« PreviousContinue »
book of Temora, So little thought the author of Catho 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 :
Albion 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 cirumstance the bard differs materially from Ossian. Oscar, after he was mortally wounded by Cairbar, was carried by his peo. ple to a neighbouring hill, which commanded a prospect of the sea. A feet appears at a distance, and the hero exclaims with joy,
Loingeas mo shean-athair at'an
O Albin na n' ioma stuagh. It is the fleet of my grandfather, coming with aid to our field, from Albion of many waves !" The testimony of this bard is sufficient to confute the idle fictions of Keating and O'Flaherty; for though he is far 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 high repute. The grandeur of its images, and its propriety of sentiment, might have induced me to give a translation of it, had not I some expectations of see. ing it in the collection of the Irish Ossian's poems, promised more than a year 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 often called the “ Dog of Tara,' in the county of Meath. This
severe title of the redoubtable Cuthullin,' the most re. nowned of the 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. Garibh 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 tolerable poetry. Garibh's progress in search of Cuthullin, and his intrigue with the gigantic Emir. bragal, that hero's wife, enable the poet to extend his piece to four hundred lines. This author, it is true, makes Cuthullin a native of Ireland; the gigantic Emir-bragal he calls the guiding star of the women of Ireland. 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 history of one of his episodes may, at once, stand as a specimen of his want of both. Ireland, in the days of Fion, 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 impropriety 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 invasion, sent Ca-olt, Ossian, and Oscar, to watch the pay, 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 falling very often asleep on his post ; nor was it possible to awake him, without cutting off one of his fingers, or dashing a large stone against his head. When 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, nach gan,
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 grayely desired him to spend his rage on his enemies, which he did to so good a pure pose, 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-oisal. This name is very significant of the singular property of the hero who bore it. Ton-oisal, though brave, was so heavy and unweildy, that when he sat down, it took the whole force of an hundred men to set him upright on his feet again. Luckily for the preseryation of Ireland, the hero happened to be standing when the enemy appeared ; and he gave so good an account of them, that Fion upon his arrival found little to do, but to divide the spoil among his soldiers.
All these extraordinary heroes, Fion, Ossian, Oscar, and Ca-olt, says the poet, were
Siol Erin na gorm lann.
The sons of Erin of blue steel. Neither shall I much dispute the matter with him : he has my consent also to appropriate to Ireland the celebrated Ton-oisal. • I shall only say, that they are different persons from those of the same name in the Scottish poems; and that, though the stupendous valour of the first is so remarkable, they have not been equally lucky with the latter, in their poet. It is somewhat
extraordinary, that Fion, who lived some ages before 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 language not then subsisting. A person more sanguine for the ho. nour of his country than I am, might argue from this circumstance, that this pretendedly Irish Ossian 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 Fion,
Siol Albin a n'nioma caoile.
The race of Albion of many friths. The rest make them natives of Ireland. But the truth is, that their authority is of little consequence on either side. From the instances I have given, they 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. tury. Had even the authors of these pieces avoided all allusions to their own times, it is impossible that the poems could pass for ancient, in the eyes of any per. son tolerably conversant with the Irish tongue.' The idiom is so corrupted, and so many words borrowed from the English, that that language must have made considerable progress in Ireland before the poems were written.
It remains now to shew how the Irish bards began to appropriate Ossian and his heroes to their own country. After the English conquest, many of the natives of Ireland, averse to a foreign yoke, either actually were in a state of hostility with the conquerors, or at least paid little regard to their 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 concerning 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 senachies 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 fallen, from several concurring circumstances, into the last degree of ignorance and barbarism. 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 ignorant Highland senachies, by flattering the vanity of
the Highlanders, with their long list of Heremonian 1 kings and heroes, they without contradiction assumed
to themselves the character of being the mother-nation of the Scots of Britain. At this time, certainly, was established that Hibernian system of the original of the Scots, which afterwards, for want of any other, was universally received. The Scots of the low country, who, by losing the language of their ancestors, lost, together with it, their national traditions, received im. plicitly the history of their country from Irish refugees, or from Highland senachies, persuaded over into the Hibernian system.
These circumstances are far from being ideal. We have remaining many particular traditions, which bear testimony to a fact of itself abundantly probable. What makes the matter incontestible is, that the ancient tra. ditional accounts of the genuine origin of the Scots, have been handed down without interruption. Though