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Partholón, in medieval Irish historical tradition, was the leader of the second group of people to settle in Ireland, supposedly first to arrive after the biblical Flood. They arrived 2520 years after the creation of the world (Anno Mundi according to the chronology of the Annals of the Four Masters, 2061 BC according to Geoffrey Keating's chronology, and the time of Abraham according to Irish synchronic historians. Probably a post-Christian medieval invention, his name may have been borrowed from a 'Bartholomaeus' who appears in the Christian histories of St. Jerome and Isidore of Seville.
The earliest surviving reference to Partholón's settlement is in the Historia Brittonum, a 9th-century British Latin compilation attributed to one Nennius. Here, "Partolomus" is said to have come to Ireland with a thousand followers, who multiplied until there were four thousand, and then all died of plague in a single week.
The Irish Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of Invasions of Ireland), compiled in the 11th century, tells us more. Partholón was the son of Sera, son of Sru, a descendant of Magog, son of Japheth, son of Noah. He came to Ireland from the Middle East through Anatolia, Greece, Sicily and Iberia, and arrived 300 or 312 years after the flood, on 14 May, a Tuesday, landing at Inber Scéne (Kenmare in South Kerry). His landing is synchronised with Abraham's sixtieth year. With him were his wife, Dalgnat, their three sons, Sláine, Rudraige and Laiglinne, their wives Nerba, Cichba and Cerbnad, and a thousand followers.
Seathrún Céitinn's 17th century compilation Foras Feasa ar Érinn, gives Partholón a slightly different background story. He was the son of Sera, the king of Greece, and fled his homeland after murdering his father and mother. He lost his left eye in the attack on his parents. He and his followers set off from Greece, sailed via Sicily, around Portugal and Spain, and arrived in Ireland from the west, having travelled for seven years.
At the time of Partholón's arrival there were only three lakes, nine rivers and one plain in Ireland. He cleared four more plains, and seven more lakes erupted from the ground. Three (or ten, or 17) years after arriving, Partholón defeated the Fomorians, led by Cíocal, at Magh Ithe, in the first battle fought in Ireland.
A poem in the Lebor Gabála, expanded on by Céitinn, tells how Partholón and his wife lived on a small island near the head of the estuary of the River Erne. Once, while Partholón was out touring his domain, his wife, Delgnat, seduced a servant, Topa. Afterwards they drank from Partholón's ale, which could only be drunk through a golden tube. Partholón discovered the affair when he drank his ale and recognised the taste of Delgnat's and Topa's mouths on the tube. In anger, he killed Topa, and his wife's dog. But Delgnat was unrepentant, and insisted that Partholón himself was to blame, as leaving them alone together was like leaving honey before a woman, milk before a cat, edged tools before a craftsman, or meat before a child, and expecting them not to take advantage. This is recorded as the first adultery and the first jealousy in Ireland. The island they lived on was named Inis Saimera after Saimer, Dalgnat's dog.
According to the Lebor Gabála, Partholón and his followers, five thousand men and four thousand women, died of plague in a single week, on Senmag, the "old plain", near modern Tallaght. Later sources say Partholón died there after thirty years in Ireland, and the rest of his people also died there of plague - according to the Four Masters, 270 years later in the month of May. But one man survived: Tuan, son of Partholón's brother Starn. Through a series of animal transformations, he survived through the centuries to be reborn as the son of a chieftain named Cairell in the time of Colm Cille (6th century). He remembered all he had seen, and thus Partholón's story was preserved.
Partholon's brother Tait was the great-grandfather of Nemed.
|Mythical invasions of Ireland
AFM 2680 BC
FFE 2061 BC
- John Morris (ed) (1980), Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals
- R. A. S. McAllister (ed) (1941), Lebor Gabála Érenn: Book of the Taking of Ireland Part 1-5 
- John O'Donovan (ed) (1848–1851), Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters Vol 1 
- D. Comyn & P. S. Dineen (eds) (1902–1914), The History of Ireland by Geoffrey Keating 
- John Morris (1973), The Age of Arthur
- James MacKillop (1998), Dictionary of Celtic Mythology