From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter VI. ...continued

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The insurrection of the Aitheach Tuatha,[4] or Attacotti, is the next event of importance in Irish history. Their plans were deeply and wisely laid, and promised the success they obtained. It is one of the lessons of history which rulers in all ages would do well to study. There is a degree of oppression which even the most degraded will refuse to endure; there is a time when the injured will seek revenge, even should they know that this revenge may bring on themselves yet deeper wrongs. The leaders of the revolt were surely men of some judgment; and both they and those who acted under them possessed the two great qualities needed for such an enterprise. They were silent, for their plans were not even suspected until they were accomplished; they were patient, for these plans were three years in preparation. During three years the helots saved their scanty earnings to prepare a sumptuous death-feast for their unsuspecting victims. This feast was held at a place since called Magh Cru, in Connaught. The monarch, Fiacha Finnolaidh, the provincial kings and chiefs, were all invited, and accepted the invitation. But while the enjoyment was at its height, when men had drank deeply, and were soothed by the sweet strains of the harp, the insurgents did their bloody work. Three ladies alone escaped. They fled to Britain, and there each gave birth to a son—heirs to their respective husbands who had been slain.

After the massacre, the Attacotti elected their leader, Cairbré Cinn-Cait (or the Cat-head), to the royal dignity, for they still desired to live under a "limited monarchy." But revolutions, even when successful, and we had almost said necessary, are eminently productive of evil. The social state of a people when once disorganized, does not admit of a speedy or safe return to its former condition. The mass of mankind, who think more of present evils, however trifling, than of past grievances, however oppressive, begin to connect present evils with present rule, and having lost, in some degree, the memory of their ancient wrongs, desire to recall a dynasty which, thus viewed, bears a not unfavourable comparison with their present state.[5]

Cairbré died after five years of most unprosperous royalty, and his son, the wise and prudent Morann,[6] showed his wisdom and prudence by refusing to succeed him. He advised that the rightful heirs should be recalled. His advice was accepted. Fearadhach Finnfeachteach was invited to assume the reins of government. "Good was Ireland during this his time. The seasons were right tranquil; the earth brought forth its fruit; fishful its river-mouths; milkful the kine; heavy-headed the woods."[7]

Another revolt of the Attacotti took place in the reign of Fiacha of the White Cattle. He was killed by the provincial kings, at the slaughter of Magh Bolg.[8] Elim, one of the perpetrators of this outrage, obtained the crown, but his reign was singularly unprosperous; and Ireland was without corn, without milk, without fruit, without fish, and without any other great advantage, since the Aitheach Tuatha had killed Fiacha Finnolaidh in the slaughter of Magh Bolg, till the time of Tuathal Teachtmar."[9]

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[4] Aitheach Tuatha.—The word means rentpayers, or rentpaying tribes or people. It is probably used as a term of reproach, and in contradiction to the free men. It has been said that this people were the remnants of the inhabitants of Ireland before the Milesians colonized it. Mr. O'Curry denies this statement, and maintains that they were Milesians, but of the lower classes, who had been cruelly oppressed by the magnates of the land.

[5] State.—"Evil was the state of Ireland during his reign: fruitless the corn, for there used to be but one grain on the stalk; fruitless her rivers; milkless her cattle; plentiless her fruit, for there used to be but one acorn on the oak."—Four Masters, p. 97.

[6] Morann.—Morann was the inventor of the famous "collar of gold." The new monarch appointed him his chief Brehon or judge, and it is said that this collar closed round the necks of those who were guilty, but expanded to the ground when the wearer was innocent. This collar or chain is mentioned in several of the commentaries on the Brehon Laws, as one of the ordeals of the ancient Irish. The Four Masters style him ''the very intelligent Morann."

[7] Woods.—Four Masters, p. 97.

[8] Magh Bolg.—Now Moybolgue, a parish in the county Cavan.

[9] Teachtmar, i.e., the legitimate, Four Masters, p. 99.—The history of the revolt of the Attacotti is contained in one of the ancient tracts called Histories. It is termed "The Origin of the Boromean Tribute." There is a copy of this most valuable work in the Book of Leinster, which, it will be remembered, was compiled in the twelfth century. The details which follow above concerning the Boromean Tribute, are taken from the same source.