Dagda Mór, the supreme deity of the Tuatha Dé Danann, was said to have been the one who built and owned Síd in Broga (Newgrange). He was later tricked out of ownership of Newgrange by his son, Oengus Óg. Afterwards, he retired to another, smaller mound. Here, I discuss which one he went to.
On many occasions, I have told the story of how Dagda (also known as Eochaidh Ollathair), the supreme deity and chief of the Tuatha Dé Danann, was tricked out of ownership of Síd in Broga (Newgrange) by his son, Oengus Óg. Oengus was born through magic when Dagda cast a spell on Elcmar in order to have an affair with Elcmar's wife, Bóinn (also known as Eithne).
Dagda sent Elcmar on a journey, an errand of sorts, and Elcmar would think he was only away for a single day, yet in reality he would be away for nine months – just long enough for the conception of the child Oengus and his carrying to full term and birth by his mother, Bóinn.
Now I must point out at this juncture that there are, in fact, two threads of mythology about who originally owned Newgrange, both of which have similarities. In one thread, Dagda is the original owner. In the other, retold in Tochmarc Étaín (the Wooing of Étaín), Elcmar is its owner. It is in this second thread, the Wooing of Étaín, that Dagda sends Elcmar away so that he can lie with Elcmar's wife.
The thread concerning Dagda's ownership of the Brug is contained in a story in the Book of Leinster called, in Irish, De Gabáil int Sída – The Taking of the Sídhe. Now I won't go into it here, for fear of diverging on too many tangents, but for now let's just say the word sídhe refers to the otherworld mounds occupied by the gods of the Dé Danann. You'll often see it translated as "fairy mound", but I think the word sídhe encompasses a much greater set of concepts around journeying between worlds and realms. (That's for another blog post!)
In De Gabáil int Sída, we are told that Dagda distributes the sídhe among the various figureheads of the Tuatha Dé Danann. However, Oengus is absent during the apportioning of the mounds. This is because he was hidden in Brí Léith, to be fostered by Midir, to hide the evidence of Bóinn's illicit affair with the Dagda from her husband Elcmar.
Of Dagda's síd (pronounced "sheed"), we are told:
Behold the síd before your eyes,
It is manifest to you that it is a king's mansion
Which was built by the firm Dagda;
It was a wonder, a court, an admirable hill.
This, we are informed, is Brug na Bóinne, or Síd in Broga, the great monument we know today as the Newgrange passage-tomb, standing proud on the ridge overlooking the great Bend of the Boyne.
Oengus returns to Brug na Bóinne and demands his own sídhe (pronounced "shee", this is a later Irish version of the word síd). Dagda informs him that all of the mounds have been distributed and that none is left.
Oengus protests. Apparently he has been forgotten by his father. At this point, the wily Oengus suggests a compromise. He petitions his father to allow him to stay in the sídhe of Brug na Bóinne for a day and a night. This seems like a harmless enough request, right? And what loving father could refuse such a request from his son, especially seeing as how he has concealed his son in a secret hideaway at Brí Léith, a long way from his true home by the Boyne?
Dagda agrees to his son's suggestion, yielding the Brugh for a day and a night to his young son. The next day, he comes to Newgrange and tells Oengus that his time at the Brugh is up. However, Oengus refuses to leave. Why?
He had been granted, he claimed, day and night, "and it is of days and nights that time and eternity are composed; therefore there was no limit to his tenure of the sídh".
Charles Squire, writing in 1912, says that this logic "does not seem very convincing to modern minds, but the Daghda is said to have been satisfied with it. He abandoned the best of his two palaces to his son, who took peaceable possession of it."
This is how the ancient name of Síd in Broga changes – to Síd Mac Ind Óc, the sídhe of the young son. Oengus was called Mac Óg, the young son, because, according to the text of Tochmarc Étaín, "Young is the son who was begotten at the break of day and born betwixt it and evening."
Now that we know Dagda has been dispossessed of Newgrange, it only requires us to find out to which other mound he retired. And that answer lies in a slightly surprising source. All of the monuments in the area around Newgrange must have had names originally. We know this because the Dindshenchas, a collection of place-name lore from the 11th and 12th centuries AD, lists the names of monuments in the Brú na Bóinne area. Many of these names have been lost, and, sadly, a good deal of the monuments in the Bend of the Boyne are given arbitary letter labels, an unfortunate modern archaeological labelling convention which sees them stripped of their names and myths.
One name that survived into the late 19th century was that of a mound known to the locals as the Dagda's mound. This information is revealed in an 1872 book with a somewhat unflattering title – James Fergusson's Rude Stone Monuments in all countries; their age and uses. Fergusson tells us:
By far the best known, as well as the most interesting, of Irish cemeteires is that which extends for about two miles east and west on the northern bank of the Boyne, about five miles from Drogheda. Within this space there remain even now some seventeen sepulchural barrows, three of which are pre-eminent. They are now known by the names of Knowth for the most westward one, Dowth for that to the east, and about half-way between these two, that known as New Grange.
The critical information then follows:
In front of the latter, but lower down nearer the river, is a smaller one, still popularly known as that of the Dagda, and others bear names with more of less certainty; but no systematic exploration of the group has yet been made, so that we are very much in the dark as to their succession, or who the kings or nobles may be that lie buried within their masses.
This mound, down near the river, is the one known ingloriously as Mound B. From now on, I shall call it Dagda's mound!
As to what might be found in such a mound, we can only guess. The popular thinking among archaeologists, of course, is that Mound B is a passage-tomb. It is quite a substantial mound, and much bigger than the other "satellite" mounds at Knowth, etc. Fergusson certainly had a bit of imagination when he thought about what might yet lie hidden beneath it:
The mound called the Tomb of the Daghda, and the ten or twelve others which still exist in this cemetery, are all, so far as is known, untouched, but still remain to reward the industry of the first explorer ... there being no tradition of their having been opened, and no trace of wounds in their sides, we are led to expect that they may be intact, and that the bones and armour of the great Daghda may still be found in his honoured grave.
MacCulloch, J.A., Celtic Mythology, 1918.
Squire, Charles, Celtic Myth & Legend: Poetry & Romance, 1912.
Early Irish Myths & Sagas, Penguin Books, 1981.
The Wooing of Étaín, Corpus of Electronic Texts, UCC (https://celt.ucc.ie/published/T300012/text001.html)
Fergusson, J., Old Stone Monuments, republished by The Lost Library.
Enter the ‘Ancient Sites’ section of this blog for a fascinating and wide-ranging exploration of the megalithic and sacred sites of Ireland. Find out all about the Stone Age and prehistoric ruins and learn more about the possible functions and alignments of these sites. Visit the great temples of Brú na Bóinne, the Hill of Tara, the ancient cairns of Loughcrew among many others.
Explore the ancient myths, legends and folklore of Ireland and their meaning. Read the epic Táin Bó Cuailnge, or the place-name myths in the Dindshenchas. Learn about how the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians came to Ireland and how the early texts describe various invasions of prehistoric Éire. Hear about Fionn and the Fianna, and discover how some myths might contain information about astronomy and the stars.
There is no doubt that the ancient megalith builders had a substantial knowledge of the movements of the sun, moon, planets and stars through the heavens. Learn more about just how complex and impressive this knowledge was. There is evidence that the people of the Neolithic knew about the 19-year Metonic cycle of the moon, as well as being able to predict eclipses.