Episode 9 Prehistoric Ireland and the Celts
The Celtic World
Dr Jennifer Paxton (2018)
Written language became widespread in Ireland only after it was Christianized in the 4th century AD. However beginning in the 6th century AD, they would produce the largest body of vernacular (Irish language) texts in medieval Europe. Written in Roman script, these mainly consisted of legal documents (the medieval Irish were extremely litigious), genealogical documents, and literary works (history and mythology).
The 11th century Book of Invasions, is a mythological account of the pre-Celtic history of Ireland is one example. It recounts six invasions of Ireland occurring over several thousand years and seems to draw inspiration from oral Celtic mythology, the Bible and classical Greek mythology.
Invasion 1: According to the Book of Invasions, Ireland is uninhabited until 40 days before the Great Flood. At that time, Cesair, granddaughter of Noah, seeks refuge in Ireland with 50 maidens and three men. Unfortunately the Great Flood washes them away.
Invasion 2: Ireland remains uninhabited for another 300 years, until Partholon, another descendant of Noah, and his followers arrive and introduce farming. They successively thwart an invasion of one-eyed, one-legged giants called Fomorians but are ultimately wiped out by a plague.
Invasion 3: 30 years later, a third descendant of Noah named Nemed and his followers arrive in Ireland. Once again the Fomoroians invade, requiring the Nemedians to hand over two-thirds of their wheat, milk and children in tribute. Eventually the Nemedians rebel, resulting in a great battle with big losses on both sides. The surviving Nemedians split up, with half going into exile in “the northern islands” and half to Greece.
Invasion 4: 230 years later, the Greek Nemedians returned to Ireland.
Invasion 5: the Nemedians from the northern islands return to Ireland. Blessed with magical powers, they become known as the Tuatha de Danann and serve Ogma, the god who invented the written script known as Ogham.*
Invasion 6: The Book of Invasions traces the Gaels, the last invaders of Ireland, back to Nel (a descendant of Noah born near the Tower of Babel), who married Pharaoh’s daughter Scota (origin of the word Scot) and had a son Mil, whose Gaelic descendants wandered the Mediterranean for 300 years, eventually landing in Spain. His sons Emer and Eremon eventually sail to Ireland to avenge an uncle’s murder. There they defeat the Tuatha who are either exiled overseas or underground (as fairies). Eremon and his descendants eventually rule northern Ireland and Emer southern Ireland.
Although nothing in archeological evidence supports a history of multiple invasions in Ireland, many anthropologists believes the Book of Invasions represents the oral history of Indo-European that preceded the Celts.
DNA evidence closely links the Irish with the eastern Atlantic seaboard (west coast of France and Spain). See See https://owlcation.com/stem/Irish-Blood-Genetic-Identity
*An early medieval alphabet used to write the Irish language.
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