Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/387

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
379
Celtic Myth and Saga.

student of Celtic belief and custom, I will briefly set forth Mr. O'Grady's view and my grounds for taking exception to it.

A number of stories are extant in which the Irish saints play a part that assorts singularly ill with our idea of the saintly character; they show themselves vehement and unscrupulous partisans, they resort to trick and dodge to achieve their ends. But the interesting point is that whilst they approve themselves to be on the same moral level as the pagan Druid, they likewise approve themselves to be on the same intellectual level. There is the same belief in the irresistible power of the formula, in the irrevocable nature of the oath, in the efficacy of symbol and spell. Mr. O'Grady is much chagrined by these stories, and, says he, "it is idle to suppose that the native Irish writers of remote times, whose general tone indubitably is that of gentlemen writing for gentlemen, knew no better than to seriously credit men like S. Columbkill and Adamnan, for instance, with conduct worthy of Til Eulenspiegel" (p. xviii). So he concludes "these episodes have all the appearance of broad caricatures drawn to raise a laugh." That the mediæval Irishman was quite capable of enjoying a laugh at the expense of an eminent saint I am willing to believe, but is it certain that he would have seen anything laughable in the trick by which Moiling procured the remission of the Boroma owing to the double meaning of the word Luath (Monday and Doomsday), or in how Adamnan outwitted the King of Ireland } The two, namely, were fasting and performing penance against each other, and neither got ahead of the other. So Adamnan dressed up one of his clerics in his semblance, and when the king, who was averse to works of supererogation, sent to ask the saint what he was doing that night, the cleric answered, "I banquet and sleep." The king felt he could do likewise. But meanwhile Adamnan kept fast and vigil, and tarried all night in the river, and so got power over the king. The story is a delightful one—to us—but would it have struck the