The First Battle in Ireland
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Mythological Cycle
New and Old Powers Collide
Many of the oldest records of Irish mythology and legend, which you might truthfully say are a history of prehistory, tell that the first people to arrive in Ireland were led by the lady Cessair when she fled to this land to escape the coming flood. The idols which had whispered through veils of midnight smoke that Ireland was a land untouched by people and so untouched by sin had lied, so she perished along with almost all of her clan, and then after her came Partholón when the waters had subsided.
But other legends tell a different tale, that there were people of a sort already in Ireland when he and his people landed! The name of this strange and sorcerous race was Fomorian, which could mean several things, but most likely meant “dark spirits of the underworld”.
They were known to come from the sea by swift and hidden ways to demand tribute from the people of Ireland, usually in the form of slaves and crops, and some of them were monstrous to behold, while others were darkly beautiful and intermingled with the noble families of Ireland.
It was even rumoured that their children were born without blemish, but by exposure to their strange wonders and the blasphemous ur-light of Fomor witchery, their forms became distorted even as they gained occult powers.
Partholón had been in Ireland for ten years when his follower Ith travelled north to clear a plain in order to raise oxen, plough fields, and grow crops for the brewing of ale, which in those times were new arts. Unfortunately Ith quickly ran afoul of those who had lived in the north long before his coming, the Fomors!
They had, according to the tales, lived in Ireland for some centuries by then, originally arriving with two hundred men and six hundred women, surviving on wild birds and fish. Strange were their ways and strange their customs, but there was nothing mysterious about their response to these new invaders – they challenged them to a battle!
The leader of the Fomorians was one called Cichol Gricenchos, whose name means “of the withered feet,” which is curious since the folklore around Newgrange tells of a giant with withered legs who was cremated and put into stone bowls in the depths of that mound.
What actually happened is disputed – some say there was a bloody fight on the slemna, or “smooth lands”, of that plain, ending with every one of the eight hundred Fomorians slain, while others say with certainty that not a life was lost, but instead the battle lasted a week and was fought with magic! This may be where the idea that the Fomors had only one arm, one leg and one eye arose, since it is known that the early magic-working of Ireland involved adopting such a position. Some also suggest it is a reference to sling-throwers climbing slender battle-poles or pillars, the better to strike their enemies!
However it went, the Fomors were defeated, but not destroyed entirely, since they returned to plague Ireland again in the ages to come. Not so well did it work out for the followers of Partholón since they were all killed by a real plague only a century or so later, and are supposed to be buried in a mass grave at Tamlachta, the Pit of Tears which is close to Tallaght in Dublin.
That was the first battle in Ireland, but it was not the last!
“The great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.”
― G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse
The probable location of Mag Itha an Indusa is marked on the map below, close to Dernish Island, a suggested location for the Fomorians' island!
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