IRISH MYTHOLOGY CYCLES
Christianity was a major influence on literature in early
Ireland. Written literature was not common until the
Christian missionaries arrived in the 5th century A.D. and
introduced the Roman alphabet, which was then adapted to the
Irish language. Christianity co-existed with traditional
Irish ways, rather than replacing them, and continues to do
so to the present day.
The second major influence on Irish literature was the
British dominance of Ireland which more or less imposed an
unspoken "ban" against Irish authors and writers. As a
result, most of the prominent writers of that time were
The mythology of pre-Christian Ireland did not entirely
survive the conversion to Christianity, but much of it was
preserved, although stripped of any religious meaning.
Although many of the manuscripts have not
survived, and much more material was probably never
committed to writing, there is enough remaining to enable
the identification of four distinct cycles: the Mythological
Cycle, The Ulster Cycle, The Fenian Cycle and The Historical
Cycle. There are also a number of extant mythological texts
that do not fit into any of the cycles. .
In addition, there are a large number of
recorded folk tales that, while not strictly mythological,
feature personages from one or more of these four cycles.
MYTHOLOGICAL CYCLE - TIMELINE 350 BC
Most of what is known about pagan Ireland comes from the
Mythological Cycle. The stories tell of a land inhabited
by ancient spirits and fairies. The 'Tuatha
Dé Danann' are said to be the Irish equivalent of the Greek
and Roman gods. They arrived in Ireland about 350 BC from the
north Islands of Greece where they had learned about druidry,
prophecy and magic. The Dagda was the leader of the
Irish pantheon of gods and was commonly known as the 'father
of all'. Tuatha
Dé Danann was driven underground by invaders and thereafter
inhabited the dark underworld of the hills and mountains,
which were already full of fairies. October 31st was the
night when the hills opened up and the spirits and gods poured
Crom was the god of agriculture. The Irish people were
terrified of Crom and they offered fresh sacrifices of
first-born animals and babies in return for a plentiful
harvest. On the night the sacrifices were made, October 31st,
the hills burned brightly and fear reigned in the hearts of
all. This was a night of sacrifice and fertility when
the gods cavorted freely and roamed the land.
ULSTER CYCLE - TIMELINE 12 BC
The Ulster Cycle begins with tales about the Red Branch
Knights who existed in the first century of the Christian era.
The hero was named Cúchulainn. As a boy he killed a fierce
hound belonging to a man called Culann. The hound was
said to be as big as a horse and it took three chains and three men
on each chain to hold him. The stories about Cúchulainn are
extraordinary. He was famous for his courage and strength.
His death in 12 BC marked the end of the Red Branch Knights
FENIAN CYCLE - TIMELINE 350 AC
The Fenian Cycle took place in the 3rd century of
the Christian calendar. These tales revolve around the
Fianna, a group of warriors famous for their bravery and skill
in battle. They operated in groups of six warriors and
were only accepted to the clan after they had undergone
strenuous tests to determine their abilities. Finn
MacCunaill is the central character during this cycle. One of
the most famous tales from this period is about how he
acquired his great knowledge. A druid who was one of
Finn's teachers caught a fish in the River Boyne that was
notable because whoever ate this salmon would know everything
that happened in Ireland. After the druid caught the
fish, Finn prepared it for him but he burned himself while
cooking the fish. Finn licked his wound and immediately gained
wisdom and second sight. With this power, he supposedly
foretold the coming of the Danes.
HISTORICAL - CYCLE OF KINGS - TIMELINE 600 AC
The Cycle of Kings is a mixture of genuine history
and symbolic fiction. Some scholars feel that many
reported events were actually fictional literary characters.
Tara, a hill located in County Meath, was the center of
ancient Ireland and the set of the kings from the earliest
times until the sixth century. The Tatra Feis was held
every three years at Halloween. A new king was chosen by
the druids during the festival after they killed and ate a
white bull. The head druid would dream about the future king
and upon wakening make his decision about who the new king
would be based on his dream.
May you always walk in
May you never want for more.
May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door.