The tenth name was Hibernia; and it is the sons of Míleadh gave that name to it. However, it is said that it is from a river that is in Spain which is called Iberus. (Geoffery Keating, The History of Ireland, written 1634 AD)
It is raining outside, a rarity for these parts. Inside I´m watching TV, and tonight the news programmes are full up with discussion about Castro, Pakistan, punks in Barcelona, and Rajoy and Zapatero - the two candidates for prime minister in the upcoming election. The Spanish they’re speaking is a fog to me, with occasional moments of clarity once the speed slows and the mismeaning lifts. No matter. It is coming, but the language is taking a lot longer to take hold than I thought. I´ve been here six months now, and I’ve been working for three of them. The one thing I’ve learned is that working as a language teacher improves your native fluency, but that’s about it. I think I’d speak more Spanish in Dublin.
Still. It´s interesting. This is the first time I´ve lived for more than a month on the continent, and it´s dawning on me, ever so slowly, that we are an island people. And it´s a strange one, for in Ireland we have a very clear idea of what constitutes an island person, and it ‘aint someone from Dublin. It ‘aint someone from Cavan either, or Mullingar, or Cork. And yet here, in Spain, I´m beginning to notice the differences between my way of seeing things, and that of those around me. I’m not talking about my own particular world-view as such, but rather the parts of how I see the world that are directly linked to the place where I come from. I’m talking about silly things like rain, and the bucket-full of words we have for it. (In Spain, rain is rain.) The fact that I talk about being in Europe now, in a way that someone from Germany would never say “well, I´m in Spain, I’m in Europe now.” Even down to something as simple as saying “going overseas”, because that’s what we’ve got to do in order to get to a different country (and yes, I know about NI). I could spend a lifetime in the National Library and never pick up on these things. To be from Dublin, and to be an islander? It’s a link I never would have made before. I mean, islanders end up drowned, or in a Yeats´poem. They are not from the cities.
It´s still winter here. Spring begins on the 22ns of March. The temperature in Zaragoza gets as cold as Ireland, sometimes more when the strong North Wind (el cierzo) is up. Over two thousand years ago the Roman statesman Cato the Elder wrote about el cirezo, saying that it had the power to knock over a man in armour or a loaded cart. It has not tempered with time. It´s always wise to stand a few steps away from the kerb when the wind blows, for it not uncommon to be knocked by it into a path of a passing car.
According to the legends, some time in the thousand years before Cato the Elder visited Zaragoza, a group of warriors from the north of Spain set out to conquer Ireland. They were led by the sons of Míleadh, (sometimes Milidh), became known as the Milesians. The name Míleadh derives from Miles Hispaniae, or “soldier of Hispania”. The Irish form sometimes given is Míl Espáine. Míleadh was a grandson of Breoghan, and Keating has this to say about Breoghan:
The general chronicle of Spain, which was written by a French gentleman called Lobhaois, as we read in Edward Grimston, page 3, says that the first king who obtained sovereignty over all Spain was a person called Brigus, who built many castles; and it is he who, in the Book of Invasions, is called Breoghan, the grandfather of Milidh of Spain; and it is from him the Brigantes are so called; and, according to the same chronicle, it is from him that the country now called Castile was given the name Brigia in olden times; and a castle was the emblem on his shield, as is the case with the king of Spain now.” (Keating, History of Ireland, section 18)
Milidh of Spain found fame as a warrior in Scythia, a fame that brought him into conflict with the Scythian king. Milidh killed the king and fled to Egypt, where he became a warrior for the pharaoh. He fought many battles against the Aethiopians, and gained much favour with the pharaoh, who gave Milidh his daughter, Scota, as a wife. It is from their sons that the Irish race are desended.
Well, that´s the legends. It´s interesting to note that in Keating´s History of Ireland he mentions the strong trading links that existed between Ireland and Spain in the centuries before the Milesian invasion. He talks about the plans for invasions in section 19 of his History.
For there had been familiarity and intercourse before then between Ireland and Spain since the time when Eochaidh son of Earc, the last king of the Fir Bolg, took Taillte daughter of Maghmhor, king of Spain, to wife. They thus had been in the habit of trading with one another, and of exchanging their wares and valuables, so that the Spaniards were familiar with Ireland, and the Irish had a knowledge of Spain before Ioth son of Breoghan was born. Hence it was not from a view obtained in a single night from the summit of the tower of Breoghan that Ioth, or the children of Breoghan, acquired a knowledge of Ireland, but from there having been intercourse for a long time previously between Spain and Ireland.”
Keating spends a lot of time in his book discounting the alternative histories of the origins of the Irish people. He seems quite intent in proving that the Gaels came from Spain - an insight to 17th century politics more than the origins of the Gaels, but nonetheless, the trading and cultural links between the two nations ring true. Ireland and Spain knew of each other a long time before the legends showed up.
Which brings me back to the opening quote, the river in Spain called Iberius.
The Greeks called the penninsula Iberius, while the Romans called it Hispania. The name Iberius is thought to originate not in Greek and Latin, however, but in the Iberian language itself. All is speculation, though, as the language remains uncoded. The Romans named one river in what is now Spain Iberus Flumen, or river Iber. It became the dividing line between Roman Iberia in the north of the penninsula, and the Carthaginian south. It is the same river that Keating talks about in his History of Ireland, and its modern´day name is the River Ebro. It flows through Zaragoza, and its banks are less than 200 metres from my apartment. I cannot help but think that maybe, all those thousands of years ago, the people who Keating talks about really did live along its banks - that they once saw what I now see. Modernised, of course, more concrete and buildings, but still, the same river.
The leaders of those over-sea ships
In which the sons of Milidh came,
I shall remember all my life
Their names and their fates (Eochaidh O’Flionn, The Leaders of those oversea ships)