Irish History & Myth Collection
By Ben Kesp
Welcome to the first book in the History & Myth Series in which I hope to explore some of the vast regions of Irish Mythology and History while entertaining you with stories of warriors, kings, queens and mythical creatures from a mysterious and ancient land that sits off the North Western edge of Europe. Ireland is a country steeped in myth and legends, and too often, the lines between the realms of the spiritual and the world of the living converge. The very nature of the climate adds to the mysteriousness of the country influenced heavily by the Atlantic air system often hiding parts of the country in heavy fog and mist as if Manannán mac Lir, the Sea God himself was using his magic to hide Ireland under his spell of invisibility.
Irish Mythology is complex with a vast amount of literature that by its contradictory nature only creates confusion providing a difficult task in researching. Irish myth is unusual in comparison to other myths as it has no creation myth - things just were and Ireland always existed, shaped over time by different invaders.
The four great cycles of early Irish literature are: Mythological Cycle, Ulster Cycle, Fenian Cycle and Historical Cycle which will be covered during this series. It further includes who the early writers of these ancient texts were, often having similarities to Greek and Egyptian mythology. This book will focus on the Mythological Cycle exploring the origins of Ireland’s pre-Celtic inhabitants and the ancient sites of Tara and the Boyne Valley that are associated with them. The conversion of pre-Christian Ireland mythology did not entirely survive; however, many sagas are included in later medieval Irish works. The mythological cycle is set in the time of pre-Christian pagan Ireland B.C. It explores the invasions into Ireland and the rise of the Gods who were forced underground, possibly to show the transformation from paganism to Christianity, but later appearing in many of the other cycles interacting with various different figures and events.
For some time, I have wanted to write about the mysterious tribe that once ruled Ireland called the Tuatha Dé Danann or “The Children of the Goddess Danu”, otherwise known as the Irish Pantheon. There is a vast amount of material on these people written by many sources. Deciphering what is fact or fiction can at times be difficult. Prior to written history, knowledge of our earlier ancestors, I believe, is really not possible to tell.
Taking a step back to what we do know is that the earliest known evidence of habitation begins in Ireland around 8,000 B.C. after the last Ice Age when the country was an arctic wasteland. The Ice Age eradicated any earlier evidence of human inhabitation. Most of the written history of Europe started under Roman control. However, as Ireland had never been in the Roman Empire, earliest written records did not begin until the Christian Period in the 5th Century A.D. Archaeologists and historians have tried to piece together the facts and origins of the early settlers using available evidence prior to the 5th century. It is believed by historians that Ireland may have been settled in many different times since the last Ice Age which ended between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. Early Irish Christian writings have possibly somewhat demonised earlier Irish settlers showing pagan druid practices and beliefs in many different gods as evil and twisting reality of what actually happened while creating all sorts of mythical beings and creatures. There are still many unanswered questions and early Christian writings are still highlighting new evidence.
Periods of Irish History
8,000 B.C. – 4,000 B.C.
Earlier Settlers – Hunters & Gatherers
4,000 B.C. – 2,500 B.C.
The period of great tombs, temples, monument building and the Céide Field System
Copper & Bronze
2,500 B.C. – 500 B.C.
Major exporter of copper
Large gold deposits and extensive craftsmanship of the metal
500 B.C. – 400 A.D.
Celtic influence in art, language and culture begins
Recorded arrival of the Celts (500 B.C.)
The Dark Age
100 B.C. – 300 A.D.
Mysterious decline in population and living standards
400 A.D. – 1,200 A.D. (Its height was between the 6th and 8th centuries prior to Norse invasions)
Ireland’s golden age as a centre of learning and religion within Europe
The Monastic movement with the development of the Irish Church and production of insular Celtic art works
Focusing on the early inhabitants and of Ireland itself, there is some recorded evidence in early writings from classical writers like Diodorus Siculus (Greek Historian 60 – 30 B.C.), Strabo (Greek Philosopher 54 – 24 B.C.), Pomponius Mela (Roman Geographer 43 A.D.) and Julius Caesar (Roman General & Dictator of Roman Republic 100 – 44 B.C.) who called Ireland “Hibernia”. However, one of the most expertly recorded writings and descriptions comes from Ptolemy (Greek writer – 2nd Century A.D.) where he describes Ireland’s exact location, physical make up and its tribes.
We really have no evidence of the earlier settlers or what waves of people arrived to the country. It has always been believed and written that the Celtic people arrived in Ireland around 500 B.C. Is it actually known if the Celtic invasion happened? Many scholars and historians now question this so called “Celtic Invasion”. What there are during the Irish Iron Age are artefacts from continental Europe of the La Tene Style Celtic artwork. Later in Ireland, the La Tene Style was reproduced using an Irish style which continued on into the Christian Period. Archaeologists have never found any Celtic type burial chambers similar to that of continental Europe or any huge changes in lifestyle after the supposed Celtic arrival from that of the previous inhabitants. However, on stating this, the Celtic language and culture did arrive in Ireland, and this is supported by a map of Ireland dated 150 A.D. created by Ptolemy. The map assists in supporting the arrival of the Celts to Ireland, however, perhaps not a mass invasion. The link between the Celts arriving to Ireland and who the previous inhabitants were is missing. Did the two groups exist side by side intermixing their cultures?
What we have available to us about the earlier inhabitants is a rich history of mythology with the Tuatha Dé Danann featuring extensively. The Tuatha Dé Danann are described as an advanced technological race that made up the Pantheon of Irish Gods. Some of the well-known gods to mention are “The Great Dagda”, “The Morrígan”, “Lugh”, “Éiru” and “Brigit”. The Tuatha Dé Danann brought with them druid practices, magic, and many new skills and traditions. They made the Hill of Tara their capital of power and the site for the practice of their ancient religion.
According to the manuscript “The Annals of the Four Masters” (chronicle of medieval Irish history dating from 2,242 B.C. to 1616 A.D.), they ruled Ireland from 1897 B.C. to 1700 B.C.
The Tuatha Dé Danann are recorded to have been a race who were very tall, attractive, with pale skin, high foreheads, long red or blonde hair and large blue eyes. They were an aristocratic race of poets and scientists who were technologically advanced, civilised and cultured. They brought with them many new skills and traditions which they passed onto the local population. They also had in their procession four sacred treasures, namely:
“Stone of Fall” (Stone of Destiny) that was placed on the Hill of Tara that became their seat of power
“Magic Sword” (Sword of Destiny)
“Sling Shot” (The Staff or Spear of Destiny)
“Cauldron of Dagda” (Cup of Destiny)
The origins of the Tuatha Dé Danann raise many questions. Many speculations have been written tracing them settling in Asia Minor (Turkey), Atlantis, Ancient Egypt and even as an off world people who came from the stars and who fought against the Anunnakai (The Serpent Race) of Ancient Egypt. It has been written that Princess Scotia, daughter of Akhenaten and half sister to Tutankhamen, led a colony from Ancient Egypt to Ireland. She died in battle; however, her descendants went on to become the High Kings of Ireland.
The Tuatha Dé Danann also feature in the Hollow Earth Theory, a hypothesis that states the earth is hollow or consists of interior spaces. The notion of this theory features heavily in mythology of Ancient Greece, India, Egypt and Ireland. In Irish myth there is a cave called the “Cruachan”, Ireland’s “Gateway to Hell” where strange creatures would exit and roam the surface of the earth in ancient times. There are many other such noted places and gateways in Ireland, and it was through one of these gateways the Tuatha Dé Danann are suggested to have appeared passing on druidism and technology to the people of the land. Interestingly, Irish myth has recorded that the Tuatha Dé Danann were never defeated but retreated underground to the “Other World”.