Tuatha Dé Danann Basics

The name Tuatha Dé Danann means “People of the Goddess Danu” and they are also called by the short name Tuath Dé – “Tribe of the gods” – or simply Tuatha. Similar to Norse Æsir gods, the Tuatha Dé Danann were the victorious, ruling tribe of gods in ancient Ireland. 

The arrival of the Tuatha in Ireland is, of course, a legendary affair. Led by a man named Nemed, the tribe arrived via ship, sailing from four Tuatha cities in the far North: Falias, Gorias, Murias and Finias. After disembarking in Connacht, they burned their ships to prevent a return voyage, which caused smoke to cover the sun for three days.

Like the Æsir, the Tuath Dé found their new home inhabited by two other tribes of gods, the Fir Bolg and the Fomorians. The Fir Bolg were the eldest of the tribes, having been the first to settle Ireland, and first to come into conflict with the newly arrived Tuatha. They were ruled over by the Fomorians, who arrived some time before the Tuatha, and appear as chaotic Jötunn style gods. Having just landed, the Tuatha also became vassals of the Fomorians, but this arrangement was unstable, and eventually led to war between the two tribes.

The Tuatha were described as a tall, skilled, immortal, and pale beautiful people, and their leaders were expected to embody the best of what the tribe had to offer. Tuatha kings and champions such as Nuada, Lugh, and Ogma, had to excel at poetry, sports, combat, art, and science, while also being physical perfect.

The Tuatha brought to Ireland their knowledge of architecture, art, magic, battle prowess – and necromancy, which seems odd to us, but comes up many times throughout the Celtic stories. They also brought with them four treasures from each of their native cities:

Undry or Coire Ansic, the cauldron of the Dagda, from the city of Murias. The symbol of abundance, the cauldron produced an endless supply of food, and in some stories provided healing, restoration, or rejuvenation.

Abreadbhair, which became the spear of Lugh, from the city of Gorias. The spear was invincible in battle, and nothing could stand against its wielder.

Claiomh Solais, the Sword of Light, from the city of Finias. Most famously wielded by Nuada, the sword was likely a metaphor for the sun.

Lia Fál, the Stone of Fál, from the city of Falias. A sovereignty symbol, the stone would cry out beneath the king of Ireland. It was located near the Hill of Tara in County Meath, Ireland.

In their settling of Ireland, the Tuatha Dé Danann battled for control of the land. In the First Battle of Mag Tuiread, they defeated the Fir Bolg. Led by King Nuada, the conflict set the stage for an end to the uneasy peace between the Tuatha and the Fomorians. Nuada lost his arm in the battle to the Fir Bolg champion, and deprived of his physical perfection, was deposed as king. A half Fomorian – Bres, a son of the Fomorian chief Balor –  became the next king.

Bres turned out to be an awful king. Not only was he generally miserly and inhospitable (major offences in ancient Celtic culture) but he was also fairly cruel to the Tuatha he ruled. He was so universally despised that Nuada’s arm problem was tackled and solved by the renowned healer Dian Cecht, resulting in a brand new functional silver arm. Nuada was now known as Nuada Airgetlám – Nuada of the Silver Hand. Bres was unceremoniously deposed.

All of this snowballed and eventually led to the Second Battle of Mag Tuiread, where the Fomorian army led by Balor marched on the Tuatha Dé Danann. It was an epic battle, and much of the Celtic literature passed down to us focuses on its dramas, twists, and cliff-hangers. The Tuatha lost their king, Nuada, but gained a new king – Lugh, who slew the Fomorian king on the battlefield with his spear. It was a major turning point for the Tuatha, and their victory ensured that Ireland was finally theirs, uncontested.

An age later, the Tuatha were faced with war again. This time from invading mortals called the Milesians, the “Sons of Mil” who are the ancestors of the majority of modern Irish Gaels. Under the leadership of their last three kings, the Tuatha Dé Danann recognised that the world was changing, and saw no place for their people in the new order. As a peace offering, three goddesses – Ériu, Banba and Fodla – approached the Milesians and asked that the island be named after them. They chose Ériu, which became the modern name Éire. The Tuatha then retreated to Tír na nÓg, leaving the mortals to create a new Ireland.


Thoughts on the Tuatha Dé Danann

The Tuatha Dé Danann are truly one of the most inspiring and enduring of the legendary races of Europe. Even the Christian conversion couldn’t stamp them out. The church was driven to attempt re-writing the mythology, adding that the Tuatha were fallen Angels who had remained neutral in the heavenly war, and were forced to live on Earth. An alternate telling of the first appearance of the Tuatha stated that the tribe came to Ireland on dark clouds, and landed in the mountains of Connacht, which made a leap to an angelic origin a bit less off-the-rails.

Though this blatant attempt to bury the pagan religion had only middling success, the Tuatha end story – their resignation and retreat from the mortal world – was probably a more successful Christian addition to the mythology. In the face of Christianity, the old gods willingly surrendered, laid down their weapons, and disappeared into the mist.

The Tuatha became the fairies of Ireland – still tall, pale and shining human-like beings imbued with wealth and magic, who came and went from a world that existed beside our own physical world. Tír na nÓg became the land of Faerie, and the Norse Álfheimr, the land of the elves. Folklore abounds of the deeds and shenanigans of these fairies, including grand processions through the forests, trips to magnificent palaces in a twilight land, and accidental crossovers between the realms.

Eventually, descriptions of their physical stature and appearance became entangled with the little people folklore that abounded – tales of brownies, redcaps, and pixies – and the once grand Tuatha were absorbed by fairy folklore in Victorian England.

Where exactly did the Tuatha Dé Danann arrive from? No one knows, and there is very little evidence in the lore to suggest anything concrete – even the names of the four Tuatha origin cities are not connected to any known location. Perhaps Scandinavia? England? Because of the constant intermixing with other European cultures throughout most of its history, the genetics are of little help. More likely, as with most myths and legends, the cities are made up for the sake of the tale. “The North” is often a metaphor in European legends for godly and otherworldly realms outside of the physical world we mortals know.

The eventual departure of the Tuatha involved them retreating to the “underworld” in most of the tales. The Milesian poet Amergin negotiated the terms of surrender, and took the above ground portion of Ireland for his own people, leaving the underground portion to the Tuatha. The defeated tribe entered the underground through the Sídhe mounds. This is very similar to the lore of the Vanir god Freyr, who was the chief of Álfheimr, one of the Nine Worlds, the realm of the Alfar who were the honoured dead. If the Tuatha are a parallel of this mythology, then they are a metaphor for the honoured ancestors of the Celts. 

In a strange twist, an account of the Tuatha Dé Danann may have been captured in the Book of Enoch, an apocryphal Hebrew text. Though Enoch’s tales of the Watchers vary widely from Celtic lore, their description as angelic, tall, shining beings who mingled with mortals isn’t far off. The Watchers also taught humans language, art, science, battle prowess, and magic. Their chief temple complex is eerily similar in its description to Newgrange, a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland.


Suggested Signs and Symbols

The four treasures – cauldron, spear, sword, and stone. Standing stones and stone circles. Sídhe mounds, burial mounds, passage tombs, and henges – including Newgrange. Fairies, elves, and small folk. Honoured ancestors and ancestor gods. 


Associated Names

Tuath Dé, Tuatha, Aes Sídhe, Sídhe Folk, Fairies, Elves, Gentry, the Good Folk, Sons of Light.