Search for the Oldest Celtic Tribe
thousand years of the Menapii: seafaring Gauls in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and
the Isle of Man. 216 B.C. - 1990 A.D.
Who are the Irish? Where
did they come from? Norman Mongan's book 'The Menapia Quest' follows the
odyssey of the Menapii, the oldest Celtic tribe in Europe. They are the only
tribe for whom historical evidence has survived in both Ireland and the Continent.
Menapii, a Gaulish maritime tribe inhabiting the dense forests of the Rhine estuary
on the North Sea Coast, were first mentioned by Julius Caesar in 57 B.C. During
the Gallic War he singled them out as the only tribe never to surrender
to his legions. As part of the Belgae, the Belgic tribal confederation, they had
for centuries valiantly resisted encroaching Germanic tribes.
and traders, their ships had sailed the Irish Sea for centuries B.C., establishing
trading colonies on the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Manx coasts, as confirmed by
ancient and modern placenames. They worshipped Manannan mac Lir, their Celtic
sea-god; a renowned navigator, merchant and magician.
Carausius, a 3rd-century
A.D. Menapian admiral, became the first Celtic Emperor of the Britons (287-293
The Menapii are the only known Celtic tribe specifically named on
Ptolemy's 150 A.D. map of Ireland, where they located their first trading colony
-- Menapia -- on the Leinster coast circa 216 .D. They later settled around Lough
Erne, becoming known as the Fir Manach, and giving their name to Fermanagh and
Mongan mac Fiachna, a 7th-century King of Ulster, is the protagonist
of several legends linking him with Manannan mac Lir. They spread across Ireland,
evolving into historic Irish (also Scottish and Manx) clans whose descendants
are found worldwide today:
Mooney - Meaney - Meeny - McWeeney - Monaghan
- Monahan - Mannion - Manning - Mongan - Mangan - Minogue - Minnock - Mannix -
Manahan - Mongey - Mongavin - McMannion - McMenamin - McMonagle - Marannan - Murnane
are all Menapian clans whose histories are traced here for the first time in this
The author, who spent 15 years resurrecting the long-lost
saga of the indomitable Menapii, sheds valuable new light on this unexplored period
of Irish history, and its European Celtic heritage - a fascinating unbroken two-thousand-year
perspective. Here is a voyage to the root of Celtic roots.
The Celtic Cafe Interview by
The Menapia Quest
Irish writer-broadcaster-scriptwriter Bernard Share, former editor of Cara
Aerlingus Irish Airlines inflight magasine (1975-95), author of works from novels
and biographies to his latest bestselling dictionary of Irish slang Slanguage,
kindly accepted to interview writer-historian and filmmaker Norman Mongan
in Dublin in August, 2003. Mongan's book The Menapia Quest - Seafaring
Gauls in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man, 216 BC-1990 AD, (subtitled
The Search for the Oldest Celtic Tribe), is a pioneer iconoclastic in-depth study
of early Celtic history, tracing the story of the Menapii, a great Celtic
maritime tribe from Northern Gaul, who settled in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and
the Isle of Man two thousand years ago. Mongan spent 15 years researching the
epic saga of the Menapii -- the only Celtic tribe for whom historical evidence
has survived both on the Continent and in Ireland.
Why did you develop
an interest in the Menapii?
Well, although I'm Dublin-born, I settled
in Paris back in the 1960s and living there in a diverse, multi-cultural Parisian
society, I eventually began to look at my own roots in the early '70s. After some
years of labyrinthine research I gradually discovered that my own family, along
with other Irish clans like the Mooneys, Monaghans, Mannions, Minogues, etc.,
were all descended from a similar Menapian background. So that was a revelation!
All really inspired by the stimulating writings of the late Hubert Butler and
Dr Alfred Smyth's groundbreaking Celtic Leinster. I also discovered why
I had no cousins on my father's side of the family; an absence that greatly motivated
My grandfather's six sisters and elder brother had all emigrated
from Mullingar, Co Westmeath to Boston in the 1880s and we had totally lost contact
with them. In fact, I was in Boston just last October where I was finally able
to recontact some long-lost relatives there. An emotional re-union! I'm now writing
a book about their trials and tribulations in America.
Who exactly were
The Menapii were a leading Celtic maritime seafaring tribe
who inhabited the dense coastal forests of the Rhine estuary 2000 years ago. In
fact, Julius Caesar first mentioned them in 57 B.C. in his Gallic Wars
when he singled them out as the only tribe never to surrender to his Legions.
As part of the Belgae, the Belgic tribal confederation, they had for centuries
valiantly resisted encroaching Germanic tribes, honing their military skills.
When I studied Caesar's Gallic Wars in Latin class in school, I never realised
I was reading about my ancient Celtic ancestors. If I had I might have paid more
Where in Europe were they established?
original territory of the Menapii lay along the Rhine estuary (around The Hague
in present-day Holland) but eventually they later located their impregnable tribal
heartland around Brugges and Ghent (in present-day northern Belgium) on the left
bank of the Rhine. Their territories stretched along the North Sea coast down
to their hilltop oppidum stronghold of Cassel (Cassel Menapioirum) near St. Omer
in northern France, a 120 kms stretch along the North Sea coastline. So they were
a maritime nation right from the earliest times. In fact, Carausius, a famous
3rd centuary A.D. Menapian admiral, became the first Celtic Emperor of the Britons
(287-293 AD), and coins from his reign are preserved in the British Museum in
London. I even wear one on a chain around my neck now! His proud coin profile
is featured on the cover of The Menapia Quest.
What was their
early impact on Euopean history?
As I mentioned, the Menapii had to
resist the encroachments of marauding Germanic tribes and then Caesar's Roman
Legions, but through their use of guerilla tactics, he was never able to totally
conquer them. So, they preserved their Celtic culture which they had brought with
them when they sailed to Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. They certainly
can be seen as a founder people of the Irish nation. They also worshipped their
Celtic seagod, Manannan mac Lir, not surprisingly known as a renowned navigator,
merchant and magician, who embodied their tribal characteristics as celebrated
mariners and traders. They're like early Celtic Vikings, first attacking and then
becoming traders with the local inhabitants.
What was their earliest
association with Ireland?
The Menapii, as 'headland hoppers' hugging
the coastline, appear to have sailed to Ireland, via the Isle of Man, circa 200
B.C. where they founded their first trading emporium. Greek geographer Claudius
Ptolemy's 150 A.D. map of Ireland locates their early trading colony Menapia
on the southeast coast (around the present Wexford and south Wicklow region).
Many local seagirt placenames still records their presence today. They then spread
northwards settling around Lough Erne, where they became known as the Fir Manach
or Monaig in Irish, giving their name to present counties Fermanagh and
Monaghan. On their trek northwards they also settled around Lough Derravaragh
near Mullingar, where my own ancestors originate from, at Monganstown near Kinnegad.
So, amazingly, their name has survived on the Irish landscape for over two thousand
Are there any physical evidences of this connection?
yes. There's a remarkable coastal promontory fort just north of Dublin called
Drummanagh near Loughshinny, which was one of their early strongholds.
Old Irish epic legend The Tain links it with a powerful Menapian warlord,
Forgall Monach, whose beautiful daughter Emer was courted by Ulster hero Cu Cullainn.
Menapian ships transported wine from Gaul to quench thirst at the High King's
banquets at Tara a few miles inland along the Delvin River.
In fact, a probable
gold model of their sea-going vessels, known as the Broighter Boat, again
associated with their seagod Manannan mac Lir, was found on the shores of Lough
Foyle, now preserved in Dublin's National Museum.
So that's very tangible
What other forms does this evidence take?
there is another circa 250 A.D. Celtic hillfort, Manaan's Castle, near
Carrickmacross in Monaghan, also linked to their seagod Manannan mac Lir.
tangible archaeological evidence is also supported by modern local placenames
that reflect the Menapian presence along the Irish seaboard still today; names
like Carrigmannan, Drummanagh (ridge of the Menapii), Drumannan, etc. In
Scotland, the ancient block of black whitstone worshipped by the Manau mariners,
known as clack mannan 'Mannan's Stone', dating from circa 100 AD, still
stands in Clackmannan town on the Firth of Forth.
What is their legacy
in human terms?
I found it fascinating to realise that the Menapii
spread out accross Ireland from their original Menapia colony around Wexford
and in time, divided into a number of individual well-known Irish clans like the
Mooneys (Ui Monaig) in North Dublin and Donegal, or Monaghans
(Ui Manachain) in North Roscommon and Fermanagh, Mannions (Ui
Mannin) in Galway, or McMenamin (Mac Menmain) in Donegal, Mongans
(Ui Manchain) in Tyrone and Westmeath, etc. So it's an amazing historical
heritage in human terms for some two thousand years.
Can their descendants
be identified today?
Definitely. That's what's so remarkable about
Their descendants can be traced right down to the present
day through people who bear Menapian clan names; Mooneys, Monaghans, Mannions,
McWeeneys, etc., which shows how deep Celtic roots run here in Ireland. They can
justifiably claim to be a founder people of the Irish nation. And today those
Menapian clan names are now spread throughout the world, especially in the United
States. It would be interesting to carry out DNA genetic research to see if there
was a common gene amongst the Menapian descendants. Notable descendants today
include Colm Meany, Irish-born actor, (b 1938) featured in the American
TV series Star Trek, and many major films, including The Committments
and The Snapper; Dr James Mongan, MD has been CEO of the prestigeous
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston since 1990; Kylie Minogue (b1960)
internationally-known Australian-born singer and actress, former star of TV soap
Neighbours; Thomas Monaghan, (b 1937) former U.S. Marine, American
multimillionaire, who founded Domino's Pizza Inc., now an international company
with 4000 franchises and annual sales of $300m, among others.
a greater awareness of the Menapian heritage be fostered?
Well, I hope
that my book The Menapia Quest will continue to spread the message about
the ancient Menapian heritage, not only in Ireland, but in Scotland, Wales, the
Isle of Man, and even on the Continent, in Belgium and
France and Holland.
I've recently been contacted by a Latin professor, Marc Bubert, in Cassel itself
who is now passing the message to the next generation on the spot there. In Holland
Dr Nico Roymans has been excavating important archaelogical sites in the old Menapian
territories. I'm also developing a TV documentary that will trace the old Menapian
migratory searoutes from Northern Gaul to the seagirt territories of Ireland,
Scotland, Wales and Isle of Man. In Peel on the Isle of Man they have already
set up a House of Manannan Museum tracing the heritage and lore of Mannannan
mac Lir, who left his name on the island. I think it would be possible to rebuild
a full-scale reproduction of a Menapian trading ship, based on historical evidence,
and sail it from Brugges to Drummanagh in north Dublin, where it could become
the centrepiece of a Menapian Heritage Centre. It's really a European-wide epic
that links all these ancient Menapian territories together with the sea as their
highway. That would certainly lay a strong foundation for the future.
luck with your projects.
Slanguage, Bernard Share, (Gill & MacMillan, 2000) -
here for information at Amazon.co.uk
The Menapia Quest, Norman Mongan,
(The Herodotus Press, 1995) - Click
here for information at Amazon.co.uk
Alfred Smyth Chair of Medieval History, University of Kent, Canterbury, Author
of Celtic Leinster
"An astonishing achievement... of sound scholarship...
speculative and antiquarian"
Professor Liam de Paor, late of Dept
of Irish History, Boston College, Boston, Mass.
"(In) this well researched
work... of considerable interest... by taking one Celtic tribe, the author has
found an angle from which the history of Celtic Europe, and in particular Celtic
Ireland can very usefully be viewed... I salute the diligent research."
Ian Adamson, former Mayor of Belfast, author of The Cruithin
tremendous voyage of discovery... most stimulating and impressive"
Ireland, Summer '95
"The Menapii were a Belgic tribe of Northern Gauls...
Mr Mongan, with great industry and enthusiasm, traces them here. While this is
less cautious than the work of most archaeologists and historians, who is to say
in the face of such meagre contemporary evidence that brave speculation is less
valid than pedestrianism? ....in any case the book will be of considerable value
Dr Hugh Weir Clare Champion, Feb. 1996
sincerely reccomend this book to anybody interested in our past and people...
for the deep amount of research it contains."
Col Con Costello, Leinster
Leader, July 1995
"In al,l the author has unearthed much material which
will offer anyone interested in the early builders and occupiers of those great
(Celtic) enclosures plenty of theories on which to ponder on"
Ramsey Passport Sabena, Sept 1997, Belgian airlines inflight magasine
(its) painstaking detective work,... (Mongan's) book... coincides with a renewed
interest in Celtic culture across Europe: London's British Museum recently opened
a permanent display of Iron Age artefacts, while new exhibitions in Belgium explore
the country's Celtic heritage."
Dublin 8, Ireland
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