Fourthcentury Ireland

Ireland at this time differed very little from Gaul or Britain during the late La Tene period, so the work provides an invaluable insight into the structure of general Celtic society before the coming of the Romans. It is a work that describes the kings, their warriors, the great battles they fought, and the alliances they made with each other. As such it is a political history, but one that emphasizes the importance of warfare to this warrior-society. Certainly superstition, the gods, and druids are involved in the narrative, but they are subsidiary to the humans. The Old Irish version of this classic-work was written around 1100, and subsequent versions slightly modified the story. It therefore represents a narrative based on what was then a 600-year-old oral account.

Fled Bricrenn (Bricru's Feast) dates from about the eighth century, and tells of a feud between two Ulster clans. It involves Cu Chulainn, the great champion of Ulster, who also features prominently in the Tain Bo Cuailnge (see pages 110— 111). The hero mixes with druids and giants, but his character also provides information on the structure of the early medieval Irish courts. Other works of the period refer back to the Tain and its characters, reinforcing the authenticity of its account.

These early semi-historical narratives were replaced by a series of "king accounts," which lack the social insight of earlier works. By the ninth century, written chronological accounts (backed by modern archaeological information) take over, and support the works of Irish literature in their portrayal of contemporary-society. These, however, are medieval accounts, and as such are beyond the scope of this history.

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