|Member of the Tuatha Dé Danann|
Lugh or Lug (Old Irish: [lu?]; Modern Irish: Lú [lu:]) is one of the most prominent gods in Irish mythology. A member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Lugh is portrayed as a warrior, a king, a master craftsman and a savior. He is associated with skill and mastery in multiple disciplines, including the arts. He is also associated with oaths, truth and the law, and therefore with rightful kingship. Lugh is linked with the harvest festival of Lughnasadh, which bears his name. His most common epithets are Lámfada ['la:w?d] ("of the long hand," possibly for his skill with a spear or his ability as a ruler) and Samildánach ("equally skilled in many arts").
In mythology, Lugh is the son of Cian and Ethniu (or Ethliu). He is the maternal grandson of the Fomorian tyrant Balor, whom Lugh kills in the Battle of Mag Tuired. His foster-father is the sea god Manannán. Lugh's son is the hero Cú Chulainn, who is believed to be an incarnation of Lugh.
Lugh has several magical possessions. He wields an unstoppable fiery spear, a sling stone, and owns a hound named Failinis. He is said to have invented fidchell (a Gaelic equivalent of chess), ball games, and horse racing.
The meaning of Lugh's name is still a matter of debate. Some scholars propose that it derives from a suggested Proto-Indo-European root *(h2)lewgh- meaning "to bind by oath" (compare Old Irish luige and Welsh llw, both meaning "oath, vow, act of swearing" and derived from a suffixed Proto-Celtic form, *lugiyo-, "oath"), suggesting that he was originally a god of oaths and sworn contracts. When Balor meets Lugh in the Second Battle of Moytura he calls Lugh a "babbler". In the past his name was generally believed to come from another suggested Proto-Indo-European root *leuk-, "flashing light", and since the Victorian era he has often been considered a sun god, similar to the Greco-Roman Apollo. However, the figure of Lugh in Irish mythology and literature seems to be a better match with the Celtic god identified with Mercury, described by Julius Caesar in his De Bello Gallico. There are serious phonological issues with deriving the name from *leuk-, notably that Proto-Indo-European *-k- never produced Proto-Celtic *-g-; for this reason most modern specialists in Celtic languages no longer accept this etymology.
Lugh is typically described as a youthful warrior. In the brief narrative Baile in Scáil Lugh is described as being very large and very beautiful and also as a spear-wielding horseman.
When he appears before the wounded Cú Chulainn in the Táin Bó Cúalnge he is described as follows:
A man fair and tall, with a great head of curly yellow hair. He has a green mantle wrapped about him and a brooch of white silver in the mantle over his breast. Next to his white skin, he wears a tunic of royal satin with red-gold insertion reaching to his knees. He carries a black shield with a hard boss of white-bronze. In his hand a five-pointed spear and next to it a forked javelin. Wonderful is the play and sport and diversion that he makes (with these weapons). But none accosts him and he accosts none as if no one could see him.
Elsewhere Lugh is described as a tall young man with bright red cheeks, white sides, a bronze-coloured face and blood-coloured hair.
Finally, in The Fate of the Children of Turenn Lugh's appearance is compared to the sun on several occasions. He is described by Bres as follows:
Then arose Breas, the son of Balar, and he said: "It is a wonder to me", said he, "that the sun to rise in the west today, and in the east every other day". "It would be better that it wer so", said the Druids. "What else is it?" said he. "The radiance of the face of Lugh of the Long Arms", said they.
Elsewhere in the same passage the following remark is made:
...they were not long there when they saw an army and a goodly host coming towards them from the East, and in the vanguard there was one young man high in authority over all; and like to the setting sun was the radiance of his face and forehead, and they were unable to gaze upon his countenance on account of its splendour. And this is who it was - Lugh Lamhfhada Loinnbheimionach...from the Land of Promise...and when the Cathbarr (Manannan's helmet) was let off of him the appearance of his face and forehead was as brilliant as the sun on a dry summer's day.
Lugh's father is Cian of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and his mother is Ethniu: daughter of Balor, of the Fomorians. In Cath Maige Tuired their union is a dynastic marriage following an alliance between the Tuatha Dé and the Fomorians. In the Lebor Gabála Érenn, Cian gives the boy to Tailtiu, queen of the Fir Bolg, in fosterage. In the Dindsenchas, Lugh, the foster-son of Tailtiu, is described as the "son of the Dumb Champion". In the poem Baile Suthain Sith Eamhna Lugh is called "descendant of the poet."
A folktale told to John O'Donovan by Shane O'Dugan of Tory Island in 1835 recounts the birth of a grandson of Balor who grows up to kill his grandfather. The grandson is unnamed, his father is called Mac Cinnfhaelaidh and the manner of his killing of Balor is different, but it has been taken as a version of the birth of Lugh, and was adapted as such by Lady Gregory. In this tale, Balor hears a druid's prophecy that he will be killed by his own grandson. To prevent this he imprisons his only daughter in the Tór Mór (great tower) of Tory Island. She is cared for by twelve women, who are to prevent her ever meeting or even learning of the existence of men. On the mainland, Mac Cinnfhaelaidh owns a magic cow who gives such abundant milk that everyone, including Balor, wants to possess her. While the cow is in the care of Mac Cinnfhaelaidh's brother Mac Samthainn, Balor appears in the form of a little red-haired boy and tricks him into giving him the cow. Looking for revenge, Mac Cinnfhaelaidh calls on a leanan sídhe (fairy woman) called Biróg, who transports him by magic to the top of Balor's tower, where he seduces Eithne. In time she gives birth to triplets, which Balor gathers up in a sheet and sends to be drowned in a whirlpool. The messenger drowns two of the babies but unwittingly drops one child into the harbour, where he is rescued by Biróg. She takes him to his father, who gives him to his brother, Gavida the smith, in fosterage.
There may be further triplism associated with his birth. His father in the folktale is one of a triad of brothers, Mac Cinnfhaelaidh, Gavida, and Mac Samthainn, whereas in the Lebor Gabála, his father Cian is mentioned alongside his brothers Cú and Cethen.[a] Two characters called Lugaid, a popular medieval Irish name thought to derive from Lugh, have three fathers: Lugaid Riab nDerg (Lugaid of the Red Stripes) was the son of the three Findemna or fair triplets, and Lugaid mac Con Roí was also known as mac Trí Con, "son of three hounds". In Ireland's other great "sequestered maiden" story, the tragedy of Deirdre, the king's intended is carried off by three brothers, who are hunters with hounds. The canine imagery continues with Cian's brother Cú ("hound"), another Lugaid, Lugaid Mac Con (son of a hound), and Lugh's son Cúchulainn ("Culann's Hound"). A fourth Lugaid was Lugaid Loígde, a legendary King of Tara and ancestor of (or inspiration for) Lugaid Mac Con.
As a young man Lugh travels to Tara to join the court of King Nuada of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The doorkeeper will not let him in unless he has a skill he can use to serve the king. He offers his services as a wright, a smith, a champion, a swordsman, a harpist, a hero, a poet, historian, a sorcerer, and a craftsman, but each time is rejected as the Tuatha Dé Danann already have someone with that skill. When Lugh asks if they have anyone with all those skills simultaneously, the doorkeeper has to admit defeat, and Lugh joins the court and is appointed Chief Ollam of Ireland. He wins a flagstone-throwing contest against Ogma, the champion, and entertains the court with his harp. The Tuatha Dé Danann are, at that time, oppressed by the Fomorians, and Lugh is amazed how meekly they accept their oppression. Nuada wonders if this young man could lead them to freedom. Lugh is given command over the Tuatha Dé Danann, and he begins making preparations for war.
Tuireann and Cian, Lugh's father, are old enemies, and one day his sons, Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba spot Cian in the distance and decide to kill him. They find him hiding in the form of a pig, but Cian tricked the brothers into allowing him to transform back to a man before they killed him, giving Lugh the legal right to claim compensation for a father rather than just a pig. When they try to bury him, the ground spits his body back twice before keeping him down, and eventually confesses that it is a grave to Lugh. Lugh holds a feast and invites the brothers, and during it he asks them what they would demand as compensation for the murder of their father. They reply that death would be the only just demand, and Lugh agrees. He then accuses them of the murder of his father, Cian, and sets them a series of seemingly impossible quests. The brothers go on an adventure and achieve them all except the last one, which will surely kill them. Despite Tuireann's pleas, Lugh demands that they proceed and, when they are all fatally wounded, he denies them the use of one of the items they have retrieved, a magic pigskin which heals all wounds. They die of their wounds and Tuireann dies of grief over their bodies.
Using the magic artefacts the sons of Tuireann have gathered, Lugh leads the Tuatha Dé Danann in the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh against the Fomorians. Prior to the battle Lugh asks each man and woman in his army what art he or she will bring to the fray; he then addressed his army in speech, which elevated each warrior's spirit to that of a king or lord. Nuada is killed in the battle by Balor. Lugh faces Balor, who opens his terrible, poisonous eye that kills all it looks upon, but Lugh shoots a sling-stone that drives his eye out the back of his head, killing Balor and wreaking havoc on the Fomorian army behind. After the victory Lugh finds Bres, the half-Fomorian former king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, alone and unprotected on the battlefield, and Bres begs for his life. If he is spared, he promises, he will ensure that the cows of Ireland always give milk. The Tuatha Dé Danann refuse the offer. He then promises four harvests a year, but the Tuatha Dé Danann say one harvest a year suits them. But Lugh spares his life on the condition that he teach the Tuatha Dé Danann how and when to plough, sow, and reap.
Lugh instituted an event similar to the Olympic games called the Assembly of Talti which finished on Lughnasadh (1 August) in memory of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, at the town that bears her name (now Teltown, County Meath). He likewise instituted Lughnasadh fairs in the areas of Carman and Naas in honour of Carman and Nás, the eponymous tutelary goddess of these two regions. Horse races and displays of martial arts were important activities at all three fairs. However, Lughnasadh itself is a celebration of Lugh's triumph over the spirits of the Otherworld who had tried to keep the harvest for themselves. It survived long into Christian times and is still celebrated under a variety of names. Lúnasa is now the Irish name for the month of August.
According to a poem of the dindsenchas, Lugh was responsible for the death of Bres. He made 300 wooden cows and filled them with a bitter, poisonous red liquid which was then "milked" into pails and offered to Bres to drink. Bres, who was under an obligation not to refuse hospitality, drank it down without flinching, and it killed him.
One of his wives, Buach, had an affair with Cermait, son of the Dagda. Lugh killed him in revenge, but Cermait's sons, Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht, and Mac Gréine, killed Lugh in return, spearing him through the foot then drowning him in Loch Lugborta in County Westmeath He had ruled for forty years. Cermait was later revived by his father, the Dagda, who used the smooth or healing end of his staff to bring Cermait back to life.
Lugh is given the matriname mac Ethlenn or mac Ethnenn ("son of Ethliu or Ethniu", his mother) and the patriname mac Cein ("son of Cian", his father). He is the maternal grandson of the Fomorian tyrant Balor, whom Lugh kills in the Battle of Mag Tuired. His foster-father is the sea god Manannán. Lugh's son is the hero Cú Chulainn, who is believed to be an incarnation of Lugh.
He had several wives, including Buí (AKA Buach or Bua "Victory") and Nás, daughters of Ruadri Ruad, king of Britain. Buí lived and was buried at Knowth (Cnogba). Nás was buried at Naas, County Kildare, which is named after her. Lugh had a son, Ibic "of the horses", by Nás. It is said that Nás dies with the noise of combat, therefore it is difficult to know where she dies. Lugh's daughter or sister was Ebliu, who married Fintan. By the mortal Deichtine, Lugh was father to the hero Cú Chulainn.
Lug possessed a number of magical items, retrieved by the sons of Tuirill Piccreo in Middle Irish redactions of the Lebor Gabála. Not all the items are listed here. The late narrative Fate of the Children of Tuireann not only gives a list of items gathered for Lugh, but also endows him with such gifts from the sea god Manannán as the sword Fragarach, the horse Enbarr (Aonbarr), the boat Scuabtuinne / Sguaba Tuinne ("Wave-Sweeper"), his armour and helmet.
Lugh obtained the Spear of Assal (Irish: Gae Assail) as fine (éric) imposed on the children of Tuirill Piccreo (or Biccreo), according to the short account in Lebor Gabála Érenn which adds that the incantation "Ibar (Yew)" made the cast always hit its mark, and "Athibar (Re-Yew)" caused the spear to return.
In a full narrative version called [A]oidhe Chloinne Tuireann (The Fate of the Children of Tuireann), from copies no earlier than the 17th century, Lugh demands the spear named Ar-éadbair or Areadbhair (Early Modern Irish: A?éad?ai?) which belonged to Pisear, king of Persia, that its tip had to be kept immersed in a pot of water to keep it from igniting, a property similar to the Lúin of Celtchar. This spear is also called "Slaughterer" in translation.
There is yet another name that Lugh's spear goes by: "A [yew] tree, the finest of the wood" (Early Modern Irish: eó bo háille d'?íoai?), occurring in an inserted verse within The Fate of the Children of Tuireann. "The famous yew of the wood" (ibar alai fhidbaidha) is also the name that Lugh's spear is given in a tract which alleges that it, the Lúin of Celtchar and the spear Crimall that blinded Cormac Mac Airt were one and the same weapon (tract in TCD MS 1336 (H 3. 17), col. 723, discussed in the Lúin page).
Lugh's projectile weapon, whether a dart or missile, was envisioned to be symbolic of lightning-weapon.
Lugh's sling rod, named "Lugh's Chain", was the rainbow and the Milky Way, according to popular writer Charles Squire. Squire adds that Lugh's spear which needed no wielding was alive and thirsted so for blood that only by steeping its head in a sleeping-draught of pounded fresh poppy leaves could it be kept at rest. When battle was near, it was drawn out; then it roared and struggled against its thongs, fire flashed from it, and it tore through the ranks of the enemy once slipped from the leash, never tired of slaying.
According to the brief accounts in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, Lugh used the "sling-stone" (cloich tabaill) to slay his grandfather, Balor the Strong-Smiter in the Battle of Magh Tuired. The narrative Cath Maige Tured, preserved in a unique 16th century copy, words it slightly different saying that Lugh used the sling-stone[c] to destroy the evil eye of Balor of the Piercing Eye (Bolur Birugderc).
Táthlum tromm thenntide tenn
A tathlum, heavy, fiery, firm,
|--Meyer (1905) ed.||--O'Curry (1873) tr.|
The poem goes on to describe the composition of this tathlum, as being formed from the bloods collected from toads, bears, the lion, vipers and the neck-base of Osmuinn,[d] mixed with the sands of the Armorian Sea and the Red Sea.
Lugh had a horse named Aenbharr which could fare over both land and sea. Like much of his equipment, it was furnished to him by the sea god Manannán mac Lir. When the Children of Tuireann asked to borrow this horse, Lugh begrudged them, saying it would not be proper to make a loan of a loan. Consequently, Lugh was unable to refuse their request to use Lugh's currach (coracle) or boat, the "Wave-Sweeper" (Irish: Sguaba Tuinne).
In the Lebor Gabála, Gainne and Rea were the names of the pair of horses belonging to the king of the isle of Sicily [on the (Tyrrhene sea)], which Lug demanded as éric from the sons of Tuirill Briccreo.
Failinis was the name of the whelp of the King of Ioruaidhe that Lugh demanded as éiric (a forfeit) in the Oidhead Chloinne Tuireann. This concurs with the name of the hound mentioned in an "Ossianic Ballad", sometimes referred to by its opening line "Dám Thrír Táncatair Ille (They came here as a band of three)". In the ballad, the hound is called ?alinnis (Shalinnis) or Failinis (in the Lismore text), and belonged to a threesome from Iruaide whom the Fianna encounter. It is described as "the ancient grayhound... that had been with Lugh of the Mantles, / Given him by the sons of Tuireann Bicreann"[e]
Lugh corresponds to the pan-Celtic god Lugus, and his Welsh counterpart is Lleu Llaw Gyffes. He has also been equated with Mercury. Sometimes he is interpreted as a storm god and, less often today, as a sun god. Others have noted a similarity in Lugh's slaying of Balor to the slaying of Baldr by Loki. Lugh's mastery of all arts has led many to link him with the unnamed Gaulish god Julius Caesar identifies with Mercury, whom he describes as the "inventor of all the arts". Caesar describes the Gaulish Mercury as the most revered deity in Gaul, overseeing journeys and business transactions.
St. Mologa has been theorized to be a Christian continuation of the god Lugh.
The County of Louth in Ireland is named after the village of Louth, which is named after the God Lugh. Historically, the place name has had various spellings; "Lugmad", "Lughmhaigh", and "Lughmhadh" (see Historic Names List, for full listing). Lú is the modern simplified spelling. Other places named for Lugh include the cairn at Seelewey (Suidhe Lughaidh, or Lug's Seat), Dunlewey, and Rath-Lugaidh in Carney, Sligo. Seelewey was located in Moyturra Chonlainn and, according to local folklore, was a place where giants used to gather in olden days.
The modern city of Lyon was founded as Colonia Copia Felix Munatia in 43 BC, but by the end of the first century AD had come to be known as "Lugdunum", a Latinized variant of the ancient Gaulish name *Lugudunon, meaning "Fortress of Lugh".
(M G L Baillie School of Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University, Belfast)