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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 25

Various stories were told of the first peopling of Ireland. Banba, with two other daughters of Cain, arrived with fifty women and three men, only to die of the plague. Three fishermen next discovered Ireland, and "of the island of Banba of Fair Women with hardihood they took possession." Having gone to fetch their wives, they perished in the deluge at Tuath Inba. A more popular account was that of the coming of Cessair, Noah's granddaughter, with her father, husband, a third man, Ladru, "the first dead man of Erin," and fifty damsels. Her coming was the result of the advice of a laimh-dhia, or "hand-god," but their ship was wrecked, and all save her husband, Finntain, who survived for centuries, perished {51} in the flood.156 Cessair's ship was less serviceable than her grandparent's! Followed the race of Partholan, "no wiser one than the other," who increased on the land until plague swept them away, with the exception of Tuan mac Caraill, who after many transformations, told the story of Ireland to S. Finnen centuries after. The survival of Finntain and Tuan, doubles of each other, was an invention of the chroniclers, to explain the survival of the history of colonists who had all perished. Keating, on the other hand, rejecting the sole survivor theory as contradictory to Scripture, suggests that "aerial demons," followers of the invaders, revealed all to the chroniclers, unless indeed they found it engraved with "an iron pen and lead in the rocks."158

Two hundred years before Partholan's coming, the Fomorians had arrived,159 and they and their chief Cichol Gricenchos fought Partholan at Mag Itha, where they were defeated. Cichol was footless, and some of his host had but one arm and one leg.160 They were demons, according to the chroniclers, and descendants of the luckless Ham. Nennius makes Partholan and his men the first Scots who came from Spain to Ireland. The next arrivals were the people of Nemed who returned to Spain, whence they came (Nennius), or died to a man (Tuan). They also were descendants of the inevitable Noah, and their sojourn in Ireland was much disturbed by the Fomorians who had recovered from their defeat, and finally overpowered the Nemedians after the death of Nemed.161 From Tory Island the Fomorians ruled Ireland, and forced the {52} Nemedians to pay them annually on the eve of Samhain (Nov. 1st) two-thirds of their corn and milk and of the children born during the year. If the Fomorians are gods of darkness, or, preferably, aboriginal deities, the tribute must be explained as a dim memory of sacrifice offered at the beginning of winter when the powers of darkness and blight are in the ascendant. The Fomorians had a tower of glass in Tory Island. This was one day seen by the Milesians, to whom appeared on its battlements what seemed to be men. A year after they attacked the tower and were overwhelmed in the sea. From the survivors of a previously wrecked vessel of their fleet are descended the Irish. Another version makes the Nemedians the assailants. Thirty of them survived their defeat, some of them going to Scotland or Man (the Britons), some to Greece (to return as the Firbolgs), some to the north, where they learned magic and returned as the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Firbolgs, "men of bags," resenting their ignominious treatment by the Greeks, escaped to Ireland. They included the Firbolgs proper, the Fir-Domnann, and the Galioin. The Fomorians are called their gods, and this, with the contemptuous epithets bestowed on them, may point to the fact that the Firbolgs were the pre-Celtic folk of Ireland and the Fomorians their divinities, hostile to the gods of the Celts or regarded as dark deities. The Firbolgs are vassals of Ailill and Medb, and with the Fir Domnann and Galioin are hostile to Cúchulainn and his men,165 just as Fomorians were to the Tuatha Dé Danann. The strifes of races and of their gods are inextricably confused.


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