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The Milesians

After the Battle of Moytura, the Fomorians did not return to Ireland to harry the people. The powerful Tuatha De Danaan were the rulers now, and the country was at peace. Ireland was a beautiful country, the coastline fringed with high mountains and below the wooded slopes lay deep valleys, fertile plains and marshy bogs. The rivers and lakes were full of fish, cattle grazed on the plains and herds of pigs rooted for acorns in the oak forests. Bees hummed among the heather in the bogs and the woods rang loud with birdsong. The weather was not too hot in summer, nor too cold in winter, so crops grew abundantly and there was plenty of food. The island wasn't overcrowded and there was room enough for everyone.
      In the north of Spain lived another tribe, the Sons of Mil. The Milesians were skilled in magic too, and for generations had been a wandering people. They had travelled to distant places, and had gone as far as Greece and Egypt. At last they had settled in Spain, and Bregan, one of their kings, built a tower so high that from it the Milesians could see great distances in every direction. One clear day a learned magician called Ith climbed the tower and in the north-west he saw a shadowy outline. As he stared, he thought he could see an island with high mountains hazy in the distance. The longer he looked the clearer the outline became until he was sure another country lay on the horizon. He quickly came down from the tower and ran to tell his brothers what he had seen. He tried to persuade them to go with him to find out what this distant island was like but, as he described what he had seen, they laughed at him.
      'You have seen nothing but stormclouds piling up on the horizon. We will not risk men and ships on these stormy waters to follow a mirage!' his brothers mocked. But Ith's son and a few others believed his story so they made ready for the expedition and set sail.
      It was indeed a stormy journey and sometimes Ith feared his brothers might have been right, but he kept to his northerly course. After several days he and his companions saw a coastline faint on the horizon. As they sailed closer they saw how beautiful the island was and, praising Ith, the Milesians rowed into a sheltered bay and pulled their ships ashore.
      They made their way without any hindrance through the country, until they came to where the leaders of the Tuatha De Danaan were gathered.
      The three kings who ruled Ireland at the time were brothers and when Ith arrived at their fort at Aileach they were quarrelling among themselves as to who had seized the greatest part of their father's wealth and lands. Ith was amazed that such a disagreement should take place in a land where was plenty for all.
      'Settle your differences,' he told them. 'There is no need for brothers to quarrel over such things. You should treat each other fairly. Your father has been generous to you and the land you have inherited is beautiful. It has fertile soil and the waters teem with fish. You have grain and honey and salmon to eat. The weather is comfortable. You don't suffer from too much heat or too much cold. This lovely island can give you everything you need.' The kings stopped arguing to listen to Ith's wise counsel and, having delivered his judgement, Ith returned to his ship.
      But Ith's praise of their land disquieted the kings. They were afraid that he meant to take it for himself, since he had praised it so much. In their alarm they forgot the quarrel they had with one another and together they made a plot to kill Ith. They sent some soldiers after him and before he reached his ship they ambushed him and left him fatally wounded. His son and his companions, though wounded themselves, carried their leader to the boat and made for home as fast as they could, but when they reached land Ith was dead. They brought him ashore, lamenting his death, and showed his body to his kinsmen. Ith had been a wise and just man and his murder angered the Milesians. They resolved to sail to Ireland and take revenge for the treachery of the Tuatha De Danaan.
      Then the Sons of Mil and their neighbours, the Gaels, sent messengers far and wide to all the countries they had visited over the years. They told their allies the story of Ith's death and recruited warriors everywhere they went. They returned to their own country with a huge army and built ships, laid in supplies and got ready for the expedition. A great host of people, Milesians and Gaels, assembled in Brigaton, chiefs and warriors and with them ordinary people, men and women both.
      They set sail in a huge fleet, sixty-five ships in all, and on the day before the first day of May they saw the island rise slowly out of the sea ahead of them. Then they raced each other, sailing and rowing with all their strength, to see who would be first to set foot in Ireland.
      This time the Tuatha De Danaan were expecting them. They hurried to the shore and watched helplessly as the Milesian fleet approached with great speed. The De Danaans had made no armed preparations for war so their leaders asked their magicians to use their druidic powers to halt the approach of the invaders.
      The druids began to work their spells and the outline of the shore began to shimmer and waver, until the Milesians saw land and sea swirling together in one confusing mass. The approaching ships were completely engulfed in a mist. Cloud closed round them and the sailors lost their bearings completely. Three times they circled the island, frightened and helpless. At last, through a break in the fog, they saw an inlet into which the fleet could sail and here they anchored.
      Disembarking quickly, glad to be ashore, they began to march to Tara to confront the three De Danaan kings. On the way they met the three queens of Ireland, Eiriu, Fodla and Banba, who prophesied to them that the island of Ireland would belong to them and to their children for ever. This gave the Milesians encouragement and they pressed on with renewed will. At Tara, they found the three kings who had killed Ith in council. The Milesians chose Amergin, a poet and one of their leaders, to meet the De Danaan kings and give them an ultimatum. Amergin went into the hall where the kings were in council and told them the choices they had: to give over their country peacefully, or to fight to keep it. The loss of their homeland was the price they would have to pay for the murder of Ith.
      Though they were not ready for battle, the Tuatha De Danaan had no notion of handing over their land without a struggle, so they played for time. 'Let your poets and wise men make an offer,' they said, 'but it must be a fair offer, otherwise our druids will kill you with their spells.'
      So Amergin made his offer.
      'We will go back to our boats and retreat from the shore over the distance of nine waves. Then we will come back over the nine waves, disembark and take this island by force if need be. But if you can prevent us setting foot on the shore, we will turn our boats homewards and we will never trouble you again.'
      The Tuatha De Danaan were pleased with this offer. They were sure that their druids' power was strong enough to prevent the Milesians landing, so they agreed to the terms.
      Amergin and his companions put out to sea over the space of nine waves and then turned to approach the shore. Immediately a huge storm blew up and gravel on the sea bed rose to the surface with the force of the wind. Waves rose in front of the boats as tall as the cliffs along the strand. In the tempestuous breakers the boats were pitched and tossed. They lost sight of each other in the deep troughs and were driven westward and scattered in every direction until they were exhausted. Many, many boats foundered in the boiling sea.
      Amergin and the other leaders knew that the storm was not a natural one, but one called up by the power of the druids. They did not know how far from land they had been driven, so Amergin's brother climbed to the top of the mast to see if land was visible over the towering waves. He was flung from the mast by a fierce gust of wind and crashed to his death on the deck below. The people in the boat were terrified and angry. They ranted at Amergin and begged him to use his powers to calm the sea and save them. Amergin, buffeted by the winds and waves, made his way forward and clinging to the prow, his voice rising above the roar of the waves, he invoked the spirit of the land of Ireland, calling out to it, praising its beauty. Instantly there was a lull in the wind, the dreadful noise ceased and the sea became calm. Swiftly the boat headed for land over the nine waves, with Amergin like a figurehead leaning forward in the prow. As soon as the keel of the boat touched bottom, Amergin jumped out and waded ashore. He put his right foot on dry land at Inver Sceine and then, standing on the shore of Ireland, he chanted this poem,

'I am the wind on the sea.
      I am the wave of the ocean.
      I am a powerful bull.
      I am an eagle on the rock.
      I am the brightness of the sun.
      I am a fierce wild boar.
      I am a salmon in the pool.
      I am the wisdom of art.
      I am a spear, sharp in battle.
      I am the god that puts fire in the brain.'

Other ships pulled ashore and the men and women who had survived the storm disembarked. They were grateful to be alive and more willing than before to fight the Tuatha De Danaan whose magical powers had cost them so many lives. They fell into formation and marched to meet their enemy.
      The Tuatha De were dismayed to see the Milesians land in spite of their druids' efforts and they hastily marshalled their forces. Then they too marched to battle.
      The first skirmish was won by the Gaels and Milesians but the Tuatha De mustered again and on the plain of Tailtinn faced the invaders. It was a fierce battle. The Milesians, remembering Ith and their lost kinsmen, fought fiercely. The Tuatha De Danaan, knowing their territory was at stake, fought to the death. The three De Danaan kings and their three queens were killed in the battle and when their followers saw this happen they lost heart. They were pushed back to the sea by the triumphant Milesians. They too had suffered losses, but they had won the battle for the land.
      Then the Milesians divided Ireland into provinces: Ulster in the north, Munster in the south, Leinster in the east and Connacht in the west and, at the centre, Tara. Each province had its own king, chiefs and champions, but the High King, who lived in Tara, ruled the country, helped by the provincial kings and chiefs.
      As for the Tuatha De Danaan, though they had been defeated by the Milesians at the battle of Tailtinn, they did not leave Ireland. They went underground to inhabit the mounds and earthworks known as sidhes that are scattered all over the country. Above them, in the upper kingdom, the human inhabitants of Ireland, the descendants of the Milesians and Gaels, lived and died, helped and sometimes hindered by the People of the Sidhe. From time to time, down through the ages, these mysterious, imperishable people entered the world of mortals. Sometimes they fell in love with human beings and at other times they held humans in thrall with their beauty and their haunting music. But their kingdom was that Happy Otherworld under the earth and they always went back there to the Land of the Ever Young