After the Battle of Moytura,
the Fomorians did not return to Ireland to harry the people. The powerful Tuatha
De Danaan were the rulers now, and the country was at peace. Ireland was a
beautiful country, the coastline fringed with high mountains and below the
wooded slopes lay deep valleys, fertile plains and marshy bogs. The rivers and
lakes were full of fish, cattle grazed on the plains and herds of pigs rooted
for acorns in the oak forests. Bees hummed among the heather in the bogs and the
woods rang loud with birdsong. The weather was not too hot in summer, nor too
cold in winter, so crops grew abundantly and there was plenty of food. The
island wasn't overcrowded and there was room enough for everyone.
In the north of Spain lived another tribe, the Sons of Mil. The Milesians
were skilled in magic too, and for generations had been a wandering people. They
had travelled to distant places, and had gone as far as Greece and Egypt. At
last they had settled in Spain, and Bregan, one of their kings, built a tower so
high that from it the Milesians could see great distances in every direction.
One clear day a learned magician called Ith climbed the tower and in the
north-west he saw a shadowy outline. As he stared, he thought he could see an
island with high mountains hazy in the distance. The longer he looked the
clearer the outline became until he was sure another country lay on the horizon.
He quickly came down from the tower and ran to tell his brothers what he had
seen. He tried to persuade them to go with him to find out what this distant
island was like but, as he described what he had seen, they laughed at him.
'You have seen nothing but stormclouds piling up on the horizon. We will
not risk men and ships on these stormy waters to follow a mirage!' his brothers
mocked. But Ith's son and a few others believed his story so they made ready for
the expedition and set sail.
It was indeed a stormy journey and sometimes Ith feared his brothers might
have been right, but he kept to his northerly course. After several days he and
his companions saw a coastline faint on the horizon. As they sailed closer they
saw how beautiful the island was and, praising Ith, the Milesians rowed into a
sheltered bay and pulled their ships ashore.
They made their way without any hindrance through the country, until they
came to where the leaders of the Tuatha De Danaan were gathered.
The three kings who ruled Ireland at the time were brothers and when Ith
arrived at their fort at Aileach they were quarrelling among themselves as to
who had seized the greatest part of their father's wealth and lands. Ith was
amazed that such a disagreement should take place in a land where was plenty for
'Settle your differences,' he told them. 'There is no need for brothers to
quarrel over such things. You should treat each other fairly. Your father has
been generous to you and the land you have inherited is beautiful. It has
fertile soil and the waters teem with fish. You have grain and honey and salmon
to eat. The weather is comfortable. You don't suffer from too much heat or too
much cold. This lovely island can give you everything you need.' The kings
stopped arguing to listen to Ith's wise counsel and, having delivered his
judgement, Ith returned to his ship.
But Ith's praise of their land disquieted the kings. They were afraid that
he meant to take it for himself, since he had praised it so much. In their alarm
they forgot the quarrel they had with one another and together they made a plot
to kill Ith. They sent some soldiers after him and before he reached his ship
they ambushed him and left him fatally wounded. His son and his companions,
though wounded themselves, carried their leader to the boat and made for home as
fast as they could, but when they reached land Ith was dead. They brought him
ashore, lamenting his death, and showed his body to his kinsmen. Ith had been a
wise and just man and his murder angered the Milesians. They resolved to sail to
Ireland and take revenge for the treachery of the Tuatha De Danaan.
Then the Sons of Mil and their neighbours, the Gaels, sent messengers far
and wide to all the countries they had visited over the years. They told their
allies the story of Ith's death and recruited warriors everywhere they went.
They returned to their own country with a huge army and built ships, laid in
supplies and got ready for the expedition. A great host of people, Milesians and
Gaels, assembled in Brigaton, chiefs and warriors and with them ordinary people,
men and women both.
They set sail in a huge fleet, sixty-five ships in all, and on the day
before the first day of May they saw the island rise slowly out of the sea ahead
of them. Then they raced each other, sailing and rowing with all their strength,
to see who would be first to set foot in Ireland.
This time the Tuatha De Danaan were expecting them. They hurried to the
shore and watched helplessly as the Milesian fleet approached with great speed.
The De Danaans had made no armed preparations for war so their leaders asked
their magicians to use their druidic powers to halt the approach of the
The druids began to work their spells and the outline of the shore began
to shimmer and waver, until the Milesians saw land and sea swirling together in
one confusing mass. The approaching ships were completely engulfed in a mist.
Cloud closed round them and the sailors lost their bearings completely. Three
times they circled the island, frightened and helpless. At last, through a break
in the fog, they saw an inlet into which the fleet could sail and here they
Disembarking quickly, glad to be ashore, they began to march to Tara to
confront the three De Danaan kings. On the way they met the three queens of
Ireland, Eiriu, Fodla and Banba, who prophesied to them that the island of
Ireland would belong to them and to their children for ever. This gave the
Milesians encouragement and they pressed on with renewed will. At Tara, they
found the three kings who had killed Ith in council. The Milesians chose
Amergin, a poet and one of their leaders, to meet the De Danaan kings and give
them an ultimatum. Amergin went into the hall where the kings were in council
and told them the choices they had: to give over their country peacefully, or to
fight to keep it. The loss of their homeland was the price they would have to
pay for the murder of Ith.
Though they were not ready for battle, the Tuatha De Danaan had no notion
of handing over their land without a struggle, so they played for time. 'Let
your poets and wise men make an offer,' they said, 'but it must be a fair offer,
otherwise our druids will kill you with their spells.'
So Amergin made his offer.
'We will go back to our boats and retreat from the shore over the distance
of nine waves. Then we will come back over the nine waves, disembark and take
this island by force if need be. But if you can prevent us setting foot on the
shore, we will turn our boats homewards and we will never trouble you again.'
The Tuatha De Danaan were pleased with this offer. They were sure that
their druids' power was strong enough to prevent the Milesians landing, so they
agreed to the terms.
Amergin and his companions put out to sea over the space of nine waves and
then turned to approach the shore. Immediately a huge storm blew up and gravel
on the sea bed rose to the surface with the force of the wind. Waves rose in
front of the boats as tall as the cliffs along the strand. In the tempestuous
breakers the boats were pitched and tossed. They lost sight of each other in the
deep troughs and were driven westward and scattered in every direction until
they were exhausted. Many, many boats foundered in the boiling sea.
Amergin and the other leaders knew that the storm was not a natural one,
but one called up by the power of the druids. They did not know how far from
land they had been driven, so Amergin's brother climbed to the top of the mast
to see if land was visible over the towering waves. He was flung from the mast
by a fierce gust of wind and crashed to his death on the deck below. The people
in the boat were terrified and angry. They ranted at Amergin and begged him to
use his powers to calm the sea and save them. Amergin, buffeted by the winds and
waves, made his way forward and clinging to the prow, his voice rising above the
roar of the waves, he invoked the spirit of the land of Ireland, calling out to
it, praising its beauty. Instantly there was a lull in the wind, the dreadful
noise ceased and the sea became calm. Swiftly the boat headed for land over the
nine waves, with Amergin like a figurehead leaning forward in the prow. As soon
as the keel of the boat touched bottom, Amergin jumped out and waded ashore. He
put his right foot on dry land at Inver Sceine and then, standing on the shore
of Ireland, he chanted this poem,
'I am the wind on the sea.
I am the wave of the ocean.
I am a powerful bull.
I am an eagle on the rock.
I am the brightness of the sun.
I am a fierce wild boar.
I am a salmon in the pool.
I am the wisdom of art.
I am a spear, sharp in battle.
I am the god that puts fire in the brain.'
Other ships pulled ashore
and the men and women who had survived the storm disembarked. They were grateful
to be alive and more willing than before to fight the Tuatha De Danaan whose
magical powers had cost them so many lives. They fell into formation and marched
to meet their enemy.
The Tuatha De were dismayed to see the Milesians land in spite of their
druids' efforts and they hastily marshalled their forces. Then they too marched
The first skirmish was won by the Gaels and Milesians but the Tuatha De
mustered again and on the plain of Tailtinn faced the invaders. It was a fierce
battle. The Milesians, remembering Ith and their lost kinsmen, fought fiercely.
The Tuatha De Danaan, knowing their territory was at stake, fought to the death.
The three De Danaan kings and their three queens were killed in the battle and
when their followers saw this happen they lost heart. They were pushed back to
the sea by the triumphant Milesians. They too had suffered losses, but they had
won the battle for the land.
Then the Milesians divided Ireland into provinces: Ulster in the north,
Munster in the south, Leinster in the east and Connacht in the west and, at the
centre, Tara. Each province had its own king, chiefs and champions, but the High
King, who lived in Tara, ruled the country, helped by the provincial kings and
As for the Tuatha De Danaan, though they had been defeated by the
Milesians at the battle of Tailtinn, they did not leave Ireland. They went
underground to inhabit the mounds and earthworks known as sidhes that are
scattered all over the country. Above them, in the upper kingdom, the human
inhabitants of Ireland, the descendants of the Milesians and Gaels, lived and
died, helped and sometimes hindered by the People of the Sidhe. From time to
time, down through the ages, these mysterious, imperishable people entered the
world of mortals. Sometimes they fell in love with human beings and at other
times they held humans in thrall with their beauty and their haunting music. But
their kingdom was that Happy Otherworld under the earth and they always went
back there to the Land of the Ever Young.