When people think of Irish religion it’s mostly likely Christianity that comes to mind, but the country actually has pagan roots which stretch back to before British colonisation. Its own rich history and mythology, complete with colourful figures, memorable stories and fantastic heritage. Including many Celtic gods and goddesses.
The Celtic figures of Ireland fall under the name Tuatha Dé Danann, meaning The Folk of the Goddess Danu. Much like the figures of the Greek or Norse pantheon, the Irish Celtic gods are rather human and relatable figures. They were fathers, mothers, blacksmiths, warriors and poets. The Tuatha Dé Danann existed in a mystical realm known as The Otherworld and would occasionally leave that realm to interact with normal folk.
The old people of Ireland led rural lives by tradition, and as such a lot of their gods and stories would represent nature and the natural rhythm of things. The Fomorians, the ancient rivals of the Tuatha Dé Danann in Celtic folklore, often represent the more destructive parts of nature.
The Daghda – Father god of Ireland
The Daghda was the father figure god of Irish mythology. Wise and strong, Daghda was connected to all things. From craftsmanship to fertility. He was said to control life and death itself with a magical staff, with each end serving a different function, and to control the passing of the seasons by playing upon a magic harp.
Dagda is said to be a giant of a man with a fierce beard, shrouded behind a flowing cloak. According to myth he resides in Newgrange, which is often said to be a passage to the Otherworld.
The Daghda is often depicted as the husband or lover of Morrígan, one of the three aspects of the Triple Goddess.
Danu – Mother goddess of Ireland
A counterpoint to Daghda, Danu is the mother figure of Irish mythology, and one of the oldest Celtic gods.
A goddess of the earth and fertility, Danu was also a skilled and fierce warrior poet. Her name is rooted in the ancient Gaelic words for art, skill and poetry.
Unfortunately, there are no surviving mythological records of Danu. So a lot of her attributes and characteristics are pieced together from other sources
Brigid – Goddess of the hearth and home
In earlier traditions Brigid was actually known as the goddess of the sun, with some stories saying she was born with flame in her hand, or at sunrise. Known for her flaming red hair, Brigid’s flame can either light the fire of inspiration, the forge or the hearth. So different people would pray to her for different reasons.
The daughter of The Daghda, Brigid is closely connected with many other Celtic gods through blood and marriage.
Some accounts also have Brigid being the goddess of the water in addition to fire. It is said that she looks after the wellsprings of water around the country of Ireland which feed the trees, often referred to as the Wombs of Mother Earth.
In the post-colonised Irish culture, Brigid was among the many gods rebranded as a Christain Saint. Her feast day is the 1st of February.
Aengus Og – The god of love
Another child of The Daghda, Aengus is the god of love and beauty, a claim to which he alone has. Aengus is known for his dashing looks and robust energy, a celebration of youthful passion. He was the result of Daghda’s illicit affair with the river goddess Bionn, and was born in only one day. However, this was also cheating as the myths say that Aengus was also the god of time and thus the sun had actually remained in the sky for a full nine months before setting.
It has been suggested that this tale is supposed to represent the winter solstice, the tracking of which was the true purpose behind the construction of Newgrange.
Cailleach – The goddess of the Winter
Another figure whose standing has morphed over time, Cailleach was once known in Celtic mythology not as a goddess but as a divine hag. A wisened figure associated with the creation of the landscape of Ireland. Showcasing how the Celtic mythology of Ireland was all about explaining the beauty of the natural world.
In the myths, she is known as a great destroyer and bringer of storms. It was said that she would appear during the end of Fall in order to prepare for Ireland’s transition into Winter. Hence, how she came to be known as the goddess of the Winter.
Morrígan, Badh and Macha – The triple goddess of death
The goddess of death, war and fate. Morrígan is often considered to be the true queen of Irish mythology and the true matriarchal counterpart to The Daghda. She is referred to as the triple goddess because the myths depict her as either one being in three forms, or as three sisters often called the Morrígna. These forms are that of a sinister crow named Badb, a sovereignty goddess (that is the goddess of a specific territory) named Macha, and a spirit woman named Nemain.
In these various forms Morrígan causes chaos and destruction. They are often seen as a harbinger of death or misery, with the Badb’s presence being a forewarning of a coming battle, or the death of an important figure.
Later folklore connects Morrígan with the dreaded Banshee, a fairy creature who heralds death.