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IERNE

IERNE is a better form for the ancient name of Ireland than HIBERNIA, IBERNIA, IVERNIA, &c., both as being nearer the present Gaelic name Eri, and as being the oldest form which occurs. It is the form found in Aristotle. It is also the form found in the poem attributed to Orpheus on the Argonautic expedition, which, spurious as it is, may nevertheless be as old as the time of Onomacritus (i. e. the reign of the first Darius):----νήσοισιν Ἰέρηισιν ἆσσον ἴκωμαι. (Orpheus, 1164, ed. Leipzig, 1764.)

Aristotle (de Mundo, c. 3) writes, that in the ocean beyond the Pillars of Hercules “are two islands, called Britannic, very large, Albion and Ierne, beyond the Celtae.” In Diodorus Siculus (5.32) the form is Iris; the island Iris being occupied by Britons, who were cannibals. Strabo (ii. p.107) makes Ierne the farthest voyage northwards from Celtica. It was too cold to be other than barely habitable, the parts beyond it being absolutely uninhabited. The reported distance from Celtica is 500 stadia. The same writer attributes cannibalism to the Irish; adding, however, that his authority, which was probably the same as that of Diodorus, was insufficient. The form in Pomponius Mela is Iverna. In Iverna the luxuriance of the herbage is so great as to cause the cattle who feed on it to burst, unless occasionally taken off. Pliny's form is Hybernia (4.30). Solinus, whose form is Hibernia, repeats the statement of Mela as to the pasture, and adds that no snakes are found there. Warlike beyond the rest of her sex, the Hibernian mother, on the birth of a male child, places the first morsel of food in his mouth with the point of a sword (100.22). Avienus, probably from the similarity of the name to ἵερα, writes:-- “Ast in duobus in Sacram, sic insulam
Dixere prisci, solibus cursus rata est.
Haec inter undas multa cespitem jacit
Eamque late gens Hibernorum colit
Ora Marit. 109-113.)

Avienus's authorities were Carthaginian. More important [p. 2.16]than these scanty notices, and, indeed, more important than all the notices of Ireland put together, is the text of Ptolemy. In this author the details for Ireland (Ἰούρνια) are fuller, rather than scantier, than those for Great Britain. Yet, as Ireland was never reduced, or even explored by the Romans, his authorities must have been other than Latin. Along with this fact must be taken another, viz., that of the earliest notice of Ireland (Ἰέρνη) being full as early as the earliest of Britain; earlier, if we attribute the Argonantic poem to Onomacritus; earlier, too, if we suppose that Hanno was the authority of Avienus.

If not Roman, the authorities for Ierne must have been Greek, or Phoenician,--Greek from Marseilles, Phoenician from either the mother-country or Carthage. The probabilities are in favour of the latter. On the other hand, early as we may make the first voyage from Carthage (viâ Spain) to Ireland, we find no traces of any permanent occupancy, or of any intermixture of blood. The name Ierne was native; though it need not necessarily have been taken from the Iernians themselves. It may been Iberian (Spanish) as well. Some of the names in Ptolemy--a large proportion--are still current, e. g. Liboius, Senus, Oboca, Birgus, Eblana, Nagnatae, &c.,--Liffy, Shannon, Avoca, Barrow, Dublin, Connaught, &c. Ptolemy gives us chiefly the names of the Irish rivers and promontories, which, although along a sea-board so deeply indented as that of Ireland not always susceptible of accurate identification, are still remarkably true in the general outline. What is of more importance, inasmuch as it shows that his authorities had gone inland, is the fact of seven towns being mentioned:--“The inland towns are these, Rhigia, Rhaeba, Laverus, Macolicum, Dunum, another Rhigia, Turnis.”

The populations are the Vennicnii and Rhobogdii, in Ulster; the Nagnatae, in Connaught; the Erdini and Erpeditani, between the Nagnatae and Vennicnii; the Uterni and Vodiae, in Munster; and the Auteri, Gangani, the Veliborae (or Ellebri), between the Uterni and Nagnatae. This leaves Leinster for the Brigantes, Coriondi, Menapii, Cauci, Blanii, Voluntii, and Darnii, the latter of whom may have been in Ulster. Besides the inland towns, there was a Menapia (πόλις) and an Eblana (πόλις) on the coast.

Tacitus merely states that Agricola meditated the conquest of Ireland, and that the Irish were not very different from the Britons:--“Ingenia, cultusque hominum haud multum a Britannia differunt.” (Agric. 24.)

It is remarkable that on the eastern coast one British and two German names occur,--Brigantes, Cauci, and Menapii. It is more remarkable that two of these names are more or less associated on the continent. The Chauci lie north of the Menapii in Germany, though not directly. The inference from this is by no means easy. Accident is the last resource to the ethnographical philologist; so that more than one writer has assumed a colonisation. Such a fact is by no means improbable. It is not much more difficult for Germans to have been in Wexford in the second century than it was for Northmen to have been so in the eighth, ninth, and tenth. On the other hand, the root m-n-p seems to have been Celtic, and to have been a common, rather than a proper, name; since Pliny gives us the island Monapia==Anglesea. No opinion is given as to the nature of these coincidences.

Of none of the Irish tribes mentioned by Ptolemy do we meet any separate substantive notice, a notice of their playing any part in history, or a notice of their having come in contact with any other nation. They appear only as details in the list of the populations of lerne. Neither do the Ierni appear collectively in history. They lay beyond the pale of the classical (Roman or Greek) nations, just as did the tribes of Northern Germany and Scandinavia; and we know them only in their geography, not in their history.

But they may have been tribes unmentioned by Ptolemy, which do appear in history; or the names of Ptolemy may have been changed. Ptolemy says nothing about any Scoti; but Claudian does. He also connects them with Ireland:-- “maduerunt Saxone fuso
Orcades; incaluit Pictorum sanguine Thule
Scotorum cumulos flevit glacialis Ierne.
” (De Tert. Consul. Honorii, 72-74.)

Again:-- “totum quum Scotus Iernen
Movit.
” (In Prim. Consul. Stilich. 2.252.)

The extent to which the current opinions as to the early history of the Gaels of Scotland confirm the ideas suggested by the text of Claudian is considered under SCOTI At present it may be said that Scoti may easily have been either a generic name for some of the tribes mentioned in detail by Ptolemy, or else a British instead of a Gaelic name. At any rate, the Scoti may easily have been, in the time of Ptolemy, an Irish population.

Two other names suggest a similar question,--Belgae, and Attacotti. The claim of the latter to have been Irish is better than that of the former. The Attacotti occur in more than one Latin writer; the Belgae (Fir-bolgs) in the Irish annals only. [See ATTACOTTI and BELGAE OF BRITANNIA.]

The ethnology of the ancient Ierne is ascertained by that of modern Ireland. The present population belongs to the Gaelic branch of the Celtic stock; a population which cannot be shown to have been introduced within the historical period, whilst the stock of the time of Ptolemy cannot be shown to have been ejected. Hence, the inference that the population of Ierne consisted of the ancestors of the present Irish, is eminently reasonable,--so reasonable that no objections lie against it. That English and Scandinavian elements have been introduced since, is well known. That Spanish (Iberic) and Phoenician elements may have been introduced in the ante-historical period, is likely; the extent to which it took place being doubtful. The most cautious investigators of Irish archaeology have hesitated to pronounce any existing remains either Phoenician or Iberian. Neither are there any remains referable to pagan Rome.

[R.G.L]

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