The Sidhe, the Tuatha de Danaan, and the Fairies in Yeats's Early Works

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The fin de siecle, or late 1800's, was an era not unlike our own: now we see many seeking "New Age" enlightenment; likewise, Yeats and many of his contemporaries looked for meaning in various areas of the supernatural. Ripe as the late 1800's were for spawning occult study, those were also times of political turmoil for the Irish, and Yeats became involved with Irish nationalism as well. His desire to express this nationalism was given voice through a Celtic literature that he hoped would inform and inspire his countrymen. Falling in love with a beautiful firebrand Irish patriot (who also had a taste for the occult) only served to further ignite the Celtic flames of imagination in Yeats.

References to supernatural Celtic beings and the Irish spirit world abound in Yeats's early poetry. To make these passages seem less arcane, a look at the Tuatha de Danaan, the Sidhe, and the fairies is helpful.

The Tuatha de Danaan literally means "people of the goddess Danu," Danu being a Celtic land or mother goddess, perhaps derived from the Sanskrit river goddess, Danu. Other associated names for her were the Welsh "Don," Irish "Anu" or "Ana," "Mor-Rioghain," and "Brighid."

The Tuatha de Dannan were considered supernatural, angelic-like beings who came to Ireland and encountered two groups that they successfully overcame. Epic battles were waged to defeat both the Firbolgs and the Fomorians.

The Firbolgs, early Irish settlers, were a short, dark race of men who derived their name from carrying clay in bags, or boilg, hence the name "fir bolg" meaning "bag men." Believed to be of early Greek origin, the mortal Firbolgs were overthrown by the god-like Tuatha de Danaan.

The other army that lost in combat with the Danaan fighte...

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