This is the first part of a Celtic book, The Book of Invasions. It was compiled by Irish scholars in the 1100’s. It’s a work of great importance where both real history and awesome myths are embedded. The entire text begins with the arrival of Partholon, along with his people after The Flood, though there isn’t a lot of background on that bit. It begins with the conquest of Nemed, a Scythian Greek.
The Scythians were nomads, who lived 500 miles north of Greece, near the borders of the Caspian Sea. They were close (culturally) with the Celts, especially in their art, with the custom of tatooing in their random domestic arrangements. Their contact with the Graeco-Celts must have been very similar, because the Book uses the term “Scythian” and “Greek” interchangeably. Taken as a historical document, The Book of Invasions is pretty much worthless, but as a source for mythology, it is a treasure trove. The stories of the four original invasions were most likely passed down by word of mouth for many generations, before they were written down – although they may record memory of actual events, the characters and such have become so transformed that men, gods, and monsters mingle.
The men who finally wrote them down thought that they were writing truth; they were actually producing more than just that, a record of the earliest myths of the Irish Celts and an insight into the beliefs of the old Celtic people. All action in the book leads up to the final invasion by the Gaels that are destined through divine intervention to have Ireland in their possession forever after. The first invasion of Ireland is known as The Conquest of Nemed. It takes place in a time before Ireland had settled in a permanent form when it was a wild, dangerous place, ravaged by illness and inhabited only by a tribe of monsters, the Fomorians. The Fomorians, who always appear as sinister people figure largely in this book.
Their name includes both the Celtic words for “under” and “sea” so often it is translated as “those who lived under the sea”. It was said that Nemed came from Greece a long time ago, making the deadly journey westward to find a new home for his subjects. A plague had left Ireland empty for about 30 years before Nemed and his followers arrived. They set sail in a fleet of 34 boats with 30 or so people in each boat. (Sensing the favouring of the 30’s yet?)
The sea was calm and all went well until they saw a gold tower jutting out of the water by them. Its smooth walls glistened in the sea mist and its top was so tall that it was lost in the clouds. Hoping to find some treasure, the fleet rowed towards it but surrounding the tower surged treacherous currents which capsized many ships and drove others away onto jagged rocks. Only Nemed’s boat survived and almost everybody traveling with him drowned. But Nemed, his children and the few other people he could rescue from the waves were saved.
The survivors sailed away from the mysterious tower and got to the shores of Ireland. Here they settled, but their troubles weren’t over: 12 days after they landed, Nemed’s wife, Macha, was the first to die there when she was victimised by the plague that had ravaged the land. Overseas to the North of Ireland lived the Fomorians. They were anxious to settle Ireland, but Nemed and his men were too strong and set them to work as slaves. Their labours did change the face of the country; they built 2 royal forts and carved out 12 plains from the forested land (noticing the use of 12, too?)
Besides this, the landscape was still changing because of natural causes and it was during Nemed’s time that 4 mighty rainstorms formed the 4 great lakes the Irish still recognise today. While Nemed was alive, he was able to control the sullen Fomorians, although he lost many of the battles he fought purely to subdue them, but eventually he too became sick and died. Now, the Fomorians saw their chance to defeat the Children of Nemed and without Nemed to lead, they soon were overcome. The Fomorians were cruel lords. Every year at the festival of Samain (Halloween) they made the Children of Nemed to give them 2/3 of their corn, milk produce, and new-borns… a terrible tax.
The Children of Nemed were enraged by this toll and planned to get the better of their oppressors. They sent for foreign soldiers, even strangers to enlist their aid, and they also dispatched messengers to their kin in Greece asking for help. A big company set off for Ireland, a company that included many druids/druidesses as well as the best warriors. They brought with them vicious animals like wolves and venomous hogs. The fleet set anchor at the place where King Conann of the Fomorians, who lived in a tower of glass and laid siege to it so as to force King Conann to battle with the mighty army.
First the druids of each army competed, employing all their powers of enchantment. However, for every spell there was a counter and neither side could gain an advantage. Next the warriors of each side fought a bitter battle. Both armies lost many men but finally the Children of Nemed were victorious. Conann was still safe in his tower, though, so the Children let loose the wolves and pigs they had brought along.
Most people who were inside flee from this attack but Conann refused to leave. Finally Fergus, the son of Nemed,challenged Conann to meet him in single combatand after a fierce fight Conann was killed. However, the struggle wasn’t over yet, for a new contingent of vengeful Fomorians arrived. Nemed’s Children were waiting for them; once again fierce fights broke out. They were so carried away by the heat and the fury of the battle that nobody observed a huge wave raced toward them.
Higher than the tower and faster than a hawk, its huge form was accompanied by a roar as if from a gigantic beast from the sea. As it crashed on the beach, it broke over the people fighting, overwhelming them all so that only 30 of the Children of Nemed and a boat-full of Fomorians lived. After the disaster, the Children of Nemed were never able to settle again. They lived constantly in fear of the Fomorians and of the plague, and they argued amongst themselves always. Eventually they went away, some back to Greece, others making their home in Britain; Ireland was now left uninhabited except for the Fomorians for 200-some-odd-years.
So that is part one… honestly it really isn’t my favourite story at all, and I even debated skipping it, but didn’t want to make the background longer for part 2 – for the next three Thursdays, I’ll complete this story. Yaaaaay.