Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 34

In the early Irish accounts, therefore, of the beginnings of things, we find that it is not with the World that the narrators make their start—it is simply with their own country, with Ireland. It was the practice, indeed, to prefix to these narratives of early invasions and colonisations the Scriptural account of the making of the world and man, and this shows that something of the kind was felt to be required; but what took the place of the Biblical narrative in pre-Christian days we do not know, and, unfortunately, are now never likely to know.

The Cycles of Irish Legend

Irish mythical and legendary literature, as we have it in the most ancient form, may be said to fall into four main divisions, and to these we shall adhere in our presentation of it in this volume. They are, in chronological order, the Mythological Cycle, or Cycle of the Invasions, the Ultonian or Conorian Cycle, the Ossianic or Fenian Cycle, and a multitude of miscellaneous tales and legends which it is hard to fit into any historical framework.

The Mythological Cycle

The Mythological Cycle comprises the following sections:

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1. The coming of Partholan into Ireland.
2. The coming of Nemed into Ireland.
3. The coming of the Firbolgs into Ireland.
4. The invasion of the Tuatha De Danann, or People of the god Dana.
5. The invasion of the Milesians (Sons of Miled) from Spain, and their conquest of the People of Dana.

With the Milesians we begin to come into something resembling history—they represent, in Irish legend, the Celtic race; and from them the ruling families of Ireland are supposed to be descended. The People of Dana are evidently gods. The pre-Danaan settlers or invaders are huge phantom-like figures, which loom vaguely through the mists of tradition, and have little definite characterisation. The accounts which are given of them are many and conflicting, and out of these we can only give here the more ancient narratives.

The Coming of Partholan

The Celts, as we have learned from Caesar, believed themselves to be descended from the God of the Underworld, the God of the Dead. Partholan is said to have come into Ireland from the West, where beyond the vast, unsailed Atlantic Ocean the Irish Fairyland, the Land of the Living—i.e., the land of the Happy Dead— was placed. His father's name was Sera (? the West). He came with his queen Dalny74 and a number of companions of both sexes. Ireland—and this is an imaginative touch intended to suggest extreme antiquity—was then a different country, physically, from what it is now. There were then but three lakes in Ireland, nine rivers, and only one plain. Others were added gradually [pg 97] during the reign of the Partholanians. One, Lake Rury, was said to have burst out as a grave was being dug for Rury, son of Partholan.

The Fomorians

The Partholanians, it is said, had to do battle with a strange race, called the Fomorians, of whom we shall hear much in later sections of this book. They were a huge, misshapen, violent and cruel people, representing, we may believe, the powers of evil. One of these was surnamed Cenchos, which means The Footless, and thus appears to be related to Vitra, the God of Evil in Vedantic mythology, who had neither feet nor hands. With a host of these demons Partholan fought for the lordship of Ireland, and drove them out to the northern seas, whence they occasionally harried the country under its later rulers.