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THE IRISH BARDS AND SONG-WRITERS.

II

kings, a third part of the whole kingdom passed under the notion of poets, and professed themselves regular members of that society for it was a plausible cover to idleness and ease, it being ordained by law that they should be supported by other men's labours, and billeted upon the people throughout the island from All Hallowtide till May.' It was worth one's while to be a poet in Ireland in those days. On the whole, then, it is perhaps best that the works of these 'professors' are to a large extent lost, and themselves forgotten. What of theirs we have, does not make us desirous for more. The copious, bold, and expressive language of old Ireland was admirably adapted for poetry-was even in itself a poetry-and it was used for inflated nothings, and not for undying words. The country's literature owes little to the bards, and to them the song-writers owe nothing what

soever.

Bardism proper-that is, when the bard held his office by hereditary right, and was of the chief's household-in its decline produced a poor literature. It had lost its eloquence, its fire was quenched; there was little of heroism in it-it had reached a very low estate. As an illustration of the latest bardic effusions, and as an argument for our confining ourselves to the songs and songwriters, to the exclusion of the bards, we will give a specimen of the poetry of Bard Teige MacDaire MacBrody, one who was in his day (circa 1570-1640) an eminent person in his profession. He was chief bard to Donough O'Brien, fourth Earl of Thomond, from whom, after the ancient custom, he held as his appanage the castle and lands of Dunogan in Clare. To him is due the Contention of the Bards,' which is a series of socalled poems, the sequel of a debate between him and

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Bard O'Clery, on a subject of vital interest then, we suppose, but of none now, except to the archæologian and historian. He-determined to elevate the house of O'Brien, whom he served, above the tribes descended from the great Niall of the Nine Hostages, to wit, the O'Neills, O'Donnells, etc.-' attacked the works of Torna Eigeas, the last of the heathen bards.' The method of vindication may seem to us peculiar, but O'Clery, the hereditary bard of the disparaged septs, took up the battle on behalf of Torna. MacDaire replied and O'Clery rejoined; and soon, in genuine Irish fashion, the fray became general, and almost all the bards within the four seas of Ireland got into the poetic scrimmage. The contest ran to seed-wore itself out, leaving no conclusion or judgment on Torna to solve the anxious perplexity of future ages. We may mention that MacDaire perished, in his old age, rather ingloriously for an hereditary bard who had been counsellor to the kingly O'Brien. He was flung over a precipice during the Cromwellian wars by one who, with brutal and unpoetic malice, accompanied the murderous act with a cruel taunt, 'Go say your verses now, my little man;' a sad fate truly. In his capacity as Laureate to Thomond he was in duty bound to greet his chieftain upon election with a bardic poem—that is, one full of the praise and glory of the chief's ancestors, and with some advice, half didactic and half flattering, to rule so as to maintain that glory undimmed and undiminished. From one of these odes the following lines are selected as a sample of the poetry of the latest hereditary bards, the remnants of an institution that had flourished with various degrees of pride and honour for its thousand years. Having pointed out the responsibilities of kingship and the power of a king for good and ill (though

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Thomond was not a king); having inculcated pious exercises and daily prayers 'to Him whom glory veils above the skies; having assured O'Brien that from God alone redress for anxious cares was to be sought; having animadverted on the immorality and scandal of corrupt and unjust judgments, and the advantage and honour of 'pious decisions; having given instruction (hardly needed) on the chief's bearing and conduct in war, MacDaire MacBrody goes on to say:

THE IRISH BARDS AND SONG-WRITERS.

'Though numerous precepts still I could unfold
For thy sure guidance, yet will I withhold,
Reserved my further counsel-for imprest
Be this just maxim deep upon thy breast,
Instruction briefly given is the best.

I will not, till my footsteps you pursue,
Praise thy fair limbs, or frame of fulgent hue;

Nor round, strong knee, and limbs well formed and fair;

Nor tapering active foot, alert as air;
Nor liberal soul, majestic, great and good,

Prompt, fearless, brave, impetuous as the flood,
Undaunted, firm, with native valour fired,
For prowess, might, and steadiness admired;
Facetious-mild as zephyr's gentle flow—
Nor ever furious but against the foe.
Yet will I praise-nor will my voice alone
Be raised to celebrate thy great renown.
If thou fulfil the purport of my lays

From lettered source derived of wisdom's ways,
The glorious sun shall spread thy praises round,
And feathered songsters warble the sweet sound;
Each element beneath high heaven's expanse,
Earth, water, air, will in full choir advance
To sing in strain sublime that ne'er will die,
Thy beaming sprightly animated eye.'

This must have been a peculiar eye indeed that required the sun, and the birds, with earth, water, and air, in full chorus, to sing it. He goes on:

'The hum of bees will murmur o'er the woods,

And sportive trouts will wanton through the floods;
And e'en the sea-calves their deep tones will raise
At once with me, to celebrate thy praise.'

On the occasion of this ode it is to be presumed that the bard was in too solemn a frame to joke, but it is difficult to suppress a smile at his hope that the seacalves will join him in a bass chorus in praise of his master and patron. MacDaire was in parts of this ode practical enough, and he is pious all throughout. But is it not sorry stuff? Is it not as unpoetic an ode as ever bard or no bard sung? Its wisdom is most heavy and commonplace-its tediousness is superlative and intolerable, though with ingenuous candour he confesses that 'Instruction briefly given is the best.' Could it be imagined that this style of thing could have stimulated an O'Brien or anyone else to the extent the fond bard hoped? There is much of this at hand in Irish bardic literature of those days. This is a mere instance, and is inserted here as a warning to latter-day readers to avoid the bards, and as an argument for leaving them buried in the centuries with their Odes and Contentions' heaped high and solid above them.

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There are however, happily, interesting compositions in the records of the country's literature, but it is not to the hereditary bards we look for them. There are songs sprinkled over a period of about four hundred years which are not commonplace or tedious, maudlin or intolerable, and most of which are as fresh and full of interest to-day as when they were sung. The song-composers began to write in English between two and three centuries ago; but there are many written before this time in the native language, which have been translated during the present century; and of these songs, original and in translations, of dead Celtic Irish singers, the best lie between the years embraced in this volume, 16001870. It has been remarked that the tone and spirit of

THE IRISH BARDS AND SONG-WRITERS.

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these songs are peculiar to Ireland, and are characteristic of the Celtic race; and it is worth a brief while to examine the peculiar and exceptional traits, and show what condition, poetically, Ireland was in at this period.

Though there have been some true poets of Irish descent and birth, there has not been one great one. There is not in the entire literature of the country a great epic like the 'Eneid' or the 'Divina Commedia,' a great tragedy like ‘Hamlet' or 'Lear;' not even an ethic poem. The reasons for these facts are not difficult to determine. One of the characteristics of the Celt is an incapacity for sustained effort and continuous application-two elements essential to the production of a great work of either description. The conditions of existence in Ireland in the earlier years of what we may call its modern literature have been adverse to the fostering of those qualities which make for a great poet or great dramatist, even had the disposition of the race rendered it capable of striving and attaining to such eminences: legislative oppression and repression from abroad; perpetual crusades of spoliation and extermination; increasing and incurable turmoil, turbulence, and bloodshed; an education, if it did exist, of the most meagre, narrow, and restricted description, stunted by prohibitions and insane enactments-all contributed to the annihilation of a poetic spirit and the quenching of a poetic fire. Yet, under all these difficult conditions, the spirit survived though it languished, and the fire did not die though it paled. The Celtic nature, prone to that melancholy which is the true root of pure sentiment, found solace throughout in poetic outpourings of a pathetic patriotism. The nation cherished a love of their country for its natural beauty, for the kindly hospitality of its children, for the tenderness

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