• Ali Isaac

Irish Mythology | The Retreat of the Tuatha de Denann

Tree and reflection

For this week’s Monday Mythology, I have decided to give you a sneak peak into the opening of the third and final book of my Tir na Nog Trilogy, working title Conor Kelly and The Three Waves of Eirean.

This (unedited) extract is my telling of what happened after the Tuatha de Denann were defeated by the Milesians at the battle of Tailten, and were forced by trickery to retreat into their hollow hills. Although they still interacted with the mortal world well into Fionn mac Cumhall’s time (c C3rd AD), their time as Ireland’s rulers and Gods was over. For them, this was the beginning of the end, and the slippery slope of their decline into legend as the Sidhe.

Prologue – Denann’s Doom

four thousand years ago…

It was a wretched day. In the dark, blue-grey sky above, a shrieking wind tore water-sodden clouds apart, limb from limb. A long queue of people pressed slowly and dejectedly forward into the shadowy maw of a fissure in the mountain, clutching their few rescued possessions and the hands of their children. They consisted mostly of the very old and the very young, punctuated with the presence of the odd, injured warrior. The strong and able bodied were conspicuous by their absence. These were the pitiful remains of a people ravaged by war, defeated both in battle and in spirit. Recovery from such annihilation looked bleak.

Manannán stood and watched, his mouth pressed into a grim line of displeasure.

“I warned you mortals could not be trusted,” he muttered.

Beside him, Bodb Dearg, eldest son of the Dagda and newly elected High King, stirred from his silent reverie of sorrow and regret. “Aye, well that was long ago. Bridges were built and relationships formed since those dark days, connections strong and true that all thought unbreakable. None of us could have envisioned this.”

“You became complacent,” Manannán snapped, his eyes whorling alternately dark and light with anger, like the foamy-topped stormy seas of which he was Lord. “Humans have always envied and feared the Denann for their long life, their powers, their military prowess and grace, strength and beauty. It was a friendship doomed from the start.”

His companion bit back his own furious retort and shrugged, allowing his anger to dissipate up into the ether. What was the point of arguing? What was the point of anything, anymore? Their druids, their poets, their warriors, all their skilled crafts folk, every man and woman capable of fighting, yes even the children big enough to lift a weapon had been pressed into action. Their desperation had failed them. They were all gone. What chance had they of rebuilding? The mysterious knowledge which had once nurtured and sustained them was lost, had died along with those who had protected its secrets so well.

As a young man, Bodb Dearg had dreamed of one day wearing the King’s torc. Now, here he was, High King of the Denann, or what was left of them; a king without a land, his people once again homeless and displaced.

Generations ago, Nuada had led the Denann into Eire. Now he, Bodb Dearg, was fated to lead them away from the only home many of them had had ever known, tricked by the sons of Mil into a life of darkness below the gentle green hills of Ireland. It was not how he wished to be remembered by posterity.

“It’s still not too late.” The words encroached softly upon him, like the whisper of warm wavelets lapping on a soft, sandy shore.

He squared his shoulders and lifted his head proudly. “The Denann have chosen,” he said. His expression belied the trembling and uncertainty which fired within him, his voice sounding resolute as the great grey stones which guarded the Underworld’s entrance. “Many of us have kin here among the mortals. This land has become our home. We have given our bravest warriors to its defence. Our blood has watered its soil, our sacrifice has nourished its soul, our anguish floats in its air like breath. We can no more abandon it than we can our precious children. We have no choice, can’t you see that?”

The Sea-God cursed, his vehemence whipped up by his frustration, crashing down around them with the turbulent power of the three waves of Eirean. “Then there is only one thing left I can do for you,” he roared. “After that, I wash my hands of the stubborn children of Danu! Those of your people that wish it, I will take with me to my lands west beyond the ninth wave. As for the rest of you, you have chosen your fate, and I warn you, your persistence will not go well with mankind. They will fear and persecute you. They will defame you, and slander you. You will not like what they do to your memory, or your beloved land.”

With that, Manannán shook out his Cloak of Concealment and whirled it through the air. Bodb Dearg felt the leap and rush of powerful magic so ancient, even the Denann did not know the way of it. On the edges of his vision, a fluttering of mist began to creep forward, slowly obliterating the lie of the land beneath its white flimsy velvet.

Bodb Dearg caught his breath, choking back deep sorrow as he took his last hungry view of these sacred hills and vales. Who knew when it would be safe to venture forth in the future?

Manannán had done so much for them already. He it was, who had come to them in the depths of their despair, rallying and calling them to action, urging them to choose a leader and decide their fate, when their existence lay in tatters on the battlefield at Tailten. When the conquering Milesian leaders had mocked Denann integrity by choosing to rule that half of Ireland which lay above ground, dooming the defeated to what remained, he had found for them all the wildest, the most secret hills and valleys, where they could be shielded from human interference. There, they had built their palaces beneath the domed hills, their entrances to the forbidden land that Manannán had given them, the place to which mortals in time would attribute the label of ‘Otherworld’.

Now, as his final parting gift, he shrouded them in the Faeth Fiadha, the Master of Mist which would form the border between the mortal world and the magical realm, a boundary through which mortals would stray at their peril.

Bodh Dearg knew this new home of his, Sidhe Femen, with its lake at the summit, was only one of a number of sites around Ireland sinking into the fog of obscurity as the chosen Duns of his people, a network of fairy forts lost to human vision but connected by magic threads invisible and unfelt by dull mortal senses.

The dominion of the Denann was over, but Bodb Dearg knew that in their own way, the magical folk would always prevail.

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