Irish Myths and Legends

Irish Myths and Legends

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Posted Thu 5 Nov 2020 10:39 AM
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The story of St Brigid

One of Ireland’s patron saints, St Brigid is associated with several legendary miracles, one of the most famous being that of her ever-expanding cloak.

The tale tells of how she came to acquire the land in which her monastery was built, and is regarded as one of the first miracles associated with St Brigid...

Brigid approached the King of Leinster asking for land to build a convent for her and her followers. She said that the place where she stood was the perfect spot as it was located in fertile lands, and surrounded by woodlands and water.

The King laughed at her and refused, so Brigid then made a more humble request. Could she have as much land as her cloak would cover? The King, thinking she was joking, agreed.

But then, instead of laying the cloak flat on the ground, Brigid passed it to four of her sisters, and each then faced a different direction – north, south, east, and west – and began to run, the cloth growing in all directions, covering massive swathes of the King’s land.

The King, in a panic, granted Brigid the land she needed to build her monastery – he even went on to become her patron, granting additional resources to the monastery and becoming a Christian himself.

The land in which the cloak covered came to be known as the Curragh of Kildare, or as some call it, St Brigid’s Pastures.  

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Posted Wed 11 Nov 2020 12:56 PM
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The dream of Aengus

Aengus was an Irish deity of love, youth, and poetry. He was the son of the Dagda and inherited much of his father’s charm, guile and wit.

He had the appearance of a young and beautiful man and had powerful abilities like shape-shifting and resurrection. His shape-shifting ability came into play in one of the most famous tales of Aengus.

Aengus began to have recurring dreams about a beautiful princess, who he quickly fell in love with. Aengus searched far and wide across the waking world to locate this dream maiden, without success.

That was until a friend of Aengus’ father, King Bodh Derg of Munster, succeeded in finding the maiden. Her name was Caer Ibormeith.

Aengus found her on the shores of a lake called the Dragon’s Mouth. She was lost within a group of 150 women, who were bound in chains. These women were to be transformed and spend a year as swans to celebrate the Samhain, the end of the Celtic year on October 31st.

Aengus could not find Caer Ibormeith amongst the women, so he struck a deal with their captors. If he was able to recognise her in her swan form, he would have permission to marry her.

Once the women were transformed, Aengus used his shape-shifting ability to turn himself into a swan. He then called out to the woman of his dreams, they found each other, and flew away together.

It is said that when they found one another, the two sang a song so beautiful that it sent their captors to sleep for three days. 

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Posted Wed 18 Nov 2020 6:46 PM
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Fionn Mac Cumhaill vs Benandonner

One of Ireland's most popular mythical heroes is Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool), leader of a warrior group known as the Fianna.

One day, while Fionn was going about his duties, a giant called Benandonner started shouting insults at him from across the ocean in Scotland. The giant taunted Fionn with threats, but Fionn could not get across the water to fight him, as he was unable to swim.

In a fury, he tore chunks out of the nearby cliffs, and smashed them into the seabed, creating a path – a causeway – between his Northern Ireland home and Benandonner’s isle of Staffa – you may know where this story is going.

Fionn crossed the causeway and confronted Benandonner. There are differing accounts of how the Irish hero fared. One story says that Fionn simply bested the giant in battle. But another says that upon seeing Benandonner's imposing size, the much smaller Mac Cumhaill retreated across his causeway, with his Scottish rival in hot pursuit. Fionn now needed a clever plan…

So he disguised himself as a baby, and Benandonner believing it to be the baby of his adversary recoiled in fear. If that’s the size of the baby, he thought, the father must be colossal. In terror, he fled across the newly forged Giant’s Causeway, destroying the Scottish side of the path as he ran. And thus, the Causeway is cloven in two halves, one on the Hebridean island of Staffa, and one on the north Antrim coast on the island of Ireland. 

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Posted Wed 25 Nov 2020 1:09 PM
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Hill of Uisneach

Welcome to the ancient centre of Ireland, where great rulers converged, festivals of fire ignite and Celtic deities slumber. Legend has it that through the Hill of Uisneach, you could be transported to the mythical fifth province of Ireland, known as Mide. Situated in the middle of Ireland, Mide was seen as the heart of the island – the province that held the rest together.

This is sacred ground, home to the final resting place of the Sun God, Lugh, and the Earth Goddess, Éiru. It was also the home of Dagda, God and leader of the Tuatha De Dannan – an ancient supernatural tribe.

Uisneach was the meeting point where the leaders of each province gathered for council. After all, it was said to be Ireland's royal centre, standing tall with the Hill of Tara, which was known as the seat of the High Kings. With such prominence, it's no wonder that Uisneach was visited by many iconic figures, including the legendary warrior Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) and Saint Patrick.

This sacred site was where the first fires of Bealtaine (summer) were lit to herald the first dawn of summer. It's said that the hearth of Uisneach burned so brightly, it could be seen by over a quarter of Ireland. The flame of Uisneach was then used to ignite fires across all the sacred hills of Ireland, creating a ‘fire eye’ that covered the country. The tradition has been rekindled in recent times, with the Festival of the Fires igniting celebrations through fire, music and performance.

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Photograph by Chris Hill - Statue in Westmeath
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Posted Wed 2 Dec 2020 12:21 PM
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The Dagda

Every culture's mythology has the concept of an 'All-Father', one supreme God who rules over all. There was the Greek god, Zeus; the Norse god, Odin... In Ireland, we had The Dagda...

One of the most powerful and wisest of the Irish gods, there are many tales associated with The Dagda and his three treasures...

First, was his cauldron of plenty, which provided unlimited food and drink to all who ate from it. Then there was The Dagda’s enormous club – one end could end a life with a single blow; while the other end could restore life. Lastly, he had a mystical harp that could make anyone who heard it laugh with joy or weep with sorrow...

Once when The Dagda and his comrades returned home after a great battle, he found the Fomorians – their enemies – had stolen his precious harp. So The Dagda set out to retrieve his prized possession. They found the harp surrounded by sleeping Fomorian warriors. The Dagda called the harp to his hands, which awoke the warriors. Before they could attack, The Dagda played the Music of Mirth so the Fomorians laughed uncontrollably. He then played the Music of Grief, which caused them to wail with sadness. Lastly, The Dagda played the Music of Sleep, which sent the Fomorians into a deep slumber while The Dagda escaped... 
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Posted Thu 10 Dec 2020 9:12 AM
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Diarmuid and Grainne

Ireland's mythology is filled with stories of love, but many of them have a tragic end...Take the story of Diarmuid and Gráinne, for example. Gráinne was the most beautiful woman in Ireland and was courted by all of the notable chieftains, the most famous of which was Finn MacCool. She agreed to marry the famed Irish hero, but on the night of their wedding feast, she met Diarmuid, one of Finn’s best warriors. It was love at first sight. She put a spell on the young warrior, who then fell in love with her, and they fled.

The couple fled across the country, with Finn and his warriors in pursuit. They evaded capture for years, even having children of their own. But then, on the heaths of Ben Bulben in County Sligo, they were attacked by a wild boar. Diarmuid managed to kill the boar, but was fatally wounded in the process.

Finn and his men found Gráinne and the dying Diarmuid. Gráinne implored Finn to heal Diarmuid by giving him a drink of water, cupped in his magical hands. Each of his warriors begged Fionn to heal their fallen comrade, but each time when he fetched the water to heal him, he would remember Diarmuid’s betrayal and let the water slip through his fingers. Finally, the third time, when Finn finally resolved to heal Diarmuid, it was too late, as the great warrior had passed away… 

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Posted Wed 16 Dec 2020 2:43 PM
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The many myths of St. Patrick

You can't help but think of one story when it comes to St Patrick. It’s the famous tale of how he banished all the snakes from Ireland. But Ireland’s patron saint had a range of colourful and exciting myths associated with him.

Think first of the shamrock, a symbol of Ireland known across the world, it also has deep ties to Christianity. The legend tells that St Patrick used the distinct three leaves of the plant to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity. That’s why, in many depictions of the famed bishop, he’s holding a cross in one hand, and a shamrock in the other.

Another tells of how, on his journey back to Ireland from his family home, he carried a walking stick crafted from the wood of an ash tree. He had a habit of thrusting the stick into the ground when he began the process of evangelising. One place, called Aspatria, took so long to convert to Christianity that by the time he was ready to leave, his walking stick had taken root, and had grown into a living tree.

Then, of course, there's the time when St Patrick's met famed Irish hero Oisín, of Tir Na nÓg. Upon his return from the magical land of Tir Na nÓg, Oisín had been turned into an old man. Found in a weakened and confused state, Oisín was brought to meet St Patrick. Their interaction highlighted the difference between the Christian lifestyle of St Patrick, and the pagan world of Oisín and his father Fionn Mac Cumhail; a world filled with warriors, fighting and feasting. It’s said that St Patrick then wrote Oisín’s story, passing it down for future generations.

The differences between the pagan and Christian belief systems have delighted storytellers in Ireland for generations, going on to inspire writers and poets like WB Yeats. 

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Posted Fri 23 Apr 2021 9:16 AM
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The Days of the Brindled Cow

If you've ever visited the island of Ireland, one thing you'll notice is that the weather can be unpredictable. You may wake up to a beautiful sun-kissed morning, only to face a rain storm at lunch time.

One Irish folk take, "The Days of the Brindled Cow", shows just how unpredictable our weather is. In the story, the bó riabhach, or Brindled Cow reflects on the harsh weather of March, and boasts of how she was able to withstand it. As punishment for her arrogance, March borrowed the first three days of April, and pelted the land with harsh weather.

The end of March, and the start of April is a period where there’s much folklore and superstition about the weather and its uncertain nature. The belief is that the end of March and start of April is the final wintery relapse before spring, where no new job, from fishing to farming is begun.

So, if you have any outdoor tasks planned, maybe take a couple of days off!#

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Posted Fri 23 Apr 2021 9:21 AM
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The Four Treasures of the Tuatha dé Danann

In the ancient Ireland of yore, when the ancient gods known as the Tuatha dé Danann first landed in Ireland, they brought four magical treasures with them.

The first was the Cauldron of Dagda. This cauldron produced an endless supply of food that would bestow renewed health and vigour to those who ate it.

The second was the sword of Nuada. Once this mighty weapon was drawn, it couldn’t be sheathed without claiming a life – and the sword had the power to draw its enemies to its blade – so there was no escaping it!

Then there was the Stone of Destiny. This stone – which can still be found on the Hill of Tara in County Meath – would emit a cry when the rightful king of Ireland touched it. Famous heroes like Cú Chulainn tried to win its favour – but it was Brian Boru who eventually was deemed the chosen one…

And lastly, there was the Spear of Lugh. This mighty weapon was impossible to withstand, and made the user invincible!

Which treasure of the Tuatha dé Danann is your favourite?

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Posted Fri 23 Apr 2021 9:27 AM
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The Fairy

Is there any creature more mythical than a fairy?
In Irish myth, our version of the magical creature is called the aos sí. It is said that they live in an invisible world that exists parallel to our own. In some mythologies they are gods and goddesses, and in others they are merely spirits that are manifested by nature. In Irish mythology, it is said they descend from the Tuatha De Danann, the people of the goddess Danu.

In folklore it Is said that they can be found in fairy hills or mounds, where people would bring offerings to appease them. And at the special hours of dusk and dawn, when it’s not fully night or day, we are closest to the other world of the fairies. So next time you go out for an early evening walk, keep your eyes peeled…

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