Sir James Ware on the Origin of the Irish

(Extract from The Whole Works of Sir James Ware concerning Ireland, translated by Walter Harris, and published in Dublin in 1764)

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 1 (1880), edited by Charles A. Read

It is certain there is nothing concerning the first original of nations to be found anywhere worthy of credit but in Holy Writ. Moses hath given us a catalogue of the posterity of Noah, whose children and grandchildren he recounts in order, probably not all, but the principal of them, from whom the most famous nations of the world have drawn their names and originals. "By the sons of Japhet the isles of the Gentiles were divided in their lands, every man after his tongue, and after their families in their nations." Commentators interpret the isles of the Gentiles to mean the maritime parts of Asia, and all Europe, to which the necessary passage is by sea. Josephus hath placed the posterity of Japhet in those countries of Asia which lie extended from the mountains Taurus and Amanus near the Mediterranean Sea, to the river Tanais northward of the Euxine, and from thence hath brought them into Europe, as far as the Gades, that is Cadiz or Cales, within the mouth of the Streights of Gibraltar. If then this be so, it is easy to conceive how the rest of Europe came in time to be peopled. For as the nature of man is inquisitive after novelties, and as the number of our ancestors increased, both necessity and curiosity forced them to go in quest of other countries, at once to gratify their ambition and find room for their people. From Cadiz we can easily see them dispersing themselves over Spain; from thence in process of time pushing one another forward into Germany, Gaul, &c., and across the narrow firth from Calis to the coast of Kent; from thence by degrees northward into that part of Britain since called Scotland, and south and south-west to Wales; from each of which countries Ireland is visible, and might easily receive colonies in their wicker corraghs, and other contrivances of these early ages. And this I take to be the most rational way of accounting for the first planting of Ireland; as it is most natural to suppose, that islands were first planted from countries that border nearest to them; which is the reason given by Tacitus why the Gauls first peopled Britain.

But as Ireland, with the rest of Europe, are descended from Japhet, the difficulty then remains from which of his sons we are to claim our original. In the time of Moses the names and fixed seats of the descendants of Noah were without question clear enough; but now, after the space of upwards of three thousand years, after so many flittings, changes, and confusions of nations, there remains nothing to rely upon. It is very observable what Josephus says upon this subject. "From this time forward (i.e. from the confusion of Babel) the multitudes dispersed themselves into divers countries and planted colonies in all places. Some there were also who, passing the sea in ships and vessels, first peopled the islands; and there are some nations likewise who at this day retain the names which in times past were imposed on them; some others have changed them, and others are altered into names more familiar and known to the neighbours, and deriving them from the Greeks, the authors of such titles. For they in latter time, having grown to great name and power, appropriated the ancient glory to themselves in giving names to the nations which they subdued, as if they took their original from them." We see here a lively picture of the dispersion and plantation of colonies in several parts of the world, and of the changes and variations of their names; we see the ambitious humour of the Greeks in seeking to draw other nations to a dependence on them for their originals; which hath afforded scope enough to later writers for invention. But to proceed. If we allow the progress and dispersion of our ancestors to be in the manner as before is set forth, then we must admit our descent from Gomer, the eldest son of Japhet, through the Britains, who are confessedly descended from that original. Josephus is my witness that Gomer was the founder of the Gomarians, whom the Greeks (says he) called Galatians, others Gallo-Grecians. Berosus styles Gomer himself Gomerus-Gallus, Gomer the Gaul. . . . But this descent from the Britains must be understood of the first and early colonies arriving in Ireland, which by the best account are allowed to be of British original, and consequently descended from Gomer. As to the Milesian or Scythian, which was the last that got footing in Ireland before the arrival of the English, Magog, another son of Japhet, was their ancestor. The sacred historian gives no manner of account of the sons of Magog; but Josephus makes him "the founder of the Magogians, called by the Greeks Scythians, and whom Ptolemy names the Massagetae. Keating hath given us a particular genealogy of the posterity of Magog to Milesius through twenty-two generations, and hath conducted them in their several voyages until he sets them down in Spain in as exact manner as if he had been their pilot.