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The story of the Irish race : a popular history of Ireland online

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litical unity, had a single king, and a wise and consistent external
policy." Mostly, however, they seem to have been a federation
of patrician republics. At various times they had allied them-
selves with the Greeks to fight common enemies. They gave valu-
able service to, and were highly esteemed by Philip, and by his son,
the great Alexander. In an alliance which they made with Alex-
ander, before he left on his Asiatic expedition, it was by the ele-
ments they swore their fealty to the pact — just as we know they
continued to swear in Ireland, down to the coming of Christianity
in the fifth century.

They piqued Alexander's pride by frankly telling him that they
did not fear him — only feared Heaven. They held sway in Cen-
tral Europe through long centuries. A Celtic cemetery discov-
ered at Hallstatt in upper Austria proves them to have been skilled
in art and industries as far back as 900 B. C. — shows them as
miners and agriculturists, and blessed with the use of iron instru-
ments. They invaded Italy twice, in the seventh and in the fourth



centuries before Christ. In the latter time they were at the climax
of their power. They stormed Rome itself, 300 B. C.

The rising up of the oppressed Germans against them, nearly
three centuries before Christ, was the beginning of the end of the
Continental power of the Celt. After that they were beaten and
buffeted by Greek and by Roman, and even by despised races —
broken, and blown like the surf in all directions. North and South,
and East and West. A fugitive colony of these people, that had
settkd in Asia Minor, in the territory which from them (the Gaels)
was called Galatia, and among whom Paul worked, was found to
be still speaking a Celtic language in the days of St. Jerome, five
or six hundred years later. Eoin MacNeill and other scientific en-
quirers hold that it was only in the fifth century before Christ that
they reached Spain — and that it was not via Spain but via north-
western France and Britain that they, crushed out from Germany,
eventually reached Ireland. In Caesar's day the Celts (Gauls)
who dominated France used Greek writing in almost all their busi-
ness, public or private.

The legendary account of the origin of the Gaels and their
coming to Ireland is as follows :

They came first out of that vast undefined tract, called Scythia
— a region which probably included all of Southwest Europe and
adjoining portions of Asia. They came to Ireland through Egypt,
Crete, and Spain. They were called Gaedhal (Gael) because their
remote ancestor, in the days of Moses, was Gaodhal Glas. When
a child, Moses is said to have cured him of the bite of a serpent —
and to have promised, then, that no serpent or other poisonous
thing should infest the happy western island that his far posterity
would one day inhabit. Niul, a grand-son of Gaodhal, who had
been invited as an instructor into Egypt by one of the Pharaohs,
married Pharaoh's daughter Scota — after whom Ireland was, in
later ages, called Scotia. And the Irish Scoti or Scots are the
descendants of Niul and Scota. In Egypt Niul and his people grew
rich and powerful, resented the injustice of a later Pharaoh, were
driven from the land, and after long and varied wanderings, dur-
ing succeeding ages, reached Spain. When, after they had long
sojourned in Spain, they heard of Ireland (perhaps from Phoeni-
cian traders) and took it to be the Isle of Destiny, foretold for
them by Moses, their leader was Miled or Milesius, whose wife
also was a Pharaoh's daughter, and named Scota. Miled's uncle,
Ith, was first sent into Ireland, to bring them report upon it. But
the Tuatha De Danann, suspecting the purpose of his mission,
killed Ith.


Miled having died in Spain, his eight sons, with their mother,
Scota, their families and followers, at length set out on their ven^
turous voyage to their Isle of Destiny/

In a dreadful storm that the supposedly wizard De Danann
raised up against them, when they attempted to land in Ireland,
five of the sons of Milesius, with great numbers of their followers,
were lost, their fleet was dispersed and it seemed for a time as if
none of them would ever enjoy the Isle of Destiny.

Ancient manuscripts preserve the prayer that, it is said, their
poet, Amergin, now prayed for them —

"I pray that they reach the land of Eirinn, those who are riding
upon the great, productive, vast sea :

"That they be distributed upon her plains, her mountains, and her
valleys; upon her forests that shed showers of nuts and all fruits;

1 Inisfail, one of many ancient names for Ireland, signifies Isle of Destiny.
Of "The Coming of the Milesians," Moore sang :

They came from a land beyond the sea,

And now o'er the western main
Set sail in their good ships, gallantly.

From the sunny lands of Spain.
"Oh, where's the isle we've seen in dreams.

Our destin'd home or grave?"
Thus sang they, as by the morning beams,

They swept the Atlantic wave.

And lo, where afar o'er ocean shines

A sparkle of radiant green,
^ As though in that deep lay emerald mines

Whose light through the wave was seen,
*Tis Inisfail— 'tis Inisfail!

Rings o'er the echoing sea ;
While, bending to heaven, the warriors hail

That home of the brave and free.

Then turned they unto the Eastern wave

Where now their Day-God's eye
A look of such sunny omen gave

As lighted up sea and sky.
No frown was seen through sky or sea.

Nor tear o'er leaf or sod,
When first on their Isle of Destiny

Our great forefathers trod.

Here let us understand that the ancient historical legends of Ireland arc,
generally speaking, far from being baseless myths The Irish people are a people
who eminently cling to tradition. Not only were the great happenmgs that marked
great epochs enshrined in their memory forever, but even little events that trivially
affected the history of their race, were, and are, seldom forgotten. We know that
away back to the remotest antiquity, the seanachte (shanachy, the historian) and
the poet were honored next to the king, because of the. tremendous value which
the people set upon the recording and preserving of their history The poet and
the sZtachieioLmng the fashion of the time, took advantage of their artist pnv-
lege to color their narrative to an extent that to the modern mind wou d seem
fantastic But it was with the details of the story that they were fronted this
iLrty The big, essential facts had to remain unaltered. The things of impor ance
no ooet of repute, however highly he might color, could or would dare to falsify.


upon her rivers and her cataracts; upon her lakes and her great
waters ; upon her spring-abounding hills :

"That they may hold their fairs and equestrian sports upon her
territories :

"That there may be a king from them in Tara; and that Tara
be the territory of their many kings:

"That noble Eirinn be the home of the ships and boats of the
sons of Milesius:

"Eirinn which is now in darkness, it is for her that this oration is
pronounced :

"Let the learned wives of Breas and Buaigne pray that we may
reach the noble woman^ great Eirinn.

"Let Eremon pray, and let Ir and Eber implore, that we may
reach Eirinn."

Eventually they made land — Eber with the survivors of his
following landing at Inver Sceni, in Bantry Bay; and afterwards
defeating a De Danann host under Queen Eire but losing their own
Queen Scota in the fray — and Eremon with his people at Inver
Colpa (mouth of the Boyne).

When they had joined their forces, in Meath, they went against
the De Danann in general battle at Taillte, and routed the latter
with great slaughter. The three kings and the three queens of the
De Danann were slain, many of them killed, and the remainder

The survivors fled into the remote hills and into the caves.
Possibly the glimpses of some of these fugitive hill-dwellers and
cave-dwellers, caught in twilight and in moonlight, by succeeding
generations of Milesians, coupled with the seemingly magical skill
which they exercised, gave foundation for the later stories of en-
chanted folk, fairies, living under the Irish hills.

Though, a quaint tale preserved in the ancient Book of Leinster
says that after Taillte it was left to Amergin, the Milesian poet
and judge, to divide Eirinn between the two races, and that he
shrewdly did so with technical justice — giving all above ground to
his own people, and all underground to the De Danann!

Another pleasant old belief is that the De Danann, being over-
thrown, were assembled by their great immortal Mannanan at
Brugh of the Boyne, where, after counselling together, it was de-
cided that, taking Bodb Derg, son of the Dagda, as their king, and
receiving immortality from Mannanan, they should distribute them-
selves in their spirit land under the happy hills of Ireland — ^where
they have, ever since, enjoyed never-ending bliss.*

*Here is the ancient story-teller's description (from the Tarn Bo Cuailgne)
of the cavalcade of Bodb Derg, in after ages, coming from his palace under Sliab-


Of the Milesians, Eber and Eremon divided the land between
them — Eremon getting the Northern half of the Island, and Eber
the Southern. The Northeastern corner was accorded to the chil-
dren of their lost brother, Ir, and the Southwestern corner to their
cousin Lughaid, the son of Ith.

An oft-told story says that when Eber and Eremon had
divided their followers, each taking an equal number of soldiers
and an equal number of the men of every craft, there remained a
harper and a poet. Drawing lots for these, the harper fell to
Eremon and the poet to Eber — ^which explains why, ever since, the
North of Ireland has been celebrated for music, and the South for

The peace that fell upon the land then, and the happiness of
the Milesians, was only broken, when, after a year, Eber's wife
discovered that she must be possessed of the three pleasantest hills
in Eirinn, else she could not remain one other night in the Island.
Now the pleasantest of all the Irish hills was Tara, which lay in
Eremon's half. And Eremon's wife would not have the covetous->
ness of the other woman satisfied at her expense. So, because of
the quarrel of the women, the beautiful peace of the Island was
broken by battle. Eber was beaten, and the high sovereignty set-
tled upon Eremon.

It was in his reign, continues the legend, that the Cruitnigh or
Picts arrived from the Continent. They landed in the south-
west, at the mouth of the River Slaney (Inver Slaigne). A tribe
of Britons who fought with poisoned arrows were at the time ravag-
ing that corner of the Island. The Picts helped to drive out the
marauders, and in reward were granted a settlement there, from
Crimthann, the chief of that quarter. Afterwards they had an
outfall with Crimthann — and it was decided that they should be

na-mban to pay a visit to the De Danann chief, Ochail Oichne, who resided under
Cruachan (in Roscommon) — "Seven score chariots and seven score horsemen was
their number. And of the same colour were all their steeds; they were speckled;
they had silver bridles. There was no person among them who was not the son
of a king and a queen. They all wore green cloaks with four crimson pendants
to each cloak ; and silver cloak-brooches in all their cloaks ; and they wore kilts
with red interweavings, and borders or fringes of gold thread upon them, and
pendants of white bronze thread upon their leggings or greaves, and shoes with
clasps of red bronze in them. Their helmets were ornamented with crystal and
white bronze; each of them had a collar of radiant gold around his neck, with a
gem worth a newly calved cow set in it. Each wore a twisted ring of gold around
him, worth thirty ounces of gold. All had white-faced shields, with ornamenta-
tions of gold and of silver. They carried flesh-seeking spears, with ribs of gold
and silver and red bronze in their sides; and with collars (or rings) of silver upon
the necks of the spears. They had gold-hilted swords with the forms of serpents
of gold and carbuncles set in them. They astonished the whole assembly by this


passed into Alba (Scotland).* The three Pictish chiefs were given
Irish wives to take to Alba with them, on condition that hence-
forth their royal line should descend according to the female suc-
cession — which, it is said, was henceforth the law among the Alban

Eremon's victory over Eber had slight effect in fixing on his
lineage the succession to the overlordship : for, through many hun-
dreds of years afterward, the battle had to be refought, and the
question settled once more — sometimes to the advantage of the
Eremonians, sometimes to that of the Eberians. A warlike people
must have war. Occasionally, during the reigns of the early Mile-
sian kings, this want was filled for them by the Fomorians, who,
though disastrously defeated by the De Danann at Northern Moy-
tura, were far from being destroyed. Irial, the prophet, the grand-
son of Eremon, and third Milesian king of Ireland, had to fight
them again. And at many other times the Island suffered from
their depredations.

Names of a long list of kings, from Eremon downward, and
important particulars regarding many of them, were preserved by
the historical traditions — traditions that were as valuable, and as
zealously guarded, as are the written State Records of modern
days.* The carefully trained file, who was poet, historian, and
philosopher, was consecrated to the work — and, ever inspired with
the sacredness of his trust, he was seldom known to deviate from
the truth in anything of importance — however much he confessedly
gave his imagination play in the unimportant details. And, much
as the people reverenced him, they reverenced the truth of history
more; and it was the law that a file, discovered falsifying, should
be degraded and disgraced.

The Scottish historian Pinkerton, who was hardly sympathetic,
admits : "Foreigners may imagine that it is granting too much to
the Irish to allow them lists of kings more ancient than those of
any other country of modern Europe. But the singularly compact
and remote situation of that Island, and the freedom from Roman
conquest, and from the concussion of the Fall of the Roman Em-
pire, may infer this allowance not too much."

And the British Camden, another authority not partial to Ire-

3 MacNeill holds that the Picts came to Ireland ahead of the Gael : and that,
as distinct tribes, portions of them inhabited many parts of it, down till historic
times. They also occupied large part of Scotland.

- Many notable scholars deny the complete authenticity of this list. But un-
doubtedly the greater part of the names are the real names of real kings who
held sway over the Northern or the Southern half, if not o^"?r all, of Ireland.


land, but sometimes hostile, says: "They deduced their history
from memorials derived from the most profound depths of re-
mote antiquity, so that compared with that of Ireland, the antiquities
of all other nations is but novelty, and their history is but a kind
of infancy."

Standish O'Grady in his **Early Bardic History of Ireland'*
says: *'I must confess that the blaze of Bardic light which illumi-
nates those centuries at first dazzles the eye and disturbs the judg-
ment . . . (but) that the Irish kings and heroes should succeed
one another, surrounded by a blaze of Bardic light, in which both
themselves and all those who were contemporaneous with them
are seen clearly and distinctly, was natural in a country where in
each little realm or sub-kingdom the ard-ollam was equal in dignity
to the King, as is proved by the equivalence of their eric. The
dawn of English history is in the seventh century — a late dawn,
dark and sombre, without a ray of cheerful sunshine; that of Ire-
land dates reliably from a point before the commencing of the
Christian Era — illumined with that light which never was on sea
or land — thronging with heroic forms of men and women — ter-
rible with the presence of the supernatural and its over-reaching
power." ^

^D'Arcy McGee sang of


Long, long ago beyond the misty space

Of twice a thousand years,
In Erin old there dwelt a mighty race,

Taller than Roman spears ;
Like oaks and towers they had a giant grace,

Were fleet as deers
With winds and waves they made their 'biding place,

These western shepherd seers.

Their ocean-god was Mannanan MacLir,

Whose angry lips,
In their white foam, full often would inter

Whole fleets of ships ;
Crom was their day-god, and their thunderer.

Made morning and eclipse ;
Bride was their queen of song, and unto her

They prayed with fire-touched lips.

Great were their deeds, their passions, and their sports ;

With clay and stone .

They piled on strath and shore those mystic forts,

Not yet o'erthrown ;

On cairn-crowned hills they held their council-courts;

While youths alone,
With giant dogs, explored the elks resorts.

And brought them down.


Of these was Fin, the father of the Bard,

Whose ancient song
Over the clamor of all change is heard,

Sweet-voiced and strong.
Fin once o'ertook Grania, the golden-haired,

The fleet and young;
From her the lovely, and from him the feared,

The primal poet sprung.

Ossian ! two thousand years of mist and change
' Surround thy name —

Thy Finian heroes now no longer range

The hills of fame.
The very name of Fin and GoU sound strange —

Yet thine the same —
By miscalled lake and desecrated grange —

Remains, and shall remain!

The Druid's altar and the Druid's creed

We scarce can trace,
rhere is not left an undisputed deed

Of all your race.
Save your majestic song, which hath their speed.

And strength, and grace;
In that sole song, they live and love and bleed —

It bears them on thro' space.

Oh, inspired giant I shall we e'er behold,

In our own time,
One fit to speak your spirit on the wold,

Or seize your rhyme?
One pupil of the past, as mighty souled

As in the prime,
Were the fond, fair, and beautifulj and bold-=

They, of your song sublime I



The popular traditions give details regarding many notable Mile*
sian royalties in the decade of centuries before the Christian Era.

Within the first century after Eremon, is said to have reigned
the distinguished Tighernmas (seventh of the Milesian line) who,
they say, first smelted gold, and introduced gold ornaments, and
gold fringes on dress. He also introduced various colours into
dresses. Sometimes to him, sometimes to his successor, Eochaid,
is credited the ancient ordinance which distinguished the various
classes and professions by the colours in their dress. A King or
Queen might wear seven colours; a poet or OUam six; a chieftain
five; an army leader four; a land-owner three; a rent-payer two; a
serf one colour only.

Tighernmas and two-thirds of his people were wiped out when
they were assembled in the plain of Magh Slecht in Brefni, at wor-
ship of Crom Cruach — a great idol which St. Patrick in his day

All the stories say that the greatest king of those faraway times
was the twenty-first Milesian king, known to fame as 011am Fodla
(Ollav Fola) who blessed Ireland in a reign of forty years, some
seven or eight centuries before the Christian Era. His title, Ollam
Fodla, Doctor of Wisdom, has preserved his memory down the
ages. The legends indicate that he was a true father to his people,
and an able statesman. He organised the nation for efficiency —
divided it into cantreds, appointed a chief over every cantred, a
brugaid (magistrate) over every territory, and a steward over
every townland. Some traditions say that he established a School
of Learning. And as crowning glory he established the celebrated
Feis of Tara, the great triennial Parliament of the chiefs, the
nobles, and the scholars of the nation, which assembled on Tara
Hill once every three years to settle the nation's affairs. This
great deliberative assembly, almost unique among the nations in
those early ages, and down into Christian times, reflected not n
little glory upon ancient Ireland.


One queen, famous and capable, whom early Ireland boasted
was Macha Mong Ruad (the Red-haired), who reigned over the
land about three hundred years before Christ. Her father, Aod
Ruad was one of a triumvirate — the others being Dithorba and
Cimbaoth — who by mutual agreement took seven-year turns in
reigning. Aod Ruad was drowned at Eas-Aod-Ruad (Assaroe),
now Ballyshanny. And when came round again the seven-year
period which would have been his had he lived, his daughter,
Macha, claimed the crown. But for it she had to fight her father^s
two partners — which she did, killing Dithorba ; and first defeating,
And afterwards marrying, Cimbaoth — and making him king.

For many, the reign of Cimbaoth — which synchronises with
that of Alexander the Great — marks the beginning of certainty in
Irish history — because of the famed remark of the trusted eleventh
century historian, Tighernach, that the Irish records before Cim-
baoth were uncertain.

When Cimbaoth died this able woman took up the reins of
government herself, becoming the first Milesian queen of Ireland.
But the record above all others by which this distinguished woman
lives to fame, is her founding of the ancient and much-storied
stronghold — named after her — of Emain Macha, which hence-
forth, for six hundred years, was to play a most important part in
the fortunes of Uladh (Ulster) and of Ireland.

Macha's foster-son, Ugani Mor (the Great), who succeeded
her, led his armies into Britain, and had his power acknowledged
there. After bringing a great part of Britain to obedience, some
traditions say that his ambition led him on the Continent, where
he met with many successes also, giving basis for the ancient
seanachies styling him, *'King of Ireland and of the whole of
Western Europe as far as the Muir Torrian" (Mediterranean

All the leading families of Ulster, Leinster and Connaught
trace their descent from Ugani Mor — the common father of the
royalties of the three provinces. The origin of the name of Lein-
ster is ascribed to the activities of Ugani Mor's great grandson,
Labraid Loingsech. Labraid's grandfather (Ugani Mor's son),
Laegaire Lore, was killed for sake of his throne, by his brother,
Cobtach. His son was killed at the same time : and the grandson,
Labraid Loingsech, only spared because he was dumb, and conse-
quently could not rule. Labraid Loingsech was reared up in secret,
under the joint fosterage and tutorship of a celebrated harper,
Craftine, and a celebrated poet and philosopher, Feirceirtne, Get-
ting a blow of a caman once, when playing caman (hurley) with


other boys, he suddenly found the use of speech. When he grew
up and Cobtach discovered that he no longer had the disabling
blemish, and was moreover held in high esteem, he drove him out.
The young man was received with honor at the King's court in
Gaul — whence after some time he returned, with an army of over
two thousand Gauls, armed with broad spears to which the Irish
gave the name of Laighen. On his arrival in Ireland, he learnt
that Cobtach, with thirty princes, was holding an assembly in Dinn
Righ. There Labraid marched, and destroyed them all. He at-
tacked and burned the Dinn and its guests — and won his grand-
father's throne — and incidentally supplied the plot for one of the
most famous of old Irish tales, "The Burning of Dinn Righ." From
the Laighen of the Gauls, whom he settled in this southeastern
part, Leinster, it is said took its name.^

The story of Cobtach and Labraid is to some extent curiously
paralleled in that of the next Irish monarch of much note, Conaire
Mor, who reigned within the century before, or at the time of,
Christ: and who, in establishing his strong rule over Ireland, put-
ting down lawlessness and making himself and his rule respected
and feared, drove out his own foster-brothers, the four sons of a
chieftain of Leinster. These returned after a time with a great
body of Britons, under Ingcel, son of a British king. They de-
stroyed and burned Meath, and then attacked Conaire Mor and
his retinue in the Bruighean of DaDerga (one of the six public
houses of hospitality that Ireland then boasted) destroyed it, and

Online LibrarySeumas MacManusThe story of the Irish race : a popular history of Ireland → online text (page 2 of 77)