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Partholón (modern spelling: Parthalán) is a character in medieval Irish Christian pseudo-history. According to the tradition, he is the leader of the second group of people to settle in Ireland, the Muintir Partholóin (people of Partholón). They arrive on the uninhabited island about 300 years after Noah's Flood and are responsible for introducing such things as farming, cooking, brewing and buildings. After some years, they all die of plague in a single week. The tale is probably an invention of the Christian writers. 'Partholón' comes from the Biblical name 'Bartholomaeus' or 'Bartholomew' and he may have been borrowed from a character of that name who appears in the Christian pseudo-histories of Saint Jerome and Isidore of Seville.
The earliest surviving reference to Partholón is in the Historia Brittonum, a 9th-century British Latin compilation attributed to one Nennius. It says that Ireland was settled three times by three groups, with 'Partholomus' and his followers being the first. It says he came to Ireland from Iberia with a thousand followers, who multiplied until there were four thousand, and then all died of plague in a single week.
The Lebor Gabála Érenn, an 11th-century Christian pseudo-history of Ireland, expands on this. It says that Ireland was settled six times, with Partholón and his followers being the second group. The number may have been increased to six to match the "Six Ages of the World". According to the Lebor Gabála, Ireland was uninhabited following the deaths of Cessair and her companions in the Flood. It tells us that Partholón came from Greece and was the son of Sera, son of Sru, a descendant of Magog, son of Japheth, son of Noah. Partholón and his people sail to Ireland via Sicily and Iberia, arriving 300 or 312 years after the flood and landing at Inber Scéne (Kenmare in County Kerry). With Partholón were his wife Delgnat, their three sons, Slanga, Rudraige and Laiglinne, their wives Nerba, Cichba and Cerbnad, and a thousand followers. The Annals of the Four Masters says they arrived in 2520 Anno Mundi (after the "creation of the world"), Seathrún Céitinn's Foras Feasa ar Érinn says they arrived in 2061 BC, and other medieval texts say they arrived in the 60th year of Abraham.
Seathrún Céitinn's 17th century compilation Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, gives Partholón a slightly different background story. It tells us 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 Iberia, and arrived in Ireland from the west, having travelled for seven years.
At the time of Partholón's arrival there is only one open plain, three lakes and nine rivers in Ireland. The Muintir Partholóin clear four more plains and seven more lakes burst from the ground. Named figures are credited with introducing cattle husbandry, ploughing, cooking, dwellings, trade, and dividing the island in four. They battle and defeat the Fomorians, who are led by Cichol Gricenchos, at Magh Ithe, in the first battle fought in Ireland. The Fomorians have been interpreted as a group of pagan gods associated with the harmful forces of nature.
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, Delgnat's dog.
According to the Lebor Gabála, Partholón and all of his people—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 settlers of Ireland
AFM 2680 BC
FFE 2061 BC
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