King Nuada and his Famous Sword of Light
Dating back to the 12 th century, the “Lebor Gabala” or “The Book of Invasions” talks about how Ireland came to be populated. After the great flood, only the Fomorians, a supernatural race in Irish mythology, were left alive on the Green Isle. These were giant monstrous beings, part human and part beast. When the Tuatha de Danann (“the people of the goddess Danu”) arrived in Ireland, they liked the place so much that they wanted to settle there for good. So that they would not be tempted to leave, they even set their ships on fire. However, on the Green Isle, they were confronted with the Fomorians.
The Fomorians as depicted by John Duncan, 1912 (public domain)
Still, the isle was also inhabited by the Fir Bolg, the fourth group of people to settle in Ireland. So that they would not have to fight, the Tuatha de Danann proposed peace and for the two peoples to divide the land equally between them. Unfortunately, the Fir Bolg refused and war became unavoidable. King Nuada of the Tuatha de Danann and King Eochai of the Fir Bolg had their armies battle for days, but with no decisive victory on either side. Because of this, Nuada proposed that ten of the best warriors on either side have a face to face confrontation which would decide the outcome of the war.
In Irish mythology, Nuada is known by many names such as Nuadu, Nuadha, the British Nodens or the Welsh Nudd or Ludd Llaw Eraint. In Norse mythology, he is associated with the god Tyr, a warrior god who also lost an arm to the Fenrir wolf.
Ambassadors of the Fir Bolg and Tuath Dé meeting before the Battle of Moytura, an illustration by J. C. Leyendecker in T. W. Rolleston's Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911 (public domain)
Before the famous battle of Magh Tuireadh (known as “Cath Maige Tuired”), Nuada received a visit at night from the terrifying goddess of war, Morrigan. As a result, the king entered a sort of trance characterized by a pure warrior rage and he decided to face Streng, one of the champions of the Fir Bolg. In this fight, Nuada lost his arm to his opponent. Nevertheless, during the confrontation, King Eochai was killed, and the Tuatha de Danann won the war. Celtic law prevented a mutilated person from ruling. Therefore, even though Nuada was very loved and appreciated as king, he had to step down. The new king was Bres, a man born after the Fomorian king Elatha had raped Eriu, the queen of the Tuatha de Danann. Being a half-breed, everybody thought that Bres’ reign would bring an enduring peace with the Fomorians.
Bres married Brigitte, the daughter of the Tuatha god Dagda, a lady presiding over bards and druids, and a man of the Tuatha de Dannan called Cian married Eithne, the daughter of the cruel Fomorian Balor. The two had a son named Lug (Lugh), the future sun god. However, Bres proved to be a wicked king who thought of himself as being more Fomorian than Tuatha. He enslaved his people and became hated so much that he was ultimately sent away. A Celtic belief stated that a bad king also attracted calamities upon his people, therefore was not fit to rule. Bres went to live with the Fomorians and began plotting his revenge.
In the meantime, the warrior god Diancecht, helped by the Goibniu blacksmiths, fashioned a silver arm for Nuada to replace the one he had lost. For this reason, Nuada became known as “Nuada Airgethlam” meaning “Nuada of the Silver Arm”. Still, Miach, one of Diancecht’s sons, did an even better job than his father. He managed to recreate the former king’s arm entirely out of flesh and bone. Under these circumstances, Nuada could become king once again and ruled for 20 more years.
Nuada of the Silver Arm by Jim Fitzpatrick (jimfitzpatrick.com)
With the help of the Fomorian Balor of the Evil Eye, Bres tried to retake the throne. A period of war followed and Lug grew up to be very appreciated at court. Nuada decided to let Lug lead the Tuatha de Danann in battle against the Fomorians and the second battle of Mag Tuired followed. During this battle, Balor killed Nuada and beheaded him, but he was avenged by Lug. Lug killed Balor and ultimately led the Tuatha de Danann to victory.
1905 illustration of Lug's bloodthirsty magical spear by H. R. Millar (public domain)
Nuada is remembered for a powerful and mysterious weapon which he used. This weapon was the Sword of Light known as “Claimh Solais”. This sword was one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha de Danann, brought from the great city of Findias. It is said that once the sword was drawn from its sheath, no one could escape it and no one could resist it. Sometimes, the sword resembled a glowing bright torch known as “Nuadu’s Cainnel”. As the first king of the Tuatha de Danann, Nuada remains a fascinating character in Celtic mythology.
Featured image: Nuada The High King by Jim Fitzpatrick (jimfitzpatrick.com)
By: Valda Roric
Michele Mira Pons – “Celtic Mythology”
Herve Le Floch – “The Celts – An Original Civilisation”
T.G.E. Powell – “The Celts”