As we continue to deal with the pandemic and the general chaos of 2020 I thought it might be nice to write something that had no higher purpose or deeper meaning than pure entertainment. To that ends I’m offering a list of random Irish mythology trivia*, rather in the realm of ‘fun facts’, which I hope people might enjoy.
- Nuada, the king of the Tuatha De Danann when they arrive in Ireland, is left handed. He lost his right arm during the first battle of Maige Tuired when he was fighting against the Fir Bolg warrior Sreng, and we are told it was his shield arm, meaning his sword arm is his left arm.
- Speaking of Nuada’s arm, when it is healed in some versions it is the original flesh arm that is restored, which Miach acquires and holds against his body for six days, then strikes it with burnt bulrushes for another three. This makes me wonder where the arm was for the intervening 7 years. and has resulted in several friends and I joking that there needs to be a comic featuring the adventures of Nuada’s arm.
- When Miach heals Nauda’s severed arm by replacing the silver prosthetic with the original flesh arm he is paid with the silver arm – which Nuada has been wearing and using for at least 7 years.
- The Lia Fail would cry out under every rightful king of Ireland – until Cu Chulainn came along and hit it for not crying out under himself and his foster son. The Lia Fail is also the only one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha De Danann that has no set owner. Each of the other three – cauldron, sword, and spear – belong to someone who is at one point High King of the Gods.
- Although Lia Fal is often given as ‘stone of destiny’ the name more literally means ‘stone of Ireland’. Fal is an antiquated term for Ireland found in the older sources.
- One of Lugh’s epithets in the Lebor Gabala Erenn is rind-agach i.e. “spear-slaughterous”. This may be a reference to the great spear which is one of the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann and which belongs to him. It may also be a reference to Lugh’s temper, which is indicated in the line following the reference to this epithet: “[the] many-skilled without cooling”.
- Another of Lugh’s epithets, this one from the Cath Maige Tuired, is leathsuanaigh or ‘half-red’ which a note in the text explains with a claim that Lugh would have a red colour on him at night. In contrast later material would choose to interpret it as leathshuanach or ‘half-cloaked’
- The Dagda’s famous magic club doesn’t actually belong to him – it’s only on loan. He obtained it while searching for a cure for his son Cermait who had been killed by Lugh for sleeping with Lugh’s wife. He came across three men who were arguing over their inheritance, which included a club which could kill at one end and revive at the other. The Dagda asked if he could borrow it and promptly used it to kill all three and revive his son, who shamed him into reviving the three men as well. After that he basically refused to return it, but an agreement was reached that he would permanently borrow it, giving the sun, moon, sea, and land as sureties against it.
- In several stories the Dagda is said to be “the king of the sidhe of Ireland” and it’s implied he has authority over all the other fairy hills and their rulers. This may reflect his role as the High King of the Tuatha De Danann or his wider pre-eminence among them.
- Although the Lebor Gabala Erenn gives an extensive list of the Tuatha De Danann and how they each died in myth, in the Cath Maige Tuired’s list of battle deaths Macha is the only female listed among the warriors killed. In every account regardless of source she is always said to have died with Nuada at the hands of Balor of the Evil Eye; this has led to speculation that the two may have been married.
- The two bulls who are the central figures in the Tain Bo Cuiligne are not actually bulls at all but are men of Fairy shape-changed. The two had been friends, both herding pigs for different Fairy Kings (of Munster and Connacht respectively), but gossip about which of them was more powerful led them to using magic against each other, resulting in the suffering of their pigs and the loss of their positions. Afterwards they began fighting in various shapes, always trying to prove which was superior to the other. At the end of the Tain Bo Cuiligne the two, in the form of bulls, battle and kill each other, breaking the cycle they have been trapped in.
- The famous Queen Medb of Connacht was killed by a piece of hard cheese hurled from a sling by her own nephew who was avenging his mother’s death. He spotted Medb while she was bathing and having no stone at hand used a hardened piece of cheese instead.
- Cu Chulainn has four pupils in one eye and three in the other and tri-coloured hair; he is considered extremely beautiful. When his hero-spasm is on him his hair becomes rigidly spiked, and one eye bulges while the other withdraws into his head.
So there you go, a baker’s dozen of Irish myth trivia. I hope you found them interesting or entertaining, even if you are already pretty familiar with the stories.
*This is expanded and revised from a blog I wrote in 2015.