Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Joys of Local Journalism (or How I Discovered I Was Heir to the Throne of Camelot)

Local Man Arthur O'Neill

I mentioned a while back that I’d recently found a new job. Well I haven’t lost it yet, I’m glad to report. It’s up at my local newspaper, where I’ve worked on and off over the years. I love where I live and I love being a journalist so it’s pretty much perfect really. Especially when you get stories like the one I wrote last week; the one where I found out that not only was King Arthur actually an honest-to-god real-life person, but he was from Inishowen!  And there’s more - it turns out there’s even a chance I’m descended from him. You could be too! Seriously folks, the King Arthur.

Let me explain. According to new research by English historian Dane Pestano, Arthurian legend may very well have originated from a historical sixth-century High King of Ireland. Said king being Muircertach MacErca, who ruled from An Grianan and was the great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages. For any of you  not familiar with him, Niall was a legendary Ulster king who was apparently quite the ladies’ man. Genetic studies have found that around 20% of males in the north of Ireland and south-west Scotland carry his Y-chromosome and it’s believed up to six million people in the world today could be descended from him. As I said, he must’ve got around a bit.

An Grianan- the original Camelot?

That means there’s probably a fair chunk of the population round these parts who are related to MacErca too. Until recently not much was known about him, but a few years back Mr Pestano uncovered a lost tale in an old manuscript which led him on his Arthurian adventure. In his short book, Dane explains how the life MacErca, who also ruled from Grianan, almost exactly mirrors that of the man the Welsh and Britons knew as Arthur. Drawing upon both historical record and old folktales, here are just some of the links he identifies:
  • MacErca was supposedly the first Christian king of Ireland and ruled at the same time as the mythical Arthur;
  • His name can be translated as ‘Arthur’ and his wife’s name mirrors that of Gwenevere when translated into Welsh;
  • As a child he was fostered by a driud;
  • He conquered Gaul and assumed sovereignty of Britain, The Saxons, Scotland, The Orkneys, and Denmark;
  • He was in possession of the Lia Fáil (the Stone of Destiny);
  • There was a Merlin-type character, the bishop Cairneach, who guided him in his conquests and who could apparently perform magical feats;
  • The idea of Morgan LeFey may also have originated here since there is one folktale which tells of a fairy woman who tried to seduce then murder MacErca;
  • Finally, according to legend MacErca succumbed to the symbolic ‘triple death’.
MacErca was also the grandson of Eoghan, whom Inishowen is named after, and he was the uncle of another famous local lad, St Colmcille (aka St Columba), who had the gift of prophecy and was a bit of an Irish Nostradamus.  I think the Glastonbury tourist board are going to have to review their brochures because if MacErca is indeed Arthur then his links to this area are incredible. When I was chatting to Dane on the phone about his work he said that Bettina over at Guarding Grianan Aileach may even have discovered the actual Round Table at the ring fort. How cool is that!

I think by now you lot know how much I love history and folklore, especially anything to do with Grianan, so you can imagine how excited I was about this story. I’m such a geek I was as thrilled working on it as someone else might’ve been if they’d gotten to interview their favourite actor or singer or something. Niall and Arthur are like celebrities to me :) 

 I think everyone at the paper thinks I’m a wee bit loopy for getting so excited about it, but I’m not just saying this - I think it’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a story.  I even discovered a new favourite word, toppling ‘troglodyte’ from it’s long-held first place spot. It’s ‘Galfridian’, as in ‘pre-Galfridian’ meaning ‘existing before Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his famous twelfth century work on Arthur’.  Nice, isn’t it? The stories about MacErca are pre-Galfridian.

Dane’s introductory book, ‘King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition’, is available to download or order here. It’ll soon be on Amazon etc too and I’ll add those links as soon as I get them. He plans to publish a full edition next year so watch this space.


Amanda said...

My mom loves all things King Arthur, so I grew up with all the stories. In turn, I too love pretty much anything related to the legend.

This was amazing to read and extremely fascinating!

Romantic Heroine said...

wow, amazing facts you shared with us. Me, who loves the legend of King Arthur herself, would like believe that there's a bit of Niall in my genes. that would be quite fantastic!

PS. love your photos too, my dear :)

rachelsmith133 said...

Ooo this sounds intriguing. Think I'll have to read the full edition of the book when it comes out, sounds like it could be a very interesting read.

Jeanne said...

Who'd of thought...... Arthur was actually Irish. But then I should've guessed that part! :0) A shame my relative came from the other side of Scotland (Graham and Turnbull Clans) ......

Kim said...

Wow! This is awesome info. I always suspected that the Arthurian legends were based on real people. I'm a folklore nut too, so this is one book I'll want to add to my collection.

Being Irish myself, I love all things that have to do with the country of my ancestors.

JJ Beazley said...

This needs a bit of cautious consideration, Roisin. What about the references to Arthur in the earlier Welsh tradition - the Mabinogion and the Annals of Wales? And it's the first I've heard of an Irish provincial ruler having sovereignty over Denmark in the pre-Viking period.

I'm ever open to new research and opinions, of course, and I would like to read the book. For now, though, I'll stick with the conservative view of the historical Arthur - that he was an aritocratic Romano-Briton originating from Wales, Scotland or south west England who mobilised British resistance to Saxon incursion.

The one thing that really bugs me about Arthur is when people think of him in Mallory's terms - as a mediaeval English king. If there was a real Arthur, he must have lived long before England even existed.

(Sorry to go on. You've hit a pet subject of mine!)

JJ Beazley said...

* WHAT WE WOULD NOW REFER TO AS Wales, Scotland or south west England*

(Just to avoid confusion.)

ruthie said...

Roisin, first congratulations on the job, well done. Second, thanks for this info re King Arthur, i love to read anything i can lay my hands on about him and have just not long ago finished reading the Mary Stewart trilogy , again lol. I once saw the round table they have in Winchester, even that one was amazing to see. sorry i haven't stopped by for ages, this Summer has been sooo hectic x

Robin said...

so very interesting....
Thanks for sharing this.

Wishing you a beautiful week ahead

Dane Pestano said...

JJ Beazley is correct. One has to be a bit cautious about the claims that Arthur was Irish. Although in the story of his life that I have presented, Mac Erca certainly accomplishes the same things as Arthur of the Britons, his ancestry is certainly dubious. Whether he was a Briton adopted into Irish Genealogies or an Irishman or indeed of the Cruithne is still debatable (he may even have been a mix of all). I will deal with these issues in a larger work. This work though introduces the full story of Mac Erca from all manuscripts that could be found on him. It's a fantastic tale with some great poetic verses translated into English for the first time.

Róisín said...

Looking forward to it Dane! And can I just state for the record that I am aware of the tentative nature of this whole carry on. I think my playful tone has been misinterpreted a little, if not lost completely. It's a bit of a running joke that the Irish like to claim everyone they can, so if you offer us Arthur we'll grab him with both hands! Sorry if I hit a nerve JJ. Don't worry, if I was writing a proper academic piece, I wouldn't be so tabloid-ish about it ;)

(Oh, and Dane, I hope you managed to get that scanned article. It wasn't the best quality, sorry.)

TheBlakkDuchess said...

Ooooo... What fun! I'm glad you're still enjoying your work at the paper! The best job is one that is enjoyed. ^-^
In other news... Britt folded up a bunch of scraps of paper with names of places we want to travel after we finish nursing school. We let the cat pick & he picked Ireland. =D
Sooooooo... we may be trying to move out your way in the next few years. ^-^
Now all I gotta do is get IN to school somewhere so I can finish. @_@


eimear brennan said...

Hi there! been away for quite some time. Such a great story to come back to....completely understand how you could get so excited about this..and Galfridian... absolutely gorgeous. Hope you are well

KY Warrior Librarian said...

I'm taking an English Lit class right now, and we just finished Mort Darthur (which I did a powerpoint presentation on that I was quite proud of). I'll have to share it with you. Arthurian Legend has always been an interest of mine, and one thing I learned from doing my powerpoint, the deeper you delved, the more fascinating and complex it became. Delightful entry girl. Good job.

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