Menapian Sea-folk in Ireland

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    The Menapii
    I have read a little bit about the Menapii, a Belgic Tuath [clan or tribal group]. The main reason is because I believe they had close connections with the Irish province of Mumha (pron. ‘Moowa’ ) or Munster.
    Julius Caesar, in his De Bello Gallica refers to the great deal of trouble that he had in trying to subdue them around the year 57BCE. They occupied the lower reaches of the River Rhine. The probability therefore, is that they had vessels at least capable of navigating that river, and possibly further afield. The Celts tended to favour flat-bottomed craft, similar to sampans. Sam-pan means ‘3-board’ in Chinese, so this was a very wide-spread boat-building tradition – a flat bottom plus flat sides.
    Many Portuguese craft were built in this tradition, e.g. the Meia Lua.
    Julius Caesar describes the ships of the Venetii as being of this tradition also, and some maritime historians have remarked how similar the description was to that of the medieval Cogs. They are more correct than they realise, as the word ‘Cog’ is derived from a root-word to be found in all Celtic languages (except Manx). In Welsh, they have ‘Cwch’ and in Irish we have ‘Cuach’, so the Cog tradition probably came from the west rather than the east, and also extends much further back in history than is generally realised.
    The Roman Legions eventually conquered the Menapian homelands, in what is now Belgium, so what happened to them? Some of them were undoubtedly enslaved in situ. Others escaped overseas.
    We find that Carausius, Emperor of the Britons (c297-293AD) was described as a Menapian admiral, so he must have commanded some sort of fleet, whether of Roman-type ships or Celtic-type, or perhaps a mixture of both, so some Menapians must have emigrated to Britain.
    When we examine Ptolomy’s maps of Britain and Ireland, we find that the actual word ‘Menapii is used for a group located in either Co. Wicklow or Wexford, whilst ‘Menavia’ is used for settlements on the coasts of both Wales and Ireland. We also find that the native Irish name for the Irish Sea is ‘Muir Meann’, which suggests the ‘Sea of the Menavians’. We also find that both the Isle of Man and Anglesey were both called ‘Mona’ by Ptolomy.
    On modern maps, we have Monmouth in Wales and Munster in Ireland, which may suggest a migration from the former to the latter – they also brought along a second place-name from the Severn. We have the river Sabhrann running through Cork.
    Coming at the problem from another angle :
    The ruling family of Munster in the early historical period (c5th. to 9th. centuries AD) were the Eoghanachta. There were various branches, most of which were in Munster, but one of which was based in the Eastern Lowlands of Scotland, called the Eoghanachta Máighe Ghircinn; their lands comprised the Manaw of Scotland. Traces are to be found in the place-name Kirkintullach (actually Gircinn–Tulach).
    This may suggest that the original Menapians migrated from Belgium in two groups : one up the eastern coasts of Britain, the other westwards into the Irish Sea Basin, establishing themselves in the islands and on the coasts of Wales and Leinster.
    In our mythology, before our history was written, the 3rd. century High King, Cormac Mac Airt, is said to have expelled the Menapians from Leinster, from which they migrated to Munster. Their new capital was called ‘Caiseal Mór Mumhan’ (‘The Great Caiseal of Munster’ – ‘Cashel’ amongst English-speakers). Caiseal is from the Latin ‘Castellum’, which indicates a degree of Romanisation.
    If the Menapian Carausius was assassinated in 293AD, and he had been in charge of a Menapian fleet, is it possible that they may have gone to Munster, bringing their ships with them, including their cogs?
    If so, it might explain such expressions as ‘Corcaigh Mór-chuachaigh’ (‘Cork of the Great Cogs’). Another pointer is the place-name ‘Rinn na gCuach’ in Bantry Bay (meaning the ‘Promontory of the Cogs’).
    Another indication of Irish Sea influences can be seen from the Roman mosaic preserved in Taunton Museum, in Somerset. There you can see three Roman ships with their pointed rams. In Irish, a word for war-galley was ‘Biorr-long’ (‘Birling’), literally a ‘Point-ship’, which describes the Taunton ships exactly.
    Cian Ó Sé


    May I corrects a small mistake in my earlier post? The Low Ham Roman Mosaic preserved in the Taunton Museum, Somerset shows only two ‘Biorr-longa’ in that only two of them have sharp, pointed rams – the 1st. and the 2nd. These were the war-galleys. I am assuming that the 3rd. was a transport.
    The mosaic depicts the story of Aeneas and the individual panel shows Aeneas landing at Carthage to meet Dido. So a question arises : Is the artist showing Mediterranean ships, or ships from the nearby Irish Sea? Were all Imperial ships similar wherever they operated, or did they have special [designs or rigs] for navigating the Northern Seas?
    The reason I ask is that all the sails on these mosaic vessels appear to be rigged fore-and-aft. The first and last also appear to be rigged in the form of a cross – which reminds me of St. Colm Cille when he raised his sail ‘in the form of a cross’ on his curach. That would have been several centuries after Low Ham.
    Cian Ó Sé

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