Terrible deluge afflicts land during reign of Ó Comhain


NEWTONS OPTIC:An era of flooding and unrest is recorded in the Annals of the Fifth Master, writes NEWTON EMERSON

FOR AN account of Ireland’s last 800-year flood, we must turn to the Annals of the Fifth Master, which contain the following entry for the year AD 1209 (translated into English by Baile Nua Mac Eimear):

The Age of the World 6409.

In this, the second year of the reign of Ó Comhain the Minstrel, a terrible deluge did afflict the lands of Thomond and Desmond. It covered the fields and the dwellings of the plain, and those in the dwellings suffered most while those in the fields suffered not quite so much, although all who said so were slain by the cattle-herders.

The people cried out to their lords for help, and said: “Why did you settle us on the plain, where the runes had foretold inundation?”

But the lords did not answer. Instead, young men in dark raiments did travel the land with pieces of parchment, on which the foretelling of the runes was inscribed in very small illumination.

It was also in this year that the scribes and the healers and the warriors chose a new king amongst themselves, known as Peadar Mac Lughny, who made a court at Halla Saoirse by the Abhainn na Life and gathered other goodly heroes around him, who some called the Red Branch Knights, although not to their bearded faces.

There were thus two kings in Ireland, and much confusion among the people, from the highest to the lowest, for all the gold and fine jewellery had been thrown into ceremonial ponds and could not be found, for reasons that could not be explained.

Ó Comhain told his people to keep throwing gold into the ponds and all would be well. Mac Lughny told his people to throw Ó Comhain into a pond and all would be well. So the people became divided.

Forty days before the deluge, the scribes and the healers and the warriors went to Ó Comhain and asked for gold, and Ó Comhain agreed, because they had him by the Firbolgs.

Ó Comhain told his blacksmiths to drain the ponds in search of gold. But instead, as the waters rose, he was forced to break his promise.

When Mac Lughny heard of this, he swore vengeance and led his army out into battle, except for a small number to protect the dwellers of the plain.

For a whole day the land was laid waste. The sick and the wounded were turned away, as were the seekers of alms, both honest and idle. Children went unsupervised until mid-afternoon and Brehon law was briefly suspended, although chariots and wood-collection were largely unaffected.

At sunset, Mac Lughny claimed sovereignty over Ireland, with Ó Comhain as his vassal in liege of scutage. But the people of the plain would not bow down to him, for the water had continued to rise up their leggings, even unto the hem of their tunics, and they could not go in any deeper. So Mac Lughny’s dream of kingship faded with the memory of this battle, of which it is said:

Did he not fight for you?

No, you fought for himself.

Did his Red Branch Knights not protect you?

No, they protected themselves.

And Ó Comhain was one more year in the sovereignty of Ireland, before giving it away to the foreigners forever.