The Fir Bolg gave them (the Tuatha De Danann) battle upon Mag Tuired; they were a long time fighting that battle.¹
The Túatha Dé Danann are almost reluctantly introduced in Section VI: FIR BOLG in the LGE where they do battle against the reigning tribe of Ireland, the Fir Bolg. Eochu is identified as the Fir Bolg king, who leads the battle against the yet unnamed king of the TDD:
FIR BOLG: R1 (281) The Fir Bolg gave them (the Tuatha De Danann) battle upon Mag Tuired; they were a long time fighting that battle. At last it broke against the Fir Bolg, and the slaughter pressed northward, and a hundred thousand of them were slain in west-ward to the strand of Eochaill. There was the king Eochu overtaken, and he fell at the hands of the three sons of Nemed. Yet the Tuatha De Danann suffered great loss in the battle, and they left the king on the field, with his arm cut from him; the leeches were seven years healing him. The Fir Bolg fell in that battle all but a few, and they went out of Ireland in flight from the Tuatha De Danann, into Ara, and Ile and Rachra and other islands besides.
In later redactions of the FIR BOLG section, the length of Eochu’s reign is given, some insight into the weapon used to kill him and the TDD king is introduced.
FIR BOLG: R2 V (288) EOCHU had ten years till the Tuatha De Danann came. He was the last king of the Fir Bolg.
FIR BOLG: R3 (296) Eochu fell at the hands of the three sons of Nemed s. Badra, and he is the first man who died of a spear-point in Ireland. He was king among the Fir Bolg when the Tuatha De Danann came into Ireland: Nuadu Argetlam son of Echtach s. Etarlam was king among the Tuatha De Danann at that time. (298) So the Fir Bolg fell in that battle all but a few, and they went out of Ireland in flight from the Tuatha De Danann.
In the next section of the LGE, TUATHA DE DANANN, a similar account is given of the location and casualties of the First Battle of Mag Tuired as follows:
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min & R1 (307) They demanded battle or kingship of the Fir Bolg. A battle was fought between them, to wit the first battle of Mag Tuired, (L) in which a hundred thousand of the Fir Bolg fell. F and they were a long time fighting that battle, and it went against the Fir Bolg, and the slaughter pressed northward, and a hundred thousand of them were slain from Mag Tuired to the strand of Eothail the wright. (308) There Eochaid s. Erc was overtaken and fell at the hands of the three sons of Nemed s. Badra; namely Cesarb, Luach and Luachra. Howbeit the Tuatha De Danann suffered heavy loss in the battle. Everyone who escaped of the Fir Bolg and of any of them (?) who had no desire to be in servitude to the Tuatha De Danann, went out from Ireland in flight, and came into Ara and Islay and Rachra and Man and islands of the sea besides.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (322) 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. And the battle of Mag Tuired was fought between them, as we have said above, and afterwards one hundred thousand of the Fir Bolg were slaughtered there. (328) As for Nuadu Airgetlam, it is he who was king over the Tuatha De Danann for seven years before they came into Ireland, till his arm was cut from him in the first battle of Mag Tuired.
Mag Tuired is named as the place of battle between the two tribes. Mag Tuired has been translated to mean the “Plain of Towers” anglicised today as Moytura. There are two places named Moytura in the north-west of Ireland. The first is a barony that crosses two counties in the west; Galway and Mayo.
We are told the battle pressed northward of Mag Tuired and that the Fir Bolg were then slain in west-ward to the strand of Eochaill, identified by MacAlister as present-day Ballysadare Bay in the county of Sligo. The second Moytura, located on the eastern side of Lough Arrow, south of Ballysadare Bay in the same county, also contains megalithic standing stones. Ballysadare Bay would be considered north of both Moytura locations however only at the Sligo site could a company of soldiers be both driven north and then inwards west to reach Ballysadare Bay.
Cong, a village south of the Moytura barony in the county of Mayo is believed by locals, to be the site of the battle between the Fir Bolg against the invading Túatha Dé Danann. East of the village of Cong, nine monuments, several stone circles, cairns, a megalithic structure and a large platform within a relatively small area of 23 acres, stand.² Moytura in the Sligo location also boasts of an extensive collection of megalithic monuments which local habitants believe to be the site of battle.
MacAlister doubted that either location was the site of First Battle of Mag Tuired, explaining his reasoning for the rejection of both claims;
It is useless to attempt to identify the sites of the battles called Mag Tuired: they are as mythical as the Battle of the Frogs and the Mice. Two extensive fields of megalithic monuments, one near Sligo and the other near Cong, have appeared to add local habitations to the name; but this is illusory. These monuments belong to prehistoric cemeteries, and there is every reason against identifying them with battle-memorials. Individual burial even of the most important of the victims of a battle, with great stone monuments for each one separately, would clearly be impracticable.³
Returning to the fate of the Fir Bolg who escaped after their defeat;
FIR BOLG: R1 (281) And they were in (those islands) till the time of the Provincials over Ireland, till the Cruithne drove them out. They came to Cairbre Nia Fer, and he gave them lands; but they were unable to remain with him for the heaviness of the impost which he put upon them. Thereafter they came in flight before Cairbre under the protection of Medb and of Ailill, and these gave them lands. This is the wandering of the sons of Umor. (Oengus son of Umor was king over them in the east), and from them are named those territories, Loch Cime from Cime Four-heads son of Umor, the Point of Taman in Medraige from Taman son of Umor, the Fort of Oengus in Ara from Oengus, the Stone-heap of Conall in Aidne from Conall, Mag Adair from Adar, Mag Asail from Asal in Mumu also. Menn son of Umor was the poet.
FIR BOLG: R2 (291) From them are named the lands which they received there, namely Loch Cime from Cime Four-heads, and the Point of Taman in Medraige, and Loch Cutra, and the Point of Ber, and Modlinn, and Dun Oengusa in Ara and Carn Conall in the territory of Aidne, and the Plain of Adar son of Umor the poet, and the ridge of Asal, and the Plain of Main son of Umor the other poet and the lake of Uar son of Umor.
Differing accounts are given as to the fate of the Fir Bolg but the scribes agree that those who escaped went in flight from Ireland into islands identified as ‘Ara’ ‘Ile’ ‘Rachra’ ‘Man’ and other ‘islands of the sea’. MacAlister identifies these islands as Islay; the southern-most island off the coast of Scotland, Rathlin; off the north coast of Antrim and Scottish Arran in the Clyde of Firth.⁴ ‘Man’ could possibly be the Isle of Mann, an island in the Irish Sea between the UK and Ireland.
In the first redaction of the TUATHA DE DANANN section there is a suggestion that not all the Fir Bolg went in flight and some were perhaps captured and enslaved by the TDD. Those that did flee settled for a short period in the list of islands given, before they are driven out by the Cruithne and were forced to return to Ireland seeking refuge. The Cruithne, in the Irish language is what we now identify as the Picts. The Picts had settled in areas across the south of Britain until the arrival of the Romans, who pushed them out into the north of the country, where they settled in the highlands of Scotland and in the Scottish isles. The migration by the Picts to the Scottish isles would explain why the tribe of the Fir Bolg had to flee Scottish Arran, Rathlin and Islay from these incoming invaders. While the migration of a people called the Fir Bolg may be called into question, what we learn is that the scribes were aware of the settlement of the Picts in Scottish Arran, Rathlin island and Islay island.
Our refugees return to Ireland seeking asylum from a certain Cairbre Nia Fer who grants them lands and a tribute in return for their ‘freedom’ which they ultimately cannot sustain. This Cairbre is mentioned in the third redaction of the FIR BOLG section when Ireland is divided into five-fifths (one for each brother). One of the brothers Gann had his fifth “over which was Cairbre son of Ross”. A similar relic of the Fir Bolg past is found when the refugees then flee from Cairbre to Ailill who was also once “over” the fifth of the land of another Fir Bolg brother Genann. How these Fir Bolg landlords were permitted to keep their lands after the TDD invasion is anyone’s guess but the names cannot be a coincidence.
Medb, Ailill’s wife was Queen of the province of Connacht and so it is fitting that the Fir Bolg on receiving her lands settled in modern day Loch Hacket (Loch Cimme), Towan Point (Rind Tamain) in the Maree peninsula (Medraige), Aran Mór (Ara), Kilmacduagh (in the district of Aidne), Lough Cutra (Loch Cuthra), Kinvarra (Rind na mBera) and Clew Bay (Mod-linn) all in or off the coast of county Galway. Quin (Mag Adair) is another land area in Co. Clare (once part of Connacht) and further south to Toryhill (Asal) in Co. Limerick, in the province of Munster. Subsequently Medb and her husband Ailill, survive in another story of Irish folklore, in the romance saga called the Cattle Raid of Cooley.
As previously touched upon (Túatha Dé Danann – Origin) Nemed, the leader of the tribe who preceded the Fir Bolg, and his people were overtaken at sea after a failed attempt to overthrow a Fomorian tower or fortress on it. Nemed we are also told, is linked with the lineage of the TDD.
In the First Battle of Mag Tuired, a similar story of a battle between the natives (now the Fir Bolg) and the incoming tribe (the TDD) on the “Plain of Towers” is led by their king Nuadu. MacAlister notes that this must not be a coincidence and that in fact the two stories are simply different aspects of the same body of folklore.³
This theory might hold when Nemed by his name alone, is distinguished with being ‘holy’, the modern Irish equivalent of the ‘holy spirit’ being ‘spiorad naomh’. The TDD also represent certain divinities, some of which are also found in continental Europe such as Lug and Brigid. Both tribes with their divine connection, fight battles against the Fir Bolg, (and by association the Fomorians), at a location of towers. MacAlister suggests that the character of these tales shows the simple analogy of the ongoing battle between goodness, ‘gods of light’ as represented by the Nemedians / TDD in constant conflict with evil, ‘gods of darkness’ as represented by the tribe of the Fir Bolg / Fomorians.⁵