moved to Scotland, and finally arrived in Ireland (A.M. 3303), bringing with them in addition to the celebrated Lia Fáil (“stone of destiny”) which they set up at Tara, the cauldron of the Dagda and the sword and spear of Lugaid Lámfada. Eochaid, son of Erc, king of the Firbolgs, having declined to surrender the sovereignty of Ireland, a great battle was fought on the plain of Moytura near Cong (Co. Mayo), the site of a prehistoric cemetery. In this contest the Firbolgs were overthrown with great slaughter, and the remnants of the race according to Keating and other writers took refuge in Arran, Islay, Rathlin and the Hebrides, where they dwelt until driven out by Picts. Twenty-seven years later the Tuatha Dé had to defend themselves against the Fomorians, who were almost annihilated at the battle of north Moytura near Sligo. The Tuatha Dé then enjoyed undisturbed possession of Ireland until the arrival of the Milesians in A.M. 3500.
All the early writers dwell with great fondness on the origin and adventures of this race. The Milesians came primarily from Scythia and after sojourning for some time in Egypt, Crete and in Scythia again, they finally arrived in Spain. In the line of mythical ancestors which extends without interruption up to Noah, the names of Fenius Farsaid, Goedel Glas, Eber Scot and Breogan constantly recur in Irish story. At length eight sons of Miled (Lat. Milesius) set forth to conquer Ireland. The spells of the Tuatha Dé accounted for most of their number. However, after two battles the newcomers succeeded in overcoming the older race; and two brothers, Eber Find and Eremon, divided the island between them, Eber Find taking east and west Munster, whilst Eremon received Leinster and Connaught. Lugaid, son of the brother of Miled, took possession of south-west Munster. At the same time Ulster was left to Eber son of Ir son of Miled. The old historians agree that Ireland was ruled by a succession of Milesian monarchs until the reign of Roderick O’Connor, the last native king. The Tuatha Dé are represented as retiring into the síd or fairy mounds. Eber Find and Eremon did not remain long in agreement. The historians place the beginnings of the antithesis between north and south at the very commencement of the Milesian domination. A battle was fought between the two brothers in which Eber Find lost his life. In the reign of Eremon the Picts are stated to have arrived in Ireland, coming from Scythia. It will have been observed that Scythia had a peculiar attraction for medieval Irish chroniclers on account of its resemblance to the name Scotti, Scots. The Picts first settled in Leinster; but the main body were forced to remove to Scotland, only a few remaining behind in Meath. Among the numerous mythical kings placed by the annalists between Eremon and the Christian era we may mention Tigernmas (A.M. 3581), Ollam Fodla (A.M. 3922) who established the meeting of Tara, Cimbaeth (c. 305 B.C.) the reputed founder of Emain Macha, Ugaine Mór, Labraid Loingsech, and Eochaid Feidlech, who built Rath Cruachan for his celebrated daughter, Medb queen of Connaught. During the 1st century of our era we hear of the rising of the aithech-tuatha, i.e. subject or plebeian tribes, or in other words the Firbolgs, who paid daer- or base rent to the Milesians. From a resemblance in the name which is probably fortuitous these tribes have been identified with the Attecotti of Roman writers. Under Cairbre Cinnchait (“cathead”) the oppressed peoples succeeded in wresting the sovereignty from the Milesians, whose princes and nobles were almost exterminated (A.D. 90). The line of Eremon was, however, restored on the accession of Tuathal Techtmar (“the legitimate”), who reigned A.D. 130-160. This ruler took measures to consolidate the power of the ardrí (supreme king). He constructed a number of fortresses on the great central plain and carved out the kingdom of Meath to serve as his mensal land. The new kingdom was composed of the present counties of Meath, Westmeath and Longford together with portions of Monaghan, Cavan, King’s Co. and Kildare. He was also the first to levy the famous Leinster tribute, the boroma, in consequence of an insult offered to him by one of the kings of that province. This tribute, which was only remitted in the 7th century at the instance of St Moling, must have been the source of constant war and oppression. A grandson of Tuathal’s, the famous Conn Cétchathach (“the hundred-fighter”), whose death is placed in the year 177 after a reign of about twenty years, was constantly at war with the Munster ruler Eogan Mór, also called Mog Nuadat, of the race of Eber Find. Eogan had subdued the Érnai and the Corco Laigde (descendants of Lugaid son of Ith) in Munster, and even the supreme king was obliged to share the island with him. Hence the well-known names Leth Cuinn or “Conn’s half” (north Ireland), and Leth Moga or “Mug’s half” (south Ireland). The boundary line ran from the Bay of Galway to Dublin along the great ridge of gravel known as Eiscir Riada which stretches across Ireland. Mog Nuadat had a son Ailill Aulom who plays a prominent part in the Irish sagas and genealogies, and his sons Eogan, Cian and Cormac Cas, all became the ancestors of well-known families. Conn’s grandson, Cormac son of Art, is represented as having reigned in great splendour (254-266) and as having been a great patron of learning. It was during this reign that the sept of the Dési were expelled from Meath. They settled in Munster where their name still survives in the barony of Decies (Co. Waterford). A curious passage in Cormac’s Glossary connects one of the leaders of this sept, Cairpre Musc, with the settlements of the Irish in south Wales which may have taken place as early as the 3rd century. Of greater consequence was the invasion of Ulster by the three Collas, cousins of the ardrí Muredach. The stronghold of Emain Macha was destroyed and the Ulstermen were driven across the Newry River into Dalriada, which was inhabited by Picts.
The old inhabitants of Ulster are usually termed Ulidians to distinguish them from the Milesian peoples who overran the province. With the advent of Niall Nóigiallach (“N. of the nine hostages” reigned 379-405) son of Eochaid Muigmedóin (358-366) we are treading safer ground. It was about this time that the Milesian kingdom of Tara was firmly established. Nor was Niall’s activity confined to Ireland alone. Irish sources represent him as constantly engaged in marauding expeditions oversea, and it was doubtless on one of these that St Patrick was taken captive. These movements coincide with the inroads of the Picts and Scots recorded by Roman writers. It is probably from this period that the Irish colonies in south Wales, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall date. And the earliest migrations from Ulster to Argyll may also have taken place about this time. Literary evidence of the colonization of south Wales is preserved both in Welsh and Irish sources, and some idea of the extent of Irish oversea activity may be gathered from the distribution of the Ogam inscriptions in Wales, south-west England and the Isle of Man.
Criticism of the Legendary Origins.—It is only in recent years that the Irish legendary origins have been subjected to serious criticism. The fondly cherished theory which attributes Milesian descent to the bulk of the native population has at length been assailed. MacNeill asserts that in MacFirbis’s genealogies the majority of the tribes in early Ireland do not trace their descent to Eremon and Eber Find; they are rather the descendants of the subject races, one of which figures in the list of conquests under the name of Firbolg. The stories of the Fomorians were doubtless suggested in part by the Viking invasions, but the origin of the Partholan legend has not been discovered. The Tuatha Dé do not appear in any of the earliest quasi-historical documents, nor in Nennius, and they scarcely correspond to any particular race. It seems more probable that a special invasion was assigned to them by later writers in order to explain the presence of mythical personages going by their name in the heroic cycles, as they were found inconvenient by the monkish historians. In the early centuries of our era Ireland would therefore have been occupied by the Firbolgs and kindred races and the Milesians. According to MacNeill the Firbolg tribal names are formed with the suffix -raige, e.g. Ciarraige, Kerry, Osraige, Ossory, or with the obscure words Corcu and mocu (maccu), e.g. Corco Duibne, Corkaguiney, Corco Mruad, Corcomroe, Macu Loegdae, Macu Teimne. In the case of corcu and mocu the name which follows is frequently the name of an eponymous ancestor. The Milesians on the other hand named