Lugodoc's Guide To Celtic Mythology: The Irish Mythological Cycle

In the beginning...

The Coming of Partholan into Ireland

Partholan son of Sera came into ancient Ireland from The West with his queen Dealgnaid (Dalny), son Rury and brother Starn. Partholan fought the demonic Fomorians and drove them North to Tory Island off Donegal, but then all his people died of plague on The Old Plain (Senmag). Except for Starn's son Tuan who lived alone for 22 years until he saw...

The Coming of Nemed into Ireland

Nemed, son of Agnomon (who was Starn's brother) arrived. Tuan, watching from the cliffs, turned into a stag. Nemed had sailed for a year and a half in 32 30-man barks, but of the original 960 emigrants only nine survived (Nemed and four men and four women). They bred verry fast and Nemed defeated the Fomor in four great battles, then he and 2,000 Nemedians died of plague.

The Fomorian kings Morc and Conann oppressed the survivors who revolted led by chief Fergus and two others, invaded Tory Island, and stormed Conann's tower. Fergus killed Conann but Morc charged in and killed all the Nemedians but 30 who left Ireland in despair. (Or they bred up to 8060 then all died of plague). (Or returned later as Firbolgs and/or Danaans). Tuan turned into a wild boar and saw...

The Coming of the Firbolgs into Ireland

The Firbolgs arrived in three groups; Fir-Bolg, Fir-Domnan and Galioin. Their kings included Semion Mac Stariat and Eochy (yoo-hee) Mac Erc, who married Taltiu, daughter of the King of the Great Plain (the land of the dead). They didn't do much. Tuan turned into a sea eagle and saw...

The Invasion of the Tuatha De Danaan

The Danaans flew into Western Connacht in magic boats from four great cities; Falias, Gorias, Finias and Murias: with four great treasures;

  • the Lia Fail (the Stone of Destiny)
  • the sword of Nuada
  • the spear of Lugh of the Long-Arm
  • the cauldron of the Dagda (the good god)

The Firbolgs met them at their camp at Moyrein, and sent Streng to interview the Danaan Bres. Bres offered to split Ireland 50/50, but the Firbolg preferred...

The First Battle of Moytura

...(near Cong, south Co Mayo) at which Bres died, the Danaan King Nuada lost a hand and the Firbolg King Eochy was slain, and the Danaans won with magic. The Firbolgs were allowed to keep Connacht.

Nuada of the Silver Hand

Nuada got a silver hand, but was blemished and could no longer rule, so (another) Bres the Bastard became king, and was a useless, mean git, allowing Fomor tax and oppression. Corpry the poet satyrised him and he was forced to abdicate, and Nuada took over again, having had his real hand magically replaced by his physician Dianecht (or his son). Bres ran off to his mum Eri who told him his dad was the Fomorian King Elatha, gave him his father's ring, and they both sailed off to Tory Island. Elatha gives his son Bres an army to conquer Ireland, led by the greatest Fomorian Old King Balor of the Evil Eye.

Lugh's Birth

Now in his youth Balor had heard prophesy that he would be slain by his grandson, so he locked up his infant daughter Ethlinn in a tower on Tor Mor, guarded from all men by 12 matrons. He also covetted the magical milky cow of Kian, who lived on the mainland with his brothers Sawan and Goban the smith, so while Sawan was guarding it one day Balor tricked him and stole it. In revenge Kian got a druidess called Birog to magically get him into Ethlinn's tower, shagged her and escaped before she delivered triplets. Balor ordered them drowned, but the servant accidentally dropped one on the way to the bay and it was magically rescued by Birog and raised by his dad Kian and then later Duach of The Otherworld and became Lugh. He entered Nuada's service by being a clever dick, and with Duach's gifts of the boat and horse of Mananan Mac Lir and the sword Fragarach, which he soon used to slay Fomorian tax collectors.

The Sons of Turenn

While Balor was preparing to invade Lugh sent his dad Kian North to enlist the Ulster Danaans, but because of a feud he was ambushed and stoned to death on the Plain of Murthemney near Dundalk by the three sons of Turenn; Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba. The stones cried out to Lugh and at Nuada's seat at Tara instead of execution he demanded an eric (bloodmoney). The sons of Turenn were honour bound to pay him:

  • three apples (from the garden of the sun)
  • a pig skin (from the King of Greece: it heals)
  • a spear (from the King of Persia)
  • a two horse chariot
  • seven swine (from King Asal of the Golden Pillars: they regenerate after consumption)
  • a hound
  • a cooking spit (from the 150 sea-nymphs of Finchory: gold)
  • ...and three shouts on a hill (belonging to the noise-hating fierce warrior Mochaen and his sons)

The trio accomplished everything and brought the treasures to Lugh, but had been mortally wounded by the Mochaens. Lugh witheld the pigskin and they all died, and their old dad.

The Dagda's Travels

Meanwhile, the Dagda Mor had entered the Fomor camp where they failed to kill him by overfeeding. He left and on the road met the virgin daughter of the Fomor king Indech, who was so turned on by his huge cock that they shagged, and she offered to delay the Fomor invasion.

Thus armed with magic things and helpful crumpet Lugh set forth to meet his grandad Balor at...

The Second Battle of Moytura

...this time in Co Sligo, well North of the first one. The Danaan craftsmen Goban the Smith, Credne the artificer and Luchta the carpenter repaired the Danaan weapons as fast as they were broken. Balor opened his evil eye killing Nuada but Lugh threw a stone in it, killing him and fulfilling the prophesy. Lugh became Ildanach and the Fomor were routed and vanished (almost) forever, taking with them...

The Dagda's Harp

...and harper. The Dagda, Lugh and Ogma pursued them and sneaked into the banqueting hall, and the Dagda grabbed his harp and sent the Fomor to sleep with The Strain of Slumber.

Now the Danaans ruled Ireland for a while.

Tuan was still a sea eagle, and saw...

The Invasion of the Milesians

Somewhere, possibly Spain, Ith atop the tower of his dad Bregon saw Ireland, and set sail with 90 warriors. They arrived to find Ireland being divided up by three Danaan kings MacCuill, MacCecht and MacGrene and their wives Banba, Fohla and Eriu; their father King Neit having been just slain by Fomorians. The Danaans asked Ith to settle the inheritance, but they suspected he coveted their land and killed him. His companions returned his body to Spain or wherever, and his grandson Miled Mac Bile set sail with his own son Amergin the poet and 36 chiefs including Eber Donn, Eber Finn and Eremon, all bent on revenge.

They arrived at Tara, where Amergin sang a song, and the Danaans asked for 3 days to think it over, during which time the Milesians waited 9 waves out at sea, and the Danaans hit them with a magic storm, made especially effective by the anger of Eber Donn. Many ships sank including Donn's and the survivors landed up the Boyne.

The Danaans and Milesians fought at Telltown, and the three Danaan kings and queens were (somehow) slain. The Danaans retreated from human sight below the hollow hills and became The Sidhe in Tir Na Nog, The Land of the Young.

The Milesian Settlement of Ireland

Of the two surviving brothers Eber Finn and Eremon, Amergin elected the latter and elder as chief, but Eber Finn demanded partition and got the South. They went to war, Eremon won and ruled all Ireland from Tara.

Tiernmas and Crom Cruach

Five kings after Eremon was Tiernmas who introduced Crom Cruach worship on Moyslaught Plain. He was worshipping there on Samain when he and three quarters of his people were killed (after opening a gold mine and introducing colour coding).

Ollav Fola

13 kings later (about 1,000 BC again) Ollav (doctor) Fola introduced legislature, provincial chiefs and the great triennial festival of Tara, before being buried under the tumulus at Loughcrew, Westmeath,

Kimbay and the Founding of Emain Macha

In 300 BC an Ulster prince Red Hugh had two brothers Dithorba and Kimbay and a daughter Macha, and the three brothers agreed to rule Ireland in turn. But on Hugh's death Macha kept sovereignty by killing Dithorba and marrying Kimbay. Dithorba's five sons fled West pursued by Macha who captured them all single handed in a forest, then carried them North. There she drew the plans of a fortress with her brooch and forced them to build Emain Macha.

Laery and Covac

Ugainy the Great, king over Ireland and Western Europe, had a Gaulish queen Kesair and two sons, Laery and Covac. Laery inherited and Covac consulted a druid who told him to feign death; when Laery came to the funeral he stabbed him and his son Ailill to death and ascended the throne.

Maon

Ailill's son was Maon, whom Covac forced to eat a portion of his father's and grandfather's hearts, and a mouse family, thus striking him dumb, before letting him go. Maon visited Scoriath king of Feramorc in Munster and enamoured his daughter Moriath, then stayed with relatives in Gaul. Moriath sent her dad's harper Craftiny after him, and played such a passionate song that Maon got his speech back.

Maon returned to Ireland with a Gaulish army and killed Covac and all his nobles at Dinrigh, Maon was re-named Labra the Mariner and married Moriath, and the Gauls settled in Leinster (The Province of the Spearmen) which is named after them.

Labra's Barber

Labra had horse's ears, and therefore to keep the secret had his hair cut only once a year and the barber then executed. One year the lot fell on the son of a poor widow, who he spared, but the secret made the lad ill, so a druid told the lad to tell a tree. Craftiny carved a harp out of it, the harp spilled the beans in court, Labra came out of the closet and all was well.


There are three mythological tales ending later than the Historical Cycle in the Christian era...

The Children of Lir

Lir was the father of the sea god Mananan, and also fathered three boys, Conn, Fiachra and Hugh, and a girl, Fionuala, by a woman who died and whose sister, Aoife, he then married. Barren and jealous the stepmother took the four children to nearby Danaan king Bov the Red by Lake Derryvaragh, and when her attendants refused to kill them she cursed them to spend 900 years as talking, singing swans; 300 years each at lovely Lake Derryvaragh, then the cold and horrid Straits of Moyle between Ireland and Scotland and then the Atlantic shore at Co Mayo between Erris and Inishglory until such time as "a woman of the South is mated with a man of the North". Bov found out and turned Aoife into a demon of the air who flew off shrieking, but the four swans were doomed.

By the time of the last stretch at Mayo the Milesians had come, and they were befriended by a mortal called Evric who wrote it all down.

At the end they could not find their dad who had vanished below the hollow hills. Then they heard a church bell, and befriended an old Christian hermit. A Connacht chief from the North called Lairgnen nicked the singing swans for his betrothed princess Deoca of Munster in the South, and before her they turned into four 1000 year old humans, were baptised and died.

The Tale of Ethne

In the reign of Eremon, first Milesian king of all Ireland (1000 BC), Mananan mac Lir fostered yet another daughter to the Danaan prince Angus in his New Grange palace at Brugh na Boyna, and Angus' steward's daughter Ethne was allotted to be her handmaiden. Unfortunately she was ravished by a passing Chieftain, became the first Christian and stopped eating.

Centuries later when her mistress was bathing in the Boyne, Ethne lost her magic hanky and could not return to Tir Na Nog, finally dying on the breast of St Patrick.

And how do we know all of this ?

Tuan's End

After centuries as a keen-eyed sea eagle Tuan (remember him ?) turned into a salmon, was eaten by Chief Carell's wife and reborn as Tuan mac Carell (salmon = macarel: geddit?). He became chief and told everything to 6th century Abbot Finnen of Moville Monastery, Co Donegal, who wrote it down. And the rest is history.


Conary Mor

One great Milesian king was Conary Mor. These are his stories:

Etain's Curse

Under the hollow hills at Slieve Callary Midir, son of the Dagda, married Fuamnach and then the much fairer Etain. Out of jealousy Fuamnach turned Etain into a butterfly and raised a tempest to blow her all over Erin for seven years, until rescued by Angus. He made her a bower and magically transformed her back to her own form at night for shagging purposes for many years until discovered and blown off again by Fuamnach. This time she fell in the cup of the wife of Etar, an Ulster chief, was swallowed and reborn a mortal with the same name and amnesia.

Eochy and Etain

The wifeless High King of all Ireland Eochy married Etain in Tara.

Eochy's brother Ailill fell madly in love with her and became ill. While his brother was off on business they arranged a shag, but Ailill was magically anaesthetised at the last minute and Midir appeared in his shape to call it off. When the real Ailill awoke he was cured.

Midir's Return

Midir told Etain who she really was, that Fuamnach was dead and that now after 1,012 years she could come home to Tir Na Nog. Etain wanted Eochy's agreement, so Midir hustled Eochy at chess and won a snog with Etain, in a month. When the time came Midir overcame Eochy's defences and flew off with Etain to Slievenamon as a pair of swans.

Eochy's Assault on Tir Na Nog

After a year druid Dalan located Etain in the fairy mound of Bri-Leith, and Eochy dug it up for nine years. Trapped, Midir released her camouflaged by fifty identical handmaids, but Eochy identified her and took her home. She was his queen for ten years before dying a mortal and they had a daughter also called Etain (Jr or Oig).

Where does Conary Mor come into this? Well..

Messbuachalla

Etain Oig married Cormac King of Ulster and bore only a daughter which out of spite he had cast into a pit, but was rescued and fostered to a cowherd of Eterskel King of Tara. She grew up as Messbuachalla in a doorless roundhouse then was spotted by King Eterskel who decided to marry her according to a prophesy.

Birth of Conary Mor

A Danaan appeared to Messbuachalla before her release and shagged her, saying the resulting boy would be named Conary and must never hunt birds. He was fostered to Lord Desa and grew up with his grandsons Ferlee, Fergar and Ferrogan.

High King Conary

King Eterskel died; a druid held a bull-feast at Tara to divine the next king and saw a vision of a bollock-naked man walking toward Tara. Conary was returning from the Plains of Liffey where he had left his three foster brothers when he saw a flock of birds and persued them to the shore. He attempted to sling them but they turned into warriors and one introduced himself as Nemglan, master of his father's birds. He gave Conary a full geis list including:

  • no bird hunting
  • no settling of arguments between serfs
  • no walking right-handwise round Tara or left-handwise round Bregia
  • no evil-beasts of Cern hunting
  • no being beyond Tara every ninth night
  • no sleeping in a house where the firelight shines out after sunset
  • no three reds to go before him to the house of Red
  • and no rape and pillage

He then told him to strip off and walk to Tara, which he did and was crowned King of Erin, and ruled wisely.

Conary's Brothers

Conary's three foster brothers loved rape and pillage, and he was forced to banish them overseas, where they met the exiled pirate son of the King of Britain, Ingcel One-Eyed. Together they invaded Britain and killed Ingcel's entire family in one night. They then gathered together more outlaws including the seven Manes (sons of Ailell and Maev of Connacht) and invaded Ireland at Howth near Dublin.

Meanwhile Conary had settled a quarrel between two serfs in Munster, and returning to Tara (probably on a ninth night) saw fires (fairy illusions) which he believed signified an invading host from the North, and avoided them by turning right-handwise round Tara and then left-handwise round Bregia, past which he accidentally hunted the evil beasts of Cerna.

Da Derga's Hostel

Knackered, Conary decided to rest for the night at the Leinster Lord Da Derga's Hostel in Donnybrook near Dublin. Three red fairys got there first, and "Derga" means "red". Conary realised he was stitched up a treat.

Ingcel's pirate host appoached and heard mac Cecht striking a fire, and saw the fire light shining out the door, so with one stone each they built a quick cairn to celebrate and keep track of casualties.

The Morrigan turned up on her own predicting doom, and persuaded Conary to let her in.

Ingcel peeped through the door and counted Conary's impressive and bizarre host, including his three sons and steward, Cormac (son of Conchobor, King of Ulster),Fomor hostages, Picts, mac Cecht, Conall of the Victories, Duftach of Ulster and his magic spear, Isle of Man giants, and three naked bleeding bodies hanging from the rafters (Bav/Morrigan's daughters: an omen). Ferrogan felt remorse for Conary's sons.

Ingcel and the sons of Desa attacked and were driven off, but all the liquids in the house were spilled extinguishing fires, the pirates' wizards had stopped the river Dodder from flowing through the house and Conary had developed a thirst.

The Death of Conary

Mac Cecht ran off with Conary's golden cup looking for water while the heroes slew pirates left and right, but Conary died of thirst and Conall, Sencha and Duftach escaped, horribly wounded. Meanwhile mac Cecht found every source of water in Ireland magically dried up, except Loch Gara in Roscommon which wasn't quick enough. He returned to the hostel just in time to kill two reavers chopping the head off Conary's corpse, gave the head the water anyway, and it said thankyou.

An old woman found a knackered mac Cecht and pulled a hairy wolf out of his wound.

Conall's Return

Conall of the Victories returned to his father Amorgin at Teltin, and was ticked off for being alive when his lord Conary was dead. Conall pointed to thrice fifty spear wounds in his shield arm, and his unspeakably mangled sword arm, so Amorgin let him off.

Thus was Midir's subtle vengeance worked out on the great-grandson of his foeman Eochy.

Was all that really mythological ? Some of the characters in the Conary Mor stories, such as Cormac son of Conchobor, King of Ulster and Conall of the Victories are also major characters in The Ulster Cycle

 


Lugodoc's Guide to Celtic Mythology
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