Athletics and Manly Sport/Ancient Irish Athletic Games, Exercises, and Weapons
ANCIENT IRISH ATHLETIC GAMES, EXERCISES, AND WEAPONS.
THE MUSEUM OF THE ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY, DUBLIN.
The gladiatorial shows of Rome had corrupted and brutalized the world, for, with the exception of Ireland, the entire Western world was within the Roman Empire. After Italy, the countries most famous for their amphitheatres, were Gaul (France), North Africa, and Spain.
To the honor of Greece, it was the only Roman province where the brutalities of the arena were never shown or permitted.
In ancient as in modern times, the Irish, as a nation, were devoted to athletic games and skill with weapons, and had won extraordinary distinction for feats of arms, agility, and strength.
The games and athletic exercises of ancient Ireland ought to have a large volume devoted to them. They are unlike those of all other nations, though least unlike those of Greece. They possess extraordinary archæological and ethnological value.
It is sincerely to be hoped that some student of Irish antiquities will soon follow in the lighted footsteps of Prof. Eugene O'Curry, Dr. O'Donovan, and Sir William Wilde. O'Curry's great work "On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish" is a mine of information for the archæological scholars of all times and nations; as are the works of Dr. Petrie, Prof. Sullivan, Dr. P. W. Joyce, Lady Wilde, Prof. Whitley Stokes, and others.
It may be well to say here that a wonderfully interesting collection of the ancient weapons, mentioned in this article, may be seen in Ireland.
Sir William Wilde says: "The largest, most varied, most highly-decorated collection of bronze weapons existing is to be found in our museum [Royal Irish Academy, Dublin], along with numerous specimens of the moulds in which they were cast, discovered on the very spot where the ancient workman had lit his furnace."
This effectively disposes of the verdict of Professor Lindenschmidt, of Mayence, who asserted, in one of his earlier works, that "all the bronze articles found north of the Alps were imported from Etruria."
Again, says Sir William Wilde ("Ancient Races of Ireland"): "Ireland possesses not only the largest native collection of metal weapon-tools, usually denominated 'celts,' of any country in the world, but the second largest amount of swords and battle-axes. And, moreover, these, and all the other ancient metal articles of Ireland, show a well-defined rise and development from the simplest and rudest form in size and use to that of the most elaborately constructed and the most beautifully adorned."
The time is approaching when this marvellous collection of antiquities will be a centre of world-interest, especially to those of Irish or Celtic extraction. An Irish-American traveller from Boston, last year, a scholar and observer, declared on his return that the most interesting and instructive day he had spent in any European country was that on which he had visited the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy.
THE MOST ANCIENT WEAPONS USED IN IRELAND.
The weapons and armor of the ancient Irish were, in the main, like those of the Greeks, with a greater variety in the length and shape of both spear and sword.
"In the year of the world 4465," translating from the "Book of Leinster," " died the monarch Lughaidh Laighné, of the line of Eber, after a reign of seven years. He was the first that made bronze and bronze spears in Erinn."
"The stone man," says Prof. W. K. Sullivan, Ph.D., Secretary of the Royal Irish Academy, "appeared before the bronze man, and the latter before the iron man. Wherever a bronze spear, or other implement of the same nature, was found, a Celt had passed there; an iron weapon was a sure mark of the footsteps of an Anglo-Saxon, or some other branch of the great Teutonic stem."
Without entering on the rich question of the analyses of bronzes, it is enough to state that ancient weapons of true bronze, and of bronzes more or less mixed with tin and lead, have been found in Ireland in great abundance. The spears of the Tuatha Dé Danann (1200 B. C.), however, are described as "sharp, thin, and hard," which, probably, means that they were of iron.
From the earliest records, relating to the battles between the Firbolgs (Ireland's primitive people) and the Tuatha Dé Danann (the battle of Magh Tuireadh, between the Firbolgs and the Tuatha Dé Danann, was fought B. C. 1272), we learn that the accoutrements of a Firbolg warrior going to the field were "a hooked shield"; two craisechs or thick-handled spears, for thrusting; No. 2—TUATHA DAN. SWORD a sword; a club, or mace (see page 191); and a square helmet: while a chief of the Tuatha Dé Danann used a shield, a sword, and two spears.
The craisech of the Firbolg was a pointless spear, rounded and sharpened on the front edge, and fastened to its pole by rivets. The spear of the Tuatha Dé Danann was "thin-pointed and sharp," and the sword "hard and sharp."
Whence the Tuatha Dé Danann came to Ireland has not been settled. They were a highly-civilized people. They
FIRBOLG CRAISECH. conquered the Firbolgs, and ruled Ireland for two centuries, till conquered in their turn by the Milesians, who came from Spain. (Ancient Irish annalists call them Scythians.)
All these weapons were made of fine bronze, as were all the weapons of the Irish down to about the Christian era.
The ancient Irish, also, used slighter, pointed spears (the slegh and the laighin) for both thrusting and throwing; some splendid bronze specimens of these are preserved in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy.
No. 3.— BRONZE SWORD.
(Similar weapon used by ancient Romans, Scandinavians and Irish.)
The weapons mentioned as having been used in the first battle of Magh Tuireadh (B. C. 1272) are the craisech or pointless spear; the fiarlanna, or curved, pointless blade (see No. 31, page 209); swords and maces; the manias, or broad thrusting spear (see pp. 186, 187 and 217); the slegh, or pointed casting-spear (see pages 226 and 227). Later, we find the fogha, or short spear; the saighead-bolg, or belly-dart; and the lic-tailme or sling-stone (see page 196).
Besides this latter curious missile (doubtless exactly like that with which David killed Goliath), the Irish used a round stone for throwing, which they carried in a strap inside their shields.
In the year B. C. 307 there was added "the broad green spear," undoubtedly of green bronze (see No. 32, page 216); and in B. C. 123, at the battle of Ath Comair, we find the lia lamha laich, or champion's hand-stone. (See next page.)
LIA LAMHA LAICH, or CHAMPION'S HAND-STONE.
"It is remarkable," says Professor O'Curry, "that in none of the more ancient historical or romantic tracts of Ireland is there any allusion whatever to bows and arrows; and what is more remarkable and important, there is no model found for them among the other stone and metal weapons which have come down from the ancient times, either in Erinn or any of the neighboring countries. No barbed instrument in ordinary stone or bronze has yet been discovered; nor has there been ever found in Erinn, as far as we know, a flint arrowhead in company with any one or more bronze spears, darts, or swords."
The sword, spear, javelin, and shield continued in use in Ireland for at least two thousand years. They were the only weapons of offence and defence in St. Patrick's time (A.D. 432), and they were the arms of the Irish in the Danish Invasion (about the year 820), when the first notice is made of the use of battle-axes and bows and arrows in Ireland.
Chaucer bears witness that the Irish
|No. 5||No. 6||No. 7|
|TUATHA DE DANANN SWORDS.—Described as "hard and sharp.'|
allies of Bruce, on the field of Bannockburn (A. D. 1314), knew the use of bow and arrow, for, in apology for the English defeat, he writes:
"To the Scots we would not yield,
But Irish bowmen swept the field"
A very interesting Irish weapon, specimens of which are found in great abundance all over the country, in stone and bronze, is commonly called a "celt," or "palstave." This weapon was obviously a battle-axe,—though it is not easy to find
|No. 8.||No. 9.|
|BRONZE BATTLE-AXES, CALLED "CELTS.".|
the manner of fastening the handle to those without eyes,—while again, others have a straight socket, as if they had been used as spear-heads. These latter (Nos. 13, 14, and 15, p. 182) are probably Tuatha dé Danann weapons, while the others (Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 16, pp. 180, 181, and 183) are of Firbolg origin.
The axes Nos. 11 and 12 (page 181), represent the weapon called a "palstave," by British antiquarians, and a paalstab, by German writers; but this is certainly wrong, as the name implies a pointed instrument, and not an axe. The old Norse pálstafir was a harpoon.
|No. 10.||No. 11.||No. 12.|
|BRONZE BATTLE-AXES, CALLED "CELTS."|
Figures 8 to 16 embrace all the forms of battle-axe used in ancient Ireland, except the spardha which was a spear and axe combined, and closely resembled the piked axe of the last two centuries.
The royal seal on page 184 (No. 17) is interesting on several accounts besides that for which it is used here, which is merely the shape of the king's sword. It will be seen that this weapon corresponds in blade with the ancient bronze sword (No. 3, page 177), and with the still more ancient blades of the Tuatha Dé Danann
|No. 13.||No. 14.||No. 15.|
|BRONZE BATTLE-AXES, OR "CELTS."|
(Nos. 5, 6, and 7, page 179). The latter swords, judging from the rivet-holes, had, probably, cross-hilts.
The history of this antique seal is very interesting. The following, from the "Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy," Vol. IV., pp. 484-5 (25th February, 1850), will suffice:—
"Sir William Betham exhibited an impression of an ancient seal, lately found near Beverley, in Yorkshire, on which is represented a mounted cavalier, with a very long sword drawn in his hand, round which is the following inscription:—
'S. BRIEN REGIS. DE KENEL. EOGAIN.'
"Brian O'Neill was King of Cineal Eoghain (Kinel Owen, or Tyrone) from A. D. 1241 to 1260, when, along with many others of the Irish chieftians, he was slain in the battle of Druim Dearg (i. e., of the Red Hill, or Ridge, now Down). His head was cut off, and sent to England to King Henry III.; and probably this seal fell into the hands of the English victors, who carried it to England, and this accounts for its being found in Yorkshire."
Sir Richard Cox, in his "Hibernia Anglicana" (p. 69), states that this battle was fought in the streets of Down. His words are: "Many of the Irish chiefs were slain, namely, Brian O'Neill, the chief of Ireland [Macgeoghan's translation calls him King of the Irish of Ireland] , and fifteen chiefs of the family of O'Cathain (O'Kane) were slain on the field."
THE WEAPON-FEATS OF CUCHULLIN.
Cuchullin, or Cuchullain (literally the hound of Chullin), was the renowned champion of his time (A. M. 4480). He was not only the ablest soldier, but the best hurler in Ireland; and after his visit to a famous war-college in Alba, or Scotland, the head of which was, strange to say, a woman, named Scáthach, he became the greatest "all-round" athlete in the Celtic world. Scáthach taught him various feats (cleasa) of championship, which are thus enumerated in a very ancient Gaelic tale called "The Courtship of Emer, and the Education of Cuchullain:"
"Ubhall-cleas the ball-feat; faebhar-cleas, the small, sharp-edged shield-feat; Torand-cleas, the thunder-feat, which was performed with the war-chariot; faen-cleas, the prostrate feat, which I cannot explain; cleas-clitenech the dart-feat; ted-cleas, the rope-feat; the cleas-cait, the cat-feat, of which I know nothing; the coriech n-errid, or champion's salmon-sault or leap; the imarchor n-delend, or proper carrying of the charioteer's whip; the leim-dar-n-eimh, the leap over a fence (?); the filliud erred nair, the whirl of a valiant champion; the gaebolga, or feat of throwing the belly-dart; the bai-braissé literally sudden death (?); the roth-cleas, wheel-feat, something like casting the sledge of the present day; the othar-cleas, invalidating feat, as well as I can understand the term; the cleas for analailh, literally 'the feat of the breathings;' the bruid-giné,
|No 18.||||No 19.|
|MANAIS—BEAUTIFUL BRONZE SPEARS, TUATHA DE DANANN.|
(See page 177.)
literally 'gnashing of the mouth,' as well as I can understand it; the sian-cauradh, or champion's war-whoop; the béim co famus, cutting off an opponent's hair with the sword; the taith-béim, 'vertical stroke,' which fixed an antagonist to the ground; the fodh-béim, 'sod-blow,' by which the sod was cut, in contempt, from under the feet of an antagonist by a stroke of the sword [hence, undoubtedly, the common Irish phrase, "cutting the ground from under his feet"]; the dreim fri foghuist,
|No 20.||No 21.||No 22.|
|MANAIS—BEAUTIFUL BRONZE SPEARS, TUATIIA DE DANAJTN.|
(See page 177.)
climbing a rock; the fonaidhm niadh for rinnibh slegh, coiling of a champion around the blades of upright spears;' and the carbad-searrdha, the feat of the armed or scythed war-chariot."
Surely, the man who "held the record," in modern sporting parlance, for all these feats, deserved to be called the champion of Ireland. The Gaelic tale from which this detail is taken, also states that the feats of championship which distinguished the Knights of Emania (the ancient capital city of Ulster, where stood the majestic Craebh-Rhuadh or House of the Royal Branch) were limited to three, namely: the feat with darts, the feat with balls, and the feat with edged weapons, (fæbhar-cleas) such as knives, swords, and sharp-edged shields.
Many, if not all, of these feats, were not regarded as feats of arms intended for actual use in combat, but were merely ornamental accomplishments and proofs of skill.
In the Brehon Laws (the great Celtic code observed by the Irish people from the earliest historical days down to the year 1600) is particularly enacted the education of the different social classes, under the law of "Fosterage and Tutorage"; and here we learn that the sons of kings and chiefs were taught "riding, swimming, chess, draughts, or backgammon ; with the use of the sword, spear, and all other weapons offensive and defensive."
MILITARY ATHLETES OF ANCIENT IRELAND.
There is no reliable authority for the existence of any national military organization or profession of fighting-men in Ireland, other than chiefs, down to the reign of Conn "of the hundred battles," who was monarch at Tara from A. D. 123 to 157, in which year he was slain. Still, it is stated that Conn himself came to the throne from the command of the celebrated national militia, popularly known as the Fianna Eireann, of whom Finn Mac Cumhaill, and his father, Cumhall, were the most famous commanders.
This militia of ancient Ireland is highly interesting in the history of athletics. Its members were tested athletes to a man, and their preparation and competition for enlistment were most arduous and remarkable.
The name Fianna (hence the modern Fenians) is explained in an antique glossary preserved in a volume of Brehon Laws. This is the translation from the Gaelic:—
"Fianna, a Venatione, id est. It was from the hunting which they practised they were so named. Or, Fianna, that is fineadha (families) because it was in tribes they were formed. Or, fianna, that is feinneadha (champions) because they were the champions of the Monarch of Erinn."
In a poem, written in Gaelic, by a bard named Cineadh O'Hartagan, in 975 A. D., while the remains of the royal palace at Tara were still distinct and intact, and while the written history of that famous hill was still clear and abundant, there is a description of a spacious barrack, at Tara, where seventy-five hundred of the Fianna were lodged.
The following are the stanzas of this most curious poem, which refer to the barrack at Tara:—
"The great house of thousands of soldiers,—
To generations it was widely known;
A beautiful fortress of brave men;
Seven hundred feet was its length.
It was not filled with the foolish and ignorant,
Nor over-crowded with the wily and arrogant;
It was a large work to plan its divisions:
Six times five cubits was its height.
The King had his place there, the King of Erinn.
Around whom the fairest wine was distributed.
It was a fortress, a castle, a wonder;
There were three times fifty compartments in it.
Three times fifty champions with swords
(No weak defence for a fortress),
That was the number, among the wonders,
Which occupied each compartment."
The whole of this highly interesting poem is published in Dr. Petrie's "Antiquities of Tara," a work that ought to be found in all our large American libraries.
"I speak farther of the fortress of the champions;
(Which was also called the fortress of foolish women);
The house of the champions was not a weak one,
With its fourteen opening doors."
The best account of the Fianna Eireann is given by the Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Keating, in his well-known abstract of the History of Ireland, (written in the native Gaelic, about the year 1630, and translated into English about one hundred and thirty years ago).
Dr. Keating had before him numerous invaluable Irish records and books of great antiquity, many of which have since been destroyed or carried off by the English conquerors, whose policy has always been to obliterate every record of Ireland's national greatness and ancient culture, and cast discredit and ridicule on what could not be controverted. I may here quote a striking paragraph from Prof. O'Curry's work on "The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish." (Vol. 2, page 354):—
"It is very unfortunate that the important poem here referred to [an ancient Gaelic poem mentioned in the 'Ogygia,' describing an Irish school of war in the third century] is not to be found in any of the MS. collections known to us; it is only known to exist among those locked up in England in the custody of Lord Ashburnham, by whom Irish scholars are not permitted to examine treasures properly belonging to our own people; but the legal ownership of which is at present, unhappily vested in a stranger, unsympathizing alike with our pursuits as Irishmen, and with those of the literary world at large. In this poem there is, probably, much calculated to throw light on the subject of education in ancient Erinn."
Prof. O'Curry's work was published in London in 1873; and this precious Irish MS., locked up by an ignorant English lord, has never seen the light to this day.
Dr. Keating wrote from books existing in his time. He says, quoting from the "Leabhar-na-h-Ua Chongbhala," or "Book of Navan":—
"The Monarch of Erinn (Cormac MacAirt) appointed an army over the men of Erinn. and over it he appointed three times fifty royal Feinian officers, and he gave the command of the whole and the High Stewardship of Erinn to Finn Ua Baiscne."
The Fianna had a fixed stipend; but from May to November they had to support themselves by hunting. Their life was one of extreme abstinence and exercise. Their duty in peace times was that of a national police: "to check thieves, to enforce the payment of taxes, to check outlaws, and all other evils which may affect the country."
After a long chase, before eating, they invariably bathed, "and then began to supply their sinews and thews (by gentle exercise), until they had in this manner put off from them their fatigue, after which they ate their meal."
There were several conditions which every man who was received into the Fianna was obliged to fulfill:—
"The first condition was, that he should not accept any fortune with a wife, but select her for her moral conduct and her accomplishments.
"The second was, that he should not insult any woman.
"The third was, that he should not refuse any person asking for food. "The fourth was, that he should not turn his back on (that is, fly from) any less than nine foemen."
"Additional conditions Finn Mac Cumhaill attached to the military degrees, which every man was obliged to accept before he was received into the Fianna.
"The first was, that no person was admitted into them at the great meetings of Uisneach, nor at the fair of Tailten, nor at the feast of Tara, until his father and mother and relatives gave security that they would never avenge his death on another person, in order that he should not expect any one to avenge him but himself, and no matter what evils he might commit, that his friends were not to be sued for them.
"The second condition was, that candidates should have read the Twelve Books of Philosophy, or Poetry.
"The third condition was, that no man was received into the Fianna until a wide pit had been dug for him, in which he was to stand up to his knees, with his shield in one hand, and a hazel stake, the length of the champion's arm, in the other. Nine warriors armed with nine slejhs (or spears), came to within the distance of nine ridges (of ground) of him, and these used to throw their nine spears all at once at him; and should he be wounded despite the shield and the hazel staff, he was not received into the order of the Fianna.
"The fourth condition, no man was received into the Fianna until his hair was first plaited, and until he was then chased by selected runners through a forest, the distance between them at the start being but one tree. If they came up with him, he could not be taken into the Fianna.
"The fifth condition, no man was received into the Fianna if the weapons trembled in his hands.
"The sixth condition, no man was received into the Fianna if a single braid of his hair had been loosened out of its plait by a branch in the wood (as he ran through It).
"The seventh condition, no man was received into the Fianna whose foot had broken a withered branch in his course, (This to insure light and watchful runners.)
"The eighth condition, no man was received into the Fianna unless he could jump over (the branch of) a tree as high as his head, and stoop under one as low as his knee, through the agility of his body.
"The ninth condition, no man was received into the Fianna unless he could pluck a thorn out of his heel with his hand without coming to a stand.
"The tenth condition, no man was received into the Fianna until he had first sworn fidelity and obedience to the king (or commander) of the Fianna."
This famous body of military athletes continued to be the national guard of Ireland till they were annihilated, at the battle of Gabhra, by Cairbre and his forces, A. D. 284.
HURLING: THE CHIEF GAME OF ANCIENT IRELAND.
The chief game, or sport, of the ancient Irish was hurling. For over a century past, even this game, and others, like football, wrestling, boxing, etc., have been discountenanced by the English rulers, whose object has ever been to unman and degrade Irishmen until ignorance of conflict, even in sport, had robbed them of self-confidence and fitted them for the position of hopeless subjection designed for them. But within a few years, all over Ireland, the ancient games have been revived; and now there is a hurling club in almost every parish in Ireland.
Tailten and Carman (now Wexford, or near the present town of Wexford) were the two principal places in ancient Ireland most celebrated for games.
STUIC, OR IRISH WAR-HORN.
LIC-TAILME, OR SLING-ST0NE.
|(See page 177.)|
Hurling, iomain (pronounced imman), was the great out-door game of the ancient Irish, Iomanuïdhe pronounced iomawnee) was the hurler, or driver; for it signifies that, also. The goal was called baire (pronounced as spelled). The hurl was caman (pronounced as spelled; the a long). All through ancient Gaelic literature there is constant mention of hurling.
The following is a description of a game of hurling, from one of the best of the Ossianic tales, "The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne," translated and published in Dublin, in 1880, by the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language:—
"There arose a dispute between two women of the Tuatha Dé Danann, that is, Aoife, the daughter of Mananan, and Aine, the other daughter of Mananan, the son of Lear, viz.: Aoife had become enamoured of the son of Lughaidh, that is, sister's son to Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and Aine had become enamoured of Lear, of Lith Fhionnchaidh, so that each woman of them said that her own man was a better hurler than the other; and the fruit of the dispute was that a great goaling match was set in order between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fenians of Erin, and the place where the goal was played was on a fair plain by Loch Lein, of the rough pools.
"The Fenians of Erin and Tuatha Dé Danann answered that tryste.... We, the Fenians of Erin, and they were for the space of three days and three nights playing the goal from Garbhabha na bh-Fiann, which is called Leamhaw, to Cromghleann na bh-Fiann, which is called Gleann Fleisge now; and neither (party) of us won a goal. Now (the whole of) the Tuatha Dé Danann were all that time, without our knowledge, on either side of Loch Lein, and they understood that if we, the Fenians, were united (all) the men of Erin could not win the goal of us. And the council which the Tuatha Dé Danann took, was to depart each again, and not to play (out) that goal with us."
The first thing we hear about both Cuchullain and Finn, the great chiefs, is in connection with hurling, when they were mere children.
Mr. T. O'Neill Russell, in an interesting letter to me on this subject, says:—
"I find from a very old man from the county Clare, that in his time, 'and ever and always afore him,' great games of hurley, between counties or parishes, were played with twenty-
MILITARY FORK. Distinctly Irish weapon (iron; drawing one-third the actual size). one men on each side,—mōr-sheisir air lar, mōr-sheisir air y-cūl a's mōr-sheisir air fuadach; that is, 'seven (literally a big six) in the middle.'"
"In the 'Book of Rights,' it is recorded, that comāin, or hurleys, are mentioned among some of the presents from the Arch King to his clients. Foot-ball and hand-ball do not seem to have been practised; and I do not remember to have
MILITARY FORK. (Iron; one-third actual size). seen any mention of boxing or wrestling; but the former surely was known, for in the 'Death of Cuchullain,' in the 'Book of Leinster,' that chieftain is said to have given one of his assailants a blow of his fist, which knocked out his brains."
"Next to hurling, the great out-door sport of ancient Ireland was horse-racing. Tailten and Carman were the places for it. There is much mention of horse-racing, a 'sport for kings'; but I am glad to say that there is no mention of betting at horse-races at all; but the Irish are mentioned as betting at chess, and betting heavily, too.
"As for hunting, Irish MSS. are full of it. The game most mentioned—in fact, the only game mentioned—is the deer. The usual way of hunting was with hounds. There are the names of more than a hundred hounds given in one of the Ossianic poems I have. The boar is, to my knowledge, only once mentioned, and that is in the 'Boyish Exploits of Finn,' where he is said to have killed a fierce, wild boar, and presented his first wife with its head. Chariot-racing was much practised. I do not remember any book in which there is any particular account of it; but I remember to have seen it mentioned in many places. Swimming is often mentioned. Another of Finn's boyish exploits was to drown nine boys who enticed him to swim with them in order that they might drown him. There is, also, some mention of boat-racing, but not very much. So much was the deer hunted, that, in many parts of Ireland, a hunt is still called fiach instead of seilg pronounced shelig, Fiach does not mean hunt; it means simply a deer; but, at last, it came to mean a hunt, because a deer was the animal usually hunted.
A king—found with several others in a bog, in the county of Meath,
Ireland. Preserved in the Royal Irish Academy.
"The great in-door game,—in fact, the only one mentioned,—is chess; Fithchill (pronounced Fichill; feat-fichille, a chessman). Innumerable are the mentions of this game in Gaelic MSS. There is every reason to think the game was played just as it is now; but the pieces were very large, made of bronze; some of them have been found. You will see a drawing of one in the 'Book of Rights.' [See Figure No. 28.]
"You must bear in mind that we know only very little yet about ancient Ireland, and cannot know all until all the MSS. are translated. One thing is certain: there was very little drunkenness amongst the ancient Irish; to my knowledge, there is only one mention of it, in a tract called the 'Meicera Ulladh,' or 'Drunkenness of Ulster,' when Cuchullain, and some more of the 'boys' of the period, got. drunk, and for a long time, too; for they never stopped until they reached Kerry, having set out from Armagh! Whiskey is never once mentioned in the old MSS. They seem to have known no drinks but wine, fion; and lann, ale."
THE ANCIENT GAMES AT TAILTEN AND CARMAN.
The Corinth and Olympus of ancient Ireland were Tailten and Carman, where the national fairs were periodically held.
"The great fairs anciently held in Ireland," says Prof. W. K. Sullivan, of the Royal College of Science, "were not, like their modern representatives, mere markets; but were assemblies of the people to celebrate funerals, games, and other religious rites, during pagan times; to hold parliaments, promulgate laws, listen to the recitation of tales and poems; engage in, or witness, contests and feats of arms, horse-racing, and other popular games. They were analogous, in many ways, to the Olympian and other games of ancient Greece."
"The Taltenian sports," says Ware, "were a sort of warlike exercises, something resembling Olympic games; consisting of racing, tilts, tournaments, or something like them, and other exercises. They were held every year at Tailten, a mountain in Meath, for fifteen days after the 1st of August. Their first institution is ascribed to Lugaidh Lam-fadha, the twelfth king of Ireland, who began his reign A. M. 2764, in gratitude to the memory of Tailte, the daughter of Magh-Mor (a prince of some part of Spain), who, having been married to Eochaid, king of Ireland, took this Lugaidh under her protection, and had the care of his education in his minority. From this lady both the sports, and the place where they were celebrated, took their names. From King Lugaidh, the first of August was called Lugnassa, or the memory of Lugaidh, nassa signifying memory in Irish."
There is an ancient Gaelic tract on the origin of the names of places in Ireland, which is called the "Dindsenchas." From it we learn that the fair of Tailte, or Tailten, was instituted to commemorate the name of Tailtin, the daughter of Magh-Mor, king of Spain, and wife of the Irish King Eochad Garbh, who built the "mound of the foreigners" at Tara. According to the "Dindsenchas," the fair of Tailten was instituted 3500 years B.C.; according to the "Annals of the Four Masters," a. m. 3370. These dates, whatever be their real value, certainly indicate the great antiquity of the fair.
One of the greatest figures in the history of Ireland, ancient or modern, is buried at Tailten; namely, Ollamh Fodhla (pronounced Olav Folah), who s recorded to have become monarch of Ireland A. M. 3882, and to have died in the year A. M. 3922, after a reign of forty years. He was the fortieth monarch of Ireland. The original name of this prince was Eochaidh; but, from his great learning, he obtained the distinction of Ollamh (chief poet, or doctor) before he became king; and, afterwards, he was called Ollamh Fodhla, which was one of the ancient names of Erinn.
Mr. Michael C. O'Shea, of Boston, a Gaelic scholar of deep research, gives the following interesting note relating to ancient athletic exercises in the county Kerry:—
"Inshigeelach, a town in the county of Cork, Ireland, means intervale, or river-margin, of gymnastics, and is so called from a broad and level piece of river margin, in close vicinity, on which gymnastic sports were practised in former times; and the last of the princely O'Donoghues of Ross Castle, on the shore of the lower lake of Killarney, was titled Donald na Nygeelach, Donald of the Gymnastics, from his wonderful gymnastic skill, which gained him the reputation of a necromancer, or man of superhuman powers. He is the Merlin of the legendary lore of the ancient Kingdom of Kerry, a chief who never died, but rode his silver-shod steed into the lake, and still appears once in every seven years, riding over its surface, viewing his ancient domain."
Teltown (the ancient Tailten) is one of the most famous spots in Ireland; next to Tara, probably it is the most ancient, if not the most notable. The history of Tailten, Pagan and Christian, would be the history of Ireland in symbol,—its fairs, games, laws, sports, poetry, marriages, etc. By the way, it is worth noting that "a Teltown-marriage," often spoken of in Meath to-day, lasted just a year and a day. Sir William Wilde ("Beauties of the Boyne and Blackwater,") describes this singular old-time Irish marriage, which took place at the fair of Tailten:—
"On the northeast side of the great fort (Rath Dubh) the most remarkable of the Teltown ceremonies took place—the marriages or betrothals. Upon one side of the great embankment were ranged the boys, and on the other the girls; the former ogling, the latter blushing. Having had a good view of each other they passed down to where there is a deep hollow in the land, called Lug-an-Eany, where they became separated by a high wall. In this wall, say the local traditions, there was a door with a small hole In it, through which each girl passed her middle finger, which the men on the other side looked at. If any of them admired the finger, he laid hold of it, and the lass to whom it belonged forthwith became his bride. The marriage held good for a year and a day. If the couple disagreed during that time, they returned to Tailten, walked into the centre of Rath Dubh, stood back to back, one facing the north and the other the south, and walked out of the fort, a divorced couple, free to try their luck again at Lug-an-Eany."
This very ancient site of the palace of Tailten, one of the four royal residence of Ireland, in early times, is situated on the northern bank of the Boyne, about midway between Kells and Navan. It is in the centre of the most fertile land in all Ireland, and probably in all Europe. The ancient earthworks of fort and rath are still there—will be there while the earth lasts. The remains of trench, embankment, and foundation are greater, even, than those of Tara, at least those now existing there.
In "The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters" there is a notice of Tailten, saying:—
"In the year of the world 3370, In the reign of Lugh Lamhfhada, the fair of Tailten was established, In commemoration and remembrance of his foster-mother, Tailte, the daughter of Maghmor, King of Spain, and the wife of Eochaidh, son of Ere, the last King of the Firbolgs."
The fair of Tailten (Teltown) continued down to the time of Roderick O'Connor, the last monarch of Ireland, and was held annually on the 1st of August, which month derives its name, in the Irish language, from this very circumstance, being called Lugh-nasadh or Lugh's fair—the Lammas day—to which many ancient rites and ceremonies still attach throughout Ireland.
"Upon the occasion of the fair of Tailten," says Sir William Wilde ("Beauties of the Boyne and Blackwater," p. 150), "various sports and pastimes, a description of Olympic games, were celebrated, consisting of feats of strength and agility in wrestling, boxing, running, and athletic manly sports, as well as horse-races and chariot-races. Besides these, the people were entertained with shows and rude theatrical exhibitions. Among these latter are enumerated sham battles, and also aquatic fights, which were exhibited upon the artificial lakes, the sites of which are still pointed out."
The most satisfactory account preserved of these meetings, is that of the fair of Carman. This account is preserved in the fragments of poems in the precious old "Book of Leinster" (a work known to have been compiled from ancient MSS. in the year 1150), which is one of the treasures of the library of Trinity College, Dublin. The ancient Book of Ballymote, preserved in the library of the Royal Irish Academy, also contains a description of the fair of Carman.
The complete obliteration of the ancient Carman, and the growth of another city, or a city with another name in its place, is accounted for by the fact that that part of Ireland was the stronghold and for many generations the home of the Danish invaders. Wexford is one of the few cities that the Danes have named in Ireland; and nearly all the other places bearing Danish names in Ireland are also on the east coast.
Considering how prominently the Danes figured in Irish history, this is a singular fact. Worsae (page 71) gives a table of 1373 Danish and Norwegian names in the middle and northern counties of England, names ending in thorpe, by, thwaite, with, toft, beck, nœs, ey, dale, force, fell, tarn, and haugh.
Dr. Joyce's "Irish Names of Places," Vol. I, page 105, says:—
"We have in Ireland only a few Danish terminations, as ford, which occurs four times; ey, three times; ster, three times; and ore, which we find in one name. We have only fifteen Danish names in Ireland, almost all confined to one particular district. 'This,' says Dr Joyce, 'appears to me to afford a complete answer to the statements which we see sometimes made, that the Danes conquered the country, and their chiefs ruled over it as sovereigns.'"
|Nos.. 29 and 30.||(See page 177.)||No. 31.-|
|CRAISECH, with Firbolg fastening and Tuatha Dé Danauu point.||FIRBLOG FIARLANNA,OH CURVED POINTLESS BLADE.|
The truth is, the Danes never had any permanent settlement in Ireland except in a few seaport towns; and even there they had not much ownership of land, but were sea-traders and merchants. The famous fair was held at ancient Carman every three years. The Gaelic poem, or poems, in which it is described, have been translated by Prof. Eugene O'Curry, M. R. I. A.; and the evidence goes to show that the fragments were originally part of one continuous poem.
This poem is of profound importance for the ancient history of Ireland, which is long due to the world. All such expressions as this article, though written with a special motive, will extend the knowledge of these wonderful antique literary treasures, will tend to show their value to readers of the Irish race and others, and help toward their future study by the scholars of the world. The archaeologist, the philologist, the ethnologist, of centuries to come, will find in ancient Erinn such treasures as almost no other country has yet to deliver up to the generations.
Carman was one of the seven chief cemeteries of Erinn, the others being Tailten, Cruachan, the Brugh of the Boyne, Cuile, Tallacht, and Teamar of Dunn Finntain.
The poem on "The Fair of Carman " begins with Greek-like abruptness:—
"Carman, why so called? Answer: Three men who came from Athens, and one woman with them, i. e., the three sons of Dibad,—Diān, Dubh, and Dothur, were their names,—and Carman was their mother. By charms and spells and Incantations the mother blighted every place."
"The grave of Carman, by whom was it dug?
Will you learn, or do you know?
According to all our beloved forefathers,
It was Bres, son of Gladen. Listen:—
"Four score and five full hundreds,
Is the number true of years.
From Carman of demoniac spells,
To the birth of Jesus after humanity.
"And the people of Leinster celebrated this fair by their tribes and by their families, down to the time of Cathair Mor. There were seven races there, and a week for considering the laws and the rights of the province for three years. It was in the kalends of August they assembled there, and it was on the sixth of August they used to leave it; and every third year they were wont to hold it; and two years for the preparations."
Besides the markets of cattle, merchandise, arms, etc., there were poems read, laws revised, contests by bards, seven horse-races, and various kinds of military shows and athletic contests, chiefly with arms.
Another description of this ancient Irish assembly, or fair, is given in the Gaelic poem contained in the ancient "Book of Ballymote," translated by Prof. Eugene O'Curry, M. R. I. A.
"Five kings and thirty, without sorrow, here,
Of the Leinstermen, before the faith of Christ,
Their pride over Erinn had spread,
From thy sweet-sounding harbor, O Carman!
"The Leinstermen continued to hold this fair,
By their tribes and by their families.
From Labraidh Loingsech—theme of poets—
To powerful Cathair of red-spears."
The poem specifies the positions allotted to the kings and the great chiefs, to witness the games and exercises of the fair.
"In the Kalends of August, without fail,
They assembled in every third year,
They arranged seven well-fought races,
In the seven days of the week.
"Here they proclaimed in clear words
The privileges and laws of the province;
Every rule of our sevens law.
In every third year they adjusted.
"Corn, milk, peace, ease, and prosperity,
Waters full and in abundance,
Righteous rules and loyalty to kings.
With troops to guard Erinn were its care.
"The hospitality of the Hy-Drona,
And the steed contests of the men of Ossary,
And the dash of spear-handles
From the entire host, were it termination."
From the poem contained in the ancient "Book of Leinster" (Prof. O'Curry's translation) is the following description of the fair of Tailten : —
"The Leinstermen held this, the fair,
Both as tribes and householders.
Here they proclaimed, boldly and loudly,
The privileges of every law, and their restraints.
"To sue, to levy, to controvert debts.
To abuse steeds in their career
Is not allowed here by contending racers,
Nor elopement, oppression, or arrest.
"No man goes into the woman's assembly;
No woman into the assembly of the men;
No abduction here is heard of;
Nor repudiation of husbands, or of wives.
"Whoever transgresses the Law of the Kings,
Which Benen so accurately and permanently wrote,
Cannot be spared upon family composition,
But he must die for his transgression.
"Here follow his great privileges,—
The rights and enjoyments of the fair.
Trumpets, harps, wide-mouthed horns,
Cusighs, timpanists, without fail;
Poets and groups of agile jugglers."
The poem goes on to enumerate the features of the great fair; the reading of poems, histories, etymologies, precepts; the annals of feasts and fairs; "The History of the Hill of Mighty Teamar" (Tara); the story of the noblest women; of courts, enchantments, conquests, kings; the successions and battles of kings; the victories of saints of Leinster.
Then follows this impressive outline of the field and the fair of Carman:—
"O Leinstermen of the tombs, pray listen!
Twenty-one raths of lasting fame,
In which hosts are laid under ground;
A psalm-singing cemetery of renown
Is there by the side of noble Carman.
"Seven mounds without touching each other,
For the oft-lamenting of the dead;
Seven plains, sacred, without a house,
For the sports of joyous Carman were reserved.
"Three markets were held within its borders:
A market for food; a market for live cattle;
The great market of the foreign Greeks,
In which are gold and costly clothes.
"The slope of the steeds; the slope of the cooking;
The slope of the assembly of embroidering women.
"There comes of not celebrating this feast,
Baldness, cowardice, early grayness;
A king without wisdom, without wealth,
Without hospitality, without truthfulness."
This remarkable poem, coming down to us from remote antiquity, is one of the many proofs Ireland has to offer of the early civilization and refinement of her people. There are invaluable stores of ancient Gaelic learning and poetry still concealed in the museums and libraries of Europe. "These old poems show," says Prof. O'Curry, "the nature of the Assemblies, or Fairs, of Ireland, and how the grave business of legislation was performed on appointed days, in the midst of others set apart for pleasure, or reserved for mercantile pursuits."
Charles O'Conor, of Belanagare, a famous authority on Irish literary antiquities, says:— "Placed in the extremity of Europe, secluded from the rest of the world, unconquered, unmixed, and never affected by the concussions of the fall of the Roman Empire, the Irish must have possessed primeval institutions, which these MSS. are the best calculated to unfold."
AN HEROIC COMBAT IN ANCIENT IRELAND.
The most interesting literary relic of ancient Ireland is, probably, the heroic poem called the "Táin Bó Chuailgne" ("The Cattle-Prey of Cooley") , which is preserved in the Leabhar na-h-Uidhri and in the "Book of Leinster." It is assigned to a period in or about the year 600, A.D.; at least one specimen of the same kind of ancient verse, in the "Dinchenchas," was written about A .D. 590, by Amergin, chief poet to Diarmait, son of Fergus Ceirbheoil.
"These compositions prove," says Prof.
"BROAD GREEN SPEAR" Bronze. (See page 177.)
FIBBOLG DAGGER, called COLOG.
MANAIS, or BROAD THRUSTING SPEAR (See page 177.)
O'Curry," that the most enchanting form of Irish music is purely native, independent of any Saxon, Danish, or Norman aid."
The "Táin Bó Chauilgnue" contains many detailed and picturesque accounts of personal conflicts, weapons, dress, armor, etc., and, in this respect alone, it is interesting to glance at the history of the noble poem.
Saint Ciaran, the founder of the church at Clonmacnoise, in ancient Westmeath, and who died in the year 548, transcribed this poem with his own hand into a book called "Leabhar na-h-Uidliri," which book remained at Clonmacnoise for hundreds of years afterwards. The poem was again transcribed from St. Ciaran's MS. about the year 1100, and in the year 1873 it was translated into English and published by the Royal Irish Academy, in the literary of which the vellum transcription of the year 1100 is still preserved.
The "Táin Bó Chuailgne" is also preserved in the "Book of Leinstor" an almost contemporary manuscript, four hundred large pages of which still remain in beautiful preservation. The "Book of Leinster" was transcribed about the year 1150, by Bishop MacGorman, of Kildare, who died in 1160. At this day, therefore, it is at least seven hundred and thirty-eight years old. It contains a splendid copy of the "Táin Bó Chuailgne" So that we have this superb literary specimen of ancient Irish poetry from two distinct sources giving an assured copy of the poem as it existed in St. Ciaran's time, before the year 548,—or over thirteen centuries ago.
Let me here interpolate a word about the artistic production of these and other ancient Irish books. With reference to the execution of the lettering and decoration, Mr. Digby Wyatt observes that in delicacy of handling and minute but faultless execution, the whole range of palaeography offers nothing equal to the early Irish manuscripts, especially "The Book of Kells," the most marvellous of them all. One cannot wonder, therefore, that Giraldus Cambrensis, when living in Ireland, in the reign of Henry II., on being shown an illustrated Irish manuscript, exclaimed; "This is more like the work of angels than of men."
Sir William Wilde, himself a Protestant, writing of the destruction of Irish art ("Sketches of the Irish Past"), says:—
"The gorgeous missals and illuminated gospels, instinct with life, genius, holy reverence, and patient love, were destined to be replaced soon after by the dull mechanism of print; while Protestantism used all its new-found strength to destroy that innate tendency of our nature, which seeks to manifest religious fervor, faith, and zeal by costly offerings and sacrifices. The golden-bordered holy-books, the sculptured crosses, the jewelled shrines, were crushed under the feet of Cromwell's troopers; the majestic and beautiful abbeys were desecrated and cast down to ruin, while beside them rose the mean and ugly structures of the reformed faith. . . . Since that mournful period there has been no revival of art in Ireland.
"The relics of a civilization three thousand years old may still be gazed upon by modern eyes in the splendid and unrivalled antiquarian collection of the Royal Irish Academy. The golden circlets, the fibulas, torques, bracelets, rings, worn by the Tuatha Dé Danann, are not only costly in value, but often so singularly beautiful in the working out of minute artistic details, that modern art is not merely imable to equal them, but unable even to comprehend how the ancient workers in metal could accomplish works of such delicate, almost microscopic, minuteness of finish," (Sir William Wilde, "Ancient Dublin")
I have said this much about those ancient and precious Irish books to introduce a description of a fight between two Irish chieftains, which is related in the "Táin Bó Chuailgne", The poem is a picture of the time, an evidence of the extraordinary development of Irish civilization at a period when every country in Europe north of Italy was in absolute barbarism. Even at the time of its transcription by St. Ciaran, nearly thirteen and a half centuries ago, literature had not been born in England; indeed, that country was in the rudest condition, just emerging from the darkness of an utterly unsocial state.
I quote and condense from the book of the Táin, entitled "The Fight of Ferdiad:"
"And then it was discussed by the men of Eiriu who should go to combat and do battle with Cuchulaind at the early hour of the morrow. [Cuchulaind, or Cuchullain, had challenged all Queen Medb's warriors.] That they all said was: that it was Ferdiad, son of Daman, son of Dáre, the valiant warrior of the men of Domnand. For their mode of combat was equal and alike. They had learned the science of arms, bravery, and valor with the same tutors; with Sciithach, and with Uathach, and with Aife. And neither of them had any advantage over the other, except that Cuchulaind had the feat of the gae-bolg (the casting of the belly-dart)."
Message after message was sent to Ferdiad, asking him to come and tight Cuchuhiind. But "he knew wherefore they wanted him—to fight and combat with his own friend and companion and fellow-pupil, Cuchulaind, and he came not with them."
Then Queen Medb (Meave or Mah) sent the druids to urge, and the satirists to sting, Ferdiad; and, more out of fear of the bitter poets than the priests, the warrior yielded.
"The subject of the strange belief in ancient Ireland, in the power of a poet," says Prof. Eugene C Curry, " would be one of great interest to investigate." By their satires they were supposed to be able to bring fatalities on men. Laidcenn, a poet of the fourth century we are told, satirized the men of Leinster, "so that neither corn, grass, nor foliage could grow for them during a whole year." The belief in this occult power of the poet was general in all the ancient history of Ireland.
But Ferdiad was resolved not to fight Cuchulaind without high reward:
"And when he arrived he was received with honor and attendance, and he was served with pleasant, sweet, intoxicating liquor, so that he became gently merry. And great rewards were promised him for making the fight, namely: a chariot, with four-times-seven cumals; the outfit of twelve men of clothes of every color; and the extent of his own territory of the level plain of Magh Aié, free of tribute, to the end of time; and Findebar, the daughter of the King, as his wedded wife, and the golden brooch which was in Medb's cloak in addition."
Queen Medb urged Ferdiad to the fight with promise of this great reward; but Ferdiad refused to go without further guarantee. He answered:
"I will not accept it without guarantee;
For a champion without security I will not be.
Heavily will it press upon me to-morrow,
Terrible will be the battle.
Hound, indeed, is the name of Culand;
He is fierce in combat."
Again Medb offered treasures, and made promises of glittering reward. Ferdiad was resolute:
"I will not go without securities
To the contest of the ford.
It will live in fame until the judgment day.
I will not accept though I die,
Though thou excitest me in language."
Then Medb agreed to Ferdiad's terms, and he agreed to fight six champions on the morrow, or combat with Cuchulaind, whichever he thought easier.
Fergus, a warrior, proceeded in his chariot to Cuchulaind's residence, to inform him of the agreement. "Thine own friend," he said, "and companion, the fellow-pupil, the co-feat and co-deed and co-valor man, Ferdiad, is coming to fight with thee."
"I am here," answered Cuchulaind; "I do not desire to fight my friend; but, I trust, as I have not yielded before any other man of Eiriu, I shall not yield before him."
"Should we happen to meet at the ford,
I and Ferdiad of never-failing valor,
It shall not be a separation without history;
Fierce will be our conflict.
"I pledge my word and my vow,
Though we may be much alike in combat,
That it is I who shall gain the victory."
Both champions prepared for the conflict, assisted by their friends. In the morning, Ferdiad ordered his horses to be harnessed. Whereupon his charioteer tried to persuade him not to fight Cuchulaind:—
"It were better for thee to stay;
Thy threats are not gentle.
To encounter the chief hero of Ulster,
It is a meeting of which grief will come.
Long will it be remembered:
Woe is he who goeth that journey."
Ferdiad would not be persuaded. He had made guarantee to fight, and he would. He answered the charioteer:—
"What thou sayest is not right;
A brave champion should not refuse:
It is not our inheritance:
Be silent, then, my servant:
We will be brave in the field of battle;
Valor is better than timidity;
Let us go to the challenge."
Ferdiad, in his chariot, arrived first at the ford, which gave him the choice of weapons. While he waited, he lay down on the cushions, and slept.
Meanwhile, Cucludaind had ordered his chariot to be prepared, saying: "He is an early-rising champion who cometh to meet us to-day."
When Cuchulaind sprang into his chariot, there shouted round him Bocanachs and Bananachs, and Geniti Glindi, and demons of the air; for the Tuatha Dé Danann were used to set up their shouts around him, so that the hatred and fear and abhorrence and terror of him should be the greater in every battle. And soon the awful rattle and roar of his chariot was heard coming; and Ferdiad's servant awoke his lord. "Good, O Ferdiad," he cried, "arise; here they come to the ford." And again the fateful charioteer forebodes darkly for his master:—
"Woe to him who is on the hillock,
Awaiting the hound of valor!
I foretold last year
That there would come a heroic hound—
The hound of Emain Macha—
The hound of a territory, the hound of battle.
I hear, I have heard!"
Ferdiad reproached his charioteer as unfaithful, and as having received bribes from Cuchulaind.
Then they saw the chariot of Cuchulaind; "the beautiful four-peaked chariot, with a green pavilion, drawn by two fleet, broad-chested, high-flanked, wide-hoofed, slender-legged, broad-rumped horses; one of which was gray, the other black."
"And Cuchulaind reached the ford. Ferdiad came on the south side; Cuchulaind on the north side of the ford." The champions saluted each other; Cuchulaind said he was sorry to have to meet his friend in battle. Ferdiad replied, searching for a reason for disagreement, that when they were pupils in the war-schools of Scáthach and Uathach and Aife, Cuchulaind had been his attendant, to tie up his spears and prepare his bed.
"It is true, indeed." said Cuchulaind, "but it was then as thy junior I did this for thee; and this is not the story to be told hereafter. For there is not in the world a champion I would not fight this day."
Then they inveighed bitterly against each other; till at last they came to the question of how they should fight. But once more the tenderness of
|No. 35.||No. 36.|
Sharp-pointed Tuatha Dé Danann Spears. (See page 177.)
their old friendship overcame Cuchulaind, and he implored Ferdiad to withdraw from the combat:—
"Findabar, the daughter of the king,—
The reward which has been proffered thee,—
To numbers before thee has been falsely promised,
And many like thee has she wounded.
"Break not with me thy vow not to combat,
Break not thy bond—break not friendship,
Break not thy pledged word.
"Unto fifty champions has Findabar been proffered, —
By me they have been sent to their graves."
|No. 37.||No. 38.||No. 39.|
Tuatha Dé Danann Spears. (See page 177.)
And he urges Ferdiad by all the dear old ties between them not to enter on the combat:—
"We were heart-companions,
We were comrades in assemblies,
We were fellows of the same bed,
Where we used to sleep the deep sleep.
To hard battles,
In countries many and far distant,
Together we used to practice, and go
Through each forest, learning with Scáthach."
"O Cuchulaind of the beautiful feats," said Ferdiad, "though we have studied arts of equal science, and though I have heard our bonds of friendship, of me shall come thy first wounds; remember not thy championship. O Hound! it shall not avail thee,—O Hound! it shall not avail thee."
Then Ferdiad cut short the discussion by asking with what arms they should fight. "Thine is the choice of arms, till night," said Cuchulaind, " for it was thou that first reached the ford."
Ferdiad chose javelins—light spears for throwing. They took their shields, and "their light turned-handled spears, and their light little quill spears, and their light ivory-hafted spears." "They used to fly from them and to them like bees on the wing on a fine day." Each continued to shoot at the other with these missiles from morn till midday, until all their missiles were blunted on the shields. Neither was wounded.
Then they desisted, to change their weapons. "They cast away their missiles into the hands of their charioteers." Ferdiad now chose "straight, smooth, hardened spears, with their hardened flaxen strings in them;" and the fight continued till nightfall, when they ceased. "They threw their arms to the charioteers. Each of them approached the other forthwith, and each put his hands around the other's neck and gave him three kisses."
Their horses grazed in the same paddock that night, and their charioteers sat at the same fire. The warriors lay on beds of rushes; and the healers came with herbs and plants of healing, to cure their wounds. Of every herb and healing balsam applied to the wounds of Cuchulaind, he sent part over the ford to Ferdiad, and he did likewise with the food and drink brought to him.
Next morning thoy came again to the ford, and this day Cuchulaind had the choice of weapons; and he chose the "great broad spear for thrusting," to be used from their chariots.
All day the fight lasted, and at night the horses were wearied and the charioteers dispirited. Again they desisted, and again embraced and parted for the night, "their horses in the same field and their servants at the same fire."
This night Ferdiad sent to Cuchulaind part of all the rich food and drink and healing herbs sent him by the men of Eiriu. Next day they met again, and Ferdiad chose heavy swords for the weapons. "We are nearer to the end of the fight," said Cuchulaind, "than the throwing of the first No. 40.
ANCIENT BRONZE SHIELD.
ANCIENT BRONZE SHIELD. day or the thrusting of the second, by the hewing of to-day." They fought from behind their "long great shields," and both men were many times and deeply wounded, when the darkness fell. When they gave their weapons to the charioteers they were mournful and silent; they did not embrace each other; their horses were not in the same field that night; their charioteers were not at the same fire.
"Then Ferdiad arose early next morning, and went forward alone to the ford of battle. For he knew that that day would decide the fight; he knew that either of them should fall on that day there, or that they both would fall."
"And it was then he put on his battle-suit of combat, before the coming of Cuchulaind. And that suit of combat was [as follows]: He put on his apron of striped silk, with its border of spangled gold, next his white skin. He put on his apron of brown leather, well sewn, over that, on the lower part [of his body]. He put on a flat stone outside over this apron; and again, outside this, a deep apron of purified iron, through fear of the gae-boly (the belly-dart), on that day. He put his crested helmet on his head, in which were forty gems, carbuncles, in each compartment, and it was also studded with crystals, cruan, and rubies from the East. He took his sharp-pointed strong spear into his right hand. He took his curved sword upon his left side, with its golden hilt and pommels. He took his large bossed shield on the slope of his back."
When Cuchulaind came to the ford the fight began with missive weapons (javelins,) and continued till noon. And when midday came, the ire of the men became more furious, and they drew nearer to each other. And then it was that Cuchulaind sprang from the brink of the ford, and hung on the boss of the shield of Ferdiad for the purpose of striking him on the head over the upper rim of the shield. And Ferdiad gave the shield a blow of his right elbow and cast Cuchulaind from him like a kid from the brink of the ford. Cuchulaind sprang from the brink and again clung to the boss of the shield, and was again flung off, Ferdiad striking the shield with his left knee.
Then Laeg, the charioteer of Cuchulaind, reproached his master, who, with a mighty spring, again leaped at Ferdiad, caught the boss of his shield, and was flung headforemost into the middle of the ford.
A dreadful close-fight followed, in which the very shields were unriveted and bent, and the Bocanachs and Bananachs and wild people of the glens and demons of the air "screamed from the rims of the shields and the hilts of the swords, and hafts of the spears." The champions fought with heavy swords, and at length Ferdiad buried his blade in Cuchulaind's body, making a deep but not deadly wound; and still he rained on Cuchulaind his great strokes.
"Cuchulaind could not endure this; and he asked Laeg, son of Riangabra, for the gae-bolg." "When Ferdiad heard the gae-bolg mentioned, he made a stroke of the spear downward to protect his lower body. Cuchulaind thrust his spear over Ferdiad's shield and wounded him, and then quickly setting the gae-bolg between the toes of his feet, he cast it at Ferdiad. It pierced the wrought-iron apron, broke the stone beneath, and entered his body, 'so that every cavity of him was filled with barbs.'"
"That is enough, indeed," said Ferdiad; '"I fall of that."
Cuchulaind ran to him, raised him tenderly, and carried him across the ford, in order that there should be no question of his victory. Then laying him down, he swooned beside him. When he recovered, he lamented over the corse of his foeman. Laeg came and stripped Ferdiad.
"Good, O my friend Laeg," said Cuchulaind, "open Ferdiad now, and take the gae-bolg out of him, for I cannot afford to be without my weapon."
Laeg came and opened Ferdiad, and took the gae-bolg out of him; and Cuchulaind laid his red weapon by the white side of Ferdiad, and lamented anew:
"O Ferdiad! sorrowful is thy fate!
That I should see thee so gory and pale;
Having my weapon yet unwashed,
And thou a blood-streaming man.
Sad is the deed which has come of it:
We the pupils of Scáthach,
I, all wounded and red with gore,
Thou, thy chariot no longer driving."
"Good, O Cuchulaind," said Laeg, "let us leave this ford now. Too long are we here."
"We shall leave now, indeed, O my friend Laeg," said Cuchulaind; "but every other combat that I have made was to me as a game and a sport compared with this fight with Ferdiad!"
It is impossible in brief space to convey the richness of imagery, the subtle character-sketching, and the minute detail of this noble and ancient poem. The future has brilliant crowns for Erinn besides those she may win politically. The re-establishment of her literary and artistic genius, the verification of her ancient and unceasing claim, the proving her root to have its deep hold in the earliest known fields of the human race,—this is part of the duty and responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the Irish race of the present.
A GLANCE BACKWARD AND FORWARD.
The retrospect induced by the study of these Irish antiquities may well lead the modern reader to a consideration of Ireland's native resources and power to become once more a great nation. The charges of those who declare that her present poverty and unrest are natural and inevitable, are easily disproved by the records of past and present. In all ages of her history, Ireland was remarkable as a land of abundant wealth. Venerable Bede says of ancient Ireland, that "for wholesomeness and serenity of climate, Ireland far surpasses Britain. . . . . The Island abounds in milk and honey, is not without vines, and is famous for the chase of fish, fowl, stags, and roes."
Three hundred years ago the illustrious English poet, Spenser, who had lived many years in Ireland, thus described the country: "And sure it is a most beautiful and sweet country as any under heaven, being stored throughout with many goodly rivers, replenished with all sorts of fish abundantly; sprinkled with many very sweet islands and goodly lakes, like little inland seas, that will carry even ships upon their waters; adorned with goodly woods; also filled with good ports and havens; beside the soyle itself most fertile, fit to yield all kind of fruit that shall be committed thereto. And lastely, the climate most mild and temperate."
Two hundred and fifty years ago, Sir John Davies, another eminent Englishman, wrote about Ireland as follows: "I have visited all the provinces of that kingdom in sundry journeys and circuits, wherein I have observed the good temperature of the air, the fruitfulness of the soil, the pleasant and commodious seats for habitations, the safe and large ports and havens lying open for traffic into all the west parts of the world; the long inlets of many navigable rivers, and so many great lakes and fresh ponds within the land, as the like are not to be seen in any part of Europe; the rich fishings and wild fowl of all kinds; and lastly, the bodies and minds of the people endued with extraordinary abilities by nature."
In Browne's "Essays on Trade," published in London in the year 1728, this is the report on Ireland: "Ireland is, in respect of its situation, the number of its commodious harbors, and the natural wealth which it produces, the fittest island to acquire wealth of any in the European seas; for as by its situation it lies the most commodious for the West Indies, Spain, and the Northern and Eastern countries, so it is not only supplied by nature with all the necessities of life, but can over and above export large quantities to foreign countries, insomuch that had it been mistress of its trade, no nation in Europe of its extent could in an equal number of years acquire greater wealth."
"Ireland," says Newenham, writing eighty years ago on industrial topics, "greatly surpasses her sister country, England, in the aggregate of the endowments of nature. . . . England, abounding in wealth beyond any other country in Europe, cannot boast of one natural advantage which Ireland does not possess in a superior degree."
"With respect to the soil," says M. Carey ("Vindiciæ Hibernicæ," Philadelphia, 1823), Ireland is blest in the highest degree. Arthur Young, an English traveller, who devoted half his life to agricultural investigations, has pronounced sentence on this point, from which there is no appeal. He says, comparing England and Ireland, that natural fertility, acre for acre, over the two kingdoms, is certainly in favor of Ireland."
"There is probably not a country in the world," says Newenham, "which, for its extent, is one-half so abundantly supplied with the most precious minerals and fossils as Ireland."
It is not too sanguine to express the hope that at last the sun is rising from the long night of Ireland's suffering and heroic struggle for a nation's rights. It means much for civilization that a people so originally gifted as the Irish should have free scope to express its national genius in all the forms of art, learning and freedom. The ancient glory can be renewed, with increased lustre. An island must become famous for wealth, even among the wealthy, that is so full of natural
resources, of precious and useful minerals, gold, silver, iron, copper, zinc, antimony, coal, of marble, porphyry and various building stones, of artistic and useful clays, of rare glass-sand, of inexhaustible fisheries, of incomparable water-power, of singular fertility of soil, of rare native popular intelligence and versatility of mind; and, added to all these, with a position unequalled for commercial advantages, set down in the high-road of the world's traffic, the first land in Europe from the West, where every traveller across the Atlantic would land, and whence every traveller for the outer world would embark.
When the world was young, Ireland proved her capacity by leading in the civilization of Northern Europe. Even the broken leaves and branches of her native customs and literature, preserved in this article on ancient weapons and games, are proof to the eye and the mind, over-riding the aspersions of illiteracy and prejudice.
In her unexampled struggle of seven centuries, during the latter three of which the nation has been prostrate, bound, and gagged, the native arts and industries and varied learning have died or have been destroyed by the stupid conqueror. The language of the Celt has been suppressed; but he has learned the tongue of his oppressor, and enriched it with memories and imaginings of his own.
And in the latest day, Ireland is stronger and more hopeful than when the long fight began. She is conquering her enemy by the highest form of victory—by conversion.
The illustrious Englishman, who is leading the higher morality and intelligence of his countrymen, Mr. Gladstone, says: "Under the most cruel pressure of tyranny and torture, in every form, without being invested with suffrage or power, the Irish people has maintained its own vitality and the integrity of its traditions. . . . We must reverse the judgment which the civilized world has formed, to the effect that England, great and pure, and bright in most of the recollections of her history, has one dark, blurred and blotted space on that page which describes her dealings with the sister island, and which, instead of being, as it ought to be, an honor to the greatest of free countries, would be a dishonor to the most despotic and enslaved. Irishmen will hope, must hope, ought to hope, and in the train of that hope will come victory; and in the train of victory, liberty; and in the train of liberty, peace; and in the train of peace, the restitution of that good name to England, which will then, indeed, be relieved from the last blot resting upon it."
- Professor Forbes, of the University of Edinburgh, some years ago instituted an extensive series of observations of the size and strength of the students attending the University. He found that the Irish students were the tallest and strongest men. Professor Quetelet, of the University of Brussels, instituted similar investigations, covering a number of years, testing the quality of Belgians, Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen. He found the average height of the Belgian to be sixty-eight inches, of the Englishman sixty-eight and one half, of the Scotchman sixty-nine, and of the Irishman seventy inches; that the average weight in pounds of the Belgian was one hundred and fifty pounds, of the Englishman one hundred and fifty-one, of the Scotchman one hundred and fifty-two, and of the Irishman one hundred and fifty-five pounds; and that the average strength as indicated by a blow given to the plate of a spring dynamometer, in pounds, was, of the Belgian, three hundred and thirty-nine poimds, of the Englishman four hundred and three pounds, of the Scotchman, four hundred and twenty-three pounds, and of the Irishman, four hundred and thirty-two pounds.
"The Irish are thus," says Sir Robert Kane, L.L.D., "the tallest, strongest, and heaviest of the four races." And Sir Robert Kane adds, "Mr. Field, an eminent mechanical engineer of London, had occasion to examine the relative powers of British and Irish laborers to raise weights by means of a crane. He communicated his results to the Institute of Civil Engineers in London. He found that the utmost efforts of a man, lifting at the rate of one foot per minute, ranged in Englishmen from eleven thousand five hundred and five to twenty-four thousand two hundred and fifty-five pounds, and in Irishmen from seventeen thousand three hundred and twenty-five to twenty-seven thousand five hundred and sixty-two pounds. I have no reason to doubt that these figures represent the existing conditions of these respective populations. Those experiments were carefully made at the time, and the results were as given."
Sir John Davies, an eminent Englishman, who was Attorney-General of Ireland in 1616, in his "Historical Tracts," says, "The bodies and minds of the Irish people are imbued with extraordinary abilities by nature."
At the present day the most famous athletes of the world are of Irish birth or extraction. They hold the highest places on record in almost every branch of athletic sport, both amateur and professional. Bicycle-riding alone seems to be the athletic exercise least attractive to men of the Irish race, at least in America; though Con. Dwyer, an Irishman, is the champion amateur bicycle-rider of all the Australasian colonies.
In swimming, for one hundred and five hundred yards, J. Haggerty, an Irishman, beat Chas. Beckwith in London, in May, 1887, and won the world's championship. The best under-water swimmer in the world is T. W. Reilly, who won the championship at Stockport, England, in July, 1887; in America, the three best swimmers are T. Riley, R. P. Magee, and C. Dunlevy.
Edward Hanlan, an Irish-Canadian, of Toronto, was the sculling champion of the world, till he was beaten in Australia in November, 1887, by W. Beach, an Irish-Australian.
In collar-and-elbow wrestling, J. H. McLaughlin is the champion of the United States; and in Græco-Koman wrestling, the United States championship is disputed by Wm. Muldoon and Denis Gallagher; while John Connor who held the championship of the Australian Colonies, yielded it up in May, 1887, to T. Cannon, another Irish-Australian.
The champion high-jumper of Australia is J. W. Byrne, who also holds the record for the hop-step-and-jump (forty-three feet eight and one-half inches); but the champion of the world for a hop-step-and-jump is J. Purcell, of Ireland, who, at Limerick, in June, 1887, cleared forty-eight feet three inches.
On the same ground, September, 1887, J. S. Mitchell threw the sixteen-pound hammer one hundred and twenty-four feet and one half inch, the best amateur throw ever made. He also threw the fifty-six-pound hammer thirteen feet and one half inch high.
The Shamrock Lacrosse Club, all Irish-Canadians, holds the championship of Canada for years past.
The hand-ball championship of the world is held by Phil. Casey, of Brooklyn, N. Y., who beat the former champion, J. Lawler, of Dublin, Ireland, in August, 1887.
G. Tracy, of Halifax, is champion amateur half-mile runner of Canada (Halifax, 1887, two minutes one and three-fifths seconds).
In boxing, there is no need to say that the Irish race has the best men in the world. John L. Sullivan is the heavy-weight champion of the world. Jem Smith, an Anglo-Irishman, is the heavy-weight champion of England, and next to him is Charles Mitchell, also of Irish parents. In America, John, or "Jake," Kilrain stands next to Sullivan, and John Dempsey is the middle-weight champion of the world. Jem Carney, an Anglo-Irishman, is the light-weight champion of the world.
Among the greatest walkers, for speed and distance ever known in America, are Daniel O'Leary, John Ennis, and Patrick Fitzgerald. The champion walker of Australia, Scott, is an Irishman. Lawrence Foley, an Irishman, is the champion heavy-weight boxer of Australia; and Irish-Australians are the leading athletes in cricket, foot-ball, and rowing clubs. The best runner Australia ever had, Bob Watson, was an Irishman; and among the most famous professional oarsmen of Australia are the names of Hickey, Punch, Rush, Clifford, and Matheson, all Irishmen, or sons of Irishmen.
Among base-ball players of the highest order in America, the names of Irish-Americans have the foremost places, and they are too numerous to mention. Michael J. Kelly is the leading player of America. There is, in fact, no branch of athletics in which Irishmen, or the sons of Irishmen, do not hold the first places against all the world.
- The following extract from a very ancient Gaelic book, "The pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne," shows that wrestling, at least, was practised; and that the 'cross-buttock ' was as well known in ancient as in modern Ireland:"—
"Then, said Dubh-Chosach, that he, himself, would go to fight with Diarmuid.... Then he and Diarmuid rushed upon one another, like wrestlers, straining their arms and their sinews. And this is the fashion of the sore strife that took place between them: They threw their weapons out of their hands, and ran to encounter each other, and lock their knotty hands across one another's graceful backs. Then each gave the other a mighty twist; but Diarmuid hove Dubh-Chosach upon his shoulder, and hurled his body to the earth, and bound him firm and fast upon the spot."
- Ollamh Fodhla was the founder of the "Senchus More," or "Great Law," the title of the Brehon Laws (translated by O' Donovan and C Curry). He organized a triennial parliament at Tara, of the chiefs, priests, and bards, who digested the laws into a record called the "Psalter of Tara." He founded schools of history, medicine, philosophy, poetry, and astronomy, which were protected by his successors. Kimbath (450 n.c.) and Hugony (300 B.C.), also, promoted the civil interests of the kingdom in a remarkable and somewhat similar manner.
- The only names I can find that are wholly or partly Danish are Wexford, Waterford, Carlingford, Strangford (Lough), Olderfleet, Carnsore, Ireland's Eye, Lambay, Dalkey, Howth, Leixlip, and Oxmantown . . The termination ford is the northern word fiord, or inlet of the sea." (Joyce, "Irish Names of Places.")
- The law of Benen is the famous Irish "Book of Kights" ("Leabhar na g-Ceart"), published by the Celtic Society, Dublin, in 1847. It gives an account of the rights of the monarchs of all Ireland, and the revenues payable to them by the kings of the several provinces, and of the stipends paid by the monarch to the provincial kings for their services, etc. This Benen, or Benean, was St. Benignus the disciple of St. Patrick, and his successor as Bishop of Ard Macha (Armagh), he resigned his bishopric in 465; died on the 9th of November, 408, and was buried in Armagh. It is probable that the laws and tributes mentioned in "The Book of Rights" were taken from records of great antiquity, and were digested and, perhaps, put into metre by St. Benignus.
- The gai-bulga or gae-bolga, (the belly-dart) is unique among the weapons of Ireland. There is a common phrase often heard in Ireland, "Put the gui-bolg on him" (meaning a masterful stroke), which I have heard vulgarized in America into, "Put the kye-bosh on him." It is strange to trace such a phrase back to a mysterious weapon used thousands of years ago in Ireland.
"This was the character of that dart," says the ancient Táin Bo Chuailgne: " It was upon a stream it should be set, and it was from between the toes it should be cast. It made but the wound of one dart in entering the body; but it presented thirty inverted points against coming back; so that it could not be drawn from a person's body without opening it."
"Concerning this weapon," says Prof. O'Curry ("Ancient Irish," p. 310, vol. 11), "if we only knew of it from the exaggerated description of the manner in which it tore its way through Ferdiad's questionable armor, its existence at all might be very well doubted; but, in another ancient tale, we have very fair authority to show that Cuchulaind had unwittingly killed his own son Conlaech with this very weapon, in an ordinary combat on the shore, near Dundalk."
Like the Tathumor sling-ball, with which the champion Balor was killed in the battle of the Northern Mayh Tuireadh, the gae-bolga has been assigned an Eastern origin by a very ancient Irish poet. His poem, in Gaelic, opens thus:—
How was the gae-bolga discoyered?
Or by whom was it brought hither
From the Eastern parts of the world?
"Inform those who are ignorant
That this weapon originally came hither
From Bolg Mac Baain, in the East,
To Cuehulaind, in Muirtheimhné."
The poet goes on to relate that the champion Bolg Mac Buain found, on the sea-shore, the bones of a monster called the 'Curruid and "made the wild spear from the bones of the kingly monster." Mac Buain gave the gae-bolg to Mac Inbar; who gave it to Lena, his friend; who gave it to Denneil; who gave it to Scáthach, the teacher of the war college of Alba (Scotland); who gave it to her daughter Aife (Cuchulaind's mistress); who gave the weapon to Cuehulaind.
"Cuehulaind brought the gae-bolg
Into Erinn, with all its barbs;
By it he slew Conlaech of the shields,
And Ferdiad afterwards."
Such is the account of the origin and history of the famous gae-bolg as presented in an extremely old Gaelic poem.
- Throughout this poem the name of the country is spelled Eiriu, not Erinn.
- "A very beautiful bronze shield, found in a bog forming a peninsula or island in Lough Gurr, in the county of Limerick. The Royal Irish Academy having purchased this beautiful shield from M. Lenihan, Esq., of Limerick, it is now in the national museum. It is a flat disc two feet three and three-quarter inches in diameter. It has six concentric rings formed by about two hundred small hollow bosses about an inch in diameter; and in the centre a large somewhat flattened boss, six inches internal diameter, called by the French Ombilic d'Umbo and by the Germans the Schildnabel. The rim is an inch and three-quarters in width. The handle is fastened across the back of the central boss. On the back of the shield, in the third circle from the rim, are two bits of bronze so riveted that the heads of the rivets form two of the small obverse bosses. These bits of bronze served to sling the shield over the shoulders. [Figures 40 and 41 represent the face and back of this shield.] The central boss or umbilicus of some Irish shields must have been formed by a spike which could be thrust into the face of an enemy. This was, perhaps, the Gilech cuach coicrindi or flesh mangling cup-Gilech or cup-spear, which was on the speckled blow-dealing shield of Laeghaire Baadach."—O'Currys "Manners and Customs."
- Eccl. Ilist. bk. i., c. l.
- "View of the State of Ireland."
- "Historical Tracts," by Sir John Davies, Attorney-General of Ireland.
- "View of the Natural, Political, and Commercial Circumstances of Ireland," by T. Newenham, London. 1809.
- "Tour in Ireland." Edit. 1780.
- "There is not a county in Ireland which does not contain some valuable mineral or fossil; several of them, it is now ascertained, abound with treasures of this sort; and these, for the greater part, are most happily situated for the exportation
of their products, either in a rude or manufactured state."—Newenham.
Ireland contains the following thirty different sorts of minerals and fossils, the figures prefixed denoting the number of counties in which they have been discovered, viz.:
9. Clays of various sorts.
1. Silicious sand.
"The gold mine at Croghan, in the county of Wicklow, began to attract attention about the year 1795. According to a calculation made on the subject, the sum of £10,000 was paid, at the rate of £3 15s. per ounce, to the country people, for the gold which they collected. Before the government took possession of the mine, there was found one piece of gold which weighed twenty-two ounces, and which is believed to be the largest ever found in Europe. From the commencement of the works to June 1801, there were found 599 ounces of gold."—Newenham.
"Mr. Lawson, an English miner, stated in evidence before the Irish House of Commons, that the iron-stone at Arigna [the iron-field of Arigna is six square miles in extent] lay in beds of from three to twelve fathoms deep; and that it could be raised for two shillings and sixpence the ton, which is five shillings cheaper than in Cumberland; that the coal in the neighborhood was better than any in England, and could be raised for three shillings and sixpence the ton; and that it extended six miles in length, and five in breadth. He also stated that fire-brick clay, and free-stone of the best qualities, were in the neighborhood, and that a bed of potter's clay extended there two miles in length, and one in breadth. Mr. Clarke, on the same occasion, declared that the iron-ore was inexhaustible. And our distinguished countryman, Mr. Kirwan, whose opinions on mineralogical subjects few will attempt to refute, affirmed that the Arigna iron was better than any iron made from any species of single ore in England."—Newenham.