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EARLY HISTORY]
763
IRELAND

regards outstanding events. From the time that the Milesians of Tara had come to be recognized as suzerains of the whole island all political development ceases. The annals contain nothing save a record of intertribal warfare, which the high-king was rarely powerful enough to stay. The wonderful achievements of the Irish monks did not affect the body politic as a whole, and it may be doubted if there was any distinct advance in civilization in Ireland from the time of Niall Nóigiallach to the Anglo-Norman invasion. Niall’s posterity held the position of ardrí uninterruptedly until 1002. Four of his sons, Loigaire, Conall Crimthand, Fiacc and Maine, settled in Meath and adjoining territories, and their posterity were called the southern Hy Neill. The other four, Eogan, Enna Find, Cairpre and Conall Gulban, occupied the northern part of Ulster. Their descendants were known as the northern Hy Neill.[1] The descendants of Eogan were the O’Neills and their numerous kindred septs; the posterity of Conall Gulban were the O’Donnells and their kindred septs. Niall died in 406 in the English Channel whilst engaged in a marauding expedition. He was succeeded by his nephew Dathi, son of Fiachra, son of Eochaid Muigmedóin, who is stated to have been struck by lightning at the foot of the Alps in 428. Loigaire, son of Niall (428-463), is identified with the story of St Patrick. According to tradition it was during his reign that the codification of the Senchus Mór took place. A well-known story represents him as constantly at war with the men of Leinster. His successor, Ailill Molt (463-483), son of Dathi, is remarkable as being the last high-king for 500 years who was not a direct descendant of Niall.

In 503 a body of colonists under Fergus, son of Erc, moved from Dalriada to Argyll and effected settlements there. The circumstances which enabled the Scots to succeed in occupying Kintyre and Islay cannot now be ascertained. The little kingdom had great difficulty to maintain itself, and its varying fortunes are very obscure. Neither is it clear that bodies of Scots had not already migrated to Argyll. Diarmait, son of Fergus Cerbaill (544-565), of the southern Hy Neill, undoubtedly professed Christianity though he still clung to many pagan practices, such as polygamy and the use of druidical incantations in battle. The annals represent him as getting into trouble with the Church on account of his violation of the right of sanctuary. At an assembly held at Tara in 554 Curnan, son of the king of Connaught, slew a nobleman, a crime punishable with death. The author of the deed fled for sanctuary to St Columba. But Diarmait pursued him, and disregarding the opposition of the saint seized Curnan and hanged him. St Columba’s kinsmen, the northern Hy Neill, took up the quarrel, and attacked and defeated the king at Culdreimne in 561. In this battle Diarmait is stated to have employed druids to form an airbe druad (fence of protection?) round his host. A few years later Diarmait seized by force the chief of Hy Maine, who had slain his herald and had taken refuge with St Ruadan of Lothra. According to the legend the saint, accompanied by St Brendan of Birr, followed the king to Tara and solemnly cursed it, from which time it was deserted. It has been suggested that Tara was abandoned during the plague of 548-549. Others have surmised that it was abandoned as a regular place of residence long before this, soon after the northern and southern branches of the Hy Neill had consolidated their power at Ailech and in Westmeath. Whatever truth there may be in the legend, it demonstrates conclusively the absence of a rallying point where the idea of a central government might have taken root. Aed, son of Ainmire (572-598) of the northern Hy Neill, figures prominently in the story of St Columba. It was during his reign that the famous assembly of Drumcet (near Newtown-limavaddy in Co. Derry) was held. The story goes that the filid had increased in number to such an extent that they included one-third of the freemen. There was thus quite an army of impudent swaggering idlers roaming about the country and quartering themselves on the chiefs and nobles during the winter and spring, story-telling, and lampooning those who dared to hesitate to comply with their demands.

Some idea of the style of living of the learned professions in early Ireland may be gathered from the income enjoyed in later times by the literati of Tír Conaill (Co. Donegal). It has been computed that no less than £2000 was set aside yearly in this small state for the maintenance of the class. No wonder, then, that Aed determined to banish them from Ireland. At the convention of Drumcet the number of filid was greatly reduced, lands were assigned for their maintenance, the ollams were required to open schools and to support the inferior bards as teachers. This reform may have helped to foster the cultivation of the native literature, and it is possible that we owe to it the preservation of the Ulster epic. But the Irish were unfortunately incapable of rising above the saga, consisting of a mixture of prose and verse. Their greatest achievement in literature dates back to the dawn of history, and we find no more trace of development in the world of letters than in the political sphere. The Irishman, in his own language at any rate, seems incapable of a sustained literary effort, a consequence of which is that he invents the most intricate measures. Sense is thus too frequently sacrificed to sound. The influence of the professional literary class kept the clan spirit alive with their elaborate genealogies, and in their poems they only pandered to the vanity and vices of their patrons. That no new ideas came in may be gathered from the fact that the bulk of Irish literature so far published dates from before 800, though the MSS. which contain it are much later. Bearing in mind how largely the Finn cycle is modelled on the older Ulster epic, works of originality composed between 1000 and 1600 are with one or two exceptions conspicuously absent.

At the convention of Drumcet the status of the Dalriadic settlement in Argyll was also regulated. The ardrí desired to make the colony an Irish state tributary to the high-king; but on the special pleading of St Columba it was allowed to remain independent. Aed lost his life in endeavouring to exact the boroma tribute from Brandub, king of Leinster, who defeated him at Dunbolg in 598. After several short reigns the throne was occupied by Aed’s son Domnall (627-641). His predecessor, Suibne Menn, had been slain by the king of Dalaraide, Congal Claen. The latter was driven out of the country by Domnall, whereupon Congal collected an army of foreign adventurers made up of Saxons, Dalriadic Scots, Britons and Picts to regain his lands and to avenge himself on the high-king. In a sanguinary encounter at Mag Raith (Moira in Co. Down), which forms the subject of a celebrated romance, Congal was slain and the power of the settlement in Kintyre weakened for a considerable period. A curious feature of Hy Neill rule about this time was joint kingship. From 563 to 656 there were no less than five such pairs. In 681 St Moling of Ferns prevailed upon the ardrí Finnachta (674-690) to renounce for ever the boroma, tribute, which had always been a source of friction between the supreme king and the ruler of Leinster. This was, however, unfortunately not the last of the boroma. Fergal (711-722), in trying to enforce it again, was slain in a famous battle at Allen in Kildare. As a sequel Fergal’s son, Aed Allan (734-743), defeated the men of Leinster with great slaughter at Ballyshannon (Co. Kildare) in 737. If there was so little cohesion among the various provinces it is small wonder that Ireland fell such an easy prey to the Vikings in the next century. In 697 an assembly was held at Tara in which a law known as Cáin Adamnáin was passed, at the instance of Adamnán, prohibiting women from taking part in battle; a decision that shows how far Ireland with its tribal system lagged behind Teutonic and Latin countries in civilization. A similar enactment exempting the clergy, known as Cáin Patraic, was agreed to in 803. The story goes that the ardrí Aed Oirdnigthe (797-819) made a hostile incursion into Leinster and forced the primate of Armagh and all his clergy to attend him. When representations were made to the king as to the impropriety of his conduct, he referred the matter to his adviser, Fothud, who was also a cleric. Fothud pronounced that

  1. The O’Neills who played such an important part in later Irish history do not take their name from Niall Nóigiallach, though they are descended from him. They take their name from Niall Glúndub (d. 919).