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

Section 9


The refutation of these new foreign writers need not be pursued by us any further, although there are many things they insert in their histories which it would be possible to confute; because, as to the most part of what they write disparagingly of Ireland, they have no authority for writing it but repeating the tales of false witnesses who were hostile to Ireland, and ignorant of her history: for it is certain that the learned men who were conversant with antiquity in Ireland did not undertake to enlighten them in it, and, so, it was not possible for them to have knowledge of the history and ancient state of Ireland. And Cambrensis, who undertook to supply warrant for everything, it is likely in his case that it was a blind man or a,blockhead who gave him such a shower of fabulous information, so that he has left the invasion of the Tuatha Dé Danann without making mention of it, although they were three years short of two hundred in the headship of Ireland, and that there were nine kings of them in the sovereignty of Ireland: and (yet) he had recounted the first invasion of Ireland, although it were only the invasion of Ceasair, and that the antiquaries do not regard it for certain as an invasion, notwithstanding that it is mentioned by them in their books. Truly I think that he took no interest in investigating the antiquity of Ireland, but that the reason why he set about writing of Ireland is to give false testimony concerning her people during his own time, and their ancestors before them: and, besides, it was but brief opportunity he had for research on the history of Ireland, since he spent but a year and a half at it before going (back) to


England; and his history not being finished (in that time), he left a half year's portion wanting (to be completed) of it under the care of a companion of his, named Bertram Verdon.

Wherefore, I have hope that whatsoever impartial reader shall read every refutation which I make on Cambrensis, and on these new foreigners who follow his track, will trust the refutation I make on their lies rather than the story-telling they all do, for I am old, and a number of these were young; I have seen and I understand the chief historical books, and they did not see them, and if they had seen them, they would not have understood them. It is not for hatred nor for love of any set of people beyond another, nor at the instigation of anyone, nor with the expectation of obtaining profit from it, that I set forth to write the history of Ireland, but because I deemed it was not fitting that a country so honourable as Ireland, and races so noble as those who have inhabited it, should go into oblivion without mention or narration being left of them: and I think that my estimate in the account I give concerning the Irish ought the rather to be accepted, because it is of the Gaels I chiefly treat. Whoever thinks it much I say for them, it is not to be considered that I should deliver judgment through favour,giving them much praise beyond what they have deserved, being myself of the old Galls as regards my origin.

If, indeed it be that the soil is commended by every historian who writes on Ireland, the race is dispraised by every new foreign historian who writes about it, and it is by that I was incited to write this history concerning the Irish, owing to the extent of the pity I felt at the manifest injustice which is done to them by those writers. If only indeed they had given their proper estimate to the Irish, I know not why


they should not put them in comparison with any nation in Europe in three things, namely, in valour, in learning, and in being steadfast in the Catholic faith: and forasmuch as regards the saints of Ireland, it needs not to boast what a multitude they were, because the foreign authors of Europe admit this, and they state that Ireland was more prolific in saints than any country in Europe; and, moreover, they admit that the dominion of learning in Ireland was so productive, that she sent forth from her learned companies to France, to Italy, to Germany, to Flanders, to England, and to Scotland, as is clear from the introduction to the book in which were written in English lives of Patrick, Columcille, and Brigid: and forasmuch as concerns the ancient history of Ireland, it may be assumed that it was authoritative, because it used to be revised at the assembly of Tara every third year, in presence of the nobility, the clergy, and the learned of Ireland; and since the Irish received the faith, it has been placed under the sanction of the prelates of the Church. These chief books following which are still to be seen, will testify to this; namely, the Book of Armagh; the 'Saltair' of Cashel, which holy Cormac, son of Cuileannan, king of the two provinces of Munster and archbishop of Cashel, wrote; the Book of Uachongbháil; the Book of Cluaineidhneach of Fionntan in Leix; the Saltair na rann, which Aonghus the 'Culdee' wrote; the Book of Glendaloch the Book of Rights, which holy Benen, son of Sesgnen wrote; the 'Uidhir' of Ciaran,


which was written in Clonmacnois; the Yellow Book of Moling, and the Black Book of Molaga. Here follows a summary of the books which were written in those namely, the book of Invasion, the book of the Provinces, the Roll of Kings, the book of tribes, the book of synchronism, the book of famous places, the book of remarkable women, the book which was called 'Cóir anmann'; the book which was called 'Uraicheapt', which Ceannfaolaidh the learned wrote, and the book which is called the 'Amhra' of Columcille, which Dallan Forgaill wrote shortly after the death of Columcille. There are yet to be seen in Ireland many other histories, besides the chief books which we have mentioned, in which there is much of ancient record to be discovered, such as the battle of Magh Muccraimhe, the siege of Druim Damhghaire, the fates of the knights, the battle of Crionna, the battle of Fionnchoradh, the battle of Ros na Ríogh, the battle of Magh Léana, the battle of Magh Rath, the battle of Magh Tualaing, and many other histories which we shall not mention here. Furthermore, the historical record of Ireland should be considered as authoritative, the rather that there were over two hundred professors of history keeping the ancient record of Ireland, and every one of them having a subsidy from the nobles of Ireland on that account, and having the revision of the nobility and clergy from time to time. Because of its antiquity, likewise, it is the more worthy of trust, and, also, that it has not suffered interruption or suppression from the violence of strangers. For, notwithstanding that the Norsemen had been troubling Ireland for a period, there were such a number of Iearned men keeping the ancient record that the historical compilation


was preserved, even though many books fell into the hands of the Norsemen. Howbeit, it is not thus with other European countries, because the Romans, Gauls, Goths, Vandals, Saxons, Saracens, Moors, and Danes destroyed their old records in every inroad (of their kings) which they made upon them: yet, it fell not to any of these to plunder Ireland, according to Cambrensis, in the forty-sixth chapter, where he says, speaking of Ireland:—Ireland was, from the beginning, free from incursion of anyforeign nation. {Hibernia, ab initio, ab omni alienarum gentium incursu libera permansit.}’’

From this it may be understood that Ireland was free from the invasion of enemies by which her ancient history and her former transactions would be extinguished; and it is not so with any other country in Europe. Wherefore I think that it is more fitting to rely on the history of Ireland than on the history of any other country in Europe, and, moreover, as it has been expurgated by Patrick, and by the holy clergy of Ireland, from time to time.

Understand, nevertheless, O reader, that I have made a change in the computation of the years which are stated to have been in the reign of a few of the pagan kings of Ireland apart from how it is set down in the Roll of Kings, and in the poems which have been composed on them; and the reason I have for that is, that I find them not agreeing with the enumeration of the epochs from Adam to the birth of Christ, according to any reputable foreign author. I have, besides, another reason, that it seems to me that an undue number of years is assigned to some of them, such as Síorna the long-lived to whom three fifties of years are attributed, and that we may read in the old book of Invasion that Síorna was an hundred years old before he assumed the sovereignty


of Ireland, and if I set down his being thrice fifty years in the sovereignty, I would not be believed. Wherefore I give him one and twenty years, according to the verse which is in his reign, which gives to Síorna but a year and twenty, as will be clear to the reader. They allow fifty years of reign to Cobhthach 'Caolmbreágh', although there should be given to him but thirty: for Moiriath, daughter of Scoiriath, king of Corca Duibhne, loved Maon, who was called Labhra 'loingseach', he being then in exile in her fathers house, he a youth and she a young maiden; and, after he had returned to Ireland from his exile, and after the slaying of Cobhthach, it is she who became wife to him, and bore him children. Wherefore, if I were to give fifty years of reign to Cobhthach, she would be three-score years, when she bore children to Labhra the navigator, and since this cannot be true, Cobhthach cannot have been in the sovereignty fifty years. Also, for other reasons, I make a change in the number of years of the reign of a few of the kings of Ireland before the Faith: but I think it was not through the ignorance of the antiquaries this change became necessary, but through the ignorance of some people who copied after them, who had no skill save only to practise the art of writing: because, since the time the suzerainty of Ireland passed to the Galls, the Irish have abandoned making the revision which was customary with them every third year of the ancient record, and so the professors of archaeology have neglected its purification, having lost the immunity and the emolument which it was customary with them to obtain from the Gaels in regard of preserving the ancient record; and because, moreover,


there has been continual dissension between Galls and Gaels in Ireland, by which unrest was caused to the professors— preventing them from revising and purifying the record from time to time.

And if any one be surprised at the discrepancy which exists among some of the authors of our ancient record as to the calculation of time from Adam to the birth of Christ, it is no cause for wonder, seeing that there are few of the standard authors of all Europe who agree together in the computation of the same time.

Let us take as witness of this, the disagreement which these chief authors following make with each other:— In the first place, of the Hebrew authors:—

Baalsederhelm, 3518: the Talmudists, 3784: the New Rabbis, 3760: Rabbi Nahsson, 3740: Rabbi Levi, 3786: Rabbi Moses, 4058: Josephus, 4192.

Of the Greek authors:—

Metrodorus, 5000: Eusebius, 5190: Theophilus, 5476.

Of the Latin authors:—

St. Jerome, 3941: St. Augustine, 5351: Isidore, 5270: Orosius, 5199: Bede, 3952: Alphonsus, 5984.

Here is the reckoning of the twelve men and three score on the four first ages of the world, together with the calculation which the wise learned men who have followed them in the direct track have given on the epochs from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ, dividing them into five parts, i.e. from Adam to the deluge, 2242, from the deluge to Abraham, 942, from Abraham to David, 940, from David to the captivity of Babylon, 485, from the captivity to the birth of Christ, 590:—Sum, 5199: it is why the authorities


who follow the seventy-two men place the fifth period as their own time, because it is thus this era is completed, 5199, from the creation of Adam to the birth of Christ: and it is to the authors who follow the seventy-two men in the four first periods, i.e. Eusebius, who counts in his history from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ, 5199; Orosius, in the first chapter of his first book, says that there are from Adam to Abraham, 3184, and from Abraham to the birth of Christ, 2015; and the sum of both is 5199. St. Jerome says, in his epistle to Titus, that six thousand years of the age of the world had not been completed to the birth of Christ. St. Augustine, too, says, in the tenth chapter of the twelfth book de civitate Dei, that six thousand years are not computed from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ. Let both be set on that part that they agree with these calculators, in the number of the count from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ nineteen years on four score, on one hundred, on five thousand. Another proof of the same computation is the Roman Martyrology, which declares the total of these epochs, from the creation of Adam to the birth of Christ, five thousand, one hundred, ninety and nine.

And since these chief authorities agree not with each other in the computation of the time which is from Adam to the birth of Christ, it is no wonder that there should be discrepancy among some of the antiquaries of Ireland about the same calculation. However, I have not found among them a computation I rather think to be accurate than the numbering which some of them make four thousand, fifty and two years, for the time from Adam to the birth of Christ; and (it is) what I desire is to follow the standard author who comes nearest to this reckoning in the synchronism of the


sovereigns, of the epochs, of the popes, and of the general councils at the end of the book in their own proper places.

If anyone should charge it upon me as a strange thing wherefore I give many verses as evidence for the history out of the old record, my answer to him is that my reason for that is, that the authors of the ancient record framed the entire historical compilation in poems, in order that thereby the less change should be made in the record; and also, that in this manner, it might the more be committed to memory by the students who were attending them: for it is through being in verse metre the 'saltair' of Tara was called to the chief book which was in the custody of the king of Ireland's own professors, and the 'saltair' of Cashel to the chronicle of Cormac, son of Cuileannan, and the 'saltair' of the verses to the record of Aonghus the 'culdee': for, as 'psalm' and duan (poem) or dán (song) are alike, equal are saltair or ‘psalterium’ and duanaire, in which there would be many poems or songs: and forasmuch as in the poems are the bone and marrow of the ancient record, I think that it is expedient for me to rely on it as authority in treating of the history.

Therefore I have often said, in opposing the authors who have been refuted by us, that the ancient record was against them, because I considered that the record which was common and had been frequently revised, had more of authority, as we have said, than any one solitary author of those who are in the history. Some people profess astonishment how it should be possible to trace to Adam the origin of any man. My answer to that is, that it was easy for the Gaels to keep


themselves (traced) even to Adam, because they had, from the time of Gaedheal down, ‘druids’ who used to preserve their generations of descent and their transactions in every expedition (of all) that befell them up to reaching Ireland, as is clear from the history following: and, moreover, they had an affection for science, insomuch that it was owing to his learning Niul, the father of Gaedheal, obtained every possession he got; and also the length the Gaels have been without change in the possession of one and the same country, and the excellence of the order they laid down for the preservation of the record, as we have said. Here follows an example from a British author, where he gives the pedigree to Adam of a king who was over Britain, from which the reader will allow that it was possible for the Gaels to do the same thing; and the authors name is Assher: here is the name of that king Aelfred, son of Aethelwulf, son of Egbert, son of Etalmund, son of Eafa, son of Eowua, son of Ingeld, son of Coenred, son of Coelwald, son of Cudam, son of Cutwin, son of Ceawlin, son of Cenric, son of Creoda, son of Cerdic, son of Elesa, son of Gelwus, son of Brond, son of Beld, son of Woden, son of Fritilwald, son of Frealaf, son of Fritilwulf, son of Fingodwulf, son of Gead, son of Caetwa, son of Beawua, son of Sceldwa, son of Eremod, son of Itermod, son of Atra, son of Hwala, son of Bedug, son of Japhet, son of Noah, &c., &c.

Here is a vindication or defensive introduction to the groundwork of knowledge on Ireland, in which is a compendium of the history of Ireland briefly: which has been


gathered and collected from the chief books of the history of Ireland, and from a good many trustworthy foreign authors by Geoffrey Keating, priest and doctor of divinity, in which is a brief summary of the principal transactions of Ireland from Partholon to the Norman invasion: and whoever shall desire to write fully and comprehensively on Ireland hereafter, he will find, in the same ancient books, many things desirable to write of her which have been purposely omitted here, lest, putting these all in one work, thereby this compilation should less likely come to light from the greatness of the labour of putting them in one writing.

The history is divided into two books: the first book makes known the condition of Ireland from Adam to the coming of Patrick into Ireland; the second book from the coming of Patrick to the invasion of the Galls, or down to this time.

I think that there is not a reader, impartial and open to conviction, whom it concerns to make a scrutiny into the antiquity of Ireland, but such as will be pleased with what we have said in this introduction: and if it should happen that he deems insufficient every explanation which I have given, it is beyond my ability he would go. Wherefore, I take leave of him, and let him excuse me, if it happen to me to go out of the way in anything I may say in this book, for if there be anything blameworthy in it, it is not from malice it is there, but from want of knowledge.

Your ever faithful poor friend till death,