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superior to whatever speaks with strings.' Fuller, in his 'Holy War,' has a kindly word to say of it.
It was but natural that this minstrelsy and consummate playing on the harp should resuscitate the art of Poetry. Music and Poetry are mutual handmaidens-and so, after a blank lapse of a couple of centuries, we find bards and bardism reviving. The O'Dalys are the most conspicuous of the race; one Donough More O'Daly, Abbot of Boyle about 1230, was called the Irish Ovid. His brother, Carrol O'Daly, was, it is asserted, the author of the music and words of the beautiful and unsurpassed melody, 'Eileen-a-roon.' The history of this composition is a romance in itself; the lyric is of the tenderest, and the melody so affected Handel that he said he would rather have created that simple air than be the author of the most elaborate composition he had published. Carrol O'Daly deserves immortality far better than Miss Brooke's friend, the ancient Fergus.
It was, however, but a brief revival of bardism. The perpetual internecine struggles extinguished again the poetic spirit. The bards also had used their position to stir up strife and encourage feuds and factions: they became political agitators under the guise of musicians. They were proscribed; and by the statute of Kilkenny (Edward III.) it was made penal to shelter one of them. They such as they were-led a fugitive life, and sunk to a very low level: became village satirists or perambulating versifiers; lost their natural power and place-the very poetry was harassed out of them. Edmund Spenser, in his View of the State of Ireland,' advocated their abolition. He had, it is true, 'caused divers of their poems to be translated unto me, and surely they savoured of sweet wit and good invention
THE IRISH BARDS AND SONG-WRITERS.
sprinkled with some pretty flowers of their natural device which gave grace and comeliness unto them.' But, notwithstanding, he found that they 'seldom choose the sayings and doings of good men for the argument of their poems; but whomsoever they found lawless in life, most dangerous and desperate in his disobedience, him they set up and glorify, and make an example to the young men to follow.' Hence, argued the gentle Spenser, it were expedient the race of bards should be exterminated.
The race, however, though proscribed, lingered on, and were represented by men of varying ability in each succeeding century. Some translations from the songs of the better-known of these in later times are given herein, but, with few conspicuous exceptions, there is nothing very brilliant or remarkable in the poems, odes, and songs of the transition period—that is, the period when the English language was superseding the native. The old system of hereditary bardship was maintained down to the Elizabethan wars-a system which, though sanctioned and hallowed by antiquity, was, from a poetic point of view, open to the objection that the divine afflatus is not hereditary, and that a very eloquent bard and poet might be the ancestor of a race of most unpoetic and altogether worthless bards. The bardic productions of this long transition period run in one trite groove denunciation of invaders and settlers-Cromwell and his men—and attachment to the Young Pretender and hope of his restoration. In fact, the songs of this time are political in a great measure, and with political minstrelsy the ancient race of hereditary bards in Ireland happily became extinct. And a new and better style of composition-more true to nature, more
simple, more homely-is to be found in the humble poets who, amongst a nation of voiceless singers, found voice for the hopes, and joys, and loves that lay round their hearts. The spirit and tone of the songs of these later writers are peculiar to Ireland, and are characteristic of the race. Before, however, we endeavour to explain the peculiarities of this branch of Irish literature, and briefly consider the condition of Irish poetry at this period, we shall inquire what the bards have done for Irish literature.
To the bards, no matter how poorly we esteem them now, the credit is due of having nurtured and perpetuated the poetic instincts of the Irish race. For nearly a thousand years they were a power in the land second only to the kings and chiefs. They elevated their patron chiefs into heroes; invented for them elaborate genealogies to show a descent from royal and remote ancestors; manufactured history and magnified tradition; and preached a standard of excellence toward which all should strive. They composed and sung their martial songs to incite the warriors to battle, and to assure them of immortal renown when they 'fell fighting fearful odds, for the ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods.' They made heroes of men and gods of heroes. The eulogiums on kings and heroes were, in Ireland as in ancient Greece, cast into a verse shape by the bards-as were the laws of the country and the actions of the great men. These versifying records or monodies or historical cadences were recited or sung, and though they were very unpoetic, they satisfied the ear of a people who, dwelling in a pastoral country, had not only the leisure to learn and to sing, but also an artless and frank spirit fitted to admire heroes, and a nature suited for the appreciation of the
THE IRISH BARDS AND SONG-WRITERS.
simple dignity of the warlike odes chanted to them. The war-songs and all the compositions are rather ordinary, judging by a nineteenth-century standard; but they were designed for no more than to animate the vulgar, and were only of an ephemeral character. They were composed for a sympathetic audience with whom military ardour, glory and fame were summits of ambition, and as such they served their aim; but as poems, the writers of them never shook themselves free of exaggeration or emancipated themselves from myth. Magnified exploits of mythical ancestors were considered by the bards as creating the noblest emulation to heroism and bravery. But however stirring they may have been as incentives to uphold the renown of ancient intrepid heroism, they are so abundant in trivialities and absurdities as to be tiresome to the last degree.
But though the bards perpetuated the poetic instincts. of the nation, and kept alive and intensified the fervour of national feeling which still is strong in the Celtic character, it cannot be said that they or their works have had any effect whatsoever on the later poetic literature of the country. Indeed, notwithstanding Hardiman and Walker and Miss Brooke, it is a small loss, and one little to be regretted, that the majority of their 'poems' have gone irrevocably and irretrievably down the stream of Time into the great ocean of Oblivion. The so-called historical poems of which they were the fathers, were no more than metrical records, which to judge from the remains were mere prose of a very ordinary, not to say bald, character. This seems somewhat anomalous in a nation that had earned a reputation for an epigrammatic style and that was early renowned for its poetic powers, and in a race to which so unfriendly a critic as Mommsen
allows a most decided talent for poetry. Yet, though the annals of the country are full of events which could have supplied all the elements for historical epics, full of dramatic action, of love and war, of feasting and mourning, of fidelity and treachery, of moving incidents of all descriptions, still the bardic literature is singularly deficient in this respect. Later song-writers have indeed caught the spirit of some of the early historical incidents; but whether it is because of the want of the power of sustained effort, or from some other cause, these events are subjects for songs only-are condensed into a few verses, whereas they are large and wide enough for an epic or a drama. In regard to immortalising the salient episodes of the history of the land, a Maclise has served us better even than a Moore.
The bards and their works are altogether disappointing, and they possess no human interest to any of this generation, except antiquaries and the like-not even to the most patriotic. Place the work of the best of the early bards in comparison with such early poetry as that of the entire book of Job, and see how insignificant and jejune the literary remains of these royally-honoured poets are. They themselves, high as their estate was and great the honours paid to them, were unable to maintain a pre-eminence and dignity which were primarily based on their poetic powers. They became degraded and even hateful occasionally. Old Keating in his wonderful 'History of Ireland' says once of them, while yet they were an institution: 'These professors were become very chargeable to the inhabitants, and being of a covetous disposition were a grievance insupportable to the people; and upon account of the privileges and immunities enjoyed by these versifiers from the indulgence of former