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Celtic tribes in Ptolemy's Ireland

The Iverni (Greek: Ἰούερνοι, Iouernoi) were a people of early Ireland first mentioned in Ptolemy's 2nd century Geography as living in the extreme south-west of the island.[1] He also locates a "city" called Ivernis (Greek: Ἰουερνίς, Iouernis) in their territory, and observes that this settlement has the same name as the island as a whole, Ivernia (Ἰουερνία, Iouernia).[2] The name Iverni has been derived from Proto-Indo-European *PiHwerjoHn, "the fertile land". It was probably once the name given to all the peoples of Ireland, but by Ptolemy's time had a more restricted usage applicable to the inhabitants of the south-west.[3] These Iverni can be identified linguistically with the Érainn (Éraind, Érnai, Érna),[4] a people attested in Munster and elsewhere in the early middle ages. The Érainn royal dynasties collected as a whole are sometimes referred to as the Dáirine.[5]

In early Irish genealogical tracts the Érainn are regarded as an ethnic group, distinct from the Laigin and Cruthin. Population groups in Munster classed as Érainn include the Corcu Loígde in southwest County Cork, the Múscraige in Counties Cork and Tipperary, the Corcu Duibne in County Kerry, and the Corcu Baiscinn in west County Clare. The Dál Riata and Dál Fiatach (or Ulaid) in Ulster are also considered Érainn. The Érainn appear to have been a powerful group in the proto-historic period, but in early historical times were largely reduced to politically marginal status. The most important of the Munster Érainn, the Corcu Loígde, retained some measure of prestige even after they had become marginalized by the Eóganachta in the 7th or 8th century.[6] It is likely that the Uí Fidgenti and Uí Liatháin of Munster were originally Érainn (Dáirine) as well, but were later counted among the Eóganachta. (see also Mongfind).

It seems likely the Iverni were related to the Darini of eastern Ulster.[7] The name "Darini" implies descent from an ancestor called Dáire, (*Dārios)[4] as claimed by several historical peoples identified as Érainn, including the Dál Riata and Dál Fiatach in eastern Ulster[8] as well the Érainn of Munster. An early name for Dundrum, County Down, is recorded as Dún Droma Dáirine, and the name Dáirine was applied to the Corcu Loígde, further suggesting a relationship between the the Darini and the Iverni.[4]

The genealogies trace the descent of the Érainn from two separate eponymous ancestors, Ailill Érann and Íar mac Dedad. Legendary relatives of the latter include the Cland Dedad (offspring of Dedu), a Munster people who appear in the Ulster Cycle, led by Cú Roí, son of Dáire mac Dedad, and the legendary High King Conaire Mór, grandson of Iar. The historical sept of the Uí Maicc Iair ("grandsons of the son of Iar") and the MAQI IARI of ogham inscriptions also appear to be related.[9] The personal name Iar is simply another variant of the root present in Iverni and Érainn.[10] Finally, the name Íth, given in the genealogies as the ultimate ancestor of the Corcu Loígde (Dáirine) and offering some confusion about their parentage and relation to the Iverni, in fact preserves the same Indo-European root *peiH- ("to be fat, swell"),[11] thus in effect completing a basic picture of the Iverni/Érainn and their kindred in later historical Ireland.


Kings of Tara

Other tales

Origins and controversies

O'Rahilly's linguistic hypothesis

T. F. O'Rahilly identified the Érainn with the mythological Fir Bolg and the historical Belgae of Gaul and Britain. He proposed that they invaded from Britain and spoke a Brythonic language, which he named Ivernic and identified with a language referred to in a number of early sources as Iarnnbélrae, Iarnbélrae, and Iarmbérla, which, if treated as Old Irish, means "Iron-speech". The 9th-century Irish dictionary Sanas Cormaic ("Cormac's glossary") describes Iarnnbélrae as a recently extinct language which was "dense and difficult", and records two words which derived from it.[4] However, by the proto-historical period the Érainn were evidently Goidelic-speaking, as evidenced by the fact that ogham inscriptions in Primitive Irish are most abundant in Counties Cork and Kerry.[12]


  1. ^ Ptol. Geog. 2.2.6 (ed. K. Müller [Paris 1883-1901])
  2. ^ Ptol. Geog. 2.2.9; 8.3.4
  3. ^ John T. Koch, Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2005, p.709
  4. ^ a b c d O'Rahilly, T. F. (1946), Early Irish History and Mythology, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies  
  5. ^ DIL Letter: D1 (D-Degóir), Columns 35 and 36
  6. ^ Charles Doherty, "Érainn", in Seán Duffy (ed.), Medieval Ireland: an encyclopedia, 2005, CRC Press, pp. 156-157
  7. ^ for extensive discussion, see Julius Pokorny. "Beiträge zur ältesten Geschichte Irlands (3. Érainn, Dári(n)ne und die Iverni und Darini des Ptolomäus)", in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 12 (1918): 323-57.
  8. ^ Donnchadh Ó Corráin, "Prehistoric and Early Christian Ireland", in R. F. Foster (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland, Oxford University Press, 2001
  9. ^ Eoin MacNeill, "Early Irish Population Groups: their nomenclature, classification and chronology", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (C) 29, 1911, pp. 59–114
  10. ^ MacNeill 1911
  11. ^ John T. Koch. "Ériu", in John T. Koch (ed.). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. 2006. pp. 709-18
  12. ^ John T. Koch, "Ériu, Alba and Letha: When was a Language Ancestral to Gaelic First Spoken in Ireland?", Emania 9, 1991, pp. 17-27

Further reading

  • Herm, Gerhard (2002), The Celts, Ireland: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0312313438  
  • "Ireland: Early History", Volume 14, Page 789 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  • J.-J. Tierney, The Greek geographic tradition and Ptolemy's evidence for Irish geography, in RIA Proc., Ixxxvi (1976) sect.C, pp. 257–265
  • Theodore William Moody ,A New History of Ireland, p. 140, Oxford University Press, 1976
  • Nora Kershaw Chadwick, The Celts, Pelican Books, 1970
  • C. Thomas Cairney, Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland, An Ethnography of the Gael, AD 500 - 1750, McFarland & Company Inc, Publishers ISBN 0899503624
  • T. F. O'Rahilly, Irish Dialects, Past and Present, 1932
  • T.F. O'Rahilly, The Goidals and Their Predecessors, London, The British Academy, 1935
  • C.F.C. Hawkes, Pytheas: Europe and the Greek Explorers, Oxford University Press, 1977
  • John Haywood, Atlas historique des Celtes, trad. Colette Stévanovitch, éditions Autrement, coll. Atlas/Mémoires, Paris, 2002, ISBN 2-7467-0187-1.
  • Byrne, Francis John, Irish Kings and High-Kings. Batsford, London, 1973 ISBN 0713458828
  • Duffy, Seán (ed.), Atlas of Irish History. Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 2nd edn, 2000 ISBN 0717130932
  • Nora Chadwick, The Celts, Pelican Books, 1971
  • C. Thomas. Cairney, Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland - An Ethnography of the Gael AD 500-1750, Willow Bend Books, 1989.
  • Richard Bradley, The Prehistory of Britain and Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 0521848113, ISBN 9780521848114
  • T. M. Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0521363950, ISBN 9780521363952
  • Barry Raftery, Pagan Celtic Ireland: The Enigma of the Irish Iron Age, Thames and Hudson, 1998 ISBN 0500279837
  • Lloyd Robert Laing, The Archaeology of Celtic Britain and Ireland, C. AD 400-1200: C. AD 400 - 1200, Cambridge University Press, 2006 ISBN 0521838622

See also

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