Auld Lang Syne © Robert Burns, 1796
A culture's oral tradition is an important
non-written history. Oral tradition consists of the legends, myths, and beliefs
passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Over time, many
myths and legends have been written down. Once something is written down, it
rarely changes. An oral tradition, on the other hand, may change constantly from
generation to generation. It changes as the interests, opinions, fears, and
needs of each generation change. Historians can't be sure that an oral tradition
accurately portrays events from long ago. Oral traditions do, however, tell
about the kinds of things that were important to people of the times.
Oral tradition was used by elders to teach
younger members of the society about their culture and how they should behave
and survive in that culture. In most societies the family is responsible
for raising children. The family also passes on values, beliefs, and customs
from one generation to the next. There are no existing primary documents that
leave clues about how and what families taught their children. All we have
is what has been written during recorded history and the remaining oral
traditions that are still alive.
understandable for scholars to not trust oral history because it is
believed that the story changes with the telling. However, when
people are persecuted, they make it a point to re-tell the stories
exactly as they are told. When someone is heard telling the story
incorrectly, they are corrected. This is how oral tradition is
kept intact and alive through the ages and why we can be so certain of
the information contained in the "myths" today. These stories that
are considered myths and lies by those outside a culture, are held as
truth by the culture to which they belong.
Early Inhabitants of
The Firbolg. Legend says
came from Greece, where they had long been enslaved. They captured the ships of
their masters and sailed to Ireland.
The Fomorians were sea rovers and put the Firbolg into serfdom.
Tuatha de Danaans were remarkable for their skill in arts and crafts. They may
have been more civilized than the Milesians.
The First People
The story of the Milesians begins in the far away land of Scythia. (Scythia was located in an area north of Greece and
east to the land now known as Turkey. They were nomads and famous horse warriors.) Gaedhuil, grandson of the King of Scythia was bitten by a poisonous serpent. His father, Nuil, a younger son of the
king, carried the boy to the Israelites, where he asked for the aid of their
leader, Moses. The man of God prayed over the child and touched him with his
rod. The boy rose up, healed. Moses, told the boy that his descendants
would go to a land in which no poisonous serpents would live. It would be
an island which would be found in the track of the setting sun.
1. Fenius of Scythia
3. Gaedhuil (Green Gael)
4. Milesius, King of Spain.
. . . . married to Scota
5. Their sons were:
Heber the Brown
The journey to Innisfail, the Island of Destiny, took
A banner to honor Gaedhuil was made with a dead serpent mounted on a staff,
representing the one used by Moses to heal the boy. Milesius, carried it with
him on the search for the promised island. He traveled to Spain, and
tarried there to rule as king. It was the explorer Ith, who first saw the
island. He was brother to Milesius. Certain it was Innisfail he landed to
explore the island.
The Tuatha de Danaans, people who resided on the island, were suspicious of the
strangers. Ith was mortally wounded. His followers carried him to his ship and
sailed toward Spain and his family. He died at sea.
His son, Lugaid (Lui or Leary), returned to the clan asking them to avenge his
father's death and conquer the island. Milesius had died while Ith was
away on the journey. His sons decided there was no more reason to stay in Spain. They headed
toward the island with their cousin guiding them. At their head, was their
widowed mother, Scota. The Milesians had so much difficulty locating the
island they perceived the Tuatha de Danaans had rendered it invisible by means of sorcery. At
length, they sited the island, and beheld the first site of Innisfail, with it's
green mountains and inviting bays. They dropped anchor and prepared to go ashore
the following day. But, when they rose up the next morning they could only see a
low ridge of land. More tricks, claimed the Milesians. Nevertheless, they
reached the shore.
They approached the Tuatha de Danaans with spears and shields in hand.
The people of the Danaans asked for a parley. They said that this was not a fair
contest by the rules of war. The Danaans had no army prepared to oppose the
invaders. They asked them to return to their ships to allow them time to prepare
for battle. The Milesians debated the point and gave the final decision to
Amergin, the second born of the brothers. He was known as the Learned Man
of the clan and the brother most respected by the people. He was a poet and scholar, as well as
Amergin decided the case of the Danaans had merit and with scrupulous obedience
to his decision, the warriors returned to their ships and withdrew a distance
from the island. The wait cost them dearly, for a storm came up that took the
lives of several chiefs and their wives. The storm had blown the ships
asunder so that when they landed the next time, they were scattered across the
island. Some landed at the mouth of the river Boyne; others on the coast of
Kerry. The Tuatha de Danaans were not exterminated by the Milesians, whose numbers were small. It is
certain that the two people formed the future population, many who still claim
descent from Milesius. A great battle was fought in a glen a few miles from Tralee, in
which the Milesians were victorious.
Scota had entered the battle carrying the battle flag of their ancestor, and was
killed. She was buried beneath the royal cairn in Glen Scohene. There was
a short, fierce battle at Cailtan in Meath that decided the fate of the island.
The Tuatha de Danaans lost their kingdom and land. Their three kings, were dead.
The Tuatha de Danaans lost rulership of the land and many lives, that day, but
one of their own achieved infamy. Her name was Queen Eire. It is the name
by which the island is still known today.
This story was never given credence by serious scholars, who tended to think it
was fabricated by the Bards. But, modern excavation has produced evidence
of a great battle fought thousands of years ago on the exact site of the story.
Another Story of How Ireland Got Its Name
In the ancient times it was, this being the time of the Tuatha de Danaans.
And we'd all be knowin' that the kings and the chieftains had their foin, clan
gatherings. At this particular time there were three kings, Eathur, Teathur and
Ceathur. They were, each having a bonny, wee wife. Their names were Banba, Fodhla, and Eire.
It was a time of peace and prosperity in the land. One hundred Ninety-Seven
years passed without a war. The clan gatherings were peaceful affairs. So tame,
it was, that even very good friends didn't argue. Not much for the story tellin',
for we are not rememberin' the gatherings from the long peace.
The father of the three kings, was host of this particular gathering. "I'm
wantin' to have a grand time this year," he thought. "A contest would liven the
Gathering up. "Ye'd not be knowing about the old man, ye say? Well, that's another story for
another time. When all the chieftains and captains and their families
arrived, he announced that a name was needed for the green island they resided
upon. "It would be very nice," he said, "if the island were named after
one of the queens of the island."
The announcement was greeted with a murmur of agreement, for the people were
very peaceful and cooperative. They began to consider which was the most
elegant, the most gracious, the most benevolent of the three women and which
should have the honor. Thus began the week, with each one wantin' their own
favorite. The old man was pleased and he thought The Gathering was already
Each queen set out to prove she was the worthiest one. For the entire week of
the Gathering, never once, did they lose their temper nor were they heard to say
an unkind word. When they went out, their silks and hair were beautiful and they
wore foin gold. The eyes of the common people were dazzled at the sight, and
they wondered how one could be chosen over the other, for they each seemed to
glow in their own worthiness. But, you see, the old man was very wily and
clever. The last evening before the announcement, he visited each queen
separately, in her private quarters.
"Ach!" he said, "It is YOU that are my favorite queen. I want it to be you the
land will be named for, dear lass." Each queen, smiled ever so sweetly, when
they heard the old man speak, perceiving she would be the one chosen. "So," the
old man continued. "I will tell you how the name will be decided. Every morning
the three of you go for a walk. Tomorrow, after you leave, I will announce to the assembly
that the first queen who enters back through the gate of the Dun will win. If it
happens to be you, my lass, the island will be known forever by your name. It is
a very great honor."
The next morning, the queens prepared for their walk. Each one wearing their
very finest dress and all the gold they owned. They walked leisurely, so
their elegance could be seen. Out they glided, ever so serenely, through the
gate of the town. The people were told of the contest, and went to the
ramparts of the Dun to watch the progress of the three queens. Many a comment
was heard about the grace and beauty of the three women. Very lady like,
they were, as they walked out to the turning point. They turned, leisurely
and elegant, for they knew they were being watched. They began the journey back
to the Dun.
Banba was the first to pick up the pace and went out in front. Fodhla and Eire
quickened their own steps. Fodlha took the lead, and the others quickened the
pace, again. Unable to keep up at a walk Eire broke into a jog, kicking off her
sandals. The others did the same. Encumbered by her skirt, Banba picked up the
hem and flung it over her shoulder. The other queens followed suit. They neared
the Dun at a flat out run, leaning forward in the effort, they were, so they
could inch out ahead of the others.
On the ramparts the people were beside themselves with amusement. Some were
laughin' so hard they could scarcely stand. When the two queens behind
grabbed the leader and pulled her back, the watchers slapped their thighs and
tears of mirth ran down many a cheek.
When they were near the gate, their hair was flying and fion cloths disheveled.
Did I mention that it had been a soft evening the night before, meanin' it had
been raining? Well, it had, and the entry to the Dun had been trod into mud. Through the
slop the three queens ran, splattering the lovely silks and faces. Ach,
what a sight it was, never to be forgotten by anyone there, and a laugh it would
always bring in the re-tellin'.
Now, ye'd all know who the winner was. The beautiful, elegant and very ladylike,
Queen Eire was the first through the gate. True to his word, the old man
bestowed the name of Eire on the island, by which it is still known today.
So you see, a worthy queen, it was, our bonny land was named after, and one who
brought joy and laughter, as well. Whether she enjoyed the laugh, herself,
we'd not be knowin'.
The Irish Storyteller for more Irish stories.
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