Hardiman's History of Galway

Chapter 2: From the earliest accounts to the invasion of Henry II

Early History and Antiquities of Ireland disputed

Chapter 2

From the earliest accounts to the invasion of Henry II

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Old map of Galway

THE early history and antiquities of Ireland have been subjects of doubt and controversy, for a longer time, and perhaps in a greater degree, than generally occurs of any other country; and, though it stands admitted, that, like those of most other nations, the origin and primitive state of this Island are considerably involved in darkness and fable, yet, it seems also agreed, that few countries have a higher claim to antiquity, [g] or have advanced better proofs in support of that distinction, than this, the most westerly and secluded kingdom of Europe. However, on this latter point, as on many others connected with the subject, much has been said and written on both sides; writers stand in hostile array against each other, and throughout a discussion, wherein the spirit of calm investigation after truth should alone predominate, those angry disputants have generally indulged in the most acrimonious feelings, and not infrequently in the most puerile reflections. Those who decried, as well as they who supported, the claim to antiquity, were, though from different causes, in this respect equally reprehensible. The former, in general unacquainted with the language, and consequently with the written memorials of the country, could not patiently brook the imputations of ignorance and misconception, which were most liberally bestowed on them by their antagonists; and therefore, after frequently supplying the place of knowledge by supposition, and of argument by angry declamation, they seldom failed to complete their labours by recriminating charges of national prejudice, and gross misrepresentation, against their more confident opposers.

Such being the state of this literary warfare, it is evident that much must have been left undetermined, and that a good deal still remains to be achieved, and many cool dispassionate efforts made, before criticism can have that "secure anchorage" so much to be wished for; and until this desirable event shall take place, those points which have been so long supported on one side, and so strenuously contested on the other, can never be brought to a positive or satisfactory conclusion. The nature of these pages precludes the possibility of more than glancing at the question, and that merely in a local point of view, and even then, only so far as it bears upon the early existence and former celebrity of the place which is the subject of this work. Feeling that the principal duty of a topographer is to state facts, the little that could be bleaned relating to a period so distant, dark, and doubtful, shall be faithfully exhibited, and whatever may be the application made, or conclusion drawn from those statements, it is by no means intended to supersede, or interfere with, the judgment or opinion of the reader.

That the western coast of Ireland was peopled as early as any other part of the Island, appears from all the annuals which purport to record the events of those distant times; and, that the particular district, now comprehending the town of Galway and its vicinity, was one of the first positions which was chosen for the purpose of habitation, by the original settlers, is incontestibly proved from the same sources of information. By them it also appears that Galway, or the place on or near which it is situate, was frequently made a chief point of division in the most ancient and celebrated partitions of Ireland; and for this supposed reason, that, as it lay almost due west of Dublin, a line drawn from one place to the other, would nearly divide the kingdom into two equal parts. The first division of Ireland is attributed to Partholanus, a Scythian, who is stated to have effected a settlement here, some centuries after the flood, and to have divided the kingdom into four equal parts, which he distributed amongst his four sons. Of these, Fearon, the third son, received the territory extending from a place in Munster, afterwards called the Island of Barymore?, to Athcliath na mearuidhe, now Clarinbridge?, near Galway; and the district from thence to Oileachneid in the north, was assigned to the fourth son Feargna. The second, or Firbolgian partition of Ireland, is stated to have taken place A.M. 2500, when it was divided into five provinces, of which Connaught?, (so called, according to Keating, from Con and Oict, the posterity of Con, a druid of the Tuatha de danans, who afterwards inhabited that part of the country,) fell to the share of Geanann, one of their five principal commanders; and extended from Lumneach, afterwards Limerick including the place where Galway is situate, to Drobhaois, the present bay of Donegal.

But passing over the disputed portions of our history, the more authentic accounts relate, that Heber and Heremon, the sons of Milesius, divided the kingdom into two parts; one of which was called Leath thuadh, or the northern, and the other, Leath dheas, or the southern half. This division was effected by a line or boundary, drawn from Galway to Dublin, through Eisgirriada, or the long mountains, which were fixed upon as the limits of both kingdoms. It is further related, that, in the reign of Eochaidh Feidhlioch, monarch of Ireland, Connaught, then the largest province in the kingdom, underwent a division into three equal parts, which that prince bestowed upon three favourite petty dynasts, Fiochach, Eochaidh-Allat and Tinne; the second of whom received the territory from Galway to Drobhaois, and the third of the district from Galway to Lumneach: that he then erected the ancient palace of Guachan, or Rathcruachan, (situate near the present village of Ballintubber, between the town of Boyle? and Elphin, in the county of Roscommon,) which from that time became the capital of Connaught, and, until long after the arrival of the English, for the space of near 1300 years, was the residence of its kings. [h] Some ruins of this once venerated place still remain, a rath, and a famous burying-place of the kings of Connaught, called by the natives Reilig-na-liogh.

The last, and most famous partition of Ireland, was that which took place about the year 166, between Con, called in Irish Con cead Chathach, or of the hundred battles, then monarch of the entire Island, and Eogan king of Munster. This division was nearly the same as that originally made by the sons of Milesius, but now more precisely determined by a line or boundary drawn across the kingdom, from Dublin to Galway, through Cluan-Ard, Cuan-mac-Nois and Eisgir-riada. All to the north of this boundary was called Leath-cuin, or Con's half, and all to the south Leathmogha, or Eogan's half; which names they not only long afterwards retained, but in many places are known by to this day. The partition being thus completed, the two princes quietly enjoyed their respective territories until the year 181, when Eogan, visiting Dublin, found a greater number of ships on the north side of the river than on the south, which consequently caused Con's mercantile revenues here considerably to exceed his own. Upon this discovery, Eogan complained of an infringement of their treaty, and, probably wishing to have a pretext for war, he contended that an equal distribution of the revenues in the ports of Dublin and Galway [i] was implied in the division of the kingdom; and he not only insisted upon receiving it in future, but that Con should refund the surplus which he had received from the time of the treaty: this requisition was indignantly rejected, and a war ensued, which, after many vicissitudes, ended in the destruction of Eogan.

Should these relations of our domestic writers, and particularly that which alludes to the trade of Dublin and Galway, excite any doubt in the mind of the reader, it should be remembered that Tacitus, one of the most respectable authorities of all antiquity, in his Life of Agricola, relates, in corroboration of these accounts, that Ireland, at the very time, held constant communication and traffic with the most formidable parts of the Roman empire, and consequently with Spain, to which Galway lies particularly convenient. Considering, therefore, that these facts are nowhere respectably controverted, but stand on as firm a foundation of historical authority as, under all the circumstances, can reasonably be expected at the present day, it is manifest that Galway must have been, in those early times, a place of considerable note; and, if the reader reverts to what has been said in the preceding chapter, concerning the probable derivation of the name of the town, from the circumstance of its commerce, he will find, that the authenticity of these historical accounts not only receives great additional support, but that the conclusion which is here drawn from them may, with every dergee of certainty, be pronounced accurate.

It must, however, be particularly lamented, that much of the primitive state of this Island, and many of the transactions which occurred in it, previously to the introduction of christianity, are wrapped up in a veil of almost impenetrable obscurity, and that the most laborious researches frequently terminate in little more than ingenious conjectures. The causes to which these defects may be attributed are various, but the principal seems to be, the destruction of our ancient records; in the first place, by the pious zeal of Saint Patrick, and the other christian missionaries, in their anxiety to destroy every vestige of heathen superstition, and, in the next, by the barbarous policy of the Danes, and their immediate invadinc successors the Anglo-Normans, by whom those venerable lights of antiquity were forever extinguished. Another, and no inconsiderable, cause of the defects complained of, is that the most valuable of the remnants which escaped these devastations, and afterwards survived the wreck of time, are locked up from the inspection of the curious, in a language which few scholars of the present day understand; a circumstance which has caused more misrepresentation and confusion on the subject of Irish antiquities, than any other whatsoever. These sources of information have, however, been carefully explored for the present work; but so little of a local nature could be obtained that it now becomes necessary to have recourse to foreign accounts, however imperfect, to elucidate this early page of our history.

Next: Accounts of Ireland by Tacitus and Ptolemy

Chapter 2

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