The Pardu

The Pardu
Watchful eyes and ears feed the brain, thus nourishing the brain cells.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Irish-American Heritage Month - Part 4


Today we'll continue with a discussion of the inhabitants of Ireland.  I must tell you at the beginning that some of what I am about to relate is considered to be legend by one or more sources.  That is true in particular regarding discussion about the tribes.  I have consulted several reference sources in an effort to bring you the most accurate information.  Of course, with legend I cannot vouch for it being 100% authentic.   

The Irish race of people today is popularly known as the Milesian Race because the genuine Irish (Celtic) people were supposed to have been descended from Milesius of Spain, whose sons, say the legendary accounts, invaded and occupied Ireland a thousand years before Christ.   But, it is nearly as inaccurate to describe the Irish as pure Milesian because the land was conquered and settled by Milesians as it would be to call them Anglo-Norman just because Ireland was conquered and settled by the 12th century English. 
Milesian Invastion by Maura O'Rourke 
 By the way, one source identifies the Milesians as "Scots."  I shall return to this later.

The tribes that occupied Ireland when the so-called Milesians came were the Firbolg and the Tuatha De Danann (some sources say this tribe was an imaginary race of "super" men who lived below the ground), and they were certainly not exterminated by the conquering Milesians.  These two tribes formed the basis of the future population, which was dominated and guided, and had its characteristics molded, by the far less numerous but more powerful Milesian aristocracy and military.  All three, however, were just different tribes of the great Celtic family and in the course of later centuries blended again into one tribe of Gaels.  

Manannan MacLir
                 Tuatha De Danann 

Colonization of Ireland was first made by the Firbolgs which, according to legend, came from Greece where they had long been enslaved and succeeded in escaping in the captured ships of their masters.  In their possession of Ireland, the Firbolgs were disturbed by the descents and depredations of African sea-rovers, the Fomorians, who had a main stronghold on Tory Island, off the Northwest Coast.  But, alas and alack, possession of Ireland was wrested from the Firbolgs by the Tuatha De Danaan.  These latter were totally unlike the uncultured Firbolgs, and are described as a "capable and cultured, highly civilized people, so skilled in the crafts, if not the arts, that the Firbolgs named them necromancers (magical beings); and in course of time both the Firbolgs and the later-coming Milesians created a mythology around them."  The Tuatha De Danaan were reputed to be more highly civilized than even their conquerors the Milesians.

Suffice to say, this early history revolved around kings and battles and a lot of other detailed stuff which I don't have time to get into.  I'm just trying to hit the high spots, folks.

Now for a change of pace.  Back on the REAL old days, what is now Scotland was called Alba.  The name "Scotia", which later was transferred to Alba around 1000 A.D., was one of the earliest names of Ireland, so named--it is said--from Scota, the daughter of Pharoah, one of the ancient female ancestors of the Milesians, and the people were called Scotti or Scots--both terms being frequently used by early  Roman historians and poets.  One source thinks that the term "Scot" (and then "Scotia") was derived from an old Irish word which signified a raider.  This source things that they earned the title from their frequent raiding of Alba and Britain in pre-Christian times.  However, this may be a boatload.

Hail from Scota artist rendition linked

Ireland was often referred to--by various name--by ancient  Roman and Greek writers. 

Plutarch testifies to the nation's antiquity by calling it Ogygia (say THAT three times real fast), meaning "most ancient."  One of its ancient titles was Hibernia (used by Caesar), which was traced from Eber or Heber, the first Milesian king of the southern half of the island.  The common title given to the land by its inhabitants was Eire.  The Northmen and then the Saxons, in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. began calling it Ir-land or Ir-landa.  In the oldest known foreign reference, in the sixth century B.C., it was called Ierna by the poet Orpheus in the time of Cyrus of Persia.  Aristotle, in his "Book of the World," also called it Ierna.  

The Roman writers usually called it Hibernia or Scotia--Tacitus, Caesar and Pliny opting for the former, Egesippus and others, the latter.  Although ancient native writers tended to wildly exaggerate the age of Ireland--some saying that it was settled by survivors of the Great Flood (see Noah, etc.)--about the great antiquity of Ireland there can be no doubt.

A bonus fact:  most people think that the native language of Ireland is Gaelic.  This is not true; the term is only used by foreigners.  The native language of Ireland is Irish, which is a Celtic language closely to Scottish Gaelic and Manx (spoken on the Isle of Man) and more distantly related to Breton (from Brittany) and Welsh.  Irish is spoken exclusively in only a few isolated parts of Ireland, called "gaeltachta."  Some prominent ones are the Dingle Peninsula, on Cape Fear Island, in the Aran Islands, around Ring in County Waterford, in Connemara in County Galway, and in patches of County Donegal.  Even among these "gaeltacht" all but a few elderly people CAN speak English; they'd just rather not.  Ulster, Munster, and Connacht have their own dialects of Irish.

In 1600, there were as many speakers of Irish on Earth as there were speakers of English.  However, the latter had more money and better armies, and over the next 250 years Irish speakers more and more had to learn English to conduct business, hence their children and grandchildren grew up speaking only English.  Mid-19th century British efforts to introduce systematic schooling in rural areas of course resulted in schooling in English.  The Famine hit Irish-speaking areas the hardest and the number of such speakers continued to decline.

In 1893 the Gaelic League revived interest in Irish among those who did not grow up with it.  The efforts to spread the everyday use of Irish were part of the move to de-Anglicize Ireland, just as the Gaelic Athletic Association attempted to drive out English sports.  

In recent years there has been more interest in Irish and an attempt to keep it alive.  Schoolchildren of all ages in the Republic are required to take extensive Irish courses and all Irish universities require knowledge of the language for admission.  Voluntary elementary schools that teach all subjects in Irish are gaining some adherence in urban areas, both in the Republic and among Northern Ireland Catholics.  A growing movement of Irish-language summer camps offer a heavy dose of culture and patriotism.  All government documents must contain both Irish and English.   

Tomorrow:  further along the historical road (including the Vikings)



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