Before the rise of Christianity, Ireland was a wild green land filled with ancient deities. Who were these ancient Irish Gods and Goddesses? Come with me on a journey to the Emerald Isle in search of the ancient and majestic Irish Gods and Goddesses. Maybe you’ll even discover your Matron Goddess and Patron God along the way. Keep in mind this is a fairly comprehensive list, but by no means covers all of the ancient Irish Gods and Goddesses.
The Tuatha de Danann were a race of divine people who, according to myth, dwelled and ruled the island of Ireland before the human race came along. They are called the Tuatha de Danann, which means the “people of Danu”. The ancient Celts revered the Tuatha as their gods and goddesses and kept them alive in their pagan traditions for thousands of years, until the rise of Christianity. Then, sadly, the Tuatha de Danann became devils, fairies, and demons and were symbolically (and potentially literally) driven into the hills and away from the people. This is why you’ll see many of the old gods referred to in later lore as “Fairy Queens” or the “good folk”. Now onto some of our favorites…
Danu is the Mother Goddess of the Tuatha de Danann and one of the most well known of the Irish Gods and Goddesses. Her name Danu is in many different place-names such as the River Danube and River Don. She gave birth to many other Irish Gods and Goddesses and is therefore the high Mother Goddess of the Tuatha. The Irish Celts believed Danu was the creator of the Earth – from her womb flowed the rivers of life which gave birth to the world. Danu can be viewed as the mother Goddess aspect of the triple-goddess in modern Wiccan lore. I see Danu as a beautiful woman in her thirties or forties, with long flowing red hair and a pregnant belly. She is bursting forth with life and love for her people and the world.
Dagda is the father of the Tuatha de Danann, also known as the “All-Father”. Some sources say Dagda was the son of Danu, while others say he was actually the father of Danu. Dagda protects the Irish tribes and watches over his people. He’s the most powerful and fierce, yet one of the most loving of the Irish Gods and Goddesses (just like a good father!) His brothers are the Irish gods Ogma and Lir. Dagda is depicted as a great god with a club in his hand with the ability to kill nine men in a single hit; however, the other end of the club could breathe life back into the dead and heal the injured. Dagda had a lover, the Irish Goddess Boann and a daughter named Breg.
Legend says the Dagda played a magical harp to “put the seasons back in order”. Dagda had two pigs – one of the pigs never stopped growing and the other pig was always roasting. Dagda represents the fruitfulness of the land, protection of his people, and justice. He is the Father of humanity, and one of the most revered of the Irish Gods and Goddesses. His character, traits, and stories remind me a lot of the Norse Allfather, Odin.
Brigid (pronounced BREED or BRIDE) is the one of the Irish Goddesses whose name has been absorbed into Catholicism. She was originally an Irish Goddess, but was adapted by the church as a patron saint. There’s a day on the Catholic calendar called Saint Brigid’s Day which is February 1st (also the pagan sabbat Imbolc). Also called the “Exalted One”, Brigid is daughter of the Dagda and wife to the Fomorian God Bres. Brigid is a triple-goddess in some stories. In her triple-goddess form, she is a healer, a poet, and a smith. Brigid is one of the Irish gods and goddesses who is known to be a protector of child-bearing and childbirth. Brigid is present at every child’s delivery. Brigid’s element is fire, she rules over high places and the highest flames. The hearthfire is sacred to her and is lit every Imbolc to honor her name.
There’s something about the image of The Horned God, also called Cernunnos, that has always invoked a sense of wonderment. When I picture the Horned God, I see a beautiful, strong male running alongside a stag, ready for the hunt and prepared to spread his seed. The image of a man with a pair of antlers or horns on his head, sitting in a lotus position between wild animals is an image that’s been around for centuries. The Horned God is a god that was worshiped by different Celtic tribes, all over Europe in the Celtic age. Now The Horned God, as one of the Irish Gods and Goddesses, is worshiped among new Pagans and Wiccans today. The Horned God is one of the Irish Gods and Goddesses who represents the male aspect of divinity, but he also represents the earth and the changing seasons.
To modern Wiccans, the Horned God represents male divinity and is present in the turning of the Wheel of the Year (the changing of the seasons). At Imbolc, The Horned God is a young boy playing in the meadows. By Beltane, he is a fertile, virile young man ready to mate with the Goddess. By Samhain, he is old and dying but will be reborn again on Yule.
Cailleach is one of the Irish gods and goddesses who is considered a “crone”, or an old wise woman. She has also been called the “death hag”, and Cailleach Bheur which literally translates to “old woman” or “veiled one”. The Celts believed in a “veil between the worlds” of the living and the dead. So the “Veiled One” is an appropriate name for this Irish Goddess. Cailleach is a Crone who embodies wisdom, a life well-lived and ultimately death. Because of this, Cailleach is a guardian or guide to the Otherworld.
Winter is her season, and earth is her element. Cailleach is a deified aspect of the Irish ancestors of old. When Spring comes back around, and specifically on February 1st, the Cailleach takes the young form of the Maiden (the youngest aspect of the Wiccan triple-goddess figure). Click here to see if you descend from the Cailleach.
The lover of Dagda, Boann is an Irish Goddess of the River. The River Boyne is named after her. An Irish poem says Boann is the creatress of the River Boyne. It is speculated that Boann could have been the mother of the Irish Goddess Brigit, but she was also written to have given birth to the Irish God Aengus, who was the son of Dagda. Boann is an Irish Goddess of fertility and her element is water. She is an aspect of the Mother Goddess and can be called upon for aid in conception, childbearing and childbirth. I envision the Irish Goddess Boann as a beautiful blonde woman, holding her baby on her side in utter freedom.
Lugh is one of the ancient Irish Gods and Goddesses and an important one. He is an Irish God who was born to a Fomorian and Tuatha de Danann. And therefore had to prove himself to the court of the Tuatha de Danann to inevitably be considered one of them. Lugh is a hero and High King of the Irish Gods and Goddesses and represents strength, athleticism, heroism, and perseverance. Lugh is also known as a Celtic Sun God and provides a golden harvest in the month of August. Lughnasadh (a pagan sabbat) is named after the Irish God Lugh. Lugnasadh is the first of three harvest festivals and is held on August 1st annually. Honor Lugh by celebrating Lughnasadh and thanking him for the bounty given.
The Morrigan is an Irish Goddess of war, transformation, and death. Her name means the “Phantom Queen” or possibly the “Great Queen”. She’s become quite popular among modern witches and pagans because of her complex nature. Yes, she represents death but she also represents the transformation that takes place between life, death and rebirth. She guards and guides souls through the entire life cycle. The Morrigan is thought to be a triple-goddess by some, including three goddesses: Macha, Badb, and Nemain (sometimes alternate names for Nemain are Anand or Morrigan). Others exclude Nemain and include the goddess Anu, which some scholars believe to be an epithet for the goddess Danu. Her actual identity is truly a mystery. For she may be the goddess Danu in her other forms OR a combination of many goddesses in one.
The Morrigan watches over the battlefields, rivers, magic, shapeshifters, animals and more. The Morrigan is a shapeshifter and she appears in the Ulster Cycle, one of the greatest Irish mythologies, in which she falls in love with Cu Chulainn.
Maeve is an Irish Goddess who’s gotten a bad rap but has proven to be empowering to women in modern times. Queen Maeve, also known as Medb, is an Irish Goddess of intoxication, lust, and power. In the Ulster Cycle, she is a ruthless queen of Connacht who seeks Ulster’s prize bull. Some believe she is the representation of sovereignty and could be another aspect of the Morrigan. Her name translates to mead – or one who intoxicates. In the Ulster Cycle she is portrayed as greedy and power-hungry, yet to modern women, she’s just another woman of power who was demonized by the patriarchy. Visit her resting place on top of the ancient mound Knocknarea in County Sligo.
Cu Chulainn (pronounced Coo-HOO-lynn) is a legendary Irish hero, demi-god and part of the Irish pantheon. He is a key character in the Ulster Cycle battling against Queen Maeve. He’s known as the Hound of Ulster and the son of the Celtic sun god Lugh. They said he was in such a frenzy as to be unrecognizable while fighting Maeve’s armies. Cu Chulainn is an Irish god of war, beauty, virility, and power. The Morrigan falls in love with him, but he denies her and suffers the consequences of her shapeshifting ways.
Cliodhna the Fairhaired is an ancient Celtic Irish goddess who became a fairy queen, mermaid and witch as the centuries passed. Originally the Calf Goddess of the Corcu Loigde (a clan of Irish families in the Munster province), Cliodhna is an ancestral goddess to families with the surnames Coffey, Flynn, Dineen, and others (click here to see more surnames). If your family has these surnames, you can claim descent from this Irish fairy goddess! Cliodhna is a goddess of the sea, fairies, healing, and dreams. She guides souls to the afterlife and guides practitioners on journeys to the Celtic Otherworld. Three divine birds accompany Cliodhna at her crystal palace in Tir na Nog.
I’m including Macha separately of her connection with The Morrigan here, because I believe she is her own entity aside from the divine triplicity. I’ve always found myself drawn to her story. Macha, which means “of the plains”, is a goddess of sovereignty once revered and attached to the land of Ulster. The Navan Fort Armagh are said to be her sacred sites. There are multiple stories of queens named Macha and all are fierce and formidable. She is at her core a goddess of the land, of war, kingship, and a warrior mother. It’s no wonder she’s considered one aspect of The Morrigan.
Aine, pronounced Ahn-yah, is the Irish Celtic goddess of Summer, love, shapeshifting and sovereignty. This goddess would come to be diminished over time into the Fairy Queen of Knockaine. She rules over motherhood, the sun and moon, stars, luck, prosperity, abundance and revenge. Her season is Summer, where you’ll no doubt feel her presence in her sacred places in Ireland.
Fire burns and protects. The fire element is one of the fiercest and yet required …September 16, 2023