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The Author, soon after he had left the university, sent a letter to a fellow student, who had gone · to America, containing an account of Irish affairs for a few years preceding. This letter was published in London in 1792, about seven years after it was written; and from the favourable character given of this juvenile production in the Monthly Review,* the Author was induced to undertake the present history, which, from various causes, has been long delayed. In the execution of the work he exerted great industry in endeavouring to attain the real truth, but a particular quotation of authorities would be inconsistent with the plan of an abridgment.
* Review for June 1792.
'The Irish antiquaries have laboured above all others CHAP. 1. to attach peculiar dignity to the country which is the = object of their panegyric, and, in the ardour of their zeal, have taken the ideal conceits of bards for true history. Without attending to the whimsies of these, it is just necessary to mention, that Ireland was first peopled by a colony of the Celtæ, a nation, of very remote antiquity, that Original inspread over western Europe, whose language resembled habitan that used by the original Irish at present. Having extended themselves over Germany and Gaul, they passed over to Great Britain, and thence to Ireland, and, after possessing this country for many ages, were at length disturbed by the Firbolgs, a branch of the great Scythian swarm, that came over from Belgic Gaul. The Celtæ, being occupied in the chace, lived in forests; the Firbolgs, . like their brethren in Germany, resided for a great part of
CHAP. I. the year in artificial caves. By these, it is supposed, some
knowledge of letters was introduced, and, of course, they
ing to about five thousand men. . Religion.
The religion of the people was druidism, a severe system of superstition, whose priests, termed druids, by means of excommunication and other modes of punishment, obtained supreme sway over them, and obliged them, as well in temporal as spiritual concerns, to submit to their decisions. Their peculiar doctrines were not completely divulged to the laity, nor committed to writing, but contained in verses, which were carefully treasured up in memory. It is supposed they prescribed the worship of the sun or fire, of which some relic still remains in the custom of lighting up bonfires on the eve preceding the twenty-fourth of June.
Their places of worship were lonely groves, for which they
culcated the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Govern. The most ancient form of government in Ireland was a
number of provincial kings, of whom one assumed, for a time, the title of monarch, exacting from the rest, when he could effect it, a kind of homage, military service, and also tribute. The number was certainly indefinite, varying according to círcumstances, and was not confined to five, but extended to six, seven, or more. Each of these kings had
* Druidism is taken from dpus, quercus, an oak.