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Bull Rock, off the southwest coast of Ireland, is often identified with Teach Duinn (the House of Donn)

In Irish mythology, Donn ("the dark one", from Proto-Celtic: *Dhuosnos)[1][2] is an ancestor of the Gaels and sometimes argued to be a god of the dead.[3][4]

Donn is said to dwell in Tech Duinn (the "house of Donn" or "house of the dark one").[5] A 9th-century poem says that Donn's dying wish was that all his descendants would gather at Tech Duinn after death: "To me, to my house, you shall all come after your deaths".[1] The 10th-century tale Airne Fíngein ("Fíngen's Vigil")[6] while extolling the great deeds Conn will do in his lifetime says:

To Eas Rudah, to Find, to Fanad,

and as far as Teach Duind, where the dead hold their tryst,

He shall mix spears in the blood of heroes

upon the slope of Ulster, – a broad track

In their translation of Acallam na Senórach, Ann Dooley and Harry Roe commented that "to go to the House of Donn in Irish tradition means to die".[5] This suggests that the pagan Gaels saw Donn as their ancestor and believed they would go to his abode when they died.[7] Tech Duinn may have been thought of as a place where the souls of the dead gathered before travelling to their final destination in the otherworld, or before being reincarnated.[5] According to Julius Caesar, the Gauls also claimed descent from a god of the underworld whom he likened to Dīs Pater.[4]

The Christian writers who put together the Lebor Gabála Érenn made Donn (also called Éber Donn) one of the Milesians, the mythical ancestors of the Gaels.[5] The Milesians invade Ireland and take it from the Tuatha Dé Danann. During their invasion, Donn slights Ériu, one of the eponymous goddesses of Ireland, and he drowns in a shipwreck off the southwest coast. Donn is then buried on a rocky island which becomes known as Tech Duinn. In the literature, Tech Duinn is said to lie at or beyond the western edge of Ireland.[2]

The late 9th century poem Can a mbunadas na nGael[8] by Máel Mura Othna contains the following lines:

The Tuatha Dea sent them forth,

According to the laws of war

From the firm land over nine waves

Of the broad sea.

Herimon went forth with half the host

In proud array,

Round the north (it was without sorrow),

To Inbher Colptha.

Donn went with the other half

In progressive order,

He died as he was sailing, without strength,

At the south of Irrus.

There was raised for him a cairn with the stone of his race,

Over the broad sea,

An ancient stormy dwelling; and Tech Duinn,

It is called.

This was his great testament

To his numerous children,

'To me, to my house, come ye all

After your deaths.'

Tech Duinn is commonly identified with Bull Rock, an islet off the western tip of the Beara Peninsula. Bull Rock resembles a dolmen or portal tomb as it has a natural tunnel through it, allowing the sea to pass under it as if through a portal.[9] In Ireland there was a belief that the souls of the dead departed westwards over the sea with the setting sun.[1] The Metrical Dindshenchas (4)[10] for Tech Duinn reads:

Said Donn: ‘Let my body be carried to one of the islands’, said he, ‘and my people will lay a blessing on me for ever.’ Then through the incantations of the druids a storm came upon them, and the ship wherein Donn was foundered. ‘Let his body be carried to yonder high rock’, says Amairgen: ‘his folk shall come to this spot.’ So hence it is called Tech Duinn: and for this cause, according to the heathen, the souls of sinners visit Tech Duinn before they go to hell, and give their blessing, ere they go, to the soul of Donn. But as for the righteous soul of a penitent, it beholds the place from afar, and is not borne astray. Such, at least, is the belief of the heathen. Hence Tech Duinn is so called. - Translation by E. Gwynn

In the tale Togail Bruidne Dá Derga ("The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel"), king Conaire Mór meets his death in Bruiden Dá Derga (the "great hall or hostel of the red god"). On his way to the hostel, Conaire meets three red men riding red horses from the otherworld. They foretell his doom and tell him "we ride the horses of Donn […] although we are alive, we are dead".[2] It has been suggested that Dá Derga and Dá Derga's Hostel is another name for Donn and his abode.[5] It may be a name for the death god in the context of violent death or sacrifice, hence the name "red god".[11]

In the tale Tochmarc Treblainne ("The Wooing of Treblann"), the otherworld woman Treblann elopes with the mortal man Fráech, who sends her to safety in Tech Duinn while he embarks on a quest. In this tale, Donn is said to be the son or foster-son of the Dagda.[12][13] Dáithí Ó hÓgáin notes similarities between the two and suggests that Donn was originally an epithet of the Dagda.[2]

Folklore about Donn survived into the early modern era. In County Limerick, a Donn Fírinne was said to dwell in the hill of Cnoc Fírinne (possibly meaning "hill of truth") and was associated with the weather. Thunder and lightning meant that Donn Fírinne was riding his horse through the sky, and if clouds were over the hill it meant that he was gathering them together to make rain. In County Clare there was a Donn na Duimhche or Donn Dumhach ("Donn of the dunes"), who "was also often encountered as a night-horseman".[2]

Donn is also father of Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, whom he gives to Aengus Óg to be raised.

In modern Irish, donn is the word for the colour brown.

See also

  • Hy-Brasil - legendary island to the west of Ireland


  1. ^ a b c Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland. Boydell & Brewer, 1999. pp.27, 58
  2. ^ a b c d e Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend & Romance: An encyclopaedia of the Irish folk tradition. Prentice Hall Press, 1991. pp.165-166
  3. ^ Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Infobase Publishing, 2004. p.135
  4. ^ a b Koch, John T. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2006. pp.601, 1133
  5. ^ a b c d e Freitag, Barbara. Hy Brasil: The Metamorphosis of an Island. Rodopi, 2013. pp.98-99, 101
  6. ^ "Fingen's Night-Watch Airne Fingen, MS. Stowe D.4.2, R.I.A, Trans. T. P. Cross & A. C. L. Brown". line feed character in |title= at position 21 (help)
  7. ^ Maier, Bernhard. Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture. Boydell & Brewer, 1997. p.97
  8. ^ "The Irish version of the Historia Britonum of Nennius (Page 223)".
  9. ^ Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. The Lore of Ireland. Boydell Press, 2006. p.179
  10. ^ "The Metrical Dindshenchas (Author:[unknown]) poem/story 113 TECH DUINN". line feed character in |title= at position 45 (help)
  11. ^ Ó hÓgáin, Myth, Legend & Romance, p.154
  12. ^ Reinhard, John. The Survival of Geis in Mediaeval Romance. M Niemeyer, 1933. p.26
  13. ^ Zeidler, J. Ancient and Medieval Celtic Myths of Origin. pp.10-11

External links

  • Media related to Donn at Wikimedia Commons
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