Irish Druids And Old Irish
IRISH MAGIC AND TUATHA DE DANAANS
By far the most interesting of the peoples that formerly inhabited Ireland
were the Tuaths, or Tuatha de Danaans, or Dananns. There is
much mystery about them in Irish traditions. They were men, gods, or fairies.
They came, of course, from the East, calling in at Greece on the way, so as to
increase their stock of magic and wisdom. Some trace them to the tribes of Dan,
and note Dedan in Ezek. xxv. 13. Mrs. Wilkins identifies them with the Dedanim
of Isa. xxl. 13, "a nomad, yet semi-civilized, people." Isaiah calls
them "travelling companies of Dedanim."
The credulous Four Masters have wonderful tales of Tuath doings. In
their invasion of Ireland, Tuaths had to deal with the dark aborigines,
known as the Firbolgs, and are said to have
slain 100,000 at the battle of Magh-Tuireadh Conga. Driven off the island by
their foes, they travelled in the East, returning from their exile as finished
magicians and genuine Druids. Mr. Gladstone, in Juventus Mundi, contends
that Danaan is of Phnician extraction, that a district near Tripoli, of
Syria, is known as Dannié. He adds, "Pausanias says that at the
landing-place of Danaos, on the Argive coast, was a temple of Poseidon Genesios,
of Phnician origin."
After reigning in Ireland two hundred years, the Tuatha were, it is narrated,
invaded by the children of Gail Glas, who had come from Egypt to Spain, and
sailed thence to Erin under Milesius, the leader of the Milesians. When their
fleet was observed, the Danaans caused a Druidic fog to arise, so that the land
assumed the shape of a black pig, whence arose another name for Ireland--"Inis
na illuic, or Isle of the Pig." The Milesians, however, employed their
enchantments in return, and defeated the Tuatha at Tailteine, now Teltown, on
the Blackwater, and at Druim-Lighean, now Drumleene, Donegal.
The Tuatha have been improperly confounded with the Danes. Others give them a
German origin, or a Nemedian one. Wilde describes them as large and
fair-complexioned, carrying long, bronze, leaf-shaped swords, of a Grecian
style, and he thinks them the builders of the so-called Danish forts, duns, or
cashels, but not of the stone circles. McFirbis, 200 years ago,
wrote--"Every one who is fair-haired, revengeful, large, and every
plunderer, professors of musical and entertaining performances, who are adepts
of druidical and magical arts, they are the descendants of the Tuatha-de-Danaans."
"The Danans," O'Flanagan wrote in 1808, "are said to have been
well acquainted with Athens; and the memory of their kings, poets, and
poetesses, or female philosophers, of highest
repute for wisdom and learning, is still preserved with reverential regret in
some of our old manuscripts of the best authority." Referring to these
persons, as Kings Dagad, Agamon and Dalboeth, to Brig, daughter of Dagad, to
Edina and Danana, he exclaimed, "Such are the lights that burst through the
gloom of ages?' The Tuatha, G. W. Atkinson supposes, "must be the highly
intellectual race that imported into Ireland our Oghams, round towers,
architecture, metal work, and, above all, the exquisite art which has come down
to us in our wonderful illuminated Irish MSS." The polished Tuatha were
certainly contrasted with the rude Celts. Arthur Clive declares that
civilization came in with an earlier race than the Celts, and retired with their
conquest by the latter.
"The bards and Seanachies," remarks R. J. Duffy, "fancifully
attributed to each of the Tuath-de-Danaan chiefs some particular art or
department over which they held him to preside;" as, Abhortach, to music.
The author of Old Celtic Romances writes--"By the Milesians and
their descendants they were regarded as gods, and ultimately, in the imagination
of the people, they became what are now in Ireland called 'Fairies." They
conquered the Firbolgs, an Iberian or a Belgic people, at the battle of Moytura.
There is a strong suspicion of their connection with the old idolatry. Their
last King was Mac-grene, which bears a verbal relation to the Sun.
The Rev. R. Smiddy assumes them descendants of Dia-tene-ion, the Fire-god
or Sun. In the Chronicles of Columba we read of a priest who built in
Tyrconnel a temple of great beauty, with an altar of fine glass, adorned with
the representation of the sun and moon. Under their King Dagda the Great, the
Sun-god, and his wife, the goddess Boann, the Tuaths were once
pursued by the river Boyne. This Dagda became King of the Fairies, when his
people were defeated by the warlike Milesians; and the Tuatha, as Professor Rhys
says, "formed an invisible world of their own," in hills and mounds.
In the Book of Ballimote, Fintan, who lived before the Flood,
describing his adventures, said--
"After them the Tuatha De arrived
Mrs. Bryant, in Celtic Ireland, observes:--"Tradition assigns to the
Tuatha generally an immortal life in the midst of the hills, and beneath the
seas. Thence they issue to mingle freely with the mortal sons of men, practising
those individual arts in which they were great of yore, when they won Erin from
the Firbolgs by 'science,' and when the Milesians won Erin from them by valour.
That there really was a people whom the legends of the Tuatha shadow forth is
probable, but it is almost certain that all the tales about them are poetical
Concealed in their dark clouds--
I ate my food with them,
Though at such a remote period."
Elsewhere we note the Tuath Crosses, with illustrations; as that Cross at
Monasterboice, of processions, doves, gods, snakes, &c. One Irish author,
Vallencey, has said, "The Church Festivals themselves, in our Christian
Calendar, are but the direct transfers from the Tuath de Danaan ritual. Their
very names in Irish are identically the same as those by which they were
distinguished by that earlier race." That writer assuredly did not regard
the Tuatha as myths. Fiech, St. Patrick's disciple, sang--
"That Tuaths of Erin prophesied
Magic--Draoideachta--was attributed to the Irish Tuatha, and gave them
the traditional reputation for wisdom.
That new times of peace would come."
"Wise as the Tuatha de Danaans," observes A. G. Geogbegan, "is
a saying that still can be heard in the highlands of Donegal, in the glens of
Connaught, and on the seaboard of the south-west of Ireland." In Celtic
Ireland we read--"The Irish worshipped the Sidhe, and the bards
identify the Sidhe with the Tuath de Danaan.--The identity of the Tuath de
Danaan with the degenerate fairy of Christian times appears plainly in the fact,
that while Sidhes are the halls of Tuatha, the fairies are the people of the
Sidhe, and sometimes called the Sidhe simply."
The old Irish literature abounds with magic. Druidic spells were sometimes in
this form--"I impose upon thee that thou mayst wander to and fro along a
In the chase, a hero found the lost golden ring of a maiden --
"But scarce to the shore the prize could bring,
Druidic sleeps are frequently mentioned, as--
When by some blasting ban--
Ah! piteous tale--the Fenian King
Grew a withered, grey old man.
Of Cumhal's son then Cavolte sought
What wizard Danaan foe had wrought
Such piteous change, and Finn replied--
'Twas Guillin's daughter--me she bound
By a sacred spell to search the tide
Till the ring she lost was found.
Search and find her, She gave him a cup--
Feeble he drinks--the potion speeds
Through every joint and pore;
To palsied age fresh youth succeeds--
Finn, of the swift and slender steeds,
Becomes himself once more."
"Or that small dwarf whose power could steep
Kennedy's Fictions of the Irish Celts relates a number of magical
tales. The Lianan might well be feared when we are told of the
revenge one took upon a woman--"Being safe from the
eyes of the household, she muttered some words, and, drawing a Druidic wand from
under her mantle, she struck her with it, and changed her into a most beautiful
wolf-hound." The Lianan reminds one of the classical Incubi and Succubi.
Yet Kennedy admits that "in the stories found among the native Irish, there
is always evident more of the Christian element than among the Norse or German
The Fenian host in death-like sleep."
The story about Fintan's adventures, from the days of the Flood to the coming
of St. Patrick, "has been regarded as a Pagan myth," says one,
"in keeping with the doctrine of Transmigration."
In the Annals of Clonmacnoise we hear of seven magicians working
against the breaker of an agreement. Bruga of the Boyne was a great De Danaan
magician. Jocelin assures us that one prophesied the coming of St. Patrick a
year before his arrival. Angus the Tuath had a mystic palace on the Boyne. The
healing stone of St. Conall has been supposed to be a remnant of Tuath magic; it
is shaped like a dumb-bell, and is still believed in by many.
In spite of the Lectures of the learned O'Curry, declaring the story to be
"nothing but the most vague and general assertions," Irish tradition
supports the opinion of Pliny that, as to magic, there were those in the British
Isles "capable of instructing even the Persians themselves in these
arts." But O'Curry admits that "the European Druidical system was but
the offspring of the eastern augurs"; and the Tuaths came from the East.
They wrote or repeated charms, as the Hawasjilars of Turkey still write Nushas.
Adder-stones were used to repel evil spirits, not less than to cure diseases.
One, writing in 1699, speaks of seeing a stone suspended from the neck of a
child as remedy for whooping-cough. Monuments ascribed to the Tuatha
are to be seen near the Boyne, and at Drogheda, Dowth, Knowth, &c.
According to tradition, this people brought into Ireland the magic glaive
from Gorias, the magic cauldron from Murias, the magic spear from Finias, and
the magic Lia Fail or talking coronation stone from Falias; though the
last is, also, said to have been introduced by the Milesians when they came with
Enthusiastic Freemasons believe the Tuatha were members of the mystic body,
their supposed magic being but the superior learning they imported from the
East. If not spiritualists in the modern sense of that term, they may have been
skilled in Hypnotism, inducing others to see or hear what their masters wished
them to see or hear.
When the Tuatha were contending with the Firbolgs, the Druids on both sides
prepared to exercise their enchantments. Being a fair match in magical powers,
the warriors concluded not to employ them at all, but have a fair fight between
themselves. This is, however, but one of the tales of poetic chronicles; of whom
Kennedy's Irish Fiction reports--"The minstrels were plain, pious,
and very ignorant Christians, who believed in nothing worse than a little magic
It was surely a comfort to Christians that magic-working Druids were often
checkmated by the Saints. When St. Columba, in answer to an inquiry by Brochan
the magician, said he should be sailing away in three days, the other replied
that he would not be able to do so, as a contrary wind and a dark mist should be
raised to prevent the departure. Yet the Culdee ventured forth in the teeth of
the opposing breeze, sailing against it and the mist. In like manner Druid often
counteracted Druid. Thus, three Tuatha Druidessess,--Bodhbh, Macha, and Mor
Kegan,--brought down darkness and showers of blood and fire upon
Firbolgs at Tara for three days, until the spell was broken by the Firbolg
magic bearers--Cesara, Gnathach, and Ingnathach. Spells or charms were always
uttered in verse or song. Another mode of bringing a curse was through the
chewing of thumbs by enchantresses. Fal the Tuath made use of the Wheel of
Light, which, somehow, got connected with Simon Magus by the Bards, and
which enabled the professor to ride through the air, and perform other wonders.
We hear, also, of a Sword of Light. The magic cauldron was known as the Brudins.
Some of the Tuath Druids had special powers,--as the gift of knowledge in
Fionn; a drink, too, given from his hands would heal any wound, or cure any
disease. Angus had the power of travelling on the wings of the cool east wind.
Credne, the Tuath smith, made a silver hand for Nuadhat, which was properly
fitted on his wrist by Dianceht, the Irish Æsculapius. To complete the
operation, Miach, son of Dianceht, took the hand and infused feeling and motion
in every joint and vein, as if it were a natural hand. It is right to observe,
however, that, according to Cormac's Glossary, Dianceht meant "The
god of curing."
Finn as elsewhere said, acquired his special privilege by accidentally
sucking his thumb after it had rested upon the mysterious Salmon of Knowledge.
He thus acquired the power of Divination. Whenever he desired to know any
particular thing, he had only to suck his thumb, and the whole chain of
circumstances would be present to his mind. The Magic Rod is well known
to have been the means of transforming objects or persons. The children of Lir
were changed by a magic wand into four swans, that flew to Loch Derg for 300
years, and subsequently removed to the sea of Moyle between Erin and Alba.
Transformation stories are numerous in the ancient legends of Ireland. A
specimen is given in the Genealogy of Corea Laidhe. A
hag, "ugly and bald, uncouth and loathesome to
behold," the subject of some previous transformation, seeks deliverance
from her enchanted condition by some one marrying her; when "she suddenly
passed into another form, she assumed a form of wondrous beauty."
Some enchanters assumed the appearance of giants. The Fenians of old dared
not hunt in a certain quarter from fear of one of these monsters. Cam has been
thus described in the story of Diarmuid--"whom neither weapon
wounds, nor water drowns, so great is his magic. He has but one eye only, in the
fair middle of his black forehead, and there is a thick collar of iron round
that giant's body, and he is fated not to die until there be struck upon him
three strokes of the iron club that he has. He sleeps in the top of that Quicken
tree by night, and he remains at its foot by day to watch it." The berries
of that tree had the exhilarating quality of wine, and he who tasted them,
though he were one hundred years old, would renew the strength of thirty years.
The Fate of the Children of Tuireann, in an Irish MS., gave a curious
narrative of Tuath days and magic. It was published by the "Society for the
Preservation of the Irish Language." The sons had to pay heavy eric,
or damages, on account of a murder. One failed, and died of his wounds. Lugh got
helped by Brian the Druid against the Fomorians, who were then cruelly
oppressing the Tuaths, exacting an ounce of gold from each, under penalty of
cutting their noses off. Druidical spells were freely used by Lugh, the hero of
The eric in question required the three sons to procure the three
apples from the garden of the Hesperides,--the skin of the pig, belonging to the
King of Greece, which could cure diseases and wounds,--two magic horses from the
King of Sicily,--seven pigs from the King of the Golden Pillars, &c.
Once on their adventures, Brian changed them with his wand into three hawks,
that they might seize the apples; but the King's daughters, by magic, changed
themselves into griffins, and chased them away, though the Druid, by superior
power, then turned them into harmless swans. One son gained the pig's skin as a
reward for reciting a poem. A search for the Island of Fianchaire beneath the
sea was a difficulty. But we are told, "Brian put on his water-dress."
Securing a head-dress of glass, he plunged into the water. He was a fortnight
walking in the salt sea seeking for the land.
Lugh came in contact with a fairy cavalcade, from the Land of Promise.
His adventure with Cian illustrated ideas of transformation. Cian, when pursued,
"saw a great herd of swine near him, and he struck himself with a Druidical
wand into the shape of one of the swine." Lugh was puzzled to know which
was the Druidical pig. But striking his two brothers with a wand, he turned them
into two slender, fleet hounds, that "gave tongue ravenously" upon the
trail of the Druidical pig, into which a spear was thrust. The pig cried out
that he was Clan, and wanted to return to his human shape, but the brothers
completed their deed of blood.
Not only the pig, but brown bulls and red cows figure in stories of Irish
magic. We read of straw thrown into a man's face, with the utterance of a charm,
and the poor fellow suddenly going mad. Prince Comgan was struck with a wand,
and boils and ulcers came over him, until he gradually sunk into a state of
idiocy. A blind Druid carried about him the secret of power in a straw placed in
his shoe, which another sharp fellow managed to steal.
Illumination, by the palms of the hands on the cheek of one thrown into a
magical sleep, was another mode of procuring answers to questions. Ciothruadh, Druid to
Cormac, of Cashel,
sought information concerning a foe after making a Druidical fire of the
mystical mountain ash. But he was beaten in his enchantments by Mogh Ruith, the
King of Munster's Druid, who even transformed, by a breath, the three wise men
of Cashel into stones, which may be seen to this day. That he accomplished with
charms and a fire of the rowan tree. The virtues of rowan wood are appreciated
to this day in Munster, where provident wives secure better butter by putting a
hoop of it round their churns.
Tuaths had a reputation for their ability in the interpretation of dreams and
omens, and their skill in auguries. Some Druids, like Mogh Ruith, could fly by
the aid of magical wings. It was, however, no Irishman, but Math, the divine
Druid, who brought his magic to Gwydron ab Dom, and was clever enough to form a
woman out of flowers, deemed by poetic natures a more romantic origin than from
the rib of a man. Manannan, son of a Tuath chieftain, he who gave name to the
Isle of Man, rolled on three legs, as a wheel, through a Druidic mist. He
subsequently became King of the Fairies.
Professor Rhys speaks of the Tuatha as Tribes of the goddess Danu; though the
term, he says, "is somewhat vague, as are also others of the same import,
such as Tuath Dea, the Tribes of the goddess--and Fir Dea, the men of the
goddess." He further remarks--"The Tuatha de Danann contain among them
light and dark divinities, and those standing sometimes in the relation of
parents and offspring to one another."
Massey has the following philological argument for the Tuatha,
saying:--"The Tuaut (Egy.), founded on the underworld, denotes the
gate of worship, adoration; the worshippers, Tuaut ta tauan, would
signify the place of worship within the mound of earth, the underground sanctuary. The Babylonian
temple of Bit-Saggdhu was in the gate of the deep. The Tuaut or portal of
Ptah's temple faced the north wind, and the Irish Tievetory is the hill-side
north. The Tuaut entrance is also glossed by the English Twat. The
Egyptian Tuantii are the people of the lower hemisphere, the north, which
was the type of the earth-temple. The Tuatha are still known in Ireland by the
name of the Divine Folk; an equivalent to Tuantii for the worshippers."
The Rev. R. Smiddy fancies the people, as Denan or Dene-ion, were
descendants of Dene, the fire-god. An old MS. calls them the people of
the god Dana. Clive, therefore, asks, if they were simply the old gods of the
country. Joyce, in Irish Names says, 'This mysterious race, having
undergone a gradual deification, became confounded and identified with the
original local gods, and ultimately superseded them altogether." He recalls
the Kerry mountain's name of Da-chich-Danainne. He considers the Tuatha "a
people of superior intelligence and artistic skill, and that they were
conquered, and driven into remote districts, by the less intelligent but more
warlike Milesian tribes who succeeded them."
Lady Ferguson, in her Story of the Irish before the Conquest, has the
idea of the Danaans being kinsmen to the Firbolgs, that they came from the
region of the Don and Vistula, under Nuad of the Silver Hand, defeating Eochaid,
King of the Firbolgs, at Moytura, and ruling Ireland two hundred years.
They were certainly workers in metal, and have therefore been confounded by
monkish writers with smiths. St. Patrick's prayer against smiths, and the
traditional connection between smiths and magic, can thus be understood.
They--according to the Book of Invasions--
"By the force of potent spells and wicked magic
They were notorious in Sligo, a county so full of so-called Druidical
remains. In Carrowmore, with its sixty-four stone circles, there must once have
been a large population. "Why," asks Wood-Martin, "is that narrow
strip of country so thickly strewn with monuments of the Dead?" But he
learned that the Fomorian pirates, possibly from the Baltic, swarmed on that
wild coast. He especially notes the tales of Indech, a mighty Fomorian Druid,
grandfather of the dreaded Balor, of the Evil Eye.
And conjurations horrible to hear,
Could set the ministry of hell at work,
And raise a slaughtered army from the earth,
And make them live, and breathe, and fight again.
Few could their arts withstand, or charms unbind."
The mythic Grey Cow belonged to Lon mac Liomhtha, the first smith
among the Tuaths who succeeded in making an iron sword. At the battle of Moytura,
Uaithne was the Druid harper of the Tuatha. Of Torna, last of Pagan Bards, it
was declared he was
"Sprung of the Tualtha de Danans, far renown'd
But, as Miss Brooke tells us, "most of the Irish romances are filled
with Dananian enchantments, as wild as the wildest of Ariosto's fictions, and
not at all behind them in beauty." It was Dr. Barnard, Bishop of Killaloe,
who traced the race to visitors from South Britain; saying, "The Belgæ and
Danmonii, whose posterity in Ireland were called Firbolghs and Tuatha de
For dire enchanting arts and magic power."
In the destructive battle between the "manly, bloody, robust Fenians of
Fionn," and "the white-toothed, handsome Tuatha Dedaans," when
the latter saw a fresh corps of Fenians advancing, it is recorded that
"having enveloped themselves in the Feigh Fiadh, they made a precipitate
Jubainville's Cours de la littérature Celtique does not omit mention
of these wonder-workers. He calls to mind the fact that, like the Greeks of the
Golden Age, they became invisible, but continued their relations with men; that
the Christian writers changed them into mortal kings in chronicles; that their
migrations and deities resemble those of Hesiod; that they continue to appear in
animal or human forms, though more commonly as birds; that ancient legends
record their descent to earth from the blue heavens.
He brings forward a number of the old Irish stories about the
defeated by the Sons of Milé, they sought refuge in subterranean palaces. One
Dagan, a word variant of the god Dagdé, exercised such influence, that the sons
of Milé were forced, for peace' sake, to make a treaty with him. His palace
retreat below was at Brug na Boinné, the castle of the Boyne. The burial-place
of Crimtham Nia Nair, at Brug na Boinné, was chosen because his wife was a
fairy of the race of Tuatha. In the Tain bô Cuailnge there is much about
the Sid, or enchanted palace. Dagdé had his harp stolen by the Fomorians,
though it was recovered later on.
The son of Dagdé was Oengus. When the distribution of subterranean palaces
took place, somehow or other, this young fellow was forgotten. Asking to be
allowed to spend the night at one, he was unwilling to change his quarters, and
stayed the next day. He then absolutely refused to depart, since time was only
night and day; thus retaining possession. The same Tuath hero fell in love with
a fair harper, who appeared to him in a dream. The search, aided by the fairies,
was successful in finding the lady, after a year and a day.
It was in his second battle that Ogmé carried off the sword of
of the Fomorians. This sword had the gift of speech; or, rather, said
Jubainville, it seemed to speak, for
the voice which was heard was, according to a Christian historian, only that of
a demon hidden in the blade. Still, the writer of this Irish epic remarked, that
in that ancient time men adored weapons of war, and considered them as
The Book of Conquests allows that the Tuatha were descended from
Japhet, though in some way demons; or, in Christian language, heathen
deities. One Irish word was often applied to them, viz. Liabra, or
phantoms. It is believed that at least one Tuath warrior, named Breas, could
speak in native Irish to the aboriginal Firbolgs.
A writer in Anecdota Oxon is of opinion that very different notions
and accounts exist at the different periods of Irish epic literature concerning
them. He declares that, excepting their names, no very particular traces of them
have come down to us. The most distinct of the utterances about the race points
to the existence of war-goddesses.
Wilde gives a definite reason why we know so little about the Tuatha de
Danaans. It was because "those who took down the legends from the mouths of
the bards and annalists, or those who subsequently transcribed them, were
Christian missionaries, whose object was to obliterate every vestige of the
ancient forms of faith." The distortion of truth about these singular,
foreign people makes it so difficult to understand who or what they were; to us
they seem always enveloped in a sort of Druidic fog, so that we may class them
with men, heroic demi-gods, or gods themselves, according to our fancy.