Irish Mythology | The Spear of Lugh

Lighting on desert tree

During the late bronze age/ early iron age, the popular weapon of choice amongst our Irish ancestors was the spear, although they also used swords, slings, and many other death tools. Spears were used for both thrusting and throwing. They consisted of iron or bronze heads affixed to wooden poles, or handles. Iron heads were hammered into shape, whereas those made of bronze were cast in moulds. Most warriors carried up to four spears; a longer thrusting spear for fighting, which could be up to 1.8m long, and a set of shorter, lighter throwing spears.

You can see here the basic technique for throwing a spear.

In Irish mythology, Lugh was said to have killed his grandfather, the Fomori Giant-King Balor, during the Second Battle of Moytura, by casting his spear into Balor’s poison eye, although in some versions of the story, he uses a sling and stones. Personally, I am inclined to believe he used a spear; there is practically no mention of the sling being used as a warrior’s weapon. Lugh was  a High King of the Denann, and as such, it seems highly unlikely to me that he would have used a sling in battle.

Lugh is credited with owning many spears, and as most warriors of the period owned a set of up to four, it’s quite likely that he possessed a fine collection of his own.

Most famous of these is simply named after him as Lugh’s Spear. Its head was made from dark bronze, tapering gracefully into a fine, fearfully sharp point. It was fastened to a rowan haft by thirty rivets of gold, and powerful magic was said to have been woven into its making. It was supposed to have been made in the mythical magical northern city of Findias and brought into Ireland by the Denann. Who brought it and gave it to Lugh, I don’t know. His father was Cian, son of physician Dian-Cecht, but there is no mention of their having possessed the spear, or his having inherited it from them. Perhaps it was gifted to him by Nuada, following his appointment by Nuada as Chief Ollamh.

Ancient Irish Spearheads
Spear heads on display in National Museum of Archaeology. Fig 15 – Fir Bolg. Fig 16 – Denann. Fig 17 – Fiarlann, curved blade.

The ancient text, Lebor Gebala Érenn, states that Lugh obtained the Gae Assail, the Spear of Assail, as éric, or a fine, from the Children of Tuirill Biccreo.

Areadbhair, meaning ‘slaughterer’ (how very charming), was another of Lugh’s spears, which, according to the text of the Children of Tuirrean, had to be kept in a cauldron of cold water to prevent it from bursting into flame with its blood-lust.

A verse inserted into the story of the Children of Tuirrean intriguingly refers to a spear by the name of ‘the most famous/ finest yew of the wood’. It claims that the Luin Celtchair and the Spear Crimmall which blinded High King Cormac mac Airt are actually one and the same, and belonged to Lugh; that in fact, this spear was none other than Lugh’s spear with which he killed Balor.

I know what you’re thinking; that Cormac was contemporary with Fionn mac Cumhall in the C3rdAD, which was long after Lugh’s death. But it should be remembered that weapons, particularly powerful symbolic ones such as Lugh’s Spear, and Nuada’s Sword of Light were seen as representing the right of sovereignty, and often handed down from father to son, or King to King.

Apparently, after the Second Battle of Moytura, Lugh’s Spear was said to have been abandoned, or lost. It was later found by Celtchair mac Uthechar, a hero of the Ulster Cycle, and a champion of the Red Branch Knights. In his possession, it came to be known as the Lúin Celtchair. He was said to have killed a rampant hound with it, but unfortunately, a drop of poisoned blood dripped from the spear onto his skin, and thus he was killed by his own weapon.

Replica of leaf bladed Celtic spear.
Replica of leaf bladed Celtic spear.

The Lúin Celtchair is mentioned in the Ulster Cycle as a long fiery lance which must be kept with its head steeped in a cauldron of dark red fluid in order to prevent it from bursting into flame and killing its wielder. It was restrained from its work by the attachment of several chains, each firmly gripped by a number of strong men.

In the Destruction of the Hostel of da Derga, a character by the name of Fer Rogain observes that ‘the lance that was in the hand of Dubthach (Dóeltenga) was the Lúin Celtchair… that was found at the Battle of Moytura’.

The Battle of Ross na Rig also mentions the Lúin. Interestingly, Ross na Rig is said to be the place where Cormac chose to be buried, rather than at the pagan site of Bru na Boinne (Newgrange) where all the previous High Kings of Ireland  were interred. This was according to Christian scribes, who claimed that Cormac turned to the one true God even though he lived and reigned long before St Patrick ever set foot on Irish soil and converted everyone.

A document now housed in the Trinity College Dublin claims that in Cormac’s time, the Lúin Celtchair was known by the name of the Crimall of Birnbuadach. It also claims that this was the very same spear as the one known as ‘the famous yew of the wood’, as owned by Lugh. This claim is also made in another document called the Expulsion of the Déisi, which is an C8th text forming part of the Cycle of Kings.

In this story, the Clan Déisi are led by four brothers, Brecc, Óengus ‘of the dread Spear‘, Eochaid and Forad. Forad’s daughter, Forach, is raped and kidnapped by Cellach, the wayward son of Cormac mac Airt. When he refuses to give the poor woman up, Óengus attacks Tara with a group of fifty men (only? Seems odd that one would attack the residence of the High King with so small an army). Óengus succeeds in killing Cellach with his ‘dread spear’, but in the process one of the chains hits Cormac in the face, wounding his eye. Thus disfigured, Cormac was forced to relinquish his position as High King to his son, Cairpre Lifechair, as according to law, a King must be whole and unblemished to be fit to rule.

What became of the Crimall, or the Luin Celtchair, or Lugh’s Spear, or whatever it was called, is not now known, but it certainly had a chequered history. I have no doubt that these weapons were one and the same, and I can’t help but wonder at the technology behind its fiery description… some kind of laser, or flame thrower, perhaps? Lugh himself is often thought of as the God of Lightning, so to my mind, it’s exactly the kind of weapon as befits such a deity.

One thought on “Irish Mythology | The Spear of Lugh

Please feel free to join in the conversation...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s