Skip to main content

HIST & MYTH: The Dagda - Father God Figure

Post 227. Written by Ben Kesp

Of all the Irish deities making up the pantheon of gods, the Dagda is seen as the most powerful and omnicompetent, unlike his counterparts who are often limited in their abilities.

What I found interesting on my research of the Dagda is his role when it came to the introduction of Christianity. Ireland’s culture and belief systems have been very insular due to its isolation from mainland Europe and its strong ties with its former pagan culture. The development of the Irish church intertwined and fused the old pagan beliefs into the new religion with many crossovers with the gods of old. It appears to have been easier to Christianise and bestow saint hood on former gods than to have them removed altogether. All of the old pagan customs and rituals were based on earth’s seasonal cycles of the year and each is attributed to a related god, so as the seasons impacted the people, so did the god. 

The pagan Irish gods of old came from the “Otherworld” however with the onset of Christianity this would have become better known as “Tír na nÓg” meaning the “land of the forever young”. This place of existence has become associated with the hills and forts of Ireland or fairy forts. With the arrival of the mythical Milesians to Ireland at around the same recorded time period, for the arrival of the Celtic settlers and influence, the gods of old were not defeated but retreated under the mounds of Ireland and have since remained allowing the new religion and culture to take root. However, it appears all the gods and goddesses except for the Dagda fled to the underground palaces. So what happened to the Father God or Earth God? 

It is possible and of course, there are many theories, that the Dagda, served as the father of the god for the new Christian religion intertwining the old with the new. The Irish Celtic Church was not Roman in influence but more Celtic in nature and the transition to the new religion probably would have had an easier cross over if it incorporated what people already believed in. The Goddess Brigit also survived this transition. 

The Dagda is seen as the father of the Irish Gods, but not an origin god as many versions of myths depict him as the son of Goddess Danu making her the mother Goddess. The Dagda was the father to Brigit, Aine, Midir, Cermait, Bodh Dhearg and to Aengus, God of Love through an affair he had with the Goddess Boann of the River Boyne. In order to hide this infidelity, the Dagda had the sun stand still for nine months so Aengus was born in one day. Aengus later tricked his father into giving him his home at Brú na Boinne, which means palace, referring to the location of the world’s most important prehistoric Neolithic landscapes containing the Newgrange and Knowth monuments. 

It is possible and probably a fact, that the Dagda’s role continued well into the Christian period transitioning into the father god for the Christian followers. To banish a belief system and to replace with another would be a difficult task so allowing the Dagda who represented the old beliefs and traditions of the seasonal cycles to continue, allowed people still to believe in him. Even though the Dagda was never bestowed with sainthood and his places of worship replaced with Christian shrines, his name lived on within the minds of the people allowing him not to disappear like the other gods of old. 

The Dagda is depicted as an immense figure carrying a club capable of killing nine men with one blow and with a touch from its handle it gives life to the dead; he possessed a cauldron which never emptied ensuring abundance for everyone; a harp which ensured the seasons of the year followed one another in the correct order. This latter is amusing, considering that today Ireland lacks a divide in its seasons resulting in a jumbled mix of weather patterns rolling throughout the year. So I wonder should that harp be still playing!

The Dagda is certainly an interesting and complex figure in Irish myth and in the old belief systems. If his role was to serve as a cross over to the Christian religion, he has long since faded over the centuries that followed, however the Dagda will never truly be forgotten, having his name securely rooted as the Father God in Irish mythology. 

Images: Celtic Mysteries & Pinterest 

Discover more on Ben Kesp, author and writer on the Ben Kesp Website.
Discover how to Contribute on the Ben Kesp Website

Popular posts from this blog

HIST & MYTH: Strongbow & Aoife – Ireland’s Power Couple of the 12th Century

Post 221. Written by Ben Kesp.

The union of marriage between Aoife, Lady of Leinster, Ireland and Richard de Clare, nicknamed Strongbow, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Wales would change Ireland like never before and its ruling class along with it. 

Aoife, born April 26th, 1143, was the daughter of King Dermot MacMurrough (Diarmait Mac Murchada) of the Kingdom of Leinster and his wife Mor O’Toole, Queen Consort of Leinster. Aoife who later became more known as Eva of Leinster and on her marriage became the Countess of Pembroke, agreed to the marriage as she did have the right to refuse under Brehon Law (Early Irish Law). On the 29th of October 1170, Aoife and Strongbow were married at Christchurch Cathedral in Waterford City
Following the death of King Dermot in 1171, under Anglo-Norman law, Strongbow had succession rights to the Kingdom of Leinster, whereas Aoife had a life interest under Brehon law. Strongbow claimed the right to the Kingdom in his wife’s name ensuring his position as Lord o…

HIST & MYTH: Tlachtga and Samhain

Post 242 Written by Ben Kesp 

The end of another seasonal cycle is fast approaching and we are all getting ready to celebrate the ancient festival of Samhain. There is no other place in Ireland or the world more associated to the festival of Samhain than at Tlachtga or the “Hill of the Ward”, located near Athboy in Co. Meath, Ireland, twelve miles from the Hill of Tara. This is an ancient archaeological site which saw a big excavation dig in the summer of 2014 and like Tara the earthen works are most impressive by air. 
It was on this hill over two thousand years ago that saw the birth of Samhain which would later become better known as Halloween. In Irish Mythology, Tlachtga is the daughter of Mud Ruith a powerful druid and sun god. He is a figure of immense power and could grow to great sizes and his breath could turn people to stone! Not someone you would want to cross! According to myth and the tales that are retold, Tlachtga travelled with her father Mug Ruith to Italy to study un…

HIST & MYTH: Tuatha Dé Danann - A Family Tree

Written by Ben Kesp  Following on from my post on theIrish deities and mythological races of Ireland, I am trying my hand at compiling the family tree of the Tuatha Dé Danann.Not an easy task I will add due to the contradictory nature of Irish Mythology.Goddess Danu is seen as the mother of the Danann and Dagda or the Great Dagda is seen as the father of the Gods.It is unclear if Dagda is the son or the husband of Danu as different sources position him in both places.
There are five brothers: (Dagda, Dian Cécht, Lir, Nuada and Ogma). 
vDagda (God of Earth) (Father of the Gods) (King of Ireland)(Or Eochaid Garb) oHusband to Danu with children:      §Bridgit (Goddess of Poetry, Arts & Crafts) (Arrival of Spring - Imbolc) ·Wife to Bres (God of Agriculture) with child:   oRúadan §Bodh Derg (King of Tuatha Dé Danann when they and moved to the Sídhe) §Néith (God of War) ·Husband to Badb? (Daughter of Goddess Ernmas) §Midir ·Husband to Fúmnach ·Husband to Étaín (The Wooing of Étaín) §Áine §Cermait…