The millennium between our own day—the opening years of the third millennium— and the founding of the Province of the Twenty Clans— in the closing years of that same millennium—is characterized by a continuous rise of machine technology, increasing population, environmental change and destruction, and ultimately collapse of the huge, unmanageable edifice. No great war or cataclysm akin to an explosion, but rather a century-long slide from a world of electric power, genetic manipulation, and spiritual mordancy to a world of hunger, death, and dissolution of political systems. In the Province, this is event is referred to as the Fall of the Age of Machines.
In Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, small regions in which old Celtic tongues are preserved expand over the centuries from the 21st to the 29th. These peoples, united by tongues unintelligible to their neighbors, slowly transform themselves into distinct though related cultures. They adopt Celtic names, art, music, and ancient beliefs and traditions, modified to suit their unique cultural environments and inherited practices. Upon the ruin of the great political systems in the mid-30th century, these societies form into cohesive communities for support, mutual defense, and cultural continuity.
It is at this point, in the year 2954 A.D., that twenty Gaelic-speaking clans inhabiting central and southeast Ireland gather on the shores of Lough Ennell near Mullingar, County Westmeath, to form the Province of the Twenty Clans. Historian Seanloach Osraige records the event:
This circle of stones was ever after venerated as marking the time and place of our joining together, to live as we wished to live, speaking the ancient tongue of the Celts, and forsaking forever after the machines which had brought mankind low and torn the beautiful earth asunder. On that day near a thousand years ago at Lough Ennell, we became the Province of the Twenty Clans.
In the same time period, similar cultural bondings are carried out in other Gaelic and Brythonic-speaking regions. While these new societies share many beliefs and traditions associated with the Celts of earlier times, they are distinct peoples who retain unique social and political structures. Over the first few centuries following the tumultuous 30th, a common tongue evolves based on a combination of the Gaelic, Brythonic, French and English languages. It is referred to as “modern Gaelic” though it contains elements of all the root languages. This lingua franca allows the latter-day Celts to trade, converse, and form alliances.
The first hundred years of the Province’s existence are consumed by a struggle to survive as the world around them churns and further disintegrates. Technology fades back to pre-Industrial Revolution methods, populations fall drastically, and slowly the overheated, carbon-saturated atmosphere of the Earth begins to cool once again. There follows a period of nearly eight centuries of relative stasis and general prosperity, interrupted periodically (as in the Middle Ages) by wars, famine, and disease. Forests reclaim urban and suburban areas, towering cities crumble back to the Earth, and population shrinks to a small fraction of late third millennium levels. The entire population of Ireland declines to just a few hundred thousand souls scattered widely about the country in villages and small towns. The Province controls a substantial area of central and southeastern Ireland, described by drawing a wavering line from Mullingar to Wicklow to Dungarvan and back to Mullingar. Armed conflict has become infrequent there; clan groupings generally settle grievances by negotiation. Ties are maintained between the Province and Celtic communities elsewhere in the British Isles and in Brittany.
This relative stasis is maintained into the earlier years of the Province’s ninth century, or the 3900’s by AD reckoning. In Province Year (PY) 947, however, the year of Liadan’s birth, an alteration in ocean currents initiates a sudden and drastic cooling of the climate. The “Five Long Winters” of PY 947-52 devastate agriculture and rapidly break down the stasis of previous centuries. Because the Province controls one of the warmest and most fertile regions in the southeast and possesses a highly productive system of agriculture and trade, pressures from other areas mount and armed clashes become violent and continuous. By the spring of PY 953, the leaders of the Province decide that they cannot defend the current long borders and embark on a daring and difficult plan: to construct a sturdy wooden barrier sweeping west from Wicklow, then southwest through Clonmel, then curving back to the sea at Dungarvan. This far-smaller territory encompasses several valuable seaports and can produce enough food to feed the Twenty Clans, provided the climate does not further worsen.
Two years are needed to build this wall, called the Rampart, and to retreat behind it. A great deal is lost in the frantic and often-attacked migration: books, artifacts, records, the sick and elderly, and places of long veneration such as Lough Ennell. (The founding clan-stones are moved safely to Teach Munna in the southeast.) Bitter feelings of abandonment arise in the southwestern regions of Cork and Kerry, long-time friends and allies of the Twenty Clans. With the exception of the vital port of Tralee, and the southern ports of Cobh and Bantry, these loosely-organized clans are now left to fend for themselves against the maelstrom. Other cultures centered in Belfast and Dublin organize their own allies and begin regular assaults on the Rampart.
During this same period, the Province decides that it needs a naval force of its own to defend its ports and shipping, and makes agreement with the Admiralty of Kernow (Cornwall) to provide the first ships and to train sailors and officers. By the time Aideen Laigain reaches her early teens in the early 980s, the Province Squadron is well on its way to becoming a formidable if small force of well-armed warships.
The next crisis occurs in PY 985. The Province’s enemies to the north have formed and equipped powerful armies and attack the Rampart repeatedly, at times breaking through to steal, kill, and destroy. Political cohesion among the clans falls to a low ebb and internal strife threatens to dissolve entirely their unity. One man, Domnall Laigain, son of Uinseann and Rionach, rebuilds the fighting spirit of the clans, defeats their enemies, and restores concord. In the final great battle against the northern army of the Ghaoth Aduaidh, the “North Wind,” Domnall is killed, leaving behind his beloved wife Liadan and his three children Aideen, Conor, and Fethnaid.
Domnall’s place at the head of the army is taken by Liadan’s brother Padraic Conmaicne, while Aideen Laigain rapidly rises through naval commands to become a warship captain. She is eventually named Commodore of the Province Squadron in PY 995. Domnall’s son Conor serves with distinction in the army and in PY 999 is a mid-rank officer in the Line of Blades. Conor’s younger sister Fethnaid, called Feth, has trained long and hard for the army’s archery corps known as the Line of Bows, and as she passes her eighteenth birthday, she is posted to Rampart defense.
The year PY 999 is one of foreboding and anticipation. Foreboding because the climate is growing ever-colder and fertile seasons shorter; attacks are increasing all along the Rampart and on the vital sea lanes. Anticipation because the Province is about to celebrate its millennial year, having survived so many crises over the past century. The Clans draw some comfort from strong alliances with the peoples of Kernow, Wales, Scotlan (Scotland) and Bretan (Brittany).
In the fall of PY 999, the Province’s warehouses are full and army scout Oran Osraige reports widespread starvation and desperation in many parts of the island. Between the color of autumn leaves and the blizzards of winter lay two long and dangerous months.