Rathbeagh in County Kilkenny may not be as well known, even to Kilkenny people as, Grianan Aileach or Navan Fort but it is no less ancient or historically important. It is in the parish of Freshford and it is here one of the founders of the Irish race is said to be buried. I refer to Heremon son of Milesius. The latter is the one who led his followers from Spain and established the militant body of men know as the Celts. Moore in his Melodies records it thus:
They came from a land beyond the sea,
And now o’er the western main
Set sail, in their good ships , gallantly,
From the sunny land of Spain.
‘Oh, where’s the Isle we’ve seen in dreams,
Our destin’d home or grave?’
Thus sang they as, by the morning’s beams,
They swept the Atlantic wave.
Heremon’s restplace at Rathbeagh is near a ruined church which has several tombs of the famous Purcell family, the legible ones dated back to 1760. However it is the tumulus nearby that concerns us here. It is on the bank of the Nore on Phelan’s land . Rathbeagh, from the Irish Rathbeathach means the Rath of the birch-trees. The mound or tumulus is of an oval shape and very irregular. Its dimensions according to Healy, writing in 1893, were 120 feet by 75 feet. This seems a fair representation of its present day size. Its interior is well above the level of the field in which it is located.
The famous historians, The Four Masters place the arrival of the Milesian colony at approximately 1700 years before the birth of Christ. This would make it approximate to the time of Abraham. The Milesians fought and defeated in two battles the resident Tuatha de Dananns who had been in control of Ireland for 200 years. Two of the sons of Milesius emerged as leaders of the Milesians . They were Heber and Heremon. They decided to divide the island between them. But as their descendants would do many times later they disagreed. Heber’s wife is blamed. The two brothers with their respective armies fought a battle at Geashill in Offaly. There, Heber was killed and Heremon was made the ‘absolute monarch of the Rich Vales of Erin’ to quote Healy.
Heremon proceeded to build his chief residence at Airgiodross near the confluence of the Nore and Dinan and close to Freshford. At that time this was more extensive than the modern Airgeadros and took in Rathbeagh. He built a further royal residence at Rathbeagh where he resided for 15 years. He became the forefather of the two powerful Irish septs the O Neills and O Donnells. Heber, as they say in the bible begat O Briens and Mc Carthys. The Four Masters record Heremon’s passing thus ‘The fifteenth year of the reign of Eremon; he died at the end of this period at Rath- Beothaigh, over the Eoir (Nore) in Argat-Ross’.
How much store can we place in the foregoing story.? Modern day historians are reluctant to accept anything that isn’t supported by documentation. This is not possible in this case as the first writing recorded here is said to be by Cormac Mac Airt in the 3rd century AD. However the Irish had a wonderful oral tradition and ollamhs and bards spent years learning to recite history and genealogies . O Curry, the famous historian of the 19th century had no doubt of the accuracy of the recitations of the ancient history of Ireland. An O Brien who died in 1820s had his genealogy traced back to the Parthians and if needs be back to Adam. That is as O Curry says “if you can believe the bible”.