Thinking Back

by Thomas John Mulvey, PhD

shamrock Childhood reflections of rural, 1870s Ireland and Celtic history. shamrock
Edited by Eric C. Biemiller and William L. Mulvey
Grandsons of Thomas John Mulvey, PhD

Copyrightę William L. Mulvey, all rights reserved

Old Stories


Chapter Two

My father and mother decided to return to Ireland about November, 1869, after their marriage on July 19th of that year. My mother was already carrying me, so that they hastened their departure to avoid a sea voyage at a time when her condition would make crossing the ocean more hazardous and uncomfortable for her.

I remember that my father told me, when I was old enough to understand it, some ancient Irish history, or mythology, about the early inhabitants of Ireland. Those earliest Irishmen, according to his account of the prevalent tradition, were magicians. Once upon a time there was an invasion of the island attempted by a people who had come from a far-off country and made a landfall somewhere on the northwest coast of Ireland.

They were led by a woman warrior who with her band had crossed the Alps, skirted the southern coast of Gaul, wandered toward the Pyrenees and crossed them into the Iberian Peninsula, or Spain, and then back again to the shores of the Bay of Biscay. Here they built a fleet of sturdy ships and set sail for the western island that they had heard about in their wanderings. The mythical leader of this band of hardy wandering warriors was a woman named Scoti. It may be that her name survived in the tradition according to which the early historians gave the name of Sctoia to the Emerald Isle. Hence the men of the Middle Ages called any prominent man of learning who hailed from Ireland by the name of Scotus. Thus, Duns Scotus surnamed the subtle Doctor, was an Irishman. He became the great glory of the Franciscans, as his rival, St. Thomas Aquinas, was the glory of the Dominicans. So too Jon Scotus Erigena was an Irishman. His learning was so great that it astonished even those at Rome.

And so many another Irishman was called Scotus in the Latin of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries after the land of their birth, just as St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, was called Aquinas for the place in Italy where he was born.

These roaming migrants were driven west and north by various storms until they finally sought shelter in Donegal Bay on the northwest coast of Ireland. Here they made a descent upon the coast somewhere about where County Leitrim touches the sea.

Their landing took the inhabitants by surprise; consequently Scoti and her warriors were successful in overcoming resistance and gained a foothold on the shore.

After the fight was over, so the story continues, the people of the island sent one of their men to the camp of the invaders to seek a parley with their leader.

This envoy protested in the name of his people that the invaders had taken an unfair advantage of them by coming so unexpectedly. They asked them firmly to re-embark in their vessels of war and to withdraw out of sight off land so that the inhabitants might have an opportunity to prepare their defenses and gather fighting men to resist the attack. Scoti considered this a fair proposition, and agreed. She and her followers boarded their ships and sailed off toward the western horizon.

Then the necromancers and magicians of the island went to work. They conjured up a terrific storm which scattered the ships of the invaders and drove them far out to sea. When the tempest had subsided and ships were able to find one another in the calm which followed, no sight nor trace of the island was to be seen; it had disappeared from view, sunk beneath the waves.

These early inhabitants of Ireland are thought by some writers to have been a race of dark men, short of stature, who are referred to in early Irish literature as Formorians. They were a people who in popular belief, came from beneath the sea. This evidently accounts for the tradition that they were magicians and rather bears out the tale that gave rise to my father's story of their power over wind and wave.

But my father also told me that an early invasion of Ireland, which seems to be historic, was that of a Belgic people identified as Firbolgs. They were, it seems of a higher culture than the natives, or Formorians. Being Belgic, they were Celts and have given the Celtic flavor to the whole, or very nearly the whole island. Of course a race of people is never exterminated, as witness the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England which began about 449 A. D. and took until 600 A. D. or thereabouts, to drive the Britons, a Celtic race, westward. The Anglo-Saxon invasion was different from the invasion of Ireland by the Belgians, of the great Celtic race that inhabited western Europe from the Iberian peninsula to Britain. When the Anglo-Saxons invaded England, they did not mix with Celts, or Britons, but ruthlessly drove them out of the greater portion of England and to the south and southwest. Gradually, the Anglo-Saxons succeeded in establishing their rule over the present England. The Britons or Celts were driven into Wales where they survive to this day, retaining many of the traditions and customs, the imagination and the feeling for poetry of their people.

Recently I saw a moving picture, "How Green Is My Valley," the scenes of which are laid in the Welsh coal-mining country. If I had not frequently reminded myself that they were Welsh scenes and situations showing Welsh customs, I should have sworn that they were Irish scenes in an Irish family speaking the Irish brogue and the Irish idiom, expressed in English words. For such is the power of racial instinct in its mode of thinking: it makes itself manifest in the language used, because that mode is inherent in the thinking of the race, whatever be the linguistic vehicle imposed upon it by circumstances.

The Firbolgs were followed by more of their people who gradually overran the greater part of Ireland. They did not wipe out the Formorians, no, they lived with them side by side and intermarried. So we find traces of that dark, short people, with their leaning toward magic, belief in necromancy and the consciousness of another world under the sea, persisting in Irish thought and expressed in early Celtic literature. The Belgians became Irishmen, imbued with the spirit of, and love for Inis Fail, or the Isle of Destiny, who sprang from or took root in the soil and were identified with their environment.

The same is true of subsequent invaders, of that great race, the Milesians, also called Scoti; or Tuath de Danaans, big blond men, probably from Denmark or from the Scandinavian peninsula, or people of the gods of Dana, the Danes of a later day. Yes, the same is true of the English in Ireland, when English families abode there for one or two generations, or long enough so that their descendents, sometimes they themselves, became Hibernis Hiberniores, or more Irish than the Irish!

Chapter One Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six
Chapter Seven My Father Leaves
For America
Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
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