Irish Race in the Past and the Present
Aug. J. Thebaud

Part 4 out of 14

overspread by barbarians from Germany. Under the Merovingian
kings in France, and later on, under the Carlovingian dynasty,
they became celebrated in the east of France, on the banks of
the Rhine, even in the north through Germany, in the heart of
Switzerland, and the north of Italy. This is not the place to
attempt even a sketch of their missionary labors, now known to
all the students of the history of those times. But we may here
mention that at that time the Irish monarchs and rulers became
acquainted with continental dynasties and affairs through the
necessary intercourse held by the Irish bishops and monks with
Rome, the centre of Catholicity. Thus we see that Malachi II
corresponded with Charles the Bald, with a view of making a
pilgrimage to Rome.

We learn from the yellow-book of Lecain that Conall, son of
Coelmuine, brought from Rome the law of Sunday, such as was
afterward practised in Ireland.

Over and above the Irish missionaries who kept up a constant
correspondence from the Continent of Europe with their native
land, it is known that many in those early ages went on
pilgrimages to Rome; among others, St. Degan, St. Kilian, the
apostle of Franconia; St. Sedulius the younger, who assisted at
a Roman council in 721, and was sent by the Pope on a mission to
Spain; St. Donatus, afterward Bishop of Fiesole, and his
disciple, Andrew. St. Cathald went from Rome to Jerusalem, and
on his return was made Bishop of Tarento. Donough, son of Brian
Boru, went to Rome in 1063, carrying, it is said, the crown of
his father, and there died.

It has been calculated that the ancient Irish monks held from
the sixth to the ninth century thirteen monasteries in Scotland,
seven in France, twelve in Armoric Gaul, seven in Lotharingia,
eleven in Burgundy, nine in Belgium, ten in Alsatia, sixteen in
Bavaria, fifteen in Rhaetia, Helvetia, and Suevia, besides
several in Thuringia and on the left bank of the Rhine. Ireland
was then not only included in, but at the head of, the European
movement; and yet that forms a period in her annals which as yet
has scarcely been studied.

The religious zeal which was then so manifest in the island
itself burned likewise among many Continental nations, and
lasted from the introduction of Christianity to the Danish
invasion. What contributed chiefly to make that ardor lasting
was, that every thing connected with religion made a part even
of their exterior life. Grace had taken entire possession of
the national soul. This world was looked upon as a shadow,
beautiful only in reflecting something of the beauty of heaven.

Hence were the Irish "the saints." So were they titled by all,
and they accepted the title with a genuine and holy simplicity
which betokened a truer modesty than the pretended denegation
which we might expect. Thus they seemed above temptation. The
virgins consecrated to God were as numerous at least as the
monks. These had also their processions and pilgrimages; they
went forth from houses over-full to found others, not knowing or
calculating beforehand the spot where they might rest and
"expect resurrection." Such was their language. Sometimes they
applied at the doors of monasteries, and if there was no spot in
the neighborhood suitable for the sisters, the monks abandoned
to them their abode, their buildings and cultivated fields where
the crops were growing, taking with them naught save the sacred
vessels and the books they might need in the new establishment
they went forth to found elsewhere.

Who could imagine, then, that even a thought could enter their
minds beyond those of charity and kindness? Were they not dead
utterly to worldly passions, and living only to God? It would
have been a sacrilege to have profaned the holy island, not only
with an unlawful act but even with a worldly imagination. Had
not many holy men and women seen angels constantly coming down
from heaven, and the souls of the just at their departure going
straight from Ireland to heaven? Both in perpetual communication!
Had the eyes of all been as pure as those of the best among
them, the truth would have been unveiled to all alike, and the
"isle of saints" would have shown itself to them as what it
really was-a bright country where redemption was a great fact;
where the souls of the great majority were truly and actually
redeemed in the full sense of the word; where people might enjoy
a foretaste of heaven-the very space above their heads being to
them at all times a road connecting the heavenly mansions with
this sublunary world.

True is it that there were ever in the island a number of great
sinners who desecrated the holy spot they dwelt on by their
deeds of blood. The Saviour predicted that there should be
"tares among the wheat" everywhere until the day of judgment.

It was among the chieftains principally, almost entirely, that
sin prevailed. The clan-system, unfortunately, favored deadly
feuds, which often drenched all parts of the island in blood.
Family quarrels, being in themselves unnatural, led to the most
atrocious crimes. The old Greek drama furnishes frightful
examples of it, and similar passions sometimes filled the
breasts of those leaders of Irish clans. Few of them died in
their beds. When carried away by passion, they respected nothing
which men generally respect.

It would, however, be an exaggeration to suppose on this account
a distinct and complete antagonism to have existed between the
clan and the Church, and to class all the princes on the side of
evil as opposed to the "saints," whom we have contemplated
leading a celestial life. We know from St. Aengus that one of
the glories of Ireland is that many of her saints were of
princely families, whereas among other nations generally the
Gospel was first accepted by the poor and lowly, and found its
enemies among the higher and educated classes. But in Ireland
the great, side by side with the least of their clansmen, bowed
to the yoke of Christ, and the bards and learned men became
monks and bishops from the very first preaching of the Word.

The fact is, a great number of kings and chieftains made their
station doubly renowned by their virtues, and find place in the
chronicle of Irish saints. Who can read, for instance, the story
of King Guaire without admiring his faith and true Christian

It is reported that as St. Caimine and St. Cumain Fota were one
day conversing on spiritual things with that holy king of
Connaught, Caimine said to Guaire, "O king, could this church be
filled on a sudden with whatever thou shouldst wish, what would
thy desire be?" "I should wish," replied the king, "to have all
the treasures that the church could hold, to devote them to the
salvation of souls, the erection of churches, and the wants of
Christ's poor." "And what wouldst thou ask?" said the king to
Fota. "I would," he replied, "have as many holy books as the
church could contain, to give all who seek divine wisdom, to
spread among the people the saving doctrine of Christ, and
rescue souls from the bondage of Satan." Both then turned to
Caimine. "For my part," said he, "were this church filled with
men afflicted with every form of suffering and disease, I
should ask of God to vouchsafe to assemble in my wretched body
all their evils, all their pains, and give me strength to
support them patiently, for the love of the Saviour of the world.
"1 (1 This passage is given in Latin by Colgan (Acts SS.). In
the original Irish, translated and published by Dr. Todd--Liber
Hymn--there are more details.)

Thus the most sublime and supernatural spirit of Christianity
became natural to the Irish mind in the great as well as in the
lowly, in the rich as well as in the poor. Women rivalled men in
that respect.

"Daria was blind from birth. Once, whilst conversing with
Bridget, she said: 'Bless my eyes that I may see the world, and
gratify my longing.' The night was dark; it grew light for her,
and the world appeared to her gaze. But when she had beheld it,
she turned again to Bridget. 'Now close my eyes,' said she, 'for
the more one is absent from the world, the more present he is
before God.'"

Even though one may express doubt as to the reality of this
miracle, one thing, at least, is beyond doubt: that the spirit
of the words of Daria was congenial to the Irish mind at the
time, and that none but one who had first reached the highest
point of supernatural life could conceive or give utterance to
such a sentiment.

That more than human life and spirit elevated, ennobled, and, as
it were, divinized, even the ordinary human and natural feelings,
which not only ceased to become dangerous, but became,
doubtless, highly pleasing to God and meritorious in his sight.
An example may better explain our meaning:

"Ninnid was a young scholar, not over-reverent, whom the
influence of Bridget one day suddenly overcame, so that he
afterward appeared quite a different being. Bridget announced to
him that from his hand she should, for the last time, receive
the body and blood of our Lord. Ninnid resolved that his hand
should remain pure for so high and holy an office. He enclosed
it in an iron case, and wishing at the same time to postpone, as
far as lay in his power, the moment that was to take Bridget
from the world, he set out for Brittany, throwing the key of the
box into the sea. But the designs of God are immutable. When
Bridget's hour had come, Ninnid was driven by a storm on the
Irish coast, and the key was miraculously given up by the deep."

Where, except in Ireland, could such friendship continue for
long years, without giving cause not only for the least scandal,
but even for the remotest danger? In that island the natural
feelings of the human heart were wholly absorbed by heavenly
emotions, in which nothing earthly could be found? Hence the
celebrated division of the "three orders of the Irish saints,"
the first being so far above temptation that no regulation was
imposed on the Cenobites with respect to their intercourse with

"Women were welcome and cared for; they were admitted, so to
speak, to the sanctuary; it was shared with them, occupied in
common. Double, or even mixed monasteries, so near to each other
as to form but one, brought the two sexes together for mutual
edification; men became instructors of women; women of men."

Nothing of the kind was ever witnessed elsewhere; nothing of the
kind was to be seen ever after. Robert of Arbrissel established
something similar in the order, of Fontevrault in France; but
there it was a strange and very uncommon exception; in Ireland
for two centuries it was the rule. This alone would show how
completely the Christian spirit had taken possession of the
whole race from the first.

It is this which gives to Irish hagiology a peculiar character,
making it appear strange even to the best men of other nations.
The elevation of human feeling to such a height of perfection is
so unusual that men cannot fail to be surprised wherever they
may meet it.

Yet far from appearing strange, almost inexplicable, it would
have been recognized as the natural result of the working of the
Christian religion, if the spirit brought on earth by our Lord
had been more thoroughly diffused among men, if all had been
penetrated by it to the same degree, if all had equally
understood the meaning of the Gospel preached to them.

But, unfortunately, so many and so great were the obstacles
opposed everywhere to the working of the Spirit of God in the
souls of men, that comparatively few were capable of being
altogether transformed into beings of another nature.

The great mass lagged far behind in the race of perfection. They
were admitted to the fold of Christ, and lived generally at
least in the practice of the commandments; but the object
proposed to himself by the Saviour of mankind was imperfectly
carried out on earth. The life of the world was far from being
impregnated by the spirit which he brought from heaven.

In the "island of saints" we certainly see a great number open
out at once to the fulness of that divine influence. Herein we
have the explanation of the deep faith which has ever since been
the characteristic of the people. "Centuries have perpetuated
the alliance of Catholicity and Ireland. Revolutions have failed
to shake it; persecution has not broken it; it has gained
strength in blood and tears, and we may believe, after thirteen
centuries of trial, that the Roman faith will disappear from
Ireland only with the name of Patrick and the last Irishman."

NOTE.-It is known that F. Colgan, a Franciscan, undertook to
publish the "Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae." He edited only two
volumes: the first under the title of "Trias thaumaturga "
containing the various lives of St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St.
Bridget:-the second under the general title of "Acta SS."-
Barnwall, an Irishman born and educated in France, published the
"Histoire Legendaire d'Irlande," in which he collected, without
much order, a number of passages of Colgan's "Acta," and Mr. J.
G. Shea translated and published it. We have taken from this
translation several facts contained in this chapter, the work of
the Franciscan being not accessible to us.

Dr. Todd, from Irish MSS., has given a few pages showing the
accuracy of Colgan, although the good father did not scruple
occasionally to condense and abridge, unless the MSS. he used
differed from those of Dr. Todd. The whole is a rich mine of
interesting anecdotes, and Montalembert has shown what a skilful
writer can find in those pages forgotten since the sixteenth
century. Mr. Froude himself has acknowledged that the eighth was
the golden age of Ireland.



For several centuries the Irish continued in the happy state
described in the last chapter. While the whole European
Continent was convulsed by the irruptions of the Germanic tribes,
and of the Huns, more savage still, the island was at peace,
opened her schools to the youth of all countries--to Anglo-
Saxons chiefly--and spread her name abroad as the happy and holy
isle, the dwelling of the saints, the land of prodigies, the
most blessed spot on the earth. No invading host troubled her;
the various Teutonic nations knew less of the sea than the Celts
themselves, and no vessel neared the Irish coast save the
peaceful curraghs which carried her monks and missionaries
abroad, or her own sons in quest of food and adventure.

Providence would seem to have imposed upon the nation the lofty
mission of healing the wounds of other nations as they lay
helpless in the throes of death, of keeping the doctrines of the
Gospel alive in Europe, after those terrible invasions, and of
leading into the fold of Christ many a shepherdless flock. The
peaceful messengers who went forth from Ireland became as
celebrated as her home schools and monasteries; and well had it
been for the Irish could such a national life as this have

But God, who wished to prepare them for still greater things in
future ages, who proves by suffering all whom he wishes to use
as his best instruments, allowed the fury of the storm to burst
suddenly upon them. It was but the beginning of their woes, the
first step in that long road to Calvary, where they were to be
crucified with him, to be crucified wellnigh to the death before
their final and almost miraculous resurrection. The Danes were
to be the first torturers of that happy and holy people; the
hardy rovers of the northern seas were coming to inaugurate a
long era of woe.

The Scandinavian irruption which desolated Europe just as she
was beginning to recover from the effects of the first great
Germanic wave, may be said to have lasted from the eighth to the
twelfth century. Down from the North Sea came the shock; Ireland
was consequently one of the first to feel it, and we shall see
how she alone withstood and finally overcame it.

The better to understand the fierceness of the attack, let us
first consider its origin:

The Baltic Sea and the various gulfs connected with it penetrate
deeply the northern portion of the Continent of Europe. Its
indentations form two peninsulas: a large one, known under the
name of Norway and Sweden, and a lesser one on the southwest,
now called Denmark. The first was known to the Romans as Scania;
the second was called by them the Cimbric Chersonesus. From
Scania is derived the name Scandinavians, afterward given to the
inhabitants of the whole country. Besides these two peninsulas,
there are several islands scattered through the surrounding sea.

The frozen and barren land which this people inhabited obliged
them from time immemorial to depend on the ocean for their
sustenance: first, by fishing; later on, by piracy. They soon
became expert navigators, though their ships were merely small
boats made of a few pieces of timber joined together, and
covered with the hide of the walrus and the seal.

It seems, from the Irish annals, that they belonged to two
distinct races of men: the Norwegians, fair-haired and of large
stature; the Danes dark, and of smaller size. Hence the Irish
distinguished the first, whom they called Finn Galls, from the
second, whom they named Dubh Galls. By no other European nation
was this distinction drawn, the Irish being more exact in
observing their foes.

It is the general opinion of modern writers that they belonged
to the Teutonic family. The Goths, a Teutonic tribe, dwelt for a
long period on the larger peninsula. But whether the Goths were
of the same race as the Norwegians or Danes is a question.
Certain it is that the various German nations which first
overwhelmed the Roman Empire bore many characteristics different
from those of the Danes and Norwegians, though the language of
all indicated, to a certain extent, a common origin.

The Swedes, the inhabitants of the eastern coast of Scania, do
not appear to have taken an important part in the Scandinavian
invasions; nor, indeed, have they ever been so fond of maritime
enterprises as the two other nations. Moreover, they were at
that time in bloody conflict with the Goths, and too busy at
home to think of foreign conquest.

For a long time the Scandinavian pirates seem to have confined
themselves to scouring their own seas, and plundering the coasts
as far as the gulfs of Finland and Bothnia. At length,
emboldened by success, they ventured out into the ocean,
attacked the nations of Western and Southern Europe, and in the
west colonized the frozen shores of the Shetland and Faroe
Islands, and soon after Iceland and Greenland.

For several centuries the harbors of Denmark and Norway became
the storehouses of all the riches of Europe, and a large trade
was carried on between those northern peninsulas and the various
islands of the Northern and Arctic Seas, even with the coast of
America, of which Greenland seems to form a part.

Those stern and mountainous countries and the restless ocean
which divides them were for the Scandinavian pirates what the
Mediterranean and the coasts of Spain and Africa had long before
been for the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. These peoples were
clearly destined to introduce among modern nations the spirit of
commerce and enterprise.

But here it is well to consider their religious and social state
from which nations chiefly derive their noble or ignoble
qualities. We shall find both made up of the rankest idolatry,
of cruel manners and revolting customs.

Their system of worship, with its creed and rites, is much more
precise in character and better known to us than that of the
Celts. If we open the books which were written in Europe at the
time of the irruption of these Northmen, and the poems of those
savage tribes preserved to our own days, and comprised under the
name of Edda, besides the numerous sagas, or songs and ballads,
which we still possess, we find mention of three superior gods
and a number of inferior deities, which gave a peculiar
character to this Northern worship.

They were Thor, the god of the elements, of thunder chiefly;
Wodan or Odin, the god of war; and Frigga, the goddess of lust;
the long list of others it is unnecessary to give. Their
religion, therefore, consisted mainly: 1. In battling with the
elements, particularly on the sea, under the protection of Thor;
2. In slaying their enemies, or being themselves slain, as Odin
willed --the giving or receiving death being apparently the
great object of existence; 3. In abandoning themselves at the
time of victory to all the propensities of corrupt nature, which
they took to be the express will of Frigga manifested in their
unbridled passions.

Such was Scandinavian mythology in its reality.

Modern investigators, principally in Germany and France, find in
the Edda a complete system of cosmogony and of a religion almost
inspired, so beautiful do they make it. At least they have made
it appear as profound a philosophy as that of old Hindostan and
far-off Thibet. By grouping around those three great divinities,
which are supposed to be emblematical of the superior natural
forces, their numerous progeny, that of Odin especially,
together with an incredible number of malicious giants and good-
natured _ases_--a kind of fairy--any skilful theorist, gifted
with the requisite imagination, may extract from the whole an almost
perfect system of cosmogony and ethics. Then the disgusting legends
of the Edda and the sagas are straightway transformed into
interesting myths, offsprings of poetry and imagination, and
conveying to the mind a philosophy only less than sublime, derived,
as they say, from the religion of Zoroaster.

It is, as we said, in Germany and France chiefly that these
discoveries have been made. The English, a more sober people,
although of Scandinavian blood, do not set so high a value on
what is, in the literal sense, so low.

Pity that such pleasing speculations should be mere theoretical
bubbles, unable to retain their lightness and their vivid colors
in the rude atmosphere of the arctic regions, bursting at the
first breath of the north wind! How could sensible men, under
such a complicated system of religion and physics, account for
the uncouth pirates of the Baltic?

As useless is it to say that they brought it from the place of
their origin--Persia, as these theorists affirm. To a man
uninfluenced by a preconceived or pet system, it is evident at
first sight that no mythology of the East or of the South has
ever given rise to that of Scandinavia. There is not the
slightest resemblance between it and any other. It must have
originated with the Scandinavians themselves; and their long
_religious_ tales were only the bloody dreams of their fancy, when,
during their dreary winter evenings, they had nothing to do but
relate to each other what came uppermost in their gross minds.

Saxo Grammaticus, certainly a competent authority, and Snorry
Sturleson, the first to translate the Edda into Latin, who is
still considered one of the greatest antiquarians of the nation
--both of whom lived in the times we speak of, when this
religious system still flourished or was fresh in the minds of
all-- solved the question ages ago, and demonstrated beforehand
the falsehood of those future theories by stating with old-time
simplicity that the abominable stories of the Edda and the sagas
were founded on real facts in the previous history of those
nations, and were consequently never intended by the writers as
imaginative myths, representing, under a figurative and repulsive
exterior, some semblance of a spiritual and refined doctrine.

We must look to our own more enlightened times to find ingenious
interpreters of rude old songs first flung to the breeze nine
hundred years ago in the polar seas, and bellowed forth in
boisterous and drunken chorus during the ninth and tenth
centuries by ferocious, but to modern eyes romantic, pirates
reeking with the gore of their enemies.

Because it has pleased some modern pantheist to concoct systems
of religion in his cabinet, does it become at once clear that
the mythic explanation of those songs is the only one to be
admitted, and that the odious facts which those legends express
ought to be discarded altogether? At least we hope that, when
philosophers come to be the real rulers of the world, they will
not give to their subtle and abstract ideas of religion the same
pleasant turn and the same concrete expression in every-day life
that the worshippers of Odin, Thor, and Frigga, found it
agreeable to give when they were masters of the continent and
rulers of the seas.

No! The only true meaning of this Northern worship is conveyed
in the simple words of Adam of Bremen, when relating what still
existed in his own time. (_Descript. insularum Aquil._, lib. iv.)
He describes the solemn sacrifices of Upsala in Sweden thus:
"This is their sacrifice; of each and all animals they offer
nine heads of the male gender, by whose blood it is their custom
to appease the gods. The dead bodies of the victims are
suspended in a grove which surrounds the temple. The place is in
their eyes invested with such a sacred character that the trees
are believed to be divine on account of the blood and gore with
which they are besmeared. With the animals, dogs, horses, etc.,
they suspend likewise men; and a Christian of that country told
me that he had himself seen them with his own eyes mixed up
together in the grove. But the senseless rites which accompany
the sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood are so many, and of so
gross and immoral nature, that it is better not to speak of them."

We have here the naked truth, and no meaning whatever could be
attached to such ceremonies other than that of the rankest
idolatry. To complete the picture, it is proper to state that
Thor, Odin, and Frigga, were frightful idols, as represented in
the Upsala temple, and the small statues carried by the
Scandinavian sailors on their expeditions and set in the place
of honor on board their ships, were but diminutive copies of the
hideous originals. It is known, moreover, that Odin had existed
as a leader of some of their migrations, so that their idolatry
resolved itself into hero-worship.

Having spoken of their gods, we have only a word to add on their
belief in a future state, for every one is acquainted with their
brutal and shocking Walhalla. Yet, such as it was, admittance to
its halls could only be aspired to by the warriors and heroes,
the great among them; the common herd was not deemed worthy of
immortality. Thus aristocratic pride showed itself at the very
bottom of their religion.

Of their social state, their government, we know little. They
lived under a kind of rude monarchy, subject often to election,
when they chose the most savage and the bravest for their ruler.
But blood-relationship had little or nothing to do with their
system, so different from that of the Celts. The sons of a
chieftain could never form a sept, but at his death the eldest
replaced him; the younger brothers, deprived of their titles and
goods, were forced to separate and acquire a title to rank and
honor by piracy; and that right of primogeniture, which was the
primary cause of their sea invasions, stamped the feudal system
with one of its chief characteristics, a system which probably
originated with them. Some, however, entertain a contrary
opinion, and suppose that at the death of the father his
children shared his inheritance equally.

Of their moral habits we may best judge by their religion. All
we know of their history seems to prove that with them might was
right, and outlawry the only penalty of their laws.

A man guilty of murder was compelled to quit the country, unless
his superior daring and the number of his friends and followers
enabled him, by more atrocious and wholesale murders, still to
become a great chieftain and even aspire to supreme power.
Iceland was colonized by outlaws from Norway; and the frequent
changes of dynasty in pagan times prove that among them, as
among barbarous tribes generally, brute force was the chief
source of law and authority.

That outlawry was not esteemed a stain on the character is
sufficiently demonstrated by the fact that the mere accident of
birth made outlaws of all the children of chieftains with the
exception of the eldest born; the necessity for the younger sons
abandoning their home and native country, and roaming the ocean
in search of plunder, being exactly equivalent, according to
their opinion and customs, to criminal outlawry of whatever
character. This, at least, many authors assert without

Their domestic habits were fit consequences of such a state of
society. There could exist no real tie of kindred, no filial or
brotherly affection among men living under such a social system.
The gratification of brutal passions and the most utter
selfishness constituted the rule for all; and even the fear of
an inexorable judge after death could not restrain them during
life, as might have been the case among other pagan nations,
since the hope of reaching their Walhalla depended for its
fulfilment on murder or suicide.

With their system of warfare we are better acquainted than with
any thing else belonging to them, as the main burden of their
songs was the recital of their barbarous expeditions. It is,
indeed, difficult for a modern reader to wade through the whole
of their Edda poems, or even their long sagas, so full is their
literature of unimaginable cruelties. Yet a general view of it
is necessary in order to understand the horror spread throughout
Europe by their inhuman warfare.

As soon as the warm breeze of an early spring thaws the ice on
his rivers and lakes, the Scandinavian Viking unfurls his sail,
fills his rude boat with provisions, and trusts himself to the
mercy of the waves. Should he be alone, and not powerful enough
to have a fleet at his command, he looks out for a single boat
of his own nation--there being no other in those seas. Urged by
a mutual impulse, the two crews attack each other at sight; the
sea reddens with blood; the savage bravery is equal on both
sides; accident alone can decide the contest. One of the crews
conquers by the death of all its opponents; the plunder is
transferred to the victorious boat; the cup of strong drink
passes round, and victory is crowned by drunkenness.

But if the two chieftains have contended from morning till night
with equal valor and success, then, filled with admiration for
each other, they become friends, unite their forces, and,
falling on the first spot where they can land, they pillage,
slay, outrage women, and give full sway to their unbridled
passions. The more ferocious they are the braver they esteem
themselves. It is a positive fact, as we may gather from all
their poems and songs, that the Scandinavians alone, probably,
of all pagan nations, have had no measure of bravery and
military glory beyond the infliction of the most exquisite
torture and the most horrible of deaths.

Plunder, which was apparently the motive power of all their
expeditions, was to them less attractive than blood; blood,
therefore, is the chief burden of their poetry, if poetry it can
be called. It would seem as though they were destined by Nature
to shed human blood in torrents--the noblest occupation,
according to their ideas, in which a brave man could be engaged.

The figures of their rude literature consist for the most part
of monstrous warriors and gods, each possessed of many arms to
kill a greater number of enemies, or of giant stature to
overcome all obstacles, or of enchanted swords which shore steel
as easily as linen, and clave the body of an adversary as it
would the air.

Then, heated with blood, the Northman is also influenced with
lust, for he worships Frigga as well as Odin. But this is not
the place to give even an idea of manners too revolting to be
presented to the imagination of the reader.

Cantu's Universal History will furnish all the authorities from
which the details we have given and many others of the same kind
are derived.

We do not propose describing here the horrors of the
devastations committed by the Anglo-Saxons and Danes in England,
by the Normans in France, Spain, and Italy. All these nations,
even the first, were Scandinavians, and naturally fall under our
review. The story is already known to those who are acquainted
with the history of mediaeval Europe. The only thing which we do
not wish to omit is the invariable system of warfare adopted by
this people when acting on a large scale.

Arrived on the coast they had determined to ravage, they soon
found that in stormy weather they were in a more dangerous
position than at sea. Hence they looked for a deep bay, or,
better still, the mouth of a large river, and once on its placid
bosom they felt themselves masters of the whole country. The
terror of the people, the lack of organization for defence, so
characteristic of Celtic or purely Germano-Franco society, the
savage bravery and reckless impetuosity of the invaders
themselves, increased their rashness, and urged them to enter
fearlessly into the very heart of a country which lay prostrate
with fear before them. All the cities on the river-banks were
plundered as they passed, people of whatever age, sex, or
condition, were murdered; the churches especially were despoiled
of their riches, and the numerous and wealthy monasteries then
existing were given to the flames, after the monks and all the
inmates even to the schoolchildren, had been promiscuously
slaughtered, if they had not escaped by flight.

But, although all were slaughtered promiscuously, a special
ferocity was always displayed by the barbarous conqueror toward
the unarmed and defenceless ministers of religion. They took a
particular delight in their case in adding insult to cruelty;
and not without reason did the Church at that time consider as
martyrs the priests and monks who were slain by the pagan
Scandinavians. Their sanguinary and hideous idolatry showed its
hatred of truth and holiness in always manifesting a peculiar
atrocity when coming in contact with the Church of Christ and
her ministers. And, our chief object in speaking of the stand
made by the Irish against the pagan Danes is, to show how the
clan-system became in truth the avenger of God's altars and the
preserver of the sacred edifices and numerous temples with which,
as we have seen, the Island of Saints was so profusely studded,
from total annihilation.

Knowing that, when their march of destruction had taken them a
great distance from the mouth of the river, the inhabitants
might rise in sheer despair and cut them off on their return,
the Scandinavian pirates, to guard against such a contingency,
looked for some island or projecting rock, difficult of access,
which they fortified, and, placing there the plunder which
loaded their boats, they left a portion of their forces to guard
it, while the remainder continued their route of depredation. In
Ireland they found spots admirably adapted for their purpose in
the numerous loughs into which many of the rivers run.

This was their invariable system of warfare in the rivers of
England; in Germany along system Rhine; along the Seine, the
Loire, and the Garonne, in France, as well as on the Tagus and
Guadalquivir in Spain, where two at least of their large
expeditions penetrated. This continued for several centuries,
until at last they thought of occupying the country which they
had devastated and depopulated, and they began to form permanent
settlements in England, Flanders, France, and even Sicily and

When that time had arrived, they showed that, hidden under their
ferocious exterior, lay a deep and systematic mind, capable of
great thoughts and profound designs. Already in their own rude
country they had organized commerce on an extensive scale, and
their harbors teemed with richly-laden ships, coming from far
distances or preparing to start on long voyages. They had become
a great colonizing race, and, after establishing their sway in
the Hebrides, the Orkneys, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and
Greenland, they made England their own, first by the Jute and
Anglo-Saxon tribes, then by the arms of Denmark, which was at
that time so powerful that England actually became a colony of
Copenhagen; and finally they thought of extending their
conquests farther south to the Mediterranean Sea, where their
ships rode at anchor in the harbors of fair Sicily.

We know, from many chronicles written at the time, with what
care they surveyed all the countries they occupied, confiscating
the land after having destroyed or reduced its inhabitants to
slavery; dividing it among themselves and establishing their
barbarous laws and feudal customs wherever they went. Dudo of St.
Quentin, among other writers, describes at length in his rude
poem the army of surveyors intrusted by Rollo, the first Duke of
Normandy, with the care of drawing up a map of their conquests
in France, for the purpose of dividing the whole among his rough
followers and vassals.

Of this spirit of organization we intend to speak in the next
chapter, when we come to consider the Anglo-Norman invasion of
Ireland; but we are not to conclude that the Northmen became
straightway civilized, and that the spirit of refinement at once
shed its mild manners and gentle habits over their newly-
constructed towns and castles. For a long time they remained as
barbarous as ever, with only a system more perfect and a method
more scientific--if we may apply such expressions to the case--
in their plunderings and murderous expeditions.

Of Hastings, their last pagan sea-kong, Dudo, the great admirer
of Northmen and the sycophant of the first Norman dukes in
France, has left the following terrible character, on reading
which in full we scarcely know whether the poem was written in
reproach or praise. We translate from the Latin

According to Dudo, he was--

"A wretch accursed and fierce of heart,
Unmatched in dark iniquities;
A scowling pest of deadly hate,
He throve on savage cruelties.

Blood-thirsty, stained with every crime,
An artful, cunning, deadly foe,
Lawless, vaunting, rash, inconstant,
True well-spring of unending woe!"

Hastings never yielded to the new religion, which he always
hated and persecuted. But, even after their conversion to
Christianity, his countrymen for a long time retained their
inborn love of bloodshed and tyranny; they were in this respect,
as in many others, the very reverse of the Irish.

Of Rollo, the first Christian Duke of Normandy, Adhemar, a
contemporary writer, says:

"On becoming Christian, he caused many captives to be beheaded
in his presence, in honor of the gods whom he had worshipped.
And he also distributed a vast amount of money to the Christian
churches in honor of the true God in whose name he had received
baptism;" which would seem to imply that this transaction
occurred on the very day of his baptism.

We may now compare the success which attended the arms of these
terrible invaders throughout the rest of Europe with their
complete failure in Ireland. It will be seen that the deep
attachment of the Irish Celts for their religion, its altars,
shrines, and monuments, was the real cause of their final
victory. We shall behold a truly Christian people battling
against paganism in its most revolting and audacious form.

But, first, how stood the case in England?

"It is not a little extraordinary," says a sagacious writer in
the _Dublin Review_ (vol. xxxii., p. 203), "that the three
successive conquests of England by the Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and
Normans, were in fact conquests made by the same people, and, in
the last two instances, over those who were not only descended
from the same stock, but who had immigrated from the very same
localities. The Jutes, Angles, and Saxons, were for the most
part Danes or of Danish origin. Their invasion of England
commenced by plunder and ended by conquest. These were
overthrown by the Danes and Norwegians in precisely the same

"In the year 875, Roll or Rollo, having been expelled from
Norway by Harold Harfager, adopted the profession of a sea-kong,
and in the short space of sixteen years became Duke of Normandy
and son-in-law of the French king, after having previously
repudiated his wife. The sixth duke in succession from Rollo was
William, illegitimate son of Robert le Diable and Herleva, a
concubine. By the battle of Hastings, which William gained in
1066, over King Harold, who was slain in it, the former became
sovereign of England, and instead of the appellation of 'the
Bastard,' by which he had been hitherto known, he now obtained
the surname of 'the Conqueror.'

"Thus both the Saxon and Danish invaders were subdued by their
Norman brethren."

All the Scandinavian invasions of England were, therefore,
successful, each in turn giving way before a new one; and it is
not a little remarkable that the very year in which Brian Boru
dealt a death-blow to the Danes at Clontarf witnessed the
complete subjection of England by Canute.

The success of the Northmen in France is still more worthy of
attention. Their invasions began soon after the death of
Charlemagne. It is said that, before his demise, hearing of the
appearance of one of their fleets not far from the mouth of the
Rhine, he shed tears, and foretold the innumerable evils it
portended. He saw, no doubt, that the long and oft-repeated
efforts of his life to subdue and convert the northern Saxons
would fail to obtain for his successors the peace he had hoped
to win by his sword, and, knowing from the Saxons themselves the
relentless ferocity, audacity, and frightful cruelty, inoculated
in their Scandinavian blood, he could not but expect for his
empire the fierce attacks which were preparing in the arctic
seas. All his life had he been a conqueror, and under his sway
the Franks, whom he had ever led to victory, acquired a name
through Europe for military glory which, he dreaded, would no
longer remain untarnished. His forebodings, however, could not
be shared by any of those who surrounded him in his old age; his
eagle eye alone discerned the coming misfortunes.

Seven times had the great emperor subdued the Saxons. He had
crushed them effectually, since he could not otherwise prevent
them from disturbing his empire. The Franks, who formed his army,
were therefore the real conquerors of Western Europe. Starting
from the banks of the Rhine, they subjugated the north as far as
the Baltic Sea; they conquered Italy as far south as Beneventum,
by their victories over the Lombards; by the subjugation of
Aquitaine, they took possession of the whole of France; the only
check they had ever received was in the valley of Roncevaux,
whence a part of one of their armies was compelled to retreat,
without, however, losing Catalonia, which they had won.

Nevertheless, we see them a few years after powerless and
stricken with terror at the very name of the Northmen, as soon
as Hastings and Rollo appeared. Those sea-rovers established
themselves straightway in the very centre of the Frankish
dominion; for it was at the mouth of the Rhine, in the island of
Walcheren, that they formed their first camp. From Walcheren
they swept both banks of the Rhine, and, after enriching
themselves with the spoils of monasteries, cathedrals, and
palaces, they thought of other countries. Then began the long
series of spoliations which desolated the whole of France along
the Seine, the Loire, and the Garonne.

Opposition they scarcely encountered. Paris alone, of all the
great cities of France, sustained a long siege, and finally
bought them off by tribute. The military power of the nation was
annihilated all at once, and of all French history this period
is undoubtedly the most humiliating to a native of the soil.

And now let us see how the Irish met the same piratical

We are already acquainted with the chief defect of their
political system, namely, its want of centralization. The Ard-
Righ was in fact but a nominal ruler, except in the small
province which acknowledged his chieftainship only. Throughout
the rest of Ireland the provincial kings were independent save
in name. Not only were they often reluctant to obey the Ard-Righ,
but they were not seldom at open war with him. Nor are we to
suppose that, at least in the case of a serious attack from
without, their patriotism overcame their private differences,
and made them combine together to show a common front against a
common foe. In a patriarchal state of government there is
scarcely any other form of patriotism than that of the
particular sept to which each individual belongs. All the ideas,
customs, prejudices, are opposed to united action.

Yet an invasion so formidable as that of the Scandinavian tribes
showed itself everywhere to be, would have required all the
energies and resources of the whole country united under one
powerful chief, particularly when it did not consist of one
single fearful irruption.

During two centuries large fleets of dingy, hide-bound barks
discharge on the shores of Erin their successive cargoes of
human fiends, bent on rapine and carnage, and altogether proof
against fear of even the most horrible death, since such death
was to them the entry to the eternal realms of their Walhalla.

But, at the period of which we speak, the terrible evil of a
want of centralization was greatly aggravated by a change
occurring in the line which held the supreme power in the island.

The vigorous rule of a long succession of princes belonging to
the northern Hy-Niall line gave way to the ascendency of the
southern branch of this great family; and the much more limited
patrimony and alliances of this new quasi-dynasty rendered its
personal power very inferior to that of the northern branch, and
consequently lessened the influence possessed by the ruling
family in past times. In Ireland the connections, more or less
numerous, by blood relationship with the great families, always
exercised a powerful influence over the body of the nation in
rendering it docile and amenable to the will of the Ard-Righ.

Mullingar, in West Meath, was the abode of the southern Hy-
Nialls, and Malachy of the Shannon, the first Ard-Righ of this
line, succeeded King Niall of Callan in 843. The Danes were
already in the country and had committed depredations. Their
first descent is mentioned by the Four Masters as taking place
at Rathlin on the coast of Antrim in the year 790.

But the country was soon aroused; and religious feelings, always
uppermost in the Irish heart, supplied the deficiencies of the
constitution of the state and the particularly unfavorable
circumstances of the period. The Danes, as usual, first attacked
the monasteries and churches, and this alone was enough to
kindle in the breasts of the people the spirit of resistance and
retaliation. Iona was laid waste in 797, and again in 801 and
805. "To save from the rapacity of the Danes," says Montalembert
in his Monks of the West, "a treasure which no pious liberality
could replace, the body of S. Columba was carried to Ireland.
And it is the unvarying tradition of Irish annals, that it was
deposited finally at Down, in an episcopal monastery, not far
from the eastern shore of the island, between the great
monastery of Bangor in the North, and Dublin the future capital
of Ireland, in the South."

Ireland was first assailed by the Danes on the north immediately
after they had gained possession of the Hebrides; but the coasts
of Germany, Belgium, and France had witnessed their attacks long
before. Religion was the first to suffer; and as the Island of
Saints was at the time of their descent covered with churches
and monasteries, the Scandinavian barbarians found in these a
rich harvest which induced them to return again and again. The
first expedition consisted of only a few boats and a small body
of men. Nevertheless, as their irruptions were unexpected, and
the people were unprepared for resistance, many holy edifices
suffered from these attacks, and a great number of priests and
monks were murdered.

We read that Armagh with its cathedral and monasteries was
plundered four times in one month, and in Bangor nine hundred
monks were slaughtered in a single day. The majority of the
inmates of those houses fled with their books and the relics of
their saints at the approach of the invaders, but, returning to
their desecrated homes after the departure of the pirates, gave
cause for those successive plunderings.

But the Irish did not always fly in dismay, as was the case in
England and France. A force was generally mustered in the
neighborhood to meet and repel the attack, and in numerous
instances the marauders were driven back with slaughter to their

For the clans rallied to the defence of the Church. Though the
chieftains and their clansmen might seem to have failed fully to
imbibe the spirit of religion, though in their insane feuds they
often turned a deaf ear to the remonstrances and reproaches of
the bishops and monks, nevertheless Christianity reigned supreme
in their inmost hearts. And when they beheld pagans landed on
their shores, to insult their faith and destroy the monuments of
their religion, to shed the blood of holy men, of consecrated
virgins, and of innocent children, they turned that bravery
which they had so often used against themselves and for the
satisfaction of worthless contentions into a new and a more
fitting channel--the defence of their altars and the punishment
of sacrilegious outrage.

The clan system was the very best adapted for this kind of
warfare, so long as no large fleets came, and the pirates were
too few in number and too sagacious in mind to think of
venturing far inland. When but a small number of boats arrived,
the invaders found in the neighborhood a clan ready to receive
them. The clansmen speedily assembled, and, falling on the
plundering crews, showed them how different were the free men of
a Celtic coast, who were inspired by a genuine love for their
faith, from the degenerate sons of the Gallo-Romans.

So the annals of the country tell us that the "foreigners" were
destroyed in 812 by the men of Umhall in Mayo; by Corrach, lord
of Killarney, in the same year; by the men of Ulidia and by
Carbry with the men of Hy-Kinsella in 827; by the clansmen of Hy-
Figeinte, near Limerick, in 834, and many more.

But the hydra had a thousand heads, and new expeditions were
continually arriving. In the words of Mr. Worsaae, a Danish
writer of this century:

"From time immemorial Ireland was celebrated in the Scandinavian
north, for its charming situation, its mild climate, and its
fertility and beauty. The Kongspell--mirror of Kings--which was
compiled in Norway about the year 1200, says that Ireland is
almost the best of the lands we are acquainted with although no
vines grow there. The Scandinavian Vikings and emigrants, who
often contented themselves with such poor countries as Greenland
and the islands in the north Atlantic, must, therefore, have
especially turned their attention to the 'Emerald Isle,'
particularly as it bordered closely upon their colonies in
England and Scotland. But to make conquests in Ireland, and to
acquire by the sword alone permanent settlements there, was no
easy task.... When we consider that neither the Romans nor the
Anglo-Saxons ever obtained a footing in that country, although
they had conquered England, the adjacent isle, and when we
further reflect upon the immense power exerted by the English in
later times in order to subdue the Celtic population of the
island, we cannot help being surprised at the very considerable
Scandinavian settlements which, as early as the ninth century,
were formed in that country."

These are the words of a Dane. We shall see what the "very
considerable Scandinavian settlements" amounted to; the
quotation is worthy of note, as presenting in a few words the
motives of those who at any time invaded Ireland, and the
stubborn resistance which they met.

The Irish were not dismayed by the constant arrivals of those
northern hordes. They met them one after another without
considering their complexity and connection. They only saw a
troop of fierce barbarians landed on their shores, chiefly
intent upon plundering and burning the churches and holy houses
which they had erected; they saw their island, hitherto
protected by the ocean from foreign attack, and resting in the
enjoyment of a constant round of Christian festivals and joyful
feasts, now desecrated by the presence and the fury of ferocious
pagans; they armed for the defence of all that is dear to man;
and though, perhaps, at first beaten and driven back, they
mustered in force at a distance to fall on the victors with a
swoop of noble birds who fly to the defence of their young.

This kind of contest continued for two hundred years, with the
exception of the periods of larger invasions, when a single clan
no longer sufficed to avenge the cause of God and humanity, and
the Ard-Righ was compelled to throw himself on the scene at the
head of the whole collective force of the nation in order to
oppose the vast fleets and large armies of the Danes.

The country suffered undoubtedly; the cattle were slain; the
fields devastated; the churches and houses burned; the poets
silenced or woke their song only to notes of woe; the harpers
taught the national instrument the music of sadness; the
numerous schools were scattered, though never destroyed; as
centuries later, under the Saxon, the people took their books or
writing materials to their miserable cottages or hid them in the
mountain fastnesses, and thus, for the first time in their
history, the hedge school succeeded those of the large
monasteries. So the nation continued to live on, the energetic
fire which burned in the hearts of the people could not be
quenched. They rose and rose again, and often took a noble
revenge, never disheartened by the most utter disaster.

On three different occasions this bloody strife assumed a yet
more serious and dangerous aspect. It was not a few boats only
which came to the shores of the devoted island; but the main
power of Scandinavia seemed to combine in order to crush all
opposition at a single blow.

When the knowledge of the richness, fertility, and beauty of the
island had fully spread throughout Denmark and Norway, a large
fleet gathered in the harbors of the Baltic and put to sea. The
famous Turgesius or Turgeis--Thorgyl in the Norse--was the
leader. The Edda and Sagas of Norway and Denmark have been
examined with a view to elucidate this passage in Irish history,
but thus far fruitlessly. It is known, however, that many Sagas
have been lost which might have contained an account of it. The
Irish annals are too unanimous on the subject to leave any
possibility of doubt with regard to it; and, whatever may be the
opinion of learned men on the early events in the history of
Erin, the story of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries rests
entirely on historical ground, as surely as if the facts had
happened a few hundred years ago.

Turgesius landed with his fleet on the northeast coast of the
island, and straightway the scattered bands of Scandinavians
already in the country acknowledged his leadership and flocked
to his standard. McGeoghegan says that "he assumed in his own
hands the sovereignty of all the foreigners that were then in

From the north he marched southward; and, passing Armagh on his
route, attacked and took it, and plundered its shrines,
monasteries, and schools. There were then within its walls seven
thousand students, according to an ancient roll which Keating
says has been discovered at Oxford. These were slaughtered or
dispersed, and the same fate attended the nine hundred monks
residing in its monasteries.

Foraanan, the primate, fled; and the pagan sea-kong, entering
the cathedral, seated himself on the primatial throne, and had
himself proclaimed archbishop.--(O'Curry.) He had shortly before
devastated Clonmacnoise and made his wife supreme head of that
great ecclesiastical centre, celebrated for its many convents of
holy women. The tendency to add insult to outrage, when the
object of the outrage is the religion of Christ, is old in the
blood of the northern barbarians; and Turgesius was merely
setting the example, in his own rude and honest fashion, to the
more polished but no less ridiculous assumption of
ecclesiastical authority, which was to be witnessed in England,
on the part of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth.

The power of the invader was so superior to whatever forces the
neighboring Irish clans could muster, that no opposition was
even attempted at first by the indignant witnesses of those
sacrileges. It is even said that at the very time when the
Northmen were pillaging and burning in the northeast of the
island, the men of Munster were similarly employed in Bregia;
and Conor, the reigning monarch of Ireland, instead of defending
the invaded territories, was himself hard at work plundering
Leinster to the banks of the river Liffey--(Haverty.) But,
doubtless, none of those deluded Irish princes had yet heard of
the pagan devastations and insults to their religion, and thus
it was easy for the great sea-kong to strengthen and extend his
power. For the attainment of his object he employed two powerful
agents which would have effectually crushed Ireland forever, if
the springs of vitality in the nation had not been more than
usually expansive and strong.

The political ability of the Danes began to show itself in
Ireland, as it did about the same period (830) in England, and
later on in France. Turgesius saw that, in order to subdue the
nation, it was necessary to establish military stations in the
interior and fortify cities on the coast, where he could receive
reinforcements from Scandinavia. These plans he was prompt to
put into practice.

His military stations would have been too easily destroyed by
the bravery of the Irish, strengthened by the elasticity of
their clan-system, if they were, planted on land. He, therefore,
set them in the interior lakes which are so numerous in the
island, where his navy could repel all the attacks of the
natives, unused as they were to naval conflicts. He stationed a
part of his fleet on Lough Lee in the upper Shannon, another in
Lough Neagh, south of Antrim, a third in Lough Lughmagh or
Dundalk bay. These various military positions were strongholds
which secured the supremacy of the Scandinavians in the north of
the island for a long time. In the south, Turgesius relied on
the various cities which his troops were successively to build
or enlarge, namely, Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Cork, Waterford,
and Wexford. This first Scandinavian ruler could begin that
policy only by establishing his countrymen in Dublin, which they
seized in 836.

Up to that time the Irish had scarcely any city worthy of the
name. A patriarchal people, they followed the mode of life of
the old Eastern patriarchs, who abhorred dwelling in large towns.
Until the invasion of the Danes, the island was covered with
farm-houses placed at some distance from each other. Here and
there large _duns_ or _raths_, as they were called, formed the
dwellings of their chieftains, and became places of refuge for
the clansmen in time of danger. Churches and monasteries arose
in great numbers from the time of St. Patrick, which were first
built in the woods, but soon grew into centres of population,
corresponding in many respects to the idea of towns as generally

The Northmen brought with them into Ireland the ideas of cities,
commerce, and municipal life, hitherto unknown. The introduction
of these supposed a total change necessary in the customs of the
natives, and stringent regulations to which the people could not
but be radically opposed. And strange was their manner of
introduction by these northern hordes. Keating tells us how
Turgesius understood them. They were far worse than the
imaginary laws of the Athenians as recorded in the "Birds" of
Aristophanes. No more stringent rules could be devised, whether
for municipal, rural, or social regulations; and, as the
Northmen are known to have been of a systematic mind, no
stronger proof of this fact could be given.

Keating deplores in the following terms the fierce tyranny of
the Danish sea-kong:

"The result of the heavy oppression of this thraldom of the
Gaels under the foreigner was, that great weariness thereof came
upon the men of Ireland, and the few of the clergy that survived
had fled for safety to the forests and wildernesses, where they
lived in misery, but passed their time piously and devoutly, and
now the same clergy prayed fervently to God to deliver them from
that tyranny of Turgesius, and, moreover, they fasted against
that tyrant, and they commanded every layman among the faithful,
that still remained obedient to their voice, to fast against him
likewise. And God then heard their supplications in as far as
the delivering of Turgesius into the hands of the Gaels."

Thus in the ninth century the subsequent events of the sixteenth
and seventeenth were foreshadowed. The judicious editor of
Keating, however, justly remarks, that this description, taken
mainly from Cambrensis, is not supported in its entirety by the
contemporaneous annals of the island; that the power of the
Danes never was as universal and oppressive as is here supposed;
and that though each of the facts mentioned may have actually
taken place in some part of the country, at some period of the
Danish invasion, yet the whole, as representing the actual state
of the entire island at the time, is exaggerated and of too
sweeping a nature.

It is clear, nevertheless, that the domination of the Northmen
could not have been completely established in Ireland, together
with their notions of superiority of race, trade on a large
scale, and a consequent agglomeration of men in large cities,
without the total destruction of the existing social state of
the Irish, and consequently something of the frightful tyranny
just described.

But the people were too brave, too buoyant, and too ardent in
their nature, to bear so readily a yoke so heavy. They were too
much attached to their religion, not to sacrifice their lives,
if necessary, in order to put an end to the sacrilegious
usurpations of a pagan king, profaning, by his audacious
assumptions, the noblest, highest, purest, and most sacred
dignities of holy Church. A man, stained with the blood of so
many prelates and priests, seated on the primatial throne of the
country in sheer derision of their most profound feelings; his
pagan wife ruling over the city which the virgins of Bridget,
the spouses of Christ, had honored and sanctified so long; their
religion insulted by those who tried to destroy it--how could
such a state of things be endured by the whole race, not yet
reduced to the condition to which so many centuries of
oppression subsequently brought it down!

Hence Keating could write directly after the passage just quoted:
"When the nobles of Ireland saw that Turgesius had brought
confusion upon their country, and that he was assuming supreme
authority over themselves, and reducing them to thraldom and
vassalage, they became inspired with a fortitude of mind, and a
loftiness of spirit, and a hardihood and firmness of purpose,
that urged them to work in right earnest, and to toil zealously
in battle against him and his murdering hordes."

And hereupon the faithful historian gives a long list of
engagements in which the Irish were successful, ending with the
victory of Malachi at Glas Linni, where we know from the Four
Masters that Turgesius himself was taken prisoner and afterward
drowned in Lough Uair or Owell in West Meath, by order of the
Irish king.

This prince, then monarch of the whole island, atoned for the
apathy and the want of patriotism of his predecessors, Conor and
the Nialls. He was in truth a saviour of his country, and the
death of the oppressor was the signal for a general onslaught
upon the "foreigners" in every part of the island.

"The people rose simultaneously, and either massacred them in
their towns, or defeated them in the fields, so that, with the
exception of a few strongholds, like Dublin, the whole of
Ireland was free from the Northmen. Wherever they could escape,
they took refuge in their ships, but only to return in more
numerous swarms than before." - (M. Haverty.)

It is evident that their deep sense of religion was the chief
source of the energy which the Irish then displayed. They had
not yet been driven into a fierce resistance by being forcibly
deprived of their lands; although the Danes, when they carried
their vexatious tyranny into all the details of private life -
not allowing lords and ladies of the Irish race to wear rich
dresses and appear in a manner befitting their rank - when they
went so far as to refuse a bowl of milk to an infant, that a
rude soldier might quench his thirst with it - could have
scarcely permitted the apparently conquered people to enjoy all
the advantages accruing to the owner from the possession of land.
Yet in none of the chronicles of the time which we have seen is
any mention made of open confiscation, and of the survey and
division of the territory among the greedy followers of the sea-
kong. We do not yet witness what happened shortly after in
Normandy under Rollo, and what was to happen four hundred years
later in Ireland. The Scandinavians had not yet attained that
degree of civilization which makes men attach a paramount
importance to the possession of a fixed part of any territory,
and call in surveys, title-deeds, charters, and all the written
documents necessitated by a captious and over-scrupulous
legislation. The Irish, consequently, did not perceive that
their broad acres were passing into the control of a foreign
race, and were being taken piecemeal from them, thus bringing
them gradually down to the condition of mere serfs and

What they did see, beyond the possibility of mistake or
deception, was their religion outraged, their spiritual rulers,
not merely no longer at liberty to practise the duties of their
sacred ministry, but hunted down and slaughtered or driven to
the mountains and the woods. They saw that pagans were actually
ruling their holy isle, and changing a paradise of sanctity into
a pandemonium of brutal passion, presided over by a
superstitious and cruel idolatry. For surely, although the Irish
chronicles fail to speak of it, the minstrels and historians
being too full of their own misery to think of looking at the
pagan rites of their enemies - those enemies worshipped Thor and
Odin and Frigga, and as surely did they detest the Church which
they were on a fair way to destroy utterly. This it was which
gave the Irish the courage of despair. For this cause chiefly
did the whole island fly to arms, fall on their foes and bring
down on their heads a fearful retribution. This it was,
doubtless, which breathed into the new monarch the energy which
he displayed on the field of Glas Linni; and when he ordered the
barbarian, now a prisoner in his hands, to be drowned, it was
principally as a sign that he detested in him the blasphemer and
the persecutor of God's church.

Thus did the first national misfortunes of this Celtic people
become the means of enkindling in their hearts a greater love
for their religion, and a greater zeal for its preservation in
their midst.

Ireland was again free; and, although we have no details
concerning the short period of prosperity which followed the
overthrow of the tyranny we have touched upon, we have small
doubt that the first object of the care of those who, under God,
had worked their own deliverance, was to repair the ruins of the
desecrated sanctuaries and restore to religion the honor of
which it had been stripped.

The Danes themselves came to see that they had acted rashly in
striving to deprive the Irish of a religion which was so dear to
their hearts; they resolved on a change of policy, as they were
still bent on taking possession of the island, which Mr. Worsaae
has told us they considered the best country in existence.

They resolved, therefore, to act with more prudence, and to make
use of trade and the material blessings which it confers, in
order to entice the Irish to their destruction, by allowing the
Northmen to carry on business transactions with them and so
gradually to dwell among them again. Father Keating tells the
story in his quaint and graphic style:

"The plan adopted by them on this occasion was to equip three
captains, sprung from the noblest blood of Norway, and to send
them with a fleet to Ireland, for the object of obtaining some
station for purpose of trade. And with them they accordingly
embarked many tempting wares, and many valuable jewels -- with
the design of presenting them to the men of Ireland, in the hope
of thus securing their friendship; for they believed that they
might thus succeed in surreptitiously fixing a grasp upon the
Irish soil, and might be enabled to oppress the Irish people
again . . . . The three captains, therefore, coming from the
ports of Norway, landed in Ireland with their followers, as if
for the purpose of demanding peace, and under the pretext of
establishing a trade; and there, with the consent of the Irish,
who were given to peace, they took possession of some sea-board
places, and built three cities thereon, to wit: Waterford,
Dublin, and Limerick."

We see, then, the Scandinavians abandoning their first project
of conquering the North to fall on the South and confining
themselves to a small number of fortified sea-ports.

The first result of this policy was a firmer hold than ever on
Dublin, once already occupied by them in 836. "Amlaf, or Olaf,
or Olaus, came from Norway to Ireland in 851, so that all the
foreign tribes in the island submitted to him, and they
extracted rent from the Gaels." - (Four Masters.)

From that time to the twelfth century Dublin became the chief
stronghold of the Scandinavians, and no fewer than thirty-five
Ostmen, or Danish kings, governed it. They made it an important
emporium, and such it continued even after the Scandinavian
invasion had ceased. McFirbis says that in his time - 1650 -
most of the merchants of Dublin were the descendants of the
Norwegian Irish king, Olaf Kwaran; and, to give a stronger
impulse to commerce, they were the first to coin money in the

The new Scandinavian policy carried out by Amlaf, who tried to
establish in Dublin the seat of a kingdom which was to extend
over the whole island, resulted therefore only in the
establishment of five or six petty principalities, wherein the
Northmen, for some time masters, were gradually reduced to a
secondary position, and finally confined themselves to the
operations of commerce.

Since the attempt of Turgesius to subvert the religion of the
country, they never showed the slightest inclination to repeat
it; hence they were left in quiet possession of the places which
they occupied on the sea-board, and gradually came to embrace
Christianity themselves.

Little is known of the circumstances which attended this change
of religion on their part; and it is certain that it did not
take place till late in the tenth century. Some pretend that
Christianity was brought to them from their own country, where
it had already been planted by several missionaries and bishops.
But it is known that St. Ancharius, the first apostle of Denmark,
could not establish himself permanently in that country, and
had to direct a few missionaries from Hamburgh, where he fixed
his see. It is known, moreover, that Denmark was only truly
converted by Canute in the eleventh century, after his conquest
of England. As to Norway, the first attempt at its conversion by
King Haquin, who had become a Christian at the court of
Athelstan in England, was a failure; and although his successor,
Harold, appeared to succeed better for a time, paganism was
again reestablished, and flourished as late as 995. It was, in
fact, Olaf the Holy who, coming from England, in 1017, with the
priests Sigefried, Budolf, and Bernard, succeeded in introducing
Christianity permanently into Norway, and he made more use of
the sword than of the word in his mission.

With regard to the conversion of the Danes in Ireland, it seems
that, after all, it was the ever-present spectacle of the
workings of Christianity among the Irish which gradually opened
their eyes and ears. They came to love the country and the
people when they knew them thoroughly; they respected them for
their bravery, which they had proved a thousand times; they felt
attracted toward them on account of their geniality of
temperament and their warm social feelings; even their defects
of character and their impulsive nature were pleasing to them.
They soon sought their company and relationship; they began to
intermarry with them; and from this there was but a step to
embracing their religion.

The Danes of Waterford, Cork, and Limerick were, however, the
last to abandon paganism, and they seem not to have done so
until after Clontarf.

It is very remarkable that, during all those conflicts of the
Irish with the Danes, when the Northmen strewed the island with
dead and ruins; when they seemed to be planting their domination
in the Orkneys, the Hebrides, and even the Isle of Man, on a
firm footing; when the seas around England and Ireland swarmed
with pirates, and new expeditions started almost every spring
from the numerous harbors of the Baltic--the Irish colony of Dal
Riada in Scotland, which was literally surrounded by the
invaders, succeeded in wresting North Britain from the Picts,
drove them into the Lowlands, and so completely rooted them out,
that history never more speaks of them, so that to this day the
historical problem stands unsolved-- What became of the Picts?--
various as are the explanations given of their disappearance.
And, what is more remarkable still, is, that the Dal Riada
colony received constant help from their brothers in Erin, and
the first of the dynasty of Scottish kings, in the person of
Kenneth McAlpine, was actually set on the throne of Scotland by
the arms of the Irish warriors, who, not satisfied apparently
with their constant conflicts with the Danes on their own soil,
passed over the Eastern Sea to the neighboring coast of Great

During the last forty years of the tenth century the Danes lived
in Ireland as though they belonged to the soil. If they waged
war against some provincial king, they became the allies of
others. When clan fought clan, Danes were often found on both
sides, or if on one only, they soon joined the other. They had
been brought to embrace the manners of the natives, and to adopt
many of their customs and habits. Yet there always remained a
lurking distrust, more or less marked, between the two races;
and it was clear that Ireland could never be said to have
escaped the danger of subjugation until the Scandinavian element
should be rendered powerless.

This antipathy on both sides existed very early even in Church
affairs, the Christian natives being looked upon with a jealous
eye by the Christian Danes; so that, toward the middle of the
tenth century, the Danes of Dublin having succeeded in obtaining
a bishop of their own nation, they sent him to England to be
consecrated by Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and for a
long time the see of Dublin was placed under the jurisdiction of
Lanfranc's successors.

This grew into a serious difficulty for Ireland, as the capital
of Leinster began to be looked upon as depending, at least
spiritually, on England; and later on, at the time of the
invasion under Strongbow, the establishment of the English Pale
was considerably facilitated by such an arrangement, to which
Rome had consented only for the spiritual advantage of her
Scandinavian children in Ireland.

And the Irish were right in distrusting every thing foreign on
the soil, for, even after becoming Christians, the Danes could
not resist the temptation of making a last effort for the
subjugation of the country.

Hence arose their last general effort, which resulted in their
final overthrow at Clontarf. It does not enter into our purpose
to give the story of that great event, known in all its details
to the student of Irish history. It is not for us to trace the
various steps by which Brian Boru mounted to supreme power, and
superseded Malachi, to relate the many partial victories he had
already gained over the Northmen, nor to allude to his splendid
administration of the government, and the happiness of the Irish
under his sway.

But it is our duty to point out the persevering attempts of the
Scandinavian race, not only to keep its footing on Irish soil,
but to try anew to conquer what it had so often failed to
conquer. For, in describing their preparations for this last
attempt on a great scale, we but add another proof of that Irish
steadfastness which we have already had so many occasions to

In the chronicle of Adhemar, quoted by Lanigan from Labbe (Nova
Bibl., MSS., Tom. 2, p.177), it is said that "the Northmen came
at that time to Ireland, with an immense fleet, conveying even
their wives and children, with a view of extirpating the Irish
and occupying in their stead that very wealthy country in which
there were twelve cities, with extensive bishopries and a king."

Labbe thinks the Chronicle was written before the year 1031, so
that in his opinion the writer was a contemporary of the facts
he relates.

The Irish Annals state, on their side, that "the foreigners were
gathered from all the west of Europe, envoys having been
despatched into Norway, the Orkneys, the Baltic islands, so that
a great number of Vikings came from all parts of Scandinavia,
with their families, for the purpose of a permanent settlement."

Similar efforts were made about the same time by the Danes for
the lasting conquest of England, which succeeded, Sweyn having
been proclaimed king in 1013, and Canute the Great becoming its
undisputed ruler in 1017.

It is well known how the attempt failed in Erin, an army of
twenty-one thousand freebooters being completely defeated near
Dublin by Brian and his sons.

From that time the existence of the Scandinavian race on the
Irish soil was a precarious one; they were merely permitted to
occupy the sea-ports for the purpose of trade, and soon Irish
chieftains replaced their kings in Dublin, Limerick, Waterford,
and Cork.

The reader may be curious to learn, in conclusion, what signs
the Danes left of their long sojourn on the island. If we listen
to mere popular rumor, the country is still full of the ruins of
buildings occupied by them. The common people, in pointing out
to strangers the remains of edifices, fortifications, raths,
duns, even round-towers and churches, either more ancient or
more recent than the period of the Norse invasion, ascribe them
to the Danes. It is clear that two hundred years of devastations,
burnings, and horrors, have left a deep impression on the mind
of the Irish; and, as they cannot suppose that such powerful
enemies could have remained so long in their midst without
leaving wonderful traces of their passage, they often attribute
to them the construction of the very edifices which they
destroyed. The general accuracy of their traditions seems here
at fault. For there is no nation on earth so exact as the Irish
in keeping the true remembrance of facts of their past history.
Not long ago all Irish peasants were perfectly acquainted with
the whole history of their neighborhood; they could tell what
clans had succeeded each other, the exact spots where such a
party had been overthrown and such another victorious; every
village had its sure traditions printed on the minds of its
inhabitants, and, by consulting the annals of the nation, the
coincidence was often remarkable. How is it, therefore, that
they were so universally at fault with respect to the Danes?

A partial explanation has been given which is in itself a proof
of the tenacity of Irish memory. It is known that the Tuatha de
Danaan were not only skilful in medicine, in the working of
metals and in magic, but many buildings are generally attributed
to them by the best antiquarians; among others, the great mound
of New Grange, on the banks of the Boyne, which is still in
perfect preservation, although opened and pillaged by the Danes--
a work reminding the beholder of some Egyptian monument. The
coincidence of the name of the Tuatha de Danaan with that of the
Danes may have induced many of the illiterate Irish to adopt the
universal error into which they fell long ago, of attributing
most of the ancient monuments of their country to the Danes.

The fact is, that the ruins of a few unimportant castles and
churches are all the landmarks that remain of the Danish
domination in Ireland; and even these must have been the product
of the latter part of it.

But a more curious proof of the extirpation of every thing
Danish in the island is afforded by Mr. Worsaae, whose object in
writing his account of the Danes and Norwegians in England,
Scotland, and Ireland, was to glorify his own country, Denmark.

He made a special study of the names of places and things, which
can be traced to the Scandinavians respectively in the three
great divisions of the British Isles; and certainly the language
of a conquering people always shows itself in many words of the
conquered country, where the subjugation has been of sufficient

In England, chiefly in the northern half of the kingdom, a very
great number of Danish names appear and are still preserved in
the geography of the country. In Mr. Worsaae's book there is a
tabular view of 1,373 Danish and Norwegian names of places in
England, and also a list of 100 Danish words, selected from the
vulgar tongue, still in use among the people who dwell north of
Watling Street.

In Scotland, likewise--in the Highlands and even in the Lowlands-
-a considerable number of names, or at least of terminations,
are still to be met in the geography of the country.

Three or four names of places around Dublin, and the
terminations of the names of the cities of Waterford, Wexford,
Longford, and a few others, are all that Mr. Worsaae could find
in Ireland. So that the language of the Irish, not to speak of
their government and laws, remained proof against the long and
persevering efforts made by a great and warlike Northern race to
invade the country, and substitute its social life for that of
the natives.

As a whole, the Scandinavian irruptions were a complete failure.
They did not succeed in impressing their own nationality or
individuality on any thing in the island, as they did in England,
Holland, and the north of France. The few drops of blood which
they left in the country have been long ago absorbed in the
healthful current of the pure Celtic stream; even the language
of the people was not affected by them.

As for the social character of the nation, it was not touched by
this fearful aggression. The customs of Scandinavia with respect
to government, society, domestic affairs, could not influence
the Irish; they refused to admit the systematic thraldom which
the sternness of the Northmen would engraft upon their character,
and preserved their free manners in spite of all adverse
attempts. In this country, Turgesius, Amlaf, Sitrick, and their
compeers, failed as signally as other Scandinavian chieftains
succeeded in Britain and Normandy.

The municipal system, which has won so much praise, was
scornfully abandoned by the Irish to the Danes of the sea port
towns, and they continued the agricultural life adapted to their
tastes. Towns and cities were not built in the interior till
much later by the English.

The clan territories continued to be governed as before. The
"Book of Rights" extended its enactments even to the Danish Pale;
and the Danes tried to convert it to their own advantage by
introducing into it false chapters. How the poem of the Gaels of
Ath Cliath first found a place in the "Book of Rights" is still
unknown to the best Irish antiquarians. John O'Donovan concludes
from a verse in it that it was composed in the tenth century,
after the conversion of the Danes of Dublin to Christianity. It
proves certainly that the Scandinavians in Ireland, like the
English of the Pale later on, had become attached to Erin and
Erin's customs--had, in fact, become. Irishmen, to all intents
and purposes. Not succeeding in making Northmen of the Irish,
they succumbed to the gentle influence of Irish manners and

As for the commercial spirit, the Irish could not be caught by
it, even when confronted by the spectacle of the wealth it
conferred on the "foreigners." It is stated openly in the annals
of the race that their greatest kings, both Malachi and Brian
Boru, did not utterly expel the Danes from the country, in order
that they might profit by the Scandinavian traders, and receive
through them the wines, silks, and other commodities, which the
latter imported from the continent of Europe.

The same is true of the sea-faring life. The Irish could never
be induced to adopt it as a profession, whatever may have been
their fondness for short voyages in their curraghs.

The only baneful effects which the Norse invasion exercised on
the Irish were: 1. The interruption of studies on the large,
even universal, scale on which, they had previously been
conducted; 2. The breaking up of the former constitution of the
monarchy, by compelling the several clans which were attacked by
the "foreigners" to act independently of the Ard-Righ, so that
from that time irresponsible power was divided among a much
greater number of chieftains.

But these unfortunate effects of the Norse irruptions affected
in no wise the Irish character, language, or institutions, which,
in fact, finally triumphed over the character, language, and
institutions of the pirates established among them for upward of
two centuries.



The Danes were subdued, and the Irish at liberty to go on
weaving the threads of their history--though, in consequence of
the local wars, they had lost the concentrating power of the Ard-
Righ--when treachery in their own ranks opened up the way for a
far more serious attack from another branch of the great
Scandinavian family--the Anglo-Norman.

The manners of the people had been left unchanged; the clan
system had not been altered in the least; it had stood the test
of previous revolutions; now it was to be confronted by a new
system which had just conquered Europe, and spread itself round
about the apparently doomed island. Of all places it had taken
deep root in England, where it was destined to survive its
destruction elsewhere in the convulsions of our modern history.
That system, then in full vigor, was feudalism.

In order rightly to understand and form a correct judgment on
the question, and its mighty issues, we must state briefly what
the chief characteristics of feudalism were in those countries
where it flourished.

The feudal system proceeded on the principle that landed
property was all derived from the king, as the captain of a
conquering army; that it had been distributed by him among his
followers on certain conditions, and that it was liable to be
forfeited if those conditions were not fulfilled.

The feudal system, moreover, politically considered, supposed
the principle that all civil and political rights were derived
from the possession of land; that those who possessed no land
could possess neither civil nor political rights--were, in fact,
not men, but villeins.

Consequently, it reduced nations to a small number of landowners,
enjoying all the privileges of citizenship; the masses,
deprived of all rights, having no share in the government, no
opportunity of rising in the social scale, were forever
condemned to villeinage or serfdom.

Feudalism, in our opinion, came first from Scandinavia. The
majority of writers derive it from Germany. The question of its
origin is too extensive to be included within our present limits,
and indeed is unnecessary, as we deal principally with the fact
and not with its history.

When the sea-rover had conquered the boat of an enemy, or
destroyed a village, he distributed the spoils among his crew.
Every thing was handed over to his followers in the form of a
gift, and in return these latter were bound to serve him with
the greatest ardor and devotedness. In course of time the idea
of settling down on some territory which they had devastated and
depopulated, presented itself to the minds of the rovers. The
sea-kong did by the land what he had been accustomed to do by
the plunder: he parcelled it out among his faithful followers--
fideles--giving to each his share of the territory. This was
called feoh by the Anglo-Saxons, who were the first to carry out
the system on British soil, as Dr. Lingard shows. Thus the word
fief was coined, which in due time took its place in all the
languages of Europe.

The giver was considered the absolute owner of whatever he gave,
as is the commander of a vessel at sea. It was a beneficium
conferred by him, to which certain indispensable conditions were
attached. Military duty was the first, but not the only one of
these. Writers on feudalism mention a great number, the
nonfulfilment of which incurred what was called forfeiture.

In countries where the pirates succeeded in establishing
themselves, all the native population was either destroyed by
them, as Dudo tells us was the case in Normandy, or, as more
frequently happened, the sword being unable to carry destruction
so far, the inhabitants who survived were reduced to serfdom,
and compelled to till the soil for the conquerors; they were
thenceforth called villeins or ascripti glebae. It is clear that
such only as possessed land could claim civil and political
rights in the new states thus called into existence. Hence the
owning of land under feudal tenure was the great and only
essential characteristic of mediaeval feudalism.

This system, which was first introduced into Britain by the
Anglo-Saxons, was brought to a fixed and permanent state by the
Normans--followers of William the Conqueror; and, when the time
came for treachery to summon the Norman knights to Irish soil,
the devoted island found herself face to face with an iron
system which at that period crushed and weighed down all Europe.

The Normans had now been settled in England for a hundred years;
all the castles in the country were occupied by Norman lords;
all bishopries filled by Norman bishops; all monasteries ruled
by Norman abbots. At the head of the state stood the king, at
that time Henry II. Here, more than in any other country in
Europe, was the king the key-stone to the feudal masonry. Not an
inch of ground in England was owned save under his authority, as
enjoying the supremum dominium. All the land had been granted by
his predecessors as fiefs, with the right of reversion to the
crown by forfeiture in case of the violation of feudal
obligations. Here was no allodial property, no censitive
hereditary domain, as in the rest of, otherwise, feudal Europe.
All English lawyers were unanimous in the doctrine that the king
alone was the true master of the territory; that tenure under
him carried with it all the conditions of feudal tenure, and
that any deed or grant proceeding from his authority ought to be
so understood.

The south-western portion of Wales was occupied by Norman lords,
Flemings for the most part. Two of these, Robert Fitzstephens
and Maurice Fitzgerald, sailed to the aid of the Irish King of
Leinster. They were the first to land, arriving a full year
before Strongbow.

Strongbow came at last. The conditions agreed on beforehand
between himself and the Leinster king were fulfilled. He was
married to the daughter of Dermod McMurrough, chief of Leinster,
acknowledged Righ Dahma, that is, successor to the crown, while
the Irish, accustomed for ages to admire valor and bow
submissively to the law of conquest, admitted the claim. The
English adventurer they looked upon as one of themselves by
marriage. Election in such a case was unnecessary, or rather,
understood, and Strongbow took the place which was his in their
eyes by right of his wife, of head under McMurrough of all the
clans of Leinster.

When, a little later, came Henry II. to be acknowledged by
Strongbow as his suzerain, and to receive the homage of the
presumptive heir of Leinster, submission to him was, in the
eyes of the Irish, merely a consequence of their own clan system.
They understood the homage rendered to him in a very different
sense from that attached to it by feudal nations; and had they
had an inkling of the real intentions of the new comers, not one
of them would have consented to live under and bow the neck to
such a yoke.

In fact, on the small territory where those great events were
enacted, two worlds, utterly different from each other, stood
face to face. Cambrensis tells us that the English were struck
with wonder at what they saw. The imperialism of Rome had never
touched Ireland. The Danes, opposed so strenuously from the
outset, and finally overcome, had never been able to introduce
there their restrictive measures of oppression. The English
found the natives in exactly the same state as that in which
Julius Caesar found the Gauls twelve hundred years before,
except as to religion--the race governed patriarchally by
chieftains allied to their subordinates by blood relationship;
no unity in the government, no common flag, no private and
hereditary property, nothing to bind the tribes together except
religion. It was not a nation properly, but rather an
agglomeration of small nations often at war each with each, yet
all strongly attached to Erin-- a mere name, including,
nevertherless, the dear idea of country --the chieftains
elective, bold, enterprising; the subordinates free, attached to
the chief as to a common father, throwing themselves with ardor
into all his quarrels, ready to die for him at any moment.
Around chief and clansmen circled a large number of brehons,
shanachies, poets, bards, and harpers--poetry, music, and war
strangely blended together. The religion of Christ spread over
all a halo of purity and holiness; large monasteries filled with
pious monks, and convents of devout and pure virgins abounded;
bishops and priests in the churches chanting psalms, each
accompanying himself with a many-stringed harp, gave forth sweet
harmony, unheard at the time in any other part of the world.

A most important feature to be considered is their understanding
of property. Hereditary right of land with respect to
individuals, and the transmission of property of any kind by
right of primogeniture, were unknown among them. If a specified
amount of territory was assigned to the chieftain, a smaller
portion to the bishop, the shanachy, head poet, and other civil
officers each in his degree, such property was attached to the
office and not to the man who filled it, but passed to his
elected successor and not to his own children; while the great
bulk of the territory belonged to the clan in common. No one
possessed the right to alienate a single rood of it, and, if at
times a portion was granted to exiles, to strangers, to a
contiguous clan, the whole tribe was consulted on the subject.
Over the common land large herds of cattle roamed--the property
of individuals who could own nothing, except of a movable nature,
beyond their small wooden houses.

This state of things had existed, according to their annals, for
several thousand years. Their ancestors had lived happily under
such social conditions, which they wished to abide in and hand
down to their posterity.

Foreign trade was distasteful to them; in fact, they had no
inclination for commerce. Lucre they despised, scarcely knowing
the use of money, which had been lately introduced among them.
Yet, being refined in their tastes, fond of ornament, of wine at
their feasts, loving to adorn the persons of their wives and
daughters with silk and gems, they had allowed the Danes to
dwell in their seaports, to trade in those commodities, and to
import for their use what the land did not produce.

Those seaport towns had been fortified by the Northmen on their
first victories when they took possession of them. Throughout
the rest of the island, a fortress or a large town was not to be
seen. The people, being all agriculturists or graziers, loved to
dwell in the country; their houses were built of wattle and clay,
yet comfortable and orderly.

The mansions of the chieftains were neither large architectural
piles, nor frowning fortresses. They bore the name of raths when
used for dwellings; of duns when constructed with a view to
resisting an attack. In both cases, they were, in part under
ground, in part above; the whole circular in form, built
sometimes of large stones, oftener of walls of sodded clay.

Instead of covering their limbs with coats of mail, like the
warriors of mediaeval Europe, they wore woollen garments even in
war, and for ornaments chains or plates of precious metal. The
Norman invaders, clad in heavy mail, were surprised, therefore,
to find themselves face to face with men in their estimation
unprotected and naked. More astonished were they still at the
natural boldness and readiness of the Irish in speaking before
their chieftains and princes, not understanding that all were of
the same blood and cognizant of the fact.

Still less could they understand the freedom and familiarity
existing between the Irish nobility and the poorest of their
kinsmen, so different from the haughty bearing of an aristocracy
of foreign extraction to the serfs and villeins of a people they
had conquered.

The two nations now confronting each other had, therefore,
nothing in common, unless, perhaps, an excessive pertinacity of
purpose. The new comers belonged to a stern, unyielding,
systematic stock, which was destined to give to Europe that
great character so superior in our times to that of southern or
eastern nations. The natives possessed that strong attachment to
their time-honored customs, so peculiar to patriarchal tribes,
in whose nature traditions and social habits are so strongly
intermingled, that they are ineradicable save by the utter
extirpation of the people.

And now the characteristics of both races were to be brought out
in strong contrast by the great question of property in the soil,
which was at the bottom of the struggle between clanship and
feudalism. The Irish, as we have seen, knew nothing of
individual property in land, nor of tenure, nor of rent, much
less of forfeiture. They were often called upon by their
chieftains to contribute to their support in ways not seldom
oppressive enough, but the contributions were always in kind.

A new and very different system was to be attempted, to which
the Irish at first appeared to consent, because they did not
understand it, attaching, as they did, their own ideas to words,
which, in the mouths of the invaders, had a very different

With the Irish "to do homage" meant to acknowledge the
superiority of another, either on account of his lawful
authority or his success in war; and the consequences of this
act were, either the fulfilment of the enactments contained in
the "Book of Rights," or submission to temporary conditions
guaranteed by hostages. But that the person doing homage became
by that act the liegeman of the suzerain for life and
hereditarily in his posterity, subject to be deprived of all
privileges of citizenship, as well as to the possibility of
seeing all his lands forfeited, besides many minor penalties
enjoined by the feudal code which often resolved itself into
mere might--such a meaning of the word homage could by no
possibility enter the mind of an Irishman at that period.

Hence, when, after the atrocities committed by the first
invaders, who respected neither treaties nor the dictates of
humanity, not even the sanctuary and the sacredness of religious
houses, Henry II. came with an army, large and powerful for that
time, the Irish people and their chieftains, hoping that he
would put an end to the crying tyranny of the Fitzstephens,
Fitzgeralds, De Lacys, and others, went to meet him and
acknowledge his authority as head chieftain of Leinster through
Strongbow, and, perhaps, as the monarch who should restore peace
and happiness to the whole island. McCarthy, king of Desmond,
was the first Irish prince to pay homage to Henry.

While the king was spending the Christmas festivities in Dublin,
many other chieftains arrived; among them O'Carrol of Oriel and
O'Rourke of Breffny. Roderic O'Connor of Connaught, till then
acknowledged by many as monarch of Ireland, thought at first of
fighting, but, as was his custom, he ended by a treaty, wherein,
it is said, he acknowledged Henry as his suzerain, and thus
placed Ireland at his feet. Ulster alone had not seen the
invaders; but, as its inhabitants did not protest with arms in
their hands, the Normans pretended that from that moment they
were the rightful owners of the island.

Without a moment's delay they began to feudalize the country by
dividing the land and building castles. These two operations,
which we now turn to, opened the eyes of the Irish to the
deception which had been practised upon them, and were the real
origin of the momentous struggle which is still being waged

Sir John Davies, the English attorney-general of James I., has
stated the whole case in a sentence: "All Ireland was by Henry
II. cantonized among ten of the English nation; and, though they
had not gained possession of one-third of the kingdom, yet in
title they were owners and lords of all, so as nothing was left
to be granted to the natives."

McCarthy, king of Desmond, had been the first to acknowledge the
authority of Henry II., yet McCarthy's lands were among the
first, if not the first, bestowed by Henry on his minions. The
grant may be seen in Ware, and it is worthy of perusal as a
sample of the many grants which followed it, whereby Henry
attempted a total revolution in the tenure of land. The charter
giving Meath to De Lacy was the only one which by a clause
seemed to preserve the old customs of the country as to
territory; and yet it was in Meath that the greatest atrocities
were committed.

Yet one difficulty presented itself to the invaders: their
rights were only on paper, whereas the Irish were still in
possession of the greatest part of the island, and once the real
purpose of the Normans showed itself, they were no longer
disposed to submit to Henry or to any of his appointed lords.
The territory had to be wrested from them by force of arms.

The English claimed the whole island as their own. They were, in
fact, masters only of the portion occupied by their troops; the
remainder was, therefore, to be conquered. And if in Desmond,
where the whole strength of the English first fell, they
possessed only a little more than one-fourth of the soil, what
was the case in the rest of the island, the most of which had
not yet seen them?

Long years of war would evidently be required to subdue it, and
the systematic mind of the conquerors immediately set about
devising the best means for the attainment of their purpose. The
lessons gathered from their continental experience suggested
these means immediately; they saw that by covering the country
with feudal castles they could in the end conquer the most
stubborn nation. A thorough revolution was intended. The two
systems were so entirely antagonistic to each other that the
success of the Norman project involved a change of land tenure,
laws, customs, dress--every thing. Even the music of the bards
was to be silenced, the poetry of the files to be abolished, the
pedigrees of families to be discontinued, the very games of the
people to be interrupted and forbidden. A vast number of castles
was necessary. The project was a fearful one, cruel, barbarous,
worthy of pagan antiquity. It was undertaken with a kind of
ferocious alacrity, and in a short time it appeared near
realization. But in the long run it failed, and four hundred
years later, under the eighth Henry, it was as far from
completion as the day on which the second Henry left the island
in 1171.

To show the importance which the invaders attached to their
system, and the ardor with which they set about putting it in
practice, we have only to extract a few passages from the old
annals of the islands; they are wonderfully expressive in their

"A.D. 1176. The English were driven from Limerick by Donnall
O'Brian. An English castle was in process of erection at Kells."-


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