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Leabhar Gabhala Eireann – The Book of Invasions of Ireland

Leabhar Gabhala Eireann – The Book of Invasions of Ireland

The Book of Invasions or Leabhar Gabhala as it is known in the Irish Language is the book by medieval scholar monks which describes all the Legendary Invasions of Ireland throughout the ages. The timeline of this fascinating book covers a period from the time of Noah and the Flood to the arrival of the Celts. According to the narrative, the book of Invasions describes the arrival of the first settlers to Ireland as Cessair, a daughter of Noah, who is said to have arrived on the Island of Ireland forty days after the Great Flood. From that time forward the book describes five subsequent invasions of Ireland by Parthalon, Nemed, the Fir Bolg, the Tuatha Dé Danann and finally the Milesians.

The story of the Invasions of Ireland as compiled in Leabhar Gabhála has formed a standard element of the History of Ireland since the middle ages. The version we know today as Leabhar Gabhála was compiled for Brian Ruadh Meguidir (Maguire) the Baron of Inniskillen. It was written in the Irish Language in 1631, at the Franciscan convent of Lisgoole, Lough Erne, in County Fermanagh.

The book of Invasions Itself was compiled from a much earlier work compiled by scholar Monks, known as Leabhar na hUidhre or Book of the Dun Cow, in English. The book was compiled by the same scholars who produced the Annals of the Four Masters. Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maoil Chonaire, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Cú Choigcríche Ó Duibhgeannáin.

It is very possible that this book was taken to Louvain in Belgium by Mícheál Ó Cléirigh in whose hand it was written about the year 1667, were it remained until the 1980s. It was found in the possession of Barbara Meyer who was the grand-niece of the well-known German scholar Kuno Meyer (1858 – 1919) distinguished in the field of Celtic philology (the study of language in written historical sources) and literature. This fascinating manuscript was purchased for the some of just £700 back in 1987.

Although this fragile manuscript is stained, fragmented and incomplete it is a wonderful addition to the historical collection of Ireland. It was restored between 1988 and 1993 by Matthew Hatton of the Conservation Laboratory in Trinity College Dublin. The manuscript is now bound in a limp vellum Irish calf binding, sewn with Irish linen line yarn and housed in a phased box.

According to Leabhar Gabhála Èireann, “The Book of the Invasions of Ireland”, there were a total of 5 Peoples who settled in Ireland before the coming of the Gaels: These were the Cessair, the Partholónians, the Nemedians, the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha dé Danann.

The Milesians were the final invaders and they are considered to be the first Gaelic people to inhabit Ireland. Although only the Milesians were considered to be the true Gaels, all of the other invading peoples except for the Cessair were related to the Milesians. According to the Book of Invasions, all these peoples were descendants of Magog, the son of Japheth, the son of Noah.

The Ceasair

According to the book of Invasions, Ireland was first inhabited by a woman named Ceasair. It is said that she and her people escaped to the Island of Ireland in three ships just after the Global Deluge in Noah’s day.

Two of the ships became shipwrecked and only one survived containing just three men and fifty women along with some sheep. Being the daughter of one of the men Bith; Ceasair was one of the leading women who landed on the West Coast of Kerry.

From Kerry, these intrepid voyagers travelled overland to where there was a meeting of three rivers, the Suir, the Nore and the Barrow. From here, these first settlers of Ireland spread all around the island. Soon after arriving in Ireland, Ceasair experienced the death of her father and the pilot of the boat, Ladru.

One man remained and his name was Fionntan. Feeling inadequate because he was the only man, Fionntan fled away. After this Ceasair, it is said, died from a broken heart on account of his absence. She was buried at the place called Cúil Ceasra or as otherwise known, Coolcasragh in County Galway.

The rest of the women did not survive very much longer and Fionntan remained alone for the rest of his life. It is said that Fionntan lived on for many generations in the mound of Tounthinna, which overlooks the mighty Shannon near Portroe in County Tipperary.

The Partholonians

After these many years another group of people arrived in Ireland. They were led by Parthalán who was the son of the King of Greece. Partholon was an evil man who had fought against his own father and all of his family.

He was destined to be a wanderer and a vagrant because of his wicked crimes, bad fortune was said to follow him wherever he went. After seven years of wandering land and sea he reached the shores of Ireland with his wife and three sons and their wives.

Along with his immediate family, he also had along with him some skilled servants such as Beoil who established the first guest-house in Ireland, Bréa who instituted cooking and duelling, and Malailiach who became Ireland’s first brewer. With these servants and their four oxen they settled on the river Erne but then shortly afterwards settled in what they called, ‘the old plain of the bird flock’ where the city of Dublin now stands.

Partholon did not have a good life as his wife Dealgnat proved to be unfaithful to him when she seduced his servant Topa while her husband was away hunting. On his return it became evident that Topa and his wife were having an affair and so he killed Topa in a great rage. It is said that this was the first adultery and jealousy ever to be recorded in Ireland.

The Partholonians were under constant threat by the arrival of a pirate raiding people called the Formorians (Fomhóire) but Parthalon and his small band defeated these in a great battle on the plain of south Donegal. Partholon lived on for 30 more years, where he died upon the plain of the bird flock but his descendants lived on for many more generations.

The Nemedians

Nemed (Neimheadh) was a warrior leader who set out for Ireland from Scythia in a large fleet of ships, along with four married couples and 20 other Nemedians. By the time he got to Ireland he was a man defeated.

He was the head of an ancient Navy of 32 ships and nine hundred and fifty-one people. As they sailed through the ocean they were seduced by a Siren’s song, in which they were compelled to come upon a tower of gold way out at sea.

Nemed and the rest of his men could not resist this siren’s call as they were greedy for gold. In their vain pursuit for the golden tower, a great sea rose up and enveloped the fleet of 32 ships. Only one ship survived and nine hundred and fifty-one of his people perished at sea.

Nemed was a man quite different from that of Partholon, in that he felt deep regret and sorrow at the demise of his people. He realised that his pursuit of riches had cost the lives of his people and any future which might have had in a new land. He had made a wrong choice and he was ashamed.

On reaching Ireland he was determined to make amends and help his people to prosper. On his arrival to Ireland he was harassed by a sea-faring people called the Formorians (Fomhóire). They defeated these Formorian sea pirates three times in battle. In time, his people prospered and multiplied in all the land gaining an abundance of riches. They eventually experienced as he said, “Happy Days.”

Now Nemed was married to Macha, a red-haired goddess of war and the land and she was a match for any man. She was like a contradiction in terms. On one side she was a fiery war-goddess and on the other she was warm and gentle just like the land of Ireland.

It is said that Macha was a visionary and she could foresee great events on the plains that her husband had cultivated. It was on one of these plains that the great court of Emhain Macha was built in her honour for her burial. The place of Emhain Macha became the great meeting place of the Irish people; a place of joy, feasting, music and song. Macha was a woman who would not tolerate inequality for a woman in her society but in this regard she had the support of Nemed and they lived happily for much of the time.

Nemed, like Partholon before him was a mighty warrior and a hero to his people. He cleared the forests, tamed the wild and cultivated the land. Not only that but he also fought the savage Formorians, beating them in many battles. Nemed, like Partholon before him, died of plague at the place called Ard Neimhidh (the Great Island in Cork harbour). Nemed was one of the first men of Ireland, proud, bold and powerful but he was overtaken by an invisible disease of the body.

After his death his people continued to fight the Formorian sea pirates who had established a base of operations on Tory Island, off the Donegal coast. Twice more they fought the Formorians and each time they were defeated as the fighting was ferocious. The Nemedians could not sustain these defeats. Only one ship survived with 30 Nemedian warriors. These last surviving warriors decided to flee from the land. They were eventually scattered to the four winds; some going to the Cold North, some going East, as far as Greece and still others travelling across the sea to Britain.

One of these fleeing warriors was the grandson of Nemed and his name was Simeon. He eventually fled to Greece where his descendants became builders in clay using large bags to carry their material. They became known as the Fir Bolg.

Another grandson of Nemed also had descendants. His name was Beothach and like his grandfather before him, he died of plague in Ireland. Hi children though went to live in the northern parts of the world. They multiplied, and became known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. In time, the mysterious descendants of Beothach would return to Ireland and challenge the Fir Bolg.

The Fir Bolg

The Fir Bolg increased in number in the land of Greece for many generations but eventually they became an oppressed people by the King of Greece. They decided to leave the land of their birth and return to the land of their ancestors, Simeon and Nemed.

The Fir Bolg were led to Ireland by five sons of Deala and when they landed in Ireland, these five brothers went to the vantage point of Uisneach in County West Meath. It was from this place that they decided that this was the exact centre of Ireland and so they went about dividing the land into five parts. The Fir Bolg ruled for thirty-seven years in Ireland and during that time, they and the land prospered.

It is said that it was the Fir Bolg who established Kingship in Ireland and one of these Kings had a strange dream. The King’s name was Eochaidh Mac Eirc. In his dream he saw a great flock of birds flying in from the ocean. His poet explained to him the meaning of the dream. The flock of birds meant a great fleet of ships carrying a thousand magical heroes.

What was to become of this dream? Not long after this, a great fleet of ships did arrive. When they landed on the shores of Ireland, they proceeded to burn their ships. They were meaning to stay for good. These mysterious invaders set up an encampment on a mountain in Connacht.

On hearing this fearful news, the Fir Bolg sent out their greatest warrior named Sreang, to parley with these invaders. The strange people said that they were distant relatives and kinsfolk of the Fir Bolg. They had come from the Northern World with their King, Nuada and they were the Tuatha Dé Danann.

The Tuatha Dé Danann proposed that Ireland be divided between the two peoples but a great assembly of the Fir Bolg at Tara refused this proposal. As a result a great battle was fought at Maigh Tuireadh (‘the plain of the pillars’), near Cong in County Mayo.

It was at this battle that Eochaidh; the King of the Fir Bolg was slain. Sreang, the great warrior of the Fir Bolg people severed off the right arm of Nuada (Nuadhu) the King of the Dé Danann with one sword stroke but the Fir Bolg were to be vanquished. Nuada drew up a treaty with Sreang which allowed for the Fir Bolg to keep the West of Ireland while the Tuatha Dé Danann kept the rest.

The Tuatha Dé Danann

The Tuatha Dé Danann were a powerful and skilled people with many tradesmen, artists and wise men. It was not long after their arrival, that they too were harassed by the Formorian Pirates (the Fomhóire). Since Nuada, the King of the Dé Danann was now blemished because losing his arm in battle, he was considered unfit to rule as King. It was a custom of these people not to appoint a King blemished or missing a limb.

As a result of this, they appointed the warrior, Breas, as their ruler who was the son of a Formorian father and a Dé Danann mother. After seven years as King, Breas proved also to be unfit as he was selfish and haughty and his people disliked him. Along with this, the Formorians were imposing heavy taxes upon the people and oppressing them to a great extent.

The Tuatha Dé Danann rose up against Breas and deposed him of his Kingship. On hearing this, the Formorians sent again a huge fleet of ships to attack Ireland, led by their fiercest warrior chief called Balar who had an evil in the middle of his forehead. It was said that this eye destroyed all on which it looked.

In preparation for battle, a great Dé Danann physician called Dian Céacht replaced Nuada’s severed arm with a prosthetic arm of pure silver, at which time he regained his Kingship. After this a banquet was held at the great assembly hall at Tara.

During the great feast, a handsome stranger demanded entry to the great hall. This was Lugh the son of Cian, of the Tuatha Dé Danann and whose mother was Eithne a daughter of Balar of the evil eye. Lugh was admitted to the feast because he was a master of all the arts and he was an impressive and skilful warrior. For all these skills, Nuada made him commander of all his men for thirteen days in which he was to prepare the people for battle.

This battle was held in a place called Maigh Tuireadh, east of Lough Arrow in County Leitrim. The fighting was ferocious and the slaughter on that day was great. The bodies piled higher and the warriors fought through a torrent of blood. Moving ahead through the battle lines with heroic courage, Lugh began to dance in a circle on one leg. He was caught in the sights of the evil eye of Balar and just while he was about to be destroyed by Balar’s evil glance, Lugh immediately launched a stone from his sling, driving Balar’s eye to the back of his head. The evil eye was now trained upon the battle lines of the Formorians. On seeing this, the Formorians were weakened and they began to flee the battle field heading towards the sea.

This was a great victory for the Tuatha Dé Danann; the day they routed the Formorian hordes. After that, the Dé Danann continued to be rulers in all the land of Ireland for many generations until the next invasion. Although the Tuatha Dé Danann were a powerful and ‘superhuman’ race, their time had come to make way for the sons of Míl, the Milesians, or better known to history as the Gaels. The Gaels were here and they were here to stay.

The Milesians

After the time of the Dé Danann, came the arrival of the Milesian Gaels or the sons of Míl. This people it is said were descended from the Biblical Noah, the father of all races. According to the Book of Invasions, Magog the son of Japheth, the son of Noah had five sons; Baath, Ibath, Barachan, Emoth, Aithechta. As for Baath, his son was Feinius Farsaid who became the father of the Scythian’s.

Feinius Farsaid was a great and wise leader of his people. He was a master of languages and very powerful. It is said, that he was the grandfather of Gael Glas who would later become an ancestor of the Irish race. As the story goes, when Gael Glas was a child, he was bitten by a serpent but was subsequently cured by Moses, the great leader of the Israelite people. After this Gael Glas became great friends with Moses and he was told by the prophet that in generations to come, his descendants would inhabit a land were no serpents slithered upon the ground.

According to the story, many years passed and the descendants of Gael Glas set out to find this land far away on the edge of the Western world; the land that had no serpents. At sea they became bewildered by singing mermaids and they came ashore in Spain, where they established a new Kingdom.

Many years later, their King Breoghan built a great tower on what is now the coast of Galicia. On a clear winters night, his son Íth, was looking out from the tower Northwards across the sea, when he saw Ireland. Íth set out for this new land to the North West with some of his men and they landed at Aileach (near Derry).

Here he encountered the three kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who ruled the country at that time. There he found the Three Kings discussing how to divide all the treasures of Ireland between them. Íth gave them advice on how this division was too be handled but they became suspicious of him and so they had him killed before he could return to his ship.

The King Breoghan had another son called Bile who was to have a son of his own who called Míl, the progenitor of the Milesian race (Irish Race). When he grew up he became curious about his relatives in the Eastern world and went there for an adventure. He eventually married a woman named Seang, who was the daughter of a Scythian King. When she eventually died he again married another woman named Scota, (from which Scotia, Scots comes) the daughter of Pharaoh of Egypt.

Time eventually passed and he began to remember the prophecy of Moses, that his people would one day rule a land far to the North, Ireland. Bile subsequently went back to live in Spain where he raised his eight children, Donn and Aireach who were his sons from his first marriage and six more sons with Scota; Éibhear, Amhairghin, Ír, Colpa, Éireannan, and Éireamhóin.

Bile himself never made it to Ireland so that destiny was left to his sons to fulfil. As these men approached their new island home, Éireannan fell from the ship’s mast and drowned at sea. His brother Ír sailed on only to break his oar and he also drowned. Finally these sons of Míl landed at Inbhear Scéine which we know today as the bay of Kenmare in County Kerry.

Heading further along the coast they came to Sliabh Mis which is near modern-day Tralee and it is here that they met the first of three Queens of the Dé Danann, Banba. Travelling further they met the second Queen, Fódla at Slieve Felim, on the border of Limerick and Tipperary. By the time they reached Uisneach in Westmeath, they had met all three Queens, the third one being named Éire the Queen who the island of Ireland is named after.

Eventually, when they reached Tara, the seat of the Kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann, they met with the three Kings of Ireland; Mac Coill, Mac Céacht, and Mac Gréine. These Three Kings sought a truce with the Milesian invaders and so they asked that they could hold on to the country for three more days.

Amhairghin, one of the Milesians agreed to this truce and set about sailing out beyond the ‘ninth wave’. This proved to be a trap as the druid priest of the Dé Danann put spells on them by causing a great storm that swept them far out to sea. Another two sons, Donn and Aireach perished and drowned. Amhairghin, it is said spoke a verse which calmed the sea and the headed back around the Island, the landed at the Boyne Estuary where they headed back and defeated the Dé Danann at the battle of Tailtiu, in County Meath.

It was eventually agreed that the Milesians would be the new rulers of Ireland but that the Tuatha Dé Danann would hold on to all the fairy forts and raths of Ireland. It was here that Éireamhóin, a son of Míl became the new King of Ireland and it is from him and his brothers that make up the Irish nation today.