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mitted to parchment in the seventh century, we find it stated that Bran wrote the fifty or sixty quatrains of the poem in Ogam. Cuchulainn constantly used Ogam writing, which he cut upon wands and trees and standing stones for Queen Medb's army to read, and these were always brought to his friend Fergus to decipher. Cormac, king of Cashel, in his glossary tells us that the pagan Irish used to inscribe the wand they kept for measuring corpses and graves with Ogam characters, and that it was a source of horror to anyone even to take it in his hand. St. Patrick in his Confession, the authenticity of which no one doubts, describes how he dreamt that a man from Ireland came to him with innumerable letters.
In Irish legend Ogma, one of the Tuatha De Danann who was skilled in dialects and poetry, seems to be credited with the invention of the Ogam alphabet, and he probably was the equivalent of the Gaulish god Ogmios, the god of eloquence, so interestingly described by Lucian.
We may take it then that the Irish pagans knew sufficient letters to hand down to Irish Christians the substance of their pagan epics, sagas, and poems. We may take it for granted also that the greater Irish epics (purely pagan in character, utterly untouched in substance by that Christianity which so early conquered the country) really represent the thoughts, manners, feelings, and customs of pagan Ireland.
The effect of this conclusion must be startling indeed to those who know the ancient world only through the medium of Greek and Roman literature. To the Greek and to his admiring master, the Roman, all outside races were simply barbarians, at once despised, misinterpreted, and misunderstood. We have no possible means of reconstructing the ancient world as it was lived in by the ancestors of some of the leading races in Europe, the Gauls, Spaniards, Britons, and the people of all those countries which trace themselves back to a Celtic ancestry, because these races have left no literature or records behind them, and the Greeks and Romans, who tell us about them, saw everything through the false medium of their own prejudices. But now since the discovery and publication of the Irish sagas and epics, the descendants of these great races no longer find it necessary to view their own past
through the colored and distorting glasses of the Greek or the Roman, since there has now opened for them, where they least expected to find it, a window through which they can look steadily at the life of their race, or of one of its leading offshoots, in one of its strongholds, and reconstruct for themselves with tolerable accuracy the life of their own ancestors. It is impossible to overrate the importance of this for the history of Europe, because neither Teutons nor Slavs have preserved pictures of their own heroic past, dating from pagan times. It is only the Celts, and of these the Irish, who have handed down such pictures drawn with all the fond intimacy of romance, and descriptions which exhibit the life of western Europeans at an even earlier culture-stage in the evolution of humanity than do the poems of Homer.
This conclusion, to which a study of the literature invites us, falls in exactly with that arrived at from purely archaeological sources. Professor Ridgeway of Cambridge University, working on archaeological lines, expresses himself as follows: “From this survey of the material remains of the la Tène period found actually in Ireland, and from the striking correspondence between this culture and that depicted in the Táin Bó Cúalnge, and from the circumstance that the race who are represented in the epic as possessing this form of culture resemble in their physique the tall, fair-haired, greyeyed Celts of Britain and the continent, we are justified in inferring (1) that there was an invasion (or invasions) of such peoples from Gaul in the centuries immediately before Christ, as is ascribed by the Irish traditions, and (2) that the poems themselves originally took shape when the la Tène culture was still flourishing in Ireland. But as this could hardly have continued much later than A. D. 100, we may place the first shaping of the poems not much later than that date and possibly a century earlier."
This conclusion would make the earliest putting together of the Irish epics almost contemporaneous with Augustus Cæsar.
So much for the history and growth of Irish letters.
Brash: Ogam Inscribed Monuments of the Gaedhil (1879); MacAllster: Studies in Irish Epigraphy, vol. 1 (1897), vol. 2 (1902), vol. 8 (1907); Rhys: in Proceedings of the Scottish Society of Antiqua. ries (Edinburgh, 1892); Ridgeway: Date of the First Shaping of the Cuchulain Saga (1905), in Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. II; Joyce: Social History of Ancient Ireland, vol. I, Chap. 2; Preface to fac-simile edition of the Book of Ballymote.
NATIVE IRISH POETRY
BY PROFESSOR GEORGES DOTTIN. (NOTE.—This chapter was written in French by M. Dottin, who is a distinguished professor and dean at the University of Rennes, France. The translation into English has been made by the Editors.)
Y the year 1200 of the Christian era, a time at which the
other national literatures of Europe were scarcely beginning to develop, Ireland possessed, and had possessed for sev. eral centuries, a Gaelic poetry, which was either the creation of the soul of the people or else was the work of the courtly bards. This poetry was at first expressed in rhythmical verses, each containing a fixed number of accented syllables and hemistichs separated by a pause: Crist lim, Crist reum,
Crist in degaid
Crist dessum Crist úasum
This versification, one of the elements of which was the repetition of words or sounds at regular intervals, was transformed about the eighth century into a more learned system. Thenceforward alliteration, assonance, rhyme, and a fixed number of syllables constituted the characteristics of Irish
Mésse ocus Pángur bán
As we see, the consonants in the rhyme-words were merely related: l, r, n, ng, m, dh, gh, bh, mh, ch, th, f could rime together just as could gg, dd, bb. Soon the poets did not limit themselves to end-rhymes, which ran the risk of becoming monotonous, but introduced also internal rhyme, which set up what we may call a continuous chain of melody:
is aire caraim DORRE
This harmonious versification was replaced in the seventeenth century by a system in which account was no longer taken of consonantal rhyme or of the number of syllables.
The rules of Irish verse have nothing in common with classical Latin metres, which were based on the combination of short and long syllables. In Low-Latin, indeed, we find occasionally alliteration, rhyme, and a fixed number of syllables, but these novelties are obviously of foreign origin, and date from the time when the Romans borrowed them from the rations which they called barbarous. We cannot prove beyond yea or nay that they are of Celtic origin, but it is extremely probable that they are, for it is among the Celts both of Ireland and of Wales that the harmonizing of vowels and of consonants has been carried to the highest degree of perfection.
This learned art was not acquired without long study. The training of a poet (filé) lasted twelve years, or more. The poets had a regular hierarchy. The highest in rank, the ollamh, knew 350 kinds of verse and could recite 250 principal and 100 secondary stories. The ollamhs lived at the court of the kings and the nobles, who granted them freehold lands; their persons and their property were sacred; and they had established in Ireland schools in which the people might learn history, poetry, and law. The bards formed a numerous class, of a rank inferior to the filé; they did not enjoy the same honors and privileges; some of them even were slaves; according to their standing, different kinds of verse were assigned to them as a monopoly.
The Danish invasions in the ninth century set back for some time the development of Irish poetry, but, when the Irish had driven the fierce and aggressive sea-rovers from their country, there was a literary renascence. This was in turn checked by the Anglo-Norman invasion in the twelfth century, and thereafter the art of versification was no longer so refined as it had formerly been. Nevertheless, the bardic schools still existed in the seventeenth century, more than four hundred years after the landing of Strongbow, and, in them, students followed the lectures of the ollamhs for six months cach year, or until th coming of spring, exercising both their talents for composition and their memory.