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



A Primer on Giants

This is part one of several.

Image source:

Giants of all shapes and a surprising variety of sizes stomp all across the myths and folklore of the world. It seems that wherever people have made up stories, they have made up stories about giants.

The boring part first: it does not tax the human imagination to anthropomorphize natural forces into people-shaped gods larger than ourselves. It is by far more likely that each and every giant myth arose from our own imagination along these lines, compared to actual giants as actual fact. Giants are a grittier, more grounded re-imagining of our own gods, or more commonly, the downgrading of the gods of those we have just conquered.

Sure, on occasion, one tribe would encounter a substantially taller tribe, and in retelling that encounter the new strange tribe may grow taller with each telling. The Caucasian giants of prehistoric America may very well be tales of the Inuit’s encounter with Vikings, passed and expanded upon all down the trade routes as far as Peru.

It is supposed, though not established, that the effective maximum height for a human frame is about fifteen feet. As height doubles, mass squares. So if we doubled Shaquille O’Neal (pro basketball player – using his official playing stats of 7’1” and 325 lbs) we get 14’2” and over 105625 lbs. That approaches the limit for proportionally scaled calcium bones to sustain the load. However, you will almost certainly run of of blood circulation before that point.

The tallest known humans hover around 8 feet tall, all suffering from a tumor in their pituitary gland causing the gland to release an excess of growth hormone. Most have circulatory problems. The high end for fully functional seems to be about 7’6” and 350 or so pounds. There are many famous athletes and performers (besides O’Neal) who functioned at or near this size, and perhaps many more that we do not know about. These conditions, though are extremely rare, and it’s hard to plausibly imagine an entire people this size.

Actual facts, though, are not nearly as compelling as completely making shit up. So let’s do that instead.

Giant myths grow from two varieties: those that grew upon the Earth, usually before the dawn of humanity, and those who fell from the sky, typically, but not always, to interbreed with humanity.


Norse Giants

The Fomorians

The Muans


Some Inconvenient Truths about St Patrick

I’m going to break with widespread internet tradition and write about St Paddy on a day other than St Patrick’s Day. I have other reasons for my interest in him.

I never need to invent reasons to drink beer.

You’ll not be getting any green beer from this island!

History Ireland has a good summary of how beloved old St Patrick was quite likely a crank who is preserved in history because he wrote stuff down.

Patrick—to his fellow bishops, probably in Ireland, who would have seen his activity at close quarters—had gone completely ‘off message’ with his unique vision of himself as the apocalyptic preacher. Yet by answering these anonymous level-headed pastors, the real founders of Irish Christianity, Patrick became the only one who left a name and any account of evangelising in Ireland!


What he did not leave was any account of his driving away all of the snakes. This is because Ireland almost certainly had no snakes within human history there. It was a glacier covered island until the tail-end of the ice age.

The brief version of the tale is that Patrick, while on an extended fast, was beset by snakes, so he preached the gospel to them and thereby drove them into the sea. Which, so we’re clear, was meant as an accolade of the power of his preaching, not an indictment.

The most popular interpretation of this legend is that it is a far  more recent invention, and snakes = pagans as an allegory.

Not so fast, say pagan scholars such as P. Sufenas Virius Lupus are oft quoted, every March, saying things like:

There is the idea, recently given voice inGalina Krasskova’s article on this subject at, that St. Patrick drove out the snakes of Ireland, but that the snakes were really “the druids,” and that therefore some modern pagans and druids celebrate “Bring Back the Snakes Day.” Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and the hagiographies of St. Patrick did not include this particular “miracle” until quite late, relatively speaking (his earliest hagiographies are from the 7th century, whereas this incident doesn’t turn up in any of them until the 11th century). St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianized Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE, because Irish colonists (yes, you read that right!) in southern Wales, Cornwall, and elsewhere in Roman and sub-Roman Britain had already come into contact with Christians and carried the religion back with them when visiting home.

Also referenced here:

The snake thing, then, was almost certainly an invention by later (church) “historians” ofr obscure propaganda reasons – or maybe they just thought it was really cool.

That doesn’t work for me at all.

So I’m going to give away some plot of my next book to you, al three of my loyal followers:

It was a brood of dragons. They were being compelled to remain in Ireland by the Druids somehow, but Patrick schemed to subvert that. The dragons ask how they can repay him, and the old crank replies, “Repent and turn to God.” The dragons ask him any other boon, so he says “Then leave, and never come back.” Which they did.

That is all 50 years history at the start of the novel, but repercussions of that (dragons have a long memory) contribute to The Problem.