The Fomorian Giants

Fomorians came in all shapes and sizes

The Fomorian Giants are the great race that plagued successive generations of settlers or would be conquerors in prehistoric Ireland. Accounts differ, wildly, but what most have in common was that they were giant, often misshapen, and fond of the sea.The Irish Celts, from where this legend sprang, claimed to be the fifth distinct people to occupy the emerald isle. The Fomorians plagued peoples one through four; though they, themselves, are not counted among those races. It seems are large mutant friends were happy to raid and even occupy the land, but never really settled it enough to be considered a native race.

What accounts the Celts gave were then recorded post Christianization, with that medieval compulsion to somehow Christianize everything.  According to the Christianized version, the Fomorians were the descendants  of Ham, the cursed son of Noah, and this accounted for their disfigurement. These notions, so you know, barely line up with the Biblical material, have no basis in known archeology, and are often wildly racist.

That said, the notion that the Fomorians came from Africa is not out of the question.Prevailing currents make it far easier to sail north from the west coast of Africa than the reverse. Sub Saharan Africans of any tribe would have seemed quite alien in prehistoric Ireland.

That would not necessarily make them giants, but the Bantu people have folklore about poorly behaved, mutant giants called Zimwi, but we might as well call them ogres. (more on the origin of ogres and the word ogre in later entries). Maybe a group of them went sailing one day, and couldn’t find their way back.

It is equally plausible (actually more so) that they were of Germanic or even Pictish origin. They could even be the southern cousins of the Jotun.

It seems more fun to say that they were a tribe of African ogres who migrated, intentionally or otherwise by boat to the north Atlantic.

The most famous description of a Fomorian has then with one eye, one arm and one leg, which seems inoperable. There are many differing descriptions of their mutations, so let’s say that none looked alike. A surplus or deficit of limbs, eyes, ears and mouths may have been common. Some even had a surplus of heads (AKA Ettins). They tended to have darker skin, but even this was not universal among them.

Fomorians could farm (or so claimed the Irish Celts) but preferred the sea, perhaps living on fish, and even whales. Later, as humanity expanded, they became fond of plunder. Fomorian evolved in later Irish to mean pirate.

art by Andrew DeFelice

The original etymology of the term Fomorian (I am using a very anglicised variant here) is contested. There is a theory that it meant under the sea instead of from the sea. Perhaps some had gills.

There is also a theory that the term meant lower demons – though this seems to be a Christian interpretation. What is not in dispute is that some Fomorians had magic powers over weather and darkness. Maybe magical ability was a mutation as well.


Fomorians were a match for all but the mightiest heroes of Irish mythology, and given that their ranks are populated with a scattering of giants and wizards and super-human warriors, this would take some doing. While they were driven out, finally, by the Tuatha DeDann, Fomorians were said to raid well into the era of Celtic legend.




What most people don’t know is that the Fomorians were an actual race of giants who lived in ancient Ireland around 1500 BC, during the Bronze Age. Their territory included Ireland, the Inner and Outer Hebrides islands, the Shetland islands, Orkney islands, Pomorania/Pomerania, and Scandinavia, in regions that overlap with the Norse gods. Historically their realm was called Lochlann.


African Zimwe

Image Credit

Andrew DeFelice