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Nemed or Nimeth (modern spelling: Neimheadh) is a character in medieval Irish Christian mythohistory. According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (compiled in the 11th century), he is the leader of the third group of people to settle in Ireland, who are referred to as the Muintir Nemid (Muintir Neimhidh, "people of Nemed"), Clann Nemid (Clann Neimhidh, "offspring of Nemed") or Nemedians. The word nemed means "privileged" or "holy" in Old Irish. They arrive thirty years after their predecessors, the Muintir Partholóin, had died out. After many years the Nemedians too are wiped out or forced to abandon the island.
According to the Lebor Gabála, Nemed, like those who settled Ireland before him, had a genealogy going back to the biblical Noah. He was the son of Agnoman of Scythia, the son of Piamp, son of Tait, son of Sera, son of Sru, son of Esru, son of Friamaint, son of Fathochta, son of Magog, son of Japheth, one of the sons of Noah.
Ireland had been uninhabited since the Muintir Partholóin died of plague. The Muintir Nemid set sail from the Caspian Sea in 44 ships, but after a year and a half of sailing, the only ship to reach Ireland is Nemed's. Also on board are his wife Macha, his four chieftain sons (Starn, Iarbonel, Annind, and Fergus 'Red-Side'), and others. His wife Macha dies twelve days after they arrive and is buried at Ard Mhacha (Armagh). Two quite different dates are given for the arrival of Muintir Nemid: 2350 BCE according to the Annals of the Four Masters, or 1731 BCE in Seathrún Céitinn's chronology.
Four lakes burst from the ground in Nemed's time, including Loch Annind, which burst from the ground when Annind's grave was being dug. The other three lakes were Loch Cál in Uí Nialláin, Loch Munremair in Luigne, and Loch Dairbrech in Mide.
The Muintir Nemid clear twelve plains: Mag Cera, Mag Eba, Mag Cuile Tolaid and Mag Luirg in Connacht; Mag Seired in Tethbae; Mag Tochair in Tír Eogain; Mag Selmne in Dál nAraidi; Mag Macha in Airgíalla; Mag Muirthemne in Brega; Mag Bernsa in Leinster; Leccmag and Mag Moda in Munster.
They also build two royal forts: Ráth Chimbaith in Semne and Ráth Chindeich in Uí Nialláin. Ráth Chindeich was dug in one day by Boc, Roboc, Ruibne and Rotan, the four sons of Matan Munremar. Nemed kills them before dawn the next morning.
Nemed wins four battles against the mysterious Fomorians. Modern scholars believe the Fomorians were a group of deities who represent the harmful or destructive powers of nature; personifications of chaos, darkness, death, blight and drought. These battles are at Ros Fraechain (in which Fomorian kings Gann and Sengann are killed), at Badbgna in Connacht, at Cnamros in Leinster (in which Artur, Nemed's first son born in Ireland, dies), and at Murbolg in Dál Riata (where his son Starn is killed by the Fomorian Conand). However, nine years after arriving in Ireland, Nemed dies of plague along with three thousand of his people. He is buried on the hill of Ard Nemid on Great Island in Cork Harbour.
The remaining Muintir Nemid are then oppressed by the Fomorians Morc and Conand, who lives in Conand's Tower, on an island off the coast. Each Samhain, they must give two thirds of their children, their corn and their milk to the Fomorians. This tribute that the Nemedians are forced to pay may be "a dim memory of sacrifice offered at the beginning of winter, when the powers of darkness and blight are in the ascendant". After many years, the Muintir Nemid rise up against the Fomorians and attack the Conand's Tower with 60,000 warriors (30,000 on sea and 30,000 on land), defeating Conand. Morc then attacks, and almost all of the Nemedians are killed in a tidal wave. Only one ship of thirty men escapes. Some of them go "into the north of the world", some go to Britain and become the ancestors of all Britons, and some go south to Greece. The island would again be empty for another 200 years.
The Historia Brittonum—which is earlier than the Lebor Gabála—says there were only three settlements of Ireland, with the Nemedians being the second. It tells us that the Nemedians came from Iberia and stayed in Ireland for many years, but then returned to Iberia. The Lebor Gabála increases the number of settlements to six and makes the Nemedians the third group. The number may have been increased to six to match the "Six Ages of the World". The Historia Brittonum also mentions settlers being drowned while trying to attack a tower at sea. However, in the Historia Brittonum it is the Milesians who attack the tower, which is made of glass.
|Mythical settlers of Ireland
AFM 2350 BC
FFE 1731 BC
- Uraicecht Becc ("Little Primer") (transl. 1881).
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- Smyth, Daragh. A Guide to Irish Mythology. Irish Academic Press, 1996. p.74
- Note that there were also two Fir Bolg kings called Gann and Sengann
- MacCulloch, p.80
- Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise (1949). Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover Publications, 2000. p.3
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