Legendary figures

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Ailill Ólom

Ailill Ólom , mythical Munster king and ancestor figure of the free lineages of Munster, appears in alternative genealogical traditions either as son of Éogan Már (qv), ancestor of the Éoganacht dynasties, or as son of Mug Núadat and father…

Colla

Colla , a pseudo-historical ancestor-figure of the Airgialla, is triplicated as Colla Fo-Chríth, Colla Mend, and Colla Uais, who are represented in genealogical tradition as the respective ancestors of the ruling dynasties of Airthir and Uí Chremthainn, of the Mugdorna, and of Uí…

Conall Cernach

Conall Cernach (‘the triumphant’), legendary hero of the Ulaid, belongs to Old Irish literature rather than to history. In origin, he was probably an ancestor figure (perhaps a deity) of the Conaille, whose kingdom lay in north Co. Louth, on the marches of Ulaid. Conall having been…

Conall Corc (‘the purple’)

Conall Corc (‘the purple’) , a legendary figure, is represented as a principal ancestor of the dynasties of the Éoganachta and is a central character in the origin story of the kingship of Cashel. The traditions surrounding him are widely discussed. According to the pre-Norman…

Conchobar

Conchobar , son of Ness, is a fictional personality who features in the Ulster cycle as king of the Ulaid (Ulstermen). The subject of an elaborate birth-tale, he is said to have been a son of the druid Cathbad and of Ness, daughter of a fictional king named Eochaid Sálbuide. His…

Conn Cétchathach

Conn Cétchathach (‘the hundred-battler’), pseudo-historical ancestor of the dynasties which emerged as the Connachta (including Uí Néill) and Airgialla, and forebear of all noble families of Leth Cuinn (the northern half of Ireland), was reputedly a son of Fedelmid Rechtmar son of…

Cormac

Cormac son of Art, often viewed as the archetypal king of Tara, is conventionally associated with the Connachta/Uí Néill dynasties. Though there are strong arguments in favour of linking Cormac (sometimes dubbed Ulfota, ‘longbeard’) to an earlier tradition of Tara, by the…

Cú-Chulainn

Cú-Chulainn is among the best-known figures of early and medieval Irish heroic literature and is the central character of ‘Táin Bó Cuailnge’ and other tales of the Ulster cycle. His exploits as leader of the Cráeb Rua (Red Branch) warrior band would make him contemporary with…

Deirdre (Derdriu)

Deirdre (Derdriu) , mythological figure, beautiful and cursed, is a tragic protagonist of the early medieval Ulster cycle. She first emerged into literature in the eighth or ninth century and, over the course of nearly a thousand years, was defined and refined till she found a…

Dímma

Dímma , son of Nath Í was a legendary scribe credited with writing a gospel-book, under miraculous circumstances, for St Crónán (qv) (fl. 7th century) of Roscrea. The little gospel-book now called the Book of Dimma (…

Étaín (Éadaoin, Aideen)

Étaín (Éadaoin, Aideen) , mythological figure, a beautiful woman, both human and otherworldly, is the protagonist of one of the most famous of all Old Irish sagas, ‘Tochmarc Étaíne’ (‘The wooing of Étaín’). She was simultaneously feared and revered – revered as a dispenser of…

Fergus

Fergus son of Roach, a key figure in the Ulster cycle, was foster-father of Cú Chulainn (qv), lover of Queen Medb (qv), and (as mac roich ‘son of the great horse’) the most virile man in…

Find (Mod. Ir. Fionn; Arch. Ir. Vind; Celt. Vindos)

Find (Mod. Ir. Fionn; Arch. Ir. Vind; Celt. Vindos) son of Cumall, hero figure and central character of the Fianaigecht cycle, was almost certainly a euhemerised deity. A continental background for a deity of this name is well attested; he is commemorated in placenames such as…

Gráinne

Gráinne was a legendary daughter of the equally legendary pre-Christian king of Tara, Cormac (qv) son of Art. The story of her love for the tragic hero Diarmait grandson of Duibne is one of the most famous tales of the Fenian Cycle, a tale…

Macha

Macha , tutelary goddess, gave her name to one of the most important of all Irish royal sites, Emain Macha (‘the twins of Macha’) in Co. Armagh, now known as Navan Fort. While Emain Macha was a prehistoric site of great religious significance, it was remembered by the early medieval…

Medb Chruachna

Medb Chruachna (‘of Cruacha’), queen of Connacht and traditionally believed to have flourished around the time of the birth of Christ, is one of the most prominent figures in the Ulster Cycle of heroic tales. Whether she is in any sense to be considered historical depends on the extent…

Nuadu Argatlám

Nuadu Argatlám , a figure from the mythological cycle, features as king of the Tuatha Dé Danann. It is said that in the battle with the Fir Bolg at Mag Tuired (Moytirra, Co. Sligo), he lost an arm, an imperfection which obliged him to abdicate his kingship in favour of Lug. He was…

Oisín

Oisín , a fictional character prominent in the Fianna cycle, appears as the son of Find (qv) son of Cumall and was thus included among the descendants of Baíscne (Clann Baíscni). As leader of the Fianna, his…