Pronunciation: an dag-ah
Other Names/Spellings: An Daghdha, The Dagda, The Good God, Eochu Ollathair / Horse Great-Father, Ruadh Rofhessa / Red One Great in Knowledge, Fer Benn Bruach Brogaill Broumide Cerbad Caic Rolaig Builc Labair Cerrce Di Brig Oldathair Boith Athgen mBethai Brightere Tri Carboid Roth Rimaire Riog Scotbe Obthe Olaithbe, Aed Abaid of Ess Ruaid, Dagda donn / Dark Dagda, Dagda dein / Swift Dagda, Dagda (n)dur or Dagdai duir / Harsh or Stern Dagda, Dagdai deirg / Red Dagda
Associations: Fertility, wisdom, druidry, magic, craftiness, strength, providing, hospitality, cauldron of plenty, clubs, his magic harp
Land Specific Associations: Bru Na Boine / Newgrange, Druim Suamaig, Aileach, Unshin in Corann, Glen Edin, Mag Muirthemne
Known and Suspected Family: Daughter Brighid, consort the Morrigan, consort Boann, consort Danú, son Oengus, son Aed, son Cermait, daughter Áine, son Bodb Derg
Etymology: While typically translated to “The Good God”, the Story Archaeologists suggest that the name means “The Good-Good”–stressing how good he is.
- Lebor Gabála Érenn / The Book of the Takings of Ireland / The Book of Invasions
- Cath Maige Tuired Cunga / First Battle of Moytura
- Cath Maige Tuired / Second Battle of Moytura
While it’s debatable if An Dagda’s name means “The Good God” or “The Good-Good”, the “good” part is agreed upon by scholars. This “good” isn’t a moral good, however, but more to do with expertise, technical precision, and overall skill.
An Dagda’s appearance is worth noting, for he’s not described in ways other Gaelic deities are–which is to say, he usually isn’t described as being beautiful and irresistible. Instead, he’s often described as large and brutish. Lora O’Brien writes: “His strength is emphasised in his appearance: he is said to be a very big and tall man, with remarkable eyes, thighs, and shoulders and a fine gray cloak about him.” (page 43) The reason for his appearance being so different than that of other deities is probably because he was never considered a King, and therefore beauty was not important (as it was with kingship.)
In the myths, An Dagda is often able to come up with solutions to problems that leave everyone happy. In Cath Maige Tuired, he and his son Oengus devise a plan to not only rid An Dagda of a pesky poet but also to remove the unfit king Bres from his kingship. When he wished to have a sexual escapade with Boann, he sent away her jealous husband for 9 months–but made it so he wouldn’t thirst, hunger, or be tired while also stalling the sun in the sky so it would seem like only a day. This sexual union resulted in Oengus being born “in one day.”
He is known for having a cauldron that would never empty, which many point to an example of his great hospitality. He also had a club that could kill eight people when hit on one side of it, and the other side then could bring them back to life.
Also, he had a magical harp called Daur-da-bla “Oak of two greens” that eventually made its way onto the national flag of Ireland. He was able to call his harp to him, no matter where he was. Also, Lora O’Brien writes:
“The Dagda also possessed a magical harp, with which he had full command of the ‘three noble strains,’ which any harper should know. These are the Strain of Lament, which caused the audience to weep uncontrollably; the Strain of Laughter, which made listeners happy and merry and caused laughter; and the Strain of Slumber, which steeped all who heard its tone into a profound and deep, magical sleep.” (page 44-45)
An Dagda is known for being the Father of the Gods, which indeed comes from one of his names: “Eochaidh Ollathair” means “Father of Many”. Most take this to mean that he’s the father of the Tuatha Dé Danann, or at least a father-like figure.
Also regarding his names, Dáithí Ó hÓgáin writes: “He [an Dagda] was also known by appellations indicating blazing brightness, such as Aedh Álainn (Fiery Lustrous One) and Aodh Ruadh Ró-Fheasa. This suggests his identification with the sun rather than the sky, and it seems that an earlier indigenous sun-cult influenced the image of the sky-deity among the western Celts.” (page 151)
There does seem to be some connection with An Dagda and the sun, even hinted at with his previous home at Brugh na Bóinne, which is the tumulus at Newgrange. This home is aligned with the solar event of Winter Solstice. Ó hÓgáin writes:
“This [Brugh na Bóinne] was in fact a great Stone Age passage tomb — dating to the third millennium BC — through the long passage of which the sun shines at the winter solstice. It is obvious that the archaic people who built the site placed great emphasis on social renewal by the sun. When Celtic culture reached the area, it was therefore natural that the Celtic sun-god be domiciled there.” (page 151)
This home of An Dagda’s comes up in the story where Oengus tricks An Dagda into giving Oengus the home Brugh na Bóinne. Oengus asked An Dagda if he could borrow the home for a night and a day. When An Dagda agreed, Oengus reveals that this meant he could have it for eternity since “What is time but nights and days?”
An Dagda is featured most prominently in Cath Maige Tuired or The Second Battle of Moytura. It’s in this text we see how he uses his cunning to get Brés out of kingship–kingship that Brés abused–with help of his son, Oengus. Before the battle starts, An Dagda also has a sexual tryst with the Morrígan which interpret guarantees her support for the upcoming battle.
Later in the text, An Dagda goes to the Fomorian camp as both a spy and to strike a truce with the enemy until the Tuatha Dé Danann was ready for the battle. While there, the Fomorian’s used An Dagda’s love of porridge against him: they dug a huge hole in the ground and filled it with milk and meat. They forced An Dagda to eat it (or else he’d have insulted their hospitality, which was an offense punishable by death) using a ladle big enough for a man and woman to lie in. An Dagda ate the meal–even scraping the up the gravel in the process–and as a result his belly grew huge.
One his way back to his camp, he dragged his club behind him. The club left large tracks in the land. While still digesting his porridge, he met a young Fomorian maiden he sought intercourse with, but his large belly made it impossible. The maiden laughed at An Dagda and started to beat on him–knocking him to the ground. She jumped on top of him, mocking him still, which caused him to defecate. Once his belly was emptied, he was able to have sex with her and she then promised to aid the Tuatha Dé Danann in their fight against the Fomorians.
Dáithí Ó hÓgáin writes about An Dagda’s characterization and cauldron best:
“Traits of the Daghdha [An Dagda] mentioned in the literature include cunning, sternness and strength. Although often thought of as a ponderous personage, adjectives (such as dian and deis) indicating swiftness are also coupled with the name of the Daghdha; like other deities (for example, Dian Céacht), this would suggest that he was able to make himself available without delay to his devotees. His great cauldron, which is claimed to have been brought into Ireland from abroad by the Tuatha Dé Danann, may in origin have been connected with his solar imagery” (page 152.)
O’Brien, Lora. Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page, 2005. Print.
- “An Dagda” by Mary Jones
- “The Battle of Moytura 04: Ar Shlicht in Dagdae – On the Track of the Dagda” from Story Archaeology