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EARLY HISTORY]
759
IRELAND

themselves after an historical ancestor employing terms such as ui, “descendants,” cland, “children,” dál, “division,” cinél, “kindred,” or síl, “seed.” In this connexion it may be noted that practically all the Milesian pedigrees converge on three ancestors in the 2nd century—Conn Cétchathach king of Tara, Cathair Mór of Leinster, and Ailill Aulom of Munster,—whilst in scarcely any of them are mythological personages absent when we go farther back than A.D. 300. Special genealogies were framed to link up other races, e.g. the Éraind and Corcu Loegdi of Munster and the Ulidians with the Milesians of Tara.

The peculiar characteristic of the Milesian conquest is the establishment of a central monarchy at Tara. No trace of such a state of affairs is to be found in the Ulster epic. In the Táin Bó Cúalnge we find Ireland divided into fifths, each ruled over by its own king. These divisions were: Ulster with Emain Macha as capital, Connaught with Cruachu as residence, north Munster from Slieve Bloom to north Kerry, south Munster from south Kerry to Waterford, and Leinster consisting of the two kingdoms of Tara and Ailinn. Moreover, the kings of Tara mentioned in the Ulster cycle do not figure in any list of Milesian kings. It would appear then that the central kingdom of Tara was an innovation subsequent to the state of society described in the oldest sagas and the political position reflected in Ptolemy’s account. It was probably due to an invasion undertaken by Brythons[1] from Britain, but it is impossible to assign a precise date for their arrival. Until the end of the 3rd century the Milesian power must have been confined to the valley of the Boyne and the district around Tara. At the beginning of the 4th century the three Collas founded the kingdom of Oriel (comprising the present counties of Armagh, Monaghan, north Louth, south Fermanagh) and drove the Ulidians into the eastern part of the province. Brian and Fiachra, sons of Eochaid Muigmedóin, conquered for themselves the country of the Ui Briuin (Roscommon, Leitrim, Cavan) and Tír Fiachrach, the territory of the Firbolg tribe the Fir Domnann in the valley of the Moy (Co. Mayo). Somewhat later south Connaught was similarly wrested from the older race and colonized by descendants of Brian and Fiachra, later known as Ui Fiachrach Aidni and Ui Briuin Seola. The north of Ulster is stated to have been conquered and colonized by Conall and Eogan, sons of Niall Nóigiallach. The former gave his name to the western portion, Tír Conaill (Co. Donegal), whilst Inishowen was called Tír Eogain after Eogan. The name Tír Eogain later became associated with south Ulster where it survives in the county name Tyrone. The whole kingdom of the north is commonly designated the kingdom of Ailech, from the ancient stronghold near Derry which the sons of Niall probably took over from the earlier inhabitants. At the end of the 5th century Maine, a relative of the king of Tara, was apportioned a tract of Firbolg territory to the west of the Suck in Connaught, which formed the nucleus of a powerful state known as Hy Maine (in English commonly called the “O’Kelly’s country”). Thus practically the whole of the north and west gradually came under the sway of the Milesian rulers. Nevertheless one portion retained its independence. This was Ulidia, consisting of Dalriada, Dal Fiatach, Dal Araide, including the present counties of Antrim and Down. The bulk of the population here was probably Pictish; but the Dal Fiatach, representing the old Ulidians or ancient population of Ulster, maintained themselves until the 8th century when they were subdued by their Pictish neighbours. The relationship of Munster and Leinster to the Tara dynasty is not so easy to define. The small kingdom of Ossory remained independent until a very late period. As for Leinster none of the Brythonic peoples mentioned by Ptolemy left traces of their name, although it is possible that the ruling family may have been derived from them. It would seem that the Fir Galeoin who play such a prominent part in the Táin had been crushed before authentic history begins. The king of Leinster was for centuries the most determined opponent of the ardrí, an antithesis which is embodied in the story of the boroma tribute. When we turn to Munster we find that Cashel was the seat of power in historical times. Now Cashel (a loanword from Lat. castellum) was not founded Until the beginning of the 5th century by Core son of Lugaid. The legendary account attributes the subjugation of the various peoples inhabiting Munster to Mog Nuadat, and the pedigrees are invariably traced up to his son Ailill Aulom. Rhys adopts the view that the race of Eber Find was not Milesian but a branch of the Érnai, and this theory has much in its favour. The allegiance of the rulers of Munster to Niall and his descendants can at the best of times only have been nominal.

In this way we get a number of over-kingdoms acknowledging only the supremacy of the Tara dynasty. These were (1) Munster with Cashel as centre, (2) Connaught, (3) Ailech, (4) Oriel, (5) Ulidia, (6) Meath, (7) Leinster, (8) Ossory. Some of these states might be split up into various parts at certain periods, each part becoming for the time-being an over-kingdom. For instance, Ailech might be resolved into Tír Conaill and Tír Eogain according to political conditions. Hence the number of over-kingdoms is given variously in different documents. The supremacy was vested in the descendants of Niall Nóigiallach without interruption until 1002; but as Niall’s descendants were represented by four reigning families, the high-kingship passed from one branch to another. Nevertheless after the middle of the 8th century the title of ardrí (high-king) was only held by the Cinél Eogain (northern Hy Neill) and the rulers of Meath (southern Hy Neill), as the kingdom of Oriel had dropped into insignificance. The supremacy of the ardrí was more often than not purely nominal. This must have been particularly the case in Leth Moga.

Religion in Early Ireland.—Our knowledge of the beliefs of the pagan Irish is very slight. The oldest texts belonging to the heroic cycle are not preserved in any MS. before 1100, and though the sagas were certainly committed to writing several centuries before that date, it is evident that the monkish transcribers have toned down or omitted features that savoured too strongly of paganism. Supernatural beings play an important part in the Táin Bó Cualgne, Cuchulinn’s Sickbed, the Wooing of Emer and similar stories, but the relations between ordinary mortals and such divine or semi-divine personages is not easy to establish. It seems unlikely that the ancient Irish had a highly developed pantheon. On the other hand there are abundant traces of animistic worship, which have survived in wells, often associated with a sacred tree (Ir. bile), bulláns, pillar stones, weapons. There are also traces of the worship of the elements, prominent among which are sun and fire. The belief in earth spirits or fairies (Ir. aes síde, síd) forms perhaps the most striking feature of Irish belief. The sagas teem with references to the inhabitants of the fairy mounds, who play such an important part in the mind of the peasantry of our own time. These supernatural beings are sometimes represented as immortal, but often they fall victims to the prowess of mortals. Numerous cases of marriage between fairies and mortals are recorded. The Tuatha Dé Danann is used as a collective name for the aes síde. The representatives of this race in the Táin Bó Cualgne play a somewhat similar part to the gods of the ancient Greeks in the Iliad, though they are of necessity of a much more shadowy nature. Prominent among them were Manannán mac Lir, who is connected with the sea and the Isle of Man, and the Dagda, the father of a numerous progeny. One of them, Bodb Derg, resided near Portumna on the shore of Lough Derg, whilst another, Angus Mac-in-óg, dwelt at the Brug of the Boyne, the well-known tumulus at New Grange. The Dagda’s daughter Brigit transmitted many of her attributes to the Christian saint of the same name (d. 523). The ancient Brigit seems to have been the patroness of the arts and was probably also the goddess of fertility. At any rate it is with her that the sacred fire at Kildare which

  1. Scholars are only beginning to realize how close was the connexion between Ireland and Wales from early times. Pedersen has recently pointed out the large number of Brythonic and Welsh loan words received into Irish from the time of the Roman occupation of Britain to the beginning of the literary period. Welsh writers now assume an Irish origin for much of the contents of the Mabinogion.