Irish Magic and Tuatha de Danaans

From Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894

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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. xxi. 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 Phoenician extraction, that a district near Tripoli, of Syria, is known as Dannie He adds, "Pausanias says that at the landing-place of Danaos, on the Argive coast, was a temple of Poseidon Genesios, of Phoenician 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
Concealed in their dark clouds—
I ate my food with them,
Though at such a remote period."

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 myths."

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
That new times of peace would come."

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