The Glories of Ireland
Edited by Joseph Dunn and P.J. Lennox

Part 6 out of 7

_Crist_ indium | _Crist_ issum | _Crist_ uasum
| _Crist_ dessum | _Crist_ uasum

This versification, one of the elements of which was the repetition
of words or sounds at regular intervals, was transformed about the
eighth century into a more learned system. Thenceforward
alliteration, assonance, rhyme, and a fixed number of syllables
constituted the characteristics of Irish verse:

Messe ocus Pangur bAN
cechtar nathar fria saindAN
bith a _menma_ sam fri SEILGG
mu _menma_ cein im sainchEIRDD.

As we see, the consonants in the rhyme-words were merely related: _l,
r, n, ng, m, dh, gh, bh, mh, ch, th, f_ could rime together just as
could _gg, dd, bb_. Soon the poets did not limit themselves to
end-rhymes, which ran the risk of becoming monotonous, but introduced
also internal rhyme, which set up what we may call a continuous chain
of melody:

is aire caraim DOIRE
ar a reidhe ar a ghlOINE
's ar iomad a aingel fIND
o 'n CIND go aoich arOILE.

This harmonious versification was replaced in the seventeenth century
by a system in which account was no longer taken of consonantal rhyme
or of the number of syllables.

The rules of Irish verse have nothing in common with classical Latin
metres, which were based on the combination of short and long
syllables. In Low-Latin, indeed, we find occasionally alliteration,
rhyme, and a fixed number of syllables, but these novelties are
obviously of foreign origin, and date from the time when the Romans
borrowed them from the nations which they called barbarous. We cannot
prove beyond yea or nay that they are of Celtic origin, but it is
extremely probable that they are, for it is among the Celts both of
Ireland and of Wales that the harmonizing of vowels and of consonants
has been carried to the highest degree of perfection.

This learned art was not acquired without long study. The training of
a poet (_file_) lasted twelve years, or more. The poets had a regular
hierarchy. The highest in rank, the _ollamh_, knew 350 kinds of verse
and could recite 250 principal and 100 secondary stories. The
_ollamhs_ lived at the court of the kings and the nobles, who granted
them freehold lands; their persons and their property were sacred;
and they had established in Ireland schools in which the people might
learn history, poetry, and law. The bards formed a numerous class, of
a rank inferior to the _file_; they did not enjoy the same honors and
privileges; some of them even were slaves; according to their
standing, different kinds of verse were assigned to them as a

The Danish invasions in the ninth century set back for some time the
development of Irish poetry, but, when the Irish had driven the
fierce and aggressive sea-rovers from their country, there was a
literary renascence. This was in turn checked by the Anglo-Norman
invasion in the twelfth century, and thereafter the art of
versification was no longer so refined as it had formerly been.
Nevertheless, the bardic schools still existed in the seventeenth
century, more than four hundred years after the landing of Strongbow,
and, in them, students followed the lectures of the _ollamhs_ for six
months each year, or until the coming of spring, exercising both
their talents for composition and their memory.

A catalogue of Irish poets, which has recently been made out, shows
that there were more than a thousand of them. We have lost many of
the oldest poems, but the Irish scribes often modernized the texts
which they were copying. Hence the language is not always a
sufficient indication of date, and it is possible that, under a
comparatively modern form, some very ancient pieces may have been
preserved. Even if the poems attributed to Amergin do not go back to
the tenth century B.C., as has been claimed for them, they are in any
case old enough to be archaic, and certain poems of the mythological
cycle are undoubtedly anterior to the Christian era.

We have reason to believe that there have been preserved some genuine
poems of Finn macCumaill (third century), a hymn by St. Patrick (d.
461), some greatly altered verses of St. Columcille (d. 597), and
certain hymns written by saints who lived from the seventh to the
ninth century. The main object of the most celebrated of the ancient
poets up to the end of the twelfth century was to render history,
genealogy, toponomy, and lives of saints readier of access and easier
to retain by putting them into verse-form; and it is the names of
those scholars that have been rescued from oblivion, while lyric
poetry, having as its basis nothing more than sentiment, has remained
for the most part anonymous. After the Anglo-Norman invasion, the
best poet seems to have been Donnchadh Mor O'Daly (d. 1244). Of later
date were Teig MacDaire (1570-1652), Teig Dall O'Higinn (d. 1615),
and Eochaidh O'Hussey, who belonged to the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. The new school, which abandoned the old rules and whose
inspiration is now personal, now patriotic, is represented by
_caoine_ (keens or laments), _abran_ (hymns), or _aislingi_
(visions), composed, among others, by Geoffrey Keating (d. c. 1650),
David O'Bruadair (c. 1625-1698), Egan O'Rahilly (c. 1670-c. 1734),
John MacDonnell (1691-1754), William O'Heffernan (fl. 1750), John
O'Tuomy (1706-1775), and Andrew MacGrath (d. c. 1790). The greatest
of the eighteenth century Irish poets was Owen Roe O'Sullivan (c.
1748-1784), whose songs were sung everywhere, and who, in the opinion
of his editor, Father Dinneen, is the literary glory of his country
and deserves to be ranked among the few supreme lyric poets of all

If, in order to study the subjects treated by the poets, we lay aside
didactic poetry and confine ourselves to the ancient poems from the
seventh to the eleventh century, we shall find in the latter a
singular variety. They were at first dialogues or monologues, now
found incorporated with the sagas, of which they may have formed the
original nucleus. Thus, in the _Voyage of Bran_, we have the account
of the Isles of the Blessed and the discourse of the King of the Sea;
in the _Expedition of Loegaire MacCrimthainn_, the brilliant
description of the fairy hosts; in _The Death of the Sons of Usnech_,
the touching farewell of Deirdre to the land of Scotland and her
lamentation over the dead bodies of the three warriors; and in the
_Lay of Fothard Canann_, the strange and thrilling speech of the dead
lover, returning after the battle to the tryst appointed by his
sweetheart. Other poems seem never to have figured in a saga, like
the Song of Crede, daughter of Guaire, in which she extols the memory
of her friend Dinertach, and the affecting love-scenes between Liadin
and Curithir; or like the bardic songs designed to distribute praise
or blame: the funeral panegyric on King Niall, in alternate verses,
the song of the sword of Carroll, and the satire of MacConglinne
against the monks of Cork.

Religious poetry comprised lyric fragments, which were introduced
into the lives of the saints and there formed a kind of Christian
saga, or else were based on Holy Writ, like the _Lamentation of Eve_;
hymns in honor of the saints, like _The Hymn to St. Michael_, by Mael
Isu; pieces such as the famous Hymn of St. Patrick; and philosophic
poems like that keen analysis of the flight of thought which dates
from the tenth century.

At a time when the poets of other lands seem wholly engrossed in the
recital of the deeds of men, one of the great and constant
distinguishing marks of poetry in Ireland, whether we have to do with
a short note set down by a scribe on the margin of a manuscript or
with a religious or profane poem, is a deep, personal, and intimate
love of nature expressed not by detailed description, but more often
by a single picturesque and telling epithet. Thus we have the hermit
who prays God to give him a hut in a lonely place beside a clear
spring in the wood, with a little lark to sing overhead; or we have
Marban, who, rich in nuts, crab-apples, sloes, watercress, and honey,
refuses to go back to the court to which the king, his brother,
presses him to return. Now, we have the description of the summer
scene, in which the blackbird sings and the sun smiles; now, the song
of the sea and of the wind, which blows tempestuously from the four
quarters of the sky; again, the winter song, when the snow covers the
hills, when every furrow is a streamlet and the wolves range
restlessly abroad, while the birds, numbed to the heart, are silent;
or yet again the recluse in his cell, humorously comparing his quest
of ideas to the pursuit of the mice by his pet cat. This deep love of
inanimate and animate things becomes individualized in those poems in
which every tree, every spring, every bird is described with its own
special features.

If we remember that these original poems, which, before the twelfth
century, expressed thoughts that were scarcely known to the
literature of Europe before the eighteenth, are, besides, clothed in
the rich garb of a subtle harmony, what admiration, what respect, and
what love ought we not to show to that ancient Ireland which, in the
darkest ages of western civilization, not only became the depositary
of Latin knowledge and spread it over the continent, but also had
been able to create for herself new artistic and poetic forms!


Hyde: Love Songs of Connacht (Dublin, 1893), Irish Poetry, an Essay
in Irish with Translation in English and a Vocabulary (Dublin, 1902),
The Religious Songs of Connacht (London, 1906); Meyer: Ancient Gaelic
Poetry (Glasgow, 1906), a Primer of Irish Metrics with a Glossary and
an Appendix containing an Alphabetical List of the Poets of Ireland
(Dublin, 1909); Dottin-Dunn: The Gaelic Literature of Ireland
(Washington, 1906); Meyer: Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry (2d
edition, London, 1913); Best: Bibliography of Irish Philology and of
Printed Irish Literature (Dublin, 1913); Loth: La metrique galloise
(Paris, 1902); Thurneysen: Mittelirische Verslehren, Irische Texte
III.; Buile Suibhne (Dublin, 1910).



Ireland has the unique distinction of having preserved for mankind a
full and vivid literary record of a period otherwise, so far as
native memorials are concerned, clouded in obscurity. A few
fragmentary suggestions, derived from ancient stone monuments or from
diggings in tumuli and graves, are all that Gaul or Britain have to
contribute to a knowledge of that important period just before and
just after the beginning of our era, when the armies of Rome were
overrunning western Europe and were brought, for the first time, into
direct contact with the Celtic peoples of the West. Almost all that
we know of the early inhabitants of these countries comes to us from
the pens of Roman writers and soldiers--Poseidonius, Caesar,
Diodorus, Tacitus. We may give these observers credit for a desire to
be fair to peoples they sometimes admired and often dreaded, but
conquerors are not always the best judges of the races they are
engaged in subduing, especially when they are ignorant of their
language, unversed in their lore and customs, and unused to their
ways. Valuable as are the reports of Roman authorities, we feel at
every point the need of checking them by native records; but the
native records of Gaul, and in large part also those of Britain and
Wales, have been swept away. Caesar is probably right in saying that
the Druids, who were the learned men of their race and day, committed
nothing to writing; if they did, whatever they wrote has been
irrecoverably lost.

But Ireland was exempt from the sweeping changes brought about
through long periods of Roman and Saxon occupation; no great upheaval
from without disturbed the native political and social conditions up
to the coming of the Norse and Danes about the beginning of the ninth
century. Agricola, standing on the western coast of Britain, looked
across the dividing channel, and reflected upon "the beneficial
connection that the conquest of Ireland would have formed between the
most powerful parts of the Roman Empire," but, fortunately for the
literature of Ireland, if not for her history, he never came. The
early incursions of the Scotti or Irish were eastward into England,
Wales, and Gaul, and there seem to have been few return movements
towards the west. Ireland pursued her path of native development
undisturbed. It is to this circumstance that she owes the
preservation of so much of her native literature, a great body of
material, historical, religious, poetic, romantic, showing marks of
having originated at a very early time, and of great variety and

At what period this literature first began to be written down we do
not know. Orosius tells us that a traveler named Aethicus spent a
considerable time in Ireland early in the fifth century "examining
their volumes", which tends to prove that there was writing in
Ireland before St. Patrick. But the native bard must have made
writing superfluous. The man who could, at a moment's notice, recite
any one out of the 350 stories which might be called for, besides
poetry, genealogies, and tribal records, was worth many books. Only a
few were expert enough to read his writings, but all could enjoy his

The earliest written records that we have now existing date from the
seventh or eighth century; but undoubtedly there is preserved for us,
in these materials, a picture of social conditions going back to the
very beginning of our era, and coeval with the stage of civilization
known in archaeology as _La Tene_ or "Late Celtic".

To help his memory the early "shanachie" or story-teller grouped his
romantic story-store under different heads, such as "Tains" or
Cattle-spoils, Feasts, Elopements, Sieges, Battles, Destructions,
Tragical Deaths; but it is easier for us now to group them in another
way, and to class together the series of tales referring to the
Tuatha De Danann or ancient deities, those belonging to the Red
Branch cycle of King Conchobar and Cuchulainn, those relating to
Finn, and the Legends of the Kings. The hundred or more tales
belonging to the second group are especially valuable for social
history on account of the detailed descriptions they give of customs,
dress, weapons, habits of life, and ethical ideas. To the historian,
folklorist, and student of primitive civilizations they are documents
of the highest importance.

It seems likely that the Red Branch cycle of tales, including the
epic tale of the Tain or Cattle-spoil of Cualnge, which has gathered
round itself a number of minor tales, had some basis of historical
fact, and arose in the period of Ulster's predominance to celebrate
the deeds of a band of warlike champions who flourished in the north
about the beginning of the Christian era. No one who has visited the
raths of Emain Macha, near Armagh, where stood the traditional site
of the ancient capital of Ulster, or has followed the well-defined
and massive outworks of Rath Celtchair and the forts of the other
heroes whose deeds the tales embody, could doubt that they had their
origin in great events that once happened there. The topography of
the tales is absolutely correct. Or again, when we cross over into
Connacht, the remains at Rath Croghan, near the ancient palace of the
Amazonian queen, Medb, testify to similar events. She it was who in
her "Pillow Talk" with her husband Ailill declared that she had
married him only because in him did she find the "strange bride-gift"
which her imperious nature demanded, "a man without stinginess,
without jealousy, without fear." It was in her desire to surpass her
husband in wealth that she sent the combined armies of the south and
west into Ulster to carry off a famous bull, the Brown Bull of
Cooley, the only match in Ireland for one possessed by her spouse.
This raid forms the central subject of the _Tain Bo Cualnge_. The
motif of the tale and the kind of life described in it alike show the
primitive conditions out of which it had its rise. It belongs to a
time when land was plenty for the scattered inhabitants to dwell
upon, but stock to place upon it was scarce. The possession of herds
was necessary, not only for food and the provisioning of troops, but
as a standard of wealth, a proof of position, and a means of
exchange. Everything was estimated, before the use of money, by its
value in kine or herds. When Medb and Ailill compare their
possessions, to find out which of them is better than the other,
their herds of cattle, swine, and horses are driven in, their
ornaments and jewels, their garments and vats and household
appliances are displayed. The pursuit of the cattle of neighboring
tribes was the prime cause of the innumerable raids which made every
man's life one of perpetual warfare, much more so than the
acquisition of land or the avenging of wrongs. Hence a motif that may
seem to us insufficient and remote as the subject of a great epic
arose out of the necessities of actual life. Cattle-driving is the
oldest of all occupations in Ireland.

The conditions we find described in these tales show us an open
country, generally unenclosed by hedges or walls. The chariots can
drive straight across the province. There are no towns, and the
stopping places are the large farmers' dwellings, open inns known as
"houses of hospitality", fortified by surrounding raths or earthen
walls, the only private property in land, in a time when the
tribe-land was common, that we hear of at this period. Within these
borders lay the pleasure grounds and gardens and the cattle-sheds for
the herds, which the great landowner or chief loaned out to the
smaller men in return for services rendered. Here were trained in
arts of industry and fine needlework the daughters of the chief men
of the tribe and their foster-sisters, drawn from the humbler
families around them. The rivers as a rule formed the boundaries of
the provinces, and the fords were constantly guarded by champions who
challenged every wayfarer to single combat, if he could not show
sufficient reason for crossing the borderland. These combats were
fought actually in the ford itself, and all wars began in a long
series of single hand-to-hand combats between equal champions before
the armies as a whole engaged each other.

To fight was every man's prime duty, and the man who had slain the
largest number of his fellows was acclaimed as the greatest hero. It
was the proud boast of Conall Cernach, "the Victorious", that seldom
had a day passed in which he had not challenged a Connachtman, and
few nights in which a Connachtman's head had not formed his pillow.
It shows the primitive savagery of the period that skulls of enemies
were worn dangling from the belt, and were stored up in one of the
palaces of Emain Macha as trophies of valor. So warlike were the
heroes that even during friendly feasts their weapons had to be hung
up in a separate house, lest they should spring to arms in rivalry
with their own fellows.

Yet in spite of this rude barbarism of outward life, the warriors had
formed for themselves a high and exacting code of honor, which may be
regarded as the first steps toward what in later times and other
countries became known as "chivalry"; save that there is in the acts
of the Irish heroes a simplicity and sincerity which puts them on a
higher level than the obligatory courtesies of more artificial ages.
Generosity between enemies was carried to an extraordinary pitch.
Twice over in fights with different foes, Conall Cernach binds his
right hand to his side in order that his enemy, who had lost one
hand, may fight on equal terms with him. The two severest combats
sustained by Cuchulainn, the youthful Ulster champion, in the long
war of the Tain are those with Loch the Great and Ferdiad, both
first-rate warriors, who had been forced by the wiles of Medb into
unwilling conflict against their young antagonist. In their youth
they had been fellow-pupils in the school of the Amazon Scathach, who
had taught them both alike the arts of war. When Loch the Great, as a
dying request, prays Cuchulainn to permit him to rise, "so that he
may fall on his face and not backwards towards the men of Erin," lest
hereafter it should be said that he fell in flight, Cuchulainn
replies: "That will I surely, for it is a warrior's boon thou
cravest," and he steps back to allow the wounded man to reverse his
position in the ford. The tale of Cuchulainn's combat with Ferdiad
has become classic; nothing more pathetic or more full of the true
spirit of chivalry is to be found in any literature. Each warrior
estimates nobly the prowess of the other, each sorrowfully recalls
the memory of old friendships and expeditions made together. When
Ferdiad falls, his ancient comrade pours out over him a passionate
lament. Each night, when the day's combat is over, they throw their
arms round each other's neck and embrace. Their horses are put up in
the same paddock and their charioteers sleep beside the same fire;
each night Cuchulainn sends to his wounded friend a share of the
herbs that are applied to his own wounds, while to Cuchulainn Ferdiad
sends a fair half of the pleasant delicate food supplied to him by
the men of Erin. We may recall, too, Cuchulainn's act of compassion
towards Queen Medb near the close of the Tain. Her army is flying in
rout homeward across the Shannon, closely pursued by Cuchulainn. As
he approaches the ford he finds Queen Medb lying prostrate on the
bank, unable any longer to guard the retreat of her army. She appeals
to her enemy to aid her; and Cuchulainn, with that lovable boyish
delight in acts of supreme generosity which is always ascribed to
him, undertakes to shield the retreat of the disordered host from his
own troops and to see them safely across the river, while Medb
reposes peacefully in a field hard by. The spirit which actuates the
heroes is well expressed by Cuchulainn when his friends would
restrain him from going forth to his last fight, knowing that in that
battle he must fall: "I had rather than the whole world's gold and
than the earth's riches that death had ere now befallen me, so would
not this shame and testimony of reproach now stand recorded against
me; for in every tongue this noble old saying is remembered, 'Fame
outlives life.'"

The Irish tales surpass those of the Arthurian cycle in simplicity,
in humor, and in human interest; the characters are not mere types of
fixed virtues and vices, they have each a strongly marked
individuality, consistently adhered to through the multitude of
different stories in which they play a part. This is especially the
case with regard to the female characters. Emer, Deirdre, Etain,
Grainne may be said to have introduced into European literature new
types of womanhood, quite unlike, in their sprightliness and humor,
their passionate affection and heroic qualities, to anything found
elsewhere. Stories about women play a large part in ancient Irish
literature; their elopements, their marriages, their griefs and
tragedies, form the subject of a large number of tales. Among the
list of tales that any bard might be called upon to recite, the
"Courtships" or "Wooings" probably formed a favorite group; they are
of great variety and beauty. The Irish, indeed, may be called the
inventors of the love-tale for modern Europe.

The gravest defect of this literature (a defect which is common to
all early literature before coming under the chastening hand of the
master) is undoubtedly its tendency to extravagance; though much
depended upon the individual writer, some being stylists and some
not, all were prone to frequent and grotesque exaggerations. The lack
of restraint and self-criticism is everywhere apparent; the old Irish
writer seems incapable of judging how to shape his material with a
view to presenting it in its best form. Thus, we have the feeling,
even with regard to the _Tain Bo Cualnge_, that what has come down to
us is rather the rough-shaped material of an epic than a completed
design. The single stories and the groups of stories have been
handled and rehandled at different times, but only occasionally, as
in the Story of Deirdre (the "Sorrowful Tale of the Sons of Usnech"),
or in the later versions of the "Wooing of Emer", or the Book of
Leinster version of the "Wooing of Ferb", do we feel that a competent
artist has so formed his story that the best possible value has been
extracted from it. Yet, in spite of their defects, the old heroic
sagas of Ireland have in them a stimulating force and energy, and an
element of fine and healthy optimism, which is strangely at variance
with the popular conception of the melancholy of Irish literature,
and which, wherever they are known, make them the fountain-head of a
fresh creative inspiration. This stimulating of the imagination is
perhaps the best gift that a revived interest in the old native
romance of Ireland has to bestow.


The originals of many of the Tales of the Cuchulainn cycle of
romances will be found, usually accompanied by English or German
translations, in the volumes of _Irische Texte; Revue Celtique;
Zeitschrift fuer Celt. Phil.; Eriu_; Irish Texts Society, vol. II;
_Atlantis_; Proceed. of the R. Irish Academy (Irish MSS. Series and
Todd Lecture Series). English translations: of the Tain Bo Cualnge
(LU. and Y.B.L. versions), by Miss Winifred Faraday (1904); (LL.
version with conflate readings), by Joseph Dunn (1914); of various
stories: E. Hull, The Cuchulain Saga in Irish Literature (1898); A.
H. Leahy, Heroic Romances of Ireland (1905-6), the Courtship of Ferb
(1902). French translations in Arbois de Jubainville's _Epopee
celtique en Irlande_; German translations in Thurneysen's _Sagen aus
dem alien Irland_ (1901); free rendering by S. O'Grady in The Coming
of Cuchullain (1904), and in his History of Ireland, the Heroic
Period (1878). For full bibliography, see R. I. Best's Bibliography
of Irish Philology and Printed Literature (1913), and Joseph Dunn's
_Tain Bo Cualnge_, pp. xxxii-xxxvi (1914).



One of the supreme creations of the human mind is the _Divine Comedy_
of Dante, and undoubtedly one of its chief sources is the literature
of ancient Ireland. Dante himself was a native of Florence, Italy,
and lived from 1265 to 1321. Like many great men, he incurred the
hatred of his countrymen, and he spent, as a result, the last twenty
years of his life in exile with a price on his head. He had been
falsely accused of theft and treachery, and his indignation at the
wrong thus done him and at the evil conduct of his contemporaries led
him to write his poem, in which he visits Hell, Purgatory, and
Paradise, and learns how God punishes bad actions, and how He rewards
those who do His will.

To the writing of his poem Dante brought all the learning of his
time, all its science, and an art that has never been surpassed,
perhaps never equalled. Of course, he did not know any Irish, but he
knew Italian and the then universal tongue of the learned--Latin, in
both of which were tales of visits to the other world; and the
greater part of these tales, as well as those most resembling Dante's
work in form and spirit, were Irish in origin.

All peoples have traditions of persons visiting the realms of the
dead. Homer tells of Odysseus going there; Virgil does the same of
Aeneas; and the Oriental peoples, as well as the Germanic races, have
similar tales; but no people have so many or such finished accounts
of this sort as the ancient Irish. In pagan times in Ireland one of
the commonest adventures attributed to a hero was a visit to "tir na
m-beo," the land of the living, or to "tir na n-og," the land of the
young; and this supernatural world was reached in some cases by
entering a fairy mound and going beneath the ground to it, and in
others by sailing over the ocean.

Of the literature of pagan Ireland, though much has come down to us,
we have only a very small fraction of what once existed, and what we
have has been transmitted and modified by persons of later times and
different culture, who, both consciously and unconsciously, have
changed it, so that it is very different from what it was in its
original form; but the subject and the main outlines still remain,
and we have many accounts of both voyages and underground journeys to
the other world.

The oldest voyage is, perhaps, that of Maelduin, which, Tennyson has
transmuted into English under the title _The Voyage of Maeldune_.
This is a voyage undertaken for revenge; but vengeance, as Sir Walter
Scott has pointed out in his preface to _The Two Drovers_, springs in
a barbarous society from a passion for justice; and it is this
instinct for justice that inspires the Irish hero to endure and to
achieve what he does. Christianity has preserved this legend and
added to it its own peculiar quality of mercy; and this illustrates
one of the characteristics of Ireland's pagan literature--it is
imperfectly Christian and can readily be made to express the
Christian point of view.

Another voyage of pagan Irish literature is the _Voyage of Bran_. In
this tale idealism is the inspiration that leads the hero into the
unknown world. A woman appears who is invisible to all but Bran, and
whose song of the beauteous supernatural land beyond the wave is
heard by none but him; so that, after refusing to go with her the
first time she appears, at length he steps into her boat of glass and
sails away to view the wonders and taste the joys of the other world.

In these tales we have two main elements, one real and one ideal. The
real element is the fact that the ancient Irish unquestionably made
voyages and visited lands which the fervid Celtic imagination and the
lapse of time transformed into the wonderful regions of the legends.
The stories are thus early geographies, and they show unmistakably a
knowledge of western Europe and of the Canary Islands or some other
tropical regions; perhaps also, some have gone so far as to claim,
they are reminiscent of voyages to America.

The ideal element is no less important as indicating achievement, for
it shows that the Irish poets of pagan times had not only realized,
but had succeeded in making their national traditions embody, the
fact that love of justice and aspiration for knowledge are the
foundations of all enduring human achievement and all perfect human
joy. Christianity therefore found moral and spiritual ideas of a
highly developed order in pagan Ireland, and it did not hesitate to
adopt whatever in the literature of the country illustrated its own
teachings, and not only were these stories of visits to the other
world full of suggestions as to ways of enforcing Christian doctrine,
but the Irish church and men of Irish birth were the most active in
spreading the faith in the early centuries of its conquest of western

For these reasons it is not strange that all the earliest Christian
visions of the spirit-world were of Irish origin. We find the
earliest in the _Ecclesiastical History_ of the "Venerable Bede," who
died in 735. It is the story of how an Irishman of great sanctity,
Furseus by name, was taken in spirit by three angels to a place from
which he looked down and saw the four fires that are to consume the
world: those of falsehood, avarice, discord, fraud and impiety. In
this there is the germ of some very fundamental things in Dante's
poem, and we know that Dante knew Bede and had probably read his
history, for he places him in Paradise and mentions him elsewhere in
his works.

In Bede's work there is also another vision, and though in this
second case the man who visits the spirit-world is not an Irishman,
but a Saxon named Drithelm, yet the story came to Bede through an
Irish monk named Haemgils; so it, too, is connected with Ireland, and
it also contains much that is developed further in the _Divine

One of the most celebrated of the works belonging to this class of
so-called "visionary" writings is the _Fis_ or "Vision" which goes
under the name of the famous Irish saint, Adamnan, who was poetically
entitled the "High Scholar of the Western World." This particular
vision, the _Fis Adamnain_, is remarkable among other things for its
literary quality, which is far superior to anything of the time, and
for the fact that it represents "the highest level of the school to
which it belonged," and that it is "the most important contribution
made to the growth of the legend within the Christian Church prior to
the advent of Dante."

Another Irish vision of great popularity all over Europe in the
Middle Ages is the _Voyage of Saint Brendan_. This is known as the
Irish Odyssey, and it is similar to the pagan tales of Maelduin and
Bran, except that instead of its hero being a dauntless warrior
seeking vengeance or a noble youth seeking happiness, he is a
Christian saint in quest of peace; and instead of the perils of the
way being overcome by physical force or the favor of some capricious
pagan deity, they are averted by the power of faith and virtue.

The _Voyage of Saint Brendan_, like its pagan predecessors, has a
real and an ideal basis; and in both respects it shows an advancement
over its prototypes. It contains some very poetic touches, and is
credited with being the source of some of the most effective features
of Dante's poem. Its great popularity is shown by the fact that
Caxton, the first English printer, published a translation of it in
1483; so that it was among the first books printed in English, and
for that reason must have been one of the best-known works of the
time. Dante undoubtedly knew it, for he was a great scholar in the
learning of his day, and especially in ecclesiastical history and the
biography of saints.

Another vision of Irish origin that Dante and other writers have
borrowed from is that of an Irish soldier named Tundale. He is said
to have been a very wicked and proud man, who refused to a friend who
owed him for three horses an extension of time in which to pay for
them. For this he was struck down by an invisible hand so that he
remained apparently dead from Wednesday till Saturday, when he
revived and told a story of a visit to the world of the dead that has
many features later embodied in the _Divine Comedy_. Tundale's vision
is said to have taken place in 1149; Dante probably wrote his poem
between 1314 and 1321.

The Irish also produced another legend of this sort that was
enormously and universally popular, and became the chief authority on
the nature of heaven and hell, in the story of _Saint Patrick's
Purgatory_. Saint Patrick was said to have been granted a view of
heaven and hell, and a certain island in Lough Derg in Donegal was
reputed to be the spot in which he had begun his journey; and there,
it was said, those who desired to purge themselves of their sins
could enter as he had entered and come back to the world again,
provided their faith was strong enough.

This legend was probably known in Ireland from a very early time, but
it had spread over all western Europe by the twelfth century. Henry
of Saltrey, a Benedictine monk of the Abbey of that name in England,
wrote an account in Latin of the descent of an Irish soldier named
Owen into Saint Patrick's Purgatory in 1153; and this story soon
became the subject of poetic treatment all over Europe. We have
several French versions, one by the celebrated French poetess Marie
de France, who lived about 1200; and there are others in all the
languages of Europe, besides evidence of its wide circulation in the
original Latin. Its importance is shown by the fact that it is
mentioned by Matthew Paris, the chief English historian of the
thirteenth century, and also by Froissart, the well-known French
annalist of the fourteenth while Calderon, the great Spanish
dramatist, has written a play based on the legend. Dante undoubtedly
knew of Marie de France's version as well as the original of Henry of
Saltrey and probably others besides.

From what has been said it will be seen that Dante's masterpiece is
largely based on literature of Irish origin; but there are other
superlative exhibitions of human genius of which the same is true.
One of these is the story of Tristan and Isolde. Tristan is the
paragon of all knightly accomplishments, the most versatile figure in
the entire literature of chivalry; while Isolde is an Irish princess.
By a trick of fate these two drink a love potion inadvertently and
become irresistibly enamored of each other, although Isolde is
betrothed to King Mark of Cornwall, and Tristan is his nephew and
ambassador. The story that follows is infinitely varied, intensely
dramatic, delicately beautiful, and tenderly pathetic. It has been
treated by several poets of great genius, among them Gottfried of
Strassburg, the greatest German poet of his time, and Richard Wagner;
but all the beauty and power in the works of these men existed in the
original Celtic form of the tale, and the later writers have only
discovered it and brought it to light.

The same thing is true of the Arthurian Legend and the story of the
Holy Grail. Dante knew of King Arthur's fame, and mentions him in the
_Inferno_. To Dante he was a Christian hero, and the historical
Arthur may have been a Christian; but much in the story goes back to
the pagan Celtic religion. We can find in Irish literature many
references that indicate a belief in a self-sustaining, miraculous
object similar to the Holy Grail, and the fact that this object was
developed into a symbol of some of the deepest and most beautiful
Christian truths shows the high character of the civilization and
literature of ancient Ireland.


Wright: St. Patrick's Purgatory (London, 1844); Krapp: The Legend of
St. Patrick's Purgatory (Baltimore, 1900); Becker: Mediaeval Visions
of Heaven and Hell (Baltimore, 1899); Shackford: Legends and Satires
(Boston, 1913); Meyer and Nutt: The Voyage of Bran, edited and
translated by K. Meyer, with an Essay on the Irish Version of the
Happy Other World and the Celtic Doctrine of Rebirth, by A. Nutt, 2
vols. (London, 1895); Boswell: An Irish Precursor of Dante (London,



Among the literary peoples of the west of Europe, the Irish, in late
medieval and early modern times, were singularly little affected by
the frequent innovations in taste and theme which influenced Romance
and Teutonic nations alike. To such an extent is this true, that one
is often inclined to think that far-off Iceland was to a greater
degree in the general European current than the much more accessible
Erin. During the age of chivalry, conditions in Ireland were not
calculated to promote the growth of epic and lyric poetry after the
continental manner. Some considerable time elapsed before the Norman
barons became fully Hibernicised, previous to which their interest
may be assumed to have turned to the compositions of the trouveres.
In the early Norman period, the poets of Ireland might well have
begun to imitate Romance models. But, strange to say, they did not,
and, for this, various reasons might be assigned. The flowing verses
of the Anglo-Norman were impossible for men who delighted in the
trammels of the native prosody; and in the heyday of French
influence, the patrons of letters in Ireland probably insisted on
hearing the foreign compositions in their original dress, as these
nobles were doubtless sufficiently versed in Norman-French to be able
to appreciate them. But a still more potent factor was the
conservatism of the hereditary Irish poet families. A close
corporation, they appear to have resented every innovation, and were
content to continue the tradition of their ancestors. The direct
consequence of this tenacious clinging to the fashions of by-gone
days rendered it impossible, nay almost inconceivable, that the
literary men of Ireland should have exerted any profound or immediate
influence upon England or western Europe. Yet, nowadays, few serious
scholars will be prepared to deny that the island contributed in
considerable measure to the common literary stock of the Middle Ages.

We might expect to find that direct influence, as a general rule, can
be most easily traced in the case of religious themes. Here, in the
literature of vision, so popular in Ireland, a chord was struck which
continued to vibrate powerfully until the time of the Reformation. In
this branch the riotous fancy of the Celtic monk caught the medieval
imagination from an early period. Bede has preserved for us the story
of Fursey, an Irish hermit who died in France, A.D. 650. The greatest
Irish composition of this class with which we are acquainted, the
_Vision of Adamnan_, does not appear to have been known outside the
island, but a later work of a similar nature met with striking
success. This was the _Vision of Tundale_ (Tnudgal), written in Latin
by an Irishman named Marcus at Regensburg, about the middle of the
twelfth century. It seems probable that this work was known to Dante,
and, in addition to the numerous continental versions, there is a
rendering of the story into Middle English verse.

Closely allied to the Visions are the _Imrama_ or "voyages" (Lat.
_navigationes_). The earliest romances of this class are secular,
_e.g., Imram Maelduin_, which provided Tennyson with the frame-work
of his well-known poem. However, the notorious love of adventure on
the part of the Irish monks inevitably led to the composition of
religious romances of a similar kind. The most famous story of this
description, the_ Voyage of St. Brendan_, found its way into every
Christian country in Europe, and consequently figures in the South
English Legendary, a collection of versified lives of saints made in
the neighborhood of Gloucester towards the end of the thirteenth
century. The episode of St. Brendan and the whale, moreover, was
probably the ultimate source of one of Milton's best known similes in
his description of Satan. Equally popular was the visit of Sir Owayn
to the Purgatory of St. Patrick, which is also included in the same
Middle English Legendary. Ireland further contributed in some measure
to the common stock of medieval stories which were used as
illustrations by the preachers and in works of an edifying character.

When we turn to purely secular themes, we find ourselves on much less
certain ground. Though the discussion as to the origins of the
"romance of Uther's son", Arthur, continues with unabated vigor, many
scholars have come think that the Celtic background of these stories
contains much that is derived from Hibernian sources. Some writers in
the past have argued in favor of an independent survival of common
Celtic features, in Wales and Ireland, but now the tendency is to
regard all such coincidences as borrowings on the part of Cymric
craftsmen. At the beginning of the twelfth century a new impulse
seems to have been imparted to native minstrelsy in Wales under'the
patronage of Gruffydd ap Cynan, a prince of Gwynedd, who had spent
many years in exile at the court of Dublin. Some of the Welsh
rhapsodists apparently served a kind of apprenticeship with their
Irish brethren, and many things Irish were assimilated at this time
which, through this channel, were shortly to find their way into
Anglo-French. Thus it may now be regarded as certain that the name of
the "fair sword" Excalibur, by Geoffrey called Caliburnus (Welsh
_caletfwlch_), is taken from Caladbolg, the far-famed broadsword of
Fergus macRoig. It does not appear that the whole framework of the
Irish sagas was taken over, but, as Windisch points out, episodes
were borrowed as well as tricks of imagery. So, to mention but one,
the central incident of _Syr Gawayn and the Grene Knyght_ is
doubtless taken from the similar adventure of Cuchulainn in
_Bricriu's Feast_. The share assigned to Irish influence in the
_matiere de Bretagne_ is likely to grow considerably with the
progress of research.

The fairy lore of Great Britain undoubtedly owes much to Celtic
phantasy. Of this Chaucer, at any rate, had little doubt, as he

In th' olde dayes of the King Arthour,
Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
Al was this land fulfild of fayerye;
The elf-queen, with hir joly companye,
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene med.

And here again there is a reasonable probability that certain
features were borrowed from the wealth of story current in the
neighboring isle. Otherwise it is difficult to understand why the
queen of fayerye should bear an Irish name (Mab, from Irish Medb),
and curiously enough the form of the name rathef suggests that it was
borrowed through a written medium and not by oral tradition. On the
other hand it is incorrect to derive Puck from Irish _puca_, as the
latter is undoubtedly borrowed from some form of Teutonic speech.

So all embracing a mind as that of the greatest English dramatist
could not fail to be interested in the gossip that must have been
current in London at the time of the wars in Ulster. References to
kerns and gallowglasses are fairly frequent. He had evidently heard
of the marvellous powers with which the Irish bards were credited,
for, in _As You Like It_, Rosalind exclaims:

"I was never so be-rhymed since Pythagoras' time, that I was an Irish
rat, which I can hardly remember."

Similarly, in _King Richard III_, mention is made of the prophetic
utterance of an Irish bard, a trait which does not appear in the
poet's source. Any statements as to Irish influence in Shakespeare
that go beyond this belong to the realm of conjecture. Professor
Kittredge has attempted to show that in Syr Orfeo, upon which the
poet drew for portions of the plot of _A Midsummer Night's Dream_,
the Irish story of Etain and Mider was fused with the medieval form
of the classical tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Direct influence is
entirely wanting, and it is difficult to see how it could have been

Even in the case of the Elizabethan poet who spent many years in the
south of Ireland, there is no trace of Hibernian lore or legend.
Spenser, indeed, tells us himself that he had caused some of the
native poetry to be translated to him, and had found that it
"savoured of sweet wit and good invention." But Ireland plays an
infinitesimal part in the _Faerie Queene_. The scenery round
Kilcolman Castle forms the background of much of the incident in Book
V. "Marble far from Ireland brought" is mentioned in a simile in the
second Book, where we also read:

As when a swarme of gnats at eventide
Out of the fennes of Allan do arise.

But Ireland supplied no further inspiration.

The various plantations of the seventeenth century produced an
Anglo-Irish stock which soon asserted itself in literature. As a
typical example, we may take the author of _The Vicar of Wakefield_.
At his first school at Lissoy, Oliver Goldsmith came under Thomas
Byrne, a regular shanachie, possessed of all the traditional lore,
with a remarkable gift for versifying. It was under this man that the
boy made his first attempts at verse, and his memory is celebrated in
_The Deserted Village_:

There, in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule,
The village master taught his little school.
A man severe he was, and stern to view.

Unfortunately Goldsmith was removed to Elphin at the age of nine, and
although he retained an affection for Irish music all his life, his
intimate connection with Irish Ireland apparently ceased at this
point. "Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain" is doubtless
full of reminiscences of the poet's early years in Westmeath, but the
sentiments, the rhythm, and the language are entirely cast in an
English mould. We may mention, in passing, that it has been suggested
that Swift derived the idea of the kingdom of Lilliput from the Irish
story of the Adventures of Fergus macLeide amongst the leprechauns.
All that can be said is that this derivation is not impossible,
though the fact that the tale is preserved only in a single
manuscript rather points to the conclusion that the story did not
enjoy great popularity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

We have seen that Goldsmith was removed from an Irish atmosphere at a
tender age, and this is not the only instance of the frowning of
fortune upon the native literature. When the fame of the ancient
bards of the Gael was noised from end to end of Europe, it was
through the medium of Macpherson's forgeries. _Fingal_ caught the
fleeting fancy of the moment in a manner never achieved by the true
Ossianic lays of Ireland. The _Reliques of Irish Poetry_, published
by Miss Brooke by subscription in Dublin in 1789 to vindicate the
antiquity of the literature of Erin, never went into a second
edition. And although some of the pieces contained in that volume
have been reprinted in such undertakings of a learned character as
the volumes of the Dublin Ossianic Society, J.F. Campbell's _Leabhar
na Feinne_, and Cameron's _Reliquiae Celticae_, they have aroused
little interest amongst those ignorant of the Irish tongue.

During the nineteenth century, the number of poets who drew upon
Ireland's past for their themes increased considerably. The most
popular of all is unquestionably the author of the _Irish Melodies_.
But, here again, the poet owes little or nothing to vernacular
poetry, the mould is English, the sentiments are those of the poet's
age. Moore's acquaintance with the native language can have been but
of the slightest, and in the case of Mangan we are told that he had
to rely upon literal versions of Irish pieces furnished him by
O'Donovan or O'Curry. Of the numerous attempts to reproduce the
overelaboration of rhyme to which Irish verse has ever been prone,
Father Prout's _Bells of Shandon_ is perhaps the only one that is at
all widely known. When the legendary lore of Ireland became
accessible to men of letters, owing to the labors of O'Curry,
O'Donovan, and Hennessy, and the publication of various ancient texts
by the Irish Archaeological Society, it was to be expected that an
attempt would be made by some poet of Erin to do for his native land
what the Wizard of the North had accomplished for Scotland. The task
was undertaken by Sir Samuel Ferguson, who met with conspicuous
success. His most ambitious effort, _Congal_, deals in epic fashion
with the story of the battle of Moyra. Others in similar strain treat
the story of Conaire Mor and Deirdre, whilst others such as the
_Tain-Quest_ are more in the nature of ballads. Ferguson did more to
introduce the English reading public to Irish story than would have
been accomplished by any number of bald translations. His diction is
little affected by the originals, and he sometimes treats his
materials with great freedom, but his achievement was a notable one,
and he has not infrequently been acclaimed as the national poet.

Is it perhaps invidious to single out any living author for special
mention, but this brief survey cannot close without noticing the
dramatic poems of W.B. Yeats, the latest poet who attempts to present
the old stories in an English dress. His plays _On Baile's Strand,
Deirdre_, and others, have become familiar to English audiences
through the excellent acting of the members of the Abbey Theatre
Company. The original texts are now much better known than they were
in Ferguson's day, and Mr. Yeats consequently cannot permit himself
the same liberties. Similarly, it is only during the last twenty-five
years that the language of Irish poetry has been carefully studied,
and Mr. Yeats has this advantage over his predecessors that on
occasion, e.g., in certain passages in _The King's Threshold_, he is
able to introduce with great effect reminiscences of the
characteristic epithets and imagery which formed so large a part of
the stock-in-trade of the medieval bard.


Friedel and Meyer: La Vision de Tondale (Paris, 1907); Boswell: An
Irish Precursor of Dante (London, 1908); Cambridge History of English
Literature, vol. I, chaps, xii and xvi; Windisch: _Das Keltische
Brittannien_ (Leipzig, 1912), more especially chap. xxxvii;
Dictionary of National Biography; Gwynn: Thos. Moore ("English Men of
Letters" Series, London, 1905).



Among savage peoples there is at first no distinction of a definite
kind between good and bad spirits, and when a distinction has been
reached, a great advance in a spiritual direction has been made. For
the key to the religion of savages is fear, and until such terror has
been counteracted by belief in beneficent powers, civilization will
not follow. But the elimination of the fear of the unseen is a slow
process; indeed, it will exist side by side with the belief in
Christianity itself, after a modification through various stages of
better pagan belief.

Ireland still presents, in its more out-of-the-way districts,
evidence of that strong persistence in the belief in maleficent or
malicious influences of the pre-Christian powers of the air, which it
seems difficult to eradicate from the Celtic imagination. In the
celebrated poem entitled _The Breastplate of St. Patrick_, there is
much the same attitude on the part of Patrick towards the Druids and
their powers of concealing and changing, of paralyzing and cursing,
as was shown by Moses towards the magicians of Egypt. Indeed, in
Patrick's time a belief in a world of fairies existed even in the
king's household, for "when the two daughters of King Leary of
Ireland, Ethnea the fair and Fedelma the ruddy, came early one
morning to the well of Clebach to wash, they found there a synod of
holy bishops with Patrick. And they knew not whence they came, or in
what form, or from what people, or from what country; but they
supposed them to be _Duine Sidh_, or gods of the earth, or a

Colgan explains the term _Duine Sidh_ thus: "Fantastical spirits," he
writes, "are by the Irish called men of the _Sidh_, because they are
seen, as it were, to come out of the beautiful hills to infest men,
and hence the vulgar belief that they reside in certain subterranean
habitations: and sometimes the hills themselves are called, by the
Irish, _Sidhe_ or _Siodha_."

No doubt, when the princesses spoke of the gods of the earth,
reference was made to such pagan deities as Beal; Dagda the great or
the good god; Aine, the Moon, goddess of the water and of wisdom;
Manannan macLir, the Irish Neptune; Crom, the Irish Ceres; and
Iphinn, the benevolent, whose relations to the Irish Oirfidh
resembled those of Apollo towards Orpheus; and to the allegiance they
owed to the Elements, the Wind, and the Stars. But besides these
pagan divinities and powers, and quite apart from them, the early
Irish believed in two classes of fairies: in the first place, a
hierarchy of fairy beings, well and ill disposed, not differing in
appearance, to any great degree at any rate, from human beings--good
spirits and demons, rarely visible during the daytime; and, in the
second place, there was the magic race of the De Danann, who, after
conquest by the Milesians, transformed themselves into fairies, and
in that guise continued to inhabit the underworld of the Irish hills,
and to issue thence in support of Irish heroes, or to give their aid
against other fairy adversaries.

There is another theory to account for the fairy race. It is that
they are angels who revolted with Satan and were excluded from heaven
for their unworthiness, but were not found evil enough for hell, and
therefore were allowed to occupy that intermediate space which has
been called "the Other World." It is still a moot point with the
Irish peasantry, as it was with the Irish saints of old, whether,
after being compelled to dwell without death among rocks and hills,
lakes and seas, bushes and forest, till the day of judgment, the
fairies then have the chance of salvation. Indeed, the fairies are
themselves believed to have great doubts of a future existence,
though, like many men, entertaining undefined hopes of happiness; and
hence the enmity which some of them have for mankind, who, they
acknowledge, will live eternally. Thus their actions are balanced
between generosity and vindictiveness towards the human race.

Mr. W.Y. Evans Wentz, A.M., of Leland Stanford University,
California, and Jesus College, Oxford, has received an honorary
degree from the latter university for his thesis, "The Fairy Faith in
Celtic Countries: Its Psychical Origin and Nature", a most laborious
as well as ingenious work, whose object is to prove "that the origin
of the fairy faith is psychical, and that fairyland, being thought of
as an invisible world within which the visible world is immersed as
an island in an unexplored ocean, actually exists, and that it is
peopled by more species of living beings than this world, because
incomparably more vast and varied in its possibilities." This may be
added as a fourth theory to account for the existence of fairies, and
it may be further stated here that the Irish popular belief in ghosts
attributes to some of their departed spirits much of the same
violence and malice with which fairies are credited. Mr. Jeremiah
Curtin gives striking instances of this kind in his book, the _Folk
Lore of West Kerry_.

It became necessary, therefore, for the Gaels who believed in the
preternatural powers of the fairies for good and ill to propitiate
them as far as possible. On May eve, accordingly, cattle were driven
into raths and bled there, some of the blood being tasted, the rest
poured out in sacrifice. Men and women were also bled on these
occasions. The seekers for buried treasure, over which fairies were
supposed to have influence, immolated a black cock or a black cat to
propitiate them. Again, a cow, suffering from sickness believed to be
due to fairy malice, was bled and then devoted to St. Martin. If it
recovered, it was never sold or killed. The first new milk of a cow
was poured out on the ground to propitiate the fairies, and
especially on the ground within a fairy rath. The first drop of any
drink is also thrown out by old Irish people. If a child spills milk,
the mother says, "that's for the fairies, leave it to them and
welcome." Slops should never be thrown out of doors without the
warning, "Take care of water!" lest fairies should be passing
invisibly and get soiled by the discharge. Eddies of dust upon the
road are supposed to be caused by the fairies, and tufts of grass,
sticks, and pebbles are thrown into the centre of the eddy to
propitiate the unseen beings. Some fairies of life size, who live
within the green hills or under the raths, are supposed to carry off
healthy babes to be made fairy children, their abstractors leaving
weak changelings in their place. Similarly, nursing mothers are
sometimes supposed to be carried off to give the breast to fairy
babes, and handsome young men are spirited away to become bridegrooms
to fairy brides. Again, folk suffering from falling sickness are
supposed to be in that condition owing to the fatigue caused by
nocturnal rides through the air with the fairies, whose steeds are
bewitched rushes, blades of grass, straws, fern roots, and cabbage
stalks. The latter, to be serviceable for the purpose, should be cut
into the rude shapes of horses before the metamorphosis can take

Iron of every kind keeps away malignant fairies: thus, a horseshoe
nailed to the bottom of the churn prevents butter from being
bewitched. Here is a form of charm against the fairies who have
bewitched the butter: "Every window should be barred, a great turf
fire should be lit upon which nine irons should be placed, the
bystanders chanting twice over in Irish, 'Come, butter, come; Peter
stands at the gate waiting for a buttered cake.' As the irons become
heated the witch will try to break in, asking the people to take the
irons, which are burning her, off the fire. On their refusing, she
will go and bring back the butter to the churn. The irons may then be
removed from the fire and all will go well."

If a neighbor or stranger should enter a cottage during the churning,
he should put his hand to the dash, or the butter will not come. A
small piece of iron should be sewed into an infant's clothes and kept
there until the child is baptized, and salt should be sprinkled over
his cradle to preserve the babe from abduction. The fairies are
supposed to have been conquered by an iron-weaponed race, and hence
their dread of the metal.

To recover a spell-bound friend, stand on All Hallows' eve at cross
roads or at a spot pointed out by a wise woman or fairy doctor. When
you have rubbed fairy ointment on your eyelids, the fairies will
become visible as the host sweeps by with its captive, whom the gazer
will then be able to recognize. A sudden gust announces their
approach. Stooping down, you will then throw dust or milk at the
procession, whose members are then obliged to surrender your
spell-bound friend. If a man leaves home after his wife's
confinement, some of his clothes should be spread over the mother and
infant, or the fairies may carry them off. It is good for a woman,
but bad for a man, to dream of fairies. It betokens marriage for a
girl, misfortune for a man, who should not undertake serious business
for some time after such dreaming.

Fairy changelings may be recognized by tricky habits, constant
crying, and other unusual characteristics. It was customary to
recover the true child in the following way: The changeling was
placed upon an iron shovel over the fire, when it would go shrieking
up the chimney, and the _bona fide_ human child would be restored. It
was believed that fairy changelings often produced a set of small
bagpipes from under the clothes and played dance music upon them,
till the inmates of the cottage dropped with exhaustion from the
effects of the step dancing they were compelled to engage in.

On Samain eve, the night before the first of November, or, as it is
now called, All Hallows' night or Hallowe'en, all the fairy hills or
_shees_ are thrown wide open and the fairy host issues forth, as
mortals who are bold enough to venture near may see. Naturally
therefore people keep indoors so as not to encounter the spectral
host. The superstition that the fairies are abroad on Samain night
still exists in Ireland and Scotland, and there is a further belief,
no doubt derived from it, that the graves are open on that night and
that the spirits of the dead are abroad.

Salt, as already suggested, is regarded to be so lucky that if a
child falls, it should always be given three pinches of salt, and if
a neighbor calls to borrow salt, it should not be refused, even
though it be the last grain in the house.

An infant born with teeth should have them drawn by the nearest
smith, and the first teeth when shed should be thrown into the fire,
lest the fairies should get hold of what had been part of you.

Those who hear fairy music are supposed to be haunted by the melody,
and many are believed to go mad or commit suicide in consequence.

The fairies are thought to engage in warfare with one another, and in
the year 1800 a specially sanguinary battle was believed to have been
fought between two clans of the fairies in county Kilkenny. In the
morning the hawthorns along the fences were found crushed to pieces
and drenched with blood.

In popular belief fairies often go hunting, and faint sounds of fairy
horns, the baying of fairy hounds, and the cracking of fairy whips
are supposed to be heard on these occasions, while the flight of the
hunters is said to resemble in sound the humming of bees.

Besides the life-sized fairies who are reputed to have these direct
dealings with human beings, there are diminutive preternatural beings
who are also supposed to come into close touch with men. Among these
is the Luchryman (_Leithphrogan_), or brogue maker, otherwise known
as Leprechaun. He is always found mending or making a shoe, and, if
grasped firmly and kept constantly in view, will disclose hidden
treasure to you, or render up his _sparan na sgillinge_, or purse of
the (inexhaustible) shilling. He can only be bound by a plough chain
or woolen thread. He is the symbol of industry which, if steadily
faced, leads to fortune, but, if lost sight of, is followed by its

Love in idleness is personified by another pigmy, the _Geancanach_
(love-talker). He does not appear, like the Leprechaun, with a purse
in one of his pockets, but with his hands in both of them, and a
_dudeen_ (short pipe) in his mouth, as he lazily strolls through
lonely valleys making love to the foolish country lasses and
"gostering" with the idle "boys." To meet him meant bad luck, and
whoever was ruined by ill-judged love was said to have been with the

Another evil sprite was the _Clobher-ceann_, "a jolly, red-faced,
drunken little fellow," always "found astride of a wine-butt" singing
and drinking from a full tankard in a hard drinker's cellar, and
bound by his appearance to bring its owner to speedy ruin.

Then there were the _Leannan-sighes_, or native Muses, to be found in
every place of note to inspire the local bard, and the _Beansighes_
(Banshees, fairy women) attached to each of the old Irish families
and giving warning of the death of one of its members with piteous

Black Joanna of the Boyne (_Siubhan Dubh na Boinne_) appeared on
Hallowe'en in the shape of a great black fowl, bringing luck to the
home whose _Banithee_ (woman of the house) kept the dwelling
constantly clean and neat.

The Pooka, who appeared in the shape of a horse, and whom Shakespeare
is by many believed to have adapted as "Puck," was a goblin who
combined "horse-play" with viciousness, but also at times helped with
the housework.

The _Dullaghan_ was a churchyard demon whose head was of a movable
kind. Dr. Joyce writes: "You generally meet him with his head in his
pocket, under his arm, or absent altogether; or if you have the
fortune to light upon a number of _Dullaghans_, you may see them
amusing themselves by flinging their heads at one another or kicking
them for footballs."

An even more terrible churchyard demon is the fascinating phantom
that waylays the widower at his wife's very tomb, and poisons him by
her kiss when he has yielded to her blandishments.

Of monsters the Irish had, and still believe in, the _Piast_ (Latin
_bestia_), a huge dragon or serpent confined to lakes by St. Patrick
till the day of judgment, but still occasionally seen in their
waters. In old Fenian times, namely, the days of Finn and his
companion knights, the _Piasts_, however, roamed the country,
devouring men and women and cattle in large numbers, and some of the
early heroes are recorded to have been swallowed alive by them and
then to have hewed their way out of their entrails.

Merrows, or Mermaids, are also still believed in, and many folk tales
exist describing their intermarriage with mortals.

According to Nicholas O'Kearney, "It is the general opinion of many
old persons versed in native traditional lore, that, before the
introduction of Christianity, all animals possessed the faculties of
human reason and speech; and old story-tellers will gravely inform
you that every beast could speak before the arrival of St. Patrick,
but that the saint having expelled the demons from the land by the
sound of his bell, all the animals that, before that time, had
possessed the power of foretelling future events, such as the Black
Steed of _Binn-each-labhra_, the Royal Cat of _Cloughmagh-righ-cat_
(Clough), and others, became mute, and many of them fled to Egypt and
other foreign countries."

Cats are said to have been appointed to guard hidden treasures; and
there are few who have not heard old Irish people tell about strange
meetings of cats and violent battles fought by them in the
neighborhood. "It was believed," adds O'Kearney, "that an evil spirit
in the shape of a cat assumed command over these animals in various
districts, and that when those wicked beings pleased they could
compel all the cats belonging to their division to attack those of
some other district. The same was said of rats; and rat-expellers,
when commanding a colony of those troublesome and destructive animals
to emigrate to some other place, used to address their 'billet' to
the infernal rat supposed to hold command over the rest. In a curious
pamphlet on the power of bardic compositions to charm and expel rats,
lately published, Mr. Eugene O'Curry states that a degraded priest,
who was descended from an ancient family of hereditary bards, was
enabled to expel a colony of rats by the force of satire!"

Hence, of course, Shakespeare's reference to rhyming Irish rats to

It will thus be seen that Irish Fairy Lore well deserves to have been
called by Mr. Alfred Nutt, one of the leading authorities on the
subject, "as fair and bounteous a harvest of myth and romance as ever
flourished among any race."


Alex. Carmichael: Carmina Gadelica; David Comyn: The Boyish Exploits
of Finn; the Periodical, "Folklore"; Lady Gregory: Cuchulain of
Muirthemne, Gods and Fighting Men; Miss Eleanor Hull: The Cuchulain
Saga in Irish Literature; Douglas Hyde: Beside the Fire, (a
collection of Irish Gaelic Folk Stories), _Leabhar Sgeulaicheachta_,
(Folk Stories in Irish); "Irish Penny Journal"; Patrick Kennedy: The
Fireside Stories of Ireland, Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celt;
Standish Hayes O'Grady: Silva Gadelica; Wood-Martin: Traces of the
Elder Faiths in Ireland, Pagan Ireland; W.Y. Wentz: The Fairy Faith
in Celtic Countries; Lady Wilde: Charms, Incantations, etc.; Celtic
articles in Hastings' Dictionary of Religion and Ethics.


By Charles L. Graves.

No record of the glories of Ireland would be complete without an
effort, however inadequate, to analyze and illustrate her wit and
humor. Often misunderstood, misrepresented, and misinterpreted, they
are nevertheless universally admitted to be racial traits, and for an
excellent reason. Other nations exhibit these qualities in their
literature, and Ireland herself is rich in writers who have furnished
food for mirth. But her special pre-eminence resides in the
possession of what, to adapt a famous phrase, may be called an _anima
naturaliter jocosa_. Irish wit and Irish humor are a national
inheritance. They are inherent in the race as a whole, independent of
education or culture or comfort. The best Irish sayings are the
sayings of the people; the greatest Irish humorists are the nameless
multitude who have never written books or found a place in national
dictionaries of biography. None but an Irishman could have coined
that supreme expression of contempt: "I wouldn't be seen dead with
him at a pig-fair," or rebuked a young barrister because he did not
"squandher his carcass" (_i.e._, gesticulate) enough. But we cannot
trace the paternity of these sayings any more than we can that of the
lightning retort of the man to whom one of the "quality" had given a
glass of whisky. "That's made another man of you, Patsy," remarked
the donor. "'Deed an' it has, sor," Patsy flashed back, "an' that
other man would be glad of another glass." It is enough for our
purpose to note that such sayings are typically Irish and that their
peculiar felicity consists in their combining both wit and humor.

To what element in the Irish nature are we to attribute this joyous
and illuminating gift? No one who is not a Gaelic scholar can venture
to dogmatize on this thorny subject. But, setting philology and
politics aside, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Ireland has
gained rather than lost in this respect by the clash of races and
languages. Gaiety, we are told, is not the predominating
characteristic of the Celtic temperament, nor is it reflected in the
prose and verse of the "old ancient days" that have come down to us.
Glamour and magic and passion abound in the lays and legends of the
ancient Gael, but there is more melancholy than mirth in these tales
of long ago. Indeed, it is interesting to note in connection with
this subject that the younger school of Irish writers associated with
what is called the Celtic Renascence have, with very few exceptions,
sedulously eschewed anything approaching to jocosity, preferring the
paths of crepuscular mysticism or sombre realism, and openly avowing
their distaste for what they consider to be the denationalized
sentiment of Moore, Lever, and Lover. To say this is not to disparage
the genius of Yeats and Synge; it is merely a statement of fact and
an illustration of the eternal dualism of the Irish temperament,
which Moore himself realized when he wrote of "Erin, the tear and the
smile in thine eye."

A reaction against the Donnybrook tradition was inevitable and to a
great extent wholesome, since the stage Irishman of the transpontine
drama or the music-halls was for the most part a gross and unlovely
caricature, but, like all reactions, it has tended to obscure the
real merits and services of those who showed the other side of the
medal. Lever did not exaggerate more than Dickens, and his portraits
of Galway fox-hunters and duellists, of soldiers of fortune, and of
Dublin undergraduates were largely based on fact. At his best he was
a most exhilarating companion, and his pictures of Irish life, if
partial, were not misleading. He held no brief for the landlords, and
in his later novels showed a keen sense of their shortcomings. The
plain fact is that, in considering the literary glories of Ireland,
we cannot possibly overlook the work of those Irishmen who were
affected by English influences or wrote for an English audience.

Anglo-Irish humorous literature was a comparatively late product, but
its efflorescence was rapid and triumphant. The first great name is
that of Goldsmith, and, though deeply influenced in technique and
choice of subjects by his association with English men of letters and
by his residence in England, in spirit he remained Irish to the
end--generous, impulsive, and improvident in his life; genial, gay,
and tender-hearted in his works. The Vicar of Wakefield was Dr.
Primrose, but he might just as well have been called Dr. Shamrock. No
surer proof of the pre-eminence of Irish wit and humor can be found
than in the fact that, Shakespeare alone excepted, no writers of
comedy have held the boards longer or more triumphantly than
Goldsmith and his brother Irishman, Sheridan. _She Stoops to Conquer,
The Rivals, The School for Scandal_, and _The Critic_ represent the
sunny side of the Irish genius to perfection. They illustrate, in the
most convincing way possible, how the debt of the world to Ireland
has been increased by the fate which ordained that her choicest
spirits should express themselves in a language of wider appeal than
the ancient speech of Erin.

On the other hand, English literature and the English tongue have
gained greatly from the influence exerted by writers familiar from
their childhood with turns of speech and modes of expression which,
even when they are not translations from the Gaelic, are
characteristic of the Hibernian temper. The late Dr. P.W. Joyce, in
his admirable treatise on English as spoken in Ireland, has
illustrated not only the essentially bilingual character of the
Anglo-Irish dialect, but the modes of thought which it enshrines.
There is no better known form of Irish humor than that commonly
called the "Irish bull," which is too often set down to lax thinking
and faulty logic. But it is the rarest thing to encounter a genuine
Irish "bull" which is not picturesque and at the same time highly
suggestive. Take, for example, the saying of an old Kerry doctor who,
when conversing with a friend on the high rate of mortality,
observed, "Bedad, there's people dyin' who never died before." Here a
truly illuminating result was attained by the simple device of using
the indicative for the conditional mood--as in Juvenal's famous
comment on Cicero's second Philippic: _Antoni gladios potuit
contemnere si sic omnia dixisset_. The Irish "bull" is a heroic and
sometimes successful attempt to sit upon two stools at once, or, as
an Irishman put it, "Englishmen often make 'bulls,' but the Irish
'bull' is always pregnant."

Though no names of such outstanding distinction as those of Goldsmith
and Sheridan occur in the early decades of the nineteenth century,
the spirit of Irish comedy was kept vigorously alive by Maria
Edgeworth, William Maginn, Francis Mahony (Father Prout), and William
Carleton. Sir Walter Scott's splendid tribute to the genius of Maria
Edgeworth is regarded by some critics as extravagant, but it is
largely confirmed in a most unexpected quarter. Turgenief, the great
Russian novelist, proclaimed himself her disciple, and has left it on
record that but for her example he might never have attempted to give
literary form to his impressions of the classes in Russia
corresponding to the poor Irish and the squireens and the squires of
county Longford. Maginn and Mahony were both scholars--the latter
happily called himself "an Irish potato seasoned with Attic
salt"--wrote largely for English periodicals, and spent most of their
lives out of Ireland. In the writings of all three an element of the
grotesque is observable, tempered, however, in the case of Mahony,
with a vein of tender pathos which emerges in his delightful "Bells
of Shandon." Maginn was a wit, Mahony was the hedge-schoolmaster _in
excelsis_, and Carleton was the first realist in Irish peasant
fiction. But all alike drew their best inspiration from essentially
Irish themes. The pendulum has swung back slowly but steadily since
the days when Irish men of letters found it necessary to accommodate
their genius to purely English literary standards. Even Lever, though
he wrote for the English public, wrote mainly about Ireland. So, too,
with his contemporary Le Fanu, whose reputation rests on a double
basis. He made some wonderful excursions into the realm of the
bizarre, the uncanny, and the gruesome. But in the collection known
as _The Purcell Papers_ will be found three short stories which for
exuberant drollery and "diversion" have never been excelled. That the
same man could have written _Uncle Silas_ and _The Quare Gander_ is
yet another proof of the strange dualism of the Irish character.

The record of the last fifty years shows an uninterrupted progress in
the invasion of English _belles lettres_ by Irish writers. Outside
literature, perhaps the most famous sayer of good things of our times
was a simple Irish parish priest, the late Father Healy. Of his
humorous sayings the number is legion; his wit may be illustrated by
a less familiar example--his comment on a very tall young lady named
Lynch: "Nature gave her an inch and she took an ell." In the House of
Commons today there is no greater master of irony and sardonic humor
than his namesake, Mr. Tim Healy. On one occasion he remarked that
Lord Rosebery was not a man to go tiger-shooting with--except at the
Zoo. On another, being anxious to bring an indictment against the
"Castle" _regime_ in Dublin and finding the way blocked by a debate
on Uganda, he successfully accomplished his purpose by a judicious
geographical transference of names, and convulsed the House by a
speech in which the nomenclature of Central Africa was applied to the
government of Ireland.

But wit and humor are the monopoly of no class or calling in Ireland.
They flourish alike among car-drivers and K.C.'s, publicans and
policemen, priests and parsons, beggars and peers. It is a
commonplace of criticism to deny these qualities in their highest
form to women. But this is emphatically untrue of Ireland, and was
never more conclusively disproved than by the recent literary
achievements of her daughters. The partnership of two Irish ladies,
Miss Edith Somerville and Miss Violet Martin, has given us, in _Some
Experiences of an Irish R.M._ (_i.e._, Resident Magistrate), the most
delicious comedy, and in _The Real Charlotte_ the finest
tragi-comedy, that have come out of Great Britain in the last thirty
years. The _R.M._, as it is familiarly called, is already a classic,
but the Irish _comedie humaine_--to use the phrase in the sense of
Balzac--is even more vividly portrayed in the pages of _The Real
Charlotte_. Humor, genuine though intermittent, irradiates the
autumnal talent of Miss Jane Barlow, and the long roll of gifted
Irishwomen who have contributed to the gaiety of nations may be
closed with the names of Miss Hunt, author of _Folk Tales of
Breffny_; of Miss Purdon and Miss Winifred Letts, who in prose and
verse, respectively, have moved us to tears and laughter by their
studies of Leinster peasant life; and of "Moira O'Neill" (Mrs.
Skrine), the incomparable singer of the Glens of Antrim. To give a
full list of the living Irish writers, male and female, who are
engaged in the benevolent work of driving dull care away would be
impossible within the space at our command. But we cannot end without
recognition of the exhilarating extravaganzas of "George A.
Birmingham" (Canon Hannay), the freakish and elfin muse of James
Stephens, and the coruscating wit of F.P. Dunne, the famous
Irish-American humorist, whose "Mr. Dooley" is a household word on
both sides of the Atlantic.


Goldsmith: Vicar of Wakefield, She Stoops to Conquer; Sheridan: The
Rivals, The School for Scandal, The Critic; R. Edgeworth: Essay on
Irish Bulls; M. Edgeworth: Castle Rackrent, The Absentee; Maginn:
Miscellanies in Prose and Verse; Carleton: Traits and Stories of the
Irish Peasantry; Mahony (Father Prout): Reliques of Father Prout;
John and Michael Banim: Tales of the O'Hara Family; Lover: Legends
and Stories of Ireland, Handy Andy; Lever: Harry Lorrequer, Charles
O'Malley, Lord Kilgobbin; Le Fanu: The Purcell Papers; Barlow:
Bogland Studies, Irish Idylls, Irish Neighbours; Birmingham: The
Seething Pot, Spanish Gold, The Major's Niece, The Red Hand of
Ulster, General John Regan; Stephens: The Crock of Gold, Here are
Ladies; Hunt: The Folk Tales of Breffny; Purdon: The Folk of Furry
Farm; Somerville and Ross: The Real Charlotte, Some Experiences of an
Irish R.M., All on the Irish Shore, Dan Russel the Fox.



The Irish theatre and secular drama may be said to begin with the
production of James Shirley's historical play, _St. Patrick for
Ireland_, in Werburgh Street Theatre, about 1636-7; and though Dublin
was a great school for acting, and supplied many of the best players
to the English stage, such as Quin, Macklin, Peg Woffington, Miss
O'Neill, and hosts of others, it never really possessed a creative
theatre (save at the Capel Street Theatre for a few years during the
Grattan Parliament) until the modern movement in Ireland came into
being and the Abbey Theatre became its headquarters.

Of course, innumerable plays by Irish writers were written, but most
of them were not distinctively Irish in character; and the names of
Goldsmith, Sheridan, O'Keeffe, Farquhar, Sheridan Knowles, Oscar
Wilde, and dozens of others will always be remembered as great Irish
writers for the stage. And when fine impersonators of Irish character
like Tyrone Power, John Drew, or Barney Williams arrived, there were
always to be found several clever writers to fit them with parts, the
demand always creating the supply.

Even before Dion Boucicault took to writing Irish dramas of a more
palatable and less "stage-Irish" character than those of his
immediate predecessors, some excellent plays, Irish in character and
tone, had from time to time found their way to the stage. However,
Boucicault sweetened our stage by the production of _The Colleen
Bawn, Arrah-na-Pogue_, and _The Shaughraun_, and showed by his
rollicking impersonations of Myles, Shan, and Conn, how good-humored,
hearty, and self-sacrificing Irish boys in humble life can be. He had
great technical knowledge of stagecraft, and that has helped to make
his Irish plays live in the popular goodwill right up to today.

A revolt against Boucicault's Irish boys, all fun and frolic, and
charming colleens, who could do no wrong, has made our modern
playwrights go to the other extreme; so that now we find our stage
peopled with peasants, cruel, hard, and forbidding for the most part,
and with colleens who are the reverse of lovable in thought or act.
Neither picture is quite true of our people. What is really wanted is
the happy medium, which few, if any, of our new playwrights have yet
given us.

If our great popular Irish drama has yet to come, I think the Fays
have made it possible to say that a distinct and really fine dramatic
school has arisen in Ireland, evolved out of their wonderful skill in
teaching, producing, and acting; and if we are not always really
delighted with what our playwrights give us, the almost perfect way
in which the plays are served up by the actors invariably wholly
satisfies. It is the actors who have made the Abbey Theatre famous,
and not the plays. Such acting as theirs cast a spell over all who
see them. What pleasing memories do the names of W.G. Fay, Frank J.
Fay, Dudley Digges, Sara Allgood, Arthur Sinclair, Maire O'Neill,
Maire ni Shuiblaigh, J.M. Kerrigan, Fred O'Donovan, Eileen O'Doherty,
Una O'Connor, Eithne Magee, Nora Desmond, and John Connolly recall!

With the production of W.B. Yeats's poetic one-act play, _The Land of
Heart's Desire_, at the Avenue Theatre, London, on March 29, 1894,
began the modern Irish dramatic movement. When the poet had tasted
the joys of the footlights, he longed to see an Irish Literary
Theatre realized in Ireland. Five years later, in the Antient Concert
Rooms, Dublin, on May 9, 1899, his play, _The Countess Cathleen_, was
produced, and his desire gratified. The experiment was tried for
three years and then dropped; plays by Yeats, Edward Martyn, George
Moore, and Alice Milligan were staged with English-trained actors in
the casts; and a Gaelic play--the first ever presented in a theatre
in Ireland--was also given during the third season. It was _The
Twisting of the Rope_, by Dr. Douglas Hyde, and was played at the
Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, on October 21, 1901, by a Gaelic Amateur
Dramatic Society coached by W.G. Fay. The author filled the principal
part with distinction.

It was while rehearsing this play that the thought came to Fay: "Why
not have my little company of Irish-born actors--the Ormond Dramatic
Society--appear in plays by Irish writers instead of in the ones they
have been giving for years?" And the thought soon ripened into
realization. His brother, Frank, had dreamed of such a company since
he read of the small beginnings out of which the Norwegian Theatre
had grown; and just then, seeing some of "AE's" (George Russell's)
play, _Deirdre_, in the _All Ireland Review_, he asked the author if
he would allow them to produce it, and, consent being given, the
company put it into rehearsal at once. "AE" got for them from Yeats
_Kathleen-Ni-Houlihan_, to make up the programme. Thus it was that
this company of amateurs and poets, now known as the Abbey Players,
came into existence, and at St. Teresa's Hall, Clarendon Street,
Dublin, gave their first performance on April 2, 1902.

Shortly afterwards they took a hall at the back of a shop in Camden
Street, where they rehearsed and gave a few public performances. On
"AE" declining to be their president, Frank Fay suggested the name of
W.B. Yeats, and he was elected, and in that way came again into the
movement in which he has figured so largely ever since.

The company played occasionally in the Molesworth Hall, and produced
there, among other pieces, Synge's _In the Shadow of the Glen_
(October 8, 1903) and _Riders to the Sea_ (February 25, 1904);
Yeats's _The Hour Glass_ (March 14, 1903) and _The King's Threshold_
(October 8, 1903); Lady Gregory's _Twenty-five_ (March 14,1903); and
Padraic Colum's _Broken Soil_ (December 3, 1903).

On March 26, 1904, the company paid a flying one-day visit to the
Royalty, London, and Miss A.E.F. Horniman, who had given Shaw, Yeats,
and Dr. John Todhunter their first real start as playwrights at the
Avenue, London, in March-April, 1894 (Shaw had had his first play,
_Widowers' Houses_, played by the Independent Theatre in 1892), saw
the performance, and was so impressed that she thought she would like
to find a suitable home for such talent in Dublin, and fixed upon the
old Mechanics' Institute and its surrounding buildings, and there the
Abbey Theatre soon afterwards--on December 27, 1904--came into

In writing of this Irish dramatic movement, one must always bear in
mind that it was Yeats who first conceived the idea of such a
movement; the Fays who founded the school of Irish acting; and Miss
Horniman who, like a fairy godmother, waved the wand, and gave it a
habitation and a name--the Abbey Theatre--and endowed it for six

Play followed play with great rapidity, and dramatic societies sprang
up all over the country, playing home-made productions in Gaelic and
English. All Ireland seemed to be play-acting and play-writing; so
much so that Frank Fay was heard to say that "he thought everyone had
a play in his pocket, and that anyone in the street could be picked
up and shaped into an actor or actress with a little training,
Ireland was so teeming with talent!"

Dramatic Ireland had slumbered for a long while, and awoke with
tremendous vigor for work. New dramatists sprang up in all parts of
Ireland; The Ulster Literary Theatre started in Belfast; The Cork
Dramatic Society, in Cork; The Theatre of Ireland, in Dublin; and
others in Galway and Waterford soon followed. In Dublin at present
more than half a dozen dramatic societies are continually producing
new plays and discovering new acting talent. There are also two
Gaelic dramatic societies. And nearly every town in Ireland now has
its own dramatic class and its own dramatists. All this activity has
come about within the last ten or twelve years, where, before, in
many places, drama and acting were almost unknown.

Many Gaelic societies throughout the country put on Gaelic plays by
Dr. Douglas Hyde, Pierce Beasley, Thomas Haynes, Canon Peter O'Leary,
and others; and the _Oireachtas_ (the Gaelic musical and literary
festival) held each year in Dublin usually presents several Irish
plays and offers prizes for new ones at each festival.

Of all the Irish playwrights who have arisen in recent years, Lady
Gregory has produced most and W.B. Yeats is the most poetic. He is
more a lyric poet than a dramatist, and is never satisfied with his
work for the stage, but keeps eternally chopping and changing it. His
_Kathleen-Ni-Houlihan_, though a dream-play, always appeals to an
audience of Irish people. Perhaps his one-act _Deirdre_ is the
nearest approach to real drama he has done. Some of Lady Gregory's
earlier one-act farces, such as _The Workhouse-Ward_, are very
amusing; _The Rising of the Moon_ is a little dramatic gem, and _The
Gaol Gate_ is touched with genuine tragedy. Synge wrote only one
play--_Riders to the Sea_--that acts well. The others are admired by
critics for the strangeness of their diction and the beauty of the
nature-pictures scattered through them. His much-discussed _Playboy
of the Western World_ has become famous for the rows it has created
at home and abroad from its very first production on January 26,
1907. William Boyle, who gets to the heart of those he writes about,
has produced the most popular play of the movement in _The Eloquent
Dempsey_, and a perfectly constructed one in _The Building Fund_.
W.F. Casey's two plays--_The Man Who Missed the Tide_ and _The
Suburban Groove_--are both popular and actable. Padraic Colum's
plays--_The Land_ and _Broken Soil_ (the latter rewritten and renamed
_The Fiddler's House_)--are almost idyllic scenes of country life.
Lennox Robinson's plays are harsh in tone, but dramatically
effective, and T.C. Murray's _Birthright_ and _Maurice Harte_ are
fine dramas, well constructed and full of true knowledge of the
people he writes about. Seumas O'Kelly has written two strong dramas
in _The Shuiler's Child_ and _The Bribe_, and Seumas O'Brien one of
the funniest Irish farces ever staged in _Duty_. R.J. Ray's play,
_The Casting Out of Martin Whelan_, is the best this dramatist has as
yet given us, and George Fitzmaurice's _The Country Dressmaker_ has
the elements of good drama in it. St. John G. Ervine has written a
very human drama in _Mixed Marriage_. He hails from the north of
Ireland; but Rutherford Mayne is the best of the Northern
playwrights, and his plays, _The Drone_ and _The Turn of the Road_,
are splendid homely county Down comedies.

Bernard Shaw's _John Bull's Other Island_, as Irish plays go, is a
fine specimen; Canon Hannay has written two successful comedies,
_Eleanor's Enterprise_ and _General John Regan_--the latter not
wholly to the taste of the people of the west. James Stephens and
Jane Barlow have also tried their hands at playwriting, with but
moderate success. Perhaps the modern drama that made the most
impression when first played was _The Heather Field_, by Edward
Martyn. It gripped and remains a lasting memory with all who saw it
in 1899. But I think I have written enough to show that the Irish
Theatre of today is in a very alive condition, and that if the great
National Dramatist has not yet arrived, he is sure to emerge. When
that time comes, the actors are here ready to interpret such work to

An article, however brief, on the Irish Theatre, would be incomplete
without mention of the world-famous tragedians, John Edward
MacCullough, Lawrence Patrick Barrett, and Barry Sullivan; of genial
comedians like Charles Sullivan and Hubert O'Grady; of sterling
actors like Shiel Barry, John Brougham, Leonard Boyne, J.D.
Beveridge, and Thomas Nerney; or of operatic artists like Denis
O'Sullivan and Joseph O'Mara--many of whom have passed away, but
some, fortunately, are with us still.


John Genest: Some Account of the English Stage from the Restoration
to 1830 (1832; vol. 10 is devoted to the Irish Stage); Chetwood:
General History of the Stage, more particularly of the Irish Theatre
(Dublin, 1749); Molloy: Romance of the Irish Stage; Baker: Biographia
Dramatica (Dublin, 1782); Hitchcock: An Historical View of the Irish
Stage from its Earliest Period down to the Season of 1788; Doran:
Their Majesties' Servants, or Annals of the English Stage (London,
1865); Hughes: The Pre-Victorian Drama in Dublin; The History of the
Theatre Royal, Dublin (Dublin, 1870); Levey and O'Rourke: Annals of
the Theatre Royal (Dublin, 1880); O'Neill: Irish Theatrical History
(Dublin, 1910); Brown: A Guide to Books on Ireland (Dublin, 1912);
Lawrence: The Abbey Theatre (in the Weekly Freeman, Dublin, Dec.,
1912), Origin of the Abbey Theatre (in Sinn Fein, Dublin, Feb. 14,
1914); Weygandt: Irish Plays and Playwrights (London, 1913); Lady
Gregory: Our Irish Theatre (London, 1914); Bourgeois: John M. Synge
and the Irish Theatre (London, 1913); Moore: Hail and Farewell, 3
vols. (London, 1911-1914); Esmore: The Ulster Literary Theatre (in
the Lady of the House, Dublin, Nov. 15, 1913); the Reviews, Beltaine
(1899-1900) and Samhain (1901-1903).



The most splendid testimony to the Irish genius in journalism is
afforded by the London press of the opening decades of the twentieth
century. One of the greatest newspaper organizers of modern times is
Lord Northcliffe. As the principal proprietor and guiding mind of
both the _Times_ and the _Daily Mail_, he directly influences public
opinion, from the steps of the Throne and the door of the Cabinet, to
the errand boy and the servant maid. T.P. O'Connor, M.P., is the most
popular writer on current social and political topics, and so amazing
is his versatility that every subject he touches is illumined by
those fine qualities, vision and sincerity. The most renowned of
political writers is J.L. Garvin of the _Pall Mall Gazette_ and the
_Observer_. By his leading articles he has done as much as the late
Joseph Chamberlain by his speeches to democratize and humanize the
old Tory party of England. The authoritative special correspondent,
studying at first hand all the problems which divide the nations of
Europe, and knowing personally most of its rulers and statesmen, is
E.J. Dillon of the _Daily Telegraph_. And when the quarrels of
nations are transferred from the chancelleries to the stricken field
there is no one among the war correspondents more enterprising and
intrepid in his methods, or more picturesque and vivid with his pen,
than M.H. Donohoe of the _Daily Chronicle_. All these men are Irish.
Could there be more striking proof of the natural bent and aptitude
of the Irish mind for journalism?

Dean Swift was the mightiest journalist that ever stirred the
sluggish soul of humanity. Were he alive today and had he at his
command the enormous circulation of a great daily newspaper, he would
keep millions in a perpetual mental ferment, such was the ferocious
indignation into which he was aroused by wrong and injustice and his
gift of savage ironical expression. Swift, as a young student in
Trinity College, Dublin, saw the birth of the first offspring of the
Irish mind in journalism. The _Dublin News Letter_ made its
appearance in June, 1685, and was published every three or four days
for the circulation of news and advertisements. Only one copy of the
first issue of this, the earliest of Irish newspapers, is extant. It
is included in the Thorpe collection of tracts in the Royal Dublin
Society. Dated August 26, 1685, it consists of a single leaf of paper
printed on both sides, and contains just one item of news, a letter
brought by the English packet from London, and two local
advertisements. As I reverently handled it, I was thrilled by the
thought that from this insignificant little seed sprang the great
national organ, the _Freeman's Journal_; the _Press_ of the United
Irishmen; the _Nation_ of the Young Irelanders; the _United Ireland_
of the Land League; the _Irish World_ and the _Boston Pilot_ of the
American Irish; and the _Irish Independent_, the first half-penny
Dublin morning paper, and the most widely circulated of Irish
journals. If Swift did not write for the _Dublin News Letter_, he
certainly wrote for the _Examiner_, a weekly miscellany published in
the Irish capital from 1710 to 1713, and the first journal that
endeavored to create public opinion in Ireland. It was at Swift's
instigation that this paper was started, and he was doubtless
encouraged to suggest it by the success that attended his articles in
the contemporary London publication of the same name, the Tory
_Examiner_, in which his journalistic genius was fully revealed. As
it has been expressively put, he wrote his friends, Harley and St.
John, into a firm grip of power, and thus, as in other ways,
contributed his share to the inauguration and maintenance of that
policy which in the last four years of Queen Anne so materially
recast the whole European situation. About the same time there
appeared in London the earliest forms of the periodical essay in the
_Tatler_ and the _Spectator_, which exhibit the comprehensiveness of
the Irish temperament in writing by affording a contrast between the
Irish force and vehemence of Swift and the Irish play of kindly wit
and tender pathos in the deft and dainty periods of Richard Steele.

Dr. Charles Lucas was, even more than Swift perhaps, the precursor of
that type of Irish publicist and journalist, of which there have been
many splendid examples since then in Ireland, England, and America.
Lucas first started the _Censor_, a weekly journal, in 1748. Within
two years his paper was suppressed for exciting discontent with the
government, and to avoid a prosecution he fled to England. In 1763
the _Freeman's Journal_ was established by three Dublin merchants.
Lucas, who had returned from a long exile and was a member of the
Irish parliament, contributed to it, sometimes anonymously but
generally over the signature of "A Citizen" or "Civis." The editor
was Henry Brooks, novelist, poet, and playwright. His novel, _The
Fool of Quality_, is still read. His tragedy, _The Earl of Essex_,
was, wrongly, supposed to contain a precept, "Who rules o'er freemen
should himself be free," which led to the more famous parody of Dr.
Samuel Johnson, "Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat." The
object of Lucas and Brooke, as journalists, was to awaken national
sentiment, by teaching that Ireland had an individuality of her own
independently of England. But they were more concerned with the
assertion of the constitutional rights of the parliament of the
Protestant colony as against the domination of England. Therefore,
the first organ of Irish Nationality, representative of all creeds
and classes, was the _Press_, the newspaper of the United Irishmen,
which was started in Dublin in 1797, by Arthur O'Connor, the son of a
rich merchant who had made his money in London. Its editor was Peter
Finnerty, born of humble parentage at Loughrea, afterwards a famous
parliamentary reporter for the London _Morning Chronicle_, and its
most famous contributor was Dr. William Drennan, the poet, who first
called Ireland "the Emerald Isle."

Irishmen did not become prominently associated with American
journalism until after the Famine and the collapse of the Young
Ireland movement in 1848. The journalist whom I regard as having
exercised the most fateful influence on the destinies of Ireland was
Charles Gavan Duffy, the founder and first editor of the _Nation_, a
newspaper of which it was truly and finely said that it brought a new
soul into Erin. Among its contributors, who afterwards added lustre
to the journalism of the United States, was John Mitchel. In the
_Southern Citizen_ and the _Richmond Enquirer_ he supported the South
against the North in the Civil War. The Rev. Abram Joseph Ryan, who
was associated with journalism in New Orleans, not only acted as a
Catholic chaplain with the Confederate army, but sang of its hopes
and aspirations in tuneful verse. Serving in the army of the North
was Charles G. Halpine, whose songs signed "Private Miles O'Reilly"
were very popular in those days of national convulsion in the United
States. Halpine's father had edited the Tory newspaper, the Dublin
_Evening Mail_; and Halpine himself, after the war, edited the
_Citizen_ of New York, famous for its advocacy of reforms in civic
administration. Perhaps the two most renowned men in Irish-American
journalism were John Boyle O'Reilly of the _Boston Pilot_ and Patrick
Ford of the _Irish World_. O'Reilly was a troop-sergeant in the 10th
Hussars (Prince of Wales's Own), and during the Fenian troubles of
1866 had eighty of his men ready armed and mounted to take out of
Island Bridge Barracks, Dublin, at a given signal, to aid the
projected insurrection. Detected, he was brought to trial, summarily
convicted, and sentenced to be shot. This sentence was commuted to
twenty-five years' penal servitude; but O'Reilly survived it all to
become a brilliant man of letters and make the _Boston Pilot_ one of
the most influential Irish and Catholic newspapers in the United
States. Ford, who had served his apprenticeship as a compositor in
the office of William Lloyd Garrison at Boston, founded the _Irish
World_ in 1870. This newspaper gave powerful aid to the Land League.
A special issue of 1,650,000 copies of the _Irish World_ was printed
on January 11, 1879, for circulation in Ireland; and money to the
amount of $600,000 altogether was sent by Ford to the headquarters of
the agitation in Dublin. A journalist of a totally different kind was
Edwin Lawrence Godkin. Born in County Wicklow, the son of a
Presbyterian clergyman, Godkin in 1865 established the _Nation_ in
New York as an organ of independent thought; and for thirty-five
years he filled a unique position, standing aside from all parties,
sects, and bodies, and yet permeating them all with his sane and
restraining philosophy.

In Canada, Thomas D'Arcy Magee won fame as a journalist on the _New
Era_ before he became even more distinguished as a parliamentarian.
When the history of Australian journalism is written it will contain
two outstanding Irish names: Daniel Henry Deniehy, who died in 1865,
was called by Bulwer Lytton "the Australian Macaulay" on account of
his brilliant writings as critic and reviewer in the press of
Victoria. Gerald Henry Supple, another Dublin man, is also remembered
for his contributions to the _Age_ and the _Argus_ of Melbourne. In
India one of the first--if not the first--English newspapers was
founded by a Limerick man, named Charles Johnstone, who had
previously attained fame as the author of _Chrysal, or the Adventures
of a Guinea_, and who died at Calcutta about 1800.

Stirring memories of battle and adventure leap to the mind at the
names of those renowned war correspondents, William Howard Russell,
Edmond O'Donovan, and James J. O'Kelly. Russell, a Dublin man, was
the first newspaper representative to accompany an army into the
field. He saw all the mighty engagements of the Crimea--Alma,
Balaclava, Inkerman, Sebastopol--not from a distance of 60 or 80
miles, which is the nearest that correspondents are now allowed to
approach the front, but at the closest quarters, riding through the
lines on his mule, and seeing the engagements vividly, so that he was
able to describe them in moving detail for readers of the _Times_.
O'Donovan--son of Dr. John O'Donovan, the distinguished Irish scholar
and archaeologist--was in the service of the London _Daily News_.
That dashing campaigner--as his famous book, _The Merv Oasis_, shows
him to have been--perished with Hicks Pasha's Army in the Sudan in
November, 1883. At the same time James O'Kelly, also of the _Daily
News_, was lost in the desert, trying to join the forces of the
victorious Sudanese under the Madhi. Ten years before that he had
accomplished, for the New York _Herald_, the equally daring and
hazardous feat of joining the Cuban rebels in revolt against Spain.
He escaped the perils of the Mambi Land and the Sudan, and survived
to serve Ireland for many years as a Nationalist member in the
British parliament. John Augustus O'Shea, better known, perhaps, as
"The Irish Bohemian", also deserves remembrance for his quarter of a
century's work as special correspondent in Europe--including Paris
during the siege--for the London _Standard_.

Indeed, no matter to what side of journalism we turn, we find
Irishmen filling the foremost and the highest places. John Thaddeus
Delane, under whose editorship the _Times_ became for a time the most
influential newspaper in the world, was of Irish parentage. The first
editor of the _Illustrated London News_ (1842)--one of the pioneers
in the elucidation of news by means of pictures--was an Irishman,
Frederick Bayley. Among the projectors of _Punch_, and one of its
earliest contributors, was a King's county man, Joseph Sterling
Coyne. The founder of the _Liverpool Daily Post_ (1855), the first
penny daily paper in Great Britain, was Michael Joseph Whitty, a
Wexford man. His son, Edward M. Whitty, was the originator of that
interesting feature of English and Irish journalism, the sketch of
personalities and proceedings in parliament. Of the editors of the
_Athenaeum_--for many years the leading English organ of literary
criticism--one of the most famous was Dr. John Doran, who was of
Irish parentage. "Dod" is a familiar household word in the British
Parliament. It is the name of the recognized guide to the careers and
political opinions of Lords and Commons. Its founder was an Irishman,
Charles Roger Dod, who for twenty-three years was a parliamentary
reporter for the _Times_. And what name sheds a brighter light on the
annals of British journalism for intellectual and imaginative force
than that of Justin MacCarthy, novelist and historian, as well as
newspaper writer?

At home in Ireland the name of Gray is inseparably associated with
the _Freeman's Journal_. Under the direction of Dr. John Gray this
newspaper became in the sixties and seventies the most powerful organ
of public opinion in Ireland; and in the eighties it was raised still
higher in ability and influence by his son and successor, Edmund
Dwyer Gray. In the south of Ireland the most influential daily
newspaper is the _Cork Examiner_, which was founded in 1841 by John
Francis Maguire, who wrote in 1868 _The Irish in America_. It is
doubtful whether any country ever produced a more militant and able
political journal than was _United Ireland_ in the stormy years
during which it was edited by William O'Brien as the organ of the
Land League.

The Irish mood is gregarious, expansive, glowing, and eager to keep
in intimate touch with the movements and affairs of humanity. That, I
think, is the secret of its success in journalism.


Madden: Irish Periodical Literature (1867); Andrews: English
Journalism (1855); North: Newspaper and Periodical Press of the
United States (1884); MacDonagh: The Reporter's Gallery (1913).



In the closing decade of the nineteenth century and in the opening
years of the twentieth, no literary movement has awakened a livelier
interest than the Irish Literary Revival, a movement which, by its
singleness and solidarity of purpose, stood alone in a time of
confused literary aims and tendencies. Movements, like individuals,
have their ancestry, and that of the Irish Literary Revival is easily
traced. It descends from Callanan and Walsh, and from the writers of
'48. It is to this descent that the lines in William Butler Yeats's
"To Ireland in Coming Times" allude:

Know that I would accounted be
True brother of that company,
Who sang to sweeten Ireland's wrong,
Ballad and story, rann and song.

With the passing of the mid-nineteenth-century writers, the old
movement waned, and in the field of Irish letters there was, in the
phrase of a famous bull, nothing stirring but stagnation. A witty
critic of the period, commenting upon this unhappy state of affairs,
declared that, though the love of learning in Ireland might still be,
as the saying went, indestructible, it was certainly imperceptible.
But after the fall of Parnell a new spirit was stirring. Politics no
longer absorbed the whole energy of the nation. Groups of men
inspired with a love of the arts sprang up here and there. In 1890
Yeats proved himself a real prophet when he wrote: "A true literary
consciousness--national to the centre--seems gradually to be forming
out of all this disguising and prettifying, this penumbra of
half-culture. We are preparing likely enough for a new Irish literary
movement--like that of '48--that will show itself in the first lull
in politics."

Responsive to the need of the young writers associated with Yeats,
the National Literary Society was founded in Dublin in 1892, and a
year later London Irishmen, among them men already distinguished in
letters, founded in the English metropolis the Irish Literary
Society. From the presses in Dublin, in London, and in New York as
well, books began to appear in rapid succession--slender volumes of
verse, novels, short stories, essays, plays, translations, and
remakings of Irish myths and legends, all inspired by, and closely
related to, the past or the present of Ireland, voicing an
essentially national spirit and presenting the noblest traits of
Irish life and character.

Not content with the organization of the two literary societies,
Yeats, with courage and relentless tenacity, cast about to realize
his long-cherished dream of a theatre that should embody the ideals
of the Revival. In Lady Gregory, and in Edward Martyn, an Irishman of
large means, who with both pen and purse lent a willing hand, he
found two ardent laborers for his vineyard. George Moore, who in the
event proved a fish out of water in Ireland, Yeats and Martyn
contrived to lure from his London lodgings and his cosmopolitan ways,
and to enlist in the theatrical enterprise. The practical knowledge
of the stage which this gifted _enfant terrible_ of literature
contributed was doubtless of great value in the early days of the
dramatic adventure, though Moore's free thoughts, frank speech, and
mordant irony brought an element of discord into Dublin literary
circles, which may well have left Yeats and his associates with a
feeling that they had paid too dear for a piper to whose tunes they
refused to dance. Be that as it may, in 1899 Yeats's dream was
measurably realized, and the Irish Literary Theatre established, to
be succeeded a little later by the Irish National Theatre Society.
Enough, however, of the dramatic aspect of the Revival, which
receives separate treatment elsewhere in these pages, as does also
the dramatic work of certain of the authors considered here.

From what has already been said, it should be plain that in the last
decade of the last century the ranks of the Irish Literary
Revivalists filled rapidly, and that the movement was really under
way. The renascent spirit took various forms. To one group of poets
the humor, pathos, and tragedy of peasant life deeply appealed, and
found expression in a poetry distinctively and unmistakably national,
from which a kind of pleasure could be drawn unlike anything else in
other literatures. In this group Alfred Perceval Graves and Moira
O'Neill cannot pass unmentioned. Who would ask anything racier in its
kind than the former's "Father O'Flynn"?

Of priests we can offer a charmin' variety,
Far renowned for larnin' and piety,
Still I'd advance you without impropriety,
Father O'Flynn as the flower of them all.
Here's a health to you, Father O'Flynn,
Slainte,[1] and slainte, and slainte agin.
Powerfullest preacher,
And tinderest teacher,
And kindliest creature in Old Donegal.

[Footnote 1: "Your health."]

Or was the homing instinct, the homesick longing for the old sod,
ever more truly rendered than in Moira O'Neill's song of the Irish
laborer in England?


Back to Full Books