Page images

probably did not supply their place, as do the modern Welsh and Irish, by a host of words borrowed from foreign languages. The natives of the British isles had but a small part of the Celtic language, as the sphere of their ideas must have been far more limited than those of the Continental Gauls. The Britons bore nearly the same relation to the Gauls, which the Lapps bear to the civilised Finns. A great part of the Celtic language is irrecoverably lost.

We must now advert to the history of those branches of the Celtic race who speak the dialects of the Erse or Gaëlic language, and principally to the Scots and Irish, the latter of whom have preserved from early times a peculiar literature. We must commence this part of our undertaking with a short survey of the history of Ireland.

SECTION XII. Of the ancient Inhabitants of Ireland. Paragraph 1.—Of the accounts of Ireland left by the ancient writers.

Writers of the first century after the Christian era are agreed in representing the natives of Ireland as very barbarous. Strabo speaks thus of the island and its inhabitants : "There are other small islands near that of Britain, and one larger than the rest lying over against it, on the northern side, named Ierne, which is greater in length than in breadth. Concerning this island we have nothing certain to relate except that the inhabitants are more savage-ȧyprepo—than the Britons. They are voracious cannibals, and even think it a laudable thing to eat the dead bodies of their parents."* These stories Strabo reports, as he says, without having derived them from any witnesses worthy of confidence. Diodorus has also asserted that the Irish were man-eaters. This relation, however, would not have obtained much credit, had it not been supported by a passage in the writings of St. Jerom, in which that celebrated father of the Church declares that while he was resident in Gaul he saw human flesh eaten by

Strabo, lib. iv. p. 201. He adds that they lived in promiscuous intercourse.

certain Scots or Attacotts. The Scots or Attacotts to whom Jerom alludes, were probably slaves or other persons who had been brought from Ireland to Gaul. That the Irish people in the time of Jerom were in general savages of a description such as this account suggests, cannot be credited.*

If it is true, as Strabo and Diodorus assert, that in their time the people of Ireland were very barbarous,—and I suppose their testimony must be admitted, unless any evidence can be found to contradict it,—a rapid progress in civilisation must have been made during the two first centuries after the conquest of Britain by the Romans. This is evident from the brief notices to be found in Ptolemy, who describes Ireland as containing several cities. Among them were Eblana, or Dublin; Manapia, Waterford; Dunum, Down; Nagnatæ, supposed to be Limerick, which last is termed—ñóλis iñionμost—a distinguished or famous city. Marcianus Heracleota,‡ an industrious collector of geographical information extant in his time,—which was between the age of Ptolemy and the building of Constantinople, § therefore long before the time of Jerom,-describes Ireland as containing sixteen nations—čovn—or tribes, and eleven famous cities—πόλεις ἐπισήμους. As early as the fourth century, the Irish people are said to have had possession of the Isle of Man, which implies the previous acquisition of some maritime power. This is probably the real era of the monuments of pagan antiquity in Ireland which have excited so much interest among the antiquarians of that and other countries; for it is scarcely possible, if Ireland had been civilized by earlier colonies from Phoenice, or Carthage, || or Spain, that all

"Cum ipse adolescentulus in Galliâ viderim Scotos [or Attacottos], gentem Britannicam humanis vesci carnibus et cum per silvas porcorum greges et armentorum pecudumque reperiant, puerorum nates et feminarum papillas solere abscindere, et has solas ciborum delicias arbitrari." (Hieron. Op. tom. ii. p. 75.)

+ Claud. Ptol. Geog. tab. 1. See some excellent remarks in Mr. Turner's History of England, Reign of Henry II.

Marcian. Heracl. Periplus. Hudson. tom. i. p. 58.

§ Marcian. Heracleot. Dodwell supposes that Marcianus wrote in the third century.

Until some Phoenician inscription shall be found in Ireland-a discovery which, after so much diligent research set on foot by the learned antiquarians of that country, may well be despaired of,-the Phoenician colonisation of that island will rest on no better ground or proof than the supposed settlements of Phoenicians

knowledge of the real state of the country should have escaped the Romans, who certainly looked upon the Irish people as barbarous, and even more rude than the Britons. It is not improbable that the Roman conquest of Britanny and Belgica may have induced many from among the tribes who were possessed of shipping to pass into Ireland, and to found cities or towns in that country, and that a speedy improvement took place among a people so highly gifted by nature as the Irish are well known to be, and so susceptible of the highest culture both moral and intellectual.

It is very remarkable that we find the Irish designated in the third century by a new name, namely, that of Scoti. Ptolemy termed the island Iuernia-Iovepvia. The people are called Scoti in the third century by Porphyry, and in the fourth by St. Ambrose, Claudian, Ammianus Marcellinus, and Ethicus, and afterwards by Orosius, Gildas, Isidore, and St. Adamnan, Bede, Nennius, and King Alfred. Whence they obtained this name it is impossible to determine and difficult to conjecture. It seems to have been entirely unknown in the time of Ptolemy, who though he mentions the tribes of Taxili, Creones, Damnii, and Gadeni, of whom no traces now remain, has no notice of a people termed Scoti.

The great era in the improvement of Ireland was the introduction of Christianity, and with it of literature. The date of this event is disputed. Some ecclesiastical writers, who are followed by Usher, state that there were four bishops in Ireland in the time of Constantine. But Prosper says that Ireland, or the country of the Scoti, was a barbarous island in the time of Palladius, who is said to have been sent thither by Pope Celestine; and Probus, in his life of St. Patrick, says that Palladius could make no impression on the "immites et feri homines" of Ireland, and passed over to the country of the Picts. A passage has been cited from the "Annals of the Four Masters," a well-known document of Irish history, from

at Culm and elsewhere, in the Baltic. It has been well observed by Gesenius, in his late admirable work on Phoenician Palæography, that there is no proof of any Phoenician or Carthaginian settlement on any point of the coast of Europe beyond the Straits of Gibraltar.

which it appears that paganism prevailed in Ireland in the middle of the fifth century.*

Some further changes were introduced in the state of Ireland by Northmen, or by Danish settlers on the northern and eastern coast. By the Danes it is supposed that several towns were built. The first appearance of the Northmen is variously dated. According to the Irish authorities which appeared to Abbé Geoghegan the most trustworthy, their first arrival took place in 795. O'Flaherty dates it in 798, and Keating in 820.

Ireland still remained in a very rude state in the time of Henry II., as we learn authentically from the narrative of Giraldus Cambrensis.

Paragraph 2.-Survey of the ancient Irish traditions.

A very prevalent opinion, supposed to be founded on ancient tradition, derives the people of Ireland from Spain; another tradition describes one particular body of them as Fir Bolg, or Belgians. Modern writers have been much disposed to give credit to one or both of these relations. In order to form any opinion of the degree of credence due to them, it will be necessary to consider the series of legends or sagas on which the so termed history of Ireland is, previously to the age of St. Patrick, founded. They have been collected by Keating and O'Flaherty, the former of whom travelled in Ireland, in order to obtain information from priests and Irish bards, during the reign of Charles I. The chief sources of history in regard to times antecedent to St. Patrick, who went to Ireland from Scotland about 432 A.D., and probably introduced the use of letters, are ancient historical poems, said to have been composed between the sixth and tenth centuries. The earliest of the monkish annals are dated from between

It is stated in these Annals that Laoghaire, the son of Neill, having been in the year 457 taken captive in a battle against the inhabitants of Leinster, swore by the Sun and the Wind that he would never again demand a tribute for cows. The history further declares that this chieftain having violated his oath, was in consequence killed by the Sun and Wind. See Wood in Trans. R. I. A., vol. xiii. This relation proves that Christianity had not spread through Ireland till some time after the arrival of St. Patrick.

the tenth and twelfth centuries. We have therefore nothing approaching to the character of contemporary records of early times.

The bardic story of Ireland, as collected by Keating and others, contains a wild and grotesque mixture of the rhapsodies of a poetical fancy, with legends taken from scriptural and profane history, blended together with more absurd anachronisms than the fabulous history of any other country in Christendom presents. Ireland, according to these accounts, was peopled from many different quarters. The different colonies are, however, not very important as sources of the population of Ireland, since one is said to have perished before another arrived, or to have been soon exterminated by the horde that succeeded it. They are enumerated with an accuracy, as to dates and circumstances, which is perfectly ridiculous. Later Irish writers who have perceived the absurdity of these statements, instead of adopting the resolution of estimating them fairly by their merits, and rejecting the whole in a mass, unwilling to give up the boasted remains of Irish antiquity, have contented themselves with stripping the legends of the most palpable absurdities. They have thus disguised their real character, and have set them forth as pieces of real history. But it is evident that mere tales, composed by poets and romancers, are the sole original authority for all that is pretended to have been handed down from the pagan antiquity of Ireland. In proof of this assertion I shall lay before my readers a very brief abstract of this famous series of legends.

Keating has cited a bardic tradition that three daughters of Cain were the first persons who came to Ireland.* This is recorded in the Leabhar Dhroma Sneachta. Several colonies arrived before the Flood, but the principal one consisted of the followers of Ceasar-a singular name for an antediluvian,

The General History of Ireland, collected by the learned Jeoffry Keating, D.D., translated from the original Irish by D. A. Raymond, of Trim; London, folio, 1732. See also Dr. Wood on the mixture of fable and fact in the early annals of Ireland, &c., Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. xiii.; and an Inquiry concerning the Primitive Inhabitants of Ireland, by T. Wood, M.D. London, 1821.

« PreviousContinue »