Page images

aid of study, can never understand a conversation in the Gaelic tongue. This affords a proof that the Scotch Gaelic is the most original, and, consequently, the lan. guage of a more ancient and unmixed people. The Irish, however backward they may be to allow anything to the prejudice of their antiquity, seem inadvertently to acknowledge it, by the very appellation they give to the dialect they speak. They call their own language Caelic Eirinarch, i. e. Caledonian Irish, when, on the contrary, they call the dialect of North Britain a Chaelic, or the Caledonian tongue, emphatically. A circumstance of this nature tends more to decide which is the most ancient nation than the united testimonies of a whole legion of ignorant bards and senachies, who,

perhaps, never dreamed of bringing the Scots from

Spain to Ireland, till some one of them, more learned than the rest, discovered that the Romans called the first Iberia, and the latter Hibernia. On such a slight foundation were probably built the romantic fictions concerning the Milesians of Ireland. From internal proofs it sufficiently appears that the |. published under the name of Ossian are not of rish composition. The favorite chimera, that Ireland is the mother-country of the Scots, is totally subverted and ruined. The fictions concerning the antiquities of that country, which were formed for ages, and growing as they came down on the hands of successive senachies and fileas, are found, at last, to be the sparious brood of modern and ignorant ages. To those who know how tenacious the Irish are of their pretended Iberian descent, this alone is proof sufficient, that poems, so subversive of their system, could never be produced by an Hibernian bard. But when we look to the language, it is so different from the Irish dialect, that it would be as ridiculous to think that Milton's Paradise Lost could be wrote by a Scottish peasant, as to suppose that the poems ascribed to Ossian were writ in Ireland.

The pretensions of Ireland to Ossian proceed from another quarter. There are handed down in that country traditional poems concerning the Fiona, or the heroes of Fion Mac Comnal. This Fion, say the Irish annalists, was general of the militia of Ireland in the reign of Cormac, in the third century. Where Keating and O'Flaherty learned that Ireland had an embodied militia so eally, is not so easy for me to determine Their information certainly did not come from the Irish poems concerning Fion. I have just now in my hands all that remain of those compositions; but, unluckily for the antiquities of Ireland, they appear to be the work of a very modern period. Every stanza, nay, almost every line, affords striking proofs that they cannot be three centuries old. Their allusions to the manners and customs of the fifteenth century are so many, that it is a matter of wonder to me how any one could dream of their antiquity. They are entirely writ in that romantic taste which prevailed two ages ago. Giants, enchanted castles, dwarfs, palfreys, witches, and magicians, form the whole circle of the poet's invention. The celebrated Fion could scarcely move from one hillock to another without encountering a giant, or being entangled in the circles of a magician. Witches, on broomsticks, were continually hovering round him like crows ; and he had freed enchanted virgins in every valley in Ireland. In short, Fion, great as he was, passed a disagreeable life. Not only had he to engage all the mischiefs in his own country, foreign armies invaded him, assisted by magicians and witches, and headed by kings as tall as the mainmast of a first-rate. It must be owned, however, that Fion was not inferior to them in height.

[ocr errors]

With one foot on Cromleach his brow,

The other on Grommal the dark

Fion took up with his large ha

The water from Lubar of the streams. Cromleach and Crommal were two mountains in the neighborhood of one another, in Ulster, and the rive, of Lubar ran through the intermediate valley. The property of such a monster as this Fion I should never have disputed with any nation; but the bard himself, in the poem from which the above quotation is taken, cedes him to Scotland :

Fion o Albin, siol man laouch!

Fion from Albion, race of heroes! Were it allowable to contradict the authority of a bard, at this distance of time, I should have given as my opinion, that this enormous Fion was of the race of the Hibernian giants, of Ruanus, or some other celebrated name, rather than a native of Caledonia, whose inhabitants, now at least, are not remarkable for their stature. As for the poetry, I leave it to the reader.

If Fion was so remarkable for his stature, his heroes

had also other extraordinary properties. “In weight all the sons of strangers yielded to the celebrated Ton. iosal; and for hardness of skull, and, perhaps, for thiskness too, the valiant Oscar stood ‘unrivalled an 1 alone.’” Ossian himself had many singular and less delicate qualifications than playing on the harp ; and the brave Cuthullin was of so diminutive a size, as to be taken for a child of two years of age by the gigantic Swaran. To illustrate this subject, I shall here loy before the reader the history of some of the Irish poems concerning Fion Mac Comnal. A translation of unose pieces, if well executed, might afford satisfaction, in an uncommon way, to the public. But this ought to be the work of a native of Ireland. To draw forth from obscurity the poems of my own country has wasted all the time I had allotted for the Muses; besides, I am too diffident of my own abilities to undertake such a work. A gentleman in Dublin accused me .o the pub. lic of committing blunders and absurdities in transla. ting the language of my own country, and that before any translation of mine appeared. How the gentleman came to see my blunders before I committed thern, is not easy to determine; if he did not conclude that, as a Scotsman, and, of course, descended of the Milesian race, I might have committed some of those oversights, which, perhaps very unjustly, are said to be peculiar to them. From the whole tenor of the Irish poems concerning the Fiona, it appears that Fion Mac Comnal flourished in the reign of Cormac, which is placed, by the universal consent of the senachies, in the third century. They even fix the death of Fingal in the year 268, yet his son Ossian is made contemporary with St. Patrick, who preached the gospel in Ireland about the middle of the fifth age. Ossian, though at that time he must have been two hundred and fifty years of age, had a daughter young enough to become wife to the saint. On account of this family connection, “Patrick of the Psalms,” for so the apostle of Ireland is emphatically called in the poems, took great delight in the company of Ossian, and in hearing the great actions of his family. The saint sometimes threw off the austerity of his profession, drank freely, and had his soul properly warmed with wine, to receive with becoming enthusiasm the poems of his father-in-law. One of the poems begins with this useful piece of information:

Lo don rabh Padric na mhúr
Gun Sailm air uidh, ach go! -
Ghluais a thigh Ossian mhic Fhion,

0 san leis-bu bhinn aghloir.

The title of this poem is “Teantach inor na Fiona” it appears to have been founded on the same story with the “Battle of Lora.” The circumstances and catas rophe in both are much the same: but the Irish Os. sian discovers the age in which he lived by an unlucky anachronism. After describing the total rout of Er ragon, he very gravely concludes with this remarkable anecdote, that none of the foe escaped, but a few, who were permitted to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This circumstance fixes the date of the composition of the piece some centuries after the famous croisade: for it is evident that the poet thought the time of the croisade so ancient, that he confounds it with the age of Fingal. Erragon, in the course of this poem, is often called, Rhoigh Lochlin an do shloigh, King of Denmark of two nations— which alludes to the union of the kingdom of Norway and Denmark, a circumstance which happened under Margaret de Waldemar, in the close of the fourteenth age. Modern, however, as this pretended Ossian was, it is certain he lived before the Irish had dreamed of appropriating Fion, or Fingal, to themselves. He concludes the poem with this reflection: Na faghase comhthröm man n arm, Erragon Mac Annir nan lamn glas ’San n’Albin nin’ abairtair Triath Agus ghlaoite an n’ Fhiona as. “Had Erragon, son of Annir of gleaming swords, avoided the equal contest of arms, (single combat,) no chief should have afterward been numbered in Albion, und the heroes of Fion should no more be named.” The next poem that falls under our observation is “Cath-cabhra,” or “The Death of Oscar.” This piece is founded on the same story which we have in the first book of Temora. So little thought the author

« PreviousContinue »