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The History of Ireland (BOOK I-II) (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 39


Tuathal Teachtmhar son of Fiachaidh Fionnoladh, son of Fearadhach Fionn Feachtnach, son of Criomhthann Nia Nar, son of Lughaidh Riabh nDearg, son of the three Finneamhnas, son of Eochaidh Feidhlioch of the race of Eireamhon, held the sovereignty of Ireland thirty years. He was called Tuathal Teachtmhar, as every good came in his time. Now Fiachaidh Fionnoladh left no issue but one son, who was called Tuathal Teachtmhar; and that son was in the womb of Eithne daughter of the king of Alba, wh escaped by flight from the destruction of Magh Cru in Connaught, when the Athachthuaith slew Fiachaidh Fionnoladh and the free tribes of Ireland. And after the birth of Tuathal in Alba he was brought up and educated in politeness there till he had reached the age of twenty-five years; and during that time Ireland had been in adversity; and the Athachthuaith being in a great difficulty went and consulted their druids as to the cause and origin of the adversity in which Ireland was at that time, and as to the way in which she might be freed from it. The druids replied that the cause of her adversity was that they had acted treacherously towards the kings and the free tribes of Ireland, and added that her wonted prosperity would not come back to Ireland until some one of the descendants of those kings who were slain assumed the sovereignty of the country. And it was about this time that the Athachthuaith heard that there was in Scotland a son of Fiachaidh Fionnoladh, whose name was Tuathal Teachtmhar; and a large party of the Athachthuaith took counsel together, and they agreed to send envoys to Tuathal to Alba. There were also companies of the remnant of the free races of Ireland, namely, clann an Duinn Deasa of Leinster, Fiachaidh Casan and Fionnbhall his brother, and six hundred pirates with them, devastating Ireland to avenge the treachery


of the Athachthuaith towards the kings and free tribes of Ireland.

When Tuathal Teachtmhar heard these tidings, he set out for Ireland with his mother, Eithne daughter of the king of Alba, accompanied by a large host. Tuathal was twenty-five years of age at that time. And they put into port at Iorrus Domhnann, where they met Fiachaidh Casan with his brother. Thence they proceeded to Tara, and there assembled their supporters from all parts of Ireland to meet Tuathal, and they proclaimed him king of Ireland. Eilim son of Connra, who at that time held the sovereignty of Ireland, having been elected by the Athachthuaith after the death of Cairbre Chinn Chait, came and fought the Battle of Aichill against Tuathal. In that battle Eilim and the Athachthuaith were defeated, and himself and the greater part of his army slain. Then Tuathal and his supporters went against the Athachthuaith throughout Ireland, and defeated them in twenty-five battles in Ulster, and twenty-five battles in Leinster, and twenty-five battles in Connaught, and thirty-five battles in Munster.

When Tuathal had won these battles, and rescued the free races of Ireland from the tyranny of the Athachthuaith, he convened the Feis of Tara; as it is customary for every king in the beginning of his reign to convene and bring together a great general assembly to regulate the laws and customs of the country. Then the nobles of the Gael from every province in Ireland came to him, and accepted him as their king, as he had delivered them from the slavery of the serfs and the Athachthuaith; and they pledged themselves by the elements, that they would leave the sovereignty of Ireland to himself, and to his children, as had formerly been promised to Ughaine Mor.

It was then, too, that he was given four portions of the provinces, out of which he made the present Meath, as the peculiar territory of the successive high kings of Ireland.


For, although Meath was the name of the territory which is beside Uisneach from the time of the children of Neimhidh to the time of Tuathal, still Meath was not the name of the portions that were taken from the provinces until the time of Tuathal, and he made it into a territory distinct from the provinces.

Now, when Tuathal had put these four parts together and made them into one territory called Meath, he built therein four chief fortresses, that is, a fortress in each of the portions. Accordingly he built Tlachtgha in the portion of Munster which goes with Meath; and it was there the Fire of Tlachtgha was instituted, at which it was their custom to assemble and bring together the druids of Ireland on the eve of Samhain to offer sacrifice to all the gods. It was at that fire they used to burn their victims; and it was of obligation under penalty of fine to quench the fires of Ireland on that night, and the men of Ireland were forbidden to kindle fires except from that fire; and for each fire that was kindled from it in Ireland the king of Munster received a tax of a screaball, or three-pence, since the land on which Tlachtgha is belongs to the part of Munster given to Meath.

On the portion he had acquired from the province of Connaught he built the second fortress, namely Uisneach, where a general meeting of the men of Ireland used to be held, which was called the Convention of Uisneach, and it was at Bealltaine that this fair took place, at which it was their custom to exchange with one another their goods, their wares, and their valuables. They also used to offer sacrifice to the chief god they adored, who was cailed Beil; and it was their wont to lighttwo fires in honour of Beil in every district in Ireland, and to drive a weakling of each species of cattle that were in the district between the two fires as a preservative to shield them from all diseases during that year; and it is from that fire that was made in honour of Beil that the name of Bealltaine is given to the noble


festival on which falls the day of the two Apostles, namely, Philip and James; Bealltaine, that is Beilteine, or the fire of Beil. The horse and the trappings of every chieftain who came to the great meeting of Uisneach were to be given as a tax to the king of Connaught, as the place in which Uisneach is belongs to the part of the province of Connaught given to Meath.

The third fortress which Tuathal built, called Taillte, is in the portion of the province of Ulster joined to Meath; and it was here the fair of Taillte was held, in which the men of Ireland were wont to form alliances of marriage and friendship with one another. And a most becoming custom was observed in that assembly, namely, the men kept apart by themselves on one side, and the women apart by themselves on the other side, while their fathers and mothers were making the contract between them; and every couple who entered into treaty and contract with one another were married, as the poet says:

    1. The men must not approach the women,
      Nor the women approach the fair bright men,
      But every one modestly biding apart
      In the dwelling of the great fair.
Although it was Lughaidh Lamhfhada that first instituted the fair of Taillte as a yearly commemoration of his own foster-mother, Taillte daughter of Maghmor, king of Spain, who was the wife of Eochaidh son of Earc, the last king of the Fir Bolg, as we have said above—now when Taillte had been buried by Lughaidh in that mound he inaugurated the fair of Taillte as a nasadh or commemoration of her; it was for that reason that the name of Lughnasa, that is the gracious nasadh or commemoration, was given to the first day of August, on which is now held the feast of the Chains of Peter—although the mound and fair of Taillte existed from the time of Lughaidh Lamhfhada, still Taillte was not a royal fortress till the time of Tuathal Teachtmhar. Now


since the place in which Taillte is belongs to the part that was taken from the province of Ulster, the tax on the fair of Taillte went to the king of Ulster. This was the amount of that tax, namely, an ounce of silver for each couple that got married there.

The fourth royal fortress, Tara, is situated in the part of Leinster given to Meath, and there the Feis of Tara was held, every third year after the sacrifice had been offered to all the gods at Tlachtgha (as we have said) as a prelude to that royal assembly called the Feis of Tara, at which they were wont to institute laws and customs, and to confirm the annals and the records of Ireland, so that the ardollamhs might inscribe all that was approved of them in the Roll of the kings, which was called the Psalter of Tara; and every custom and record that was in Ireland that did not agree with that chief book were not regarded as genuine. We shall not give here in detail the laws or the customs that were severally ordained at the Feis of Tara, for the books of the Breithemhnas Tuaithe are full of them. I shall only give here the custom that was instituted at the Feis of Tara regarding the placing of the nobles and warriors for meals in the banquet-halls when they met for a feast.

There was indeed no doctor of seanchus in Ireland who did not write in the Roll of Tara the names of the nobles who were lords of territories, each according to his rank and title as regulated at the Feis of Tara, and every leader of those bands of warriors who had free quartering for the defence and protection of the lands of Ireland, had his name similarly inscribed by the ollamh; and there was none of these, either territorial lords or leaders of bands of warriors, who was not accompanied by a shield-bearer. Moreover, the banquet halls they had were narrow and long, with tables along the side-walls. Along each of these side-walls there was placed a beam in which there were numerous hooks above the seats on which the company used to sit, with only the breadth of a


shield between each two of the hooks, and on these hooks the seancha hung the shields of the nobles and of the warriors before they sat down, each under his own shield, both nobles and warriors. But the territorial lords had the choice of a side, and the leaders of warriors had the other side; the upper end of the hall was occupied by the ollamhs, and the other end by the attendants who waited on the company.

It was also their custom that no one should sit immediately opposite to another, but that all, both territorial lords and leaders of warriors, should have their backs to the wall and sit each under his own shield. It was their custom also not to have women in the banquet-halls, but they were given a separate apartment in which they were served. It was, moreover, their custom, before the company were served, to clear out or empty the banquet-hall, so that only three remained in it, namely, a seancha, a bollsaire, that is a marshal of the house, and a trumpeter who had a trumpet or horn to call all the guests to the banquet-hall. He sounded his trumpet three times. The first time he sounded it, the shield-bearers of the nobles assembled at the door of the banquet-hall; and the bollsaire took the shield of each noble according to his title, and placed, according to the direction of the seancha, each of the shields in its own appointed place. The trumpeter sounded his trumpet a second time and the shield-bearers of the leaders of warriors assembled at the door of the banquet-hall; and the bollsaire took the shields from them and placed each shield, according to the direction of the seancha, at the other side of the house, over the warrior's table. Then the trumpeter sounded his trumpet the third time; and thereupon the nobles and warriors assembled in the banquet-hall, and each of them sat beneath his own shield, so that there was no contention or disagreement between them as to their seats.