Age of Christ

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter VI

The Four Masters have the following entry after the age of the world 5194:—


"The first year of the age of Christ, and the eighth year of the reign of Crimhthann Niadhnair." Under the heading of the age of Christ 9, there is an account of a wonderful expedition of this monarch, and of all the treasures he acquired thereby. His "adventures" is among the list of Historic Tales in the Book of Leinster, but unfortunately there is no copy of this tract in existence. It was probably about this time that a recreant Irish chieftain tried to induce Agricola to invade Ireland. But the Irish Celts had extended the fame of their military prowess even to distant lands,[7] and the Roman general thought it better policy to keep what he had than to risk its loss, and, perhaps, obtain no compensation. Previous to Caesar's conquest of Britain, the Irish had fitted out several expeditions for the plunder of that country, and they do not appear to have suffered from retaliation until the reign of Egbert. It is evident, however, that the Britons did not consider them their worst enemies, for we find mention of several colonies flying to the Irish shores to escape Roman tyranny, and these colonies were hospitably received.[8]

The passage in Tacitus which refers to the proposed invasion of Ireland by the Roman forces, is too full of interest to be omitted:—" In the fifth year of these expeditions, Agricola, passing over in the first ship, subdued in frequent victories nations hitherto unknown. He stationed troops along that part of Britain which looks to Ireland, more on account of hope than fear,[9] since Ireland, from its situation between Britain and Spain, and opening to the Gallic Sea, might well connect the most powerful parts of the empire with reciprocal advantage. Its extent, compared with Britain, is narrower, but exceeds that of any islands of our sea. The genius and habits of the people, and the soil and climate, do not differ much from those of Britain. Its channels and ports are better known to commerce and to merchants.[1] Agricola gave his protection to one of its petty kings, who had been expelled by faction; and with a show of friendship, he retained him for his own purposes. I often heard him say, that Ireland could be conquered and taken with one legion and a small reserve; and such a measure would have its advantages even as regards Britain, if Roman power were extended on every side, and liberty taken away as it were from the view of the latter island."[2]

We request special attention to the observation, that the Irish ports were better known to commerce and merchants. Such a statement by such an authority must go far to remove any doubt as to the accounts given on this subject by our own annalists. The proper name of the recreant "regulus" has not been discovered, so that his infamy is transmitted anonymously to posterity. Sir John Davies has well observed, with regard to the boast of subduing Ireland so easily, "that if Agricola had attempted the conquest thereof with a far greater army, he would have found himself deceived in his conjecture." William of Neuburg has also remarked, that though the Romans harassed the Britons for three centuries after this event, Ireland never was invaded by them, even when they held dominion of the Orkney Islands, and that it yielded to no foreign power until the year [3] 1171. Indeed, the Scots and Picts gave their legions quite sufficient occupation defending the ramparts of Adrian and Antoninus, to deter them from attempting to obtain more, when they could so hardly hold what they already possessed.


[7] Lands.—Lhuid asserts that the names of the principal commanders in Gaul and Britain who opposed Caesar, are Irish Latinized.

[8] Received.—"They are said to have fled into Ireland, some for the sake of ease and quietness, others to keep their eyes untainted by Roman insolence."—See Harris' Ware. The Brigantes of Waterford, Tipperary, and Kilkenny, are supposed to have been emigrants, and to have come from the colony of that name in Yorkshire.

[9] Fear.—"In spem magis quam ob formidinem."

[1] Merchants.—"Melius aditus portusque per commercia et negotiatores cognitis."

[2] Island.—Vita Julii Agric. c. 24.

[3] Year.—Hist. Rer. Angl. lib. ii. c. 26.