An Tuatha Dé Danann (pronounced Too-a Day Da-non) is translated as ‘People of the Goddess Danu’. They were a great ancient tribe who lived in Ireland thousands of years ago. According to the ancient records of ‘The Annals of the Four Masters’, they ruled Ireland from 1,897 B.C. to 1,700 B.C. However, there are strong associations with An Tuatha Dé Danann and the great monuments at Bru Na Boine which were built between 3,200 B.C. to 3,000 B.C.
The arrival of An Tuatha De Danann to Ireland is also ambiguous. According to ‘The Book of Invasions’ (Lebor Gabála Érénn), they arrived in flying ships and landed on the summit of Sliabh an Iarainn (Iron Mountain) in County Leitrim shrouded in a magical mist. Other sources suggest that they arrived in sailing ships and burned them on arrival to ensure they could not leave. The smoke from the burning ships would account for the mist.
The inhabitants of Ireland at the time were a primitive race known as the Fir Bolg. They were not about to surrender their island to the newcomers, so they decided to go into battle to determine ownership of Ireland.
An Tuatha Dé Danann easily defeated the Fir Bolg in the first battle of Moytura, but out of decency and respect for their bravery, they allowed the Fir Bolg to remain in Connaught while they ruled the rest of Ireland.
The new rulers were a civilised and cultured people. It was said that came from the four cities of Murias, Falias, Gorias and Findias in the northern isles. They were trained by druid masters in the arts, poetry, music, herbology, smithcraft, agriculture, combat, druidry, stonework, astronomy, medicine and law. They were described as tall, noble and fair-skinned with red or blond hair and silvery sweet speech. The new ways and traditions that they introduced into Ireland were held in such high regard by the people they conquered, that they began to see them as magical or supernatural beings.
They brought with them four treasures or ‘talisman’ of great power from the northern isles.
The first was The Sword of Nuada or Sword of Light – An Claiomh Solais. It was said that no one could escape it once it was aimed at them. It was described as resembling a ‘glowing white beam of light’ when drawn from its sheath.
The second was The Spear of Lugh. Some texts say it was a slingshot. It was said to never miss its target and whoever held it could never lose in battle. It is unclear how Lugh became the owner of the spear/slingshot as he only joined An Tuatha Dé Danann many years after their arrival in Ireland. Perhaps it was gifted to him by the elders when he proved himself worthy.
The next treasure was The Cauldron of Dagda or The Cauldron of Plenty. It was said to never run dry and provided an endless supply of food for the people. It had been suggested that the giant stone basin found in the eastern passage of Knowth in the Boyne valley could be the famous Cauldron of Dagda.
The last treasure was The Lia Fail or The Stone of Destiny. It was said to cry out when a true King of Ireland set foot upon it. Its cry confirmed the coronation of the rightful King. It was placed on the Hill of Tara in County Meath – the ancient seat of the High Kings.
Unfortunately, the reign of An Tuatha Dé Danann got off to a bad start. Nuada, their King, lost his arm in battle so it was decreed that he could not rightly be king as he wasn’t whole. Bres the Beautiful was made King. Bres was half Fomorian and half An Tuatha but he proved to be a bad king.
The Fomorians were a brutal tribe of monstrous brutes who regularly raided Ireland for their crops and produce. Their leader, Balor, was a hideous giant with one eye in the middle of his forehead that could kill anyone just by looking at them.
During Bres’ seven-year rule, he forced An Tuatha to work for the Fomorians and pay them taxes. He was famed for his own extravagance but was miserly towards his people, who had become disenchanted with hunger and dissent. During the seven years, Dian Cecht, the healer, made a prosthetic silver arm for Nuada so that he could become whole again. Bres was ousted and Nuada regained his rightful place as King.
Bres was angry and bitter at being de-throned so he raised an army of Fomorians to take back his kingship by force. At the same time, a warrior called Lugh arrived at Tara hoping to join An Tuatha De Danann. Lugh was also half Fomorian and half An Tuatha. His grandfather was Balor who tried to drown him at birth because it was prophesied that Balor would be killed by his grandson. Lugh was rescued by Biróg, a druidess of An Tuatha after Balor threw him into the sea. She raised him in secret until he was old enough to join his people. After successfully completing the arduous tasks and skills required to join An Tuatha Dé Danann, Lugh was accepted into the tribe.
Bres and the Fomorians challenged An Tuatha to a battle and Lugh stepped up to train and lead them. At the second battle of Moytura, Lugh knocked Balor’s eye out with his magical slingshot, killing his grandfather and wiping out half of the Fomorian army in the process. The power of the Fomorians was broken forever and An Tuatha ruled a peaceful, prosperous Ireland for hundreds of years.
In time, Ireland was invaded by another tribe – The Milesians. An Tuatha dé Danann were defeated. Legend has it that they were allowed to stay in Ireland, but only underground in the hills and mounds. From then on, the once powerful An Tuatha dé Danann were consigned to mythology and became known as ‘The Sidhe’ (the people of the mound).
While many of the stories about An Tuatha Dé Danann have been distorted, exaggerated and diminished over time, there is growing evidence to suggest that they were much more just myths The fact that their story was passed down for many centuries in oral tradition and was recorded in a collection of poems and texts, is testament to the strength of their presence on the land. Their association with the construction of Ireland’s ancient Neolithic and Bronze age structures is not only evidence of their existence but of their superior knowledge of stonework and astronomy. Remains from some of the battlefields have been found which cast a different light on the story. It has been said of An Tuatha Dé Danann that they were a highly sophisticated and intelligent race who brought into Ireland; our language, architecture, agriculture, metalwork, music, poetry, sport and exquisite art.