EaRLy Imsh NaRRatioes

T~1 he first narratives produced in the Celtic

_| world were created by Christian scribes, whose work understated the importance of the pantheon of pre-Christian gods on Celtic civilization. Set in Ireland, these tales intertwined mythology with historic fact to produce a semi-mythical past, an age before the order imposed by the Christian missionaries.

These narratives were based almost exclusively on older oral histories that had been passed down through the centuries in the immemorial style of the Celtic bards and chroniclers. Devoid of their original religious impact, they appear to be a collection of far-fetched tales, of a time when gods and monsters roamed the land. Instead, they should be read as a series of religious allegories and a set of beliefs that were misunderstood by the Celtic scribes who finally recorded them on parchment.

In the earliest works, Ireland was invaded by a race of giants, by the Tuatha De Danann (the forerunners of the early Celts), and a host of gods. Together, these three groups conspired and struggled until the arrival of the true Gaels (Celts). Narratives such as the Book of Invasions, the Second Battle of Moytura and Dinnesenchas record this mythical distant past. By the ninth century, works such as the Dream of Oengits, the Tain Bo Cuailnge, and others were being passed down as oral histories. These placed the early history of Ireland in a semi-historical context, with identifiable kingdoms, social structures, and beliefs.

Celtic prose developed after the end of the eleventh century, but it revealed the world of the earlier Celtic people like no other source. It spoke of a world of mythology, heroes, and warriors, yet many of these accounts were linked to the early historic past.

Facing below:

In the Battle of Dun Cooley "The Hound of Ulster," Cu Chulainn, slaughtered the champions of Connaught. The Queen of Connaught sent all 29 of her sons to slay the hero. Subsumed in a rage of blood-lust, Cu Chulainn fought them from dawn to dusk, finally taking their heads. The legendary Irish hero later lashed himself to a stone pillar, right, after receiving the death blow, so that he would not fall as he fought to the end. Statue from the Post Office, O'Connell Street, Dublin.

Facing top: Giants' Causeway, Antrim, Northern Ireland (Ulster). Legend says that the giant Finn MacCool built a road from Antrim to Staffa in the Hebrides to reach his arch-enemy Finn Gall, another giant, but Gall tore it up into 40,000 blocks.

Although the Celtic deities still played a major part in the stories, they no longer retained the center stage. These works were starting to become historical narratives.

The Tain Bo Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) refers to early Irish history, and names five geographical divisions (fifths), of which four were political entities. These consisted of Ulster in the north, Connaught in the west, Munster in the south, and Leinster in the east. Recent scholarly research has placed the Ireland described in the book as existing during the fourth century AI), before the arrival of Christianity.

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