NUADU AIRGETLAM, he it is who was king over the Tuatha De Danann for seven years before their coming into Ireland, till his arm was cut from him in the first battle of Mag Tuired. BRESS son of Elada took the kingship of Ireland thereafter to the end of seven years, until the arm of Nuadu was healed.¹
In previous blog posts, (The First Battle of Mag Tuired, Nuadu Airgetlam (Part 1)), we are told that Nuadu was the first ‘king’ of the TDD. However his name and moniker analogous with Nudd/Ludd Law Eraint in Welsh mythology and the Romano-British temple dedicated to Nodons in Glouchester, as well as the link between the TDD with the divine qualities of the Nemedian tribe is enough to show that Nuadu was also a deity.
The account of Nuadu’s reign, in the chronological order of the LGE texts, as edited and translated by R.A.S. MacAlister (1870-1950) is given as follows;
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min (310) Now NUADU AIRGETLAM was king over the Tuatha De Danann for seven years before their coming into Ireland, until his arm was hewn from him in the first battle of Mag Tuired. BRESS s. Elada took the kingship of Ireland post, to the end of seven years, till the arm of Nuadu was healed: a silver arm with activity in every finger and every joint which Dian Cecht put upon him, Credne helping him.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R1 (310) NUADU AIRGETLAM, he it is who was king over the Tuatha De Danann for seven years before their coming into Ireland, till his arm was cut from him in the first battle of Mag Tuired. BRESS son of Elada took the kingship of Ireland thereafter to the end of seven years, until the arm of Nuadu was healed.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (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. (329) Bres s. Elada afterwards took the kingship of Ireland, till the arm of Nuadu was healed
TUATHA DE DANANN: R3 (362) NUADU AIRGETLAM, he it is who was king over the Tuatha De Danann there, seven years before their coming into Ireland, till his arm was cut from him in the battle of Mag Tuired. BRES s. Elada took the kingship of Ireland thereafter, till the end of seven years, until the arm of Nuadu was adjusted.
All three redactions plus the ‘explanation’ (Míniguid) give consistent accounts on Nuadu’s length of reign prior to coming to Ireland, the cause and extent of his injury, and the equal length of time it took for his ‘arm’ to heal. Bres / Bress is named as the person who ruled in his stead. If Nuadu represented a pagan god, why did his ‘injury’, tarnish him as unfit to rule, as alluded to in the texts?
In Whitley Stokes 1891 English translation of Cath Mag Tuired (The Second Battle of Mag Tuired) a manuscript of the 16th century, a passage states;
A contention as to the sovranty of the men of Ireland arose between the Tuath Dé and their women; because Nuada, after his hand had been stricken off, was disqualified to be king.²
In MacAlister’s earlier publication Temair Breg: a study of the remains and traditions of Tara, he states that the kings of Tara (Temair) served as gods incarnate on earth³;
When a good king was on the throne, the gods condescended to take up their abode within him; when the king was illegitimate, they withdrew themselves. In the former case the crops were plentiful; in the latter case there was misery and famine. Contrast these two characterizations, from Lebor Gabála –
Good was that king Eochu mac Eirc; there was no rain in his time, but only dew; there was no year without harvest, falsehood was expelled from Ireland in his time.
In evil case was Ireland in the time of that Coirpre, for the earth did not yield her fruit, because there was but one grain in the ear, one acorn on the oak, one nut on the hazel; the creeks were unproductive, the cattle were dry, so that there was an intolerable famine throughout Ireland for the five years in which Coirpre was king.
MacAlister concludes that, “this idea is also at the basis of the prohibition of the rule of a blemished king.”
The scribes of LGE, either at odds with the recording of a pagan god as head of the TDD or misunderstanding the ‘silver arm’ aspect of his characterisation, created a type of ‘back-story’ to account for his moniker (arm lost in battle, replaced with a physical arm of silver). Nuadu’s physical flaw, as nowhere is it recorded that he was an evil or unjust king, prohibits his kingship until the arm is healed, making way for the explanation of Bress’s interim reign. Once the arm is healed, Nuadu is deemed once again fit to rule, signifying that the physical injury was the only blemish against an otherwise suitable kingship.
Between redactions the folklore that embodies Nuadu’s ‘Silverarm’ becomes even more fanciful in explanation;
TUATHA DE DANANN: R1 (310) Thereafter NUADU AIRGETLAM, twenty years. He had an arm of silver with full activity of any arm in each finger and in each joint, which Dian Cecht the leech put upon him, Creidne the wright giving him help. But Miach son of Dian Cecht fixed joint to joint and vein to vein of his own hand, and it healed in thrice nine days; and on that account his silver hand was given as his guerdon.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (329) Thereafter NUADU ARGETLAM, twenty years. A silver arm with full activity in every finger and every joint did Dian Cecht set upon him, Credne the wright helping him. Miach son of Dian Cecht set joint to joint and vein to vein of his own hand upon him, and in thrice nine days was it healed, and he took the silver arm as a guerdon.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R3 (362) Nuadu Airgetlam was king thereafter twenty years. He had a silver arm with full activity in both finger and joint. Dian Cecht the leech adjusted it, and Credne the wright was helping him in the matter of that silver arm. But Miach s. Dian Cecht set joint to its joint and vein to its vein in his own arm and it was healed in thrice nince days; and he gave his silver arm to him as reward.
Nuadu we are told reigns for another twenty years once reinstated as king. In a later redaction of the LGE the scribes assign various sons to him as follows;
TUATHA DE DANANN: R3 (368) Nuadu Argetlamh had four sons – Tadg the Great, father of Uillend: this is that Uillend s. Tadg s. Nuadu who slew Gaillia or Gaiar or Oirbsen, i.e. Manannan the Great s. Allot the famous chapman. Nuadu’s other three sons were Caither, Cucharn, and Etarlam the poet.
There are no further accounts of Nuadu’s deeds during his reign in the LGE but in Edward J. Gwynn’s English translation of the Metrical Dindsenchas⁴, a manuscript from the 11th century, references are made to the king;
Nuadu the druid was a fierce man;
by him was built a fort strong and high:
by him alum was rubbed on the rock
over the whole fort, after it was marked out.
All white is the fort (bitter strife),
as if it had received the lime of all Erin,
from the alum he put on his house,
Other information about Nuadu are found in some verses of a poem from the LGE;
TUATHA DE DANANN: POEM NO. LIV (3) A space of seven years of Nuadu noble-stately, over the fair-haired company, the rule of the man large-breasted, flaxen maned, before his coming into Ireland.
Descriptions from other sources reveal similar attitudes of what was considered beauty during mediaeval times, typically assigned to the elite⁵;
Book of Dun Cow;
(24b-25a) In the fourth day came the woman to them. Beautiful came she …
she had golden hair upon her.
(52a40) No one in the crowd managed to look upon her before there
flowered to her shoulders soft branchy truly-golden hair (said of a queen)
In contrast to;
(41a26) There came a great black ugly warrior.
(84a17) Then the black cropped man overtook them and a great
black woman with a huge mouth.
Nuadu, as an important figure is described as having fair-hair, flaxen maned. The above and more entries in the Book of Dun Cow assign dark or brown hair, usually close cropped or shaved at the crown to the lesser or enslaved classes.
Perhaps this is why Nuada, a character based on Nuadu in Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, is similarly depicted with fair skin, long white hair and yellow eyes. Yellow symbolises the mystical world in film and was used deliberately to denote the ‘otherworldliness’ of the character.
The film, created in the genre of fantasy, challenges the traditional concepts of good and evil by exploring themes of morality and humanity. These themes centre on preserving Celtic culture. The central character, Hellboy, protects humanity from paranormal activities. Nuada from the paranormal world threatens mankind’s existence by waging war on them for their greed which has destroyed his world. Nuada represents the ‘other’ representing the idealised values of a Celtic past used to illustrate what is missing from present day humanity.
The movie opens with a flashback scene of Hellboy aged 10 being told a bedtime story by his adoptive father. The story shown through animation shows a war between ancient man and the magical creatures they eventually defeat in battle. The the royal magical creatures are made of earthy material; simple wooden figures dressed with decorative metal in the Celtic style. This depiction for the viewer associates them with an ancient tribe close to nature. In retaliation the master blacksmith builds an indestructible mechanical Golden Army for King Balor who uses it to murder and overthrow the human army.
Ridden by guilt of the destruction caused, King Balor forms a truce with the humans on one condition; the humans keep to their cities and the magical creatures remain in the forests. His son Nuada is outraged by his father’s pact and is exiled. The magical crown that controls the Golden Army is broken into three pieces. One is given to the humans and the other two are kept by King Balor and his daughter Nuala.
In the present day Hellboy, now a man, is introduced to us as an undercover agent in the service of the U.S. government. He is part of an undercover organisation that protects the human race against paranormal criminal activity. Over the course of the story Hellboy and the other agents in the organisation battle against the non-human forces of evil and encounter the present day Nuada who returns to seek out the pieces of the crown in order to reunite the Golden Army and take revenge on the human race for their destruction of earth’s natural resources.
The terms good and evil are often used in fantasy movies, however the values they signify today have changed. “Good” is equated to “normal”. Fantasy movies often challenge the traditional concepts of good and evil by exploring themes of morality and humanity. In Hellboy II, del Toro applies the same concept by depicting the relationship between ‘Self’ and ‘Other’. Otherness in fantasy narratives typically represent non-traditional cultural forces and ideologies. Hellboy represents the “normal” American in a modern culture we can identify with, and Prince Nuada represents the “Other”, the voice of an alternative Western ideology.
Nuada is the idealistic anti-villain and represents what is slipping away from modern culture; our social and ecological responsibility to each other and to the earth. This is why he returns to find the pieces of the crown to regroup the Golden Army and rid the world of the vulgar capitalist human who is destroying the earth.
By choosing a figure in Irish mythology based on this group of people known for their skill in the arts, profound intelligence and attentiveness to health, del Toro presents us with a picture of the values and virtues of the ancient Western world. Nuada is sent to remind us that these values which humans once held dear are fading.
The LGE ends its account of the kingship of Nuadu by telling us that in the last or second battle of Mag Tuired, he falls at the hand of Balar the Strong Smiter;
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min (312) To return to the Tuatha De Danann. Nuada Argatlam fell in the last battle of Mag Tuired, at the hands of Balar the Strong Smiter.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R1 (312) Nuadu Airgetlam fell in the last battle of Mag Tuired, by the hand of Balar the Strong Smiter.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (331) Nuadu Airgetlam fell in the last battle of Mag Tuired by the hand of Balar.
It is interesting to note that while the scribes have gone to much trouble to create a lineage for Nuadu, all sons, none succeed him as king of the TDD. His successor after the last battle is given as Lug who reigns for forty years, twice Nuadu’s length of reign.
¹ MACALISTER, R.A.S. (1940) Lebor Gabála Érenn, The Book of the Taking of Ireland, Irish Texts Society Dublin, p.113.
² STOKES, Whitley, (1891) Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, C.E.L.T. University College Cork, p. 61
³ MACALISTER, R.A.S. (1919) Temair Breg: a study of the remains and traditions of Tara, P.R.I.A. Dublin, p.324.
⁴ GWYNN, Edward J. (1905) Metrical Dindshenchas, Corpus of Electronic Texts, UCC, Volume 2, p.73.
⁵ MACALISTER, R.A.S. (1921) Ireland in Pre-Celtic times, Maunsel & Roberts Ltd., Dublin, p.42.
Nuadu Argetlam / Airgetlam (NEW-ad-DO ar-get-LAMB)
Túatha Dé Danann (TOOHA day DAN-ann)
Mag Tuired (MAWG tir-id)
Bress / Bres (BRESS)
Dian Cecht (DE-an KYEKT)
Credne / Creidne (KRED-na)
Cath Mag Tuired (KAW MAG TUR-ed)
Temair Breg (TAY-mare BREG)
Eochu mac Eirc (OCK-OO mak ERK)
Balor / Balar (BAAL-or /are)
People of the Gods of Danand
Plain of Towers
Credne / Creidne
2nd Battle of the Plan of Towers
Place of Tara
Eochu mac Eirc
Balor / Balar