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

Section 50


As to the Britons, when the Romans had left them, they built a fence of earth from sea to sea between themselves and the Scots and the Picti. And when the Scotic race and the Picti had heard that the Romans had forsaken the Britons, they made a sudden attack on the latter, and broke down the wall and pillaged the country, so that the Britons were forced to send envoys to the Romans a third time, beseeching them not to permit their enemy to despoil them vengefully as they were doing. Upon this the Romans sent another legion to help them; and when these had reached Britain, they had several engagements with the Scots and Picti; and the Romans drove them across the boundary wall of which we have spoken. And when they had thus relieved the Britons, the Romans told them that it was of no advantage to themselves to come on any further expedition of relief to them, and that they should consider how they might protect or guard themselves against the enemy. Accordingly when the Roman army had left them, they began to build the wall that stretches from sea to sea between Britain and Alba, of stonework eight feet thick, and twelve feet high, according to Beda, in the fifth chapter of the first book of the History of Sacsa. When the Scots and the Picti heard that the Romans had refused to come any more to the aid of the Britons, they collected and assembled a large host, and marched towards the wall referred to, and overpassed it and devastated all Britain, so that the Britons were obliged to abandon their stone fortresses and dwellings and betake themselves for refuge to woods and wildernesses, where their sole food was the flesh of the wild beasts they hunted; and the remnant of them that survived wrote piteously to the consul who was in Rome whose name was Boetius, soliciting him for aid; and


what they said was that they were hemmed in between the enemy and the sea, for as many of them as took to the sea, fleeing from the enemy, were drowned; and as many of them as turned from the sea were slain by the enemy, as Beda says in the thirteenth chapter of the first book of the History of Sacsa, quoting the words of the Britons when complaining to the Romans of the oppression they suffered from the Scots and Picti. These are the words:

The barbarians force us to the sea, (said they, speaking of the Scots and the Picti;) the sea throws them [us] back upon the barbarians; and by this twofold death, we are either slain or drowned, said they. {Repellunt barbari ad mare, repellit mare ad barbaros, inter haec oriuntur duo genera funerum, aut iugulamur aut mergimur.}’’

From this it may be inferred that the oppression exercised by the Scots of Ireland over the Britons was very great. Nennius, an ancient British author says, according to Speed's Chronicle, that the Scots and the Picti oppressed Britain for a period of forty years; and Camden, agreeing with this, says: Five hundred years after Caesar came to Britain, that country was left to the barbarity of the Scots and the Picti. {Anno 500 a Caesaris ingressu Britannia Pictorum et Scotorum immanitati relinquitur.}’’

This may also be inferred from the words of Beda in the fourteenth chapter of the same first book, in which, speaking of the Irish, he says: The shameless Irish plunderers return to their homes, (says he,) to come back soon again. {Revertuntur impudentes grassatores Hiberni domum post non longum tempus reversuri.}’’

From these words of Beda it may be inferred that the Irish would often go on expeditions of plunder into Britain.

As to the Britons, they were a long time without being pillaged or plundered by the Scots and the Picti after the Romans had left them. But this oppression was not the only misfortune the Britons suffered from at that time. The Pelagian heresy was then deluding the people; and the Britons determined to send to the French clergy, asking them to send prelates and preachers to them from France to put


down the Pelagian heresy. Upon this, the French clergy sat in council, and resolved to send two holy bishops to propagate the pure faith amongst them, namely, Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, and Lupus, bishop of Troyes; and when they arrived, they vanquished the heretics.

Notwithstanding what we have said, a constant warfare existed between the Scots and the Britons to the time of Vortigern, who was king of Britain in the year of the Lord 447. However, on account of the evil passions and the pride and the sins of the Britons at that time, God gave the Scots and the Picti the victory over them, so that they were obliged to bring over Horsus and Hingistus with their German host to assist them against the Scots and the Picti. And God used these Germans as a scourge to deprive the Britons of the sovereignty of all Britain ever since. The chroniclers of Britain relate, as Stow notes in the fifty-third page of the first part of his Chronicle, which was printed in London in the year of the Lord 1614, that 480 of the British nobles were treacherously slain by the Saxons, and that Aurelius Ambrosius, the king of Britain at that time, ordered that of the stones which Merlin took over to Britain from Sliabh gClaire in Munster a monument be raised on the spot on which these nobles were slain. It was, moreover, in the same place that he himself was buried. And the place was then called Chorea Gigantum; and it is now called Stone Henge on Salisbury Plain. And the same author says that it was from Africa the Gaels brought these stones; and Monomotensis says that no two of the stones were taken from the same country.

From this we may infer that the Gaels were wont to go to Africa to plunder that country, and that they were therefore powerful in other countries besides Ireland; and whoever should be surprised at these events or disbelieve them let him blame himself for it, for not having seen or searched the records. For often one is ignorant of the truth through


not having made himself familiar with the old books of the ancients, as Macrobius points out in the sixth book of the Saturnalia, in which he says: We are ignorant of many things which should not be hidden from us if we were accustomed to read the ancients {Multa ignoramus quae non laterent si veterum lectio nobis esset familiaris.}’’

; thus, when we state that the Scots and the Picti exacted a tribute from the Britons, if the reader disbelieves us, let him read Camden's chronicle, and he will find therein these words: The Britons were made to pay tribute to the Scots in the year of the Lord 446 {Britanni facti sunt tributuarii Scotis et Pictis anno Christi 446.}’’

; or if we state that the Picti were extinguished by the Scots when Cinneide son of Ailpin was king of Alba 839 years after the birth of Christ, let him read Camden's chronicle, and he will find there testimony to the same event; or were we to assert that no foreign nation ever acquired full supremacy over Ireland except the tribes that successively occupied it, namely, Partholon, the clanna Neimidh, the Fir Bholg, and the Tuatha De Danann, and the sons of Milidh, perhaps we should not be believed unless the reader had seen what Gulielmus Nubrigensis has written, treating of Ireland, in the twenty-sixth chapter of the second book of his history, in which he says, Ireland never submitted to a foreign power. {Hibernia nunquam externae subiacuit ditioni.}’’

Similarly, if I make statements here concerning Niall Naoighiallach which the reader has not heard hitherto, let him know that I have song or story to prove every statement I advance here.