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HIST & MYTH: Tuatha Dé Danann

Written by Ben Kesp
Goddess Danu 
For some time now, I had wanted to write a summary on the mysterious tribe that once ruled Ireland called the Tuatha Dé Danann. I have often mentioned them in previous blog pieces, however as I set out to research this mysterious race, I soon discovered there is a vast amount of material written on these people by many sources.  Deciphering what is fact or fiction can at times be difficult.  Prior to written history, knowledge of our earlier ancestors I believe is really not possible to tell. 

Taking a step back to what we do know is that the earliest known evidence of habitation begins in Ireland around 8,000 BC after the last Ice age when the country had been an arctic wasteland.  The ice age eradicated any earlier evidence of human inhabitation. Most of the written history of Europe started under Roman control however as Ireland had never been in the Roman Empire, earliest written records did not begin until the Christian Period in the 5th Century.  Archaeologists and historians have tried to piece together the facts and origins of the early settlers using available evidence prior to 5th century.  It is believed by historians that Ireland may have been settled on many different times since the last ice age that ended 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Early Irish Christian writings have possibly demonised earlier Irish settlers showing the pagan druid practices and beliefs in many different gods as evil and twisting reality of what actually happened while creating all sorts of mythical beings and creatures. There are still many unanswered questions and early Christian writings are still highlighting new evidence.  

Periods of Irish History

Mesolithic Period
8,000 – 4,000 BC
  • Earlier settlers – Hunters & Gatherers

Neolithic Period
4,000 – 2,500 BC
  • The period of great tombs, temples and monument building.
  • The Céide Field Systems.

Copper & Bronze Period
2,500 – 500 BC
  • Major exporter of Copper. 
  • Large Gold deposits and extensive craftsmanship of the metal.

Iron Age
500 BC – 400 AD
  • Celtic influence in art, language and culture begin (Recorded to be the arrival of the Celts)

The Dark Age
100 BC – 300 AD
  • Mysterious decline in population and living standards.

Christian Period
400 AD
  • Ireland’s Golden Age as a centre for learning and religion within Europe.
  • The Monastic Movement. 
  • Development of the Irish Church.

Focusing on the early inhabitants and of Ireland itself, there is some recorded evidence in early writings from classical writers like Diodorus Siculus (Greek Historian 60 – 30BC), Strabo (Greek Philosopher 54 – 24 BC), Pomponius Mela (Roman Geographer 43 AD) and Julius Caesar (Roman General & Dictator of Roman Republic 100 – 44BC) who called Ireland Hibernia.  However one of the most expertly recorded writings and descriptions comes from Ptolemy (Greek writer- 2nd century), where he describes Ireland’s exact location, physical make up and its tribes. 

We really have no evidence of the earlier settlers or what waves of people arrived to the country.  It has always been believed and written that the Celtic people arrived in Ireland around 500 BC.  Is it actually known if the Celtic invasion actually happened? Many scholars and historians now question this so called “Celtic Invasion”. What exists from the Irish Iron Age are artefacts from continental Europe of the La Tene Style Celtic artwork.  Later in Ireland, the La Tene Style was reproduced using an Irish style which continued on into the Christian Period.  Archaeologists have never found any Celtic type burial chambers similar to that of continental Europe or any huge changes in lifestyle after the supposed Celtic arrival from that of the previous inhabitants. However on stating this, the Celtic language and culture did arrive in Ireland and this is evidenced in a map of Ireland dated 150 AD created by Ptolemy. This map surely supports and provides evidence of the Celts arriving in Ireland, however perhaps not in a mass invasion. The link between the Celts arriving to Ireland and who the previous inhabitants were is missing.  Did the two groups exist side by side?

The Dagda

What we have available to us about the earlier inhabitants is a rich history of mythology, where the Tuatha Dé Danann are described as an advanced technological race who made up the Pantheon of Irish Gods. Some of the well known gods are "The Great Dagda", "The Morrígan", "Lugh", “Éiru”, “Lir” and "Bridgit". They arrived after the Fomorians who were a semi divine race similar to the Greek Titans.  The Tuatha Dé Danann brought with them druid practices, magic and many new skills and traditions.  They made Tara their capital of power and the site for the practice of their ancient religion.  
King Nuadha

In Irish Mythology the Tuatha Dé Danann, the people of the Goddess Danu feature strongly. According to the manuscript “The Annuals of the Four Masters(chronicle of medieval Irish history dating 2,242 BC to 1616 AD) they ruled Ireland from 1897 BC to 1700 BC.   They arrived in West of Ireland off Connaught. Their arrival to Ireland was mysterious as they floated in through the air as a host of spirits or arrived on the clouds and emerged from a great mist.  This has later been speculated to mean they possibly burned their boats on arrival so they could not return from where they came from or were they technologically advanced to have arrived by air!?

On arrival to Ireland they encountered the race of Fir Bolgs, who were one of the earlier settlers, sea fearers and suggested to have been African.  The Tuatha Dé Danann defeated the Fir Bolgs on the First Battle of Magh Tuiredh. Soon afterwards they encountered the second race that populated Ireland and these were called the Fomorians. The Tuatha Dé Danann fought the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh with the Fomorians.  Both these races lived side by side and intermarried.   The Tuatha Dé Danann are written to have been a race who were very tall, attractive with pale skin, high foreheads, long red or blonde hair and large blue eyes.  The Tuatha Dé Danann were an aristocratic race of poets and scientists.  They were technological advanced, civilised and cultured.  They brought with them many new skills and traditions which they passed onto the local population.  They also had in their procession four sacred treasures:

  • “Stone of Fall” (Stone of Destiny) that was placed on the Hill of Tara which became their seat of power. This stone can still be seen today on Tara. 
  • The “Magic Sword” (Sword of Destiny).
  • The “Sling Shot” (The Staff or Spear of Destiny).
  • The “Cauldron of Daghda” (Cup of Destiny).

The Morrígan 
The King of the Tuatha Dé Danann for seven years prior to their arrival to Ireland was Nuadha.  His arm was severed in the battle with the Fomorians and he lost the right of Kingship because of his imperfection.  The Kingship of Ireland passed through the following:

  • Nuadha - original King of the Tuatha Dé Danann when they arrived in Ireland
  • Bres - who was of Fomorian decent ruled for 7 years.  He was the son of Éiru of the Tuatha Dé Danann and a Fomorian prince named Elatha who visited Éiru one night by sea.  The reign of Bres had not been a good one and he was ousted from power and exiled for tyranny.  King Nuadha retook the Kingship of Ireland and Bres raised an army against him.  The Tuatha Dé Danann finally conquered the Fomorians and their power was ended forever. 
  • Nuadha - was reinstated after Bres was removed from power and his arm was replaced by a silver one. King Nuadha died in the battle against Bres and the Fomorians. 
  • Lug - ruled for 40 Years. 
  • Eochu Ollathair or the Great Dagda - ruled for 80 Years.
  • Delbaeth - ruled for 10 Years.
  • Fiacha - who was Delbaeth’s son for 10 Years.

The three grandsons of the Great Dagda were in power when the Tuatha Dé Danann were defeated in the third battle with the sons of Mil.  The Milesians who arrived from Spain and said to be the first Celtic invasion into Ireland.  It is also suggested that the Tuatha Dé Danann did not actually battle with the Milesians, but their Queen/Goddess Éiru met with them and foretold that the sons of Mil would rule Ireland. In return, the Milesians named Ireland after her. The Tuatha Dé Danann retreated to the underground where afterwards they became known as the hill fairies or “Aes Sidhe”.  Did the Milesians actually exist? This race features strongly in Basque mythology and there may be some merit in the story that invaders did arrive to Ireland from Spain and especially from around the Basque region. DNA shows a close link today between the people of Ireland and people from the Basque region.

Battle against the Fir Bolg 
But where did the Tuatha Dé Danann come from? Many speculations have been written of their origins tracing them settling in Asia Minor (Turkey), Atlantis, Ancient Egypt and as off world people who came from the stars and who fought against the Anunnakai (The Serpent Race) of ancient Egypt.  It has been written that Princess Scotia, daughter of Akhenaten and half sister to Tutankhamen led a colony from Ancient Egypt to Ireland.  She died in battle however her descendants went on to become the High Kings of Ireland.

The story of the Tuatha Dé Danann is very complex with many writings and theories and to summarise them as a race would not be an easy task within this blog post.  
One of the Nine Cup Bearers 

One has to question why are there such similarities across the deities and mythologies of different cultures, the Hindu, Celtic, Greek, Egyptian etc? Is it a result of early civilisation spreading out across Asia and Europe bringing with them, their beliefs in the gods and other worldly beings? Overtime allowing for different alternatives and variations to suit the land and people?

One can also question, how did waves of people dating around 4,500 BC with ready made knowledge of cereal cultivation, housing culture, burial ceremony and monument building simultaneously arrived across Europe and built highly engineered monuments in many different countries.  These people were scientifically advanced and intelligent.

Eiru & Elatha
Who the Tuatha Dé Danann were, I do not think we will ever know only what has been written about them in mythology and what we perceive them to have been in our own minds.

The earlier mythical settlers to Ireland and the later known setters:
  • Fomorians
  • Partholon’s People
  • Nemed’s People
  • Fir Bolg
  • Tuatha Dé Danann
  • Celts
  • Vikings
  • Normans
  • English – (Including the Huguenots & Palatines)
  • The Irish people of today – who are they?
For more posts on the Tuatha Dé Danann - check out: 

The Gods and the Stars 
Images are not mine and I have no claim on them. 

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