddess Danu as long as the war lasts, even if it last seven years." And they told Lugh that the twelve chief lakes were Lough Derg, Lough Luimnigh Lough Corrib, Lough Ree, Lough Mask, Strangford Lough, Lough Laeig, Lough Neagh, Lough Foyle, Lough Gara, Lough Reagh, and Márloch, and that the twelve chief rivers were the Bush, the Boyne, the Bann, the Nem, the Lee, the Shannon, the Moy, the Sligo, the Erne, the Finn, the Liffey, and the Suir.

Finally, the Druid, Figol, son of Mamos, said: "I will send three streams of fire into the faces of the Fomors, and I will take away two-thirds of their valour and strength, but every breath drawn by the people of the goddess Danu will only make them more valorous and strong, so that even if the fighting lasts seven years, they will not be weary of it."

All decided to make ready for a war, and to give the direction of it to Lugh.

The preparations for this war are said to have lasted seven years.

In spite of the dethronement of Bress, the Fomors still claimed their annual tribute from the tribe of the goddess Danu, and sent their tax-gatherers, nine times nine in number, to "Balor's Hill" to collect it. But, while they waited for the gods to come to tender their submission and their subsidy, they saw a young man approaching them. He was riding upon "Splendid Mane", the horse of Manannán son of Lêr, and was dressed in Manannán's breast- plate and helmet, through which no weapon could wound their wearer, and he was armed with sword and shield and poisoned darts. "Like to the setting sun", says the story, "was the splendour of his countenance and his forehead, and they were not able to look in his face for the greatness of his splendour." And no wonder! for he was Lugh the Far-shooter, the new-come sun-god of the Gaels. He fell upon the Fomorian tax-gatherers, killing all but nine of them, and these he only spared that they might go back to their kinsmen and tell how the gods had received them.

There was consternation in the under-sea country. "Who can this terrible warrior be?" asked Balor. "I know," said Balor's wife; "he must be the son of our daugher Ethniu; and I foretell that, since he has cast in his lot with his father's people, we shall never bear rule in Erin again."

The chiefs of the Fomors saw that this slaughter of their tax-gatherers signified that the Tuatha Dé Danann meant fighting. They held a council to debate on it. There came to it Elathan and Tethra and Indech, kings of the Fomors; Bress himself, and Balor of the stout blows; Cethlenn the crooked tooth, Balor's wife; Balor's twelve white-mouthed sons; and all the chief Fomorian warriors and druids.


The Battle of Magh Tuireadh

By this time the seven years of preparation had come to an end. A week before the Day of Samhain, the Morrigú discovered that the Fomors had landed upon Erin. She at once sent a messenger to tell the Dagda, who ordered his druids and sorcerers to go to the ford of the River Unius, in Sligo, and utter incantations against them.

The people of the goddess Danu, however, were not yet quite ready for battle. So the Dagda decided to visit the Fomorian camp as an ambassador, and, by parleying with them, to gain a little more time. The Fomors received him with apparent courtesy, and, to celebrate his coming, prepared him a feast of porridge ; for it was well-known how fond he was of such food. They poured into their king's cauldron, which was as deep as five giant's fists, fourscore gallons of new milk, with meal and bacon in proportion. To this they added the whole carcasses of goats, sheep, and pigs; they boiled the mixture together, and poured it into a hole in the ground. "Now," said they, "if you do not eat it all, we shall put you to death, for we will not have you go back to your own people and say that the Fomors are inhospitable." But they did not succeed in frightening the Dagda. He took his spoon, which was so large that two persons of our puny size might have reclined comfortably in the middle of it, dipped it into the porridge, and fished up halves of salted pork and quarters of bacon.

"If it tastes as good as it smells," he said, "it is good fare." And so it proved; for he ate it all, and scraped up even what remained at the bottom of the hole. Then he went away to sleep it off, followed by the laughter of the Fomors; for his stomach was so swollen with food that he could hardly walk. It was larger than the biggest cauldron in a large house, and stood out like a sail before the wind.

But the Fomors' little practical joke upon the Dagda had given the Tuatha Dé Danann time to collect their forces. It was on the eve of Samhain that the two armies came face to face. Even then the Fomors could not believe that the people of the goddess Danu would offer them much resistance.

"Do you think they will really dare to give us battle?" said Bress to Indech, the son of Domnu. "If they do not pay their tribute, we will pound their bones for them," he replied.

The war of gods and giants naturally mirrored the warfare of the Gaels, in whose battles, as in those of most semi-barbarous people, single combat figured largely. The main armies stood still, while, every day, duels took place between ambitious combatants.

But no great warriors either of the Tuatha Dé Danann or of the Fomors took part in them.

Sometimes a god, sometimes a giant would be the victor; but there was a difference in the net results that astonished the Fomors. If their own swords and lances were broken, they were of no more use, and if their own champions were killed, they never came back to life again ; but it was quite otherwise with the people of the goddess Danu. Weapons shattered on one day re-appeared upon the next in as good condition as though they had never been used, and warriors slain on one day came back upon the morrow unhurt, and ready, if neces- sary, to be killed again.

The Fomors decided to send someone to discover the secret of these prodigies. The spy they chose was Ruadan, the son of Bress and of Brigit, daughter of the Dagda, and therefore half-giant and half-god. He disguised himself as a Tuatha Dé Danann warrior, and went to look for Goibniu. Pie found him at his forge, together with Luchtainé, the carpenter, and Credné, the bronze-worker. He saw how Goibniu forged lance-heads with three blows of his hammer, while Luchtainé cut shafts for them with three blows of his axe, and Credné fixed the two parts together so adroitly that his bronze nails needed no hammering in. He went back and told the Fomors, who sent him again, this time to try and kill Goibniu.

He reappeared at the forge, and asked for a javelin. Without suspicion, Goibniu gave him one, and, as soon as he got it into his hand, he thrust it through the smith's body. But Goibniu plucked it out, and, hurHng it back at his assailant, mortally wounded him. Ruadan went home to die, and his father Bress and his mother Brigit mourned for him, inventing for the purpose the Irish "keening". Goibniu, on the other hand, took no harm. He went to the physician Diancecht, who, with his daughter Airmid, was always on duty at a miraculous well called the "spring of health". Whenever one of the Tuatha Dé Danann was killed or wounded, he was brought to the two doctors, who plunged him into the wonder-working water, and brought him back to life and health again.

The mystic spring was not long, however, allowed to help the people of the goddess. A young Fomorian chief, Octriallach son of Indech, found it out. He and a number of his companions went to it by night, each carrying a large stone from the bed of the River Drowes. These they dropped into the spring, until they had filled it, dispersed the healing water, and formed a cairn above it. Legend has identified this place by the name of the "Cairn of Octriallach".

This success determined the Fomors to fight a pitched battle. They drew out their army in line. There was not a warrior in it who had not a coat of mail and a helmet, a stout spear, a strong buckler, and a heavy sword. " Fighting the Fomors on that day ", says the old author, " could only be compared to one of three things — beating one's head against a rock, or plunging it into a fire, or putting one's hand into a serpent's nest."

All the great fighters of the Tuatha Dé Danann were drawn out opposite to them, except Lugh. A council of the gods had decided that his varied accomplishments made his life too valuable to be risked in battle. They had, therefore, left him behind, guarded by nine warriors. But, at the last moment, Lugh escaped from his warders, and ap- peared in his chariot before the army. He made them a patriotic speech. "Fight bravely," he said, "that your servitude may last no longer; it is better to face death than to live in vassalage and pay tribute." With these encouraging words, he drove round the ranks, standing on tiptoe, so that all the Tuatha Dé Danann might see him.

The Fomors saw him too, and marvelled. "It seems wonderful to me," said Bress to his druids, "that the sun should rise in the west to-day and in the east every other day." "It would be better for us if it were so," replied the druids. "What else can it be, then?" asked Bress. "It is the radiance of the face of Lugh of the Long Arms," said they.

Then the two armies charged each other with a great shout. Spears and lances smote against shields, and so great was the shouting of the fighters, the shattering of shields, the clattering of swords, the rattling of quivers, and the whistling of darts and javelins that it seemed as if thunder rolled every- where.

They fought so closely that the heads, hands, and feet of those on one side were touching the heads, hands, and feet of those on the other side; they shed so much blood on to the ground that it became hard to stand on it without slipping; and the river of Unsenn was filled with dead bodies, so hard and swift and bloody and cruel was the battle.

Many great chiefs fell on each side. Ogma, the champion of the Tuatha Dé Danann, killed Indech, the son of the goddess Domnu. But, meanwhile, Balor of the Mighty Blows raged among the gods, slaying their king, Nuada of the Silver Hand, as well as Macha, one of his warlike wives. At last he met with Lugh. The sun-god shouted a challenge to his grandfather in the Fomorian speech. Balor heard it, and prepared to use his death-dealing eye.

"Lift up my eyelid," he said to his henchmen, "that I may see this chatterer who talks to me.

The attendants lifted Balor's eye with a hook, and if the glance of the eye beneath had rested upon Lugh, he would certainly have perished. But, when it was half opened, Lugh flung a magic stone which struck Balor's eye out through the back of his head. The eye fell on the ground behind Balor, and destroyed a whole rank of thrice nine Fomors who were unlucky enough to be within sight of it.

An ancient poem has handed down the secret of this magic stone. It is there called a tathlum, meaning a "concrete ball" such as the ancient Irish warriors used sometimes to make out of the brains of dead enemies hardened with lime.

"A tathlum, heavy, fiery, firm,
Which the Tuatha Dé Danann had with them,
It was that broke the fierce Balor's eye.
Of old, in the battle of the great armies.

"The blood of toads and furious bears,
And the blood of the noble lion.
The blood of vipers and of Osmuinn's trunks ; —
It was of these the tathlum was composed.

"The sand of the swift Armorian sea.
And the sand of the teeming Red Sea ; —
All these, being first purified, were used
In the composition of the tathlum.

"Briun, the son of Bethar, no mean warrior,
Who on the ocean's eastern border reigned ;
— It was he that fused, and smoothly formed,
It was he that fashioned the tathlum.

"To the hero Lugh was given
This concrete ball, — no soft missile; —
In Mag Tuireadh of shrieking wails.
From his hand he threw the tathlum."

This blinding of the terrible Balor turned the fortunes of the fight; for the Fomors wavered, and the Morrfgu came and encouraged the people of the goddess Danu with a song, beginning "Kings arise to the battle", so that they took fresh heart, and drove the Fomors headlong back to their country underneath the sea.

Such was the battle which is called in Irish Mag Tuireadh na b-Fomorach, that is to say, the "Plain of the Towers of the Fomors", and, more popularly, the '' Battle of Moytura the Northern", to distinguish it from the other Battle of Moytura fought by the Tuatha Dé Danann against the Fir Bolgs farther to the south. More of the Fomors were killed in it, says the ancient manuscript, than there are stars in the sky, grains of sand on the sea- shore, snow-flakes in winter, drops of dew upon the meadows in spring-time, hailstones during a storm, blades of grass trodden under horses' feet, or Manannán son of Lêr's white horses, the waves of the sea, when a tempest breaks. The "towers" or pillars said to mark the graves of the combatants still stand upon the plain of Carrowmore, near Sligo, and form, in the opinion of Dr. Petrie, the finest collection of prehistoric monuments in the world, with the sole exception of Carnac, in Brittany. Megalithic structures of almost every kind are found among them — stone cairns with dolmens in their interiors, dolmens standing open and alone, dolmens surrounded by one, two, or three circles of stones, and circles without dolmens — to the number of over a hundred. Sixty-four of such prehistoric remains stand together upon an elevated plateau not more than a mile across, and make the battle-field of Moytura, though the least known, perhaps the most impressive of all primeval ruins. What they really commemorated we may never know, but, in all probability, the place was the scene of some important and decisive early battle, the monuments marking the graves of the chieftains who were interred as the result of it Those which have been examined were found to contain burnt wood and the half-burnt bones of men and horses, as well as implements of flint and bone. The cfctors, therefore, were still in the Neolithic Age. Whether the horses were domesticated ones buried with their riders, or wild ones eaten at the funeral feasts, it would be hard to decide. The history of the real event must have been long lost even at the early date when its relics were pointed out as the records of a battle between the gods and the giants of Gaelic myth.

The Tuatha Dé Danann, following the routed Fomors, overtook and captured Bress. He begged Lugh to spare his life.

"What ransom will you pay for it?" asked Lugh.
"I will guarantee that the cows of Ireland shall always be in milk," promised Bress.

But, before accepting, Lugh took counsel with his druids.

"What good will that be," they decided, "if Bress does not also lengthen the lives of the cows.?" This was beyond the power of Bress to do; so he made another offer.

"Tell your people," he said to Lugh, "that, if they will spare my life, they shall have a good wheat harvest every year."

But they said: "We already have the spring to plough and sow in, the summer to ripen the crops, the autumn for reaping, and the winter in which to eat the bread; and that is all we want."

Lugh told this to Bress. But he also said: "You shall have your life in return for a much less service to us than that."

"What is it?" asked Bress.
"Tell us when we ought to plough, when we ought to sow, and when we ought to harvest." Bress replied: "You should plough on a Tuesday, sow on a Tuesday, and harvest on a Tuesday."

And this lying maxim (says the story) saved Bress s life.

Lugh, the Dagda, and Ogma still pursued the Fomors, who had carried off in their flight the Dagda's harp. They followed them into the submarine palace where Bress and Elathan lived, and there they saw the harp hanging on the wall. This harp of the Dagda's would not play without its owner's leave. The Dagda sang to it:

"Come, oak of the two cries!
Come, hand of fourfold music!
Come, summer! Come, winter!
Voice of harps, bellows, and flutes!"

For the Dagda's harp had these two names; it was called "Oak of the two cries" and "Hand of four- fold music". It leaped down from the wall, killing nine of the Fomors as it passed, and came into the Dagda's hand. The Dagda played to the Fomors the three tunes known to all clever harpists — the weeping-tune, the laughing-tune, and the sleeping-tune. While he played the weeping-tune, they were bowed with weeping; while he played the laughing-tune, they rocked with laughter; and when he played the sleeping-tune, they all fell asleep. And while they slept, Lugh, the Dagda, and Ogma got away safely.

Next, the Dagda brought the black-maned heifer which he had, by the advice of Angus son of the Young, obtained from Bress. The wisdom of Angus had been shown in this advice, for it was this very heifer that the cattle of the people of the goddess Danu were accustomed to follow, whenever it lowed. Now, when it lowed, all the cattle which the Fomors had taken away from the Tuatha Dé Danann came back again.

Yet the power of the Fomors was not wholly broken. Four of them still carried on a desultory warfare by spoiling the corn, fruit, and milk of their conquerors. But the Morrigú and Badb and Mider and Angus pursued them, and drove them out of Ireland for ever.

Last of all, the Morrigú and Badb went up on to the summits of all the high mountains of Ireland, and proclaimed the victory. All the lesser gods who had not been in the battle came round and heard the news. And Badb sang a song which began :

" Peace mounts to the heavens,
The heavens descend to earth,
Earth lies under the heavens,
Everyone is strong . . .",

but the rest of it has been lost and forgotten. Then she added a prophecy in which she foretold the approaching end of the divine age, and the beginning of a new one in which summers would be flowerless and cows milkless and women shameless and men strengthless, in which there would be trees without fruit and seas without fish, when old men would give false judgments and legislators make unjust laws, when warriors would betray one another, and men would be thieves, and there would be no more virtue left in the world.

Image sources: smokebear.wordpress.comtuatha de danann
Formorians by Jhon Duncan
Formorians by Jhon Duncan
Image sources: www.monstropedia.orgFormorians
Lugh's Magic Spear; illustration by H. R. Millara tricephalic god
Left: Lugh's Magic Spear; illustration by H. R. Millar
Right: Gravure d'un dieu trichéphale -Engraving of a tricephalic god, often identified as Lugus, whose bas-relief was discovered in Paris in 1867 and is preserved at the Carnavalet museum. The source of this image is Les Dieux gaulois d'après les monuments figurés (The Gallic Gods According to the Figurative Monuments) by J.-L. Courcelle-Seneuil, published in Paris in 1910.
Image sources:  


And it was not long after Lugh had got the fine from the sons of Tuireann that the Fomor came and landed at Scetne.

The whole host of the Fomor were come this time, and their king, Balor, of the Strong Blows and of the Evil Eye, along with them; and Bres, and Indech, son of De Domnann, a king of the Fomor, and Elathan, son of Lobos, and Goll and Ingol, and Octriallach, son of Indech, and Elathan, son of Delbaeth.

Then Lugh sent the Dagda to spy out the Fomor, and to delay them till such time as the men of Ireland would come to the battle.

So the Dagda went to their camp, and he asked them for a delay, and they said he might have that. And then to make sport of him, the Fomor made broth for him, for he had a great love for broth. So they filled the king's cauldron with four times twenty gallons of new milk, and the same of meal and fat, and they put in goats and sheep and pigs along with that, and boiled all together, and then they poured it all out into a great hole in the ground. And they called him to it then, and told him he should eat his fill, the way the Fomor would not be reproached for want of hospitality the way Bres was. "We will make an end of you if you leave any part of it after you," said Indech, son of De Domnann.

So the Dagda took the ladle, and it big enough for a man and a woman to lie in the bowl of it, and he took out bits with it, the half of a salted pig, and a quarter of lard a bit would be. "If the broth tastes as well as the bits taste, this is good food," he said. And he went on putting the full of the ladle into his mouth till the hole was empty; and when all was gone he put down his hand and scraped up all that was left among the earth and the gravel.

Sleep came on him then after eating the broth, and the Fomor were laughing at him, for his belly was the size of the cauldron of a great house. But he rose up after a while, and, heavy as he was, he made his way home; and indeed his dress was no way sightly, a cape to the hollow of the elbows, and a brown coat, long in the breast and short behind, and on his feet brogues of horse hide, with the hair outside, and in his hand a wheeled fork it would take eight men to carry, so that the track he left after him was deep enough for the boundary ditch of a province. And on his way he saw the Battle-Crow, the Morrigu, washing herself in the river Unius of Connacht, and one of her two feet at Ullad Echne, to the south of the water, and the other at Loscuinn, to the north of the water, and her hair hanging in nine loosened locks. And she said to the Dagda, that she would bring the heart's blood of Indech, son of De Domnann, that had threatened him, to the men of Ireland.

And while he was away Lugh had called together the Druids, and smiths, and physicians, and law-makers, and chariot-drivers of Ireland, to make plans for the battle.

And he asked the great magician Mathgen what could he do to help them. "It is what I can do," said Mathgen, "through my power I can throw down all the mountains of Ireland on the Fomor, until their tops will be rolling on the ground. And the twelve chief mountains of Ireland will bring you their help," he said, "and will fight for you: Slieve Leag and Denda Ulad, and Bennai Boirche and Bri Ruri, and Slieve Bladma and Slieve Snechtae, and Slieve Mis and Blai-Slieve, and Nemthann and Slieve Macca Belgodon, and Segois and Cruachan Aigle."

Then he asked the cup-bearers what help they could give. "We will put a strong thirst on the Fomor," they said, "and then we will bring the twelve chief lochs of Ireland before them, and however great their thirst may be, they will find no water in them: Derc-Loch, Loch Luimnech, Loch Orbsen, Loch Righ, Loch Mescdhae, Loch Cuan, Loch Laeig, Loch Echach, Loch Febail, Loch Decket, Loch Riach, Mor-Loch. And we will go," they said, "to the twelve chief rivers of Ireland: the Buas, the Boinn, the Banna, the Nem, the Laoi, the Sionnan, the Muaid, the Sligech, the Samair, the Fionn, the Ruirtech, the Siuir; and they will all be hidden away from the Fomor the way they will not find a drop in them. But as for the men of Ireland," they said, "there will be drink for them if they were to be in the battle to the end of seven years."

And Figol, son of Mamos, the Druid, was asked then what he would do, and he said: "It is what I will do, I will cause three showers of fire to pour on the faces of the army of the Fomor, and I will take from them two-thirds of their bravery and their strength, and I will put sickness on their bodies, and on the bodies of their horses. But as to the men of Ireland," he said, "every breath they breathe will be an increase of strength and of bravery to them; and if they are seven years in the battle they will never be any way tired."

Then Lugh asked his two witches, Bechulle and Dianan: "What power can you bring to the battle?" "It is easy to say that," they said. "We will put enchantment on the trees and the stones and the sods of the earth, till they become an armed host against the Fomor, and put terror on them and put them to the rout."

Then Lugh asked Carpre, the poet, son of Etain, what could he do. "It is not hard to say that," said Carpre. "I will make a satire on them at sunrise, and the wind from the north, and I on a hill-top and my back to a thorn-tree, and a stone and a thorn in my hand. And with that satire," he said, "I will put shame on them and enchantment, the way they will not be able to stand against fighting men."

Then he asked Goibniu the Smith what would he be able to do. "I will do this," he said. "If the men of Ireland stop in the battle to the end of seven years, for every sword that is broken and for every spear that is lost from its shaft, I will put a new one in its place. And no spear-point that will be made by my hand," he said, "will ever miss its mark; and no man it touches will ever taste life again. And that is more than Dolb, the smith of the Fomor, can do," he said.

"And you, Credne," Lugh said then to his worker in brass, "what help can you give to our men in the battle?" "It is not hard to tell that," said Credne, "rivets for their spears and hilts for their swords and bosses and rims for their shields, I will supply them all."

"And you, Luchta," he said then to his carpenter, "what will you do?" "I will give them all they want of shields and of spear shafts," said Luchta.

Then he asked Diancecht, the physician, what would he do, and it is what he said: "Every man that will be wounded there, unless his head is struck off, or his brain or his marrow cut through, I will make him whole and sound again for the battle of the morrow."

Then the Dagda said: "Those great things you are boasting you will do, I will do them all with only myself." "It is you are the good god!" said they, and they all gave a great shout of laughter.

Then Lugh spoke to the whole army and put strength in them, so that each one had the spirit in him of a king or a great lord.

Then when the delay was at an end, the Fomor and the men of Ireland came on towards one another till they came to the plain of Magh Tuireadh. That now was not the same Magh Tuireadh where the first battle was fought, but it was to the north, near Ess Dara.

And then the two armies threatened one another. "The men of Ireland are daring enough to offer battle to us," said Bres to Indech, son of De Domnann. "I give my word," said Indech, "it is in small pieces their bones will be, if they do not give in to us and pay their tribute."

Now the Men of Dea had determined not to let Lugh go into the battle, because of the loss his death would be to them; and they left nine of their men keeping a watch on him.

And on the first day none of the kings or princes went into the battle, but only the common fighting men, and they fierce and proud enough.

And the battle went on like that from day to day with no great advantage to one or the other side. But there was wonder on the Fomor on account of one thing. Such of their own weapons as were broken or blunted in the fight lay there as they were, and such of their own men as were killed showed no sign of life on the morrow; but it was not so with the Tuatha de Danaan, for if their men were killed or their weapons were broken to-day, they were as good as before on the morrow.

And this is the way that happened. The well of Slaine lay to the west of Magh Tuireadh to the east of Loch Arboch. And Diancecht and his son Octruil and his daughter Airmed used to be singing spells over the well and to be putting herbs in it; and the men that were wounded to death in the battle would be brought to the well and put into it as dead men, and they would come out of it whole and sound, through the power of the spells. And not only were they healed, but there was such fire put into them that they would be quicker in the fight than they were before.

And as to the arms, it is the way they were made new every day. Goibniu the Smith used to be in the forge making swords and spears, and he would make a spear-head by three turns, and then Luchta the Carpenter would make the shaft by three cuts, and the third cut was a finish, and would set it in the ring of the spear. And when the spear-heads were stuck in the side of the forge, he would throw the shaft and the rings the way they would go into the spear-head and want no more setting. And then Credne the Brazier would make the rivets by three turns and would cast the rings of the spears to them, and with that they were ready and were set together.

And all this went against the Fomor, and they sent one of their young men to spy about the camp and to see could he find out how these things were done. It was Ruadan, son of Bres and of Brigit daughter of the Dagda they sent, for he was a son and grandson of the Tuatha de Danaan. So he went and saw all that was done, and came back to the Fomor.

And when they heard his story it is what they thought, that Goibniu the Smith was the man that hindered them most. And they sent Ruadan back again, and bade him make an end of him.

So he went back again to the forge, and he asked Goibniu would he give him a spear-head. And then he asked rivets of Credne, and a shaft of the carpenter, and all was given to him as he asked. And there was a woman there, Cron, mother to Fianlug, grinding the spears.

And after the spear being given to Ruadan, he turned and threw it at Goibniu, that it wounded him. But Goibniu pulled it out and made a cast of it at Ruadan, that it went through him and he died; and Bres, his father, and the army of the Fomor, saw him die. And then Brigit came and keened her son with shrieking and with crying.

And as to Goibniu, he went into the well and was healed. But after that Octriallach, son of Indech, called to the Fomor and bade each man of them bring a stone of the stones of Drinnes and throw them into the well of Slane. And they did that till the well was dried up, and a cairn raised over it, that is called Octriallach's Cairn.

And it was while Goibniu was making spear-heads for the battle of Magh Tuireadh, a charge was brought against his wife. And it was seen that it was heavy news to him, and that jealousy came on him. And it is what he did, there was a spear-shaft in his hand when he heard the story, Nes its name was; and he sang spells over the spear-shaft, and any one that was struck with that spear afterwards, it would burn him up like fire.

And at last the day of the great battle came, and the Fomor came out of their camp and stood in strong ranks. And there was not a leader or a fighting man of them was without good armour to his skin, and a helmet on his head, a broad spear in his right hand, a heavy sword in his belt, a strong shield on his shoulder. And to attack the army of the Fomor that day was to strike the head against a rock, or to go up fighting against a fire.

And the Men of Dea rose up and left Lugh and his nine comrades keeping him, and they went on to the battle; and Midhir was with them, and Bodb Dearg and Diancecht. And Badb and Macha and the Morrigu called out that they would go along with them.

And it was a hard battle was fought, and for a while it was going against the Tuatha de Danaan; and Nuada of the Silver Hand, their King, and Macha, daughter of Emmass, fell by Balor, King of the Fomor. And Cass-mail fell by Octriallach, and the Dagda got a dreadful wound from a casting spear that was thrown by Ceithlenn, wife of Balor.

But when the battle was going on, Lugh broke away from those that were keeping him, and rushed out to the front of the Men of Dea. And then there was a fierce battle fought, and Lugh was heartening the men of Ireland to fight well, the way they would not be in bonds any longer. For it was better for them, he said, to die protecting their own country than to live under bonds and under tribute any longer. And he sang a song of courage to them, and the hosts gave a great shout as they went into battle, and then they met together, and each of them began to attack the other.

And there was great slaughter, and laying low in graves, and many comely men fell there in the stall of death. Pride and shame were there side by side, and hardness and red anger, and there was red blood on the white skin of young fighting men. And the dashing of spear against shield, and sword against sword, and the shouting of the fighters, and the whistling of casting spears and the rattling of scabbards was like harsh thunder through the battle. And many slipped in the blood that was under their feet, and they fell, striking their heads one against another; and the river carried away bodies of friends and enemies together.

Then Lugh and Balor met in the battle, and Lugh called out reproaches to him; and there was anger on Balor, and he said to the men that were with him: "Lift up my eyelid till I see this chatterer that is talking to me." Then they raised Balor's eyelid, but Lugh made a cast of his red spear at him, that brought the eye out through the back of his head, so that it was towards his own army it fell, and three times nine of the Fomor died when they looked at it. And if Lugh had not put out that eye when he did, the whole of Ireland would have been burned in one flash. And after this, Lugh struck his head off.

And as for Indech, son of De Domnann, he fell and was crushed in the battle, and blood burst from his mouth, and he called out for Leat Glas, his poet, as he lay there, but he was not able to help him. And then the Morrigu came into the battle, and she was heartening the Tuatha de Danaan to fight the battle well; and, as she had promised the Dagda, she took the full of her two hands of Indech's blood, and gave it to the armies that were waiting at the ford of Unius; and it was called the Ford of Destruction from that day.

And after that it was not a battle any more, but a rout, and the Fomor were beaten back to the sea. And Lugh and his comrades were following them, and they came up with Bres, son of Elathan, and no guard with him, and he said: "It is better for you to spare my life than to kill me. And if you spare me now," he said, "the cows of Ireland will never go dry." "I will ask an advice about that from our wise men," said Lugh. So he told Maeltine Mor-Brethach, of the Great Judgments, what Bres was after saying. But Maeltine said: "Do not spare him for that, for he has no power over their offspring, though he has power so long as they are living."

Then Bres said: "If you spare me, the men of Ireland will reap a harvest of corn every quarter." But Maeltine said: "The spring is for ploughing and sowing, and the beginning of summer for the strength of corn, and the beginning of autumn for its ripeness, and the winter for using it."

"That does not save you," said Lugh then to Bres. But then to make an excuse for sparing him, Lugh said: "Tell us what is the best way for the men of Ireland to plough and to sow and to reap."

"Let their ploughing be on a Tuesday, and their casting seed into the field on a Tuesday, and their reaping on a Tuesday," said Bres. So Lugh said that would do, and he let him go free after that.

It was in this battle Ogma found Orna, the sword of Tethra, a king of the Fomor, and he took it from its sheath and cleaned it. And when the sword was taken out of the sheath, it told all the deeds that had been done by it, for there used to be that power in swords.

And Lugh and the Dagda and Ogma followed after the Fomor, for they had brought away the Dagda's harp with them, that was called Uaitne. And they came to a feasting-house, and in it they found Bres and his father Elathan, and there was the harp hanging on the wall. And it was in that harp the Dagda had bound the music, so that it would not sound till he would call to it. And sometimes it was called Dur-da-Bla, the Oak of Two Blossoms, and sometimes Coir-cethar-chuin, the Four-Angled Music.

And when he saw it hanging on the wall it is what he said: "Come summer, come winter, from the mouth of harps and bags and pipes." Then the harp sprang from the wall, and came to the Dagda, and it killed nine men on its way.

And then he played for them the three things harpers understand, the sleepy tune, and the laughing tune, and the crying tune. And when he played the crying tune, their tearful women cried, and then he played the laughing tune, till their women and children laughed; and then he played the sleepy tune, and all the hosts fell asleep. And through that sleep the three went away through the Fomor that would have been glad to harm them. And when all was over, the Dagda brought out the heifer he had got as wages from Bres at the time he was making his dun. And she called to her calf, and at the sound of her call all the cattle of Ireland the Fomor had brought away as tribute, were back in their fields again.

And Cé, the Druid of Nuada of the Silver Hand, was wounded in the battle, and he went southward till he came to Carn Corrslebe. And there he sat down to rest, tired with his wounds and with the fear that was on him, and the journey. And he saw a smooth plain before him, and it full of flowers, and a great desire came on him to reach to that plain, and he went on till he came to it, and there he died. And when his grave was made there, a lake burst out over it and over the whole plain, and it was given the name of Loch Cé. And there were but four men of the Fomor left in Ireland after the battle, and they used to be going through the country, spoiling corn and milk and fruit, and whatever came from the sea, till they were driven out one Samhain night by the Morrigu and by Angus Og, that the Fomor might never be over Ireland again.

And after the battle was won, and the bodies were cleared away, the Morrigu gave out the news of the great victory to the hosts and to the royal heights of Ireland and to its chief rivers and its invers, and it is what she said: "Peace up to the skies, the skies down to earth, the earth under the skies; strength to every one."

And as to the number of men that fell in the battle, it will not be known till we number the stars of the sky, or flakes of snow, or the dew on the grass, or grass under the feet of cattle, or the horses of the Son of Lir in a stormy sea.

And Lugh was made king over the Men of Dea then, and it was at Nas he had his court.

And while he was king, his foster-mother Taillte, daughter of Magh Mor, the Great Plain, died. And before her death she bade her husband Duach the Dark, he that built the Fort of the Hostages in Teamhair, to clear away the wood of Cuan, the way there could be a gathering of the people around her grave. So he called to the men of Ireland to cut down the wood with their wide-bladed knives and bill-hooks and hatchets, and within a month the whole wood was cut down.

And Lugh buried her in the plain of Midhe, and raised a mound over her, that is to be seen to this day. And he ordered fires to be kindled, and keening to be made, and games and sports to be held in the summer of every year out of respect to her. And the place they were held got its name from her, that is Taillten.

And as to Lugh's own mother, that was tall beautiful Ethlinn, she came to Teamhair after the battle of Magh Tuireadh, and he gave her in marriage to Tadg, son of Nuada. And the children that were born to them were Muirne, mother of Finn, the Head of the Fianna of Ireland, and Tuiren, that was mother of Bran.

The Kissing Stoner
The Kissing Stone. (the monuments marking the graves of the chieftains)
Image sources: Charles Squire: p.114
One of the tombs at Carrowmore.
One of the tombs at Carrowmore.
Image sources:
Reference: Wikipedia Carrowmore



And after Lugh had held the kingship for a long time, the Dagda was made king in his place.

And Lugh went away out of Ireland, and some said he died at Uisnech, the place where the five provinces meet, and the first place there was ever a fire kindled in Ireland. It was by Mide, son of Brath, it was kindled, for the sons of Nemed, and it was burning through six years, and it was from that fire every chief fire was kindled in Ireland.

But Lugh was seen again in Ireland at the time Conchubar and the Men of the Red Branch went following white birds southward to the Boinn at the time of Cuchulain's birth. And it was he came and kept watch over Cuchulain in his three days' sleep at the time of the War for the Bull of Cuailgne.

And after that again he was seen by Conn of the Hundred Battles, and this is the way that happened.

Conn was in Teamhair one time, and he went up in the early morning to the Rath of the Kings at the rising of the sun, and his three Druids with him, Maol and Bloc and Bhuice; and his three poets, Ethain and Corb and Cesarn. And the reason he had for going up there with them every day, was to look about on every side, the way if any men of the Sidhe would come into Ireland they would not come unknown to him. And on this day he chanced to stand upon a stone that was in the rath, and the stone screamed under his feet, that it was heard all over Teamhair and as far as Bregia.

Then Conn asked his chief Druid how the stone came there, and what it screamed for. And the Druid said he would not answer that till the end of fifty-three days. And at the end of that time, Conn asked him again, and it is what the Druid said: "The Lia Fail is the name of the stone; it is out of Falias it was brought, and it is in Teamhair it was set up, and in Teamhair it will stay for ever. And as long as there is a king in Teamhair it is here will be the gathering place for games, and if there is no king to come to the last day of the gathering, there will be hardness in that year. And when the stone screamed under your feet," he said, "the number of the screams it gave was a foretelling of the number of kings of your race that would come after you. But it is not I myself will name them for you," he said.

And while they were in the same place, there came a great mist about them and a darkness, so that they could not know what way they were going, and they heard the noise of a rider coming towards them. "It would be a great grief to us," said Conn, "to be brought away into a strange country." Then the rider threw three spears at them, and every one came faster than the other. "It is the wounding of a king indeed," said the Druids, "any one to cast at Conn of Teamhair."

The rider stopped casting his spears on that, and he came to them and bade Conn welcome, and asked him to come to his house. They went on then till they came to a beautiful plain, and there they saw a king's rath, and a golden tree at its door, and inside the rath a grand house with a roof of white bronze. So they went into the house, and the rider that had come to meet them was there before them, in his royal seat, and there had never been seen a man like him in Teamhair for comeliness or for beauty, or the wonder of his face.

And there was a young woman in the house, having a band of gold on her head, and a silver vessel with hoops of gold beside her, and it full of red ale, and a golden bowl on its edge, and a golden cup at its mouth. She said then to the master of the house: "Who am I to serve drink to?" "Serve it to Conn of the Hundred Battles," he said, "for he will gain a hundred battles before he dies." And after that he bade her to pour out the ale for Art of the Three Shouts, the son of Conn; and after that he went through the names of all the kings of Ireland that would come after Conn, and he told what would be the length of their lifetime. And the young woman left the vessel with Conn, and the cup and the bowl, and she gave him along with that the rib of an ox and of a hog; twenty-four feet was the length of the ox-rib.

And the master of the house told them the young woman was the Kingship of Ireland for ever. "And as for myself," he said, "I am Lugh of the Long Hand, son of Ethlinn."


The Gods in Exile

But though mortals had conquered gods upon a scale unparalleled in mythology, they had by no means entirely subdued them. Beaten in battle, the people of the goddess Danu had yet not lost their divine attributes, and could use them either to help or hurt. " Great was the power of the Dagda", says a tract preserved in the Book of Leinster, ''over the sons of Milé, even after the conquest of Ireland; for his subjects destroyed their corn and milk, so that they must needs make a treaty of peace with the Dagda. Not until then, and thanks to his good-will, were they able to harvest corn and drink the milk of their cows." The basis of this lost treaty seems to have been that the Tuatha Dé Danann, though driven from the soil, should receive homage and offerings from their successors. We are told in the verse dinnsenchus of Mag Slecht, that —

"Since the rule
Of Eremon, the noble man of grace,
There was worshipping of stones
Until the coming of good Patrick of Macha".

Dispossessed of upper earth, the gods had, however, to seek for new homes. A council was convened, but its members were divided between two opinions. One section of them chose to shake the dust of Ireland off its disinherited feet, and seek refuge in a paradise over-seas, situate in some unknown, and, except for favoured mortals, unknowable island of the west, the counterpart in Gaelic myth of the British

..." island-valley of Avilion ;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly ; but it lies
Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea"

— a land of perpetual pleasure and feasting, described variously as the "Land of Promise" (Tir Tairngiré) the "Plain of Happiness" (Mag Melt), the "Land of the Living" (Tir-nam-beo), the "Land of the Young" (Tir-nan-dg) and "Breasal's Island" (Hy-Breasail), Celtic mythology is full of the beauties and wonders of this mystic country, and the tradition of it has never died out. Hy-Breasail has been set down on old maps as a reality again and again; some pioneers in the Spanish seas thought they had discovered it, and called the land they found "Brazil"; and it is still said, by lovers of old lore, that a patient watcher, after long gazing westward from the westernmost shores of Ireland or Scotland, may sometimes be lucky enough to catch a glimpse against the sunset of its —

"summer isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea".

Of these divine emigrants the principal was Manannán son of Lêr. But there were others — indeed, the most part — of the gods who refused to expatriate themselves. For these residences had to be found, and the Dagda, their new king, proceeded to assign to each of those who stayed in Ireland a sidh. These sidhe were barrows, or hillocks, each being the door to an underground realm of inexhaustible splendour and delight, according to the somewhat primitive ideas of the Celts. A description is given of one which the Dagda kept for himself, and out of which his son Angus cheated him, which will serve as a fair example of all. There were apple-trees there always in fruit, and one pig alive and another ready roasted, and the supply of ale never failed. One may still visit in Ireland the sidhe of many of the gods, for the spots are known, and the traditions have not died out. To Lêr was given Sidh Fionnachaidh, now known as the "Hill of the White Field", on the top of Slieve Fuad, near Newtown Hamilton, in County Armagh. Bodb Derg received a sidh called by his own name, Sidh Bodb, just to the south of Portumna, in Gal way. Mider was given the sidh of Bri Leithy now called Slieve Golry, near Ardagh, in County Longford. Ogma's sidh was called Airceltrai; to Lugh was assigned Rodrubdn; Mananndn's son, Ilbhreach, received Sidh Eas Aedha Ruaidh, now the Mound of Mullachshee, near Ballyshannon, in Donegal; Fionnbharr had Sidh Meadha, now "Knockma", about five miles west of Tuam, where, as present king of the fairies, he is said to live today; while the abodes of other gods of lesser fame are also recorded. For himself the Dagda retained two, both near the River Boyne, in Meath, the best of them being the famous Brugh-na- Boyne. None of the members of the Tuatha Dé Danann were left unprovided for, save one.

It was from this time that the Gaelic gods received the name by which the peasantry know them to-day — Acs Sidhe, the "People of the Hills", or, more shortly, the Sidhe, Every god, or fairy, is a Fer-Sidhe, a "Man of the Hill"; and every goddess a Bean-Sidhe, a "Woman of the Hill", the banshee of popular legend.

The Riders of the Sidhe (1911) by John Duncan
"The Riders of the Sidhe" (1911) by John Duncan
These people are the descendants of ancient Celtic gods collectively known as Tuatha dé Danann. They are also known as "The Sidhe" or "People of the Hills" or "people of the mounds".
Image sources:
The most famous of such fairy hills are about five miles from Drogheda. They are still connected with the names of the Tuatha Dé Danann, though they are now not called their dwelling-places, but their tombs. On the northern bank of the Boyne stand seventeen barrows, three of which — Knowth, Dowth, and New Grange — are of great size. The last named, largest, and best preserved, is over 300 feet in diameter, and 70 feet high, while its top makes a platform 120 feet across. It has been explored, and Roman coins, gold torques, copper pins, and iron rings and knives have been found in it; but what else it may have once contained will never be known, for, like Knowth and Dowth, it was thoroughly ransacked by Danish spoilers in the ninth century. It is entered by a square doorway, the rims of which are elaborately ornamented with a kind of spiral pattern. This entrance leads to a stone passage, more than 60 feet long, which gradually widens and rises, until it opens into a chamber with a conical dome 20 feet high. On each side of this central chamber is a recess, with a shallow oval stone basin in it. The huge slabs of which the whole is built are decorated upon both the outer and the inner faces with the same spiral pattern as the doorway.

The origin of these astonishing prehistoric monuments is unknown, but they are generally attributed to the race that inhabited Ireland before the Celts. Gazing at marvellous New Grange, one might very well echo the words of the old Irish poet Mac Nia, in the Book of Ballymote:

"Behold the Sidh before your eyes.
It is manifest to you that it is a king's mansion,
Which was built by the firm Dagda,
It was a wonder, a court, an admirable hill."

It is not, however, with New Grange, or even with Knowth or Dowth, that the Dagda's name is now associated. It is a smaller barrow, nearer to the Boyne, which is known as the "Tomb of the Dagda". It has never been opened, and Dr. James Fergusson, the author of Rude Stone Monuments, who holds the Tuatha Dé Danann to have been a real people, thinks that "the bones and armour of the great Dagda may still be found in his honoured grave". Other Celtic scholars might not be so sanguine, though verses as old as the eleventh century assert that the Tuatha Dé Danann used the brughs for burial. It was about this period that the mythology of Ireland was being rewoven into spurious history. The poem, which is called the "Chronicles of the Tombs", not only mentions the "Monument of the Dagda" and the "Monument of the Morrigu", but also records the last resting- places of Ogma, Etain, Cairpre, Lugh, Boann, and Angus. The Dagda does not, after this, play much active part in the history of the people of the goddess Danu.
ENTRANCE TO THE GREAT CAIRN OF New Grange, ON THE BOYNE, NEAR DROGHEDA. (The entrance to Newgrange in 1905, when the mound had become largely overgrown)
Image sources: Charles Squire: p.136
Reference: Wikipedia Newgrange
ENTRANCE TO THE GREAT CAIRN OF New Grange, ON THE BOYNE, NEAR DROGHEDA. (The entrance to Newgrange in 1905, when the mound had become largely overgrown)
Image sources: Entrance stone with megalithic art
Reference: Wikipedia Newgrange

The Children of Lêr

We next hear of a council of gods to elect a fresh ruler. There were five candidates for the vacant throne — Bodb the Red, Mider, Ilbhreach son of Manannán, Lêr, and Angus himself, though the last-named, we are told, had little real desire to rule, as he preferred a life of freedom to the dignities of kingship. The Tuatha Dé Danann went into consultation, and the result of their deliberation was that their choice fell upon Bodb the Red, for three reasons — firstly, for his own sake; secondly, for his father, the Dagda's sake; and thirdly, because he was the Dagda's eldest son. The other competitors approved this choice, except two. Mider refused to give hostages, as was the custom, to Bodb Derg, and fled with his followers to "a desert country round Mount Leinster", in County Carlow, while Lêr retired in great anger to Sidh Fionnachaidh, declining to recognize or obey the new king.

Why Lêr and Mider should have so taken the matter to heart is difficult to understand, unless it was because they were both among the oldest of the gods.

Meanwhile, the people of the goddess Danu were justly incensed against both Lêr and Mider. Bodb the Red made a yearly war upon Mider in his sidh, and many of the divine race were killed on either side. But against Lêr, the new king of the gods refused to move, for there had been a great affection between them. Many times Bodb Derg tried to regain Lêr's friendship by presents and compliments, but for a long time without success.

At last Lêr's wife died, to the sea-god's great sorrow. When Bodb the Red heard the news, he sent a messenger to Lêr, offering him one of his own foster- daughters, Aebh, Aeife, and Ailbhe, the children of Ailioll of Arran. Lêr, touched by this, came to visit Bodb the Red at his sidk, and chose Aebh for his wife. "She is the eldest, so she must be the noblest of them," he said. They were married, and a great feast made, and Lêr took her back with him to Sldh Fionnachaidh.

Aebh bore four children to Lêr. The eldest was a daughter called Finola, the second was a son called Aed; the two others were twin boys called Fiachra and Conn, but in giving birth to those Aebh died.

Bodb the Red then offered Lêr another of his foster-children, and he chose the second, Aeife. Every year Lêr and Aeife and the four children used to go to Manannán's "Feast of Age", which was held at each of the sidhe in turn. The four children grew up to be great favourites among the people of the goddess Danu.

But Aeife was childless, and she became jealous of Lêr's children ; for she feared that he would love them more than he did her. She brooded over this until she began, first to hope for, and then to plot their deaths. She tried to persuade her servants to murder them, but they would not. So she took the four children to Lake Darvra (now called Lough Derravargh in West Meath), and sent them into the water to bathe. Then she made an incantation over them, and touched them, each in turn, with a druidical wand, and changed them into swans.

But, though she had magic enough to alter their shapes, she had not the power to take away their human speech and minds. Finola turned, and threatened her with the anger of Lêr and of Bodb the Red when they came to hear of it. She, however, hardened her heart, and refused to undo what she had done. The children of Lêr, finding their case a hopeless one, asked her how long she intended to keep them in that condition.

"You would be easier in mind," she said, "if you had not asked the question; but I will tell you. You shall be three hundred years here, on Lake Darvra; and three hundred years upon the Sea of Moyle, which Is between Erin and Alba; and three hundred years more at Irros Domnann and the Isle of Glora in Erris. Yet you shall have two consolations in your troubles; you shall keep your human minds, and yet suffer no grief at knowing that you have been changed into swans, and you shall be able to sing the softest and sweetest songs that were ever heard in the world."

Then Aeife went away and left them. She returned to Lêr, and told him that the children had fallen by accident into Lake Darvra, and were drowned.

Aoife by John DuncanLir and the Swans
Left: Aoife by John Duncan   Image sources:  
Right: Lir and the Swans   Image sources: Charles Squire: p.144  
But Lêr was not satisfied that she spoke the truth, and went in haste to the lake, to see if he could find traces of them. He saw four swans close to the shore, and heard them talking to one another with human voices. As he approached, they came out of the water to meet him. They told him what Aeife had done, and begged him to change them back into their own shapes. But Lêr's magic was not so powerful as his wife's, and he could not.

Nor even could Bodb the Red — to whom Lêr went for help, — for all that he was king of the gods. What Aeife had done could not be undone. But she could be punished for it! Bodb ordered his foster-daughter to appear before him, and, when she came, he put an oath on her to tell him truly "what shape of all others, on the earth, or above the earth, or beneath the earth, she most abhorred, and into which she most dreaded to be transformed". Aeife was obliged to answer that she most feared to become a demon of the air. So Bodb the Red struck her with his wand, and she fled from them, a shrieking demon.

All the Tuatha Dé Danann went to Lake Darvra to visit the four swans. The Milesians heard of it, and also went; for it was not till long after this that gods and mortals ceased to associate. The visit became a yearly feast. But, at the end of three hundred years, the children of Lêr were compelled to leave Lake Darvra, and go to the Sea of Moyle, to fulfil the second period of their exile.

They bade farewell to gods and men, and went. And, for fear lest they might be hurt by anyone, the Milesians made it law in Ireland that no man should harm a swan, from that time forth for ever.

The children of Lêr suffered much from tempest and cold on the stormy Sea of Moyle, and they were very lonely. Once only during that long three hundred years did they see any of their friends. An embassy of the Tuatha Dé Danann, led by two sons of Bodb the Red, came to look for them, and told them all that had happened in Erin during their exile.

At last that long penance came to an end, and they went to Irros Domnann and Innis Glora for their third stage. And while it was wearily dragging through, Saint Patrick came to Ireland, and put an end to the power of the gods for ever. They had been banned and banished when the children of Lêr found themselves free to return to their old home. Sidh Fionnechaidh was empty and deserted, for Lêr had been killed by Caoilté, the cousin of Finn mac Coul.

So, after long, vain searching for their lost relatives, they gave up hope, and returned to the Isle of Glora. They had a friend there, the Lonely Crane of Inniskea, which has lived upon that island ever since the beginning of the world, and will be still sitting there on the day of judgment. They saw no one else until, one day, a man came to the island. He told them that he was Saint Caemhoc and that he had heard their story. He brought them to his church, and preached the new faith to them, and they believed on Christ, and consented to be baptised. This broke the pagan spell, and, as soon as the holy water was sprinkled over them, they returned to human shape. But they were very old and bowed — three aged men and an ancient woman. They did not live long after this, and Saint Caemhoc, who had baptised them, buried them all together in one grave.
The Children of Lir (1914) by John Duncan
The Children of Lir (1914) by John Duncan
Image sources:  

Yon can also read the details of "The Story of the Children of Lir" at The Project Gutenberg eBook, The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland, by T. W. Rolleston, et al, Illustrated by Stephen Reid. BARDIC ROMANCES CHAPTER I - The Story of the Children of Lir
There sat the three maidens with the QueenLir and the Swans
Left: "There sat the three maidens with the Queen" and Bóv the Red bade Lir choose which one he would have to wife. 
Right: "They made an encampment and the swans sang to them". Bóv the Red, his nobles and attendants came to the shores of Loch Derryvaragh. The swans conversed with them and sang to them.  
Source of both images: The Project Gutenberg eBook, The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland. BARDIC ROMANCES CHAPTER I - The Story of the Children of Lir



In Irish mythology, Aengus (Old Irish: Oíngus, Óengus) is a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann and probably a god of love, youth and poetic inspiration. He is traditionally described as having singing birds circling his head.
His parents were the Dagda and Boann. The Dagda had an affair with the river goddes Boann, wife of Nechtan. To hide her pregnancy, the Dagda made the sun stand still for nine months so that Aengus was conceived, gestated and born in one day. Midir was his foster-father. (Wikipedia: Aengus)

Aengus, the "Son of the Young", was absent when the distribution of the sidhe was made. When he returned, he came to his father, the Dagda, and demanded one. The Dagda pointed out to him that they had all been given away. Angus protested, but what could be done? By fair means, evidently nothing; but by craft, a great deal. The wily Angus appeared to reconcile himself to fate, and only begged his father to allow him to stay at the sidh of Brugh-na-Boyne (New Grange) for a day and a night. The Dagda agreed to this, no doubt congratulating himself on having got out of the difficulty so easily. But when he came to Angus to remind him that the time was up, Angus refused to go. He had been granted, he claimed, day and night, and it is of days and nights that time and eternity are composed; therefore there was no limit to his tenure of the sidh. The logic does not seem very convincing to our modern minds, but the Dagda is said to have been satisfied with it. He abandoned the best of his two palaces to his son, who took peaceable possession of it. Thus it got a second name, that of the Sidh or Brugh of the "Son of the Young".

The Dagda does not, after this, play much active part in the history of the people of the goddess Danu. We next hear of a council of gods to elect a fresh ruler. There were five candidates for the vacant throne — Bodb the Red, Mider, Ilbhreach son of Mananndn, Ler, and Angus himself, though the last-named, we are told, had little real desire to rule, as he preferred a life of freedom to the dignities of kingship. (Charles Squire: pp.139-140)

The dream of Aengus

Aengus was the Gaelic Eros, and was busy living up to his character. At this time, the object of his love was a maiden who had visited him one night in a dream, only to vanish when he put out his arms to embrace her. All the next day, we are told, Angus took no food. Upon the following night, the unsubstantial lady again appeared, and played and sang to him. That following day, he also fasted. So things went on for a year, while Angus pined and wasted for love. At last the physicians of the Tuatha De Danann guessed his complaint, and told him how fatal it might be to him. Angus asked that his mother Boann might be sent for, and, when she came, he told her his trouble, and implored her help. She went to the Dagda and begged him, if he did not wish to see his son die of unrequited love, a disease that all Diancecht's medicine and Goibniu's magic could not heal, to find the dream- maiden. The Dagda could do nothing himself, but he sent to Bodb the Red, and the new king of the gods sent in turn to the lesser deities of Ireland, ordering all of them to search for her. For a year she could not be found, but at last the disconsolate lover received a message, charging him to come and see if he could recognize the lady of his dreams. Angus came, and knew her at once, even though she was surrounded by thrice fifty attendant nymphs. Her name was Caer, and she was the daughter of Etal Ambuel, who had a sidh at Uaman, in Connaught. Bodb the Red demanded her for Angus in marriage, but her father declared that he had no control over her. She was a swan-maiden, he said; and every year, as soon as summer was over, she went with her companions to a lake called "Dragon- Mouth", and there all of them became swans. But, refusing to be thus put off, Angus waited in patience until the day of the magical change, and then went down to the shore of the lake. There, surrounded by thrice fifty swans, he saw Caer, herself a swan surpassing all the rest in beauty and whiteness. He called to her, proclaiming his passion and his name, and she promised to be his bride, if he too would become a swan. He agreed, and with a word she changed him into swan-shape, and thus they flew side by side to Angus's sidh, where they retook the human form, and, no doubt, lived happily as long as could be expected of such changeable immortals as pagan deities. (Charles Squire: pp.140-142)

The dream of Aengus
Click here for full-size image (1920x2560 pixels, 916KB)
The dream of Aengus
Image sources: and dream of Aengus

Manannán son of Lêr

Of those divine emigrants the principal was Mananndn son of Lêr. But, though he had cast in his lot beyond the seas, he did not cease to visit Ireland. An old Irish king. Bran, the son of Febal, met him, according to a seventh-century poem, as Bran journeyed to, and Manannán from, the earthly paradise. Bran was in his boat, and Manannán was driving a chariot over the tops of the waves, and he sang:

"Bran deems it a marvellous beauty
In his coracle across the clear sea:
While to me in my chariot from afar
It is a flowery plain on which he rides about.

"What is a clear sea
For the prowed skiff in which Bran is.
That is a happy plain with profusion of flowers
To me from the chariot of two wheels.

"Bran sees
The number of waves beating across the clear sea:
I myself see in Mag Mon
Red-headed flowers without fault.

"Sea-horses glisten in summer
As far as Bran has stretched his glance:
Rivers pour forth a stream of honey
In the land of Manannán son of Lêr.

"The sheen of the main, on which thou art,
The white hue of the sea, on which thou rowest about,
Yellow and azure are spread out,
It is land, and is not rough.

"Speckled salmon leap from the womb
Of the white sea, on which thou lookest:
They are calves, they are coloured lambs
With friendliness, without mutual slaughter.

"Though but one chariot-rider is seen
In Mag MelP of many flowers.
There are many steeds on its surface,
Though them thou seest not.

"Along the top of a wood has swum
Thy coracle across ridges.
There is a wood of beautiful fruit
Under the prow of thy little skiff.

" A wood with blossom and fruit.
On which is the vine's veritable fragrance;
A wood without decay, without defect.
On which are leaves of a golden hue."

And, after this singularly poetical enunciation of the philosophical and mystical doctrine that all things are, under their diverse forms, essentially the same, he goes on to describe to Bran the beauties and pleasures of the Celtic Elysium.

Manannán mac Lir sculpture, Gortmore
Manannán mac Lir sculpture, Gortmore
Image sources:
References: Wikipedia Manannán mac Lir Missing Manannán Mac Lir sculpture was discovered
The boat from the 1st century BC Broighter Hoard, possibly a votive offering to Manannán mac Lir
The boat from the 1st century BC Broighter Hoard, possibly a votive offering to Manannán mac Lir
Image sources:
Reference: Wikipedia Manannán mac Lir


The Wooing of Étaín (Tochmarc Étaíne) - Egerton version

At this time Eochaid Airem was high king of Ireland, and reigned at Tara; while, under him, as vassal monarchs, Conchobar mac Nessa ruled over the Red Branch Champions of Ulster; Curoi son of Daire\ was king of Munster; Mesgegra was king of Leinster; and Ailell, with his famous queen, Medb, governed Connaught.

Shortly before, among the gods, Angus Son of the Young, had stolen away Etain, the wife of Mider. He kept her imprisoned in a bower of glass, which he carried everywhere with him, never allowing her to leave it, for fear Mider might recapture her. The Gaelic Pluto, however, found out where she was, and was laying plans to rescue her, when a rival of Etain's herself decoyed Angus away from before the pleasant prison-house, and set his captive free. But, instead of returning her to Mider, she changed the luckless goddess into a fly, and threw her into the air, where she was tossed about in great wretchedness at the mercy of every wind.

At the end of seven years, a gust blew her on to the roof of the house of Etair, one of the vassals of Conchobar, who was celebrating a feast. The unhappy fly, who was Etain, was blown down the chimney into the room below, and fell, exhausted, into a golden cup full of beer, which the wife of the master of the house was just going to drink. And the woman drank Etain with the beer.

But, of course, this was not the end of her — for the gods cannot really die, — but only the beginning of a new life, Etain was reborn as the daughter of Etair s wife, no one knowing that she was not of mortal lineage. She grew up to be the most beauti- ful woman in Ireland.

When she was twenty years old, her fame reached the high king, who sent messengers to see if she was as fair as men reported. They saw her, and returned to the king full of her praises. So Eochaid himself went to pay her a visit. He chose her to be his queen, and gave her a splendid dowry.

It was not till then that Mider heard of her. He came to her in the shape of a young man, beautifully dressed, and told her who she really was, and how she had been his wife among the people of the goddess Danu. He begged her to leave the king, and come with him to his sidh at Bri Leith. But Etain refused with scorn.

"Do you think," she said, "that I would give up the high king of Ireland for a person whose name and kindred I do not know, except from his own lips?"

The god retired, baffled for the time. But one day, as King Eochaid sat in his hall, a stranger entered. He was dressed in a purple tunic, his hair was like gold, and his eyes shone like candles.

The king welcomed him.
"But who are you?" he asked; "for I do not know you."
"Yet I have known you a long time," returned the stranger.
"Then what is your name?"
"Not a very famous one. I am Mider of Bri Leith."
"Why have you come here?"
"To challenge you to a game of chess."
"I am a good chess-player," replied the king, who was reputed to be the best in Ireland.
"I think I can beat you," answered Mider.
"But the chess-board is in the queen's room, and she is asleep," objected Eochaid.
"It does not matter," replied Mider. "I have brought a board with me which can be in no way worse than yours."

He showed it to the king, who admitted that the boast was true. The chess-board was made of silver set in precious stones, and the pieces were of gold.
"Play!" said Mider to the king.
"I never play without a wager," replied Eochaid.
"What shall be the stake?" asked Mider.
"I do not care," replied Eochaid.
"Good!" returned Mider. "Let it be that the loser pays whatever the winner demands."
"That is a wager fit for a king," said Eochaid.

They played, and Mider lost. The stake that Eochaid claimed from him was that Mider and his subjects should make a road through Ireland. Eochaid watched the road being made, and noticed how Mider's followers yoked their oxen, not by the horns, as the Gaels did, but at the shoulders, which was better. He adopted the practice, and thus got his nickname, Airem, that is, "The Ploughman".

After a year, Mider returned and challenged the king again, the terms to be the same as before. Eochaid agreed with joy; but, this time, he lost.

"I could have beaten you before, if I had wished," said Mider, "and now the stake I demand is Etain, your queen."

The astonished king, who could not for shame go back upon his word, asked for a year's delay. Mider agreed to return upon that day year to claim Etain. Eochaid consulted with his warriors, and they decided to keep watch through the whole of the day fixed by Mider, and let no one pass in or out of the royal palace till sunset. For Eochaid held that if the fairy king could not get Etain upon that one day, his promise would be no longer binding on him.

So, when the day came, they barred the door and guarded it, but suddenly they saw Mider among them in the hall. He stood beside Etain, and sang this song to her, setting out the pleasures of the homes of the gods under the enchanted hills.

"O fair lady ! will you come with me
To a wonderful country which is mine,
Where the people's hair is of golden hue.
And their bodies the colour of virgin snow?

"There no grief or care is known ;
White are their teeth, black their eyelashes;
Delight of the eye is the rank of our hosts.
With the hue of the fox-glove on every cheek.

"Crimson are the flowers of every mead,
Gracefully speckled as the blackbird's egg;
Though beautiful to see be the plains of Inisfail
They are but commons compared to our great plains.

"Though intoxicating to you be the ale-drink of Inisfail,
More intoxicating the ales of the great country;
The only land to praise is the land of which I speak,
Where no one ever dies of decrepit age.

"Soft sweet streams traverse the land;
The choicest of mead and of wine;
Beautiful people without any blemish;
Love without sin, without wickedness.

"We can see the people upon all sides,
But by no one can we be seen;
The cloud of Adam's transgression it is
That prevents them from seeing us.

"O lady, should you come to my brave land.
It is golden hair that will be on your head;
Fresh pork, beer, new milk, and ale,
You there with me shall have, O fair lady!"

Midhir and Etain - 'They rose up in the air'
Midhir and Etain - "They rose up in the air".
Image sources: The Project Gutenberg eBook, The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland, by T. W. Rolleston, et al, Illustrated by Stephen Reid CHAPTER VII The Story of Etain and Midir

Then Mider greeted Eochaid, and told him that he had come to take away Etain, according to the king's wager. And, while the king and his warriors looked on helplessly, he placed one arm round the now willing woman, and they both vanished. This broke the spell that hung over everyone in the hall; they rushed to the door, but all they could see were two swans flying away.

The king would not, however, yield to the god. He sent to every part of Ireland for news of Etain, but his messengers all came back without having been able to find her. At last, a druid named Dâlin learned, by means of ogams carved upon wands of yew, that she was hidden under Mider's sidh of Bri Leith. So Eochaid marched there with an army, and began to dig deep into the abode of the gods of which the "fairy hill" was the portal. Mider, as terrified as was the Greek god Hades when it seemed likely that the earth would be rent open, and his domains laid bare to the sight, sent out fifty fairy maidens to Eochaid, every one of them having the appearance of Etain. But the king would only be content with the real Etain, so that Mider, to save his sidh, was at last obliged to give her up. And she lived with the King of Ireland after that until the death of both of them.

But Mider never forgave the insult. He bided his time for three generations, until Eochaid and Etain had a male descendant. For they had no son, but only a daughter called Etain, like her mother, and this second Etain had a daughter called Messbuachallo, who had a son called Conairé, surnamed "the Great". Mider and the gods wove the web of fate round Conaire, so that he and all his men died violent deaths.

The Courtship oF Étaín (Tochmarc Étaíne) - Leabbar na h-Uidhri version

Midhir and Etain Sculpture at Ardagh Heritage Centre, County Longford.
Midhir and Etain Sculpture at Ardagh Heritage Centre, County Longford.
Image sources:

Tochmarc Étaíne, meaning "The Wooing of Étaín/Éadaoin", is an early text of the Irish Mythological Cycle, and also features characters from the Ulster Cycle and the Cycles of the Kings. It is partially preserved in the manuscript known as the Lebor na h-Uidre (c. 1106), and completely preserved in the Yellow Book of Lecan (c. 1401), written in language believed to date to the 8th or 9th century. It tells of the lives and loves of Étaín, a beautiful mortal woman of the Ulaid, and her involvement with Aengus and Midir of the Tuatha Dé Danann. It is frequently cited as a possible source text for the Middle English Sir Orfeo. Harvard professor Jeffrey Gantz describes the text as displaying the "poetic sense of law" in Irish legal society.

Although the manuscript evidence is not entirely clear on this, the editors Best and Bergin have divided Tochmarc Étaíne (TE) into three subtales, TE I (§§ 10), TE II (§§ 11-14) and TE III (§§ 14-26).

1.The story begins with the conception of Aengus by the Dagda and Boand, wife of Elcmar. Aengus is fostered by Midir, and when he grows up takes possession of the Brug na Boinne from Elcmar.

2.Midir visits Aengus, but is blinded by a sprig of holly thrown by boys playing the Brug, and after he has been healed by the physician DianCecht, he demands compensation from Aengus: among other things, the hand of the most beautiful woman in Ireland. He has already identified this woman: Étaín, daughter of Ailill (Ailill mac Mata or Ailill the son of Mata of Muresc), king of the Ulaid. To win her for Midir, Aengus has to perform various tasks for King Ailill, including clearing plains and diverting rivers, as well pay her weight in gold and silver. Midir takes Étaín as his wife.

3.However, Midir's first wife, Fúamnach, out of jealousy, turns her into a pool of water, out of which, as it evaporates, emerges a beautiful purple fly. Midir knows the fly is Étaín, and she accompanies him wherever he goes. But Fúamnach conjures up a storm which blows the fly away, and she drifts for seven years before landing on Aengus's clothing, exhausted. Aengus makes her a crystal bower which he carries around with him, until she returns to health. Fuamnach conjures up another storm and blows her away from Aengus, and after another seven years she lands in a golden cup in the hand of the wife of Étar, a warrior of the Ulaid, in the time of Conchobar mac Nessa. Étar's wife drinks from the cup, swallows the fly, and becomes pregnant. Étaín is reborn, 1,002 years after her first birth. Meanwhile, Aengus hunts down Fúamnach and cuts off her head.

The High King of Ireland, Eochu Airem, seeks a wife, because the provincial kings will not submit to a king with no queen. He sends messengers to find the most beautiful woman in Ireland, and they find Étaín. He falls in love with her and marries her, but his brother Ailill (Ailill Anguba or Ailell Anglonach) also falls for her, and wastes away with unrequited love. Eochu leaves Tara on a tour of Ireland, leaving Étaín with the dying Ailill, who tells her the cause of his sickness, which he says would be cured if she gave the word. She tells him she wants him to be well, and he begins to get better, but says the cure will only be complete if she agrees to meet him on the hill above the house, so as not to shame the king in his own house. She agrees to do so three times, but each time she goes to meet him, she in fact meets Midir, who has put Ailill to sleep and taken his appearance. On the third occasion Midir reveals his identity and tells Étaín who she really is, but she does not know him. She finally agrees to go with him, but only if Eochu agrees to let her go.

Later, after Ailill has fully recovered and Eochu has returned home, Midir comes to Tara and challenges Eochu to play fidchell, an ancient Irish board game, with him. They play for ever increasing stakes. Eochu keeps winning, and Midir has to pay up. One such game compels Midir to build a causeway across the bog of Móin Lámrige: the Corlea Trackway, a wooden causeway built across a bog in County Longford, dated by dendrochronology to 148 BC, is a real-life counterpart to this legendary road. Finally, Midir suggests they play for a kiss and an embrace from Étaín, and this time he wins. Eochu tells Midir to come back in a year for his winnings, and gathers his best warriors at Tara to prepare for his return. Despite the heavy guard, Midir appears inside the house. Eochu agrees that Midir may embrace Étaín, but when he does, the pair fly away through the skylight, turning into swans as they do so.

Eochu instructs his men to dig up every síd (fairy-mound) in Ireland until his wife is returned to him. Finally, when they set to digging at Midir's síd at Brí Léith, Midir appears and promises to give Étaín back. But at the appointed time, Midir brings fifty women, who all look alike, and tells Eochu to pick which one is Étaín. He chooses the woman he thinks is his wife, takes her home and sleeps with her. She becomes pregnant and bears him a daughter. Later, Midir appears and tells him that Étaín had been pregnant when he took her, and the woman Eochu had chosen was his own daughter, who had been born in Midir's síd. Out of shame, Eochu, orders the daughter of their incestuous union to be exposed, but she is found and brought up by a herdsman and his wife, and later marries Eochu's successor Eterscél and becomes the mother of the High King Conaire Mór (in Togail Bruidne Dá Derga she is named as Mess Búachalla and is the daughter of Étaín and Eochu Feidlech). The story ends with Eochu's death at the hands of Sigmall Cael, Midir's grandson.

The chivalric romance Sir Orfeo, retelling the story of Orpheus as a king rescuing his wife from the fairy king, shows so many motifs in common with this tale that it appears to have been a major influence on it.

Note: The Egerton version of "Etain," which is a complete one, and makes a stately romance. It is full of human interest, love being its keynote; it keeps the supernatural element which is an essential to the original legend in the background, and is of quite a different character to the earlier Leabhar na h-Uidhri version, although there is no reason to assume that the latter is really the more ancient in date. In the Leabbar na h-Uidhri version of "Etain," all that relates to the love-story is told in the baldest manner, the part which deals with the supernatural being highly descriptive and poetic. (HEROIC ROMANCES OF IRELAND)

Both versions can be read at Project Gutenberg EBook: HEROIC ROMANCES OF IRELAND

Additional LEABHAR NA H-UIDHRI version can also be read at Project Gutenberg EBook: GODS AND FIGHTING MEN