They are thought to derive from the pre-Christian gods of Ireland. When the surviving stories were written, Ireland had been Christian for centuries, and the Tuatha Dé were represented as mortal kings and heroes of the distant past, but there are many clues to their former divine status. A poem in the Book of Leinster lists many of the Tuatha Dé, but ends "Although [the author] enumerates them, he does not worship them." Goibniu, Creidhne and Luchta are referred to as Trí Dé Dána ("three gods of craftsmanship"), and the Dagda's name is interpreted in medieval texts as "the good god." Even after they are displaced as the rulers of Ireland, characters such as Lugh, the Morrígan, Aengus and Manannan appear in stories set centuries later, showing all the signs of immortality. They also have many parallels across the Celtic world: Nuada is cognate with the British god Nodens; Lugh is a reflex of the pan-Celtic deity Lugus; Tuireann is related to the Gaulish Taranis; Ogma to Ogmios; the Badb to Catubodua.
The Danaan Greeks of Homer's Iliad are not connected in any way to the Tuatha Dé Danann. The spelling "Danaan" is an anglicisation of the Greek Δαναοί (Danaoi) and its similarity to "Danann" is coincidental.
Led by their king, Nuada, they fought the First Battle of Magh Tuiredh (Moytura), on the west coast, in which they defeated and displaced the clumsy and ill-armed Fir Bolg, who then inhabited Ireland. Nuada lost an arm in the battle. Since he was no longer perfect, he could not continue as king and was replaced by the half-Fomorian Bres, who turned out to be a tyrant. The physician Dian Cecht replaced Nuada's arm with a working silver one and he was reinstated as king. However, Dian Cecht's son Miach was dissatisfied with the replacement so he recited the spell, "ault fri halt dí 7 féith fri féth" (joint to joint of it and sinew to sinew), which caused flesh to grow over the silver prosthesis over the course of nine days and nights. Dian Cecht slew his own son out of jealousy. Because of Nuada's restoration as leader, the half-Fomorian Bres complained to his family.
The Tuatha Dé Danann then fought the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh against the Fomorians. Nuada was killed by the Fomorian king Balor's poisonous eye, but Balor was killed by Lugh, who took over as king.
A third battle was fought against a subsequent wave of invaders, the Milesians, from the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula (present day Galicia and Northern Portugal), descendants of Míl Espáine (who are thought to represent the Goidelic Celts). The Milesians encountered three goddesses of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Ériu, Banba and Fodla, who asked that the island be named after them; Ériu is the origin of the modern name Éire, and Banba and Fodla are still sometimes used as poetic names for Ireland.
Their three husbands, Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine, who were kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann at that time, asked for a truce of three days, during which the Milesians would lie at anchor nine waves' distance from the shore. The Milesians complied, but the Tuatha Dé Danann created a magical storm in an attempt to drive them away. The Milesian poet Amergin calmed the sea with his verse, before his people landed and defeated the Tuatha Dé Danann at Tailtiu. When Amergin was called upon to divide the land between the Tuatha Dé Danann and his own people, he cleverly allotted the portion above ground to the Milesians and the portion underground to the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Tuatha Dé Danann were led underground into the Sidhe mounds by The Dagda.
Agnoman of Scythia
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Etarlám Esar Brec Delbáeth Dot Bres
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Eochaid Dian Cecht Elatha Balor
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Nuada | | | | | | | | | | |
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| | | (Tuireann)
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Ernmas Abean MacCuill MacCecht MacGréine Fiacha Brian Iuchar Iucharba Danand Goibniu Credne Luchta Ollam
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