The Mythological Cycle
• Today we will continue out investigation
into the early Irish deities focusing today
• The Lebor Gabala Érenn
• And next time The Wooing of Etain.
Lebor Gabala: The Book of
• Compiled in the 12th century.
• The five volumes of the LG appear to have
grown over several centuries. Perhaps
started c 9th century.
• The compilers created a history of early
Ireland based on a succession of different
invasions of the island.
The Invasions…
Fir Bolg (Belgae?)-dispersed to the west
and isles.
• Tuatha Dé Danann
• The Milesians (The Sons of Mil, the Gaels)
The two Battles of Moytura
• The first battle concerns the Fir Bolg and
the Tuatha Dé Danann and how the
former were defeated and dispersed in the
west of Ireland and in the isles.
• The Second Battle is of much greater
importance in Irish Mythology and brings
in all the Tutha Dé Danann and the god
Lug for the first time.
Lebor Gabala: The Book of
• The narratives are also influenced by
Biblical learning about the Old Testament.
• The narrative as a whole sets the scene
for the first of the major cycles of Irish
writing: The Mythological Cycle.
• The key-text is Cath Maige Tuired (The
Battle of Mag Tuired/Moytura.
Lebor Gabala: The Book of
• A detailed outline of the various invasions
as well as the two Battles of Moytura in
Myths and Legends of the Celts (James
MacKillop) pp127-149.
• All of the members of the Tuatha Dé
Danann play a role in the narratives about
these two mythological battles.
Lebor Gabala: The Book of
• In particular we hear about Lug Lámfhota,
a major deitiy of the Irish, and of the British
and European Celts of the Iron-Age (preRoman).
Lug Lámfhota
In Old Irish – Lug:
• Light
• Brightness
• Long-armed
• Long-handed
Lug Lámfota
• Chief of the Tuatha Dé Danann
• Hero of the Mythological Cycle
• One of the three great heroes in Irish
tradition along with Fionn mac Cumhaill
and Cú Chulainn
• The supernatural father of Cú Chulainn
(Ulster Cycle)
Lug Lámfota
• Lámfhota (long-armed) because he has
the ability to hurl a weapon or use a sling
over long distances
• Sometimes caled Samildánach meaning
that he possesses arts, crafts and trades
• Much of his story is told in the Cath Maige
Tuired (The Second Battle of Mag Tuired
Lug Lámfhota
• His Welsh (ie Celtic British) counterpart is
Lleu Llaw Gyffes meaning light of the
sure/steady hand
• Lug shares a divine origin with Fionn and
Cú Chulainn, and is sometimes seen as
the alter-ego of CC.
• Gaulish counterpart is Mercury described,
like Lug, as being a master of all the arts
Lug Lámfhota
• Mercury also known as Lugos/Lugus
• In place name lore (dindsheanchas),
lugos/Lugus gives his name to Leiden,
Lyon, Liegnitz
• The Roman Emperor Augustus
inaugurated a festival on the first of August
in Lyon, a forerunner of the Irish August
festival, Lughnasa
Lug Lámfhota
• Similar in being long-armed to the Indian
god, Savitar, “of the wide hand.”
• Linked with the Indian Varuna and the
Norse Odin for their use of magic
Lug Lámfhota
Conception & Birth:
His grandfather, Balor of the Formorians,
was told he would be killed by his grandson
so he tried to keep his daughter,Eithne,away
from men.
Cian, the son of Dian Cécht, (a leading
figure of the TDD, the healing god) seduces
Eithne and she conceives triplets.
Lug Lámfhota
Conception & Birth:
Two of the triplets were either drowned or
turned into seals, leaving Lug as the only
surviving baby
Fostered by the sea-god Manannán mac Lir
(son of the sea)
Lug Lámfhota
Training of sons and daughters by a
powerful patron that is not a family member.
This practice survived in Gaelic Scotland
until the 18th century. Children were fostered
at the age of 7 until the age of 14 for girls
and 17 for boys
• In a famous scene from Irish mythology,
Lugh arrives at the gates of Tara with a
retinue of fellow warriors.
• In a typical scene, they are questioned by
the doorkeepers (Camel and Gamel).
• Lug is required to say who he is and who
his kin are (in Celtic fashion).
Cath Maige Tuired
• He recites his lineage (presumably
revealing he is Balor’s grandson!) and who
his fosterers are. He asks if the king
(Nuadu) needs a
• In each case he is given the answer that
the king already has one in his court.
Cath Maige Tuired: Lug
• Lug’s final challenge is to ask whether the king
has someone who possesses all these abilities
• The doorkeeper announces at one
‘samindánach’ (master of all arts) is at the door,
and has come to help Nuadu’s people. (Caesar:
omnium inventorem artium); Welsh tradition:
Lleu is of the skillful hand).
• To prove his point Lug, Lug defeats all comers at
the Celtic chess game known as fidchell, plays a
magical harp..
Lug Lámfhota
• Described as youthful, handsome and
• To gain admittance to Tara, Lug describes
himself as a builder, smith, champion,
harper, warrior, poet, historian magician,
physician, cup-bearer, craftsman in metal
• The King, Nuadu, therefore gives his
throne to Lug
Lug Lámfhota
Lug is credited with inventing fidchell,
(something like chess), considered to be the
board game of Kings.
He is also believed to have brought horse
racing to Ireland.
His constant companion is his lapdog, Failinis who
shines like the sun on a summer day and before
whom every wild beast falls to the earth powerless
Lug Lámfhota
Early Celtic Christians associated Lug with
the archangel, Michael, for his victory over
the Formorians.
The archangel, Michael, was the captain of
the heavenly army that defeated Lucifer.
The Two Battles of Maige Tuired
► Attributed
to a flat expanse of land near the
west shore of Lough Arrow in County Sligo
► A second expanse of flat land, still called the
Plain of Moytura lies in southern County
► If the place name is translated as the Plain
of Pillars then archaeological evidence
favours the SLigo site where an upright
stone column once stood
The Two Battles of Maige Tuired
► The
First battle of Maige Tuired look place
at Beltaine (May 1st, first day of summer)
► The Second took place at Samhain
(November 1st, first day of Celtic year)
► Text found in the Lebor Gabála (12th
century text)
The First Battle of Maige Tuired
► The
First Battle of Maige Tuired is the
invasion of Ireland by the Tuatha Dé
Danann when they defeated the Fir Bolg
► Nuadu, King of the TDD, loses his arm in
the battle. The healing god, Dian Cécht,
makes him a new arm of silver
► With only one arm, Nuadu is blemished, and
no longer fit to be king, so the kingship
goes to Bres
Cath Maige Tuired
The (Second) Battle of Moytura
The Second Battle of Maige Tuired
► The
second battle is between the now
dominant TDD and the resurgent Fomorians
► The two principal combatants are Lug of the
TDD and Balor of the Fomorians
The Second Battle of Maige Tuired
► King
Bres’ father, although raised with the
TDD, was a Fomorian
► Bres is oppressive and lets the country fall
under the sway of the Fomorians
► Bres is ungenerous and treats other gods
(like the Dagda) poorly
► At the request of the TDD leaders, Bres
gives up his kingship but musters a
Fomorian army to support him
The Second Battle of Maige Tuired
► Nuadu
is reinstated as King
► Then Lug arrives at the gates of Tara
possessing his many arts
► Nuadu relinquishes his throne so that Lug
can lead the TDD in battle
► Under Lug’s direction, the craftsmen at Tara
fashion wondrous weapons and sorcerers
practise magic to use in battle
The Second Battle of Maige Tuired
► All
of the Tuatha De Danann are conscripted
into Lug’s army to withstand the Fomorians.
► The craftsmen: Goibniu, Dian Cécht, Luchta,
Ogma, Credne, as well as
► The Morrigan, Cairpre (the satirist), druids
► The Dagda (he is wounded by Caitlin, wife
of Balor).
► Lug fights as a sorcerer
The Second Battle of Maige Tuired
► When
the battle is enjoined, the TDD have
an advantage with Dian Cécht (the healing
god) who raises the war dead to life
► Lug also gives the TDD an advantage by
using his powers of magic and sorcery
The Second Battle of Maige Tuired
► Balor,
the leader of the Fomorians is a
formidable enemy
► His baleful gaze can destroy an army
► Sometimes known as Balor of the Baleful
► His eyelid is so mighty that it takes four
men to lift it (note comparison with
Ysbaddaden in Culhwch & Olwen)
The Second Battle of Maige Tuired
► Lug
puts a sling-shot stone through Balor’s
eye which crashes through his head and
exits at the back of his skull, killing 27
Fomorians in the process
► The Fomorians are expelled from Ireland
The Second Battle of Maige Tuired
► Bres
is captured and tries to win favour by
promising the TDD cattle will always have
milk and that they will always have good
► The TDD reject Bres’ offer but spare his life
for giving good advice on the right times to
plough, sow and reap
The Second Battle of Maige Tuired
► The
Mórrígan announces the end of the
battle, and
► Badb,
the war goddess makes a prophecy of
the end of the world
The significance of the battle
► Georges
Dumézil and the Rees brothers (Alwyn
and Brinley).
► A primeval battle between the gods and their
adversaries occurs in other mythologies, and there
are striking similarities between the stories told of
these conflicts by the ancient Indians,
Scandinavians and Greeks, and other peoples
whose languages are derived from Indo-European.
The significance of the battle
► In
northern Indian tradition the battle is fought
between two Indian groups the Devas (the ‘gods’)
and the Asuras. It has been stated that this is the
basic theme of Vedic tradition.
► The Asuras were malevolent beings (cf the
Fomorians). In that same tradition both the Asuras
and the Devas are kinsmen (note the mixed
background of both Lug and Bres).
The significance of the battle
► In
Scandinavian tradition (mainly recorded
in medieval Iceland), the disstinction is
made between two races of deities: the
Vanir and the Aesir who also engage in a
mythic battle. (the Edda of Snorri
The significance of the battle
► An
early theory about the significance of the
battle emphasized the episode where Lug
kills Balor and saw in this the displacement
of an older deity by a younger one in some
undatable period in pre-Christian Ireland.
The significance of the battle
► Certainly,
the Second Battle seems to have
been interpolated (inserted) into the longer
narratives about the various conquests of
Irleland, but that it was a text which was of
enormous importance in early medieval Irish
culture (and perhaps earlier).
The Fomorians (Fomhoire)
► The
Fomorians appear prominently in the
action of the Second Battle of Moytura.
► They are portrayed as malevolent beings,
monstrous and fearsome.
► Each are described as having one eye, one
arm and one leg, although later in the BII
material they seem more completely
The Fomorians (Fomhoiri)
► The
Fomorians do not appear as settlers of
Ireland (in the context of the LG), but
rather make raids on the mainland from the
sea and their fortress on Tory Island (off Co
Donegal, NW Ireland).
The Fomorians (Fomhoiri)
Scolars today tend to see the Fomorians as ‘euhemerized’
sea-deities, pre-Christian in origin but which came to be
seen later as demonic humans.
Etymologically the name means ‘under the sea’.
Individual Fomorians are particularly loathsome, especially
Balor of the Baleful Eye.
His gaze is lethal: he never opens his one eye except on
the battle-field, where four men are needed to lift his
Any individual or army looking at the eye are made
Cath Maige Tuired
► The
story of the second battle of Moytirra
can be reduced to two basic levels of plot:
 The struggle between two supernatural races
on the one hand (the Tuatha De Danann and
the Fomorians)
 The killing of a tyrant by his prophesied
grandson on the other. (This is the myth of
The arrival of the Sons of Mil
► This
was the last invasion in the Lebor Gabala.
The LG suggests that they arrived in Ireland via
Spain. They defeat the Tuatha Dé Danann but
neither the LB nor the Second Battle of Moytura
text explain what happened to them.
► For this we have to turn to the text of Mesca Ulad
(The Intoxication of the Ulstermen) p190. (Early
Irish Myths and Sagas).
Next Week
Text: Early Irish Myths and Sagas
September 29
The Wooing of Etain, P. 37-59
October 1
The Dream of Oengus, P. 107-112
The Labour Pains of the Ulaid and The Twins of
Macha, P. 127-129

CLT 2130 Website - University of Ottawa