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exertion can con.mand to render the IRISH SHIELD and MONTHLY MILESIAN, a historic literary and dramatic bouquet.
The columns of the number which we now present, will be found fraught with original matter, possessing, we think, the recommendations of VARIETY and INTEREST.
In every succeeding number we shall give a RETROSPECT OF IRISH POLITICS, in which we shall exhibit a view of the leading events in Ireland, during the month preceding our publication.
We regard the reception which Mr. O'CONNELL may meet in the British Parliament, as the casting of the die of Ireland's fate. If the popular representatives of seven millions of people is insolently expelled from the House of Commons, the game of English despotism is lost the burning brand is flung into the combustible ingredients of Irish indignation, and in the tremendous explosion, the power of England must be annihilated for ever! are on their march in Ireland, and oppression cannot arrest their progress.
HISTORY OF IRELAND.
It has often been asked by foreigners, why a country justly boasting of her poets and orators, has not produced an able historian, who can be classed with a Voltaire, a Gibbon, or a Robertson; and why the learning of an Usher, or the genius of a Swift, has left no historical monument to perpetuate the ancient glories of a nation, that in remote ages was styled, the "Isle of learning, and the school of the west?" We confess our inability to answer the question satisfactorily.
Perhaps the primary cause of the desideratum, in our ancient history, may be principally ascribed to the zeal of St. Patrick, who, to the eternal loss of Irish literature, caused more than 500 volumes of our records to be committed to the flames at Tara. McDermott, Lynch, and Flanagan, are of opinion that Ossian's autographs blazed in the conflagration kindled by the Christian Missionary. Another cause of the scantiness of historical materials, may be fairly traced to the assiduity of Danish and English invaders, to annihilate all memorials of our ancient greatness, power, and grandeur.
Still it must be confessed, that the ancient chronology of all countries, as well as that of Ireland, is extremely erroneous and uncertain. What is the boasted alleged origin of the Greeks from the gods, but the creation of poetical fancy, the chimerical mythology of Hesiod, Homer, and other Grecian fabulists?
Even in holy writ, there are the most irreconcileable anachronisms. The Septuagint and many of the fathers of the church, fix the period intervening the creation, and the vocation of Abraham, at 3513 years, whilst the Hebrews and many Christian ecclesiastics compute it but 2023! Varro, the Roman historian, finding it impossible to grope his way through the dark mazes of chronology, declared that the dates and epochs of all the events, said to have occurred before the first Olympiad, (i. e. the year after the creation 3232,) were but the imaginary computations of fiction. We find that the Greeks began to reckon their historical eras by the olympiads, and the Romans distinguished theirs by the period that elapsed from the foundation of the ETERNAL CITY." Hence we are not to wonder at the discrepancy in the chronological order of ancient Irish events, particularly those that took place before the coming of our Milesian ances
The authenticity of the events enumerated in our annals, is at least as well established as that of the history of England, and the united testimony of foreign and native writers has fortified our pretension to remote antiquity, with evidence and arguments that cannot be impeached or subverted. The historic pillars that support the proud edifice of our illustrious origin, like those of Hercules, cannot be destroyed; they, (thanks to our ancient Monks,) escaped the rage of the Danes, the fury of the Henries, and the Richards; the rapacity and perfidy of the myrmidons of the sanguinary Elizabeth, and the ruthless and diabolical fanaticism of Oliver Cromwell. Some English and Scottish writers, actuated by rancorous prejudice, regard the whole of our traditional, and even our written records of early times, with a fastidious degree of incredulity. This unwarrantable scepticism, with which these writers are so incurably infected, may be justly imputed to their ignorance of the Irish language, and the consequent de
vision with which they treat of our historical events and circumstances; and the impotent attempt, which they make to give them a fabulous aspect. But some of their own historians have denominated Ireland, "the venerable mother of Britain and Albany." These sceptical writers seem to have adopted the maxim of Voltaire, in their opinions of Irish history-" that incredulity is the source of wisdom." The philosophic Lord Bolingbroke has indeed asserted, that it is an egregious folly to endeavour to establish universal pyrrhonism, in matters of historical investigation, because there are no histofries without a mixture of facts and fiction. We think, however, that there is more truth in the opinion of the splendid moralist, Dr. Johnson, who steadily maintained that all the colouring of history was imparted by the pencil of fancy. How, then, can it excite surprise, if there are defects in the chronological arrangements of Irish history, when even in the present age of literature and philosophic light, we cannot find any two accounts of the same event perfectly in accordance, in the detail of their minute circumstances and leading features. There is an anecdote related in the life of Sir Walter Raleigh, which throws a blaze of illustration on the subject. One morning, after his confinement in the Tower of London, by the order of the fanatic pedant James I. while deeply engaged in reconciling the jarring and contrary accounts of various historians, respecting some noted transactions that had occurred in the early of the world, he was annoyed and disturbed by a fray which happened in the courtyard exactly under his window. He was not able to see the transactions with his own eyes, so that he was anxious to obtain a narrative of it, from the first person that came into his apartment, who gave a circumstantial account of it, which he asserted to be correct, as he had seen, he said, the entire affair. In a few minutes after he had given his detail of the occurrence, another friend, Paul Pry-like, dropped in, who gave a different version of the disturbance, and just as his relation was finished a third person entered, who asserted he was an eye-witness of the fracas, and his recital of it was as opposite and as contradistinguished as light and darkness, from the narratives of the two preceding observers. Sir Walter, astonished at the amazing discrepancy in their stories, exclaimed," Good God! how is it possible I can pretend to arrive at certainty, respecting events which happened 3000 years ago, when I cannot obtain a correct account of what happened under my window, only three hours since."-Every province in Ireland had its historian, who kept its records, and every chief had his laureate and antiquarian; for so late as the usurpation of Cromwell, we find that the famous Bard McDairy, (some of whose productions we shall translate for the SHIELD,) was the Bard of the Earl of Thomond. In a country where there was much competition among poets and historians, we must be so candid as to admit, that it is probable that, in order to swell the panegyric of their chieftains and patrons, they often decked their fame and exploits in the tinsel drapery of poetic imagination. As a question becomes more complicated and involved," says the discriminating Doctor Hawkesworth, "and extends to a greater number of relations, disagreement of opinion will always be multiplied, not because we are irrational, but because we are finite beings, furnished with different kinds of knowledge, exerting different degrees of attention." But though a portion of fable has been infused into our early history, yet the credit that attaches to the events connected with the landing of the Milesian colony in A. M. 2736, and the transactions and circumstances of the subsequent ages, which intervened from that epoch, until the invasion of Henry II. are authenticated by historical evidence which cannot be impeached.*
The first materials of history must have been collected from national traditions, public inscriptions, and other authorities of a similar complexion; and though the accounts delivered through the medium of popular legends, should even escape the tinge and alloy of hyperbolical exaggeration, yet the person who first recorded them, flattered with the novelty of being the original historian of his country, is naturally induced to exalt their character by the embellishments of style, and the colouring of poetry, in order to cover the barren field of incident with the verdure of imagination, and people it with heroes and heroines that never had existence. Succeeding historians, finding it difficult to separate fiction from fact, or perhaps in some instances, rather obeying the impulse of their desires than the approbation of their judgment, record all the fabricated accounts which they received with historical fidelity.
Though the ancient annals of Rome are replete with fiction, the Roman historians have drawn no line of distinction between the true and the fabulous part. Livy, the ablest and most candid of their historical writers, has admitted that it would be a kind of heresy against the dignity of a nation, to question the authenticity of its original records: he therefore omitted no fact which he found sanctioned by antiquity. He seemed to be aware that truth was so blended and interwoven with invention, that it
* Vide Bede, Warner, Whitaker, Laing, Lloyde, Smith, Camden, Vallancy, &c.
would be an endless, perhaps an insuperable task, to separate them :-but let us give his opinion in his own words-"Quæ ante conditam conden damve urbem poeticis magisdecora fabulis, quam incorruptis verum gestarum monumentis traduntur, ea nec affirmare nec-refellere; in animo est."* The Milesians commenced their own immediate history with Phaenius, their great progenitor, and continued it with wonderful accuracy and fidelity, through the ages that elapsed from his time, until his remote descendants, Heber and Heremon, after the expiration of twenty-three generations, invaded Ireland, A. M. 2736. But we are not, in this introduction, to elucidate the inaccuracies of our chronology, nor could we, if we were inclined, light a torch, like our great and gifted countrywoman, LADY MORGAN, to show the reader the remains of our ancient renown and glory, mouldering in the catacombs of the Irish annals. There is not now in existence, and we say it unhesitatingly, any person who could write a better history of that country of which she is the pride and the ornament than her Ladyship. The profundity of her research-the flowery luxuriance of her style-the fervour of her patriotism-the philosophy of her investigations-and, above all, the intimate acquaintance which she has with the language in which Ossian sung, and Brian Boroihme bade defiance to his foes, would enable her to reflect the concentrated rays of these brilliant combinations, on a HISTORY OF IRELAND, that would wither the laurel wreaths, with which the historic Muse entwined the brows of a Gibbon, a Hume, and a Henry.
It must surely have excited surprise in the minds of the inquisitive readers, that while we have numberless histories of England and Scotland, adapted to popular use, no successful attempt has been made, since the days of the Irish Livy, O'HALLORAN, to familiarize the reading world with the events of Irish history, by presenting its records in a commodious and economical form. Yet it will not be denied, that the occurrences which took place in Ireland, during the last two centuries, and especially since the accession of George III. to the present time, demand the attention of the philosopher and the historian-furnishing, as they do, moral lessons, from which not only they, but the statesmen of the world, might derive wisdom, experience, and instruction; for to form a just and impartial estimate of her present character, they must know something of her past greatness, and present degradation; her wrongs, persecutions, and injuries, which may be pronounced as flagitious, as ever the most wicked and tyrannic oppressors inflicted on a nation, to depress her spirit, sap her moral energies, and deteriorate her inherent and indigenous virtues. The picture presented by such mercenary Irish apostates as Dr. Thomas Leland, the Rev. Mr. Gordon, Sir Richard Musgrave, Stephen Barlow, and the late renegade, Dr. O'Connor,† (the degenerate grand-son of the celebrated and patriotic author of the "Dissertations on Irish History,") who, like a parricide of his country's fame, sold all the manuscripts of his venerable grand-father to the Duke of Buckingham, in whose sepulchral library, at Stowe, "they rot in state," is distorted in its outline by venality, and heightened in its colouring by exaggeration, so that it bears no resemblance to the original. While, however, we denounce these hired traducers of their native land, let us not withhold merited praise from the venerable Keating, the learned O'Halloran, the impartial Dr. Warner, (an Englishman) the acute O'Flaherty, the erudite Bishop Usher, the sympathetic and intelligent Curry, the eloquent Lawless, the zealous Taaffe, the accomplished McDermott, and "though last not least," the elegant and efficient vindicator of the aspersed Irish, Mr. Plowden, whose history of Ireland, in all the great historical essentials, is superior to any similar production extant. All these historians have contributed materially to illuminate the antique darkness of our annals; but their works do not embrace those topics, which the ample materials in our hands will enable us to introduce in our HISTORY.
The American readers, who may honour this history with a perusal, will be astonished at the record of our discords and civil warfare in feudal times. But we must inform them that martial glory was the goal of the ancient Irish warrior's ambition:for him, the sweets of peace and domestic happiness, had no charms or allurements. The inspiring songs of the bards, and the siren voice of anticipated military fame, hurried him to the field of combat, where distinction and renown could only be obtained, and the laurels of celebrity gathered. The chieftain was sure of being branded with degradation, who would loiter in the soft lap of luxury and inglorious pleasure. To be generously brave, is surely no proof of savage barbarity; and that such was the chivalric bravery of the Milesian Irish, will appear evident, when history assures us, that none of our monarchs ever survived the misfortune of a defeat in battle, except
It is not my intention to maintain, nor yet to deny those accounts that have been transmitted to us, prior to the foundation and building of the city, as they may probably be vested in the drapery of poetic invention, rather than founded by truth on the basis of uncorrupted history, or arrayed in the modest garb of fact.
+ See Plowden's historical letter to Columbanus, and McDermott of Coolovin's statement in relation to these manuscripts.
Malachy II. who fled from the glorious conflict of Clontarfe. Let us peruse the history of the Romans, and it will exhibit a scene of eternal warfare, in which dissension and civil broils are perpetually mingled with foreign conquests. The Grecian states carried the glory of arms to the highest pitch of ambition, at the same time that they termed all other nations barbarians. "Athens and Sparta wasted their strength in destroying each other, and yet they were considered the most elegant and polished people in the Grecian Republics; nor was the soul-moving Demosthenes deemed a barbarian, when he by his animating harrangues excited his countrymen to arms, and with
Shook the arsenal, and fulmined over Greece-
It is therefore evident, that wars and civil commotions are no proofs of a deficiency of refinement of manners, or enlightenment of civilization, and however derogatory they may be to the precepts of religion, and the injunctions of morality, they still exhibit a theatre where all the higher powers of the mind are called into action-where the victor is disarmed of his enmity, by the pleadings of compassion, and the fortunate conqueror laments over the fallen foe.
But perhaps we have already extended this introduction to prolixity; but we must of necessity carry it a little farther in order to define our plan. We are aware of the important task we have assigned ourselves, and of the difficulty that will attend the writing of a comprehensive HISTORY OF IRELAND. We have, indeed, an abundance of materials, which we hope by industry and assiduity, to arrange with historical skill, and to combine information and instruction in our work, which shall furnish a succinct narrative of all the memorable events that occurred in Ireland from the arrival of Partholanus, down to the present year. Nothing shall be omitted that deserves to be remembered. In relating the merits and demerits of memorable actions, we shall endeavour to trace them to the motives from which they originated-to elevate such as were consecrated by laudable intention, to their just eminence of moral celebrity, and to stamp such as sprung from the source of turpitude, with the stigma of reprobation. We will bring the cotemporary authority of English and Scottish writers to our aid, in dissipating the mists of prejudice, in which some of their countryman obscured our fair fame and character. We shall let Americans see what Erin once was, for what she is, alas! is known to the world. She has been the victim of English calumny, and it is generally in that deceitful mirror of misrepresentation, that she is even now reflected in America. We shall do all we can to subvert the baseless system of English and Scottish defamation-and to defend the ancient historic structure of Ireland, which we contemplate with the inalienable sympathies of hereditary affection, from the assaults of prejudice and incredulity.
We will give a fair, and we hope, an impartial history of Ireland; though candour obliges us to confess, that when we come to detail the wrongs and persecutions of our native land, we cannot help speaking with warmth; for he that would merit the title of quite an impartial historian, should, like Imlac's Poet, divest himself of all the passions, feelings, and prejudices of his age and country.
In our history, we shall give a luminous review of the literature, manners, and customs of the Irish people, embracing an inquiry into the merits of their genius, eloquence, valour, and characteristics, as well as specimens of the forensic and senatorial displays of Grattan, Curran, Burke, Sheridan, Burgh, Flood, O'Connell, Plunket, and Sheil. Our next number will contain the first chapter of our history.
ANCIENT MODE OF CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS IN IRELAND.
The hallowed period of Christmas was celebrated by the ancient Irish with great pomp and festivity. In Flemming's "History of Ancient Irish Customs," we have an elaborate account of the festivity and amusement that prevailed at this season of gayety and mirth, which was the very millenium of hospitality and social intercourse. On Christmas eve, the village maidens repaired to the groves to gather ivy, and holly, which they generally wove into garlands, for the decoration of the village church, and their own apartments. At seven o'clock in the evening, the church bells greeted "old father
Christmas" with a merry peal; then the immense "Christmas candles”* were lit up, the large block of ash blazed on the smiling hearth, the enormous wassail bowl of whiskey punch smoked upon the antique oak table, and after the priest had said grace, and offered up a prayer of gratulation and thanksgiving the bards had chaunted a carol on their harps, the feudal chieftain caused the door of his spacious ball to be thrown open, who, proud of his vassals and dependants, with a smile as cheerful as his hearth, and a heart as open as the portals of his castle, bade all that entered welcome, and to those that departed an affectionate adieu. After feasting on fish and fruits, the wassail bowl went round briskly, and the bards then raised the festive strains. So late as the sixteenth century, it was the custom in the county of Kerry, for the poor retainers of the chief to carry about to the neighbouring houses, with the wassail-cup an image of our Saviour, together with a quantity of roasted apples, steeped in a large tankard of metheglin, so that all might be reminded of the birth of the Messiah, and have an opportunity of drinking to the health of the chieftain and his lady. In those remote days, a wassail bowl, or cup, was placed on the tables of Lords, as well as on those of the Abbots, whose doors were ever open for the reception of the poor and the stranger.
In Archdal's Monasticon, there is an engraving of the wassail bowl which belonged to the abbey of Kildare. The inside (which held two quarts) was furnished with eight pegs, at equal distances one below the other, in conformity with the sumptuary ordinances of the Prior, to repress visitants from excess in drinking. This measurement allowed of half a pint of strong wine to each person. This antique cup, we believe, is still in the possession of his grace the Duke of Leinster.
At midnight, the lord and the peasant repaired to the church to offer their devotions, and hear a solemn mass; but after two o'clock on Christmas morning, devotions and austerities gave way to pleasure and rejoicing. On their coming home from church, the wassail bowl, which, though rudely shaped from Galway marble, contained liquor fit for the lips of the Indian Bacchus, and worthy to celebrate his return from conquest. The wassail liquor was composed of wine, brandy, some water, spices of various kinds, and roasted apples, which floated in triumph on its foaming top. Music and song always ushered in Christmas morning. The swain sung his serenade ditty under his mistress's window-the harper allured sweet notes from his music-breathing strings, and the discordant horn and shrill pipe contributed sounds, if not melody, to the concert. Then Christmas day was like a day of victory; every house and church was as green as spring. The laurel, plucked by the hand of beauty, and the holly, with its scarlet berries shining like fire-flies, decorated the altar of hospitality. On that day, the eve of which announced to the "shepherd while tending their flocks by night," the coming of Christ, all distinctions of rank and station were forgotten at the great dinner in the chieftain's hall, where the "tables groaned with the weight of the feast."§ But now the
* Brand says, that "the Anglo-Saxons, after the devotions of Christmas-day were over, always ob served the ceremony of lighting in the house enormous candles, which were called Christmas candles,' and laying a large log of wood upon the fire, which they termed a yule clog, or Christmas block." The custom, in all probability, has been derived from the ancient Irish, as Bede himself admits that the Irish Druids, before the introduction of Christianity, began the year on the eighth of the calends of January, which is now our Christmas day. The pagan Irish worshipped the sun, and observed the eighth of January as a day of devotion and jubilee, and we think that the Cristmas block, or yule log, derived its appellation from the ceremony of burning it as an emblem of the cheerful return of the sun, and an increase of its vivid light and genial heat.
+ We translate, for the perusal of our readers, from an old Irish manuscript, the form of benediction used by the chaplain of the Earl of Desmond, in blessing the feast and the guests, on Christmas day, 1438. "The blessing of this festive season be upon our good lord and lady, and upon all that hear me ;its gladness in every heart-its praises on every lip! May the aged forget the ravages of time in the hallowed recollections of that blessed eternity, which was assured to all Christians by the coming of our blessed Redeemer; and may the young be happy in administering to the comforts and lightening the cares of those who tread the down-hill path of life beneath the weight of years. It behooves us to contemplate this period of the year with peculiar earnestness; but while it claims our piety and most serious thoughts, it by no means excludes that rational enjoyment and mirth, which the goodness of providence permits to all its creatures in the merry Christmas-time. Then may the wassail-bowl pass round with temperate cheerfulness; and may we receive all the good things prepared for us here with ardent feelings of gratitude to Him who sends us every good comfort and nourishment."
Wright, in his History of Dublin, tells us, that at Christmas, "every man's house, as also the parish churches, were decked with holly, ivy, and bays, and whatever the season of the year afforded."
One of our ancient historians says, that when Druidism prevailed, the priests caused their temples and houses to be decorated with evergreens in December, in order that the sylvan spirits might repair to them, and remain unnipped by cold winds, until a milder season had renewed the foliage of their darling abodes.
For an ample account of various customs and ceremonies practised at Christmas, in ancient times, we beg to refer the reader to "Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities," which, we believe, can be seen at Mr. Coleman's bookstore, in Broadway. The curious reader will also derive much informa