Niamh (meaning ‘bright’ or ‘radiant’) of the Golden Hair, one of the Tuatha de Danann and daughter of Mannanan mac Lir, Celtic God of the Sea, was Queen in the land of Tír na nÓg (pronounced Tear na Noge), the most famous of the Celtic Otherworlds.
Tír na nÓg was an island located beyond the western edge of the known world. The name translates as “Land of Eternal Youth” and is one of the Otherworld places where the Goddesses and Gods of the Tuatha de Danann went when their time as deities had passed. Happiness was the only reality on this island where all enjoyed eternal youth, pleasure, wisdom, and peace. Music and beauty were highly valued and always available in the “Land of Eternal Youth.”
Yet Tír na nÓg was not a place where souls went after death. It could only be reached while living by undertaking a difficult journey or by invitation. The tale of Niamh of the Golden Hair and her love for Oisin, the great warrior poet of ancient Ireland, is the most well known tale of Tír na nÓg.
Though no record of a pagan Celtic religious dogma exists, it’s obvious from their stories that everything in their lives was imbued with a sense of sacredness. In the ancient Celtic worldview the essence of the creative universe was female. In this way heroes could be drawn into the Otherworld by beautiful goddesses. Here tasks might be set so that the hero could bring a higher state of being back to the world.
Niamh (pronounced Neeve) of the Golden Hair was this type of goddess.
It came to pass that She fell in love with the famous warrior poet, Oisin, son of Finn, chief of the fabled Finian warriors of Celtic Ireland. One day Niamh set out to find Oisin. She crossed the sea on her magic, white horse named Embarr, Embarr, whose name means “imagination”, was able to run on the waves of the sea. Running quickly on the surface while the depths of regeneration, of life and death, ran silently below, Embarr, symbol of freedom, endurance, and spirit, transported Niamh with the power of imagination or intention.
Niamh found Oisin among the Fianna. Of course what mortal man could resist the beautiful allure of such a radiant Goddess? What man would not want to be transported to a land of light and beauty? So Oisin gladly mounted Embarr, seating himself behind Niamh. Together they went back across the sea to the Land of Youth, Tír na nÓg. There he passed what he thought were three happy years with Niamh. But little did Oisin understand that time had no meaning in that place of beauty and light. And though his soul rejoiced to be in such a place he began to long for the world of duality, the world of friends and struggles he had left behind. He did not want to completely give up the Land of Youth, he only wanted to visit his previous existence.
Niamh understood this well. She lent him Embarr to make the journey. But she warned him that he must not allow his feet to touch the ground. If he did, then earthly life would claim him once more, barring his return to Tír na nÓg forever. And so Oisin embarked on his journey, confident that he would return to Niamh soon.
Oisin did not understand that having basked in the radiance of light and love, his soul could not return to it’s previous state of existence. Upon arriving in Ireland he was surprised to find that all had changed. His former companions were gone, the land as he knew it was gone. In fact 300 years had passed since his departure, not 3. Finally he realized that the upper world, the world of normal waking reality that he had known was gone forever.
He turned Embarr round, intending to return to Niamh and the Land of Eternal Youth. Before reaching the sea he met a group of people trying to remove a rock that blocked the road. Oisin wished to help them. Knowing full well he must not touch Irish soil, he bent down from his saddle. As he reached for the rock, he fell from the horse and touched the ground. In an instant, Embarr disappeared and Oisin transformed from a strong, vital young man into an old, decrepit one. Alas he could never return to the Land of Youth.
Niamh waited for him for a long time, but she knew in her heart that he had returned to the upper world. Not long after his departure she gave birth to a beautiful daughter and named her Plur na mBan, The Flower of Women. Plus na mBan became the Faery Queen of Beltane, the Celtic celebration of life and renewal held every 1st of May.
After more time passed, Niamh, who continued longing sadly for Oisin, journeyed again to Ireland to find him. But Oisin was dead and gone from this earth forever.
Call on Niamh to accompany you on the inner journey of your soul. Let Her guide you to the Land of Eternal Youth. Only through the discovery of our light within can we find our true path home.
Sources: Celtic Lady, Encyclopedia Mythica, Moon Books Blog, Women of the Celts in Myth, Legend, and Story,
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Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork. She continues to be inspired by the Divine Feminine in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and teaches part-time. She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints and paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.
8 thoughts on “Niamh of the Golden Hair by Judith Shaw”
So many of us seniors say: “I don’t know where the time went. I know I’m old, but I feel young inside.” Perhaps we are walking with Niamh? I do like Embarr.
Barbara, now that is a very nice way to think about aging. Perhaps we are walking with Niamh.
These stories are always interesting. And they come with lessons, too! I was watching a DVD of a concert honoring Alan J. Lerner the other night. One of the presenters read about a meeting Lerner and Lowe had with Maurice Chevalier while they were writing Gigi. Chevalier (about 70 at the time) told them, “I’m glad I’m not young anymore.” They made it a song and put it in the movie. Like Chevalier, I’m glad to be past so many of the stupid things I did when I was young. Who needs eternal youth??
Barbara, that’s a very interesting insight into the story. Perhaps Oisin got bored with eternal youth, no strife, and all that good stuff. So he returned to experience extreme old age. Age does have its benefits for sure.
My name is niamh!
Lucky you, Niamnh – such a lovely name with a lovely meaning!
my name is niamh and i am proud of it but no one knows how to say it or spell it so i changed it to dream
Niamh is such a beautiful name yet it is certainly hard to pronounce as most of us have no knowledge of Gaelic whose pronunciation of words is so, so very different from the way they are spelled. Dream is a good alternative as Niamh surely represents that dream land of eternal youth where beauty and peace reign. I love that Irish folks continue to use the beautiful ancient names for themselves.