Arthur Ua Clerigh.

The history of Ireland to the coming of Henry II. Vol I online

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This volume is the fruit of many years' labour. I have
to the best of my ability made every point the subject
of independent inquiry and \mtten it in great part ex
messihts meis. I have not worked in the expectation

^ of literary fame or pecuniary profit, but because I had
been convinced from early manhood that no greater
service could be done to the Irish race at home and

c^ abroad than to tell them the naked truth as far as it
can be ascertained about their early history. This will,
no doubt, dispel many illusions which they will be
loath to part with ; but on the other hand, unless I
greatly deceive myself, it will convey lessons of high
political import which they may take hopefully to
heart. The early history of Ireland is a story of
^ arrested evolution.







I. — Before the Coming of the Gael
II. — What Our Texts Say
III. — The Coming of the Gael ...
IV. — The Gael ...
V. — Deirdre


VII. — Finn mac Cumhail ...
VIII. — Glastonbury of the Gael ...
IX. — The Coming of St. Patrick — I.
X. — ^The Coming of St. Patrick — 11.
XI. — The Patrician Documents ...
XII. — The Religion of the Gael Before
Patrick — 1,
XIII. — The Religion of the Gael Before

Patrick — II.
XIV. — The Senchus Mor and the Tribal System
XV. — The Tribal Occupier and Sir John Davis
XVI. — The Lia Fail — The Stone of Destiny
XVII. — Cuildreimhne and the Desertion of Tar a
XVIII. — The Northmen
XIX. — A Winter Circuit ...
XX. — Brian Boru
XXI. — Clontarf ...

XXII. — The Organisation of the Church ...
XXIII. — The Monks ...
XXIV. — The Teaching of the Nations

XXV. — The Sect of the Scots
XX VI.— The Emerald Ring
XXVII. — The Cymro-Frankish Adventurers ...


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In the Gaelic alphabet there are i8 letters.

5 Vozuels — a, o, u, broad, e, i, slender.

Each vowel may be long or short : long as in Half pay he
thought so poor ; short as in That bell is not much good.

Vowel Groups. Ae and aq = fie ; eo long = yo ; eo short = yu ;
iu long = e\v ; iu short = yu.

-Ai, ei, 61, ^e, eA, e^, u\. The sound of the long vowel is
given to the whole digraph.

The addition of 1, e.g., x\i, does not change the vowel sound.

S/iort Digraphs. Ai and eA short = a in bat. ei or 01 = e in
let, I0 and ui = i in hit.

The consonants are 12 ; liquids, 4. l, n, ^ (r), f (s); mutes, 9,
t), c, "o, f, 5, m, p, c, and \\.

Aspiration or infection is a softening of a consonant, and is
indicated by a punctum over the Gaelic letter or by the
addition of the letter ti.

b or t)ii = V ; c or cli in the middle or end of words sometimes
= h ; t), "Oh and tti, mil alike = before a broad vowel, [a, o, u], an
indescribable sound like a guttural y and equal, before a slender
vowel, [e, i], y exactly. In the middle and end of words they are
silent, but lengthen the preceding vowel, e.g., UigejAnA, Tigherna
= Teerna. ttl, mti = v in the south and w in the north ; aX> and
tm = ou ; At) = ei in the middle of a word ; p, pfi = f ; f , |ni = h ;
t. cti = h.

Eclipsis {tKd\n{/ic, pushing away). A softer consonant is
substituted for a harder at the beginning of a word only. Both
are written, but only the first, that is, the substituted one,
pronounced, e.g., m-bo, the b in bo, a cow, is pushed away and
replaced by m, and m-bo is pronounced mo. And so with
others, n eclipses "o and 5 ; bh, p ; b, p ; 5, c ; T), c ; c, f.

The above short sketch is, of course, very imperfect, and only
intended to assist readers who are unacquainted with Gaelic.




THE nnme Erin^ comes from a root which signifies fat,
fruitful, with special reference, it may be supposed, to the
fertility of its pastures. Pomponius Mela'^ (fl. 40 a.d.) sa3^s : —
" The climate is unfavourable for ripening cereals, but the land
is so exuberant in the production of pasture, not only luxuriant
but also sweet, that cattle can fill themselves in a short part of a
day, and unless they are stopped from grazing will feed too
long and burst." So Solinus^ (230 a.d.) says: — "It is so
rich in grass that the cattle would be in danger from over-
eating unless they were kept at times from the pasture."
" Ireland," says Bede * (673-735), " is situated to the west of
Britain, and as it is shorter towards the north, so it extends
far beyond its borders to the south. . . . The latitude of
its position and the wholesomeness and mildness of the air are
much better than Britain's, so that snow rarely remains there
for more than three dsijs, and no one mows hay there in
summer for winter use, or makes houses for the cattle. No
reptile is seen there, no reptile can live there. . . . The
island is rich in milk and honey, and is not vf ithout vines. It

^ According to Windisch the uame Erin gen Erenn dat Erin Aec Erenn comes
from a root which is found in 7ti[F]ujv, feminine jrieipa, signifying fat, fruitful,
and the Indo-germanic nominal suffix — ten. The initial " p " was not retained
by the early Celtic nations before a vowel, and the vijaoi; witipa of the Greeks
would be represented by Erenn or Erin. The Greek name for the island, how-
ever, u. Ifovt), lovfnv)), was taken from the Gaehc Erenn, and gave rise in its
turn to the Latin Juberna and Hibernia. See Holder Sprach-sohatz. iverio.

^ Pomponius Mela, 3, 6, 53.

»Solinus. 22,2.

* Hibernia autem et latitudine sui status et salnbritate et serenitate aerum
multum Brittaui^ praestat. Bede, H.E. \. Latitudo is always, so far as I
have seen, translated " breadth " here erroneously. Erin is not broader. It
means breadth from the equator. The Anglo-Saxon translator of Bede has
braedo haes stealles where bracdo is equal to the German " Brcite," i.e.,
latitude. Caesar, Tacitus, and all the mediaeval writers following them, down
to and including Keating, held that Ireland lay between Britain and Spain.
Ptolemy, getting his information trom a Phoenician source, placed it nearly in
its true pos'liou.


is famous for sport, fish, and fowl, and also goats and deer. Tt
is the own country of the Scots." It is a mistake to suppose
that Ireland is not also admirahl}'' fitted for the production of
corn, a mistake into which modern writers, such as Kiepert,
have also fallen. Taking wheat, oats, and barley, the average
number of bushels to the acre is at least as high as in England,
and the loss from bad seasons over a period of 25 years is not
greater than in Russia or America.^

Something must be said, though very little is known, about
the ancient inhabitants of Erin before the coming of the Gael
(1700 B.C.) Though the men of the old stone age (paleolithic)
made their way into England, there is no evidence that they
ever reached Erin. This is the more remarkable, as in those
days England was joined to the Continent, and Ireland to
England, by what we may shortly describe as land bridges.
A shallow bank now runs from Denmark to the Bay of Biscay,
and to a point about five miles westward of Ireland within
what is known as the 100 fathom limit. The elevation of this
bank made these bridges. Many of the pleistocene animals
passed over the bridge from the Continent into England, in-
cluding paleolithic man, whose implements are found abund-
antly as far west as North and South Wales. A human
paleolithic molar tooth has been discovered at Port Newydd,
near St. Asaph. These paleolithic animals, with the exception >
of the hyena, and the great sabre-toothed bear, passed over ^^
from Ensfland into Ireland. Paleolithic man did not reach -
Erin. The depth of the Irish Sea is somewhat greater than
the depth of the German Ocean, and it may have happened '
that the English brids^e remained above water after the Irish
bridge had descended and become a sea bottom. Many great
animals, however, passed over. Amongst others the mammoth,
the hippopotamus (probabl}^), the grizzly bear, the brown bear,
the reindeer, the great Irish deer, the red deer, the wild boar,
the wolf, the horse, the fox, and the badger. These have left
their bones in caves or under peat bogs to record their presence
in prehistoric times.

^ Documents in connection with the shipment of corn from Ireland to France
in the years 1297-8 a.d. may be seen in fac-simile MS. Plate 83, Gilbert, Sir J.
The value of the com exported from Ireland in ten years, 1785-1795, when
separate accounts were kept of the Kingdoms of England and Ireland, was
;^4,256,360. " A country which now begins to supply Britain with near oaa
million barrels of grain annually." Newenham, p. 216 (1809).


To the men of the old stoue age succeeded the men of the
new stone age (neolithic) whether immediately or after an
interval, or at what time or times cannot be stated with
certainty, but the opinion generally received now is that there
was no break, but continuous evolution. From these came the
first inhabitants of Erin. It is therefore of high importance
to know what were the physical characteristics of the inhabi-
tants of Western Continental Europe in neolithic times, and
particularly to ascertain whether they were long-skulled or
broad-skulled, dark or fair ; these being now generally recog-
nized as the most permanent characteristics, and the best test
of race. The North of Western Europe was inhabited by men
with long heads, light or blue eyes, and fair or reddish hair.
From this stock came the Gael, as we shall show later on.
The South was inhaoited by men short in stature, with long
heads, dark hair, and dark eyes. These are divided by M.
D'Arbois into a pre-Ayran (Iberian) and an Ayran (Ligurian)
race. The centre of France and westward through Brittany
to the sea, was inhabited by an intrusive belt of men from the
east, short in stature, with broad skulls, dark hair, and dark
eyes, whom Caesar refers to as Celts, and who are sometimes
called the Black Celts. It may be affirmed unhesitatingly
that no otf-shoot from this stock ever came to Erin. There
are no men of this type except ethnic strays to be found
amongst the population of Ireland in our times. Nor is it
difficult to understand how this came about. A glance at a
map of Europe will show that the men of this central belt in
France were likely to cross the channel into England, and,
no doubt, they did so ; and are in all likelihood the men who,
whether pure or blended with long heads, have left their
broad skulls in the round barrows of England. An island is
colonized, as a rule, from Continental parts directly opposite
to it. But where one island lies behind another it is more
reasonable to suppose that migratory tribes would pass round
the nearer island from Continental parts above and below the
nearer island to reach that which was more remote. The first
inhabitants of Erin came from one or both of the dark long-
headed southern races. These passed round the south of
England, and are now represented by the southern Welsh and
the short dark population in the west and south-west of


Ireland. In England they combined probably "with the long
heads of the long barrows. From these two races the main
bulk of the population of Erin was derived before the coming
of the Gael. They correspond with the first four " occupations,"
or " settlements," ^aIdaIa, of our texts.

The fifth " occupation " was by the Gael or Milesians. They
■were tall men, with long skulls and red, golden-yellow, or
iiaxen hair. They came from the Netherlands, the Elbe,
Sleswick and Holstein, and the recesses of the Baltic coast.
Our texts agree in stating that the Gael as well as the previous
occupants all spoke the Celtic tongue, and they are supported
in this by the circumstance that no place names of a different
lansfuacje have been detected. It is for this reason that the
Irish came to be commonly referred to as Celts. But language
is no test of race, though linguistic evidence is of high import-
ance when soberly used for historic purposes. In the time of
Cfesar, the inhabitants of central France and the Belgic dis-
trict of Celtic Gaul spoke a Celtic tongue, and the Celtic
tongue at one time extended far east beyond the Rhine.
Possibly the intrusive Celts, as the result of conquest and
commerce, gradually communicated their language to their
neighbours on the north and the south, and in this way the
Iberi and the Ligures came to adopt the Celtic language.
Cffisar tells us the Gauls brought their names to Britain : — •
The Belgffi in the south-east, the Parisii on the Humber, the
Atrebates in Berks. With the immigrants from the northern
race the same thing occurred. In the second chapter of his
Geography, in which he deals with the British Isles, Ptolemy
(140 A.D.) mentions the Brigantes in the south of lerne, and
the Chauci, the Menapii and the Eblani on the coast.^

Evidence of a similar kind is not wanting for an earlier
period. The most important of the pre-Gaelic " occupations "
(5At)AlA) was the immigration of the Fir-Volcac, commonly
called Fir-bolgs, a sub-denomination of which was the o-reat
iribe of the Cat or Cathraige, of which Cairbro Cinnceat
became the head, as we shall see later on. The word Bolg

8 Dublin does not, as some have thought, represent the Eblani or their
capital. The words do not equate phonetically. Dublin was founded by ttie
Danes near the black pool of the Liffey ('Oub Lnin), from which it derives ita
name. The Eblani wtre probably the Elbani immigrants from the river Alb>.*
or Elbe.


equates phonetically with Yolc, Latinised Volcfe. These
VolciB -were a powerful people in the South of France in
CiBsar's time, occupying the country comprised between the
Rhone, the Cevennes and the Garonne. An outlying remnant
of the race then dwelt at the source of the Danube, on the
borders of the Hercynian Forest. At an earlier period, it is
supposed, they occupied a large part of Central Europe, and
thus the two cities of " Lug " Lyons (Lug. dunum) and
Leyden (Lug. dunum Batavorum) belonged to them. They
were cut in two and displaced by the intrusive wedge of the
ethnic Celts we have referred to. There was also another Lug-
dunum (Convenarum), now St. Bertrand de Comminges (Haute
Garonne), Lug-dunum Remorum (Laon) and others. Now in
modern Irish " Lugnasad " means the month of August. In
that month was celebrated the commemoration (nasad) or
anniversary of Lug at Tailtinn, now Teltown, in Meath.
According to our texts Lug was the foster son of Tailtin, the
wife of the Firbolg King Eocaid, the son of Ere. He appears
in the legend as Lug of the long hand, and is said to have
instituted this celebration in honour of Tailtiu, from whom
Tailtinn is named. The " nasad " or commemoration, however,
was not of Tailtiu, but of Lug "' himself, and M. D'Arbois is of
opinion that there was a similar " nasad " of Lug at Lyoois,
which preceded the establishment of the Feast of Augustus.
The latter was celebrated on the 1st of August, and was, M.
D'Arbois ** thinks, substituted for the Feast of Lug. The fair
of Tailtinn, altered from time to time in its character,
continued to be held on the 1st of August in every year until
the commencement of the last century. As regards the
Cathraige, in the time of Caesar they dwelt in the valleys of
the Durance and Isere, near Embrun, and Chorges, in which
latter the old name " Caturiges " is preserved. The terminals
Tix, raighe, mean simply " tribesman" not "king."

In the " Coir Anmam" traighe is glossed cineal, i.e. tribes.
Cath, or " cat," means " battle," and there are at Chorges two
ini.uriptions, " Cat " and " Cathreg," still retaining vestiges of

' Asseaiblees Publiques d'Iriande.

*M. D'Arbois compares the statemeat of Caesar as regards Mercury, the
Roman equivalent of Lug : — Huric (i.e.. Mercury or Lug.) omnium inventorura
arti'jm ferunt, with the Samh-ii-danach — cFunTruXuri^foi^ " ilastev of all arts,"
Lugus was the god of light, the Sua god.


the old name. In Erin the " Cath " tribes are found from the
barony of Gary (Cathraige), in Antrim, to Iniscathy (Inis
Scattery), in the estuary of the Shannon. McFirbis reckons
them amongst the Firbolgs. He mentions ths Cathraige of
the Cruithne, from whom Cairbre Cinnceatwas descended, and
the Cathraige of the Suck amongst others. The " Ait riA
IHipeAnn " (the Stone of Division), which was regarded as the
centre of Ireland, and is, in fact, only a few miles distant
from it, was also called the Carraig Coitrighe in the Book of

In Scotland there was from the earliest times a powerful
people who occupied Caithness, in which the name is, probably,
preserved, and Sutherland and the Western islands, which
were called itifi cac. They were called " Cait," and described
in the legend as descended from Cait, one of the sons of
Cruithne. They are, probably the Attacoti, i.e., Tuatha Cat
mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus three or four times in
connection with the Scoti, but distinct from them. Thus he
says (27.8.5) : "The Picts, the Saxons, the Scoti, and Attacoti,
harrassed the Britons with perpetual harryings."

And again :— " The Picts, divided into two tribes (gentes)
the Dicalydones and Vertureones, also the Attacoti, a warlike
tribe of men (bellicosa lioTninwm natio) and the Scoti,
wandered far and wide {i.e., through Britain), and laid waste
many parts." These are, no doubt, also the Attacoti referred
to by St. Jerome (342-420) in the famous passage we are about
to cite. He refers to a sojourn he made at Treves, in Gaul.
Treves, where the Emperor Valentinian I. was then residing,
is placed by Ausonius as fourth in his list of noble cities. It
was on the right bank of the Moselle, the capital of that divi-
sion of Gaul, and the regular imperial residence : " When I
was a young man," he writes, " I saw the Atticoti, a British
tribe [who were said to] eat human flesh, and though they
would find in the woods herds of swine and cattle, to be used,
to cut ofi' the buttocks of men and the buttocks and paps of
women, and to consider these the only tit bits," '•*

^ Cum ipse adolescentulus viderim Atticottos, gentem Britannicam [qui
dicebantur] huiuanis vesci carnibus ; et cum per silvas porcorum greges et
ariiieiilorum pecudunique reperiant, pastoium nates et feminarum et plipillas
solen; abscindere et has solas crborura delicias arbitrari. Hieronymus v.
t>yvitiiajiUiij (i.7.)


The words in brackets " who were said to— qui dicebantur "
do not appear in any MS. It may have been the omission of
the writer himself or of a scribe to whom he dictated. Jerome
refers to the time he was at Treves, where some Attacoti in
the Roman Army v/ere stationed. That he meant to say he
saw them slicing men and women in the way he mentions
openly in the woods near Treves is not to be thought of.
Besides, " viderim solere abscindere " is neither sense nor
Latin. The context of the rest of the passage, too long to be
given here, shows that he was dealing with matters of hearsay.
And this was, no doubt, one of the stories circulated by the
polished provincials of Augusta Trevirorum about the habits
and practices of the wild barbarians from Caledonia when on
their native heath. In the alternative we should conclude
that the statement was a hallucination of the desert.

It is not possible to assign a date to the commencement of
the neolithic or polished stone age. Lyall thinks it may have
lasted 10,000 years. It was succeeded in some places by a
copper age for a brief period, and then by the bronze age, the
commencement of which is fixed by Montelius for Scandinavia
at 1450 B.C. If we suppose it arrived somewhat earlier m
Erin it will bring us to 1700 B.C., the date assigned by the
Four Masters for the coming of Golamh (the soldier) and the
Gael. It was during the neolithic time that the " Dolmens "
were built in Erin. The word '-Dolmen" is derived from the
Breton " dol " (supposed to be a loan word from the Latin
" tabula," a table), and " maen," a stone. In its inception it
was a deadhouse of peculiar construction, built overground,
an imitation of a cave. Neolithic man in early times, living
in a cave himself, provided a similar abode for the departed.
In the case of paleolithic man a few traces only of burial by
inhumation have yet been discovered. In the neolithic age
we may suppose a time when the bones of the dead wore
collected after the flesh had been removed by beasts or birds,
or the action of the weather. We find a survival of this prac-
tice at the present day in the custom of the Parsees. Their
sacred book, the Ahura Masdi, however, allowed them the
option of either inhuming or exposing the dead, and a few of
the Parsees in Bombay exercise this option of inhuming at the
present day. Inhumation, decarnation, mummification, burial


in varioiL? postiiros, &c., were practised in various places, and
finally, incineration. Many of these modes were practised in
Erin. We need only refer particularly to incineration. It is
supposed to have come with the Ethnic Celts from the East.
Pothier^^ has given maps showing the route from the Pamirs
to Brittany. From the mountains of Central France these
Celts sent offshoots to the Pyrenees on the south and Danemark
on the north. Burials by incineration are placed over the
earlier forms or found cotemporaneous in the, same tomb in
France and elsewhere.

And the same probably occurred in the case of Erin, where
incineration was extensively practised cotemporaneously with
other modes of burial. In the Carrowmore group, near Sligo,
the most remarkable in Erin, where possibly the victors at
the second Moytura battle and their descendants found a resting
place, the graves reveal, in most cases where any remains are
found, the presence of calcined bones or urns, or other proofs
of burial by incineration. There are no round barrows indi-
cating the presence of round heads in Erin. It is certain that
these round heads occupied the valleys of the Loire and the
Seine until they were driven back into the mountain lands b}^
the invasion of the fair-haired, blue-eyed long heads from the
North, of which stock were the Gael, who practised inhuma-
tion. It has been observed that incineration brought with it
a more spiritual conception regarding the future life. Instead
of the ghoul-like existence' which the departed were supposed
to lead, enduring a shadow life as streugthless skulls in the
deadhouse of the dolmen builder, the spirit was supposed to
pass from the prison-house of earthly corruption, purified by

Online LibraryArthur Ua ClerighThe history of Ireland to the coming of Henry II. Vol I → online text (page 1 of 44)