For me, Irish mythology begins with the arrival of the Tuatha de Danann, who were powerful rulers of Ireland around four thousand years ago. They called this land Inis Fail, after the magical stone they brought with them and which can still be seen at Tara. This stone was said to cry out in recognition of the true High King, or Ard Ri as he was known, when he stood upon it.
Historians dismiss the Danann as being pure myth, the fictions of medieval scribes. There is no physical evidence of their ever having existed. But legends remain, stories that were told by mouth and handed down through the centuries until christian priests came and recorded them in writing. Unfortunately, these accounts are much corrupted, so that now it is hard to get to the truth.
But I like to think these mysterious people were real. They weren’t gods. They didn’t perform magic. They were human beings with abilities and technologies we cannot today understand or emulate.
The old stories are not written in language easy to comprehend. So, in an attempt to keep them alive, I have begun to rewrite them as I understand them. I will add more as time goes by, but I have started at the beginning, with my version of the Danann Taking of Ireland. I hope you like it!
Dream of the Fir Bolg
Eochaidh mac Eirc, Ard Ri, High King of Ireland and leader of the Fir Bolg, stood on the cliff edge and looked out to sea. The night was clear, the water was calm, and the moon and stars observed the scene like many bright eyes. There was no sound save the hum of distant waves washing against the shore far below. A faint breeze, drenched with the salty scent of the sea, tugged at the hem of his cloak. Behind him stretched a small array of tents and cooking fires, where the men of his hunting party slept, or ate, or gathered in small groups to drink and talk. Read more...
The Tuatha de Danann Come to Ireland
Nuada turned and looked back out to sea. Three hundred sailing ships lay burning in the bay, their blackened hulls sinking into oblivion below the surface. A column of leaping flame and thick choking smoke rose skyward, announcing their arrival, before the wind caught it and swept it inland towards the mountains in great billowing clouds. His men followed where it went, bringing their families, weapons and possessions.
The message to anyone watching is clear, he thought. The Tuatha de Danann are here to stay. Read more...
Master of All Arts
Lugh hammered loudly on the palace gates, his men gathered about him. They had been travelling many days, and darkness would soon be falling. They had no intention of spending yet another night sleeping on the hard ground with just their cloaks to warm them.
“Be off with you,” someone shouted down to them from the top of the palisade wall. “The gates to the King’s palace are closed for the night! We are accepting no visitors this night.”
Lugh’s companions muttered angrily amongst themselves, and shifted restlessly. Lugh motioned for them to stay calm.
“We are warriors come from afar to join Nuada’s army. We wish to join him in battle against the Fomori. What kind of hospitality is this?” he called. Read more…
The Milesian Invasion
“It is said that the Milesians were the first Gaels to come to Ireland, and that all men and women alive in Ireland today are descended from them. Whilst the tribe of the Denann are dismissed as nothing more than a fabulous invention, a magical race created out of the mythology of Ireland‘s dim and distant past, scholars and historians are generally agreed that the Sons of Mil were a true historical people, who came to our shores in the late bronze age, and ruled until the Norman English invasion of the C12th AD.
“I guess they did what any conqueror would do. After their victory, the Milesians set about removing all traces of the Denann, discrediting their magic and their memory, dismissing them as nothing but a bunch of mischievous fairies. In time, this slander became all that remained. Yet the legend persisted, dilute but not forgotten.” Read more…
How Fionn mac Cumhall Became Leader of the Fianna
“Tomorrow is the eve of Samhain,” whispered the Filidh, the High King’s Royal Bard. The crowd stilled, straining to hear through the smoky atmosphere of the King’s hall.
It was the night before Halloween. As always, the High King had invited all his favourite nobles to celebrate the festival at Tara. They crowded his hall, feasting at his table. The air was thick with smoke from the hearth fires, the scent of candles, the aroma of roasting meat, chatter, music and song. Now, when bellies were full and hunger sated, folk sat back and turned to their cups. It was time for the storyteller to weave his magic. Read more…
Fionn mac Cumhall’s Hounds
“I gave her into your care,” said Fionn, his voice ominously quiet. “Where is she?”
Iollan Eachtach shifted his position from one foot to the other, betraying his nerves. Iollen was Chieftain of the Ulster branch of the Fianna. Even so, he was still subject to Fionn, who was master over all, and answered only to the High King himself. Still young and new to his role, Fionn had nevertheless proved his mettle many times since his appointment. In the beginning, there were some who had secretly laughed behind his back, whilst others had openly rebelled. Fionn had acted swiftly and decisively to quell all objections. With Goll as his staunch ally, and fair-minded Fiacha to advise him, none remained who dared oppose him. Read more…
The Story of Fionn mac Cumhall and Sadb
Fionn and his hounds crossed the bog of Almu via one of the wooden causeways, and loped easily onto the firmer ground of the surrounding forests. As the sun rose, its warming rays filtered through the branches, enticing the bird population into song. The hounds roamed free, flushing out nothing larger than the odd hare. Fionn’s breath billowed in great clouds into the chill morning air, as he relaxed into his run.
After an hour or two, Sceolán’s excited belling alerted him to the fact that she had scented something, sending a thrill of adrenalin coursing through his body. This was it! The hunt had begun. Read more…
Diarmuid and Grainne
As the Fianna had grown and prospered, so had their fame and fortune. It came to Fionn’s attention that Cormac, the High King, had begun to fear their power, and worried for the safety of his position. Fionn had ever been loyal to Cormac, and so this news saddened him greatly. In order to reassure the King and cement their relationship, Fionn sent a representative seeking the hand of his young daughter, Grainne, in marriage. This union seemed a perfect solution for all concerned.
Except for Grainne. She was young and beautiful, and did not subscribe to the idea of being given into a loveless marriage simply to forge a political alliance. She wanted strong arms to hold her, a handsome face to smile at her, and passionate lips to kiss her. She wanted the freedom to choose her own husband, and who can blame her? When she met Fionn for the first time on the day of her wedding, she was appalled to find that he looked equally as old as her father. Read more…