When I came to live in Ireland, it did not take long for me to fall in love with its misty landscape and scattered ancient ruins. They drew me in; I felt at once connected and intrigued. Leaving behind the realms of accepted Irish history I plunged into the shadowy domain of Irish mythology, and that was where I first encountered the Tuatha de Danann.
Stories of the Danann were passed down through the ages into legend via the ancient oral tradition of the poets. Later, Christian monks began assembling and recording them in an effort to produce a history for Ireland. Inevitably, these texts were influenced by their beliefs and doctrines, their translation skills (or lack of), and the desire to please their patrons. What we are left with is impossible to distil into fact and fiction.
These myths are so fantastic, so bizarre, that no scholar or historian worth his salt would ever entertain them as anything other than pure fantasy.
But I am not a scholar, and I don’t have to worry about academic reputation, and I say there is no smoke without fire.
Who Were the Tuatha de Danann?
Tuatha de Danann (pronounced Thoo-a day Du-non) is translated as ‘tribe of Danu.’ Scholars are agreed that Danu was the name of their goddess, most probably Anu/Anann. However, that is unproven, and I believe could equally have referred to their leader or king, or even the place from which they originated.
They were a race of God-like people gifted with supernatural powers, who invaded and ruled Ireland over four thousand years ago. According to an ancient document known as the Annals of the Four Masters (Annála na gCeithre Maístrí compiled by Franciscan monks between 1632-1636 from earlier texts), the Danann ruled from 1897 BC until 1700 BC, a short period indeed in which to have accumulated such fame. They were said to have originated from four mythical Northern cities Murias, Gorias, Falias and Finias, possibly located in Lochlann (Norway).
The Book of Invasions (Lebor Gebála Érénn compiled c.1150) claims in a poem that they came to Ireland riding in “flying ships” surrounded by “dark clouds.” They landed on Sliabh an Iarainn (the Iron Mountain) in Co. Leitrim, where they “brought a darkness over the sun lasting three days.” There is a lovely line which illustrates perfectly the bewilderment felt towards these conquerors;
“The truth is not known, beneath the sky of stars,
Whether they were of heaven or earth.”
A later version of the story relegates the flying ships to mere sailing ships. The dark clouds became towering columns of smoke as the ships were set alight, a warning to observers that the Danann were here to stay. Clearly, the monks recording this story were trying to make sense of something which was well out of their comfort zone.
And so we have our first dilemma; which story to believe. Did they arrive from the skies, or from across the sea?
What Did the Danann Look Like?
They certainly looked very different to the small, dark native peoples of Ireland at that time. The Danann are generally described as tall with red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, and pale skin.
Interestingly, archaeology has unearthed evidence all around the world of small colonies of red-haired people from the same time period as the Tuatha De Danann’s arrival in Ireland. Excavations in Xinjiang Province, China have revealed mummies of red and blonde haired people living around four thousand years ago. The extremely well preserved Egyptian mummy of nobleman Yoya, c. 1400 BC, shows he had blonde hair and Nordic features, as did his wife, Thuya. She was also Tutankhamun’s great-grandmother.
First Bionic Man
In order to win supremacy over Ireland, the Danann fought against the existing ruling tribe, the Fir Bolg, in the First Battle of Moytura. During this encounter, the Danann High King Nuada Argetlam (pronounced Noo-tha Or-geth-lam) lost his arm. He survived, but lost his position, as a king could not be seen as anything less than ‘whole’ if he was to bring his people continued success.
In an intriguing turn of events, the physician Dian-Cecht replaced the lost limb with a fully functional ‘arm of silver’. Later, Dian-Cecht’s son, Miach, also a physician, caused skin and flesh to grow over the metal arm. Thus ‘whole’ again, the kingship was restored to Nuada following the ousting of his replacement, the tyrant Bres.
So here we have another case of strange, advanced (dare we say ‘alien’?) technology. Could this be the first-ever prosthesis, a robotic arm built over four thousand years ago?
The Four Treasures of Eirean
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