Tighearnmas—His Death—Introduces Colours as a Distinction of
Rank—Silver Shields and Chariots first used—Reign of Ugainé Môr—The
Treachery of Cobhthach—Romantic Tales—Queen Mab—Dispute which led to
the celebrated Cattle Spoil—The Story of the Táin bó Chuailgné—The
Romans feared to invade Ireland—Tacitus—Revolt of the Attacotti—Reign
of Tuathal—Origin of the Boromean Tribute.

[B.C. 1700.]

ur annals afford but brief details from the time of Eremon to that of Ugainé Môr. One hundred and eighteen sovereigns are enumerated from
the Milesian conquest of Ireland (according to the Four Masters, B.C.
1700) to the time of St. Patrick, A.D. 432. The principal events
recorded are international deeds of arms, the clearing of woods, the
enactment of laws, and the erection of palaces.

Tighearnmas, one of these monarchs, is said to have introduced the
worship of idols into Ireland. From this it would appear, that the more
refined Magian, or Sun-worship, had prevailed previously. He died, with
"three-fourths" of the men of Ireland about him, on the night of
Samhain,[81] while worshipping the idol called Crom Cruach, at Magh
Slacht, in Breifné.[82] Tighearnmas reigned seventy-five years. He is
said to have been the first who attempted the smelting of gold in
Ireland; and the use of different colours,[83] as an indication of rank,
is also attributed to him.

Silver shields were now made (B.C. 1383) at Airget-Ros, by Enna
Airgtheach, and four-horse chariots were first used in the time of
Roitheachtaigh, who was killed by lightning near the Giant's Causeway.
Ollamh Fodhla (the wise or learned man) distinguished himself still more
by instituting triennial assemblies at Tara. Even should the date given
by the Four Masters (1317 B.C.) be called in question, there is no doubt
of the fact, which must have occurred some centuries before the
Christian era; and this would appear to be the earliest instance of a
national convocation or parliament in any country. Ollamh Fodhla also
appointed chieftains over every cantred or hundred, he constructed a
rath at Tara, and died there in the fortieth year of his reign.

At the reign of Cimbaoth (B.C. 716) we come to that period which
Tighernach considers the commencement of indisputably authentic history.
It is strange that he should have selected a provincial chief, and a
period in no way remarkable except for the building of the palace of
Emania.[84] But the student of Irish pre-Christian annals may be content
to commence with solid foundation as early as seven centuries before
Christ. The era was an important one in universal history. The Greeks
had then counted sixteen Olympiads, and crowned Pythagoras the victor.
Hippomenes was archon at Athens. Romulus had been succeeded by Numa
Pompilius, and the foundations of imperial Rome were laid in blood by
barbarian hordes. The Chaldeans had just taken the palm in astronomical
observations, and recorded for the first time a lunar eclipse; while the
baffled Assyrian hosts relinquished the siege of Tyre, unhappily
reserved for the cruel destruction accomplished by Alexander, a few
centuries later. The prophecies of Isaiah were still resounding in the
ears of an ungrateful people. He had spoken of the coming Christ and His
all-peaceful mission in mystic imagery, and had given miraculous
evidences of his predictions. But suffering should be the precursor of
that marvellous advent. The Assyrian dashed in resistless torrent upon
the fold. Israel was led captive. Hosea was in chains. Samaria and the
kingdom of Israel were added to the conquests of Sennacherib; and the
kingdom of Judah, harassed but not destroyed, waited the accomplishment
of prophecy, and the measure of her crimes, ere the most ancient of
peoples should for ever cease to be a nation.

Ugainé Môr is the next monarch who demands notice. His obituary record
is thus given by the Four Masters:—"At the end of this year, A.M. 4606,
Ugainé Môr, after he had been full forty years King of Ireland, and of
the whole of the west of Europe, as far as Muir-Toirrian, was slain by
Badhbhchad at Tealach-an-Choisgair, in Bregia. This Ugainé was he who
exacted oaths by all the elements, visible and invisible, from the men
of Ireland in general, that they would never contend for the sovereignty
of Ireland with his children or his race."

Ugainé was succeeded by his son, Laeghairé Lorc, who was cruelly and
treacherously killed by his brother, Cobhthach Cael. Indeed, few
monarchs lived out their time in peace during this and the succeeding
centuries. The day is darkest before the dawn, in the social and
political as well as in the physical world. The Eternal Light was
already at hand; the powers of darkness were aroused for the coming
conflict; and deeds of evil were being accomplished, which make men
shudder as they read. The assassination of Laeghairé was another
manifestation of the old-world story of envy. The treacherous Cobhthach
feigned sickness, which he knew would obtain a visit from his brother.
When the monarch stooped to embrace him, he plunged a dagger into his
heart. His next act was to kill his nephew, Ailill Ainé; and his
ill-treatment of Ainé's son, Maen, was the consummation of his cruelty.
The fratricide was at last slain by this very youth, who had now
obtained the appellation of Labhraidh-Loingseach, or Lowry of the Ships.
We have special evidence here of the importance of our Historic Tales,
and also that the blending of fiction and fact by no means deteriorates
from their value.

Love affairs form a staple ground for fiction, with a very substantial
under-strata of facts, even in the nineteenth century; and the annals of
pre-Christian Erinn are by no means deficient in the same fertile source
of human interest. The History of the Exile is still preserved in the
Leabhar Buidhé Lecain, now in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. It
is a highly romantic story, but evidently founded on fact, and full of
interest as descriptive of public and private life in the fifth century
before Christ. It tells how Maen, though supposed to be deaf and dumb,
was, nevertheless, given in charge of two officers of the court to be
educated; that he recovered or rather obtained speech suddenly, in a
quarrel with another youth; and that he was as symmetrical of form and
noble of bearing as all heroes of romance are bound to be. His uncle
expelled him from the kingdom, and he took refuge at the court of King
Scoriath. King Scoriath had a daughter, who was beautiful; and Maen, of
course, acted as a knight was bound to do under such circumstances, and
fell desperately in love with the princess. The Lady Moriath's beauty
had bewildered more heads than that of the knight-errant; but the Lady
Moriath's father and mother were determined their daughter should not

The harper Craftiné came to the rescue, and at last, by his
all-entrancing skill, so ravished the whole party of knights and nobles,
that the lovers were able to enjoy a tête-a-tête, and pledged mutual
vows. As usual, the parents yielded when they found it was useless to
resist; and, no doubt, the poet Craftiné, who, poet and all as he was,
nearly lost his head in the adventure, was the most welcome of all
welcome guests at the nuptial feast. Indeed, he appears to have been
retained as comptroller of the house and confidential adviser long
after; for when Labhraidh Maen was obliged to fly the country, he
confided his wife to the care of Craftiné. On his return from
France,[85] he obtained possession of the kingdom, to which he was the
rightful heir, and reigned over the men of Erinn for eighteen years.

Another Historic Tale gives an account of the destruction of the court
of Dá Derga, but we have not space for details. The Four Masters merely
relate the fact in the following entry:—

"Conairé, the son of Ederscél, after having been seventy years in the
sovereignty of Erinn, was slain at Bruighean Dá Dhearga by insurgents."
Another prince, Eochaidh Feidhlech, was famous for sighing. He rescinded
the division of Ireland into twenty-five parts, which had been made by
Ugainé Môr, and divided the island into five provinces, over each of
which he appointed a provincial king, under his obedience. The famous
Meadhbh, or Mab, was his daughter; and though unquestionably a lady of
rather strong physical and mental capabilities, the lapse of ages has
thrown an obscuring halo of romance round her belligerent
qualifications, and metamorphosed her into the gentle "Faery Queen" of
the poet Spenser. One of Méav's exploits is recorded in the famous Táin
bó Chuailgné, which is to Celtic history what the Argonautic Expedition,
or the Seven against Thebes, is to Grecian. Méav was married first to
Conor, the celebrated provincial king of Ulster; but the marriage was
not a happy one, and was dissolved, in modern parlance, on the ground of
incompatibility. In the meanwhile, Méav's three brothers had rebelled
against their father; and though his arms were victorious, the victory
did not secure peace. The men of Connacht revolted against him, and to
retain their allegiance he made his daughter Queen of Connacht, and gave
her in marriage to Ailill, a powerful chief of that province. This
prince, however, died soon after; and Méav, determined for once, at
least, to choose a husband for herself, made a royal progress to
Leinster, where Ross Ruadb held his court at Naas. She selected the
younger son of this monarch, who bore the same name as her former
husband, and they lived together happily as queen and king consort for
many years. On one occasion, however, a dispute arose about their
respective treasures, and this dispute led to a comparison of their
property. The account of this, and the subsequent comparison, is given
at length in the Táin, and is a valuable repertory of archæological
information. They counted their vessels, metal and wooden; they counted
their finger rings, their clasps, their thumb rings, their diadems, and
their gorgets of gold. They examined their many-coloured garments of
crimson and blue, of black and green, yellow and mottled, white and
streaked. All were equal. They then inspected their flocks and herds,
swine from the forests, sheep from the pasture lands, and cows—here the
first difference arose. It was one to excite Méav's haughty temper.
There was a young bull found among Ailill's bovine wealth: it had been
calved by one of Méav's cows; but "not deeming it honorable to be under
a woman's control," it had attached itself to Ailill's herds. Méav was
not a lady who could remain quiet under such provocation. She summoned
her chief courier, and asked him could he a match for Finnbheannach (the
white-horned). The courier declared that he could find even a superior
animal; and at once set forth on his mission, suitably attended. Méav
had offered the most liberal rewards for the prize she so much coveted;
and the courier soon arranged with Daré, a noble of large estates, who
possessed one of the valuable breed. A drunken quarrel, however,
disarranged his plans. One of the men boasted that if Daré had not given
the bull for payment, he should have been compelled to give it by force.
Daré's steward heard the ill-timed and uncourteous boast. He flung down
the meat and drink which he had brought for their entertainment, and
went to tell his master the contemptuous speech. The result may be
anticipated. Daré refused the much-coveted animal, and Méav proceeded to
make good her claim by force of arms. But this is only the prologue of
the drama; the details would fill a volume. It must suffice to say, that
the bulls had a battle of their own. Finnbheannach and Donn Chuailgné

(the Leinster bull) engaged in deadly combat, which is described with
the wildest flights of poetic diction.[86] The poor "white horn" was
killed, and Donn Chuailgné, who had lashed himself to madness, dashed
out his brains.[87]



Méav lived to the venerable age of a hundred. According to Tighernach,
she died A.D. 70, but the chronology of the Four Masters places her
demise a hundred years earlier. This difference of calculation also
makes it questionable what monarch reigned in Ireland at the birth of
Christ. The following passage is from the Book of Ballymote, and is
supposed to be taken from the synchronisms of Flann of Monasterboice:
"In the fourteenth year of the reign of Conairé and of Conchobar, Mary
was born; and in the fourth year after the birth of Mary, the expedition
of the Táin bó Chuailgné took place. Eight years after the expedition of
the Táin, Christ was born."

The Four Masters have the following entry after the age of the world


"The first year of the age of Christ, and the eighth year of the reign
of Crimhthann Niadhnair." Under the heading of the age of Christ 9,
there is an account of a wonderful expedition of this monarch, and of
all the treasures he acquired thereby. His "adventures" is among the
list of Historic Tales in the Book of Leinster, but unfortunately there
is no copy of this tract in existence. It was probably about this time
that a recreant Irish chieftain tried to induce Agricola to invade
Ireland. But the Irish Celts had extended the fame of their military
prowess even to distant lands,[88] and the Roman general thought it
better policy to keep what he had than to risk its loss, and, perhaps,
obtain no compensation. Previous to Cæsar's conquest of Britain, the
Irish had fitted out several expeditions for the plunder of that
country, and they do not appear to have suffered from retaliation until
the reign of Egbert. It is evident, however, that the Britons did not
consider them their worst enemies, for we find mention of several
colonies flying to the Irish shores to escape Roman tyranny, and these
colonies were hospitably received.[89] The passage in Tacitus which
refers to the proposed invasion of Ireland by the Roman forces, is too
full of interest to be omitted:—"In the fifth year of these
expeditions, Agricola, passing over in the first ship, subdued in
frequent victories nations hitherto unknown. He stationed troops along
that part of Britain which looks to Ireland, more on account of hope
than fear,[90] since Ireland, from its situation between Britain and
Spain, and opening to the Gallic Sea, might well connect the most
powerful parts of the empire with reciprocal advantage. Its extent,
compared with Britain, is narrower, but exceeds that of any islands of
our sea. The genius and habits of the people, and the soil and climate,
do not differ much from those of Britain. Its channels and ports are
better known to commerce and to merchants.[91] Agricola gave his
protection to one of its petty kings, who had been expelled by faction;
and with a show of friendship, he retained him for his own purposes. I
often heard him say, that Ireland could he conquered and taken with one
legion and a small reserve; and such a measure would have its advantages
even as regards Britain, if Roman power were extended on every side, and
liberty taken away as it were from the view of the latter island."[92]

We request special attention to the observation, that the Irish ports
were better known to commerce and merchants. Such a statement by such an
authority must go far to remove any doubt as to the accounts given on
this subject by our own annalists. The proper name of the recreant
"regulus" has not been discovered, so that his infamy is transmitted
anonymously to posterity. Sir John Davies has well observed, with regard
to the boast of subduing Ireland so easily, "that if Agricola had
attempted the conquest thereof with a far greater army, he would have
found himself deceived in his conjecture." William of Neuburg has also
remarked, that though the Romans harassed the Britons for three
centuries after this event, Ireland never was invaded by them, even when
they held dominion of the Orkney Islands, and that it yielded to no
foreign power until the year[93] 1171. Indeed, the Scots and Picts gave
their legions quite sufficient occupation defending the ramparts of
Adrian and Antoninus, to deter them from attempting to obtain more, when
they could so hardly hold what they already possessed.

The insurrection of the Aitheach Tuatha,[94] or Attacotti, is the next
event of importance in Irish history. Their plans were deeply and wisely
laid, and promised the success they obtained. It is one of the lessons
of history which rulers in all ages would do well to study. There is a
degree of oppression which even the most degraded will refuse to endure;
there is a time when the injured will seek revenge, even should they
know that this revenge may bring on themselves yet deeper wrongs. The
leaders of the revolt were surely men of some judgment; and both they
and those who acted under them possessed the two great qualities needed
for such an enterprise. They were silent, for their plans were not even
suspected until they were accomplished; they were patient, for these
plans were three years in preparation. During three years the helots
saved their scanty earnings to prepare a sumptuous death-feast for their
unsuspecting victims. This feast was held at a place since called Magh
, in Connaught. The monarch, Fiacha Finnolaidh, the provincial kings
and chiefs, were all invited, and accepted the invitation. But while the
enjoyment was at its height, when men had drank deeply, and were soothed
by the sweet strains of the harp, the insurgents did their bloody work.
Three ladies alone escaped. They fled to Britain, and there each gave
birth to a son—heirs to their respective husbands who had been slain.

After the massacre, the Attacotti elected their leader, Cairbré
Cinn-Cait (or the Cat-head), to the royal dignity, for they still
desired to live under a "limited monarchy." But revolutions, even when
successful, and we had almost said necessary, are eminently productive
of evil. The social state of a people when once disorganized, does not
admit of a speedy or safe return to its former condition. The mass of
mankind, who think more of present evils, however trifling, than of past
grievances, however oppressive, begin to connect present evils with
present rule, and having lost, in some degree, the memory of their
ancient wrongs, desire to recall a dynasty which, thus viewed, bears a
not unfavourable comparison with their present state.[95]

Cairbré died after five years of most unprosperous royalty, and his son,
the wise and prudent Morann,[96] showed his wisdom and prudence by
refusing to succeed him. He advised that the rightful heirs should be
recalled. His advice was accepted. Fearadhach Finnfeachteach was invited
to assume the reins of government. "Good was Ireland during this his
time. The seasons were right tranquil; the earth brought forth its
fruit; fishful its river-mouths; milkful the kine; heavy-headed the

Another revolt of the Attacotti took place in the reign of Fiacha of the
White Cattle. He was killed by the provincial kings, at the slaughter of
Magh Bolg.[98] Elim, one of the perpetrators of this outrage, obtained
the crown, but his reign was singularly unprosperous; and Ireland was
without corn, without milk, without fruit, without fish, and without any
other great advantage, since the Aitheach Tuatha had killed Fiacha
Finnolaidh in the slaughter of Magh Bolg, till the time of Tuathal

Tuathal was the son of a former legitimate monarch, and had been invited
to Ireland by a powerful party. He was perpetually at war with the
Attacotti, but at last established himself firmly on the throne, by
exacting an oath from the people, "by the sun, moon, and elements," that
his posterity should not be deprived of the sovereignty. This oath was
taken at Tara, where he had convened a general assembly, as had been
customary with his predecessors at the commencement of each reign; but
it was held by him with more than usual state. His next act was to take
a small portion of land from each of the four provinces, forming what is
now the present county of Meath, and retaining it as the mensal portion
of the Ard-Righ, or supreme monarch. On each of these portions he
erected a palace for the king of every province, details of which will
be given when we come to that period of our history which refers to the
destruction of Tara. Tuathal had at this time two beautiful and
marriageable daughters, named Fithir and Dairiné. Eochaidh Aincheann,
King of Leinster, sought and obtained the hand of the younger daughter,
Dairiné, and after her nuptials carried her to his palace at Naas, in
Leinster. Some time after, his people pursuaded him that he had made a
bad selection, and that the elder was the better of the two sisters;
upon which Eochaidh determined by stratagem to obtain the other daughter
also. For this purpose he shut the young queen up in a secret apartment
of his palace, and gave out a report that she was dead. He then
repaired, apparently in great grief to Tara, informed the monarch that
his daughter was dead, and demanded her sister in marriage. Tuathal gave
his consent, and the false king returned home with his new bride. Soon
after her arrival at Naas, her sister escaped from her confinement, and
suddenly and unexpectedly encountered the prince and Fithir. In a moment
she divined the truth, and had the additional anguish of seeing her
sister, who was struck with horror and shame, fall dead before her face.
The death of the unhappy princess, and the treachery of her husband, was
too much for the young queen; she returned to her solitary chamber, and
in a very short time died of a broken heart.

The insult offered to his daughters, and their untimely death, roused
the indignation of the pagan monarch, and was soon bitterly avenged. At
the head of a powerful force, he burned and ravaged Leinster to its
utmost boundary, and then compelled its humbled and terror-stricken
people to bind themselves and their descendants for ever to the payment
of a triennial tribute to the monarch of Erinn, which, from the great
number of cows exacted by it, obtained the name of the "Boromean
Tribute"—bo being the Gaedhilic for a cow.

The tribute is thus described in the old annals:

"The men of Leinster were obliged to pay
To Tuathal, and all the monarchs after him,

Three-score hundred of the fairest cows,
And three-score hundred ounces of pure silver,
And three-score hundred mantles richly woven,
And three-score hundred of the fattest hogs,
And three-score hundred of the largest sheep,
And three-score hundred cauldrons strong and polished[100]."

It is elsewhere described as consisting of five thousand ounces of
silver, five thousand mantles, five thousand fat cows, five thousand fat
hogs, five thousand wethers, and five thousand vessels of brass or
bronze for the king's laving, with men and maidens for his service.

The levying of the tribute was the cause of periodical and sanguinary
wars, from the time of Tuathal until the reign of Finnachta the Festive.
About the year 680 it was abolished by him, at the entreaty of St.
Moling, of Tigh Moling (now St. Mullen's, in the county Carlow). It is
said by Keating, that he a ailed himself of a pious ruse for this
purpose,—asking the king to pledge himself not to exact the tribute
until after Monday, and then, when his request was complied with,
declaring that the Monday he intended was the Monday after Doomsday. The
tribute was again revived and levied by Brian, the son of Cinneidigh, at
the beginning of the eleventh century, as a punishment on the Leinster
men for their adherence to the Danish cause. It was from this
circumstance that Brian obtained the surname of Boroimhé.