An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800
by Mary Frances Cusack
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It is probable that Oilioll Molt, who succeeded King Laeghaire, A.D. 459, lived and died a pagan. He was slain, after a reign of twenty years, by Laeghaire's son, Lughaidh, who reigned next. The good king Aengus[138] died about this time. He was the first Christian King of Munster, and is the common ancestor of the MacCarthys, O'Sullivans, O'Keeffes, and O'Callahans. The foundation of the kingdom of Scotland by an Irish colony, is generally referred to the year 503.[139] It has already been mentioned that Cairbre Riada was the leader of an expedition thither in the reign of Conaire II. The Irish held their ground without assistance from the mother country until this period, when the Picts obtained a decisive victory, and drove them from the country. A new colony of the Dalriada now went out under the leadership of Loarn, Aengus, and Fergus, the sons of Erc. They were encouraged and assisted in their undertaking by their relative Mortagh, the then King of Ireland. It is said they took the celebrated Lia Fail to Scotland, that Fergus might be crowned thereon. The present royal family of England have their claim to the crown through the Stuarts, who were descendants of the Irish Dalriada. Scotland now obtained the name of Scotia, from the colony of Scots. Hence, for some time, Ireland was designated Scotia Magna, to distinguish it from the country which so obtained, and has since preserved, the name of the old race.

Muircheartach, A.D. 504, was the first Christian King of Ireland; but he was constantly engaged in war with the Leinster men about the most unjust Boromean tribute. He belonged to the northern race of Hy-Nial, being descended from Nial of the Nine Hostages. On his death, the crown reverted to the southern Hy-Nials in the person of their representative, Tuathal Maelgarbh.

It would appear from a stanza in the Four Masters, that St. Brigid had some prophetic intimation or knowledge of one of the battles fought by Muircheartach. Her name is scarcely less famous for miracles than that of the great apostle. Broccan's Hymn[140] contains allusions to a very great number of these supernatural favours. Many of these marvels are of a similar nature to those which the saints have been permitted to perform in all ages of the Church's history.

Brigid belonged to an illustrious family, who were lineally descended from Eochad, a brother of Conn of the Hundred Battles. She was born at Fochard, near Dundalk, about the year 453, where her parents happened to be staying at the time; but Kildare was their usual place of residence, and there the holy virgin began her saintly career. In her sixteenth year she received the white cloak and religious veil, which was then the distinctive garment of those who were specially dedicated to Christ, from the hands of St. Macaille, the Bishop of Usneach, in Westmeath. Eight young maidens of noble birth took the veil with her. Their first residence was at a place in the King's county, still called Brigidstown. The fame of her sanctity now extended far and wide, and she was earnestly solicited from various parts of the country to found similar establishments. Her first mission was to Munster, at the request of Erc, the holy Bishop of Slane, who had a singular respect for her virtue. Soon after, she founded a house of her order in the plain of Cliach, near Limerick; but the people of Leinster at last became fearful of losing their treasure, and sent a deputation requesting her return, and offering land for the foundation of a large nunnery. Thus was established, in 483, the famous Monastery of Kildare, or the Church of the Oak.

At the request of the saint, a bishop was appointed to take charge of this important work; and under the guidance of Conlaeth, who heretofore had been a humble anchorite, it soon became distinguished for its sanctity and usefulness. The concourse of strangers and pilgrims was immense; and in the once solitary plain one of the largest cities of the time soon made its appearance. It is singular and interesting to remark, how the call to a life of virginity was felt and corresponded with in the newly Christianized country, even as it had been in the Roman Empire, when it also received the faith. Nor is it less noticeable how the same safeguards and episcopal rule preserved the foundations of each land in purity and peace, and have transmitted even to our own days, in the same Church, and in it only, that privileged life.

The Four Masters give her obituary under the year 525. According to Cogitosus, one of her biographers, her remains were interred in her own church. Some authorities assert that her relics were removed to Down, when Kildare was ravaged by the Danes, about the year 824.

It has been doubted whether Downpatrick could lay claim to the honour of being the burial-place of Ireland's three great saints,[141] but there are good arguments in its favour. An old prophecy of St. Columba regarding his interment runs thus:—

"My prosperity in guiltless Hy, And my soul in Derry, And my body under the flag Beneath which are Patrick and Brigid."

The relics of the three saints escaped the fury of the Danes, who burned the town and pillaged the cathedral six or seven times, between the years 940 and 1111. In 1177, John de Courcy took possession of the town, and founded a church attached to a house of Secular Canons, under the invocation of the Blessed Trinity. In 1183 they were replaced by a community of Benedictine monks, from St. Wirburgh's Abbey, at Chester. Malachy, who was then bishop, granted the church to the English monks and prior, and changed the name to that of the Church of St. Patrick. This prelate was extremely anxious to discover the relics of the saints, which a constant tradition averred were there concealed. It is said, that one day, as he prayed in the church, his attention was directed miraculously to an obscure part of it; or, according to another and more probable account, to a particular spot in the abbey-yard, where, when the earth was removed, their remains were found in a triple cave,—Patrick in the middle, Columba and Brigid on either side.

At the request of De Courcy, delegates were despatched to Rome by the bishop to acquaint Urban III. of the discovery of the bodies. His Holiness immediately sent Cardinal Vivian to preside at the translation of the relics. The ceremony took place on the 9th of June, 1186, that day being the feast of St. Columba. The relics of the three saints were deposited in the same monument at the right side of the high altar. The right hand of St. Patrick was enshrined and placed on the high altar. In 1315, Edward Bruce invaded Ulster, marched to Downpatrick, destroyed the abbey, and carried off the enshrined hand. In 1538, Lord Grey, who marched into Lecale to establish the supremacy of his master, Henry VIII., by fire and sword, "effaced the statues of the three patron saints, and burned the cathedral, for which act, along with many others equally laudable, he was beheaded three years afterwards." The restoration of the old abbey-church was undertaken of late years, and preceded by an act of desecration, which is still remembered with horror. The church had been surrounded by a burying-ground, where many had wished to repose, that they might, even in death, be near the relics of the three great patron saints of Erinn. But the graves were exhumed without mercy, and many were obliged to carry away the bones of their relatives, and deposit them where they could. The "great tomb," in which it was believed that "Patrick, Brigid, and Columkille" had slept for more than six centuries, was not spared; the remains were flung out into the churchyard, and only saved from further desecration by the piety of a faithful people.

The shrine of St. Patrick's hand was in possession of the late Catholic Bishop of Belfast. The relic itself has long disappeared; but the shrine, after it was carried off by Bruce, passed from one trustworthy guardian to another, until it came into his hands. One of these was a Protestant, who, with noble generosity, handed it over to a Catholic as a more fitting custodian. One Catholic family, into whose care it passed at a later period, refused the most tempting offers for it, though pressed by poverty, lest it should fall into the hands of those who might value it rather as a curiosity than as an object of devotion.

This beautiful reliquary consists of a silver case in the shape of the hand and arm, cut off a little below the elbow. It is considerably thicker than the hand and arm of an ordinary man, as if it were intended to enclose these members without pressing upon them too closely. The fingers are bent, so as to represent the hand in the attitude of benediction.

But there is another relic of St. Patrick and his times of scarcely less interest. The Domhnach Airgid[142] contains a copy of the Four Gospels, which, there is every reason to believe, were used by the great apostle of Ireland. The relic consists of two parts—the shrine or case and the manuscript. The shrine is an oblong box, nine inches by seven, and five inches in height. It is composed of three distinct covers, in the ages of which there is obviously a great difference. The inner or first cover is of wood, apparently yew, and may be coeval with the manuscript it is intended to preserve. The second, which is of copper plated with silver, is assigned to a period between the sixth and twelfth centuries, from the style of its scroll or interlaced ornaments. The figures in relief, and letters on the third cover, which is of silver plated with gold, leave no doubt of its being the work of the fourteenth century.

The last or external cover is of great interest as a specimen of the skill and taste in art of its time in Ireland, and also for the highly finished representations of ancient costume which it preserves. The ornaments on the top consist principally of a large figure of the Saviour in alto-relievo in the centre, and eleven figures of saints in basso-relievo on each side in four oblong compartments. There is a small square reliquary over the head of our divine Lord, covered with a crystal, which probably contained a piece of the holy cross. The smaller figures in relief are, Columba, Brigid, and Patrick; those in the second compartment, the Apostles James, Peter, and Paul; in the third, the Archangel Michael, and the Virgin and Child; in the fourth compartment a bishop presents a cumdach, or cover, to an ecclesiastic. This, probably, has a historical relation to the reliquary itself.

One prayer uttered by St. Patrick has been singularly fulfilled. "May my Lord grant," he exclaims, "that I may never lose His people, which He has acquired in the ends of the earth!" From hill and dale, from camp and cottage, from plebeian and noble, there rang out a grand "Amen." The strain was caught by Secundinus and Benignus, by Columba and Columbanus, by Brigid and Brendan. It floated away from Lindisfarne and Iona, to Iceland and Tarentum. It was heard on the sunny banks of the Rhine, at Antwerp and Cologne, in Oxford, in Pavia, and in Paris. And still the old echo is breathing its holy prayer. By the priest, who toils in cold and storm to the "station" on the mountain side, far from his humble home. By the confessor, who spends hour after hour, in the heat of summer and the cold of winter, absolving the penitent children of Patrick. By the monk in his cloister. By noble and true-hearted men, faithful through centuries of persecution. And loudly and nobly, though it be but faint to human ears, is that echo uttered also by the aged woman who lies down by the wayside to die in the famine years,[143] because she prefers the bread of heaven to the bread of earth, and the faith taught by Patrick to the tempter's gold. By the emigrant, who, with broken heart bids a long farewell to the dear island home, to the old father, to the grey-haired mother, because his adherence to his faith tends not to further his temporal interest, and he must starve or go beyond the sea for bread. Thus ever and ever that echo is gushing up into the ear of God, and never will it cease until it shall have merged into the eternal alleluia which the often-martyred and ever-faithful children of the saint shall shout with him in rapturous voice before the Eternal Throne.


[125] Authenticated.—A copy of this ancient hymn, with a Latin and English translation, may be found in Petrie's Essay on Tara, p. 57, in Dr. Todd's Life of St. Patrick, and in Mr. Whitley Stokes' Goidilica. We regret exceedingly that our limited space will not permit us to give this and other most valuable and interesting documents. There is a remarkable coincidence of thought and expression between some portions of this hymn and the well-known prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Corpus Christi, salve me. Such coincidences are remarkable and beautiful evidences of the oneness of faith, which manifests itself so frequently in similarity of language as well as in unity of belief. The Hymn of St. Patrick, written in the fifth century, is as purely Catholic as the Prayer of St. Ignatius, written in the sixteenth. St. Patrick places the virtue or power of the saints between him and evil, and declares his hope of merit for his good work with the same simple trust which all the saints have manifested from the earliest ages. This hymn is written in the Bearla Feine, or most ancient Gaedhilic dialect. Dr. O'Donovan well observes, that it bears internal evidence of its authenticity in its allusion to pagan customs. Tirechan, who wrote in the seventh century, says that there were four honours paid to St. Patrick in all monasteries and churches throughout the whole of Ireland. First, the festival of St. Patrick was honoured for three days and nights with all good cheer, except flesh meat [which the Church did not allow then to be used in Lent]. Second, there was a proper preface for him in the Mass. Third, his hymn was sung for the whole time. Fourth, his Scotic hymn was sung always. As we intend publishing a metrical translation of his hymn suitable for general use, we hope it will be "said and sung" by thousands of his own people on his festival for all time to come.

[126] Hell.—O'Curry, p. 539. This is translated from the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick.

[127] Moment.—Keating, Vol ii. p. 15.

[128] Land.—Near the present town of Killala, co. Mayo.

[129] Protected him.—Book of Armagh and Vit. Trip.

[130] Death.—Vit. Trip. It was probably at this time St. Patrick wrote his celebrated letter to Caroticus.

[131] Daire.—Book of Armagh, fol. 6, b.a.

[132] Confessio.—This most remarkable and interesting document will be translated and noticed at length in the Life of St. Patrick, which we are now preparing for the press.

[133] St. Tussach.—All this Dr. Todd omits. The Four Masters enter the obituary of St. Patrick under the year 457. It is obvious that some uncertainty must exist in the chronology of this early period.

[134] Oracle.—It is said that, three years before St. Patrick's apostolic visit to Ireland, the druids of King Laeghaire predicted the event to their master as an impending calamity. The names of the druids were Lochra and Luchat Mael; their prophecy runs thus:—

"A Tailcenn will come over the raging sea, With his perforated garment, his crook-headed staff, With his table at the east end of his house, And all his people will answer 'Amen, Amen.'"

The allusions to the priestly vestments, the altar at the east end of the church, and the pastoral staff, are sufficiently obvious, and easily explained. The prophecy is quoted by Macutenius, and quoted again from him by Probus; but the original is in one of the most ancient and authentic Irish MSS., the Book of Armagh.

[135] Died.—O'Curry, p. 273.

[136] Burial.—"The body of Laeghaire was brought afterwards from the south, and interred with his armour of championship in the south-east of the outer rampart of the royal rath of Laeghaire, at Tara, with his face turned southwards upon the men of Leinster, as fighting with them, for he was the enemy of the Leinster men in his lifetime."—Translated from the Leabhar na Nuidhre. Petrie's Tara, p. 170.

[137] Always.—National customs and prejudices have always been respected by the Church: hence she has frequently been supposed to sanction what she was obliged to tolerate. A long residence in Devonshire, and an intimate acquaintance with its peasantry, has convinced us that there is incalculably more superstitions believed and practised there of the grossest kind, than in any county in Ireland. Yet we should be sorry to charge the Established Church or its clergy, some of whom are most earnest and hard-working men, with the sins of their parishioners. The following extract from St. Columba's magnificent Hymn, will show what the early Irish saints thought of pagan superstitions:

"I adore not the voice of birds, Nor sneezing, nor lots in this world, Nor a boy, nor chance, nor woman: My Druid is Christ, the Son of God; Christ, Son of Mary, the great Abbot, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."

[138] Aengus.—

"Died the branch, the spreading tree of gold, Aenghus the laudable."

—Four Masters, p. 153. The branches of this tree have indeed spread far and wide, and the four great families mentioned above have increased and multiplied in all parts of the world.

[139] Year 503.—The Four Masters give the date 498, which O'Donovan corrects both in the text and in a note.

[140] Broccan's Hymn.—This Hymn was written about A.D. 510. See the translation in Mr. Whitley Stokes' Goidilica, Calcutta, 1866. Privately printed.

[141] Saints.—St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Brigid. See Reeves' Ecc. Anti. of Down and Connor, p. 225, and Giraldus Cambrensis, d. 3, cap. 18.

[142] Domhnach Airgid.—See O'Curry, MS. Materials, p. 321, for a complete verification of the authenticity of this relic. The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick mentions the gift of this relic by the saint to St. MacCarthainn. Dr. Petrie concludes that the copy of the Gospels contained therein, was undoubtedly the one which was used by our apostle. We give a fac-simile of the first page, which cannot fail to interest the antiquarian.

[143] Famine years.—During the famous, or rather infamous, Partry evictions, an old man of eighty and a woman of seventy-four were amongst the number of those who suffered for their ancient faith. They were driven from the home which their parents and grandfathers had occupied, in a pitiless storm of sleet and snow. The aged woman utters some slight complaint; but her noble-hearted aged husband consoles her with this answer: "The sufferings and death of Jesus Christ were bitterer still." Sixty-nine souls were cast out of doors that day. Well might the Times say: "These evictions are a hideous scandal; and the bishop should rather die than be guilty of such a crime." Yet, who can count up all the evictions, massacres, tortures, and punishments which this people has endured?


[Gothic: The Religion of Ancient Erinn]—The Druids and their Teaching—The Irish were probably Fire-worshippers—[Gothic: The Customs of Ancient Erinn]—Similarity between Eastern and Irish Customs—Beal Fires—Hunting the Wren—"Jacks," a Grecian game—"Keen," an Eastern Custom—Superstitions—The Meaning of the Word—What Customs are Superstitious and what are not—Holy Wells—[Gothic: The Laws of Ancient Erinn]—Different kinds of Laws—The Lex non Scripta and the Lex Scripta—Christianity necessitated the Revision of Ancient Codes—The Compilation of the Brehon Laws—Proofs that St. Patrick assisted thereat—Law of Distress—Law of Succession—[Gothic: The Language of Ancient Erinn]—Writing in pre-Christian Erinn—Ogham Writing—[Gothic: Antiquities of pre-Christian Erinn]—Round Towers—Cromlechs—Raths—Crannoges.

Eastern customs and eastern superstitions, which undoubtedly are a strong confirmatory proof of our eastern origin, abounded in ancient Erinn. Druidism was the religion of the Celts, and druidism was probably one of the least corrupt forms of paganism. The purity of the divinely-taught patriarchal worship, became more and more corrupted as it passed through defiled channels. Yet, in all pagan mythologies, we find traces of the eternal verity in an obvious prominence of cultus offered to one god above the rest; and obvious, though grossly misapplied, glimpses of divine attributes, in the many deified objects which seemed to symbolize his power and his omnipotence.

The Celtic druids probably taught the same doctrine as the Greek philosophers. The metempsychosis, a prominent article of this creed, may have been derived from the Pythagoreans, but more probably it was one of the many relics of patriarchal belief which were engrafted on all pagan religions. They also taught that the universe would never be entirely destroyed, supposing that it would be purified by fire and water from time to time. This opinion may have been derived from the same source. The druids had a pontifex maximus, to whom they yielded entire obedience,—an obvious imitation of the Jewish custom. The nation was entirely governed by its priests, though after a time, when the kingly power developed itself, the priestly power gave place to the regal. Gaul was the head-quarters of druidism; and thither we find the Britons, and even the Romans, sending their children for instruction. Eventually, Mona became a chief centre for Britain. The Gaedhilic druids, though probably quite as learned as their continental brethren, were more isolated; and hence we cannot learn so much of their customs from external sources. There is no doubt that the druids of Gaul and Britain offered human sacrifices; it appears almost certain the Irish druids did not.

Our principal and most reliable information about this religion, is derived from Caesar. His account of the learning of its druids, of their knowledge of astronomy, physical science, mechanics, arithmetic, and medicine, however highly coloured, is amply corroborated by the casual statements of other authors.[144] He expressly states that they used the Greek character in their writings, and mentions tables found in the camp of the Helvetii written in these characters, containing an account of all the men capable of bearing arms.

It is probable that Irish druidical rites manifested themselves principally in Sun-worship. The name of Bel, still retained in the Celtic Beltinne, indicates its Phoenician origin; Baal being the name under which they adored that luminary. It is also remarkable that Grian, which signifies the sun in Irish, resembles an epithet of Apollo given by Virgil,[145] who sometimes styles him Grynaeus. St. Patrick also confirms this conjecture, by condemning Sun-worship in his Confession, when he says: "All those who adore it shall descend into misery and punishment." If the well-known passage of Diodorus Siculus may be referred to Ireland, it affords another confirmation. Indeed, it appears difficult to conceive how any other place but Ireland could be intended by the "island in the ocean over against Gaul, to the north, and not inferior in size to Sicily, the soil of which is so fruitful that they mow there twice in the year."[146] In this most remarkable passage, he mentions the skill of their harpers, their sacred groves and singular temple of round form, their attachment to the Greeks by a singular affection from old times, and their tradition of having been visited by the Greeks, who left offerings which were noted in Greek letters.

Toland and Carte assume that this passage refers to the Hebrides, Rowlands applies it to the island of Anglesea; but these conjectures are not worth regarding. We can scarcely imagine an unprejudiced person deciding against Ireland; but where prejudice exists, no amount of proof will satisfy. It has been suggested that the Irish pagan priests were not druids properly so called, but magi;[147] and that the Irish word which is taken to mean druid, is only used to denote persons specially gifted with wisdom. Druidism probably sprung from magism, which was a purer kind of worship, though it would be difficult now to define the precise limits which separated these forms of paganism. If the original pagan religion of ancient Erinn was magism, introduced by its Phoenician colonizers, it is probable that it had gradually degenerated to the comparatively grosser rites of the druid before the advent of St. Patrick. His destruction of the idols at Magh Slecht is unquestionable evidence that idol worship[148] was then practised, though probably in a very limited degree.

The folklore of a people is perhaps, next to their language, the best guide to their origin. The editor of Bohn's edition of the Chronicle of Richard of Cirencester remarks, that "many points of coincidence have been remarked in comparing the religion of the Hindoos with that of the ancient Britons; and in the language of these two people some striking similarities occur in those proverbs and modes of expression which are derived from national and religious ceremonies."[149] We are not aware of any British customs or proverbs which bear upon this subject, nor does the writer mention any in proof of his assertion: if, however, for Britons we read Irish, his observations may be amply verified.

The kindly "God save you!" and "God bless all here!" of the Irish peasant, finds its counterpart in the eastern "God be gracious to thee, my son!" The partiality, if not reverence, for the number seven, is indicated in our churches. The warm-hearted hospitality of the very poorest peasant, is a practical and never-failing illustration of the Hindoo proverb, "The tree does not withdraw its shade even from the woodcutter."

The celebration of St. John's Eve by watchfires, is undoubtedly a remnant of paganism, still practised in many parts of Ireland, as we can aver from personal knowledge; but the custom of passing cattle through the fire has been long discontinued, and those who kindle the fires have little idea of its origin, and merely continue it as an amusement. Kelly mentions, in his Folklore, that a calf was sacrificed in Northamptonshire during the present century, in one of these fires, to "stop the murrain." The superstitious use of fire still continues in England and Scotland, though we believe the Beltinne on St. John's Eve is peculiar to Ireland. The hunting of the wren[150] on St. Stephen's Day, in this country, is said, by Vallancey, to have been originated by the first Christian missionaries, to counteract the superstitious reverence with which this bird was regarded by the druids. Classic readers will remember the origin of the respect paid to this bird in pagan times. The peasantry in Ireland, who have never read either Pliny or Aristotle, are equally conversant with the legend.

The common and undignified game of "jacks" also lays claim to a noble ancestry. In Mr. St. John's work on The Manners and Customs of Ancient Greece, he informs us that the game was a classical one, and called pentalitha. It was played with five astragals—knuckle-bones, pebbles, or little balls—which were thrown up into the air, and then attempted to be caught when falling on the back of the hand. Another Irish game, "pricking the loop," in Greece is called himantiliginos, pricking the garter. Hemestertius supposes the Gordian Knot to have been nothing but a variety of the himantiliginos. The game consists in winding a thong in such an intricate manner, that when a peg is inserted in the right ring, it is caught, and the game is won; if the mark is missed, the thong unwinds without entangling the peg.

The Irish keen [caoine] may still be heard in Algeria and Upper Egypt, even as Herodotus heard it chanted by Lybian women. This wailing for the deceased is a most ancient custom; and if antiquity imparts dignity, it can hardly be termed barbarous. The Romans employed keeners at their funerals, an idea which they probably borrowed from the Etruscans,[151] with many others incomparably more valuable, but carefully self-appropriated. Our wakes also may have had an identity of origin with the funeral feasts of the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, whose customs were all probably derived from a common source.

The fasting of the creditor on the debtor is still practised in India, and will be noticed in connexion with the Brehon Laws. There is, however, a class of customs which have obtained the generic term of superstitions, which may not quite be omitted, and which are, for many reasons, difficult to estimate rightly. In treating of this subject, we encounter, prima facie, the difficulty of giving a definition of superstition. The Irish are supposed to be pre-eminently a superstitious people. Those who make this an accusation, understand by superstition the belief in anything supernatural; and they consider as equally superstitious, veneration of a relic, belief in a miracle, a story of a banshee, or a legend of Finn Mac Cumhaill. Probably, if the Celts did not venerate relics, and believe in the possibility of miracles, we should hear far less of their superstitions. Superstition of the grossest kind is prevalent among the lower orders in every part of England, and yet the nation prides itself on its rejection of this weakness. But according to another acceptation of the term, only such heathen customs as refer to the worship of false gods, are superstitions. These customs remain, unfortunately, in many countries, but in some they have been Christianized. Those who use the term superstition generically, still call the custom superstitious, from a latent and, perhaps, in some cases, unconscious impression that there is no supernatural. Such persons commence with denying all miraculous interventions except those which are recorded in holy Scripture; and unhappily, in some cases, end by denying the miracles of Scripture.

To salute a person who sneezed with some form of benediction, was a pagan custom. It is said to have originated through an opinion of the danger attending it; and the exclamation used was: "Jupiter help me!" In Ireland, the pagan custom still remains, but it has been Christianized, and "God bless you!" is substituted for the pagan form. Yet we have known persons who considered the use of this aspiration superstitious, and are pleased to assert that the Irish use the exclamation as a protection against evil spirits, meaning thereby fairies. When a motive is persistently attributed which does not exist, argument is useless.

Devotion to certain places, pilgrimages, even fasting and other bodily macerations, were pagan customs. These, also, have been Christianized. Buildings once consecrated to the worship of pagan gods, are now used as Christian temples: what should we think of the person who should assert that because pagan gods were once adored in these churches, therefore the worship now offered in them was offered to pagan deities? The temples, lite the customs, are Christianized.

The author of a very interesting article in the Ulster Archaeological Journal (vol. ix. p. 256), brings forward a number of Irish customs for which he finds counterparts in India. But he forgets that in Ireland the customs are Christianized, while in India, they remain pagan; and like most persons who consider the Irish pre-eminently superstitious, he appears ignorant of the teaching of that Church which Christianized the world. The special "superstition" of this article is the devotion to holy wells. The custom still exists in Hindostan; people flock to them for cure of their diseases, and leave "rags" on the bushes as "scapegoats," ex votos, so to say, of cures, or prayers for cures. In India, the prayer is made to a heathen deity; in Ireland, the people happen to believe that God hears the prayers of saints more readily than their own; and acting on the principle which induced persons, in apostolic times, to use "handkerchiefs and aprons" which had touched the person of St. Paul as mediums of cure, because of his virgin sanctity, in preference to "handkerchiefs and aprons" of their own, they apply to the saints and obtain cures. But they do not believe the saints can give what God refuses, or that the saints are more merciful than God. They know that the saints are His special friends, and we give to a friend what we might refuse to one less dear. Lege totum, si vis scire totum, is a motto which writers on national customs should not forget.

Customs were probably the origin of laws. Law, in its most comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action laid down[152] by a superior. Divine law is manifested (1) by the law of nature, and (2) by revelation. The law of nations is an arbitrary arrangement, founded on the law of nature and the law of revelation: its perfection depends obviously on its correspondence with the divine law. Hence, by common consent, the greatest praise is given to those laws of ancient nations which approximate most closely to the law of nature, though when such laws came to be revised by those who had received the law of revelation, they were necessarily amended or altered in conformity therewith. No government can exist without law; but as hereditary succession preceded the law of hereditary succession, which was at first established by custom, so the lex non scripta, or national custom, preceded the lex scripta, or statute law. The intellectual condition of a nation may be well and safely estimated by its laws. A code of laws that were observed for centuries before the Christian era, and for centuries after the Christian era, and which can bear the most critical tests of forensic acumen in the nineteenth century, evidence that the framers of the code were possessed of no slight degree of mental culture. Such are the Brehon laws, by which pagan and Christian Erinn was governed for centuries.

The sixth century was a marked period of legal reform. The Emperor Justinian, by closing the schools of Athens, gave a deathblow to Grecian philosophy and jurisprudence. But Grecian influence had already acted on the formation of Roman law, and probably much of the Athenian code was embodied therein. The origin of Roman law is involved in the same obscurity as the origin of the Brehon code. In both cases, the mist of ages lies like a light, but impenetrable veil, over all that could give certainty to conjecture. Before the era of the Twelve Tables, mention is made of laws enacted by Romulus respecting what we should now call civil liabilities. Laws concerning religion are ascribed to Numa, and laws of contract to Servius Tullius, who is supposed to have collected the regulations made by his predecessors. The Twelve Tables were notably formed on the legal enactments of Greece. The cruel severity of the law for insolvent debtors, forms a marked contrast to the milder and more equitable arrangements of the Brehon code. By the Roman enactments, the person of the debtor was at the mercy of his creditor, who might sell him for a slave beyond the Tiber. The Celt allowed only the seizure of goods, and even this was under regulations most favourable to the debtor. The legal establishment of Christianity by Constantine, or we should rather say the existence of Christianity, necessitated a complete revision of all ancient laws: hence we find the compilation of the Theodosian code almost synchronizing with the revision of the Brehon laws. The spread of Christianity, and the new modes of thought and action which obtained thereby, necessitated the reconstruction of ancient jurisprudence in lands as widely distant geographically, and as entirely separated politically, as Italy and Ireland.

Those who have studied the subject most carefully, and who are therefore most competent to give an opinion, accept the popular account of the revision of our laws.

The Four Masters thus record this important event:—"The age of Christ 438. The tenth year of Laeghaire. The Feinchus of Ireland were purified and written, the writings and old works of Ireland having been collected [and brought] to one place at the request of St. Patrick. Those were the nine supporting props by whom this was done: Laeghaire, i.e., King of Ireland, Corc, and Daire, the three kings; Patrick, Benen, and Cairneach, the three saints; Ross, Dubhthach, and Fearghus, the three antiquaries." Dr. O'Donovan, in his note, shelters himself under an extract from Petrie's Tara; but it is to be supposed that he coincides in the opinion of that gentleman. Dr. Petrie thinks that "little doubt can be entertained that such a work was compiled within a short period after the introduction of Christianity in the country, and that St. Patrick may have laid the foundations of it;"[153] though he gives no satisfactory reason why that saint should not have assisted at the compilation, and why the statements of our annalists should be refused on this subject, when they are accepted on others. A list of the "family" [household] of Patrick is given immediately after, which Dr. O'Donovan has taken great pains to verify, and with which he appears satisfied. If the one statement is true, why should the other be false? Mr. O'Curry, whose opinion on such subjects is admittedly worthy of the highest consideration, expresses himself strongly in favour of receiving the statements of our annalists, and thinks that both Dr. Petrie and Dr. Lanigan are mistaken in supposing that the compilation was not effected by those to whom it has been attributed. As to the antiquity of these laws, he observes that Cormac Mac Cullinan quotes passages from them in his Glossary, which was written not later than the ninth century, and then the language of the Seanchus[154] Mor was so ancient that it had become obsolete. To these laws, he well observes, the language of Moore, on the MSS. in the Royal Irish Academy, may be applied: "They were not written by a foolish people, nor for any foolish purpose;" and these were the "laws and institutions which regulated the political and social system of a people the most remarkable in Europe, from a period almost lost in the dark mazes of antiquity, down to about within two hundred years of our own time, and whose spirit and traditions influence the feelings and actions of the native Irish even to this day."[155]

But we can adduce further testimony. The able editor and translator of the Seanchus Mor, which forms so important a portion of our ancient code, has, in his admirable Preface, fully removed all doubt on this question. He shows the groundlessness of the objections (principally chronological) which had been made regarding those who are asserted to have been its compilers. He also makes it evident that it was a work in which St. Patrick should have been expected to engage: (1) because, being a Roman citizen, and one who had travelled much, he was probably well aware of the Christian modifications which had already been introduced into the Roman code. (2) That he was eminently a judicious missionary, and such a revision of national laws would obviously be no slight support to the advancement of national Christianity. It is also remarked, that St. Patrick may not necessarily have assisted personally in writing the MS.; his confirmation of what was compiled by others would be sufficient. St. Benignus, who is known to be the author of other works,[156] probably acted as his amanuensis.

The subject-matter of the portions of the Seanchus Mor which have been translated, is the law of distress. Two points are noticeable in this: First, the careful and accurate administration of justice which is indicated by the details of these legal enactments; second, the custom therein sanctioned of the creditor fasting upon the debtor, a custom which still exists in Hindostan. Hence, in some cases, the creditor fasts on the debtor until he is compelled to pay his debt, lest his creditor should die at the door; in other cases, the creditor not only fasts himself, but also compels his debtor to fast, by stopping his supplies. Elphinstone describes this as used even against princes, and especially by troops to procure payment of arrears.[157]

One of the most noticeable peculiarities of the Brehon law is the compensation for murder, called eric. This, however, was common to other nations. Its origin is ascribed to the Germans, but the institution was probably far more ancient. We find it forbidden[158] in the oldest code of laws in existence; and hence the eric must have been in being at an early period of the world's civil history.

The law of succession, called tanaisteacht, or tanistry, is one of the most peculiar of the Brehon laws. The eldest son succeeded the father to the exclusion of all collateral claimants, unless he was disqualified by deformity, imbecility, or crime. In after ages, by a compact between parents or mutual agreement, the succession was sometimes made alternate in two or more families. The eldest son, being recognized as presumptive heir, was denominated tanaiste, that is, minor or second; while the other sons, or persons eligible in case of failure, were termed righdhamhua, which literally means king-material, or king-makings. The tanaiste had a separate establishment and distinct privileges. The primitive intention was, that the "best man" should reign; but practically it ended in might being taken for right, and often for less important qualifications.

The possession and inheritance of landed property was regulated by the law called gavelkind (gavail-kinne), an ancient Celtic institution, but common to Britons, Anglo-Saxons, and others. By this law, inherited or other property was divided equally between the sons, to the exclusion of the daughters (unless, indeed, in default of heirs male, when females were permitted a life interest). The tanaiste, however, was allotted the dwelling-house and other privileges.

The tenure of land was a tribe or family right; and, indeed, the whole system of government and legislation was far more patriarchal than Teutonic—another indication of an eastern origin. All the members of a tribe or family had an equal right to their proportionate share of the land occupied by the whole. This system created a mutual independence and self-consciousness of personal right and importance, strongly at variance with the subjugation of the Germanic and Anglo-Norman vassal.

The compilation of the Brehon laws originated in a question that arose as to how the murderer of Odran, Patrick's charioteer, should be punished. The saint was allowed to select whatever Brehon he pleased to give judgment. He chose Dubhthach; and the result of his decision was the compilation of these laws, as it was at once seen that a purely pagan code would not suit Christian teaching.

The Celtic language is now admittedly one of the most ancient in existence. Its affinity with Sanscrit, the eldest daughter of the undiscoverable mother-tongue, has been amply proved,[159] and the study of the once utterly despised Irish promises to be one which will abundantly repay the philologist. It is to be regretted that we are indebted to German students for the verification of these statements; but the Germans are manifestly born philologists, and they have opportunities of leisure, and encouragement for the prosecution of such studies, denied to the poorer Celt. It is probable that Celtic will yet be found to have been one of the most important of the Indo-European tongues. Its influence on the formation of the Romance languages has yet to be studied in the light of our continually increasing knowledge of its more ancient forms; and perhaps the conjectures of Betham will, by the close of this century, receive as much respect as the once equally ridiculed history of Keating.

It is almost impossible to doubt that the Irish nation had letters and some form of writing before the arrival of St. Patrick. There are so many references to the existence of writings in the most ancient MSS., that it appears more rash to deny their statements than to accept them.

The three principal arguments against a pre-Christian alphabet appears to be: (1) The absence of any MS. of such writing. (2) The use of the Roman character in all MSS. extant. (3) The universal opinion, scarcely yet exploded, that the Irish Celts were barbarians. In reply to the first objection, we may observe that St. Patrick is said to have destroyed all the remnants of pagan writing.[160] Caesar mentions that the druids of Gaul used Greek characters. It appears impossible that the Irish druids, who were at least their equals in culture, should have been destitute of any kind of written character. The ancient form of Welsh letters were somewhat similar to the runes of which we give a specimen, and this alphabet was called the "alphabet of the bards," in contradistinction to which is placed the "alphabet of the monks," or Roman alphabet. The alphabet of the Irish bard may have been the Beith-luis-nion, represented by the Ogham character, of which more hereafter.

The difficulty arising from the fact of St. Patrick's having given abgitorium, or alphabets, to his converts, appears to us purely chimerical. Latin was from the first the language of the Church, and being such, whether the Irish converts had or had not a form of writing, one of the earliest duties of a Christian missionary was to teach those preparing for the priesthood the language in which they were to administer the sacraments. The alphabet given by the saint was simply the common Roman letter then in use. The Celtic characteristic veneration for antiquity and religion, has still preserved it; and strange to say, the Irish of the nineteenth century alone use the letters which were common to the entire Roman Empire in the fifth. The early influence of ecclesiastical authority, and the circumstance that the priests of the Catholic Church were at once the instructors in and the preservers of letters, will account for the immediate disuse of whatever alphabet the druids may have had. The third objection is a mere argumentum ad ignorantiam.

It is to be regretted that the subject of Ogham writing has not been taken up by a careful and competent hand.[161] There are few people who have not found out some method of recording their history, and there are few subjects of deeper interest than the study of the efforts of the human mind to perpetuate itself in written characters. The Easterns had their cuneiform or arrow-headed symbols, and the Western world has even yet its quipus, and tells its history by the number of its knots.

The peasant girl still knots her handkerchief as her memoria technica, and the lady changes her ring from its accustomed finger. Each practice is quite as primitive an effort of nature as the Ogham of the Celtic bard. He used a stone pillar or a wooden stick for his notches,—a more permanent record than the knot or the Indian quipus.[162] The use of a stick as a vehicle for recording ideas by conventional marks, appears very ancient; and this in itself forms a good argument for the antiquity of Ogham writing. Mr. O'Curry has given it expressly as his opinion, "that the pre-Christian Gaedhils possessed and practised a system of writing and keeping records quite different from and independent of the Greek and Roman form and characters, which gained currency in the country after the introduction of Christianity." He then gives in evidence passages from our ancient writings which are preserved, in which the use of the Ogham character is distinctly mentioned. One instance is the relation in the Tain bo Chuailgne of directions having been left on wands or hoops written in Ogham by Cuchulainn for Meav. When these were found, they were read for her by Fergus, who understood the character. We have not space for further details, but Professor O'Curry devotes some pages to the subject, where fuller information may be found. In conclusion, he expresses an opinion that the original copies of the ancient books, such as the Cuilmenn and the Saltair of Tara, were not written in Ogham. He supposes that the druids or poets, who, it is well known, constantly travelled for educational purposes, brought home an alphabet, probably the Roman then in use. "It is, at all events, quite certain that the Irish druids had written books before the coming of St. Patrick, in 432; since we find the statement in the Tripartite Life of the saint, as well as in the Annotations of Tirechan, preserved in the Book of Armagh, which were taken by him from the lips and books of his tutor, St. Mochta, who was the pupil and disciple of St. Patrick himself."

We give two illustrations of Ogham writing. The pillar-stone is from the collection of the Royal Irish Academy. It is about four and a-half feet high, and averages eleven inches across. It was found, with three others similarly inscribed, built into the walls of a dwelling-house in the county Kerry, to which it is believed they had been removed from the interior of a neighbouring rath. The bilingual Ogham was found at St. Dogmael's, near Cardiganshire. The Ogham alphabet is called beithluisnion, from the name of its two first letters, beith, which signifies a birch-tree, and luis, the mountain-ash. If this kind of writing had been introduced in Christian times, it is quite unlikely that such names would have been chosen. They are manifestly referable to a time when a tree had some significance beyond the useful or the ornamental. It has been supposed that the names of the letters were given to the trees, and not the names of the trees to the letters. It is at least certain that the names of the trees and the letters coincide, and that the trees are all indigenous to Ireland. The names of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet are also significant, but appear to be chosen indiscriminately, while there is a manifest and evidently arbitrary selection in the Celtic appellations. The number of letters also indicate antiquity. The ancient Irish alphabet had but sixteen characters, thus numerically corresponding with the alphabet brought into Greece by Cadmus. This number was gradually increased with the introduction of the Roman form, and the arrangement was also altered to harmonize with it. The Ogham alphabet consists of lines, which represent letters. They are arranged in an arbitrary manner to the right or left of a stemline, or on the edge of the material on which they are traced. Even the names of those letters, fleasg (a tree), seem an indication of their origin. A cross has been found, sculptured more or less rudely, upon many of these ancient monuments; and this has been supposed by some antiquarians to indicate their Christian origin. Doubtless the practice of erecting pillar-stones, and writing Oghams thereon, was continued after the introduction of Christianity; but this by no means indicates their origin. Like many other pagan monuments, they may have been consecrated by having the sign of the cross engraven on them hundreds of years after their erection.

During the few months which have elapsed between the appearance of the first edition and the preparation of the second edition, my attention has been called to this portion of the history by four or five eminent members of the Royal Irish Academy, who express their regret that I should appear to have adopted, or at least favoured, Mr. D'Alton's view of the Christian origin of the round towers. I cannot but feel gratified at the interest which they manifested, and not less so at their kind anxiety that my own views should accord with those of the majority. I am quite aware that my opinion on such a subject could have little weight. To form a decided opinion on this subject, would require many years' study; but when one of these gentlemen, the Earl of Dunraven, distinguished for his devotion to archaeology, writes to me that both Irish, English, and Continental scholars are all but unanimous in ascribing a Christian origin to these remarkable buildings, I cannot but feel that I am bound to accept this opinion, thus supported by an overwhelming weight of authority. It may, however, be interesting to some persons to retain an account of the opposing theories, and for this reason I still insert page 115 of the original edition, only making such modifications as my change of opinion make necessary.

The theories which have been advanced on this subject may be classified under seven heads—

(1) That the Phoenicians erected them for fire temples.

(2) That the Christians built them for bell towers.

(3) That the Magians used them for astronomical purposes.

(4) That they were for Christian anchorites to shut themselves up in.

(5) That they were penitentiaries.

(6) That the Druids used them to proclaim their festivals.

(7) That the Christians used them to keep their church plate and treasures.

Contradictory as these statements appear, they may easily be ranged into two separate theories of pagan or Christian origin. Dr. Petrie has been the great supporter of the latter opinion, now almost generally received. He founds his opinion: (1) On the assumption that the Irish did not know the use of lime mortar before the time of St. Patrick. For this assumption, however, he gives no evidence. (2) On the presence of certain Christian emblems on some of these towers, notably at Donaghmore and Antrim. But the presence of Christian emblems, like the cross on the Ogham stones, may merely indicate that Christians wished to consecrate them to Christian use. (3) On the assumption that they were used as keeps or monastic castles, in which church plate was concealed, or wherein the clergy could shelter themselves from the fury of Danes, or other invaders. But it is obvious that towers would have been built in a different fashion had such been the object of those who erected them. The late Mr. D'Alton has been the most moderate and judicious advocate of their pagan origin. He rests his theory (1) on certain statements in our annals, which, if true, must at once decide the dispute. The Annals of Ulster mention the destruction of fifty-seven of them in consequence of a severe earthquake, A.D. 448. He adduces the testimony of Giraldus Cambrensis, who confirms the account of the origin of Lough Neagh by an inundation, A.D. 65, and adds: "It is no improbable testimony to this event, that the fishermen beheld the religious towers (turres ecclesiasticas), which, according to the custom of the country, are narrow, lofty, and round, immersed under the waters; and they frequently show them to strangers passing over them, and wondering at their purposes" (reique causas admirantibus). This is all the better evidence of their then acknowledged antiquity, because the subject of the writer was the formation of the lough, and not the origin of the towers. Mr. D'Alton's (2) second argument is, that it was improbable the Christians would have erected churches of wood and bell towers of stone, or have bestowed incomparably more care and skill on the erection of these towers, no matter for what use they may have been intended, than on the churches, which should surely be their first care.[163]

The cromlechs next claim our notice. There has been no question of their pagan origin; and, indeed, this method of honouring or interring the dead, seems an almost universal custom of ancient peoples.[164] Cremation does not appear to have been the rule as to the mode of interment in ancient Erinn, as many remains of skeletons have been found; and even those antiquarians who are pleased entirely to deny the truth of the historical accounts of our early annalists, accept their statements as to customs of the most ancient date. When the dead were interred without cremation, the body was placed either in a horizontal, sitting, or recumbent posture. When the remains were burned, a fictile vessel was used to contain the ashes. These urns are of various forms and sizes. The style of decoration also differs widely, some being but rudely ornamented, while others bear indications of artistic skill which could not have been exercised by a rude or uncultivated people.

We give a full-page illustration of an urn and its contents, at present in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy. This urn was found in a tumulus, which was opened in the Phoenix Park, near Dublin, in the year 1838. The tumulus was about 120 feet in diameter at the base, and fifteen feet high. Four sepulchral vases, containing burnt ashes, were found within the tomb. It also enclosed two perfect male skeletons, the tops of the femora of another, and a bone of some animal. A number of shells[165] were found under the head of each skeleton, of the kind known to conchologists as the Nerita littoralis. The urn which we have figured is the largest and most perfect, and manifestly the earliest of the set. It is six inches high, rudely carved, yet not without some attempt at ornament. The bone pin was probably used for the hair, and the shells are obviously strung for a necklace. We give above a specimen of the highest class of cinerary urns. It stands unrivalled, both in design and execution, among all the specimens found in the British isles. This valuable remain was discovered in the cutting of a railway, in a small stone chamber, at Knockneconra, near Bagnalstown, county Carlow. Burned bones of an infant, or very young child, were found in it, and it was inclosed in a much larger and ruder urn, containing the bones of an adult.

Possibly, suggests Sir W. Wilde, they may have been the remains of mother and child.[166]

The collection of antiquities in the Royal Irish Academy, furnishes abundant evidence that the pagan Irish were well skilled in the higher arts of working in metals. If the arbitrary division of the ages of stone, bronze, and iron, can be made to hold good, we must either suppose that the Irish Celt was possessed of extraordinary mental powers, by which he developed the mechanical arts gradually, or that, with successive immigrations, he obtained an increase of knowledge from exterior sources. The bardic annals indicate the latter theory. We have already given several illustrations of the ruder weapons. The illustration appended here may give some idea of the skill obtained by our pagan ancestors in working gold. This ornament, which is quite complete, though fractured in two places, stands 11-1/2 inches high. It weighs 16 oz. 10 dwts. 13 grs. The gold of which it is formed is very red. It was procured with the Sirr Collection, and is said to have been found in the county Clare.[167] Our readers are indebted to the kindness of the Council of the Royal Irish Academy, for the permission to depict these and the other rare articles from the collection which are inserted in our pages.

The amount of gold ornaments which have been found in Ireland at various times, has occasioned much conjecture as to whether the material was found in Ireland or imported. It is probable that auriferous veins existed, which were worked out, or that some may even now exist which are at present unknown. The discovery of gold ornaments is one of the many remarkable confirmations of the glowing accounts given by our bardic annalists of Erinn's ancient glories. O'Hartigan thus describes the wealth and splendour of the plate possessed by the ancient monarchs who held court at Tara:—

"Three hundred cupbearers distributed Three times fifty choice goblets Before each party of great numbers, Which were of pure strong carbuncle,[168] Or gold or of silver all."

Dr. Petrie observes that this statement is amply verified by the magnificent gold ornaments, found within a few yards of this very spot, now in the possession of the Royal Irish Academy. We shall see, at a later period, when the cursing of Tara will demand a special notice of its ancient glories, how amply the same writer has vindicated the veracity of Celtic annalists on this ground also.

A remarkable resemblance has been noticed between the pagan military architecture of Ireland, and the early Pelasgian monuments in Greece. They consist of enclosures, generally circular, of massive clay walls, built of small loose stones, from six to sixteen feet thick. These forts or fortresses are usually entered by a narrow doorway, wider at the bottom than at the top, and are of Cyclopean architecture. Indeed, some of the remains in Ireland can only be compared to the pyramids of Egypt, so massive are the blocks of stone used in their construction. As this stone is frequently of a kind not to be found in the immediate neighbourhood, the means used for their transportation are as much a matter of surprise and conjecture, as those by which they were placed in the position in which they are found. The most remarkable of these forts may still be seen in the Isles of Arran, on the west coast of Galway; there are others in Donegal, Mayo, and in Kerry. Some of these erections have chambers in their massive walls, and in others stairs are found round the interior of the wall; these lead to narrow platforms, varying from eight to forty-three feet in length, on which the warriors or defenders stood. The fort of Dunmohr, in the middle island of Arran, is supposed to be at least 2,000 years old. Besides these forts, there was the private house, a stone habitation, called a clochann, in which an individual or family resided; the large circular dome-roofed buildings, in which probably a community lived; and the rath, intrenched and stockaded.

But stone was not the only material used for places of defence or domestic dwellings; the most curious and interesting of ancient Irish habitations is the crannoge, a name whose precise etymology is uncertain, though there is little doubt that it refers in some way to the peculiar nature of the structure.

The crannoges were formed on small islets or shallows of clay or marl in the centre of a lake, which were probably dry in summer, but submerged in winter. These little islands, or mounds, were used as a foundation for this singular habitation. Piles of wood, or heaps of stone and bones driven into or heaped on the soil, formed the support of the crannoge. They were used as places of retreat or concealment, and are usually found near the ruins of such old forts or castles as are in the vicinity of lakes or marshes. Sometimes they are connected with the mainland by a causeway, but usually there is no appearance of any; and a small canoe has been, with but very few exceptions, discovered in or near each crannoge.

Since the investigation of these erections in Ireland, others have been discovered in the Swiss lakes of a similar kind, and containing, or rather formed on, the same extraordinary amount of bones heaped up between the wooden piles.

The peculiar objects called celts, and the weapons and domestic utensils of this or an earlier period, are a subject of scarcely less interest. The use of the celt has fairly perplexed all antiquarian research. Its name is derived not, as might be supposed, from the nation to whom this distinctive appellation was given, but from the Latin word celtis, a chisel. It is not known whether these celts, or the round, flat, sharp-edged chisels, were called Lia Miledh, "warriors' stones." In the record of the battle of the Ford of Comar, Westmeath, the use of this instrument is thus described:—

"There came not a man of Lohar's people without a broad green spear, nor without a dazzling shield, nor without a Liagh-lamha-laich (a champion's hand stone), stowed away in the hollow cavity of his shield.... And Lohar carried his stone like each of his men; and seeing the monarch his father standing in the ford with Ceat, son of Magach, at one side, and Connall Cearnach at the other, to guard him, he grasped his battle-stone quickly and dexterously, and threw it with all his strength, and with unerring aim, at the king his father; and the massive stone passed with a swift rotatory motion towards the king, and despite the efforts of his two brave guardians, it struck him on the breast, and laid him prostrate in the ford. The king, however, recovered from the shock, arose, and placing his foot upon the formidable stone, pressed it into the earth, where it remains to this day, with a third part of it over ground, and the print of the king's foot visible upon it."

Flint proper, or chalk flint, is found but in few places in Ireland; these are principally in the counties of Antrim, Down, and Derry. In the absence of a knowledge of the harder metals, flint and such-like substances were invaluable as the only material that could be fashioned into weapons of defence, and used to shape such rude clothing as was then employed. The scarcity of flint must have rendered these weapons of great value in other districts. Splitting, chipping, and polishing, and this with tools as rude as the material worked on, were the only means of manufacturing such articles; and yet such was the perfection, and, if the expression be applicable, the amount of artistic skill attained, that it seems probable flint-chipping was a special trade, and doubtless a profitable one to those engaged in it.

When flints were used as arrows, either in battle or in the chase, a bow was easily manufactured from the oak and birch trees with which the island was thickly wooded. It was bent by a leathern thong, or the twisted intestine of some animal. The handles of the lance or javelin—formidable weapons, if we may judge from the specimens in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy—were also formed of wood; but these have perished in the lapse of ages, and left only the strangely and skilfully formed implement of destruction.

Among primitive nations, the tool and the weapon differed but little. The hatchet which served to fell the tree, was as readily used to cleave open the head of an enemy. The knife, whether of stone or hard wood, carved the hunter's prey, or gave a deathstroke to his enemy. Such weapons or implements have, however, frequently been found with metal articles, under circumstances which leave little doubt that the use of the former was continued long after the discovery of the superior value of the latter. Probably, even while the Tuatha De Danann artificers were framing their more refined weapons for the use of nobles and knights, the rude fashioner of flint-arrows and spear-heads still continued to exercise the craft he had learned from his forefathers, for the benefit of poorer or less fastidious warriors.


[144] Authors.—Strabo, l. iv. p. 197; Suetonius, V. Cla.; Pliny, Hist. Nat. l. xxv. c. 9. Pliny mentions having seen the serpent's egg, and describes it.

[145] Virgil.—Ec.. 6, v. 73.

[146] Year.—Dio. Sic. tom. i. p. 158.

[147] Magi.—Magi is always used in Latin as the equivalent for the Irish word which signifies druid. See the Vitae S. Columbae, p. 73; see also Reeves' note to this word.

[148] Worship.—In the Chronicle of Richard of Cirencester, ch. 4, certain Roman deities are mentioned as worshipped by the British druids; but it is probable the account is merely borrowed from Caesar's description of the Gauls.

[149] Ceremonies.—Bohn's edition, p. 431.

[150] Wren.—In Scotland the wren is an object of reverence: hence the rhyme—

"Malisons, malisons, more than ten, That harry the Ladye of Heaven's hen."

But it is probable the idea and the verse were originally imported from France, where the bird is treated with special respect. There is a very interesting paper in the Ulster Archaeological Journal, vol. vii. p. 334, on the remarkable correspondence of Irish, Greek, and Oriental legends, where the tale of Labhradh Loinseach is compared with that of Midas. Both had asses' ears, and both were victims to the loquacious propensities of their barbers.

[151] Etruscans.—See Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, vol i p. 295, where the bas-reliefs are described which represent the praeficae, or hired mourners, wailing over the corpse.

[152] Laid down.—Law, Saxon, lagu, lah; from lecgan==Goth. lagjan, to lay, to place; Gael. lagh, a law; leag, to lie down; Latin, lex, from Gr. lego, to lay.

[153] It.—Four Masters, vol. i p. 133. The Seanchus Mor was sometimes called Cain Phadruig, or Patrick's Law.

[154] Seanchus.—From the old Celtic root sen, old, which has direct cognates, not merely in the Indo-European, but also in the Semitic; Arabic, sen, old, ancient—sunnah, institution, regulation; Persian, san, law, right; sanna, Phoenicibus idem fuit quod Arabibus summa, lex, doctrina jux canonicum.—Bochart, Geo. Sae. 1. ii. c. 17. See Petrie's Tara, p. 79.

[155] Day.—O'Curry, page 201.

[156] Works.—He appears to have been the author of the original Book of Rights, and "commenced and composed the Psalter of Caiseal, in which are described the acts, laws," &c.—See Preface to Seanchus Mor, p. 17.

[157] Arrears.—Elphinstone's India, vol. i. p. 372.

[158] Forbidden.—"You shall not take money of him that is guilty of blood, but he shall die forthwith."—Numbers, xxxv. 31.

[159] Proved.—See Pictet's Origines Indo-Europeennes. He mentions his surprise at finding a genuine Sanscrit word in Irish, which, like a geological boulder, had been transported from one extremity of the Aryan world to the other. Pictet considers that the first wave of Aryan emigration occurred 3,000 years before the Christian Era.

[160] Writing.—"Finally, Dudley Firbisse, hereditary professor of the antiquities of his country, mentions in a letter [to me] a fact collected from the monuments of his ancestors, that one hundred and eighty tracts [tractatus] of the doctrine of the druids or magi, were condemned to the flames in the time of St. Patrick."—Ogygia, iii. 30, p. 219. A writer in the Ulster Arch. Journal mentions a "Cosmography," printed at "Lipsiae, 1854." It appears to be a Latin version or epitome of a Greek work. The writer of this Cosmography was born in 103. He mentions having "examined the volumes" of the Irish, whom he visited. If this authority is reliable, it would at once settle the question.—See Ulster Arch. Journal, vol. ii. p. 281.

[161] Hand.—A work on this subject has long been promised by Dr. Graves, and is anxiously expected by paleographists. We regret to learn that there is no immediate prospect of its publication.

[162] Quipus.—Quipus signifies a knot. The cords were of different colours. Yellow denoted gold and all the allied ideas; white, silver, or peace; red, war, or soldiers. Each quipus was in the care of a quiper-carnayoe, or keeper. Acorta mentions that he saw a woman with a handful of these strings, which she said contained a confession of her life. See Wilson's Pre-Historic Man for most interesting details on the subject of symbolic characters and early writing.

[163] Care.—Annals of Boyle, vol. ii. p. 22. Essay, p. 82.

[164] Peoples.—See Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, vol. ii. p. 314, where the writer describes tombs sunk beneath a tumulus, about twenty-five or thirty feet in diameter, and also tombs exactly resembling the Irish cromlech, the covering slab of enormous size, being inclined "apparently to carry off the rain." In his account of the geographical sites of these remains, he precisely, though most unconsciously, marks out the line of route which has been assigned by Irish annalists as that which led our early colonizers to Ireland. He says they are found in the presidency of Madras, among the mountains of the Caucasus, on the steppes of Tartary, in northern Africa, "on the shores of the Mediterranean they are particularly abundant," and in Spain.

[165] Shells.—Cat. Ant. R.I.A.; Stone Mat. p. 180. The ethnographic phases of conchology might form a study in itself. Shells appear to be the earliest form of ornament in use. The North American Indians have their shell necklaces buried with them also. See Wilson's Pre-Historic Man.

[166] Child.—Mr. Wilson gives a most interesting description of an interment of a mother and child in an ancient Peruvian grave. The mother had an unfinished piece of weaving beside her, with its colours still bright. The infant was tenderly wrapped in soft black woollen cloth, to which was fastened a pair of little sandals, 2-1/2 inches long; around its neck was a green cord, attached to a small shell.—Pre-Historic Man, vol. i. p. 234.

[167] Clare.—In 1855, in digging for a railway-cutting in the county Clare, gold ornaments were found worth L2,000 as bullion.

[168] Carbuncle.—This word was used to denote any shining stone of a red colour, such as garnet, a production of the country.


Pestilence of the Blefed—The Cursing of Tara by St. Rodanus—Extent and Importance of Ancient Tara—The First Mill in Ireland—The Lia Fail—Cormac's House—The Rath of the Synods—The Banqueting Hall—Chariots and Swords—St. Columba—St. Brendan and his Voyages—Pre-Columbian Discovery of America—The Plague again—St. Columba and St. Columbanus—Irish Saints and Irish Schools—Aengus the Culdee.

[A.D. 543-693.]

From time to time, in the world's history, terrible and mysterious pestilences appear, which defy all calculation as to their cause or probable reappearance. Such was the Blefed,[169] or Crom Chonaill, which desolated Ireland in the year 543.

The plague, whatever its nature may have been, appears to have been general throughout Europe. It originated in the East; and in Ireland was preceded by famine, and followed by leprosy. St. Berchan of Glasnevin and St. Finnen of Clonard were amongst its first victims.

Diarmaid, son of Fergus Keval, of the southern Hy-Nial race, was Ard-Righ during this period. In his reign Tara was cursed by St. Rodanus of Lothra, in Tipperary, in punishment for violation of sanctuary;[170] and so complete was its subsequent desertion, that in 975 it was described as a desert overgrown with grass and weeds.

But enough still remains to give ample evidence of its former magnificence. An inspection of the site must convince the beholder of the vast extent of its ancient palaces; nor can we, for a moment, coincide with those who are pleased to consider that these palaces consisted merely of a few planks of wood, rudely plastered over, or of hollow mounds of earth. It is true that, from an association of ideas, the cause of so many fallacies, we naturally connect "halls" with marble pavements, magnificently carved pillars, and tesselated floors; but the harp that once resounded through Tara's halls, may have had as appreciating, if not as critical, an audience as any which now exists, and the "halls" may have been none the less stately, because their floor was strewn with sand, or the trophies which adorned them fastened to walls of oak.[171]

According to Celtic tradition, as embodied in our annals, Tara became the chief residence of the Irish kings on the first establishment of a monarchical government under Slainge:—

"Slaine of the Firbolgs was he by whom Temair was first raised."

One hundred and fifty monarchs reigned there from this period until its destruction, in 563. The Fes, or triennial assembly, was instituted by Ollamh Fodhla. The nature of these meetings is explained in a poem, which Keating ascribes to O'Flynn, who died A.D. 984. It is clear that what was then considered crime was punished in a very peremptory manner; for—

"Gold was not received as retribution from him, But his soul in one hour."[172]

In the reign of Tuathal a portion of land was separated from each of the four provinces, which met together at a certain place: this portion was considered a distinct part of the country from the provinces. It was situated in the present county of Meath.

In the tract separated from Munster, Tuathal[173] built the royal seat of Tlachtga, where the fire of Tlachtga was ordained to be kindled. On the night of All Saints, the druids assembled here to offer sacrifices, and it was established, under heavy penalties that no fire should be kindled on that night throughout the kingdom, so that the fire which was used afterwards might be procured from it. To obtain this privilege, the people were obliged to pay a scraball, or about three-pence, yearly, to the King of Munster.

On the 1st of May a convocation was held in the royal palace of the King of Connaught. He obtained subsidies in horses and arms from those who came to this assembly. On this occasion two fires were lit, between which cattle were driven as a preventative or charm against the murrain and other pestilential distempers. From this custom the feast of St. Philip and St. James was anciently called Beltinne, or the Day of Bel's Fire.

The third palace, erected by Tuathal, was on the portion of land taken from the province of Ulster. Here the celebrated fair of Tailtean was held, and contracts of marriage were frequently made. The royal tribute was raised by exacting an ounce of silver from every couple who were contracted and married at that time. The fair of Tailtean had been instituted some years before, in honour of Tailte, who was buried here. This fair, says Keating, was then kept upon the day known in the Irish language as La Lughnasa, or the day ordained by Lughaidh, and is called in English Lammas-day.

The fourth and the most important of the royal seats was the palace of Temair, or Tara: here, with the greatest state and ceremony, the affairs of the nation were discussed and decided. On these occasions, in order to preserve the deliberations from the public, the most strict secrecy was observed, and women were entirely excluded.

The Dinnseanchus, a topographical work, compiled in the twelfth century from ancient MSS., is the principal source of information on this subject. Dr. Petrie, in his famous Essay, has given both the original and translation of this tract, and of other documents on the same subject; and he remarks how exactly the accounts given by the poet historians coincide with the remains which even now exist. In fact, each site has been ascertained with precise accuracy—an accuracy which should very much enhance our appreciation of the value of our ancient histories.

The well Neamhnach was first identified. Tradition asserts that the first mill[174] erected in Ireland was turned by the stream which flowed from it, and even at the present day a mill is still worked there. The situation of the Rath-na-Riogh was then easily ascertained. This is the most important of these ancient sites, but it is now, unfortunately, nearly levelled to the ground. This rath is oval and measures about 853 feet from north to south; it contains the ruins of the Forradh and of Teach Cormac (the House of Cormac). A pillar-stone was removed in 1798 to the centre of the mound of the Forradh. It formerly stood by the side of a small mound lying within the enclosure of Rath-Riogh. This stone Dr. Petrie considers identical[175] with the famous Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny, which other authorities suppose to have been removed to Scotland, and subsequently to Westminster. The Rath-na-Riogh is identical with Teamur, and is, in fact, the ancient Tara, or royal residence, around which other scarcely less important buildings were gradually erected. It was also called Cathair Crofinn. The name of Cathair was exclusively applied to circular stone fortifications built without cement; and stones still remain which probably formed a portion of the original building. In ancient Irish poems this fortification is sometimes called the Strong Tower of Teamur, an appellation never applied to a rath, but constantly to a Cathair, or circular stone fort.

The Rath of the Synods obtained its name at a comparatively recent period. The situation is distinctly pointed out both in the prose and verse accounts. Here was held the Synod of Patrick, the Synod of Ruadhan and Brendan, and lastly, the Synod of Adamnan. The next existing monument which has been identified with certainty, is the Teach-Miodhchuarta, or Banqueting Hall, so famous in Irish history and bardic tradition. This was also the great house of the thousand soldiers, and the place where the Fes or triennial assemblies were held. It had fourteen doors—seven to the east and seven to the west. Its length, taken from the road, is 759 feet, and its breadth was probably about 90 feet. Kenneth O'Hartigan is the great, and indeed almost the only authority for the magnificence and state with which the royal banquets were held herein. As his descriptions are written in a strain of eloquent and imaginative verse, his account has been too readily supposed to be purely fictitious. But we have already shown that his description of the gold vessels which were used, is amply corroborated by the discovery of similar articles. His account of the extent, if not of the exterior magnificence, of the building, has also been fully verified; and there remains no reason to doubt that a "thousand soldiers" may have attended their lord at his feasts, or that "three times fifty stout cooks" may have supplied the viands. There was also the "House of the Women," a term savouring strangely of eastern customs and ideas; and the "House of the Fians," or commons soldiers.

Two poems are still preserved which contain ground-plans of the different compartments of the house, showing the position allotted to different ranks and occupations, and the special portion which was to be assigned to each. The numerous distinctions of rank, and the special honours paid to the learned, are subjects worthy of particular notice. The "saoi of literature" and the "royal chief" are classed in the same category, and were entitled to a primchrochait, or steak; nor was the Irish method of cooking barbarous, for we find express mention of a spit for roasting meat, and of the skill of an artificer who contrived a machine by which thirty spits could be turned at once.[176] The five great Celtic roads[177] have already been mentioned. Indistinct traces of them are still found at Tara. The Slighe Mor struck off from the Slope of the Chariots,[178] at the northern head of the hill, and joined the Eiscir Riada, or great Connaught road, from Dublin via Trim. Dr. Petrie concludes his Essay on Tara thus: "But though the houses were unquestionably of these materials [wood and clay, with the exception of the Tuatha De Danann Cathair], it must not be inferred that they were altogether of a barbarous structure. It is not probable that they were unlike or inferior to those of the ancient Germans, of which Tacitus speaks in terms of praise, and which he describes as being overlaid with an earth so pure and splendid, that they resembled painting." And the historian Moore, writing on the same subject, observes: "That these structures were in wood is by no means conclusive either against the elegance of their structure, or the civilization, to a certain extent, of those who erected them. It was in wood that the graceful forms of Grecian architecture first unfolded their beauties; and there is reason to believe that, at the time when Xerxes invaded Greece, most of her temples were still of this perishable material."

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