I guess I fibbed last week – there is one more short story to tell before The Second Battle of Moytura! I actually forgot about this bit until just yesterday, but I think the Sons of Mil are important enough to talk about, right? Decide for yourself, after you’ve read.
The fourth great invasion of Ireland was made by early Spaniards. While the invasion of the Tuatha De Danann is probably the most important piece for Celtic myths (and the information I am spilling in your brains) the story of the Sons of Mil is the most important for Celtic history, because this was the coming of the Gaels to Ireland, and they’ve been there ever since. Possessing magical qualities themselves, through their druids, this battle against the gods represents man’s plight against the supernatural. Some characters, like Donn, appear throughout the world. For example, there is Donnotaurus (Lordly Bull) in Gaul (Western Europe a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away…)).
In other tales Donn features as the god of death, and all who die are invited to his house. Into the story a bit more: Emer, Donn, and Eremon were the sons of Mil from Spain. Their uncle, a man who had awesome powers of learning saw Ireland in a vision and tried traveling there, only to be killed by the Children of Danu. When this news reached the 3 sons of Mil they quickly made a decision. They knew Ireland as a land of good grain and grazing, with fine honey, plenty of fish in its rivers, lakes and seas, and other olden-days desirables; hell-bent on invasion, they gathered their families and whatnot and set sail.
Donn as the oldest son was the leader of a whole fleet of 65 boats and 40 chieftains; their spiritual leader was a guy named Amergin, a poet skilled in magic. As the fleet approached Ireland, preparing to land, the Tuatha De used their druidic magic to make the whole country up and disappear. The sailors were speechless, needless to say, seeing only open water where moments before there’d been rocky shores and thick, forested hills – but Amergin realised right away that there were supernatural forces at work. He advised Donn to sail 3 times around where the island should be and when he did it, the spell broke, the coast reappearing as astonishingly as they had vanished, and the sons of Mil landed at Inber Scen on the South-West of Ireland on the Eve of Beltain. (Dramatic much?)
As they marched their way inland, they in turn met the 3 goddesses of Ireland: Banba, Fodla and Eriu. These 3 ladies were the ancient territory deities and it was very important for this newest set of invaders to cooperate with them. The first 2 listed goddesses would say little but Eriu was bombastic (for lack of a better word) in her praises and let them know their arrival was long prophesied. “You’re welcome to this place, for this is the best island in this world and yours is the most perfect race – you’re destined to rule here forever!”
“If that’s true,” says Donn, “It’ll be due not to help from you but to the power of our gods and our men.” (Sh*t has now hit the fan.) Angry at this cocky answer, Eriu then foretold that Donn and his descendants would never rule Ireland and that his whole line would be cursed forever! Leaving Eriu (I’d say that’s a smart idea, I mean, Donn being all rude and stuff didn’t exactly help them on their journey,) the Sons of Mil went to Tara, the seat of kings and the head sanctuary of Ireland. There they found the husbands of the 3 goddesses, the 3 kings of the Tuatha De Danann: Mac Cuill (Son of Hazel) Mac Cecht (Son of Plough) and Mac Greine (Son of Sun).
(Sidenote: Do not ask me how to pronounce any of those names. I may know the stories, but some Irish pronunciations are a mystery to me.)
These three sneered at the Sons of Mil for trying to ambush freaking Ireland, for they considered this act dishonourable. They gave the foreigners the ultimatum of either leaving the country, submitting to the Children of Danu, or battling it out. Donn was itching for a fight, but Amergin stepped in on this matter. “Let them keep the land until we come back a 2nd time to take it openly,” he said.
“Where’ll we go, then?” asked Donn.
“Out beyond the 9th wave,” replied Amergin, making sure to speak in magical druid terms.
“If you’ll take my advice,” Donn persisted, “it’ll be war.” But the Sons of Mil obeyed Amergin and set sail again until they were 9 waves away from land.
“Now,” say the Tuatha De, “We must make sure that they never get back to Ireland.” Using their powers, they called up winds and a storm. The huge waves were so violent that even the sand from the sea bed was churned all the way to the top of the waves, and there was confusion and fright among the sailors as their ships were driven hopelessly westwise out in the sea.
“This is no natural storm, but a druid’s wind!” cried Donn over the sound of the sea.
“We can’t be certain until we know how high in the sky it blows,” replied Amergin. If it blows no higher than our masts, it’s druid’s work.” 1 of the men climbed upon the swaying mast and reached his hand into the air up above; it was calm but as he leaned down to yell to the men below a sudden blow of wind tore him off the mast and he then fell to his death on the deck beneath. Then Amergin stood up and chanted a magic poem to mollify Eriu the goddess who Donn had offended and immediately a great calm took place instead of the storm. Donn, however, was still filled with pride.
“If only I could get ashore, I would put all the warriors of Ireland to the spear,” he declared and this arrogance to Amergin ended up sealing his fate. Once more the storm howled around them and the waves were at least as wild as before. In all the noise and confusion of the raging sea, Donn’s boat parted from the others and, as Donn defied the elements with his sword, wrecked off the South-West coast. Donn and his men drowned. The rest of the fleet was divided under the commands of Emer and Eremon, the 2 other bros, and landed once again on the shore.
As Amergin, astoundingly saved from the waves, setting his right foot on the ground, he uttered another of his powerful poems, claiming the land and all that it contained for himself plus the Sons of Mil. The invaders had now outwitted the magic of the Tuatha De Danann, but there were many battles to be fought before they could claim the final victory. Even when the Children of Danu had been defeated in battle, they still retained all their magical powers and skills and they made life so annoyingly difficult for the newest newcomers that eventually a truce was drawn up between the 2 forces. It was then agreed to divide the land between them, the underground territory distributed to the Tuatha De and the country above to the Sons of Mil. As a result, the Tuatha De Danann lived underground.
The Dagda (sorry, didn’t mention him before) gave a sidh (fairy mound) to each of the chieftains and forever afterwards these little mounds were the dwellings of the fairy-folk of Ireland. And that was the agreement of the Tuatha De Danann and the Gaels.
Next up: The Second Battle of Moytura.