Partholón (Modern spelling: 'Parthalán') is a character in medieval Irish Christian legend. By tradition, he is credited with leading a large group to settle in Ireland. "Partholón" comes from the Hebrew name "Bartholomaeus" or "Bartholomew". The name may be borrowed from a character who appears in the Christian pseudo-histories of Saints Jerome and Isidore of Seville.
Partholón was the leader of the second group of people to settle in Ireland, the 'Muintir Partholóin' (People of Partholón). They arrived on the uninhabited island about 300 years after Noah's Flood and were believed responsible for introducing activities such as farming, cooking, brewing and building. After some years, they all succumbed to plague in one week.
The earliest surviving reference to Partholón is in the Historia Brittonum, a 9th-century British Latin compilation attributed to Nennius. It says that Ireland was settled three times by three different groups, with 'Partholomus' and his followers arriving first from Iberia with a thousand followers who multiplied until they numbered four thousand before succumbing to the plague in a single week.
Lebor Gabála Érenn
The Lebor Gabála Érenn, an 11th-century Christian pseudo-history of Ireland, states that Ireland was settled six times, with Partholón and his followers forming the second group. The number may have been chosen to match the "Six Ages of the World". According to the Lebor Gabála, Ireland was uninhabited following the deaths of Cessair and her companions in the Flood. It says that Partholón came from Greece and was the son of Sera, son of Sru, who was himself a descendant of Magog, son of Japheth, who was the son of Noah. Partholón and his people sailed to Ireland via Sicily and Iberia, arriving 300 or 312 years after the flood and landing at Inber Scéne (Kenmare in County Kerry). With Partholón were his wife (Delgnat), their three sons (Slanga, Rudraige and Laiglinne), the sons' wives (Nerba, Cichba and Cerbnad), and a thousand followers.
Partholón and all of his people—five thousand men and four thousand women—died of the plague in a single week, on Senmag (the "old plain"), near modern Tallaght.
Foras Feasa ar Érinn
Seathrún Céitinn's 17th-century compilation Foras Feasa ar Érinn says they arrived in 2061 BC. It claims that Partholón was the son of Sera, the king of Greece, and fled his homeland after murdering his father and mother. He lost his left eye in the attack on his parents. He and his followers set off from Greece, sailed via Sicily and arrived in Ireland from the west, having traveled for two and a half months.
According to Céitinn, at the time of Partholón's arrival, Ireland consisted of one open plain, three lakes and nine rivers. Partholóin cleared four more plains, and seven more lakes burst from the ground. Named figures are credited with having introduced cattle husbandry, ploughing, cooking, dwellings, trade and dividing the island into four parts.
A poem in the Lebor Gabála, expanded by Céitinn, tells how Partholón and his wife, Delgnat, lived on a small island near the head of the estuary of the River Erne. Once, while Partholón was out touring his domain, Delgnat seduced a servant named Topa. Afterward, they drank from Partholón's ale, which could only be accessed through a golden tube. Partholón discovered the affair when he drank his ale and recognized the taste of Delgnat's and Topa's mouths on the tube. In anger, he killed Delgnat's dog and Topa. But Delgnat was unrepentant and insisted that Partholón was to blame, as leaving them alone together was like leaving honey before a woman, milk before a cat, edged tools before a craftsman, or meat before a child, and expecting them not to take advantage. This is recorded as the first case of adultery and the first jealousy in Ireland. The island in question was named Inis Saimera after Saimer, Delgnat's dog.
Annals of the Four Masters
The Annals of the Four Masters says they arrived in 2520 Anno Mundi (after the "creation of the world"). This work states that the plague came 300 years after their arrival, in May and that one man survived: Tuan, son of Partholón's brother Starn. Known as a legendary 'Seer', Tuan was said to be a storehouse of knowledge of Irish history because he lived across the generations in different forms of incarnations. Through a series of animal transformations, he survived through the centuries to be reborn as the son of a chieftain named Cairell in the time of Colm Cille (6th century). He remembered all he had seen, and thus preserved Partholón's story.
In Keating's History of Ireland' Partholon divides Ireland into four parts for his four sons named Er, Orba, Fearon, and Feargna.
Other accounts differ in the timing of Partholón's arrival in Ireland. Later sources say Partholón died there after thirty years in Ireland, and the rest of his people also died there of plague. Other medieval texts say they arrived in the 60th year of Abraham.
Partholon's brother Tait was the great-grandfather of Nemed.
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