Lugh, of the Long Arm, is the Irish god of nobility, a master of many crafts and a cunning warrior. He is both Ollamh Érenn and King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and wields the Spear of Assal, which none can stand against.
His dwellings are at Tara in County Meath, and at Moytura in County Sligo. His holy day is Lughnasa, on August 1st.
Lugh, sometimes spelled Lug, is a popular name in Ireland and throughout the Celtic world, but consensus on its meaning is debated. One suggestion is the Proto-Indo-European root lewgh-, meaning “to bind by oath,” referencing his role over oaths and contracts. Others suggest a connection to light, but modern scholars find this unlikely.
His titles are numerous, but the most famous is Lámfada, “Of the Long Arm,” a reference to the length of his spear in battle. Alternately it could be translated to “Artful Hands,” showing his skill in craftsmanship. He is Ildánach (the Skilled God), mac Ethleen/Ethnenn (son of Ethliu/Ethniu, his Fomorian mother) and mac Cien (son of Cian, his Tuatha Dé Danann father); he is Macnia (the Youthful Warrior), Lonnbéimnech (the Fierce Striker), and Conmac (Son of the Hound).
Lugh was also the first to hold the title Ollamh Érenn, or Chief Ollam of Ireland. This historic title reflected his skills as a poet, a judge, and a ruler, and was a high position in each Irish court. While each kingdom had an ollam that served the chief or king, the High Kings of Ireland each had their own Chief Ollam.
Skills and Domains
Lugh is a master of many talents. He is the god of oaths, granting domain over rulers and nobility. He is also god of justice in its many forms, often without mercy. Despite these roles he was also a trickster, willing to lie, steal, and cheat to overcome his opponents.
His unique heritage, as son of the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fomorians, coupled with his fostering, put him in the position to invent a number of notable Irish games, including horse-racing, sports, and the Irish precursor to chess, fidchell.
Weapons and Familiars
He wields many weapons and tools, and has many animals familiars, including:
- The Spear (Sleg) of Assal, one of the Four Jewels of the Tuatha Dé Danann. It cannot be overcome, and can take the form of lightning. With a word, Ibar, it always hits its mark, and with another, Athibar, it returns to Lugh;
- His cloich tabaill, or slingshot, wielded in battle against Balor of the Evil Eye;
- Fragarach, “the Answerer”, the sword of his foster-father Manannán. When pointed at a foe, they were forced to answer questions truthfully;
- Sguaba Tuinne, the “Wind-sweeper,” a boat of considerable speed;
- Several horses, including Manannán's horse Énbarr of the Flowing Mane, who could travel land and sea;
- Failinis, a greyhound of great renown who always caught its prey, was invincible in battle, and could turn water to wine.
Several locations are named for him across Europe, but in Ireland specifically County Louth and the village of the same name bear his name, as does Loch Lugborta. Lugh had two dwellings: one at the place where he became king, Moytura in County Sligo, and a second at the dwelling at Tara, in County Meath. It is here that the historical High Kings of Ireland were seated.
Lughasa (Lughnasadh), the Irish harvest festival, takes place on August 1st and is celebrated across Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. This date was chosen because it marked the victory of Lugh over the spirits of Tír na nÓg. On this day he blessed the early fruits of harvest, and held games and revelry, in memory of his foster-mother Tailtiu.
It has various Christian names, including “Garland Sunday” or “Mountain Sunday,” as many climb hills or mountains on this day. Lughnasa is also celebrated by many neo-pagan communities.
Lugh is descended from two bloodlines: his father, Cian, is the son of Dian Cedh, healer of the Tuatha Dé Danann; his mother, Ethniu, is the daughter of King Balor of the dreaded Fomorians.
He was fostered, with different stories giving different parents: the Irish sea god, Manannán mac Lir; Tailtiu, Queen of the Firbolg; and Gavida, god of the smiths.
Lugh had many wives, including wives Buí, Buach, and Nás, the latter the daughter of a king of Britain who bore his son Ibic. By the mortal woman Deichtine he had his most famous son, Cúchulain, the great hero of the Ulster saga.
Lugh is one of the most prominent figures in Irish cycles and folklore, in equal parts as savior and trickster.
Numerous legends exist regarding the birth of Lugh. Cath Maig Tuired gives the marriage of Cian and Ethniu as a dynastic union between the invading Tuatha Dé Danann and the Formorians of Ireland. A later folktale differs: a prophecy warned that King Balor of the Fomorians would be slain by his grandson. Thus Balor hid his daughter Ethniu in a tower on Tory Island. Cian used the magic of a fairy woman named Biróg to transport himself there and seduced Ethniu, who gave birth to triplets. Balor forced a servant to drown them, and two died. One fell into the harbor and was rescued by Biróg, who took him to his father. Cian fostered Lugh to protect him.
Joining the Tuatha
After coming of age, Lugh arrived at Tara, the hall of Nuada, king of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Court policy required any who entered to offer a skill to serve the king. Lugh offered many skills, but each time the doorkeeper stated that role was already filled. Thinking quickly, Lugh asked if the court had a master of every skill, to which the doorkeeper replied they did not. Thus he is allowed to join the court of Nuada as Chief Ollam, master of all skills.
In time, sensing that Lugh could bring salvation to the Tuatha Dé Danann, Nuada put Lugh in charge of the coming war against the Fomorians. Before that war could proceed, the First Battle of Moytura took place in County Galway against the Firbolg. There Nuada lost his hand, forcing him to step down as High King: a king cannot be blemished. His replacement was Bres, a half-Fomorian who delayed war against his kin.
The Sons of Tuireann
Brian, Iucharba, and Iuchar there,
the three gods of the Tuatha De Danann
were slain at Mana over the bright sea
by the hand of Lug son of Ethliu.
Lebor Gabála Érenn
Meanwhile, Cian met his end by the hand of Tuireann, his great foe. Tuireann’s sons, Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba, hunted down Cian, who had transformed into a pig. Before the final blow was struck, he transformed back into his human form, granting legal right to seek revenge to Cian’s heir. The Sons of Tuireann attempted to bury Cian, but twice the ground spat him up. After the third burial, Lugh happened upon the grave and asked the ground who lay there, and it replied it was his father’s grave. Lugh began to plot his revenge.
He invited the sons of Tuireann to a grand feast, and there asked them what they would require if their father was murdered. They replied that death was the only just response, and thus Lugh’s trap was sprung: he revealed he was Cian’s heir and thus demanded that same justice. As a god of games, he gave them a series of tasks, but they overcame each. Seeing the final task as impossible Tuireann pleaded for mercy for his sons but Lugh would not relent. The final task mortally wounded each, and Lugh withheld their magic pigskin that would have healed their wounds. Thus the Sons of Tuireann died, and in his grief, Tuireann too died, giving Lugh justice and victory over his father’s enemies.
Cath Maig Tuireg
For twenty-seven years King Bres forced the Tuatha Dé Danann to pay tribute to the Fomorians and work as slaves for their enemies. Lugh’s grandfather and uncle crafted first a silver hand and then a hand of flesh for Nuada, thus removing his blemish: Nuada retook the throne and Bres was exiled. Lugh finished planning for war, seeking the counsel of the Phantom Queen, the Mórrígan. The Tuatha Dé Danann thus declared war.
The two armies met at Moytura in County Sligo, and Lugh fought fiercely with Assal and his sling. His grandfather Balor found Nuada in the fighting, and there beheaded him. But before Balor could claim victory, Lugh threw a stone with his sling at Balor’s eye. Balor fell dead and the tide turned, the Fomorians driven into the sea. Lugh was declared King of the Tuatha Dé Danann for his deeds. After the battle Bres, who fought for the Fomorians, was brought before him and begged for mercy. Lugh demanded Bres teach the Tuatha Dé Danann to plough the land in return, and Bres agreed.
Thus Lugh became King, and reigned over a united Ireland.
Later Life and Death
The Tuatha Dé Danann never forgave Bres, and after learning to farm Lugh sought to finish him. He crafted three hundred wooden cows and filled them with poisoned red milk. Offering the milk to Bres, who could not deny such a hospitable offer, the former king drank each pail of milk without hesitation and died.
Lugh met his own end after his wife Buach took Cermait, son of the Dagda, as a lover. Upon discovering this Lugh killed him. In response, Cermait’s three sons sought vengeance and drowned him in a lake, thus giving it the name Loch Lugborta. Lugh had ruled for forty years, and his end marked the decline of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
After his death, Lugh dwelled in Tír na nÓg, sometimes appearing in the mortal world. In one such case he sired Cúchulain, the great hero of Ulster. Lugh later appeared to his son during the Cattle Raid of Cooley, healing him over three days during battle.
Lugh is one of the most prominent Celtic deities, appearing in Britain and the European mainland as Lugus, or in Wales as Llew Llaw Gyffes. He is primarily associated with skill and rulership, but in some cases with light or the sun, and his title “of the Long Arm” is not uncommon.
Julius Caesar identified Lugus as the Roman god Mercury, a trickster and messenger of the gods, similar to Lugh’s role before he became High King. In some of his attributes he is similar to the Norse deity Frey, god of fertility who had a boat that could change sizes and whose father is Njord, the god of the sea, like Lugh’s foster-father Manannán mac Lir.
Lugh is a prominent god in popular culture, appearing in many forms:
- Lugh appears in a minor role in several video games, including Fire Emblem: Binding Blades (alongside a twin named Llew, his Welsh counterpart), Mabinogi, and the 2004 remake of The Bard's Tale.
- In Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, Lugh appears as one of the Powers That Be, and is incarnated as a wizard of Ireland.
- The 90s fantasy series from Saban, Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, uses Lugh as one of the divinities that resides in Tír na nÓg, and is worshiped accordingly by the characters.
- In Marvel Comics, he is the son of the Dagda and part of the Celtic pantheon. In Thor: Blood Oath, Thor and the Warriors Three attempt to steal a spear from the Celtic Pantheon similar to the Spear of Assal.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, Lugh appears as part of the Celtic Pantheon of gods, and is sometimes called Luggus depending on edition. He dwells in Tír na nÓg, in the Outlands, alongside most of the other Celtic powers.
- Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Takings of Ireland.
- Gray, Elizabeth A. Caith Maig Tuired. Sacred-Texts.com.
- Augusta, Lady Gregory. Of Gods and Fighting Men. Project Gutenberg.