Tlachtga, The Founder Of Samhain?

Stories of the mythology of Tlachtga seem to form the heart of the sacred flame that we have reverence towards at Samhain, and even to the bonfires we may light from this flame, but few know of her name.

The Hill Of Tlachtga near Athboy in Co. Meath has an exceptional heritage in the druid tradition linked to Samhain, pronounced many ways though mainly something like soo-win or soo-waan. Many people just call this Halloween.

On Ordnance Survey Maps as the Hill of Ward, The Hill Of Tlachtga is about 12 miles from the Hill of Tara. A sacred fire festival has probably been held there since the time of the Tuatha De Dannan high king Lugh, about 3500 years. Some of the mythology of the Jack O'Lantern may well have originated from here.

Here I share some of the inspiring stories I have heard about Tlachtga and her father of many variations of names, most common appearing to be Mug Ruith ... though perhaps best known may be Merlin?

I will start with tales of her father ...

Mug Ruith, Father Of Tlachtga

Tlachtga's father Mug Ruith who appears to have been quite a world traveller driven by his quest to learn and receive wisdoms of the world and its flow of life.

Stories of Mug Ruith often seem very similar to those of the later King Arthur stories of Merlin.
Perhaps the best known incarnation of Mug Ruith is of him being told of as being a student of Simon Magus around 40 AD.

Mag Ruith's interest in Simon Magus is said to have been Simon's understanding of the dynamics of the flight of birds and sories spread about how Simon learned how to fly. That must have been quite a Druid's dream at the time, and probably still is.

From the knowledge of Simon Magus it is said that Mug Ruith built a flying machine, near Jerusalem, that he called "roth ramach". It is said to have been shaped like a wheel and was powered by lightning.

Putting the stories of flying aside, I feel the most important legacy of this life of Mug Ruith was his wisdom and power of "laying of hands" healing that was also taught to him by Simon Magus.

Simon claimed that these teachings of healing were taught to him by Christ. It was Simon proclaiming that he had even greater healing powers than Christ that led him to be recognized at the "first heretic" by later Christians.

Another Mug Ruith Story

The name given to Tlachtga's father, Mug Ruith, can translate as "devotee of the wheel". This "wheel" may have been a more primitive and simple reference to the sun and "devotee" referring to his path as what we call a drui or druid today.

The tale of Mug Ruith being a student of Simon Magus and building a flying machine may well have been a story invented by medieval bards as good entertainment to share through their stories, poems and songs.

There is a tale I have heard of a Munster druid, at the time of Cormac mac Airt, in the third century, called Mog Roith.

When Cormac appointed druids for each region of Ireland, Mog Roith, an established druid of Munster was not happy about this. A tale tells of Mog Roith created a army of warriors to prevent the arrival of Cormac's appointed Druid and his team to Munster. This led to a battle called the "Siege of Druim Damhgaire" which is sometimes told as a "battle of magicians, or sorcerors" and sometimes one of the magicians, or sorcerors, is Merlin.

At the "Siege of Druim Damhgaire" Mog Roith not only won but became recognized beyond being arch druid of Munster but arch druid of all of Erin. So similar to Merlin tales would you think? - And in the time of Cormac mac Airt, a High King many storytellers fondly call the Arthur Of Erin.
Thereafter Mog Roith's tales with Cormac mac Airt were actually similar to the better known tales of Merlin and King Arthur.

A Tale Of Tlachtga

Going back to the Simon Magus story in Jerusalem, part of Mug Ruith's tales of travels around the world it is told he was accompanied by his daughter, Tlachtga, who quietly learned and developed the same wisdoms as her father.

It is said that while in Jerusalem, Tlachtga was raped by the three sons of Simon Magus. When Tlachtga and her father returned to Erin it is told that Tlachtga gave birth to triplet sons, Doirb, Cumma and Muach upon the mound of of the land where the Fire of the Temple Of Tlachtga is still lit and shared.

Tlachtga is said to have died while her three sons were born.

Tlachtga's sons are said to have grown to become arch druids of what is now Munster, Leinster and Connaught. Their druidism included teaching the the newly arriving teachings from the scriptures that formed Christianity a few hundred years later.

To honour the passing of Tlachtga and the birth of her three sons, Mug Ruith had a fire temple built in her honour which her three sons eventually returned to, as drui, take take back flames to their regions.

Unfortunately, I do not know how Ulster was served by this as I have never heard this region included in this story.

An Ancient Tale Of Tlachtga

The earliest story of Tlachtga I have heard is of a wise woman who arrived with the ancient Firbolgs to Erin, maybe as long ago as 3500 years ago. This story of Tlachtga is very close to the tales we hear about about Tailtiu, foster mother of Lugh, who cleared the forests to create farmland as well as find time to teach warrior skills to Lugh.

Again there is a rape story, three men, different sets of names, including the Sons Of Tuireann, of course. The three sons born from this rape are said to have also been born at the place that is the Fire Temple Of Tlachtga today,

Her three sons are said to have also become three Cheiftains of regions of the West Of Ireland.
Intriguing is the remains of a similar fire temple that can still be seen in Connaught, now called Rathra near Castlerea.

I wonder if the stories have become mixed up. They often are.

Tlachtga's name is interesting and very symbolic as it can translate into 'earth spear' a description given to what we call lightning.

That may seem confusing when we consider Brideog na Saigead, that we shorten today to Breo, Breeg, Bride and Brighid, that translates into something like "fiery arrow", also a description for what we call lightning today.

This causes me to wonder if there was actually a human Tlachtga, or was human imagery used for the purpose of story to explain the passing of Samhain? Then, did a human woman take on the Tlachtga name because of how her life was, the learning of deep wisdom, the rape, the three sons and the death at childbirth?

This is what happened to Brighid of Kildare, after all, fire imagery turned into human form and women taking on the Brighid name many 100s of years later, especially Brighid of Kildare.



Fire ceremonies on this hill appear to have taken place for 1000s of years before the stories of Mug Ruith and Tlachtga were created and spread by the medieval bards of Ireland.

This ceremony is said to have started at Lambay Island, an island of a dead volcano,

Stories tell that Lambay became a very important stone age axe making quarry, though its hard to tell that from the pic above.

Some stories tell of fires being lit on this island and then the flame was brought by boat up the River Boyne and then up the Yellowford River, that meets the Boyne, to what is now the small town of Athboy at the base of the Hill Of Tlachtga. A preserved henge still remains in a park near the Yellowford River and I wonder if this henge was connected to the ceremony.

The Yellowford River is also sourced from Carbane West at Slieve Bearra, Loughcrew, and there is a mysterious stone circle by its source. At the time of Samhain, and Imbolc, the sunrise lifts behind the Lambay Island and aligns with a remarkable tall standing stone in Cairn L that shines like a lit torch for a few minutes.

I tend to believe that the ceremony was really a lighting of a fire at Carnbane West and then travelling with it to the Hill Of Tlachtga to re-light the fire there that was shared with the druids to transport around Erin.

I find it interesting that there is also a river sourced from Carnbane East at Loughcrew, now called the Blackwater River, that flows by the Arena Of Tailtiu, or Tailte, or maybe misnamed as Telltown. The Blackwater River also flows into the Boyne like the Yellowford River.

Cairn T on Carnbane East is known for its Equinox sunrises, but I feel there must have also been an important structure on that hill that captured Beltaine and Lughnasa sunrises too.

Tlachtga and Samhain

I feel the story of Tlachtga is a powerful symbolic vision of the transformation of the old year into a new year at Samhain.

Each year the dying flame of the Samhain fire fits well into the symbolic vision of the death of Tlachtga along with the wisdom and knowledge she carried.

At the same time there is the new birth of her trinity of sons that rekindles her flame and passes her torch of wisdom and new fertility around the land.

By the fireplace of Samhain on Tlachtga's Temple, Hill of Ward, many people still gather on the date we now call Halloween, October 31st, a modern calendar decision.

There are many who gather here who still believe that when we rekindle the fire of Samhain, upon this place of the mortal Tlachtga, and pass on this fire to others we are also spreading new fertility gifted to us by the spirit of Tlachtga.

There are also a few who believe that Tlachtga is the same as Macha, the goddess of Ulster.

Others believe that Macha comes to Tlachtga each Samhain to share her flame with the triple goddesses of Leinster, Munster and Connaught who gather there. By doing so, she unites all four regions of Ireland in one fertility.

Who is this Ward lad?

If you visit this hill today you can barely make out all of the rath rings that once were. These were largely destroyed at the time of Ward in the 16th century. The hill is on the maps today as "Hill Of Ward" named from a 17th century landowner called Ward but the drui prefer to continue to know this hill as "Hill Of Tlachtga" or simply Tlachtga.

I wonder about this so called landowner called "Ward" though as there is a Ward Hill, a high point on the Isle Of Hoy of the Orkney Isles that is a Samhain fire beacon hill

... and also Ward Hill on South Ronaldsay, Orkney Isles now a radar station site but was once a Samhain fire beacon site too?

Tlachtga Today

Let's, again, be mindful of the name of Tlachtga, earth spear, a phrase used for lightning, as there was not an ancient word for lightning.

An important source of fire for ancient people was from trees set on fire by lightning, especially oaks. Oak trees attract lightning more than any other tree.

More profound is considering that this is a ritual that has lasted at least 2000 years, and I suspect for at least 3500 years back to the time of Lugh.

Trying to make some conclusion from several tales from over 3500 years it seems to be quite potent to consider Mug Ruith, or Mog Roith, as a symbol of all high druids and the drui tradition and Tlachtga as a symbol of the Samhain flame and the divinity that we hold reverence to through it.

Add to that the stories of Tlachtga's death at the birth of a trinity of sons at Samhain truly fits into the spirit of Samhain we hold today.

One flame extinguished and a new fire lit that is then distributed with the fuel of the fire

The tale of Tlachtga dying on the hill while giving birth to her three sons who became the drui of three regions of Ireland while her father dedicated a fire pit and temple to her has a wonderful symbolism for us at the Samhain time of year.

This is one of several myth tales of Ireland where a dark event became transformed into a new light event.

The burning of the Guy on Guy Fawkes Day in England on November 5th, going back to the burning of the Wicker Men in Erin full of men condemned of violent ways that the High King's court had ruled could not be transformed ...

... seems, to me, to be actions of dark events going into the light of the fire to be banished and returned with light and warmth.

More people seem to be using this Samhain time to write their darkness, their concerns, anxieties and even what they may feel are personal sins, fold the paper and then burn them as a symbol of closure, transforming and cleansing.

I think it sometimes takes reflection of stories like those of Tlachtga, that are often told darker than what I have revealed here, to motivate us, to stir us, to "come out" of denial, expose our concerns, shed them and come into the new Celtic year with new light and cleansed soul, emotions, mind and enthusiasm for life here.

Oh, this last pic :-)
Its the frost turning to mist caused by the rising sun at Samhain by Cairn L at Carnbane West on Slieve na Cailleach Beara


  1. very interesting and something as my many years of druid study I've never come across. thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Lorraine. I personally find the Tlachtga stories fascinating as it seems to be the root of many of the traditions we engage in today. However, much more important than this story, I feel, is the engagement in what traditions are local to where we live. There are several local traditions that are not in this story which all adds to the reverence of this time

  3. Really enjoyable blog John, great collaboration of stories and personal observations. Completely agree with our engagement of local traditions.
    Áine Máire

  4. Beautiful, John. I'd never heard of her. Thank you for enlightening me.

    Wolf at Annwfn


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