How the Milesians Came to Ireland, by Geoffrey Keating

(This extract is taken from the History of Ireland translated by Dermod O'Connor)

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

The Milesian fleet first attempted to land upon the northern coast of Leinster, at a place then called Inbher Slainge, but now known by the name of the Harbour of Wexford.[1] The Tuatha de Danaus, alarmed at the number of the ships, immediately flocked towards the shore, and by the power of their enchantments and diabolical arts they cast such a cloud over the whole island that the Milesians were confounded, and thought they saw nothing but the resemblance of a hog; and for this reason the island was called Muicinis. The inhabitants, by these delusions, hindered the Milesians from landing their forces, so that they were obliged to sail about the island, till at last, with great difficulty, they came on shore at Inbher Sceine, in the west of Munster. From thence they marched in good order to a mountain called Sliabh Mis; here they were met by Banba, attended by a beautiful train of ladies, and followed by her Druids and soothsayers. Amergin, the Milesian, addressed himself to her, and desired the honour to know her name; she answered her name was Banba, and from her the island was called Inis Banba. From thence they proceeded on their march, and arrived at Sliabh Eibhline, where the Princess Fodhla met them, with a retinue of ladies and Druids about her; they desired to know her name, and she replied her name was Fodhla, which also was the name of the island. They went on and came to Visneach, where they were met by Eire and her attendants; she was likewise desired to discover her name, and she told them her name was Eire, and from her the country was called Eire. This transaction is confirmed by the testimony of an ancient poet, who, in a poem that begins thus, Sanna bunadhus na ngaoidhiol, has these lines:--

Banba they met with all her princely train,
On Sliabh Mis; and on the fruitful plain
Of Sliabh Eibhline, Fodhla next they spied,
With priests and learned Druids for her guide,
And all her charming court of ladies by her side;
Then virtuous Eire appeared in pomp and state
In Visneach's pleasant fields majestically great.

The Milesians, after this adventure, continued their march till they came to the palace of Teamair, where the sons of Cearmada kept their court, and appeared in great grandeur and magnificence, encompassed with their enchanted guards. Amergin immediately addressed himself to the three kings, and resolutely demanded of them to resign their government, or be decided by the hazard of a pitched battle; and this he insisted upon in revenge for the death of the valiant Ith, whom they had treacherously slain. The prince of the Tuatha de Danaus, surprised at this bold summons, made answer that they were not prepared to decide the dispute in a military way, because they had no standing forces and could not instantly bring an army into the field, but they were willing the whole affair should be determined by the arbitration of Amergin, who they perceived was a person of great judgment and abilities, but threatened him withal, that if he imposed any unjust conditions, they would certainly destroy him by their enchantments. Amergin immediately ordered the Gadelians to retire to Inbher Sceine, and with all possible expedition to hasten on shipboard with the rest of the Gadelians, and to sail out of the mouth of the harbour, or as others say, nine waves from the shore; then he made this proposal to the Tuatha de Danaus, that if they could hinder his men from landing in the island he, with his whole fleet, would return into Spain, and never make any other attempt upon the country; but if he and his resolute Gadelians could in defiance of them land upon their coast, the Tuatha de Danaus should resign the government and become their tributaries. This offer was well accepted by the inhabitants, who, depending upon the influence of their art, thought they should soon get rid of these insolent invaders; for they had that command over the elements by their enchantments, that they made no question of preventing them from ever setting foot upon the shore again.

In obedience to the command of Amergin, the Milesians returned to their shipping, and he went on board with them; they weighed anchor, and moved no more than the distance of nine waves from the shore. The Tuatha de Danaus perceiving the ships were afloat, confiding in their art, had immediate recourse to their enchantments, which succeeded so far as to raise a most violent and tempestuous wind, which soon disordered the Milesian fleet and drove them foul one upon another. Amergin and Donn, the sons of Milesius, knew the storm proceeded from no natural cause, and Arranan, the youngest son of the brave Milesius, went up to the topsail to make discoveries, but was unfortunately blown off by a gust of wind, and falling upon the hatch he instantly died. The Gadelians began to be in great confusion, for the ships were dreadfully tossed, and the whole fleet was in danger of being lost; the vessel which Donn commanded was by the violence of the storm separated from the rest of the fleet, and was broken to pieces, and himself and all the crew were drowned.

Aeremon with part of the Milesian fleet was driven to the left, towards the island, and with great difficulty arrived safely at Inbher Colpa, now called Drogheda. . . . Three days after Heber and his followers were got on shore, they were attacked by Eire, the wife of Mac Breine, one of the princes of the country, at Sliabh Mis, or the Mountain of Mis; this lady was attended by a strong body of men, and a desperate battle followed, where many were destroyed on both sides.... An old poet makes honourable mention of this battle, and confirms some of the particulars in these verses.

On Sliabh Mis our warlike squadrons stood,
Eager of fight, and prodigal of blood;
Victorious arms our stout Gadelians bore,
Ruin behind, and terror marched before;
A thousand of the enchanted host are slain,
They try their charms and magic arts in vain,
For with their mangled limbs they cover all the plain.

Three hundred only of our troops are kill'd,
Who bravely turned the fortune of the field.
The learned Uar rushed among the rest,
But with repeated blows and wounds oppressed
He fell, and by his side expiring lay
Either, a priest, and gasp'd his soul away.
The victors then the funeral rites prepare,
Due to their dead companions of the war.

[1] Keating states on good authority that the Milesians first landed in Ireland 1300 years before Christ.