Cessair or Cesair (spelt Ceasair in modern Irish; anglicized Kesair) is a character from the Lebor Gabála Érenn, a medieval Christian pseudo-history of Ireland. According to the Lebor Gabála, she was the leader of the first inhabitants of Ireland, before the Biblical Flood. The tale may be an attempt to Christianize an earlier pagan myth, but may alternatively be the product of post-conversion pseudohistory.
According to the LGÉ, Cessair was daughter of Noah's (non-Biblical) son Bith and his wife Birren. Cessair's father's name Bith appears to be derived from Old Celtic Bitu-, which was a common prefix in Gaulish and Insular king names and has the meaning of "World", "Life", or "Age" in Old Irish. In some versions of the tale, Noah tells them to go to the western edge of the world to escape the oncoming Flood. In other versions, when their people are denied a place on Noah's Ark, Cessair tells them to make an idol to advise them. This idol tells them to escape the Flood by sailing to Ireland. They set out in three ships and reach Ireland after a long journey. However, when they attempt to land, two of the ships are lost. The only survivors are Cessair, forty-nine other women, and three men: Fintan mac Bóchra, Bith and Ladra. They land in Ireland at Dún na mBarc (on Bantry Bay) forty days before the Flood, in Age of the World 2242 according to the Annals of the Four Masters, or 2361 BC according to Seathrún Céitinn's chronology.
The men are shared out evenly among the women. Each also takes one as her primary husband: Cessair takes Fintán, Bairrfhind takes Bith and Alba takes Ladra. However, Bith and Ladra soon die (Ladra becoming the first man buried in Ireland). Fintán is left with all the women but is unable to cope and so he flees. When the Flood comes, Fintán is the only one to survive. He becomes a salmon and later an eagle and a hawk, living for 5,500 years after the Flood, whence he becomes a man again and recounts Ireland's history. According to legend, Cessair died at Cúil Ceasra(ch) in Connacht and a cairn, Carn Ceasra(ch), was raised over her body. It has been said that this cairn is near Boyle in County Roscommon, or alternatively that it is Cnoc Meadha in County Galway (Lynch, 2006).
An earlier version of the tale, apparently found in the Cín Dromma Snechtai, says that it was Banba who first came to Ireland with her two sisters, three men and fifty women. Banba, Fódla and Ériu were a trio of land goddesses and their husbands were Mac Cuill (son of hazel), Mac Cecht (son of the plough) and Mac Gréine (son of the Sun). It is likely that Cessair, Bairrfhind and Alba are a Christianized replacement for the three goddesses and Fintán, Bith and Ladra a replacement for the three gods. Fintán/Mac Cuill may also be linked to the Salmon of Knowledge, which gains all the world's knowledge after eating nine hazelnuts that fall into a well. The women who accompany Cessair appear by their names to represent the world's ancestral mothers; they included German (Germans), Espa (Spanish), Alba (British), Traige (Thracians), Gothiam (Goths), and so forth. Thus "their arrival can be read as creating a microcosm of the whole world's population in Ireland". Several other companions echo the names of ancient Irish goddesses.
Seathrún Céitinn also refers to a legend that three fishermen from Iberia—Capa, Laigne and Luasad—were driven to Ireland by a storm a year before the Flood. They liked it, so they went home to get their wives, returned shortly before the Flood, and were drowned.
Mallory has a slightly different version. There were 150 women and 3 men. The first man died and was buried in Wexford. The second man now had 100 women and soon died of exhaustion. The 150 women then chased the remaining man who saved himself by jumping into the sea and turning into a salmon.
|Mythical settlers of Ireland
AFM 2958 BC
FFE 2361 BC
| Succeeded by|
- "Cesair 1," A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. James McKillop. Oxford University Press, 1998
- Annal 2242 [The Annals do not attempt to ascribe BC dates to these events.]
- Koch, John T.. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2006. p.165
- Carey, John. The Irish National Origin-Legend: Synthetic Pseudohistory. University of Cambridge, 1994. p.21
- Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Infobase Publishing, 2004. p.85
- J.P. Mallory, The Origins of the Irish, 2013, Chapter Seven
- John O'Donovan (ed) (1848–1851), Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters Vol 1
- D. Comyn & P. S. Dineen (eds) (1902–1914), The History of Ireland by Geoffrey Keating
- James MacKillop (1998), Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
- Ronan Lynch (2006), The Kirwans of Castlehacket, Co. Galway:History, folklore and mythology in an Irish horseracing family, Four Courts Press, ISBN 1-84682-028-6.