The Primitive Inhabitants of Great Britain

And he [Lluyd] fully establishes the fact that the Gaels [1] had been THE PRIMITIVE INHABITANTS OF GREAT BRITAIN, before the Cymri or ancient Britons (who were the ancestors of the Welsh) arrived in that island; and that the dialect of those Gaels was then the universal language of the whole British Isle.[2]

The Island of Great Britain was called by the Gaels, Alban, Albain, ("aill": Irish, a rock or cliff; and "ban," white: because, it is thought, of the chalky or white cliffs of Dover, as seen from the direction of Gaul), and, more lately, Albion; and when the Gaels were driven by the Britons to the northern portion of the Island, that part only was called Alba, Alban, or Albain, while the southern portion of the Island, now known as England, was called Britain or Albion.

According to Ussher, in his Antiquit. Eccl. Brit., page 378, "Albion" was the name under which Great Britain was known to the Greeks, not only in the time of Ptolemy, Marcianus Heracleota, Eustachius, etc., but also in the much more ancient time of Aristotle and of Theophrastus: a very natural name for it by a Gaul placed on the continent or near Calais, where the first and only knowledge he may have of the British Isle consists in the bare sight of the white cliffs of Dover; and this Gaul, having crossed the channel and observed the situation and shape of the land above Dover, naturally calls it Ceantir [3] ("ceanntir:" Irish, headland), which the Romans latinized Cantium, now "Kent." A numerous colony of the Gaels having afterwards crossed over from Gaul to Britain, which by degrees they peopled from one end to the other, they gave names to all the remarkable objects of nature and art throughout the whole country—such as rivers, mountains, headlands, towns, etc.; and, accordingly, we find these Gaelic names everywhere in England and Wales, from Dover to York, namely, from Ceantir (or Kent) to the river Isc, now called the "Ouse," which passes through York; and from the river Isca (which passes through the town of Caer-Leon-ar-Isc, in Monmouthshire), to Longdion (now "London"), and its river Tamh-isc or Thamisis, now the "Thames."

In his Mona Antiqua, Roland observes that the remains of old habitations still to be seen on the tops of high places in Anglesea, are called to this day Ceitir Guidelod, which he anglicises "the Irishmen's cottages,"[4] but which should more properly be rendered "the habitations of the Gaels;" and he justly observes that those are vestiges of the first habitations that were made by the first planters of the island, because the valleys were then covered with woods, which were the haunts of wolves and other wild beasts. Two other objects, whose names are plain Irish, are living evidences that the Gaels were the ancient inhabitants of Anglesea, before the Welsh: The landing-place of the ferry or passage from North Wales to Anglesea is, in Welsh, called Port-aeth-wy, which is a corruption of the Irish Port-ath-bhuidhe, meaning "the bank or landing-place of the yellow ford"—the water of that arm of the sea being of a yellowish colour. It is also remarkable that Tin-dath-wy, the name of the territory adjacent to Port-aeth-wy, is pure Irish; for tyn, in Welsh, signifies "a country or territory," as tain does in Irish: so that originally the name was Tain-ath-bhuidhe, meaning "the territory of the yellow ford."

Even the name of the very capital of Britain, as used in the time of the Romans (who added the termination "um" to it) was mere Irish; for, long [lung] is still the only word in common use in Irish to signify "a ship," as din or dion has been used to express ";a place of safety or protection": so that Longdin or Longdion, which the Romans changed to Londinum (now "London"), literally means "a place of safety for ships." It is also worthy of remark that the name of the river on which London is built was plain Irish. Caesar calls it Isis, which is only latinizing the Irish word Isc ("water)," which was the Gaelic name of that river before the Romans invaded Britain; and whether the word Tam was always prefixed to isc or isis, either as an epithet, or as being the name of the river "Tame," which joins its water, in either case the Irish word Tamh, which signifies "still" (or quiet, gentle, smooth), was a natural epithet for the river "Thames," as well as being a very significant name for the river "Tame," on account of the stillness of its water.

According to the ancient Irish historians, and to Nenius, the Briton, the Gaelic colony which came to Ireland from Spain, and brought a mixture of the old Spanish or Cantabrian into the Irish language, was called the "Milesian or Scotic Nation." They were also called "Scots." That Milesian colony never inhabited Britain before their arrival in Ireland, but came directly by sea to this country; whence, after a long process of time, the Irish Monarch Cormac Mac Art in the third century established a colony, then known as Dalriada, in the north-west coast of Great Britain, and, in the fifth century of the Christian era, another Irish colony went there under the command of Fergus Mor MacEarca, the founder of the Scottish Monarchy in North Britain.[5]

The Gaelic-Irish bears a striking affinity not only to the old British in its different dialects, the Welsh and Armoric, besides the old Spanish or Cantabrian language preserved in Navarre and the Basque provinces, but also to the Greek, the Latin, the Hebrew, the Phoenician, the Chaldee, the Syriac, the Arabic, etc. Instances of this affinity are given throughout this Work. Dr. O'Brien shows that the Lingua Prisca of the Aborigines of Italy (from which the Latin of the twelve tables, and afterwards the Roman language, were derived) could have been nothing else than a dialect of the primitive Celtic;[6] and I venture the opinion that, if Philologists investigate the matter, they will find that the Aborigines of America and of the Polynesian Islands speak dialects of the ancient Celtic!

The Problem—"What was the language of our First Parents"—has long been a disputed question. Some say it was the Pelasgian, which was another name for the Japhetic; and some say that the Japhetic was the Scythian, which was another name for the Celtic or Gaelic.

In a Scottish Gaelic poem by Allister MacDonald, in reference to the Gaelic language, the following jocose passage occurs:

"Si labhar Adhamh a b-pairthas fan,

S'ba snasmhar Gaelig a n-beul aluin Eabha,"

which may be interpreted:

"The expressive Gaelic language was that which Adam spoke in Paradise, and which flowed from the lips of the fair Eve."

Or, divested of its adjectives, the passage may be reduced to the following proposition:



[1] Gaels: Baxter, in his Glossario Antiquae Britanniae, considers that the Brigantes (who were a part of the Gaelic colony which went from Spain to Ireland) were the first inhabitants of Britain; and Lhuyd shows that the Brigantes were the first inhabitants of all that part of Great Britain which now comprehends England and Wales.

[2] Isle: When the Cymri (see "Cimbrians and Britons," in the Appendix,) settled in Britain, they forced the Gaels to the northern part of the Island; and the name Alban or Albain, which the Gaels had first given to it, followed them, so as to be appropriated to whatever tract they inhabited. Hence it is that the term Albanach is the Irish for a native of Alba or Scotland, or North Britain, even at the present day.

[3] Ceantir: This word is compounded of the Irish ceann, the head; and tir (Lat. ter-ra), a land, a country, a nation; and this ceann makes cinn, in the genitive case. Hence the Anglo-Saxon word king; because the "King" is the head of his people or subjects: the Irish C being equivalent to the English letter K; and the final double n, to the English ng.—See O'Brien's Irish Dictionary, under the word "Cinn."

[4] Cottages: The ancient Irish had four sorts of habitations, viz.—1. Caithir, a city (the Welsh ceitir); 2. Baile, a town (Lat. villa), called Baile mor, if a large town; 3. Dun, a strong or fortified habitation; 4. Bruighean, a palace, a royal residence, a grand house or building. Bruighean is like the Prain of the Welsh, which means a King's court; they also call it Priv-lys ("primh-lios": Irish, a chief fort), meaning a principal residence. The Irish word "brug" or "brog" is the root of Bruighean, here mentioned; and is the same in meaning as the German, Gaulish, and Spanish bruiga, briga, and broga. The Thracian bria (acc. brian) signified a town or habitation; and the Irish bruighean is pronounced "bruian," the same as the Thracian brian—both words having the same signification.

Strabo observes that the Phryges were formerly called Bryges, or as the Greeks wrote it, Bruges (Irish, Brugeis), and were of the Thracian kind: "Phryges antiquitus Bryges Thracum genus;" which goes to prove that the Phrygians, Thracians, and the ancient Irish dwelt in houses and in cities, and were thus distinguished from the Nomads.

[5] Britain: See No. 90 on "The Lineal Descent of the Royal Family of England."

[6] Celtic: For further valuable information on this subject, see Dr. O'Brien's "Irish Dictionary."