The Book of Invasions

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter II

It is unnecessary to make any observation on the value and importance of the Annals of the Four Masters. The work has been edited with extraordinary care and erudition by Dr. O'Donovan, and published by an Irish house. We must now return to the object for which this brief mention of the MS. materials of Irish history has been made, by showing on what points other historians coincide in their accounts of our first colonists, of their language, customs, and laws; and secondly, how far the accounts which may be obtained ab extra agree with the statements of our own annalists. The Book of Invasions, which was rewritten and "purified" by brother Michael O'Clery, gives us in a few brief lines an epitome of our history as recorded by the ancient chroniclers of Erinn:—

"The sum of the matters to be found in the following book, is the taking of Erinn by [the Lady] Ceasair; the taking by Partholan; the taking by Nemedh; the taking by the Firbolgs; the taking by the Tuatha Dé Danann; the taking by the sons of Miledh [or Miletius]; and their succession down to the monarch Melsheachlainn, or Malachy the Great [who died in 1022]." Here we have six distinct "takings," invasions, or colonizations of Ireland in pre-Christian times.

It may startle some of our readers to find any mention of Irish history "before the Flood," but we think the burden of proof, to use a logical term, lies rather with those who doubt the possibility, than with those who accept as tradition, and as possibly true, the statements which have been transmitted for centuries by careful hands. There can be no doubt that a high degree of cultivation, and considerable advancement in science, had been attained by the more immediate descendants of our first parents. Navigation and commerce existed, and Ireland may have been colonized. The sons of Noah must have remembered and preserved the traditions of their ancestors, and transmitted them to their descendants. Hence, it depended on the relative anxiety of these descendants to preserve the history of the world before the Flood, how much posterity should know of it. MacFirbis thus answers the objections of those who, even in his day, questioned the possibility of preserving such records:—"If there be any one who shall ask who preserved the history [Seanchus], let him know that they were very ancient and long-lived old men, recording elders of great age, whom God permitted to preserve and hand down the history of Erinn, in books, in succession, one after another, from the Deluge to the time of St. Patrick."