extracted from 'Irish
Druids And Old Irish Religions' by James Bonwick
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.
identifies them with the Dedanim of Isa. xxl. 13,
"a nomad, yet
semi-civilized, people." Isaiah calls them "travelling companies
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
Firbolgs, and are said to have slain 100,000 at the battle of
Magh-Tuireadh Conga. Driven off the island by their foes, they
traveled in the East, returning from their exile as finished
magicians and genuine Druids.
Mr. Gladstone, in
Juventus Mundi, contends that Danaan is of Phnician
extraction, that a district near Tripoli, of Syria, is known as
"Pausanias says that
at the landing-place of Danaos, on the Argive coast, was a
temple of Poseidon Genesios, of Phnician 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 Druim-Lighean, now
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
McFirbis, 200 years ago,
"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
"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 authority."
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
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
"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-ion, 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, adorned with
the representation of the sun and moon.
Under their King Dagda
the Great, the Sun-god, 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 and mounds.
In the Book of Ballimote, Fintan, who lived before the Flood,
describing his adventures, said:
"After them the
Tuatha De arrived
Concealed in their dark clouds--
I ate my food with them,
Though at such a remote period."
Mrs. Bryant, in Celtic
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, practicing 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 poetical myths."
Elsewhere we note the
Tuath Crosses, with illustrations; as that Cross at
Monasterboice, of processions, doves, gods, snakes, &c. One Irish
author, Vallencey, has said,
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,
"That Tuaths of
That new times of peace would come."
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
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 simply."
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 maiden:
"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 number of magical tales. The Lianan might
well be feared when we are told of the revenge one took upon a
"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
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, Knowth, &c.
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. If 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
When the Tuatha were contending with the Firbolgs, the Druids
on both sides prepared to exercise their enchantments. 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
"The minstrels were
plain, pious, and very ignorant Christians, who believed in
nothing worse than a little magic and witchcraft."
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
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 Æsculapius.
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 curing."
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
Transformation stories are numerous in the ancient legends of
Ireland. A specimen is given in the Genealogy of Corea Laidhe.
"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
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, &c.
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
Lugh came in contact with a fairy cavalcade, from the Land of
Promise. His adventure with Cian illustrated ideas of
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
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
Comgan 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 churns.
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
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 Tuantii for the
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
Joyce, in Irish Names
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 Firbolgs, 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 Invasions,
"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.
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;
"The Belgæ 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
Jubainville's Cours de la littérature 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 Milé, they sought refuge in
subterranean palaces. One Dagan, a word variant of the god Dagdé,
exercised such influence, that the sons of Milé were forced, for
peace' sake, to make a treaty with him. His palace retreat below was
at Brug na Boinné, the castle of the Boyne.
The burial-place of
Crimtham Nia Nair, at Brug na Boinné, was chosen because his wife
was a fairy of the race of Tuatha. In the Tain bô Cuailnge there is
much about the Sid, or enchanted palace. Dagdé had his harp stolen
by the Fomorians, though it was recovered later on.
The son of Dagdé 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
It was in his second battle that Ogmé 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 aboriginal Firbolgs.
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.