Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The History of Ireland (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 3


We shall set down here a few of the lies of the new foreigners who have written concerning Ireland, following Cambrensis; and shall make a beginning by refuting Cambrensis himself where he says that Ireland owed tribute to King Arthur, and that the time when he imposed the tax on them at Caerleon was, when the year of the Lord was five hundred and nineteen, as Campion sets forth in his chronicle in the second chapter of the second book, where he says that Gillamar was then king of Ireland. Howbeit, notwithstanding that (the author of) Polychronicon, and (Geoffrey of) Monmouth, and others of the new foreigners assert this Gillamar to have been king of Ireland, I defy any of their followers (to show) that there is a lay or a letter from the ancient record of Ireland in which there is mention or account of Gillamar having ever been king of Ireland: unless it be to Muircheartach the Great, son of Earc, they call it, who was king of Ireland, and was a contemporary of King Arthur; and Muircheartach could not have been tributary to King Arthur, because, that he himself was mighty in Ireland and in Scotland, and that it was he who sent his six brothers into Scotland, and that it was one of them became the first king


of the Scotic race in Scotland, namely, Feargus the Great, son of Earc; and moreover, that it was by the Scots and the Picts King Arthur himself was slain. This Feargus, whom I have mentioned, was the first king of Scotland of the Scotic race: for, notwithstanding that Hector Boetius, in his history of Scotland, enumerates thirty-nine kings tohave ruled over Scotland before this Feargus, yet, according to the ancient record, there was not any king of the Scotic race in Scotland before him: and it is not true for him where he says that it is Feargus, son of Fearchar, king of Ireland, who was the first king of Scotland of the Scotic race, for there never was a king of Ireland named Fearchar, and so Feargus, son of Fearchar, was not king of Scotland, as Hector Boetius says: and, granted that Muircheartach the Great wished his brother Feargus (son of Earc) to become king of Scotland, yet, withal, the title which is given to Muircheartach himself in the annals of Ireland, is 'King of Scots', to signify that he had supremacy over the Scots, both in Ireland and in Scotland; and it is not conceivable that he, who was in so much power, should have been tributary to King Arthur. And, moreover, Speed says in his chronicle, that it was not tribute King Arthur had from the king of Ireland, but an alliance of friendship in war, so that whichever of them should be attacked by enemies, it was obligatory on the other party to send an auxiliary force to him who should be attacked: and the name Speed calls this co-operation is mutual obligation of war, {Jus belli socialis}’’

such as exists between the king of Spain and the Emperor; for each of these sends aid in time of need to the other, and it is not to be understood from this that the Emperor is tributary to the king of Spain, or the king of Spain to the Emperor. In like manner, if there existed a close alliance of


war between King Arthur and Muircheartach, son of Earc, king of Ireland, so that they were accustomed to aid each other whenever an attack was made on either of them, it must not be thence inferred that either was tributary to the other. The truth of this matter is still more to be understood from what (William of) Newbury says in the twenty-sixth chapter of the second book of his history, where he speaks of Ireland: here is what he says:— Ireland never lay under foreign dominion. {Hibernia nunquam subiacuit externae ditioni.}’’

Cambrensis himself corroborates this matter in his twenty-sixth chapter, where he says:— From the first, Ireland has remained free from the invasion of any foreign nation. {Hibernia ab initio ab omni alienarum gentium incursu libera permansit.}’’

From these words it is evident that neither Arthur, nor any other foreign potentate, ever had supremacy over Ireland from the beginning till the Norman invasion: and, moreover, it is not conceivable that the Britons had any control over Ireland, since even the Romans did not venture to meddle with it, and it is not alone that the Romans, or other foreigners, had no control over Ireland, but it is Ireland that was a refuge to the other territories to protect them from the violence of the Romans and other foreigners.

Here we may see how Camden corroborates this in the book called Camden's 'Britannia', where he says:—When the Romans had widely extended their dominion, there came, without doubt, many hither (speaking of Ireland) from Spain, from France, and from Britain, in order to extricate their necks from the most grievous yoke of the Romans. {Cum suum Romani imperium undique propagassent, multi, procul dubio, ex Hispania, Gallia, et Britannia hic se receperunt, ut iniquissimo Romanorum iugo, colla subducerunt.}’’

From this it may be understood that it is not alone that the Romans did not come to Ireland, but even that it is there the people


of other countries were protected from the Romans. Here also is what the same Camden says, refuting the folk who say, according to (their) opinion, that the Romans had power over Ireland:— I should find it difficult to persuade myself that Ireland had ever been under the authority of the Romans. {Ego animum vix inducere possum ut hanc regionem in Romanorum potestatem ullo tempore concessisse credam.}’’

Cambrensis says, in his ninth chapter, that in Ireland the men used to marry the wives who had been married to their brothers, upon the death of their brothers: and he says that the tithe used not to be paid in Ireland, and that there was no regard for marriage there till the coming of Cardinal John Papiron; this, however, is not true for him, as we shall prove in the body of the history, and as will be evident from this same introduction shortly hereafter. He says, in his seventh chapter, where he treats of the wonders of Ireland, that there is a well in Munster which presently makes a man grey when he washes his hair or his beard in its water, and that there is likewise a well in Ulster which prevents greyness. Howbeit, there are not the like of these wells in Ireland now, and I do not think there were in the time of Cambrensis, but these wonders were (merely) set forth as a colouring for his lies.

Cambrensis says, in his twenty-second chapter, that whenever the nobles of Ireland are making a compact with each other, in presence of a bishop, they kiss at that time a relic of some saint, and that they drink each others blood, and at that same time they are ready to perpetrate any treachery on each other. My answer to him here (is), that there is not a lay nor a letter, of old record or of ancient text, chronicle or annals, supporting him in this lie: and, moreover, it is evident that it was obligatory on the antiquaries not to


conceal the like of this evil custom, and even to put it in (their) manuscript on pain of losing their professorship, if it had been practised in Ireland. Wherefore it is clear that it is a lie Cambrensis has uttered here. Cambrensis says, in his tenth chapter, that the Irish are an inhospitable nation here is what he says:— Moreover, this nation is an inhospitable nation {Est autem gens haec, gens inhospita.}’’

(says he). However, I think Stanihurst sufficient in his history by way of reply to him in this matter; here is what he says, speaking of the generosity of the Irish:—Verily (he says), they are a most hospitable people; and there is no greater degree in which you may earn their gratitude, than freely, and of your own will, to make your resort to their houses. {Sunt sane homines hospitalissimi, neque illis ulla in re magis gratificari potes, quam vel sponte ac voluntate eorum domos frequentare.}’’

Hence it may be inferred, without leave of Cambrensis, that they are hospitable people, (and) truly generous in regard to food. Cambrensis says, where he writes concerning Ireland, that it was the wife of the king of Meath who eloped with Diarmuid of the foreigners; yet this is not true for him, but she was the wife of Tighearnan O'Ruairc, king of Brefny, and daughter to Murchadh, son of Flann, son of Maoilseachlainn, king of Meath, and Dearbhforgaill was her name. He says, moreover, that it is from Sliev Bloom the Suir, Nore, and Barrow take their rise, though that is not true for him, for it is clear that it is from the brow of Sliev Bloom, on the east side, the Barrow springs, and that it is from the brow of Sliev Aldun, which is called the mountain of the Gap in Ikerrin, the Suir and the Nore rise.

Again, he says, in the twenty-fifth chapter of his narration concerning Ireland, that the king of Cinéal Conaill, i.e.


O'Donnell, used to be inaugurated in this wise: an assembly being made of the people of his country on a high hill in his territory, a white mare being slain, and being put to boil in a large pot in the centre of the field, and, on her being boiled, he to drink up her broth like a hound or a beagle with his mouth, and to eat the flesh out of his hands without having a knife or any instrument for cutting it, and that he would divide the rest of the flesh among the assembly, and then bathe himself in the broth. It is manifest that this thing Cambrensis tells is false, according to the ancient record of Ireland, for it is thus it describes the mode in which O'Donnell was proclaimed, to wit, by his being seated in the midst of the nobles and of the council of his own territory; and a chief of the nobility of his district used to stand before him with a straight white wand in his hand, and on presenting it to the king of Cinéal Conaill, it is this he would say to him, to receive the headship of his own country, and to maintain right and equity between each division of his country: and, wherefore the wand was appointed to be straight and white, was to remind him that so ought he to be just in his administration, and pure and upright in his actions. I marvel at Cambrensis reporting this lie, and I conceive that it was through malice he inserted it in his work. For it is well known that they have been at all times devout and religious people; and that many of them forsook the world, and finished their lives under religious rule, and, moreover, that from them came many saints, such as Columcille, Baoithin, Adhamnan, and many other saints whom we shall not mention here. Besides, it is not credible that the nobility of Ireland would permit the king of Cinéal Conaill to have in use that barbarous custom


which Cambrensis mentions, seeing that the Catholic religion has lived among them from the time of Patrick to the Norman invasion, and, accordingly, I consider that it is a malicious unwarranted lie Cambrensis has uttered here.