Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

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78 mac Erc, took in marriage Taltiu, or Telta, daughter of the King of the “Great Plain” (the Land of the Dead). Telta had a palace at the place now called after her, Telltown (properly Teltin). There she died, and there, even in mediæval Ireland, a great annual assembly or fair was held in her honour.

The Coming of the People of Dana

We now come to by far the most interesting and important of the mythical invaders and colonisers of Ireland, the People of Dana. The name, Tuatha De Danann, means literally “the folk of the god whose mother is Dana.” Dana also sometimes bears another name, that of Brigit, a goddess held in much honour by pagan Ireland, whose attributes are in a great measure transferred in legend to the Christian St. Brigit of the sixth century. Her name is also found in Gaulish inscriptions as “Brigindo,” and occurs in several British inscriptions as “Brigantia.” She was the daughter of the supreme head of the People of Dana, the god Dagda, “The Good.” She had three sons, who are said to have had in common one only son, named Ecne—that is to say, “Knowledge,” or “Poetry.”79 Ecne, then, may be said to be the god whose mother was Dana, and the race to whom she gave her name are the clearest representatives we have in Irish myths of [pg 104] the powers of Light and Knowledge. It will be remembered that alone among all these mythical races Tuan mac Carell gave to the People of Dana the name of “gods.” Yet it is not as gods that they appear in the form in which Irish legends about them have now come down to us. Christian influences reduced them to the rank of fairies or identified them with the fallen angels. They were conquered by the Milesians, who are conceived as an entirely human race, and who had all sorts of relations of love and war with them until quite recent times. Yet even in the later legends a certain splendour and exaltation appears to invest the People of Dana, recalling the high estate from which they had been dethroned.

The Popular and the Bardic Conceptions

Nor must it be overlooked that the popular conception of the Danaan deities was probably at all times something different from the bardic and Druidic, or in other words the scholarly, conception. The latter, as we shall see, represents them as the presiding deities of science and poetry. This is not a popular idea; it is the product of the Celtic, the Aryan imagination, inspired by a strictly intellectual conception. The common people, who represented mainly the Megalithic element in the population, appear to have conceived their deities as earth-powers—dei terreni, as they are explicitly called in the eighth-century “Book of Armagh”80—presiding, not over science and poetry, but rather agriculture, controlling the fecundity of the earth and water, and dwelling in hills, rivers, and lakes. In the bardic literature the Aryan idea is prominent; the other is to be found in innumerable folk-tales and popular observances; but of course in each case a considerable amount [pg 105] of interpenetration of the two conceptions is to be met with—no sharp dividing line was drawn between them in ancient times, and none can be drawn now.

The Treasures of the Danaans

Tuan mac Carell says they came to Ireland “out of heaven.” This is embroidered in later tradition into a narrative telling how they sprang from four great cities, whose very names breathe of fairydom and romance—Falias, Gorias, Finias, and Murias. Here they learned science and craftsmanship from great sages one of whom was enthroned in each city, and from each they brought with them a magical treasure. From Falias came the stone called the Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny, on which the High-Kings of Ireland stood when they were crowned, and which was supposed to confirm the election of a rightful monarch by roaring under him as he took his place on it. The actual stone which was so used at the inauguration of a reign did from immemorial times exist at Tara, and was sent thence to Scotland early in the sixth century for the crowning of Fergus the Great, son of Erc, who begged his brother Murtagh mac Erc, King of Ireland, for the loan of it. An ancient prophecy told that wherever this stone was, a king of the Scotic (i.e., Irish-Milesian) race should reign. This is the famous Stone of Scone, which never came back to Ireland, but was removed to England by Edward I. in 1297, and is now the Coronation Stone in Westminster Abbey. Nor has the old prophecy been falsified, since through the Stuarts and Fergus mac Erc the descent of the British royal family can be traced from the historic kings of Milesian Ireland.

The second treasure of the Danaans was the invincible sword of Lugh of the Long Arm, of whom we shall hear later, and this sword came from the city of [pg 106] Gorias. From Finias came a magic spear, and from Murias the Cauldron of the Dagda, a vessel which had the property that it could feed a host of men without ever being emptied.

With these possessions, according to the version given in the “Book of Invasions,” the People of Dana came into Ireland.

The Danaans and the Firbolgs

They were wafted into the land in a magic cloud, making their first appearance in Western Connacht. When the cloud cleared away, the Firbolgs discovered them in a camp which they had already fortified at Moyrein.