Early Myths and Legends

Another, parallel, version of the early history of Ireland comes from the ‘Book of Invasions’ a collection of myths, legends and beliefs gathered together by Christian historians around AD 1100, although it is clearly part of a much earlier tradition.

This collection tells of giants, of supernatural peoples, of great battles, of sorcerers, of gods and magic spells. It gives the Irish a genealogy that dates back to Noah – via Spain, Egypt and Babel – and tells how a people known as ‘Milesians’ conquered Ireland and banished such tribes as the ‘Fir Bolg’ and the Tuatha De Danann. The Milesians are reputedly the ancestors of the people now known as Irish. Another feature of many of the Irish legends is dinnseachas, or ‘lore of place’, in which the storyteller tries to explain how a particular place received its name or how a certain geographical feature was formed. It is through ‘dinnseanchas’ that the volcanic basalt columns of the north Antrim coast have acquired the name, the Giant’s Causeway.

The Causeway was the work of the giant Finn McCool (Fionn mac Chumhail), an Ulster warrior and commander (or king) of Ireland’s armies. Legend has it that Finn could pick thorns out of his heels while running and was capable of amazing feats of strength. Once, during a fight with a Scottish giant, he scooped up a huge clod of earth and flung it at his fleeing rival. The clod fell into the sea and turned into the Isle of Man. The hole it left filled up with water and became Lough Neagh.

Irish history is rich with such myths and legends. Many weave true history with brilliant threads of myth and lore; this happened with the legend of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. The old stories of Irish kings are woven and intertwined with tales of faeries and mystical gods. Add to these the Irish Druids, the Celts and the birth of Christianity, and the line between fact and fantasy dims even more.



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