Fighting is always costly. The costs are counted in time, in treasure, in pain and suffering, in injuries, and in deaths. Warriors know the costs of battle, unlike the pampered politicians who send young men and women to fight and die for their own ambition and greed.
But warriors also know that sometimes fighting is necessary. And because they know the costs of fighting, they train and they plan, and they wait until the time is right to engage the enemy. The fighting will still be bloody, but it will be less bloody and more likely to succeed than an attack launched in the heat of anger.
This is a greatly abbreviated version of the Battle of Magh Tuireadh. Lady Gregory’s version in Gods and Fighting Men runs over 4,000 words, while the University College Cork translation of the Harleian Manuscript runs almost 9,000 words. Both are worth your time to read in full.
It was not long until the Fomorians came to attack the Tuatha De Danann. Their whole host came this time, led by their king, Balor of the Evil Eye.
Lugh sent the Dagda to spy out the Fomorians, and to delay them till such time as the men of Ireland would come to the battle. So the Dagda went to their camp, and he asked them for a delay. They said he might have that, but they proceeded to make sport of him. The Dagda endured their taunts, then when the time was right left for home.
And on his way he saw the Morrigan washing herself in the river Unius of Connacht, and one of her feet at Ullad Echne, to the south of the water, and the other at Loscuinn, to the north of the water. And the Morrigan and the Dagda made a union, and from that day on that place was known as “The Bed of the Couple.”
The Morrigan said “The Fomorians will land at Mag Ceidne. Summon the warriors of Ireland to meet me at the Ford of the Unshin. I will go to the king of the Fomorians, and I will take from him the blood of his heart.”
Meanwhile, Lugh had called together the Druids, and smiths, and physicians, and law-makers, and chariot-drivers of Ireland, to make plans for the battle. He asked each in turn what they could do to help in the battle. Each responded with their skill, be it magical or mundane, and promised to wield it for the good of the Tuatha De Danann.
Then the Dagda said “Those great things you are boasting you will do, I will do them all with only myself.”
And they all responded “It is you who are the good God!” and they all gave a great shout of laughter.
Then Lugh spoke to the whole army and put strength in them, so that each had the spirit in him of a king or a great lord.
When the delay was at an end, the Fomorians and the Tuatha De Danann came towards one another till they met at the plain of Magh Tuireadh. And then the two armies threatened one another.
“The men of Ireland are daring enough to offer battle to us,” said Bres to Indech, son of De Domnann. “I give my word,” said Indech, “it is in small pieces their bones will be, if they do not give in to us and pay their tribute.”
Now the Men of Dea had determined not to let Lugh go into the battle, because his death would be a great loss to them. They left nine of their men keeping watch on him. And on the first day none of the kings or princes went into the battle, but only the common fighting men, and they were fierce and proud.
And the battle went on like that from day to day with no great advantage to one or the other side. But there was wonder on the Fomorians on account of one thing. Their weapons that were broken or blunted in the fight lay there as they were, and their men who were killed showed no sign of life on the morrow. But it was not so with the Tuatha De Danann, for if their men were killed or their weapons were broken today, they were as good as before on the morrow.
Such were the magics of the physicians Diancecht, Octruil his son, and Airmed his daughter. And such was the magic of Goibniu the Smith.
The Men of Dea rose up and left Lugh and his nine comrades keeping him, and they went on to the battle. And a hard battle was fought, and for a while it was going against the Tuatha de Danann. Their king Nuada of the Silver Hand, and Macha daughter of Emmass, both fell by Balor, King of the Fomor. Cassmail fell by Octriallach, and the Dagda got a dreadful wound from a casting spear that was thrown by Ceithlenn, wife of Balor.
But when the battle was going on, Lugh broke away from those that were keeping him, and rushed out to the front of the Men of Dea. And then there was a fierce battle fought, and Lugh heartened the Tuatha De Danann to fight well, so they would not be in bonds any longer. For it was better for them, he said, to die protecting their own country than to live under bonds and under tribute any longer. And he sang a song of courage to them, and the hosts gave a great shout as they went into battle, and then they met together, and each of them began to attack the enemy.
And there was great slaughter, and many slipped in the blood that was under their feet, and they fell, striking their heads one against another; and the river carried away bodies of friends and enemies together.
Then Lugh and Balor met in the battle, and Lugh called out reproaches to him; and there was anger in Balor, and he said to the men that were with him: “Lift up my eyelid till l see this chatterer that is talking to me.” For any who fell under the eye of Balor would immediately die.
Then they raised Balor’s eyelid, but Lugh made a cast of his red spear at him, that brought the eye out through the back of his head, so that it was towards his own army it fell, and three times nine of the Fomor died when they looked at it.
And if Lugh had not put out that eye when he did, the whole of Ireland would have been burned in one flash. After this, Lugh struck Balor’s head off.
And then the Morrigan came into the battle, and she was heartening the Tuatha De Danann to fight the battle well; and as she had promised the Dagda, she took the full of her two hands of Indech’s blood, and gave it to the armies that were waiting at the foot of Unius.
After that it was not a battle any more, but a rout, and the Fomorians were beaten back to the sea.
And after the battle was won, and the bodies were cleared away, the Morrigan gave out the news of the great victory to the hosts and to the royal heights of Ireland, and she said: “Peace up to the skies, the skies down to earth, the earth under the skies; strength to everyone.”
The number of men that fell in the battle will not be known until we number the stars of the sky, or flakes of snow, or the dew on the grass, or grass under the feet of cattle, or the horses of the Son of Lir in a stormy sea.
Then Lugh was made king over the Tuatha De Danann, and it was at Nas he had his court.
And while he was king, his foster-mother Tailtiu died. Lugh buried her in the plain of Midhe, and raised a mound over her that is to be seen to this day. And he ordered fires to be kindled, and keening to be made, and games and sports to be held in the summer of every year out of respect to her.
And thus our festival Lughnasadh is named for Lugh, but it is celebrated in honor of Tailtiu.
The 2017 Celebration of Lugh
June 27: The Birth of Lugh
July 6: The Coming of Lugh
July 13: The Leadership of Lugh
July 20: The Victory of Lugh
From 2015: Lughnasadh – A Solitary Ritual