The Battle of Magh Lena part 2

When we left Conn and Eoghan they had come to a truce. And Ireland had been partitioned into halves, along a line running from Dublin to Galway Bay. Mounds were constructed to mark the edges of this boundary. One stands at the Peninsula of Marey, south of Galway City. And the other, if the legend is to be believed, stood where Dublin Castle would eventually be built. This division meant that both Galway and Dublin’s ports fell under Conn’s rule. And this would prove vital.

For fifteen years they had an uneasy truce, but Eoghan grew bitter, and the lust for revenge always gnawed at his mind. So it was that he spent less time ruling with wisdom, and more and more time seeking just cause to break his truce with Conn. His people would come looking for judgement or aid, but Eoghan would dismiss them, not bothered with providing fair judgement and so his lands grew poor and barren. And even at the king’s table, the fare was meagre.

One day, he did a tour of his holdings, seeking to find where the majority of his wealth lay, and to try and increase their taxes so he himself could benefit more. He arrived at Dublin, only to be met with an enraging sight. The port that lay to the north of the border was bustling. Trade was good, and he knew then that Conn benefited from this trade most.

So, he made straight for Tara and demanded an audience. When Conn came to him, Eoghan informed his rival that their deal was unfair, and that Conn should give the port, and its trade, to Eoghan. Conn refuted this, stating that goods couldn’t not be divided as land was. Eoghan responded by calling an end to the truce, and declaring war once more. He finally had the reason he was looking for.

Conn didn’t hesitate this time and retreated to Connaught where he was safe in his fortresses while Eoghan gathered his armies. However, Conn still had enemies in Ulster and once again Eochaid thwarted him. He led a great army south, pillaging Meath and attempting to hold Tara against him.

Conn had no choice but to leave his forts and face the Ulstermen on the field. He defeated them soundly and many fled north once more. Though Eochaid led his surviving warriors south to Eoghan’s gathering army.

Over the years, Eoghan’s passivity had led to the release of Conaire’s and MacNid-MacLug’s families. So, as soon as they had gathered enough information on Eoghan’s plans, the two former kings betrayed Eoghan and left to go to Conn with their warriors. They gave up the route Eoghan would take north, so Conn would be able to cut Eoghan off and meet his forces in a place of his Conn’s choosing. The two armies met on the hills of Magh Leana, and there, their fates would be decided.

The two kings set up their camps on opposing hills, and once more prepared to do battle in the morning. Conn had no tricks up his sleeve this time, and as he looked at Eoghan’s superior forces, he knew that he would not win in the morning. Eoghan knew this as well, and so, driven more by a sense of irony than the desire to save lives, he sent Conn an offer.  And this was it:

Eoghan was going to massacre all Conn’s warriors down to last, no matter the cost. Then, he said, he would find their families and do the same to them. After, he would hunt down every last friend Conn ever had and bring them to ruin. Finally he would raise Tara to the ground and build it new again so no one would know what had stood there before. Or Conn and all his kin could leave Ireland, and swear to never return for all of time, or be cursed if they did.

Reluctantly, Conn agreed. But the point was raised that he would have to give proof of his honest intentions, as Eoghan had grown paranoid since their truce was declared and increasingly hateful.  As show of good faith, Conn sent his two foster brothers, his best friends, to carry the message to Eoghan. Upon receiving Conn’s capitulation Eoghan became overjoyed. He declared that his time of suffering was at an end, and that he would now relish in the excess of being High-King of all Ireland. He said that no food would go untasted, and no wine undrank.

You see, the long years of hardship, the loss of his father, and Eadoinn, meant his hatred for Conn had festered to a point nearing on madness. And as Conn’s brothers looked at their would-be High-king, they knew that doom was upon them and all the people of Ireland. In his arrogance, Eoghan ordered them to swear fealty to him, but they refused. They said that even if Conn couldn’t be king, they would never see a man such as Eoghan rule Ireland.

Eoghan flew into a rage, and ordered Conn’s brothers seized. Eochaid and the Ulstermen objected to this, insisting that it was dishonourable to attack ambassadors in truce. But Eoghan overruled him, reminding him that he was now High-king, and if they refused to swear allegiance, then it was treason. He dragged them up to the top of the highest hill and lit a fire to so that Conn could see what was going on from the opposite side.  When he could be sure he had Conn’s attention Eoghan drew the great sword of Eadoinn and he beheaded Conn’s brothers, the men Conn loved best in the world. Conn was struck by grief, and declared that they would fight in the morning. There could be no peace between them now.

Eoghan was confident in his victory at set his camp to merriment. But even as he arrived at his own fire, three women appeared to him. They were Eriu, Fodla and Banbha, the three sister goddesses of Ireland. They sang to him, outlining the punishments the land suffered under a bad King. Then they declared that Eoghan was cursed for breaking the Laws of the Kingdom, and that he would be killed for it. Despite his fear, Eoghan rebuked them reminding them that he could only die by his own hand, and showed them the blade given him by Eadoinn. But the Ulstermen heard the goddess’es prediction, and were quiet.

Conn meanwhile, was also approached by the three goddess. They sang to Conn of the blessings that the land received under good Kingship, then, Eriu urged him to attack Eoghan at first light, when his forces were still hungover and sleeping. Conn refused, calling the deed dishonourable, but Eriu was insulted that Conn would allow the people of Ireland to suffer under the yoke of Eoghan’s rule, all to protect his precious personal honour.

While Conn debated, Eochaid of Ulster approached him, he was outraged at Eoghan’s actions in executing the messengers, who were protected by law. And because Eoghan was the initial person to carry out this dishonour, he encouraged Conn to follow the Tuatha de Danann’s advice. And so the Ulstermen switched sides, and though their force was small, this combined with the surprise attack,  Conn’s army might just win the day.

Conn was torn, but eventually decided it was indeed better to attack and be considered dishonourable, than allow Eoghan kingship of Ireland. But the Fianna, the warriors of the greatest strength, wisdom, and honour, disagreed. And so refused to fight until the sun was fully up and all Eoghan’s troops raised Goll Mac Morna, however, knew that Eoghan mustn’t be made king. He was no longer the leader of the Fianna but he still possessed great influence over the warriors of Ireland. So he persuaded Conn’s men to protect their lord, and keep him from the front-lines until Goll felt it right for the Fianna to join and for him to fight Eoghan in Conn’s stead.

As the Sun rose the Fianna stayed camping while Conn and Ulstermen led the charge into Eoghan’s sleeping camp. Eoghan had slept poorly that night and was soon woke by the sound of battle, but by the time he got up and put on his gear, over a third of his forces were killed. Nevertheless, he rallied his men, and they began the battle in earnest, though he knew the two sides were now painfully evenly matched.

The battle that raged at Magh Leana was bloody and the bodies littered the ground in huge piles of mangled human flesh. Many great warriors lost their lives that day, and their like would never be seen in Ireland again. The conflict left many children without parents, and many parents without children. The Fianna observed this until all of Eoghan’s remaining soldiers were armed, awake and the sun shone in the sky. And then joined the fray. Goll sought Eoghan, so that he might end this brutal war. And, so it was that once more, the King of Munster met the ex-leader of the Fianna in single combat.

Goll Mac Morna and Eoghan Mor fought as if nothing else mattered. But it had been years since their last battle, and Goll was aged, while Eoghan was still in his prime. Besides that he had the sword of Eadoinn, and so Goll found himself sorely matched. Eoghan landed a strike on Goll’s shield arm, and the great warrior called out in shock and pain. Hearing this, Conn recognised the cries and went to help. But he was held back by others of the Fianna who instead went to Goll’s aid. Each one landed a hit on Eoghan, but each one received a cut from Eoghan in return.

Goll recovered and again he and Eoghan were matched blow for blow. But, again Goll faltered and Eoghan landed a slice across his leg. Goll called out, and Conn heard his cries. He tried to run ahead, but his personal guard held him back and they went instead to Goll’s aid. They struck at Eoghan injuring him, however, Eoghan managed to place a hit on each of them, driving them back.

Once more, Goll Mac Morna recovered and charged Eoghan, but he was much weakened, and Eoghan landed a nasty cut across Goll’s chest. As Goll collapsed he let loose a last mournful shout. He was not slain, but he could not rise. Upon hearing the Fianna’s cry Conn charged. Eluding those who would hold him back and finally, Conn Cead Cathach faced Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat and the victor would be High-king of Ireland.

Eoghan’s fury was unchecked, and blinding. His enemy of years was at last within reach of his blade and he made devastating strike after devastating strike upon Conn’s shield. Conn’s anger was quieter, though still present. He took each blow with patience, stepping back with every hit. As the distance between them grew, Eoghan over extended himself. Conn side stepped, allowing Eoghan’s swing to glance across his shield, then he jabbed, taking the other King in his shoulder.

Eoghan fell back, as blood drenched his arm, making his hands slippery. Now, Conn was on the attack. He swung his sword high, driving Eoghan backwards. All around the battle was lessening, and though the two didn’t know it, Conn’s troops were slowly winning the field.

Then, Eoghan’s sword slipped in his hand, and he dropped it. But as Eoghan stepped back his foot hit off a fallen spear. He kicked the spear up into his waiting hands, and in one swift motion he rammed it into Conn’s gut. Conn pulled back, yanking the spear out of Eoghan’s hands. He dropped his own weapon and fell to his knees. The High-King felt silence come over him as battlefield became distant. The fighting died down, and all turned to watch, some in horror, some in exultation.

In that moment, Conn knew he was to die, and that Eoghan had won. Eoghan knew it too, and made to gloat, but as he did, Conn noticed Eoghan’s own sword at his finger tips. He grasped it, and rising with the spear still stuck in him, he used the blade to hack off the shaft. He started swinging at Eoghan’s now raised shield. Three times he struck and three times Eoghan blocked, barely. But on the next strike, the shield shattered, sending a jolt down Conn’s arm and breaking Eoghan’s. Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat fell to his knees, and in a furious slash, Eadoinn’s magic sword cut off his head.

And so the battle was ended. Conn was wounded, but the tenacious Goll mac Morna kept him conscious until they could both be healed. Upon the death of their king, Eoghan’s army surrendered. A new treaty was drawn between the provinces, and Conn became High-King of all Ireland once more.

But, the people of Ireland were split over Conn’s actions that day. The argument ran; that if he had not done this shameful dawn-attack, then Ireland would have suffered greatly under the terrible yoke of Eoghan’s reign. Yet, the people would speak behind the King’s back, words like dishonour, and distrust, would haunt him for the remainder of his days.

So, even though Ireland was united once more under Conn. There was still a division within their hearts and minds that would not be healed in Conn’s lifetime…   Conn’s Half and Mogh’s Half remained in spirit. And perhaps it should be considered that Ireland was never whole again…

Wave 9 – Mongan

A King with remarkable gifts

Mongan’s story begins before he was born.  His father, Fiachra Finn, joint King of Ulster with Fiachra Dubh is at war with the King of Scandinavia over a deal with an old hag that the King has failed to honour.  As he arrives in Scandinavia a herd of venomous sheep meet him at the sea shore.   They have giant heads, gnashing teeth and rasping tongues.  It appears Fiachra Finn and his army are doomed.

A beautiful man in a cloak of green and covered in jewellery appears and tells him he will ward off the sheep if he can have a night with his wife.  Fiachra Finn reluctantly agrees.  This enables him to  win in battle.  Belatedly the deal with the hag is now honoured.  The man who appeared reveals himself to be Manannan Mac Lir.  When Fiachra Finn returns to Ulster he finds his wife is pregnant.  Mongan is born.  He is covered in hair which is how he got his name.  Manannan takes Mongan off to the Land of Promise where he learns all sort of skills; shape shifting, poetry, magical knowledge and the ability to tell the future.

When Mongan grows up he takes a tour of Ireland.  When staying with Brandubh, the King of Leinster, he sees the King has a herd of white cows with red ears.  Brandubh says he can have the cows in a friendship ‘without refusal’.

The deal has a catch.  Brandubh insists he wants Mongan’s wife, Dubhlacha. Like his father, with honour at stake he has to agree. Dubhlacha gets him to agree not to trick her nor marry her for a year.  But how will Mongan get his beloved wife back?  He, like his father, meets an old hag on the way to the wedding.  He puts a spell on her and she becomes a beautiful woman.  They go to the wedding.  Brandubh on seeing her only has eyes for her. So Mongan gets his wife back.  Brandubh lies with his new wife only to wake in the morning to find she has turned into a hag again … poetic justice.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here is some of the feedback from participants from breakout groups following the telling of the Mongan story.

Connection 1 – Fighting for the Poorest
Fiachra Finn does a deal with the impoverished old hag to get her to give him the only thing that will heal the illness of the King of Scandinavia, a white cow with red ears.  When one year later, the King fails to honour the deal, Fiachra Finn goes to war with the King.  What we have here is the most powerful in the land willing to go to war to honour an arrangement made with one of the poorest and most marginal members of society.

Connection 2 – The Importance of Trust
The first half of the story is clearly about the consequences of the breakdown of trust.  If one deal or agreement fails, especially one that is so visible, that essentially means any deal could fail.  Fiachra Finn is fighting for a principle, an invisible bond that would hold a society together ….  or not.

Connection 3 – The Prominence of Cattle
One of the insights was as to the prominence and significance of the cattle.  They have an importance both to the livelihood of people but also on a more symbolic level in terms of healing and peace.  They also played an important role in matters of honour, values and pride.

Connection 4 – Why Revenge?
In the Mongan story, Fiachra Finn goes to war for the honour of the deal with the old woman.  Yes to respecting the arrangement even with the poor, the old and the ugly, but why does war have to be the ultimate act of revenge. For many politics and the powerful seem to favour the rich and powerful rather than the poor and vulnerable.

Connection 5 – The Poisonous Sheep
Compare the terrible poisonous sheep!  Contract with present notion of sheep as symbol of docility and unquestioning submission.  But also compare with fearsome image of sheep as engine of Enclosure in England much later (e.g. Thomas More: your sheep, that were … so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I hear it said, have become so great devourers and so wild that they eat up and shallow down the very men themselves.  They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses and cities).

Connection 6 – The Women’s Role: Dubhlacha
Dubhlacha is barely visible in terms of narrative agency and is almost objectified.  The story has a problem in terms of gender.  The only time we hear Dubhlacha’s voice is when she seems to be articulating the core problem in terms of kingship in the story, i.e. the honouring of one’s word.

Connection 7 – The Women’s role: Old Hag that Mongan encounters
She is positioned around the idea of her erotic and aesthetic undesirability but Mongan with a magic wand gave to the hag the appearance of a beautiful princess of Munster.  He also put a love charm on her cheek.  But what was in it for her?  Was she merely the vehicle for a trick to be played on Brandubh and all she got was a night with the King of Leinster, and possibly being the mother of his heir.  In the morning the illusion has disappeared and she was a shrivelled old hag to Brandubh.

Connection 8 – King as Trickster
What we see is a form of Kingship in which the King, Mongan, is able to get what he wants not through force of arms, or even the power/status of the role, but rather through being a trickster.  Is this part of being a good leader, especially when combined with good vision/prophecy or is this behaviour to be seen as questionable /dodgy?  After all an innocent monk passer-by lost his life!

Connection 9 – Accepting a Promise, but what about the Consequences
Like the story of Cormac we have a High King accepting something they value but without any regard to the consequences.  In the case of Cormac it was the life of the silver branch and its powers.  In the case of Mongan it was his desire (is it agreed) for Brandubh’s cattle.  Is this the naivete of the young king?  In both cases though the result is that they are forced into new territory through great loss.  And from that which is learned.

Connection 10 – Arthurian Myth
Here we have a reference at the end of the story to Arthurian Myth.  Does this suggest a common mythic heritage between Ireland and Britain?  And in the case of the early part of the story, with Scandinavia.

Wave 8 – Cormac MacAirt

Ireland’s exemplary High King and the Importance of Truth

Cormac MacAirt is seen as Ireland’s greatest high king and said to be the codifier of the remarkable Brehon Laws, a system of restorative justice.  This story tells of his journey to wisdom.

He is the son of Art who is killed during his battle with Lugaid MacConn but not before he has slept with Cormac’s mother Achtan, a woman with all kinds of wisdom.  Before he is born Achtan’s baby has four circles of protection given to him by Achtan’s father: from wolves, swords, fire and drowning.

The first of these protections is important because Achtan, fleeing the threat of Lugaid, gives birth to Cormac in a bed of ferns but drops off to sleep.  When she wakes the child is gone.  Years later he is found by a huntsman in the company of wolves.

He is fostered and learns in time of his circumstances and that he has the blood of a high king.  He has to go to Tara.  On the way he learns of an injustice done to a poor old woman.  He rights the judgement which makes him out as the rightful King.

All is well in Tara for many years until a stranger with a Silver Branch comes to visit.  It sets up an exchange which means Cormac losing his precious wife and two children.  But it is in his remarkable other world journey set up by Manannan MacLir that he learns the importance of truth.  This sets up a time of great prosperity and abundance until, as prophesised, he dies choking on a fish bone.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here is some of the feedback from participants from breakout groups following the telling of the Cormac MacAirt story.

Connection 1 – The Otherworld Journey
Some saw this as an inner journey or even a cosmic journey.  In so many ways the King is a very public, high profile figure and would be given power by the people.  That power would be to be utilised in the context of those in the tribe/community of the King.  In a sense the otherworld journey takes the King away from these external matters to issues of a very personal nature.

They also illustrate that even the so called powerful can experience a real sense of powerlessness.

Connection 2 – The Death of “Ego”
From a psychological point of view the first part of the Kings journey can be seen as being about ego and achievement.  The otherworld journey is where it all falls apart in the outer world.  The King has no control over events.  The death of the ego is what happens on the journey.  The King on return is in a sense twice born.  Though as we know from the Conaire Mor story not all Kings make it back and Conaire suffers the triple death after breaking his geasa.

Connection 3 – The Agreement
Why would a great King agree to something without ever knowing what it was?   Naïve. Perhaps.  But surely this is the point.  There are still very important lessons to be learned even for the most successful.

Connection 4 – The Pivotal Position of Truth
What is so clear from the otherworld journey is the pivotal position of truth.  It is central in the ‘cooking the pig’ detail and of course the cup of truth.  No cooking when a lie is told and the cup falls apart.  The obvious comparison was made by a number of participants  to the US president whose whole style is built on untruths!

At least that is for those who are not supporters.

Connection 5 – The Stranger on the Horse
Cormac’s life was all going well, prosperity, stability and abundance ….  and then along comes a stranger with a silver branch.  And then he does a deal without any thought for the consequences, or a possible downside.  And what exactly was the gift of the branch – sending folk off to sleep when sad!  But there is a light in the darkness.  The great loss as a reminder of what really matters, looking inward becomes inevitable and then there are the great insights from the otherworld.  And then order is restored.  We are back to where we once were but things are now different.

Connection 6 – The Peaceful Transfer of Power
Lugaid, when he and everyone else see the rightness of Cormac’s judgement, over the lady and the field of woad and the shearing for a shearing, willingly hands over power.  What this suggests is a mythic valuing of mechanisms for the transfer of power and removing power from leaders.  Powerful in the context of Trump contesting the US election with his unproven allegations of voter frauds.

As a point of reflection if there is a myth or mythology known by everyone in a culture, it would surely act as a social/cultural sanction to support a particular tradition, for example, around a vital matter such as the transfer of power.  No shared body of stories no sanction!

Connection 7 – Significance of the Protective Circles
A comment was made about the significance of the protective circles: wounding, drowning, fire, sorcery and wolves.  The latter was obviously very significant when it is wolves that do the sucking of the baby Cormac.  Sorcery would imply perhaps dark druid threats and real world dangers.  The implication being that druidic wisdom was able to offer important protections against dangers the powerful might face.  There are their kingly powers and druidic powers.  In this case working together.

Connection 8 – The Fish Bone
For the exemplary king to die or something as insignificant as a fish bone is somehow ironic.
Even the most powerful and successful are ultimately rendered powerless, even something as tiny as a fish bone – yes a fish bone can kill an exemplary King!

Wave 7 – Balor of the Evil Eye

The Second Battle of Moytura – Cosmic Battle between good and evil?

The Fir Bolg were the sensible, hard-working and humble people who ruled in Ireland for a short period of time until a shining beautiful peoples arrived in a magical mist and promptly buried their boats indicating they were here to stay.  These were the Tuatha de Danann and they brought four magical gifts: sword, spear, cauldron and stone, Lia Fail.  An equal division of Ireland was proposed, but the Fir Bolg decided to fight.   This was the First Battle of Moytura. They were roundly defeated but not before cutting off the arm of Nuada, their King.  The Fir Bolg were dispatched to Connaught and the Tuatha de Danann took the rest.

The rules at the time were that no man with a blemish could be king so Breas the beautiful was appointed.  He was half Formorian and half Tuatha.  It was thought this might unite the two people.  But Breas had no gift for Kingship and imposed heavy taxes and also allowed the Formorians to come in and do the same.  Breas’s worst crime though was meanness.  He became the subject of the first satire, that was uttered by the poet, Cairbre.  It destroyed Breas’s reputation.  The Tuatha de Danann rose up against him and he was deposed.

Breas ran to the Formorians for help.  An army was raised to restore Breas’s rule and it was to be led by Balor, the one eye hero with a look that was so poisonous it killed everyone in its way.  Meanwhile and some time earlier, Balor’s daughter, Eithne and a Tuatha de Danann called Cian had had a child called Lugh, whom Balor learned would be the death of him.  Lugh, when he heard of the impending battle between the Tuatha de Danann and the Formorians decided to go to Tara.  He knocked at the gate.  They asked what skill he brought.  He mentioned many. To each offer the response was that they had already had every one of the skills he mentioned.  It was only when he said he had all the skills that it was decided to let him in.  They were all very impressed and they asked him to lead them into battle.  He was samhildanach, with all the skills.

His first task in preparing for the looming battle was to find out every one’s unique skills. He did establish these. But one role was particularly important.

It concerned the Daghda, the good god, good at everything.  His role was to entice the goddess of war, the Morrigan over to his side.  She protected herself by standing astride a river.  He made love to her anyway.  She was pleased and decided to join the Tuatha De Danann.  The Formorians then decided to shame him, digging a huge hole and filling it with porridge and meat.  No problem to the Daghda, he ate it all and more.  He met a beautiful Formorian woman.   Had to disgorge all the food to seduce her too.  They slept together and she too joined the Tuatha de Danann side.

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 Danann defeated the Fomorians.   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.  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.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the most significant connections and insights from participants following the telling of the story. Oral Myth Tellings are always heard in terms of modernity.

Connection 1 – The Four Functions / Gifts
The four gifts of the Tuatha de Danann had been outlined as the four functions from the Jungian Psychology perspective in the presentation on the  Wednesday session by Mairin Ni Nualain – herself a trained Jungian.  This was sword as mind, spear as sensation, stone as intuition, cauldron as feeling.  In the discussion the cauldron was seen as a symbol of the leader’s cosmic relationship with the land and the respect for nature.

Connection 2 – The Great Cosmic Battle
Every mythology has its cosmic battle in Greece it is the gods and the giants, in Norse Myth it is the Aesir and the Vanir, in India the Battle of the Devas and the Asuras.  In Ireland it is the battle of the Tuatha de Danann and the Formorians.  On an initial level it is natural to interpret this as a battle between good and evil.  It could also be read as a battle between open mindedness and single mindedness.  Lugh has all the skills and Balor just one eye but the discussions were to complicate matters somewhat!

Connection 3 – The Complicated ParentageThe two protagonists behind the battle both have parents that are Tuatha de Danann and Formorian.  Lugh is the result of an encounter between Tuatha de Danann, Cian and a Formorian, Balor’s daughter, Eithne.  Breas in turn is the result of a meeting with Ealatha, a king of the Formorians and a maiden of the Tuatha De Danann called Ériu.  Ealatha wished to make love and she consented.  Breas was the result.  With such a clear parental split in both protagonists how are we to read the Second Battle.  Is this every battle is a brother battle?  Are we essentially fighting ourselves?

Connection 4 – The Tuatha de Danann’s Able-ism
No defects, as in physical defects are allowed in a leader.  Hence Nuada loses the kingship when he loses his arm in the first battle.  Breas is beautiful and unblemished physically and he is appointed king.   But he proves to be seriously blemished in a number of critical ways.  It seems inappropriate that physical perfection is valued over an ethical perfection and a basic competence.  So does the Breas story undermine the ideology of perfection and able-ism

Connection 5 – The Theme of ChosennessOne of the recurring theme of the Immersion was the contrast between the Myths of the Not Chosen and the Myths of the Chosen.  In particular the focus was on comparing the Chosen People’s Myth of the English (Chaobang’s talk on English as Chosen) and the Not Chosen Myths of the Book of Invasions, Lebor Gabálla.  The thinking had been that Chosen People’s Myths can have a very destructive effect on the culture of the Not Chosen.  Look at 800 years of Colonial history and the attitude of the Chosen to the Not Chosen.

The binary simplicity of this constrict was challenged in the discussion of the Second Battle of Moytura and the Tuatha de Danann not adopting a ‘Chosen People’ mindset in the way they were treating the Formorians.  Is discrimination, jealousy, ‘othering’, elitism and violent intrigues not all too evident in their behaviour.  Another participant suggested the porridge pot of Daghda could be seen as a symbol of swallowing the uncomfortable culture of the coloniser.

Connection 6 – Second Battle and Irish Colonial History
Comparison was made to the paradox of the Normans – in some cases brutal and destructive to the colonised (i.e. in England), in others they integrated into what was already there (e.g. in Ireland) or even gave rise to diverse and flourishing intellectual and multi-cultural societies (e.g. in Sicily).

Colonisation is not necessary a one way exploitative experience!

Connection 7 – The Origami Group
One of the retelling groups decided to use origami as an expression of the mythological cycle.  The symbolism of holding, visible and occluded sides (in relation to Chosen vs. Not Chosen): fractal creation and re-creation.  (Video of Presentation to be posted).

Wave 6 – Nemed and the Fir Bolg

Mythology of the Not Chosen

A – Nemedians
Hope, Greed, Oppression and Anger

The land of Ireland lay empty after Partholon’s passing for thirty years.  Another group of people then arrived, led by Nemed, who was a distant relative of Partholon.  These people made huge change to the landscape clearing twelve plains and firmly marking their presence on the land.  Nemed had set out with thirty four ships, each crewed by thirty over a year previously.

Near the start of their voyage, the Nemedians came upon a tower of gold jutting up out of the sea, covered by sea water at high tide and laid bare by the sun’s rays at a low ebb, they were inflamed by greed at the sight of it and assaulted the Tower of Gold.  So intent were the Nemedians in taking the tower they did not notice as the sea began to rise around them sweeping their boats away and through their greed and inattention all but one ship was lost and most of Nemed’s men were drowned.   He managed to get all of the women on to the remaining ship however and arrived in Ireland with his four sons and a good host.

When they arrived four new lakes burst forth as a sign of their welcome.  Nemed’s wife, Macha, was the first of his company to die in Ireland and was buried in a place called Ard Macha, after her.  Nemed and his people had to fight against the Formorians just as Parthalon had but these were not bloodless, magical battles.  The Nemedians fought fiercely and slaughtered two great Formorian kings, Gann and Sengann.  The Formorians were so enraged by this that they attacked the Nemedians on two later occasions and though Nemed and his people won both battles, the losses were heavy and the hatred on both sides only grew.  As well as the great work of clearing twelve plains, the Nemedians’ built two royal forts, setting in place foundations and structures that were vital for the enduring wellbeing of the people. One fort was built by Nemed’s people and the other by four Formorian brothers who dug the whole royal fort in one day but before the sun rose the next day, Nemed killed the four builder brothers so that they would not improve upon the fort that they had built for him.

Nemed’s people thrived in Ireland for many years but a plague came upon them and killed two thousand of their number with Nemed himself among the dead.  The Formorians saw their chance to strike at the Nemedians while they were weakened by this tragedy and took over Ireland making it a vassal state and imposing huge taxes on the people.  Two thirds of their corn, their milk and their children had to be delivered every year on Samhain to the Formorians, who were led by two kings, Morc and Conand.   The anger and sorrow grew in the hearts of the Nemedians until they could bear it no longer and gathered together to attack the Formorians.  They assaulted the Tower of Conand  on Tory Island and took it by force.   But Morc arrived with reinforcements and the magic of the Formorians caused the sea to rise.  Distracted by their battle fury the Nemedians did not notice the water rising and almost all of them were swept away and drowned.    A few survivors managed to escape on the last ship.  They split up going their separate ways.  Some went North and some went East to Greece and of them we will hear again. These exiles were to prove significant in the rest of the Book of Invasions.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the connections and insights made by participants based on the Bard assumptions that oral storytelling is always heard in terms of modernity.

Connection 1 – Losing touch with Nature
The symbolism of the failure of the Nemedians to be aware of the rising tide while being so obsessed with greed for the Tower of Gold was discussed.  It is a basic responsibility of a sea farer to have an awareness of nature and sea.  And yet this distraction of gold meant they quickly lost touch with nature/sea.  As often with myth the action had unintended consequences,  in this case a disastrous one!

Connection 2 – The Cycles of Immigrants
The Nemedians were the third group of invaders to arrive in Ireland.  This seems to highlight the recurring importance of a diaspora and of people coming in from outside to move things on.  This the Nemedians clearly did with the clearing of twelve plains, the building of forts and what was a very distinctive impact on the landscape.  The mythology of ‘the people from somewhere else’ is beginning to take shape.

Connection 3 – The Fragility of Human Life
As well as the initial drowning the Nemedians were impacted by wars and by plagues (caused Nemed’s death).  In the context of the Covid 19 crisis this was all seen as a reminder of the fragility of the human relationship, both with each other and with nature.

Connection 4 – A Rough Time
The Nemedians of all the invaders had a particularly rough time with the experience of drownings, war and plague.  Was this due to their own failings, hubris, greed, even cruelty (to the builders of their forts)? Or was it just the vicissitudes and precariousness of life.

Connection 5 – The Indigenous People – The Formorians
The matter of the Formorians as the indigenous people was discussed.  They are invariably portrayed as monstrous and cruel (oppressive taxes).  Is this the recurring theme of the demonising or othering of indigenous people so characteristic (as we were to see later) of some of the practices of Chosen People Myth which have been raised during this Immersion 2.  The question was raised, are we to see the Formorians as the Cowboy  and Indian villains or as representative of an Irish Dreamtime – those who sung the world into being.  Or perhaps as symbolic representatives of the relentless tests of nature.

Connection 6 – Islands as strongholds of the Old Culture
One recurring theme is the Formorians are from and return to the islands off the coast of Ireland.  They then are to be seen as strongholds of the old, pre-Invasion culture.

Connection 7 – Exile and return
Though the Nemedians were to flee and flee to the North, the East and to Britain, two of them were to return as the Fir Bolg (East) and the Tuatha de Danann (North), setting up the cycle of immigration, exile, immigration, exile and so on.

Connection 8 – Theme of Fair Taxation
For the first time the relationship of centre to tribe is highlighted with the matter of unfair taxation being a cause of resentment and war by the oppressed.

Connection 9 – Gaslighting of Myth Telling
In part prompted by the theme of the Immersion 2, Chosen and Not Chosen, the under matter of ‘gaslighting’ of myth telling by a chosen culture was discussed.  Perhaps there are elements of ‘gaslighting’ in the Nemedian story as neither the indigenous people nor the new arrivees are presented in a favourable light.

Connection 10 – The Nature of the Fighting changed
The Battle of the Partholonian/Formorian was very much druidic, one leg, one eye etc.  and no one died.  Here the fighting became fierce and two great Formorian Kings were killed, Gann and Sengann.  This motif of the change in the nature of fighting was noted in the Cú Chulain Ferdia Battle at the Ford (see Immersion 1)  and in a historical context with the arrival of the Vikings.

B – Fir Bolg
The Ideology (Division) of the Fifths

Ireland was left empty for 200 years after the Nemedians were scattered.  The survivors of the Nemedian attack on Conand’s Tower who fled to Greece following Semeon,  and faired very badly there.  There were enslaved for 200 years and made to labour long hours under the hot sun, carrying heavy sacks of clay on their backs.  Their task was to carry the clay to rough mountain peaks until the mountains had such a covering that they became as flowery and fertile as the plains.  They became known as the Fir Bolg, which means the men of the sacks because of these sacks of clay that they were always hauling. These were the “bag men” of Ancient Ireland!

But the Fir Bolgs kept their spirits up by telling each other stories of Ireland, their birth right.  And at last the day came when they were able to escape.  They used the very same sacks that had been their burden to build canoes and coracles and fled from Greece.

The Fir Bolg fleet, such as it was, did not hold together on the voyage and the people landed at different times.  One group, led by the Chieftain Slainga, and his wife Etair, landed first on Saturday the 1st August and then the Chieftains, Gann and Segann, landed on Tuesday with their wives and Oist and Fuath and all their followers and on Friday the last of the Fir Bolg arrived led by the Chieftains, Genann and Rudraige and their wives Liebar and Connacha.  They met together and decided that since they were all kin they would consider this the one taking of Ireland and not fight among themselves.  No lakes burst forth when they landed and they cleared no new plains nor had they to fight against the Formorians for dominion over Ireland.  They did decide to divide Ireland between these five chieftains and that was the first division of the provinces we still know today.

This decision was the very significant establishment of the Four Provinces that was five Cuige because of the very important Fifth Province. This was the Ideology we saw outlined by Fintan mac Bochna in the Settling of the Manor of Tara in Nine Waves Immersion 1. They named the Southern-most province, Munster, and it became the land of poetry and music.  Leinster, in the East, was the land of prosperity and Connacht the land of wisdom, while in the North, the stony soil of Ulster bred strong men and women and became the land of warfare and strife.  In the centre, Meath was the province of the High King, which unified all the others with the seat of the Kings at Tara and the seat of the Druids at Uisneach.

The Fir Bolg ruled Ireland for thirty seven years and had nine kings in all that time. Their first high king of Ireland, Slainge, was the first person ever to be the King of all Ireland. But he only ruled for a year before dying of the plague.  The last king, Eochy, ruled for ten years and during his reign there was no wet except for the dew which fell at night and no year without harvest.  Falsehoods were expelled from Ireland and the law of justice was enacted for the first time, but at the end of thirty seven years, King Eochy was brought news, a new group of people had come to Ireland and they had burned their ships behind them on the beach.     The Tuatha de Danann had arrived!

The Connections and insights from Participants

Below is the material recorded from the small group discussions after the Fir Bolg telling.

Connection 1 – The Fifth Province and the Distributed Power
The Fir Bolg are the bagmen of the world, the humblest and simplest of folk.  Some see them as the Elves (Lord of the Rings) of the Irish.  They take on the task of labourer.  Yet they bring the sophistication of the division of Ireland into five provinces that was later elaborated by Fintan MacBochra in the Settling of the Manor of Tara.

This is bottom up thinking from the humble bag men, an ideology of distributed power, the idea of the sacred centre and the role of that place as a balancing function (kidney) in society. This is a very different mythology from the linear, centralising and hierarchical logic of the Greco Roman Culture. So significant then that the Romans never reached Ireland.

Connection 2 – An Appreciative Framing
What is clear in this Fir Bolg world view is that each of the provinces bring something to the whole: Munster – music, Connacht – wisdom, Leinster – prosperity, Ulster – warfare and the Centre – unity and balance.  Rather than criticising and ‘altering’ this is a philosophy of appreciating.  The assumption being that the whole, in this regard, will be greater than the parts. In each case we are looking at strengths and positive outstanding qualities. This is so different from the modern tendency to “other” and to demonise!

Connection 3 – Immigrants and Innovation
Here is a classic example of the new people bringing in new ideas, and exchanging learning with people who are already here.  Some participants commented on how this is obviously a very different philosophy from the ‘build the wall’ in contemporary political culture (especially US and UK). This whole Mythology can be seen as a culture of one invasion after another. We are all in this sense, from somewhere else, it is just a case of how far back we go!

Connection 4 – Truth and Justice
In addition to the Ideology of the Fifths, the Fir Bolg were also credited with bringing prosperity (harvests), truth (absence of falsehoods) and law of justice.  Much came from these visitors from very humble beginnings.

Connection 5 – Nothing is permanent
In spite of thirty seven years of prosperity the experience (again) of plagues, there is to be a new threat, the arrival of another set of invaders, strange magical people who arrive and then buried their boats – the Tuatha de Danann.

Connection 6 – Not Chosen Theme …. Again
What we know of these people was that they were descended from the Nemedians. We also know that they went to Greece where they fared very badly. They were effectively enslaved. Here again we have the recurring theme of “not chosen-ness”.

Listen to our Stories
Become a Subscriber
Contact Us
+353 - 862430981

Subscribe to our Newsletter
Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from Youtube
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google