The Scythians Colonists—Testimony of Josephus—Magog and his
Colony—Statements of our Annals confirmed by a Jewish Writer—By
Herodotus—Nennius relates what is told by the "Most Learned of the
Scoti"—Phoenician Circumnavigation of Africa—Phoenician Colonization
of Spain—Iberus and Himerus—Traditions of Partholan—Early
Geographical Accounts of Ireland—Early Social Accounts of Ireland.


he writer of the article on Ireland, in Rees' Cyclopædia, says: "It
does not appear improbable, much less absurd, to suppose that the
Phoenicians might have colonized Ireland at an early period, and
introduced their laws, customs, and knowledge, with a comparatively high
state of civilization; and that these might have been gradually lost
amidst the disturbances of the country, and, at last, completely
destroyed by the irruptions of the Ostmen." Of this assertion, which is
now scarcely doubted, there is abundant proof; and it is remarkable that
Josephus[42] attributes to the Phoenicians a special care in preserving
their annals above that of other civilized nations, and that this
feeling has existed, and still exists, more vividly in the Celtic race
than in any other European people.

The Irish annalists claim a descent from the Scythians, who, they say,
are descended from Magog, the son of Japhet, the son of Noah. Keating
says: "We will set down here the branching off of the race of Magog,
according to the Book of Invasions (of Ireland), which was called the
Cin of Drom Snechta."[43] It will be remembered how curiously O'Curry
verified Keating's statement as to the authorship of this work,[44] so
that his testimony may be received with respect. In the Scripture
genealogy, the sons of Magog are not enumerated; but an historian, who
cannot be suspected of any design of assisting the Celts to build up a
pedigree, has happily supplied the deficiency. Josephus writes:[45] "Magog led out a colony, which from him were named Magoges, but by the
Greeks called Scythians." But Keating specifies the precise title of
Scythians, from which the Irish Celts are descended. He says they had
established themselves in remote ages on the borders of the Red Sea, at
the town of Chiroth; that they were expelled by the grandson of that
Pharaoh who had been drowned in the Red Sea; and that he persecuted them
because they had supplied the Israelites with provisions.

This statement is singularly and most conclusively confirmed by Rabbi
Simon, who wrote two hundred years before the birth of Christ. He says
that certain Canaanites near the Red Sea gave provisions to the
Israelites; "and because these Canaan ships gave Israel of their
provisions, God would not destroy their ships, but with an east wind
carried them down the Red Sea."[46] This colony settled in what was
subsequently called Phoenicia; and here again our traditions are
confirmed ab extra, for Herodotus says: "The Phoenicians anciently
dwelt, as they allege, on the borders of the Red Sea."[47]

It is not known at what time this ancient nation obtained the specific
appellation of Phoenician. The word is not found in Hebrew brew copies
of the Scriptures, but is used in the Machabees, the original of which
is in Greek, and in the New Testament. According to Grecian historians,
it was derived from Phoenix, one of their kings and brother of Cadmus,
the inventor of letters. It is remarkable that our annals mention a king
named Phenius, who devoted himself especially to the study of languages,
and composed an alphabet and the elements of grammar. Our historians
describe the wanderings of the Phoenicians, whom they still designate
Scythians, much as they are described by other writers. The account of
their route may differ in detail, but the main incidents coincide.
Nennius, an English chronicler, who wrote in the seventh century, from
the oral testimony of trustworthy Irish Celts, gives corroborative
testimony. He writes thus: "If any one would be anxious to learn how
long Ireland was uninhabited and deserted, he shall hear it, as the most
learned of the Scots have related it to me.[48] When the children of
Israel came to the Red Sea, the Egyptians pursued them and were drowned,
as the Scripture records. In the time of Moses there was a Scythian
noble who had been banished from his kingdom, and dwelt in Egypt with a
large family. He was there when the Egyptians were drowned, but he did
not join in the persecution of the Lord's people. Those who survived
laid plans to banish him, lest he should assume the government, because
their brethren were drowned in the Red Sea; so he was expelled. He
wandered through Africa for forty-two years, and passed by the lake of
Salinæ to the altars of the Philistines, and between Rusicada and the
mountains Azure, and he came by the river Mulon, and by sea to the
Pillars of Hercules, and through the Tuscan Sea, and he made for Spain,
and dwelt there many years, and he increased and multiplied, and his
people were multiplied."

Herodotus gives an account of the circumnavigation of Africa by the
Phoenicians, which may have some coincidence with this narrative. His
only reason for rejecting the tradition, which he relates at length, is
that he could not conceive how these navigators could have seen the sun
in a position contrary to that in which it is seen in Europe. The
expression of his doubt is a strong confirmation of the truth of his
narrative, which, however, is generally believed by modern writers.[49]

This navigation was performed about seven centuries before the Christian
era, and is, at least, a proof that the maritime power of the
Phoenicians was established at an early period, and that it was not
impossible for them to have extended their enterprises to Ireland. The
traditions of our people may also be confirmed from other sources.
Solinus writes thus: "In the gulf of Boatica there is an island, distant
some hundred paces from the mainland, which the Tyrians, who came from
the Red Sea, called Erythroea, and the Carthaginians, in their language,
denominate Gadir, i.e., the enclosure."

Spanish historians add their testimony, and claim the Phoenicians as
their principal colonizers. The Hispania Illustrata, a rare and
valuable work, on which no less than sixty writers were engaged, fixes
the date of the colonization of Spain by the Phoenicians at 764 A.C. De
Bellegarde says: "The first of whom mention is made in history is
Hercules, the Phoenician, by some called Melchant." It is alleged that
he lived in the time of Moses, and that he retired into Spain when the
Israelites entered the land of promise. This will be consistent with old
accounts, if faith can be placed in the inscription of two columns,
which were found in the province of Tingitane, at the time of the
historian Procopius.[50] A Portuguese historian, Emanuel de Faria y
Sousa, mentions the sailing of Gatelus from Egypt, with his whole
family, and names his two sons, Iberus and Himerus, the first of whom,
he says, "some will have to have sailed into Ireland, and given the name
Hibernia to it."

Indeed, so strong has been the concurrent testimony of a Phoenician
colonization of Ireland from Spain, and this by independent authorities,
who could not have had access to our bardic histories, and who had no
motive, even had they known of their existence, to write in confirmation
of them, that those who have maintained the theory of a Gaulish
colonization of Ireland, have been obliged to make Spain the point of

There is a curious treatise on the antiquities and origin of Cambridge,
in which it is stated, that, in the year of the world 4321, a British
prince, the son of Gulguntius, or Gurmund, having crossed over to
Denmark, to enforce tribute from a Danish king, was returning victorious
off the Orcades, when he encountered thirty ships, full of men and
women. On his inquiring into the object of their voyage, their leader, Partholyan, made an appeal to his good-nature, and entreated from the
prince some small portion of land in Britain, as his crew were weary of
sailing over the ocean. Being informed that he came from Spain, the
British prince received him under his protection, and assigned faithful
guides to attend him into Ireland, which was then wholly uninhabited;
and he granted it to them, subject to an annual tribute, and confirmed
the appointment of Partholyan as their chief.[51]

This account was so firmly believed in England, that it is specially set
forth in an Irish act (11th of Queen Elizabeth) among the "auncient and
sundry strong authentique tytles for the kings of England to this land
of Ireland." The tradition may have been obtained from Irish sources,
and was probably "improved" and accommodated to fortify the Saxon claim,
by the addition of the pretended grant; but it is certainly evidence of
the early belief in the Milesian colonization of Ireland, and the name
of their leader.

The earliest references to Ireland by foreign writers are, as might be
expected, of a contradictory character. Plutarch affirms that Calypso
was "an island five days' sail to the west of Britain," which, at least,
indicates his knowledge of the existence of Erinn. Orpheus is the first
writer who definitely names Ireland. In the imaginary route which he
prescribes for Jason and the Argonauts, he names Ireland (Iernis), and
describes its woody surface and its misty atmosphere. All authorities
are agreed that this poem[52] was written five hundred years before
Christ; and all doubt as to whether Iernis meant the present island of
Ireland must be removed, at least to an unprejudiced inquirer, by a
careful examination of the route which is described, and the position of
the island in that route.

The early history of a country which has been so long and so cruelly
oppressed, both civilly and morally, has naturally fallen into
disrepute. We do not like to display the qualifications of one whom we
have deeply injured. It is, at least, less disgraceful to have forbidden
a literature to a people who had none, than to have banned and barred
the use of a most ancient language,—to have destroyed the annals of a
most ancient people. In self-defence, the conqueror who knows not how to
triumph nobly will triumph basely, and the victims may, in time, almost
forget what it has been the policy of centuries to conceal from them.
But ours is, in many respects, an age of historical justice, and truth
will triumph in the end. It is no longer necessary to England's present
greatness to deny the facts of history; and it is one of its most patent
facts that Albion was unknown, or, at least, that her existence was
unrecorded, at a time when Ireland is mentioned with respect as the
Sacred Isle, and the Ogygia[53] of the Greeks.

As might be expected, descriptions of the social state of ancient Erinn
are of the most contradictory character; but there is a remarkable
coincidence in all accounts of the physical geography of the island. The
moist climate, the fertile soil, the richly-wooded plains, the navigable
rivers, and the abundance of its fish,[54] are each and all mentioned by
the early geographers. The description given by Diodorus Siculus of a
"certain large island a considerable distance out at sea, and in the
direction of the west, many days' sail from Lybia," if it applies to
Ireland, would make us suppose that the Erinn of pagan times was
incomparably more prosperous than Erinn under Christian rule. He also
specially mentions the fish, and adds: "The Phoenicians, from the very
remotest times, made repeated voyages thither for purposes of

The descriptions of our social state are by no means so flattering; but
it is remarkable, and, perhaps, explanatory, that the most unfavourable
accounts are the more modern ones. All without the pale of Roman
civilization were considered "barbarians," and the epithet was freely
applied. Indeed, it is well known that, when Cicero had a special object
in view, he could describe the Celtae of Gaul as the vilest monsters,
and the hereditary enemies of the gods, for whose wickedness
extermination was the only remedy. As to the "gods" there is no doubt
that the Druidic worship was opposed to the more sensual paganism of
Greece and Rome, and, therefore, would be considered eminently
irreligious by the votaries of the latter.

The most serious social charge against the Irish Celts, is that of being
anthropophagi; and the statement of St. Jerome, that he had seen two
Scoti in Gaul feeding on a human carcass, has been claimed as strong
corroboration of the assertions of pagan writers. As the good father was
often vehement in his statements and impulsive in his opinions, he may
possibly have been mistaken, or, perhaps, purposely misled by those who
wished to give him an unfavourable impression of the Irish. It is
scarcely possible that they could have been cannibal as a nation, since
St. Patrick never even alludes to such a custom in his Confessio,[56] where it would, undoubtedly, have been mentioned and reproved, had it