Emerald Isle

The Harp of Dagda

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Mythological Cycle

The many talents of the Harp of Dagda Mor

After the second battle of Moy Tura, Nuada the High King of the Tuatha De Danann was grievously injured, and as it was the law among their people that a king must be whole of body, Dagda Mór took his place.

Mighty Dagda, of whom the ballads are sung,  he was called the father of the Tuatha, the lord of knowledge, the many-skilled, the maker and the man of the peak, had in his possession many beautiful and wondrous things.

He had a deadly club that could kill nine men with one blow, a tree whose branches were forever bent with fruit, two pigs, one of which grew bigger while the other was roasting, the cauldron called Undry from which no man could walk away unsatisfied and which was said to be able to heal all wounds, and a magical harp, the Four-Angled Music, named Uaithne.

Of all the eldritch artifacts at his command, the harp was the most revered, for with it he put the four seasons in their right order and could ready warriors for battle. Carved of the first oak tree and inlaid with gold and precious jewels, its music was fit to make an angel weep or dance. Sorrows of the heart, mind and body melted like ice under a warm spring sun at the sound of its delicate tones.

Well, it so happened that during the second battle of Moy Tura, the wicked Fomorians heard the sound of the harp, and were caught in the magic of its music, and a Fomor chief knew he must have it. So himself and his men waited until battle was again joined and the Dagda's house was left unguarded, before creeping silently within and stealing the harp!

They leapt out the windows of the Dagda's house and ran as though their heels were on fire, leaving behind the battle and making their way to an abandoned fortress nearby. Although their terrible king Balor was leading their forces, they left him behind too, so enchanted were they by the harp. They hung it on a wall and waited to see the outcome of the battle.

Balor was slain and the Fomors broken, and the remnants of their army trickled into the old fortress in dribs and drabs, drawing comfort from the harp, so that before too long there was a large muster of warriors encamped, their golden-bronze spears still red with Tuatha blood.

The De Danann, flush with their victory, full of food and mead from the cauldron Undry, called for music from the Dagda's harp, but were aghast to find it gone missing!

“The golden tongue of my harp has been stolen!” said the Dagda, “but it will sing no sweet songs for the thieves, answering only to my touch! Who here will help me get it back?”

Ogma the maker who first wrote the runes of Ogham stood up despite his exhaustion and said he'd join the rescue, as did Lugh of the long arm, and off the three marched brandishing spears sharp enough to wound the wind and set it to wailing.

The trio came upon the dark and mournful Fomorian camp and saw that their enemies were many, and Ogma and Lugh wondered greatly how they'd get the harp back, but Dagda stood up boldly and cried out, “Come to me, my four-angled music!”

And what did the harp do but bound from the wall and crash straight through the Fomorians, killing seven and wounding more. To the very hand of Dagda it flew, but the Fomors weren't to be cheated of their last prize, and they were close behind it!

“It is time for some music!” said Ogma, and Dagda Mór agreed. Putting his fingers to the strings of the harp, he began playing a merry, lilting tune which set the advancing Fomors to laughing and dancing. So hard did they laugh that their goblets of wine fell from shaking fingers and their weapons dropped to the floor.

But when the music ended, they picked them up again, and advanced with a grim gleam in their eyes.

“It is time,” said Lugh, “for some music!” And Dagda nodded, playing this time a sorrowful song of mourning. The Fomors sat on the ground holding their heads and weeping, for although they were a cold and hard people, not given to sentimentality, they couldn't help but recall all the warriors slain in the recent battle, and they were overcome with misery.

But when the song ended, up they got and came at the trio with rage and furious oaths on their lips!

“It is time,” said Dagda, “for one last melody,” and with that he began playing the sweet, soft music of sleep. Not a man among the Fomors was strong enough to resist, and they curled up where they stood, fast asleep. From that day forth, none ever tried to steal the Dagds's harp again.

The place where the Fomors hid the harp was close to the place marked on the map below.

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