“Balor and his Evil Eye” is one of the most famous Irish mythological stories that children are told. Who is Balor? And what is his evil eye? How did Balor get an evil eye?
Before learning about Balor and his evil eye, you need to know about the group of people who lived in the North of Ireland, named Fomorians, who were believed to be supernatural human beings. They possessed magical skills and were known for their violence. They encouraged war and destruction, and would go to any extent to save themselves. And young Balor was their future king.
Young Balor and his evil eye
One day, some of the druids in Balor’s palace were brewing something which young Balor spied upon. Little did he know that they were performing magic in a cauldron to spread deadly plagues to spread in their enemy’s kingdom. When young Balor peeped, the “death solution” blew a puff of vapors that hit Balor’s eye. His eye swelled like a water balloon and was granted with the power of death.
As he grew, the druids predicted that his end would be at the hands of his own grandson. Fearing whether this prophecy will come true one day, he locked away his only daughter, Eithne, in a tall tower on a faraway island.
By then, the word spread about King Balor and his evil eye, or the death eye. It was believed that the eye, when pointed in your direction, would turn you into stone forever. When on the battlefield, there would be around 10 men to open and shut his eyelids when there were enemies ahead. To cool off his eye, he would cover it with 7 layers. Removal of each layer caused the earth to heat up. The ferns shrank, grass reddened, smoke came out of trees, everything became hot and red, and, ultimately, the land was set on fire. King Balor and his evil eye became indestructible.
One day, in the middle of his trip, he saw a magical white cow with green spots called Glas Ghaibhleann. It could give more than 20 litres of milk a day without running dry! It was owned by Cian of the Tuatha De Danann. Balor was adamant about wanting the cow to himself. He performed some magic on Cian and made him fall asleep. When the time was right, he stole the cow and ran away.
Cian strayed in search of his cow and somehow got into the tower where Balor had preserved his only daughter from human contact. Obviously, they fell in love. In some records, it is said that Eithne had 3 sons with Cian and, when Balor found out about this, he drowned 2 of his grandsons. In some records, there is no mention of the triplets, instead, Eithne gave birth to only 1 son. When Cian learns of Balor’s cruelty, he takes his son on a small boat and escapes the wrath of Balor, and hands him over to King Manannan for his protection.
The child was raised as Dal Duanna, the god of the sea, and later became King Lugh of the Longarm.
The Other Supernatural beings
The Tuatha De Danann were the other supernatural beings who possessed magical powers. They were believed to be the descendants of Goddess Dhanu. But they were not demonic like the Fomorians. They would go to any extent to avoid war and violence. They were tall, good looking, and were interested in poetry and music. They had their beloved king Nuada to lead them.
The Fomorians constantly sent their people on raids to Ireland, stealing herds and seizing children. The people living on the coast had to be very careful and always keep an eye out for their children. Balor proved to be the cruelest king the Fomorians ever had. He always had four to seven men with him when he was on the battlefield just to lift his evil eyelids and he ordered his men to chop off the noses of the people who refused to pay bribes. King Nuada knew how ferocious Balor was and would just agree to pay their bribe, avoiding getting into fights. Once a year, Balor’s men would come to the shore for their collection, and King Nuada and his men would wait for them near the shore with gold.
One day, when King Nuada and his men were waiting for Balor’s men, they saw a young man with golden hair riding a horse towards them. This was Lugh of the Long Arm. He was respected and loved across the 10 kingdoms for his kind heart, bravery, and the power of his magic. It was believed that his foster father had blessed him with a special sword that could cut through ships.
Nuada happily welcomed Lugh to his land and arranged a feast for his arrival. Suddenly, there was a great noise. Spears and arrows were clashing, and the Fomorians came marching over the hills. “What a horrible bunch of people,” Lugh thought. “It’s the Fomorians, let’s just give the tax and get it over with. They are the nastiest bunch of people you will ever find,” said Nuada.
Lugh commanded his men to get ready for the fight. This was not something that Nuada was looking forward to. He knew it was a bad idea to start a war against Balor. Balor had remained undefeated because of his evil eye. Nuada tried his best to convince Lugh to remain calm, but Lugh wouldn’t listen. He drew his sword and rushed into the middle of the Fomorian army. Within minutes, most of them lay dead. He looked at the Fomorian survivors and said, “Now, you lot, run straight to your King and say that he is never going to get gold from Ireland ever again.”
The remaining Fomorians ran to their King and relayed what happened. The worst fate awaited them. Balor couldn’t accept his defeat. He hauled up his eyelid and directed it towards those remaining men. They turned into stone in seconds. He gathered his force and set off to Ireland. 5 days later, he reached the land and sent his troops forward.
Battle of Moytura – R.I.P. Balor
King Nuada was terrified after seeing the arrival of Balor along with his army. He urged his people to go into hiding and save themselves to which Lugh responded with a smile. “I am Lugh of Long Arm, foster son of Manannan Mac Lir, son of Cian and Eithne, grandson of King Balor. It is my destiny, foretold by the stars, to kill my grandfather, and it is never too late to fulfill my destiny. The Tuatha De Danann people have suffered enough. It is my time to save my people. Yes, I too am Tuatha De Danann on my father’s side.”
The Battle commenced. Both sides fought vigorously. By moonlight, there were dead bodies of both armies. People were moaning in pain. Blood was splattered all over. When Balor’s favourite minister’s head was chopped off, he ordered his men to lift his eyelids. He commanded his men to direct his eye to the first line of the enemy troop. Within seconds, hundreds of men fell motionless. This happened another couple of times. King Nuada’s army was being wiped out.
Seeing this, Lugh thrust his sword towards his grandfather’s eye. It hit the pupil directly, pushing his eye to the back of his skull. As it fell, the eye rolled and pointed at thousands of the Fomorian army. Seeing their dead king, the remaining troops fled from Ireland.
The Tuatha De Danann marked their victory. Lugh from Long Arm became their new leader. Thus started the long reign of peace and happiness.
Also read the Cattle Raid of Cooley from the Ulster Cycle !