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It’s important we acknowledge right off the bat (wizard staff?) that real, historical druids bore little resemblance to the sorcerers and magic-wielders we see in pop culture interpretations of druids.
Classical accounts such as those penned by Strabo in his ground-breaking Geographica, first published in the first century BCE, and Julius Caesar—yes, that Julius Caesar—in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, first published around 50 BCE, portray druids not as practitioners of the dark arts or black magic, but as moral philosophers, natural scientists, and arbiters of peace and justice.
In many ways, the druids described in these classical accounts align with what we find in early Irish narratives like the Lebor Gabála Érenn the (“Book of Invasions” or, more properly, the “Book of the Taking of Ireland”), the Cath Maige Tuired (“Battle of Moytura”), and the Táin Bó Cúailnge (“Cattle Raid of Cooley”).
The druids of these Irish myths are intellectual elites and royal advisers who often wield more political power than the kings and chieftains they serve.
What’s more, Irish druids are nearly just as likely to be women as men in these myths, which again aligns with what we know about historical druids.
The earliest indisputable evidence for the existence of female druids comes from an inscription discovered along the Rue de Récollets in Metz, France, which was dated to 100 CE. The inscription reads:
“Silvano sacr(um) et Nymphis loci Arete Druis antistita somnio monita d(edit),”
which means something to the effect of (and I’m paraphrasing here):
“Hey, this place? It’s sacred to [the nature god] Silvanus and the nymphs, and it’s where Arete, the druid and high priestess, can dream up some good advice [or maybe a warning?] for you.”
That’s really the best translation you’re going to find so don’t even bother looking for a better translation.
And yes, historically, part of a druid’s responsibilities included making predictions about the future.
Although if we’re being technical, it was the vates—who appear to have been a distinct group from the druids—who were the real diviners, sacrifice interpreters, and future foretellers of the ancient Celtic world.
Granted, druids always presided over vatic rituals, so it’s possible that druids actually started out as vates, or maybe even as bards first, and then worked their way up the ladder through decades of study until they reached the top of the hierarchy.
But I digress.
The point I’m trying to make here is that fortune-telling and other mystical arts one might be tempted to call “magic” were small if not entirely nonexistent components of a druid’s overall skillset.
And yet when Christianization came for the Gaelic-speaking world, and the ancient Irish epics that had been passed down orally for generations were finally put to vellum, guess which aspects of druids were amplified and which were suppressed?
The moral philosopher and justice-seeker persona of the druid, the one rooted in actual history, gave way to a cloaked curmudgeonly conjurer Tech-Duinn-bent on causing chaos for Christians.
It’s the Merlin wizard persona.
Which is fitting given that the fictional character Merlin was likely based on a druid, and may actually have ties to Irish mythology.
In addition to earning their spots on this list through super-powerful displays of wisdom and cunning, many of the Irish druids featured here display actual superpowers.
Singing enchanted songs that can part storms.
Breathing magical storm-breath that can turn people to stone.
Yeah, druids from Irish mythology are pretty awesome.
Let’s get to know them better.
The Top 10 Most Powerful Irish Druids (Methodology)
These are the most famous druids from Irish mythology, and I will be introducing each one in order of power-level, weakest to strongest.
Or least powerful to most powerful, since none of them are actually weak.
How did I determine these rankings?
What rubric, what system did I use to meticulously analyze how the different powers displayed in the Irish myths compare to one another?
Really, it would take too long to explain the…
Okay, fine. I winged it.
I just went with my gut.
So if you have a compelling case to make as to why a particular druid or druidess should move up or down the list, by all means, let me hear it in the comments section.
Alright, enough of my yacking. Here’s number ten:
10. Tadg mac Nuadat
Tadg (also: Tadhg) is, as his surname implies, the son of Nuada—no, not that Nuada.
Actually, wait, yes, that Nuada.
In some tellings the druid Tadg is the son of the Irish god Nuada Airgetlám (of the Silver Hand/Arm), famed military leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann who lost a limb at the First Battle of Magh Tuireadh and his life at the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh.
But more frequently Tadg is cited as the son of the other Nuada from Irish mythology, the chief druid of the High King of Ireland Cathair Mór (also: Cahir Mór), ancestor of the Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill.
This is a more fitting ancestry for Tadg given that he appears in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology.
Of course to make matters even more confusing Fionn is also a descendant of the High King Nuada Necht but as with Cathair Mór that’s on Fionn’s father side of the family so Tadg is of no relation to that Nuada.
The myths tell us that Nuada the druid, father of Tadg, was the chief architect of the fortress on the Hill of Allen, in which Fionn eventually takes up residence.
This feat nearly earned Nuada a spot on this list. Then Nuada’s son Tadg came along and…was a total jerk.
A jerk of mythical proportions.
Seriously, the dude conspired to have his own son-in-law killed—his son-in-law who happened to be Cumal, leader of the Fianna (a.k.a. Fenian warriors) and future father of Fionn Mac Cumhaill.
Fun fact: the name Cumal (also: Cumhal) signifies “sky” and possibly shares the same Celtic root as the name Camelot.
Back to the story at hand:
Cumal falls in love with Tadg’s daughter Murna (also: Muirne) of the White Neck but Tadg refuses to give Cumal permission to marry her.
Cumal takes matters into his own hands and elopes with Murna…and/or kidnaps her.
Such a fine line between “an elopement” and “an abduction” in the ancient texts.
Anyway, Tadg tells the High King, Conn of the Hundred Battles, about what’s happened and the High King sides with Tadg and sends the warrior Goll mac Morna to kill Cumal, which he does, and Goll mac Morna becomes the new leader of the Fianna.
Tadg should be pleased by this turn of events but he’s not because he finds out his daughter Murna is already pregnant by Cumal so he orders some guys to throw her in a fire.
Instead, Murna is whisked away to safety and her son, Demna—who will later be dubbed Fionn, the Fair One—is raised in secrecy until such a time when he can kick Goll mac Morna’s butt and earn his rightful place as leader of the Fianna.
Dad would’ve been so proud.
9. Finegas (Finn Eces)
Speaking of Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhail being raised in secrecy away from the prying eyes of Goll mac Morna, who killed Fionn’s father, and Tadg, that bad, bad druid who nearly had his own daughter, Fionn’s mother, barbecued…
One of Fionn’s guardians/teachers during this period was the druid Finegas (also: Finn Eces), who famously served Fionn a roasted fish that imparted in the young hero-to-be a supernatural store of wisdom.
Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
Finegas was, by all accounts, a good druid.
He instructed Fionn in the arts and sciences, while all the while he kept an eye on a pool formed by the River Boyne, in which Fintan, the Salmon of Knowledge, was known to swim.
You see, the Nuts of Knowledge were actually nine hazelnuts that fell from nine trees into Nechtan’s Well a.k.a. the Well of Segais, the mythological source of the River Boyne.
Connla’s Well, the mythological source of the River Shannon, is another “Well of Wisdom” with similar lore attached.
Putting well names and geography aside, the story goes that Fintan the salmon eats of the Nuts of Knowledge, becoming the Salmon of Knowledge, then he swims down river and is caught by Finegas the druid.
Finegas gives the Salmon of Knowledge to his pupil, Fionn, to cook.
While Fionn is turning the fish on a spit over a fire, he burns his thumb on the fish’s flesh. Instinctually, Fionn sticks his thumb in his mouth.
Bada-bing, bada-boom: Fionn is imbued with wisdom.
Or rather, Fionn can now harness the power of teinm laída.
By reciting an incantation and chewing on his thumb, the Thumb of Knowledge, prophetic and otherwise hidden knowledge can be revealed to him.
In another version of the story, the Acallam na Sénorach, it’s the Tooth of Knowledge (a.k.a. Tooth of Wisdom) that gives Fionn his power.
Side note: St. Patrick banned teinm laída in his day, arguing that acquiring knowledge through divination required “giving offerings to demons.” (source: T. F. O’Rahilly, ‘Teinm Laeda’, in Early Irish History and Mythology)
Taking the whole thumb incident as a sign that the young Fionn had been destined for this prophetic wisdom, Finegas the druid lets Fionn eat the rest of the salmon.
What a guy.
Before Fionn got his fingers fried on Finegas’s fish Fintan, the exiled youth lived in the woods of Sliabh Bladhma, the Slieve Bloom Mountains, with the druidess Bodhmall (also: Bómall, Bodmall, Bodbmall, and Bodhmann) and her female partner, Liath Luachra—the Grey one of Luachair.
Both women, Bodhmall and Liath Luachair, are described as great warriors in the narrative Macgnímartha Finn (The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn).
After learning of Murna’s plight, they volunteer to protect her child.
It is likely an easy decision for Bodhmall, who has a personal stake in the endeavor:
She is the sister of the late Cumal, making her Fionn Mac Cumhaill’s aunt.
Although in some accounts, she’s an aunt on the other side, and is Murna’s sister.
Regardless, Bodhmall doesn’t merely keep Fionn safe from the clutches of their family’s arch nemesis, Goll mac Morna, she also teaches Fionn how to fight and hunt, and accompanies him on his earliest adventures.
While Finegas the druid, who serendipitously served Fionn an enchanted fish, often gets most of the credit for molding Fionn into a hero, it was Bodhmall the druid who—keeping the analogy going—transformed the lump of clay into the lean, mean, seven-year-old fighting machine that he was when he left Bodhmall and set off on his own.
To quote from Lady Gregory’s interpretation of the story, as detailed in her 1905 book Gods and Fighting Men:
“[T]wo women, Bodhmall, the woman Druid, and Liath Luachra, came and brought him away to care [for] him…they gave him good training in running and leaping and swimming. One of them would run round a tree, and she having a thorn switch, and Finn after her with another switch, and each one trying to hit at the other; and they would leave him in a field, and hares along with him, and would bid him not to let the hares quit the field, but to keep before them whichever way they would go; and to teach him swimming they would throw him into the water and let him make his way out.”
Yes, it was quite the Spartan upbringing.
Even before he ate the Salmon of Knowledge, the boy Fionn (then called Demna) was well on his way to becoming an Irish champion—thanks in large part to Bodhmall.
7. Fer Gruadh
When is a giant not a giant?
Answer: When he’s actually a druid disguised as a giant.
That seems to be what’s going on with the Fenian Cycle story the “The Chase of Slieve Fuad,” which finds Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his hunting party, fellow warriors of the Fianna, stalking a deer and inadvertently stumbling into a trap.
See, the widowed Ailna (sometimes Áille) recently lost her husband in battle. Blaming the Fianna for his death, Ailna transforms into a deer and leads the unsuspecting warriors into an enchanted mist—or “a druid’s fog,” as P. W. Joyce styles it in his translation of the story (source: Old Celtic Romances, 1920).
Ailna’s brother, a “giant and an enchanter” by the name of Dryantore, is the man behind the fog and the main antagonist of the story.
Except…when he’s not.
Because in other iterations of the story, there is no Dryantore—only Ailna’s druid Fer Gruadh, whose name translates to the “Grey Man” or “Grey One.”
Fer Gruadh lulls Fionn and his party to sleep by conjuring the suantraí (lullaby) strain of ancient Irish music.
To quote from Lady Gregory’s version of events:
“So they went on, and before long they came to a hill, and they heard sleepy music of the Sidhe beside them. And after that there came shouts and noises, and then the music began again, and heavy sleep came on Finn and Daire. And when they awoke from their sleep they saw a very large lighted house before them, and a stormy blue sea around it. Then they saw a very big grey man coming through the waves, and he took hold of Finn and of Daire, and all their strength went from them, and he brought them across the waves and into the house, and he shut the door of the house with iron hooks. “My welcome to you, Finn of the great name,” he said then in a very harsh voice; “it is long we are waiting here for you.””
So here’s what’s going on:
The “very big grey man,” one could assume, is actually the druid Fer Gruadh, whose name, as you might recall, means “grey man.” He’s just taken on this different, giant form to frighten his prisoners—a pretty common trope in Irish mythology.
It’s possible that this mythological druid, known for conjuring fog, was conflated with (or perhaps even helped inspire) the Irish fairy figure also known as the Grey Man.
Called the fear liath in Irish, this folkloric iteration of the Grey Man is a malevolent personification of fog—you know, like that really thick, nasty fog that causes ships to crash and people to stumble.
When you smoosh these two traditions together—the druid from Irish mythology and the fairy from Irish folklore—you get a lumbering fog-giant capable of capturing the Fionn mac Cumhaill by conjuring an enchanted incantation.
Granted, the Fianna did eventually outsmart the druid/giant and escape…which is why Fer Gruadh is stuck here in the number seven spot.
Here we have another example of an Irish druid who might actually be a little something more than a druid, or a conflation of different characters.
But let’s start with the basics:
Biróg (also: Birog and Biroge of the Mountain) is a druidess who appears in the first of the four cycles of Irish mythology, the Mythological Cycle.
Hers is a pivotal role in the story of Lugh the Irish sun-god’s conception, birth, and survival.
See, the Fomorian leader Balor of the Evil Eye had heard from his own druid that his unborn grandson would kill him one day.
So, naturally, Balor locked up his only daughter, Ethlinn, in a crystal tower on an island where no man could ever touch her.
That’s where Biróg comes in.
When Cian, son of Dian Cecht, the Irish god of medicine/chief physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann, seeks out Balor’s daughter Ethlinn because he’s upset at Balor over some stolen cattle (someone’s always upset about stolen cattle in Irish mythology, FYI, it’s sort of a rule), Biróg disguises Cian as a woman so he can trick Ethlinn’s team of all-women caretakers into letting him seek refuge on the island.
The druidess Biróg then uses an enchantment, much in the vein of the aforementioned Fer Gruadh, to put all of Ethlinn’s caretakers to sleep.
Turns out Cian was literally the man of Ethlinn’s dreams (she’d had premonitions of his arrival) and the two of them hit it off nicely and then, wouldn’t you know it, she’s pregnant and she has a baby and her dad Balor, who is a literal monster, mind you, orders the baby to be tossed into the sea…
But guess what?
Biróg the druidess rescues the baby from the waves and brings him to safety.
And that baby grows up to be Lugh Lámfada (of the long arm/hand/throw), who will fulfill his destiny of slaying his grandfather, Balor, and, in the process, become one of the Tuatha Dé Danann’s greatest heroes.
The leanan sídhe serves as a beautiful muse to whomever she attaches herself, offering artistic inspiration in exchange for love.
Perhaps a more accurate interpretation of the name would be “fairy lover” or “fairy mistress.”
5. Bé Chuille
Be cool, everyone:
Bé Chuille’s got this.
Or at least that was the case when the Athenian warrior/sorceress Carman (also: Carmun) set out to conquer Ireland with her trio of sons, whose names were Dub (Darkness/Black), Dian (Violence), and Dother (Evil).
However, historian Peter Berresford Ellis names a slightly different roster of “ferocious sons,” dubbing them Dubh, again meaning black or darkness; Calma, meaning valiant; and Olc, meaning bad or evil (source: A Dictionary of Irish Mythology, 1987).
Names aside, this was a bit of a Four-Horsemen-of-the-Apocalypse situation—or, in this case, a three-brothers-and-a-mum-of-the-apocalypse situation—because the would-be invaders used their dark powers to cause a blight that killed all of Ireland’s crops.
Yeah, Carman wasn’t messing around.
But neither were the Tuatha Dé Danann.
The druidess Bé Chuille, daughter of the cattle and fertility goddess Flidas (also: Flidais), answered the call alongside three others from her divine tribe:
Lugh, the sun-god and god of arts and crafts (sometimes referred to as a magician in this story); Crichinbel (also: Cridhinbheal), a satirist; and Aoi Mac Ollamain, a god of poetry.
Of the four, Bé Chuille the Irish druidess proves the most effective on the battlefield, as she is able to subdue the Greek sorceress Carman’s magic.
In a later battle, the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh, to be precise, Bé Chuille reappears as one of Lugh’s witches.
When asked how she will contribute in the fight against their formidable Fomorian foes, Bé Chuille responds that she will enchant trees, stones, and sods of earth and wield them as weapons against the enemies of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
4. Mug Ruith
Everyone loves a good underdog story.
So how bout the one about the one-eyed (or in some versions, completely blind) druid who would go on to become one of Ireland’s most celebrated druids and even boast the title of Archdruid.
That is the legacy of Mug Ruith (also: Mogh Roith), whose name means “slave of the wheel.”
The significance of that name will become clear in a moment.
But first, a quick overview of Mag Ruith’s power-set:
“By merely blowing his breath he could dry up waters or raise tempests.” (That’s according to James MacKillop’s A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology from 2004.)
In another iteration of the character, Mag Ruith’s breath can turn people to stone.
He can also grow to giant size—not the most original of druidic tricks, but an effective one nonetheless.
Oh, and then there’s Mag Ruith’s ox-driven chariot that glows as bright as the daytime sun—even at night.
And Mag Ruith has a rock that can transform into a poisonous eel when he tosses it into water.
But of all these powers and contraptions that the Archdruid possesses, there is one that outshines the rest. (Maybe not literally, given the chariot, but figuratively.)
I’m talking about Mag Ruith’s famous flying machine, the roth rámach, which can be interpreted as “oared wheel” or “rowing wheel”.
According to legend, Mag Ruith built the flying wheel with the help of none other than Simon Magus (also: Simon the Magician).
In the Bible, Simon is depicted as a Samaritan magus (plural, magi—yes, those magi), which is a priestly caste that’s really not all too dissimilar from the ancient druid caste come to think of it.
Simon is not your stereotypical good Samaritan, mind you. In Acts 8:9–24, it’s revealed that he used sorcery to bewitch his people so they’d worship him as a god.
Then when St. Peter (a.k.a. Peter the Apostle a.k.a. Peter the Rock) is in town, laying hands on Christians so they can “receive the Holy Ghost,” Simon tries to buy that Holy-Ghost power from Peter so he can do the laying-of-the-hands thing himself. It didn’t go over so well.
In apocryphal texts (re: stories that didn’t make it into the Bible but were often widely circulated), Simon can levitate and fly.
Thus, we can see how the Christian scribes of Ireland, hunched over vellum in their stone monasteries and towers, might think of Simon Magus when recording the legend of this Mag Ruith and his incredible flying wheel.
“Ah,” they’d whisper, “Here is yet another pagan sorcerer who craves the power of the one true God.”
But instead of using their quills to strip Mag Ruith of his god-like powers, the Christian scribes instead stripped the Archdruid of his reputation by associating him with oft-maligned Simon Magus.
To quote MacKillop:
“Because he was a champion of paganism against Christianity, a learned Christian medieval interpolator made Mug Ruith an associate of Simon Magus [Ir. Símón Druí], a bitter opponent of St Peter in later ecclesiastical legend.”source: A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (2004)
I need to offer a warning before continuing on with this section:
There is some severely unpleasant material ahead.
It is an unfortunate fact that ancient mythologies are full of stories in which egregious acts of sexual violence are perpetrated by men, often in service of reinforcing patriarchal norms.
To quote researcher Ann Wan-lih Chang:
“In Celtic mythology, the rape motif symoblises a male dominance emerging from an interaction between matriarchal and patriarchal culture and often depicts a goddess who has been raped and later dies in childbirth.”source: The Witch and the Damsel: The Female Quest for Individuation in Marilyn McLaughlin’s ‘Witchwoman’ Journal of Irish Studies Vol. 24 (2009)
In her essay, Chang also references the book The Serpent and the Goddess (1989), in which author Mary Condren suggests that “the status of the goddesses was destroyed by the symbolism of rape in which the goddess gave birth to children who became famous warriors.”
So, what does all of this have to do with the druidess Tlachtga?
This is her story.
She is the goddess at the center of this unfortunate storytelling motif.
But Tlachtga is also a super-powerful druidess.
She travels the world with her druid father, the aforementioned Mug Ruith, and learns “all of the world’s magic” in the process (according to Ellis).
Not a bad bullet-point to have on the ole résumé.
- All of the world’s magic
In one version of the story, which I found in Revue Celtique from 1870, Tlachtga, while traveling with her father, is “ravished” by the three sons of the aforementioned Simon Magus.
It’s possible she had some semblance of a romantic relationship with one of the sons—possibly one named Trian. Or perhaps Trian, which means “a third” in modern Irish, refers to all three of them?
Regardless, get this:
The text says that Tlachtga “made for Trian the Rowing Wheel.”
Did you catch that? She—Tlachtga the druidess—made the roth rámach.
A poem collected in the Irish Dindsenchas—meaning “lore of places”—confirms that it was indeed Tlachtga who invented Ireland’s mythological flying machine with the help of her father Mug Ruith and Simon Magus.
And I quote:
What’s more, it’s clear from this same poem that Tlachtga is the inventor (or at least the “bringer”) of other super-powered objects, including the stone of Forcarthu and the pillar of Cnamchaill (also: Cnâmchoill).
And I quote:
Tlachtga’s story ends with the druidess giving birth to three sons (by three different fathers) on an Irish hilltop.
She names her sons Cuma, Dorb, and Muach, and gives each of the surrounding plains those names as well: Mag Cuma, Mag nDoirb, and Mag Muaich.
Before dying from labor, Tlachtga prophecies that no foreign invader will do Ireland harm so long as those place names are remembered.
Unfortunately, the locations of Mag Cuma, Mag nDoirb, and Mag Muaich were eventually lost to time, and thus the prophecy was fulfilled.
However, the hill where Tlachtga gave birth, the hill that would also become her final resting place, has been remembered.
Tlachtga Hill (modern name: the Hill of Ward) is near Athboy in Co. Meath. For centuries it served as the fairgrounds for one of Ireland’s biggest Samhain celebrations, and legend holds that during one such celebration, Mug Ruith flew over the hill in his daughter’s rowing wheel.
One day I’ll make a list of the most powerful kings and queens from Irish mythology, and you can bet your royal scepter that the Ulster king Conchobar mac Nessa’s name will be near the top of it.
The Ulster Cycle (a.k.a. Red Branch Cycle) of Irish mythology makes clear that no one was allowed to speak in Conchobar mac Nessa’s presence lest he, the king, had spoken first…
With one exception:
Cathbad, Conchobar mac Nessa’s chief druid.
When in the presence of the druid, it was the king who waited to speak.
And for good reason—because Cathbad had a perfect prophecy record.
But let’s back up for a second and cover some basic biographical details of this famous (infamous?) Irish druid.
Cathbad is recorded as being from the Trataige tribe of Mag Inis, which means he would have had to have originated in the kingdom of Aidhne, in what is now County Galway.
After making his way to Emain Macha, the seat of royal power of the Ulaid kingdom, one version of events finds the druid being questioned by Ness (also: Nessa), daughter of Eochaid Sálbuidhe (Yellow-Heel):
“What is now a good time for?” she asked him.
Cathbad responded: “For begetting a king upon a queen.”
Then he swore by the gods that if Ness got pregnant immediately the resulting offspring would be remembered in Ireland forever.
Ness believed the druid. And since there were no other men about, she took Cathbad to bed.
That’s how the great Ulster king Conchobar mac Nessa was conceived.
Yep. You read that correctly. In this version of the story, Cathbad is not only the king’s personal druid, but his father.
And if you want to start keeping score at home, this also marks the first of Cathbad’s prophecies that has, at least so far, proven to be 100% accurate.
Conchobar mac Nessa is still remembered in Ireland—and elsewhere.
After his fling with Ness, Cathbad marries Maga, the widow of Ross the Red, and together they have three daughters, all of whom are destined to give birth to Red Branch heroes:
There’s Dechtire, future mother of Cú Chulainn, arguably Ireland’s greatest hero; Findchaem, future mother of Conall of the Victories; and Elbha, future mother of Naoise—yes, that Naoise, the one who would fall in love with Deirdre, a.k.a. Deirdre of the Sorrows.
And that brings us to a couple of Cathbad’s other prophecies, one being that the Irish champion Cú Chulainn would lead an exciting and glorious but brief life (he was killed at 27), and a second being that Deirdre’s great beauty would end up tearing Ulster asunder (that’s happening in 3..2..1..).
So Deirdre was supposed to marry Conchobar mac Nessa but instead she runs off with Naoise and now Conchobar mac Nessa is upset but eventually he seemingly forgives them and invites Naoise and his brothers back to Ulster for a visit.
Of course, it’s a trap.
Cathbad is persuaded to lure Naoise out of the Red Branch Hostel and—here’s the best part—when Conchobar mac Nessa launches his surprise attack, the druid conjures some green slime to bog down the king’s opponents, making them easy to overtake.
However, Cathbad will come to regret his role in this scheme.
Because instead of dealing with his prisoners in accordance with the laws of hospitality, as well as his own personal assurances of safety, Conchobar mac Nessa has Naoise and his brothers murdered.
Cathbad is so furious he curses the king and Emain Macha.
War breaks out shortly thereafter and Emain Macha is burnt to the ground, thus fulfilling another of Cathbad’s prophecies.
1. Amergin Glúingel
He’s the human who went toe-to-toe with the Irish gods—and won.
Meet Amergin Glúingel (also: Amhairghin Glúngheal), whose surname means “white knees.” Although it’s sometimes given as Glúnmar, meaning “big knee.”
Amergin is one of the seven sons of Míl Espáine (latinized as Milesius), the mythological forefather of Ireland’s Gaelic-Celtic population.
It was the Milesians, coming from Spain, who would mount the last successful invasion of ancient Ireland, defeating the Irish gods—the Tuatha Dé Danann—and sending them underground to their sídhes (re: fairy mounds).
None of that would have been possible, however, without Amergin.
Arguably the first human druid to appear in Irish mythology, Amergin helps negotiate the rules of engagement with the Tuatha Dé Danann.
The two parties agree that the Milesians will temporarily retreat in their ships back beyond the magical boundary known as the ninth wave. Then, after an agreed-upon signal, the Milesians will be allowed to return to shore and the fighting will commence.
Only…the Milesians aren’t allowed to return to shore.
Sure, the Tuatha Dé Danann give the signal, but then those crafty Irish deities have their druids conjure up a fierce storm, making it impossible for the Milesian fleet to land.
Several ships are lost, taking many Milesian lives—including the lives of five of Amergin’s brothers (Donn included)—with them.
The remaining Milesians, seeing no path to victory, are keen to retreat.
That’s where Amergin comes in.
The Milesian bard/druid will not stand for the deceitfulness of the Tuatha Dé Danann, nor will he tuck tail and run.
So he sings an invocation, calling on the spirit of Ireland to aid his people. And I quote:
After reciting this incantation, the wind ceases. The seas grow calm. And the Milesians are able to land at Inver Sceine (near what is now Bantry Bay, Co. Cork).
Amergin becomes the first Milesian—the first Gaelic-Celtic human—to set foot on Irish soil.
The druid marks the occasion by making the following decree, now known as the “Song of Amergin”:
Following the Milesian invasion, the Tuatha Dé Danann are driven underground, where they will shrink (both literally and figuratively) in popular imaginations until they become the fairies, or aes sídhe—”people of the hills.”
Amergin, in true Irish druid fashion, gets to play kingmaker, and crowns his brother Eremon as the first Milesian king of Ireland.
The rest, as they say, is mythology.
Want to learn about the darker side of Irish mythology?
In the Ireland of myth and legend, “spooky season” is every season. Spirits roam the countryside, hovering above the bogs. Werewolves lope through forests under full moons. Dragons lurk beneath the waves. Granted, there’s no denying that Samhain (Halloween’s Celtic predecessor) tends to bring out some of the island’s biggest, baddest monsters. Prepare yourself for (educational) encounters with Irish cryptids, demons, ghouls, goblins, and other supernatural beings. Learn more…
Perhaps the most important holiday on the ancient Celtic calendar, Samhain marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new pastoral year. It is a liminal time—a time when the forces of light and darkness, warmth and cold, growth and blight, are in conflict. A time when the barrier between the land of the living and the land of the dead is at its thinnest. A time when all manner of spirits and demons are wont to cross over from the Celtic Otherworld. Learn more…
“A thrilling romp through pubs, mythology, and alleyways. NEON DRUID is such a fun, pulpy anthology of stories that embody Celtic fantasy and myth,” (Pyles of Books). Cross over into a world where the mischievous gods, goddesses, monsters, and heroes of Celtic mythology live among us, intermingling with unsuspecting mortals and stirring up mayhem in cities and towns on both sides of the Atlantic, from Limerick and Edinburgh to Montreal and Boston. Learn more…
More the listenin’ type?
I recommend the audiobook Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes by Philip Freeman (narrated by Gerard Doyle). Use my link to get 3 free months of Audible Premium Plus and you can listen to the full 7.5-hour audiobook for free.
Last thing, I promise:
Introducing the official Irish Myths YouTube channel. Same Celtic flavor, new bold format.