Fir Bolg

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In medieval Irish Christian pseudo-history, the Fir Bolg (also spelt Firbolg and Fir Bholg) are one of the ethnic groups that inhabited ancient Ireland. They are descended from the Muintir Nemid, an earlier ethnic group who abandoned Ireland and settled in different parts of Europe. Those who settle in Greece become the Fir Bolg and eventually return to the now-uninhabited Ireland. After ruling it for some time, they are overthrown by the invading Tuatha Dé Danann, another group descended from the Muintir Nemid.

Today, most scholars regard the tale as primarily myth rather than history.[1] It is thought that its writers intended to provide an epic history for Ireland that could compare to that of Rome or Israel, and which was compatible with Christian teaching.[2][3] Ireland's inhabitants (in this case the Fir Bolg) are likened to the Israelites by fleeing slavery and making a great journey to a 'Promised Land'. The pagan gods (the Tuath Dé) are depicted as a group of people with powers of sorcery.

The name Fir Bolg is usually translated as "men of bags". The Irish word fir means "men" and the word bolg/bolc can mean a belly, bag, sack, bellows, and so forth. It has been suggested that it originally meant men who were 'bulging' or 'swollen' with battle fury.[4]

The name may be based on, and cognate with, Belgae.[4] The Belgae were a group of tribes living in northern Gaul. T. F. O'Rahilly proposed that the Fir Bolg, Fir Domnann and Fir Gáilióin were real peoples who arrived in Ireland in ancient times. He proposed that the Fir Bolg were linked to the historical Belgae, the Fir Domnann were the historical Dumnonii and the Fir Gáilióin were the Laigin.[5]


The Fir Bolg are first mentioned in the 9th century Historia Brittonum, where they are referred to as the Builc.[4] Much more about them is found in the slightly later Cét-chath Maige Tuired and Lebor Gabála Érenn (LGÉ). These texts say that the Fir Bolg are descendants of the Muintir Nemid (people of Nemed), who inhabited Ireland before them. All but thirty of the Muintir Nemid were wiped out. Of this thirty, one group flees "into the north of the world", one group flees to Britain, and another group flees to Greece. Those who went into the north become the Tuatha Dé Danann (or Tuath Dé), the main pagan gods of Ireland. Those who went to Greece become the Fir Bolg. The LGÉ says that they were enslaved by the Greeks and made to carry bags of clay, hence the name 'Fir Bolg' (men of bags). The Cét-chath Maige Tuired says that they were forced to settle on poor, rocky land but that they made it into fertile fields by dumping great amounts of soil on it. After 230 years of slavery (or oppression), they leave Greece at the same time as the Israelites leave Egypt. In a great fleet, the Fir Bolg sail to Iberia and then on to Ireland. Led by their five chieftains, they divide Ireland into five provinces: Gann takes North Munster, Sengann takes South Munster, Genann takes Connacht, Rudraige takes Ulster and Slánga takes Leinster. They establish the High Kingship and a succession of nine High Kings rule over Ireland for the next 37 years. The last High King, Eochaid mac Eirc, is the example of a perfect king. The Fir Bolg are also said to contain two sub-groups known as the Fir Domnann and Fir Gáilióin.

After 37 years, the Tuath Dé arrive in Ireland. Their king, Nuada, asks that they be given half the island, but the Fir Bolg king Eochaid refuses. The two groups meet at the Pass of Balgatan, and the ensuing battle—the Battle of Mag Tuired—lasts for four days. During the battle, Sreng, the champion of the Fir Bolg, challenges Nuada to single combat. With one sweep of his sword, Sreng cuts off Nuada's right hand. However, the Fir Bolg are defeated and their king, Eochaid, is slain by The Morrígan, though Sreng saves them from utter loss.[6] According to some texts, the Fir Bolg flee Ireland.[7] According to others, the Tuath Dé offer them one quarter of Ireland as their own; they choose Connacht and are mentioned very little after this in the myths.[8]

Preceded by
Mythical settlers of Ireland Succeeded by
Tuatha Dé Danann

Popular culture[edit]

In James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the Irish poet Thomas Moore is described by the protagonist Stephen Dedalus as being "a Firbolg in the borrowed cloak of a Milesian".

In the City of Heroes universe, a faction called "Fir Bolg" battles a faction named Tuatha Dé Danann.

In EVE Online, a Firbolg is a type of fighter drone, a frigate-size unpiloted automated attack ship that can only be utilised by carrier-class capital ships.

In the Warcraft universe, the name of an ursine neutral race was a furbolg.

In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role playing game, the firbolgs are a race of giants.

In the Myth universe, the fir'Bolg are a muscular and hardy woodsmen race skilled in archery.

In the Dark Age of Camelot universe, the firbolg (or Fir'bolg) is a playable race of the hibernian realm, a half man, half giant, known for its strength and size.

In Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile, the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fir Bolg are recast as warring aliens from another galaxy inhabiting prehistoric Earth, the "Tanu" and "Firvulag", respectively.

In Elizabeth Haydon's Symphony of Ages, the characters Grunthor and Achmed are both half Firbolg.

In Huntik: Secrets & Seekers Firbolg the fierce giant is the name of one of the creatures known as the Titans that the characters of the series can summon to aid them in battle.

In S.M. Stirling's Nantucket series, Swindapa's people are called the Fiernan Bohulugi, suggesting that they might have inspired the stories of the Fir Bolg.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carey, John. The Irish National Origin-Legend: Synthetic Pseudohistory. University of Cambridge, 1994. pp.1–4
  2. ^ Carey, pp.1–4, 24
  3. ^ Koch, p.1130
  4. ^ a b c Koch, John T.. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2006. pp.749-750
  5. ^ O'Rahilly, T. F. (1946) Early Irish History and Mythology. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
  6. ^ Ellis, Peter Berresford (2002) The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends; pp 28. Constable & Robinson
  7. ^ Koch, p.1327
  8. ^ Squire Celtic Myth and Legend; pp. 47-77
  • Carey, John (1998) "Fir Bolg: a Native Etymology Revisited" in: Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 16 (Winter 1998), pp. 77–83.
  • Squire, Charles (190-?) Celtic Myth and Legend. London: Gresham

Further reading[edit]

  • Arbois de Jubainville, Henri d' (1884) Le Cycle mythologique irlandais. Osnabrück: Zeller
  • Wilde, Sir William R. (1867) Loch Corrib, Its Shores and Islands. Dublin: McGlashan & Gill, chap. viii
  • Arrowsmith, Nancy, with Moorse, George (1977) Field Guide to the Little People. London: Macmillan

See also[edit]

External links[edit]