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From the Archives - Firbolgs and the Tuatha Dé Danann

Firbolgs and other fantastical first inhabitants of Ireland, from the White Manuscript

This particular story from the White Manuscript seems to be taken from the Leabhar Gabhála Éireann (English: Book of Invasions), an 11th century Christianized story of the history of Ireland. Partholanus (or Partholón, as he was known in the book) was the second of six settlers of Ireland. Although not mentioned in the manuscript, it was said in the same book that Cessair, son of Noah, led the first invaders 300 years earlier. The following extract details Fr James White’s interpretation of the aforementioned Book of Invasions from the White Manuscript.


'About three hundred years after the flood, and twenty two years before the birth of abraham, Partholanus sett sail from Migdonia in Greece with his wife Dealgnait, his three sons with their wives, and a thousand soldiers, and landed the 14th May at a place in the west of Munster call’d Inbher Sceine. They were the first inhabitants of the Island. In 300 years after all Partholany’s colony died of the plague In 30 years  after the destruction of Partholanus’s colony, Nemedius with thirty four ships, in each ship thirty persons, landed in Ireland; he came from the Euxine sea, and had four sons with him. african Pirots having drove the posterity of Nemedius out of Ireland, some of them settled in Greece, and from thence in 217 years after Nemedius’ first landings, they again return’d to Ireland, possess’d themselves of the Island, and divided it into five parts for their 5 leaders — they were call’d Fir-bolgs.

The Tuatha de Danans, who also were some of the Nemedians who were arpell’d Ireland, by the african Pirots retired also to achaia in Greece where they excell’d in Necromancy, so as that after a battle they coud restore to life their slain men; The assyrians drove them out of Greece, and they retired to Norway where they instructed the youth in the magick art; they quitted norway and took with them, the stone call’d Lia Fail on which the Kings of Ireland were crown’d, and which use’d to groan when any of the true race were crown’d thereon, This stone was removed to Scotland to crown King Fergus on, and by King Edward the first was brought to England and place’d under the coronation chair. It has lost its virtue of groaning since the birth of Christ. These Tuatha de Danans from Norway went to Scotland, and from  thence came to Ireland; by their inchantments they cause’d a fog to surround them for three days, so as that they landed and were in the center of the Kingdom before the Firbolgs discover’d them. They beat the firbolgs and made themselves masters of Ireland. they ruled in Ireland 197 years.'


The manuscript says that the Firbolgs were originally “African Pirots”, presumably meaning pirates, but the Firbolgs origins were actually that of Greek slaves who eventually left Greece and fled to Iberia, then Ireland. Another interesting note is that the five provinces that the Firbolgs split Ireland into were not those we would know today. Most people would say that Meath was the fifth province, however this story splits Munster into North Munster and South Munster instead. The Tuatha de Danann mentioned above were said to be a supernatural race of deities and deity-like peoples who were the fifth settlers of Ireland.

Author: Conor Moore, TY Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh on work experience, Limerick Diocesan Archives.