The Mists—and Myths—of Tuatha Dé Danann

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In the long, long ago, and not too far, far away, a great cloud descended from the north, blanketing Sliabh an Iarainn—the Iron Mountain—in the remote reaches of Connaught, Ireland.

Dark and shifting, the mysterious fog covered the sun for three days and the moon for three nights.

Some say it occluded a fleet of 300 ships—ships that bore magical seafarers with magical gifts. Ships that were unloaded then set ablaze, the smoke mixing with the fog.

Others claim that the enigmatic cloud hid pilgrims who came not from water but from the sky—perhaps another sky—in vehicles that disintegrated when they landed on the shores of Lough Aillionn, near the source of the River Shannon.

Yet others believe that the cloud was none other than the wings of the strangers themselves, cradled by the great goddess Danu. For, indeed, the Tuatha Dé Danann (TOO-əhə də du-nən) were the Tribe of Danu. They were her people.

Regardless of whence they came, when the cloud abated, a dynasty of majestic beings dwelled in a well-fortified camp, just as the Eochaid mac Eirc, king of the Fir Bolg, had foreseen. Eochaid’s people were warriors, men (fir) who carried fertilized earth in bags (bolg) to cultivate and defend their land day and night. They knew not of magic. Their swarthy bodies instinctively bulged with battle fury as they approached the mysterious fortification and its occupants with awe and inquest.

Perhaps, like the Fir Bolg themselves, the strangers were a race of nomads from Greece, seafarers born from the teeth of a cosmic snake.

Or from Denmark, where they fled after a failed coup in Greece.

Or from the Danube River in Austria, named for the goddess herself.

Or even Atlantis.

Thus, the dark men encountered the bright ones. Tall and pale they were, with hair of fire, brows of sunshine, and eyes of ocean and sky. Though their origins remain as cloaked in mystery as the fog they arrived in, their power was palpable.

Led by King Nuada, they declared that they had come by way of Falias, Gorias, Finias, and Murias—mythical cities of the north—schooled in the arts and sciences, druidry, prophecy, magic, and necromancy. They brought with them the Four Treasures, weapons that represented the sacred principles of ancient wisdom.

From Falias came the Stone of Fál, the Stone of Destiny. It would roar beneath the rightful king who claimed the sovereignty of Ireland.

From Gorias, the Spear of Lugh. No battle was ever lost against it or the man who wielded it.

From Finias, the Sword of Light. One could neither resist nor escape its glowing torch once it was drawn from its sheath.

And from Murias, the Cauldron of the Dagda, a symbol of generosity, constant providence, and bounteousness. No one ever left it unsatisfied. And food was not its sole power. It could revive the dead and heal the wounded.

Magical Warriors

As warriors, Tuatha Dé Danann and Fir Bolg first examined each other’s weapons. Those borne by the Tuatha were light, bright, and sharp, while those of the Fir Bolg were blunt and heavy. Cautiously, the tribes agreed to divide Ireland equally, and together, to defend the land against all newcomers. They bowed, exchanged weapons, and lived peaceably for a short time.

But the Fir Bolg had second thoughts.

Escaped slaves from Greece, they were proud decedents of earlier inhabitants who had been oppressed by the evil Fomori. Having fled Ireland, the Fir Bolg had returned and conquered it anew. They cultivated the land, organized the country into five provinces, and ruled it until the coming of these aliens of the mist.

They did not want to share their land.

The Tuatha Dé Danann demanded that the Fir Bolg either cede half of Ireland to them or fight to the death for it. The Fir Bolg choose battle. For four days, the battle raged near Lough Corrib on the Plain of Moytura, until the Fir Bolg champion Sreng faced Nuada. With one blow of his iron club, Sreng severed Nuada’s arm at the shoulder, prompting a truce.

The Tuatha offered the Fir Bolg three options: leave Ireland, share the land with them, or continue the battle. Again, they choose battle. The Tuatha Dé Danann deemed that choice so noble that they offered the Fir bolg one fifth of Ireland. The Fir Bolg stood down and chose their native Connaught.

Lugh the Long-Armed

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Because of his injury, Nuada ceded his rule to the warrior Bres. But Bres was only half Tuatha; his mother was Fomori, whose people were evil and grotesquely misshapen deities who raided and plundered the coast. Characteristically having one eye, one arm, and one leg, the tribe personified death, destruction, and chaos.

The most powerful Fomori, Balor, feared neither man nor death, for his evil eye could kill an enemy simply by looking at him.

Balor had overheard a prophecy that he would die at the hand of his grandchild. To protect himself from the prophecy, he imprisoned his only child, the beautiful Eithne, in a tower of glass, where she would never know a man. But, of course, she did.

That man was Cían. With the help of the druid Biróg, Cían climbed the tower and made love to Eithne. She conceived Lugh.

Balor ordered him drowned at birth. But Biróg rescued Lugh and gave him to Tailtiu, Queen of the Fir Bolg, who raised him as an athlete, warrior, craftsman, harpist, poet, historian, and sorcerer.

When Lugh joined the Tuatha Dé Danann, he was shocked to learn that Bres had submitted to the Fomori. Nuada gave Lugh command of the Tuatha Dé Danann army. He led them to victory against the Fomori in the Second Battle of Moytura.

In that battle, Balor killed Nuada. Lugh then killed Balor, fulfilling the prophecy that the king would be killed by his grandson. Lugh was declared King of the Tuatha Dé Danann and reigned over a united Ireland.

Celtic Invasion

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The Tuatha Dé Danann faced a third (and final battle) against invaders of Ireland. From the Iberian Peninsula came the Milesians. Considered by historians to be the first Celts, they believed they had an ancient right to the island.

After a brutal battle, the Tuatha Dé Danann requested a three-day truce, allegedly to decide whether they should retire, submit, or fight. The Milesians complied, which allowed the Tuatha Dé Danann to create a magical storm that would drive the invaders away.

But the Milesians had their own magic.

Amergin, a Milesian bard, druid, and judge, had posited that the island belonged to the Tuatha, and that his people should withdraw. If they could land again and conquer, however, the island should belong to them.

In retaliation for the Tuatha’s storm, Amergin calmed the sea. His people landed and defeated them.

The Mileasians tricked the Tuatha even further. They offered to equally divide Ireland if they were allowed to stake their claim first. They chose the portion above ground, relegating the Tuatha Dé Danann to the underground, the spirit land, the Otherworld.

Enter the Faeries

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Into ancient sídhes, or burial mounds, went the defeated, taking with them all their sorcery and knowledge. Banished to live out of sight, they became known as the aes sídhe, the people of the fairy mounds, the faeries.

Though popular lore portrays fairies as playful and delicate beings, faeries are not.

Infringing on their sacred mounds will cause the aes sídhe to retaliate. And when the veil between their realm and that established by the Milesians is thinnest—at dawn and dusk, or at Beltaine and Samhain—faeries are most active. The goal of many a Celtic ritual is, in fact, to appease them.

Reminiscent of their arrival in an impenetrable cloud, the Tuatha Dé Danann to this day may manifest themselves as a wave of golden energy, a passing wind, or a swarm of bees.

Stunning and beneficent, or terrible and hideous, they walk among the living, exacting vengeance or providing protection—for a price.

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