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We présent some collective remarks on the principal classes of Irish antiquities, commencing with those which lay claim to the most remote origin.
CIRCLES OF UPRIGHT STONES, AND OTHER VESTIGES OF PAGAN AGES.-In common with England, Wales, Scotland, and several other European countries, this island contains numerous erections of stone, which from their rudeness are evidently the works of a very remote period, and are, indeed, of a date so early, or obscure, that the uses for which they were designed are not to be ascertained in historical record. It is believed that no country presents more frequent vestiges of this description than Ireland. Scarcely one barony of Ulster, Leinster, and Munster is destitute of interesting examples.
Circles composed of upright and unwrought stones, although very numerous in this country, are in no instance on so large a scale as the stupendous work of Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, or that of Avebury in the same county, the latter now mutilated for sordid uses, and nearly deprived of every characteristical trace of original disposal. In many instances, however, the Hibernian circles are in a good state of preservation, and are sometimes connected with unusual and curious particulars. As an example may be noticed the stones arranged in a circular form round a tumulus at New Grange, in the county of Meath, beneath which mount was constructed an extensive gallery, appearing to have been devoted to religious and sepulchral purposes. It is also observable that within some circles are found stone seats, or chairs, traditionally termed Brehon's, or judge's seats. Circles of stone in Ireland, as in England, are frequently, but not invariably, found, on tracts naturally elevated.
Cromlechs are still remaining in most parts of Ireland, but are rarely seen within, or in the immediate vicinity of the stony circle. The term cromlech is evidently derived from the words crom, bent, from the attack of men and beasts.” A map of these causeways could scarcely fail of affording much gratification to the antiquary and local historian, as it would contribute materially towards exhibiting the former state of the country, and would show the importance, in past ages, of many places now reduced to a state of utter and dreary neglect.
and leac, a flag, or stone. The monument is composed of massive stones, indeterminate in number, placed nearly upright, and supporting one large horizontal stone, almost invariably laid in a slanting direction. The probable use for which this ponderous and rude species of fabric was designed, has afforded a subject of much antiquarian discussion. Dr. Borlase, in his Antiquities of Cornwall, and several other writers of deserved reputation, believe cromlechs to have been intended as sepulchres, although some of those authors admit that, probably, divine honours were paid, and sacrifices performed to the manes of the dead, in their immediate neighbourhood.
In corroboration of the opinion that these erections were sepulchral, it must be observed that in Ireland human remains have been sometimes found beneath the area of the cromlech. A curious discovery of this kind is mentioned by Mr. Wright, and is noticed in our description of the county of Louth.
Such discoveries, however, have not been very frequent in this country or in Britain ; and many antiquaries dissent from the opinion of the writers mentioned above. Mr. King and Mr. Rowlands, in their respective works entitled Munimenta Antiqua, and Mona Antiqua Restaurata, agree in supposing “ that cromlechs, although, perhaps, often connected with the commemoration of the distinguished dead; were not themselves intended for sepulchres ; but rather, in such instances, for altars of oblation." In regard to cromlechs of very large dimensions, of which many specimens are to be seen in Ireland, Mr. King offers a ren
remark, which is ingenious, if not entirely satisfactory. From the conspicuous site on which such fabrics are usually placed, and from the readiness with which the flow of blood might be traced on a slab of stone, large and sloping as is the covering stone of these cromlechs, he supposes that they were the altars on which human victims were sacrificed, in dreadful attempts at divination. Such arguments as proceed from local observation, and affect either of the above hypotheses, will be presented in future pages, descriptive of remarkable cromlechs in this country.
Rocking-Stones, and the various phenomena of that class,
which are by some writers termed druidical works, and by others are thought to be often, if not uniformly, the operations of unaided nature, are plentifully dispersed throughout many parts of Ireland, although no very eminent examples have fallen under our observation. In Playfair's “ Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory," there are presented many arguments for believing that such phenomena are frequently “ nothing else than stones, which have been subjected to the universal law of wasting and decay, in such peculiar circumstances, as nearly to bring about an equilibrium of that stable kind, which when slightly disturbed, re-establishes itself."
It is certain that the active fancy of some examiners has seduced them into strange misconceptions, on a subject so favourable to extravagance of conjecture ; but we are decidedly of opinion that, in numerous instances, those curious results of a natural cause, which assumed the character of prodigies in the view of the unthinking, were improved, and rendered objects of superstitious practice.
Unwrought Pillars of Stone, either solitary or duplicated, are frequent in Ireland, and were often erected in Pagan times, as sensible images of the Deity, representing the solidity, strength, and perpetuity of his attributes. Such a practice is well known to have existed in the earliest ages of mankind; and we show, in another place, that these shapeless pillars were sometimes inscribed with the cross, by the priests of more enlightened days, and rendered instrumental to the conversion of the populace. Single stones, of a massive and lofty character, were likewise often erected as memorials of important events, whether felicitous or disastrous; and the chieftains of tribes were invested with authority, quite down to the time of James I. by ceremonies performed on a single stone, usually placed upon a hill. Amongst the most curious erections of this kind in Ireland, must be noticed a species of pillar, commonly ten or twelve feet in height, having a conical summit.*
• The following remarks on the general character of this rude, but curious, description of monument, are contained in a manuscript commu
Circles of stone, and the various other antiquities now under consideration, are very generally termed druidical, and, without the labour of further inquiry, are attributed by the casual observer to the priests of the Celts, or primeval inhabitants of Ireland. Some modern antiquaries dispute the propriety of a designation so indiscriminate, and with much appearance of correctness. Dr. Percy, the late erudite and excellent bishop of Dromore, in the Preface to his edition of Mallet's Northern Antitiquities, has suggested the necessity of distinguishing between the Celtic and “the Teutonic, or Belgic," relics ; * and Dr. Ledwich, in his Antiquities of Ireland, has enlarged on the bishop's view, and has assumed a ground so rigorously distinctive as to be, perhaps, scarcely tenable. The arguments of the latter writer are canvassed and criticized, with much ingenuity, by Mr. Townsend, in his Statistical Survey of the County of Cork.
nicated to the present writer.-" The Gobhlán, or beaked stone, is the only Pagan monument found in Ireland, and appearing to be sepulchral, that has been formed by a tool. These pillars are round, terminating in a kind of a beak, or snout, on which are marked a few characters resembling an inscription. Such monuments are found not only in Ireland, but in Germany, Poland, Persia, Bactria, and Hindostan ; in all which countries they exhibit the same size, form, and character; and in the east are supposed to have been erected in honour of the sun. In Ireland they are found erected on level ground, on hills, and on tumuli. Under some are signs of humation, under others none ; such being probably Termini. Of this species are the Gobhláns of Broadleigh and Mullamast.” MS. by W. Beauford, A.M. penes J. N. Brewer.
* It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader that several recent writers, amongst whom must be named Mr. Chalmers, in his elaborate work termed “ Caledonia,” maintain that the Belgic colonists of Britain and Ireland were a people of Celtic, and not Teutonic, origin. The chief argument in support of this opinion is drawn from the presumed affinity of language between the Celtæ and Belgæ, as manifested in the surviving names of waters, and other natural objects, in districts which they are believed respectively to have inhabited. Julius Cæsar describes the Belgic tribes of Gaul as using a different tongue from the other inhabitants of that country, who were confessedly Celtæ ; but Mr. Chalmers contends, that, from the intimations of Livy and Strabo, Pliny and Lucan, we may infer that Cæsar meant dialect when he spoke of language.
According to the system formed by Dr. Ledwich, the “ spiritual and refined religion of the Druids," as practiced amongst the Celtæ, allowed of no temples, except “unpolluted groves." The “ upright pillar, the stone circle," and other works usually termed druidical, he believes to be uniformly vestiges of “ Scythic" (by which term he here describes Belgic, or Firbolgian) superstition ; but he admits that a progressive “ union of the Celtic and Scythic rituals might be easily shown," and that “ the Druids, 'when known to the Greeks and Romans, had in some respects united those rituals.". Our limits prevent our entering on a discussion of the various arguments adduced in support of a distinction, concerning which the disputant has only small and feeble aid from antient writers. It may suffice to observe that many circles of stone, and other rude but impressive works, embraced under the present head of disquisition, are universally allowed to be of at least as high antiquity as the period at which the Belgæ, or Firbolgs, first attained a permanent footing in Ireland and Britain. If any additional argument should be wanted in favour of this opinion, it may be observed that in the latter country several circles of stone are crossed and injured by Roman roads.
The science of antiquities is greatly indebted to the labours of Dr. Ledwich on this subject; but, perhaps, most readers will agree in thinking that he has failed in producing conviction respecting the entire ignorance, or religious dislike of, stone temples, amongst the priests of the aborigines. It is certainly not evident from the writings of Cæsar, on whom this part of the early history of Britain chiefly depends, that the Druids of the Celtæ had any other places of Worship than sanctified groves, or woods ; but his silence upon this occasion, considering the slender character of his remarks, can scarcely be considered as a proof of the non-existence of stone-temples. It will be observed that Cæsar was chiefly acquainted with such parts of Britain as were inhabited by the Belgæ (of similar descent and habits with the Firbolgs of Ireland ;) and the delineations contained in his commentary apply, consequently, to Belgic or Firbolgian, customs and