Ireland was known to the Greeks, at least from the voyages to the British Isles of Pytheas in the 4th century BCE. Its latinized name, Hibernia, derives from Celtic Iweriu, or ‘fertile land’. Pomponius Mela, writing in 43 CE, said it was ‘so luxuriant in grass – abundant and sweet – cattle would burst if not restrained’. Ptolemy, writing in Alexandria in c. 150 CE, itemizes twelve tribes, ten ‘towns’ and nine rivers. Some correspondences can be established: Eblana appears to be a forerunner of Dublin, Manapia of Wexford, ‘Regia’ could well be the massive circular Navan fort dated to 95 BCE. The River Shannon is likely the ‘Senos’ mentioned by Ptolemy, the Liffey, ‘Avoca’. Some tribal names carry later echoes: the ‘Voluntii’ prefigure the Ulaid from which Ulster derives its name, the ‘Usdiae’ the Dark Ages Osriaige or ‘Deer People’. Intriguingly, Ptolemy also records ‘Brigantes’ in Britain’s north, possible evidence of colonization.
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