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1. Overview
2. Law Codes
3. Texts
3.1. Tain Bo Cauilnge
3.2. The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel
4. Comparison

external image 2821861132_a01e400a3c.jpg[1]
"The Old Druid"


The druids were one of the more revered people in early medieval Ireland. Considered part of the nemed class, druids were the early religious leaders of Ireland. Oftentimes, druids were consulted in order to prophesy. One of these prophecies was in the form of a "bull feast", where the next king would be chosen. A bull would be sacrificed and served to a person, who ate until they were full. The person then slept off the meal, while druids chanted over him to make him see the future king in his dreams. Once the person woke up, he would describe what he saw in his dream, and whoever matched the description would become the new king.[2]

Law Codes

Not much is given about the druids in the law codes. Under the law code of the Uraicecht Becc, druids are considered part of the nemed class.[3] Also, in the Bretha Crólige, the druid is considered as having the same sick-maintenance as a bóaire, which entitles them to salt meat on his dish every Sunday, as well as extra if they have more property.[4]

Texts with Druids

Táin Bo Cuialnge

In the Táin Bo Cuailnge, the druid Cathbad prophesied that "if a warrior took up arms that day, his name would endure in Ireland as a byword for heroic deeds". Cú Chulainn, overhearing this, pesters his foster father Conchobar into giving him his weapons, so that he might be a great hero. On another day, Cathbad prophesies that anyone who took up a chariot that day would also live forever in Ireland. Again, Cú Chulainn pesters Conchobar into giving him a chariot.[5]

When Cú Chulainn first attacks Ailill and Medb's army, he bends an oak sapling into a hoop and inscribes a message on it. When a druid is consulted to determine the meaning of it, the druid states that just one man was able to make it (which means that the one who made it, Cú Chulainn, is very strong) and that they must complete the challenge in the message or else they will "transgress the rules of war".[6]

The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel

In "The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel", the king of Ériu unexpectedly dies, leaving the land without a king. To remedy this, the druids prepare a bull-feast, and the man sees a naked man walking the road to Temuir with only a stone in his sling. Conare, who was in attendance with his foster-brothers, sneaks away from them to put himself in position to match the description from the bull-feast and become king.[7]


By the time the law codes were written down, the Catholic Church had a firm grasp on Irish society. This meant that druids, who were once revered, were dropped down to the level of a bóaire, and thus the law codes look less favorably upon them. Likewise, the myths and sagas of early Ireland held the druids in high esteem, as they were consulted when even the king did not know what to do. Some of the myths do exaggerate just what a druid is capable of, but this meant that they were honoring people who they believed held power over them.

For more information, Connor Keenan, undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, has written a on the subject of the influence of Christian and druidic beliefs and mythology and how the Irish beliefs transformed from the latter the former.
  1. ^ http://www.flickr.com/photos/willposh/2821861132/sizes/m/ Image attributed to "willposh" on Flickr.
  2. ^ Handy, Amber, "Kingship: How to Get It, How to Keep It" (lecture, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, October 5, 2010.
  3. ^ Eoin MacNeill, "Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp. 277.
  4. ^ Bretha Crólige." 1934-1938. Ériu: Founded as the Journal of the School of Irish Learning Devoted to Irish Philology and Literature. Ed. Osborn Bergin and Eleanor Knott. Vol. XII. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1977. 39-41. Print.
  5. ^ "The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn". The Táin. Ed. and trans. Ciaran Carson. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007. 43-45. Print
  6. ^ "They Get to Know About Cú Chulainn". The Táin. Ed. and trans. Ciaran Carson. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007. 26-27. Print
  7. ^ "The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel". Early Irish Myths and Sagas. Trans. Jeffrey Gantz. New York: Penguin Classics, 1981. 65-66. Print.