Tuath Dé (“tribe of the gods”), are a supernatural race in Irish mythology. The Old Irish word tuath (plural tuatha) means “people, tribe, nation”; dé is the genitive case of día and, depending on context, can mean “god, gods, goddess” or more broadly “supernatural being, object of worship”. In the earliest writings, the mythical race are referred to as the Tuath Dé (plural Tuatha Dé). They are thought to represent the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland.
The Tuath Dé dwell in the Otherworld but interact with humans and the human world. Their traditional rivals are the Fomorians (Fomoire), who seem to represent the harmful or destructive powers of nature. Each member of the Tuath Dé has been associated with a particular feature of life or nature, but many appear to have more than one association. Many also have bynames, some representing different aspects of the deity and others being regional names or epithets.
Much of Irish mythology was recorded by Christian monks, who modified it to an extent. They often depicted the Tuath Dé as kings, queens and heroes of the distant past who had supernatural powers or who were later credited with them. Other times they were explained as fallen angels who were neither good nor evil. However, some medieval writers acknowledged that they were once gods.
A poem in the Book of Leinster lists many of them, but ends “Although [the author] enumerates them, he does not worship them”. The Dagda’s name is explained as meaning “the good god”; Brigit is called “a goddess worshipped by poets”; while Goibniu, Credne and Luchta are referred to as Trí Dé Dána (“three gods of craftsmanship”), Characters such as Lugh, the Morrígan, Aengus and Manannán mac Lirappear in tales set centuries apart, showing all the signs of immortality. They also have parallels in the pantheons of other Celtic peoples: for example Nuada is cognate with the British god Nodens; Lugh is cognate with the pan-Celtic god Lugus; Brigit with Brigantia; Tuirenn with Taranis; Ogma with Ogmios; and the Badb with Catubodua.
The Tuath Dé eventually became the Aos Sí or “fairies” of later folklore.
Also known by the name, Tuath(a) Dé Danann (Irish pronunciation: [t̪ˠuəhə dʲeː d̪ˠan̪ˠən̪ˠ], usually translated as “people(s)/tribe(s) of the goddess Dana or Danu”). Tuatha Dé Danaan roughly, but imprecisely translates as “peoples/children of the goddess Danu.”
However, Irish monks also began using the term Tuath Dé to refer to the Israelites, with the meaning “People of God”. Apparently to avoid confusion with the Israelites, writers began to refer to the mythical race as the Tuath Dé Danann (plural Tuatha Dé Danann). The Old Irish pronunciation is [t̪uaθa d̪ʲeː d̪anan̪] and the Modern Irish pronunciation is [t̪ˠuə(hi) dʲeː d̪ˠan̪ˠən̪ˠ] in the West and North, and [t̪ˠuəhə dʲeː d̪ˠan̪ˠən̪ˠ] in the South. A rough English approximation is tooə(hə) day danən or tooə(hə) jay danən.
Tuatha, Tua or the Tuatha Dé, which was used in early Irish Christian texts as a name for the Israelite diaspora, which, in and of itself, is an interesting historical reference, as Danu has also been rendered Anu. The reference – if not already obvious – creates an interesting link between Israel and ancient Mesopotamian mythologies.
Danann is generally believed to be the genitive of a female name, for which the nominative case is not attested. It has been reconstructed as Danu, of which Anu (genitive Anann) may be an alternative form. Anu is called “mother of the Irish gods” by Cormac mac Cuilennáin. This may be linked to the Welsh mythical figure Dôn. Hindu mythology also has a goddess called Danu, who may be an Indo-European parallel. However, this reconstruction is not universally accepted. It has also been suggested that Danann is a conflation of dán (“skill, craft”) and the goddess name Anann. The name is also found as Donann and Domnann, which may point to the origin being proto-Celtic *don, meaning “earth” (compare the Old Irish word for earth, doman). There may be a link with the mythical Fir Domnann and the British Dumnonii.
The Tuatha Dé Danann were descended from Nemed, leader of a previous wave of inhabitants of Ireland. They came from four cities to the north of Ireland—Falias, Gorias, Murias and Finias—where they acquired their magical skills and attributes. According to Lebor Gabála Érenn, they came to Ireland “in dark clouds” and “landed on the mountains of [the] Conmaicne Rein in Connachta”, otherwise Sliabh an Iarainn, “and they brought a darkness over the sun for three days and three nights”. They immediately burnt the ships “so that they should not think of retreating to them; and the smoke and the mist that came from the vessels filled the neighboring land and air. Therefore it was conceived that they had arrived in clouds of mist”.
A poem in the Lebor Gabála Érenn says of their arrival:
It is God who suffered them, though He restrained them
they landed with horror, with lofty deed,
in their cloud of mighty combat of spectres,
upon a mountain of Conmaicne of Connacht.
Without distinction to descerning Ireland,
Without ships, a ruthless course
the truth was not known beneath the sky of stars,
whether they were of heaven or of earth.
Led by their king, Nuada, they fought the First Battle of Magh Tuireadh on the west coast, in which they defeated and displaced the native Fir Bolg, who then inhabited Ireland. In the battle, Nuada lost an arm to their champion, Sreng. Since Nuada was no longer “unblemished”, he could not continue as king and was replaced by the half-Fomorian Bres, who turned out to be a tyrant. The physician Dian Cecht replaced Nuada’s arm with a working silver one and he was reinstated as king. However, Dian Cecht’s son Miach was dissatisfied with the replacement so he recited the spell, “ault fri halt dí & féith fri féth” (joint to joint of it and sinew to sinew), which caused flesh to grow over the silver prosthesis over the course of nine days and nights. However, in a fit of jealous rage Dian Cecht slew his own son. Because of Nuada’s restoration as leader, Bres complained to his family and his father, Elatha, who sent him to seek assistance from Balor, king of the Fomorians.
The Tuatha Dé Danann then fought the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh against the Fomorians. Nuada was killed by the Fomorian king Balor’s poisonous eye, but Balor was killed himself by Lugh, the champion of the Tuatha Dé, who then took over as king.
A third battle was fought against a subsequent wave of invaders, the Milesians, from the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula (present day Galicia and Northern Portugal), descendants of Míl Espáine (who are thought to represent the Goidelic Celts). The Milesians encountered three goddesses of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Ériu, Banba and Fodla, who asked that the island be named after them; Ériu is the origin of the modern name Éire, and Banba and Fodla are still sometimes used as poetic names for Ireland.
Their three husbands, Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine, who were kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann at that time, asked for a truce of three days, during which the Milesians would lie at anchor nine waves’ distance from the shore. The Milesians complied, but the Tuatha Dé Danann created a magical storm in an attempt to drive them away. The Milesian poet Amergin calmed the sea with his verse, then his people landed and defeated the Tuatha Dé Danann at Tailtiu. When Amergin was called upon to divide the land between the Tuatha Dé Danann and his own people, he cleverly allotted the portion above ground to the Milesians and the portion underground to the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Tuatha Dé Danann were led underground into the Sidhe mounds by Manannán mac Lir.
The mythical Tuatha de Danann receded into the “hollow hills,” eventually coming to be known as the Elven folk of Celtic lore. It is interesting to note that the prefix, “El,” of Elven is a derivative of the ancient Sumerian Elil and the Hebrew Elohim, both being proper pronouns for the names of gods. There exists a startlingly recognizable similarity between the mythological Tuatha de Danann and the Nephilim, as they appear to be etymological descendants in the transmission of religious thought. Elil and Ea were the linguistic predecessors of Elohim and Yahweh (Jehovah).
The Four Treasures
The Tuatha Dé Danann brought four magical treasures with them to Ireland, one apiece from their Four Cities:
- The Dagda’s Cauldron
- The Spear of Lugh
- The Stone of Fal
- The Sword of Light of Nuada
Tuatha Dé Danann High Kings of Ireland
The following is a chronology from the Annals of the Four Masters; based on reign-lengths given in Geoffrey Keating’s Forus Feasa ar Erinn. Nuada’s original reign lacks a precise start date.
- Nuada (first reign) AFM unknown-1897 BC; FFE unknown-1477 BC
- Bres AFM 1897-1890 BC; FFE 1477-1470 BC
- Nuada (final reign) AFM 1890-1870 BC; FFE 1470-1447 BC
- Lugh AFM 1870-1830 BC; FFE 1447-1407 BC
- Eochaid Ollathair AFM 1830-1750 BC; FFE 1407-1337 BC
- Delbáeth AFM 1750-1740 BC; FFE 1337-1327 BC
- Fiacha AFM 1740-1730 BC; FFE 1327-1317 BC
- Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine AFM 1730-1700 BC; FFE 1317-1287 BC