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

Section 15


The doings of Feinius Farsaidh the grandfather of Gaedheal till his return from the Plain of Seanair, and till his death, as follows:

When Feinius Farsaidh became king of Scythia, he determined to become perfectly acquainted with the various languages which had sprung up after the confusion of tongues that had taken place long before at the tower of Babel, which was being erected through pride for the space of forty years by Nimrod and his followers. For before that confusion of tongues took place at the tower, the entire human race had but one common language which had existed amongst them from the time of Adam. And the name the Book of Invasions gives this language is Gortighern, as the poet says:

    1. Gortighern the name of the language
      Used by the son of God of goodly science,
      And by the race of Adam erst
      Ere the building of Nimrod's tower.
And Latin authors call it lingua humana, that is, the human language. But when Nimrod and his kinsfolk were building the tower, as the confusion of tongues set in and prevented them from finishing a structure they had begun through pride, the human language they derived from Adam was taken from them, as many as were engaged in building the tower. However, it remained with Eibhear son of Saile, and with his tribe, so that it was named from him; for they called it Hebrew from Eibhear. Now when Eibhear had learned the cause of their erecting the tower, that it was with a view to protecting themselves against the second


flood which it was foretold would come upon the people—they imagined that the second flood would not be higher than the first, and proposed to make the tower so high that the flood would not reach its upper stories, and that accordingly their nobles could be securely situated in these without fear of the flood—and when Eibhear learned that that was the cause of their building the tower, he declared that he would not help them, and that it was sheer idleness on their part to have recourse to ingenuity for the purpose of resisting the fulfilment of God's will. Thereupon he separated from them without taking any part whatever with them in the building of the tower. Moreover, when the confusion came on all, God left to Eibhear alone and to his tribe after him, as a mark of good will, that human language of our ancestors.

The principal reason why Feinius Farsaidh went to the Plain of Seanair, together with his school, was that he might be with the people whose native language was Hebrew, and that it might thus come about that he and his school would acquire a full and perfect knowledge of that language.

Now, when Feinius, as we have said, had resolved to acquire the various languages, he sent, at his own expense, seventy-two disciples into the various countries of the three continents of the world that were then inhabited, and charged them to remain abroad seven years, so that each of them might learn the language of the country in which he stayed during that time. And at the end of seven years they returned to Feinius to Scythia; and Feinius went with them to the Plain of Seanair, together with a large number of the youths of Scythia, leaving his eldest son Neanual to rule Scythia in his stead, as a certain poet says, in the poem which begins, Let us relate the origin of the Gaels:

    1. Feinius went from Scythia
      On the expedition,
      A man renowned, wise, learned,
      Ardent, triumphant;

    2. p.7

    3. There was but one tongue in the world
      When they set out;
      There were seventy-two tongues
      When they parted;
    4. Feinius had a great school learning
      Each science,
      A man renowned, wise, learned
      In each language.
And some seanchas assert that there was a space of sixty years from the building of the tower until Feinius and his school came southwards from Scythia to the Plain of Seanair, as a certain poet says in this stanza:
    1. Thrice twenty years of renown,
      So every seancha says,
      Till Feinius came southwards,
      From the building of Nimrod's tower.

Feinius established schools for the teaching of the various languages on the Plain of Seanair in the city which Cin Droma Sneachta calls Eathena, as the poet says in the following stanza:

    1. In the Plain of Seanair after the tower,
      The first school was assembled,
      In the city of Eathena,
      To learn the various tongues.
And they assembled the youths of the countries next them to learn the various tongues from them; and the three sages who presided over this school were Feinius Farsaidh himself from Scythia, and Gaedheal son of Eathor of the race of Gomer from Greece, and Caoi Caoinbhreathach from Judea, or Iar son of Neama, as the poet says:
    1. Here are the names of the sages—
      I shall reveal them to you speedily—
      Gaedheal son of Ethor of wisdom,
      Iar son of Neama and Feinius.
Another poet speaks thus:
    1. Feinius the eloquent sage,
      Gaedheal and Caoi Caoinbhreathaeh,
      Three of the writers of the schools
      Who followed in the true track of the authors.


It was this trio who wrote on wooden tablets the alphabets of the three chief languages, namely, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, as Ceannfaolaidh the Learned asserts in the Accidence which he wrote in the time of Columcille. The same author states that Nion son of Beil, son of Nimrod, was monarch of the world at that time. He also states that it was about this time that Niul, the tanist son of Feinius Farsaidh, was born, and that the same Feinius continued in charge of the school for twenty years in order that this son who was born to him might be acquainted with the several languages.

As some seanchas assert that it was when Nion son of Beil had reigned forty-two years that Feinius Farsaidh established a school in the Plain of Seanair, I am of opinion that he passed ten years of the reign of Nion son of Beil, and ten years thereafter, in the Plain of Seanair before he returned from the school to Scythia. For all the seanchas say that he passed twenty years in charge of the school before his return. I am also of opinion that it was two hundred and forty-two years after the Deluge that Feinius established the school in the Plain of Seanair, according to the computation Bellarminus makes in his chronicle, where he says that the age of the world was one thousand eight hundred and fifty-six years when Nion son of Beil began his sovereignty.

This is the same, according to the Hebrew chronology which Bellarminus follows, as to say that the reign of Nion began two hundred years after the Deluge, since according to the Hebrews one thousand six hundred and fifty-six years elapsed from the beginning of the world to the Deluge. Add to this forty-two years of the reign of Nion that had passed before Feinius began the school, and it thus appears that it was two hundred and forty-two years after the Deluge he began it, and that he passed twenty years directing it, namely, the ten years that remained to him of the reign of Nion, and ten years thereafter.


Now after twenty years Feinius returned to Scythia, and established schools there, and appointed Gaedheal son of Eathor to take charge of them. Then did Feinius command Gaedheal to arrange and regulate the Gaelic language as it is into five divisions, that is, Bearla na Feine, Bearla na bhFileadh, Bearla an Eaderscartha, Bearla Teibidhe, and Gnaithbhearla, and to name it precisely from himself; hence it is from Gaedheal son of Eathor it is called Gaelic, and not from Gaedheal Glas, as others assert. Moreover, it was through friendship for Gaedheal son of Eathor that Niul son of Feinius Farsaidh gave the name Gaedheal to the son whom Scota daughter of Pharao Cincris bore him, as Ceannfaolaidh the Learned says in the Uraicheapt.

Now, it is disputed among authors whence is this word ‘Gaedheal’. Becanus says that it is from the word goedin, that is, goethin, ‘noble’, and from the word all, that is, uile, that Gaedheal is named, that is, ‘all noble’; or from the Hebrew word gadhal, meaning ‘great’, because Gaedheal son of Eathor, the first who was called Gaedheal, was great in learning, in wisdom, and in the languages. However, the seanchas say that he is called Gaedheal from the two words gaoith dhil, that is, lover of wisdom; for gaoith means wise and dil loving, as the Greeks call a sage philosophos, that is, ‘a lover of wisdom’.

As to Feinius Farsaidh we are not told that he had any children except two sons, namely, Neanul and Niul, as the poet says in this stanza:

    1. Two sons had Feinius, truth I tell,
      Neanul and Niul, the valiant;
      Niul was born at the tower in the east,
      Neanul in shield-bright Scythia.

When Feinius had been twenty-two years sovereign of Scythia, after his return from the Plain of Seanair, being at the point of death, he bequeathed the sovereignty of Scythia


to Neanul, his eldest son, and left to Niul, his youngest son, only what profit he derived from the sciences and the various languages which he used to teach in the public schools of the country.