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Myth / Celtic Mythology

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"Riders of the Sidhe" by John Duncan

You have probably heard some stories influenced by these myths, although you might not realize it. These are the tales that The Fair Folk come from.

There are two main (surviving) strands of Celtic mythology: Goidelic (Irish/Scots/Manx) and Brythonic (Welsh/Cornish/Breton). While they share many tropes and have certain figures in common, they do not really overlap; each has its own unique stories. They are further split into "Cycles" (Ireland) and "Branches" (Wales). Mainland Europe's Celtic traditions were mostly lost due to invasion and assimilation of Celtic populations in their conquerors' own societies (mainly The Roman Empire and Germanic tribes). The cultural taboo against consigning knowledge to writing certainly didn't help.

In a nutshell: before people came to that archipelago off the Northwestern coast of continental Europe, a race of intelligent magical beings calling themselves (in Irish, anyway) the Tuatha Dé Danann (possibly meaning "the people of the goddess Danu"note  ) lived there. With the arrival of people and their permanent settlements, the Tuatha Dé Danann continued to muck about in the lives of people but retreated to the Otherworld, their home world, a world still reachable through places such as fairy forts or fairy burrows. (Interestingly, the "gateways" identified in Celtic stories would not infrequently turn out to be archaeologically significant sites dating to the Neolithic period.)

A key concept of all Celtic religion is animism, the belief that everything, living or dead, has a life force or spirit. This makes Celtic mythology quite similar to the beliefs of many First Nations people, and other religions. This belief also connected to totemism, where the Celts believed that they all descended from a particular animal: usually boars, hens, geese, or hares. For this reason, sacred animals were kept under protection by Celtic tribes, as they believed that the spirits of these animals would ward off malevolent spirits. This is supported by images of totems (like boars) on Celtic coins and ornaments.

Celtic mythology also includes Scottish, Manx, Breton and Cornish stories, but these are lesser-known; the core of the Celtic literary tradition has been in Wales and Ireland since the 5th century, and in any case Wales and Ireland have always been the larger and most culturally dominant members of their respective cultural groupings (although Brittany has at times given Wales a run for its money). Going even before then, the Celtic peoples lived across Continental Europe, with the core of Celtic culture being in Gaul (modern France) but extending across the Rhine into what is now Germany and south into Iberia. There was even a Gaulish culture in central Anatolia (a.k.a. Asia Minor, in modern Turkey) known as Galatia (now best known for assimilating to the surrounding Greek culture and being the addressees of one of the Pauline Epistles). However, the Continental Celtic cultures left very little writing, having learned to write relatively shortly before being conquered by the Romans and then completely Romanised (or in the case of the Galatians, Hellenised) in a way that never quite happened in Britain. Indeed, Julius Caesar (in his Commentaries on the Gallic War) cited the spread of "civilized" Roman writing and Roman ways among the Celts of Gaul as a reason for fighting and subjugating them, on the theory that if the Gauls were allowed to develop a proper urban civilization, their stronger fighting spirit combined with the numbers and organization urban civilization brings would be an unacceptable risk to Roman security. We have just enough writing from the continental Celts to (1) identify their language as Celtic and (2) see tantalizing hints at a mythology broadly similar to what we know from Welsh and Irish sources without leaving anything conclusive.

See Irish Names for pronunciation help with the Irish. (You're on your own with the Welsh until a Welsh troper helps out.)

    Works on the wiki that constitute Celtic mythology: 


  • Historia Brittonum, written as history, but considered pseudo-history today and include a great deal of legendary material, most famously concerning Arthur.
  • Historia Regum Britanniae, written as history, but considered pseudo-history today and include a great deal of legendary material, most famously concerning Arthur.
  • Mabinogion, a collection of a number of Welsh legendary narratives and epic poems.

    Works based on (or including elements of) Celtic Mythology: 
Comic Books
  • Arawn
  • Druids by Jean-Luc Istin, Thierry Jigourel, and Jacques Lamontagne
  • Hound by Paul J. Bolger and Barry Devlin retells the myth of Cú Chulainn.
  • The eponymous character of Pat Mill's Sláine comics is almost a straight expy of Cú Chulainn. Same battles with Queen Medb, same barbed death spear, same horrible body-warping berserker rage. The whole series mixes Celtic Mythology with some Conan the Barbarian, some Lovecraftian horror and a titch of Neo-pagan spirituality. Season with a punk rock aesthetic and serve.

Films — Animated

Films — Live-Action

  • Maleficent takes inspiration from Celtic mythology in its portrayal of the Fair Folk. Maleficent herself is probably the closest Disney has ever gotten to a more traditional portrayal of Faeries; meanwhile, the filmmakers explicitly designed the Faerie Moors to resemble a Celtic Land of Faerie.


  • The Ancient Future Trilogy draws several characters from Welsh Mythology, most prominently the prophet Taliesin, who serves as an ally and mentor to the main characters and even shares his mythology-accurate backstory, complete with his rebirth to Ceridwen.
  • The Chronicles of Prydain are inspired by Welsh mythology.
  • Alan Garner retold the central Welsh myths of the Mabinogion in the novel, The Owl Service. the central theme is Blodeuwedd, the beautiful but inhuman woman made from flowers who for her transgressions is turned into an owl.

Live-Action TV

Video Games


See also Lusitanian Mythology, which seems to have interacted substantially with it (and some researchers think is a subset of).

Celtic mythology provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Irish god Lugh, who was called Samildanach or "long-handed" — both of which mean "good at everything".
  • Action Girl: The two most famous Irish heroes were both trained early on by Warrior women; Cú Chulainn by Scáthach and Fionn by Liath (who also helped raise him). The main antagonists of The Ulster Cycle was also Queen Medb of Connaught. Numerous other examples abound; the Irish did not shy away from the idea of women being competent fighters.
  • Afterlife Express: The cóiste-bodhar, the black coach that comes for the dead, as famously seen in Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
  • All Trolls Are Different: The Fomorians are the deity versions of trolls, being ugly (usually — Bres the Beautiful is called that for a reason) giants who come from Beneath the Earth or the ocean depths. They colonized Ireland before the Tuatha de Danaan did and universally resent having been kicked out of their homes, making them The Usual Adversaries of most myth. They're not entirely evil though-many are friends of the Tuatha, and Lugh is a descendant of one.
  • The Almighty Dollar: Vesunna was a Celtic wealth goddess who gave prosperity, abundance, and good fortune.
  • Animorphism: Tuan mac Cairill survived a plague (and several centuries) by being transformed/reincarnated into various animals.
  • Another Dimension: The Otherworld, home to spirits. Irish "Tír na nÓg" (country of the young); Welsh "Gwlâd yr Hâf" (land of summer).
  • Anti-Hero: Efnysien, of the Sociopathic Hero variety. On the one hand, he's a seemingly motiveless Blood Knight psychopath, but he does end up saving the Welsh army with a heroic sacrifice.
  • Artificial Limbs: King Nuada of the Tuatha Dé Danann lost an arm in combat, but received a functional replacement crafted of silver later.
  • Atlantis: There are a number of kingdoms and cities drowned underneath the waves: the Welsh kingdom of Cantre'r Gwaelod, the Breton city of Ys (or Ker-Ys), the Cornish kingdom of Lyonesse, and — in some versions of the Arthurian legend — Avalon.
    • Truth in Television to a certain extent: sea levels in Western Europe were rising at the time Celtic peoples settled there, which means that chunks of land did disappear under the sea from time to time; some of those may have been inhabited.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • The Gae Bolg, or "belly spear", a spear owned by Cú Chulainn, which pretty much guaranteed victory against any enemy. However, it had to be blessed in a stream before use and thrown from the foot. Most adaptations underplay just how gory it is too. On reaching its target, it does a sharp right turn directly upwards and enters through the arsehole. It then extends barbs down every blood vessel of the target's body, killing them... and making it impossible to use again without cleaning the corpse off first. This made it entirely useless in large-scale combat, though Cú Chulainn sometimes used it in duels.
    • The Spear of Lugh, one of the Four Treasures. While incredibly powerful, it had to be kept in a bath of blood to avoid it bursting into flames and draining the blood of everything around it. Imagine how that would have affected the household where it was kept. Fortunately poppy juice could keep it sedated, and another of the Four Treasures was a cauldron which could "satisfy any hunger".
  • Badass Army: The Fianna, famously lead by Fionn MacCumhail.
  • Badass Transplant: Nuada Airgetlam. Airgetlam means silver hand. It was a literal title.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Discovering this was not the case was what kicked off the second major war with the Fomorians-Bres the Beautiful was made king because of his apparent physical perfection, but he was a greedy old Jerkass loyal to the Fomorian half of his heritage, helping his cousins re-invade Ireland.
  • Because Destiny Says So: When Cú Chulainn was still a child of six he overheard a druid prophesying that anyone who took up arms on that day would become the mightiest hero of Ireland. So he immediately rushed off to the king and asked for a sword. Also, see The Chosen One below.
  • The Berserker: Cú Chulainn. After one battle they tried to calm him down by mobbing him with topless women. When he turned his face away in embarassment, they grabbed him and threw him into a barrel of water. The barrel exploded. They tried it again and the water boiled away. Third time was the charm, since the water only became somewhat warm.
  • Blessed with Suck: Diarmuid Ua Duibhne had a magical birthmark called the "love spot" which made any woman who saw it lust after him. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Except Diarmuid was a loyal friend and soldier who was constantly surrounded by the wives and daughters of his compatriots, some of which were... less than enthusiastic about his tendency to keep bewitching their women. It actually led to his death when he was mortally wounded and his friend, who had the power to heal wounds using water and whose wife he'd previously stolen, "accidentally" ended up spilling the healing water one too many times before he bled out.
  • Body Horror: Cú Chulainn's "warp-spasm" is best described as The Incredible Hulk, meets Broly, meets John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). His legs to twist backwards, one of his eyes swells and pops out of its socket and sizzles against his superheated skin while the other is sucked down into his head, his mouth stretches open to rib-level, his internal organs are partially vomited up every time he roars, and his hair stands up in stiff, blood-clotted spikes. A "mast" of poisonous, boiling black blood shoots from his scalp, along with a glowing fist-sized horn of light, while his muscles swell "like bladders" into "horrific... shapeless" inhuman sizes (his neck and shoulder muscles in particular grow so big that they swallow his head up to the temples), and the skin of his throat and mouth peels back into a Glasgow Grin with More Teeth than the Osmond Family. There's a reason people were scared of this guy.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: After the modern Irish defeated the Tuatha De Danaan and sent them packing to Tír na nÓg, they learned the hard way why, even if you win, fighting the gods is a bad idea. Without the Tuatha De, the land began to suffer and the humans began to face famine and disease. This only stopped when the humans contacted the Tuatha De Danaan and made a deal with The Dagda (the leader of them at the time). The Tuatha De Danaan, and by extension the Daoine Sidhe/Aos Sidhe would continue to make the land prosper in exchange for offerings from the fruits of the humans labors, such as food and libations of alcohol.
  • The Chosen One: Cú Chulainn was a preternaturally strong berserker from early childhood, surrounded by prophesies and geasa. His actions in taking arms (see Because Destiny Says So above) was his statement that he was perfectly OK with being the Chosen One.
  • Continuity Snarl: Lots of little snarls crop up when you get past the general idea, what with the lack of written records for about a thousand years, the constant invasion by the Romans/Anglo-Saxons/Norse/Normans, and the replacing of pagan beliefs with Christianity.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment:
    • One version of the curse upon Ulster's men came about when a pregnant woman on the road was going into labor, but none of the men passing by would offer any assistance, so she cursed the whole land so that the men would experience the pains of labor every year. In the Táin Bó Cúailnge, Connaught times its raid for when the warriors of Ulster were crippled by that time of the year.
    • In the more canonical version, the punishment is imposed by Macha after she's been forced to race a horse while pregnant. She wins the race, gives birth to twins, and then dies, giving the curse as she does that the men of Ulster will be as weak as a woman in labor whenever they are in the deepest need.
    • When Rhiannon is accused of eating her newborn baby (the maids framed her), Pwyll doesn't want to kill her. So instead, she has to carry visitors from the courtyard to the castle hall on her back. For seven years.
  • Cool Horse:
    • Grey of Macha and Black of Saingliu, the twin steeds of Cú Chulainn.
    • Morvarc'h, the coal-black steed of the Breton king Gradlon.
    • Pryderi and Rhiannon's horses.
    • Embarr, the white horse that belong to Niamh (and later lent to Oisín) which could run over the land and water.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: The Celts saw the head as the location of the soul. Which is closer to the truth than a lot of religions managed — the Egyptians saw the brain as mush to be disposed of while they preserved your more important organs.
  • Cycle of Revenge: All the freaking time, often as a result of You Killed My Father and leading to Klingon Promotion. In ancient Ireland, many, many legendary High Kings came to power by killing the previous king. It would probably be easier to list the ones that didn't.
    • The four brothers Ér, Orba, Ferón and Fergna killed their cousins Luigne and Laigne in battle and ruled as High Kings together for half a year, before Luigne and Laigne's brother Íriel Fáid killed them in another battle.
    • Íriel's son Ethriel was killed in yet another battle by Conmáel, his cousin once removed, who then became High King.
    • Conmáel was killed in battle by Tigernmas, grandson of Ethriel.
    • Eochaid Étgudach was killed in battle by Cermna Finn, who was later killed in battle by Eochaid Faebar Glas, son of Conmáel.
    • Fíachu Labrainne became High King by killing Eochaid in battle to avenge his father.
    • Eochu Mumu, grandson of Eochaid, killed Fíachu, and was himself killed by Fíachu's son Óengus Olmucaid, who was later killed by Eochu's son Énna Airgdech.
    • Rothechtaid mac Main, grandson of Óengus, killed Énna in another battle.
    • Queen Macha Mong Ruad was killed by Rechtaid Rígderg, whose father had been killed by Macha's father.
    • Rechtaid was then himself killed by Úgaine Mór, foster son of Macha.
    • Úgaine Mór was killed by his brother Bodbchad, who held the throne for less than two days before Úgaine Mór's son Lóegaire Lorc killed him.
    • Lóegaire Lorc ruled for two years before his brother Cobthach Cóel Breg murdered him, and had his son Ailill Áine poisoned for good measure, and forced Ailill's son Labraid to eat his father's and grandfather's hearts (and a mouse) before exiling him.
    • Decades later, Labraid eventually got his vengeance by burning Cobthach to death inside an iron house.
    • After a few more decades, Cobthach's son Meilge Molbthach killed Labraid and became king.
    • He was then killed by Mug Corb, a grandson of Rechtaid, who was in turn killed by Óengus Ollom, a grandson of Labraid.
    • Then Irereo, son of Molbthach, killed Óengus, became king, and was killed by Fer Corb, son of Mug Corb.
    • Connla Cáem, son of Irereo, killed Fer Corb and actually lived long enough to die of natural causes.
    • And then his son Ailill Caisfiaclach was killed by Adamair, son of Fer Corb, who was in turn killed by Eochaid Ailtlethan.
    • Eochaid died in battle against Fergus Fortamail, grandson of Óengus Ollom, who became king until Eochaid's son Óengus Tuirmech Temrach killed him.
    • He died of natural causes and was succeeded by his nephew Conall Collamrach, who was killed by Nia Segamain, son of Adamair.
    • Nia Segamain was killed by Énna Aignech, son of Óengus Tuirmech Temrach.
    • Énna was killed by Crimthann Coscrach, grandson of Fergus Fortamail.
    • Crimthann was killed by Rudraige mac Sithrigi, who died of plague, and was succeeded by Finnat Már, son of Nia Segamain.
    • Finnat Már was killed by Bresal Bó-Díbad, son of Rudraige, who was then killed by Lugaid Luaigne, son of Finnat Már.
    • Lugaid was then killed by Congal Cláiringnech, brother of Bresal.
    • Congal was killed by Dui Dallta Dedad, grandson of Lugaid.
    • Dui was killed in battle by Fachtna Fáthach, grandson of Rudraige, who later fell in battle to Eochu Feidlech.
    • After this there are a few successions not involving violence, before getting back to business as usual with the king Eterscél Mór being killed in battle against Nuadu Necht.
    • And then Nuadu was killed by Eterscél's son Conaire Mór.
  • Dark Action Girl: Aoife, Medb, Macha, and especially the Morrigan. They're wrathful, petty bitches, but like hell if they aren't badass.
  • Darker and Edgier: You probably don't want to tell THESE fairy tales to your kids. Unjust punishment, scary-ass imagery, lots of Downer Endings, and an awful lot of sex. However, it's easy to find bowdlerised versions of the stories aimed at younger readers. Probably the most commonly heard child-friendly story is Fionn's building of the Giant's Causeway, and subsequent outsmarting the Giant that came to fight him. Not a drop of blood spilled, and Fionn dresses up as a baby as part of the trick.
  • Decadent Court: The Otherworld, when they're NOT amusing themselves by annoying humans.
  • Deadly Gaze: The monster Balor, whose gaze withered everything it touched.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Diarmuid occasionally shows himself to be one in his interactions with Grainne. At one point, Grainne stabs Diarmuid in the thigh after they have a tiff. When Grainne later asks for a knife to cut some meat, Diarmuid tells her to search the sheath she last put it in, casually pointing to his still impaled thigh. Note that in many cultures, including Celtic, "thigh" is usually a metaphor for "scrotum."
  • Death Amnesia: Cerridwen's cauldron brings back the dead but, because it's forbidden for the living to know anything about the afterlife, the reanimated dead cannot speak.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The Tuatha Dé Danann didn't leave this world and make way for humans by choice. Mankind went to war against them, won, and drove them out so that they could claim their land. It is the only time in any mythology where humanity kicked the gods' collective butts. Actually justified due to several reasons: One, in Celtic mythology, mankind was descended from the god of death, and they have a powerful set of mages themselves. Two, due to the fact that the Celts had long become Christians when the myths were wrote, the Tuatha Dé Danann aren't described as divine per se, only as a supernatural clan of persons. So, the difference of power between gods and humans isn't as substantial as it looks. It's also worth noticing that in later myths that humans, while still fearsome, aren't as powerful as their ancestors used to be. Later, it would be necessary a large army and/or a demigod to face a single Tuatha dé Danann. Also, the Tuatha De Dannan are exclusive to the Irish Portion of the Celtic mythology. The Welsh, for example, have the Children of Lyr and Dôn as their supernatural clans.
  • Divine Conflict: The conflict between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians over the ownership and right to settle the island of Ireland from Irish Legends.
  • Double Speak: In Wales, the fairies were called "The Fair Folk" (Tylwyth Teg) because you could praise them all day long and they would pay you no mind. Similarly, you could safely refer to the dangerous, unpredictable magical people as "Lords and Ladies", "the good neighbours", and a host of other polite euphemisms — they had prickly tempers, and an insult was an invitation for anything ranging from dead livestock to a swift death.
  • Droit du Seigneur: Conchobar was actually obligated to sleep with Emer before Cú Chulainn. He was understandably scared to actually sleep with the wife of a man known to go into murderous rages—especially when Cú Chulainn actually hears about it and burns up the cushions he's sitting on. So he used Exact Words to just share a bed with her while Fergus and Cathbad stayed in the room to confirm that nothing happened.
  • Engaging Conversation: Lots of them, with Cú Chulainn and Emer's conversation overlapping with Geeky Turn-On (see Nerds Are Sexy below).
  • Fairy Trickster: The pooka are fairy spirits known for taking the forms of various animals, usually a horse, often depicted as taking pleasure in confusing and pranking humans. However, while many stories state they are benevolent entities, there are a good few that characterize them as dangerous or even bloodthirsty.
  • Forced Transformation: Very common. The Children of Lir is probably the best known story.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel. If the title is not explicit enough, the main protagonist, king Conaire Mór, is given several geasa before he becames a king, and manages to break all of them one after another. AND THEN he is predicted to die when arriving at the eponymous hostel.
  • For the Evulz: Efnysien mutilates all of the Irish horses because he doesn't like his sister's new husband, and then graphically crushes the skulls of the soldier's hiding in bags, with little to no provocation.
  • Geas: Trope namer. Also, a quick note on grammar - in Irish (Gaeilge), the singular is geis ("gesh") and the plural is geasa ("gyasa"). In Scots Gaelic (Gàidhlig) it's geas (also pronounced "gesh"), and the plural is geasan ("geshin"). In Wales, it's a tynged (ting-ged) and the plural is tynghedau (ting-ged-eye). Unlike in modern times, it wasn't really seen as entirely a bad thing. If you were under a geas and fulfilled its terms, it made you stronger spiritually. It was still the downfall of numerous heroes, though.
  • Ghostly Wail: The banshee/bean-sidhe is a fairy-woman or ghost and often guardian spirit of the old Gaelic families who can foretell death in "her" family. She wails and cries through the night to warn the family that one of them will soon die. If the family hear her crying three nights in a row, they know that they should begin planning a funeral. As she can foretell death in the family that she protects, the banshee is also grieving for the family as well as warning them of impending death. When multiple mná-sídhe (fairy-women) are heard wailing at once, it foretells the death of an important political or religious figure.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!:
    • The Morrígan ("Phantom queen" or "Big Queen" or "Queen of Death" or "The Queen"), Irish goddess of war, death, and other fun pastimes. Overall, her morality falls under Blue-and-Orange Morality (if by 'blue' and 'orange' you mean 'blood red' and 'deeper blood red') and rather than outright evil, but for humans they don't notice the difference.
    • Medb/Maeve of Connaught, who raised an army and invaded Ulster just so that she could steal a magic bull to match the one her husband owned. It's about the primacy of female or male lines of inheritance, plus cattle raids were a show of power back then. Although some say it's about Medb and Ailill being irresponsible jerks.
  • Heal It with Water: Fionn mac Cumhaill offers to heal the mortally wounded Diarmuid by bringing him water cupped between his hands, but in his jealousy "accidentally" lets it slip twice, with Diarmuid dying before he can bring it a third time.
  • Helpless with Laughter: One of the locations occasionally visited in the Otherworld is the Isle of Mirth; anyone setting foot there will be taken over by mad, helpless, meaningless laughter such that they can't do anything else, and will stay that way indefinitely until someone manages to retrieve them.
  • Hijacked by Jesus:
    • The myths were not written down until after most Celts had converted to Christianity — as a result, gods were converted to kings and heroes, and millennia-long curses are broken by priests. It's all pretty muddy.
    • The Fair Folk went from... the Fair Folk, who were all right if you didn't offend them, to evil spirits who couldn't stand church bells/crosses/a priest.
    • It was a popular theory among folklorists in the 19th and early 20th centuries that the Irish Saint Brigid was a reworking of a pagan goddess called Brigid, who was apparently so beloved that the Irish simply wouldn’t stop worshipping her even once they had been converted, and the Church had to recontextualise her as a saint to save face. However, modern historians generally don’t consider it plausible: the Saint has a far stronger presence in the historical record than the goddess, whose sole definitive acknowledgement is a brief mention in an 11th century glossary, which seems to present ‘Brigid’ as more of a title than the name of any one mythological figure.
  • Healer God: Airmid was Mother of Herbal Healers.
  • Hulking Out: Cú Chulainn's warp-spasms might be the Ur-Example of this; he would undergo horrific transformations and fly into an Unstoppable Rage in battle.
  • Immortality Field: Tír na nÓg might seem like it's playing it straight when its literal meaning in Irish is "Land of the Young" and it's described to have "no illness or death or time, but only happiness and beauty", but, just like the Dragon Castle for Urashima Taro, it is deconstructed when mortals visit it. Leaving it reveals that a hundred years pass in the otherworld for every one in the real world and breaking a certain condition will cause your real age to catch up.
  • Infinity +1 Sword:
    • The Spear of Lugh, which spouted gouts of flame and was so thirsty for blood that it wielded itself with little help from the owner. Lugh had to keep it submerged (in either milk of the poppy or blood, depending on the telling) to keep it under control.
    • The Claíomh Solais or "Sword of Light" (not that one), the sword of Nuada before he was slain. Excalibur on crack is a decent way to describe it. It made a reappearance in The King of Ireland's Son.
    • Caladbolg (possibly an earlier version of Excalibur), the sword of Fergus Mac Róich, which even Cú Chulainn was afraid of. Literally "Hard/Solid Lightning," it made a pretty rainbow trail when swung... and could kill gods. No, seriously, it COULD kill GODS. He missed hitting an enemy once and the ensuing strike lopped the top off of three adjacent mountains!!!
    • Fragarach ("Answerer"), the sword of Manannan mac Lir and Lugh Lamfada, which could cut through anything, inflict untreatable wounds, give the wielder control over wind, and, when pressed against a person's throat, prevent them from lying.
    • Excalibur, i.e. the bar-none most famous sword IN THE WORLD. Not a whole lot is consistent about it, but two things are always present: one, when drawn, it'll burn out the eyes of anyone in line of sight of the blade besides the wielder; two, it could basically cut through god-on-anything like a lightsaber through half-melted butter that wasn't magical as well — and even then, it'd better be damn strong, like the Grail Sword. Finally, its scabbard had defensive powers varying between "the bearer's wounds don't bleed" to "the bearer becomes completely invulnerable".
  • Informed Attribute: For someone whose epithet is "the Wily," Emer's father King Forgall isn't particularly bright. He disapproved of Cuchulainn for some unmentioned reason, so he tried to marry Emer to someone else. Repeat: He tried to force The Chosen One's intended bride to marry someone else. Luckily, the other "suitors" were too terrified of Cuchulainn's potential retribution to accept. On the other hand, he still locked her up and started guarding against Cuchulainn's return, which resulted in Cu Chulainn going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge to save/elope with Emer.
  • Inhumanly Beautiful Race: the Tuatha Dé Danann. They are generally described as tall, slender but strong, pale skin, freckled, long blonde or red hair, and large, blue or green eyes. Very different from the dark, stocky, and ogre-like Fomorians.
  • Kick the Dog: To get back at Cú Chulainn for knocking her up and then marrying Emer instead, Aoife sent her son out into the world with two conditions: Challenge every warrior he meets, and never ever ever reveal his name. Naturally, when Cú Chulainn gets challenged by some kid, cue the Curb-Stomp Battle. Then Cú Chulainn notices a really familiar-looking ring...
  • Kill the Parent, Raise the Child: When the Viking lord Colgan and his sons came to raid Ireland, Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his warriors defeated his vast army, killing Colgan and his sons. That is, all except his youngest, Midac. Feeling he was too young, and taking pity on the boy, Fionn took in Midac and raised him as if he were his own son. Unfortunately, Midac always harbored a grudge against Fionn, and when the young eventually left The Fianna, Midac allied himself with some of Fionn's enemies in an (ultimately failed) plot to kill him and conquer Ireland.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Medb, queen of playing mind games, has about eight kids. She only cares about the youngest daughter as a living bargaining chip, and her seven sons all (presumably) survive. Cú Chulainn, despite wanting any children at all to continue his legacy, sleeps with dozens of women and has a total of one son (and not by his wife, who wants children as much as he does). He accidentally kills said son when the boy's pissed-off mother sends him off with the convenient geasa of challenging every man he comes across, but never revealing his name.
  • Losing Your Head:
    • Bran the Blessed's head stayed alive after his allies struck it off his dying body at his instruction. It was buried in the White Hill of London, supposedly the spot where the Tower of London now stands, and the story goes that Britain can never be conquered as long as the head is there. Though a tradition says that Bran's head was dug up by King Arthur, who wanted to be solely responsible for protecting Britain from invasions, and that would explain why there are so many Anglo-Saxons in Britain, let alone the Norman invasion.
    • Also king Conaire in the Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel (Togail Bruidne Dá Derga) can still — after having been beheaded by his enemies — drink the cup of water that his champion has fetched for him and make a poem to praise him.
  • Magic Cauldron: At least three.
    • Welsh myth features the Pair Dadeni (Cauldron of Rebirth), which brings people back to life, but... wrong. It's eventually destroyed by someone sacrificing himself by jumping into it. This legend has been adapted for use in a number of more modern works, such as The Chronicles of Prydain.
    • Medieval Welsh literature also associates the goddess Ceridwen with a cauldron from which poetic inspiration is sourced.
    • Irish myth features a cauldron known as the Undry, belonging to a god and being counted one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann. It was supposed to be a bottomless supply of food "from which no man left unsatisfied".
  • Magical Weapon:
    • Cú Chulainn wielded a spear made out of a sea monster's bone called the Gae Bolg that when thrust into an enemy grew 30 points out of its one point, invariably killing it's target and also requiring it's wielder to cut it out of their enemies corpse to retrieve it.
    • Lúin of Celtchar was a lance with a burning head that had to be quenched in a cauldron of blood/venom (depending on the story) or else it would burn straight through it's own shaft. If it was thrust at a man, it could kill him without touching him, and would kill 9 men when thrown, and was guaranteed to kill a king/royal/chieftain.
  • Martial Arts and Crafts: Cú Chulainn (childhood name "Setanta") as a child killed a massive guard dog belonging to the smith Culann by smashing a sliotar (a ball used in hurling, which is like a cross between hockey and rugby) down its throat with his hurley. He repaid the smith by acting as his guard dog until the original dog's puppies were fully grown. This is where he gets his name — Cú Chulainn means "Hound of Culann".
  • Master of Threads: Due to her identification with the Roman goddess Minerva, who is the Roman counterpart of Athena, Brigantia is also considered a goddess of weaving among other things.
  • Mathematician's Answer: When Bres is ransoming his life from the Tuatha de Danann, Lugh promises to let him go in exchange for knowing the best time of year in which to plow, sow and reap crops. Bres answers "Tuesday."
  • Mister Seahorse: Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, the brothers in the Mabinogion who impregnate each other, though they are first transformed into animals, one male and one female, to make it biologically possible.
  • Mr. Fanservice:
    • Cú Chulainn, when he's not awesome or outright terrifying. He was so insanely attractive that the men of Ulster wanted him married off as soon as possible to keep him from stealing their wives and seducing their daughters.
    • Diarmuid. See Blessed with Suck above.
    • There's also Naoise (who is described to Deirdre, his eventual lover, with the "hair as black as ebony, skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood" description familiar from "Snow White"), Midir, Taliesin, Gwydion... The Celts sure like their pretty guys.
    • Don't forgot King Arthur himself, who is said (in Culhwch and Olwen) to be one of the three most handsome men in Britain, next to Bedwyr (Bedivere) and Drych fab Cibddar:
  • Mysterious Mist: The féth fíada or fairy mist (also ceo druidechta, druid mist), which was used by the Tuatha Dé Danann to conceal themselves from observers. According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Tuatha first arrived in Ireland wrapped in this mist, after travelling over the sea in it. In stories set in later times, druids and even Christian saints are reported to make themselves invisible with magic mist.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Cú Chulainn married Emer because she was the only one who could figure out his cryptic answers to her questions, while at the same time making up her own for him to solve. He then has to explain the entire thing to his charioteer Loeg (and by extension, the audience).
    Loeg: Now, the words which thou and the maiden Emer spoke, what did you mean by them?
    Cú Chulainn: Dost thou not know that I am wooing Emer? And it is for this reason that we disguised our words lest the girls should understand that I am wooing her, for if Forgall knew it, we should not meet with his consent.
    (Cú Chulainn then repeated the conversation from the beginning.)
  • No Man of Woman Born: Cú Chulainn was the sole defender of Ulster owing to a curse which stated that all fighting men of Ulster would be crippled for nine days and nine nights when they were needed most. While Cú Chulainn was the champion of Ulster, he was not an Ulsterman (and, technically, still a boy), and was thus exempt from the conditions of the curse when Medb invaded.
  • Numerological Motif: The number three tends to show up a lot, from the above mentioned triple goddess to the famous symbols you see on various Celtic paraphernalia. Seven and nine are also common.
  • Oh, and X Dies: The Irish "Aided" stories are titled in accordance to this trope. "Aided" is an early Irish term to refer to violent deaths, and so stories named "Aided X" will have X die horribly.
  • One-Winged Angel: Cú Chulainn's Warp Spasms, which granted him Unstoppable Rage and a terrifying appearance.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Cú Chulainn's birth name was "Setanta". Presumably most people know it, but there's a lot more stuff named after Cú Chulainn.
    • The other famous Irish hero, Fionn MacCumhaill, was given his first name after his hair turned white (Fionn means "Blond" or "fair"). His birth name was Deimne.
    • This was quite common in Celtic Ireland, as children were given were given a nickname when they were older that described them. Most people would know them by this name.
  • Overly Long Name: Fer Benn Bruach Brogaill Broumide Cerbad Caic Rolaig Builc Labair Cerrce Di Brig Oldathair Boith Athgen mBethai Brightere Tri Carboid Roth Rimaire Riog Scotbe Obthe Olaithbe, better known as the Dagda.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Cú Chulainn, pursuing Connaught's warriors to retrieve the white bull of Ulster, challenges one to a duel. When he refuses to fight a "beardless boy", Cú Chulainn (being only seventeen at the time) runs off, finds a goat, shaves some of its hair, and weaves a fake beard to wear before making the challenge again.
  • Power Limiter: Balor's "evil eye" was so powerful it had to be sewn shut so tightly that four giant fomorians were required to pull on the strings in order to get it open. Needless to say, Balor only ever unleashed it when facing truly desperate odds, and when he died and fell face first into the ground, the evil eye blasted out an entire lake beneath him before his lids shut.
  • Primal Polymorphs: The druid Fintan Mac Bochra was a druid and one of the first men to settle Ireland, note , and is on record as preferring nature to the company of other human beings - to the point of jumping into a river rather than spend another minute in the company of the fifty women who'd taken the journey with him note , and later living alone in a mountaintop cave where nobody could find him. Fintan also demonstrated numerous shapeshifting powersnote : surviving a flood note  by becoming a salmon, he remained that way for over a year before becoming an eagle, then a hawk, before finally reverting to human form - eventually going on to become an advisor to the kings of Ireland for the next five thousand years.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Emphasis on Proud.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Very common.
  • Psychopomp: Gwyn ap Nudd in Wales, Ankou in Brittany.
  • Punny Name: One that is in all likelihood accidental, yet fits like a glove in William de Soulis, Lord of Hermitage Castle, a man who really did exist and was given a quite serious case of Historical Villain Upgrade in the myths. With all his horrific exploits, it's safe to say that his fictional portrayal was well and truly...well, soulless.
  • Rape as Drama:
  • Refusing Paradise: According to The War of the Irish with the Foreigners, the warrior Dunlang O'Hartigan (Dúnlaing Ó hArtagáin) was loved by a lady of the aes sídhe (a.k.a. fairies) who offered him immortality and eternal youth and bliss until the Day of Judgment and (this is explicitly included) entrance into Heaven after the Judgment, if he would stay with her. Dunlang however leaves her to aid his friend Murchadh, the son of Brian Boru, in the Battle of Clontarf, if only because he has promised Murchadh to fight by his side, and even though he knows by way of a prophecy that he will die in the battle. When Dunlang arrives just in time to join the battle, Murchadh, hearing his story, in turn mentions that he, too, has been hosted in "hills and fairy mansions" where similar offers were made to him, but he always refused because he would not abandon his country or relatives. True to the prophecy, both Dunlang and Murchadh die in the battle.
  • Rule of Three: Ériu, The Morrigan, the pantheon seemed to like a good triumvirate. Might have meant something when Catholicism came to town.
  • Sacred Hospitality: A constant theme in Iron Age societies. A large part of Bres' unpopularity as king was because he refused to host the Tuatha De properly, then humiliated them with servant's work.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: The supernatural beings of the Otherworld (Sidhe, deities, or spirits), are often called fairies — without the modern connotation of "adorable tiny winged people". That innovation came from the Victorians. Some modern fantasy authors use alternate spellings such as "faery/faerie" to convey that they mean the Darker and Edgier version of The Fair Folk.
  • Serious Business: Storytelling. The humble bard had incredible power in the Celtic tradition, because of his ability to tell stories. The worst thing that can happen to a mighty warrior is not to be defeated in battle, but to have a bard compose a satirical poem about him. A superior opponent can merely kill you. A well-written story about how much of a loser you are will be told and re-told until the end of time.
  • Sex for Services: Medb has a habit of throwing the bonus of her "friendly thighs" on top of whatever else she's offering when wheeling and dealing for allies.
  • Significant Name Overlap: A druid tells Queen Mebd that one of her sons will one day kill Conchobar (one of Medb's many ex-husbands and king of Ulster). When Medb asks which one will do the deed, the druid simply responds, "Maine". Though she had seven sons, none of them were named Maine, so she hedged her bets and renamed all of them Maine. One of them eventually does kill Conchobar, though it turns out to be a different Conchobar than the one she was hoping for.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Diarmuid and Grainne have this initially after eloping: they fled from Fionn and the Fianna and were on the run for weeks, but despite them being madly in love, Diarmuid refuses to have sex with her, out of loyalty to Fionn, who was to be married to Grainne before she fell in love with Diarmuid. One day, while on the run Grainne steps into a puddle and water splashes between her thighs. She mocks Diarmuid, saying how even water in a puddle is braver than he is. His noble pride hurt, Diarmuid finally makes love to Grainne.
  • Sons of Slaves: According to the Irish Lebor Gabála Érenn a.k.a. Book of Invasions, the Fir Bolg (the people who occupy Ireland at the time the Tuatha Dé Danann arrive) were descendants of one Semeon who led a small group of survivors from Ireland to Greece after the entire population of Ireland had been destroyed by a combination of several desasters. Semeon's progeny multiplied in Greece, but the Greeks imposed slavery on them and forced them to carry clay onto barren mountains to make the mountains fertile; hence they are called Fir Bolg (Men of Bags). After toiling in Greece for several generations, the Fir Bolg, now 5,000 in numbers, manage to escape, sail back to Ireland and re-settle the island.
  • Spell My Name With An S: There are at least three alternate spellings for every name in this article. Usually this is a combined result of the history of Irish orthography and later Anglicisations. A name might be rendered in its Old Irish form, its Modern Irish form, or an Anglicisation, which often doesn't actually reflect English pronunciation at all. The Queen of Connacht, for instance, may be rendered Meḋḃ(Old Irish), Méabh (Modern Irish) or Maeve (Anglicised, and one of the few that actually sounds like it's spelled). It doesn't help that many books in English still use the archaic spellings or strip out the diacritics, making the pronunciation more obscure.
  • Sword Beam: The Caladbolg, which shot rainbow-colored energy beams that could destroy mountains.
  • Talking in Bed: The beginning of the Irish story Táin Bó Cúailnge, "The Cattle Raid of Cooley".
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    • Lots of people refer to "The/a garden of the Morrigan" or "the Morrigan's harvest". While she IS a fertility goddess, her "garden" and "harvest" are actually battlefields and the souls / heads / eyes of the dead. This possibly refers to her sacred birds, the corvids, who eat carrion. It might also refer to the fact that battlefields become quite verdant after a few years.
    • Also, "Macha's Acorn Crop" is a poetic way to describe the piled-up heads after a battle.
    • When she's trying to get a valuable bull, Medb promises his owner the "friendship of her upper thigh".
    • If The Wooing of Emer is to go by, the Monty Python crew was far from the first to refer to breasts as tracts of land.
      Cú Chulainn: When I said, "Fair is this plain, the plain of the noble yoke," it was not the plain of Bray that I praised then, but the shape of the maiden. For I beheld the yoke of her two breasts through the opening of her smock, and it is of that I said, "plain of the noble yoke," of the breasts of the maiden.
  • The Weird Sisters: The Irish goddess of war and fate known as the Morrígan is sometimes described as just one of three sisters collectively called 'the Morrígna'. The names of the three Morrígna, who are the "daughters of Ernmas", are variously given as Badb, Macha and Morrígan; Badb, Macha and Nemain; Badb, Macha and Anand; Fea, Erinn and Anand, and others. Both Badb and Anand are sometimes equated with the Morrígan.
  • When Trees Attack: Gwydion the magician enchants the trees to fight as warriors against the forces of the Otherworld. They do a bloody good job, too.
  • Would Hit a Girl: When Cú Chulainn is on his sickbed, two women satirists named Fethan and Collach pretend to weep over him, telling him that the Ulstermen have been routed. When he learns that this isn't true, he gets out of bed and smashes their skulls together "so that he was red with their blood and grey with their brains."
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: A common problem when one spends time in the Otherworld. While there, you experience time normally while much more time passes back home, though you don't age until you lay foot on mortal soil again. Which isn't a pretty sight...


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Irish Mythology, Welsh Mythology


The Tuatha De Danann

As Red explains, in her analysis video on The Book of Invasions, the Celtic Tuatha De Danann were heavily censored and edited, to better fit to the Christian views of the then current Irish people. Instead of gods, they were turned into sorcerers and demons, with some very questionable Christian elements thrown in as well.

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