It was as a result of the loss of his hand in this battle with the Fir Bolgs that Nuada got his name of Argetlám, that is, the "Silver Handed". For Diancecht, the physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann, made him an artificial hand of silver, so skilfully that it moved in all, its joints, and was as strong and supple as a real one. But, good as it was of its sort, it was a blemish; and, according to Celtic custom, no maimed person could sit upon the throne. Nuada was deposed; and the Tuatha Dé Danann went into council to appoint a new king.
They agreed that it would be a politic thing for them to conciliate the Fomors, the giants of the sea, and make an alliance with them. So they sent a message to Bress, the son of the Fomorian king, Elathan, asking him to come and rule over them. Bress accepted this offer; and they made a marriage between him and Brigit, the daughter of the Dagda. At the same time, Cian 2, the son of Diancecht, the physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann, married
[paragraph continues] Ethniu, the daughter of the Fomor, Balor. Then Bress was made king, and endowed with lands and a palace; and he, on his part, gave hostages that he would abdicate if his rule ever became unpleasing to those who had elected him.
But, in spite of all his fair promises, Bress, who belonged in heart to his own fierce people, began to oppress his subjects with excessive taxes. He put a tax upon every hearth, upon every kneading-trough, and upon every quern, as well as a poll-tax of an ounce of gold upon every member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. By a crafty trick, too, he obtained the milk of all their cattle. He asked at first only for the produce of any cows which happened to be brown and hairless, and the people of the goddess Danu granted him this cheerfully. But Bress passed all the cattle in Ireland between two fires, so that their hair was singed off, and thus obtained the monopoly of the main source of food. To earn a livelihood, all the gods, even the greatest, were now forced to labour for him. Ogma, their champion, was sent out to collect firewood, while the Dagda was put to work building forts and castles.
One day, when the Dagda was at his task, his son, Angus, came to him. "You have nearly finished that castle," he said. "What reward do you intend to ask from Bress when it is done?" The Dagda replied that he had not yet thought of it. "Let me give you some advice," said Angus. "Ask Bress to have all the cattle in Ireland gathered together upon a plain, so that you can pick out one
for yourself. He will consent to that. Then choose the black-maned heifer called 'Ocean'."
The Dagda finished building the fort, and then went to Bress for his reward. "What will you have?" asked Bress. "I want all the cattle in Ireland gathered together upon a plain, so that I may choose one of them for myself." Bress did this; and the Dagda took the black-maned heifer Angus had told him of. The king, who had expected to be asked very much more, laughed at what he thought was the Dagda's simplicity. But Angus had been wise; as will be seen hereafter.
Meanwhile Bress was infuriating the people of the goddess Danu by adding avarice to tyranny. It was for kings to be liberal to all-comers, but at the court of Bress no one ever greased his knife with fat, or made his breath smell of ale. Nor were there ever any poets or musicians or jugglers or jesters there to give pleasure to the people; for Bress would distribute no largess. Next, he cut down the very subsistence of the gods. So scanty was his allowance of food that they began to grow weak with famine. Ogma, through feebleness, could only carry one-third of the wood needed for fuel; so that they suffered from cold as well as from hunger.
It was at this crisis that two physicians, Miach, the son, and Airmid, the daughter, of Diancecht, the god of medicine, came to the castle where the dispossessed King Nuada lived. Nuada's porter, blemished, like himself (for he had lost an eye), was sitting at the gate, and on his lap was a cat curled up asleep. The porter asked the strangers who
they were. "We are good doctors," they said. "If that is so," he replied, "perhaps you can give me a new eye." "Certainly," they said, "we could take one of the eyes of that cat, and put it in the place where your lost eye used to be." "I should be very pleased if you would do that," answered the porter, So Miach and Airmid removed one of the cat's eyes, and put it in the hollow where the man's eye had been.
The story goes on to say that this was not wholly a benefit to him; for the eye retained its cat's nature, and, when the man wished to sleep at nights, the cat's eye was always looking out for mice, while it could hardly be kept awake during the day. Nevertheless, he was pleased at the time, and went and told Nuada, who commanded that the doctors who had performed this marvellous cure should be brought to him.
As they came in, they heard the king groaning, for Nuada's wrist had festered where the silver hand joined the arm of flesh. Miach asked where Nuada's own hand was, and they told him that it had been buried long ago. But he dug it up, and placed it to Nuada's stump; he uttered an incantation over it, saying: "Sinew to sinew, and nerve to nerve be joined!" and in three days and nights the hand had renewed itself and fixed itself to the arm, so that Nuada was whole again.
When Diancecht, Miach's father, heard of this he was very angry to think that his son should have excelled him in the art of medicine. He sent for him, and struck him upon the head with a sword, cutting
the skin, but not wounding the flesh. Miach easily healed this. So Diancecht hit him again, this time to the bone. Again Miach cured himself. The third time his father smote him, the sword went right through the skull to the membrane of the brain, but even this wound Miach was able to leech. At the fourth stroke, however, Diancecht cut the brain in two, and Miach could do nothing for that. He died, and Diancecht buried him. And upon his grave there grew up three hundred and sixty-five stalks of grass, each one a cure for any illness of each of the three hundred and sixty-five nerves in a man's body. Airmid, Miach's sister, plucked all these very carefully, and arranged them on her mantle according to their properties. But her angry and jealous father overturned the cloak, and hopelessly confused them. If it had not been for that act, says the early writer, men would know how to cure every illness, and would so be immortal.
The healing of Nuada's blemish happened just at the time when all the people of the goddess Danu had at last agreed that the exactions and tyranny of Bress could no longer be borne. It was the insult he put upon Cairpré, son of Ogma the god of literature, that caused things to come to this head. Poets were always held by the Celts in great honour; and when Cairpré, the bard of the Tuatha Dé Danann, went to visit Bress, he expected to be treated with much consideration, and fed at the king's own table. But, instead of doing so, Bress lodged him in a small, dark room where there was no fire, no bed, and no furniture except
a mean table on which small cakes of dry bread were put on a little dish for his food. The next morning, Cairpré rose early and left the palace without having spoken to Bress. It was the custom of poets when they left a king's court to utter a panegyric on their host, but Cairpré treated Bress instead to a magical satire. It was the first satire ever made in Ireland, and seems to us to bear upon it all the marks of an early effort. Roughly rendered, it said:
[paragraph continues] This satire of Cairpré's was, we are assured, so virulent that it caused great red blotches to break out all over Bress's face. This in itself constituted a blemish such as should not be upon a king, and the Tuatha Dé Danann called upon Bress to abdicate and let Nuada take the throne again.
Bress was obliged to do so. He went back to the country of the Fomors, underneath the sea, and complained to his father Elathan, its king, asking him to gather an army to reconquer his throne. The Fomors assembled in council--Elathan, Tethra, Balor, Indech, and all the other warriors and chiefs--and they decided to come with a great host, and take Ireland away, and put it under the sea where the people of the goddess Danu would never be able to find it again.
At the same time, another assembly was also
being held at Tara, the capital of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Nuada was celebrating his return to the throne by a feast to his people. While it was at its height, a stranger clothed like a king came to the palace gate. The porter asked him his name and errand.
"I am called Lugh," he said. "I am the grand-son of Diancecht by Cian, my father, and the grand-son of Balor by Ethniu, my mother."
"But what is your profession?" asked the porter; "for no one is admitted here unless he is a master of some craft."
"I am a carpenter," said Lugh.
"We have no need of a carpenter. We already have a very good one; his name is Luchtainé.
"I am an excellent smith," said Lugh.
"We do not want a smith. We have a very good one; his name is Goibniu."
"I am a professional warrior," said Lugh.
"We have no need of one. Ogma is our champion."
"I am a harpist," said Lugh.
"We have an excellent harpist already."
"I am a warrior renowned for skilfulness rather than for mere strength."
"We already have a man like that."
"I am a poet and tale-teller," said Lugh.
"We have no need of such. We have a most accomplished poet and tale-teller."
"I am a sorcerer," said Lugh.
"We do not want one. We have numberless sorcerers and druids."
"I am a physician," said Lugh.
"Diancecht is our physician."
"I am a cup-bearer," said Lugh.
"We already have nine of them."
"I am a worker in bronze."
"We have no need of you. We already have a worker in bronze. His name is Credné."
"Then ask the king," said Lugh, "if he has with him a man who is master of all these crafts at once, for, if he has, there is no need for me to come to Tara."
So the door-keeper went inside, and told the king that a man had come who called himself Lugh the Ioldanach 1, or the "Master of all Arts", and that he claimed to know everything.
The king sent out his best chess-player to play against the stranger. Lugh won, inventing a new move called "Lugh's enclosure".
Then Nuada invited him in. Lugh entered, and sat down upon the chair called the "sage's seat", kept for the wisest man.
Ogma, the champion, was showing off his strength. Upon the floor was a flagstone so large that four-score yokes of oxen would have been needed to move it. Ogma pushed it before him along the hall, and out at the door. Then Lugh rose from his chair, and pushed it back again. But this stone, huge as it was, was only a portion broken from a still greater rock outside the palace. Lugh picked it up, and put it back into its place.
The Tuatha Dé Danann asked him to play the
harp to them. So he played the "sleep-tune", and the king and all his court fell asleep, and did not wake until the same hour of the following day. Next he played a plaintive air, and they all wept. Lastly, he played a measure which sent them into transports of joy.
When Nuada had seen all these numerous talents of Lugh, he began to wonder whether one so gifted would not be of great help against the Fomors. He took counsel with the others, and, by their advice, lent his throne to Lugh for thirteen days, taking the "sage's seat" at his side.
Lugh summoned all the Tuatha Dé Danann to a council.
"The Fomors are certainly going to make war on us," he said. "What can each of you do to help?"
Diancecht the Physician said: "I will completely cure everyone who is wounded, provided his head is not cut off, or his brain or spinal marrow hurt."
"I," said Goibniu the Smith, "will replace every broken lance and sword with a new one, even though the war last seven years. And I will make the lances so well that they shall never miss their mark, or fail to kill. Dulb, the smith of the Fomors, cannot do as much as that. The fate of the fighting will be decided by my lances."
"And I," said Credné the Bronze-worker, "will furnish all the rivets for the lances, the hilts for the swords, and the rims and bosses for the shields."
"And I," said Luchtainé the Carpenter, "will provide all the shields and lance-shafts."
Ogma the Champion promised to kill the King of the Fomors, with thrice nine of his followers, and to capture one-third of his army.
"And you, O Dagda," said Lugh, "what will you do?"
"I will fight," said the Dagda, "both with force and craft. Wherever the two armies meet, I will crush the bones of the Fomors with my club, till they are like hailstones under a horse's feet."
"And you, O Morrígú?" said Lugh.
"I will pursue them when they flee," she replied. "And I always catch what I chase."
"And you, O Cairpré, son of Etan?" said Lugh to the poet, "what can you do?"
"I will pronounce an immediately-effective curse upon them; by one of my satires I will take away all their honour, and, enchanted by me, they shall not be able to stand against our warriors."
"And ye, O sorcerers, what will ye do?"
"We will hurl by our magic arts," replied Mathgan, the head sorcerer, "the twelve mountains of Ireland at the Fomors. These mountains will be Slieve League, Denna Ulad, the Mourne Mountains, Bri Ruri, Slieve Bloom, Slieve Snechta, Slemish, Blai-Sliab, Nephin, Sliab Maccu Belgodon, Segais 1, and Cruachan Aigle 2".
Then Lugh asked the cup-bearers what they would do.
"We will hide away by magic," they said, "the twelve chief lakes and the twelve chief rivers of Ireland from the Fomors, so that they shall not be
able to find any water, however thirsty they may be; those waters will conceal themselves from the Fomors so that they shall not get a drop, while they will give drink to the people of the goddess Danu as long as the war lasts, even if it last seven years." And they told Lugh that the twelve chief lakes were Lough Derg, Lough Luimnigh 1, Lough Corrib, Lough Ree, Lough Mask, Strangford Lough, Lough Læig, Lough Neagh, Lough Foyle, Lough Gara, Lough Reagh, and Márloch, and that the twelve chief rivers were the Bush, the Boyne, the Bann, the Nem, the Lee, the Shannon, the Moy, the Sligo, the Erne, the Finn, the Liffey, and the Suir.
Finally, the Druid, Figol, son of Mamos, said: "I will send three streams of fire into the faces of the Fomors, and I will take away two-thirds of their valour and strength, but every breath drawn by the people of the goddess Danu will only make them more valorous and strong, so that even if the fighting lasts seven years, they will not be weary of it.
All decided to make ready for a war, and to give the direction of it to Lugh.
78:1 The principal sources of information for this chapter are the Harleian MS. 5280 entitled The Second Battle of Moytura, of which translations have been made by Dr. Whitley Stokes in the Revue Celtique and M. de Jubainville in his L’Épopée Celtique en Irlande, and Eugene O’Curry s translation in Vol. IV. of Atlantis of the Fate of the Children of Tuirenn.
78:2 Pronounced Kian.
85:1 Pronounced Ildāna.
87:1 The Curlieu Hills, between Roscommon and Sligo.
87:2 Croagh Patrick.
88:1 The estuary of the Shannon.