Landing of the Milesians—Traditions of the Tuatha Dé Dananns in St.
Patrick's time—The Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny—The Milesians go back
to sea "nine waves"—They conquer ultimately—Reign of Eremon—Landing
of the Picts—Bede's Account of Ireland—Fame of its Fish and
Goats—Difficulties of Irish Chronology—Importance and Authenticity of
Irish Pedigrees—Qualifications of an Ollamh—Milesian
Genealogies—Historical Value of Pedigrees—National Feelings should be
respected—Historic Tales—Poems.

[A.M. 3500.]

he last colonization of Ireland is thus related in the Annals of the
Four Masters: "The age of the world 3500. The fleet of the sons of
Milidh came to Ireland at the end of this year, to take it from the
Tuatha Dé Dananns, and they fought the battle of Sliabh Mis with them on
the third day after landing. In this battle fell Scota, the daughter of
Pharaoh, wife of Milidh; and the grave of Scota[57] is [to be seen] between Sliabh Mis and the sea. Therein also fell Fas, the wife of Un,
son of Uige, from whom is [named] Gleann Faisi. After this the sons of
Milidh fought a battle at Taillten[58] against the three kings of the
Tuatha Dé Dananns, MacCuill, MacCeacht, and MacGriéné. The battle lasted
for a long time, until MacCeacht fell by Eiremhon, MacCuill by Eimheur,
and Mac Griéné by Amhergen."[59] Thus the Tuatha Dé Danann dynasty
passed away, but not without leaving many a quaint legend of magic and
mystery, and many an impress of its more than ordinary skill in such
arts as were then indications of national superiority. The real names of
the last chiefs of this line, are said to have been respectively Ethur,
Cethur, and Fethur. The first was called MacCuill, because he worshipped
the hazel-tree, and, more probably, because he was devoted to some
branch of literature which it symbolized; the second MacCeacht, because
he worshipped the plough, i.e., was devoted to agriculture; and the
third obtained his appellation of MacGriéné because he worshipped the

It appears from a very curious and ancient tract, written in the shape
of a dialogue between St. Patrick and Caoilte MacRonain, that there were
many places in Ireland where the Tuatha Dé Dananns were then supposed to
live as sprites and fairies, with corporeal and material forms, but
endued with immortality. The inference naturally to be drawn from these
stories is, that the Tuatha Dé Dananns lingered in the country for many
centuries after their subjugation by the Gaedhils, and that they lived
in retired situations, where they practised abstruse arts, from which
they obtained the reputation of being magicians.

The Tuatha Dé Dananns are also said to have brought the famous. Lia
Fail, or Stone of Destiny, to Ireland. It is said by some authorities
that this stone was carried to Scotland when an Irish colony invaded
North Britain, and that it was eventually brought to England by Edward
I., in the year 1300, and deposited in Westminster Abbey. It is supposed
to be identical with the large block of stone which may be seen there
under the coronation chair. Dr. Petrie, however, controverts this
statement, and believes it to be the present pillar stone over the
Croppies' Grave in one of the raths of Tara.

A Danann prince, called Oghma, is said to have invented the occult form
of writing called the Ogham Craove, which, like the round towers has
proved so fertile a source of doubt and discussion to our antiquaries.

The Milesians, however, did not obtain a colonization in Ireland without
some difficulty. According to the ancient accounts, they landed at the
mouth of the river Sláingé, or Slaney, in the present county of Wexford,
unperceived by the Tuatha Dé Dananns. From thence they marched to Tara,
the seat of government, and summoned the three kings to surrender. A
curious legend is told of this summons and its results, which is
probably true in the more important details. The Tuatha Dé Danann
princes complained that they had been taken by surprise, and proposed to
the invaders to re-embark, and to go out upon the sea "the distance of
nine waves" stating that the country should be surrendered to them if
they could then effect a landing by force. The Milesian chiefs assented;
but when the original inhabitants found them fairly launched at sea,
they raised a tempest by magical incantations, which entirely dispersed
the fleet. One part of it was driven along the east coast of Erinn, to
the north, under the command of Eremon, the youngest of the Milesian
brothers; the remainder, under the command of Donn, the elder brother,
was driven to the south-west of the island.

But the Milesians had druids also.[60] As soon as they suspected the
agency which had caused the storm, they sent a man to the topmast of the
ship to know "if the wind was blowing at that height over the surface of
the sea." The man reported that it was not. The druids then commence
practising counter arts of magic, in which they soon succeeded, but not
until five of the eight brothers were lost. Four, including Donn, were
drowned in the wild Atlantic, off the coast of Kerry. Colpa met his fate
at the mouth of the river Boyne, called from him Inbhear Colpa. Eber
Finn and Amergin, the survivors of the southern party, landed in Kerry,
and here the battle of Sliabh Mis was fought, which has been already

The battle of Taillten followed; and the Milesians having become masters
of the country, the brothers Eber Finn and Eremon divided it between
them; the former taking all the southern part, from the Boyne and the
Shannon to Cape Clear, the latter taking all the part lying to the north
of these rivers.

This arrangement, however, was not of long continuance. Each was
desirous of unlimited sovereignty; and they met to decide their claims
by an appeal to arms at Géisill,[61] a place near the present Tullamore,
in the King's county. Eber and his chief leaders fell in this
engagement, and Eremon assumed the sole government of the island.[62]



He took up his residence in Leinster, and after a reign of fifteen years
died, and was buried at Ráith Beóthaigh, in Argat Ross. This ancient
rath still exists, and is now called Rath Beagh. It is situated on the
right bank of the river Nore, near the present village of Ballyragget,
county Kilkenny. This is not narrated by the Four Masters, neither do
they mention the coming of the Cruithneans or Picts into Ireland. These
occurrences, however, are recorded in all the ancient copies of the Book
of Invasions, and in the Dinnseanchus. The Cruithneans or Picts are said
to have fled from the oppression of their king in Thrace, and to have
passed into Gaul. There they founded the city of Poictiers. From thence
they were again driven by an act of tyranny, and they proceeded first to
Britain, and then to Ireland. Crimhthann Sciath-bél, one of King
Bremen's leaders, was at Wexford when the new colony landed. He was
occupied in extirpating a tribe of Britons who had settled in
Fotharta,[63] and were unpleasantly distinguished for fighting with
poisoned weapons. The Irish chieftain asked the assistance of the new
comers. A battle was fought, and the Britons were defeated principally
by the skill of the Pictish druid, who found an antidote for the poison
of their weapons. According to the quaint account of Bede,[64] the
Celtic chiefs gave good advice to their foreign allies in return for
their good deeds, and recommended them to settle in North Britain,
adding that they would come to their assistance should they find any
difficulty or opposition from the inhabitants. The Picts took the
advice, but soon found themselves in want of helpmates. They applied
again to their neighbours, and were obligingly supplied with wives on
the condition "that, when any difficulty should arise, they should
choose a king from the female royal race rather than from the male." The
Picts accepted the terms and the ladies; "and the custom," says Bede,
"as is well known, is observed among the Picts to this day."

Bede then continues to give a description of Ireland. His account,
although of some length, and not in all points reliable, is too
interesting to be omitted, being the opinion of an Englishman, and an
author of reputation, as to the state of Ireland, socially and physically, in the seventh century: "Ireland, in breadth and for
wholesomeness and serenity of climate, far surpasses Britain; for the
snow scarcely ever lies there above three days; no man makes hay in
summer for winter's provision, or builds stables for his beasts of
burden. No reptiles are found there; for, though often carried thither
out of Britain, as soon as the ship comes near the shore, and the scent
of the air reaches them, they die. On the contrary, almost all things in
the island are good against poison. In short, we have known that when
some persons have been bitten by serpents, the scrapings of leaves of
books that were brought out of Ireland, being put into water and given
them to drink, have immediately expelled the spreading poison, and
assuaged the swelling. The island abounds in milk and honey;[65] nor is
there any want of vines, fish,[66] and fowl; and it is remarkable for
deer and goats."

The chronology of Irish pagan history is unquestionably one of its
greatest difficulties. But the chronology of all ancient peoples is
equally unmanageable. When Bunsen has settled Egyptian chronology to the
satisfaction of other literati as well as to his own, and when Hindoo
and Chinese accounts of their postdiluvian or antediluvian ancestors
have been reconciled and synchronized, we may hear some objections to
"Irish pedigrees," and listen to a new "Irish question."

Pre-Christian Irish chronology has been arranged, like most ancient
national chronologies, on the basis of the length of reign of certain
kings. As we do not trace our descent from the "sun and moon" we are not
necessitated to give our kings "a gross of centuries apiece," or to
divide the assumed period of a reign between half-a-dozen monarchs;[67] and the difficulties are merely such as might be expected before
chronology had become a science. The Four Masters have adopted the
chronology of the Septuagint; but O'Flaherty took the system of
Scaliger, and thus reduced the dates by many hundred years. The
objection of hostile critics has been to the history rather than to the
chronology of the history; but these objections are a mere petitio
. They cannot understand how Ireland could have had a
succession of kings and comparative civilization,—in fact, a national
existence,—from 260 years before the building of Rome, when the
Milesian colony arrived, according to the author of the Ogygia, at
least a thousand years before the arrival of Cæsar in Britain, and his
discovery that its inhabitants were half-naked savages. The real
question is not what Cæsar said of the Britons, nor whether they had an
ancient history before their subjugation by the victorious cohorts of
Rome; but whether the annals which contained the pre-Christian history
of Ireland may be accepted as, in the main, authentic.

We have already given some account of the principal works from which our
annals may be compiled. Before we proceed to that portion of our history
the authenticity of which cannot be questioned, it may, perhaps, be
useful to give an idea of the authorities for the minor details of
social life, the individual incidents of a nation's being, which, in
fact, make up the harmonious whole. We shall find a remarkable
coincidence between the materials for early Roman history, and those for
the early history of that portion of the Celtic race which colonized

We have no trace of any historical account of Roman history by a
contemporary writer, native or foreign, before the war with Pyrrhus; yet
we have a history of Rome for more than four hundred years previous
offered to us by classical writers[68], as a trustworthy narrative of
events. From whence did they derive their reliable information?
Unquestionably from works such as the Origines of Cato the Censor, and
other writers, which were then extant, but which have since perished.
And these writers, whence did they obtain their historical narratives?
If we may credit the theory of Niebuhr,[69] they were transmitted simply
by bardic legends, composed in verse. Even Sir G.C. Lewis admits that
"commemorative festivals and other periodical observances, may, in
certain cases, have served to perpetuate a true tradition of some
national event."[70] And how much more surely would the memory of such
events be perpetuated by a people, to whom they had brought important
political revolutions, who are eminently tenacious of their traditions,
and who have preserved the memory of them intact for centuries in local
names and monumental sites! The sources from whence the first annalists,
or writers of Irish history, may have compiled their narratives, would,
therefore, be—1. The Books of Genealogies and Pedigrees. 2. The
Historic Tales. 3. The Books of Laws. 4. The Imaginative Tales and
Poems. 5. National Monuments, such as cromlechs and pillar stones, &c.,
which supplied the place of the brazen tablets of Roman history, the libri lintei,[71] or the chronological nail.[72]

The Books of Genealogies and Pedigrees form a most important element in
Irish pagan history. For social and political reasons, the Irish Celt
preserved his genealogical tree with scrupulous precision. The rights of
property and the governing power were transmitted with patriarchal
exactitude on strict claims of primogeniture, which claims could only be
refused under certain conditions defined by law. Thus, pedigrees and
genealogies became a family necessity; but since private claims might be
doubted, and the question of authenticity involved such important
results, a responsible public officer was appointed to keep the records
by which all claims were decided. Each king had his own recorder, who
was obliged to keep a true account of his pedigree, and also of the
pedigrees of the provincial kings and of their principal chieftains. The
provincial kings had also their recorders (Ollamhs or Seanchaidhé[73]);
and in obedience to an ancient law established long before the
introduction of Christianity, all the provincial records, as well as
those of the various chieftains, were required to be furnished every
third year to the convocation at Tara, where they were compared and

The compilers of these genealogies were persons who had been educated as
Ollamhs—none others were admissible; and their "diplomas" were obtained
after a collegiate course, which might well deter many a modern aspirant
to professorial chairs. The education of the Ollamh lasted for twelve
years; and in the course of these twelve years of "hard work," as the
early books say, certain regular courses were completed, each of which
gave the student an additional degree, with corresponding title, rank,
and privileges.[74]

"In the Book of Lecain (fol. 168) there is an ancient tract,
describing the laws upon this subject, and referring, with quotations,
to the body of the Brethibh Nimhedh, or 'Brehon Laws.' According to
this authority, the perfect Poet or Ollamh should know and practise
the Teinim Laegha, the Imas Forosnadh, and the Dichedal do
. The first appears to have been a peculiar druidical verse,
or incantation, believed to confer upon the druid or poet the power of
understanding everything that it was proper for him to say or speak. The
second is explained or translated, 'the illumination of much knowledge,
as from the teacher to the pupil,' that is, that he should be able to
explain and teach the four divisions of poetry or philosophy, 'and each
division of them,' continues the authority quoted, 'is the chief
teaching of three years of hard work.' The third qualification, or Dichedal, is explained, 'that he begins at once the head of his poem,'
in short, to improvise extempore in correct verse. 'To the Ollamh,'
says the ancient authority quoted in this passage in the Book of Lecain,' belong synchronisms, together with the laegha laidhibh, or
illuminating poems [incantations], and to him belong the pedigrees and
etymologies of names, that is, he has the pedigrees of the men of Erinn
with certainty, and the branching off of their various relationships.'
Lastly, 'here are the four divisions of the knowledge of poetry (or
philosophy),' says the tract I have referred to; 'genealogies,
synchronisms, and the reciting of (historic) tales form the first
division; knowledge of the seven kinds of verse, and how to measure them
by letters and syllables, form another of them; judgment of the seven
kinds of poetry, another of them; lastly, Dichedal [or improvisation],
that is, to contemplate and recite the verses without ever thinking of
them before.'"[75]

The pedigrees were collected and written into a single book, called the Cin or Book of Drom Snechta, by the son of Duach Galach, King of
Connacht, an Ollamh in history and genealogies, &c., shortly before[76] the arrival of St. Patrick in Ireland, which happened about A.D. 432. It
is obvious, therefore, that these genealogies must have existed for
centuries prior to this period. Even if they were then committed to
writing for the first time, they could have been handed down for many
centuries orally by the Ollamhs; for no amount of literary effort could
be supposed too great for a class of men so exclusively and laboriously
devoted to learning.

As the Milesians were the last of the ancient colonists, and had subdued
the races previously existing in Ireland, only their genealogies, with a
few exceptions, have been preserved. The genealogical tree begins,
therefore, with the brothers Eber and Eremon, the two surviving leaders
of the expedition, whose ancestors are traced back to Magog, the son of
Japhet. The great southern chieftains, such as the MacCarthys and
O'Briens, claim descent from Eber; the northern families of O'Connor,
O'Donnell, and O'Neill, claim Eremon as their head. There are also other
families claiming descent from Emer, the son of Ir, brother to Eber and
Eremon; as also from their cousin Lugaidh, the son of Ith. From four
sources the principal Celtic families of Ireland have sprung; and though
they do not quite trace up the line to

"The grand old gardener and his wife,"

they have a pedigree which cannot be gainsaid, and which might be
claimed with pride by many a monarch. MacFirbis' Book of
Genealogies,[77] compiled in the year 1650, from lost records, is the
most perfect work of this kind extant. But there are tracts in the Book
of Leinster (compiled A.D. 1130), and in the Book of Ballymote (compiled
A.D. 1391), which are of the highest authority. O'Curry is of opinion,
that those in the Book of Leinster were copied from the Saltair of
Cashel and other contemporaneous works.

The historical use of these genealogies is very great, not only because
they give an authentic pedigree and approximate data for chronological
calculation, but from the immense amount of correlative information
which they contain. Every free-born man of the tribe was entitled by blood, should it come to his turn, to succeed to the chieftaincy:
hence the exactitude with which each pedigree was kept; hence their
importance in the estimation of each individual; hence the incidental
matter they contain, by the mention of such historical events[78] as may
have acted on different tribes and families, by which they lost their
inheritance or independence, and consequently their claim, however
remote, to the chieftaincy.

The ancient history of a people should always be studied with care and
candour by those who, as a matter of interest or duty, wish to
understand their social state, and the government best suited to that
state. Many of the poorest families in Ireland are descendants of its
ancient chiefs. The old habit—the habit which deepened and intensified
itself during centuries—cannot be eradicated, though it may be
ridiculed, and the peasant will still boast of his "blood;" it is all
that he has left to him of the proud inheritance of his ancestors.

The second source of historical information may be found in the HISTORIC
TALES. The reciting of historic tales was one of the principal duties of
the Ollamh, and he was bound to preserve the truth of history "pure and
unbroken to succeeding generations."

"According to several of the most ancient authorities, the Ollamh, or
perfect Doctor, was bound to have (for recital at the public feasts and
assemblies) at least Seven Fifties of these Historic narratives; and
there appear to have been various degrees in the ranks of the poets, as
they progressed in education towards the final degree, each of which was
bound to be supplied with at least a certain number. Thus the Anroth,
next in rank to an Ollamh should have half the number of an Ollamh;
the Cli, one-third the number, according to some authorities, and
eighty according to others; and so on down to the Fochlog, who should
have thirty; and the Driseg (the lowest of all), who should have
twenty of these tales."[79]

The Ollamhs, like the druids or learned men of other nations, were in
the habit of teaching the facts of history to their pupils in verse,[80] probably that they might be more easily remembered. A few of these tales
have been published lately, such as the Battle of Magh Rath, the
Battle of Muighé Leana, and the Tochmarc Moméra. Besides the tales
of Battles (Catha), there are the tales of Longasa, or Voyages; the
tales of Tóghla, or Destructions; of Slaughters, of Sieges, of
Tragedies, of Voyages, and, not least memorable, of the Tána, or Cattle
Spoils, and the Tochmarca, or Courtships. It should be remembered that
numbers of these tales are in existence, offering historical materials
of the highest value. The Books of Laws demand a special and more
detailed notice, as well as the Historical Monuments. With a brief
mention of the Imaginative Tales and Poems, we must conclude this
portion of our subject.

Ancient writings, even of pure fiction, must always form an important
historical element to the nation by which they have been produced.
Unless they are founded on fact, so far as customs, localities, and mode
of life are concerned, they would possess no interest; and their
principal object is to interest. Without some degree of poetic
improbabilities as to events, they could scarcely amuse; and their
object is also to amuse. Hence, the element of truth is easily separated
from the element of fiction, and each is available in its measure for
historic research. The most ancient of this class of writings are the
Fenian Poems and Tales, ascribed to Finn Mac Cumhaill, to his sons,
Oisín and Fergus Finnbheoill (the Eloquent), and to his kinsman,
Caeilité. There are also many tales and poems of more recent date. Mr.
O'Curry estimates, that if all MSS. known to be in existence, and
composed before the year 1000, were published, they would form at least
8,000 printed pages of the same size as O'Donovan's Annals of the Four