Milesian names for the island

John Johnson Marshall
Chapter I (2) - Start of Chapter

When the Milesians succeeded in landing upon the island in spite of the magic arts of the Tuatha de Dannans, the country was ruled over by three Dedannan princes, who reigned each for one year in their turn. The names of their wives were Banbha, Fodhla and Eire. After landing the invading force marched to a mountain called Sliabh Mis; here they were met by Banbha, attended by a train of beautiful ladies, and followed by her druids and soothsayers. Amirgin, the Milesian, addressed himself to her and desired to have the honour of knowing her name; she answered her name was Banbha, and from her the island was called Inis Banbha. (It was also sometimes styled by the bards Ard-Banbha—high Banbha).

From thence they proceeded on their march and arrived at Sliabh Eibhlin where the princess Fodhla met them with a retinue of ladies and druids about her; they desired to know her name, and she replied that her name was Fodhla, which was also the name of the island. It was from this princess that Ollamh Fodhla (Ollav Fola), who was one of the wisest and greatest of the pagan kings of Ireland was named. He had been first a learned Ollamh, or [*] Doctor, and afterwards king of Fodhla, or Ireland.

They went on and came to Usnach, where they were met by Eire and her attendants; she was likewise desired to discover her name, and she told them her name was Eire, and from her the country was called Eire. It is said that these three queens were sisters, and married to three brothers; amongst whom there was an agreement, that each brother should alternately take his year of government, and that during the year of his reign the isle should be called after the name of his queen. The reason that it is called Eire more frequently than Banbha or Fodhla, being that the husband of Queen Eire, from whom the island was called Ireland, happened to be king at the time it was conquered by the sons of Milesius. From Eire is derived Erin, the dative case of the name, and Ireland.

The Clanna Mileadh, or children of Milesius having conquered Ireland, renamed the island “Scotia,” after their mother, Scota, the widow of King Milesius, who accompanied her sons and who was slain three days after their landing in Ireland, in a battle at Sliabh Mis in which the Milesians under the command of Heber, one of the sons of Miledh, were attacked by a strong body of Tuatha de Dannans, commanded by Queen Eire, whom, after a severe fight they defeated. There was great loss on both sides, Queen Scota being the most notable on that of the Milesians, of whom an ancient bard has written:

“Mixed with the first the fair Virago fought,

Sustained the toils of arms and danger sought.”

From her son Eibhear Fionn (the fair) or Heber, who commanded in this battle the name “Hibernia” is said to be derived.

In a subsequent battle the combined forces of the Tuatha de Dannans under their three Kings and Queens, were utterly routed, the three Kings slain, also their Consorts, who had given their names to Ireland.

It was the usual custom for kings and queens in those days to not only command in battle, but fight side by side with their forces, male and female, for the clanswomen fought as well as the men and were only exempted from military service in the year 590, through the influence of Columbcille at the Synod of Druimceat. Notable instances are, in Irish history Queen Macha of the golden hair who founded Armagh, and in British history Queen Boadicea, whose heroic resistance to the Romans has immortalised her name.

The name “Scotia,” belonged exclusively to Ireland till the tenth century, prior to which the Irish colonised Argyllshire. These colonists being harassed and oppressed by the Picts called to their assistance Niall of the Nine Hostages, who came with a numerous army to their aid. When he arrived he changed the old name of the country (Albu or Alban) and called it “Scotia,” at the request of the Dalriads and Scots themselves; but it was agreed that it was to be called “Scotia Minor,” while “Scotia Major” was to be the name of Ireland. When Fergus, commonly called Fergus MacErc, became king of the Scottish Gallic colony which ultimately mastered the whole country, the name Scotia was applied to it instead of being confined as formerly to the portion colonised by the Gaels from Scotia Major or Ireland. The transference of the name “Scotia” from Ireland to Scotland seems to have been an accomplished fact prior to the eleventh century, for Mariannus Scotus, who lived from 1028 to 1081, calls Malcolm II., who died 1034 “rex Scotae” (Chron. Picts and Scots p. 65), and Brian, King of Ireland “rex Hiberniae.”

Ireland was also known as “the plain of Ir,” from Ir, another of the sons of Miledh, who was one of the commanders of the Milesians in their invasion of Ireland. When the invading fleet approached the shores of the island, the Tuatha de Dananus by means of their magical arts, raised a violent tempest in which the ship commanded by Ir was separated from the rest of the fleet and driven upon the western coast of Munster, where it split upon the rocks and every man on board perished. From Ir descended the noble clan Rury, whose magnificent Court was held at Emain Macha (Armagh), and from whom sprang the Red Branch Knights, famous in song and story.

Another name for Ireland was “Inis Fail” the isle of destiny, so called from the stone Lia Fail on which the Irish monarchs were crowned prior to its removal to Scotland for the crowning of Fergus MacErc. It now forms the seat of the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey.

“If Fates go right, where’er this stone is found,

The Scots shall monarch of that realm be crowned.”

[*] There were doctors of the several professions; just as we have Doctors of Law, Medicine, Literature, etc., The full course of study for an ollave was twelve years.