Tara, which attained the climax of its fame under Cormac, is said to have been rounded by the Firbolgs, and been the seat of kings thenceforth. Ollam Fodla first gave it historic fame by founding the Feis or Triennial Parliament, there, seven or eight centuries before Christ. It is said it was under, or after, Eremon, the first Milesian high king that it, one of the three pleasantest hills in Ireland, came to be named Tara - a corruption of the genitive form of the compound word, Tea Mur - meaning "the burial place of Tea" the wife of Eremon, and daughter of a king of Spain. In its heyday Tara must have been impressive. The great, beautiful hill was dotted with seven duns, and in every dun were many buildings - all of them, of course, of wood, in those days - or of wood and metal. The greatest structure was the Mi Cuarta, the great banqueting hall, which was on the Ard Righs own dun. Each of the provincial kings had, on Tara, a house that was set aside for him when he came up to attend the great Parliament. There was a Grianan (sun house) for the provincial queens, and their attendants. The great Feis was held at Samain (Hallowday). It lasted for three days before Samain and three days after. But the Aonach or great fair, the assembly of the people in general, which was a most important accompaniment of the Feis, seems to have begun much earlier. At this Feis the ancient laws were recited and confirmed, new laws were enacted, disputes were settled, grievances adjusted, wrongs righted. And in accordance with the usual form at all such assemblies, the ancient history of the land was recited, probably by the high kings seanachie, who had the many other critical seanachies attending to his every word, and who, accordingly, dare not seriously distort or prevaricate. This highly efficient method of recording and transmitting the countrys history, in verse, too, which was practised for a thousand years before the introduction of writing, and the introduction of Christianity and which continued to be practised for long centuries after these events was a highly practical method, which effectively preserved for us the large facts of our countrys history throughout a thousand of the years of dim antiquity when the history of most other countries is a dreary blank.
As from the great heart and centre of the Irish Kingdom, five great arteries or roads radiated from Tara to the various parts of the country the Slighe Cualann, which ran toward the present County Wicklow, the Slighe Mor, the great Western road, which ran via Dublin to Galway, the Slight Asail which ran near the present Mullingar, the Slighe Dala which ran southwest, and the Slighe Midluachra, the Northern road. "Great, noble and beautiful truly was our Tara of the Kings."
FIONN AND THE FIAN
It is only recently that we have realised the all important part played by legendary lore in forming and stamping a nations character. A peoples character and a peoples heritage of tradition act and react upon each other, down the ages, the outstanding qualities of both getting ever more and more alike - so long as their racial traditions are cherished as an intimate part of their life. Of all the great bodies of ancient Irish Legendary lore, none other, with the possible exception of the Red Branch cycle, has had such developing, uplifting, and educational effect upon the Irish people, through the ages, as the wonderful body of Fenian tales in both prose and verse, rich in quality and rich in quantity. Fionn MacCumail, leader of the Fian (Fenians), in the time of Cormac MacArt, is the great central figure of these tales. The man Fionn lived and died in the third century of the Christian Era. It was in the reign of Conn, at the very end of the second century, that was founded the Fian - a great standing army of picked and specially trained, daring warriors, whose duty was to carry out the mandates of the high kin - "To uphold justice and put down injustice, on the part of the kings and lords of Ireland - and to guard the harbors from foreign invaders". From this latter we might conjecture that an expected Roman invasion first called the Fian into existence. They prevented robberies, exacted fines and tributes, put down public enemies and every kind of evil that might afflict the country. Moreover they moved about from place to place all over the island. Fionn, being a chieftain himself in his own right, had a residence on the hill of Allen in Kildare. The Fianna (bodies of the Fian) recruited at Tara, Uisnech and Taillte fairs. The greatest discrimination was used in choosing the eligible ones from amongst the candidate throng - which throng included in plenty sons of chieftains and princes. Many and hard were the tests for him who sought to be one of this noble body. One of the first tests was literary for no candidate was possible who had not mastered the twelve books of poetry. So skilful must he be in wood running, and so agile, that in the flight no single braid of his hair is losed by a hanging branch. His step must be so light that underfoot he breaks no withered branch. In facing the greatest odds the weapon must not shake in his hand . When a candidate had passed these tests and was approved as fit for his heroic band, there were also vows to be taken as the final condition of his admission. There were three cathas (battalions) of the Fian - three thousand in each catha. This was in time of peace. In time of war the quota was seven cathas. Although the Fianna were supposed to uphold the power of the Ard Righ, their oath of fealty was not to him, but to their own chief, Fionn. The best stories of the Fian are preserved to us in the poems of Oisin, the son of Fionn, the chief bard of the fian, in the Agallamh na Seanorach (Colloquy of the Ancients) of olden time. This is by far the finest collection of Fenian tales, and is supposed to be an account of the Fians great doings, given in to Patrick by Oisin and Caoilte, another of Fionns trusted lieutenants, more than 150 years after. After the overthrow of the Fian, in the battle of Gabra in the year 280 A.D.,Caoilte is supposed to have lived with the Tuatha de Dannann, under the hills - until the coming of St. Patrick. Oisin had been carried away to the Land of mortal existence, and to Ireland, when Patrick is in the land, winning it from Crom Cruach to Christ.
THE BREAK OF ULSTER
Of the line of Ir, son of Milesius, to whom Ulster had been apportioned, that Branch called the Clan na Rory (after its great founder, Fory, who had been King of Ulster, and also High King of Ireland) now ruled the province for nearly 700 years, namely, for more than 300 years before the Christian Era, and more than 300 years after. And their capital city and the kings seat had been at Emain Macha. During practially all of ths time, from that forts first founding by Queen Macha, the royal Court of Ulster had been a court of splenour, and ever noted as a centre of chivalry and the home of poetry. But in the beginning of the fourth century, Ulsters power was irrevocably broken, and by far the greater portion of her territory wrested from her - her people driven into miserably narrow bounds from which, ever after, they can hardly be said to have emerged.
It was when Muiredeach Tireach, grandson of Carbri of the Liffey, was High King of Ireland, that Ulster was despoiled and broken by his nephews, the three Collas, who, on the ruins of the old kingdom of Uladh, founded a new kingdom - of Oirgialla (Oriel) which was henceforth for nearly a thousand years to play an important part in the history of Northern Ireland. The ostensible cause of their attach upon Ulster was the ancient grudge borne that province because many generations before, the Ulster king, tiobraide, had sent to Tara fifty robbers discuised as women, who had slain Conn of the Hundred Battles and because, a generation later, the Ulster prince, Fergus Blacktooth, had, by setting fire to his hair at a feast, put a blemish upon Cormac MacArt, which, for a time, debarred him from the throne which Fergus then usurped. The Collas first went to their kin in Connaught and there gathered a great army for the invasion of Ulster. On the plain of Farney in Monaghan they met the Ulstermen under their king, Fergus, and on seven successive days broke battle upon them, finally slaying Fergus and putting the Ultach (Ulstermen) to complete rout. Of the conquered portion of Ulster, from Louth in the south to Derry in the north, and from Loch Neagh to Loch Erne, the Collas made themselves the new kingdom of Oirgialla (Oriel).
NIALL OF THE NINE HOSTAGES
Niall of the Nine Hostages was the greatest king that Ireland knew between the time of Cormac MacArt and the coming of Patrick. His reign was epochal. He not only ruled Ireland greatly and strongly, but carried the name and the fame, and the power and the fear, of Ireland into all neighbouring nations. He was, moreover, founder of the longest, most important, and most powerful Irish dynasty. Almost without interruption his descendants were Ard Righs of Ireland for 600 years. Under him the spirit of pagan Ireland upleaped in its last great red flame of military glory, a flame that, in another generation, was to be superseded by a great white flame, far less fierce but far more powerful and the bounds of neighbouring nations to the uttermost bounds of Europe. That is the great flame that Patrick was to kindle, and which was to expand and grow, ever mounting higher and spreading farther, year by year, for three hundred years.
Niall was grandson of Muiredeach Tireach. His father, Eochaid Muig Medon, son of Muiredeach, became Ard Rich mid way of the fourth century. By his wife, Carthann, daughter of a British king, Eochaid had the son Niall. By another wife, Mon Fionn, daughter of the King of Munster, Eochaid had four sons, Brian, Fiachar, Ailill, and Fergus. Mong Fionn was a bitter, jealous and ambitious woman, who set her heart upon having her son, Brian, succeed his father as Ard Righ. As Niall was his fathers favourite, Mong Fionn did not rest until she had outcast him and his mother, Carthann, and made Carthann her menial, carrying water to the court. The child was rescued by a great poet of that time, Torna, who reared and educated him. When he had reached budding manhood, Torna brought him back to court to take his rightful place - much to his fathers joy. Then Niall, showing strength of character, even in his early youth, took his mother from her menial task, and restored her to her place. Of Nialls youth there are many legends, but one in particular show the working of his destiny. One day, the five brothers being in the smiths forge when it took fire, they were commanded to run and save what they could. Their father, who was looking on (and who, say some, designedly caused the fire, to test his sons), observed with interest Neills distinctiveness of character, his good sense and good judgement. While Brian saved the cariots from the fire, Ailill a shield and a sword, Fiachra the old forge trough, and Fergus only a bundle of firewood, Niall carried out the bellows, the sledges, the anvil, and anvil block - saved the soul of the forge, and saved the smith from ruin. Then his father said: "It is Niall who should succeed me as Ard Righ of Eirinn".
Nialls first expedition was into Alba to subdue the Picts. The little Irish (Scotic) colony in that part of Alba just opposite to Antrim had gradually been growing in numbers, strength, and prestige - until they excited the jealousy and enmity of the Picts, who tried to crush them. Niall fitted out a large fleet and sailed to the assistance of his people. Joined then by the Irish in Alba, he marched against the Picts, overcame them, took hostages from them and had Argyle and Cantire settled upon the Albanach Irish. After obtaining obedience from the Picts, his next foreign raid was into Britain. When Maximus and his Roman legions were, in consequence of the barbarian pressure upon the Continental Roman Empire, withdrawing from Britain, Niall, with his Irish hosts and Pictish allies, treaded upon their hurrying heels. Yet did the Romans claim victory over Niall. For it is said his was the host referred to by the Roman poet, Claudian, when in praising the Roman general, Stilicho, he says Britain was protected by this bold general.
"When Scots came thundering from the Irish shores,
And ocean trembled stuck by hostile oars".
Niall must have made many incursions into Britain and probably several into Gaul. He carried back hostages, many captives, and great booty from these expeditions. Yet how often out of evil cometh good. It was in one of these Gallic expeditions that the lad Succat, destined under his later name of Patrick to be the greatest and noblest figure Ireland ever knew, was taken in a sweep of captives, carried to Ireland and to Antrim, there to herd the swine of the chieftain, Milcho. Many and many a time, in Alba, in Britain, and in Gaul, must Niall have measured his leadership against the best leadership of Rome, and pitted the courage and wild daring of his Scotic hosts against the skill of the Imperial Legions. Yet his fall in a foreign land was to be compassed, not by the strategy or might of the foreign enemy, but by the treachery of one of his own. He fell on the banks of the River Loire, in France, by the hand of Eochaid, the son of Enna Ceannselaigh, King of Leinster, who, from ambush, with an arrow, shot dead the great king.