Lugh of the Long-Arm: The Martial and Sovereign Reach of Lugh Lama-fada
One of the most prominent characters of Irish mythology and literature, Lugh Lama-fada, served as the High King of Ireland for 20 years before his unfortunate death at the hands of the sons of Cermait. Born of the union between the daughter of Balor of the Fomorians and Cian of the Tuatha de Danann, he quickly rose to a position of power in his father's lineage.
Furthermore, his most prominent offspring would be the infamous warrior Cú Chulainn, who would similarly rise to power at a young age and follow in his father's footsteps by fighting the supernatural enemies of Ireland. However, unlike Manannán mac Lir, Lugh himself plays as prominent a role in Irish mythology as his ancestors and predecessors.
The Tuatha de Danann (the last supernatural invaders of Ireland) and the Fomorians (believed to have been the magical natives of Ireland after the Great Flood) had long been enemies, as they both vied for the land of Ireland.
Lugh's birth was either a marriage alliance or a move for revenge against the Fomorian Balor, who stole Cian's magical cow. Yet regardless of the circumstances of his conception, Lugh quickly rose to a powerful position in the court of King Nuada of the Tuatha de Danann.
The Tuatha Dé Danann as depicted in John Duncan's "Riders of the Sidhe." (1911) ( Public Domain )
While still young, Lugh traveled to the Hill of Tara, the seat of the High King of Ireland, and charmed his way into one of the highest status positions one could possess in the court of a king: that of the Chief Ollam.
Skilled in art, poetry, medicine, martial arts, and holding various other talents, Lugh auditioned his numerous skills to the doorkeeper of Nuada's court first - his prowess made such an intense statement that the doorkeeper could not deny his value to the High King. Upon realizing the value of one man possessing so many different attributes, Nuada himself quickly awarded Lugh the position of Chief Ollam, one which afforded Lugh much of the same reputation and attributes only afforded to the king (such as large private retinues and the allowance to wear as many colors as the High King).
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The tools of Lugh are said to be some of the most invulnerable in Irish mythology. His spear, called Gae Assail, Areadbhar, or "the Slaughterer" depending on the text, was believed to be impossible to overcome and also had the unique quality of returning to its owner after it met its target. Lugh also possessed a sling-stone (which he used to kill Balor).
Apart from these items, Lugh also has a close affiliation with Manannán mac Lir, god of the sea, through his other instruments. His horse was forged by Manannán allowing it to pass over land and through the ocean, and Lugh came to be in possession of Manannán's sword "the Answerer" after Manannán's death. Because of his personal skills and the list of powerful objects at his disposal, it is not at all surprising that his role in Irish mythology is so widespread.
1905 illustration of Lugh's bloodthirsty magical spear by H. R. Millar. ( Public Domain )
Taking the Offensive
Lugh's renown as a warrior individualized him from the rest of Nuada's court, and Lugh determined that it was time the Tuatha de Danann took an offensive, rather than defensive, approach to the Fomorians. Nuada, having lost his hand at the First Battle of Magh Tuireadh (when the Tuatha de Danann gained Ireland from their predecessors, the Fir Bolg), had been removed from power for a time and replaced by the Fomorian-favoring Bres, as Nuada was no longer perfect enough to rule.
During Bres' reign—despite his marriage to Brigid of the Tuatha—the Tuatha de Danann were enslaved, further injuring the already strenuous relationship between the two groups. When Nuada had finally regained power once his hand was restored, it was Lugh who realized the Tuatha de Danann should never be put in such a precarious position again. Given permission and power to prepare Tuatha forces for war, the Fomorians and Tuatha de Danann met in battle at the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh.
Though Nuada was killed by Balor of the Evil Eye, the Tuatha won and Lugh was placed in power, while Bres was subjected to teaching the skills of harvest to the Fomorian enemies—a menial, insulting task compared to his once all-powerful position.
Member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. ( Public Domain )
A Tragic End
In spite of Lugh's strength as a leader and peaceful public innovations, his story ends in tragedy. His death was rather anti-climactic considering his great achievements. A kinsman of Lugh called Cermait had an affair with Lugh's wife, and in retribution Lugh killed him. Cermait's sons returned the favor, drowning Lugh in a lake now called Loch Lugborta. He was succeeded as High King by the Dagda, also known as the "all-father.
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Reminiscing on the King
Lugh reigned as High King for twenty years, and in this time he implemented many convivial events. Lughnasadh, a day celebrating his defeat of the Fomorians (as he killed Bres once the Tuatha de Danann had learned all they could of agriculture from him), became a prominent summer affair.
The Assembly of Talti, akin to the Olympic Games of ancient Greece, was one of the other exciting events of the summer months, celebrating the Fir Bolg goddess Tailtiu who—after surviving the invasion of the Tuatha de Danann—had been the foster-mother of Lugh. Though he was a zealous military leader, Chief Ollam and High King of Ireland, it is these events that continue to be performed to this day, serving as a remembrance of Lugh's various roles in Irish culture.
A representation of Lugh. ( Salem’s Moon )
Top image: The battle of Lugh and Balor. Source: Salem’s Moon
By Ryan Stone
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