Goibniu: Irish Celtic God of Blacksmithing and Beer

Goibniu, the Gaelic Hephaestus, who made the Tuatha Dé Dannan, the people of the goddess Danu, invulnerable and immortal with his magical mead, and was also the forger of their weapons. The name is derived from goban = smith.

Goibniu, Irish Celtic Blacksmithing God
The Blacksmith God Goibniu crafts the arsenal for the Tuatha Dé Dannan

Goibniu was part of the triad of the gods of craftsmanship, alongside Luchtainé, the divine carpenter, and Credné, the divine bronze-worker.

Together, the three made the armoury with which the Tuatha Dé Dannan conquered the Fomors.

In his brewing activities, Goibniu uses a vast bronze caldron, a copy of which was housed in various sanctuaries and was apparently at times associated with the ritual slaughter of kings of Ireland.

He was grievously wounded in a battle with the Fomorians, but was restored to health in a fountain of youth.

In the Welsh tradition the god is called Govannon; farmers need his help to clean the ploughshare.

“I will replace every broken lance and sword with a new one, even though the war last seven years. And I will make the lances so well that they shall never miss their mark, or fail to kill. Dulb, the smith of the Fomors, cannot do as much as that. The fate of the fighting will be decided by my lances.”

Goibniu the Smith, in preparation for the war with the Fomors

Goibniu build the Gods armory; survives assassination attempt

During the The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, warriors from the Tuatha De Danna and those from the Fomorians would engage in one to one combat, as a ritual way to settle the dispute between them.

Sometimes a Tuatha De, sometimes a Fomor would be the victor; but there was a difference in the net results that astonished the Fomors.

If their own swords and lances were broken, they were of no more use, and if their own champions were killed, they never came back to life again; but it was quite otherwise with the people of the goddess Danu.

Weapons shattered on one day re-appeared upon the next in as good condition as though they had never been used, and warriors slain on one day came back upon the morrow unhurt, and ready, if necessary, to be killed again.

The Fomors decided to send someone to discover the secret of these prodigies. The spy they chose was Ruadan, the son of Bress and of Brigit, daughter of the Dagda, and therefore half-giant and half-god.

He disguised himself as a Tuatha Dé Danann warrior, and went to look for Goibniu. He found him at his forge, together with Luchtainé, the carpenter, and Credné, the bronze-worker.

He saw how Goibniu forged lance-heads with three blows of his hammer, while Luchtainé cut shafts for them with three blows of his axe, and Credné fixed the two parts together so adroitly that his bronze nails needed no hammering in.

Goibniu inspects a magical lance head as it is prepared for battle
Goibniu inspects a magical lance head as it is prepared for battle

He went back and told the Fomors, who sent him again, this time to try and kill Goibniu.

He reappeared at the forge, and asked for a javelin. Without suspicion, Goibniu gave him one, and, as soon as he got it into his hand, he thrust it through the smith’s body. But Goibniu plucked it out, and, hurling it back at his assailant, mortally wounded him.

Ruadan went home to die, and his father Bress and his mother Brigit mourned for him, inventing for the purpose the Irish “keening”.

Goibniu, on the other hand, took no harm. He went to the physician Diancecht, who, with his daughter Airmid, was always on duty at a miraculous well called the “spring of health”. 

Whenever one of the Tuatha Dé Danann was killed or wounded, he was brought to the two doctors, who plunged him into the wonder-working water, and brought him back to life and health again.

Goibniu transforms into Gobhan Saer

Goibniu, in addition to his original character as the divine smith and sorcerer, gained a third reputation among the Irish as a great builder and bridge-maker.

As such he is known as the Gobhan Saer, that is, Goibniu the Architect, and marvellous tales, current all over Ireland attest his prowess.

Men call’d him Gobhan Saer, and many a tale
Yet lingers in the by-ways of the land
Of how he cleft the rock, or down the vale
Led the bright river, child-like, in his han
Of how on giant ships he spread great sail,
And many marvels else by him first plann’d”

Says a poem of modern Ireland. Especially were the “round towers” attributed to him, and the Christian clerics appropriated his popularity by describing him as having been the designer of their churches.

He used, according to legend, to wander over the country, clad, like the Greek Hephaestus, whom he resembles, in working dress, seeking commissions and adventures.

His works remain in the cathedrals and churches of Ireland; and, with regard to his adventures, many strange legends are still, or were until very recently, current upon the lips of old people in remote parts of Ireland.

Some of these are, as might have been expected, nothing more than half-understood recollections of the ancient mythology. In them appear as characters others of the old, yet not quite forgotten gods – Lugh, Manannán, and Balor- names still remembered as those of long-past druids, heroes, and kings of Ireland in the misty olden time.

Atlas Mythica

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