Other Names/Spellings: Lámhfhada (long-armed), Samhildánach, Ildánach, Lugh mac Eithleann
Associations: Spear of Victory, Lughnasa, Kingship, smith, warrior, crafts, games, multiple skills, etc
Known Family: father Cian of the Tuatha Dé Danann, mother Eithne of the Fomorians, foster-father Manannán, foster-mother Tailtiu, grandfather Balor, son Cú Chulainn, wife The Cailleach Bhéarra (?)
Etymology: “Many scholars have argued that his name connects him with light and is cognate with the Latin word lux; but it seems more likely that the proper derivation is from a Celtic word lugio, meaning an oath” (HÓgáin.)
- Cath Maige Tuireadh / Second Battle of Moytura
- Oidheadh Chlainne Tuireann / The Fate of the Sons of Tuireann/ Eric-Fine of Lugh / First Tragedy of Irish Storytelling
- Táin Bó Cuailnge
- Baile in Scáil / The Phantom’s Frenzy
- Compert Con Culainn / The Birth of Cú Chulainn
- Ar an doirseoir ris an deaghlaoch / The doorkeeper said to the noble warrior
While he has the epithet of Lámhfada, meaning long-armed, Lugh himself does not have a long arm–rather, this epithet refers to his skill with both the spear and slingshot. The epithet could also be referring to his “otherworldly reach.”
There a few versions of Lugh’s parents meeting. It usually goes something like: Balor is given a prophecy that his grandson will kill him, so he locks away his only daughter–Eithne–away. Despite this, Cian finds a way to meet her (usually with the aid of magic.) They fall in love, make love, and into the world comes baby Lugh. Cian then takes Lugh to someone to foster the child, since Lugh is wanted by Balor. This “someone” is sometimes Manannán. Another version that is also possible is that Eithne and Cian wed to bridge together the warring races.
One of Lugh’s more famous stories is with him entering the gates at Tara. The doorkeeper asked what talents he could offer the Tuatha Dé Danann, for no one without a skill may enter. Lugh states he can build; the doorkeeper states they have already a builder. So Lugh then says he plays the harp; the doorkeeper again states they have a harpist. This back-and-forth continues with Lugh listing off his many talents, including that he was a smith, hero, wright, champion, cup bearer, warrior, historian, poet, magician, brazier, and physician. But then Lugh asks, “Go to your King and see if he has anyone who can perform all those skills.” And so the doorkeeper does, and Nuada (king of the Tuatha Dé Danann at the time) allows Lugh into the fortress.
Lugh is also known for slaying his tyrannical grandfather, Balor the Evil Eye, in Cath Maige Tuireadh (The Second Battle of Moytura.) Depending on the account, he either used a slingshot or the mythical Spear of Light.
Lugh created Lughnasa (meaning Lugh’s Games) for his foster-mother, Tailtiu, and her sacrifice to Ireland. Lughnasa features many games attributed to Lugh, such as ball games, horse racing, and ficheall (the Irish form of chess.)
The story of the sons of Tuireann is another popular myth Lugh is featured. In this myth, Lugh’s father Cian is murdered by the sons of Tuireann in cold-blooded revenge. Lugh finds out the sons’ murder and places an eric-fine on them. They have to complete a bunch of impossible tasks. How the tasks go varies on the myth, but the ultimate end is either Lugh forgiving the sons or with the sons dying, usually because of something Lugh did or didn’t do.
After the death of Nuada, Lugh is said to take kingship of the Tuatha Dé Danann on the hill of Tailtiu, and he reigned as king of Ireland for 40 years (HÓgáin.) Afterwards, he then serves as lord of the Otherworld, “living in a house of gold and silver and attended by the goddess of sovereignty” (HÓgáin.) O’Brien also makes this claim, in addition to stating the theory that The Cailleach Bhéarra “in her guise as Buí, or Boí, is said to be the wife of Lugh” (O’Brien.) O’Brien details this theory by stating: “her [Cailleach Bhéarra] intimate connection with the land implies some links with sovereignty–and she is closely associated with the Knowth monument, which lies beside Newgrange in County Meath.” O’Brien continues with another possible wife: “The burial site of the goddess Carmun is also traditionally associated with the festival of Lughnasadh” (O’Brien.) Whoever his wives, he did later father a son–Cú Chulainn–out of wedlock with Dectera. He appears multiple times in Cú Chulainn’s life to aid and give inspiration.
End this essay on Lugh with a quote:
“Lugh had come with his foster brothers, sons of the sea god Manannán Mac Lir […] Lugh, the Il-Dána, was the Man of Sciences and Many Talents. He was the grandson of Balor of the Evil Eye himself, offspring of the union of Balor’s daughter, Ethne and Cian, son of Dian-cécht, the Dé Danann Healer, and his foster-mother had been Tailltu, queen of the Fir Bolg. All the races of Éireann were mingled in his blood; in his life and history Lugh was to be counted legendary among heroes.”
Fitzpatrick, Jim, and Pat Vincent. The Silver Arm. Limpsfield, Great Britain: Paper Tiger, 1981. Print.
HÓgáin, Dáithí Ó. The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopaedia of Myth, Legend and Romance. Doughcloyne, Ireland: Collins, 2006. Print.
O’Brien, Lora. Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page, 2005. Print.
- “Lugh” by Mary Jones