« PreviousContinue »
from which the ruder specimens had, as it were, been permitted, from one cause or another, to degenerate. Certain it is that a tide of culture had for ages been swelling and ebbing through the length and breadth of Erin. It seems to have culminated about the middle of the twelfth century, shortly after which period all that was characteristically Irish in art, excepting, perhaps, the musical element, gradually waned, to expire at last amid the commotions which followed a partial conquest of the island.
Fig. 2 (p. 113).—We find in the object here referred to, part of a large earthen vessel, which, undoubtedly, must be classed with the food-holders. Its material is coarse and heavy like that of much of the pottery found on the sites of pre-historic settlements along districts of our seaboard, and in crannogs with worked flints, or occasionally with objects of early bronze. It is all but plain, the only attempt at decoration consisting of a number of dot-like punctures irregularly stamped upon the shoulder. Patterns of this kind, though common on food-holders, but rarely appear upon contemporary cinerary urns.
Fig. 3.—Portion of a very remarkable earthen mould, exhibiting in its hollow a series of minute scorings, curiously similar to markings found by the late Sir Samuel Ferguson, engraved upon a cromleac at Lennan, county Monaghan, and figured by him in the pages of this Journal.1
Fig. 4.—This illustration shows a curiously curved portion of rim, as seen from the interior.
Fig. 5.—A fragment of earthenware mould, with groove; use unknown.
Fig. 6.—Part of side of food-vessel, exhibiting remains of an extremely rude pattern.
Fig. 7.—Portion of base, probably of figure 6. This is noticeable for its unusual massiveness and coarseness of texture.
I now, for the present at least, conclude my notice of the Old Connaught discoveries. Most of the objects described were kindly brought for my inspection by Miss Ida Mctzner, a German lady, by whom they were picked up on the spot, and by whom the mound was frequently visited during her stay with his Grace's family. Of the human remains I need not now write.2 The place will be reopened during the course of the summer, and, no doubt, other skulls and bones will be brought to light. All should be compared and considered together.
1 Journal, 1873, p. 524.
2 Since the first Paper on the subject of the Old Connaught find, a Paper has been read before the Royal Irish Academy by Dr. Browne, and his report on the bones found there published in the Academy's Proceeding; vol. iii., Third Series, p. 421.
ORIGIN OF THE IRISH SUPERSTITIONS REGARDING BANSHEES AND FAIRIES.
Bt The Late HERBERT HORE, Esq., Op Pole-hore, County Wexford. With Notes Bt DAVID MAC RITCHIE, F.S.A. (scot.), Fellow.
[Forming a portion of the "enormous mass of collected material for Irish history" left by the late Mr. Herbert Hore, referred to in the Society's Journal of June, 1893, at p. 213, is a series of notes on "Fairy Women" and the Fir-Sidhe in general, which appear to have been brought together during a period of about thirty years, beginning at least as early as March, 1844. These notes Mr. Hore subsequently incorporated in a Paper apparently written for this Society, of which he was a Member and office-bearer; but, for one reason or another, his Paper and the relative notes have never yet been published. As they have now come into my possession, and as they bear closely upon the subject of a Paper contributed by me to the Journal of December, 1893, and of a subsequent comment by Mr. George Coffey, M.b.i.a. [Journal of June, 1894, pp. 184-187), it seems to me that Mr. Hore's observations may very fitly be printed in these pages. His view of the origin of the fairies will be seen to correspond very closely with the opinions to which I have myself given expression in the article referred to, and in other published works; and I may be permitted to point out as an interesting, and it may be a significant fact, that while the train of thought followed by Mr. Hore and by myself is almost identical, his collection of notes ante-dates my own by fully thirty years, and neither theorist knew of the existence of the other. This of itself may be no proof of the probable correctness of the theory, but it appears worthy of remark.
In order to avoid weighing down the article with editorial notes and comments, I have postponed these to the end, and have restricted their size and number as far as possible. It seems best to let Mr. Hore speak for himself, even although he occasionally puts things in a different way from his editor.]
'he few following pages are an attempt to trace the origin, the realities,
or truth of the ancient superstitious ideas which are prevalent in Ireland regarding the fabulous beings called fairies; and also particularly to account for the superstition of the banshee, which is peculiar to that country. The latter idea—of an apparition in female form, so prescient of the future, as to foretel the approach of death to human creatures—is a pretty one for poetry, the very germ of which is invention; but as our inquiries may, perhaps, show that it is not a pure invention, we offer our investigations for the consideration of learned lovers of such lore.
Of the many superstitions which prevailed among the Celtic Irish, there is none more poetical than the beautiful and touching idea of the banshee, a feminine spirit, whose affection for the lordly Gaelic family to which she was attached, was exhibited on the approaching death of some destined one of the loved race, when she appeared as a weeping and lamenting spectre. This is a superstition peculiar, as we have said, to Ireland, and significant of a country where high descent was held in veneration, and where the stories of the illustrious native families have, like the national melodies, "breathings as sad as the wind over graves." These mourning spirits were entirely hereditary in their sympathies, which were, moreover, so aristocratic and exclusive, as to be reserved solely for families of pure Gaelic blood, never favouring nor caring for the descendants of the Norman invaders, and still less for the offspring of adventurers of more recent settlement.
Let us now, by strict process of analysis, decompose this pretended spiritual phenomenon, and resolve it into its elements. The result will be no spectre, no phantom, but a visible human form!
What is the etymon of the word "banshee "? or, rather, what have been its changing meanings? Its root, the Gaelic words bean-sidhe, pronounced banshidhe, or banshee, is literally a woman of the fairies; and in old Gaelic tales and poems the word ordinarily implied a woman of the fairy residences on hills. The notion that it means a spectral female, cognisant and annunciatory of the approaching death of human beings, is quite modern. The Irish word bean (pronounced bann) represents a woman; and the term sidh, pronounced shee, is applied, in old writings, to every supposed seat of fairies. How close the analogy is between this Gaelic word tidh, the Latin tedes and situs, and the English words 'seat,' 'site,' and 'residence,' will strike our etymologic readers.1 The word 'fairy' seems to be compounded of the Gaelic, fear (Latin, vir), 'man,' and tidhe, 'of the seats.' This gives fear-shee, and in the feminine banshee. Our great lexicographer, Johnson, is confessedly at fault in his attempt to find the correct derivation of the word 'fairy.' Some dictionary-makers derive it from an Anglo-Saxon term, signifying faring folk, or wandering people. But this is an instance of their neglect of Gaelic, a language which is the root of many words in common use. The term, far from denoting a vagrant caste, seems, according to the authorities we are about to cite, to designate a people who peculiarly dwelt in fixed habitations. The authority we rely most upon is the learned Colgan, who thus explains the term:—" Viri Sidhe. Est Hibernismus. Spiritus enim hominibus in facie humana apparentes vocantur Hibernice Firsidhe, seu Fir-shithe, i.e. viri de montibus vel collibus, personae namque quas infestant, et hinc rudis populus persuasum habent amaeniores colles domicilia eis esse, quia & talibus simulant se prodire" (" Acta Sanctorum," torn, i., p. 56, col. 2, n. 6). And further on our author gives this additional annotation:—" Viri Sidhe ab Hibernis spiritus phantastici vocantur, ex eo quod ex amcenis collibus, quasi prodire conspiciantur ad homines infestandos: et hinc vulgus credat eos quasi in quibusdam subterraneis
1 See note 1, p. 127.
habitaculis intra istos collcs habitare, haec autem habitacula, et aliquando ipsi colles ab Hibernis Sidhe, vel Siodha, vocantur" ("Acta Sanctorum," torn, ii., p. 32, col. 1, n. 49). In the foregoing passage he first states that the term 'viri sidhe' is an Hibernicism, and his two explanatory paragraphs may be thus rendered:—
"The beings in question are spirits, which appear to men in human form; and are called 'the men of the hills,' because they are seen in such places; and hence the common people have the persuasion that pleasant hills are their abodes, because they seem to appear from such." Further, "these fantastic spirits derive their name from pleasant hills, because they appear on them, looking out for human beings, whose presence is odious to them; and hence the common people believe that they live in certain underground habitations within these hills, the which habitations, and sometimes the hills themselves, are called sidhe or siodha."
This is, we conceive, a satisfactory explanation of the basis, or beginning, of the notions about fairies. Either adopting, or at least acquainted with it, the author of " Ogygia," Part m., chap. 21, explains that sidh means a hill remarkable for its beauty, the feigned habitation of sidhe or fairies.
The word sidh enters, agreeably with the sense so assigned to it, into the names of many places in Ireland. Thus the earliest name of Mount Leinster, as mentioned in the Life of St. Maidoc, is Sliabh-SuidheLaighean, i.e. mons sessio Lageniensium, "the mountain-seat of the people of Leinster." 1 The original name of " Shee Hill," near Baltimore, in the county of Cork, is Sidh-na-bhfear-bhfinn, i.e. "the fairy-mount of the fair men."2 This instance shows that the modern word shee is the aspirated form of the elder term sidh, and originally meant a residence in a hill. There is also Rathshee, anciently spelt Rath-sidhe, in translation, "the fort of the Shee," a site in the county of Down, selected, after the advent of Christianity, as suitable for a church, probably in order to expel the fairy superstition attached to the place.3 Many other eminences throughout Ireland have the same term entering into their names, with the same signification; and the last proof we need give of our etymologic position is the following verse, in translation, from an ancient poem1:—
"Behold the sidh before your eyes;
Probably the earliest natural habitations of the first-comers to this
1 Kelly's "Lynch's Cambrensis Eversus," ii., 790.
JOuB. B.S.A.I., VOL. V., FT. II., 5Th SeR. K
island were caves, and the earliest artificial ones were pits, or slight excavations, made in dry ground, and covered with boughs of trees and sods of earth. Of these primitive dwellings many traces are discernible in the Highlands of Scotland, where they are known as "Picts' houses," and some as "Picts' kilns," which may mean cells, and they are, as stated by Wilson in his "Prehistoric Scotland," popularly believed to be ancient breweries, in which the mysterious beverage, called heatherale, was concocted. The more general name of these souterrains, when constructed of stone, is "earth houses," or, in the country tongue, "weems" or uamha, i.e. caves; and they are said to have served to hide "the auld Pechts that held the country lang syne," with their corn, butter, and other goods in time of war.1 Throughout the sister island there" are many artificial subterraneous chambers, some of which are situated in sandy mounts, and are understood to have been the dwelling-places of inhabitants of a very remote age. The dun of Cloghpook (Puck's stone dungeon), in the Queen's County, was a cave about 36 feet long, said to communicate with small inner galleries. The series of underground chambers at Doon, in the King's County, is situated about three feet below the floor of a rath or dun, whence its name. This ancient fort stands on the summit of a hill. Until lately the rath was a thicket of thorn-trees, and the entire eminence is now overgrown with wild pine and ash. If this place was a resort of fairies, these good people manifestly preferred a cave like that at Blarney, "where no daylight enters, but bats and badgers are for ever bred," to the gorgeous palaces which fancy amuses herself by imagining as their abodes.
The common tradition that fairies haunted every locality called a "palace," is evidence that they were believed to have dwelt in these places. Yet every one of these habitations was, in its very origin, a human dwelling-place, artificially constructed, as its Gaelic name, pailIts, i.e. a palisadoed fort, implies. We may, therefore, argue that the "fairies" who lived in these seats were no other than Picts, who, as Caesar tells us, constructed similar palaces, and who seem to have been the originals of beings known as pixies and pigmies. When we reflect upon what the condition of Ireland certainly was at the time when human beings first landed on its shore, we can form some idea of what these people, whom we take to have been the original fairy men and women, really were. The entire island was covered with wood, save wherever the vast sylvan scene was prevented from spreading by the violence of sea breezes, or by the nature of the soil. Whatever was not a forest, or an impenetrable thicket, was either impassable bog, or a mountain, or the summit of a hill. It was on the hills that the first comers would settle. The woods must have been full of wild animals—
1 See note 2, p. 128.