The Menapia Quest at the Celtic Cafe

The Search for the Oldest Celtic Tribe

Two 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.

The 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.

Celtic seafarers 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 A.D.)

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 Monaghan.

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

These are all Menapian clans whose histories are traced here for the first time in this pioneer work.

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 Bernard Share

Norman Mongan
The Menapia Quest

Well-known 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 quest.

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?

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 attention!

Where in Europe were they established?

Well, the 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 years!

Are there any physical evidences of this connection?

Well, 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 evidence today.

What other forms does this evidence take?

Well, there is another circa 250 A.D. Celtic hillfort, Manaan's Castle, near Carrickmacross in Monaghan, also linked to their seagod Manannan mac Lir.

This 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 the Menapii.

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.

How can 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.

Good luck with your projects.

Thank you.

• • •

Slanguage, Bernard Share, (Gill & MacMillan, 2000) - Click here for information at
The Menapia Quest, Norman Mongan, (The Herodotus Press, 1995) - Click here for information at


Dr 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."

Dr Ian Adamson, former Mayor of Belfast, author of The Cruithin
"A tremendous voyage of discovery... most stimulating and impressive"

Books 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? any case the book will be of considerable value to genealogists."

Dr Hugh Weir Clare Champion, Feb. 1996
"I 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"

Ian Ramsey Passport Sabena, Sept 1997, Belgian airlines inflight magasine
"With (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."

Ordering information:

The Herodotus Press
P.O.Box 4674
Dublin 8, Ireland

Price: $28 (including Air Mail postage)
Payment by International Money Order to
"The Herodotus Press" (Sorry, no credit cards)

One can also order The Menapia Quest through -- click here for more information. Coming soon to -- for information about how to add book to Wish List, click here.

Contact the author, Norman Mongan, by clicking here.

Interview: Bernard Share
Feature: Bernadette Price
Original Web Design: Alexander Servas

Menapia Quest
Street Sign in Wexford, Ireland
Norman Mongan in Brussels, Belgium
Roman Road System in Belgium
Carausius Coin
Broighter Boat
Norman Mongan
© 2003 by