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

Section 2


There are some ancient authors who lay lying charges against the Irish; such as Strabo, who says in his fourth book that the Irish are a man-eating people. My answer to Strabo is, that it is a lie for him to say that the Irish are a people who eat human flesh; for it is not read in the ancient record that there was ever one in Ireland who used to eat human flesh, but Eithne the loathsome, daughter of Criomhthann, son of Eanna Cinnsiolach, king of Leinster, who was in fosterage with the Deisi of Munster: and she was reared by them on the flesh of children, in hope that thereby she would be the sooner marriageable. For it had been promised to them that they should receive land from the man to whom


she would be married; and it is to Aonghus, son of Nadfraoch, king of Munster, she was married, as we shall relate hereafter in the body of the history. Understand, reader, since the antiquaries do not suppress this disgusting fact, which was a reproach to the daughter of a king of Leinster, and the wife of a king of Munster, that they would not conceal, without recounting it in the case of lesser people than they, if it had been a custom practised in Ireland: wherefore it is false for Strabo to say that it was a custom for the Irish to eat human flesh, since this was never done among them but by the aforesaid girl, and even that in time of paganism. My answer also to St. Jerome, who relates this same thing, writing against Jovinian, is that it must have been a base asserter of lies who informed him, and therefore it ought not be brought as a charge against the Irish.

Solinus, in the twenty-first chapter, says that there are no bees in Ireland; and he says, that it is from the point of a sword the first bit is tasted by a male child in Ireland. He says, moreover, that the Irishman is wont, when his enemy is slain by him, to bathe himself in the blood. It is clear from the ancient record, which will be (found) in the history, that every one of these things is false. Pomponius Mela, in the third book, says these words, speaking of the Irish, a people ignorant of all the virtues {Omnium virtutum ignari}’’

: and so of many other ancient foreign authors who wrote rashly without evidence concerning Ireland, on the lying statements of false witnesses, whom it would not be right to trust in such a matter: wherefore Camden, setting down the testimony of these people concerning Ireland, says these words: We have not (says he)


credible witness of these things. {Horum quae commemoramus, dignos fide testes non habemus.}’’

It is clear that it is false to say that there were not bees in Ireland, according to the same Camden, where he says, speaking of Ireland: Such is the quantity of bees there, that it is not alone in apiaries or in hives they are found, but (also) in trunks of trees, and in holes of the ground.{Apum est tanta multitudo, ut non solum in alveariis sed etiam in arborum truncis et terrae cavernis reperiantur.}’’