« PreviousContinue »
upon the reader by making him believe facts on the supposed evidence of sober history, while their existence only rests on the credit of the wildest rhapsodies.
Paragraph 3.-Critical remarks on the Bardic stories and on the Monkish annals of Ireland.
When we consider the general character of the legends connected with the history of Ireland, it seems surprising that writers of a late period, men of learning and intelligence, have thought it worth while to attempt any analysis of them, or have supposed that any truth can be elicited from such a mass of absurdities. It has been well observed, that even in events and circumstances of a late date, in respect to which it may be supposed that correct information might have been easily obtained by Irishmen of the period to which these compositions are referred, the most palpable ignorance is displayed. Thus it is stated that the city of Dublin was built by the Danes in the fifth century; whereas it is mentioned by Ptolemy as a city existing already in the second century. They omit to mention Nagnata, though that city is termed by Ptolemy módis ixionμos, which implies that it was a place of great importance in his time. They preserve chiefly the names of places which were monastic establishments, as that of Rhobog, a small episcopal village.* The authors of these legends were evidently monks of the most ignorant and credulous class. It appears that the Irish inventors and their brethren of Wales had some common germs of fiction, which were developed differently in after times. Thus in the fabulous chronicles of Nennius or of Mark we find a brief notice of the Trojan origin of the Britons, and the story of Partholan as the leader of the first colony to Ireland. It was by working upon these materials that the monks of Wales and Ireland at length accumulated that mass of fictions which in both countries passed for history. The Irish monks embellished their fables by bringing in occasionally stories from the Old Testament; while those of Wales seem to have preferred the fictions of the classical poets, with which they were perhaps better acquainted than their brethren in Ireland. • Dr. Wood, ubi supra.
In the compositions of both we detect the most glaring anachronisms. A slight review of these compositions is sufficient to show that no reliance can be placed on the traditions which they contain. The Spanish origin of the Milesians or followers of Mileadh-whose name is a corruption of the Latin word miles-rests on no better authority than the Trojan origin of the Britons, or than the alleged origination of other Irish tribes from Thrace, Greece, the shores of the Euxine, Egypt, and Africa ; but the situation of Spain is nearer to that of Ireland, and the statement is therefore not so obviously absurd. This tale has been alluded to by writers of late times as a probable tradition, while the other parts of the same story have been considered as altogether unworthy of credit. It may be true, and is not improbable, especially as there were Celtic tribes in the north of Spain, but the testimony of Irish legends in its favour is of little or no weight.
One fact of some importance may be collected from the works of the Irish annalists. It is that one language prevailed through Ireland during the age of their earliest compositions, as well as during that which their fuller developement embraces. It is expressly stated that the successive colonies of Neimhidhians, Fir-Bolgs, Tuatha De- Danánn, and Milesians, though said to have come to Ireland from different countries, all spoke the Gaoidhealg or Gaëlic language. We may infer that no great diversity of language existed in any great part of the Irish population, and that whatever settlements may have been made on the coasts of Ireland, either by Northmen or by the Welsh Britons of the Roman or subsequent times, consisted of very small bodies, whose members were insufficient to produce any effect on the language or stock of the previous population.* Gaoidhil, or as the Welsh have the
*It is repeatedly stated by Keating that no language except the Erse or Gaëlic was spoken by any of the different colonies said to have arrived in Ireland. After showing that all the Irish tribes, from Partholanus and his followers (whose arrival he considers a piece of authentic history, and supposes to have happened three hundred years after the Flood), were descended from the same ancestors, of the family of Magog, he says, "These tribes, notwithstanding they were dispersed into different countries, retained the same language, which was Scotbhearla, or the Irish, and it was spoken as the mother-tongue of every tribe. This we have reason to believe, from the testimony of authentic writers, who relate that when Ithus, the son of
term, Gwyddyl or Gwydhil, they originally were; and although that name is given especially to the Milesians, still all the other respective tribes were apparently of the same stock, since they are expressly declared to have spoken the same Gaëlic language, and to have been descended remotely from the same. ancestors. The derivation from Neimhidh, whose name means "Poetry," may be referred to its proper source, as well as the story of the earlier descent from Japhet and Magog; but several common ancestors besides these are mentioned, whose names, omitted for the sake of brevity in the foregoing summary, evidently designate real or imaginary persons, believed as such to have been the ancestors of all the Irish races.
Paragraph 4.—Concluding observations on the history.-Probable origin of the Irish race.
We must conclude from what has been collected respecting the Irish bardic story, that we really possess no information whatever from history respecting the origin of the population. of Ireland. We are left to form a probable conjecture on that subject from the evidence afforded by the language and by the geographical circumstances of the country.
The affinity of the Irish language to the dialect of the Britons and Gauls affords reason for supposing that the colonisation of Ireland took place from some country inhabited by Celtic people. There were Celts in Britain, Gaul, Spain, and perhaps in Denmark at the time when those countries became known to us. The first inhabitants of Ireland and the ancestors of all the Gaëlic people may have descended from the Celta of Spain. We have no proof to the contrary, as we know not what Celtic dialect the Spanish Celts spoke: it may have been the Erse; but we must admit that there is an entire want of evidence in proof of such a conclusion.
If the evidence which has been collected respecting the dialects of the Celta and Belgæ of Gaul is sufficient to prove that these dialects were more nearly akin to the Welsh than to the Erse, it will be somewhat less probable that the Irish emigrated from Gaul. The same difficulty attends the hypothesis that they Breogan, arrived in Ireland from Spain, he conversed with the Tuatha de Danánn in their own language." (History of Ireland, p. 30.)
came from Britain or from the coast of Germany, which may be supposed to have been in ancient times extensively inhabited by tribes akin to the Cimbri. Among the tribes mentioned by Ptolemy in Ireland, there are two, namely, the Munapii and Cauci, whose names bear a striking resemblance to those of two tribes in the western parts of Germany, the Menapii and the Chauci; but these were German and not Celtic tribes, and the German language was never introduced into Ireland, except by Danes and Norwegians, who settled on the coast at a comparatively late time.
It is remarkable that a principal tribe of Britons, the Brigantes, who possessed, until they were conquered by Ostorius, a great part of the north of England, including Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Lancashire on the western coast, had the same name with one of the tribes in the southern part of Ireland. Nothing seems, if we judge from local circumstances, more probable than the supposition that Ireland received its inhabitants from the country of the British Brigantes, the Isle of Man lying in the midway to facilitate the transit. They might have passed still more easily from the country of the Ordovices in North Wales, or the Demetæ or Silures in South Wales, or from that of the Selgovæ and Novantii in the western parts of Scotland. But here the difference of language occurs as a never-ceasing encumbrance on every hypothesis. The countries of the Ordovices and Silures, and the southwestern parts of Scotland, which afterwards formed a part of the kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons, are precisely those parts of the island where we know most certainly that the Welsh and not the Gaelic language was spoken. It is very improbable that the Brigantes differed in speech from their neighbours on both sides, and evidence might indeed be collected to prove that they were genuine Britons.
There are two suppositions, one of which, if I am not mistaken, must be true.
First, that the Gaël were an earlier wave of population, as it has been termed, which passed over Britain before it was occupied by the proper British race. This, as it is well known, was the opinion of Lhuyd, who came to such a conclusion from observing such words as usk, ax, ex contained in the names
of many rivers in England and Wales. He supposed this syllable, common to so many names and rivers, to have been derived from uisge, the Gaëlic word for water. This, it must be admitted, is a very slender foundation for an opinion on any historical fact. The Welsh language may have had such a word, and may have lost it, as it has lost many others.*
Secondly, it may be observed, that since the affinity of the Gaelic and Welsh languages is so near, notwithstanding their great difference, as to leave no doubt that the Irish and Welsh people are descendants from one stock, the diversity of their idioms must have originated at some period or at another. It appears just as probable that the Celtic tribes diversified their once common speech by different developement, and by adopting certain changes in pronunciation in which one set of elements were substituted for others, or in part by inventing new words or borrowing from the vocabulary of other nations subsequently to the colonisation of Britain and Ireland, as at any former period. If this were allowed, no further difficulty would remain to prevent our adopting the opinion that the western was peopled from the eastern island. But there is one consideration which renders the admission not so easy as it previously appears to be. The differences between the Welsh and Erse are systematic, not merely accidental. The substitution of guttural for sibilants for example is regular. In this and other like respects the Irish approximates to the Sanscrit and the Welsh to the Zendish and German subdivisions of the Indo-European languages. Does this argue a separation of the two Celtic races previously to their emigration from the East? Some have thought so. Yet the analogies discoverable between the several branches of the Celtic language and other Indo-European idioms are not such as can be attributed to the influence of these idioms, or to communication with the tribes of people to whom they respectively belonged; and we know that similar variations have arisen in the speech of different families springing from the same stock without any external
• See however O'Brien's defence of this supposition in the learned and able Preface to his Irish Dictionary.