The Destruction of Tiernmas and His People

From The Wonders of Ireland by P. W. Joyce, 1911

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A hundred years had elapsed since the two sons of Milesius—Heber and Heremon—reigned over that green island which they had wrested from the magic-skilled De Dannans, when the monarch Tiernmas ascended the throne. His ancestors had migrated from Scythia, their original home, and for several ages, under the guidance of many celebrated chieftains, they wandered restlessly from land to land. Egypt was their home for a hundred years; and during their residence there they received and adopted the Jewish faith from Moses and other patriarchs. In their subsequent wanderings in search of that green Island of Destiny lying far west, as their final resting place, to which they were directed by the prophetic visions of a seer, the purity of their adopted faith became in some degree sullied by the mixture of Pagan superstitions; and though they still preserved the most important parts of the Jewish belief, they frequently bestowed their intense and excessive admiration on those created things that best mirrored their conceptions of the Deity.

Their reverence for the glorious sun and silent moon approached by imperceptible degrees dangerously near adoration, and the sublime though material form of Druidism was gradually developed. The form of the Jewish worship was still adhered to, and the main principles of the religion inculcated, for they had removed only a single step towards the adoption of those dark tenets of paganism promulgated by the Druids of later ages; yet many superstitious and cruel customs had begun to prevail among them. Their reverence for the great ruling Spirit was undiminished, and they worshipped in their sacred groves, with heaven for their canopy, conceiving it derogatory to Divine immensity to be confined to the walls of a temple; but their cromlechs of unhewn stone, erected after the model of the Jewish altars, occasionally smoked with the blood of human sacrifices.[1] This was the aspect of their religious creed when under Heber and Heremon they conquered the De Dannans and took possession of Inisfail.

The venerable Connla the Sage held the honourable office of high priest for many years before the accession of Tiernmas. He was a man deeply versed in the historic and speculative learning of those primitive times; he not only zealously promulgated the precepts of religion, but exhibited the best example of their observance by a blameless life; and the influence which his stainless character and profound learning gave him he employed in checking with a fearless hand the growing corruption and idolatrous tendencies of the priests. Under his vigilant superintendence, a reformation was effected in the national faith, and it once more approached in purity and simplicity the doctrines delivered to his ancestors by the Hebrew legislator.

The nation had steadily advanced in prosperity since the establishment of the Milesian monarchy, and Tiernmas ascended the throne of his fathers, the most potent monarch that ever yet was acknowledged by the mysterious sounds of the stone of destiny. (See p. 64 above.) His power as a warrior was equal to his wisdom as a legislator: the one was not more zealously employed in repressing his enemies than the other in framing laws and advancing the social condition of his subjects. He was of the line of Heremon, and the Heberians of the South struggled long and valiantly to wrest the sceptre from him; but his prudence anticipated their designs, and his valour crushed their efforts. Yet it was not until he proved victorious in twenty-seven sanguinary engagements that he sat on the stone of destiny, the undisputed monarch of Inisfail. His attention was next directed to the internal regulation of his kingdom, and he repaired the damages of civil war by the wisdom and equity of his administration.

He distributed the people into classes, distinguishing them by the number of colours in their garments; and to each class he assigned peculiar laws and privileges. Learning was patronised and encouraged, and its professors were ranked with the royal family and wore the same number of colours. The advancement of the arts kept pace with the general progress of society, and the discovery of a gold mine—the first ever worked in the country—added still more to the wealth of the monarch. Many of those antique golden ornaments, on which we gaze with wonder and admiration, and whose origin is lost in the twilight of distant ages, were made by the cunning hand of Ucadan, the discoverer of the mine and the chief worker in metal: their number and purity attest the wealth of the country; and the beauty of their workmanship bears witness to the skill of the artificer.

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[1] Now (1911) I do not believe that human beings were ever offered up to idols in Ireland: and as for cromlechs they are tombs, not altars. See this question examined in the Smaller Social History, pp. 119, 543.