Tales from Celtic folklore and mythology still play a huge part across the Emerald Isle to this day.
Celtic folklore and mythology have played an important role in shaping many European customs and beliefs we are familiar with today – particularly in Ireland. One of the main aspects of Irish folklore involves ancient Celtic gods and goddesses.
Much of Irish mythology is made up of ancient Celtic gods and goddesses. These stories were passed down through oral traditions that began in pre-Christian Gaul, Iberia, Britain, and Ireland.
Many ancient Celtic folk tales that had their roots in Ireland have luckily been preserved in medieval Irish literature. So thankfully, we can read about their marvellous stories to this day.
If you want to find out more about Celtic mythology, here are the top ten ancient Celtic gods and goddesses.
10. Lugh – a warrior god
One of the well-known gods of the Celts was Lugh of the Long Arm. He was a courageous warrior god who sought revenge for the unjust death of his father.
His most infamous feat was his slaying of Balor – the one-eyed chief of the Formorii, adversaries to the Tuatha Dé Danann.
This victory is accredited with bringing the Tuatha Dé Danann’s ascendance as the dominant tribe of gods in Ireland.
9. Cailleach – the veiled One
Known as the Veiled One, or the Queen of Winter, number nine on our list of Celtic deities is Cailleach.
Having control of the weather and winds, Cailleach appears primarily as a veiled old woman who could leap across mountains and ride storms. Ageless and also immortal, she remains popular among poets to this day.
8. Aengus – the god of love
The son of Dagda, Aengus is one of the well-known gods of the Celts. He is also recognised as a youthful god of love.
Known for his poetry and music, which inspired Kings, charmed women, and also helped him win against his enemies, he symbolises craftiness and guile.
7. Medb – Queen of Connacht
Medb, or Maeve, was the Queen of Connacht and ruler of the west of Ireland in Celtic mythology.
A strong leader, she came to dominate much of the island and often found herself in conflict with the Ulster hero Cu Chulainn.
Taking many lovers, Medb demanded three things of all her suitors and husbands. These were that they harbour no fear, meanness, or jealousy towards her. She was known as the goddess of sovereignty.
6. Brigid – the Irish goddess of spring, fertility, and life
Many in Ireland today still honour St Brigid’s Day. Celebrated from the evening of 1 February to the evening of 2 February, St Brigid’s Day marks the beginning of Spring or Imbolc.
Thus, Brigid is one of the most well-known Celtic deities in Ireland today. A master of healing and poetry, Brigid is recognised as the goddess of Spring, fertility, and life.
5. Morrigan – the goddess of death, discord, and war
Morrigan, or the ‘Phantom Queen’, is recognised as a powerful female deity associated with both death and fate.
Stories portray the Morrigan as both a single entity and a divine trinity of sisters who could transform into screeching crows.
4. Cu Chulainn – champion of Ulster
Cu Chulainn was a Celtic demigod who defended the Irish kingdom of Ulster against oncoming threats. Thus, making him one of Ireland’s most well-known folk heroes.
Many recognise him as a warrior who trained in Ireland and Scotland to become one of the most unmatched fighters of his time. Think of him as Ireland’s answer to Achilles!
3. Eriu/Eire – the goddess of Ireland
We couldn’t make a list of ancient Celtic gods and goddesses without including Ireland’s very own namesake Eire.
Eire is symbolic of Tuatha Dé Danann’s legacy after the Milesian defeat as she and her two sisters went to greet the victors. In return, they offered to name a nation after her.
2. Danu – the mother goddess
Danu, the ‘mother goddess’, is one of the oldest ancient Celtic deities in Ireland. Divine mother of the Tuatha dé Danann tribe, stories associate Danu with nature and the spiritual essence of nature.
Many believe that all things in Ireland depended upon the blessings of this Celtic goddess.
1. Dagda – the good god
Referred to as ‘the good god’, you may recognise the imagery of Dadga wielding a magic staff that could bring life or death.
So, many artists depict Dagda carrying a huge caldron that promised plenty or playing his enchanted harp that ordered the seasons.
Dagda is at the top of our list of ancient Celtic gods and goddesses. Considered the father of the Tuatha dé Danann, many associate this god of the Celts with fertility, agriculture, seasons, magic, life, and death.
Other notable mentions
Cernunnos: People widely regard Cernunnos as the “god of wild things’. He was often regarded as representing nature. Julius Caesar associated Cernunnos with the Roman Underworld god Dis Pater.
Fionn mac Cumhail: Fionn Mac Cumhail is also a hero in Irish mythology. He was the legendary Irish warrior and hunter who led the band of Irish warriors known as the Fianna and created the Giants Causeway.
Tuatha dé Dannan: Tuatha dé Dannan was a mythological race of supernatural gods and goddesses.
Arawn: With roots in Welsh mythology, Arawn is known in Celtic mythology as the god of death.
FAQs about ancient Celtic gods and goddesses
Who were the Tuatha dé Dannan?
In Irish mythology, the Tuatha dé Dannan were a supernatural race of people who lived in Ireland before our Irish ancestors of today ever arrived on the island. According to legend, ancestors of the supernatural race are still present in mythical forms today.
Who is the best known Celtic god or goddess?
There are so many gods and goddesses that are well known, but Dagda, Brigid, and Queen Mebh are perhaps the most well-known today.
What is ‘keening’?
‘Keening’ is the act of crying out loudly and shouting over the body of the deceased. It was a method used specifically by women to mourn the dead. Before Brigid’s keening song, it was deemed unacceptable behaviour in Ireland.