Now such was the greatness of their knowledge, that they came without ships or vessels, and lighted upon the mountain of Conmaicne Rein in Connachta.¹
Following the supposed magical or demonic mode of transport used by the TDD, their places of landing are given as ‘Conmaicne Rein’, the region of present-day south Leitrim, ‘Conmaicne Cuile’, a region in present-day southern Mayo and finally ‘Sliab in Iairnn’, present-day Slieve Anierin, a large beautifully shaped hill also in south Leitrim. MacAlister tells us that the Mayo location is given in the gloss and not the body of the R2 (320) text, the identification of which MacAlister states was the scribe’s mistake.²
Beginning with the chronological order of the LGE texts, as edited and translated by R.A.S. MacAlister (1870-1950) their landing is given as follows;
NEMED: R2 (267) Now such was the greatness of their knowledge, that they came without ships or vessels, and lighted upon the mountain of Conmaicne Rein in Connachta. (269) But in the book De Subternis*, others say that the Tuatha De Danann were poets of the Greeks, and that it was their power that they should sail together on the seas without vessels.
TUATHA DÉ DANANN: Min & R1 (306) (F) In this wise they came, without vessels or barks, in dark clouds over the air, by the might of druidry, and they landed on the mountain of Conmaicne Rein in Connachta; that is on the Mountain of the sons of Delgaid in Conmaicne Rein; that is, (Conmaicne) Cuile.
TUATHA DÉ DANANN: R2 (322) And there they were, between the Athenians and the Philistines. However, they had completed all their education among the Greeks, and they took territory and estate in the north of Alba, at Dobar and Urdobar, for seven years Nuadu being king over them. And they came to Ireland, on Monday, the kalends of May, in ships (and vessels). And they burn their ships, and advanced unperceived by the Fir Bolg, till they landed on Sliab in Iairnn. And they formed a fog for three days and three nights over sun and moon, and demanded battle or kingship of the Fir Bolg. (327) Another company says, however, that it was as a sea-expedition the Tuatha De Danann came to Ireland, and burnt their ships. It was owning to the fog of smoke that rose from them as they were burning that others have said that they came in a fog of smoke. Not so, however, for these are the two reasons why they burnt their ships – that the Fomoraig should not find them to rob them of them, and that they themselves should not have a way of escape from Ireland, even though they should suffer rout before the Fir Bolg.
TUATHA DÉ DANANN: R2 (353) Though some say that the Tuatha De Danann were demons, seeing that they came unperceived (and they themselves said that it was in dark clouds that they came, after burning their ships) and for the obscurity of their knowledge and adventures, and for the uncertainty of their genealogy as carried backwards: but that is not true, for their genealogies carried backward are sound: howbeit they learnt knowledge and poetry; for every obscurity of art and every clearness of reading, and every subtlety of crafts, for that reason, derive their origin from the Tuatha De Danann. And though the Faith came, those arts were not put away, for they are good, and no demon ever did good. It is clear therefore from their dignities and their deaths that the Tuatha De Danann were not of the demons nor were they sidh-folk.
TUATHA DÉ DANANN: R3 (371) And though some say that the Tuatha De Danann were demons, as they came into Ireland unperceived, and they themselves said that they came in dark clouds, and for the greatness of their learning and their knowledge, and the obscurity of their genealogy being traced backward; howbeit they learned knowledge and poetry. For every darkness of art and every clearness of reading and every craft of cunning that is in Ireland, they are of the Tuatha De Danann by origin, and though the Faith came into Ireland those arts were not abolished, for they are good.
The burning of ships is given as plausible reasoning behind the accounts of the TDD’s expulsion from heaven, where they ‘lighted upon the mountain’ or came from the air in ‘dark clouds’ causing a ‘fog’ over the sun and moon for a period of ‘three days and three nights’. The act of burning ships to prevent escape from new lands also appears in the mythology of Aeneas, a Trojan demi-god adopted by the Romans. According to the legend the accompanying women who were tired of wandering the seas and islands as they made their way to Italy, attempted to burn Aeneas’ ships on reaching Sicily, so as to prevent the company of mariners from leaving.³
As we progress along the passages, we get a glimpse again of the ever-changing mind-set of how the TDD are to be perceived. They are depicted at first as demons, compared with the fate of Lucifer, created and cast out of Heaven by God, as found in the doctrine of Christianity. This at once confirms their supernatural abilities while also denouncing them as demonic spirits. Later redactions attempt to contradict the demonic nature associated with the TDD and introduce a type of logic to explain that their appearance in a cloud of fog and the resulting darkness was a by-product of their boat burning on arrival to Ireland as sea-farers.
Subsequently the arts and knowledge of the TDD we are told were ‘good’ and were not abolished after Christianity was introduced to Ireland. The constant retraction of their demonic qualities indicate that even in mediaeval times the TDD deities and a pagan belief system was not completely abandoned in favour of Christianity. This transition period, perhaps incited the later scribes to represent the TDD in a more favourable light while also attempting to demystify their supernatural abilities, representing them merely as a migrant group of learned people, skilled in the art of reading, poetry and craft.