Did the Romans come to Ireland?
I'm currently writing the final chapters of the first draft of what I like to refer to as my attempt at a Y.A.R.N.- Yet Another Roman Novel :-)
I know the market is currently flooded with Roman militaria, but once I had started writing it was so enjoyable it just had to be completed. Its now at the point were I can start talking to people about it and in that spirit I discussed it a bit with Trudy my wife the other night.
"What is the hero called?" she asked.
"Fergus MacAmergin," I replied.
The look on her face said it all. It sounds so ridiculous it will never sell. Who is going to believe there was an Irishman in the Roman army? Worse, how likely is it that he would have been involved in the occupation of Britain and fought during the revolt of Boudicca (61 AD)?
Well its not as far-fetched as it might at first sound.
One of the main characters in my book is a Roman called Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Agricola was a historical figure who later made his name in conquering the Caledonians in what is now Scotland. Back in the year 60 though, he was a young Tribune assigned to the XIV Legion engaged in the subjugation of the Silures tribe in south Wales.
We know a lot about Agricola, and that's because he was lucky enough to have a son-in-law who was a famous historian, Tacitus, and he left us an account of his wife's father's life. Suffice to say, he was a very effective general who achieved considerable success in Britain.
As well as that, Tacitus mentions that Agricola kept an exiled Irish king as a companion, and "pretended to be his friend" with the view to using restoring him to his throne in Ireland as an excuse for a future invasion of the island by Rome. That invasion, of course never happened and it would be another millennium before Strongbow successfully used the same strategy in 1169.
All these events happened twenty years after my book is set, but they provided enough seeds to allow the creation of my story. Who knows where it will go, but creating it has been an enjoyable experience.
Agricola was also the origin of the (in)famous quote that Ireland could probably be conquered by one Roman Legion plus auxiliaries.
So how did he come that conclusion? In chapter 24 of his history, Tacitus reported that while campaigning in south west Scotland Agricola "crossed the water" in a ship and defeated tribes previously unknown to the Romans. The rest of the chapter discussed Ireland and this has led some people to speculate that this meant Agricola made an expedition to Ireland, with a tentative identification of a legionary fort on the headland of Drumanagh, in Count Dublin. I tend to disagree about Drumanagh. If he ever did cross the Irish sea, the most likely spot Agricola would have set up a beachhead was somewhere on the north Antrim coast, particularly given the passage from Tacitus that mentions he was in the Dumfries/Galloway region when he set up a forward base "on the shores facing Ireland" with an eye to a future invasion. The sea is so narrow there you can see across with the naked eye. In face, a crazy South African just swam across it. The last book I wrote, Lions of the Grail, was about the Scottish Invasion of Ireland in 1315, and that was the route Edward Bruce's army took.