great cities of fairyland. While in their homelands, they had learned the arts of poetry and science. They brought these gifts, plus great treasures from the fairy cities, to their new home.
The treasures included a stone that confirmed the rightful king by
roaring when he stood upon it, a sword that could never be broken, a
magic spear, and a pot that could feed an army without ever going empty.
After three days, the cloud on which the Danaans arrived vanished. When
the air cleared, the Firbolgs, a misshapen and stupid race who lived in
Ireland, realized they were no longer alone. They sent a warrior named
Sreng to question the newcomers. Likewise, the Danaans sent a
representative from their side.
When the two ambassadors met, each was in awe of the
other’s weapons. The Danaans’ spears were light and sharply pointed,
while those of the Firbolgs were heavy and blunt.
The pair decided to exchange weapons so that each tribe could learn more
about the other. Just as the pair was leaving, the Danaan ambassador
suggested the Firbolgs and Danaans should split the country into two
equal halves and join to defend it against any future invaders.
Sreng returned to the Firbolg camp and told Eochaid, the king, of the
Danaan ambassador’s offer. Eochaid worried that if they gave the Danaans
half of Ireland, they would soon want the whole.
Plus, the Firbolgs were greedy and did not want to share the land with
anyone. Rather than agreeing to the Danaans’ offer, Eochaid refused,
deciding that it would be better to declare war instead.
The two tribes met at Moytura, or the Tower of Plains, to wage their
battle. The fighting was vicious. Nuada, the king of the Danaans, lost
his hand while fighting with a Firbolg.
The Firbolg ruler, Eochaid, was even more unfortunate—he was killed while leading a party in search of water.
Once Eochaid was dead, the Danaans proved much more powerful than their
opponents. The Firbolgs realized they would be defeated altogether if
they continued fighting.
Rather than risk a complete loss, they decided to make an agreement with
the Danaans. The Danaans offered the Firbolgs one-fifth of the country.
From that day, the Firbolgs made their home in the area of Ireland
known as Connaught and seldom bothered the Danaans.
After the battle, Nuada should have remained ruler. There was an ancient
law, though, that declared no maimed person could sit on the throne of
Ireland. Nuada had a beautiful silver hand made in the hope that he
would be allowed to remain king. However, the people still considered it
a fake and forced him to step down.
Given the troubles with the Firbolgs, the Danaans thought it might be a
wise diplomatic decision to ally with the Fomori, a race of giants that
lived under the sea. They chose to ask Bres, son of the Fomori king and a Danaan mother, if he would be their ruler.
He agreed. As it turned out, though, Bres was a terrible king. He was
oppressive and mean and taxed the Danaans heavily. Bres also lacked
generosity and hospitality—two of the worst offenses an Irish ruler
While Bres tormented the Danaans, Nuada, who was now nicknamed “Of the
Silver Hand,” wondered if there was anything he could do. When he had
lost his hand, it was Dian Cécht, the god of medicine, who had crafted
the silver hand. It turned out that Dian Cécht’s son, Miach, was an even
Nuada decided to visit Miach to see if he could help him with his hand.
The son was able to do what the father was not—he made a real hand grow
for Nuada. When the people
of Ireland heard that Nuada was no longer maimed, they rejoiced. They
asked him to reclaim his rightful position as king, which he did.
Bres, of course, was not happy about losing the throne. He returned to his home under the sea,
where he complained to his father, Elatha. Elatha granted his son a
great army which he could use to reclaim his place on the throne. He
also advised his son to seek the help of Balor—the greatest and most evil of Fomori kings.
Balor was nicknamed “of the Evil Eye” because only one glance from his
great eye could strike down all who looked upon it. In his old age,
Balor’s eye became droopy and the lid had to be hoisted up by his
servants with ropes and pulleys. Even so, Balor’s evil eye was a great
Nuada and the Danaans grew nervous when they heard news of Bres and
Balor’s alliance. They knew they would be no match for the powerful
Balor. In fact, Balor’s only weakness was an ancient
prophecy that he would be killed by his own grandson. But Balor had
taken care to kill all his only daughter’s offspring, so even this path
The Danaans assembled at the royal palace of Tara to determine what they
could do. While there, a stranger arrived at the palace. He was greeted
by the gatekeeper, who asked the stranger his profession. No one was
admitted without being the master of some craft.
“I am a carpenter,” said the stranger.
The gatekeeper replied that the king already had a skilled carpenter and had no need of another.
“Then tell the king I am a master smith.”
“We already have a smith,” answered the gatekeeper.
“Then I am a warrior, too,” said the stranger.
“We do not need one,” replied the gatekeeper. “The great Ogma is our champion.”
The stranger went on to name all the professions and arts he could think
of—poet, harpist, scientist, physician, sorcerer, sculptor. Each time
he was told that the king already had such a man at court.
“Then ask the king,” said the stranger, “if he has with him a man of all
these crafts at once, for if he has, there is no need for me at Tara.”
When the king heard this news, he was intrigued. He decided to test the
stranger. Nuada sent his best chess champion to play the man. The
stranger won quickly, inventing a new move in the process.
With the victory, Nuada offered him an invitation to the palace. As he
walked in, the stranger saw Ogma, the King’s champion, pushing a stone
so large it would take eighty oxen to pull it. The stranger helped Ogma
by effortlessly lifting the great rock and putting it in its place.
All the people at the palace were amazed by the stranger’s show of
strength and intelligence. They wondered if he was also a great
musician, and asked him to play upon his harp for them.
First, the stranger played a lullaby that made the crowd fall asleep for
two days. Next, he played a song so sad they all began to weep.
Finally, he played a joyous song, to which they all cheered and danced.
Nuada and his people were all awed. They wondered if the beautiful man
might be of help in fighting the Fomori. As it turned out, the stranger
would be more than just some help.
He revealed that he was Lugh, Master of All Arts. His father was the
Danaan Cian, his mother was the Fomor Ethlinn, but most importantly, his
grandfather was none other than Balor! Although Balor believed he had
protected himself from the prophecy by killing his grandchildren, he was
unaware that one child, Lugh, had been rescued from death and raised in
Lugh agreed to help the Danaans in their defense against the Fomori.
Before he led them into battle, though, Lugh believed they needed
certain magical instruments and tools to ensure victory. He dispatched
messengers, soldiers, and servants across the land on various quests. In
total, it took seven years to gather everything they needed.
But in the end, the Danaans had collected several magic items to help
them in battle. A magical pig’s skin, for example, healed every wound or
sickness it touched. Seven swine provided unlimited food for the
Danaans. With these items and more in hand, the Danaans were ready to
take on the Fomori.
The giants and the gods met at the Tower of Plains—the same site of the
Danaans’ battle against the Firbolgs. They fought hand-to-hand for days
The fighting itself was equal, but the results were not. While the
Danaans lost as many men and weapons as the Fomori, their numbers never
seemed to dwindle. This was because of the gods’ magic and the items
they had brought with them.
Each time a Danaan spear broke, Goibhniu, the smith god, hammered out a
new spearhead with only three blows of his mallet. Luchtar, God of
Carpentry, would instantly make a new handle. Likewise, wounds were
healed by the pig skin or by the powers of Dian Cécht, the god of
The lack of results only infuriated the Fomori further. They charged the
Danaans with a great shout. Swords clashed, shields shattered, and
darts whistled by. In desperation, the Fomori brought out Balor, hoping
to finish off their enemies once and for all. Balor struck down many
Danaans, including Nuada of the Silver Hand.
At last, he met up with Lugh. He ordered his servants to pull up his
great eyelid. But while the lid was only partially open, Lugh took a
slingshot and hurled a great stone. It struck Balor’s mighty eye and
lodged deep in his brain. Balor fell dead, fulfilling the prophecy that
he would die at his grandson’s hand.
With Balor dead, the Danaans quickly defeated the Fomori. Lugh, who had
led them to their victory, was made king at the battle’s end.