The history of Ireland is written in her landscape. 
Across the island we read of a past which tells of famine, loss, emigration and the struggle for Irish Independence. In present times people are leaving to build new lives elsewhere, hunger and homelessness still exists and remnants of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ litter the land.
To live in rural Ireland however is also to live alongside a more ancient history, where the land speaks of the Old Gods. 
Here the mythical Tuatha Dé Danaan, the people of the goddess, are remembered in place names, 
fairy forts, hills, rivers and holy wells; they are recalled by storytellers, in folklore and in annual celebrations and customs. 
On settling to live in the Irish countryside I became aware of the strong threads which connect us to 
our prehistoric roots. 
Visiting sacred sites, listening to those who recall the old stories and taking part in annual traditions awoke in me the knowledge that the Old Gods are as alive today as they were to our ancestors. 

The Tuatha Dé Danaan, The Ever-Living Ones, live on in hills and hollows, in stone and water, in sunshine and moonlight and in the Irish people themselves.  

As an artist, my attempt to capture the The Ever-Living Ones and the themes of deity, land and myth, evolved over many years into a series of paintings. 
Unlike pagan pantheons elsewhere the skills, symbolism and folklore of individual Irish gods overlap and interweave.
Each goddess or god within the series is a portrait of an Irish person alive today who holds within their blood an element of their ancient ancestry, every artefact portrayed may be viewed in the National Museum and all locations across the island visited and experienced.
The old gods themselves emerge from land or water, from their sacred places, to offer the viewer a gift, a message from the past which is as relevant today as it was to our forebears.  

May The Ever-Living Ones speak to you through these pages.
Jane Brideson

Tuatha Dé Danaan -  A Divine Community

Ériu, Banba & Fótla - Sovereignty Goddesses of Ireland

‘The Ever-Living Ones’ is a title applied in literature to the goddesses & gods of Ireland, 
particularly to the mythological Tuatha Dé Danaan.
The precise origin and meaning of Tuatha Dé Danaan is disputed, although the popular translation taken from medieval scholars, gives the meaning as ‘People of the Goddess Danu’. 
The designation Tuatha Dé is however very old and thought to mean ‘divine communities’.  

The Tuatha Dé Danaan were originally pre-Christian goddesses and gods who are still remembered today in literature, folklore, place names and customs and several of the Tuatha Dé Danaan may be equated with Celtic deities found across Europe.  
The first wave of Celtic culture is thought to have arrived in Ireland around 500 BCE and continued 
for many centuries bringing with it a new language and Celtic beliefs and traditions which, over time, incorporated those of the insular population and grew to encompass the mythology of various sacred sites and ancient mounds across the land. 

In Ireland the mythology of the Tuatha Dé Danaan and their deeds, taken from oral tradition, 
was recorded by Christian scribes many centuries after Christianity came to Ireland and as a consequence their stories have been transmitted through monastic schools, most of whom frowned upon the existence of earlier pagan gods. 
These writers sought to structure the tales and portrayed the goddesses and gods as characters from 
the past. It is clear from these mythologies however that the Tuatha Dé Danaan were deities for 
several reasons; they were considered immortal, had supernatural abilities and were regarded as 
divine ancestors. 
They are often portrayed as being physically beautiful, with the Book of Lecan describing them as “Tuath de Donnan druing mar glain”, ‘The Tuatha Dé Danaan a throng like crystal’. 
Medieval monks drew upon this body of mythology to compose the Lebor Gabála Érenn
the Book of Invasions, in which the Tuatha Dé Danaan are represented as magical craftsmen, 
skilled in many arts and as benefactors surrounded by magic and mystery. 
These attributes together with those of the earlier pre-Celtic gods, appear to have been later transferred to many of the Early Irish saints, as were various sacred sites, holy wells and traditions of the island. 

The Ever-Living Ones can be understood as guardians of the people and the land who control the weather and the fertility of crops and animals. 
They are portrayed as the patrons of kings and clans, preside over certain arts and crafts, 
protect warriors in battle and welcome the dead to the Otherworld. 
Many are contradictory in nature, able to shape shift into animal forms and have triplicate identities.   

The Good People:
In mythology the Tuatha Dé Danaan were part of a great battle, Cath Maige Tuired, the battle of Moytirra. There were two battles associated with this name, the first taking place against the 
Fir Bolg at Bealtaine and the second at Samhain, against the Fomoire.
The Tuatha Dé conquer both foes but a later invasion by the Milesians brings about the Battle of 
Tailtu where the Old Gods are finally defeated.

They do not abandon Ireland however, as the rich heritage of folk belief relates. 

The Ever-Living Ones leave the surface of the land to the victorious mortals, choosing instead to 
live within the ancient mounds and secret places of her hills and valleys. 
These dwellings are often portrayed as palaces of light and great beauty, overflowing with food, 
drink and enchanted music. 
Their sacred sites within the landscape are thought to lead to the many Otherworld realms 
such as Tír fo Thuinn, Land under Wave and Tír na nÓg, Land of Youth.

Over the years the Tuatha Dé Danaan, known as the Sídh, came to be identified with the fairies 
of folk tradition. 
The Old Irish síd or síth has several meanings; it refers to ‘a fairy hill or mound’ and to a dweller 
within that mound. Síd can also mean peace and goodwill, as well as describing the quietness and stillness found in nature, thus the Tuatha Dé were seen to became one with the physical landscape. 

This community of supernatural beings were known in literature as the aés síde. 
Folklore concerning the people of the mounds describes them as being both benevolent and 
malevolent in nature, so it was judged wise to be diplomatic when speaking of them. 
To avoid risking their displeasure several titles were used when speaking of the aés síde, the most common being na daoine maithe, ‘the good people’ or  na daoine uaisle, ‘the noble people’, descriptions which are still in use today. 
A large amount of folk belief and custom grew around the existence of the ‘the good people’ 
and the Tuatha Dé Danaan, much of which concerns the places and times at which they were 
thought to interact with the mortal population. 

In Ireland today The Ever-Living Ones are remembered in literature, folklore, place names and customs. 
They live on within the landscape where they dwell in wild, green places, upon wind torn hills, whispering from clear, flowing water and sighing through trees.
At special times in the year they still wander the land beneath the white moon and the glittering stars.

My research and study of The Ever-Living Ones focused on the themes of deity, landscape and
myth, which evolved over many years into a series of paintings of Irish Goddesses and Gods.

Each painting is a portrait of an Irish person alive today who holds within their DNA an element
of their ancient ancestry.
Every artefact portrayed may be viewed in the National Museum, Dublin and each sacred site
& location across the island may be visited and experienced.

The Old Gods themselves emerge from land or water, from their sacred places on this island,
to offer the viewer a gift, a message from the past which is as relevant today as it was to our forebears.

(All words © Jane Brideson 20015) 

John Feehan introduces The Ever-Living Ones

"There are two things I have learned over the years at the opening of art exhibitions. 
One is that it is unlikely anyone will remember what you say and the longer you go on the less likely it becomes. 
For that reason I will keep this short.

The second is that what is on show does not often inspire me because when I am looking at new works of art I am asking myself two things: first of all 

does it reach far enough and deep enough to touch the banished soul of the world: 

and secondly, do I find in it an integrity that does not jar with my sensitivity as a scientist (and more particularly as a geologist).

Seamus Heaney wonderfully described geology and poetry in a lecture a few years ago as 
'kindred ways of responding to the mystery and making of the planet.'

I think that is even more true of geology and painting.

I should say at the outset how wonderfully these paintings meet these criteria for me!

You see the way the upper half of each painting depicts the person of the God or Goddess while the lower half depicts the elements of landscape with which he or she is associated: along with representations of our human attempts to represent or celebrate them in landscape, ritual and craft.

And notice the way a receptacle - boat, bowl or cauldron, or cupped hands - is used as it were to transmit a distilled essence of the particular power or gift of land and
landscape that is being celebrated: the power that takes human form in the mythical 
figure of the God or Goddess we conjure up to relate to it and to think about the influence of that power or gift they represent in our lives.

Each picture begins at the bottom.
It is through our experience of what we see in the lower part of each picture that the imagery born of that experience comes into focus, takes on a human face as we attempt to relate it to us in a way that turns it in on itself using our eyes as it were, requiring that we direct our everyday gaze with new attentiveness, awareness, appreciation of the natural world and all its gifts and wonders.

The particular precious resources these figures represent - the figures in human form our imagination has framed to represent them: Mannanán mac Lír, Anu, Brighid, An Cailleach, An Mór Ríogháin, Eriú, Banba and Fótla, Aengus Óg, Boann, Dian Cécht, Goibnui, Donn, An Dagdha, Lugh
 - the particular precious resources these figures represent are those earth resources that sustain our life and all life; which are degraded and misused in a culture that knows no tutelary spirits such as these, but thinks the human soul can be nourished by the digital imagery of a computer screen: and has become so, so alienated from the reality of place and landscape, when our very future survival depends on the continuing nurturing of such relationship.

And there is the relevance for our own day.
No element of landscape perhaps shows the need more I think than the water that appears in nearly all of the pictures, and which in a time when these personifications of the powers and virtues of the natural world would have been as familiar as movie stars in ours, found a ritual focus in the springs and wells that carried it from the deep of the purifying earth into our lives.

The quality of that water in our day has deteriorated to such an extent that in nearly every case it is now undrinkable, and the natural landscape context that once framed these special wells and springs, and carried the thread of connection between landscape and the human mind, has - again in nearly every case - been anaesthetised by our attempts to impose ourselves upon it with superfluous infrastructure devoid of any aesthetic sensitivity that might act as a conduit for that thread of connection.

An all-encompassing agenda for environmental action to confront these issues might be built on an appreciation of these paintings; because they invite similar reflections on air quality, soil, and the richness and diversity of life on earth.

Apart from the power to inspire each painting has in itself, each could be - should be perhaps - the subject of a chapter in a book that treats of the cultural environmental legacy of the past (if I can call it that) in order to kindle the flame of awareness and concern in our present in the way that is absolutely necessary if we are to remain on as responsible custodians of the earth.

I hate to think this pantheon will be scattered…. "  

John Feehan is an Irish geologist, botanist, ecologist, author and broadcaster. 
He studied Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin and later returned to Trinity College where he received his PhD on the geology of the Slieve Bloom and Devilsbit Mountains in 1980. 
He was a Senior Lecturer in the School of Agriculture and Food Science at University Collge Dublin, where he taught for twenty years up to his retirement in 2012. 
John is also known for his television series "Exploring the Landscape" and he is committed to the maintenance of rural biodiversity, cultural heritage and sustaining Ireland's rural community.
He has written many fascinating books on the Irish landscape and its ecology, my own favourite 
being "The Landscape of The Slieve Bloom" which was recently republished.
Copies may be purchased here -

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