Annála Gael – Chapter 3 (part 1)
The Book of Invasions
According to the Irish chronicle Leabhar Gabhála, known in English as The Book of Takings or The Book of Invasions, Ireland was successively explored, invaded and settled by many different peoples. The book survives in various ancient texts, principally the Leabhar Laignech, known in English as Book of Leinster, which dates from the 12th century AD. These same ancient accounts of the peoples who explored and settled Ireland were also incorporated into the Foras Feasa Ar Éirinn, known in English as the History of Ireland, written by Seatrún Céitinn, D.D. sometime prior to 1640 AD. A later version of the Leabhar Gabhála compiled in 1643 by the Irish historian Micheál Ó Cléirigh, and derived from several ancient manuscripts which are now lost, is the version most often used today. The various accounts are not entirely consistent with one another, but agree in most respects as to the identities, if not the precise order, of the invading peoples. The accounts of the "invasions" of Ireland are provided below in chronological order.
Seth and three daughters of Cain:
Some say that it was three daughters of the wicked Cain along with their uncle Seth who first visited Ireland. Mention of their journey to Banbha, the earliest known name for the island, was made in a verse out of the ancient poem which commences "I found in the Saltair of Cashel…":
…Three virgin daughters of Cain,
With Seth, son of Adam,
They first saw Banbha.
Banbha, I remember their adventure…
Banbha and her followers:
The Book of Dromsneachta says that Banbha was the name of the first maiden to occupy Ireland, and that Ireland was then named Banbha after her. One hundred and fifty women and three men were in Banbha’s party. Ladhra was the name of one of the men, and it is after him that Ard Ladhrann was named. They remained on the island for forty years, until a plague befell them and they all died in one week. Ireland, after that, would be empty, without any inhabitants, for two hundred years, until the time just before the Biblical Flood.
Three Spanish fisherman and their wives:
Some others say that it was three fishermen from Spain named Capa, Laighne and Luasad who were the first visitors to Ireland. They were unwillingly driven onto the island by a storm, but the island pleased them, so they returned to Spain for their wives and then came back to Ireland to settle. They perished only a year later at Tuaigh Innbhir during the Biblical Flood. It is about them that the following ancient verse was sung:
Capa, Laighne, and Luasad pleasant,
They were a year before the deluge
On the isle of Banbha of the bays.
They were eminently brave.
Ceasair and her followers:
Ó Cléirigh’s Leabhar Gabhála says, however, that it was Ceasair, the daughter of Bioth, a son of Noah, who was the first settler of Ireland before the Biblical Flood. The following ancient verse was composed about her journey:
Ceasair, daughter of lasting Bioth,
Foster-child of Sabhail, son of Nionuall,
The first valiant woman who came
To the isle of Banbha before the deluge.
Bioth had sent a messenger to his father Noah, to find out whether he and his daughter Ceasair would be given a place in the ark to save them from perishing the Flood foretold to Noah by God. Noah responded that they would not be admitted to the ark. Fionntain asked the same question of Noah, and was also denied a place on the ark. Bioth, Fionntain and Ceasair then consulted together. "Let my advice be followed by you" said Ceasair. "It shall be done" said they. "Well then" said she, "take to ye an idol, and adore him, and forsake the God of Noe."
After that, they worshipped an idol, and the idol told them to make a ship as Noah was doing and then to put to sea, although the idol could not tell them exactly when the deluge would come. They built and fitted a ship and then put to sea. Those who went were the three men Bioth, his son Ladhra and Fionntain, along with Ceasair, Barrann and Balbha and forty-eight other maidens. They were at sea for seven years and three months, until they finally landed in Ireland at Dún na mBarc, in the district of Corca Dhuibhne, on the fifteenth day of the moon, as an ancient antiquary said:
It is there they took harbour
At Dún na-mbarc, the female company,
In Cúil Ceasrach, in the district of Carn,
The fifteenth, (being) Saturday.
And that that was forty days before the deluge, as was said:
Two score days before the deluge,
Ceasair came into Ireland,
Fionntain, Bioth, and Ladhra fierce,
And fifty beautiful maidens.
Another ancient poet agreed with the same account, where he said in the following verse:
Ceasair set out from the east
Daughter of Bioth was the woman
With her fifty maidens,
And with her three men.
They then proceeded from Dún na mBarc to Bun Suaimhne, or Cumar na dtri-n-uisge, at the junction of the Suir and Nore and Barrow. The three men divided the fifty women among them. Fionntain took Ceasair and sixteen other women. Bioth took Barrann and sixteen other women in her company. Ladhra took Balbha and the remaining sixteen women away with him.
Ladhra was the first person to die in Ireland, and after him, the place where he died was named Ard Ladhrann. After the death of Ladhra, Balbha and the sixteen other women in her company returned to Ceasair. Ceasair sent news of Ladhra’s death to Bioth, and Bioth then notified Fionntain. Bioth and Fionntain then split the widowed women between them. Bioth brought his share of the women with him to the north of Ireland, and it was not long afterwards that he died there. The place where he died was named Sliabh Beatha after him. As for the women of Bioth, they then went to find Fionntain. However, Fionntain fled from them, from Leinster, across Bun Suaimhne, across Sliabh gCua into Ceann Feabhrad of Sliabh Caoin, and with left hand towards the Shannon then east to Tultuinne over Loch Deirgdheirc. Ceasair went with her female companions to Connacht, where her heart broke from being abandoned by her husband and from grief over the deaths of her father Bioth and brother Ladhra. Ceasair died at Cúil Ceasrach, as the place was named after her, six days before the deluge, as this ancient verse relates:
It is those, after appointed time,
Their deaths, their proceedings;
There was not, but a week alone,
From them to the forty days’ rain.
Adhna of Nin:
According to some antiquaries, a youth of the family of Nin, son of Bél, whose name was Adhna, son of Bioth, explored Ireland about one hundred forty years after the Flood. However, he did not stay long and went back to give an account of the island he had seen to his neighbors. He took back with him some of the grass of Ireland, as was read in the ancient poem that begins "I found in the Saltair of Cashel…":
Adhna, son of Bioth, with prophecy
A warrior of the family of Nin son of Bél,
Came into Ireland to explore it,
So that he plucked grass in wood island.
He brought with him the full of his fist of its grass;
He goes back to tell the news;
That is the clear complete possession,
Shortest in duration which occupied Ireland.
The Fomorians, also called the "Fomorii", "Fo-Moir" and "Fomorach", first arrived in Ireland between 100 and 300 years after the Biblical Flood. They are thought to have originated from Scandinavia. The word "fomoir" or "ughmhóir" seems to have meant "under sea dweller". According to Irish mythology, they were misshapen and violent people, usually missing a hand, foot or eye, who were remembered as the evil gods of pre-Christian Irish poems. Fomorians apparently remained in Ireland or returned there for thousands of years through five succeeding "invasions" by other peoples, and were not effectively removed as a "native" threat until being defeated by the Milesian Gaels and the Gaelic High King Irial Faidh around 1670 BC.
Ó Cléirigh’s Leabhar Gabhála says that some ancient authors described an invasion of Ireland by the Cíocal, son of Nel, son of Garbh, son of Ughmhóir, from Sliabh Ughmhóir, and Lot Luaimhneach, his mother: "In Innbhear, Domhnann Cíocal, with his people, took harbor in Ireland, six ships their number; fifty men and fifty women the complement of each ship." The Ughmhóir survived by hunting fish and fowl and lived in Ireland until the battle of Magh Iotha, during which they were destroyed by Partholón and his followers. About them it was written:
The seventh invasion which took
Spoil of Ireland of the high plains
Was by Ciocal the stunted, of withered feet,
Over the fields of Innbhear Domhnann;
Three hundred men, the number of his host,
Who came from the regions of Ughmhór
Till they were scattered after that,
Being cut off in a week.
Partholón and his followers:
In Irish, they are called the "Mhuíntír Partholón". Partholón, a descendant of the Biblical Magog, was the leader of the sixth [or seventh, depending upon the actual arrival of the Fomorians] "invasion" of Ireland around 300 years after the Flood. Partholón, son of Sera, son of Sru, son of Esru, son of Fraimint, son of Fathacht, son of Magog, son of Japheth, came to occupy Ireland, according to the poem which begins: "Adam, father, fountain of our hosts…":
Three hundred years after the deluge,
It is a tale of truth, as I reckon,
All holy Ireland was desert,
Until Partholón came.
Partholón was forced to leave his homeland because he had slain his father and his mother to claim their kingdom. When he then failed to secure the kingdom from his brother, he and his followers were forced to flee. Partholón and his company set out from middle Greece. From there, they traversed the Torrian Sea to Sicily, and then with the right hand towards Spain, continued on until they reached Ireland. The journey took two and one-half months. They landed in Ireland at Innbhear Sceine, in the western part of Munster, on the fourteenth day of May, as an ancient poet said:
The fourteenth, on (day of) Mars,
They put their noble barks
Into the port of fair lands, blue, clear,
In Innbhear Scéine of bright shields.
According to Nennius, in the Saltair of Cashel, Partholón came to Ireland with his wife, Dealgnaid, their three sons Rudhruidhe, Slangha and Laighlinne, their wives, and a host of one thousand others along with them. Of those in Partholón’s company, here are some of the other names that were recorded: his ploughmen were named Tothacht, Treun, Iomhas, Aicheachbhéal, Cúl, Dorcha and Damh; the names of four oxen they had were Liag, Leagmhagh, Iomaire, and Eitrighe; Beoir was the name of the man who provided free entertainment; Breagha, the son of Seanbhoth, taught single combat; Samaliliath produced ale; Fios, Eolus and Fochmorc were his three druids; Macha, Mearan and Muicneachán were his three strong-men; and Biobhal and Beabhal were his two merchants.
The place where Partholón and his followers first lived in Ireland, Inis Saimher, was named after a lap-dog named Saimher, which Partholón had killed in a jealous rage because his wife Dealgnaid had committed adultery with her attendant Todhga. When Partholón accused her, she did not apologize, but instead she said that the blame for the deed should be placed be on himself rather than upon her. "O Partholón," she said, "do you think that it is possible for a woman and honey to be near one another, new milk and a child, food and a generous person, flesh meat and a cat, weapons or implements and a workman, or a man and woman in private, without their meddling with each other?" She then recited the following verse:
Honey with a woman, new milk with a child,
Food with the generous, flesh with a cat,
A workman in a house, and edge tools,
One with the other, it is great risk.
After Partholón heard that, he became so enraged that he struck her dog to the ground, killing it. The first known jealous rage in Ireland after the deluge was recorded in this ancient verse:
The king strikes the hound of the woman
With his hand—it was not sad that it was so?
The hound was dead…
That was the first jealousy of Ireland.
During their first years in Ireland, Partholón and his followers were forced to fight the Fomorians for territory. Eventually, they defeated the Fomorians at the decisive battle of Magh Iotha.
Thirty years after Partholón came to Ireland, he died. Some antiquaries say that Partholón died one thousand nine hundred and four score and six years after the creation of the world. Partholón died in Sean-mhagh nEalta Eudair, and was buried there. It was called Sean-mhagh, "old plain", because a forest never grew upon it, and it was called Magh nEalta Eudair, because it was there that the birds of Ireland used to come to bask in the sun.
After Partholón’s death, his four sons, Er, Orba, Fearón and Feargna, partitioned Ireland among themselves. Eochaidh Ua Floinn, the chief professor of poetry in Ireland in his own time, described the partition of Ireland by Partholón’s sons with the following verses:
Four sons, who were fierce of voice,
For noble children had Partholón:
They took under direction among them
The tribes of Ireland without objection:
Not easy to the kings was their division,
The island of Erin being all one wood,
Treasure safe in each dwelling during their time;
Each man got knowledge of his share.
Er, their eldest, who was free in happiness,
Pleasant his portion, long without change;
From Aileach Néid, land without treachery,
To Áthcliath Laighean full-strong.
From Áthcliath of Leinster—leap of the sea—
To the isle of Neimheadh’s Height,
Without misery—not weak his conduct—
Was Orba’s portion of the land of his race.
From the ford where Neimheadh was slain
To Meadhraidhe of the great districts,
A cause of good content without cease there,
The portion of Fearón, long the tract.
From Meadhraidhe, it is long also,
To Aileach Néid of good customs,
If we follow the boundary in every track;
Feargna got an extensive tract.
On Erin itself, not a cause of deceit this,
Were born the strong men whom I enumerate,
A noble company, who were established in fame,
Gentle and knightly were the four.
Approximately two hundred and seventy years after the death of Partholón, all of the surviving descendants of Partholón and his followers died of plague. According to tradition, it was because of Partholón’s great sins that God sent a plague upon this race, and all nine thousand of them died during one week in Beann Eadair. Holy Cormac, son of Cuileannan, in the Saltair of Cashel, said that it was three hundred years from the coming of Partholón to Ireland to the plague of his people. The poet Eochaidh Ua Floinn agreed in the following verse:
Three hundred years, who know it?
Over very great excellent lands
The rank sharp-pointed stalks
Were) in noble Erin grass-grown.
Some texts say that it was five hundred and twenty years from the death of Partholón to the plague and death of his people; however, the general opinion of antiquaries is that it is not likely that Ireland could have been settled for so long without there being more than five thousand men and four thousand women.
Ireland was supposedly empty of people for thirty years from the death of Partholón’s race to the coming of the Nemedians, as related in this ancient verse:
During thirty years of a period
It was empty of its skilled warriors,
After the destruction of its host in a week,
In crowds upon Magh nEalta.
Nemed and his followers:
Nemed was also a descendant of Magog. The Nemedians sailed to Ireland from the north shore of the Black Sea. They spent a year and one-half at sea, and all of Nemed’s followers, except for four women, starved to death at sea. After landing in Ireland and replenishing their numbers, the Nemedians were able to challenge the Fomorians and defeated them in three battles, thereby gaining sixteen plains to clear and cultivate.
According to Seatrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa Ar Éirinn, Ireland was a wasteland for thirty years after the destruction of the race of Partholón, until Neimheadh, son of Agnoman, son of Pamp, son of Tat, son of Seara, son of Srú, son of Easrú, son of Framant, son of Fathacht, son of Magog, son of Japheth, came to settle it. Some others say that Neimheadh was of the posterity of Adhla, the son whom Partholón had left in the east. Neimheadh journeyed to Ireland from Scythia on the narrow sea which reaches from the ocean called Mare Euxinum, the narrow sea which is the boundary between the northwest side of Asia and the northeast side of Europe. At the northwest part of Asia are the mountains of Riffé, according to Pomponius Mela, on the boundary line of the narrow sea and the northern ocean. He gave his right hand to the mountains of Riffé, till he came into the ocean to the north, and his left hand towards Europe till he came to Ireland. Thirty-four ships was the size of his fleet, and thirty persons were in every ship.
Starn, Iarbhoinel Fáidh, Ainninn, and Fearghus Leithdhearg were the names of the four sons of Neimheadh. Macha, the wife of Neimheadh died in Ireland in the twelfth year after their coming to Ireland; and she was the first person of their party to die after coming to Ireland. It is after her that Árd Macha was named; and it is there she was buried.
Two royal forts were built by Neimheadh in Ireland, namely, Rath Chinneich in Uí Nialláin and Rath Ciombaoth in Seimhne. The four sons of Madán Muinreamhar of the Fomorians, Bog, Robhog, Ruibhne, and Rodan their names, built Rath Chinneich in one day, and then Neimheadh slew them in Daire Lighe, for fear that they would destroy the fort; and they were buried there.
Twelve plains were cleared of wood by Neimheadh; namely, Magh Ceara, Magh Neara, Magh Cuile Toladh, Magh Luirg in Connacht, Magh Tochair in Tír Eoghain, Leacmhagh in Munster, Magh mBreasa, Magh Lughaidh in Ui Tuirtre, Magh Seireadh in Teathbha, Magh Seimhne in Dáll n-Áruidhe, Magh Muirtheimhne in Breagh and Magh Macha in Oirghialla.
Neimheadh won battles against Fomorians navigators of the race of Cham, who had fared from Africa to settle the islands of the west of Europe, fleeing the race of Sem in fear that they might be defeated by them because of the curse that Noe had placed on their ancestor Cham. After these Fomorians came to Ireland, Neimheadh defeated them in the battle of Sliabh Bádhna, the battle of Ross Fraocháin in Connacht, in which fell Gann and Geanann, two leaders of the Fomorians, and the battle of Murbholg in Dalriada, where Starn, son of Neimheadh, fell by Conaing, son of Faobhar, in Leithead Lachtmhaighe. He also fought the battle of Cnámhros in Leinster, where there was a slaughter of the men of Ireland, including Artur, the son of Neimheadh born in Ireland, and including Iobcan, son of Starn, son of Neimheadh. The three battles won by Neimheadh over the Fomorians were remember in the following ancient verses:
Neimheadh defeated, illustrious his strength,
Their sepulchre was satiated I think,
Gann and Geanann, by his attack;
They were slain by him, one after the other.
Geanann by Neimheadh was worn out.
Their little grave, what tomb is greater than it?
By Starn, son of Neimheadh the mighty,
Gann fell, and it is not deceit.
The battle of Murbholg, he fought it,
Till it was closed, it was stiff,
It was won by Neimheadh of the arms,
Though Starn came not back from it.
During the battle of Cnamhros, which was very great,
It is much there was of hacking of flesh;
Artur and Iobcan fell there,
Although in it Gann was routed.
Later, Neimheadh died of the plague in Oiléan Árda Neimheadh in Críoch Liatháin in Munster, which is called Oiléan Mór an Bharraigh, along with two thousand of his people. Afterwards, there was slavery and great oppression on the race of Neimheadh by the Fomorians in revenge for the battles in which Neimheadh had defeated them. Morc, son of Deileadh, and Conaing, son of Faobhar, for whom Tor Conaing was named, had a fleet, and from their home in Tor Conaing, called Toirinis, they enforced a terrible tribute from the children of Neimheadh. That tribute was two thirds of the children, and of the corn, and of the milk cows of the men of Ireland, to be offered to them every year on the eve of Samhain at Magh gCéidne between the Drobhaois and the Eirne. The Fomorians exacted an additional tax on the children of Neimheadh: three full measures of the cream of milk, of the flour of wheat and of butter from every single household in Ireland was brought to Morc and Conaing in Toirinis. It was because of this tribute and tax that they were called Fomorians, namely, from their committing robbery on sea (i.e. Fomhóraigh meant along the seas). The tax was collected by their female steward called Liagh. Of that tax, this ancient verse was recited:
That tax which was devised there,
Three measures which were not very scant:
A measure of the cream of rich milk,
And a measure of the flour of wheat,
The third obligation, we think it was hard,
A measure of butter over it for a condiment.
Because of the heaviness of that tribute and tax, anger and rage seized the men of Ireland, and they prepared to do battle again against the Fomorians. There were three great warriors among the children of Neimheadh at that time, namely: Beothach, son of Iarbhoineol the prophetic, son of Neimheadh; Fearghus the red-sided, son of Neimheadh; and Earglan, son of Béoan, son of Starn, son of Neimheadh. Beothach, Fearghus and Earglan, along with his two brothers Manntán and Iarthacht, amassed a great fleet and army, and their number was thirty thousand on sea, and the same number on land. Their attack on the Fomorians and their tower fortress at Toirinis was recalled in the following ancient verse:
Three score thousand, bright array
On land and on water;
It is the number went from their dwelling
The race of Neimheadh to the demolition of the tower.
The tower was demolished, and Conaing fell along with with his children. Afterwards, the Fomorian Morc, son of Deileadh, brought the crew of sixty ships from Africa to Toirinis, and gave battle to the children of Neimheadh. There was an enormous slaughter on both sides of the battle, so that they fell side by side, and nearly everyone of them who was not slain was drowned. Morc and the few of his company who survived took possession of the island. Of the army of the children of Neimheadh, only the crew of one bark survived, of which there were thirty strong men, including three chiefs, namely: Simeon Breac, son of Starn, son of Neimheadh; Iobath, son of Beothach, son of Iarbhoineol Fáidh, son of Neimheadh; and Briotán Maol, son of Fearghus Leithdhearg, son of Neimheadh. This defeat and the survivors were recalled in the ancient verse:
But one bark with its full company,
There escaped not of them, the entire of their hosts:
Simeon and Iobath good,
And Briotán Maol, in that ship.
The Nemedians had survived in Ireland for 217 years until the Fomorians finally overwhelmed and defeated them. As a consequence of this defeat, the Nemedians decided to leave Ireland, and to flee the tyranny of the Fomorians. They were seven years in preparation to leave Ireland, because each chief of them was responsible for the construction of a fleet adequate to accommodate a party of the people who had come with Neimheadh to Ireland, and of his descendants. They selected some to go with each one of the chiefs and some to remain behind in Ireland. Ten warriors were selected to take responsibility for the remnant of the race of Neimheadh that would remain behind in Ireland under servitude of the Fomorians.
One of the chiefs, named Simeon Breac, the son of Starn, sailed with his company to Greece and Thrace Thrace. There they would fall under bondage, and it is from him that the Firbolgs would descend. A second chief, named Iobáth, the son of Beothach, sailed with his company to regions in the north of Europe. Some say that it was to “Boetia” they went, and it is from him that the Tuatha Dé Danann would descend. A third chief, named Briotán Maol sailed with his company to Dobhar, and to Iardhobhar in the north of Scotland, where he and his posterity thereafter dwelt. The combined fleet of these three chiefs, between ship, bark, skiff, and small boat, consisted of one thousand one hundred and thirty vessels.
Another group of the Nemedians, under the leadership of Briotán, the son of Fearghus Leithdhearg, a son of Neimheadh, were already inhabiting the north of Scotland, and would continue there until the Crutheni or Pictswent from Ireland to dwell in Scotland during the time of Eireamhón. Holy Cormac, the son of Cuileannan, said in his work “Saltair” that it is from this Briotán, that the island of Britannia was named, and which today continues to be called Great Britain. The ancient poetry of Ireland agrees with him on that account, as the ancient poem which has for beginning “Adam father, fountain of our hosts” says:
Briotán went beyond sea, without stain,
Generous son of red-sided Fearghus;
The Britons all, victory with renown,
From him, without deception, they have descended.
Another ancient author supports him on that account when he says:
Briotán Maol, son of the prince,
Noble the stock-branch spreading from him,
Son of Leithdheirg from Leacmhagh,
From whom are the Britons of the world.
As to the remnant of the race of Neimheadh which remained in Ireland, after those described above had departed; they and their descendants were oppressed by the Fomorians from time to time, until the arrival of the descendants of Simeon Breac, the son of Starn, son of Neimheadh, also known as the Fir Bolgs, in Ireland from Greece.