Dr. George A Little, Dublin Before the Vikings: an adventure in discovery (Dublin: MH Gill 1957)

Epigraph, ‘A city built upon a hill cannot be hid.’ Matt. v.14.

Issue joined: Owing its origin to Danish auspices, Dublin was neither first built, nor originally peopled by men of Irish race.’ Litton-Falkiner, Handbook to the City of Dublin and Its Surrounding Districts, prepared for the British Association, Dublin 1908).

I cannot at all believe that the settlement of Dublin as a place of commerce and as a fortified town can be attributed to the Scandanavian pirates, in the ninth century.’ (John O’donovan, Annal of Dublin, Dublin Penny Journal, vol. I, no 1, p.174.)

Little: I hold in fact that the dogmatic conviction expressed by Litton-Falkiner and subscribed to by so many (i.e. that a pre-Scandanavian town on the site of Dublin never existed) is against all the evidence and must therefore be held untrue. (p.xiv)

Of the Scandanavians and Normans conscious uprooting of local culture where they invaded, Haliday says that their Chroniclers and writers of Chanson ‘rarely if ever used an Irish name when any other existed, and invariably called the city and even the Provinces by their Scandanavian names.’ Little italicises the reveal phrase about city, which implies that a conurbation already existed in Dublin at the arrival of the vikings. [xiv] [NOTE chronicler]

Little aligns what he calls ‘a school of romantics’ that ‘postured to fashionable prominence [and] attracted a swarm of imitators and admirers’, being made up of Stanihurst, Holinshed, vallancy, Ledwich and Beetham who suppress all matter that reflects credit on Ireland, summoning the fullest efforts of Keating, White, Lynch, Petrie, O’Donovan, and O’Curry to dislodge them. [xv]


.. eskers … pools … spurs of land and strands … Sean Mhagh n’Ealta Edair—the great plain running north from Dublin—metal bearing hills of Wicklow. ‘That man was neither slow to accept this invitation nor dilatory indeveloping its obvious advantages the writer hopes will become evident in the following pages.’ [p.6]


He (Brian Borumha) sent professors and masters to teach wsidom and knowledge and to buy books beyond the sea and great ocean, because their (the Irish) writings and their books were burned or thrown into the water by the plunderers, from the beginning (of the Scand. period) to the end.’ (Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, ed. Todd, p.139.)

‘One singular and extraordinary fact may be noted here, namely, that to foreign sources almost exclusively are we indebtd for a knowledge of these Irish saints. For our native Annals we could not know even their names, with very few exceptions, such as St Virgilius.’ Lynch, Cambrensis eversus, Kelly, cit. vol II, p.653). [7]

Appendix II lists Annals or chronicles: [THIS SECT. ALREADY COPIED TO LIBR]

Annals of Tighernach, compiled by Tighernach O’Brian (d.1080), Irish mixed with Latin, general world history but chiefly history of Ireland

Annals of Inisfallen, scholars of monastery of Inisfallen, ascribed to 1215, poss. began 2 centuries earlier, continued 1318

Annals of Ulster, written on isle of Senait Mac manus, Bll Isle in Upr. Lough Erne, dealing with Irland from 444 a.d., comp. by Cathal Maguire (d.1498) and cont. to 1541 by Rory O’Cassidy and nameless writer to 1604.

Annals of Loch Cé, copied for Brian MacDermot, living on island in Loch Key nr. Boyle, Roscommon, events from 1014 to 1636, entries inc. English, Scottish and continental events

Annals of Connacht, 1224-1562

Chronicon Scotorum [Scots or Irish], to 1135, comp. c.1650 by Duald MacFirbis[igh]

Annals of Clonmacnoise, earliest period to 1408; original irish lost, English trans. by Connall Mac Geoghegan of Lismoyny, Westmeath, completed in 1627.

Annals of the Four Masters compiled in Franciscan Friary of Donegal by Michal conary, Cucogry O’cleary, and Ferfesa O’Mulchonry, all under encouragement of patrion Fergall O’Gara, prince of Coolavin; 1632-1636.

History of the Galls of Ath Cliath (contained in the Book of Rights [Leabhar na Ceart/Cirt], eleventh century, acc. Myles Dillon.


The translation of the History of the Galls of Ath Cliath—concerning the arrival of St Patrick and his clerics—was done by O’Donovan.

In the Book of Rights, under the geasa of the Kings of Leinster, it is forbidden to sleep between the Dodder and the Duibhlinn with head inclining to one side. (Rights, p.3-5) [12]

Mather’s Song: ‘..then I slew the four sons of Lír, and the champions of Permland; and thn having taken the chief of the Irish race, I rifled the wealth of Dublin.’

Stokes, ed. The Martyrology of Gorman, Bradshaw Soc. Vol IX, 1895.

Life of St Kevin, Vita sancti Coemgeni, ed. Plummer.

From Life of Colum Cille, by Adamnan: ‘This cloud will bring destruction to men and heards. See how rapidly it spreads over the country. Before nightfall it will have engulfed all the land lying between Delvin River and Ath Cliath. From it will be voided rain and pestilence so that the bodies of men will wince and weep with ulcers and in like manner will it affect the udders of cows, so that all must did. Aided by God’s mercy let us bring them aid. Come, Sílnan, let us go togehter and prepare a boat that you (at least) may sail on the morrow’s tide. You living, and God willing, bring them bread which I will bless; moistened with water let them eat of it; and health will come again.’ (Bk II, chp. IV, pp.107-09) [18]

An attribute of the people of Dublin in the narrative in the Life of Kevin is asperrimi, very hardy; in the Book of Rights, it is cruaidh, hardy. [19]

Footnote: Dunn’s trans. of Tain Bó Cuailnge, conveys Maeve’s praise of the warriors from the Fír Gaileóin, being the Lagin from about Dublin: ‘there is reason to praise them. Spendid are these warriors.’ [19]

Little constructs a list of pre-Scandanavian Dublin bishops from Ware’s Bishop’s of Dublin and others such as Dr Colgan, Ussher, etc. [19]

Edmund Campion, in his History of Ireland, p.62, is reported as describing Mac Tháil as giving welcome advice to ‘a whole synode of Bishoppes assembled in Dublin ..’

Annals of Tighernach for a.d. 747 contains obit. for Ruman Mac Cólmain, poeta optimus quievit; likewise described by annalist as being ‘adept in wisdom, chronology, and poetry’, while the Book of Ballymote claims for him the title of ‘the Virgil of Ireland.’ The story of his visit to Dublin in pre-Scandanavian days is preserved in a vellum MS in the Bodleian, thought to have been translated from the Book of Ratháin Ua Suanaigh (now Rahan, co Offaly); the latter fact cited in Petrie, Ecclesiastical Arch. of Ireland, p.353. [20]

‘The Exile of Conall Corc’, from the ‘Cycle of Crimhthann, Son of Fidach’, translated in The Cycle of the Kings, [Book of Leinster vers.], ed. Myles Dillon, OUP 1946, pp.34-37. There is also a version of this tale translated by Vernam Hull in Proceedings of the Modern Language association, 56, pp.937-50. [22]

Chp. 3: THE NAME

Duibhlinne, Ath Cliath

Book of Rights contains the verse:

And the tribes come with him on his march

the men of Midhe, to the Brown Duib-linn

Westropp points out the sensitiveness of the early Irish to landscape colouration. as examples he instances some names of forts: (I give his spelling): lisderg, Redford; Lisbuy, Yellowfort; Caherbreac, Speckledfort, Lisglass, Greenfort; Rathduff, Blackfort. (The Ancient Forts of Ireland, TRIA, vol. XXXI, pt. 14 (1902), p.591. [26]

Calendar of the Ancient Records of Dublin.

Diviline—the use of the Scandanavian v form which reflects the phonetic rendering of the compound word in its genitive case—persists in North Dublin to our century. Little remarks: This habit was recorded in the Topographia Hibernica in 1797; John O’Donovan mentions it as a contemporary usage in his Annals of Dublin of 1832 (Dublin Penny Journal, No. 22., vol. 1, 24 Nov. 1832); Lewis notes its continuance when he compiled his Topographical Dictionary in 1872. [27]

Latinist rejectd the Irish genitive -ibh (Dublana); Saxo, in Historica Danica, used the fairly correct form Duflinn (28)

Prose-verse explanation of the origin of the name Dublin is given in the Dinnseachas, as cited by O’Curry in Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish (1873), vol. II, p.288. Little notes that the derivation there is as spurious as the Latinists attempt to fabricate an Anna of the Liffey, arising from the latinisation Dublana which overlooks the genitive -ibh.

Ptolemy’s weakness in phonetics, noted by ‘the peccant Harris (quoting a Mr Baxter)’—as Little says [Harris, History of Dublin, chp. 1, pt. 2, p.11]—produced the truncated form Elbana polis from the classical Dublana civitas [29]

There is an early reference to Dublin in the Book of Leinster: ‘Co Dublind rissa saiter Ath Cliath’—to Dublin what is called Ath Cliath—indebted to Prof. Dillon (Leinster, fac. 104, a.47, c.1150 a.d.). [29]

If genitive, Duibhlinne, what is the preceding nominative noun? Baile, cath?

Archbishop Us[s]her, in his Primordia, explains baile as oppidum (p.861); ditto Philip O’Sullivan Beare in his History of the Irish Catholics (p.159); villa, vicus, and vel burgum, in John Colgan in his Acta Sanctorum (p.554, w.2); pagus, vel villata, in Roderick O’Flaherty, Ogygia (p.24, cited in Census of Ireland, Introduction, Dublin 1861, pp.6-7)

In a note in the Book of Rights, O’Donovan states without authority that Dún-na-n-Gall us intended to denote Dún Duibh-linne’ (p.226, n.) [30]

Westropp notes that ‘in our literature the word (dún) is frequently equated with city’ (Ancient Forts in Ireland, TRIA, vol XXI, 1902, p.590).

Dún is defined strictly in so authoritative a MS as the Ancient Gaelic Law Tract preserved in the vellum MS H.3, 18 (TCD) thus: Dún, i.e., two walls with water (orig.: Dún, i, da chladh im uisce). The same name according to the derivation, would apply to ny boundary or mearing formed of a wet trench between two raised banks or walls of earth.’ (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, vol. III, p.3-4); cites Dún Duibhlinne (ibid. p.5). [30]

Lewis, Topographical Dictionary, 2nd ed. MD, CCC XLIV, 2 vols.

O’Donovan, in his preface to the Annals of Dublin uses this name [Ath Cliath Duiblinne] with an assurance that leaves no doubt that [it] was in his opinion the full and proper title for the city … he repeats (if indeed the introduction is his) the Book of Rights. (Annals [for] 1650, ed. O’Donovan, p.127).

O’Halloran’s History of Ireland: speaking of events which took place in the second century, says, ‘even in those days we find it called Atha-Cliath-Dubhlini’ (vol. II, p.238).

Battle of Magh Léna, ed. O’Curry, mentions Ath Cliath Duiblinne in the long form.

The Annals of Tighernach, inter alia, records the agreement between Eoghan Mór (commonly called Mogh Nuadhat), founder of the Eoghanachta dynasty of Munster and Conn Cead Cathach, Ard Ri, dividing spheres of power by moities along an arbitrary line drawn from Ath Cliath Duibhlinne to Ath Cliath Meadhraidhe in Galway (identified with Clarin Bridge [33] The Conn-Mogh riding coincided with the Eiscir Riada (Gravel-ridge of Riding), along which was built an tSlighe Mór, referred to in Annals of Four Masters under the date of 123 a.d [35], creating Leth Chuinn and Letha Mhogha. Munster is formed from the later with the Scandanavian stadr (-ster), place.

Regarding Eiscir Riada and an tSlighe Mór, see O’Lochlainn, Roadways in Ancient Ireland, in Feil-Sgribhinn Eoin MacNeill (1940), p.471. [34]

Little is critical of Malton, Dixon-Hardy, Warburton and Walsh, even Haliday, in uncritically copying from Harris ‘as their supreme source’ the apocryphal name of Dublin as Druim Cuill Coille, which he gives on his History of the City of Dublin, p.10: ‘The Irish called it Drom-chall-Coil, i.e., the brow of a hazel-wood, from our abundance of those trees growing about it. But this name must have prevailed before (by the great increase of buildings, and confluence of inhabitants) it merited the character of a city.’ [35-36] Little has found no reference to the name in the Annals or Lives.

.. it has been pertinently suggested to me (by Ristéard Ó Foghluda, DLitt) that the Wood quay (admitted to be Dublin’s oldest wharf) may owe its name to its proximity to Hazelwood Ridge [which Little associates with Harris’s apocryphal name for Dublin, Drum Cuill Coill] It is provocative to find no person named Wood figuring in the City Records in connection with this structure [35]

McGready, Dublin Street Names

O Neachtáin in his Eolas ar an Domhan mentions the pastures of Druim Chollchoille, i. Ath Cliath (on p.126-27). He states that this area is now Thomas Street.

Westropp, Early Italian Maps, PRIA vol XXX, Sec. C. no.16, p.401, remarks on the Norse settlement in Wicklow (Wiking-luc; Viking Beach, or properly flame, from lue) being imposed on an earlier promontory fort. [37]

In clearing the city’s name from the confusion that has clouded it, I feel that an important link has been wrought in the evidential chain which is to prove the substantial existence long possessed by pre-Scandinavian Dublin. [END 38]

Chp. 4: ROADS

Il. 40-41; on parallel maps, Little shows the section (or midriff) of Ireland from Clarinbridge to Dublin (Athh Meadhraighe to Ath Cliath Duibhlinne) which carried an tSlighe Mór. The road traverses a territory which includes sites such as (West to East), Aughrim, Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Tyrrell’s Pass, Maynooth, and even Clontarf.

W Fitzgerald, Historical Geography of Early Ireland (Lon:G. Philips & Son 1925): ‘[the roads] were certainly used for military transport during the third century, when invasion threatened. Troops were brought from different parts of Ireland and concentrated at Tara, in order to guard the exposed plain of Meath from Roman attack.’ (p.83) [42]

Annals of the Four Masters: ‘The first year of Conn Céadcathach as King over Ireland. The night of Conn’s birth were discovered five principle road (príomhróid) to Tara,which were never observed till then. These are their names: Slighe Asail, Slighe Miodhluchra, Slighe Cualann, Slighe Mór, Slighe Dála. Slighe Mór is that called Eiscir Riada, i.e., the line dividing Ireland into two parts between Conn and Eoghan Mór.’ (a.d. 123). Little interprets the element of fantasy as meaning that the improvements to the road system were effected in the reign of Conn’s father, Feidlimidh Reachtmhar, d. a.d. 119. [42-43]

Feidlimidh Reachtmhar, his seat was Uisneach [43]

Excellent monograph by Dr Colm Ó Lochlainn … comprehensive study: O’Lochlainn, Roadways in Ancient Ireland, in Feil-Sgribhinn Eoin MacNeill (1940). Ó Lochlainn’s autographed fold-out map illustrates Little’s book at p.44 facing.

uses the term ‘foralice’—fort + lis.

Little’s purple: Struck by the apparent ease with which early Ireland was traversed by kings in their chariots, hauliers, teaming spars for mastings to the harbours, missionaries afoot or riding for charity, poets vying with kings in their pride of equipage, invaders a-horse or bearing their boats on their shoulders, raidrs saddled with fear on their cruppers, travellers astride galled jades seeking wealth or wisdom, farmers behind patient bullocks drawing home the recent harvest … [44]

Slighe Mhiodluachra, Slighe Assail, Tslighe Mór, Slighe Culainn, Slighe Dhála [to Limerick]

Monasteries marked: Moville, Gortan, Clogh, St Conaings, Clogher, Armagh [Ulster]; Killarought, Ballintubber, Cong, Kilmaine, Kiltullagh, Loughrea, Tuam, (Roscommon) [Connaught]; Clonmacnoise, Rahan, Kells, Slane, Mellifont, Monasterboice, Dunshaughlin, Celbridge, Tallaght.Kilteel, (Kilmoney), Kildare, Seir, Aghaboe, Kilkenny (Leinster); Mungret, Limerick, Monasternenagh, Holy Cross, Kilmallock, Kilmore (Munster).

.. the early road system when first planned was uninfluenced by the geographical position of Tara. Later the royal seat was linked by secondary roads to the trunklines. Hence we conclude that the roads resultd from trade and not from policy or the exigencies of war. … The largest junction in pre-Scandanavian Irland was situated at Dublin … the only junction rivalling that at Dublin was one at Derry. [44-5] Little infers that these served respectively the Franco-Spanish and Northerrn Scandanavian traffic.

Upkeep of roads responsibility of Righthe, to be paved, swept, and hedged.

Bother na gCloch, Stoneybatter [Slighe Cualann].

Eskers are natural formations; ‘eiscir’ are always partly artificial. Little cites O’Curry’s scholia to Battle of Magh Leana (sic), p.63; also p.68, where O’Curry says: ‘Eiscirs are natural or supernatural [artificial?] elevations of land of moderate height, either as a bar or ford in a river, or as a causeway over bogs, swamps, etc.’ [49]

On chariots, Celtic invention implying roads: Eric Whelpton, Book of Dublin (London:Rockliff 1948). [49]

O’Donovan: [The esker] ‘extended from High St. in Dublin to Ath Cliath Meadhraighe in Galway. This esker, which is a continuoous line of gravel hills, is describied in our ancient MSS … The writer has walked along this ridge, and found it to extend by the (Greenhills) hills of Crumlin, and so along by Esker of Lucan, then sourth of Liffey, near Celbridge, and so across that river near Clane onwards to Donadea, until it strikes the high-road near Clonard, thus extending southwards of the conspicuous Hill of Croghan, until near Philipstown a line of road takes advantage of its elevation to run between bogs. It is next to be seen in a very conspicuous ridge two miles north of Tullamore, where Conn and Mogha fought the batlte of Magh Léna, and then it extends in a very well developed line through the Barony of Garrycastle unti its strikes the Shannon at Clonmacnoise. It can be seen in a very distinct line at Clonburren on the west side of the Shannon, and at the town of Ballinasloe, whence it extends in the direction of the abbey of Kilconnell; thence it wends in the direction of Athenry, and son to the promontory of Tinn Tamham (now Towan Point) in Meadhraighe, or the parish of Ballynacourty, a few files south of the town of Galway.’ (‘Tracts relating to Ireland’, Irish Arch. Soc., vol. X, p.45) [50]

Eiscir Riada alternative name for Slighe Mór, meaning Chariot Esker, since riada or riata ‘always signifies riding on horseback or in a chariot, e.g., Carbat chethat riad always means a chariot with four horses … This Eiscir … Slighe Mór, or the Great Road or Highay, had the addition of Riada made to it because of its adaptation to, and adoption as, a riding or chariot-driving way from the West of Eirinn to Tara and the Eastern coast, and is said in the Dinnseachus to have been irst discovered, or used as a roadway, by Nar, son of Aengus of Umhall ..’ (O’Curry, Battle of Magh Leana, scholium p.69) [51]

O’Halloran: [Slighe Mór or Eiscir Riada] was a deep trench cut, and high walls made, strengthened from place to place with redoubts, which were to be protected by 9,000 men … (An Introd. to an History of Ireland, Fitzpatrick, 4 Capel St. Dublin 1803, vol. II, p.237.)

Hayden and Moonan’s History of Ireland (with Sollus’ geological map of the historical route as frontispiece) [51]

[Regarding the 37 subsidiary roads mentioned by the Four Masters] Their condition and construction is vouched for by the surprise and unwilling admiration exprssed for them by leaders of English armies on first viewing those roads in a country which they despised but which they had not previously penetrated (see Stafford, Pacata Hibernia, .77)

To map the secondary roads of Ireland, particularly those of Dublin, an aerial survey is imperatative. This survey must be done very soon or the rapidly advancing building estates will make the task impossible. [52]

Watling Street, fancifully derived as the Street of the Sons of Waethla (Wathlinga-Stroet), probabl evolved from Gwidlinsarn (Gwyddelinsarn, i.e., Road of the Gaels or Irish.)

Church Street Bridge, officially Father Mathew Bridge since 1938. [59] Conciliation Hall, now Irish Press office. [60]

Zeuss, Grammatica Celtica (1853), discusses cliath/clethnat, glossed with tigillum, a little rafter, beam (p.282) [61]

Cliath said to be cognate with clitellae, an ox-pannier, and the Fr. clai, a hurdle, wattle, or screen. (Joyce, Irish Names and Places, vol. 1, pt. 3, cap. 5. [61]

The modern name for Dublin’s river, we think, was derived from Abha (na Magh) Life, the River of the Liffey Plain, but of old it was Ruirthech, the ‘tempestuous’, the ‘ever-flooding’. As late as the eighteenth century Ó Neachtain mentions it by this name. ([cited Hennessy, ed., Chronicon Scotorum, p.7.)

Wood-Martin, Lake Dwellings of Ireland.

Calendar of ancient Dublin Records, vol 1, p.6, shows for 3 July 1215 John giving Dublin its first bridge charter that they ‘may make a bridge over the water of the Avenlithe wherever it may appear most expedient for them.’ However, this is not taken by Little as proof that a bridge was then built, or that no bridge previously existed [67]

Fragments of Annals of Ireland, ed. O’Donovan, incl. Annals of Tigherach, or parts thereof. [69-70]

Mac Firbisigh, Genealogical MSS, alludes to Fiachra Dubh, an 8th c. king of Ulster, called the bridge-builder for the number of viaducts he had built: ‘.. as lais, do ronafh droicheatt na feirsi agus droicheatt Mona Deimh et alios, gona Fiachna dubh croitcheach, a aimn sidhen.’ (p.30) [70]

Ogham treatise in Book of Ballymote, ed. Atkinson (1887)

Warburton, Whitelaw, and Walsh, History of Dublin gives an account fo the excavation of Whitworth (now Mathew Talbot) Bridge: ‘Insinking the foundation for the south abutment … [in 1816], it was found that the foundation of the Old Bridge, which occupied the site, stood upon the ruins of another still more ancient. The stones of which it was formed rather resembled Portland stone than any other sorts found in Ireland. These were regularily laid, connected by laid cramps, on a platform of oak timber, supported by small piles shod with iron which was completely oxidised, and being encrusted with sandy matter, the lower ends of the piles were are hard as stone, as if entirely petrified. It is supposed that the Old Bridge was first constructed as early as the reign of King John, but these ruins indicate that a bridge of better and more artificial construction had, at a remote period, preoccupied the situation.’ (p.1096) Little infers that the bridge was likely to be not of Viking but of pre-Scandanavian origin, and his fencing with the term Droicead Dubhghall as refering not the Danes, but the older ‘Doyles’ or dark Gaels. [vide 68]

Note that Gobán Saor, said to be a native of Dublin, was a note pontificer.


Tacitus: Ireland, beying between Spain and Britain, is favourably placed for the navigation of the Gallic Sea. It would, if subdued, provide in many ways a useful link binding together the strongest outposts of our Empire. The Soil, climate, and the customs of the people differ littl from those of Britain, but the harbours and sea-lanes of Ireland are better known to traders and held by them in higher repute. (Life of Agricola, sect. 24) [73]

There are few classical writers on Ireland: neither Tacitus nor Caesar mention the names of places. Artemidorus (b.c.480) as edited by Marcianus Herocleotes in the third century a.d., states: ‘Juverne, a Pretanic isle, has sixteen nations, eleven important cities ..’ (cited in O’Donovan, Annals of Dublin, vol. 1, p.174). Ptolemy, Alexandrian geographer, mentioned Dublin as Eblana, fixing it centrally on the east coast, in aobout a.d.130. Note that Prof. O’Rahilly considers his information not contemporary and surmises that it was collected by Pytheas of Massilia, a Greek trader (Early Irish History and Mythology, p.40.) Little notes that Ptolemy’s information has also been ascribed to one Marinus of Tyre. [8] claudian referred to the magnitude of Irish maritime expeditions (de terio consolation Honorii Augusti, 397; de quartocon. Honorii, 398; in primum con. Stilchonis, 400, lib. II, V, 247.) Hegesippus i his treatise in which he described the destruction of Jerusalem records that Joseph Ben Gorion strove … to prevent the Jews from declaring war on Rome, and warn[ed] them that even Ireland was troubled at the threat of Roman invasion; in the words of Calganus, the Roman method was ‘to plunder, to masscre, to harry—these things, lying, they called Empire; just as untruly, when they have reduced a fertile land to a desert, they describe the result as peace’ (In Tacitus, Life of Agricola.)

Peter Lombard, Archb. of Armagh (1560-1625), speaks of the Irish keeping up continuous pressure on occupied Britain ‘that they might restrain the Romans, and keep them from passing over into Ireland’. (De regno Hiberniae, sanctorum insuae commentarius, etc. (Louvain 1632), 4o, Cap. II, p.22); that defensively inspired policy on the part of the Irish is proved by the attacks stopping as soon as the Romans left Britain, according to Bede (Ecclesiastical History, lib. 1, cap.14.)

In the fifth year of his British campaign, a.d.81, Agricola conquered Galloway by crossing the Firth of Forth. He was informed by a renegade Irish prince that Ireland could be conquered with one legion and some auxiliaries—presumably relying on local support. It is recorded in Mac

Geoghan that ‘Agricola sent against the Caledonians three legions, 8,000 Britons, and 3,000 horsemen, making in all about thirty thousand men; Ireland is larger than Caledonia, better peopled, and more warlike.’

The Romans named the Irish Scotti, i.e., raiders. (History of Ireland, vol. 1, p.81) MacGeoghan, and also Todd (Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gaill) associated this prince with King Tuathal by process of elimination. The Romans considered the Brito-Pictish threat to their rear to hasardous. Agricola was recalled to Britain two years after. Tuathal achieved his ambition independently, regaining his crown, but dying at the hand of King Mal of Ulster at the Battle of Moyline in Dalriada in a.d.125. [75]

Adamnan records in Vita Sancti Columbae in Latin ten kinds of ships: navis longa (Ir Ler-long, in Brehon Law tract, the Small Primer, I, p.105); barca (Ir, barc, for coasting, a ship for which 17 cows was payable to the builders, Saor luinge, acc. Brehon laws, H2, 16, TCD, and also called Serrcenn, sawhead (presum. cutter); Navis oneraria, cargo-ship; caupallus, victualling ship, or hollowed out canoe; naufagium scaphae familiae, a type of passenger ship; curuca (Ir. curragh, worth 17 cows); navicula, sail-boat (Ir.curachán); Cymba or cymbula, ferry-boat; alnus, a boat of alder wood (cf. Georgics, I, 136: ‘the first boats hollowed out of alder). [76]

Gildas vouches for the … number of ships of our flotillas … describ[ed] as ‘dark swarms’ upon the sea (cited in Cambrensis Eversus, vol. 2 (1850), p.181.)

Festus Avienus describes Irish mariners: ‘On ships encased in firmly folded hides,/O’er the high seas thy often fearless ride’ (Brendan the navigator, p.109f) [77]

The Book of Rights records information about the lading capacity of an Irish ship: ‘Ten women, ten ships, with beds,/From the hero of Caisl and Cliach,/Ten steeds in their prime condition,/To the King of the entrenched Ath cliath’. (O’Dnovan, 1847, p.39)

From Jonas, biographer of St Columbanus, we learn of direct regular trading between Nantes and Ireland in 609 (Zimmer, [ed.,] Vita Columbani, Sitzungberichte, p.366); Zimmer instances loan-words connected with wine in Old Irish.

Westropp, Early Maps of Ireland, PRIA, vol. xxx, sect. c, no.16, refers to wine refreshments given guests by Diarmait Mac Carbhaill, ‘the king for whom wine was served in splendour’, after the Battle of Magh Rath. (p.66) [80]

On gold, Little regards the wealth of ancient Ireland in this metal the basis of its trade, and the reason for its victimisation by pirates. He cites Saloman Reinach, Les Croissant d’or Irland[ais,in Revue Celtique, XXI, p.166: ‘un veritable Eldorado.’

The relative volume of gold in Ireland compared with English, Wales and Scotland, as indicated by museum collections (NLI), is 570 ounces to 20 ounces. Coffey, Distribution of Gold Lunulae in Ireland and NW Europe, PRIA xxvii, C.,p.251 [80]

Séachus Mór mentions Four Kinds of Distress ruling harbours and foreshoes; the Book of Aicill compiled and revised by Cennfaelach, son of Oiléll, c.642, details the rules for the maintenance of ships’ crews wrecked on the shore, and others coming in at a port. (vol 1,p.129). [81]

The name Boroimhe means—and is translated as ‘cattl tribute’: ‘eleven cantreds hath Leinster/And twenty of teeming wealth;/From Dublin Bay (Inbher Duibhlinne) hither/Unto the Pass of the Cattle Tribute.’ (ars of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, p.7.) [82]

Dixon-Hardy, the capable editor of Petrie’s Dublin Penny Journal and author of the guide, A Picture of Dublin.

Vallancey is recorded by Haliday as declaring that the city’s name ought b ‘Bally Lean [sic] Cliath as being … built near … a harbour’. Malton [did the same, probably echoing him] in the letter-press accompanying his famous series of Pictures of Dublin. Dixon-Hardy [&c] [repeated this] without hesitation, qualification or, alas, authority. … It would be an incredible coincidence if each of these writers invented the name—each on his own initiative. The unlikelihood is increased when it is remembered that neither Malton nor Dixon-Hardy (?) [sic] understood Irish, while Vallancey, to judge by his performance, had a knowledge of the language which was peculiar and of far less extent than he pretended. Of course, Vallancey may have concocted the name. Such procedurre would have been characteristic. But I think had this been son—such was Vallancey’s fame at the time—that the other two authors would have been only too gld to give the name the imprimatur of his authority. [83]

PW Joyce, Irish Place Names, 2 vols. [83]

Anthologica Hibernica contains a description of the inflow of the Liffey to Crampton Court (‘An arm of the Liffe came through to Crampton Court … so that this ancient rath—the predecessor of Dublin castle—was peninsulated, and formed a slough about 800 feet on each side.’), also quoted in Walker, History of the Irish Bards [n.p.] [84]

According to Keating [n.p.], Sean Mhagh Ealta Eadair (The Old Plain of the Flocks of Howth) was cleared about 1500 b.c., being the first meadowland of Ireland. [86]

Zimmer writes: ‘In earlier times intercourse between the Britons in the South-west and Irish in South Ireland must have been easier and safer than intercourse with such of their fellow-countrymen as lived inland at an equal distance.’ (Celtique Church, p.16)

Bede records that Aldfred, son of Oswy, King of Northumberland, stayed in Ireland in 671 for the cultivation of learning (Hist. Eccl., Lib. III, p.xxviii). In a poem attributed to his, he reports that he has found there gold and silver, honey and wheat, ‘affection with the people of God’, ‘bravery, hardihood, and commerce [orig. Ir. Ceannaidheacht] (Speculum, IV, 95ff.) [87] He was nephew of poet-schoar Cenn Faelad

Flann of Mainster Buithe (Monasterboice), ascribed the following synchronisms to the Mogha-Conn conflict, the Battle of Magh Léna: ‘The battle took place in the Year of Our Lord 177 and it was in the fifth year of the reign of Antonius Commodus that the Battle of Magh Léna was fought, in which Nuadad (otherwise Mogh or Eoghan Mór) fell.’ Book of Ballymote, fol. 7a., 6. [88]

Little calls O’Flaherty’s ‘a staid account’: ‘Eoghan Mogh Nuadat the Great, of the stock of Eber, and King of the Erainn of Munster, became an implacable adversary of King Conn, until he was compelled by Conn to flee the country. For nine years an exile in Spain, he at length allied himself with French, a Spanish prince, the son of Eber and grandson of Midna, and he married Freoch’s sister, Bera. Under his leadership he brought a great force of foreigners into Ireland. And to secure terms of peace he defeated Conn in [many] engagements and thuse overwhelmed not alone the inherited sceptre of the Munstermen, but also the entire south of Ireland from where the Ridean Ridge, or Esicir Riada, stretches in a straight line through the highways running along the higher prts of dubin to the ford of the Medrigin peninsula, near Galway. Therefore the southern part from that line is called Leth Mhogha, or Mogh Nuadat’s Half, and the northern part Leth Chuinn, or Conn’s Half. [PARA] This division into two parts had lasted [some say] no more than a year when Mogha hatched a new conspiracy. On the plea (cassatus) that the north of Dublin Bay Harbour (Portus) that belonged to Conn’s share retunred far greater profits from ship-taxes, fisheries, and commerce [than his], Mogha claimed for himself a half-share in this revenue. (Ogygia, seu Rerum Hibernicarum Chronologia, Roderico O’Flaherti, London 1685; pt. XII, Cap. LX, 315-16, trans. Arthur Little, S.J.) [88-89]

O’Curry’s translation of The Battle of Magh Lena; ‘It was at this time that Mogha Nuadat went upon the great circuit of his own half of Eire, until he reached Ath Cliath Dubhlinne: and having gone there to see the port of the ships, he found that more vessels came to Conn’s part of the harbour than to his. Mogha was consequently stung with great envy; and he said he would not abide by the co-division that had been already made, unless he got an equal division of the horses, and arms, and armour, and of the profits of the sea [fish] and the great tides [flotsam and jetsam]; and he sent a message demanding this co-division from [sic] Conn. Conn answered that he never would place arms nor clothes, nor armour, under the same rule of division as territory; and Mogha on hearing this threw up his truce without delay, turned back to Munster again, and told his foreigners (Spaniards) how he had received cause of quarrel from Conn; and Freoch and his warriors were well pleased to hear that speech … ‘ (O’Curry’s ed., p.71). [89]

In his introduction (p.15), O’Curry writes: ‘That the Battle of Magh Lena and the battles and political movements which preceded it in Eire and which led to the division of the country between Conn and Mogha are genuine historical facts, must be admitted from the frequent reference to them in ancient Gaedhilg or Irish manuscripts, and their having been received and handed down as such by descendants of the contending parties even to the present day.’ [90]

Jocelyn of Furness, Life of St Patrick; Trias Taumaturgae, contains details of a cess on the wealth of Dublin due in gratitude to the saint, including goods such as wine, honey, and ironworks from ships, and shoes, gloves, and combs, from shops. (p.9 seq.) [90] The Book of Rights contains a similar account of Patrick’s visit to Dublin and the debt of gratitude of the citizens. [91]

Fitzgerald, Historical Geography of Early Ireland.

Little quotes a passage from Green’’s The Old Irish World, p.75-6, dealing with the range and impact of the Viking depredations (‘.. their ships were soon the terror of the Black Sea shores—laden with warriors … &c’).

The Blefed, Bubonic plague, reached Ireland as early as 544 (Annals of Ulsters). Bede pointed out that the monasteries or monastic cities were effected most. The disease was sea-born, indicating shipping in the harbours. Se Sir WP MacArthur, MD FRCP, DSc., ‘The identification of some pestilences in Irish Annals, in Irish Historical Studies, vol. IV, no. 23 (March 1923).

John O’Donovan: ‘There is sufficient foreign and domestic testimony to prove that Ireland had commerce, and severl cities of note, at a very early period, and unquestionably several centuries before the Danes obtained any footing in it.’ (Probably from the same source as the ‘joining of issue’) [95]


To some earlier writers the Colgan-Ware list of bishops had proved so delusive that they declared it apocryphal, if not worse. The fact that MacFirbisigh (a hereditary historian of great repute) was Ware’s secretary and is believed to have suppled them with much of his early Irish history had no weight with them. They were trapped, apparently, into the error by the fact that thre was no separate dioceses of Dublin until after the Norman conquest … [a] judgement based on diocesan conventions not practised contemporaneously. [96] Little counters this by quoting his own Brendan, where he says that ‘in early Ireland the title bishop indicated rank without charge (op. cit, p.208). He adverts in a footnote to the same argument in Ryan, Irish Monasticism, p.82. [97]

GA Little, Little, Brendan the Navigator (Dublin 1945); also 2nd ed.

Rev. Prof. T. Corcoran, SJ, Guide to Catholic Dublin (Gill 1932).

Harris, Ware’s Bishops of Dublin, pp.303-06, contains list of bishops; also in Dalton, History of the Archbishops of Dublin, vol. 1, p.16ff. These, augmented from Colgan’s Acta Sanctorum and the Annals of the Four Masters, are: Livinius (Molibba), d.633; Wiro (Bearaidh), d.650; Desibod, d.675; Gaulafar, d.?; Rumold (Rumself), d.775; Sedulius (Siadhal Mac Luath), d.675; Cormac, d.840. Dates calculated by Shearman, in Loco Patriciana. [97-98].

Ussher’s Epist. Hist. Syll., N. 8, contains Livinius’ poetical epistle to Abbot Florbert.

Sedulius, ob.785, described as Bishop of Dublin in Gorman’s Martyrology, viz, Marian Gorman of Donegal. d. 12 Feb. 785. [100]

Dalton points out Dr. Lanigan who was opposed to the theory of a pre-Scandanavian prelacy in Dublin felt well-nigh insuperable difficulty in excluding Sedulius from this rank and title. Dr. Lanigan’s uneasiness must have increased if he realised that, giving way on this point, it would have been difficult to maintain his view regarding the others. Dr Lanigan’s difficulty (and that of some later writers) seems to have arisen from his effort to interpret an early form of Church government in terms that obtained at a much later period. [100-101]

Fr Stephen White, SJ, in Apologia, p.24: ‘Among the names of the saints whom Ireland sent forth there were, as I have learned from the trustworthy writings of the ancients, 150 now honoured as patrons of places in Germany, of whom 36 were martyrs; 45 Irish patrons of Gaul, of whom 6 were martyred; at least 30 in Belgium; 44 in England; 13 in Itlay; and in Iceland and Norway 8 martyrsl besides many others (elsewhere).’ [101-102]

Abbé Geoghegan: ‘The absence of records or registers, more ancint than the eleventh century, is negativ argument, and cannot be considered proof. It is very probable that they [the annals of Ireland and in particular of Dublin] were burnted or suppressed by the Danes, who were frequently masters of the city, and that their descendants, who became Christians, and were tolerated from commercial reasons, had begun their records with the first of their own countrymen who were appointed bishiops of Dublin, which took place in the eleventh century.’ (History of Ireland, trans. O’Kelly, Chp. XIV, p.272.)

Ronan, Dublin’s Catholic Cathedrals

The question is posed why the Church—later Cathedral—of the Holy Trinity also had the name Christ Church. The Freeman’s Journal, 27 April 1847, contains an article suggesting that it was formed from the word christ, said to be Norse for head or large. Little concludes, different, that the Holy Trinity superceded an earlier foundation. [104-05]

Gilbert discusses the matter in his History of Dublin (McGlashen 1854), Cap. III, p.98), arriving at the conclusion that the sacred edifice had been ‘founded and endowed by diverse Irishmen, whose names were unknown, time out of mind, and long before the conquest of Ireland’.

Archdall records that Sitric, following a pilgrimage to Rome, granted in 1038 a.d. certain voltae or cells to Donat, first Danish archb. of Dublin, upon which he built his cathedral: ‘these vaults or crypts still remain, but embellished by subsequent archbishops.’ (Monasticon Hibernicum, ed. Carey, vol. VI, p.1148; also Archdall, Monasticon Hibernicum, d. Moran, Dublin Vol. 1, p.324.):

For the practice of those arges we know, that it was usual to build small oratories, and to arch that part in which the shrine of the Saint, or other sacred deposit, was placd. the stone roofing prevented accidents from fir, and at the same time preserved a reference to those cryptical monastics cells, then held in general veneration. When a large edifice was constructed, as was particularly the case in Cashel, these ancient vaulted oratories were religiously preserved, and were looked on as indubitable proof of the antiquity and holiness of the church. For this explanation an instance, a doubt cannot be entertained of these arches being the foundation of an ancient oratory, which the donations of Sitric enlargd and furnished with convenient and necessary offics; for so the works sufficienter ad aedificandam ecclesiam cum tota cura are to be interpreted.

(Monasticon Hib., vol. 1, p.325.) [106]

Stokes, ed., Calendar of Oenguisa.

Rev JF Shearman, Loco Patriciana [n.d.], conjectures that the name of the cathedral derives from an Irish saint, Cele Crist, d. March 721 a.d., acc. Martyrol. Gorman. (Loco, p.136 notes).

Blacker, Brief Sketches of the Parishes of Booterstown and Donnybrook (Dublin 1872).

McDowell and Strangeways, The Dictionary of Dublin (1908)

A drawing by G[abriel] Béranger illustrating the Old tower of Michael of Pole, Dublin, appears in Little’s Dublin Before the Vikings, p. 109 facing. The text reports that monochromes of the scene were made by him in 1766 and 1775. Little makes it clear that the picture involves an inaccuracy in so far as the building attached to the tower is not a church but the school of a teacher called Jones, with permission to built against it so as to use the stairs to access his second floor. [109]

Frequent reference made to The Black Church of Christchurch, XIVth cent., characterised as ‘unreliable’

bibl., Gregory, Picture of Dublin 1181 [111]

Little quotes an extensive passage from Westropp, dealing with the location of St. Patrick’s well outside the cloister walls: ‘So far from endeavouring to secure unfailing supply of water within their walls, the fort builders were careful rather to exclude any well or spring that rose near the site selected for their enclosur. Strange to say, this curious fact was not confined to Ireland; it has left its mark on the greatest literature of the world. We rcall the pathetic incident of the Well at the gate of Bethlehem whence intruders, though with risk of bloodshed, could draw water; or those springs before the gates of Ilium, where the ladies had washed their robs in peace before the Achaeans came, and to which the fated Hector ran, pursued by his deadly foe. Schliemann found two springs 400 ft. east of Mycenae, which fortress had to trust to a water-supply outside its walls. Hirtius also records how Uxellodunum was reduced by the Romans, because its only spring lay outside the walls. The same fact appears in Irish literature. Columba, Adamnan tells us, prophesied that the well near Dún Ceithern would be defiled with human blood. The Colloquy of the Ancients mentions ‘a hidden ell to the south side of the fortress’ and apparently its fosse. [PARA] This peculiarity sprang from a wish to avoid the pollution of the water-supply; there was, too, comparatively little risk of blockade.’ (The Ancient Forts of Ireland, n.p.)

Sir Thomas Drew, arch. to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, determined from the cathedral’s muniments the position of the lost St. Patrick’s Well, where was found a coverstone on excavation by Mr Spencer-Harty, city surveyor, then engaged in the Poddle excavation scheme of 1901. [113] Drew reported in JRSAI vol. II. [n.d.] [114]

Rev. A. Gwynn, SJ, merits a mention and a footnote at [117] as informing the author that the list of pre-Norman churches in the Christ Church deeds, No.362 (destroyed by fire in the Custom House in 1922)—which contains the names of clerical witnesss to a Charter of Laurence O’Toole dated by Gwynn at 1178—is itself incomplete, ending cum ceteris omnibus presbiteris [117].

Conjectures about the discovery and modern locations of the Lucky Stone and the Blessed Stone, associated with St Audoen’s (Ouen’s), and which may be taken as proof of the pre-Norman history of the site. [118-119] Little concludes that St Audoen’s superseded the Church of St Columcille.

Petrie acknowledges that St Bride’s [Dublin church mentioned in Annals of Four Masters] was built in the pre-Scandanavian era of Dublin’s history (Eccles. Arch. Irel.]

Dr Donnelly, Short History of the Dublin Parishes


Quotes antiquarian account of the origins of Dublin in Anthologica Hibernica, 1793, already cited (‘arm of the Liffey’) and here prefaced by another paragraph. [125]

Westropp, Irish Motes, JRSAI, (pp.39-30): ‘The great mounds in Denmark are not similar to Irish motes’; ‘the negative evidence is strongly against the Danish origin of high motes.’ Little regards the Thingmote as of Irish origin, if also employed by Scandavanians for meetings. [128-29]

Harris, with the sanction of Anthologica Hibernica, states that the buildings in Dublin were originally erected of wattles plastered with clay and thatched … [characteristic of] temporary structures similar to that of the great Hall erected at the request of Henry II beside the Thingmoe. this building struck the Normans with admiration by its beauty; it was described as constructed more celtico, that is, after the custom of the country.

Stanihurst marks the location of Iseult’s Tower in Dublin, saying that it was ‘near Preston’s Inns’ and that it was apparently ‘a castle of pleasure for the kings to recreate themselves in.’ (Descript. Hib. p.23). An Elizabethan document is cited by Gilbert describing ‘the saide Issolde’s Tower’ as a round towre towe storie hie, eighteen foot square within the wall, and the wall nine foot ticke and forty foote hie from the channell, one timber lofte and a plate forme in the toppe, with three lowps to very rowme.’ (History Cit. Dub., 1859, vol. 2, p.114) Harris relates that the tower was torn down in 1765 in order to open an additional gate for trade, the name of Arthur, Prince of Essex, being sustituted. (Hist. City Dublin, pp.61-62) [131]

Gilbert assigns the origin of Gorman’s Gate (or Ormond’s Gate) Gorman, a descendant of Daire Barrach, on of Cathaeir Mór, King of Ireland (Hist., vol. 1, p.341). In a deed of grant in 1280, (TCD Lib.) it was already Gormond’s Gate (gilbert, vol. 1, p.344), but Cambrensis claims that there was no vestige of it in the 12th c. (Lynch, Cambrensis Eversus (1851), Lib. III, p.27). [132]

O’Harte, Pedigrees.

Topographia Hibernica (1787) states: ‘The alls of the city [in a.d. 1000] including those of the Castle, did not take up an Irish mile.’

Iseult of legend and of Wagner, was princess of Dublin; thomas of Erceldonne (13th c.) gives account of Tristram landing in Dublin to court her; Gower, a century later, wrote similarly.


Campaign of Turgéis

Little associates the Fianna with the Roman threat and regards them as disbanded thereafter. [137]

AS Green gives an account: ‘What was the effect of this new peril … attack from Europe from the sea. In the first plae the highways of the sea, never before closed, were barred by the Scandanavian freebooters. [..] The terros of the sea journey drove travellers to the land route, and the way across England to the continent became so important that clerics of the tenth century could not imagine that any other way had ever been possible [..] Scholars and Christian monks fled from the heathen barbarians, carrying to Europe their treasures and manuscripts.’ (The Old Irish World, p.77) [138]

On the Norse: trained opportunists … Exactly to what precise [138] nation these people [Austmenn, Houstmanni, Normani,&c] belonged is not certain. Nor is it important since all the prominent Northmen—Danes, Norse, Angles, Jutes, Normans, English—were substantially divisions of a single race. This kinship, which all acknowledged, is important in history, since it explains cases of preferential treatment by the Normans exercised towards sections of an otherwise subject Dublin population. It also recalls that the almost continuous war on Ireland from the eighth century to the twelfth (to go no further), with all its racial and cultural results, was an operation of one people under several names. This relation also explains the ease with which the aggressors against Europe as well as Ireland were absorbed into certain sections of the resident population. [139]

When the Annals speak of the first taking of Dublin in 837, this implies that there was a town to take. Similarly, when the Book of Rights speaks of Dublin as ‘do righ Atha cladhaigh Cliath (entrenched Ath Cliath) this likewise implies a system of fortification. Little postulates a delay while the Northmen were held off by the defenders at their southern marine approach around the Steyne (Crampton Memorial).

Todd, Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gaill (1867): ‘There came after that [the first action against Dublin] a very great fleet into the south of Ath Cliath and the greater part of Eire was plundered by them’ [translating an Annal, unnamed here] (p.17) [143]

Curtis, Medieval Ireland 1096-1513 (Methuen 1938).

Myles de Cogan expelled the Norsemen from Dublin, and they retired to Oxmanstown. For Little, this colony on the North side, gathered around St Michan’s, was built before the arrival of the Normans. He further conjectures that they moved from their southern point of arrival to here in the second stage of the attack on Dublin. [143]

J.A.A. Worsaae, Royal Commission for the Preservation of National Monuments of Denmark, trans. as An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland and Ireland (Lon:John Murray 1852)

Sir John Gilbert criticises Worsaae’s description of the ‘independent Norwegian town’ and ‘city within a city’ at Oxmanstown on the north side of Liffey, in a critique of the Account of the Danes which he published in Irish Quarterly rview, April 1852, p.917ff.: ‘that Oxmanstown was not an extensive settlement is sufficiently attested by the fact that until after the sixteenth century the only buildings of importance on the North side of Dublin were two monastic institutions.’ Note, however that, at [52], Little also refers to Worsaa’s Account of the Danes, etc., Dublin Review, No. LXLLL, Apr. 1852, p.204, as the source of remarks on Irish roadways in English from Angelsea to London. This is the same review or another addressing the same title.

Giraldus ‘no stickler for truth’ [145] Little prefers the opiniion of the over-zealous Worsaae to that of the ‘angry Gilbert’ [145]


.. the Brehon Code forbade the building of houses close together [and] in so doing the law appeared to have made impossible the growth of cities. But the privelige of the Church cancelled the Law’s intention and men were glad. [Dublin] … was in fact a regal-monastic city [147]

in Mesgedra, Ferguson was misled about Dublin in the third century for he wrote: ‘When glades were green where Dublin stands today,/And limpid Liffey, fresh from wood and wold,/Bridgeless and fordless, in the lonely Bay,/sank to her rest on sands of stainless gold [..]’ … How glad Ferguson would have been to have known his error—how proud of the opposing truth! [148]

M. Meissner, The Life of St. Patrick and his Place in History

Paul Grossjean, SJ, Notes d’hagiogrphie Celtique Analecta Bollandia, LXII (1945).

Todd, Preface, Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, p.liv., includes this passage of reasoning on the identity of Milbrico of the Helmskringla Saga of Snorre Sturlason, with Melbricus in Saxo Grammaticus and the Maelbhrighte of the Irish Annals, a king of Conaille captured by the Norse in a.d. 831. By extension of the kinship between the Irish and the Danish accounts, Todd infers that Turgéis in one is in fact the Ragnar Lodbrok who commanded the Norse expedition in the other. ‘This year 831 was therefore the date of his appearance in Ireland; but 832, as we have seen, was the year in which Turgesius invaded the north of Ireland, and plundered Armagh three times in one month. Here then is a coincidence which, as far as it goes, would seem to identify the tyrant, Turgesius, with Regnar Lodbrok. It is true there are discrepancies in the narrative which shake the certainty of the conclusion. there is no mention of Dublin in the Irish accounts, and the first occupation of Dublin was some six or seven years later. Saxo says that Melbricus was killed, whereas the Annals speak only of his having been made prisoner. But he may have been made prisoner, and afterwards put to death (his name does not apper at subsequent dates in the Irish Annals.) there is therefore no real contradiction; and so also Turgesius, although he did not take Dublin in 831, did certainly occupy it as a garrison a few years afterwards.’ [152-53] Haliday endorses Todd’s opinion (Scandanavian Kingdom of Dublin, p.28)

The Martyrology of Gorman, ed. Stokes, for Bradshaw Society, vol IX (1895).

NOTE: Annals of Tighernach reads: a.d.747 Ruman Mac Colmáin, poeta optimus quievit’. Book of Ballymote calls him ‘Virgil of Ireland’. [20]. He is practically the only poet before whose death is recorded before the 1oth c. The story of his journey to Dublin preserved in Bodleian MS, from Book of Rathain Ua Suanaigh (Rahan, Offaly). [20] Appendix II, No. VII relates the visit in more detail, pointing to a translation of an eleventh c. version of the poem Ruman made at the charge of the Gaill of Ath Cliath (prob. Fir Gaileóin), in Robin Flower, the Irish Tradition, pp.51-2. [154] RUMAN IS NOT IN THE OCIL HWLIST.

Colgan, Trias Thaum., p.112, n.71: Pars enim Liffei fluminis, in cujus ripa est civitas, Hibernis olim ovabatur Dublinn, i.e., nigricans alveus sive profundus alveus.’

In his Preface to The Book of Rights, O’Donovan quotes Cormac’s Glossary in regard to the grades of road in ancient Ireland: rot, i.e., ro-shet, a great set or path: ró-set, a chariot goes upon it to a fair ..; ramhat, wider than a rot, … an open space or street, found in front of the fort of kings; slighe, sufficiently wide for the passing of two large chariots ..; Lamhróta, avenue connecting two slighte … to a fort or important seat; tuaghróta (farmer’s road), for the convenience of husbandmen ..; bothar, two cows fit upon it, one lengthwise and the other athwart. [Little does not cite the page in O’Donovan.]

Book of Aicill, in Seanchas Mór, vol II, lays down the penalties due to the king who maintains it for the damage or injury to a road by cutting, and the reasons why (his duties to the king above him. [159] In all volumes of Seanchas Mór, to judge by Little’s notes (I, II and III), the laws relating to the maintenance of roads are set out.

Statue Rolls, Ireland, Henry VI, ed. Berry.

O’Rahilly, Early Irish History and Mythology (DIAS 1946), pp.184-92:. O’Rahilly recognises Mogha and Conn as ancestor deities of the South and North, and of the midland Giodels, respectively … reduced bythe action of euhemerism from the status of gods to that of men [and that] the whole incident concluding with the Cath Magh Lena is the factual history of the invasion and gradual usurpation of the southern counties of Ireland by Iberian Goidels. the Erainn were the dominant people in Munster before the arrival of the Goidelic Eóganacht. The Erainn fraternised with the Eoghanacht. So much did their friendship prosper that at length they made efforts to prove themselves as having sprung from the same stock. … these two people declared the ancestor-deity Eóghan their common patron. O’Rahilly continues: ‘all through Irish literature, the northern half of Ireland is known as Leth Cuinn, Conn’s Half, the southern half as Leth Mogha Nuadat (or, shortly, Leth Mogha), Mug Nuadat’s Half. We may take it that here, as often, the names of ancestors are used in a secondary sense to signify the peoples descended from them, so that Leth Cuinn properly means ‘the half dominated by the descendants of Conn (the Dál Cuinn)’ and Leth Mogha Nuadat, ‘the half dominated by the descendants of Mug Nuadat (the Eóghanacht)’. Such names could hardly have come into existence until the Goidelic conquest was well advanced. Our early historians usually prefer a pricturesque explanation to a prosaic one; and so from the ninth century, if not earlier, we find them inferring from those names that Conn and Mug Nuadat had divided Ireland between them.’ (pp.191) [165] O’Rahilly continues with citations: ‘Their partitioning of Ireland into two halves finds mention in the Irish World-Chronicle (Rorannad Hériu i ndo eter Mug Nuadat, i, rig Muman, acus Chond Cétchatach, i, eter d Ath cliath, AI, 7d. 16-18 [also RC XVIII, 7), and the genealogical tracts (...), though it is ignored in Lebor Gábala which contents itself with recording the parallel portion of the country between Eremon and Eber’ (O’Rahilly, p.192)

O’Curry cites the partitioning of Ireland, presumably in his ed. of Catha Magh Lena: Book of Ballymoe, Book of Leacon [sic], Book of Leinster, MS TCD, Class H.e., 18, p.567. [166]

Jocelyn’s Life of Patrick is contained in Trias Thaumaturgae, evidently the first part thereof (Little refers to p.9)

Ludwig Bieler, brilliant Patrician scholar, accepts guardedly the account in Jocelyn.

Contigit aliquando Sancto Coemgeno cogitandi, ut vellut solus peregrinari. Et perrexit solus de suo monasterio, volens longe pergrinari. Vidensque eum solum euntem sanctus heremita, Garbanus nomini, ait ei: ‘O homo Dei, quo pergis? Melius est iam uno loco fixis manere in Christo quam de loco ad locum in senectute discurrere. Nullum enim avem sua ova volatu fovere audisti.’ Haec audiens Sanctus Coemgenus compunctus est corde et promisit redire ad suum locum. (Garbanus ad sanctum Coemgenum, Vita Sancti Coemgeni, ed. Plummer, p.249, para. xxix.) [18; with Appendix VII, 167]

O’Curry, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, intro. Prof. Sullivan, p.107, characterises the parts of a tulachán by its separate parts: Tulchin (flat top of mote); iarom (garth); mur (rampart); fordorus (sallyport); aurland (sloping way to gate), all these showing Irish familiarity with motes. [170].

Curtis wrote for the Dublin Historical record, viz,. vol. IV, no. 3, March-May (1943), p.170 [sic], dealing with the injustice to the Norsemen by the Normans following treaties regarding their not being subject to the same political conditions as the Irish. [170]

Appendix X deals with the question of the authenticity of the Book of Rights—Leabhar na gCeart—which is suspected of being a late recension on the grounds that the term Gaill, as refering to the Scandanavians, is an anachronism before the 9th century; but Gaill does not mean vikings so much as any foreigners. Cf. Ware, Antiquities and History of Ireland (Dublin 1705), p.3: ‘The ancient Irish called all foreigners, especially their neighbours, Gauls, as the Jews once called all foreigners Grecians.’ [171]

Book of Rights work of St. Benin, companion to and successor of St Patrick to the see of Armagh; various editors of the same tradition transmitted it; among them Cormac Mac Airt and Brian Bórumha; included in a compilation of tracts, the Psalter of Cashel, in the 10th or 11th c. The editor of the Book of Rights, O’donovan, supposes the Book was not—could not have been—compiled until the era of the Norse possession of Dublin. In Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, note, O’Curry speaks of the authorship of the introduction of that edition: ‘The admirable editio of this work [Book of Rights] by the Celtic Society was prepared by the late J. O’donovan, with the assistance of Prof. O’Curry; the valuable introductions were the work of the late WE Hudson, who superintended the publication on the part of the Council of the Society.’ (vol. II, lect. II,pp.45). In other parts of the Manners &c., O’Curry refers to O’Donovan’s opinion in the same Introduction (viz, in Lect. VIII, ibid, p.137). The solution is apparent in the fact that the said Introduction is comprised untypically of nine unconnected essays. O’Rahilly (Early Irish History & Mythology, Chp. VIII, p.487) comments that the introduction is usually accredited to O’Donovan but that according to WK Sullivan it was ‘work of the late WE Hudson.’ Little considers it of some importance to decide which portion is O’Donovan’s since the ‘opinion of this great scholar may never be dismissed lightly.’ [172]

In his introduction to the Annals of Dublin, [O’Donovan] admits that pre-Norse Dublin was a large and important city, and in his commentary on the Book of rights his opinion appears to have remained unchanged; but the conviction that Gaill in this context meant Norsemen left him no alternative but to impugn the authenticity of this source … influencing O’Curry, Hudson, and many more to acquiesce in this opinion. [PARA] Surely nowhere is the confusion of Irish history, resulting from the idée fixe of a Norse-founded Dublin, better exemplified than in the illogical position into which these experts were forced. [173]

Little’s discussion of the identity of the Gaill of the Book of Rights touches on the nature of migratory invasions by Celtic peoples. In the course of establishing grounds for the conjecture that the Gaill of Dublin were descendents of Labhraidh Loinseach’s migration of 300 b.c., he indicates the morphological kinship of Gallus, Gaedhil, Gk. Celtoi, and the Galatii or Galatians of St Paul’s epistles. The Gaill were Celtic foreigners settled in the Lagan region, laigen lethan-glas, giving their name to Leinster. [174]

A lecture by Prof. Myles Dillon at TCD, 7th March 1956 (Irish Press report; and rpeated before RSAI, 30th April 1957), argues that the mention of armour suggests the early use of that form of war-equipment which, in fact, archaeologists have found no evidence of. The word in question is luireacha which—in conjunction with iairn—means metal armour. Otherwise, however, it is the Latin loan-word lorica (cf. St. Patrick) stemming from loreus, leather thongs. Little throws in a passage from the Tain descriptive of Cuchullin Mac subhaite’s ‘stiff leathern defensive dress, made of seven several layers of oxen’s hides, seven times strenghened’. (Translator not stated.)

Gen. Bibl:

O’Donovan; ed., Annals of Dublin; ed., Martyrology of Gorman; ed., the Book of Rights; Tracts relating to Ireland.

Stokes, ed., The Martyrology of Gorman [sic]; The tripartite life of St Patrick; On the Calendar of Oengus.

Plummer, C., ed., Vita S. Coemgeni; Vittae Sanctorum Hiberniae.

Ryan, Rev. J., S.J., Irish Monasticism; The Battle of Clontart (JRSAI); Pre-Norman Dublin (JRSAI).

W. Wakeman, Handbook of Irish Antiquities.

Westropp, T.J., The Ancient Forts of Ireland

Wood-Martin, W.G., The Lake Dwellings of Ireland.

Woulfe, Rev. P. Sloinnte Gaedhal is Gall.

Zimmer, the Celtic Church.


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