First Inhabitants of Ireland

Partholan, with his wife, three sons, and 1,000 followers, landed at Inver Sceine (Bantry Bay) 2680 B.C. This was the first colony. They passed 300 years in Erin, and were carried off by a plague in one week—5,000 men and 4,000 women. The country remained waste for thirty years till Nemed came.

He sailed from Scythia through the Mare Euxinum and North Sea in thirty-four ships, with thirty persons in each ship. The Fomorians contested the possession of the island with Nemed. They were pirates from Africa, who made what is now called Tory Island their headquarters. Many battles were fought between those combatants. Nemed was at first victorious, but he soon died of the plague, with 2,000 of his followers. After this the Nemedians were unable to cope with the enemy, who imposed on them a heavy tribute. This tribute was unbearable, and the Nemedians mustered their forces and attacked the enemy. A dreadful battle ensued, and the Nemedians were defeated. They then took counsel and resolved to leave the country.

The third occupation was by the Firbolgs, who held possession for thirty-seven years, from 1934 to 1897 B.C., during which time there were eight kings. They were the descendants of Simeon Brack, the son of Starn, the son of Nemed. The five sons of Dela commanded the expedition, which consisted of 5,000 people in 1,130 ships, large and small. They sailed from Greece to Spain and thence to Erin. They divided the island into five provinces, appointing a king over each with an ardrigh. The last king was Eocaid Mac Erc.

The fourth occupants were the Dedananns. Nuada, their leader, demanded a settlement. Eocaid replied: " Leave the land, remain as slaves, or fight to death." A fierce battle was then fought at Moytura in Mayo, at the neck of land which divides Lough Mask from Lough Corrib. Near the centre of the battle field and opposite to Cong is a group of five stone circles. On other parts of the field are six or seven large cairns of stone, and among them is the celebrated one-man cairn (car-an aoin fir), a name handed down by tradition. According to the story which has come down to us, while Eocaid was bathing he, on the fourth day of the battle, was attacked by three of the foe. His Giolla fought the three men single-handed, and slew them, but he was wounded, and died of his wounds, and to honour his valour this cairn was erected to his memory. Nuada had his right arm at the shoulder cut off with a sword by Sreng, but it was in time healed by the King's physician, and a silver arm was made for him, and he was known after as Nuada of the silver hand (Nuada airigid-lamh). The fight lasted four days, and, on the fourth, the Firbolgs were completely routed, and Eocaid the Ardrigh was slain. A cairn was erected over him at the Hill of Killower, near Lough Mask, which is to the present day called Cairn Eocaid—the largest in the West of Ireland. The Annals of Clonmacnoise state that " 100,000 were slain in the fight, which was the greatest slaughter that ever was heard of in Erin at one time." A saga descriptive of the battle, and of the origin and use of many of the monuments on the plain, tells us that the conquered Firbolgs obtained from the Dedananns the province of Connaught, while Keating says they fled to the islands of Arran, Rathlin, and the Hebrides, but later settled in Connaught and Leinster. This stock produced distinguished soldiers, who played an important part in the subsequent history of the country. The statement that 100,000 were slain seems an exaggeration.

It seems the Dedananns were assisted in this battle by the Fomorians, not those who fought against the Nemedians, but warriors from the North. As Nuada could not reign while he suffered from a personal blemish, Breas, a Fomorian Chief, whose mother was a Dedanann, was made high king in the interim. He proved to be a niggardly tyrant. " The chiefs of the Dedananns were dissatisfied, for Breas did not grease their knives; in vain came they to Breas, their breath did not smell of ale. Neither their poets, nor bards, nor druids, nor harpers, nor flute-players, nor musicians, nor fuglers, nor fools, appeared before them, nor came into the palace to amuse them." Many of the bravest of the chiefs were reduced to a state of servitude. Breas was forced to resign, but he set about collecting a powerful force to invade the country. He provided a large number of battleships, which surrounded the whole coast. A great battle ensued, which was fought at Moytura, in Sligo, near Lough Arrow, at Kilmactraney, about fifty miles north of the former battle. Both sides fought bravely, but in the early part of the battle the Fomorians were gaining ground, and were assured of victory. The Dedananns, on receiving help, turned the tide of battle, and completely routed the enemy. The plain on which it was fought was ever after known as Magh Tuired na bh-Fomoruch (Moytura of the Fomorians). The question is disputed whether these two stories relate to one and the same battle. Some authorities maintain there were two battles, and others say there was only one, and this was the northern Moytura. In the old sagas only one battle is mentioned. These sagas are probably not older than the seventh or eighth century, and they describe matters which took place 2,000 years previously. This is not conclusive. Against this view must be weighed the old local traditions of the places in question, the names of the places, the cairns and other monuments surviving. In the introduction to the Senchus Mor both battles are mentioned.

Read "The History of West Cork" at your leisure

Early Irish History and Antiquities, and the History of West Cork

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