In the first Battle of Moy Tura, the Tuatha de Dannan were victorious, but a terrible wound was inflicted on their king, Nuada: his arm was cut off. The physician of the Tuatha de Danan, Dian Cecht, went to work on Nuada, and made a beautiful arm for him out of silver, that worked just as well as the arm he had lost. But the laws of the Tuatha de Dannan were clear: no man who was in any way mutilated or deficient could be king, so Nuada lost his throne.
The Tuatha de Dannan met among themselves, and decided on who should be their king. They chose their greatest warrior, Breas. Breas was a strong, beautiful young man, and he was the son of two races: one of his parents was Fomorian and the other Tuatha de Dannan. It was thought that this would be a benefit, and that he would be able to bring the two races of people closer together.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Breas had no gift for kingship whatsoever. He imposed heavy taxes on the Tuatha de Dannan to increase his own wealth, and worse still, he allowed the Fomorians to come in and impose taxes of their own, with no limits. So the Tuatha de Dannan were oppressed from within and without. But Breas’ worst crime, in the eyes of the Tuatha de Dannan, was his meanness. One day, a traveling bard came to Breas’ fort to visit him. Expecting to be made welcome and given the best of everything, as one should with a guest, he was shocked when Breas put him in a cold room, without even a fire, and left him alone all night, with only a dry crust of bread to eat.
He was so appalled by Breas’ miserliness, that the bard composed the very first Satire in Ireland, lampooning Breas for being so mean. The song travelled up and down Ireland ahead of him, and was heard at every gathering, and it so destroyed Breas’ reputation that the Tuatha de Dannan rose up against him and deposed him. And ever after that, the kings of Ireland made sure to respect the powers of the bards, and give them their due.
The first thing Breas did was run to the Fomorians for help. They gathered an army to take on the Tuatha de Dannan and restore Breas’ rule. This army was led by Balor, a great hero from Donegal. He had one eye in his forehead that was so poisonous that whenever he opened it, it split rocks in two and killed anyone in its way. There seemed to be no way to defeat him.
At this time, Balor was very old, and his eyelid had grown heavy and drooped down over his eye so that five men had to stand behind him with hooks in the eyelid to open it up and direct it at his enemies.
Now, many years before that, Balor’s daughter Eithlinn and a Tuatha de Dannan called Cian had their own love story, and they had a child together called Lugh. Balor had been told that his grandchild would be the death of him, so he decided to put the grandchild to death, by casting him out to sea. But a druid woman called Birog of the mountain stole the baby away, and brought him safe to his father. Cian named the child Lugh, and fostered him out to a smith, where he could learn all the arts that he could. Lugh grew up a child of wonderful skill and insatiable curiosity. He asked questions of everyone he could, and learned as much as he was able from everyone he met.
When the Tuatha de Dannan heard that the Fomorians were gathering their forces, they assembled an army at Tara to fight. Lugh decided to go and join them there. He journeyed to Tara and knocked at the gate. The order had been given not to let any stranger into Tara, in case he might be a spy from the enemy, unless he had some skill that would be useful in the upcoming battle. The gatekeeper asked him what skill did he have. “I’m a magician,” he said, but they already had a magician. “I’m a cook,” said Lugh, but they already had one of those. “I’m a smith,”
“No, we have one of those.”
“I read the stars.” “We already have a someone to reads the stars.”
And on and on it went, he listing his skills and the gatekeeper refusing. And at last Lugh said: “Go and ask your Master have you any one man who can do all of these things.” And so he was let in.
One of the warriors of the Tuatha de Danna, a great strong man, decided to challenge this newcomer and see what he was made of. He bent down and pried up a huge flagstone, bigger than ten men, lifted it up in the air and carried it to the next hill. Without saying a word, and without any sign of aggression, Lugh quietly walked out, picked up the flagstone and threw it back so that it landed exactly where it had been picked up out of the ground. In that way he managed to calm things down, and prove his strength, without any conflict.
Then Lugh set about impressing everyone else with his skills and entertaining; throwing giant boulders, jumping, and performing other feats. The Tuatha de Dannan were so impressed by this young man that they asked him to lead their troops into battle against the Fomorians. This proved to be a very wise choice. The first thing he did was to inspect all of the Tuatha de Dannan troops, identify all of their strengths and how best to use them in Battle. He devised great strategies and invented new weapons for them to use, and went off to speak with Mannanan Mac Lir to get advice.
The other de Dannans made their own preparations for battle. The Daghda decided that he had to make sure the war goddess Morrigan was on their side. So he went to find her. Now the Morrigan knew that he had a reputation as being very persuasive with ladies, so she decided to protect herself by standing with one leg on either side of a river, to make sure he couldn’t get at her and seduce her. But the Daghda managed to get around her anyway, and by the time they had had their fun, she was so pleased with him that she agreed to be on his side in the battle.
Then the Daghda went to the Fomorians to parley with them, and see if he could make peace. Even though the goddess of war was on their side, he would prefer not to fight than to fight. They played a mean trick on the Daghda to try and disgrace him. They dug a huge hole in the ground and filled it up with porridge and meat and different things and told him he had to eat all. He decided to turn the tables on them, and took out his giant spoon and scooped everything up, even scraping some of the earth from the side of the hole, and ate it all up. He had to drag his belly behind him after that, disgusted with the Fomorians and the way they’d made a joke out of hospitality, and disappointed that they couldn’t talk things out. He met a very beautiful Fomorian woman on his way home, and tried to seduce her, but she laughed at him because he was so fat. He went away and disgorged all the huge amount of porridge he’d eaten and then came back and slept with her. She was pleased enough with him that she came over to the de Dannan’s side too.
By the next day everyone had done their jobs so well, particularly the Daghda and Lugh, that they were ready for battle. The Fomorian troops arrived with Balor at their head. Just as his five attendants were starting to pull up his eyelid, Lugh took his sling and flung a stone through Balor’s eye. The eye rolled back in his head till it pointed behind him at the Fomorian army, turning them all into stone.
And that was how the Tuatha de Dannan defeated the Fomorians.
The Tuatha de Dannan were still at a loss as to who could be their king. Dian Cecht, the physician, had restored the function to Nuada’s silver arm, but it was still a prosthetic, and there was nothing more that his skill could do. But Dian Cecht’s son, Miach, was a physician of even greater skill than his father. He managed to grow Nuada’s arm back and restore him to wholeness.
This was cause for great celebration among the Tuatha de Dannan, as Nuada of the Silver Arm was able to take up his office of kingship again.
But Dian Cecht was terribly envious of his son Miach’s skill, and in a jealous rage, he killed him. Miach’s sister, Airmed, wept tears of grief over her brother’s grave, and from that grave sprung up all the healing herbs of the world. When he saw that these herbs were growing, and that they would mean his skills as a physician would no longer be needed, Dian Cecht again gave in to his jealousy, and scattered the herbs to the corners of the earth. And that is why no one now knows the healing properties of all the herbs.