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Top 10 Irish Gods

Written by Top 100 Arena on 2012-08-28
The Irish deities were more abstract than for example the Greek deities. While in Greece there were gods for lightning, or love, or war, the Irish gods were less distinctive, not representing any one thing but rather having a collection of stories about them. There were two types – the Tuathe de Danann were the children of the Earth goddess Danu, and the Fomorians were similar to the Jotun of Norse mythology. Here are ten of the most prominent deities in Irish mythology.

10 Balor

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Balor was a king of the Fomorians. A prophecy warned that he would be killed by his grandson, so he locked his only daughter in a crystal tower to try and avoid this fate. However, Cian, a Tuathe, got into the tower and Balor found himself with three grandchildren. He threw them into the ocean, but one was saved. Later, in the Second Battle of Magd Tuired, this child and Balor are reunited in battle, and the prophecy is carried out. Balor was also known for having an evil eye in the back of his head that prevented others from sneaking up on him.

9 Bres

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During the First Battle of Magd Tuired, King Nuada of the Tuathe de Danann lost his hand in battle. Although the Tuathe blacksmiths made him a new one out of silver, he could no longer be king of the Tuathe due to their laws. Hoping to mend relations with the Fomorians, Dagda married his daughter Brid to Bres, a handsome young Fomorian prince, and the couple became the new king and queen of the Tuathe. However, Bres’s looks were the exact opposite of his behavior, and when that ill-mannered nature escalated with inhospitality to a bard, Bres was dethroned. He went to his father, who directed him to Balor, and from there led the Fomorians in the Second Battle of Magd Tuired.

8 The Dagda

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Rich, powerful, and magical, the Dagda is associated with provision of plenty and with fatherhood. He sired many of the younger generation of Tuathe, including Brid and Oengus. He had a cauldron which never ran out. He had two pigs (a symbol of wealth in early Ireland), one which was always growing and one which was always roasting. He had a club that, while it was said to be able to kill nine men with one blow, could also bring the slain back to life.

7 Aengus mac Og

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The Dagda had an affair with Boinne, wife of Elcmar. In order to hide their affair, Dagda made the sun stand still for nine months; therefore their son, Aengus, was conceived, gestated and born in one day. While Aengus was away the Dagda shared out his land among his children, but Aengus returned to discover that nothing had been saved for him. Aengus later tricked his father out of his home at the Brugh na Boinne (Newgrange). Aengus asked his father if he could live in the Brugh for "(a) day and (a) night", which in Irish is ambiguous, and could refer to either "a day and a night," or "day and night," which means for all time, and so Aengus took possession of the Brugh permanently. Associated with time and love, he is wily, cunning, and jolly.

6 Cairbre

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Cairbre was a bard and the son of Oghma, who we will discuss next. While he’s not a significant part of the Irish pantheon, he is significant for one event, the event which led to the Battle of Magd Tuired. He was the author of the poem that destroyed Bres’s kingship. Bards were especially respected in Ireland (to this day a Celtic harp is a prominent Irish symbol), because they brought both news and entertainment between the Irish clans. It was considered a deep insult to be inhospitable to a bard, which is exactly what Bres did.

5 Oghma

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Brother of Dagda, father of Cairbre, and inventor of writing, this scholar was also an accomplished martial artist. When Bres occupied the throne, Oghma distinguished himself as a skillful athlete as well as an intelligent deity. He is Nuada’s champion, and eventually becomes Lugh’s champion during his command of the Second Battle of Magd Tuired.

4 Lugh

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Lugh is the quintessential hero god. The prophesied grandson of Balor, he was thrown into the sea to prevent that prophecy from coming to fruition. He was adopted by Mannanan, the sea god, and raised by a foster mother named Tailtiu. He led the defeat of the Fomor at the Second Battle of Magd Tuired. He is associated with light, and wielded a powerful spear that became known in Christendom as the Spear of Longinus, the very spear used to pierce Christ’s side. Indeed, some scholars believe that some of the stories in the Bible were derivatives of legends of Lugh that were told through Western Europe at the time.

3 Brid

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Brigit, or Brid, enjoys the distinction of being the only Irish deity to still enjoy worship in the guise of a Catholic saint of the same name. Wife of Bres, daughter of the Dagda, she is associated with fire and poetry, as well as high places such as hilltops and high concepts like wisdom.

2 Morrigan

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Easily the most recognizable of the Irish gods, Morrigan was basically the banshee. She would fly over battlefields either as a human or a raven and wail each time someone was killed. Together with her sisters Badb and Macha, she is associated with war and death. The trinity of Morrigan, Badb, and Macha is also representative of the maiden-mother-crone cycle of a woman’s life.

1 Eriu

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Eriu is another triple goddess because she had two sisters, and the three of them were persuaded by the Milesians, the first humans to reach Ireland, to make a pact giving half of Ireland to the humans and half to the Tuathe de Danann. The result was that the surface and all above it were given to the humans, while all things below the surface went to the Tuathe de Danann. From beneath the surface of Ireland, the Tuathe became the basis for Irish faerie legends. Eriu only asked for one thing in return: to have all the land named after her. To this day we call it Eire or Erin.

Whether these were people who legend turned into gods or simply legends, the Irish gods have a rich and complex storyline that still influences Ireland to this day. Places associated with these tales, such as Brugh na Boyne and Teltown, still exist as a testament to their memory.

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