Obscure Tales: Lugh, High King of Ireland

“On northern islands of the earth there were tribes of the goddess Danu and there they comprehended knowledge, magic, knowledge of druids, charms and other secrets. In four cities they comprehended knowledge, secret knowledge, devil craft – Faliase and Goriase, Muriase and Findiase. From Falias they brought Lia Fal that was then in Tara. He screamed under each king who could rule Ireland. From Gorias they brought a spear which Lug owned. Nothing could resist it or before the one in which hand it was. From Findias they brought Nuada sword. It was necessary to take out it from a fighting sheath as anybody couldn’t evade from it, and it was truly irresistible. 

… it was possible for tribes of the goddess Danu to make peace with Fomorians, and Balor, the grandson of Netab, gave His daughter  Etne to Kean, to son of Dian Kekht. She gave birth to a  wonderful child, and there was it Lugh.” ~ Battles at Mag Tuired

In ancient times, before Hibernia and before Ireland, there was the emerald isle, home to gods and monsters and warriors of great and awesome powers. First from the Otherworld, came the Fomorians. Some say they were the first inhabitants of Ireland after the great flood. Gods of chaos and destruction, they settled on the Gaelic isle with its rolling hills and tapestry of green lush. They were grotesque beings of gigantic proportions and terrible tales have been told of the misery they wrought and the wars they fought.

But as darkness and chaos exist so must there also be light and order. From the Otherworld followed Tuath Dé, immortal beings led by the mother goddess Danu. They were the natural enemies of the Fomorians and many battles were fought for the heart of Ireland…

Balor, the Strong-Smiter, king of the Fomorians, was a giant of great strength. Above his brow in the middle of his forehead, the terrible eye of destruction bulged with eyelids of gold and an iris of crimson red. Balor had to keep it closed for when opened it would beam out death to man and tree. No army could withstand its horrific power.

Balor of the Evil Eye by Simon Bisley

Old tales of Balor’s evil eye describe it as “…always covered with seven cloaks to keep it cool. He (Balor) took the cloaks off one by one. At the first, ferns began to wither. At the second, grass began to redden. At the third, wood and trees began to heat up. At the fourth, smoke came out of wood and trees. At the fifth, everything got red hot. At the sixth…… At the seventh, the whole land caught fire.

Prophecy foretold king Balor’s death at the hands of his grandson. To escape this fate, Balor locked his only daughter, Ethniu, in a tower on Tory Island, believing that if she could not get pregnant then no grandson would kill him. One day, Balor stole the Glas Gaibhnenn, a magical and mighty cow of abundance, from Goibniu the smith and took it to his tower fortress. Cian of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who guarded the cow for Goibniu at the time, set out to get it back. With the help of the druidess Biróg and the sea-god, Manannán, Cian was magically transported to the tower where he discovered the beautiful Ethniu. They fell in love and she became pregnant, eventually giving him three sons.

Balor, furious at what had happened, sent out a warrior to drown the infant boys in the sea, but one survived, saved by Manannán who raised him as his foster son. So begins the tale of Lugh, god of thunderstorms and lightning and future high king of Ireland.

Lugh grew to become a fearsome warrior and master of many arts. Over time, as his formidability grew and his prowess became legendary, the young god came into possession of wondrous weapons of magic that aided him in his epic battles. First, there was Slaughterer, his invincible spear. A fierce weapon with an unquenchable thirst for blood, it would jostle and jump and strain against its leather straps at the slightest hint of battle. The spear never missed its target and always returned to Lugh’s waiting hand. When he hurled the spear at his enemy, lightning streaked from his hand.

Lugh also wielded the sword Fragarach, the Answerer. Forged by Manannán himself, no man could resist the truth with Fragarch at his throat. The mythical sword allowed Lugh to command the winds and it could slice through shield and stone with ease. If any warrior was unfortunate enough to have his skin pierced by the magic blade, he would never recover and die a terrible and agonizing death.

This was done by a French artist, Erwan Seure-Le Bihan. In creating this image he wanted to combine the multiple legends of Manannan’s various horses and sea craft into one concept and was also keen to include the legendary sword “The Answerer”.

Lugh’s horse, Enbarr of the Flowing Mane, gifted by Manannán to the young god, could pass over land and through the ocean allowing Lugh to travel great distances without effort. A beautiful and majestic creature of shimmering white, many have tried to possess Enbarr but all have failed, for she was fiercely loyal and formidable in battle.

As Fate willed it, Lugh rose through the ranks at blinding speed, aided by his wondrous talents with the arts and weapons of magic. He eventually led his people, the Tuath Dé, into battle against the dominating Fomorians where he challenged king Balor.

In this battle, known as the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh, Balor tried to kill Lugh with his dreaded eye. The rush of deadly heat that shot from Balor’s eye wrought havoc and destruction in the ranks around Lugh, cutting down warrior and horse alike, but on Enbarr’s back, Lugh evaded each blast as the horse rode the air currents as easily as it did the ocean waves, always rushing forward towards a desperate but raging Balor.

The battle was a mighty one as between gods and half-gods, and as supernatural blade clashed against supernatural blade, fuelled by powers cosmic, dark storm clouds gathered low above the battlefield, grumbling with static and looming doom. Lightning flashed and the land groaned under the stress of magic that threatened to tear it asunder. Driven by his own fury and hate for his grandfather who had murdered his siblings, Lugh willed Enbarr on faster and faster.

‘Lugh Faces The Evil Eye’ by artist, Jim FitzPatrick

Keeping his golden blade sheathed and the blood-seeking spear tied to the saddle, Lugh took out a slingshot and whirled it with all his godly power, releasing a streak of lightning straight into Balor’s dreaded eye. The force of the impact drove the eye deep into the mighty Balor’s forehead breaking through the back of his skull. With the magic eye now unsupported by his will, it decimated a number of Fomorians behind him before his lifeless body hit the ground. The eye’s remaining power drilled a crater into the ground until, at last, with all the magic now absorbed by the soil, it became a useless trinket. Shocked by the turn of events the Fomorians scampered back and retreated, but not before witnessing Lugh jumping down from his horse and pulling his enchanted sword from its sheath, severing the head of the fallen Balor.

The Tuath Dé won the battle that day and Lugh became High King of Ireland and ruled for many years.

The name Lugh and some of his attributes come from the earlier pan-Celtic god Lugus. In Wales, a similar figure Lleu Llaw Gyffes appears. Earlier versions of Lugh in Ireland are likely that of a war god. It is also worth noting that parallels exist between the Irish Lugh, Gaulish Lugus, German Wotan, the English Woden, and Norse Odin. Odin was worshiped by the Norse as a god of war among other things, including poetry and the arts. Odin may have replaced Tyr as god of war among north Germanic peoples. As such, it may be that Lugh was also worshiped as a god of war by the Irish. In the Ulster Cycle, Lugh is identified as the father of the much celebrated Irish warrior hero Cu Chulainn .

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