Friday, 15 February 2013

Tir na nOg and The Tuatha De Danann

Tir na nOg

In Irish mythology, Tir na nOg, or 'Land of the Young', is best known as the Otherworld and was visited by some of Ireland's greatest heroes. This is where the Tuatha De Danann settled when they were driven from Ireland's surface. It's location is said to be on an island to to far west, and is a place that is said to be beyond the edges of the map.    

The Entrance to Tir na nOg (Original)

Tir na nOg is similar to some of Ireland's other mythical places, including Mag Mell and Ablach.  It also bears similarity with the Greek Elysium and the Norse Valhalla, although there are also important differences.  Popular beliefs say that Tir na nOg was the afterlife for heroes who had died, but it was more a paradise inhabited by  preternatural beings, with the very fortunate few sailors and adventurers stumbling across it on their travels.  In this paradise there was no sickness and no death, instead being a place of everlasting life and beauty.

One Irish myth portrays Tir na nOg, telling the story of Oisin, who became one of the few mortals to live in Tir na nOg: 

Oisin in Tir na nOg
One day Oisin and his father, Finn Mac Cumhail, were out hunting, a magnificent white horse came galloping towards them.  On the horse was a beautiful girl with long, flowing, golden hair which lay across the horse's back.  As the horse reach Oisis' side, the girl stopped the horse, saying to Oisin, ''I am Niamh Cinn Oir.  I have come from Tir na nOg to take you back with me so you can be my husband.

Oisin and Niamh riding to Tir na nOg (Original)

She described Tir na nOg, telling Oisin that it was the land of eternal youth.  Here he could have  infinite sheep and cattle; he could be in command of warriors; he would live forever.  Of course, Oisin agreed to go with Niamh after she told him of this paradise where he could be powerful and immortal.  

They rode of days and nights, crossing lands and seas, never stopping until they reached Tir na nOg.  Niamh's parents, the King and Queen, welcomed Oisin as their future son-in-law.  Oisin saw that everyone who lived in the golden land of Tir na nOg were young and strong, and Oisin was amazed by everything that he saw.  After staying here for three months, Oisin decided to visit his father and friends in Ireland.  Niamh said that he could go, however, she also warned him not to eat the food that he should not set foot of Irish soil.

When Oisin got back to Ireland, he could find no trace of his father or friends.  The great fortresses of Fianna were no more than earthen mounds.  Unfortunately for Oisin, he did not understand that time moved differently in Tir na nOgFor every month that passed in Tir na nOg, one-hundred years passed in Ireland, and Oisin discovered that he had been absent from his homeland for three-hundred years.

One day, while Oisin rode through County Sligo, he saw a group of men struggling to lift a heavy rock.  To Oisin, these men seemed small and weak, so he offered to help them.  He leaned down from he horse to move the rock, but the strain of this broke the girth of the saddle and Oisin fell to the ground, with the horse galloping off into the distance and disappearing.  Oisin quickly aged, turning into an old, old man.  He never saw Niamh Cinn Oir or Tir na nOg again, instead living out the rest of his life in Ireland, friendless and alone.

 Tuatha De Danann


The Tuatha Dé Danann were known throughout ancient Ireland and were believed to be the people of the Goddess Danu or Dana, who is also known as mother. According to D'Arbois de Jubainville, the Tuatha Dé Danann were known as 'the People of the god whose mother was called Dana'. The Goddess Dana was known as Danand in middle Irish times. Throughout history, Danu became known as Brigit, who was adopted into Christianity as a saint. The Annals of the Four Masters tells us that the Tuatha Dé Danann ruled Ireland from 1897BC to 1700BC.

The Goddess Danu (Original)
M3303.1 [Which equals 1897, by subtracting 3303 from 5200]: The tenth year of the reign of Enochaidh, son of Erc; and this was the last year of his reign, for the Tuatha Dé Dananns came to invade Ireland against the Firbolgs; and they gave battle to each other at Magh Tuireadh, in Conmaicne Cuile Toladh, in Connaught, so that the King Eochaidh, son of Erc, was killed, by the three sons of Neimhidh, son of Badhrai, of the Tuatha De Dananns; Ceasarb, Luamh, and Luachra, their names. The Firbolgs were vanquished and slaughtered in this battle. Moreover, the hand of Nuadhat, son of Eochaidh, son of Edarlamh (the king who was over the Tuatha Dé Dananns), was cut off in the same battle. 
 
The Firbolgs, ruled Ireland for 37 years, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, and for 80 years according to the 16th century scholar O'Flaherty, before the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann
These new invaders were considered a formidable enemy, led by Nuadhat-Airgetlamh, or Nuad of
the Silver Hand. Apparently they arrived on the first day of Beltaine, now known as May Day, landing to the north-west of Connacht. Upon landing, some say that the Tuatha proceeded to burn their own fleet, rendering all retreat impossible. According to superstition, the Tuatha Dé Danann were skilled in magic, making themselves invisible to the current inhabitants of Ireland until they had penetrated into the very heart of the country. 

The Tuatha De Danann (Original)
 
The current occupants apparently struggled to explain the arrival of these strangers, who they said that they came 'out of nowhere' or 'out of the heavens.' Eachaid Ua Flainn, a poet who died in 985AD wrote: They had no vessels... No one really knows whether it was over the heavens, or out of the heavens, or out of the earth that they came. Were they demons of the devil...were they men?
 
Lady Gregory, in her book Gods and Fighting Men, states: 'It was in a mist the Tuatha de Danann, the people of the gods of Dana, or as some called them, the Men of Dea, came through the air and the high air to Ireland.' So, the Tuatha Dé Danann probably landed under the cover of fog, mist, or, possibly, smoke. This could be ascribed the the Tuatha burning their ships upon landing on the shores of Ireland. Others have said that they arrived, not on ships, but on dark clouds, leading the people to believe that they had descended from heaven. This has also led some to believe that the Tuatha Dé Danann are actually ancient aliens, but I find this explanation to be unlikely, believing it is more likely that this 'dark cloud' was probably the smoke of their burning ships.
Some sources tell us that the Tuatha Dé Danann came from the north and some say that they came from the west, although there has been some debate on where they originated. One theory is that they originally came from Denmark. According to the traditions of the Tuatha Dé Danann, they spent seven years in the north of Scotland before travelling to Ireland, staying in places named Dobhar and Lardahar. Before Scotland, they are said to have spend some time in Lochlonn, which has been linked with Denmark. In modern Gaelic, Lochlainn refers to Denmark and it is interesting that the Danes call their country Danmark, or the land of the Dan people. However, prior to their settling in Scandinavia or Denmark, the Tuatha are said to have come from a place called Achaia. There is a region called Achaiyah in Syria, which has been called the homeland of The Annage, or the 'Shining Ones', who were great teacher gods of the Sumerian tradition. Interestingly, the Tuatha Danann were tall and fair haired, appearing as 'shining-faced' sages. The Sumerians, who ruled the region from at least 4000BC, and the sudden rise of their culture, is still surrounded in mystery and was attributed by the Sumerians to the influence of their teacher gods. It is possible that a small group of these mysterious 'teachers', potentially the last of their kind, decided to pass their knowledge onto other tribes, working their way from Mesopotamia through Europe, maybe teaching the Greeks in the same manner that the Tuatha taught the Old Irish people. Others still say that they may have come from the region around the Danube River in Austria/ Germany due the the similarity of the names or, even, that they came from Atlantis, leaving only after it disappeared into the sea. There are yet other sources that tells us the Tuatha originally came from Greece: '...in ancient Greece... there lived a race of nomads known as the Pelasgians. Tribal in nature, they were seafarers who claimed to be born from the teeth of the Comic Snake Ophion, and the Great Goddess Danu.' The Pelasgians ruled Greece until the coming of Achaeans in 1900BC, who tried to destroy the Pelasgian people but failed. Although they were eventually accepted by Achaeans, not all wished to stay in Greece. This group, who are said to have later called themselves the Tuatha Dé Danann, migrated north to Denmark, later coming to Ireland. This seems to be the most acceptable theory for the Tuatha's origin. 
 
The Book of Dun Cow tells us 'wise men do not know the origin of the Tuatha Dé Danann, but that it seems likely to them that they came from heaven, on account of their intelligence and for the excellence of their knowledge.' According to one source, the earliest reference to the Tuatha Dé Danann states that 'after they were banished from heaven because of their knowledge, they descended on Ireland in a cloud of mist.' This shows that, in the face of new religions such as Christianity, the skills and knowledge of the Tuatha Dé Danann could only have been learnt in heaven. The only way to explain their living on earth could, therefore, only be attributed to their banishment from heaven.

Lia Fail (Original)
In Scandinavia, the Tuatha settled in four cities where they are said to have learnt their many skills. '...great Falias, and shining Gorias, and Finias, and rich Murias that lay to the south.' In these cities there were four wise men who taught the skills, knowledge and wisdom that the Tuatha brought to Ireland. There was 'Senias in Murias; and Arias, the fair-haired poet, in Finias; and Urias of the noble nature in Gorias; and Morias in Falias itself. The Tuatha supposedly brought four treasures from those four cities: 'a Stone of Virtue from Falias, that was called the Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny; and from Gorias they brought a Sword of Nuada, which always inflicted a mortal blow upon the enemy; and from Finias a Spear of Victory; and from Murias the fourth treasure, the Cauldron of Dagda that no company ever went away from unsatisfied.'
These treasures, along with their appearance in Ireland 'out of nowhere' led many to believe that the Tuatha Dé Danann were great sorcerers, described in the Book of Dun Cow and the Book of Leinster as 'gods and not-gods'. Later scribes found some difficulty in deciding whether the Tuatha Dé Dananns were a mythical race or whether they actually existed. In a poem written by the 10th century poet Eochaid O'Flynn, this indecision becomes apparent. In this poem, preserved in the Book of Ballymote, O'Flynn writes:
Though they came to learned Erinn
Without buoyant, adventurous ships,
No man in creation knew
Whether they were of the earth or of the sky.
If they were diabolical demons,
They came from that woeful expulsion;
If they were of a race of tribes and nations,
If they were human, they were of the race of Beothach.
In this same poem, O'Flynn tells us that the Tuatha were hosts of siabra, which is an Old Irish word meaning fairies, sprites, or ghosts. The Irish people believed so strongly in the Tuatha Dé Danann and their magical skills that Christian transcribers 'could not deny their existence as a non-human race of intelligent beings'. However, these transcribers could not allow themselves to believe that the Tuatha Dé Danann were a good, kind race and frequently misinterpreted them, placing them in a category with evil demons. This is illustrated in the story of the 'Sick-bed of Cuchulainn: So that this was a vision to Cuchulainn of being stricken by the people of the Sid [the Tuatha Dé Danann]: for the demoniac power was great before the faith; and such was its greatness that the demons used to fight bodily against mortals, and they used to show them delights and secrets of how they would be in immortality. It was thus they used to be believed in. So it is to such phantoms the ignorant apply the names of Side and Aes Side.
As I have already said, Nuada was the leader and king of the Tuatha, but there were also chiefs of the Tuatha – Ogma, brother of Nuada, who taught writing; Diancecht, a healer; Neit, 'a god of battle', Credenus, the craftsman; and Goibniu, the Smith. It is also said that there were many great women among them: Badb, 'a battle goddess; Macha, 'whose mast-feeding was the heads of men killed in battle'; and the Morrigu, the 'Crow of Battle'. There was also Eadon, 'the nurse of poets'; Brigit, a poet, who is said to have been worshipped by other poets because she was great and noble. Brigit was also a healer and a smith, said to have made the first whistle enabling them to call one another through the night. Her name was believed to mean 'a fiery arrow'. Finally there was Dana, Mother of the Gods, and greatest of them all.
The Firbolgs, taken by surprise, failed to attack until the Tuatha had marched almost across Ireland. They are said to have fought their first battle 'on the plain of Moyturey, near the shore of Lough Corrib, in part of the ancient territory of Partry.' Here the Firbolgs were overthrown and slaughtered. 
 
There is, however, another version of events, according to an ancient Irish manuscript mentioned in The History of Ireland, Ancient and Modern, which is apparently more consistent with later history. According to this account, 'the battle of Southern Moyturey resulted in a compromise rather than in such defeat...' The Firbolg king was killed during the battle, but another leader, Srang, was chosen. After some negotiation, the Tuatha Dé Dananns and the Firbolgs agreed to split the land, with the Firbolgs taking Connaught, and the Tuatha Dé Dananns taking the remaining land. This second account seems to make sense, due to the 'firm footing which we find these people all along holding  in Ireland, and for their position at the Milesian epoch, when they were at first received as allies by the invaders, and were afterwards, for centuries, able to resist the war.'
As the Annals of the Four Masters tells us, Nuadhat lost his hand during the battle. Apparently a silver hand was later made for him by Credne Cerd and fitted by the physician Diencecht. Diencecht's son, Miach, apparently improved on this work and, according to legend, infused 'feeling and motion into every joint of the artificial hand as if it had been a natural one.' This is how Nuadhat the Silver Hand came by his name. This description of the crafting, fitting and improvement of Nuadhat's artificial hand can be taken as an example of the surgical and mechanical skills believed to be possessed by the Tuatha Dé Danann. 
 
Apparently this feat took seven years to achieve and, during this time, a temporary king was elected as the Tuatha Dé Danann had a law stating that a man had to be in perfect shape if he was to be king. The temporary king, Breas, had a Fomorian father and a mother born of the Tuatha De Danann. He was supposedly chosen because of this.
Once the seven years were up, Nuadhat resumed his role as king. However, during the 20th year of his reign, a battle was fought against the Fomorians, said to be a race of giants, at a place called Northern Moyturey, or Moyturey of the Fomorians. This battle was apparently instigated and encouraged by Breas and, possibly, aided by Firbolg refugees. Nuadhat was apparently killed by 'Balor 'of the mighty blows', the leader of the Fomorians, who is described in old traditions as 'a monster both in barbarity and strength, and as having but one eye.' Balor was also killed during this battle by a stone thrown by his daughter's son, Lugh Lamhfhada, as revenge for his crimes. 
 
Lugh Lamhfhada, who killed Balor, succeeded Nuadhar as king, and, due to his connections to both the Fomorians, through his mother, and Tuatha Dé Danann, through his father, peace existed between the two races. He reigned for forty years, during which he established the public games, or fair, of the hill of Tailltean to commemorate his foster-mother, Taillte, who had married a Tuatha Dé Danann chief and fostered an infant named Lewy. These games continued until the 12th century, held on 1st August; a day which is still called Lugh's fair, during which these traditions are still preserved. The Tuatha Dé Dananns ruled for 197 years, until 1700BC. 
 
When the Sons of Mil, the ancestors of the Irish, also known as the Milesians, came to Ireland, they found the Tuatha Dé Danann in full possession of Ireland. The Milesians, named after Milesius, the King of Spain, arrived in Ireland, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, in 1700BC. Bardic legends say that Ireland was made invisible to the Milesians through necromancy used by the Tuatha. However, when the Milesians landed and marched into Ireland, the Tuatha confessed that, with no standing army, they were not prepared to resist them. They are said to have told the Milesians that, 'if they [the Milesians] again embarked, and could make good a landing according to the rules of war, the country should be theirs.' So the Milesians went back out to sea, withdrawing 'the distance of nine waves' away from the shore. Upon doing so, a huge storm began, believed to have been raised by the Tuatha, scattering the Milesian fleet, with many ships being lost completely. However, the Milesians managed to come back. The Annals of the Four Masters tells us: The fleet of the sons of Milidh came to Ireland at the end of this year, to take it from the Tuatha Dé Dananns; and they fought the battle of Sliabh Mis with them on the third day after landing. In this battle fell Scota, the daughter of Pharaoh, wife of Milidh; and the grave of Scota is to be seen between Sliabh Mis and the sea. Therein also fell Fas, the wife of Un, son of Uige, from whom is named Gleann Faisi. After this the sons of Milidh fought a battle at Tailtinn, against the three kings of the Tuatha Dé Dananns, Mac Cuill, Mac Ceacht, and Mac Greine. The battle lasted for a long time, until Mac Ceacht fell by Eiremhon, Mac Cuill by Eimhear, and Mac Greine by Amhergin.
Their three queens were also slain; Eire by Suirghe, Fodhla by Edan, and Banba by Caicher. The battle was at length gained against the Tuatha Dé Dananns, and they were slaughtered wherever they were overtaken. 
 
After the battles were won, the Milesians had possession of Ireland, forming alliances with the Firbolgs, who were allowed to keep certain territories, and with other races living within Ireland. There are many different legends about what happened to the Tuatha Dé Danann after their defeat. Some believe that the land was divided, with the underground being given to the Tuatha Dé Danann, where others say that the Goddess Danu sent them to live in Tir na nOg, finding underground homes for those that didn't want to leave Ireland.
Another legend says that the Tuatha did not even fight the Milesians because their skill in prophecy told them of the impending battle and consequent loss of their country. This led to the supposed creation of future kingdoms prepared by the Tuatha beneath various hills to which they fled when the Milesians arrived. In this case, legend holds that the Tuatha Dé Danann became the fairy folk of Ireland, also known as the Sidhe (pronounced 'Shee'). 'Assuming invisibility, with the power of at any time reappearing in a human-like form before the children of the Sons of Mil, the People of the Goddess Danu became and are the Fairy-Folk, the Sidhe of Irish mythology and romance.'

Sons of Mil (Original)

The Sons of Mil, who believed that the Tuatha Dé Dananns were sorcerers, blamed the Tuatha when their crops failed and when their cows failed to produce milk. This, apparently, forced them to treat with the Tuatha. Once this treaty was made, the Sons of Mil were once again able to grow their crops and their cows again began to produce milk. 
 
Others say that where the Milesians were going to destroy the Tuatha Dé Danann, they gradually became fascinated and captivated by them because they were 'skilled in all magic, and excellent in all the arts as builders, poets, and musicians.' They allowed the Tuatha Dé Danann to remain in Ireland where they built forts at which 'they held high festival with music and singing and the chant of the bards.' Apparently the horses reared by the Tuatha could not be matched or bettered by any found elsewhere in the world: '...fleet as the wind, with the arched neck and broad chest and the quivering nostril, and the large eye that showed they were made of fire and flame, and not of dull, heavy earth.' These horses were stabled in 'the great caves of the hills...' This has led people to call the Tuatha Dé Danann the 'cave fairies'.
The palaces to which the Tuatha Dé Danann are said to have fled to were hidden in the depths of the earth. The Dagda, High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann controlled the distribution of these palaces – giving one to Lugh, the Tuatha god of the sun, and keeping two for himself – Brug na Boinne or Castle of the Bayne, due to its location near the River Boyne, and Sid or Brug Maic ind Oc, meaning Enchanted Palace or Castle of the Son of the Young. The most enchanted was Maic ind Oc, which contained three trees which always bore fruit, a vessel full of excellent drink, and two pigs – one alive and the other cooked and ready to eat at any time. It is said that no one living in this palace ever died.
Today, the Tuatha Dé Danann are more often referred to as 'the People of the Sidhe', or simply Sidhe. This is probably due to the popular belief that they are a subterranean race, who are sometimes described as gods of the earth or dei terreni, as in the Book of Armagh. It was believed that they controlled the ripening of the crops and the milk-giving of cows, and, because of this, the ancient Irish regularly worshipped them with sacrifices, much like they did with more modern fairies by the leaving of food at night for the fairies to eat. It is believed by some that in a just battle, the Tuatha Dé Danann will fight beside mortals and that, when they fight, they do so with lances of blue flame and shields of pure white.
In conclusion, the Tuatha Dé Danann are considered to be an Irish race of gods, known for their magical abilities and founded by the Goddess Danu or Dana, who invaded Ireland. They are said to have ruled for around 197 years from about 1897BC to 1700BC. They are then believed to have been defeated by the Milesians who drove them into underground palaces where they are still believed, by some, to live today. Their origin is unknown and is shrouded in mystery, although some say that they may have come from Denmark, Syria, Germany, or even Atlantis. The most plausible theory of their origin is that they came from Greece and were once a tribe known as the Pelasgians. They have been treated, by some, as mythical and by others as actual people. In popular legend they have become associated with the many fairies that are said to inhabit the Irish countryside. While their story has been much distorted over time, there is growing evidence that their story is rooted in fact. Remains from some of the battlefields have been discovered, which casts a whole new light on this magical people who once inhabited Ireland. Some scholars have also speculated that the Arthurian legends may have been based on the Tuatha Dé Danann. Whatever the truth may be, their legacy lives on in the fairies who are believed to still live in the many fairy mounds and raths that cover the Irish landscape.

Next time: Read about how fairy traditions have influence modern Ireland.