Conaire Mor

Part I

Long ago, there was a king in Ireland called Eochaid, who married the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen (as kings are wont to do). He did not know, and nor did she, that she was really a fairy woman called Etain, and before too long had passed, her fairy husband Midir came to claim her.

Etain left a daughter behind her, and the king could not bear to look upon the child, so he bade his attendants to put the child to death. They brought her to the well to drown her, but she smiled a laughing smile up at them and they could not bring themselves to destroy the child. So they gave her to the cowherds to raise, and the cowherds named her Meas Buachalla, which means the fosterling of the cowherds. They loved her dearly, but they feared what would happen to her if she were ever found. So they built a little house for her, with no windows or doors, so no one could get in, but with half the house unroofed and open to the sky, so she would not feel confined.

Meas Buachalla grew up, and she grew up beautiful as her mother before her, but nobody in Ireland knew, for nobody had seen her.

The High King of Ireland at this time was named …, and a druid had prophesised that he was to marry a woman of an unknown race. Now, the king was perplexed as to what this might mean, and who this might be, so he had his men keep an eye out in their travels for a woman fitting that description. One day, two of his men came across Meas Buachalla’s strange little house. At first they took it for a storage shed of some kind, but when they crept up, and peered through a chink in the walls, they saw the most beautiful woman either of them had ever laid eyes on inside. They ran back to the king to tell him what they’d seen, and he decided that this must be the woman the druid had spoken of. So he sent his men to fetch her away so that he could marry her.

That night, a huge bird flew down into Meas Buachalla’s house. It threw off its feathers and turned into a beautiful young man. The Bird Man lay down with Meas Buachalla and later, he told her that he was the Bird King and she was going to have his child. Then he explained to her that she was going to marry the High King of Ireland, and that her child would one day become a king. He told her to name this child Conaire, son of Meas Buachalla.

It all happened as the Bird King had said: Meas Buachalla married the king, and when Conaire was born, everyone thought it was the king’s own son. Now Meas Buachalla loved Conaire so much that she wanted him to have the best possible life, and be loved as much as a child can be loved. She decided that he should have three foster families, and in each of these families he had a foster brother.

Conaire and his three foster brothers were inseparable. Whenever a plate of food was put down in front of one of them, all four of them would eat off it, even if four places were set. They dressed in the same coloured clothes, they had the same colour of horses, and they were never found apart from one another.

Conaire was born with three gifts: the gift of sight, the gift of hearing and the gift of judgement, and he gave one of these gifts to each of his foster brothers, so much did he love them. They would often go hunting together, and one day they saw a flock of huge, beautiful birds, and chased after them. The birds alighted just out of range of a spear throw, and when the four young men came closer, they took off again, only to alight just out of range. In this way, Conaire and his foster brothers chased the flock of birds all the way to the land’s edge, where the birds landed on the water.

That very same day, in Tara, the High King died. Now in Ireland a king did not inherit his position, he was chosen according to certain rules and rituals. To discover who the next king should be, the people of Tara held a Bull Feast. A bull was killed, and all the blood was drained out of it, into a vat. The bull was roasted, and everyone ate of it, and there was singing and dancing and celebration. But one man, a seer, would drink all the blood of the bull, which made him drunk and sleepy. When he fell asleep, the dreams he had would be interpreted to tell the people who the next king should be.

When the seer awoke after the Bull Feast, he told the people that he had dreamed of a naked youth who came on foot to Tara, so the people waited anxiously for this unknown man to turn up.

By the coast, Conaire finally managed to get a clear shot at one of the elusive birds, when all of a sudden, the whole flock of them rose up into the air and then cast off their feathers and turned into tall, stern men. The tallest and most beautiful of them approached Conaire and scolded him, saying did he not know he was under a geasa to never kill a bird, on account of his father being a bird? Conaire replied that no one had ever told him this, but that now that he knew it, he would go home and never harm a bird again. But the Bird King was not finished with young Conaire. He told him that he was going to be King, but that in order for that to happen, he must take off all his clothes and walk the whole way back to Tara, naked.

“Your reign will be prosperous,” said the Bird King, “But there are certain geasa that you must observe at all times.”

“Well, I know the first; I am not to kill birds,” said Conaire, and the Bird King replied:

“Yes. And you must never go clockwise around Tara or anti-clockwise around Breaga.” To which Conaire agreed. But the Bird King continued. “You must never hunt the crooked beast of Cearna. You must never sleep in a house from which firelight can be seen through the spokes of a cart. You must never enter into a red house after three reds. You must never allow pillaging in Ireland during your reign. You must never allow any man or woman alone into the house where you’re staying after sunset. You must never settle a quarrel between two of your subjects. You must never spend more than nine consecutive nights away from Tara.” As each of the geasa were pronounced, Conaire gave his word to obey them.

So it was that Conaire walked back to Tara, naked and alone, all the way from the coast. When he was spotted from the ramparts, the people realized that this was their King, and they came out to greet him with soft purple cloaks and brought him in to crown him. There were some who were worried at his youth and lack of experience, but Conaire promised that he would always enquire of wise men, and take their counsel, and seeing that there was no youthful arrogance in him, they were satisfied.

There followed a period of great happiness and good fortune for Ireland. There wasn’t a single person who didn’t have a full plate before him at dinnertime, and every man’s neighbour’s voice sounded sweet in his ears.

Part II

Now that Conaire was King, his foster brothers went off on their own. They grew bored with hunting, and took up some more exciting pastimes. They gathered together some other bored young men, and began to make mischief. There was one farmer in particular whom they targeted: every year they stole one ox, one pig and one cow from him. He did not want to bother the king with this, but it went on so long and he was so upset, that he eventually went to Conaire with the story. Conaire did not know what to do. He still loved his foster brothers dearly, but the penalty for this kind of pillaging was death. He thought it over, and in the end decreed that each man who had been plundering should be killed at the hand of his own father, except for Conaire’s three foster brothers, who he exiled to Britain.

No sooner had they arrived in Britain than they gathered up a new band of followers and took up pillaging again. They made friends with a king over in Britain, and he agreed to allow them to pillage to their hearts’ content, on condition that they return the favour some day.

Not long after this happened, Conaire found out that two of his subjects in the south were involved in a long-standing quarrel. They were neighbours, and it looked as if things were going to escalate into warfare. So Conaire went to visit them to see if he could settle things between them. While he was there negotiating, he stayed five nights in the first man’s house, and then realized he would have to stay an equal number of nights in the neighbour’s house, to avoid showing favouritism, and risk rekindling the quarrel. So he stayed ten nights away from Tara, while settling matters between two of his people.

On his way back to Tara, the road was full of visions of ghostly fires, and in the distance came the sounds of hordes of warrior tribes from the underworld, marching down the road. Conaire knew that something was badly wrong, and he had to get back to his seat at Tara. To avoid the fairy fires, he had to go around Tara clockwise, and anti-clockwise around Breaga. A beast was running ahead of him, and Conaire cast his spear at it without looking to see what it was, only to find when he looked at its body that he had hunted the Crooked Beast of Cearna.

With each geasa he broke, the noise and the fires got worse and worse, and fairy mists descended until Conaire and his men couldn’t tell where they were. There was only one road they could see, so they followed it until Conaire realized that they were on the road to Da Derga’s hostel. “Da Derga is a friend of mine, he has a good sized army and will shelter us,” Conaire said. So they continued down the road to Da Derga’s hostel, but ahead of them they spotted three men on red-coloured horses, each dressed in red cloaks with great shocks of red hair on their heads. Now Derga is the Irish word for red, and so Conaire realized that if he followed behind these three he would be breaking another of the geasa. He sent his son, Ferfla, to ask the Red Men to let them pass, but no matter what Ferfla offered them, they would not agree, and Conaire could not overtake them, no matter how he tried. They went ahead of him into Da Derga’s hostel, and as he went to dismount, Conaire fell off his horse, and saw firelight from the window of the hostel shining through the spokes of a cart.

Knowing that there was nowhere else for him to go, he went into the hostel, which was splendidly appointed, and Da Derga made him welcome and offered him food and rest. But outside, they could hear the sounds of the fairy horde gathering, and the cries of the warriors in the air.

While all this was happening in Ireland, Conaire’s foster brothers decided that the time was ripe to bring the British king, and all his armies, as well as all their band of outlaws, back to Ireland to plunder the countryside, fulfilling their side of the bargain with the British king. They arrived just in time to see the fairy hosts converging on Da Derga’s hostel, and realizing that Conaire must be inside, they joined in the hordes waiting for the right time to strike. To keep a count of their numbers and how many would fall in the battle, each man threw a stone into a pile. The pile they made reached up as high as the roof-beams of Da Derga’s hostel. After the battle, it was their custom that each man would take a stone away, and the stones that were left served as their tally of the fallen.

By now, it was after sunset and there came a knock on the hostel’s door. Conaire opened it to see a lone woman standing outside. This was no ordinary woman, this was a hag with oozy locks straggling down beyond her shoulders, pockmarked, squamous skin, and teeth like turf stacks sticking out of her mouth in all directions. Her cloak was gaping to reveal shrivelled breasts and dirty skin, and there were straggling locks of grey pubic hair swinging down about her knees. Conaire knew his geasa prevented him from letting this woman inside the house, but the laws of hospitality forbade him from telling her to stay out in the dreadful tempest. He asked her first could she go anywhere else at all, but she heaped scorn on a king that would send a poor old woman away. So Conaire took her in, and he embraced her. This pleased the hag, and she told him that though he was a good king, he would not be leaving this hostel in any piece bigger than a bird could carry in its claws.

Conaire realized he had had his time, and with that the hordes descended on the hostel. Conaire fought bravely, killing many foes, but at the height of the battle, he was overcome by a terrible thirst, and could think of nothing else but getting a drink of water. But all the water in the house ran away from him when he tried to get it. He asked his servant, Mac Cecht, to go and get him water, and Mac Cecht took Ferfla and travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, but all the lakes refused to give him water, and all the rivers and streams ran away from him when he tried to collect water for Conaire Mór. He carried Ferfla on his back, but the boy dissolved in the sweat that was running off him. At last, he came to a body of water that had not heard what was happening, and he carried the water all the way back to Da Derga’s hostel, cupped in his hands.

He arrived just in time to see Conaire’s head chopped off. Mac Cecht poured the water into the head’s mouth, and poured some onto the stump of the neck, and the head of Conaire Mór spoke to him and thanked him for being such a loyal friend and servant.

After the battle, the fairy hosts departed, and Mac Cecht gathered up Conaire’s remains and buried at Tara as much as he could find.

Cormac Mac Art

Cormac Mac Art was the greatest High King that Ireland has ever known, and was said to be the man who codified the Brehon Laws, a legal system that was extraordinarily advanced for its time.

Cormac’s father was called Art, son of Conn. Now, Art was fighting with another man, called Lugaid Mac Conn, over who should be the king, and they were preparing for a battle at Maigh Mucruimhe. On his way to the battle, Art stopped in to visit a smith, and a very wise man, named Olc Acha. Olc Acha berated him for going into battle against Mac Conn. “Both of you have a claim,” Olc Acha said, “and you should not settle this with a battle, it isn’t the right way to go about it.” But Art would not listen to his council: he was determined to fight and refused to back down.

Seeing that he could not be persuaded, Olc Acha asked him how many children he had to carry on his line, in case he should die in the battle. When Art said that he had none, Olc Acha consulted with his daughter, Achtan, and they came up with a plan. Olc Acha said “Since you’re so determined to go off and get yourself killed, Achtan will spend the night with you. She’ll bear you a son, and I will raise him to be your heir, and we’ll say no more about it.”

Achtan was very beautiful and very wise, and being a smith’s daughter she had access to wisdom of all kinds, and after she and Art had lain together, she had a prophetic dream. She dreamed that her head was cut off and a great tree grew out of her neck, spreading its branches all over Ireland. Then a wave came and knocked the tree over. She woke Art up and told him her dream, and he interpreted it for her. He said “A woman’s husband is the head of her, so your head being cut off in the dream means that tomorrow I will die in this battle, but the tree that spreads its branches all over Ireland stands for the son you’ll bear me: he will grow up to be a great King, and he will not die in battle. The wave that sweeps the tree down means that he’ll die choking on a fishbone.”

The next day, Art went into battle and as Achan’s dream predicted, he was slaughtered by Lugaid Mac Conn. Achtan was pregnant. Olc Acha drew four circles of protection around the child in her womb: he would be safe from wolves, swords, fire and drowning. Achtan was worried that Lughaid Mac Conn might find out she was carrying Art’s child, and so she decided that she was going to travel to the house of Lugna, a good friend of Art’s, who would be a fine foster-father for her boy. She set out with a handmaiden, but they left very late in her pregnancy, and while she was on her way, having passed into Lugna’s lands, her birth pains came over her. She had to get down from her chariot and squat down in a bed of ferns to give birth. As soon as the child was born, there was a great peal of thunder. Over in his house, Lugna heard it and said that it was the sign of a king’s birth. Achtan was exhausted after the birth, so she lay down and fell asleep, telling her handmaiden to keep watch over the child, but the handmaiden too was overcome with tiredness, and lay down and took a nap. While the two women were sleeping a she-wolf came and stole the baby away.

Achtan was devastated when she woke, thinking the child had been lost. When she reached Lugna’s house and told him what had happened, they set everybody to scour the countryside looking for the child, but he was nowhere to be found.

Some years later, a huntsman came across a she-wolf, and tracked her back to her lair, and there in the dirt playing with a pack of wolf-cubs, he saw a healthy, happy baby boy.

He brought the child back to Lugna, and Lugna named him Cormac and raised him with his own sons. Now Cormac grew up believing himself to be one of Lugna’s sons. But one day, he got into a fight with one of his foster-brothers, and knocked the boy to the ground. Lugna’s son cried out in anger “It’s a terrible shame to be knocked down by a man who doesn’t even have a father!” Cormac was shocked by this, and went to Lugna to ask him what the other boy meant, and that was when Lugna told him that he was the son of Art, and that he had the blood of High Kings in him, and a claim to the throne.

Hearing that, Cormac said: “All right, in that case, let us go to Tara and let them know who I am, so that people can recognize me.” So the two of them set out for Tara. On the day they arrived, Lugaid Mac Conn was sitting in judgement, which was one of the high king’s most important duties. Before him was a poor sheepherder, an old woman who had only one small flock of sheep in all the world. Her sheep had gotten loose and had eaten the Queen’s woad – a plant used for dying clothes. The Queen was very upset and wanted restitution. Mac Conn decreed that the sheep should be taken from the old woman and given to the Queen, but young Cormac spoke out from the crowd. He said; “That isn’t fair, the woad will grow again. It should be a shearing for a shearing. Give the Queen the sheep’s wool this year.”

It was so clear to all who were listening that this was the fair and just thing to do. In fact, the whole side of Tara where Lugaid Mac Conn was sitting sank down a few feet into the ground. With this demonstration, the people decided that Cormac would be a better king than Lugaid Mac Conn. Mac Conn was peacefully deposed, Tara was rebuilt, and Cormac ushered in, beginning a new reign of prosperity and abundance.

A few years into Cormac’s reign, he met a beautiful young woman named Eithne, hard at work by the roadside. He was impressed by her diligence and taken with her beauty, and so he asked her foster-father Buacha if he could marry her. He learned that Buacha had once been a wealthy chieftain in Leinster, famous for his generosity. But Eithne’s brothers took advantage of him, and asked him for huge and costly gifts. Refusing to give a man a gift would break the code of hospitality, and ruin Buacha’s reputation, so he had no choice to give Eithne’s greedy brothers everything they asked for, until in the end, they had everything he owned. He took his foster-daughter and his wife and had to leave Leinster and go and live in poverty. Eithne worked hard and uncomplainingly for her foster-father, and Buacha said that, though he would like for her to marry the king, he was not able to give permission, as Eithne wasn’t his child. Cormac and Eithne decided to elope, without Buacha’s permission. When she was pregnant with their first child, Cormac came back to Buacha and told him it was too late to protest. But he gave Buacha such an enormous bride price, worthy of seven king’s daughters, that he was restored to his former prosperity.

Cormac and Eithne lived together in Tara for many years, and they had two children, a son and a daughter. One May morning, Cormac was outside on his own, taking the air on the hillside of Tara, and he saw a stranger approaching. This stranger had a golden circle in his hair, a cloak clasped with a gold brooch, and he was tall and very beautiful. But the most striking thing about this person was the silver branch he carried in his hand. It had on it little golden apples, perfectly shaped, and when he shook it, it played such beautiful music that everyone who heard it, whether warriors with battle wounds, or women in childbirth, would fall into a healing sleep at the sound of its music, and awake healed and whole. Now as soon as he saw this silver branch, Cormac thought to himself “I want that.”

So the stranger came to him and asked would they be friends. Cormac said they would, and the first thing he did was to ask for the silver branch. The stranger said “I’ll give it to you, in exchange for three promises.” Cormac wanted the branch so badly that he agreed at once. The stranger gave him the branch and said, “My first request is for your daughter Alba. I am taking her away with me.” Cormac was shocked, but he could not go back on his word. So he agreed, and the stranger took beautiful Alba and left Tara. There was great grief and wailing among all the people of Tara, so Cormac shook the silver branch and put everyone to sleep, so they would forget their grief.

A year later, the stranger returned to Tara, and told Cormac he was taking his son Cairbre, for his second promise. Cormac was devastated, but again, he could not go back on his word. There was grief and wailing in Tara and all the lands around, so again Cormac shook the branch and put everyone to sleep to forget their grief. A year after that, the stranger returned and what did he ask for, but Cormac’s wife Eithne.

Now when the stranger asked, Cormac let him take Eithne, but after they had gone, he said: “I cannot abide this.” So he gathered up all his men and pursued the stranger. As they followed him across the plain, a great mist descended, and when it lifted, Cormac was alone in a strange land. None of his men had kept up with him, and as he walked alone through this land, he saw many strange sights.

Cormac saw a house with bronze walls, and there were men on the roof, thatching it with white bird’s wings. But every time they turned around for more, the wind would blow the wings away. He saw a man cutting down a whole oak tree, and casting it into the fire. And as the fire consumed the tree, the man turned to cut down another oak tree. He saw a fountain with five streams, with hazelnuts hanging over the water and salmon swimming through it.

Eventually he came to a grand looking house, where a beautiful young warrior and a beautiful woman met him and made him welcome. They sat him down and asked him if he would eat with them. A swineherd came in with a pig, an axe and a log. The swineherd killed the pig with the axe and set fire to the log to cook it. Cormac was told that this was a magical pig, and every day if it was killed with the same axe and cooked over that same log, the pig and the log would be whole again on the following day. But the pig would not cook unless four truths were spoken over it. So while they were waiting for the meal, the warrior told Cormac the meaning of the sights he had seen in the Land of Promise. The men thatching the roof, he said, were men of art, who worked all their lives to accumulate wealth, which comes to nothing in the end. The man who burned the full oak tree was a man who squandered his inheritance and left nothing behind for his own heirs. And the fountain with five streams represented the five races of men, and the salmon was the salmon of knowledge.

Each of them told a true story after that, and after each truth was spoken, a quarter of the pig was cooked, so by the time they were finished, the meal was ready.

Then Cormac said that he was King and would not eat unless all his companions were with him and were fed as well. The warrior said “All right,” and Cormac’s men appeared all around him. Then the warrior revealed himself: he was the stranger who had come to Tara, and he was in fact Mananan Mac Lir. He had brought the silver branch to Cormac as a test, because he wanted to bring Cormac here to the Land of Promise to teach him wisdom.

He brought out a golden cup, and said that it would be broken into three pieces if a lie was spoken over it, and restored if three truths were spoken. He spoke a lie to demonstrate, and the cup broke into three.

Then out came Cormac’s wife and children, and Mananan Mac Lir said they had not been harmed. He said Eithne and Alba had not seen a man while they had been in the Land of Promise, and Cairbre had not seen a woman. And at these three truths, the cup leaped up and restored itself.

Mananan Mac Lir gave Cormac the cup as well as the silver branch and sent him back to Tara with all the wisdom he had learned. But he told Cormac that when he died the cup and branch were not to go to his successors: they were to be returned to the Land of Promise.

While Cormac Mac Art reigned in Tara, there were so many fish in the rivers that you didn’t have to go fishing, you only had to reach in your hand and pull one out. The forests were so full of oak trees you couldn’t pass through them. Deer and game were so plentiful, that a hunter only had to lose an arrow, and wherever it landed, it would have killed something good to eat.

Cormac lived to a great age, ruling with the wisdom that had been taught to him. When he died, it was at a feast: he choked on a salmon-bone, fulfilling the prophecy his mother had had of him on the night he was conceived so many years before.

Book of Invasions – 6: The Sons of Mil

The Tuatha de Dannan ruled Ireland for a long time, and during that time, the land prospered. Summers were never too hot, nor winters too cold. The forests were bountiful, and there was always enough for everyone to eat. One day, the High King of Ireland died, and left his kingdom to his three sons. Their names were Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine. The three of them could not agree on how best to divide the land between them, and they quarrelled bitterly, until the Tuatha de Dannan were on the brink of war.

At this time, far away in Spain, there lived a wise old man named Ith Espaine. He often stood on his high tower, looking out over the sea. One day, he thought he could see an island in the distance; a place of high mountains and green forests. Ith told his brother and his nephews about this land that he could see, but they thought that he was looking at storm-clouds, and laughed at him. But every day that Ith looked, he could see the island a little clearer, and at last he became determined to sail there if he could.

Ith gathered his men, and set sail. When he and his men reached Ireland at last, Ith marvelled at the wonderful land he saw. He made his way to Tara, where Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine were arguing still. They welcomed Ith and his men, and because of his age, they decided to ask his council. Ith told them that he best thing to do would be to follow the laws and customs of the land, because from what he could see, those customs must be very good indeed, for the land to be as perfect as it was. Ith went on, praising everything about Ireland, and speaking in glowing terms of everything that he had seen there.

But he being a foreigner, it made them uneasy to hear him talk about Ireland with such praise. They decided he must have come as a conqueror, and so without further provocation, the Three Kings of Ireland killed poor Ith Espaine. When Ith’s men brought word of his death back to his grandson Mil, he and his three sons gathered an army and set sail for Ireland to get justice for Ith.

Mil died on the voyage, but his sons Amergin, Eremon and Eber Donn, honoured their father’s wishes and continued on their way.

Now, Amergin was a powerful druid, and when they came to the shore of Ireland, Amergin sang a song announcing his presence, and all the skills of magic and respect for nature that he had.

The sons of Mil journeyed to Tara and announced to the three kings of the Tuatha de Dannan that they had come to exact revenge for their great-grandfather’s murder. The three kings asked for three days, during which time they would decide whether to abandon Ireland, to fight or to submit. Amergin, being the wisest among them, agreed to this condition, and they retreated on their ships nine waves beyond the shores and waited there, so that there could be no chance of their planning anything underhanded. The druids of the Tuatha de Dannan were not so honourable, and they sang up a storm. They called down a mist to scatter the ships so that they would not be able to land again.

When the storm blew up, Amergin suspected that it was magical; he sent one of his men up the mast to see the storm from above. The man fell from the mast to his death, but as he fell he managed to call out to Amergin that it was calm above: there was no storm. From this, Amergin knew for sure that it was not natural.

Now Amergin’s druidic powers were a match for the de Dannan druids, and he sang a counter-song against their songs that quieted the storm. Furious at the treachery of the Tuatha de Dannan, the Milesians decided not to wait till the three days were up, but to land immediately. After the storm died down, one of the men, Dunn, was so enraged that he began to talk about how he would kill all of the Tuatha de Dannan, exulting in the thought of the slaughter they would wreak. As he spoke these hateful words, the storm blew up again, stronger than ever!

The Sons of Mil had to make an anti-clockwise trip around Ireland before they could land by sailing up the Boyne. On their way to the Plain of Tailtiu, they met with the three Queens of the Tuatha de Dannan, one after another. The Queens, Banba, Eriu and Fodla, promised that they would help the sons of Mil, if in exchange they named the land after them. Amergin agreed to each Queen’s demand, and that was why, in ancient times, Ireland had three names, though only Eriu’s survives today.

On the plain of Tailtiu, the sons of Mil met the Tuatha de Dannan in a great and terrible battle. The three kings of the Tuatha de Dannan were slaughtered, and then the sons of Mil slaughtered their wives. The Tuatha de Dannan’s forces were routed, and they fled all the way to the sea, with the sons of Mil in pursuit, killing and slaughtering all they could get their hands on.

After the battle, the Tuatha de Dannan were defeated beyond any hope of recovery. They decided not to stay with the sons of Mil, who were dividing Ireland in half so that Eremon and Eber Donn could rule it together. Instead of staying where they would have to pay taxes and tributes to the conquerors, they retreated, and shrouded themselves in invisibility, taking all of their magic with them. They took ownership of the hills, the forests and the waterways of Ireland, where they lived forever more.

Book of Invasions – 5: The Second Battle of Moy Tura

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.

Book of Invasions – 4: The First Battle of Moy Tura

The Fir Bolg, sensible, hard-working and humble though they were, ruled in Ireland for only a short time.

On a day thirty-seven years after they defeated the Formorians, a great mist descended, and in this mist, boats landed, and a wonderful race of tall, blond, beautiful people came to the land. These were the Tuatha de Dannan. They were the descendants of the Nemedians who had gone North. All the time they were away, they had been visiting four magical cities: Findias, Murias, Gorias and Falias, and in each city they had learned all the science and magic there was to be found.

Their goddess, Danu, had told them to return to Ireland and take back their birthright. Not much is known about Danu herself, but some people think she is the same as Brigid, that Brigid is another name Danu held. Brigid was associated with fire and water, healing and spirituality. After Christianity came, the stories told about Brigid the goddess were transferred to Saint Brigid.

The Tuatha de Dannan brought with them four magical objects: the first was the great cauldron of the Daghda. No matter how many people sat down to eat from it, they would leave full and the cauldron would not be empty. The second was a magic sword that always stayed sharp. The third was the spear that never missed its target. And the fourth was the Lia Fail, the stone of destiny, which roared out when the rightful King sat on it. This is now said to lie in Westminster with the Coronation Stone.

There were great characters among the Tuatha de Dannan. As well as Danu, there was Daghda, an enormously generous person with no sense of entitlement or his own importance. There was Aengus, the youthful, beautiful god of Love and happiness, and the Morrigan, the terrible War Goddess.

The Fir Bolg were astonished to see these shining, beautiful people landing on their shores, and perturbed when they saw the Tuatha de Dannan burn all their ships, as a sign that they were in Ireland to stay.

Overnight, a fortress sprang up in the magical mist, and the Fir Bolg approached it. A group of people came out and introduced themselves. They examined each others’ weapons. The weapons of the Tuatha de Dannan were light, bright and sharp and the weapons of the Fir Bolg heavy, blunt and unwieldy. They exchanged arms as a sign of friendship, and the Tuatha de Dannan proposed that they would divide Ireland equally between them. The Fir Bolg said that they would think about it.

After talking it over amongst themselves, the Fir Bolg decided that they didn’t want to bow down and accept that other people were going to come and take half of their land away – the land that they had won – so they determined to fight for it.

They met in battle on the Plains of Moytura. The Fir Bolg suffered heavy losses on the first day, and after the fighting was over, the Tuatha de Dannan again asked them if they would divide the land equally with them. Again, the Fir Bolg stubbornly refused. On the second day, the Fir Bolg inflicted a terrible blow on the Tuatha de Dannan: one of their warriors cut off the arm of the de Dannan king, Nuada. Under the laws of the Tuatha de Dannan, no one who was not physically perfect could hold the position of king, and so Nuada lost his throne, and the de Dannans were left leaderless. They rallied all the same, and the Fir Bolg were roundly defeated.

Though they had won, the Tuatha de Dannan decided that they would give one of the four provinces to the Fir Bolg. The Fir Bolg chose the province of Connaught, and the Tuatha de Dannan took the rest of Ireland, with their seat at Tara.

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