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THE LAND AND ITS PEOPLE
NE hundred or more years ago, when
Arthur Young first wrote his journal of a tour in Ireland, those who had Ireland's welfare most at heart deplored the fact that
her greatness was still practically unexplored, and the early history of her brighter days excited no interest even among her own people.”
Doctor Johnson felt this himself when he wrote, “I have long wished that Irish literature were cultivated, as Ireland is known by tradition to be a seat of piety and learning,
. and surely it would be very acceptable to be further informed regarding a people at once so ancient and illustrious."
It has been said, too, — the words are taken from the mouth of a poor parish priest, that “the Celt is melting like the snow: he
lingers in little patches in the corner of the field, and hands are stretched on every side. It is human to stretch hands to fleeting things, but as well might we try to retain the snow.”
From this it would appear that Ireland and its institutions, as they have existed in the past, and as they exist to no small extent to-day, are not yet the familiar ground that many might suppose.
Just what the reason for this indifference to its charms may be, it is impossible for any one to state; but, at all events, it is traditional to a large extent, and is a long time being lived down.
During the period of the varied fortunes of the ancient kings of Ireland's four great divisions — from perhaps the fifth century until the coming of Henry II. of England there was little connection between Ireland and the outside world, excepting always the Church which attached Ireland to Christendom.
It was, perhaps, small wonder that the Plantagenet Henry, who was in favour at Rome, was desirous of uniting the four kingdoms of Ireland as a Roman Catholic whole. He had already sent three bishops to Rome, and its
most famous of all “ Irish bulls,” if the levity be pardoned, came forth naturally from Nicholas Breakspeare, the English Pope.
The Church in Ireland, or, rather, religion in Ireland, is a subject that one approaches with dread. So much so, that it had best be avoided altogether so far as its controversial elements are concerned.
The real significant ecclesiastical aspect of Ireland of the past — or of the present, for that matter can be discussed with less trepidation.
Of the devotion of the people to their Church there can be no question, though it smacks not a little of the devotion of the ivy to the tree.
It has been said before now that “the houses of the people are indecently poor and small, and the houses of the Church are indecently rich and large. Out of the dirt and decay they rise always proud and sometimes ugly and substantial, as though to inform the world that at least one thing is not dying and despondent, but keeps its loins girded and its lamps trimmed."
All of which is, - or was, – perhaps, true enough in the abstract; but, tempus fugit, and Ireland, if not actually grown, as yet, more prosperous, or, in many parts, any less primitive, is without question becoming, throughout, more enlightened; and the traveller, walking or driving across the wastes of the west, will not cavil at the fact that the first thing to break the monotony of the horizon is a church spire or tower, or that it towers over a little group of cottages huddled about it. Sometimes, indeed, these church buildings are poor and rough; but these are becoming fewer and fewer, and are now gradually, even in the poorest districts, being replaced by more pretentious structures. The last few years have seen in Ireland a great activity in the building of these chapels, though they are not always of the artistic value of many of the older examples.
The economists and political agitators have, of late, drawn attention to the “ positive sinfulness of the increase of chapels and religious buildings side by side with the increase of poverty. This may have existed up to the last half-century, but, as surely as the seasons change, a new era for Ireland is close upon it,