Irish: "The Good God", probably from *dago devas, though some early texts give the incorrect etymology of dag dae "good hand" (skillful hand, prefiguring Lugh), or daeg dia "god of fire"
A.K.A. Eochu Ollathair "Horse Great-Father", Ruadh Rofhessa "Red One Great in Knowledge"
One of the main figures of the Tuatha Dé Danann
The son of Elada and brother of Ogma. In the Lebor Gabala Erenn, his sons are given as Oengus, Aed, and Cermait, while his daughters are Brigit and Aine. Tochmarch Etaine adds Bodb Derg, over-all king of the Sidhe as a son.
In the Dinsenchas, Dian Cecht is also named as a son, but the Lebor Gabala differs, naming Dian Cecht only as a cousin of the Dagda. There is a traditional enmity between the family of the Dagda and the family of Dian Cecht. According to several texts, Cermait stole the wife of Lugh, grandson of Dian Cecht, who proceeded to kill Cermait in revenge. Cermait's sons Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht, and Mac Greine then killed Lugh.
In Tochmarch Etaine, para. 18, he is named one of "the Trí Dé Dána--three gods of art, namely Lug and the Dagda, and Ogma"; however, in Immacallam in dá Thúarad, he's the grandfather of the Trí Dé Dána, via his daughter Brigit.
His best-known consort was Boand, the mother of Oengus mac ind-Og and goddess of the Boyne. When Oengus fell in love with Caer, it was the Dagda who was able to find the girl through the help of Medb and Ailill.
According to the Lebor Gabala Erenn, he was king of Ireland for eighty years, until turning it over to Delbaeth (which one is uncertain), and was killed in battle against the Formorians; this, however, seems an obvious attempt to rationalize a divine figure.
According to Cath Magh Turedh, when relations were good with the Fomorians, and Bres became king, it was the Dagda who built his home, Dun Bresse. In return, Bres enslaved not only the Dagda, but all the Tuatha De Danann--the Dagda was made a permanent rath builder, Ogma had to gather firewood, and everything they had was under tribute to Bres and the Fomorians. The Dagda and his son Oengus plotted to kill Cridenbel, a Fomorian who demanded the Dagda's food each night. This lead ultimately to the Second Battle of Magh Turedh. The night before the battle, he went to his home in Glen Ettin, and met the Morrigan by the River Unis in Connacht. There he slept with her, thus ensuring victory for the Tuatha De.
The Dagda was then made a spy for the Tuatha Dé; his immense appetite and appearance are described in less-than-flattering terms:
A cape to the hollow of his two elbows. A dun tunic around him, as far as the swelling of his rump. It was moreover, long breasted ,with a hole in the peak. Two brogues on him of horse-hide, with the hair outside. Behind him a wheeled fork to carry which required the effort of eight men, so that its track after him was enough for the boundary-ditch of a province. Wherefore it is called "The Track of the Dagda's Club"
The Dagda is given many names:
He had a cauldron which never went empty (Cath Magh Turedh), and a magic club which could heal on one side and kill on the other (How the Dagda Got His Magic Staff), and a magic harp called Daur-da-bla "Oak of two greens" and Coir-cethar-chuir "Four-angled music" (CMT)
There are several sites in Ireland associted with him:
Roles of the Dagda
Now, looking at this information, we can see several things. First, by his kingship and his titles "the good god", "horse great-father" and "red one great in knowledge", we can see that he is a leader of the gods, though not in the same sense wherein Nuada is king. The Dagda is more like the father-figure and druid of the gods (which he is explicitly called in several texts).
According to De Gabáil in t-Sída (refering to how Oengus won Brugh na Boinne), he was the protector of corn and milk, and according to The Wooing of Etain, he was the controller of weather and crops. He is obviously an agricultural god, a god of plenty; his harp seems to not only be able to command people, but the seasons (which may be why it is called "four-angled"). His ever-full cauldron, mentioned already, also indicates a god of plenty.
He is also a god who secures the services of the goddess of sovereignty. It is the Dagda who sleeps with Morrigan, thus securing the victory of the Tuatha Dé, and it is the Dagda who fathers figures like Brigit and Aine, who act as goddesses of sovereignty. His name "Eochaid" is also indicative of a sovereignty connection, as it is the Horse Goddess who often confers sovereignty to the king; many kings in Irish legend also have the name Eochaid.
Finally, in Immacallam in dá Thúarad, he's called "Ruad Rofessa the son of all arts, that is a son who has all art." In this text, his fathering of Brigit and grandfather of the Tri dei Dana (here a different list for who is a member) shows him being considered the ultimate father of wisdom.
Several items recommend the intepretation of the Dagda as a reflex of the Indo-European thunder god. First is the story of Mag Muirthemne, wherein he battles an "octopus" with his club, and banishes the monster. Arguably, this is a version of the thunder god defeating the serpent of the waters.
Two of his names--Fer Benn and Cerrce--may refer to thunder and lightning, as explained above, with the intriguing intpretation of Cerrce deriving from *perkw, the reconstructed PIE word meaning "strike", related to descendent words for oak or fir (quercus), as well as thunder gods (Perkunas, Perunu). Another name mentioned above--Dagda duir--may refer to the oak, which again is the tree associated with the thunder god.
His magic club can easily be seen as an extention of the thunder god's weapon--Thor's hammer, Zeus' (rather unsubtle) lightning bolt.
Some scholars have also connected him to Sucellos, the good striker of Gaulish religion, because of that god's depiction of carrying a hammer or club and a bowl, much like the Dagda's staff and cauldron; and both the Dagda and Sucellos have been tentatively tied to Dis Pater, who Caesar says was the ancestor of the Gauls; this would connect to the Dagda's status as "great father."
Sayer draws a connection between the Dagda and Cernunnos, based in part on the names Cerrce and Fer Benn, both of which may refer to antlers as much as "peaks" or "forked". Cernunnos has aspects of a god of plenty, similar to the Dagda, but ultimately it's difficult to say, since there is little we know about Cernunnos in Gaulish belief.
Marin, Scott A. "The Names of the Dagda" retrieved Sep. 7, 2008; published April 2008. URL: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~samarti/dagda.pdf
Sayers, William. "Cerrce, an archaic epithet of the Dagda, Cernunnos, and Conall Cernach." Journal of Indo-European Studies vol. 16. 1988. via The Names of the Dagda by Scott A. Martin.
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Mary Jones © 2004