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The Mythological Cycle  is a somewhat outdated coined term still used to refer collectively to an ancient literary tradition that concerns the godlike peoples who allegedly arrived in five migratory invasions into Ireland and principally recounts the doings of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Lists of Literature
- 3 Survey of prose tales
- 4 The invasions tradition
- 5 References
- 6 External links
- 7 See also
The characters appearing in the cycle are essentially gods from the pre-Christian pagan past in Ireland. Commentators exercising caution, however, qualify them as representing only "godlike" beings, and not gods. This is because the Christian scribes who composed the writings were generally (though not always) careful not to refer to the Tuatha Dé Danann and other beings explicitly as deities. The disguises are thinly veiled nonetheless, and these writings contain discernable vestiges of early Irish polytheistic cosmology .
Examples of works from the cycle include numerous prose tales, verse texts, as well as pseudo-historical chronicles (primarily the Lebor Gabála Érenn (LGE), commonly called The Book of Invasions) found in medieval vellum manuscripts or later copies. Some of the romances are of later composition and found only in paper manuscripts dating to near-modern times (Cath Maige Tuired and The Fate of the Children of Tuireann).
Near-modern histories such as the Annals of the Four Masters and Geoffrey Keating's History of Ireland (=Seathrún Céitinn, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn) are also sometimes considered viable sources, since they may offer additional insights with their annotated and interpolated reworkings of LGE accounts.
Orally transmitted folk-tales may also be, in a broad sense, considered mythological cycle material, notably, the folk-tales that describe Cian's tryst with Balor's daughter while attempting to recover the bountiful cow Glas Gaibhnenn.
The god-folk of the successive invasions are "euhemerised", i.e., described as having dwelled terrestrially and ruling over Ireland in kingship before the age of mortal men (the Milesians, or their descendants). Afterwards, the Tuatha Dé Danann are said to have retreated into the sídhe (fairy mounds), cloaking their presence by raising the féth fiada (fairy mist). Having disappeared but not died, the deities oftentimes make "guest appearances" in narratives categorized under other cycles. (e.g., Lugh's appearance as the divine father and Morrígan as nemesis to the Ulster hero Cuchulainn; encounters of Finnian characters with dwellers of the sidhe; Cormac mac Airt's, or his grandfather's visits to the otherworldly realms.)
Collected #lore literature, while they do not belong to the cycle in entirety, nevertheless capture tidbits of lore about the deities.
Lists of Literature
In the list that follows, citations are generally only given if the wiki page for that work is not developed. Otherwise, citations are deferred to the wiki article in question. See #External links for additional titles.
- Aislinge Óenguso ("Dream of Angus") (remscél to TBC)
- Altram Tige Dá Medar ("The Fosterage of the House of Two [Milk-]Vessels") (Dobbs 1929; Called "Tale of Curchóg" by O'Curry).
- Cath Muige Tuired Cunga ("The [First] Battle of Mag Tuired of Cong ")
- Cath Maige Tuired ("The Second Battle of Mag Tuired")
- Ceithri cathracha i r-robadar Tuatha De Danand ("[The four jewels of the Tuatha Dé Danann|The Four Jewels of the Tuatha Dé Danann]")
- De Gabáil in t-Sída ("The Taking of the Fairy Mound") (remscél to TBC) (Vernam Hull 1933)
- Echtra Nera[i] ("The Adventures of Nera") (remscél to TBC)
- Eachtra Léithín ("The Adventures of Léithín") (mod. versions; Hyde 1915)
- "How the Dagda Got His Magic Staff." (Bergin, 1927)
- Oidheadh Chloinne Lir ("The Fate of the Children of Lir")
- Oidheadh Chloinne Tuirenn ("The Fate of the Children of Tuirenn") (late romance)
- Scél Tuáin meic Chairill ("The Story of Tuán son of Cairell")
- Tochomlod Nemid co hErin (?) ("The Invasion of Nemed")(frag.; Vernam Hull 1935)
- Tochomlod mac Miledh a hEspain i nErind. ("The Progress of the Sons of Mil from Spain to Ireland") (Dobbs 1937).
Besides independent verses, a number of poems are embedded in prose tales, etc. A number of them are also preserved in the pseudohistorical LGE, Keating, etc.
- Arsaidh sin a eóuin Accla ("Fintan and the Hawk of Aicill")
- Coire Érmai / Coire Goriath ("The Cauldron of Poesy")
Collected lore are not wholly of mythological content, but parts of it are. "The Fitness of Names" (#149-159, etc.) provides interesting explanations on names of Dian Cecht among others. Irish onomastica, the Dindshenchas, also include stories about deities such as Boann (under Inber Colptha), the Dagda (under Fidh nGaible), Brecan (Coire Brecain), often in developed narrative verse or prose tales. Genealogical tracts and the Roll of the Kings, various glosses (e.g. to the law treatise Senchus Mor) may also be culled for information.
- Banshenchus ("History of Women") Dobbs 1932
- Cóir Anmann ("The Fitness of Names"): Stokes 1897
- Dindsenchas ("Lore of Places")
- Sanas Cormaic ("Cormac's Glossary"): Nes[s] (Nescoit)
- Triads of Ireland: mention of the indeoin Dagdai, ox of Díl, etc.
Survey of prose tales
The euhemerized deities arrived in five sets of migrations (see #The invasions tradition), but none of the individual migrations tales (Irish: tochomlada; sing. tochomlod) survived intact. Remnants of the migration tales are the summarized accounts given in the LGE (Book of Invasions). Apart from these are the tale of Tuan mac Cairill, Fintan mac Bóchra colloquy (see #Verse). Tuan and Fintan are ancient beings from the Antediluvian past, who have reincaranted into different creatures, and are referred to in the LGE as well.
Of the battle tales (Irish: catha; sing. cath), the full narratives of the First and Second Battle of Moytura (Battles of Mag Tuired) survive in relatively late (16th century) manuscripts. Other important battle tales such as the Cath Tailten (Battle of Tailten) or Orgain Tuir Chonaind ("Massacre of Conan's Tower") are lost, though abstracted in the LGE
The late romance of Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann ("The Fate of the Children of Tuireann") tells how Lugh fines the sons of Tuireann for his father Cian's murder, compelling them to collect a series of magical objects and weapons which will be useful in the second battle of Mag Tuired against the Fomorians. An earlier version of this is recorded in the LGE, with a somewhat different list of fines (eiric), with no indication the murder happened on the eve of the great battle.
In the Oidheadh Chloinne Lir ("The Fate of the Children of Lir"), the eponymous children are turned into swans by their jealous stepmother, and live in swan form into Christian times, when they are converted, transformed back into human form, and die of extreme old age.
Tochmarc Étaíne ("The Wooing of Étaín") tells first of the conception of Aengus through the adultery of the Dagda and Boann, and how Aengus won the residence of the Brú na Bóinne from Boann's husband Elcmar. It goes on to tell of the various lives of Étaín, wife of Midir, who is turned into a fly and driven away by Midir's jealous first wife Fuamnach. She becomes the companion of Aengus in insect form before Fuamnach once again drives her away, and she is swallowed by a mortal woman and reborn as her daughter. Her beauty attracts the attention of the High King, Eochaid Airem, who marries her, but ultimately Midir wins her back by magic and trickery.
There is also a curious account regarding Goídel Glas, the legendary ancestor of the migratory races and eponymous creator of the Gaelic language, and how he was cured by Moses's rod from a snake bite, related to in the LGE, although Macalister is dimissive of it as fiction invented by glossators.
The invasions tradition
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The Mythological Cycle traces the supposed history of Ireland from its earliest inhabitants before the Biblical flood, through a series of invasions to the arrival of the Goidelic-speaking Milesians or Gaels. Some of these invaders probably represent genuine historical migrations; others, like the Tuatha Dé Danann with their magical powers, are unquestionably degraded gods. The primary text of this tradition is the Lebor Gabála Érenn ("Book of Invasions of Ireland"). Elements of the tradition are expended in saga texts such as the two Battles of Mag Tuired, and in early modern compilations such as the Annals of the Four Masters and Geoffrey Keating's Foras Feasa ar Éireann.
Before the flood
A number of traditions have been preserved about the earliest inhabitants of Ireland. The best known tradition is that of Cessair, which is recorded in the Lebor Gabála Érenn and other early texts. Cessair is said to have been a granddaughter of Noah for whom there was no room on the Ark. She and her followers – fifty women and three men – arrived only 40 days before the deluge and were wiped out, all except Fintan, who transformed into a salmon. Through a series of transformations he survived into historical times and told the tale of his people.
Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th-century Foras Feasa ar Éirinn ("The Basics of Knowledge on Ireland"), records several other traditions from sources now lost. A poem he found in the Saltair of Cashel said that three daughters of the Biblical Cain were the first to see Ireland. A second tradition, a variant of the Cessair legend he found in the Book of Druimm Snechta, said that the first inhabitants of Ireland were led by a woman called Banba, who gave her name to the island. She came with a hundred and fifty women and three men, who lived there for forty years before they all died of plague, two hundred years before the flood. Another tradition he records, but does not source, is that Ireland was discovered by three fishermen from Iberia who were washed there by a storm. They returned to Iberia, brought their wives and settled in Ireland a year before the flood, when they were drowned.
After the flood
Although the Lebor Gabála says Ireland was empty of inhabitants for three hundred years after the flood, Keating records two contrary traditions. A poem from the Saltair of Cashel said that a young man called Adna, son of Bíth, a relative of Ninus of Nineveh, visited Ireland about a hundred and forty years after the flood, but merely plucked a fistful of grass and brought it home to show his neighbours. He also says that, according to "some of our authors", the Fomorians, led by Cichol Gricenchos, settled in Ireland a hundred years after the flood and lived there for two hundred years until they were defeated by Partholón and his followers in the Battle of Mag Ithe. The Fomorians are said to have lived on "fish and fowl", and Partholón is said in the Lebor Gabála to have introduced cattle and houses to Ireland:
According to the Lebor Gabála, Partholón and his followers settled in Ireland either three hundred or three hundred and twelve years after the flood. Said to have been a descendant of Magog, son of Japheth, son of Noah, Partholón is said to have sailed from Greece, via Sicily, to Iberia, and from there to Ireland. He landed at Imber Scéne (Kenmare, County Kerry). His four oxen were the first cattle in Ireland. One of his followers, Brea, was the first to build a house, and another, Samailiath, was the first to brew ale. When they arrived there was only one plain in Ireland — Senmag, the "Old Plain", near modern Tallaght. Four more plains were cleared during Partholón's lifetime, and seven lakes burst from the ground. He and all his followers – five thousand men and four thousand women – died of plague in a single week, with one exception – Tuan mac Cairill, who, like Fintan, survived through a series of transformations and told the story of his people to St Finnian.
Nemed and his followers
Thirty years later another group, led by Nemed, arrived. The Lebor Gabála describes them as Greeks from Scythia, and says they sailed with forty-four ships, but only one ship survived to reach Ireland. Four lakes burst from the ground in Nemed's time, twelve plains were cleared, and three battles won against the Fomorians. Nemed eventually died of plague, and his descendants were subjected by the Fomorian leaders Morc and Conand, who demanded two-thirds of their children, wheat and milk as tribute. Nemed's son Fergus Lethderg and grandsons Semul and Erglan led a revolt against Conand's Tower on Tory Island, off the coast of County Donegal, and Conand was killed, but Morc led a counter-attack. The sea rose up and drowned them all, except for one ship containing thirty warriors, who left Ireland and scattered to the four corners of the world. Fergus Lethderg's son Britan Mael became the ancestor of the Britons. Semeon went to Greece and became the ancestor of the Fir Bolg. Bethach went to the islands of the north and became the ancestor of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
The next invaders were the Fir Bolg, who first established kingship and a system of justice in Ireland. One of their kings, Rinnal, was the first to use iron spear-points. According to a controversial theory of T. F. O'Rahilly, they represent a genuine historical people, the Builg or Belgae, associated further with the Iverni.
Tuatha Dé Danann
The Fir Bolg were displaced by the Tuatha Dé Danann or "Peoples of the goddess Danu", descendants of Nemed, who either came to Ireland from the north on dark clouds or burnt their ships on the shore to ensure they wouldn't retreat. They defeated the Fir Bolg king, Eochaid mac Eirc, in the first Battle of Magh Tuiredh, but their own king, Nuada, lost an arm in the battle. As he was no longer physically perfect he lost the kingship, and his replacement, the half-Fomorian Bres, became the first Tuatha Dé High King of Ireland.
Bres turned out to be a tyrant and brought the Tuatha Dé under the oppression of the Fomorians. Eventually Nuada was restored to the kingship, having had his arm replaced by a working one of silver, and the Tuatha Dé rose against the Fomorians in the second Battle of Magh Tuiredh. Nuada was killed by the Fomorian king, Balor, but Balor met his prophesied end at the hands of his grandson, Lugh, who became king of the Tuatha Dé.
The Sons of Míl
The Tuatha Dé Danann were themselves displaced by the Milesians, descendants of Míl Espáine, a warrior who travelled the ancient world before settling in Iberia. Míl died without ever seeing Ireland, but his uncle Íth saw the island from a tower and led an advance force to scout it out. The three kings of the Tuatha Dé, Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine, had Íth killed. After his body was returned to Iberia, Míl's eight sons led a full-scale invasion.
After defeating the Tuatha Dé in battle at Slieve Mish, County Kerry, the Milesians met Ériu, Banba and Fodla, the wives of the three kings, each of whom asked them to name the island after her. Ériu is the origin of the modern name Éire, and Banba and Fodla are still used as poetic names for Ireland, much as Albion is for Great Britain.
Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine asked for a three-day truce in which the Milesians would stay at anchor nine waves' distance from shore, and the Milesians agreed, but the druids of the Tuatha Dé conjured up a storm to drive them away. However Amergin, son of Míl, calmed the sea with his poetry. The Milesians landed and defeated the Tuatha Dé at Tailtiu, but only three of Míl's sons, Eber Finn, Eremon and Amergin, survived. Amergin divided the land between his two brothers. The Tuatha Dé moved underground, into the sídhe mounds, to be ruled by Bodb Dearg.
- The application of the term seems to have gained currency with Arbois de Jubainville, c. 1881-1883; usage predating this applies the term generally e.g. to Norse mythology, and not specifically to Irish mythology
- The Irish form Irish: na Scéalta Miotaseolaíochta)focal.ie is even more contrived, since the term has rarely if ever been used in any publication.
- Mackillop 1998, mythological cycle "Somewhat awkward today, the phrase 'Mythological Cycle' was coined to describe those early stories that, in the absence of a Celtic cosmology, deal most with origins and the discernible remnants of pre-Christian religion; its first usage pre-dates the currency of 'Celtic Mythology'"
- Mackillop 1998, 'Tuatha Dé Danann' "..principal family of euhemerized pre-Christian Deities".
- Mackillop 1998, loc. cit.
- Mackillop 1998, loc cit.
- Arbois de Jubainville & Best 1903, p. 7, "The Tuatha De Danann, also, after having been with visible body, sole masters of the earth, assume in a later age invisibility, and share with men folk the dominion of the world"
- Mackillop 1998, 'féth fiada', the story of the assigning by Mananán of the sidhe to individual TDD is found in the tale Altrom Tighe Dá Medar. But cf. De Gabáil in t-Sída (cited below). The LGE explains away the magic fog as smoke from the ships the TDD burnt upon arrival.
- Lugh appears in the Compert Con Cúlainn, the Great Queen in the Táin Bó Cúailnge proper and possibly, under a different moniker, in the Táin Bó Regamna.
- Atlantis III (1862), p. 384ff
- The text published in Dobbs 1937 was noticed by O'Curry, but evidently he felt this was not a full-fledged migration tale, but an excerpted account only (on par with the LGE), and characterized it as merely a source for the Battle of Tailtiu.
- Arbois de Jubainville & Best 1903, talks about he "catalogue of Irish epic literature" in the LL of and other mss., which is a listing of the important tales (primscéla). There is a sub-list under the heading "'Tochomoloda' or Emigration", and "of the thirteen pieces contained in this .. seven are mytological: 1. Tochomold Partholon.." (p.4); "Unfortunately, none of the seven pieces.. is now extant" (p.12), except for the Nemed fragment (see list below). The author dates the compiling of the original catalogue to 700 CE, with later additions to the list around 950 CE.
- See O'Curry 1878, pp. 243- for a discussion of the catalogue (ancient lists of story titles), and his Appendix No. LXXXIX, 584-593 for a transcription of the actual catalogue from the Book of Leinster. Cf. Tochlomod
- Cf. however Vernam Hull 1935 and Dobbs 1937.
- e.g. atTemplate:Macalister
- first battle in a unique manuscirpt (TCD H 2.17); second battle in Harl. 5280, and a RIA 24 P 9 somewhat later (c. 1650). See Scéla site.
- O'Curry 1878, loc. cit. (p.583-, catalogue from LL); see O'Curry's footnotes.
- Macalister 1941, Part IV, Section VII, ¶319
- Macalister 1939, Vol. 2, p.134(=notes to ¶119), "..is glossarial"
- Mackillop 1998, pp. 259–262
- Lebor Gabála Érenn §26–29
- Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn 1.5
- Lebor Gabála Érenn §30
- Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn 1.6
- Lebor Gabála Érenn §38
- Lebor Gabála Érenn §30–38
- Lebor Gabála Érenn §39–54
- Mackillop, James (1998), Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280120-1
- Arbois de Jubainville, Marie Henri de (1884), Le cycle mythologique irlandais et la mythologie celtique (google), Paris: Ernest Thorin
- Arbois de Jubainville, Marie Henri de; Best, Richard Irvine (1903), The Irish mythological cycle and Celtic mythology (google), Dublin: O'Donoghue (translation)
- O'Curry, Eugene (1878), Lectures on the manuscript materials of ancient Irish history (google), Dublin: William A. Hinch / Patrick Traynor
- Dobbs, Margaret E. (1929), "Altrom Tighi da Meadar (The Fosterage of the House of Two Goblets)" (snippet), Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 18: 187–230 (ed. & tr.) (CLC, English)
- Dobbs, Margaret E. (1932), "The Ban-Shenchus" (google), Revue Celtique 47: 283–339, RC 48 (1931), 163-234 (snippet); (index), RC 49 (1932), 407-489.(snippet)(CLC, English)
- Dobbs, Margaret E. (1937), "Tochomlad mac Miledh a hEspain i nErind: no Cath Tailten?" (snippet), Études Celtique (Paris: Librairie E. Droz) 2: 187–230 (ed. & tr.) (CLC, English)
- Fraser, J. (1915), "The First Battle of Moytura", Ériu 8: 1–63 (ed. & tr.)
- Macalister, Robert Alexander Stewart, 1870-1950 (1938), Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland (Internet Archive) 1, Dublin: Irish Texts Society
- Stokes, Whitley (1897), "Cóir Anmann (The Fitness of Names)" (google), Irische Texte (Lepzig: Verlag vons S. Hirzel), 3, part 2: 285–444 (ed. & tr.)
- Vernam Hull (1933), "De Gabáil in t-Sída – Concerning the Seizure of the Fairy Mound", Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 19: 53–58 (ed. & tr.) cf. The Taking of the Síd-mound @ Paddy Brown's site.
- Vernam Hull (1935), "The Invasion of Nemed", Modern Philology 33: 119–123 available @ Thesaurus Linguae Hibernicae - published texts
- Hyde, Douglas (1915), "Eachtra Léithín ("The Adventures of Léithín" (Internet Archive), The Celtic Review 10: 116–43 (tr & ed.) (June, 1915 issue)
- The Irish Mythological Cycle and Pseudo-History, Charles D. Wright (Professor @ U. Illioois Urbana-Champaign)
- Timeless Myths: Book of Invasions
- Celtic Myth Podshow Episodes 1-29: Irish Mythological Cycle stories re-told
- Celtic Literature Collective (Irish)