Scoil Naomh Fiachra

Rathbeagh – Tomb of a King?

Rathbeagh – Tomb of a King?

by Tommy Maher

This article was written for the Lisdowney parish magazine, The Raven, in 1990.

Many a fisherman has drowned a worm under the shade of the rath in Rathbeagh and, perhaps, looked up from the riverbank and wondered who was powerful enough to have such a structure built? And how long ago? And why?

There is a story from ancient Irish history which answers these questions, a story going back to the first peoples to reach these shores, and, in particular, to one of their kings, Heremon. It’s a tall story, “a stretcher” Mark Twain would say, but that wouldn’t be anything new to the fisherman.

The traditional accounts of the earliest inhabitation of Ireland make colourful, if dubious, history. Kings and their followers who are said to have peopled Ireland in the time of Abraham, or even of Noah, probably owe their origins as much to the imagination of ninth-century historians as to real events. Whatever level of credence we are prepared to give this “history” it is nevertheless interesting. In dismissing it we would also dismiss the main claim to fame of Rathbeagh and that would be heresy!

So here is a summary of the “real” history of ancient Ireland and ancient Rathbeagh.

The first Irish settlers were the Parthalonians, the followers of Parthalon, who reached Ireland from Macedonia, in Greece, about the time of Abraham. After about three centuries their entire colony was wiped out by a plague.

Soon afterwards a new colony, the Nemedians, also Greeks, reached Munster and settled as Ireland’s first farmers. These were constantly attacked, and eventually defeated, by Fomorains pirates. Many of those who survived fled back to Greece where they were enslaved, being forced to draw clay from the valleys up the mountains in leather bags, thus giving them their new name, The Firbolgs (Bagmen).

These Firbolgs returned to Ireland 100 years later and recaptured the country. A mere generation later they were in trouble again when attacked and defeated by a magical race called the Tuatha de Danann, who continued to rule Ireland until the coming of the Milesians, two centuries later.

The Milesians were followers of Milesius and arrived in Ireland from Spain following a druidical prophecy that they would conquer a western island – their island of destiny (Inisfail). By the time his followers reached Ireland Milesius was dead but his eight sons were among those who set sail in thirty ships.

When they came ashore, the Tuatha de Danann objected, claiming that the landing would never have succeeded if they had not been taken unawares. A parley was arranged and Amergin, one of the sons of Milesius, proposed that they would withdraw nine waves from the shore and re-attempt a landing.

When they did so the Tuatha de Danann used their magic powers to raise a storm which sank some of the ships and, numbered among those lost, were five of the sons of Melesius. The landing was successful, however and the Milesians defeated the Tuatha de Danann at Sliabh Mis in Kerry and at Tailteann in Meath.

At this latter battle three of the Tuatha de Danann kings were slain and power passed to the Milesians. The sovereignty of Ireland was now divided between two of the surviving sons of Milesius, Heber and Heremon. Meanwhile the vanquished Tuatha de Danann retreated into the mounds and raths of Ireland where they have remained ever since. Two years later the two kings quarrelled, a battle was fought, in which Heber was defeated and slain, leaving Heremon as the sole ruler of Ireland – the first Ard Rí.

Heremon had his fort built at Rathbeagh, i.e. Rath Beitheach, The Rath of the Birch Trees. Heremon also chose this spot as his burial place and here, fifteen years later, he was lain to rest.

Meanwhile Heremon’s wife Tea died and was buried according to her wishes, in Meath. The place of her burial was named Tea-Mur which became Teamhair or Tara. The date given for these events varies but they happened somewhere between 1600 B.C. and 350 B.C. What’s a few years among friends!

The Milesian dynasty reigned for several centuries, until the beginning of the Christian era when they were overthrown by ……………

But that’s another story.

The remains of King Heremon lie somewhere beneath his fort in Rathbeagh. He is hardly lonely, no doubt having for company a few disgruntled Tuatha de Danann. The rath still stands majestically but silently over the Nore and, to the fisherman drowning the worm, it seems that they have made their peace!