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Nuada

Nuada of the Silver-Hand was the first king of the mighty Tuatha dé Danann, a supernatural race of powerful Celtic gods. Honorable, fair-minded, and righteous, he wore a prosthetic hand made of silver.

Nuada of the Silver-Hand was the first king of the Tuatha dé Danann. An honest and judicious ruler, he led his people to prehistoric Ireland and fought for control of it against the monstrous Fomorians.

Etymology

Nuada, sometimes spelled Nuadu, was derived from the Proto-Celtic noudent-, possibly meaning “to acquire [through hunting].” Scholars have suggested that this may actually be a Germanic root rather than a Celtic one, and that the same root and meaning date further back to the Proto-Indo-European *neu-d-.

Nuada’s title, Airgetlám, translated to “of the Silver Hand.” He was occasionally known as Elcmar.

Attributes

Nuada was a keen hunter and fisher, one of the most skilled among his people. A sensible ruler, he saw the potential in all members of his court. Generous and impartial, Nuada made fair laws for his people to obey, and he followed those laws himself, even when they proved disadvantageous. He possessed one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha dé Danann, a sword that, once drawn, no one could escape from or defend against.

After his reign ended, he continued to hold court at Tara, the sacred place of Irish High Kings. According to legend, he lived at Brú na Bóinne until he lost it through legal wordplay to the Dagda. Irish locations, including Maynooth (meaning “Nuada’s Mound”), were named for him.

Family

Nuada’s wife was Boann, the goddess of the River Boyne. Their marriage produced no children and the couple divorced. Nuada’s brothers were Dian Cécht and Goibniu, both masters of their respective crafts. Through Dian Cécht, Nuada was uncle to Cian, and great-uncle to Lugh.

Mythology

Nuada was a familiar character in the tales of the Children of Danu.

The Taking of Ireland

Nuada led the Tuatha dé Danann to Ireland from the north. He first established a beachhead, then he set up court at the Hill of Tara. He made his home in Brú na Bóinne until he was tricked into giving both his home and his wife to the Dagda. Even though the Children of Danu had arrived on the Emerald Isle, they did not yet control Ireland. At that time, the once-mighty Firbolg and the monstrous Fomorians ruled over most of the island, but the cunning Nuada had a plan to conquer them both.

The First Battle of Moytura

Nuadu's hand was cut off in that battle—Sreng mac Sengainn struck it from him. So with Credne the brazier helping him, Dian Cecht the physician put on him a silver hand that moved as well as any other hand.
-Cath Maig Tuired, trans. By Elizabeth A. Gray

Nuada led his people into the First Battle of Moytura at Cong against the Firbolg, the previous dwellers of Ireland, for the right to control the island. Through a series of contests, the Tuatha dé Danann were victorious. Their triumph came at a price, however. In one of the contests, Nuada lost his hand. According to the laws that Nuada himself had written, a king must be wholly intact. The the loss of his hand excluded him from being king. Nuada conceded control of Connacht to Sreng, the champion and now-leader of the Firbolg, for his bravery in battle. His last act as king was to name his successor, Bres.

The Second Battle of Moytura

Nuada's appointment of Bres as the new king proved to be a fatal choice, for Bres was half-Fomorian. A cowardly leader, Bres allowed the monstrous race enslaved the Tuatha dé Danann. Nuada’s brothers, Dian Cécht, god of healing, and Goibniu, god of smiths, worked together to come up with a series of solutions: first, they crafted Nuada a silver prosthetic hand, from whence he received his title, and later, crafted a flesh-and-blood hand through magic.

With the old king once again intact and ready to retake the throne, the brothers then staged a coup, after which Bres was overthrown and Nuada returned to his ruling position. As they celebrated, a young warrior named Lugh presented himself to the court and demonstrated his seemingly endless talent. Impressed with his abilities, Nuada to accepted him into his court. Nuada asked Lugh to create the battle strategy for the final battle against the Fomorians, but this was a ruse. Nuada knew Lugh’s true identity; he was the half-Fomorian, half-Tuatha dé Danann grandson of Balor of the Evil-Eye, who was prophesied to kill his seemingly unkillable grandfather.

That final battle took place in County Sligo. There, Balor of the Evil-Eye decapitated Nuada. He was immediately avenged by Lugh, who killed Balor, his own grandfather. The death of Balor insured the Tuatha dé Danann victory. Lugh was named the new king and his reign was just as prosperous as Nuada had been.

Other Mythology

Nuada’s name was also given to several later characters in Irish mythology, including the grandfather of Fionn mac Cumhaill. The traits and qualities of these figures blended with those of Nuada and, over time, the myths and legend became so mixing up that medieval Irish scholars and writers were confronted with the many Lughs and Brigids in their studies of Irish mythology.

Nuada was the Irish form of the more common Gaelic and British Nodens, a god of the hunt. In Welsh mythology, he was Nudd or Lludd Llaw Eraint, was distinguishable by a silver hand as well. Scholars like J.R.R. Tolkien have pointed to similarities to the Roman Mars and Norse Tyr, mythical characters who also had missing hands.

Pop Culture

Nuada appeared in several pieces of popular culture, including:

  • In Hellboy 2, Prince Nuada was the primary antagonist, who hoped to retake the world from the humans, with help from the Golden Army, so that non-humans could rule the Earth once more;

  • In Marvel Comics, he was a god of the Celtic pantheon who has many incarnations, possessed mortal hosts, fought against a seemingly false Nuada created through corruption;

  • In the Megami Tensei series, Nuada was manifested as Airgetlam, a demon that surfaced sparsely.

References

Bibliography

  1. Gray, Elizabeth A., translator. Cath Maig Tuired: The Second Battle of Moytura. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Accessed 4 July, 2019, https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/cmt/cmteng.htm.

Citation

About the Author

Gregory Wright is a writer and historian with an M.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.