When BALOR, king of the FOMORIANS, was told that he would be killed by his grandson, he thought he could outwit the prophecy because his only daughter EITHNE was still a virgin. So he locked her in a high tower, where she would never meet a man and therefore never bear a child.
Balor proved his own undoing, for he coveted the magically abundant COW, the GLAS GHAIBHLEANN, which was in the keeping of Cian, a man from the mainland. Some tales say that Cian was the cow’s owner, while others say that he was merely the cowherd, the owner being a magical SMITH. Sailing over from his home on Tory Island, off the northwest coast of Ireland, Balor stole the cow and brought her back to his distant home. Unwilling to lose such a splendid beast, Cian went secretly across the waters, where he found a greater prize: the fair Eithne. Helped by a DRUID woman, BIRÓG, he decked himself in women’s clothes and took up residence in the tower, where he seduced Eithne. She gave birth to three sons, two of whom were drowned by their grandfather; the surviving child was the hero LUGH. In variants of the story, Cian is called Kian or MacInelly; he is also said to have impregnated Eithne’s other 12 handmaids, all of whom gave birth to SEALS.
In some stories, Cian is described as a son of the physician god, DIAN CÉCHT, which would make him one of the TUATHA DÉ DANANN, the people of the goddess DANU. He died when three brothers, the SONS OF TUIREANN, ambushed him because of enmity between Cian and their father. To his humiliation, he attempted to avoid the encounter with the armed warriors, turning himself into a PIG and pretending to scour the forest floor for acorns, but the brothers saw through the SHAPE-SHIFTING and turned themselves into DOGS to bring Cian down, only permitting him to return to human form just before death. The great earthwork called the Black Pig’s Dyke is said to be his petrified body or to have been dug by him while in pig form.