Celtic Well

People and Groups

From: teuthos66@aol.com
Sent: Wed Jun 14 13:53
Subject: ~Celtic Well > Re: hi

In response to: One more small question here, though I am likely showing my ignorance; tuatha, doesn't it mean "tribal kingdoms"? My Irish is lousy, so, are there connotations here that I'm not getting?

Tuatha is the native term for independent or semi-independent socio-political units in early Ireland, and just how to translate it has been a point of contention, and of course depends on one's own personal understanding of and opinions about early Irish social organization. I cheat and simply leave it untranslated. Of course it would be circular logic to say that a tuath is a tribe because tuath means tribe, and tuath means tribe because ... a tuath was a tribe. DIL unhelpfully defines it as meaning "people, tribe, nation; territory, petty kingdom" which of course are all very different things; thankfully the dictionary eventually resorts to a more unwieldy but more accurate translation: "the political and jurisdictional unit of ancient Ireland".

Cognates of the word tuath can be found in the other major areas of the ancient Celtic world as well (actually it goes back to PIE *teuta:), but of course that doesn't mean that the words all referred to precisely the same thing in all areas and time periods.

Going further on the matter of the appropriateness of "tribe", one additional problem I forgot to mention is that use of the term can give people an exaggerated impression of the "primitiveness" of the Celts. And then of course there are some people who don't seem to know what they mean at all: not too long ago I was at a lecture where the speaker assured her audience that "the Gauls were the Celtic tribe that lived in France." Amusing if not heartening. --WP

From: 'Stiof MacAmhalghaidh' calraige@eircom.net
Sent: Thu Jun 15 9:55
Subject: RE: ~Celtic Well > T˙ath

T˙ath translates best as 'people' with all other meanings seeming to derive from that basic meaning. In modern Irish t˙ath refers to such things also as 'laity' as opposed to clergy and 'countryside' as opposed to town (the common phrase 'amuigh faoin t˙ath' suggesting 'out among the people' even though the correct translation is 'out in the countryside'). In all cases the underlying implication is 'an assembled body of the common people with a sense of their group unity'.

T˙ath came to refer to the geographical unit of land occupied by a given t˙ath of people during the early medieval period, possibly around the 500s or 600s (a tentative personal theory). T˙ath meaning a place certainly derives from t˙ath meaning people and all cognate words from Celtic and Germanic languages (and beyond) refer to a group of people, usually with a sense of common identity except 'tud' in Welsh which seems to refer to a defined territory. It is possible (though not provable as far as I know) that this Welsh word arose through the influence of Irish settlers in Wales.

Considering the nature of the political system in early medieval Ireland and the changes it underwent it is not easy to define properly what t˙ath ought to be translated into in English. The main reason for this is that English does not have any term that describes such a political/ social unit. WP's solution of simply leaving the term untranslated is one I support: the geograpical/ social/ political unit has a name (t˙ath) and just as we would see it as appropriate to leave dharma or futon untranslated, so too it is appropriate to leave t˙ath untranslated. Similarly, in my opinion, for rÝ.

If you must translate t˙ath into English. one popular approach has been to use the phrase 'petty kingdom'. In many ways this is as fair as one can get, though 'chiefdom' has its attractions also. Both have great disadvantages also, though, mainly because 'king' and 'chief' have all sorts of associated ideas that are inappropriate. One solution I have adopted at times is to translate t˙ath as 'population group' as that is pretty precisely what it is (though this again inevitably misses some aspects).

It is not appropriate to use t˙ath for any population groups, political units, etc outside Ireland, Scotland, Man or the Irish colonies in Wales and Devon/ Cornwall.

To get a decent picture of what a t˙ath is it is really necessary to read a general early medieval Irish political history, understand something of the laws relating to royalty, clientship, status, kingroups, inheritance and land ownership and gain some appreciation of the power balances and lines of pressure within early medieval Irish society. -- Stiof

From: Stiof MacAmhalghaidh calraige@EIRCOM.NET
Sent: Tue Nov 14 4:45
Subject: Re: Viking Kings of Ireland

Jacob, The following list is the one I posted to Celtic-L on 2 March 2000. It was in the last of five mails over a couple of days. The others cover Leinster, Ulster, Munster, etc etc. You'll have to fix the tabbing yourself! -- Stiof

Kings of Dublin

The Norse kingdom of Dublin was a tiny trade-based state often linked with the other Norse kingdoms of Man & York. The area of this kingdom is now totally enclosed within the inner-city of the city of Dublin in the province of Leinster.

Olaf I 856-871
Ivar I Ragnarson the Boneless 871-873
Eystein Olafson 873-875
Halfdan Ragnarson 875-877
Bard 877-881
Sigfrid Ivarson 881-888
Sitric I Ivarson 888-896
Ivar II 896-902
(no ruler) 902-917
Sitric II Caoch 917-920
Guthfrith 920-934
Olaf II Guthfrithson 934-941
Blacar Guthfrithson 941-945
Olaf III Sitricson (1) 945-948
Guthfrith Sitricson 948-953
Olaf III Sitricson (2) 953-981
Gluniaran Olafson 981-989
Sitric III Olafson (1) 989-994
Ivar III Ivarson 994-995
Sitric III Olafson (2) 995-1035
Margad Ragnaldson (1) 1035-1038
Ivar IV Haraldson 1038-1046
Margad Ragnarson (2) 1046-1052
(no ruler) 1052-1072
Gudrod Sitricson 1072-1075
(no ruler) 1075-1118
Thorfinn Thorkellson 1118-1124
(no ruler) 1124-1136
Ragnald Thorkellson 1136-1146
Ottar Ottarson 1142-1148
Brodar Thorkellson 1148-1160
Astell Ragnaldson 1160-1170

From: Stiof MacAmhalghaidh calraige@EIRCOM.NET
Sent: Thu Nov 16 3:53
Subject:Re: Viking Kings of Ireland

In response to: Hi Stiof--are you familiar with the genealogy of the Historia Gruffudd vab Kenan from the 11th c? His mother's family was from the Vikings of Dublin--the text runs things back through his mother's line and I think mostly follows what you have here with a few additions.

I know of the Historia, but can't say I've paid a whole lot of attention to this Dublin connection. I think the Dublin kinglist is pretty secure, though the family connections between one ruler and the next can be close, distant or non-existent. A proper genealogy will inevitably include people not in the kinglist and should exclude at least some of the Dublin kings, some of whom were not even Norse.

From: Stiof MacAmhalghaidh calraige@EIRCOM.NET
Sent: Thu Nov 16 3:53
Subject: Re: Viking Kings of Ireland

In response to: This is an interesting discussion. Were there ever any Viking kings of Tara? I would assume not, since they probably didn't follow tanistry, nor would they be recognized by tanistry. All the same, were there any attempts by Vikings to claim Tara?

No. The Scandinavian areas in Ireland never gained so much power as to be able to attempt such a move. I'm not sure we can really say though that what effectively became, in modern terminology, ethnically Scandinavian migrant communities in medieval Ireland did not recognize tansitry. Yes, there's not much chance of finding examples of this system in use in the succession process in Dublin, Waterford, Limerick etc, but bear in mind that these Scandinavian enclaves operated as small players in the overall Irish system from the late 900s onwards, becoming equivalent to dependent native tuatha of the main centers of power. As such, their security and ability to continue to operate according to their own rules was also dependent on their support for Irish rulers which in itself requires that they play a supporting role in any succession processes, including claims to control of Tara. Probably the best-known case of this is the sequence of events leading to Brian Boru's rise to control of Tara. His position of dominance in Munster and south Leinster was a direct result of his ability to suppress Scandinavian dissension, mainly in Limerick and Waterford. This was carried out using the same methods as were used to suppress dissension from Osraige. In each case defeat at Brian's hands was followed immediately by an offer to join with his 'team'. The same goes for Dublin, which Brian's forces defeated several times and which acted in support of Brian in several crucial conflicts, notably in the suppression of Ulster, the last area of Ireland that refused to acknowledge his overlordship. Without the active support of Dublin and Waterford especially, this would probably not have been possible, and the threat of military action from either Dublin or Waterford would have been enough to scupper Brian's expeditions into Ulster. Now, military support hardly constitutes support and active involvement in tansitry, let alone operation of this system. However, it is clear enough that Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick were all well aware of the methods by which succession was carried out in the indigenous population and they all played roles in this process which were no different to those played by other sub-groups, eg Deise, Osraige.

So, no, they didn't "follow" tanistry, but they certainly understood it and played the supporting role appropriate to their position in Munster, Leinster and Meath politics.

Also, though they do not seem to have been accepted into the large-scale (i.e. provincial) tanist system, I don't think we can say that they were not "recognized" by tanistry in the sense that their support or lack of support for a given person was often critical for success. Below this level, they can only have been involved in tanistry within their own areas, as was the case with any of the other powerful autonomous divisions of Ireland, ie the tuatha proper. At this level, because they had little or no role outside their own areas, and what they did within their own areas had little direct input from Irish tuatha, that they did not actually operate tanistry is not surprising. -- So... yes and no. 8-) Stiof

From: 'Shae' shae@eircom.net
To: Celtic-Well@yahoogroups.com
Sent: Sun Feb 25, 2007 15:32
Subject: Re: ~Celtic Well > Patrick

I sent this brief synopsis of Patrick to the Celtic-L list many years ago. It's probably outdated by now but, for what it's worth, here ye go: Shae

16 January 1996
Shae Clancy

The Popular Legend

Patrick was captured, at the age of 16, by Irish pirates during a raid on Wales and was brought to Ireland. He was sold as a slave to Milchu (Milcho, Miliucc) who put him tending swine on Mount Slemish in Co. Antrim.

After six years, he had a vision in which God told him to escape and that he would find a ship to take him home. He travelled about 200 miles, eventually found the ship and persuaded the captain to take him on board. He made his way back to Wales and began studying for the Church.

Some years later, he had dreams in which multitudes of Irish beseeched him to return to Ireland and convert them to Christianity.

He landed in Co. Wicklow in 432 CE but, having been repelled by the natives, he sailed north to Strangford Lough. He almost immediately converted the local chieftain and then travelled south to Tara, where he arrived at Easter time. The king of Tara, Laoire, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, refused to convert to Christianity and warned Patrick that he could not light the Paschall (Easter) fire until after he (the king) had lit his own fire to honour his pagan gods.

Patrick went to the nearby Hill of Slane and lit the Paschall fire, in spite of the king. Laoire sent warriors to capture Patrick but, after a debate with the king's druids and bards, Patrick converted many of the king's people and was given approval to continue his mission. He travelled throughout Ireland, converting the population as he went. He explained the mystery of the Holy Trinity using the shamrock (three sections to one leaf) and, in thanksgiving for his success in converting so many people from Paganism, he banished all the snakes from Ireland. He also extracted a promise from God that Ireland would sink under the sea before the end of the world, thereby saving the Irish from a more terrible demise.

He founded many monasteries in Ireland before his death. He is buried at Downpatrick, Co. Down.

The 'True' Story

Available historical evidence suggests that the true story may never be known. There is no doubt that Patrick was a real person who came as a Christian missionary to Ireland in the fifth century.

Two written works, both in Latin, are attributed to him - a 'Letter' to Coroticus and his 'Confession'.

The Letter is written to Coroticus and his soldiers who had attacked some of Patrick's converts, killing some and taking the rest to be sold as slaves to the Irish and Picts. The Letter excommunicates those to whom it is addressed and demands repentance and reparation.

The Confession was written near the end of his life and is an acknowledgement to God of the goodness He has shown to Patrick during his life.

Both are believed to have been written by Patrick but the surviving manuscripts are copies, probably written in the 9th century.
Several other works have been attributed to Patrick but there are varying degrees of doubt about their authenticity.

Most of the Annals give details of Patrick's career. They all agree that he arrived in Ireland in 432, the year after Palladius, who was sent as bishop from Rome. They differ about the date of his birth and the date of his death is put at 461, 489 or 496.

Based on Patrick's own writings, it is possible to construct a biographical outline which is, at best, tenuous.

Where was he born?

He says he was born in 'Bannaven Taberniae', but does not say where this is. There seems to be no place of that name known from Roman Britain. His father, Calpornius, lived in a Roman villa or estate and, since there is little evidence for Roman villas in the northern part of Roman Britain, Patrick's birthplace must have been further south. Irish pirates would not have raided the east coast, nor would they travel far inland, so it is likely that Patrick's home was on the west or southwest coast of Britain.

When was he born?

Patrick laments in his Confession that his capture by pirates interrupted his education and deprived him of the capacity to write correct and elegant Latin. This phase in the Roman education system was the equivalent to modern University, when the student was about 16. Roman administration, including the education system, broke down in Britain about 405 - 408. Thus, Patrick must have been captured before this, and, since he was about 16 when captured, he cannot have been born much later than 390.

Where did he spend his captivity?

Tradition says Mount Slemish, Co. Antrim.

Patrick says that he travelled 200 miles to reach the boat that would take him home. If he was in Antrim, he would not have had to travel more than about 30 miles to get a boat.

He tells of his dream in which he heard 'the voices of those who were by the Wood of Voclut, by the Western Sea' who asked him to 'walk among us again'. The implication is that the people of the Wood of Voclut were those among whom he spent his captivity. Since he wrote his confession in Ireland, the Western Sea must have been the Atlantic Ocean. It is recorded elsewhere that the Wood of Voclut was near Kilalla, Co. Mayo. This is about 200 miles from Wicklow/Wexford, from where boats travelled regularly to Britain.

Thus, it is probable that Patrick spent his captivity near Kilalla, Co. Mayo, where many landmarks bear his name.

When did he start his ministry in Ireland?

All the Annals agree that he came in 432. However, it is recorded in Rome that Pope Cellestine sent Palladius as the first Bishop 'to the Irish who believe in Christ' in 431. This indicates that there were already Christians in Ireland at the time. It is quite possible that, by the time the Annals were written, oral tradition and legend had confused the activities of Patrick and Palladius.

For example, many writings refer to Patrick having spent many years in Gaul and Rome. If this was the case, his Latin would not have been as poor as it was - it was a foreign language to him. Palladius, on the other hand, is known to have spent time in Gaul and Rome and it seems that the early careers of Patrick ans Palladius are irretrievably blended.

It is unlikely that the exact date of Patrick's arrival in Ireland will ever be known with certainty. Since he was not sent there by Rome, there is no record of the date of his mission. However, the assumption that he was born about 390, combined with the fact that he was old enough to be a bishop when he arrived, would indicate that he probably came about 430. 432 is as good a date as any.

When did he die?

Various dates are recorded in the Annals, e.g., 461, 489 and 496. If as seems likely, he was born in 390, and he lived for 'three score and ten' years, then he probably died about 460.

Was Patrick his real name?

Some of the Annals relate that he was baptised 'Succat'. 'Patricius' was an indication of rank in the Roman Empire, and was probably applied to Palladius as well.

Did he banish the snakes from Ireland?

Paeleontological evidence shows that there were never snakes in Ireland.

And the Paschall fire?

This was obviously a reference to the feast of Bealtaine. Later scribes 'moved' the date of the incident (if it ever happened) to coincide with Easter.


The following dates are approximate.
390 CE Succat was born on the west or southwest coast of Britain.
406 CE He was captured by raiders from Ireland and sold as a slave.
406 - 412 CE Swine herd near Kilalla, Co. Mayo
412 - 432? CE Studied for the Church and was elevated to Bishop
432 - 460? CE Evangelised, as Patrick, in Ireland and, having gathered a following, converted a large proportion of the population to Christianity.
460? CE Died - burial place unknown but traditionally placed at Downpatrick, Co. Down.

dePaor, Liam (Ed.)(1986). 'Milestones in Irish History', Mercier Press, Dublin

Hanson, RPC (1983). 'The Life and Writings of Saint Patrick'.

Richter, Michael (n.d.). 'Medieval Ireland'.