First Colonists—The Landing of Ceasair, before the Flood—Landing of
Partholan, after the Flood, at Inver Scene—Arrival of Nemedh—The
Fomorians—Emigration of the Nemenians—The Firbolgs—Division of
Ireland by the Firbolg Chiefs—The Tuatha Dé Dananns—Their Skill as
Artificers—Nuada of the Silver Hand—The Warriors Sreng and Breas—The
Satire of Cairbré—Termination of the Fomorian Dynasty.

[A.M. 1599.]

e shall, then, commence our history with such accounts as we can find
in our annals of the pre-Christian colonization of Erinn. The legends of
the discovery and inhabitation of Ireland before the Flood, are too
purely mythical to demand serious notice. But as the most ancient MSS.
agree in their account of this immigration, we may not pass it over
without brief mention.

The account in the Chronicum Scotorum runs thus:—

"Kal. v.f.l. 10. Anno mundi 1599.

"In this year the daughter of one of the Greeks came to Hibernia, whose
name was h-Erui, or Berba, or Cesar, and fifty maidens and three men
with her. Ladhra was their conductor, who was the first that was buried
in Hibernia."[24] The Cin of Drom Snechta is quoted in the Book of
Ballymote as authority for the same tradition.[25] The Book of Invasions
also mentions this account as derived from ancient sources. MacFirbis,
in the Book of Genealogies, says: "I shall devote the first book to
Partholan, who first took possession of Erinn after the Deluge, devoting
the beginning of it to the coming of the Lady Ceasair," &c. And the
Annals of the Four Masters: "Forty days before the Deluge, Ceasair came
to Ireland with fifty girls and three men—Bith, Ladhra, and Fintain
their names."[26] All authorities agree that Partholan was the first who
colonized Ireland after the Flood. His arrival is stated in the
Chronicum Scotorum to have taken place "in the sixtieth year of the age
of Abraham."[27] The Four Masters say: "The age of the world, when
Partholan came into Ireland, 2520 years."[28]

Partholan landed at Inver[29] Scene, now the Kenmare river, accompanied
by his sons, their wives, and a thousand followers. His antecedents are
by no means the most creditable; and we may, perhaps, feel some
satisfaction, that a colony thus founded should have been totally swept
away by pestilence a few hundred years after its establishment.

The Chronicum Scotorum gives the date of his landing thus: "On a Monday,
the 14th of May, he arrived, his companions being eight in number, viz.,
four men and four women." If the kingdom of Desmond were as rich then as
now in natural beauty, a scene of no ordinary splendour must have
greeted the eyes and gladdened the hearts of its first inhabitants. They
had voyaged past the fair and sunny isles of that "tideless sea," the
home of the Phoenician race from the earliest ages. They had escaped the
dangers of the rough Spanish coast, and gazed upon the spot where the
Pillars of Hercules were the beacons of the early mariners. For many
days they had lost sight of land, and, we may believe, had well-nigh
despaired of finding a home in that far isle, to which some strange
impulse had attracted them, or some old tradition—for the world even
then was old enough for legends of the past—had won their thoughts. But
there was a cry of land. The billows dashed in wildly, then as now, from
the coasts of an undiscovered world, and left the same line of white
foam upon Eire's western coast. The magnificent Inver rolled its tide
of beauty between gentle hills and sunny slopes, till it reached what
now is appropriately called Kenmare. The distant Reeks showed their
clear summits in sharp outline, pointing to the summer sky. The
long-backed Mangerton and quaintly-crested Carn Tual were there also;
and, perchance, the Roughty and the Finihé sent their little streams to
swell the noble river bay. But it was no time for dreams, though the
Celt in all ages has proved the sweetest of dreamers, the truest of
bards. These men have rough work to do, and, it may be, gave but scant
thought to the beauties of the western isle, and scant thanks to their
gods for escape from peril. Plains were to be cleared, forests cut down,
and the red deer and giant elk driven to deeper recesses in the
well-wooded country.

Several lakes are said to have sprung forth at that period; but it is
more probable that they already existed, and were then for the first
time seen by human eye. The plains which Partholan's people cleared are
also mentioned, and then we find the ever-returning obituary:—

"The age of the world 2550, Partholan died on Sean Mhagh-Ealta-Edair in
this year."[30]

The name of Tallaght still remains, like the peak of a submerged world,
to indicate this colonization, and its fatal termination. Some very
ancient tumuli may still be seen there. The name signifies a place where
a number of persons who died of the plague were interred together; and
here the Annals of the Four Masters tells us that nine thousand of
Partholan's people died in one week, after they had been three hundred
years in Ireland.[31]

The third "taking" of Ireland was that of Nemedh. He came, according to
the Annals,[32] A.M. 2859, and erected forts and cleared plains, as his
predecessors had done. His people were also afflicted by plague, and
appeared to have had occupation enough to bury their dead, and to fight
with the "Fomorians in general," an unpleasantly pugilistic race, who,
according to the Annals of Clonmacnois, "were a sept descended from
Cham, the sonne of Noeh, and lived by pyracie and spoile of other
nations, and were in those days very troublesome to the whole
world."[33] The few Nemedians who escaped alive after their great battle
with the Fomorians, fled into the interior of the island. Three bands
were said to have emigrated with their respective captains. One party
wandered into the north of Europe, and are believed to have been the
progenitors of the Tuatha Dé Dananns; others made their way to Greece,
where they were enslaved, and obtained the name of Firbolgs, or bagmen,
from the leathern bags which they were compelled to carry; and the third
section sought refuge in the north of England, which is said to have
obtained its name of Briton from their leader, Briotan Maol.[34]

The fourth immigration is that of the Firbolgs; and it is remarkable how
early the love of country is manifested in the Irish race, since we find
those who once inhabited its green plains still anxious to return,
whether their emigration proved prosperous, as to the Tuatha Dé Dananns,
or painful, as to the Firbolgs.

According to the Annals of Clonmacnois, Keating, and the Leabhar-Gabhala, the Firbolgs divided the island into five provinces,
governed by five brothers, the sons of Dela Mac Loich:—"Slane, the
eldest brother, had the province of Leynster for his part, which
containeth from Inver Colpe, that is to say, where the river Boyne
entereth into the sea, now called in Irish Drogheda, to the meeting of
the three waters, by Waterford, where the three rivers, Suyre, Ffeoir,
and Barrow, do meet and run together into the sea. Gann, the second
brother's part, was South Munster, which is a province extending from
that place to Bealagh-Conglaissey. Seangann, the third brother's part,
was from Bealagh-Conglaissey to Rossedahaileagh, now called Limbriche,
which is in the province of North Munster. Geanaun, the fourth brother,
had the province of Connacht, containing from Limerick to Easroe. Rorye,
the fifth brother, and youngest, had from Easroe aforesaid to Inver
Colpe, which is in the province of Ulster."[35]

The Firbolg chiefs had landed in different parts of the island, but they
soon met at the once famous Tara, where they united their forces. To
this place they gave the name of Druim Cain, or the Beautiful

The fifth, or Tuatha Dé Danann "taking" of Ireland, occurred in the
reign of Eochaidh, son of Erc, A.M. 3303. The Firbolgian dynasty was
terminated at the battle of Magh Tuireadh. Eochaidh fled from the
battle, and was killed on the strand of Traigh Eothailé, near
Ballysadare, co. Sligo. The cave where he was interred still exists, and
there is a curious tradition that the tide can never cover it.

The Tuatha Dé Danann king, Nuada, lost his hand in this battle, and
obtained the name of Nuada of the Silver Hand,[36] his artificer, Credne
Cert, having made a silver hand for him with joints. It is probable the
latter acquisition was the work of Mioch, the son of Diancecht, Nuada's
physician, as there is a tradition that he "took off the hand and
infused feeling and motion into every joint and finger of it, as if it
were a natural hand." We may doubt the "feeling," but it was probably
suggested by the "motion," and the fact that, in those ages, every act
of more than ordinary skill was attributed to supernatural causes,
though effected through human agents. Perhaps even, in the enlightened
nineteenth century, we might not be much the worse for the pious belief,
less the pagan cause to which it was attributed. It should be observed
here, that the Brehon Laws were probably then in force; for the
"blemish" of the monarch appears to have deprived him of his dignity, at
least until the silver hand could satisfy for the defective limb. The
Four Masters tell us briefly that the Tuatha Dé Dananns gave the
sovereignty to Breas, son of Ealathan, "while the hand of Nuada was
under cure," and mentions that Breas resigned the kingdom to him in the
seventh year after the cure of his hand.

A more detailed account of this affair may be found in one of our
ancient historic tales, of the class called Catha or Battles, which Professor O'Curry pronounces to be "almost the earliest event upon the
record of which we may place sure reliance."[37] It would appear that
there were two battles between the Firbolgs and Tuatha Dé Dananns, and
that, in the last of these, Nuada was slain. According to this ancient
tract, when the Firbolg king heard of the arrival of the invaders, he
sent a warrior named Sreng to reconnoitre their camp. The Tuatha Dé
Dananns were as skilled in war as in magic; they had sentinels carefully
posted, and their videttes were as much on the alert as a Wellington
or a Napier could desire. The champion Breas was sent forward to meet
the stranger. As they approached, each raised his shield, and cautiously
surveyed his opponent from above the protecting aegis. Breas was the
first to speak. The mother-tongue was as dear then as now, and Sreng was
charmed to hear himself addressed in his own language, which, equally
dear to the exiled Nemedian chiefs, had been preserved by them in their
long wanderings through northern Europe. An examination of each others
armour next took place. Sreng was armed with "two heavy, thick,
pointless, but sharply rounded spears;" while Breas carried "two
beautifully shaped, thin, slender, long, sharp-pointed spears."[38] Perhaps the one bore a spear of the same class of heavy flint weapons of
which we give an illustration, and the other the lighter and more
graceful sword, of which many specimens may be seen in the collection of
the Royal Irish Academy. Breas then proposed that they should divide the
island between the two parties; and after exchanging spears and promises
of mutual friendship, each returned to his own camp.



The Firbolg king, however, objected to this arrangement; and it was decided,
in a council of war, to give battle to the invaders. The Tuatha Dé
Dananns were prepared for this from the account which Breas gave of the
Firbolg warriors: they, therefore, abandoned their camp, and took up a
strong position on Mount Belgadan, at the west end of Magh Nia, a site
near the present village of Cong, co. Mayo.

The Firbolgs marched from Tara to meet them; but Nuada, anxious for
pacific arrangements, opened new negociations with King Eochaidh through
the medium of his bards. The battle which has been mentioned before then
followed. The warrior Breas, who ruled during the disability of Nuada,
was by no means popular. He was not hospitable, a sine qua non for
king or chief from the earliest ages of Celtic being; he did not love
the bards, for the same race ever cherished and honoured learning; and
he attempted to enslave the nobles. Discontent came to a climax when the
bard Cairbré, son of the poetess Etan, visited the royal court, and was
sent to a dark chamber, without fire or bed, and, for all royal fare,
served with three small cakes of bread. If we wish to know the true
history of a people, to understand the causes of its sorrows and its
joys, to estimate its worth, and to know how to rule it wisely and well,
let us read such old-world tales carefully, and ponder them well. Even
if prejudice or ignorance should induce us to undervalue their worth as
authentic records of its ancient history, let us remember the undeniable
fact, that they are authentic records of its deepest national
feelings, and let them, at least, have their weight as such in our
schemes of social economy, for the present and the future.

The poet left the court next morning, but not until he pronounced a
bitter and withering satire on the king—the first satire that had ever
been pronounced in Erinn. It was enough. Strange effects are attributed
to the satire of a poet in those olden times; but probably they could,
in all cases, bear the simple and obvious interpretation, that he on
whom the satire was pronounced was thereby disgraced eternally before
his people. For how slight a punishment would bodily suffering or
deformity be, in comparison to the mental suffering of which a
quick-souled people are eminently capable!

Breas was called on to resign. He did so with the worst possible grace,
as might be expected from such a character. His father, Elatha, was a
Fomorian sea-king or pirate, and he repaired to his court. His reception
was not such as he had expected; he therefore went to Balor of the Evil
Eye,[39] a Fomorian chief. The two warriors collected a vast army and
navy, and formed a bridge of ships and boats from the Hebrides to the
north-west coast of Erinn. Having landed their forces, they marched to a
plain in the barony of Tirerrill (co. Sligo), where they waited an
attack or surrender of the Tuatha Dé Danann army. But the magical skill,
or, more correctly, the superior abilities of this people, proved them
more than equal to the occasion. The chronicler gives a quaint and most
interesting account of the Tuatha Dé Danann arrangements. Probably the
Crimean campaign, despite our nineteenth century advancements in the art
of war, was not prepared for more carefully, or carried out more

Nuada called a "privy council," if we may use the modern term for the
ancient act, and obtained the advice of the great Daghda; of Lug, the
son of Cian, son of Diancecht, the famous physician; and of Ogma
Grian-Aineach (of the sun-like face). But Daghda and Lug were evidently
secretaries of state for the home and war departments, and arranged
these intricate affairs with perhaps more honour to their master, and
more credit to the nation, than many a modern and "civilized" statesman.
They summoned to their presence the heads of each department necessary
for carrying on the war. Each department was therefore carefully
pre-organized, in such a manner as to make success almost certain, and
to obtain every possible succour and help from those engaged in the
combat, or those who had suffered from it. The "smiths" were prepared to
make and to mend the swords, the surgeons to heal or staunch the wounds,
the bards and druids to praise or blame; and each knew his work, and
what was expected from the department which he headed before the battle,
for the questions put to each, and their replies, are on record.

Pardon me. You will say I have written a romance, a legend, for the
benefit of my country[40]—a history of what might have been, of what
should be, at least in modern warfare, and, alas! often is not. Pardon
me. The copy of the tracts from which I have compiled this meagre
narrative, is in existence, and in the British Museum. It was written on
vellum, about the year 1460, by Gilla-Riabhach O'Clery; but there is
unquestionable authority for its having existed at a much earlier
period. It is quoted by Cormac Mac Cullinan in his Glossary, in
illustration of the word Nes, and Cormac was King of Munster in the
year of grace 885, while his Glossary was compiled to explain words
which had then become obsolete. This narrative must, therefore, be of
great antiquity. If we cannot accept it as a picture of the period, in
the main authentic, let us give up all ancient history as a myth; if we
do accept it, let us acknowledge that a people who possessed such
officials had attained a high state of intellectual culture, and that
their memory demands at least the homage of our respect.

The plain on which this battle was fought, retains the name of the Plain
of the Towers (or Pillars) of the Fomorians, and some very curious
sepulchral monuments may still be seen on the ancient field.

In those days, as in the so-called middle ages, ladies exercised their
skill in the healing art; and we find honorable mention made of the Lady
Ochtriuil, who assisted the chief physician (her father) and his sons in
healing the wounds of the Tuatha Dé Danann heroes. These warriors have
also left many evidences of their existence in raths and monumental
pillars.[41] It is probable, also, that much that has been attributed to
the Danes, of right belongs to the Dananns, and that a confusion of
names has promoted a confusion of appropriation. Before we turn to the
Milesian immigration, the last colonization of the old country, let us
inquire what was known and said of it, and of its people, by foreign