Friday, 24 June 2011

Tall Tales in Ireland ...

What I've suggested so far, and much literature concurs, is that the inhabitants of the north-west of Spain and Portugal began as one and the same people, originating near or east of the Black Sea. They left their homeland at some point in Biblical history, and separated near the Danube. There is good evidence which shows that these were of Indo-European stock and in fact originated in Assyria, but I shall return to this later.

It puts a very different spin on the notion of what was "Celtic"...and whom.

It took 2000 years or more for the family reunion. By that time, Great Uncle Arthur would barely have recognised Great Aunt Maud.

And so, we are free to pick up our tale once again of how the Hibernians got to Hibernia, and what they did when they got there. (Parental warning: Bad puns.)

It begins with King Breoghan, a Celt-Iberian who had two sons: Ir (or Ith) and Bil. Bil had a son whose name was Mil (Milesius, from whom the Milesians are named). Breoghan had built an enormous watchtower on the north west coast of Spain.

One winter evening, Ir, Breoghan's son, stood atop the watchtower and looking northwards across the seas he saw a glistening island (Don't say I didn't warn you!). He set off with 90 warriors to investigate.

The rulers of this land were the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods who had wrested control from the giants. They welcomed Ir and his men when he landed, but Ir was foolish enough to speak of the land in such glowing terms that the gods decided that he might have plans to take over (and yes, you have heard this story before - you would think they would have known by now). So they had Ir killed.

When news of his murder reached Breoghan in Iberia, he ordered his nephew, Mil, to send his 8 sons north to even up the score. So they gathered an armada of 65 ships and sailed, arriving, legend has it, at Donegal. In their number was Scota, the wife of Mil, who was to give her name to the land of Scotland, as the Celts moved north-east. Amergin was the first to set foot upon the shore, and planting his right foot upon the soil, said: "What land is better than this island of the setting sun." Some reports say that he cut off his right hand and threw it onto the shore from the boat so that he would be the first to touch it. One can only assume this was not his sword hand.

The Milesians agreed that this was their new home, but first they had to contend with the gods.

They marched towards Tara and along the way they met with Erin, one of the goddesses and the wife of the god, MacGreine. She prophesised that the land would become theirs and asked them to name it after her and Amergin consented.

However, when they reached the home of the gods, the gods complained that they had been taken by surprise. A cry of "No Fair" was heard upon the land. A plan was agreed upon whereby the Milesians would behave in an honourable manner and that they would once again embark on their ships, returning to a distance of nine waves from the shore. By then, the gods would be ready for battle.

But the gods played a trick on them and raised a powerful wind preventing the Milesians from reaching the shore.

This, not to put too fine a point on it, pissed Amergin off!

"I invoke the Land of Erin," he bellowed, "The shining, shining sea! The fertile hills! The wooded vales! The rivers abundant! The fishful lakes...!" ("Fishful": I love that word.)

The incantation worked as the land itself rose up and forced the wind to die down.

To make an increasingly lengthy story shorter, the final result was Milesians 1 and the gods, Nil - but since Nil is an Irish name, perhaps zero might be more accurate. The gods and goddesses retreated below the earth and selected a new king, the Dagda, who allotted each member a mound beneath which the deities would engage in perpetual feasting, emerging every now and then to curdle milk, and blight corn, and so on, as crossed gods and goddesses do.

After a while of this, the new kings of Ireland decided it was in their best interests to make peace with the deities, hence they were given an honorary role - even if their palaces were below ground.

Many stories issue from here, some as tall or taller. But I shall leave those to the Irish!

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