- The culture, history and people of Ireland and the Irish

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While the struggle described in the last chapter was raging, Ireland could have little or no intercourse with the rest of Europe. Heaven alone was witness of the heroism displayed by the free clans wrestling with feudal England. It was only during the internecine wars of the Roses that Erin enjoyed a respite, and then we read that Margaret of Offaly summoned to peaceful contest the bards of the island, while the shrines of Rome and Compostella were thronged with pilgrims, chiefs, and princes, "paying their vows of faith from the Western Isle."

In the mean time Christendom had been witness of mighty events in which Ireland could take no part. The enthusiastic impulse which gave birth to the Crusades, the uprising of the communes against feudal thraldom, the mental activity of numerous universities, starting each day into life, form, among other things, the three great progressive waves in the moving ocean of the time:

  1. When Europe in phalanx of steel hurled itself upon Asia and saved Christendom from the yoke of Islam, when the Japhetic race by a mighty effort asserted its right not merely to existence, but to a preponderance in the affairs of the world, Ireland, the nation Christian of Christians, had not a name among men. It was supposed to be a dependency of England, and the envoys sent abroad to all parts by the Holy See to preach the Crusades, never touched her shores to deliver the cross to her warriors. The most chivalrous nation of Christendom was altogether forgotten, and in its ecclesiastical annals no mention is made of the Crusades even by name.

The holy wars, moreover, were set on foot and carried on by the feudal chivalry of Europe, and in fact, wherever the Europeans established their power in the East, that power took the shape of feudalism. But Ireland had rejected this system, and consequently her sons could find no place in the ranks of the knights of Flaners, Normandy, Aquitaine, and England. Their chivalry was of another stamp, and was employed at the time in wresting their social state and territory from the grasp of ruthless invaders.

Hence, not even St. Bernard, the ardent friend of St. Malachi, remembered them, when journeying through Europe to distribute the Cross to whole armies of warriors. Not only did he fail to cross the Channel for the purpose of rousing the Christian enthusiasm of a people ever ready to hearken to a call to arms when a noble cause was at stake; he did not think even of writing a single letter to any bishop or abbot in Ireland, asking them to preach the holy war in his name.

Thus Ireland failed to participate in any of the benefits which accrued to the European nations from the Crusades, as she failed likewise to participate in results less beneficial which also accrued from that powerful agitation.

Among such results is one which has not met with all the attention it deserves. Historians speak at length of the many and wide-spread heresies which infected Europe during the middle ages; but their Eastern origin has not been thoroughly investigated, and we have no doubt that, if it had been, many of them would be found to have come with a returning wave of the Crusades.

All these errors bear at the outset a very Oriental appearance. Paulicians, Petrobrusians, Albigensians, and kindred sects, all started from the principle of dualism, and even at the time were openly accused of Manicheistic ideas. They all involved more or less immoral principles, and rejected, or at least strove to weaken, the commonly-received ideas upon which society, civil and religious, is founded. Had they succeeded in spreading their errors through Europe, it is possible that the invasion would have been more fatal in its consequences than that of Islamism itself. And, even in their failure, they left among European societies the germ of secret associations which have existed from that time down, and which in our days have burst forth undisguised to terrify nations, and cause them to dread the coming of the last days.

To an attentive observer it is clear that the heresies of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries resemble more the errors of our days than the Protestantism which intervened. Luther's first principles, if carried to their legitimate conclusion, would have inaugurated the socialism and communism of modern times; but he shrank from the consequences of his own doctrines, and the necessity of his standing well with the German princes caused him, during the War of the Peasants, almost to retract his first utterances and take his stand midway between Catholic principles and the thorough nihilism of later times. It is known that in the after-part of his life he endeavored to repair the ruins of every dogma, social and religious, which he at first had tried to subvert and destroy.

The Manicheism of the middle ages was certainly not of so scientific and elaborate a nature as modern socialism; but it would have been productive of like evil results to society had it not been crushed down by the united power of the Church and the state. If it had been successful, it is impossible to imagine what would have become of Europe.

Of its Eastern origin historians say little. We know, however, that, after a residence in the East, the most pious Christians grew lukewarm and less firm in their opposition to the dangerous errors then prevalent in Asia. Tournefort remarked this in his own time, during the reign of Louis XIV.

It is known also that the posterity of the first crusaders in Palestine formed a hybrid race, which, weakened by the influence of the luxurious habits of Eastern countries, became corrupt, and under the name of Pulani practised a feeble Christianity, unfit to cope with the vigorous fanaticism of the Mussulman. Many Europeans came back from those wars wavering in faith, and no one knows how many with faith entirely lost.

It is not, therefore, too much to suppose that the Oriental errors which suddenly burst forth at this time in Western Europe followed in the wake of the returning pilgrims, and it is highly probable, if not absolutely certain, that, had there been no Crusades, Manicheism and the secret societies born of it would never have been known in Italy and France. Hence, one of the first and greatest champions of the Church in controversy with the Albigenses - Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny - at the very beginning of the heresy, found no better means of opposing the new errors than attacking every thing coming from the East. Thus, he wrote his long treatises against the Talmud and the Koran, so much had the Crusades already contributed to introducing into Western Europe the seeds of Asiatic errors. All historians agree in giving an Eastern origin to the Paulicians, Bulgarians, Albigenses, and others of those times.

Manicheism indeed had infested Europe long before. Some Roman emperors had published severe edicts against it. In the fifth century, the heresy still flourished in Italy and Africa, St. Augustine himself being an adept for several years, and by his writings he has made us acquainted with its strongest supporters in his day. He was followed, in his attacks on it, by a great number of Fathers, both Greek and Latin.

But after the barbarian invasions we hear no more of the Manichees for upward of five hundred years. The West had entirely forgotten them. Arianism and Manicheism had apparently perished together. The tenth century is called a period of darkness and ignorance; it at least possessed the advantage of being free from heresy; the dogmas of the Church were unhesitatingly and universally accepted. Western Europe, though cut up by the new-born feudalism into a thousand fragments, was at least one in faith, until that great and powerful union having, in an outburst of enthusiasm, produced the Crusades, we suddenly find Eastern theories and immoralities invading the countries most faithful to the Church.

Raymond VI., Count of Toulouse, the great champion of the Albigenses, was the near descendant of that great Raymond, one of the chiefs of the first Crusade, who might have aspired to the throne of Jerusalem, had not Godfrey de Bouillon won the suffrages of the soldiers of the Cross by his ardent and pure piety. Raymond VI. dwelt in Languedoc, in all the luxurious splendor of an Eastern emir; and he doubtless found the doctrines of dualistic Manicheism more congenial to his taste for pleasure than the stern tenets of the Christian religion. Ambition, it is true, was one of the chief motives which prompted him to place himself at the head of the heretics; he hoped to enrich himself through them by the spoils of the Church; and thus the same power which later on moved the German princes to embrace Lutheranism was already acting on the aspiring Count of Toulouse at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Thus we find him at the head of his troops, plundering churches, ravaging monasteries, outraging and profaning holy things, for the purpose of filling his coffers.

Yet it is also certain that he, the chief of the sectarians, and a great number of the nobility of Southern France, were led to embrace the Albigensian error by the degrading habits which they had previously contracted.

We do not purpose entering into a lengthened discussion on the subject; we merely wish to contrast, with the wide spread of heresy in Western Europe, the great fact of a total absence of it in Ireland; or rather, we should say, and by so saying we confirm our reflection, that errors of a similar nature did invade the Pale in Erin at this time, without touching in any wise the children of the soil.

For, it is a remarkable fact that, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the name of heresy is mentioned for the first and last time in Catholic Ireland; the new doctrines bearing a close resemblance to some of the errors of the Albigenses, and their chief propagators being all lords of the Pale.

In November of 1235, Pope Benedict XII. wrote a letter on this subject to Edward III. of England, which may be read in F. Brenan's Ecclesiastical History.

It is clear from many things related by Ware in his "Antiquities" that the Vicar of Christ, unable to follow freely his inclinations with respect to the filling of the sees of Erin, and obliged to appoint to bishoprics, at least in many parts of the island, only men of English birth, selected for that purpose members of the various religious orders then existing. Instead of granting episcopal jurisdiction to the feudal nominees of the court, when unworthy, Rome appointed a Franciscan, or a Dominican, a member of some religious community, who was born in England, but at least more independent of the court, of greater sympathy with the people, less swayed by worldly and selfish motives, and consequently readier to obey the mandates of Rome, which were always on the side of justice and morality. Thus we find that in the whole history of Ireland, as a general rule, the bishops chosen from religious orders were acceptable to the people, and true to their duty.

Such a man certainly was Richard Ledred, a Minorite, born in London, whom the Pope made Bishop of Ossory. But on that very account he incurred the hatred of many English officials, and even of worldly prelates, among whom Alexander Bicknor, Archbishop of Dublin, was the most conspicuous. Bieknor was not only archbishop, but had been appointed Lord Justice of Ireland by the king, and later on Lord Deputy; later still he was dispatched by the English Parliament as ambassador to France.

"It had been well," says F. Brenan, "for the archbishop himself, and for those immediately under his jurisdiction, had he abstained from mixing himself up with the state affairs of those times. Ambition formed no inferior trait in the character of Alexander, even long before he had been exalted to a high dignity in the Church. He advanced rapidly into power, stepping from one office into another, until at length he found himself in the midst of the labyrinth, without being able to make his way, unless by means of guides as inexperienced as they were treacherous. It was by causes such as these that he brought himself into serious difficulties, not only with the Archbishop of Armagh, on account of the primacy, but also with his own suffragans, and particularly with the Bishop of Ossory."

Under these circumstances it was that the prelate last mentioned, on visiting his diocese, found unmistakable signs of the spread of heresy among his flock. His diocese at that time formed a part of the English Pale, and Kilkenny, where he had his cathedral, was often the seat of Parliament.

Among those most active for the propagation of the new doctrines were found, the Seneschal of Kilkenny, the Treasurer of Ireland, and the Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas--all English of the Pale. The zealous bishop, fearless of the consequences, openly denounced them, and publicly excommunicated the Treasurer. At once a terrible storm was raised among their English abettors, and, in order to screen the guilty parties, they recriminated against the prelate, and accused him of being a sharer in the crime of Thomas Fitzgilbert, who had burned the castle of Moy Cahir, and killed its owner, Hugh Le Poer. The temporalities of Ledred having been already sequestrated for his boldness in denouncing heretics, he was compelled finally to leave his diocese and fly to Avignon, where he remained in exile for nine years.

The Archbishop of Dublin had been one of his bitterest enemies, and, although not actually accused of heresy himself, he was certainly the abettor of heretics, and had done all in his power to have Ledred arrested for his supposed crimes.

Ware, in his lives of Bicknor and Ledred, is evidently a partisan of the first and an enemy of the second. He pretends that Ledred tacitly acknowledged his guilt in the affair of Le Poer, since he sued for pardon to the king, as though readers of English history did not constantly meet with instances of innocent men compelled to sue for pardon of crimes which they had never committed.

We have fortunately better judges of the characters of both prelates in the two popes, Benedict XII. and Clement VI.: the first believing in the existence of the heresy denounced by Ledred; the second exempting the Bishop of Ossory from the superior jurisdiction of Bicknor, on account of the unjust animosity displayed toward him by this worldly prelate.

The absence of all historical documents in reference to the case leaves us at a loss to know the effect produced on Edward III. by the letter of the Pontiff. It is highly probable that the king preferred to believe Bicknor rather than the Pope, and disregarded the advice of the latter.

In such an event, how was the heresy put down? Simply by the good sense and spirit of faith of the people, or rather by the deep Christian feeling of the native Irish, who were always opposed to innovation, and who remained firm in the traditional belief inherent in the nation by the grace of God. Schism and heresy seem impossible among the children of Erin. If at any time certain novelties have appeared among them, they have speedily vanished like empty vapor. They heard that, in other parts of the Church, in the East chiefly, heresiarchs had arisen and led away into error large numbers of people forming sometimes formidable sects, which threatened the very existence of the religion of Christ; but the face of a heretic they had never beheld. Soon, indeed, they were to be at the mercy of a whole swarm of them, to see a pretended church leagued with the state to bring about their perversion; but as yet they had had no experience of the kind.

Only a few heretics were pointed out to them by the finger of one of their bishops, and his denunciations were confirmed by the judgment of the Holy See. Hence, according to F. Brenan, "the sensation which pervaded all classes became vehement and frightful. The bishop and his clergy came forward, and by solid argument, by the strength and power of truth, opposed and discomfited the enemies of religion."

The feeling here expressed is a natural one for a true Christian at the very mention of heresy. Yet how few nations have experienced a sensation "vehement and frightful" at the appearance of positive error among them! But, at all periods of their history, such has been the feeling of the Irish people.

Fortunately for them, the number of sectarians was so small as to become insignificant; the English of the Pale were always few in comparison with the natives, and heresy had been, adopted by only a small body.

Error, therefore, could not cause in the island the social and political convulsions which it had produced in France about the same time. There was no need of a second Albigensian war to put it down. There was no need even of the Inquisition, as an ecclesiastical tribunal. The sentence of the bishop, the decree of excommunication pronounced from the foot of the altar, was all that was required.

When we compare this single fact of Irish ecclesiastical history with what was then transpiring in Europe--the most insidious errors spreading throughout; the faith of many becoming unsettled, a general preparation for the social deluge which was impending and so soon to fall--we cannot but conclude that Ireland, in the midst of her misfortunes, was happy in being separated from the rest of the world. The breath of novelty could breathe no contagion on her shores. Happy even was she in not seeing her sons enlist in the army of the Cross, if the result of their victories was, to bring back from the Holy Land the Eastern corruption and the many heresies nestling there and settled, even around the sepulchre of our Lord, during so many ages of separation from the West and open communication with all the wild vagaries of Arabian, Persian, and Indian philosophies.

Even in the midst of such a trial we believe that Ireland would have held steadfast to her faith, as she did later on when heresy came to her with compulsion or death; and this firmness of purpose, which the Irish have always manifested when the question was a change of religion, is worthy our consideration. For the facility with which some nations have, in the course of ages, yielded to the spirit of novelty, and the sturdy resistance opposed to it by others, is a subject that would repay investigation, but which we can only slightly touch upon.

In ancient times the Greek mind, accustomed from the beginning to subtlety of argument, and easily carried away by a rationalism which was innate, offers a striking contrast to the steady traditional spirit of the Latin races in general. Except Pelagiaism and its cognate errors, all the great heresies which afflicted the Church during the first ten centuries, originated in the East; and the various sects catalogued by several of the Greek Fathers, as early as the second and third centuries, astonish the modern reader by the slender web on which their often ridiculous systems are spun, of texture strong enough, however, at the time to form the groundwork for making a disastrous impression on a large number of adherents. The infinity almost of philosophical systems in pagan Greece had prepared the way for the subsequent vagaries of heresy, and we must look to our own times, so prolific of absurd theories, in order to find a parallel to the incredible variety of dogmatic assertions among the Greek heresiarchs of early times.

But, at the outbreak of Protestantism, in the sixteenth century, the world witnessed a still more striking example of diversity in the various branches of the Japhetic family - the nations belonging to the Teutonic and Scandinavian stocks chiefly embracing the error at once with a wonderful spontaneity. The various remnants of the Celtic race and the totality of the Latin nations remained, on the whole, obedient to the guiding voice of the Church of Christ. It is customary with modern writers, when imbued with what are called liberal ideas, to ascribe this difference to the steady, systematic mind of northern nations, and to their innate love of liberty, which could not brook the yoke of spiritual despotism imposed by the Church of Rome. But all this is mere supposition, inadequate to accounting for the fact. The Teutonic and Scandinavian mind is certainly more systematic and apparently more steady than the Celtic; but it is far less so than the Latin. No nation in the whole history of mankind has ever displayed more steadiness and system than the Romans, and the Latin family has inherited those characteristics from Rome. The Spanish race has no equal in steadiness (in the sense here intended of steadfastness), and the French certainly none in system, which it often carried to the verge of absurdity.

As for love of liberty, as distinct from love of license, it had absolutely nothing to do with the great revolution which has been called the Reformation. No nation can relish despotism, and the whole history of Ireland is a living example that her sons are steadily opposed to it to the death. And it is now too late to pretend that the cause of true liberty has been served by the spread of Protestantism over a large portion of Europe. Balmez and others have proved the falsehood of such pretensions. If any modern writers, such as Mr. Bancroft, for instance, men otherwise of sound mind and great ability, continue to assert this, the assertion must proceed from prejudice deeply ingrained, which reflection has not yet succeeded in eradicating, and their opinions on the subject are necessarily confined to bold assertions, of a character which in others they themselves would stigmatize as empty and unfounded.

The reason of the difference lies deeper in the constitution of the human mind, in the Celtic and Latin races on the one side, in the Teutonic and Scandinavian families on the other. Any one who has studied the Irish character in our days--a character which was the same in former ages--will easily see something of that great and happy cause.

The difference lies first in the good sense which enables them to perceive instinctively that the eternal should be preferred to the temporal. If all men kept that distinct perception ever present to their minds, they would not only accept at all times the truths of faith, since faith, according to St. Paul, is "the substance of the things hoped for," but they would remain ever faithful to the moral code given us by God. The Celt indeed will at times lose sight of the eternal in the presence of a temporal temptation; but he is never blind to the knowledge that faith is the groundwork of salvation, and that hope remains as long as that is not surrendered. Therefore he will never surrender it. The need of reviving his faith is rarely called for, when, after a life of sin, the shadow of death reminds him of the duty he owes his own soul. The great truth that, after all, the ETERNAL is every thing, remains always deeply impressed on his mind; and half his labor is spared to the minister of God, when bringing such a man back to a life of virtue. There is scarcely any need of asking an Irishman, "Do you believe?" For, every word that passes his lips, every look and gesture, every expression of feeling, is in fact an act of faith. How easy after this is the work of regeneration!

0 happy race, to whom this life is in truth a shadow that passeth away! to whom the unseen is ever present, or comes back so vividly and so readily!

This supposes, as we have said, a sound, good sense, which is characteristic of the race. We may say that this nation possesses the wisdom of Sir Thomas More, who esteemed it folly to lose eternity for a life of twenty years of ease and honors. Is not this, at bottom, the thought which has sustained the nation in that dread martyrdom of three centuries, whose terrible story we have still to tell? Have they not, as a nation, one after another, generation upon generation, lived and passed their lives in contempt, in want, in frightful misery, to die in torments or hidden sufferings, without a gleam of hope from this world for their race, their families, their children, their very name, because they would not surrender their religion, that is to say, truth, which alone could secure the eternal welfare of their souls?

Speak to us, after this, of a steady and systematic mind! Prate to us of the love of liberty, of self-dignity! Where are such things to be found in their reality, on their trial, if not in the scenes and the nation we have just pictured?

A second reason, no less effective, perhaps, than the first, and certainly as remarkable, is the very composition of the Celtic mind, which naturally tends to firm belief, because it is given exclusively to traditions, past events, narratives of poets, historians, and genealogists. Had the Irish at any time turned themselves to criticise, to doubt, to argue, their very existence, as a people, would have ceased. They must go on believing, or all reality vanishes from their minds, accustomed for so many ages to take in that solid knowledge founded, it is true, on hearsay; but how else can truth reach us save by hearsay? Hence, their simple and artless acquiescence in any thing they hear from trustworthy lips - acquiescence ever refused to a known enemy, never to a well-tried friend, even when the facts ascertained are strange, mysterious, unaccounted for, and incredible to minds differently constituted.

Thus, when we read their "Acta Sanctorum," we at once find ourselves in a world so different from our every-day world - a region of wonders, mysteries, of heavenly and supernatural deeds, unequalled in any story of marvellous travel or fable of imaginative romance. Yet, who will say that the writers doubted a single phrase of what they wrote? Is it not clear, from the very words they use, that they would have held it sacrilege to utter a falsehood, when speaking of the blessed saints? And, can the lives of the saints be like those of common mortals? What is there strange in considering that the earth was mysterious and heavenly, when heavenly beings walked upon it? Read the Litany and Festology of Aengus, and doubt if the holy man did not believe all therein contained. Say, if it can be possible, that it is not all true, though apparently incredible. Who can doubt what is asserted with such vehemence of belief? How can that fail to be true which holy men and women have themselves believed, and given to the world to be believed?

This thoroughly explains the simplicity of faith which still distinguishes the Irish people. It explains why no heretic could be found among them, and their intense horror of heresy as soon as known. Nor is it their mind alone which bears the impress of faith: their very exterior is a witness to it. Go into any large city where dwell a number of Irish inhabitants; walk through the public streets, where they walk among the children of other races, and you will easily distinguish them, not only by the modesty of their women and the simple bearing of their men, but by the look of confidence and contentedness stamped on their features. Whoever has a settled faith, is no longer an inquirer, no longer troubled with the anxiety and restlessness of a man plunged in doubt and uncertainty; all the lineaments of the face, all the gestures and attitudes of the body, speak of quietude and repose.

We might render this discussion more effective by the study of the contrary phenomena, by showing how easily races, differently gifted, endowed with the spirit of criticism and argument, sever from the faith and follow the lead of deceptive teachers. Our object here was to describe the Irish, and not to enter into a study of the physiology of other minds; but a word on Germanic and Scandinavian tribes and peoples may not be amiss.

There is no doubt that these races place their "good sense" in a very different line from the Irish; that they are, also, much more given to criticism, what they call "grumbling," and absence of repose.

With regard to the first point - their "good sense" - it is easy to remark their tendency to prefer the temporal to the eternal. For their "good sense" consists in enjoying the things of this life without troubling themselves over-much about another. And, in this observation, there is nothing which can possibly offend them, for such is their open profession and estimate of true wisdom. Hence result their love of comfort, their thrift, their shrewdness in all material and worldly affairs; hence, their constant boasting about their civilization, understanding, thereby, what is pleasing to the senses; hence, also, their success in a life wherein they set their whole happiness. How could they be expected to remain steadfast to a faith which declares war to pleasure, and speaks only of contempt for this world? It is not matter of surprise, then, that their great argument, to prove that theirs is the better and the right religion, is to compare their physical well-being with the inferiority in that regard of Catholic nations.

With regard to the spirit of criticism and argumentation, nothing is so opposed to the spirit of faith; and it is as clear as day that the northern races possess this in an eminent degree. What question, religious or philosophical, can rest intact when brought under the microscopic vision of a German philosopher or an English rationalist? A few years more of criticism, as now understood and practised by them, would leave absolutely nothing which the mind of man could respect and believe.

An attentive observer will surely conclude, after a serious examination of the subject, that it is from petty causes of this character that these races have so easily surrendered their faith, rather than from their systematic minds and love of liberty.

  1. The rising of the communes, one of the greatest features of mediaeval Europe, did not extend to Ireland, separated as it then was from the Continent. But, by reason of this very separation, the island remained forever free from the future political commotions of what is known as "the third estate." A few remarks on this subject are requisite, because of the objection brought against the Irish, that they have never known municipal government, and also on account of the false assertions of some philosophical historians, who allege that the Danes and Anglo-Normans, in turn, wrought a great good to Ireland by bringing with them the boon of citizen rights.

What were the causes of the rising of the communes in the eleventh and following centuries? The universality of the fact argues identity of motives, since, without common understanding among various nations, the risings showed themselves at about the same time in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and England.

In ancient cities, which existed prior to the Germanic invasions, the population, after the scourge had passed, was composed principally of three elements: 1. Free men of the conquering races, who were poor, and had embraced some mechanical pursuit;

  1. The remnants of the Roman population, who followed some trade; 3. Freedmen from the rural districts, who, unable to gain a livelihood in the country, had come to reside in the cities, where they could more easily subsist.

Thus, besides the feudal lords and the class of villeins, there was formed everywhere a third class, that of arts and trades.

The juridical power being restricted to the lords, whose rights extended only to the land and the men attached to it, the class of artisans found themselves destitute of legal rights, without a recognition or place even in the jurisprudence, as then existing, consequently in a practically anarchical state. Hence, they formed among themselves their own associations, elected their own magistrates, enacted their own by-laws.

In the cities we have mentioned, the bishop alone held social relations with the lords, whether the feudal chieftain of the vicinity, or the Count of the city. Thus, the bishop often acted as the mediator between the citizens and the privileged class which surrounded them. The great object of the citizens was to obtain a charter of rights from the suzerain, who alone could act with justice and impartiality toward those disfranchised burghers. To this was owed the immense number of charters granted at that time, many of which, lately published, tend better than any thing else to give us an insight into the origin of municipal life in mediaeval Europe.

New cities, either founded by the invaders or springing up of themselves around feudal castles and monasteries, soon experienced the necessity of similar favors, which, as soon as obtained, invested them with a social status unenjoyed before.

The number of freemen, reduced to poverty, or of recent freedmen

  • freed by the emancipation everywhere set on foot and encouraged by the Church - extended the spread of communes even to the rural districts. Thus, many villages or small towns grew into corporations, and a social state arose, hitherto totally unknown in Europe.

The question has been much discussed, whether those new municipal corporations owed their origin to the municipal system of the Romans, or were altogether disconnected with it. The opinion commonly now accepted is, that the two systems were utterly distinct. In some few instances, a particular Roman municipal city may have passed into a mediaeval corporate town under a new charter and with extended rights; but this was certainly the exception. In the great majority of cases, the newly-chartered cities had never before enjoyed municipal rights.

These few words suffice to show that the communes, wherever they arose, presupposed the existence of feudalism, and the slavery once so widely extended, passing gradually into serfdom.

But neither feudalism nor slavery, in the old pagan sense of the word, nor even serfdom, properly so called, as the doom of the ascripti glebae, ever existed in Ireland. There was, therefore, no need among the Irish for the rising of communes.

Nevertheless, we do find communes existing in Ireland and charters granted to Irish cities by English kings. But they were merely English institutions for the special benefit of the English of the Pale, which were always refused to "the Irish enemy," and which the "Irish enemy," with the exception of a few individual cases, never demanded. Consequently the fact stands almost universally true that the rising of the communes never extended to Ireland, and that, if the Irish never enjoyed the benefit of them, as little did they share in the evil consequences resulting from them.

All those evil consequences had their root in a feeling of bitter hostility between the higher or noble classes, and not only the villeins, whom they ground between them, but also the middle classes, who were dwelling in the cities, emancipating themselves by slow degrees, and forming in course of time the "third estate."

The workings of that hostility form a great part of the history of Europe from the twelfth century down to the present day, and many social convulsions, recorded in the annals of the six ages preceding our own, may be traced to it. The frightful French Revolution was certainly a result of it, although it must be granted that several secondary causes contributed to render the catastrophe more destructive, the chief among which was the spread of infidel doctrines among the higher and middle classes.

But our days witness a still more awful spectacle, the persistent array of the poor against the rich in all countries once Christian, and this may be traced directly to their mediaeval origin now under our consideration; and, the evils preparing for mankind therefrom, future history alone will be able to tell.

In Ireland, this has never been the danger. In the earlier constitution of the nation, there could be no rivalry, no hostility of class with class, as there never existed any social distinction between them; and if, in our days, the poor there as elsewhere seem arrayed against the rich, it is not as class against class, but as the spoiled against the spoiler, the victim against the robber, against the holders of the soil by right of confiscation--a soil upon which the old owners still live, with all the traditions of their history, which have never been completely effaced, and which in our days are springing into new life under the studies of patriotic antiquarians. This fact cannot be denied.

The case of Ireland is so different in this respect from that of other nations, that in no other country have the people been reduced to such a degrading state of pauperism, yet in no other country is the same submission to the existing order of society found among the lower classes. No communism, no socialism has ever been preached there, and, were it preached, it would only be to deaf ears. Until the last two or three centuries, no seed of animosity between high and low, rich and poor, had been sowed in Ireland. The reason of this we have seen in a previous chapter. And if, since the wholesale confiscations of the seventeenth century, the country has been divided into two hostile camps, the fault has never laid with the poor, the despoiled; they have always been the victims, and never uttered open threats of destruction against their oppressors. If in the future men look to great calamities, Ireland is the only quarter from which nothing of the kind is to be feared, and the impending revolution by which she may profit will look to her for no assistance in the subversion of society.

We now leave the reader to appreciate to its full extent the real value of the opinion of modern writers who would justify the successive invasions of the Danes and Anglo-Normans, and also, we suppose, of the Puritans, as praiseworthy attempts to introduce into Ireland the municipal system, so productive of good elsewhere throughout Europe.

There is no doubt that municipal rights have been of immense advantage to European society, as constituted at the time of their introduction. They formed the germ of a new class, destined to be the ruling class of the world, by whom human rights were first to be understood and proclaimed, and the necessary amount of freedom granted to all and secured by just laws justly administered. Christianity is the true source of all those rights, as Christian morality ought to be their standard.

But what an amount of human misery was first required, in order that such blessed results might follow, merely because religion, which was and ever had been steadily working to the same end, was altogether set aside, and its assistance even despised in the mighty change! And after all--we might say in consequence-- how limited has the boon practically become! How few are the nations, even in our days, which understand impartiality, moderation, justice! How soon will mankind become sufficiently enlightened to settle down peacefully in the enjoyment of those blessings of civil liberty proclaimed and trumpeted to the four winds of heaven, yet in no place rightly understood and equitably shared?

Ireland never knew those municipal rights from which have flowed so many evils, side by side with so few blessings, because their essential elements were never found there. What the future may develop, no man can say. It is time, however, for all to see that the nation is equal to any rights to which men are said to be entitled.

  1. The great intellectual movement set on foot in Europe during the middle ages, by the numerous universities which sprang up everywhere, under the fostering care of Popes or Christian monarchs, failed to reach the island, in consequence of its exclusion from the European family; yet even this was not for her an unmitigated evil, though certainly the greatest loss she sustained. While Europe, during the eighth and ninth centuries, was in total darkness, Ireland alone basked in the light of science, whose lustre, shining in her numerous schools, attracted thither by its brightness the youth of all nations, whom she received with a generosity unbounded. Not content with this, she sent forth her learned and holy men to spread the light abroad and dispel the thick darkness, to establish seats of learning as focuses whence should radiate the light of truth on a world buried in barbarism.

And when the warm sunshine, created or kept alive by her, sheds its rays on Italy, on France, on Germany, and England itself, all her own schools are closed, her once great universities destroyed. Clonard, Clonfert, Armagh, Bangor, Clonmacnoise, are desolate, and the wealthy Anglo-Norman prelates find their purses empty when the question arises of restoring or forming a single centre of intellectual development. The natural consequences should have been darkness, barbarism, gross ignorance. Ireland never fell to that depth of spiritual desolation. Her sons, though deprived of all exterior help, would still feed for centuries on their own literary treasures. All the way down to the Stuart dynasty, the nation preserved, not only her clans, her princes, and her brehon laws, but also her shanachies, her books, her ancient literature and traditions. These the feudal barons could not rob her of; and if they would not repay her, in some measure, for what they took away, by flooding her with the new methods of thought, of knowledge, of scientific investigation, at least they could not destroy her old manuscripts, wipe out from her memory the old songs, snatch the immortal harp from the hands of her bards, nor silence the lips of her priests from giving vent to those bursts of impassioned eloquence which are natural to them and must out. Hence there was no tenth century of darkness for her--let us bear this in mind--light never deserted her, but continued to shine on her from within, despite the refusal of her masters to unlock for her the floodgates of knowledge.

For this reason was it not to her an unmitigated loss; but there is another and, perhaps, a stronger still.

We should be careful not to attribute to what is good the abuse made of it by men; yet the good is sometimes the occasion of evil; and so it was with those great, admirable, and much-to-be- regretted universities.

They imparted to the mind of man an impulse which the pride and ambition of man turned to his intellectual ruin. What was intended for the spread of true knowledge and faith became in the end the source of spiritual pride, the natural fosterer of doubt and negation. Modern science, so called, that incarnation of vanity, sophistry, error, and delusion, comes indirectly from those universities of the middle ages; and it was chiefly at the time of what is called the revival of learning, that the great revolution in science came about, which changed the intellectual gold into dross, the once divine ambrosia of knowledge, served to happy mortals in mediaeval times, into poison.

That pretended "revival of learning" can never be mentioned in connection with Ireland; and the "idolatry of art," and corruption of morals, never crossed the channel which God set between Great Britain and the Island of Saints.

Another revival, though of a very different character, was, however, actually taking place in Erin at that very period, when the Wars of the Roses gave her breathing-time, which we relate in the words of a modern Irish writer, as a conclusion to the reflections we have indulged in:

"Within this period lived Margaret of Offaly, the beautiful and accomplished queen of O'Carrol, King of Ely. She and her husband were munificent patrons of literature, art, and, science. On Queen Margaret's special invitation, the literati of Ireland and Scotland, to the number of nearly three thousand, held a "session" for the furtherance of literary and scientific interests at her palace near Killeagh, in Offaly, the entire assemblage being the guests of the king and queen during their stay.

"The nave of the great church of Da Sinchell was converted for the occasion into a banqueting-hall, where Margaret herself inaugurated the proceedings by placing two massive chalices of gold, as offerings, on the high altar, and committing two orphan children to the custody of nurses to be fostered at her charge. Robed in cloth of gold, this illustrious lady, who was as distinguished for her beauty as for her generosity, sat in queenly state m one of the galleries of the church, surrounded by the clergy, the brehons, and her private friends, shedding a lustre on the scene which was passing below, while her husband, who had often encountered England's greatest generals in battle, remained mounted on a charger outside the church, to bid the guests welcome and see that order was preserved. The invitations were issued, and the guests arranged according to a list prepared by 0'Carrol's chief brehon; and the second entertainment, which took place at Rathangan, was a supplemental one, to embrace such men of learning as had not been brought together at the former feast."--(A.M. 0'Sullivan.)

Such was the true "revival of learning" in Ireland--a return to her old traditional teaching. If this peaceful time had been of longer duration, there is no doubt that her old schools would have flourished anew, and men in subsequent ages might have compared the results of the two systems: the one producing with true enlightenment, peace, concord, faith, and piety, though confined to the insignificant compass of one small island; the other resulting in the mental anarchy so rife to-day, and spreading all over the rest of Europe.

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