Friday, August 2, 2013

The Tuatha De' Danann, Burial Mounds and Fairies


The meaning formerly given to Tuatha Dé Danann was "the men of science who were gods," danann being here connected withdán, "knowledge." But the true meaning is "the tribes or folk of the goddess Danu,"199 which agrees with the cognates Tuatha or Fir Dea, "tribes or men of the goddess." The name was given to the group, though Danu had only three sons, Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharbar. Hence the group is also called fir tri ndea, "men of the three gods."200 The equivalents in Welsh story of Danu and her folk are Dôn and her children. We have seen that though they are described as kings and warriors by the annalists, traces of their divinity appear. In the Cúchulainn cycle they are supernatural beings and sometimes demons, helping or harming men, and in the Fionn cycle all these characteristics are ascribed to them. But the theory which prevailed most is that which connected them with the hills or mounds, the last resting-places of the mighty dead. Some of these bore their names, while other beings were also associated with the mounds (síd)—Fomorians and Milesian chiefs, heroes of the sagas, or those who had actually been buried in them.201 Legend told how, after the defeat of the gods, the mounds were divided among them, the method {64}of division varying in different versions. In an early version the Tuatha Dé Danann are immortal and the Dagda divides the síd.202 But in a poem of Flann Manistrech (ob. 1056) they are mortals and die.203 Now follows a regular chronology giving the dates of their reigns and their deaths, as in the poem of Gilla Coemain (eleventh century).204 Hence another legend told how, Dagda being dead, Bodb Dearg divided the síd, yet even here Manannan is said to have conferred immortality upon the Tuatha Dé Danann.205 The old pagan myths had shown that gods might die, while in ritual their representatives were slain, and this may have been the starting-point of the euhemerising process. But the divinity of the Tuatha Dé Danann is still recalled. Eochaid O'Flynn (tenth century), doubtful whether they are men or demons, concludes, "though I have treated of these deities in order, yet have I not adored them."206 Even in later times they were still thought of as gods in exile, a view which appears in the romantic tales and sagas existing side by side with the notices of the annalists. They were also regarded as fairy kings and queens, and yet fairies of a different order from those of ordinary tradition. They are "fairies or sprites with corporeal forms, endowed with immortality," and yet also dei terreni or síde worshipped by the folk before the coming of S. Patrick. Even the saint and several bishops were called by the fair pagan daughters of King Loegaire, fir síde, "men of the síd," that is, gods.207 The sídwere named after the names of the Tuatha Dé Danann {65}who reigned in them, but the tradition being localised in different places, several mounds were sometimes connected with one god. The síd were marvellous underground palaces, full of strange things, and thither favoured mortals might go for a time or for ever. In this they correspond exactly to the oversea Elysium, the divine land.