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IRELAND OF THE ANCIENTS (From "The history of the Irish Race")

Stuff you should know because you own it.


This map was first produced in Pacata Hibernia (London, 1633) but is thought to date from circa 1600. Pacata Hibernia deals with the Elizabethan wars in Ireland

Scotia (a name transferred to Alba about ten centuries after Christ) was one of the earliest names of Ireland — so named, it  was said, from Scota, the daughter of Pharaoh, one of the ancient female ancestors of the Milesians — and the people were com-
monly called Scotti or Scots — both terms being frequently used  by early Latin historians and poets.

Ireland was often referred to — by various names — by ancient writers both Latin and Greek. Plutarch testifies to the nation's antiquity by calling it Ogygia, meaning the most ancient.

One of its ancient titles was Hibernia (used by Caesar) — which some trace from Ivernia, the name, it is said, of a people located in the south of the Island; but most trace it from Eber or Heber, the first Milesian king of the southern half; just as the much later
name, Ireland, is by some traced from Ir, whose family were in the northeastern corner of the Island.

Though it seems much more likely that this latter name was derived from the most common title given to the Island by its own inhabitants, Eire — hence Eire-land,
Ireland, It was first the Northmen and then the Saxons, who, in the ninth and tenth century began calling it Ir-land or Ir-landa …Ireland

In the oldest-known foreign reference to Ireland, it was called lerna. This was the title used by the poet Orpheus in the time of Cyrus of Persia, in the sixth century before Christ. Aristotle, in his Book of the World, also called it lerna. In the first half of
the first century Pomponius Mela refers to it as luvernia.

It was usually called either Hibernia or Scotia by the Latin writers. Tacitus, Caesar, and Pliny call it Hibernia. Egesippus calls it Scotia — and several later Latin writers did likewise. MacNeill thinks the term Scot (and then Scotia) was derived from an old Irish word which signified a raider. He thinks they earned the title from their frequent raiding in Alba and in Britain in pre-Christian times.

A Roman, Rufus Festus Avienus, who wrote about the beginning of the fourth century of this era called it "Insula Sacra" — which leads  us to suppose that in the very early ages, it was, considered by the pagans an esteemed a holy isle.

The Latin writer, Pomponius Mela (above who was a Spaniard and flourished near the
middle of the first century of the Christian Era), says in his cosmography books: "Beyond Britain lies luvernia, an island of nearly equal size, but oblong, and a coast on each side of equal extent, having a climate unfavourable for ripening grain, but so
luxuriant in grasses, not merely palatable but even sweet, that the cattle in very short time take sufficient food for the whole day —and if fed too long, would burst. Its inhabitants are wanting in every virtue, totally destitute of piety."

The latter sentence is quite characteristic of the Latin writers of that day, to whom the world was always divided into two parts, the Roman Empire with which exactly coincided Civilization and the realm of all the Virtues, and the outer world which lay under the black cloud of barbarism.

But Strabo, who wrote in the first century of this era, does even better than Pomponius Mela. Quoting Poseidonios (who flourished still two centuries earlier), he informs us that the inhabitants of lerne were wild cannibals who considered it honourable to eat
the bodies of their dead parents

 An English clergyman with the Cromwells troops in Ireland vouched for the fact that every man in a garrison which they captured was found to have a tail six inches long.

Solinus (about 200 A. D.), wrote that the inhabitants of Juvcrna (as he names the Island) "inhuman beings who drink the blood of their enemies, and besmear their
faces with it. At its birth the male child's foot is placed upon its father's sword, and from the point of the sword it receives its first nourishment

 St. Jerome accused the Irish of cannibalism. And a reason suggested for his making tiie wild accusation was because he smarted under the scathing criticism of the Irish Celcstius

The careful Ptolemy, in the second century, gives a map of Ireland which (from a foreigner in that age of the world) is remarkable for the general correctness of the outline, and more note-worthy features. He names sixteen "peoples" (tribes) inhabiting
it (the names of half of them being now recognised), and he mentions several "cities" — probably royal residences.

With the exception of Ptolemy who, in all likelihood, derived his knowledge from the trading Phoenicians, the early Greek and Latin writers only knew of Ireland that it was an island sitting in the Western ocean, and remarkable for its verdure. Yet the Phoe-
nicians were probably well acquainted with its ports. Tacitus says, "The Irish ports in the first century were well known to commerce and merchants."