Celtic Historians

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter II

The writers of history and genealogy in early ages, usually commenced with the sons of Noah, if not with the first man of the human race. The Celtic historians are no exceptions to the general rule; and long before Tighernach wrote, the custom had obtained in Erinn. His chronicle was necessarily compiled from more ancient sources, but its fame rests upon the extraordinary erudition which he brought to bear upon every subject. Flann, who was contemporary with Tighernach, and a professor of St. Buithe's monastery (Monasterboice), is also famous for his Synchronisms, which form an admirable abridgment of universal history. He appears to have devoted himself specially to genealogies and pedigrees, while Tighernach took a wider range of literary research. His learning was undoubtedly most extensive. He quotes Eusebius, Orosius, Africanus, Bede, Josephus, Saint Jerome, and many other historical writers, and sometimes compares their statements on points in which they exhibit discrepancies, and afterwards endeavours to reconcile their conflicting testimony, and to correct the chronological errors of the writers by comparison with the dates given by others. He also collates the Hebrew text with the Septuagint version of the Scriptures. He uses the common era, though we have no reason to believe that this was done by the writers who immediately preceded him. He also mentions the lunar cycle, and uses the dominical letter with the kalends of several years.[7]

Another writer, Gilla Caemhain, was also contemporary with Flann and Tighernach. He gives the "annals of all time," from the beginning of the world to his own period; and computes the second period from the Creation to the Deluge; from the Deluge to Abraham; from Abraham to David; from David to the Babylonian Captivity, &c. He also synchronizes the eastern monarchs with each other, and afterwards with the Firbolgs and Tuatha Dé Danann of Erinn,[8] and subsequently with the Milesians. Flann synchronizes the chiefs of various lines of the children of Adam in the East, and points out what monarchs of the Assyrians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks, and what Roman emperors were contemporary with the kings of Erinn, and the leaders of its various early colonies. He begins with Ninus, son of Belus, and comes down to Julius Caesar, who was contemporary with Eochaidh Feidhlech, an Irish king, who died more than half a century before the Christian era. The synchronism is then continued from Julius Caesar and Eochaidh to the Roman emperors Theodosius the Third and Leo the Third; they were contemporaries with the Irish monarch Ferghal, who was killed a.d. 718.

The Annals and MSS. which serve to illustrate our history, are so numerous, that it would be impossible, with one or two exceptions, to do more than indicate their existence, and to draw attention to the weight which such an accumulation of authority must give to the authenticity of our early history. But there are two of these works which we cannot pass unnoticed: the CHRONICUM SCOTORUM and the ANNALS OF THE FOUR MASTERS.


[7] Years.—See O'Curry, passim.

[8] Erinn.—Eire is the correct form for the nominative. Erinn is the genitive, but too long in use to admit of alteration. The ordinary name of Ireland, in the oldest Irish MSS., is (h)Erin, gen. (h)Erenn, dat. (h)Erinn; but the initial h is often omitted. See Max Muller's Lectures for an interesting note on this subject, to which we shall again refer.