Irish Conquests in Wales

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER III....continued

Welsh scholars, from Lhuyd of two centuries ago, to Principal Rhys of the present day, as well as historical inquirers of other nationalities, have investigated this question of the Irish conquests in Wales, quite independently of Irish records: and they have come to the conclusion that, at some early time, extensive districts of Wales were occupied by the Irish; and, as a consequence, numerous places in Wales have to this day names commemorating the invaders: as, for instance, the Welsh name of Holyhead, Cerrig y Gwyddell, the 'Rocks of the Goidels or Gaels'; and the Welsh language still contains many Irish words, or words evidently derived from Irish. After careful examination of all the evidence, Dr. Jones, a Welshman, bishop of St. David's, in a book written by him on this subject, comes to the conclusion that the Gaels from Ireland once occupied the whole of Anglesey, Carnarvon, Merioneth, and Cardiganshire, and parts of Denbighshire, Montgomery, and Radnor. But besides all this, ancient Welsh literature—history, annals, tales, legends—like that of Ireland, abounds with references to invasions of Wales and other parts of Britain by Irishmen. In those early days too, as might be expected, a continual intimate relationship by intermarriage was kept up between the Irish kings and chiefs on the one side, and the ruling families of western and northern Britain on the other, which is fully set forth in our ancient books of genealogy.

About the period of the series of expeditions to Wales, the Irish also mastered the Isle of Man: and Irish literature abounds with references to the constant intercourse kept up by the parent people with those of their little insular colony. Though the Norsemen wrested the sovereignty of the island from them in the ninth century, they did not succeed in displacing either the Gaelic people or their language. The best possible proof of the Irish colonisation and complete and continued occupation of the island is the fact that the Manx language is merely a dialect of Irish, spelled phonetically, but otherwise very little altered. There are also still to be seen, all over the island, Irish buildings and monuments, mixed up, however, with many of Norse origin: and the great majority of both the place-names and the native family-names are Gaelic.

Niall's successor Dathi [Dauhy], king of Ireland, A.D. 405 to 428, followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, and, according to Irish authorities, invaded Gaul: but was killed by a flash of lightning at the foot of the Alps, after his followers had destroyed the hermitage of a recluse named Formenius or Parmenius. Although this legend looks wild and improbable, it is in some respects corroborated by continental authorities, and by present existing names of places at the head of Lake Zurich: so that there is very likely some foundation for the story.

We will now go back in point of time to sketch the Irish colonisation of north Britain, the accounts of which, however, are a good deal mixed with those of the Welsh settlements. From very early ages, the Irish of Ulster were in the habit of crossing the narrow sea to Alban or Scotland, where colonies were settled from time to time: and constant intercourse was kept up between the two countries down to a late period. The authentic history of these expeditions and settlements begins in the early part of the third century, during the reign of Conari II. (A.D. 212-220). This king had three sons, Carbery Musc, Carbery Baskin, and Carbery Riada, At this time a great famine devastated Munster; and Carbery Riada led a number of his Munster people to Ulster and to the south-west of Scotland, in both which places they settled down permanently.

These Irish narratives are confirmed by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History, where he says:—"In course of time, besides the Britons and Picts, Britain received a third nation, the Scots, who, migrating from Ireland under their leader Reuda, obtained for themselves, either by friendly agreement or by force of arms, those settlements among the Picts which they still hold. From the name of their commander they are to this day called Dalreudini: for in their tongue dal signifies a part." The "Dalreudini" of Bede is the Dalriada of Irish history.

These primitive settlers increased and multiplied; and, supported from time to time by contingents from the mother country, they held their ground against the Picts. But the settlement was weak and struggling till the reign of Lewy, king of Ireland (A.D. 483 to 512), about three centuries after the time of Carbery Riada. In the year 503 three brothers named Fergus, Angus, and Lorne, sons of a chief named Erc, a direct descendant of Carbery Riada, led a colony to Scotland from their own district in the Irish Dalriada (in the present Co. Antrim: see map): descendants of the Munster settlers of three centuries before. They appear to have met with little or no opposition, and being joined by the previous settlers, they took possession of a large territory, of which Fergus, commonly called Fergus mac Erc, and also known as Fergus More (the Great), was the first king. The descendants of these colonists ultimately mastered the whole country; and from them its name was changed from Alban to Scotia or Scotland. Fergus was the ancestor of the subsequent kings of Scotland; and from him, in one of their lines of genealogy, descend, through the Stuarts, our present royal family.

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