Articles Tagged with: battles

The Dagda’s Harp

The Daghda had many wonderful possessions: his cauldron of plenty, which never ran empty, and could feed as many man as sat down to it; his mighty club, one end of which could kill a man, and the other end of which could restore him to life. But perhaps his greatest treasure was his harp, Uaithne, called the Four-Angled Music. It was made of oak and richly decorated, and only the Daghda could get music from it strings. He could make anyone who heard it laugh for joy, or weep with sorrow, and the playing of this harp made the seasons come in the correct order.

When the Fomorians were preparing to fight the Tuatha de Dannan in the second Battle of Moytura, a few of their warriors heard of the Daghda’s wonderful harp. He used to use when the men were going into battle. His playing would make them forget all their fear, and charge into the fight thinking of nothing but honour and bloodlust. And at the end of a day’s fighting, he would play for the warriors who survived as they came home, and his song would take all the weariness out of their hearts, and let them forget their grief for their fallen comrades, and think only of the glory they had won.

They decided that it would be a great blow to the Tuatha de Dannan if they could get hold of this marvelous harp, and keep the Daghda from using it. And so, while the battle was raging, and his home was unguarded, a few Formorian warriors crept in, and stole the Daghda’s magic harp away.

They fled as far and as fast as they could, taking their wives and children with them. They were hopeful that their side would win the battle, with the great and terrible Balor leading the Formorian forces, but nothing is ever certain in a war, and so they took refuge in a deserted castle to wait for news, and they hung the Daghda’s harp up on the wall. Before too long, the defeated remains of the Formorian army began to trickle down the road towards them, and they knew that their side had lost the battle. They consoled themselves with the fact that they had taken one of the Daghda’s treasures, and made sure that they were all between the harp and the door, in case anyone came to retrieve it.

When the Tuatha De Dannan came home from the battle, celebrating their great victory, they called for the Daghda to play on his harp, and it was then that they found it was missing. Even after the fierce day’s fighting, the Daghda stood up at once and cried: “Who will come with me to find my harp?”

Ogma the Artificer, and Lugh of the Long Arm stood up straight away, and volunteered to get the Dagda’s harp back from the Formorians.

They set forth at once, and travelled long and hard in search of the remains of the Formorian army. At last they came to the deserted castle where the Formorians had made their camp, and they could see there the Dagda’s harp hanging on the wall. Ogma looked at the great mass of Formorian warriors sleeping before them, who greatly outnumbered the three of them, and wondered how they were going to get past them, but the Daghda stretched out his arms, and called out to his harp. And the harp sprang of the wall and ran straight to him.

But the Fomorians woke at the sound, and drew their weapons to advance on the three men of the Tuatha de Dannan. And Lugh whispered to the Daghda “I think you’d better play your harp!”

The Daghda struck the strings with his hand, and called out the Music of Mirth. In spite of themselves, the Formorians began to laugh. They laughed so hard that the weapons slipped out of their hands, and their feet began to dance. But when the music stopped, they snatched up their weapons again, and started to advance.

Then Ogma said to the Daghda: “I think you’d better play your harp!” And this time, when the Daghda struck the strings, he called forth the Music of Grief. All of the Formorians began to weep. The children wailed, and the men hid their faces in their cloaks so that no one would see the floods of tears they were in. But when the music faded, they took up their weapons again.

And then the Daghda struck the strings of his harp so softly that it seemed it would not make a sound. But he brought forth the Music of Sleep, and, though they struggled to keep their eyes open, every last Formorian fell down into slumber.

And Lugh, and Ogma, and the Dagda left them sleeping there, and stole away. And never again was the harp of the Daghda stolen.

Cian and Eithne

Many years ago in Ireland, two magical races struggled for dominion for a long time. There were the Tuatha de Dannan, who had come from the far north, with magical treasures and great learning, and there were the Formorians, pirates who had their stronghold on Tory Island, and used to raid up and down the coast.

The most powerful of the Formorians was a man named Balor. Now, when he was a young lad, Balor passed by a house, and heard the druids of the Formorians chanting from inside. He knew that they were preparing spells of death and destruction to use in battles against the Tuatha de Dannan, and he knew that one was never supposed to look in on druids during their work. But the window was open a crack, and the temptation was too great to resist, and so Balor peeped in, for just a moment. When he looked, a plume of smoke from the druids’ spells shot out and hit him in the eye. He cried out in pain, and the druids all came running. They realized that the spell of death they had been making had gone into Balor’s eye, and anyone he looked at from that eye from now on would die. So Balor kept his eye closed among his own people, but whenever he went into battle, he had only to open it and look on his enemies for them to fall dead before him.

Balor was a pirate, and a scourge to the Tuatha de Dannan, because he was fearless. He had heard a prophecy that he would die at the hand of his grandchild. Since he had no grandchild, he had no fear of death, and he took every risk, and was the bravest and most daring of the Formorians. He did have one child, whose name was Eithne. She was very beautiful, but to make sure to protect himself from the prophecy, Balor imprisoned her in a tower of glass. He put twelve women there to watch over her, and see to her every need, but he made them promise never to speak to her of a man; she was never to know what a man was.

So the years went by, and Balor’s eyelid grew heavier and heavier, and drooped over his magical eye, till eventually the Formorians had to put an iron ring through it, and attach pulleys and ropes to be able to lift it. It took ten men pulling together to open up Balor’s evil eye, and ten more wielding poles and lances to prod it into position, so that it was pointing in the right direction.

As Eithne grew up, she used to sit at the top of her tower, looking out over the sea. She could see the curraghs coming and going along the coast, and she would see creatures in them, unlike any people she had ever seen. When she asked the women who waited on her what these creatures were, they were silent. Every night, when she slept, Eithne dreamed of the same face, a beautiful face, unlike any she had ever seen. And she had a great longing to meet the person whose face this was. But when she described the face to the women, they were silent, because every night, Eithne dreamed the same dream, of a man’s face.

At this time, there was a lord of land, a man of the Tuatha de Dannan called Cian. He owned a wonderful treasure, that everyone coveted, none more than Balor. Cian’s treasure was a magical cow, called the Glas Gaibheann, who never ran dry of milk. Balor used to follow Cian about in disguise, waiting for a chance to steal his cow, but Cian was well aware of the dangers, and was so careful with the Glas Gaibheann that he used to lead her about on a leash with him everywhere he went.

One day, Cian and his brother Samthain went to meet their other brother Goibniu the Smith, to have swords made. Cian left Samthain holding the cow’s leash, and went inside the forge to speak to Goibniu. Balor spotted his chance. He used magic to disguise himself as a red-headed child, and asked Samthain if he was getting a sword made as well that day. Samhtain said he was, that he’d brought the steel. And Balor replied that he had heard Cian and Goibniu saying that when they had finished making magnificent swords for themselves, that there would be no steel left to make Samthain’s sword. At this, Samthain was furious. He threw the leash to the child, and ran inside the forge, giving out to his brothers. Cian knew immediately that it had been a trick, and rushed outside, but it was too late. Balor had gone, and the Glas Gaibheann was nowhere to be seen.

Cian was determined to get his cow back. He went to a druid, and asked for his advice, but the druid told him that there was nothing he could do. Because of the power of Balor’s evil eye, Cian would not get the cow back while Balor was living. So Cian sought out another duid. Her name was Birog of the mountain, and she was known as the wisest and most powerful druid around. It happened that Birog knew of the prophecy against Balor. She told Cian that the other druid had been right, but that she knew how to bring about Balor’s death, if Cian would agree to help her. Cian agreed to do whatever was necessary, so Birog disguised him as a woman.

She called up a magical wind that blew herself and Cian across the sea to the bottom of the tower of glass where Eithne lived. Birog called out to the women that here was a Queen of the Tuatha de Dannan, who was being pursued by her enemies, and asked for shelter. Eithne instructed her women to open the door, and as soon as Birog was inside, she put a sleeping spell on the twelve women, and took the disguise off Cian.

Cian climbed up the stairs, to find Eithne at the top of the tower, looking out over the sea. He fell in love with her beauty and her sadness at that moment, and when Eithne looked at him, she saw the face that she had dreamed of all her life. They fell in love, and made love in the tower. Cian begged Birog to take Eithne back to Ireland with them, but Birog was too afraid of Balor. Before he could change her mind, she called up the magical wind to carry her and Cian back to the mainland, leaving Eithne behind.

Eithne was full of grief at being left behind, but her grief was eased when she found out she was carrying a child. She gave birth to a son; the grandson that was prophesised to end Balor’s life. When Balor found out, he took the child from her, intending to put it to death there and then. Eithne wrapped the baby in a cloak, and fastened it with a pin, and Balor cast the child out onto the waters. But the pin came out of the cloak, and the baby rolled into the waters, so that everyone watching thought the child was surely dead.

But Birog of the mountain was watching for her chance, and as soon as the baby rolled under the waves, she plucked him up and carried him to his father. Cian was delighted to have his child, and he had him fostered by the best people, and raised up with every advantage. The boy’s name was Lugh, and he grew up to be a great man, and a great warrior, and in time, he fulfilled the prophecy, killing Balor and defeating the Formorians forever in the Second Battle of Moytura.

The Book of Invasions – Part 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.

The Book of Invasions – Part 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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