Bress died in Carn ui Neit, by the treachery of Lug, with no fullness of falsehood: for him it was a cause of quarrel indeed, drinking bog-stuff in the guise of milk.¹
How might the long established tradition of a regnal name, used by monarchs and popes during their reigns to identify them, be connected to the kingship of the TDD? As will be unveiled shortly, I hope to show why I believe some of the kings of the TDD were deities while others represented a duality of gods and men – that is, as the man became king he also assumed a persona of a god. The bond between the human king and his assumed deity was so enshrined that the actions of the king during his reign directly affected how that deity was to be perceived for ever more. When a human king died so too did their god-persona, leading to two connected deaths, to make way for the new duality of successors.
In the previous posts Nuadu, the first king of the TDD has his arm lopped off in the First Battle of Mag Tuired resulting in his forced ‘retirement’ for a period of seven years until the arm is healed. While Nuadu is assigned several sons, none succeed him as king. The duty of kingship is handed over to Bress who rules for those seven years. Bress is named as one of the five sons of Elada son of Net son of Indui. The genealogy is not always given consistently as sometimes a Delbaeth is interspersed between Net and Indui. Indui, the last named in the pedigree of Bress is also the last named in the pedigree of Nuadu. This relationship would make them second cousins once removed.
Bress sometimes called Bresal, at first appears an elusive character. Throughout my research I have found many conflicting accounts of his genealogy, his descendants and cause of death. The account of Bress’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: R1 (310) BRESS son of Elada took the kingship of Ireland thereafter to the end of seven years, until the arm of Nuadu was healed. (312) Bress was slain in the last battle of Mag Tuired.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (329) Bres s. Elada afterwards took the kingship of Ireland, till the arm of Nuadu was healed, and till Bres grandson of Net fell in Carn Ui Neit, by the druidry of Lug Lamfada.
In the above texts Bress is shown to be descended from the TDD and is named the second in the kingship. Then come the conflicting accounts of his death. One account tells of his shared fate with Nuadu who also died in the last battle of Mag Tuired by Balor the Strong Smiter but another tells us he fell at Carn Úi Néit by the druidry of Lug Lamfada (Longhand). A reference to this druidry is found in the Poem LVI where we are told that;
Bress died in Carn ui Neit, by the treachery of Lug, with no fullness of falsehood: for him it was a cause of quarrel indeed, drinking bog-stuff in the guise of milk.
In Whitley Stokes English translation of The Prose Tales from the Rennes Dindshenchas, a manuscript originally written in the 11th century, an account of the whisperings only found in the second redaction of the conflict between Bress and Lug is given. The entry under 46. Carn hÚi Néit² explains that this is the place where Bress died. His death is attributed to his demands of a hundred drinks of milk from a hornless brown cow or cow of a single colour. At the request of Lug 300 wooden cows are made, each given a pale of red bog stuff in place of an udder. Bress obliged to drink from the cows at this place takes a drink from each of the 300 imposters and falls ill. In his long search for a cure throughout the land he comes to Carn hÚi Néit where he eventually dies.
Returning to the LGE texts, we are told about the sons of Bress;
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (350) Now the Tuatha De Danann, gods were the craftsmen, non-gods the husbandmen. They were the three gods of Dana, from whom were named the Tuatha De Danann, to wit, the three sons of Bress s. Elada – Triall and Brian and Cet, and (or) Brian and Iuchar and Iucharba, the three sons of Tuirend Biccreo, i.e., the three druids from whom were named the Tuatha De Danann.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (M) (369) The gods of whom are the kings, these were their names – the three sons of Bres s. Elada, Triall and Brian and Cet, or three sons of Tuirell Bicreo, Brian, Iuchair and Iucharba, the three gods whom the kings used to worship.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (D) (369) The Tuatha De Danann then, gods were their men of art and non-gods their husbandmen, that is the gods, they were the three gods of Danu from whom they were named, i.e. the three sons of Bres s. Elada, Triall and Brian and Cet, or the three sons of Tuirell Biccreo, Brian, Iuchair and Iucharba, the three gods of Danu, that is, the three druids from whom were named the Tuatha De Danann.
The three sons Triall, Brian and Cet or Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba are identified as the sons of Bress from whom are named the gods of Dana. One Delbaeth, son of Ogma, son of Elada, differing from the first already mentioned has the pseudonym Tuirell Biccreo with variations on spelling. In terms of their relationship this Delbaeth would be a nephew to Bress and in the LGE texts is also assigned as father to the three gods;
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min & R1 (316) The 6 sons of Delbaeth were Fiachra, Ollam, Indui, Brian, Iucharba, Iuchar. That Delbaeth had the name Tuirell Bicreo.
In the LGE this is where the story of Bress ends. Why is Bress named as father to sons also assigned to a Delbaeth with a pseudonym of Tuirell Biccreo? Was Bress killed in the last battle of Mag Tuired or at the hand of Lug? Which account of Bress is the more correct? The answer, I believe, is both.
Let’s first look at the full list of the TDD kings found in chronological order of the LGE;
TUATHA DE DANANN: R2 (335) These were their kings, chieftains, druids, and men of arts here below. Nuadu, Bress, Lug, Dagda, Delbaeth, Fiachna, Brian and Iuachar and Iucharba the three gods of Dana, i.e. the three druids from whom the Tuatha De Danann are named, and Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht, Mac Greine, the three last kings of the Tuatha De Danann.
We have already established that Nuadu was a deity. In the list of kings Nuadu, Bress, Lug and In Dagda all represent deities. The trinity of brothers Brian, Iuachar and Iucharba are never identified as kings and the Dioscuri jingle of the last named two is enough to show they were deities. Delbaeth, Fiachra and the three brothers Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Greine, as I will show and have already touched upon in my previous post, served as kings of Tara and as such were men who personified a god(s) incarnate on earth.
Nuadu, Bress (omitting redaction two) and In Dagda according to the LGE die in battle or as a result of wounds received in battle. They are not killed by the hand of their predecessors and their living sons do not succeed them as kings. There is some ambiguity with Lug as we are told he dies at the hands of the last three named kings, which I will return to. Delbaeth, where I believe begins the list of human kings, is succeeded by his son Fiachra who is then succeeded by Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Greine, only after he along with his last living brother (and his brothers’ sons) are slaughtered by one Eogan of the Creeks. Fiachra has three daughters and so the TDD dynasty passes over to Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Greine as the next male successors.
There is a distinct pattern here. Those who die in battle not at the hand of their own people and who are not succeeded by their living sons we can assume are deities. Those who do, are not. Bress as a deity dies in the last battle of Mag Tuired by Balor’s people. His sons do not succeed him. Delbaeth, who is linked to Bress in the muddle of their shared parentage to Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba is the man, personifying the deity Bress in his role as god incarnate on earth. A similar analogy might be made in the titles of British royalty. David was the personal name to his family, his outer persona as the head of the monarchy of England was King Edward VIII, following on in the tradition of named kings that had gone before. The scribes, in gathering folklore relating to one named Bress were really talking about Delbaeth and unable to make the link, simply added an ‘or’ clause into the texts. Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba were the sons of Bress OR the sons of Delbaeth a.k.a. Tuirell Biccreo.
Coming back to Lug. He reigns after Bress for 40 years until the kingship is passed to In Dagda. Lug’s sons do not succeed him after his reign and In Dagda does not assume the kingship because of his death. It is simply passed over. In the story of Lug poisoning Bress with bog water which resulted in his death, we can here identify Delbaeth, who personified Bress. As Bress was a ‘king’ before Lug, it might seem the correct order of things for him to be killed by his successor, which became a later tradition of acquiring the kingship. Fiachra who succeeds his father Delbaeth (Bress) might have taken on the persona of Lug on his succession to the kingship, and in order for Lug to succeed, the deity Bress must ‘die’ by his ‘hand’.
This ties the loop of Lugs death at the hands of the last named kings who succeed Fiachna; Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Greine. These three by their names alone; son of hazel, ploughshare and sun, show they worshipped gods related to nature. If Fiachra represented Lug then the ‘death’ of this deity would be required in order for the ‘new’ gods to succeed. Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Greine on their succession to the kingship of the TDD have essentially ‘killed’ him.
Looking to other sources the lineage of Bress is called into question. 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;
They said that it would be fitter for them to bestow the kingdom on Bres son of Elatha, on their own adopted son; and that giving the kingdom to him would bind the alliance of the Fomorians to them. For his father, even Elatha son of Delbaeth, was king of the Fomorians.³
What follows is an elaborate story of Bress’s conception by Eri, a daughter of one Delbaeth who it is stated was Tuath Dé. One day while looking out at to sea she spies a silver vessel that comes ashore and from inside emerges a man. “Golden-yellow hair was on him as far as his two shoulders” is his description, similar to the flaxen maned Nuadu, illustrating again an attribute of beauty typically assigned to the elite. After a brief tryst Eri is in despair as she must part from the stranger and return to her people without knowing his name. The man tells her his name is Eloth son of Delbaeth of the Fomorians. He gives her a gold ring from his middle finger and advises her to save it for the one whose finger it should fit.
Eloth, confident of his own virility foresees her pregnancy as a result of their tryst and tells her it will be a boy and that she is to call him Eochaid Bress, Eochaid the beautiful. She gives birth to the son who doubles in growth and at the age of seven he bears the form of a boy of 14. The Tuatha Dé grant him the kingship when Nuadu is wounded in battle. Bress offers seven hostages to Ireland’s champions as security in the event of any misgivings on his part in the kingship. (In movie terms this would be called foreshadowing!) At this time the Tuatha Dé are obliged to pay a heavy tribute to the Fomorian kings. Bress reduces the champions to manual labour in order to secure the tribute and before long Bress’s hospitality and loyalty is called into question;
So Bres held the sovranty as it had been conferred upon him. But the chiefs of the Tuath Dé murmured greatly against him, for their knives were not greased by him, and however often they visited him their breaths did not smell of ale. Moreover, they saw not their poets or their bards or their lampooners or their harpers or their pipers or their hornblowers or their jugglers or their fools amusing them in the household. They did not go to the contests of their athletes.
The story breaks off to tell other tales of Bress’s ongoing misgivings as king. The chiefs go to speak to their ‘foster son’ and demand to take back the undertaking of the kingship. Bress begs to remain until the end of the seven years (the length of time for Nuadu’s arm to heal somehow already pre-determined) which the chiefs agree to, provided that the fruits of their labour is shared and they are free from servitude and any payment of wergild until the remainder of his reign.
The narrator then tells us that Bress asks for the delay in returning the kingship in order to gather the champions and even the Fomorians to seize the chiefs by force. Bress asks his mother of his lineage and she tells him the story of his birth and produces the golden ring which fits his middle finger. Together they seek out the Fomorian kings, where his identity is revealed by the sight of the ring on his finger as given to Eri by his father Eloth. A ship expedition is arranged as the Fomorian kings join together with Bress to return to Ireland and demand their tribute and the return of lands from the Tuatha Dé.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Nuadu, fully healed is reinstated as king. What follows is a tale that introduces the culture hero Lugh with the epithet Samildánach (skilled in many arts). He arrives to a great feast at Tara and summons the gatekeeper to allow him entry. After much toing and froing about the arts he possesses that might be useful to the court he is allowed entry by Nuadu. Lugh proves his wit and cunning and leads Nuadu’s men into the impending battle against the Fomorians. The Fomorians eventually fall and Lugh meets the antagonist Bress who is saved his life for the agricultural advice he bestows on the wise men of Tara in order to secure the continued harvests of their lands.
What is interesting to note from these tales is the now altered genealogy of Bress. In the LGE texts he is clearly aligned with the Tuatha Dé and it is Lug’s character (by the treachery of Lug) that is called into question in the quarrel between him and Bress. A branch of folklore that has gathered momentum up to the 16th century has turned Bress into an unworthy and inhospitable king aligning his heritage with the Fomorians. Only in hindsight are we told that Bress was chosen as king to help align the Fomorians with the Tuath Dé. This alone isn’t sufficient to villainise him as we also learn from the Cath Mag Tuired story that Lug is the son of Cian of the Tuath Dé, his mother being the daughter of Balor the Strong Smiter, showing that his Fomorian heritage does not negatively sway Nuadu who openly welcomes him to his court.
Bress the deity, at a point in time, possibly beginning with Delbaeth who personified Bress when he took the kingship, began to be associated with lesser or unworthy kings, because of Delbaeth’s own lacking. The exact nature of this lacking is lost to us in the LGE but is alluded to by the actions of Bress found in Cath Mag Tuired. In the Metrical Dindshenchas⁴ and the Prose Dindshenchas⁵ a majority of entries relating to persons called Bresal presented here, better illustrates the point;
Metrical Dindshenchas, Volume 3, p.15
- Six men from Raigne of the races,
of the seed of Bresal Brec the smiter;
a fair-haired band for raidings of the west
over the cheek of hundred-wounding Carmun.
Metrical Dindshenchas Volume 3, p.43-47
45] There is another tale — ’tis known to me —
of that hill, which Dubthach possesses:
it was made, though great the exploit,
by Bresal Bodibad.
In his time there fell a murrain on kine
50] in every place in Ireland,
except for seven cows and a bull that increased strength
for every farmer in his time.
Bresal came (lust seized him)
70] from the hill unto his sister:
the host made of it a marvel:
he found her at Ferta Cuile.
He went in unto her, though it was a crime,
though it was violation of his sister:
75] on this wise the hill here
is called Ferta Cuile.
When it was no longer day for them thereafter
(it is likely that it was night),
the hill was not brought to the top,
80] the men of Erin depart homeward.
From that day forth the hill remains
without addition to its height:
it shall not grow greater from this time onward
till the Doom of destruction and judgment.
Metrical Dindshenchas Volume 4, p.339
2] The noble son of royal Rudraige, famous Bresal of the Murrain, was lord over every boat’s haven and ruled the people in the cow-plague.
Prose Dindshenchas Part 3. p. 75
Bicne, Conall Cernach’s servant, died there while driving the
kine (of Fráech son of Idath) that were brought out of
Scotland after the great murrain that befel in the time of Bresal
Bó-dibad son of Rudraige, or (in the time) of Bresal Brecc.
The personalities Bresal Brec / Brecc the war waging smiter, the incestuous Bresal Bó-dibad and Bresal of the Murrain, an epidemic affecting cattle, all show that anyone of this name was deeply flawed and as such displeasing to the gods. The opposite is true of those deities who were once considered gracious worthy leaders such as Nuadu. Even throughout the reign of the Milesian kings his name is synonymous with strong leaders who suffixed Nuadu / Nuada to their given names. It is interesting to note that the name Bress has a close connection to cattle; the drinking of milk, the orders that only a certain colour of cow is pleasing to him, the plague on cows in his reign and in the title Bó-díbad meaning cow-plague.
The physicality of Bress gives some long overdue positive reinforcement, found in his beauty;
Metrical Dindshenchas Volume 3. p. 219
- Bress, a kindly friend was he,
noble he was and fortunate,
ornament of the host, with visage never woeful,
of the Tuath De he was the flower.
These insights bring us full circle on the persona of Bress, a deity that had fallen out of favour because of the misdeeds of one mortal who bore his name, tarnishing him forever. As there is no mention of ill deeds when Bress the deity was worshipped as ‘king’ in the LGE, there is every reason to believe that an injustice has been served on the deity the Tuath Dé once called their ‘flower’.