Page images

of Cath-cabhra of making Oscar his countryman, that in the course of two hundred lines, of which the poem consists, he puts the following expression thrice in the mouth of the hero

Albin an sa d’roina m'arach.

Albion, where I was born and bred. The poem contains almost all the incidents in the first book of Temora. In one circumstance the bard dif. sers materially from Ossian. Oscar, after he was mortally wounded by Cairbar, was carried by his people to a neighboring hill which commanded a prospect of the sea. A fleet appeared at a distance, and the hero ex claims with joy,

Loingeas no shean-athair at’ an

'Siad a tiãchd le cabhair chugain,

O Albin na n’ioma stuagh. “It is the fleet of my grandfather coming with aid to our field, from Albion of many waves s”. The testi. mony of this bard is sufficient to confute the idle fic. tions of Keating and O'Flaherty, for, though he is fai from being ancient, it is probable he flourished a full century before these historians. He appears, however, to have been a much better Christian than chronologer; for Fion, though he is placed two centuries before St. patrick, very devoutly recommends the soul of his grandson to his Redeemer.

“Duan a Gharibh Mac-Starn” is another Irish poem

in great repute. The grandeur of its images, and its propriety of sentiment, might have induced me to give a translation of it, had I not some expectations, which are now over, of seeing it in the collection of the Irish Ossian's Poems, promised twelve years since to the public. The author descends sometimes from the region of the sublime to low and indecent description; the last of which, the Irish translator, no doubt, will choose to leave in the obscurity of the original. In

this piece Cuthullin is used with very little ceremony
for he is oft called the “dog of Tara,” in the 3.
of Meath. This severe title of the redoubtable Cuthul-
lin, the most renowned of Irish champions, proceeded
from the poet's ignorance of etymology. Cu, “voice”
or commander, signifies also a dog. The poet chose
the last, as the most noble appellation for his hero.
The subject of the poem is the same with that of the
epic poem of Fingal. Caribh Mac-Starn is the same
with Ossian's Swaran, the son of Starno. His single
combats with, and his victory over, all the heroes of
Ireland, excepting the “celebrated dog of Tara,” i. e.
Cuthullin, afford matter for two hundred lines of tole-
erable poetry. Cribh's progress in search of Cu-
thullin, and his intrigue with the gigantic Emir-
bragal, that hero's wife, enables the poet to extend his
piece to four hundred lines. This author, it is true,
makes Cuthullin a native of Ireland: the gigantic
Fmir-bragal he calls the “guiding-star of the women
” The property of this enormous lady I
shall not dispute with him or any other. But as he
speaks with great tenderness of the “daughters of the
convent,” and throws out some hints against the
English nation, it is probable he lived in too modern a
period to be intimately acquainted with the genealogy
of Cuthullin. -
Another Irish Ossian, for there were many, as ap.
pears from their difference in language and sentiment.
speaks very dogmatically of Fion Mac Comnal, as an
Irishman. Little can be said for the judgment of this
poet, and less for his delicacy of sentiment. The his.
tory of one of his episodes may, at once, stand as a
jo. of his want of both. Ireland, in the days of
ion, happened to be threatened with an invasion by
three great potentates, the kings of Lochlin, Sweden,
and France. It is needless to insist upon the impro-

of Ireland.

--- ====

priety of a French invasion of Ireland; it is sufficient for me to be faithful to the language of my author. Fion, upon receiving intelligence of the intended invasian, sent Ca-olt, Ossian, and Oscar, to watch the bay in which it was apprehended the enemy was to land. Oscar was the worst choice of a scout that could be made; for, brave as he was, he had the bad property of very often falling asleep on his post, nor was it possible to awake him, without cutting off one of his finrs, or dashing a large stone against his head. hen the enemy appeared, Oscar, very unfortunately, was asleep. Ossian and Ca-olt consulted about the method of wakening him, and they at last fixed on the stone as the less dangerous expedient— Gun thog Caoilte a chlach, mach gan, Agus a n’aighai chiean gun bhuail; Tri mil an tulloch gun chri’, &c. “Ca-olt took up a heavy stone, and struck it against the hero's head. The hill shook for three miles, as the stone rebounded and rolled away.” Oscar rose in wrath, and his father gravely desired him to spend his rage on his enemies, which he did to so good purpose, that he singly routed a whole wing of their army. The confederate kings advanced, notwithstanding, till they came to a narrow pass possessed by the celebrated Ton-iosal. This name is very significant of the singular property of the hero who bore it. Toniosal, though brave, was so heavy and unwieldy, that when he sat down it took the whole force of a hundred men to set him upright on his feet again. Luckily for the preservation of Ireland, the hero happened to be standing when the enemy appeared, and he gave so É. an account of them, that Fion, upon nis arrival, ound little to do but to divide the spoilamong his soldiers. All these extraordinary heroes, Fion, Ossian, Oscar, and Ca-olt, says the poet, were

[ocr errors]

Neither shall I much dispute the matter with him; he
has my consent also to appropriate to Ireland the cele.
brated Ton-iosal. I shall only say that they are dif.
ferent persons from those of the same name in the
Scots Poems; and that, though the stupendous valor
of the first is so remarkable, they have not been
equally lucky with the latter, in their poet. It is some-
what extraordinary that Fion, who lived some ages be-
fore St. Patrick, swears like a very good Christian.
Air an Dia do chum gach case.
By God who shaped every case.
It is worthy of being remarked, that, in the line
quoted, Ossian, who lived in St. Patrick's days, seems
to have understood something of the English, a lan-
guage not then subsisting. A person more sanguine
for the honor of his country than I am, might argue
from this circumstance, that this pretendedly Irish Os.
sian was a native of Scotland; for my countrymen are
universally allowed to have an exclusive right to the
second sight.
From the instances given, the reader may form a
complete idea of the Irish compositions concerning the
Fiona. The greatest part of them make the heroes of
Siol Albin a n’nioma cadile.
The race of Albion of many firths.
The rest make them natives of Ireland. But the truth
is, that their authority is of little consequence on
cither side. From the instances I have given, o
appear to have been the work of a very modern period.
The pious ejaculations they contain, their allusions to
the manners of the times, fix them to the fifteenth cen:
ury. Had even the authors of these pieces avoided all
allusions to their own times, it is impossible that the

[ocr errors]

poems could pass for ancient in the eyes of any person
tolerably conversant with the Irish tongue. The idiom
is so corrupted, and so many words borrowed from the
English, that the language must have made considera-
!!!e progress in Ireland before the poems were *...
It remains now to show how the Irish bards began
o, appropriate the Scottish Ossian and his heroes to
their own country. After the English conquest, many
of the natives of Ireland, averse to a foreign yoke,
ither actually were in a state of hostility with the con-
querors, or, at least, paid little regard to government.
The Scots, in those ages, were often in open war, and
never in cordial friendship, with the English. The
similarity of manners and language, the traditions con-
cerning their common origin, and, above all, their
having to do with the same enemy, created a free and
friendly intercourse between the Scottish and Irish
nations. As the custom of retaining bards and sena-
chies was common to both, so each, no doubt, had
formed a system of history, it matters not how much
soever fabulous, concerning their respective origin. It
was the natural policy of the times to reconcile the
traditions of both nations together, and, if possible, to
deduce them from the same original stock.
The Saxon manners and language had, at that time,
made great progress in the south of Scotland. The
ancient language, and the traditional history of the na-
tion, became confined entirely to the inhabitants of the
Highlands, then falling, from several concurring cir-
cumstances, into the last degree of ignorance and bar.
barism. The Irish, who, for some ages before the
conquest, had possessed a competent share of that kind
of learning which then prevailed in Europe, found it
no difficult matter to impose their own fictions on the
orant Highland senachies. By flattering the vanity
of the Highlanders with their long list of Ilermonian

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »