Articles Tagged with: Mythological Cycle

Wave 7 – Amhairghin and the Arrival of the Sons of Mil

And, the end of Goddess Culture

The arrival of Amhairghin Glungheal and the Sons of Mil is the arrival of the Gaels in Ireland.  This was the start of Celtic Ireland.  What is self evident in this, but a surprise to many, is that there was a whole history and mythology of pre-Celtic Ireland.  The “Irish” weren’t always Celts!

Mil was descended from Noah according to Lebor Gabála and lived in Scythia.  He had to leave Scythia because of a jealous king and set off on a great journey.   He was travelling towards Ireland but never made it.  His uncle, Íth, decided to travel to Ireland with thrice 50 warriors.  The Tuatha Dé engaged in discussion but in the end killed Íth. He was brought back to Spain.  This was not exactly exemplary hospitality.

Nine of Íth’s brothers and eight of the Sons of Mil set off to take Ireland from the Tuatha Dé.  They arrive at Inber Scéne (Kenmare Bay) where Amhairghin delivered a piece of mystical rhetoric.  They defeated a force of the Tuatha Dé at Sliabh Mis.  The great Banba, Fódla and Ériu who all asked that their name be on the Country.

They, the Sons of Mil then met three kings of the Tuatha Dé who persuaded the Sons of Mil to retreat over nine waves.  But in a druid battle they won and arrived again on the shores of Ireland.  They then defeated the Tuatha Dé at the Battle of Tailtiu.  The Tuatha were then banished to live in the sidh and other lonely places.  For philosopher, mystic, John Moriarty “this was a sad day for Ireland, a cultural disaster, a worse disaster culturally than the coming of the Vikings, than the coming of Cromwell and his religious roundheads”.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the most significant connections and insights from participants that were collected by the Bard team in the breakout groups and the large group discussions.


Connection 1 – The Transition from A pre Celtic World
Clearly what we are dealing with here is Irish pre-history but nevertheless we do know the Celts arrived from the 5th century BC onwards.  This means there was a pre-Celtic Ireland.  For some people this is news and something they have given no thought.  In a sense, for many, the Irish are Celts, always have been.  So the Sons of Mil arriving is a transition.  It seemed that this idea was fully and enthusiastically welcomed by some, enthusiastic about the pre Celtic Ireland.  For others, it seemed, this was not so welcome!  It was a surprising, perhaps ’shocking’ new idea! 

Connection 2 – The Gender Dimension
What this arrival/invasion marked was a transition that was a movement to a more patriarchal/male dominated world.  And despite the lack of historical information, there is an enormous significance in a collective cultural chance to remember a story that symbolises the idea that patriarchy came from somewhere else (as opposed to being inherent to human nature).  The Tuatha Dé Danann were the people of the goddess, Danu.  They were a goddess culture.  The arrival of the Celts was the end of that matriarchal culture.

Connection 3 – The Tuatha Dé Driven Underground
Significance of Tuatha being driven underground: with the symbolism of the unconscious, the “other world”, faerie, rivers/forests as ecological foundations of life.  It also offers a receded but nonetheless ever present layer of more valuable things in life than those valued on the surface.  Also comparisons with king under the mountain trope: not really dead but there biding its time, to surface again in times of danger, and potentially to one day take power again.  For some ,the idea of the Tuatha Dé coming back over ground again is compelling, especially from a feminist perspective.

Connection 4 – Circular Thought
The sense of spirals, waves and continuous motion and a cyclical conception of history.  This is contrasted with the linear progress narratives of history and of Greco Roman thought.  This spiral/cyclical conception applies in our personal lives as well.  But the idea of spiral suggests ever spiralling layers of one’s understanding.  These stories, this wisdom tradition evokes a circular world view.

Connection 5 – Irish Suspicion of Outsiders
In spite of all the compliments of Íth who led the forward party, the Tuatha Dé were very suspicious.  And as we know, they killed him.  The participants suggested that there might be a lesson here. 

Is there an enduring suspicion of the stronger (Britain, the EU, new arrivees) and what about current Irish political negotiations?  Certainly the Tuatha Dé did not cover themselves in glory with this episode.

Connection 6 – Faults on both Sides
The story highlights a strong sense of the Tuatha’s action being wrong in the killing of Íth.  This then brought on the aggression of the Sons of Mil but participants reflected on feelings of shame and perhaps a reflection on Ireland’s historical wrong doings.  In turn was Amhairghin’s song all about ego (as represented by Moriarty) and could they be trusted?  In the end they did get rid of the Tuatha Dé and the goddess culture.  It seems the Tuatha Dé had demonstrated a failure of hospitality and a loss of touch with their own values.

Connection 7 – A story with Global Resonances
What the story of the Sons of Mil represents is the possible Scythian origins of the Irish.  There are also important connections in this story to Noah and the Fenius the Ancient and those who went on to build the Tower of Babel and to Moses.  This Old Testament figure, Moses, saved the life of the infant Gaedheal, who was bitten by a snake, by touching him with his rod before pronouncing that Gaedheal’s descendent would be safe from serpents and live in a land where no such creatures existed – Ireland!


There are clearly connections here to Islamic and Middle Eastern cultures and a number of mythic resonances.


Ireland lay deserted and empty for 300 years, until on a Tuesday the 14th May a new group of people arrived landing in the estuary of the river Shannon.  These were the followers and family of Parthalon, a giant of a man who had travelled to Ireland all the way from Sicily.

His journey began when he committed a terrible crime in his homeland.  In order to ensure his brother ascended to the throne Parthalon killed his own mother and father.  This invoked a terrible curse that nothing he did would ever succeed.

Parthalon and his people travelled from Sicily to Greece and then on to Cappadocia, through Gothia, and finally to Ireland via Spain, a journey of just over a year.  The land that they found was not empty.  Parthalon was challenged by the shape shifting magical people known as the Formorians for dominion over the land.  They fought a magical battle standing on one leg , with one arm behind their backs and one eye closed. Though no one was killed on either side, Parthalon and his people won and the Formorians departed.

Lakes burst forth from Ireland at the moment of their victory.  The people of Parthalon were industrious and set about clearing plains for agriculture.  He had brought four oxen with him, the first cattle in Ireland and a man named Breigha built the first dwelling in Ireland and was the first to cook food in a cauldron hung over the fire.  Somalia was the first to brew ale and to start the tradition of stewardship and Beur was the first person in Ireland to have a guest stay in his house.

Parthalon’s sons were the first to make a division of Ireland and they divided it into four parts.   The Parthalonian skill was in crafting something out of nothing.  They created sources of prosperity that were to last.  The main industries and means of providing for family and community and started traditions of hospitality and generosity that endure to this day.

Parthalon then made a tour of this new land to see all that had been created. He left his wife, Delgnat alone with a servant called Topa.  While he was away Delgnat seduced Topa and after they had slept together, the two of them drank ale from Parthalon’s own cup.  When he returned Parthalon drank from the same cup and tasted his wife’s lips and the servant’s lips on it and knew at once what had happened.  He flew into a rage, killing Topa, and striking Delgnat’s hound so hard he killed it too.  This was the first jealousy in Ireland.

When he turned on Delgnat, she said she was the innocent party and that the fault was his and not hers, ‘honey with a woman, milk with a cat, food with one generous, meat with a child, a craftsman with an edged tool, one before one earns great risk, the woman will take the honey, the cat will drink the milk, the generous one will give away all the food, the child will eat the meat, the craftsman will lay hold of the tool, the one with the one will always go together’.

It was agreed by all those who heard that Delgnat was in the right and this was the first judgement in Ireland and was later called the right of his wife against Parthalon.

Parthalon’s great efforts to ensure prosperity didn’t swing things in any way.  The woman’s rights were paramount.  Parthalon’s people thrived in Ireland was many years until they numbered nine thousand and then in the space of only one week Parthalon’s curse caught up with them and a plague wiped out everyone.


The land of Ireland lay empty after Parthalon’s passing for thirty years before another group of people arrived, led by Nemed, who was a distant relative of Parthalon’s.  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 Sengannn.  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 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.  With thirty thousand at sea and thirty thousand in ships 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.  A few returned to Ireland but the plague finished them off.  Though the women lived on a few decades longer than  the men.  A small group of them went into the north of the World where they found great wonders.  A second group led by Nemed’s son, Fergus Redside and his son, Britton Wayle went to Scotland and Britton Waye faired so well there, that the whole island was named after him.  The final group, led by Nemed’s grandson, Simeon, went to Greece where they were captured and enslaved, living under great hardship for many years.

Fir Bolg

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, 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.

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 Slanga, 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.

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 Manor of Tara

Every three years, the High King of Tara had to throw a feast for all the people of Ireland, lasting seven days and seven nights. One High King, Diarmait son of Cerball, was finding it hard to cover the expense of this feast, and he looked out at the great plain of Tara, with seven views on every side, and he wondered if he might cultivate some of that good green land, and put it to profit, to offset the costs of the feast.

All the people of Ireland began to arrive for the great feast in Tara: kings and queens, chieftains and chieftainesses, youths and their loves, maidens and their lovers, people of all degree and class arrived, and were seated according to their station: the kings and ollaves (that is the highest rank of bard) sat around the High King, the warriors and fighting men were all put together, and the youths and maidens and proud foolish folk were put in the chambers around the doors, and everyone was given their proper portion of the feast, and though the best of the fine fruit and oxen and boars went to the kings and ollaves, nobody at all would go hungry.

But when the High King Diarmait mentioned that he was considering reappointing the Manor of Tara, all the people said that they would wait and not eat a bit until such an important matter as this was decided. But Diarmait was uneasy about making such a huge decision on his own, so he sent for the wisest man he could think of: Fiachra, son of the embroideress, who was Saint Patrick’s successor in Ireland. But when the question was put to Fiachra, he refused to answer it. “There is another man, wiser and older than myself,” he said, “and that is Cennfaelad, who got a wound to the head in the Battle of Moy Rath, that took the brain of forgetfullness out of his head, so the remembers everything, and can forget nothing.”

But Cennfaelad, too, refused to answer the question of what to do with the Manor of Tara. He insisted they ask his five seniors, the oldest and wisest people in Ireland. But when the five elders arrived, they wouldn’t partition Tara and its manor unless their senior said it was alright.

At this stage, Diarmait was getting frustrated, and the feast was growing cold, so he sent at once for the man named by the five seniors of Ireland. That man was called Fintan Mac Bochra, and he had lived for so long that his legend had grown and fallen again into obscurity, until only the oldest and wisest people had ever heard of him.

Fintan had his home in Tulcha in Kerry at that time, and the people in Tara had to wait until he was sent for, and brought before them. Fintan was given a great welcome in the banqueting house, and everyone was keen to hear his words and his stories, they knew this was a rare thing to have such a sage in their company. They asked him to sit in the judge’s seat, but Fintan refused until he knew what question they had to put to him. He said they shouldn’t make a fuss over him, because he knew he was welcome anywhere in Ireland: Ireland was his fostermother, and Tara was her knee that he rested on, and Ireland had sustained him throughout all the long years of his life, from the time of the Deluge until that time.

He told them of all the Invasions of Ireland, an eyewitness account of their ancient history, and told them how, when Saint Patrick came to Ireland, Fintan converted to the Faith of the King of the cloudy heaven.

Someone in the crowd wanted to know how good Fintan’s memory might be, since he had lived for so long and it might be starting to go. “Well,” said Fintan, “One day I was walking the in the woods of West Munster, and I picked a berry from a yew tree.” He told them where he’d planted the berry, described how it grew, into a magnificent tree. And when the yew tree died of old age, he cut it down and made into churns and pitchers and useful wooden tools. And those vessels served him well, until they began to decay. So he cut out the bad wood, and salvaged the good, and made new vessels (but from every churn, he got only a pitcher, and from every barrel, not more than a plank). “And where are those pitchers that I re-made?” said Fintan, “Gone to dust now, on account of their great age.”

Dairmait was very impressed with Fintan’s great age and great wisdom, and explained to Fintan that he thought the manor of Tara was going to waste, and he thought it would be best to partition it and use it for something profitable. And he asked Fintan if he had any knowledge from history that would help them in the settling of the manor of Tara.

Fintan said that he had, and he told them this story:

“Once, long, long ago, we were holding a great assembly of the men of Ireland, the king at that time was Conaing Bec-eclach. On a day in that assembly, we saw a great hero coming towards us from the west. He was huge. The top of his shoulders were as high as a wood, you could see the sun and the sky between his legs. He was comely as well as tall, and wore a shining crystal veil about him as if it were linen, and had sandals on his feet, and even I don’t know what wonderful material they were made of. His hair was golden-yellow, and fell in curls to the level of his thighs. And in his left hand he was carrying stone tablets, and in his right hand, he was carrying a branch with three fruits on it: nuts, and apples and acorns. He strode past us and around the assembly, with is great branch of wood, and someone called out to him to come and speak with the king, Conaing Bec-eclach. He answered then, and said “What do you desire of me?”

“”To know where you come from, and where you’re going, and to know your name,” we answered.

“The giant said, “I come from the setting of the sun and I am going into the rising of the sun, and my name is Trefuilngid Tre-eochair.”

“”And what has brought you to the setting, if you were at its rising?” we asked.

“”A man who has been tortured,” said he, “A man in Palestine has been tortured today, and crucified to death, and the sun could not bear to look down on them, so I came to find out what ailed the sun.” And then he asked us, “What is your race?” he asked, “and whence have you come to this island?”

“”From the Children of Mil of Spain and from the Greeks are our people sprung,” we said, and told him all of the comings of the people to Ireland, and the history of the Sons of Mil before they came to Spain, the same story I told to all of you.

“What land is Spain?” asked Trefuilngid.

“You can just about see it in the distance in the south, for our people came here when Ith son of Breogan saw the mountains of Ireland from the top of the tower of Breogan in Spain, and following him the sons of MIl came.”

“And how many of you are in this island?” asked Trefuilngid, “I would like to see you assembled in one place.”

“Conaing said he’d assemble all the people of Ireland for Trefuilngid to see if he wanted, but he thought it would distress the people to feed such a great man as Trefuilngid. But Trefuilngid assured him that the branch in his hand would serve him for food and drink as long as he lived. So, for forty days and nights, Trefuilngid stayed with us all, until all the men of Ireland were assembled for him at Tara. And when he saw them all in one place, he asked them for the chronicles of the men of Ireland in the royal house of Tara. But the people replied that they had no real storytellers to entrust the chronicles to.

“Then Trefuilngid said that he would establish the progression of the stories and chronicles of the hearth of Tara with the four quarters of Ireland all about, because he was the most learned witness among them. And he asked them to bring to Tara from each quarter, the seven wisest, most prudent and most cunning people, and the shanachies, to represent the four quarters of Ireland, and so that each of the seven could take their share of the chronicles of the hearth of Tara back to his home province.

“He took those shanachies aside, and told them the chronicles of every part of Ireland, and then he took the king, Conaing, aside, to tell him how they had partitioned Ireland. Then Trefuilngid asked me, Fintan Mac Bochra to explain the partitioning of Ireland, since I was the oldest one at that assembly. I told him that Ireland was divided into five provinces: “Knowledge in the west, battle in the north, prosperity in the east, music in the south, and kingship in the centre.”

“”True indeed,” said Trefuilngid, “That is how it is, and will be forever.” And he told us where to fix the borders of all the provinces, and all the attributes of the different provinces, and marked the borders of the manor of Tara. And then Trefuilngid gave some of the berries and nuts and acorns from his branch to me and told me to plant them in the places I thought they would grow best in Ireland. Great trees sprang from each of the berries, and I watched them all grow from saplings, and watched them all wither and die with age in the end.”

After this great story, Fintan sang of his great age, and his duty as a shanachie, to bring clear testimony to the sons of Mil. He went on telling stories of Ireland to the men of Ireland, as they sat and listened with wide and wondering eyes, right up until his summoning by Diarmait son of Cerball that very day. And Fintan’s judgement was: “Let it be as we have found it, and not go against the arrangement that Trefuilngid Tre-eochair left us, because he was either an angel of God, or he was God Himself.”

Then the nobles of Ireland came with Fintan to Uisneach, and they took leave of each other from the top of Uisneach. And Fintan set up a pillar-stone with five ridges on the summit of Uisneach, and assigned a ridge of it to every province in Ireland, showing that Tara and Uisneach are in Ireland as two kidneys are in an animal, and he marked out the portion of each province in Uisneach, and arranged the pillar stone.

And that is the story of the Settling of the Manor of Tara

The Book of Invasions

Ireland existed long before people came to its shores, an island on the fringe of the Otherworld, the last stop before a traveller would come to the three times fifty islands of the Otherworld.

Cesaire was the first to come to Ireland. She led her followers; three times fifty women of art and skill, along with her father, her brother and her husband, through all the known world to come to this new land that she had dreamed of. The land welcomed them, new rivers and lakes burst forth and Cesaire and her people cleared away a new plain to live on. But they did not live long in Ireland, though some say their end came with the flood and others say that they faded away for want of men to give the women children, there came a day when only Fintan, the husband of Cesaire, was left.

Fintan learned the magic of changing his shape, and could take on the form of any animal in Ireland, so that time had no effect on him, and he could watch all who came after.

Next came Partholon, a giant from Greece, who was fleeing a terrible curse. He had brought the curse on himself when he killed his own parents, and he thought he might be able to escape it if he ran far enough away. Partholon’s people battled the Fomorians, sea-raiders from Tory Island in the North, for dominion of Ireland, and when they won their magical contest, four new lakes burst forth from the land. Fintan Mac Bochra made himself known to them, and helped them set up in Ireland. They cleared three plains, started agriculture and set legal precedents, and prospered for a time. But Partholon’s curse caught up with them at last, and all his descendants were wiped out by a plague, leaving Fintan Mac Bochra alone once again.

After a time, people came to Ireland again. Now came the followers of Nemed, in thirty ships with sixty people in each. On their way to Ireland, they passed by a tower of gold, and in their greed, they tried to capture it. But a storm blew up, and blew them away from the tower. They, too, had to battle the Fomorians, and defeat them to win the land. When they won, Nemed, remembering the wonderful tower of gold, made the Fomorians build for him a beautiful fortress. It was so beautiful, that Nemed killed the craftsmen who worked on it, so that they could never build its equal for anyone else. The Fomorians had their revenge after Nemed died, and put terrible taxes on his people, demanding a third of everything they produced, including their children. In desperation, the Nemedians rose up, and took the Fomorian fortress on Tory Island. But the Fomorians had a close relationship with the sea, and when they asked, it rose up and overwhelmed the Nemedians, killing all but two small groups.

One group went North, into the unknown, magical lands, and the other went East, to the Mediterranean. There they did not fare well, and were made slaves and labourers, and were called the Fir Bolg, which means the men of the sacks, for the heavy loads they would have to carry for their masters all day long. The Fir Bolg kept their spirits up through generations, by telling each other stories of Ireland, their homeland, till they one day managed to escape from oppression and return.

The Fir Bolg understood how power can corrupt, so they designed a political system in Ireland, where power would not be concentrated into any one place. Instead, the land was divided: four provinces, and each to be ruled by a King, and a fifth province at Tara, where the High King would rule from, and where each province could send their wisest and most skilful delegates to meet as Irishmen, and advise the High King, and take council from his druids at Uisneach.

Fintan Mac Bochra watched all of this happening, and approved. He introduced himself to the Fir Bolg, and helped them fight off the Fomorians.

Only thirty-seven years passed before a new race came to Ireland. They arrived in a mist, and when the mist cleared, the Fir Bolg saw a beautiful tower, and the ships of the new arrivals all in flames. They met these new arrivals, the Tuatha de Dannan, the people of the goddess, and learned that they were all related: these were the remnants of the people of Nemed who had gone North. But where the Fir Bolg had suffered greatly, the Tuatha de Dannan had prospered, journeying through the four magical cities, gathering enchanted treasures of great power, developing their wisdom and skill. The difference between them was notable: the Fir Bolg were short, dark and hairy, with crude weapons, and the Tuatha de Dannan tall, golden and beautiful, with light and brightly-shining weapons.

Peace was proposed, and the dividing of Ireland equally between the two groups, but the Fir Bolg wanted to fight, and so fight they did, on the Plains of Moy Tura. Fintan fought beside the Fir Bolg, and though they were defeated, they struck a blow against the Tuatha de Dannan, crippling their king, Nuada. The Fir Bolg were given the province of Connaught, but the Tuatha de Dannan had to find a new king, as no one, not even the wonderful Nuada, could reign if he was crippled. They elected Breas, son of a Fomorian father and a Tuatha de Dannan mother, in hopes that he would unite the two races, but their optimism was not rewarded. Dreadful battles followed, until at last another son of the two races, called Lugh, defeated the Fomorians in the Second Battle of Moy Tura and Nuada, with his arm magically restored, was able to take the kingship again.

For generations, the people of the goddess ruled Ireland, building on all that had gone before them. There came a time when the High King died, and his three sons were quarrelling over which of them should be king after him, and on the brink of civil war. They asked advice from a wanderer, an old man called Ith who had seen Ireland from the top of a tower in Northern Spain. Ith advised them to follow their own laws, and praised the land all about him. But he praised it so well that the Tuatha de Dannan grew nervous, thinking he was looking with the eye of a conqueror, and they killed him with no more provocation than that.

Word of this crime came back to Ith’s son, Mil, and Mil set out on a voyage of revenge, taking his sons with him. Though he died en route, the Sons of Mil followed through, countering the powerful magics of the Tuatha de Dannan with the power of their own druid, Amergin, who sang to the land and promised to honour it. Truces were made and then broken, and at last the Sons of Mil faced the Tuatha de Dannan in battle on the Plains of Tailtiu. The people of the goddess were defeated, their kings and queens were slaughtered, and many more were slaughtered in the rout, as their defeated army was driven all the way to the sea. The survivors decided not to stay, where they would have to pay taxes and tributes to their conquerors, so the people of the goddess retreated under the hills of Ireland, to the rivers and wild places to live out their immortal lives in peace, away from the sons of Mil and all their kind.

Fintan Mac Bochra threw his lot in with these new people, adapting to this new group as he had adapted to all the others, advising the Sons of Mil on the traditions of this land, and how to keep them best. He would change his shape now and then, to salmon, hawk, and deer, and he watched Ireland change until the five thousand years of his life came to an end.

Fintan Mac Bochra and the Hawk of Achill

Fintan Mac Bochra, the first man to set foot on Ireland, following his wife, Ceasair, lived a long life; over five thousand years. He changed into all the different animals of Ireland, and witnessed all the changes, all the new peoples who came to Ireland down through the centuries. He saw the defeat of the magical Tuatha de Danann at the hands of the Sons of Mil, and witnessed the great deeds of the Red Branch and the Fianna.

One day, Fintan met a hawk flying out from Achill Island. It was grey and old, and weak, and the two of them got to talking. The hawk of Achill commented on how withered and aged Fintan was looking. “It’s no wonder,” Fintan said, “in all my long life, I’ve had many children, but my best-beloved son was called Illan, and he died at Ros Greda the other day. My heart is so badly broken, I wonder that I’m still alive at all. I was only fifteen when I left my homeland, but I’ve lived five thousand years in Ireland.”

“I know,” said the Hawk of Achill, “I’ve lived exactly as long as you, but I kept to my beloved Achill Island, where game is plenty, and my own strength was always enough to keep me well fed. But tell me, since you are a great sage, all the wonders and evils you’ve seen in your lifetime.”

So Fintan told the Hawk his greatest griefs: the death of his son, Illan, and of his first wife, Cesaire of the white hands. Before that, the loss of his father-in-law, sweet-voiced Bith, the first death in Ireland, and of his brother-in-law, Ladra the pilot. He told the hawk how lonely he had been, at times, in the form of one animal or another, far removed from human warmth and company. “It seemed like the gods had given me a gift, to turn me into a salmon after Ceasair died,” Fintan said, “it was nothing I asked for, and for many years I swam the waterways of Ireland, and came to know them so well. But a terrible thing happened to me at the estuary of the river Earne; the cold that winter was the worst I’ve ever felt, and the waterfall froze solid, like shards of glass. I couldn’t stay under the water, salmon that I was, and I tried in vain to make the leap above the waterfall. And then a hawk swooped down at me out of the sky and plucked out one of my eyes, and that was one more grief on top of all that I’d suffered already.”

“That was me,” the Hawk said, ruffling its feathers, “I am the grey hawk of time, alone in the middle of Achill.”

“Well, if it was you who left me one-eyed, you should pay me compensation for its loss, as law and custom demand!” said Fintan.

“You won’t get anything from me,” the Hawk replied, “I’d eat the other eye out of your withered head, only it wouldn’t make more than a mouthful.”

“Well, you’re a harsh one,” Fintan said, “And I’ll prove that I’m the gentler one, so I’ll sit and talk with you another while.”

He told the Hawk how he’d lived as a salmon, an eagle, and a blue-eyed falcon before Lugh put him back into his own shape. Then, as a man again, he saw the king of Ireland, Slainge of the Fir Bolg, invent festivals. Fintan sided with the Fir Bolg and their king Eochaid at the First Battle of Moytura, where they fought the Tuatha de Danann for dominion of Ireland.

“Oh, I was there!” the Hawk interrupted, “I saw your twelve sons die. Out of respect to you, I took a hand, a foot, or an eye from each one of them. Oh, but I got a wonderful arm that day, too. I saw it beside me in the carnage, all dressed in silk, with red-gold rings on all the fingers, and beautiful nails. I almost felt sorry for the man who’d lost it, such a wonderful arm. It was huge, too, so that I could hardly carry it, but I managed to get it back to Achill Island to feed my family. It lasted us seven years! That arm belonged to Nuada, the king of the Tuatha de Danann, you know.”

“I know all about Nuada, and the trouble the Tuatha de Dannan had with his replacement, but did you ever hear of Trefuilngidh?” Fintan asked, “He was a traveller from the East, and he had a branch with fruits on it that could satisfy all the needs of humanity. If you ate from it looking North, you’d grow young again; south and you’d be cured of any painful disease. It had nuts, apples and sloes growing on it, all at once, and he gave me the seeds of it to plant all over Ireland. And that’s my story for you, O Hawk, in return for your visit.”

“Do you know,” said the Hawk, stretching its wings wearily, “That when fair Conor Mac Neasa was king in Ulster, my renown and my beauty were great. I was the king of the birds of Ireland. I remember seeing the hero Cuchulainn, and when he killed Cu Roi, I drank my fill of his blood. I got great meals from Cuchulainn and the warriors of the Red Branch, I used to eat whole bodies that fell to Conall Cearnach, and Fergus Mac Roigh gave me plenty of meat – the rivers would run red with blood, those were the days! Especially that cattle-raid, it left the plain of Muirthemhne full of bodies. And when they came for the hound of Ulster, Cuchulainn, I saw him dying against the pillar-stone, and I went to eat his eyes. But there was life in him yet, and when he felt my wings on his face, he put his javelin into my breast. I barely made it home alive, and though I drew out the shaft, the barb of the spear lodged inside me, and I’ve never been right since.”

The Hawk told Fintan all the heroic battles of its youth, and how it had faced down and killed the greatest heroes of the birds: the Crane of Moy Leana, the Eagle of Druim Brice, the two full-fat birds of Leithin, and the Blackfoot of Slieve Fuaid.

It reminisced about the days of the Tuatha de Danann, when it carried home the bodies of champions in its talons to feed its nestlings, and the age of Conn Cead Cathach, when it could lift a fawn, and the time of Cormac Mac Art, when it could carry a piglet. But by the time Niall of the Nine Hostages was king, the Hawk was maddened with its own weakness, and these days, it could barely lift a blackbird.

“And that’s why I’ve come to see you, Fintan,” the Hawk said, “To ask you to get God’s pardon for me, for tomorrow my long life will end, and I’m afraid what comes next won’t be nice for me.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Fintan told the Hawk, “You’ll be in the heaven of the clouds tomorrow. I’ll go to meet Death with you, little Hawk, and make sure you go to the heaven of the clouds, and not to any bad place.”

They talked long into the night, Fintan and the Hawk, and they told each other all the stories they could remember, good times and bad. And the next day, they died together.

The Book of Invasions – Part 1: Ceasair (Pagan version)

Long ago in Northern Africa, a woman named Ceasair had a prophetic dream. She dreamed that a great flood would come and wipe out all her people. She consulted with her grandfather, a priest of Egypt, and he advised her to build an ark and sail west, till she came to a land that had never been inhabited by man, which would not be touched by the flood.

Ceasair built her ark, and started to gather followers. Three times fifty women, with all sorts of skills and knowledge, all that they’d need to make their way in the new land., came to her. So many, that Cesaire had to build three arks to carry them all. The only men to come with her were her father, Bith, her brother, Ladra the pilot, and a young man named Fintan Mac Bochra, who became Cesaire’s husband.

Ceasair and her followers set sail. They sailed for seven years, crossing all over the known world, from the Nile all the way to Asia Minor and the Caspian Sea, across the Mediterranean. They sailed up rivers as far as the Alps, and lost two of their three ships along the way. At last, from a tower in northern Spain, Ceasair saw the coast of Ireland in the distance and knew their journey was nearly at an end. They landed in Ireland, in the harbour of Corca Dhuibhne in Kerry. Ceasair jumped onto the land first, because she was the leader, and so she became the first person ever to set foot on Ireland. Fintan Mac Bochra was the first man. All the others landed safely, except Ladra the pilot who took a wound from an oar to his thigh.

Now that they’d arrived they realized that they were going to have to populate the island, but they only had three men among fifty women! So they decided to divide into three groups, with one man to each group. Noah’s son Bith got 16 women because he was getting on in years and wasn’t as virile as he used to be, and the other two men got 17 women each.

They lived happily together for a while, but unfortunately Bith son of Noah was unable to cope with the task he’d been given and he died – the first death in Ireland – so his 16 women were divided between the other two men. Now Ladra had never quite recovered from the wound he’d taken when they landed, and he quickly succumbed. Now all the women looked to Fintan to populate Ireland.

Poor Fintan, being just one man among fifty women, was completely overwhelmed by this task and ran away and hid in the mountains. Ceasair, deeply in love with him, died of a broken heart. Fintan hid himself away in a cave, where he became a shaman, shapeshifting to take on the forms of all the different animals in Ireland, and living in this way for five thousand years.

One by one, Cesaire’s followers died, of disease, or old age, or other hardships, and over time the numbers dwindled. Only one woman survived, a great warrior woman called Banba, who sometimes had liaisons with Fintan Mac Bochra through the years, when he was in human form.

The Book of Invasions – Part 1: Ceasair (Christian version)

Long ago in Egypt, the wise man Noah had a prophetic dream. The god Yahweh showed him that the world was full of wickedness, and instructed Noah, the only righteous man left, to build an ark and save all the animals. Yahweh would send a great flood to wash the earth clean, and Noah was to repopulate the land when the waters receded. Noah was going to bring all his family with him, but he found out that his son, Bith, and Bith’s son Ladra, had been part of a gang of thieves, along with another young man named Fintan. Noah told Bith he was not welcome aboard the ark!

Bith went to his daughter, Ceasair, who was busy building an ark of her own. Ceasair had her own god, and had decided that she was going to try and get around this flood by sailing west to an unpopulated land. She reasoned that maybe Yaweh wouldn’t send his flood to a land that hadn’t had any sin committed on it. Cesaire agreed to take Bith, Ladra and Fintan with her, as long as they agreed to forsake the god of Noah, and follow all of her commands.

Ceasair built her ark, and started to gather followers. Three times fifty women, with all sorts of skills and knowledge, all that they’d need to make their way in the new land. came to her. So many, that Ceasair had to build three arks to carry them all. Her brother Ladra was a pilot, and made himself useful to her. And Ceasair fell in love with Fintan Mac Bochra and married him.

Ceasair and her followers set sail. They sailed for seven years, crossing all over the known world, from the Nile all the way to Asia Minor and the Caspian Sea, across the Mediterranean. They sailed up rivers as far as the Alps, and lost two of their three ships along the way. At last, from a tower in northern Spain, Ceasair saw the coast of Ireland in the distance and knew their journey was nearly at an end. They landed in Ireland, in the harbour of Corca Dhuibhne in Kerry. Ceasair jumped onto the land first, because she was the leader, and so she became the first person ever to set foot on Ireland. Fintan Mac Bochra was the first man. All the others landed safely, except Ladra the pilot who took a wound from an oar to his thigh.

Now that they’d arrived they realized that they were going to have to populate the island, but they only had three men among fifty women! So they decided to divide into three groups, with one man to each group. Noah’s son Bith got 16 women because he was getting on in years and wasn’t as virile as he used to be, and the other two men got 17 women each.

They lived happily together for a while, but unfortunately Bith son of Noah was unable to cope with the task he’d been given and he died – the first death in Ireland – so his 16 women were divided between the other two men. Now Ladra had never quite recovered from the wound he’d taken when they landed, and he quickly succumbed. Now all the women looked to Fintan to populate Ireland.

Poor Fintan, being just one man among fifty women, was completely overwhelmed by this task and ran away and hid in the mountains. Cesaire, deeply in love with him, died of a broken heart. Fintan hid himself away in a cave.

Not long after this disaster, Yahweh’s flood caught up to them. All the remaining women were drowned, except for the warrior woman Banba, who ran up into the hills to survive. In his cave, Fintan had a strange dream: he dreamed that he was a salmon, and when he awoke he was a salmon, swimming through the floodwaters and surviving. With the wisdom he learned, and his trick of shapeshifting, Fintan was able to live for five thousand years in Ireland, as salmon, hawk, deer and boar, occasionally becoming a man to share his wisdom with new people who came to Ireland.

The Book of Invasions – Part 1: Ceasair – The World’s Mythologies

The first person to come to Ireland was called Ceasair. Her story begins back in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, where her grandfather, Noah, was building an ark, convinced that his god, Yaweh, had ordered him to do so because the world was soon to end in a flood.

Though Noah’s people worshipped Yaweh, they often worshipped other gods alongside him, borrowing from neighbouring civilizations like the Babylonians. Yaweh was different from these other gods, who ruled over nature and human passions; he was above nature and distinct from it. Yaweh stood outside the world and could intervene in it, and unlike many other gods, he did not need to be sustained by cyclical rituals. Where pagans saw the world as something to be revered and understood, the followers of Yaweh saw the world as a corrupt place that needed to be transformed by human action. The stories of this tribe were not of Yaweh’s deeds and actions, but of his tribe’s struggles in relating to him, obeying him, and sometimes, moving away from him.

Noah allowed three of his sons onto the Ark, but refused to give space to his son, Bith, because he thought Bith was a thief. Bith didn’t know what he was going to do, but his daughter was Cesaire, and she had a plan. Ceasair had built three arks for herself, and had taken an idol for a god. She said that she’d take Bith with her, if he agreed to forsake the god of Noah, and follow her as leader. She crewed each of her arks with fifty skilled women, but the only men she took, aside from her father, were her brother, Ladra the pilot, and her husband, Fintan Mac Bochra.

Cesaire had been told to go to Ireland. It was a new land, where no sin had been committed, so it was thought that Noah’s god might spare Ireland from the great flood when he sent it. They sailed for seven years, crossing all over the known world.
In the lands around the Nile, they heard the stories of the Egyptians, whose life and society was based on the idea of keeping divine order, called maat, through ritual, to prevent chaos from overrunning the world. They worshipped and told stories of deities with animal heads; the sun god, Ra; Osiris, his wife Isis, and his treacherous brother, Set. They believed their Pharaoh was part-god himself, and was able to be a bridge between the human and the divine.

From the Nile, they made their way to Asia Minor and the Caspian Sea, where the people were Babylonian and Assyrian, and worshipped Ea, who taught them how to build houses and canals and cultivate crops. Ea also taught the people that the gods needed their worship to survive. They worshipped the goddesses Ishtar and Ereshkigal, who between them ruled over love, sex and death. They told stories of their greatest hero, Gilgamesh, whose great quest to find the secret of immortality led him to meet a wise old man called Utnapishtim, who had saved his family from a terrible flood, sent by the god Ea to cleanse the world of evil-doers.

Ceasair and her followers next sailed the Mediterranean. The people who lived there, in Greece and in Rome, worshipped gods who ruled over natural phenomena and psychological states, and had a huge pantheon of gods, goddesses, heroes and supernatural beings. There were stories behind every flower, every echo, every stream. The gods of the Mediterranean peoples were very human in their behaviour, fighting and bickering amongst themselves, with humankind helpless in the face of their whims.

Ceasair led her people north into the Alps, where they lost two of their three ships along the way. The people of these lands worshipped many different gods, with little in common between different groups in belief and practice. They told stories of local gods and goddesses, nature spirits, and great heroes. Their stories placed great emphasis on honour, birth right, and the proximity of the Otherworld, where gods, spirits, and monsters could reach out to meddle in human affairs.

From Central Europe, Ceasair and her people came to Northern Spain, and were made guests there. The Basque people of that country told tales of strange and wonderful beasts, the wild men and women of the forest, called Basajuan and Basandere; the mischievous Iratxoak, the dragon Herensuge, the evil spirit Erge who takes men’s lives, and the bird-footed Lamiak. Their main goddess, Mari, lived on a cave in a high mountainside, and met every Friday with her consort, the giant serpent Sugaar, to conceive storms that brought fertility and destruction. She was served by a court of witches, and fed on falsehoods.

It was here that Ceasair at last saw the coast of Ireland in the distance, and knew that her journey was nearly at an end. They landed in Ireland, in the harbour of Corca Dhuibhne in Kerry. Cesaire jumped onto the land first, because she was the leader, and so she became the first person ever to set foot on Ireland. Fintan Mac Bochra was the first man. All the others landed safely, except Ladra the pilot who took a wound from an oar to his thigh.

Now that they’d arrived they realized that they were going to have to populate the island, but they only had three men among fifty women! So they decided to divide into three groups, with one man to each group. Noah’s son Bith got 16 women because he was getting on in years and wasn’t as virile as he used to be, and the other two men got 17 women each.

They lived happily together for a while, but unfortunately Bith son of Noah was unable to cope with the task he’d been given and he died – the first death in Ireland – so his 16 women were divided between the other two men. Now Ladra had never quite recovered from the wound he’d taken when they landed, and he quickly succumbed. Now all the women looked to Fintan to populate Ireland.

Poor Fintan, being just one man among fifty women, was completely overwhelmed by this task and ran away and hid in the mountains. Ceasair, deeply in love with him, died of a broken heart. Fintan hid himself away in a cave, and not long after that the flood came. All the women perished but for one, called Banba, a great warrior woman who ran into the hills to survive.

Now Fintan was deep in a cave where he’d hid, and with the floodwaters rising, you might not expect things to go so well for him. But Fintan fell asleep, and had a dream that he was a salmon. And when he woke up, he had changed into a salmon. He lived for as a salmon 300 years, swimming all the waterways of Ireland, until the floodwaters receded. Then he dreamed he was a hawk, and when he woke up he was a hawk. He travelled all over Ireland, looking down on it from above and seeing everything that was going on and learning all its secrets.
In this way, Fintan Mac Bochra became a great sage. He lived for over five thousand years and saw all the changes that came to Ireland through that time. He lived, by turns, as all the different animals of Ireland, and was a councillor to many of the men.

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