Life On The Fringe – 21: Twilight – Gods And Heroes, The Final Curtain

LUGH, associated with light, was one of the leading gods. He can be identified with the Britons’ and Gaulish god Lugus and the Brythonic/Gallic god Llud. Lughnasadh, the Gaelic celebration before the harvest is named after him as well. There are divers tales of how and where he came about and he is thought to have become chief among the gods after Nuada, king of the Tuatha De Danann. He showed he was master of many skills, thus earning himself the name ‘Samildanach’. As king of the Tuatha De Danann he led them into the second battle of Magh Tuiredh. In the battle he took the shape of someone with a single arm, alternately a single eye or arm, thus confusing and wrong-siding their enemy the Fomorii. The Fomorii were beaten and Lugh slew their leader Balor in single combat with slingshot to his one eye. Legends about Lugh are many and various, his claim to godliness was staked in his popularity. Thought by some Biblical historians to be the tribe of Dan or Dann, who fled Israel sooner than be enslaved around 1000 BC with the help of the Phoenicians when the Assyrians attacked.

They came from an area inland from the modern city of Haifa, and took a coronation stone known to them as the Stone of Jacob, later considered to be the Stone of Scone. The Phoenicians traded around Britain for gold and bronze artefacts and knew of the island we call Ireland, where they took Dann’s tribe who settled in the north (now Ulster). The stone was also called ‘Jacob’s Pillow’, from when he fell asleep with his head resting on it and dreamt of a far-off land. It is thought to have been taken across the sea to the north-west of mainland Britain in the 5th Century AD and a kingdom called Scotland carved out of the Kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons. Rock samples tested showed similarities to stone quarried in northern Israel. However investigations into cut marks have shown it to be of Pictish origin, the rock having been probably excavated in the north-east of Caledonia (Roman name for the territory we now call Scotland). Further tests showed it to be similar to stone found at Clonmel, Ireland. MACHA was a goddess sometimes seen as one, at other times as three deities.

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She was at once linked to war, to fecundity, to the wellbeing of Ireland as well as with horses. As goddess of fecundity she was seen she was also seen as a mother-figure. As a war goddess she was present at battles and used her powers wilfully to help either side. She was the wife of Nemedh, leader of the third migration or invasion of Ireland, and she foresaw the Tain Bo Cuailgne after which she died of a broken heart. She is also thought to have wedded Nuada and been killed by Balor. One legend offers her as a warrior queen around 377 BC, and put Emhain Macha – the old centre of Ulster – as having been named for her. It has also been mooted that the warrior queen was another Macha, whose deeds have been mistaken for those of the wise woman Macha. Yet another source tells us she was the wife of Crundchu or Crunn-chu of Ulster (?) Her name as a fast runner led her husband to brag at the Ulster gathering that she could outrun the king’s best steeds. A race was set and Macha did beat the horses.

She died in childbirth as a result of her exertions, living long enough to put a curse on the men of Ulster. The nature of the curse was that they could feel her birth pains at a pivotal time in battle, and thereby would be severely weakened for four nights and five days. MAIL DUIN/MAEL DUIN was a hero at the heart of one of the Immram or long voyage legends. He was the son of a nun who had been raped by Ailill, said to have crossed the sea from Aran. With a number of companions Mail Duin set out to find a band of marauders who set on and slew his father. The Immram records their progress and the adventures they encountered along the way. They found the murderers and were about to kill them when a hermit interceded on the killers’ behalf to advise against Mail Duin’s plan of action. The hermit informed them that as God had looked after them on their crossing from Ireland – the inference being that he would no longer look after them on their return crossing – they should forget about taking revenge.

Ireland’s folklore, ‘before the snakes left’, Gaelic legend, beliefs and fears, the gods and saints laid bare in an overview of the secret life of the Emerald Isle. MIODCHAOIN was a warrior, a friend of Lugh’s son Cian, who lived on a hill. He had been put under a ‘geis’ or bond, never to let anyone shout from the summit of the hill. Miodchaoin had a battle the three sons of Tuirenn when they came to his hill to carry out the last of three tasks imposed upon them by Lugh as punishment for the killing of his son Cian. In a long and arduous battle Miodchaoin was slain and his three attackers were barely alive by the end of the fight. As they lay dying they managed very weakly by then to shout three times, therefore carrying out the last of their tasks. From where they lay bleeding they begged Lugh to heal their fatal wounds.