During my research phase for information, I've relied heavily on the writings of Michael O'Cleary, a Franciscan monk, who, with three other scholars, compiled what has collectively become known as the "Annals of The Four Masters." They were written in the Franciscan Friary in Donegal town between 1632 AD and 1636 AD. These annals are a compilation of the ancient writings that were saved from destruction and tell the story of Ireland from the end of the last ice age, up to the mid 1600s. I have also accessed Geoffrey Keating's invaluable writings in the "Book of Invasions." I gathered more fascinating and invaluable facts from both the "Annals of Ulster" and the "Annals of Clonmacnoise."
This is not the work of an academic, rather it is the humble attempt by a man who believes that he is deeply connected to and influenced by his ancestors.
Excerpt from the award winning book "Don't Die With Regrets."
According to the writings in many of the ancient Annals, much of the world, including Ireland, was covered with vast ice sheets until approximately 11,000 years ago. As the ice slowly retreated it carved the island into the shape that it is today. Once the weight and pressure of the ice was no longer a factor the earth sprang back and major volcanic activity took place. When these eruptions finally ceased the earth cooled, water rose to the surface and became the lakes and rivers that today we all know and love.
The first humans arrived in Ireland around 9000 years ago. They are believed to have crossed land bridges that still existed at that time. One connected southeastern Ireland and southwestern Britain. The other connected County Antrim in northeastern Ireland with the west coast of Scotland. The land bridges later disappeared as the sea level rose. Across these land bridges came various hunter gatherers whose numbers were so small that they made little impact and soon died out from disease and starvation. Several species of wild animals migrated around this time also. The most notable of these animals was the giant elk. The elk was almost big as an elephant and a perfect specimen can be seen in the National Museum in Dublin.
Recently, fossil remains of extremely large bears have been found in caves in Ireland that suggest by means of DNA sampling, that they are the forebears of our modern Polar bear. There is archaeological evidence that County Antrim was the favored area of habitation at this time. This northern part of Ireland was the only source of flint, which the stone-age people utilized as tools, arrow heads and spear points. These hunter gatherers lived mostly along the coasts, ate fish and fowl and rarely ventured inland. Ireland was covered in dense oak and ash forests at this time. As the sea level rose, the larger animals became trapped and soon became extinct. This period became known as the Mesolithic stone-age.
The first individually named humans to make an impact in Ireland were Cessair, a daughter of the biblical Noahs' son Bith and his wife Birren, who were denied a place on the Ark. They literally missed the boat! Cessair, together with three men and fifty women, set sail on their own. After seven years they arrived in Bantry, County Cork sometime before the great flood. Cessair is said to be buried at the summit of Knockmaa, near Tuam, County Galway. Their numbers were also too small to completely inhabit the land.
Next to arrive were the Fomorians. They were reportedly seafarers, possibly pirates. It is written that they originally came from Northern Africa and are described as having dark hair and skin. By all accounts they were a warlike and troublesome people. Two brothers ruled their followers with iron fists.
A group led by Partholon, a son of Sera the King of Greece, came next. This is the first mention of royalty in Irish history. This group was the first to arrive after the time of the great flood. It was during this time Newgrange passage tomb was built along with many other stone mounds, cairns and passage graves. The Book of Invasions gives us a little more information stating that Partholon and one thousand followers came to Ireland via Greece, Sicily and Anatolia arriving roughly about 300 years after the great flood. At the time of their arrival there were three lakes, nine rivers and one large plain. Their numbers grew to approximately four thousand but were eventually to become victims of a plague. It is believed that Parthalon fought the Fomorians in the first battle on Irish soil. Parthalon cleared four more plains and seven more lakes formed.
When the Nemedians arrived Ireland had been largely uninhabited for thirty years following the deaths of Portholon's last followers. Some small pockets of Fomorians still survived but they were defeated by Nemed in three epic battles. The surviving Fomorians were driven back and moved out onto Tory Island off the west coast. Nemed arrived in Ireland having left the Caspian Sea area, with a fleet of forty four ships. After they had travelled for a year and a half, they arrived in Ireland with only one ship. He founded two Royal Forts and cleared twelve large plains. He and three thousand of his people later died from the effects of a plague. Nemed was buried on the hill of Ard Nemid on Great Island in Cork Harbor.
The Fir Bolg make their appearance in Ireland. It is believed that they originated in Greece, where they captured the ships belonging to their masters and put to sea. They eventually reached Gaul, Britain and Belgium. It is thought that they were conquered by the Gaels and made serfs by them. They wore the garb of subjects, namely, breeches. Loosely translated Fir Bolg means breeches wearers. Anyone not considered serfs wore tunics and cloaks. The Fir Bolg were ejected from Ireland at one point, but returned some time later from Scotland, with a leader called Aengus. This episode is loosely referred to as a Pictish invasion. They were given the Aran Islands on which they settled. There are remnants of a fortress on Inishmore related to Aengus and the Fir Bolg. With the Fir Bolg came the first quasi Celtic influence.
Tuatha De Dannan
Now our history becomes more interesting. The Tuatha De Danann arrive. The name translates to peoples of the Goddess Danu. They were the descendants of Nemed. They brought with them the art of the supernatural and among their possessions it is said they brought four magical treasures: the Dagda's cauldron, the spear of Lugh, the stone of Fal, the Sword of light of Nuada. Epic battles were fought against the remnants of the Fir Bolg and the remaining Fomorians. They were led by their King Nuada and they fought the Fir Bolg in two great battles and defeated them. Many of the myths and legends that we are all familiar with, started to take root at this time. Lugh, the Tuatha champion was then crowned king.
Next, came the Milesians led by Ith who was the son of a Scythian father named Goidel Glas and who, it is said, was present at the fall of the Tower of Babel, and whose mother Scota, was a Pharoah's daughter. She was rumored to be a daughter of Rameses the Great, who sired over one hundred offspring. They left Egypt around the time of the exodus of Moses and eventually settled in the Iberian Peninsula (Galicia and Northern Portugal). Legend has it that Ith first saw Ireland from the top of Hercules tower in Galicia. (He must have had excellent eyesight). Epic battles were fought between the Milesians and the Tuatha De Dannan. Eventually, a deal was struck whereby the land was divided, with the clever Milesians getting the above ground and the Tuatha the underground. It is from this time we start to hear the stories about the little people and the fairies.
The practice of farming had spread from the Middle East through eastern and southern Europe and reached the British Isles around 6000 years ago. It arrived in Ireland with the settlers who came next, 5500 years ago. These Neolithic people brought goats, sheep and cattle. They also brought wheat and barley. One very important discovery was Porcellanite. It is a stone harder and more durable than flint, which the Mesolithic people had used. With axes made from this harder stone the upland forests were able to be cleared effectively. Thus, in the Neolithic stone-age, basic farming began in Ireland. The discovery of metal was a major turning point in human history. This new technology arrived in Ireland 4000 years ago. It is believed that settlers from France (Gaels?) brought it with them and slowly the existing inhabitants learned how to mix copper and tin. These two cultures merged and gave birth to the Irish Bronze age.
Celts began arriving in Ireland around 2500 years ago. It was during this period that my ancestors, the O'Brannains arrived. One of the major advantages the Celts possessed was their discovery of Iron. They came in such large numbers that within a few hundred years of their arrival, they either obliterated or assimilated the existing cultures.
It is thought that as the Romans moved slowly westward, the Celts moved ahead of the legions and some of these tribes ended up in Ireland. They could not retreat further. Hibernia, as Ireland became known as, was their last bastion. With these Celts came a tribe called the Romanies. They it is said had the gift of second sight. A priestly sect known as Druids also migrated with the main body of Celts and would eventually have a huge impact on the direction that Irish culture took from this time. Ireland and the area of Scotland north of Hadrian’s Wall were never conquered by the Romans. They did, however, set up trading posts in Ireland but not until approximately 100 AD. It appears that the Romans influenced the language of at least one Celtic clan in Munster as they spoke Latin. The ancient Ogham was the first written script in Ireland and was based on the Latin alphabet. It resembled a runic style of writing, but distinctly Celtic.
After the fall of the Roman Empire the greater part of Europe descended into utter chaos and this period became known as the dark ages. Anarchy ruled, all learning waned and book burning was common. Ireland however, being an insular island, ignored all of this and continued to flourish academically and intellectually. Scholar monks, fluent in Latin, Greek and Hebrew with their foresight and unremitting dedication, kept scholarship alive. Ireland in the 5th century was the center of scholastic learning. The term Land of Saints and Scholars describes this perfectly, for that's what Ireland was then and still is today.
Christianity, it is widely believed, had already taken a tentative foothold in Ireland before Patrick arrived. Ciaran (the elder) had preached it in the late 4th century AD and was the first bishop of Ossory. In 430 AD Pope Celestine had sent a Bishop named Palladius to Ireland. His mission was to minister to any that were already Christianized by that time. Paganism was practiced by all of the Celtic tribes and ministered by a priest-like sect called Druids. It was the main belief system at that time. These were the holy men of the Celtic peoples and, indeed, commanded great respect among them but were seen as the stumbling block to the new religion.
Patrick, a newly appointed Bishop, on his return to Ireland in 432 AD, recognized this and knew that he would have to convert the Druids first. He felt that this would be the best way to reach the masses. That was the genius of Patrick. He favored assimilation rather than coercion. It is reported that several attempts were made on his life. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in 387 AD. His father Calpornius, was a deacon, his grandfather Potitus, a priest. In 403 AD, as a young Roman boy of sixteen, he was taken captive by Celtic raiders from his home on the West coast of Britain and brought to County Antrim, where he became a shepherd for the local Chieftain. By his own account, for six years he lived a lonely life on the slopes of the extinct, volcanic, Slemish Mountain. Patrick wrote about his experiences later, in two letters that have survived. Raiding was a regular occurrence and, during these raids, livestock and slaves would be taken. In his sixth year of captivity he writes, "I heard a voice that told me a ship was waiting to bring me home." He left his master and journeyed many miles to a port where a ship awaited, and sometime later he reached his home and family.
Ask most people who they believe were the first group of foreigners to launch highly organized, violent raids in Ireland, and they will usually say it was the Vikings, who raided Lambay Island in 795 AD. What many people are not aware of is that a century before the Viking emergence an equally violent group, not from the Fjords of Norway, but from a place much closer to home, beat them to it. (JAB)
On a cold, wet morning in the year 686 AD, a determined individual set sail from a, jagged, windswept island, nestled on the westernmost edge of the Inner Hebrides. His long, hazardous journey would take him down the rugged west coastline of Scotland and then inland to the kingdom of Northumbria. If he survived the dangerous trek, he planned to enter negotiations with Egfrid the Saxon king and arrange for the release of sixty men, women, and children who had been taken as hostages from Ireland two years earlier.
The man’s name was Adomnan, the abbot of a monastery on the small isle of Iona, founded by the Irish scholar monk Colmcille in 563 AD. Colmcille had been expelled from Ireland as a result of his involvement in the Battle of Cul Dreimhne. He, along with twelve followers went into exile on Iona and built a monastery there. The monastery was hugely successful, and would play a vital part in the religious conversion of the Picts during the late 6th century and of the Anglo-Saxons in 635 AD. Iona went on to take its place as one of the most important monastic centers in Europe.
In the 7th century the islands of Ireland and Britain were made up of a series of conflicting dynasties and warring kingdoms. It was not uncommon for a king, who felt that he was all powerful, to invade his neighbors and demand fealty. In Ireland the O’Neill clan were the dominant rulers while in Anglo-Saxon England the most powerful kingdom was Northumbria, ruled by the ruthless king Egfrid. The Kingdom of Northumbria was a medieval kingdom in what is now northern England and south-east Scotland and was reportedly founded by a Saxon leader named Ethelfrith. Ethelfrith, it is believed, defeated the armies of the Britons in approximately 600 AD at the Battle of Catraeth (Catterick.) The Britons gave him the name Flesaur, which translates to "the twister."
The Saxons were a Germanic tribe that lived close to the North Sea coast of what is now Germany. They amalgamated with another, equally ruthless tribe known as the Angles and immediately started to raid their neighbors. As raiders and vicious plunderers, they were perfectly positioned to send large raiding parties to ravage the British Isles. Significant numbers of them settled in large areas of Great Britain in the early Middle Ages and formed part of a large group known as the Anglo-Saxons. Eventually, they became the dominant force and formed what we know today as the United Kingdom.
In the Leap year of 684 AD, a large disciplined and well-armed military force, commanded by king Egfrids’ top Ealdorman Berht, sailed out from their settlements on the western edge of Northumbria and made way for their staging post on the Isle of Man. Like their counterparts the Vikings, who would follow their lead a century later, the Anglo-Saxons had death, plunder and pillage on their collective mind. The target on this night was the royal Irish kingdom of Brega at Mide (Meath,) the seat of Irish power. Their oft used methods were highly successful and had always worked perfectly in the past. It would be no different this time either. Move fast, use the night shroud of darkness to surprise, unearthly noise to scare and bewilder, and the sword and axe to subdue. Spare no-one, save the hostages, as they could be used as barter later on.
The name Brega translates as the “fair plain” a reference to the large, wide, fertile expanse of land that today straddles the modern counties of Louth, Meath and Dublin. To the east of Brega lay the Irish Sea and to the south, the River Liffey. The kingdom ran all the way north across the Bru na Boinne (Boyne Valley} and the river Boyne, and stretched as far as the mountains in Louth. The king of Brega at that time was Fínsnechta Fledach mac Dunchada. The term fledach was added to his name as a tribute to the personality of the new king and means “the bountiful.”
He had been crowned as the king of Brega and also as the Ard Ri (high king) on the nearby Hill of Tara. Two important supporters of his were the king of Fir Rois and the abbot Adomnan. He belonged to a branch of the southern O’Neill clan, an important dynasty whose descendants ruled Ireland until their defeat in the nine-years’ war of 1603. By the time of the Flight of the Earls in 1607 and later, the Cromwellian invasion in 1649, sadly all traces of the O’Neill’s as rulers, vanished.
When they were sated, the invaders retreated; in their wake, a bare, devastated wasteland from horizon to horizon. Smoke from still smoldering fires in the fields and storehouses hung heavy on the air, choking and stinging the eyes of the few remaining survivors, creating permanent night. Butchered corpses of both human and animal lay strewn in grotesque indifference where they fell. The churches, which once sang the praises of both king and creator, now reduced to piles of scorched, scattered stones, forlorn. The houses, usually filled with love, laughter and joyous celebration, now razed with violent hatred, a pitiful sight. Everything of value, including surviving livestock, religious artifacts and hostages were taken to the Saxon ships for transport to Northumbria.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for that year stated that ‘churches were attacked and burned,’ and names the Saxon commander in the field as the Ealdorman Berht.
The Venerable Bede, a scholar monk and author, from the kingdom of Northumbria, called the attack ‘an unwarranted attack on innocent, Christian people,’ and criticizes Egfrid, king of Northumbria, who planned and authorized the raid. Bede goes on to tell how clerics, including the Saxon bishop Egbert, repeatedly warned against such actions and that God would punish the Saxon king for such a terrible act.
Abbot Adomnan ‘s trek was ultimately a success, and he returned the hostages safely back to their families.
In 688 AD Fínsnechta abdicated his throne to become a monk, but left the clerical life and resumed the kingship in 689 AD.
Toward the end of the 8th century AD, Ireland was almost completely Gaelic and Christian. It was a rural society with no towns or cities and the only large settlements were hamlets that grew up around Monasteries. The Monastery was firstly, the seat of learning but was also involved in the cultural, economic and political affairs of its province. The O'Neills’ were the ruling dynasty, divided into two separate clans, the Northern and Southern O'Neil, each controlling half of the country.
On a crisp, calm morning in 795 AD, a flotilla of Longships slipped their moorings at a staging post, hidden deep within a cragged fjord in Norway. On board, were companies of well-armed, disciplined marauders, intent on conquering and plundering new lands. Many of those sailing that day were the younger sons of nobles and warriors who, because of a rapid rise in population and subsequent shortage of land; compounded by their low ranking within their families, the raiders were forced to seek elsewhere.
Expert boat builders, they constructed the Longship with precise attention to detail, speed being the main determining factor. Ideally suited for open sea voyages, it was lightweight, lay low in the water, had a wide beam, and was fast and stable. Fitted with oars as long as the boat itself and with cloth sails, woven from sheep’s wool, all ensured that they could increase speed when needed, and supplement the rower’s efforts. The shallow draft allowed navigation in shallow waters, making it ideal for river navigation, and allowed for rapid beaching. With both bow and stern built identically, they could reverse direction without having to turn. Expertly trained navigators were among the crews of the Longships and used the sun, moon and stars as guides. The sun stone, shadow board and an early form of compass, made certain that they reached their chosen destinations.
Sailing out from the fjord they tacked south west, skirted the Shetlands, and sailed south to Orkney. After a short respite there, they continued down the Atlantic Ocean, hugging the west coast of Scotland, bypassed the isle of man and directed the convoy toward the land that lay furthest from the known civilization. Their target on this day was a small monastic settlement on Lambay island, which lay two miles off shore, close to Dubh Linn, the marshy area at the mouth of the River Liffey, Ireland.
The settlement, built in 530 AD, by an Irish scholar monk named Colmcille, was home to a handful of monks and scribes. A church, monastery and several small, corbelled stone huts and simple shelters were built close to the site of the ancient stone-axe quarry. Rocks from the quarry were hewn by the monks, dressed by hand and utilized as the building material for the dwellings. Living a spartan existence, the monks possessed little and the only items of value were the books, religious artifacts and holy relics that adorned the church and monastery walls.
The Vikings had their own religion and worshiped a pantheon of Norse gods, gods that promoted violence as a means to an end. They detested Christianity and saw it as a direct threat to their way of life and everything they held dear. That is one reason why they targeted monasteries and churches with such frequency, although they did also raid the houses of noblemen and isolated farms. Another attraction, and perhaps the deciding factor, was that the monasteries contained many gold and silver ornaments of worship.
They also knew that the inhabitants of those settlements were god fearing and peace loving individuals, unarmed and less likely to struggle. After looting the artifacts and relics, the settlement was destroyed in an unbridled orgy of destruction. The buildings were reduced to piles of smoldering rubble. The naked bodies of monks lay butchered, grotesquely strewn on the ground where they fell. Those not slaughtered were rounded up, shackled in readiness for transport back to the fjords, and their new lives as slaves.
That first raid was the beginning of two hundred years of intermittent warfare, and pillage with monasteries the favored targets, but these raiders spared no-one. The Vikings were expelled from Dublin in 902 AD but remained active in the Irish sea. They continued to raid the Pictish kingdom in Scotland, the Saxon kingdom in Northumbria and frequently ravaged Manx, they returned to Ireland in 914 landing a large fleet of Longships in Waterford.
The Vikings were eventually defeated by King Brian Boru at the battle of Clontarf in 1014.
The dispossession of Diarmait Mac Murchada, the High king of Leinster, from his lands by the High king of Munster, Ruari O'Connor, eventually led to the ouster of the O'Brannains from their lands and the start of serious hardship and wars that continue to the present day. To recover his kingdom, Mac Murchada enlisted the aid of Henry II of England. That, as the fella says, is when the nightmare began.
Mac Murchada left Ireland in 1166 and travelled via Bristol, England to Aquitaine, France, where he met with Henry II. Henry could not help him at that time but gave him an open letter of introduction. He was eventually and some would say fatefully, granted a meeting with Richard de Clare, one of Henry’s top aides. This noble character was the son of Gilbert de Clare, the first Earl of Pembroke. Richard, affectionately known as Strongbow, was out of favor with Henry II at that time for taking King Stephen's side in a battle against Henry's mother, the Empress Matilda.Because of his treachery,
Richard couldn't inherit his father's title, but nevertheless endowed himself with the name Strongbow.
Richard de Clare and Diarmait Mac Murchada met in 1168. A deal was struck between these two upright citizens whereby for De Clare's assistance with an army, he would be given the lily white hand (and presumably a whole lot more) of Aoife, Mac Murchada's blushing, eldest daughter. More importantly, Richard would be in line for the Kingship of Leinster through marriage.
An army was assembled which included companies of Welsh and Flemish archers. This invasion army was led by Raymond Fitzgerald and in quick succession it overwhelmed the Viking established towns of Wexford, Waterford and Dublin in 1169-1170. Strongbow did not take part in these battles and only arrived in Ireland when the dust had settled, in late 1170.
In 1171, Mac Murchada died and his son Donal claimed the Kingship under the ancient Brehon Laws. Strongbow was having none of that and as he had already ravished the fair Aoife, (they didn't call him Strongbow for nothing), he claimed the Kingship as his right by marriage. Soon after, Ruari O'Connor led an army against Strongbow but was driven back. O’Connor and the remains of his army retreated to Galway.
Meanwhile, Henry, back in England began to get worried about the success Strongbow was having and decided to invade Ireland himself. This he did in 1172 and claimed the title, Lord of Ireland. Richard was stripped of his title at that time. Henry II signed the Treaty of Windsor in 1175 and under the terms, Ruari O'Connor was granted the Kingdom of Ireland, minus Leinster, Meath, Dublin and Waterford. Ignoring the terms of the treaty, Strongbow invaded Connaught in 1177, but was severely defeated by O'Connor in an epic battle.
From: Don’t Die with Regrets: Ireland and the Lessons my Father Taught Me.
Also for Sale:
The Journey: A Nomad Reflects.