In part one of our series on Lugh Lamhfada we looked at the first half of Lughs life, and the events that led up to his taking of a position of power within Nuada’s royal court. We also delved into some of his qualities and attributes as an individual, his courage, his strength, his mastery. There was also another side to Lugh, a ruthless side, a cold and uncaring side. We have to understand that Lugh was a mythological product of the very real times in which his stories first appeared. This time was obviously a more brutal, violent and bloodier age than our own. Strength and Honour meant everything, and weakness would not be tolerated. This also speaks to the human condition. Every story and myth is also a reflection of ourselves. We too, have the power to give and take life, to steal or not to steal, to abuse and belittle or to love and appreciate. This is the duality of man, the Ying and the Yang. The late 19th – early 20th century psychiatrist and psychanalyst Carl Jung spoke of the “Shadow” self, to explain this darker side of mankind. It was through the acknowledgement of this inner “Shadow”, and its acceptance as a fundamental part of human nature, that the individual would become fuller and more aware of his place in society, and therefore have a more meaningful and complete life, through channelling and controlling it as a force for positive change. It is through this lens that I want to approach part two of the story of Lugh, in which his own duality can be seen. These stories may be myths or legends, but they are an insight into the human condition. Every time we open a book to read these stories and sagas we’re not met with characters that are completely alien to us. We identify with them, or at least a part of us does. It is for this reason that they remain timeless, they are not simply words printed on a page, they are our reflections staring back.
Having left the Hill of Uisneach, Lugh travelled westwards through the country to Magh Mor an Aonaigh (the Great Plain of the Fair) where the Fomorians had laid up with the spoils from their conquest of Connaught. He lay in wait for them there for three days and nights, until he was joined by the riders of the Sidhe, and by the king of Connaught Bodb Dearg. They made ready their weapons, put on their helmets and armour, and attacked the Fomorians on the great plain. A great bloody battle ensued,
“And they attacked their enemies on Magh Mor an Aonaigh, and their enemies answered them, and they threw their whining spears at one another, and when their spears were broken they drew their swords from their blue-bordered sheaths and began to strike at one another, and thickets of brown flames rose above them from the bitterness of their many edged weapons”
Lugh then caught sight of Bres, and, making his way towards him killed two hundred of the Fomor himself. On seeing this, Bres and his druids begged for their lives and promised to leave Ireland and never return. Lugh, himself being half Fomorian, took pity on the survivors, and allowed them to leave as long as they fulfilled their promise. In utter defeat and disgrace, Bres and his druids left the mainland and returned to the Fomorian stronghold of Tory. Thus ended the Battle of the Great Plain of the Fair.
Immediately after the Battle of Magh Mor an Áonaigh, Lugh noticed that his father was not among the combatants, living or dead. He inquired to his kin as to his fathers whereabouts, but none of them had seen him since the three brothers had split up to gather the riders of the Sidhe. Knowing his father had travelled northwards, Lugh set out with the riders of the Sidhe to investigate his fathers disappearance. When they came to the site where Cían had met his end, the Earth itself spoke to Lugh, telling him of the events that unfolded. Lugh decided to exhume his fathers body to know exactly how he had died, and upon learning the truth, exclaimed to all present, that he would exact revenge on the sons of Tuireann. He then re-buried his father, and erected an ogham stone on his grave. He and his men then set off to Tara, and as they rode, Lugh hatched a plan to take revenge on his fathers murderers.
On his arrival to Tara, Lugh took his place at the feast and looked upon the crowd gathered before him. He spotted the sons of Tuireann there, merrymaking and drinking, and called for silence among the crowd. He then asked everyone gathered there how they would exact revenge upon the murderers of their fathers. They all agreed that death would be the most just sentence in their opinion. The sons of Tuireann, now knowing what was in store for them, decided to acknowledge their guilt, in return for some leniency from Lugh. The plan formulated within his mind now sprung forth for all to hear, and Lugh relished his chance to have his revenge. Lugh decided that he was going to make the sons of Tuireann pay a large fine in compensation, a fine that would seal the brothers collective fate. The fine seemed innocuous and straightforward at first,
“three apples, and the skin of a pig, and a spear, and two horses and a chariot, and seven pigs, and a dogs whelp, and a cooking spit, and three shouts on a hill. That is the fine I am asking”.
But, sensing treachery, the brothers pleaded with Lugh to expand on the details of the fine, for they knew that this errand was not to be an easy one. Lugh, delighted with making the brothers fearful of their mission, gleefully filled them in on the missing details.
The first item, the three apples, were to be taken from the orchard in the Garden of the East of the World. These apples had the power to not only be everlasting, but would cure all pain and sickness from whomever ate from them.
The second, the pig-skin, would have to come from the King of Greece, Tuis. This pig-skin had the power to cure all the sickness and wounds in the world, but was well guarded, and would not be able to be taken easily.
The spear, which was so powerful that anything it touched would immediately be set ablaze, was to be stolen from the King of Persia, who kept the spear near him always in his court, its head steeped in a vessel of water to prevent burning the palace down.
The two horses and chariot were to be taken from the King of Siogair (Sicily). These horses, along with the chariot they pulled, were said to be not only the fastest in the world, but they could also go on the sea just as well as the land.
The seven pigs, were the pigs of Easal, King of the Golden Pillars, “and though they are killed every night, they are found alive again the next day, and there will be no disease or no sickness on any person that will eat a share of them”.
The dogs whelp was to be from the hound of the King of Ioruaidh (Norway), said to be the most beautiful in the world.
The cooking spit was to be taken from the women on the Island of Caer of the Fair Hair.
And the three shouts were to be given on the Hill of Miochaoin in the North of Lochlann, whose protectors, the sons of Miochaoin, were not only under bonds not to allow any shouts to be given on that hill, but were also the teachers of Cían, so would never forgive the men for the crime of killing him.
“And if you get through all your other voyages before you reach to them, it is my opinion they themselves will avenge him on you. And that is the fine I have asked of you,” The sons then said their farewells to their father and sister, and began their journey to the ends of the world. They went in the order Lugh asked of them, and at each destination they engaged in fighting and killing, defeating every strong man and champion of the world. Then, leaving a world ravaged and beaten, and triumphantly gaining the treasures promised by them to Lugh for their fine so far, they began to make their way to Caer to acquire the cooking spit.
Lugh, who was in Tara at this time, was informed by people of the exploits of the Sons of Tuireann. He, still wanting revenge, employed a druid to cast a spell of forgetfulness on them, so that they may never complete the fine put on them. He also cast a spell of homesickness on them to force them back to Ireland earlier. The spells worked, and with their morale sapped, the brothers returned, and, with their treasures in hand, presented themselves to Lugh to relieve themselves of their burden. When Lugh informed them that their fine was still not paid, the brothers grew even more fearful and grief stricken, and again, with their hearts heavier than ever before, set out to complete the final parts of their mission.
After obtaining the cooking spit from Caer, the brothers made their way to the Hill of Miochaoin where their final test would be achieving three shouts. As soon as they arrived, Brian launched an attack on the guardian of the hill, Miochaoin and slew him. Immediately after this, Miochaoin’s three sons Core, Conn and Aedh appeared, and, in the service of their oath, engaged in a fierce combat with the Sons of Tuireann. This engagement was unlike any other the brothers had been in before,
“And if any one ever came from the east of the world to look at any fight, it is to see the fight of these champions he had a right to come, for the greatness of their blows and the courage of their mind. The names of the sons of Miochaoin were Core, Conn and Aedh, and they drove their three spears through the bodies of the sons of Tuireann, and that did not discourage them at all and they put their own three spears through the bodies of the sons of Miochaoin, so that they fell into the clouds and faintness of death”.
The brothers, all mortally wounded and exhausted from their battle then gave their shouts on the hill, completing the fine asked of them from Lugh. They then made their way back to their homeplace of Benn Edair, and requested their father to bring the cooking pot to Lugh at Tara and ask him to heal them. Tuireann went to Tara, handed over the cooking pot to Lugh and asked for both his forgiveness and permission to heal his sons, who were now close to death. Lugh refused. On hearing this, Brian, carried by his father, went to Tara to ask the same of Lugh. He was refused again.
Exhausted, depressed and overcome by pain, when Brian arrived back to his home place he lay down in the middle of his two brothers. It was here and in this position that all three of their lives gave out. Tuireann, kneeling over the bodies of his three sons, cried and lamented until his strength too gave out on him, and he died there beside them. All four were then buried in the same grave, and so ended the story of the Sons of Tuireann.
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