Myth Work: The Book of the Taking of Ireland (Lebor Gabála Érenn)


This is my attempts at understanding the Irish Myths and what they could tell us.  The parts in bold are my thoughts on the subjects or things I want to highlight.

From the Mary Jones website:

This text–found in both the Book of Leinster and the Book of Fermoy–is the core text of the mythological cycle in Irish literature, as well as the earliest known history written by the Irish. It tells of the successive invasions of Ireland by different tribes, from the creation of the world to the coming of the Milesians (Iberian Celts).

The text is divided into eight sections:

1. Biblical History.

2. Gaedhil History

3.  Cessarians

4. Partholonian

5. Nemedians

6. Fir Bolgs

7. Tuatha De Dannan

8. The Milesians

In part one, The Biblical History, is probably the Irish Monks’ attempts to bring Ireland into the Christian world as it has its origins in the Old Testament book Genesis.  Part two is a pseudo-history of the Gaels that seems to have been based on the wanderings of the Israelites in the Old Testament book Exodus.  Parts three and four seem also to be attempts to Christianize the history of Ireland.  I also think that Partholon seems to have been brought in to give a sense of order and to explain how some plains and lakes came into being.

To me the myth really starts with the Nemedians and the Fir Bolgs. They are both related to each other and they are also later related to the Tuatha De Dannan.   Agnomain (of Greek of Scythia) has a son called Nemed who has four sons Starn, Iarbonel the Soothsayer, Annind and Fergus Re-side.  In Nemed’s time 4 lakes burst forth, 12 plains were cleared, and 2 royal forts were built.  Nemed won the battle of Ros Fraechain against Gand and Sengand (twin? Fomoire Kings).  [I keep wondering if this was the first wave of humans to come to Ireland, and could they have a agricultural economy] Nemed also won 3 other battles against the Fomoire, Badbgna in Connachta, Cnamras in Laigne, and Murbolg in Dal Riada.  Nemed died of the plague.

After Nemed died his sons were oppressed by More son of Dela and Conand son of Febar (both seem to be Fomoire).  They payed a tax of 2/3 of their children, the wheat, and the milk every Samhain to the Fomoire. (Why Samhain?  Could this be where our customs come from, where we give gifts to the gods for a good agricultural year?)

They decided to fight against the Fomoire.  Their leaders were Semul son of Iarbonel the Soothsayer, Erglan son of Beoan son of Starn and Fergus Red-Side.  They defeated Conand and his sons.  Then More fought the sons and grandsons of Nemed and no one survived but a ship with 30 warriors.  The water took them: is this a reference to the Otherworld? Or perhaps this is a reference to a flood or storm that hit around that time?

These 30 warriors left Ireland

–        Bethach died in Ireland of the plague

–        Ibath and his son Baath went to the north of the World

–        Matach, Erglan and Iartach sons of Beoan went to Dobar and Iardobar in the north of Alba.

–        Semeon went to Greece.  His progeny later became in the thousands and were enslaved by the Greeks, they escaped (5000?) and came back to Ireland 230 years after Nemed.  Their leaders are Gand, Genand, Rudraige, Sengand and Slanga (These are the Fir Bolg and the Fir Domnann)

–        Fergus Red-Side and his son Britain Mael filled up Britain with their progeny until the Saxons came and they were driven over the borders (to Scotland?)

–        The Fir Bolg divided Ireland into Five fifths.  They were the first kings in Ireland, they were the Gaileoins, the Fir Bolg and the Fir Domnann and collectively they were called the Fir Bolg.  They ruled for 37 years.

  • Slanga son of Dela son of Leth landed in Inber Slaine his fifth is from Inber Colptha to Comar Tri nUisce. (One thousand men and are the Gaileoins)
  • Gand and Sengand with two thousand men they landed in Inber Dubglaisi, and they became the Fir Bolg.
    • Gand’s fifth was from Comar Tri nUisce to Belach Conglais.
    • Sengand’s fifth from Belach Conglais to Luimneach
  • Genand and Rudraige land in Inber Domnann and they became the Fir Domnann.
    • Genand was king over the fifth of Medb and Ailell
    • Rudraige was King over the fifth of Conchobar.

–        The progeny of Bethach (who died in Ireland) son of Iarbonel the soothsayer son of Nemed were in the northern Islands of the world learning druidry and knowledge and prophecy and magic, till they were experts in the arts of pagan cunning.  (Is this where the TDD learned their arts??)

The Tuatha De Dannan are related to the Fir Bolg.  They came from the north of world, where they had become experts in magic, possibly via Greece and then Scotland.  Nuadu king 7y before arrival.    They arrived in dark clouds without ships, or in ships, which they burnt on arriving.   They brought 4 enchanted objects with them: Lia Fail, Lug’s spear, Nuadu’s sword, and Dagda’s cauldron.   They beat Fir Bolg at 1st Battle of Mag Tuired (Moytura, Cong, Co. Galway) but with heavy losses, inc. Ernmas, Tuirill Biccreo, Fiachra, Ectach, Etargal, and Nuadu’s arm.  Because Nuadu lost his arm he could not be king and the kingship went to Bress for 7y; then to it went back to healed Nuadu for 20y, and he fell defeating the Fomoire at 2nd Battle of Mag Tuired (nr. Sligo), 27y after TDD arrived. Macha, Ogma, Bress, Bruidne, Casmael also fell.  Lughnasa was instigated at Tailltiu (Telltown, Co. Meath) in memory of Tailltiu, foster-mother of Lug, who died

there.  The kingship went to Lug for 40y; then to Dagda for 80y over whom was made Brug na Boinne (Newgrange). Brigid had some magic animals, who produced demonic voices (whistling, outcry & groaning) after plunder. Lug demands wergild of 7 enchanted items from Brian, Iuchar & Iucharba for killing his father Cian in the Brug.  The Kingship then goes to Delbaeth for 10y;  then to Fiachna for 10y. After them the kingship goes to MacCuill+MacCecht+MacGreine for 29y.

Here is what I got so far on the gods:

Badb and macha: Wealth

Morrigu : Craftiness and source of bitter fighting

Goibniu: Smith

Luicne: Carpentry

Credne: Wright

Dian Cecht: Leech or Doctor

The three sons of Cermat son of Dagda: Mac Cuill: hazel god?  Mac Cecht: Ploughshare god  Mac Griene: Sun is his god?

They all seem to be connected to agriculture and hospitality.  And being married to the land goddesses Fotla, Banba, and Eriu I think this is likely.  Also there seems to be a lot of hostility between the Dagda and Lugh there at the end don’t you think?

It was during this time that Ith saw Ireland from top of his father Breogan’s Tower in Spain, and travelled there.  Ith helped MacCuill + MacCecht + MacGreine settle a dispute, and praised Ireland, but they killed him as a spy.  Milesians voyaged to Ireland to avenge Ith; Mil, Oige, Uige, Erannan, Scene and Ir died in transit.  The land was disguised as a hog’s back; on landing, the lake-burst of Loch Luigdech.  They fought the TDD (and possibly the Fomoire) at the Battle of Sliabh Mis, then Battle of Lifé.   They had a colloquy with Banba, Fotla & Eiriu regarding the name of the land.   In Teamair (Tara), MacCuill + MacCecht + MacGreine gain 3 days reprieve; while the Milesians sail, battling druidic storms, and Eber Donn drowns.  MacCuill + MacCecht + MacGreine and their wives are killed by the Milesians at Battle of Tailltiu by Eber, Erimon and Amorgen, respectively.

Éremón and Éber asked Amairgen who should be king he said that it should be Éremón first and then Éber, but Éber wanted to be king now so Ireland was divided into North and South.  Some versions said that Éremón took the kingship with him to the North and others say that he was king in the North.  Éber was a king in the South.  In many ways it can be seen that the Northern kingship was the more important one.  Éremón took with him seven chieftains to the North to Éber’s six and there are two ridges in the North while the south only had one.

This division gave certain attributes to the North and South.  When Éremón went to the North he took the poet with him (learned man), so the North was a place of dignity and learning.  The harpist went to the South, and it became the place for music and artistry.  It should be noted that these two kingships had a special relationship.  Though the Northern Kingship was the major one and the Southern one the minor one the Southern kingship was rich with food and produce and so in essence it is the stronger one.  There is always a rivalry between the two seats, but they also complement and complete each other.

The North is known as “Leth Cuinn” or The Half of Conn. Conn means head, chief, sense, and reason.  The South is known as “Leth Moga” or the Half of Mug.  Mug means servant.  After a year, Erimon fought and slew Eber, becoming sole king.  Lake-bursts and building of Raths, etc. continued in these times; also battles against the Fomoire and the kingship alternated by battle between the lineage of Erimon and Eber.

It seems to me in this myth a connection to agriculture was established though out with the references to lakes bursting and plains being cleared.  Also we get a sense of chaos versus order, light versus dark, and that everything has its place, and if this balance is shaken or if the ruler does something wrong it is not just the ruler that suffers but also the people who live on the land.  We also find the first references to how the land was divided.  The land was divided into fifths by the Fir Bolg, and into north and south by the Milesians.  In the division made by the Milesians the land is given attributes like kingship, artisanship and so on.  This does give a sense of cosmology.

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