The Dagda

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The Dagda
Member of the Tuatha Dé Danann
Gundestrup C.jpg
Abode Brú na Bóinne
Battles Magh Tuiredh
Siblings Ogma

The Dagda (Irish: An Dagda) is an important god in Celtic mythology. One of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Dagda is portrayed as a father-figure, king, and druid.[1][2][3] He is associated with fertility, manliness and strength, as well as magic, druidry and wisdom.[1][2][4][5] He exerts power over life and death, the weather, the sun, time and the seasons.

He is often described as a large bearded man or giant[4] wearing a hooded cloak.[6] He owns a magic staff, club, or mace (the lorg mór or lorg anfaid) which kills with one end and brings to life with the other, a cauldron (the coire ansic) which never runs empty, and a magic harp (uaithne) which can control men's emotions and change the seasons. He is said to dwell in Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange). Other places associated with or named after him include Uisneach, Grianan of Aileach, and Lough Neagh. The Dagda is said to be husband of the Morrígan and lover of Boann.[4] His children include Aengus, Brigit, Bodb Derg, Cermait, Aed, and Midir.[1]

The Dagda's name is thought to mean "the good god" or "the great god". His other names include Eochu or Eochaid Ollathair ("horseman, great father" or "all-father"), Ruad Rofhessa ("mighty one/lord of great knowledge") and Dáire ("the fertile one"). The death and ancestral god Donn may originally have been a form of the Dagda,[7] and he also has similarities with the later harvest figure Crom Dubh.[8] Several tribal groupings saw the Dagda as an ancestor and were named after him, such as the Uí Echach and the Dáirine.

The Dagda has been likened to the Gaulish god Sucellos,[1] and the Roman god Dīs Pater.[4]



The name Dagda is believed to come from Proto-Celtic: Dagodeiwos, "the good god" or "the great god"[9] but may ultimately be derived from the Proto-Indo-European *Dhagho-deiwos "shining divinity", the first element being cognate with the English word "day", and possibly a byword for a deification of a notion such as "splendour". This etymology would tie in well with Dagda's mythic association with the sun and the earth, with kingship and excellence in general. *Dhago-deiwos would have been inherited into Proto-Celtic as *Dago-deiwos, thereby punning with the Proto-Celtic word *dago-s "good".


The Dagda has several other names or epithets which reflect aspects of his character.[10]

  • Eochu or Eochaid Ollathair ("horseman, great father" or "horseman, all-father")[11]
  • Ruad Rofhessa ("mighty one/lord of great knowledge")[5][12]
  • Dáire ("the fertile one")[4]
  • Aed ("the fiery one")[13][14]
  • Fer Benn ("horned man" or "man of the peak")
  • Cera (possibly "creator"),[15]
  • Cerrce (possibly "striker")[2]
  • Easal[16]
  • Eogabal[6]

The name Eochu is a diminutive form of Eochaid, which also has spelling variants of Eochaidh and Echuid.[17] The death and ancestral god Donn may originally have been a form of the Dagda, who is sometimes called Dagda Donn.[7]


Tales depict the Dagda as a figure of immense power. He is said to own a magic staff, club or mace which could kill nine men with one blow; but with the handle he could return the slain to life. It was called the lorg mór ("the great staff/club/mace") or the lorg anfaid ("the staff/club/mace of wrath"). His magic cauldron was known as the coire ansic ("the un-dry cauldron") and was said to be bottomless, from which no man left unsatisfied.[18] It was said to have a ladle so big that two people could fit in it.[19] Uaithne, also known as "the Four Angled Music", was a richly ornamented magic harp made of oak which, when the Dagda played it, put the seasons in their correct order; other accounts tell of it being used to command the order of battle. He possessed two pigs, one of which was always growing whilst the other was always roasting, and ever-laden fruit trees.

The Dagda was one of the kings of the Tuatha De Danann. The Tuatha Dé Danann are the race of supernatural beings who conquered the Fomorians, who inhabited Ireland previously, prior to the coming of the Milesians. The Mórrígan is often described as his wife, his daughter was Brígh[20], and his lover was Boann, after whom the River Boyne is named, though she was married to Elcmar. Prior to the battle with the Fomorians, he coupled with the goddess of war, the Mórrígan, on Samhain in exchange for a plan of battle.[21][22]

Despite his great power and prestige, the Dagda is sometimes depicted as oafish and crude, even comical, wearing a short, rough tunic that barely covers his rump, dragging his great penis on the ground.[21] Such features are thought to be the additions of Christian redactors for comedic purposes. The Middle Irish language Coir Anmann (The Fitness of Names) paints a less clownish picture: "He was a beautiful god of the heathens, for the Tuatha Dé Danann worshipped him: for he was an earth-god to them because of the greatness of his (magical) power."[23]

The Dagda has similarities with the later harvest figure Crom Dubh.[8]


The Dagda is said to be husband of the Morrígan, who is called his "envious wife".[4][24] His children include Aengus, Cermait, and Aed (often called the three sons of the Dagda), Brigit and Bodb Derg.[1] He is said to have two brothers, Nuada and Ogma, but this may be an instance of the tendency to triplicate deities.[4] Elsewhere the Dagda is linked exclusively with Ogma, and the two are called "the two brothers."[20] In the Dindsenchas, the Dagda is given a daughter named Ainge, for whom he makes a twig basket or tub that always leaks when the tide is in and never leaks when it is going out.[25] The Dagda's father is named Elatha son of Delbeath.[26] Englec, the daughter of Elcmar, is named as a consort of the Dagda and the mother of his "swift son".[27] Echtgi the loathesome is another daughter of the Dagda's named in the Banshenchas.[27]


Before the Second Battle of Maig Tuired the Dagda built a fortress for Bres called Dún Brese and was also forced by the Fomorian kings Elatha, Indech, and Tethra to build raths.[20] In the lead up to the Second Battle of Maig Tuired, when Lugh asks Dagda what power he will wield over the Fomorian host, he responds that he "[..] will take the side of the men of Erin both in mutual smiting and destruction and wizardry. Their bones under my club will be as many as hailstones under feet of herds of horses."[20]

The Dagda had an affair with Bóand, wife of Elcmar.[28] In order to hide their affair, Dagda made the sun stand still for nine months; therefore their son, Aengus, was conceived, gestated and born in one day.[29] He, along with Bóand, helped Aengus search for his love.[30]

Whilst Aengus was away the Dagda shared out his land among his children, but Aengus returned to discover that nothing had been saved for him. Aengus later tricked his father out of his home at the Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange). Aengus asked his father if he could live in the Brú for láa ogus oidhche "(a) day and (a) night", which in Irish is ambiguous, and could refer to either "a day and a night", or "day and night", which means for all time, and so Aengus took possession of the Brú permanently. In The Wooing of Étaín, on the other hand, Aengus uses the same ploy to trick Elcmar out of Brú na Bóinne, with the Dagda's connivance.[30]

The Dagda was also the father of Bodb Dearg, Cermait, Midir, Áine, and Brigit. He was the brother of Oghma, who is probably related to the Gaulish god Ogmios[citation needed]; Ogmios, depicted as an old man with a club, is one of the closest Gaulish parallels to the Dagda. Another Gaulish god who may be related to the Dagda is Sucellus, the striker, depicted with a hammer and cup.

He is credited with a seventy- or eighty-year reign (depending on source) over the Tuatha Dé Danann, before dying at the Brú na Bóinne, finally succumbing to a wound inflicted by Cethlenn during the second battle of Magh Tuiredh.[31]

In a poem about Mag Muirthemne, the Dagda banishes an octopus with his "mace of wrath" using the following words: "Turn thy hollow head! Turn thy ravening body! Turn thy resorbent forehead! Avaunt! Begone!", the sea receded with the creature and the plain of Mag Muirthemne was left behind.[32]

In the Dindsenchas the Dagda is described as swift with a poison draught and a just dealing lord. He is also called a King of Erin with hosts of hostages, a noble, slender prince, and the father of Cermait, Aengus, and Aed.[33]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Koch, John T. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2006. pp.553-554
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 An Dagda. Mary Jones's Celtic Encyclopedia.
  3. The Irish Version of the Historia Britonum Nennius, "Of the Conquest of Eri as Recorded by Nennius" Historia 8
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend & Romance: An encyclopaedia of the Irish folk tradition. Prentice Hall Press, 1991. pp.145-147
  5. 5.0 5.1 Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Infobase Publishing, 2004. pp.113-114
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ward, Alan (2011). The Myths of the Gods: Structures in Irish Mythology. pp.9-10
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ó hÓgáin, pp.165-166
  8. 8.0 8.1 MacNeill, Máire. The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest. Oxford University Press, 1962. p.416
  9. Scott, Martin A (April 2008). "The Names of the Dagda" (PDF). 'University of Michigan'. Retrieved 3 August 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Ó hÓgáin, p.245
  11. Koch, pp.553, 1632
  12. Maier, Bernhard. Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture. Boydell & Brewer, 1997. p.90
  13. Berresford Ellis, Peter. The Druids. W.B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994. p.123
  14. Smyth, Daragh. A Guide to Irish Mythology. Irish Academic Press, 1996. p.15
  15. Monaghan, p.83
  16. Monaghan, p.144
  17. O'Brien, Kathleen M. "Index of Names in Irish Annals: Eochaid, Echuid / Eochaidh". Index of Names in Irish Annals. Retrieved 30 November 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Celtic Myths". Retrieved 2017-08-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Stokes, Whitley. "The Second Battle of Moytura". Corpus of Electronic Texts. University College, Cork. Retrieved 3 August 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 Cath Maige Tuireadh. Trans. Elizabeth A. Gray.
  23. Coir Anmann. [1] Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine
  24. The Metrical Dindsenchas "Odras" Poem 49
  25. Dindsenchas "Fid n-Gaible"
  26. Borlase, William Copeland (1897). The Dolmens of Ireland. Indiana University: Chapman and Hall. p. 349. Retrieved 6 August 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. 27.0 27.1 "Banshenchus: The Lore of Women". Celtic Literature Collective. Mary Jones. Retrieved 2 December 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "The Dagda, the Father God of Ireland". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2017-08-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. 30.0 30.1 Tochmarc Étaíne. Corpus of Electronic Texts
  31. Lebor Gabála Érenn.
  32. The Metrical Dindshenchas poem on Mag Muirthemne. Corpus of Electronic Texts.
  33. The Metrical Dindsenchas poem 22 "Ailech I"

Further reading

  • Bergin, Osborn (1927). "How the Dagda Got his Magic Staff". Medieval Studies in Memory of Gertrude Schoepperle Loomis. Paris and New York. pp. 399–406. Archived from the original on 2010-03-27. Retrieved 2010-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sayers, William (1988). "Cerrce, an Archaic Epithet of the Dagda, Cernnunos, and Conall Cernach". The Journal of Indo-European Studies. 16: 341–64.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Preceded by
High King of Ireland
AFM 1830–1750 BC
FFE 1407–1337 BC
Succeeded by