The Myth of Gaelic Ireland by Colin Dykes

Dr Adamson provides a learned, and thoroughly-researched, view through the smokescreen thrown up by those who remain determined to give the Gaels (which meant “Raiders” or “Foreigners” to the native Irish) a fictitious ancient lineage, rather than being simply one of several groups of people who moved to Ireland in the centuries immediately before, and since, the birth of Christ. Movement of tens of thousands of Scottish and English settlers to Ireland during and after the Plantation of Ulster was another, and the most recent, in that series of large-scale waves of immigration. 

The Gaels themselves said that when they arrived in Ireland, the region they landed in was held by people they called the Fir Bolg (in Celtic language). In his book “Early Irish History and Mythology” first published in 1946, respected Irish Linguist and Historian T.F. O’Rahilly made an elaborate linguistic argument that the “Fir Bolg” were synonymous with the people known to Julius Caesar by the Latin name “Belgae”. He identified the historical Irish Iverni (or Erainn) and the Ulaid, tribes, from which the names Erin and Ulster were derived, with the Fir Bolg. Since the Belgae/Fir Bolg had arrived in the British Isles in Roman times, the Gaelic invasion had to be later than that, ruling out any ancient Gaelic lineage in Ireland. 

The “solution” used by Gaelic historians in the centuries after the defeat of the Ulstermen to get around this unpalatable fact was simply to make the Fir Bolg a “mythical people” thus removing that reference point in history, allowing them to concoct a fiction with Tara as the seat of an ancient line of Gaelic “High Kings of all Ireland” (of whom there is no credible historical reference), rather than a seat of the Northern Cruthin Kings of Ulster, for which there is much stronger evidence. To do this they had to dissociate the Irish term Fir Bolg (Fir = Men) from the Belgae and did so by claiming that the term Bolg was derived from the Irish word for belly, bag, or sack. The notion that people would refer to themselves as the Fir (men) of the belly/bag/sack, or even britches, as has been suggested, seems far-fetched compared to referring to themselves as the men of the Belgae/Bolg. Of course this fiction frequently ran into problems, for example with the type of spear called Gae Bolg, or Gae Bulga. To be consistent, this now had to be called a “belly spear”, which is a little odd since it appears to have been a barbed throwing spear, rather than a thrusting spear. The alternate explanation is that this was just a type of spear used by the Fir Bolg, and therefore a Belgic Spear – Gae Bolg. Amongst competing theories, the simplest one, the one that requires fewest assumptions, is usually the right one. 

In any case, the fiction took hold. The Cruthin were given a mythical Gaelic ancestry, the Fir Bolg were ignored, and Ireland became “an ancient Gaelic nation, united under Gaelic Kings based at Tara”. 

This “work-around” might have fooled people in the 8th Century but does not stand close scrutiny in 2013, or at least it should not. However, the lie continues to have traction to this day, and was even incorporated into a recent study of Irish Genetics by Professor Brian Sykes, who, in his book “Saxons, Vikings, and Celts” took it at face value and ignored any contribution to the genetics of Ireland by the Fir Bolg, dismissing them as a “mythical people”. 

The people responsible for this elaborate deceit have done a disservice to all Irish people, by denying the realities of Irish History, including denying the existence of the Fir Bolg, one of the most important peoples to arrive in Ireland. We learn history to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, but if the very history that is taught has been falsified to support a particular point of view, then it is at best worthless, and at worst,  harmful. 

Dr Adamson, and others, including Father Tom O’Connor, in his book “Hand of History – Burden of Pseudo-History” have described eloquently, and in great detail, events in Europe that shaped Ireland in early Christian times. The Ireland they describe is not an ancient Gaelic nation, united under Gaelic Kings based at Tara. The reality is very different and no less interesting. It’s worth a brief re-cap of some of that history to justify my previous comments. 

The Cruthin/Pretani (the same name rendered in different forms of Celtic languages) were the oldest named people in the British Isles. This is beyond doubt, and attested to by so many authentic sources that politically-motivated “revisionists” cannot get around that fact. The Greeks called our islands Pretannikai Nesoi – the British Isles, after the Pretani/Cruthin people who lived there, probably based on the writings of the explorer Pytheas in 325 BC. 

By the time of Julius Caesar, Belgae had taken control of much of Southern Britain, particularly coastal regions; Julius wrote “The interior portion of Britain is inhabited by those of whom they say that it is handed down by tradition that they were born in the island itself: the maritime portion by those who had passed over from the country of the Belgae for the purpose of plunder and making war;”. 

So, in the absence of any information to the contrary, it seems reasonable to assume that the people Julius described as “born in the island itself” in 54BC were the Pretani/Cruthin referred to by Pytheas in 325 BC, and that there had clearly been significant incursions into Britain (and Ireland) by Belgae/Fir Bolg by the time of Julius’s invasion of Britain. 

Many scholars believe that Julius Caesar’s invasion was motivated at least in part by his determination to pursue a particular Belgic tribe the Romans called the Manapii (Fir Managh, or Fir Monagh in Celtic), who had refused to submit to him during his conquest of Gaul, and had fled to Britain instead. The first map of Ireland, drawn up by Ptolemy, shows Manapii in SE Ireland. It also shows the Iverni and Voluntii (believed to be synonymous with the Ulaid), that O’Rahilly identifies with the Fir Bolg. The Manapii/Fir Managh left their mark on the British Isles in the places named after them, including the Isle of Man, counties Fermanagh (Fir Managh) and Monaghan, Dunamanagh (Dun = Fort, of the Managh) and many others. Since the Fir Managh were Belgae, they were Fir Bolg, and places are generally not named after mythical peoples, not even in Ireland. Furthermore, the descendants of the families Mooney, Meaney, Meeny, McWeeney, Monaghan, Monahan, Mannion, Manning, Mongan, Mangan, Minogue, Minnock, Mannix, Manahan, Mongey, Mongavin, McMannion, McMenamin, McMonagle, Marannan and Murnane, all derived from the Fir Managh, (See The Menapia Quest, by Norman Mongan) might be surprised to learn that they are fictitious people too. 

The first map of Ireland was prepared by Claudius Ptolemy, who lived in the second century AD. His map showed two, and only two, “Regia” (Royal Site, or Capital) in Ireland. One is easily (and accurately) identified as Emain Macha, the seat of the Ulster Kings, close to present-day Armagh. The other is listed as Altera Regia (the other Regia) that some have tried to claim is Tara. Detailed mathematical analysis now places the “Other Regia” at Turoe in Galway, Connaught, NOT at Tara. 

There is no evidence of any other Regia, at Tara or otherwise. Furthermore, Tara is in Meath, South of Ulster. Yet ancient literature records that when Ulstermen referred to their enemies they didn’t refer to danger from the “South” i.e. from Tara in Meath, but rather from the Southwest, in the direction of Connaught, and the “Other Regia”. 

There are detailed historical records of the wars between the Ulster and Connaught kingdoms. Ptolemy’s Map is entirely consistent with an Ireland where the Northern Kingdom of Ulster, with its Royal site at Emain Macha, was at war with a Connaught Kingdom based around Turoe. Since no other Regia is listed at Tara, or anywhere else in Ireland, this is absolutely inconsistent with a Gaelic High Kingship of Ireland based at Tara. 

O’Connor believes that  Commius, a Belgic King who had fought the Romans in Gaul  had subsequently fled to become king of Belgic tribes in SE Britain. On hearing of the impending Roman invasion of Britain, Commius fled Southern Britain for Ireland, taking large numbers of his followers with him. Legend has it that sometime after landing in Ireland, his grandson, Dela, landed at today’s Clarinbridge on Galway Bay with 2000 warriors and captured Turoe from the Ulstermen. It seems clear that the Ulster Regia was the older of the two Capitals, but the Turoe Regia was reported to have been by far the larger. Ptolemy described it as “the most illustrious city in all Britannia and the most considerable in size, located in the western part of Ireland”. The invasion into Galway must have been of enormous proportions. 

Additional evidence of the hostilities between the invaders and the Ulstermen is evident from linear earthworks that ran from the Atlantic Ocean across the entire Island to the Irish Sea near Dundalk. The earthworks took advantage of natural obstacles, lakes etc., but many long stretches were man-made, including the “Black Pigs Dyke and “The Dorsey”. It was probably built to defend the North against Cattle-Raids from Connaught. It might be impossible to defend a fortification running the entire width of Ireland, but it would be difficult for cattle-raiders to steal your cattle and get them across across an earthen bank with a wide 20 ft deep ditch on either side. The existence of these earthworks speaks to the state of war between Ulster and Connaught. It also speaks loudly against any notion that Ireland was one Gaelic nation under High Kings at Tara. 

Who exactly the Gaels were, and where they came from, is unclear, but whoever they were, the fact is that wars between them and the Northern Kingdom of Ulster went on for centuries. The Gaels expanded outwards relentlessly, and eventually, sometime in the 6th Century AD succeeded in pushing into the West of Ulster, up into Donegal. The old Regia at Emain Macha was abandoned and the Ulstermen were forced East of the River Bann, into today’s Antrim and Down. 

No one knows what precipitated the fall of the Ulster Kingdom, but it is unlikely to be a coincidence that it happened in the middle of the 6th Century, around the time that civilizations from China, through Europe, Africa, and America were also falling.

There was a global climate catastrophe around 535 AD, recorded by Nan Shi in China: the Avars (Mongolians) were forced to move West by famine and within 20 years had conquered much of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Koguryo kingdom of Korea fell, and the Toetihuacan in Mexico disappeared. British tree-ring records confirm the catastrophy, caused by a volcanic eruption, or possibly an asteroid/comet impact. The Annals of Ulster reports that there was no bread in 536, and other reports speak of a failure of bread from 536-539. Famine may have played a role in weakening the Ulster Kingdom and allowing the invaders to break through. The Ulstermen attempted to reverse the Gaelic invasion in 637 AD, but were decisively beaten at the Battle of Moira, the largest battle ever to place within the shores of Ireland. From that time onwards, the Kingdom of Ulster was confined to the land East of the Bann and the Gaels became the dominant force in Western Ulster from late 7th Century until the Norman invasion in the 12th Century.

Somewhere in all of this there has to be some basis for the myth of Gaelic “High Kings of Tara” ruling “All of Ireland” from “Time Immemorial” – but where is it? Ptolemy’s Map shows no sign of a “regia” at Tara, only the Regia that was the capital of the Kingdom of Ulster, and “The Other Capital” of the invaders.

There is not a shred of evidence of anything other than a centuries-long war between Ulster and the Gaels of Connaught, and the eventual fall of the Ulster Kingdom, possibly precipitated by climate change. 

Coincidentally, the Irish names for Tara and Turoe are the same – Temhair. References in ancient Irish documents to names such as Cnoc Temhro, Feis Temhro and Ri Temhro (the hill, the festival and the King of Temhair respectively, with Temhro being the genitive form of Temhair) could refer to Tara OR Turoe. Perhaps there was an accidental, or intentional, confusion between old stories of Gaelic Kings at Turoe around the time of Julius Caesar, with the actual existence of Gaelic Kings at Tara after the collapse of the Kingdom of Ulster several hundred years later. 

Whatever the reason, there is no evidence of any Gaelic High Kings of Ireland, ruling from Tara in Meath until much later in history, until the 9th Century in fact.

The dark-haired, pale-skinned, blue-eyed, small boned, Cruthin who still make up the vast majority of the Irish population are the “ancient Irish” of legend. Cruthin, Fir Bolg and Gaels have all made significant contributions to Irish history, but genetically Ireland is not “Celtic”. Its gene pool was established during the centuries after the last Ice Age, when the land appears to have been settled primarily by peoples from the Iberian peninsula and, while it is generally accepted that subsequent invasions have had some impact, those effects have been small. According to Professor Stephen Oppenheimer, “Celtic languages and the people who brought them probably first arrived during the Neolithic period. Yet the regions we now regard as Celtic heartlands (Ireland, Scotland, Wales) actually had less immigration from the continent (based on genetic analysis) during this time than England. Ireland, being to the west, has changed least since the hunter-gatherer period and received fewer subsequent migrants (about 12 per cent of the population) than anywhere else”. 

Genetically Ireland is not Celtic, let alone Gaelic, there was no ancient line of Gaelic Kings in pre-Christian Ireland, and there is no evidence of Tara being the seat of “High Kings of Ireland”. Apart from that, it’s a great story. The settlement histories of the countries of the British Isles were very similar, and no subsequent invasions have been large enough to substantially change that, although, for example, the higher incidence of red hair in Scots compared to the Irish may provide a signature of higher levels of penetration into Scotland by the red-haired Belgae relative to that in Ireland. We are ALL British, geographically, if not politically, in the sense of being derived primarily from the gene stock of the initial Pretani/Cruthin settlers of the British Isles. It would be better for all concerned if that were more widely recognized.

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