Early Irish and Roman history

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter V

We have already given some account of the principal works from which our annals may be compiled. Before we proceed to that portion of our history the authenticity of which cannot be questioned, it may, perhaps, be useful to give an idea of the authorities for the minor details of social life, the individual incidents of a nation's being, which, in fact, make up the harmonious whole. We shall find a remarkable coincidence between the materials for early Roman history, and those for the early history of that portion of the Celtic race which colonized Ireland.

We have no trace of any historical account of Roman history by a contemporary writer, native or foreign, before the war with Pyrrhus ;yet we have a history of Rome for more than four hundred years previous offered to us by classical writers,[5] as a trustworthy narrative of events. From whence did they derive their reliable information? Unquestionably from works such as the Origines of Cato the Censor, and other writers, which were then extant, but which have since perished. And these writers, whence did they obtain their historical narratives? If we may credit the theory of Niebuhr,[6] they were transmitted simply by bardic legends, composed in verse. Even Sir G. C. Lewis admits that "commemorative festivals and other periodical observances, may, in certain cases, have served to perpetuate a true tradition of some national event."[7] And how much more surely would the memory of such events be perpetuated by a people, to whom they had brought important political revolutions, who are eminently tenacious of their traditions, and who have preserved the memory of them intact for centuries in local names and monumental sites! The sources from whence the first annalists, or writers of Irish history, may have compiled their narratives, would, therefore, be—1. The Books of Genealogies and Pedigrees. 2. The Historic Tales. 3. The Books of Laws. 4. The Imaginative Tales and Poems. 5. National Monuments, such as cromlechs and pillar stones, &c, which supplied the place of the brazen tablets of Roman history, the libri lintei, [8] or the chronological nail.[9]


[5] Writers.—The first ten books of Livy are extant, and bring Roman history to the consulship of Julius Maximus Gurges and Junius Brutus Scoene, in 292 B.C. Dionysius published his history seven years before Christ. Five of Plutarch's Lives fall within the period before the war with Pyrrhus. There are many sources besides those of the works of historians from which general information is obtained.

[6] Niebuhr.—"Genuine or oral tradition has kept the story of Tarpeia for five-and-twenty hundred years in the mouths of the common people, who for many centuries have been total strangers to the names of Cloelia and Cornelia."—Hist. vol. i. p. 230.

[7] Event.—Credibility of Early Roman History, vol. i. p. 101.

[8] Libri lintei.—Registers written on linen, mentioned by Livy, under the year 444 B.C.

[9] Nail.—Livy quotes Cincius for the fact that a series of nails were extant in the temple of Hostia, at Volsinii, as a, register of successive years. Quite as primitive an arrangement as the North American quipus.