Tuatha De Danann And Milesians

THE annalistic account of the conquest of the Tnatha.De Danann by the Milesians cannot conceal the divinity of the former nor the persistence of the belief in Drnidic magic and supernatural power. M. d'Arbois has shown that the scheme which makes the Tuatha-De Danann masters of_Lre-landior one hundred and .sixty-nine years untiLlheJMiksians came is^ the invention of Gilla Coemain, who died in 1072. The Bmk-of Invasions adopted it, and it assumes that the gods reigned in succession as kings until 1700 b. c. Even in Gilla Coemain's time, however, this scheme was not always accepted, for Tigernach in his Annals knows no historic Irish date before 305 b. c., while current tales showed that the gods were still alive at a much later date, e. g. in the time of Conehobar and Cnrhujainri^alleged IrisiL-Contemporaries.of Christ.1

When the MiWLanR arrivpHj three.Kings nf thp Tnatha Dp Danana-ruled — MacCuill ("Sqiljd£ theJHazel"), MacCecht ("SoiLof. the Plough"), andJMacGreine ("Soruof the Sun"), married respectively to Banba, Fotla, andJEriii, whose names are ancient names of Ireland, the last still surviving as "Erin." Were these old eponymous goddesses, from whom parts of Ireland were supposed to have taken their names, or were they inventions of the annalists, derived from titles given to the country? The former is suggested by an incident in the story. The three Kings may have been gods of nature and agriculture, and in fighting the^Milcsians they were respectively slain by Ebex^Airem ("Ploughman"), and Amairgen,-smget-of-spells and giver of judgements. The^^aaians were descendants of a

Si^^jiajl.noble expelled from Egypt, who came tOu&paiivwhere his descend^nt-BregQn built a tower and was fatlieiLDr grandfather of j^Qk, whose iath.er.ls sometimes calledJSile. Another son, Ith, gazing one. evening from the. tower, saw the coast of Ireland., With ninety, followers he sailed thither and was wel-comedJay-theJLings, who_beggecLJiim to_s£lile_a_dispute. Very different was his fate from that of folk-tale heroes called in to adjust quarrels. While bidding the Kings act according to justice, he so praised the fertility of the land that they suspected him of designs upon it and slew him. His followers carried his body tojSpain^and the chiefs of the Milesians, resolving to avenge him, sailed.to Ireland, but the_T.uatha De Danann made a magic mist, so that the island appeared like a hog's back — hence its name Muic-Inis, or "Pig Island." At last they landed, and the poet Amairgen, son of Mile, sang: —

"I am a wind at sea, I am a wave of the sea, I am a roaring of the sea, I am an ox in strength, I am a bird of prey on a cliff, I am a ray of the sun, I am an intelligent navigator, I am a boar of fierceness, I am a lake on a plain, I am an effective artist,

I am a giant with a sharp sword hewing down an army," etc.2

Some see in this a species of Celtic pantheism, but if so it is pantheism of a curious kind, for it is, rather, the vain-glorious bombast of the Celt, to which there are parallels in Welsh poems, where Taliesin speaks of the successive forms which he has assumed. The comparison should not be made with the pantheism of the Irishman Erigena, but with the bragging utterances of savage medicine-men.

The Milesians met in succession Banba, Fotla, and Eriu, each of whom asked that they would call the isle after her name. The Kings then begged an armistice, ostensibly to dis-

cuss the question of battle or capitulation, but really in order to give their firnid.s time to prepare incantations^ while they agreed to accept the judgement of Amairgen, save that, if it were false, he must die. Amairgen then told the Milesians that they must embark for the magic distance of nine waves; and if they succeeded in returning, the land would be theirs. This was the first judgement ever given in Ireland. The Milesians now returned to their ships, but no sooner had they gained the desired distance than the Driu'ds^nd poets of the gods raised a storm. Eber recognized it as a Druidic storm, which did not rage beyond the top of the masts; and Amairgen now invoked the aid of the natural features of Erin — an archaic animistic rune, embedded in the later story, and one which preserves a primitive stage of thought:

"I invoke thee, Erin, Brilliant, brilliant sea, Fertile, fertile hill, Wood with valleys, Flowing, flowing stream," etc.

Now the storm ceased, and Eber joyfully boasted that he would strike the people of Erin with spear and sword; but that moment the tempest burst forth again, scattering and wrecking the ships, and drowning many. The survivors landed at the B©^fte_and gave battle to the Tuatha Danann. The three queens are said to have created a magic army which was a delusion to the Milesians,3 as Lug's witches had done to the Fomorians; but in spite of this the Tuatha De Danann were defeated.

"We boldly gave battle To the sprites (siabhra) of the isle of Banba, Of which ten hundred fell together By us, of the Tuatha De Danann."

At another conflict a further rout took place, in which the three Kings and Queens were slain; and it was now thaj^the survivors of the Tiiatlig Pannnn took refuge in the underground sid, the M i 1 n.si n ns jemaining_master^of Irela nd.4

On whatever this account is based, it is not itself an ancient pagan myth, for gods worshipped by men are not defeated by them or by their supposititious ancestors. By the annalists, real races, imaginary races, and divine groups were regarded more or less from one standpoint; all were human and might be made to fight each other. Next came the question — How were the old gods abandoned, and why had they been, or were even now, supposed popularly to live in the sid? It was known that the Christianized tribes had forsaken the gods, though these had come to be regarded by them as a kind of fairy race living out of sight, to whom in time of need and sub rosa they might appeal. Obviously, then, Christianity must have caused their defeat. To this idea we may trace one source of the account just summarized. It is, in effect, what is said in the Colloquy with the Ancients (Acallamh na Senorach), in which, regardless of the annalistic scheme, the gods are powerful long after their supposed defeat. Caoilte, survivor of the Feinn into the days of St. Patrick, says that soon the ^iiatha De=Daaann will be reduced in power, for the saint "will relegate them to the foreheads of hills and rocks, unless that now and again thou see some poor one of them appear as transiently he revisits the earth," i. e. the haunts of men.5 Hence, perhaps, the Colloquy elsewhere represents them as possessing not so much land as will support themselves.6 In St. Patrick's Life this victory is dramatically represented. He went to Mag Slecht, where stood an image of Cenn Cruaich ("Head of the Mound"), covered with gold and silver, and twelve others covered with bronze. The chief image bowed downward when he raised his crozier, and the earth swallowed the others, while their indwelling demons, cursed by the saint, fled to the hill.

Why, then, was the defeat ascribed to the Milesians? Of the different hostile Celtic groups dwelling in different parts of Ireland, two at last became pre-eminent shortly before St. Patrick's time, governed by great dynastic families and reigning respectively at Cashel andJTara. It was for their aggran-

dizement that the legend of descent from Mile and his ancestors was invented; but as the .gods had come to be^regarded as a powerful race who had conquered earlier .races in Ireland, so iljpecame necessary to-show that ..the3/r.i1esiaiis_had overcome them. This pushecLthe_Milesians back to remote antiquity and showed that they had been masters nf Ireland sinre 1700 r.c., while the-Tuatha-De Danann, whose poffienjiad passed.at the coming-of Christianity, were now alleged to have been conquered by them. Thus the central theory of those mediaeval reconstructors of Irish history was "that Ireland had -been subjected to the .Milesian_race_for ages before the Christian era." Laterr_the_Ulster heroes were brought_.into relationshipLwith Mile, as at last were allthe-Irish aristocracy.7 V[ile__ (LfltiTi miles, " soldigr") and Bile arejnen -oi_straw withjio. placein the older-mythology, and hence the attempts of Rhys and -d!Arbois to equate Bile with Balor and with a Celtic Dispater, as god of death and ancestor_of_the_Celts, are nothing-but modern mythologizing. The account of the conquest doubtless made use of earlier conceptions of supernatural power and magic, while still apt to consider the Tuatha De Danann as somehow different from men (siabhra, "sprites"), this being the popular view and also current in literary tales embodying older myths. The gods were a superhuman race, the side, helping men on occasion; and this influenced the official view, for euhemeristic documents tell how, after their «— defeat, the ^natha^De Danann retired—to-subterranean pal-acesy-emcrging now apxlthen to help or to harmmortals. Even the Milesians were not yet free of their power, especially that of Dagda. Their corn and milk were being destroyed by the TuAtha^JDe.Danann, and to prevent this in future they made friends with Dagda, so that now these things were spared to them.8 This story seems to be the late form of the earlier mythic idea that corn and milk depend on the gods, who, when offended by men, withhold these gifts. They were also obtained by sacrifice, e. g. by offerings of children and animal firstlings to Cenn Cruaich;9 and elsewhere we find that the Fomorians exacted two-thirds of their corn and milk annually from the Nemedians.10 Perhaps there is here a mingling of the idea of destruction by gods of blight with that of the withholding of such gifts and with that of the offering of these things. A survival of such sacrifices occurs in the food and milk left out for the fairies in Ireland and in the West Highlands.

The functions of some of the divinities as controllers of fertility are suggested by references of this character, as well as by the symbols on Gaulish monuments; and some folk-lore collected by Mr. D. Fitzgerald in Limerick shows how the memory of these functions vaguely persisted under a romantic dress. Cnoc Aine (Knockainy, or "Aine's Hill") has always been considered the dwelling of Aine, queen of the fairies of South Munster and daughter of Eogabal, of the Tuatha De Danann. Aine, "the best-hearted woman that ever lived," is still seen in Loch Guirr or on Cnoc Aine. She married Lord Desmond after he had captured her — the usual fairy bride incident — and bore him a son. Both she and the son left him, but appeared from time to time afterward, the son becoming Earl of Desmond in due course. Once he spoke to his mother about the barrenness of the hill, and next morning it was planted with pease set by her at night — a significant hint of her functions. Remnants of the agricultural ritual survived into last century in the form of a procession round the hill on St. John's Eve with clears — bunches of straw tied on poles and lit, these being afterward carried through fields and cattle to bring luck to both. One year this was neglected, but a mysterious procession, with clears, headed by Aine, was seen on the hill. On another occasion girls who had remained after the usual procession had gone met Aine, who thanked them for the honour done to her but begged them to depart as "they wanted the hill to themselves," " they" being Aine's retinue, seen by the girls through a ring which she produced.11 Aine was thus obviously associated with fertility-rites.

It now remains to be seen how, according to the annalistic account, after their defeat and retirement to the hollow hills or sid, the gods divided these among themselves, while at the same time one of their number acted as king.

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Responses

  • Bonnie
    Is aine tuatha de danann?
    6 years ago
  • joann
    How did the milesians defeat the tuatha de danann?
    7 months ago
  • Cameron
    Who did the milesians worship?
    1 day ago

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