Mythological Cycle

The Mythological Cycle is a conventional division within Irish mythology, concerning a set of tales about the godlike peoples said to have arrived in five migratory invasions into Ireland and principally recounting the doings of the Tuatha Dé Danann.[1] It is one of the four major cycles of early Irish literary tradition, the others being the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle and the Cycles of the Kings.[2]

The term "Mythological Cycle" seems to have gained currency with Arbois de Jubainville, c. 1881–1883; usage predating this applies the term generically, e.g. to Norse mythology.[3] In the opinion of Mackillop (1998), use of the term is "somewhat awkward today".[4]


The characters appearing in the cycle are essentially gods from the pre-Christian pagan past in Ireland. Commentators exercising caution, however, qualify them as representing only "godlike" beings, and not gods. This is because the Christian scribes who composed the writings were generally (though not always) careful not to refer to the Tuatha Dé Danann and other beings explicitly as deities. The disguises are thinly veiled nonetheless, and these writings contain discernible vestiges of early Irish polytheistic cosmology .[5]

Examples of works from the cycle include numerous prose tales, verse texts, as well as pseudo-historical chronicles (primarily the Lebor Gabála Érenn (LGE), commonly called The Book of Invasions) found in medieval vellum manuscripts or later copies. Some of the romances are of later composition and found only in paper manuscripts dating to near-modern times (Cath Maige Tuired and The Fate of the Children of Tuireann).

Near-modern histories such as the Annals of the Four Masters and Geoffrey Keating's History of Ireland (=Seathrún Céitinn, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn) are also sometimes considered viable sources, since they may offer additional insights with their annotated and interpolated reworkings of LGE accounts.

Orally transmitted folk-tales may also be, in a broad sense, considered mythological cycle material, notably, the folk-tales that describe Cian's tryst with Balor's daughter while attempting to recover the bountiful cow Glas Gaibhnenn.

The god-folk of the successive invasions are "euhemerised", i.e., described as having dwelt terrestrially and ruling over Ireland in kingship before the age of mortal men (the Milesians, or their descendants).[6] Afterwards, the Tuatha Dé Danann are said to have retreated into the sídhe (fairy mounds), cloaking their presence by raising the féth fiada (fairy mist).[7] Having disappeared but not died, the deities oftentimes make "guest appearances" in narratives categorised under other cycles. (e.g., Lugh's appearance as the divine father and Morrígan as nemesis to the Ulster hero Cuchulainn;[8] encounters of Finnian characters with dwellers of the sidhe; Cormac mac Airt's, or his grandfather's visits to the otherworldly realms.)

Collected #lore literature, while they do not belong to the cycle in entirety, nevertheless capture tidbits of lore about the deities.

Lists of Literature

In the list that follows, citations are generally only given if the wiki page for that work is not developed. Otherwise, citations are deferred to the wiki article in question. See #External links for additional titles.

Prose Tales

Verse Texts

Besides independent verses, a number of poems are embedded in prose tales, etc. A number of them are also preserved in the pseudohistorical LGE, Keating, etc.


Collected lore are not wholly of mythological content, but parts of it are. "The Fitness of Names" (#149–159, etc.) provides interesting explanations on names of Dian Cecht among others. Irish onomastica, the Dindshenchas, also include stories about deities such as Boann (under Inber Colptha), the Dagda (under Fidh nGaible), Brecan (Coire Brecain), often in developed narrative verse or prose tales. Genealogical tracts and the Roll of the Kings, various glosses (e.g. to the law treatise Senchus Mor) may also be culled for information.



Survey of prose tales

The euhemerised deities arrived in five sets of migrations (see #The invasions tradition), but none of the individual migrations tales (Irish: tochomlada; sing. tochomlod) survived intact.[11][12][13] Remnants of the migration tales are the summarised accounts given in the LGE (Book of Invasions). Apart from these are the tale of Tuan mac Cairill, Fintan mac Bóchra colloquy (see #Verse). Tuan and Fintan are ancient beings from the Antediluvian past, who have reincaranted into different creatures, and are referred to in the LGE as well.[14]

Of the battle tales (Irish: catha; sing. cath), the full narratives of the First and Second Battle of Moytura (Battles of Mag Tuired) survive in relatively late (16th century) manuscripts.[15] Other important battle tales such as the Cath Tailten (Battle of Tailten) or Orgain Tuir Chonaind ("Massacre of Conan's Tower") are lost, though abstracted in the LGE[16]

The late romance of Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann ("The Fate of the Children of Tuireann") tells how Lugh fines the sons of Tuireann for his father Cian's murder, compelling them to collect a series of magical objects and weapons which will be useful in the second battle of Mag Tuired against the Fomorians. An earlier version of this is recorded in the LGE, with a somewhat different list of fines (eiric), with no indication the murder happened on the eve of the great battle.[17]

In the Oidheadh Chloinne Lir ("The Fate of the Children of Lir"), the eponymous children are turned into swans by their jealous stepmother, and live in swan form into Christian times, when they are converted, transformed back into human form, and die of extreme old age.

Tochmarc Étaíne ("The Wooing of Étaín") tells first of the conception of Aengus through the adultery of the Dagda and Boann, and how Aengus won the residence of the Brú na Bóinne from Boann's husband Elcmar. It goes on to tell of the various lives of Étaín, wife of Midir, who is turned into a fly and driven away by Midir's jealous first wife Fuamnach. She becomes the companion of Aengus in insect form before Fuamnach once again drives her away, and she is swallowed by a mortal woman and reborn as her daughter. Her beauty attracts the attention of the High King, Eochaid Airem, who marries her, but ultimately Midir wins her back by magic and trickery.

There is also a curious account regarding Goídel Glas, the legendary ancestor of the migratory races and eponymous creator of the Gaelic language, and how he was cured by Moses's rod from a snake bite, related to in the LGE, although Macalister is dimissive of it as fiction invented by glossators.[18]

See also


  1. Mackillop 1998, 'Tuatha Dé Danann' "..principal family of euhemerized pre-Christian Deities".
  2. Mackillop 1998, loc. cit.
  3. The Irish form Irish: na Scéalta Miotaseolaíochta given on té has rarely if ever been used in any publication.
  4. Mackillop 1998, mythological cycle "Somewhat awkward today, the phrase 'Mythological Cycle' was coined to describe those early stories that, in the absence of a Celtic cosmology, deal most with origins and the discernible remnants of pre-Christian religion; its first usage pre-dates the currency of 'Celtic Mythology'"
  5. Mackillop 1998, loc cit.
  6. Arbois de Jubainville & Best 1903, p. 7, "The Tuatha De Danann, also, after having been with visible body, sole masters of the earth, assume in a later age invisibility, and share with men folk the dominion of the world"
  7. Mackillop 1998, 'féth fiada', the story of the assigning by Mananán of the sidhe to individual TDD is found in the tale Altrom Tighe Dá Medar. But cf. De Gabáil in t-Sída (cited below). The LGE explains away the magic fog as smoke from the ships the TDD burnt upon arrival.
  8. Lugh appears in the Compert Con Cúlainn, the Great Queen in the Táin Bó Cúailnge proper and possibly, under a different moniker, in the Táin Bó Regamna.
  9. Atlantis III (1862), p. 384ff
  10. The text published in Dobbs 1937 was noticed by O'Curry, but evidently he felt this was not a full-fledged migration tale, but an excerpted account only (on par with the LGE), and characterized it as merely a source for the Battle of Tailtiu.
  11. Arbois de Jubainville & Best 1903, talks about he "catalogue of Irish epic literature" in the LL of and other mss., which is a listing of the important tales (primscéla). There is a sub-list under the heading "'Tochomoloda' or Emigration", and "of the thirteen pieces contained in this .. seven are mytological: 1. Tochomold Partholon.." (p.4); "Unfortunately, none of the seven pieces.. is now extant" (p.12), except for the Nemed fragment (see list below). The author dates the compiling of the original catalogue to 700 CE, with later additions to the list around 950 CE.
  12. See O'Curry 1878, pp. 243- for a discussion of the catalogue (ancient lists of story titles), and his Appendix No. LXXXIX, 584–593 for a transcription of the actual catalogue from the Book of Leinster. Cf. Tochlomod
  13. Cf. however Vernam Hull 1935 and Dobbs 1937.
  14. e.g. atTemplate:Macalister
  15. first battle in a unique manuscript (TCD H 2.17); second battle in Harl. 5280, and a RIA 24 P 9 somewhat later (c. 1650). See Scéla site.
  16. O'Curry 1878, loc. cit. (p.583-, catalogue from LL); see O'Curry's footnotes.
  17. Macalister 1941, Part IV, Section VII, ¶319
  18. Macalister 1939, Vol. 2, p.134(=notes to ¶119), " glossarial"


Critical Studies

Primary Sources

External links

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