Page images
PDF
EPUB

there are occasional beautiful examples which compare in richness with those in the Book of Kells.

The Liber Hymnorum (in the Franciscan Monastery, Dublin) contains a number of hymns associated with the names of Irish saints. The ornamentation consists of colored initials, designed with a striking use of fanciful animal figures interlaced and twined with delightful freedom around the main structural body.

The Garland of Howth and the Stowe Missal (both in Trinity College Library) belong to the eighth century and are beautiful examples of early illuminative art. The former, which is very incomplete, has only two ornamental pages left, each containing figure-representations inserted in the decorative work.

The Gospels of St. Chad (in the Cathedral Library at Lichfield) and the Gospels of Lindisfarne, which are “the glory of the British Museum", form striking examples of the influence of Celtic art. St. Chad was educated in Ireland in the school of St. Finian, where he acquired his training in book decoration. The Gospels of Lindisfarne were produced by the monks of Iona, where St. Columcille founded his great school of religion, art, and learning. This latter manuscript is second only to the Book of Kells in its glory of illuminative design, and, from its distinctive scheme of colors, the tones of which are light and bright and gay, it forms a contrast to the quieter shades and the solemn dignity of the more famous volume.

The Book of the Dun Cow, The Book of Leinster, and the other great manuscripts of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries are interesting as literature rather than as art, for they tell the history of ancient Erin and have garnered her olden legends and romantic tales. It is only the Gospels and other manuscripts of religious subjects that are illuminated. In the apparel of the ancient Irish, the number of colors marked the social rank: the king might wear seven colors, poets and learned men six; five colors were permitted in the clothes of chieftains, and thus grading down to the servant, who might wear but one. All this the scribe knew well. We can picture the humble servant of God, clad in a coarse robe of a single color, deep in his chosen labor of recording the life

and teachings of his Master, and striving to endow this record with the glory of the seven colors which were rightly due to a King alone. As we gaze on his work today its beauty is instinct with life, and the patient love that gave it birth seems to cling to it still. The white magic of the artist's holy hands has bridged the span of a thousand years.

REFERENCES :

O'Curry: Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History (Dublin, 1861); Bruun: An Enquiry into the Art of the Illuminated Manuscripts of the Middle Ages, Part I, Celtic Illuminated Manuscripts (Edinburgh, 1897); Robinson: Celtic Illuminative Art in the Gospels of Durrow, Lindisfarne, and Kells (Dublin, 1908); Westwood: The Book of Kells, a lecture given in Oxford, November, 1886 (Dublin, 1887); Gougaud: Répertoire des fac-similés des manuscripts irlandais (Paris, 1913).

THE RUINS OF IRELAND

By Francis Joseph BIGGER, M. R. I. A.

HE ruins of Ireland are her proudest monuments. They

[ocr errors]

and definite proclamation that the Irish people, century after century, were able to raise and adorn some of the finest buildings in stone that western civilization has seen or known. It is recognized the world over that Irish art has a beauty and distinction all its own, in its own Irish setting unrivalled, throned in its own land, in its own natural surroundings. The shrines and gospels, the reliquaries and missals, the crosses and bells that are still existent, many in Ireland, others in every country in the world, attest beyond any dispute that Irish art-workers held a preëminent place in the early middle ages, and that works of Irish art are still treasured as unique in their day and time. No country has been plundered and desolated as Ireland has been. Dane, Norman, English-each in turn swept across the fair face of Ireland, carrying destruction in their train, yet withal Ireland has her art treasures and her ruins that bear favorable comparison with those of other civilizations.

In Dublin and in many private Irish collections can be found kand-written books of parchment, illuminated with glowing colors that time has scarce affected or the years caused to fade. On one page alone of the Book of Kells, ornament and writing can be seen penned and painted in lines too numerous even to count. They are there by the thousand: a magnifying glass is required to reveal even a fragment of them. Ireland produced these in endless number-every great library or collection in Europe possesses one or more examples.

As with books, so with reliquaries, crosses, and bells. When the Island of Saints and Scholars could produce books, it could make shrines and everything necessary to stimulate and hand down the piety and the patient skill of a people steeped in art-craft and religious feeling. What they could do on parchment--like the Books of Kells and Durrow—what they could produce in bronze and precious metals—like the Cross of Cong, the Shrine of Saint Patrick's Bell, the Tara Brooch, and the Chalice of Ardagh-not to write of the numberless bronze and gold articles of an age centuries long preceding their production-they could certainly vie with in stone.

Of this earlier work a word must go down. In Ireland still at the present day, after all the years of plunder she has undergone, more ancient gold art-treasures remain than in any other country, museum, or collection, most of them pre-Christian, and what the other countries do possess are largely Irish or of Celtic origin. We must have this borne into the minds of every one of Irish birth or origin, that this great treasure was battered into shape by Irish hands on Irish anvils, designed in Irish studios, ornamented with Irish skill for Irish use.

With such workmen, having such instincts and training, what of the housing and surroundings to contain them and give them a fit and suitable setting? The earliest stone structures in Ireland still remaining are the great stone cashels or circular walls enclosing large spaces—walls of great thickness, unmortared, in which there are vast quantities of masonry. Around their summits a chariot might be driven, inside their spaces horse races might be run. As a few examples, there are Staigue, in Kerry; Dun Angus, in Aran, off Galway; Aileach, above the walls of Derry. Of the earliest churches, cyclopean in construction and primitive in character, built of stone, with thick sloping walls from foundation to ridge, Gallerus still remains, and the Skelligs, those wondrous sea-girt rocks, preserve both church and cell almost perfect. There are many other examples, some of a later date, such as Temple Cronan and Maghera and Banagher in Derry, St. Finan's oratory in county Cork, St. Fechin's at Fore, and St. Molaise's at Devenish.

From the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries, there are innumerable examples of oratories, some with stone roofs, others with roofs not so permanent, but all having the common features of an altar window facing the east, through which the sun fell at the beginning of the day to tell the early missioner that his hour of devotion had arrived, and a west door, through which the rays of the declining sun fell across the altar steps, speaking of a day that was closing. A south window was added close to the east end, and it, too, was a sun-dial; it told the hour of angelus, the mid-day, when the bell was rung and a calm reverence fell on all within its hearing. Such churches can still be seen at Aran and Inismurray, on the islands of Lough Derg, Lough Ri, and in many other places.

A few years later these oratories were too small for the growing faith, and larger churches were built, some using the older structure as chancels. Where the west door was built a circular arch was made and the new and old united. This can well be seen at Inis-na-ghoill in Lough Corrib, on the Aran Islands off Galway, at Glendalough, at Inis-cleraun in Lough Ri, at Clonmacnois, at Iniscaltra, and on many another island and promontory of the south and west.

During this time, and after, we find the most elaborate carvings on door and arch and window, equal in skill to what is found in book or metal work.

It must have been at this time that the Galls, or strangers, first invaded Ireland, bearing havoc in their train, for then it was that the cloicteach, or Round Towers, were built. It is now admitted by all Irish authorities of any repute, and that beyond dispute, that the Round Towers, the glory of Ireland, were built by Irish people as Christian monuments from which the bells might be rung, and as places of strength for the preservation of the valued articles used in Christian worship; here they might be safely stored. They were also used for the preservation of life in case of sudden attack and onslaught by unexpected enemies. All the towers are on ecclesiastical sites, many are incorporated in church buildings, such as those of Glendalough in Wicklow and Clonmacnois on the Shannon. The records of the construction of some of them in the tenth and eleventh centuries are still extant, and this is conclusive. There are today about seventy Round Towers in Ireland, and many have been destroyed.

The pillar towers of Ireland, how wondrously they stand
By the lakes and rushing rivers through the valleys of our land;
In mystic file, through the isle, they lift their heads sublime,
These gray old pillar temples-these conquerors of time.

« PreviousContinue »