Da Derga (Da Dearga, Ua Dergae) To Dfgne (Dige, Dighe, Duibne) (Celtic mythology and folklore)

Da Derga (Da Dearga, Ua Dergae)

Irish god or hero. One of the most significant Irish narratives dealing with the ancient Celtic vision of kingship is set in the hostel or inn of this obscure character. When the king of tara, conaire, arrived at Da Derga’s hostel on the magical feast of samhain (November 1) after breaking a series of sacred vows (see geis), he faced his doom within it. First a hag came to him demanding entrance; when he denied it, she stood on one leg like a crane and cursed him. Immediately, Conaire developed an all-consuming thirst, which no water from any source in Ireland could quench, and died of it. Da Derga made no attempt to help him, implying that he was in agreement with the punishment.

The identity—indeed even the name—of Da Derga is unclear. Some texts give him as Ua Dergae, "the nephew of the red goddess," while others call him Da Derga, "the red god." If the former is correct, he could be related to medb or Flaith, goddesses of sovereignty, a reasonable enough connection given that the story’s main point is the punishment of the king for not maintaining his sacred vows as the earth goddess demanded. If the latter, he may have been a god of the otherworld, for the color red is commonly linked to that realm. Da Derga has virtually no personality and little role in the story named for him.

Dagda (Daghdha, Dagdae, Dagda Mor, Cera, Samildanach)

Irish god. This ancient Irish divinity was called "the good god," because he was good at everything; while other gods of the tuatha de danann were specialists, the Dagda was an artisan and a diviner, a husbandman and a warrior and a wise king, all at once. He was also benevolent, the god of abundance and fecundity. The Dagda owned a magical cauldron that could never be emptied and a mallet (whose phallic meaning is unmistakable) so huge it had to be be dragged along on a cart. He also had a pair of magical pigs that could be eaten again and again but always revived themselves, as well as an orchard that, no matter the season, was always filled with fruit. The Dagda was thus not only an ideal of masculine excellence but also a god of the earth’s fertility.

He was no handsome swain; far from it. The Dagda was portrayed as an almost comic character, wheeling his huge mallet along, dressed in a too-short tunic that left his privates exposed, indulging his extreme and excessive appetites whenever he desired. Yet he was invariably helpful, a force of fertility that could not be ignored or avoided. He was called by several alternative names that stress his benevolence: Eochaid Ollathair, "father of all," and Ruad Rofhessa, "lord of great knowledge." Some scholars connect him with the mysterious god named CROM CRUACH, citing as evidence the Dagda’s untranslated title Crom-eocha. He was also one of the multivalent gods who were called by the title of Samiladanach, "many-skilled man."

The Dagda had many mates among the Irish goddesses, including the black-winged MORRI-GAN, whom he encountered at the River Unshin (Unius) in CONNACHT, standing with one foot on each bank and washing the clothes of those about to be killed in battle (see WASHER AT THE FORD). True to form, when the Dagda saw the enormous goddess bending over the stream, he was overcome with desire and engaged her in intercourse. So satisfactory did she find their encounter that she agreed to support his side in the next day’s battle at MAG TUIRED, singing her magical chants from the sidelines as the Tuatha De Danann fought their mortal enemies, the monstrous beings called the FOMORIANS, and finally drove them from Ireland.

Most often, the Dagda is described as the consort of BOAND, another deity of abundance. Among their many children were the goddess of inspiration, BRIGIT, and the god of poetry and beauty, AONGHUSOG; thus poetry is, symbolically, the offspring of an abundant life. The Dagda’s other children included the FAIRY king MIDIR and the great magician BODB DERG. As consort to Boand, the Dagda was associated with the great bru na boinne, the vast ceremonial earthworks on the Boyne, the river named for Boand, which later became his son Aonghus’s palace. Because the Dagda had consorted in secret with Boand, who was at the time the wife of the god NECHTAN, he is sometimes called the foster father of Aonghus. He was sufficiently devoted to his son that, when Aonghus wanted to marry, the Dagda provided the bride-price: clearing 12 great plains overnight so that Aonghus might have his beloved.

Another of the Dagda’s many children was AED MINBHREC, who was killed in a jealous rage by a man named CORGENN. Despite his power, the Dagda could not revive his beloved son, but he put a sacred vow (see geis) on Corgenn, forcing him to carry his victim’s body on his back until he found a stone the exact size and weight of the deceased. Only then could Corgenn rest. Thus the man hauled the body around Ireland until he found a place for it: the ancient HILLFORT of GRIANAN AILEACH in Co. Donegal.

Although the force of fertility itself cannot be killed, the Dagda was said to have died in the second battle of MAG TUIRED. He fought valiantly, even heroically, but a woman named CETHLION, wife of the Fomorian king BALOR, killed the Dagda. Afterward he continued his reign from the afterlife of the OTHERWORLD, where he enjoyed his four great palaces and ate his fill from his magically abundant cauldron and ever-fruiting orchard.


Arthurian hero. Although originally only king ARTHUR’s jester, Dagonet showed his bravery in battle after being knighted as a joke.

Dahut (Dahud, Ahes, Ahe, Keben)

Breton heroine or goddess. The most renowned Breton folktale tells of a princess whose great city of YS gleamed behind its seawalls off the coast of La Raz, at the tip of the peninsula of Brittany, or perhaps in the port of today’s city of Douarnenez. Daughter of the Christian king GRADLON, Dahut herself followed the old religion and worshiped the old powers of the land. With the help of the sea magicians called the korrigans, Dahut set about building the world’s most magnificent city. Great walls were erected so that marshy land could be reclaimed from the deep; the walls were so cleverly painted by DWARFS that they appeared to be GOLD. Only Dahut had the key to the gates that kept back the waters, and she wore it on a chain around her fair neck. She built herself a beautiful palace, with stables whose marble floors matched the colors of the horses they housed. Her wealth came to her from the sea, for she had captured and harnessed sea DRAGONS, which daily brought her riches from abroad.

Magnificent homes rose within the new city, which became so renowned that it would one day be said that Paris itself was only a reflection, like Ys (par-Ys, a false etymology) but not so grand. But the people of Ys grew hard and selfish; they would not endure beggars or even working people in their beautiful city, accepting only those who were wealthy and beautiful. Despite the miserliness of her people, Dahut’s city rang day and night with music and song, while Dahut received in her own palace entourages of princes and nobles from around the world.

That palace harbored a dark secret, for each night Dahut selected the most handsome of her visitors and secretly gave him a mask that, she whispered, would allow him to pass unseen to her tower bedroom. And so he did, slipping excitedly past the guard and into the waiting arms of the princess. After a night of pleasure, as the swallows flying past the tower windows alerted them to dawn’s arrival, the chosen man would put on the mask again to retrace his steps. But this time the mask would grow tighter and tighter until it squeezed the very breath out of the unfortunate young man, after which a servant would haul the body to an abyss between Huelgoat and Pualoauen.

One night Dahut met her match, however. Dancing at a ball with a prince whose attractive demeanor set her thinking about that evening’s pleasure, she was surprised to hear him call for a certain tune on the pipes. As she danced, she found herself whirling faster and faster, unable to stop. The people around her, too, danced faster and faster, growing more and more terrified at their inability to stop either the music or their response to it. Then the stranger—for this was not really a prince but CADO, a sea demon who wanted Dahut in his own realm forever; or perhaps it was the DEVIL himself—slipped his hand into Dahut’s secret neck-pouch and extracted the silver key to the great seawalls. As the horrified residents danced on and on, they saw him open the sluices, saw the water begin to pour into the city, saw it rush into the ballroom and rise around their dancing feet.

Only the Christian king Gradlon was able to get away, led off by St. Coretin (or GUENOLE in some versions), who provided a horse for him. The king rode into Dahut’s palace to rescue her, but as soon as she mounted behind her father, the horse refused to move. The saint called to Gradlon to push his daughter into the water, and, desperately, he did so, pushing Dahut into the turbulent sea. Then, in a great leap, the horse moved again. It struck the Rock of Garrec on the Breton coast, where its hoofprint can still be seen. Some tales say that Dahut was thrown into the very abyss where her victims rested, the Abyss of Ahez. Others claim that Dahut did not die but lives on, as a MERMAID floating above her sunken city, still luring men to their doom.

The story of Dahut may well have its basis in ancient Celtic myth, but with the coming of Christianity, condemnation of ancient pagan rites was so interwoven with the tale that it is impossible to know what elements are original and what were added to make it an instructional parable. In the beginning of the story, Dahut lives at one with nature and the elemental spirits, who make possible her regal life in her crystalline city. That she brings death as well as life to the city suggests that she was based on a misinterpretation of an ancient divinity of life’s cycle.

Daire (Dara)

Irish hero. Like AED and AILILL, Daire is a name found frequently in Irish mythology and mythological history. Meaning "fertile" or "fruitful," it is sometimes anglicized as Dara; but the name Dara may also derive from doire, which means "oak" or "oak grove." Some scholars contend that although the various figures bearing this name appear to be different and have different regional associations, they spring from the same root, perhaps a god like the DAGDA who ruled FERTILITY. In addition to several minor figures in the FENIAN CYCLE, the most important figures bearing this name are:

• Daire, father of LUGAIDH Laighde and his four brothers (also named Lugaidh); Daire heard a prophecy that his son Lugaidh would become king of Ireland. Hedging his bets, Daire gave that name to all his sons.

• Daire, son of FIONN MAC CUMHAILL (sometimes recorded as CONAN), who was swallowed by a monstrous worm that he killed from within to free himself.

• Daire of the Poems, BARD and musician of the band of heroes called the FIANNA, who was known for the beauty of his songs.

• Daire Derg, "red Daire," a one-eyed villain whose children, the Fothads, were adversaries of FIONN MAC CUMHAILL.

• Daire mac Dedad, ancestor of the Erainn people, an early race in Ireland, perhaps an ancestor god euhemerized or demoted into a mortal.

• Daire mac Fiachan, owner of DONN CUAIL-NGE, the great brown BULL sought by queen MEDB in the epic tain bo cuailnge. Daire originally agreed to give the Donn to Medb in exchange for her "friendly things" (one of the epic’s most famous phrases), but when he heard Mebd’s men boasting of how Daire’s acquiescence was irrelevant as they would take the bull in any case, he decided to fight rather than be perceived as weak. This decision set in motion the CATTLE RAID on his territories, in what is now the Cooley peninsula in Co. Louth.

Daireann (Doirend, Doirinn)

Irish heroine. The sister of the better-known heroine SADB, Daireann took a fancy to the great warrior FIONN MAC CUMHAILL, who did not return the interest. In revenge, she poisoned him—not with a death potion but with an enchanted elixir that drove the great man insane. Most of Fionn’s followers, the FIANNA, abandoned him during his insanity, but they returned when his wits did. Daireann’s pride took another blow when Fionn had a child with Sadb, who became his favorite follower, the poet OISIN.


Irish heroine. This Irish princess, daughter of the minor king Tuathal Techtmar, caught the eye of the king of Ireland’s eastern province, LEINSTER. But that king, Eochaid, was forced by Tuathal to marry Dairine’s older sister FITHIR instead. Eochaid outwitted his father-in-law, however; he claimed that Fithir had died and promptly wed the younger sister. He did not have much happiness with her, for Dairine happened upon the place where Fithir was being held captive and thus discovered her husband’s perfidy.

Dames Vertes

French folkloric figures. In areas of modern France that were once Celtic territory, we find folktales about these "Green Ladies" who lurk in the forests, luring travelers into ravines by their beauty and their sweet voices, then tormenting them by holding them upside down over waterfalls and laughing at their terror. Such elemental spirits are found in many cultures; in the case of the Dames Vertes, they were especially associated with the wind, on which they traveled across the land, making plants grow with their breath. They could also take human form, always being dressed in GREEN, a color known in Ireland to be the favorite choice of the FAIRY people.


Continental Celtic goddess. Among the countless goddesses of Celtic Gaul we find Damona, whose name appears to mean "divine COW" and who thus may be a goddess similar to the Irish BOAND; she has also been interpreted as a goddess of sheep. She was described as the consort, variously, of the gods BORVO and APOLLO Mortitasgus, both relatively obscure divinities; she may have been polyandrous, having both husbands at once.

Danu (Dana, Anu, possibly Donand, Danann)

Irish goddess. Since there was once a goddess of this name in Ireland, it is possible that one appeared in other Celtic countries as well. Although no myths about her still exist, there are many place-names that bear her name; the Dane Hills, home of the HAG named BLACK ANNIS; the great river Danube of eastern Europe; and the famous PAPS OF DANU in Ireland’s southwestern province of MUNSTER, two rounded breast-shaped hills topped in prehistory with rock CAIRNS in the position of nipples. Most significantly, we find an Irish divine race, thought to represent the gods of the Celts, called the TUATHA DE DANANN, the people of the goddess Danu; they were later called the daoine sidhe, anglicized as Dana O’Shee or FAIRY-folk, after being demoted and diminished from divinity into folktale figures.

Danu’s name has been derived from the Old Celtic dan, meaning "knowledge," and she has been linked to the Welsh mother goddess DON. Some texts call her the daughter of the mighty DAGDA, the good god of abundance, a connection that supports the contention that she was an ancient goddess of the land’s fertility. She may be the same as Danann, daughter of the wilderness goddess FLIDAIS in some texts. She is sometimes said to be the mother of the SONS OF TUIREANN.

Daoine sdhe

Irish folklore figures. One of the many euphemisms for the FAIRY people of Ireland, this term means "folk from the mound," for these diminished deities were believed to live in the ancient BARROWS, HILLFORTS, and other prehistoric monuments of Ireland (see FAIRY MOUND). Many other cordial and flattering terms were used, presumably to elicit the good will of the amoral and sometimes mischievous fairies: The Good Folk (daoine maithe), The Gentry (daoine uaisle), and simply Them.

Darkness and light

Cosmological concepts. Today we see dawn as the beginning of the day, which ends in night, but to the Celts, day began with evening and ended with afternoon, just as the year began with fall and ended in summer. Thus Celtic holidays fell on what we would consider the night before the actual feast day: for example, SAMHAIN, November 1, is still celebrated as Hallowe’en on October 31. Although any Celtic creation myth has been lost, this pattern suggests that our sunlit world was preceded by another, more shadowy one. The mythological idea of the OTHERWORLD, that separate but connected place from which objects in this world derive power, points to the same idea. The Celts did not see darkness and light as antagonists, in the way that the Persian philosophy of Manichaeism, for instance, did; rather, they were complementary parts of a single whole.

Darlughdacha (Darludacha)

Irish heroine. When the Celtic goddess BRIGIT was converted into a Christian saint of the same name, monkish writers provided her with a human biography: She was abbess of the great religious center at KILDARE. In these Christian texts, Darlughadacha—whose name means "daughter of (the Celtic god) lugh"—was described as St. Brigit’s boon companion, who shared a bed with her. When Darlughdacha deliberately burned her feet to mortify the flesh after gazing lustfully at a warrior, Brigit miraculously healed her. Although there may have been a historical woman of this name who was the companion of a Christian abbess in Kildare, scholars argue that it is more likely that Darlughdacha was an otherwise lost Celtic goddess translated into a Christian nun.

Dath (Dathi, Daithf)

Irish hero. The last pagan king of Ireland, DatM was reputedly buried in CONNACHT’s great provincial capital at CRUACHAN, where a STANDING STONE (which far predates his alleged reign in the fifth century C.E.) is said to mark his grave. DatM, a nephew of NIALL of the Nine Hostages, reigned in Connacht for 23 years before succeeding to the throne at TARA. There is some evidence that the historical DatM was never a king at all but merely a successful warrior who invaded the Continent and was promoted in rank by later annalists.


Irish hero. Two minor figures in Irish legend held this name: Daui Dalta Dedad, a king of TARA who kept his brother from becoming king by blinding him; as a BLEMISHED KING could not rule, this proved an effective way to gain power, but Daui was assassinated only seven years later. Another king, Daui Ladrach, was similarly ambitious and willing to kill to gain the throne, but the warrior LUGAIDH La^ghde was cleverer, using Daui’s ambition to clear the path for his own ascension.

Davy Jones Scottish and Welsh folkloric figure. "Davy Jones’s Locker," a common name for the ocean, appears to derive from a Celtic god who entered his OTHERWORLD kingdom through WATER. Although most RIVERS in Celtic lands were named for goddesses, a few in Britain (Tavy, Tay) have been derived from the Celtic root word taff, "stream," which could have been Christianized into Davy. This might explain the first name, but what about Jones? Scholars point to a Scottish god of the ocean with the slightly similar name—SHONEY, who lived in the Otherworld where he imprisoned those who drowned. Thus the familiar Davy Jones may descend from a Celtic divinity whose lockup was the briny deep. Alternatively, Davy Jones may combine the most common first and last names found in Wales, where David is sometimes spelled Davydd; the presumed god of the deep, in this interpretation, is simply a conversational image for the ocean, used by Welsh sailors who brought the phrase into currency.

dead hand

Irish folkloric object. An old Irish belief held that a hand cut from a dead person— especially a victim of murder, an executed criminal or a child—held great magical power. Thieves could not be caught if they were carrying a dead hand; cream need only be stirred nine times for huge amounts of BUTTER to form.

Deae Matres

Continental Celtic goddesses. "Divine Mothers" is the translation of the Latin name given to one of the most common goddess images found in Celtic lands. The sculptures sometimes show two mother figures, but more often there are THREE, the number that represented intensification to the Celts. Typically the Mothers are shown seated; often they appear to be of different ages (young maiden, fertile mother, and aging crone), but they are also sometimes depicted as identical triplets. They hold sacred objects: sacrificial knife, offering plate (patera), foodstuffs, bread, FISH. Since many, if not most, Celtic divinities are connected to the FERTILITY of the land and the people who depend upon it, it is not surprising that these goddesses are associated with food and abundance. In addition to the figure commonly called DEA NUTRIX, the "nourishing goddess," we also occasionally find the Mothers in the form called the "pseudo-Venus" or false VENUS, a single voluptuous woman holding symbols of fertility. There is no historical indication of the ritual practices connected with these goddesses, who seem to have been absorbed into the Roman religious framework early in imperial times.

Dealgnaid (Delgnat, Elgnat, Elgnad)

Irish heroine. When the invader PARTHOLON arrived in Ireland, he brought his wife Dealgnaid. After successfully establishing his people on fertile land, he set about conquering additional territory—leaving his wife alone with only a handsome servant, Togda, to keep her company. And keep company the servant did, right into the bedroom. When Partholon returned to find his wife in another man’s arms, he did not blame her but himself because, knowing his wife’s desires, he should not have abandoned her. The couple reconciled, and Dealgnaid bore the ancestors of the Partholonian people.

Dea Nutrix (pl., Deae Nutrices)

British and continental Celtic goddesses. Excavations in a number of temples of Roman Britain have yielded dozens of small pipe-clay statuettes of three similar figures holding fruit, eggs, grain, children, and other symbols of abundance and FERTILITY; they may be similar to the DEAE MATRES, the triple Divine Mothers. Sometimes the same goddess is depicted singly, in which case she often nurses an infant; both forms of the divinity emphasize their relation to food. The name the Celts used of these divinities has been lost, and so they are called by a Latin term meaning "nourishing goddess." The cult of Dea Nutrix seems to have been widespread, for her figure has been found in England, France, and southern Germany, sometimes in temples, sometimes in graves, sometimes thrown as offerings into sacred springs.


Cosmological concept. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Celts believed in permeable boundaries between this world and the next, with certain locations such as the hearth and burial grounds perceived as places where the dead could reenter this world after their demise. Caesar claimed that the continental Celts believed in REINCARNATION, while other writers of his era expressed their belief that the impressive bravery of Celtic warriors stemmed from their belief that they would live to fight again. Whether this represents actual Celtic belief is a subject of scholarly dispute.

Burial practices are often used as evidence in determining a culture’s view of death. In the late centuries B.C.E., the continental Celts buried their dead, often with significant "grave goods" like mirrors and weapons; some of the greatest archaeological finds come from such early Celtic graves. But then the Celts began to practice cremation, burning the bodies of their dead; it is not known whether this indicated an alteration in their beliefs or adoption of Roman customs. Among the insular Celts, by contrast, there is no evidence of burial until the first century B.C.E. suggesting that cremation or excarnation (exposure) was practiced. There is also evidence in myth that some human remains, especially the HEAD, may have been preserved, especially in the case of those killed in battle.

The dead did not occupy a realm separate from this world, like the Christian Heaven or Hell, but continued their relationship to those left behind—a relationship that could be either happy or destructive, depending on the events of physical life. In the Scottish Highlands it was believed that the dead could return to wreak physical vengeance on the living who had harmed them; thus death was not a termination but a transubstantiation, a change in form.

The Celtic conception of the OTHERWORLD where gods and FAIRIES lived was later melded with the Christian realm of the dead. Similarly, the dead became confused with the fairies; such was the case with the Irish farmer who, kidnapped AWAY from his cabbage garden, found himself surrounded by people, dead for years, who spoke hollowly in an unknown tongue and whom he banished by speaking the name of God. Even modern people occasionally confuse the dead with the fairies, for both sneak across to our world in order to work mischief. Like the land of the fairy, the land of the dead was often positioned out in the western sea, often floating as an unstable ISLAND (although Spain is mentioned in one Irish text as the home of the dead, something that may be SATIRE). Just as readily, the dead were imagined resting quietly in their graves, ready to come forth when occasion demanded or the season was right.

Although the contention is controversial, some have seen the likelihood of a belief in reincarnation in Celtic myths and traditions. A belief in reincarnation would explain the lack of interest in where the dead reside. In addition, Celtic warriors were renowned throughout the ancient world for their fearlessness, because they believed that death was a passage to another life.

Before finding another body, the dead could return to this world for a certain reason or on a certain day. Thus we find Irish folktales of young mothers who return nightly to nurse their left-behind infants and of lovers who come back to watch over a beloved; sometimes the deceased return for nothing more than to sit by the fire and smoke a pipe or otherwise engage in the comforting activities of the life left behind. Most commonly, the dead returned on the festival of SAMHAIN on November 1, when the veils between the worlds were thin. On Samhain, a murdered person could return to exact vengeance just as readily as a thankful family member could grant a boon. Relationship between living and dead, therefore, seems to have been imagined as continuing after the transition of death.

Death coach (dead coach)

Irish folkloric object. On foggy nights in Ireland, a black coach could sometimes be seen drawing up to a home. Black HORSES drew the coach, which had no coachman nor occupants. Or perhaps there was a driver, but he had no head; the horses too might be headless. This coach was sent from the land of the dead to fetch someone from this life. It would never leave this earth empty; if someone not scheduled to die were to stand in the coach’s way, he would become the victim, so it was best to avoid such a coach and, certainly, never to attempt to stop it from picking up its intended passenger. Sightings of the death coach foretold death, just as did the cry of the BANSHEE.

Debility of the Ulstermen (es Noinden Ulad; Ceisnoidhe Uladh)

Irish mythological theme. The men of the province of ULSTER were cursed because of a man’s mistreatment of his wife. The pregnant goddess MACHA warned her mortal husband, the farmer CRUNNIUC, not to mention her when, against her will, he went to the Assembly of Ulster. But speak of her he did; indeed, he boasted that she was swifter than the king’s best horses. At that, a race was proposed, and Macha was brought forth from her home. Pointing out how near to term she was, Macha begged not to be forced to run, but the king hoped her size would slow her down, so the race went forward. Macha, powerful and swift even in advanced pregnancy, was around the track before the king’s horses had made it halfway. But the exertion brought on labor pangs, and she died giving birth to TWINS.

As she died, Macha called down a CURSE on the men who caused her death: that, whenever an enemy attacked, the Ulstermen would fall to the ground for four days and five nights with pain such as she endured in her labor, for nine times nine generations. This Curse of Macha played an important part in the Irish epic tain bo cuailnge, for the hero CUCHULAINN, who was not born in Ulster and therefore not susceptible to Macha’s curse, had to hold off the entire army of CONNACHT while the Ulstermen writhed in agony with their "debility."

Decca (Deoca)

Irish heroine. In the mythological story of the CHILDREN OF LIR, one of the THREE SORROWS OF IRELAND, this historical MUNSTER princess of the seventh century C.E. married the king of CONNACHT. Hearing a tale of singing SWANS—the enchanted maiden FION-

NUALA and her four brothers, whose human voices remained despite their transformed bod-ies—Decca demanded to see them. When her husband refused, she left him; he gave in and had the swans brought to their palace, where Decca was able to see them just as they turned into human beings again, only to die of advanced age and turn to dust before her eyes.

Dechtire (Dechtere, Deichtine, Dectora)

Irish heroine or goddess. The mother of the great Irish hero CUCHULAINN conceived her child in miraculous fashion. One day, Dechtire and her 50 maidens simply vanished from EMAIN MACHA, the great capital of ULSTER where she lived with her brother (or father), king CONCOBAR MAC NESSA. Nothing was heard for years, but then a flock of 51 birds appeared on the fields around the capital. They were appallingly hungry, eating everything they found until the fields were barren, not even a blade of grass left. Faced with famine, the people of Ulster tried to follow the birds in chariots; hunting them, they believed, would provide some food for the starving people, as well as ending their depredations. All the great warriors of Ulster rode out on the hunt: manly FERGUS Mac Roich, bitter-tongued BRICCRIU, sweet-singing AMAIRGIN, and finally king Concobar himself. When the hunting party found the flock, they noticed that the birds flew in pairs, each joined by a silver chain, while at their head flew one wearing a yoke of silver. But try as they might, the men could not catch up with the birds, which led them steadily southward.

Growing weary, Briccriu and Fergus went in search of lodging and found a spacious house where a man and a woman welcomed them. The next day a wondrous child was found. Legend offers several variations on how Cuchulainn (then called SETANTA) was conceived and born. Most commonly his conception, like that of other heroes, was miraculous in needing no father. Spying a tiny worm in a glass of wine, Dechtire recognized an opportunity to give birth to a hero and drank it down; or perhaps she was impregnated by the god LUGH, either while she was in bird form or in her human body, in a dream or in real time. When she was ready to give birth, Dechtire vomited out the child, thus remaining virgin while becoming a mother. Discovering the miraculous child, the warriors of Ulster argued over who should raise it. Finally, the land’s greatest heroes decided to share the boy’s upbringing, each offering his special gifts to Dechtire’s son. At that point, Dechtire disappears from the story; some scholars believe that her ability to give birth parthenogenetically points to a pre-Celtic MOTHER GODDESS who was absorbed into the pantheon when the Celts arrived in Ireland.

Dee (Deva)

British goddess. "The goddess" is the meaning of this name, which was borne by the British RIVER believed to be, like most rivers in Celtic lands, a feminine divine force. The River Dee was believed to need feeding with human victims at regular intervals; a folk rhyme tells us that "Bloodthirsty Dee, each year needs three; but bonny Don, she needs none." The Romans called Dee by a variation of their own word for "goddess," Deva.


Symbolic animal. The Celts saw the fleet-footed woodland herds as the wild equivalent of their own domesticated herds of CATTLE. Like cattle, whose herds were guided by a strong BULL, the deer herds had a virile leader, the STAG; both animals were associated with gods of masculine power, ESUS and CERNUNNOS, respectively. Similarly parallel were the doe and the COW, and their goddesses FLIDAIS and BOAND both symbolized maternal love and abundance. Deer offspring also appear in mythology, most memorably in the story of the transformed SADB who gave birth to her fur-faced son, OISIN the BARD, whose name is still used in Irish to mean "fawn."

In the Scottish Highlands, we find stories of GIANT goddesses who tended vast herds of deer; the island of Jura (from the Norse for "deer island") was occupied by Seven Big Women who ran with the deer. Similarly, the CAILLEACH named Beinne Bhric was a HAG who could shape-shift into a gray deer (see SHAPE-SHIFTING). Unlike the hesitant SEALS or SWANS, shy beings that could be caught and tamed, the deer women of legend were eager to mate with human men. Such folklore has led some to theorize an ancient cult of the deer, in which the animal was viewed as sacred, perhaps even totemic or related to humanity as distant ancestors. Traces of such a religious vision are fainter in Ireland and Wales, which may indicate that the cult died out earlier there or that it was exclusively Scottish.

Deimne (Demna, Demne)

Irish hero. This was the childhood name of the hero FIONN MAC CUMHAILL, whose adult name means "fair" or "brilliant."


Continental Celtic god. Known from the Celtic people called the Galatae in Asia Minor this god’s name means "the BULL-god" or "the divine bull," suggesting that he may be similar to TARVOSTRIGARANUS of Gaul.

Deirdre (Derdriu, Deridriu)

Irish heroine. She is called "Deirdre of the Sorrows," and the story of this tragic heroine certainly fulfills the promise of her title; together with the tales of the CHILDREN OF LIR and of the SONS OF TUIREANN, the story of Deirdre and the SONS OF UISNEACH is called one of the THREE SORROWS OF IRELAND.

The tale begins at Deirdre’s birth, which happened to coincide with a feast that her father, the poet and storyteller Fedlimid mac Daill, was hosting for the king of Ulster, CONCOBAR MAC NESSA. In attendance at the feast, and therefore at the girl’s birth, was the druid CATHBAD, who immediately foresaw her future: that the girl would grow to be the most beautiful woman ever known, and that she would cause the destruction of the kingdom. Most of the Ulstermen grew pale with horror at the prophecy and demanded that the child be put to the sword to spare the kingdom, but the lustful king Concobar refused. Determined to be the one who enjoyed that phenomenal beauty, Concobar decided to have the infant reared as his private prize. Entrusting Deirdre to LEBORCHAM, the wise woman (occasionally called a wise man), Concobar returned to his palace at EMAIN MACHA and turned his attention to other matters, trusting that when the girl had grown to womanhood, he would take her for his own.

But such was not to be. As she neared the end of her maidenhood, Deirdre saw a RAVEN fly down to drink the blood of a calf spilled on snow. She turned to Leborcham and whispered that she would love a man with skin that white, lips that red, hair that black. Leborcham knew immediately who was her fated partner: Concobar’s nephew NOISIU, son of the warrior UISNEACH. So she arranged, despite her promise to the king, that the two young people should meet.

Instantly they fell in love. Unable to live without each other, they ran away, accompanied by No^siu’s brothers Ardan and Ainnle. Concobar, furious at losing his prize, pursued them around Ireland, but finally the four escaped to Scotland, where they lived a rugged but happy life in the woods near Loch Etive. Deirdre and No^siu may have had children, for a son Gaiar and daughter Aibgene are mentioned in some texts. But Deirdre’s beauty once again attracted the attention of a king—this time, the Scottish king in whose woods they were living. When he decided that the beautiful Deirdre must be his wife, she and the sons of Uisneach fled again, this time to a remote island where, they thought, they could finally live in peace.

Back in Ulster, however, Concobar had not ceased tormenting himself about the loss of his gorgeous prize. He lured the couple back to Ireland by vowing that he had lost interest in Deirdre; No^siu, homesick, agreed to return. Despite premonitions of doom, Deirdre reluctantly agreed, and with the three sons of Uisneach sailed for Ireland under an ominous blood-red cloud. Immediately upon landing, No^siu and his brothers were set upon by Concobar’s warriors, who killed them without offering them a chance to defend themselves. Hauled back to Conobar’s court in chains, Deirdre bitterly reproached the king for his deceit and violence.

Once he had Deirdre, Concobar decided he no longer wanted her. So, to humiliate her further, the king gave her away to one of the men who had killed her lover. As the murderer bore her away in his chariot, Deirdre leapt from it and was killed, her head smashed against a stone. Because of his lust and deceit, many of Ulster’s finest warriors became disgusted with Concobar and abandoned his kingdom to serve under queen MEDB of CONNACHT, who then launched a war on Concobar that is the basis of the most significant Irish epic, the tain bo cuailnge.

Delbaeth Irish goddess. This obscure Irish goddess, "fire-shape," is mentioned in the book of invasions as the mother of DONAND, believed to be the same as the important goddess of earth, DANU. Another figure of this name was a DRUID associated with the mystical hill of UISNEACH,where he was said to have built a great FIRE from which FIVE points of light streamed out.


Irish goddess or heroine. An ancient Irish ADVENTURE tale tells of this woman of the OTHERWORLD, held captive in a high tower by her mother, the fierce WARRIOR WOMAN COINCHENN, who had been cursed that she would die if her daughter ever wed. To prevent this, Coinchenn challenged every suitor to battle, invariably besting them all. But one finally came who could win over her: the king of TARA, ART mac Cuinn. He had been placed under a geis by his stepmother, the self-willed and wanton FAIRY BE CHUMA, that he could not eat until he had stolen Delbchaem from her magical island. Be Chuma thus plotted against both, for she was angry at Art for resisting her advances and for showing interest when she disguised herself as the beautiful Delbachaem; she hoped that both would die in the attempted rescue. But Art, with the assistance of beautiful and mysterious women, discovered how to free Delbchaem safely, causing her mother’s death as predicted. Upon returning to Tara, Art banished the troublesome Be Chuma.


Irish hero. This obscure ancient character lives on today, for the name of his palace dun Delgan remains in the important city name Dundalk. Little is known of Delga; even his race is disputed, for some tales call him a FOMORIAN, while others say he was a member of the FIR BOLG, both legendary groups of Irish invaders.

Derbforgaill (Dervorgilla, Devorgilla)

Irish heroine. Several mythological Irish heroines bear this name, which is also that of an historical Irish woman Derbforgaill of LEINSTER, who in the 12th century C.E. married the Ua Ruairc (O’Rourke) chieftain of Breffni near Sligo. While her husband was on a pilgrimage, she ran off with or was kidnapped by DIARMAIT mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurrough). The resultant war between her husband and her lover led to the arrival of Norman warriors and to their settlement of Ireland, which in turn brought about the destruction of the Celtic way of life and the eventual claim of ownership of Ireland by England. Derbforgaill is often derided as an adulteress or blamed for Ireland’s later woes, but she acted in keeping with ancient Irish beliefs that a woman had the right to choose her consort rather than being held captive in marriage.

A mythological woman of this name was a SHAPE-SHIFTING daughter of king Ruad who conceived a passion for the hero cuchulainn and transformed herself and her maidens into SWANS to fly to him. But when he saw the great white birds, Cuchulainn did not react as Derbforgaill hoped: He threw rocks at her until he brought her to earth. As she fell, Derbforgaill turned back into a woman, and the shocked hero, hoping to save her life, fell to his knees and sucked the stone from her flesh. Although Derbforgaill was healed, Cuchulainn’s action made them blood kin and thus thwarted her ambition of sharing his bed. Derbforgaill then married LUGAIDH Riab nDerg, a friend of Cuchulainn’s. She died when, in a contest to see who could shoot urine the farthest, Derbforgaill so overwhelmed the other women that they fell upon her and killed her. To avenge her death, Cuchulainn massacred 150 women of the family, causing Derbforgaill’s husband to die of grief at the slaughter.


Irish ritual drink. Combining the words for dark RED (derg) and SOVEREIGNTY flaith) as well as that for ALE (laith), this term means "the dark-red ale of sovereignty" and is used to describe the drink offered to the king by the earth goddess to seal their union. This Irish INAUGURATION custom is believed to have continental Celtic antecedents but may have evolved from the union of Celtic invaders with an earlier, goddess-centered culture; scholars disagreed on the subject. Acceptance of the red ale bonded the king to the land, encircling him with sacred vows and responsibilities (see geis and buada) specific to his region, in addition to the demands of GENEROSITY and nobility required of all Irish kings. Some myths connect the red ale specifically to MEDB, goddess of sovereignty who was humanized into the great queen of CONNACHT; it is also associated with other goddesses of the land, including ERIU and Flaith.

Der Greine (Dia Griene)

Irish and Scottish heroine or goddess. "Tear of the sun" is the name of a heroine in several Irish and Scottish tales; she may have originally been a goddess, daughter of the sun deity or the sun itself. In Ireland she was the daughter of a king, given to the hero LAOGHAIRE Mac Crimthann as a reward for his service to her father in killing the fierce GIANT named GOLL MACMORNA. In Scotland this figure’s mythological roots show through the folktale in which, held captive in the Land of Big Women, Dia Griene was freed by a young man named Brian (a generic folktale name) with the assistance of the CAILLEACH in disguise as a FOX. As Dia Griene and her charming, if bumbling, male companion attempted their escape, the Cailleach sacrificed herself to permit their safe return.

Derravaragh (Lake Derravaragh, Darravaraugh)

Irish mythological location. On the shores of this scenic lake in Co. Westmeath, FIONNUALA and her brothers, the CHILDREN OF LIR, were turned into SWANS by their evil stepmother AIFE.

Destruction (togail, togla)

Irish mythological text. Among the various categories of heroic tales in Ireland, which include visions (see AIS-LING) and VOYAGES as well as CATTLE RAIDS and WOOINGS, is the class of tales called destructions. As the title indicates, the tales concern the destruction, often by fire, of a building. The most famous of these tales, the Destruction of da derga’s Hostel, describes a king’s failure to observe the sacred vows that his role required (see geis) and his resulting death.


Christian cosmological concept. The Celts had no image of an evil force that resembled the Christian DEVIL. The Celtic worldview was instead ambiguous and non-dualistic, with dark balancing light rather than warring with it. Christianization meant that some Celtic divinities were redefined in the new religion as negative forces; this is not uncommon, for the gods of one religion often become the devils of the next. The continental Celtic god of wilderness, CER-NUNNOS, was the main inspiration for Christian iconography of the devil, with his horns and partially animal body. When goddesses were demo-nized, they were sometimes described as the DEVIL’S MOTHER.

Devil’s Father (Duveruckan, Duvephucan)

Irish folkloric figure. Unlike the DEVIL’S MOTHER, a figure that draws on ancient goddesses and mythological monsters of pagan Ireland, the Devil’s Father seems to have been entirely invented after Christianization of Ireland. The Devil’s Father haunted wakes, where he hoped to meet his son stealing the soul of the deceased. He could be recognized easily, for he had THREE legs, a RED tail, and a phallus-shaped walking stick.

Devil’s Mother (Kiraghna, Keeronagh)

Irish goddess or heroine. Just as male gods sometimes appear in Christian thought and iconography as the DEVIL, so goddesses were occasionally transformed into demonic forces by those who wished to deter their continued worship. In Ireland such goddesses were sometimes called the Devil’s Mother, a name borne by a large squat mountain in northern Connemara, in Ireland’s western province of CONNACHT. Two characters who were said to have battled the arriving ST. PATRICK—the bird-fiend CORRA and the fearsome serpent CAORANACH—also bear this name.

Devona (Divona)

Continental Celtic Goddess. A Celtic goddess of whom little is known, she may be the same as SIRONA, the Gaulish goddess of HEALING. SPRINGS, especially thermal or hot springs, were believed to have healing powers (modern science is finding some support for this belief), and Devona may have been a spring goddess, for the second part of her name seems to derive from the Celtic root for "stream," while the first syllable means "goddess."


Roman goddess. Her name appears on many sculptures found in Celtic lands occupied by Rome, but like the Greek goddess ARTEMIS, Diana was not originally a Celtic goddess. An ancient Italic goddess of the open sky, Diana became a lunar divinity of the hunt in Roman times; her name was then carried to Celtic lands by invading legionnaires, who renamed apparently similar goddesses after the Diana of their homeland. Many Celtic goddesses were absorbed under her name, their personal names lost to history; often it is not possible to tell whether or in what ways the original Celtic goddess was similar to the Roman import. Several goddesses of the wilderness kept their own names and identities, however: ABNOBA, the goddess of the Black Forest; ARDUINNA, the boar goddess of the Ardennes forest; the CAILLEACH, pre-Celtic Scottish goddess of wildlife; the bear goddess ARTIO of Britain and Gaul; and the Irish woodland maiden FLIDAIS.

Dian Cecht (Dian Chect, Diancecht)

Irish god. When members of the magical race called the TUATHA DE DANANN were ill or wounded, they called for Dian Cecht, their master of leechcraft, who knew the location of a SPRING called the Well of Slaine that healed every wound except beheading. HEALING gods were common among the Celts; Dian Cecht appears to be an Irish corollary to the healing water gods known on the continent as APOLLO, although that name was not Celtic but applied through the INTERPRETATIO ROMANA by invading Roman legions to local healing gods, most of whom were connected to healing waters.

Despite his powers and his knowledge of the secret spring, Dian Cecht was not invariably successful. He failed to heal NUADA, king of the Tuatha De Danann after a battle with the monstrous FOMORIANS on the plain of MAG TUIRED. An enemy cut one arm completely off, and a severed limb was beyond even Dian Cecht’s skill to heal. Because a BLEMISHED KING could not reign, Nuada was forced to yield the throne of TARA to the evil half-Fomorian BRES mac Elatha. Bres created havoc in the land, and so the Tuatha De Danann pleaded with Dian Cecht to try again.

This time, Dian Cecht created a completely functional arm of silver for Nuada, who henceforth was known as Nuada of the Silver Arm. But that was still not sufficient, for although he could fight strongly with his metal arm, Nuada was still too physically damaged to rule. Dian Cecht’s son MIACH, a healer like his father, finally healed Nuada completely by magically helping him grow skin over the silver prosthesis.

Furious at being outshone by his offspring, Dian Cecht killed Miach. Miach’s devoted sister AIRMID, tending his grave, found hundreds of herbs growing, one for every part of the human body, one for every day of the year. As she was sorting them and creating a system for their use, Dian Cecht crept up on his daughter and destroyed her careful work; with that action the secrets of healing were taken from this earth. Dian Cecht was humanized into MAC CECHT, husband of the land goddess FODLA, one of the three land goddesses who greeted the invading Celts.

Diarmait (Dermot, Diarmuid)

Irish hero. Many Irish heroes bear this name, which also appears in surnames like MacDermott, Donn, MacDiarmuid, Gwynne, and Gwynn; these are borne by people who claim descent from one or another of the mythological Diarmaits. The most important Diarmaits are:

• Diarmait, king of TARA, who plays a minor role in the tale of his wife BECFHOLA; unhappy with Diarmait, she desired his foster son CRIMTHANN, and when Crimthann disappointed her, she traveled instead to the OTHER-WORLD with the fairy king FLANN ua Fedach.

• Diarmait mac Murchada (MacMurrough, McMurrow), the historical prince of LEIN-STER who eloped with the feisty DERBFOR-GAILL, or kidnapped her from her husband, the chieftain of the Ua Ruairc (O’Rourke) clan of Connaught; that she took her dowry with her suggests that she was functioning under the old law that encouraged women’s freedom in selection of a mate and assured their financial well-being when they changed marriages. History meets myth in this tale, for its combination of love, politics, and betrayal has attracted many poets and storytellers over the centuries. Whether Derbforgaill was raped or seduced or, as some contend, was the seducer, her one-year residence with Diarmait led to lasting consequences. Her husband called for vengeance, gathering his forces together with those of the high king, Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair (Turlough O’Connor), and Derbforgaill was promptly returned to the wilds of Breffni, the Ua Ruairc stronghold. But Diarmait was unwilling to concede defeat; he went abroad and gathered an army of Normans under Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, popularly known as Strongbow, who married Diarmait’s daughter Aife to tie himself more closely to the cause. Landing in Waterford, Strongbow marched on and took Dublin, beginning a long period of Norman and later British control over the island.

• Diarmait Ua Duibne (Diarmait O Duinn, Dermot O’Dyea), descendant of the obscure goddess Dubinn; he was the most famous of the mythological heroes of this name. Diarmait was the fated lover of beautiful young GRAINNE who was betrothed to the aging FIONN MAC CUMHAILL. Diarmait was said to have a "love spot" (see ball seirc) on his forehead, given to him by a magical woman who told him that it would make him irresistible to any women who saw it. Some tales describe Diarmait as hiding his love spot under bangs or otherwise keeping it covered, so that he might proceed with a normal life unhindered by women’s desires.

At a feast in Fionn’s hall, however, a breeze lifted Diarmait’s hair. Grainne spied the love spot and fell hopelessly in love. Diarmait was unwilling to elope with the espoused wife of his host and leader, but Grainne was unwilling to live without him. When she learned that her beloved was under a geis that forbade him to refuse a woman who came neither mounted nor on foot, neither in the night nor the day, she came to him riding a mule, just at sundown, thus fulfilling the demands of the geis. They set off together, but Diarmait still refused to sleep with her because of his fear of Fionn or his loyalty to his leader. And so the couple lived in the forest chastely—much to Grainne’s annoy-ance—until a mysterious invader threatened Grainne in the night, whereupon she shamed Diarmait into becoming her lover.

Thereafter they traveled through Ireland, endlessly pursued by Fionn and the FIANNA; the stones on which they slept, actually prehistoric DOLMENS, are still called "beds of Diarmait and Grainne." Legend has it that there are exactly 366 dolmens in Ireland because the year they spent running from Fionn was a leap year. When Fionn finally caught up with the pair in Co. Sligo’s forest of Dubros, Diarmait hid in a HAZEL tree. Fionn, suspecting Diarmait’s hiding place and knowing the young hero’s weakness for the game called fidchell, sat down beneath the tree and called for his board. He called as well for OISIN, Diarmait’s friend, to be his opponent.

Fionn’s instinct was shrewd, for Diarmait could not resist helping Oism win. With perfect aim, he threw hazelnuts down from the tree, straight at the space where Oism should move next. Instantly Fionn knew he had found his prey and pulled Diarmait out of the tree. The pursuit did not end with the recapture of the lost bride after all, for Grainne remained with Diarmait, who returned to the Fianna. (Some legends say that they retired to Co. Leitrim and raised a family.) Fionn had the last word, however, by withholding treatment when Diarmait was injured while hunting wild BOAR beneath BEN BULBEN in Sligo and allowing his rival to die in agony.

Dichetal do chennaib

Irish divination ritual. Among the many forms of DIVINATION used by the ancient Irish, this one remains mysterious. Described as "composing on the fingertips," it is unclear whether it was a form of psychometry (divining information about a person or object through touch) or a kind of INCANTATION (perhaps using fingertips as mnemonic devices for memorizing words or syllables). It may have been a form of prophecy in which BARDS and seers among the DRUIDS drew meaning from a kind of automatic uncomposed flood of speech. Despite its basis in Celtic religious practice, ST. PATRICK allowed its continued use when other divinatory practices were forbidden, because this ritual did not involve invoking the names of the old gods.

Dfgne (Dige, Dighe, Duibne)

Irish goddess. Goddess of the land of MUNSTER in southeast Ireland, she was later merged with the HAG goddess CAILLEACH. The Dingle peninsula in Co. Kerry, reputed to be Ireland’s most scenic area, bears her name. Inscriptions in ogham writing have been found there bearing D^gne’s name; she has therefore been interpreted as the ancestral goddess of the region.

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