Early Irish Colonists

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter II concluded

The artificial state of society in our own age, has probably acted disadvantageously on our literary researches, if not on our moral character. Civilization is a relative arbitrary term; and the ancestors whom we are pleased to term uncivilized, may have possessed as high a degree of mental culture as ourselves, though it unquestionably differed in kind. Job wrote his epic poem in a state of society which we should probably term uncultivated; and when Lamech gave utterance to the most ancient and the saddest of human lyrics, the world was in its infancy, and it would appear as if the first artificer in "brass and iron" had only helped to make homicide more easy. We can scarce deny that murder, cruel injustice, and the worst forms of inhumanity, are but too common in countries which boast of no ordinary refinement; and we should hesitate ere we condemn any state of society as uncivilized, simply because we find such crimes in the pages of their history.

The question of the early, if not pre-Noahacian colonization of Ireland, though distinctly asserted in our annals, has been met with the ready scepticism which men so freely use to cover ignorance or indifference. It has been taken for granted that the dispersion, after the confusion of tongues at Babel, was the first dispersion of the human race; but it has been overlooked that, on the lowest computation, a number of centuries equal, if not exceeding, those of the Christian era, elapsed between the Creation of man and the Flood; that men had "multiplied exceedingly upon the earth;" and that the age of stone had already given place to that of brass and iron, which, no doubt, facilitated commerce and colonization, even at this early period of the world's history. The discovery of works of art, of however primitive a character, in the drifts of France and England, indicates an early colonization.

The rudely-fashioned harpoon of deer's horn found beside the gigantic whale, in the alluvium of the carse near the base of Dummyat, twenty feet above the highest tide of the nearest estuary, and the tusk of the mastodon lying alongside fragments of pottery in a deposit of the peat and sands of the post-pliocene beds in South Carolina, are by no means solitary examples. Like the night torch of the gentle Gruanahane savage, which Columbus saw as he gazed wearily from his vessel, looking, even after sunset, for the long hoped-for shore, and which told him that his desire was at last consummated, those indications of man, associated with the gigantic animals of a geological age, of whose antiquity there can be no question, speak to our hearts strange tales of the long past, and of the early dispersion and progressive distribution of a race created to "increase and multiply."

The question of transit has also been raised as a difficulty by those who doubt our early colonization. But this would seem easily removed. It is more than probable that, at the period of which we write, Britain, if not Ireland, formed part of the European continent; but were it not so, we have proof, even in the present day, that screw propellers and iron cast vessels are not necessary for safety in distant voyages, since the present aboriginal vessels of the Pacific will weather a storm in which a Great Eastern or a London might founder hopelessly.

Let us conclude an apology for our antiquity, if not a proof of it, in the words of our last poet historian:—

"We believe that henceforth no wise person will be found who will not acknowledge that it is possible to bring the genealogies of the Gaedhils to their origin, to Noah and to Adam; and if he does not believe that, may he not believe that he himself is the son of his own father. For there is no error in the genealogical history, but as it was left from father to son in succession, one after another.

"Surely every one believes the Divine Scriptures, which give a similar genealogy to the men of the world, from Adam down to Noah;[4] and the genealogy of Christ and of the holy fathers, as may be seen in the Church [writings]. Let him believe this, or let him deny God. And if he does believe this, why should he not believe another history, of which there has been truthful preservation, like the history of Erinn? I say truthful preservation, for it is not only that they [the preservers of it] were very numerous, as we said, preserving the same, but there was an order and a law with them and upon them, out of which they could not, without great injury, tell lies or falsehoods, as may be seen in the Books of Fenechas [Law], of Fodhla [Erinn], and in the degrees of the poets themselves, their order, and their laws."[5]


[4] Noah.—This is a clear argument. The names of pre-Noahacian patriarchs must have been preserved by tradition, with their date of succession and history. Why should not other genealogies have been preserved in a similar manner, and even the names of individuals transmitted to posterity?

[5] Laws.—MacFirbis. Apud O'Curry, p. 219.