Tuatha de Danann | Who Were They Really?

Tuatha de Danann | Who Were They Really? www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
Tuatha de Danann | Who Were They Really?
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Stories of the Tuatha de Danann were passed down through the ages into legend via the ancient oral tradition of Ireland’s poets. Later, Christian monks began assembling and recording them in an effort to produce a history for Ireland. Inevitably, these texts were influenced by their beliefs and doctrines, their translation skills (or lack of), and the desire to please their patrons. What we are left with is impossible to distil into fact and fiction.

These myths are so fantastic, so bizarre, that no scholar or historian worth his salt would ever entertain them as anything other than pure fantasy. But I am not a scholar, and I don’t have to worry about academic reputation, and I say there is no smoke without fire.

Tuatha de Danann (pronounced Thoo-a day Du-non) is translated as ‘tribe of Danu’. Scholars are agreed that Danu was the name of their Goddess, most probably Anu/ Anann. However, that is unproven, and I believe could equally have referred to their leader or King, or even the place from which they originated.

They were a race of God-like people gifted with supernatural powers, who invaded and ruled Ireland over four thousand years ago. According to an ancient document known as the Annals of the Four Masters (Annála na gCeithre Maístrí compiled by Franciscan monks between 1632-1636 from earlier texts), the Danann ruled from 1897BC until 1700BC, a short period indeed in which to have accumulated such fame. They were said to have originated from four mythical Northern cities Murias, Gorias, Falias and Finias, possibly located in Lochlann (Norway).

The Book of Invasions (Lebor Gebála Érénn compiled c.1150) claims in a poem that they came to Ireland riding in ‘flying ships’ surrounded by ‘dark clouds’. They landed on Sliabh an Iarainn (the Iron Mountain) in Co. Leitrim, where they ‘brought a darkness over the sun lasting three days’. There is a lovely line (which I have mentioned on this blog before) which illustrates perfectly the bewilderment felt towards these conquerors;

“The truth is not known, beneath the sky of stars,
Whether they were of heaven or earth.”

A later version of the story relegates the flying ships to mere sailing ships. The dark clouds became towering columns of smoke as the ships were set alight, a warning to observers that the Danann were here to stay. Clearly, the monks recording this story were trying to make sense of something which was well out of their comfort zone and beyond the limits of their understanding.

And so we have our first dilemma; which story to believe. Did they arrive from the skies, or from across the sea?

So, what did the Danann look like? They certainly looked very different to the small, dark native peoples of Ireland at that time. The Danann are generally described as tall, slim but powerful, with red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, and pale skin. To wondering onlookers, they must indeed have seemed like living Gods walking the earth.

Interestingly, archaeology has unearthed evidence all around the world of small colonies of red-haired people from the same time period as the Tuatha De Danann’s arrival in Ireland. Excavations in Xinjiang Province, China have revealed mummies of red and blonde haired people living around four thousand years ago. The extremely well preserved Egyptian mummy of nobleman Yoya, c 1400BC, shows he had blonde hair and Nordic features, as did his wife, Thuya. She was also Tutankhamun’s great-grandmother.

Archaeologists try to explain reddish hair colour as resulting from the mummification process, or from lying in peat bogs, or simply from hundreds or thousands of years of ageing. What they can’t explain is the genetic testing which proved that snowy-maned Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II was red-haired before he grew old, or that statues of these Egyptians depicted them with their red or blonde hair and in some cases, their blue eyes.

Going back to the Danann, in order to win supremacy over Ireland, they had to fight against the existing ruling tribe, the Fir Bolg, in the First Battle of Moytura. During this encounter, the Danann High King Nuada Argetlam (pronounced Noo-tha Or-geth-lam) lost his arm. He survived, but was forced to give up his position, as a king could not be seen as anything less than ‘whole’, if he was to bring his people continued success.

In an intriguing turn of events, the physician Dian-Cecht replaced the lost limb with a fully functional ‘arm of silver’. Later, Dian-Cecht’s son, Miach, also a physician, caused skin and flesh to grow over the metal arm. Thus ‘whole’ again, the kingship was restored to Nuada following the ousting of his replacement, the tyrant Bres.

So here we have another case of strange, advanced (dare we say ‘alien’?) technology. Could this be the first ever prosthesis, a robotic arm built over four thousand years ago? Six million dollar man, eat your heart out!

The Danann brought special equipment with them into Ireland, which were known as the Four Treasures/ Jewels of Eire (you might have heard of them; I wrote a book about them… ahem, just sayin’). These four magical talismans of great power were;

  1. The Sword of Light – also known in Irish as Claoimh Solais (pronounced Clee-uv Shull-ish). It was said to have been made by Uiscias in the northern city of Findias, and brought to Ireland by Nuada, and that no-one ever escaped from it once it was drawn against them. It is also described as a ‘glowing white torch’. The similarities to the imaginary light sabre are quite striking; could this sword have been some kind of futuristic laser weaponry?
  2. Lugh’s Spear – also known as ‘the finest/famous yew of the wood’, said to have been made by Esras in the northern city of Gorias. Lugh used it to kill his Formorian grandfather, the giant-king Balor at the Second Battle of Moytura (although some versions of the story claim he used a sling). It has been suggested that Lugh’s spear, the spear Crimall which blinded High King Cormac mac Airt rendering him unfit (not ‘whole’) for rule, and the Lúin Celtchair are one and the same weapon, although there is no evidence to back this up. The Lúin Celtchair is a fascinating legend; it was a long, fiery lance from which ‘sparks as big as eggs flew’ when ‘the spear-heat takes hold of it’. In order to prevent the flames of the tip from consuming the haft and the warrior holding it, the spear head was dipped into a cauldron of mysterious sorcerous liquid. In ‘The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel’, a saga of the Ulster cycle of mythology, the Lúin Celtchair is claimed to have been discovered at the Battle of Moytura, the same battle where Lugh killed Balor. This spear, then, could well be Lugh’s, and seems to possess many of the qualities of the Sword of Light; it could be another product of an advanced technology, perhaps even an alien one.
  3. The Dagda’s Cauldron – Also known as the ‘Cauldron of Plenty’ (Coire Ansic in Irish, pronounced Kwee-ra On-sik). It was made by Semias of the northern city of Murias. Not much is known about this vessel, although it was thought to have had the power to bring the dead back to life, and that ‘none would go from it unsatisfied’. Dr Ulf Erlingsson has suggested that the giant stone basin found in the eastern passage of the central mound at Knowth, part of the Newgrange complex, could be the Dagda’s Cauldron, and that the concentric circular design depicted on it could be a map of Atlantis, as described by Plato. How could the Denann have come by this knowledge?
  4. The Lia Fáil – Also known as the Stone of Destiny, and the Coronation Stone. It was made by Morfessa of Falias, and brought into Ireland by the Danann, where they duly placed it at the Hill of Tara, in Co Meath. Legend has it that its cry confirmed the coronation of the rightful High King of Ireland, and that its roar could be heard throughout the land. It was broken in half sometime later by Cuchullain when it failed to proclaim him or his protégé. One half was carried away to Scotland, where it eventually ended up in the throne of the British monarchy, although there is a whisper that the true stone was hidden, possibly beneath the River Tay, and remains there to this day. A stone with a voice sounds too fanciful to be true, but perhaps it was misunderstood; perhaps the stone was no more than a stage upon which the new king stood. Perhaps the voice which roared out across the land was amplified through a microphone, perhaps a technology so tiny and unobtrusive as the wireless ear-mics currently worn by pop stars today when performing.

More famously known as Tir na Nog, or The Land of the Ever Young, this was thought of as the original home of the Danann. It could be reached through water, by travelling west over the sea, or passing through the gateways of the Sidhe mounds. In these places, the veil between the worlds was considered very thin, and therefore more easily traversable. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the magical realm is not the eternal youth, beauty, joy and plenty it represents, but the passage of time attributed to it.

In Tir na Nog, time seems to stands still, while in the mortal world it passes in the blink of an eye. The story of Oisin, Fionn mac Cumhaill’s son, and his Otherworld lover, Niamh, illustrates this perfectly. After only three blissful years in the magical realm, Oisin returns home to find three hundred years have passed. When he falls from his horse and his feet touch Ireland’s soil, age catches up with him, and he dies an old man.

This idea of infinite paradise where no one grows old and time has no meaning has parallels with space travel, alternate dimensions, and even the mundane, such as advancements in health care and medicine. Were the Danann immortal? Not in the absolute sense of living forever; they could be killed in battle, or by sickness, although compared with the natives at that time, they were clearly long-lived. Even modern man would seem ageless and long-lived in comparison with our early ancestors.

The reign of the Denann came to an end in just two battles with the Milesians, whom historians and scholars alike agree were probably the first Gaels in Ireland. Not only were the Danann defeated by military might, but by cunning too. It was agreed that the new invaders and the Danann would each rule half of Ireland, and so it was that Amergin of the Milesians chose that half of Ireland which lay above ground, leaving the Danann to retreat below. They were led away to their new domain via the Sidhe mounds by Manannán, God of the sea, who then shielded them from mortal eyes by raising an enchanted mist known as the Faeth Fiadha (pronounced Feh Fee-oh-a), or ‘Cloak of Concealment’. As time passed, they became known as the Sidhe (Shee), Ireland’s fairy-folk.

So, were the Danann Gods or Aliens? It’s too easy to cry ‘aliens!’ or ascribe the unexplainable to God-like entities. To be honest, I find both incredibly annoying. Humans are capable of amazing things; why is it not possible, in the long long history of the existence of our planet, that there were prior civilisations we know nothing about, who advanced and developed in their own ways on a par with our own development?

Think of it this way; to one who observes without understanding, even an aeroplane flying through the sky carrying people in its belly to far distant, unimaginable lands seems like powerful magic; so does flicking a light switch, a television screen, a mobile phone. The plane becomes a ship, transported on dark clouds; a television screen becomes a vision, the phone, a stone which speaks, perhaps an oracle giving advice direct from the Gods.

Those who manipulate such magic must surely be Gods themselves; they look like Gods with their red-gold hair, sky-blue eyes and milk-white skin; they wield fiery, powerful weapons; they appear to be ageless and immortal, and they are wise, beautiful, and fearsome.

Danann ‘magic’ can be explained, though not proven, as technology misunderstood by the local population. Whether it was man or alien made, is debatable. It is certainly possible that these were migrating people from advanced civilisations in our world, perhaps displaced by the Great Flood, searching out new homes, bringing with them what remained of their knowledge and technology.

I also believe that ‘we are not alone’ in this great cosmos, and that visits from other worlds and dimensions cannot be ruled out. Or perhaps it was magic after all, a force which, having no comprehension of, we seek to deny.

Experts, being of scientific and analytical mind, will insist the lack of physical evidence proves the Tuatha de Danann never existed. The fact so many stories about them remain, however, is evidence enough to me that they did.


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Ireland’s History and Mythology | The Sword of Light

Cosplay, magic. Lone warrior holding a fire sword
The Sword of Light http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

The Sword of Light, or Shining Sword, is known as Cliamh Solais in Irish (pronounced Klee-uv Shull-ish), and is said to be one of the lost Four Treasures of Eirean. It was made in the northern city of Findias (or Gorias, depending on which version you read) by a powerful fílí and magician named Uiscas.

In the Lebor Gabála Erenn (the Book of Invasions), the Sword was brought to Ireland by King Nuada of the Tuatha de Denann. He led his people in a great battle called the Cath Maige Tuired (the Battle of Moytura, which is a place-name meaning ‘the plain of pillars/ towers’) against the Fir Bolg, who ruled Ireland at the time.  Continue reading

The Tuatha de Denann | Were they Irish Gods or Aliens?

You can read my latest article, The Tuatha de Denann | Were they Irish Gods or Aliens on Irish Central… if you’re interested!

Ali xxx

My Top Five Ancient Irish Sites

Since writing my novel, The Four Treasures of Eirean, I have become far more closely connected with this land I am lucky enough to live in. When I moved here to satisfy my Irish husband’s longing for home, I never thought I would fall in love with a country so completely.

So here is a Top 5 of some of the sites I love. If you live here but haven’t yet been, I urge you to do so. If you live elsewhere, but think you might like to come to Ireland to see for yourself, you can be sure of a great Irish welcome!

1. NEWGRANGE (Bru na Boinne)

001 (78)

The top tourist destination in Ireland, Newgrange has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and attracts 200,000 visitors per year. This Passage Tomb was built about 3200 BC. The mound covers an area of over one acre and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones, most of them richly decorated with megalithic art. The inner passage is 19 m long, and leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. At the winter solstice sunrise, a shaft of sunlight enters through the  roof box above the entrance, shines along the passage way, and lights up the chamber. It’s an experience not to be missed.

In my book, Conor and Annalee unexpectedly encounter one of the lost Four Treasures of Eirean at the Newgrange visitor centre.

Why I love it.

The tour takes you right inside the mound, where you are surrounded by all the megalithic artwork. You can touch them, trace the carvings which were created thousands of years ago by ancient craftsmen. Then they turn all the lights out, and recreate the winter solstice lighting up experience. It’s electrifying! This is what those people laboured to create, we don’t know why for sure, but it’s a privilege to be able to share it now, all these years later. I don’t know many places which allow you such up close and personal interactive experiences of such an ancient and valuable treasure. In addition, the visitor centre is an amazing in itself, with great facilities, informative displays and friendly, helpful staff.

2. KNOWTH

Knowth
Knowth

Knowth (sounds like mouth) is a sister site of Newgrange, and you can join a tour from the same visitor centre. The central mound was built over 5000 years ago, and is similar in size to Newgrange. It is surrounded by 18 smaller satellite mounds. The central mound has two passages with entrances on opposite sides. The western passage is 34 metres long and the eastern passage is 40 metre long, ending with a cruciform chamber.

In my book, Conor and Annalee must enter the central mound at Knowth in order to execute a daring and dangerous mission.

Why I love it.

Knowth has a great sense of  serenity. Unfortunately, the entrances are sealed, so unlike at Newgrange, you can’t go inside this mound, but here you will find great megalithic rock art; nearly half of all of Ireland’s engraved megalithic stones can be found in just this one site. That amounts to 30% of Western Europe’s ancient rock art. There is a path which leads you to the top of the mound, from where you can admire the view of the surrounding countryside, with many other sites of megalithic significance within sight line.

3. UISNEACH

The Stone of Divisions

The Hill of Uisneach stands 183 metres tall, and is located between the villages of Ballymore and Loughanavally in County Westmeath. In ancient times, it was regarded as the centre point of Ireland, symbolised by the presence of a great stone called the Ail na Mirean, or Stone of Divisions.

This stone was said to be where the borders of Ireland’s five provinces, Leinster, Munster, Connacht, Ulster and Mide met. Nowadays, there are only four provinces, Mide becoming the Counties Meath and Westmeath.

Uisneach was a site of great significance. It was considered the sister site of Tara, in fact, remains of an ancient road have been discovered which actually connect the two locations. Whilst Tara was associated with Kingship rituals, Uisneach is believed to have been a place of Druid worship and ceremony. Evidence of huge fires have been uncovered here, believed to have been lit in celebration of the festival of Beltaine.

Recently, the spirit of Beltaine has been rekindled in the Festival of the Fires.

In my book, Conor is attacked here by his enemy, the evil ex Fairy-King of the Denann, Bres.

Why I love it.

When you arrive at the Hill of Uisneach, access is sealed off by a large fence and gate, with a sign giving the land owner’s mobile number. This is his private property, but he will come and let you in, free of charge. Only in Ireland…

There is no showy visitor centre, no tour guides, and you share the site with a herd of cows. The monuments are surrounded by electric fences to keep the cattle off them, so you must be careful. There is a surreal blend of old and new here; the evidence of ancient civilisation and ritual in the archaeological remains, juxtaposed with the more modern monuments created for the recently revived Beltaine Festival of the Fires. I love the sense of space and freedom, and kids will love it, too.

4. TARA

The Lia Fail
The Lia Fail

Another very popular tourist attraction, it is also known as Teamhair na Ri in Irish. It is located on the River Boyne near Navan in County Meath, and believed to be a sacred site associated with ancient kingship rituals.

The most prominent earthworks on the site are two linked enclosures known as Cormac’s House, and the Forradh, or Royal Seat. The famous standing stone, the Lia Fail, is located in the centre of the Forradh (the left hand enclosure). Tara also features a small Neolithic passage tomb called Dumha na nGial, or the Mound of Hostages, which was constructed around 3,400 BC.

In my book, Conor touches the Lia Fail and experiences a vision which leads him to the discovery of an enigmatic artefact known as the Heart of Fal.

Originally, the Lia Fail would have stood before the Mound of Hostages, however, it was moved to its current site in 1798 to commemorate the 400 rebels who died in the Battle of Tara during the Irish revolution.

In mythology, the Lia Fail was said to roar out in joy at recognition of the touch of the rightful High King, or Ard Ri, of Ireland. In order for this to happen, the King was required to stand upon it. It is reasonable to suppose, therefore, that the stone would have laid upon its side in order to facilitate this.

The Lia Fail was destroyed by Cuchullain when it failed to proclaim his protegé, Lugaid Riab nDerg, as High King. In a fit of anger he struck it with his sword and so broke it in two.

The Lia Fail is reputed to have left Ireland in AD500, when the then High King of Ireland, Murtagh Mac Erc, loaned it to his brother Fergus for his coronation as ruler of Dalriada in Scotland. In 1296, it was taken by Edward 1st of England to Westminster Abbey, and fitted into the wooden chair upon which all subsequent English monarchs have been crowned. Some say, however, that the monks of Scone Palace hid the real stone in the River Tay, or beneath Dunsinane Hill, and that it lies there still.

Why I love it.

Tara is so wonderful simply because it is so undeveloped. You can join a tour of the site if you wish, but you can get just as much pleasure from wandering freely, and finding a pleasant spot to picnic with the kids. Even when busy, the site feels tranquil. Children will love the freedom they have to run up and down the embankments and ditches, and the surreal experience of the Fairy Tree. There is a tiny visitor centre located in a nearby church, and also some gift shops and a teashop.

5. LOUGHCREW

Although Loughcrew does not feature in my book, it is only 20 minutes drive from my house, and I go there often with my family. Loughcrew is one of four main passage tomb sites in Ireland, and is thought to date from about 3300 BC. It is spread over three locations; the twin hilltops of Carnbane East and Carnbane West, and a cairn at Patrickstown. The Irish name for the site is Sliabh na Caillí, which means ‘mountain of the hag/witch/nun’. Legend claims the monuments were created when a giant hag, striding across the land, dropped her cargo of large stones from her apron. There are about 25 mounds in the Loughcrew complex, but most are in a state of disrepair.

Why I love it.

Like most of Ireland’s monuments, Loughcrew is located on private land, so keep your dog on a lead, as the hill is dotted with sheep. Outside of the tourist season, you can collect the key for the mound from the teashop at the nearby Loughcrew Gardens, itself well worth a visit…yes, I know, only in Ireland! During the summer months, there is often a guide waiting at the top, who will give you a free guided tour. I was amazed on my first visit inside the mound; the artwork is so clear and sharp, seemingly untouched by the passage of time, as vivid and sharp as the day they were cut. If there are not too many people about (and usually there aren’t), the guide will lend you her torch, and let you stay inside the mound as long as you like, studying the rock art. My boys were fascinated! The cairns of Carnabane West, however, are not accessible to the general public, although they can be viewed from the road. (image from Knowth.com).

So, there you have it…my top five. If you ever visit any of them, give me a shout…I might just join you!

Love Ireland!

Ali x

 

Unveiling…

…the new cover for my book, The Four Treasures of Eirean. What do you think? I’d love your feedback. Ali x

4TE-NewFull

4TE is now on Smashwords!

Hooray! You can view my page, or download it here. Enjoy!

Ali xxx

Now I know how it feels to come 4th at the Olympics…

I’m only now recovering from my disappointment…hence the long absence from my blog. (Sorry about that!)

You see, I found out recently that I’m good, but not good enough. If you have followed my blog, you will know that for the second year in a row, I entered a story into the Fish Publishing Short Memoir Competition. And for the second time, I was shortlisted…from 810 entries down to the final 81. Not bad, eh? I was really hopeful. After all, I had worked on that story really hard. It was surely the best it could be. And Fish Publishing obviously thought it was good enough to print in their anthology, as they selected it for final judging by author, Molly McCloskey.

But Molly didn’t like it. I didn’t get into the Top Ten. My head was telling me that to be shortlisted was an achievement in itself, and that I should be pleased. But my heart was telling me it was not good enough. I must do better.

But how?

In despair, I decided never to write again, and to go and find a proper job. (That thought lasted, oooh, all of five minutes!)

Then I had an idea for a quirk in the synopsis of my new project, The Fenian King, and I was running for my laptop!

(By the way, have I introduced you to my laptop yet? Her name is FoxyRoxy, she’s red and shiny and new, and sits in pride of place on my equally shiny, red desk. This is where all my ideas are converted into stories.)

Would I be a better mum, wife, housekeeper if I didn’t write and got a proper job?

No.

Will my boys remember, when they are adults, that the windows always needed cleaning, or that they had lasagne twice in a row one week because I was too busy writing to go food shopping?

No.

But they will remember that I wrote a book; that I created a book trailer to go with it; that we visited all the sites featured in the book and I told them all the associated legends, and what happens there in my book; they’ll remember seeing my book on sale in our local bookshop and on Amazon, and they’ll know that if they really want something, and are prepared to work hard enough for it, they can achieve anything.

As Annalee said of Tir na Nog, “Anything is possible…”