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that a people accustomed to the refinements found in their own laws, should be conspicuous for a love of justice.*
The office and property of the Brehon, or judge, were hereditary. His seat of judgment was in the open air, and on a spot either naturally or artificially elevated. Several of the seats
* On the final abolition of the Brehon laws in the time of James I, the manuscripts in which they were collected were widely dispersed, and were, perhaps, in many instances intentionally destroyed. Many fragments have survived the ravages of time ; and General Vallancey, in the Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, has presented the public with a translation of several extracts. It is understood that fourteen volumes of fragments of these laws, now in the possession of the Gaëlic Society of Ireland, are preparing for the press, under the direction of Mr. OʻReily. The most valuable and extensive collection is reposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. The fragments translated by General Vallancey, relate to sumptuary and miscellaneous laws. It may be necessary to remark that these curious fragments had baffled all efforts at translation, previous to the attempt of Vallancey. It was suspected that this difficulty arose from an affectation of obscurity in the writer, and was insurmountable without a glossary, or key, that was not to be discovered. The success of General Vallancey, of course, created much surprise ; and here we must regret the want of courtesy with which antiquarian discussion was conducted in Ireland, some years back. The strength of language often adopted might, indeed, have induced the native of another country to look with apprehension on the peril of entering lists, where weapons of severe infliction were in use, rather than the rebated lances of the urbane tournament. The paroxysm, however, fortunately for the interests of literature, lasted for a short term only. It was during the prevalence of this unusual bitterness of spirit, that the Author of the “ Antiquities of Ireland,” asserted that “the translations in the Collectanea must be esteemed a literary imposition on the public," until the Author produced the glossary, or key, which assisted him in performing the task. In the preliminary discourse to Dr. Leland's history it is asserted, that“ a considerable part of the difficulty which Mr. Lluyd, and other inspectors of these books, hitherto experienced, arose, it seems, from not adverting to the proper method of reading them; as they are written in the manner well known to the Grecian antiquary by the name of BOUSTROPHEDON. The unusual inversion of lines occasioned apparent incoherence and confusion. When this circumstance was once pointed out, the difficulties arising from an obsolete language appeared not so considerable."
attributed to the Brehons are still existing, and will be noticed in
Under such a government and such laws, the people of Ireland were necessarily very far removed from that state of barbarism that has been attributed to the country by some rash and splenetic writers. But the existence of so many independent states, in an island of moderate population, unavoidably retarded the progress of those arts and sciences, on which not only the real dignity, but the comfort of society depends. The rational calculation of the examiner is here supported by the pages of the annalist. We find, from credible documents, that states so naturally subject to rivalry were continually engaged in wars against each other, which had no aim but ambition or rapine, and no possible end but scenes of carnage, almost equally disgusting whether we view the sanguinary triumph of the successful, or figure the distress of the vanquished. Faint, and of little avail, are the tints of melioration imparted to so dreary a picture by occasional traits of generosity and heroism.
That want of unanimity which prevented the natives from attaining a satisfactory proficiency in many of the arts of peace, exposed them, also, an easy prey, to the arms of neighbouring countries. The history of Ireland presents, through most of the early and middle ages, a succession of invasions, which the utmost chivalry of the nation, when not condensed under one great head of government, was quite unable to resist.
The military character encouraged by the existence of many rival states, and employed, from the same cause, chiefly in domestic warfare, led to a neglect of commerce (the mother of the arts), if not to a disdain of so pacific an avocation. The custom of Gavelkind, although evidently calculated to prevent the durable investment of extensive property, even in the most successful families of warlike ages, still led to an habitual dependance on landed inheritance; and was, therefore, unfavourable to the cultivation of traffic and the mechanical arts. It is uniformly allowed that the commerce of Ireland, throughout many of the centuries
now under consideration, was chiefly carried on by Danish colonists.
We have noticed, with much pleasure, in a previous page, the literary eminence attained by the Irish in the sixth and two following centuries. From the constitution of society it is, however, improbable that the advantages of learning extended far beyond the cloister. In this respect Ireland shared in the condition of neighbouring countries; and it must be ever remembered, to the credit of național talent and liberality, that she eclipsed all competitors in the literature of those ages, and readily imparted to less favoured districts the benefits she had laboriously acquired.
There are not any traces of antiquity to sanction us in believing that some Irish writers have not enlarged, in terms too florid, on the bardic intimations of splendid courts, and pompous establishments, amongst many Irish kings and their chief nobles. A high degree of military dignity was, undoubtedly, maintained by those personages. Their own fertile island supplied them with numerous materials of rude grandeur ; and the commercial spirit of the northern tribes added many foreign luxuries.
It is observable that no researches have succeeded in proving that the antient Irish had any coinage of their own. It is certain that no coins, unquestionably from an Irish mint, are known to exist; and the erics, or fines, specified in the Brehon laws, are usually estimated by cumals of cattle. The Danes coined money in Ireland, of which considerable quantities are preserved in different cabinets. That the antient Irish possessed numerous ornaments of gold is, however, correctly ascertained. Many discoveries of such curious and valuable relics are mentioned in future pages; and from these it will be evident that the Irish, if not sufficiently refined to feel the want of a coinage, were still masters of considerable wealth in the precious metals.
Whilst the political constitution of the country would appear to have been inimical to those pursuits which truly enrich a state, and form its best claim to ascendancy in the scale of nations, there were arts cultivated which were congenial even to a continued state of military contest, and had power to impart a fallacious
charm to acts of sanguinary aggression. Poetry and music were these arts ; and both were made to sympathize with scenes of contention,
with the festival of the victor and the groans of the discomfited. In all those ages during which war was the chief business of society, and commerce was little known, the romantic scenery of Ireland echoed to the strains of her bards. Their songs stimulated the warrior to enterprize, and raised enthusiasm in the hall of triumph. In the same halls the bards formed the genealogists of their patrons, and the historians of public events.
The professors of the divine arts of poetry and music were rewarded with honours and emoluments, proportionate to the value of their efforts to elevate the national feeling, and to eternize the exploits of distinguished warriors. The harp of Ireland, which constituted its pride in prosperity, proved the solace of its adverse hours. It often encouraged a spirit of romance in real life, and added to rational regret a vein of lamentation over scenes of visionary bliss, created by its own powers; but it likewise assisted in preserving features of national heroism, admirable in the esteem of the brave and the generous of all countries and ages. Until the seventeenth century, representatives of the ancient bards were still protected and cherished in the mansions of the noble and afluent. Although their order be now extinct, their songs and melodies form subjects of exquisite pleasure, and act as emphatic memorials of the national superiority, at an early period, in those arts which “ exalt and enchant the human soul."
- h IRELAND SUBSEQUENT TO THE ENTRY OF THE ENGLIAH.Ireland, in the latter part of the twelfth century, had little cause to apprehend the formidable interference of foreign powers, if its strength had been collectively exercised under one efficient head of government. In regard to the quarter whence such an interference took place, it is evident that Henry II. of England had for some time meditated the union of the two islands beneath his own crown ; but it was sufficiently proved, by the events of many succeeding ages, that other objects of policy or ambition,
and the unsettled state of its own affairs, prevented the English government from seriously devoting its powers to the reduction of the Irish princes. On deliberate reflection, the patriot of each land will allow that the junction of the two countries must be conducive to mutual interest, whilst such modes of legislation are adopted as are due to an associated, not a conquered, people.
Ambition alone was sufficient to stimulate Henry to the annexation of Ireland to his crown, in an age when the reputation of a sovereign chiefly arose from his extent of enterprize. Accordingly we find that, shortly after he ascended the throne, Henry II. procured from Pope Adrian a bull, sanctioning him in a project he entertained of adding that island to his dominions."
The various troubles which accumulated around the head of Henry at an early period of his reign, caused him to Gelay the prosecution of this purpose ; and we cannot, indeed, point to any date of his long, but disturbed, career in which he would have found leisure for such an undertaking. But the perplexed and dangerous form of political constitution in Ireland, so prolific of faction, and decidedly inimical to the growth of public spirit, led to the entry of the English at the request of a native prince.
Dermod Mac Morough, King of Hy Kinselagh, or South Leinster, was vanquished in the storm of faction, and, according to uniform assertion, merited the ill-fortune which he experienced. That he was turbulent, cruel, and treacherous, is shown in many pages of the Irish annals. It is, however, worthy of remark that his tyranny appears to have been chiefly directed towards the ennobled and powerful part of his subjects, in counterbalance of whose influence he protected the commonalty, in an unusual degree. So base is his character, that we are constrained to believe this appearance of tenderness proceeded from policy rather than feeling; and it is mentioned merely with a view of accounting for an unexpected share of popularity which he possessed
* This bull is printed in Hibernia Expugnata ; Rymer's Fedora ; Lyttelton's History of Henry II. ; Leland's Hist. of Ireland ; and several other works.