Uaithne (Uathe) To Uther Pendragon (Uthr Bendragon) (Celtic mythology and folklore)

Uaithne (Uathe)

Irish folkloric figure. The harper who served the beneficent god, the dagda, Uaithne eloped with the Dagda’s consort boand, with her he had three children, including the musician suantrade, who inherited his father’s great talent. The name is also given to the Dagda’s magical harp, which would only sing when its owner demanded it.

Uathach (Uathach of the Glen)

Scottish mythological figure. The daughter of scathach, the warrior woman of the Isle of Skye, Uathach met the budding hero cuchulainn at the border of her mother’s lands (the "glen" in her title) and challenged him. Despite putting forth enormous effort, neither could win against the other. Realizing that she had met her equal and finding that enormously attractive, Uathach then set about helping Cuchulainn with his studies in the martial arts. Although they shared a bed as well as lessons, Cuchulainn finally left Skye to return to his home in Ulster, abandoning Uathach to return to his intended wife emer, to whom he had pledged fidelity. A variant of the tale says the hero wounded Uathach and then, when another lover arrived to help her, killed him, although whether he acted out of jealousy or defensiveness is unclear; in another tale, Uathach gave Cuchulainn his greatest weapon, the mysterious magical gae bulga, as a reward for his sexual performance.

Uath mac

Imoman Irish mythological figure. In the Irish story of the Feast of briccriu, the warrior Uath mac Imoman challenged all of Ireland’s heroes to a test of their courage: He would let them cut off his head, if they would do the same afterward. Two of ulster’s finest warriors refused, but the great cuchulainn agreed, despite knowing that Uath had fairy blood and thus was able to regrow his head. Cuchulainn’s courage was rewarded, and he went uninjured, for the blade of Uath’s sword refused to kill him. For this peculiar feat, Cuchulainn was hailed as the land’s greatest warrior, an honor that trou-blemaking Briccriu used to stir up the rest of the warriors against him.


Continental Celtic god. This obscure god, consort of the goddess berguisa, was depicted carrying a hammer, which may indicate that he was a parallel to the Irish god of fertility, the mallet-wielding dagda, or a local form of the hammer-bearing god sucellus.


Irish hero. This obscure leader of the milesians was, according to the book of invasions, an important early Irish warrior of whom little is now known.

Uigreann (Uirgriu)

Irish hero. Although this obscure hero plays only a small role in Irish mythology, that role is significant, for he was killed by the great hero fionn mac cumhaill. Fionn, in turn, was killed by Uigreann’s five sons, who all cast their spears at once.

Uirne (Tuiren, Tuirn, Tuirreann)

Irish mythological figure. The mother of the favorite hunting dogs of the heroic fionn mac cumhaill was his sister or aunt, Uirne, who was transformed into a dog by a jealous rival for the affections of her husband ullen. Uirne was pregnant when the enchantment struck her, and so her children were born as twin puppies, bran and sceolan, who grew up to become Fionn’s companions. While their mother was released from the spell, her twins remained forever trapped in canine form.

Uisneach (Usnech, Usna, Uisnech, Usliu, Usnach, Usnoth)

Irish mythological site. In the geographical center of Ireland, a low hill rises among the rolling lands near the village of Ballymore, between Athlone and Mullingar in Co. Westmeath. Although from its base Uisneach is a nondescript hill, the view from its summit is extraordinary, for almost the entire island can be seen from that single vantage point. Ireland’s bowl shape, with mountains along the seashore rim and a great interior plain, is clearly visible from the top of the mountain that was, in ancient times, recognized as the island’s magical center (see mide).

In Celtic cosmology, the center is not so much a physical as a metaphoric or spiritual location, and thus Uisneach shares with the hill of tara the title of Ireland’s center. In a manner typical of the Celtic view of duality, Uisneach and Tara make up a pair of twins that may, in ancient times, have represented two different kinds of power. Tara’s associations are predominantly with the political and kingly history of the land, while Uisneach—now little known compared to Tara, whose fame remains widespread— was the center of spiritual power, the domain of the druids rather than the kings. The connection between two hills was recognized by ancient geographers such as Giraldus Cambrensis, who called them "alike as two kidneys."

Despite their apparent equality, however, it is Uisneach rather than Tara that is more significant in mythology. For it was on Uisneach that the last wave of invaders, the milesians, met the greatest goddess of the land, eriu. They had previously met her two sisters, fodla and banba, each standing upon her own mountain. In each case, the Milesians had promised to name the land after the goddess, provided she let their armies pass unopposed. Fodla and Banba each in turn stood aside, permitting the Milesians to pass to the center of the island, where they met the superlative Eriu. In awe of her power and opulence, the Milesians cast their earlier promises aside so that the island could bear her name, as it still does today.

When Eriu was killed, local legend says that she was buried beneath the stone of divisions, a great, naturally placed boulder on the side of Uisneach that is said to mark the exact point where the four provinces come together. The Stone, sometimes called "the naval of Ireland," is described as showing, on its broken surface, the map of Ireland. More commonly, it was not a goddess killed on the hill but the god lugh, who was set upon by three gods, mac cuill, mac cecht, and mac greine, the last being Eriu’s husband. The myths are somewhat fragmented and self-contradictory, but the connection of the hill with the magical center of the island and with its tutelary goddess are invariable.

Apparently the first dwellers on the hill were the fomorians, ancient monsters who warred with the magical tuatha de danann. The Fomorians required that the Tuatha De pay tax on all their kneading-troughs, querns, and baking stones, as well as for every male of the tribe. Anyone who refused to pay the taxes had his nose cut off. After the Tuatha De conquered the monstrous Fomorians, Uisneach became the home of the strange druid mide, whose name means "middle"; thus the magician doubles the metaphorical meaning of the hill itself.

Mide lit a huge fire on the hill, fed with tributes from all the other druids of Ireland. When they objected to paying this tax, Mide had them all killed and their tongues cut out; he had the tongues buried in the hill, sitting above them (the source of the hill’s name, "over somewhat," although it may also refer to the hill’s prospect; the name is also translated as "proudly," for Mide sat proudly over the druids’ tongues). Another legend credits the igniting of the Uisneach fire to the druid or fire goddess del-baeth, from whose blaze five great points of light streamed forth. Some scholars have interpreted the mutilation motif as indicating cultural change and the social oppression that often attends on it.

Fires were important in the mythology of Uisneach. They were also important ritually, for it was on that hill that the first beltane fire of each year was lit. Reconstructions of an island-wide ceremony suggest that the hill of Tara responded to the twin fires on Uisneach’s summit with its own fires, whereupon the other hilltops of Ireland were similarly set ablaze. Yet early documents also suggest that Tara remained dark, its role in the ceremonies being taken up by other nearby hills such as knockaulin and tlachtga.

Into historical times, Beltane fires were lit on Uisneach, and cattle driven between them as a ritual prayer for protection against disease and bad magic. Uisneach was also the site of a great oenach or assembly, presumably held at Beltane. Until recent years, the assemblies continued in nonreligious form as cattle fairs, for the fertile region around Uisneach is one of the most renowned for its herds.

The connection of Uisneach hill to the mythological figure of the same name is unclear. Little narrative exists about the warrior Uisneach, whose wife Ebhla was the daughter of cathbad, the evil druid who figures prominently in the ulster cycle, and his wife Maga, an otherwise obscure daughter of the god of poetry, aonghus og. The sons of uisneach figure in a story known as one of the three sorrows of ireland (see deirdre).


Arthurian hero. One of the knights who served uther pendragon, Ulfius assisted his master’s plot to shape-shift into the form of duke gorlois of Cornwall, so that he might take his pleasure with the virtuous igraine without the lady knowing of the deceit. Ulfius’s loyalty continued when he became chamberlain to king arthur, the child conceived as a result of the deception.

Uliad (Uliadh, Ultonian)

Irish mythological figures. This term, now out of fashion, was used to refer to the people of the land of ulster, one of Ireland’s four great provinces.

Ullen (Ullan, Illann, Iollann)

Irish hero. The husband of uirne, sister (or aunt) of the hero fionn mac cumhaill, Ullen was indirectly responsible for her bewitchment. A woman druid became enamored of Ullen and, gaining no attention from him, turned his wife Uirne into a dog out of spite. This won the druid what she desired, because Ullen slept with her to win back his wife’s human form.


Irish mythological site. One of the provinces of ancient Ireland, Ulster is not synonymous with the political unit now called by this name, for the old provincial boundaries included three counties that are part of the Republic of Ireland, as well as the six counties that make of Northern Ireland (Armagh, Antrim, Down,Derry, Fermanagh, and Tyrone) and are part of the United Kingdom. In myth, Ulster was associated with war, as the stories of the ulster cycle make clear. fintan, the salmon of wisdom, when asked to describe the attributes of the various provinces, connected Ulster with battle, strife, pride, and conflict. The capital of the ancient province of Ulster was emain macha; after the fall of Emain Macha, grianan aileach became the capital.

Ulster Cycle (Red Branch Cycle)

Irish mythological texts. The series of tales about the province of ulster that make up the Ulster Cycle are among the most renowned in Irish literature. The Cycle begins with macha, a goddess or fairy queen who was betrayed by her human husband. He wagered that she could outrun king concobar mac nessa’s best horses, and so she did, despite being ready to give birth to twins. As she died bearing her children, Macha leveled a curse that all the men of the province would fall down in intense pain whenever invasion threatened (see debility of the ulstermen).

This left the province vulnerable to attack, which it suffered when queen medb of con-nacht marched upon the land, intent upon seizing the great bull donn cuailnge, in order to settle a dispute with her consort ailill mac Mata. The greatest of Ulster’s heroes, cuchu-lainn, held off Medb’s encroaching armies, for he was not born of Ulster blood and was therefore exempt from Macha’s curse. Other stories in the Ulster Cycle include the tragic tale of deirdre and the sons of uisneach, the story of nessa the raped maiden, and of dechtire the miraculous mother.

Una (Oona, Oonagh, Nuala)

Irish heroine. The beautiful fairy queen of munster, the southwestern province of Ireland, Una lived in the great mound of knockshegowna (Cnoc Sidhe Una) in Co. Tipperary. Despite her association with Munster, Una took as her lover the powerful fairy king finnbheara of the western province of connacht. Although he constantly cheated on her with non-fairy women, she did not hold it against the human race, to whom she was beneficent. One of the most famous stories of Una tells how, annoyed by a drunken piper, she turned herself into a calf and, with the piper clinging to her back, made a massive leap to the shores of the Shannon River. When the piper appeared undismayed by his calf-assisted flight, Una forgave him his bad piping and returned him to the place from which she had stolen him.

Uncumber (Liberata, Livrade, Wilgefortis, Saint Uncumber)

British folkloric figure. It is possible that the saint of this name disguises an ancient goddess of the region around Burton, in Sussex, where Uncumber is still honored. She has strange duties for a Christian saint, for Uncumber was charged with freeing wives from the encumbrance of their husbands. Once called Wilgefortis, Uncumber was a pagan princess of southern France who, threatened by her father with an unwanted marriage, prayed to be made unattractive to men and woke up with a beard.

Undry (Uinde)

Irish symbolic object. This name is sometimes given to the great cauldron of the beneficent god dagda, which fed everyone who needed food and refused no hungry person.

Unseelie Court

British folkloric motif. The fairies who screamed through the earth on their wild hunt are known by this name, which means "unseemly" or "unholy." While some fairies, like brownies, were helpful to human beings, the trooping fairies of the Unseelie Court were dangerous. Anyone who saw them was a potential victim for fairy kidnapping. Good fairies who danced and sang but did not kidnap mortals formed the seelie court.

Urban (Urban of the Black Thorn)

Arthurian hero. This guardian figure stood at a river ford, protecting his land from invasion. Magical birds helped him: One, killed by percival, was revealed to be an enchanted woman. He plays little part in Arthurian legend.


British mythological figure and Arthurian hero. In the works of the early mythographer and historian Nennius, we learn of four ancient warriors, one of them named Urien. With the others—Dhydderch, Gua-Ilaug and Morcant—Urien attacked the ruler Theodric, who held out against him for three days on the island of Lindisfarne before succumbing to their mightier force.

In Arthurian legend, Urien was the king of Gore and husband of king arthur’s half sister, the sorceress morgan; their son was the heroic knight owein. In some texts, Urien is mated with the otherwise obscure modron, whom he met at a river ford, where they had intercourse, a motif that occurs as well in tales of the Irish goddess morrigan. Urien’s name was adopted by poet William Blake for one of his earth spirits, although there is no evidence from earlier texts that he was a god or fairy.

Urine (urination)

Mythological motif. In Irish and Scottish mythologies, female creator figures carve out gullies and ravines down the sides of mountains by letting out enormous gushes of urine. medb stopped the cattle raid on ulster to urinate, thus carving out a gulch that can still be seen today. More commonly, the hag goddess called the cailleach, along with her regional forms such as mor, is credited with this landscape-creating behavior.


Period of Celtic culture. The earliest period of Celtic culture is called the Urnfield, named for the practice of cremating the dead and then burying the ashes in huge ceramic urns. Whether this period (ca. 13th-8th century b.c.e.) should be called Celtic is arguable, as it is not known for certain what language those buried in Urnfield cemeteries spoke, and therefore whether they were Celtic or not.

Uruisg (urisk, water-man)

British folkloric figure. A stupid and slovenly kind of fairy who haunted lonely waterfalls, the uruisg was not especially threatening to humans, except for pretty girls who could be terrified by his leering and lurching. Sometimes the uruisg appeared like a brownie, willing to help with farm chores provided no recompense was offered, but more typically he hid from human contact.


Irish hero. The mysterious cities from which the tuatha de danann, Ireland’s magical race, originated were each governed by a master of wisdom. Uscias was the master of the city of findias, from which the unerring sword of king nuada reached Ireland.

Uther Pendragon (Uthr Bendragon)

Arthurian hero. The father of the great king arthur, Uther Pendragon ("dragon-head") desired the faithful igraine, wife of gorlois the duke of Cornwall, and with the assistance of the great magician merlin he had his way with her. While Gorlois was away fighting some of Arthur’s men, a man looking exactly like him arrived at his home and went immediately to bed with his wife. Gorlois was indeed far away, and the apparent duke was Uther, under a glamour to appear as Igraine’s husband. Once Arthur’s mother had conceived him, his father played little additional role in his legend.

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