NIGHTBRINGER | The Arthurian Encyclopedia


Irish: Éire
Erlandi, Iath n’Anann, Iierlande, Illande, Irlande, Irlaunde, Irlonde, Irois, Orlandeia, Uande, Yerlande, Yrland, Yrlande, Yrllande, Yrlond, Yrois

An island nation located to the west of Great Britain, separated by the Irish Sea.

Historically, Ireland was divided into a number of Celtic kingdoms during the Roman and Arthurian periods. The Romans never conquered Ireland, and Celtic culture continued to flourish in Ireland after the Saxons invaded Britain. There were no Irish High Kings during the Arthurian period – the basis of the Irish political system was the independen tuatha, of which more than one hundred existed, each with its own ruler. Nevertheless, various characters called the “King of Ireland” appear in Arthurian texts.

Traditionally a part of Arthur’s kingdom. The early chronicles tend to portray the Irish as a people aligned with the barbarian Picts and Scots to oppose King Arthur at the beginning of his reign. Arthurs conquest of the island and defeat of its king, Gilmaurius (the successor of Gilloman), is described by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Other sources name the king as Anguish (the father of Iseult), ElidusMarhalt and Gurmun, while Durmart Le Gallois features a Queen of Ireland as Fenise, and says that the gonfalonier (royal standard-bearer) of Ireland was Procides, castellan (governor) of Limerick.

Arthur overcame the Scots, who were Irish invaders in Britain. In early Medieval Latin Scotus signifies an Irishman and, in the fifth century, many Scots from Ireland were settling in the country which today bears their name. They had also settled elsewhere in Britain. As to the actual rulers of Ireland in the Arthurian period, at that time the Irish kings of Tara had no effective, and perhaps even no theoretical, supremacy. They were Niall of the Nine Hostages (generally regarded as historical, Nath I (perhaps legendary), Laoghaire, Ailill Molt and Muircheartach I, with whom the eigtheenth-century antiquary Keating, in some respects the Irish equivalent of Geoffrey, says Arthur had a treaty. The names Marhalt/Marhaus in the Tristan saga may preserve some memory of him. One of the kings of the southern Irish kingdom of Munster at this period was called Oengus – probably a different form of the name Anguish, borne by the King of Ireland in Malory.

The country features most prominently in ancient myths that later became embroidered into the Arthurian sagas, such as the battles between Bendigeid Vran and Matholwch, and Culhwch and Olwen. It seems possible that, thanks to the Otherworld themes of the Irish stories incorporated into Arthurian legend, the inclusion of Ireland in Arthur’s domain was intended to signify his rule over not just the land of the living but also the land of the dead. Ireland has a special importance in the saga of Tristram (Tristan), and Malory speaks of it, along with Brittany and the Out Isles, as one of the major divisions of Britain. King Anguish of Ireland, La Beale Isoud, and Sir Marhaus are among the Irish characters of the romances. King Anguish long extracted tribute from King Mark of Cornwall.

In Irish and Welsh legend, Aedd (Áed) and his son Odgar were kings of the island, but they would have ruled some time before or after Arthur. Welsh legend typically has Ireland being invaded and plundered by the British; this occurs in Branwen and Culhwch and Olwen, and both invasions result in the capture of a magic cauldron. In Culhwch, Arthur and his party began their hunt for the boar Twrch Trwyth in Ireland. Twrch Trwyth had destroyed much of the island when the hunt commenced.

The Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal names King Marahant as it’s ruler in Joseph of Arimathea’s time. Contemporary to Arthur, the Vulgate Cycle names its various kings as Thoas, Plarion, Sorengrieu, Rions (Ryons), MahaglantMargan, and Yon of Lesser Ireland. All but the last were Saxons, killed or defeated by Arthur at the beginning of his reign. In the Post-Vulgate, an unnamed King of Ireland, who is the brother of the King of Denmark, invades Britain and is slain by Arthur at the battle of the Humber. It should be noted here that French romances are often confused as to the location of Ireland; some of them seem to make the country part of Scotland, or otherwise contiguous to Britain.

In the Tristan legends, Ireland is the home of Isolde, whose father, called Gurmun the Gay or Anguish, is the king. Texts that integrate the Tristan saga with Arthur’s history deal with the issue of Ireland’s rulership uncomfortably. Malory, for instance, gives the kingdom to Anguish, Rions, and Marhalt at the same time.

Assorted romances give a wide variety of Irish rulers: Guivret the Small in Hartmann’s ErecCadiolant in the First Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval, Fenice in Durmart le GalloisGawain in Robert de Blois’s BeaudousIlas in Ilas et Solvas, Caradoc in MeriadocAlfred in Yder, Cador and Elidus in Claris et Laris, and Angiron in Heinrich von dem Türlin’s Diu Crône.

The French tale called Les Merveilles de Rigomer is set in Ireland, described as a “strange land with broad and deep forests, marshes, and heaths,” which render it wild and almost uninhabitable. In the Didot-Perceval, Arthur’s final battle with Mordred is fought in Ireland.

La Tavola Ritonda says that Anguish of Ireland held a tournament to find his cousin, the Lady of the Launds, a husband. Tristan and Sigurano were participating.

Ireland | 0 to the 9th century AD

Prehistoric Ireland | c. 8000 BC – 4th century AD
During the prehistoric period, Ireland was inhabited by various peoples, and evidence of early settlements and tombs, such as Newgrange and Knowth, dates back to around 3200 BC. The inhabitants were likely engaged in agriculture, fishing, and hunting.

Celtic Arrival | c. 500 BC – 1st century AD
The Celts, an Indo-European people, are believed to have arrived in Ireland around the fourth century BC. They brought with them Celtic languages and established a distinctive culture. The Iron Age saw the development of hillforts and increased trade.

Roman Influence | 1st century BC – 5th century AD
The Roman influence in Ireland was indirect, and the island itself was not part of the Roman Empire. However, there were some limited contacts and potential influences during the Roman period. Ireland was known to the Romans as Hibernia.

There is evidence of trade and cultural exchange between Ireland and the Roman world – Roman artifacts, such as pottery and coins, have been found in Irish archaeological sites. Unlike parts of Britain, which were directly governed by the Romans, Ireland did not undergo the process of Romanization. The Roman way of life, administration, and architecture did not leave a lasting imprint on Irish society.

Roman authors and geographers, such as Ptolemy, mentioned Ireland in their writings. The Greeks and Romans had some knowledge of Ireland’s existence, even if their understanding of its geography and people was limited.

Christianization and Monastic Period | 5th century onward
One of the most significant events during the fifth and sixth centuries, was the arrival of Christianity. Saint Patrick, a Romano-British missionary, is traditionally credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. He is celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day, a widely recognized Irish holiday. Monasteries and Christian communities began to form across the island.

The early medieval period in Ireland is often characterized by the development of monastic communities. Monks and scholars played a crucial role in preserving and transmitting knowledge. Monastic manuscripts, including illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells, were produced, showcasing intricate Celtic artwork.

Prominent monastic sites, such as those founded by Saint Columba (Iona) and Saint Kevin (Glendalough), emerged during the sixth and seventh centuries. Irish missionaries played a crucial role in spreading Christianity to other parts of Europe during the early medieval period. Figures like St. Columba established monastic communities in Scotland, while others ventured as far as continental Europe.

Viking Invasions | 8th – 11th centuries
Vikings began raiding Ireland in the late eighth century. They established settlements and trade routes, particularly along the coast. Dublin, founded by Vikings in the ninth century, became a major trading center. The Vikings influenced Irish politics and society.

High Kingship and Regional Kingdoms
Ireland was divided into multiple regional kingdoms, with notable ones including Ulster, Connacht, Munster, and Leinster. These kingdoms were often in competition for power and resources, leading to a complex political landscape. A High King served as a ceremonial overlord over the kingdoms. The concept of High Kingships became more formalized during this period, with notable figures like Niall of the Nine Hostages.

Brehon Law
Brehon Law, a system of early Irish law, governed various aspects of society, including land tenure, crime, and marriage. It was a complex system guided by traditional customs and precedents.

See also
Five Kings | The Legend of King Arthur
Son of the King of Ireland | The Legend of King Arthur

Culhwch and Olwen | Late 11th century
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
First Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval | Attributed to Wauchier of Denain, c. 1200
Erec | Hartmann von Aue, late 12th century
Yder | Early 13th century
Tristan | Gottfried von Strassburg, early 13th century
Lancelot do Lac | 1215-1220
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal | 1220-1235
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
Durmart le Gallois | Early 13th century
Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin | 1230-1240
Les Merveilles de Rigomer | Jehan, mid to late 13th century
Ilas et Solvas | 14th century
Beaudous | Robert de Blois, mid to late 13th century
Historia Meriadoci Regis Cambrie | Late 13th century
Claris et Laris | 1268
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470