Tuatha dé Danann: The Story of Ireland’s Fiercest Tribe

Tuatha Dé Danann
Photo left: zef art Right: John Duncan (1911)

If you’ve spent time reading any of the tales from Irish mythology, you’ll have seen the Tuatha dé Danann mentioned frequently.

The Tuatha dé Danann were a supernatural race that resided in the ‘Otherworld’ but that were able to interact with those living in the ‘Real World’.

The Tuatha dé Danann is regularly associated with the likes of Newgrange and other ancient sites in Ireland and they’re a key part of Irish folklore.

In the guide below, you’ll discover how the Tuatha dé Danann came to be in Ireland and you’ll get an insight into the many battles that they fought.

About Tuatha dé Danann

The Tuatha dé Danann (meaning ‘the folk of the goddess Danu’) were a supernatural race that arrived in Ireland during a time when the island was ruled by a group known as the Fir Bolg.

Although the Tuatha dé Danann lived in the Otherworld, they interacted and engaged with those living in the real, ‘human’ world. Tuatha dé Danann frequently featured in the writings of Christian monks.

In these writings, Tuatha dé Danann are referred to as queens and heroes who possessed magical powers. At times, some writers referred to them as gods.

The Goddess Danu

I mentioned the Goddess Danu briefly above. Danu was in-fact the goddess of the Tuatha dé Danann. Now, strangely enough, there are no existing myths about the Goddess Danu, so we know little about her.

What we do know is that Danu is the most ancient of the many Celtic gods. It’s thought (emphasis on thought) that she may have represented the earth and its fruitfulness.

Where they came from

You’ll often read articles that argue that the Tuatha dé Danann hailed from a land that granted all those that lived there everlasting youth.

I’m speaking, of course, about the ancient land of Tir na nOg. If you remember the story of Oisin, the son of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and his journey to Tir na nOg, you’ll remember that he travelled there oversea from Ireland.

Now, this is never actually confirmed in Irish mythology or in any evident history, but it’s believed by some that this ancient land was the home of Tuatha dé Danann.

Their Arrival in Ireland

In Celtic mythology, when the Tuatha Dé Danann made their way onto Irish soil, the mighty Fir Bolg were the leaders of our little island.

However, the Tuatha Dé Danann feared no one and they made their way over to the west coast of Ireland and demanded that the Fir Bolg surrender half of their land.

The Fir Bolg were fearsome Irish warriors and they refused to give even an acre of Irish land to the Tuatha Dé Danann. It was this refusal that leads to the battle of Mag Tuired. The Fir Bolg were soon defeated.

You’ll discover more about this battle along with many of the other battles fought by the Tuatha Dé Danann in Irish mythology later in this guide.

How they came to Ireland

One of the things that always confused me as a child was the history/story behind how these gods came to Ireland. Many of the myths surrounding their arrival contradict one another.

If you’ve never heard of the Book of Invasions (Lebor Gabála Érenn in Irish), it’s a collection of poems and narratives that offers a history of Ireland from the creation of the earth right the way up to the Middle Ages.

In this book, the legend goes that the Tuatha Dé Danann came to Ireland on flying ships, of sorts, surrounded by dark clouds that engulfed them.

It goes on to say that they went on to land on a mountain in County Leitrim where they brought with them darkness that suppressed the light of the sun for three whole days.

There’s another story that says that the Tuatha Dé Danann came to Ireland, not on ships that flew through the clouds, but on regular sailing ships.

What did they look like?

The Tuatha Dé Danann are often described as tall gods and goddesses that have blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes and pale skin.

You’ll see this description portrayed in many drawings and illustrations in Celtic mythology books (and some Irish history books that feature sections on Irish mythology) that have been published over the years.

Members of Tuatha dé Danann

The Tuatha dé Danann has many members, but some are more prominent than others in Irish mythology. In particular, the most prominent members are:

  • Nuada Airgetlám
  • The Dagda
  • Delbáeth
  • Fiacha mac Delbaíth
  • Mac Cecht
  • Mac Gréine
  • Lug

Nuada Airgetlám

Nuada is arguably the most notable member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. He was their first king and was married to Boann. Just to make things more confusing, he is sometimes referred to as ‘Nechtan’, ‘Nuadu Necht’ and ‘Elcmar’.

Nuada is best-known from the battle where he loses his hand, which results in the loss of his kingship, also. However, he’s not dethroned for long – he regains his crown when he is magically healed by Dian Cécht.

The Dagda

The Dagda is another god that played an important part in Celtic mythology. In a number of stories, the Dagda is described as a large man/giant with a beard that owns a club with magical powers.

It’s also said that the Dagda was a druid and a king that had the power to control everything from the weather to time. The home of the Dagda is reported to be the ancient site of Newgrange.

Oh, he’s also said to be the husband of the terrifying Morrigan. She haunted many of my dreams as a kid after I had been told stories of her appearances in Irish folklore before bed.

Dian Cecht

Dian Cecht was a son of the Dagda and was the healer for the Tuatha Dé Danann. Often referred to as ‘the god of healing’, Dian Cecht is arguably best known for replacing king Nuada’s lost arm after it was cut off by the Fir Bolg with a new silver one.

Delbáeth

Delbáeth was the grandson of the Dagda and it’s said that he succeeded him as a High King of Ireland. Delbáeth ruled for ten years before he was killed by his son, Fiacha. Delbáeth was also the first ‘god king’.

Fiacha mac Delbaíth

Fiacha mac Delbaíth was the son of Delbáeth and was another celebrated High King of Ireland. According to the Annals of Ireland, Fiacha mac Delbaíth killed his father to take his crown.

Fiacha mac Delbaíth held the throne for ten years until he was killed in a ferocious battle against Éogan of Imber.

Mac Cecht

Mac Cecht was another member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. One of the most notable stories involving Mac Cecht was when he and his brothers killed Lug, a god and a member of Tuatha Dé Danann.

Upon the death of Lug, the brothers became joint High Kings of Ireland and they agreed to rotate the kingship between them each year. The trio were actually the last kings to rule the Tuatha Dé Danann.

Mac Gréine

Mac Gréine (sounds like an American rapper) was the brother of Mac Cecht and the grandson of the Dagda. He was involved in the murder of Lug and was part of a trio of High Kings that ruled Ireland (mentioned above).

Lug

Lug is another god from Irish mythology. He was often described as a master of crafts and battle. Lug is the grandson of Balor, whom he ends up killing in the Battle of Mag Tuired.

Interestingly enough, Lug’s son is Cú Chulainn’s hero. Lug has a number of magical tools in his possession, such as a fiery spear and a sling stone. He also owns a hound that goes by the name of Failinis.

The Four Treasures of Tuatha dé Danann

The Tuatha dé Danann were widely believed to have immense supernatural powers that made them feared by many. Each hailed from one of four places: Findias, Gorias, Murias and Falias.

It was while living in these lands that they are said to have amassed vast wisdom and powers. When the Tuatha dé Danann arrived in Ireland, they brought with them four treasures.

Each of the treasures of the Tuatha dé Danann possessed incredible power that made them some of the most feared characters in Celtic mythology:

  • Dagda’s Cauldron
  • The Spear of Lugh
  • The Stone of Fal
  • The Sword of Light

1. Dagda’s Cauldron

Dagda’s mighty cauldron had the power to feed an army of men. It was said that it had the ability to leave no company unsatisfied.

2. The Spear of Lugh

The Spear of Lugh was one of the most feared weapons in Celtic mythology. Once the spear was drawn, none could escape it and any warrior that held it couldn’t be defeated.

3. The Stone of Fal

Lia Fáil (or the Stone of Fal) is believed to have been used to pronounce the High King of Ireland. According to legend, when a man worthy of kingship stood on it, the stone would roar with happiness.

4. The Sword of Light

According to legend, when the Sword of Light is removed from its holder, no opposing enemy could escape from it. In some stories from Celtic mythology, the sword resembles a bright glowing torch.

Battles Fought by Tuatha Dé Danann

The Tuatha Dé Danann fought a number of battles that are well known in Celtic mythology. The first, saw them face off against the mighty Fir Bolg.

The second saw them come up against the Fomorians and the third saw another wave of invaders, the Milesians, enter the battle.

Below, you’ll find more detail on each of these battles where the ancient Celtic gods fought to take over Ireland and to protect it from those that wanted to take the land away from them.

The Fir Bolg and the First Battle of Magh Tuireadh

When the Tuatha Dé Danann arrived here, the Fir Bolg ruled Ireland. However, the Tuatha Dé Danann feared no one and they demanded half of Ireland from them.

The Fir Bolg refused and a battle, known as the First Battle of Mag Tuired, began. At the time, the Tuatha Dé Danann were led by King Nuada. The battle was fought in the west of Ireland and the Fir Bolg were overthrown.

During the battle, one of the Fir Bolg managed to cut off the arm of King Nuada, which resulted in the kingship being turned over to a tyrant named Bres.

Dian Cecht (the god of healing) magically replaced Nuada’s lost arm with a new one made from the strongest of silver and he was pronounced king again. This didn’t last long, however.

Miach, the son of Dian Cecht and also a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, wasn’t happy that Nuada was being given the crown. He used a spell that made flesh grow over Nuada’s shiny replacement arm.

Dian Cecht was furious about what his son did to Nuada and killed him. It was at this time that Bres, who was temporarily the king while Nuada lost his arm, complained to his father, Elatha.

Elatha was a king of the Fomorians – a supernatural race in Celtic mythology. He sent Bres to get help from Balor, another king of the Fomorians.

The Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh

The Fomorians managed to oppress the Tuatha Dé Danann. They made the once noble kings perform menial work. Then, Nuada was visited by Lug and, after being impressed by his talents, he granted him the command of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

A battle commenced and Nuda was killed by Balor of the Fomorians. Lug, who happens to be Balor’s grandson, killed the King which gave the Tuatha Dé Danann the upper hand.

The battle was one and the Tuatha Dé Danann were no longer oppressed. Soon after, the tyrant Bres was found. Although many of the gods called for his death, his life was spared.

He was forced to teach the Tuatha Dé Danann how to plough and sow the land. The battle ended when Dagda’s harp was rescued from the remaining Fomorians as they retreated.

The Milesians and the Third Battle

Another battle was fought between Tuatha Dé Danann and a group of invaders known as the Milesians, who came from what is now Northern Portugal.

When they arrived, they were met by three goddesses of the Tuatha Dé Danann (Ériu, Banba and Fodla). The trio requested that Ireland be named after them.

Interestingly enough, the name Éire comes from the ancient name Ériu. The three husbands of Ériu, Banba and Fodla were kings of Tuatha Dé Danann.

Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine asked that there be a truce for three days. The Milesians accepted and they anchored themselves nine waves’ away from Ireland’s shore.

The Tuatha Dé Danann used magic to create a ferocious storm in an attempt to drive the Milesians away from Ireland. However, the Milesians weathered the storm after one of their men, a poet named Amergin, used a magical verse to calm the wild sea.

The Milesians then made their way onto Irish soil and conquered the Tuatha Dé Danann.

The Sidhe and the God of the Sea

The two groups agreed that they would rule different parts of Ireland – the Milesians would rule the Ireland that lay above ground while the Tuatha Dé Danann would rule Ireland below.

The Tuatha Dé Danann were led to the underworld of Ireland by the god of the sea, Manannán. Manannán shielded the defeated Tuatha Dé Danann from the eyes of the people of Ireland.

They were surrounded by a great mist and, over time, they became known as fairies or Ireland’s fairy-folk.

Tuatha dé Danann Symbols

Since writing a guide to Celtic symbols many years ago, we’ve had countless emails requesting information on the Tuatha dé Danann Symbols.

Whenever we get one of these emails, I tend to point people towards the Four Treasures of Tuatha dé Danann, as they are arguably the most appropriate symbols associated with the group. Those symbols are:

  • Dagda’s Cauldron
  • The Spear of Lugh
  • The Stone of Fal
  • The Sword of Light

Fancy discovering more stories and legends from Ireland’s past? Hop into our guide to the creepiest stories from Irish folklore or our guide to the most popular Irish myths.

Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

1 COMMENT

  1. Great. very good job of dissemination and preservation of the cultural legacy. The Milesians were the inhabitants of Miletus, an ancient Greek city in Anatolia, modern-day Turkey.

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