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CHAPTER V.

RELIGIOUS ART AND ARCHITECTURE

has been claimed that Ireland has no disIT

tinctive art or architecture, and that the venerable ruins of monasteries and churches, the stone crosses, the curiously interwoven traceries of stone carving, the illuminated manuscripts, and even the famous round towers themselves were all transplanted from a former home; and that the jewelry, bangles, brooches, and rings, which we fondly believe are Celtic, are nothing more than Byzantine or Eastern motives, which found their way to Ireland in some unexplained manner.

Whether this be acceptable to the average reader or not, whether he remarks the similarity between certain of the Celtic (?) motives and similar decorative effects in wood and stone known to belong to the Northmen, or whether he prefers to think them an indigenous growth and development of Ireland itself, matters little, in a broad way.

Nowhere but in Ireland are there so splendidly executed and preserved traceries of the peculiar sort which is shown in the crosses at Kells and Monasterboice, and, in manuscript, in the “ Book of Kells.” Nowhere are there more numerous or more gracefully proportioned round towers than in the Emerald Isle, and nowhere are there more consistently and thoroughly expressed Norman and Gothic forms than in the many ecclesiastical remains which exist to-day, though many of these establishments have not the magnitude or splendour of others elsewhere.

The palaces of the Irish kings would have, perhaps, the chief interest for us to-day, did they but exist in more tangible form than reputed sites and mere heaps of stones. From the chronicles we know that they were splendid residential establishments, but not much more.

The chief of the palaces whose splendours are celebrated in Irish history were the Palace of Emania, in Ulster, founded or built by Macha, queen of Cinbaeth the First, about the year B. C. 700; Tara, in Meath; Cruachan, in Conact, built by Queen Meave, the beautiful, albeit Amazonian, Queen of the West, about the year B. C. 100; and Ailech, in Donegal, built on the site of an ancient sun-temple, or Tuatha de Danaan, fort-palace.

Kincora had not at this period an existence, nor had it for some centuries subsequently. It is said to have never been more than the local residence, though a palatial one, of Brian Boru.

Emania, next to Tara the most celebrated of all the royal palaces of ancient Erin, stood on the spot now marked by a large rath called the Navan Fort, two miles to the west of Armagh. It was the residence of the Ulster kings for a period of 855 years.

The mound or Grianan of Ailech, upon which, even for hundreds of years after the destruction of the palace, the O'Donnells were elected, installed, or "inaugurated," is still an object of wonder and curiosity. It stands on the crown of a low hill by the shores of Lough Swilly, about five miles from Londonderry.

Royal Tara has been crowned with an imperishable fame in song and story. The entire crest and slopes of Tara Hill were covered with buildings at one time; for not only did a royal palace, the residence of the Ard-Ri (or High King) of Erin, stand there, but, moreover, the legislative chambers, the military buildings, the law courts, and royal universities surrounded it. Of all these nought now remains but the moated mounds or raths that mark where stood the halls within which bard and warrior, ruler and lawgiver, once assembled in glorious pageant.

The round towers of Ireland form a subject of curious and speculative interest to him who views them for the first time, as, indeed, they do to most folk, learned or otherwise. The actual invention and construction of these round towers are clothed in much darkness. It had previously been supposed that these extraordinary erections were the work of the Danes, but this position seems to be entirely untenable on many grounds, the chief being that no similar structures exist, or probably ever have existed, in the native country of the Danes, and are, indeed, notably absent from many parts of Ireland where the Danes

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