HE CLEAREST ACCOUNT OF THE ORIGINS of the Celtic faerie folk comes from the tale of their arrival in Ireland in probably the oldest collection of Irish legends called the Book of Invasions, found in the twelfth century Book of Leinster and other medieval collections, though mostly based on much earlier documents probably dating back to the eighth or ninth centuries.
This book tells how a race of more than human talents, gods in fact, came and took possession of the island from its previous inhabitants. There are echoes of similar tales and similar gods in other Celtic lands so the likelihood is that they shared similar legends localised to their own countries. The Irish version simply happens to be the one that has best survived into the present.
In the Book of Invasions we hear how the Tuatha landed on a mountain in Connaught in the west of Ireland one First of May (Beltaine) amid dark clouds that hid their arrival from the current inhabitants, the Fir Bolg. The Tuatha are described in this account as ‘the most handsome and delightful company, the fairest of form, the most distinguished in their equipment and apparel, and their skill in music and playing; the most gifted in mind and temperament that ever came to Ireland . . . The Tuatha De excelled all the peoples of the world in their proficiency in every art.’
In the twelfth century Book of the Dun Cow the scribe notes that scholars could not say for certain where the Tuatha had come from but that it seemed ‘likely to them that they came from heaven on account of their intelligence and for the excellence of their knowledge’. This opinion probably encouraged the common belief into modern times that they were fallen angels who were not quite bad enough to be consigned to hell; or else that they were angels who happened to have been stranded on the outside when the gates of heaven were slammed shut against Satan and his rebels, so had settled on earth.
An old rationalisation of the account of their arrival is that they did not in fact come in flying ships amid magical storms but that when the Tuatha landed on the coast in quite ordinary galleys, they then set fire to them in order to destroy the possibility of retreat; and it was under cover of this burning cloud that they marched inland and surprised the natives by appearing suddenly in their midst.
But whatever their ultimate origins and the manner of their coming, in the legends the Tuatha are described as having immediately come ‘from the north’, from four great cities – Falias, Gorias, Finias and Murias – where they had learned their arts and from which they had brought four great treasures which were later to shape the legendary history of both Ireland and Britain. These were the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fail) from Falias, the irresistible Sword of Nuada from Gorias, the Spear of Victory from Finias and a magic Cauldron from Murias, from which no company ever left unsatisfied no matter how much they ate. This later became famous as the Cauldron of the Daghda.
Before entering the tale of the Tuatha’s arrival in Ireland, let’s consider a few of the dominant characters in the drama.
The Daghda, also known as ‘the Good God’ (because he was good at everything he did, rather than that he was especially benevolent), ‘All-Father’ or ‘Red Man of All Knowledge’, was sometime ruler of the Tuatha, a master of magic, a skilled craftsman and a fierce warrior. Like Bel before him he was the god of agriculture and husbandry, and also of treaties. Because of his enormous appetites he is often portrayed in an affectionately comical light, but this did nothing to diminish the love and respect he inspired. The son of Dana and Bel, he was the father of Brigid and Angus Og among many others, because among his other appetites he was rampantly sexual, and despite his unpromising appearance was rarely short of willing partners.
The Daghda’s chief treasures were his cauldron which produced an inexhaustible supply of food, a golden harp with which he could conjure any mood and even command the weather, and an enormous club with one end of which he could kill nine enemies with a single blow, and with the other restore them to life. He also had two magical pigs which took turns to be roasted one day and restored to life the next.
Unlike most of the other Tuatha, the Daghda was not tall, graceful and beautiful. In the early accounts of the Second Battle of Moytura (Mag Tuired) he is described as a scruffy, ugly buffoon: ‘his belly was the size of a house cauldron. He had a cape to the hollows of his elbows and a grey-brown tunic around him to the swelling of his rump. He trailed behind him a wheeled eating fork which was the work of eight men to move. His long penis was uncovered. He had two shoes of horsehide with the hair outside’.
Continued in the published book . . .