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


Introduction. The Author to the Reader.

Section 1


WHOSOEVER proposes to trace and follow up the ancient history and origin of an country ought to determine on setting down plainly the method which reveals most clearly the truth of the state of the country, and the condition of the people who inhabit it: and forasmuch as I have undertaken to investigate the groundwork of Irish historical knowledge, I have thought at the outset of deploring some part of her affliction and of her unequal contest; especially the unfairness which continues to be practised on her inhabitants, alike the old foreigners who are in possession more than four hundred years from the Norman invasion down, as well as the native Irish who have had possession during almost three thousand years. For there is no historian of all those who have written on Ireland from that epoch that has not continuously sought to cast reproach and blame both on the old foreign settlers and on the native Irish.

Whereof the testimony given by Cambrensis, Spenser,


Stanihurst, Hanmer, Camden, Barckly, Moryson, Davies, Campion, and every other new foreigner who has written on Ireland from that time, may bear witness; inasmuch as it is almost according to the fashion of the beetle they act, when writing concerning the Irish. For it is the fashion of the beetle, when it lifts its head in the summertime, to go about fluttering, and not to stoop towards any delicate flower that may be in the field, or any blossom in the garden, though they be all roses or lilies, but it keeps bustling about until it meets with dung of horse or cow, and proceeds to roll itself therein. Thus it is with the set above-named; they have displayed no inclination to treat of the virtues or good qualities of the nobles among the old foreigners and the native Irish who then dwelt in Ireland; such as to write on their valour and on their piety, on the number of abbeys they had founded, and what land and endowments for worship they had bestowed on them; on the privileges they had granted to the learned professors of Ireland, and all the reverence they manifested towards churchmen and prelates: on every immunity they secured for their sages, and the maintenance they provided for the poor and for orphans; on each donation they were wont to bestow on the learned and on petitioners, and on the extent of their hospitality to guests, insomuch that it cannot truthfully be said that there ever existed in Europe folk who surpassed them, in their own time, in generosity or in hospitality according to their ability. Bear witness the literary assemblies which were proclaimed by them, a custom not heard of among any other people in Europe, so that the stress of generosity and hospitality among the old foreigners and the native Irish of Ireland was such that they did not


deem it sufficient to give to any who should come seeking relief, but issued a general invitation summoning them, in order to bestow valuable gifts and treasure on them. However, nothing of all this is described in the works of the present-day foreigners, but they take notice of the ways of inferiors and wretched little hags, ignoring the worthy actions of the gentry: yet as far as regards the old Irish, who were inhabiting this island before the Norman invasion, let it appear whether there has been in Europe any people more valiant than they, contending with the Romans for the defence of Scotland. For they compelled the Britons to make a dyke between their portion of Britain and Scotland, to protect (Roman) Britain from the incursion of the Irish; and notwithstanding that there were usually fifty-two thousand of a Roman army defending the dyke, and two hundred (scouts) riding about, and twenty-three thousand foot and thirteen hundred horse with them (besides), defending the frontier and harbours of the country against the violent attacks of the Scots and of the Picts; yet, with all that, the Irish would burst over the dyke, and the country would be harried by them, despite these great hosts, according to Samuel Daniel in his chronicle. Cormac, son of Cuileannan, says also in his Saltair, that, as a result of the violence of the Irish (or Scots) and of the Crutheni (who are called Picts) against Britain, the Britons three times conspired against the Roman governors set over them, as a means of purchasing peace with the Scots and Picts. Observe, moreover, the straits in which the Irish had placed the Britons whilst Vortigern was king over them, whence it arose that he subsidised Hengist, with his German


host, as may be read in Geoffrey of Monmouth. It is stated by Samuel Daniel that the Romans had fourteen garrisons to oppose the Scots and Picts, and that the Scots and Picts kept disturbing Britain, despite the Romans, from the time of Julius Caesar to that of the Emperor Valentinian the Third, during the space of five hundred years; and the year of the Lord was four hundred and forty-seven when the Romans abandoned the suzerainty of Britain: and it is before that epoch a dispute arose between Theodosius and Maximus, whence it resulted that Maximus led with him a great body of the people of Britain to [French] Armorica, which is called [little] Brittany, and having banished the people who were before them in the land, he gave the country to the company who went with him to inhabit, so that some of their posterity are still there.