The Story Of Ireland by Emily Lawless

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charlie Kirschner and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. The Story of the Nations THE STORY OF IRELAND BY THE HON. EMILY LAWLESS AUTHOR OF “HURRISH: A STUDY,” ETC WITH SOME ADDITIONS BY MRS. ARTHUR BRONSON NEW YORK LONDON 1896 To THE EARL OF DUFFERIN, K.P., G.C.B., F.R.S., &c., VICEROY OF INDIA.
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  • 1896
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Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charlie Kirschner and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

[Illustration: HOLY ISLAND LOUGH DERG. (_From a painting by Watkins._)]

The Story of the Nations














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Irish history is a long, dark road, with many blind alleys, many sudden turnings, many unaccountably crooked portions; a road which, if it has a few sign-posts to guide us, bristles with threatening notices, now upon the one side and now upon the other, the very ground underfoot being often full of unsuspected perils threatening to hurt the unwary.

To the genuine explorer, flushed with justified self-confidence, well equipped for the journey, and indifferent to scratches or bruises, one may suppose this to be rather an allurement than otherwise, as he spurs along, lance at rest, and sword on side. To the less well-equipped traveller, who has no pretensions to the name of explorer at all, no particular courage to boast of, and whose only ambition is to make the way a little plainer for some one travelling along it for the first time, it is decidedly a serious impediment, so much so as almost to scare such a one from attempting the _role_ of guide even in the slightest and least responsible capacity.

Another and perhaps even more formidable objection occurs. A history beset with such distracting problems, bristling with such thorny controversies, a history, above all, which has so much bearing upon that portion of history which has still to be born, ought, it may be said, to be approached in the gravest and most authoritative fashion possible, or else not approached at all. This is too true, and that so slight a summary as this can put forward no claim to authority of any sort is evident enough. National “stories,” however, no less than histories, gain a gravity, it must be remembered, and even at times a solemnity from their subject apart altogether from their treatment. A good reader will read a great deal more into them than the mere bald words convey. The lights and shadows of a great or a tragic past play over their easy surface, giving it a depth and solidity to which it could otherwise lay no claim. If the present attempt disposes any one to study at first hand one of the strangest and most perplexing chapters of human history and national destiny, its author for one will be more than content.




Early migrations–The great ice age–Northern character of the fauna and flora of Ireland–First inhabitants–Formorian, Firbolgs, Tuatha-da-Dannans–Battle of Moytura Cong–The Scoto-Celtic invasion–Annals and annalists, how far credible?



The legends–Their archaic character–The pursuit of Gilla Backer and his horse–The ollamhs–Positions of the bards or ollamhs in Primitive Ireland.



Early Celtic law–The Senchus Mor and Book of Aicill–Laws of inheritance–Narrow conception of patriotism.



St. Patrick’s birth–Capture, slavery, and escape–His return to Ireland–Arrives at Tara–Visits Connaught and Ulster–Early Irish missionaries and their enthusiasm for the work.



“The Tribes of the Saints”–Small oratories in the West–Plan of monastic life–Ready acceptance of Christianity.



Birth of Columba–His journey to Iona–His character and humanity–Conversion of Saxon England–Schism between Western Church and Papacy–Synod of Whitby–The Irish Church at home.



Ireland divided into five kingdoms–The Ard-Reagh–Arrival of Vikings–Thorgist or Turgesius?–Later Viking invaders–The round towers–Dublin founded–Hatred between the two races.



Two deliverers–Defeat of the Vikings at Sulcost–Brian becomes king of Munster–Seizes Cashel–Overcomes Malachy–Becomes king of Ireland–Celtic theory of loyalty–Fresh Viking invasion–Battle of Clontarf–Death of Brian Boru.



Result of Brian Boru’s death–Chaos returns–Struggle for the succession–Roderick O’Connor, last native king of Ireland.



First group of knightly invaders–Their relationship–Giraldus

Cambrensis–Motives for invasion–Papal sanction–Dermot McMurrough–He enlists recruits–Arrival of Robert FitzStephen–Wexford, Ossory, and Kilkenny captured–Arrival of Strongbow–Struggle with Hasculph the Dane and John the Mad–Danes defeated–Dublin besieged–Strongbow defeats Roderick O’Connor, goes to Wexford, and embarks at Waterford–Meets the king–Arrival of Henry II.



Large military forces of Henry–The chiefs submit and do homage–Irish theory of Ard-Reagh or Over-Lord–Henry in Dublin–Synod at Cashel–Henry recalled to England.



Effect of Henry’s stay in Ireland–His large schemes–Their practical failure–Rapacity of adventurers–Contrast between Irish and their conquerors–Civil war from the outset.



John’s first visit–His insolence and misconduct–Recalled in disgrace–Second visit as king–His energy–Overruns Meath and Ulster–Returns to England–Effect of his visit.



The Geraldines–Their possessions in Ireland–The five palatinates–The heirs of Strongbow–The De Burghs–The Butlers–Importance of the great territorial owners in Ireland.



Want of landmarks in Irish history–Edward the I.’s reign–Battle of Bannockburn–Its effect on Ireland–Scotch invasion under Edward Bruce–Ravages and famine caused by him–The colonists regain courage: Battle of Dundalk–Edward Bruce killed–Result of the Scotch invasion.



Reign of Edward III.–A lost opportunity–Duke of Clarence sent to Ireland–Parliament at Kilkenny–Statute of Kilkenny–Its objects–Two Irelands–Weakness resorts to cruelty–Effects of the statute.



Richard the II.’s two visits to Ireland–Utter disorganization of the country–The chieftains submit and come in–“Sir Art” McMurrough–Richard leaves, and Art McMurrough breaks out again–Earl of March killed–Richard returns–Attacks Art McMurrough–Failure of attack–Recalled to England–His defeat and death–Confusion redoubles.



Monotony of Irish history–State of Ireland during the Wars of the Roses–Pillage, carnage, and rapine–The seaport towns–Richard Duke of York in Ireland–His conciliatory policy–Battle of Towton–The Kildares grow in power–Geroit Mor–His character.



Effect of the battle of Bosworth–Kildare still in power–Lambert Simnel in Ireland–Crowned in Dublin–Battle of Stoke–Henry VII. pardons the rebels–Irish peers summoned to Court–Perkin Warbeck in Ireland–Quarrels between the Kildares and Ormonds–Sir Edward Poynings–Kildare’s trial and acquital–Restored to power–Battle of Knocktow.



Rise of Wolsey to power–Resolves to destroy the Geraldines–Geroit Mor succeeded by his son–Earl of Surrey sent as viceroy–Kildare restored to power–Summoned to London and imprisoned–Again restored and again imprisoned–Situation changed–Revolt of Silken Thomas–Seizes Dublin–Archbishop Allen murdered–Sir William Skeffington to Ireland–Kildare dies in prison–“The Pardon of Maynooth”–Silken Thomas surrenders, and is executed.



Lord Leonard Grey deputy–Accused of treason, recalled and executed–Act of Supremacy proposed–Opposition of clergy–Suppression of the abbeys–Great Parliament summoned in Dublin— Meeting of hereditary enemies–Conciliatory measures–Henry VIII. proclaimed king of Ireland and head of the Church.



A halcyon period–O’Neill, O’Brien, and Macwilliam of Clanricarde at Greenwich–Receive their peerages,–Attempt at establishing Protestantism in Ireland–Vehemently resisted–The destruction of the relics–Archbishop Dowdal–The effect of the new departure–The Irish problem receives fresh complications.



Mary becomes queen–Religious struggle postponed–Fercal Leix and Offaly colonized–Sense of insecurity awakened–No Irish Protestant martyrs–Commission of Dean Cole–Its failure–Death of Mary.



Elizabeth becomes queen,–Effect of change on Ireland–Shane O’Neill–His description, habits, qualities–His campaign against Sussex–Defeats Sussex–His visit to Court–Returns to Ireland–Supreme in the North–His attack on the Scots–Sir Henry Sidney marches into Ulster–The disaster at Derry–Shane encounters the O’Donnells–Is defeated–Applies to the Scots–Is slain.



Sir Henry Sidney Lord-deputy–A lull–Sidney’s policy and proceedings–Provincial presidents appointed–Arrest of Desmond–Sir Peter Carew–His violence–Rebellion in the South–Sir James Fitzmaurice–Relations between him and Sir John Perrot–He surrenders, and sails for France.



An abortive tragedy–State of the Desmond Palatinate–Sir James Fitzmaurice in France and Spain–Nicholas Saunders appointed legate–Stukeley’s expedition–Fitzmaurice lands in Kerry–Desmond vacillates–Death of Sir James Fitzmaurice–Concerted attack of Ormond and Pelham–Horrible destruction of life–Arrival of Spaniards at Smerwick–Lord Grey de Wilton–Defeat of English troops at Glenmalure–Attack of and slaughter of Spaniards at Smerwick–Wholesale executions–Death of the Earl of Desmond and extinction of his house.



State of Munster–The new plantations–Perrot’s administration–Tyrlough Luinagh,–Sir William Fitzwilliam–Executions without trial–Alarm of northern proprietors–Earl of Tyrone–Character of early loyalty–Causes of dissatisfaction–Quarrel with Bagnall–Preparations for a rising.



The Northern Blackwater–Attack of Blackwater Fort by Tyrone–Death of the deputy, Lord Borough–Bagnall advances from Dublin–Battle of the Yellow Ford–Defeat and death of Bagnall–Retreat of the English troops–The rising becomes general.



Essex appointed Lord-Lieutenant–Arrival in Ireland–Mistakes and disasters–Death of Sir Conyers Clifford in the Curlews–Essex advances north–Holds a conference with Tyrone–Agrees to an armistice–Anger of the Queen–Essex suddenly leaves Ireland.



Mountjoy appointed deputy–Contrast between him and Essex–Reasons for Mountjoy’s greater success–Conquest by starvation–Success of method–Arrival of Spanish forces at Kinsale: Mountjoy and Carew marched south and invests Kinsale–Attack of Mountjoy by Tyrone–Failure of attack–Surrender of Spaniards–Surrender of Tyrone.



The last chieftain rising against England–Condition of affairs at close of war–Tyrone’s position impossible–Reported plot–Tyrone and Tyrconnel take flight–Confiscation of their territory–Sir John Davis–The Ulster Settlement.



Parliament summoned–Anxiety of government to secure a Protestant majority–Contested election–Narrow Protestant majority–Furious quarrel over election of Speaker–Parliament dissolved–The king appealed to–Attainder of Tyrone and Tyrconnel–Reversal of statute of Kilkenny.



Further plantations–The Connaught landowners–Their positions–Charles I.’s accession and how it affected Ireland–Lord Falkland appointed viceroy–Succeeded by Wentworth.



Arrival of Wentworth in Ireland–His methods and theory–Dissolves parliament–Goes to Connaught–Galway jury fined and imprisoned–His ecclesiastical policy–His Irish army–Return to England–Attainder, trial, and death.



Confusion and disorder–Strafford’s army disbanded, but still in the country–Plot to seize Dublin Castle–Plot transpires–Sir Phelim O’Neill seizes Charlemont–Attack upon the Protestant settlers–Barbarities and counter barbarities.



The rising at first local–Attitude of the Pale gentry–They resolve to join the rising–Disorganization of the northern insurgents–Incapacity of Sir Phelim O’Neill–Arrival of Owen Roe O’Neill and Preston–Meeting of delegates at Kilkenny–Charles decides upon a _coup de main_.



Effect of the Ulster massacres on England–An agrarian rather than religious rising–The Confederates’ terms Glamorgan sent to Ireland, The secret treaty transpires, Arrival of Rinucini, Battle of Benturb, Ormond surrenders Dublin to the Parliament.



Total confusion of aims and parties, The “poor Panther” Inchiquin, Alliance between Jones and Owen Roe O’Neill, Ormond advances upon Dublin, Battle of Baggotrath and defeat of the Royalists, Arrival of Cromwell.



Cromwell’s mission, Assault of Drogheda, and slaughter of its garrison, Wexford garrison slaughtered, Cromwell’s discipline, The “country sickness,” Confusion in the Royalist camp, Signature of the Scotch covenant by the king, Final surrender of O’Neill and the Irish army.



Loss of life during the eight years of war, Punishment of the vanquished, Executions, Wholesale scheme of eviction, The New Owners, “The Burren,” Sale of women to the West Indian plantations, Dissatisfaction amongst the soldiers and debenture holders, Irish Cromwellians.



The Restoration, Henry Cromwell, Coote and Broghill, Court of claims established in Dublin, Prolonged dispute, Final settlement, Condition of Irish Roman Catholics at close of the struggle.



Effects of the Restoration upon the Ulster Presbyterians–A new Act of Uniformity–Exodus of Presbyterians from Ireland–The Popish plot–Insane panic–Execution of Archbishop Plunkett–Sudden reversal of the tide–Tyrconnel sent as viceroy–Terror of Protestant settlers–William of Orange in England–James II. arrives in Ireland.



Popular enthusiasm for James–Struggle between his English and Irish adherents–James advances to Londonderry–Siege of Londonderry–Its garrison relieved–Debasing the coinage–Reversal of the Act of Settlement–Bill of Attainder–Arrival of William III.–Battle of the Boyne–Flight of James–First siege of Limerick–Athlone captured by Ginkel–Battle of Aughrim.



Sarsfield refuses to surrender–Second siege of Limerick–The Limerick treaty–Its exact purport–The military treaty–Departure of the exiles.



A new century and new fortunes–Mr. Lecky’s “Eighteenth Century”–Reversal of all the recent Acts–The Penal Code–Burke’s description of it–How evaded–Its effects upon Protestants and Catholics.



The “Protestant Ascendency”–England’s jealousy of her Colonists, Act passed prohibiting export of Irish woollen goods, Effects of the Act upon Ireland, Smuggling on an immense scale, Collapse of industry, Strained relations.



The “Ingenious Molyneux,” Irish naturalists, Molyneux’s “Case of Ireland,” Effect of its publication, Death of Molyneux, Dean Swift, His position in Irish politics, The “Drapier Letters,” Their line of attack, Effect on popular opinion, Wood’s halfpence suspended.



Forty dull years, Parliamentary abuses, Charles Lucas, Flood enters Parliament, His struggle with the Government, Lord Townsend recalled, Flood accepts office, Effect of that acceptance, Rejoins the Liberal side, Tries to outbid Grattan, Failure and end.



Unanimity of opinion about Grattan, His character, Enters Parliament, The “Declaration of Rights,” Carried by the Irish Parliament, Declaratory Act of George I. repealed, A spell of prosperity, Rocks ahead, Disaster following disaster, Grattan and the Union, Grattan’s death.



Revolt of the American Colonies, Its effect on Ireland, Disastrous condition of the country, Volunteer movement begun in Belfast, Rapid popularity, Its effect upon politics, Free Trade, Declaratory Act repealed, The Volunteers disband.



Reform the crying necessity of the hour–Corruption steadily increasing–Attempt to obtain free importation of goods to England–Its failure–Disturbed state of the country–Its causes–“White boys,” “Oak boys,” and “Steel boys”–Faction war in the North–Orange lodges–“Society of United Irishmen”–The one hope for the future.



General desire for Catholic Emancipation–Lord Sheffield’s evidence–The Catholic delegates received by the king–Lord Fitzwilliam sent as Lord-Lieutenant–Popular enthusiasm–Recalled–Result of his recall.



Wolfe Tone, his character and autobiography–The other leaders of the rebellion–England and France at war–Hoche’s descent–Panic–Habeas Corpus Act suspended–Misconduct of soldiers–Arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald–Outbreak of the rebellion–The rising in Wexford–Bagenal Harvey–Arklow, New Ross, and Vinegar Hill–Suppression of the rebellion–Final incidents–Death of Wolfe Tone.



State of Ireland after the rebellion–Pitt resolved to pass the Union–Inducements offered–Discrepancy of statements upon the subject–Bribery or not bribery?–Lord Cornwallis and Lord Castlereagh–The Union carried.



The Union not followed by union–The Emmett outbreak,–Young Daniel O’Connell–The new Catholic Association–The Clare election–Catholic Relief Bill carried–The “Incarnation of a people”–Repeal–The O’Connell gatherings–The meeting proclaimed at Clontarf–Prosecution and condemnation of O’Connell–Released on appeal–Never regained his power–Despondency and death.



“The Nation”–Sir C. Gavan Duffy–Thomas Davis–Smith O’Brien–Effect of O’Connell’s death on the “Young Ireland” party–James Lalor–His influence on Mitchell–The “United Irishmen” newspaper started–Arrest and transportation of Mitchell–The end of the “Young Ireland” movement.



First symptoms of the potato disease–The fatal night–Beginning of Famine–Rapid mortality–Mr. Forster’s reports–Relief works–Soup kitchens–Failure of preventive measures–Famine followed by ruin–Clearances and Emigration–Emigrant ships–Permanent effects of the Famine on Ireland.



Encumbered Estates Act–Tenant League of North and South–The “Brass Band”–A lull–The Phoenix organization–The Fenian “scare”–Rescue of Fenian prisoners at Manchester–The Clerkenwell explosion–The Irish Church Act–The Irish Land Act of 1870–Failure of Irish Education Act, and retirement of the Liberals–Mr. Butt and Mr. Parnell–The Land League established–Return of the Liberals to power–The Irish Land Act of 1881–Arrest and release of Land League Leaders–Murders in the Phoenix Park–James Carey— His death–The agrarian struggle–Home Rule–Its eventual destiny–The untravelled Future.



Irish heroes–Causes of their want of popularity–Irish _versus_ Scotch heroes–“Prince Posterity”.


[Nearly all the archaeological illustrations in this volume are from “The Early Christian Architecture of Ireland,” by Miss M. Stokes, who has kindly allowed them to be reproduced. The portraits are chiefly from engravings, &c., kept in the Prints Room of the British Museum.]





“It seems to be certain,” says the Abbe McGeoghehan, “that Ireland continued uninhabited from the Creation to the Deluge.” With this assurance to help us on our onward way I may venture to supplement it by saying that little is known about the first, or even about the second, third, and fourth succession of settlers in Ireland. At what precise period what is known as the Scoto-Celtic branch of the great Aryan stock broke away from its parent tree, by what route its migrants travelled, in what degree of consanguinity it stood to the equally Celtic race or races of Britain, what sort of people inhabited Ireland previous to the first Aryan invasion–all this is in the last degree uncertain, though that it was inhabited by some race or races outside the limits of that greatest of human groups seems from ethnological evidence to be perfectly clear.

When first it dawns upon us through that thick darkness which hangs about the birth of all countries–whatever their destiny–it was a densely wooded and scantily peopled island “lying a-loose,” as old Campion, the Elizabethan historian, tells us, “upon the West Ocean,” though his further assertion that “in shape it resembleth an egg, plain on the sides, and not reaching forth to the sea in nooks and elbows of Land as Brittaine doeth”–cannot be said to be quite geographically accurate–the last part of the description referring evidently to the east coast, the only one with which, like most of his countrymen, he was at that time familiar.

Geographically, then, and topographically it was no doubt in much the same state as the greater part of it remained up to the middle or end of the sixteenth century, a wild, tangled, roadless land, that is to say, shaggy with forests, abounding in streams, abounding, too, in lakes–far more, doubtless, than at present, drainage and other causes having greatly reduced their number–with rivers bearing the never-failing tribute of the skies to the sea, yet not so thoroughly as to hinder enormous districts from remaining in a swamped and saturated condition, given up to the bogs, which even at the present time are said to cover nearly one-sixth of its surface.

This superfluity of bogs seems always in earlier times to have been expeditiously set down by all historians and agriculturists as part of the general depravity of the Irish native, who had allowed his good lands,–doubtless for his own mischievous pleasure–to run to waste; bogs being then supposed to differ from other lands only so far as they were made “waste and barren by superfluous moisture.” About the middle of last century it began to be perceived that this view of the matter was somewhat inadequate; the theory then prevailing being that bogs owed their origin not to water alone, but to the destruction of woods, whose remains are found imbedded in them–a view which held good for another fifty or sixty years, until it was in its turn effectually disposed of by the report of the Bogs Commission in 1810, when it was proved once for all that it was to the growth of sphagnums and other peat-producing mosses they were in the main due–a view which has never since been called in question.

A great deal, however, had happened to Ireland before the bogs began to grow on it at all. It had–to speak only of some of its later vicissitudes–been twice at least united to England, and through it with what we now know as the continent of Europe, and twice severed from it again. It had been exposed to a cold so intense as to bleach off all life from its surface, utterly depriving it of vegetation, and grinding the mountains down to that scraped bun-like outline which so many of them still retain; had covered the whole country, highlands and lowlands alike, with a dense overtoppling cap of snow, towering often thousands of feet above the present height of the mountains, from which “central silence” the glaciers crept sleepily down the ravines and valleys, eating their way steadily seaward, and leaving behind them moraines to mark their passage, leaving also longitudinal scratches, cut, as a diamond cuts glass, upon the rocks, as may be seen by any one who takes the trouble of looking for them; finally reaching the sea in a vast sloping plateau which pushed its course steadily onward until its further advance was overborne by the buoyancy of the salt water, the ends breaking off, as the Greenland glaciers do to-day, into huge floating icebergs, which butted against one another, jammed up all the smaller bays and fiords; were carried in again and again on the rising tide; rolled hither and thither like so many colossal ninepins; played, in short, all the old rough-and-tumble Arctic games through many a cold and dismal century, finally melting away as the milder weather began slowly to return, leaving Ireland a very lamentable-looking island indeed, not unlike one of those deplorable islands scattered along the shores of Greenland and upon the edges of Baffin’s Bay–treeless, grassless, brown and scalded, wearing everywhere over its surface the marks of that great ice-plough which had lacerated its sides so long.

There seems to be good geological evidence that the land connection between Ireland and Scotland continued to a considerably later period than between it and England, to which, and as far as can be seen to no other possible cause is to be attributed two very striking characteristics of its fauna, namely, its excessive meagreness and its strikingly northern character. Not only does it come far short of the already meagre English fauna, but all the distinctively southern species are the ones missing, though there is nothing in the climate to account for the fact. The Irish hare, for instance, is not the ordinary brown hare of England, but the “blue” or Arctic hare of Scotch mountains, the same which still further to the north becomes white in winter, a habit which, owing to the milder Irish winters, it has apparently shaken off.

It would be pleasant to linger here a little over this point of distribution–so fruitful of suggestion as to the early history of the planet we occupy. To speculate as to the curious contradictions, or apparent contradictions, to be found even within so narrow an area as that of Ireland. What, for instance, has brought a group of South European plants to the shores of Kerry and Connemara, which plants are not to be found in England, even in Cornwall, which one would have thought must surely have arrested them first? Why, when neither the common toad or frog are indigenous in Ireland (for the latter, though common enough now, was only introduced at the beginning of last century) a comparatively rare little toad, the Natterjack, should be found in one corner of Kerry to all appearances indigenously? All these questions, however, belong to quite another sort of book, and to a much larger survey of the field than there is time here to embark upon, so there is nothing for it but to turn one’s back resolutely upon the tempting sin of discursiveness, or we shall find ourselves belated before our real journey is even begun.

The first people, then, of whose existence in Ireland we can be said to know anything are commonly asserted to have been of Turanian origin, and are known as “Formorians.” As far as we can gather, they were a dark, low-browed, stunted race, although, oddly enough, the word Formorian in early Irish legend is always used as synonymous with the word giant. They were, at any rate, a race of utterly savage hunters and fishermen, ignorant of metal, of pottery, possibly even of the use of fire; using the stone hammers or hatchets of which vast numbers remain in Ireland to this day, and specimens of which may be seen in every museum. How long they held possession no one can tell, although Irish philologists believe several local Irish names to date from this almost inconceivably remote epoch. Perhaps if we think of the Lapps of the present day, and picture them wandering about the country, catching the hares and rabbits in nooses, burrowing in the earth or amongst rocks, and being, not impossibly, looked down on with scorn by the great Irish elk which still stalked majestically over the hills; rearing ugly little altars to dim, formless gods; trembling at every sudden gust, and seeing demon faces in every bush and brake, it will give us a fairly good notion of what these very earliest inhabitants of Ireland were probably like.

Next followed a Belgic colony, known as the Firbolgs, who overran the country, and appear to have been of a somewhat higher ethnological grade, although, like the Formorians, short, dark, and swarthy. Doubtless the latter were not entirely exterminated to make way for the Firbolgs, any more than the Firbolgs to make way for the Danaans, Milesians, and other successive races; such wholesale exterminations being, in fact, very rare, especially in a country which like Ireland seems specially laid out by kindly nature for the protection of a weaker race struggling in the grip of a stronger one.

After the Firbolgs, though I should be sorry to be obliged to say how long after, fresh and more important tribes of invaders began to appear. The first of these were the Tuatha-da-Danaans, who arrived under the leadership of their king Nuad, and took possession of the east of the country. These Tuatha-da-Danaans are believed to have been large, blue-eyed people of Scandinavian origin, kinsmen and possibly ancestors of those Norsemen or “Danes” who in years to come were destined to work such woe and havoc upon the island.

Many battles took place between these Danaans and the earlier Firbolgic settlers–the native owners as no doubt they felt themselves of the country. One of the best substantiated of these, not, indeed, by history or even tradition, but by a more solid testimony, that of the stone remains left on the spot, prove, at any rate, that _some_ long-sustained battle was at some remote period fought on the spot.

This is the famous pre-historic battle of Moytura, rather the Southern Moytura, for there were two; the other, situated not far from the present town of Sligo, retaining “the largest collection of pre-historic remains,” says Dr. Petrie, “in any region in the world with the exception of Carnac.” This second battle of Moytura was fought upon the plain of Cong, which is washed by the waters of Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, close to where the long monotonous midland plain of Ireland becomes broken, changes into that region of high mountains and low-lying valleys, now called Connemara, but which in earlier days was always known as Iar Connaught.

It is a wild scene even now, not very much less so than it must have been when this old and half-mythical Battle of the West was fought and won. A grey plain, “stone-roughened like the graveyard of dead hosts,” broken into grassy ridges, and starred at intervals with pools, repeating the larger glitter of the lake hard by. Over the whole surface of this tumbled plain rise, at intervals, great masses of rock, some natural, but others artificially up-tilted cromlechs and dolmens, menhirs and cairns–whitened by lichen scrawls, giving them often in uncertain light the effect of so many undecipherable inscriptions, written in a long-forgotten tongue.

From the position of the battle-field it has been made out to their own satisfaction by those who have studied it on the spot, that the Firbolgs must have taken up a fortified position upon the hill called Ben-levi; a good strategic position unquestionably, having behind it the whole of the Mayo mountains into which to retreat in case of defeat. The Danaans, on the other hand, advancing from the plains of Meath, took up their station upon the hill known as Knockmaa[1], standing by itself about five miles from the present town of Tuam, on the top of which stands a great cairn, believed to have been in existence even then–a legacy of some yet earlier and more primitive race which inhabited the country, and, therefore, possibly the oldest record of humanity to-day extant in Ireland.

[1] Now Castle Hacket Hill.

Three days the battle is said to have raged with varying fortunes, in the course of which the Danaan king Nuad lost his arm, a loss which was repaired, we are told, by the famous artificer Credue or Cerd, who made him a silver one, and as “Nuad of the Silver Hand” he figures conspicuously in early Irish history. In spite of this, and of the death of a number of their fighting-men, the stars fought for the Tuatha-da-Danaans, who were strong men and cunning, workers in metal, and great fighters, so that at last they utterly made an end of their antagonists, occupying the whole country, and holding it, say the annalists for a hundred and ninety and six years–building earth and stone forts, many of which exist to this day, but what their end was no man can tell you, save that they, too, were, in their turn, conquered by the Milesians or “Scoti,” who next overran the country, giving to it their own name of Scotia, by which name it was known down to the end of the twelfth century, and driving the earlier settlers before them, who thereupon fled to the hills, and took refuge in the forests, whence they emerged, doubtless, with unpleasant effect upon their conquerors, as another defeated race did upon _their_ conquerors in later days.

As regards the early doings of these Scoti, although nearer to us in point of time, their history is, if anything, rather more vague than that of their predecessors. The source for the greater part of it is in a work known as the “Annals of the Four Masters,” a compilation put together in the sixteenth century, from documents now no longer existing, and which must unfortunately, be regarded as largely fictitious. Were names, indeed, all that were wanting to give substantiality there are enough and to spare, the beginning of every Irish history positively bristling with them. Leland, for instance, who published his three sturdy tomes in the year 1773, and who is still one of our chief authorities on the subject, speaks of Ireland as having “engendered one hundred and seventy one monarchs, all of the same house and lineage; with sixty-eight kings, and two queens of Great Brittain and Ireland all sprung equally from her loins.” We read in his pages of the famous brethren Heber and Heremon, sons of Milesius, who divided the island between them; of Allamh Fodla, celebrated as a healer of feuds and protector of learning, who drew the priests and bards together into a triennial assembly at Tara, in Meath; of Kimbaoth, who is praised by the annalists for having advanced learning and kept the peace. The times of peace had not absolutely arrived however, for he was not long after murdered, and wild confusion and wholesale slaughter ensued. Another Milesian prince, Thuathal, shortly afterwards returned from North Britain, and, assisted by a body of Pictish soldiers, defeated the rebels, restored order, and re-established the seat of his monarchy in Meath.

As a specimen of the sort of stories current in history of this kind, Leland relates at considerable length the account of the insult offered to this Thuathal by the provincial king of Leinster. “The king,” he tells us, “had married the daughter of Thuathal, but conceiving a violent passion for her sister, pretended that his wife had died, and demanded and obtained her sister in marriage. The two ladies met in the royal house of Leinster. Astonishment and sorrow put an end to their lives!” The offender not long afterwards was invaded by his justly indignant father-in-law, and his province only preserved from desolation on condition of paying a heavy tribute, “as a perpetual memorial of the resentment of Thuathal and of the offence committed by the king of Leinster.”

Another special favourite of the annalists is Cormac O’Conn, whose reign they place about the year 250, and over whose doings they wax eloquent, dwelling upon the splendour of his court, the heroism of his warlike sons, the beauty of his ten fair daughters, the doings of his famous militia, the Fenni or Fenians, and especially of his illustrious general Finn, or Fingal, the hero of the legends, and father of the poet Ossian–a warrior whom we shall meet with again in the next chapter.

And now, it will perhaps be asked, what is one in sober seriousness to say to all this? All that one can say is that these tales are not to be taken as history in any rigid sense of the word, but must for the most part be regarded as mere hints, caught from chaos, and coming down through a hundred broken mediums; scraps of adventures told around camp fires; oral traditions; rude songs handed from father to son, and altering more or less with each new teller. The early history of Ireland is in this respect much like the early history of all other countries. We have the same semi-mythical aggregations, grown up around some small kernel of reality, but so changed, swollen, distorted, that it is difficult to distinguish the true from the false; becoming vaguer and vaguer too as the mists of time and sentiment gather more and more thickly around them, until at last we seem to be swimming dimly in a “moony vapour,” which allows no dull peaks of reality to pierce through it at all. “There were giants in those days,” is a continually recurring assertion, characteristic of all ancient annals, and of these with the rest.

[Illustration: CROMLECH ON HOWTH.]



Better far than such historic shams–cardboard castles with little or no substance behind them–are the real legends. These put forward no obtrusive pretensions to accuracy, and for that very reason are far truer in that larger sense in which all the genuine and spontaneous outgrowth of a country form part and parcel of its history. Some of the best of these have been excellently translated by Mr. Joyce, whose “Celtic Romances” ought to be in the hands of every one, from the boy of twelve upwards, who aspires to know anything of the inner history of Ireland; to understand, that is to say, that curiously recurrent note of poetry and pathos which breaks continually through all the dull hard prose of the surface. A note often lost in unmitigated din and discord, yet none the less re-emerging, age after age, and century after century, and always when it does so lending its own charm to a record, which, without some such alleviations, would be almost too grim and disheartening in its unrelieved and unresulting misery to be voluntarily approached at all.

Although as they now stand none appear to be of earlier date than the ninth or tenth century, these stories all breathe the very breath of a primitive world. An air of remote pagan antiquity hangs over them, and as we read we seem gradually to realize an Ireland as unlike the one we know now as if, like the magic island of Buz, it had sunk under the waves and been lost. Take, for instance–for space will not allow of more than a sample–the story of “The Pursuit of Gilla Backer and his Horse,” not by any means one of the best, yet characteristic enough. In it we learn that from Beltane, the 1st of May–the great Celtic festival of the sun–to Sanim, the 1st of November, the chiefs and Fenni hunted each day with their hounds through the forests and over the plains, while from Sanim to Beltane they lived in the “Betas,” or houses of hospitality, or feasted high with Finn McCumal, son of Cumal, grandson of Trenmore O’Baskin, whose palace stood upon the summit of the hill of Allen, a hill now crowned with a meaningless modern obelisk, covering the site of the old historic rath, a familiar object to thousands who have looked up at it from the Curragh of Kildare, certainly with no thought in their minds of Finn McCumal or his vanished warriors.

The tale tells how one day, after hunting on the Plains of Cliach, the Fenni sat down to rest upon the hill of Colkilla, their hunting tents being pitched upon a level spot near the summit. How presently, afar off over the plain at their feet, they saw one of the conquered race of earlier inhabitants, a “Formorian” of huge size and repulsive ugliness coming towards them, leading his horse by the halter, an animal larger, it seems, than six ordinary horses, but broken down and knock-kneed, with jaws that stuck out far in advance of its head. How the heroes, idling pleasantly about in the sunshine, laughed aloud at the uncouth “foreigner” and his ugly raw-boned beast, “covered with tangled scraggy hair of a sooty black.” How he came before the king and, having made obeisance, told him that his name was the Gilla Backer, and then and there took service with him for a year, desiring at the same time that special care should be paid to his horse, and the best food given it, and care taken that it did not stray, whereat the heroes laughed again, the horse standing like a thing carved in wood and unable apparently to move a leg.

No sooner, however, was it loosed, and the halter cast off, than it rushed amongst the other horses, kicking and lashing, and seizing them with its teeth till not one escaped. Seeing which, the Fenni rose up in high wrath, and one of them seized the Gilla Backer’s horse by the halter and tried to draw it away, but again it became like a rock, and refused to stir. Then he mounted its back and flogged it, but still it remained like a stone. Then, one after the other, thirteen more of the heroes mounted, but still it stirred not. The very instant, however, that its master, the Gilla Backer rose up angrily to depart, the old horse went too, with the fourteen heroes still upon his back, whereat the Fenni raised fresh shouts of laughter. But the Gilla Backer, after he had walked a little way, looked back, and seeing that his horse was following, stood for a moment to tuck up his skirts. “Then, all at once changing his pace, he set out with long strides; and if you know what the speed of a swallow is, flying across a mountain-side, or the fairy wind of a March day sweeping over the plains, then you can understand Gilla Dacker, as he ran down the hillside towards the south-west. Neither was the horse behindhand in the race, for, though he carried a heavy load, he galloped like the wind after his master, plunging and bounding forward with as much freedom as if he had nothing at all on his back.”

Finn and his warriors left behind on the hill stared awhile, and then resolved to go to Ben Edar, now Howth, there to seek for a ship to follow after Gilla Dacker and his horse, and the fourteen heroes. And on their way they met two bright-faced youths wearing mantles of scarlet silk, fastened by brooches of gold, who, saluting the king, told him their names were Foltlebar and Feradach, and that they were the sons of the king of Innia, and each possessed an art, and that as they walked they had disputed whose art was the greater. “And my art,” said Feradach, “is this. If at any time a company of warriors need a ship, give me only my joiner’s axe and my crann-tavall[2], and I am able to provide a ship without delay. The only thing I ask them to do is this–to cover their heads close and keep them covered, while I give the crann-tavall three blows of my axe. Then I tell them to uncover their heads, and lo, there lies the ship in harbour, ready to sail!”

[2] A sling for projecting stones, strung rather like a cross-bow.

The Foltlebar spoke and said, “This, O king, is the art I profess: On land I can track the wild duck over nine ridges and nine glens, and follow her without being once thrown out, till I drop upon her in her nest. And I can follow up a track on sea quite as well as on land, if I have a good ship and crew.”

And Finn replied, “You are the very men I want; and now I take you both into my service. Though our own trackmen, the Clan Naim, are good, yet we now need some one still more skilful to follow the Gilla Dacker through unknown seas.”

To these unknown seas they went, starting from Ben Edar, and sailed away west for many days over the Atlantic, seeing many strange sights and passing many unknown islands. But at last the ship stopped short in front of an island with vast rocky cliffs towering high above their heads as steep as a sheet of glass, at which the heroes gazed amazed and baffled, not knowing what to do next. But Dermot O’Dynor–called also Dermot of the Bright-face–undertook to climb it, for of all the Fermi he was the most learned in Druidical enchantments, having been early taught the secret of fairy lore by Mananan Mac Lir, who ruled over the Inis Manan or Land of Promise.

Dermot accordingly took leave of his friends and climbed the great cliff, and when he reached the top he found that it was flat and covered with tall green grass, as is often the case in these desolate wind-blown Atlantic islets. And in the very centre he found a well with a tall pillar stone beside it, and beside the pillar stone a drinking-horn chased with gold. And he took up the drinking-horn to drink, being thirsty, but the instant he touched the brim with his lips, lo! a great Wizard Champion armed to the teeth, sprang up out of the earth, whereupon he and Dermot O’Dynor fought together beside the well the livelong day until the dusk fell. But the moment the dusk fell, the wizard champion sprang with a great bound into the middle of the well, and so disappeared, leaving Dermot standing there much astonished at what had befallen him.

And the next day the same thing happened, and the next, and the next. But on the fourth day, Dermot watched his foe narrowly, and when the dusk came on, and he saw that he was about to spring into the well, he flung his arms tightly about him, and the wizard champion struggled to get free, but Dermot held him, and at length they both fell together into the well, deeper and deeper to the very bottom of the earth, and there was nothing to be seen but dim shadows, and nothing to be heard but vague confused sounds like the roaring of waves. At length there came a glimmering of light, and all at once bright day broke suddenly around them, and they came out at the other side of the earth, and found themselves in Tir-fa-ton, the land under the sea, where the flowers bloom all the year round, and no man has ever so much as heard the word Death.

What happened there; how Dermot O’Dynor met the other heroes, and how the fourteen Fenni who had been carried off were at last recaptured, would be too long to tell. Unlike most of these legends all comes right in the end; Gilla Dacker and his ugly horse disappear suddenly into space, and neither Finn himself nor any of his warriors ever see them again.

It is impossible, I think, to read this, and to an even greater degree some of the other stories, which have been translated by Mr. Joyce and others, without perceiving how thoroughly impregnated with old-world and mythological sentiment they are. An air of all but fabulous antiquity pervades them, greater perhaps than pervades the legends of any other north European people. We seem transplanted to a world of the most primitive type conceivable; a world of myth and of fable, of direct Nature interpretations, of mythology, in short, pure and simple. Even those stories which are known to be of later origin exhibit to a greater or less degree the same character; one which has come down to them doubtless from earlier half-forgotten tales, of which they are merely the final and most modern outcome.

When, too, we turn from the legends themselves to the legend-makers, everything that we know of the position of the bards _(Ollamhs_ or _Sennachies)_ carries out the same idea. In the earliest times they were not merely the singers and story-tellers of their race, but to a great degree they bore a religious or semi-religious character. Like the Brehons or judges they were the directors and guides of the others, but they possessed in addition a peculiarly Druidical character of sanctity, as the inheritors and interpreters of a revelation confided to them alone. A power the more formidable because no one, probably, had ever ventured to define its exact character.

The Head bard or Ollamh, in the estimation of his tribesmen, stood next in importance to the chieftain or king–higher, indeed, in some respects; for whereas to slay a king might, or might not be criminal, to slay an Ollamh entailed both outlawing in this life and a vaguer, but not the less terrible, supernatural penalty in another. Occasionally, as in the case of the Ollamh Fodla, by whom the halls of Tara are reputed to have been built, the king was himself the bard, and so combined both offices, but this appears to have been rare. Even as late as the sixteenth century, refusal of praise from a bard was held to confer a far deeper and more abiding stigma upon a man than blame from any other lips. If they, “the bards,” says an Elizabethan writer, “say ought in dispraise, the gentleman, especially the meere Irish, stand in great awe.”

It is easy, I think, to see this is merely the survival of some far more potent power wielded in earlier times. In pre-Christian days especially, the penalty attaching to the curse of a Bard was understood to carry with it a sort of natural anathema, not unlike the priestly anathema of later times. Indeed there was one singular, and, as far as I am aware, unique power possessed by the Irish Bards, which goes beyond any priestly or papal anathema, and which was known as the _Clann Dichin_, a truly awful malediction, by means of which the Ollamh, if offended or injured, could pronounce a spell against the very land of his injurer; which spell once pronounced that land would produce no crop of any kind, neither could living creature graze upon it, neither was it possible even to walk over it without peril, and so it continued until the wrong, whatever it was, had been repented, and the curse of the Ollamh was lifted off from the land again.

Is it to be wondered at that men, endowed with such powers of blessing or banning, possessed of such mystic communion with the then utterly unknown powers of nature, should have exercised an all but unlimited influence over the minds of their countrymen, especially at a time when the powers of evil were still supposed to stalk the earth in all their native malignity, and no light of any revelation had broken through the thick dim roof overhead?

Few races of which the world has ever heard are as imaginative as that of the Celt, and at this time the imagination of every Celt must have been largely exercised in the direction of the malevolent and the terrible. Even now, after fourteen hundred years of Christianity, the Connaught or Kerry peasant still hears the shriek of his early gods in the sob of the waves or the howling of the autumn storms. Fish demons gleam out of the sides of the mountains, and the black bog-holes are the haunts of slimy monsters of inconceivable horror. Even the less directly baneful spirits such as Finvarragh, king of the fairies, who haunts the stony slopes of Knockmaa, and all the endless variety of _dii minores_, the cluricans, banshees, fetches who peopled the primitive forests, and still hop and mow about their ruined homes, were far more likely to injure than to benefit unless approached in exactly the right manner, and with the properly littered conjurations. The Unknown is always the Terrible; and the more vivid an untaught imagination is, the more certain it is to conjure up exactly the things which alarm it most, and which it least likes to have to believe in.



Getting out of this earliest and foggiest period, whose only memorials are the stones which still cumber the ground, or those subtler traces of occupation of which philology keeps the key, and pushing aside a long and uncounted crowd of kings, with names as uncertain as their deeds, pushing aside, too, the legends and coming to hard fact, we must picture Ireland still covered for the most part with pathless forests, but here and there cleared and settled after a rude fashion by rough cattle-owning tribes, who herded their own cattle and “lifted” their neighbour’s quite in the approved fashion of the Scotch Highlanders up to a century and a half ago.

Upon the whole, we may fairly conclude that matters were ameliorating more or less; that the wolves were being killed, the woods cleared–not as yet in the ferocious wholesale fashion of later days–that a little rudimentary agriculture showed perhaps here and there in sheltered places. Sheep and goats grazed then as now over the hills, and herds of cattle began to cover the Lowlands. The men, too, were possibly beginning to grow a trifle less like two-legged beasts of prey, though still rough as the very wolves they hunted; bare-legged, wild-eyed hunter-herdsmen with–who can doubt it?–flocks of children trooping vociferously at their heels.

Of the daily life, habits, dress, religion of these people–the direct ancestors of four-fifths of the present inhabitants of Ireland–we know unfortunately exceedingly little. It is not even certain, whether human sacrifices did or did not form–as they certainly did in Celtic Britain–part of that religion, though there is some evidence that it did, in which case prisoners taken in battle, or slaves, were probably the victims.

That a considerable amount of slavery existed in early Celtic Ireland is certain, though as to the rules by which it was regulated, as of almost every other detail of the life, we know little or nothing. At the time of the Anglo-Norman conquest Ireland was said to be full of English slaves carried off in raids along the coast, and these filibustering expeditions undoubtedly began in very early times. St. Patrick himself was thus carried off, and the annalists tell us that in the third century Cormac Mac Art ravaged the whole western coast of Britain, and brought away “great stores of slaves and treasures.” To how late a period, too, the earlier conquered races of Ireland, such as the Formorians, continued as a distinct race from their Milesian conquerors, and whether they existed as a slave class, or, as seems more probable, as mere outcasts and vagabonds out of the pale of humanity, liable like the “Tory” of many centuries later, to be killed whenever caught; all these are matters on which we have unfortunately only the vaguest hints to guide us.

The whole texture of society must have been loose and irregular to a degree that it is difficult for us now to conceive, without central organization or social cement of any kind. In one respect–that of the treatment of his women–the Irish Celt seems to have always stood in favourable contrast to most of the other rude races which then covered the north of Europe, but as regards the rest there was probably little difference. Fighting was the one aim of life. Not to have washed his spear in an adversary’s gore, was a reproach which would have been felt by a full-grown tribesman to have carried with it the deepest and most lasting ignominy. The very women were not in early times exempt from war service, nay, probably would have scorned to be so. They fought beside their husbands, and slew or got slain with as reckless a courage as the men, and it was not until the time of St. Columba, late in the sixth century, that a law was passed ordering them to remain in their homes–a fact which alone speaks volumes both for the vigour and the undying pugnacity of the race.

While, on the one hand, we can hardly thus exaggerate the rudeness of this life, we must be careful, on the other, of concluding that these people were simple barbarians, incapable of discriminating right from wrong. Men, even the wildest, rarely indeed live entirely without some law to guide them, and certainly it was so in Ireland. A rule was growing up and becoming theoretically at any rate, established, many of the provisions of which startle us by the curious modernness of their tone, so oddly do they contrast with what we know of the condition of civilization or non-civilization then existing.

Although this ancient Irish law was not drawn up until long after the introduction of Christianity, it seems best to speak of it here, as, though modified by the stricter Christian rule, it in the main depended for such authority as it possessed upon traditions existing long before; traditions regarded indeed by Celtic scholars as tracing their origin beyond the arrival of the first Celt in Ireland, outcomes and survivals, that is to say, of yet earlier Aryan rule, showing points of resemblance with the equally Aryan laws of India, a matter of great interest, carrying our thoughts back along the history of humanity to a time when those differences which seem now the most inherent and vital were as yet undreamt of, and not one of the great nations of the modern world were as much as born.

The two chief books in which this law is contained, the “Book of Aicill” and the “Senchus-Mor,” have only comparatively recently been translated and made available for English readers. The law as there laid down was drawn up and administered by the Brehons, who were the judges and the law-makers of the people, and whose decision was appealed to in all matters of dispute. The most serious flaw of the system–a very serious one it will be seen–was that, owing to the scattered and tribal existence prevailing, there was no strong central rule _behind_ the Brehon, as there is behind the modern judge, ready and able to enforce his decrees. At bottom, force, it must not be forgotten, is the sanction of all law, and there was no available force of any kind then, nor for many a long day afterwards, in Ireland.

It was, no doubt, owing chiefly to this defective weakness that a system of fines rather than punishments grew up, one which in later times caused much scandal to English legal writers. In such a society crime in fact was hardly recognizable except in the form of an injury inflicted upon some person or persons. An offence against the State there could not be, simply because there was no State to be offended. Everything, from murder down to the smallest and most accidental injury, was compensated for by “erics” or fines. The amount of these fines was decided upon by the Brehon, who kept an extraordinary number of imaginary rulings, descending into the most minute particulars, such as what fine was to be paid in the case of one person’s cat stealing milk from another person’s house, what fine in the case of one woman’s bees stinging another woman, a careful distinction being preserved in this case between the case in which the sting did or did not draw blood! Even in the matter of fines it does not seem clear how the penalty was to be enforced where the person on whom it was inflicted refused to submit and where there was no one at hand to coerce him successfully.

As regards ownership of land early Irish law is very peculiar, and requires to be carefully studied. Primogeniture, regarded by all English lawyers trained under the feudal system as the very basis of inheritance, was simply unknown. Even in the case of the chieftain his rights belonged only to himself, and before his death a re-election took place, when some other of the same blood, not necessarily his eldest son, or even his son at all, but a brother, first cousin, uncle, or whoever stood highest in the estimation of the clan, was nominated as “Tanist” or successor, and received promises of support from the rest.

Elizabethan writers mention a stone which was placed upon a hill or mound having the shape of a foot cut on it, supposed to be that of the first chief or ancestor of the race, “upon which stone the Tanist placing his foot, took oath to maintain all ancient customs inviolably, and to give up the succession peaceably to his Tanist in due time.”

The object of securing a Tanist during the lifetime of the chief was to hinder its falling to a minor, or some one unfit to take up the chieftainship, and this continued to prevail for centuries after the Anglo-Norman invasion, and was even adopted by many owners of English descent who had become “meere Irish,” as the phrase ran, or “degenerate English.”

“The childe being oftentimes left in nonage,” says Campion, “could never defend his patrimony, but by the time he grow to a competent age and have buried an uncle or two, he also taketh his turn,” a custom which, as he adds, “breedeth among them continual warres.”

The entire land belonged to the clan, and was held theoretically in common, and a redistribution made on the death of each owner, though it seems doubtful whether so very inconvenient an arrangement could practically have been adhered to. All sons, illegitimate as well as legitimate, shared and shared alike, holding the property between them in undivided ownership. It was less the actual land than the amount of grazing it afforded which constituted its value. Even to this day a man, especially in the West of Ireland, will tell you that he has “the grass of three cows,” or “the grass of six cows,” as the case may be.

It is curious that the most distinct ancient rules concerning the excessive extortion of rent are, as has been shown by Sir Henry Maine, to be found in the “Senchus Mor.” Under its regulations three rents are enumerated–namely, the _rack rent_ to be extorted from one of a strange tribe; the _fair_ rent from one of the same tribe; and the _stipulated_ rent to be paid equally to either. The Irish clan or sept was a very loose, and in many cases irregular, structure, embracing even those who were practically undistinguishable from slaves, yet from none of these could any but _fair_ or customary rent be demanded. It was only when those who by no fiction could be supposed to belong to the clan sought for land that the best price attainable might be extorted and insisted upon.

In so primitive a state of society such persons were almost sure to be outcasts, thrown upon the world either by the breaking up of other clans or by their own misdoings. A man of this class was generally what was known as a “Fuidhar” or “broken man,” and answered in some respects to the slave or the serf of the early English village community. Like him he seems to have been his lord’s or chief’s chattel, and if killed or injured the fine or “eric” was paid not to his own family, but to his master. Such men were usually settled by the chief upon the unappropriated tribal lands over which his own authority tended to increase. This Fuidhar class from the first seem to have been very numerous, and depending as they did absolutely upon the chief, there grew up by degrees that class of armed retainers–kerns and galloglasses, they were called in later times–who surrounded every important chief, whether of English or Irish descent, and were by them quartered forcibly in war time upon others, and so there grew up that system of “coyne and livery,” or forced entertainment for horse and men, which is to be met with again and again throughout Irish history, and which undoubtedly was one of the greatest curses of the country, tending more perhaps than any other single cause to keep its people at the lowest possible condition of starvation and misery.

No system of representation seems ever to have prevailed in Ireland. That idea is, in fact, almost purely Teutonic, and seems never to have sprung up spontaneously amongst any Celtic people. The family was the real root. Every head of a family ruled his own household, and submitted in his turn to the rule of his chief. Blood-relationship, including fosterage, was the only real and binding union; that larger connection known as the clan or sept, having the smaller one of the family for its basis, as was the case also amongst the clans of the Scotch highlands. Theoretically, all members of a clan, high and low alike, were held to be the descendants of a common ancestor, and in this way to have a real and direct claim upon one another. If a man was not in some degree akin to another he was no better than a beast, and might be killed like one without compunction whenever occasion arose.

Everything thus began and centred around the tribe or sept. The whole theory of life was purely local. The bare right of existence extended only a few miles from your own door, to the men who bore the same name as yourself. Beyond that nothing was sacred; neither age nor sex, neither life nor goods, not even in later times the churches themselves. Like his cousin of the Scotch Highlands, the Irish tribesman’s life was one perpetual carnival of fighting, burning, raiding, plundering, and he who plundered oftenest was the finest hero.

All this must be steadily borne in mind as it enables us to understand, as nothing else will, that almost insane joy in and lust for fighting, that marked inability to settle down to orderly life which runs through all Irish history from the beginning almost to the very end.

Patriotism, too, it must be remembered, is in the first instance only an idea, and the narrowest of local jealousies may be, and often are, forms merely of the same impulse. To men living in one of these small isolated communities, each under the rule of its own petty chieftain, it was natural and perhaps inevitable that the sense of connection with those outside their own community should have been remarkably slight, and of nationality, as we understand the word, quite non-existent. Their own little circle of hills and valleys, their own forests and pasturage was their world, the only one practically of which they had any cognizance. To its scattered inhabitants of that day little Ireland must have seemed a region of incalculable extent, filled with enemies to kill or to be killed by; a region in which a man might wander from sunrise to sunset yet never reach the end, nay, for days together without coming to a second sea. As Greece to a Greek of one of its smaller states it seemed vast simply because he had never in his own person explored its limits.




But a new element was about to appear upon the troubled stage, and a new figure, one whose doings, however liberally we may discount the more purely supernatural part of them, strikes us even now as little short of miraculous. There are plenty of heathen countries still; plenty of missionaries too; but a missionary at whose word an entire island–a heathen country given up, it must be remembered, to exceedingly heathen practices–resigns its own creed, and that missionary, too, no king, no warrior, but a mere unarmed stranger, without power to enforce one of the decrees he proclaimed so authoritatively, is a phenomenon which we should find some little difficulty now, or, indeed, at any time, in paralleling.

In one respect St. Patrick was less fortunate than his equally illustrious successor, Columba, since he found no contemporary, or nearly contemporary chronicler, to write his story; the consequence being that it has become so overgrown with pious myths, so tangled and matted with portents and miracles, that it is often difficult for us to see any real substance or outline below them at all.

What little direct knowledge we have is derived from a famous Irish manuscript known as “The Book of Armagh,” which contains, amongst other things, a Confession and an Epistle, believed by some authorities to have been actually written by St. Patrick himself, which was copied as it now stands by a monkish scribe early in the eighth century. It also contains a life of the saint from which the accounts of his later historians have been chiefly drawn.

According to the account now generally accepted he was born about the year 390, though as this would make him well over a hundred at the time of his death, perhaps 400 would be the safest date; was a native, not as formerly believed of Gaul, but of Dumbarton upon the Clyde, whence he got carried off to Ireland in a filibustering raid, became the slave of one Milcho, an inferior chieftain, and herded his master’s sheep upon the Slemish mountains in Antrim.

Seven or eight years later he escaped, got back to Britain, was ordained, afterwards went to Gaul, and, according to one account, to Italy. But the thought of the country of his captivity seems to have remained upon his mind and to have haunted his sleeping and waking thoughts. The unborn children of the pagan island seemed to stretch our their hands for help to him. At last the inward impulse grew too strong to be resisted, and accompanied by a few followers, he set foot first on the coast of Wicklow where another missionary, Paladius, had before attempted vainly to land, and being badly received there, took boat again, and landed finally at the entrance of Strangford Lough.

From this point he made his way on foot to Meath, where the king Laoghaire was holding a pagan festival, and stopped to keep Easter on the hill of Slane where he lit a fire. This fire being seen from the hill of Tara aroused great anger, as no lights were by law allowed to be shown before the king’s beacon was lit. Laoghaire accordingly sent to know the meaning of this insolence and to have St. Patrick brought before him. St. Patrick’s chronicler, Maccumacthenius (one could wish that he had been contented with a shorter name!), tells that as the saint drew nigh to Tara, many prodigies took place. The earth shook, darkness fell, and certain of the magicians who opposed him were seized and tossed into the air. One prodigy certainly took place, for he seems to have won converts from the first. A large number appear to have been gained upon the spot, and before long the greater part of Meath had accepted the new creed, although its king, Laoghaire himself remained a sturdy pagan until his death.

From Tara St. Patrick went to Connaught, a province to which he seems to have been drawn from the first, and there spent eight years, founding many churches and monasteries. There also he ascended Croagh Patrick, the tall sugar-loaf mountain which stands over the waters of Clew Bay, and up to the summit of which hundreds of pilgrims still annually climb in his honour.

From Connaught he next turned his steps to Ulster, visited Antrim and Armagh, and laid the foundations of the future cathedral and bishopric in the latter place. Wherever he went converts seem to have come in to him in crowds. Even the Bards, who had most to lose by the innovation, appear to have been in many cases drawn over. They and the chiefs gained, the rest followed unhesitatingly; whole clans were baptized at a time. Never was spiritual conquest so astonishingly complete!

The tale of St. Patrick’s doings; of his many triumphs; his few failures; of the boy Benignus his first Irish disciple; of his wrestling upon Mount Cruachan; of King Eochaidh; of the Bard Ossian, and his dialogues with the apostle, all this has been excellently rendered into verse by Mr. Aubrey de Vere, whose “Legends of St. Patrick” seem to the present writer by no means so well known as they ought to be. The second poem in the series, “The Disbelief of Milcho,” especially is one of great beauty, full of wild poetic gleams, and touches which breathe the very breath of an Irish landscape. Poetry is indeed the medium best suited for the Patrician history. The whole tale of the saint’s achievements in Ireland is one of those in which history seems to lose its own sober colouring, to become luminous and half magical, to take on all the rosy hues of a myth.

The best proof of the effect of the new revelation is to be found in that extraordinary burst of enthusiasm which marked the next few centuries. The passion for conversion, for missionary labour of all sorts, seems to have swept like a torrent over the island, arousing to its best and highest point that Celtic enthusiasm and which has never, unhappily, found such noble exercise since. Irish missionaries flung themselves upon the dogged might of heathenism, and grappled with it in a death struggle. Amongst the Picts of the Highlands, amongst the fierce Friscians of the Northern seas, beside the Lake of Constance, where the church of St. Gall still preserves the name of another Irish saint, in the Black Forest, at Schaffhausen, at Wuertzburg, throughout, in fact, all Germany and North Italy, they were ubiquitous. Wherever they went their own red-hot fervour seems to have melted every obstacle; wherever they went victory seems to have crowned their zeal[3].

[3] For an account of Irish missionaries in Germany, see Mr. Baring-Gould’s “Germany,” in this series, p. 46.

Discounting as much as you choose everything that seems to partake of pious exaggeration, there can be no doubt that the period which followed the Christianizing of Ireland was one of those shining epochs of spiritual and also to a great degree intellectual enthusiasm rare indeed in the history of the world. Men’s hearts, lull of newly–won fervour, burned to hand on the torch in their turn to others. They went out by thousands, and they beckoned in their converts by tens of thousands. Irish hospitality–a quality which has happily escaped the tooth of criticism–broke out then with a vengeance, and extended its hands to half a continent. From Gaul, from Britain, from Germany, from dozens of scattered places throughout the wide dominions of Charlemagne, the students came; were kept, as Bede expressly tells us, free of cost in the Irish monasteries, and drew their first inspirations in the Irish schools. Even now, after the lapse of all these centuries, many of the places whence they came still reverberate faintly with the memory of that time.

Before plunging into that weltering tangle of confusion which makes up what we call Irish history, one may be forgiven for lingering a little at this point, even at the risk of some slight over-balance of proportion. With so dark a road before us, it seems good to remember that the energies of Irishmen were not, as seems sometimes to be concluded, always and of necessity directed to injuring themselves or tormenting their rulers! Neither was this period by any means a short one. It was no mere “flash in the pan;” no “small pot soon hot” enthusiasm, but a steady flame which burned undimmed for centuries. “During the seventh and eighth centuries, and part of the ninth,” says Mr. Goldwin Smith, not certainly a prejudiced writer, “Ireland played a really great part in European history.” “The new religious houses,” says Mr. Green in his Short History, “looked for their ecclesiastical traditions, not to Rome, but to Ireland, and quoted for their guidance the instructions not of Gregory, but of Columba.” “For a time,” he adds, “it seemed as if the course of the world’s history was to be changed, as if that older Celtic race which the Roman and German had swept before them, had turned to the moral conquest of their conquerors, as if Celtic and not Latin Christianity was to mould the destinies of the Church of the West.”



At home during the same period the chief events were the founding of monasteries, and the settling down of monastic communities, every such monastery becoming the protector and teacher of the little Christian community in its vicinity, educating its own sons, and sending them out as a bee sends its swarms, to settle upon new ground, and to fertilize the flowers of distant harvest fields.

At one time, “The Tribes of the Saints” seem to have increased to such an extent that they threatened to absorb all others. In West Ireland especially, little hermitages sprung up in companies of dozens and hundreds, all over the rock-strewn wastes, and along the sad shores of the Atlantic, dotting themselves like sea gulls upon barren points of rock, or upon sandy wastes which would barely have sufficed, one might think, to feed a goat. We see their remains still–so tiny, yet so enduring–in the Isles of Arran; upon a dozen rocky points all round the bleak edges of Connemara; in the wild mountain glens of the Burren–set often with an admirable selection of site, in some sloping dell with, perhaps, a stream slipping lightly by and hurrying to lose itself in the ground, always with a well or spring brimming freshly over–an object still of reverence to the neighbouring peasants. Thanks to the innate stability of their material, thanks, too, to the super-abundance of stone in these regions, which makes them no temptation to the despoiler, they remain, roofless but otherwise pretty much as they were. We can look back across a dozen centuries with hardly the change of a detail.

[Illustration: CROSS IN CEMETERY OF TEMPUL BRECCAIN, ARANMOR. _From a drawing by M. Stokes (after Sir F.W. Burton_).]

In these little western monasteries each cell stood as a rule by itself, containing–one would say very tightly containing–a single inmate. In other places, large buildings, however, were erected, and great numbers of monks lived together. Some of these larger communities are stated to have actually contained several thousand brethren, and though this sounds like an exaggeration, there can be no doubt that they were enormously populous. The native mode of existence lent itself, in fact, very readily to the arrangement. It was merely the clan or sept re-organized upon a religious footing. “Les premieres grands monasteres de l’Irelande,” says M. de Montalembert in his “Moines d’Occident,” “ne furent done autre chose a vrai dire qui des _clans_, reorganises sous une forme religieuse.” New clans, that is to say, cut out of the old ones, their fealty simply transferred from a chief to an abbot, who was almost invariably in the first instance of chieftain blood. “Le prince, en se faisant moine, devenait naturellement abbe, et restait ainsi dans la vie monastique, ce qu’il avait ete dans la vie seculiere le chef de sa race et de son clan.”

There was thus nothing to jar with that sense of continuity, that inborn love of the past, of old ways, old habits, old modes of thought which made and still makes an Irishman–be he never so pronounced a republican–the deepest at heart of Conservatives. Whereas every later change of faith which has been endeavoured to be forced upon the country has met with a steady and undeviating resistance, Christianity, the greatest change of all, seems to have brought with it from the first no sense of dislocation. It assimilated itself quietly, and as it were naturally, with what it found. Under the prudent guidance of its first propagators, it simply gathered to itself all the earlier objects of belief, and with merely the change of a name, sanctified and turned them to its own uses.




About fifty years after the death of St. Patrick a new missionary arose, one who was destined to carry the work which he had begun yet further, to become indeed the founder of what for centuries was the real metropolis and centre of Western Christendom.

In 521 A.D., St. Columba was born in Donegal, of the royal race, say the annalists, of Hy-Nial–of the royal race, at any rate, of the great workers, doers, and thinkers all the world over. In 565, forty-four years later, he left Ireland with twelve companions (the apostolic number), and started on his memorable journey to Scotland, a date of immeasurable importance in the history of Western Christianity.

In that dense fog which hangs over these early times–thick enough to try even the most penetrating eyesight–there is a curious and indescribable pleasure in coming upon so definite, so living, so breathing a figure as that of St. Columba, In writing the early history of Ireland, one of the greatest difficulties which the historian–great or small–has to encounter is to be found in that curious unreality, that tantalizing sense of illusiveness and indefiniteness which seems to envelope every figure whose name crops up on his pages. Even four hundred years later the name of a really great prince and warrior like Brian Boru, or Boruma, awakens no particular sense of reality, nay as often as not is met by a smile of incredulity. The existence of St. Columba no one, however, has been found rash enough to dispute! His, in fact, is one of those essentially self-lit figures which seem to shed some of their own light upon every other they come in contact with, even accidentally. Across the waste of centuries we see him almost as he appeared to his contemporaries. There is something friendly–as it were, next-door-neighbourly–about the man. If we land to-day on Iona, or stand in any of the little chapels in Donegal which bear his name, his presence seems as real and tangible to us as that of Tasso at Ferrara or Petrarch at Avignon. In spite of that thick–one is inclined to say rank–growth of miracles which at times confuse Adamnan’s fine portrait of his hero–cover it thick as lichens some monumental slab of marble–we can still recognize his real lineaments underneath. His great natural gifts; his abounding energy; his characteristically Irish love for his native soil; for the beloved “oaks of Derry.” We see him in his goings out and his comings in; we know his faults; his fiery Celtic temper, swift to wrath, swift to forgive when the moment of anger is over. Above all, we feel the charm of his abounding humanity. Like Sterne’s Uncle Toby there seems to have been something about St. Columba which “eternally beckoned to the unfortunate to come and take shelter under him,” and no one apparently ever refused to respond to that appeal.

One thing it is important hereto have clearly before the mind, as it is very apt to be overlooked. At the time of St. Columba’s ministry, England, which during the lifetime of St. Patrick had been Roman and Christian, had now under the iron flail of its Saxon conquerors lapsed back into Paganism. Ireland, therefore, which for a while had made a part of Christendom, had been broken short off by the heathen conquest of Britain. It was now a small, isolated fragment of Christendom, with a great mass of heathenism between. We can easily imagine what a stimulus to all the eager enthusiasts of the Faith the consciousness of this neighbourhood must have been; how keen the desire to rush to the assault and to replace the Cross where it had been before.

That assault was not, however, begun by Ireland; it was begun, as every one knows, by St. Augustine, a Roman priest, sent by Pope Gregory, who landed at Ebbsfleet, in the Isle of Thanet, in the year 597–thirty-two years after St. Columba left Ireland. If the South of England owes its conversion to Rome, Northern England owes its conversion to Ireland, through the Irish colony at Iona. Oswald, the king of Northumbria, had himself taken refuge in Iona in his youth, and when summoned to reign he at once called in the Irish missionaries, acting himself, we are told, as their interpreter. His whole reign was one continuous struggle with heathenism, and although at his death it triumphed for a time, in the end the faith and energies of the missionaries carried all before them. After the final defeat of the Mercians, under their king Penda, at Winwoed, in 655, the struggle was practically over. Northern and Southern England were alike once more Christian.

One of the chief agents in this result was the Irish monk Aidan, who had fixed his seat in the little peninsula of Lindisfarne, and from whose monastery, as from another Iona, missionaries poured over the North of England. At Lichfield, Whitby, and many other places religious houses sprang up, all owing their allegiance to Lindisfarne, and through it to Iona and Ireland.

In this very fervour there lay the seeds of a new trouble. A serious schism arose between Western Christendom and the Papacy. Rome, whether spiritually or temporally, was a name which reverberated with less awe-inspiring sound in the ears of Irishmen (even Irish Churchmen) than, probably, in those of any other people at that time on the globe. They had never come under the tremendous sway of its material power, and until centuries after this period–when political and, so to speak, accidental causes drove them into its arms–its spiritual power remained to them a thing apart, a foreign element to which they gave at most a reluctant half adhesion.

From this it came about that early in the history of the Western Church serious divisions sprang up between it and the other churches, already being fast welded together into a coherent body under the yoke and discipline of Rome. The points in dispute do not strike us now of any very vital importance. They were not matters of creed at all, merely of external rule and discipline. A vehement controversy as to the proper form of the tonsure, another as to the correct day for Easter, raged for more than a century with much heat on either side; those churches which owed their allegiance to Iona clinging to the Irish methods, those who adhered to Rome vindicating its supreme and paramount authority.

At the Synod of Whitby, held in 664, these points of dispute came to a crisis, and were adjudicated upon by Oswin, king of Northumbria; Bishop Colman, Aidan’s successor at Holy Island, maintaining the authority of Columba; Wilfrid, a Saxon priest who had been to Rome, that of St. Peter. Oswin’s own leaning seems at first to have been towards the former, but when he heard of the great pretensions of the Roman saint he was staggered. “St. Peter, you say, holds the keys of heaven and hell?” he inquired thoughtfully, “have they also been given then to St. Columba?” It was owned with some reluctance that the Irish saint had been less favoured. “Then I give my verdict for St. Peter,” said Oswin, “lest when I reach the gate of heaven I find it shut, and the porter refuse to open to me.” This sounds prudent, but scarcely serious; it seems, however, to have been regarded as serious enough by the Irish monks. The Synod broke up. Colman, with his Irish brethren, and a few English ones who threw in their lot with them, forsook Lindisfarne, and sailed away for Ireland. From that moment the rift between them and their English brethren grew steadily wider, and was never afterwards thoroughly healed.

It does not, however, seem to have affected the position of the Irish Church at home, nor yet to have diminished the number of its foreign converts. Safe in its isolation, it continued to go on in its own way with little regard to the rest of Christendom, although in respect to the points chiefly in dispute it after a while submitted to the Roman decision. Armagh was the principal spiritual centre, but there were other places, now tiny villages, barely known by name to the tourist, which were then centres of learning, and recognized as such, not alone in Ireland itself, but throughout Europe. Clonard, Tallaght Clonmacnois; Slane in Meath, where Dagobert II. one of the kings of France, was educated; Kildare, where the sacred fire–not lamp–of St. Bridget was kept burning for centuries, all are places whose names fill a considerable space in the fierce dialectical controversy of that fiery theological age[4].

[4] For an excellent account of early Irish monastic life see “Ireland, and the Celtic Church,” by Professor G. Stokes.

This period of growth slipped all too quickly away, but it has never been forgotten. It was the golden time to which men looked wistfully back when growing trouble and discord, attack from without, and dissension from within, had torn in pieces the unhappy island which had shone like a beacon through Europe only to become its byword. The Norsemen had not yet struck prow on Irish strand, and the period between the Synod of Whitby and their appearance seems to have been really one of steady moral and intellectual growth. Heathenism no doubt still lurked in obscure places; indeed traces of it may with no great difficulty still be discovered in Ireland, but it did not hinder the light from spreading fast under the stimulus which it had received from its first founders. The love of letters, too, sprang up with the religion of a book, and the copying of manuscripts became a passion.


As in Italy and elsewhere, so too in Ireland, the monks were the painters, the illuminators, the architects, carvers, gilders, and book-binders of their time. While outside the monastery walls the fighters were making their neighbours’ lives a burden to them, and beyond the Irish Sea the whole world as then known was being shaken to pieces and reconstructed, the monk sat placidly inside at his work, producing chalices, crosiers, gold and silver vessels for the churches, carving crosses, inditing manuscripts filled with the most marvellously dexterous ornament; works, which, in spite of the havoc wrought by an almost unbroken series of devastations which have poured over the doomed island, still survive to form the treasure of its people. We can have very little human sympathy, very little love for what is noble and admirable, if–whatever our creeds or our politics–we fail, as we look back across that weary waste which separates us from them, to extend our sympathy and admiration to these early workers–pioneers in a truly national undertaking which has found only too few imitators since.




While from the fifth to the eighth century the work of the Irish Church was thus yearly increasing, spreading its net wider and wider, and numbering its converts by thousands, not much good can be reported of the secular history of Ireland during the same period. It is for the most part a confused chronicle of small feuds, jealousies, raids, skirmishes, retaliations, hardly amounting to the dignity of war, but certainly as distinctly the antipodes of peace.

The tribal system, which in its earlier stages has been already explained, had to some degree begun to change its character. The struggles between the different septs or clans had grown into a struggle between a number of great chieftains, under whose rule the lesser ones had come to range themselves upon all important occasions.

As early as the introduction of Christianity Ireland was already divided into four such aggregations of tribes–kingdoms they are commonly called–answering pretty nearly to the present four provinces, with the addition of Meath, which was the appanage of the house of Ulster, and included West Meath, Longford, and a fragment of the King’s County. Of the other four provinces, Connaught acknowledged the rule of the O’Connors, Munster that of the O’Briens, Leinster of the McMurroughs, and Ulster of the O’Neills, who were also in theory over-kings, or, as the native word was, Ard-Reaghs of the entire island.


Considering what a stout fighting race they proved in later ages–fighting often when submission would have been the wiser policy–it is curious that in early days these O’Neills or Hy-Nials seem to have been but a supine race. For centuries they were titular kings of Ireland, yet during all that time they seem never to have tried to transform their faint, shadowy sceptre into a real and active one. Malachy or Melachlin, the rival of Brian Boru, seems to have been the most energetic of the race, yet he allowed the sceptre to be plucked from his hands with an ease which, judging by the imperfect light shed by the chroniclers over the transaction, seems to be almost unaccountable.

It is difficult to say how far that light, for which the Irish monasteries were then celebrated, extended to the people of the island at large. With one exception, little that can be called cultivation is, it must be owned, discoverable, indeed long centuries after this Irish chieftains we know were innocent of the power of signing their own names. That exception was in the case of music, which seems to have been loved and studied from the first. As far back as we can see him the Irish Celt was celebrated for his love of music. In one of the earliest extant annals a _Cruit_, or stringed harp, is described as belonging to the Dashda, or Druid chieftain. It was square in form, and possessed powers wholly or partly miraculous. One of its strings, we are told, moved people to tears, another to laughter. A harp in Trinity College, known as the harp of Brian Boru, is said to be the oldest in Europe, and has thirty strings. This instrument has been the subject of many controversies. O’Curry doubts it having belonged to Brian Boru, and gives his reasons for believing that it was among the treasures of Westminster when Henry VIII. came to the throne in 1509, and that it suggested the placing of the harp in the arms of Ireland, and on the “harp grotes,” a coinage of the period. However this may be we cannot doubt that music had early wrought itself into the very texture and fabric of Irish life; airs and words, wedded closely together, travelling down from mouth to mouth for countless generations. Every little valley and district may be said to have had its own traditional melodies, and the tunes with which Moore sixty years ago was delighting critical audiences had been floating unheeded and disregarded about the country for centuries.

The last ten years of the eighth century were very bad ones for Ireland. Then for the first time the black Viking ships were to be seen sweeping shore-wards over the low grey waves of the Irish Channel, laden with Picts, Danes, and Norsemen, “people,” says an old historian, “from their very cradles dissentious, Land Leapers, merciless, soure, and hardie.” They descended upon Ireland like locusts, and where-ever they came ruin, misery, and disaster followed.

[Illustration: KILBANNON TOWER. _(From a drawing by George. Petrie, LL.D.)_]

Their first descent appears to have been upon an island, probably that of Lambay, near the mouth of what is now Dublin harbour. Returning a few years later, sixty of their ships, according to the Irish annalists, entered the Boyne, and sixty more the Liffy. These last were under the command of a leader who figures in the annals as Turgesius, whose identity has never been made very clear, but who appears to be the same person known to Norwegian historians as Thorkels or Thorgist.

Whatever his name he was undoubtedly a bad scourge to Ireland. Landing in Ulster, he burned the cathedral of Armagh, drove out St. Patrick’s successors, slaughtered the monks, took possession of the whole east coast, and marching into the centre of the island, established himself in a strong position near Athlone.

Beyond all other Land Leapers, this Thorgist, or Turgesius, seems to have hated the churches. Not content with burning them, and killing all priests and monks he could find, his wife, we are told, took possession of the High Altar at Clonmacnois, and used it as a throne from which to give audience, or to utter prophecies and incantations. He also exacted a tribute of “nose money,” which if not paid entailed the forfeit of the feature it was called after. At last three or four of the tribes united by despair rose against him, and he was seized and slain; an event about which several versions are given, but the most authentic seems to be that he was taken by stratagem and drowned in Lough Owel, near Mullingar, in or about the year 845.

He was not, unfortunately, the last of the Land Leapers! More and more they came, sweeping in from the north, and all seem to have made direct for the plunder of the monasteries, into which the piety of centuries had gathered most of the valuables of the country. The famous round towers, or “Clocthech” of Ireland, have been credited with a hundred fantastic origins, but are now known not to date from earlier than about the eighth or ninth century, are always found in connection with churches or monasteries, and were unquestionably used as defences against these northern invaders. At the first sight of their unholy prows, rising like water snakes above the waves, all the defenceless inmates and refugees, all the church plate and valuables, and all sickly or aged brothers were hurried into these monastic keeps; the doors–set at a height of from ten to twenty feet above the ground–securely closed, the ladders drawn up, food supplies having been no doubt already laid in, and a state of siege began.