Open main menu

Page:Notes and Queries - Series 9 - Volume 9.djvu/86

This page needs to be proofread.


NOTES AND QUERIES. [9* s. ix. JAN. 25, 1902.



These dates disagree, but they take the song back to the eighteenth century.

According to Allibone's dictionary, George Alexander Stevens, a strolling player, dra- matic author, vocalist, and lecturer, died 6 Sept., 1784. ROBERT PIERPOINT.

St. Austin's, Warrington.


NOTES ON BOOKS, &c.

Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland. By W. G. Wood-Martin, M.R.I. A. 2 vols. (Longmans & Co.)

A ZEALOUS worker in the fields of archaeological research, Col. Wood-Martin is known as the his- torian of Sligo and the author of ' Pagan Ireland : a Handbook of Irish Pre-Christian Antiquities, and, other works. His present book is to some extent an expansion of the Handbook previously mentioned. It is almost too comprehensive in scheme, and, though primarily intended for the folk-lorist, aims also at being, among other things, a sum- mary of geological conditions. While maintaining generally that investigations into and speculations concerning the great glacial epoch have an im- portant bearing upon the development of the human race, the author holds that, as almost all parts of the world except "these Islands" have been regarded as the cradle of the human race, " man must necessarily have been some time in existence, and must have acquired some faint religious ideas before he found a home on these, at that time, icebound shores." He begins, accordingly, with an account of the period when Ireland, as well as Britain, was united to the Continent, and furnishes maps showing the area of volcanic action in Great Britain and Ireland during part of the Tertiary period. The illustrations, it may be said, which are very numerous, constitute a striking and important feature in the volumes. The first of these, the frontispiece to the first volume, shows an ideal landscape of the north of Ireland in the Tertiary period, with two huge volcanoes, each throwing forth a pall of smoke. Similar designs and maps follow, presenting the aspects of the land and its occupants, concerning which our knowledge is of the scantiest. Quitting this domain, where all is practically conjecture, Col. Wood- Martin conies to first proofs of human action in the shape of flint weapons, quoting from the 1881 edition of Sir John Evans's 'Ancient Stone Implements' (the latest edition is 1897). We are here on more familiar ground, though even here the imagination is afforded some play, and we have a characteristic, if fanciful, picture of two fair-skinned warriors combating the grizzly bear with a rude lance and a hatchet of stone. Repre sentations of the mamnioth, the gigantic Irish deer, and other extinct animals follow, and there is a design, by which the collector may well profit, ol the manufacture of sham Irish antiquities, which seems now to be a fairly prosperous occupation At this early stage, even, we come upon an illustra turn of the paganism which, as students know, still exists beneath the veneer of Christianity. To use a happy phrase of Col. Wood-Martin, Christianity


has smoothed over and swallowed paganism, and ' the contour of its prey, as is the case ot the boa constrictor, can be distinctly traced under the glistening colours of its beautiful skin. The pagan llustration of which we speak is that of kindling the " need fire," which was practised in the last century. When cattle were affected with a disease called "big-head" every fire in the townland in which it had broken out was extinguished, and the inhabitants, assembling at the infected farm, produced fresh fire by the well-known and primitive process of friction. When the sticks were ignited a great smoke was produced from " scraws (sods covered with soot), and the animals were compelled to inhale this till water ran plentifully from mouth and nostrils. This curious survival is more pleasant to contemplate than the barbarous per- secutions for witchcraft which have been practised at a period still later in date. Flint arrow and spear heads are supposed to possess the power of healing cattle, and instances are known of farmers finding it more profitable to keep them for such purpose than to sell them to collectors. Cave remains are familiar in Ireland, though no very startling dis- covery of such has been made. Fairy doctors, as they are called, still regard flint instruments as elf bolts, and sometimes use them as a cure for human ailments as well as those of cattle. So late as 1480 we hear of an Ulster chief O Kane, whose house, when he received a visit from a Bohemian nobleman, lodged sixteen women, all naked except for a loose mantle. The chief him- self had only the same scanty garb and shoes, and took off both on entering the house, inviting the guest to follow his example. Some interesting par- ticulars are given concerning bonefires. The views of the Colonel on Irish literature and Irish MSS. will be far from acceptable to the younger school of Irish students. The former is said to be mere protoplasm, and with certain reservations it is alleged to be difficult to discover an Irish MS. which to the ordinary nineteenth-century reader does not appear " extremely childish " " We possess," says the Colonel, "in Irish no work of genius comparable to the ' Nibelungen Lied ' or the ' Song of Roland.' To speak of the ' Tain-B6-Cuailnge Y as a Gaelic 'Iliad' seems, to say the least, an imprudent com- parison." Again he says : "There is nothing, either in material or literary remains, to support the asser- tion of the monastic chroniclers as to the glories of the Green Isle of the West at the time when the first missionaries began their attempt to convert the people to Christianity."

In the second volume we are more strictly in the land of folk-lore. The opening chapter of this, con- cerning fairies, is the most interesting in the work. Those which follow on marriage lore, well worship, tree worship, stone worship, and similar subjects are of signal value. Some of the information given is from our own columns, and much of it is familiar to the general student. Enough that is character- istically Irish remains to render the book indispens- able to the scholar. So well has Col. Wood-Martin done his work, and so valuable is the information he has collected, that we feel disposed to be lenient to some proofs of carelessness, such, for instance, as talking of the ' Urn Burial' of Sir John (sic) Browne, and to a rather aggravating habit of calling anti- quaries "antiquarians." He displays much zeal and much erudition, and his work, from which, did space permit, we should like largely to quote, is a fine contribution to a study of unending interest.