“I have tidings for you: warriors are coming across the sea, a thousand heroes covering the ocean; speckled ships will press in upon us; all kinds of death they announce, a people skilled in every art, a magic spell; an evil spirit will come upon you, signs to lead you astray (?); . . . they will be victorious in every stress.” – Cesard to King Eochaid of the Fir Bolg
Source: Fraser, J. “The First Battle of Moytura.” Ériu v.8 (1915)
The Tuatha Dé Danann are said to be the ancient Gods of Ireland from the times beyond legend and into our earliest mythology. They are said to be wondrous and powerful beings who left this world and went into the Otherworld with the arrival of the Gaels into the land. Yet to truly understand the importance of these individuals we should try to spend time Uncovering the Origins of the Tuatha Dé Dannan.
Back to the Beginning
We live in a world where people say that there are “no new stories” and that everything is just variations on a theme. Yet to explore the Tuatha Dé Danann we need to go back to a time when there were new stories. A time when the power of story was in many ways fundamental to the formation of communities and as such the existence of our species.
According to the oldest tales of Irish myth the island existed in the time before the biblical flood. In face it is said that Bith son of Noe (Noah) was told to flee to the edge of the world to see if they might escape the rising waters. The edge of the world was Ireland. Into the island came Cesair daughter of Bith and her fifty maidens and three men were all that survived the journey. They lived for a time but the great flood took all but one. Fintan remained and it is from him that we hear the stories. After Cessair came Partalon and his people. They lived and thrived in the island, clearing its first plains and creating the first lakes. Though they defended the island from invasion by the fomorians, they were all killed by the ravages of a plague.
Next to come into an empty Ireland was Nemed, and it is here that we begin to uncover the origin of the Tuatha Dé Dannan. Nemed and his four sons came with their peoples and carried on the labours of clearing the land. The stories tell of plains cleared and lakes springing up from their works, yet all is not peaceful for the Nemed and his sons.
The Fomorian’s laid oppressive taxation upon Nemed and his tribe so that;
‘Two thirds of the progeny, the wheat, and the milk of the people of Ireland had to be brought every Samain to Mag Cetne.’
Though the tribe rose up and made war against them the result was defeat and devastation. Some of the remaining sons fled out of Ireland with what peoples remained to them and into other places in the world to try to survive and rebuild. Here is where the origins of the Tutha Dé Danann really begin.
Descendants of Nemed
‘Thereafter the progeny of Bethach, son of Iarbonel the Soothsayer, son of Nemed were in the northern islands of the world, learning druidry and knowledge and prophecy and magic, till they were expert in the arts of pagan cunning.’
SOURCE: Lebor Gabála Érenn: Book of the Taking of Ireland. vol. 4. ed. and tr. by R. A. S. Macalister.
Of the many sons of Nemed there was one called Iarbonel known as the Soothsayer. There is not much more known of him than his name and his connection to the tribe of Nemed and of course his own descendents, it is interesting that of all the sons of Nemed he is given an epithet.
Though Iaronbel doesn’t survive the conflicts, it is son Bethach that takes us into the next stage of our exploration. He leads his survivors out of Ireland, fleeing the oppression of the Fomorians. There is no record of exactly where these “northern islands” of the world are, but we know that his descendents don’t just survive, they manage to thrive, not just in population but also in the areas of skill, art, battle and the natural sciences.
One story tells of four great cities, Failias and Findias, Goirias and Murias. Each city had a leader in the arts of magic and natural sciences and it was from these four that the Tuatha Dé Dannan learned much of their abilities. As with the other tribes descended from the sons of Nemed, the memory of Ireland remained strong with them and eventually the people of these four cities arose together to return to the home of their ancestors. Unified behind their king known as Nuada, they took up the four great treasures of their cities and set sail for the ancestral homeland.
Ancestor and Deities
When the Tuatha Dé do return into Ireland they meet the descendents of Semeon, another of the sons of Nemed who have also returned to the home of the ancestors as the Fir Bolg. They meet and acknowledge the shared ancestry and language that exists between them and though a conflict for the right to rule occurs, known as the First Battle of Moytura the result is not eradication, or genocide. Instead there is an agreement with Nuada, that the Fir Bolg will take the western province of the island as their own.
There is a lot more to the mythology of Ireland but at least here we have uncovered the origins of the Tuatha Dé Dannan. They are not some extraterrestrial invasion, but a tribe of people who have survived ancestral oppression, the hardships of forced emigration, and managed not just to exist but to learn and grow in knowledge and skill.
They are a people who retained the knowledge that there are places in the world that can be called home and that, no matter the struggle, it’s worth recognising that others in the world may share more common ancestry than would first be seen. These survivors brought their knowledge and abilities learned across the world, into the land of their ancestors and made it better for everyone.
As their own story came to a close their impact was such that they did not just disappear into the pages of history to be forgotten. They moved out of this world and into the Otherworld, keeping close to the land of their ancestors and becoming themselves the ancestors of new generations of people, born of, but also immigrated into this island we call Ireland.
Where To Now?
If you think that Ireland is interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: