The "aos sidhe" means "people of the mound" and refers to the supernatural beings that are believed to reside beneath the fairy mounds all over Ireland. When people talk about them today, they might refer to them simply as the sidhe, the wee folk, or the fair folk, but these are not the cute little winged fairies of your childhood. While they can be helpful, they can also be downright nasty and mischievous. So where did these mysterious "folk" come from.
John Duncan's "Riders of the Sidhe" 1911
Originally, Ireland was ruled by a small dark-haired race of people known as the Firbolg. Then, about 4000 years ago, they were attacked by a tall fair-haired tribe known as the Tuatha De Danann or the "tribe of the goddess Danu". Now this is where the story becomes clouded by the mists of time and mythology.
Who they were or where they came from ranges from fallen angels, super-natural beings and aliens, to sailors from the north. They are said to have been cultured and talented with metal work, as well as poets and sorcerers. Their tales tell of magical items such as the Stone of Fal, Lugh's spear, Nuada sword, and the Cauldron of Daghda, but more about them later.
What does seems clear is that the Tuatha De Danaan defeated the Firbolg, though out of respect for their bravery, the Tuatha De Danann continued to let the defeated people live in the Connacht region. And so they lived happily ever after, right. Wrong.
The Tuatha De Danann's king, Nuada, had lost his hand in battle. Since the law forbid a king to rule if he had been disfigured in any way, Nuada had to step down and the crown went to Breas, a man of Formorian descent, who turned out to be a tyrant.
Fortunately for his people, Nuada was able to have his lost hand magically replaced with a silver one. Early prosthetics perhaps? At any rate, he reclaimed his kingship. Needless to say, Breas was not happy. Being half-Fomorian himself, he made an alliance with Balor, king of the Fomorian's. They attacked the Tuatha De Danann, but were defeated and their power crushed forever. Alas, Nuada was killed in this battle, felled by Balor's evil eye. Though he could not save his king, Lugh retaliated by using his sling shot and knocking out Balor's eye. Without a leader once more, the Tuatha De Danann named Lugh, the hero of the battle, as their new king.
The Tuatha De Danann ruled peacefully for the next few generations until they were attacked by the Milesians, who possibly came from Spain or Portugal. Led by Mil, the invaders headed for Tara, home of the High Kings, but were intercepted by three goddesses, Banba, Fodla, and Eriu, who asked Mil if he would name the land after them if he won. He agreed, and after three days fighting the goddess's husbands, who were all kings of the Tuatha De Danaan, asked for a truce. The Milesians agreed, anchoring their ships off shore, but the Tuatha De Danann conjured up a storm, intending to destroy the enemy ships. It might have worked except the Milesians cast their own spell to calm the storm, after which they returned to shore and defeated the Tuatha De Danaan.
Though the victors agreed to split the island with the Tuatha De Danaan, they pulled a fast one. Instead of splitting it North to South or East to West, the Milesians took their half from the bit above ground, thus sending the Tuatha De Danaan underground, where legend says they remain, even today. And by the way, Mil was true to his word and named the land after the three goddesses, though the only one that really stuck was Eriu, which is where the name Eire comes from today.
Thomas Buchanan Read's "The Harp of Erin" 1897
Slea Bua - The Spear of Lugh
There's no need to wield it for it acts on its own. No man can overcome it, for it always hits its mark and returns to its master.
Lia Fail - The Stone of Fal or Destiny
The stone sits at Tara, the home of Ireland's High Kings, where it serves as a coronation stone. It is said to scream with joy when the rightful king puts his foot upon it.
Photo taken by By August Schwerdfeger - Own work, CC BY 4.0,
Nuada's Sword - The Sword of Light
Once unsheathed it can only administer a mortal blow. You're fate is sealed if you are its target.
Cauldron of Dagda
The Cauldron of abundance
None ever go away hungry because the holds an endless supply of food.
(This is actually the Gundestrup Cauldron found in Denmark, but you get the idea.)
Photo by Natioinialmuseet - CC BY-SA 3.0
Tir na nOg is the Land of Youth and the home of the Tuatha De Danaan ond all the aos sidhe. It's and place filled with happiness and abundance, where no one ever grows old or gets ill. Mortals can only visit the land if they are invited or stumble on it by accident. But whatever gifts are received there come with a price, or so the myths say.
Though it is part of the Otherworld, it is not the only part. There are other lands as well. Tir na mBan is the Land of Women, said to be inhabited by beautiful women, which is often visited by heroes of the myths. In some traditions the aos sidhe are said to live in Tir na nOg, while the Tuatha De Danann live in Tir na mBeo, or the Land of the Living. Another place is named for Donn, who is reported to be an ancestor of the Irish. It is called Teach Duinne, the house of Donn, and it's where one goes when they die. And still another is Tir Tairngire, the Land of Promise, ruled by Manandan.
In the Cross of Ciaran, he sometimes uses the term Otherworld and Tir na nOg interchangeably, At certain times of the year, like Samhain, the veil between this world and the Otherworld, including Tir na nOg, thins and mortals can cross over. Of course that means spirits can come this way as well. The aos sidhe, however, seem to be able to travel back and forth at will no matter what time of the year it is, and they usually have their own agenda.
Go over to the the section on More Folktale to find the tale of the Irish hero Oisin, who is invited to Tir na nOg by the beautiful Niamh, as well as some other stories. Enjoy!