In Irish mythology
the Fir Bolg
(Fir Bholg, Firbolg) were one of the races that inhabited the island of Ireland prior to the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann
In far antiquity the Fir Bolg were the rulers of Ireland (at the time called Ériu) immediately before the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann
, who many interpret as the Gaelic gods. The King of the Tuatha Dé, Nuada
, sued for half the island for his people, but the Fir Bolg king refused. At the ensuing Battle of Mag Tuired the Fir Bolg were all but conquered and their king slain by the goddess Morrigu, though the fierce efforts of their champion Sreng
saved them from utter loss, and the Tuatha Dé were so touched by their nobility and spirit they gave them one quarter of the island as their own. They chose Connacht
. After this, the Fir Bolg all but disappear from mythology.
The origin of their name is the subject of some dispute. Many commentators consider them the "men of Builg" or "men of bags", or possibly "men with spears", from bolg
or by comparison with the modern Irish word bolg
meaning 'belly' (and originally meaning 'bag'). Alternatively they may be related to the Belgae
tribe, whose name meant the "shining ones" (from Proto-Celtic
*belo, meaning "bright"). In Early Irish, "boillsg" meant gleam; from Proto-Celtic
*bolg-s-cio-; related to Latin "fulgeo", shine, English "effulgent", Lithuanian "blizgù" and even Russian "byela" (white).
These people arrived in Ireland in three groups, the Fir Bolg, the Fir Domnann
and the Gaileanga. The Fir Bolg are likely derived from the historical Belgae, known from Gaul
, and related to the historical Builg of Munster
; the Fir Domnann are probably related to the British, Dumnonii
; and the Gaileanga are another name for the Laigin, who founded Leinster
. The three groups probably represent the Ivernic
-speaking peoples who inhabited Ireland before the Goidelic
Other theories have been advanced about the origin of the Fir Bolg. Some scholars have related the name of a Celtic god with the word Bolg. The Fir Bolg, according to one legend, were involved in carrying bags of earth at one point in their history, hence the "Men of Bags" interpretation. Others speculate that "Bolg" relates to a word for small boats.
One interpretation which has gained ground is drawn from the recorded histories. The Fir Bolg, according to this theory, were largely conquered by the Gaels, and thus, as a lower class in society, would have had different customs befitting a lower social status. In particular, this theory holds that "Fir Bolg" is a corruption of a term for "Breeches-Wearers", reasoning that, as manual laborers, the Fir Bolg would have found it useful to wear trousers rather than the robes and garb of the Gaels. This theory, however, remains largely speculative, and there is little hard evidence to confirm this interpretation.
The Fir Bolg were recorded as being ejected from Ireland and returning under a King named Aengus. The Fir Bolg were given, as a place of settlement, the Aran Islands and surrounding coastland (the largest of these Islands, Inishmore--Árainn--is home to a fortress allegedly related to Aengus and the Fir Bolg, Dún Aengus). This episode of history, in which the Fir Bolg come from what is assumed to be a place near modern Scotland, settle in Ireland, and then go to the Aran Islands, on Ireland's western fringe, has given rise to one interpretation of Fir Bolg origins. A Pictish invasion of Ireland is the proposition in this account, and the Aran Islands were a last refuge for this invading force.