The Myths of Time:
After examining some of the ancient record for Ireland we turn to the early Irish chronicles.
The earliest written pre-history of Ireland is passed down in the form of saga stories, legal tracts, annalistic records, and fragmentary accounts which
were recorded centuries after they actually may have occurred. Because of this scholars consider the events and people of the pre-Christian (and early Christian) period to be viewed with a skeptical eye. Rather than discounting the earliest chronicles and events, which form an integral part of the early Irish tradition, they are noted here and on the next few pages. One such tradition is an account of the early people of Ireland, found in such works as the Leabhar Gabhála, Book of Leinster, and in the 'Annals of the Four Masters'. These include stories of ancient tribes whose arrival outdated that of the Gael and their ancient progenitor King Milesius (Milidh).
Prior to the arrival of sons of King Milesius the mythological tribes in Ireland were said to include the the Fomorians (Fomhóire), the Partholonians, the Nemedians, the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha de Danann. Stories of these people are among the more prominent among the pre-historical accounts of ancient Hibernia (Eire, Ireland). As an example, reflected on the map above is the division of Ireland by the sons of Milesius (the Gael).
From Geoffrey Keating's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (The History of Ireland) comes the following paragraph:
"The Book of Invasions states that it was, three hundred years after the Deluge that Parthalon came, and that his descendants remained in
possession of Ireland three hundred years, and that Ireland remained a waste for thirty years, till the descendants of Neimhidh arrived there, and that these descendants ruled Ireland two hundred and seventeen years, and that the Firbolg held the sovereignty thirty-six years, and the Tuatha Dé Danann two hundred years less by three; and, adding all these together, they make a total of one thousand and eighty years from the Deluge to the coming of the sons of Milidh (Milesians) to Ireland."
From the author D. J. Conway (Ancient and Shining Ones) comes this description:
"The tribe of the Fomorians was on the scene long before any other races came to Ireland. However, the Fomors lived mainly in (by) the sea. The first
outside race to invade Ireland was the race of Partholon; very little is known of them. After 300 years of struggle against the Fomors, the Partholons died of an epidemic. Next came the race of Nemed who also suffered from an epidemic. This time, though, some of them survived, only to be oppressed by the Fomors. Later came colonizers from Spain or Greece called the Fir Bolgs. They were actually three tribes; men of Domnu, men of Gaillion, and men of Bolg. They inter-married with the Fomors and held the country until the arrival of the Tuatha De Danann".
The original migration of the Celtic language into Ireland has been variously placed in a large window from 2000 to 300 B.C., with many citing the timeframe around 500 B.C. These theories are largely based on an examination of Irish traditions, supplemented by linguistic arguments and by testimony of classical writers. As one example, the author T. F. O'Rahilly (Early Irish History and Mythology) proposed 4 major Celtic invasions of Ireland:
Cruithin - perhaps the 8th to 5th century B.C. (the Priteni, who spread over Britain and Ireland)
Érainn - perhaps the 5th to 3rd century B.C. (Bolgi or Belgae, who invaded Ireland from Britain)
Laigin - perhaps the 3rd to 1st century B.C. (who came from Armorica, invading both Britain and Ireland)
Goidel/Gael - perhaps the 2nd to 1st century B.C. (e.g. Milesians, who reached Ireland direct from Gaul)
From these origin legends there are also various connections made between these ancient arrivals and the more historical tribes. Some of these interpretations are summarized below.
The Cruithin (Cruithne) of Ireland are often noted as the Irish tribes of the Dál nAraide and the Ui Eachach Coba (both of east Ulster), as well as the Loigis (of Leinster) and the Sogain (of Connacht and other areas of Ireland). The Cruithni of Scotland are equated with the ancient Pretani, or Picts.
The Érainn (earlier Euerni or Iverni) have also been referred to as the Menapii, Bolgi, Builg, Belgae and Firbolgs by certain annalists and historians. The early annalists tell us that Firbolg people survived as distinct tribes well into early historical times. In southern Ireland they may have descended as the Corca Loigde, and other early tribes of Munster, as well as the Osraighe (who are also given a Laigin origin). In east Ulster, they were said to descend as the tribes of the Dál Riata and the Dál Fiatach (aka Ulaid). In Connacht the tribes of the Ui Maine and the Conmaicne are often claimed as their ancestors.
[Some of] the main families of the Érainn stock consisted of the four septs named the Muscraige, Corco Duibne, Corco Baiscind and Dal Riata, who came from three sons of Conaire Mor called Cairpre Musc, Cairpre Baschain and Cairpre Riata. These four septs of the Erainn migrated from Breg in the north of Ireland to Munster in the south. No reason is given as to why they travelled south, although it is probable that their own family lands could no longer contain them. -- Source: http://www.dalriada.co.uk/Archives/dalhistory.htm
The Laigin traditionally come from Armorica in northwestern France, originally settled in the area of southeast Ireland for which the province of Leinster takes its name. The Laigin were later said to have spawned the Free Tribes of Leinster; e.g. the Uí Failge, Uí Bairrche and Uí Enachglaiss. They are sometimes equated with the Domnann and the Gáileóin of Ireland, and as such are often given the same origins as the Dumnonii of Britain. The Laigin may have also spread into other parts of the country as the Dal Cairpre Arad of Munster, and perhaps even the Gaileanga and Luighne tribes of Connacht and Meath.
The Goídel (Gael or Féni) or Milesians, sons of King Milesius, are said to have come from either northern Spain or southern France to the island of Ireland. Of the Milesians, who invaded the Tuatha De Danann lands, hEber and hEremon divided the land between them - hEremon getting the Northern half of the island, and hEber the Southern. The Northeastern corner was accorded to the children of their lost brother, Ir, and the Southwestern corner to their cousin Lughaid, the son of Ith (see Map above). Of the Goídel are said to include the various tribes of the Connachta (Northwest, West and Midland) and the Eoghanact (Southwest).
Excerpts from The Annals Note: In the Annals of the Four Masters the "Age of the World" 5200 is equal to the first year of the age of Christ.
The Age of the World, 2520.
The age of the world when Parthalon came into Ireland, 2520 years.
These were the chieftains who were with him: Slainge, Laighlinne, and
Rudhraidhe, his three sons; Dealgnat, Nerbha, Ciochbha, and Cerbnad,
their four wives.
The Age of the World, 2530.
In this year the first battle was fought in Ireland; i.e. Cical
Grigenchosach, son of Goll, son of Garbh, of the Fomorians, and his
mother, came into Ireland, eight hundred in number, so that a battle
was fought between them and Parthalon's people at Sleamhnai Maighe Ithe,
where the Fomorians were defeated by Parthalon, so that they were all
slain. This is called the battle of Magh Ithe.
The Age of the World, 2820.
Nine thousand of Parthalon's people died in one week on Sean Mhagh
Ealta Edair, namely, five thousand men, and four thousand women.
Whence is named Taimhleacht Muintire Parthaloin. They had passed
three hundred years in Ireland.
The Age of the World, 2850.
Neimhidh [Nemed] came to Ireland. On the twelfth day after the
arrival of Neimhidh with his people, Macha, the wife of Neimhidh,
died. These were the four chieftains who were with him: Sdarn,
Iarbhainel the Prophet, Fearghus Leithdheirg, and Ainninn.
The Age of the World, 3266.
The Firbolgs took possession of Ireland at the end of this year. Slainghe,
Gann, Genann, Seangann, and Rudhraighe, were their five chieftains.
These were the five sons of Deala, son of Loich. The other four and the
Firbolgs in general elected Slainge as king over them.
The Age of the World, 3303.
The tenth year of the reign of Eochaidh, son of Erc; and this was the last
year of his reign, for the Tuatha De Dananns came to invade Ireland
against the Firbolgs... The aforesaid Eochaidh was the last king of the
Firbolgs. Nine of them had assumed kingship, and thirty seven years was
the length of their sway over Ireland.
The Age of the World, 3500.
The fleet of the sons of Milidh came to Ireland at the end of this year, to
take it from the Tuatha De Dananns; and they fought the battle of Sliabh
Mis with them on the third day after landing. In this battle fell Scota, the
daughter of Pharaoh, wife of Milidh... After this the sons of
Milidh fought a battle at Tailtinn, against the three kings of the Tuatha
De Dananns, Mac Cuill, Mac Ceacht, and Mac Greine. The battle lasted for
a long time, until Mac Ceacht fell by Eiremhon, Mac Cuill by Eimhear,
and Mac Greine by Amhergin.
The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, Annála Ríoghachta Éireann, or the
Annals of the Four Masters as they are commonly known, were compiled
in a Franciscan monastery in Donegal by Michael O'Clery, Cucogry (or Peregrine) O'Clery,
Fearfasa (or Fergus) O'Mulconry and Cucogry (or Peregrine) O'Duigenan (the Four Masters).
Michaels' brother Conary O'Clery, as well as Maurice O'Mulconry, also assisted
in the compilation. They began their work in 1632, and completed it in 1636.
The Four Masters' names in Gaelic were Mícheál [Tadhg] Ó Cléirigh (chief compiler);
Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh (Mícheál's cousin); Fear Feasa O'Maolchonaire; and
Cuchoigríche Ó Duibhgheannáin.
The Annals of the Four Masters were translated by Dr. John O'Donovan in
the 19th century. It was published in seven large volumes.
For a more complete text of The Annals, see
Other early annals include: The Annals of Tigernach, The Annals of Ulster,
The Annals of Connacht, Genealogies from Rawlinson B.502, The Annals of
Loch Cé, The Annals of Inisfallen, The Annals of Clonmacnoise, The Book
Of Leinster, ...