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Title: A Literary History of Ireland - From Earliest Times to the Present Day
Author: Hyde, Douglas
Language: English
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A Literary History of Ireland

_From Earliest Times to the Present Day_


Douglas Hyde, LL.D., M.R.I.A.

[An Craoibhín Aoibhinn]





                              I DEDICATE

                         NATIONAL IMPORTANCE.


    _A Chonnradh chaoin, a Chonnradh chóir_,
      _Rinn obair mhór gan ór gan cabhair_,
    _Glacaidh an cíos a dlighim daoibh_,
      _Guidhim, glacaidh go caoimh mo leabhar._

    _A cháirde cléibh is iomdha lá_
      _D'oibrigheamar go breágh le chéile_,
    _Gan clampar, agus fós gan éad_,
      _'S dá mhéad ár dteas', gan puinn di-chéille._

    _Chuireabhar súil 'san bhfear bhi dall_,
      _Thugabhar cluas don fhear bhi bodhar_,
    _Glacaidh an cíos do bheirim daoibh_,
      _----Guidhim, glacaidh go caoimh mo leabhar._


The present volume has been styled--in order to make it a companion
book to other of Mr. Unwin's publications--a "Literary History of
Ireland," but a "Literary History of Irish Ireland" would be a more
correct title, for I have abstained altogether from any analysis or
even mention of the works of Anglicised Irishmen of the last two
centuries. Their books, as those of Farquhar, of Swift, of Goldsmith,
of Burke, find, and have always found, their true and natural place in
every history of _English_ literature that has been written, whether by
Englishmen themselves or by foreigners.

My object in this volume has been to give a general view of the
by copious examples some of its more salient, or at least more
characteristic features.

In studying the literature itself, both that of the past and that
of the present, one of the things which has most forcibly struck me
is the marked absence of the purely personal note, the absence of
great predominating names, or of great predominating works; while
just as striking is the almost universal diffusion of a traditional
literary taste and a love of literature in the abstract amongst all
classes of the native Irish. The whole history of Irish literature
shows how warmly the efforts of all who assisted in its production
were appreciated. The greatest English bard of the Elizabethan age
was allowed by his countrymen to perish of poverty in the streets
of London, while the pettiest chief of the meanest clan would have
been proud to lay his hearth and home and a share of his wealth
at the disposal of any Irish "ollamh." The love for literature of
a traditional type, in song, in poem, in saga, was, I think, more
nearly universal in Ireland than in any country of western Europe,
and hence that which appears to me to be of most value in ancient
Irish literature is not that whose authorship is known, but rather
the mass of traditional matter which seems to have grown up almost
spontaneously, and slowly shaped itself into the literary possession of
an entire nation. An almost universal acquaintance with a traditional
literature was a leading trait amongst the Irish down to the last
century, when every barony and almost every townland still possessed
its poet and reciter, and song, recitation, music, and oratory were
the recognised amusements of nearly the whole population. That
population in consequence, so far as wit and readiness of language and
power of expression went, had almost all attained a remarkably high
level, without however producing any one of a commanding eminence. In
collecting the floating literature of the present day also, the unknown
traditional poems and the Ossianic ballads and the stories of unknown
authorship are of greater value than the pieces of bards who are known
and named. In both cases, that of the ancient and that of the modern
Irish, all that is of most value as literature, was the property and
in some sense the product of the people at large, and it exercised
upon them a most striking and potent influence. And this influence may
be traced amongst the Irish-speaking population even at the present
day, who have, I may almost say, one and all, a remarkable command of
language and a large store of traditional literature learned by heart,
which strongly differentiates them from the Anglicised products of the
"National Schools" to the bulk of whom poetry is an unknown term, and
amongst whom there exists little or no trace of traditional Irish
feelings, or indeed seldom of any feelings save those prompted by (when
they read it) a weekly newspaper.

The exact extent of the Irish literature still remaining in manuscript
has never been adequately determined. M. d'Arbois de Jubainville has
noted 133 still existing manuscripts, all copied before the year 1600,
and the whole number which he has found existing chiefly in public
libraries on the Continent and in the British Isles amounts to 1,009.
But many others have since been discovered, and great numbers must be
scattered throughout the country in private libraries, and numbers more
are perishing or have recently perished of neglect since the "National
Schools" were established. Jubainville quotes a German as estimating
that the literature produced by the Irish before the seventeenth
century, and still existing, would fill a thousand octavo volumes. It
is hard to say, however, how much of this could be called literature
in a true sense of the word, since law, medicine, and science were
probably included in the calculation. O'Curry, O'Longan, and O'Beirne
Crowe catalogued something more than half the manuscripts in the Royal
Irish Academy, and the catalogue of contents filled thirteen volumes
containing 3,448 pages. To these an alphabetic index of the pieces
contained was made in three volumes, and an index of the principal
names, etc., in thirteen volumes more. From a rough calculation, based
on an examination of these, I should place the number of different
pieces catalogued by them at about ten thousand, ranging from single
quatrains or even single sentences to long poems and epic sagas. But
in the Academy alone, there are nearly as many more manuscripts which
still remain uncatalogued.

It is probably owing to the extreme difficulty of arriving at any
certain conclusions as to the real extent of Irish literature that no
attempt at a consecutive history of it has ever previously been made.
Despite this difficulty, there is no doubt that such a work would long
ago have been attempted had it not been for the complete breakdown and
destruction of Irish Ireland which followed the Great Famine, and the
unexpected turn given to Anglo-Irish literature by the efforts of the
Young Ireland School to compete with the English in their own style,
their own language, and their own models.

       *       *       *       *       *

For the many sins of omission and commission in this volume I must
claim the reader's kind indulgence; nobody can be better aware of
its shortcomings than I myself, and the only excuse that I can plead
is that over so much of the ground I have had to be my own pioneer.
I confidently hope, however, that in the renewed interest now being
taken in our native civilisation and native literature some scholar far
more fully equipped for his task than I, may soon render this volume
superfluous by an ampler, juster, and more artistic treatment of what
is really a subject of great national importance.

National or important, however, it does not appear to be considered in
these islands, where outside of the University of Oxford--which has
given noble assistance to the cause of Celtic studies--sympathisers
are both few and far between. Indeed, I fancy that anybody who has
applied himself to the subject of Celtic literature would have a good
deal to tell about the condescending contempt with which his studies
have been regarded by his fellows. "I shall not easily forget," said
Dr. Petrie, addressing a meeting of the Royal Irish Academy upon that
celebrated example of early Celtic workmanship the Tara Brooch, "that
when in reference to the existence of a similar remain of ancient Irish
art, I had first the honour to address myself to a meeting of this
high institution, I had to encounter the incredulous astonishment of
the illustrious Dr. Brinkley" [of Trinity College, President of the
Academy] "which was implied in the following remark, 'Surely, sir, you
do not mean to tell us that there exists the slightest evidence to
prove that the Irish had any acquaintance with the arts of civilised
life anterior to the arrival in Ireland of the English?' nor shall I
forget that in the scepticism which this remark implied nearly all
the members present very obviously participated." Exactly the same
feeling which Dr. Petrie encountered was prevalent in my own _alma
mater_ in the eighties, where one of our most justly popular lecturers
said--in gross ignorance but perfect good faith--that the sooner the
Irish recognised that before the arrival of Cromwell they were utter
savages, the better it would be for everybody concerned! Indeed, it was
only the other day that one of our ablest and best known professors
protested publicly in the _Contemporary Review_ against the enormity
of an Irish bishop signing so moderate, and I am sure so reasonable
a document, as a petition asking to have Irish children who knew no
English, taught through the medium of the language which they spoke.
Last year, too, another most learned professor of Dublin University
went out of his way to declare that "the mass of material preserved
[in the Irish manuscripts] is out of all proportion to its value as
'literature,'" and to insist that "in the enormous mass of Irish MSS.
preserved, there is absolutely nothing that in the faintest degree
rivals the splendours of the vernacular literatures of the Middle
Ages," that "their value as literature is but small," and that "for
educational purposes save in this limited sense [of linguistic study]
they are wholly unsuited," winding up with the extraordinary assertion
that "there is no solid ground for supposing that the tales current at
the time of our earliest MSS. were much more numerous than the tales of
which fragments have come down to us." As to the civilisation of the
early Irish upon which Petrie insisted, there is no longer room for the
very shadow of a doubt; but whether the literature which they produced
is so utterly valueless as this, and so utterly devoid of all interest
as "literature," the reader of this volume must judge for himself.
I should be glad also if he were to institute a comparison between
"the splendours of the vernacular literatures" of Germany, England,
Spain, and even Italy and France, prior to the year 1000, and that of
the Irish, for I am very much mistaken if in their early development
of rhyme, alone, in their masterly treatment of sound, and in their
absolutely unique and marvellous system of verse-forms, the Irish will
not be found to have created for themselves a place alone and apart in
the history of European literatures.

I hardly know a sharper contrast in the history of human thought than
the true traditional literary instinct which four years ago prompted
fifty thousand poor hard-working Irishmen in the United States to
contribute each a dollar towards the foundation of a Celtic chair in
the Catholic University of Washington in the land of their adoption,
choosing out a fit man and sending him to study under the great
Celticists of Germany, in the hope that his scholarship might one day
reflect credit upon the far-off country of their birth; while in that
very country, by far the richest college in the British Isles, one of
the wealthiest universities in the world, allows its so-called "Irish
professorship" to be an adjunct of its Divinity School, founded _and
paid_ by a society for--the conversion of Irish Roman Catholics through
the medium of their own language!

This is the more to be regretted because had the unique manuscript
treasures now shut up in cases in the underground room of Trinity
College Library, been deposited in any other seat of learning in
Europe, in Paris, Rome, Vienna, or Berlin, there would long ago
have been trained up scholars to read them, a catalogue of them
would have been published, and funds would have been found to edit
them. At present the Celticists of Europe are placed under the great
disadvantage of having to come over to Dublin University to do the work
that it is not doing for itself.

It is fortunate however that the spread of education within the last
few years (due perhaps partly to the establishment of the Royal
University, partly to the effects of Intermediate Education, and partly
to the numerous literary societies which working upon more or less
national lines have spontaneously sprung up amongst the Irish people
themselves) has, by taking the prestige of literary monopoly out of
the hands of Dublin University, to a great extent undone the damage
which had so long been caused to native scholarship by its attitude.
It was the more necessary to do this, because the very fact that it
had never taken the trouble to publish even a printed catalogue of its
Irish manuscripts--as the British Museum authorities have done--was by
many people interpreted, I believe, as a sort of declaration of their

       *       *       *       *       *

In dealing with Irish proper names I have experienced the same
difficulty as every one else who undertakes to treat of Irish history.
Some native names, especially those with "mortified" or aspirated
letters, look so unpronounceable as to prove highly disconcerting to
an English reader. The system I have followed is to leave the Irish
orthography untouched, but in cases where the true pronunciation
differed appreciably from the sound which an English reader would
give the letters, I have added a phonetic rendering of the Irish form
in brackets, as "Muighmheadhon [Mwee-va-on], Lughaidh [Lewy]." There
are a few names such as Ossian, Mève, Donough, Murrough and others,
which have been almost adopted into English, and these forms I have
generally retained--perhaps wrongly--but my desire has been to throw
no unnecessary impediments in the way of an English reader; I have
always given the true Irish form at least once. Where the word "mac"
is not part of a proper name, but really means "son of" as in Finn
mac Cúmhail, I have printed it with a small "m"; and in such names as
"Cormac mac Art" I have usually not inflected the last word, but have
written "Art" not "Airt," so as to avoid as far as possible confusing
the English reader.

I very much regret that I have found it impossible, owing to the brief
space of time between printing and publication, to submit the following
chapters to any of my friends for their advice and criticism. I beg,
however, to here express my best thanks to my friend Father Edmund
Hogan, S.J., for the numerous memoranda which he was kind enough to
give me towards the last chapter of this book, that on the history of
Irish as a spoken language, and also to express my regret that the
valuable critical edition of the Book of Hymns by Dr. Atkinson and Dr.
Bernard, M. Bertrand's "Religion Gauloise," and Miss Hull's interesting
volume on "Cuchullin Saga," which should be read in connection with my
chapters on the Red Branch cycle, appeared too late for me to make use






Literary History of Ireland



Who were those Celts, of whose race the Irish are to-day perhaps
the most striking representatives, and upon whose past the ancient
literature of Ireland can best throw light?

Like the Greeks, like the Romans, like the English, this great people,
which once ruled over a fourth of Europe, sprang from a small beginning
and from narrow confines. The earliest home of the race from which
they spread their conquering arms may be said, roughly speaking, to
have lain along both banks of the upper Danube, and in that portion of
Europe comprised to-day in the kingdoms of Bavaria and Würtemberg and
the Grand Duchy of Baden, with the country drained by the river Maine
to the east of the Rhine basin. In other words, the Celtic race and the
Celtic language sprang from the heart of what is to-day modern Germany,
and issuing thence established for over two centuries a vast empire
held together by the ties of political unity and a common language over
all North-west and Central Europe.

The vast extent of the territory conquered and colonised by the Celts,
and the unity of their speech, may be conjectured from an examination
of the place-names of Celtic origin which either still exist or figure
as having existed in European history.[1]

The Celts seem to have been first known to Greek--that is, to European
history--under the semi-mythological name of the Hyperboreans,[2]
an appellation which remained in force from the sixth to the fourth
century before Christ. The name Celt or Kelt[3] first makes its
appearance towards the year 500 B.C., in the geography of Hecatæus of
Miletum, and is thereafter used successively by Herodotus, Xenophon,
Plato, and Aristotle, and from that time forward it seems to have been
employed by the Greek scholars and historians as a generic term whereby
to designate the Celts of the Continent.

Soon afterwards the word Galatian came also into use,[4] and was
used as a synonym for Celt. In the first century B.C., however,
the discovery was made that the Germans and the Celts, who had
been hitherto confounded in the popular estimation, were really
two different peoples, a fact which Julius Cæsar was almost the
first to point out. Diodorus Siculus, accordingly, struck by this
discovery, translates Cæsar's _Gallus_ or Gaul by the word Celt, and
his _Germanus_ or German by the word Galatian, while the other Greek
historian, Dion Cassius, does the exact opposite, calling the Celts
"Galatians," and the Germans "Celts"! The examples thus set, however,
were the result of ignorance and were never followed. Plutarch treats
the two words as identical, as do Strabo, Pausanias and all other Greek

The word Celt itself is probably of very ancient origin, and was,
no doubt, in use 800 or 1,000 years before Christ.[5] It cannot,
however, be proved that it is a generic Celtic name for the Celtic
race, and none of the present Celtic-speaking races have preserved it
in their dialects. Jubainville derives it, very doubtfully I should
think, from a Celtic root found in the old Irish verb "ar-CHELL-aim"
("I plunder") and the old substantive to-CHELL ("victory"); while he
derives Galatian from a Celtic substantive now represented by the Irish
_gal_[6] ("bravery"). This latter word "Galatian" is one which the
German peoples never adopted, and it appears to have only come into use
subsequently to their revolt against their Celtic masters. After the
break-up of the Celtic Empire it was employed to designate the eastern
portion of the race, while the inhabitants of Gaul were called Celtæ
and those of Spain Celtici or Celtiberi, but the Greeks called all
indifferently by the common name of Galatians.

The Romans termed the Celts Galli, or Gauls, but they used the
geographical term Gallia, or Gaul, in a restricted sense, first for
the country inhabited by the Celts in North Italy upon their own side
of the Alps, and after that for the Celtic territory conquered by Rome
upon the other side of the Alps.

The Germans appear to have called the Celts Wolah, a name derived from
the Celtic tribe the Volcæ, who were so long their neighbours, out of
which appellation came the Anglo-Saxon Wealh and the modern English

There is one curious characteristic distinguishing, from its very
earliest appearance, the Celtic language from its Indo-European
sisters: this is the loss of the letter _p_ both at the beginning of a
word and when it is placed between two vowels.[7] This dropping of the
letter _p_ had already given to the Celtic language a special character
of its own, at the time when breaking forth from their earliest home
the Celts crossed the Rhine and proceeded, perhaps a thousand years
before Christ, to establish themselves in the British Isles. The Celts
who first colonised Ireland said, for instance, _atir_ for _pater_,
but they had not yet experienced, nor did they ever experience, that
curious linguistic change which at a later time is assumed to have come
over the Celts of the Continent and caused them to not only recover
their faculty of pronouncing _p_, but to actually _change into a p_ the
Indo-European guttural _q_. Their descendants, the modern Irish, to
this very day retain the primitive word-forms which had their origin
a thousand years before Christ. So much so is this the case that the
Welsh antiquary Lhuyd, writing in the last century, asserted, and with
truth, that there were "scarce any words in the Irish besides what are
borrowed from the Latin or some other language that begin with _p_,
insomuch that in an ancient alphabetical vocabulary I have by me, that
letter is omitted."[8] Even with the introduction of Christianity and
the knowledge of Latin the ancient Irish persisted in their repugnance
to this letter, and made of the Latin _Pasch-a_ (Easter) the word
_Cásg_, and of the Latin _purpur-a_ the Irish _curcur_.

But meantime the Continental Celts had either--as Jubainville seems to
think--recovered their faculty for pronouncing _p_, or else--as Rhys
believes--been overrun by other semi-Celts who, owing to some strong
non-Aryan intermixture, found _q_ repugnant to them, and changed it
into _p_. This appears to have taken place prior to the year 500 B.C.,
for it was at about this time that they, having established themselves
round the Seine and Loire and north of the Garonne, overran Spain,
carrying everywhere with them this comparatively newly adopted _p_,
as we can see by their tribal and place-names. They appeared in Italy
sometime about 400 B.C.,[9] founded their colony in Galatia about 279
B.C., and afterwards sent another swarm into Great Britain, and to all
these places they bore with them this obtrusive letter in place of the
primitive _q_, the Irish alone resisting it, for the Irish represented
a first off-shoot from the cradle of the race, an off-shoot which had
left it at a time when _q_ represented _p_, and not _p q_. Hence it
is that Welsh is so full of the _p_ sound which the primitive Irish
would never adopt, as a glance at some of the commonest words in both
languages will show.

  English: Son    tree     head    person  worm    feather    everyone.
  Welsh:   Ma_p_  _p_renn  _p_en   ne_p_   _p_ryv  _p_luv     _p_au_p_.
  Irish:   Ma_c_  _c_rann  _c_enn  ne_ch_  _c_ruiv _c_luv[10] _c_á_ch_.

So that even the Irish St. Ciaran becomes Piaran in Wales.[11]

The Celts invaded Italy about the year 400 B.C., and stormed Rome a few
years later. They were at this time at the height of their power. From
about the year 500 to 300 B.C. they appear to have possessed a very
high degree of political unity, to have been led by a single king,[12]
and to have followed with signal success a wise and consistent external
policy. The most important events in their history during this period
were the three successful wars which they waged--first against the
Carthaginians, out of whose hands they wrested the peninsula of Spain;
secondly in Italy against the Etruscans, which ended in their making
themselves masters of the north of that country; and thirdly against
the Illyrians along the Danube. All of these wars were followed by
large accessions of territory. One of the most striking features of
their external policy during this period was their close alliance with
the Greeks, whose commercial rivalry with the Phœnicians naturally
brought them into relations with the Celtic enemies of Carthaginian
power in Spain, relations from which they reaped much advantage, since
the necessity of making head against the Celtic invaders of Spain must
have seriously crippled the Carthaginian power, at the very time when,
as ally of the Persians, she attacked the Greeks in Sicily, and lost
the battle of Himera on the same day that the Persians lost that of
Salamis. Greek writers of the fourth century speak of the Celts as
practising justice, of having nearly the same manners and customs as
the Greeks, and they notice their hospitality to Grecian strangers.[13]
Their war with the Etruscans in North Italy completed the ruin of an
hereditary enemy of the Greeks,[14] and their war with the Illyrians
no doubt largely strengthened the hands of Philip, the father of
Alexander the Great, and enabled him to throw off the tribute which the
Illyrians had imposed upon Macedonia. Nor did Alexander himself embark
upon his expedition into Asia without having first assured himself
of the friendship of the Celts. He received their ambassadors with
cordiality, called them his friends, and received from them a promise
of alliance. "If we fulfil not our engagement," said they, "may the sky
falling upon us crush us, may the earth opening swallow us up, may the
sea overflowing its borders drown us," and we may well believe that
these were the very words used by the Celtic chieftains when we find in
an Irish saga committed to writing about the seventh century[15] the
Ulster heroes swearing to their king when he wished to leave his wing
of the battle to repel the attacks of a rival, and saying, "heaven is
over us and earth is under us and sea is round about us, and unless
the firmament fall with its star-showers upon the face of the earth,
or unless the earth be destroyed by earthquake, or unless the ridgy,
blue-bordered sea come over the expanse (?) of life, we shall not give
one inch of ground."

While the ambassadors were drinking the young king asked them what
was the thing they most feared, thinking, says the historian, that
they would say himself, but their answer was quite different. "We
fear no one," they said; "there is only one thing that we fear, which
is, that the heavens may fall upon us; but the friendship of such a
man as you we value more than everything," whereat the king, no doubt
considerably astonished, remarked in a low voice to his courtiers what
a vainglorious people these Celts were.[16]

All through the life of Alexander the Celts and Macedonians continued
on good terms, and amongst the many envoys who came to Babylon to
salute the youthful conqueror of Persia, appeared their representatives
also. Some forty years later, however, this good understanding came to
an end, and the Celts overthrew and slew in battle the Macedonian ruler
Ptolemy Keraunos about 280 B.C.

With the Romans, as with the Greeks, the relations of the Celts were,
during the fifth and fourth century B.C., upon the whole friendly, and
their hostility to the Etruscans must have tended naturally to render
them and the Romans mutual allies. The battle of Allia, fought on the
18th of July, 390 B.C., and the storming of Rome three days later, were
a punishment inflicted on the Romans by the Celts in their exasperation
at seeing the Roman ambassadors, contrary to the right of nations,
assisting their enemies the Etruscans under the walls of Clusium, but
these events appear to have been followed by a long peace.[17]

It is only in the third century B.C. that the hitherto victorious
and widely-colonising Celts appear to have laid aside their internal
political unity and to have lost their hitherto victorious tactics. The
Germans, over whom they had for centuries domineered and whom they had
deprived of their independence, rise against them about 300 B.C., and
drive out their former conquerors from between the Rhine and the Black
Sea, from between the Elbe and the Maine. The Celts fall out with the
Romans and are beaten at Sentinum in 295 B.C.; they ally themselves
with their former enemies the Etruscans, and are again beaten in 283
B.C. and lose territory. They cease their alliance with the Greeks, and
are guilty of the shameful folly of pillaging the temple of Delphi,
an act of brigandage from which no good results could come, and from
which no acquisition of territory resulted. They established a colony
in Asia Minor in 278 B.C., successfully indeed, but absolutely cut
off from the rest of the Celtic Empire, and such as in any federation
of the Celtic tribes could only be a source of weakness. Again, about
the same time, we see Celts driving out and supplanting Celts in the
districts between the Rhine, the Seine, and the Marne. In 262 B.C. we
find a body of three or four thousand Celts assisting their former foes
the Carthaginians at the siege of Agrigentum, where they perish. Many
of the Celts now took foreign service. It was at their instigation that
the war of mercenaries broke out, which at one time brought Carthage to
the very verge of destruction.

Only two centuries and a half, as Jubainville remarks, had elapsed
since the Celts had conquered Spain from the Phœnicians, and only
a hundred and thirty years since they had taken Rome, but their
victorious political unity had already begun to break up and crumble,
and now Rome and Carthage commenced that deadly duel in which the
victor was destined to impose his sway upon the ruins of the Celtic
Empire as well as on that of Alexander--impose it, in fact, upon all
the world then known to the Greeks, except only the extreme east.

One of the circumstances which must have helped most materially to
break up the Celtic Empire was the successful revolt of the Germans
against their former masters. The relation of the German to the Celtic
tribes is very obscure and puzzling. The ancient Greek historians of
the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries B.C., who tell us so much about
the Celts, know absolutely nothing of the Germans. As early as the
year 500 B.C. Hecatæus of Miletum is able to name three peoples and
two cities of India. But of the Germans, who were so much nearer to
Marseilles than the nearest point of India is to the most eastern Greek
colony, he says not a word. Ephorus, in the fourth century, knows of
only one people to the extreme west, and they are the Celts, and their
immediate neighbours are the Scythians. He knows of no intermediate
state or nation. Where, then, were the Germans?

The explanation lies, according to Jubainville, in this, that even
before this period the German had been conquered by the Celt and become
subordinated to him. The Greek historians knew of no independent state
bordering upon the Scythians except the Celtic Empire alone, because
none such existed. In the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., and perhaps
as early as the seventh and sixth, the Germans had been subdued and
had lost their independence. How and when this took place we can only
conjecture, but we have philological reasons for believing that the two
races had come into mutual contact at a very early date, probably as
early as the eleventh century B.C. The early German name for the Rhine,
for instance, _Rīno-s_, comes directly from the primitive Indo-European
form _Reino-s_ and not from the Celtic _Rēno-s_, which shows that the
Germans had reached that river at a time when the Celts who lived along
it still called it Reinos, not Rēnos. The Celts afterwards changed the
primitive _ei_ into _ē_, and from their carrying the form _réin_[18]
with them into Ireland, they had probably done this as early as the
ninth or tenth century B.C., for, as we have shown, the Celts who
inhabited Ireland have preserved the very oldest forms of the Celtic

On the other hand the Celts always called that Germanic tribe who
accompanied the Cimbri by the name of Teutoni, thus showing that they
first came in contact with them at a date anterior to the phonetic law
which introduced the so-called explosive consonants into German, and
which caused the root Teutono (preserved intact by the Celts) to be
turned into Theudono. From this it follows that the German and Celtic
peoples were in touch with one another at a very remote period.

The long subordination of the German to the Celt has left its marks
deeply behind it, for his "language had remained uncultivated during
ages of slavery, had been reduced to the condition of a patois, and had
forced the explosive consonants to submit to modifications of sound,
the analogues of which appear in the Latin and Celtic languages during
their decadence many centuries after those modifications of sound had
deformed the language of the Germans."[19]

 "In fine the Germanic has created for itself a place apart, amongst
 the other Indo-European languages, though the excessive poverty of
 its conjugation, which only knows three tenses--the present tense and
 two past tenses--and which has lost in particular the imperfect or
 secondary present, the future, and the sigmatic aorist, and which has
 not had strength to regain those losses by the aid of new composite
 tenses, with the exception of its dental preterite. The Celtic has
 preserved the three tenses which the Germanic has lost."[20]

The Celtic language is in a manner allied to that of Italy, as is
shown by its _grammar_, and out of all the circle of Indo-European
languages the Latin comes nearest to it, and it and the Latin possess
certain grammatical characteristics in common which are absent from
the others.[21] To account for these we may assume what may be called
an Italo-Celtic period, prior, probably, to the establishment of the
Italian races in Italy, perhaps some twelve hundred years before Christ.

On the other hand such mutual influence as Celtic and German have
exercised upon each other is restricted merely to the _vocabularies_ of
the languages, for when these races came in contact with each other the
two tongues had been already completely formed, and the grammar of the
one could no longer be affected by that of the other.

That there existed a kind of Celto-Germanic civilisation is easily
proved by the number of words common to each language which are not
found in the other Indo-European tongues, or which if they occur in
them, are found bearing a different meaning. The two peoples, the
dominant Celts and the subject Germans, obeyed the same chiefs and
fought in the same armies, and naturally a certain number of words
became common to both. It is noticeable, however, that none of the
terms relating to either gods or priests or religious ceremonies bear
in either language the slightest resemblance to one another. It was
probably this difference of religion which preserved the conquered
people from being assimilated, and which was ultimately the cause of
the successful uprising of the servile tribes.

The words which are common to the Germanic and the Celtic languages
belong either to the art of government, political institutions, and
law, or else to the art of war. These d'Arbois de Jubainville divides
into two classes--those which can be phonetically proved to be of
Celtic origin, and those which, though almost certainly of Celtic
origin, yet cannot be proved to be so to actual demonstration. Such
important German words[22] as _Reich_ and _Amt_ are beyond all doubt
Celtic loan-words, as are probably such familiar vocables as _Bann,
frei, Eid, Geisel, leihen, Erbe, Werth,_[23] all terms relating to
law and government, imposed on or borrowed by the conquered Germans.
From the Celts come also all such words concerning war and fighting as
are common to both nations, such as _Held, Heer, Sieg, Beute_. From
the Celts too come names of domiciles, as _Burg, Dorf, Zaun,_ also
of localities as _Land, Flur, Furt,_ and the English _wood_, and of
domestic aids as _Pferd, Beil,_ and the Anglo-Saxon _Vîr_ (a torque).
They too seem to have been the first in Northern Europe to have
practised the art of medicine, for from the Celtic comes the Gothic
_lēkeis_--English _leech_.[24] Certain other domestic words, such as
_Eisen, Loth,_ and _Leder_, both races have in common.

Despite the long subjection of the Germans they never lost their
language, nor were they assimilated by the conquering race, a fate from
which they were probably preserved, as we have said, by the complete
difference of their sacred customs. There is hardly one name in all
the Teutonic theogony which even faintly resembles a Celtic one.[25]
Their funeral rites were different, the Germans burning, but the
Celts burying their dead. Their systems of priesthood were absolutely
different, that of the Celts being always an institution distinct from
the kingship, while that of the Germans was for centuries vested in the
head of the tribe or family. The priests of the Germans, even after the
functions of priesthood had been severed from those of kingship, still
exercised criminal jurisdiction, and even in the army a soldier could
not be punished without their sanction. On the other hand the milder
druids of the Celts appear to have never taken part in the judgment of
delinquents against the State. Cæsar makes no mention of their ever
acting as judges in criminal cases. The culprit guilty or treason was
not put to death by them but by the citizens--_ab civitate_.[26]

It was about the year 300 B.C. that the German tribes, so long
incorporated with the Celts, at last rose against their masters and
broke their yoke from off their necks. They succeeded in dislodging
the Celts from the country which lies between the Rhine and the North
Sea, between the Elbe and the basin of the Maine. It was in consequence
of this blow that the Celtic Belgæ were obliged to withdraw from the
right bank of the Rhine to the left, and to occupy the country between
it, the Seine, and the Marne, whilst other tribes settled themselves
along the Rhine, and others again marched upon Asia Minor and founded
their famous colony of Galatia in the extreme east of Europe, to whom,
over three centuries later, St. Paul addressed his epistle, and whose
descendants were found by St. Jerome in the fourth century still
speaking Celtic.[27]

It is no longer necessary to follow the fortunes of the Continental
Celts, to trace the history of their Galatian colony, to tell how they
lost Spain, to recount the exploits of Marius and Sylla, the wars of
Cæsar, the heroic struggle of Vercingetorix, the division of Gaul by
Octavius, the oppression of the Romans, and finally the inroads of the
barbaric hordes of Visigoths, Burgundians, and Francs. It is sufficient
to say that already in the third century of our era Gaul had lost every
trace of its ancient Celtic organisation, and in its laws, habits, and
civil administration had become purely Roman. The upper classes had,
like the Irish upper classes of this and of the last century, thrown
aside every vestige of Gaulish nationality, and piqued themselves upon
the perfection with which they had Romanised themselves, as the Irish
upper classes do upon the thoroughness with which they have become
Anglicised. They threw aside their Gaulish names to adopt others more
consonant to Latin ears, as the Irish are doing at this moment. Above
all they prided themselves upon speaking only the language of their
conquerors, and like so many of the Irish of to-day they derided their
ancient language as _lingua rustica_. It, however, banished from the
mouths of the nobles and officials, lived on in the villages and rural
parts of Gaul, as it has to this day done in Ireland, until the sixth
century, when it finally gave ground and retired into the mountains and
wastes of Armorica, where it coalesced with the Welsh which the large
colony of British brought in with them when flying from the Saxon, and
where it, in the Cymraeg form of it, is still spoken by a couple of
million people.[28]

[1] Take, for instance, the Celtic word _dúno-n_, Latinised _dunum_,
which is the Irish _dún_ "castle" or "fortress," so common in Irish
topography, as in Dunmore, Dunsink, Shandun, &c. There are over a dozen
instances of this word in France, nearly as many in Great Britain, more
than half a dozen in Spain, eight or nine in Germany, three in Austria,
a couple in the Balkan States, three more in Switzerland, one at least
(Lug-dun, now Leyden) in the Low Countries, one in Portugal, one in
Piedmont, one in South Russia.

Celtic was once spoken from Ireland to the Black Sea, although the
population who can now speak Celtic dialects is not more than three or
four millions. As for Celtic archæological remains "on les trouve tant
dans nos musées nationaux (en particulier au Musée de Saint Germain)
que dans les collections publiques de la Hongrie, de l'Autriche, de la
Hesse, de la Bohême, du Würtemburg, du pays de Bade, de la Suisse, de
l'Italie." (Bertrand and Reinach, p. 3).

[2] ϒπερβορείος.

[3] Κελτός. The Greeks, the Latins, and the Celts themselves pronounced
Kelt, as do the modern Germans. It is against the genius of the French
language to pronounce the _c_ hard, but not against that of the
English, who consequently had better say Kelt.

[4] Γαλατης.

[5] As is proved, according to Jubainville, by its having made its way
into German before the so-called Laut-verschiebung took place, to the
laws of which it submitted, for out of Celtis, the feminine form of it,
they have made Childis, as in the Frank-Merovingian Bruni-Childis or
Brunhild, and the old Scandinavian Hildr, the war-goddess.

[6] This was actually a living word as recently as ten years ago. I
knew an old man who often used it in the sense of "spirit," "fire,"
"energy": he used to say _cuir gal ann_, meaning do it bravely,
energetically. This was in the county Roscommon. I cannot say that I
have heard the word elsewhere.

[7] Thus the Greek ὑπέρ, Latin s-uper, German über is _ver_ in ancient
Celtic (_for_ in Old Irish, _ar_ in the modern language), platanus
becomes litano-s (Irish leathan), παρά becomes _are_, and so on.

[8] Lhuyd's "Comparative Etymology," title i. p. 21. Out of over 700
pages in O'Reilly's Irish dictionary only twelve are occupied with the
letter _p_.

[9] Probably for the second time. MM. Bertrand and Reinach seem to
have proved that the Cisalpine peoples of North Italy who were under
the dominion of the Etruscans were Celtic in manners and costume, and
probably in language also. _See_ "Les Celtes dans les vallées du Pô et
du Danube." Chapter on La Gaule Cisalpine.

[10] Rather "cruimh" and "clumh," the _mh_ being pronounced _v_.

[11] In this matter of labialism Greek stands to some small extent with
regard to Latin, as Welsh to Irish. Nor is Latin itself exempt from it;
compare the labialised Latin _sept-em_ with the more primitive Irish

[12] See Livy's account of Ambicatus, who seems to have been a kind
of Celtic Charlemagne, or more probably the equivalent of the Irish
_ard-righ_. Livy probably exaggerates his importance.

[13] Cf. the remarkable verses quoted by d'Arbois de Jubainville of
Scymnus of Chio, following Ephorus:

  "Χρῶνται δὲ Κελτοὶ τοῖς ἔθεσιν ῾Ελληνικοῖς
  ἔχοντες οἰκειότατα πρὸς τὴν ῾Ελλάδα
  διὰ τὰς ὑποδοχὰς τῶν ἐπιξενουμένων."

[14] By this war the newly-arrived bands drove out the Etruscan
aristocracy and took its place, ruling over a population of what were
really their Celtic kinsmen.

[15] The Táin Bo Chuailgne.

[16] [Κελτοὺς] ἀπέπεμψε, τοσοῦτον ὑπειπὠν ὅτι ἀλαζόνεσ Κελτοί (Arrian,
bk. i. chap. iv.).

[17] _See_ Livy, book v. chap, xxxvi.: "Ibi, jam urgentibus Romanam
urbem fatis, legati contra jus gentium arma capiunt, nec id clam esse
potuit, quum ante signa Etruscorum tres nobilissimi fortissimi-que
Romanæ juventutis pugnarent. Tantum eminebat peregrina virtus. Quin
etiam Q. Fabius erectus extra aciem equo, ducem Gallorum, ferociter in
ipsa signa Etruscorum incursantem, per latus transfixum hastâ, occidit:
spolia-que ejus legentem Galli agnovere, perque totem aciem Romanum
legatum esse signum datum est. Omissâ inde in Clusinos irâ, receptui
canunt minantes Romanis." It was the refusal of the Romans to give
satisfaction for this outrage that first brought the Gauls upon them.

Jubainville rejects as fabulous the self-contradicting accounts of Livy
about Roman wars with the Celts during the next forty years after the
storming of Rome.

[18] _Réin_=a primitive _rēni_. It occurs in the Amra Colum-cilli,
meaning "of the sea."

[19] D'Arbois de Jubainville's "Premiers Habitants de l'Europe," book
iii. chap. iii. §15.

[20] D'Arbois de Jubainville, _ibid._

[21] "Some of the oldest and deepest morphological changes in Aryan
speech are those which affect the Celto-Italic language. Such are the
formation of a new passive, a new future, and a new perfect. Hence it
is believed that the Celto-Italic languages may have separated from the
rest while the other Aryan languages remained united." Taylor's "Origin
of the Aryans," p. 257. Mr. Taylor is here alluding to the passive in
_r_ and the future in _bo_, but my friend, M. Georges Dottin, in his
laborious and ample volume published last year, "Les désinences en R,"
has shown that the _r_-passives, at least, are, in Italic and Celtic,
independent creations.

[22] These loan-words "can hardly be later than the time of the Gaulish
Empire founded by Ambicatus in the sixth century B.C. We gather from
them that at this or some earlier period the culture and political
organisation of the Teutons was inferior to that of the Celts, and that
the Teutons must have been subjected to Celtic rule. It would seem from
the linguistic evidence that the Teutons got from their Celtic and
Lithuanian neighbours their first knowledge of agriculture and metals,
of many weapons and articles of food and clothing, as well as the most
elementary social, religious, and political conceptions, the words for
nation, people, king, and magistrate being, for instance, loan-words
from Celtic or Lithuanian."--Taylor's "Origin of the Aryans," p. 234.

[23] Also the Gothic word _magus_ ("a slave"), old Irish _mug_, or
_mogh, liugan_ ("to swear"), Irish _luigh, dulgs_ (a debt), Irish
_dualgus_, &c.

[24] Irish _liaig_. The Finns again borrowed this word from the
Germans. It is the root of the name Lee, in most Irish families of that
surname, indicating that their ancestors practised leech-craft.

[25] Rhys indeed compares the great Teutonic sky-god Woden with the
Welsh Gwydion and Thor with the Celtic Taranucus or Thunder-God, and
is of opinion that a good deal of Teutonic mythology was drawn from
Celtic sources--a theory which, when we consider how much the Germans
are indebted to the Celts for their culture-terms, may well be true
with regard to _later_ mythological conceptions and mythological saga.
However, it is now generally acknowledged that while all the nations of
Aryan origin possess a common inheritance of language, any inheritance
of a common mythology, if such exist at all, must be reduced to very
small proportions. The complete difference between the names of the
Indian, Hellenic, Italic, Teutonic, and Celtic gods is very striking.

[26] "De Bello Gallico," book vii. chap. iv.

[27] Which he speaks of as a mark of folly, in just the same tone
as an Anglicised Hibernian does of the Irish-speaking of the native
Celts. His words are worth quoting:--"Antiquæ stultitiæ usque hodie
manent vestigia. Unum est quod inferimus, et promissum in exordio
reddimus, Galatas excepto sermone Græco quo omnis Oriens loquitur
propriam linguam eamdem pene habere quam Treviros, nec referre si
aliqua exinde corrumperint, cum et Aphri Phœnicum linguam nonnullâ ex
parte mutaverint, et ipsa Latinitas et regionibus quotidie mutetur et
tempore." His insinuation that they spoke their own language badly
is also thoroughly Anglo-Hibernian, reminding one very much of Sir
William Petty and others. _See_ Jerome's preface to his "Commentary
on the Epistle to the Galatians," book vii. p. 429. Migne's edition.
In another passage he is more complimentary, and calls them the
Conquerors of the East and West--"Gallo-græcia [_i.e._, Galatia] in qua
consederunt Orientis Occidentisque victores." _See_ his "Epistle to
Rusticus," book i. p. 935. Migne.

[28] Although Celtic has so long disappeared out of France with the
exception of Armorica, it has left its traces deeply behind it upon the
French language. This is also true even of linguistic sounds. "Tous les
sons simples du français se retrouvent dans le breton, et tous ceux
du breton à l'exception d'un seul (le _ch_ ou le _χ_) sont aussi dans
notre langue: l'_u_ et l'_e_ très-ouvert, l'_e_ muet si rare partout
ailleurs, le _j_ pur inconnu à toute l'Europe, les deux sons mouillés
du _n_ et du _l_ (comme dans les mots bataille et dignité) sont communs
à la langue française et aux idiomes celtiques," says Demogeot. Even
in French customary law there are "distinct and numerous traces" of
old Gaulish habits and legislation, as Laferrière has pointed out in
his history of the civil law of Rome and France. Nor is this to be
in the least wondered at, when we remember that nineteen-twentieths
of the modern French blood is computed to be that of the aboriginal
races--Aquitanians, Celts, and Belgæ; whilst out of the remaining
twentieth "the descendants of the Teutonic invaders--Franks,
Burgundians, Goths, and Normans doubtless contributed a more numerous
element to the population than the Romans, who, though fewer in number
than any of the others, imposed their language on the whole country"
(_see_ Taylor's "Origin of the Aryans," p. 204). The bulk of the French
nation is probably pre-Celtic. The modern Frenchman does not at all
resemble the Gallic type as described by the Greek and Roman writers.



Of all the tribes of the Celts, and indeed of all their neighbours in
the west of Europe, the children of Milesius have been at once blessed
and cursed beyond their fellows, for on the shores of their island
alone did the Roman eagle check its victorious flight, and they alone
of the nations of western Europe were neither moulded nor crushed into
his own shape by the conqueror of Gaul and Britain.

Undisturbed by the Romans, unconquered though shattered by the
Norsemen, unsubdued though sore-stricken by the Normans, and still
struggling with the Saxons, the Irish Gael alone has preserved a record
of his own past, and preserved it in a literature of his own, for a
length of time and with a continuity which outside of Greece has no
parallel in Europe.

His own account of himself is that his ancestors, the Milesians, or
children of Miledh,[1] came to Ireland from Spain about the year 1000
B.C.,[2] and dispossessed the Tuatha De Danann who had come from the
north of Europe, as these had previously dispossessed their kinsmen the
Firbolg, who had arrived from Greece.

Such a suggestion, however, despite the continuity and volume of Irish
tradition which has always supported it, appears open to more than
one rationalistic objection, the chiefest being that the voyage from
Spain to Ireland would be one of some six hundred miles, hardly to be
attempted by the early Irish barks composed of wickerwork covered with
hides, fragile crafts which could hardly hope to live through the rough
waters of the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic on a voyage from Spain, or
through the Mediterranean and the Atlantic on a voyage from Greece.

On the other hand, if we assume that our ancestors passed over from
Gaul into Britain and thence into Ireland, we shall find it fit in
with many other facts. To begin with, the voyage from Gaul to Britain
is one of only some two and twenty miles, and from Britain to Ireland,
at its narrowest point, is hardly twelve. The splendid physique,
too, of the Irish,[3] which is now alas! sadly degenerated through
depression, poverty, famine, and the rooting out of the best blood,
but which has struck during the course of history such numerous foreign
observers, seems certainly to connect the Irish by a family likeness
with the Gauls, as these have been described to us by the Romans, and
not with the Greeks or the swarthy, sun-burnt Iberians. Tacitus also,
writing less than a century after Christ, tells us that the Irish in
disposition, temper, and habits, differ but little from the Britons,
and we find in Britain, North Gaul, and Germany, tribes of the same
nomenclature as several of those Irish tribes whose names are recorded
by Ptolemy about the year 150.[4]

On the one hand, then, we have the ancient universal Irish traditions,
backed up by all the authority of the bards, the annalists and the
shanachies, that the Milesians--who are the ancestors of most of the
present Irish--came to Ireland direct from Spain; and, on the other
hand, we have these rationalistic grounds for believing that Ireland
was more probably peopled from Gaul and Britain. The question cannot
here be carried further, except to remark that in an age ignorant of
geography the term Spain may have been used very loosely, and may
rather have implied some land oversea, rather than any particular

If Ireland were not--thanks to her native annalists, her autochtonous
traditions and her bardic histories--to a great extent independent
of classical and foreign authors, she would have fared badly indeed,
so far as history goes, lying as she does in so remote a corner of
the world, and having been untrodden by the foot of recording Greek
or masterful Roman. There are, however, some few allusions to the
island to be found, of which, perhaps, the earliest is the quotation
in Avienus, who writing about the year 380 mentions the account of
the voyage of Himilco, a Phœnician,[6] to Ireland about the year 510
B.C., who said in his account that Erin was called "Sacra"[7] by the
ancients, that its people navigated the vast sea in hide-covered
barks, and that its land was populous and fertile. In the Argonautics
of the pseudo-Orpheus, which may have been written about 500 B.C.,
the Iernian[8]--that is apparently the Irish--Isle is mentioned.
Aristotle knew about it too. Ierne, he says, is a very large island
beyond the Celts. Strabo, writing soon after the birth of Christ,
describes its position and shape, also calling it Ierne, but according
to his account--which he acknowledges, however, that he does not make
on good authority--it is barely habitable and its people are the
most utter savages and cannibals.[9] Hibernia, says Julius Cæsar, is
esteemed half the size of Britain and is as distant from it as Gaul
is. Diodorus, some fifty years before Christ, calls it Iris, and says
it was occupied by Britons.[10] Pomponius Mela, in the first century
of our era, calls Ireland Iverna, and says that "so great was the
luxuriance of grass there as to cause the cattle to burst"! Tacitus a
little later, about the year 82, telling us how Agricola crossed the
Clyde and posted troops in that part of the country which looked toward
Ireland, says that Hibernia "in soil and climate, in the disposition,
temper, and habits of its people, differed but little from Britain, and
that its approaches and harbours were better known through traffic and

Ptolemy, writing about the year 150, unconsciously bears out to some
extent what Tacitus had said of Ireland's harbours being better known
than those of Britain, for he has left behind him a more accurate
account of Ireland than of Britain, giving in all over fifty Irish
names, about nine of which have been identified, and mentioning the
names of two coast towns, seven inland towns, and seventeen tribes,
some of which, as we have said, nearly resemble the names of tribes in
Britain and North Gaul. Solinus, about A.D. 238, is the first to tell
us that Hibernia has no snakes--observe this curious pre-Patrician
evidence which robs our national saint of one of his laurels--saying,
like Pomponius Mela, that it has luxurious pastures, and adding the
curious intelligence that, "warlike beyond the rest of her sex, the
Hibernian mother places the first morsel of food in her child's mouth
with the point of the sword." Eumenius mentions the Hibernians about
the year 306 in his panegyric on Constantine, saying that until now
the Britons had been accustomed to fight only Pictish and Hibernian
enemies. In 378 Ammianus Marcellinus mentions the Irish under the name
of Scots, saying that the Scotti and Attacotti[12] commit dreadful
depredations in Britain, and Claudian a few years later speaks rather
hyperbolically of the Irish invasion of Britain; "the Scot (_i.e._, the
Irishman)," he says, "moved all Ierne against us, and the Ocean foamed
under his hostile oars--a Roman legion curbs the fierce Scot, through
Stilicho's care I feared not the darts of the Scots--Icy Erin wails
over the heaps of her Scots."[13] The Irish expeditions against both
Gaul and Britain became more frequent towards the end of the fourth
century, and at last the unfortunate Britons, driven to despair, and
having in vain appealed to the now disorganised Romans to aid them,
sooner than stand the fury of the Irish and Picts threw themselves into
the arms of the Saxons.[14]

It is towards the middle or close of the fourth century that we come
into much closer historical contact with the Irish, and indeed we know
with some certainty a good deal about their internal history, manners,
laws, language, and institutions from that time to the present. Of
course if we can trust Irish sources we know a great deal about them
for even seven or eight hundred years before this. The early Irish
annalist, Tighearnach,[15] who died in 1088, and who had of course
the records of the earliest Irish writers--so far as they had escaped
extinction by the Danes--before his eyes when he wrote, and who quotes
frequently and judiciously from Josephus, St. Jerome, Bede, and other
authors, was of opinion, after weighing evidence and comparing Irish
with foreign writers, that the _monumenta Scotorum_, or records of
the Irish prior to Cimbaeth (_i.e._, about 300 B.C.) were uncertain.
This means that from that time forwards he at least considered that
the substance of Irish history as handed down to us might, to say the
least of it, be more or less relied upon. Cimbaeth was the founder of
Emania, the capital of Ulster, the home of the Red Branch knights,
which flourished for 600 years and which figures so conspicuously in
the saga-cycle of Cuchulain.

What then--for we pass over for the present the colonies of Partholan,
the Tuatha De Danann, and the Nemedians, leaving them to be dealt with
among the myths--have our native bards and annalists to say of these
six or seven centuries? As several of the best and greatest of Irish
sagas deal with events within this period, we can--if bardic accounts,
probably first committed to writing about the sixth or seventh century
may at all be trusted--to some extent recall its leading features, or
reconstruct them.

[1] Milesius is the ordinary Latinised form of the Irish Miledh; the
real name of Milesius was Golamh, but he was surnamed Miledh Easpáin,
or the Champion of Spain. He himself never landed in Ireland.

[2] 1016 according to O'Flaherty, in the eighth century B.C. according
to Charles O'Conor of Belanagare, but as far back as 1700 B.C.
according to the chronology of the "Four Masters." Nennius, the Briton
who wrote in the time of Charlemagne, gives two different accounts
of the landing of the Irish, one evidently representing the British
tradition, and the other that of the Irish themselves, of which he says
_sic mihi peritissimi Scotorum nunciaverunt_. Both these accounts make
the Irish come from Spain, the first being that three sons of a certain
Miles of Spain landed in Ireland from Spain at the third attempt.
According to what the Irish told him they reached Ireland from Spain
1,002 years after flying from Egypt.

[3] Even Giraldus Cambrensis, that most bigoted of anti-Irishmen,
could nevertheless write thus of the natives in the twelfth century.
"In Ireland man retains all his majesty. Nature alone has moulded the
Irish, and as if to show what she can do has given them countenances
of exquisite colour, and bodies of great beauty, symmetry, and
strength." This testimony agrees with what Cæsar says of the Celts of
Gaul, whose large persons he compares with the short stature of the
Romans, and admires their _mirifica corpora_. Strabo says of a Celtic
tribe, the Coritavi, "to show how tall they are, I myself saw some of
their young men at Rome, and they were taller by six inches than any
one else in the city." The Belgic Gauls are uniformly described as
tall, large-limbed, and fair, and Silius Italicus speaks of the huge
limbs and golden locks of the Boii who gave their name to Bavaria
(Boio-varia) and to Bohemia (Boio-haims). They were probably the
ruling race in Gaul, but the type is now very rarely seen there, the
aristocratic Celts having been largely wiped out by war, as in Ireland,
and having when shorn of their power become amalgamated with the
Ligurians and other pre-Celtic peoples.

[4] As the Brigantes, Menapii, and Cauci.

[5] Buchanan the Scotchman (1506-81), having urged some of these
objections against the Irish tradition, is thus fairly answered by
Keating, writing in Irish, about half a century after Buchanan's death:
"The first of these reasons," says Keating (to prove that the Irish
came from Gaul), "he deduces from the fact that Gaul was formerly so
populous that the part of it called Gallia Lugdunensis would of itself
furnish 300,000 fighting men, and that it was therefore likely that it
had sent forth some such hordes to occupy Ireland, as were the tribes
of the Gauls. My answer to that is that the author himself knew nothing
of the specific time at which the Sons of Miledh arrived in Ireland,
and that he was consequently perfectly ignorant as to whether France
was populous or waste at that epoch. And even though the country were
as populous as he states, when the Sons of Miledh came to Ireland, it
does not follow that we must necessarily understand that _it_ was the
country whence they emigrated; for why should it be supposed to be more
populous at that time than Spain, the country they really did come

[6] Aristotle, too, mentions the discovery by the Phoenicians, of an
island supposed to be Ireland, rich in forest and river and fruit,
which, however, this account would make out to have been uninhabited:
ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ τῇ ἔξω ῾Ηρακλείων στηλῶν φάσὶν ὑπό Καρχηδονίων νῆσον
εὑρεθῆναι ἐρήμην, ἔχουσαν ὕλην τε παντοδαπῇ καὶ ποταμὸυς πλωτὸυσ, καὶ
τοῖς λοιποῖς καρποῖς θαυμαστὴν, ἀπέχουσαν δὲ πλειόνων ἡμερῶν, etc.
Ireland was splendidly wooded until after the Cromwellian wars, and
not unfrequently we meet allusions in the old literature to the first
clearances in different districts, associated with the names of those
who cleared them.

[7] Sacra is apparently a translation of ῾Ιερα = Eiriu, old form of
Eire now called Erin, which last is really an oblique case.

[8] νήσοισιν ᾿Ιερνἰσιν, and νήσον ᾿Ιερνἰδα. The names by which Ireland
and its inhabitants were known to the writers of antiquity are very
various, as ᾿Ιουέρνια, ᾿Ιουέρνοι, Juverna, Juberna, Iverna, Hibernia,
Hibernici, Hibernienses, Jouvernia, Οὐερνία, ᾿Ιουρνία and even Vernia
and Βερνια. St. Patrick in his confessions calls the land Hyberione
and speaks of Hibernæ Gentes and "filii Scotorum." There can be little
doubt that Aristotle's ᾿Ιέρνη, the νῆσον ᾿Ιερνίδα of the Argonautics
and Diodorus' ῎Ιρις represent the same country. Here are Keating's
remarks on it: "An t-aonmhadh hainm déag Juvernia do réir Ptolomeus, no
Juverna do réir Sholinuis, no Ierna do réir Claudianus, no Vernia do
réir Eustatius; measaim nach bhfuil do cheill san deifir atá idir na
h-ughdaraibh sin do leith an fhocail-se Hibernia, acht nár thuigeadar
créad ó ttáinig an focal féin 7 dá réir sin go ttug gach aon fo leith
amus uaidh féin air, agus is de sin tháinig an mhalairt úd ar an
bhfocal." (_See_ Haliday's "Keating," p. 119.)

[9] ᾿Ιέρνη περὶ ἧς οὐδὲν λέγειν σαφὲς, except that the inhabitants are
ἀνθρωποφάγοι and πολυφάγοι! Τούς τε πατέρας τελευτἧσαντας κατεσθίειν ἐν
καλᾡ τιθέμενοι. He adds, however, ταῦτα δ᾿ὁύτω λέγομεν ὡς οὐκ ἔχοντες
ἀξιοπίστους μάρτυρας (Book IV., ch. v.). In another passage he shows
how utterly misinformed he must have been by saying that Ἰερνη was
ἀθλίως δέ διὰ ψύχος ὀικουμένην ὥστε τὰ ἐπέκεινα νομίζειν ἀοίκητα (II.
5). Elsewhere he calls the inhabitants ἀγριώτεροι τῶν Βρετανῶν.

[10] τῶν Βρεττανῶν, τοὺς κατοικοῦντας την ὀνομαζομένην Ἴριν.

[11] "Solum cœlumque et ingenia cultusque hominum haud multum a
Britannia differunt; in melius aditus portusque per commercia et
negociatores cogniti." This employment of _in_ before _melius_ is
curious, and the passage, which Diefenbach in his Celtica malignly
calls the "Lieblings-stelle der irischen Schriftsteller," is not
universally accepted as meaning that the harbours of Ireland were
better known than those of Great Britain; but when we consider the
antiquarian evidence for ancient Irish civilisation, and that in
artistic treatment, and fineness of manufacture Irish bronzes are fully
equal to those of Great Britain, and her gold objects infinitely more
numerous and every way superior, there seems no reason to doubt that
the text of Tacitus must be translated as above, and not subjected to
such forced interpretations as that the harbours and approaches of
Ireland were better known _than the land itself!_

[12] "Picti Saxonesque et Scotti et Attacotti Britannos aerumnis
vexavere continuis." These Attacotti appear to have been an Irish
tribe. There is a great deal of controversy as to who they were. St.
Jerome twice mentions them in connection with the Scots (_i.e._, the
Irish): _Scotorum et Atticotorum ritu_, they have their wives and
children in common, as Plato recommends in his Republic! (Migne's
edition, Book I., p. 735.) He says that he himself saw some of them
when he was young, "_Ipse adolescens in Gallia viderim Attacottos,
Scotorum_ (one would expect _Attacotorum_) _natio uxores proprias
non habet._" The name strongly resembles Cæsar's Aduatuci and
Diodorus's Ατουατικοὶ and certainly appears to be same as the Gaelic
Aitheach-Tuatha, so well known in Irish history, a name which O'Curry
translates by "rent-paying tribes," probably of non-Milesian origin.
These rose in the first century against their Milesian masters and
massacred them. If as Thierry thinks the east and centre of Gaul were
Gaelic speaking, they too may have had their Aitheach-Tuatha, which
may have been a general name for certain non-Celtic tribes reduced by
the Celts. According to the Itinerarium of Ricardus Corinensis quoted
by Diefenbach, Book III., there were Attacotti along the banks of
the Clyde: "_Clottæ ripas accolebant Attacotti, gens toti aliquando
Britanniæ formidanda._"

[13] "Scotorum cumulos flevit glacialis Ierne" ("glacialis," of course,
only when looked at from a southern point of view. Strabo, as we have
seen, said the island was scarcely habitable from cold).

   "--Totam quum Scotus Iernen
  Movit et infesto spumavit remige Tethys."

It is probably mere hyperbole of Claudian to say that the Roman chased
the Irish out to sea,

            "--nec falso nomine Pictos
  Edomuit, Scotumque vago mucrone secutus
  Fregit Hyperboreas velis audacibus undas."

[14] These appear in Britain in the middle of the fifth century, in 449
according to the Saxon Chronicle, which is probably _substantially_

[15] Pronounced "Teear-nach."



The allusions to Ireland and the Irish from the third century before
to the fourth century after Christ, are, as we have seen, both few
and scanty, and throw little or no light upon the internal affairs or
history of the island; for these we must go to native sources.

At the period when Emania was founded, that is, at the period when
according to the learned native annalist Tighearnach, the records
of the early Irish cease to be "uncertain," the throne of Ireland
was occupied by a High-king called Ugony[1] the Great, and a certain
body of saga, much of which is now lost, collected itself around
his personality, and attached itself to his two sons, Cobhthach
Caol-mBreagh and Leary[2] Lorc, and around Leary Lorc's grandson,
Lowry[3] the mariner. It was this Ugony who attempted to substitute a
new territorial division of Ireland in place of the five provinces into
which it had been divided by the early Milesians. He exacted an oath by
all the elements--the usual Pagan oath--from the men of Ireland that
they would never oppose his children or his race, and then he divided
the island into twenty-five parts, giving one to each of his children.
He succeeded in this manner in destroying the ancient division of
Ireland into provinces and in perpetuating his own, for several
generations, when Eochaidh Féidhleach[4] once more reverted to the
ancient system of the five provinces--Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, and
the two Munsters. This Eochaidh Féidhleach came to the throne about 140
years before Christ, according to the "Four Masters,"[5] and it was his
daughter who is the celebrated heroine Mève,[6] queen of Connacht, who
reigned at Rathcroghan in Connacht, and who undertook the great Táin Bo
or Cattle Raid into Ulster, that has been celebrated for nigh on 2,000
years in poem and annal among the children of the Gael; and her name
introduces us to Conor[7] mac Nessa, king of Ulster, to the palace of
Emania, to the Red Branch knights, to the tragedy of Déirdre and all
the vivid associations of the Cuchulain cycle.

It was thirty-three years before Christ, according to the "Four
Masters," that Conairé the Great, High-king of all Ireland, was slain,
and he is the central figure of the famous and very ancient saga of the
Bruidhean Da Derga.[8]

And now we come to the birth of Christ, which is thus recorded by the
"Four Masters": "The first year of the age of Christ and the eighth of
the reign of Crimhthan Niadhnair."[9] Crimhthan was no doubt one of the
marauding Scots who plundered Britain, for it is recorded of him that
"it was this Crimhthan who went on the famous expedition beyond the sea
from which he brought home several extraordinary and costly treasures,
among which were a gilt chariot and a golden chess-board, inlaid
with three hundred transparent gems, a tunic of various colours and
embroidered with gold, a shield embossed with pure silver," and many
other valuables. Curiously enough O'Clery's Book of Invasions contains
a poem of seventy-two lines ascribed to this king himself, in which he
describes these articles. He was fabled to have been accompanied on
this expedition by his "bain-leannán" or fairy sweetheart, one of an
interesting race of beings of whom frequent mention is made in Irish
legend and saga.

The next event of consequence after the birth of Christ is the
celebrated revolt led by Cairbré Cinn-cait, of the Athach-Tuatha,[10]
or unfree clans of Ireland, in other words the serfs or plebeians,
against the free clans or nobility, whom they all but exterminated,
three unborn children of noble line alone escaping.[11]

The people of Ireland were plagued--as though by heaven--with bad
seasons and lack of fruit during the usurper Cairbré's reign. As the
"Four Masters" graphically put it, "evil was the state of Ireland
during his reign, fruitless her corn, for there used to be but one
grain on the stalk; fishless her rivers; milkless her cattle; unplenty
her fruit, for there used to be but one acorn on the oak." The belief
that bad seasons were sent as a punishment of bad rulers was a very
ancient and universal one in Ireland, and continued until very lately.
The ode which the ollav or head-bard is said to have chanted in the
ears of each newly-inaugurated prince, took care to recall it to his
mind, and may be thus translated:--

  "Seven witnesses there be
    Of the broken faith of kings.
  First--to trample on the free,
    Next--to sully sacred things,
  Next--to strain the law divine,
    (This defeat in battle brings).
  Famine, slaughter, milkless kine,
    And disease on flying wings.
  These the seven-fold vivid lights
    That light the perjury of kings!"[12]

According to the Book of Conquests the people of Ireland, plagued by
famine and bad seasons, brought in, on the death of Cairbré, the old
reigning families again, making Fearadach king, and the "Athach-Tuatha
swore by the heaven and earth, sun, moon, and all the elements, that
they would be obedient to them and their descendants, as long as the
sea should surround Ireland." The land recovered its tranquillity with
the reign of Fearadach. "Good was Ireland during his time. The seasons
were right tranquil; the earth brought forth its fruit. Fishful its
river mouths; milkful the kine; heavy-headed the woods."

There was a second uprising of the Athach-Tuatha later on,[13] when
they massacred their masters on Moy Bolg. The lawful heir to the
throne was yet unborn at the time of this massacre and so escaped.
This was the celebrated Tuathal [Too-a-hal, now Toole], who ultimately
succeeded to the throne and became one of the most famous of all the
pre-Patrician kings. It was he who first established or cut out the
province of Meath. The name Meath had always existed as the appellation
of a small district near which the provinces of Ulster, Connacht,
Leinster, and the two Munsters joined. Tuathal cut off from each of the
four provinces the angles adjoining it, and out of these he constituted
a new province[14] to be thenceforth the special estate, demesne,
and inheritance of the High-kings of Ireland. He built, or rebuilt,
four palaces in the four quarters of the district he had thus annexed,
all of them celebrated in after times--of which more later on. It was
he also who, under evil auspices and in an evil hour, extorted from
Leinster the first Borumha,[15] or Boru tribute,--_nomen infaustum_--a
step which contributed so powerfully to mould upon lines of division
and misery the history of our unhappy country from that day until the
present, by estranging the province of Leinster, throwing it into the
arms of foreigners, and causing it to put itself into opposition to
the rest of Ireland. This unhappy tribute, of which we shall hear more
later on, was imposed during the reigns of forty kings.

Thirteen years after the death of Tuathal, Cáthaoir [Cauheer],
celebrated for his Will or Testament,[16] reigned; he was of pure
Leinster blood, and the men of that province have always felicitated
themselves upon having given at least this one great king to Ireland.
It is from him that the great Leinster families--the O'Tooles,
O'Byrnes, Mac Morroughs or Murphys, O'Conor Falys, O'Gormans, and
others--descend. He was slain, A.D. 123, by Conn of the Hundred

There are few kings during the three hundred years preceding and
following the birth of Christ more famous than this Conn, and there
is a very large body of saga collected round him and his rival Eoghan
[Owen], the king of Munster who succeeded in wresting half the
sovereignty from him. As the result of their conflicts that part of
Ireland which lies north of the Escir Riada,[18] or, roughly speaking,
that lies north of a line drawn from Dublin to Galway, has from that
day to this been known as Conn's Half, and that south of the same line
as Owen's Half. Owen was at last slain by him of the hundred battles at
the fight of Moy Léana.

Owen, as we have seen, was never King of Ireland, but he left behind
him a famous son, Oilioll[19] Olum, who was married to Sadhbh,[20] the
daughter of his rival and vanquisher, Conn of the Hundred Battles,
and it is to this stem that nearly all the ruling families of Munster
trace themselves. From his eldest son, Owen Mór, come the Mac Carthys,
O'Sullivans, O'Keefes, O'Callaghans, etc.; from his second son come
the Mac Namaras and Clancys; and from his third son, Cian,[21] come
the so-called tribes of the Cianachts, the O'Carrolls, O'Meaghers,
O'Haras, O'Garas, Caseys, the southern O'Conors, and others. There is a
considerable body of romance gathered around this Oilioll and his sons
and wife, chiefly connected with the kingship of Munster.

Conn's son, Art the Lonely--so-called because he survived after the
slaughter of his brothers--was slain by Mac Con, Sive's son by her
first husband, and the slayer ruled in his place, being the third king
of the line of the Ithians, of whom we shall read later on, who came to
the throne.

He, however, was himself killed at the instigation of Cormac, son of
Art, or Cormac mac Art, as he is usually designated. This Cormac is a
central figure of the large cycle of stories connected with Finn and
the Fenians. He was at last slain in the battle of Moy Mochruime. His
advice to a prince, addressed to his son Cairbré of the Liffey, will
be noticed later on, and, so far as it may be genuine, bears witness
to his reputed wisdom, "as do the many other praiseworthy institutes
named from him that are still to be found among the books of the Brehon
Laws."[22] This Cormac it was who built the first mill in Ireland,
and who made a banqueting-place of the great hall of Mi-Cuarta,[23]
at Tara, which was one hundred yards long, forty-five feet high, one
hundred feet broad, and which was entered by fourteen doors. The site
is still to be seen, but no vestige of the building, which, like all
early Irish structures, was of wood.

Cairbré of the Liffey succeeded his father Cormac, and it was he who
fought the battle of Gabhra (Gowra) with the Fenians, in which he
himself was slain, but in which he broke, and for ever, the power of
that unruly body of warriors.

About the year 331 the great Ulster city and palace of Emania, which
had been the home of Conor and the Red Branch knights, and the capital
of Ulster for six hundred years, was taken and burnt to the ground by
the Three Collas, who thus become the ancestors of a number of the
tribes of modern Ulster. From one of them descend the Mac Mahons, the
ruling family of Monaghan; the Maguires, barons of Fermanagh; and the
O'Hanlons, chiefs of Orior; while another was the ancestor of the
Mac Donalds of Antrim and the Isles, of the Mac Dugalds, and the Mac
Rories. The old nobility of Ulster, whose capital had been Emania, were
thrust aside into the north-east corner of Ulster, whence most of them
were expelled by the planters of James I.

We now come to Eochaidh [Yohee] Muigh-mheadhoin [Mwee-va-on] who was
father of the celebrated Niall of the Nine Hostages. From one of
his sons, Brian, come the Ui [Ee] Briain, that is, the collection
of families composed of the seed of Brian--the O'Conors, kings of
Connacht; the Mac Dermots, princes of Moylurg, afterwards of Coolavin;
the O'Rorkes, princes of Breffny; the O'Reillys, O'Flaherties, and Mac
Donaghs. From another son of his, Fiachrach, come the Ui Fiachrach, who
were for ages the rivals of the Ui Briain in contesting the sovereignty
of Connacht--the O'Shaughnesies were one of the principal families
representing this sept.[24]

Eochaidh Muigh-mheadhoin was succeeded in 366[25] by Crimhthan
[Crivhan], who was one of those militant Scots at whose hands the
unhappy Britons suffered so sorely. He "gained victories," say the
annals, "and extended his sway over Alba, Britain, and Gaul," which
probably means that he raided all three, and possibly made settlements
in South-west Britain. He was poisoned by his sister in the hope
that the sovereignty would fall to her favourite son Brian. In this,
however, she was disappointed, and it is a noticeable fact in Irish
history that none of the Ui Briain, or great Connacht families, ever
sat upon the throne of Ireland, with the exception of Turlough O'Conor,
third last king of Ireland, ancestor of the present O'Conor Don, and
Roderick O'Conor, the last of all the High-kings of the island.

Brian being set aside, Niall of the Nine Hostages ascended the throne
in 379. It was he who first assisted the Dál Riada clans to gain
supremacy over the Picts of Scotland. These Dál Riada were descended
from a grandson, on the mother's side, of Conn of the Hundred Battles.
There were two septs of these Dál Riada, one settled in Ulster and the
other in Alba [Scotland]. It was from the conquests[26] achieved by the
Scots [_i.e._ Milesians] of Ireland that Alba was called Lesser Scotia.
In course of ages the inconvenient distinction of the countries into
Lesser and Greater Scotia died away, but the name Scotia, or Scotland,
without any qualifying adjective, clung to the lesser country to the
frightful confusion of historians, while the greater remained known
to foreigners as Erin, or Hibernia.[27] This Niall was surnamed "of
the Nine Hostages," from his having extorted hostages from nine minor
kings. He mercilessly plundered Britain and Gaul. The Picts and Irish
Gaels combined had at one time penetrated as far as London and Kent,
when Theodosius drove them back.[28] It was probably against Niall
that Stilicho gained those successes so magniloquently eulogised by
Claudian, "when the Scot moved all Ierne against us and the sea foamed
under his hostile oars." Niall had eight sons, from whom the famous Ui
[Ee] Neill are all descended. One branch of these, the branch descended
from his son Owen, took the name of O'Neill in the eleventh century,
not from him of the Nine Hostages, but from King Niall of the Black
Knee, a less remote ancestor, of whom more later on. This was the great
family of the Tyrone O'Neills. So solidly did the posterity of Niall
establish itself, and upon so firm a basis was his power perpetuated,
that almost all the following kings of Ireland were descended from him,
besides multitudes of illustrious families, "nearly three hundred of
his descendants, eminent for their learning and the sanctity of their
lives," says O'Flaherty, "have been enrolled in the catalogue of the
saints."[29] He it was who, while plundering in Britain or Armorica,
led back amongst other captives the youth, then sixteen years old, who
was destined, under the title of the Holy Patrick, to revolutionise

St. Patrick's own "Confession" and his Epistle to Coroticus have come
down to us--the former preserved in the Book or Armagh, a manuscript
copied by a scribe named Ferdomnach in 807 (or 812 according to a
truer chronology), apparently from St. Patrick's own copy, for at
the end of the Confession the scribe adds this note: "Thus far the
volume which Patrick wrote with his own hand."[30] In this ancient
manuscript (itself only a copy of older ones so damaged as to be almost
illegible[31] to the scribe who copied them in 807, a little more than
three hundred years after St. Patrick's death), we find nearly a dozen
mentions of Niall of the Nine Hostages, of his son Laeghaire [Leary],
and several more who lived before St. Patrick's arrival, and so find
ourselves for the first time upon tolerably solid historical ground,
which from this out never deserts us. St. Columcille, the evangeliser
of the Picts and the founder of Iona, was the great-great-grandson of
this Niall, and the great-grandson of Conall Gulban, so celebrated even
to this day in Irish romance and history.[32]

Ascertainable authenticated Irish history, then, begins with Niall
and with Patrick, but in this chapter we have gone behind it to see
what may be learned from native sources--rather traditional than
historical--of Irish life and history, from the founding of Emania
three hundred years before Christ down to the coming of St. Patrick.
But for all the things which we have recounted we have no independent
external testimony, nor have we now any manuscripts remaining of which
we could say, "We have here documentary evidence fifteen or twenty
centuries old attesting the truth of these things." No; we are entirely
dependent for all that pre-Patrician history upon native evidence
alone, and that evidence has come down to us chiefly but not entirely
in manuscripts copied in the twelfth and in later centuries.

[1] In Irish, Iugoine.

[2] In Irish, Laoghaire.

[3] In Irish, Labhraidh Loingseach.

[4] Pronounced "Yo-hy Faylach."

[5] Less than 100 years before, according to Keating.

[6] In Irish, _Méadhbh_, pronounced Mève or Maev. In Connacht it is
often strangely pronounced "Mow," rhyming with "cow." This name dropped
out of use about 150 years ago, being Anglicised into Maud.

[7] In Irish, Concobar, or Conchubhair, a name of which the English
have made Conor, almost in accordance with the pronunciation.

[8] Pronounced "Breean Da Darga," _i.e._, the Mansion Da Derga.

[9] Pronounced "Crivhan" or "Criffan Neeanār." Keating assigns the
birth of Christ to the twelfth year of his reign.

[10] The Athach (otherwise Aitheach) Tuatha Dr. O'Conor translates
"giant-race," but it has probably no connection with the word
_[f]athach_, "a giant." O'Curry and most authorities translate it
"plebeian," or "rent-paying," and Keating expressly equates it with
_daor-chlanna_, or "unfree clans." These were probably largely if not
entirely composed of Firbolgs and other pre-Milesians or pre-Celtic
tribes. _See_ ch. XII, note 12.

[11] These were Fearadach, from whom sprang all the race of Conn of
the Hundred Battles, _i.e._, most of the royal houses in Ulster and
Connacht, Tibride Tireach, from whom the Dal Araide, the true Ulster
princes, Magennises, etc., spring, and Corb Olum, from whom the kings
of the Eoghanachts, that is, the royal families of Munster, come.
O'Mahony, however, points out that this massacre could not have been
anything like as universal as is here stated, for the ancestors of the
Leinster royal families, of the Dál Fiatach of Ulster, the race of
Conairé, that of the Ernaans of Munster, and several tribes throughout
Ireland of the races of the Irians, Conall Cearnach, and Feargus Mac
Róigh, were not involved in it.

[12] "Mos erat ut omni, qui in dignitatem elevatus fuerit,
philosopho-poeta Oden caneret," etc. (_See_ p. 10 of the "Institutio
Principis" in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society, 1808, for
O'Flanagan's Latin.) He does not give the original, nor have I ever met
it. Consonant with this is a verse from Tadhg Mac Dairé's noble ode to
Donogh O'Brien--

  "Teirce, daoirse, díth ana,
  Plágha, cogtha, conghala,
  Díombuaidh catha, gairbh-shíon, goid,
  Tre ain-bhfír flatha fásoid."

_I.e._, "Dearth, servitude, want of provisions, plagues, wars,
conflicts, defeat in battle, rough weather, rapine, through the falsity
of a prince they arise." I find a curious extension of this idea in
a passage in the "Annals of Loch Cé" under the year 1568, which is
recorded as "a cold stormy year of scarcity, and this is little wonder,
for it was in it Mac Diarmada (Dermot) died"!

[13] There is a rather suspicious parallelism between these two
risings, which would make it appear as though part at least of
the story had been reduplicated. First Cairbré Cinn-Cait, and the
Athach-Tuatha, in the year 10, slay the nobles of Ireland, but
Fearadach escapes in his mother's womb. His mother was daughter of the
King of Alba. After five years of famine Cairbré dies and Fearadach
comes back and reigns. Again, in the year 56, Fiachaidh, the legitimate
king, is slain by the provincial kings at the instigation of the
Athach-Tuatha, in the slaughter of Moy Bolg. His unborn son also
escapes in the womb of his mother. This mother is also daughter of the
King of Alba. Elim the usurper reigns, but God again takes vengeance,
and during the time that Elim was in the sovereignty Ireland was
"without corn, without milk, without fruit, without fish," etc. Again,
on the death of Elim the legitimate son comes to the throne, and the
seasons right themselves. Keating's account agrees with this except
that he misplaces Cairbré's reign. There probably were two uprisings of
the servile tribes against their Celtic masters, but some of the events
connected with the one may have been reduplicated by the annalists.
O'Donovan, in his fine edition of the "Four Masters," does not notice
this parallelism.

[14] This would appear to have left six provinces in Ireland, but the
distinction between the two Munsters became obsolete in time, though
about a century and a half later we find Cormac levying war on Munster
and demanding a double tribute from it as it was a double province! So
late as the fourteenth century O'Dugan, in his poem on the kings of the
line of Eber, refers to the _two_ provinces of Munster.

  "Dá thir is áille i n-Éírinn
  Dá chúige an Chláir léibhinn,
  Tír fhóid-sheang áird-mhin na ngleann
  Cóigeadh í d'Áird-righ Eireann"--

_i.e._, the two most beauteous lands in Ireland, the two provinces
of the delightful plain, the slender-sodded, high-smooth land of the
valleys, a province is she for the High-king of Ireland.

[15] There is a town in Clare called Bórúmha [_gen._ "Bóirbhe,"
according to O'Brien] from which it is said Brian Boru derived his
name. But the usual belief is that he derived it from having imposed
the _bóroimhe_ tribute again on Leinster. Bórúmha is pronounced
Bo-roo-a, hence the popular Boru[a] Boroimhe is pronounced Bo-rŭvă. It
is also said that the town of Borumha in Clare got its name from having
the Boroimhe tribute driven into it. The spelling Boroimhe [= Borŭvă]
instead of Borumha [Boru-a] has been a great crux to English speakers,
and I noticed the following skit, in a little Trinity College paper,
the other day--

   "Says the warrior Brian Boroimhe,
   I'm blest if I know what to doimhe----
            My favourite duck
            In the chimney is stuck,
   And the smoke will not go up the floimhe!"

[16] _See_ "The Book of Rights," p. 172.

[17] It was O'Beirne Crowe, I think, who first translated this name by
"Conn the Hundred-Fighter," "égal-à-cent-guerriers," as Jubainville has
it, a translation which, since him, every one seems to have adopted.
This translation makes the Irish adjective _céadcathach_ exactly
equivalent to the Greek ἑκατοντάμαχος, but it is certainly not correct,
for Keating says distinctly that Conn was called _céadcathach_, or of
the hundred battles, "from the hundreds of battles which he fought
against the pentarchs or provincial kings of Ireland," quoting a verse
from a bard by way of illustration.

[18] Pronounced "Eskkir Reeada."

[19] Pronounced "Ell-yull."

[20] Pronounced "Sive," but as _Méadhbh_ is curiously pronounced like
"Mow" in Connacht, so is _Sadhbh_ pronounced "sow," rhyming to "cow."
I heard a Galway woman in America, the mother of Miss Conway, of the
_Boston Pilot_ quote these lines, which she said she had often heard in
her youth--

  "_Sow, Mow_ [_i.e._, Sive and Mève], Sorcha, Síghle,
  Anmneacha cat agus madah na tíre."

_I.e._, "Sive, Mève, Sorcha and Sheela are the names of all the cats
and dogs in the country," and hence by implication unsuited for human
beings. This was part of the process of Anglicisation.

[21] Pronounced "Keean."

[22] Keating.

[23] _I.e._, the hall of "the circulation of mead."

[24] Also the O'Dowdas of Mayo, the O'Heynes, O'Clearys, and Kilkellies.

[25] In 360 according to Keating.

[26] One branch of the Dál Riada settled in Scotland in the third
century, and their kinsfolk from Ulster kept constantly crossing
over and assisting them in their struggles with the Picts. They were
recruited also by some other minor emigrations of Irish Picts and
Milesians. Their complete supremacy over the Picts was not obtained
till the beginning of the sixth century. It was about the year 502 that
Fergus the Great, leading a fresh and powerful army of the Dál Riada
into Scotland, first assumed for himself Royal authority which his
descendants retained for 783 years, down to the reign of Malcolm IV.,
slain in 1285. It was not, however, till about the year 844 that the
Picts, who were almost certainly a non-Aryan race, were finally subdued
by King Keneth Mac Alpin, who completely Gaelicised them.

[27] The name of Scotia was used for Ireland as late as the fifteenth
century upon the Continent, in one or two instances at least, and
"kommt noch am 15 Jahrhundert in einer Unkunde des Kaisers Sigismund
vor, und der Name Schottenklöster setzt das Andenken an diese
ursprüngliche Bezeichnung Irlands noch in mehreren Städten Deutschlands
(Regensburg, Wurtzburg, Cöln, &c), Belgien, Frankreich und der Schweiz
fort" (Rodenberg's "Insel der Heiligen." Berlin, 1860, vol. i. p. 321).

[28] Bede describes the bitter complaints of the unfortunate Britons.
"Repellunt," they said, "Barbari ad mare, repellit mare ad Barbaros.
Inter hæc duo genera funerum oriuntur, aut jugulamur aut mergimur."

[29] The Northern and Southern Ui Neill [_i.e._, the septs descended
from Niall] are so inextricably connected with all Irish history that
it may be as well to state here that four of his sons settled in
Meath, and that their descendants are called the Southern Ui Neill.
The so-called Four Tribes of Tara--O'Hart, O'Regan, O'Kelly of Bregia,
and O'Conolly--with many more subsepts, belong to them. The other
four sons are the ancestors of the Northern Ui Neill of Ulster, the
O'Neills, O'Donnells, and their numerous co-relatives. The Ui Neill
remained to the last the ablest and most powerful clan in Ireland,
only rivalled--if rivalled at all--by the O'Briens of Thomond, and
later by the Geraldines, who were of Italian lineage according to
most authorities. "Giraldini qui amplissimos et potentissimos habeunt
ditiones in Austro et Oriente, proxime quidem ex Britanniâ huc
venerunt, origine verò sunt Itali nempè vetustissimi et nobilissimi
Florentini sive Amerini" (Peter Lombard, "De Regno Hiberniæ." Louvain,
1632, p. 4).

[30] "Hucusque volumen quod Patricius manu conscripsit suá. Septima
decima martii die translatus est Patricius ad cœlos."

[31] See Father Hogan's preface to his admirable edition of St.
Patrick's life from the Book of Armagh edited by him for the
Bolandists, where he says of the MS. that though beautifully coloured
it is "tamen difficilis lectu, tum quod quaedam voces aut etiam paginæ
plus minus injuria temporum deletæ sunt, tum quod ipsum exemplar unde
exscriptus est jam videtur talem injuriam passum: quod indicant rursus
notæ subinde ad marginem appositæ, præsertim vero signum _h_ (vel
_in_ i.e. _incertum?_) et _Z_ (ζήτει) quæ dubitationem circa aliquot
vocum scriptionem prodere videntur." The words _incertus liber hic_,
"the book is not clear here," occur twice, and the zeta of inquiry
eight times. _See_ Dr. Reeves' paper, "Proceedings of the Royal Irish
Academy." August, 1891.

[32] Heaven itself was believed to have reverenced this magnificent
genealogy, for in his life, in the Book of Lecan, we read how "each man
of the bishops used to grind a quern in turn, howbeit an angel from
heaven used to grind on behalf of Columcille. This was the honour which
the Lord used to render him because of the eminent nobleness of his
race"! _See_ Stokes' "Lives of the Saints, from the Book of Lecan," p.



It must next be considered what amount of reliance can be placed upon
the Irish annals and annalists, who have preserved to us our early
history. If, in those few cases where we happen to have some credible
external evidences of early events, we find our native annalists
notoriously at variance with such evidences, our faith in them must of
necessity be shaken. If, on the other hand, we find them to coincide
fairly well with these other accounts taken from foreign sources, we
shall be inclined to place all the more reliance on their accuracy when
they record events upon which no such sidelights can be thrown.

Now, from the nature of the case, it is exceedingly difficult,
considering how isolated Ireland was while evolving her own
civilisation, and considering how little in early ages her internal
affairs clashed with those of Europe, to find any specific events of
which we have early external evidence. We can, for instance, apart
from our own annals and poems, procure no corroborative evidence of
the division of Ireland between Conn and Owen, of the destruction of
Emania by the Three Collas, or of the battle of Gabhra. But despite the
silence upon Irish affairs of ancient foreign writers, we have luckily
another class of proof of the highest possible value, brought to light
by the discoveries of modern science, and powerfully strengthening
the credibility of our annals. This is nothing less than the record
of natural phenomena. If we find, on calculating backwards, as modern
science has enabled us to do, that such events as the appearance of
comets or the occurrence of eclipses are recorded to the day and hour
by the annalists, we can know with something like certainty that these
phenomena _were recorded at the time of their appearance by writers
who observed them_, whose writings must have been actually consulted
and seen by those later annalists, whose books we now possess. Nobody
could think of saying of natural phenomena thus accurately recorded,
as they might of mere historical narratives, that they were handed
down by tradition only, and reduced to writing for the first time many
centuries later. Now it so happens that the Annals of Ulster, annals
which treat of Ireland and Irish history from about the year 444,
but of which the written copy dates only from the fifteenth century,
contain from the year 496 to 884, as many as 18 records of eclipses
and comets which agree exactly even to the day and hour with the
calculations of modern astronomers. How impossible it is to keep such
records unless written memoranda are made of them by eye-witnesses,
is shown by the fact that Bede, born himself in 675, in recording the
great solar eclipse which took place only eleven years before his own
birth is yet two days astray in his date; while, on the other hand, the
Ulster annals give not only the correct day but the correct hour--thus
showing that Cathal Maguire, their compiler, had access either to the
original or to a copy of the original account of an eye-witness.[1]

Again, we occasionally find the early records of the two great
branches of the Celtic race, the Gaelic and the Cymric, throwing a
mutual light upon each other. There exists, for instance, an ancient
Irish saga, of which several versions have come down to us, a saga
well known in Irish literature under the title of the Expulsion of
the Dési,[2] which, according to Zimmer--than whom there can be no
better authority--was, judging from its linguistic forms, committed
to writing in the eighth century. The Dési were a tribe settled in
Bregia, in Meath, and the Annals[3] tell us that the great Cormac mac
Art defeated them in seven battles, forcing them to emigrate and seek
new homes. This composition describes their wanderings in detail. Some
of the tribe we are told migrated to Munster, whilst another portion
crossed the Irish Sea and settled down in that part of South Wales
called Dyfed, under the leadership of one Eochaidh [Yohy], thence
called "from-over-sea." There Eochaidh with his sons and grand-children
lived and died, and propagated themselves to the time of the writer,
who states that they were then--at the time he wrote--ruled over by one
Teudor mac Regin, king of Dyfed, who was then alive, and whose pedigree
is traced in fourteen generations up to the father of that Eochaidh who
had led them over in Cormac mac Art's time. Taking a generation as 33
years, and starting with the year 270, about the time of the expulsion
of the Dési, we find that Teudor Mac Regin should have reigned about
the year 730, and the Irish saga must have been written at this time,
which agrees with Zimmer's reckoning, although his computation is based
on purely linguistic grounds. That school of interpreters who decry
all ancient Irish history as a mixture of mythology and fiction, and
who can see in Cormac mac Art only a sun-god, would probably ascribe
the expulsion of the Dési and other records of a similar nature to
the creative imagination of the later Irish, who, they hold, invented
their genealogies as they did their history. But in this case it
happens by the merest accident that we _have_ collateral evidence of
these events, for in a Welsh pedigree of Ellen, mother of Owen, son
of Howel Dda, preserved in a manuscript of the eleventh century, this
same Teudor is mentioned, and his genealogy traced back by the Welsh
scribe; the names of eleven of his ancestors, corresponding--except for
inconsiderable orthographical differences--with those preserved in the
ancient Irish text.

 "When we consider," says Dr. Kuno Meyer, "that these Welsh names
 passed through the hands of who knows how many Irish scribes, one must
 marvel that they have preserved their forms so well;" and he adds, "in
 the light of this evidence alone, I have no hesitation in saying that
 the settlement of an Irish tribe in Dyfed during the latter half of
 the third century must be considered a well-authenticated fact."[4]

Dr. Reeves cites another remarkable case of undesigned coincidence
which strongly testifies to the accuracy of the Irish annalists. In
the Antiphonary of Bangor, an ancient service book still preserved on
the Continent, we find the names of fifteen abbots of the celebrated
monastery of Bangor--at which the heresiarch Pelagius was probably
educated--and these fifteen abbots are recorded by the same names and
in the same order as in the Annals; "and this undesigned coincidence,"
says Reeves, "is the more interesting because the testimonies are
perfectly independent, the one being afforded by Irish records which
never left the kingdom, and the other by a Latin composition which has
been a thousand years absent from the country where it was written."

Another incidental proof of the accuracy of early Irish literary
records is afforded by the fact that on the few occasions where the
Saxon Bede, when making mention of some Scot, _i.e._, Irishman, gives
also the name of his father, this name coincides with that given by the

We may, then, take it, without any credulity on our part, that Irish
history as drawn from native sources may be very well relied upon
from about the middle of the fourth century. Beyond that date, going
backwards, we have no means at our disposal for checking its accuracy
or inaccuracy, no means of determining the truth of such events as
the struggle between Conn and Owen, between the Fenian bands and the
High-king, between Ulster under Conor and Connacht under Mève, no
means of determining the actual existence of Conairé the Great, or of
Cuchulain, or of the heroes of the Red Branch, or of Finn mac Cúmhail
[Cool] and his son Ossian and his grandson Oscar. Is there any solid
ground for treating these things as objective history?

It has been urged that it is unphilosophic of us and was unphilosophic
of the annalist Tighearnach to fix the reign of Cimbaeth[5] [Kimbæ],
who built Emania, the capital of Ulster, some three hundred years
before Christ, as a terminus from which we may begin to place some
confidence in Irish accounts, seeing that the Annals carry back the
list of Irish kings with apparently equal certainty for centuries past
him, and back even to the coming of the Milesians, which took place
at the lowest computation some six or seven hundred years before. All
that can be said in answer to this, is to point out that there must
have been hundreds of documents existing at the time when Tighearnach
wrote, "the countless hosts of the illuminated books of the men of
Erin," as his contemporary Angus called them--records of the past which
he was able to examine and consult, but which we are not. Tighearnach
was a professed annalist, "a modern but cautious chronicler,"[6] and
for his age a very well-instructed man, and it seems evident that he
would not have placed the founding of Emania as a terminus _a quo_ if
he had not inferred rightly or wrongly that native accounts could be
fairly trusted from that forward. It certainly creates some feeling
of confidence to find him pushing aside as uncertain and unproven the
arid roll of kings so confidently carried back for hundreds of years
before his starting-point. The historic sense was well developed in
Tighearnach, and he no doubt discredited these far-reaching claims
either because he could not find sufficiently early documentary
evidence to corroborate them, or more likely because such accounts as
he had access to, began to contradict one another and were unable to
stand any scrutiny from this time backwards. With him it was probably
largely a question of documents. But this brings us at once to the
question, when did the Irish learn the use of letters and begin to
write, to which we shall turn our attention in a future chapter.

[1] Nor is this mere conjecture; it is fully borne out by the annals
themselves, which actually give us their sources of information. Thus
under the year 439, we read that "Chronicon magnum (_i.e._, The Senchas
Mór) scriptum est"; at 467 and 468, the compiler quotes "Sic in Libro
Cuanach inveni"; at 482, "Ut Cuana scripsit"; in 507, "Secundum librum
Mochod"; in 628, "Sicut in libro Dubhdaleithe narratur," &c.

[2] "Indarba inna nDési."

[3] _See_ "Four Masters," A.D. 265.

[4] See Kuno Meyer's paper on the "Early Relations between the Gael and
Brython," read before the Hon. Society of Cymmrodorion, May 28, 1896.

[5] To start with Cimbaeth as Tighearnach does "is just as uncritical
as to take the whole tale of kings from the very beginning," says Dr.
Atkinson, in his preface to the Contents of the facsimile Book of
Leinster; and he adds, "if the kings who are supposed to have lived
about fifteen centuries before Christ are mere figments, which is
tolerably certain, there is little more reason for believing in the
kings who reigned after Christ prior to the introduction of writing
with Christianity (_sic_) into the island,"--an unconvincing _sorites!_
One hundred and thirty-six pagan and six Christian kings in all reigned
at Tara according to the fictions of the Bards.

[6] Dr. Whitley Stokes' "Tripartite Life of St. Patrick," vol. i.
p. cxxix. "That Tighearnach had access to some library or libraries
furnished with books of every description is manifest from his numerous
references; and the correctness of his citations from foreign authors,
with whose works we are acquainted may be taken as a surety for the
genuineness of his extracts from the writings of our own native authors
now lost." For the non-Irish portions of his annals Tighearnach used,
as Stokes has shown, St. Jerome's "Interpretatio Chronicæ Eusebii
Pamphili," the seven books of the history of Paulus Orosius, "The
Chronicon, or Account of the Six Ages of the World," in Bede's Works,
"The Vulgate," "The Etymologarium," "Libri XX of Isodorus Hispalensis,"
Josephus' "Antiquities of the Jews," probably in a Latin translation,
and perhaps the lost Chronicon of Julius Africanus.



In investigating the very early history of Ireland we are met with a
mass of pseudo-historic narrative and myth, woven together into an
apparently homogeneous whole, and all now posing as real history. This
is backed up, and eked out, by a most elaborate system of genealogy
closely interwoven with it, which, together with a good share of the
topographical nomenclature of the island, is there to add its entire
influence to that of historian and annalist in apparently attesting the
truth of what these latter have recorded.

If in seeking for a path through this maze we grasp the skirt of the
genealogist and follow his steps for a clue, we shall find ourselves,
in tracing into the past the ancestry of any Milesian chief, invariably
landed at the foot of some one of four persons, three of them, Ir,
Eber, Eremon,[1] being sons of that Milesius who made the Milesian
conquest, and the fourth being Lughaidh [Lewy], son of Ith, who was a
nephew of the same. On one or other of these four does the genealogy of
every chief and prince abut, so that all end ultimately in Milesius.

Milesius' own genealogy and the wanderings of his ancestors are
also recounted for many generations before they land in Ireland,
but during this pre-Milesian period there are no side-genealogies,
the ancestors of Milesius himself alone are given, traced through
twenty-two apparently Gaelic names and thirteen Hebrew ones, passing
through Japhet and ending in Adam. It is only with the landing of the
three sons and the nephew of Milesius that the ramifications of Irish
genealogies begin, and they are backed up by the whole weight of the
Irish topographical system which is shot through and through with
places named after personages and events of the early Milesian period,
and of the period of the Tuatha De Danann.

It will be well to give here a brief _résumé_ of the accounts of the
Milesians' wanderings before they arrived in Ireland. Briefly then the
Gaels are traced back all the way to Fenius Farsa, a king of Scythia,
who is then easily traced up to Adam. But beginning with this Fenius
Farsa we find that he started a great school for learning languages.
His son was Niul, who also taught languages, and his son again was
Gaedhal, from whom the Gaels are so called. This Niul went into Egypt
and married Scota, daughter of Pharaoh. This is a post-Christian
invention, which is not satisfied without bringing Niul into contact
with Aaron, whom he befriended, in return for which Moses healed his
son Gaedhal from the bite of a serpent. Since then says an ancient

  "No serpent nor vile venomed thing
  Can live upon the Gaelic soil,
  No bard nor stranger since has found
  A cold repulse from a son of Gaedhal."

Gaedhal's son was Esru, whose son was Sru, and when the Egyptians
oppressed them he and his people emigrated to Crete. His son was Eber
Scot, from whom some say the Gaels were called Scots, but most of the
Irish antiquarians maintain that they are called Scots because they
once came from Scythia,[2] to which cradle of the race Eber Scot led
the nation back again. Expelled from Scythia a couple of generations
later the race plant themselves in the country of Gaethluighe, where
they were ruled over by one called Eber of the White Knee. The eighth
in descent from him emigrated with four ships to Spain. His son was
Breogan, who built Brigantia. His grandson was Golamh, called Miledh
Easpáin, _i.e._, Warrior of Spain,[3] whose name has been universally,
but badly, Latinised Milesius, and it was his three sons and his nephew
who landed in Ireland and who planted there the Milesian people.
Milesius himself never put foot in Ireland, but he seems in his own
person to have epitomised the wanderings of his race, for we find him
returning to Scythia, making his way thence into Egypt, marrying Scota,
a daughter of Pharaoh, and finally returning to Spain.

Much or all of this pre-Milesian account of the race must be
unhesitatingly set down to the influence of Christianity, and to the
invention of early Christian bards who felt a desire to trace their
kings back to Japhet.[4] The native unchristianised genealogies all
converge in the sons and nephew of Milesius. The legends of their
exploits and those of their successors are the real race-heritage of
the Gael, unmixed with the fanciful Christian allusions and Hebraic
adulterations of the pre-Milesian story, which was the last to be

The genuine and early combination of Irish myth and history centres not
on foreign but on Irish soil, in the accounts of the Nemedians, the
Firbolg, the Tuatha De Danann, and the early Milesians, accounts which
have been handed down to us in short stories and more lengthy sagas,
as well as in the bold brief chronicles of the annalists. No doubt the
stories of the landing of his race on Irish soil, and the exploits of
his first chieftains were familiar in the early days to every Gael.
They became, as it were, part and parcel of his own life and being, and
were preserved with something approaching a religious veneration. His
belief in them entered into his whole political and social system, the
holding of his tribe-lands was bound up with it, and a highly-paid and
influential class of bardic historians was subsidised with the express
purpose of propagating these traditions and maintaining them unaltered.

Everything around him recalled to the early Gael the traditional
history of his own past. The two hills of Slieve Luachra in Kerry he
called the paps of Dana,[5] and he knew that Dana was the mother of
the gods Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba, the story of whose sufferings,
at the hands of Lugh the Long-handed, has in later times so often
drawn tears from its auditors. When he beheld the mighty barrows piled
upon the banks of the Boyne,[6] he knew that it was over the Dagda--an
Irish Jupiter--and over his three sons[7] that they were heaped; and
one of these, Angus of the Boyne, was, down to the present century,
reverenced as the presiding genius of the spot. The mighty monuments of
Knock Áine in Limerick, and Knock Gréine, as well as those of Knowth,
Dowth, and New Grange, were all connected with his legendary past. It
was Lugh of the Tuatha De Danann, he knew, who had first established
the great fair of Tailltin,[8] to which he and his friends went from
year to year to meet each other, and contract alliances for their grown
children. The great funeral mound, round which the games were held, was
sacred to Talti, the foster-mother of Lugh, who had there been buried,
and in whose honour the games in which he participated were held upon
the day which he called--and still calls, though he has now forgotten
why--Lughnasa or Lugh's gathering.[9] His own country he called--and
still calls--by the various names of Eire, Fódhla [Fola], and Banba,
and they, as he knew, were three queens[10] of the Tuatha De Danann.
The Gael of Connacht knew that Moycullen, near Galway, was so named
from Uillin, a grandson of the Tuatha De Danann king Nuada; and Loch
Corrib from Orbsen, the other name of the sea-god Manannán, slain
there by this Uillin, and each of the provinces was studded with such

The early Milesian invaders left their names just as closely imprinted
upon our topography as did their predecessors the Tuatha De Danann.
The great plain of Bregia in Meath was so called from Brega, son of
that Breogan who built Brigantia. Slieve Cualann in Wicklow--now
hideously and absurdly called the Great Sugar Loaf!--is named from
Cuala, another son of Breogan; Slieve Bladhma, or Bloom, is called from
another son of the same; and from yet another is named the Plain of
Muirthemni, where was fought the great battle in which fell Cuchulain
"fortissimus heros Scotorum." The south of Munster is called Corca
Luighe from Lughaidh, son of Ith, nephew of Milesius. The harbour of
Drogheda was called Inver Colpa, from Colpa of the sword, another son
of Milesius, who was there drowned when trying to effect a landing.
The Carlingford Mountains were called Slieve Cualgni, and a well-known
mountain in Armagh Slieve Fuad, from two more sons of Breogan of
Brigantia, slain after the second battle with the Tuatha De Danann,
while they followed up the chase. The sandhills in the west of Munster,
where Donn, the eldest son of Milesius, was shipwrecked and lost his
life--as did his whole crew consisting as is said of twenty-four
warriors, five chiefs, twelve women, four servants, eight rowers, and
fifty youths-in-training--is called Donn's House. So vivid is this
tradition even still, that we find a Munster poet as late as the last
century addressing a poem to this Donn as the tutelary divinity of the
place, and asking him to take him into his sidh [shee] or fairy mound
and become his patron. This poem is remarkable, as showing that in
popular opinion the early Milesians shared the character of sub-gods,
fairies, or beings of supernatural power, in common with the Tuatha De
Danann themselves, for the poet treats him as still living and reigning
in state, as peer of Angus of the Boyne, and cousin of Cliona, queen
of the Munster fairies.[11] Wherever he turned the Gael was thus
confronted with scenes from his own past, or with customs--like the
August games at Tailltin--deliberately established to perpetuate them.

In process of time, partly perhaps through the rationalising influences
of a growing civilisation, but chiefly through the direct action of
Christianity, with which he came into active contact in perhaps the
fourth, or certainly in the fifth century, the remembrance of the old
Gaelic theogony, and the old Gaelic deities and his religious belief
in them became blunted, and although no small quantity of matter that
is purely pagan, and an immense amount of matter, but slightly tinged
with Christianity, has been handed down to us, yet gods, heroes, and
men have been so far brought to a common level, that it is next to
impossible at first sight to disentangle them or to say which is which.

Very probably there was, even before the introduction of Christianity,
no sharply-defined line of demarcation drawn between gods and heroes,
that, in the words of Pindar, ἓν ἀνδρῶν ἓν θεῶν γένος, "one was the
race of gods and men," and when in after times the early mythical
history of Ireland came to be committed to parchment, its historians
saw in the Irish pantheon nothing but a collection of human beings. It
is thus, no doubt, that we find the Fomorians and the Tuatha De Danann
posing as real people, whilst in reality it is more than likely that
they figured in the scheme of Gaelic mythology as races of beneficent
gods and of evil deities, or at least as races of superhuman power.

The early Irish writers who redacted the mythical history of the
country were no doubt imbued with the spirit of the so-called Greek
"logographers," who, when collecting the Grecian myths from the poets,
desired, while not eliminating the miraculous, yet to smooth away all
startling discrepancies and present them in a readable and, as it were,
a historical series.[12] Others no doubt wished to rationalise the
early myths so far as they conveniently could, as even Herodotus shows
an inclination to do with regard to the Greek marvels; and the later
annalists and poets of the Irish went as far as ever went Euhemerus,
reducing gods and heroes alike to the level of common men.

We find Keating, who composed in Irish his Forus Feasa or History, in
the first half of the seventeenth century, and who only re-writes or
abbreviates what he found before him in the ancient books of the Gaels
now lost, distracted between his desire to euhemerise--in other words,
to make mere men of the gods and heroes--and his unflinching fidelity
to his ancient texts. Thus he professes to give the names of "the most
famous and _noble persons_ of the Tuatha De Danann," and amongst them
he mentions "the six sons of Delbaeth, son of Ogma, namely, Fiacadh,
Ollamh, Indaei, _Brian, Iuchar,_ and _Iucharba_,"[13] but in another
place he quotes this verse from some of his ancient sources--

  "Brian Iucharba and the great Iuchar,
  The _three gods_ of the sacred race of Dana,
  Fell at Mana on the resistless sea
  By the hand of Lughaidh, son of Ethlenn."

These whom the ancient verse distinctly designates as gods, Keating
makes merely "noble persons," but at the very same time in treating of
the De Danann he interpolates amongst his list of their notable men and
women this curious sentence:[14] "The following are the names of three
of their goddesses, viz., Badhbh [Bive], Macha, and Morighan."[15]

There are many allusions to the old Irish pantheon in Cormac's
Glossary, which is a compilation of the ninth or tenth century
explanatory of expressions which had even at that early date become
obscure or obsolete, and many of these are evidently of pagan origin.
Cormac describes Ana as _mater deorum hibernensium_, the mother of the
Irish gods, and he adds, "Well used she to nourish the gods, it is from
her name is said 'anæ,' _i.e._, abundance, and from her name is called
the two paps of Ana." Buanann, says Cormac, was the "nurse of heroes,"
as "Anu was mother of the gods, so Buanann was mother of the 'Fiann.'"
Etán was nurse of the poets. Brigit, of which we have now made a kind
of national Christian name, was in pagan times a female poet, daughter
of the Dagda. Her divinity is evident from what Cormac says of her,
namely, that "she was a goddess whom poets worshipped, for very great
and very noble was her superintendence, therefore call they her goddess
of poets by this name, whose sisters were Brigit, woman of smith-work,
and Brigit, woman of healing, namely, goddesses--from whose names
Brigit[16] was with all Irishmen called a goddess," _i.e._, the terms
"Brigit" and "goddess" were synonymous (?) The name itself he derives
fancifully from the words _breo-shaighit_, "fiery arrow," as though the
inspirations of a poet pierced like fiery arrows. Diancécht Cormac
calls "the sage of the leech-craft of Ireland," but in the next line
we read that he was so called because he was "Dia na cécht," _i.e._,
Deus salutis, or god of health. Zeuss quotes an incantation to this god
from a manuscript which is, he says, at least a thousand years old.
His daughter was Etán, an artificer, one of whose sayings is quoted
by Cormac. Néith was the god of battle among the Irish pagans, Nemon
was his wife. The euhemerising tendency comes out strongly in Cormac's
account of Manannán, a kind of Irish Proteus and Neptune combined, who
according to him was "a renowned trader who dwelt in the Isle of Man,
he was the best pilot in the West of Europe; through acquaintance with
the sky he knew the quarter in which would be fair weather and foul
weather, and when each of these two seasons would change. Hence the
Scots and Britons called him a god of the sea. Thence, too, they said
he was the sea's son--Mac Lir, _i.e._, son of the sea."

Another ancient Irish gloss[17] alludes to the mysterious Mór-rígan or
war-goddess, of whom we shall hear more later on; and to Machæ, another
war-goddess, "of whom is said Machæ's mast-feeding," meaning thereby,
"the heads of men that have been slaughtered."

From all that we have said it clearly appears that carefully as the
Christianised Irish strove to euhemerise their pantheon, they were
unable to succeed. If, as Keating acknowledges, Brian, Iuchar, and
Iucharba were gods, then _à fortiori_ much more so must have been the
more famous Lugh, who compassed their death, and the Dagda, and Angus
Óg. Keating himself, in giving us a list of the famous Tuatha De Danann
has probably given us also the names of a large number of primitive
Celtic deities--not that these were at all confined to the De Danann

It is remarkable that there is no mention of temples nor of churches
dedicated to these Irish gods, nor do we find any of those inscriptions
to them which are so common in Gaul, Belgium, Switzerland, and even
Britain, but they appear from passages in Cormac's Glossary[18] to have
had altars and images dedicated to them.

We are forced, then, to come to the conclusion that the pagan Irish
once possessed a large pantheon, probably as highly organised as
that of the Scandinavians, but owing to their earlier and completer
conversion to Christianity only traces of it now remain.

[1] In modern times spelt Eíbhear [Ævir] and Eireamhóin [Æra-vone].

[2] It is just as likely that, as the only name of any people known to
the early Irish antiquaries which bore some resemblance to their own
was Scythia, they said that the Scoti came from thence.

[3] "The race of the warrior of Spain" continued until recent times
to be a favourite bardic synonym for the Milesians. There is a noble
war ode by one of the O'Dalys which I found preserved in the so-called
"Book of the O'Byrnes," in Trinity College Library, in which he
celebrates a victory of the O'Byrnes of Wicklow over the English about
the year 1580 in these words:--

  "_Sgeul tásgmhar do ráinig fá chrióchaibh Fáil_
  _Dá táinig lán-tuile i nGaoidhiltigh (?) Chláir._
  _Do chloinn áird áithiosaigh Mhile Easpáin_
  _Toisg airmioch (?), ar lár an laoi ghil bháin._"

It is to be observed that of the four great Irish stocks the
descendants of Ith are often called the Clanna Breógain.

[4] Nennius, in the time of Charlemagne, quotes the Annals of the
Scots, and the narrative of the _peritissimi Scotorum_ as his
authorities for deducing the Scots, _i.e._ Irish, from a family of
Scythia, who fled out of Egypt with the children of Israel, which shows
that the original narrative had assumed this Christian form in the
eighth century. In the Book of Invasions--the earliest MS. of which is
of the twelfth century--the Christian invention has made considerable
strides, and we start from Magog, Japhet, and Noah, and from the Tower
of Babel pass into Egypt. Nel or Niul is called from the Plain of
Senaar to the Court of Pharaoh, and marries his daughter Scota, and
their son is named Gaedhal. They have their own exodus, and arrive in
Scythia after many adventures; thence into Spain, where Breogan built
the tower from whose top Ireland was seen. It would seem from this that
the later writer of the Book of Invasions enhanced the simpler account
which the Irish had given Nennius three or four centuries before.
Zimmer, however, thinks that Nennius quoted from a preceding Book of
Invasions now lost.

[5] Dá chích Danainne.

[6] Sidh an Bhrogha [Shee in Vrow-a].

[7] Aengus, Aedh, and Cermad.

[8] Now monstrously called Telltown by the Ordnance Survey people, as
though to make it as like an English word as possible, quite heedless
of the remonstrance of the great topographer O'Donavan, and of the fact
that they are demolishing a great national landmark.

[9] Or perhaps "Lugh's Memorial." Lúghnas is the 1st of August, and the
month has received its name in Irish from Lugh's gathering.

[10] The Irish translation of Nennius ascribed to Giolla Caoimhghin
[Gilla Keevin], who died in 1012, calls them goddesses, "_tri bandé
Folla Banba ocus Eire_."

[11] It is worth while to quote some of these hitherto unpublished
verses from a copy in my possession. The author, Andrew Mac Curtin,
a good scholar and poet of Munster, knew of course perfectly well
that Donn was a Milesian, yet he, embodying in his poem the popular
opinion on the subject, treats him as a god or superior being, calls
him brother or cousin of Áine and Aoife [Eefi] and "of the great son of
Lear [_i.e._ Manannán], who used to walk the smooth sea," and relates
him to Angus Óg, and Lugh the Long-handed, says that he witnessed the
tragedy of the sons of Usnach, the feats of Finn mac Cool, and the
battle of Clontarf, and treats him as still living and powerful. The
poem begins, _Beannughadh doimhin duit a Dhoinn na Dáibhche._ It goes
on to say--

  "Nach tu bráthair Áine as Aoife
  A's mic an Deaghadh do b' árd-fhlaith ar tíorthaibh,
  A's móir-mhic Lir do ritheadh an mhín-mhuir
  Dhoinn Chnuic-na-ndos agus Dhoinn Chnuic Fírinn'?
  Nach tu gan doirbhe do h-oileadh 'san ríogh-bhrogh
  Ag Aongus óg na Bóinne caoimhe,
  Do bhi tu ag Lugha ad' chongnamh i gcaoinsgir [cath]
  Ag claoidh Balair a dhanar 's a dhraoithe.
  Do bhi tu ag maidhm anaghaidh mic Mhiledh
  Ag teacht asteach thar neart na gaoithe:
  'S na dhiaigh sin i gciantaibh ag Naoise;
  Do bhi tu ag Conall 'san gcosgar do bh' aoirde
  Ag ceann de'n ghad de cheannaibh righteadh:
  Budh thaoiseach treasa i gcathaibh Chuinn thu."

The allusion in the last line but one is to the heads that Conall
Cearnach strung upon the gad or rod, to avenge the death of Cuchulain,
for which see later on.

Curtin finally asks Donn to let him into his fairy mansion, if not as a
poet to enliven his feasts, then at least as a horse-boy to groom his

  "Munar bhodhar thu o throm ghuth na taoide
  No mur bhfuarais bás mar chách a Dhoinn ghil," &c.

_I.e._, "unless thou hast grown deaf by the constant voice of the tide,
or unless, O bright Donn, thou hast died like everybody else!"

[12] Hellanikus, one of the best known of these, went so far as to give
the very year, and even the very day of the capture of Troy.

[13] Mac Firbis, in his great MS. book of genealogies, marks the
mythical character of these personages still more clearly, for in
his short chapter on the Tuatha De Danann he describes them as of
light yellow hair, etc. [_monga finbuidhe orra_], and gives the
names of their three Druids and their three distributors, who were
called Enough, Plenty, Filling [_Sáith, Leór, Línad_]; their three
gillies, three horses, three hounds, three musicians; Music Sweet and
Sweetstring [Ceól Bind Tetbind], and so on, all evidently allegorical.
_See_ facsimile of the Book of Leinster, p. 30, col. 4, l. 40, and p.
187, col. 3, l. 55, for the oldest form of this.

[14] The following is the whole quotation from O'Mahony's Keating
(for an account of this book see below, p. 556): "Here follows an
enumeration of the most famous and noble persons of the Tuatha Da
Danann, viz., Eochaidh the Ollamh called the Dagda, Ogma, Alloid, Bres,
and Delbaeth, the five sons of Elathan, son of Niad, and Manannán, son
of Alloid, son of Delbaeth. The six sons of Delbaeth, son of Ogma,
namely, Fiachadh, Ollamh, Indaei, Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba. Aengus
Aedh Kermad and Virdir, the four sons of the Dagda. Lughaidh, son of
Cian, son of Diancécht, sons of Esary, son of Niad, son of Indaei.
Gobnenn the smith, Credni the artist, Diancécht the physician, Luchtan
the mason, and Carbni the poet, son of Tura, son of Turell. Begneo,
son of Carbni, Catcenn, son of Tabarn, Fiachadh, son of Delbaeth, with
his son Ollamh, Caicer and Nechtan, the two sons of Namath. Eochaidh
the rough, son of Duach Dall. Sidomel, the son of Carbri Crom, son of
Elcmar, son of Delbaeth. Eri Fodhla and Banba, the three daughters
of Fiachadh, son of Delbaeth, son of Ogma, and Ernin, daughter of
Edarlamh, the mother of these women. The following are the names of
their three goddesses, viz., Badhbh, Macha, and Morighan. Béchoil and
Danaan were their two Ban-tuathachs, or chief ladies, Brighid was
their poetess. Fé and Men were the ladies or ban-tuathachs of their
two king-bards, and from them Magh Femen in Munster has its name. Of
them also was Triathri Torc, from whom Tretherni in Munster is called.
Cridinbhél, Brunni, and Casmael were their three satirists."

[15] O'Curry, who, like his great compeer O'Donovan, naturally took the
De Danann to be a real race of men, comically calls these goddesses
"three of the noble non-professional druidesses of the Tuatha De
Danann." ("M. and C.," vol. ii. p. 187). We have seen how the Irish
Nennius calls the three queens of the De Danann goddesses also.

[16] The "g" of Brigit was pronounced in Old Irish so that the word
rhymed to English _spiggit_. In later times the "g" became aspirated
and silent, the "t" turned into "d," and the word is now pronounced
"B'reed," and in English very often "Bride," which is an improvement on
the hideous Brid-get.

[17] H. 2, 16, col. 119. Quoted by Stokes, "Old Irish Glossaries," p.

[18] See the word "Hindelba" in the Glossary which is thus explained,
"_i.e._, the names of the altars or of those idols from the thing
which they used to make (?) on them, namely, the _delba_ or images of
everything which they used to worship or of the beings which they
used to adore, as, for instance, the form or figure of the sun on the
altar." Again, the word "Hidoss" is explained as coming from "the Greek
εἶδος which is found in Latin, from which the word _idolum_, namely,
the shapes or images [_arrachta_] of the idols [or elements] which the
Pagans used formerly to make."



The ramifications of early Irish literary history and its claims to
antiquity are so multiple, intricate, and inter-connected, that it is
difficult for any one who has not made a close study of it to form
a conception of the extent it covers and the various districts it
embraces. The early literature of Ireland is so bound up with the early
history, and the history so bound up and associated with tribal names,
memorial sites, patronymics, and topographical nomenclature, that
it presents a kind of heterogeneous whole, that which is recognised
history running into and resting upon suspected or often even evident
myth, while tribal patronymics and national genealogies abut upon both,
and the whole is propped and supported by legions of place-names still
there to testify, as it were, to the truth of all.

We have already glanced at some of the marks left by the mysterious De
Danann race upon our nomenclature. Mounds, raths, and tumuli, called
after them, dot all Ireland. It is the same with the early Milesians.
It is the same with the men of the great pseudo-historic cycle of
story-telling, that of Cuchulain and the Red Branch, not to speak of
minor cycles. There is never a camping-ground of Mève's army on their
march a century B.C. from Rathcroghan in Roscommon to the plain of
Mochruime in Louth, and never a skirmish fought by them that has not
given its name to some plain or camping-ground or ford. Passing from
the heroes of the Red Branch to the history of Finn mac Cool and the
Fenians, we find the same thing. Finn's seat, the Hill of the Fenians,
Diarmuid and Gráinne's bed, and many other names derived from them or
incidents connected with them, are equally widely scattered.

The question now arises, does the undoubted existence of these
place-names, many of them mentioned in the very oldest manuscripts
we have--these manuscripts being only copies of still more ancient
ones now lost--mentioned, too, in connection with the celebrated
events which are there said to have given them their names, do these
and the universally received genealogies of historic tribes which
trace themselves back to some ancestor who figured at the time when
these place-names were imposed, form credible witnesses to their
substantial truth? In other words, are such names as Creeveroe[1] (Red
Branch) given to the spot where the Red Branch heroes have been always
represented as residing; or Ardee (Ferdia's Ford) where Cuchulain
fought his great single fight with that champion--are these to be
accepted as collateral evidence of the Red Branch heroes of Ferdia and
of Cuchulain? Are See-finn (Finn's seat) or Rath Coole[2] (Cool's
rath) to be accepted as proving the existence of Finn and his father

In my opinion no stress, or very little, can be laid upon the argument
from topography, which weighed so heavily with Keating, O'Donovan, and
O'Curry, for if it is admitted at all it proves too much. If it proves
the objective existence of Finn and of Cuchulain, so does it that of
Dana, "the mother of the gods," and of divinities by the score. Besides
the Gaels brought their topographical nomenclature with them to Alba,
and places named from Finn and the Fenians, are nearly as plentiful
there as in Ireland. Wherever the early Gaels went they took with them
their heroic legends, and wherever they settled place-names relating
to their legends which were so much a part of their intellectual life,
grew up round them too. Something of the same kind may be seen in
Greece--a land which presents so many and so striking analogies to that
of the Gael; for wherever a Grecian colony settled, east or west, it
was full of memorials of the legendary past, and Jasonia, or temples of
Jason, and other memorials of the voyage of the Argonauts, are to be
found from Abdêra to Thrace, eastward along the coast of the Euxine and
in the heart of Armenia and Media, just as memorials of the flight of
Diarmuid and of Gráinne from before Finn mac Cool may be found wherever
the Gael are settled in Ireland, in Scotland, or the Isles.

Having come to the conclusion that Irish topography is useless
for proving the genuineness of past history, let us look at Irish
genealogy. When the Mac Carthys, descendants of Mac Carthy Mór, trace
themselves through Oilioll Olum, king of Ireland in the second century,
to Eber Finn, son of Milesius; when the O'Briens of Thomond trace
themselves to the same through Oilioll Olum's second son; when the
O'Carrolls of Ely trace themselves to the same through Cian, the third
son; when the O'Neills trace themselves back through Niall of the Nine
Hostages, and Conn of the Hundred Battles to Eremon, son of Milesius;
when the O'Driscolls trace themselves to Ith, who was uncle of
Milesius; when the Magennises trace themselves through Conall Cearnach,
the Red Branch hero, back to Ir, the son of Milesius; and when every
sept and name and family and clan in Ireland fit in, and even in our
oldest manuscripts have always fitted in, each in its own place, with
universally mutual acknowledgment and unanimity, each man carefully
counting his ancestors through their hundredfold ramifications, and
tracing them back first to him from whom they get their surname, and
next to him from whom they get their tribe name, and from thence to the
founder of their house, who in his turn grafts on to one of the great
stems (Eremonian, Eberian, Irian, or Ithian)[3]; and when not only
political friendships and alliances, but the very holding of tribal
lands, depended upon the strict registration and observance of these
things--we ask again do such facts throw any light upon the credibility
of early Irish history and early Irish records?

The whole intricate system of Irish genealogy, jealously preserved
from the very first, as all Irish literature goes to show,[4] played
so important a part in Irish national history and in Irish social
life, and is at the same time so intimately bound up with the people's
traditions and literature, and throws so much light upon the past, that
it will be well to try to get a grip of this curious and intricate
subject, so important for all who would attempt to arrive at any
knowledge of the life and feelings of the Irish and Scottish Gael, and
upon which so much formerly depended in the history and alliances of
both races.

All Milesian families trace themselves, as I have said, to one or other
of the three sons of Milesius, who were Eremon, Eber, and Ir, or to
his uncle Ith, who landed in Ireland at any time between 1700 and 800
years before Christ according to Irish computation.[5] But while they
all trace themselves back to this point, it is to be observed that long
before they reach it, in each of the four branches, some place in the
long row of ancestors is arrived at, some name occurs, in which all or
most of the various genealogies meet, and upon which all the branch
lines converge. Thus in the Eberian families it is found that they all
spring from the three sons of Oilioll [Ul-yul] Olum, who according to
all the annals lived in the second century--in this Oilioll all the
Eberian families converge.

Again all, or nearly all, the Irians trace themselves to either Conall
Cearnach or Fergus Mac Roy, the great Red Branch champions who lived in
the North shortly before the birth of Christ.

The tribes of the Ithians, the least numerous and least important of
the four, seem to meet in Mac Con, king of Ireland, who lived in the
second century, and who is the hero of the saga called the Battle of
Moy Mochruime, where Art, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, was slain.

In the line of Eremon only, the greatest of the four, do we find two
pedigrees which meet at points _considerably antecedent_ to the birth
of Christ, for the Dál Riada of Scotland join the same stem as the
O'Neills as much as 390 years before Christ, and the O'Cavanaghs at
a still more remote period, in the reign of Ugony Mór. But setting
aside these two families we find that all the other great reigning
houses, as the Mac Donnells of Antrim, Maguires of Fermanagh, O'Kellys
of Connacht, and others, either meet in the third century in Cairbré
of the Liffey, son of King Cormac mac Art, and grandson of Conn of
the Hundred Battles; or else like the O'Neills of Tyrone, O'Donnells
of Tirconnell, O'Dogherties of Inishowen, O'Conors of Connacht,
O'Flaherties of Galway, they meet in a still later progenitor--the
father of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

It will be best to examine here some typical Irish pedigree that we may
more readily understand the system in its simplest form, and see how
families branch from clans, and clans from stems. Let us take, then,
the first pedigree of those given at the end of the Forus Feasa, that
of Mac Carthy Mór, and study it as a type.

This pedigree begins with Donal, who was the first of the Mac Carthys
to be created Earl of Clancare, or Clancarthy, in 1565. Starting from
him the names of all his ancestors are traced back to Eber, son of
Milesius. Passing over his five immediate ancestors, we come to the
sixth. It was he who built the monastery of Irriallach on the Lake of
Killarney. The seventh ancestor was Donal, from whose brother Donagh
come the families of Ard Canachta and Croc Ornachta. The tenth was
Donal Roe, from whom come the Clan Donal Roe, and from whose brother,
Dermot of Tralee, come the family of Mac Finneens. The eleventh was
Cormac Finn, from whom come also the Mac Carthys of Duhallow and the
kings of Desmond; while from his brother Donal come the Mac Carthys
Riabhach, or Grey Mac Carthys. The thirteenth was Dermot of Kill
Baghani, from whom come the Clan Teig Roe na Sgarti. The fourteenth was
Cormac of Moy Tamhnaigh, from whose brother Teig come the Mac Auliffes
of Cork. The fifteenth was Muireadach, who was the first of the line
to assume the surname of Mac Carthy, which he did from his father
Carthach, from whom all the Síol Carthaigh [Sheeol Caurhy], or Seed of
Carthach, including the Mac Fineens, Mac Auliffes, etc., are descended.
The seventeenth was Saerbhrethach, from whose brother Murrough spring
the sept of the O'Callaghans. The nineteenth was Callaghan of Cashel,
king of Munster, celebrated in Irish romance for his warfare with
the Danes. The twenty-third was Snedgus, who had a brother named
Fogartach, from whose son Finguini sprang the Muinntir Finguini, or
Finguini's People. The twenty-eighth was Falbi Flann, who was king of
Munster from 622 to 633, from whose brother Finghin sprang the sept
of the O'Sullivans. The thirty-second was Angus, from one son of whom
Eochaidh [Yohy] Finn are descended the O'Keefes; while from another son
Enna, spring the O'Dalys of Munster--he was the first king of Munster
who became a Christian, and he was slain in 484. The thirty-fourth
was Arc, king of Munster, from whose son Cas, spring the following
septs: The O'Donoghue Mór--from whom branched off the O'Donoghue of
the Glen--O'Mahony Finn and O'Mahony Roe, _i.e._, the White and Red
O'Mahonys, and O'Mahony of Ui Floinn Laei, and O'Mahony of Carbery,
also O'Mullane[6] and O'Cronin; while from his other son, "Cairbré
the Pict," sprang the O'Moriarties, and from Cairbré's grandson came
the O'Garvans. The thirty-sixth ancestor was Olild Flann Beg, king of
Munster, who had a son from whom are descended the sept of O'Donovan,
and the O'Coiléains, or Collinses. And a grandson from whom spring the
O'Meehans, O'Hehirs, and the Mac Davids of Thomond. The thirty-seventh,
Fiachaidh, was well known in Irish romance; the thirty-eighth was
Eoghan, or Owen Mór, from whom all the septs of the Eoghanachts, or
Eugenians of Munster come, who embrace every family and sept hitherto
mentioned, and many more. They are carefully to be distinguished from
the Dalcassians, who are descended from Owen's second son Cas. It was
the Dalcassians who, with Brian Boru at their head, preserved Ireland
from the Danes and won Clontarf. For many centuries the history of
Munster is largely composed of the struggles between these two septs
for the kingship. The thirty-ninth is the celebrated Oilioll [Ulyul]
Olum, king of Munster, whose wail of grief over his son Owen is a
stock piece in Irish MSS. He is a son of the great Owen, better known
as Mogh Nuadhat, or Owen the Splendid, who wrested half the kingdom
from Conn of the Hundred Battles, so that to this very day Connacht
and Ulster together are called in Irish Conn's Half, and Munster and
Leinster Owen's Half. The forty-third ancestor is Dergthini, who is
known in Irish history as one of the three heirs of the royal houses
in Ireland, whom I have mentioned before as having been saved from
massacre when the Free Clans or Nobility were cut to pieces by the
Unfree or Rent-paying tribes at Moy Cro--an event which is nearly
contemporaneous with the birth of Christ. Hitherto there have been nine
kings of Munster in this line, but not a single king of Ireland, but
the forty-ninth ancestor, Duach Dalta Degadh, also called Duach Donn,
attains this high honour, and takes his place among the Reges Hiberniæ
about 172 years before Christ, according to the "Four Masters." After
this a rather bald catalogue of thirty-six more ancestors are reckoned,
no fewer than twenty-four being counted among the kings of Ireland, and
at last, at the eighty-sixth ancestor from the Earl of Clancarthy, the
genealogy finds its long-delayed goal in Eber, son of Milesius.

It will be seen from this typical pedigree of the Mac Carthys--any
other great family would have answered our purpose just as well--how
families spring from clans and clans from septs--to use an English
word--and septs from a common stem; and how the nearness or remoteness
of some common ancestor bound a number of clans in nearer or remoter
alliance to one another. Thus all septs of the great Eberian stem had
some slight and faint tie of common ancestry connecting them, which
comes out most strongly in their jealousy of the Eremonian or northern
stem, but was not sufficient to produce a political alliance amongst
themselves. Of a much stronger nature was the tie which bound those
families descended from Eoghan Mór, the thirty-eighth ancestor from
the first earl. These went under the name of the Eoghanachts, and
held fairly together, always opposing the Dalcassians, descended from
Cas. But when it came to the adoption of a surname, as it did in the
eleventh century, those who descended from the ancestor who gave them
their name, were bound to one another by the common ties or a nearer
kinship and a common surname.

It will be seen at a glance from the above pedigree, how, taking the
Mac Carthys as a stem, and starting from the first earl, the Mac
Finneens join that stem at the eleventh ancestor from the earl, the
Mac Auliffes at the fifteenth, the O'Callaghans at the eighteenth, the
O'Sullivans at the twenty-ninth, the O'Keefes at the thirty-second, the
O'Dalys[7] of Munster at the thirty-second, the O'Donoghues, O'Mahonys,
O'Mullanes, O'Cronins, O'Garvans, and Moriartys at the thirty-fourth,
the O'Donovans, Collinses, O'Meehans, O'Hehirs, and Mac Davids at the

Now each of these had his own genealogy equally carefully kept by his
own ancestral bardic historian. If, for instance, the Mac Carthys could
boast of nine kings of Munster amongst them, the O'Keefes could boast
of ten; and an O'Keefe reckoning from Donal Óg, who was slain at the
battle of Aughrim, would say that the Mac Carthys joined _his_ line at
the thirty-sixth ancestor from Donal.

All the Gaels of Ireland of the free tribes trace back their ancestry,
as we have seen, to one or other of the four great stocks of Erimon,
Eber, Ir, and Ith. Of these the EREMONIANS were by far the greatest,
the EBERIANS coming next. The O'Neills, O'Donnells, O'Conors,
O'Cavanaghs, and almost all the leading families of the north, the
west, and the east were Erimonian; the O'Briens, Mac Carthys, and most
of the leading tribes of the south were Eberians.[8] It was nearly
always a member of one or the other of these two stems who held the
high-kingship of Ireland, but so much more powerful were the Eremonians
within historical times, that the Southern Eberians, although well able
to maintain themselves in the south, yet found themselves absolutely
unable to place more than one or two[9] high-kings upon the throne of
All-Ireland, from the coming of Patrick, until the great Brian Boru
once more broke the spell and wrested the monarchy from the Erimonians.
The Irians gave few kings to Ireland, and the Ithians still less--only
three or four, and these in very early, perhaps mythic, times.

If now we trace the O'Neill pedigree back as we did that of the Mac
Carthys, we find the great Shane O'Neill who fought Elizabeth, traced
back step by step to the perfectly historical character Niall of the
Nine Hostages, son of Eochaidh Muigh-mheadhoin [Mwee-va-on], who was
grandson of Fiachaidh Sreabhtine [Sravtinna], son of Cairbré of the
Liffey, son of the great Cormac Mac Art, and grandson or Conn of the
Hundred Battles, all of whom are celebrated in history and endless
romance; and thence through a list containing in all forty-four
High-kings of Ireland back to EREMON, son of Milesius, brother of
that Eber from whom the Mac Carthys spring, and from whom he is
the eighty-eighth in descent. The O'Donnells join his line at the
thirty-sixth ancestor, the O'Gallaghers at the thirty-second, the
O'Conor Don and O'Conor Roe and the O'Flaherty at the thirty-seventh.
We find too, on examining these pedigrees, the most curious
inter-mixtures and crossing of families. Thus, for instance, the two
families of O'Crowley in Munster spring from the Mac Dermot Roe of
Connacht, who, with the Mac Donogh, sprang from Mac Dermot of Moylurg
in Roscommon, ancestor of the prince of Coolavin; while the O'Gara,
former lord of Coolavin in the same county, to whom the "Four Masters"
dedicated their annals, was of southern Eberian stock.

The great warriors of the Red Branch, the men of the original kingdom
of Uladh [Ulla, _i.e._, Ulster], were of the third great stock, the
IRIANS or race of Ir,[10] but they are perhaps better known as the
Clanna Rudhraighe [Rury] or Rudricians, so named from Rudhraighe, a
great monarch of Ireland who lived nearly three hundred years before
Christ, or as Ulidians because they represented the ancient province
of Uladh. But the Three Collas, grandsons of Cairbré of the Liffey,
who was himself great-grandson of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and of
course of the Eremonian stock, overthrew the Irians in the year 332,
and burned their capital, Emania. The Irians were thus driven out by
the Eremonians, and forced back into the present counties of Down
and Antrim, where they continued to maintain their independence. So
bitterly, however, did they resent the treatment they had received at
the hands of the Eremonians, and so deeply did the burning of Emania
continue to rankle in their hearts, that after a period of nearly
900 years they are said to have stood sullenly aloof from the other
Irish, and to have refused to make common cause with them against the
Normans at the battle of Downpatrick in 1260, where the prince of the
O'Neills was slain.[11] So powerful, on the other hand, did the idea of
race-connection remain, that we find one of the bards so late as the
sixteenth century urging a political combination and alliance between
the descendants of the Three Collas who had burned Emania over twelve
hundred years before, and who were then represented by the Maguires of
Fermanagh, the Mac Mahons of Oriel[12] and the far-off O'Kellys of Ui
Máine[13] [Ee maana].

As for the fourth great stock, the ITHIANS,[14] they were gradually
pushed aside by the Eberians of the south, as the Irians had been by
the Eremonians of the north, and driven into the islands and coasts
of West Munster. Yet curiously enough the northern Dukes of Argyle
and the Campbells and MacAllans of Scotland spring from them. Their
chief tribes in Ireland were known as the Corca Laidhi [Corka-lee];
these were the pirate O'Driscolls and their correlatives, but they
were pushed so hard by the Mac Carthys, O'Mahonys, and other Eberians,
that in the year 1615 their territory was confined to a few parishes,
and twenty years later even these are found paying tribute to the Mac
Carthy Reagh. There is one very remarkable peculiarity about their
genealogies, which is, that, though they trace themselves with great
apparent, and no doubt real, accuracy back to Mac Con, monarch of
Ireland and contemporary with Oilioll Olum in the end of the second
century, yet from that point back to Milesius a great number of
generations (some twenty or so) are missing, and no genealogist, so far
as I know, in any of the books of pedigrees which I have consulted,
has attempted to supply them by filling them up with a barren list of
names, as has been done in the other three stems.[15]

Let us now consider how far these genealogies tend to establish the
authenticity of our early history, saga, and literature. The first
plain and obvious objection to them is this--that genealogies which
trace themselves back to Adam must be untrue inventions.

We grant it.

But all Gaelic genealogies meet, as we have shown in Milesius or
his uncle, Ith. Strike off all that long tale or pre-Milesian names
connecting him with Adam, and count them as a late excrescence--a
mixture of pagan myth and Christian invention added to the rest for
show. This leaves us only the four stems to deal with.

The next objection is that pedigrees which trace themselves back to
the landing of the Milesians--a date in the computation of which Irish
annalists themselves differ by a few hundred years--must also be
untrue, especially as their own annalist, Tighearnach, has expressly
said that all their history prior to about 300 B.C. is uncertain.

We grant this also.

What, then, remains?

This remains--namely the points in each of the four great race stems,
in which all or the most of the leading tribes and families belonging
to that stem converge, and, as we have seen, all of these with a few
exceptions take place within reach of the historical period. In the
lines of EBER and of ITH, this point is at the close of the second
century; in the race of IR it is about the time of Christ's birth,[16]
and in the fourth and perhaps most important stem, that of EREMON, the
two main points of convergence are in the historical Niall of the Nine
Hostages, who came to the throne in 356, and in Cairbré of the Liffey,
who became High-king in 267.[17]

[1] Craobh-ruadh.

[2] _I.e._, Ath-Fhirdia, Suidhe Fhinn, Rath Chúmhail. There are
See-finns or See-inns, _i.e._, Finn's seats in Cavan, Armagh, Down,
King's County, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Tyrone, and perhaps elsewhere, and
there are many forts, flats, woods, rivers, bushes, and heaps, which
derive their name from the Fenians.

[3] As the various Teutonic races of Germany traced themselves up to
one of the three main stems, Ingævones, Iscævones, and Herminones, who
sprang from the sons of Mannus, whose father was the god Tuisco.

[4] A large part of the Books of Leinster, Ballymote, and Lecan, is
occupied with these genealogies, continued up to date in each book.
The MSS. H. 3. 18 and H. 2. 4 in Trinity College, Dublin, are great
genealogical compilations. Well-known works were the Book of the
genealogies of the Eugenians, the Book of Meath, the Book of the
Connellians (_i.e._, of Tirconnell), the genealogy of Brian, son of
Eochaidh's descendants (see above, p. 33), the Book of Oriel, the
Genealogies of the descendants of the Three Collas (see above, p.
33) in Erin and Scotland, the Book of the Maineach (men of O'Kelly's
country), the Leinster Book of Genealogies, the Ulster Book, the
Munster Book, and others.

[5] See above, ch. II, note 2.

[6] The great Daniel O'Connell's mother belonged to this sept of the
O'Mullanes, and the so-called typical Hibernian physiognomy of the
Liberator was derived from her people, whom he nearly resembled, and
not from the O'Connells.

[7] Not to be confounded with the Síol nDálaigh, who were the
great northern family of the O'Donnells, who had also an ancestor
called Dálach, from whom they derived, not their surname, but their

[8] Strange to say Daniel O'Connell was not an Eberian but an
Erimonian. The history of his tribe is very curious. It was descended
from the celebrated Ernaan, or Degadian tribe to which the hero Curigh
Mac Daire slain by Cuchulain belonged, who trace their genealogy back
to Aengus Tuirmeach, High-king of Ireland about 388 B.C. These tribes
were of Erimonian descent, but settled in the south. They were quite
conquered by the descendants of Oilioll Olum--_i.e._, the Eberians, who
owned nearly all the south--yet they continued to exist in the extreme
west of Munster. The O'Connells, from whom came Daniel O'Connell, the
O'Falveys and the O'Sheas were their chief families, but none of them
were powerful.

[9] The Munster annals of Innisfallen themselves claim only five, but
the claims of some of them are untenable. Moore will not admit that any
Eberian was monarch of Ireland from the coming of St. Patrick to the
"usurpation" of Brian Boru.

[10] Their greatest families were in later times the Magennises, now
Guinnesses, O'Mores, O'Farrells, and O'Connor Kerrys, with their

[11] O'Donovan says that Brian O'Neill was not assisted by any of the
Ulidians at this battle, but of course they had more recent wrongs than
the burning of Emania to complain of, for battles between them and the
invading Eremonian tribes continued for long to be recorded in the
annals. _See_ p. 180, "Miscellany of the Celtic Society."

[12] _I.e._ Monaghan.

[13] Parts of the counties Galway and Roscommon.

[14] In later times their chief families were the O'Driscolls, the
Clancys [Mac Fhlanchadhas] of the county Leitrim, the Mac Allans of
Scotland, the Coffeys and the O'Learys of Roscarberry, etc. They were
commonly called the Clanna Breogain, or Irish Brigantes, from Breogan,
father of Ith.

[15] From Mac Con, son of Maicniad, king of Ireland, to the end of the
second century, Mac Firbis's great book of genealogies only reckons
twelve generations of Breogan, but in the smaller handwriting at the
foot of the page twenty-two generations are counted up. See under the
heading, "Do genealach Dairfhine agus shíl Luighdheach mic Iotha Mac
Breoghain," at p. 670 of O'Curry's MS. transcript. Michael O'Clery's
great book of genealogies counts twenty-three generations from Maic
Niad to Ith, both included, see p. 223 of O'Clery's MS. Keating's
pedigree, as given in the body of his history, gives twenty-three
generations also, but only seventeen in the special genealogy attached
to it. There are no such curious discrepancies in the other three
stems. I can only account for it by the impoverished and oppressed
condition of the Ithians, which in later times may have made them lose
their records.

[16] The chief exceptions being, as we have seen, the Scottish Dál
Riada and the Leinster O'Cavanaghs, who do not join the Eremonian line,
one till the fourth and the other till the seventh century before

[17] Conall Cearnach, from whom, along with his friend Fergus mac Roigh
or Roy, the Irians claim descent, was first cousin of Cuchulain, and
Tighearnach records Cuchulain's death as occurring in the second year
after the birth of Christ, the "Chronicon Scotorum" having this curious
entry at the year 432, "a morte Concculaind herois usque ad hunc annum
431, a morte Concupair [Conor] mic Nessa 412 anni sunt." It is worth
noting that none of the Gaelic families trace their pedigree, so far
as I know, to either Cuchulain himself, or to his over-lord, King
Conor mac Nessa. Cuchulain was himself not of Ithian but of Eremonian
blood, although so closely connected with Emania, the Red Branch, and
the Clanna Rury. If Irish pedigrees had been like modern ones for
sale, or could in any way have been tampered with, every one would
have preferred Cuchulain for an ancestor. That no one has got him is a
strong presumption in favour of the genuineness of Irish genealogies.



We must now consider whether Irish genealogies were really traced or
not to those points which I have mentioned. Is there any documentary
evidence in support of such an assertion?

There is certainly some such evidence, and we shall proceed to examine

In the Leabhar na h-Uidhre [Lowar na Heera], or Book of the Dun Cow,
the existing manuscript of which was transcribed about the year 1100,
in the Book of Leinster, transcribed about fifty years later, in the
Book of Ballymote and in the Book of Lecan, frequent reference is made
to an ancient book now lost called the Cin or Codex of Drom-sneachta.
This book, or a copy of it, existed down to the beginning of the
seventeenth century, for Keating quotes from it in his history, and
remarks at the same time, "and it was before the coming of Patrick to
Ireland the author of that book existed."[1] This evidence of Keating
might be brushed aside as an exaggeration did it stand alone, but
it does not, for in a partially effaced memorandum in the Book of
Leinster, transcribed from older books about the year 1150, we read:
"[Ernin, son of] Duach,[2] son of the king of Connacht, an ollav and
a prophet and a professor in history and a professor in wisdom; it was
he that collected the genealogies and histories of the men of Erin
into one, and that is the Cin Droma-sneachta." Now there were only two
Duachs according to our annals, one of these was great-grandson of
Niall of the Nine Hostages, and of course a pagan, who died in 379;
the other, who was an ancestor of the O'Flaherties, died one hundred
and twenty years later. It was Duach the pagan, whose second son was
Ernin; the other had only one son, whose name was Senach. If O'Curry
has read the half-effaced word correctly, then the book may have been,
as Keating says it was, written before St. Patrick's coming, and it
contained, as the various references to it show, a _repertoire_ of
genealogies collected by the son of a man who died in 379; this man,
too, being great-grandson of that Niall of the Nine Hostages in whose
son so large a number of the Eremonian genealogies converge.[3]

There are many considerations which lead me to believe that Irish
genealogical books were kept from the earliest introduction of the art
of writing, and kept with greater accuracy, perhaps, than any other
records of the past whatsoever. The chiefest of these is the well-known
fact that, under the tribal system, no one possessed lawfully any
portion of the soil inhabited by his tribe if he were not of the
same race with his chief. Consequently even those of lowest rank in
the tribe traced and recorded their pedigree with as much care as
did the highest, for "it was from his own genealogy each man of the
tribe, poor as well as rich, held the charter of his civil state, his
right of property in the cantred in which he was born."[4] All these
genealogies were entered in the local books of each tribe and were
preserved in the verses of the hereditary poets. There was no incentive
to action among the early Irish so stimulative as a remembrance of
their pedigree. It was the same among the Welsh, and probably among all
tribes of Celtic blood. We find the witty but unscrupulous Giraldus, in
the twelfth century, saying of his Welsh countrymen that every one of
them, even of the common people, observes the genealogy of his race,
and not only knows by heart his grandfathers and great-grandfathers,
but knows all his ancestors up to the sixth or seventh generation,[5]
or even still further, and promptly repeats his genealogy as Rhys, son
of Griffith, son of Rhys, son of Teudor, etc.[6]

The poet, Cuan O'Lochain, who died in the year 1024, gives a long
account of the Saltair of Tara now lost, the compilation of which he
ascribes to Cormac mac Art, who came to the throne in 227,[7] and
in which he says the synchronisms and chronology of all the kings
were written. The Book of Ballymote too quotes from an ancient book,
now lost, called the Book of the Uachongbhail, to the effect that
"the synchronisms and genealogies and succession of their kings and
monarchs, their battles, their contests, and their antiquities from
the world's beginning down to that time were written in it, and this is
the Saltair of Tara, which is the origin and fountain of the historians
of Erin from that period down to this time." This may not be convincing
proof that Cormac mac Art wrote the Saltair, but it is convincing proof
that what were counted as the very earliest books were filled with

The subject of tribal genealogy upon which the whole social fabric
depended was far too important to be left without a check in the hands
of tribal historians, however well-intentioned. And this check was
afforded by the great convention or Féis, which took place triennially
at Tara,[8] whither the historians had to bring their books that under
the scrutiny of the jealous eyes of rivals they might be purged of
whatever could not be substantiated, "and neither law nor usage nor
historic record was ever held as genuine until it had received such
approval, and nothing that disagreed with the Roll of Tara could be
respected as truth."[9]

"It was," says Duald Mac Firbis[10]--himself the author of probably the
greatest book of genealogies ever written, speaking about the chief
tribal historians of Ireland, "obligatory on every one of them who
followed it to purify the profession"; and he adds very significantly,
"Along with these [historians] the judges of Banba [Ireland] used to
be in like manner preserving the history, _for a man could not be a
judge without being a historian_, and he is not a historian who is not
a judge in the BRETHADH NIMHEDH,[11] that is the last book in the study
of the Shanachies and of the judges themselves."

The poets and historians "were obliged to be free from theft, and
killing, and satirising, and adultery, and everything that would be
a reproach to their learning." Mac Firbis, who was the last working
historian of a great professional family, puts the matter nobly and

 "Any Shanachie," he says, "whether an ollav or the next in rank, or
 belonging to the order at all, who did not preserve these rules, lost
 half his income and his dignity according to law, and was subject to
 heavy penalties besides, so that it is not to be supposed that there
 is in the world a person who would not prefer to tell the truth, if he
 had no other reason than the fear of God and the loss of his dignity
 and his income: and it is not becoming to charge partiality upon these
 elected historians [of the nation]. However, if unworthy people did
 write falsehood, and attributed it to a historian, it might become a
 reproach to the order of historians if they were not on their guard,
 and did not look to see whether it was out of their prime books of
 authority that those writers obtained their knowledge. And that is
 what should be done by every one, both by the lay scholar and the
 professional historian--everything of which they have a suspicion,
 to look for it, and if they do not find it confirmed in good books,
 to note down its doubtfulness,[12] along with it, as I myself do
 to certain races hereafter in this book, and it is thus that the
 historians are freed from the errors of others, should these errors be
 attributed to _them_, which God forbid."

I consider it next to impossible for any Gaelic pedigree to have been
materially tampered with from the introduction of the art of writing,
because tribal jealousies alone would have prevented it, and because
each stem of the four races was connected at some point with every
other stem, the whole clan system being inextricably intertwined, and
it was necessary for all the various tribal genealogies to agree, in
order that each branch, sub-branch, and family might fit, each in its
own place.

I have little doubt that the genealogy of O'Neill, for instance, which
traces him back to the father of Niall of the Nine Hostages who came
to the throne in 356 is substantially correct. Niall, it must be
remembered, was father of Laoghaire [Leary], who was king when St.
Patrick arrived, by which time, if not before, the art of writing was
known in Ireland. _À fortiori_, then, we may trust the pedigrees of the
O'Donnells and the rest who join that stem a little later on.

If this be acknowledged we may make a cautious step or two backwards.
No one, so far as I know, has much hesitation in acknowledging the
historic character of that King Laoghaire whom St. Patrick confronted,
nor of his father Niall of the Nine Hostages. But if we go so far, it
wants very little to bring us in among the Fenians themselves, and
the scenes connected with them and with Conn of the Hundred Battles;
for Niall's great-grandfather was that Fiachaidh who was slain by the
Three Collas--those who burnt Emania and destroyed the Red Branch--and
his father is Cairbré of the Liffey, who overthrew the Fenians, and
his father again is the great Cormac son of Art, son of Conn of the
Hundred Battles who divided the kingdom with Owen Mór. But it is from
the three grandsons of this Owen Mór the Eberians come, and from their
half-brother come the Ithians, so that up to this point I think Irish
genealogies may be in the main accepted. Even the O'Kavanaghs and their
other correlations, who do not join the stem of Eremon till between
500 or 600 years before Christ, yet pass through Enna Cennsalach, king
of Leinster, a perfectly historical character mentioned several times
in the Book of Armagh,[13] who slew the father of Niall of the Nine
Hostages; and I believe that, however we may account for the strange
fact that these septs join the Eremonian stem so many hundreds of
years before the O'Neills and the others, that up to this point their
genealogy too may be trusted.

If this is the case, and if it is true that every Gael belonging to
the Free Clans of Ireland could trace his pedigree with accuracy back
to the fourth, third, or even second century, it affords a strong
support to Irish history, and in my opinion considerably heightens
the credibility of our early annals, and renders the probability that
Finn mac Cool and the Red Branch heroes were real flesh and blood,
enormously greater than before. It will also put us on our guard
against quite accepting such sweeping generalisations as those of
Skene, when he says that the entire legendary history of Ireland prior
to the establishment of Christianity in the fifth century partakes
largely of a purely artificial character. We must not forget that
while no Irish genealogy is traced to the De Danann tribes, who were
undoubtedly gods, yet the ancestor of the Dalcassians--Cormac Cas,
Oilioll Olum's son--is said to have married Ossian's daughter.

[1] _See_ Haliday's "Keating," p. 215.

[2] See p. 15 of O'Curry's MS. Materials. There was some doubt in his
mind about the words in brackets, but as the sheets of his book were
passing through the press he took out the MS. for another look on a
particularly bright day, the result of which left him no doubt that he
had read the name correctly.

[3] For a typical citation of this book see p. 28 of O'Donovan's
"Genealogy of the Corca Laidh," in the "Miscellany of the Celtic

[4] _See_ "Celtic Miscellany," p. 144, O'Donovan's tract on Corca Laidh.

[5] "Generositatem vero et generis nobilitatem præ rebus omnibus magis
appetunt. Unde et generosa conjugia plus longe capiunt quam sumptuosa
vel opima. Genealogiam quoque generis sui etiam de populo quilibet
observat, et non solum, avos, atavos, sed usque ad sextam vel septimam
et ultra procul generationem, memoriter et prompte genus enarrat in
hunc modum Resus filius Griffini filii Resi filii Theodori, filii
Aeneæ, filii Hoeli filii Cadelli filii Roderici magni et sic deinceps.

"Genus itaque super omnia diligunt, et damna sanguinis atque dedecoris
ulciscuntur. Vindicis enim animi sunt et iræ cruentæ nec solum novas
et recentes injurias verum etiam veteres et antiquas velut instanter
vindicare parati" ("Cambriæ Descriptio," Cap. XVII.).

[6] O'Donovan says--I forget where--that he had tested in every part of
Ireland how far the popular memory could carry back its ancestors, and
found that it did not reach beyond the seventh generation.

[7] According to the "Four Masters"; in 213, according to Keating.

[8] But see O'Donovan's introduction to "The Book of Rights," where he
adduces some reasons for believing that it may have been a septennial
not a triennial convocation.

[9] _See_ Keating's History under the reign of Tuathal Teachtmhar.

[10] In the seventeenth century. His book on genealogies would, O'Curry
computed, fill 1,300 pages of the size of O'Donovan's "Four Masters."

[11] This was a very ancient law book, which is quoted at least a dozen
times in Cormac's Glossary, made in the ninth or tenth century.

[12] Thus quaintly expressed in the original, for which see O'Curry's
MS. Materials, p. 576: "muna ffaghuid dearbhtha iar ndeghleabhraibh é,
a chuntabhairt fén do chur re a chois."

[13] _See_ pp. 102, 113 of Father Hogan's "Documenta de S. Patricio ex
Libro Armachano," where he is called Endae. He persecuted Cuthbad's
three sons, "fosocart endae cennsalach fubîthin creitme riacâch," but
Patrick is said to have baptized his son, "Luid iarsuidiu cucrimthan
maccnêndi ceinnselich et ipse creditit."



Of that part of every Irish pedigree which runs back from the first
century to Milesius nothing can be laid down with certainty, nor indeed
can there be any _absolute certainty_ in affirming that Irish pedigrees
from the eleventh to the third century are reliable--we have only an
amount of cumulative evidence from which we may draw such a deduction
with considerable confidence. The mere fact that these pedigrees are
traced back a thousand years further through Irish kings and heroes,
and end in a son of Milesius, need not in the least affect--as in
popular estimation it too often does--the credibility of the last
seventeen hundred years, which stands upon its own merits.

On the contrary, such a continuation is just what we should expect.
In the Irish genealogies the sons of Milesius occupy the place that
in other early genealogies is held by the gods. And the sons of
Milesius were possibly the tutelary gods of the Gael. We have seen
how one of them was so, at least in folk belief, and was addressed in
semi-seriousness as still living and reigning even in the last century.

All the Germanic races looked upon themselves as descended from gods.
The Saxon, Anglian, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish kings were traced
back either to Woden or to some of his companions or sons.[1] It was
the same with the Greeks, to whom the Celts bear so close a similitude.
Their Herakleids, Asklepiads, Æakids, Neleids, and Daedalids, are a
close counterpart to our Eremonians, Eberians, Ithians, and Irians, and
in each case all the importance was attached to the primitive eponymous
hero or god from whom they sprang. Without him the whole pedigree
became uninteresting, unfinished, headless. These beliefs exercised
full power even upon the ablest and most cultured Greeks. Aristotle
and Hippocratês, for instance, considered themselves descended from
Asklêpius, Thucidydes from Æakus, and Socrates from Daedalus; just as
O'Neill and O'Donnell did from Eremon, O'Brien from Eber, and Magennis
from Ir. It was to the divine or heroic fountain heads of the race, not
so much as to the long and mostly barren list of names which led up to
it, that the real importance was attached. It is not in Ireland alone
that we see mythology condensing into a dated genealogy. The same thing
has happened in Persian history, and the history of Denmark by Saxo
Grammaticus affords many such instances. In Greece the Neleid family
of Pylus traced their origin to Neptune, the Lacedæmonian kings traced
theirs to Cadmus and Danaüs, and Hekatæus of Miletus was the fifteenth
descendant of a god.

Again we meet with in Teutonic and Hellenic mythology the same
difficulty that meets us in our own--that of distinguishing gods from
heroes and heroes from men. The legends of the Dagda and of Angus of
the Boyne and the Tuatha De Danann, of Tighearnmas and the Fomorians,
of Lugh the Long-handed and the children of Tuireann--all evidently
mythologic--were treated in the same manner, recited by the same
tongues, and regarded with the same unwavering belief, as the history
of Conor mac Nessa and Déirdre, of Cuchulain and Mève, or that of
Conn of the Hundred Battles, Owen Mór, Finn mac Cool, and the Fenians.
The early Greek, in the same way, treated the stories of Apollo and
Artemis, of Arês and Aphroditê, just as he did those of Diomede and
Helen, Meleager and Althæa, Achilles, or the voyage of the _Argo_.
All were in a primitive and uncritical age received with the same
unsuspicious credulity, and there was no hard-and-fast line drawn
between gods and men. Just as the Mórrígan, the war-goddess, has her
eye dashed out by Cuchulain, so do we find in Homer gods wounded by
heroes. Thus, too, Apollo is condemned to serve Admetus, and Hercules
is sold as a slave to Omphalê. Herodotus himself confesses that he is
unable to determine whether a certain Thracian god Zalmoxis, was a
god or a man,[2] and he finds the same difficulty regarding Dionysus
and Pan; while Plutarch refuses to determine whether Janus was a god
or a king;[3] and Herakleitus the philosopher, confronted by the same
difficulty, made the admirable _mot_ that men were "mortal gods," gods
were "immortal men."[4]

In our literature, although the fact does not always appear distinctly,
the Dagda, Angus Óg, Lugh the Long-handed, Ogma, and their fellows are
the equivalents of the immortal gods, while certainly Cuchulain and
Conor and probably Curigh Mac Daire, Conall Cearnach, and the other
famous Red Branch chiefs, whatever they may have been in reality, are
the equivalent of the Homeric heroes, that is to say, believed to
have been epigoni of the gods, and therefore greater than ordinary
human beings; while just as in Greek story there are the cycles of
the war round Thebes, the voyage of the _Argo_ the fate of Œdipus,
etc., so we have in Irish numerous smaller groups of epic stories--now
unfortunately mostly lost or preserved in digests--which, leaving out
the Cuchulain and Fenian cycles, centre round such minor characters as
Macha, who founded Emania, Leary Lore, Labhraidh [Lowry] the Mariner,
and others.

That the Irish gods die in both saga and annals like so many human
beings, in no wise militates against the supposition of their godhead.
Even the Greek did not always consider his gods as eternal. A study of
comparative mythology teaches that gods are in their original essence
magnified men, and subject to all men's changes and chances. They are
begotten and born like men. They eat, sleep, feel sickness, sorrow,
pain, like men. "Like men," says Grimm, "they speak a language, feel
passions, transact affairs, are clothed and armed, possess dwellings
and utensils." Being man-like in these things, they are also man-like
in their deaths. They are only on a greater scale than we. "This
appears to me," says Grimm,[5] "a fundamental feature in the faith
of the heathen, that they allowed to their gods not an unlimited
and unconditional duration, but only a term of life far exceeding
that of man." As their shape is like the shape of man only vaster,
so are their lives like the lives of men only indefinitely longer.
"With our ancestors [the Teutons]," said Grimm, "the thought of the
gods being immortal retires into the background. The Edda never
calls them 'eylifir' or 'ôdauðligir,' and their death is spoken of
without disguise." So is it with us also. The Dagda dies, slain in the
battle of North Moytura; the three "gods of the De Danann" die at the
instigation of Lugh; and the great Lugh himself, from whom Lugdunum,
now Lyons, takes its name, and to whom early Celtic inscriptions are
found, shares the same fate. Manannán is slain, so is Ogma, and so
are many more. And yet though recorded as slain they do not wholly
disappear. Manannán came back to Bran riding in his chariot across the
Ocean,[6] and Lugh makes his frequent appearances amongst the living.

[1] These genealogies were in later times, like the Irish ones,
extended to Noah.

[2] Herod, iv. 94-96.

[3] Numa, ch. xix.

[4] "θεοὶ θνητοὶ," "ἄνθρωποι ἀθάνατοι." It is most curious to find this
so academic question dragged into the hard light of day and subjected
to the scrutiny of so prosaic a person as the Roman tax-collector.
Under the Roman Empire all lands in Greece belonging to the immortal
gods were exempted from tribute, and the Roman tax-collector refused
to recognise as immortal gods any deities who had once been men. The
confusion arising from such questions offered an admirable target to
Lucian for his keenest shafts of ridicule.

[5] "Deutsche Mythologie," article on the Condition of the Gods.

[6] "Voyage of Bran mac Febail," Nutt and Kuno Meyer, vol. i. p. 16.



Although Irish literature is full of allusions to the druids it is
extremely difficult to know with any exactness what they were. They
are mentioned from the earliest times. The pre-Milesian races, the
Nemedians and Fomorians, had their druids, who worked mutual spells
against each other. The Tuatha De Danann had innumerable druids amongst
them, who used magic. The invading Milesians had three druids with
them in their ships, Amergin the poet and two others. In fact, druids
are mentioned in connection with all early Irish fiction and history,
from the first colonising of Ireland down to the time of the saints.
It seems very doubtful, however, whether there existed in Ireland as
definitely established an order of druids as in Britain and on the
Continent.[1] They are frequently mentioned in Irish literature as
ambassadors, spokesmen, teachers, and tutors. Kings were sometimes
druids, so were poets. It is a word which seems to me to have been,
perhaps from the first, used with great laxity and great latitude. The
druids, so far as we can ascertain, do not seem to be connected with
any positive rites or worship; still less do they appear to have been
a regular priesthood, and there is not a shadow of evidence to connect
them with any special worship as that of the sun or of fire. In the
oldest saga-cycle the druid appears as a man of the highest rank and
related to kings. King Conor's father was according to some--probably
the oldest--accounts a druid; so was Finn mac Cool's grandfather.

Before the coming of St. Patrick there certainly existed images, or,
as they are called by the ancient authorities, "idols" in Ireland,
at which or to which sacrifice used to be offered, probably with a
view to propitiating the earth-gods, possibly the Tuatha De Danann,
and securing good harvests and abundant kine. From sacrificial rites
spring, almost of necessity, a sacrificial caste, and this caste--the
druids--had arrived at a high state of organisation in Gaul and Britain
when observed by Cæsar, and did not hesitate to sacrifice whole
hecatombs of human beings. "They think," said Cæsar, "that unless a
man's life is rendered up for a man's life, the will of the immortal
God cannot be satisfied, and they have sacrifices of this kind as a
national institution."

There appears nothing, however, that I am aware of, to connect the
druids in Ireland with human sacrifice, although such sacrifice appears
to have been offered. The druids, however, appear to have had private
idols of their own. We find a very minute account in the tenth-century
glossary of King Cormac as to how a poet performed incantations with
his idols. The word "poet" is here apparently equivalent to druid, as
the word "druid" like the Latin _vates_ is frequently a synonym for
"poet." Here is how the glossary explains the incantation called _Imbas

 "This," says the ancient lexicographer, "describes to the poet
 whatsoever thing he wishes to discover,[2] and this is the manner
 in which it is performed. The poet chews a bit of the raw red flesh
 of a pig, a dog, or a cat, and then retires with it to his own bed
 behind the door,[3] where he pronounces an oration over it and offers
 it to his _idol gods_. He then _invokes the idols_, and if he has
 not received the illumination before the next day, he pronounces
 incantations upon his two palms and takes his idol gods unto him
 [into his bed] in order that he may not be interrupted in his sleep.
 He then places his two hands upon his two cheeks and falls asleep.
 He is then watched so that he be not stirred nor interrupted by any
 one until everything that he seeks be revealed to him at the end of
 a _nomad_,[4] or two or three, or as long as he continues at his
 offering, and hence it is that this ceremony is called Imbas, that
 is, the two hands upon him crosswise, that is, a hand over and a hand
 hither upon his cheeks. And St. Patrick prohibited this ceremony,
 because it is a species of Teinm Laeghdha,[5] that is, he declared
 that any one who performed it should have no place in heaven or on

These were apparently the private images of the druid himself which are
spoken of, but there certainly existed public idols in pagan Ireland
before the evangelisation of the island. St. Patrick himself, in his
"Confession," asserts that before his coming the Irish worshipped
idols--_idola et immunda_--and we have preserved to us more than
one account of the great gold-covered image which was set up in Moy
Slaught[6] [_i.e._, the Plain of Adoration], believed to be in the
present county of Cavan. It stood there surrounded by twelve lesser
idols ornamented with brass, and may possibly have been regarded as a
sun-god ruling over the twelve seasons. It was called the Crom Cruach
or Cenn Cruach,[7] and certain Irish tribes considered it their special
tutelary deity. The Dinnseanchas, or explanation of the name of Moy
Slaught, calls it "the King Idol of Erin," "and around him were twelve
idols made of stones, but he was of gold. Until Patrick's advent he was
the god of every folk that colonised Ireland. To him they used to offer
the firstlings of every issue and the chief scions of every clan;" and
the ancient poem in the Book of Leinster declares that it was "a high
idol with many fights, which was named the Cromm Cruaich."[8]

The poem tells us that "the brave Gaels used to worship it, and would
never ask from it satisfaction as to their portion of the hard world
without paying it tribute."

  "He was their God,[9]
  The withered Cromm with many mists,
  The people whom he shook over every harbour,
  The everlasting kingdom they shall not have.

  To him without glory
  Would they kill their piteous wailing offspring,
  With much wailing and peril
  To pour their blood around Cromm Cruaich.

  Milk and corn
  They would ask from him speedily
  In return for one-third of their healthy issue,
  Great was the horror and scare of him.

  To him
  Noble Gaels would prostrate themselves,
  From the worship of him, with many manslaughters
  The Plain is called Moy Sleacht.

    * * * * *

  In their ranks (stood)
  Four times three stone idols
  To bitterly beguile the hosts,
  The figure of Cromm was made of gold.

  Since the rule
  Of Heremon,[10] the noble man of grace,
  There was worshipping of stones
  Until the coming of good Patrick of Macha [Ardmagh]."

There is not the slightest reason to distrust this evidence as far as
the existence of Crom Cruach goes.

 "This particular tradition," says Mr. Nutt, "like the majority of
 those contained in it [the Dinnseanchas] must be of pre-Christian
 origin. It would have been quite impossible for a Christian monk
 to have invented such a story, and we may accept it as a perfectly
 genuine bit of information respecting the ritual side of insular
 Celtic religion."[11]

St. Patrick overthrew this idol, according both to the poem in the Book
of Leinster and the early lives of the saint. The life says that when
St. Patrick cursed Crom the ground opened and swallowed up the twelve
lesser idols as far as their heads, which, as Rhys acutely observes,
shows that when the early Irish lives of the saint were written the
pagan sanctuary had so fallen into decay, that only the heads of the
lesser idols remained above ground, while he thinks that it was at this
time from its bent attitude and decayed appearance the idol was called
Crom, "the Stooper."[12] There is, however, no apparent or recorded
connection between this idol and the druids, nor do the druids appear
to have fulfilled the functions of a public priesthood in Ireland, and
the Introduction to the Seanchas Mór, or ancient Book of the Brehon
Laws, distinctly says that, "until Patrick came only three classes of
persons were permitted to speak in public in Erin, a chronicler to
relate events and to tell stories, a poet to eulogise and to satirise,
and a Brehon to pass sentence from precedents and commentaries," thus
noticeably omitting all mention of the druids as a public body.

The idol Crom with his twelve subordinates may very well have
represented the sun, upon whom both season and crops and consequently
the life both of man and beast depend. The gods to whom the early Irish
seem to have sacrificed, were no doubt, as I think Mr. Nutt has shown,
agricultural powers, the lords of life and growth, and with these the
sun, who is at the root of all growth, was intimately connected, "the
object of that worship was to promote increase, the theory of worship
was--life for life."[13] That the Irish swore by the sun and the moon
and the elements is certain; the oath is quoted in many places,[14]
and St. Patrick appears to allude to sun-worship in that passage of his
"Confession," where he says, "that sun which we see rising daily at His
bidding for our sake, it will never reign, and its splendour will not
last for ever, but those who adore it will perish miserably for all
eternity:" this is also borne out by the passage in Cormac's Glossary
of the images the pagans used to adore, "as, for instance, the form or
figure of the sun on the altar."[15]

Another phase of the druidic character seems to have been that he was
looked upon as an intermediary between man and the invisible powers.
In the story which tells us how Midir the De Danann, carries off the
king's wife, we are informed that the druid's counsel is sought as to
how to recover her, which he at last is enabled to do "through his keys
of science and Ogam," after a year's searching.

The druids are represented as carrying wands of yew, but there is
nothing in Irish literature, so far as I am aware of, about their
connection with the oak, from the Greek for which, _δρῦς_,[16] they
are popularly supposed to derive their name. They used to be consulted
as soothsayers upon the probable success of expeditions, as by Cormac
mac Art, when he was thinking about extorting a double tribute from
Munster,[17] and by Dáthi, the last pagan king of Ireland, when
setting out upon his expedition abroad; they took auguries by birds,
they could cause magic showers and fires, they observed stars and
clouds, they told lucky days,[18] they had ordeals of their own,[19]
but, above all, they appear to have been tutors or teachers.

Another druidic practice which is mentioned in Cormac's Glossary is
more fully treated of by Keating, in his account of the great pagan
convention at Uisneach, a hill in Meath, "where the men of Ireland were
wont to exchange their goods and their wares and other jewels." This
convention was held in the month of May,

 "And at it they were wont to make a sacrifice to the arch-god, whom
 they adored, whose name was Bél. It was likewise their usage to light
 two fires to Bél in every district in Ireland at this season, and
 to drive a pair of each herd of cattle that the district contained
 between these two fires, as a preservative, to guard them against all
 the diseases of that year. It is from that fire thus made that the day
 on which the noble feast of the apostles Peter and James is held has
 been called Bealtaine [in Scotch Beltane], _i.e._, Bél's fire."

Cormac, however, says nothing about a god named Bél--who, indeed, is
only once mentioned elsewhere, so far as I know[20]--but explains the
name as if it were Bil-tene, "goodly fire," from the fires which the
druids made on that day through which to drive the cattle.[21]

Post-Christian accounts of the druids as a whole, and or individual
druids differ widely. The notes on St. Patrick, in the Book of Armagh,
present them in the worst possible light as wicked wizards and augurs
and people of incantations,[22] and the Latin lives of the Saints
nearly always call them "magi." Yet they are admitted to have been able
to prophecy. King Laoghaire's [Leary's] druids prophesied to him three
years before the arrival of Patrick that "adze-heads would come over a
furious sea,"

  "Their mantles hole-headed,
  Their staves crook-headed,
  Their tables in the east of their houses."[23]

In the lives of the early saints we find some of them on fair terms
with the druids. Columcille's first teacher was a druid, whom his
mother consulted about him. It is true that in the Lismore text he is
called not a druid but a _fáidh, i.e., vates_ or prophet, but this only
confirms the close connection between druid, prophet, and teacher, for
his proceedings are distinctly druidical, the account runs: "Now when
the time for reading came to him the cleric went to a certain prophet
who abode in the land to ask him when the boy ought to begin. When the
prophet had scanned the sky, he said 'Write an alphabet for him now.'
The alphabet was written on a cake, and Columcille consumed the cake
in this wise, half to the east of a water, and half to the west of
a water. Said the prophet through grace of prophecy, 'So shall this
child's territory be, half to the east of the sea, and half to the
west of the sea.'"[24] Columcille himself is said to have composed a
poem beginning, "My Druid is the son of God." Another druid prophesies
of St. Brigit before she was born,[25] and other instances connecting
the early saints with druids are to be found in their lives, which at
least show that there existed a sufficient number of persons in early
Christian Ireland who did not consider the druids wholly bad, but
believed that they could prophecy, at least in the interests of the

From what we have said, it is evident that there were always druids in
Ireland, and that they were personages of great importance. But it is
not clear that they were an organised body like the druids of Gaul,[26]
or like the Bardic body in later times in Ireland, nor is it clear what
their exact functions were, but they seem to have been teachers above
everything else. It is clear, too, that the ancient Irish--at least in
some cases--possessed and worshipped images. That they sacrificed to
them, and even offered up human beings, is by no means so certain, the
evidence for this resting upon the single passage in the Dinnseanchas,
and the poem (in a modern style of metre) in the Book of Leinster,
which we have just given, and which though it is evidence for the
existence of the idol Crom Cruach, known to us already from other
sources, may possibly have had the trait of human sacrifice added as a
heightening touch by a Christian chronicler familiar with the accounts
of Moloch and Ashtarôth. The complete silence which, outside of these
passages,[27] exists in all Irish literature as to a proceeding so
terrifying to the popular imagination, seems to me a proof that if
human sacrifice was ever resorted to at all, it had fallen into
abeyance before the landing of the Christian missionaries.

[1] Cæsar's words are worth repeating. He says that there were two
sorts of men in Gaul both numerous and honoured--the knights and the
Druids, "equites et druides," because the people counted for nothing
and took the initiative in nothing. As for the Druids, he says: "Rebus
divinis intersunt, sacrificia publica et privata procurant, religiones
interpretantur ... nam fere de omnibus controversiis publicis
privatisque constituunt, et si quod est admissum facinus, si cœdes
facta, si de hereditate, de finibus controversia est iidem decernunt
præmia, pœnasque constituunt." All this seems very like the duties
of the Irish Druids, but not what follows: "si qui, aut privatus aut
populus eorum decreto non stetit, sacrificiis interdicunt. Hæc pœna
apud eos est gravissima." Nor do the Irish appear to have had the
over-Druid whom Cæsar talks of. (_See_ "De Bello Gallico," book vi.
chaps. 13, 14).

[2] "Cach raet bid maith lasin filid agus bud adla(i)c dó do

[3] Thus O'Curry ("Miscellany of the Celtic Society," vol. ii. p. 208);
but Stokes translates, "he puts it then on the flagstone behind the
door." See the original in Cormac's Glossary under "Himbas." I have not
O'Donovan's translation by me.

[4] O'Curry translates this by "day." It is at present curiously used,
I suppose by a kind of confusion with the English "moment," in the
sense of a minute or other short measure of time. At least I have often
heard it so used.

[5] Another species of incantation mentioned in the glossary.

[6] In Irish Magh Sleacht.

[7] In O'Donovan's fragmentary manuscript catalogue of the Irish MSS.,
in Trinity College, Dublin, he writes _apropos_ of the life of St.
Maedhog or Mogue, contained in H. 2, 6: "I searched the two Brefneys
for the situation of Moy Sleacht on which stood the chief pagan Irish
idol Crom Cruach, but have failed, being misled by Lanigan, who had
been misled by Seward, who had been blinded by the impostor Beauford,
who placed this plain in the county of Leitrim. It can, however, be
proved from this life of St. Mogue that Magh Sleacht was that level
part of the Barony of Tullaghan (in the county of Cavan) in which
the island of Inis Breaghwee (now Mogue's Island), the church of
Templeport, and the little village of Ballymagauran are situated." I
have been told that O'Donovan afterwards found reason to doubt the
correctness of this identification.

[8] M. de Jubainville connects the name with _cru_ (Latin, _cruor_),
"blood," translating Cenn Cruach by _tête sanglante_ and Crom Cruach by
_Courbe sanglante_, or _Croissant ensanglanté_; but Rhys connects it
with Cruach, "a reek" or "mound," as in Croagh-Patrick, St. Patrick's
Reek. Cenn Cruach is evidently the same name as the Roman station
Penno-Crucium, in the present county of Stafford, the Irish "c" being
as usual the equivalent of the British "p." This would make it appear
that Cromm was no local idol. Rhys thinks it got its name Crom Cruach,
"the stooped one of the mound," from its bent attitude in the days of
its decadence.

[9] Observe the exquisite and complicated metre of this in the
original, a proof, I think, that the lines are not very ancient. It
has been edited from the Book of Leinster, Book of Ballymote, Book
of Lecan, and Rennes MS., at vol. i. p. 301 of Mr. Nutt's "Voyage of
Bran," by Dr. Kuno Meyer--

  "Ba hé a _nDia_
  In Cromm Crín co n-immud _cia_
  In lucht ro Craith ós each _Cúan_
  In flaithius _Búan_ nochos _Bia._"

[10] _I.e._, Eremon or Erimon, Son of Milesius, see above, p. 59.

[11] The details of this idol, and, above all, the connection in which
it stands to the mythic culture-king Tighearnmas, could not, as Mr.
Nutt well remarks, have been invented by a Christian monk; but nothing
is more likely, it appears to me, than that such a one, familiar with
the idol rites of Judæa from the Old Testament, may have added the
embellishing trait of the sacrifice of "the firstlings of every issue."

[12] Sir Samuel Ferguson's admirable poem upon the death of Cormac
refers to the _priests_ of the idol, but there is no recorded evidence
of any such priesthood--

  "Crom Cruach and his sub-gods twelve,
    Saith Cormac, are but carven treene.
  The axe that made them haft or helve,
    Had worthier of your worship been.

  But he who made the tree to grow,
    And hid in earth the iron stone,
  And made the man with mind to know
    The axe's use is God alone.

  Anon _to priests of Crom were brought--_
    _Where girded in their service dread_,
  _They ministered_ in red Moy Slaught--
    Word of the words King Cormac said.

  They loosed their curse against the king,
    They cursed him in his flesh and bones,
  And daily in their mystic ring
    They turned the maledictive stones."

D'Arcy McGee also refers to Crom Cruach in terms almost equally poetic,
but equally unauthorised:--

  "Their ocean-god was Manannán Mac Lir,
    Whose angry lips
  In their white foam full often would inter
    Whole fleets of ships.
  Crom _was their day-god and their thunderer_,
    Made morning and eclipse;
  Bride was their queen of song, and unto her
    They prayed with fire-touched lips!"

[13] Nutt's "Voyage of Bran," vol. ii. p. 250.

[14] The elements are recorded as having slain King Laoghaire because
he broke the oath he had made by them. In the Lament for Patrick
Sarsfield as late as the seventeenth century, the unknown poet cries:

  "Go mbeannaigh' an ghealach gheal's an ghrian duit,
  O thug tu an lá as láimh Righ 'Liam leat."

_I.e._, May the white Moon and the Sun bless you, since thou hast taken
the Day out of the hand of King William.

And a little later we find the harper Carolan swearing "by the light of
the sun."

  "Molann gach aon an té bhíos cráibhtheach cóir,
  Agus molann gach aon an té bhíos páirteach leó,
  _Dar solas na gréine_ sé mo rádh go deó
  Go molfad gan spéis gan bhréig an t-áth mar geóbhad."

[15] See above, ch. V, note 18.

[16] The genitive of _drai_, the modern _draoi_ (_dhree_) is _druad_,
from whence no doubt the Latin _druidis_. It was Pliny who first
derived the name from _δρῦς_. The word with a somewhat altered meaning
was in use till recently. The wise men from the East are called druids
(_draoithe_) in O'Donnell's translation of the New Testament. The
modern word for enchantment (_draoidheacht_) is literally "druidism,"
but an enchanter is usually _draoidheadóir_, a derivation from _draoi_.

[17] See above, ch. III, note 14.

[18] Cathbad, Conor mac Nessa's Druid, foretold that any one who took
arms--the Irish equivalent for knighthood--upon a certain day, would
become famous for ever, but would enjoy only a brief life. It was
Cuchulain who assumed arms upon that day.

[19] O'Curry quotes a druidic ordeal from the MS. marked H. 3. 17 in
Trinity College, Dublin. A woman to clear her character has to rub her
tongue to a red-hot adze of bronze, which had been heated in a fire of
blackthorn or rowan-tree.

[20] "Revue Celt.," vol. ii. p. 443. Is Bel to be equated with what
Rhys calls in one place "the chthonian divinity Beli the Great," of
the Britons, and in another "Beli the Great, the god of death and
darkness"? (_See_ "Hibbert Lectures," pp. 168 and 274.)

[21] The Christian priests, apparently unable to abolish these cattle
ceremonies, took the harm out of them by transferring them to St.
John's Eve, the 24th of June, where they are still observed in most
districts of Ireland, and large fires built with bones in them, and
occasionally cattle are driven through them or people leap over
them. The cattle were probably driven through the fire as a kind of
substitute for their sacrifice, and the bones burnt in the fire are
probably a substitute for the bones of the cattle that should have been
offered up. Hence the fires are called "teine cnámh" (bone-fire) in
Irish, and bōne-fire (not bŏnfire) in English.

[22] St. Patrick is there stated to have found around the king "scivos
et magos et auruspices, incantatores et omnis malæ artis inventores."

[23] This means tonsured men, with cowls, with pastoral staves, with
altars in the east end of the churches. The ancient Irish rann is very

  "Ticcat Tailcinn
  Tar muir meirceann,
  A mbruit toillceann.
  A crainn croimceann.
  A miasa n-airrter tige
  Friscerat uile amen."

[24] _I.e._, one half in Ireland, the other in Scotland, alluding to
his work at Iona and among the Picts.

[25] Stokes, "Lives of the Saints, from the Book of Lismore," p. 183.

[26] Who were, according to Ammianus Marcellinus, quoting the Greek
historian, Timagenes, "sodaliciis adstricti consortiis."

[27] There is one other instance of human sacrifice mentioned in the
Book of Ballymote, but this is recorded in connection with funeral
games, and appears to have been an isolated piece of barbarity
performed "that it might be a reproach to the Momonians for ever, and
that it might be a trophy over them." Fiachra, a brother of Niall of
the Nine Hostages, in the fourth century, carried off fifty hostages
from Munster, and dying of his wounds, the hostages were buried alive
with him, round his grave: "ro hadnaicead na geill tucadh a neass
ocus siad beo im fheart Fiachra comba hail for Mumain do gres, ocus
comba comrama forra." For another allusion to "human sacrifice" see
O'Curry's "Manners and Customs," vol. i. p. dcxli and cccxxxiii. The
"Dinnseanchas," quoted from above, is a topographical work explaining
the origin of Irish place-names, and attributed to Amergin mac
Amhalgaidh, poet to King Diarmuid mac Cearbaill, who lived in the sixth
century. "There seems no reason," says Dr. Atkinson, in his preface
to the facsimile Book of Leinster, "for disputing his claims to be
regarded as the original compiler of a work of a similar character--the
original nucleus is not now determinable." The oldest copy is the
Book of Leinster and treats of nearly two hundred places and contains
eighty-eight poems. The copy in the Book of Ballymote contains one
hundred and thirty-nine, and that in the Book of Lecan even more. The
total number of all the poems contained in the different copies is
close on one hundred and seventy. The copy in the Bodleian Library
was published by Whitley Stokes in "Folk-lore," December, 1892, and
that in the Advocates Library, in Edinburgh, in "Folk-lore," December,
1893. The prose tales, from a copy at Rennes, he published in the
"Revue Celtique," vols. xv. and xvi. An edition of the oldest copy in
the Book of Leinster is still a desideratum. The whole work is full of
interesting pagan allusions, but the different copies, in the case of
many names, vary greatly and even contradict each other.



Cæsar, writing some fifty years before Christ about the Gauls and
their Druids, tells his countrymen that one of the prime articles
which they taught was that men's souls do not die--_non interire
animas_--"but passed over after death from one into another," and
their opinion is, adds Cæsar, that this doctrine "greatly tends to the
arousing of valour, all fear of death being despised."[1] A few years
later Diodorus Siculus wrote that one of their doctrines was "that
the souls of men are undying, and that after finishing their term of
existence they pass into another body," adding that at burials of the
dead some actually cast letters addressed to their departed relatives
upon the funeral pile, under the belief that the dead would read them
in the next world. Timagenes, a Greek who wrote a history of Gaul now
lost, Strabo, Valerius Maximus, Pomponius Mela, and Lucan[2] in his
"Pharsalia," all have passages upon this vivid belief of the Gauls
that the soul lived again. This doctrine must also have been current
in Britain, where the Druidic teaching was, to use Cæsar's phrase,
"discovered, and thence brought into Gaul," and it would have been
curious indeed if Ireland did not share in it.

There is, moreover, abundant evidence to show that the doctrine of
metempsychosis was perfectly familiar to the pagan Irish, as may
be seen in the stories of the births of Cuchulain, Etain, the Two
Swineherds, Conall Cearnach, Tuan Mac Cairill, and Aedh Sláne.[3]
But there is not, in our existing literature, any evidence that the
belief was ever elevated into a philosophical doctrine of general
acceptance, applicable to every one, still less that there was ever
any ethical stress laid upon the belief in rebirth. It is only the
mythological element in the belief in metempsychosis which has come
down to us, and from which we ascertain that the pagan Irish believed
that supernatural beings could become clothed in flesh and blood,
could enter into women and be born again, could take different shapes
and pass through different stages of existence, as fowls, animals, or
men. What the actual doctrinal form of the familiar idea was, or how
far it influenced the popular mind, we have no means of knowing. But
as Mr. Nutt well remarks, "early Irish religion must have possessed
some ritual, and what in default of an apter term must be styled
philosophical as well as mythological elements. Practically the latter
alone have come down to us, and that in a romantic rather than in
a strictly mythical form. Could we judge Greek religion aright if
fragments of Apollodorus or the 'Metamorphoses' were all that survived
of the literature it inspired?"[4] The most that can be said upon the
subject, then, is that the doctrine of rebirth was actually taught
with a deliberate ethical purpose--that of making men brave, since on
being slain in this life they passed into a new one--amongst the Celts
of Gaul, that it must have been familiar to the Britons between whose
Druids and those of Gaul so close a resemblance subsisted, and that the
idea of rebirth which forms part of half-a-dozen existing Irish sagas,
was perfectly familiar to the Irish Gael, although we have no evidence
that it was connected with any ritual or taught as a deliberate

In reconstructing from our existing literature the beliefs and religion
of our ancestors, we can only do so incompletely, and with difficulty,
from passages in the oldest sagas and other antique fragments, mostly
of pagan origin, from allusions in very early poems, from scanty
notices in the annals, and from the lives of early saints. The
relatively rapid conversion of the island to Christianity in the fifth
century, and the enthusiasm with which the new religion was received,
militated against any full transmission of pagan belief or custom. We
cannot now tell whether all the ancient Irish were imbued with the
same religious beliefs, or whether these varied--as they probably
did--from tribe to tribe. Probably all the Celtic races, even in their
most backward state, believed--so far as they had any persuasion on
the subject at all--in the immortality of the soul. Where the souls of
the dead went to, when they were not reincarnated, is not so clear.
They certainly believed in a happy Other-World, peopled by a happy
race, whither people were sometimes carried whilst still alive, and to
gain which they either traversed the sea to the north-west, or else
entered one of the Sidh [Shee] mounds, or else again dived beneath
the water.[5] In all cases, however, whatever the mode of access, the
result is much the same. A beautiful country is discovered where a
happy race free from care, sickness, and death, spend the smiling hours
in simple, sensuous pleasures.

There is a graphic description of this Elysium in the "Voyage of Bran,"
a poem evidently pagan,[6] and embodying purely pagan conceptions. A
mysterious female, an emissary from the lovely land, appears in Bran's
household one day, when the doors were closed and the house full of
chiefs and princes, and no one knew whence she came, and she chanted
to them twenty-eight quatrains describing the delights of the pleasant

  "There is a distant isle
  Around which sea-horses glisten,
  A fair course against the white-swelling surge,
  Four feet uphold it.[7]

  Feet of white bronze under it,
  Glittering through beautiful ages.
  Lovely land throughout the world's age
  On which the many blossoms drop.

  An ancient tree there is with blossoms
  On which birds call to the Hours.
  'Tis in harmony, it is their wont
  To call together every Hour.

    * * * * *

  Unknown is wailing or treachery
  In the familiar cultivated land,
  There is nothing rough or harsh,
  But sweet music striking on the ear.

  Without grief, without sorrow, without death,
  Without any sickness, without debility,
  That is the sign of Emain,
  Uncommon, an equal marvel.

  A beauty of a wondrous land
  Whose aspects are lovely,
  Whose view is a fair country,
  Incomparable in its haze.

    * * * *

  The sea washes the wave against the land,
  Hair of crystal drops from its mane.

  Wealth, treasures of every hue,
  Are in the gentle land, a beauty of freshness,
  Listening to sweet music,
  Drinking the best of wine.

  Golden chariots on the sea plain
  Rising with the tide to the sun,
  Chariots of silver in the plain of sports
  And of unblemished bronze.

     * * * * *

  At sunrise there will come
  A fair man illumining level lands,
  He rides upon the fair sea-washed plain,
  He stirs the ocean till it is blood.

     * * * * *

  Then they row to the conspicuous stone
  From which arise a hundred strains.

  It sings a strain unto the host
  Through long ages, it is not sad,
  Its music swells with choruses of hundreds.
  They look for neither decay nor death.

  There will come happiness with health
  To the land against which laughter peals.
  Into Imchiuin [the very calm place] at every season,
  Will come everlasting joy.

  It is a day of lasting weather
  That showers [down] silver on the land,
  A pure-white cliff in the verge of the sea
  Which from the sun receives its heat."

Manannán, the Irish Neptune, driving in a chariot across the sea,
which to him was a flowery plain, meets Bran thereafter, and chants to
him twenty-eight more verses about the lovely land of Moy Mell, "the
Pleasant Plain," which the unknown lady had described, and they are
couched in the same strain.

  "Though [but] one rider is seen
  In Moy Mell of many powers,
  There are many steeds on its surface
  Although thou seest them not.

    * * * * *

  A beautiful game, most delightful
  They play [sitting] at the luxurious wine,
  Men and gentle women under a bush
  Without sin, without crime.

     * * * * *

  A wood with blossom and fruit,
  On which is the vine's veritable fragrance;
  A wood without decay, without defect,
  On which are leaves of golden hue."

Then, prophesying of the death of Mongan, he sang--

  "He will drink a drink from Loch Ló,
  While he looks at the stream of blood;
  The white hosts will take him under a wheel of clouds,
  To the gathering where there is no sorrow."

I know of few things in literature comparable to this lovely
description, at once so mystic and so sensuous, of the joys of the
other world. To my mind it breathes the very essence of Celtic glamour,
and is shot through and through with the Celtic love of form, beauty,
landscape, company, and the society of woman. How exquisite the idea of
being transported from this world to an isle around which sea-horses
glisten, where from trees covered with blossoms the birds call in
harmony to the Hours, a land whose haze is incomparable! What a touch!
Where hair of crystal drops from the mane of the wave as it washes
against the land; where the chariots of silver and of bronze assemble
on the plain of sports, in the country against which laughter peals,
and the day of lasting weather showers silver on the land. And then to
play sitting at the luxurious wine--

  "Men and gentle women under a bush
  Without sin, without crime!"

I verily believe there is no Gael alive even now who would not in his
heart of hearts let drift by him the Elysiums of Virgil, Dante, and
Milton to grasp at the Moy Mell of the unknown Irish pagan.

In another perhaps equally ancient story, that of the elopement of
Connla, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles,[8] with a lady who is a
denizen of this mysterious land, we find the unknown visitor giving
nearly the same account of it as that given to Bran.

"Whence hast thou come, O Lady?" said the Druid.

"I have come," said she, "from the lands of the living in which there
is neither death, nor sin, nor strife;[9] we enjoy perpetual feasts
without anxiety, and benevolence without contention. A large Sidh
[_Shee_, "fairy-mound"] is where we dwell, so that it is hence we are
called the Sidh [Shee] people."

The Druids appear, as I have already remarked, to have acted as
intermediaries between the inhabitants of the other world and of
this, and in the story of Connla one of them chants against the lady
so that her voice was not heard, and he drives her away through his
incantation. She comes back, however, at the end of a month, and again
summons the prince.

"'Tis no lofty seat," she chanted, "upon which sits Connla amid
short-lived mortals awaiting fearful death; the ever-living ones invite
thee to be the ruler over the men of Tethra."

Conn of the Hundred Battles, who had overheard her speech, cried, "Call
me the Druid; I see her tongue has been allowed her to-day [again]."

But she invisible to all save the prince replied to him--

"O Conn of the Hundred Battles, druidism is not loved, for little
has it progressed to honour on the great Righteous Strand, with its
numerous, wondrous, various families."

After that she again invites the prince to follow her, saying--

  "There is another land which it were well to seek.
  I see the bright sun is descending, though far off we shall reach it
       ere night.
  'Tis the land that cheers the mind of every one that turns to me.
  There is no race in it save only women and maidens."

The prince is overcome with longing. He leaps into her well-balanced,
gleaming boat of pearl. Those who were left behind upon the strand "saw
them dimly, as far as the sight of their eyes could reach. They sailed
the sea away from them, and from that day to this have not been seen,
and it is unknown where they went to."

In the fine story of Cuchulain's sick-bed,[10] in which though the
language of the text is not so ancient, the conceptions are equally
pagan, the deserted wife of Manannán, the Irish Neptune, falls in love
with the human warrior, and invites him to the other-world to herself,
through the medium of an ambassadress. Cuchulain sends his charioteer
Laeg along with this mysterious ambassadress, that he may bring him
word again, to what kind of land he is invited. Laeg, when he returns,
repeats a glowing account of its beauty, which coincides closely with
those given by the ladies who summoned Bran and Connla.

  "There are at the western door,
    In the place where the sun goes down,
  A stud of steeds of the best of breeds
    Of the grey and the golden brown.

  There wave by the eastern door
    Three crystal-crimson trees,
  Whence the warbling bird all day is heard
    On the wings of the perfumed breeze.

  And before the central door
    Is another, of gifts untold.
  All silvern-bright in the warm sunlight,
    Its branches gleam like gold."[11]

   * * * * *

In the saga of the Wooing of Etain we meet with what is substantially
the same description. She is the wife of one of the Tuatha De Danann,
is reborn as a mortal, and weds the king of Ireland. Her former
husband, Midir, still loves her, follows her, and tries to win her
back. She is unwilling, and he chants to her this description of the
land to which he would lure her.

  "Come back to me, lady, to love and to shine
    In the land that was thine in the long-ago,
  Where of primrose hue is the golden hair
    And the limbs are as fair as the wreathèd snow.

  To the lakes of delight that no storm may curl,
    Where the teeth are as pearl, the eyes as sloes,
  Which alight, whenever they choose to seek,
    On the bloom of a cheek where the foxglove glows.

  Each brake is alive with the flowers of spring,
    Whence the merles sing in their shy retreat;
  Though sweet be the meadows of Innisfail,
    Our beautiful vale is far more sweet.

  Though pleasant the mead be of Innisfail,
    More pleasant the ale of that land of mine,
  A land of beauty, a land of truth,
    Where youth shall never grow old or pine.

  Fair rivers brighten the vale divine,--
    There are choicest of wine and of mead therein.
  And heroes handsome and women fair
    Are in dalliance there without stain or sin.

  From thence we see, though we be not seen,
    We know what has been and shall be again,
  And the cloud that was raised by the first man's fall,
    Has concealed us all from the eyes of men.

  Then come with me, lady, to joys untold,
    And a circlet of gold on thy head shall be,
  Banquets of milk and of wine most rare,
    Thou shalt share, O lady, and share with me."[12]

The casual Christian allusion in the penultimate verse need not lead
us astray, nor does it detract from the essentially pagan character
of the rest, for throughout almost the whole of Irish literature the
more distinctly or ferociously pagan any piece is, the more certain
it is to have a Christian allusion added at the end as a make-weight.
There is great ingenuity displayed in thus turning the pagan legend
into a Christian homily by the addition of two lines suggesting that
if men were not sinful, this beautiful pagan world and the beautiful
forms that inhabited it would be visible to the human ken. This was
sufficient to disarm any hostility to the legend on the part of the

From what we have said it is evident that the ancient Irish pagans
believed in the possibility of rebirth, and founded many of their
mythical sagas on the doctrine of metempsychosis, and that they had
a highly ornate and fully-developed belief in a happy other-world or
Elysium, to which living beings were sometimes carried off without
going through the forms of death. But it is impossible to say whether
rebirth with life in another world, for those whom the gods favoured,
was taught as a doctrine or had any ethical significance attached to it
by the druids of Ireland, as it most undoubtedly had by their cousins
the druids of Gaul.

[1] "De Bello Gallico," vi. 14.

[2] See "Voyage of Bran," vol. ii. pp. 107-111, where all these
passages have been lucidly collected by Mr. Nutt.

[3] All of these have been studied by Mr. Nutt, chap. xiv.

[4] Vol. ii. p. 121.

[5] In a large collection of nearly sixty folk-lore stories taken down
in Irish from the lips of the peasantry, I find about five contain
allusions to the belief in another world full of life under water,
and about four in a life in the inside of the hills. The Hy Brasil
type--that of finding the dead living again on an ocean island--is, so
far as I have yet collected, quite unrepresented amongst them. An old
Irish expression for dying is going "to the army of the dead," used
by Déirdre in her lament, and I find a variant of it so late as the
beginning of this century, in a poem by Raftery, a blind musician of
the county Mayo, who tells his countrymen to remember that they must
go "to the meadow of the dead." _See_ Raftery's "Aithreachas," in my
"Religious Songs of Connacht," p. 266.

[6] Admirably translated by Kuno Meyer, who says "there are a large
number of [word] forms in the 'Voyage of Bran,' as old as any to be
found in the Wurzburg Glosses," and these Professor Thurneysen ascribes
unhesitatingly to the seventh century. Zimmer also agrees that the
piece is not later than the seventh century, that is, was first written
down in the seventh century, but this is no criterion of the date of
the original composition.

[7] I give Kuno Meyer's translation: in the original--

  "Fil inis i n-eterchéin
  Immataitnet gabra rein
  Rith find fris tóibgel tondat
  Ceitheóir cossa foslongat."

In modern Irish the first two lines would run

  "[Go] bhfuil inis i n-idir-chéin
  Urn a dtaithnigeann gabhra réin."

_Réin_ being the genitive of _rian_, "the sea," which, according to M.
d'Arbois, the Gaels brought with them as a reminiscence of the Rhine,
see above p. 10.

[8] Preserved in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, a MS. compiled from older
ones about the year 1100. See for this story "Gaelic Journal," vol. ii.
p. 306.

[9] "_Dodeochadsa for in ben a tirib beó áit inna bi bás na peccad na
imorbus, i.e._ [go], ndeachas-sa ar san bhean ó tíribh na mbeó, áit ann
nach mbionn bás ná peacadh ná immarbhádh."

[10] Also contained in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, a MS. transcribed about
the year 1100.

[11] Literally: "There are at the western door, in the place where the
sun goes down, a stud of steeds with grey-speckled manes and another
crimson brown. There are at the eastern door three ancient trees of
crimson crystal, from which incessantly sing soft-toned birds. There is
a tree in front of the court, it cannot be matched in harmony, a tree
of silver against which the sun shines, like unto gold is its great

[12] A Befind in raga lim / I tír n-ingnad hifil rind / Is barr
sobairche folt and / Is dath snechtu chorp coind. Literally: "O lady
fair wouldst thou come with me to the wondrous land that is ours, where
the hair is as the blossom of the primrose, where the tender body is as
fair as snow. There shall be no grief there nor sorrow; white are the
teeth there, black are the eyebrows, a delight to the eye is the number
of our host, and on every cheek is the hue of the foxglove.

"The crimson of the foxglove is in every brake, delightful to the eye
[there] the blackbird's eggs. Although pleasant to behold are the
plains of Innisfail, after frequenting the Great Plain rarely wouldst
thou [remember them]. Though heady to thee the ale of Innisfail,
headier the ale of the great land, a beauty of a land, the land I speak
of. Youth never grows there into old age. Warm, sweet streams traverse
the country with choicest mead and choicest wine, handsome persons [are
there], without blemish, conception without sin, without stain.

"We see every one on every side, and no one seeth us; the cloud of
Adam's wrong-doing has concealed us from being numbered. O lady, if
thou comest to my brave land, it is a crown of gold shall be upon thy
head, fresh flesh of swine, banquets of new milk and ale shalt thou
have with me then, fair lady."

_Apropos_ of the Irish liking for swine's flesh, Stanihurst tells a
good story: "'No meat,' says he, 'they fansie so much as porke, and
the fatter the better. One of John O'Nel's [Shane O'Neill's] household
demanded of his fellow whether beefe were better than porke. 'That,'
quoth the other, 'is as intricate a question as to ask whether thou art
better than O'Nell.'"



We now come to the question, When and where did the Irish get their
alphabet, and at what time did they begin to practise the art of
writing? The present alphabet of the Irish, which they have used in
all their books from the seventh century down, and probably for three
hundred years before that, is only a modification--and a peculiarly
beautiful one--of the Roman letters. This alphabet they no doubt
borrowed from their neighbours, the Romanised Britons, within whose
territory they had established themselves, and with whom--now in peace,
now in war--they carried on a vigorous and constant intercourse.[1] The
_general_ use of letters in Ireland is, however, to be attributed to
the early Christian missionaries.

But there is no reason to believe that it was St. Patrick, or indeed
any missionary, who first introduced them. There probably were in
Ireland many persons in the fourth century, or perhaps even earlier,
who were acquainted with the art of writing. Already, at the beginning
of the third century at least, says Zimmer in his "Keltische Studien,"
British missionaries were at work in the south of Ireland. Bede, in
his history, says distinctly that Palladius was sent from Rome in the
year 431 to the Irish "who believed in Christ"--"ad Scottos in Christum
credentes." Already, at the close of the third century, there was an
organised British episcopate, and three British bishops attended the
Council of Arles held in 314. It is quite impossible that the numerous
Irish colonies settled in the south of England and in Wales could
have failed to come into contact with this organised Church, and even
to have been influenced by it. The account in the Acta Sanctorum, of
Declan, Bishop of Waterford, said to have been born in 347, and of
Ailbe, another southern bishop, who met St. Patrick, may be looked
upon as perfectly true in so far as it relates to the actual existence
of these pre-Patrician bishops. St. Chrysostom, writing in the year
387, mentions that already churches and altars had been erected in
the British Isles. Pelagius, the subtle and persuasive heresiarch who
taught with such success at Rome about the year 400, and acquired
great influence there, was of Irish descent--"habet progeniem Scotticæ
gentis de Brittanorum vicinia," said St. Jerome. As St. Augustine
and Prosper of Aquitaine call him "Briton" and "British scribe," he
probably belonged to one of the Irish colonies settled in Wales or the
South-west of England. His success at Rome is a proof that some Irish
families at least were within reach of literary education in the fourth
century. His friend and teacher, Celestius, has also been claimed as an
Irishman, but Dr. Healy has shown that this claim is perhaps founded
upon a misconception.[2]

"The influence of the ancient Irish on the Continent," says Dr.
Sigerson, "began in the works of Sedulius, whose 'Carmen Paschale,'
published in the fifth century, is the first great Christian epic
worthy of the name." Sedulius, the Virgil of theological poetry,
flourished in the first half of the fifth century, and seems to have
studied in Gaul, passed into Italy, and finally resided in Achaia in
Greece, which he seems to have made his home. There are at least eight
Irish Siadals (in Latin Sedulius, in English Shiel) commemorated by
Colgan. The strongest evidence of Sedulius's Irish nationality is that
the Irish geographer Dicuil, in the eighth century, quoting some of
his lines, calls him _noster Sedulius_. John of Tritenheim, towards
the close of the fifteenth century, distinctly calls him an Irishman
_natione Scotus_, but attributes to him the verses of a later Sedulius.
Dr. Sigerson, by a clever analysis of his verse-peculiarities confirms
this opinion.[3]

In the "Tripartite Life of St. Patrick" we read that the druids at the
king's court, when St. Patrick arrived there, possessed books, and
when, at a later date, St. Patrick determined upon revising the Brehon
law code, the books in which it was written down were laid before him.
That there has come down to our time no written record earlier than the
seventh or eighth century[4] is chiefly due to the enormous destruction
of books by the Danes and English. The same causes produced a like
effect in Britain, for the oldest surviving British MSS. are not even
as old as ours, although the art of writing must have been known and
practised there since the Roman occupation.

The Irish had, however, another system of writing which they
themselves invented. This was the celebrated Ogam script, consisting
of a number of short lines, straight or slanting,[5] and drawn either
below, above, or through one long stem-line, which stem-line is
generally the angle between two sides of a long upright rectangular
stone. These lines represented letters; and over two hundred stones
have been found inscribed with Ogam writing. It is a remarkable fact
that rude as this device for writing is, it has been applied with
considerable skill, and is framed with much ingenuity. For in every
case it is found that those letters which, like the vowels, are most
easily pronounced, are also in Ogam the easiest to inscribe, and the
simpler sounds are represented by simpler characters than those that
are more complex. To account for the philosophical character of this
alphabet[6] "than which no simpler method of writing is imaginable,"
a German, Dr. Rethwisch, who examined it from this side, concluded
that "the natural gifts of the Celts and their practical genius for
simplicity and observation ripened up to a certain stage far earlier
than those of their Indo-European relations." This statement, however,
rests upon the as yet unproved assumption that Ogam writing is
pre-Christian and pagan. What is of more interest is that the author
of it supposed that with one or two changes it would make the simplest
conceivable universal-alphabet or international code of writing. It
is very strange that nearly all the Irish Ogam stones are found in
the south-west, chiefly in the counties of Cork and Kerry, with a few
scattered over the rest of the country--but one in West Connacht,
and but one or two at the most in Ulster. Between twenty and thirty
more have been found in Wales and Devonshire, and one or two even
farther east, thus bearing witness to the colonies planted by the
Irish marauders in early Britain, for Ogam writing is peculiar to
the Irish Gael and only found where he had settled. Ten stones more
have been found in Scotland, probably the latest in date of any, for
some of these, unlike the Irish stones, bear Christian symbols. Many
Ogams have been easily read, thanks to the key contained in the Book
of Ballymote; thanks also to the fact that one or two Ogams have been
found with duplicates inscribed in Latin letters. But many still defy
all attempts at deciphering them, though numerous efforts have been
made, treating them as though they were cryptic ciphers, which they
were long believed to be. That Ogam was, as some assert, an early
cryptic alphabet, and one intended to be read only by the initiated,
is both in face of the numbers of such inscriptions already deciphered
and in the face of the many instances recorded in our oldest sagas of
its employment, an absurd hypothesis. It is nearly always treated in
them as an ordinary script which any one could read. It may, however,
have been occasionally used in later times in a cryptic sense, names
being written backwards or syllables transposed, but this was
certainly not the original invention. Some of the latest Ogam pillars
are gravestones of people who died so late as the year 600, but what
proportion of them, if any, date from before the Christian era it is
as yet impossible to tell. Certain it is that the grammatical forms of
the language inscribed upon most of them are vastly older than those of
the very oldest manuscripts,[7] and agree with those of the old Gaulish
linguistic monuments.

Cormac's Glossary--a work of the ninth or tenth century--the ancient
sagas, and many allusions in the older literature, would seem to show
that Ogam writing was used by the pagan Irish. Cormac, explaining the
word _fé_ says that "it was a wooden rod used by the Gael for measuring
corpses and graves, and that this rod used always to be kept in the
burial-places of the heathen, and it was a horror to every one even
to take it in his hand, and whatever was abominable to them they (the
pagans) used to inscribe on it in Ogam."[8] The sagas also are full of
allusions to Ogam writing. In the "Táin Bo Chuailgne," which probably
assumed substantially its present shape in the seventh century, we
are told how when Cuchulain, after assuming arms, drove into Leinster
with his charioteer and came to the dún or fort of the three sons of
Nechtan, he found on the lawn before the court a stone pillar, around
which was written in Ogam that every hero who passed thereby was bound
to issue a challenge. This was clearly no cryptic writing but the
ordinary script, meant to be read by every one who passed.[9] Cuchulain
in the same saga frequently cuts Ogam on wands, which he leaves in
the way of Mève's army. These are always brought to his friend Fergus
to read. Perhaps the next oldest allusion to Ogam writing is in the
thoroughly pagan "Voyage of Bran," which both Zimmer and Kuno Meyer
consider to have been committed to writing in the seventh century. We
are there told that Bran wrote the fifty or sixty quatrains of the poem
in Ogam. Again, in Cormac's Glossary[10] we find a story of how Lomna
Finn mac Cool's fool (drúth) made an Ogam and put it in Finn's way to
tell him how his wife had been unfaithful to him. A more curious case
is the story in the Book of Leinster of Corc's flying to the Court of
King Feradach in Scotland. Not knowing how he might be received he hid
in a wood near by. The King's poet, however, meets him and recognises
him, having seen him before that in Ireland. The poet notices an Ogam
on the prince's shield, and asks him, "Who was it that befriended you
with that Ogam, for it was not good luck which he designed for you?"
"Why," asked the prince, "what does it contain?" "What it contains,"
said the poet, "is this--that if by day you arrive at the Court of
Feradach the king, your head shall be struck off before night; if it be
at night you arrive your head shall be struck off before morning."[11]
This Ogam was apparently readable only by the initiated, for the
prince did not himself know what he was bearing on his shield.

All ancient Irish literature, then, is unanimous in attributing
a knowledge of Ogam to the pre-Christian Irish. M. d'Arbois de
Jubainville seems also to believe in its pagan antiquity, for when
discussing the story of St. Patrick's setting a Latin alphabet before
Fiach, and of the youth's learning to read the Psalms within the
following four-and-twenty hours, he remarks that the story is just
possible since Fiach should have known the Ogam alphabet, and except
for the form of the letters it and the Latin alphabet were the same.[12]

St. Patrick, too, tells us in his "Confession" how after his flight
from Ireland he saw a man coming as it were from that country with
innumerable letters, a dream that would scarcely have visited him had
he known that there was no one in Ireland who could write letters.[13]

The Ogam alphabet, however, is based upon the Roman. Of this there can
be no doubt, for it contains letters which, according to the key,
represents Q (made by five upright strokes above the stem line), Z,
and Y, none of which letters are used in even the oldest MSS., and two
of which at least must have been borrowed from the Romans. The most,
then, that can at present be said with absolute certainty is, as Dr.
Whitley Stokes cautiously puts it, that these Ogam inscriptions and the
language in which they are couched are "enough to show that some of the
Celts of these islands wrote their language before the fifth century,
the time at which Christianity is supposed to have been introduced into
Ireland."[14] The presence of these Roman letters never used by the
Irish on vellum, and the absence of any aspirated letters (which abound
even in the oldest vellum MSS.) are additional proofs of the antiquity
of the Ogam alphabet.

The Irish themselves ascribed the invention of Ogam to [the god] Ogma,
one of the leading Tuatha De Danann,[15] and although it may be, as
Rhys points out, philologically unsound to derive Ogam from Ogma, yet
there appears to be an intimate connection between the two words, and
Ogma may well be derived from Ogam, which in its early stage may have
meant fluency or learning rather than letters. Certainly there cannot
be any doubt that Ogma, the Tuatha De Danann, was the same as the
Gaulish god Ogmios of whom Lucian, that pleasantest of Hellenes, gives
us an account so delightfully graphic that it is worth repeating in
its entirety as another proof of what I shall have more to speak about
later on, the solidarity--to use a useful Gallicism--of the Irish and
the Continental Gauls.

 "The Celts,"[16] says Lucian, "call Heracles in the language of their
 country Ogmios, and they make very strange representations of the god.
 With them he is an extremely old man with a bald forehead and his few
 remaining hairs quite grey; his skin is wrinkled and embrowned by
 the sun to that degree of swarthiness which is characteristic of men
 who have grown old in a seafaring life; in fact, you would fancy him
 rather to be a Charon or Japetus, one of the dwellers in Tartarus, or
 anybody rather than Heracles. But although he is of this description
 he is nevertheless attired like Heracles, for he has on him the lion's
 skin, and he has a club in the right hand; he is duly equipped with
 a quiver, and his left hand displays a bow stretched out, in these
 respects he is quite Heracles.[17] It struck me then that the Celts
 took such liberties with the appearance of Heracles in order to insult
 the gods of the Greeks and avenge themselves on him in their painting,
 because he once made a raid on their territory, when in search of the
 herds of Geryon he harassed most of the Western peoples. I have not
 yet, however, mentioned the most whimsical part of the picture, for
 this old man Heracles draws after him a great number of men bound
 by their ears, and the bonds are slender cords wrought of gold and
 amber, like necklaces of the most beautiful make; and although they
 are dragged on by such weak ties they never try to run away, though
 they could easily do it, nor do they at all resist or struggle against
 them, planting their feet in the ground and throwing their weight
 back in the direction contrary to that in which they are being led.
 Quite the reverse, they follow with joyful countenance in a merry
 mood, and praising him who leads them, pressing on, one and all, and
 slackening their chains in their eagerness to proceed; in fact, they
 look like men who would be grieved should they be set free. But that
 which seemed to me the most absurd thing of all I will not hesitate
 also to tell you: the painter, you see, had nowhere to fix the ends
 of the cords since the right hand of the god held the club and his
 left the bow; so he pierced the tip of his tongue and represented the
 people as drawn on from it, and the god turns a smiling countenance
 towards those whom he is leading. Now I stood a long time looking at
 these things and wondered, perplexed and indignant. But a certain
 Celt standing by, who knew something about our ways, as he showed by
 speaking good Greek--a man who was quite a philosopher I take it in
 local matters--said to me: 'Stranger, I will tell you the secret of
 the painting, for you seem very much troubled about it. We Celts do
 not consider the power of speech to be Hermes as you Greeks do, but we
 represent it by means of Heracles, because he is much stronger than
 Hermes. Nor should you wonder at his being represented as an old man,
 for the power of words is wont to show its perfection in the aged;
 for your poets are, no doubt, right when they say that the thoughts
 of young men turn with every wind, and that age has something wiser
 to tell us than youth. And so it is that honey pours from the tongue
 of that Nestor of yours, and the Trojan orators speak with a voice
 of the delicacy of the lily, a voice well covered, so to say, with
 bloom, for the bloom of flowers, if my memory does not fail me, has
 the term lilies applied to it. So if this old man Heracles (the power
 of speech) draws men after him, tied to his tongue by their ears, you
 have no reason to wonder; as you must be aware of the close connection
 between the ears and the tongue. Nor is there any injury done him by
 the latter being pierced; for I remember, said he, learning, while
 among you, some comic iambics to the effect that all chattering
 fellows have the tongue bored at the tip. In a word, we Celts are of
 opinion that Heracles himself performed everything by the power of
 words, as he was a wise fellow, and that most of his compulsion was
 effected by persuasion. His weapons, I take it, were his utterances,
 which are sharp and well-aimed, swift to pierce the mind, and you too
 say that words have wings.' Thus far the Celt."

We see, then, that the Irish legend that it was Ogma (who is also said
to have been skilled in dialects and poetry) who invented the Ogam
alphabet, so useful as a medium through which to convey language, is
quite borne out by the account given to Lucian of the Gaulish god
Ogmios, the eloquent old man whose language was endowed with so great
a charm that he took his hearers captive. He turns, says Lucian,
towards his willing captives with a smiling face, and the Irish Ogma,
too, is called Ogma "of the shining countenance."[18] Nor does the
Gaul in dressing Ogma as a Hercules appear to have acted altogether
whimsically, because not only is Ogma skilled in poetry and dialects
and the inventor of Ogam, but he is also all through the battle of
Moytura actually depicted as the _strong man_ of the De Danann, strong
enough to push a stone which eighty pair of oxen could not have moved.

The modern Irish names for books, reading, writing, letters, pens, and
vellum, are all derived from the Latin.[19] But there seem to have been
other names in use to designate the early writing materials of the
Irish. These were the Taibhli Fileadh, "poets' tablets," and Tamhlorg
Fileadh, which is translated by O'Curry as poets' "headless staves."
This latter word, whatever may be the exact meaning of it, is at least
pure Gaelic. We read in the "Colloquy of the Ancients" that St. Patrick
began to feel a little uneasy at the delight with which he listened
to the stories of the ancient Fenians, and in his over-scrupulous
sanctity he feared it might be wrong to extract such pleasure from
merely mundane narrations. Accordingly he consulted his two guardian
angels on the matter, but received an emphatic response from both of
them, not only to the effect that there was no harm in listening to
the stories themselves, but actually desiring him to get them written
down "in poets' _támhlorgs_ and in the words of ollavs, for it will
be a rejoicing to numbers and to the good people to the end of time,
to listen to those stories."[20] An ancient passage from the Brehon
Laws prescribes that a poet may carry a _tábhall-lorg_ or tablet-staff,
and O'Curry acutely suggests that these so-called tablet-staves were
of the nature of a fan which could be closed up in the shape of a
square stick, upon the lines and angles of which the poet wrote in
Ogam. We can well imagine the almost superstitious reverence which in
rude times must have attached itself, and which as we know did attach
itself, to the man who could carry about in his hand the whole history
and genealogy of his race, and probably the catchwords of innumerable
poems and the skeletons of highly-prized narratives. It was probably
through these means that the genealogies of which I have spoken were so
accurately transmitted and kept from the third or fourth century, and
possibly from a still earlier period.

Amongst many other accounts of pre-Christian writing there is one so
curious that it is worth giving here _in extenso._[21]


 "Buain's only son was Baile. He was specially beloved by Aillinn,[22]
 the daughter of Lewy,[23] son of Fergus Fairgé--but some say she was
 the daughter of Owen, son of Dathi--and he was specially beloved not
 of her only, but of every one who ever heard or saw him, on account of
 his delightful stories.

 "Now Baile and Aillinn made an appointment to meet at Rosnaree, on the
 banks of the Boyne in Bregia. And he came from Emania in the north to
 meet her, passing over Slieve Fuad and Muirthuimhne to Tráigh mBaile
 (Dundalk), and here he and his troops unyoked their chariots, sent
 their horses out to pasture, and gave themselves up to pleasure and

 "And while they were there they saw a horrible spectral personage
 coming towards them from the South. Vehement were his steps and his
 rapid progress. The way he sped over the earth might be compared to
 the darting of a hawk down a cliff or to wind from off the green sea,
 and his left was towards the land [_i.e._, he came from the south
 along the shore].

 "'Go meet him,' said Baile, 'and ask him where he goes, or whence he
 comes, or what is the cause of his haste.'

 "'From Mount Leinster I come, and I go back now to the North, to the
 mouth of the river Bann; and I have no news but of the daughter of
 Lewy, son of Fergus, who had fallen in love with Baile mac Buain, and
 was coming to meet him. But the youths of Leinster overtook her, and
 she died from being forcibly detained, as Druids and fair prophets
 had prophesied, for they foretold that they would never meet in life,
 but that they would meet after death, and not part for ever. There is
 my news,' and he darted away from them like a blast of wind over the
 green sea, and they were not able to detain him.

 "When Baile heard this he fell dead without life, and his tomb and his
 rath were raised, and his stone set up, and his funeral games were
 performed by the Ultonians.

 "And a yew grew up through his grave, and the form and shape of
 Baile's head was visible on the top of it--whence the place is called
 Baile's Strand [now Dundalk].

 "Afterwards the same man went to the South to where the maiden Aillinn
 was, and went into her grianan or sunny chamber.

 "'Whence comes the man whom we do not know?' said the maiden.

 "'From the northern half of Erin, from the mouth of the Bann I come,
 and I go past this to Mount Leinster.'

 "'You have news?' said the maiden.

 "'I have no news worth mentioning now, only I saw the Ultonians
 performing the funeral games and digging the rath, and setting up
 the stone, and writing the name of Baile mac Buain, the royal heir
 of Ulster, by the side of the strand of Baile, who died while on his
 way to meet a sweetheart and a beloved woman to whom he had given
 affection, for it was not fated for them to meet, in life, or for one
 of them to see the other living,' and he darted out after telling the
 evil news.

 "And Aillinn fell dead without life, and her tomb was raised, etc. And
 an apple tree grew through her grave and became a great tree at the
 end of seven years, and the shape of Aillinn's head was upon its top.

 "Now at the end of seven years poets and prophets and visioners cut
 down the yew which was over the grave of Baile, and they made a
 _poet's tablet_ of it, and they wrote the visions and the espousals
 and the loves and the courtships of Ulster in it. [The apple tree
 which grew over the grave of Aillinn was also cut down] and in like
 manner the courtships of Leinster were written in it.

 "There came a November eve long afterwards, and a festival was made
 to celebrate it by Art, the son of Conn [of the Hundred Battles,
 High-king of Ireland], and the professors of every science came to
 that feast as was their custom, and they brought their tablets with
 them. And these tablets also came there, and Art saw them, and when he
 saw them he asked for them; and the two tablets were brought and he
 held them in his hands face to face. Suddenly the one tablet of them
 sprang upon the other, and they became united the same as a woodbine
 round a twig, and it was not possible to separate them. And they were
 preserved like every other jewel in the treasury at Tara until it was
 burned by Dúnlang, son of Enna, at the time he burnt the Princesses at
 Tara, as has been said

  "'The apple tree of noble Aillinn,
  The yew of Baile--small inheritance--
  Though they are introduced into poems
  Unlearned people do not understand them.'

 "and Ailbhé, daughter of Cormac, grandson of Conn [of the Hundred
 Battles] said too

    "'What I liken Lumluine to
    Is to the Yew of Baile's rath,
    What I liken the other to
    Is to the Apple Tree of Aillinn.'"

So far this strange tale. But poetic as it is, it yields--unlike
most--its chief value when rationalised, for as O'Curry remarks, it
was apparently invented to account for some inscribed tablets in the
reign of King Art in the second century, which had--as we ourselves
have seen in the case of so many leaves of very old manuscripts at this
day--become fastened to each other, so that they clung inextricably
together and could not be separated.

Now the massacre of the Princesses at Tara happened, according to the
"Four Masters," in the year 241, when the tablets were burnt. Hence one
of two things must be the case; the story must either have originated
_before_ that date to account for the sticking together of the tablets,
or else some one must have invented it long afterwards, that is, must,
without any apparent cause, have invented a story out of his own head,
as to how there were _once on a time_ two tablets made of trees which
_once_ grew on two tombs which were _once_ fastened together before
Art, son of Conn, and which were soon afterwards unfortunately burnt.
A supposition which, considering there were then, _ex hypothesi_,
no adhering tablets to prompt the invention, appears at first sight

       *       *       *       *       *

Brash, who made personal examination of almost every Ogam known to
exist, and whose standard work on the subject reproduces most of the
inscriptions discovered up to the date of writing, was of opinion that
no Ogam monument had anything Christian about it, and that if any
Christian symbol were discovered on an Ogam stone, it must be of later
date than the Ogam writing. Dr. Graves, however, has since shown that
Ogam was in some few cases at least used over the graves of Christians;
and he believes that all Ogam writing is really post-Christian, despite
the absence of Christian emblems on the stones, and that it belongs to
a comparatively modern period--"in fact, for the most part, to a time
between the fifth and seventh century."[24] Brash's great work was
supplemented by Sir Samuel Ferguson's, and since that time Professor
Rhys[25] and Dr. Whitley Stokes have thrown upon the inscriptions
themselves all the light that the highest critical acumen equipped with
the completest philological training could do, and have, to quote Mr.
Macalister, "between them reduced to order the confusion which almost
seemed to warrant the cryptical theories, and have thereby raised Ogam
inscriptions from the position of being mere learned playthings to a
place of the highest philological importance, not only in Celtic but
in Indo-European epigraphy." He himself--the latest to deal with the
subject--waves for the present as "difficult--perhaps in some measure
insoluble"--all "questions of the time, place, and manner of the
development of the Ogham script."[26] Rhys has traced in certain of
the inscriptions the influence exercised on the spoken language of the
Celtic people by an agglutinating pre-Celtic tongue.[27] This gives us
a glimpse at the pre-Aryan languages of the British Isles, which is in
the highest degree interesting.

To me it seems probable that the Irish discovered the use of letters
either through trade with the Continent or through the Romanised
Britons, at any time from the first or second century onward. But how
or why they invented the Ogam alphabet, instead of using Roman letters,
or else Greek ones like the Gauls, is a profound mystery. One thing is
certain, namely, that the Ogam alphabet--at whatever time invented--is
a possession peculiar to the Irish Gael, and only to be found where he
made his settlements.

[1] Dr. Jones, the Bishop of St. Davids, in his interesting book,
"Vestiges of the Gael in Gwynedd" (North Wales) has come to the
conclusion that the Irish occupied the whole of Anglesey, Carnarvon,
Merioneth, and Cardiganshire, with at least portions of Denbighshire,
Montgomery, and Radnor. Their occupation of part of the south and
south-west of England is attested by the area of Ogam finds.

[2] "Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars," p. 39. I find Migne, in
his note on Pelagius, apparently confounding Scotia with Great Britain.

[3] See for Dr. Sigerson's ingenious argument "Bards of the Gael and
Gaul," Introduction, p. 30.

[4] Except perhaps on stone. There is an inscription on a stone in
Galway, "Lie Luguaedon Macc Lmenueh," for a facsimile of which see
O'Donovan's grammar, p. 411. O'Donovan says it was set up over a nephew
of St. Patrick's. Mr. Macalister reads it no doubt correctly, "Lie
Luguaedon macci Menueh." This is probably the oldest extant inscription
in Roman letters, and it shows that the old Ogam form _maqui_ had
already changed into mac[c]i. The "c" in place of "q" is only found on
the later Ogam stones, and only one stone is found to read "maic."

[5] Thus four cuts to the right of or below the long line stand for
S, above it they mean C, passing through the long line half on one
side and half on the other they mean E. These straight lines, being
easily cut on stone with a chisel, continued long in use. The long
line, with reference to which all the letters are drawn, is usually the
right angle or corner of the upright stone between the two sides. The
inscription usually begins at the left-hand corner of the stone facing
the reader and is read upwards, and is sometimes continued down on the
right-hand angular line as well. The vowels are very small cuts on the
angle of the stone, but much larger than points. There is no existing
book written in Ogam, but various alphabets of it have been preserved
in the Book of Ballymote, and some small metal articles have been found
inscribed with it, showing that its use was not peculiar to pillar

[6] See a curious monograph by Dr. Ernst Rethwisch entitled, "Die
Inschrift von Killeen Cormac und der Úrsprung der Sprache," 1886.
"Einfachere Schriftzeichen als das keltische Alphabet sind nicht
denkbar ... die Vocale haben die einfachsten Symbole und unter den
Vocalen haben wieder die am bequemsten auszusprechenden bequemer
zu machende Zeichen wie die Andern. Unter den Consonanten, hat die
Klasse die am schwierigsten gelingt ... die am wenigsten leicht
einzuritzenden Zeichen: die Gaumenlaute." He is greatly struck by "der
so verständig und sachgemäss erscheinende Trieb dem einfachsten Laut
das einfachste Symbol zu widmen." "Eine Erklärung [of the rational
simplicity of the Ogam script] ist nur möglich wenn man annimmt dass
die natürliche Begabung der Kelten, der praktische auf Einfachheit und
Beobachtungsgabe beruhende Sinn viel früher zŭ einer gewissen Reife
gediehen sind, als bei den Indogermanischen Verwandten" (p. 29).

[7] As _Curci_ and _maqi_ for the genitives of Corc and mac. In later
times the genitive ending i, became incorporated in the body of the
word, making _Cuirc_ and _maic_ in the MSS., which latter subsequently
became attenuated still further into the modern _mic_. Another very
common and important form is _avi_, which has been explained as from a
nominative *avios [for (*p)avios], Old Irish _aue_, modern _ua_ or _o_.
Another extraordinary feature is the suffix _*gnos = cnos_, the regular
patronymic formative of the Gaulish inscriptions. Another important
word is _muco_, genitive _mucoi_, meaning "descendant," but in some
cases apparently "chief." The word _anm_ or even _ancm_, which often
precedes the genitive of the proper noun, as _anm meddugini_, has not
yet been explained or accounted for. All these examples help to show
the great age of the linguistic monuments preserved in Ogam.

[8] "Ocus no bid in flesc sin dogres irelcib nangente ocus bafuath
la each a gabail inalaim ocus cach ni ba hadetchi leo dobertis [lege
nobentis] tria Ogam innti, _i.e._ Agus do bhíodh an fleasg sin do
ghnáth i reiligibh na ngente, agus budh fuath, le each a gabháil ann a
láimh, agus gach nidh budh ghránna leó do bhainidis [ghearradaois] tre
Ogham innti."

[9] See Zimmer's "Summary of the Táin Bo Chuailgne," _Zeit. f. vgl.,
Sprachforschung_, 1887, p. 448.

[10] Under the word _orc tréith_.

[11] The classical reader need hardly be reminded of the striking
resemblance between this and the σήματα λυγρά which, according to
Homer, Prœtus gave the unsuspecting Bellerophon to bring to the King of
Lycia, γράψας ἐν πἰνακι πτυκτῷ θυμοφθόρα πολλά.

[12] The "alphabet" laid before Fiacc, however, was not a list of
letters, but a kind of brief catechism, in Latin "Elementa." St.
Patrick is said to have written a number of these "alphabets" with his
own hand.

[13] The "Confession" and Epistles attributed to St. Patrick are,
by Whitley Stokes, Todd, Ussher, and almost all other authorities,
considered genuine. Recently J.V. Pflugk-Harttung, in an article in
the "Neuer Heidelberger Jahrbuch," Jahrgang iii., Heft. 1., 1893, has
tried to show by internal evidence that the "Confession" and Epistle,
especially the former, are a little later than St. Patrick's time,
and he relies strongly on this passage, saying that it is difficult
to imagine how St. Patrick came by the idea that a man could bring
him "innumerable letters from the heathen Ireland of that time,
where, except for Ogams and inscribed stones (_ausser Oghams und
Skulpturzeichen_), the art of writing was as yet unknown." But seeing
that Christian missionaries were almost certainly at work in Munster
as early as the third century this contention is ridiculous. It is
noteworthy, however, that even this critic seems to believe in the
antiquity of the Ogam characters. As to his main contention that the
"Confession" is not the work of Patrick, Jubainville writes, "Il ne
m'a pas convaincu" (_Revue Celtique_, vol. xiv. p. 215), and M. L.
Duchesne, commenting on Zimmer's view of St. Patrick's nebulousness,
writes, "Contestir l'authenticité de la Confession et de la lettre
à Coroticus me semble très aventuré" (Ibid., vol. xv. p. 188), and
Thurneysen also entirely refuses his credence.

[14] Preface to "Three Old Irish Glossaries," p. lv. Zeuss had already
commented on the Ogams found in the St. Gall codex of Priscian, and
written thus of them, "Figuræ ergo vel potius liniæ ogamicæ non diversæ
ab his quæ notantur a grammaticis hibernicis, in usu jam in hoc vetusto
codice, quidni etiam inde a longinquis temporibus?" There are eight
Ogam sentences in a St. Gall MS. of the ninth century which have been
published by Nigra in his "Manoscritto irlandese di S. Gallo."

[15] See above, ch. V, note 13. See O'Donovan's Grammar, p. xxviii, for
the original of the passage from the Book of Ballymote.

[16] Translated by Rhys in his "Hibbert Lectures," from Bekker's
edition, No. 7, and Dindorf's, No. 55.

[17] The Gauls assimilated their pantheon to those of the Greeks and
Romans in so far as they could, and as the Greek gods are by no means
always the equivalents of the Roman gods with whom popular opinion
equated them, still less were of course the Gaulish; and this is a good
case in point, for Ogmios has evidently nothing of a Hercules about
him, though the Gauls tried to make him the equivalent of Hercules by
giving him the classical club and lion's skin, yet his attributes are
perfectly different.

[18] Grian-aineach, or "of the sunny countenance." See O'Curry MS.
Mat., p. 249. Ogma was, according to some accounts, brother of Breas,
who held the regency amongst the Tuatha De Danann for seven years,
while Nuada was getting his silver hand.

[19] Leabhra, léigheadh, sgríobhadh, litreacha, pinn, meamram.

[20] "A anam a naem-chleirigh ni mó iná trian a scél innisit na
senlaeich út, or dáig dermait ocus dichhuimne. Ocus sgribthar let-sa
i támlorgaibh filed ocus i mbriathraib ollamhan, or bud gairdiugad do
dronguibh ocus do degdáinib deirid aimsire eisdecht fris na scelaib
sin" ("Agallamh," p. 101. "Silva Gadelica," vol. ii.) O'Grady has here
translated it by "tabular staffs." _Táibhli_ is evidently a Latin loan
word, _tabella_. The thing to be remembered is that Ogam writing on
staves appears to be alluded to.

[21] O'Curry found this piece in the MS. marked H. 3. 18 in Trinity
College, Dublin, and has printed it at page 472 of his MS. Materials.
Kuno Meyer has also edited it from a MS. in the British Museum, full
of curious word-equivalents or Kennings. (_See_ "Revue Celtique," vol.
xiii. p. 221. See also a fragment of the same story in Kuno Meyer's
"Hibernica Minora," p. 84.)

[22] Pronounced "Bal-a," and "Al-yinn."

[23] In Irish, _Lughaidh_.

[24] "Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy," May, 1894.

[25] See "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland," vol.
xxvi. p. 263.

[26] "Studies in Irish Epigraphy," London, 1897, part i., by R.
A. Stewart Macalister, who gives a most lucid study of the Ogam
inscriptions in the Barony of Corcaguiney and of a few more, with a
clear and interesting preface on the Ogam words and case-endings.

[27] It is thus he explains such Ogam forms as "Erc maqi maqi-Ercias,"
_i.e._, [the stone] of Erc, son of, etc. But "Erc" is nominative,
"maqi" is genitive, hence "Erc maqi" must be looked upon as one word,
agglutinated as it were, in which the genitive ending of the "maqi"
answers for both. As a rule, however, the name of the interred is in
the genitive case in apposition to "maqi."



It has been frequently assumed, especially by English writers, that the
pre-historic Irish, because of their remoteness from the Continent,
must have been ruder, wilder, and more uncivilised than the inhabitants
of Great Britain. But such an assumption is--to say nothing of our
literary remains--in no way borne out by the results of archæological
research. The contrary rather appears to be the case, that in point of
wealth, artistic feeling, and workmanship, the Irish of the Bronze Age
surpassed the inhabitants of Great Britain.

When we read such accounts as that, for example, in the Book of
Ballymote, of Cormac mac Art, taking his seat at the assembly in
Tara, all covered with gold and jewels, we must not set it down to
the perfervid imagination of the chronicler without first consulting
what Irish archæology has to say upon the point. The appearance of
Cormac (king of Ireland in the third century, and perhaps greatest
of pre-Christian monarchs), is thus described. "Beautiful," says the
writer, quoting probably from ancient accounts now lost, "was the
appearance of Cormac in that assembly, flowing and slightly curling
was his golden hair. A red buckler with stars and animals of gold and
fastenings of silver upon him. A crimson cloak in wide descending
folds around him, fastened at his neck with precious stones. A torque
of gold around his neck. A white shirt with a full collar, and
intertwined with red gold thread upon him. A girdle of gold, inlaid
with precious stones, was around him. Two wonderful shoes of gold,
with golden loops upon his feet. Two spears with golden sockets in his
hands, with many rivets of red bronze. And he was himself, besides,
symmetrical and beautiful of form, without blemish or reproach."
The abundance of gold ornament which Cormac is here represented as
wearing, is no mere imagination of the writer's. It is founded upon the
undoubted fact that of all countries in the West of Europe Ireland was
pre-eminent for its wealth in gold. How much wealthier was Ireland than
Great Britain may be imagined from the fact that while the collection
in the British Museum of pre-historic gold from England, Scotland,
and Wales together amounted a couple of years ago to some three dozen
ounces, that in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin weighs five hundred
and seventy ounces. And yet the collection in the Academy contains only
a small part of the gold-finds made in Ireland, for before 1861, when
the new law about treasure-trove came into force, great numbers of
gold objects are known to have been sold to the goldsmiths and melted
down. The wealth of Ireland in gold--some of it found and smelted in
the Wicklow mountains[1]--must have at an early period determined
continental trade in its direction, and we have seen that Tacitus
reported its harbours as being better known through trade than those
of Great Britain, or, on the most unfavourable reading of the passage,
as being "known by commerce and merchants."[2] This is also borne
out by archæologists. Professor Montelius, who has traced a close
connection in pre-historic times between Scandinavia and the West of
Europe,[3] regards much of the pre-historic gold found in the northern
countries as Irish. Speaking of certain gold ornaments found in Fünen,
which show, according to him, marked Irish influence, he writes:
"Gold ornaments like these have not been discovered elsewhere in
Scandinavia, while a great number of similar ornaments have been found
in the British Isles, especially in Ireland, whose wealth of gold in
the Bronze Age is amazing." Again he writes, "As certain of the gold
objects found in Denmark have been introduced demonstrably from the
British Islands, probably from Ireland, the thought is obvious--is not
a great part of the other gold objects found in Southern Scandinavia
also of Irish origin, and of the Bronze Age there?... for this island
[Ireland] was, during the Bronze Age, one of the lands of Europe
richest in gold." "No other country in Europe possesses so much
manufactured gold belonging to early and mediæval times," writes Mr.
Ernest Smith.[4]

It is true that the Irish Celts, despite their mineral wealth,
never minted coin, a want which has been adduced to prove a lack of
civilisation on their part. But, as Mr. Coffey points out, coinage
is a comparatively late invention; the Egyptians--for all their
civilisation--never possessed a native coinage, and even such ancient
trading cities as Carthage and Gades did not strike coins until a
late period. "A little reflection," says Professor Ridgeway, "shows
us that it has been quite possible for peoples to attain a high
degree of civilisation without feeling any need of what are properly
termed coins." "The absence of coinage," adds Mr. Coffey, "does not
necessarily imply the absence of a currency system, and Professor
Ridgeway has shown that the ancient Irish possessed a system of of
currency or values, and a standard of weights."

A most interesting paper by Mr. Johnson, a Dublin jeweller, recently
read before the Royal Irish Academy,[5] has shown with the authority
due to an expert, the marvellous skill with which the pre-historic
Irish worked their gold, and the wealth of proper appliances which they
must have possessed in order to turn out such unique and admirable

The workmanship of Irish bronze articles is also very fine, and fully
equal to that of Britain, while Greenwell considers their clay urns
and food-vessels superior to the British. In Ireland he says the urns,
"and especially the food vessels, are of better workmanship, and more
elaborately and tastefully ornamented than in most parts of Britain.
Many of the food vessels found in Argyleshire, and in other districts
in the Southwest of Scotland, as might be perhaps expected, are very
Irish in character, and may claim to be equally fine in taste and
delicate in workmanship with those of Ireland."[7]

The brilliant appearance of Cormac mac Art when presiding over the
assembly at Tara, covered with gold and jewels, receives enhanced
credibility from the proofs of early Irish wealth and culture that
I have just adduced. Let us glance at Tara itself, as it existed in
the time of Cormac, and see whether archæology can throw any light
upon the ancient accounts of that royal hill. It was round this hill
that the great Féis, or assemblage of the men of all Ireland, took
place triennially,[8] with a threefold purpose--to promulgate laws
universally binding upon all Ireland; to test, purge, and sanction
the annals and genealogies of Ireland, in the presence of all men, so
that no untruth or flaw might creep in; and, finally, to register the
same in the great national record, in later times called the Saltair
of Tara, so that cases of disputed succession might be peacefully
settled by reference to this central authoritative volume. The session
of the men of Ireland thus convened took place on the third day before
Samhain--November day--and ended the third day after it. We are told
that Cormac, who presided over these assemblies,[9] had ten persons
in constant waiting upon his person, who hardly ever left him. These
were a prince of noble blood, a druid, a physician, a brehon, a bard,
a historian, a musician, and three stewards. And Keating tells us that
the very same arrangement was observed from Cormac's time--in the
third century--to the death of Brian Boru in the eleventh, the only
alteration being that a Christian priest was substituted for the druid.

To accommodate the chiefs and princes who came to the great Féis,
Cormac built the renowned Teach Míodhchuarta [Toch Mee-coo-ar-ta] which
was able to accommodate a thousand persons, and which was used at once
for a house of assembly, a banqueting hall, and a sleeping abode. We
have two accounts of this hall and of the other monuments of Tara,
written, the one in poetry, the other in verse, some nine hundred
years ago. The prose of the Dinnseanchus describes accurately the lie
of the building, "to the north-west of the eastern mound." "The ruins
of this house"--it lay in ruins then as now--"are thus situated: the
lower part to the north and the higher part to the south; and walls are
raised about it to the east and to the west. The northern side of it
is enclosed and small, the lie of it is north and south. It is in the
form of a long house with twelve doors upon it, or fourteen, seven to
the west and seven to the east. This was the great house of a thousand
soldiers."[10] Keating, following his ancient authorities, graphically
describes the Tara assembly.

 "The nobles," he writes, "both territorial lords and captains of
 bands of warriors, were each man of them, always attended by his own
 proper shield-bearer. Again their banquet-halls were arranged in the
 following manner, to wit, they were long narrow buildings with tables
 arranged along both the opposite walls of the hall; then along these
 side walls there was placed a beam, in which were fixed numerous hooks
 (one over the seat destined for each of the nobles), and between
 every two of them there was but the breadth of one shield. Upon these
 hooks the shanachy hung up the shields of the nobles previously to
 their sitting down to the banquet, at which they all, both lords and
 captains, sat each beneath his own shield. However, the most honoured
 side of the house was occupied by the territorial lords, whilst the
 captains of warriors[11] were seated opposite to them at the other.
 The upper end of the hall was the place of the ollavs, while the lower
 end was assigned to the attendants and the officers in waiting. It was
 also prescribed that no man should be placed opposite another at the
 same table, but that all, both territorial lords and captains, should
 sit with their backs towards the wall, beneath their own shields.
 Again, they never admitted females into their banquet-halls; these
 had a hall of their own in which they were separately served. It was
 likewise the prescribed usage to clear out the banquet-hall previous
 to serving the assembled nobles therein. And no one was allowed to
 remain in the building but three, namely, a Shanachy and a _bolsgaire_
 [marshal or herald], and a trumpeter, the duty of which latter officer
 was to summon all the guests to the banquet-hall by the sound of his
 trumpet-horn. He had to sound his horn three times. At the first
 blast the shield-bearers of the territorial chieftains assembled
 round the door of the hall, where the marshal received from them the
 shields of their lords, which he then, according to the directions
 of the shanachy, hung up each in its assigned place. The trumpeter
 then sounded his trumpet a second time, and the shield-bearers of
 the chieftains of the military bands assembled round the door of the
 banquet-hall, where the marshal received their lords' shields from
 them also, and hung them up at the other side of the hall according to
 the orders of the shanachy, and over the table of the warriors. The
 trumpeter sounded his trumpet the third time, and thereupon both the
 nobles and the warrior chiefs entered the banquet-hall, and then each
 man sat down beneath his own shield, and thus were all contests for
 precedency avoided amongst them."

These accounts of the Dinnseanchus and of Keating, taken from
authorities now lost, will be likely to receive additional credit when
we know that the statements made nine hundred years ago, when Tara
had even then lain in ruins for four centuries, have been verified in
every essential particular by the officers of the Ordnance Survey. The
statement in the Dinnseanchus made nearly nine hundred years ago that
there were either six or seven doors on each side, shows the condition
into which Tara had then fallen, one on each side being so obliterated
that now, also, it is difficult to say whether it was a door or not.
The length of the hall, according to Petrie's accurate measurements,
was _seven hundred and sixty feet_, and its breadth was nearly ninety.
There was a double row of benches on each side, running the entire
length of the hall, which would give four rows of men if we remember
that the guests were all seated on the same side of the tables, and
allowing the ample room of three feet to each man, this would just
give accommodation to a thousand. In the middle of the hall, running
down all the way between the benches, there was a row of fires, and
just above each fire was a spit descending from the roof, at which the
joints were roasted. There is a ground plan of the building, in the
Book of Leinster, and the figure of a cook is rudely drawn with his
mouth open, and a ladle in his hand to baste the joint. The king sat at
the southern end of the hall, and the servants and retainers occupied
the northern.

The banqueting-hall and all the other buildings at Tara were of
wood, nor is the absence of stone buildings in itself a proof of low
civilisation, since, in a country like Ireland, abounding in timber,
wood could be made to answer every purpose--as in point of fact it
does at this day over the greater part of America, and in all northern
countries where forests are numerous.[12] All or most Irish houses,
down to the period of the Danish invasions, were constructed of wood,
or of wood and clay mixed, or of clay and unmortared stones, and their
strongholds were of wooden pallisades planted upon clay earth-works.
This is the reason why so few remains of pre-historic buildings
have come down to us, but it is no reason for believing that, as in
Cormac's banquet-hall, rude palatial effects were not often produced.
An interesting poem in the Dialogue of the Sages, from the Book of
Lismore, describes the house of the Lady Credé, said to have been a
contemporary of Finn mac Cúmhail in the third century.[13] Though the
poem may not itself be very old, it no doubt embodies many ancient
truths, and is worth quoting from. A poet comes to woo the lady, and
brings this poem with him. Finn accompanies him. When they reached her
fortress "girls, yellow-haired, of marriageable age, showed on the
balconies of her bowers." The poet sang to her--

  "Happy is the house in which she is
  Between men and children and women,
  Between druids and musical performers,
  Between cupbearers and doorkeepers.[14]

  Between equerries without fear,
  And distributors who divide [the fare],
  And, over all these, the command belongs
  To Credé of the yellow hair.

   * * * * *

  The colour [of her house] is like the colour of lime,
  Within it are couches and green rushes (?)
  Within it are silks and blue mantles,
  Within it are red, gold, and crystal cups.

  Of its many chambers the corner stones,
  Are all of silver and yellow gold,
  In faultless stripes its thatch is spread,
  Of wings of brown, and of crimson red.

  Two door posts of green I see,
  Door not devoid of beauty,
  Of carved silver, long has it been renowned,
  In the lintel that is over the door.

  Credé's chair is on your left hand,
  The pleasantest of the pleasant it is,
  All over, a blaze[15] of Alpine gold
  At the foot of her beautiful couch.

  A splendid couch in full array
  Stands directly above the chair;
  It was made by _Tuile_ in the East,
  Of yellow gold and precious stones.

  There is another bed on your right hand
  Of gold and silver without defect,
  With curtains with soft [pillows],
  With graceful rods of golden-bronze.

  An hundred feet spans Credé's house
  From one angle to the other,
  And twenty feet are fully measured
  In the breadth of its noble door.

  Its portico is covered, too,
  With wings of birds, both yellow and blue,
  Its lawn in front and its well
  Of crystal and of Carmogel."

The houses of the ancient Irish were either like Cormac's
banqueting-hall and Credé's house, built quadrilaterally of felled
trees or split planks planted upright in the earth, and thatched
overhead, or else, as was most usually the case, they were cylindrical
and made of wickerwork, with a cup-shaped roof, plastered with clay
and whitewashed. The magnificent dimensions of Cormac's palace,
verified as they are by the careful measurements of the Ordnance
Survey--a palace certainly erected in pagan times, since Tara was
deserted for ever about the year 550--bear evidence, like our wealth of
beautifully-wrought gold ornaments, and the superior workmanship of our
surviving articles of bronze and clay, to a high degree of civilisation
and culture amongst the pre-Christian Irish; I have here adduced them
as bearing indirect evidence in favour of the probability that a people
so civilised would have been likely to have seized on the invention of
writing when they first came in contact with it, and would have kept
their annals and genealogies all the more accurately from the very fact
that they were evidently so advanced in other matters.

[1] In the Irish Annals gold is said to have been first smelted in
Leinster. As late as the last century native gold was discovered on
the confines of Wicklow and Wexford, and nuggets of 22, 18, 9, and
7 ounces are recorded as having been found there. Mr. Coffey quotes
a most interesting account by a Mr. Weaver, director of the works
established there by the Irish Government before the Union to look for
gold. "The discovery of native gold in Ballinvally stream, at Croghan
Kinshella," says Mr. Weaver, "was at first kept secret, but being
divulged, almost the whole population of the immediate neighbourhood
flocked in to gather so rich a harvest, actually neglecting at the
time the produce of their own fields. This happened about the autumn
of the year 1796, when several hundreds of people might be seen daily
assembled digging and searching for gold in the banks and bed of the
stream. Considerable quantities were thus collected; this being as
it subsequently proved the most productive spot; and the populace
remained in undisturbed possession of the place for nearly six weeks,
when Government determined to commence active operations.... Regular
stream works were soon established, and up to the unhappy time of the
rebellion in May, 1798, when the works were destroyed, Government had
been fully reimbursed its advances; the produce of the undertaking
having defrayed its own expenses and left a surplus in hand." The total
amount of gold collected from this place in the last hundred years
is valued at about £30,000. This particular spot had been probably
overlooked, as Mr. Coffey remarks, by the searchers of earlier days,
but no doubt other auriferous streams in the Wicklow mountains had
given up their gold long since in pre-historic times to the ancient
workers. (_See_ Coffey's "Origins of Pre-historic Ornament in Ireland,"
p. 40.) Dr. Frazer, on the other hand, does not believe that any great
part of the gold found in Ireland is indigenous, and talks of Spain and
South Russia, and gold plundered from Britain. But if this be the case,
what an enormous pre-historic trade Ireland must have carried on, or
what a powerful invader she must have been to come by such quantities
of gold! (_See_ Dr. Frazer's paper in R.I.A. Proceedings, May, 1896).
He has since supplemented this by another in the Journal of the Royal
Society of Antiquaries in which he leans to the opinion that the Roman
_aurei_, the coins plundered from the Britons, were the real source of
Irish gold.

[2] See above, ch. II, note 11.

[3] "Verbindungen zwischen Skandinavien und dem westlichen Europa vor
Christi Geburt" ("Archiv für Anthropologie," vol. xix., quoted by Mr.
George Coffey in his "Origins of Pre-historic Ornament in Ireland," p.

[4] "Notes on the Composition of Ancient Irish Gold and Silver
Ornaments," by Ernest A. Smith, Assoc. R.S.M., F.C.S., Royal School of
Mines, London, R. I. A. Transactions, May, 1896.

[5] "Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy," May, 1896. The tools and
appliances necessary for producing the fine gold fibulæ of a private
collector, which Mr. Johnson examined, would be, he says, "a furnace,
charcoal, crucible, mould for ingot, flux, bellows, several hammers,
anvil, swage anvil, swages, chisels for ornament, sectional tool for
producing concentric rings." On one of them, he says, "there is a
thickened edge and a beautiful moulded ornament on the outer side only,
which quite puzzles one as to how it was produced without suggesting
what are considered to be modern tools."

[6] A splendid find of gold ornaments made last year near the
estuary of the Foyle river, of a golden model of a boat, evidently a
votive offering, fitted with seat, mast, oars, and punting poles, an
exquisitely-wrought gold collar, decorated in relief with the most
beautiful embossed work, torques, neckchains, etc., has been dated from
internal evidences as work of the second century, the neck-chains being
clearly provincial Roman work of that date. It is to be regretted that
these exquisite articles have found their way to the British Museum,
where they will be practically lost, instead of being added to the
unique Irish collection in Dublin, to which they properly belong.

[7] Greenwell's "British Barrows," p. 62, quoted by Coffey.

[8] O'Donovan, in his preface to "The Book of Rights," gives some
reasons for believing that it may have been held only septennially.

[9] _See_ the Forus Feasa, p. 354 of O'Mahony's translation.

[10] _See_ Petrie's "Antiquities of Tara Hill," p. 129.

[11] This seems a plain allusion to the Fenians, believed in Ireland to
have been Cormac's militia.

[12] Bede mentions, if I remember rightly--I forget where--a church
built in the north of Britain, _more Scotorum, robore secto,_ "of
cleft oak, in the Irish fashion." The Columban churches were also of
wood and wattles, contemporaneous with which were the beehive cells
of uncemented stone, probably less warm and less comfortable than the
thatched houses. "Ce que nous savons des anciens édifices irlandais,"
says M. Jubainville, "donne le droit d'affirmer que la plupart des
constructions élevées à Emain macha [_i.e._, Emania, the capital
of Ulster, and of the Red Branch heroes, two miles west of Armagh]
pendant le période épique de l'histoire d'Irlande, ont dû être en bois;
cependant il y avait été employé au moins quelques pierres." Angus the
Culdee has a noble verse relating to the stones of Emania, the finest,
perhaps, in the whole Saltair na rann, "Emania's palace has vanished,
yet its stones still remain, but the Rome of the western world is now
Glendaloch of the gatherings," "is Ruam iarthair beatha Gleann dalach
dá locha."

[13] _See_ "Silva Gadelica," p. 111, and O'Curry's MS. Materials, p.


  Aibhinn in tech in atá,
  Idir fira is maca is mná,
  Idir dhruidh ocus aes ceóil,
  Idir dhailiumh is dhoirseoir.

[15] Thus O'Curry translates _casair_ as if he had taken it to be
_lasair_. O'Grady translates "an overlay of Elpa's gold."



Even supposing the Ogam alphabet to have been used in pre-Christian
times, though it may have been employed by ollavs and poets to
perpetuate tribal names and genealogies, still it was much too cumbrous
and clumsy an invention to produce anything deserving the name of real
literature. It is, so far as we know, only with the coming of Patrick
that Ireland may be said to have become, properly speaking, a literary
country. The churches and monasteries established by him soon became
so many nuclei of learning, and from the end of the fifth century a
knowledge of letters seems to have entirely permeated the island. So
suddenly does this appear to have taken place, and so rapidly does
Ireland seem to have produced a flourishing literature of laws, poems,
and sagas, that it is very hard to believe that the inhabitants had
not, before his coming, arrived at a high state of indigenous culture.
This aspect of the case has been recently strongly put by Dr. Sigerson.
"I assert," said he, speaking of the early Brehon laws, at the revision
of which in a Christian sense St. Patrick is said to have assisted,
"that, speaking biologically, such laws could not emanate from any
race whose brains have not been subject to the quickening influence of
education for many generations."[1]

The usual date assigned for St. Patrick's landing in Ireland in the
character of a missionary is 432, and his work among the Irish is
said to have lasted for sixty years, during which time he broke down
the idol Crom Cruach, burnt the books of the druids at Tara, ordained
numerous missionaries and bishops, and succeeded in winning over to
Christianity a great number of the chiefs and sub-kings, who were in
their turn followed by their tribesmen.

St. Patrick did not work alone, nor did he come to Ireland as a
solitary pioneer of a new religion; he was accompanied, as we learn
from his life in the Book of Armagh, by a multitude of bishops,
priests, deacons, readers, and others,[2] who had crossed over along
with him for the service. Several were his own blood relations, one
was his sister's son. Many likely youths whom he met on his missionary
travels he converted to Christianity, taught to read, tonsured, and
afterwards ordained. These new priests thus appointed worked in all
directions, establishing churches and getting together congregations
from amongst the neighbouring heathen. Unable to give proper attention
to the teaching of the youths whom he elected as his helpers, so
long as he himself was engaged in journeying through Ireland from
point to point, he, after about twenty years of peripatetic teaching,
established at Armagh about the year 450 the first Christian school
ever founded in Ireland, the progenitor of that long line of colleges
which made Ireland famous throughout Europe, and to which, two hundred
years later, her Anglo-Saxon neighbours flocked in thousands.[3]

The equipments of these newly-made priests was of the scantiest.
Each, as he was sent forth, received an alphabet-of-the-faith or
elementary-explanation of the Christian doctrine, frequently written by
Patrick himself, a "Liber ordinis," or "Mass Book," a written form for
the administration of the sacraments, a psaltery, and, if it could be
spared, a copy of the Gospels.[4] A good-sized retinue followed Patrick
in all his journeyings, ready to supply with their own hands all things
necessary for the new churches established by the saint, as well as to
minister to his own wants. He travelled with his episcopal coadjutor,
his psalm-singer, his assistant priest, his judge--originally a Brehon
by profession, whom he found most useful in adjudicating on disputed
questions--a personal champion to protect him from sudden attack and to
carry him through floods and other obstacles, an attendant on himself,
a bellringer, a cook, a brewer, a chaplain at the table, two waiters,
and others who provided food and accommodation for himself and his
household. He had in his company three smiths, three artificers, and
three ladies who embroidered. His smiths and artificers made altars,
book-covers, bells, and helped to erect his wooden churches; the
ladies, one of them his own sister, made vestments and altar linens.[5]

St. Patrick was essentially a man of work and not of letters, and yet
it so happens that he is the earliest Irish writer of whom we can say
with confidence that what is ascribed to him is really his. And here
it is as well to say something about the genuineness of St. Patrick's
personality and the authenticity of his writings, for the opinion
started by Ledwich has gone abroad, and has somehow become prevalent,
that St. Patrick's personality is nearly as nebulous as that of King
Arthur or of Finn mac Cúmhail, and at the best is made up of a number
of little Patricks lumped into one great one. That there was more
than one Patrick[6] is certain,[7] and that the great Saint Patrick
who wrote the "Confession" may have got credit in the early Latin and
later Irish lives for the acts of others, is perfectly possible, but
that most of the essential features of his life are true, is beyond all
doubt, and we have a manuscript 1091 years old, apparently copied from
his own handwriting, and containing his own confession and apologia.

How this exquisite manuscript, consisting of 216 vellum leaves, written
in double columns, has happily been preserved to us, we shall not
lose time in inquiring; but how its exact date has been ascertained
through what Dr. Reeves has characterised as "one of the most elegant
and recondite demonstrations which any learned society has on record,
is worth mentioning." The Rev. Charles Graves, the present Bishop of
Limerick, made a thorough examination of the whole codex when, after
many vicissitudes and hair-breadth escapes from destruction, it had
been temporarily deposited in the Royal Irish Academy. Knowing, as
O'Curry pointed out, that it was the custom for Irish scribes to sign
their own names, with usually some particulars about their writing,
at the end of each piece they copied, he made a careful search and
discovered that this had actually been done in the Book of Armagh, and
in no less than eight places, but that on every spot where it occurred
it had been erased for some apparently inscrutable reason, with the
greatest pains. In the last place but one, however, where the colophon
occurred, the process of erasure had been less thorough than in the
others, and after long consideration, and treatment of the erasure
with gallic acid and spirits of wine, Dr. Graves discovered that the
words so carefully rubbed out were _Pro Ferdomnacho ores_, "Pray for
Ferdomnach." Turning to the other places, he found that the erased
words in at least one other place were evidently the same. This settled
the name of the scribe; he was Ferdomnach. The next step was to search
the "Four Masters," who record the existence of two scribes of that
name who died at Armagh, one in 726 and the other in 844. One of these
it must have been who wrote the Book of Armagh,--but which? This also
Dr. Graves discovered, with the greatest ingenuity. At the foot of
Fols. 52-6 he was, with extreme difficulty, able to decipher the words
_ ... ach hunc ... e dictante ... ach herede Patricii scripsit_. From
these stray syllables he surmised that Ferdomnach had written the book
at the bidding of some Archbishop of Armagh whose name ended in _ach_.
For this the Psalter of Cashel, Leabhar Breac, and "Four Masters," were
consulted, and it was found that one Archbishop Senaach died in 609;
it could not then have been by his commands the book was written by
the first Ferdomnach; then came, after a long interval, Faoindealach,
who died in 794, Connmach, who died in 806, and Torbach, who held the
primacy for one year after him. On examining the hiatus it was found
that the letter which preceded the fragment _ach_ could not have been
either an _l_ or an _m_, but might have been a _b_, thus putting out
of the question the names of Connmach and Faoindealach. Besides the
vacant space before the _ach_ was just sufficient to admit of the
letters _Tor_, but not _Conn_, much less _Faoindea_. The conclusion was
obvious: the passage ran, _Ferdomnach hunc librum e dictante Torbach
herede Patricii scripsit_, "Ferdomnach wrote this book at the dictation
(or command) of Torbach, Patrick's heir (successor)." Torbach, as we
have seen, became Archbishop in 806 and died in 807. The date was in
this way recovered.[8]

I have been thus particular in tracing the steps by which the age of
this manuscript came to light, because it contains the earliest piece
of certain Irish literature we have, the "Confession of St. Patrick."
Now the usually accepted date of St. Patrick's death, as given in the
Annals of Ulster, is 492, about three hundred years before that, and
Ferdomnach, the scribe, after copying it, added these words: "_Huc
usque volumen quod patricius manu conscripsit sua. Septimadecima
martii die translatus est patricius ad cælos," i.e._, "thus far the
volume which Patrick wrote with his own hand. On the seventeenth day
of March was Patrick translated to the heavens." It would appear
highly probable from this that Ferdomnach actually copied from St.
Patrick's autograph,[9] which had become so defaced or faded during the
three previous centuries, that the scribe has written in many places
_incertus liber hic_, "the book is uncertain here," or else put a
note[10] of interrogation to indicate that he was not sure whether he
had copied the text correctly. It will be seen from this that there was
not the slightest trace of any concealment on the part of the scribe as
to who he himself was, or what he was copying; there was no attempt to
antedate his own writing, or to suggest that his copy was an original.
But long after the scribe's generation had passed away and the origin
of his work been forgotten, the volume which at first had been regarded
only as a fine transcript of early documents, became known as "Canon
Phádraig," or Patrick's Testament, and popular opinion, relying on the
colophon "thus far the book which Patrick wrote with his own hand," set
down the work as the saint's autograph. The belief that the volume was
St. Patrick's own autograph of course enhanced enormously its value,
and with it the dignity of its possessors, and the unscrupulous plan
was resolved on of erasing the signature of the actual scribe. The
veneration of the public was thus secured by interested persons at
the cost of truth, and the deception probably lasted so long as the
possession of such a volume brought with it either credit or dignity.
This same volume[11] has another interest attaching to it, so that
we cannot but felicitate ourselves that out of the wreck of so many
thousands of volumes, it has been spared to us--it was brought to Brian
Boru, when in the year 1004 he went upon his royal progress through
Ireland, the first man of the race of Eber who had attained the proud
position of monarch or Ard-righ for many centuries, and he, by the
hand of his secretary, made an entry which may still be seen to-day,
confirming the primacy of Armagh, and re-granting to it the episcopal
supremacy of Ireland which it had always enjoyed.[12]

It is now time to glance at St. Patrick's "Confession," as it is
usually called, though in reality it is much more of the nature of an
apologia _pro vita sua_. The evidence in favour of its authenticity is
overwhelming, and is accepted by such cautious scholars as Stokes,[13]
Todd, and Reeves, no first-rate critic, with perhaps one exception,
having so far as I know ever ventured to question its genuineness. It
is impossible to assign any motive for a forgery, and casual references
to Decuriones, Slave-traffic, and to the "Brittaniæ," or Britains,
bear testimony to its antiquity. Again, the Latin in which it is
written is barbarous in the extreme, the periods are rude, sometimes
ungrammatical, often nearly unintelligible. He begins by telling us
that his object in writing this confession in his old age was to defend
himself from the charge of presumptuousness in undertaking the work he
tried to perform amongst the Irish. He tells us that he had many toils
and perils to surmount, and much to endure while engaged upon it. He
never received one farthing for all his preaching and teaching. The
people indeed were generous, and offered many gifts, and cast precious
things upon the altar, but he would not receive them lest he might
afford the unrighteous an occasion to cavil. He was still encompassed
about with dangers, but he heeded them not, looking to the success
which had attended his efforts, how "the sons of the Scots and the
daughters of their princes became monks and virgins of Christ," and
"the number of holy widows and of continent maidens was countless." It
would be tedious were he to recount even a portion of what he had gone
through. Twelve times had his life been endangered, but God had rescued
him, and brought him safe from all plots and ambuscades and rewarded
him for leaving his parents, and friends, and country, heeding neither
their prayers nor their tears, that he might preach the gospel in
Ireland. He appeals to all he had converted, and to all who knew him,
to say whether he had not refused all gifts--nay, it was he himself
who gave the gifts, to the kings and to their sons, and oftentimes
was he robbed and plundered of everything, and once had he been bound
in fetters of iron for fourteen days until God had delivered him, and
even still while writing this confession he was living in poverty and
misery, expecting death or slavery, or other evil. He prays earnestly
for one thing only, that he may persevere, and not lose the people whom
God has given to him at the very extremity of the world.

Unhappily this "Confession" is a most unsatisfying composition, for
it omits to mention almost everything of most interest relating to
the saint himself and to his mission. What floods of light might
it have thrown upon a score of vexed questions, how it might have
set at rest for ever theories on druidism, kingship, social life,
his own birthplace, his mission from Rome,[14] his captors. Even of
himself he tells us next to nothing, except that his father's name was
Calpornus,[15] the son of Potitus, the son of Odissus, a priest, and
that he dwelt in the _vicus_ or township of Benaven Taberniæ; he had
also a small villa not far off, where he tells us he was made captive
at the age of about sixteen years. Because his Christian training was
bad, and he was not obedient to the priests when they admonished him
to seek for salvation, therefore God punished him, and brought him
into captivity in a strange land at the end of the world. When he was
brought to Ireland he tells us that his daily task was to feed cattle,
and then the love of God entered into his heart, and he used to rise
before the sun and pray in the woods and mountains, in the rain, the
hail, and the snow. Then there came to him one night a voice in his
sleep saying to him "Your ship is ready," and he departed and went for
two hundred miles, until he reached a port where he knew no one. This
was after six years' captivity. The master of the ship would not take
him on board, but afterwards he relented just as Patrick was about to
return to the cottage where he had got lodging. He succeeded at last
in reaching the home of his parents _in Britannis_ [_i.e._, in some
part of Britain, including Scotland], and his parents besought him, now
that he had returned from so many perils, to remain with them always.
But the angel Victor came in the guise of a man from Ireland, and gave
him a letter, in which the voice of the Irish called him away, and the
voices of those who dwelt near the wood of Focluth called him to walk
amongst them, and the spirit of God, too, urged him to return.[16]

He says nothing of his training, or his ordination, or his long sojourn
in Gaul, or of St. Germanus, with whom he studied according to the
"Lives," but he alludes incidentally to his wish to see his parents and
his native Britain, and to revisit the brethren in Gaul, and to see the
face of God's saints there; but though he desired all this, he would
not leave his beloved converts, but would spend the rest of his life
amongst them.[17]

From this brief _résumé_ of the celebrated "Confession" it will be
seen that it is the perfervid outpouring of a zealous early Christian,
anxious only to clear himself from the charges of worldliness or
carelessness, and absolutely devoid of those appeals to general
interest which we meet with in most of such memoirs, but there is a
vein of warm piety running through the whole, and an abundance of
scriptural quotations--all, of course, from the ante-Hieronymian or
pre-Vulgate version, another proof of antiquity--which has caused it
to be remarked that a forger might, perhaps, write equally bad Latin,
but could hardly "forge the spirit that breathes in the language which
is the manifest outpourings of a heart like unto the heart of St.

There are two other pieces of literature assigned to St. Patrick, as
well as the "Confession"; these are the "Epistle to Coroticus" in
Latin, and the "Deer's Cry" in Irish. The Epistle is not found in
the Book of Armagh, but it is found in other MSS. as old as the tenth
or eleventh century, and bears such close resemblance in style and
language to the "Confession," whole phrases actually occurring in
both, that it also has generally been regarded as genuine.[19] There
is some doubt as to who Coroticus was, but he seems to have been a
semi-Christian king of Dumbarton who, along with some Scots, _i.e._,
Irish, and the Southern Picts who had fallen away from Christianity,
raided the eastern shores of Ireland and carried off a number of St.
Patrick's newly-converted Christians, leaving the white garments of the
neophytes stained with blood, and hurrying into captivity numbers upon
whose foreheads the holy oil of confirmation was still glistening. The
first letter was to ask Coroticus to restore the captives, and when
this request was derided the next was sent, excommunicating him and all
his aiders and abettors, calling upon all Christians neither to eat nor
drink in their company until they had made expiation for their crimes.
Patrick himself had, he here explains, preached the gospel to the Irish
nation for the sake of God, though they had made him a captive and
destroyed the men-servants and maids of his father's house. He had been
born a freedman and a noble, the son of a decurio or prefect, but he
had sold his nobility for others and regretted it not. His lament over
the loss of his converts is touching: "Oh! my most beautiful and most
loving brothers and children whom in countless numbers I have begotten
in Christ, what shall I do for you? Am I so unworthy before God and men
that I cannot help you? Is it a crime to have been born in Ireland?[20]
And have we not the same God as they have? I sorrow for you, yet I
rejoice, for if ye are taken from the world ye are believers through
me, and are gone to Paradise."

The "Cry of the Deer," or "Lorica," as it is also called, is in Irish.
The saint is said to have made it when on his way to visit King
Laoghaire [Leary] at Tara, and the assassins who had been planted by
the king to slay him and his companions thought as he chanted this
hymn that it was a herd of deer that passed them by, and thus they
escaped. The metre of the original is a kind of unrhymed or half-rhymed
rhapsody, called in Irish a _Rosg_, and is perfectly unadorned. The
language, however, though very old, has of course been modified in the
process of transcription. Patrick calls upon the Trinity to protect him
that day at Tara, and to bind to him the power of the elements.

  I bind me to-day[21]
      God's might to direct me,
      God's power to protect me,
      God's wisdom for learning,
      God's eye for discerning,
      God's ear for my hearing,
      God's word for my clearing,
      God's hand for my cover,
      God's path to pass over,
      God's buckler to guard me,
      God's army to ward me,
          Against snares of the devils,
          Against vices, temptations,
          Against wrong inclinations,
          Against men who plot evils
              To hurt me anew,
          Anear or afar with many or few.

           * * * * *

      Christ near, Christ here,
      Christ be with me,
      Christ beneath me,
      Christ within me,
      Christ behind me,
      Christ be o'er me,
      Christ before me,
  Christ in the left and the right,
      Christ hither and thither,
      Christ in the sight,
  Of each eye that shall seek me,[22] etc.

In the Book of Armagh, in the last chapter of Tirechan's life, St.
Patrick is declared to be entitled to four honours in every church and
monastery of the island. One of these honours was that the hymn written
by St. Seachnall, his nephew, in praise of himself, was to be sung in
the churches during the days when his festival was being celebrated,
and another was that "his Irish canticle" was to be always sung,[23]
apparently all the year through, in the liturgy, but perhaps only
during the week of his festival. The Irish canticle is evidently this
"Lorica," which was, as we see from this notice in the Book of Armagh,
believed to be his in the seventh century, and it has been sung under
that belief from that day almost to our own.[24]

The other hymn, the singing of which at his festival is alluded
to as one of St. Patrick's "honours," was composed by Seachnall
[Shaughnal],[25] a nephew of St. Patrick's, in laudation of the
saint himself. It is a very interesting piece of rough latinity, and
is generally regarded as genuine. The occasion of its composition
deserves to be told, for it casts a ray of light on the prudential
and self-restrained side of St. Patrick's character, which no doubt
contributed largely to his success when working in the midst of his
wavering converts. Seachnall said that Patrick's preaching would be
perfect if he only insisted a little more on the necessity of giving,
for then more property and land would be at the disposal of the Church
for pious uses. This remark of his nephew was repeated to St. Patrick,
who was very much annoyed at it, and said beautifully, that "for the
sake of charity he forbore to preach charity," and intimated that the
holy men who should come after him might benefit by the offerings of
the faithful which he had left untouched. Then Seachnall, grieved at
having thus pained his uncle, and anxious to win his regard again,
composed a poem of twenty-two stanzas each beginning with a different
letter, with four lines of fifteen syllables in each verse.[26] When
he had done this he asked permission of Patrick to recite to him a
poem which he had composed in praise of a holy man, and when Patrick
said that he would gladly hear the praises of any of God's household,
the poet adroitly suppressing Patrick's name which occurs in the first
verse, recited it for him. Patrick was pleased, but interupted the
poet at one stanza when he said that the subject of his laudations
was _maximus in regno cælorum_,[27] "the greatest in the kingdom
of heaven," asking how could that be said of any man. _Maximus_,
ingeniously replied Seachnall, does not here mean "greatest," but
only "very great." He then disclosed to his uncle that he himself was
the object of the poem, and asked--like all bards--for the reward
for it, whereupon Patrick promised that to all who recited the hymn
piously morning and evening, God in His mercy might give the glory of
heaven. "I am content with that award," said the poet, "but as the hymn
is long and difficult to be remembered I wish you would obtain the
same reward for whosoever recites even a part of it." Whereupon St.
Patrick promised that the recitation of the last three verses would be
sufficient, and his nephew was satisfied, having proved himself the
first poet of Christian Ireland, and having obtained such a reward for
his verses as neither bard nor ollav had ever obtained before him. It
was probably this same Seachnall who was the author of the much finer
hymn of eleven verses which used to be sung in the old Irish churches
at communion--

  "Sancti venite
      Christi corpus sumite,
      Sanctum bibentes
      Quo redempti sanguinem.

  Salvati Christi
      Corpore et sanguine,
      A quo refecti
      Laudes dicamus Deo.

  Hoc Sacramento
      Corporis et sanguinis
      Omnes exuti
      Ab inferni faucibus," etc.

The legend in the Leabhar Breac has it that this hymn was first
chanted during the holy communion by the angels in his church, on the
reconciliation between himself and Saint Patrick, whence the origin of
chanting it during the communion service.

The Book of Armagh contains the two earliest lives of the national
saint that we have, probably the two earliest biographies of any
size ever composed in Ireland. They are written in rude Latin, with a
good deal of Irish place-names and Irish words intermixed, the first
by one Muirchu Maccu Machteni,[28] who tells us that he wrote at the
instigation of Aed, bishop of Sletty, who, as we know from the "Four
Masters," died about 698, and the second by Tirechan, who says he
received his knowledge of the saint from the lips and writings of
Bishop Ultan,[29] his tutor, who died in 656, and who, supposing him
to have been seventy or eighty years old at the time of his death,
must have been born only eighty or ninety years after the death of St.
Patrick himself. Both of these writers appear to have had older memoirs
to draw on, for Muirchu says that many had before them endeavoured to
write the history of St. Patrick from what their fathers and those who
were ministers of the Word from the beginning had told them, though
none had ever succeeded in producing a proper biography,[30] and in
Tirechan's life of him in the Book of Armagh--an evident patchwork--we
read that all his godly doings had been brought together[31] and
collected by the most skilful of the ancients. The first of these
lives consists of two books containing twenty-eight and thirteen short
chapters, respectively, the second, Tirechan's, of one book containing
fifty-seven chapters, in addition to which there are a number of minor
notes referring to St. Patrick in Latin and in Irish, which Ferdomnach,
who transcribed the book in 807, appears to have taken from other old
lives or memoirs of the saint. The Irish portions of these notes are of
peculiar interest, as showing what the Irish language was, as written
about the year 800.[32]

If it is genuine the earliest life of Patrick ever written would
probably be the brief metrical life ascribed to Fiacc of Sletty, the
sixth or seventh in descent from Cáthaoir [Cauheer] Mór, who was
king of Leinster at the close of the second century.[33] His mother
was a sister of Dubhthach's [Duv-hach], the chief poet and Brehon of
Ireland, who, we are told, helped St. Patrick to review and revise the
Brehon Laws. Fiacc was a youthful poet in Dubhthach's train at Tara.
Afterwards he was tonsured by St. Patrick, became Bishop of Sletty, and
on Patrick's death is said to have written his life, and not forgetful
of his former training, to have written it in elaborate verse.[34] So
famous a critic as Zimmer believed half the poem to be genuine, but
Thurneysen rejects it because it does not fall in with his theories of
Irish metre.[35]

But the longest and most important life of St. Patrick is that known
as the Tripartite, or Triply-divided Life, which is really a series
of three semi-historical homilies, or discourses, which were probably
delivered in honour of the saint on the three festival days devoted to
his memory, that is, the Vigil, the Feast itself, on March 17th, and
the day after, or else the Octave. This Tripartite life, which is a
fairly complete one, is written in ancient Irish, with many passages
of Latin interspersed. The monk Jocelin, who wrote a life of the
saint in the twelfth century, tells us that St. Evin[36]--from whom
Monasterevin, in Queen's County, is called, a saint of the early sixth
century--wrote a life of Patrick partly in Latin and partly in Gaelic,
and Colgan, the learned Franciscan who translated the Tripartite in his
"Trias Thaumaturga,"[37] believed that this was the very life which
St. Evin wrote. Colgan found the Tripartite life in three very ancient
Gaelic MSS., procured for him, no doubt, by the unwearied research of
Brother Michael O'Clery in the early part of the seventeenth century,
which he collated one with the other, and of which he gives the
following noteworthy account:--

 "The first thing to be observed is that it has been written by its
 first author and in the aforesaid manuscript, partly in Latin, partly
 in Gaelic, and this in very ancient language, almost impenetrable by
 reason of its very great antiquity, exhibiting not only in the same
 chapter, but also in the same line, alternate phrases now in the
 Latin, now in the Gaelic tongue. In the second place, it is to be
 noticed that this life, on account of the very great antiquity of its
 style, which was held in much regard, used to be read in the schools
 of our antiquarians in the presence of their pupils, being elucidated
 and expounded by the glosses of the masters, and by interpretations
 of and observations on the more abstruse words; so that hence it
 is not to be wondered at that some words--which certainly did
 happen--gradually crept from these glosses into the texts, and thus
 brought a certain colour of newness into this most ancient and
 faithful author, some things being turned from Latin into Gaelic, some
 abbreviated by the scribes, and some altogether omitted."

Colgan further tells us that, "of the three MSS. above mentioned,
the first and chief is from very ancient vellums of the O'Clerys,
antiquarians in Ulster; the second from the O'Deorans, of Leinster;
the third taken from I know not what codex; and they differ from each
other in some respects; one relating more diffusely what is more close
in the others, and one relating in Latin what in the others was told in
Gaelic; but we have followed the authority of that which relates the
occurrences more diffusely and in Latin." O'Curry discovered in the
British Museum a copy of this life, made in the fifteenth century, and
it has since been admirably edited by Dr. Whitley Stokes, who, however,
does not believe for philological and other reasons, that it could
have been written before the middle of the tenth century. If so it is
no doubt a compilation of all the pre-existing lives of the saint,
and it mentions distinctly that six different writers, not counting
Fiacc the poet, had collected the events of St. Patrick's life and his
miracles, amongst whom were St. Columcille, who died in 592, and St.
Ultan, who died in 656.[38] It is hardly necessary, however, to say
that in the matter of all anonymous Gaelic writings like the present,
it is difficult to decide with any certainty as to age or date. The
occurrence, indeed, of very old forms, shows that the sentences
containing those old forms were first written at an early period; the
occurrence of more modern forms, however, is no proof that the passages
containing them were first written in modern times, for the words may
have been altered by later transcribers into the language they spoke
themselves; nor are allusions to events which we know were later than
the date of an alleged writer, _always_ conclusive proofs that the work
which contains them cannot be his work, for such allusions constantly
creep into the margin of books at the hands of copyists, especially if
those books were--as Colgan says the Tripartite life was--annotated
and explained in schools. In cases of this kind there is always
considerable latitude to be allowed to destructive and constructive
criticism, and at the end matters must still remain doubtful.[39]

So much for the more important lives of St. Patrick, the first known
_littérateur_ of Ireland.

[1] "Contemporary Review."

[2] So Tirechan, in Book of Armagh, fol. 9. "Et secum fuit multitudo
episcoporum sanctorum et presbiterorum, et diaconorum, ac exorcistarum,
hostiarium, lectorumque, necnon filiorum quos ordinavit."

[3] So many English were attracted to Armagh in the seventh century
that the city was divided into three wards, or thirds, one of which was
called the Saxon Third.

[4] See Dr. Healy's "Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars," p. 64.

[5] There is a curious poem on St. Patrick's family of artificers
quoted in the "Four Masters" under A.D. 278.

[6] There were no less than twenty-two saints of the name of Colum, yet
that does not detract one iota from the genuineness of the life of the
great Colum, called Columcille. There were fourteen St. Brendans, there
were twenty-five St. Ciarans, and fifteen St. Brigits.

How Ledwich--who, however, as O'Donovan remarks, looks at everything
Irish with a jaundiced eye--could have written down St. Patrick as a
myth is inconceivable, in the face of the fact that he was already
recognised in the sixth century as a great saint. The earliest mention
of him is probably St. Columba's subscription to the Book of Durrow, in
the sixth century, which runs: "Rogo beatitudinem tuam Sancte Presbyter
Patrici, ut quicumque hunc libellum manu tenuerit Columbæ Scriptoris,
qui hoc scripsi ... met evangelium per xii. dierum spatium." Here we
see a prayer already addressed to him as a national saint.

[7] This is clearly shown by the 56th chap. of Tirechan's life fol.
16aa of the Book of Armagh, where he makes the following statement:
"XIII. Anno Teothosii imperatoris a Celestino episcopo papa Romæ
Patricius episcopus ad doctrinam Scottorum mittitur. Qui Celestinus
XLVII episcopus fuit a Petro apostolo in urbe Roma. Paladius episcopus
primus mittitur [in the year 430, according to Bede] qui Patricius
alio nomine appellabatur, qui martirium passus est apud Scottos,
ut tradunt sancti antiqui. Deinde Patricius secundus ab anguelo
Dei, Victor nomine, et a Celestino papa mittitur, cui Hibernia tota
credidit, qui eam pene totam bab[titzavit]." Also it is to be observed
that St. Patrick's life according to the usual computations, covers
120 years, which seems an improbably long period. According to the
Brussels Codex of Muirchu Maccu Machteni's life, he died _a passione
Domini nostri_ 436; the author, no doubt, imagined the passion to have
taken place in A.D. 34; this would fix Patrick's death as in 470. See
p. 20 of Father Hogan's "Documenta ex Libro Armachano," and with this
Tirechan also agrees, saying "A passione autem christi colleguntur anni
ccccxxxvi. usque ad mortem Patricii." Tirechan curiously contradicts
himself in saying, "Duobus autem vel v annis regnavit Loiguire post
mortem Patricii, omnis autem regni illius tempus xxxvi. ut putamus," in
chap. ii., and in chap. liii. he says that Patrick taught (_i.e._, in
Ireland) for 72 years! He evidently compiled badly from two different

The only cogent reason for doubting about the reality of St. Patrick
is that he is not mentioned in the Chronicon of Prosper, which comes
down to the year 455, and which ascribes the conversion of Ireland to
Palladius, as does Bede afterwards. It is the silence of Prosper and
Bede about any one of the name of Patrick which has cast doubt upon his
existence. A most ingenious theory has been propounded by Father E.
O'Brien in the "Irish Ecclesiastical Record" to explain this. According
to him Patrick _is_ the Palladius of Prosper and Bede. The earliest
lives, and the scholiast on Fiacc's hymn, tell us that Patrick had four
names; one of these was Succat "_qui est deus belli_," but Palladius
is the Latin of Patrick's name (succat). The _Deus belli_ could only
be rendered into Latin by the words Arius Martius or Palladius, these
being the only names drawn from war-gods, and of these Palladius
was the commonest. It seems not unlikely that the Patrick who wrote
the "Confession" and converted Ireland is the Palladius of Bede and
Prosper, who also converted Ireland. The Paladius of Tirechan who
failed to convert Ireland is evidently another person altogether.

It is to be remarked that although Bede never mentions Patrick in his
"Ecclesiastical History," nevertheless in the "Martyrology"--found
by Mabillon at Rheims, and attributed to Bede, Patrick is distinctly

  "Patricius Domini servus conscendit ad aulam,
  Cuthbertus ternas tenuit denasque Kalendas."

[8] For the full particulars of this acute discovery, which sets
the date of the codex beyond doubt or cavil, see Dr. Graves' paper
read before the Royal Irish Academy, vol. iii. pp. 316-324, and a
supplementary paper giving other cogent reasons, vol. iii. p. 358.
According to O'Donovan, the "Four Masters" antedate here by five
years. It is worth remarking that Torbach, who caused this copy to be
made, was himself a noted scribe. His death in 807 is recorded in the
"Four Masters" and in the "Annals of Ulster," we read "Torbach, son of
Gorman, scribe, lector, and Abbot of Armagh, died."

[9] There are several passages omitted in the Book of Armagh, which
are found in an ancient Brussels MS. of the eleventh century. These
were probably omitted from the Book of Armagh because they were
undecipherable. The Brussels MS. and others contain nearly as much
again as it, and there are many proofs that this extra matter is not
of later or spurious origin; thus Tirechan refers to Patrick's own
records, "_ut in scriptione sua affirmat,_" for evidence of a fact not
mentioned in the "Confession" as given in the Book of Armagh, but which
is supplied by the other MSS., namely, that Patrick paid the price of
fifteen "souls of men," or slaves, for protection on his missionary
journey across Ireland. The frequent occurrence of _deest, et cetera,
et reliqua_, show that the Armagh copy of the "Confession" is nothing
like a full one. The Brussels MS. formerly belonged to the Irish
monastery of Würzburg.

[10] _See_ ch. III, note 31.

[11] The other contents of the Book of Armagh, besides the Patrician
documents, are a copy of the New Testament, enriched with concordance
tables and illustrative matter from Jerome, Hilary, and Pelagius. It
includes the Epistle to the Laodiceans attributed to St. Paul, but it
is mentioned that Jerome denied its authenticity. There are some pieces
relating to St. Martin of Tours, and the Patrician pieces--the Life,
the Collectanea, the Book of the Angel, and the "Confession."

[12] "Sanctus Patricus iens ad cœlum mandavit totum fructum laboris sui
tam baptismi tam causarum quam elemoisinarum deferendum esse apostolicæ
urbi quae scotice nominatur ardd-macha. Sic reperi in Bibliothics
Scotorum. Ego scripsi, id est Caluus Perennis, in conspectu Briain
imperatoris Scotorum, et quod scripsi finituit pro omnibus regibus
Maceriae [_i.e._, Cashel]." "Calvus Perennis" is the Latin translation
of Mael-suthain, Brian's scribe and secretary. For a curious story
about this Mael-suthain, _see_ p. 779 O'Curry's MS. Materials.

[13] See above Ch. XI, note 13. It has been printed in Haddan and
Stubb's, "Councils," etc., vol. ii. p. 296, and also admirably in
Gilbert's facsimiles of National MSS.

[14] It has often been said that the life of the saint in the Book
of Armagh ignores the Roman Mission. But while the life of Muirchu
Maccu Machteni does ignore it, Tirechan's his contemporary's, life,
in the same book, distinctly acknowledges it, in these words, "deinde
Patricius secundus ab anguelo dei, Victor nomine, _et a Celestino papa_
mittitur cui Hibernia tota credidit, qui eam pene totam bap[titzavit]."
(_See_ chap. 56 of Tirechan's life.)

[15] In Irish he is usually called Son of Alprann or Alplann, the
C of Calpornus being evidently taken as belonging to the Mac, thus
Mac Calprainn became Mac Alprainn. In the Brussels Codex of Muirchu
Maccu Machteni's life, however, he is called _Alforni filius_, and
the place of his birth is called _Ban navem thabur indecha_, supposed
to be Killpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, which is evidently a
corruption of his own Bannaven Taberniæ, which seems to mean River-head
Tavern; it may be from the two words _navem thabur_ that St. Fiacc's
hymn says that he was born in _nemthur_. Patrick himself only gives us
two generations of his ancestry, and it is very significant of Irish
ways to find Flann of Monasterboice, running it up to fourteen!

[16] It is worth while to transcribe this passage as a fair specimen
of St. Patrick's style and latinity. "Et ibi scilicet in sinu noctis
virum venientem quasi de Hiberione cui nomen Victoricus, cum æpistulis
innumerabilibus vidi; et dedit mihi unam ex his et legi principium
æpistolæ continentem 'Uox Hiberionacum.' Et dum recitabam principium
æpistolæ, putabam enim ipse in mente audire vocem ipsorum qui
erant juxta silvam Focluti [in the county Mayo] quæ est prope mare
occidentale. Et sic exclamaverunt: 'Rogamus te sancte puer ut venias
et adhuc ambulas inter nos.' Et valde compunctus sum corde, et amplius
non potui legere. Et sic expertus [_i.e._ experrectus] sum. Deo gratias
quia post plurimos annos præstitit illis Dominus secundum clamorum
illorum" (Folio 23, 66, Book of Armagh, p. 126 of Father Hogan's
Bollandist edition).

[17] The "Confession" ends with a certain rough eloquence: "Christus
Dominus pauper fuit pro nobis; ego vero miser et infelix, et si opes
voluero jam non habeo; neque me ipsum judico quia quotidie spero aut
internicionem aut circumveniri, aut redigi in servitatem, sive occassio
cujus-libet.... Et hæc est confessio mea antequam moriar."

[18] Dr. Healy's "Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars," p. 68.

[19] It is printed by Haddan and Stubbs, "Councils," etc., vol. ii. p.

[20] This is certainly the first time on record that this question--so
often repeated since in so many different forms--was asked.

[21] See the original in Windsch's "Irische Texte," 1. p. 53, and
Todd's "Liber Hymnorum"--

  "Atomrigh indiu niurt Dé dom luamaracht
      Cumachta Dé dom chumgabail
      Ciall Dé domm imthús
      Rose Dé dom reimcíse,
      Cluas Dé dom éstecht
      Briathar Dé dom erlabrai,
      Lám De domm imdegail
      Intech Dé dom remthechtas.
      Sciath Dé dom dítin
      Sochraite Dé domm anucul
      Ar intledaib demna
      Ar aslaigthib dualche
      Ar cech nduine míduthrastar dam,
      ícéin _ocus_ i n-ocus
      i n-uathed _ocus_ hi sochaide," etc.

[22] Thus translated almost literally by Dr. Sigerson, "Bards of the
Gael and Gall," p. 138. This is not the only poem attributed to St.
Patrick, several others are ascribed to him in the "Tripartite Life,"
and a MS. in the Bibliothèque Royale contains three others. Eight lines
of one of them is found in the Vatican Codex of Marianus Scotus and are
given by Zeuss in his "Grammatica Celtica," p. 961, second edition. The
lines there given refer to St. Brigit. There is also a rann attributed
to St. Patrick quoted by the "Four Masters," and the "Chronicon
Scotorum" attributes to him a rann on Bishop Erc.

[23] "Canticum ejus scotticum semper canere," which a marginal note in
the book explains as _Ymnus Comanulo_, which Father Hogan interprets as
_protectio Clamoris_, adding "ac proinde synonyma voci Faith Fiada,"
which has been interpreted _clamor custodis_ or "The Guardsman's Cry"
by Stokes. The poem, then, was extant in the seventh century, was
attributed to St. Patrick, and was sung in the churches--a strong
argument for its authenticity.

[24] "Even to this day," says Dr. Healy, in "Ireland's Ancient Schools
and Scholars," p. 77, "the original is chanted by the peasantry of
the south and west in the ancestral tongue, and it is regarded as a
strong shield against all dangers natural or supernatural." I, myself,
however, in collecting the "Religious Songs of Connacht," have found no
trace of this, and I am not sure that the learned Bishop of Clonfert,
led astray by Petrie, is not here confounding it with the "Marainn
Phadraig," which mysterious piece is implicitly believed to be the
work of St. Patrick, and is still recited all over the west, with the
belief that there is a peculiar virtue attached to it. I have even
known money to have been paid for its recital in the west of Galway, as
a preventive of evil. For this curious piece, which is to me at least
more than half unintelligible, see my "Religious Songs of Connacht." It
appears to have been founded upon an incident similar to that recorded
by Muirchu Maccu Machteni, book i. chap. 26.

[25] Of Dunshaughlin _recté_ Dunsaughnil (Domhnach Seachnaill) in Meath.

[26] As this was probably the first poem in Latin ever composed in
Ireland, it deserves some consideration. It is a sort of trochaic
tetrameter catalectic, of the very rudest type. The _ictus_, or stress
of the voice, which is supposed to fall on the first syllable of the
first, third, fifth, and seventh feet, seldom corresponds with the
accent. The elision of "m" before a vowel is disregarded, no quantities
are observed, and the solitary rule of prosody kept is that the second
syllable of the seventh foot is always short, with the exception of one
word, _indutus_, which the poet probably pronounced as _indŭtus_. The
third verse runs thus, with an evident effort at vowel rhyme ("Liber
Hymnorum," vol. i. p. 11).

  "Beati Christi custodit mandata in omnibus
  Cujus opera refulgent clara inter homines."

Muratori printed this hymn, from the so-called Antiphonary of Bangor, a
MS. of the eight century preserved in the Ambrosian Library. The rude
metre is that employed by Hilary in his hymn beginning--

  "Ymnum dicat turba fratrum, ymnum cantus personet,"

which, as Stokes points out, is the same as that of the Roman soldiers,
preserved in Suetonius,

  "Cæsar Gallias subégit, Nicomedes Cæsarem."

The internal evidence of the antiquity of this hymn is "strong," says
Stokes, "first, the use of the present tense in describing the saint's
actions; secondly, the absence of all reference to the miracles with
which the Tripartite and other lives are crowded; and, thirdly, the
absence of all allusion to the Roman mission on which many later
writers from Tirechan downwards insist with much persistency." We may
then, I think, receive this hymn as authentic.


  "Maximus namque in regno cælorum vocabitur,
  Qui quod verbis docet sacris factis adimplet bonis;
  Bono procedit exemplo formamque fidelium
  Mundoque in corde habet ad Deum fiduciam."

[28] In the "Martyrology of Tallaght" this curious name is written Mac
hui Machteni, _i.e._, the son of the grandson of Machtenus, or Muirchu,
_i.e._, Murrough, descendant of Machtenus, and the Leabhar Breac has
this note at the name of Muirchu: "_civitas ejus in uib Foelan, i.e.,
mac hui Mathcene_," thereby giving us to understand that he was a
native of what is the present county of Waterford. Maccumachteni is
not a surname, for these were not introduced into Ireland for three
centuries later.

[29] "Omnia quæ scripsi a principio libri hujus scitis quia in vestris
regionibus gesta sunt, nizi de eis pauca inveni in utilitatem laboris
mei a senioribus multis, ac ab illo Ultano episcopo Conchubernensi qui
nutrivit me, retulit sermo!"

[30] "Multos jam conatos esse ordinare narrationem istam secundum quod
patres eorum et qui ministri ab initio fuerunt sermonis tradiderunt
illis; sed propter difficillimum narrationis opus diversasque opiniones
et plurimorum plurimas suspiciones nunquam ad unum certumque historiae
tramitem pervenisse."

[31] "Omnia in Deo gesta ab antiquis peritissimis adunata atque
collecta sunt;" and again: "Post exitum Patricii alumpni sui valde
ejusdem libros conscripserunt;" but this may mean that they made copies
of the books left behind him.

[32] Here is a specimen: "Dulluid pâtricc othemuir hicrîch Laigen
conrâncatar ocus dubthach mucculugir uccdomnuch mâr criathar la auu
censelich. Áliss pâtricc dubthach imdamnae .n. epscuip diadesciplib
dilaignib idôn fer soêr socheniûil cenon cenainim nadip ru becc
nadipromar bedasommae, toisclimm fer ôinsêtche dunarructhae
actoentuistiu," which would run some way thus in the modern language:
"Do luid (_i.e._, Chuaidh) Pádraic ó Theamhair i gcrích Laighean go
râncadar [fein] agus Dubhthach Mac Lugair ag Domhnach Mór Criathair le
uibh Ceinnsealaigh. Ailis (_i.e._, fiafruighis) Pádraic Dubhthach um
damhna (_i.e._, ádhbhar) easboig d' á dheiscioblaibh, eadhoin fear saor
sói-chineáil, gan on gan ainimh (_i.e._, truailiughadh), nâr 'bh ro
bheag [agus] nár 'bh rómhór, a shaidhbhreas (?). Toisg [riachtanus] liom
fear aon seitche [mná] d'á nach rugadh acht aon tuistui (gein)," etc.

[33] For Cáthaoir Mór, _see_ p. 30.

[34] The metre was called _Cetal nothi_, Thurneysen's "Mittelirische
Verslehren," p. 63. It scarcely differs in most parts from Little

[35] _See_ "Keltische Studien," Heft ii., and the "Revue Celtique." The
first verses run thus:--

  "Genair Patraicc in Nemthur
  Is ed atfet hi scélaib
  Maccan se mbliadan déac
  In tan dobreth fo deraib.

  Succat a ainm itubrad
  Ced a athair ba fissi
  Mac Calpairn _maic_ Otide
  Hoa deochain Odissi."

[36] He was tenth in descent from that Owen Môr who wrested half the
sovereignty of Ireland from Conn of the Hundred Battles.

[37] _I.e._, "The wonder-working Three," containing the lives of
Patrick, Brigit, and Columcille, translated by Colgan from Irish into

[38] Also St. Aileran the Wise, whose "Fragments" are published by
Migne; St. Adamnan, the author of the "Life of Columcille"; St. Ciaran
of Belach-Duin; and St. Colman. Jocelyn says that Benignus, who died in
468, wrote another life of Patrick, but of it nothing is known.

[39] Here is a short passage from the Tripartite, which will show the
language in which it is written: "Fecht ann occ tuidhecht do Patraic
do Chlochur antuaith da fuarcaib a thren-fher dar doraid and, _i.e._,
Epscop mac Cairthind. Issed adrubart iar turcbail Patraic: uch uch. Mu
Debroth, ol Patraic ni bu gnath in foculsin do rad duitsiu. Am senoir
ocus am lobur ol Epscop Mac Cairthind," which would run some way thus
in the modern language: "Feacht [uair] do bhi ann, ag tigheacht do
Phádraig go Clochar (i gcondae, Tir-Eóghain) ón tuaidh, d' iomchair a
threán-fhear é thar sruth do bhi ann, eadhoin Easbog Mac Cairthind. Is
eadh adubhairt tar éis Padraig do thogbháil "Uch, uch!" Mo Dhebhroth
[focal do bhi ag Padraig, ionnann agus "dar mo láimh" no mar sin], níor
ghnáth an focal sin do rádh duit-se. Táim im sheanoir agus im lobhar ar
Easbog Mac Cairthind." _See_ O'Curry MS. Materials, p. 598.



St. Brigit was--after St. Patrick himself--probably the most noted
figure amongst Irish Christians in the fifth century. She must have
attained her extraordinary influence through sheer ability and
intellectuality, for she appears to have been the daughter of a
slave-woman,[1] employed in the mansion of a chief called Dubhthach
[Duv-hach, or Duffach], who was himself tenth in descent from Felimidh,
the lawgiver monarch of Ireland in the second century. The king's
wife, jealous of her husband's liking for his slave, threatened him
with these words, "Unless thou sellest yon bondmaid in distant lands I
will exact my dowry from thee and I will leave thee," and so had her
driven from the place and sold to a druid, in whose house her daughter,
Dubhthach's offspring, soon afterwards saw the light. She was thus
born into slavery, though not quite a slave; for Dubhthach, in selling
the mother into slavery, expressly reserved for himself her offspring,
whatever it might be. She must have been, at least, early inured to
hardship, as St. Patrick had been. The druid, however, did not prevent
her from being baptized. She grew up to be a girl of exceeding beauty,
and many suitors sought her in marriage. She returned to her father's
house, but refused all offers of matrimony. She aroused the jealousy of
her father's wife, as her mother had done before her, and Dubhthach,
indignant at her unbounded generosity with his goods, decided upon
selling her to the king of North Leinster. Her father's abortive
attempt to get rid of her on this occasion is thus quaintly described
in her Irish life in the Leabhar Breac.

 "Thereafter," says the life, "Dubhthach and his consort were minded to
 sell the holy Brigit into bondage, for Dubhthach liked not his cattle
 and his wealth to be dealt out to the poor, and that is what Brigit
 used to do. So Dubhthach fared in his chariot and Brigit along with

 "Said Dubhthach to Brigit, 'Not for honour or reverence to thee art
 thou carried in a chariot, but to take thee, to sell thee to grind the
 quern for Dunlang mac Enda, King of Leinster.'

 "When they came to the King's fortress Dubhthach went in to the king,
 and Brigit remained in her chariot at the fortress door. Dubhthach had
 left his sword in the chariot near Brigit. A leper came to Brigit to
 ask an alms. She gave him Dubhthach's sword.

 "Said Dubhthach to the King, 'Wilt thou buy a bondmaid, namely, my
 daughter?' says he.

 "Said Dunlang, 'Why sellest thou thine own daughter?'

 "Said Dubhthach, 'She stayeth not from selling my wealth and from
 giving it to the poor.'

 "Said the King, 'Let the maiden come into the fortress.'

 "Dubhthach went to Brigit, and was enraged against her because she had
 given his sword to the poor man.

 "When Brigit came into the King's presence the King said to her,
 'Since it is thy father's wealth that thou takest, much more wilt thou
 take _my_ wealth and my cattle and give them to the poor.'

 "Said Brigit, 'The Son of the Virgin knoweth if I had thy might, with
 all Leinster, and with all thy wealth, I would give them to the Lord
 of the Elements.'

 "Said the King to Dubhthach, 'Thou art not fit on either hand to
 bargain about this maiden, for her merit is higher before God
 than before men,' and the King gave Dubhthach an ivory-hilted
 sword (_Claideb dét_), et sic liberata est sancta Virgo Brigita a

She at length succeeded in assuming the veil of a nun at the hands of
a bishop called Mucaille, along with seven virgin companions. With
these she eventually retired into her father's territory and founded a
church at Kildare, beside an ancient oak-tree, which existed till the
tenth century, and which gives its name to the spot.[3] Even at this
early period Kildare seems to have been a racecourse, and St. Brigit is
described in the ancient lives as driving across it in her chariot.

It is remarkable that there is scarcely any mention of St. Brigit in
the lives of St. Patrick, although, according to the usual chronology
they were partly contemporaries, St. Brigit having become a nun
about the year 467, and St. Patrick having lived until 492. About
the only mention of her in the saint's life is that which tells how
she once listened to Patrick preaching for three nights and days,
and fell asleep, and as she dreamt she saw first white oxen in white
corn-fields, and then darker ones took their place, and lastly black
oxen. And thereafter, she beheld sheep and swine, and dogs and wolves
quarrelling with each other, and upon her waking up, St. Patrick
explained her dream as being symbolical of the history of the Irish
Church present and future. The life of Brigit herself in the Book of
Lismore tells the vision somewhat differently:

 "'I beheld,' said she, to Patrick, when he asked her why she had
 fallen asleep, 'four ploughs in the north-east which ploughed the
 whole island, and before the sowing was finished the harvest was
 ripened, and clear well-springs and shiny streams came out of the
 furrows. White garments were on the sowers and ploughmen. I beheld
 four other ploughs in the north which ploughed the island athwart and
 turned the harvest again, and the oats which they had sown grew up at
 once and were ripe, and black streams came out of the furrows, and
 there were black garments on the sowers and on the ploughmen.'"

This vision Patrick explained to her, saying--

 "'The first four ploughs which thou beheldest, those are I and thou,
 who sow the four books of the gospel with a sowing of faith and belief
 and piety. The harvest which thou beheldest are they who come unto
 that faith and belief through our teaching. The four ploughs which
 thou beheldest in the north are the false teachers and the liars which
 will overturn the teaching which we have sown.'"

St. Brigit's small oratory at Kildare, under the shadow of her
branching oak, soon grew into a great institution, and within her own
lifetime two considerable religious establishments sprang up there,
one for women and the other for men. She herself selected a bishop
to assist her in governing them, and another to instruct herself and
her nuns. Long before her death, which occurred about the year 525, a
regular city and a great school rivalling the fame of Armagh itself,
had risen round her oak-tree. Cogitosus, himself one of the Kildare
monks, who wrote a Latin life of St. Brigit at the desire of the
community, gives us a fine description of the great church of Kildare
in his own day, which was evidently some time prior to the Danish
invasion at the close of the eighth century,[4] but how long before is
doubtful. He tells us that the church was both large and lofty, with
many pictures and hangings, and with ornamental doorways, and that a
partition ran across the breadth of the church near the chancel or

 "At one of its extremities there was a door which admitted the bishop
 and his clergy to the sanctuary and to the altar; and at the other
 extremity on the opposite side there was a similar door by which
 Brigit and her virgins and widows used to enter to enjoy the banquet
 of the Body and Blood of Christ. Then a central partition ran down
 the nave, dividing the men from the women, the men being on the right
 and the women on the left, and each division having its own lateral
 entrance. These partitions did not rise to the roof of the church, but
 only so high as to serve their purpose. The partition at the sanctuary
 or chancel was formed with boards of wood decorated with pictures and
 covered with linen hangings which might, it seems, be drawn aside at
 the consecration, to give the people in the nave a better view of the
 holy mysteries."[5]

The two institutions--nuns and monks--planted by St. Brigit continued
long to flourish side by side, and Kildare is the only religious
establishment in Ireland, says Dr. Healy, which down to a comparatively
recent period preserved the double line of succession, of abbot-bishops
and of abbesses. The annalists always took care to record the names of
the abbesses with the same accuracy as those of the abbots, and to the
last the abbesses as successors of St. Brigit, were credited with, in
public opinion, and probably enjoyed in fact, a certain supremacy over
the bishops of Kildare themselves.

Amongst other occupations the monks and scholars of Kildare seem to
have given themselves up to decorative art, and a school of metal
work under the supervision of Brigit's first bishop soon sprang into
existence, producing all kinds of artistically decorated chalices,
bells, patens, and shrines; and the impulse given thus early to
artistic work and to beautiful creations seems to have long propagated
itself in Kildare, as the description of the church by Cogitosus shows,
and as we may still conjecture from the exquisite round tower with its
unusually ornamented doorway and its great height of over 130 feet, the
loftiest tower of the kind in Ireland.

No doubt several attributes of the pagan Brigit,[6] who, as we have
seen, was accounted by the ancient Irish to have been the goddess of
poets, passed over to her Christian namesake, who was also credited
with being the patroness of men of learning. On this, her life in the
Book of Lismore contains the following significant and rather obscure

 "Brigit was once with her sheep on the Curragh, and she saw running
 past her a son of reading,[7] to wit Nindid the scholar was he.

 "'What makes thee unsedate, O son of reading?' saith Brigit, 'and what
 seekest thou in that wise?'

 "'O nun,' saith the scholar, 'I am going to heaven.'

 "'The Virgin's son knoweth,' said Brigit, 'happy is he that goeth that
 journey, and for God's sake make prayer with me that it may be easy
 for me to go.'

 "'O nun,' said the scholar, 'I have no leisure, for the gates of
 heaven are open now and I fear they may be shut against me. Or, if
 thou art hindering me pray the Lord that it may be easy for me to go
 to heaven, and I will pray the Lord for thee, that it may be easy
 for thee, and that thou mayest bring many thousands with thee, into

 "Brigit recited a paternoster with him. And he was pious
 thenceforward, and it is he that gave her communion and sacrifice when
 she was dying. _Wherefore thence it came to pass that the comradeship
 of the world's softs of reading is with Brigit, and the Lord gives
 them through Brigit every perfect good they ask._"[8]

As St. Patrick is pre-eminently the patron saint of Ireland, so is
Brigit its patroness, and with the Irish people no Christian name
is more common for their boys than Patrick, or for their girls than
Brigit.[9] She was universally known as the "Mary of the Gael," and
reverenced with a certain chivalric feeling which seems to have been
always present with the Gaelic nation in the case of women, for, says
her Irish life, her desire "was to satisfy the poor, to expel every
hardship, to spare every miserable man.... It is she that helpeth
every one who is in a strait or a danger; it is she that abateth the
pestilences; it is she that quelleth the anger and the storm of the
sea. She is the prophetess of Christ: she is the queen of the south:
_She is the Mary of the Gael_." The writer closes thus in a burst of

 "Her relics are on earth, with honour and dignity and primacy, with
 miracles and marvels. Her soul is like a sun in the heavenly kingdom,
 among the choir of angels and archangels. And though great be her
 honour here at present, greater by far will it be when she shall arise
 like a shining lamp, in completeness of body and soul at the great
 Assembly of Doomsday, in union with cherubim and seraphim, in union
 with the Son of Mary the Virgin, in the union that is nobler than
 every union, in the union of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy

As of St. Patrick, so of his great co-evangeliser St. Brigit, there
exist quite a number of various lives; the most ancient being probably
a metrical life in Irish contained in the Book of Hymns, of which there
still exists an eleventh century MS. It consists of fifty-three stanzas
of four lines each, and is ascribed to St. Broccan or Brogan Cloen,
who seems to have lived at the beginning of the seventh century.[10]
This life does little more than expatiate upon Brigit's miracles and
virtues. The next life of importance is that already mentioned, by
Cogitosus, the Kildare monk, whose date is uncertain, but is clearly
prior to the Danish invasions. This life, which is in very creditable
Latin, and four others, were printed by Colgan. The first of these four
is--probably falsely--attributed to St. Ultan, who died in the middle
of the seventh century; the next is by a monk who is called Animosus,
but of whom nothing is known, though, as St. Donatus, who became
bishop of Fiesole in 824, alludes to his works, he must have been an
early author; the third is a twelfth-century work, by Laurence of
Durham, an Englishman; and the last is in Latin verse, taken from a MS.
which the unwearied Colgan procured from Monte Cassino, and which is
attributed to Coelan, a monk of Iniscaltra, who probably lived in the
eighth century, while a prologue to this life is prefixed by a later
writer, the celebrated Irish bishop of Fiesole, Donatus, who, in the
early part of the ninth century, worked with great success in Italy.
There is something touching in the language with which this great and
successful child of the Gael reverts in his prologue to the home of his

 "Far in the west they tell of a matchless land,[11] which goes in
 ancient books by the name of Scotia [_i.e._, Ireland]; rich in
 resources this land, having silver, precious stones, vestures and
 gold, well suited to earth-born creatures as regards its climate, its
 sun, and its arable soil; that Scotia of lovely fields that flow with
 milk and honey, hath skill in husbandry, and raiments, and arms, and
 arts, and fruits. There are no fierce bears there, nor ever has the
 land of Scotia brought forth savage broods of lions. No poisons hurt,
 no serpent creeps through the grass, nor does the babbling frog croak
 and complain by the lake. In this land the Scottish race are worthy to
 dwell, a renowned race of men in war, in peace, in fidelity."

Whitley Stokes has published the Irish lives of St. Brigit from the
Leabhar Breac and the Book of Lismore, and Donatus alludes to other
lives by St. Ultan[12] and St. Eleran, so that Brigit has not lacked
biographers. She herself is said to have written a rule for her nuns
and some other things, and O'Curry prints one Irish poem ascribed to
her--in which she prays for the family of heaven to be present at her
feast: "I should like the men of heaven in my own house, I should like
rivers of peace to be at their disposal," etc.--which appears to be
alluded to in the preface to the Litany of Angus the Culdee, as the
"great feast which St. Brigit made for Jesus in her heart."[13]

[1] Cogitosus, who probably wrote in the beginning of the eighth
century, makes no allusion to her slave-parentage, but this was to be

[2] _See_ Stokes, "Three Middle Irish Homilies."

[3] Cill-dara, the "Church of the Oak-tree," now Kildare.

[4] He himself says, "Et quis sermone explicare potest maximum decorem
hujus ecclesiæ et innumera illius civitatis quî dicemus miracula ...
[hic] nullus carnalis adversarius nec concursus timetur hostium, sed
civitas est refugii tutissima ... et quis ennumerare potest diversas
turbas et innumerabiles populos de omnibus provinciis affluentes, alii
ad epularum abundantiam, alii languidi propter sanitates, alii ad
spectaculum turbarum, alii cum magnis donis venientes ad solemnitatem
Nativitatis S. Brigitæ quæ in die Calendarum est," etc. These are the
evident outcome of the piping times of peace which Ireland enjoyed in
the seventh and eighth centuries. It would have been impossible to have
written in this way after the close of the eighth century. See chap. 36
of Cogitosus's life, "Trias Thaumaturga," p. 524 of the Louvain edition.

[5] Thus well summarised by Dr. Healy from the more diffuse Latin of
Cogitosus. His description of the church is as follows: It was "solo
spatiosa et in altum minaci proceritate porrecta ac decorata pictis
tabulis, tria intrinsecus habens oratoria ampla, et divisa parietibus
tabulatis." One of the walls was "decoratus, et imaginibus depictus, ac
linteaminibus tectus."

[6] This has not escaped Windisch. "Während," he writes, "Patrick nur
der christlichen Hagiologie angehört, scheint Brigit zugleich die Erbin
einer alten heidnischen Gottheit zu sein. Ihr Wesen enthält Ziige die
mehr als eine heilig gesprochen Nonne hinter ihr vermuthen lassen."
Windisch bases this chiefly upon the expressions in Broccan's hymn,
which calls her the mother of Christ, and calls Christ her son, and
equates her with Mary. The passage which I have adduced from the Irish
life is even more remarkable:

"Brigit," writes Whitley Stokes "(cp. Skr. _bhargas_) was born at
sunrise neither within nor without a house, was bathed in milk, her
breath revives the dead, a house in which she is staying flames up to
heaven, cow-dung blazes before her, oil is poured on her head; she
is fed from the milk of a white red-eared cow; a fiery pillar rises
over her head; sun rays support her wet cloak; she remains a virgin;
and she was one of the two mothers of Christ the Anointed. She has,
according to Giraldus Cambrensis, a perpetual ashless fire watched by
twenty nuns, of whom herself was one, blown by fans or bellows only,
and surrounded by a hedge within which no male could enter" ("Top.
Hib." chaps. 34, 35 and 36), from all which Stokes declares that one
may without much rashness pick out certain of her life-incidents, as
having "originally belonged to the myth or the ritual of some goddess
of fire." (_See_ preface to "Three Middle Irish Homilies.")

[7] "Mac-léighinn," which is to this day a usual Irish term for student.

[8] Thus translated by Dr. Whitley Stokes in his "Lives of the Saints
from the Book of Lismore," p. 194. In the original: "Conid assein
dorala cumthanus mac leighinn in domuin re Brigit, co tabair in coimdhi
doibh tria atach Brigte gach maith fhoirbhthi chuinghid."

[9] Or to speak more accurately no names _were_ more common, but owing
to the action of various influences, particularly of the National
Board, with unsympathetic persons at its head, and of the men who
direct the modern education of the Irish, the people who are not
allowed by the National Board to learn history, and who are taught to
despise the Irish language, are gradually being made ashamed of any
names that are not English, and Patrick and Brigit almost bid fair to
follow the way of Cormac, Conn, Felim, Art, Donough, Fergus, Diarmuid,
and a score of other Christian names of men in common use a century
ago, but now almost wholly extinct, and of Mève, Sive, Eefi, Sheela,
Nuala, and as many more female names now nearly or completely obsolete.
A woman of some education said to me lately, "God forbid I should
handicap my daughter in life by calling her Brigit;" and a Catholic
bishop said the other day that too often when an Irish parent abroad
did pluck up courage to christen his son "Patrick," he put it in, in
a shamefaced whisper, at the end of several other names. This is the
direct result of the teaching given by the National Board.

[10] He is said to have written this hymn at the instigation of Ultan,
who died in 653, but, as Windisch remarks, mention is probably made of
Ultan only because he is said to have been the first to collect the
miracles of Brigit--"die Sprache," adds Windisch, "ist alterthümlich;
besonders beachtenswerth sind die ziemlich zahlreichen Perfectformen."
It is remarkable that the miracles attributed to Brigit are given in
the same order in this hymn and in Cogitosus' life of her. The metre is

  "Ni bu Sanct Brigit suanach
    Ni bu húarach im seirc Dé,
  Sech ni chiuir ni cossena
    Ind nóeb dibad bethath che."

The life by Cogitosus is evidently pre-Danish, and it is more likely to
be an extension of the short metrical one, than that the metrical one
should be a _résumé_ of it. If this is so it bespeaks a considerable
antiquity for the Irish verses.

[11] There is a fragment in the Irish MS. Rawlinson, B. 512, quoted
somewhere by Kuno Meyer, which reminds one of this passage. It begins:
"Now the island of Ireland, Inis Herenn, has been set in the west. As
Adam's Paradise stands at the sunrise, so Ireland stands at the sunset,
and they are alike in the nature of their soil," etc.

[12] St. Ultan wrote a beautiful Irish hymn and also a Latin hymn to
her--at least they are attributed to him--beginning--

  "Christus in nostra insola
  Que vocatur hibernia
  Ostensus est hominibus
  Maximis mirabilibus.

  Que perfecit per felicem
  Celestis vite virginem
  Precellentem pro merito
  Magno in mundi circulo."

See Todd's "Liber Hymnorum," vol. ii. p. 58. The Latin orthography of
the Irish is seldom quite perfect.

[13] This poem begins:

  "Ropadh maith lem corm-lind mór
  Do righ na righ
  Ropadh maith lem muinnter nimhe
  Acca hol tre bithe shír."

_I.e._, "I would like a great lake of ale for the King of the
kings, I would like the people of heaven to be drinking it through
eternal ages," which sounds curious, but Brigit probably meant it



The third great patron Saint of Ireland, the man who stands out almost
as conspicuously as St. Patrick himself in the religious history
of the Gael, the most renowned missionary, scribe, scholar, poet,
statesman, anchorite, and school-founder of the sixth century is St.
Columcille.[1] Everything about this remarkable man has conspired to
fix upon him the imagination of the Irish race. He was not, like St.
Patrick, of alien, nor like St. Brigit, of semi-servile birth, but was
sprung from the highest and bluest blood of the Irish, being son of
Felemidh, son of Fergus, son of Conall Gulban--renowned to this day in
saga and romance--son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, that great monarch
of Ireland who ravaged Britain and exacted tributes far and wide from
his conquered enemies.

He was born on the 7th of December, 521,[2] twenty-nine years after
the reputed death of St. Patrick, and four years before that of St.
Brigit, at Gartan[3] in Donegal, a wild but beautiful district of which
his father was the prince. The reigning monarch of Ireland was his
half-uncle, while his mother Ethne was the direct descendant of the
royal line of Cáthaoir [Cauheer] Mór, the regnant family of Leinster,
and he himself would have had some chance of the reversion of the
monarchy had he been minded to press his claims. Reared at Kilmacrenan,
near Gartan, the place where the O'Donnells were afterwards
inaugurated, he received his first teaching at the hands of St. Finnén
or Finnian in his famous school at Moville, for already since Patrick's
death Ireland had become dotted with such small colleges. It was here
at this early age that his school-fellows christened him Colum-cille,
or Colum of the Church, on account of the assiduity with which he
sought the holy building. At this period the Christian clergy and the
bardic order were the only two educational powers in Ireland, and after
leaving St. Finnian, Columcille travelled south into Leinster to a
bard called Gemmán[4] with whom he took lessons. From him he went to
St. Finnén or Finnian of Clonard. While studying at Clonard it was the
custom for each of the students to grind corn in his turn at a quern,
but Columcille's Irish life in the Book of Lismore tells us naïvely, in
true old Irish spirit, "howbeit an angel from heaven used to grind on
behalf of Columcille; that was the honour which the Lord used to render
him because of the eminent nobleness of his race." St. Ciaran [Keeran]
was at this time a fellow-student with him, and Finnian, says the Irish
life, saw one night a vision, "to wit, two moons arose from Clonard,
a golden moon and a silver moon. The golden moon went into the north
of the island, and Ireland and Scotland gleamed under it. The silver
moon went on until it stayed by the Shannon, and Ireland at her centre
gleamed." That, says the author, signified "Columcille with the grace
of his noble kin and his wisdom, and Ciaran with the refulgence of his
virtues and his good deeds."

Leaving Clonard behind him, Columcille passed on to yet another
school--this time to that of Mobhí at Glasnevin, near Dublin, where
there were as many as fifty students at work, living in huts or cells
grouped round an oratory, some of whom were famous men in after-time,
for they included Cainnech and Comgall and Ciaran. A curious incident
is recorded of these three and of Columcille in the Irish life in the
Book of Lismore.

Columcille was driven from Glasnevin by the approach of the great
plague which ravaged the country, and of which his teacher Mobhí died.

 "Once on a time," says the author, "a great church was built by Mobhí.
 The clerics were considering what each of them would like to have in
 the church. 'I should like,' said Ciaran, 'its full of church children
 to attend the canonical hours.' 'I should like,' said Cainnech, 'to
 have its full of books to serve the sons of life.' 'I should like,'
 said Comgall, 'its full of affliction and disease to be in my own
 body: to subdue me and repress me.' Then Columcille chose its full
 of gold and silver to cover relics and shrines withal. Mobhí said it
 should not be so, but that Columcille's community would be wealthier
 than any community, whether in Ireland or in Scotland."[5]

Betaking himself northward with a growing reputation, he was offered by
his cousin, then Prince of Aileach, near Derry, and afterwards monarch
of Ireland, the site of a monastery on the so-called island of Derry,
a rising ground of oval shape, covering some two hundred acres, along
the slopes of which flourished a splendid forest of oak-trees, which
gave to the oasis its name of Derry or the oak grove. Columcille,
like all Gaels--and indeed all Celts--was full of love for everything
beautiful in nature, both animate and inanimate, and so careful was he
of his beloved oaks that, contrary to all custom, he would not build
his church with its chancel towards the east, for in that case some
of the oaks would have had to be felled to make room for it. He laid
strict injunctions upon all his successors to spare the lovely grove,
and enjoined that if any of the trees should be blown down some of them
should go for fuel to their own guest-house, and the rest be given to
the people.

This was Columcille's first religious institution, and, like every
man's firstling, it remained dear to him to the last. Years afterwards,
when the thought of it came back to him on the barren shores of Iona,
he expressed himself in passionate Irish poetry.

  "For oh! were the tributes of Alba mine
    From shore unto centre, from centre to sea,
  The site of one house, to be marked by a line
    In the midst of fair Derry were dearer to me.

  That spot is the dearest on Erin's ground,
    For the treasures that peace and that purity lend,
  For the hosts of bright angels that circle it round,
    Protecting its borders from end to end.

  The dearest of any on Erin's ground
    For its peace and its beauty I gave it my love,
  Each leaf of the oaks around Derry is found
    To be crowded with angels from heaven above.

  My Derry! my Derry! my little oak grove,
    My dwelling, my home, and my own little cell,
  May God the Eternal in Heaven above
    Send death to thy foes and defend thee well."[6]

Columcille was yet a young man, only twenty-five years of age, when
he founded Derry, but both his own genius, and more especially his
great friends and kinsfolk, had conspired to make him famous. For the
next seventeen years he laboured in Ireland, and during this time
founded the still more celebrated schools of Durrow in the present
King's County, and of Kells in Meath, both of which became most
famous in after years. Durrow,[7] which, like Derry, was named from
the beautiful groves of oak which were scattered along the slope of
Druim-caín, or "the pleasant hill," seems to have retained to the last
a hold upon the affections of Columcille second only to that of Derry.
When its abbot, Cormac the voyager, visited him long years afterwards
in Iona, and expressed his unwillingness to return to his monastery
again, because, being a Momonian of the race of Eber, the southern
Ui Neill were jealous of him, and made his abbacy unpleasant or
impossible, Columcille reproached him in pathetic terms for abandoning
so lovely an abode--

  "With its books and its learning,
  A devout city with a hundred crosses."

"O Cormac," he exclaimed--

  "I pledge thee mine unerring word
  Which it is not possible to impugn,
  Death is better in reproachless Erin
  Than perpetual life in Alba [Scotland]."[8]

And on another occasion, when it strikes him how happy the son of Dima,
_i.e._, Cormac, must be at the approach of summer along the green
hillside of Rosgrencha--another name for Durrow--amid its fair slopes,
waving woods, and singing birds, compared with himself exiled to the
barren shores of rugged Iona, he bursts forth into the tenderest song--

  "How happy the son is of Dima! no sorrow
         For him is designed,
  He is having, this hour, round his own cell in Durrow
         The wish of his mind:

  The sound of the wind in the elms, like the strings of
         A harp being played,
  The note of the blackbird that claps with the wings of
         Delight in the glade.

  With him in Rosgrencha the cattle are lowing
         At earliest dawn,
  On the brink of the summer the pigeons are cooing
         And doves on his lawn," etc.[9]

Columcille continued his labours in Ireland, founding churches and
monasteries and schools, until he was forty-two years of age. He was
at this time at the height of his physical and mental powers, a man of
a masterful but of a too passionate character, of fine physique, and
enjoying a reputation second to that of none in Erin. The commentator
in the Féilire of Angus describes his appearance as that of "a man
well-formed, with powerful frame; his skin was white, his face was
broad and fair and radiant, lit up with large, grey,[10] luminous eyes;
his large and well-shaped head was crowned, except where he wore his
frontal tonsure, with close and curling hair. His voice was clear and
resonant, so that he could be heard at the distance of 1,500 paces,[11]
yet sweet with more than the sweetness of the bards." His activity was
incessant. "Not a single hour of the day," says Adamnan, "did he leave
unoccupied without engaging either in prayer, or in reading, or in
writing, or in some other work;" and he laboured with his hands as well
as with his head, cooking or looking after his ploughmen, or engaged in
ecclesiastical or secular matters. All accounts go to show that he was
of a hot and passionate temperament, and endowed with both the virtues
and the faults that spring from such a character. Indeed this was, no
doubt, why in the "famous vision"[12] which Baithin saw concerning
him, he was seated only on a chair of glass; while Ciaran was on a
chair of gold, and Molaisse upon a chair of silver. The commentator
on the Féilire of Angus boldly states that, "though his devotion was
delightful, he was carnal and often frail even as glass is fragile."
Aware of this, he wore himself out with fastings and vigils,[13] and no

  "Lenior et melior fit accedente senectu,"

for Adamnan describes him, from the recollections of the monks who
knew him, as being angelic in aspect[14] and bright in conversation,
and despite his great labours yet "dear to all, displaying his holy
countenance always cheerful." A curious story is told in the Leabhar
Breac, of the stratagems to which his people resorted to checkmate his
self-imposed penance; for having one day seen an old woman living upon
pottage of nettles, while she was waiting for her one cow to calve and
give her milk, the notion came to him that he too would thenceforward
live upon the same, for if she could do so, much more could he, and it
would be profitable to his soul in gaining the kingdom of heaven. So,
said the writer, he called his servant--

 "'Pottage,' saith he, 'from thee every night, and bring not the milk
 with it.'

 "'It shall be done,' said the cook.

 "He (the cook) bores the mixing-stick of the pottage, so that it
 became a pipe, and he used to pour the meat juice into the pipe, down,
 so that it was mixed through the pottage. That preserves the cleric's
 (Columcille's) appearance. The monks perceived the cleric's good
 appearance, and they talked among themselves. That is revealed to
 Columcille, so he said, 'May your successors be always murmuring.'

 "'Well now,' said Columcille, said he, to his servant, 'what dost thou
 give me every day?'

 "'Thou art witness,' said the cook, 'unless it come out of the iron of
 the pot, or out of the stick wherewith the pottage is mixed, I know
 nought else in it save pottage!'"

It was now, however, that events occurred which had the result of
driving Columcille abroad and launching him upon a more stormy and
more dangerous career, as the apostle of Scotland and the Picts. St.
Finnian of Moville, with whom he studied in former days, had brought
back with him from Rome a copy of the Psalms, probably the first
copy of St. Jerome's translation, or Vulgate, that had appeared in
Ireland, which he highly valued, and which he did not wish Columcille
to copy. Columcille however, who was a dexterous and rapid scribe,
found opportunity, by sitting up during several nights, to make a copy
of the book secretly,[15] but Finnian learning it claimed the copy.
Columcille refused it, and the matter was referred to King Diarmuid
at Tara. The monarch, to whom books and their surroundings were
probably something new, as a matter for legal dispute, could find in
the Brehon law no nearer analogy to adjudicate the case by, than the
since celebrated sentence _le gach boin a boinín_, "with every cow
her calf," in which terms he, not altogether unnaturally, decided in
favour of St. Finnian, saying, "with every book its son-book, as with
every cow her calf."[16] This alone might not have brought about the
crisis, but unfortunately the son of the king of Connacht, who had been
present at the great Convention or Féis of Tara, in utter violation of
the law of sanctuary which alone rendered this great meeting possible,
slew the son of the king's steward, and knowing that the penalty was
certain death, he fled to the lodging of the northern princes Fergus
and Domhnall [Donall] who immediately placed him under the protection
of St. Columcille. This however did not avail him, for King Diarmuid,
who was no respecter of persons, had him promptly seized and put to
death in atonement for his crime. This, combined with his unfortunate
judgment about the book, enraged the imperious Columcille to the last
degree. He made his way northward and appealed to his kinsmen to avenge
him. A great army was collected, led by Fergus and Domhnall, two first
cousins of Columcille, and by the king of Connacht, whose son had been
put to death. The High-king marched to meet this formidable combination
with all the troops he could gather. Pushing his way across the island
he met their combined forces in the present county of Sligo, between
Benbulbin and the sea. A furious battle was delivered in which he was
defeated with the loss of three thousand men.

It was soon after this battle that Columcille decided to leave Ireland.
There is a great deal of evidence that he did so as a kind of penance,
either self-imposed or enjoined upon him by St. Molaíse [Moleesha],
as Keating says, or by the "synod of the Irish saints," as O'Donnell
has it. He had helped to fill all Ireland with arms and bloodshed,
and three thousand men had fallen in one battle largely on account
of him, and it was not the only appeal to arms which lay upon his
conscience.[17] He set sail from his beloved Derry in the year 593,
determined, according to popular tradition, to convert as many souls
to Christ as had fallen in the battle of Cooldrevna. Amongst the dozen
monks of his own order who accompanied him were his two first cousins
and his uncle.

It was death and breaking of heart for him to leave the land of Erin,
and he pathetically expresses his sorrow in his own Irish verses.

 "Too swiftly my coracle flies on her way,
   From Derry I mournfully turned her prow,
 I grieve at the errand which drives me to-day
   To the Land of the Ravens, to Alba, now.

    * * * * *

 How swiftly we travel! there is a grey eye
   Looks back upon Erin, but it no more
 Shall see while the stars shall endure in the sky
   Her women, her men, or her stainless shore.

  From the plank of the oak where in sorrow I lie,
    I am straining my sight through the water and wind,
  And large is the tear of the soft grey eye
    Looking back on the land that it leaves behind.

  To Erin alone is my memory given,
    To Meath and to Munster my wild thoughts flow,
  To the shores of Moy-linny, the slopes of Loch Leven,
    And the beautiful land the Ultonians know."

He refers distinctly to the penance imposed upon him by St. Moleesha.

  "To the nobles that gem the bright isle of the Gael
    Carry this benediction over the sea,
  And bid them not credit Moleesha's tale,
    And bid them not credit his words of me.

  Were it not for the word of Moleesha's mouth
    At the cross of Ahamlish that sorrowful day,
  I now should be warding from north and from south
    Disease and distemper from Erin away."

His mind reverts to former scenes of delight--

  "How dear to my heart in yon western land
    Is the thought of Loch Foyle where the cool waves pour,
  And the bay of Drumcliff on Cúlcinnê's strand,
    How grand was the slope of its curving shore!

   * * * * *

  O bear me my blessing afar to the West,
    For the heart in my bosom is broken; I fail.
  Should death of a sudden now pierce my breast
    I should die of the love that I bear the Gael!"[18]

Columcille is the first example in the saddened page of Irish history
of the exiled Gael grieving for his native land and refusing to be
comforted, and as such he has become the very type and embodiment of
Irish fate and Irish character. The flag in bleak Gartan, upon which
he was born, is worn thin and bare by the hands and feet of pious
pilgrims, and "the poor emigrants who are about to quit Donegal for
ever, come and sleep on that flag the night before their departure
from Derry. Columcille himself was an exile, and they fondly hope that
sleeping on the spot where he was born will help them to bear with
lighter heart the heavy burden of the exile's sorrows."[19] He is the
prototype of the millions of Irish exiles in after ages--

  "Ruined exiles, restless, roaming,
    Longing for their fatherland,"[20]

and the extraordinary deep roots which his life and poetry have struck
into the soil of the North was strikingly evidenced this very year
(1898) by the wonderful celebration of his centenary at Gartan, at
which many thousands of people, who had travelled all night over the
surrounding mountains, were present, and where it was felt to be so
incongruous that the life of such a great Irish patriot, prince, and
poet, in the diocese, too, of an O'Donnell, should be celebrated in
English, that--probably for the first time in this century--Irish poems
were read and Irish speeches made, even by the Cardinal-Primate and the
Bishop of the diocese.

Of Columcille's life on the craggy little island of Iona, of his
splendid labours in converting the Picts, and of the monastery which
he established, and which, occupied by Irish monks, virtually rendered
Iona an Irish island for the next six hundred years, there is no need
to speak here, for these things belong rather to ecclesiastical than to
literary history.

Columcille himself was an unwearied scribe, and delighted in poetry.
Ample provision was made for the multiplication of books in all the
monasteries which he founded, and his Irish life tells us that he
himself wrote "three hundred gifted, lasting, illuminated, noble
books." The life in the Book of Lismore tells us that he once went
to Clonmacnois with a hymn he had made for St. Ciaran, 'for he made
abundant praises for God's household, as said the poet,

  "Noble, thrice fifty, nobler than every apostle,
  The number of miracles [of poems] are as grass,
  Some in Latin, which was beguiling,
  Others in Gaelic, fair the tale."'

Of these only three in Latin are now known to exist, whilst of the
great number of Irish poems attributed to him only a few--half a dozen
at the most--are likely to be even partly genuine. His best known hymn
is the "Altus," so called from its opening word; it was first printed
by Colgan,[21] and its genuineness is generally admitted. It is a
long and rudely-constructed poem, of twenty-two stanzas, preserved in
the Book of Hymns, a MS. probably of the eleventh century. Each stanza
consists of six lines,[22] and each line of sixteen syllables. There
is a pause after the eighth syllable, and a kind of rhyme between
every two lines. The first verses run thus with an utter disregard of

  "Altus prosător, vetustus dierum et ingenitus,
  Erat absque origine primordii et crepidine,
  Est et erit in sæcula sæculorum infinitus,
  Cui est unigenitus Christus et Spiritus Sanctus," etc.

The second Latin hymn is a supplement to this one, composed in praise
of the Trinity, because Pope Gregory who, as the legend states,
perceived the angels listening when the "Altus" was recited to him,
was yet of opinion that the first stanza of the original poem, despite
its additional line, was insufficient to express a competent laudation
of the mystery, consequently Columcille added, it was said, fifteen
rude-rhyming couplets of the same character as the "Altus," but it
is very doubtful whether they are genuine. The third hymn, the "Noli
Pater," is still shorter, consisting of only seven rhyming couplets
with sixteen syllables in each line. It was in ancient times considered
an efficient safeguard against fire and lightning. Some of his reputed
Irish poems we have already glanced at; three that Colgan considered
genuine were printed by Dr. Reeves in his "Adamnan;" and another, the
touching "Farewell to Ara," is contained in the "Gaelic Miscellany"
of 1808; and another on his escape from King Diarmuid, when the king
of Connacht's son was put to death for violating the Féis at Tara, is
printed in the "Miscellany" of the Irish Archæological Society.[23]
There are three verses, composed by him as a prayer at the battle of
Cooldrevna, ascribed to him in the "Chronicon Scotorum;" and there is
a collection of fifteen poems attributed to him in the O'Clery MSS. at
Brussels, and nearly a hundred more--mostly evident forgeries--in the
Bodleian at Oxford.[24] He does not seem to have ever written any work
in prose.

There are six lives of Columcille still extant, the greatest of them
all being that in Latin by Adamnan,[25] who was one of his successors
in the abbacy of Iona, and who was born only twenty-seven years after
Columcille's death. This admirable work, written in flowing and
very fair Latin, was derived, as Adamnan himself tells us, partly
from oral and partly from written sources. A memoir of Columcille
had already been written by Cuimine Finn or Cummeneus Albus,[26] as
Adamnan calls him, the last Abbot of Iona but one before himself,
and that memoir he almost entirely embodied in his third book. He
had also some other written accounts before him, and the Irish
poems, both of the saint himself and of other bards, amongst them
Baithine Mór, who had enjoyed his personal friendship, and St. Mura,
who was a little his junior--poems now lost. He had also constant
opportunities of conversing with those who had seen the great saint
and had been familiar with him in life, and he was writing on the spot
and amidst the associations and surroundings wherein his last thirty
years had been spent, and which were inseparably connected with his
memory. The result was that he produced a work, which although not
ostensibly a history, and dealing only with the life of a single man,
and that rather from the transcendental than from the practical side,
is nevertheless of the utmost value to the historian on account not
only of the general picture of manners and customs, but still more
on account of its incidental references to contemporary history. "It
is," says Pinkerton, who, as Dr. Reeves remarks, was a writer not
over-given to eulogy, "the most complete piece of such biography that
all Europe can boast of, not only at so early a period but even through
the whole Middle Ages." Adamnan's other great work on Sacred Places is
mentioned by his contemporary, the Venerable Bede, but he is silent as
to Columcille's life. There is, however, abundant internal evidence of
its authenticity. This evidence, however it might satisfy the minds of
mere Irish students like Colgan and Stephen White, proved insufficient,
however, to meet the exacting claims of certain British scholars. "I
cannot agree," said Sir James Dalrymple, in the last century, "that
the authority of Adamnanus is equal, far less preferable to that of
Bede, since it was agreed on all hands to be a fabulous history lately
published in his name, and that he was remarkable for nothing, but
that he was the first abbot of that monastery who quit the _Scottish_
institution, and became fond of the _English Romish_ Rites."[27] Dr.
Giles, too, who thought of editing it, tells us in his translation
of Bede's "Ecclesiastical History," that he had "strong doubts of
Adamnan's having written it."[28] And, finally, Schoell, a German,
professed to have convinced himself that Adamnan's preface could not
have been written by the same hand which wrote the life, so different
did the style of the two appear to him, and wholly rejected it as a
work of the seventh century written at Iona.

But it so happened that shortly before the year 1851, when Schoell was
impugning the genuineness of this work, the ancient manuscript from
which it had been copied by the Irish Jesuit, Stephen White--and, from
his copy, printed by Colgan--actually came to light again, discovered
by Dr. Ferdinand Keller at the bottom of an old book-shelf in the
public library of Schaffhausen, into which it had been turned with
some other old manuscripts and books. A close examination of this
remarkable text written in a heavy round Irish hand, in nearly the same
type of script as the Books of Kells and Durrow, and of a more archaic
character than that of the Book of Armagh (written in 807), rendered
it certain that here was a codex of great value and antiquity. Nor was
the usual colophon containing the scribe's name and asking a prayer
for him missing. That name was Dorbene, a most rare one, of which only
two instances are known, both connected with Iona, the first of which
records the death of Faelcu, son of Dorbene, in 729, but as we know
that Faelcu died in his eighty-second year his father could hardly
have been the scribe. The other Dorbene was elected abbot of Iona
in 713 and died the same year, so that it may be regarded as almost
certain that this book was written by him and that this copy is in his
handwriting. We have in this codex, then, the actual handwriting[29]
of a contemporary of Adamnan himself, the handiwork of the generation
which succeeded Columcille, a volume a hundred years older than even
the Book of Armagh, a volume which had been carried over to some of the
numerous Irish institutions on the Continent after the break-up of Iona
by the Northmen. There are several corrections of the orthography in
a different and later hand, the date of which is fixed by Dr. Keller
at 800-820, and these are evidently the work of a German monk, who
was displeased with the peculiar orthography of the Irish school, and
who made these emendations after the MS. had been brought from Iona
to the Continent. The following passage describing the last hours of
Columcille will both serve as a specimen of Adamnan's style and also
afford a minutely particular account of the end of this great man. Its
accuracy can hardly be impugned as it is written by one who had every
minute particular from eye-witnesses, and as the actual manuscript from
which it is printed was copied from the author's own, either during his
life or within less than ten years after his death.[30]

Adamnan first tells us of several premonitions which the saint had of
his approaching end, how he, "now an old man, wearied with age," was
borne in his waggon to view his monks labouring in the fields on the
western slope of the island, and intimated to them that his end was not
far off, but that lest their Easter should be one of grief, he would
not be taken from them until it was over. Later on in the year he went
out with his servant Diarmuid to inspect the granary, and was pleased
at the two large heaps of grain which were lying there, and remarked
that though he should be taken from his dear monks, yet he was glad to
see that they had a supply for the year.

 "And," says Adamnan, "when Diarmuid his servant heard this he began
 to be sad, and said, 'Father, at this time of year you sadden us too
 often, because you speak frequently about your decease.' When the
 saint thus answered, 'I have a secret word to tell you, which, if you
 promise me faithfully not to make it known to any before my death, I
 shall be able to let you know more clearly about my departure.' And
 when his servant, on bended knees, had finished making this promise,
 the venerable man thus continued, 'This day is called in the sacred
 volumes the Sabbath, which is interpreted Rest. And this day is indeed
 to me a sabbath, because it is my last of this present laborious
 life, in which, after the trouble of my toil, I take my rest; for in
 the middle of this coming sacred Sunday night, I shall to use the
 Scripture phrase, tread the way of my fathers; for now my Lord Jesus
 Christ deigns to invite me, to whom, I say, at the middle of this
 night, on His own invitation, I shall pass over; for it was thus
 revealed to me by the Lord Himself.' His servant, hearing these sad
 words, begins to weep bitterly: whom the saint endeavoured to console
 as much as he was able.

 "After this the saint goes forth from the barn, and returning to the
 monastery sits down on the way, at the place where afterwards a cross
 let into a millstone, and to-day standing there, may be perceived on
 the brink of the road. And while the saint, wearied with old age,
 as I said before, sitting in that place was taking a rest, lo! the
 white horse, the obedient servant who used to carry the milk-vessels
 between the monastery and the byre, meets him. It, wonderful to
 relate, approached the saint and placing its head in his bosom, by the
 inspiration of God, as I believe, for whom every animal is wise with
 the measure of sense which his Creator has bidden, knowing that his
 master was about to immediately depart from him, and that he would
 see him no more, begins to lament and abundantly to pour forth tears,
 like a human being, into the saint's lap, and with beslavered mouth to
 make moan. Which when the servant saw, he proceeds to drive away the
 tearful mourner, but the saint stopped him, saying, 'Allow him, allow
 him who loves me, to pour his flood of bitterest tears into this my
 bosom. See, you, though you are a man and have a rational mind, could
 have in no way known about my departure if I had not myself lately
 disclosed it to you, but to this brute and irrational animal the
 Creator Himself, in His own way, has clearly revealed that his master
 is about to depart from him.' And saying this he blessed the sorrowful
 horse [the monastery's] servant, as it turned away from him.

 "And going forth from thence and ascending a small hill, which rose
 over the monastery, he stood for a little upon its summit, and as he
 stood, elevating both his palms, he blessed his community and said,
 'Upon this place however narrow and mean, not only shall the kings of
 the Scots [_i.e._, Irish] with their peoples, but also the rulers of
 foreign and barbarous nations with the people subject to them, confer
 great and no ordinary honour. By the saints of other churches also,
 shall no common respect be accorded it.'

 "After these words, going down from the little hill and returning to
 the monastery, he sat in his cell writing a copy of the Psalms, and
 on reaching that verse of the thirty-third Psalm where it is written,
 'But they that seek the Lord shall lack no thing that is good;'
 'Here,' said he, 'we may close at the end of the page; let Baithin
 write what follows.' Well appropriate for the parting saint was the
 last verse which he had written, for to him shall good things eternal
 be never lacking, while to the father who succeeded him [Baithin], the
 teacher of his spiritual sons, the following [words] were particularly
 apposite, 'Come, my sons, hearken unto me. I shall teach you the fear
 of the Lord,' since as the departing one desired, he was his successor
 not only in teaching but also in writing.[31]

 "After writing the above verse and finishing the page, the saint
 enters the church for the vesper office preceding the Sunday; which
 finished, he returned to his little room, and rested for the night on
 his couch, where for mattress he had a bare flag, and for pillow a
 stone, which at this day stands as a kind of commemorative monument
 beside his tomb.[32] And there, sitting, he gives his last mandates to
 the brethren, in the hearing of his servant only, saying, 'These last
 words of mine I commend to you, O little children, that ye preserve
 a mutual charity with peace, and a charity not feigned amongst
 yourselves; and if ye observe to do this according to the example of
 the holy fathers, God, the comforter of the good, shall help you, and
 I, remaining with Him, shall make intercession for you, and not only
 the necessaries of this present life shall be sufficiently supplied
 you by Him, but also the reward of eternal good, prepared for the
 observers of things Divine, shall be rendered you.' Up to this point
 the last words of our venerable patron [when now] passing as it were
 from this wearisome pilgrimage to his heavenly country, have been
 briefly narrated.

 "After which, his joyful last hour gradually approaching, the saint
 was silent. Then soon after, when the struck bell resounded in the
 middle of the night,[33] quickly rising he goes to the church, and
 hastening more quickly than the others he entered alone, and with bent
 knees inclines beside the altar in prayer. His servant, Diarmuid,
 following more slowly, at the same moment beholds, from a distance,
 the whole church inside filled with angelic light round the saint;
 but as he approached the door this same light, which he had seen,
 swiftly vanished; which light a few others of the brethren, also
 standing at a distance, had seen. Diarmuid then entering the church,
 calls aloud with a voice choked with tears, 'Where art thou, Father?'
 And the lamps of the brethren not yet being brought, groping in the
 dark, he found the saint recumbent before the altar: raising him up
 a little, and sitting beside him, he placed the sacred head in his
 own bosom. And while this was happening a crowd of monks running up
 with lights, and seeing their father dying, begin to lament. And as
 we have learned from some who were there present, the saint, his soul
 not yet departing, with eyes upraised, looked round on each side, with
 a countenance of wondrous joy and gladness, as though beholding the
 holy angels coming to meet him. Diarmuid then raises up the saint's
 right hand to bless the band of monks. But the venerable father
 himself, too, in so far as he was able, was moving his hand at the
 same time, so that he might appear to bless the brethren with the
 motion of his hand, what he could not do with his voice, during his
 soul's departure. And after thus signifying his sacred benediction,
 he straightway breathed forth his life. When it had gone forth from
 the tabernacle of his body, the countenance remained so long glowing
 and gladdened in a wonderful manner by the angelic vision, that it
 appeared not that of a dead man but of a living one sleeping. In the
 meantime the whole church resounded with sorrowful lamentations."[34]

Besides the lives of Columcille, written by Adamnan and Cummene, at
least four more exist; an anonymous life in Latin, printed by Colgan
and erroneously supposed by him to be that of Cummene; a life by John
of Tinmouth, chiefly compiled from Adamnan, which is also printed
by Colgan; the old Irish life contained in four Irish MSS., namely,
in the Leabhar Breac, in the Book of Lismore, in a vellum MS. in
Edinburgh, and in an Irish parchment volume found by the Revolutionary
Commissioners, during the Republic, in a private house in Paris, and by
them presented to the Royal Library of that city--

  "Quæ regio in terris nostri non plena laboris!"

This life has been printed from the Book of Lismore by Dr. Whitley
Stokes. The last and most copious life is a compilation of all existing
documents and poems both in Latin and Old Irish, and was made by order
of O'Donnell in 1532.

 "Be it known," says the preface, "to the readers of this Life that
 it was Manus, son of Hugh, son of Hugh Roe, son of Niall Garv, son
 of Turlough of the wise O'Donnell, who ordered the part of this Life
 which was in Latin to be put into Gaelic; and who ordered the part
 that was in difficult Gaelic to be modified, so that it might be clear
 and comprehensible to every one; and who gathered and put together
 the parts of it that were scattered through the old Books of Erin;
 and who dictated it out of his own mouth with great labour and a
 great expenditure of time in studying how he should arrange all its
 parts in their proper places, as they are left here in writing by
 us; and in love and friendship for his illustrious saint, relative,
 and patron, to whom he was devoutly attached. It was in the Castle
 of Port-na-tri-námhad [Lifford] that his Life was indited, when were
 fulfilled 12 years and 20 and 500 and 1000 of the age of the Lord."

This life, written in a large vellum folio, is preserved in the
Bodleian Library at Oxford and has never yet been printed.[35]

The remains of Columcille, which after a three days' wake were interred
in Iona, were left undisturbed for close upon a hundred years. They
were afterwards disinterred and placed within a splendid shrine of
gold and silver, which, in due time, became the prey of the marauding
Norsemen. The belief is very general that his remains found their last
resting-place in Downpatrick, along with those of St. Patrick and St.
Brigit. The present appearance of the spot where they are supposed to
lie, may be gathered from the indignant verses[36] of a member of a
now defunct literary body, to which I had the honour of belonging some
years ago, one of those numerous Irish literary societies which produce
verses as thick as leaves in Vallombrosa.

  "I stood at a grave by the outer wall
    Of the Strangers' Church in Down,
  All lorn and lost in neglect, and crossed
    By the Church of the Strangers' frown.
  All lorn and waste, and with footsteps crossed
    The grave of our Patrons Three,
  Not a leaf to wave o'er that lonely grave
    That seemed not a grave to me!

  But a trench where some traitor was flung of yore--
    'Twas "a sight for a foeman's eye"!
  Where Patrick still and Saint Columbkille
    And the Dove[37] of the Oak Tree lie.

   * * * * *

  Those men who spoke bravely of rending chains
    (And never a fetter broke!)
  Those men who adored the flashing sword
    (When never a tocsin spoke!)
  Those little men, who are very great
    In marble and bronze, are still
  The city's pride, whilst that trench holds Bride
    And Patrick and Columbkille!"

[1] Also often called St. Columba, to be strictly distinguished
from Columbanus, who laboured on the Continent. The name is written
sometimes Colomb Cille and Colum Kille or Columkille. It is pronounced
in Irish Cullum-killă, and means literally the "Dove of the Church,"
but in English the name is generally pronounced Columkill.

[2] As calculated by Dr. Reeves, who coincides with the "Four Masters"
and Dr. Lanigan. The other Annals waver between 518 and 523.

[3] See the lines in O'Donnell's life of the saint, ascribed to St.

  "Rugadh i nGartan da dheóin / S do h-oileadh i gCill mhic Neóin
  'S do baisteadh mac na maise / A dTulaigh De Dubhghlaise."

[4] He is called "Germán the Master" in the Book of Lismore life.
In the life of Finnian of Clonard he is called _Carminator nomine
gemanus_, who brings to St. Finnian "quoddam carmen magnificum."

[5] A similar story of Cummain the Tall, of Guaire the Connacht
king who still gives his name to the town of Gort, which is Gort
Inse-Guaire, and of Cáimine of Inisceltra, is told in the Leabhar na
h-Uidhre, and printed by Whitley Stokes in a note at p. 304 of his
"Lives from the Book of Lismore." Each of the three got as he had
desired, for, says the chronicler, "all their musings were made true.
The earth was given to Guaire. Wisdom was given to Cummain. Diseases
and sicknesses were inflicted on Cáimine, so that no bone of him joined
together in the earth, but melted and decayed with the anguish of every
disease and of every tribulation, so that they all went to heaven
according to their musings." (See for the same story the Yellow Book of
Lecan, p. 132, of facsimile.)

[6] Literally, "Were the tribute of all Alba mine, from its centre
to its border, I would prefer the site of one house in the middle of
Derry. The reason I love Derry is for its quietness, for its purity,
and for the crowds of white angels from the one end to the other. The
reason why I love Derry is for its quietness, for its purity, crowded
full of heaven's angels in every leaf of the oaks of Derry. My Derry,
my little oak grove, my dwelling and my little cell, O Eternal God in
heaven above, woe be to him who violates it."

  "Is aire, caraim Doire
  Ar a reidhe, ar a ghloine,
  's ar iomatt a aingel find
  On chind go soich aroile."

This poem is taken from a Brussels MS., copied by Michael O'Clery for
Father Colgan, and by him accepted apparently as genuine. Some of
it may very well be so, only, as usual, it has been greatly altered
and modified in transcription, as may be seen from the above verse.
(_See_ p. 288 of Reeves' "Adamnan.") Some of the verses are evidently
interpelations, but the Irish life in the Book of Lismore distinctly
attributes to him the verse which I have here given, going out of its
way to quote it in full, but the third line is a little different as
quoted in the life: "ár is lomlan aingeal bhfinn."

[7] In Irish Dair-magh, "oak-plain." Columcille seems to have been
particularly fond of the oak, for his Irish life tells us that it was
under a great oak-tree that he resided while at Kells also. The writer
adds, "and it"--the great oak-tree--"remained till these latter times,
when it fell through the crash of a mighty wind. And a certain man took
somewhat of its bark to tan his shoes with. Now, when he did on the
shoes, he was smitten with leprosy from his sole to his crown." It is
well known to this day that it is unlucky, or worse, to touch a saint's
tree. I have been observing one that was, when in the last stage of
decrepitude, blown down a few years ago at the well of St. Aracht or
Atracta, a female saint of Connacht in the plains of Boyle; yet, though
the people around are nearly famished for want of fuel, not one twig
of it has yet been touched. In the Edinburgh MS. of Columcille's life
we read how on another occasion he made a hymn to arrest a fire that
was consuming the oak-wood, "and it is sung against every fire and
against every thunder from that time to this." (_See_ Skene's "Celtic
Scotland," vol. ii. pp. 468-507.)


  "_Is sí mo cubhus gan col_
  _'s nocha conagar m' eiliughadh_
  _Ferr écc ind Eirind cen ail_
  _Ina sir beatha ind Aipuin._"

For the whole of this poem, in the form of a dialogue between Cormac
and Columcille, see p. 264 of Reeves' "Adamnan." It is very hard to say
how much or how little of these poems is really Columcille's. Colgan
was inclined to think them genuine. Of course, as we now have them,
the language is greatly modernised; but I am inclined to agree with
Dr. Healy, who judges them rather from internal than from linguistic
evidence; and while granting, of course, that they have been retouched
by later bards, adds, "but in our opinion they represent substantially
poems that were really written by the saint. They breathe his pious
spirit, his ardent love for nature, and his undying affection for
his native land. Although retouched, perhaps, by a later hand, they
savour so strongly of the true Columbian spirit that we are disposed to
reckon them amongst the genuine compositions of the saint." ("Ireland's
Schools and Scholars," p. 329.) "The older pieces here preserved," says
Dr. Robert Atkinson in his preface to the contents of the _facsimile_
of the Book of Leinster, "_and of whose genuineness and authenticity
there seems no room for doubt, ex. gr., the Poems of Colum Cille_, bear
with them the marks of the action of successive transcribers, whose
desire to render them intelligible has obscured the linguistic proofs
of their age."

[9] Literally, "How happy the son of Dima of the devout church, when he
hears in Durrow the desire of his mind, the sound of the wind against
the elms when 'tis played, the blackbird's joyous note when he claps
his wings; to listen at early dawn in Rosgrencha to the cattle, the
cooing of the cuckoo from the tree on the brink of summer," etc. (_See_
Reeves' "Adamnan," p. 274).

  "Fuaim na goithi ris in leman     ardos peti
  Longaire luin duibh conati        ar mben a eti."

[10] He himself refers to his "grey eye looking back to Erin" in one of
his best-known poems.

[11] In token of which is the Irish quatrain quoted in his life--

  "Son a ghotha Coluim cille,
  mór a binne os gach cléir
  go ceann cúig ceád déag céimeann,
  Aídhbhle réimeann, eadh ba réill."

[12] "So then Baithine related to him the famous vision, to wit, three
chairs seen by him in heaven, even a chair of gold and a chair of
silver and a chair of glass. Columcille explained the vision. Ciaran
the Great, the carpenter's son, is the chair of gold for the greatness
of his charity and his mercy. Molaisse is the chair of silver because
of his wisdom and his piety. I myself am the chair of glass because of
my affection, for I prefer the Gaels to the men of the world, and Kinel
Conall [his own tribe] to the [other] Gaels, and the kindred of Lughid
to the Kinel Conall." (Leabhar Breac, quoted by Stokes, "Irish Lives,"
p. 303; but the reason here given for being seated on a chair of glass
is, as Stokes remarks, unmeaning.)

[13] "Jejunationum quoque et vigiliarum indefessis laboribus sine
ulla intermissione, die noctu-que ita occupatus ut supra humanam
possibilitatem uniuscujusque pondus specialis videretur opens," says
Adamnan in the preface to his first book.

[14] "Erat enim aspectu angelicus, sermone nitidus, opere sanctus,
ingenio optimus, consilio magnus ... et inter hæc omnibus carus,
hilarem semper faciem ostendens sanctam, spiritus sancti gaudio intimis
lætificabatur præcordiis."

[15] This copy made by Columcille is popularly believed to be the
celebrated codex known as the Cathach or "Battler," which was an
heirloom of the saint's descendants, the O'Donnells. It was always
carried three times round their army when they went to battle, on
the breast of a cleric, who, if he were free from mortal sin, was
sure to bring them victory. The Mac Robartaighs were the ancestral
custodians of the holy relic, and Cathbar O'Donnell, the chief of the
race at the close of the eleventh century, constructed an elaborately
splendid shrine or cover for it. This precious heirloom remained with
the O'Donnells until Donal O'Donnell, exiled in the cause of James
II., brought it with him to the Continent and fixed a new rim upon the
casket with his name and date. It was recovered from the Continent in
1802 by Sir Neal O'Donnell, and was opened by Sir William Betham soon
after. This would in the previous century have been considered a deadly
crime, for "it was not lawful" to open the Cathach; as it was, Sir
Neal's widow brought an action in the Court of Chancery against Sir
William Betham for daring to open it. There turned out to be a decayed
wooden box inside the casket, and inside this again was a mass of
vellum stuck together and hardened into a single lump. By long steeping
in water however, and other treatment, the various leaves came asunder,
and it was found that what it contained was really a Psalter, written
in Latin, in a "neat but hurried hand." Fifty-eight leaves remained,
containing from the 31st to the 106th Psalm, and an examination of
the text has shown that it really does contain a copy of the second
revision of the Psalter by St. Jerome, which helps to strengthen the
belief that this may have been the very book for which three thousand
warriors fought and fell in the Battle of Cooldrevna.

[16] Keating says that this account of the affair was preserved in the
Black Book of Molaga, one of his ancient authorities now lost. The king
decided, says Keating, "_gorab leis gach leabhar a mhaic-leabhar, mar
is le gach boinn a boinín_."

[17] "These were," says the commentator on St. Columcille's hymn,
the "Altus," "the three battles which he had caused in Erin, viz.,
the battle of Cúl-Rathain, between him and Comgall, contending for
a church, viz., Ross Torathair; and the battle of Bealach-fheda of
the weir of Clonard; and the battle of Cúl Dremhne [Cooldrevna] in
Connacht, and it was against Diarmait Mac Cerball [the High-king],
he fought them both." Keating's account also agrees with this, but
Reeves has shown that the two later battles in which he was implicated
probably took place after his exile.

[18] Literally: "How rapid the speed of my coracle and its stern turned
towards Derry. I grieve at the errand over the proud sea, travelling to
Alba of the Ravens. There is a grey eye that looks back upon Erin: it
shall not see during life the men of Erin nor their wives. My vision
o'er the brine I stretch from the ample oaken planks; large is the
tear from my soft grey eye when I look back upon Erin. Upon Erin is my
attention fixed, upon Loch Leven [Lough Lene in West Meath], upon Linè
[Moy-linny, near Antrim], upon the land the Ultonians own, upon smooth
Munster, upon Meath.... Carry my benediction over the sea to the nobles
of the Island of the Gael, let them not credit Moleesha's words nor his
threatened persecution. Were it not for Moleesha's words at the Cross
of Ahamlish, I should not permit during my life disease or distemper
in Ireland.... Beloved to my heart also in the west is Drumcliff at
Cúlcinne's strand: to behold the fair Loch Foyle, the form of its
shores is delightful.... Take my blessing with thee to the west, broken
is my heart in my breast, should sudden death overtake me it is for my
great love of the Gael."

[19] Dr. Healy's "Ireland's Schools and Scholars," p. 293. A fact which
is also confirmed by Dr. Reeves, p. lxviii of his "Adamnan," where he
says: "The country people believe that whoever sleeps a night on this
stone will be free from home-sickness when he goes abroad, and for this
reason it has been much resorted to by emigrants on the eve of their
departure." I cannot say whether the breaking up of old ties produced
by the National Board--which has elsewhere so skilfully robbed the
people of their birthright--may not have put an end to this custom
within the last few years.


  "Deoraidhe gan sgith gan sos,
  Mianaid a dtír 's a ndúthchas."

This verse was either composed or quoted by John O'Mahony, the Fenian
Head-centre, when in America.

[21] Also in the "Liber Hymnorum," vol. ii.; and again in 1882 with
a prose paraphrase and notes by the Marquis of Bute, who says: "the
intrinsic merits of the composition are undoubtedly very great,
especially in the latter _capitula_ [_i.e._, stanzas], some of which
the editor thinks would not suffer by comparison with the _Dies Iræ_."
Dr. Dowden, Bishop of Edinburgh, has printed, in his pleasant little
volume on the "Celtic Church in Scotland," p. 323, a most admirable
translation of it into English verse by the Rev. Anthony Mitchell.

[22] Except the first stanza, which being in honour of the Holy Trinity
has seven lines.

[23] This poem begins--

  "M'œnuran dam is in sliab,
  A rig grian rop sorad sed,
  Nocha n-eaglaigi dam ní,
  Na du mbeind tri ficit céd."

I find other verses attributed to him in the MS marked H 1. 11. in
Trinity College, Dublin.

[24] Laud, 615.

[25] Edited in 1857 for the Irish Archæological Society by Dr. Reeves,
afterwards Bishop of Down, with all the perfection which the most
accurate scholarship and painstaking research could accomplish. It is
not too much to say that his name is likely to remain in the future
associated with those of Adamnan and Columcille.

[26] Book iii., chapter 5 of Adamnan's "Life of Columcille."

[27] Alluding to the fact that Adamnan tried to persuade his countrymen
to change their mode of calculating Easter, and to adopt the Roman
tonsure. Sir James Dalrymple is here engaged in defending the
Presbyterian view of church government.

[28] "It is to be hoped," Dr. Reeves caustically remarked, "that the
doubts originated in a different style of research from that which made
Bede's _Columcilli_ an island, and Dearmach [Durrow] the same as Derry!"

[29] "It may be objected," says Dr. Reeves, "that it was written
by another person of this name, or copied by a later hand from the
autograph of this Dorbene. The former exception is not probable, the
name being almost unique, and found so pointedly connected with the
Columbian society; the latter is less probable, as the colophon in
Irish MSS. is always peculiar to the actual scribe and likely to be
omitted in transcription, as is the case of later MSS. of the same
recension preserved in the British Museum." "Hoc ipsum MS. credi
posset authographum Dorbbenei," says Van der Meer, a learned monk,
"subscriptio enim illa in rubro vix ab alio descriptore addita fuisset;
characteres quoque antiquitatem sapiunt sæculi octavi."

[30] He died in 704, and Dorbene the scribe in 713. It is necessary
to be thus particular, even at the risk of being tedious, to correct
the unlearned assertions of people who can write that in treating of
the "lives of St. Patrick and St. Columba, one's faith is tried to the
uttermost, leading not a few to deny the very existence of the two
missionaries" ("Irish Druids and Religions," Borwick, p. 304); or the
biassed dicta of men like Ledwich who says that all Irish MSS. "savour
of modern forgery."

[31] "Post hæc verba de illo descendens monticellulo, et ad
monasterium revertens, sedebat in tugurio Psalterium scribens; et ad
ilium tricesimi tertii psalmi versiculum perveniens ubi scribitur,
Inquirentes autem Dominum non deficient omni bono, Hic, ait, in fine
cessandum est paginæ; quæ vero sequuntur Baitheneus scribat. Sancto
convenienter congruit decessori novissimus versiculus quem scripserat,
cui numquam bona deficient æterna: succesori vero sequens patri,
spiritalium doctori filiorum, Venite filii, audite me, timorem Domini
docebo vos, congruenter convenit; qui, sicut decessor commendavit, non
solo ei docendo sed etiam scribendo successit."

[32] It is still shown at the east end of the Cathedral in Iona,
surrounded by an iron cage to keep off tourists.

[33] "The saint had previously attended at the _vespertinalis Dominicæ
noctis missa_, an office equivalent to the nocturnal vigil, and now at
the turn of midnight the bell rings for matins, which were celebrated
according to ancient custom a little before daybreak."--_Reeves_. The
early bells were struck like gongs, not rung, hence the modern Irish
for "ring the bell" is _bain an clog_, "strike the bell."

[34] This scene took place, as Dr. Reeves has shown, "just after
midnight between Saturday the 8th and Sunday the 9th of June, in the
year 597."

[35] It is to be hoped that it may soon see the light as one of the
volumes whose publication is contemplated by the new Irish Texts
Society. The copy of it used by Colgan is now back in the Franciscans'
Library in Dublin, a beautiful vellum written for Niall óg O'Neill.

[36] P. 50 of a little volume called "Lays and Lyrics of the Pan-Celtic
Society," long out of print, by P. O'C. MacLaughlin.

[37] Evidently alluding to the passage in her Irish life which says,
"Her type among created things is as the Dove among birds, the vine
among trees, and the sun above stars." There is a Latin distich on this
grave in Downpatrick which I have seen somewhere,

  _In burgo Duno tumulo tumulantur in uno_
  _Brigida Patricius atque Columba pius._



St. Patrick and the early Christians of the fifth century spent much of
their time and labour in the conversion of pagans and the building of
churches. Columcille and the leading churchmen of the sixth century, on
the other hand, gave themselves up more to the foundation of monastic
institutions and the conduct of schools. They belonged to what is well
known in Irish ecclesiastical history as the second Order of Saints.
The first Order was composed of Patrick and his associates, bishops
filled with piety, founders of churches, three hundred and fifty in
number, mostly Franks, Romans, and Britons, but with some Scots [_i.e._
Irish] also amongst them. These worshipped, says the ancient "Catalogue
of the Saints," one head--Christ, and followed one leader--Patrick.
They had one tonsure, one celebration of the Mass, and one Easter. They
mixed freely in the society of women, because they feared not the wind
of temptation, and this first Order of Saints, as it is called, is
reckoned by the Irish to have lasted during four reigns.

The next Order of Saints had few bishops but many priests, this was
the order to which Columcille belonged, and most of the saints who
founded the great schools of Ireland which in the following century
became so flourishing and spread their fame throughout Europe, as those
of Ciaran and Finnian and Brendan, and a score of others. This Order
shunned all association with women, and would not have them in their
monasteries.[1] These saints whilst worshipping God as their head, and
celebrating one Easter and having one tonsure, yet had different rites
for celebrating, and different rules for living. The rite with which
they celebrated Mass they are said to have secured from the British
saints, St. David, St. Gildas, and others. They also lasted for four
reigns, or, roughly speaking, during the last three quarters of the
sixth century.

After these came what is called the third Order of Saints who appear
in their time to have been pre-eminent amongst the other Christians,
and to have been mostly anchorites, who lived on herbs and supported
themselves by such alms as they were given, despising all things
earthly and all things fleshly. They observed Easter differently, they
had different tonsures, they had different rules of life, and different
rites for celebrating Mass. They are said to have numbered about a
hundred and to have lasted down to the time of the great plague in 664.

This third Order, says the writer of the "Catalogue of Saints," who
gives their names, was holy, the second holier, but the first Order
was most holy. "The first glowed like the sun in the fervour of their
charity, the second cast a pale radiance like the moon, the third shone
like the aurora. These three Orders the blessed Patrick foreknew,
enlightened by heavenly wisdom, when in prophetic vision he saw at
first all Ireland ablaze, and afterwards only the mountains on fire,
and at last saw lamps lit in the valleys."

By the middle of the sixth century Ireland had been honeycombed from
shore to shore with schools, monasteries, colleges, and foundations
of all kinds belonging to the Christian community, and books had
multiplied to a marvellous extent. At the same time the professional
bards flourished in such numbers that Keating says that "nearly a
third of the men of Ireland belonged, about that period, to the poetic
order." Omitting for the present the consideration of the bards and the
non-Christian literature of poem and saga--mostly anonymous--which they
produced, we must, take a rapid survey of some of the most important of
the Christian schools, whose pious professors, whose number, and whose
learning, secured for Ireland the title of the Island of Saints. We
have already seen how the three patron saints of Ireland established
their schools in Armagh, Kildare, and Iona, and their example was
followed by hundreds.

St. Enda, the son of a king of Oriel, after having studied at some
school in Great Britain (probably with St. Ninian--who is said to
have been himself an Irishman--at his noble monastery of Candida Casa
in Galloway, built about the year 400), and after travelling through
various parts of Ireland, settled down finally about the year 483 in
the rocky and inaccessible island of Aran Mór, and was the first of
those holy men who have won for it the appellation of Aran of the
Saints. "One hundred and twenty-seven saints sleep in the little
square yard around Killeany Church"[2] alone, and we are told that
the countless numbers of saints who have mingled their clay with the
holy soil of Aran will never be known until the day of Judgment. Here
most of the saints of the second Order repaired sooner or later, to
be instructed by, or to hold converse with St. Enda; amongst them
Brendan the Voyager, whose wanderings, under the title of _Navigatio
Brendani_, became so well known in later ages to all mediæval Europe.
To him also came St. Finnian of Clonard, who was himself celebrated in
later days as the "Tutor of the Saints of Erin." From the remote north
came Finnian of Moville, Columcille's first teacher, and Ciaran, the
carpenter's son, the illustrious founder of Clonmacnois. St. Jarlath of
Tuam was there too, with St. Carthach the elder, of Lismore, and with
St. Keevin of Glendalough. St. Columcille[3] himself was amongst Enda's
visitors, and tore himself away with the utmost difficulty, solacing
himself by recourse to the Irish muse as was his wont--

  "Farewell from me to Ara's Isle,
    Her smile is at my heart no more,
  No more to me the boon is given
    With hosts of heaven to walk her shore.

  How far, alas! how far, alas!
    Have I to pass from Ara's view,
  To mix with men from Mona's fen,
    With men from Alba's mountains blue.

  Bright orb of Ara, Ara's sun,
    Ah! softly run through Ara's sky,
  To rest beneath thy beam were sweeter
    Than lie where Paul and Peter lie.

  O Ara, darling of the West,
    Ne'er be he blest who loves not thee,
  O God, cut short her foeman's breath,
    Let Hell and Death his portion be.

  O Ara, darling of the West,
    Ne'er be he blest who loves not thee,
  Herdless and childless may he go
    In endless woe his doom is dree.

  O Ara, darling of the West,
    Ne'er be he blest who loves thee not,
  When angels wing from heaven on high
    And leave the sky for this dear spot."[4]

Another early school was that founded by St. Finnian at Cluain Eraird,
better known under its corrupt form Clonard, a spot hard by the river
Boyne, to which students from both north and south resorted in great
numbers. Finnian, who was of the Clanna Rury, or Irian race, had been
baptized by Bishop Fortchern, who--so quickly did the Christian cause
progress--was a grandson of King Laeghaire, who withstood St. Patrick.
This Fortchern, too, like Brigit's favourite bishop, was a skilled
artificer in bronze and metal, a calling to which many of the early
saints evinced a strong bias. Clonard even during Finnian's lifetime
became a great school, and three thousand students are said to have
been gathered round it, amongst them the so-called Twelve Apostles of
Erin. These are Ciaran of Clonmacnois and Ciaran of Saigher, who is
patron saint of Ossory; Brendan of Birr, the "prophet," and Brendan
of Clonfert, the "navigator"; Columba of Tir-da-glass and Columcille;
Mobhí of Glasnevin and--_infaustum nomen!_--Rodan of Lothra or Lorrha;
Senanus of Iniscathy, whose name is known to the lovers of the poet
Moore; Ninnidh of Loch Erne; Lasserian, and St. Cainnech of Kilkenny,
known in Scotland as Kenneth, and second in that country only to St.
Columcille and St. Brigit in popularity. The school of Clonard was
founded about the year 520, when, to quote the rather jingling hymn
from St. Finnian's office--

  "Reversus in Clonardiam
    Ad cathedram lecturæ
  Opponit diligentiam
    Ad studium scripturæ."

The numbers who attended his teaching are given in another verse--

  "Trium virorum millium
    Sorte fit doctor humilis,
  Verbi his fudit fluvium
    Ut fons emanans rivulis."

Like all the other early Irish foundations which attained to wealth
and dignity before the ninth century, Clonard suffered in proportion
to its fame. It was after that date plundered and destroyed twelve
times, and was fourteen times burnt down either wholly or in part.
That being so, it is not much to be wondered at that there only
remains a single surviving literary work of this school, which is the
"Mystical Interpretation of the Ancestry of our Lord Jesus Christ,"
by St. Aileran the Wise, one of Finnian's successors, who died of the
great plague in 664. This piece, like so many others, was found in the
Swiss monastery of St. Gall, whither it had been brought by some monks
from Ireland. The editors who printed it for the Benedictines in the
seventeenth century say that, although the writer did not belong to
their Order, they publish it because he "unfolded the meaning of sacred
scripture with so much learning and ingenuity that every student of
the sacred volume, and especially preachers of the Divine Word, will
regard the publication as most acceptable." The learned editors could
have hardly paid the Irish writer a higher compliment. "A Short Moral
Explanation of the Sacred Names" is another still existing fragment
of Aileran's, and "whether we consider the style of the latinity, the
learning, or the ingenuity of the writer," says Dr. Healy, "it is
equally marvellous and equally honourable to the school of Clonard."
Aileran is said to have also written lives of St. Patrick, St. Brigit,
and St. Fechin of Fore, and to be the original author of a litany, part
Irish, part Latin, preserved in the Yellow Book of Lecan.

Another great Irish college was Clonfert on the Shannon, founded about
the year 556 by Brendan the Navigator, who, like Finnian, came of the
Irian race, being descended from Fergus mac Roy.[5] He was born towards
the close of the fifth century, and his school, too, became very
famous, having, it is said, produced as many as three thousand monks.
The influence of the _Navigatio Brendani_, by whomsoever written, was
immense, and was felt through all Europe, so that in many of the great
continental libraries good MS. copies of it, sometimes very ancient,
may be found.[6] But perhaps Brendan's grand-nephew and pupil may have
indirectly influenced European literature in a still more important
manner. This was Fursa, afterwards St. Fursa, whose visions were known
all over Ireland, Great Britain, and France. There can be no doubt
about the substantial accuracy of St. Fursa's life, for Bede himself,
who dedicates a good deal of space to Fursa's visions,[7] refers to it.
It must have been written within ten or fifteen years after his death,
because it refers to the plague and the great eclipse of the sun which
_happened last year_, that is 664. Now Dante was acquainted with Bede's
writings, for he expressly mentions him, and Bede's account of Fursa
and Fursa's own life may have been familiar to him, and furnished him
with the groundwork of part of the Divine Comedy of which it seems a
kind of prototype.[8]

Brendan's own adventures and his view of hell, which he was shown
by the devil, may also have been known to Dante. Brendan prepared
three vessels with thirty men in each, some clerics, some laymen, and
with these, says his Irish life in the Book of Lismore, he sailed to
seek the Promised Land, which, evidently influenced by the old pagan
traditions of Moy Mell[9] and Hy Brassil, he expected to find as an
island in the Western Sea, and so says his Irish life poetically--

 "Brendan, son of Finnlug, sailed over the wave-voice of the
 strong-maned sea, and over the storm of the green-sided waves, and
 over the mouths of the marvellous awful bitter ocean, where they saw
 the multitude of the furious red-mouthed monsters with abundance of
 the great sea-whales. And they found beautiful marvellous islands, yet
 they tarried not therein."

Like Sindbad in the Arabian tales,[10] they land upon the back of a
great whale as if it had been solid land. There they celebrated Easter.
They endured much peril from the sea. "On a certain day, as they were
on the marvellous ocean"--this adjective is strongly indicative of the
spirit in which the Celt regards the works of nature--"they beheld the
deep bitter streams and the vast black whirlpools of the strong-maned
sea, and in them their vessels were being constrained to founder
because of the greatness of the storm." Brendan, however, cried to the
sea, "It is enough for thee, O mighty sea, to drown me alone, but let
this folk escape thee," and on hearing his cry the sea grew calm. It
was after this that Brendan got a view of hell.

 "On a certain day," says the Irish Life, "that they were on the sea,
 the devil came in a form old, awful, hideous, foul, hellish, and sat
 on the rail of the vessel before Brendan, and none of them saw him
 save Brendan alone. Brendan asked him why he had come before his
 proper time, that is, before the time of the great resurrection.
 'For this have I come,' said the devil, 'to seek my punishment in
 the deep closes of this black, dark sea.' Brendan inquired of him,
 'What is this, where is that infernal place?' 'Sad is that,' said
 the devil; 'no one can see it and remain alive afterwards.' Howbeit
 the devil there revealed the gate of hell to Brendan, and Brendan
 beheld that rough, hot prison full of stench, full of flame, full of
 filth, full of the camps of the poisonous demons, full of wailing
 and screaming and hurt and sad cries and great lamentations and
 moaning and handsmiting of the sinful folks, and a gloomy, mournful
 life in hearts of pain, in igneous prisons, in streams of the rows
 of eternal fire, in the cup of eternal sorrow and death, without
 limit, without end; in black, dark swamps, in fonts of heavy flame,
 in abundance of woe and death and torments, and fetters, and feeble
 wearying combats, with the awful shouting of the poisonous demons, in
 a night ever-dark, ever-cold, ever-stinking, ever-foul, ever-misty,
 ever-harsh, ever-long, ever-stifling, deadly, destructive, gloomy,
 fiery-haired, of the loathsome bottom of hell. On sides of mountains
 of eternal fire, without rest, without stay, were hosts of demons
 dragging the sinners into prisons ... black demons; stinking fires;
 streams of poison; cats scratching; hounds rending; dogs baying;
 demons yelling; stinking lakes; great swamps; dark pits; deep glens;
 high mountains; hard crags;... winds bitter, wintry; snow frozen,
 ever-dropping; flakes red, fiery; faces base, darkened; demons swift,
 greedy; tortures vast, various."[11]

This is one of the earliest attempts in literature at the pourtrayal of
an Inferno.

After a seven-years' voyage Brendan returned home to his own country
without having found his Earthly Paradise, and his people and his folic
at home "brought him," says the Irish Life, "treasures and gifts as if
they were giving them to God"!

His foster-mother St. Ita now advised him not to put forth in search
of that glorious land in those dead stained skins which formed his
currachs, for it was a holy land he sought, and he should look for
it in wooden vessels. Then Brendan built himself "a great marvellous
vessel, distinguished and huge." He first sailed to Aran to consort
with St. Enda, but after a month he heaved anchor and sailed once more
into the West.

He reaches the Isle of Paradise after many adventures, and is invited
on shore by an old man "without any human raiment, but all his body
full of bright white feathers like a dove or a sea-mew, and it was
almost the speech of an angel that he had." "O ye toilsome men," he
said, "O hallowed pilgrims, O folk that entreat the heavenly rewards,
O ever-weary life expecting this land, stay a little now from your
labour." The land is described in terms that forcibly record the
delights of the pagan Elysium of Moy Mell, and prove how intimately the
Brendan legend is bound up with primitive pre-Christian mythological
beliefs. "The delightful fields of the land" are described as "radiant,
famous, lovable,"--"a land odorous, flower-smooth, blessed, a land
many-melodied, musical, shouting-for-joy, unmournful." "Happy," said
the old man, "shall he be with well-deservingness and with good deeds,
whom Brandan, son of Finnlug, shall call into union with him on that
side to inhabit for ever and ever the island whereon we stand."

But better known--at least in ecclesiastical history--than even St.
Brendan, is St. Cummian, surnamed "fada" or the Long, who was one
of his successors in the school of Clonfert, and who perished in or
a little before the great plague of 664. There are two hymns, one
by himself in Latin,[12] and one in Irish by his tutor, Colman Ua
Cluasaigh [Clooasy] of Cork, preserved in the "Liber Hymnorum." But his
great achievement was his celebrated letter on the Paschal question
addressed to his friend Segienus, the abbot of Iona. The question of
when to celebrate Easter day was one which long sundered the British
and Irish Churches from the rest of Europe, and has, as students of
ecclesiastical history know, given rise to all sorts of conjectures as
to the independence of these churches. The charge against the Irish
was that they celebrated Easter on any day from the fourteenth to
the twentieth day of the moon, even on the fourteenth if it should
happen to be Sunday, but the fourteenth was a Jewish festival and the
Council of Nice had, in 325, declared it to be unlawful to celebrate
the Christian Easter on a Jewish festival.[13] The Irish had obtained
their own doctrine of Easter from the East, through Gaul, which was
largely open to Eastern influence; also the Irish used the old Roman
cycle of 84 years, not the newer and more correct Alexandrian one of
19 years. The consequence was the scandal of having different Churches
of Christendom celebrating Easter on different days, and some mourning
when others were feasting, a scandal which the Epistle of Cummian was
designed to put an end to.

 "I call this letter," says Professor G. Stokes,[14] "a marvellous
 composition because of the vastness of its learning; it quotes
 besides the Scriptures and Latin authors, Greek writers like Origen,
 and Cyril, Pachomius the head and reformer of Egyptian monasticism,
 and Damascius the last of the celebrated neo-Platonic philosophers
 of Athens, who lived about the year 500, and wrote all his works in
 Greek. Cummian discusses the calendars of the Macedonians, Hebrews,
 and Copts, giving us the Hebrew, Greek, and Egyptian names of months
 and cycles, and tells us that he had been sent as one of a deputation
 of learned men a few years before to ascertain the practice of the
 Church of Rome. When they came to Rome they lodged in one hospital
 with a Greek and a Hebrew, an Egyptian, and a Scythian, who told them
 that the whole world celebrated the Roman and not the Irish Easter."

Cummian throughout this letter displays the true spirit of a scholar,
he humbly apologises for his presumption in addressing such holy men,
and calls God to witness that he is actuated by no spirit of pride
or contempt for others. When the new cycle of 532 years was first
introduced into Ireland he did not at once accept it, but held his
peace and took no side in the matter, because he did not think himself
wiser than the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins, nor did he venture to
disdain the food he had not yet tasted. So he retired for a whole year
into the study of the question, to examine for himself the facts of
history, the nature of the various cycles in use, and the testimony of

There is another book, "De Mensura Pœnitentiarum," ascribed to Cummian
and printed in Migne; and there is a poem on his death by his tutor,
St. Colman, who was carried off by the same plague a short time after

The great institution presided over by St. Cummian was flourishing in
full vigour at the time of the first incursions of the Northmen. It
is frequently mentioned in the Irish Annals as a place of note and
learning. Turgesius the Dane, attracted by so fair a booty, promptly
plundered and burnt it to the ground. Again and again it was rebuilt,
and again and again the same fate befell it. The monastery and the
school survived, however, until the coming of the Normans, and the
"Four Masters" under the year 1170 record the death of one of its
teachers, Cormac O'Lumlini, whom they pathetically designate "the
remnant of the sages of Erin," for by this time Clonfert had been six
times burnt and four times plundered.

Even a greater school, however, than Clonfert, was that founded by St.
Ciaran [Keeran], the carpenter's son, beside a curve in the Shannon, at
Clonmacnois, not far from Athlone, about the year 544. He had himself
been educated by St. Finnian of Clonard, and he died at the early age
of thirty-three, immediately after laying the foundations of what was
destined to become the greatest Christian college in Ireland.[16]

The monastery and cells of St. Ciaran rapidly grew into a city, to
which students flocked from far and near. In one sense the College
of Clonmacnois had an advantage over all its rivals, for it belonged
to no one race or clan. Its abbots and teachers were drawn from many
different tribes, and situated as it was, in almost the centre of
the island, all the great races, Erimonians, Eberians, Irians, and
Ithians, resorted to it impartially, and it became a real university.
There the O'Conors, kings of Connacht, had their own separate church;
there the Southern Ui Neill reared apart their own cathedral; there
the MacDermots, princes of Moylurg, and the O'Kellys, kings of Hy
Mainy, had each their own mortuary chapels; there the Southerns built
one round tower, the O'Rorkes another; and there too the Mac Carthys
of Munster had a burial-place. Who, even at this day, has not heard of
the glories of Clonmacnois, of its ruins, its graves, its crosses; of
its churchyard, which possesses a greater variety of sculptured and
decorated stones than perhaps all the rest of Ireland put together, and
of which the Irish poet beautifully sang so long ago--

  "In a quiet watered land, a land of roses,
    Stands St. Ciaran's city fair,
  And the warriors of Erin in their famous generations,
    Slumber there.

  There beneath the dewy hill-side sleep the noblest
    Of the clan of Conn,
  Each below his stone, with name in branching Ogham,
    And the sacred knot thereon.

  There they laid to rest the seven kings of Tara,
    There the sons of Cairbré sleep,
  Battle-banners of the Gael that in Ciaran's Plain of Crosses,
    Now their final hosting keep.

  And in Clonmacnois they laid the men of Teffia,
    And right many a lord of Breagh.
  Deep the sod above Clan Creidé and Clan Conaill,
    Kind in hall and fierce in fray.

  Many and many a son of Conn the Hundred-Fighter
    In the red earth lies at rest,
  Many a blue eye of Clan Colman the turf covers,
    Many a swan-white breast."[17]

Some of the most distinguished scholars of Ireland, if not of Europe,
were educated at Clonmacnois, including Alcuin, the most learned man at
the French court, who remembered his alma mater so affectionately that
he extracted from King Charles of France a gift of fifty shekels of
silver, to which he added fifty more of his own, and sent them to the
brotherhood of Clonmacnois as a gift, with a quantity of olive oil for
the Irish bishops. His affectionate letter to "his blessed master and
pious father" Colgan, chief professor at Clonmacnois, is still extant.

This Colgu, or Colgan, himself wrote a book in Irish, called "The
Besom of Devotion," which appears to be now lost. A litany of his
still remains. The great eleventh-century annalist, Tighearnach, was
an alumnus of Clonmacnois. So, too, was the reputed author of the
"Chronicon Scotorum," O'Malone, in 1123. The Annals of Clonmacnois was
one of the books in the hands of the "Four Masters," but it is now
lost, and a different book called by the same name (the original of
which has also perished) was translated into English by Macgeoghegan
in 1627.[18] The celebrated Leabhar na h-Uidhre [Lowar na Heera] or
"Book of the Dun Cow," compiled about the year 1100, emanated from
this centre of learning. Like Clonfert, and every other home of Irish
civilisation, the city of Clonmacnois fell a prey to the barbarians.
The Northmen plundered it or burnt it, or both, on ten separate
occasions. Turgesius, their leader, set up his wife Ota as a kind of
priestess to deliver oracles from its high altar;[19] and some of
the Irish themselves, reduced to a state of barbarism by the horrors
of the period, laid their sacrilegious hands upon its holy places;
and afterwards the English of Athlone stepped in and completed its
destruction. It now remains only a ruin and a name.

Another very celebrated school was that of Bangor, on Belfast Loch,
founded by Comgall, the friend of Columcille, between 550 and 560. It
soon became crowded with scholars, and next to Armagh it was certainly
the greatest school of the northern province, and produced men of the
highest eminence at home and abroad. Its fame reached far across the
sea. St. Bernard called it "a noble institution, which was inhabited
by many thousands of monks;" and Joceline of Furness, in the twelfth
century, called it "a fruitful vine breathing the odour of salvation,
whose offshoots extended not only over all Ireland, but far beyond the
seas into foreign countries, and filled many lands with its abounding

The most distinguished of Bangor's sons of learning were Columbanus,
the evangeliser of portions of Burgundy and Lombardy; St. Gall, the
evangeliser of Switzerland; Dungal, the astronomer; and later on, in
the twelfth century, Malachy O'Morgair, who, though not known as an
author, distinguished himself in the province of Church discipline.

The lives of St. Columbanus and of St. Gall belong rather to foreign
than to Irish history, but we may glance at them again in another
place. Dungal, poet, astronomer, and theologian, was also like them,
for a time, an exile. His identity is uncertain; the "Four Masters"
mention twenty-two persons of the same name between the years 744
and 1015, but his Irish nationality is certain, and he calls himself
"Hibernicus exul" in his poem addressed to his patron Charlemagne. He
appears to have died in the Irish monastery at Bobbio, in North Italy,
to which he left his library, and amongst other books the celebrated
Antiphonary of Bangor, his possession of which seems to warrant us in
supposing that Bangor was his original college. He appears to have been
a close friend of Charlemagne's, and in 811 he wrote him his celebrated
letter, explanatory of the two solar eclipses which had taken place
the year before. The emperor could apparently find at his court no
other astronomer of sufficient learning to explain the phenomena.
Later on we find Dungal, at the request of Lothaire, Charlemagne's
grandson, opening a school at Pavia to civilise the Lombards, to which
institution great numbers of students flocked from every quarter.
Dungal may, in fact, be regarded as the founder of the University
of Pavia. His greatest effort whilst in Pavia was his work against
the Iconoclasts. Dungal's attack upon the cultured Spanish bishop,
Claudius, who championed them, as it was the first, so it appears to
have been the ablest blow struck; and Western iconoclasm seemed to
have for the time received a mortal wound from his hand.[20] Besides
his long eulogy on his friend and patron Charlemagne, several other
smaller poems of his survive, showing him to have been--like almost
all Irishmen of that date--no mere pedant and student.

Like almost all the more famous and attractive of the Irish colleges,
Bangor suffered fearfully from the attacks of the northern pirates,
who, according to St. Bernard, slew there as many as nine hundred
monks. "Not a cross, not even a stone," says Dr. Healy, "now remains to
mark the site of the famous monastery, whose crowded cloisters for a
thousand years overlooked the pleasant islets and broad waters of Inver
Becne." It has shared the fate of its compeers:

  _etiam periere ruinæ._

It would prove too tedious to enumerate the other Irish colleges
which dotted the island in the sixth and seventh centuries. The most
remarkable of them besides those that I have mentioned were Moville, at
the head of Loch Cuan or Strangford Lough, in the County Down, founded
by St. Finnian, who was born before 500, and who afterwards became
known as Frigidius, Bishop of Lucca, in Switzerland. Colman, whose
hymn is preserved in the "Liber Hymnorum," and Marianus Scotus, the
Chronicler, were _alumni_ of Moville.

Cluain Eidnech, or Clonenagh, the "Ivy Meadow," was founded by St.
Fintan, near Maryborough, in the present Queen's County. Angus the
Culdee, who with its Abbot Maelruain is said to have composed the
Martyrology of Tallaght prior to 792, was its greatest ornament. Of his
Irish works we shall have more to say later on. Clonenagh suffered so
much from the Northmen, that its great foundation had already in the
twelfth century dwindled to a parochial church; in the nineteenth it is
a green mound.

Glendalough, founded by the celebrated St. Kevin,[21] became also a
college of much note. St. Moling, to whom a great number of Irish
poems[22] are ascribed, was one of his successors in the seventh
century, and his life seems to have taken peculiar hold upon the
imagination of the populace, for he has more poems--many of them
evident forgeries--attributed to him than we find ascribed to any of
the saints except to Columcille; and he has a place amongst the four
great prophets of Erin.[23] It was he who procured the remission of
the Boru tribute from King Finnachta about the year 693. Glendalough
was plundered and destroyed by the Danes five times over, within a
period of thirty years, yet it to some extent recovered itself, and the
great St. Laurence O'Toole, who was Archbishop of Dublin at the coming
of the Normans, had been there educated.

Lismore, the great college of the south-east, was founded by St.
Carthach in the beginning of the seventh century, who left behind him,
according to O'Curry, a monastic rule of 580 lines of Irish verse.[24]
Cathal, or Cathaldus, born in the beginning of the seventh century, who
afterwards became bishop and patron saint of Tarentum, in Italy, was
a student, and perhaps professor in this college. The office of St.
Cathaldus states that Gauls, Angles, Irish, and Teutons, and very many
people of neighbouring nations came to hear his lectures at Lismore,
and Morini's life of him expresses in poetic terms the tradition of
Lismore's greatness.[25] St. Cuanna, another member of Lismore, was
probably the author of the Book of Cuanach, now lost, but often quoted
in the Annals of Ulster. He died in 650, and the book is not quoted
after the year 628, which makes it more than probable that he was the
author. Lismore was burnt down by the Danes, but recovered itself in
the general revival of native institutions that took place prior to the
conquest of the Anglo-Normans. However, when these latter came upon the
Irish stage it fared ill with Lismore. Strongbow, indeed, was bought
off from burning its churches in 1173 by a great sum of money, but in
the following year his son, in spite of this, plundered the place. Four
years later the English forces again attacked it, plundered it, and
set it on fire. In 1207 the whole town and all about it was finally
consumed, so that at the present day not a vestige remains behind of
its schools, its cloisters, or its twenty churches.

Cork college was founded by St. Finnbarr towards the end of the sixth
century. One of its professors, Colman O'Cluasaigh, who died in 664,
wrote the curious Irish hymn or prayer mixed with Latin, preserved in
the Book of Hymns.[26] The place was burned four times between 822 and
840, but in the twelfth century the ancient monastery which had fallen
into decay was rebuilt by Cormac Mac Carthy, king of Munster, and
builder of the celebrated Cormac's Chapel at Cashel.

The school of Ross was founded by St. Fachtna for the Ithian tribes[27]
of Corca Laidhi [Cor-ka-lee] in South-west Munster. Ross is frequently
referred to in the Annals up to the tenth century. There is extant an
interesting geographical poem in Irish, of 136 lines, written by one
of the teachers there in the tenth century, and apparently intended as
a kind of simple text to be learned by heart by the students.[28] Ross
was plundered by the Danes in 840, but appears to have been flourishing
until North-west Munster was laid waste by the Anglo-Normans under
FitzStephen, after which no more is heard of its schools or colleges.

Innisfallen was founded upon an exquisite site on the lower lake of
Killarney by St. Finan.[29] The well-known "Annals of Innisfallen,"
preserved in the Bodleian Library, were probably written by Maelsuthain
[Calvus Perennis] O'Carroll, the "soul-friend" of Brian Boru, who
inserted the famous entry in the Book of Armagh.[30] It is probable
that Brian himself was also educated there. This monastery, owing to
its secure retreat in the Kerry mountains, appears to have remained
unplundered by the Norsemen, and to have been accounted "a paradise and
a secure sanctuary."

Iniscaltra is a beautiful island in the south-west angle of Loch Derg,
between Galway and Clare, still famous for its splendid round tower.
It was here Columba of Terryglass, who died in 552, established a
school and monastery which became so famous that in the life of St.
Senan seven ships are mentioned as arriving at the mouth of the Shannon
crowded with students for Iniscaltra. It was this Columba who, when
asked by one of his disciples why the birds that frequented the island
were not afraid of him, made the somewhat dramatic answer, "Why should
they fear me? am I not a bird myself, for my soul always flies to
heaven as they fly through the sky." Columba had a celebrated successor
called Caimin, who died in 653. Ussher, who calls him St. Caminus,
tells us that part of his Psalter was extant in his own time, and that
he had himself seen it "having a collation of the Hebrew text placed
on the upper part of each page, and with brief scholia added on the
exterior margin."[31]

A great number of lesser monastic institutions and schools seem to
have existed alongside of these more famous ones, and it is hardly too
much to say that during the sixth, seventh, eighth, and perhaps ninth
centuries Ireland had caught and held aloft the torch of learning in
the lampadia of mankind, and procured for herself the honourable title
of the island of saints and scholars.

[1] It is a common tradition that Columcille would not allow a cow on
Iona, because, said he, "where there is a cow there will be a woman"!
This tradition is entirely contradicted, however, by Adamnan's life.

[2] Dr. Healy's "Ireland's Schools and Scholars," p. 169.

[3] There is a story of Columcille when in Aran discovering the grave
of an "abbot of Jerusalem" who had come to see Enda, and died there,
printed by Kuno Meyer from Rawlinson B. 512 in the "Gaelic Journal,"
vol. iv. p. 162.

[4] Literally: "Farewell from me to Ara, it is it anguishes my heart
not to be in the west among her waves, amid groups of the saints of
heaven. It is far, alas! it is far, alas! I have been sent from Ara
West, out towards the population of Mona to visit the Albanachs. Ara
sun, oh Ara sun, my affection lies buried in her in the west, it is the
same to be beneath her pure soil as to be beneath the soil of Paul and
Peter. Ara blessed, O Ara blessed, woe to him who is hostile to her,
may he be given for it shortness of life and hell. Ara blessed, O Ara
blessed, woe to him who is hostile to her, may their cattle decay and
their children, and be he himself on the other side (of this life) in
evil plight. O Ara blessed, O Ara blessed, woe to him who is hostile to
her," etc.

[5] See ch. VII, note 1.

[6] It has been edited both by a Frenchman, M. Jubinal, and a German,
Karl Schroeder, from eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth century MSS.
preserved in Paris, Leipsic, and Wolfenbuttel, and by Cardinal
Moran from, I believe, a ninth-century one in the Vatican. Giraldus
Cambrensis alludes to it as well known in his time, "Hæc autem si
quis audire gestierit qui de vita Brendani scriptus est libellum
legat" ("Top. Hib.," II. ch. 43). There is a copy of Brendan's acts in
the so-called Book of Kilkenny in Marsh's Library, Dublin, a MS. of
probably the fourteenth century.

[7] "Eccles. Hist.," lib. iii. c. 19. He calls him "Furseus, verbo et
actibus clarus sedet egregiis insignis virtutibus," and dedicates five
pages of Mayer and Lumby's edition to an account of him and his visions.

[8] Father O'Hanlon, in his great work on the Irish saints, has
pointed out a large number of close parallels between Fursa's vision
and Dante's poem which seem altogether too striking to be fortuitous.
(_See_ vol. i. pp. 115-120.) There are a poem and a litany attributed
to St. Fursa in the MS. H. 1. 11. in Trinity College, Dublin. The
visions of Purgatory seen by Dryhthelm, a monk of Melrose, as recorded
by Bede, which are later than St. Fursa's vision, are conceived
very much in the same style, only are much more doctrinal in their
purgatorial teaching. "Tracing the course of thought upwards," says
Sir Francis Palgrave ("History of Normandy and England"), "we have no
difficulty in deducing the poetic genealogy of Dante's 'Inferno' to the
Milesian Fursæus."

[9] _See_ above, p. 97.

[10] The same story, as Whitley Stokes points out, is told in two
ninth-century lives of St. Machut, so that a tenth-century version of
Sindbad's first voyage cannot have been the origin of it.

[11] This is evidently the passage upon which Keating's description
of hell in the "Three Shafts of Death," Leabh. III. allt. ix., x.,
xi., is modelled. He quite outdoes his predecessor in declamation and
exuberance of alliterative adjectives. Compare also the description in
the vision of Adamnan of the infernal regions as it is elaborated in
the copy in the Leabhar Breac, in contradistinction to the more sober
colouring of the older Leabhar na h-Uidhre.

[12] Beginning:--

  "Celebra Juda festa Christi gaudia
  Apostulorum exultans memoria.

  Claviculari Petri primi pastoris
  Piscium rete evangelii corporis

This hymn, says Dr. Todd, "bears evident marks of the high antiquity
claimed for it, and there seem no reasonable grounds for doubting its

[13] "The correct system lays down three principles. First, Easter day
must be always a Sunday, never on but _next after_ the fourteenth day
of the moon; secondly, that fourteenth day of the full moon should be
that on or next after the vernal equinox; and thirdly, the equinox
itself was invariably assigned to the 21st of March" (Dr. Healy's
"Ireland's Schools and Scholars," p. 234). At Rome the 18th had been
regarded as the equinox; St. Patrick, however, rightly laid it down
that the equinox took place on the 21st.

[14] Late professor of Ecclesiastical History in Dublin University.
_See_ "Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy," May, 1892, p. 195.

[15] The first verse runs thus:--

  "Ni beir Luimneach for a druim
  Di sil Muimhneach i Leth Cuinn
  Marbán in noi bu fiú do
  Do Cuimmine mac Fiachno"--

"The lower Shannon bears not upon its surface, of Munster race in Leath
Cuinn, any corpse in boat, equal to him, to Cuimin, son of Fiachna."
His corpse was apparently brought home by water.

[16] There is a verse ascribed to Ciaran in the "Chronicon Scotorum,"
beginning "Darerca mo mháthair-si," and a poem ascribed to him in H. 1.
11. Trinity College, Dublin.

[17] Thus admirably translated by my friend Mr. Rolleston in "Poems
and Ballads of Young Ireland," Dublin, 1888, a little volume which
seems to have been the precursor of a considerable literary movement in
Ireland. Literally: "The city of Ciaran of Clonmacnois, a dewy-bright
red-rose town, of its royal seed, of lasting fame, the hosts in the
pure-streamed peaceful town. The nobles of the clan of Conn are in the
flag-laid brown-sloped churchyard, a knot or a branch above each body
and a fair correct name in Ogam. The sons of Cairbré over the seven
territories, the seven great princes from Tara, many a sheltering
standard on a field of battle is with the people of Ciaran's Plain of
Crosses. The men of Teffia, the tribes of Breagh were buried beneath
the clay of Cluain[macnois]. The valiant and hospitable are yonder
beneath the sod, the race of Creidé and the Clan Conaill. Numerous are
the sons of Conn of the Battles, with red clay and turf covering them,
many a blue eye and white limb under the earth of Clan Colman's tomb."
The first verses run in modern spelling thus:

  "Cáthair Chiaráin Chluain-mic-Nóis
  Baile drucht-solas, dearg-rois.
  Da shíl rioghraidh is buan bládh
  Sluaigh fá'n sith-bhaile sruth-ghlan.

  Atáid uaisle cloinne Chuinn
  Fa'n reilig leacaigh learg-dhuinn
  Snaoidhm no Craobh os gach cholain
  Agus ainm caomh ceart Oghaim."

The clan of Conn here mentioned are principally the Ui Neill and their
correlatives. Teffia is something equivalent to Longford, and Breagh to
Meath. Clan Creidé are the O'Conors of Connacht, and the Clan Colman
principally means the O'Melaughlins and their kin. "Colman mor, a quo
Clann Cholmáin ie Maoileachlain cona fflaithibh" (Mac Firbis MS. Book
of Genealogies, p. 161 of O'Curry's transcript). Colman was the brother
of King Diarmuid, who was slain in 552.

[18] Published a couple of years ago by the late Father Murphy, S.J.,
for the Royal Antiquarian Society of Ireland.

[19] "Airgid cealla ardnaomh Ereann uile ocus as ar altoir Cluana mac
Nois do bhereadh Otta bean Tuirghes uirigheall do gach ae[n]" (Mac
Firbis MS. of Genealogies, p. 768 in O'Curry's transcript). Also "Gael
and Gall," p. 13.

[20] Claudius was Bishop of Turin, and a man of much culture and
ability; so disgusted was he with the congregation of ignorant Italian
bishops--culture was then at the lowest ebb in Italy--before whom he
argued his case that he called them a _congregatio asinorum_, and
says Zimmer, "Ein Ire, Dungal, musste für sie die Vertheidigung des
Bilderdienstes übernehmen."

[21] Pronounced "Keevin," not "Kĕvin." The Irish form is Caoimh-[=
keev, "aoi" being in Irish always pronounced like _ee_, and "mh" like
_v_] ghinn, the "g" being aspirated is scarcely pronounced.

[22] The celebrated Evangelistarium, or Book of Moling, was, with
its case or cover, deposited in Trinity College, Dublin, in the last
century by the Kavanaghs of Borris. Giraldus Cambrensis classes Moling
as a prophet with Merlin, and as a saint with Patrick and Columba. One
of the prophecies assigned to him is given by O'Curry, MS. Mat., p.
427. The oldest copy of any of Moling's poems is in the monastery of
St. Paul in Carinthia, contained in a MS. originally brought from Augia
Dives, or Reichenau. It is in the most perfect metre, and runs:--

          "Is en immo niada sás
           Is nau tholl diant eslinn guas,
           Is lestar fás, is crann crín
           Nach digni toil ind rig tuas."

  ("He is a bird round which a trap closes,
  He is a leaky bark in weakness of peril,
  He is an empty vessel, he is a withered tree
  Who doth not do the will of the King above.")

_I.e._, "Is eán um a n-iadhann sás / is nau (long) thollta darb'
éislinn guais. Is leastar fas (folamh) is crann crion, [an te] nach
ndeanann toil an righ shuas."

The poem is also given in the Book of Leinster, and contains eight
verses. One would perhaps have expected the third line to run, "is
crann crín is lestar fás." The St. Paul MS., which is of the eighth
century, contains two of Molling's poems, and they scarcely differ in
wording or orthography from copies in MSS. six hundred years later.

[23] Patrick, Columcille, and Berchan of Clonsast, are the others.
Even the English settlers had heard of their fame. Baron Finglas,
writing in Henry VIII.'s reign, says, "The four saints, St. Patrick,
St. Columb, St. Braghane [_i.e._, Berchan], and St. Moling, which
many hundred years agone made prophecy that Englishmen should have
conquered Ireland, and said that the said Englishmen should keep their
owne laws, and as soon as they should leave, and fall to Irish order,
then they should decay, the experience whereof is proved true." (From
Ryan's "History and Antiquities of the co. Carlow," p. 93.) A still
more curious allusion to the four Irish prophets is one in the Book
of Howth, a small vellum folio of the sixteenth century, written in
thirteen different hands, published in the Calendar of State Papers.
"Men say," recounts the anonymous writer, "that the Irishmen had four
prophets in their time, Patrick, Marten [_sic_], Brahen [_i.e._,
Berchan], and Collumkill. Whosoever hath books in Irish written every
of them speak of the fight of this conquest, and saith that long strife
and oft fighting shall be for this land, and the land shall be harried
and stained with great slaughter of men, but the Englishmen fully shall
have the mastery a little before doomsday, and that land shall be
from sea to sea i-castled and fully won, but the Englishmen shall be
after that well feeble in the land and disdained; so Barcan [Berchan]
saith: that through a king shall come out of the wild mountains of St.
Patrick's, that much people shall slew and afterwards break a castle
in the wooden of Affayle, with that the Englishmen of Ireland shall be
destroyed by that." The prophecy that the Englishmen fully shall have
the mastery a little before Doomsday is amusingly equivocal!

[24] Described in O'Curry's MS. Materials, p. 375, but I do not know
where the original is.

[25] Quoted in O'Halloran's "History of Ireland," bk. ix. chap. 4.
"Celeres vastissima Rheni / jam vada Teutonici, jam deseruere Sicambri;
/ Mittit ab extremo gelidos Aquilone Boemos / Albis et Arvenni cöeunt,
Batavi-que frequentes, / Et quicunque colunt alta sub rupe Gehennas.
/ ... Certatim hi properunt diverso tramite ad urbem / Lesmoriam
[Lismore] juvenis primos ubi transigit annos." _See_ also corroborative
proof of the numbers of Gauls, Teutons, Swiss, and Italians visiting
Lismore about the year 700 in Ussher's "Antiquities," Works, vi., p.

[26] Reprinted by Windisch in his "Irische Texte," Heft 1., p. 5. The
first verse runs--

  "Sén De don fe for don te
    Mac maire ron feladar!
  For a fhoessam dún anocht
    Cia tiasam, cain temadar,"

which is in no wise easy to translate! There are fifty-six verses not
all in the same metre. Another acknowledges St. Patrick as a patron
saint, it would run thus, in modernised orthography--

  "Beannacht ar erlám [pátrún] Pádraig
  Go naomhaib Eireann uime
  Beannacht ar an gcáthair-se
  Agus ar chách bhfuil innti!"

A three-quarter Latin verse runs thus--

  "Regem regum rogamus / in nostris sermonibus
  Anacht Noe a luchtlach / diluvi temporibus."

[27] _See_ p. 67.

[28] _See_ "Proceedings of R. I. Academy for 1884."

[29] Whose name is preserved in O'Connell's residence, "Derrynane,"
which is really "Derry-finan" (Doire-Fhionáin).

[30] _See_ p. 140 and Ch. XIII note 12.

[31] "Habebatur psalterium, cujus unicum tantum quaternionem mihi
videre contigit, obelis et asteriscis diligentissime distinctum;
collatione cum veritate Hebraica in superiore parte cujusque paginæ
posita, et brevibus scholiis ad exteriorem marginem adjectis." (_See_
"Works," vol. vi. p. 544. Quoted by Professor G. Stokes, "Proceedings
R. I. Academy," May, 1892.)



It is very difficult to say what was exactly the curriculum of the
early Irish colleges, and how far they were patronised by laymen.
Without doubt their original design was to propagate a more perfect
knowledge of the Scriptures and of theological learning in general,
but it is equally certain that they must have, almost from the very
first, taught the heathen classics and the Irish language side by
side with the Scriptures and theology. There is no other possible
way of accounting for the admirable scholarship of the men whom they
turned out, and for their skill in Latin and often also in Irish
poetry. Virgil, Ovid, Terence, and most of the Latin poets must have
been widely taught and read. "It is sufficient," says M. d'Arbois
de Jubainville, talking of Columbanus who was born in 543, and who
was educated at Bangor, on Belfast Loch, "to glance at his writings,
immediately to recognise his marvellous superiority over Gregory of
Tours and the Gallo-Romans of his time. He lived in close converse with
the classical authors, as later on did the learned men of the sixteenth
century, whose equal he certainly is not, but of whom he seems a sort
of precursor." From the sixth to the sixteenth century is a long
leap, and no higher eulogium could be passed upon the scholarship of
Columbanus and the training given by his Irish college.[1] All the
studies of the time appear to have been taught in them through the
medium of the Irish language, not merely theology but arithmetic,
rhetoric, poetry, hagiography, natural science as then understood,
grammar, chronology, astronomy, Greek, and even Hebrew.

 "The classic tradition," sums up M. Darmesteter, "to all appearances
 dead in Europe, burst out into full flower in the Isle of Saints, and
 the Renaissance began in Ireland 700 years before it was known in
 Italy. During three centuries Ireland was the asylum of the higher
 learning which took sanctuary there from the uncultured states of
 Europe. At one time Armagh, the religious capital of Christian
 Ireland, was the metropolis of civilisation."

 "Ireland," says Babington in his "Fallacies of Race Theories,"[2] "had
 been admitted into Christendom and to some measure of culture only in
 the fifth century. At that time Gaul and Italy enjoyed to the full all
 the knowledge of the age. In the next century the old culture-lands
 had to turn for some little light and teaching to that remote and
 lately barbarous land."

When we remember that the darkness of the Middle Ages had already
set in over the struggles, agony, and confusion of feudal Europe,
and that all knowledge of Greek may be said to have died out
upon the Continent--"had elsewhere absolutely vanished," says M.
Darmesteter--when we remember that even such a man as Gregory the Great
was completely ignorant of it, it will appear extraordinary to find it
taught in Ireland alone, out of all the countries of Western Europe.[3]
Yet this is capable of complete and manifold proof. Columbanus for
instance, shows in his letter to Pope Boniface that he knows something
of both Greek and Hebrew.[4] Aileran, who died of the plague in 664,
gives evidence of the same in his book on our Lord's genealogy.
Cummian's letter to the Abbot of Iona has been referred to before,
and, as Professor G. Stokes puts it, "proves the fact to demonstration
that in the first half of the seventh century there was a wide range
of Greek learning, not ecclesiastical merely, but chronological,
astronomical, and philosophical, away at Durrow in the very centre of
the Bog of Allen." Augustine, an un-identified Irish monk of the second
half of the seventh century, gives many proofs of Greek and Oriental
learning and quotes the Chronicles of Eusebius. The later Sedulius, the
versatile abbot of Kildare, about the year 820 "makes parade of his
Greek knowledge," to quote a French writer in the "Revue Celtique,"
"employs Greek words without necessity, and translates into Greek a
part of the definition of the pronoun."[5] St. Caimins's Psalter, seen
by Bishop Ussher with the Hebrew text collated, convinced Dr. Reeves
that Hebrew as well as Greek was studied in Ireland about the year
600. Nor did this Greek learning tend to die out. In the middle of the
ninth century John Scotus Erigena, summoned from Ireland to France by
Charles the Bald, was the only person to be found able to translate
the Greek works of the pseudo-Dionysius,[6] thanks to the training
he had received in his Irish school. The Book of Armagh contains the
Lord's Prayer written in Greek letters, and there is a Greek MS. of
the Psalter, written in Sedulius' own hand, now preserved in Paris.
Many more Greek texts, at least a dozen, written by Irish monks, are
preserved elsewhere in Europe. "These eighth and ninth century Greek
MSS.," remarks Professor Stokes, "covered with Irish glosses and Irish
poems and Irish notes, have engaged the attention of palæographers and
students of the Greek texts of the New Testament during the last two
centuries." They are indeed a proof that--as Dr. Reeves puts it--the
Irish School "was unquestionably the most advanced of its day in sacred

This remarkable knowledge of Greek was evidently derived from an early
and direct commerce with Gaul, where Greek had been spoken for four
or five centuries, first alongside of Celtic, and in later times of
Latin also.[7] The knowledge of Hebrew may have been derived from
the Egyptian monks who passed over from Gaul into Ireland. Egypt
and the East were more or less in close communication with Gaul
in the fifth century, and the Irish Litany, ascribed to Angus the
Culdee, commemorates seven Egyptian monks amongst many other Gauls,
Germans, and Italians who resided in Ireland. The close and constant
intercommunication between Greek-speaking Gaul and Ireland accounts
for the planting and cultivation of the Greek language in the Irish
schools, and once planted there it continued to flourish more or less
for some centuries. There is ample evidence to prove the connection
between Gaul and Ireland from the fifth to the ninth century. We find
Gaulish merchants in the middle of Ireland at Clonmacnois, who had
no doubt sailed up the Shannon in the way of commerce, selling wine
to Ciaran in the sixth century. We find Columbanus, a little later
on, inquiring at Nantes for a vessel engaged in the Irish trade--_quæ
vexerat commercium cum Hibernia_. In Adamnan's Life of Columcille
we find mention of Gaulish sailors arriving at Cantire. Adamnan's
own treatise on Holy Places was written from the verbal account of a
Gaul. In the Old Irish poem on the Fair of Carman in Wexford--a pagan
institution which lived on in Christian times--we find mention of the

  "Great market of the foreign Greeks,
  Where gold and noble clothes were wont to be;"[8]

the foreign Greeks being no doubt the Greek-speaking Gaulish merchants.
Alcuin sends his gifts of money and oil and his letters direct from
Charlemagne's court to his friends in Clonmacnois, probably by a vessel
engaged in the direct Irish trade, for, as he himself tells us, the
sea-route between England and France was then closed. If more proof of
the close communication between Ireland and Gaul were wanted, the fact
that Dagobert II., king of France in the seventh century, was educated
at Slane,[9] in Ireland, and also that certain Merovingian and French
coins have been found here, should be sufficient.

The fame of these early Irish schools attracted students in the
seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries from all quarters to Ireland,
which had now become a veritable land of schools and scholars. The
Venerable Bede tells us of the crowds of Anglo-Saxons who flocked over
into Ireland during the plague, about the year 664, and says that they
were all warmly welcomed by the Irish, who took care that they should
be provided with food every day, without payment on their part; that
they should have books to read, and that they should receive gratuitous
instruction from Irish masters.[10] Books must have already multiplied
considerably when the swarms of Anglo-Saxons could thus be supplied
with them gratis. This noble tradition of free education to strangers
lasted down to the establishment of the so-called "National" schools in
Ireland, for down to that time "poor scholars" were freely supported
by the people and helped in their studies. The number of scribes
whose deaths have been considered worth recording by the annalists
is very great, and books consequently must have been very numerous.
This plentifulness of books probably added to the renown of the Irish
schools. An English prince as well as a French one was educated by
them in the seventh century; this was Aldfrid, king of Northumbria,
who was trained in all the learning of Erin, and who always aided and
abetted the Irish in England, in opposition to Wilfrid, who opposed
them. That the king got a good education in Ireland may be conjectured
from the fact that Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury, dedicated to him a
poetic epistle on Latin metric and prosody, in which, says Dr. Healy,
"he congratulates the king on his good fortune in having been educated
in Ireland." Aldhelm's own master was also an Irishman, Mael-dubh, and
his abbacy of Malmesbury is only a corruption of this Irishman's name
Maeldubh's-bury.[11] In another place Aldhelm tells us that while the
great English school at Canterbury was by no means overcrowded, the
English swarmed to the Irish schools like bees. Aldfrid himself, when
leaving Ireland, composed a poem of sixty lines in the Irish language
and metre, which he must have learned from the bards, in which he
compliments each of the provinces severally, as though he meant to
thank the whole nation for their hospitality.[12]

  "I found in Inisfail the fair
  In Ireland, while in exile there,
  Women of worth, both grave and gay men,
  Learned clerics, heroic laymen.

  I travelled its fruitful provinces round,
  And in every one of the five I found,
  Alike in church and in palace hall,
  Abundant apparel and food for all."

St. Willibrord, a Saxon noble educated in Ireland about the same time
with King Aldfrid, went out thence and ultimately became Archbishop of
Utrecht. Another noted scholar of the same period was Agilbert, a Frank
by birth, who spent a long time in Ireland for the purpose of study and
afterwards became Bishop of Paris.[13] We have seen how the Office of
St. Cathaldus states that the school of Lismore was visited by Gauls,
Angles, Scotti, Teutons, and scholars from other neighbouring nations.
The same was more or less the case with Clonmacnois, Bangor, and some
others of the most noted of the Irish schools.

It was not in Greek attainments, nor in ecclesiastical studies, nor
in Latin verses alone, that the Irish excelled; they also produced
astronomers like Dungal and geographers like Dicuil. Dungal's
attainments we have glanced at, but Dicuil's book--_de mensura orbis
terrarum_--written about the year 825, is more interesting, although
nothing is known about the author's own life, nor do we know even
the particular Irish school to which he belonged.[14] His book was
published by a Frenchman because he found Dicuil's descriptions of the
measurements of the Pyramids a thousand years ago tallied with his own.

 "Antioch," writes Professor G. Stokes, "about A.D. 600, was the centre
 of Greek culture and Greek erudition, and the chronicle of Malalas,
 as embodied in Niebuhr's series of Byzantine historians, is a mine of
 information on many questions; but compare it with the Irish work of
 Dicuil and its mistakes are laughable."

A great deal of his work is founded of course upon Pliny, Solinus,
and Priscian, but he shows a highly-developed critical sense in
comparing and collating various MSS. which he had inspected to ensure
accuracy. What he tells us at first-hand, however, is by far the most
interesting. In speaking of the Nile he says that:--

 "Although we never read in any book that any branch of the Nile flows
 into the Red Sea, yet Brother Fidelis told in my presence to my
 master Suibhne [Sweeny]--to whom under God I owe whatever knowledge
 I possess--that certain clerics and laymen from Ireland who went to
 Jerusalem on pilgrimage sailed up the Nile a long way."

They sailed thence by a canal into the Red Sea, and this statement
proves the accuracy of Dicuil, for this canal really existed and
continued in use until 767, when it was closed to hinder the people
of Mecca and Medina getting supplies from Egypt. The account of the
Pyramids is particularly interesting. "The aforesaid Brother Fidelis
measured one of them and found that the square face was 400 feet in
length." The same brother wished to examine the exact point where Moses
had entered the Red Sea in order to try if he could find any traces of
the chariots of Pharaoh or the wheel tracks, but the sailors were in
a hurry and would not allow him to go on this excursion. The breadth
of the sea appeared to him at this point to be about six miles. Dicuil
describes Iceland long before it was discovered by the Danes.

 "It is now thirty years," said he, writing in 825, "since I was told
 by some Irish ecclesiastics, who had dwelt in that island from the 1st
 of February to the 1st of August, that the sun scarcely sets there in
 summer, but always leaves, even at midnight, light enough to do one's
 ordinary business--_vel pediculos de camisia abstrahere_"!

Those writers are greatly mistaken, he says, who describe the Icelandic
sea as always frozen, and who say that there is day there from spring
to autumn and from autumn to spring, for the Irish monks sailed thither
through the open sea in a month of great natural cold, and yet
found alternate day and night, except about the period of the summer
solstice. He also describes the Faroe Isles:--

 "A certain trustworthy monk told me that he reached one of them by
 sailing for two summer days and one night in a vessel with two benches
 of rowers.... In these islands for almost a hundred years there dwelt
 hermits who sailed there from our own Ireland [nostra Scottia], but
 now they are once more deserted as they were at the beginning, on
 account of the ravages of the Norman pirates."

This is proof positive that the Irish discovered and inhabited
Iceland and the Faroe Islands half a century or a century before the
Northmen. Dicuil was distinguished as a grammarian, metrician, and
astronomer,[15] but his geographical treatise, written in his old age,
is the most interesting and valuable of his achievements.

Fergil, or Virgilius, as he is usually called, was another great Irish
geometer, who eventually became Archbishop of Salzburg and died in
785. He taught the sphericity of the earth and the doctrine of the
Antipodes, a truth which seems also to have been familiar to Dicuil.
St. Boniface, afterwards Archbishop of Mentz, evidently distorting his
doctrine, accused him to the Pope of heresy in teaching that there was
another world and other men under the earth, and another sun and moon.
"Concerning this charge of false doctrine, if it shall be established,"
said the Pope, "that Virgil taught this perverse and wicked doctrine
against God and his own soul, do you then convoke a council, degrade
him from the priesthood, and drive him from the Church." Virgil,
however, seems to have satisfactorily explained his position, for
nothing was done against him.

These instances help to throw some light upon a most difficult
subject--the training given in the early Irish Christian schools, and
the cause of their undoubted popularity for three centuries and more
amongst the scholars of Western Europe.

[1] Here are a few lines from the well-known Adonic poem which he, at
the age of 68, addressed to his friend Fedolius--

  "_Extitit ingens_                    _Impia quippe_
  _Causa malorum_                      _Pygmalionis_
  _Aurea pellis,_                      _Regis ob aurum_
  _Corruit auri_                       _Gesta leguntur._
  _Munere parvo_
  _Cœna Deorum._                          * * * * *
  _Ac tribus illis_
  _Maxima lis est_                     _Fœmina sœpe_
  _Orta Deabus._                       _Perdit ob aurum_
  _Hinc populavit_                     _Casta pudorem._
  _Trogugenarum_                       _Non Jovis auri_
  _Ditia regna_                        _Fluxit in imbre_
  _Dorica pubes._                      _Sed quod adulter_
  _Juraque legum_                      _Obtulit aurum_
  _Fasque fides que_                   _Aureus ille_
  _Rumpitur aure._                    _Fingitur imber_."

Dr. Sigerson in "Bards of the Gael and Gaul," p. 407, prints as
Jubainville also does, the whole of this noted poem, and points out
that it is shot through and through with Irish assonance. "Not less
important than its assonance," writes Dr. Sigerson, "is the fact that
it introduces into Latin verse the use of returning words, or burthens
with variations, which supply the vital germs of the rondeau and the
ballad." I am not myself convinced of what Dr. Sigerson considers marks
of _intentional_ assonance in almost _every_ line.

His chief remaining works are a Monastic Rule in ten chapters; a book
on the daily penances of the monks; seventeen sermons; a book on the
measure of penances; a treatise on the eight principal vices; five
epistles written to Gregory the Great and others; and a good many Latin
verses. His life is written by the Abbot Jonas, a contemporary of his

[2] P. 122.

[3] "Grössere oder geringere Kenntniss klassischen Alterthums, vor
allem Kenntniss des Griechischen ist daher in jener Zeit ein Mazstab
sowohl für die Bildung einer einzelnen Persönlichkeit als auch fur den
Culturgrad eines ganzen Zeitalters" (Zimmer, "Preussische Jahrbûcher,"
January, 1887).

[4] He plays on his own name Columba, "a dove," and turns it into Greek
and Hebrew, περιστερά and הנוי.

[5] Dr. Sigerson prints an admirably graceful poem either by this or
another Sedulius of the ninth century at p. 411 of his "Bards of the
Gael and Gaul." It shows how far from being pedants the Irish monks
were. This poem is a dispute between the rose and lily.

[6] This translation which Charles sent to the Pope threw Anastasius,
the Librarian of the Roman Church, into the deepest astonishment.
"Mirandum est," he writes in his letter of reply, dated 865, "quomodo
vir ille barbarus in finibus mundi positus, talia intellectu capere
in aliamque linguam transferre valuerit" (_See_ Prof. Stokes, "R. I.
Academy Proceedings," May, 1892).

[7] St. Jerome tells us that the people of Marseilles were in his day
trilingual, "Massiliam Phocæi condiderunt quos ait Varro trilingues
esse, quod et Græce loquantur, et Latine et Gallice" (Migne's edition,
vol. vii. p. 425).

[8] _See_ appendix to O'Curry's "Manners and Customs," vol. iii. p.

  "Margaid mor na n-gall ngregach
  I mbid or is ard étach."

[9] He is said to have spent eighteen or twenty years there and to
have acquired all the wisdom of the Scots. The reason why he was sent
to Slane, as Dr. Healy well observes, was, not because it was the most
celebrated school of the time, but because it was in Meath where the
High-kings mostly dwelt, and it was only natural to bring the boy to
some place near the Royal Court. ("Ireland's Schools and Scholars," p.

[10] "Quos omnes Scotti libentissime suscipientes victum eis
quotidianum sine pretio, libros quoque ad legendum, et magisterium
gratuitum, præbere curabant" ("Ecc. Hist.," book iii. chap. 27).
Amongst these were the celebrated Egbert, of whom Bede tells us so
much, and St. Chad.

[11] He is called Mailduf by Bede, and Malmesbury Maildufi urbem, which
shows that the aspirated "b" in _dubh_ had twelve hundred years ago the
sound of "f" as it has to-day in Connacht.

[12] O'Reilly states that the poem consisted of ninety-six lines, but
Hardiman, in his "Irish Minstrelsy," vol. ii. p. 372, gives only sixty.
Hardiman has written on the margin of O'Reilly's "Irish Writers" in my
possession, "I have a copy, the character is ancient and very obscure."
Aldfrid may well have written such a poem, of which the copy printed by
Hardiman may be a somewhat modernised version. It begins--

  "Ro dheat an inis finn Fáil
  In Eirinn re imarbháidh,
  Iomad ban, ni baoth an breas,
  Iomad laoch, iomad cleireach."

It was admirably and fairly literally translated by Mangan for
Montgomery. His fourth line, however, runs, "Many clerics and many
laymen," which conveys no meaning save that of populousness. I have
altered this line to make it suit the Irish "many a hero, many a

[13] "Natione quidem Gallus," says Bede, "sed tunc legendarum gratiâ
scripturarum in Hibernia non parvo tempore demoratus."

[14] Probably Clonmacnois. _See_ Stokes, "Celtic Church," p. 214, and
Dr. Healy's "Ireland's Schools and Scholars," p. 283.

[15] His astronomical work, written in 814-16, remains as yet



The extraordinary and abnormal receptivity of the Irish of the fifth
century, and the still more wonderful and unprecedented activity of
their descendants in the sixth and following ones had almost bid fair
to turn the nation into a land of apostles. This outburst of religious
zeal, glorious and enduring as it was, carried with it, like all sudden
and powerful movements, an element of danger. It was unfortunately
destined in its headlong course to overflow its legitimate barriers
and to come into rude contact with the civil power which had been
established upon lines more ancient and not wholly sympathetic.

A striking passage in one of Renan's books dwells upon the obvious
religious inferiority of the Greeks and Romans to the Jews, while
it notes at the same time their immense political and intellectual
superiority over the Semitic nation. The inferiority of the Jew in
matters political and intellectual the French writer seems inclined to
attribute to his abnormally developed religious sense, which, absorbed
in itself, took all too little heed of the civic side of life and of
the necessities of the state. Nor can it, I think, be denied that
primitive Christianity in some cases took over from the Hebrews a
certain amount of this spirit of self-absorption and of disregard for
the civil side of life and social polity. "Quand on prend les choses
humaines par ce côté," remarks Renan, "on fonde de grands prosélytismes
universels, on a des apôtres courant le monde d'un bout à l'autre, et
le convertissant; mais on ne fonde pas des institutions politiques, une
indépendance nationale, une dynastie, un code, un peuple."

We have already seen how the exaggerated pretensions of St. Columcille
had come almost at once into opposition with the established law of the
land, the law which enjoined death as the penalty for homicide at Tara,
and how the priest unjustifiably took upon himself to override the
civil magistrate in the person of the king.

Of precisely such a nature--only with far worse and far more enduring
consequences--was the cursing of Tara by St. Ruadhan of Lothra.
The great palace where, according to general belief, a hundred and
thirty-six pagan and six Christian kings had ruled uninterruptedly,
the most august spot in all Ireland, where a "truce of God" had always
reigned during the great triennial assemblies, was now to be given
up and deserted at the curse of a tonsured monk. The great Assembly
or Féis of Tara, which accustomed the people to the idea of a centre
of government and a ruling power, could no more be convened, and a
thousand associations and memories which hallowed the office of the
High-king were snapped in a moment. It was a blow from which the
monarchy of Ireland never recovered, a blow which, by putting an end
to the great triennial or septennial conventions of the whole Irish
race, weakened the prestige of the central ruler, increased the power
of the provincial chieftains, segregated the clans of Ireland from one
another, and opened a new road for faction and dissension throughout
the entire island.

There is a considerable amount of mystery attached to this whole
transaction, and all the great Irish annalists, the "Four Masters,"
the "Chronicon Scotorum," the Annals of Ulster, Tighearnach, and
Keating, are absolutely silent upon the matter.[1] The "Four Masters,"
indeed, under the year 554 record "the last Féis of Tara,"[2] as does
Tighearnach also; but why it was the last, or why Tara was deserted,
they do not say. Yet so great a national event was infinitely too
important to have been passed over in silence except for some special
reason, and I cannot help thinking that it was not alluded to because
the annalists did not care to recall it. The authorities for the
cursing of Tara are the lost "Annals of Clonmacnois," which were
translated into English by Connell Mac Geoghegan in 1627, and which
give a very long and full account of the matter;[3] an Irish MS. in
Trinity College, Dublin;[4] the Life of St. Ruadhan himself, in the
fourteenth century (?) codex the Book of Kilkenny, now in Marsh's
Library; and his life as published by the Bollandists; the ancient
scholiast on Fiach's hymn on the Life of St. Patrick; a fifteenth
century vellum in the British Museum, which professes to copy from the
lost Book of Sligo; the Book of Right,[5] and the Book of Lismore,
which last, though it turns the story into an _úrsgeul_, or romance,
yet agrees closely in essentials with the lost "Annals of Clonmacnois."
The story, as told in this manuscript, is worth producing as a specimen
of how the Irish loved to turn every great historical event into an
_úrsgeul_, seasoned with a good spice of the marvellous, and dressed
up dramatically. How much of such pseudo-histories is true, how much
invented for the occasion, and how much may be stock-in-trade of the
story-teller, is never easily determined. The story runs as follows:--

King Diarmuid's steward and spear-bearer had been ill and wasting
away for a year. On his recovery he goes to the King, and asks him
whether "the order of his discipline and peace" had been observed
during the time of his illness. The King answered that he had noticed
no breach or diminution of it. The spear-bearer said he would make
sure of the King's peace by travelling round Ireland with his spear
held transversely, and he would see whether the door of every liss and
fortress would be opened wide enough to let the spear pass--such on the
approach of the King's spear seems to have been the law--and "so shall
the regimen and peace of Ireland," said he "be ascertained."

 "From Tara, therefore, goes forth the spear-bearer,[6] and with him
 the King of Ireland's herald, to proclaim Ireland's peace, and he
 arrived in the province of Connacht, and made his way to the mansion
 of Aedh [Æ] Guairè of Kinelfechin. And he at that time had round his
 rath a stockade of red oak, and had a new house too, that was but just
 built [no doubt inside the rath] with a view to his marriage feast.
 Now, a week before the spear-bearer's arrival the other had heard that
 he was on his way to him, and had given orders to make an opening
 before him in the palisade [but not in the dwelling].

 "The spear-bearer came accordingly, and Aedh Guairè bade him welcome.
 The spear-bearer said that the house must be hewn [open to the right
 width] before him.

 "'Give thine own orders as to how it may please thee to have it hewn,'
 said Aedh Guairè, but, even as he spake it, he gave a stroke of his
 sword to the spear-bearer, so that he took his head from off him.

 "Now at this time the discipline of Ireland was such that whosoever
 killed a man void of offence, neither cattle nor other valuable
 consideration might be taken in lieu of the slain, but the slayer must
 be killed, unless it were that the King should order or permit the
 acceptance of a cattle-price.

 "When King Diarmuid heard of the killing he sent his young men and his
 executive to waste and to spoil Aedh Guairè. And he flees to Bishop
 Senan, for one mother they had both, and Senan the bishop goes with
 him to Ruadhan of Lothra, for it was two sisters of Lothra that nursed
 Bishop Senan, Cael and Ruadhnait were their names. But Aedh Guairè
 found no protection with Ruadhan, but was banished away into Britain
 for a year, and Diarmuid's people came to seek for him in Britain,
 so he was again sent back to Ruadhan. And Diarmuid himself comes to
 Ruadhan to look for him, but he had been put into a hole in the ground
 by Ruadhan, which is to-day called 'Ruadhan's Hole.' Diarmuid sent
 his man to look in Ruadhan's kitchen whether Aedh Guiarè were there.
 But on the man's going into the kitchen his eyes were at once struck
 blind. When Diarmuid saw this, he went into the kitchen himself, but
 he did not find Aedh Guiarè there. And he asked Ruadhan where he was,
 for he was sure he would tell him no lie.

 "'I know not where he is,' said Ruadhan, 'if he be not under yon

 "After that Diarmuid departs to his house, but he remembered the
 cleric's word and returns to the recluse's cell, and he sees the
 candle being brought to the spot where Aedh Guairè was. And he sends a
 confidential servant to bring him forth--Donnán Donn was his name--and
 he dug down in the hiding place, but the arm he stretched out to take
 Aedh withered to the shoulder. And he makes obeisance to Ruadhan after
 that, and the two servants remained with Ruadhan after that in Poll
 Ruadhain. After this Diarmuid [himself] carries off Aedh Guairè to

Upon this, we are told, Ruadhan made his way to Brendan of Birr, and
thence to the so-called twelve apostles of Ireland,[7] and they all
followed the King and came to Tara, and they fast upon the King that
night, and he, "relying on his kingly quality and on the justice of his
cause, fasts upon them."[8]

 "In such fashion, and to the end of a year they continued before Tara
 under Ruadhan's tent exposed to weather and to wet, and they were
 every other night without food, Diarmuid and the clergy, fasting on
 each other."

After this the story goes on that Brendan the Navigator had in the
meantime landed from his foreign expeditions, and hearing that the
other saints of Ireland were fasting before Tara, he also proceeds
thither. But King Diarmuid, learning of his coming, was terrified,
and consented to give up Aedh Guairè for "fifty horses, blue-eyed
with golden bridles." Brendan the Voyager, fresh from his triumphs on
the ocean, summons fifty seals and makes them look like horses, and
guaranteeing them for a year and a quarter, hands them over to the
King and receives Aedh Guairè. But when the time guaranteed was out,
they became seals again, and brought their riders with them into the
sea. And Diarmuid was very wroth at the deception, "and shut the seven
lisses of Tara to the end that the clergy should not enter into Tara,
lest they should leave behind malevolence and evil bequests."

It appears that the clerics still continued fasting upon the King, and
he fasting upon them,

 "And people were assigned [by the King] to wait upon them and to keep
 watch and ward over them until the clergy should have accomplished the
 act of eating and consuming food in their presence. But on this night
 Brendan gave them this advice--their cowls to be about their heads and
 they to let their meat and ale pass by their mouths into their bosoms
 and down to the ground, and this they did. Word was brought to the
 King that the clergy were consuming meat and ale, so Diarmuid ate meat
 that night, but the clerics on the other hand fasted on him through

 "Now Diarmuid's wife--Mughain was his wife--saw a dream, which dream
 was this, that upon the green of Tara was a vast and wide-foliaged
 tree, and eleven slaves hewing at it, but every chip which they
 knocked from it would return into its place again and adhere to it
 [as before], till at last there came one man that dealt the tree but
 a stroke, and with that single cut laid it low, as the poet spoke the

  "'An evil dream did she behold
  The wife of the King of Tara of the heavy torques,
  Although it brought to her grief and woe
  She could not keep from telling it.
  A powerful stout tree did she behold,
  That might shelter the birds of Ireland,
  Upon the hill-side, smitten with axes,
  And champions hewing together at it, etc.'
                 (48 lines more.)

 "As for Diarmuid, son of Cerbhall [the King], after that dream he
 arose early, so that he heard the clergy chant their psalms, and he
 entered into the house in which they were.

 "'Alas!' he said, 'for the iniquitous contest which ye have waged
 against me, seeing that it is Ireland's good that I pursue, and to
 preserve her discipline and royal right, but 'tis Ireland's unpeace
 and murderousness which ye endeavour after. For God Himself it is
 who on such or such a one confers the orders of prince, of righteous
 ruler, and of equitable judgment, to the end that he may maintain his
 truthfulness, his princely quality, and his governance. Now that to
 which a king is bound is to have mercy coupled with stringency of law,
 and peace maintained in the sub-districts, and hostages in fetters;
 to succour the wretched, but to overwhelm enemies, and to banish
 falsehood, for unless on this hither side one do the King of Heaven's
 will, no excuse is accepted by him on the other. And thou, Ruadhan,'
 said Diarmuid, 'through thee it is that injury and rending of my mercy
 and of mine integrity to Godward is come about, and I pray God that
 thy diocese be the first in Ireland that shall be renounced, and thy
 Church lands the first that shall be impugned.'

 "But Ruadhan said, 'Rather may thy dynasty come to nought, and none
 that is son or grandson to thee establish himself in Tara for ever!'

 "Diarmuid said, 'Be thy Church desolate continually.'

 "Ruadhan said, 'Desolate be Tara for ever and for ever.'

 "Diarmuid said, 'May a limb of thy limbs be wanting to thee, and come
 not with thee under ground, and mayest thou lack an eye!

 "'Have thou before death an evil countenance in sight of all; may
 thine enemies prevail over thee mightily, and the thigh that thou
 liftedst not before me to stand up, be the same mangled into pieces.'

 "Said Diarmuid, 'The thing [_i.e._, the man] about which is our
 dispute, take him with you, but in thy church, Ruadhan, may the alarm
 cry sound at nones always, and even though all Ireland be at peace be
 thy church's precinct a scene of war continuously.'

 "And from that time to this the same is fulfilled."[9]

There follows a poem of 88 lines uttered by the King.

The same story in all its essential details is told in the MS. Egerton
1782, a vellum of the fifteenth century, which professes to follow the
lost Book of Sligo. It is quite as unbiassed and outspoken about the
result of the clerics' action as the Book of Lismore. It makes Diarmuid
address the clerics thus--

 "'Evil is that which ye have worked O clerics, my kingdom's ruination.
 For in the latter times Ireland shall not be better off than she is
 at this present. But, however it fall out,' said he, 'may bad chiefs,
 their heirs-apparent, and their men of war, quarter themselves in your
 churches, and may it be their [_read_ your?] own selves that in your
 houses shall pull off such peoples' brogues for them, ye being the
 while powerless to rid yourselves of them.'"

This codex sympathises so strongly with the king that it states that
one of Ruadhan's eyes burst in his head when the king cursed him. Beg
mac De, the celebrated Christian prophet, is made to prophecy thus,
when the king asks him in what fashion his kingdom should be after his

 "'An evil world,' said the prophet, 'is now at hand, in which men
 shall be in bondage, woman free; mast wanting; woods smooth; blossom
 bad; winds many; wet summer; green corn; much cattle; scant milk;
 dependants burdensome in every country, hogs lean, chiefs wicked; bad
 faith; _chronic killing; a world withered, raths in number_.'"

King Diarmuid died in 558, according to the "Four Masters;" it is
certain he never retreated a foot from Tara, but it was probably his
next successor who, intimidated at the clerics' curse and the ringing
of their bells--for they circled Tara ringing their bells against
it--deserted the royal hill for ever.[10]

The palace of Cletty, not far from Tara, was also cursed by St.
Cairneach at the request of the queen of the celebrated Muircheartach
Mór mac Earca, and deserted in consequence.[11]

Another, but probably more justifiable, instance of the clergy fasting
upon a lay ruler and cursing him, was that of the notorious Raghallach
(Reilly), king of Connacht, who made his queen jealous by his
infidelity, and committed other crimes. The story is thus recorded by

 "The scandal of that evil deed soon spread throughout all the land and
 the saints of Ireland were sorrowful by reason thereof. St. Fechin of
 Fobar [Fore is West Meath] came in person to Raghallach to reprehend
 him, and many saints came in his company to aid him in inducing the
 prince to discontinue his criminal amour. But Raghallach despised
 their exhortations. Thereupon they fasted against him, and as there
 were many other evil-minded persons besides him in the land, they made
 an especial prayer to God that for the sake of an example he should
 not live out the month of May, then next to come on, and that he
 should fall by the hands of villains, by vile instruments, and in a
 filthy place; and all these things happened to him,"

as Keating goes on to relate, for he was killed by turf-cutters.

Sometimes the saints are found on opposite sides, as at the Battle of
Cooldrevna where Columcille prayed against the High-king's arms, and
Finian prayed for them; or as in the well-known case of the expulsion
of poor old St. Mochuda[12] and his monks in 631 from the monastery
at Rathain, where his piety and success had aroused the jealousy of
the clerics of the Ui Neill, who ejected him by force, despite his
malediction. It was then he returned to his own province and founded
Lismore, which soon became famous.[13]

Led away by our admiration of the magnificent outburst of learning and
the innumerable examples of undoubted devotion displayed by Irishmen
from the sixth to the ninth century, we are very liable to overlook
the actual state of society, and to read into a still primitive social
constitution the thoughts and ideas of later ages, forgetting the real
spirit of those early times. We must remember that St. Patrick had
made no change in the social constitution of the people, and that the
new religion in no way affected their external institutions, and as a
natural consequence even saints and clerics took the side of their own
kings and people, and fought in battle with as much gusto as any of the
clansmen. Women fought side by side with men, and were only exempted
from military service in 590, through the influence of Columcille at
the synod of Druimceat--of which synod more hereafter, and Adamnan
had to get the law renewed over a hundred years later, for it had
become inoperative. The monks were of course as liable as any other of
the tribesmen to perform military duty to their lords, and were only
exempted[14] from it in the year 804. The clergy fought with Cormac mac
Culenain as late as 908 at the battle where he fell, and a great number
of them were killed.[15] The clergy often quarrelled among themselves
also. In 673 the monks of Clonmacnois and Durrow fought one another,
and the men of Clonmacnois slew two hundred of their opponents. In
816 four hundred men were slain in a fight between rival monasteries.
The clan system, in fact, applied down to the eighth or ninth century
almost as much to the clergy as to the laity, and with the abandonment
of Tara and the weakening of the High-kingship, the only power which
bid fair to override feud and faction was got rid of, and every man
drank for himself the intoxicating draught of irresponsibility, and
each princeling became a Cæsar in his own community.

The saints with their long-accredited exercises of semi-miraculous
powers, formed an admirable ingredient wherewith to spice a historic
romance, such as the soul of the Irish story-tellers loved, and they
were not slow to avail themselves of it.

A passage in the celebrated history of the Boru tribute, preserved in
the twelfth-century Book of Leinster, turns both Columcille and his
biographer Adamnan to account in this way, by introducing dialogues
between them and their contemporary kings of Ireland, which are
worth giving here, as they preserve some primitive traits, but more
especially as an example of how the later medievalists conceived their
own early saints. Aedh [Ae], the High-king of Ireland, had asked
Columcille how many kings of all whom he himself had come in contact
with, or had cognisance of, would win, or had won, to heaven; and
Columcille answered:

 "'Certainly I know of only three, Daimín King of Oriel, and Ailill
 King of Connacht, and Feradach of Corkalee, King of Ossory.'

 "'And what good did they do,' said Aedh, 'beyond all other kings?'

 "'That's easy told,' said Columcille, 'as for Daimín no cleric ever
 departed from him having met with a refusal, and he never reviled a
 cleric, nor spoiled church nor sanctuary, and greatly did he bestow
 upon the Lord. Afterwards he went to heaven, on account of his mild
 dealing with the Lord's people; and the clerics still chant his litany.

 "'As for Ailill, moreover, this is how he found the Lord's clemency;
 he fought the battle of Cúl Conairé with the Clan Fiacrach, and they
 defeated him in that battle, and he said to his charioteer, "Look
 behind for us, and see whether the slaying is great, and are the
 slayers near us?"

 "'The charioteer looked behind him, and 'twas what he said:

 "'"The slaying with which your people are slain," said he, "is

 "'"It is not their own guilt that falls on them, but the guilt of my
 pride and my untruthfulness," said he; "and turn the chariot for us
 against [the enemy]," said he, "for if I be slain amidst them (?) it
 will be the saving of a multitude.'

 "'Thereupon the chariot was turned round against the enemy, and
 thereafter did Ailill earnestly repent, and fell by his enemies. So
 that man got the Lord's clemency,' said Columcille.

 "'As for Feradach,[16] the King of Ossory, moreover, he was a covetous
 man without a conscience, and if he were to hear that a man in his
 territory had only one scruple of gold or silver, he would take it to
 himself by force, and put it in the covers of goblets and crannogues
 and swords and chessmen. Thereafter there came upon him an unendurable
 sickness. They collect round him all his treasures, so that he had
 them in his bed. His enemies came, the Clan Connla, after that, to
 seize the house on him. His sons, too, came to him to carry away the
 jewels with them [to save them for him].

 "'"Do not take them away, my sons," said he, "for I harried many for
 those treasures, and I desire to harry myself on this side the tomb
 for them, and that my enemies may bring them away of my good will, so
 that the Deity may not harry me on the other side."

 "'After that his sons departed from him, and he himself made earnest
 repentance, and died at the hands of his enemies, and gains the
 clemency of the Lord.'

 "'Now as for me myself,' said Aedh, 'shall I gain the Lord's clemency?'

 "'Thou shalt not gain it on any account,' said Columcille.

 "'Well, then, cleric,' said he, 'procure for me from the Deity that
 the Leinster men [at least] may not overthrow me.'

 "'Well, now, that is difficult for me,' said Columcille, 'for my
 mother was one of them, and the Leinstermen came to me to Durrow,[17]
 and made as though they would fast upon me, till I should grant them a
 sister's son's request, and what they asked of me was that no outside
 king should ever overthrow them; and I promised them that too, but
 here is my cowl for thee, and thou shalt not be slain while it is
 about thee.'"

Less clement is Adamnan depicted in his interview, over a century
later, with King Finnachta, who had just been persuaded by St.
Molling[18] to remit the Boru tribute (then leviable off Leinster),
until _luan_, by which the King unwarily understood Monday, but the
more acute saint Doomsday, the word having both significations. Adamnan
saw through the deception in a moment, and hastened to interrupt the
plans of his brother saint.

 "He sought therefore," says the Book of Leinster, "the place where
 [king] Finnachta was, and sent a clerk of his familia to summon him to
 a conference. Finnachta, at the instant, busied himself with a game of
 chess, and the cleric said, 'Come, speak with Adamnan.'

 "'I will not,' he answered, 'until this game be ended.'

 "The ecclesiastic returned to Adamnan and retailed him this answer.
 Then the saint said, 'Go and tell him that in the interval I shall
 chant fifty psalms, in which fifty is a single psalm that will deprive
 his children and grandchildren, and even any namesake of his, for ever
 of the kingdom.'[19]

 "Again the clerk accosted Finnachta and told him this, but until his
 game was played the King never noticed him at all.

 "'Come, speak with Adamnan,' repeated the clerk, 'and----'

 "'I will not,' answered Finnachta, 'till this [fresh] game, too, shall
 be finished,' all which the cleric rendered to Adamnan, who said:

 "'A second time begone to him, tell him that I will sing other fifty
 psalms, in which fifty is one that will confer on him shortness of

 "This, too, the clerk, when he was come back, proclaimed to Finnachta,
 but till the game was done, he never even perceived the messenger, who
 for the third time reiterated his speech.

 "'Till this new game be played out I will not go,' said the King, and
 the cleric carried it to Adamnan.

 "'Go to him,' the holy man said, 'tell him that in the meantime I will
 sing fifty psalms, and among them is one that will deprive him of
 attaining the Lord's peace.'

 "This the clerk imparted to Finnachta, who, when he heard it, with
 speed and energy put from him the chess-board, and hastened to where
 Adamnan was.

 "'Finnachta,' quoth the saint, 'what is thy reason for coming now,
 whereas at the first summons thou earnest not?'

 "'Soon said,' replied Finnachta. 'As for that which first thou didst
 threaten against me; that of my children, or even of my namesakes,
 not an individual ever should rule Ireland--I took it easily. The
 other matter which thou heldest out to me--shortness of life--that
 I esteemed but lightly, for Molling had promised me heaven. But the
 third thing which thou threatenedst me--to deprive me of the Lord's
 peace--that I endured not to hear without coming in obedience to thy

 "Now the motive for which God wrought this was: that the gift which
 Molling had promised to the King for remission of the tribute He
 suffered not Adamnan to dock him of."

It would be easy to multiply such scenes from the writings of the
ancient Irish. That they are not altogether eleventh or twelfth-century
inventions, but either the embodiment of a vivid tradition, or else,
in some cases, the working-up of earlier documents, now lost, is, I
think, certain, but we possess no criterion whereby we may winnow out
the grains of truth from the chaff of myth, invention, or perhaps in
some cases (where tribal honour is at stake) deliberate falsehood.
The only thing we can say with perfect certainty is that this is the
way in which the contemporaries of St. Lawrence O'Toole pictured for
themselves the contemporaries of St. Columcille and St. Adamnan.

[1] The silence of Keating seems to me particularly strange, for he
devotes a good deal of space to King Diarmuid's reign, yet he must have
been perfectly well aware of the stories then current and the many
allusions in vellum MSS. to the cursing of Tara.

[2] "Féis dedheanach Teamhra do deanamh la Diarmaitt righ Ereann."
Tighearnach calls it "Cena postrema."

[3] Printed for the Royal Society of Antiquaries by the late Denis
Murphy, S.J., Dublin, 1896. _See_ p. 85.

[4] H., 1. 15.

[5] Pp. 53-57.

[6] He is called Aedh Baclamh here, "Bacc Lonim" in the "Life." Baclamh
apparently indicates some office. I have here called him only the

[7] _See_ above, p. 196.

[8] "A niurt a fhlatha ocus a fhírinne."

[9] There is a poem ascribed to Ruadhan in the MS. marked H. 4. in
Trinity College. O'Clery's Féilire na Naomh has a curious note on
Ruadhan which runs thus: Ruadhan of Lothra, "he was of the race of
Owen Mór, son of Oilioll Olum. A very old ancient book (sein leabhar
ró aosta) as we have mentioned at Brigit, 1st of February, states that
Ruadhan of Lothra was in manners and life like Matthew the Apostle."

[10] After this the High-kings of Ireland belonging to the northern Ui
Neill resided in their own ancient palace of Aileach near Derry, and
the High-kings of the southern Ui Neill families resided at the Rath
near Castlepollard, or at Dún-na-sgiath ("the Fortress of the Shields")
on the brink of Loch Ennell, near Mullingar. Brian Boru resided at
Kincora in Clare.

[11] See O'Donovan's letter from Navan on Brugh na Bóinne.

[12] Also called Carthach.

[13] See above, p. 211.

[14] By Fothadh called "na Canóine" who persuaded Aedh Oirnide to
release them from this duty.

[15] _See_ "Fragments of Irish Annals" by O'Donovan, p. 210, and his

[16] This story is also told in the "Three Fragments of Irish Annals,"
p. 9.

[17] _See_ above, p. 170.

[18] For Molling, _see_ above, p. 209-10. The following translation is
by Standish Hayes O'Grady, "Silva Gadelica," p. 422.

[19] For a description of the awful consequences of a saint's curse
that make a timid lunatic out of a valliant warrior see O'Donovan's
fragmentary "Annals," p. 233.



We must now, leaving verifiable history behind us, attempt a cautious
step backwards from the known into the doubtful, and see what in the
way of literature _is said_ to have been produced by the pagans.
We know that side by side with the colleges of the clergy there
flourished, perhaps in a more informal way, the purely Irish schools
of the Brehons and the Bards. Unhappily however, while, thanks to the
great number of the Lives of the Saints,[1] we know much about the
Christian colleges, there is very little to be discovered about the
bardic institutions. These were almost certainly a continuation of
the schools of the druids, and represented something far more antique
than even the very earliest schools of the Christians, but unlike
them they were not centred in a fixed locality nor in a cluster of
houses, but seem to have been peripatetic. The bardic scholars grouped
themselves not round a locality but round a personality, and wherever
it pleased their master to wander--and that was pretty much all round
Ireland--there they followed, and the people seem to have willingly
supported them.

There seems to be some confusion as to the forms into which what must
have been originally the druidic school disintegrated itself in the
fifth and succeeding centuries, but from it we can see emerging the
poet, the Brehon, and the historian, not all at once, but gradually.
In the earliest period the functions of all three were often, if not
always, united in one single person, and all poets were _ipso facto_
judges as well. We have a distinct account of the great occasion upon
which the poet lost his privilege of acting as a judge merely because
he was a poet. It appears that from the very earliest date the learned
classes, especially the "fĭlès," had evolved a dialect of their own,
which was perfectly dark and obscure to every one except themselves.
This was the Béarla Féni, in which so much of the Brehon law and many
poems are written, and which continued to be used, to some extent,
by poets down to the very beginning of the eighteenth century. Owing
to their predilection for this dialect, the first blow, according to
Irish accounts, was struck at their judicial supremacy by the hands of
laymen, during the reign of Conor mac Nessa, some time before the birth
of Christ. This was the occasion when the sages Fercertné and Neidé
contended for the office of arch-ollav of Erin, with its beautiful robe
of feathers, the Tugen.[2] Their discourse, still extant in at least
three MSS. under the title of the "Dialogue of the Two Sages,"[3] was
so learned, and they contended with one another in terms so abstruse
that, as the chronicler in the Book of Ballymote puts it:--

 "Obscure to every one seemed the speech which the poets uttered in
 that discussion, and the legal decision which they delivered was not
 clear to the kings and to the other poets.

 "'These men alone,' said the kings, 'have their judgment and their
 skill, and their knowledge. In the first place we do not understand
 what they say.'

 "'Well, then,' said Conor, 'every one shall have his share therein
 from to-day for ever.'"[4]

This was the occasion upon which Conor made the law that the office of
poet should no longer carry with it, of necessity, the office of judge,
for, says the ancient writer, "poets alone had judicature from the time
that Amairgin Whiteknee delivered the first judgment in Erin" until

That the Bardic schools, which we know flourished as public
institutions with scarcely a break from the Synod of Drumceat in 590
(where regular lands were set apart for their endowment) down to the
seventeenth century, were really a continuation of the Druidic schools,
and embodied much that was purely pagan in their curricula, is, I
think, amply shown by the curious fragments of metrical text-books
preserved in the Books of Leinster and Ballymote, in a MS. in Trinity
College, and in a MS. in the Bodleian, all four of which have been
recently admirably edited by Thurneysen as a continuous text.[5] He
has not however ventured upon a translation, for the scholar would be
indeed a bold one who in the present state of Celtic scholarship would
attempt a complete interpretation of tracts so antique and difficult.
That they date, partially at least, from pre-Christian times seems
to me certain from their prescribing amongst other things for the
poet's course in one of his years of study a knowledge of the magical
incantations called _Tenmlaida, Imbas forosnai,_[6] and _Dichetal do
chennaib na tuaithe_, and making him in another year learn a certain
poem or incantation called _Cétnad_, of which the text says that--

 "It is used for finding out a theft. One sings it, that is to say,
 through the right fist on the track of the stolen beast" [observe
 the antique assumption that the only kind of wealth to be stolen is
 cattle] "or on the track of the thief, in case the beast is dead. And
 one sings it three times on the one [track] or the other. If, however,
 one does not find the track, one sings it through the right fist, and
 goes to sleep upon it, and in one's sleep the man who has brought it
 away is clearly shown and made known. Another virtue [of this lay]:
 one speaks it into the right palm and rubs with it the quarters of the
 horse before one mounts it, and the horse will not be overthrown, and
 the man will not be thrown off or wounded."

Another _Cétnad_ to be learned by the poet, in which he desires length
of life, is addressed to "the seven daughters of the sea, who shape the
thread of the long-lived children."

Another with which he had to make himself familiar was the _Glam
dichinn_,[7] intended to satirise and punish the prince who refused to
a poet the reward of his poem. The poet--

 "was to fast upon the lands of the king for whom the poem was to be
 made, and the consent of thirty laymen, thirty bishops"--a Christian
 touch to make the passage pass muster--"and thirty poets should be had
 to compose the satire; _and it was a crime to them to prevent it when
 the reward of the poem was withheld_"--a pagan touch as a make-weight
 on the other side! "The poet then, in a company of seven, that is, six
 others and himself, upon whom six poetic degrees had been conferred,
 namely a _focloc, macfuirmedh, doss, cana, clí, anradh,_ and _ollamh_,
 went at the rising of the sun to a hill which should be situated on
 the boundary of seven lands, and each of them was to turn his face to
 a different land, and the _ollamh's_ (ollav's) face was to be turned
 to the land of the king, who was to be satirised, and their backs
 should be turned to a hawthorn which should be growing upon the top
 of a hill, and the wind should be blowing from the north, and each
 man was to hold a perforated stone and a thorn of the hawthorn in his
 hand, and each man was to sing a verse of this composition for the
 king--the _ollamh_ or chief poet to take the lead with his own verse,
 and the others in concert after him with theirs; and each then should
 place his stone and his thorn under the stem of the hawthorn, and if
 it was they that were in the wrong in the case, the ground of the hill
 would swallow them, and if it was the king that was in the wrong, the
 ground would swallow him and his wife, and his son and his steed, and
 his robes and his hound. The satire of the _macfuirmedh_ fell on the
 hound, the satire of the _focloc_ on the robes, the satire of the
 _doss_ on the arms, the satire of the _cana_ on the wife, the satire
 of the _clí_ on the son, the satire of the _anrad_ on the steed,[8]
 the satire of the _ollamh_ on the king."

These instances that I have mentioned occurring in the books of the
poets' instruction, are evidently remains of magic incantations and
terrifying magic ceremonies, taken over from the schools and times
of the druids, and carried on into the Christian era, for nobody, I
imagine, could contend that they had their origin after Ireland had
been Christianised.[9] And the occurrence in the poets' text-books of
such evidently pagan passages, side by side with allusions to Athairné
the poet--a contemporary of Conor mac Nessa, a little before the birth
of Christ, Caoilte, the Fenian poet of the third century, Cormac
his contemporary, _Laidcend mac Bairchida_ about the year 400, and
others--seems to me to be fresh proof for the real objective existence
of these characters. For if part of the poets' text-books can be thus
shown to have preserved things taught in the pre-Christian times--to be
in fact actually pre-Christian--why should we doubt the reality of the
pre-Christian persons mixed up with them?

The first poem written in Ireland by a Milesian is said to be the
curious rhapsody of Amergin the brother of Eber, Ir, and Erimon, who on
landing broke out in a strain of exultation:--

  "I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
  I am the wave of the ocean,
  I am the murmur of the billows,
  I am the ox of the seven combats,
  I am the vulture upon the rock,
  I am a beam of the sun,
  I am the fairest of plants,
  I am a wild boar in valour,
  I am a salmon in the water,
  I am a lake in the plain,
  I am a word of science,
  I am the point of the lance of battle,
  I am the god who creates in the head [_i.e._, of man] the fire
      [_i.e._, the thought]
  Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
  Who announces the ages of the moon [if not I]?
  Who teaches the place where couches the sea [if not I]?"[10]

There are two more poems attributed to Amergin of much the same nature,
very ancient and very strange. Irish tradition has always represented
these poems as the first made by our ancestors in Ireland, and no doubt
they do actually represent the oldest surviving lines in the vernacular
of any country in Europe except Greece alone.

The other pre-Christian poets[11] of whom we hear most, and to whom
certain surviving fragments are ascribed, are Feirceirtné, surnamed
_filé_, or the poet, who is usually credited with the authorship of
the well-known grammatical treatise called _Uraicept na n-Éigeas_ or
"Primer of the Learned."[12] It was he who contended with Neidé for
the arch-poet's robe, causing King Conor to decide that no poet should
in future be also of necessity a judge. The Uraicept begins with this
preface or introduction: "The Book of Feirceirtné here. Its place
Emania; its time the time of Conor mac Nessa; its person Feirceirtné
the poet; its cause to bring ignorant people to knowledge." There
is also a poem attributed to him on the death of Curoi mac Daire,
the great southern chieftain, whom Cuchulain slew, and the Book of
Invasions contains a valuable poem ascribed to him, recounting how
Ollamh Fódla, a monarch who is said to have flourished many centuries
before, established a college of professors at Tara.

There was a poet called Adhna, the father of that Neidé with whom
Feirceirtné contended for the poet's robe, who also lived at the court
of Conor mac Nessa, and his name is mentioned in connection with some
fragments of laws.

Athairné, the overbearing insolent satirist from the Hill of Howth,
who figures largely in Irish romance, was contemporaneous with these,
though I do not know that any poem is attributed to him. But he and
a poet called Forchern, with Feirceirtné and Neidé, are said to have
compiled a code of laws, now embodied with others under the title of
_Breithe Neimhidh_ in the Brehon Law Books.

There was a poet Lughar at the Court of Oilioll and Mève in Connacht
about the same time, and a poem on the descendants of Fergus mac Róigh
[Roy] is ascribed to him, but as he was contemporaneous with that
warrior he could not have written about his descendants.

There is a prose tract called Moran's Will,[13] ascribed to Moran, a
well-known jurist who lived at the close of the first century.

Several other authors, either of short poems or law fragments, are
mentioned in the second and third centuries, such as Feradach king of
Ireland, Modan, Ciothruadh the poet, Fingin, Oilioll Olum himself,
the great king of Munster, to whom are traced so many of the southern
families. Fithil, a judge, and perhaps some others, none of whom need
be particularised.

At the end of the third century we come upon three or four names of
vast repute in Irish history, into whose mouths a quantity of pieces
are put, most of which are evidently of later date. These are the great
Cormac mac Art himself, the most striking king that ever reigned in
pagan Ireland, he who built those palaces on Tara Hill whose ruins
still remain; Finn mac Cúmhail his son-in-law and captain; Ossian,
Finn's son; Fergus, Ossian's brother; and Caoilte [Cweeltya] mac Ronáin.

The poetry ascribed to Finn mac Cúmhail, Ossian, and the other Fenian
singers we will not examine in this place, but we must not pass by one
of the most remarkable prose tracts of ancient Ireland with which I am
acquainted, the famous treatise ascribed to King Cormac, and well known
in Irish literature as the "Teagasg ríogh," or Instruction of a Prince,
which is written in a curious style, by way of question and answer.
Cairbré, Cormac's son, he who afterwards fell out with and overthrew
the Fenians, is supposed to be learning kingly wisdom at his father's
feet, and that experienced monarch instructs him in the pagan morality
of the time, and gives him all kinds of information and advice. The
piece, which is heavily glossed in the Book of Ballymote, on account
of the antiquity of the language, is of some length, and is far too
interesting to pass by without quoting from it.


 "'O grandson of Con, O Cormac,' said Cairbré, 'what is good for a

 "'That is plain,' said Cormac, 'it is good for him to have patience
 and not to dispute, self-government without anger, affability without
 haughtiness, diligent attention to history, strict observance of
 covenants and agreements, strictness mitigated by mercy in the
 execution of laws.... It is good for him [to make] fertile land,
 to invite ships to import jewels of price across sea, to purchase
 and bestow raiment, [to keep] vigorous swordsmen for protecting his
 territories, [to make] war outside his own territories, to attend the
 sick, to discipline his soldiers ... let him enforce fear, let him
 perfect peace, [let him] give much of metheglin and wine, let him
 pronounce just judgments of light, let him speak all truth, for it is
 through the truth of a king that God gives favourable seasons.'

 "'O grandson of Con, O Cormac,' said Cairbré, 'what is good for the
 welfare of a country?'

 "'That is plain,' said Cormac, 'frequent convocations of sapient and
 good men to investigate its affairs, to abolish each evil and retain
 each wholesome institution, to attend to the precepts of the elders;
 let every assembly be convened according to law, let the law be in the
 hands of the nobles, let the chieftains be upright and unwilling to
 oppress the poor,'" etc., etc.

A more interesting passage is the following:--

 "'O grandson of Con, O Cormac, what are the duties of a prince at a

 "'A Prince on Samhan's [now All Souls] Day, should light his lamps,
 and welcome his guests with clapping of hands, procure comfortable
 seats, the cupbearers should be respectable and active in the
 distribution of meat and drink. Let there be moderation of music,
 short stories, a welcoming countenance, a welcome for the learned,
 pleasant conversations, and the like, these are the duties of the
 prince, and the arrangement of the banqueting-house.'"

After this Cairbré puts an important question which was asked often
enough during the period of the Brehon law, and which for over a
thousand years scarce ever received a different answer. He asks, "For
what qualifications is a king elected over countries and tribes of

Cormac in his answer embodies the views of every clan in Ireland in
their practical choice of a leader.

"From the goodness of his shape and family, from his experience and
wisdom, from his prudence and magnanimity, from his eloquence and
bravery in battle, and from the number of his friends."

After this follows a long description of the qualifications of a
prince, and Cairbré having heard it puts this question:--"O grandson of
Con, what was _thy_ deportment when a youth;" to which he receives the
following striking answer:

 "'I was cheerful at the Banquet of the Midh-chuarta [Mee-cuarta,
 "house of the circulation of mead"], fierce in battle, but vigilant
 and circumspect. I was kind to friends, a physician to the sick,
 merciful towards the weak, stern towards the headstrong. Although
 possessed of knowledge, I was inclined towards taciturnity.[15]
 Although strong I was not haughty. I mocked not the old although I was
 young. I was not vain although I was valiant. When I spoke of a person
 in his absence I praised, not defamed him, for it is by these customs
 that we are known to be courteous and civilised (_riaghalach_).'"

There is an extremely beautiful answer given later on by Cormac to the
rather simple question of his son:

 "'O grandson of Con, what is good for me?'

 "'If thou attend to my command,' answers Cormac, 'thou wilt not
 mock the old although thou art young, nor the poor although thou
 art well-clad, nor the lame although thou art agile, nor the blind
 although thou art clear-sighted, nor the feeble although thou art
 strong, nor the ignorant although thou art learned. Be not slothful,
 nor passionate, nor penurious, nor idle, nor jealous, for he who is so
 is an object of hatred to God as well as to man.'"

 "'O grandson of Con,' asks Cairbré, in another place, 'I would fain
 know how I am to conduct myself among the wise and among the foolish,
 among friends and among strangers, among the old and among the young,'
 and to this question his father gives this notable response.

 "'Be not too knowing nor too simple; be not proud, be not inactive,
 be not too humble nor yet haughty; be not talkative but be not too
 silent; be not timid neither be severe. For if thou shouldest appear
 too knowing thou wouldst be satirised and abused; if too simple thou
 wouldst be imposed upon; if too proud thou wouldst be shunned; if too
 humble thy dignity would suffer; if talkative thou wouldst not be
 deemed learned; if too severe thy character would be defamed; if too
 timid thy rights would be encroached upon.'"

To the curious question, "O grandson of Con, what are the most lasting
things in the world?" the equally curious and to me unintelligible
answer is returned, "Grass, copper, and yew."

Of women, King Cormac, like so many monarchs from Solomon down, has
nothing good to say, perhaps his high position did not help him to
judge them impartially. At least, to the question, "O grandson of Con,
how shall I distinguish the characters of women?" the following bitter
answer is given:

 "'I know them, but I cannot describe them. Their counsel is foolish,
 they are forgetful of love, most headstrong in their desires, fond
 of folly, prone to enter rashly into engagements, given to swearing,
 proud to be asked in marriage, tenacious of enmity, cheerless at
 the banquet, rejectors of reconciliation, prone to strife, of much
 garrulity. Until evil be good, until hell be heaven, until the sun
 hide his light, until the stars of heaven fall, women will remain as
 we have stated. Woe to him, my son, who desires or serves a bad woman,
 woe to every one who has got a bad wife'"!

This Christian allusion to heaven and hell, and some others of the same
sort, show that despite a considerable pagan flavouring the tract
cannot be entirely the work of King Cormac, though it may very well be
the embodiment and extension of an ancient pagan discourse, for, as we
have seen, after Christianity had succeeded in getting the upper hand
over paganism, a kind of tacit compromise was arrived at, by means of
which the bards and _fĭlès_ and other representatives of the old pagan
learning, were allowed to continue to propagate their stories, tales,
poems, and genealogies, at the price of incorporating with them a small
share of Christian alloy, or, to use a different simile, just as the
vessels of some feudatory nations are compelled to fly at the mast-head
the flag of the suzerain power. But so badly has the dovetailing of
the Christian and the pagan parts been managed in most of the older
romances, that the pieces come away quite separate in the hands of
even the least skilled analyser, and the pagan substratum stands forth
entirely distinct from the Christian accretion.

[1] O'Clery notices, in his Féilĭrè na Naomh, the lives of thirty-one
saints written in Irish, all extant in his time, not to speak of Latin
ones. I fancy most of them still survive. Stokes printed nine from the
Book of Lismore; Standish Hayes O'Grady four more from various sources.

[2] _See_ Cormac's glossary _sub voce._

[3] _See_ "Irische Texte," Dritte Serie, 1 Heft, pp. 187 and 204.

[4] Agallamh an da Suadh.

[5] "Irische Texte," Dritte serie, Heft i.

[6] _See_ above, p. 84.

[7] See O'Curry's "Manners and Customs," vol. ii. p. 217, and "Irische
Texte," Dritte serie, Heft. i. pp. 96 and 125.

[8] It is curious to thus make the steed rank apparently next to the
king himself, and above the wife and son, for the _anrad_ who curses
the steed ranks next to the _ollamh._

[9] Thurneysen expresses some doubt about the antiquity of the last

[10] See Text 1. paragraph 123 of Thurneysen's "Mittelirische
Verslehren" for three versions of this curious poem, printed side
by side from the Books of Leinster and Ballymote, and a MS. in the
Bodleian. The old Irish tract for the instruction of poets gives it
as an example of what it calls _Cetal do chendaib_. I have followed
D'Arbois de Jubainville's interpretation of it. He sees in it a
pantheistic spirit, but Dr. Sigerson has proved, I think quite
conclusively, that it is liable to a different interpretation, a
panegyric upon the bard's own prowess, couched in enigmatic metaphor.
(_See_ "Bards of the Gael and Gaul," p. 379.)

[11] A number of names are mentioned--chiefly in connection with law
fragments--of kings and poets who lived centuries before the birth
of Christ, including an elegy by Lughaidh, son of Ith (from whom the
Ithians sprang), on his wife's death, Cimbaeth the founder of Emania,
before whose reign Tighearnach the Annalist considered _omnia monumenta
Scotorum_ to be _incerta_, Roigne, the son of Hugony the Great, who
lived nearly three hundred years before Christ, and some others.

[12] The "Uraicept" or "Uraiceacht" is sometimes ascribed to Forchern.
It gives examples of the declensions of nouns and adjectives in Irish,
distinguishing feminine nouns from masculine, etc. It gives rules of
syntax, and exemplifies the declensions by quotations from ancient
poets. A critical edition of it from the surviving manuscripts that
contain it in whole or part is a _desideratum._

[13] Udacht Morain, H. 2, 7, T. C, D.

[14] In the original in the Book of Ballymote: "A ua Cuinn a Cormaic,
ol coirbre cia is deach [_i.e._, maith], do Ri. Nin ol cormac [_i.e._,
Ni doiligh liom sin]. As deach [_i.e._, maith], do eimh ainmne [_i.e._,
foighde] gan deabha [_i.e._, imreasoin] uallcadi fosdadh [_i.e._,
foasdadh] gan fearg. Soagallamha gan mordhacht," etc. The glosses in
brackets are written _above_ the words.

[15] Compare Henry IV.'s advice to his son, not to make himself too
familiar but rather to stand aloof from his companions.

  "Had I so lavish of my presence been,
  So common-hackneyed in the eyes of men,
  So stale and cheap to vulgar company--
  Opinion, that did help me to the crown,
  Had still kept loyal to possession," etc.

As for Richard his predecessor--

  "The skipping king, he ambled up and down
  With shallow jesters and rash bavin wits,
  Soon kindled, and soon burned; carded his state;
  Mingled his royalty with capering fools,' etc."
                       "Henry IV.," Part I., act iii., scene 2.



It is this easy analysis of early Irish literature into its
ante-Christian and its post-Christian elements, which lends to it its
absorbing value and interest. For when all spurious accretions have
been stripped off, we find in the most ancient Irish poems and sagas,
a genuine picture of pagan life in Europe, such as we look for in vain

 "The Church," writes Windisch, "adopted towards pagan sagas, the same
 position that it adopted towards pagan law.... I see no sufficient
 ground for doubting that really genuine pictures of a pre-Christian
 culture are preserved to us in the individual sagas, pictures which
 are of course in some places faded, and in others painted over by a
 later hand."[1]

Again in his notes on the story of Déirdre, he remarks--

 "The saga originated in pagan, and was propagated in Christian
 times, and that too without its seeking fresh nutriment as a rule
 from Christian elements. But we must ascribe it to the influence of
 Christianity that what is specifically pagan in Irish saga is blurred
 over and forced into the background. And yet there exist many whose
 contents are plainly mythological. The Christian monks were certainly
 _not the first_ who reduced the ancient sagas to fixed form, but later
 on they copied them faithfully, and propagated them after Ireland had
 been converted to Christianity."

Zimmer too has come to the same conclusion.

 "Nothing," he writes, "except a spurious criticism which takes
 for original and primitive the most palpable nonsense of which
 Middle-Irish writers from the twelfth to the sixteenth century are
 guilty with regard to their own antiquity, which is in many respects
 strange and foreign to them: nothing but such a criticism can, on the
 other hand, make the attempt to doubt of the historical character
 of the chief persons of the Saga cycles.[2] For we believe that
 Mève, Conor mac Nessa, Cuchulain, and Finn mac Cúmhail, are exactly
 as much historical personalities as Arminius, or Dietrich of Bern,
 or Etzel, and their date is just as well determined as that of the
 above-mentioned heroes and kings, who are glorified in song by the
 Germans, even though, in the case of Irish heroes and kings, external
 witnesses are wanting.'"

M. d'Arbois de Jubainville expresses himself in like terms. "We have no
reason," he writes, "to doubt of the reality of the principal _rôle_
in this [cycle of Cuchulain];"[3] and of the story of the Boru tribute
which was imposed on Leinster about a century later; he writes, "Le
récit a pour base des faits réels, quoique certains détails aient été
créés par l'imagination;" and again, "Irish epic story, barbarous
though it is, is, like Irish law, a monument of a civilisation far
superior to that of the most ancient Germans; if the Roman idea of the
state was wanting to that civilisation, and, if that defect in it was
a radical flaw, still there is an intellectual culture to be found
there, far more developed than amongst the primitive Germans.'"[4]

 "Ireland, in fact," writes M. Darmesteter in his "English Studies,"
 well summing up the legitimate conclusions from the works of the great
 Celtic scholars, "has the peculiar privilege of a history continuous
 from the earliest centuries of our era until the present day. She
 has preserved in the infinite wealth of her literature a complete
 and faithful picture of the ancient civilisation of the Celts. Irish
 literature is therefore the key which opens the Celtic world."

But the Celtic world means a large portion of Europe, and the key to
unlock the door of its past history is in the Irish manuscripts of saga
and poem. Without them the student would have to view the past history
of Europe through the distorting glasses of the Greeks and Romans, to
whom all outer nations were barbarians, into whose social life they had
no motive for inquiring. He would have no other means of estimating
what were the feelings, modes of life, manners, and habits, of those
great races who possessed so large a part of the ancient world, Gaul,
Belgium, North Italy, parts of Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the
British Isles; who burned Rome, plundered Greece, and colonised Asia
Minor. But in the Irish romances and historical sagas, he sees come to
light another standard by which to measure. Through this early Irish
peep-hole he gets a clear look at the life and manners of the race in
one of its strongholds, from which he may conjecture and even assume a
good deal with regard to the others.

That the pictures of social life and early society drawn in the Irish
romances represent phases not common to the Irish alone, but to large
portions of that Celtic race which once owned so much of Europe, may be
surmised with some certainty from the way in which characteristics of
the Celts barely mentioned by Greek and Roman writers re-appear amongst
the Irish in all the intimate detail and fond expansion of romance. M.
d'Arbois de Jubainville has drawn attention to many such instances.

Posidonius, who was a friend of Cicero, and wrote about a hundred years
before Christ, mentions a custom which existed in Gaul in his time of
fighting at a feast for the best bit which was to be given to the most
valiant warrior. This custom, briefly noticed by Posidonius, might be
passed by unnoticed by the ordinary reader, but the Irish one will
remember the early romances of his race in which the _curadh-mir_ or
"heroes' bit" so largely figures. He will remember that it is upon this
custom that one of the greatest sagas of the Cuchulain cycle, the feast
of Bricriu, hinges. Bricriu, the Thersites of the Red Branch, having
built a new and magnificent house, determines to invite King Conor and
the other chieftains to a feast, for the house was very magnificent.

 "The dining hall was built like that of the High-king at Tara. From
 the hearth to the wall were nine beds, and each of the side walls
 was thirty-five feet high and covered with ornaments of gilt bronze.
 Against one of the side walls of that palace was reared a royal bed
 destined for Conor,[5] king of Ulster, which looked down upon all
 the others. It was ornamented with carbuncles and precious stones
 and other gems of great price. The gold and silver and all sorts of
 jewellery which covered that bed shone with such splendour that the
 night was as brilliant as the day."

He had prepared a magnificent _curadh-mir_ for the feast, consisting
of a seven-year old pig, and a seven-year old cow that had been fed on
milk and corn and the finest food since their birth, a hundred cakes of
corn cooked with honey--and every four cakes took a sack of corn to
make them--and a vat of wine large enough to hold three of the warriors
of the Ultonians. This magnificent "heroes' bit" he secretly promises
to each of three warriors in turn, Laeghaire [Leary], Conall Cearnach,
and Cuchulain, hoping to excite a quarrel among them. On the result of
his expedient the saga turns.[6]

Again, Cæsar tells us that when he invaded the Gauls they did not
fight any longer in chariots, but it is recorded that they did so
fight two hundred years before his time, even as the Persians fought
against the Greeks, and as the Greeks themselves must have fought in
a still earlier age commemorated by Homer. But in the Irish sagas we
find this epic mode of warfare in full force. Every great man has his
charioteer, they fight from their cars as in Homeric days, and much
is told us of both steed, chariot and driver. In the above-mentioned
saga of Bricriu's feast it is the charioteers of the three warriors
who claim the heroes' bit for their masters, since they are apparently
ashamed to make the first move themselves. The charioteer was more than
a mere servant. Cuchulain sometimes calls his charioteer friend or
master (popa), and on the occasion of his fight with Ferdiad desires
him in case he (Cuchulain) should show signs of yielding, to "excite
reproach and speak evil to me so that the ire of my rage and anger
should grow the more on me, but if he give ground before me thou shalt
laud me and praise me and speak good words to me that my courage may
be the greater," and this command his friend and charioteer punctually

The chariot itself is in many places graphically described. Here is
how its approach is pourtrayed in the Táin--

 "It was not long," says the chronicler, "until Ferdiad's charioteer
 heard the noise approaching, the clamour and the rattle, and the
 whistling, and the tramp, and the thunder, and the clatter and the
 roar, namely the shield-noise of the light shields, and the hissing
 of the spears, and the loud clangour of the swords, and the tinkling
 of the helmet, and the ringing of the armour, and the friction of
 the arms; the dangling of the missive weapons, the straining of the
 ropes, and the loud clattering of the wheels, and the creaking of the
 chariot, and the trampling of the horses, and the triumphant advance
 of the champion and the warrior towards the ford approaching him."

In the romance called the "Intoxication of the Ultonians," it is
mentioned that they drave so fast in the wake of Cuchulain, that "the
iron wheels of the chariots cut the roots of the immense trees."
Here is how the romancist describes the advance of such a body upon

 "Not long were they there, the two watchers and the two druids, until
 a full fierce rush of the first band broke hither past the glen.
 Such was the fury with which they advanced that there was not left a
 spear on a rack, nor a shield on a spike, nor a sword in an armoury
 in Tara-Luachra that did not fall down. From every house on which was
 thatch in Tara-Luachra it fell in immense flakes. One would think that
 it was the sea that had come over the walls and over the corners of
 the world upon them. The forms of countenances were changed, and there
 was chattering of teeth in Tara-Luachra within. The two druids fell in
 fits and in faintings and in paroxysms, one of them out over the wall
 and the other over the wall inside."

On another occasion the approach of Cuchulain's chariot is thus

 "Like a mering were the two dykes which the iron wheels of Cuchulain's
 chariot made on that day of the sides of the road. Like flocks of
 dark birds pouring over a vast plain were the blocks and round sods
 and turves of the earth which the horses would cast away behind them
 against the ... of the wind. Like a flock of swans pouring over a vast
 plain was the foam which they flung before them over the muzzles of
 their bridles. Like the smoke from a royal hostel was the dust and
 breath of the dense vapour, because of the vehemence of the driving
 which Liag, son of Riangabhra, on that day gave to the two steeds of

Elsewhere the chariot itself is described as "wythe-wickered, two
bright bronze wheels, a white pole of bright silver with a veining
of white bronze, a very high creaking body, having its firm sloping
sides ornamented with _cred_ (tin?), a back-arched rich golden yoke,
two rich yellow-peaked _alls_, hardened sword-straight axle-spindles."
Laeghaire's chariot is described in another piece as "a chariot
wythe-wickered, two firm black wheels, two pliant beautiful reins,
hardened sword-straight axle-spindles, a new fresh-polished body, a
back-arched rich silver-mounted yoke, two rich-yellow peaked _alls_ ...
a bird plume of the usual feathers over the body of the chariot."[8]

Descriptions like these are constantly occurring in the Irish tales,
and enable us to realise better the heroic period of warfare and
to fill up in our imagination many a long-regretted lacuna in our
knowledge of primitive Europe.

 "Those philosophers," says Diodorus Siculus, a Greek writer of the
 Augustan age, speaking of the Druids, "like the lyric poets called
 bards, have a great authority both in affairs of peace and war,
 friends and enemies listen to them. Also when the two armies are in
 presence of one another and swords drawn and spears couched, they
 throw themselves into the midst of the combatants and appease them
 as though they were charming wild beasts. Thus even amongst the most
 savage barbarians anger submits to the rule of wisdom, and the god of
 war pays homage to the Muses."

To show that the manners and customs of the Keltoi or Celts of whom
Diodorus speaks were in this respect identical with those of their
Irish cousins (or brothers), and to give another instance of the warm
light shed by Irish literature upon the early customs of Western Europe
I shall convert the abstract into the concrete by a page or two from
an Irish romance, not an old one,[9] but one which no doubt preserves
many original traditionary traits. In this story Finn mac Cúmhail or
Cool[10] at a great feast in his fort at Allen asks Goll about some
tribute which he claimed, and is dissatisfied at the answer of Goll,
who may be called the Ajax of the Fenians. After that there arose a
quarrel at the feast, the rise of which is thus graphically pourtrayed--

 "'Goll,' said Finn, 'you have acknowledged in that speech that you
 came from the city of Beirbhé to the battle of Cnoca, and that you
 slew my father there, and it is a bold and disobedient thing of you to
 tell me that,' said Finn.

 "'By my hand, O Finn,' said Goll, 'if you were to dishonour me as your
 father did, I would give you the same payment that I gave Cool.'

 "'Goll,' said Finn, 'I would be well able not to let that word pass
 with you, for I have a hundred valiant warriors in my following for
 every one that is in yours.'

 "'Your father had that also,' said Goll, 'and yet I avenged my
 dishonour on him, and I would do the same to you if you were to
 deserve it of me.'

 "White-skinned Carroll O Baoisgne[11] spake, and 't is what he said:
 'O Goll,' said he, 'there is many a man,' said he, 'to silence you and
 your people in the household of Finn mac Cúmhail.'

 "Bald cursing Conan mac Morna spake, and 't is what he said, 'I swear
 by my arms of valour,' said he, 'that Goll, the day he has least men,
 has a man and a hundred in his household, and not a man of them but
 would silence you.'

 "'Are you one of those, perverse, bald-headed Conan?' said Carroll.

 "'I am one of them, black-visaged, nail-torn, skin-scratched,
 little-strength Carroll,' says Conan, 'and I would soon prove it to
 you that Cúmhail was in the wrong.'

 "It was then that Carroll arose, and he struck a daring fist, quick
 and ready, upon Conan, and there was no submission in Conan's answer,
 for he struck the second fist on Carroll in the middle of his face and
 his teeth."

Upon this the chronicler relates how first one joined in and then
another, until at last all the adherents of Goll and Finn and even the
captains themselves are hard at work. "After that," he adds, "bad was
the place for a mild, smooth-fingered woman or a weak or infirm person,
or an aged, long-lived elder." This terrific fight continued "from the
beginning of the night till the rising of the sun in the morning," and
was only stopped--just as Diodorus says battles were stopped--by the
intervention of the bards.

 "It was then," says the romancist, "that the prophesying poet of the
 pointed words, that guerdon-full good man of song, Fergus Finnbheóil,
 rose up, and all the Fenians' men of science along with him, and they
 sang their hymns and good poems, and their perfect lays to those
 heroes to silence and to soften them. It was then they ceased from
 their slaughtering and maiming, on hearing the music of the poets,
 and they let their weapons fall to earth, and the poets took up their
 weapons and they went between them, and grasped them with the grasp of

When the palace was cleared out it was found that 1,100 of Finn's
people had been killed between men and women, and eleven men and fifty
women of Goll's party.

Cæsar speaks of the numbers who frequented the schools of the druids
in Gaul; "it is said," he adds, "that they learn there a great number
of verses, and that is why some of those pupils spend twenty years in
learning. It is not, according to the druids, permissible to entrust
verses to writing although they use the Greek alphabet in all other
affairs public and private." Of this prohibition to commit their verses
to paper, we have no trace, so far as I know, in our literature,
but the accounts of the early bardic schools entirely bear out the
description here given of them by Cæsar, and again shows the solidarity
of custom which seems to have existed between the various Celtic
tribes. According to our early manuscripts it took from nine to twelve
years for a student to take the highest degree at the bardic schools,
and in many cases where the pupil failed to master sufficiently the
subjects of the year, he had probably to spend two over it, so that
it is quite possible that some might spend twenty years over their
learning. And much of this learning was, as Cæsar notes, in verse.
Many earlier law tracts appear to have been so, and even many of the
earliest romances. There is a very interesting account extant called
the "Proceedings of the Great Bardic Association," which leads up to
the Epic of the Táin Bo Chuailgne, the greatest of the Irish romances,
according to which this great tale was at one time lost, and the great
Bardic Institution was commanded to hunt for and recover it. The fact
of it being said that the perfect tale was lost for ever "and that only
a fragmentary and broken form of it would go down to posterity" perhaps
indicates, as has been pointed out by Sullivan, "that the filling up
the gaps in the poem by prose narrative is meant." In point of fact
the tale, as we have it now, consists half of verse and half of prose.
Nor is this peculiar to the Táin. Most of the oldest and many of the
modern tales are composed in this way. In most cases the verse is of
a more archaic character and more difficult than the prose. In very
many an expanded prose narrative of several pages is followed by a more
condensed poem saying the same thing. So much did the Irish at last
come to look upon it as a matter of course that every romance should
be interspersed with poetry, that even writers of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries who consciously invented their stories as a modern
novelist invents his, have interspersed their pieces with passages, in
verse, as did Comyn in his Turlough mac Stairn, as did the author of
the Son of Ill-counsel, the author of the Parliament of Clan Lopus,
the author of the Women's Parliament, and others. We may take it,
then, that in the earliest days the romances were composed in verse
and learned by heart by the students--possibly before any alphabet
was known at all; afterwards when lacunæ occurred through defective
memory on the part of the reciter he filled up the gaps with prose.
Those who committed to paper our earliest tales wrote down as much of
the old poetry as they could recollect or had access to, and wrote the
connecting narrative in prose. Hence it soon came to pass that if a
story pretended to any antiquity it had to be interspersed with verses,
and at last it happened that the Irish taste became so confirmed to
this style of writing that authors adopted it, as I have said, even in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In spite of the mythological and phantastic elements which are
undoubtedly mingled with the oldest sagas,

 "the manners and customs in which the men of the time lived and moved,
 are depicted," writes Windisch,[12] "with a naïve realism which leaves
 no room for doubt as to the former actuality of the scenes depicted.
 In matter of costume and weapons, eating and drinking, building and
 arrangement of the banqueting-hall, manners observed at the feast,
 and much more, we find here the most valuable information." "I insist
 upon it," he says in another place, "that Irish saga is the only
 richly-flowing source of unbroken Celtism."

All the remaining linguistic monuments of Breton, Cornish, and Welsh,
"would form," writes M. d'Arbois de Jubainville,

 "un ensemble bien incomplet et bien obscur sans la lumière que la
 littérature irlandaise projette sur ces débris. C'est le vieil
 irlandais qui forme le trait d'union pour ainsi dire entre les
 dialectes neo-celtiques de la fin du moyen âge ou des temps modernes,
 et le Gaulois des inscriptions lapidaires, des monnaies, des noms
 propres conservés par la littérature grecque et la littérature

It may, then, be finally acknowledged that those of the great nations
of to-day, whose ancestors were mostly Celts, but whose language,
literature, and traditions have completely disappeared, must, if they
wish to study their own past, turn themselves first to Ireland.
When we find so much of the brief and scanty information given us by
the classics, not only borne out, but amply illustrated by old Irish
literature, when we find the dry bones of Posidonius and Cæsar rise up
again before us with a ruddy covering of flesh and blood, it is not too
much to surmise that in other matters also the various Celtic races
bore to each other a close resemblance.

Much more could be said upon this subject, as that the four Gallo-Roman
inscriptions to Brigantia found in Great Britain are really to the
Goddess Brigit;[14] that the Brennus who burned Rome 390 years before
Christ and the Brennus who stormed Delphi 110 years later were only the
god Brian, under whose tutelage the Gauls marched; and that Lugudunum,
Lugh's Dún or fortress, is so-called from the god Lugh the Long-handed,
to whom two Celtic inscriptions are found, one in Spain and one in
Switzerland, as may be seen set forth at length in the volumes of
Monsieur d'Arbois de Jubainville.

[1] "Ich sehe daher keinen genügenden Grund daran zu zweifeln dass uns
in den Einzelsagen wirklich echte Bilder einer _vorchristlichen_ Cultur
erhalten sind, allerdings Bilder die an einigen Stellen verblasst, an
andern von spaterer Hand übermalt sind" ("Irische Texte," 1., p. 253).

[2] "Nur eine Afterkritik die den handgreiflichsten Unsinn durch den
mittelirische Schreiber des 12-16 Jahrh. sich am eigenem Altherthum
versündigen das ihnen in mancher Hinsicht fremd ist für urfängliche
Weisheit hält, nun eine solche Kritik kann, umgekehrt den Versuch
machen an dem historischen Character der Hauptperson beider Sagenkreise
zu zweifeln," etc. ("Kelt-Studien," Heft. II., p. 189).

[3] "Introduction à l'étude de la littérature celtique," p. 217.

[4] Preface to "L'Épopée Celtique en Irlande."

[5] This name is written Concobar in the ancient texts, and Conchúbhair
in the modern language, pronounced Cun-hoo-ar or Cun-hoor, whence the
Anglicised form Conor. The "b" was in early times pronounced, but
there are traces of its being dropped as early as the twelfth century,
though with that orthographical conservatism which so distinguishes the
Irish language, it has been preserved down to the present day. Zimmer
says he found it spelt Conchor in the twelfth-century book the Liber
Landavensis. From this the form Crochor ("cr" for "cn" as is usual in
Connacht) followed, and the name is now pronounced either _Cun-a-char_
or _Cruch-oor._

[6] The reminiscence of the hero-bit appears to have lingered on in
folk memory. A correspondent, Mr. Terence Kelly, from near Omagh, in
the county Tyrone, tells me that he often heard a story told by an old
shanachie and herb-doctor in that neighbourhood who spoke a half-Scotch
dialect of English, in which the hero-bit figured, but it had fallen
in magnificence, and was represented as bannocks and butter with some
minor delicacies.

[7] _See_ "Revue Celtique," vol. xiv. p. 417, translated by Whitley

[8] Leabhar na h-Uidhre, p. 122, col. 2, translated by Sullivan,
"Manners and Customs," vol. i. p. cccclxxviii.

[9] In Irish Fionn mac Cúmhail, pronounced "Finn (or Fewn in Munster),
mac Coo-wil" or "Cool."

[10] I translated this from manuscript in my possession made by one
Patrick O'Pronty (an ancestor, I think, of Charlotte Brontë) in 1763.
Mr. Standish Hayes O'Grady has since published a somewhat different
text of it.

[11] Pronounced "Bweesg-na," the triphthong _aoi_ is always pronounced
like _ee_ in Irish.

[12] "Irische Texte," 1., p. 252.

[13] "Études grammaticales sur les langues Celtiques," 1881, p. vii.

[14] _See_ above pp. 53 and 161.



The books of saga, poetry, and annals that have come down to our day,
though so vastly more ancient and numerous than anything that the rest
of Western Europe has to show, are yet an almost inappreciable fragment
of the literature that at one time existed in Ireland. The great native
scholar O'Curry, who possessed a unique and unrivalled knowledge of
Irish literature in all its forms, has drawn up a list of lost books
which may be supposed to have contained our earliest literature.

We find the poet Senchan Torpéist--according to the account in the
Book of Leinster, a manuscript which dates from about the year
1150--complaining that the only perfect record of the great Irish epic,
the Táin Bo Chuailgne[1] or Cattle-spoil of Cooley, had been taken to
the East with the Cuilmenn,[2] or Great Skin Book. Now Zimmer, who
made a special and minute study of this story, considers that the
earliest redaction of the Táin dates from the seventh century. This
legend about Senchan--a real historical poet whose eulogy in praise of
Columcille, whether genuine or not, was widely popular--is probably
equally old, and points to the early existence of a great skin book
in which pagan tales were written, but which was then lost. The next
great book is the celebrated Saltair of Tara, which is alluded to in
a genuine poem of Cuan O'Lochain about the year 1000, in which he
says that Cormac mac Art drew up the Saltair of Tara. Cormac, being
a pagan, could not have called the book a Saltair or Psalterium, but
it may have got the name in later times from its being in metre.
All that this really proves, however, is that there then existed a
book about the prerogatives of Tara and the provincial kings so old
that Cuan O'Lochain--no doubt following tradition--was not afraid to
ascribe it to Cormac mac Art who lived in the third century. The next
lost book is called the Book of the Uacongbhail, upon which both the
O'Clerys in their Book of Invasions and Keating in his history drew,
and which, according to O'Curry, still existed at Kildare so late as
1626. The next book is called the Cin of Drom Snechta. It is quoted in
the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, or "Book of the Dun Cow"--a MS. of about the
year 1100--and often in the Book of Ballymote and by Keating, who in
quoting it says, "And it was before the coming of Patrick to Ireland
that that book existed,"[3] and the Book of Leinster ascribes it to the
son of a king of Connacht who died either in 379 or 499. The next books
of which we find mention were said to have belonged to St. Longarad,
a contemporary of St. Columcille. The scribe who wrote the glosses on
the Féilĭrè of Angus the Culdee, said that the books existed still in
his day, but that nobody could read them; for which he accounts by the
tale that Columcille once paid Longarad a visit in order to see his
books, but that his host refused to show them, and that Columcille then
said, "May your books be of no use after you, since you have exercised
inhospitality about them." On account of this the books became
illegible after Longarad's death. Angus the Culdee lived about the year
800, but Stokes ascribes the Féilĭrè to the tenth century; a view,
however, which Mr. Strachan's studies on the Irish deponent verb, which
is of such frequent occurrence in the Féilĭrè, may perhaps modify. At
what time the scholiast wrote his note on the text is uncertain, but
it also is very old. It is plain, then, that at this time a number of
illegible books--illegible no doubt from age--existed; and to account
for this illegibility the story of Columcille's curse was invented. The
Annals of Ulster quote another book at the year 527 under the name of
the Book of St. Mochta, who was a disciple of St. Patrick. They also
quote the Book of Cuana at the year 468 and repeatedly afterwards down
to the year 610, while they record the death of Cuana, a scribe, at the
year 738, after which no more quotations from Cuana's book occur.

The following volumes, almost all of which existed prior to the
year 1100, are also alluded to in our old literature:--The Book of
Dubhdaleithe; the Yellow Book of Slane; the original Leabhar na
h-Uidhre, or "Book of the Dun Cow"; the Books of Eochaidh O'Flanagain;
a certain volume known as the book eaten by the poor people in the
desert; the Book of Inis an Dúin; the short Book of Monasterboice; the
Books of Flann of Monasterboice; the Book of Flann of Dungiven; the
Book of Downpatrick; the Book of Derry; the Book of Sábhal Patrick;
the Black Book of St. Molaga; the Yellow Book of St. Molling; the
Yellow Book of Mac Murrough; the Book of Armagh (not the one now so
called); the Red Book of Mac Egan; the Long Book of Leithlin; the
Books of O'Scoba of Clonmacnois; the "Duil" of Drom Ceat; the Book
of Clonsost; the Book of Cluain Eidhneach (the ivy meadow) in Leix;
and one of the most valuable and often quoted of all, Cormac's great
Saltair of Cashel, compiled by Cormac mac Culinan, who was at once king
of Munster and archbishop of Cashel,[4] and who fell in battle in
903, according to the chronology of the "Four Masters." The above are
certainly only a few of the books in which a large early literature was
contained, one that has now perished almost to a page. Michael O'Clery,
in the Preface to his Book of Invasions written in 1631, mentions the
books from which he and his four antiquarian friends compiled their
work--mostly now perished!--and adds:--

 "The histories and synchronisms of Erin were written and tested in
 the presence of those illustrious saints, as is manifest in the great
 books that are named after the saints themselves and from their great
 churches; for there was not an illustrious church in Erin that had
 not a great book of history named from it or from the saints who
 sanctified it. It would be easy, too, to know from the books which
 the saints wrote, and the songs of praise which they composed in
 Irish that they themselves and their churches were the centres of the
 true knowledge, and the archives and homes of the manuscripts of the
 authors of Erin in the elder times. But, alas! short was the time
 until dispersion and decay overtook the churches of the saints, their
 relics, and their books; for there is not to be found of them now
 [1631] but a small remnant that has not been carried away into distant
 countries and foreign nations--carried away so that their fate is
 unknown from that time unto this."

As far as actual existing documents go, we have no specimens of
Irish MSS. written in Irish before the eighth century. The chief
remains of the old language that we have are mostly found on the
Continent, whither the Irish carried their books in great numbers,
and unfortunately they are not books of saga, but chiefly, with the
exception of a few poems, glosses and explanations of books used
evidently in the Irish ecclesiastical schools.[5] A list of the
most remarkable is worth giving here, as it will help to show the
extraordinary geographical diversity of the Irish settlements upon the
Continent, and the keenness with which their relics have been studied
by European scholars--French, German, and Italian. The most important
are the glosses found in the Irish MSS. of Milan, published by Ascoli,
Zeuss, Stokes, and Nigra; those in St. Gall--a monastery in Switzerland
founded by St. Gall, an Irish friend of Columbanus, in the sixth
century--published by Ascoli and Nigra; those in Wurtzburg, published
by Zimmer and Zeuss; those in Carlsruhe, published by Zeuss; those in
Turin, published by Zimmer, Nigra, and Stokes in his "Goidelica"; those
in Vienna, published by Zimmer in his "Glossæ Hibernicæ" and Stokes
in his "Goidelica"; those in Berne, those in Leyden, those in Nancy,
and the glosses on the Cambrai Sermon, published by Zeuss.[6] Next in
antiquity to these are the Irish parts of the Book of Armagh, the poems
in the MSS. of St. Gall and Milan,[7] and some of the pieces published
by Windisch in his "Irische Texte." Next to this is probably the
Martyrology of Angus the Culdee. And then come the great Middle-Irish
books--the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, the Book of Leinster, and the rest.

From a palæographic point of view the oldest books in Ireland are
probably the "Domhnach Airgid," a copy of the Four Gospels in a triple
shrine of yew, silver-plated copper, and gold-plated silver, which St.
Patrick was believed to have given to St. Carthainn when he told that
saint with a shrewd wisdom, which in later days aroused the admiration
of Mr. Matthew Arnold, to build himself a church "that should not
be too near to himself for familiarity nor too far from himself for
intercourse." It probably dates from the fifth or sixth century. The
Cathach supposed to have been surreptitiously written by Columcille
from Finnian's book[8]--a Latin copy of the Gospels in Trinity College,
Dublin; the Book of Durrow, a beautiful illuminated copy of the same;
the Book of Dimma, containing the Four Gospels, ritual, and prayers,
probably a work of the seventh century; the Book of Molling, of
probably about the same date; the Gospels of Mac Regol, the largest of
the Old Irish Gospel books, highly but not elegantly coloured, with
an interlinear Anglo-Saxon version in a late hand carried through
its pages; the Book of Kells, the unapproachable glory of Irish
illumination, and some other ecclesiastical books. After them come the
Leabhar na h-Uidre and the great books of poems and saga.

Although the language of these sagas and poems is not that of the
glosses, but what is called "Middle-Irish," still it does not in the
least follow that the poems and sagas belong to the Middle-Irish
period. "The old Middle-Irish manuscripts," says Zimmer, "contain for
the most part only Old Irish texts re-written."[9] "Unfortunately,"
says Windisch, "every new copyist has given to the text more or
less of the linguistic garb of his own day, so that as far as the
language of Irish texts goes, it depends principally upon the
age of the manuscript that contains them."[10] And again, in his
preface to Adamnan's vision, he writes: "Since we know that Irish
texts were rewritten by every fresh copyist more or less regularly
in the speech of his own day, the real age or a prose text cannot
possibly be determined by the linguistic forms of its language."[11]
It is much easier to tell the age of poetry than prose, for the
gradual modification of language, altering of words, shortening of
inflexions, and so on, must interfere with the metre, so that when
we find a poem in a twelfth-century manuscript written in Middle
Irish and in a perfect metrical form, we may--no matter to what age
it is _ascribed_--be pretty sure that it cannot be more than two or
three centuries older than the manuscript that contains it. Yet even
of the poems Dr. Atkinson writes: "The poem _may_ be of the eighth
century, but the forms are in the main of the twelfth."[12] Where poems
that really are of ancient date have had their language modified in
transcription so as to render them intelligible, the metre is bound
to suffer, and this lends us a criterion whereby to gauge the age of
verse, which is lacking to us when we come to deal with prose.

This modification of language is not uncommon in literature and takes
place naturally, but I doubt if there ever was a literature in which
it played the same important part as in Irish. Thus let us take the
story of the Táin Bo Chuailgne, of which I shall have more to say later
on. Zimmer, after long and careful study of the text as preserved to
us in a manuscript of about the year 1100, came to the conclusion from
the marks of Old Irish inflexion, and so forth, which still remain
in the eleventh-century text, that there had been two recensions of
the story, a pre-Danish, that is, say, a seventh-century one, and a
post-Danish, that is a tenth-or eleventh-century one. Thus the epic
may have been originally committed to paper in the seventh century,
modified in the tenth, transcribed into the manuscripts in which we
have it in the eleventh and twelfth, and propagated from that down to
the eighteenth century, in copies every one of which underwent more or
less alteration in order to render it more intelligible; and it was
in fact in an eighteenth-century manuscript, yet one that differed,
as I subsequently discovered, in few essentials from the copy in the
Book of Leinster that I first read it. As the bards lived to please
so they had to please to live. The popular mind only receives with
pleasure and transmits with readiness popular poetry upon the condition
that it is intelligible,[13] and hence granting that Finn mac Cool
was a real historical personage, it is perfectly possible that some
of his poetry was handed down from generation to generation amongst
the conservative Gael, and slightly altered or modified from time to
time to make it more intelligible, according as words died out and
inflexions became obsolete. The Oriental philologist, Max Müller, in
attempting to explain how myths arose (according to his theory) from
a disease of language, thinks that during the transition period of
which he speaks, there would be many words "understood perhaps by
the grandfather, familiar to the father, but strange to the son, and
misunderstood by the grandson." This is exactly what is taking place
over half Ireland at this very moment, and it is what has always been
at work amongst a people whose language and literature go back with
certainty for nearly 1,500 years. Accordingly before the art of writing
became common, ere yet expensive vellum MSS. and a highly-paid class
of historians and schools of scribes to a certain extent stereotyped
what they set down, it is altogether probable that people who trusted
to the ear and to memory, modified and corrupted but still handed down,
at least some famous poems, like those ascribed to Amergin or Finn
mac Cool. That the Celtic memory for things unwritten is long I have
often proved. I have heard from peasants stanzas composed by Donogha
Mór O'Daly, of Boyle, in the thirteenth century; I have recovered from
an illiterate peasant, in 1890 in Roscommon, verses which had been
jotted down in phonetic spelling in Argyleshire by Macgregor, Dean of
Lismore, in the year 1512, and which may have been sung for hundreds
of years before it struck the fancy of the Highland divine to commit
them to paper;[14] and I have again heard verses in which the measure
and sense were preserved, but found on comparing them with MSS. that
several obsolete words had been altered to others that rhymed with them
and were intelligible.[15] For these reasons I should, in many cases,
refuse absolutely to reject the authenticity of a poem simply because
the language is more modern than that of the bard could have been to
whom it is ascribed, and it seems to me equally uncritical either
to accept or reject much of our earliest poetry, except what is in
highly-developed metre, as a good deal of it may possibly be the actual
(but linguistically modified) work of the supposed authors.

This modifying process is something akin to but very different
in degree from Pope's rewriting of Donne's satires or Dryden's
version of Chaucer, inasmuch as it was probably both unconscious and
unintentional. To understand better how this modification may have
taken place, let us examine a few lines of the thirteenth-century
English poem, the "Brut" of Layamon:--

  "And swa ich habbe al niht
  Of mine swevene swithe ithoht,
  For ich what to iwisse
  Agan is al my blisse."

These lines were, no doubt, intelligible to an ordinary Englishman at
the time. Gradually they become a little modernised, thus:--

  "And so I have all night
  Of min-e sweeven swith ythought,
  For I wat to ywiss
  Agone is all my bliss."

Had these verses been preserved in folk-memory they must have undergone
a still further modification as soon as the words sweeven (dream),
swith (much), and ywiss (certainty) began to grow obsolete, and we
should have the verse modified and mangled, perhaps something in this

  "And so I have all the night
  Of my dream greatly thought,
  For I wot and I wis
  That gone is all my bliss."

The words "I wot and I wis," in the third line, represent just about
as much archaism as the popular memory and taste will stand without
rebelling. Some modification in the direction here hinted at may be
found in, I should think, more than half the manuscripts in the Royal
Irish Academy to-day, and just in the same sense as the lines,

  "For I wot and I wis
  That gone is my bliss,"

are Layamon's; so we may suppose,

  "Dubthach missi mac do Lugaid
      Laidech lantrait
  Mé ruc inmbreith etir Loegaire
      Ocus Patraic,"[16]

to be the fifth century O'Lugair's, or

  "Leathaid folt fada fraich,
  Forbrid canach fann finn,"[17]

to be Finn mac Cúmhail's.

Of the many _poems_--as distinguished from sagas, which are a mixture
of poetry and prose--said to have been produced from pagan times down
to the eighth century, none can be properly called epics or even
épopées. There are few continued efforts, and the majority of the
pieces though interesting for a great many reasons to students, would
hardly interest an English reader when translated. Unfortunately,
such a great amount of our early literature being lost, we can only
judge of what it was like through the shorter pieces which have been
preserved, and even these short pieces read rather jejune and barren
in English, partly because of the great condensation of the original,
a condensation which was largely brought about by the necessity of
versification in difficult metres. In order to see beauty in the
most ancient Irish verse it is absolutely necessary to read it in
the original so as to perceive and appreciate the alliteration and
other _tours de force_ which appear in every line. These verses, for
instance, which Mève, daughter or Conan, is said to have pronounced
over Cuchorb, her husband, in the first century, appear bald enough in
a literal translation:--

  "Moghcorb's son whom fame conceals [covers]
  Well sheds he blood by his spears,
  A stone over his grave--'tis a pity--
  Who carried battle over Cliú Máil.

  My noble king, he spoke not falsehood,
  His success was certain in every danger,
  As black as a raven was his brow,
  As sharp was his spear as a razor," etc.

One might read this kind of thing for ever in a translation without
being struck by anything more than some occasional _curiosa felicitas_
of phrase or picturesque expression, and one would never suspect that
the original was so polished and complicated as it really is. Here are
these two verses done into the exact versification of the original,
in which interlinear vowel-rhymes, alliterations, and all the other
requirements of the Irish are preserved and marked:--

  "Mochorb's son of Fiercest FAME,
    KNown his NAME for bloody toil,
  To his Gory Grave is GONE,
    He who SHONE o'er SHouting Moyle.

  Kindly King, who Liked not LIES,
    Rash to RISE to Fields of Fame,
  Raven-Black his Brows of FEAR,
    Razor-Sharp his SPEAR of flame," etc.[18]

This specimen of Irish metre may help to place much of our poetry in
another light, for its beauty depends less upon the intrinsic substance
of the thought than the external elegance of the framework. We must
understand this in order to do justice to our versified literature, for
the student must not imagine that he will find long-sustained epics or
interesting narrative poems after the manner of the Iliad or Odyssey,
or even the Nibelungenlied, or the "Song of Roland;" none such now
exist: if they did exist they are lost. The early poems consist rather
of eulogies, elegies, historical pieces, and lyrics, few of them of any
great length, and still fewer capable of interesting an English reader
in a translation. Occasionally we meet with touches of nature poetry
of which the Gael has always been supremely fond. Here is a tentative
translation made by O'Donovan of a part of the first poem which Finn
mac Cúmhail is said to have composed after his eating of the salmon of

 "May-Day, delightful time! How beautiful the colour; the blackbirds
 sing their full lay; would that Laighaig were here! The cuckoos sing
 in constant strains. How welcome is ever the noble brilliance of the
 seasons! On the margin of the branching woods the summer swallows skim
 the stream. The swift horses seek the pool. The heath spreads out its
 long hair, the weak, fair bog-down grows. Sudden consternation attacks
 the signs, the planets, in their courses running, exert an influence;
 the sea is lulled to rest, flowers cover the earth."

The language of this poem is so old as to be in parts unintelligible,
and the broken metre points to the difficulties of transmission over
a long period of time, yet he would be a bold man who would ascribe
with certainty the authorship of it to Finn mac Cúmhail in the third
century, or the elegy on Cuchorb to Mève, daughter of Conan, a
contemporary of Virgil and Horace. And yet all the history of these
people is known and recorded with much apparent plausibility and many
collateral circumstances connecting them with the men of their time.
How much of this is genuine historical tradition? How much is later
invention? It is difficult to decide at present.

[1] Pronounced "Taun Bo Hoo-il-n'ya." The "a" in Táin is pronounced
nearly like the "a" in the English word "Tarn."

[2] Cuilmenn--it has been remarked, I think, by Kuno Meyer--seems
cognate with Colmméne, glossed _nervus_, and Welsh _cwlm_, "a knot or
tie." It is found glossed _lebar--i.e._, leabhar, or "book."

[3] For the authorship of this book see above, p. 71.

[4] "At what time this book was lost," says O'Curry, "we have no
precise knowledge, but that it existed, though in a dilapidated state,
in the year 1454 is evident from the fact that there is in the Bodleian
Library at Oxford (Laud 610) a copy of such portions of it as could be
deciphered at that time, made by Shawn O'Clery for Mac Richard Butler.
From the contents of this copy and from the frequent references to the
original for history and genealogies found in the Books of Ballymote,
Lecan, and others, it must have been an historical and genealogical
compilation of large size and great diversity."

A legible copy of the Saltair appears, however, to have existed at a
much later date. I discovered a curious poem in an uncatalogued MS. in
the Royal Irish Academy by one David Condon, written apparently at some
time between the Cromwellian and Williamite wars, in which he says--

  "Saltair Chaisill is dearbh gur léigheas-sa
  Leabhar ghleanna-dá-locha gan gó ba léir dam,
  Leabhar Buidhe Mhuigleann (?) obair aosta," &c.

_I.e._," Surely I have read the Saltair of Cashel, and the Book of
Glendaloch was certainly plain to me, and the Yellow Book of Mulling (?)
(_see_ above, p. 210), an ancient work, the Book of Molaga, and the
lessons of Cionnfaola, and many more (books) along with them which are
not (now) found in Ireland."

[5] Such, for example, is the fragment of a commentary on the Psalter
published by Kuno Meyer in "Hibernica Minora," from Rawlinson, B. 512.
The original is assigned by him, judging from its grammatical forms,
to about the year 750. It is very ample and diffuse, and tells about
the Shophetîm, or Sophtim, as the writer calls it, the Didne Haggamîm,
etc., and is an excellent example of the kind of Irish commentaries
used by the early ecclesiastics.

[6] "Gram. Celt.," p. 1004-7.

[7] Published by Zeuss in his "Grammatica Celtica."

[8] _See_ above, p. 175.

[9] "Keltische Studien," Heft i. p. 88.

[10] Preface to Loinges Mac n-Usnig, "Irische Texte," i. 61.

[11] "Irische Texte," i. p. 167.

[12] Preface to the list of contents of the _facsimile_ Book of

[13] With the exception of the ancient Irish prayers like Mairinn
Phádraig, preserved by tradition, which are for the most part not
intelligible to the reciters, but which owe their preservation to the
promise usually tacked on at the end that the reciters shall receive
some miraculous or heavenly blessing. _See_ my "Religious Songs of

[14] _See_ my note on the Story of Oscar au fléau, in "Revue Celtique,"
vol. xiii. p. 425.

[15] Cf. my note on Bran's colour, at p. 277 of my "Beside the Fire."

[16] In more modern Irish:--

  "Dubhthach mise, mac do Lughaidh
     Laoi-each lán-traith
  Mé rug an bhreith idir Laoghaire
     Agus Pádraig."

_I.e._, "I am Dubhthach, son of Lewy the lay-full, full-wise. It is I
who delivered judgment between Leary and Patrick." _Traith_ is the only
obsolete word here.

[17] In modern Irish, "Leathnuighidh folt fada fraoch," _i.e._,
"Leathnuighidh fraoch folt fada, foirbridh (fásaidh) canach
(ceannabhán) fann fionn," _i.e._, "Spreads heath its long hair,
flourishes the feeble, fair cotton-grass."

[18] Here is the first verse of this in the original. The Old Irish
is nearly unintelligible to a modern. I have here modernised the

  "Mac Mogachoirb Cheileas CLÚ
  Cun fearas CRÚ thar a gháibh
  Ail uas a Ligi--budh LIACH---
  Baslaide CHLIATH thar Cliú Máil."

The rhyming words do not make perfect rhyme as in English, but pretty
nearly so--_clu cru, liath cliath, gáibh máil_.



During the golden period of the Greek and Roman genius no one ever
wrote a romance. Epics they left behind them, and history, but the
romance, the Danish saga, the Irish _sgeul_ or _úrsgeul_ was unknown.
It was in time of decadence that a body of Greek prose romance
appeared, and with the exception of Petronius' semi-prose "Satyricon,"
and Apuleius' "Golden Ass," the Latin language produced in this line
little of a higher character than such works as the Gesta Romanorum.
In Greece and Italy where the genial climate favoured all kinds of
open-air representations, the great development of the drama took the
place of novelistic literature, as it did for a long time amongst the
English after the Elizabethan revival. In Ireland, on the other hand,
the dramatic stage was never reached at all, but the development of the
_úrsgeul_, romance, or novel, was quite abnormally great. I have seen
it more than once asserted, if I mistake not, that the dramatic is an
inevitable and an early development in the history of every literature,
but this is to generalise from insufficient instances. The Irish
literature which kept on developing--to some extent at least--for over
a thousand years, and of which hundreds of volumes still exist, never
evolved a drama, nor so much, as far as I know, as even a miracle play,
although these are found in Welsh and even Cornish. What Ireland did
produce, and produce nobly and well, was romance; from the first to the
last, from the seventh to the seventeenth century, Irishmen, without
distinction of class, alike delighted in the _úrsgeul_.

When this form of literature first came into vogue we have no means
of ascertaining, but the narrative prose probably developed at a very
early period as a supplement to defective narrative verse. Not that
verse or prose were then and there committed to writing, for it is said
that the business of the bards was to learn their stories by heart.
I take it, however, that they did not actually do this, but merely
learned the incidents of a story in their regular sequence, and that
their training enabled them to fill these up and clothe them on the
spur of the moment in the most effective garments, decking them out
with passages of gaudy description, with rattling alliterative lines
and "runs" and abundance of adjectival declamation. The bards, no
matter from what quarter of the island, had all to know the same story
or novel, provided it was a renowned one, but with each the sequence
of incidents, and the incidents themselves were probably for a long
time the same; but the language in which they were tricked out and the
length to which they were spun depended probably upon the genius or
bent of each particular bard. Of course in process of time divergences
began to arise, and hence different versions of the same story. That,
at least, is how I account for such passages as "but others say that it
was not there he was killed, but in," etc., "but some of the books say
that it was not on this wise it happened, but," and so on.

It is probable that very many novels were in existence before the
coming of St. Patrick, but highly unlikely that they were at that time
written down at full length. It was probably only after the country
had become Christianised and full of schools and learning that the
bards experienced the desire of writing down their sagas, with as much
as they could recapture of the ancient poetry upon, which they were
built. In the Book of Leinster, a manuscript of the twelfth century,
we find an extraordinary list of no less than 187 of those romances
with THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY of which an ollamh had to be acquainted.
The ollamh was the highest dignitary amongst the bards, and it took him
from nine to twelve years' training to learn the two hundred and fifty
prime stories and the one hundred secondary ones along with the other
things which were required of him. The prime stories--combinations of
epic and novel, prose and poetry--are divided in the manuscripts into
the following romantic catalogue:--Destructions of fortified places,
Cow spoils (_i.e._, cattle-raiding expeditions), Courtships or wooings,
Battles, Cave-stories, Navigations, Tragical deaths, Feasts, Sieges,
Adventures, Elopements, Slaughters, Water-eruptions, Expeditions,
Progresses, and Visions. "He is no poet," says the Book of Leinster,
"who does not synchronise and harmonise all the stories." We possess,
as I have said, the names of 187 such stories in the Book of Leinster,
and the names of many more are given in the tenth-or eleventh-century
tale of Mac Coisè; and all the known ones, with the exception of one
tale added later on, and one which, evidently through an error in
transcription, refers to Arthur instead of Aithirne, are about events
prior to the year 650 or thereabouts. We may take it, then, that this
list was drawn up in the seventh century.

Now, who were the authors of these couple of hundred romances? It is
a natural question, but one which cannot be answered. There is not
a trace of their authorship remaining, if authorship be the right word
for what I suspect to have been the gradual growth of race, tribal,
and family history, and of Celtic mythology, told and retold, and
polished up, and added to; some of them, especially such as are the
descendants of a pagan mythology, must have been handed down for
perhaps countless generations, others recounted historical, tribal,
or family doings, magnified during the course of time, others again
of more recent date, are perhaps fairly accurate accounts of actual
events, but all PRIOR TO ABOUT THE YEAR 650. I take it that so soon as
bardic schools and colleges began to be formed, there was no class of
learning more popular than that which taught the great traditionary
stories of the various tribes and families of the great Gaelic race,
and the intercommunication between the bardic colleges propagated local
tradition throughout all Ireland.

The very essence of the national life of Erin was embodied in these
stories, but, unfortunately, few out of the enormous mass have survived
to our day, and these mostly mutilated or in mere digests. Some,
however, exist at nearly full length, quite sufficient to show us what
the romances were like, and to cause us to regret the irreparable loss
inflicted upon our race by the ravages of Danes, Normans, and English.
Even as it is O'Curry asserts that the contents of the strictly
historical tales known to him would be sufficient to fill up four
thousand of the large pages of the "Four Masters." He computed that
the tales about Finn, Ossian, and the Fenians alone would fill another
three thousand pages. In addition to these we have a considerable
number of imaginative stories, neither historical nor Fenian, such as
the "Three Sorrows of Story-telling" and the like, sufficient to fill
five thousand pages more, not to speak of the more recent novel-like
productions of the later Irish.[1]

It is this very great fecundity of the very early Irish in the
production of saga and romance, in poetry and prose, which best
enables us to judge of their early-developed genius, and considerable
primitive culture. The introduction of Christianity neither inspired
these romances nor helped to produce them; they are nearly all anterior
to it, and had they been preserved to us we should now have the most
remarkable body of primitive myth and saga in the whole western world.
It is probably this consideration which makes M. Darmesteter say of
Irish literature: "real historical documents we have none until the
beginning of the decadence--a decadence so glorious, that we almost
mistake it for a renaissance since the old epic sap dries up only to
make place for a new budding and bourgeoning, a growth less original
certainly, but scarcely less wonderful if we consider the condition of
continental Europe at that date." The decadence that M. Darmesteter
alludes to is the rise of the Christian schools of the fifth and sixth
centuries, which put to some extent an end to the epic period by
turning men's thoughts into a different channel.

It is this "decadence," however, which I have preferred to examine
first, just because it does rest upon real historical documents, and
can be proved. We may now, however, proceed to the mass of saga, the
bulk of which in its earliest forms is pagan, and the spirit of which,
even in the latest texts, has been seldom quite distorted by Christian
influence. This saga centres around several periods and individuals:
some of these, like Tuathal and the Boru tribute, Conairé the Great
and his death, have only one or two stories pertaining to them. But
there are three cycles which stand out pre-eminently, and have been
celebrated in more stories and sagas than the rest, and of which
more remains have been preserved to us than of any of the others.
These are the Mythological Circle concerning the Tuatha De Dannan and
the Pre-Milesians; the Heroic, Ultonian, or Red-Branch Cycle,[2] in
which Cuchulain is the dominating figure; and the Cycle of Finn mac
Cúmhail, Ossian, Oscar, and the High-kings of Ireland who were their
contemporaries--this cycle may be denominated the Fenian or Ossianic.

[1] O'Curry was no doubt accurate, as he ever is, in this computation,
but there would probably be some repetition in the stories, with lists
of names and openings common to more than one, and many late poor ones.

[2] M. d'Arbois de Jubainville calls this the Ulster, and calls the
Ossianic the Leinster Cycle.



The cycle of the mythological stories which group themselves round the
early invasions of Erin is sparsely represented in Irish manuscripts.
Not only is their number less, but their substance is more confused
than that of the other cycles. To the comparative mythologist and the
folk-lorist, however, they are perhaps the most interesting of all, as
throwing more light than any of the others upon the early religious
ideas of the race. Most of the sagas connected with this pre-Milesian
cycle are now to be found only in brief digests preserved in the
Leabhar Gabhála,[1] or Book of Invasions of Ireland, of which large
fragments exist in the Books of Leinster and Ballymote, and which
Michael O'Clery (collecting from all the ancient sources which he could
find in his day) rewrote about the year 1630.

This tells us all the early history of Ireland and of the races that
inhabited it before our forefathers landed. It tells us of how first
a man called Partholan made a settlement in Ireland, but how in time
he and his people all died of the plague, leaving the land deserted;
and how after that the Nemedians, or children of Nemed, colonised the
island and multiplied in it, until they began to be oppressed by the
Fomorians, who are usually described as African sea-robbers, but the
etymology of whose name seems to point to a mythological origin "men
from under sea."[2] A number of battles took place between the rival
hosts, and the Fomorians were defeated in three battles, but after the
death of Nemed, who, like Partholan, died of a plague, the Fomorians
oppressed his people again, and, led by a chief called Conaing, built a
great tower upon Tory, _i.e._, Tower Island, off the north-west coast
of Donegal. On the eve of every Samhain [Sou-an, or All Hallow's]
the wretched Nemedians had to deliver up to these masters two-thirds
of their children, corn, and cattle. Driven to desperation by these
exactions they rose in arms, stormed the tower, and slew Conaing, all
which the Book of Invasions describes at length. The Fomorians being
reinforced, the Nemedians fought them a second time in the same place,
but in this battle most of them were killed or drowned, the tide
having come in and washed over them and their foes alike. The crew
of one ship, however, escaped, and these, after a further sojourn of
seven years in Ireland, led out of it the surviving remnants of their
race with the exception of a very few who remained behind subject
to the Fomorians. Those who left Ireland divided into three bands:
one sought refuge in Greece, where they again fell into slavery; the
second went--some say--to the north of Europe; and the third, headed
by a chief called Briton Mael--Hence, say the Irish, the name of Great
Britain--found refuge in Scotland, where their descendants remained
until the Cruithni, or Picts, overcame them.

After a couple of hundred years the Nemedians who had fled to Greece
came back again, calling themselves Firbolg,[3] _i.e._, "sack" or "bag"
men, and held Ireland for about thirty-five years in peace, when
another tribe of invaders appeared upon the scene. These were no less
than the celebrated Tuatha De Danann, who turned out to be, in fact,
the descendants of the second band of Nemedians who had fled to the
north of Europe, and who returned about thirty-six years later than
their kinsmen, the Firbolg.

The Tuatha De Danann soon overcame the Firbolg, and drove them, after
the Battle of North Moytura,[4] into the islands along the coast, to
Aran, Islay, Rachlin, and the Hebrides,[5] after which they assumed the
sovereignty of the island to themselves.

This sovereignty they maintained for about two hundred years, until
the ancestors of the present Irish, the Scots, or Gaels, or Milesians,
as they are variously called, landed and beat the Tuatha De Danann, and
reigned in their stead until they, too, in their turn were conquered
by the English. The Book of Conquests is largely concerned with their
landing and first settlements and their battles with the De Danann
people whom they ended in completely overcoming, after which the
Tuatha Dé assume a very obscure position. They appear to have for the
most part retired off the surface of the country into the green hills
and mounds, and lived in these, often appearing amongst the Milesian
population, and sometimes giving their daughters in marriage to them.
From this out they are confounded with the _Sidhe_ [Shee], or spirits,
now called fairies, and to this very day I have heard old men, when
speaking of the fairies who inhabit ancient raths and interfere
occasionally in mortal concerns either for good or evil, call them by
the name of the Tuatha De Danann.

The first battle of Moytura was fought between the Tuatha De Danann
and the Firbolg, who were utterly routed, but Nuada, the king of the
Tuatha Dé, lost his hand in the battle. As he was thus suffering
from a personal blemish, he could be no longer king, and the people
accordingly decided to bestow the sovereignty on Breas [Bras],[6] whose
mother was a De Danann, but whose father was a king of the Fomorians,
a people who had apparently never lost sight of or wholly left Ireland
since the time of their battles with the Nemedians over two hundred
years before. The mother of Breas, Eiriu,[7] was a person of authority,
and her son was elected to the sovereignty on the understanding that
if his reign was found unsatisfactory he should resign. He gave seven
pledges of his intention of doing so. At this time the Fomorians again
smote Ireland heavily with their imposts and taxes, as they had done
before when the Nemedians inhabited it. The unfortunate De Dannan
people were reduced to a state of misery. Ogma[8] was obliged to carry
wood, and the Dagda himself to build raths for their masters, and they
were so far reduced as to be weak with hunger.

In the meantime the kingship of Breas was not successful. He was hard
and niggardly. As the saga of the second battle of Moytura puts it--

 "The chiefs of the Tuatha De Danann were dissatisfied, for Breas did
 not grease their knives; in vain came they to visit Breas; their
 breaths did not smell of ale. Neither their poets, nor bards, nor
 druids, nor harpers, nor flute-players, nor musicians, nor jugglers,
 nor fools appeared before them, nor came into the palace to amuse

Matters reached a crisis when the poet Coirpné came to demand
hospitality and was shown "into a little house, small, narrow, black,
dark, where was neither fire nor furniture nor bed. He was given three
little dry loaves on a little plate. When he rose in the morning he
was not thankful." He gave vent then to the first satire ever uttered
in Ireland, which is still preserved in eight lines which would be
absolutely unintelligible except for the ancient glosses.

After this the people of the De Danann race demanded the abdication
of Breas, which he had promised in case his reign did not please
them. He acknowledged his obligation to them, but requested a delay
of seven years, which they allowed him, on condition that he gave
them guarantees to touch nothing belonging to them during that time,
"neither our houses nor our lands, nor our gold, nor our silver, nor
our cattle, nor anything eatable, we shall pay thee neither rent nor
fine to the end of seven years." This was agreed to.

But the intention of Breas in demanding a delay of seven years was
a treacherous one; he meant to approach his father's kindred the
Fomorians, and move them to reinstate him at the point of the sword.
He goes to his mother who tells him who his father is, for up to that
time he had remained in ignorance of it; and she gives him a ring
whereby his father Elatha, a king of the Fomorians, may recognise him.
He departs to the Fomorians, discovers his father and appeals to him
for succour. By his father he is sent to Balor, a king of the Fomorians
of the Isles of Norway--a locality probably ascribed to the Fomorians
after the invasions of the Northmen--and there gathered together an
immense army to subdue the Tuatha De Danann and give the island to
their relation Breas.

In the meantime Nuada, whose hand had been replaced by a silver one,
reascends the throne and is joined by Lugh of the Long-hand, the
"Ildana" or "man of various arts." This Lugh was a brother of the Dagda
and of Ogma, and is perhaps the best-known figure among the De Danann
personalities. Lugh and the Dagda and Ogma and Goibniu the smith and
Diancécht the leech met secretly every day at a place in Meath for
a whole year, and deliberated how best to shake off the yoke of the
Fomorians. Then they held a general meeting of the Tuatha De and spoke
with each one in secret.

 "'How wilt thou show thy power?' said Lugh, to the sorcerer Mathgen.

 "'By my art,' answered Mathgen, 'I shall throw down the mountains of
 Ireland upon the Fomorians, and they shall fall with their heads to
 the earth;' then told he to Lugh the names of the twelve principal
 mountains of Ireland which were ready to do the bidding of the goddess
 Dana[9] and to smite their enemies on every side.

 "Lugh asked the cup-bearer: 'In what way wilt thou show thy power?'

 "'I shall place,' answered the cup-bearer, 'the twelve principal lakes
 of Ireland under the eyes of the Fomorians, but they shall find no
 water in them, however great the thirst which they may feel;' and he
 enumerated the lakes, 'from the Fomorians the water shall hide itself,
 they shall not be able to take a drop of it; but the same lakes will
 furnish the Tuatha De Danann with water to drink during the whole war,
 though it should last seven years.'

 "The Druid Figal, the son of Mamos, said, 'I shall make three rains
 of fire fall on the faces of the Fomorian warriors; I shall take
 from them two-thirds of their valour and courage, but so often as
 the warriors of the De Danann shall breathe out the air from their
 breasts, so often shall they feel their courage and valour and
 strength increase. Even though the war should last seven years it
 shall not fatigue them.'

 "The Dagda answered, 'All the feats which you three, sorcerer,
 cup-bearer, druid, say you can do, I myself alone shall do them.'

 "'It is you then are the Dagda,'[10] said those present, whence came
 the name of the Dagda which he afterwards bore."

Lugh then went in search of the three gods of Dana--Brian, Iuchar,
and Iucharba (whom he afterwards put to death for slaying his father,
as is recorded at length in the saga of the "Fate of the Children of
Tuireann"[11]) and with these and his other allies he spent the next
seven years in making preparations for the great struggle with the

This saga and the whole story of the Tuatha De Danann contending
with the Fomorians, who are in one place in the saga actually called
_sidhe_, or spirits, is all obviously mythological, and has usually
been explained, by D'Arbois de Jubainville and others, as the struggle
between the gods or good spirits and the evil deities.

The following episode also shows the wild mythological character of the

 "Dagda," says the saga, "had a habitation at Glenn-Etin in the north.
 He had arranged to meet a woman at Glenn-Etin on the day of Samhan
 [November day] just a year, day for day, before the battle of Moytura.
 The Unius, a river of Connacht, flows close beside Glenn-Etin, to the
 south. Dagda saw the woman bathe herself in the Unius at [Kesh] Coran.
 One of the woman's feet in the water touched Allod Eche, that is to
 say Echumech to the south, the other foot also in the water touched
 Lescuin in the north. Nine tresses floated loose around her head.
 Dagda approached and accosted her. From thenceforth the place has been
 named the Couple's Bed. The woman was the goddess Mór-rígu"--

the goddess of war, of whom we shall hear more in connection with

As for the Dagda himself, his character appears somewhat contradictory.
Just as the most opposite accounts of Zeus are met with in Greek
mythology, some glorifying him as throning in Olympus supreme over
gods and men, others as playing low and indecent tricks disguised as
a cuckoo or a bull; so we find the Dagda--his real name was Eochaidh
the Ollamh--at one time a king of the De Danann race and organiser
of victory, but at another in a less dignified but more clearly
mythological position. He is sent by Lugh to the Fomorian camp to put
them off with talk and cause them to lose time until the De Danann
armaments should be more fully ready. The following account exhibits
him, like Zeus at times, in a very unprepossessing character:--

 "When the Dagda had come to the camp of the Fomorians he demanded a
 truce, and he obtained it. The Fomorians prepared a porridge for him;
 it was to ridicule him they did this, for he greatly loved porridge.
 They filled for him the king's cauldron which was five handbreadths
 in depth. They threw into it eighty pots of milk and a proportionate
 quantity of meal and fat, with goats and sheep and swine which they
 got cooked along with the rest. Then they poured the broth into a hole
 dug in the ground. 'Unless you eat all that's there,' said Indech to
 him, 'you shall be put to death; we do not want you to be reproaching
 us, and we must satisfy you.' The Dagda took the spoon; it was so
 great that in the hollow of it a man and a woman might be contained.
 The pieces that went into that spoon were halves of salted pigs and
 quarters of bacon. The Dagda said, 'Here is good eating, if the broth
 be as good as its odour,' and as he carried the spoonful to his mouth,
 he said, 'The proverb is true that good cooking is not spoiled by a
 bad pot.'[12]

 "When he had finished he scraped the ground with his finger to the
 very bottom of the hole to take what remained of it, and after that
 he went to sleep to digest his soup. His stomach was greater than the
 greatest cauldrons in large houses, and the Fomorians mocked at him.

 "He went away and came to the bank of the Eba. He did not walk with
 ease, so large was his stomach. He was dressed in very bad guise. He
 had a cape which scarcely reached below his shoulders. Beneath that
 cloak was seen a brown mantle which descended no lower than his hips.
 It was cut away above and very large in the breast. His two shoes
 were of horses' skin with the hair outside. He held a wheeled fork,
 which would have been heavy enough for eight men, and he let it trail
 behind him. It dug a furrow deep enough and large enough to become
 the frontier mearn between two provinces. Therefore is it called the
 'track of the Dagda's club.'"

When the fighting began, after the skirmishing of the first days, the
De Danann warriors owed their victory to their superior preparations.
The great leech Diancecht cured the wounded, and the smith Goibniu and
his assistants kept the warriors supplied with constant relays of fresh
lances. The Fomorians could not understand it, and sent one of their
warriors, apparently in disguise, to find out. He was Ruadan, a son of
Breas by a daughter of Dagda.

 "On his return he told the Fomorians what the smith, the carpenter,
 the worker in bronze, and the four leeches who were round the spring,
 did. They sent him back again with orders to kill the smith Goibniu.
 He asked a spear of Goibniu, rivets of Credné the bronze-worker, a
 shaft of Luchtainé the carpenter, and they gave him what he asked.
 There was a woman there busy in sharpening the weapons. She was Cron,
 mother of Fianlug. She sharpened the spear for Ruadan. It was a chief
 who handed Ruadan the spear, and thence the name of chief-spear given
 to this day to the weaver's beam in Erin.

 "When he had got the spear Ruadan turned on Goibniu and smote him with
 the weapon. But Goibniu drew the javelin from the wound and hurled it
 at Ruadan; who was pierced from side to side, and escaped to die among
 the Fomorians in presence of his father. Brig [his mother, the Dagda's
 daughter] came and bewailed her son. First she uttered a piercing cry,
 and thereafter she made moan. It was then that for the first time in
 Ireland were heard moans and cries of sorrow. It was that same Brig
 who invented the whistle used at night to give alarm signals"--

the mythological genesis of the saga is thus obviously marked by the
first satire, first cry of sorrow, and first whistle being ascribed to
the actors in it.

In the end the whole Fomorian army moved to battle in their solid
battalions, "and it was to strike one's hand against a rock, or thrust
one's hand into a nest of serpents, or put one's head into the fire,
to attack the Fomorians that day." The battle is described at length.
Nuada the king of the De Danann is killed by Balor. Lugh, whose counsel
was considered so valuable by the De Danann people that they put
an escort of nine round him to prevent him from taking part in the
fighting, breaks away, and attacks Balor the Fomorian king.

"Balor had an evil eye, that eye only opened itself upon the plain
of battle. Four men had to lift up the eyelid by placing under it
an instrument. The warriors, whom Balor scanned with that eye once
opened,[13] could not--no matter how numerous--resist their enemies."

When Lugh had met and exchanged some mystical and unintelligible
language with him, Balor said, "Raise my eyelid that I may see the
braggart who speaks with me."

"His people raise Balor's eyelid. Lugh from his sling lets fly a stone
at Balor which passes through his head, carrying with it the venomous
eye. Balor's army looked on." The Mór-rígu, the goddess of war,
arrives, and assists the Tuatha De Danann and encourages them. Ogma
slays one of the Fomorian kings and is slain himself. The battle is
broken at last on the Fomorians; they fly, and Breas is taken prisoner,
but his life is spared.

 "It was," says the saga, "at the battle of Moytura that Ogma, the
 strong man, found the sword of Tethra, the King of the Fomorians. Ogma
 drew that sword from the sheath and cleaned it. It was then that it
 related to him all the high deeds that it had accomplished, for at
 this time the custom was when swords were drawn from the sheath they
 used to recite the exploits[14] they had themselves been the cause of.
 And thence comes the right which swords have, to be cleaned when they
 are drawn from the sheath; thence also the magic power which swords
 have preserved ever since"--

to which curious piece of pagan superstition an evidently later
Christian redactor adds, "weapons were the organs of the demon to speak
to men. At that time men used to worship weapons, and they were a magic

The saga ends in the episode of the recovery of the Dagda's harp,
and in the cry of triumph uttered by the Mór-rígu and by Bodb, her
fellow-goddess of war, as they visited the various heights of Ireland,
the banks of streams, and the mouths of floods and great rivers, to
proclaim aloud their triumph and the defeat of the Fomorians.

M. d'Arbois de Jubainville sees in the successive colonisations of
Partholan, the Nemedians, and the Tuatha De Danann, an Irish version
of the Greek legend of the three successive ages of gold, silver, and
brass. The Greek legend of the Chimæra, otherwise Bellerus, the monster
slain by Bellerophon, he equates with the Irish Balor of the evil eye;
the fire from the throat of Bellerus, and the evil beam shot from
Balor's eye may originally have typified the lightning.[15]

[1] "L'yowar (rhyming to _hour_) gow-awla," the "book of the takings or
holdings of Ireland."

[2] Keating derives it from _foghla_, "spoil," and _muir_, "sea," which
is an impossible derivation, or from _fo muirib_, as if "along the
seas," but it really means "under seas."

[3] Also Fir Domnan and Fir Galeóin, two tribes of the same race.

[4] When the oldest list of current Irish sagas was drawn up, probably
in the seventh century, only one battle of Moytura was mentioned; this
was evidently what is now known as the second battle. In the more
recent list contained in the introduction to the Senchus Mór there is
mention made of both battles. There is only a single copy of each of
these sagas known to exist. Of most of the other sagas of this cycle
even the last copy has perished.

[5] Long afterwards, at the time that Ireland was divided into five
provinces, the Cruithnigh, or Picts, drove the Firbolg out of the
islands again, and they were forced to come back to Cairbré Niafer,
king of Leinster, who allotted them a territory, but placed such
a rack-rent upon them that they were glad to fly into Connacht,
where Oilioll and Mève--the king and queen who made the Táin Bo
Chuailgne--gave them a free grant of land, and there Duald Mac Firbis,
over two hundred and fifty years ago, found their descendants in
plenty. According to some accounts, they were never driven wholly
out of Connacht, and if they are a real race--as, despite their
connection with the obviously mythical Tuatha De Danann, they appear
to be--they probably still form the basis of population there. Máine
Mór, the ancestor of the O'Kellys, is said to have wrested from them
the territory of Ui Máiné (part of Roscommon and Galway) in the sixth
century. Their name and that of their fellow tribe, the Fir Domnan,
_appear_ to be the same as the Belgæ, and the Damnonii of Gaul and
Britain, who are said to have given its name to Devonshire. Despite
their close connection in the Book of Invasions and early history of
Ireland, the Firbolg stand on a completely different footing from the
De Danann tribes. Their history is recorded consecutively from that day
to this; many families trace their pedigree to them, and they never
wholly disappeared. No family traces its connection to the De Danann
people; they wholly disappear, and are in later times regarded as gods,
or demons, or fairies.

[6] Bress in the older form.

[7] When the Milesians landed they found a Tuatha De Danann queen,
called Eiriu, the old form of Eire or Erin, from whom the island was
believed to take its name. John Scotus is called in old authorities
Eriugena, not Erigena.

[8] For him _see_ above, pp. 113-15.

[9] Jubainville translates Tuatha De Danann by "tribes of the goddess
Dana." Danann is the genitive of Dana, and Dana is called the "mother
of the gods," but she is not a mother of the bulk of the De Danann
race, so that Jubainville's translation is a rather venturesome one,
and the Old Irish themselves did not take the word in this meaning;
they explained it as "the men of science who were as it were gods."
"Tuatha dé Danann, _i.e._, Dee in taes dána acus andé an taes trebtha,"
_i.e._, "the men of science were (as it were) gods and the laymen

[10] Whitley Stokes translates this by "good hand." It is explained
as--_Dago-dêvo-s_, "the good god." The "Dagda, _i.e._, daigh dé,
_i.e._, dea sainemail ag na geinntib é," _i.e._, "Dagda ie ignis
Dei," for "with the heathen he was a special god," MS. 16, Advocates'
Library, Edinburgh.

[11] Paraphrased by me in English verse in the "Three Sorrows of

[12] Thus perilously translated by Jubainville; Stokes does not attempt

[13] A legend well known to the old men of Galway and Roscommon,
who have often related it to me, tells us that when Conan (Finn mac
Cúmhail's Thersites) looked through his fingers at the enemy, they were
always defeated. He himself did not know this, nor any one except Finn,
who tried to make use of it without letting Conan know his own power.

[14] There is a somewhat similar passage ascribing sensation to swords
in the Saga of Cuchulain's sickness.

[15] The First Battle of Moytura, the Second Battle of Moytura, and the
Death of the Children of Tuireann are three sagas belonging to this
cycle. Others, now preserved in the digest of the Book of Invasions,
are, the Progress of Partholan to Erin, the Progress of Nemed to Erin,
the Progress of the Firbolg, the Progress of the Tuatha De Danann, the
Journey of Mileson of Bile to Spain, the Journey of the Sons of Mile
from Spain to Erin, the Progress of the Cruithnigh (Picts) from Thrace
to Erin and thence into Alba.



The mythological tales that we have been glancing at deal with the folk
who are fabled as having first colonised Erin; they treat of peoples,
races, dynasties, the struggle between good and evil principles. The
whole of their creations are thrown back, even by the Irish annalists
themselves, into the dim cloud-land of an unplumbed past, ages before
the dawn of the first Olympiad, or the birth of the wolf-suckled twins
who founded Rome. There is over it all a shadowy sense of vagueness,
vastness, uncertainty.

The Heroic Cycle, on the other hand, deals with the history of the
Milesians themselves, the present Irish race, within a well-defined
space of time, upon their own ground, and though it does not exactly
fall within the historical period, yet it does not come so far short
of it that it can be with any certainty rejected as pure work of
imagination or poetic fiction. It is certainly the finest of the three
greater saga-cycles, and the epics that belong to it are sharply drawn,
numerous, clear cut, and ancient, and for the first time we _seem_,
at least, to find ourselves upon historical ground, although a good
deal of this seeming may turn out to be illusory. Yet the figures of
Cuchulain, Conor mac Nessa, Naoise, and Déirdre, Mève, Oilioll, and
Conall Cearnach, have about them a great deal of the circumstantiality
that is entirely lacking to the dim, mist-magnified, and distorted
figures of the Dagda, Nuada, Lugh the Long-handed, and their fellows.

The gods come and go as in the Iliad, and according to some accounts
leave their posterity behind them. Cuchulain himself, the incarnation
of Irish ἀριστέια, is according to certain authorities the son of
the god Lugh the Long-handed.[1] He himself, like another Anchises,
is beloved of a goddess and descends into the Gaelic Elysium,[2]
and the most important epic of the cycle is largely conditioned
by an occurrence caused by the curse of a goddess, an occurrence
wholly impossible and supernatural.[3] Yet these are for the most
part excrescences no more affecting the conduct of the history than
the actions of the gods affect the war round Troy. Events, upon the
whole, are motivated upon fairly reasonable human grounds, and there
is a certain air of probability about them. The characters who now
make their appearance upon the scene are not long prior to, or are
contemporaneous with, the birth of Christ; and the wars of the Tuatha
De Danann, Nemedians, and Fomorians, are left some seventeen hundred
years behind.

This cycle, which I have called the "Heroic" or "Red Branch," might
also be named the "Ultonian," because it deals chiefly with the heroes
of the northern province. One saga relates the birth of Conor mac
Nessa. His mother was Ness and his father was Fachtna Fathach, king
of Ulster, but according to what is probably the oldest account,
his father was Cathba the Druid. This saga relates how, through the
stratagem of his mother Ness, Conor slipped into the kingship of
Ulster, displacing Fergus mac Róigh [Roy], the former king, who is
here represented as a good-natured giant, but who appears human enough
in the other sagas.[4] Conor's palace is described with its three
buildings; that of the Red Branch, where were kept the heads and arms
of vanquished enemies; that of the Royal Branch, where the kings
lodged; and that of the Speckled House, where were laid up the shields
and spears and swords of the warriors of Ulster. It was called the
Speckled or Variegated House from the gold and silver of the shields,
and gleaming of the spears, and shining of the goblets, and all arms
were kept in it, in order that at the banquet when quarrels arose the
warriors might not have wherewith to slay each other.

Conor's palace at Emania contained, according to the Book of Leinster,
one hundred and fifty rooms, each large enough for three couples to
sleep in, constructed of red oak, and bordered with copper. Conor's
own chamber was decorated with bronze and silver, and ornamented with
golden birds, in whose eyes were precious stones, and was large enough
for thirty warriors to drink together in it. Above the king's head
hung his silver wand with three golden apples, and when he shook it
silence reigned throughout the palace, so that even the fall of a pin
might be heard. A large vat, always full of good drink, stood ever on
the palace floor.

Another story tells of Cuchulain's mysterious parentage. His mother was
a sister of King Conor; consequently he was the king's nephew.

Another again relates the wooing of Cuchulain, and how he won Emer for
his wife.

Another is called Cuchulain's "Up-bringing," or teaching, part of
which, however, is found in the piece called the "Wooing of Emer."
This saga relates how he, with two other of the Ultonians, went abroad
to Alba to perfect their warlike accomplishments, and how they placed
themselves under the tuition of different female-warriors,[5] who
taught them various and extraordinary feats of arms. He traverses the
plain of Misfortune by the aid of a wheel and of an apple given him by
an unknown friend, and reaches the great female instructress Scathach,
whose daughter falls in love with him.

An admirable example occurs to me here, of showing in the concrete that
which I have elsewhere laid stress upon, namely, the great elaboration
which in many instances we find in the modern versions of sagas,
compared with the antique vellum texts. It does not at all follow that
because a story is written down with brevity in ancient Irish, it was
also told with brevity. The oldest form of the saga of Cuchulain's
"Wooing of Emer" contains traces of a pre-Danish or seventh-century
text, but the condensed and shortened relation of the saga found in
the oldest manuscript of it, is almost certainly not the form in which
the bards and ollavs related it. On the contrary, I believe that the
stories now epitomised in ancient vellum texts were even then told,
though not written down, at full length, and with many flourishes
by the bards and professed story-tellers, and that the skeletons
merely, or as Keating calls it, the "bones of the history,"[6] were
in most instances all that was committed to the rare and expensive
parchments. It is more than likely that the longer modern paper
redactions, though some of the ancient pagan traits, especially those
most incomprehensible to the moderns, may be missing, yet represent
more nearly the _manner_ of the original bardic telling, than the
abridgments of twelfth or thirteenth-century vellums.

In this case the ancient recension,[7] founded on a pre-Danish text,
merely mentions that Scathach's house, at which Cuchulain arrives,
after leaving the plain of Misfortune,

 "was built upon a rock of appalling height. Cuchulain followed the
 road pointed out to him. He reached the castle of Scathach. He knocked
 at the door with the handle of his spear and entered. Uathach, the
 daughter of Scathach, meets him. She looked at him, but she spoke
 not, so much did the hero's beauty make her love him. She went to her
 mother and told her of the beauty of the man who had newly come. 'That
 man has pleased you,' said her mother. 'He shall come to my couch,'
 answered the girl, 'and I shall sleep at his side this night.' 'Thy
 intention displeases me not,' said her mother."

One can see at a glance how bald and brief is all this, because it is a
précis, and vellum was scarce. I venture to say that no bard ever told
it in this way. The scribes who first committed this to parchment, say
in the seventh or eighth century, probably wrote down only the leading
incidents as they remembered them. They may not have been themselves
either bards, ollavs, or story-tellers. It is chiefly in the later
centuries, after the introduction of paper, when the economising of
space ceased to be a matter of importance, that we find our sagas told
with all the redundancy of description, epithet, and incident with
which I suspect the very earliest bards embellished all those sagas
of which we have now only little more than the skeletons. Compare,
for instance, the ancient version which I have just given, with the
longer modern versions which have come down to us in several paper
manuscripts, of which I here use one in my own possession, copied about
the beginning of the century by a scribe named O'Mahon, upon one of the
islands on the Shannon.

In the first place this version tells us that on his arrival at
Scathach's mansion he finds a number of her scholars and other warriors
engaged in hurling outside the door of her fortress. He joins in the
game and defeats them--this is a true folk-lore introduction. He finds
there Naoise, Ardan, and Ainnlè, the three sons of Usnach, celebrated
in perhaps the most touching saga of this whole cycle, and another
son of Erin with them. This is a literary touch, by one who knew his
literature.[8] Learning that he is come from Erin, they ask news of
their native country, and salute him with kisses. They then bring him
to the Bridge of the Cliffs, and show him what their work is during the
first year, which was learning to pass this bridge.

 "Wonderful," says the saga, "was the sight that bridge afforded when
 any one would leap upon it, for it narrowed until it became as narrow
 as the hair of one's head, and the second time it shortened until it
 became as short as an inch, and the third time it grew slippery until
 it was as slippery as an eel of the river, and the fourth time it rose
 up on high against you until it was as tall as the mast of a ship."

All the warriors and people on the lawn came down to see Cuchulain
attempting to cross this bridge. In the meantime Scathach's _grianán_
or sunny house is described: "It had seven great doors, and seven
great windows between every two doors of them, and thrice fifty
couches between every two windows of them, and thrice fifty handsome
marriageable girls, in scarlet cloaks, and in beautiful and blue
attire, attending and waiting upon Scathach."

Then Scathach's lovely daughter, looking from the windows of the
_grianán_, perceives the stranger attempting the feat of the bridge,
and she falls in love with him upon the spot. Her emotions are thus
described: "Her face and colour constantly changed, so that now she
would be as white as a little white flowret, and again she would become
scarlet," and in the work she was embroidering she put the gold thread
where the silver thread should be, and the silver thread into the place
where the gold thread should go; and when her mother notices it, she
excuses herself by saying beautifully, "I would greatly grieve should
he not return alive to his own people, in whatever part of the world
they may be, for I know that there is some one to whom it would be
anguish to know that he is thus."

This refined reflection of the girl we may with certainty ascribe
to the growth of modern sentiment, and it is extremely instructive
to compare it with the ancient, and no doubt really pagan version;
but I strongly suspect that the bridge over the cliffs is no modern
embellishment at all, but part of the original saga, though omitted
from the pre-Norse text which only tells us that Scathach's house was
on the top of a rock of appalling height.

It was during this sojourn of Cuchulain in foreign lands that he
overcame the heroine Aoife,[9] and forced her into a marriage with
himself. He returned home afterwards, having left instructions with her
to keep the child she should bear him, if it were a daughter, "for with
every mother goes the daughter," but if it were a son she was to rear
him until he should be able to perform certain hero-feats, and until
his finger should be large enough to fill a ring which Cuchulain left
with her for him. Then she was to send him into Erin, and bid him tell
no man who he was; also he desired her not to teach him the feat of
the Gae-Bulg, "but, however," says the saga, "it was ill that command
turned out, for it was of that it came to pass that Conlaoch [the son]
fell by Cuchulain."[10]

I know of no prose saga of the touching story of the death of this
son, slain by his own father, except the _résumé_ given of it by
Keating,[11] but there exists a poem or épopée upon the subject which
was always a great favourite with the Irish scribes, and of which
numerous but not ancient copies exist. This is the Irish Sohrab and
Rustum, the Celtic Hildebrand and Hadubrand. The son comes into
Ireland, but in consequence of his mother's command, refuses to tell
his name. This is looked upon as indicating hostility, and many of
the Ultonians fight with him, but he overcomes them all, even the
great Conall Cearnach. Conor in despair sends for Cuchulain, who with
difficulty slays him by the feat of the Gae-Bolg, and then finds out
when too late that the dying champion is his own son. So familiar to
the modern Irish scribes was this piece that in my copy, in the last
verse, which ends with Cuchulain's lament over his son--

  "I am the bark (buffeted) from wave to wave,
  I am the ship after the losing of its rudder,
  I am the apple upon the top of the tree
  That little thought of its falling."[12]

instead of the text of the third line stands a rough picture of a tree
with a large apple on the top!

Another saga[13] tells of Cuchulain's _geasa_ [gassa] or restrictions.
It was _geis_ or tabu to him to narrate his genealogy to one champion,
as it was also to his son Conlaoch, to refuse combat to any one man, to
look upon the exposed bosom of a woman, to come into a company without
a second invitation, to accept the hospitality of virgins, to boast to
a woman, to let the sun rise before him in Emania, he must when there
rise before it, etc. There is in this saga a graphic description of the
pagan king's retinue journeying with him to be fed in the house of a

 "All the Ultonian nobles set out; a great train of provincials, sons
 of kings and chiefs, young lords and men-at-arms, the curled and
 rosy youth of the kingdom, and the maidens and fair ringleted ladies
 of Ulster. Handsome virgins, accomplished damsels, and splendid,
 fully-developed women were there. Satirists and scholars were there,
 and the companies of singers and musicians, poets who composed songs
 and reproofs, and praising-poems for the men of Ulster. There came
 also with them from Emania historians, judges, horse-riders, buffoons,
 tumblers, fools, and performers on horseback. They all went by the
 same way, behind the king."[14]

Dismissing Cuchulain for the present, we pass on now to another
personality of the Red Branch saga--the Lady Déirdre.

[1] _See_ "Compert Conculaind," by Windisch in "Irische Texte," t. i.
p. 134, and Jubainville's "Epopée Celtique en Irlande," p. 22.

[2] _See_ the story of Cuchulain's sick-bed, translated by O'Curry
in the first volume of the "Atlantis," and by Mr. O'Looney in Sir J.
Gilbert's "Facsimiles of the National MSS. of Ireland," and by Windisch
in "Irische Texte," vol. i., pp. 195-234, and by M. de Jubainville in
his "Epopée Celtique," p. 174, and lastly, Mr. Nutt's "Voyage of Bran,"
vol. ii., p. 38.

[3] This is the periodic curse which overtook the Ulstermen at certain
periods, rendering them feeble as a woman in child-bed, in consequence
of the malediction of the goddess Macha, who was, just before the birth
of her children, inhumanly obliged by the Ultonians to run against the
king's horses. The only people of the northern province free from this
curse were the children born before the curse was uttered, the women,
and the hero Cuchulain. It transmitted itself from father to son for
nine generations, and is said to have lasted five nights and four days,
or four nights and five days. But one would think from the Táin Bo
Chuailgne that it must have lasted much longer. For this curse _see_
Jubainville's "Epopée Celtique," p. 320. I was, not long ago, told a
story by a peasant in the county Galway not unlike it, only it was
related of the mother of the celebrated boxer Donnelly.

[4] Except in one place in the Táin Bo Chuailgne, where his sword is
spoken of, which was like a thread in his hand, but which when he smote
with it extended itself to the size of a rainbow, with three blows of
which upon the ground he raised three hills. The description of Fergus
in the Conor story preserved in the Book of Leinster, is simply and
frankly that of a giant many times the size of an ordinary man.

[5] The female warrior and war-teacher was not uncommon among the
Celts, as the examples of Boadicea and of Mève of Connacht show.

[6] "Cnámha an tseanchusa."

[7] Rawlinson, B. 512.

[8] For Déirdre in her lament over the three does call them "three
pupils of Scathach."

[9] Pronounced "Eefă." The triphthong _aoi_ has always the sound of
_ee_ in English. The stepmother of the Children of Lir was also called

[10] I quote this from my paper version. The oldest text only says that
"Cuchulain told her that she should bear him a son, and that upon a
certain day in seven years' time that son should go to him; he told her
what name she should give him, and then he went away."

[11] P. 279 of John O'Mahony's edition, translated also by M. de
Jubainville in his "Epopée Celtique," who comparing the Irish story
with its Germanic counterpart expresses himself strongly on their
relative merits: "Tout est puissant, logique, primitif, dans la pièce
irlandaise; sa concordance avec la piece persanne atteste une haute
antiquité. Elle peut remonter aux époques celtiques les plus anciennes,
et avoir été du nombre des _carmina_ chantés par les Gaulois à la
bataille de Clusium en 295 av. J.-C. Le poème allemand dont on a une
copie du huitième siècle est une imitation inintelligente et affaiblie
du chant celtique qui a dû retentir sur les rives du Danube et du Mein
mille ans plus tôt, et dont la rédaction germanique est l'œuvre de
quelque naïf Macpherson, prédécesseur honnêtement inhabile de celui du
dix-huitième siècle."


  "Is mé an barc o thuinn go tuinn,
  Is mé an long iar ndul d'á stiúr.
  Is mé an t-ubhall i mbárr an chroinn
  Is beag do shaoil a thuitim."

_See_ Miss Brooke's "Reliques of Ancient Irish Poetry," 2nd ed. p.
393. See also Kuno Meyer's note at p. xv of his edition of _Cath
Finntragha_, in which he bears further evidence to the antiquity and
persistence of this story.

[13] See the Book of Leinster, 107-111, a MS. copied about the year

[14] Thus translated by my late lamented friend and accomplished
scholar Father James Keegan of St. Louis.



One of the key-stone stories of the Red Branch Cycle is Déirdre, or
the Fate of the Children of Usnach. Cuchulain, though he appears in
this saga, is not a prominent figure in it. This piece is perhaps the
finest, most pathetic, and best-conceived of any in the whole range of
our literature. But like much of that literature it exists in the most
various recensions, and there are different accounts given of the death
of all the principal characters.

This saga commences with the birth of Déirdre. King Conor and his
Ultonians had gone to drink and feast in the house of Felim, Conor's
chief story-teller, and during their stay there Felim's wife gives
birth to a daughter. Cathba the Druid prophesies concerning the infant,
and foretells that much woe and great calamities shall yet come upon
Ulster because of her. He names her Déirdre.[1] The Ultonians are
smitten with horror at his prophecies, and order her to be instantly
put to death. The most ancient text, that of the twelfth-century Book
of Leinster, tells the beginning of this saga exceedingly tersely.

 "'Let the girl be slain,' cried the warriors. 'Not so,' said King
 Conor, 'but bring ye her to me to-morrow; she shall be brought up
 as I shall order, and she shall be the woman whom I shall marry.'
 The Ultonians ventured not to contradict the King; they did as he

 "Déirdre was brought up in Conor's house. She became the handsomest
 maiden in Ireland. She was reared in a house apart: no man was allowed
 to see her until she should become Conor's wife. No one was permitted
 to enter the house except her tutor, her nurse, and Lavarcam,[2] whom
 they ventured not to keep out, for she was a druidess magician whose
 incantations they feared.

 "One winter day Déirdre's tutor slew a young tender calf upon the snow
 outside the house, which he was to cook for his pupil. She beheld
 a raven drinking the blood upon the snow. She said to Lavarcam,
 'The only man I could love would be one who should have those three
 colours, hair black as the raven, cheeks red as the blood, body white
 as the snow.' 'Thou hast an opportunity,' answered Lavarcam, 'the man
 whom thou desirest is not far off, he is close to thee in the palace
 itself; he is Naesi, son of Usnach.' 'I shall not be happy,' answered
 Déirdre, 'until I have seen him.'"

This famous story "which is known," as Dr. Cameron puts it, "over all
the lands of the Gael, both in Ireland and Scotland,"[3] has been more
fortunate than any other in the whole range of Irish literature, for
it has engaged the attention of, and been edited from different texts
by, nearly every great Celtic scholar of this century.[4] Yet I luckily
discovered last year in the museum in Belfast by far the amplest and
most graphic version of them all, bound up with some other pieces of
different dates. It was copied at the end of the last or the beginning
of the present century by a northern scribe, from a copy which must
have been fairly old to judge from the language and from the glosses
in the margin. I give here a literal translation of the opening of the
story from this manuscript, and it is an admirable example of the later
extension and embellishment of the ancient texts.


 "Once upon a time Conor, son of Fachtna, and the nobles of the
 Red Branch, went to a feast to the house of Feidhlim, the son of
 Doll, the king's principal story-teller; and the King and people
 were merry and light hearted, eating that feast in the house of the
 principal story-teller, with gentle music of the musicians, and
 with the melody of the voices of the bards and the ollavs, with the
 delight of the speech and ancient tales of the sages, and of those
 who read the keenes (?) (written on) flags and books; (listening) to
 the prognostications of the druids and of those who numbered the
 moon and stars. And at the time when the assembly were merry and
 pleasant in general it chanced that Feidhlim's wife bore a beautiful,
 well-shaped daughter, during the feast. Up rises expeditiously the
 gentle Cathfaidh, the Head-druid of Erin, who chanced to be present
 in the assembly at that time, and a bundle of his ancient ...? fairy
 books in his left hand with him, and out he goes on the border of
 the rath to minutely observe and closely scrutinise the clouds of
 the air, the position of the stars and the age of the moon, to gain
 a prognostication and a knowledge of the fate that was in store for
 the child who was born there. Cathfaidh then returns quickly to all
 in presence of the King and told them an omen and prophecy, that many
 hurts and losses should come to the province of Ulster on account of
 the girl that was born there. On the nobles of Ulster receiving this
 prophecy they resolved on the plan of destroying the infant, and the
 heroes of the Red Branch bade slay her without delay.

 "'Let it not be so done,' says the King; 'it is not laudable to fight
 against fate, and woe to him who would destroy an innocent infant,
 for agreeable is the appearance and the laugh of the child; alas! it
 were a pity to quench her (life). Observe, O ye Nobles of Ulster, and
 listen to me, O ye valiant heroes of the Red Branch, and understand
 that I still submit to the omen of the prophecies and foretellings of
 the seers, but yet I do not submit to, nor do I praise, the committing
 of a base deed, or a deed of treachery, in the hope of quenching the
 anger of the power of the elements. If it be a fate which it is not
 possible to avoid, give ye, each of you, death to himself, but do
 not shed the blood of the innocent infant, for it were not (our) due
 (to have) prosperity thereafter. I proclaim to you, moreover, O ye
 nobles of Emania, that I take the girl under my own protection from
 henceforth, and if I and she live and last, it may be that I shall
 have her as my one-wife and gentle consort. Therefore, I assure the
 men of Erin by the securities of the moon and sun, that any one who
 would venture to destroy her either now or again, shall neither live
 nor last, if I survive her.'

 "The nobles of Ulster, and every one in general listened silent and
 mute, until Conall Cearnach, Fergus mac Roigh, and the heroes of the
 Red Branch rose up together, and 'twas what they said, 'O High-king
 of Ulster, right is thy judgment, and it is (our) due to observe it,
 and let it be thy will that is done.'

 "As for the girl, Conor took her under his own protection, and placed
 her in a moat apart, to be brought up by his nurse, whose name was
 Lavarcam, in a fortress of the Red Branch, and Conor and Cathfaidh
 the druid gave her the name of Déirdre. Afterwards Déirdre was being
 generously nurtured under Lavarcam and (other) ladies, perfecting her
 in every science that was fitting for the daughter of a high prince,
 until she grew up a blossom-bearing sapling, and until her beauty
 was beyond every degree surpassing. Moreover, she was nurtured with
 excessive luxury of meat and drink that her stature and ripeness might
 be the greater for it, and that she might be the sooner marriageable.
 This is how Déirdre's abode was (situated, namely) in a fortress of
 the Branch, according to the King's command, every (aperture for)
 light closed in the front of the dún, and the windows of the back
 (ordered) to be open. A beautiful orchard full of fruit (lay) at the
 back of the fort, in which Déirdre might be walking for a while under
 the eye of her tutor at the beginning and the end of the day; under
 the shade of the fresh boughs and branches, and by the side of a
 running, meandering stream that was winding softly through the middle
 of the walled garden. A high, tremendous difficult wall, not easy to
 surmount, (was) surrounding that spacious habitation, and four savage
 man-hounds (sent) from Conor (were) on constant guard there, and his
 life were in peril for the man who would venture to approach it. For
 it was not permitted to any male to come next nor near Déirdre, nor
 even to look at her, but (only) to her tutor, whose name was Cailcin,
 and to King Conor himself. Prosperous was Conor's sway, and valiant
 was the fame (_i.e._, famous was the valour) of the Red Branch,
 defending the province of Ulster against foreigners and against every
 other province in Erin in his time, and there were no three in the
 household of Emania or throughout all Banba [Ireland] more brilliant
 than the sons of Uisneach, nor heroes of higher fame than they, Naoise
 [Neeshă], Ainle, and Ardan.

 "As for Déirdre, when she was fourteen years of age she was found
 marriageable and Conor designed to take her to his own royal couch.
 About this time a sadness and a heavy flood of melancholy lay upon the
 young queen, without gentle sleep, without sufficient food, without
 sprightliness--as had been her wont.

 "Until it chanced of a day, while snow lay (on the ground), in the
 winter, that Cailcin, Déirdre's tutor, went to kill a calf to get
 ready food for her, and after shedding the blood of the calf out
 upon the snow, a raven stoops upon it to drink it, and as Déirdre
 perceives that, and she watching through a window of the fortress,
 she heaved a heavy sigh so that Cailcin heard her. 'Wherefore thy
 melancholy, girl?' said he. 'Alas that I have not yon thing as I see
 it,' said she. 'Thou shalt have that if it be possible,' said he,
 drawing his hand dexterously so that he gave an unerring cast of his
 knife at the raven, so that he cut one foot off it. And after that he
 takes up the bird and throws it over near Déirdre. The girl starts at
 once, and fell into a faint, until Lavarcam came up to help her. 'Why
 art thou as I see thee, dear girl,' said she, 'for thy countenance
 is pitiable ever since yesterday?' 'A desire that came to me,' said
 Déirdre. 'What is that desire?' said Lavarcam. 'Three colours that I
 saw,' said Déirdre, 'namely, the blackness of the raven, the redness
 of the blood, and the whiteness of the snow.' 'It is easy to get that
 for thee now,' said Lavarcam, and arose (and went) out without delay,
 and she gathered the full of a vessel of snow, and half the full of a
 cup of the calf's blood, and she pulls three feathers out of the wing
 of the raven. And she laid them down on the table before the girl.
 Déirdre began as though she were eating the snow and lazily tasting
 the blood with the top of the raven's feather, and her nurse closely
 scrutinising her, until Déirdre asked Lavarcam to leave her alone by
 herself for a while. Lavarcam departs, and again returns, and this
 is how she found Déirdre--shaping a ball of snow in the likeness of
 a man's head and mottling it with the top of the raven's feather out
 of the blood of the calf, and putting the small black plumage as hair
 upon it, and she never perceived her nurse examining her until she had
 finished. 'Whose likeness is that?' said Lavarcam. Déirdre starts and
 she said,'It is a work easily destroyed.' 'That work is a great wonder
 to me, girl,' said Lavarcam, 'because it was not thy wont to draw
 pictures of a man, (and) it was not permitted to the women of Emania
 to teach thee any similitude but that of Conor only.' 'I saw a face
 in my dream,' said Déirdre, 'that was of brighter countenance than
 the King's face, or Cailcin's, and it was in it that I saw the three
 colours that pained me, namely, the whiteness of the snow on his skin,
 the blackness of the raven on his hair, and the redness of the blood
 upon his countenance, and oh woe! my life will not last, unless I get
 my desire.' 'Alas for thy desire, my darling,' said Lavarcam. 'My
 desire, O gentle nurse,' said Déirdre. 'Alas! 'tis a pity thy desire,
 it is difficult to get it,' said Lavarcam, 'for fast and close is the
 fortress of the Branch, and high and difficult is the enclosure round
 about, and [there is] the sharp watch of the fierce man-hounds in it.'
 'The hounds are no danger to us,' said Déirdre. 'Where did you behold
 that face?' said Lavarcam. 'In a dream yesterday,' said Déirdre, and
 she weeping, after hiding her face in her nurse's bosom, and shedding
 tears plentifully. 'Rise up from me, dear pupil,' said Lavarcam,
 'and restrain thy tears henceforth till thou eatest food and takest
 a drink, and after Cailcin's eating his meal we shall talk together
 about the dream.' Her nurse raises Déirdre's head, 'Take courage,
 daughter,' said she, 'and be patient, for I am certain that thou shalt
 get thy desire, for according to human age and life, Conor's time
 beside thee is not (to be) long or lasting.'

 "After Lavarcam's departing from her, she [Lavarcam] perceived a green
 mantle hung in the front of a closed-up window on the head of a brass
 club and the point of a spear thrust through the wall of the mansion.
 Lavarcam puts her hand to it so that it readily came away with her,
 and stones and moss fell down after it, so that the light of day, and
 the grassy lawn, and the Champion's Plain in front of the mansion, and
 the heroes at their feats of activity became visible. 'I understand,
 now, my pupil,' said Lavarcam, 'that it was here you saw that dream.'
 But Déirdre did not answer her. Her nurse left food and ale on the
 table before Déirdre, and departed from her without speaking, for the
 boring-through of the window did not please Lavarcam, for fear of
 Conor or of Cailcin coming to the knowledge of it. As for Déirdre, she
 ate not her food, but she quenched her thirst out of a goblet of ale,
 and she takes with her the flesh of the calf, after covering it under
 a corner of her mantle, and she went to her tutor and asks leave of
 him to go out for a while (and walk) at the back of the mansion. 'The
 day is cold, and there is snow darkening in (the air) daughter,' said
 Cailcin, 'but you can walk for a while under the shelter of the walls
 of the mansion, but mind the house of the hounds.'

 "Déirdre went out, and no stop was made by her until she passed down
 through the middle of the snow to where the den of the man-hounds was,
 and as soon as the hounds recognised her and the smell of the meat
 they did not touch her, and they made no barking till she divided
 her food amongst them, and she returns into the house afterwards.
 Thereupon came Lavarcam, and found Déirdre lying upon one side of
 her couch, and she sighing heavily and shedding tears. Her nurse
 stood silent for a while observing her, till her heart was softened
 to compassion and her anger departed from her. She stretched out her
 hand, and 'twas what she said, 'Rise up, modest daughter, that we
 may be talking about the dream, and tell me did you ever see that
 black hero before yesterday?' 'White hero, gentle nurse, hero of the
 pleasant crimson cheeks,' said Déirdre. 'Tell me without falsehood,'
 said Lavarcam, 'did you ever see that warrior before yesterday, or
 before you bored through the window-work with the head of a spear
 and with a brass club, and till you looked out through it on the
 warriors of the Branch when they were at their feats of activity on
 the Champion Plain, and till you saw all the dreams you spoke of?'
 Déirdre hides her head in her nurse's bosom, weeping, till she said,
 'Oh, gentle mother and nurturer of my heart, do not tell that to my
 tutor; and I shall not conceal from thee that I saw him on the lawn of
 Emania, playing games with the boys, and learning feats of valour, and
 och! he had the beautiful countenance at that time, and very lovely
 was it yesterday (too).' 'Daughter,' said Lavarcam, 'you did not see
 the boys on the green of Emania from the time you were seven years of
 age, and that is seven years ago.' 'Seven bitter years,' said Déirdre,
 'since I beheld the delight of the green and the playing of the boys,
 and surely, too, Naoise surpassed all the youths of Emania.' 'Naoise,
 the son of Uisneach?' said Lavarcam. 'Naoise is his name, as he told
 me,' said Déirdre, 'but I did not ask whose son he was.' 'As he told
 you!' said Lavarcam. 'As he told me,' said Déirdre, 'when he made
 a throw of a ball, by a miss-cast, backwards transversely over the
 heads of the band of maidens that were standing on the edge of the
 green, and I rose from amongst them all, till I lifted the ball, and
 I delivered it to him, and he pressed my hand joyously.' 'He pressed
 your hand, girl!' said Lavarcam. 'He pressed it lovingly, and said
 that he would see me again, but it was difficult for him, and I did
 not see him since until yesterday, and oh, gentle nurse, if you wish
 me to be alive take a message to him from me, and tell him to come to
 visit me and talk with me secretly to-night without the knowledge of
 Cailcin or any other person.' 'Oh, girl,' said Lavarcam, it is a very
 dangerous attempt to gain the quenching of thy desire [being in peril]
 from the anger of the King, and under the sharp watch of Cailcin,
 considering the fierceness of the savage man-hounds, and considering
 the difficulty of (scaling) the enclosure round about.' 'The hounds
 are no danger to us,' said Déirdre. 'Then, too,' said Lavarcam, 'great
 is Conor's love for the children of Uisneach, and there is not in the
 Red Branch a hero dearer to him than Naoise.' 'If he be the son of
 Uisneach,' said Déirdre, 'I heard the report of him from the women of
 Emania, and that great are his own territories in the West of Alba,
 outside of Conor's sway, and, gentle nurse, go to find Naoise, and you
 can tell him how I am, and how much greater my love for him is than
 for Conor.' 'Tell him that yourself if you can,' said Lavarcam, and
 she went out thereupon to seek Naoise till he was found, and till he
 came with her to Déirdre's dwelling in the beginning of the night,
 without Cailcin's knowledge. When Naoise beheld the splendour of the
 girl's countenance he is filled with a flood of love, and Déirdre
 beseeches him to take her and escape to Alba. But Naoise thought
 that too hazardous, for fear of Conor. But in the course (?) of the
 night Déirdre won him over, so that he consented to her, and they
 determined to depart on the night of the morrow.

 "Déirdre escaped in the middle of the night without the knowledge
 of her tutor or her nurse, for Naoise came at that time and his two
 brothers along with him, so that he bored a gap at the back of the
 hounds' den, for the dogs were dead already through poison from

 "They lifted the girl over the walls, through every rough impediment,
 so that her mantle and the extremity of her dress were all tattered,
 and he set her upon the back of a steed, and no stop was made by them
 till (they reached) Sliabh Fuaid and Finn-charn of the watch, till
 they came to the harbour and went aboard a ship and were driven by a
 south wind across the ocean-waters and over the back-ridges of the
 deep sea to Loch n-Eathaigh in the west of Alba, and thrice fifty
 valiant champions [sailed] along with them, namely, fifty with each of
 the three brothers, Naoise, Ainle, and Ardan."

The three brothers and Déirdre lived for a long time happily in
Scotland and rose to great favour and power with the King, until he
discovered the existence of the beautiful Déirdre, whom they had
carefully kept concealed lest he should desire her for his wife. This
discovery drives them forth again, and they live by hunting in the
highlands and islands.

It is only at this point that most of the modern copies, such as that
published by O'Flanagan in 1808, begin, namely, with a feast of King
Conor's, in which he asks his household and all the warriors of Ulster
who are present, whether they are aware of anything lacking to his
palace in Emania. They all reply that to them it seems perfect. "Not
so to me," answers Conor, "I know of a great want which presseth upon
you, namely, three renowned youths, the three luminaries of the valour
of the Gaels, the three beautiful, noble sons of Usnach, to be wanting
to you on account of any woman in the world." "Dared we say that," said
they, "long since would we have said it."

Conor thereupon proposes to send ambassadors to them to solicit their
return. He takes Conall Cearnach apart and asks him if he will go,
and what would he do should the sons of Usnach be slain while under
his protection. Conall answers that he would slay without mercy any
Ultonian who dared to touch one of them. So does Cuchulain. Fergus mac
Róigh alone promises not to injure the King himself should he touch
them, but any other Ultonian who should wrong them must die. Fergus
and his two sons sailed to Alba, commissioned to proclaim peace to the
sons of Usnach and bring them home. Having landed, Fergus gives forth
the cry of a "mighty man of chace." Naoise and Déirdre were sitting
together in their hunting booth playing at chess. Naoise heard the
cry and said, "I hear the call of a man of Erin." "That was not the
call of a man of Erin," said Déirdre, "but the call of a man of Alba."
Twice again did Fergus shout, and twice did Déirdre insist that it was
not the cry of a man of Erin. At last Naoise recognises the voice of
Fergus, and sends his brother to meet him. Then Déirdre confesses that
she had recognised the call of Fergus from the beginning. "Why didst
thou conceal it then, my queen?" said Naoise. "A vision I had last
night," said Déirdre, "for three birds came to us from Emania having
three sups of honey in their beaks, and they left them with us, but
they took with them three sups of our blood." "And how readest thou
that, my queen," said Naoise. "It is," said Déirdre, "the coming of
Fergus to us with a peaceful message from Conor, for honey is not more
sweet than the peaceful message of the false man."

But all is of no avail. Fergus and his sons arrive and spend the night
with the children of Usnach, and despite of all that Déirdre can do,
she sees them slowly win her husband round to their side, and inspire
him with a desire to return once more to Erin.

Next morning they embark. Déirdre weeps and utters lamentations; she
sings her bitter regret at leaving the scenes where she had been so

 "Delightful land," she sang, "yon eastern land, Alba, with its
 wonders. I had never come hither out of it had I not come with

 "The Vale of Laidh, Oh in the Vale of Laidh, I used to sleep under
 soft coverlet; fish and venison and the fat of the badger were my
 repast in the Vale of Laidh.

 "The Vale of Masan, oh the Vale of Masan, high its harts-tongue, fair
 its stalks, we used to enjoy a rocking sleep above the grassy verge of

 "The vale of Eiti, oh the vale of Eiti! In it I raised my first house,
 lovely was its wood (when seen) on rising, the milking-house of the
 sun was the vale of Eiti.

 "Glendarua, oh Glendarua! my love to every one who enjoys it; sweet
 the voice of the cuckoo upon bending bough upon the cliff above

 "Dear is Droighin over the strong shore. Dear are its waters over pure
 sand; I would never have come from it had I not come with my love."

She ceased to sing, the vessel approached the shore, and the fugitives
are landed once more in Erin. But dangers thicken round them. Through
a strategy of King Conor's Fergus is placed under _geasa_ or tabu by
a man called Barach to stay and partake of a feast with him, and thus
detached from the sons of Usnach, who are left alone with his two sons
instead. Then Déirdre again uses all her influence with her husband
and his brothers to sail to Rathlin and wait there until they can be
rejoined by Fergus, but she does not prevail. After that she has a
terrifying dream, and tells it to them, but Naoise answered lightly in

  "Thy mouth pronounceth not but evil,
  O maiden, beautiful, incomparable;
  The venom of thy delicate ruby mouth
  Fall on the hateful furious foreigners."

Thereafter, as they advanced farther upon their way towards King
Conor's palace at Emania, the omens of evil grow thicker still, and
all Déirdre's terrors are re-awakened by the rising of a blood-red

  "'O Naoise, view the cloud
  That I see here on the sky,
  I see over Emania green
  A chilling cloud of blood-tinged red.

  I have caught alarm from the cloud
  I see here in the sky,
  It is like a gore-clot of blood,
  The cloud terrific very-thin.'"

And she urged them to turn aside to Cuchulain's palace at Dundalgan,
and remain under that hero's safeguard till Fergus could rejoin them.
But she cannot persuade the others that the treachery which she herself
sees so clearly is really intended. Her last despairing attempt is made
as they come in sight of the royal city; she tells them that if, when
they arrive, they are admitted into the mansion in which King Conor is
feasting with the nobles of Ulster round him, they are safe, but if
they are on any pretext quartered by the King in the House of the Red
Branch, they may be certain of treachery. They _are_ sent to the House
of the Red Branch, and not admitted among the King's revellers, on the
pretended grounds that the Red Branch is better prepared for strangers,
and that its larder and its cellar are better provided with food and
drink than the King's mansion. All now begin to feel that the net is
closing over them. Late in the night King Conor, fired with drink and
jealousy, called for some one to go for him and bring him word how
Déirdre looked, "for if her own form live upon her, there is not in the
world a woman more beautiful than she." Lavarcam, the nurse, undertakes
to go. She, of course, discloses to Déirdre and Naoise the treachery
that is being plotted against them, and returning to Conor she tells
him that Déirdre has wholly lost her beauty, whereat, "much of his
jealousy abated, and he continued to indulge in feasting and enjoyment
a long while, until he thought of Déirdre a second time." This time
he does not trust Lavarcam, but sends one of his retainers, first
reminding him that his father and his three brothers had been slain
by Naoise. But in the mean time the entrances and windows of the Red
Branch had been shut and barred and the doors barricaded by the sons of
Usnach. One small window, however, had been left open at the back and
the spy climbed upon a ladder and looked through it and saw Naoise and
Déirdre sitting together and playing at chess. Déirdre called Naoise's
attention to the face looking at them, and Naoise, who was lifting a
chessman off the board, hurled it at the head and broke the eye that
looked at them. The man ran back and told the King that it was worth
losing an eye to have beheld a woman so lovely. Then Conor, fired with
fury and jealousy, led his troops to the assault, and all night long
there is fighting and shouting round the Red Branch House, and Naoise's
brothers, helped by the two sons of Fergus, pass the night in repelling
attack, and in quenching the fires that break out all round the house.
At length one of Fergus's sons is slain and the other is bought off by
a bribe of land and a promise of power from King Conor, and now the
morning begins to dawn, but the sons of Usnach are still living, and
Déirdre is still untaken. At last Conor's druid, Cathba, consents to
work a spell against them if Conor will plight his faithful word that
having once taken Déirdre he will not touch or harm the sons of Usnach.
Conor plights his word and troth, and the spell is set at work. The
sons of Usnach had left the half-burnt house and were escaping in the
morning light with Déirdre between them when they met, as they thought,
a sea of thick viscid waves, and they cast down their weapons and
spread abroad their arms and tried to swim, and Conor's soldiers came
and took them without a blow. They were brought to Conor and he caused
them to be at once beheaded. It was then the druid cursed Emania, for
Conor had broken his plighted word, and that curse was fulfilled in
the misery that fell upon the province during the wars with Mève.
He cursed also the house of Conor, and prophesied that none of his
descendants should possess Emania for ever, "and that," adds the saga,
"has been verified, for neither Conor nor any of his race possessed
Emania from that time to this."[6]

As for Déirdre, she was as one distracted; she fell upon the ground and
drank their blood, she tore her hair and rent her dishevelled tresses,
and the lament she broke forth into has long been a favourite of Irish
scribes. She calls aloud upon the dead, "the three falcons of the mount
of Culan, the three lions of wood of the cave, the three sons of the
breast of the Ultonians, the three props of the battalion of Chuailgne,
the three dragons of the fort of Monadh."

  "The High King of Ulster, my first husband,
  I forsook him for the love of Naoise.

   * * * * *

  That I shall live after Naoise
  Let no man on earth imagine.

   * * * * *

  Their three shields and their three spears
  Have often been my bed.

   * * * * *

  I never was one day alone
  Until the day of the making of the grave,
  Although both I and ye
  Were often in solitude.

  My sight has gone from me
  At seeing the grave of Naoise."

She remembers now in her own agony another woman who would lament with
her could she but know that Naoise had died.

  "On a day that the nobles of Alba [Scotland] were feasting,
  And the sons of Usnach, deserving of love,
  To the daughter of the lord of Duntrone
  Naoise gave a secret kiss.

  He sent to her a frisking doe,
  A deer of the forest with a fawn at its foot,
  And he went aside to her on a visit
  While returning from the host of Inverness.

  But when I heard that
  My head filled full of jealousy,
  I launched my little skiff upon the waves,
  I did not care whether I died or lived.

  They followed me, swimming,
  Ainnlé and Ardan, who never uttered falsehood,
  And they turned me in to land again,
  Two who would subdue a hundred.

  Naoise pledged me his word of truth,
  And he swore in presence of his weapons three times,
  That he would never cloud my countenance again
  Till he should go from me to the army of the dead.

  Alas! if she were to hear this night
  That Naoise was under cover in the clay,
  She would weep most certainly,
  And I, I would weep with her sevenfold."[7]

After her lay of lamentation she falls into the grave where the three
are being buried, and dies above them. "Their flag was raised over
their tomb, and their names were written in Ogam, and their funeral
games were celebrated. Thus far the tragedy of the sons of Usnach."

The oldest and briefest version of this fine saga, that preserved in
the Book of Leinster, ends differently, and even more tragically. On
the death of Naoise, who is slain the moment he appears on the lawn of
Emania, Déirdre is taken, her hands are bound behind her back and she
is given over to Conor.

 "Déirdre was for a year in Conor's couch, and during that year she
 neither smiled nor laughed nor took sufficiency of food, drink, or
 sleep, nor did she raise her head from her knee. When they used to
 bring the musicians to her house she would utter rhapsody--

  "'Lament ye the mighty warriors
  Assassinated in Emania on coming,' etc.

 "When Conor would be endeavouring to sooth her, it was then she would
 utter this dirge--

  "'That which was most beauteous to me beneath the sky,
  And which was most lovely to me,
  Thou hast taken from me--great the anguish--
  I shall not get healed of it to my death,' etc.

 "'What is it you see that you hate most?' said Conor.

 "'Thou thyself and Eoghan [Owen] son of Duthrecht,'[8] said she.

 "'Thou shalt be a year in Owen's couch then,' said Conor. Conor then
 gave her over to Owen.

 "They drove the next day to the assembly at Muirtheimhne. She was
 behind Owen in a chariot. She looked towards the earth that she might
 not see her two gallants.

 "'Well, Déirdre,' said Conor, 'it is the glance of a ewe between two
 rams you cast between me and Owen.'

 "There was a large rock near. She hurled her head at the stone, so
 that she broke her skull and was dead.

 "This is the exile of the sons of Usnach and the cause of the exile of
 Fergus and of the death of Déirdre."

It was in consequence of Conor's treachery in slaying the sons of
Usnach while under Fergus's protection that this warrior turned
against his king, burnt Emania, and then seceded into Connacht to
Oilioli [Ulyul] and Mève, king and queen of that province, where he
took service with about fifteen hundred Ultonians who, indignant at
Conor, seceded along with him. "It was he," says Keating, summing up
the substance of the sagas, "who carried off the great spoils from
Ulster whence came so many wars and enmities between the people of
Connacht and Ulster, so that the exiles who went from Ulster into
banishment with Fergus continued seven, or as some say, ten years in
Connacht, during which time they kept constantly spoiling, destroying
and plundering the Ultonians, on account of the murder of the sons of
Usnach. And the Ultonians in like manner wreaked vengeance upon them,
and upon the people of Connacht, and made reprisals for the booty which
Fergus had carried off, and for every other evil inflicted upon them
by the exiles and by the Connacht men, insomuch that the losses and
injuries sustained on both sides were so numerous that whole volumes
have been written upon them, which would be too long to mention or take
notice of at present."

It was with the assistance of Fergus and the other exiles that Mève
undertook her famous expedition into Ulster, of which we must now speak.

[1] Pronounced "Dare-dră," said to mean "alarm." Jubainville translates
it "Celle-qui-se-débat."

[2] In the older form Leborcham. She is generally described as
Conor's messenger; in one place she is called his _bean-cainte_ or
"talking-woman"; this is the only passage I know of in which she is
credited with any higher powers. She is said elsewhere to have been the
daughter of two slaves of Conor's household, Oa or Aué and Adarc.

[3] Yet when in Trinity College Dublin, a few years ago, the
subject--the first Irish subject for twenty-seven years--set for the
Vice-Chancellor's Prize in English verse was "Déirdre," it was found
that the students did not know what that word meant, or what Déirdre
was, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral. So true it is that, despite
all the efforts of Davis and his fellows, there are yet two nations in
Ireland. Trinity College might to some extent bridge the gap if she
would, but she has carefully refrained from attempting it.

[4] O' Flanagan first printed two versions of it in the solitary volume
which comprises the "Transactions of the Gaelic Society," as early
as 1808. The older of these two versions agrees closely with that
contained in "Egerton, 1782," of the British Museum, but neither of the
MSS. which he used is now known to exist. Eugene O'Curry edited the
story from the text in the Yellow Book of Lecan, with a translation
in the "Atlantis," a long defunct Irish periodical. Windisch edited
the oldest existing version, that of the Book of Leinster, in the
first volume of "Irische Texte." None of these three versions differ
appreciably. In the second volume of the same, Dr. Whitley Stokes
edited a consecutive text from 56 and 53 of the MSS. in the Advocates'
Library at Edinburgh, the latter of which is a vellum of the fifteenth
century. Finally, the text of both these MSS. was published in full
in vol. ii. of Dr. Cameron's "Reliquiæ Celticæ," where he also gives
a translation of the first. Keating, too, in his history, retells the
story at considerable length. Windisch's, O'Curry's, and O'Flanagan's
texts were reprinted in 1883 in the "Gaelic Journal." In addition to
all these Mr. Carmichael published in Gaelic in 1887 an admirable
folk-lore version of the story from the Isles of Scotland in the
thirteenth volume of the "Transactions of the Inverness Gaelic
Society," and the tale is retold in English, chiefly from this version,
by Mr. Jacobs in the first series of his "Celtic Fairy Tales." M.
d'Arbois de Jubainville has given a French translation of the entire
story from the Book of Leinster, the older Edinburgh MS., and the
Highland Folktale, the latter two being translated by M. Georges
Dottin. Macpherson made this story the foundation of his "Darthula."
Dr. Dwyer Joyce published the story in America as an English poem.
Sir Samuel Ferguson, Dr. Todhunter, and the present writer have all
published adaptations of it in English verse, and Mr. Rolleston made
it the subject of the Prize Cantata at the Féis Ceóil in Dublin in
1897. Hence I may print here this new and full opening of a piece so
celebrated. For text see _Zeit. f. Celt. Phil._ II. 1, p. 142.


  "Gleann Masáin, ón Gleann Masáin,
  Árd a chneamh, geal a ghasáin,
  Do ghnidhmís codladh corrach
  Os inbhear mongach Masáin."

[6] We have seen that none of the race of Ir claim descent from Conor;
all their great families O'Mores, O'Farrells, etc., descend from Fergus
mac Róigh [Roy] or Conall Cearnach (_see_ ch. VI note 17); yet Conor
had twenty-one sons, all of whom, says Keating, died without issue
except three--"Benna, from whom descended the Benntraidhe; Lamha,
from whom came the Lamhraidhe; and Glasni, whose descendants were the
Glasnaide; but even of these," adds Keating, "there is not at this day
a single descendant alive in Ireland." _See_ O'Mahony's translation, p.


  "Och! da gcluinfeadh sise anocht
  Naoise bheith fá bhrat i gcré,
  Do ghoilfeadh sise go beacht,
  Acht do ghoilfinn-se fá seacht lé."

[8] Who had slain Náoise at Conor's bidding, in the older version.



The greatest of the heroic sagas and the longest is that which is
called the Táin Bo Chuailgne,[1] or "Cattle-Raid of Cooley," a district
of Ulster contained in the present county of Louth, into which Oilioll
and Méadhbh [Mève], the king and queen of Connacht, led an enormous
army composed of men from the four other provinces, to carry off the
celebrated Dun Bull of Cooley.

Although there is a great deal of verbiage and piling-up of rather
barren names in this piece, nevertheless there are also several finely
conceived and well-executed incidents. The saga which, according to
Zimmer, was probably first committed to writing in the seventh or
eighth century, is partially preserved in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, a
manuscript made about the year 1100, and there is a complete copy of it
in the Book of Leinster made about fifty years later. I have chiefly
translated from a more modern text in my own possession, which differs
very slightly from the ancient ones.

The story opens with a conversation between Mève, queen of Connacht,
and Oilioll her husband, which ends in a dispute as to which of them
is the richest. There was no modern Married Women's Property Act in
force, but Irish ladies seem to have been at all times much more
sympathetically treated by the Celtic tribes than by the harder and
more stern races of Teutonic and Northern blood, and Irish damsels
seem to have been free to enjoy their own property and dowries.[2]
The story, then, begins with this dispute as to which, husband or
wife, is the richer in this world's goods, and the argument at last
becomes so heated that the pair decide to have all their possessions
brought together to compare them one with another and judge by actual
observation which is the most valuable. They collected accordingly
jewels, bracelets, metal, gold, silver, flocks, herds, ornaments,
etc., and found that in point of wealth they were much the same, but
that there was one great bull called Finn-bheannach or White-horned,
who was really calved by one of Mève's cows, but being endowed with a
certain amount of intelligence considered it disgraceful to be under
a woman, and so had gone over to Oilioll's herds. With him Mève had
nothing that could compare. She made inquiry, however, and found out
from her chief courier that there was in the district of Cuailgne in
Louth (Mève lived at Rathcroghan in Roscommon) a most celebrated bull
called the Dun Bull of Cuailgne belonging to a chieftain of the name
of Darè. To him accordingly she sends an embassy requesting the loan
of the bull for one year, and promising fifty heifers in return. Darè
was quite willing, and promised to lend the animal. He was in fact
pleased, and treated the embassy generously, giving them good lodgings
with plenty of food and drink--too much drink in fact. The fate of
nations is said to often hang upon a thread. On this occasion that of
Ulster and Connacht depended upon a drop more or less, absorbed by one
of the ten men who constituted Mève's embassy. This man unfortunately
passed the just limit, and Darè's steward coming in at the moment
heard him say that it was small thanks to his master to give his bull
"for if he hadn't given it we'd have taken it." That word decided the
fate of provinces. The steward, indignant at such an outrage, ran and
told his master, and Darè swore that now he would lend no bull, and
what was more, but that the ten men were envoys he swore he would hang
them. With indignity they were dismissed, and returned empty-handed to
Mève's boundless indignation. She in her turn swore she would have the
bull in spite of Darè. She immediately sent out to collect her armies,
and invited Leinster and Munster to join her. She was in fact able to
muster most of the three provinces to march against Ulster to take
the bull from Darè, and in addition she had Fergus mac Roy and about
fifteen hundred Ulster warriors who had never returned to their homes
nor forgiven Conor for the murder of the sons of Usnach. She crossed
the Shannon at Athlone, and marched on to Kells, within a few miles of
Ulster, and there she pitched her standing camp. She was accompanied
by her husband and her daughter who was the fairest among women. Her
mother had secretly promised her hand to every leader in her army in
order to nerve them to do their utmost.

At the very beginning Mève is forewarned by a mysterious female of
the slaughter which is to come. She had driven round in her chariot
to visit her druid and to inquire of him what would come of her
expedition, and is returning somewhat reassured in her mind by the
druid's promise which was--

 "'Whosoever returneth or returneth not, thou shalt return,' and," says
 the saga, "as Mève returned again upon her track she beheld a thing
 which caused her to wonder, a single woman (riding) beside her, upon
 the pole of her chariot. And this is how that maiden was. She was
 weaving a border with a sword of bright bronze[3] in her right hand
 with its seven rings of red gold, and, about her, a spotted speckled
 mantle of green, and a fastening brooch in the mantle over her bosom.
 A bright red gentle generous countenance, a grey eye visible in her
 head, a thin red mouth, young pearly teeth she had. You would think
 that her teeth were a shower of white pearls flung into her head.
 Her mouth was like fresh coral? [_partaing_]. The melodious address
 of her voice and her speaking tones were sweeter than the strings of
 curved harp being played. Brighter than the snow of one night was the
 splendour of her skin showing through her garments, her feet long,
 fairy-like, with (well) turned nails. Fair yellow hair very golden
 on her. Three tresses of her hair round her head, one tress behind
 falling after her to the extremities of her ankles.

 "Mève looks at her. 'What makest thou there, O maiden?' said Mève.

 "'Foreseeing thy future for thee, and thy grief, thou who art
 gathering the four great provinces of Ireland with thee to the land of
 Ulster, to carry out the Táin Bo Chuailgne.'

 "'And wherefore doest thou me this?" said Mève.

 "'Great reason have I for it,' said the maiden. 'A handmaid of thy
 people (am I),' said she.

 "'Who of my people art thou?' said Mève.

 "'Féithlinn, fairy-prophetess of Rathcroghan, am I,' said she.

 "'It is well, O Féithlinn, prophetess,' said Mève, 'and how seest thou
 our hosts?'

 "'I see crimson over them, I see red,' said she.

 "'Conor is in his sickness[4] in Emania,' said Mève, 'and messengers
 have reached me from him, and there is nothing that I dread from the
 Ultonians, but speak thou the truth, O Féithlinn, prophetess,' said

 "'I see crimson, I see red,' said she.

 "'Comhsgraidh Meann ... is in Innis Comhsgraidh in his sickness, and
 my messengers have reached me, and there is nothing that I fear from
 the Ultonians, but speak me truth, O Féithlinn, prophetess, how seest
 thou our host?'

 "'I see crimson, I see red.'

 "'Celtchar, son of Uitheachar, is in his sickness,' said Mève, 'and
 there is nothing I dread from the Ultonians, but speak truth, O
 Féithlinn, prophetess.'

 "'I see crimson, I see red,' said she.

 "' ...?' said Mève, 'for since the men of Erin will be in one place
 there will be disputes and fightings and irruptions amongst them,
 about reaching the beginnings or endings of fords or rivers, and about
 the first woundings of boars and stags, of venison, or matter of
 venery, speak true, O Féithlinn, prophetess, how seest thou our host?
 said Mève.

 "'I see crimson I see red,' said she."

After this follows a long poem, wherein "she foretold Cuchulain to the
men of Erin."

The march of Mève's army is told with much apparent exactness. The
names of fifty-nine places through which it passed are given; and many
incidents are recorded, one of which shows the furious, jealous, and
vindictive disposition of the amazon queen herself. She, who seems to
have taken upon herself the entire charge of the hosting, had made
in her chariot the full round of the army at their encamping for the
night, to see that everything was in order. After that she returned to
her own tent and sat beside her husband Olioill at their meal, and he
asks her how fared the troops. Mève then said something laudatory about
the Gaileóin,[5] or ancient Leinstermen, who were not of Gaelic race,
but appear to have belonged to some early non-Gaelic tribe, cognate
with the Firbolg.

 "'What excellence perform they beyond all others that they be thus
 praised?' said Oilioll.

 "'They give cause for praise,' said Mève, 'for while others were
 choosing their camping-ground, they had made their booths and
 shelters; and while others were making their booths and shelters, they
 had their feast of meat and ale laid out; and while others were laying
 out their feasts of bread and ale, these had finished their food and
 fare; and while others were finishing their food and fare, these were
 asleep. Even as their slaves and servants have excelled the slaves
 and servants of the men of Erin, so will their good heroes and youths
 excel the good heroes and youths of the men of Erin in this hosting.'

 "'I am the better pleased at that,' said Oilioll, 'because it was with
 me they came, and they are my helpers.'[6]

 "'They shall not march with thee, then,' said Mève, 'and it is not
 before me, nor to me, they shall be boasted of.'

 "'Then let them remain in camp,' said Oilioll.

 "'They shall not do that either,' said Mève.

 "'What shall they do, then?' said Findabar, daughter of Oilioll and
 Mève, 'if they shall neither march nor yet remain in camp.'

 "'My will is to inflict death and fate and destruction on them,' said

It is with the greatest difficulty that Fergus is enabled to calm
the furious queen, and she is only satisfied when the three thousand
Gaileóins have been broken up and scattered throughout the other
battalions, so that no five men of them remained together.

Thereafter the army came to plains so thickly wooded, in the
neighbourhood of the present Kells, that they were obliged to cut down
the wood with their swords to make a way for their chariots, and the
next night they suffered intolerably from a fall of snow.

 "The snow that fell that night reached to men's legs and to the wheels
 of chariots, so that the snow made one plain of the five provinces of
 Erin, and the men of Ireland never suffered so much before in camp,
 none knew throughout the whole night whether it was his friend or his
 enemy who was next him, until the rise early on the morrow of the
 clear-shining sun, glancing on the snow that covered the country."

They are now on the borders of Ulster, and Cuchulain is hovering on
their flank, but no one has yet seen him. He lops a gnarled tree,
writes an Ogam on it, sticks upon it the heads of three warriors he had
slain, and sets it up on the brink of a ford. That night Oilioll and
Mève inquire from the Ultonians who were in her army more particulars
about this new enemy, and nearly a sixth part of the whole Táin
is taken up by the stories which are then and there related about
Cuchulain's earliest history and exploits, first by Fergus, and, when
he is done relating, by Cormac Conlingeas, and when he has finished,
by Fiacha, another Ultonian. This long digression, which is one of the
most interesting parts of the whole saga, being over, we return to the
direct story.

Cuchulain, who knows every tree and every bush of the country, still
hangs upon Mève's flank, and without showing himself during the day, he
slays a hundred men with his sling[7] every night.

Mève, through an envoy, asks for a meeting with him, and is astonished
to find him, as she thinks, a mere boy. She offers him great rewards in
the hope of buying him off, but he will have none of her gold. The only
conditions upon which he will cease his night-slaying is if Mève will
promise to let him fight with some warrior every day at the ford, and
will promise to keep her army in its camp while these single combats
last, and this Mève consents to, since she says it is better to lose
one warrior every day than one hundred every night.

A great number of single combats then take place, each of which is
described at length. One curious incident is that of the war-goddess,
whom he had previously offended, the Mór-rígu,[8] or "great queen,"
attacking him while fighting with the warrior Loich. She came against
him, not in her own figure, but as a great black eel in the water, who
wound itself around his legs, and as he stooped to disengage himself
Loich wounded him severely in the breast. Again she came against him in
the form of a great grey wolf-bitch, and as Cuchulain turned to drive
her off he was again wounded. A third time she came against him as a
heifer with fifty other heifers round her, but Cuchulain struck her and
broke one of her eyes, just as Diomede in the Iliad wounds the goddess
Cypris when she appears against him.[9] Cuchulain, thus embarrassed,
only rids himself of Loich by having recourse to the mysterious feat of
the Gae-Bolg, about which we shall hear more later on. His opponent,
feeling himself mortally hurt, cries out--

 "'By thy love of generosity I crave a boon.'

 "'What boon is that?' said Cuchulain.

 "'It is not to spare me I ask,' said Loich, 'but let me fall forwards
 to the east, and not backward to the west, that none of the men of
 Erin may say that I fell in panic or in flight before thee.'

 "'I grant it,' said Cuchulain, 'for surely it is a warrior's request.'"

After this encounter Cuchulain grew terribly despondent, and urged his
charioteer Laeg again to hasten the men of Ulster to his assistance,
but their pains were still upon them, and he is left alone to bear
the brunt of the attack as best he may. Mève also breaks her compact
by sending six men against him, but them he overcomes, and in revenge
begins again to slay at night.

Thereafter follows the episode known in Irish saga as the Great Breach
of Moy Muirtheimhne. Cuchulain, driven to despair and enfeebled by
wounds, fatigue, and watching, was in the act of ascending his chariot
to advance alone against the men of the four provinces, moving to
certain death, when the eye of his charioteer is arrested by the
figure of a tall stranger moving through the camp of the enemy,
saluting none as he moved, and by none saluted.

"That man," said Cuchulain, "must be one of my supernatural friends of
the shee[10] folk, and they salute him not because he is not seen."

The stranger approaches, and, addressing Cuchulain, desires him to
sleep for three days and three nights, and instantly Cuchulain fell
asleep, for he had been from before the feast of Samhain till after
Féil Bhrighde[11] without sleep, "unless it were that he might sleep a
little while beside his spear, in the middle of the day, his head on
his hand, and his hand on his spear, and his spear on his knee, but all
the while slaughtering, slaying, preying on, and destroying, the four
great provinces."

It was after this long sleep of Cuchulain's that, awaking fresh and
strong, the Berserk rage fell upon him. He hurled himself against
the men of Erin, he drove round their flank, he "gave his chariot
the heavy turn, so that the iron wheels of the chariot sank into
the earth, so that the track of the iron wheels was (in itself) a
sufficient fortification, for like a fortification the stones and
pillars and flags and sands of the earth rose back high on every side
round the wheels." All that day, refreshed by his three days' sleep, he
slaughtered the men of Erin.

Other single combats take place after this, in one of which the druid
Cailitin and his twenty sons would have slain him had he not been
rescued by his countryman Fiacha, one of those Ultonians who with
Fergus had turned against their king and country when the children of
Usnach were slain.

It was only at the last that his own friend Ferdiad was despatched
against him, through the wiles of Mève. Ferdiad was not a Gael, but of
the Firbolg or Firdomhnan race,[12] yet he proved very nearly a match
for Cuchulain. Knowing what Mève wanted with him, he positively refused
to come to her tent when sent for, and in the end he is only persuaded
by her sending her druids and ollavs against him, who threatened "to
criticise, satirise, and blemish him, so that they would raise three
blisters[13] on his face unless he came with them." At last he went
with them in despair, "because he thought it easier to fall by valour
and championship and weapons than to fall by [druids'] wisdom and by

The fight with Ferdiad is perhaps the finest episode in the Táin. The
following is a description of the conduct of the warriors after the
first day's conflict.


 "They ceased fighting and threw their weapons away from them into
 the hands of their charioteers. Each of them approached the other
 forthwith and each put his hand round the other's neck and gave him
 three kisses. Their horses were in the same paddock that night, and
 their charioteers at the same fire; and their charioteers spread beds
 of green rushes for them with wounded men's pillows to them. The
 professors of healing and curing came to heal and cure them, and they
 applied herbs and plants of healing and curing to their stabs, and
 their cuts, and their gashes, and to all their wounds. Of every herb
 and of every healing and curing plant that was put to the stabs and
 cuts and gashes, and to all the wounds of Cuchulain, he would send an
 equal portion from him, westward over the ford to Ferdiad, so that the
 men of Erin might not be able to say, should Ferdiad fall by him, that
 it was by better means of cure that he was enabled to kill him.

 "Of each kind of food and of palatable pleasant intoxicating drink
 that was sent by the men of Erin to Ferdiad, he would send a fair
 moiety over the ford northwards to Cuchulain, because the purveyors of
 Ferdiad were more numerous than the purveyors of Cuchulain. All the
 men of Erin were purveyors to Ferdiad for beating off Cuchulain from
 them, but the Bregians only were purveyors to Cuchulain, and they used
 to come to converse with him at dusk every night. They rested there
 that night."

The narrator goes on to describe the next day's fighting, which was
carried on from their chariots "with their great broad spears," and
which left them both in such evil plight that the professors of healing
and curing "could do nothing more for them, because of the dangerous
severity of their stabs and their cuts and their gashes and their
numerous wounds, than to apply witchcraft and incantations and charms
to them to staunch their blood and their bleeding and their gory

Their meeting on the next day follows thus:--

 "They arose early the next morning and came forward to the ford of
 battle, and Cuchulain perceived an ill-visaged and a greatly lowering
 cloud on Ferdiad that day.

 "'Badly dost thou appear to-day, O Ferdiad,' said Cuchulain, 'thy hair
 has become dark this day and thine eye has become drowsy, and thine
 own form and features and appearance have departed from thee.'

 "'It is not from fear or terror of thee that I am so this day,' said
 Ferdiad, 'for there is not in Erin this day a champion that I could
 not subdue.'

 "And Cuchulain was complaining and bemoaning and he spake these words,
 and Ferdiad answered:

  Oh, Ferdiad, is it thou?
  Wretched man thou art I trow,
  By a guileful woman won
  To hurt thine old companion.

  O Cuchulain, fierce of fight,
  Man of wounds and man of might,
  Fate compelleth each to stir
  Moving towards his sepulchre."[15]

The lay is then given, each of the heroes reciting a verse in turn, and
it is very possibly upon these lays that the prose narrative is built
up. The third day's fighting is then described in which the warriors
use their "heavy hand-smiting swords," or rather swords that gave
"blows of size. "[16] The story then continues--

 "They cast away their weapons from them into the hands of their
 charioteers, and though it had been the meeting pleasant and happy,
 griefless and spirited of two men that morning, it was the separation,
 mournful, sorrowful, dispirited, of the two men that night.

 "Their horses were not in the same enclosure that night. Their
 charioteers were not at the same fire. They rested that night there.

 "Then Ferdiad arose early next morning and went forwards alone to the
 ford of battle, for he knew that that day would decide the battle and
 the fight, and he knew that one of them would fall on that day there
 or that they both would fall.

       *       *       *       *       *

 "Ferdiad displayed many noble, wonderful, varied feats on high that
 day, which he never learned with any other person, neither with
 Scathach, nor with Uathach, nor with Aife, but which were invented by
 himself that day against Cuchulain.

 "Cuchulain came to the ford and he saw the noble, varied, wonderful,
 numerous feats which Ferdiad displays on high.

 "'I perceive these, my friend, Laeg' [said Cuchulain to his
 charioteer], 'the noble, varied, wonderful, numerous feats which
 Ferdiad displays on high, and all these feats will be tried on me in
 succession, and, therefore, it is that if it be I who shall begin to
 yield this day thou art to excite, reproach, and speak evil to me, so
 that the ire of my rage and anger shall grow the more on me. If it be
 I who prevail, then thou shalt laud me, and praise me, and speak good
 words to me that my courage may be greater.'[17]

 "'It shall so be done indeed, O Cuchulain,' said Laeg.

 "And it was then Cuchulain put his battle-suit of conflict and of
 combat and of fight on him, and he displayed noble, varied, wonderful,
 numerous feats on high on that day, that he never learned from anybody
 else, neither with Scathach, nor with Uathach, nor with Aife. Ferdiad
 saw those feats and he knew they would be plied against him in

 "'What weapons shall we resort to, O Ferdiad?' said Cuchulain.

 "'To thee belongs thy choice of weapons till night,' said Ferdiad.

 "'Let us try the Ford Feat then,' said Cuchulain.

 "'Let us indeed,' said Ferdiad. Although Ferdiad thus spoke his
 consent it was a cause of grief to him to speak so, because he knew
 that Cuchulain was used to destroy every hero and every champion who
 contended with him in the Feat of the Ford.

 "Great was the deed, now, that was performed on that day at the
 ford--the two heroes, the two warriors, the two champions of Western
 Europe, the two gift and present and stipend bestowing hands of the
 north-west of the world; the two beloved pillars of the valour of the
 Gaels, and the two keys of the bravery of the Gaels to be brought to
 fight from afar through the instigation and intermeddling of Oilioll
 and Mève.

 "Each of them began to shoot at other with their missive weapons from
 the dawn of early morning till the middle of midday. And when midday
 came the ire of the men waxed more furious, and each of them drew
 nearer to the other. And then it was that Cuchulain on one occasion
 sprang from the brink of the ford and came on the boss of the shield
 of Ferdiad, son of Daman, for the purpose of striking his head over
 the rim of his shield from above. And it was then that Ferdiad gave
 the shield a blow of his left elbow and cast Cuchulain from him like
 a bird on the brink of the ford. Cuchulain sprang from the brink of
 the ford again till he came on the boss of the shield of Ferdiad, son
 of Daman, for the purpose of striking his head over the rim of the
 shield from above. Ferdiad gave the shield a stroke of his left knee
 and cast Cuchulain from him like a little child on the brink of the

 "Laeg [his charioteer] perceived that act. 'Alas, indeed,' said Laeg,
 'the warrior who is against thee casts thee away as a lewd woman would
 cast her child. He throws thee as foam is thrown by the river. He
 grinds thee as a mill would grind fresh malt. He pierces thee as the
 felling axe would pierce the oak. He binds thee as the woodbine binds
 the tree. He darts on thee as the hawk darts on small birds, so that
 henceforth thou hast nor call nor right nor claim to valour or bravery
 to the end of time and life, thou little fairy phantom,' said Laeg.

 "Then up sprang Cuchulain with the rapidity of the wind and with the
 readiness of the swallow, and with the fierceness of the dragon and
 the strength of the lion into the troubled clouds of the air the third
 time, and he alighted on the boss of the shield of Ferdiad, son of
 Daman to endeavour to strike his head over the rim of his shield from
 above. And then it was the warrior gave the shield a shake, and cast
 Cuchulain from him into the middle of the ford, the same as if he had
 never been cast off at all.

 "And it was then that Cuchulain's first distortion came on, and he
 was filled with swelling and great fulness, like breath in a bladder,
 until he became a terrible, fearful, many-coloured, wonderful Tuaig,
 and he became as big as a Fomor, or a man of the sea, the great and
 valiant champion, in perfect height over Ferdiad.[18]

 "So close was the fight they made now that their heads met above and
 their feet below and their arms in the middle over the rims and bosses
 of their shields. So close was the fight they made that they cleft and
 loosened their shields from their rims to their centres. So close was
 the fight which they made that they turned and bent and shivered their
 spears from their points to their hafts. Such was the closeness of
 the fight which they made that the Bocanachs and Bananachs, and wild
 people of the glens, and demons of the air screamed from the rims of
 their shields and from the hilts of their swords and from the hafts
 of their spears. Such was the closeness of the fight which they made
 that they cast the river out of its bed and out of its course, so that
 it might have been a reclining and reposing couch for a king or for
 a queen in the middle of the ford, so that there was not a drop of
 water[19] in it unless it dropped into it by the trampling and the
 hewing which the two champions and the two heroes made in the middle
 of the ford. Such was the intensity of the fight which they made that
 the stud of the Gaels darted away in fright and shyness, with fury and
 madness, breaking their chains and their yokes, their ropes and their
 traces, and that the women and youths, and small people, and camp
 followers, and non-combatants of the men of Erin broke out of the camp

 "They were at the edge-feat of swords during the time. And it was then
 that Ferdiad found an unguarded moment upon Cuchulain, and he gave
 him a stroke of the straight-edged sword, and buried it in his body
 until his blood fell into his girdle, until the ford became reddened
 with the gore from the body of the battle-warrior. Cuchulain would not
 endure this, for Ferdiad continued his unguarded stout strokes, and
 his quick strokes and his tremendous great blows at him. And he asked
 Laeg, son of Riangabhra, for the Gae Bulg. The manner of that was
 this: it used to be set down the stream and cast from between the toes
 [_lit._ in the cleft of the foot], it made the wound of one spear in
 entering the body, but it had thirty barbs to open, and could not be
 drawn out of a person's body until it was cut open. And when Ferdiad
 heard the Gae Bulg mentioned he made a stroke of the shield down to
 protect his lower body. Cuchulain thrust the unerring thorny spear off
 the centre of his palm over the rim of the shield, and through the
 breast of the skin-protecting armour, so that its further half was
 visible after piercing his heart in his body. Ferdiad gave a stroke
 of his shield up to protect the upper part of his body, though it was
 'the relief after the danger.' The servant set the Gae Bulg down the
 stream and Cuchulain caught it between the toes of his foot, and he
 threw an unerring cast of it at Ferdiad till it passed through the
 firm deep iron waistpiece of wrought iron and broke the great stone
 which was as large as a millstone in three, and passed through the
 protections of his body into him, so that every crevice and every
 cavity of him was filled with its barbs.

 "'That is enough now, indeed,' said Ferdiad, 'I fall of that. Now
 indeed may I say that I am sickly after thee, and not by thy hand
 should I have fallen,' and he said [_here follow some verses_]....

 "Cuchulain ran towards him after that, and clasped his two arms about
 him and lifted him with his arms and his armour and his clothes across
 the ford northward, in order that the slain should lie by the ford on
 the north, and not by the ford on the west with the men of Erin.

 "Cuchulain laid Ferdiad down there, and a trance and a faint and a
 weakness fell then on Cuchulain over Ferdiad.

 "'Good, O Cuchulain,' said Laeg, 'rise up now for the men of Erin are
 coming upon us, and it is not single combat they will give thee since
 Ferdiad, son of Daman, son of Dare, has fallen by thee.'

 "'Servant,' said he, 'what availeth me to arise after him that hath
 fallen by me.'"

Cuchulain is carried away swooning after this fight and is brought by
the two sons of Géadh to the streams and rivers to be cured of his
stabs and wounds, by plunging him in the waters and facing him against
the currents, "for the Tuatha De Danann sent plants of grace and herbs
of healing (floating) down the streams and rivers of Muirtheimhne, to
comfort and help Cuchulain, so that the streams were speckled and green
overhead with them." The Finglas, the Bush, the Douglas, and eighteen
other rivers are mentioned as aiding to cure him.

During the period of Cuchulain's leeching many events were happening in
Mève's camp, amongst others the tragic death of her beautiful daughter,
Finnabra.[20] Isolated bands of the men of Ulster were now beginning
to at last muster in front of Mève, and amongst them came a certain
northern chief, who was, as her daughter secretly confessed to Mève,
her own love and sweetheart beyond all the men of Erin.

The prudent Mève immediately desires her to go to him, if he is
her lover, and do everything in her power to make him draw off his
warriors. This design, however, got abroad, and came to the ears of the
twelve Munster princes who led the forces of the southern province in
Mève's army. These gradually make the discovery that the astute queen
had secretly promised her daughter's hand to each one of the twelve,
as an inducement to him to take part in her expedition. Infuriated
at being thus trifled with and at Mève's treachery in now sending
her daughter to the Ultonian, they fall with all their forces upon
the queen's battalion and the whole camp becomes a scene of blood
and confusion. The warrior Fergus at last succeeds in separating the
combatants, not before seven hundred men have fallen. But when Finnabra
saw the slaughter that was raging, of which she herself was cause, "a
blood-torrent burst from her heart in her bosom through (mingled) shame
and generosity," and she was taken up dead.

In the meantime Cuchulain is joined by another great Ultonian warrior,
who is also being leeched. He had fallen upon the men of Erin
single-handed, and received many wounds, one from Mève herself, who
fought, like Boadicea, at the head of her troops. He describes the
amazon who wounded him to Cuchulain--

 "A largely-nurtured, white-faced, long-cheeked woman, with a yellow
 mane on the top of her two shoulders, with a shirt of royal silk over
 her white skin, and a speckled spear red-flaming in her hand; it was
 she who gave me this wound, and I gave her another small wound in

 "'I know that woman,' said Cuchulain, 'that woman was Mève, and it had
 been glory and exultation to her had you fallen by her hand.'"

Afterwards Sualtach, father of Cuchulain, heard the groans of his son
as he was being cured, and said, "Is it heaven that is bursting, or the
sea that is retiring, or the land that is loosening, or is it the groan
of my son in his extremity that I hear?" said he. Cuchulain despatches
him to urge the Ultonians to his assistance. "Tell them how you found
me," he said; "there is not the place of the point of a needle in me
from head to foot without a wound, there is not a hair upon my body
without a dew of crimson blood upon the top of every point, except my
left hand alone that was holding my shield."

And now the Ultonians begin to rally and face the men of Erin. Troops
are seen to pour in from every quarter of Ulster, gathering upon the
plains of Meath for the great battle that was impending. Mève sends
out her trusted messenger to bring word of what is going on amongst
the hostile bands. His first report is that the noise of the Ultonians
hewing down the woods before their chariots with the edge of their
swords was "like nothing but as it were the solid firmament falling
upon the surface-face of the earth, or as it were the sky-blue sea
pouring over the superficies of the plain, as it were the earth being
rent asunder, or the forests falling [each tree] into the grasp and
fork of the other."

Mac Roth, the chief messenger, is again sent out to observe the
gathering of the hosts and to bring word of what bands are coming in
to the hill where Conor, king of Ulster, has set up his standard. On
his return at nightfall there follows a long, minute, and tedious
account, something like the list of ships in the Iliad, only broken
by the questions of Mève and Oilioll, and the answers of Fergus. It
contains, however, some passages of interest. The scout describes the
arrival of twenty-nine different armaments around their respective
chiefs at the hill where King Conor is encamping. Incidentally he gives
us descriptions of characters of interest in the Saga-cycle. As he ends
his description of each band and its leaders, Oilioll turns to Fergus,
and Fergus from Mac Roth's description recognises and tells him who
the various leaders are. In this way we get a glimpse at Sencha, the
wise man, the Nestor of the Red Branch, whose counsel was ever good.
"That man," said Fergus, "is the speaker and peace-maker of the host
of Ulster, and I pledge my word that it is no cowardly or unheroic
counsel which that man will give to his lord this day, but counsel
of vigour and valour and fight." We see the arrival of Feirceirtné,
the arch-ollav of the Ultonians, of Cathbadh the Druid, he who had
prophesied of Déirdre at her birth, who was supposed, according to
the earliest accounts, to have been the real father of King Conor,
he who weakened the children of Usnach by his spells; and we see
also Aithirne, the infamous and overbearing poet of the Ultonians,
about whom much is related in other tales. "The lakes and rivers,"
said Fergus, "recede before him when he satirises them, and rise up
before him when he praises them." "There are not many men in life more
handsome or more golden-locked than he," said Mac Roth, "he bears a
gleaming ivory[-hilted] sword in his right hand." With this sword he
amuses himself, something like the Norman trouvère Taillefer at the
battle of Hastings, by casting it aloft and letting it fall almost on
the heads of his companions but without hurting them. The arch-druid
is described as having scattered whitish-grey hair, and wearing a
purple-blue mantle with a large gleaming shield and bosses of red
brass, and a long iron sword of foreign look. Conor's leech, Finghin,
led a band of physicians to the field; "that man could tell," said
Fergus, "what a person's sickness is by looking at the smoke of the
house in which he is." Another hero whom we catch a glimpse of is the
mighty Conall Cearnach, the greatest champion of the north, whose name
was till lately a household word around Dunsevrick, he who afterwards
so bloodily avenged Cuchulain's death, "the sea over seas, the bursting
rock, the furious troubler of hosts," as Fergus calls him.

We also see the youth Erc, son of Cairbré Niafer the High-king, who
comes from Tara to assist his grandfather King Conor. It is curious,
however, that in this catalogue of the Ultonians quite as much space is
given to the description of men whose names are now--so far, at least,
as I know--unknown to us, as to those who often and prominently figure
in our yet remaining stories.

At last the great battle of the Táin comes off, when the men of Ulster
meet the men of Ireland fairly and face to face. Prodigies of valour
are performed on both sides, and Fergus--who after Cuchulain is
certainly the hero of the Táin--seconded by Oilioll, by Mève, by the
Seven Mainès, and by the sons of Magach, drives the Ultonians back on
his side of the battle three times. Conor, who is on the other flank,
perceives that the men of his far wing are being broken, and loudly

 "he shouts to the Household of the Red Branch, 'hold ye the place
 in the battle where I am, till I go find who it is who has thrice
 inclined the battle against us on the north.'

 "'We take that upon ourselves,' said they, 'for heaven is over us,
 and earth is under us, and unless the firmament fall down upon the
 wave-face of the earth, or the ocean encircle us, or the ground give
 way under us, or the ridgy blue-bordered sea rise over the expanse[21]
 of life, we shall give not one inch of ground before the men of Erin
 till thou come to us again, or till we be slain.'"

Conor hastens northward and finds himself confronted by the man he had
so bitterly wronged, whose hand had lain heavy on his province and
himself, Fergus, who now comes face to face with him after so many
years. Tremendous are the strokes of Fergus.

 "He smote his three enemy blows upon Conor's shield 'Eochain' so that
 the shield screamed thrice upon him, and the three leading waves of
 Erin answered it.

 "'Who,' cries Fergus, 'holds his shield against me in this battle?'[22]

 "'O Fergus,' cried Conor, 'one who is greater and younger and
 handsomer, and more perfect than thyself is here, and whose father
 and whose mother were better than thine; one who slew the three great
 candles of the valour of the Gaels, the three prosperous sons of
 Usnach, in spite of thy guarantee and thy protection, the man who
 banished thee out of thy own land and country, the man who made of it
 a dwelling-place for the deer and the roe and the foxes, the man who
 never left thee as much as the breadth of thy foot of territory in
 Ulster, the man who drove thee to the entertainment of women,[23] and
 the man who will drive thee back this day in the presence of the men
 of Erin, [I] Conor, son of Fachtna Fathach, High-king of Ulster, and
 son of the High-king of Ireland."

Despite this boasting he would certainly have been slain by his great
opponent had not one of his sons clasped his arms in supplication
around Fergus's knees and conjured him not to destroy Ulster, and
Fergus, melted by these entreaties, consented to remain passive if
Conor retired to the other wing of the battle, which he did.

In the meantime Mève had sent away the Dun Bull with fifty heifers
round him and eight men, to drive him to her palace in Connacht, "so
that whoever reached Cruachan alive, or did not reach it, the Dun Bull
of Cuailgne should reach it as she had promised."

Cuchulain, who had joined the Ultonians, and whose arms had been taken
from him, lest in his enfeebled condition he should injure himself by
taking part in the fray, unable to bear any longer the look of the
battle, the shouting and the war-cries, rushes into the fight with
part of his broken chariot for a weapon, and performs mighty feats.
At length he ceases to slay at Mève's solicitation, whose life he
spares, and the shattered remnants of her host begin slowly to withdraw
across the ford. "Oilioll draws his shield of protection behind the
host [_i.e._, covers the rear], Mève draws her shield of protection in
her own place, Fergus draws his shield of protection, the Mainès draw
their shield of protection, the sons of Magach draw their shield of
protection behind the host; and in this manner they brought with them
the men of Erin across the great ford westward," nor did they cease
their retreat till Mève and her army found themselves at Cruachan in
Connacht, whence they had set out.

The long saga ends with a decided anti-climax, the encounter between
the Dun Bull, whom Mève had carried off, and her own bull, the
White-Horned.[24] These bulls, according to one of the most curious
of the short auxiliary sagas to the Táin, were really rebirths of two
men who hated each other during life, and now fought it out in the form
of bulls. When they caught sight of each other they pawed the earth
so furiously that they sent the sods flying across their shoulders,
"they rolled the eyes in their heads like flames of fiery lightning."
All day long they charged, and thrust, and struggled, and bellowed,
while the men of Ireland looked on, "but when the night came they could
do nothing but be listening to the noises and the sounds." The two
bulls traversed much of Ireland during that night.[25] Next morning
the people of Cruachan saw the Dun Bull coming with the remains of
his enemy upon his horns. The men of Connacht would have intercepted
him, but Fergus, ever generous, swore with a great oath that all that
had been done in the pursuit of the Táin was nothing to what he would
do if the Dun Bull were not allowed to return to his own country with
his kill. The Dun made straight for his home at Cuailgne in Louth. He
drank of the Shannon at Athlone, and as he stooped one of his enemy's
loins fell off from his horn, hence Ath-luain, the Ford of the Loin.
After that he rushed, mad with passion, towards his home, killing every
one who crossed his way. Arrived there, he set his back to a hill and
uttered wild bellowings of triumph, until "his heart in his breast
burst, and he poured his heart in black mountains of brown blood out
across his mouth."

Thus far the Táin Bo Chuailgne.

[1] Pronounced "Taun Bo Hooiln'ya."

[2] Yet in the Brehon law a woman is valued at only the seventh part
of a man, three cows instead of twenty-one; but if she is young and
handsome she has her additional "honour price."

[3] "Findruini." See Book of Leinster, f. 42, for the old text of this,
but I am here using a modern copy, not trusting myself to translate
accurately from the old text.

[4] This is the mysterious sickness which seizes upon all the Ultonians
at intervals except Cuchulain. _See_ ch. XXIV, note 3.

[5] For more about the Gaileóin see p. 598 of Rhys's Hibbert Lectures,
and O'Curry, "M. and C.," vol. ii. p. 260.

[6] They were countrymen of Oilioll's.

[7] Crann-tábhail; it is doubtful what kind of missile weapon this
really was. It was certainly of the nature of a sling, but was partly
composed of wood.

[8] _See_ above, p. 54 and 291. _Rigú_ is the old form of _roghan_.


      "ὁ δέ Κύπριν ἐπῴχετο νηλέι χαλκῷ
  Γιγνώσκων ὅτ᾽ ἄναλκις ἔην θεός, οὐδὲ θεάων
  Τάων αἵ τ᾽ ἀνδρῶν πόλεμον κατα κοιρανέουσιν,
  Οὔτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ Ἀθηναίη, οὔτε πτολίπορθος Ἐνυώ.
  Ἀλλ ὅτε δή ῥ᾽ ἐκίχανε πολὺν καθ᾽ ὅμιλον ὀπάζων,
  Ἐνθ᾽ ἐπορεξάμενος, μεγαθύμου Τυδέος υἱὸς
  Ἄκρην οὔτασε χεῖρα, μετάλμενος ὀξέϊ δουρὶ
  Ἀβληχρήν. εἶθαρ δὲ δόρυ χροὸς ἀντετόρησεν
  Ἀμβροσίου διὰ πέπλου, ὁν οἱ Χάριτες κάμον αὐταὶ,
  Πρυμνὸν ὑπερ θέναρος ῥέε δ᾽ ἄμβροτον αἷμα θεοῖο
  Ἰχώρ, οἷος πέρ τε ῥέει μακάρεσσι θεοῖσιν."

                            _Iliad_, v. 330.

A better instance except for the sex is where he afterwards wounds
Ares. (_See_ v. 855.)

[10] In Irish, _sidh._ The stranger is really Cuchulain's divine father.

[11] This is incredible, for the sickness of the Ultonians could not
have endured so long.

[12] The prominence given to and the laudatory comments on the
non-Gaelic or non-Milesian races, such as the Gaileóins and Firbolg
in this saga is very remarkable. It seems to me a proof of antiquity,
because in later times these races were not prominent.

[13] These are the three blisters mentioned in Cormac's Glossary under
the word _gaire_. Nede satirises--wrongfully--his uncle Caier, king
of Connacht; "Caier arose next morning early and went to the well. He
put his hand over his countenance, he found on his face three blisters
which the satire had caused, namely, Stain, Blemish, and Defect [_on,
anim, eusbaidh_], to wit, red and green and white."

[14] I give here, for the most part, the translation given by Sullivan
in his Addenda to O'Curry's "Manners and Customs," but it is an
exceedingly faulty and defective one from a linguistic point of view.
However, even though some words may be mistranslated or their sense
mistaken, it is immaterial here. Windisch is said to have finished
a complete translation of the Táin, but it has not as yet appeared
anywhere. Max Netlau has studied the texts of the Ferdiad episode in
vols. x. and xi. of the "Revue Celtique."

[15] This is the metre of the original. The last lines are literally,
"A man is constrained to come unto the sod where his final grave shall
be." The metre of the last line is wrong in the Book of Leinster.

[16] Tortbullech = toirt-bhuilleach.

[17] A common trait even in the modern Gaelic tales, as in the story
of Iollan, son of the king of Spain, whose sweetheart urges him to the
battle by chanting his pedigree; and in Campbell's story of Conall
Gulban, where the daughter of the King of Lochlann urges her bard to
exhort her champion in the fight lest he may be defeated, and to give
him "Brosnachadh file fir-ghlic," _i.e._, the urging of a truly wise

[18] Compare this with the Berserker rage of the Northmen.

[19] _Cf._ the common Gaelic folk-lore formula, "they would make soft
of the hard and hard of the soft, and bring cold springs of fresh water
out of the hard rock with their wrestling."

[20] Or Findabar, the fair-eyebrowed one.

[21] "Tulmuing." _See_ p. 7.

[22] I do not think this is rightly translated, but the passage is
obscure to me.

[23] Alluding to Fergus serving with Queen Mève.

[24] The Finnbheannach, pronounced "Fin-van-ach." Both the bulls were
endowed with intelligence. One of the virtues of the Dun Bull was that
neither Bocanachs nor Bananachs nor demons of the glens could come into
one cantred to him. There emanated from him, too, when returning home
every evening, a mysterious music, so that the men of the cantred where
he was, required no other music. The war-goddess herself, the Mór-rigú,
speaks to him.

[25] Every place in Ireland, says the saga, that is called
Cluain-na-dtarbh, Magh-na-dtarbh, Bearna-na-dtarbh, Druim-na-dtarbh,
Loch-na-dtarbh, _i.e._, the Bull's meadow, plain, gap, ridge, lake,
etc., has its name from them!



Although Cuchulain won for himself in this war an imperishable fame,
yet he was not destined to enjoy it long, for he perished before
arriving at middle age.[1] The account of his death is preserved in the
Book of Leinster, a manuscript of the middle of the twelfth century,
which quotes incidentally from an Irish poet[2] of the seventh century,
thus showing that Cuchulain was at this early age the hero of the
poets. Unfortunately the opening of the story in the Book of Leinster
is lost, but many modern extensions of the saga still exist, from one
of which in my possession I shall supply what is missing.[3]

Cuchulain had three formidable enemies, who were bent upon his life,
these were Lughaidh [Lewy] the son of the Momonian king Curigh,[4]
whom Cuchulain had slain, Erc, the son of Cairbré Niafer king of
all Ireland, who was slain in the battle of Rosnaree,[5] and the
descendants of the wizard Calatin, who with his twenty sons and his
son-in-law fell by Cuchulain in one of the combats at the Ford, during
the raid of the Táin. His wife, however, brought into the world three
posthumous children, daughters.[6] These unhappy creatures Mève
mutilated by cutting off their right legs and left arms, so that
they might be odious and horrible, and all the fitter for the dread
profession she proposed for them--evil wizardry. She reared them
carefully, and so soon as they were of a fitting age she sent them into
the world to gain a knowledge of charms and spells, and druidism, and
witchcraft, and incantations. In pursuit of this knowledge they roamed
throughout the world, and at last returned to the queen as perfect
adepts as might be.

Thereupon she convened a second muster of the men of the four
provinces, and joined by Lewy the son of Curigh, and Erc the son of
Cairbré Niafer, both of whose parents had fallen by Cuchulain, and
having with her the odious but powerful children of Calatin, eager
to avenge the death of their father and their family, she again
marched upon Ulster during the sickness of their warriors, and began
to plunder and to burn and to drive away a mighty prey. King Conor
immediately surmised that it was against Cuchulain the expedition
was prepared, and without a moment's delay he depatched Lavarcam his
female messenger, to desire him instantly to leave his palace and his
patrimony at Dundealgan[7] in the plain of Muirtheimhne, and come to
himself at Emania, there to be under the King's immediate orders.
This command he gave, thinking to rescue Cuchulain from the possible
effects of his own valour and rashness, for there was scarcely a man
of distinction in any of the four provinces of Erin some of whose
relatives had not been slain by him.

Lavarcam found the hero upon the shore, between sea and land, intent
upon the slaying of sea-fowl with his sling, but though birds many flew
over him and past him, not one could he bring down--they all escaped
him. And this was to him the first bad omen. Very reluctantly did he
obey the call of Conor, and sorely loath was he to leave his patrimony.
He accompanied Lavarcam, however, to Emania, and abode there in his own
bright-lighted crystal _grianán_. Then Conor consulted with his druids
as to how best to keep him there, and they sent the bright ladies of
Emania, and his wife Emer, and the poets and the musicians, and the men
of science, to surround and distract and amuse him, with conversation
and music and banquets.

In the meantime, however, Mève's army had advanced upon and burned
Dundealgan, and the children of Calatin had promised that within three
days and three nights they would bring Cuchulain to his doom.

And now ensues what is to my mind one of the most powerful incidents
in all this saga--the malignant ghoulish efforts of the children of
Calatin to draw forth Cuchulain from his place of safety, and on the
other side the anxiety of the druids and ladies, and the frenzied
heart-sick efforts of his wife, and his mistress, to detain him. The
loathsome wizards flew through the air and stationed themselves upon
the plain outside Emania--

 "They smote the soil and beat and tore it up around them, so that they
 made of fuz-balls, and of stalks of _sanna_, and of the fine foliage
 of the oaks, as it were ordered battalions, and hosts, and multitudes
 of men, and the confused shoutings of the battalions and of the
 war-bands, and the battle array, were heard on all sides, as it were
 striking and attacking the fortress."

Geanan the druid, the son of old Cathbadh, was watching Cuchulain this
day. As soon as the sounds of war and shouting reached him Cuchulain
rose and "looked forth, and he saw the battalions smiting each other
unsparingly," as he thought, and he burned at once with fury and shame;
but the druid cast his two arms round him in time to prevent him from
bursting forth to relieve the apparently foe-beleaguered town. Over and
over again must the druid assure him that all he saw was blind-work
and magic, and unreal phantoms, employed by the clan Calatin to lure
him forth to his destruction.[8] It was impossible, however, to keep
Cuchulain from at least looking, and, the next time he looked forth,

 "he thought he beheld the battalions drawn up upon the plains, and the
 next time he looked after that he thought he saw Gradh son of Lir upon
 the plain, and it was a _geis_ (tabu) to him to see that, and then he
 thought moreover that he heard the harp of the son of Mangur playing
 musically, ever-sweetly, and it was a _geis_ to him to listen to those
 pleasing fairy sounds, and he recognised from these things that his
 virtue was indeed overcome, and that his _geasa_ (tabus) were broken,
 and that the end of his career had arrived, and that his valour and
 prowess were destroyed by the children of Calatin."

After that one of the daughters of the wizard Calatin, assuming the
form of a crow, came flying over him and incited him with taunts
to go and rescue his homestead and his patrimony from the hands of
his enemies. And although Cuchulain now understood that these were
enchantments that were working against him, yet was he none the less
anxious to rush forth and oppose them, for he felt moved and troubled
in himself at the shouting of the imaginary hosts, and his memory, and
his senses, and his right mind were afflicted by the sounds of that
ever-thrilling harp.

Then the druid used all his influence, explaining to him that if he
would only remain for three days more in Emania the spells would have
no power, and he would go forth again, "and the whole world would be
full of his victories and his lasting renown," and thereafter the
ladies of Emania and the musicians closed round him, and they sang
sweet melodies, and they distracted his mind, and the day drew to a
close:--the clan Calatin retired baffled, and Cuchulain was himself
once more.

During that night the ladies and the druids took council together and
determined to carry him away to a glen so remote and lonely that it
was called the Deaf Valley, and to hide him there, preparing for him a
splendid banquet, with music, and poets, and delights of every kind.

Next morning came the accursed wizards and inspected the city, and they
marvelled that they saw not Cuchulain, and that he was neither beside
his wife, nor yet amongst the other heroes of the Red Branch. Then
they understood that he had been hidden away by Cathbadh the druid,
"and they raised themselves aloft, lightly and airily, upon a blast of
enchanted wind, which they created to lift them," and went soaring over
the entire province of Ulster to discover his retreat. This they do by
perceiving Cuchulain's grey steed, the Liath Macha, standing outside at
the entrance to the glen. Then the three begin their wizardry anew, and
made, as it were, battalions of warriors to appear round the glen, and
they raised anew the sounds of arms and the shouts of war and conflict,
as they had done at Emania.

The instant the ladies round Cuchulain heard it they also shouted,
and the musicians struck up--but in vain; Cuchulain had caught the
sound. They succeeded, however, in calming his mind, and in inducing
him to pay no heed to the false witcheries of the clan Calatin. These
continued for a long time waiting and filling the air with their unreal
battle tumult, but Cuchulain did not appear. Then they understood
that the druids had been more powerful than they. Mad with impotent
fury one of them enters the glen, and pushes her way right into the
very fortress where Cuchulain was feasting. Once there she changes
herself into the form of the beautiful Niamh [Nee-av], Cuchulain's
love and sweetheart. First she stood at the door in the likeness of
an attendant damsel, and beckoned to the lady to come to her outside.
Niamh, thinking she has something to communicate, follows her through
the door and out into the valley, and the other ladies follow Niamh.
Instantly she raises an enchanted fog between them and the dún, so that
they wander astray, and their minds are troubled. But she, assuming the
form of the lady Niamh herself, slips back into the fortress, comes
to Cuchulain, and cries to him: "Up, O Cuchulain, and meet the men
of Erin, or thy fame shall be lost for ever, and the province shall
be destroyed." At this speech Cuchulain is astounded, for Niamh had
bound him by an oath that he would not go forth or take arms until
she herself should give him leave, and this leave he never thought
to receive of her until the fatal time was over. "I shall go," said
Cuchulain, "and that is a pity, O Niamh," said he, "and after that it
is difficult to trust to woman, for I had thought thou hadst not given
me that leave for the gold of the world, but since it is thou who dost
let me go to face the men of Erin, I shall go." After that he rose and
left the dún. "I have no reason for preserving my life longer," said
Cuchulain, "for the end of my time is come, and all my _geasa_ (tabus)
are lost, and Niamh has let me go to face the men of Erin; and since
she has let me, I shall go."

Afterwards the real Niamh overtakes him at the entrance to the glen,
and assured him with torrents of tears, and wild sobs, that it was not
she who had given him leave, but the vile enchantress who had assumed
her form, and she conjured him with prayers and piteous entreaties to
remain with her. But Cuchulain would not believe her, and urged Laeg to
catch his steeds and yoke them, for he thought that he beheld--

 "The great battle-battalions ranged upon the green of Emania, and the
 whole plain filled up and crowded with broad bands of hundreds of
 men, with champions, and steeds, and arms, and armour, and he thought
 he heard the awful shoutings, and [saw] the burnings extending,
 widely-let-loose through the buildings of Conor's city, and him-seemed
 that there was nor hill nor rising ground about Emania that was not
 full of spoils, and it appeared to him that Emer's sunny-house was
 overthrown and had fallen out over the ramparts of Emania, and that
 the House of the Red Branch was in one blaze, and that all Emania was
 one meeting-place of fire, and of black, dark, spacious, brown-red

Then Cuchulain's brooch fell from his hand and pierced his foot,
another omen of ill. Nor would his noble grey war-horse allow himself
to be caught. It was only when Cuchulain addressed him with persuasive
words of verse that he consented to let himself be harnessed to the
chariot, and even then "he lets fall upon his fore feet, from his
eyes, two large tears of blood." In vain did the ladies of Emania try
to bar his passage, in vain did fifty queens uncover their bosoms
before him in supplication. "He is the first," says the saga, "of whom
it is recounted that women uncovered before him their bosoms."[10]

Thereafter another evil omen overtook him, for as he pursued the high
road leading to the south,

 "and had passed the plain of Mogna, he perceived something, three hags
 of the half-blind race,[11] who were on the track before him cooking a
 poisoned dog's flesh upon spits of holly. Now it was a _geis_ (tabu)
 to Cuchulain to pass a cooking-fire without visiting it and accepting
 food. It was another _geis_ to eat of his own name" [_i.e._, a hound,
 he is Cu-Chulain or Culan's hound], "so he pauses not, but passes the
 three hags. Then one of them cries to him--

 "'Come, visit us, Cuchulain.'

 "'I shall not visit you,' said Cuchulain.

 "'There is something to eat here,' replied the hag; 'we have a dog
 to offer thee. If our cooking-place were great,' said she, 'thou
 wouldst come, but because it is small thou comest not; a great man who
 despises the small, deserves no honour.'

 "Cuchulain then moved over to the hag, and she with her left hand
 offered him half the dog. Cuchulain ate, and it was with his left hand
 he took the piece, and he placed part of it under his left thigh, and
 his left hand and his left thigh were cursed, and the curse reached
 all his left side, which from his head to his feet lost a great part
 of its power."

At last Cuchulain meets the enemy on his ancestral patrimony of Moy
Muirtheimhne, drawn up in battle array, with shield to shield as though
it were one solid plank that was around them. Cuchulain displays his
feats from his chariot, especially "his three thunder-feats--the
thunder of an hundred, the thunder of three hundred, the thunder of
thrice nine men."

 "He played equally with spear, shield, and sword, he performed all the
 feats of a warrior. As many as there are of grains of sand in the sea,
 of stars in the heaven, of dewdrops in May, of snowflakes in winter,
 of hailstones in a storm, of leaves in a forest, of ears of corn in
 the plains of Bregia, of sods beneath the feet of the steeds of Erin
 on a summer's day, so many halves of heads, and halves of shields, and
 halves of hands and halves of feet, so many red bones were scattered
 by him throughout the plain of Muirtheimhne, it became grey with
 the brains of his enemies, so fierce and furious was Cuchulain's

The plan which Erc, son of the late High-king Cairbré Niafer had
adopted was to place two men pretending to fight with one another upon
each flank of the army and a druid standing near who should first make
Cuchulain separate the combatants, and should then demand from him his
spear, since there ran a prophecy to the effect that Cuchulain's spear
should kill a king, but if they could get the spear from him they at
least would be safe from the prophecy; it would not be one of them who
should be slain by it.

Cuchulain separates the fighters as the druid asks him, by killing each
of them with a blow.

 "'You have separated them,' said the druid, 'they shall do each other
 no more harm.'

 "'They would not be so silenced,' said Cuchulain, 'hadst thou not
 prayed me to interfere between them.'

 "'Give me thy spear, O Cuchulain,' said the druid.

 "'I swear by the oath which my nation swears,' said Cuchulain, 'you
 have no greater need of the spear than I. All the warriors of Erin are
 come together against me, and I must defend myself.'

 "'If thou refuse me,' said the druid, 'I shall solemnly utter against
 thee a magic curse.'

 "'Up to this time,' replied Cuchulain, 'no curse has ever been
 levelled against me for any act of refusal on my part.'"

And with that he reversed his spear and threw it at the druid butt
foremost, killing him and nine more. Lewy, the son of Curigh,
immediately picked it up.

"'Whom,' said he to the children of Calatin, 'is this to overthrow?'

"'It is a king whom that spear shall slay,' said they.

"Lewy hurled it at Cuchulain's chariot, and it pierced Laeg, his

"Cuchulain bade his charioteer farewell.

"'To-day,' said Cuchulain, 'I shall be both warrior and charioteer.'"

The same incident happens again. Cuchulain kills the second druid in
the same way, and his spear is picked up by Erc.

 "'Children of Calatin,' said Erc, 'what exploit shall this spear

 "'It shall overthrow a king,' said they.

 "'You said this spear would overthrow a king when Lewy hurled it some
 time ago,' said Erc.

 "'Nor were we deceived,' said they, 'that spear has brought down the
 king of the charioteers of Ireland, Laeg, the son of Riangabhra,
 Cuchulain's charioteer.'"

Erc hurls the spear and it passes through the side of Cuchulain's noble
steed, the Liath Macha. Cuchulain took a fond farewell of the animal
who galloped with half the yoke around its neck to the lake from whence
he had first taken it, on the mountain of Fuad in far-off Armagh.

The third time a druid demands his spear, and is killed by Cuchulain,
who throws it to him handle foremost. The spear is picked up this time
by Lewy son of Curigh.

 "'What feat shall this spear perform, ye children of Calatin?' said

 "It shall overthrow a king,' said they.

 "'Ye said as much when Erc hurled it this morning,' answered Lewy.

 "'Yes,' answered the children of Calatin, 'and our word was true. The
 spear which Erc hurled has wounded mortally the king of the steeds of
 Ireland, the Liath Macha.'

 "'I swear then,' said Lewy, 'by the oath which my nation swears, that
 Erc's blow smote not the king which this spear is to slay.'"

Then Lewy hurls the spear, and this time pierces Cuchulain through
the body, and Cuchulain's other steed burst the yoke and rushed off
and never ceased till he, too, had plunged into the lake from which
Cuchulain had taken him in far-off Munster.[12] Cuchulain remained
behind, dying in his chariot. With difficulty and holding in his
entrails with one hand, he advanced to a little lake hard by, and drank
from it, and washed off his blood. Then he propped himself against
a high stone a few yards from the lake, and tied himself to it with
his girdle. "He did not wish to die either sitting or lying, it was
standing," says the saga, "that he wished to meet death."

But his grey steed, the Liath Macha,[13] returned once more to defend
his lord, and made three terrible charges, scattering with tooth and
hoof all who would approach the stone where Cuchulain was dying. At
last a bird was seen to alight upon his shoulder. "Yon pillar used not
to be a settling place for birds," said Erc. They knew then that he was
dead. Lewy, the son of Curigh, seized him by the back hair and severed
his head from his body.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Cuchulain was too important an epic hero to thus finish with
him. Another very celebrated, but probably later épopée tells of how
his friend Conall Cearnach pursued the retreating army and exacted
vengeance for his death. A brief digest of Conall's revenge is
contained in the Book of Leinster, but modern copies of much longer and
more literary versions exist, and there was no more celebrated poem
amongst the later Gael than that called the Lay of the Heads in which
Conall Cearnach returns to Emer, Cuchulain's wife, to Emania, with a
large bundle of heads strung upon a gad, or withy-wand, thrust through
their mouths from cheek to cheek, and there explains in a lay to Emer
who they were.

In the ancient version in the Book of Leinster it is only Lewy who
is slain by Conall. In my more modern recension he slays Erc and the
children of Calatin as well, and recovers the head of Cuchulain, which
he found being used as a football by two men near Tara. "If this city,"
said he of Tara, "were Erc's own lordship and patrimony I would burn it
down, but since it is the very navel and meeting-point of the men of
Ireland, I shall affront it no more."

Emer's joy and her grief on recovering her husband's head are
touchingly described.

 "She washed clean the head and she joined it on to its body, and she
 pressed it to her heart and her bosom, and fell to lamenting and
 heavily sorrowing over it, and began to suck in its blood and to drink
 it,[14] and she placed around the head a lovely satin cloth. 'Ochone!'
 said she, 'good was the beauty of this head, although it is low this
 day, and it is many of the kings and princes of the world would be
 keening it if they thought it was like this; and the men who demand
 gold and treasure, and ask petitions of the men of Erin and Alba
 [_i.e._, the poets and druids] thou wast their one love and their one
 choice of the men of the earth, and woe for me that I remain behind
 this day; for there was not of the women of Erin, nor in the whole
 great world, a woman mated with a husband, or unmated, not a single
 one, who, until this day, was not envious of me; for many were the
 goods and jewels and rents and tributes from the countries of the
 world that thou broughtest to me, with the valour and strength of thy
 hand,' and she took his hand in hers and fell to making lamentations
 over it, and to telling of its fame and its exploits, and 't was
 what she said, 'Alas!' said she, 'it is many of the kings and of the
 chieftains and of the strong men of the world that fell by this hand,
 and it is many of the goods and treasures of this world that were
 scattered by it upon poets and men of knowledge,' and she spake the

  "'Ochone O head, Ochone O head,'" etc.

Afterwards Conall Cearnach arrives with his pile of heads and planted
them carefully "all round about the wide grass-green lawn" upon pointed
sticks, and relates to Emer who they were and how they fell.[15]

"Thereafter," says the saga, "Emer desired Conall to make a wide very
deep tomb for Cuchulain," and she laid herself down in it along with
her gentle mate, and she set her mouth to his mouth, and she spake--

 "'Love of my soul,' she said, 'O friend, O gentle sweetheart, and O
 thou one choice of the men of the earth, many is the woman envied
 me thee until now, and I shall not live after thee;' and her soul
 departed out of her, and she herself and Cuchulain were laid in the
 one grave by Conall, and he raised their stone over their tomb, and he
 wrote their names in Ogam, and their funeral games were performed by
 him and by the Ultonians.


[1] He died at the age of twenty-seven years, according to the Annals
of Tighearnach, and also according to a note in the Book of Ballymote,
which Charles O'Conor of Belinagare identifies as an extract from
the Synchronisms of Flann of Monasterboice, who died in 1056. But an
account in a MS. H. 3. 17, in Trinity College, Dublin, which was copied
about the year 1460, asserts that Cuchulain died in his fifty-ninth
year. (_See_ O'Curry's MS. Mat., p. 507.)

[2] Cennfaelad, son of Ailill.

[3] This MS., which contains many of the Cuchulain sagas, was copied
about a hundred years ago by a scribe named Seághain O'Mathghamhna on
an island in the Shannon.

[4] The older form of this name is Curoi. A detailed account of this
saga is given by Keating. _See_ p. 282 of O'Mahony's edition. The saga
is also told under the title of _Aided Conrui_, in Egerton 88, British

[5] The saga of the battle of Rosnaree has recently been published with
a translation by Rev. Ed. Hogan, S.J.

[6] Some say six children--three daughters and three sons. The MS. H.
i. 8, in Trinity College, which dates from about 1460, according to
O'Curry, relates thus: "And the sons of Cailitin were eight years after
the Táin before they went to pursue their learning, for they were but
infants in cradles at the time their father was killed. Nine years for
them after that pursuing their learning. Seven years after finishing
their learning was spent in making their weapons, because there could
be found but one day in the year to make their spears. And three years
after that did the sons of Cailitin spend in assembling and marching
the men of Erin to Belach Mic Uilc in Magh Muirtheimhne (Cuchulain's

[7] Now Dundalk in the County Louth.

[8] "Ni bhfuil acht saobh-lucht siabhartha ann súd, sian-sgarrtha
duaibh-siocha draoidheachta do dhealbhadar clann cuirpthe Chailitin
go claon-mhillteach fad' chómhair-se, dod' chealgadh, agus dod'
chomh-bhuaidh-readh, a churaidh chalma chath-bhuadhaigh."

[9] Up to this I have followed the version of my own modern manuscript.
From this out, however, the version in the twelfth-century Book of
Leinster is used. Monsieur d'Arbois de Jubainville, in his introduction
to the fragment of the saga in the Book of Leinster, seems to think
that Emania was really besieged, and women and children slaughtered
round its walls by the men of Erin, whereas it would appear that the
lost part of the saga refers to some such version as I have given
from my manuscript, and that it was only the wizardry and sorcery
of the children of Calatin, who raised these phantasms. This is the
more evident because Cuchulain, when he issues forth, meets no enemy
until he has arrived at the plain of Muirtheimhne. Jubainville's words
are, "Cependant les cris de douleur des femmes et des enfants qu'on
massacrait jusqu'au pied des remparts d'Emain macha [Emania] parvinrent
à son oreille: on en verra un peu plus bas les conséquences, dont la
dernière fut la mort du heros."

[10] It was _geis_, or tabu, to him to behold the exposed breast of a
woman. _See_ above, p. 301.

[11] These are in my version the three daughters of Calatin.

[12] The belief in water-horses is quite common even still amongst the
old people in all parts of Connacht, and, I think, over the most of

[13] With the Liath Macha so renowned throughout the whole Cuchulain
saga compare Areiōn, the celebrated steed of Adrastus, who saved his
master at the rout of the Argeian chiefs round Thebes. The Liath Macha
returns to the _water_ from whence it came, and Areiōn, too, was
believed to have been the offspring of Poseidōn. He is alluded to by
Nestor in the Iliad xxiii. 346:

  κ ἔσθ᾿ ὅς κέ σ᾿ἕλῃσι μετάλμενος ὀυδὲ παρέλθῃ,
  οὐδ᾿ εἴ κεν μετόπιφσθεν Ἀρείονα δῖον ἔλαυνοι,
  Ἀδρήστου ταχύν ἵππον ὃς ἐκ θεόφιν γένος ἦεν.

He appears, however, to have been black not grey. Hesiod alludes to him
as μέγαν ἵππον Ἀρείονα κυανοχαίτην.

[14] "Do rinne an ceann do niamhghlanadh agus do chuir ar a chollain
féin é, agus do dhruid re na h-ucht agus n-a h-urbhruinne é, agus
do ghaibh ag tuirse agus ag trom-mhéala os a chionn, agus do ghaibh
ag sughadh a choda fola agus ag a h-ól," etc. This was to express
affection. Déirdre does the same when her husband is slain, she laps
his blood.

[15] This is the celebrated Laoi na gceann, or Lay of the Heads, which
begins by Emer asking--

  "A Chonaill cia h-iad na cinn?
    Is dearbh linn gar dheargais h-airm,
  Na cinn o thárla ar an ngad
    Slointear leat na fir d'ar baineadh."

It was popular in the Highlands also. There is a copy in the book of
the Dean of Lismore, published by Cameron in his "Reliquiæ Celticæ,"
vol. i. p. 66. Also in the Edinburgh MSS. 36 and 38. See _ibid._ pp.
113 and 115. The piece consists of 116 lines. The oldest form of Emer's
lament over Cuchulain, "Nuallguba Emire," is in the Book of Leinster,
p. 123, _a._ 20. It is a kind of unrhymed chant. The lament I have
given is from my own modern manuscript.



Another saga belonging to this cycle affords so curious a picture of
pagan customs that it is worth while to give here some extracts from
it. This is the story of Mac Dáthó's Pig and Hound, which is contained
in the Book of Leinster, a MS. copied about the year 1150. It was first
published without a translation by Windisch in his "Irische Texte,"
from the Book of Leinster copy collated with two others. It has since
been translated by Kuno Meyer from a fifteenth-century vellum.[1] The
story runs as follows.

Mac Dáthó was a famous landholder in Leinster, and he possessed a hound
so extraordinarily strong and swift that it could run round Leinster
in a day. All Ireland was full of the fame of that hound, and every
one desired to have it. It struck Mève and Oilioll, king and queen of
Connacht, to send an embassy to Mac Dáthó to ask him for his hound, at
the same time that the notion came to Conor, king of Ulster, that he
also would like to possess it. Two embassies reach Mac Dáthó's house
at the same time, the one from Connacht and the other from Ulster, and
both ask for the hound for their respective masters. Mac Dáthó's house
was one of those open hostelries[2] of which there were five at that
time in Ireland.

 "Seven doors," says the saga, "there were in each hostelry, seven
 roads through it, and seven fireplaces therein. Seven caldrons in the
 seven fireplaces. An ox and a salted pig would go into each of these
 caldrons, and the man that came along the road would (_i.e._, any
 traveller who passed the way was entitled to) thrust the flesh fork
 into the caldron, and whatever he brought up with the first thrust,
 that he would eat, and if nothing were brought up with the first
 thrust there was no other for him."

The messengers are brought before Mac Dáthó to his bed, and questioned
as to the cause of their coming.

 "'To ask for the hound are we come,' said the messengers of Connacht,
 'from Oilioll and from Mève, and in exchange for it there shall be
 given three score hundred milch cows at once, and a chariot with the
 two horses that are best in Connacht under it, and as much again at
 the end of the year besides all that.'

 "'We, too, have come to ask for it,' said the messengers of Ulster,
 'and Conor is no worse a friend than Oilioll and Mève, and the same
 amount shall be given from the north (_i.e._, from the Ultonians) and
 be added to, and there will be good friendship from it continually.'

 "Mac Dáthó fell into a great silence, and was three days and nights
 without sleeping, nor could he eat food for the greatness of his
 trouble, but was moving about from one side to another. It was then
 his wife addressed him and said, 'Long is the fast in which thou art,'
 said she; 'there is plenty of food by thee, though thou dost not eat

 "And then she said--

  "'Sleeplessness was brought
  To Mac Dáthó into his house.
  There was something on which he deliberated
  Though he speaks to none.[3]

  He turns away from me to the wall,
  The Hero of the Féne of fierce valour,
  His prudent wife observes
  That her mate is without sleep.'"

A dialogue in verse follows. The wife advises her husband to promise
the hound to both sets of messengers. In his perplexity he weakly
decides to do this. After the messengers had stayed with him for
three nights and days, feasting, he called to him first the envoys of
Connacht and said to them--

 "'I was in great doubt and perplexity, and this is what is grown out
 of it, that I have given the hound to Oilioll and Mève, and let them
 come for it splendidly and proudly, with as many warriors and nobles
 as they can get, and they shall have drink and food and many gifts
 besides, and shall take the hound and be welcome.'

 "He also went with the messengers of Ulster and said to them, 'After
 much doubting I have given the hound to Conor, and let him and the
 flower of the province come for it proudly, and they shall have many
 other gifts and you shall be welcome.' But for one and the same day he
 made his tryst with them all."

Accordingly on the appointed day the warriors and men of each province
arrive at his hostelry in great state and pomp.

 "He himself went to meet them and bade them welcome. ''Tis welcome ye
 are, O warriors,' said he, 'come within into the close.'

 "Then they went over, and into the hostelry; one half of the house for
 the men of Connacht and the other half for the men of Ulster. That
 house was not a small one. Seven doors in it and fifty beds between
 (every) two doors. Those were not faces of friends at a feast, the
 people who were in that house, for many of them had injured other.
 For three hundred years before the birth of Christ there had been war
 between them.[4]

 "'Let the pig be killed for them,' said Mac Dáthó."

This celebrated pig had been fed for seven years on the milk of three
score milch cows, and it was so huge that it took sixty men to draw it
when slain. Its tail alone was a load for nine men.

"'The pig is good,'" said Conor, king of Ulster.

"'It is good,'" said Oilioll, king of Connacht.

Then there arose a difficulty about the dividing of the pig. As in
the case of the "heroes' bit" the best warrior was to divide it. King
Oilioll asked King Conor what they should do about it, when suddenly
the mischievous, ill-minded Bricriu spoke from a chamber overhead and
asked, "How should it be divided except by a contest of arms seeing
that all the valorous warriors of Connacht were there."

 "'Let it be so,' said Oilioll.

 "'We like it well,' said Conor, 'for we have lads in the house who
 have many a time gone round the border.'

 "'There will be need of thy lads to-night, O Conor,' said a famous
 old warrior from Cruachna Conalath in the west. 'The roads of Luachra
 Dedad have often had their backs turned to them (as they fled). Many,
 too, the fat beeves they left with me.'

 "''Twas a fat beef thou leftest with me,' said Munremar mac Gerrcind,
 'even thine own brother, Cruithne mac Ruaidlinde from Cruachna
 Conalath of Connacht.'

 "'He was no better,' said Lewy mac Conroi, 'than Irloth, son of
 Fergus, son of Leite, who was left dead by Echbél, son of Dedad, at
 Tara Luachra.'

 "'What sort of man do ye think,' said Celtchair mac Uthechair, 'was
 Conganchnes, son of (that same) Dedad, who was slain by myself, and me
 to strike the head off him?'

 "Each of them brought up his exploits in the face of the other, till
 at last it came to one man who beat every one, even Cet mac Mágach of

 "He raised his prowess over the host, and took his knife in his hand,
 and sat down by the pig. 'Now let there be found,' said he, 'among the
 men of Ireland one man to abide contest with me, or let me divide the

 "There was not at that time found a warrior of Ulster to stand up to
 him, and great silence fell upon them.

 "'Stop that for me, O Laeghaire [Leary],' said Conor, [King of Ulster,
 _i.e._, 'Delay, if you can, Cet's dividing the pig'].

 "Said Leary, 'It shall not be--Cet to divide the pig before the face
 of us all!'

 "'Wait a little, Leary,' said Cet, 'that thou mayest speak with me.
 For it is a custom with you men of Ulster that every youth among you
 who takes arms makes us his first goal.[6] Thou, too, didst come to
 the border, and thus leftest charioteer and chariot and horses with
 me, and thou didst then escape with a lance through thee. Thou shalt
 not get at the pig in that manner!'

 "Leary sat down upon his couch.

 "'It shall not be,' said a tall, fair warrior of Ulster, coming out of
 his chamber above, 'that Cet divide the pig.'

 "'Who is this?' said Cet.

 "'A better warrior than thou,' say all, 'even Angus, son of Hand-wail
 of Ulster.'

 "'Why is his father called Hand-wail?' said Cet.

 "'We know not indeed,' say all.

 "'But I know,' said Cet; 'once I went eastward (_i.e._, crossed the
 border into Ulster), an alarm-cry is raised around me, and Hand-wail
 came up with me, like every one else. He makes a cast of a large lance
 at me. I make a cast at him with the same lance, which struck off his
 hand, so that it was (_i.e._, fell) on the field before him. What
 brings the son of that man to stand up to me?' said Cet.

 "Then Angus goes to his couch.

 "'Still keep up the contest,' said Cet, 'or let me divide the pig.'

 "'It is not right that thou divide it, O Cet,' said another tall, fair
 warrior of Ulster.

 "'Who is this?' said Cet.

 "'Owen Mór, son of Durthacht,' say all, 'king of Fernmag.'[7]

 "'I have seen him before,' said Cet.

 "'Where hast thou seen me,' said Owen.

 "'In front of thine own house when I took a drove of cattle from thee;
 the alarm cry was raised in the land around me, and thou didst meet
 me and didst cast a spear at me, so that it stood out of my shield. I
 cast the same spear at thee, which passed through thy head and struck
 thine eye out of thy head, and the men of Ireland see thee with one
 eye ever since.'

 "He sat down in his seat after that.

 "'Still keep up the contest, men of Ulster,' said Cet, 'or let me
 divide the pig.'

 "'Thou shalt not divide it,' said Munremar, son of Gerrcend.

 "'Is that Munremar?' said Cet.

 "'It is he,' say the men of Ireland.

 "'It was I who last cleaned my hands in thee, O Munremar,' said Cet;
 'it is not three days yet since out of thine own land I carried off
 three warriors' heads from thee, together with the head of thy first

 "Munremar sat down on his seat.

 "'Still the contest,' said Cet,' or I shall divide the pig.'

 "'Verily thou shalt have it,' said a tall, grey, very terrible warrior
 of the men of Ulster.

 "'Who is this?' said Cet.

 "'That is Celtchair, son of Uithechar,' say all.

 "'Wait a little, Celtchair,' said Cet, 'unless thou comest to strike
 me. I came, O Celtchair, to the front of thy house. The alarm was
 raised around me. Every one went after me. Thou comest like every
 one else, and going into a gap before me didst throw a spear at me.
 I threw another spear at thee, which went through thy loins, nor has
 either son or daughter been born to thee since."

 "After that Celtchair sat down on his seat.

 "'Still the contest,' said Cet, 'or I shall divide the pig.'

 "'Thou shalt have it,' said Mend, son of Sword-heel.

 "'Who is this?' said Cet.

 "'Mend,' say all.

 "'What! deem you,' said Cet, 'that the sons of churls with nicknames
 should come to contend with me? for it was I was the priest,[8] who
 christened thy father by that name, since it is I that cut off his
 heel, so that he carried but one heel away with him. What should bring
 the son of that man to contend with me?'

 "Mend sat down in his seat.

 "'Still the contest,' said Cet, 'or I shall divide the pig.'

 "'Thou shalt have it,' said Cumscraidh, the stammerer of Macha, son of

 "'Who is this?'

 "'That is Cumscraidh,' say all.

 "He is the makings of a king, so far as his figure goes....

 "'Well,' said Cet, 'thou madest thy first raid on us. We met on the
 border. Thou didst leave a third of thy people with me, and camest
 away with a spear through thy throat, so that no word comes rightly
 over thy lips, since the sinews of thy throat were wounded, so that
 Cumscraidh, the stammerer of Macha, is thy name ever since.'

 "In that way he laid disgrace and a blow on the whole province.

 "While he made ready with the pig and had his knife in his hand, they
 see Conall _Ceârnach_ [the Victorious], coming towards them into the
 house. He sprang on to the floor of the house. The men of Ulster gave
 him great welcome. 'Twas then [King] Conor threw his helmet from his
 head and shook himself [for joy] in his own place. 'We are glad,' said
 Conall, 'that our portion is ready for us, and who divides for you?'
 said Conall.

 "One man of the men of Ireland has obtained by contest the dividing of
 it, to wit, Cet mac Mágach.

 "'Is that true, Cet?' said Conall, 'art thou dividing the pig?'"

There follows here an obscure dialogue in verse between the warriors.

 "'Get up from the pig, Cet,' said Conall.

 "'What brings thee to it?' said Cet.

 "'Truly [for you] to seek contest from me,' said Conall, 'and I shall
 give you contest; I swear what my people swear since I [first] took
 spear and weapons, I have never been a day without having slain a
 Connachtman, nor a night without plundering, nor have I ever slept
 without the head of a Connachtman under my knee.'

 "'It is true,' said Cet, 'thou art even a better warrior than I, but
 if Anluan mac Mágach [my brother] were in the house,' said Cet, 'he
 would match thee contest for contest, and it is a pity that he is not
 in the house this night.'

 "'Aye, is he, though,' said Conall, taking the head of Anluan from his
 belt and throwing it at Cet's chest, so that a gush of blood broke
 over his lips. After that Conall sat down by the pig and Cet went from

 "'Now let them come to the contest,' said Conall.

 "Truly there was not then found among the men of Connacht a warrior
 to stand up to him in contest, for they were loath to be slain on the
 spot. The men of Ulster made a cover around him with their shields,
 for there was an evil custom in the house, the people of one side
 throwing stones at the other side. Then Conall proceeded to divide
 the pig, and he took the end of the tail in his mouth until he had
 finished dividing the pig."

The men of Connacht, as might be expected, were not pleased with their
share. The rest of the piece recounts the battle that ensued both in
the hostelry, whence "seven streams of blood burst through its seven
doors," and outside in the close or _liss_ after the hosts had burst
through the doors, the death of the hound, the flight of Oilioll and
Mève into Connacht, and the curious adventures of their charioteer.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Conception of Cuchulain,[9] the Conception of Conor,[10] the
Wooing of Emer,[11] the Death of Conlaoch,[12] the Siege of Howth,[13]
the Intoxication of the Ultonians,[14] Bricriu's Banquet,[15] Emer's
Jealousy and Cuchulain's Pining,[16] the Battle of Rosnaree,[17]
Bricriu's Feast and the Exile of the Sons of Dael Dermuit,[18] Macha's
Curse on the Ultonians,[19] the Death of King Conor,[20] the Wooing of
Ferb,[21] the Cattle Spoil of Dartaid, the Cattle Spoil of Flidais, the
Cattle Spoil of Regamon, the Táin bé Aingen, the Táin Bo Regamna,[22]
the Conception of the two Swineherds[23] the Deaths of Oilioll
(King of Connacht) and Conall Cearnach,[24] the Demoniac Chariot of
Cuchulain,[25] the Cattle Spoil of Fraich,[26] are some of the most
available of the many remaining sagas belonging to this cycle.

[1] "Hibernica Minora," p. 57, from Rawlinson B. 512, in the Bodleian
Library. I have followed his excellent translation nearly verbatim.

[2] In Old Irish, Bruiden; in modern, Bruidhean (Bree-an).


  "Tucad turbaid chotulta / do Mac Dáthó co a thech.
  Ros bói ni no chomairled / cen co labradar fri nech."

[4] But especially since Fergus mac Róigh or Roy had deserted Ulster
and gone over to Connacht on the death of Déirdre.

[5] He is well known in the Ultonian saga. Keating describes him in
his history as a "mighty warrior of the Connachtmen, and a fierce wolf
of evil to the men of Ulster." It was he who gave King Conor the wound
of which, after nine years, he died. He was eventually slain by Conall
Cearnach as he was returning in a heavy fall of snow from a plundering
excursion in Ulster, carrying three heads with him. See O'Mahony's
Keating, p. 274, and Conall Cearnach was taken up for dead and brought
away by the Connacht men after the fight, but recovered. This evidently
formed the plot of another saga now I think lost.

[6] This is what Cuchulain also does the day he assumes arms for the
first time. The story of his doings on that day and his foray into
Connacht as recited by Fergus to Oilioll and Mève forms one of the most
interesting episodes of the Táin Bo Chuailgne. Every young Ultonian on
assuming arms made a raid into Connacht.

[7] It was he who, in the oldest version of the Déirdre saga, slew
Naoise, and it was to him Conor made Déirdre over at the end of a year.
See above p. 317.

[8] This phrase, introduced by a Christian reciter or copyist, need not
in the least take away from the genuine pagan character of the whole.

[9] Windisch's "Irische Texte," Erste Serie, 134, and D'Arbois de
Jubainville's "L'Épopée Celtique en Irlande," p. 22.

[10] D'Arbois de Jubainville's "Épopée Celtique," p. 3.

[11] Translated by Kuno Meyer in "Revue Celtique," vol. xi., and "The
Archæological Review," vol. i., and Jubainville's "Épopée Celtique," p.

[12] A poem published by Miss Brooke in her "Reliques of Irish Poetry,"
p. 393 of the 2nd Edition of 1816. There are fragmentary versions of
it in the Edinburgh MSS. 65 and 62, published in Cameron's "Reliquiæ
Celticæ," vol. i. pp. 112 and 161, and in the Sage Pope Collection from
the recitation of a peasant about a hundred years ago, p. 393. The
oldest form of the story is in the Yellow Book of Lecan, and it has
been studied in Jubainville's "Épopée Celtique," p. 52.

[13] Edited and translated by Stokes in the "Revue Celtique," vol.
viii. p. 49.

[14] Translated by Hennessy for Royal Irish Academy, Todd Lecture, Ser.

[15] The text published by Windisch, "Irische Texte," I. p. 235, and
translated by Jubainville in "Épopée Celtique," p. 81.

[16] The text published by Windisch, "Irische Texte," I. p. 197, and by
O'Curry in "Atlantis," vol. i. p. 362, with translation, and by Gilbert
and O'Looney in "Facsimiles of National MSS. of Ireland." Translated
into French by MM. Dottin, and Jubainville in "Épopée Celtique en
Irlande," p. 174.

[17] Translated and edited by Rev. Edward Hogan, S.J., for the Royal
Irish Academy, Todd, Lecture Series, vol. iv.

[18] The text edited by Windisch, "Irische Texte," Serie II., i. Heft,
p. 164, and translated by M. Maurice Grammont, in Jubainville's "Épopée
Celtique en Irlande," p. 150.

[19] Translated and edited by Windisch, "Dans les comptes rendus de la
classe de philosophie et d'histoire de l'Académie royale des sciences
de Saxe," says M. d'Arbois de Jubainville, who gives a translation from
Windisch's text at p. 320 of his "Épopée Celtique."

[20] Edited and translated by O'Curry in Lectures on the MS. Mat. p.
637, and again by D'Arbois de Jubainville.

[21] Edited and translated by Windisch in "Irische Texte," Dritte
Serie, Heft II., p. 445.

[22] These are short introductory stories to the Táin Bo Chuailgne;
they have been edited and translated by Windisch in "Irische Texte,"
Zweite Serie, Heft II., p. 185-255.

[23] Edited and translated by Windisch, "Irische Texte," Dritte Serie,
Heft I., p. 230, and translated into English by Alfred Nutt, in his
"Voyage of Bran," vol. ii. p. 58.

[24] Translated and edited by Kuno Meyer in the "Zeitschrift für
Celtische Philologie," I Band, Heft I., p. 102.

[25] Edited by O'Beirne Crowe in the "Journal of the Royal Historical
and Archæological Association of Ireland," Jan., 1870.

[26] Edited by O'Beirne Crowe in "Proceedings of the Royal Irish
Academy," 1871.



Cuchulain's life and love and death entranced the ears of the great
for many centuries, and into hundreds of bright eyes tears of pity
had for a thousand years been conjured up by the pathetic tones of
bards reciting the fate of her who perished for the son of Usnach. The
wars of Mève and of Conor mac Nessa were household words in the hall
of Muirchertach of the leather cloaks, and in the palace at the head
of the weir--Brian Boru's Kincora. Whosoever loved what was great in
conception, and admired the broad sweep of the epic called upon his
bards to recite the loves, the wars, the valour, and the deaths of the
Red Branch knights.[1]

But there was yet another era consecrated in story-telling, another
age of history peopled by other characters, in which the households
of many chieftains and some even of the chiefs themselves delighted.
These are pictured in the romances that were woven around Conn of the
Hundred Battles, his son Art the Lonely, his grandson Cormac mac Art,
and his great-grandson Cairbré of the Liffey. This cycle of romance
may be called the "Fenian" Cycle, as dealing to some extent with Finn
mac Cúmhail and his Fenian[2] militia, or the "Ossianic" Cycle since
Ossian, Finn's son, is supposed to have been the author of many of the
poems which belong to it.

In point of time--as reckoned by the Irish annalists and
historians--the men of the Fenian Cycle lived something over two
hundred years later than those of the Cuchulain era[3] and in none
of the romances do we see even the faintest confusion or sign of
intermingling the characters belonging to the different cycles. One of
the surest proofs--if proof were needed--that Macpherson's brilliant
"Ossian" had no Gaelic original, is the way in which the men and
events of the two separate cycles are jumbled together.

As the war between Ulster and Connacht, which followed the death of
the children of Usnach, is the great historic event which serves as
basis to so many of the Red Branch romances, so the principal thread
of history round which many of the Fenian stories are woven, is the
gradual and slowly increasing enmity which proclaimed itself between
the High-kings of Erin and their Fenian cohorts, resulting at last in
the battle of Gabhra, the fall of the High-king, and the destruction of
the Fenians.

Thus in the battle of Cnucha is related how Cúmhail[4] [Cool], the
father of Finn, made war upon Conn of the Hundred Battles because he
had raised Criomhthan of the Yellow Hair to the throne of Leinster,
and how he obtained the aid of the Munster princes in the war. At the
battle of Cnucha or Castleknock, near Cool's rath--now Rathcoole some
ten miles from Dublin--Cool was routed and slain by the celebrated
Connacht champion Aedh mac Morna, who lost an eye in the battle and
was thenceforth called Goll (or the blind)[5] mac Morna. Many of the
Munster Fenians followed Cool in this battle, and we find here the
broadening rift between the Fenians of Munster and of Connacht which
ultimately tended to bring about the dissolution of the whole body.

Again we find in the fine tale called the Battle of Moy Muchruime how
Finn, through spite at his father Cool being thus killed by Conn of the
Hundred Battles, kept out of the way when Conn's son Art was fighting
the great battle of Moy Muchruime and gave him no assistance.

And again it was partly because Finn kept out of the way on that
occasion that Conn's great-grandson fought the battle of Gabhra
against Finn's son Ossian and his grandson Oscar, a battle which put an
end to Fenian power for ever.

Of many of these tales we find two redactions, that of the old vellum
MSS. and that of the modern paper ones, the latter being as a rule much
longer and more decorative. Here, for instance, is the later version
of one passage out of many which is slurred over or disregarded in the
old one[6]; it is the sailing of Cúmhail, Finn's father, to Ireland to
take the throne of Leinster. I translate this from a modern manuscript
of the battle of Cnucha, in my own possession, as a good instance of
the decorative, and in places inflated style of the later redactions of
many of the Fenian sagas.


 "Now the place where Cúmhail chanced to be at that time was between
 the islands of Alba and the deserts of Fionn-Lochlan, for he was
 hunting and deer-stalking there. And the number of those who were
 with the over-throwing hero Cúmhail in that place, was thrice fifty
 champions of his own near men. And he heard at that time that his
 country was left without any good king to defend it, and that Cáthaoir
 Mór [king of Leinster] had fallen in the pen of battle, and that there
 was no hero to keep the country. Thereupon, those chieftains were
 of a mind to proceed unto the isolated green isle of Erin, there to
 maintain with valour and might the red-hand province of Leinster. And
 joyfully they proceeded straight forwards towards their ship.[7]

 "And there they quickly and expeditiously launched the towering,
 wide-wombed, broad-sailed bark, the freighted full-wide, fair-broad,
 firm-roped vessel, and they grasped their shapely well-formed
 broad-bladed, well-prepared oars, and they made a powerful
 sea-great, dashing, dry-quick rowing over the broad hollow-deep,
 full-foamed, pools [of the sea], and over the vast-billowed, vehement,
 hollow-broken rollers, so that they shot their shapely ships under the
 penthouse of each fair rock in the shallows nigh to the rough-bordered
 margin of the Eastern lands, over the unsmooth, great-forming,
 lively-waved arms of the sea, so that each fierce, broad,
 constant-foaming, bright-spotted, white-broken drop that the heroes
 left upon the sea-pool with that rapid rowing, formed [themselves]
 like great torrents upon soft mountains.

 "When that valiant powerful company perceived the moaning of the
 loud billow-waves and the breaking forth of the ocean from her
 barriers, and the swelling of the abyss from her places, and the
 loud convulsion of the sea from her smooth streams, it was then they
 hoisted the variegated, tough-cordaged, sharp-pointed mast with
 much speed. And when the great foundation-blasts of the angry wind
 touched the even upright-standing, sword-straight masts, and when
 the huge-flying, loud-voiced, broad-bordered sails swallowed the
 wind attacking them suddenly with sharp voice, that stout, strong,
 active, powerful crew rose up promptly and quickly, and every one went
 straight to his work with speed and promptitude, and they stretched
 forth their ready courageous, white-coloured, brown-nailed hands most
 valiantly to the tackling, till they let the wind in loud, sharp,
 fast, voice-bursts into the shrouds of the mast, so that the ship
 gave an eager, very quick, vigorous leap forward, right straight
 into the salt-ocean, till they arrived in the delightfully-clear,
 cold-pooled, querulously-whistling, joyfully-calling reaches of the
 sea, and the dark sea rose speedily around them in desperate-daring
 floodful _doisleana_, in hardly-separated ridges and in rough-grey,
 proud-tongued, gloomy-grim, blue-capacious valleys, and in
 impetuous shower-topped wombs [of water]; and the great merriment
 of the cold wind was answered by the chieftains, strong-workingly,
 stout-enduringly, truly-powerfully, and they proceeded to manage
 and attend the high-ocean, until at last the strong and powerful
 sea overcame the intention of the high wind, and the murmur and
 giddy voice of the deep was humbled by that great rowing, till the
 sea became restful, smooth, and very calm behind them, until they
 took port and harbour at Inver Cholpa, which is at this time called

The stories about Cormac mac Art, his grandfather Conn of the Hundred
Battles, and his son Cairbré of the Liffey, which are numerous, are
mostly more or less connected with the Fenians, and may, as they deal
with the same era and the same characters, be conveniently classed
along with the Fenian sagas. One of the best known of these sagas is
the Battle of Moy Léana[8] in which Conn of the Hundred Battles slew
his rival Owen, who had forced from him half his kingdom. Owen had
lived for six years in Spain, and had married a daughter of the Spanish
king. At the end of this time he was seized with great home-sickness
and he proposed to return to Ireland. When his father-in-law heard
this, he said to him:--

"If that Erin of which you speak, Owen, were a thing easily moved,
we would deem it easier to send the soldiers and warriors of Spain
with you thither to cut it from its foundation and lay it on wheels
and carry it after our ships and place it a one angle of Spain"--a
grandiloquent speech which Owen did not relish; "He did not receive it
with satisfaction, and it was not sweet to him," says the saga.

The King perceived this however, and offered him just what he wanted,
two thousand warriors to help him and his exiles in acquiring the
kingdom. The account of their embarcation and voyage is perhaps as
good a specimen of exaggerated verbosity and of the rhetoric of the
professed story-teller as any other in these sagas, which abound with
such things, and it is perhaps worth while to give it at length. It
will be seen that the story-teller or prose-poet, passes everything
through the prism of his imagination, and aided by an extraordinary
exuberance of vocabulary and unbounded wealth of alliterative
adjectives, wraps the commonest objects in a hurricane of--to use
his own phrase--"misty-dripping" epithet. The Battle of Moy Léana is
recorded in the Annals of Ulster, by Flann in the eleventh century, and
by the Book of Leinster, and no doubt the essence of the saga is very
ancient, but the dressing-up of it, and especially the passage I am
about to quote, is, in its style--not to speak of the language which is
modern--almost certainly post-Norman.


 "Then that vindictive unmerciful host went forward to the harbours
 and ports where their vessels and their sailing ships awaited them;
 and they launched their terrible wonderful monsters; their black,
 dangerous, many-coloured ships; their smooth, proper-sided, steady,
 powerful scuds, and their cunningly-stitched _Laoidheangs_ from
 their beds and from their capacious, full-smooth places, out of the
 cool clear-winding creeks of the coast, and from the calm, quiet,
 well-shaped, broad-headed harbours, and there were placed upon
 every swift-going ship of them free and accurately arranged tiers
 of fully-smoothed, long-bladed oars, and they made a harmonious,
 united, co-operating, thick-framed, eager-springing, unhesitating,
 constant-going rowing against currents and wild tempests, so that
 loud, haughty, proud-minded, were the responses of the stout,
 fierce-fronted, sportive-topped billows in conversing with the scuds
 and beautiful prows.

 "The dark, impetuous, proud, ardent waters became as white-streaked,
 fierce-rolling, languid-fatigued _Leibhiona_, upon which to cast the
 white-flanked, slippery, thick, straight-swimming salmon, among the
 dark-prowling, foamy-tracked heads [of sea monsters] from off the
 brown oars.

 "And upon that fleet, sweeping with sharp rapidity from the sides and
 borders of the territories, and from the shelter of the lands, and
 from the calm quiet of the shores, they could see nothing of the globe
 on their border near them, but the high, proud, tempestuous waves of
 the abyss, and the rough, roaring shore, shaking and quivering, and
 the very-quick, swift motion of the great wind coming upon them, and
 long-swelling, gross-springing, great billows rising over the swelling
 sides of the [sea] valleys, and the savage, dangerous, shower-crested
 sea, maintaining its strength against the rapid course of the vessels
 over the expanse, until at last it became exhausted, subdued,
 drizzling and misty, from the conflict of the waves and fierce winds.

 "The labouring crews derived increased spirits from the bounding
 of the swift ships over the wide expanse, and the wind coming from
 the rear, directly fair for the brave men, they arose manfully and
 vigorously to their work, and lashed the tough, new masts to the
 brown, smooth, ample, commodious bulwarks, without weakness, without
 spraining, without overstraining. Those ardent, expert crews put their
 hands to the long linen [sails] without shrinking, without mistake,
 from _Eibhil_ to _Achtuaim_, and the swift-going, long, capacious
 ships, passed from the hand-force of the warriors, and over the deep,
 wet, murmuring pools of the sea, and past the winding, bending,
 fierce-showery points of the harbours, and over the high-torrented,
 ever-great mountains of the brine, and over the heavy, listless walls
 of the great waves, and past the dark, misty-dripping hollows of the
 shores, and past the saucy, thick-flanked, spreading, white-crested
 currents of the streams, and over the spring-tide, contentious,
 furious, wet, overwhelming fragments of the cold ocean, until the sea
 became rocking like a soft, fragrant, proud-bearing plain, swelling
 and heaving to the force of the anger and fury of the cold winds.

 "The upper elements quickly perceived the anger and fury of the
 sea growing and increasing. Woe indeed was it to have stood
 between those two powers, the sea and the great wind when mutually
 attacking each other, and contending at the sides of strong ships
 and stout-built vessels and beautiful scuds. So that the sea was in
 showery-tempestuous, growling, wet, fierce, loud, clamorous, dangerous
 stages after them, whilst the excitement of the murmuring dark-deeded
 wind continued in the face and in the sluices of the ocean from its
 bottom to its surface. And tremulous, listless, long-disjointed,
 quick-shattering, ship-breaking, was the effect of the disturbance,
 and treacherous the shivering of the winds and the rolling billows
 upon the swift barks, for the tempest did not leave them a plank
 unshaken, nor a hatch unstarted, nor a rope unsnapped, nor a nail
 unstrained, nor a bulwark unendangered, nor a bed unshattered, nor a
 lifting uncast-down, nor a mast unshivered, nor a yard untwisted, nor
 a sail untorn, nor a warrior unhurt, nor a soldier unterrified, nor a
 noble unstunned--excepting the ardour and sailorship of the brave men
 who attended to the attacks and howlings of the fierce wind.

 "However, now, when the wind had exhausted its valour and had not
 received reverence nor honour from the sea, it went forward, stupid
 and crestfallen, to the uppermost regions of its residence; and the
 sea was fatigued from its roarings and drunken murmurings, and the
 wild billows ceased their motions, so that spirit returned to he
 nobles and strength to the hosts, and activity to the warriors, and
 strength to the champions. And they sailed onwards in that order
 without delay or accident until they reached the sheltered smooth
 harbour of Cealga and the shore of the island of Greagraidhe."

Who or what the Fenians were, has given rise to the greatest diversity
of opinion. The school of Mr. Nutt and Professor Rhys would, I fancy,
recognise in them nothing but tribal deities, euhemerised or regarded
as men.[9] Dr. Skene and Mr. Mac Ritchie believed that they were an
altogether separate race of men from the Gaels, probably allied to, or
identical with, the Picts of history; and the latter holds that they
are the _sidhe_ [shee] or fairy folk of the Gaels. The native Irish, on
the other hand, who were perfectly acquainted with the Picts, and tell
us much about them, have always regarded the Fenians as being nothing
more or less than a body of janissaries or standing troops of Gaelic
and Firbolg families, maintained during several reigns by the Irish
kings, a body which tended to become hereditary. Nor is there in this
account anything inherently impossible or improbable, especially as the
Fenian régime synchronises with a time when the Irish were probably
aggressively warlike. Keating, writing in Irish about the year 1630,
gives the traditional account of them as he gathered it from ancient
books and other authorities now lost, and this certainly preserves
some ancient and unique traits. He begins by rejecting the ridiculous
stories told about them, such as the battle of Ventry and the like, as
well as the remarks of Campion and of Buchanan, who in his history of
Scotland had called Finn a giant.

 "It is proved," writes Keating, "that their persons were of no
 extraordinary size compared with the men that lived in their own
 times, and moreover that they were nothing more than members of a
 body of _buanadha_ or retained soldiers, maintained by the Irish
 kings for the purpose of guarding their territories and of upholding
 their authority therein. It is thus that captains and soldiers are at
 present maintained by all modern kings for the purpose of defending
 their rule and guarding their countries.

 "The members of the Fenian Body lived in the following manner. They
 were quartered on the people from November Day till May Day, and their
 duty was to uphold justice and to put down injustice on the part of
 the kings and lords of Ireland, and also to guard the harbours of the
 country from the oppression of foreign invaders. After that, from May
 till November, they lived by hunting and the chase, and by performing
 the duties demanded of them by the kings of Ireland, such as
 preventing robberies, exacting fines and tributes, putting down public
 enemies, and every other kind of evil that might afflict the country.
 In performing these duties they received a certain fixed pay....

 "However, from May till November the Fenians had to content themselves
 with game, the product of their own hunting, as this [right to hunt]
 was their maintenance and pay from the kings of Ireland. That is,
 the warriors had the flesh of the wild animals for their food, and
 the skins for wages. During the whole day, from morning till night
 they used to eat but one meal, and of this it was their wont to
 partake towards evening. About noon they used to send whatever game
 they had killed in the morning by their attendants to some appointed
 hill where there were wood and moorland close by. There they used to
 light immense fires, into which they put a large quantity of round
 sandstones. They next dug two pits in the yellow clay of the moor,
 and having set part of the venison upon spits to be roasted before
 the fire they bound up the remainder with sugàns--ropes of straw or
 rushes--in bundles of sedge, and then placed them to be cooked in one
 of the pits they had previously dug. There they set the stones which
 they had before this heated in the fire, round about them, and kept
 heaping them upon the bundles of meat until they had made them seethe
 freely, and the meat had become thoroughly cooked. From the greatness
 of these fires it has resulted that their sites are still to be
 recognised in many parts of Ireland by their burnt blackness. It is
 they that are commonly called _Fualachta na bhFiann_, or the Fenians'

 "As to the warriors of the Fenians, when they were assembled at the
 place where their fires had been lighted, they used to gather round
 the second of those pits of which we have spoken above, and there
 every man stripped himself to his skin, tied his tunic round his
 waist, and then set to dressing his hair and cleansing his limbs, thus
 ridding himself of the sweat and soil of the day's hunt. Then they
 began to supple their thews and muscles by gentle exercise, loosening
 them by friction, until they had relieved themselves of all sense of
 stiffness and fatigue. When they had finished doing this they sat down
 and ate their meal. That being over, they set about constructing their
 _fiann-bhotha_ or hunting-booths, and preparing their beds, and so put
 themselves in train for sleep. Of the following three materials did
 each man construct his bed, of the brushwood of the forest, of moss,
 and of fresh rushes. The brushwood was laid next the ground, over it
 was placed the moss, and lastly fresh rushes were spread over all. It
 is these three materials that are designated in our old romances as
 the _tri Cuilcedha na bhFiann_--the three Beddings of the Fenians."

Every man who entered the Fenian ranks had four _geasa_ [gassa, _i.e._,
tabus] laid upon him,

 "The first, never to receive a portion with a wife, but to choose her
 for good manners and virtues; the second, never to offer violence to
 any woman; the third, never to refuse any one for anything he might
 possess; the fourth, that no single warrior should ever flee before
 nine [_i.e._, before less than ten] champions."

There was a curious condition attached to entrance into the brotherhood
which rendered it necessary that

 "Both his father and mother, his tribe, and his relatives should first
 give guarantees that they should never make any charge against any
 person for his death. This was in order that the duty of avenging his
 own blood [wounds] should rest with no man other than himself, and in
 order that his friends should have nothing to claim with respect to
 him however great the evils inflicted upon him."

All the Fenians were obliged to know the rules of poetry,[10] for no
figure in Irish antiquity, layman or cleric, could ever arrive at the
rank of a popular hero unless he could compose, or at least appreciate
a poem.

The Fenian tales and poems are extraordinarily numerous, but their
conception and characteristics are in general distinctly different
from those relating to the Red Branch. They have not the same sweep,
the same vastness and stature, the same weirdness, as the older cycle.
The majority of them are more modern in conception and surroundings.
There is little or no mention of the war chariot which is so important
a factor in the older cycle. The Fenians fought on foot or horseback,
and we meet, too, frequent mention of helmets and mail-coats, which
are post-Danish touches. Things are on a smaller scale. Exaggeration
does not run all through the stories, but is confined to small parts of
them, and it is set off by much that is trivial or humorous.

The Fenian stories became in later times the distinctly popular ones.
They were far more of the people and for the people than those of
the Red Branch. They were most intimately bound up with the life
and thought and feelings of the whole Gaelic race, high and low,
both in Ireland and Scotland, and the development of Fenian saga,
for a period of 1,200 or 1,500 years, is one of the most remarkable
examples in the world of continuous literary evolution. I use the word
evolution advisedly, for there was probably not a century from the
seventh to the eighteenth in which new stories, poems, and redactions
of sagas concerning Finn and the Fenians were not invented and put
in circulation, while to this very day many stories never committed
to manuscript are current about them amongst the Irish and Scotch
Gaelic-speaking populations. We have found no such steady interest
evinced by the people in the Red Branch romances, and in attempting to
collect Irish folk-lore I have found next to nothing about Cuchulain
and his contemporaries, but great quantities about Finn, Ossian, Oscar,
Goll, and Conan. The one cycle, then, antique in tone, language, and
surroundings, was, I suspect, that of the chiefs, the great men,
and the bards; the other--at least in later times--more that of the
un-bardic classes and of the people.

I do not mean to say that many of the Cuchulain stories were not
copied into modern MSS. and circulated freely among the people all
over Ireland during the eighteenth century and the beginning of this,
especially Cuchulain's training, Conlaoch's (his son's) death, the
Fight at the Ford, and others, but these appear never to have put out
shoots and blossoms from themselves and to have generated new and
yet again new stories as did the ever-youthful Fenian tales; nor do
they appear to have equally entwined themselves at this day round the
popular imagination.

A striking instance of how the Ossianic tale continued to develop down
to the eighteenth century was supplied me the other day when examining
the Reeves Collection.[11] I there came upon a story in a Louth MS.,
written, I think, in the last century, which seemed to me to contain
one of the latest developments of Ossianic saga. It is called "The
Adventures of Dubh mac Deaghla," and tells us of how a prophet was born
of the race of Eiremóin, "and all say," adds the writer, "that it was
he was the druid who prophesied to Fiacha Sreabhtainne that he should
fall in the battle of Dubh-Cumair by the three brothers, Cairioll,
Muircath, and Aodh." He also "prophesied to the race of Tuathal that
Cairbré of the Liffey was that far-branching tree which was to spread
round about through the great circuit of Erin, around which smote
the powerful wind from the south-west, overthrowing it wholly to the
ground--which wind meant the Fenians, as had been announced by the
smith's daughter."[12] The Fenians it seems heard that this Torna had
prophesied about them and intended to kill him, and he and his family
had to emigrate to Britain. From there he sends a letter in true
epistolary style to an old friend of his, one Conor son of Dathach,
beginning "Dear Friend"--an evident mark of seventeenth or possibly
eighteenth century authorship, for there are no letters written in
this style in the older literature, and this piece evidently follows
a Latin or a Spanish, or possibly an English model. However this may
be, Torna's letter asks Conor for news of the situation, and in time
receives the following answer:

 "_To Torna son of Dubh, our dear friend in Glen Fuinnse in Britain in

 "Thy affectionate missive was read by me as soon as it arrived, and it
 had been a cause of joy to me, were it not for the way we are in at
 Tara at this moment.

 "For we never felt until the Munster Fenians came and encamped at the
 marsh of Old Raphoe and Treibhe to the south-west; the warriors of
 Leinster also and _Baoisgnidh_, together with Clan Ditribh and Clan
 Boirchne, were to the south of them, towards the bottom of the stream
 of Gabhra and on the west towards the old fort of Mève; and that same
 evening the King having received an account of the encamping of the
 Fenians urges messengers secretly to Connacht to the Clan of Conal
 Cruachna that they might come, along with all the king's friends from
 the western border of Erin; and other messengers he despatches to
 Scotland for the Clan of Garaidh Glúnmhar, desiring Oscar of the blue
 Javelin, Aodh, Argal, and Airtre to come from abroad without delay,
 and that secretly.

 "On the early morning of the morrow, before the stars of the air
 retired, the King urged the druids of Tara against the Fenians to
 argue with them, and ask what was the cause of their rebelling in this
 guise, or who it was with whom they had now come to do battle, because
 they appeared not in habiliments of peace or friendship, but a flush
 of anger appeared in the face and countenance of every several man of

 "'And there is another unlawful thing of which ye are guilty,' said
 the druids, 'which shows that ye have broken the vow of allegiance
 and obedience to your king, in that ye have come in array and garb
 of battle to the door of his fortress without receiving his leave or
 advice, without giving him notice or warning. To what point of the
 compass do ye travel, or on what have ye set your mind [that ye act
 not] as is the right and due of a prince's subjects, and as was always
 before this the habitude of the bands that came before ye; and as
 shall last with honest people till the end of the world.'

 "However, now the druids are a-preaching to them and casting at
 them bold storm-showers of reproofs by way of retarding them till
 the coming back of the messengers who went abroad, for Mac Cool is
 not amongst them to excite them against us, and we hope that they
 will remain thus until help come to us. For this is the eleventh day
 since the druids went from us, and our watchmen who observe what
 approaches and what goes, disclose all tidings to us, and they are
 ever a-listening to the loud argument of the druids and the captains
 against one another. Moreover, the desire of the Fenians to make a
 rapid assault upon Tara is the less from their having heard that
 Cairbré was gone on his royal round to Dun Sreabhtainne to visit
 Fiacha,[13] though he is really not gone there, but to a certain place
 under cover of night with his women and the royal jewels of Tara. And
 it was lucky for him that he did not go to Dun Sreabhtainne, for the
 Fenians had sent Cairioll and nine mighty men with him to plunder Dun
 Sreabhtainne. In that, however, they miscarried, for his tutor was
 gone off before that with Fiacha, by order of the King, to the same
 place where the women were. That, however, we shall pursue no further
 at present.

 "But it is easy for you who are knowledgeable to form a judgment upon
 the state in which the inhabitants of a country must be, over which
 such a whelming calamity is about to fall. Let me leave off. And here
 we send our affectionate greeting to you, and to you all, with the
 hope of some time seeing you in full health, but I have small hope of

 "From your faithful friend till death, Conor, son of Dathach in Tara,
 the royal fortress of Erin. Written the 20th day of the month of March
 in the year of the age of the world ... " [The figures in the MS. are
 not legible].

The romance, which is a long one, is chiefly occupied with events
relating to the family of Dubh mac Deaghla in Britain. But later on in
the book the Conor who despatched this letter turns up and gives in
person a most vivid description of the Battle of Gowra, and the events
which followed his letter.

I have only instanced and quoted from this comparatively unimportant
story, as showing one of the very latest developments of Fenian
literature, and as proving how thoroughly even the seventeenth and
eighteenth century Gaels were imbued with, and realised the spirit
of, the Fenian Cycle, and also as a peculiar specimen of what rarely
happens in literature, but is always of great interest when it does
happen--a specimen of unconscious saga developing into semi-conscious

There are comparatively few ancient texts belonging to the Finn saga,
compared with the wealth of old vellum books that contain the Red
Branch stories. There is, however, quite enough of documentary proof
to show that so early as the seventh century Finn was looked on as a
popular hero.

The actual data that we have to go upon in estimating the genesis
and development of the Fenian tales have been lucidly collected by
Mr. Nutt. They are, as far as is known at present, as follows. Gilla
Caemhain, the poet who died in 1072, says that it was fifty-seven years
after the battle of Moy Muchruime that Finn was treacherously killed
"by the spear points of Urgriu's three sons."[14] This would make
Finn's death take place in 252, for Moy Muchruime was fought according
to the "Four Masters" in A.D. 195. Tighearnach the Annalist, who died
in 1088, writes that Finn was killed in A.D. 283, "by Aichleach, son of
Duibhdrean, and the sons of Urgriu of the Luaighni of Tara, at Ath-Brea
upon the Boyne." The poet Cinaeth O Hartagain, who died in A.D. 985,
wrote: "By the Fiann of Luagne was the death of Finn at Ath-Brea upon
the Boyne." All these men in the tenth and eleventh centuries certainly
believed in Finn as implicitly as they did in King Cormac.

The two oldest miscellaneous Irish MSS. which we have, are the Leabhar
na h-Uidhre and the Book of Leinster. The Leabhar na h-Uidhre was
compiled from older MSS. towards the close of the eleventh century,
and the Book of Leinster some fifty years later. The oldest of them
contains a copy of the famous poem ascribed to Dallán Forgaill in
praise of St. Columcille, which was so obscure in the middle of the
eleventh century that it required to be glossed. In this gloss, made
perhaps in the eleventh century, perhaps long before, there is an
explanatory poem on winter, ascribed to Finn, grandson of Baoisgne,
that is our Finn mac Cool, and in the same commentary we find an
explanation of the words "diu" = long, and "derc" = eye, in proof
of which this verse is quoted, "As Gráinne," says the commentator,
"daughter of Cormac, said to Finn."

  "There lives a man
  On whom I would love to gaze long,
  For whom I would give the whole world,
  O Son of Mary! though a privation!"

This verse, quoted as containing two words which required explanation
in or before the eleventh century, pre-supposes the story of Diarmuid
and Gráinne. In addition to this we have the apparently historical
story of the "Cause of the Battle of Cnucha." We have also the story
of the Mongan, an Ulster king of the seventh century, according to
the annalists who declared that he was not what men took him to be,
the son of the mortal Fiachna, but of the god Mananán mac Lir, and a
re-incarnation of the great Finn, and calls back from the grave the
famous Fenian, Caoilte, who proves it. This account is strongly relied
upon by Mr. Nutt to prove the wild mythological nature of the Finn
story, but it is by no means unique in Irish literature, for we find
the celebrated Tuan mac Cairrill had a second birth also, and the
great Cuchulain too has his parentage ascribed to the god Lugh, not
to Sualtach, his reputed father. Consequently, supposing Finn to have
been a real historical character of the third century, there would be
nothing absolutely extraordinary in the story arising in half pagan
times that Mongan, also an historical character, was a re-incarnation
of Finn.

In the second oldest miscellaneous manuscript, the Book of Leinster,
the references to Finn and the Fenians are much more numerous,
containing three poems ascribed to Ossian, Finn's son, five poems
ascribed to Finn himself, two poems ascribed to Caoilte the Fenian
poet, a poem ascribed to one of Finn's followers, allusions to Finn
in poems by one Gilla in Chomded and another, passages from the
Dinnsenchas or topographical tract about Finn, the account of the
battle of Cnámhross, in which Finn helps the Leinstermen against King
Cairbré, the genealogy of Finn, and the genealogy of Diarmuid O'Duibhne.

Again, in the Glossary ascribed, and probably truly, to Cormac,
King-Bishop of Cashel, A.D. 837-903, there are two allusions to Finn,
one of which refers to the unfaithfulness of his wife. This, indeed,
is not contained in the oldest copy, but Whitley Stokes, than whom
there can be no better authority, believes these allusions to belong
to the older portion of the Glossary, a work which is probably much

But there is yet another proof of the antiquity of the Finn stories
which Mr. Nutt does not note, and in some respects it is the most
important and conclusive of all. For if, as D'Arbois de Jubainville
has, I think, proved, the list of 187 historic tales contained in the
Book of Leinster was really drawn up at the end of the seventh or
beginning of the eighth century, we find that even then Finn or his
contemporaries were the subjects of, or figure in, several of them, as
in the story of "The Courtship of Ailbhe, daughter of King Cormac mac
Art, by Finn," "The Battle of Moy Muchruime," where King Art, Cormac's
father, was slain; "The Cave of Bin Edair," where Diarmuid and Gráinne
took shelter when pursued by Finn; "The Adventures of Finn in Derc
Fearna (the cave of Dunmore)," a lost tale; "The Elopement of Gráinne
with Diarmuid," and perhaps one or two more.

Thus Finn is sandwiched in as a real person along with his other
contemporaries, not only in tenth and eleventh century annalists and
poets, but is also made the hero of historic romance as early as the
seventh or eighth century. Side by side in our list with the battle
of Moy Muchruime we have the battle of Moy Rath. Copies of both,
coloured with the same literary pigments, exist. The last we _know_
to be historical, it can be proved; why should not the first be also?
It is true that the one took place 438 years before the other, but
the treatment of both is absolutely identical, and it is the merest
accident that we happen to have external evidence for the latter and
not for the former. I can see, then, no sufficiently cogent reasons for
viewing Finn mac Cúmhail with different eyes from those with which we
regard his king. Cormac mac Art is usually acknowledged to have been
a real king of flesh and blood, whose buildings are yet seen on the
site of Tara, after whose daughter Gráinne one of them is named, why
should Finn, his chief captain, who married that Gráinne, be a deity
euhemerised? I do not see any arguments sufficient to differentiate
this case of Finn, to whom no particular supernatural qualities (except
the knowledge he got when he chewed his thumb) are attributed, from
that of Cormac and other kings and heroes who were the subjects of
bardic stories, and whose deaths were recorded in the Annals, except
the accident that the creative imagination of the later Gaels happened
to seize upon him and make him and his contemporaries the nucleus of
a vast literature instead of some earlier or later group of perhaps
equally deserving champions. Finn has long since become to all ears a
pan-Gaelic champion just as Arthur has become a Brythonic one.

Of the Fenian sagas the longest--though it is only fragmentary--is that
known as the Dialogue or Colloquy of the Ancients, which is preserved
in the Book of Lismore, and would fill about 250 of these pages. The
plot of it is simple enough. Caoilte [Cweeltya] the poet and Ossian,
almost sole survivors of the Fenians--who had lived on after the
battle of Gabhra, where Cairbré, the High-king, broke their power for
ever--meet in their very old age St. Patrick and the new preachers of
the gospel. Patrick is most desirous of learning the past history of
the island from them, and the legends connected with streams and hills
and raths and so forth, and these are willingly recounted to him, and
were all written[15] down by Brogan Patrick's scribe for posterity to
read hereafter. The saga describes their wanderings along with the
saint, the stories they relate to him, and the verses--over a couple
of thousand--sung or repeated by them to the clerics and others.[16]
Some of these pieces are exceedingly beautiful. Here is a specimen, the
lament which Credé made over her husband who was drowned at the battle
of Ventry. Caoilte repeats the verses to Patrick:

 "The haven roars, and O the haven roars, over the rushing race of
 _Rinn-da-bharc_. The drowning of the warrior of _Loch-da-chonn_,
 that is what the wave impinging on the strand laments.[17] Melodious
 is the crane, and O melodious is the crane, in the marshlands of
 _Druim-dá-thrén_. 'Tis she who may not save her brood alive. The wild
 dog of two colours is intent upon her nestlings. A woful note, and O a
 woful note is that which the thrush in Drumqueen emits, but not more
 cheerful is the wail which the blackbird makes in Letterlee. A woful
 sound, and O a woful sound, is that the deer utters in Drumdaleish.
 Dead lies the doe of Drumsheelin,[18] the mighty stag bells after
 her. Sore suffering, and O suffering sore, is the hero's death, his
 death, who used to lie by me.... Sore suffering to me is Cael, and O
 Cael is a suffering sore, that by my side he is in dead man's form;
 that the wave should have swept over his white body, that is what hath
 distracted me, so great was his delightfulness. A dismal roar, and
 O a dismal roar, is that the shore's surf makes upon the strand....
 A woful booming, and O a boom of woe, is that which the wave makes
 upon the northward beach, butting as it does against the polished
 rock, lamenting for Cael now that he is gone. A woful fight, and O
 a fight of woe, is that the wave wages with the southern shore. A
 woful melody, and O a melody of woe, is that which the heavy surge of
 Tullacleish emits. As for me the calamity which has fallen upon me
 having shattered me, for me prosperity exists no more."

Perhaps the Fenian saga, next in length and certainly in merit, is
the well-known "Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne."[19] Diarmuid of the
Love-spot unwittingly causes Gráinne, daughter of Cormac mac Art, the
High-king, to fall in love with him, just on the eve of her marriage
with his captain, Finn mac Cool. He is driven to elope with her, and
is pursued round Ireland by the vengeful Finn, who succeeds after many
years in compassing the death of the generous and handsome Diarmuid by
a wild boar, and then winning back to himself the love of the fickle

The Enchanted Fort of the Quicken Tree, the Enchanted Fort of Céis
Corann,[20] the Little Brawl at Allen,[21] the Enchanted Fort of
Eochaidh Beag the Red,[22] the Pursuit of Sive, daughter of Owen Óg,
the Pursuit of the Giolla Deacar,[23] the Death of the Great Youth
the King of Spain's son,[24] The Feast in the House of Conan,[25]
the Legend of Lomnochtan of Slieve Riffé,[26] the Legend of Ceadach
the Great,[27] the Battle of Tulach na n-each,[28] the Battle of
Ventry,[29] the Battle of Cnucha, the Battle of Moy Muchruime,[30] the
Battle of Moy Léana,[31] the youthful Exploits of Finn mac Cool,[32]
the Battle of Gabhra,[33] the Birth of King Cormac,[34] the Battle
of Crinna,[35] the Cause of the Battle of Cnucha,[36] the Invitation
of Maol grandson of Manannán to the Fenians of Erin,[37] the Legend
of the Clown in the Drab Coat,[38] the Lamentation of Oilioll after
his children,[39] Cormac's Adventure in the Land of Promise,[40] the
Decision about Cormac's Sword,[41] an ancient fragment about Finn and
Gráinne,[42] an ancient fragment on the Death of Finn[43]--are some of
the remaining prose sagas of this cycle.

[1] Moore's genius has stereotyped amongst us the term Red Branch
knight, which, however, has too much flavour of the mediæval about
it. The Irish is _curadh_, "hero." The Irish for "Knight" in the
appellations White Knight, Knight of the Glen, etc., is Ridire
(pronounced "Rĭd-ĭr-yă," in Connacht sometimes corruptly "Rud-ir-ya"),
which is evidently the mediæval "Ritter," _i.e._, Rider.

[2] Moore helped to bring this word into common use under the form of
Finnian in his melody, "The wine-cup is circling in Alvin's hall."
It is probable that he derived the word from Finn, and meant by it
"followers of Finn mac Cool." The Irish word is Fiann (pronounced
"Fee-an") and has nothing to do with Finn mac Cúmhail. In the genitive
it is nà Féine (na Fayna). It is a noun of multitude, and means the
Fenian body in general. The individual Fenian was called Féinnidhe,
_i.e._, a member of the Fenian force. The bands of militia were called
Fianna [Fee-ăn-a], The word is declined _An Fhiann, na Féinne, do'n
Fhéinn_ [In Eean, nă Fayn-a, don Aen] and its resemblance to the proper
name Finn is only accidental. The English translation of Keating made
early in the last century, by Dermot O'Conor, does not use the term
"Fenian" at all, but translates the word by "Irish Militia." Nor does
O'Halloran, in 1778, when he published his history, seem to have known
the term. The first person who appears to have used it is Miss Brooke,
as early as 1796: in her translation of some Ossianic pieces, I find
the lines--

  "He cursed in rage the Fenian chief
  And all the Fenian race."

I have been told that Macpherson had already used the word, but I have
looked carefully through his Ossian and have not been able to find
it. Halliday in his edition of Keating, in 1808, talks in a foot-note
of "Fenian heroes." It was John O'Mahony the head-centre of the Irish
Republican Brotherhood, a brilliant Irish scholar and translator of
Keating, who succeeded in perpetuating the ancient historic memory by
christening the "men of '68" the "Fenians."

[3] Cormac mac Art came to the throne, A.D. 227, according to the "Four
Masters"; A.D. 213, according to Keating.

[4] See ch. XX, note 9.

[5] The word is long obsolete. Goll is a stock character in Fenian
folk-lore, a kind of Ajax.

[6] Contained in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, a volume copied about the
year 1100, and printed in "Revue Celtique," vol. ii. p. 86.

[7] With this thunderous description, all sound and fury, and
signifying very little, compare the Homeric description of a like
scene, clear, accurate, cut like a gem:

  τοῖσιν δ᾿ἴκμενον οὖρον ἵει ἑκάεργος Ἀπόλλων,
  οἱ δ᾿ἱστὸν στήσαντ᾿, ἀνά θ᾿ ἱστία λευκὰ πέτασσαν
  ἐν δ᾿άνεμος πρῆσεν μέσον ἱστίον, ἀμφὶ δὲ κῦμα
  στείρῃ πορφύρεον μεγάλ᾿ ἴαχε, νηὸς ἰούσης
  ῾η δ᾿ ἔθεεν κατὰ κῦμα, διαπρήσσυσα κέλευθα.
               ILIAD I., p. 480.

But the Irish passage, though quoted here to exemplify a common feature
of the Fenian tales, really dates from a time of decadence.

[8] Published by Eugene O'Curry for the Celtic Society. I adhere to his
admirable, and at the same time perfectly literal, translation.

[9] Mr. Nutt seems to believe that the whole groundwork of the Fenian
tales is mythical. His position with regard to them is fairly summed
up in this extract from his note on Mac Innes' Gaelic stories. "Every
Celtic tribe," he writes, "possessed traditions both mythical and
historical, the former of substantially the same character, the latter
necessarily varying. Myth and history acted and reacted upon each
other, and produced heroic saga which may be defined as myth tinged
and distorted by history. The largest element is as a rule suggested
by myth, so that the varying heroic sagas of the various portions of a
race, have always a great deal in common. These heroic sagas, together
with the official or semi-official mythologies of the pre-Christian
Irish are the subject-matter of the Annals. They were thrown into a
purely artificial chronological shape by men familiar with biblical and
classical history. A framework was thus created into which the entire
mass of native legend was gradually fitted, whilst the genealogies of
the race were modelled, or it may be remodelled in accord with it.
In studying the Irish sagas we may banish entirely from our mind all
questions as to the truth of the early portions of the Annals. The
subject matter of the latter is mainly mythical, the mode in which it
has been treated is literary. What residuum of historic truth may still
survive can be but infinitesimal." (_See_ Mr. Nutt's valuable essay on
Ossianic or Fenian Saga in "Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition," vol.
ii. p. 399.)

[10] "Of all these," says, with true Celtic hyperbole, the
fifteenth-century vellum in the British Museum, marked "Egerton, 1782,"
"not a man was taken until he was a prime poet versed in the twelve
books of poetry. No man was taken till in the ground a large hole had
been made such as to reach the fold of his belt, and he put into it
with his shield and a forearm's length of a hazel stick. Then must nine
warriors having nine spears, with a ten furrows' width between them and
him, assail him, and in concert let fly at him. If he were then hurt
past that guard of his, he was not received into the Fian-ship. Not a
man of them was taken until his hair had been interwoven into braids
on him, and he started at a run through Ireland's woods, while they
seeking to wound him followed in his wake, there having been between
him and them but one forest bough by way of interval at first. Should
he be overtaken he was wounded and not received into the Fian-ship
after. If his weapons had quivered in his hand he was not taken. Should
a branch in the wood have disturbed anything of his hair out of its
braiding he was not taken. If he had cracked a dry stick under his
foot [as he ran] he was not accepted. Unless that [at full speed] he
had both jumped a stick level with his brow, and stooped to pass under
one on a level with his knee, he was not taken. Unless also without
slackening his pace he could with his nail extract a thorn from his
foot he was not taken into the Fian-ship. But if he performed all this
he was of Finn's people." (_See_ "Silva Gadelica," p. 100 of English

[11] These MSS. volumes, fifty-four in number, had most of them
belonged to Mr. MacAdam, editor of the "Ulster Journal of Archæology,"
from whom Bishop Reeves bought them. On the lamented death of that
great scholar they were put up to auction, when the Royal Irish Academy
bought some thirty volumes, the rest unfortunately were allowed to be
scattered again to the four winds of heaven. For his exertions and
generosity in securing even so many of these MSS., especially those
which at first sight looked least important, but which contained
treasures of folk-lore and folk-song, the Hon. Treasurer, the Rev.
Maxwell Close, has placed Irish-speaking Ireland under yet another debt
of gratitude to him. It is not always that which is most ancient which
is most valuable from a literary or a national point of view. The pity
of it is that any Irish MS. that comes into the market should not be
bought up for the nation with the money assigned by the Government and
confided to the Royal Irish Academy for Irish studies, unless a special
search should show _that the Academy already possesses a copy of each
piece in it_. I am convinced that many hundreds or thousands of pieces
have been through neglect to do this irreparably lost to the nation. Oh
the pity of it!

[12] This is in allusion to the romance of Moy Muchruime, where we read
of the prophecy and what followed. For Cairbré _see_ above, p. 32.

[13] Fiacha was the King's son, and succeeded him in the sovereignty.
He was finally slain by his nephews, the celebrated Three Collas--they
who afterwards burned Emania and caused the Ultonian dynasty and the
Red Branch knights, after a duration of more than seven hundred years,
to set in blood and flame, never to rise again.

[14] "There were many among the Fenians," says Keating, "who were
more remarkable for their personal prowess, their valour, and their
corporeal stature than Finn. The reason why he was made king of the
Fiann, and set over the warriors, was simply because his father and
grandfather had held that position before him. Another reason also
why he had been made king of the Fiann was because he excelled his
contemporaries in intellect and learning, in wisdom and in subtlety,
and in experience and hardihood in battlefields. It was for these
qualities that he was made king of the Fiann, and not for his personal
prowess or for the great size or strength of his body."

"Warrior better than Finn," says an old vellum MS. in the British
Museum, "never struck his hand into chiefs, inasmuch as for service he
was a soldier, a hospitaller for hospitality, and in heroism a hero. In
fighting functions he was a fighting man, and in strength a champion
worthy of a king, so that ever since and from that until this, it is
with Finn that every such is co-ordinated."

And in another place the same vellum says, "A good man verily was he
who had those Fianna, for he was the seventh king ruling Ireland, that
is to say, there were five kings of the provinces, and the King of
Ireland, he being himself the seventh conjointly with the King of all

In a MS. saga in my own possession, called "The Pursuit of Sadhbh
(Sive)," there is an amusing account of the truculence of the Fenians
about their exclusive right of hunting, and the way they terrorised the
people they were quartered on, but I have not space for this extract.

[15] _See_ above, p. 116.

[16] This has been edited by Standish Hayes O'Grady in his "Silva
Gadelica," from the Book of Lismore.


  "Géisid cuan, ón géisid cuan
    Os buinne ruad rinnda bharc,
  Badad laeich locha dhá chonn
    Is ed cháinios tonn re trácht."

"Silva Gadelica," p. 113 of Gaelic volume, p. 122 of English volume. I
have not altered Dr. O'Grady's beautiful translation.

[18] This passage and that about the crane are not explained in the
"Colloquy," but curiously enough I find the same passage in the saga
called the Battle of Ventry, which Kuno Meyer published in "Anecdota
Oxoniensia" from a fifteenth-century vellum in the Bodleian. The lady
is there called Gelges [white swan], and as she sought for Cael among
the slain "she saw the crane of the meadow and her two birds and the
wily beast yclept the fox a-watching of her birds, and when she covered
one of the birds to save it he would make a rush at the other bird,
so that the crane had to stretch herself out between them both, so
that she would rather have found and suffered death by the wild beast
than that her birds should be killed by him. And Gelges mused on this
greatly and said, 'I wonder not that I so love my fair sweetheart,
since this little bird is in such distress about its birdlets.'" She
heard, moreover, a wild stag on Drum Reelin above the harbour, and it
was vehemently bewailing the hind from one pass to the other, for they
had been nine years together and had dwelt in the wood that was at the
foot of the harbour, the wood of Feedesh, and the hind had been killed
by Finn, and the stag was nineteen days without tasting grass or water,
mourning for the hind. "It is no shame for me," said Gelges, "to find
death with grief for Cael, as the stag is shortening his life for grief
of the hind," etc.

[19] Pronounced "Graan-ya." This story has been edited and translated
in the third volume of the Ossianic Society by Standish H. O'Grady, and
has been since reprinted from his text. Dr. Joyce also translated it
into English in his Old Celtic romances, but omits the cynical but most
characteristic conclusion. The story was only known to exist in quite
modern MSS., but I find an excellent copy written about the year 1660
in the newly-acquired Reeves Collection in the Royal Irish Academy.
This saga was in existence in the seventh century, for it is mentioned
in the list in the Book of Leinster. It is the subject of a recent
cantata by the Marquis of Lome and Mr. Hamish Mac Cunn.

[20] Published by O'Grady in his "Silva Gadelica."

[21] Published by O'Grady in his "Silva Gadelica."

[22] The Irish text published without a translation by Patrick O'Brien
in his _Bláithfleasg_.

[23] Published by O'Grady in his "Silva Gadelica."

[24] I published in a periodical a translation of this from a MS. in my
own possession.

[25] Published in vol. ii. of Ossianic Society.

[26] Is being published in the "Gaelic Journal" by the editor.

[27] Mentioned by Standish H. O'Grady, but I have met no copies of it,
though I have heard a story of this name told orally.

[28] Mentioned by Standish H. O'Grady.

[29] Published from a fifteenth-century vellum in the Bodleian by Kuno
Meyer in a volume of the "Anecdota Oxoniensia."

[30] Published by Standish H. O'Grady in "Silva Gadelica" from the Book
of Leinster. I have a seventeenth-century paper copy of the same saga
which is completely different.

[31] Published by O'Curry for the Celtic Society.

[32] Edited by O'Donovan for the Ossianic Society and by Mr. David
Comyn with a translation into modern Irish for the Gaelic League.

[33] Edited by O'Kearney for the Ossianic Society, vol. i.

[34] Published in "Silva Gadelica."

[35] Published in "Silva Gadelica."

[36] A brief tale in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, published in "Revue
Celtique," vol. ii.

[37] Mentioned by Standish H. O'Grady in his preface to Diarmuid and
Gráinne, but unknown to me.

[38] Published without a translation by O'Daly of Anglesea Street in
"Irish Self-taught," and with a translation in the "Silva Gadelica."

[39] Usually joined on to the modern version of the Battle of Mochruime.

[40] Published by Standish H. O'Grady for the Ossianic Society, vol.
iii. p. 212, from a modern MS.; and by Whitley Stokes in "Irische
Texte," iii. Serie, Heft. i. p. 203, from the Book of Ballymote and
Yellow Book of Lecan.

[41] Published by Stokes in the same place as the last.

[42] "Zeitschrift für Celt Phil.," Band I. Heft. 3, p. 458, translated
by Kuno Meyer.

[43] _Ibid._, and O'Grady, "Silva Gadelica."



In addition to the stories that centre round Cuchulain and round
Finn there are a number of miscellaneous ones dealing with episodes
or characters in Irish history; some are in short groups or minor
cycles, but others are completely independent tales. All are built
upon lines similar to those which we have been considering, and they
are composed for the most part in a mixture of both verse and prose.
Some of these sagas deal with pre-Christian times, and others with the
early mediæval period. Very few, if any, deal with post-Danish and
still fewer with post-Norman subjects. The seventh century was the
golden era of the Irish saga, and nothing that the race did in later
times improved on it. Out of the hundred and eighty-seven stories whose
names are preserved in the Book of Leinster, in a list which must have
been, as D'Arbois de Jubainville points out, drawn up in the seventh
century, about one hundred and twenty seem to have utterly perished.
Of the others--many of which, however, are preserved only in the
baldest and most condensed form--some four or five relate to the Fenian
Cycle, some eighteen are Red Branch stories, and some eight or nine,
mostly preserved in the colourless digests of the Book of Invasions,
are mythological. About twenty-one of the others belong to minor
groups, or are miscellaneous single tales. Some of them are of the
highest interest and antiquity. Of these the storming of the Bruidhean
[Bree-an] or Court of Dá Derga is, after the Táin Bo Chuailgne,
probably the oldest and most important saga in the whole range of Irish

These two stories substantially dating from the seventh century, and
perhaps formed into shape long before that time, are preserved in the
oldest miscellaneous MSS. which we possess, and throw more light upon
pagan manners, customs, and institutions than perhaps any other.[1]

The period in which the Court-of-Dá-Derga story is laid is about
coincident with that of the Red Branch Cycle, only it does not deal
with Emania, and the Red Branch, but with Leinster, Tara, and the
High-king of Erin, who was there resident. The High-king at this time
was the celebrated Conairè the "Great," and rightly, if we may believe
our Annals, was he so called, for he had been a just, magnanimous, and
above all fortunate ruler of all Ireland for fifty years.[2] So just
was he, and so strict, that he had sent into banishment a number of
lawless and unworthy persons who troubled his kingdom. Among these
were his own five foster brothers whom he was reluctantly compelled
to send into exile along with the others. These people all turned
to piracy, and plundered the coasts of England, Scotland, and even
Ireland, wherever they found an opportunity of making a successful
raid upon the unarmed inhabitants.[3] It so happened that the son
of the King of Britain, one Ingcel, also of Irish extraction, had
been banished by his father for his crimes, and was now making his
living in much the same way as the predatory Irishmen. These two
parties having met, being drawn together by a fellow-feeling and their
common lawlessness, struck up a friendship, and made a league with
one another, thus doubling the strength of each. Soon after this the
High-king found himself in Clare, called thither to settle, according
to his wont, some dispute between rival chiefs. His business ended, he
was leisurely taking his way with his retinue back to his royal seat
at Tara, when on entering the borders of Meath he beheld the whole
country in the direction of his city a sheet of flame and rolling
smoke. Terrified at this, and divining that the banished pirates had
made a descent on his capital during his absence, he turned aside and
took the great road that, leading from Tara to Dublin, passed thence
into the heart of Leinster. Pursuing this road the King crossed the
Liffey in safety and made for the Bruighean [Bree-an] or Court of Dá
Derg on the road close to the river Dothar or Dodder, called ever since
Boher-na-breena,[4] the "road of the Court," close to Tallacht, not
far from Dublin. This was one of the six great courts of universal
hospitality[5] in Erin, and Dá Derg, its master, was delighted and
honoured by the visit from the High-king.

The pirates having plundered Tara, took to their vessels, and having
laden them with their spoils were now under a favourable breeze running
along the sea coast towards the Hill of Howth, when they perceived
from afar the King's company making in their chariots for Dublin along
the great high road. One of his own foster brothers was the first to
recognise that it was the High-king who was there. He was kept in view
and seen at last to enter Dá Derg's great court of hospitality. The
pirates ran their ships ashore to the south of the Liffey, and Ingcel
the Briton set off as a spy to examine the court and the number of
armed men about it; to see if it might not be possible to surprise
and plunder it during the night. On his return he is questioned by
his companions as to what he saw, and by this simple device--familiar
to all poets from Homer down--we are introduced to the principal
characters of his court, and are shown what the retinue of a High-king
consisted of in the sixth or seventh century, about which time the
saga probably took definite shape on parchment, or in the second or
third century if we are to suppose the traits to be more archaic than
the composition of the tale. We have here a minute account of the
King and the court and the company, with their costumes, insignia,
and appearance. We see the King and his sons, his nine pipers or
wind-instrument players, his cupbearers, his chief druid-juggler,
his three principal charioteers, their nine apprentice charioteers,
his hostages the Saxon princes, his equerries and outriders, his
three judges, his nine harpers, his three ordinary jugglers, his
three cooks, his three poets, his nine guardsmen, and his two private
table attendants. We see Dá Derg, the lord of the court, his three
doorkeepers, the British outlaws, and the king's private drink-bearers.
Here is the description of the King himself--

 "'I saw there a couch,'[6] continued Ingcel, 'and its ornamentation
 was more beautiful than all the other couches of the Court, it is
 curtained round with silver cloth, and the couch itself is richly
 ornamented. I saw three persons on it. The outside two of them were
 fair both hair and eyebrows, and their skin whiter than snow. Upon the
 cheek of each was a beautiful ruddiness. Between them in the middle
 was a noble champion. He has in his visage the ardour and action of
 a sovereign, and the wisdom of an historian. The cloak which I saw
 upon him can be likened only to the mist of a May morning. A different
 colour and complexion are seen on it each moment, more splendid than
 the other is each hue. I saw in the cloak in front of him a wheel
 broach of gold, that reaches from his chin to his waist. Like unto the
 sheen of burnished gold is the colour of his hair. Of all the human
 forms of the world that I have seen his is the most splendid.[7] I saw
 his gold-hilted sword laid down near him. There was the breadth of a
 man's hand of the sword exposed out of the scabbard. From that hand's
 breadth the man who sits at the far end of the house could see even
 the smallest object by the light of that sword.[8] More melodious is
 the melodious sound of that sword than the melodious sounds of the
 golden pipes which play music in the royal house.... The noble warrior
 was asleep with his legs upon the lap of one of the men, and his head
 in the lap of the other. He awoke up afterwards out of his sleep and
 spake these words--

  "'"I have dreamed of danger-crowding phantoms,
  A host of creeping treacherous enemies,
  A combat of men beside the Dodder,
  And early and alone the King of Tara was killed."'"

This man whom Ingcel had seen was no other than the High-king.

The account of the juggler is also curious--

 "'I saw there,' continued Ingcel, 'a large champion in the middle
 of the house. The blemish of baldness was upon him. Whiter than the
 cotton of the mountains is every hair that grows upon his head. He
 had ear-clasps of gold in his ears and a speckled white cloak upon
 him. He had nine swords in his hand and nine silvery shields and nine
 balls of gold. He throws every one of them up into the air and not one
 falls to the ground, and there is but one of them at a time upon his
 palm, and like the buzzing of bees on a beautiful day was the motion
 of each passing the other.'

 "'Yes,' said Ferrogain [the foster brother], 'I recognise him, he
 is Tulchinne, the Royal druid of the King of Tara; he is Conairè's
 juggler,[9] a man of great power is that man.'"

Dá Derg himself is thus described--

 "'I saw another couch there and one man on it, with two pages in front
 of him, one fair, the other black-haired. The champion himself had red
 hair and had a red cloak near him. He had crimson cheeks and beautiful
 deep blue eyes, and had on him a green cloak. He wore also a white
 under-mantle and collar beautifully interwoven, and a sword with an
 ivory hilt was in his hand, and he supplies every couch in the Court
 with ale and food, and he is incessant in attending upon the whole
 company. Identify that man.'

 "'I know that man,' said he, 'that is Da Derg himself. It was by him
 the Court was built, and since he has taken up residence in it, its
 doors have never been closed except on the side to which the wind
 blows; it is to that side only that a door is put. Since he has taken
 to house-keeping his boiler has never been taken off the fire, but
 continues ever to boil food for the men of Erin. And the two who are
 in front of him are two boys, foster sons of his, they are the two
 sons of the King of Leinster.'"

Not less interesting is the true Celtic hyperbole in Ingcel's
description of the jesters: "I saw then three jesters at the fire.
They wore three dark grey cloaks, and if all the men of Erin were in
one place and though the body of the mother or the father of each man
of them were lying dead before him, not one of them could refrain from
laughing at them."

In the end the pirates decide on making their attack. They marched
swiftly and silently across the Dublin mountains, surrounded and
surprised the court, slew the High-king caught there, as in a trap, and
butchered most of his attendants.

After this tale of Dá Derg come a host of sagas, all calling for
a recognition, which with our limited space it is impossible to
grant them. Of these one of the most important, though neither the
longest nor the most interesting, is the account of the Boromean or
Boru tribute, a large fragment of which is preserved in the Book of
Leinster, a MS. of about the year 1150.

When Tuathal or Toole, called Techtmhar, or the Possessor, was
High-king of Ireland, at the close of the first century, he had two
handsome daughters, and the King of Leinster asked one of them in
marriage and took and brought home to his palace the elder as his wife.
This was as it should be, for at that time it was not customary for the
younger to be married "before the face of the elder." The Leinster men,
however, said to their king that he had left behind the better girl of
the two. Nettled at this the King went again to Tara and told Tuathal
that his daughter was dead and asked for the other. The High-king
then gave him his second daughter, with the courteous assurance "had
I one and fifty daughters they were thine." When he brought back the
second daughter to his palace in Leinster she, like another Philomela,
discovered her sister alive and before her. Both died, one of shame
the other of grief. When news of this reached Tara steps were taken to
punish the King of Leinster. Connacht and Ulster led a great hosting
with 12,000 men into Leinster to plunder it. The High-king too marched
from Tara through Maynooth to Naas and encamped there. The Leinstermen
were at first successful; they beat the Ultonians and killed their
prince; but at last all the invading forces having combined defeated
them and slew the bigamist king. They then levied the blood-tax, which
was as follows:--Fifteen thousand cows, fifteen thousand swine, fifteen
thousand wethers, the same number of mantles, silver chains, and copper
cauldrons, together with one great copper reservoir to be set up in
Tara's house itself, in which would fit twelve pigs and twelve kine. In
addition to this they had to pay thirty red-eared cows with calves of
the same colour, with halters and spancels of bronze and bosses of gold.

The consequences of this unfortunate tribute were to the last degree
disastrous for Ireland. The High-kings of Ireland continued for ages
to levy it off Leinster, and the Leinstermen continued to resist.
The Fenians took part in the conflict, for they followed Finn mac
Cúmhail in behalf of the men of Leinster against their own master the
High-king. The tribute continued to be levied, off and on, during the
reigns of forty kings, whenever Leinster seemed too weak to resist, or
whenever the High-king deemed himself strong enough to raise it: until
King Finnachta at last remitted it at the close of the seventh century,
at the request of St. Molling.[10]

  "It is beyond the testimony of angels,
  It is beyond the word of recording saints,
  All the kings of the Gaels
  That make attack upon Leinster."[11]

Of course the unfortunate province, thus plundered during generations,
lost in some measure its nationality, and no doubt it was partly owing
to this that it seemed more ready than any other district to ally
itself with the Danes. The great Brian is said to have gained his
title of Borumha or Boru through his having reimposed the tribute on
Leinster, but though he conquered that province and plundered it, I
am aware of no good authority for his actually re-imposing the Boru

Some of the early saints' lives, too, may be considered as belonging
almost as much to historico-romantic as to hagiological literature.
From one of these, at least, we must give an extract, so that this
voluminous side of Irish literature may not remain unrepresented.
Here is a fragment of the life of St. Ceallach [Kal-lach] which is
preserved in that ample repository of ecclesiastical lore the Leabhar
Breac, a great vellum manuscript written shortly after the year 1400.
The story[12] deals with the dispute between Guairé [Goo-ǎr-yǎ], a
well-known king of Connacht, and St. Ceallach, the latter of whom had
during his student life left St. Ciaran and his studies, and thus drawn
down upon himself the prediction of that great saint that he would die
by point of weapon.

Guairé having banished Ceallach, against whom his mind had been
poisoned by lying tongues, the fugitive took refuge in an island in
Loch Con, where he remained for a long time. Guairé, still excited
against him through the lies of go-betweens, invited him to a feast
with intent to kill him. He refuses however to go. The King's
messengers then requested him to at least allow his four condisciples,
the only ones who had remained with him in his solitude, to go with
them to the feast, saying that they would bear the king's messages to
him when they returned. "I will neither prevent them from going nor
yet constrain them to go," answered Ceallach, the result of which was
that the four condisciples returned along with the envoys, and the king
was greatly pleased to see them come, and meat and drink, with good
welcome, were provided for them. After this the saga proceeds.


 "Then a banqueting-house apart was set in order for them, and thither
 for their use the fort's best liquor was conveyed. On Guairé's
 either side were set two of them, and--with an eye to win them that
 they might leave Ceallach--great gifts were promised to them; all
 the country of Tirawley, four unmarried women such as themselves
 should choose out of the province, and, with these, horses and kine,
 sufficient marriage dowry for their wives (such gifts by covenant to
 be secured to them), and an adequate equipment of arms to be furnished
 to each one.

 "That night they abode there, but, at the morning's meal, with one
 accord they consented to kill Ceallach.

 "Thence they departed to Loch Con, and where they had left the boat
 they found it, and pulling off they reached Ceallach. They found him
 with his psalter spread out before him, as he said the psalms, nor did
 he speak to them. When he had made an end of his psalmody he looked at
 them, and marked their eyes unsteady in their heads, and clouded with
 the hue of parricide.

 "'Young men,' said Ceallach, 'ye have an evil aspect, since ye went
 from me your natures ye have changed, and I perceive in you that for
 King Guairé's sake ye have agreed to murder me.'

 "Never a tittle they denied, and he went on, 'An ill design it is,
 but follow now no longer your own detriment, and from me shall be had
 gifts, which far beyond all Guairé's promises shall profit you.'

 "They rejoined, 'By no means shall we do as thou wouldst have us,
 Ceallach, seeing that if we acted so, not in all Ireland might
 we harbour anywhere.' And, even as they spoke, at Ceallach they
 drave with their spears in unison; yet he made shift to thrust
 his psalter in between him and his frock. They stowed him then in
 the boat amidships, two of themselves in the bow, and so gained a
 landing-place. Thence they carried him into the great forest and into
 the dark recesses of the wood.

 "Ceallach said: 'This that ye would do I count a wicked work indeed,
 for in Clonmacnois [if ye spared me] ye might find shelter for ever,
 or should it please you to resort rather to Bláthmac and to Dermot,
 sons of Aedh Sláine, who is now King of Ireland [ye would be secure].'"

 [_Then Ceallach utters a poem of twenty-four lines._]

 "'To advise us further in the matter is but idle,' they retorted, 'we
 will not do it for thee.'

 "'Well then,' he pleaded, 'this one night's respite grant to me for
 God's sake.'

 "'Loath though we be to concede it, we will yield thee that,' they
 said. Then they raised their swords which in their clothes they
 carried hidden, and at the sight of them a mighty fear took Ceallach.
 They ransacked the wood until they found a hollow oak having one
 narrow entrance, and to this Ceallach was committed, they sitting at
 the hole to watch him till the morning. They were so to the hour of
 night's waning end, when drowsy longing came to them, and deep sleep
 fell on them then.

 "Ceallach, in trouble for his violent death, slept not at all, at
 which time it was in his power to have fled had it so pleased him, but
 in his heart he said that it were misbelief in him to moot evasion of
 the living God's designs. Moreover, he reflected that even were he so
 to flee they must overtake him, he being but emaciated and feeble,
 after the Lent. Morning shone on them now, and he (for fear to see it
 and in terror of his death) shut to the door, yet he said: 'to shirk
 God's judgment is in me a lack of faith, Ciaran, my tutor, having
 promised me that I must meet this end,' and as he spoke he flung open
 the tree's door. The Raven called then, and the Scallcrow, the Wren,
 and all the other birds. The Kite of Cluain-Eó's yew tree came, and
 the red Wolf of Drum-mic-dar, the deceiver whose lair was by the
 island's landing-place.

 "'My dream of Wednesday's night last past was true,' said Ceallach,
 'that four wild dogs rent me and dragged me through the bracken, and
 that down a precipice I then fell, nor evermore came up,' and he
 uttered this lay:--

 "'HAIL to the Morning, that as a flame falls on the ground; hail to
 Him, too, that sends her, the Morning many-virtued, ever-new![13]

 "'O Morning fair, so full of pride, O sister of the brilliant Sun,
 hail to the beauteous morning that lightest for me my little book!

 "'Thou seest the guest in every dwelling, and shinest on every tribe
 and kin; hail O thou white-necked beautiful one, here with us now,
 golden-fair, wonderful!

 "'My little book with chequered page tells me that my life has not
 been right. Maelcróin, 't is he whom I do well to fear; he it is who
 comes to smite me at the last.

 "'O Scallcrow, and O Scallcrow, small grey-coated, sharp-beaked fowl,
 the intent of thy desire is apparent to me, no friend art thou to

 "'O Raven that makest croaking, if hungry thou art now, O bird, depart
 not from this same homestead until thou eatest a surfeit of my flesh!

 "'Fiercely the Kite of Cluain-Eó's yew tree will take part in the
 scramble, the full of his grey talons he will carry off, he will not
 part from me in kindness.

 "'To the blow [that fells me] the fox that is in the darkling wood
 will make response at speed, he too in cold and trackless confines
 shall devour a portion of my flesh and blood.

 "'The wolf that is in the rath upon the eastern side of Drum-mic-dar,
 he on a passing visit comes to me, that he may rank as chieftain of
 the meaner pack.

 "'Upon Wednesday's night last past I beheld a dream, I saw the wild
 dogs dragging me together eastward and westward through the russet

 "'I beheld a dream, that into a green glen they took me, four there
 were that bore me thither, but methought, ne'er brought me out again.

 "'I beheld a dream, that to their house my condisciples brought me,
 for me they poured out a drink, and to me did they a drink quaff.

 "'O tiny Wren most scant of tail, dolefully hast thou piped prophetic
 lay, surely thou art come to betray me and to curtail my gift of

 "'O Maelcróin and O Maelcróin, thou hast resolved upon an unrighteous
 deed, for ten hundred golden ingots Owen's son[15] had ne'er consented
 into thy death!

 "'O Maelcróin and O Maelcróin, pelf it is that thou hast taken to
 betray me; for this world's sake thou hast accepted it, accepted it
 for the sake of hell!

 "'All precious things that ever I had, all sleek-coated grey horses,
 on Maelcróin I would have bestowed them, that he should not do me this

 "'But Mary's great Son up above me, thus addresses speech to me,
 "Thou must leave earth, thou shalt have heaven; welcome awaits thee,

The saint is then, as soon as the morning had fully risen, taken out
of the tree by the four traitors, and put to death. The kite and the
wolf and the scallcrow tear his flesh. The remainder of what is really
a fine saga describes the hunt for the murderers and their final death
at the hands of Ceallach's brother, who wrested for himself all the
territory that Guairé had given them, marries Guairé's daughter, and
is, like Ceallach his brother, finally himself put to death by Guairé's

It would be quite impossible within the limits of a volume like this
to give any adequate study of the evolution of Irish saga. All Irish
romances are compositions upon which more or less care had evidently
been bestowed, in ancient times, as is evidenced by their being
all shot through and through with verse. These verses amount to a
considerable portion of the saga, often to nearly a quarter or even a
third of the whole, and Irish versification is usually very elaborate,
and not the work of any mere inventor or story-teller, but of a
highly-trained technical poet. Very few pieces indeed, and these mostly
of the more modern Fenian tales, are written in pure prose. It may be
that the reciter of the ancient sagas actually _sang_ these verses,
or certainly gave them in a different tone from the prose narrative
with which he filled up the gap between them. Whether the same man was
both the composer of the verse and the framer of the prose narrative,
in each particular story, is a difficult question to answer, but I
should think that in most cases, at least in the older saga, incidents
had been taken up by the bards and poets as themes for their verses,
for perhaps ages before they were brought together by somebody and
woven into one complete épopée with a prose intermixture. Dr. Sullivan
thought that the Táin Bo Chuailgne was all originally written in verse,
and has his own interpretation for the account given in the curious
tale, the "Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution," which tells us
that the story was at one time lost, and that the Bardic Association
was commanded to search for and recover it. This, according to him,
meant that the verses had been lost, and that only a fragmentary form
of it had been saved, the gaps being filled with prose. I do not quite
know how far this is a probable suggestion, because it would appear
to be reversing the processes which produce epic poetry in other
literatures. The complete versified epic, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the
Mahābhārata, are indeed "the hatch and brood of time," embodying not
the first but the _last_ results of a long series of national poetry.
But to this last result, so close to them, so easily attainable, the
Irish never arrived, and hence the various ballads that compose the
books of their Red Branch Iliad, or Fenian Odyssey, remains separate to
this day, and find their unity, if at all, only by means of a bridge
of prose thrown across from poem to poem, by men who were not poets.
Had the internal development of the Irish not been so rudely arrested
by the Northmen towards the close of the eighth and the beginning of
the ninth century, there is every reason to believe that both the Red
Branch and the Fenian Cycle would have undergone a further development
and appeared in poems of continuous verse.

The poems with which these sagas are intermixed are mostly of two
kinds, one kind, speeches in the form of lays, placed in the mouths of
the actors, prefaced by such words as "and he sang," "so that he spake
the lay," or the like, and the other kind, which occurs less often, is
as it were a _résumé_ in verse of what had been just told in prose.
In almost every case I should imagine that the narrative poems are
the oldest, and of them the prose is not unfrequently, as it were, an
explanation and an extension.

That the Irish had already made some approach to the construction
of a great epic is evident from the way in which they attempted,
from a very early date, to group a number of minor sagas, which were
evidently independent in their origin, round their great saga the Táin
Bo Chuailgne. There are twelve minor tales which the Irish called
preface-stories to the Táin and which they worked into it by links,
some of which, at least, were evidently forged long after the story
which they were wanted to connect. Especially remarkable in this way
is the story of the metempsychosis of the two swineherds, whose souls
passed into the two bulls who occasioned the great war of the Táin,--a
story which is of a distinctly independent origin, and which was forced
to do duty as an outlying book, as it were, of the Táin Bo Chuailgne.

How very great the number of Irish sagas must have been can be
conjectured from the fact that out of the list of one hundred and
eighty-seven contained in the Book of Leinster, at least one hundred
and twenty have completely disappeared, and of the majority of the
remainder we have only brief digests, whilst very many of the ones
still preserved, are not mentioned in the Book of Leinster at all,
thus proving that the list given in that manuscript is an imperfect
one. A perfect one would have contained at the very least two hundred
and fifty prime stories and one hundred secondary ones, for this was
the number which every ollamh or chief poet was obliged, by law, to
know. The following are some of the best known and most accessible
of the earlier sagas which we have not yet mentioned, and which do
not belong to any of the greater cycles. This list is drawn up, not
according to the age of the texts or the manuscripts which contain
them, but according to the date of the events to which they refer, and
round which they are constructed.

 SIXTH CENTURY B.C--The destruction of Dinn Righ, otherwise called the
 exile of Labhraidh [Lowry] the Mariner. This appears to have been one
 of a group of lost romances which centred round the children of Ugony
 the Great,[16] of some of which Keating has given a _résumé_ in his

 SECOND CENTURY B.C--The King of the Leprechanes' journey to Emania,
 and how the death of Fergus mac Léide, King of Ulster, was brought

 The triumphs of Congal Clàringneach, which deals with a revolution in
 the province of Ulster, the death of the King of Tara, and accession
 of Congal to the throne.[19]

 The Courtship of Etain by Eochaidh Aireach, King of Ireland, who came
 to the throne 134 years B.C., according to the "Four Masters."[20]

 FIRST CENTURY B.C.--The Courtship of Crunn's wife.[21] To this century
 belong the Red Branch tales.

 FIRST CENTURY A.D.--The Battle of Ath Comair, fought by the three
 Finns, brothers of Mève, Queen of Connacht.[22]

 The Destruction of the Bruidhean [Bree-an] Da Choga, in West Meath,
 where Cormac Conloingeas, the celebrated son of King Conor mac Nessa,
 was killed about the year 33.[23]

 The Revolution of the Aitheach Tuatha, and the Death of Cairbré
 Cinn-cait by the free clans of Ireland.[24]

 SECOND CENTURY A.D.--The Death of Eochaidh [Yohy], son of Mairid.[25]

 The progress of the Deisi from Tara.[26]

 The Courtship of Moméra, by Owen Mór.[27] (The Fenian tales and tales
 of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and Cormac mac Art, relate to this and
 the following century.)

 THIRD CENTURY.--The Adventures of Teig, son of Cian [Kee-an], son of
 Oilioll Olum.[28]

 The Siege of Drom Damhgaire, where Cormac mac Art attempted to lay a
 double tribute on the two provinces of Munster.[29]

 FOURTH CENTURY.--The History of the Sons of Eochaidh Muighmheadhon
 [Mwee-va-on] father of Niall of the Nine Hostages.[30]

 Death of King Criomhthann [Criv-ban or Criffan] and of Eochaidh
 Muighmheadhon's three sons.[31]

 FIFTH CENTURY.--The Expedition or Hosting of Dáithi, the last pagan
 king of Ireland, who was killed by lightning at the foot of the

 SIXTH CENTURY.--Death of Aedh Baclamh.[33]

 Death of King Diarmuid--he who was cursed by St. Ruadhan.[34]

 The birth of Aedh [Ae] Sláine,[35] the son of Diarmuid, who came to
 the throne in 595, according to the "Four Masters."

 The Wooing of Becfola, in the reign of Aedh Sláine's son.[36]

 The Voyage of the Sons of Ua Corra.[37]

 SEVENTH CENTURY.--The Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution.[38]

 The Battle of Moyrath.[39]

 Suibhne's Madness, a sequel to the last.[40]

 The Feast of Dún na ngedh,[41] a preface tale to the Battle of Moyrath.

 The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riaghla.[42]

 The Love of Dubhlacha for Mongan.[43]

 The Death of Maelfathartaigh, son of Ronán,[44] who was King of
 Leinster about the year 610.

 EIGHTH CENTURY.--The Voyage of Maelduin.[45]

There are very few sagas, indeed, which deal with events posterior to
the eighth century, and among those which do (like the stories about
Callaghan of Cashel and the Danes, or the Leeching of Cian's leg, which
relates to the reign of Brian Boru, or O'Donnell's Kerne, which seems
as late as the sixteenth century) there are not many whose literary
merits stand high. It is evident from this, that, apart from the poets,
almost all the genuine literary activity of Ireland centred around
the days of her freedom, and embraced a vast range of time, from the
mythical De Danann period down to the birth of Christ, and from that
to the eighth century, and that after this period and the invasions of
the Northmen and Normans, Irish national history produced few subjects
stimulating to the national muse; so that the literary production which
still continued, though in narrower channels and in feebler volume,
looked for inspiration not to contemporaneous history, but to the
glories of Tara, the exploits of Finn mac Cúmhail, and the past ages of
Irish greatness.

The number of sagas still surviving, though many of them are mere
skeletons, may be conjectured from the fact that O'Curry, in his
manuscript lectures on Irish history, quotes from or alludes to ninety
different tales, all of considerable antiquity, whilst M. d'Arbois de
Jubainville, in his "Essai d'un Catalogue de la littérature épique de
l'Irlande," gives the names of no less than about 540 different pieces.

[1] There is an almost complete copy of this saga in the Leabhar na
h-Uidhre. Like the Táin Bo Chuailgne, it has never been published in a
translation. The language is much harder and more archaic than that of
the Táin. I have principally drawn upon O'Curry's description of it,
for I can only guess at the meaning of a great part of the original.
Were all Europe searched the scholars who could give an adequate
translation of it might be counted on the fingers of both hands--if not
of one.

[2] According to the "Four Masters" he was slain in AM. 5161 [_i.e._,
43 B.C.], after a reign of seventy years. "It was in the reign of
Conairè," the "Four Masters" add, "that the Boyne annually cast its
produce ashore at Inver Colpa. Great abundance of nuts were annually
found upon the Boyne and the Buais. The cattle were without keeping
in Ireland in his reign on account of the greatness of the peace and
concord. His reign was not thunder-producing nor stormy. It was little
but the trees bent under the greatness of their fruit." It is from
Conairè the Ernaan tribes were descended. They were driven by the
Rudricians, _i.e._, the Ultonians of the Red Branch, into Munster, and
from thence they were driven by the race of Eber [the Mac Carthys, etc.
of Munster], into the western islands.

[3] It appears to have been partly in order to check raids like this,
that the High-kings maintained the Fenians a couple of centuries later,
for their chief duty was "to watch the harbours."

[4] A constant rendezvous for pedestrians and bicyclists from Dublin,
not one in ten thousand of whom knows the origin of the name or its

[5] For a description of another of these courts _see_ above p. 355.

[6] Here is the original as given by O'Curry, "Manners and Customs,"
vol. iii. p. 141. This will show the exceeding difficulty of the
language: "Atcondarc and imdae acas bacáimiu acomthach oldáta imdada
in tigi olchena. Seolbrat nairgdidi impe acas cumtaige isin dimdae.
Atcondarc triar ninni," etc.

[7] Keating says that according to some Conairè reigned only 30 years.

[8] The allusion appears to be to a bright steel sword in an age of
bronze. Perhaps the music referred to means the vibration of the
steel when struck. The "Sword of light" is a common feature in Gaelic
folk-lore. Of course iron was common in Ireland centuries before this
time, but the primitive description of _Sword of light_, transmitted
itself from age to age.

[9] "Cleasamhnach," from _cleas_, "a trick," a living word still.

[10] _See_ above p. 236.

[11] Broccan's poem in the Book of Leinster translated by O'Neill
Russell, in an American periodical.

[12] Translated by Standish Hayes O'Grady in "Silva Gadelica," whose
vigorous rendering I have closely followed.


  "Is mochean in maiten bán
  No taed for lár, mar lasán,
  Is mochean do'n té rusfói
  In maiten buadach bithnói"

[14] Compare the legend of the wren's having betrayed the Irish to
the English, whence the universal pursuit of him made by boys on St.
Stephen's day.

[15] Ceallach himself.

[16] For him, _see_ above, p. 25.

[17] Some account of this saga is given in O'Curry's MS. Materials,
p. 256, and by Keating, p. 253, of O'Mahony's translation. The entire
saga is preserved in the Yellow Book of Lecan. My friend, the late
Father James Keegan, made me a translation of another version, which he
afterwards published in a St. Louis paper.

[18] Translated and edited by Standish Hayes O'Grady, p. 269 of his
"Silva Gadelica."

[19] Only one copy of this tale was known to O'Curry in 205, Hodges and
Smith, R. I. A.

[20] Edited without a translation by Windisch, in his "Irische Texte,"
i. p. 117, and referred to at length by O'Curry, "Manners and Customs,"
vol. ii. pp. 192-4; and summarised and examined by Alfred Nutt, in his
"Voyage of Bran." _See_ for this saga, p. 102, above.

[21] This was Macha who pronounced the curse on the Ultonians. _See_
above, ch. XXIV note 3. The story is preserved in the Harleian MS.
5280, British Museum.

[22] There is a long extract from this battle given by O'Curry in his
"Manners and Customs," vol. ii. pp. 261-3.

[23] Preserved in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre. _See_ O'Curry, "Manners and
Customs," vol. iii. p. 254. There is a full copy in H. 3. 18, T. C., D.

[24] In H. 3. 18, T. C., D. _See_ above, p. 27.

[25] Edited from the Leabhar na h-Uidhre by O'Beirne Crowe, in the
"Journal of the Royal Irish Historical and Archæological Association,
1870," and by Standish Hayes O'Grady, "Silva Gadelica," p. 265.

[26] _See_ O'Curry, "Manners and Customs," vol. ii. p. 205. I think
Kuno Meyer has translated this saga somewhere. _See_ p. 40.

[27] Published by O'Curry for the Celtic Society as an appendage to the
Battle of Moy Léana. _See_ above, p. 368.

[28] Translated by O'Grady, "Silva Gadelica," p. 385, and studied at
length by Alfred Nutt, in his "Voyage of Bran," vol. i. p. 201.

[29] _See_ O'Curry's "Manners and Customs," vol. ii. p. 212, and MS.
Materials p. 271. This saga is contained at length in the Book of

[30] Translated in O'Grady's "Silva Gadelica," p. 368. _Ibid._, p. 373.

[31] _Ibid.,_ p. 373.

[32] This is one of the tales in the Book of Leinster list. Modern
versions are common.

[33] _See_ above, ch. XVIII, note 6, translated in "Silva Gadelica," p.

[34] _Ibid._, p. 76.

[35] _Ibid._, p. 88.

[36] A short tale, translated in "Silva Gadelica," p. 91.

[37] Translated in the "Revue Celtique."

[38] Published by Professor Connellan for the Ossianic Society in 1860,
vol. v.

[39] Published by O'Donovan in 1842 for the Irish Archæological Society.

[40] MS. 60, Hodges and Smith, R. I. A.

[41] Published by O'Donovan in 1842 for the Irish Archæological Society.

[42] Edited, with English translation, by Whitley Stokes, in "Revue
Celtique," vol. ix., and translated into modern Irish by Father
O'Growney in the "Gaelic Journal," vol. iv. p. 85, from the Yellow Book
of Lecan.

[43] Edited by Kuno Meyer in "Voyage of Bran," vol. i. p. 58, from
the Book of Fermoy. This version seems to have escaped the notice
of D'Arbois de Jubainville, who says in his "Essai d'un Catalogue,"
"Cette pièce parait perdue." I have in my own possession a copy in a
MS. written by a scribe named O'Mahon in the last century, which is at
least twice as long as that published by Kuno Meyer.

[44] The story of an Irish Hippolytus, whose death at his father's
hands is compassed by his step-mother, _spretæ injuria formæ_. O'Curry
mentions this tale, MS. Materials, p. 277. It is one of the stories in
the catalogue of the Book of Leinster, under the head of Tragedies.
Another Hippolytus story is that of the death of Comgan, son of the
King of the Decies, quoted by O'Curry, "Manners and Customs," vol. ii.
p. 204, but I do not know from what MS.

[45] Translated, but not very literally, by Joyce in his "Early
Celtic Romances," and by M. Lot in D'Arbois de Jubainville's "Épopée
Celtique," critically edited by Whitley Stokes in the "Revue Celtique,"
t. ix. p. 446, and x. pp. 50-95.



The sagas and historic tales, and the poetry that is mingled with
them, are of far greater importance from a purely literary point of
view than any of the other known productions during the pre-Norman
period. Although in almost every instance, I may say, their authorship
is unknown, they are of infinitely greater interest than those pieces
whose authorship has been carefully preserved. One of the first poets
of renown after St. Patrick's time was Eochaidh [Yohy], better known
as Dallán Forgaill. It is to him the celebrated "Amra," or elegy
on Columcille, whose contemporary he was, is ascribed,[1] and this
poem in the Béarla Feni, or Fenian dialect, has come down to us so
heavily annotated that the text preserved is the oldest miscellaneous
manuscript we have, the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, is almost smothered in
glosses and explanations, and indeed would be perfectly unintelligible
without them. The gloss and commentary is really far more interesting
than the poem, which indeed, considering the fame of Dallán, is
very disappointing; but no doubt it derived half its importance
from being in the Fenian dialect, and hence incomprehensible to the
ordinary reader. "He wrote," says the learned Colgan, who published
at Louvain the lives of the saints which O'Clery collected for him
at the beginning of the seventeenth century, "in the native speech,
and in ancient style, several little works which cannot in later ages
be easily penetrated by many otherwise well versed in the old native
idiom and antiquity, and hence they are illustrated by our more learned
antiquaries with scattered commentaries, and as rare monuments of our
ancient language and antiquity it is customary to lecture on them and
expound them in the schools of antiquaries of our nation. Among these
is one panegyric or poem always held in great esteem on the praises of
St. Colomb, and entitled 'Amra Choluim cille,'" etc. Colgan adds in a
note, "I have in my possession one copy of this work, but putting aside
a few scattered commentaries which it contains, it is penetrable to-day
to only a few, and these the most learned."

This obscure poem is not, so far as I can see, composed in any metre
or rhythm. It, with its gloss, is divided into seven chapters and
an introduction. Here is the comment on the first words _Dia, Dia,_
which will show better than anything that could be written, the very
high state of independent development which the Irish poets had early
attained in the technique of their art. We must remember that the
manuscript in which we find this was copied about the year 1100, and
the commentary may be much older. Irish is indeed the only vernacular
language of western Europe where poetic technique had reached so high
a perfection in the eleventh century. Fully to see the significance of
this one must remember that the English language had not at this time
even begun to emerge. Compare this highly-developed critical commentary
with anything of the same age that Germany, France, or Italy has to

"_Dia, Dia,_[2] God, God, etc.," says the commentator, "it is why he
doubles the first word on account of the rapidity[3] and avidity of the
praising, as _Deus, Deus meus,_ etc. But the name of that with the Gael
is 'Return-to-a-usual-sound,' for there be three similar standards of
expression with the poets of the Gaels, that is _re-return to a usual
sound_, and _renarration mode_ and _reduplication_, and this is the
mark of each of them. The _return_ indeed is a doubling of one word in
one place in the round, without adhering to it from that forth. The
_renarration_ mode again is renarrating from a like mode; that means
the one word--to say it frequently in the round, with an intervention
of other words between them, as this--

  "'Came the foam which the plain filters,[4]
    Came the ox through fifty warriors;
  So came the keen active lad
    Whom brown Cu Dinisc left.'"

"But 'reduplication' is, namely 'refolding,' that is 'bi-geminating,' as

  "I fear fear / after long long /
    Pains strong strong / without peace peace /
  Like each each / until doom doom /
    For gloom gloom / will not cease cease."[5]

"There are two divisions of these in this fore-speech [to the
Amra]; that is, we have the 'Return-to-a-usual-sound' and the
'renarration-mode,' but in the body of the hymn we have the
'renarration-mode' only."

Here is another passage which will show the difficulty that was found
so early as the eleventh century in explaining this Fenian dialect.

 "IT IS A HARP WITHOUT A _ceis_, it is a church without an
 abbot--_i.e., ceis_ is a name for a small harp which is used as an
 accompaniment to a large harp in co-playing; or it is a name for the
 small pin which holds the cord in the wood of the harp; or for the
 tacklings, or for the heavy cord. Or the _ceis_ in the harp is what
 holds the side part with its chords in it, as the poet said--it was
 Ros[6] mac Find who sang it, or Ferceirtné[7] the poet,

  The base-chord concealed not music from the harp of Crabtene,
  Until it dropped sleep-deaths upon hosts.

   * * * * *

  Sweeter than any music, the harp
  Which delighted Labhraidh [Lowry] Lorc the Mariner,
  Though sullen about his secrets was the King,
  The _ceis_, or base-chord of Craftiné concealed it not."

This poem is an allusion to the sagas which grouped themselves round
the sons of Ugony the great and Lowry the Mariner, who reigned about
530 years B.C.

In another place he quotes a poem of Finn mac Cúmhail's.

 "'AND SEA-COURSE'--_i.e._, he was skilful in the art of _renis_[8]
 that is 'of the sea,' or it may be _rian_ that would be right in it,
 as Finn, grandson of Baoisgne [Bweesgna] said--

  'A tale I have for you. Ox murmurs,
  Winter roars, summer is gone.
  Wind high cold, sun low,
  Cry is attacking, sea resounding.

  Very red raying has concealed form.
  Voice of geese [Barnacles] has become usual,
  Cold has caught the wings of birds,
  Ice-frost time; wretched, very wretched.[9]
                   A tale I have for you.'"

Another verse quoted alludes to the chess-board of Crimhthann Nianáir,
who came to the throne eleven years before the birth of Christ.[10]

 "FECHT AFOR NIA NEM--_i.e._, the time when the champion would come,
 that is Columcille, for _nia_ means a champion, as is said--

  "'The chessboard of Crimhthann, brave champion,
  A small child carries it not on his arm (?)
  Half of its chessmen are of yellow gold.
  The other half of white bronze.
  One man of its chessmen alone
  Would purchase six married couples.'"

The ancient commentator quotes, thirty-five times in all, from various
poems, in explanation of his text, including poems ascribed to
Columcille himself, and to Gráinne, the daughter of Cormac mac Art, who
eloped from Finn mac Cúmhail. He quotes the satire made on Breas in the
time of the Tuatha De Danann, and a verse of St. Patrick (some of whose
Irish poetry is also quoted by the "Four Masters"), and a poet called
Colman mac Lenene, who was first a poet, but afterwards became a saint,
and founded the great school of Cloyne.

Dallán wrote two other Amras, one on Senan of Innis Cathaigh, "which,"
remarks Colgan, "on account of antiqueness of style and gracefulness
is amongst those fond of antiquity, always held in great esteem,"
and another in praise of Conall of Inskeel in Donegal, in one grave
with whom he was buried. There has also come down to us in the same
inscrutable Fenian dialect a poem of his consisting of eighty-four
lines on the shield of Hugh, King of Oriel, which, unlike his Amra, is
in perfect rhyme and metre.[11]

It was he who headed the bardic body when they were so nearly banished
from the kingdom, and were only saved by the intervention of St.
Columcille at the Synod of Drom Ceat [Cat], of which more hereafter.
There is a curious specimen of his overbearing truculence in a story
preserved in the same manuscript (of about the year 1100) that has
preserved his Amra; it is headed "A Story from which it is inferred
that Mongan was Finn mac Cúmhail." The poet was stopping with Mongan,
King of Ulster.

 "Every night the poet would recite a story to Mongan. So great was his
 lore that they were thus from Halloweve till May-day. He had gifts and
 food from Mongan. One day Mongan asked his poet what was the death
 of Fothad Airgdech. Forgoll said he was slain at Duffry in Leinster.
 Mongan said it was false. The poet [on hearing that] said he would
 satirise him with his lampoons, and he would satirise his father and
 his mother and his grandfather, and he would sing [spells] upon their
 waters, so that fish should not be caught in their river-mouths. He
 would sing upon their woods so that they should not give fruit, upon
 their plains so that they should be barren for ever of any produce.

 "Mongan [thereupon] promised him his fill of precious things, so far
 as [the value of] seven bondmaids, or twice seven bondmaids, or three
 times seven. At last he offers him one-third, or one-half of his land,
 or his whole land; at last [everything] save only his own liberty with
 that of his wife Breóthigernd, unless he were redeemed before the end
 of three days.

 "The poet refused all except as regards his wife. For the sake of his
 honour Mongan consented. Thereat his wife was sorrowful, the tear was
 not taken from her cheek. Mongan told her not to be sorrowful, help
 would certainly come to them."

Eventually the poet is very dramatically shown to be in the wrong.[12]

Dallán Forgaill was succeeded in the Head Ollamhship of all the Irish
bards by his pupil Senchan Torpeist, who was equally overbearing, and
whose intolerable insolence is admirably satirised in the story called
the "Proceedings of the Great Bardic Association." Only two poems of
his have come down to us, one being his elegy on the death of his
master Dallán Forgaill.

The next great lay poet of importance seems to have been Cennfaeladh,
who died in 678, whose verses are constantly cited by the "Four
Masters." He was originally an Ulster warrior who was wounded in
the battle of Moyrath, which was fought when Adamnan, Columcille's
biographer, was eleven years old, and he was brought to be cured
to the house of one Brian in Tuaim Drecain, where there were three
schools, one of classics,[13] one of law, and one of poetry. He used
to attend--apparently during his convalescence--these various schools,
and what he heard in the day he would repeat to himself at night, so
that "his brain of forgetfulness was extracted from his head after
its having been cloven in the battle of Moyrath." "And he put a clear
thread of poetry through them, and wrote them on flags and on tables,
and he put them into a vellum book." Hence he became a great lawyer as
well as a poet, and a considerable part of the celebrated Brehon Law
Book, called the Book of Acaill, is ascribed to him.[14]

Angus Céile Dé[15] [Kail-a Day], or the Culdee, is the next poet of
note who claims our attention. He flourished about the year 800, and
is the author of the well-known Féilĭrè, or Calendar. In this work one
stanza in _rinn áird_ metre is devoted to each day of the year, in
connection with the name of some saint--an Irish one wherever possible.
The Féilĭrè is followed by a poem of five or six hundred lines, which
with its glosses and commentaries is probably the most extensive
piece of Old Irish poetry that we have. Whitley Stokes, who edited it
with great care, considers it to be of the tenth rather than the late
eighth or early ninth century. If so, this would leave its authorship
doubtful, but it has been shown, I think by Kuno Meyer, that the number
of deponental forms contained in it might point to a higher antiquity
than that which Whitley Stokes allows. It has certainly been always
hitherto accepted as the work of Angus, and as it cannot well, in any
case, be more than a century or so later, we may let it stand here, as
it has always done, under his name. In the ancient and curious Irish
notes and commentary on the Féilĭrè we find a great number of verses
quoted from the poet-saints, and these include St. Patrick, St. Ciaran
the elder, St. Comgall with St. Columcille his friend, St. Ité the
virgin, St. Kevin of Glendaloch, St. Ciaran of Clonmacnois, St. Molaise
[Moleesha] of Devenish (who sent Columcille to banishment), St. Mochuda
of Lismore, St. Molling, St. Fechin of Forc, St. Aireran of Clonard,
Maelruan of Tallaght, Adamnan (Columcille's biographer), and Angus
the Culdee himself, a goodly company of priests and poets; but no one
seems to have been anything esteemed in ancient Erin unless he either
was or was reputed to be a poet! Of true poetic spirit it contains not
much, but it is a wonderful example of technical difficulties overcome.
The metre is one of the most difficult, a six-syllable one, with
dissyllabic endings. The first stanzas, translated into the metre of
the original, run as follows:--

  "Bless, O Christ, my speaking,
    King of heavens seven,
  Strength and wealth and POWER
    In this HOUR be _given_.

  _Given_,[16] O thou brightest,
    Destined chains to sever,
  King of Angels GLORIOUS,
    And victORIOUS _ever._

  _Ever_ o'er us shining,
    Light to mortals given,
  Beaming daily, NIGHTLY,
    BRIGHTLY out of heaven."

The Saltair na Rann has also been usually ascribed to Angus, but it
can hardly be, as Dr. Whitley Stokes has shown, earlier than the year
1000,[17] for it mentions apparently as contemporaries Brian king of
Munster, and Dub-da-lethe archbishop of Armagh, appointed in 988. It
is a collection of one hundred and sixty-two poems in early Middle
Irish containing between eight and nine thousand lines, mostly composed
in Deibhidh [D'yevvee] metre. These poems are all of a more or less
religious cast, and most of them are based (like the Saxon Caedmon's)
on Old Testament history, but they also contain a prodigious deal of
curious matter. The opening poem begins--

        "Mo rí-se rí nime náir."[18]
  ("My king is the King of noble Heaven.")

It tells of the creation of the world, of the sun, of heaven and earth,
light and darkness, day and night, of how the earth separated from
the primal material, and was surrounded by the firmament, the world
being "like an apple, goodly and round"; then the king created the
mists, the current of the cold watery air, the four chief winds, and
the eight sub-winds, with their colours, "the white, the clear purple,
the blue, the great green, the yellow, the red truly-bold, ... the
black, the grey, the speckled (?), the dark (?), the dull-black, the
dun-coloured."[19] The poet then discusses the distance from the earth
to the firmament, the seven planets, the distance from the earth to
the moon, from moon to sun, the windless ethereal heaven, the distance
between the firmament and the sun, the motionless Olympus or third
heaven, the distance from the firmament to heaven and from the earth
to the depths of hell, the five zones, the firmament round the earth,
like its shell round an egg, the seventy-two windows of the firmament,
with a shutter on each, the seventh heaven revolving like a wheel, with
the seven planets from the creation, the signs of the zodiac,[20] the
time (30 days 10½ hours) that the sun is in each, the day of the month
on which it enters each, the month in which it is in each, the division
of the firmament into twelve parts, and the five things which every
intelligent man should know--the day of the month, age of the moon,
height of the tide, day of the week, and saints' festivals![21]

The attribution of colours to the winds in this poem is curious and
appears to be Irish. I have met traces of this fancy even amongst the
modern peasantry. There is a strange entry in the Great Brehon Law
Book, the Seanchas Mór, which quotes the colours of the winds in the
same order.

 "The colour of each," says this strange passage, "differs from the
 other, namely, the white and the crimson, the blue[22] and the green,
 the yellow and the red, the black and the grey, the speckled and the
 dark, the _ciar_ (dull black) and the grisly. From the east comes the
 crimson wind, from the south the white, from the north the black, from
 the west the dun. The red and the yellow winds are produced between
 the white and the crimson, the green and the grey between the grisly
 and the white, the grey and the _ciar_ between the grisly and the
 jet-black, the dark and the mottled between the black and the crimson.
 And those are all the sub-winds contained in each and all the cardinal

After thus describing the creation of the world in the first poem, we
are introduced in subsequent ones to heaven and the angels, who are
named for us, and then shown hell and Lucifer's abode, the description
of which, except that it is in verse, reminds us of that given by St.
Brendan. Next we are introduced to Adam and Eve, and it is stated that
Adam had spent a thousand years in the Garden of Eden. The jealousy
of Lucifer is described, and his temptation of Eve, whom he persuades
to open the door and let him into the garden. Then he makes her eat
the apple, and Adam takes half from her and eats also. The eleventh
poem describes the evil result, and is quite Miltonic and imaginative.
It tells us how for a week, after being driven out, Adam and his wife
remain without fire, house, drink, food, or clothing. He then begins
to lament to Eve over all his lost blessings and admits that he has
done wrong. Thereupon Eve asks Adam to kill her, so that God may pity
him the more. Adam refuses. He goes forth in his starvation to seek
food, and finds nothing but herbs, the food of the lawless beasts. He
proposes then to Eve to do penance and adore God in silence, Eve in the
Tigris for thirty days, and Adam in the Jordan for forty-seven days,
a flagstone under their feet and the water up to their necks. Eve's
hair fell dishevelled round her and her eyes were directed to heaven
in silent prayer for forgiveness. Then Adam prays the river Jordan "to
fast with him against God, with all its many beasts, that pardon may be
granted to him." Then the stream ceased to flow, and gathered together
every living creature that was in it, and they all supplicate the
angelic host to join with them in beseeching God to forgive Adam. They
obtain their request, and forgiveness is granted to Adam and to all his
seed except the unrighteous. When the devil, however, hears this, he,
"like a man in the shape of a white angel," goes to Eve as she stands
in the Tigris, and gets her to leave her penance, saying that he had
been sent by God. They then go to Adam, who at once recognises the
devil, and shows Eve how she has been deceived. Eve falls half dead
to the ground and reproaches Lucifer. He, however, defends himself,
and repeats to them at length the story of his expulsion from heaven
for refusing to worship Adam. He concludes by threatening vengeance
on him and his descendants. Adam and his wife then live alone for a
year on grass, without fire, house, music, or raiment, drinking water
from their palms, and eating green herbs in the shadows of trees and
in caverns. Eve brings forth a beautiful boy, who at once proceeds to
cut grass for his father, who calls him Cain. God at last pities Adam
and sends Michael to him with various seeds, and Michael teaches him
husbandry and the use of animals. Seven years afterwards Eve brings
forth Abel. In a vision she sees Cain drinking the blood of Abel.

In this manner, with a free play of the imagination, the writer runs
through both Old and New Testaments, down to the denial of Peter and
the death of Christ, in 150 poems, to which are appended twelve more,
eleven of them in a different and more melodious metre, "rannaigheacht
mhór," on the resurrection.

There were a number of other pre-Danish poets, but only occasional
pieces of theirs have been preserved. Their obits are often mentioned
by the annalists, but the few longer pieces of theirs that have
survived to our day being mostly historical or genealogical, and as
such devoid of much literary interest, we may neglect them.

[1] Mr. Strachan, however, has lately cast doubts upon its genuineness
and ascribes it in its present form to a later date.

[2] I follow here O'Beirne Crowe's imperfect rendering. If he
translates some words of this difficult piece inaccurately it does not
much matter for my purpose.

[3] _Ar abela no ar lainni an molta._ This word _Abél_ for "quick,"
"rapid," though neither in O'Reilly's nor Windisch's nor the Scotch
Gaelic dictionaries, is a common one in the spoken language of West
Connacht. It occurs twice in the "Three Shafts of Death," where it is
mistranslated by "awful," but it must be carefully distinguished from
M. I. _Abdul_, Keating's _Adhbhal_. The word is not known in Waterford,
and my friend the late Mr. Fleming, who was the chief authority in the
Royal Irish Academy on the spoken language, and who hailed from that
county, was, I believe, unacquainted with it.

[4] This translation is evident nonsense, but I cannot better it. The
original is "Ric in sithbe sitlas mag."

[5] Is é immoro adíabul, _i.e._, afhillind, _i.e._, doemnad, ut est
hoc, _i.e._,

  "Águr águr iar céin chéin
    Bith i péin, phein ni síth síth,
  Amail cách cách, co bráth bráth,
    In cech tráth tráth, cid scíth scíth."

My translation is in the exact metre of the original, and conveys
in English the manner in which the heptasyllabic Irish lines were
pronounced, in which, despite of what some continental scholars have
advanced, there is, I believe, _no alternation of beat or stress at
all_, and neither trochee nor iambus. O'Beirne Crowe mistranslates
_águr_ by "I ask."

[6] Ros was chief poet of Erin in the time of St. Patrick, and is said
to have helped him in redacting the Brehon Law.

[7] Ferceirtné was the poet at Conor mac Nessa's Court in the first
century B.C., who contended in the "Dialogue of the Two Sages," _see_
above p. 240.

[8] See above for _réin_ being used for sea, p. 10.

[9] The translation is doubtful. Dr. Sigerson has well versified it in
his "Bards of the Gael and Gaul," p. 116. The original has a curious
metrical effect not unlike that other piece attributed to Finn, quoted
above p. 275. It might be printed thus--

     Scél lém duib             Roruad rath
       Dordaid dam               Rocleth cruth,
     Snigid gaim               Rogab gnath
       Rofaith sam.              Giugrand guth.
     Gaeth ard huar,           Rogab uacht
       Isel grian                Ete én,
     Gair arrith               Aigre ré
       Ruthach rían.             E, mosclé.

[10] _See_ above p. 27 for Crimhthann's chess-board.

[11] Published by Professor Connellan, but without a translation, at
p. 258 of Vol. V. of Ossianic Society's publications. It, too, is in
the Féni dialect. The first verse, in honour of Dubh-Giolla, "the Black
Attendant," which was the name of the King's shield will show its

  "Dub gilla dub, arm naise,
  Eo Rosa raon slegh snaise,
  Adeardius daib diupla gainde
  d'Aodh do cinn lainne glaise."

It would appear that Dallán could write Irish as well as Béarla Féni
from this verse, which is ascribed to him by the "Four Masters."
"Dallán Forgaill," they say, "dixit hoc do bhás Choluim Cille."

  "Is leigheas legha gan lés
  Is dedhail smeara re smuais
  Is abhran re cruit gan chéis
  Sinne déis ar nargain uais."

"It is the healing of a leech without light [_i.e._, in the dark]; it
is a dividing of the marrow from the bone; it is the song of a harp
without a base-string that we are, after being deprived of our noble."
This verse does not occur in the Amra, though the expression a "harp
without a base-string" does.

[12] _See_ the whole story, carefully edited by Kuno Meyer, in "The
Voyage of Bran," p. 45, where the poet is called Forgoll, but this is
evidently the same as our Dallán Forgaill, though Kuno Meyer appears
not to think so, for he has the following note: "Forgoll seems to
have been an overbearing and exacting _filé_ of the type of Athirne
and Dallán Forgaill." But as the story synchronises with the life of
Dallán Forgaill, and there is, so far as I know, no second poet known
as Forgoll, it is evidently the same person. The "Dallán," _i.e._,
the "blind man" (for he lost his eyesight through overstudy), being
prefixed to Forgaill appears to inflect it in the genitive case, as An
Tighearna easbuig, "the Lord Bishop," _i.e._, the lord of a bishop,
"the blind man of a Forgall."

[13] Scoil "legind."

[14] _See_ one of the poems ascribed to him printed by Professor
Connellan from the Book of Ballymote, Ossianic Society, vol. v. p. 268.
If it is Cennfealadh's it has been greatly altered during the course of

[15] Céile Dé, or Culdee, _i.e._, "Servus Dei," was a phrase used with
much latitude, and in general denoted an ascetic, but occasionally also
a missionary, monk. We find the Dominicans of Sligo called Culdees in a
MS. of the year 1600. They seem to have arisen in the seventh or early
eighth century. The Scottish Culdees, becoming lax in later times,
married and established a spurious hereditary order. There is, of
course, no truth in the fable that they were the pre-Patrician or early
Scottish Christians, a notion which Campbell has propagated in his fine
poem "Reulura," _i.e._, "réull-úr":--

  "Peace to their souls, the pure Culdees
    Were Albyn's earliest priests of God,
  Ere yet an island of her seas
    By foot of Saxon monk was trod!"

[16] This _tour de force_, which consists of laying stress in the
beginning of each succeeding stanza upon the word which ended the
last, is common in Irish and is called _conachlonn_. It is much used
by Angus. It seems to be self-evolved in Irish, whose prosody is full
of original terms unborrowed from the Latin, which, to my mind, tells
strongly in favour of pre-Christian culture. It is curious that Horace
who falls into _conachlonn_ in his second ode, never returned to a form
so well adapted to lyric purposes:--

 "Dextera sacras jaculatus arces
    _Terruit_ urbem.
  _Terruit_ gentes," etc.

[17] He has edited the text without a translation from the only MS.
that contains it--Rawlinson, B 502, in the Bodleian, in the "Anecdota
Oxoniensia" Series. Oxford deserves splendidly of Celtic scholars. If
only Dublin would follow her example!


 "Mo rí-se rí nime náir
 Cen huabur cen immarbáig,
 Dorósat domun dualach,
 Mo rí bith-beo bith-buadach."


  "In gel in corcarda glan,
  In glass ind uaine allmar,
  In buidi in derg, derb dána,
  Nisgaib fergg frisodála,
  In dub, ind liath ind alad,
  In t-emen in chiar chálad,
  Ind odar doirchi datha
  Nidat soirchi sogabtha."

The hundred and fifty-second poem, which is a beautiful one, again asks
what are the colours of the winds. Line 7,948.

[20] A good example of how Irish assimilates foreign words by cutting
off their endings:--

  "Aquair, Pisc, Ariet, Tauir, Treb,
  Geimin choir, ocus Cancer,
  Leo Uirgo, Libru, Scoirp scrus,
  Sagitair, Capricornus."

Leo is pronounced _L'yo_ as a monosyllable.

[21] _See_ Whitley Stokes' introduction for the analysis of the 1st,
the 11th, and the 12th poem.

[22] "Glas" must be here translated "blue." It is a colour used by the
Irish with great latitude, and apparently means yellowish, or light
blue, or greenish grey. To this day a _grey_ eye is _súil ghlas_ and
_green_ grass is _feur glas_, yet the colour of grass is not that of a
grey or even of a grey-green eye. We want a study on colours and their
shades as at present used by the Irish and the Scotch Highlanders.



The first onfall of the Danes seems to have been made about the year
795, and for considerably over two centuries Erin was shaken from shore
to shore with ever-recurring alarms, and for many years every centre
of population lived in a state of terror, not knowing what a day might
bring forth. Monasteries and colleges were burnt again and again, and
built again and again, only to be reburnt. Numbers of invaluable books
were destroyed, gold and silver work was carried off in quantities, and
a state of unrest produced, which must have made learning in many parts
of the island well-nigh impossible.

Strange to say, despite the troubled condition of Ireland during these
two or three centuries, she produced a large number of poets and
scholars, the impulse given by the enthusiasm of the sixth and seventh
centuries being still strong upon her. Unquestionably the greatest
name amongst her men of learning during this period is that of the
statesman, ecclesiastic, poet and scholar, Cormac mac Culinan, who was
at once king and bishop of Cashel,[1] and one of the most striking
figures in both the literary and political history of these centuries.

To him we owe that valuable compilation, so often quoted already under
the title of "Cormac's Glossary," which is by far the oldest attempt
at a comparative vernacular dictionary made in any language of modern
Europe.[2] Of course it has been enlarged by subsequent writers, but
the idea and much of the matter remains Cormac's. In its original
conception, it was meant to explain and interpret words and phrases
which in the ninth century had become obscure to Irish scholars, and as
might be expected, it throws light on many pagan customs, on history,
law, romance, and mythology. Cormac's other literary effort was the
compilation of the Saltair of Cashel, now most unhappily lost, but it
appears to have been a great work. In it was contained the Book of
Rights,[3] drawn up for the readjustment of the relations existing
between princes and tribes, and still preserved. St. Benignus was
said to have originally composed in verse a complete statement of the
various rights, privileges, and duties of the High-king, the provincial
kings, and the local chieftains. This, like so much of ancient and
primitive law, was drawn up in verse so as to be thus stereotyped for
the future, and easily remembered at a time when books were scarce.
Cormac seems to have enlarged, modified, and brought it up to date to
suit the changing times, and it was subsequently redacted again in
Brian Boru's day in a sense favourable to Munster.[4] The king-bishop
was a most remarkable man and an excellent scholar. He appears to
have known Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Danish, and to have been one of
the finest Old Gaelic scholars of his day, and withal an accomplished
poet, though his verses are now lost. He was slain in battle in the
year 908,[5] under circumstances so curiously described in the
fragmentary annals edited by O'Donovan that it may be worth repeating
here. He was, as we know from other sources, betrothed to the Princess
Gormfhlaith or Gormly, daughter of Flann Sionna [Shinna], king of
Meath and High-king of Ireland, but determining to enter the Church
he returned her with her dowry to her father without consummating the
marriage; after this he took orders, and rose in time to be archbishop
of Cashel as well as king of Munster. Gormly, however, was married
against her will to Cearbhall [Caroll], king of Leinster. It was in
the year 908 that Flann, the High-king, with Caroll king of Leinster,
now his son-in-law, prepared to meet Munster and to assert by arms his
right to the presentation of the ancient church of Monasterevan, but it
seems probable that he also bore the king-archbishop a grudge for his
treatment of his daughter Gormly. Here is the annalistic account of the


 "The great host of Munster was assembled by the same two, that is,
 Flaherty,[7] [abbot of Scattery Island, in the Shannon], and Cormac
 [mac Culinan], to demand hostages of Leinster and Ossory, and all the
 men of Munster were in the same camp.... And noble ambassadors came
 from Leinster from Caroll, son of Muirigan [king of that province],
 to Cormac first, and they delivered a message of peace from the
 Leinstermen, _i.e._, one peace to be in all Erin until May following
 (it being then the second week in autumn), and to give hostages into
 the keeping of Maenach, a holy, wise, and pious man, and of other
 pious men, and to give jewels and much property to Cormac and Flaherty.

 "Cormac was much rejoiced at being offered this peace, and he
 afterward went to tell it to Flaherty and how he was offered it from
 Leinster. When Flaherty heard this he was greatly horrified, and 't
 was what he said, 'This shows,' said he, 'the littleness of thy mind
 and the feebleness of thy nature, for thou art the son of a plebeian,'
 and he said many other bitter and insulting words, which it would be
 too long to repeat.

 "The answer which Cormac made him was, 'I am certain,' Cormac said,
 'of what the result of this [obstinacy of yours] will be, a battle
 will be fought, O holy man,' said he, 'and [I] Cormac shall be under
 a curse for it, and it is likely that it will be the cause of death
 to thee [also].' And when he had said this he came into his own tent,
 afflicted and sorrowful. And when he sat down he took a basketful of
 apples and proceeded to divide them amongst his people and said, 'My
 dear people,' he said, 'I shall never give you apples again from this
 out for ever.' 'Is it so, O dear earthly lord?' said his people; 'why
 art thou sorrowful and melancholy with us; it is often thou hast boded
 evil for us?' 'It is,' [said Cormac,] 'as I say, and yet, dear people,
 what melancholy thing have I said, for though I should not distribute
 apples to you with my own hand, yet there shall be some one of you in
 my place who will.' He afterwards ordered a watch to be set, and he
 called to him the holy, pious, and wise man, Maenach, son of Siadhal
 [Shiel], the chief co-arb or successor of Comhghall, and he made his
 confession and will in his presence, and he took the body of Christ
 from his hand, and he resigned the world in the presence of Maenach,
 for he knew that he would be killed in battle, but he did not wish
 that many others should know it. He also ordered that his body should
 be brought to Cloyne if convenient, but if not to convey it to the
 cemetery of Diarmuid, [grand]son of Aedh Roin, where he had studied
 for a long time. He was very desirous, however, of being interred at
 Cloyne of Mac Lenin. Maenach, however, was better pleased to have him
 interred at Disert Diarmada, for that was one of [Saint] Comhghall's
 towns, and Maenach was Comhghall's successor. This Maenach, son of
 Shiel, was the wisest man of his time, and he now exerted himself much
 to make peace, if it were possible, between the men of Leinster and

 "Many of the forces of Munster deserted unrestrained. There was
 great noise, too, and dissension in the camp of the men of Munster
 at this time, for they heard that Fiann, son of Malachy [High-king
 of Ireland], was in the camp of the Leinster men [helping them] with
 great forces of foot and horse. It was then Maenach said, 'Good men of
 Munster,' said he, 'you ought to accept of the good hostages I have
 offered you to be placed in the custody of pious men till May next,
 namely, the son of Caroll, king of Leinster, and the son of the king
 of Ossory.' All the men of Munster were saying that it was Flaherty
 [the abbot], son of Inmainên alone who compelled them to go [to fight]
 into Leinster.

 "After this great complaint which they made, they came over Slieve
 Mairgé from the west to Leithglinn Bridge. But Tibraidé, successor of
 Ailbhé [of Emly], and many of the clergy along with him tarried at
 Leithglinn, and also the servants of the army and the horses which
 carried the provisions.

 "After this trumpets were blown and signals for battle were given
 by the men of Munster, and they went forward till they came to
 Moy-Ailbhé.[8] Here they remained with their back to a thick wood
 awaiting their enemies. The men of Munster divided themselves into
 three equally large battalions, Flaherty, son of Inmainên, and
 Ceallach, son of Caroll, king of Ossory, over the first division;
 Cormac mac Culinan, king of Munster, over the middle division; Cormac,
 son of Mothla, King of the Deisi, and the King of Kerry, and the kings
 of many other tribes of West Munster, over the third division. They
 afterwards came on in this order to Moy-Ailbhe. They were querulous
 on account of the numbers of the enemy and their own fewness. Those
 who were knowledgeable, that is those who were amongst themselves,
 state that the Leinstermen and their forces amounted to three times
 or four times the number of the men of Munster or more. Unsteady
 was the order in which the men of Munster came to the battle. Very
 pitiful was the wailing which was in the battle--as the learned who
 were in the battle relate--the shrieks of the one host in the act
 of being slaughtered and the shouts of the other host exulting over
 that slaughter. There were two causes for which the men of Munster
 suffered so sudden a defeat; for Céileachar, the brother of Cingégan,
 suddenly mounted his horse and said, 'Nobles of Munster,' said he,
 'fly suddenly from this abominable battle, and leave it between the
 clergy themselves who could not be quiet without coming to battle,'
 and afterwards he suddenly fled accompanied by great hosts. The
 other cause of the defeat was: When Ceallach, son of Caroll, saw the
 battalion in which were the chieftains of the King of Erin cutting
 down his own battalion he mounted his horse and said to his own
 people, 'Mount your horses and drive the enemy before you.' And though
 he said this, it was not to really fight he said so but to fly.
 Howsoever it resulted from these causes that the Munster battalion
 fled together. Alas! pitiful and great was the slaughter throughout
 Moy-Ailbhe afterwards. A cleric was not spared more than a layman,
 there they were all equally killed. When a layman or a clergyman was
 spared it was not out of mercy, it was done but out of covetousness,
 to obtain a ransom from them, or to bring them into servitude. King
 Cormac, however, escaped in the van of the first battalion, but the
 horse leaped into a trench and he fell off it. When a party of his
 people who were flying perceived this, they came to the King and put
 him up on his horse again. It was then he saw a foster son of his own,
 a noble of the Eoghanachts, Aedh by name, who was an adept in wisdom
 and jurisprudence and history and Latin; and the King said to him,
 'Beloved son,' said he, 'do not cling by me, but take thyself out of
 it as well as thou canst; I told thee that I should be killed in this
 battle.' A few remained along with Cormac, and he came forward along
 the way on horseback, and the way was besmeared throughout with much
 blood of men and horses. The hind feet of his horse slipped on the
 slippery way in the track of blood, and the horse fell right back and
 [Cormac's] back and neck were both broken, and he said, when falling,
 'In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum,' and he gave up the
 ghost; and the impious sons of malediction came and thrust spears
 through his body, and cut off his head.

 "Although much was the slaying on Moy-Ailbhe to the east of the
 Barrow, yet the prowess of Leinster was not satiated with it, but they
 followed up the rout westwards across Slieve Mairgé, and slew many
 noblemen in that pursuit.

 "In the very beginning of the battle Ceallach, son of Caroll, king
 of Ossory, and his son were killed at once. Dispersedly, however,
 others were killed from that out, both laity and clergy. There were
 many good clergymen killed in this battle, as were also many kings and
 chieftains. In it was slain Fogartach, son of Suibhne [Sweeny], an
 adept in philosophy and divinity, King of Kerry, and Ailell, son of
 Owen, the distinguished young sage and high-born nobleman, and Colman,
 Abbot of Cenn-Etigh, Chief Ollav of the judicature of Erin, and hosts
 of others also, quos longum est scribere....

 "Then a party came up to Fiann, having the head of Cormac with them,
 and 't was what they said to Fiann, 'Life and health, O powerful
 victorious king, and Cormac's head to thee from us; and as is
 customary with kings raise thy thigh and put this head under it and
 press it with thy thigh.' Howsoever Flann spoke evil to them, it was
 not thanks he gave them. 'It was an enormous act,' said he, 'to have
 taken off the head of the holy bishop, but, however, I shall honour
 it instead of crushing it.' Fiann took the head into his hand and
 kissed it, and carried thrice round him the consecrated head of the
 holy bishop and martyr. The head was afterwards honourably carried
 away from him to the body where Meaenach, son of Shiel, successor of
 Comhghall, was, and he carried the body of Cormac to Castledermot,
 where it was honourably interred, and where it performs signs and

 "Why should not the heart repine and the mind sicken at this enormous
 deed; the killing and the mangling with horrid arms of this holy man,
 the most learned of all who came or shall come of the men of Erin for
 ever? The complete master in Gaedhlic and Latin, the archbishop most
 pious, most pure, miraculous in chastity and prayer, a proficient in
 law and in every wisdom, knowledge, and science, a paragon of poetry
 and learning, a head of charity and every virtue, a sage of education,
 and head-king of the whole of the two Munster provinces in his time!"

Gormly, the betrothed, but afterwards repudiated wife of Cormac, was
also a poet, and there are many pieces ascribed to her. She was, as I
mentioned, married to Caroll king of Leinster, who was severely wounded
in this battle. He was carried home to be cured in his palace at Naas,
and Gormly the queen was constant in her attendance on him. One day,
however, as Caroll was becoming convalescent he fell to exulting over
the mutilation of Cormac at which he had been present. The queen, who
was sitting at the foot of his bed, rebuked him for it, and said that
the body of a good man had been most unworthily desecrated. At this
Caroll, who was still confined to bed, became angry and kicked her over
with his foot in the presence of all her attendants and ladies.

As her father, the High-king, would do nothing for her when she
besought him to wipe out the insult, and procure her reparation from
so unworthy a husband, her young kinsman Niall Glún-dubh, or the
Black-Kneed, took up her cause, and obtained for her a separation
from her husband and restoration of her dowry. When her husband was
killed, the year after this, by the Danes, she married Niall, who in
time succeeded to the throne as High-king of all Ireland, and who was
one of the noblest of her monarchs. He was slain in the end by the
Danes, and the monarchy passed away from the houses both of her father
and her husband, and she, the daughter of one High-king, the wife of
another, bewails in her old age the poverty and neglect into which
she had fallen. She dreamt one night that King Niall stood beside her,
and she made a leap forwards to clasp him in her arms, but struck
herself against the bed-post, and received a wound from which she never
recovered.[9] Many of her poems are lamentations on her kinsman and
husband Niall. They seem to have been current amongst the Highland as
well as the Irish Gaels, for here is a specimen jotted down in phonetic
spelling by the Scotch Dean Macgregor about the year 1512:

  "Take, grey monk, thy foot away,
    Lift it off the grave of Neill!
  Too long thou heapest up the clay
    On him who cannot feel.[10]

  Monk, why must thou pile the earth
    O'er the couch of noble Neill?
  Above my friend of gentle birth
    Thou strik'st a churlish heel.

  Let him be, at least to-night,
    Mournful monk of croaking voice,
  Beneath thee lies my heart's delight,
    Who made me to rejoice.

  Monk, remove thy foot, I say!
    Tread not on the sacred ground
  Where he is shut from me away,
    In cold and narrow bound!

  I am Gormly--king of men
    Was my father, Flann the brave.
  I charge thee, stand thou not again,
    Bald monk, upon his grave."

Another poet of the ninth century was Flanagan, son of Ceallach, king
of Bregia. He is quoted by the "Four Masters."[11] One poem of his, of
112 lines, on the deaths of the kings of Ireland, is preserved in the
Yellow Book of Lecan.

Mailmura, of Fahan, whom the "Four Masters" call a great poet, was a
contemporary of his, and wrote a poem on the Milesian Migrations.[12]

Several other poets lived in the ninth century, the chief of whom was
probably Flann mac Lonáin, for the "Four Masters" in recording his
death style him "the Virgil of the Scottic race, the chief ollamh of
all the Gaels, the best poet that was in Ireland in his time." Eight of
his poems, containing about one thousand lines, have survived. He was
from the neighbourhood of Slieve Echtgé, or Aughty, in South Connacht.
One of his poems records how Ilbrechtach the harper was travelling over
these barren mountains along with the celebrated poet Mac Liag, and,
as they paused to rest on Croghan Head, Mac Liag surveyed the prospect
beneath him, and said, "Many a hill and lake and fastness is in this
range; it were a great topographical knowledge to know them all." "If
Mac Lonáin were here," said the harper, "he could name them all, and
give the origin of their names as well." "Let this fellow be taken and
hanged," said Mac Liag. The harper begged respite till next day, and in
the meantime Mac Lonáin comes up and recites a poem of one hundred and
thirty-two lines beginning--_Aoibhinn aoibhinn Echtgé árd_.

Amongst other things, he relates that he met a Dalcassian--_i.e._, one
of Brian Boru's people from Clare--at Moy Finé in Galway, who had just
finished serving twelve months with a man in that place, from whom he
had received a cow and a cloak for payment. On his way home to the
Dalcassians with his cloak and his cow he met the poet, and said to

  "'Sing to me the history of my country,
  It is sweet to my soul to hear it.

  Thereupon I sang for him the poem,
  Nor did he show himself the least loath:
  All that he had earned--not mean nor meagre--
  To me he gave it without deduction.

  The upright Dalcassians heard of this,
  They received him with honour in their assembly;
  They gave to him--the noble race--
  Ten cows for every quarter of his own cow.'"

Mac Lonáin was the contemporary of Cormac mac Culinan, whom he

Some other poets of great note flourished during the Danish period,
such as Cormac "an Eigeas," who composed the celebrated poem to
Muircheartach, or Murtagh of the Leather Cloaks,[13] son of the Niall
so bitterly lamented by Gormly, on the occasion of his marching round
Ireland, when he set out from his palace at ancient Aileach near
Derry, and returned to it again after levying tribute and receiving
hostages from every king and sub-king in Ireland. This great O'Neill
well deserved a poet's praise, for having taken Sitric, the Danish
lord of Dublin, Ceallachan of Munster, the king of Leinster, and
the royal heir of Connacht as hostages, he, understanding well that
in the interests of Ireland the High-kingship should be upheld,
positively refused to follow the advice of his own clan and march on
Tara, as they urged, to take hostages from Donagh the High-king. On
the contrary, he actually sent of his own accord all those that had
been given him during his circuit to this Donagh as supreme governor
of Ireland. Donagh, on his part, not to be out-done in magnanimity,
returned them again to Murtagh with the message that he, into whose
hands they had been delivered, was the proper person to keep them. It
was to commemorate this that Cormac wrote his poem of two hundred and
fifty-six lines:--

  _"A Mhuircheartaigh Mheic Néill náir_
       _Ro ghabhais giallu Inse-Fáil."_[14]

But the names of the poets Cinaeth or Kenneth O'Hartigan, and Eochaidh
O'Flynn, are the most celebrated amongst those of the tenth century.
Allusions to and quotations from the first, who died in 975, are
frequent, and nine or ten of his poems, containing some eight hundred
lines, have been preserved perfect for us. Of O'Flynn's pieces,
fourteen are enumerated by O'Reilly, containing in the aggregate
between seventeen and eighteen hundred lines. In them we find in
verse the whole early and mythical history of Ireland. We have, for
instance, one poem on the invasion of Partholan; one on the invasion
of the Fomorians; another on the division of Ireland between the sons
of Partholan; another on the destruction of the tower of Conaing and
the battles between the Fomorians and the Nemedians; another on the
journey of the Nemedians from Scithia and how some emigrated to Greece
and others to Britain after the destruction of Conairé's tower; another
on the invasion of the sons of Milesius; another on the history of
Emania built by Cimbaeth some three hundred years before Christ, up
to its destruction by the Three Collas in the year 331. This poet
in especial may be said to have crystallised into verse the mythic
history of Ireland with the names and reigns of the Irish kings, and
to have thrown them into the form of real history. O'Clery, in his
celebrated Book of Invasions, has drawn upon him very largely, quoting,
often at full length, no less than twelve of his poems. Hence many
people believe that he was one of the first to collect the floating
tribe-legends of very early Irish kings, and the race-myths of the
Tuatha De Danann and their contemporaries, and that he cast them into
that historical shape in which the later annalists record them, by
fitting them into a complete scheme of genealogical history like that
of the Old Testament. But whether all these things had taken solid
shape and form before he versified them anew we cannot now decide.
According to O'Reilly and O'Curry this poet died in 984, nine years
after O'Hartigan; but M. d'Arbois de Jubainville remarks that he has
been unable to find out any evidence for fixing upon this date.

A little later lived Mac Liag, whom Brian Boru elevated to the
rank of Arch-Ollamh of Erin, and who lived at his court at Kincora
in the closest relationship to him and his sons. He has been
credited--erroneously according to O'Curry--with the authorship
of a Life of Brian Boru, which unfortunately has perished, only a
single ancient leaf, in the hand-writing of the great antiquary Mac
Firbis, surviving. Several of his poems, however, are preserved,[15]
containing between twelve and thirteen hundred lines in all, and are
of the highest value as throwing light both on the social state and
the policy of Ireland under Brian. One of his poems gives a graphic
description of the tribute of Ireland being driven to Brian at his
palace in Kincora in the present county of Clare. The poet went out
from the court to have a look at the flocks and herds, and when he
returned he said to the King, "Here comes Erin's tribute of cows to
thee, many a fat cow and fat hog on the plain before thee." "Be they
ever so many," said the King, "they shall be all thine, thou noble
poet." Amongst the other part of the tribute which the poet describes
as coming in to Brian were one hundred and fifty butts of wine from the
Danes of Dublin, and a tun of wine for every day in the year from the
Danes of Limerick. He describes Brian as sitting at the head of the
great hall of Kincora,[16] the king of Connacht sat on his right hand
and the king of Ulster on his left; the king of Tir-Eóghain [Tyrone]
sat opposite to him. At the door-post nearest to Brian sat the king
of Leinster, and at the other post of the open door sat Donough, son
of Brian, and Malachy,[17] king of Meath. Murrough, the king's eldest
son who died so valiantly at Clontarf, sat in front of his father with
his back turned to him, with Angus, a prince of Meath, and the king of
Tirconnell on his left. One of his poems ends with two complimentary
stanzas to Brian Boru, his son Murrough, his nephew Conaing, and Tadhg
[Teig] O'Kelly, the king of Ui Máine--all four of whom a short time
afterwards were left stiff and stark upon the field of Clontarf.

The shadow of the bloody tragedy there enacted hangs heavily over all
Mac Liag's later poems and those of his contemporaries, and there are
few more pathetic pieces in the language than his wail over Kincora
left desolate by the death of almost every chieftain who had gone
forth from it to meet the Danes.

  "Oh where, Kincora, is Brian the great!
    Oh, where is the beauty that once was thine!
  Oh, where are the princes and nobles that sate
    At the feast in thy halls, and drank the red wine.[18]
                       Where, oh, Kincora?

     * * * * *

  And where is the youth of majestic height,
    The faith-keeping prince of the Scots? Even he
  As wide as his fame was, as great as his might,
    Was tributary, oh, Kincora, to me!
                        Me, oh, Kincora.

  They are gone, those heroes of royal birth,
    Who plundered no churches, who broke no trust;
  'Tis weary for me to be living on earth
    When they, oh, Kincora, lie low in the dust!
                        Low, oh, Kincora."[19]

In the same strain does Mac Gilla Keefe,[20] another contemporary poet,
lament, in a piece which, according to a manuscript quoted by Hardiman,
called the "Leabhar Oiris," he composed when in the north of Greece,
whither he had travelled in the itinerant Milesian manner on his way to
try if he could find the site of Paradise. The poem begins:--

  "Mournful night! and mournful WE!
   Men we BE who know no peace.
   HOLD this SIDE the PLAINS of Greece."[21]

 "'I remember my setting my face to pay a visit to Brian (Boru) and he
 at that time feasting with Cian, the son of Mulloy,[22] and he thought
 it long my being absent from him.'

 "'God welcome you back to us,' cried Cian, 'O learned one, who comest
 [back from the north] from the House of O'Neill. Poet, your wife is
 saying that you have almost altogether forsaken your own house.'

 "'You have been away for three quarters of year, except from yesterday
 to to-day.' 'Why that,' said Murrough, son of Brian, 'is the message
 of the raven from the ark!'

 "'[Come now] tell us all the wealth you have brought from the north,'
 said Brian, the High-king of the host of Carn i Neid, 'tell the nobles
 of the men of Innisfail, and swear by my hand that you tell no lie.'

 "'By the King who is above me,' [said I], 'this is what I brought from
 the north, twenty steeds, ten ounces of gold, and ten score cows of

 "'[Why] we, the two of us, shall give him more steeds and more cattle
 [than that] without speaking of what Brian will give,' said Cian, the
 son of Mulloy.

 "'[And] by the King of Heaven who has brought me into silence this
 night, and who has darkened my brightness, I got ten times as much as
 that at the banquet before Brian lay down.

 "'I got seven town-lands, Oh, King of the Kings, who hast sent me from
 the west, and a half town-land [besides] near every palace in which
 Brian used to be.'

 "Said Murrough, good son of Brian, 'To-morrow'--and it was scarce
 sensible for him--'as much as you have got last night you shall get
 from me myself, and get it with my love.'"[23]

Mag Liag was not at Clontarf himself, but his friend and fellow-poet,
Errard mac Coisé [Cŭsha] was in the train of Malachy, king of Meath,
to whom he was then attached. This poet gave Mac Liag a minute account
of the battle, and Mac Liag himself visited the spot before the slain
had been interred, as we see from another of his poems. In a kind of
dialogue between him and Mac Coisé he makes the latter relate to him
the names of the fallen, and describe the positions in which their dead
bodies were found upon the battlefield. It is exceedingly probable
that it was Mac Liag, perhaps with Mac Coisé's aid, who compiled that
most valuable chronicle called the "Wars of the Gael with the Gaill,"
_i.e._, of the Irish with the Northmen.[24] This narrative bears both
external and internal evidence of its antiquity, for there is a portion
of it preserved in the Book of Leinster, a MS. of about the year 1150.
"The author," says Dr. Todd, who has edited it,[25] "was either
himself an eye-witness of the battle of Clontarf, or else compiled his
narrative from the testimony of eye-witnesses." It is edited in 121
chapters, and is sufficiently long to fill over a hundred of these
pages. Beginning with the earliest Danish invasion at the close of
the eighth century, it traces the progress of the Northmen in forty
chapters up to the time when Mathgamhain [Mahon] and Brian were ruling
over the Dalcassians. After that the book concerns itself chiefly with
the history of Brian, describing the deaths of his brother Mahon, and
the revenge he took, and his gradual but irregular attainment of the
High-kingship, he being the first of the race of Eber who had reached
this dignity for hundreds of years. The distress suffered by the Irish
at the hands of the white foreigners (the Norwegians) and the black
foreigners (the Danes)--who, by the way, were bitter enemies and often
fought with each other, even on Irish soil--is graphically described.
The Northmen put, says the writer,

 "a king [of their own] over every territory, and a chief over every
 chieftaincy, and an abbot over every church, and a steward over every
 village, and a soldier in every house, so that none of the men of Erin
 had power to give even the milk of his cow, or as much as the clutch
 of eggs of one hen in succour or in kindness to an aged man or to a
 friend, but was forced to preserve them for this foreign steward or
 bailiff or soldier. And though there were but one milk-giving cow in
 the house, she durst not be milked for an infant of one night, nor for
 a sick person, but must be kept for the steward or bailiff or soldier
 of the foreigners. And however long he might be absent from the house
 his share or his supply durst not be lessened: although there were in
 the house but one cow, it must be killed for the meal of one night, if
 the means of supply could not be otherwise procured....

 "In a word," continues the writer in a strain of characteristic
 hyperbole, "although there were an hundred sharp, ready, cool,
 never-resting, brazen tongues in each head, and a hundred garrulous,
 loud-unceasing voices from each tongue, they could not recount nor
 narrate, nor enumerate, nor tell, what all the Gael suffered in
 common, both men and women, laity and clergy, old and young, noble and
 ignoble, of hardship and of injury, and of oppression in every house,
 from these valiant, wrathful, foreign, purely-pagan people.

 "And though numerous were the oft-victorious clans of the
 many-familied Erin," yet could they do nothing against the "untamed,
 implacable hordes by whom that oppression was inflicted, because
 of the excellence of their polished, ample, treble-heavy, trusty,
 glittering corslets, and their hard, strong, valiant swords, and
 well-rivetted long spears, and ready brilliant arms of valour,
 besides; and because of the greatness of their achievements and of
 their deeds, their bravery, their valour, their strength, their venom,
 and their ferocity, and because of the excess of their thirst and
 their hunger for the brave, fruitful, nobly-inhabited, smooth-plained,
 sweet-grassy land of Erin, full of cataracts, rivers, bays."

The book ends with the battle of Clontarf and the "return from
Fingall," _i.e._, the march of the Dalcassians to their homes in
Munster. The death of Brian in this great battle fought on Good Friday,
the 23rd of April,[26] 1014, is thus described:--


 "As for Brian, son of Cenneidigh [Kennedy], when the battalions joined
 arms in the battle, his skin was spread for him, and he opened his
 psalter and joined his hands, and began to pray after the battle had
 commenced, and there was no one with him but his own attendant, whose
 name was Latean (from whom are the O'Lateans still in Munster.)[27]
 Brian said to the attendant, 'Look thou at the battalions and the
 combat whilst I sing the psalms.' He sang fifty psalms and fifty
 prayers and fifty paternosters, and after that he asked the attendant
 how were the battalions. And the attendant answered, 'Mixed and
 closely confronted are the battalions, and each of them has come
 within the grasp of the other, and not louder on my ears would be the
 echo of blows from Tomar's wood if seven battalions were cutting it
 down, than the thud-blows on heads and bones and sculls between them.'
 And he asked how was Murchadh's [Murrough's son's] standard, and the
 attendant said, 'It stands, and many of the banners of the Dál Cais
 [North Munster, _i.e._, Brian's own men] around it, and many heads
 thrown to it, and a multitude of trophies and spoils with heads of
 foreigners are along with it.' 'That is good news indeed,' said Brian.

 "His skin cushion was readjusted beneath him, and he sang the psalms
 and the prayers and the paters as before, and he again asked the
 attendant how the battalions were, and the attendant answered and
 said, 'There is not living on earth the man who could distinguish one
 from the other, for the greater part of the hosts on each side are
 fallen, and those who are alive are so covered with spatterings of
 crimson blood and armour, that a man could not know his own son--they
 are so intermingled.' He then asked how was Murchadh's standard. The
 attendant said it was far from him, and that it passed through the
 battalions westward, and was still standing. Brian said, 'The men of
 Erin will be well,' said he, 'so long as that standard stands, for
 their courage and valour shall remain in them all, so long as they can
 see that standard.'

 "His cushion was readjusted under Brian, and he sang fifty psalms
 and fifty prayers and fifty paters, and all that time the fighting
 continued. After that he again asked the attendant how went the
 battalions, and the attendant answered, 'It is like as if Tomar's wood
 were after burning its undergrowth and young trees, and that seven
 battalions had been for six weeks cutting them down, and it with its
 stately trees and huge oaks still standing, just so are the battalions
 on both sides, after the greater part of them have fallen leaving but
 a few valiant heroes and great chieftains still standing. So are
 the battalions on both sides pierced and wounded and scattered, and
 they are disorganised all round like the grindings of a mill turning
 the wrong way; and the foreigners are now defeated, and Murchadh's
 standard is fallen.' 'That is piteous news,' said Brian; 'by my word,'
 said he, 'the generosity and valour of Erin fell when that standard
 fell; and truly Erin has fallen of that, for there shall never come
 after him a champion like him. And what the better were I though I
 should escape this, and though it were the sovereignty of the world I
 should attain, after the fall of Murchadh and Conaing and the other
 nobles of the Dál Cais.'

 "'Woe is me,' said the attendant, 'if thou wouldst take my advice thou
 wouldst get thee to thy horse, and we would go to the camp and remain
 there amongst the gillies, and every one who comes out of the battle
 will come to us, and round us they will rally, for the battalions are
 now mixed in confusion, and a party of the foreigners have rejected
 the idea of retreating to the sea, and we know not who shall come to
 us where we now are.'

 "'Oh God; boy,' said Brian, 'flight becomes me not, and I myself know
 that I shall not go from here alive, and what should it profit me
 though I did, for Aoibheall [Eevil][28] of Craig Liath [Lee-a], came
 to me last night,' said he, 'and she told me that the first of my sons
 whom I should see this day would be he who should succeed me in the
 sovereignty, and that is Donough,[29] and go thou OLatean,' said he,
 'and take these steeds with thee, and receive my blessing and carry
 out my will after me, that is to say, my body and soul to God and to
 St. Patrick, and that I am to be carried to Armagh, and my blessing
 to Donough for discharging my last bequests after me, that is to say,
 twelve score cows to be given to the co-arb of Patrick and the Society
 of Armagh, and their own proper dues to Killaloe and the Churches of
 Munster, and he knows that I have not wealth of gold or silver, but
 he is to pay them in return for my blessing and for his succeeding
 me. Go this night to Sord [Swords] and desire them to come to-morrow
 early for my body, and to convey it thence to Damhliag of Cianan,
 and then let them carry it to Lughmhagh [Loo-wā, _i.e._, Louth], and
 let Maelmuiré mac Eochadha, the co-arb of Patrick and the Society of
 Armagh come to meet me at Lughmhagh.'

 "While they were engaged in this conversation the attendant perceived
 a party of the foreigners approaching them. The Earl Brodar was there
 and two warriors along with him.

 "'There are people coming towards us here,' said the attendant.

 "'What kind of people?' said Brian.

 "'Blue stark-naked people,' said the attendant.

 "'My woe,' said Brian, 'they are the foreigners of the armour, and it
 is not for good they come.'

 "While he was saying this he arose and stepped off his cushion and
 unsheathed his sword. Brodar passed him by and noticed him not. One
 of the three who were there and who had been in Brian's service
 said '_Cing, Cing_!' said he, that is, 'This is the king.' '_No,
 no! but príst príst_,' says Brodar, 'not he,' said he, 'but a noble
 priest.' 'By no means,' said the soldier, 'but it is the great king
 Brian.' Brodar then turned round and appeared with a bright gleaming
 battle-axe in his hand, with the handle set in the middle [of the
 head]. When Brian saw him he looked intently at him, and gave him a
 sword-blow that cut off the left leg at the knee and the right leg at
 the foot. The foreigner gave Brian a stroke which crushed his head
 utterly, and Brian killed the second man that was with Brodar, and
 they fell mutually by each other.

 "There was not done in Erin, since Christianity--except the beheading
 of Cormac mac Culinan--any greater deed than this. He was, in
 sooth, one of the three best that ever were born in Erin, and one
 of the three men who most caused Erin to prosper, namely, Lugh the
 Long-handed, and Finn mac Cúmhail [Cool], and Brian, son of Kennedy;
 for it was he that released the men of Erin and its women from the
 bondage and iniquity of the foreigners and the pirates. It was he that
 gained five-and-twenty battles over the foreigners, and who killed
 them and banished them.... In short, Erin fell by the death of Brian."

The "War of the Gael with the Gaill" appears to me to be a book which
throws a strong light upon the genesis and value of the historical
saga of Ireland. Here is a real historical narrative of unquestionable
authority, and of the very highest value for the history of these
countries, which is contemporaneous,[30] or almost so, with the events
which it relates. Its accuracy on matters of fact have been abundantly
proved from Danish as well as from Irish sources. And yet the whole
account is dressed up and bedizened in that peculiarly Irish garb which
had become stereotyped as the dress of Irish history. It contains the
exaggeration, the necessary touch of the marvellous, and above all the
poetry, without which no Irish composition could hope for a welcome.

First as to the exaggeration: the whole piece is full of it. A good
example is the description of the armies meeting on Clontarf:--

 "It will be one of the wonders of the day of judgment to relate the
 description of this tremendous onset. There arose a wild, impetuous,
 precipitate, furious, dark, frightful, voracious, merciless,
 combative, contentious vulture, screaming and fluttering over their
 heads. There arose also the Bocanachs and the Bananachs and the wild
 people of the glens, and the witches and the goblins and the ancient
 birds, and the destroying demons of the air and firmament, and the
 feeble demoniac phantom host, and they were screaming and comparing
 the valour and combat of both parties."

The reader expected some traditional flourish such as this, and the
essential truth of the narrative is no whit impaired by it.

Nor does the miraculous episode of Dunlang O'Hartigan, fresh from the
embraces of the fairy queen, foretelling to Murrough that he must fall,
detract from the truth that he does fall. Dunlang had promised Murrough
not to abandon him, and he appears beside him on the very eve of the
battle. Murrough gently reproaches him and says:--

 "'Great must be the love and attachment of some woman for thee which
 has induced thee to abandon me.' 'Alas, O King,' answered Dunlang,
 'the delight which I have abandoned for thee is greater, if thou didst
 but know it, namely, life without death,[31] without cold, without
 thirst, without hunger, without decay, beyond any delight of the
 delights of the earth to me, until the judgment, and heaven after the
 judgment, and if I had not pledged my word to thee I would not have
 come here, and, moreover, it is fated for me to die on the day that
 thou shalt die.'

 "'Shall I receive death this day then?' said Murrough.

 "'Thou shalt, indeed,' said Dunlang, 'and Brian and Conaing shall
 receive it, and almost all the nobles of Erin, and Turlough thy son.'

 "'That is no good encouragement to fight,' said Murrough, 'and if we
 had had such news we would not have told it to _thee_, and moreover,'
 said Murrough, 'often was I offered in hills, and in fairy mansions,
 this world and these gifts, but I never abandoned for one night my
 country nor mine inheritance for them.'"

Some such touch as this, of the weird and the miraculous, the reader
also expected.

As for poetry, the whole piece is full of it. It contains over five
hundred lines of verse, in poems attributed to Brian Boru himself and
his brother Mahon, to Maelmhuadh or Molloy, who so treacherously slew
Mahon, to the sister of Aedh Finnliath [Finleea], king of Ireland in
869;[32] to Cormac mac Culinan, the king-bishop; to Cuan O'Lochain,
a great poet who died in 1024; to Beg mac Dé the prophet, and to
Columcille, his contemporary; to Colman mac Lenin, the poet-saint; to
Gilla Mududa O'Cassidy, a poet contemporaneous with Mac Liag; to Mac
Liag himself; to Gilla Comgaill O'Slevin, inciting O'Neill against
Brian; to a poet called Mahon's blind man; to St. Bercan the prophet;
to an unnamed cleric, and to at least six anonymous poets.

I have dwelt at some length upon these peculiarities of composition,
because I wish to lay stress on the fact that the narrative form and
the romantic dress in which the early history of Ireland is preserved
(through the medium of sagas) need not detract from its substantial
veracity. We can prove the minute accuracy of the Clontarf story
and there seems scarcely more reason to doubt that of the battle of
Moyrath, fought in Adamnan's time, or possibly the _substantial_
accuracy of the battles of Cnoca, or of Moy Léana; we must, however,
remember that with each fresh redaction, fresh miraculous agencies, and
fresh verbiage were added.

The battle of Clontarf put an end to the dream of a Danish kingdom
in Ireland, and though numerous bodies of the Northmen remained in
their sea-coast settlements, and continued for many years after this
to give much trouble, yet it put a stop to all further invasion from
their mother country, and once more the centres of Irish learning and
civilisation could breathe freely.

[1] It was not he, however, who built Cormac's Chapel at Cashel, but
Cormac Mac Carthy, in the twelfth century. I am not sure whether Cashel
had been formed into an archiepiscopal see at this time, but he is
certainly called bishop of Cashel.

[2] The celebrated Vocabularius S. Galli was, according to Zimmer, the
work of an Irish monk.

[3] Leabhar na gCeart.

[4] It has been most carefully edited and translated in a large volume
by O'Donovan for the Celtic Society, in 1847.

[5] 903 according to the "Four Masters."

[6] From the fragment copied by Duald Mac Firbis in 1643 from a vellum
MS. of Mac Egan of Ormond, a chief professor of the old Brehon Law,
a MS. which was so worn as to be in places illegible at the time Mac
Firbis copied it; published by O'Donovan for the Archæological Society.
I have altered O'Donovan's translation very slightly.

[7] In Irish, "Flaithbheartach."

[8] The plain where this battle of Bealach Múghna or Ballaghmoon was
fought is in the very south of the county Kildare, about 2½ miles to
the north of the town of Carlow.

[9] So it is stated in Mac Echagain's Annals of Clonmacnois, but
O'Curry thinks this is a mistake and that she did recover.

[10] The first verse runs thus in modern Gaelic:

  "Beir a mhanaigh leat do chos
    Tóg anois i de thaoibh Néill
  Is ró mhór chuiris de chré
    Ar an té le' luidhinn féin."

See p. 75 of the Gaelic part of the book of the Dean of Lismore.

Literally: "Monk, remove thy foot, lift it off the grave of Niall, too
long heapest thou the earth on him by whom I fain would lie!

"Too long dost thou, O monk there, heap the earth on noble Niall. Go
gently, brown friend, press not the earth with thy sole.

"Do not firmly close the grave; sorrowful, cleric, is thy office; lift
[thy foot] off the bright Niall Black-knee; monk, remove thy foot!

"The son of the descendant of Niall of the white gold, 'tis not of my
will that he is bound [in the grave]; let his grave and stone be left:
monk, remove thy foot!

"I am Gormly, who compose the verse; daughter of hardy Flann. Stand not
upon his grave! Monk, remove thy foot!"

[11] One of his pieces, quoted by the "Four Masters," shows he was a
true poet. It is on the death of the king, Aedh Finnliath, who died in
877, and runs thus:--

  "Long is the wintry night,
  With fierce gusts of wind,
  Under pressing grief we have to encounter it,
  Since the red-speared king of the noble house lives no longer.

  It is awful to observe
  The waves from the bottom heaving,
  To these may be compared
  All those who with us lament him."

_See_ O'Curry's "Manners and Customs," vol. ii. p. 96, and "Four
Masters" _sub anno._

[12] Published by the Irish Archæological Society in the "Irish
Nennius," in 1847.

[13] Na gcochal croicinn.


  "O Muircheartach, son of noble Niall,
    Thou hast taken hostages of Inisfail."

[15] The "Four Masters" thought so highly of Mac Liag's poetry that
they actually go out of their way to record both the first verse he
ever composed and the last. An extraordinary compliment!

[16] Or Kancora, in Irish _Ceann Coradh--i.e._, "the head of the weir."

[17] In Irish "Maelsheachlainn," often contracted into the sound of
"M'louglinn," and now always Anglicised Malachy.

[18] Thus Mangan; in the original--

  "A Chinn-Choradh, caidhi Brian,
  No caidhi an sciamh do bhi ort;
  Caidhi maithe no meic righ
  Ga n-ibhmís fín ad port?"

[19] Literally: "O Kincora, where is Brian? or where is the splendour
that was upon thee? Where are the nobles and the sons of kings with
whom we used to drink wine in thy halls.... Where is the man most
striking of size, the son of the king of Alba who never forsook us?
Although great were his valour and his deeds, he used to pay tribute to
me (the poet), O Kincora.... They have gone, side by side, the sons of
kings who never plundered church; there shall never be their like in
the world again, so in my wisdom I testify, O Kincora."

_See_ Hardiman's "Irish Minstrelsy," vol. ii. p. 196, where the text
of this poem is published, with a fearful metrical translation which,
under the influence of Macpherson, calls the Dalcassian princes "the
flower of Temora"! which, however, is advantageously used to rhyme with

[20] In Irish: "Mac Giolla Caoimh."

[21] This verse is an imitation of the original, which runs--

  "Uathmhar [i] an oidhche _anocht_
    A chuideacht [fhíor-]_bhocht_ gan bhréig,
  Crodh ni SA[O]ILTÎ dh[ao]ibh air DHUAN
    Air an TTAOIBHSI THUAIDH do'n nGréig."

_See_ Hardiman's "Irish Minstrelsy," vol. ii. p. 202, where a poetical
version of this lyric is given in the metre of Campbell's "Exile of
Erin"! He does not say from what MS. he has taken this poem. O'Curry is
silent on Mac Gilla Keefe, but O'Reilly mentions another poem of his on
the provinces of Munster.

[22] In Irish, "Maolmhuadh."

[23] I am not sure that I have translated this correctly.

  "Do rádh Murchadh deagh-mhac Bhriain
  Air na mhárach, 's níor chiall uaidh
  Uiriod a bhfuairís aréir
  Geabhair uaim féin's ni air th-fhuath."

[24] Charles O'Conor ascribes it to him, but neither Keating, the "Four
Masters," nor Colgan, who all make use of it, mention a word about the

[25] In the "Master of the Rolls" Series, in 1867. "That the work was
compiled from contemporary materials," says Dr. Todd, "may be proved
by curious incidental evidence. It is stated in the account given of
the Battle of Clontarf that the full tide in Dublin Bay on the day of
the battle (23rd April, 1014) coincided with sunrise, and that the
returning tide at evening aided considerably in the defeat of the
enemy. It occurred to the editor, on considering this passage, that a
criterion might be derived from it to test the truth of the narrative
and of the date assigned by the Irish Annals to the Battle of Clontarf.
He therefore proposed to the Rev. Samuel Haughton, M.D., Fellow of
Trinity College, and Professor of Geology in the University of Dublin,
to solve for him this problem: 'What was the hour of high water at the
shore of Clontarf in Dublin Bay on the 23rd of April, 1014.' The editor
did not make known to Dr. Haughton the object he had in view in this
question, and the coincidence of the result obtained with the ancient
narrative is therefore the more valuable and curious."

Dr. Haughton read a paper on the mathematics of this complex and
difficult question before the Royal Irish Academy, in May, 1861, in
which he proved that the tide--a neap tide--was full along the Clontarf
shore at about 5h. 30m. a.m., and that the evening tide was full in
about 5h. 55m. p.m. "The truth of the narrative," says Dr. Todd, "is
thus most strikingly established. In the month of April the sun rises
at from 5h. 30m. to 4h.30m. The full tide in the morning therefore
coincided nearly with sunrise; a fact which holds a most important
place in the history of the battle, and proves that our author if not
himself an eye-witness, must have derived his information from those
who were. 'None others,' as Dr. Haughton observes, 'would have invented
the fact that the battle began at sunrise and that the tide was then
full in. The importance of the time of tide became evident at the close
of the day, when the returned tide prevented the escape of the Danes
from the Clontarf shore to the north bank of the Liffey.'"

[26] An ancient Irish missal preserved in the Bodleian contains this
petition for the Irish king and his army, in its Litany for _Easter
Eve_: "Ut regem Hibernensium et exercitum ejus conservare digneris--ut
eis vitam et sanctitatem atque victoriam dones." If this missal is
posterior to 1014 it must have been the reminiscence of Clontarf which
inspired the prayer for the day following the battle. If the missal is
older than the battle, then the coincidence is curious. The prayer was
just a day late. The same missal mentions in its Litanies the names
Patrick, Brendan, Brigit, Columba, Finnian, Ciaran, and St. Fursa, and
contains collect, secret and post communion pro rege [for the Irish

[27] Evidently the interpolation of a copyist.

[28] The family _banshee_ of the Royal house of Munster.

[29] In Irish, Donnchadh, pronounced "Dunnăχa," as Murchadh is
pronounced "Murrăχa," in English Murrough.

[30] It is edited from the Book of Leinster, a MS. which was copied
about 1150, which contains the first 28 chapters, from a vellum of
about two centuries later, which wants five chapters at the beginning
and eight at the end, and from a perfect transcript made by the
indefatigable Brother Michael O'Clery in 1635 "out of the book of
Cuconnacht O'Daly," who died according to the "Four Masters," in 1139.

[31] _I.e._, Beside his fairy lover. This incident is greatly expanded
in the modern MS. story of the Battle of Clontarf, of which there
exist numerous copies; in these the gliding of history into romance is
very apparent. In the modern version the fairy Aoibheall is introduced
begging O'Hartigan not to fight and promising him life and happiness
for two hundred years if he will put off fighting for only one day.

  "A Dhunlaing seachain an cath
  Gus an mhaidin amárach.
  Geobhair da chéad bliadhan de ré
  Agus seachain cath aon-laé."

[32] This is genuine, and is also quoted by the "Four Masters" and
O'Clery in his Book of Invasions. Probably all the poems are genuine
except the prophecies and the pieces put into the mouths of the actors,
that is of Brian, Mahon, Molloy, and the cleric. These were probably
composed by the writer of the history.



Brian, semi-usurper though he was, was in every sense a great statesman
as well as a great warrior. He found almost every seat of learning
in ruins, and every town and palace in Ireland a shattered wreck.
Before he died he had gone far towards restoring them. He rebuilt the
monasteries, re-erected the churches, refounded the schools. "He sent
professors and masters to teach wisdom and knowledge," says the history
from which we have been quoting; but the schools had been hopelessly
broken up, the scribes had perished, the books--"the countless hosts
of the illuminated books of the men of Erin"--had been burned and
"drowned." Hence he found himself obliged to despatch his emissaries
and the few men of learning who had survived that awful time, "to buy
books beyond the sea and the great ocean, because," says the history,

 "their writings and their books in every church and in every sanctuary
 where they were, were burnt and thrown into water by the plunderers
 from beginning to end [of their invasions], and Brian himself gave the
 price of learning, and the price of books, to every one separately who
 went on this service." "By him were erected also noble churches and
 sanctuaries in Erin ... many works also, and repairs were made by him.
 By him were erected the church of Cell Dálua[1] and the church of Inis
 Cealtra, and the round tower of Tuam Gréine, and many other works in
 like manner. By him were made bridges and causeways and high roads.
 By him were strengthened also the dúns and fortresses and islands and
 celebrated royal forts of Munster.... The peace of Erin was proclaimed
 by him, both of churches and people, so that peace throughout all
 Erin was made in his time. He fined and imprisoned the perpetrators
 of murders, trespass, robbery, and war. He hanged and killed and
 destroyed the robbers and thieves and plunderers of Erin.... After
 the banishment of the foreigners out of all Erin and after Erin was
 reduced to a state of peace, a single woman came from Torach in the
 north of Erin to Clíodhna in the south of Erin, carrying a ring of
 gold on a horse-rod, and she was neither robbed nor insulted."[2]

The bardic schools began to revive again, for the bards too had felt
the full pressure of the invasion, their colleges had been broken
up, and many of themselves been slain. One aim of the Norsemen was
to destroy all learning. "It was not allowed," writes Keating, "to
give instruction in letters." ... "No scholars, no clerics, no books,
no holy relics, were left in church or monastery through dread of
them. _Neither bard nor philosopher nor musician pursued his wonted
profession in the land._"

The eleventh and twelfth centuries, however, witnessed a great revival
of art and learning. Indeed, from the reign of Brian until the coming
of the Normans, Irish metal-work, architecture, and letters flourished
wonderfully. It is from this brief period of comparative rest that
the three most important relics of Celtic literature now in the world
date, the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, the Book of Leinster, and the Book
of Hymns. The eleventh and twelfth centuries produced also many men
of literature, including the annalist Tighearnach who was Abbot of
Clonmacnois and died in 1088; and Dubdaléithe, Archbishop of Armagh,
who died in 1065, who wrote Annals of Ireland which are now lost,
but which are quoted both in the Annals of Ulster and in the "Four
Masters." The greatest scholar, chronologist, and poet of this period
is unquestionably Flann, the _fear-léighinn_ or head-teacher of the
school of Monasterboice, who died in 1056. Though he is called Flann
_Mainstreach_, or Flann of the Monastery, he was really a layman--one
proof out of many, that the schools and colleges which grew up round
religious institutions were as much secular as theological. He composed
a valuable series of synchronisms, in which he synchronised the kings
of the Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, and the Roman emperors, with
the kings of Ireland, in parallel columns century by century, and sums
up the most important portions of his teaching in a poem of some twelve
hundred lines intended evidently as a class-book for his pupils. A
piece of more value is one which synchronises the reigns of the Irish
monarchs with those of the Irish provincial kings and the kings of
Scotland, from the time of King Laeghaire who received St. Patrick,
down to the death of Murtough O'Brien in 1119, these later years having
been completed by some other hand.

No fewer than two thousand lines of Flann's poetry were copied into
the Book of Leinster less than a hundred years after his own death,
and there are nearly as many more in other manuscripts. They are,
however, though composed in elaborate metres, anything but creative
and imaginative poems. The most of them consist of annals or history
versified, evidently with the intention of being committed to memory,
because the great ollamhs like Flann were really rather historians and
philosophers than what we call poets, and they used their metrical art,
very often though not always, to enshrine their knowledge. There is,
however--except to the historian--nothing particularly inspiriting in
a poem of 204 lines on the monarchs of Erin and kings of Meath who are
descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, giving the names, length of
reign, and manner of death of each, despite the undoubted skill with
which the technical difficulties of a thorny metre are overcome.[3]
Some of his pieces, however, are of more living interest, as his poem
on the history of Oileach or Ailech, the palace of the O'Neills near
Derry, in which he takes us to the time of the Tuatha De Danann, and
in his poem on the battles fought by the Kinel Owen. Indeed as O'Curry
well puts it,

 "Many a name lying dead in our genealogical tracts and which has found
 its way into our evidently condensed chronicles and annals, will be
 found in these poems connected with the death or associated with
 the brilliant deeds of some hero whose story we would not willingly
 lose; while, on the other hand, many an obscure historical allusion
 will be illustrated and many an historical spot as yet unknown to the
 topographer will be identified, when a proper investigation of these
 and other great historical poems preserved in the Book of Leinster,
 shall be undertaken as part of the serious study of the history and
 antiquities of our country."[4]

This summing-up of O'Curry's as to the poems of Flann, is one which
may be also applied to several of his contemporaries and successors,
such as Coleman O'Seasnan who died in 1050, one of whose poems on the
kings of Emania and of Ulster contains 328 lines; Giolla Caomhghin
[Gilla Keevin], who died in 1072, some thirteen or fourteen hundred
lines of whose poetry has been preserved; Tanaidhe O'Mulconry, who died
in 1136; Giolla Moduda O'Cassidy, who died in 1143, and whose poems,
still extant, amount to nearly nine hundred lines; and Giolla-na-naomh
O'Dunn who died in 1160, and of whom we still possess fourteen hundred

The compositions of two rather earlier poets, Erard mac Coisé [Cŭsha]
and Cuan O'Lochain possess more interest. They died in 1023 and 1024
respectively. Mac Coisé's four surviving poems and his prose allegory
are all of great interest. As for Cuan O'Lochain, he was chief poet
of Erin in his day, and according to Mac Echagain's "Annals of
Clonmacnois" and an entry in the Book of Leinster, he and a cleric
named Corcran were elected to govern Ireland during the interregnum
which succeeded the death of King Malachy, who quietly reassumed, after
the death of Brian Boru, the High-kingship of which that monarch had
deprived him. This is a convincing proof of the honour attached to the
office of "ollamh of all Ireland."

One of O'Lochain's pieces is of special value, because it describes
and names every chief building, monument, rath, and remarkable spot in
and around Tara, both those erected in Cormac mac Art's time and those
added afterwards; both those which were in ruins when the poet wrote,
and those which had been described by former authors from the time of
Cormac till his own.[6] Another poem of his is on the _geasa_ [gassa]
or tabus of the king of Ireland, and on his prerogatives. It was tabu
for him to let the sun rise on him when in bed in the plains of Tara,
or for him to alight on a Wednesday on the plain of Bregia, or to
traverse the plain of Cuillenn after sunset, or to launch his ship on
the first Monday after May Day, etc. Another is a beautiful poem on the
origin of the river Shannon, called from a lady Sinann, who ventured
near Connla's well, a thing tabu to a female--to steal the nuts of
knowledge. There grew nine splendid mystical hazel trees around this
well, and they produced the most beautiful nuts of rich crimson colour,
and as these lovely nuts, filled full with all that was loveliest and
most refined in literature, poetry, and art, dropped off their branches
into the well, they raised a succession of red shining bubbles. The
salmon at the sound of the falling nuts darted forward to eat them and
afterwards made their way down the river, their lower side covered with
beautiful crimson spots from the effect of the crimson nuts. Whoever
could catch and eat these salmon were in their turn filled with the
knowledge of literature and art, for the power of the nuts had to some
extent passed into the fish that eat them. These were the celebrated
"eó feasa" [yo fassa], or salmon of knowledge, so frequently alluded
to by the poets. To approach this well was tabu to a woman, but Sinann
attempted it, when the well rose up and drowned her, and carried her
body down in a torrent of water to the river which was after her called

Altogether about 1,200 lines of Cuan O'Lochain's poetry have been
preserved.[7] It would be useless for our purpose to go more minutely
into the history of those pre-Norman poets. It is not the known poetry
of early Irish poets which, as a rule, is of most interest to the
purely literary student, but rather the unknown and the traditional.

We must now take a glance at the Irish of this later period upon the

Those brilliant names in the history of European scholarship who
distinguished themselves under Charlemagne, his son, and his grandsons,
Clemens, Dicuil, and Scotus Erigena, who all taught in the Court
schools, Dungal who taught in Pavia, Sedulius who worked in Lüttich,
Fergal, or Virgil who ruled in Salzburg, and Moengal, the teacher of
St. Gall, were not altogether without successors. It is true that
Ireland's great mission of instruction and conversion came to a close
with the eleventh century, yet for two centuries more, driven by that
innate instinct for travel and adventure which was so strong within
them, that it resembled a second nature, we find Irish monks creating
new foundations on the Continent, especially in Germany. One of the
most noteworthy of these was a monk from the present Donegal, Muiredach
mac Robertaigh, who assumed the Latin name of Marianus Scotus, or
Marian the Irishman. In 1076 he had succeeded in establishing an Irish
monastery at Ratisbon, or, as the Germans call it, Regensburg, the fame
of which rapidly spread, and attracted to it many of his countrymen
from Ulster, so many, that the parent monastery failed to accommodate
them; and a branch house, that of St. Jacob, was completed in 1111.
From these points Irish monks penetrated in all directions. Frederick
Barbarossa, in 1189, on his way from the Crusades, founded even at
Skribentium, in what is now Bulgaria, a monastery with an Irish abbot.
About the same time the Irish abbots of Ratisbon are found writing to
King Wratislaw of Bohemia to facilitate the passage of their emissaries
into Poland. Under the influence of these two Irish houses, St. James
of Ratisbon and St. Jacob, quite a number of other Irish monasteries
were founded, that of Wurzburg in 1134, Nürnberg in 1140, Constanz in
1142, St. George in Vienna in 1155, Eichstädt in 1183, St. Maria in
Vienna in 1200.

These Irish monks who, in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth
centuries left the north of Ireland and thus planted themselves in
Germany, were, says Zimmer, worthy successors of those apostles and
scholars who laboured from the seventh to the tenth century in France,
Switzerland, and Burgundy, "full of religious zeal, piety, sobriety,
and a genuine love of earning."[8] A chronicle of the monastery of
Ratisbon, written in 1185, states that the greater part of all the
existing documents belonging to the different Irish monasteries which
sprang from it had been written by Marianus Scotus himself. A specimen,
writes Zimmer, of his beautiful script and the remarkable rapidity of
his work may be seen at the Court Library of Vienna, where is preserved
a copy of St. Paul's Epistles in 160 sheets, written by him in 1079,
between March 23rd and May 17th. Very many of the monks--Malachias,
Patricius, Maclan, Finnian, and others--who came to these monasteries
from Ireland brought books with them which they presented to the German
monasteries. The century which succeeded the Battle of Clontarf was
the most flourishing period of the Irish monks in Germany. In the
thirteenth century their influence visibly declines. Once the English
had commenced the conquest of Ireland the monasteries ceased to be
recruited by men of sanctity and learning, but were resorted to by men
who sought rather material comfort and a life of worldly freedom.[9]
The result was that towards the end of the thirteenth and the beginning
of the fourteenth century most of the Irish establishments in Germany
came to an end, being either made over to Germans, like of those of
Vienna and Würzburg, or else altogether losing their monastic character
like that of Nuremberg.

As for the parent monastery, that of St. James of Ratisbon, its fate
was most extraordinary, and deserves to be told at greater length. It
had, of course, always been from its foundation inhabited by Irish
monks alone, and was known as the Monasterium Scotorum, or Monastery
of the Irishmen. But when in process of time the word Scotus became
ambiguous, or, rather, had come to be almost exclusively applied to
what we now call Scotchmen,[10] the Scotch prudently took advantage of
it, and claimed that they, and not the Irish, were the real founders
of Ratisbon and its kindred institutions, and that the designation
_monasterium Scotorum_ proved it, but that the Irish had gradually and
unlawfully intruded themselves into all these institutions which did
not belong to them. Accordingly it came to pass by the very irony of
fate--analogous to that which made English writers of the last century
claim Irish books and Irish script as Anglo-Saxon--that the great
parent monastery of St. James of Ratisbon was actually given up to the
Scotch by Leo X. in 1515, and all the unfortunate Irish monks there
living were driven out! The Scotch, however, do not seem to have made
much of their new abode, for though the monastery contained some able
men during the first century of its occupation by them--

 "It exercised," says Zimmer, "no influence worth mentioning upon the
 general cultivation of the German people of that region, and may
 be considered but a small contributor towards mediæval culture in
 general, for the only share the Scotch monks can really claim in a
 monument like that of the Church of St. James of Ratisbon, is the fact
 of their having collected the gold for its erection from the pockets
 of the Germans. In comparison with these how noble appear to us those
 apostles from Ireland, of whom we find so many traces in different
 parts of the kingdom, of the monks from the beginning of the seventh
 to the end of the tenth century"!

This monastery was finally secularised in 1860.

[1] Killaloe, Inniscaltra, and Tomgraney.

[2] On this episode Moore wrote his melody, "Rich and rare were the gems
she wore." An Irish poet contemporaneous with this event celebrated it
less poetically--

  "O Thoraigh co Clíodna cais
  Is fail óir aice re a h-ais
  I ré Bhriain taoibh-ghil nár thim
  Do thimchil aoin-bhen Eirinn."

[3] Compare the first verse in _Deibhidh_ metre--

  "Midhe Maigen Chlainne Cuind,
  Cáin-fhorod Clainne Neill Neart-luind,
  _Cride_ [Cain] Banba Bricce,
  _Mide_ Magh na Mór-chipe."

_I.e._, "Meath, the place of the children of Conn, beautiful house of
the children of Niall, strength-renowned. The heart of celebrated Erin,
Meath, the place of the great battalions."

[4] O'Curry's "Manners and Customs," vol. ii, p. 156.

[5] There are a great number of other poets of whom only one or
two poems survive, and others are mentioned as great poets by the
annalists, of whom not a line has come down to us.

[6] This piece has been published at full length in Petrie's "History
and Antiquities of Tara."

[7] There are two different etymologies of the name in a poem on the
river Shannon of several hundred verses, made by a native of the county
Roscommon in the eventful year 1798. There is also a different version
of the origin of the river in a folk tale which I recovered this year
from a native of the same county.

[8] "Sie waren noch würdige Epigonen jener Glaubensboten und Gelehrten
des 7-10 Jahrhunderts, die wir im Frankreich kennen lernten; voll
Glaubenseifer, Frömmigkeit, Enthaltsamkeit und Sinn für Studien"
("Preussisches Jahrbuch," January, 1887).

[9] "Propter abundantiam et propter liberam voluntatem vivendi," quotes

[10] F. F. Warren, quoted by Miss Stokes in her "Six Months in the
Apennines," gives a list of twenty-nine Irish monasteries in France,
and eighteen in Germany and Switzerland, with many more in the
Netherlands and in Italy. Numberless others founded by the Irish passed
into foreign hands.



The semi-usurpation of Brian Boru, which broke through the old
prescriptional usage (according to which the High-kings of Ireland had,
for the preceding five hundred years, been elected only from amongst
the northern or southern Ui Neill, that is, from the descendants of
Niall of the Nine Hostages), produced no evil effects, but much good
so long as Brian himself lived; yet his action was destined to have
the worst possible influence upon the future of Ireland, an evil
influence comparable only to that caused by the desertion of Tara
four centuries and a half before. The High-kingship being thus thrown
open, as it were, to any Irish chief sufficiently powerful to wrest
it from the others, became an object of constant dispute and warfare,
the O'Neills kings of Ulster, the O'Conors of Connacht, the O'Briens
of Munster, and the princes of Leinster, all contended for it, so that
from the death of Malachy, Brian Boru's successor, there was scarcely a
single High-king who was not, as the Irish annalists call it, "a king
with opposition."[1] Hence despite the immediate revival of art and
literature which followed the defeat of the Northmen, the country was
in many ways politically weakened, the inherent defects of the clan
system accentuated, and the land, already much exhausted by the Danish
wars,[2] was left open to the invasion of the Normans.

It was in May, 1169, that the first force of these new invaders landed,
and, aided by the incompetence of a particularly feeble High-king,
they had so thoroughly established themselves in Ireland by the close
of the century, that they succeeded in putting an end to the Irish
High-kingship, under which Ireland had subsisted for over a thousand
years. Then began that permanent war--very different, indeed, from what
the Irish tribes waged among themselves--which, almost from its very
commencement, _thoroughly arrested Irish development, and disintegrated
Irish life_.

It is not too much to say that for three centuries after the Norman
Conquest Ireland produced nothing in art, literature, or scholarship,
even faintly comparable to what she had achieved before. With the
Normans came collapse;

  "Red ruin and the breaking up of laws,"

and all the horrors of chronic and remorseless warfare.

We must now examine the history of Irish art, as displayed in
metal-work, buildings, and illuminated manuscripts.

That peculiar class of design which Irish artists developed so
successfully in "the countless hosts of the illuminated books of
the men of Erin," is not really of Irish origin at all. It is not
even Celtic. The late researches of M. Solomon Reinach and others
into the genuine remains of the Celts of Gaul and the Continent have
discovered in their ornamentation scarcely a trace at all of the
so-called Irish patterns. They are in truth not Irish, but Eastern.
They seem to have started from Byzantium, spread over Dalmatia and
North Italy, and finally found their way into Ireland. The early
forms of pre-Christian Irish art show no trace whatsoever of those
peculiar interlaced patterns and convoluted figures which are usually
associated with the name of Celtic design. The engraved patterns on
the tumulus of New Grange, dating from probably about 800[3] years
before the Christian era, and the similar scribings upon sepulchral
chambers at Louchcrew, Telltown, and other places, do not show a
particle of interlaced work, but consist for the most part of circles
with rays, arrangements of concentric circles, patterns of double and
triple spirals, and lozenges. Indeed, it is the spiral, in countless
forms and applications, which seems to have been really indigenous to
the earliest inhabitants of Ireland, and with it the interlaced and
convoluted figures of non-Irish post-Christian art became blended,
gradually driving it out. These in their turn perished, degraded and
abased by admixture with Gothic forms introduced by the Normans, whose
invasion soon put an end to the development of all art in Ireland save
that of architecture.

The so-called Celtic design of Ireland, with its interlaced bands,
its convolutions, its knots, its triquetras, is really a survival of
what once, starting from the East, spread over a large portion of
western and northern Europe, but which soon died out there overwhelmed
by Gothic and other influences; whilst in Ireland, where it was
applied with far truer artistic feeling and far finer elaboration
than elsewhere, it has been preserved in countless works of stone,
bronze, and parchment. A scrutiny of early Scandinavian art and of
the architectural styles of Italy known as the Latino-Barbaro and
Italo-Bizantino, with portions of the art of other countries, have
revealed traces of the so-called Celtic designs in places and under
circumstances which prove that they cannot be--as used to be generally
supposed--the work of exiled Irishmen. Nevertheless, there is a certain
individuality in the working out of these designs when brought to
perfection by Irish hands, which sufficiently distinguishes Irish art
from that of other countries. For in Ireland the interlaced decoration
was grafted on to the more archaic and pre-Christian style.

 "The peculiar spirals found on these bronzes of that [pre-Christian]
 time," says Miss Stokes,[4] "the trumpet pattern, the even more
 archaic single-line spirals, zigzags, lozenges, circles, dots, are all
 woven in with interlaced designs, with marvellous skill and sense of
 beauty and charm of varied surface, added to which is an unsurpassed
 feeling for colour where the style admits of colour, as in enamels and
 illumination. Besides all this, the interlacings, taken by themselves,
 gradually undergo a change in character under the hand of an Irish
 artist. They become more inextricable, more involved, more infinitely
 varied in their twistings and knottings, and more exquisitely precise
 and delicate in execution than they are ever seen to be on continental
 work, so far as my experience goes."

The original pre-Christian art of the Irish Celts, that known to
Cuchulain and Conor mac Nessa and the heroes of the Red Branch,
survives only upon a few bronzes and upon the stones of a few
sepulchral mounds. The tracings upon the sepulchral mounds are
rude--though we find in some instances evidences of designs
deliberately worked out to cover a given surface--and they mostly
consist of recognisable symbols of Sun and Fire worship. The bronze
sword-sheaths of Lisnacroghera, which are magnificent specimens of
early Irish art, are a development of these patterns, but bear no trace
of that interlaced work which was introduced with Christianity. There
are several other bronze ornaments, evidently pre-Christian, which
exhibit the same kind of designs, notably what appear to be two horns
of a radiated crown exquisitely decorated by spiral lines in relief,
and which, said Mr. Kemble, "for beauty of design and execution may
challenge comparison with any specimen of cast bronze-work that it has
ever been my fortune to see." Miss Stokes, however, has shown that
these pieces were not cast, but repoussé, and consequently, she writes--

 "If not the finest pieces of casting ever seen, yet as specimens of
 design and workmanship they are perhaps unsurpassed. The surface is
 here overspread with no vague lawlessness, but the ornament is treated
 with fine reserve, and the design carried out with the precision and
 delicacy of a master's touch. The ornament on the cone flows round and
 upwards in lines gradual and harmonious as the curves in ocean surf,
 meeting and parting only to meet again in lovelier forms of flowing
 motion. In the centre of the circular plate below--just at the point
 or hollow whence all these lines flow round and upwards, at the very
 heart, as it might seem, of the whole work--a crimson drop of clear
 enamel may be seen."

These beautiful fragments are almost certainly pre-Christian, and may
even have been worn by Conairé the Great or Conor mac Nessa. They
represent a variety of design which stands midway between the stone
engravings and the art of the early Christians. It is a remarkable
fact, amply proven and universally acknowledged, that the bronze-work
of the pre-Christian Irish was never surpassed by their post-Christian
metal-work. Indeed, while the pagan Irish are proved to have attained
great skill in the art of design, in working of metals, and especially
in the art of enamelling by various processes, the specimens of
the earliest Christian metal-work, such as St. Patrick's bell, are
exceedingly rude and barbarous--possibly because the skilled pagan
workmen did not turn their hands to such business, and the Christian
converts had themselves to do the best they could.

Many of the monks, however, appear to have given themselves up to
metal-work, and reached a very high pitch of excellence in it, as
may be seen at a glance by the inspection of such master works as the
two-handed Ardagh chalice, the cross of Cong, and numerous shrines,
cúmhdachs [coodachs], or book-cases, and croziers. The ornamental
designs upon the later Christian metal-work reached their highest
perfection in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and the work of this
period exhibits about forty different varieties of design, in which
animal forms are only sparingly used, and in which there is no trace
of foliate pattern. Indeed, these are not found in Irish metal-work
before the period of decadence in the thirteenth century. Although the
best specimens of Christian art in metal-work belong to the tenth and
eleventh centuries, we are not to assume from this that the metal-work
of the earlier Christian artists did not keep pace with the work of
the early Christian scribes, who produced such magnificent specimens
of penmanship and colour in the seventh and eighth centuries. They may
have done so, but no relics of their work are left. According to Dr.
Petrie, few, if any, of the more distinguished churches of Ireland were
destitute of beautiful metal-work in the shape of costly shrines at the
coming of the Norseman, as the frequent allusions in the Irish annals
show; but scarcely one of these escaped their destructive raids, and
hence the finest surviving specimens are of a much later date than the
finest surviving manuscripts,[5] which were only destroyed whenever met
with, but were not, like the costly metal-work, an object of eager and
unremitting pursuit.

In sculpture the Irish never produced anything finer than their tall,
shapely, richly but not over-richly ornamented Celtic crosses. The
Ogam-inscribed stones, of which over a couple of hundred remain,
are perfectly plain and undecorative. Some of the later inscribed
tombstones (of which some two hundred and fifty remain), contain, it is
true, fine chisel-work, but the numerous high Celtic crosses, covered
many of them with elaborate sculpture in relief, with undercutting,
and ornamented with the divergent and interlaced spiral pattern, show
the finest artistic instinct. Most of these beautiful works of art are
later than the year 900, but hardly one is posterior to the Norman
invasion, which soon put a stop to such artistic luxuries.

The Irish were not a nation of builders. Most of the early Irish
houses, even at Tara, were, as we have seen, of wood. The ordinary
dwelling-house was either a cylindrical hut of wicker-work with a
cup-shaped roof, plastered with clay and thatched with reeds, or else
a quadrilateral house built of logs or of clay. The so-called city of
Royal Tara was, in fact, a vast enclosure, containing quite a number
of different raths, and houses inside the raths. The buildings seem to
have been constructed of the timbers of lofty trees planted side by
side, probably carved into fantastic shapes upon the outside, while the
inside walls were closely interwoven with slender rods, over which a
putty or plaster of loam was smoothly spread, which, when even and dry,
was painted in bright colours, chiefly red, yellow, and blue. The roofs
were formed of smooth joists and cross-beams, and probably thatched
with rods and rushes, much in the same manner as the houses of the
peasantry to-day. The floors appear to have been of earth, carefully
hardened and beaten down, and then covered with a coat of some kind
of hard and shiny mortar. No doubt some very fine barbaric effects
were realised in these buildings, some of which, as is evidenced by
the description of Cormac's Teach Midhchuarta, must have been immense.
There were as many as seven dúns, or raths, round Tara, each containing
within it many houses, and each surrounded by a mound, or vallum,
planted with a stockade like a Maori pah.[6] The finest house of
all, painted in the gayest colours, planted in the sunniest spot, and
provided overhead with a balcony, was reserved for the ladies of the
place, and was called the grianán [greeanawn], or sunny house.

Stone, however, was used in places, at a very early date, long before
the first century, as may be seen from the stone forts of western
and south-western Ireland, huge structures of which one of the best
known is Dún-Angus, in the Isle of Arran, but there was no knowledge
of mortar. Masonry was also used occasionally by the early monks
in constructing their little clocháns, or beehive cells, and their
oratories, with rounded roofs, built without a vestige of an arch, the
whole surrounded by an uncemented stone wall, or cashel.

The Irish do not seem to have done much in stone-work until the Danish
invasions forced them to construct the round towers in which to take
shelter when the enemy was upon them, saving thus their jewels, books,
and shrines. The Danes, who made rapid marches across the country,
could not burn these towers nor throw them down, nor could they spend
the time necessary to reduce them by famine, lest the country should
be roused behind them, and their retreat to their ships cut off. The
idea and form of the round tower the Irish almost certainly derived
from the East. In Lord Dunraven's "Notes on Irish Architecture" the
path of these buildings from Ravenna across Europe and into Ireland is
distinctly shown; but while only about a score of examples survive in
the rest of Europe, Ireland alone possesses a hundred and eighteen of
these curious structures. There are three well-marked styles of towers.
The doors and windows of the earlier ones are primitive and horizontal,
but in the later ones the rude entablature of the earlier towers has
given way to the decorated Romanesque arch, and the beauty and number
of the arched windows is greatly increased.

The transition from the horizontal to the round-arched style is shown
in the Church of Iniscaltra, erected two years after the battle
of Clontarf, and many years before the true Romanesque appeared
in England. From that time till the coming of the Normans, Irish
ecclesiastical architecture--the only kind practised, for the Irish did
not live in or build castles--progressed enormously, and several fine
specimens belonging to the twelfth century still survive.

 "The remains," writes Miss Stokes, "of a great number of monuments
 belonging to the period between the fifth and twelfth centuries
 of the Christian era, have survived untouched by the hand either
 of the restorer or of the destroyer, and in them, when arranged
 in consecutive series, we can trace the development from an early
 and rude beginning to a very beautiful result, and watch the
 dovetailing, as it were, of one style into another, till an Irish
 form of Romanesque architecture grew into perfection. The form of the
 Irish Church points to an original type which has almost disappeared
 elsewhere--that of the Shrine or Ark, not of the Basilica."

The Norman invasion, however, put a complete stop to the natural
development of Irish Romanesque, and changed the building of churches
into that of castles, in which the Irish only copied, so far as they
built at all, the pattern of the invader.

The art, however, in which the Irish earliest excelled, and in which
they have really no rivals in Europe, was in that of writing and
illuminating manuscripts. The most recent authority on the subject,
Johan Adolf Brunn in his "Inquiry into the Art of Illuminated MSS. of
the Middle Ages," acknowledges that the fame of the Celtic school,
"dating from the darker centuries of the Middle Ages, excels that of
any of its rivals." Westwood, the great British authority, declares
that were it not for Irishmen these islands would contain no primitive
works of art worth mentioning, and asserts that the Book of Kells
is "unquestionably the most elaborately executed manuscript of so
early a date, now in existence." Even Giraldus Cambrensis, who came
in with the early Normans, was struck dumb with admiration of the
exquisite book shown him at Kildare, which of all the miracles with
which Kildare was credited was to him the greatest. Here, he writes,
"you may see the visage of majesty divinely impressed, on one side
the mystic forms of the evangelists having now six, now four, now two
wings, on one side the eagle, on another the calf, on one side the face
of a man, on the other of a lion, and an almost infinite quantity of
other figures.... A careless glance at the whole," he goes on to say,
"reveals no particular excellence, but if, looking closer at it, the
spectator examined the work in detail he would see how extraordinarily
subtle and delicate were the knots and lines, how bright and fresh the
colours remained, how interlaced and bound together was the whole, so
that we would feel inclined to believe that it could hardly be a human
composition but the works of angels. In fact," writes Cambrensis, "the
oftener and closer I inspect it,[7] the more certain I am to be struck
with something new, with something ever more and more wonderful."
Indeed, the story ran, that such figures and such colouring were due
to no mere mortal invention, but that an angel had appeared to the
scribe in his sleep and taught him how to make these wondrous drawings,
"and thus," adds Cambrensis, "through the revelation of the angel,
the prayer of Brigit, and the imitation of the scribe, that book was

Now Giraldus Cambrensis, as Johan Adolf Brunn observes, "knew to
perfection the master-achievements of the non-Celtic schools of art of
contemporary date," and "although referring to a particular work of
especial merit," says Brunn, "the testimony of this mediæval writer may
well be placed at the head of an inquiry into the art in general of
the Celtic illuminated manuscripts, emphasising as it does the salient
characteristics of the style followed by this distinguished school
of illumination, its minute and delicate drawing, its brilliancy of
colouring, and, above all, that amazing amount of devoted and patient
labour, which underlies its intricate composition, and creates the
despair of any one who tries to copy them."

Between six and seven centuries later Westwood expresses himself in
terms not unlike those of Cambrensis, of the now scanty remains of
ancient Irish illumination--

 "Especially deserving of notice," he writes, "is the extreme delicacy
 and wonderful precision, united with an extraordinary minuteness of
 detail with which many of these ancient manuscripts were ornamented.
 I have examined with a magnifying glass the pages of the Gospel of
 Lindisfarne, and the Book of Kells, for hours together, without ever
 detecting a false line or an irregular interlacement; and when it is
 considered that many of these details consist of spiral lines, and are
 so minute as to be impossible to have been executed without a pair of
 compasses, it really seems a problem not only with what eyes but also
 with what instruments they could have been executed.... I counted in
 a small space, measuring scarcely three quarters of an inch by less
 than half an inch in width, in the Book of Armagh, not fewer than one
 hundred and fifty-eight interlacements of a slender ribbon pattern
 formed in white lines edged with black ones upon a black ground."[8]

The Book of Armagh, as we have seen, was written in 807, or perhaps, as
the "Four Masters" antedate at this period, in 812, while the Book of
Kells is ascribed, according to the best judges, to the close of the
seventh century.

The seventh and eight centuries, before the island was disturbed by
the Danes, were the most flourishing period of the Irish illuminator
and scribe. But their schools continued to turn out very fine work as
late as the twelfth century, and Gilbert, in his "Facsimiles of the
National Manuscripts of Ireland," states that there are perhaps no
finer specimens of minute old writing extant than those in the margins
and interlineations of a copy of the Gospels written by Maelbrigte Ua
Maelruanaigh [Mulroony], in Armagh, in 1138, that is, seventeen years
after that city had for the last time been burnt and plundered by the

Like all the other arts of civilised life, that of the illuminator and
decorative scribe was brought to a standstill by the Norman warriors,
nor do the Irish appear after this period to have produced a single
page worth the reproduction of the artistic palæographer. The reason
of this, no doubt, was that the Irish artist in former days could--no
matter how septs fell out or warring tribes harried one another--count
upon the sympathy of his fellow countrymen even when they were hostile.
Under the new conditions caused by the Norman settlements in each of
the four provinces, he could count on nothing, not even on his own
life. All confidence was shaken, all peace of mind was gone, the very
name of so-called government produced a universal terror, and Ireland
became, to use a graphic expression of the Four Masters, a "trembling
sod." "No words," writes Mrs. Sophie Bryant, with perfect truth, "could
describe that arrest of development so eloquently or so lucidly as the
facts of Irish art-history." "Since then" [_i.e._, since the Norman
invasion], writes Miss Stokes, one of the highest living authorities
upon this subject, "the native character of Ireland has best found
expression in her music. No work of purely Celtic art, whether in
illumination of the sacred writings, or in gold, or bronze, or stone,
was wrought by Irish hands after that century and as we shall now see
this decay of Irish art is reflected in the falling off" of Irish
literature, which continued languishing until the great revival which
took place about the year 1600.

[1] After Malachy reigned Donough O'Brien, son of Brian Boru; after him
Diarmuid of Leinster, of the race of Cáthaoir Mór; after him two other
O'Briens, then an O'Lochlainn king of Ulster, then O'Conor of Connacht,
then another O'Lochlainn, and then another O'Conor, King Roderick, in
whose time the Normans landed.

[2] Although the backbone of the Danish power was broken at Clontarf,
desultory warfare with them did not cease for long after. Even so late
as 1021 they were able to penetrate into the city of Armagh for the
seventeenth time during two hundred years, and burnt the whole city to
the ground, with its churches and books. Within two years of the battle
of Clontarf they burned Glendalough and Clonard.

[3] This is the minimum date assigned them by Mr. George Coffey in his
admirable monograph upon the subject.

[4] "Six Months in the Apennines," Introductory Letter.

[5] The earliest surviving book-shrine, that of Molaise's Gospels, was
made between the year 1001 and 1025; the earliest dated crozier is 967;
the earliest bell-shrine may be assigned to 954. The Cross of Cong
dates from about 1123. That the earlier Christian craftsmen must have
made good work, if only it had survived, may be inferred from the fine
silver chalice of Kremsmünster, in Lower Austria, dating from between
the years 757 and 781.

[6] This was the case with most of those earthen circumvallations,
called in different parts of Ireland _raths_ and _lisses_, and in
Hibernian English _forts_ or _forths_. The houses were inside the
embankment, which was in most cases protected by a wall of stakes
planted round its summit.

[7] The whole passage is worth transcribing in the original. "Inter
numerosa Kildariæ miracula nihil mihi miraculosius occurrit quam liber
ille mirandus, tempore Virginis [he means St. Brigit] ut aiunt, angelo
dictante, consumptus. Hic Majestatis vultum videas divinitus impressum,
hinc mysticas Evangelistarum formas, nunc senas, nunc quaternas, nunc
binas alas habentes: hinc aquilam, inde vitulum, hinc hominis faciem,
inde leonis, aliasque figuras fere infinitas. Quas si superficialiter
et usuali more minus acute conspexeris, litura potius videbitur quam
ligatura, nec ullam prorsus attendes subtilitatem. Sin autem ad
perspicacius intuendum oculorum aciem invitaveris, et longe penitius ad
artis arcana et transpenetraveris, tam delicatas et subtiles tam arctas
et artitas, tam nodosas et vinculatim colligatas, tam que recentibus
adhuc coloribus illustratas, notare poteris intricaturas, ut veré hæc
omnia potius angelica quam humana diligentia jam asseveraveris esse
composita. Hæc equidem quanto frequentius et diligentius intueor semper
quasi novis obstupeo semper magis ac magis admiranda conspicio." Master
of the Rolls series, vol. v., p. 123.

[8] "The Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish MSS."



For four centuries after the Anglo-Norman, or more properly the
Cambro-Norman invasion, the literature of Ireland seems to have
been chiefly confined to the schools of the bards, and the bards
themselves seem to have continued on the rather cut-and-dry lines
of tribal genealogy, religious meditations, personal eulogium, clan
history, and elegies for the dead. There reigns during this period a
lack of imagination and of initiative in literature; no new ground is
broken, no fresh paths entered on, no new saga-stuff unearthed, no
new metres discovered. There is great technical skill exhibited, but
little robust originality; great cleverness of execution, but little
boldness of conception. How closely the bards ran in the groove of
their predecessors is evident from the number of poems of doubtful
authorship, ascribed by some authorities to bards of the pre-Norman
or even Danish period, and by others to poets of the thirteenth,
fourteenth, or even fifteenth centuries, the work of the later period
being so very often both in style and language scarcely distinguishable
from the earlier which it imitates.

Another characteristic of these four centuries is the number of
hereditary bards of the same name and family which we find generation
after generation, each one imitating his predecessor, and producing
his inauguration odes, his eulogies, and his elegies, for each
succeeding race of chiefs and patrons.

This period is the post-epic, post-saga period. Probably not one of
the Red Branch stories was even materially altered during it. Stories
of the Fenian cycle, however, continued to be propagated and improved
upon, and no doubt many new ones were invented. But there is little or
no trace of the composition of fresh miscellaneous saga, and the only
poetry that seems to have flourished beside the classic metres of the
bards is the so-called "Ossianic," a good deal of which may, perhaps,
have assumed something of its present form during this period.

Some attempt there was at the careful keeping of annals, but scarcely
any at writing regular history, though the fifteenth century produced
McCraith's "Exploits of Torlough," to be noticed further on. We shall
now briefly glance at this period age by age.

The thirteenth century, that succeeding the coming of the Normans, is
far more barren in literature than the one which preceded them. Only
five or six poets are mentioned as belonging to it, and their surviving
poems amount to only a few hundred lines, with the exception of those
of the great religious bard Donogha Mór O'Daly, who died in 1244 "a
poet," record the "Four Masters," "who never was and never shall be
surpassed." All his poems extant are of a religious character. He was
buried in the abbey of Boyle, in the county of Roscommon, in which
county I have heard, up to a few years ago, verses ascribed to him
repeated by more than one old peasant. It is usually believed that
he was a cleric and abbot of the beautiful monastery of Boyle, but
there is no evidence for this, and he may have been in fact a layman.
Thirty-one poems of his, containing in all some four thousand two
hundred lines, have been preserved, and for their great smoothness
have earned for their author the not very happy title of the Ovid of
Ireland. Here is a specimen of one of his shorter pieces, written on
his unexpectedly finding himself unable to shed a tear after his
arriving at Loch Derg on a pilgrimage:

 "Alas, for my journey to Loch Derg, O King of the churches and the
 bells; 'I have come' to weep thy bruises and thy wound, and yet from
 my eye there cometh not a tear.[1]

 "With an eye that moistens not its pupil, after doing every evil, no
 matter how great, with a heart that seeketh only (its own) peace,
 alas! O king, what shall I do?

 "Without sorrowfulness of heart, without softening, without
 contrition, or weeping for my faults,--Patrick head of the clergy, he
 never thought that he could gain God in this way.

 "The one son of Calphurn, since we are speaking of him, 'alas! O
 Virgin, sad my state!' he was never seen whilst alive without the
 trace of tears in his eye.

 "In (this) hard, narrow stone-walled (cell), after all the evil I have
 done, all the pride I have felt. Alas! my pity! that I find no tear,
 and I buried alive in the grave.

 "O one-Son, by whom all were created, and who didst not shun the death
 of the three thorns, with a heart than which stone is not more hard,
 'tis pity my journey to Loch Derg."

Here is another specimen, a good deal of which I once heard from a poor
beggarman in the County Mayo, but it is also preserved in numerous

  "My son, remember what I _say_,
    That on the _Day_ of Judgment's shock,
  When men go stumbling down the _Mount_,
    The sheep may _count_ thee of their flock.[2]

  And narrow though thou find the path
    To Heaven's high rath, and hard to gain,
  I warn thee shun yon broad white road
    That leads to the abode of pain.

  For us is many a snare designed,
    To fill our mind with doubts and fears.
  Far from the land where lurks no sin,
    We dwell within our Vale of Tears.

  Not on the world thy love bestow,
    Passing as flowers that blow and die;
  Follow not thou the specious track
    That turns the back on God most high.

  But oh! let faith, let hope, let love,
    Soar far above this cold world's way,
  Patience, humility, and awe--
    Make them thy law from day to day.

  And love thy neighbour as thyself,
    (Not for his pelf thy love should be),
  But a greater love than every love
    Give God above who loveth thee.

   * * * * *

  The seven shafts wherewith the Unjust
    Shoots hard to thrust us from our home,
  Canst thou avoid their fiery path,
    Dread not the wrath that is to come.

  Shun sloth, shun greed, shun sensual fires,
    (Eager desires of men enslaved)
  Anger and pride and hatred shun,
    Till heaven be won, till man be saved.

  To Him, our King, to Mary's son
    Who did not shun the evil death,
  Since He our hope is, He alone,
    Commit thy body, soul, and breath.

  Since Hell each man pursues each day,
    Cleric and lay, till life be done,
  Be not deceived as others may,
    Remember what I say, my son."[3]

The fourteenth century possesses exactly the same characteristics as
the thirteenth, only the poets are more numerous. O'Reilly mentions
over a score of them whose verses amount to nearly seven thousand
lines. Of these the best known is probably John Mór O'Dúgan of whom
about 2,600 lines survive--important rather for the information they
convey than for their poetry. His greatest, or at least his most
valuable piece, is about the tribes and territories of the various
districts in Meath, Ulster, and Connacht, on the arrival of the
Normans, and the names of the chiefs who ruled them.[4] In this poem
he devotes 152 lines to Meath, 354 to Ulster, 328 to Connacht, and
only 56 to Leinster, death having apparently carried him off (in the
year 1372) before he had finished his researches into the tribes
and territories of that district. But luckily for us his younger
contemporary--Gilla-na-naomh O'Huidhrin [Heerin]--took it up and
completed it,[5] so that the two poems, usually copied together, form
a single piece of 1,660 lines in _deibhidh_ [d'yĕvee] metre, which has
thrown more light upon names and territories than perhaps any other
of the same extent. It is, despite the difficult and recondite verse,
a work mainly of research and not of poetry. The same may be said of
nearly all O'Dugan's poems, another of which called the "Forus Focal,"
is really a vocabulary in verse of obsolete words, which though of
similar orthography have different or even contrary meanings. It was
in this century the great miscellaneous collection called the Book of
Ballymote was compiled.

The fifteenth century differs very little in character from the
preceding one. We find about the same number of poets with about the
same amount of verses--between six and seven thousand lines, according
to O'Reilly--still surviving, or as O'Reilly underrates the number,
probably about ten thousand lines. The poets were now beginning to feel
the rude weight of the prosaic Saxon, and Fergal O'Daly chief poet of
Corcamroe, Maurice O'Daly a poet of Breffhy, Dermot O'Daly of Meath,
Hugh Óg Mac Curtin, and Dubhthach [Duffach] son of Eochaidh [Yohee]
"the learned," with several more, are mentioned as having been cruelly
plundered and oppressed by Lord Furnival and the English. It was in
this century that those most valuable annals usually called the Annals
of Ulster were compiled from ancient books now lost, by Cathal Maguire
who was born in 1438. The great collection called the Book of Lecan was
copied at the beginning of this century, and another most important
work the "Caithréim, or warlike exploits of Turlough O'Brien," was
written about the year 1459 by John Mac Craith, chief historian of
North Munster. This though composed in a far more exaggerated and
inflated style than even the "War of the Gael with the Gaill," which
it resembles, yet gives the most accurate account we have of the
struggles of the Irish against the English in Munster from the landing
of Henry II. till the death of Lord de Clare in 1318. It was at the
very beginning of this century the hagiographical collection called the
Leabhar Breac was made.

The sixteenth century cannot properly be said to mark a transition
period in Irish literature, as it does in the literature of so many
other European countries. It has, indeed, left far more numerous
documents behind it than the preceding one, but this is mainly due to
the fact that less time has elapsed during which they could be lost.
Their style and general contents differ little, until the very close
of the century, from those of their predecessors. O'Reilly chronicles
the names of about forty poets whose surviving pieces amount to over
ten thousand lines. But so many MSS. which were in O'Reilly's time
in private hands, or which, like the Stowe MSS., were unapproachable
by students, have since been deposited in public libraries or become
otherwise accessible, that it would, I think, be safe to add at least
half as much again to O'Reilly's computation. I have even in my own
possession poems by nearly a dozen writers belonging to the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries whose names are not mentioned at all by
O'Reilly; and the O'Conor Don has shown me a manuscript copied at
Ostend, in Belgium, in 1631, for one Captain Alexander Mac Donnell,
from which O'Curry transcribed a thousand pages of poems "of which with
a very few exceptions," he writes, "no copies are known to me elsewhere
in Ireland." A considerable number of these poems, nearly all of them
unknown to O'Reilly, were composed in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and
sixteenth centuries, so that this one manuscript alone would largely
swell O'Reilly's estimate for this period.

Enormous quantities of books however, belonging to the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, have been lost, and are still being lost
every day. It is an accident that Friar O'Gara's[6] and the O'Conor
Don's collection--both compiled abroad--have escaped. If, during the
middle of the sixteenth century, a collector of poetry had gone round
transcribing the classical poems of that age, he would have found large
collections preserved in the houses of almost every scion of the old
Gaelic nobility, with scarcely an exception. On the break-up of the
houses of the Irish chiefs the archives of their families and their
manuscript libraries were lost or carried abroad. An excellent example
of what may be called tribal poetry, such as every great Gaelic house
possessed, is contained in a manuscript in Trinity College, which a
Fellow of the last century, called O'Sullivan, luckily got transcribed
for himself, and which is now in the college library.[7] The collection
thus made, from about 1570 to 1615, goes under the title of the "Book
of the O'Byrnes," and contains sixty or seventy poems made by their
own family bards and by several of the leading bards of Ireland, for
the various members of the O'Byrnes of Ranelagh near Dublin, and of
the O'Byrnes of Wicklow, who for three generations maintained their
struggle with the English, only succumbing in the beginning of the
seventeenth century.

Other family records of this nature, which were once possessed in every
county by the bardic families and by the chiefs, have perished by the
score. A glance at a few typical poems belonging to the O'Byrnes will
give a good idea of the functions of the sixteenth-century bards, and
the nature of their poems. They are composed on all kinds of subjects
connected with the wars, genealogy, and history of the tribe and its
chiefs. Many are eulogiums, some warnings, some political poems, some
elegies. Here are two or three specimens; the first a poem of fifty-six
lines, by Angus O'Daly, on the head of one of the chiefs of the clan
spiked on the battlements of Dublin.

  "O body which I see without a head,
  It is the sight of thee which has withered up my strength,
  Divided and impaled in Ath-cliath [Dublin],
  The learned of Banba [Ireland] will feel its loss.[8]

  Who will relieve the wants of the poor?
  Who will bestow cattle on the learned?
  O body, since thou art without a head
  It is not life which we care to choose after thee."

Another poem, by John O'Hĭginn asks who[9] will buy nine verses
from him. By his hand he swears, though high the fame of the men of
Leinster, they are all cowed now. The O'Tooles of the once heavy gifts
have consented to the peace of the English, and till they revoke it
they will not give one white groat for twenty-marks-worth of a poem.
The Cavanaghs are as bad, the Fitzgeralds and the O'Mores, too, are
afraid of the foreigners to buy a poem. One man alone is not obedient
to foreign English custom, Aodh [O'Byrne] son of John, the true
sweetheart of the bardic schools of the race of the plain of Conn.
Except him, the grandson of Redmond alone, the poet sees not one who
will buy his nine stanzas--or if such exist, he knows them not.[10]

Another poem of 180 lines by Eochaidh [Yohee] O'Hussey is on the
extreme winsomeness and beauty of a certain lady of the O'Byrnes, Rose
by name, probably the famous wife of Fiach O'Byrne, who, poor thing,
was afterwards captured by the English in 1595 and by them burned alive
in the yard of Dublin Castle. The English statesmen who record this
piece of work in the State Papers, did not in the least understand the
civilisation or customs of Lady Rose, her bards and her clan, and it
is only at the present day that it is possible for the scholar through
the medium of the State Papers on one side and native Irish documents
on the other, to put himself _en rapport_ with both parties; it is
a process both absorbing and painful. "What is troubling the ladies
of the Gael?" asks the poet, "is it want of gold or lack of jewels,
wherefore is the dear troop downcast? Why are the queens of princely
race disquieted? Why rise they up heavy at heart? Why lie they down
discomfited? Why are their spirits troubled? It is because one lady
so excels them all, she is the troubler of the hosts of the men of
Inisfail, the one cause of the sorrow of our ladies. Let me," adds the
poet gallantly, "have the singing of her."[11]

Another is by Maoilsheachlainn [Malachy in English] O'Coffey, on seeing
one of the O'Byrnes' strongholds, probably Ballinacor, occupied by a
stranger.[12] Another by one of the O'Mulconrys warns Fiach O'Byrne,
that whether he likes to hear it or not, the axe of the English is
raised above his head to strike him down.[13] The poet points to the
Leinster septs who had been exterminated or escaped destruction by
making submission, and how is Fiach to escape, and specially how to
escape treachery?

Another poem composed by Donough Mac Eochaidh, or Keogh, with high
political intent, is intended to bring about a closer feeling of
friendship between the sons of Fiach O'Byrne and John son of Redmond
O'Byrne, who had been alienated, designedly, as he intimates, by a
lying story propagated by a foreigner, whereas the O'Byrnes of Ranelagh
ever sought to avoid giving offence, and no evil story calculated to
increase enmity should be believed about one by the other.[14]

Another poet of the Mac Eochaidhs, the household bards of the O'Byrnes,
sings the generosity of Torlagh, son of Fiacha, "their fame is the
wealth of the tribe of Ranelagh, that is the saying of every one who
knows them,[15] the bestowal of their jewels, that is the treasure of
the tribe of Ranelagh, of the numerous incursions." "Small is their
desire to amass treasures, nobler is the thing for which they conceive
a wish; every single man of the blood of Fiach O'Bryne has taken upon
himself to distribute his riches for Fiach!"[16]

Another poem is a splendid war-song by Angus O'Daly on a victory
of the O'Byrnes over the English. "I rejoice that not one was left
of the remnant of the slaughter but the captive who is in hand in
bondage:"[17] "the blaze of the burning country makes day out of
midnight for them."

A remarkable poet of the end of this century was another Angus O'Daly,
the Red Bard, or Angus of the Satires, as he was called. He seems to
have been employed by the English statesmen, Lord Mountjoy and Sir
George Carew, for the deliberate purpose of satirising all the Gaelic
families in the kingdom, and those Anglo-Normans who sympathised with
them. Angus travelled the island up and down on this sinister mission.
It was indeed an evil time. The awful massacres of Rathlin and Clanaboy
in Ulster, the hideous treachery of Mullaghmast in Leinster, the
revolting deeds of Bingham in the west, and the unspeakable horrors
that followed on the Geraldines rebellion in the south, had reduced
the Irish nobles to a condition of the direst poverty. This poverty
and the inhospitality which he connected with it--points on which
the Irish were particularly sore--were the mark at which Angus aimed
his arrows. He usually polished off each house or clan in a single
rann or quatrain. His Irish rhymes are peculiarly happy. Here are
some specimens of his satire. He says of Thomas Fitzgerald, Knight of
Glynn, that he looked so grudgingly at him as he ate his supper that
the piece half-chewed stuck in his throat at the very sight of the
other's eyes. Of Limerick he says the only thing he was thankful for
was the bad roads which would prevent him from ever seeing it again. Of
the Fitzmaurices he says that he will neither praise them nor satirise
them, for they are just poor gentlemen--admirable satire, and it cannot
be doubted that they keenly felt the point of it! Often, however, Angus
is only abusive--thus of Maguire of Enniskillen he says that "he is a
badger for roughness and greyness, an ape for stature and ugliness, a
lobster for the sharpness of his two eyes, a fox for the foulness of
his breath,"[18] a verse in which the happiness of the Irish rhyming
carries off the poverty of the sentiment. He harps on the blindness of
the Mac Ternans,[19] the misanthropy of the Mac Gillycuddy, the inborn
evil of the Fitzgibbons,[20] the poverty of the O'Callaghans, the bad
wines of the O'Sullivans, the decrepitude of the O'Reillys, and so on.

The Red Bard went on with his satires on the men of the four provinces,
with none to say him nay, until he came to Tipperary, where he was
misguided enough to satirise the chief of the O'Meaghers, whose
servant, stung out of all control, forgot that the person of a bard was
sacred, and instantly thrust a knife into his throat, thus putting an
end to him and his satires. Angus, however, even as he died, uttered
one rann in which, for the good of his soul, he revoked all his former
verses: "All the false judgments I have passed upon the men of Munster
I recant them; the meagre servant of the grey Meagher has passed as
much of a false judgment upon me."

So greatly had the literary production of Ireland passed into the hands
of the bards during the period we are now considering, that it will be
well to study the evolution of the bardic body down to the close of the
sixteenth century, in a separate chapter.


  "Truagh mo thuras ar Loch Dearg
  A righ na gceall a's na gclog,
  Do chaoineadh do chneadh 's do chréacht
  'S nach dtig déar thar mo rosg."

_See_ "Gaelic Journal," vol. iv. p. 190.


  "Ná tréig mo theagasg a mhic
    Cidh baogh'lach lá an chirt do chách
  Ag sgaoileadh dhóib ó an tsliabh
    Rachaidh tu le Dia na ngrás."

_See_ my "Religious Songs of Connacht," p. 28.

[3] Literally: "Do not forsake my teaching, my son, and although
dangerous be the Day of Right for all, on their scattering from the
Mount, thou shalt go with God of the graces.

"The road to heaven of the saints though to thee it seem narrow,
slender, hard, yet shun the road of the house of the pains, many a one
has journeyed to it away from us.

"Against us was treachery designed, to bring us down from the artificer
of the elements, in banishment from the land of the living in a Valley
of Tears art thou.

"To the world give not love, is it not transient the blossom of the
branches? do not follow the track of those who are journeying to hell
from God of the Saints.

"Hope, faith, and love, let thee have in God forever, humility, and
patience without anger, truth without deception in thy walk," etc.

[4] It begins--

  "Triallam timchioll na Fódhla,
  Gluaisid fir ar furfhógra,
  As na fóidibh a bhfuileam
  Na Cóigeadha cuartuigheam."

The whole has been most ably edited by Dr. O'Donovan for the Irish
Archæological Society.

[5] His poem in continuation begins--

  "Tuille feasa ar Erinn óigh,
  Ni maith seanchaidh nach seanóir,
  Seanchas cóir uaim don feadhain
  Na slóigh ó'n Boinn báinealaigh."

"More knowledge on virgin Ireland, not good is an historian unless he
be an elder, proper history from me to the tribe, the hosts from Boyne
of the white cattle."

[6] Made in the Low Countries by an exiled friar of the County Galway,
a great collection of poetry in the classical metres. See "Transactions
of the Gaelic Society," 1808, p. 29.

[7] H. 1. 14, in Trinity College. It is copied unfortunately by one
of the most incompetent of scribes, and is full of mistakes of all
kinds. The poets who wrote for the O'Byrnes were Rory Mac Craith,
Owen O'Coffey, Mahon O'Higinn, Donal Mac Keogh, Niall O'Rooney, Angus
O'Daly, John O'Higinn, Eochaidh O'Hussey, Maoileachlainn O'Coffey,
T. O'Mulconry, Donogha Mac Keogh, and others. A copy of the "Book of
the O'Byrnes" was in possession of the O'Byrnes of Cabinteely, near
Dublin, in the beginning of the century. Hardiman and O'Reilly each
had a copy, but as I have seen the scribe employed by the Royal Irish
Academy engaged for days in writing out of the wretched copy in Trinity
College, it is to be presumed that the Council of that body has assured
itself that these copies have since perished.


  "A cholann do chím gun ceann
  Sibh d' fhaicsin, do shearg mo bhrigh,
  Rannta ar sparra a n-Athcliath,
  D'éigsi Bhanba bhias a dhith."
                    (H. 1. 14, T. C., D., fol. 84 a.)


  "Cia cheannchas ádhmad naoi rann,
  Dá bhfághadh connra ar súd?
  Ar Laighnibh cidh 'r b'ard a dteisd
  Do m' aithne is cruaidh an cheisd úd."


  "Acht ua Réamainn thuilleas bládh,
    Ni h-aithne dham shoir no shiar,
  Neach le ceannach [mo] naoi rann,
    Ma tá ann, ni fheadar c' iad."


  "Creud ag buaidhreadh ban ngaoidheal
  An dith óir no iol-mhaoineadh,
  Cuis aith-mheillte an diorma díl,
  Ríoghna flaith-fréimhe fuinnidh."
                         (H. 1. 14, T. C., D., fol. 126 a.)


  "Ni bhfuair mé 'na n-áitibh ann,
  Acht lucht gan aithne orom [orm],
  Mo chreach geur, mo chrádh croidhe,
  An sgeul fá ttáim troithlidhe."


  "Fuath gach fir fuighioll a thuaidhe,
  Tuig a Fhiacha, duit is dual,
  Má tá nach binn libh mo labhra,
  Os cionn do chinn do thárla an tuath."

O'Donovan, in his manuscript catalogue, quotes the last two lines of
the verse in note 12 above, and translates them, "My bitter woe my
heart's oppression is the news for which I grieve." Afterwards he
erased the words "for which I grieve" and wrote instead "it wastes my
vigour," thus showing that he did not understand the original, for one
translation is as bad as the other. The difficult word _troithlidhe_
which perplexed him, is a common one in Roscommon, I have frequently
heard it in the sense of "chilly." The translation is, "the news which
chills me."


  "Fréamh Raghnaill ni rabhadar
    Acht ag seachnadh inbhéime
  Sgeul meuduighthe faltanais
    Doibh nior chreidte ar a chéile."


 "A gelu is ionmhus d'fhuil Raghnaill
    Rádh gach eólaigh is é sin."


  "Beag a ndúil a ndéanamh ionmhais
    Uaisle an nidh dá