Tighernach and his Annals—Erudition and Research of our Early
Writers—The Chronicum Scotorum—Duald Mac Firbis—Murdered, and his Murderer is protected by the Penal Laws—The Annals of the Four
Masters—Michael O'Clery—His Devotion to his
Country—Ward—Colgan—Dedication of the Annals—The Book of
Invasions—Proofs of our Early Colonization.


ur illustration can give but a faint idea of the magnificence and
extent of the ancient abbey of Clonmacnois, the home of our famous
annalist, Tighernach. It has been well observed, that no more ancient
chronicler can be produced by the northern nations. Nestor, the father
of Russian history, died in 1113; Snorro, the father of Icelandic
history, did not appear until a century later; Kadlubeck, the first
historian of Poland, died in 1223; and Stierman could not discover a
scrap of writing in all Sweden older than 1159. Indeed, he may be
compared favourably even with the British historians, who can by no
means boast of such ancient pedigrees as the genealogists of Erinn.[15] Tighernach was of the Murray-race of Connacht; of his personal history
little is known. His death is noted in the Chronicum Scotorum, where
he is styled successor (comharba) of St. Ciaran and St. Coman. The
Annals of Innisfallen state that he was interred at Clonmacnois. Perhaps
his body was borne to its burial through the very doorway which still
remains, of which we gave an illustration at the end of the last

The writers of history and genealogy in early ages, usually commenced
with the sons of Noah, if not with the first man of the human race. The
Celtic historians are no exceptions to the general rule; and long before
Tighernach wrote, the custom had obtained in Erinn. His chronicle was
necessarily compiled from more ancient sources, but its fame rests upon
the extraordinary erudition which he brought to bear upon every subject.
Flann, who was contemporary with Tighernach, and a professor of St.
Buithe's monastery (Monasterboice), is also famous for his Synchronisms,
which form an admirable abridgment of universal history. He appears to
have devoted himself specially to genealogies and pedigrees, while
Tighernach took a wider range of literary research. His learning was
undoubtedly most extensive. He quotes Eusebius, Orosius, Africanus,
Bede, Josephus, Saint Jerome, and many other historical writers, and
sometimes compares their statements on points in which they exhibit
discrepancies, and afterwards endeavours to reconcile their conflicting
testimony, and to correct the chronological errors of the writers by
comparison with the dates given by others. He also collates the Hebrew
text with the Septuagint version of the Scriptures. He uses the common
era, though we have no reason to believe that this was done by the
writers who immediately preceded him. He also mentions the lunar cycle,
and uses the dominical letter with the kalends of several years.[16]

Another writer, Gilla Caemhain, was also contemporary with Flann and
Tighernach. He gives the "annals of all time," from the beginning of the
world to his own period; and computes the second period from the
Creation to the Deluge; from the Deluge to Abraham; from Abraham to
David; from David to the Babylonian Captivity, &c. He also synchronizes
the eastern monarchs with each other, and afterwards with the Firbolgs
and Tuatha Dé Danann of Erinn,[17] and subsequently with the Milesians.
Flann synchronizes the chiefs of various lines of the children of Adam
in the East, and points out what monarchs of the Assyrians, Medes,
Persians, and Greeks, and what Roman emperors were contemporary with the
kings of Erinn, and the leaders of its various early colonies. He begins
with Ninus, son of Belus, and comes down to Julius Cæsar, who was
contemporary with Eochaidh Feidhlech, an Irish king, who died more
than half a century before the Christian era. The synchronism is then
continued from Julius Cæsar and Eochaidh to the Roman emperors
Theodosius the Third and Leo the Third; they were contemporaries with
the Irish monarch Ferghal, who was killed A.D. 718.

The ANNALS and MSS. which serve to illustrate our history, are so
numerous, that it would be impossible, with one or two exceptions, to do
more than indicate their existence, and to draw attention to the weight
which such an accumulation of authority must give to the authenticity of
our early history. But there are two of these works which we cannot pass

The Chronicum Scotorum was compiled by Duald Mac Firbis. He was of royal
race, and descended from Dathi, the last pagan monarch of Erinn. His
family were professional and hereditary historians, genealogists, and
poets,[18] and held an ancestral property at Lecain Mac Firbis, in the
county Sligo, until Cromwell and his troopers desolated Celtic homes,
and murdered the Celtic dwellers, often in cold blood. The young Mac
Firbis was educated for his profession in a school of law and history
taught by the Mac Egans of Lecain, in Ormonde. He also studied (about
A.D. 1595) at Burren, in the county Clare, in the literary and legal
school of the O'Davorens. His pedigrees of the ancient Irish and the
Anglo-Norman families, was compiled at the College of St. Nicholas, in
Galway, in the year 1650. It may interest some of our readers to peruse
the title of this work, although its length would certainly horrify a
modern publisher:—

"The Branches of Relationship and the Genealogical Ramifications of
every Colony that took possession of Erinn, traced from this time up to
Adam (excepting only those of the Fomorians, Lochlanns, and Saxon-Gaels,
of whom we, however, treat, as they have settled in our country);
together with a Sanctilogium, and a Catalogue of the Monarchs of Erinn;
and, finally, an Index, which comprises, in alphabetical order, the
surnames and the remarkable places mentioned in this work, which was
compiled by Dubhaltach Mac Firbhisigh of Lecain, 1650." He also gives,
as was then usual, the "place, time, author, and cause of writing the
work." The "cause" was "to increase the glory of God, and for the
information of the people in general;" a beautiful and most true epitome
of the motives which inspired the penmen of Erinn from the first
introduction of Christianity, and produced the "countless host" of her
noble historiographers.

Mac Firbis was murdered[19] in the year 1670, at an advanced age; and
thus departed the last and not the least distinguished of our long line
of poet-historians. Mac Firbis was a voluminous writer. Unfortunately
some of his treatises have been lost;[20] but the CHRONICUM SCOTORUM is
more than sufficient to establish his literary reputation.

The ANNALS OF THE FOUR MASTERS demand a larger notice, as unquestionably
one of the most remarkable works on record. It forms the last link
between the ancient and modern history of Ireland; a link worthy of the
past, and, we dare add, it shall be also worthy of the future. It is a
proof of what great and noble deeds may be accomplished under the most
adverse circumstances, and one of the many, if not one of the most,
triumphant denials of the often-repeated charges of indolence made
against the mendicant orders, and of aversion to learning made against
religious orders in general. Nor is it a less brilliant proof that
intellectual gifts may be cultivated and are fostered in the cloister;
and that a patriot's heart may burn as ardently, and love of country
prove as powerful a motive, beneath the cowl or the veil, as beneath the
helmet or the coif.

Michael O'Clery, the chief of the Four Masters, was a friar of the order
of St. Francis. He was born at Kilbarron, near Ballyshannon, county
Donegal, in the year 1580, and was educated principally in the south of
Ireland, which was then more celebrated for its academies than the
north. The date of his entrance into the Franciscan order is not known,
neither is it known why he,

"Once the heir of bardic honours,"

became a simple lay-brother. In the year 1627 he travelled through
Ireland collecting materials for Father Hugh Ward, also a Franciscan
friar, and Guardian of the convent of St. Antony at Louvain, who was
preparing a series of Lives of Irish Saints. When Father Ward died, the
project was taken up and partially carried out by Father John Colgan.
His first work, the Trias Thaumaturgus, contains the lives of St.
Patrick, St. Brigid, and St. Columba. The second volume contains the
lives of Irish saints whose festivals occur from the 1st of January to
the 31st of March; and here, unfortunately, alike for the hagiographer
and the antiquarian, the work ceased. It is probable that the idea of

"The old memorials
Of the noble and the holy,
Of the chiefs of ancient lineage,
Of the saints of wondrous virtues;
Of the Ollamhs and the Brehons,

Of the bards and of the betaghs,"[21]

occurred to him while he was collecting materials for Father Ward. His
own account is grand in its simplicity, and beautiful as indicating that
the deep passion for country and for literature had but enhanced the yet
deeper passion which found its culminating point in the dedication of
his life to God in the poor order of St. Francis. In the troubled and
disturbed state of Ireland, he had some difficulty in securing a patron.
At last one was found who could appreciate intellect, love of country,
and true religion. Although it is almost apart from our immediate
subject, we cannot refrain giving an extract from the dedication to this
prince, whose name should be immortalized with that of the friar patriot
and historian:—

"I, Michael O'Clerigh, a poor friar of the Order of St. Francis (after
having been for ten years transcribing every old material that I found
concerning the saints of Ireland, observing obedience to each provincial
that was in Ireland successively), have come before you, O noble Fearghal O'Gara. I have calculated on your honour that it seemed to
you a cause of pity and regret, grief and sorrow (for the glory of God
and the honour of Ireland), how much the race of Gaedhil, the son of
Niul, have passed under a cloud and darkness, without a knowledge or
record of the obit of saint or virgin, archbishop, bishop, abbot, or
other noble dignitary of the Church, or king or of prince, of lord or of
chieftain, [or] of the synchronism of connexion of the one with the
other." He then explains how he collected the materials for his work,
adding, alas! most truly, that should it not be accomplished then, "they
would not again be found to be put on record to the end of the world."

He thanks the prince for giving "the reward of their labour to the
chroniclers," and simply observes, that "it was the friars of the
convent of Donegal who supplied them with food and attendance." With
characteristic humility he gives his patron the credit of all the "good
which will result from this book, in giving light to all in general;"
and concludes thus:—

"On the twenty-second day of the month of January, A.D. 1632, this book
was commenced in the convent of Dun-na-ngall, and, it was finished in
the same convent on the tenth day of August, 1636, the eleventh year of
the reign of our king Charles over England, France, Alba, and over Eiré."

There were "giants in those days;" and one scarcely knows whether to
admire most the liberality of the prince, the devotion of the friars of
Donegal, who "gave food and attendance" to their literary brother, and
thus had their share in perpetuating their country's fame, or the gentle
humility of the great Brother Michael.

It is unnecessary to make any observation on the value and importance of
the Annals of the Four Masters. The work has been edited with
extraordinary care and erudition by Dr. O'Donovan, and published by an
Irish house. We must now return to the object for which this brief
mention of the MS. materials of Irish history has been made, by showing
on what points other historians coincide in their accounts of our first
colonists, of their language, customs, and laws; and secondly, how far
the accounts which may be obtained ab extra agree with the statements
of our own annalists. The Book of Invasions, which was rewritten and
"purified" by brother Michael O'Clery, gives us in a few brief lines an
epitome of our history as recorded by the ancient chroniclers of

"The sum of the matters to be found in the following book, is the taking
of Erinn by [the Lady] Ceasair; the taking by Partholan; the taking
by Nemedh; the taking by the Firbolgs; the taking by the Tuatha Dé
the taking by the sons of Miledh [or Miletius]; and their
succession down to the monarch Melsheachlainn, or Malachy the Great
[who died in 1022]." Here we have six distinct "takings," invasions, or
colonizations of Ireland in pre-Christian times.

It may startle some of our readers to find any mention of Irish history
"before the Flood," but we think the burden of proof, to use a logical
term, lies rather with those who doubt the possibility, than with those
who accept as tradition, and as possibly true, the statements which
have been transmitted for centuries by careful hands. There can be no
doubt that a high degree of cultivation, and considerable advancement in
science, had been attained by the more immediate descendants of our
first parents. Navigation and commerce existed, and Ireland may have
been colonized. The sons of Noah must have remembered and preserved the
traditions of their ancestors, and transmitted them to their
descendants. Hence, it depended on the relative anxiety of these
descendants to preserve the history of the world before the Flood, how
much posterity should know of it. MacFirbis thus answers the objections
of those who, even in his day, questioned the possibility of preserving
such records:—"If there be any one who shall ask who preserved the
history [Seanchus], let him know that they were very ancient and
long-lived old men, recording elders of great age, whom God permitted to
preserve and hand down the history of Erinn, in books, in succession,
one after another, from the Deluge to the time of St. Patrick."

The artificial state of society in our own age, has probably acted
disadvantageously on our literary researches, if not on our moral
character. Civilization is a relative arbitrary term; and the ancestors
whom we are pleased to term uncivilized, may have possessed as high a
degree of mental culture as ourselves, though it unquestionably differed
in kind. Job wrote his epic poem in a state of society which we should
probably term uncultivated; and when Lamech gave utterance to the most
ancient and the saddest of human lyrics, the world was in its infancy,
and it would appear as if the first artificer in "brass and iron" had
only helped to make homicide more easy. We can scarce deny that murder,
cruel injustice, and the worst forms of inhumanity, are but too common
in countries which boast of no ordinary refinement; and we should
hesitate ere we condemn any state of society as uncivilized, simply
because we find such crimes in the pages of their history.

The question of the early, if not pre-Noahacian colonization of Ireland,
though distinctly asserted in our annals, has been met with the ready
scepticism which men so freely use to cover ignorance or indifference.
It has been taken for granted that the dispersion, after the confusion
of tongues at Babel, was the first dispersion of the human race; but it
has been overlooked that, on the lowest computation, a number of
centuries equal, if not exceeding, those of the Christian era, elapsed
between the Creation of man and the Flood; that men had "multiplied
exceedingly upon the earth;" and that the age of stone had already given
place to that of brass and iron, which, no doubt, facilitated commerce
and colonization, even at this early period of the world's history. The
discovery of works of art, of however primitive a character, in the
drifts of France and England, indicates an early colonization. The
rudely-fashioned harpoon of deer's horn found beside the gigantic whale,
in the alluvium of the carse near the base of Dummyat, twenty feet above
the highest tide of the nearest estuary, and the tusk of the mastodon
lying alongside fragments of pottery in a deposit of the peat and sands
of the post-pliocene beds in South Carolina, are by no means solitary
examples. Like the night torch of the gentle Guanahané savage, which
Columbus saw as he gazed wearily from his vessel, looking, even after
sunset, for the long hoped-for shore, and which told him that his desire
was at last consummated, those indications of man, associated with the
gigantic animals of a geological age, of whose antiquity there can be no
question, speak to our hearts strange tales of the long past, and of the
early dispersion and progressive distribution of a race created to
"increase and multiply."

The question of transit has also been raised as a difficulty by those
who doubt our early colonization. But this would seem easily removed. It
is more than probable that, at the period of which we write, Britain, if
not Ireland, formed part of the European continent; but were it not so,
we have proof, even in the present day, that screw propellers and iron
cast vessels are not necessary for safety in distant voyages, since the
present aboriginal vessels of the Pacific will weather a storm in which
a Great Eastern or a London might founder hopelessly.

Let us conclude an apology for our antiquity, if not a proof of it, in
the words of our last poet historian:—


"We believe that henceforth no wise person will be found who will
not acknowledge that it is possible to bring the genealogies of the
Gaedhils to their origin, to Noah and to Adam; and if he does not
believe that, may he not believe that he himself is the son of his
own father. For there is no error in the genealogical history, but
as it was left from father to son in succession, one after another.

"Surely every one believes the Divine Scriptures, which give a
similar genealogy to the men of the world, from Adam down to
Noah;[22] and the genealogy of Christ and of the holy fathers, as
may be seen in the Church [writings]. Let him believe this, or let
him deny God. And if he does believe this, why should he not
believe another history, of which there has been truthful
preservation, like the history of Erinn? I say truthful
preservation, for it is not only that they [the preservers of it] were very numerous, as we said, preserving the same, but there was
an order and a law with them and upon them, out of which they could
not, without great injury, tell lies or falsehoods, as may be seen
in the Books of Fenechas [Law], of Fodhla [Erinn], and in the
degrees of the poets themselves, their order, and their laws."[23]