The Battles of Taillten and Geisill

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter V

The battle of Taillten followed; and the Milesians having become masters of the country, the brothers Eber Finn and Eremon divided it between them; the former taking all the southern part, from the Boyne and the Shannon to Cape Clear, the latter taking all the part lying to the north of these rivers.

This arrangement, however, was not of long continuance. Each was desirous of unlimited sovereignty; and they met to decide their claims by an appeal to arms at Géisill,[7] a place near the present Tullamore, in the King's county. Eber and his chief leaders fell in this engagement, and Eremon assumed the sole government of the island.[8]

Ancient Flint Axe

Ancient Flint Axe

He took up his residence in Leinster, and after a reign of fifteen years died, and was buried at Ráith Beóthaigh, in Argat Ross. This ancient rath still exists, and is now called Rath Beagh. It is situated on the right bank of the river Nore, near the present village of Ballyragget, county Kilkenny. This is not narrated by the Four Masters, neither do they mention the coming of the Cruithneans or Picts into Ireland. These occurrences, however, are recorded in all the ancient copies of the Book of Invasions, and in the Dinnseanchus. The Cruithneans or Picts are said to have fled from the oppression of their king in Thrace, and to have passed into Gaul. There they founded the city of Poictiers. From thence they were again driven by an act of tyranny, and they proceeded first to Britain, and then to Ireland. Crimhthann Sciath-bel, one of King Eremon's leaders, was at Wexford when the new colony landed. He was occupied in extirpating a tribe of Britons who had settled in Fotharta,[9] and were unpleasantly distinguished for fighting with poisoned weapons. The Irish chieftain asked the assistance of the new comers. A battle was fought, and the Britons were defeated principally by the skill of the Pictish druid, who found an antidote for the poison of their weapons. According to the quaint account of Bede,[1] the Celtic chiefs gave good advice to their foreign allies in return for their good deeds, and recommended them to settle in North Britain, adding that they would come to their assistance should they find any difficulty or opposition from the inhabitants. The Picts took the advice, but soon found themselves in want of helpmates. They applied again to their neighbours, and were obligingly supplied with wives on the condition "that, when any difficulty should arise, they should choose a king from the female royal race rather than from the male." The Picts accepted the terms and the ladies; "and the custom," says Bede, "as is well known, is observed among the Picts to this day."


[7] Géisill.—The scene of the battle was at a place called Tochar eter dha mhagh, or "the causeway between two plains," and on the bank of the river Bri damh, which runs through the town of Tullamore. The name of the battle-field is still preserved in the name of the townland of Ballintogher, in the parish and barony of Géisill. At the time of the composition of the ancient topographical tract called the Dinnseanchus, the mounds and graves of the slain were still to be seen.—See O'Curry, page 449. The author of this tract, Amergin Mac Amalgaidh, wrote about the sixth century. A copy of his work is preserved in the Book of Ballymote, which was compiled in the year 1391. There is certainly evidence enough to prove the fact of the mélee, and that this was not a "legend invented from the tenth to the twelfth centuries." It is almost amusing to hear the criticisms of persons utterly ignorant of our literature, however well-educated in other respects. If the treasures of ancient history which exist in Irish MSS. existed in Sanscrit, or even in Greek or Latin, we should find scholars devoting their lives and best intellectual energies to understand and proclaim their value and importance, and warmly defending them against all impugners of their authenticity.

[8] Island.—The axe figured above is a remarkable weapon. The copy is taken, by permission, from the collection of the Royal Irish Academy. Sir William Wilde describes the original thus in the Catalogue: "It is 3 1/8 inches in its longest diameter, and at its thickest part measures about half-an-inch. It has been chipped all over with great care, and has a sharp edge all round. This peculiar style of tool or weapon reached perfection in this specimen, which, whether used as a knife, arrow, spike, or axe, was an implement of singular beauty of design, and exhibits great skill in the manufacture."

[9] Fotharta.—Now the barony of Forth, in Wexford.

[1] Bede.—Ecclesiastical History, Bohn's edition, p. 6.