BY far the most interesting of the peoples that
formerly inhabited Ireland were the Tuaths, or Tuatha de
Danaans, or Dananns. There is much mystery about them in
Irish traditions. They were men, gods, or fairies. They came, of course,
from the East, calling in at Greece on the way, so as to increase their
stock of magic and wisdom. Some trace them to the tribes of Dan, and
note Dedan in Ezek. xxv. 13. Mrs. Wilkins identifies them with the
Dedanjm of Isa. xxl. 13, "a nomad, yet semi-civilized, people." Isaiah
calls them "travelling companies of Dedanim."
The credulous Four Masters have wonderful
tales of Tuath doings. In their invasion of Ireland, Tuaths had to deal
with the dark aborigines, known as the Firbo’gs, and are said to have
slain 100,000 at the battle of Magh-Tuireadh Conga. Driven off the
island by their foes, they travelled in the East, returning from their
exile as finished magicians and genuine Druids. Mr. Gladstone, in
Juventus Mundi, contends that Danaan is of Phoenician
extraction, that a district near Tripoli, of Syria, is known as Danniй.
He adds, "Pausanias says that at the landing-place of Danaos, on the
Argive coast, was a temple of Poseidon Genesios, of Phoenician origin."
After reigning in Ireland two hundred years, the
Tuatha were, it is narrated, invaded by the children of Gail Glas, who
had come from Egypt to Spain, and sailed thence to Erin under Milesius,
the leader of the Milesians. When their fleet was observed, the Danaans
caused a Druidic fog to arise, so that the land assumed the shape of a
black pig, whence arose another name for Ireland—" Inis na illuic,
or Isle of the Pig." The Milesians, however, employed their enchantments
in return, and defeated the Tuatha at Tailteine, now Teltown, on the
Blackwater, and at DruimLighean, now Drumleene, Donegal.
The Tuatha have been improperly confounded with the
Danes. Others give them a German origin, or a Nemedian one. Wilde
describes them as large and fair-complexioned, carrying long, bronze,
leaf-shaped swords, of a Grecian style, and he thinks them the builders
of the so-called Danish forts, duns, or cashels, but not of the stone
circles. McFirbis, 200 years ago, wrote — "Every one who is fair-haired,
revengeful, large, and every plunderer, professors of musical and
entertaining performances, who are adepts of druidical and magical arts,
they are the descendants of the Tuatha-de-Danaans."
"The Danans," O’Flanagan wrote in 1808, "are said to
have been well acquainted with Athens; and the memory of their kings,
poets, and poetesses, or female philosophers, of highest repute for
wisdom and learning, is still preserved with reverential regret in some
of our old manuscripts of the best authoritjr." Referring to these
persons, as Kings Dagad, Agamon and Dalboeth, to Brig, daughter of
Dagad, to Edina and Danana, he exclaimed, "Such are the lights that
burst through the gloom of ages ?’ The Tuatha, G. W. Atkinson supposes,
"must be the highly intellectual race that imported into Ireland our
Oghams, round towers, architecture, metal work, and, above all, the
exquisite art which has come down to us in our wonderful illuminated
Irish MSS." The polished Tuatha were certainly contrasted with the rude
Celts. Arthur Clive declares that civilization came in with an earlier
race than the Celts, and retired with their conquest by the latter.
"The bards and Seanachies," remarks R. J. Duffy,
"fancifully attributed to each of the Tuath-de-Danaan chiefs some
particular art or department over which they held him to preside;" as,
Abhortach, to music. The author of Old Celtic Romances writes —
"By the Milesians and their descendants they were regarded as gods, and
ultimately, in the imagination of the people, they became what are now
in Ireland called ‘Fairies." They conquered the Firbolgs, an Iberian or
a Belgic people, at the battle of Moytura.
There is a strong suspicion of their connection
with the old idolatry. Their last King was Mac-grene, which
bears a verbal relation to the Sun. The Rev. R. Smiddy assumes them
descendants of Dia-tene-jon, the Fire-god or Sun. In the
Chronicles of Columba we read of a priest who built in Tyrconnel a
temple of great beauty, with an altar of fine glass, a,dorned with the
representation of the sun and moon. Under their King Dagda the Great,
the Sungod, and his wife, the goddess Boann, the Tuaths were once
pursued by the river Boyne. This Dagda became King of the Fairies, when
his people were defeated by the warlike Milesians; and the Tuatha, as
Professor Rhys says, "formed an invisible world of their own," in hills
In the Book of Ballimote, Fintan, who lived
before the Flood, describing his adventures, said —
Mrs. Bryant, in Celtic Ireland, observes :—
"Tradition assigns to the Tuatha generally an immortal life in the midst
of the hills, and beneath the seas. Thence they issue to mingle freely
with the mortal sons of men, practising those individual arts in which
they were great of yore, when they won Erin from the Firbolgs by
‘science,’ and when the Milesians won Erin from them by valour. That
there really was a people whom the legends of the Tuatha shadow forth is
probable, but it is almost certain that all the tales about them are
Elsewhere we note the Tuath Crosses, with
illustrations; as that Cross at Monasterboice, of processions, doves,
gods, snakes. One Irish author, Vallencey, has said, "The Church
Festivals themselves, in our Christian Calendar, are but the direct
transfers from the Tuath de Danaan ritual. Their very names in Irish are
identically the same as those by which they were distinguished by that
earlier race." That writer assuredly did not regard the Tuatha as myths.
Fiech, St. Patrick’s disciple, sang —
Magic — Draoideachta — was attributed to the
Irish Tuatha, and gave them the traditional reputation for wisdom. "Wise
as the Tuatha de Danaans," observes A. G. Geogbegan, "is a saying that
still can be heard in the highlands of Donegal, in the glens of
Connaught, and on the seaboard of the south-west of ireland." In
Celtic Ireland we read — "The Irish worshipped the Sidhe, and the
bards identify the Sidhe with the Tuath de Danaan.—The identity of the
Tuath de Danaan with the degenerate fairy of Christian times appears
plainly in the fact, that while Sidhes are the halls of Tuatha, the
fairies are the people of the Sidhe, and sometimes called the Sidhe
The old Irish literature abounds with magic. Druidic
spells were sometimes in this form — "I impose upon thee that thou mayst
wander to and fro along a river,".
In the chase, a hero found the lost golden ring of a
"But scarce to the shore the prize could bring,
When by some blasting ban —
Ah ! piteous tale — the Fenian King
Grew a withered, grey old man.
Of Cumhal’s son then Cavolte sought
What wizard Danaan foe had wrought
Such piteous change, and Finn replied —
‘Twas Guillin’s daughter — me she bound
By a sacred spell to search the tide
Till the ring she lost was found.
Search and find her, She gave him a cup —
Feeble he drinks — the potion speeds
Through every joint and pore;
To palsied age fresh youth succeeds—
Finn, of the swift and slender steeds,
Becomes himself once more."
Druidic sleeps are frequently mentioned, as—
"Or that small dwarf whose power could steep
The Fenian host in death-like sleep."
Kennedy’s Fictions of the Irish Celts relates a
humber of magical tales. The Lianan might well be feared when we are
told of the revenge one took upon a woman—" Being safe from the eyes of
the household, she muttered some words, and, drawing a Druidic wand from
under her mantle, she struck her with it, and changed her into a most
beautiful wolf-hound." The Lianan reminds one of the classical Incubi
and Succubi. Yet Kennedy admits that "in the stories found among the
native Irish, there is always evident more of the Christian element than
among the Norse or German collections."
The story about Fintan’s adventures, from the days of
the Flood to the coming of St. Patrick, "has been regarded as a Pagan
myth," says one, "in keeping with the doctrine of Transmigration."
In the Annals of Clonmacnoise we hear of seven
magicians working against the breaker of an agreement. Bruga of the
Boyne was a great De Danaan magician. Jocelin assures us that one
prophesied the coming of St. Patrick a year before his arrival. Angus
the Tuath had a mystic palace on the Boyne. The healing stone of St.
Conall has been supposed to be a remnant of Tuath magic; it is shaped
like a dumb-bell, and is still believed in by many.
In spite of the Lectures of the learned O’Curry,
declaring the story to be "nothing but the most vague and general
assertions," Irish tradition supports the opinion of Pliny that, as to
magic, there were those in the British Isles "capable of instructing
even the Persians themselves in these arts." But O’Curry admits that
"the European Druidical system was but the offspring of the eastern
augurs"; and the Tuaths came from the East. They wrote or repeated
charms, as the Hawasjilars of Turkey still write Nushas.
Adder-stones were used to repel evil spirits, not less than to cure
diseases. One, writing in 1699, speaks of seeing a stone suspended from
the neck of a child as remedy for whooping-cough. Monuments ascribed to
the Tuatha are to be seen near the Boyne, and at Drogheda, Dowth,
According to tradition, this people brought into
Ireland the magic glaive from Gorias, the magic cauldron from Murias,
the magic spear from Finias, and the magic Lia Fail or talking
coronation stone from Falias; though the last is, also, said to have
been introduced by the Milesians when they came with Pharaoh’s daughter.
Enthusiastic Freemasons believe the Tuatha were
members of the mystic body, their supposed magic being but the superior
learning they imported from the East. I (‘ not spiritualists in the
modern sense of that term, they may have been skilled in Hypnotism,
inducing others to see or hear what their masters wished them to see or
When the Tuatha were contending with the Firbolgs,
the Druids on both sides prepared to exercise their enchantrnents. Being
a fair match in magical powers, the warriors concluded not to employ
them at all, but have a fair fight between themselves. This is, however,
but one of the tales of poetic chronicles; of whom Kennedy’s Irish
Fiction reports — "The minstrels were plain, pious, and very
ignorant Christians, who believed in nothing worse than a little magic
It was surely a comfort to Christians that
magic-working Druids were often checkmated by the Saints. When St.
Columba, in answer to an inquiry by Brochan the magician, said he should
be sailing away in three days, the other replied that he would not be
able to do so, as a contrary wind and a dark mist should be raised to
prevent the departure. Yet the Culdee ventured forth in the teeth of the
opposing breeze, sailing against it and the mist. In like manner Druid
often counteracted Druid. Thus, three Tuatha Druidessess, — Bodhbh,
Macha, and Mor Kegan, — brought down darkness and showers of blood and
fire upon Firbolgs at Tara for three days, until the spell was broken by
the Firbolg magic bearers — Cesara, Gnathach, and Ingnathach. Spells or
charms were always uttered in verse or song. Another mode of bringing a
curse was through the chewing of thumbs by enchantresses. Fal the Tuath
made use of the Wheel of Light, which, somehow, got connected
with Simon Magus by the Bards, and which enabled the professor to ride
through the air, and perform other wonders. We hear, also, of a Sword of
Light. The magic cauldron was known as the Brudins.
Some of the Tuath Druids had special powers, — as the
gift of knowledge in Fionn; a drink, too, given from his hands would
heal any wound, or cure any disease. Angus had the power of travelling
on the wings of the cool east wind. Credne, the Tuath smith, made a
silver hand for Nuadhat, which was properly fitted on his wrist by
Dianceht, the Irish Aesculapius. To complete the operation, Miach, son
of Dianceht, took the hand and infused feeling and motion in every joint
and vein, as if it were a natural hand. It is right to observe, however,
that, according to Cormac’s Glossary, Dianceht meant "The god of
Finn as elsewhere said, acquired his special
privilege by accidentally sucking his thumb after it had rested upon the
mysterious Salmon of Knowledge. He thus acquired the power of
Divination. Whenever he desired to know any particular thing, he had
only to suck his thumb, and the whole chain of circumstances would be
present to his mind. The Magic Rod is well known to have been the means
of transforming objects or persons. The children of Lir were changed by
a magic wand into four swans, that flew to Loch Derg for 300 years, and
subsequently removed to the sea of Moyle between Erin and Alba.
Transformation stories are numerous in the ancient
legends of Ireland. A specimen is given in the Genealogy of Corea
Laidhe. A hag, "ugly and bald, uncouth and loathesome to behold,"
the subject of some previous transformation, seeks deliverance from her
enchanted condition by some one marrying her; when "she suddenly passed
into another form, she assumed a form of wondrous beauty."
Some enchanters assumed the appearance of giants. The
Fenians of old dared not hunt in a certain quarter from fear of one of
these monsters. Cam has been thus described in the story of Diarmuid
— "whom neither weapon wounds, nor water drowns, so great is his magic.
He has but one eye only, in the fair middle of his black forehead, and
there is a thick collar of iron round that giant’s body, and he is fated
not to die until there be struck upon him three strokes of the iron club
that he has. He sleeps in the top of that Quicken tree by night, and he
remains at its foot by day to watch it." The berries of that tree had
the exhilarating quality of wine, and he who tasted them, though he were
one hundred years old, would renew the strength of thirty years.
The Fate of the Children of Tuireann, in an Irish
MS., gave a curious narrative of Tuath days and magic. It was published
by the "Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language." The sons
had to pay heavy eric, or damages, on account of a murder. One
failed, and died of his wounds. Lugh got helped by Brian the Druid
against the Fomorians, who were then cruelly oppressing the Tuaths,
exacting an ounce of gold from each, under penalty of cutting their
noses off. Druidical spells were freely used by Lugh, the hero of the
The eric in question required the three sons
to procure the three apples from the garden of the Hesperides, — the
skin of the pig, belonging to the King of Greece, which could cure
diseases and wounds, — two magic horses from the King of Sicily, — seven
pigs from the King of the Golden Pillars. Once on their adventures,
Brian changed them with his wand into three hawks, that they might seize
the apples; but the King’s daughters, by magic, changed themselves into
griffins, and chased them away, though the Druid, by superior power,
then turned them into harmless swans. One son gained the pig’s skin as a
reward for reciting a poem. A search for the Island of Fianchaire
beneath the sea was a difficulty. But we are told, "Brian put on his
water-dress." Securing a head-dress of glass, he plunged into the water.
He was a fortnight walking in the salt sea seeking for the land.
Lugh came in contact with a fairy cavalcade, from the
Land of Promise. His adventure with Cian illustrated ideas of
transformation. Cian, when pursued, "saw a great herd of swine near him,
and he struck himself with a Druidical wand into the shape of one of the
swine." Lugh was puzzled to know which was the Druidical pig. But
striking his two brothers with a wand, he turned them into two slender,
fleet hounds, that "gave tongue ravenously" upon the trail of the
Druidical pig, into which a spear was thrust. The pig cried out that he
was Clan, and wanted to return to his human shape, but the brothers
completed their deed of blood.
Not only the pig, but brown bulls and red cows figure
in stories of Irish magic. We read of straw thrown into a man’s face,
with the utterance of a charm, and the poor fellow suddenly going mad.
Prince Cozngan was struck with a wand, and boils and ulcers came over
him, until he gradually sunk into a state of idiocy. A blind Druid
carried about him the secret of power in a straw placed in his shoe,
which another sharp fellow managed to steal.
Illumination, by the palms of the hands on the cheek
of one thrown into a magical sleep, was another mode of procuring
answers to questions. Ciothruadh, Druid to Cormac, of Cashel, sought
information concerning a foe after making a Druidical fire of the
mystical mountain ash. But he was beaten in his enchantments by Mogh
Ruith, the King of Munster’s Druid, who even transformed, by a breath,
the three wise men of Cashel into stones, which may be seen to this day.
That he accomplished with charms and a fire of the rowan tree. The
virtues of rowan wood are appreciated to this day in Munster, where
provident wives secure better butter by putting a hoop of it round their
Tuaths had a reputation for their ability in the
interpretation of dreams and omens, and their skill in auguries. Some
Druids, like Mogh Ruith, could fly by the aid of magical wings. It was,
however, no Irishman, but Math, the divine Druid, who brought his magic
to Gwydron ab Dom, and was clever enough to form a woman out of flowers,
deemed by poetic natures a more romantic origin than from the rib of a
man. Manannan, son of a Tuath chieftain, he who gave name to the Isle of
Man, rolled on three legs, as a wheel, through a Druidic mist. He
subsequently became King of the Fairies.
Professor Rhys speaks of the Tuatha as Tribes of the
goddess Danu; though the term, he says, "is somewhat vague, as are also
others of the same import, such as Tuath Dea, the Tribes of the
goddess — and Fir Dea, the men of the goddess." He further remarks —
"The Tuatha de Danann contain among them light and dark divinities, and
those standing sometimes in the relation of parents and offspring to one
Massey has the following philological argument for
the Tuatha, saying :— "The Tuaut (Egy.), founded on the
underworld, denotes the gate of worship, adoration; the worshippers,
Tuaut ta tauan, would signify the place of worship within the mound
of earth, the underground sanctuary. The Babylonian temple of
Bit-Saggdhu was in the gate of the deep. The Tuaut or portal of
Ptah’s temple faced the north wind, and the Irish Tievetory is the
hill-side north. The Tuaut entrance is also glossed by the English
Twat. The Egyptian Tuantii are the people of the lower
hemisphere, the north, which was the type of the earth-temple. The
Tuatha are still known in Ireland by the name of the Divine Folk; an
equivalent to Tuantil for the worshippers."
The Rev. R. Smiddy fancies the people, as Denan
or Dene-ion, were descendants of Dene, the fire-god. An old MS.
calls them the people of the god Dana. Clive, therefore, asks, if they
were simply the old gods of the country. Joyce, in Irish Names
says, ‘This mysterious race, having undergone a gradual deification,
became confounded and identified with the original local gods, and
ultimately superseded them altogether." He recalls the Kerry mountain’s
name of Da-chich-Danainne. He considers the Tuatha "a people of superior
intelligence and artistic skill, and that they were conquered, and
driven into remote districts, by the less intelligent but more warlike
Milesian tribes who succeeded them."
Lady Ferguson, in her Story of the Irish before
the Conquest, has the idea of the Danaans being kinsmen to the
Firbolgs, that they came from the region of the Don and Vistula, under
Nuad of the Silver Hand, defeating Eochaid, King of the Firboigs, at
Moytura, and ruling Ireland two hundred years.
They were certainly workers in metal, and have
therefore been confounded by monkish writers with smiths. St. Patrick’s
prayer against smiths, and the traditional connection between smiths and
magic, can thus be understood. They — according to the Book of
"By the force of potent spells and wicked magic
And conjurations horrible to hear,
Could set the ministry of hell at work,
And raise a slaughtered army from the earth,
And make them live, and breathe, and fight again.
Few could their arts withstand, or charms unbind."
They were notorious in Sligo, a county so full of
so-called Druidical remains. In Carrowmore, with its sixty-four stone
circles, there must once have been a large population. "Why," asks
Wood-Martin, "is that narrow strip of country so thickly strewn with
monuments of the Dead ?" But he learned that the Fomorian pirates,
possibly from the Baltic, swarmed on that wild coast. He especially
notes the tales of Indech, a mighty Fomorian Druid, grandfather of the
dreaded Balor, of the Evil Eye.
The mythic Grey Cow belonged to Lon mac
Liomhtha, the first smith among the Tuaths who succeeded in making an
iron sword. At the battle of Moytura, Uaithne was the Druid harper of
the Tuatha. Of Torna, last of Pagan Bards, it was declared he was
"Sprung of the Tualtha de Danans, far renown’d
For dire enchanting arts and magic power."
But, as Miss Brooke tells us, " most of the Irish
romances are filled with Dananian enchantments, as wild as the wildest
of Ariosto’s fictions, and not at all behind them in beauty." It was Dr.
Barnard, Bishop of Killaloe, who traced the race to visitors from South
Britain; saying, "The Belgae and Danmonii, whose posterity in Ireland
were called Firbolghs and Tuatha de Danan.
In the destructive battle between the "manly, bloody,
robust Fenians of Fionn," and "the white-toothed, handsome Tuatha
Dedaans," when the latter saw a fresh corps of Fenians advancing, it is
recorded that "having enveloped themselves in the Feigh Fiadh, they made
a precipitate retreat."
Jubainville’s Cours de la littйrature Celtique
does not omit mention of these wonder-workers. He calls to mind the fact
that, like the Greeks of the Golden Age, they became invisible, but
continued their relations with men; that the Christian writers changed
them into mortal kings in chronicles; that their migrations and deities
resemble those of Hesiod; that they continue to appear in animal or
human forms, though more commonly as birds; that ancient legends record
their descent to earth from the blue heavens.
He brings forward a number of the old Irish stories
about the Tuaths. When defeated by the Sons of Milй, they sought refuge
in subterranean palaces. One Dagan, a word variant of the god Dagdй,
exercised such influence, that the sons of Mile were forced, for peace’
sake, to make a treaty with him. His palace retreat below was at Brug na
Boinnй, the castle of the Boyne. The burial-place of Crimtham Nia Nair,
at Brug na Boinnй, was chosen because his wife was a fairy of the race
of Tuatha. In the Tam Cuailnge there is much about the Sid, or enchanted
palace. Dagdй had his harp stolen by the Fomorians, though it was
recovered later on.
The son of Dagde was Oengus. When the distribution of
subterranean palaces took place, somehow or other, this young fellow was
forgotten. Asking to be allowed to spend the night at one, he was
unwilling to change his quarters, and stayed the next day. He then
absolutely refused to depart, since time was only night and day; thus
retaining possession. The same Tuath hero fell in love with a fair
harper, who appeared to him in a dream. The search, aided by the
fairies, was successful in finding the lady, after a year and a day.
It was in his second battle that Ogmй carried off the
sword of Tethra, King of the Fomorians. This sword had the gift of
speech; or, rather, said Jubainville, it seemed to speak, for the voice
which was heard was, according to a Christian historian, only that of a
demon hidden in the blade. Still, the writer of this Irish epic
remarked, that in that ancient time men adored weapons of war, and
considered them as supernatural protectors.
The Book of Conquests allows that the Tuatha
were descended from Japhet, though in some way demons; or, in
Christian language, heathen deities. One Irish word was often applied to
them, viz. Liabra, or phantoms. It is believed that at least one
Tuath warrior, named Breas, could speak in native Irish to the
A writer in Anecdota Oxon is of opinion that
very different notions and accounts exist at the different periods of
Irish epic literature concerning them. He declares that, excepting their
names, no very particular traces of them have come down to us. The most
distinct of the utterances about the race points to the existence of
Wilde gives a definite reason why we know so little
about the Tuatha de Danaans. It was because "those who took down the
legends from the mouths of the bards and annalists, or those who
subsequently transcribed them, were Christian missionaries, whose object
was to obliterate every vestige of the ancient forms of faith." The
distortion of truth about these singular, foreign people makes it so
difficult to understand who or what they were; to us they seem always
enveloped in a sort of Druidic fog, so that we may class them with men,
heroic demi-gods, or gods themselves, according to our fancy.