The Celtic Race.
Nations which preserve, as it were, a perpetual youth, should be studied from their origin. Never having totally changed, some of their present features may be recognized at the very cradle of their existence, and the strangeness of the fact sets out in bolder relief their actual peculiarities. Hence we consider it to our purpose to examine the Celtic race first, as we may know it from ancient records: What it was; what it did; what were its distinctive features; what its manners and chief characteristics. A strong light will thus be thrown even on the Irish of our own days. Our words must necessarily be few on so extensive a subject; but, few as they are, they will not be unimportant in our investigations.
In all the works of God, side by side with the general order resulting from seemingly symmetric laws, an astonishing variety of details everywhere shows itself, producing on the mind of man the idea of infinity, as effectually as the wonderful aspect of a seemingly boundless universe. This variety is visible, first in the heavenly bodies, as they are called; star differing from star, planet from planet; even the most minute asteroids never showing themselves to us two alike, but always offering differences in size, of form, of composition.
This variety is visible to us chiefly on our globe; in the infinite multiplicity of its animal forms, in the wonderful insect tribes, and in the brilliant shells floating in the ocean; visible also in the incredible number of trees, shrubs, herbs, down to the most minute vegetable organisms, spread with such reckless abundance on the surface of our dwelling; visible, finally, in the infinity of different shapes assumed by inorganic matter.
But what is yet more wonderful and seemingly unaccountable is that, taking every species of being in particular, and looking at any two individuals of the same species, we would consider it an astonishing effect of chance, were we to meet with two objects of our study perfectly alike. The mineralogist notices it, if he finds in the same group of crystals two altogether similar; the botanist would express his astonishment if, on comparing two specimens of the same plant, he found no difference between them. The same may be said of birds, of reptiles, of mammalia, of the same kind. A close observer will even easily detect dissimilarities between the double organs of the same person, between the two eyes of his neighbor, the two hands of a friend, the two feet of a stranger whom he meets.
It is therefore but consistent with general analogy that in the moral as well as in the physical faculties of man, the same ever-recurring variety should appear, in the features of the face, in the shape of the limbs, in the moving of the muscles, as well as in the activity of thought, in the mobility of humor, in the combination of passions, propensities, sympathies, and aversions.
But, at the same time, with all these peculiarities perceptible in individuals, men, when studied attentively, show themselves in groups, as it were, distinguished from other groups by peculiarities of their own, which are generally called characteristics of race; and although, according to various systems, these characteristics are made to expand or contract at will, to serve an a priori purpose, and sustain a preconcerted theory, yet there are, with respect to them, startling facts which no one can gainsay, and which are worthy of serious attention.
Two of these facts may be stated in the following propositions:
The proofs of these propositions would require long details altogether foreign to our present purpose, as we are not writing on ethnology. We will take them for granted, as otherwise we may say that the whole history of man would be unintelligible. If, however, writers are found who apply to their notion of race all the inflexibility of physical laws, and who represent history as a rigid system of facts chained together by a kind of fatality; if a school has sprung up among historians to do away with the moral responsibility of individuals and of nations, it is scarcely necessary to tell the reader that nothing is so far from our mind as to adopt ideas destructive, in fact, to all morality.
It is our belief that there is no more "necessity" in the leanings of race with respect to nations, than there is in the corrupt instincts of our fallen nature with respect to individuals. The teachings of faith have clearly decided this in the latter case, and the consequence of this authoritative decision carries with it the determination of the former.
According to the doctrine of St. Augustine, nations are rewarded or punished in this world, because there is no future existence for them; but the fact of rewards and punishments awarded them shows that their life is not a series of necessary sequences such as prevail in physics, and that the manifestations or phenomena of history, past, present, or future, cannot resolve themselves into the workings of absolute laws.
Race, in our opinion, is only one of those mysterious forces which play upon the individual from the cradle to the grave, which affect alike all the members of the same family, and give it a peculiarity of its own, without, however, interfering in the least with the moral freedom of the individual; and as in him there is free-will, so also in the family itself to which he belongs may God find cause for approval or disapproval. The heart of a Christian ought to be too full of gratitude and respect for Divine Providence to take any other view of history.
It would be presumptuous on our part to attempt an explanation of the object God proposed to himself in originating such a diversity in human society. We can only say that it appears He did not wish all mankind to be ever subject to the same rule, the same government and institutions. His Church alone was to bear the character of universality. Outside of her, variety was to be the rule in human affairs as in all things else. A universal despotism was never to become possible.
This at once explains why the posterity of Japhet is so different from that of Sem and of Cham.
In each of those great primitive stocks, an all-wise Providence introduced a large number of sub-races, if we may be allowed to call them so, out of which are sprung the various nations whose intermingling forms the web of human history. Our object is to consider only the Celtic branch. For, whatever may be the various theories propounded on the subject of the colonization of Ireland, from whatever part of the globe the primitive inhabitants may be supposed to have come, one thing is certain, to-day the race is yet one, in spite of the foreign blood infused into it by so many men of other stocks. Although the race was at one time on the verge of extinction by Cromwell, it has finally absorbed all the others; it has conquered; and, whoever has to deal with true Irishmen, feels at once that he deals with a primitive people, whose ancestors dwelt on the island thousands of years ago. Some slight differences may be observed in the people of the various provinces of the island; there maybe various dialects in their language, different appearance in their looks, some slight divergence in their disposition or manners; it cannot be other wise, since, as we have seen, no two individuals of the human family can be found perfectly alike. But, in spite of all this, they remain Celts to this day; they belong undoubtedly, to that stock formerly wide-spread throughout Europe, and now almost confined to their island; for the character of the same race in Wales, Scotland, and Brittany, has not been, and could not be, kept so pure as in Erin; so that in our age the inhabitants of those countries have become more and more fused with their British and Gallic neighbors.
We must, therefore, at the beginning of this investigation, state briefly what we know of the Celtic race in ancient times, and examine whether the Irish of to-day do not reproduce its chief characteristics.
We do not propose, however, in the present study, referring to the physical peculiarities of the Celtic tribes; we do not know what those were two or three thousand years ago. We must confine ourselves to moral propensities and to manners, and for this view of the subject we have sufficient materials whereon to draw.
We first remark in this race an immense power of expansion, when not checked by truly insurmountable obstacles; a power of expansion which did not necessitate for its workings an uninhabited and wild territory, but which could show its energy and make its force felt in the midst of already thickly-settled regions, and among adverse and warlike nations.
As far as history can carry us back, the whole of Western Europe, namely, Gaul, a part of Spain, Northern Italy, and what we call to-day the British Isles, are found to be peopled by a race apparently of the same origin, divided into an immense number of small republics; governed patriarchally in the form of clans, called by Julius Caesar, "Civitates." The Greeks called them Celts, "Keltai." They do not appear to have adopted a common name for themselves, as the idea of what we call nationality would never seem to have occurred to them. Yet the name of Gaels in the British Isles, and of Gauls in France and Northern Italy, seems identical. Not only did they fill the large expanse of territory we have mentioned, but they multiplied so fast, that they were compelled to send out armed colonies in every direction, set as they were in the midst of thickly-peopled regions.
We possess few details of their first invasion of Spain; but Roman history has made us all acquainted with their valor. It was in the first days of the Republic that an army of Gauls took possession of Rome, and the names of Manlius and Camillus are no better known in history than that of Brenn, called by Livy, Brennus. His celebrated answer, "Vae victis," will live as long as the world.
Later on, in the second century before Christ, we see another army of Celts starting from Pannonia, on the Danube, where they had previously settled, to invade Greece. Another Brenn is at the head of it. Macedonia and Albania were soon conquered; and, it is said, some of the peculiarities of the race may still be remarked in many Albanians. Thessaly could not resist the impetuosity of the invaders; the Thermopylae were occupied by Gallic battalions, and that celebrated defile, where three hundred Spartans once detained the whole army of Xerxes, could offer no obstacle to Celtic bravery. Hellas, sacred Hellas, came then under the power of the Gauls, and the Temple of Delphi was already in sight of Brenn and his warriors, when, according to Greek historians, a violent earthquake, the work of the offended gods, threw confusion into the Celtic ranks, which were subsequently easily defeated and destroyed by the Greeks.
A branch of this army of the Delphic Brenn had separated from the main body on the frontiers of Thrace, taken possession of Byzantium, the future Constantinople, and, crossing the straits, established itself in the Heart of Asia Minor, and there founded the state of Galatia, or Gallo-Greece, which so long bore their name, and for several centuries influenced the affairs of Asia and of the whole Orient, where they established a social state congenial to their tastes and customs. But the Romans soon after invading Asia Minor, the twelve clannish republics formerly founded were, according to Strabo, first reduced to three, then to two, until finally Julius Caesar made Dejotar king of the whole country.
The Celts could not easily brook such a change of social relations; but, unable to cope against Roman power, they came, as usual, to wrangle among themselves. The majority pronounced for another chieftain, named Bogitar, and succeeded in forming a party in Rome in his favor. Clodius, in an assembly of the Roman people, obtained a decree confirmatory of his authority, and he took possession of Pessinuntum, and of the celebrated Temple of Cybele.
The history of this branch of the Celts, nevertheless, did not close with the evil fortunes of their last king. According to Justinus, they swarmed all over Asia. Having lost their autonomy as a nation, they became, as it were, the Swiss mercenaries of the whole Orient. Egypt, Syria, Pontus, called them to their defence. "Such," says Justinus, "was the terror excited by their name, and the constant success of their undertakings, that no king on his throne thought himself secure, and no fallen prince imagined himself able to recover his power, except with the help of the ever-ready Celts of those countries."
This short sketch suffices to show their power of expansion in ancient times among thickly-settled populations. When we have shown, farther on, how to-day they are spreading all over the world, not looking to wild and desert countries, but to large centres of population in the English colonies, we shall be able to convince ourselves that they still present the same characteristic. If they do not bear arms in their hands, it is owing to altered circumstances; but their actual expansion bears a close resemblance to that of ancient times, and the similarity of effect shows the similarity of character.
We pass now to a new feature in the race, which has not, to our knowledge, been sufficiently dwelt upon. All their migrations in old times were across continents; and if, occasionally, they crossed the Mediterranean Sea, they did so always in foreign vessels.
The Celtic race, as we have seen, occupied the whole of Western Europe. They had, therefore, numerous harbors on the Atlantic, and some excellent ones on the Mediterranean. Many passed the greater portion of their lives on the sea, supporting themselves by fishing; yet they never thought of constructing and arming large fleets; they never fought at sea in vessels of their own, with the single exception of the naval battle between Julius Caesar and the Veneti, off the coast of Armorica, where, in one day, the Roman general destroyed the only maritime armament which the Celts ever possessed.
And even this fact is not an exception to the general rule; for
Still this strange anomaly, an anomaly which is observable in no other people living on an extensive coast, was not produced by ignorance of the uses and importance of large fleets. From the first they held constant intercourse with the great navigators of antiquity. The Celtic harbors teemed with the craft of hardy seamen, who came from Phoenicia, Carthage, and finally from Rome. Heeren, in his researches on the Phoenicians, proves it for that very early age, and mentions the strange fact that the name of Ireland with them was the "Holy Isle." For several centuries, the Carthaginians, in particular, used the harbors of Spain, of Gaul, even of Erin and Britain, as their own. The Celtic inhabitants of those countries allowed them to settle peaceably among them, to trade with them, to use their cities as emporiums, to call them, in fact, Carthaginian harbors, although that African nation never really colonized the country, does not appear to have made war on the inhabitants in order to occupy it, except in a few instances, when thwarted, probably, in their commercial enterprises; but they always lived on peaceful terms with the aborigines, whom they benefited by their trade, and, doubtless, enlightened by the narrative of their expeditions in distant lands.
Is it not a strikingly strange fact that, under such circumstances, the Celts should never have thought of possessing vessels of their own, if not to push the enterprises of an extensive commerce, for which they never showed the slightest inclination, at least for the purpose of shipping their colonies abroad, and crossing directly to Greece from Celtiberia, for instance, or from their Italian colony of the Veneti, replaced in modern times by maritime Venice? Yet so it was; and the great classic scholar, Heeren, in his learned researches on the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, remarks it with surprise. The chief reason which he assigns for the success of those southern navigators from Carthage in establishing their colonies everywhere, is the fact of no people in Spain, Gaul, or the British Isles, possessing at the time a navy of their own; and, finding it so surprising, he does not attempt to explain it, as indeed it really remains without any possible explanation, save the lack of inclination springing from the natural promptings of the race.
What renders it more surprising still is, that individually they had no aversion to a seafaring life; not only many of them subsisted by fishing, but their curraghs covered the sea all along their extensive coasts. They could pass from island to island in their small craft. Thus the Celts of Erin frequently crossed over to Scotland, to the Hebrides, from rock to rock, and in Christian times they went as far as the Faroe group, even as far as Iceland, which some of them appear to have attempted to colonize long before the Norwegian outlaws went there; and some even say that from Erin came the first Europeans who landed on frozen Greenland years before the Icelandic Northmen planted establishments in that dreary country. The Celts, therefore, and those of Erin chiefly, were a seafaring race.
But to construct a fleet, to provision and arm it, to fill it with the flower of their youth, and send them over the ocean to plunder and slay the inhabitants for the purpose of colonizing the countries they had previously devastated, such was never the character of the Celts. They never engaged extensively in trade, or what is often synonymous, piracy. Before becoming christianized, the Celts of Ireland crossed over the narrow channel which divided them from Britain, and frequently carried home slaves; they also passed occasionally to Armorica, and their annals speak of warlike expeditions to that country; but their efforts at navigation were always on an extremely limited scale, in spite of the many inducements offered by their geographical position. The fact is striking when we compare them in that particular with the Scandinavian free-rovers of the Northern Ocean.
It is, therefore, very remarkable that, whenever they got on board a boat, it was always a single and open vessel. They did so in pagan times, when the largest portion of Western Europe was theirs; they continued to do so after they became Christians. The race has always appeared opposed to the operations of an extensive commerce, and to the spreading of their power by large fleets.
The ancient annals of Ireland speak, indeed, of naval expeditions; but these expeditions were always undertaken by a few persons in one, two, or, at most, three boats, as that of the sons of Ua Corra; and such facts consequently strengthen our view. The only fact which seems contradictory is supposed to have occurred during the Danish wars, when Callaghan, King of Cashel, is said to have been caught in an ambush, and conveyed a captive by the Danes, first to Dublin, then to Armagh, and finally to Dundalk.
The troops of Kennedy, son of Lorcan, are said to have been supported by a fleet of fifty sail, commanded by Falvey Finn, a Kerry chieftain. We need not repeat the story so well known to all readers of Irish history. But this fact is found only in the work of Keating, and the best critics accept it merely as an historical romance, which Keating thought proper to insert in his history. Still, even supposing the truth of the story, all that we may conclude from it is that the seafaring Danes, at the end of their long wars, had taught the Irish to use the sea as a battlefield, to the extent of undertaking a small expedition in order to liberate a beloved chieftain.
It is very remarkable, also, that according to the annals of Ireland, the naval expeditions nearly always bore a religious character, never one of trade or barter, with the exception of the tale of Brescan, who was swallowed up with his fifty curraghs, in which he traded between Ireland and Scotland.
Nearly all the other maritime excursions are voyages undertaken with a Christian or Godlike object. Thus our holy religion was carried over to Scotland and the Hebrides by Columbkill and his brother monks, who evangelized those numerous groups of small islands. Crossing in their skiffs, and planting the cross on some far-seen rock or promontory, they perched their monastic cells on the bold bluffs overlooking the ocean.
No more was the warrior on carnage bent to be seen on the seaboards of Ulster or the western coast of Albania, as Scotland was then called; only unarmed men dressed in humble monastic garb trod those wave-beaten shores. At early morning they left the cove of their convent; they spread their single sail, and plied their well-worn oars, crossing from Colombsay to Iona, or from the harbor of Bangor to the nearest shore of the Isle of Man.
At noon they may have met a brother in the middle of the strait in his shell of a boat, bouncing over the water toward the point they had left. And the holy sign of the cross passed from one monk to the other, and the word of benison was carried through the air, forward and back, and the heaven above was propitious, and the wave below was obedient, while the hearts of the two brothers were softened by holy feelings; and nothing in the air around, on the dimly-visible shores, on the surface of the heaving waves, was seen or heard save what might raise the soul to heaven and the heart to God.
In concluding this portion of our subject, we will merely refer to the fact that neither the Celts of Gaul or Britain, nor those of Ireland, ever opposed an organized fleet to the numerous hostile naval armaments by which their country was invaded. When the Roman fleet, commanded by Caesar, landed in Great Britain, when the innumerable Danish expeditions attacked Ireland, whenever the Anglo-Normans arrived in the island during the four hundred years of the colony of the Pale, we never hear of a Celtic fleet opposed to the invaders. Italian, Spanish, and French fleets came in oftentimes to the help of the Irish; yet never do we read that the island had a single vessel to join the friendly expedition. We may safely conclude, then, that the race has never felt any inclination for sending large expeditions to sea, whether for extensive trading, or for political and warlike purposes. They have always used the vessels of other nations, and it is no surprise, therefore, to find them now crowding English ships in their migrations to colonize other countries. It is one of the propensities of the race.
A third feature of Celtic character and mind now attracts our attention, namely, a peculiar literature, art, music, and poetry, wherein their very soul is portrayed, and which belongs exclusively to them. Some very interesting considerations will naturally flow from this short investigation. It is the study of the constitution of the Celtic mind.
In Celtic countries literature was the perfect expression of the social state of the people. Literature must naturally be so everywhere, but it was most emphatically so among the Celts. With them it became a state institution, totally unknown to other nations. Literature and art sprang naturally from the clan system, and consequently adopted a form not to be found elsewhere. Being, moreover, of an entirely traditional cast, those pursuits imparted to their minds a steady, conservative, traditional spirit, which has resulted in the happiest consequences for the race, preserving it from theoretical vagaries, and holding it aloof, even in our days, from the aberrations which all men now deplore in other European nations, and whose effects we behold in the anarchy of thought. This last consideration adds to this portion of our subject a peculiar and absorbing interest.
The knowledge which Julius Caesar possessed of the Druids and of their literary system was very incomplete; yet he presents to his readers a truly grand spectacle, when he speaks of their numerous schools, frequented by an immense number of the youths of the country, so different from those of Rome, in which his own mind had been trained--"Ad has magnus adolescentium numerus disciplinae causa concurrit:" when he mentions the political and civil subjects submitted to the judgment of literary men--"de omnibus controversiis publicis privatisque constituunt. ... Si de hereditate, si de finibus controversia est, iidem decernunt:" when he states the length of their studies--"annos nonnulli vicenos in disciplina permanent:" when he finally draws a short sketch of their course of instruction-- "multa de sideribus atque eorum motu, de mundi ac terrarum magnitudine, .... disputant juventutique tradunt."
But, unfortunately, the great author of the "Commentaries" had not sufficiently studied the social state of the Celts in Gaul and Britain; he never mentions the clan institution, even when he speaks of the feuds--factiones--which invariably split their septs--civitates--into hostile parties. In his eleventh chapter, when describing the contentions which were constantly rife in the cities, villages, even single houses, when remarking the continual shifting of the supreme authority from the Edui to the Sequani, and reciprocally, he seems to be giving in a few phrases the long history of the Irish Celts; yet he does not appear to be aware of the cause of this universal agitation, namely, the clan system, of which he does not say a single world. How could he have perceived the effect of that system on their literature and art?
To understand it at once it suffices to describe in a few words the various branches of studies pursued by their learned men; and, as we are best acquainted with that portion of the subject which concerns Ireland, we will confine ourselves to it. There is no doubt the other agglomerations of Celtic tribes, the Gauls chiefly, enjoyed institutions very similar, if not perfectly alike.
The highest generic name for a learned man or doctor was "ollamh." These ollamhs formed a kind of order in the race, and the privileges bestowed on them were most extensive. "Each one of them was allowed a standing income of twenty-one cows and their grasses," in the chieftain's territory, besides ample refections for himself and his attendants, to the number of twenty-four, including his subordinate tutors, his advanced pupils, and his retinue of servants. He was entitled to have two hounds and six horses, . . . and the privilege of conferring a temporary sanctuary from injury or arrest by carrying his wand, or having it carried around or over the person or place to be protected. His wife also enjoyed certain other valuable privileges.--(Prof. E. Curry, Lecture I.)
But to reach that degree he was to prove for himself, purity of learning, purity of mouth (from satire), purity of hand (from bloodshed), purity of union (in marriage), purity of honesty (from theft), and purity of body (having but one wife).
With the Celts, therefore, learning constituted a kind of priesthood. These were his moral qualifications. His scientific attainments require a little longer consideration, as they form the chief object we have in view.
They may at the outset be stated in a few words. The ollamh was "a man who had arrived at the highest degree of historical learning, and of general literary attainments. He should be an adept in royal synchronisms, should know the boundaries of all the provinces and chieftaincies, and should be able to trace the genealogies of all the tribes of Erin up to the first man.--(Prof. Curry, Lecture X.)
Caesar had already told us of the Druids, "Si de hereditate, si de finibus controversia est iidem decernunt." In this passage he gives us a glimpse of a system which he had not studied sufficiently to embrace in its entirety.
The qualifications of an ollamh which we have just enumerated, that is to say, of the highest doctor in Celtic countries, already prove how their literature grew out of the clan system.
The clan system, of which we shall subsequently speak more at length, rested entirely on history, genealogy, and topography. The authority and rights of the monarch of the whole country, of the so-called kings of the various provinces, of the other chieftains in their several degrees, finally, of all the individuals who composed the nation connected by blood with the chieftains and kings, depended entirely on their various genealogies, out of which grew a complete system of general and personal history. The conflicting rights of the septs demanded also a thorough knowledge of topography for the adjustment of their difficulties. Hence the importance to the whole nation of accuracy in these matters, and of a competent authority to decide on all such questions.
But in Celtic countries, more than in all others, topography was connected with general history, as each river or lake, mountain or hill, tower or hamlet, had received a name from some historical fact recorded in the public annals; so that even now the geographical etymologies frequently throw a sudden and decisive light on disputed points of ancient history. So far, this cannot be called a literature; it might be classed under the name of statistics, or antiquarian lore; and if their history consisted merely of what is contained in the old annals of the race, it would be presumptuous to make a particular alllusion to their literature, and make it one of the chief characteristics of the race. The annals, in fact, were mere chronological and synchronic tables of previous events.
But an immense number of books were written by many of their authors on each particular event interesting to each Celtic tribe: and even now many of those special facts recorded in these books owe their origin to some assertion or hint given in the annals. There is no doubt that long ago their learned men were fully acquainted with all the points of reference which escape the modern antiquarian. History for them, therefore, was very different from what the Greeks and Romans have made it in the models they left us, which we have copied or imitated.
It is only in their detached "historical tales" that they display any skill in description or narration, any remarkable pictures of character, manners, and local traditions; and it seems that in many points they show themselves masters of this beautiful art.
Thus they had stories of battles, of voyages, of invasions, of destructions, of slaughters, of sieges, of tragedies and deaths, of courtships, of military expeditions; and all this strictly historical. For we do not here speak of their "imaginative tales," which give still freer scope to fancy; such as the Fenian and Ossianic poems, which are also founded on facts, but can no more claim the title of history than the novels of Scott or Cooper.
The number of those books was so great that the authentic list of them far surpasses in length what has been preserved of the old Greek and Latin writers. It is true that they have all been saved and transmitted to us by Christian Irishmen of the centuries intervening between the sixth and sixteenth; but it is also perfectly true that whatever was handed down to us by Irish monks and friars came to them from the genuine source, the primitive authors, as our own monks of the West have preserved to us all we know of Greek and Latin authors.
So that the question so long decided in the negative, whether the Irish knew handwriting prior to the Christian era and the coming of St. Patrick, is no longer a question, now that so much is known of their early literature. St. Patrick and his brother monks brought with them the Roman characters and the knowledge of numerous Christian writers who had preceded him; but he could not teach them what had happened in the country before his time, events which form the subject-matter of their annals, historical and imaginative tales and poems. For the Christian authors of Ireland subsequently to transmit those facts to us, they must evidently have copied them from older books, which have since perished.
Prof. E. Curry thinks that the Ogham characters, so often mentioned in the most ancient Irish books, were used in Erin long before the introduction of Christianity there. And he strengthens his opinion by proofs which it is difficult to contradict. Those characters are even now to be seen in some of the oldest books which have been preserved, as well as on many stone monuments, the remote antiquity of which cannot be denied. One well-authenticated fact suffices, however, to set the question at rest: "It is quite certain," says
What Caesar, then, states of the Druids, that they committed every thing to memory and used no books, is not strictly true. It must have been true only with regard to their mode of teaching, in that they gave no books to their pupils, but confined themselves to oral instruction.
The order of Ollamh comprised various sub-orders of learned men. And the first of these deserving our attention is the class of "Seanchaidhe," pronounced Shanachy. The ollamh seems to have been the historian of the monarch of the whole country; the shanachy had the care of provincial records. Each chieftain, in fact, down to the humblest, had an officer of this description, who enjoyed privileges inferior only to those of the ollamh, and partook of emoluments graduated according to his usefulness in the state; so that we can already obtain some idea of the honor and respect paid to the national literature and traditions in the person of those who were looked upon in ancient times as their guardians from age to age.
The shanachies were also bound to prove for themselves the moral qualifications of the ollamhs.1
(1 "Purity of hand, bright without wounding,
Purity of mouth, without poisonous satire,
Purity of learning, without reproach,
Purity of husbandship, in marriage."
Many of these details and the following are chiefly derived from
Prof. E. Curry
--(Early Irish Manuscripts.) )
A shanachy of any degree, who did not preserve these "purities," lost half his income and dignity, according to law, and was subject to heavy penalties besides.
According to McFirbis, in his book of genealogies, "the historians were so anxious and ardent to preserve the history of Erin, that the description they have left us of the nobleness and dignified manners of the people, should not be wondered at, since they did not refrain from writing even of the undignified artisans, and of the professors of the healing and building arts of ancient times --as shall be shown below, to prove the fidelity of the historians, and the errors of those who make such assertions, as, for instance, that there were no stone buildings in Erin before the coming of the Danes and Anglo-Normans.
"Thus saith an ancient authority: `The first doctor, the first builder, and the first fisherman, that were ever in Erin were--
Capa, for the healing of the sick, In his time was all-powerful; And Luasad, the cunning builder, And Laighne, the fisherman.'"
So speaks McFirbis in his quaint and picturesque style.
The literature of the Celts was, therefore, impressed with the character of realistic universality, which has been the great boast of the romantic school. It did not concern itself merely with the great and powerful, but comprised all classes of people, and tried to elevate what is of itself undignified and common in human society. This is no doubt the meaning of the quotation just cited.
Among the Celts, then, each clan had his historian to record the most minute details of every-day history, as well as every fact of importance to the whole clan, and even to the nation at large; and thus we may see how literature with them grew naturally out of their social system. The same may not appear to hold good at first sight with the other classes of literary men; yet it would be easy to discover the link connecting them all, and which was always traditional or matter-of-fact, if we may use that expression.
The next SUB-ORDER was that of File, which is generally translated poet, but its meaning also involves the idea of philosophy or wisdom added to that of poetry.
The File among the Celts was, after all, only an historian writing in verse; for all their poetry resolved itself into annals, "poetic narratives" of great events, or finally "ballads."
It is well known that among all nations poetry has preceded prose; and the first writers that appeared anywhere always wrote in verse. It seems, therefore, that in Celtic tribes the order of File was anterior in point of time to that of Shanachy, and that both must have sprung naturally from the same social system. Hence the monarch of the whole nation had his poets, as also the provincial kings and every minor chieftain.
In course of time their number increased to such an extent in Ireland, that at last they became a nuisance to be abated.
"It is said that in the days of Connor McNassa--several centuries before Christ--there met once 1,200 poets in one company; another time 1,000, and another 700, namely, in the days of Aedh McAinmire and Columcille, in the sixth century after our Saviour. And between these periods Erin always thought that she had more of learned men than she wanted; so that from their numbers and the tax their support imposed upon the public, it was attempted to banish them out of Erin on three different occasions; but they were detained by the Ultonians for hospitality's sake. This is evident from the Amhra Columcille (panegyric of St. Columba). He was the last that kept them in Ireland, and distributed a poet to every territory, and a poet to every king, in order to lighten the burden of the people in general. So that there were people in their following, contemporary with every generation to preserve the history and events of the country at this time. Not these alone, but the kings, and, saints, and churches of Erin preserved their history in like manner."
From this curious passage of McFirbis, it is clear that the Celtic poets proposed to themselves the same object as the historians did; only that they wrote in verse, and no doubt allowed themselves more freedom of fancy, without altering the facts which were to them of paramount importance.
McFirbis, in the previous passage, gives us a succinct account of the action of Columbkill in regard to the poets or bards of his time. But we know many other interesting facts connected with this event, which must be considered as one of the most important in Ireland during the sixth century. The order of poets or bards was a social and political institution, reaching back in point of time to the birth of the nation, enjoying extensive privileges, and without which Celtic life would have been deprived of its warmth and buoyancy. Yet Aed, the monarch of all Ireland, was inclined to abolish the whole order, and banish, or even outlaw, all its members. Being unable to do it of his own authority, he thought of having the measure carried in the assembly of Drumceit, convened for the chief purpose of settling peacefully the relations of Ireland with the Dalriadan colony established in Western Scotland a hundred years before. Columba came from Iona in behalf of Aidan, whom he had crowned a short time previously as King of Albania or Scotland. It seems that the bards or poets were accused of insolence, rapacity, and of selling their services to princes and nobles, instead of calling them to account for their misdeeds.
Columba openly undertook their defence in the general assembly of the nation. Himself a poet, he loved their art, and could not consent to see his native country deprived of it. Such a deprivation in his eyes would almost have seemed a sacrilege.
"He represented," says Montalembert, "that care must be taken not to pull up the good corn with the tares, that the general exile of the poets would be the death of a venerable antiquity, and of that poetry so dear to the country, and so useful to those who knew how to employ it. The king and assembly yielded at length, under condition that the number should be limited, and their profession laid under certain rules."
Dallan Fergall, the chief of the corporation, composed his "Amhra," or Praise of Columbkill, as a mark of gratitude from the whole order. That the works of Celtic poets possessed real literary merit, we have the authority of Spenser for believing. The author of the "Faerie Queene" was not the friend of the Irish, whom he assisted in plundering and destroying under Elizabeth. He could only judge of their books from English translations, not being sufficiently acquainted with the language to understand its niceties. Yet he had to acknowledge that their poems "savoured of sweet wit and good invention, but skilled not of the goodly ornaments of poetry; yet were they sprinkled with some pretty flowers of their natural device, which gave good grace and comeliness to them."
He objected, it is true, to the patriotism of their verse, and pretended that they "seldom choose the doings of good men for the argument of their poems," and became "dangerous and desperate in disobedience and rebellious daring." But this accusation is high praise in our eyes, as showing that the Irish bards of Spenser's time praised and glorified those who proved most courageous in resisting English invasion, and stood firmly on the side of their race against the power of a great queen.
A poet, it seems, required twelve years of study to be master of his art. One-third of that time was devoted to practising the "Teinim Laegha," by which he obtained the power of understanding every thing that it was proper for him to speak of or to say. The next third was employed in learning the "Imas Forosnadh," by which he was enabled to communicate thoroughly his knowledge to other pupils. Finally, the last three years were occupied in "Dichedal," or improvisation, so as to be able to speak in verse on all subjects of his study at a moment's notice.
There were, it appears, seven kinds of verse; and the poet was bound to possess a critical knowledge of them, so as to be a judge of his art, and to pronounce on the compositions submitted to him.
If called upon by any king or chieftain, he was required to relate instantly, seven times fifty stories, namely, five times fifty prime stories, and twice fifty secondary stories.
The prime stories were destructions and preyings, courtships, battles, navigations, tragedies or deaths, expeditions, elopements, and conflagrations.
All those literary compositions were historic tales; and they were not composed for mere amusement, but possessed in the eyes of learned men a real authority in point of fact. If fancy was permitted to adorn them, the facts themselves were to remain unaltered with their chief circumstances. Hence the writers of the various annals of Ireland do not scruple to quote many poems or other tales as authority for the facts of history which they relate.
And such also was heroic poetry among the Greeks. The Hellenic philosophers, historians, and geographers of later times always quoted Homer and Hesiod as authorities for the facts they related in their scientific works. The whole first book of the geography of Strabo, one of the most statistical and positive works of antiquity, has for its object the vindication of the geography of Homer, whom Strabo seems to have considered as a reliable authority on almost every possible subject.
Our limits forbid us to speak more in detail of Celtic historians and poets. We have said enough to show that both had important state duties to perform in the social system of the country, and, while keeping within due bounds, they were esteemed by all as men of great weight and use to the nation. Besides the field of genealogy and history allotted to them to cultivate, their very office tended to promote the love of virtue, and to check immorality and vice. They were careful to watch over the acts and inclinations of their princes and chieftains, seldom failing to brand them with infamy if guilty of crimes, or crown them with honor when they had deserved well of the nation. In ancient Egypt the priests judged the kings after their demise; in Celtic countries they dared to tell them the truth during their lifetime. And this exercised a most salutary effect on the people; for perhaps never in any other country did the admiration for learning, elevation of feeling, and ardent love of justice and right, prevail as in Ireland, at least while enjoying its native institutions and government.
From many of the previous details, the reader will easily see That the literature of the Celts presented features peculiar to Their race, and which supposed a mental constitution seldom found among others. If, in general, the world of letters gives expression In some degree to social wants and habits, among the Celts this expression was complete, and argued a peculiar bent of mind given entirely to traditional lore, and never to philosophical speculations and subtlety. We see in it two elements remarkable for their distinctness. First, an extraordinary fondness for facts and traditions, growing out of the patriarchal origin of society among them; and from this fondness their mind received a particular tendency which was averse to theories and utopias. All things resolved themselves into facts, and they seldom wandered away into the fields of conjectural conclusions. Hence their extraordinary adaptation to the truths of the Christian religion, whose dogmas are all supernatural facts, at once human and divine. Hence have they ever been kept free from that strange mental activity of other European races, which has led them into doubt, unbelief, skepticism, until, in our days, there seem to be no longer any fixed principles as a substratum for religious and social doctrines.
Secondly, we see in the Celtic race a rare and unique outburst of fancy, so well expressed in the "_Senchus Mor_," their great law compilation, wherein it is related, that when St. Patrick had completed the digest of the laws of the Gael in Ireland, Dubtach, who was a bard as well as a brehon, "put a thread of poetry round it." Poetry everywhere, even in a law-book; poetry inseparable from their thoughts, their speech, their every-day actions; poetry became for them a reality, an indispensable necessity of life. This feature is also certainly characteristic of the Celtic nature.
Hence their literature was inseparable from art; and music and design gushed naturally from the deepest springs of their souls.
Music has always been the handmaid of Poetry; and in our modern languages, even, which are so artificial and removed from primitive enthusiasm and naturalness, no composer of opera would consent to adapt his inspirations to a prose libretto. It was far more so in primitive times; and it maybe said that in those days poetry was never composed unless to be sung or played on instruments. But what has never been seen elsewhere, what Plato dreamed, without ever hoping to see realized, music in Celtic countries became really a state institution, and singers and harpers were necessary officers of princes and kings.
That all Celtic tribes were fond of it and cultivated it thoroughly we have the assertion of all ancient writers who spoke of them. According to Strabo, the Third order of Druids was composed of those whom he calls Umnetai. What were their instruments is not mentioned; and we can now form no opinion of their former musical taste from the rude melodies of the Armoricans, Welsh, and Scotch.
From time immemorial the Irish Celts possessed the harp. Some authors have denied this; and from the fact that the harp was unknown to the Greeks and Romans, and that the Gauls of the time of Julius Caesar do not seem to have been acquainted with it, they conclude that it was not purely native to any of the British islands.
But modern researches have proved that it was certainly used in Erin under the first successors of Ugaine Mor, who was monarch. --Ard-Righ--about the year 633 before Christ, according to the annals of the Four Masters. The story of Labhraid, which seems perfectly authentic, turns altogether on the perfection with which Craftine played on the harp. From that time, at least, the instrument became among the Celts of Ireland a perpetual source of melody.
To judge of their proficiency in its use, it is enough to know to what degree of perfection they had raised it. Mr. Beauford, in his ingenious and learned treatise on the music of Ireland, as cultivated by its bards, creates genuine astonishment by the discoveries into which his researches have led him.
The extraordinary attention which they paid to expression and effect brought about successive improvements in the harp, which at last made it far superior to the Grecian lyre. To make it capable of supporting the human voice in their symphonies, they filled up the intervals of the fifths and thirds in each scale, and increased the number of strings from eighteen to twenty-eight, retaining all the original chromatic tones, but reducing the capacity of the instrument; for, instead of commencing in the lower E in the bass, it commenced in C, a sixth above, and terminated in G in the octave below; and, in consequence, the instrument became much more melodious and capable of accompanying the human voice. Malachi O'Morgair, Archbishop of Armagh, introduced other improvements in it in the twelfth century. Finally, in later times, its capacity was increased from twenty-eight strings to thirty-three, in which state it still remains.
As long as the nation retained its autonomy, the harp was a universal instrument among the inhabitants of Erin. It was found in every house; it was heard wherever you met a few people gathered together. Studied so universally, so completely and perfectly, it gave Irish music in the middle ages a superiority over that of all other nations. It is Cambrensis who remarks that "the attention of these people to musical instruments is worthy of praise, in which their skill is, beyond comparison, superior to any other people; for in these the modulation is not slow and solemn, as in the instruments of Britain, but the sounds are rapid and precipitate, yet sweet and pleasing. It is extraordinary, in such rapidity of the fingers, how the musical proportions are preserved, and the art everywhere inherent among their complicated modulations, and the multitude of intricate notes so sweetly swift, so irregular in their composition, so disorderly in their concords, yet returning to unison and completing the melody."
Giraldus could not express himself better, never before having heard any other music than that of the Anglo-Normans; but it is clear, from the foregoing passage, that Irish art surpassed all his conceptions.
The universality of song among the Irish Celts grew out of their nature, and in time brought out all the refinements of art. Long before Cambrensis's time the whole island resounded with music and mirth, and the king-archbishop, Cormac McCullinan, could not better express his gratitude to his Thomond subjects than by exclaiming--
"May our truest fidelity ever be given To the brave and generous clansmen of Tal; And forever royalty rest with their tribe, And virtue and valor, and music and song!"
Long before Cormac, we find the same mirthful glee in the Celtic character expressed by a beautiful and well-known passage in the life of St. Bridget: Being yet an unknown girl, she entered, by chance, the dwelling of some provincial king, who was at the time absent, and, getting hold of a harp, her fingers ran over the chords, and her voice rose in song and glee, and the whole family of the royal children, excited by the joyful harmony, surrounded her, immediately grew familiar with her, and treated her as an elder sister whom they might have known all their life; so that the king, coming back, found all his house in an uproar, filled as it was with music and mirth.
Thus the whole island remained during long ages. Never in the whole history of man has the same been the case with any other nation. Plato, no doubt, in his dream of a republic, had something of the kind in his mind, when he wished to constitute harmony as a social and political institution. But he little thought that, when he thus dreamed and wrote, or very shortly after, the very object of his speculation was already, or was soon to be, in actual existence in the most western isle of Europe.
Before Columba's time even the Church had become reconciled to the bards and harpers; and, according to a beautiful legend, Patrick himself had allowed Oisin, or Ossian, and his followers, to sing the praises of ancient heroes. But Columbkill completed the reconciliation of the religious spirit with the bardic influence. Music and poetry were thenceforth identified with ecclesiastical life. Monks and grave bishops played on the harp in the churches, and it is said that this strange spectacle surprised the first Norman invaders of Ireland. To use the words of Montalembert, so well adapted to our subject: "Irish poetry, which was in the days of Patrick and Columba so powerful and so popular, has long undergone, in the country of Ossian, the same fate as the religion of which these great saints were the apostles. Rooted, like it, in the heart of a conquered people, and like it proscribed and persecuted with an unwearying vehemence, it has come ever forth anew from the bloody furrow in which it was supposed to be buried. The bards became the most powerful allies of patriotism, the most dauntless prophets of independence, and also the favorite victims of the cruelty of spoilers and conquerors. They made music and poetry weapons and bulwarks against foreign oppression; and the oppressors used them as they had used the priests and the nobles. A price was set upon their heads. But while the last scions of the royal and noble races, decimated or ruined in Ireland, departed to die out under a foreign sky, amid the miseries of exile, the successor of the bards, the minstrel, whom nothing could tear from his native soil, was pursued, tracked, and taken like a wild beast, or chained and slaughtered like the most dangerous of rebels.
"In the annals of the atrocious legislation, directed by the English against the Irish people, as well before as after the Reformation, special penalties against the minstrels, bards, and rhymers, who sustained the lords and gentlemen, . . . are to be met with at every step.
"Nevertheless, the harp has remained the emblem of Ireland, even in the official arms of the British Empire, and during all last century, the travelling harper, last and pitiful successor of the bards, protected by Columba, was always to be found at the side of the priest, to celebrate the holy mysteries of the proscribed worship. He never ceased to be received with tender respect under the thatched roof of the poor Irish peasant, whom he consoled in his misery and oppression by the plaintive tenderness and solemn sweetness of the music of his fathers."
Could any expression of ours set forth in stronger light the Celtic mind and heart as portrayed in those native elements of music and literature? Could any thing more forcibly depict the real character of the race, materialized, as it were, in its exterior institutions? We were right in saying that among no other race was what is generally a mere adornment to a nation, raised to the dignity of a social and political instrument as it was among the Celts. Hence it was impossible for persecution and oppression to destroy it, and the Celtic nature to-day is still traditional, full of faith, and at the same time poetical and impulsive as when those great features of the race held full sway.
Besides music, several other branches of art, particularly architecture, design, and calligraphy, are worthy our attention, presenting, as they do, features unseen anywhere else; and would enable us still better to understand the character of the Celtic race. But our limits require us to refrain from what might be thought redundant and unnecessary.
We hasten, therefore, to consider another branch of our investigation, one which might be esteemed paramount to all others, and by the consideration of which we might have begun this chapter, only that its importance will be better understood after what has been already said. It is a chief characteristic which grew so perfectly out of the Celtic mind and aptitudes, that long centuries of most adverse circumstances, we may say, a whole host of contrary influences were unable to make the Celts entirely abandon it. We mean the clan system, which, as a system, indeed, has disappeared these three centuries ago, but which may be said to subsist still in the clan spirit, as ardent almost among them as ever.
It is beyond doubt that the patriarchal government was the first established among men. The father ruled the family. As long as he lived he was lawgiver, priest, master; his power was acknowledged as absolute. Hiis children, even after their marriage, remained to a certain extent subject to him. Yet each became in turn the head of a small state, ruled with the primitive simplicity of the first family.
In the East, history shows us that the patriarchal government was succeeded immediately by an extensive and complete despotism. Millions of men soon became the abject slaves of an irresponsible monarch. Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, appear at once in history as powerful states at the mercy of a despot whose will was law.
But in other more favored lands the family was succeeded by the tribe, a simple development of the former, an agglomeration of men of the same blood, who could all trace their pedigree to the acknowledged head; possessing, consequently, a chief of the same race, either hereditary or elective, according to variable rules always based on tradition. This was the case among the Jews, among the Arabs, with whom the system yet prevails; even it seems primitively in Hindostan, where modern research has brought to light modes of holding property which suppose the same system.
But especially was this the case among the Celts, where the system having subsisted up to recently, it can be better known in all its details. Indeed, their adherence to it, in spite of every obstacle that could oppose it, shows that it was natural to them, congenial to all their inclinations, the only system that could satisfy and make them happy; consequently, a characteristic of the race.
There was a time when the system we speak of ruled many a land, from the Western Irish Sea to the foot of the Caucasus. Everywhere within those limits it presented the same general features; in Ireland alone has it been preserved in all its vigor until the beginning of the seventeenth century, so rooted was it in the Irish blood. Consequently, it can be studied better there. What we say, therefore, will be chiefly derived from the study of Irish customs, although other Gaelic tribes will also furnish us with data for our observations.
In countries ruled by the clan system, the territory was divided among the clans, each of them occupying a particular district, which was seldom enlarged or diminished. This is seen particularly in Palestine, in ancient Gaul, in the British islands. Hence their hostile encounters had always for object movable plunder of any kind, chiefly cattle; never conquest nor annexation of territory. The word "preying," which is generally used for their expeditions, explains their nature at once. It was only in the event of the extinction of a clan that the topography was altered, and frequently a general repartition of land among neighboring tribes took place.
It is true, when a surplus population compelled them to send abroad swarms of their youth, that the conquest of a foreign country became an absolute necessity. But, on such occasions it was outside of Celtic limits that they spread themselves, taking possession of a territory not their own. They almost invariably respected the land of other clans of the same race, even when most hostile to them; exceptions to this rule are extremely rare. It was thus that they sent large armies of their young men into Northern Italy, along the Danube, into Grecian Albania and Thrace, and finally into the very centre of Asia Minor. The fixing of the geographical position of each tribe was, therefore, a rule among them; and in this they differed from nomadic nations, such as the Tartars in Asia and even the North American Indians, whose hold on the land was too slight to offer any prolonged resistance to invaders. Hence the position of the Gallic civitates was definite, and, so to speak, immovable, as we may see by consulting the maps of ancient Gaul at any time anterior to its thorough conquest by the Romans; not so among the German tribes, whose positions on the maps must differ according to time.
We have already seen that so sacred were the limits of the clan districts, that one of the chief duties of ollamhs and shanachies was to know them and see them preserved.
But if territory was defined in Celtic nations, the right of holding land differed in the case of the chieftain and the clansman. The head of the tribe had a certain well-defined portion assigned to him in virtue of his office, and as long only as he held it; the clansmen held the remainder in common, no particular spot being assigned to any one of them.
As far, therefore, as the holding of land was concerned, there were neither rich nor poor among the Celts; the wealth of the best of them consisted of cattle, house furniture, money, jewelry, and other movable property. In the time of St. Columba, the owner of five cows was thought to be a very poor man, although he could send them to graze on any free land of his tribe. There is no doubt that the almost insurmountable difficulty of the land question at this time originated in the attachment of the people to the old system, which had not yet perished in their affections; and certainly many "agrarian outrages," as they are called, have had their source in the traditions of a people once accustomed to move and act freely in a free territory.
It is needless to call the attention of the reader to another consequence of that state of things, namely, the persistence of territorial possessions. As no individual among them could alienate his portion, no individual or family could absorb the territory to the exclusion of others; no great landed aristocracy consequently could exist, and no part of the land could pass by purchase or in any other way to a different tribe or to an alien race. The force of arms sometimes produced temporary changes, nothing more. It is the same principle which has preserved the small Indian tribes still existing in Canada. Their "reservations," as they are called, having been legalized by the British Government at the time of the conquest from the French, the territory assigned to them would have remained in their occupancy forever in the midst of the ever-shifting possessions of the white race, had not the Ottawa Parliament lately "allowed" those reservations to be divided among the families of the tribes, with power for each to dispose of its portion, a power which will soon banish them from the country of their ancestors.
The preceding observations do not conflict in the least with what is generally said of inheritance by "gavel kind," whereby the property was equally divided among the sons to the exclusion of the daughters; as it is clear that the property to be thus divided was only movable and personal property.
But after the land we must consider the persons under the clan-system. Under this head we shall examine briefly:
All literary or civil offices, not political, were hereditary. Hence the professions of ollamh, shanachy, bard, brehon, physician, passed from father to son--a very injudicious arrangement apparently, but it seems nevertheless to have worked well in Ireland. Strange to say, however, these various classes formed no castes as in Egypt or in India, because no one was prevented from embracing those professions, even when not born to them; and, in the end, success in study was the only requisite for reaching the highest round of the literary or professional ladder, as in China.
But a stranger and more dangerous feature of the system was that in political offices the dignities were hereditary as to the family, elective as to the person. Hence the title of Ard-Righ or supreme monarch did not necessarily pass to the eldest son of the former king, but another member of the same family might be elected to the office, and was even designated to it during the lifetime of the actual holder, thus becoming Tanist or heir-apparent. Every one sees at a glance the numberless disadvantages resulting from such an institution, and it must be said that most of the bloody crimes recorded in Irish history sprang from it.
At first sight, the dignity of supreme monarch would almost seem to be a sinecure under the clan system, as the authority attached to it was extremely limited, and is generally compared in its relations to the subordinate kings, as that of metropolitan to suffragan bishops in the Church. Nevertheless, all Celtic nations appear to have attached a great importance to it, and the real misfortunes of Ireland began when contention ran so high for the office that the people were divided in their supreme allegiance, and no Ard-Righ was acknowledged at the same time by all; which happened precisely at the period of the invasion under Strongbow.
Some few facts lately brought to light in the vicissitudes of various branches of the Celtic family show at once how highly all Celts, wherever they might be settled, esteemed the dignity of supreme monarch. It existed, as we have said, in all Celtic countries, and consequently in Gaul; and the passage in the "Commentaries" of Julius Caesar on the subject is too important to be entirely passed over.
After having remarked in the eleventh chapter, "De Bello Gallico," lib. vi., that in Gaul the whole country, each city or clan, and every subdivision of it, even to single houses, presented the strange spectacle of two parties, "factiones," always in presence of and opposed to each other, he says in Chapter XII.: --at the arrival of Caesar in Gaul the Eduans and the Sequanians were contending for the supreme authority--"The latter civitas--clan-- namely, the Sequanians, being inferior in power--because from time immemorial the supreme authority had been vested in the Eduans--had called to its aid the Germans under Ariovist by the inducement of great advantages and promises. After many successful battles, in which the entire nobility of the Eduan clan perished, the Sequanians acquired so much power that they rallied to themselves the greatest number of the allies of their rivals, obliged the Eduans to give as hostages the children of their nobles who had perished, to swear that they would not attempt any thing against their conquerors, and even took possession of a part of their territory, and thus obtained the supreme command of all Gaul."
We see by this passage that there was a supremacy resting in the hands of some one, over the whole nation. The successful tribe had a chief to whom that supremacy belonged. Caesar, it is true, does not speak of a monarch as of a person, but attributes the power to the "civitas," the tribe. It is well known, however, that each tribe had a head, and that in Celtic countries the power was never vested in a body of men, assembly, committee, or board, as we say in modern times, but in the chieftain, whatever may have been his degree.
The author of the "Commentaries" was a Roman in whose eyes the state was every thing, the actual office-holder, dictator, consul, or praetor, a mere instrument for a short time; and he was too apt, like most of his countrymen, to judge of other nations by his own.
We may conclude from the passage quoted that there was a supreme monarch in Gaul as well as in Ireland, and modern historians of Gaul have acknowledged it.
But there is yet a stranger fact, which absolutely cannot be explained, save on the supposition that the Celts everywhere held the supreme dignity of extreme if not absolute importance in their political system.
To give it the preeminence it deserves, we must refer to a subsequent event in the history of the Celts in Britain, since it happened there several centuries after Caesar, and we will quote the words of Augustin Thierry, who relates it:
"After the retreat of the legions, recalled to Italy to protect the centre of the empire and Rome itself against the invasion of the Goths, the Britons ceased to acknowledge the power of the foreign governors set over their provinces and cities. The forms, the offices, the very spirit and language of the Roman administration disappeared; in their place was reconstituted the traditional authority of the clannish chieftains formerly abolished by Roman power. Ancient genealogies carefully preserved by the poets, called in the British language bairdd - bards - helped to discover those who could pretend to the dignity of chieftains of tribes or families, tribe and family being synonymous in their language; and the ties of relationship formed the basis of their social state. Men of the lowest class, among that people, preserved in memory the long line of their ancestry with a care scarcely known to other nations, among the highest lords and princes. All the British Celts, poor or rich, had to establish their genealogy in order fully to enjoy their civil rights and secure their claim of property in the territory of the tribe. The whole belonging to a primitive family, no one could lay any claim to the soil, unless his relationship was well established.
"At the top of this social order, composing a federation of small hereditary sovereignties, the Britons, freed from Roman power, constituted a high national sovereignty; they created a chieftain of chieftains, in their tongue called Penteyrn, that is to say, a king of the whole, in the language of their old annals. And they made him elective.--It was also formerly the custom in Gaul. --The object was to introduce into their system a kind of centralization, which, however, was always loose among Celtic tribes."--(Conquete de l'Angleterre, liv. i.)
It is evident to us that if the Britons constituted a supreme power, when freed from the Roman yoke, it was only because they had possessed it before they became subject to that yoke. It is, therefore, safe to conclude that there was a supreme monarch in Britain and in Gaul as well as in Ireland; and since the Britons, after having lost for several centuries their autonomy of government, thought of reestablishing this supreme authority as soon as they were free to do so, it is clear that they attached a real importance to it, and that it entered as an essential element into the social fabric.
But what in reality was the authority of the Ard-Righ in Ireland, of the Penteyrn in Britain, of the supreme chief in Gaul, whose name, as usual, is not mentioned by Caesar?
First, it is to be remarked that a certain extent of territory was always under his immediate authority. Then, as far as we can gather from history, there was a reciprocity of obligations between the high power and the subordinate kings or chieftains, the former granting subsidies to the latter, who in turn paid tribute to support the munificence or military power of the former.
We know from the Irish annals that the dignity of Ard-Righ was always sustained by alliances with some of the provincial kings, to secure the submission of others, and we have a hint of the same nature in the passage, already quoted, from Caesar, as also taking place in Gaul.
We know also from the "Book of Rights" that the tributes and stipends consisted of bondsmen, silver shields, embroidered cloaks, cattle, weapons, corn, victuals, or any other contribution.
The Ard-Righ, moreover, convened the Feis, or general assembly of the nation, every third year; first at Tara, and after Tara was left to go to ruin in consequence of the curse of St. Ruadhan in the sixth century, wherever the supreme monarch established his residence.
The order of succession to the supreme power was the weakest point of the Irish constitution, and became the cause of by far the greatest portion of the nation's calamities. Theoretically the eldest son--some say the eldest relative--of the monarch succeeded him, when he had no blemish constituting a radical defect: the supreme power, however, alternating in two families. To secure the succession, the heir-apparent was always declared during the life of the supreme king; but this constitutional arrangement caused, perhaps, more crimes and wars than any other social institution among the Celts. The truth is that, after the heir-apparent, sustained by some provincial king, supplanted the reigning monarch, one of the provincial chieftains claimed the crown and succeeded to it by violence.
Yet the general rule that the monarch was to belong to the race of Miledh was adhered to almost without exception. One hundred and eighteen sovereigns, according to the moat accredited annals, governed the whole island from the Milesian conquest to St. Patrick in 432. Of these, sixty were of the family of Heremon, settled in the northern part of the island; twenty-nine of the posterity of Heber, settled in the south; twenty-four of that of Ir; three issued from Lugaid, the son of Ith. All these were of the race of Miledh; one only was a firbolg, or plebeian, and one a woman.
It is certainly very remarkable that for so long a time--nearly two thousand years, according to the best chronologists--Ireland was ruled by princes of the same family. The fact is unparalleled in history, and shows that the people were firmly attached to their constitution, such as it was. It extorted the admiration of Sir John Davies, the attorney-general of James I, and later of Lord Coke.
The functions of the provincial kings of Ulster, Munster, Leinster, and Connaught, were in their several districts the same as those which the Ard-Righ exercised over the whole country. They also had their feuds and alliances with the inferior chieftains, and in peaceful times there was also a reciprocity of obligations between them. Presents were given by the superiors, tributes by the inferiors; deliberations in assembly, mutual agreement for public defence, wars against a common enemy, produced among them traditional rules which were generally followed, or occasional dissensions.
Sometimes a province had two kings, chiefly Munster, which was often divided into north and south. Each king had his heir-apparent, the same as the monarch. Indeed, every hereditary office had, besides its actual holder, its Tanist, with right of succession. Hence causes of division and feuds were needlessly multiplied; yet all the Celtic tribes adhered tenaciously to all those institutions which appeared rooted in their very nature, and which contributed to foster the traditional spirit among them.
For these various offices and their inherent rights were all derived from the universally prevailing family or clannish disposition. Genealogies and traditions ruled the whole, and gave, as we have seen, to their learned men a most important part and function in the social state; and thus what the Greek and Latin authors, Julius Caesar principally, have told us of the Celtic Druids, is literally true of the ollamhs in their various degrees.
But the clannish spirit chiefly showed itself in the authority and rights of every chieftain in his own territory. He was truly the patriarch of all under him, acknowledged as he was to be the head of the family, elected by all to that office at the death of his predecessor, after due consultation with the files and shanachies, to whom were intrusted the guardianship of the laws which governed the clan, and the preservation of the rights of all according to the strict order of their genealogies and the traditional rules to be observed.
The power of the chieftain was immense, although limited on every side by laws and customs. It was based on the deep affection of relationship which is so ardent in the Celtic nature. For all the clansmen were related by blood to the head of the tribe, and each one took a personal pride in the success of his undertakings. No feudal lord could ever expect from his vassals the like self-devotion; for, in feudalism, the sense of honor, in clanship, family affection, was the chief moving power.
In clanship the type was not an army, as in feudalism, but a family. Such a system, doubtless, gave rise to many inconveniences. "The breaking up of all general authority," says the Very Rev. Dean Butler (Introduction to Clyn's "Annals"), "and the multiplication of petty independent principalities, was an abuse incident on feudalism; it was inherent in the very essence of the patriarchal or family system. It began, as feudalism ended, with small independent societies, each with its own separate centre of attraction, each clustering round the lord or the chief, and each rather repelling than attracting all similar societies. Yet it was not without its advantages. If feudalism gave more strength to attack an enemy, clanship secured more happiness at home. The first implied only equality for the few, serfdom or even slavery for the many; the other gave a feeling of equality to all."
It was, no doubt, this feeling of equality, joined to that of relationship, which not only secured more happiness for the Celt, but which so closely bound the nobility of the land to the inferior classes, and gave these latter so ardent an affection for their chieftains. Clanship, therefore, imparted a peculiar character to the whole race, and its effect was so lasting and seemingly ineradicable as to be seen in the nation to-day.
Wherever feudalism previously prevailed, we remark at this time a fearful hatred existing between the two classes of the same nation; and the great majority of modern revolutions had their origin in that terrible antagonism. The same never existed, and could not exist, in Celtic Countries; and if England, after a conflict of many centuries, had not finally succeeded in destroying or exiling the entire nobility of Ireland, we should, doubtless, see to this very day that tender attachment between high and low, rich and poor, which existed in the island in former ages.
This, therefore, not only imparted a peculiar character to the people, but also gave to each subordinate chieftain an immense power over his clan; and it is doubtful if the whole history of the country can afford a single example of the clansmen refusing obedience to their chief, unless in the case of great criminals placed by their atrocities under the ban of society in former times, and under the ban of the Church, since the establishment of the Christian religion among them.
The previous observations give us an insight into the state of the people in Celtic countries. Since, however, we know that slavery existed among them, we must consider a moment what kind of slavery it was, and how soon it disappeared without passing, as in the rest of Europe, through the ordeal of serfdom.
At the outset, we cannot, as some have done, call slaves the conquered races and poor Milesians, who, according to the ancient annals of Ireland, rose in insurrection and established a king of their own during what is supposed to be the first century of the Christian era. The attacotts, as they were called, were not slaves, but poor agriculturists obliged to pay heavy rents: their very name in the Celtic language means "rent-paying tribes or people." Their oppression never reached the degree of suffering under which the Irish small farmers of our days are groaning. For, according to history, they could in three years prepare from their surplus productions a great feast, to which the monarch and all his chieftains, with their retinue, were invited, to be treacherously assassinated at the end of the banquet. The great plain of Magh Cro, now Moy Cru, near Knockma, in the county of Galway, was required for such a monster feast; profusion of meats, delicacies, and drinks was, of course, a necessity for the entertainment of such a number of high-born and athletic guests, and the feast lasted nine days. Who can suppose that in our times the free cottiers of a whole province in Ireland, after supporting their families and paying their rent, could spare even in three years the money and means requisite to meet the demands of such an occasion? But the simple enunciation of the fact proves at least that the attacotts were no slaves, but at most merely an inferior caste, deprived of many civil rights, and compelled to pay taxes on land, contrary to the universal custom of Celtic countries.
Caesar, it is true, pretends that real slavery existed among the Celts in Gaul. But a close examination of that short passage in his "Commentaries," upon which this opinion is based, will prove to us that the slavery he mentions was a very different thing from that existing among all other nations of antiquity.
"All over Gaul," he says, "there are two classes of men who enjoy all the honors and social standing in the state--the Druids and the knights. The plebeians are looked upon almost as slaves, having no share in public affairs. Many among them, loaded with debt, heavily taxed, or oppressed by the higher class, give themselves in servitude to the nobility, and then, in hos eadem omnia sunt jura quoe dominis in servos, the nobles lord it over them as, with us, masters over their slaves."
It is clear from this very passage that among the Celts no such servile class existed as among the Romans and other nations of antiquity. The plebeians, as Caesar calls them, that is to say, the simple clansmen, held no office in the state, were not summoned to the councils of the nation, and, on that account, were nobodies in the opinion of the writer. But the very name he gives them - plebs - shows that they were no more real slaves than the Roman plebs. They exercised their functions in the state by the elections, and Caesar did not know they could reach public office by application to study, and by being ordained to the rank of file, or shanachy, or brehon, in Ireland, at least: and this gave them a direct share in public affairs.
He adds that debt, taxation, and oppression, obliged a great many to give themselves in servitude, and that then they were among the Celts what slaves were among the Romans.
This assertion of Caesar requires some examination. That there were slaves among the Gaels, and particularly in Ireland, we know from several passages of old writers preserved in the various annals of the country. St. Patrick himself was a slave there in his youth, and we learn from his history and other sources how slaves were generally procured, namely, by piratical expeditions to the coast of Britain or Gaul. The Irish curraghs, in pagan times, started from the eastern or southern shores of the island, and, landing on the continent or on some British isle, they captured women, children, and even men, when the crew of the craft was strong enough to overcome them; the captives were then taken to Ireland and sold there. They lost their rights, were reduced to the state of "chattels," and thus became real slaves. Among the presents made by a superior to an inferior chieftain are mentioned bondsmen and bondsmaids. We cannot be surprised at this, since the same thing took place among the most ancient patriarchal tribes of the East, and the Bible has made us all acquainted with the male and female servants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are also called bondsmen and bondswomen. Among the Celts, therefore, slaves were of two kinds: those stolen from foreign tribes, and those who had, as it were, sold themselves, in order to escape a heavier oppression: these latter are the ones mentioned by Caesar.
The number of the first class must always have been very small, at least in Ireland and Britain, since the piratical excursions of the Celtic tribes inhabiting those countries were almost invariably undertaken in curraghs, which could only bring a few of these unfortunate individuals from a foreign country.
As to the other class, whatever Caesar may say of their number in Gaul, making it composed of the greatest part of the plebeians or common clansmen, we have no doubt but that he was mistaken, and that the number of real slaves reduced to that state by their own act must have always been remarkably small.
How could we otherwise account for the numerous armies levied by the Gaulish chieftains against the power of Rome, or by the British and Irish lords in their continual internecine wars? The clansmen engaged in both cases were certainly freemen, fighting with the determination which freedom alone can give, and this consideration of itself suffices to show that the great mass of the Celtic tribes was never reduced to slavery or even to serfdom.
Moreover, the whole drift of the Irish annals goes to prove that slavery never included any perceptible class of the Celtic population; it always remained individual and domestic, never endangering the safety of the state, never tending to insurrection and civil disorder, never requiring the vigilance nor even the care of the masters and lords.
The story of Libran, recorded in the life of St. Columbkill, is so pertinent to our present purpose, and so well adapted to give us a true idea of what voluntary slavery was among the Celtic tribes, that we will give it entire in the words of Montalembert:
"It was one day announced to Columba in Iona that a stranger had just landed from Ireland, and Columba went to meet him in the house reserved for guests, to talk with him in private and question him as to his dwelliing-place, his family, and the cause of his journey. The stranger told him that he had undertaken this painful voyage in order, under the monastic habit and in exile, to expiate his sins. Columba, desirous of trying the reality of his repentance, drew a most repulsive picture of the hardships and difficult obligations of the new life. 'I am ready,' said the stranger, 'to submit to the most cruel and humiliating conditions that thou canst command me.' And, after having made confession, he swore, still upon his knees, to accomplish all the requirements of penitence. 'It is well,' said the abbot: 'now rise from thy knees, seat thyself, and listen. You must first do penance for seven years in the neighboring island of Tirce, after which I will see you again.' 'But,' said the penitent, still agitated by remorse, 'how can I expiate a perjury of which I have not yet spoken? Before I left my country I killed a poor man. I was about to suffer the punishment of death for that crime, and I was already in irons, when one of my relatives, who is very rich, delivered me by paying the composition demanded. I swore that I would serve him all my life; but, after some days of service, I abandoned him, and here I am notwithstanding my oath.' Upon this the saint added that he would only be admitted to the paschal communion after his seven years of penitence.
"When these were completed, Columba, after having given him the communion with his own hand, sent him back to Ireland to his patron, carrying a sword with an ivory handle for his ransom. The patron, however, moved by the entreaties of his wife, gave the penitent his pardon without ransom. 'Why should we accept the price sent us by the holy Columba? We are not worthy of it. The request of such an intercessor should be granted freely. His blessing will do more for us than any ransom.' And immediately he detached the girdle from his waist, which was the ordinary form in Ireland for the manumission of captives or slaves. Columba had, besides, ordered his penitent to remain with his old father and mother until he had rendered to them the last services. This accomplished, his brothers let him go, saying, 'Far be it from us to detain a man who has labored seven years for the salvation of his soul with the holy Columba!' He then returned to Iona, bringing with him the sword which was to have been his ransom. 'Henceforward thou shaft be called Libran, for thou art free and emancipated from all ties,' said Columba; and he immediately admitted him to take the monastic vows."
Servitude, therefore, continued in Ireland after the establishment of Christianity; but how different from the slavery of other European countries, which it took so many ages to destroy, and which had to pass through so many different stages! Although we cannot know precisely when servitude was completely abolished among the Celts, the total silence of the contemporary annals on the subject justifies the belief that the Danes, on their first landing, found no real slaves in the country; and, if the Danes themselves oppressed the people wherever they established their power, they could not make a social institution of slavery. It had never been more than a domestic arrangement; it could not become a state affair, as among the nations of antiquity.
In clannish tribes, therefore, and particularly among the Celts, the personal freedom of the lowest clansman was the rule, deprivation of individual liberty the exception. Hence the manners of the people were altogether free from the abject deportment of slaves and villeins in other nations--a cringing disposition of the lower class toward their superiors, which continues even to this day among the peasantry of Europe, and which patriarchal nations have never known. The Norman invaders of Ireland, in the twelfth century, were struck with the easy freedom of manner and speech of the people, so different from that of the lower orders in feudal countries. They soon even came to like it; and the supercilious followers of Strongbow readily adopted the dress, the habits, the language, and the good-humor of the Celts, in the midst of whom they found themselves settled.
And it is proper here to show what social dispositions and habits were the natural result of the clan system, so as to become characteristic of the race, and to endure forever, as long at least as the race itself. The artless family state of the sept naturally developed a peculiarly social feeling, much less complicated than in nations more artificially constituted, but of a much deeper and more lasting character. In the very nature of the mind of those tribes there must have been a great simplicity of ideas, and on that account an extraordinary tenacity of belief and will. There is no complication and systematic combination of political, moral, and social views, but a few axioms of life adhered to with a most admirable energy; and we therefore find a singleness of purpose, a unity of national and religious feeling, among all the individuals of the tribe.
As nothing is complicated and systematized among them, the political system must be extremely simple, and based entirely on the family. And family ideas being as absolute as they are simple, the political system also becomes absolute and lasting; without improving, it is true, but also without the constant changes which bring misery with revolution to thoughtful, reflective, and systematic nations. What a frightful amount of misfortunes has not logic, as it is called, brought upon the French! It was in the name of logical and metaphysical principles that the fabric of society was destroyed a hundred years ago, to make room for what was then called a more rationally-constituted edifice; but the new building is not yet finished, and God only knows when it will be!
The few axioms lying at the base of the Celtic mind with respect to government are much preferable, because much more conducive to stability, and consequently to peace and order, whatever may have been the local agitation and temporary feuds and divisions. Hence we see the permanence of the supreme authority resting in one family among the Celts through so many ages, in spite of continual wrangling for that supreme power. Hence the permanence of territorial limits in spite of lasting feuds, although territory was not invested in any particular inheriting family, but in a purely moral being called the clan or sept.
As for the moral and social feelings in those tribes, they are not drawn coldly from the mind, and sternly imposed by the external law, in the form of axioms and enactments, as was the case chiefly in Sparta, and as is still the case in the Chinese Empire to-day; but they gush forth impetuously from impulsive and loving hearts, and spread like living waters which no artificially-cut stones can bank and confine, but which must expand freely in the land they fertilize.
Deep affection, then, is with them at the root of all moral and social feelings; and as all those feelings, even the national and patriotic, are merged in real domestic sentiment, a great purity of morals must exist among them, nothing being so conducive thereto as family affections.
Above all, when those purely-natural dispositions are raised to the level of the supernatural ones by a divinely-inspired code, by the sublime elevation of Christian purity, then can there be found nothing on earth more lovely and admirable. Chastity is always attractive to a pure heart; patriarchal guilelessness becomes sacred even to the corrupt, if not altogether hardened, man.
Of course we do not pretend that this happy state of things is without its exceptions; that the light has no shadow, the beauty no occasional blemish. We speak of the generality, or at least of the majority, of cases; for perfection cannot belong to this world.
Yet mysticism is entirely absent from such a moral and religious state, on account, perhaps, of the paucity of ideas by which the heart is ruled, and perhaps also on account of the artless simplicity which characterizes every thing in primitively-constituted nations. And, wonderful to say, without any mysticism there is often among them a perfect holiness of life, adapting itself to all circumstances, climates, and associations. The same heart of a young maiden is capable of embracing a married life or of devoting itself to religious celibacy; and in either case the duties of each are performed with the most perfect simplicity and the highest sanctity. Hence, how often does a trifling circumstance
determine for her her whole subsequent life, and make her either the mother of a family or the devoted spouse of Christ! Yet, the final determination once taken, the whole after-life seems to have been predetermined from infancy as though no other course could have been possible.
There is no doubt that sensual corruption is particularly engendered by an artificial state of society, which necessarily fosters morbidity of imagination and nervous excitability. A primitive and patriarchal life, on the contrary, leads to moderation in all things, and repose of the senses.
Herein is found the explanation of the eagerness with which the Celts everywhere, but particularly in Ireland, as soon as Christianity was preached to them, rushed to a life of perfection and continence. St. Patrick himself expressed his surprise, and showed, by several words in his "Confessio," that he was scarcely prepared for it. "The sons of Irishmen," he says, "and the daughters of their chieftains, want to become monks and virgins of Christ." We know what a multitude of monasteries and nunneries sprang up all over the island in the very days of the first apostle and of his immediate successors. Montalembert remarks that, according to the most reliable and oldest documents, a religious house is scarcely mentioned which contained less than three thousand monks or nuns. It appeared to be a consecrated number; and this took place immediately after the conversion of the island to Christianity, while even still a great number were pagans.
"There was particularly," says St. Patrick, "one blessed Irish girl, gentle born, most beautiful, already of a marriageable age, whom I had baptized. After a few days she came back and told me that a messenger of God had appeared to her, advising her to become a virgin of Christ, and live united to God. Thanks be to the Almighty! Six days after, she obtained, with the greatest joy and avidity, what she wished. The same must be said of all the virgins of God; their parents--those remaining pagans, no doubt--instead of approving of it, persecute them, and load them with obloquy; yet their number increases constantly; and, indeed, of all those that have been thus born to Christ, I cannot give the number, besides those living in holy widowhood, and keeping continency in the midst of the world.
"But those girls chiefly suffer most who are bound to service; they are often subjected to terrors and threats--from pagan masters surely--yet they persevere. The Lord has given his holy grace of purity to those servant-girls; the more they are tempted against chastity, the more able they show themselves to keep it."
Does not this passage, written by St. Patrick, describe precisely what is now of every-day occurrence wherever the Irish emigrate? The Celts, therefore, were evidently at the time of their conversion what they are now; and it has been justly remarked that, of all nations whose records have been kept in the history of the Catholic Church, they have been the only ones whose chieftains, princes, even kings, have shown themselves almost as eager to become, not only Christians, but even monks and priests, as the last of their clansmen and vassals. Every where else the lower orders chiefly have furnished the first followers of Christ, the rich and the great being few at the beginning, and forming only the exception.
The evident consequence of this well-attested fact is that the pagan Celts, even of the highest rank, generally led pure lives, and admired chastity. But there is something more. Morality rests on the sense of duty; the deeper that sense is imprinted in the heart of man, the more man becomes truly moral and holy. It can be almost demonstrated that scarcely any thing gives more solidity to the sense of duty than a simple and patriarchal life. Their views of morals being no more complicated than their views of any thing else; being accustomed to reduce every thing of a spiritual, moral nature to a few feelings and axioms, as it were, but at the same time becoming strongly attached to them on account of the importance which every man naturally bestows on matters of that sort; what among other nations forms a complicated code of morality more or less pure, more or less corrupt, for the nations of which we speak becomes compressed, so to speak, in a nutshell, and, the essence remaining always at the bottom, the idea of duty grows paramount in their minds and hearts, and every thing they do is illumined by that light of the human conscience, which, after all, is for each one of us the voice of God. False issues do not distract their minds, and give a wrong bias to the conscience. Hence Celtic tribes, by their very nature, were strictly conscientious.
So preeminently was this the case with them that spiritual things in their eyes became, as they truly are, real and substantial. Hence their religion was not an exterior thing only. On the contrary, exterior rites were in their eyes only symbolical, and mere emblems of the reality which they covered.
It should, therefore, be no matter of surprise to us to find that for them religion has always been above all things; that they have always sacrificed to it whatever is dear to man on earth. They all seem to feel as instinctively and deeply as the thoroughly cultivated and superior mind of Thomas More did, that eternal things are infinitely superior to whatever is temporal, and that a wise man ought to give up every thing rather than be faithless to his religion.
From the previous remarks, we map conclude, with Mr. Matthew Arnold, who has applied his critical and appreciative mind to the study of the Celtic character, that "the Celtic genius has sentiment as its main basis, with love of beauty, charm, and spirituality for its excellence," but, he adds, "ineffectualness and self-will for its defects." On these last words we may be allowed to make a few concluding observations.
If by "ineffectualness" is understood that, owing to their impulsive nature, the Celts often attempted more than they could accomplish, and thus failed; or that on many occasions of less import they changed their mind, and, after a slight effort, did not persevere in an undertaking just begun, there is no doubt of the truth of the observation. But, if the celebrated writer meant to say that this defect of character always accompanied the Celts in whatever they attempted, and that thus they were constantly foiled and never successful in any thing; or, still worse, that, owing to want of perseverance and of energy, they too soon relaxed in their efforts, and that every enterprise and determination on their part became "ineffectual"--we so far disagree with him that the main object of the following pages will be to contradict these positions, and to show by the history of the race, in Ireland at least, that, owing precisely to their "self-will," they were never ultimately unsuccessful in their aspirations; but that, on the contrary, they have always in the end effected what with their accustomed perseverance and self-will they have at all times stood for. At least this we hope will become evident, whenever they had a great object in view, and with respect to things to which they attached a real and paramount importance.