Lugh is one of the most prominent members of An Tuatha Dé Danann. He is often referred to as Lugh ‘Samildánach’ meaning equally skilled in many disciplines. He is sometimes called Lugh ‘Lamfada’ meaning Lugh of the long arm, possibly due to his skill with a spear. He is a warrior, a king, a master craftsman and a saviour. He is also associated with oaths, truth, justice and law.
Lugh’s father is Cian of An Tuatha Dé Danann, and his mother is Eithne, daughter of Balor, the leader of the Fomorians. One of Balor’s druids prophesied that Balor would be killed by his grandson so when Eithne gave birth to triplets, Balor took them and threw them into the sea. Two of the babies drown, but Biróg, a Tuatha Dé Danann druidess, managed to rescue one, Lugh, and take him to safety.
Lugh was fostered and raised in secret by Tailltiú, a firbolg druidess and together with Goibhniu and Manannán Mac Lir, taught him all the arts and skills of An Tuatha Dé Danann.
Lugh grew into a youthful warrior and was described as being very large and very beautiful with a great head of curly yellow hair. It was said that when the ‘Cathbarr’ (Manannán’s helmet) was let off of him the appearance of his face and forehead was as brilliant as the sun on a dry summer’s day.
When Lugh reached adulthood, he travelled to Tara to join his father’s people at the court of Nuada who had just been reinstated as king of An Tuatha Dé Danann. The doorkeeper refused him entry unless he had a skill he could use to serve his King. Lugh offers his services as a smith, a warrior, a swordsman, a harpist, a craftsman, a historian, a hero, a sorcerer, and a poet, but each time is rejected as An Tuatha De Danann already had someone with those skills. When Lugh asks if they have anyone who possesses all of those skills simultaneously, the doorkeeper admits defeat and Lugh joins the court. He wins a flagstone-throwing contest against Ogma, the champion, and entertained the court with his harp. Nuada was immediately captivated by him.
At that time, An Tuatha Dé Danann were still oppressed by the Fomorians even though Nuada was reinstated as king. Bres, who had been ousted for being a terrible King, raised an army of Fomorians to take back his kingship and called for a battle. Lugh was appalled by how easily his people accepted this oppression and was determined to stand up against the oppressors.
Before the second battle of Moytura, Nuadu gave Lugh charge over his army. Lugh identified the special skills of all the leaders of the troops before going into battle and addressed them in speech which elevated their spirits to warrior levels.
During the battle, Balor opens his terrible poisonous eye that kills all it looks upon and Nuada is killed. He prepares to kill all of the An Tuatha army until he comes face to face with his grandson, Lugh. Lugh shoots a sling stone into Balor’s eye with such force that it drove the eye out of the back of his head, killing Balor and wreaking havoc on the Fomorian army behind. An Tuatha de Danann are victorious, and the Fomorian hold on them broken forever.
Lugh became the new King of the Tuatha De Danann. He spared the life of Bres, on the condition that he teach them how and when to plough, sow and reap as agriculture was Bres’ area of expertise before he was King.
Lugh was a great King and leader. He ruled for 40 years and brought great peace and prosperity to An Tuatha dé Danann and the land generally. He instituted the Tailteann Games in memory of his foster mother Tailtiu. The games were a celebration of Ireland’s culture and strength and involved sports competitions, horse races and displays of martial arts but also included reaping the harvest. It is said that the present-day Olympic games are based on Lugh’s concept. These fairs survived long into modern times and were celebrated in Ireland around August 1st. Incidentally, Lúnasa is the Irish name for the month of August.
Tragically Lugh was killed by MacCuill, MacCecht and MacGréine to avenge their father’s death. They injured him with a spear before drowning him in a lake – ‘Lough Lugh’ on the Hill of Uisneach. He is buried on the sacred hill beneath ‘Sidhe Lugh’. Strangely, his murderers become joint kings of An Tuatha De Danann. Shortly after, they were overthrown by the Milesians and forced underground.
It is said that Lugh never really died and that his spirit lives on in the sidhe realm. He reappeared in the story of his son, Cuchulainn, in the tale of An Tain Bo Culaigne. In that story, he visited his mortally wounded son after each combat, healed his wounds and prepared him for his next battle.