BY far the most interesting of the peoples that formerly inhabited Ireland were the Tuaths, or Tuatha de Danaans, or Dananns. There is much mystery about them in Irish traditions. They were men, gods, or fairies. They came, of course, from the East, calling in at Greece on the way, so as to increase their stock of magic and wisdom. Some trace them to the tribes of Dan, and note Dedan in Ezek. xxv. 13. Mrs. Wilkins identifies them with the Dedanim of Isa. xxl. 13, “a nomad, yet semi-civilized, people.” Isaiah calls them “travelling companies of Dedanim.”
The credulous Four Masters have wonderful tales of Tuath doings. In their invasion of Ireland, Tuaths had to
deal with the dark aborigines, known as the Firbolgs, and are said to have slain 100,000 at the battle of Magh-Tuireadh Conga. Driven off the island by their foes, they travelled in the East, returning from their exile as finished magicians and genuine Druids. Mr. Gladstone, in Juventus Mundi, contends that Danaan is of Phœnician extraction, that a district near Tripoli, of Syria, is known as Dannié. He adds, “Pausanias says that at the landing-place of Danaos, on the Argive coast, was a temple of Poseidon Genesios, of Phœnician origin.”
After reigning in Ireland two hundred years, the Tuatha were, it is narrated, invaded by the children of Gail Glas, who had come from Egypt to Spain, and sailed thence to Erin under Milesius, the leader of the Milesians. When their fleet was observed, the Danaans caused a Druidic fog to arise, so that the land assumed the shape of a black pig, whence arose another name for Ireland–“Inis na illuic, or Isle of the Pig.” The Milesians, however, employed their enchantments in return, and defeated the Tuatha at Tailteine, now Teltown, on the Blackwater, and at Druim-Lighean, now Drumleene, Donegal.
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The Firbolg were an ancient race of people that ruled Ireland before the Tuatha de Danaan and the Melesians. The origin of the name of these peoples is still subject to conjecture with ‘men of spear’, ‘men of the bag’ and ‘men of boats’ being suggested translations.
Legend has it that the Firbolg were enslaved by the Greeks. For three centuries their persecution continued before they eventually stole some Greek ships and set sail for Ireland. The leaders of the escape were five brothers, Slainge, Rudraige, Genann, Gann, and Sengann. The 5000-strong tribe headed to the west coast of Ireland but were soon scattered by the rough seas and had to land at different bays. They reformed at the Hill of Tara where the country was divided into 5 Provinces. These boundaries substantially survived into modern times and became four Provinces, with two of the original five being merged.
Ireland prospered under the Firbolg. They had a political structure, administration and a kingdom. They brought bronze-age technology to Ireland. They fought off persistent raids by the Fomorians, who they united with on several occasions to ward off would-be invaders. For 37 years there were 7 successive Firbolg kings who ruled over a thriving land. A new wave of invaders were on the way however, the Tuatha de Danaan.
Despite negotiations and time-stalling tactics by the Firbolg, defeat to the technically superior Tuatha de Danaan was inevitable. Despite staring defeat in the face the Firbolg petitioned the Tuatha de Danaan for one last chance of victory: a battle between equal forces.
Bravery was not enough though. The Firbolg were finally defeated at the Battle of Moytura but not before they impressed the new rulers of Ireland with their fierce courage and honour. The country was divided again with the western part of the country, Connaught Province, being assigned to the Firbolg.
From this time on the power of the Firbolg waned. They continued to live in the West of Ireland and, together with he Tuatha de Danaan and the Milesians, are regarded as one of the great Celtic tribes of Ireland.
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See also Irish Magic, and Tuatha De Danaans at this link (bibliotecapleyades)