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HIST & MYTH: Irish Deities and Ancient Mythological Races of Ireland

Written by Ben Kesp
Goddess Airmed -
Daughter of Dian Cécht (God of Healing)
Completing a summary of Irish Mythology is a complex and difficult task with a vast amount of literature that by its contradictory nature only adds to the confusion. Irish myth is unusual in comparison to other myths as it has no creation myth - things just were and Ireland always existed, shaped over time by different invaders. 

My first post on the Tuatha Dé Danann only scraped the surface where I tried to focus on who were the real settlers in Ireland prior to the arrival of the Celts in 500BC. The missing link that connects Ireland’s ancient races gets lost in the rich abundance of material there is in Irish Mythology. We do know from facts that the earliest known evidence of habitation in Ireland begins around 8,000 BC after the last Ice age when the country had been an arctic wasteland. 

I am going to attempt a summary of events through Irish mythology of who the ancient settlers were leading to the immortal Irish deities that were known as Tuatha Dé Danann or children of the Goddess Danu to the arrival of the Celts (Gaels). 

Please do note that the timelines for Irish Mythology is very much inaccurate and not in line with any actual timeframe. Early Christian writings have represented some of these races with actual settlers and possibly somewhat demonised earlier Irish tribes showing the pagan druid practices and beliefs in many different gods as evil and twisting reality, while reducing the pagan gods to fairies or fallen angels. There are also similarities in stories with other mythologies like that of ancient Greece. 

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Cesairians 

Led by Cesair, daughter of Bith, son of Biblical Noah arrived at Co. Cork, south of Ireland with fifty women and three men. With the death of two men, Fintan the remaining man fled Ireland fearing the responsibility being placed on him. The Cesairians perished. 


Partholanians 

The Partholanians arrived 312 years after Cesair and came from the West, believed to be from the Land of the Dead (Spain). Partholanians were named after Partholon, son of Sera, son of Sru, King of Greece. Partholon fled Greece, along with his wife, Dealgniad and a group of followers after killing his parents. He found Ireland after 7 years of wandering. They encountered the Fomorians in the third year of arriving and defeated Cichol, their leader and drove them from Ireland. After 30 years in Ireland, Partholon died and the Partholanian race died from a plague 120 years later. Tuan, the nephew of Partholon was the only survivor. Tuan was the son of Starn, son of Sera, son of Sru, King of Greece. Tuan survived as he was transformed into various animals, a stag, a boar, an eagle and a salmon. He is believed to have witnessed the arrival of the Nemedians by keeping himself hidden from their sight and responsible for passing down the history of the people. 


Fomorians 

The origins of this race of people are unknown and are not classed as settlers to Ireland or as Irish people. Writings suggest that Ireland had been invaded or visited by African sea fearers that my represent the Fomorians. They are seen more as pirates or raiders and had a base on Tory Island off Co. Donegal. They are described as strange creatures, misshapen giants, cruel, violent and oppressive. They have also been classed as the beings that preceded the gods, similar to the Greek Titans. They were present for the Partholanians, the Nemedians and the Tuatha Dé Danann and fought each of these races. They were for a short time overlords to the Nemedians and Tuatha Dé Danann. The Fomorians would eventually be wiped out by the Tuatha Dé Danann. 


Nemedians 

30 years after the extinction of the Partholanians (except for Tuan), the Nemedians arrived from the West (Spain). 32 ships with thousands of people set sail, however only one ship survived with Nemed and his four sons. Nemed married Macha (linked to the Morrígan of Tuatha Dé Danann – sister). The Nemedians fought against the Fomorians, however were not successful and had to pay heavy tributes to them. The Nemedians decided to attack Tory Island in force capturing one of the Fomorian towers, killing their king but they were annihilated. Three of the thirty Nemedians survivors fled Ireland. Fergus Lethderg, son of Nemed fled for Alba (Scotland) with his son Britain Máel and the island of Britain would be named after him, while Semeon, great grandson of Nemed fled to Greece, where they became slaves. Eventually this group would be come known as the Fir Bolgs and return to Ireland at a later stage. Iobath, grandson of Nemed fled to the island of northern Greece. This group would become known as the Tuatha Dé Danann, the magical deities of Ireland. 


Firbolgs 

These were descendants of the Nemedians who had fled earlier to Greece. The word “Fir” and “Bolg” may mean “Men of Bags”, that might represent there time as slaves in Greece. Five sons of Dela (Descendant of Semeon) freed his people from slavery in Greece and Thrace, going to Ireland, 230 years after they first fled. Their reign in Ireland lasted only 37 years until the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Nemedians were seen as primitive compared to the Tuatha Dé Danann who possessed magic and superior technology. The Nemedians divided the land between them. The last King of the Firbolgs was Eochaid Mac Eire and his queen was Tailtiu, daughter of the King of Spain. Following her husband’s death, Tailtiu married Eochaid Garb Mac Dúch, a Danann warrior. Through this marriage Tailtiu became the foster mother to Lugh (of Tuatha Dé Danann) and she was held in honour by the Tuatha Dé Danann each year at Lugnasha. The Firbolgs had fought with the Tuatha Dé Danann and lost due inferior weapons. The Firbolg warrior Fer Dáid was the companion of Cú Chulainn. He was one of Queen Maeve’s (of Connaught) champions who was to fight Cú Chulainn (son of Lugh) in single combat and died after three days of fighting. 


Tuatha Dé Danann 
The Dagda

This race became known to the pagans as the Irish Deities and to the Christians as fairies or fallen angels. The name “Tuatha” relates to “North” in Irish, “Dé” is “God” and “Danann” is referring to “Goddess Danu”. The name is open to interpretation as to their likely origin. The Tuatha Dé Danann makes up the Mythological Cycle of early Irish literature. They were descendants of the Nemedians and arrived from the northern Isles. Firstly claimed to have come to Ireland from “out of heaven”, it was later transcribed to have come from the northern isles and its four magical cities, (Falias, Gorias, Finias & Murias) each one ruled by a druid. The Danann were masters in magic, science, music, warfare, arts, crafts, philosophy and medicine. They had attained other worldly powers. From each city the Danann brought with them a treasured gift: Stone of Destiny, Sword of Destiny, Cup of Destiny and Staff or Spear of Destiny. (See blog post on Ireland’s Tara)

Bridgit
They arrived to Ireland on a cloud of mist which possibly has been a representation for burning their boats so they would not flee the country. Nuada was their leader and they won the First Battle Moytura against the Firbolgs. In the beginning relations with the Fomorians and the Danann were peaceful with an alliance being formed between them. Balor of the Fomorians gave his daughter Ethlinn in marriage to Cian son of Dian Cecht. Though the Danann had victory over the Firbolgs, they suffered huge losses and Nuada lost his right arm in battle. The Danann saw imperfection unsuitable for Kingship, therefore Nuada lost his new position as King of Ireland. The Danann selected Bres to be his successor. Bres was the son of Eri (Danann) and Elatha (Fomorian Prince), described as being a beautiful young man however lacking leadership and kingship. His rule became oppressive and the Danann wanted Nuada to be returned as King. 

With a combination of surgery and magic a new arm of silver was fastened for Nuada and Bres had no option but to step down as king without the support of his people. Angered, Bres went to Tory Island to seek help from his father who promised him support in fighting the Danann. The Danann lost the battle against the Fomorians who became the overlords demanding tributes and bards and druids were banned from teaching. A saviour in the name of Lugh (Sun God) came to the aid of the Danann. He was also half Fomorian. His mother was Ethlinn daughter of Balor (Fomorian) and his father Cian, son of Danu (Danann). Balor heard a prophesy that his grandson would one day kill him so he had his daughter Ethlinn locked up in a tower. Through magic of the druidess Birog, Cian entered the tower and found Ethlinn in one of the chambers and they fell in love. Ethlinn gave birth to three sons and on hearing the news Balor wanted them dead. On bringing the children to their deaths, one of them fell from the wrapped sheet and into the bay. The druidess Birog saved it and brought it to Cian who reared it and called it Lugh (There is also another version of how Lugh came to be)

The Danann armed themselves with the four magical treasures they brought from the four cities of the northern isles and Lugh set out to build an army to defeat the Fomorians and overthrow them. This took seven years to complete and during this period Dagda, father of the gods, travelled north and on his way met a beautiful woman. Dagda slept with the woman on 1st of November (Samhain), the eve before the battle. The woman was Morrígan who represented the sovereignty of Ireland – ensuring the land remains fertile, Dagda must sleep with the goddess each Samhain’s night. The Morrígan told her husband (Dagda) where the Fomorians would land and instructed him where to bring his men. 
The Morrígan

The armies of the Danann and the Fomorians met each other in Moytura. Weapons, armour and magic clashed. Morrígan and her sister Badh entered the battle striking fear in the Fomorians. The Danann suffered huge losses including the death of Nuada and his queen Macha. Lugh killed Balor fulfilling the prophesy. The Fomorians were defeated forever. Bres was captured and Lugh spared his life if he told the Danann when to plant the harvest securing Bres’s place as the God of Agriculture. The battle ended with the Morrígan declaring victory. 

With the death of Nuada, Lugh became King of Ireland ruling for 40 years in peace with his queen Eriu. Dagda succeeded Lugh as King and ruled for 80 years. Delbáeth followed for 10 years. His son Fiachna ruled for 10 years and he was succeeded by the three sons of Cermait who split Ireland between them. They were MacGuill, MacCecht and MacGreine and they ruled for 27 years. They married the three sisters of Ernmas; Banda, Fohla and Eriu. The hill of Tara became the capital and spiritual centre for the Tuatha Dé Danann in Ireland. It was the site for druid practices and a gateway to another world of eternal joy. 


Milesians 

This race is considered to mark the arrival of the Celts (Gaels) to Ireland around 500BC. The Milesians were the sons of Míl from Spain who were banished from Egypt and they wandered the Russian Steppes to their former home in Scythia. Moving west they landed in Spain and then onto Ireland. One day Íth uncle of Míl could see a beautiful land and set sail for it. On his arrival to Ireland, the Dannan welcomed him and his followers peacefully. However due to a misunderstanding, the Danann killed Íth and his two brothers. His followers fled to Spain and the sons of Míl sought revenge for their uncle’s death. 

A bard named Amairgin, son of Míl lead the warriors from Spain. The Danann did not want to fight the Milesians, so hid Ireland under a spell of magic. The Amairgin used his own magic to break the spell. Eber Donn, son of Míl wanted to eradiate the Danann but the Danann sent a magical storm against the Milesians ships where Eber was cast overboard and drowned. Amairgin eventually managed to guide the ships safely to the shores. 

The three queens of the Danann kings (Banda, Fodla & Eriu) set forth to meet with the Milesians and each queen asked that they name Ireland after them. Eriu was chosen and Ireland was named Erin. All three Danann kings and their queens were killed at the battle of Tailtiu (Co. Meath). The Tuatha Dé Danann were defeated and forced to go underground or Other World (Tír na nÓg)

They continued to live in Ireland and Manannan (Son of Lír) placed a powerful spell of invisibility over many parts of Ireland. These magical places became known as Sidhe. There became two Ireland’s – “The Spiritual” and “The Earthly”. It is within the Spiritual Ireland live the Tuatha Dé Danann, protected by the Great Dagda and can appear and disappear from sight and therefore have become immortal. Today what is seen are the green mounds and forts, the ruins of the ancient fortresses, now hidden are the fairy palaces. Eber Finn and Eremon, two sons of Míl divided Ireland between them, one to the north and one to the south and so started the Celtic High Kings of Ireland and the Dynastic Irish Royal Families, traced to present day families. 
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Lugh (Sun God) in Battle

This has been an attempt at a brief summary of the Irish mythological races that have tried to colonise Ireland. I cannot claim accuracy and do not believe one can as Irish mythology is vast, complex and contradictory, mixed with known factual history. There are still the vast stories involving the various Tuatha Dé Danann gods that descend to this day and represented through various customs, like Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa and Samhain (Halloween). I will focus my next posts on some of the main deities, trying to connect them to various well known stories of the four great cycles of Irish literary mythology, especially the Mythological, Ulster and Fenian cycles. 

Who were the pre-Celtic races that inhabited Ireland, will we ever truly know? Who built the ancient megalithic monuments, cemeteries and the Céide Field systems? Was it once a land of giants!? If the Tuatha Dé Danann were truly masters in magic, science, music, warfare, arts, crafts, philosophy and medicine, described as a race who were very tall, attractive with pale skin, high foreheads, long red or blonde hair and large blue eyes, did any of their knowledge pass onto to their conquerors? Written records continue to describe them as an aristocratic race of poets and scientists who were technological advanced, civilised and cultured. They brought with them many new skills and traditions which they passed onto the local population. 

One asks how much truth the writings portray as to who these people might have been. If you are interested in reading more, I will be following on with various gods of the Irish Pantheon and try my hand at compiling a confusing Tuatha Dé Danann family tree. 


Sources: 








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