Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ireland: A Dark Gem

In Irish mythology, Ériu (/ˈeːrʲu/), daughter of Ernmas of the Tuatha Dé Danann, was the eponymous patron goddess of Ireland. Her husband was Mac Gréine (‘Son of the Sun’).[1] She was the mother of Bres by Prince Elatha of the Fomorians.

The English name for Ireland comes from the name Ériu and the Old Norse or Anglo-Saxon word land.
~ from Wikipedia

"Clouds Over Western Ireland"

courtesy of Anne van der Vaart

Ireland's beginnings are shrouded in mystery. Myths and Legends tell tales to explain her people and her existence. The names of fabled people, long gone, resonate through Ireland's history, prick our curiosity, and add to the richness of Ireland. Who, for instance, were the Da'Danaan and who was Milesius, their conqueror; who were the Firbolgs, and did they have anything to do with the Israelite tribe of Dan? What is/was Lia Fáil - the Stone of Destiny?

The history of Ireland from long ago is filled with wonder, bloodshed, heroism, and shrouded in darkness, too. We know that the Irish are Celts, not Latins, and are related to the Welsh, Scots, Cornish, Bretons, and perhaps even the Basque. But it is also likely that they are related to the Teutons. The massive wave of migration through Central Europe, that took place at least from 1,000 BC onward, and emanated from the Caucasus region of Eurasia, populated Europe with a war-like, land-hungry people. As they crossed into Europe they split into separate streams and continued their march westward. Heading north, into the regions of Northern Germany, and on into the Scandinavian regions, went the Teutons. The vast majority filled Europe, as much as supposed primitive peoples can, and crossed the English Channel. But where did they come from? Who were they? And what caused them to pick up and leave their homes?

Linguists and Historians attempt to build a coherent history of these people and simply add to the confusion - something the Irish seem to cause everyone. But we can perhaps tie a few legends and myths into something that may, or may not be, close to the truth.

The Assyrian Empire, while bloody and merciless, had an interesting way of dealing with the people of nations they conquered. Unlike the Babylonian Empire, which brought the defeated peoples into Babylonia as slaves, the Assyrians took everyone and moved them to another part of the Empire, populating territory with a captive people who were now far from their homes. Most would eventually accept their new homeland as their only homeland, and would pass into history as footnotes. But some few did not calmly accept the new circumstances.

In the vast area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, dwelt many peoples, of different origins, brought there by the Assyrians, and left to their own devices. Among those peoples were a Semitic group brought there after 714 BC. They came from the defeated Kingdom of Israel. And their appearance coincides with the first Assyrian record of the Cimmerians. The Assyrians called them the "Gimirri", which is considered by some to be an early version of "Cimri" or "Cymry". Why is this interesting? Because Cymry is the name the Welsh call themselves. And the Welsh are Celts.

By 705 CB the Cimmerians had killed the Assyrian Emperor Sargon in battle and launched themselves northward into the surrounding lands. The Babylonians called them "Scythians", which came from the name "Saka". By 515 BC, the Cimmerians, after threatening the Kingdom of Lydia (in modern Western Turkey), and being beaten back, slipped out of history. Saka is the Persian name, while the Greeks called the same people Scythians. In Akkadian, the Saka were called the Ashkuza and were closely associated with the Gimirri, who were the Cimmerians known to the ancient Greeks. In ancient Hebrew texts, the Ashkuz (Ashkenaz) are even considered to be a direct offshoot from the Gimirri. Back to them, once again. And who were the Gimirri? The legends say they are the descendants of Gomer. Gomer? Gomer was the eldest son of Japeth, father of Ashkenaz, and mentioned in Genesis. Still with me?

According to the Books of Esdras (Ezra in Hebrew), apocryphal books of the Old Testament, following the fall of Assyria to the Babylonian Empire, a delegation of Judahites, part of the captured peoples of Babylon, went north to seek out their relatives from the defeated Kingdom of Israel. Esdras recounts the request of this delegation that their cousins join them as they rebuilt their former Kingdom in Israel. For the Babylonians had given the Judahites permission to return to their old lands and rebuild. But the Books of Esdras relate that the mission was a failure. The now-intermingled tribes in northern Assyria said "no" and passed into the mountains and out of Biblical history. Could this be true? Why not? After all, the "ten Tribes" of Israel were not a small group, but numbered, by the time of the writings of Esdras, in the millions. Millions of people do not simply vanish. They go somewhere, or leave some evidence of their existence. My opinion is that they left a massive footprint for us to follow.

What of the Saka, mentioned earlier? According to Wikipedia:
The word 'Saxon' is believed to be derived from the word seax, meaning a variety of single-edged knives. The Saxons were considered by Charlemagne's historian Einhard (Vita Caroli c.7), to be especially war-like and ferocious.
This could be correct. But there is a stream of thought which says that the Saka called themselves "Sacasunii". And this is derived from "Sons of Isaac". If true, and I like to think so, it makes one wonder what the war-like people of Ancient times were doing calling themselves by the name of a Hebrew patriarch. The Saxons were a Teutonic people, related to the Angles, the Jutes, the Frisians.

Remember that many smaller tribes took other names, and thus are likely to be forgotten as a part of the great wave of migration. The Gauls had smaller tribal offshoots, but they remained a Teutonic people. The Franks, another Teutonic tribe, habitually divied their lands among the surviving sons, leading to partitions of ever smaller family groups or tribes. Yet out of the Franks came two ruling families: the Merovingians and the Carolingians. We remember the Carolingians primarily for their name-sake, Charlemagne.

And what of the Gauls? Another Celtic people who initially were widespread in Europe, sacked Rome under the great warrior chieftain Brennus, and were renowned to the Ancient world for their ferocity. And their habit of going into battle naked, their hair pulled up into spikes by the use of lime, and sometimes dying their bodies blue.

Images of Ireland

So, by the time we get to Ireland, that Emerald Island of beauty and mystery, we are in fact at the ebb tide of a wave of migration that began, in my own estimation, in the lands of the Assyrians.

Once we reach Ireland we have Myths where we would perhaps prefer history. Famous in Irish Myth is the Tuatha Dé Danann, said to mean "peoples or tribe of the goddess Danu". But some believe that the name Danann refers, not to some mythical goddess, but in fact to Dan, one of the "Lost Tribes", and a seafaring people from Biblical times. Some believe that they brought with them a religious concept of monotheism, which would in time evolve into Druidism. Druidism based its deities in a Triune setting. The Tuatha Dé Danann are said to have arrived in Ireland, bearing with them a Princess of Egypt (odd legend for the Irish, right?), led by an old prophet they called Ollamh Fodhla, meaning "great teacher," and bearing a stone called Lia Fáil: Stone of Destiny. This old prophet became high-king of Fodla, a poetic term for Ireland, in 633 BC, or so it is said. But it could have been earlier or even later. For, within one hundred years of that date we find remnants of the Kingdom of Judah, entering Egypt to find haven from the Babylonians. Most would be sent back to the Babylonians by the Egyptians. But others are said to have taken to the seas, heading to the northwest and the unknown, seeking a new home. They took with them the last daughter of the King of Judah, the prophet Jeremiah, and Jacob's Pillar, a stone used by the Patriarch Jacob as a pillow (Genesis 28:10-18).

Legend say that the rightful Irish King must stand upon the Stone when crowned, and that the stone then gives out a joyful roar. The Stone, called Lia Fáil, was sent to Scotland, and used by the invading Irish as a sign that they were now rightful rulers there. It was never returned to Ireland. King Edward of England, The "Hammer of the Scots", captured the stone, and carried it off in 1296, as a spoil of war. It was taken to Westminster Abbey, where it was fitted into the old wooden chair, known as St. Edward's Chair, on which English sovereigns were crowned. And just who were those sovereigns of England, later Britain? They were descendants of Celts and Teutons. In fact, when George VI was crowned, following the abdication of Edward VIII, he was then the hereditary King of Scotland, by blood. Elizabeth II is his rightful heiress, and thus also the rightful Queen of Scotland.

And Milesius? According to Seumas MacManus in his book The Story of the Irish Race, Milesius was the leader of a people descended from Niul, grandson of Gaodhal Glas. Moses is the one who gave Gaodhal the prophecy that one day his decendants would live on a happy western island free of serpents. And it was Niul who lived in Egypt, having come there from Scythia, and was driven out by an unjust Pharaoh. After long wanderings through succeeding ages, the descendants of Niul reached the Iberian Peninsula.

Milesius died in Iberia before he could reach the Isle of Destiny. His wife Scota went to Ireland with their eight sons. Due to some terrible storms (attributed to the magic of the De Danann who already lived in Ireland) most of Milesius' sons died when they tried to land. Eventually, though, the Milesians defeated the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Milesians, of course, were Celts. Interesting how their legends contained the name of Moses.

The Irish are the edge of a migration of peoples rich in oral history, fables, legends and myths. Their origins remain shrouded in the dark mists of time, and cannot be placed with any real accuracy. By the time of the Viking invasions, and the High King Brian Boru, Ireland was ready to fall apart under the weight of its forever battling clans and families. The Celts have a long history of great accomplishments followed by internecine warfare that leaves them prey for stronger, unified peoples. Strangely, those peoples have been their own relations.

And what of the Firbolgs? They were in Ireland, too. Who were they? In Irish mythology the Fir Bolg (Fir Bholg, Firbolg) were one of the races that inhabited the island of Ireland prior to the arrival of the Gaels. They were probably related to the Belgae tribe. And the Belgae? Yep, Celts. The Firbolgs were part of an early wave of migration into the island of Ireland and were subsequently defeated by later Celtic waves. The origin of the name Firbolg is lost to history, with many meanings raised. Nobody really knows anymore. Much like so much of Ireland's history before the times of the Romans, the true stories have faded. Some into Myth and Legend, many more lost forever in the fogs of the Emerald Isle.

There is much more I could relate, as far as legends, which would fill a book. But you can find more elsewhere. You all know how to surf the Web. Know this, however: The Irish are ancient. Their language older than English, their culture older, too. But they remain a part of the world's most powerful peoples: The Children of God.

Romans 9:26 And it shall come to pass, [that] in the place where it was said unto them, Ye [are] not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

Hosea 1:10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, [that] in the place where it was said unto them, Ye [are] not my people, [there] it shall be said unto them, [Ye are] the sons of the living God.

From PBS


BB-Idaho said...

"Linguists and Historians attempt to build a coherent history of these people and simply add to the confusion - something the Irish seem to cause everyone." ..agreed.
At first glance we think of them as
Celts pushed to the extreme locales by the expanding Gothic peoples, but historians and linguists have even more problems with the Basque (pre-celt?). Of great interest in these studies is the nascent science of DNA as relates to historic peoples which
should shed a little more light
(and probably add to the confusion)

benning said...

And what's a little more confusion amongst the family, eh?

I would bet the Basques are pre- or proto-Celts. But they remain a mystery for linguists and historians.

Thanks for visiting!

Joubert said...

Whew! I'm going to have to read that slowly one more time.

benning said...

Take your time, Patrick. It's not going anywhere. ;)

Gayle said...

A wonderful post, Benning! I found it particularly interesting since I just finished reading "Red Branch" for the second time.

You spoke of Irish legends. Have you ever heard of Ireland's mythical warior-hero "Cuchulain?" Here's part of the blurb from the back cover:

"In ancient Erin, the line between the perceived world and the Otherworld sometimes faded away, and then people said gods walked the earth. One such, it was rumored, had fathered that silver-eyed boy Setanta - and when Setanta became a man and the battle rage seized him, he was indeed like a god, a terrible god of destruction. They called him Cuchulain, the dreaded Hound of Ulster."

It is believed that among the Red Branch warriors the tragedy of Ulster may have first begun. It's extremely well written, and I will probably read it again. However, much blood is shed in this book, as it always has been throughout time. The author is Morgan Llywelyn.

Jack Steiner said...

That was interesting.