ANCIENT CURES, CHARMS, AND USAGES OF IRELAND.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO IRISH LORE.
THE SPECTRE BRIDE
In one of the southern villages there was once a beautiful young girl who promised her lover, by the sign of the blessed Cross, that she would marry no one else save him alone. But her parents objected, and forbid him the house, and told her she must never more see him, or walk with him, or talk with him; for they wanted her to marry a rich old farmer, a widower, who lived near by.
Then the poor girl fell into a black despair, and determined to kill herself. So, in the madness of her sorrow, she came to the rock of St. Finian to fulfil her intention, and cast herself down from thence into the river and was drowned.
Now it happened that the next night the young man she so dearly loved came by that way, and she appeared to him suddenly. And when he beheld her, he was so enchanted that he tried to throw his arms around her, for he had no fear; but she waved him back, and told him he must not touch her, or put a hand on her, else she would have to go back to the dead, and he would see her no more. But he might take hold of the corner of her apron, and walk with her in the moonlight for a little while. So they wandered by the river's bank until the hour came when the dead must go back to the dead, and she faded away in the moonlight, telling him that she would meet him again at the same spot the following night.
And so he met her a second time, and they walked as before till the midnight hour; but on the third night she told him to come no more, as she meant to go and visit him at his own place, where he lived, though he must tell no one, nor allow any one to see her; therefore, she would not come till dead of night, when he would be all alone.
Now the next night, when the hour was near for the meeting, he grew terribly frightened, and could not help telling a friend and asking his advice. "This do," said the friend. "Take a large, black-handled knife from the farmyard, and place it between yourself and her whenever and wherever she appears; for as long as the knife is there between you she can do you no harm — of this be certain."
So he got the knife as desired, and laid it down across the door of the barn where he slept, and went and lay down, thinking he was safe. And exactly at midnight she came, and tried to enter through the door, but could not; and he heard the sorrowing wail of her voice outside.
But there was a chink in the wall at the opposite side of the barn, quite close to his bed, and through tkis he heard her trying to force her way; so he made a dash for the knife, and laid it in his bed just as she glided in through the split in the wall.
Then she talked long to him, and told him how she loved him, and asked as a favour if he would only let her lie down at his feet on the bed till the hour came when they must part; but as she lay down, her hand happened to touch the knife that was between them, and she fell back with a fearful cry. "Now," she said, " the power I had over you is gone, and the spell is broken that gave me life for a moment; for by means of that knife whicb you have placed between us, we are parted for ever. Alas! we might have had a happy bridal, but now I must go back to the dead for evermore and so saying, she laid her band upon his face, and left him blind all the days of his life; and then the pale ghost of the girl rose up from the bed, and disappeared in a flash of fire, leaving the unhappy lover senseless from terror.
THE WITCH GIRL
A long while ago there was a young lad employed about the Castle at Castle Derby, and he had a deal of work to do from morning to night, find was often weary of his life by reason of the work. So one evening, when the sunset was on the hills, he threw himself down on the grass to rest, and as he lay there, half in a dream, he was aware of some one bending over him, and on looking up, he beheld a young girl with long golden hair, draped all in white, standing in the red glow of the sunset, and her eyes, like glittering stars, were fixed upon him with a love-light in them that made him tremble. At once young Dermot sprang to his feet, and taking her two hands in his, questioned her as to where she had come from, and why she was watching him while he slept.
"Because I love you," she answered, "and pity you, and I have come to help you in the work.''
So she stayed till the dark of the evening came on, and helped him to herd the cattle and set the farmyard in order, for she was fleet of foot and firm of hand, and the beasts and fowl followed quietly wherever she led. And the next day she came also, and the next, and worked so well that Dermot had scarcely anything to do at last, except to look at her beautiful eyes, and listen to her sweet singing, as he lay on the grass when the work was all over.
At length, however, a sad time came for the lovers, for one day she told him that perhaps he would see her no more, as her people had sent for her. And he was sorely grieved, and fell down on the earth weeping. Then she comforted him, and promised if all ended well that she would see him soon again, and go on with their work and happy life together. But now she must leave; for her kindred were summoned to a battle far away, and it was her place to watch by the wounded. Yet she also might be slain; who could say if her life would be given to her? So let him heed the sign she gave him by which he would know if she were living. And the sign she gave him was this:
"Go she said," to-morrow-evening at sunset to the well near this, where we have so often been together, and if you see the water red, like blood, then you may know that I am dead, and you will never, never see me more. So take this ointment, and in the morning rub it into your eyes, and if I am dead you will see my funeral passing this way, where we have been so happy." And she laid a little box of ointment in his hand, and disappeared.
Now the next day Dermot waited very impatiently till evening to visit the well; but, when he saw the water in the sunset light, lo, it was red like blood; and his bitter cries rose up, and lamentations, so that no one could comfort him; nor could he tell to any one the story of his lost love, for she had bound him to silence. He could only cry aloud: "My friend, my friend is dead. I shall see her no more."
Now the next day, when the funeral was to pass, he rubbed the ointment on his eyes, and presently he saw it coming along the road, but the sight of the coffin made him quite frantic, and he clapped his hands and tore his hair, like one in madness. Then the men who bore the coffin, seeing his state, stopped in pity, and asked him would he like to see the face of the girl once more, for they were touched by his prayers and tears, and they opened the lid; but when he looked into the coffin, in place of the beautiful girl he had loved, there lay in her shroud the form of a hideous old hag, with long, protruding teeth, that came down over her lips and reached to her chin like the fangs of a wild beast, and as he screamed in horror she ifted one skinny hand and tried to clutch him, while her eyes rolled as if they would start from her head; but he fled away, and never again did the witch-girl appear to him living or dead. And a sadness was on him all his life long for ever after.
THE HEADLESS HORSES
All the world one time was going to the great fair at Navan, and amongst them was one Denis Molony, a cow-jobber, a well-to-do, honest man, who had cattle along with him to sell at the fair.
But when he reached the outside of the town, night was coming on black dark; so he thought he'd wait awhile, and just let the cattle graze as they liked, while he laid himself down under the hedge till the morning.
At that moment, however, a loud moaning and screaming came to his ear, and a woman rushed past him all in white, as if a winding-sheet were round her, and her cries of despair were terrible to hear. Then, after her, a great black coach came thundering along the road, drawn by two black horses; but when Denis looked close at them, he saw that the horses had no heads, and the coachman had no head, and out sprang two men from the coach, and they had no heads either; and they seized the woman, and carried her by force into the carriage, and then drove off.
Now Denis was terribly frightened, and he went back on the road to a house he had passed some time before, and narrated all he had seen to the people. On which they told him that the woman he saw was an evil giver, and a wicked sinner, and no doubt the devils were carrying her off from the churchyard, for she had been buried that morning.
But never a prayer would she say, nor make confession to the priest before her death; so God and the holy saints had given her up to punishment, and the devil had his own at last. But to make sure, they went next morning to the churchyard to examine the grave, and there sure enough was the coffin, but it was open, and not a trace of the dead woman was to be seen. So they knew that an evil fate had come on her, and that her soul was gone to eternal torture.
THE WOMAN WITH THE TEETH
The road to Navan has always had an unlucky reputation, and formerly it was considered very dangerous to persons travelling alone between dark and midnight; for it was haunted by a ghost, who appeared sometimes as a bag or a pack of wool rolling along, and no hands touching it, or as a shrouded woman with gleaming white teeth, or sometimes as a dog, the worst of all shapes for a ghost to appear in.
And many persons were killed by this ghost, and were found in the morning lying dead, with a black mark round the throat, as if they had been strangled. So great fear was on the people, and few dared to venture on the road after dark.
But there was a fine young farmer one time at the fair at Navan, and after drinking and making merry with his friends, he declared that he would go home by that road and no other, and he would fight the ghost, and not leave a shred of it together.
So he mounted his horse and rode off just as night was falling; and all seemed clear on the road for some distance as he went on, when suddenly a woman sprang across the path, and leaped up behind him on the horse before he could hinder her.
And she put her two arms round his waist and bade him look round at her beautiful white teeth, for there were no such teeth in all the country round. But he would not. Then she tried to entice him many times to look at her; for it was by this means she killed her victims, the moment they looked at her their doom was certain.
The young man, however, had a brave, resolute heart, and he told her he would not look at her then, but he would bring her home with him, and as they sat by the fire in his own house he might take a look at her wonderful teeth, and be the best of good company to her and treat her well. With that he took off his broad leathern belt and slung it round her, buckling it again fast to his own body, so that she could not move; and then the two rode home as quick as the wind, and never a word more did she speak.
Now when he reached his house, all the people were waiting outside to see what had become of him, and they set up a great shout of laughter when he rode up; for there, buckled round his waist at the back, was a great log of wood, but no sign of the woman. So he unstrapped the wood, and afterwards chopped it up into small pieces, and from every piece fell drops of blood. And then they all saw that it was devil's work; so he flung the pieces outside; but next morning when he went to look for the wood it was all gone. And from that time forth the evil ghost disappeared, to the great comfort of the people. Thus the young farmer did a good piece of work by that night's ride.
There was once upon a time a man of very evil repute, named Donegan, who lived all alone by himself in a wretched little hut close by the bog of Allen. And no one knew how he got any money at all to live by, unless it was by robbery and murder; for he did no work, and neither tilled nor planted.
So all the people were afraid of him, and said he was a tool of the devil. And no one would venture near his hut, or have any dealings with him, or say, "God save you kindly" when they met him on the road. But lie cared nothing, only looked at them askance from under his shaggy brows, and went on his way in silence. For he himself liked to be alone, and would never let any one, not even the priest himself, cross his threshold.
Now there was no window in the hut, only an open slib to let in the daylight, and when night came he used to put a good wisp of straw and a plank of wood over the opening to keep all safe.
But one night, after he was in bed, he heard the sound of some one trying to push away the plank, as if to enter the hut. Now, Donegan knew that no one would come in to rob, for there was nothing to steal, and he also knew that none of the neighbours or villagers would venture to his hut at such a time of night, though some one might come just to annoy him, he was so hated by the people; so he sprang up, and pressed against the plank to keep it from moving. But all was of no use; the force outside was too strong, and in a moment Donegan was flung flat on the floor on his back, and the plank along with him, and a great, tall, strange man entered and stood beside him, wearing a mask over his face. Now, Donegan was strong and fierce, and accustomed to fight for his life, and leaping to his feet at once, he hit the stranger a terrible blow, full in the face; but to his surprise, the blow went right through him, as if he were but air, and left no mark. Still Donegan was not to be frightened.
"Man or devil," he shouted, "you shall not escape me," and he hit him another tremendous blow.
Yet he was only beating the air, and the man never moved, but stood fixed, staring with red, fiery eyes through his mask.
Then Donegan grew furious. "I never was afraid yet," he cried, " of father or mother, priest or parson, God or hell, and I am not afraid of you, even if you are a ghost from the dead." And he tried to hurl the man to the ground, but still he only struck the air.
Then, at last, the ghost lifted up his arm and took the mask from his face, and Donegan saw before him the terrible, ghastly features of the murdered dead, come from the grave to take vengeance on the murderer, and he fell to the ground helpless and paralysed with fear; but the ghost had no mercy, he clutched the unhappy wretch, and dashed him against the wall of the hut, then followed and clutched him again and dashed him back to the opposite wall, and so continued till Donegan was almost senseless. Then the ghost left him, for the hour had come when the dead return to their graves; but before his departure he clasped Donegan round the wrist and burned a red circle right through to the bone, saying: "Now you will believe there is a devil, and that the fires of hell are waiting for your sinful soul."
After this fearful adventure, Donegan lost all strength and power, and sent for the priest, to whom he made a full confession of his many crimes, too terrible to be uttered to any other ears; but that same night he disappeared, and no one knew from that day forth whither he had gone, or what became of him. He left no sign, and was never seen afterwards by living man; but the people believe that he was carried off bodily by the devil himself, for an evil fate was on him, and both in life and death he was accursed.
Music was held in much repute iu the ancient world as a curative agent, besides being the inspiration that gave force to life, stimulating or soothing as the moment required; for music, above all arts, has a subtle power over the nervous system, and is able to interpret and direct all the sudden, swift, and varied phases of human emotion. It can stir the soul to its inmost depths till the tears fall in silent sorrow, or fill the brain with a passionate enthusiasm, which is a prophecy of victory. All the great nations of antiquity recognised the relation between emotion and music. Plato made it a direct educational agent, even as Pythagoras had done when he showed the people how, by its wonderful power, it could melt the soul to divine pity, or kindle it to the sublime madness that creates great deeds.
The Irish, from the earliest times, have shown their belief in the mystic influence of music upon life; and their legends record how the musician could soothe the wounded or calm the dying, and even make those in agony forget their pains. At the festivals and religious ceremonies, and the banquets of kings and chiefs, the bard swept the chords of the harp till the waves of human passion surged or fell in rhythmic harmony with the bardic song. And, above all men, at the royal Court, the bard was honoured for his divine gift. He was given a noble income by law, freely and of grace, to lift him above the necessity of servile cares.
His place at the royal table was next the monarch, and above the nobles, and wearing his robe of seven colours, and the circlet of gold upon his brow, he sat a prince amongst princes. But civilisation no longer recognises the true mission of music as a redemptive power, able to calm the nerves or exorcise the evil spirit, when the soul sinks under the shadow of coming sorrow. Even our hospitals never seem to think of utilising music as a curative agent, either to lull pain or waken the dormant faculties to a new sense of the joy of life; yet the wards are often filled with the rich perfume of flowers sent by loving hands, though flowery, unlike music, may be at times a dangerous, even a deadly offering to the sick.
Music, however, still retains its subtle, spiritual influence over the Irish heart, and no great political movement was ever yet inaugurated in Ireland without the aid of the priesthood of song; but as a powerful agent to relieve pain or act on the nervous system, music is no longer used, as formerly, by the fairy-doctor or the wise woman of the village to help or to effect a cure. Thus, in the direction of therapeutics, its use seems to have wholly ceased; but, as a spiritual power, it can still excite and inspire the Irish nature with the same vivid force that in old times made music supreme above all other arts in its mystic influence upon the human soul. A recent volume of Irish poems, collected and edited by Mr. Halliday Sparling, proves that the instinctive tendency of the Irish people to set their wrongs to music still exists as vividly as ever.
Music and song have illustrated all the great epochs of modern Irish history: the era of Grattan and the Volunteers; of O'Connell and Emancipation, when Moore, in his "Lalla Rookh," under the disguise of "The Fire Worshippers," incarnated the fierce resolve of Catholic Ireland to break the bondage of the penal yoke. And then came the era of 1848, when the intellect of the nation received its most splendid impulse, and with the noblest results. Emancipation had been gained, "Irish Minstrelsy," by Halliday Sparling. London, Canterbury Series, and the Catholics of Ireland, after two centuries of insult and degradation, were just then beginning to feel and know that they had human rights, and strength to gain them if they so willed. But the utterance of a people, though always vehement, is often incoherent, and then it is that the men of education and culture are needed to interpret and formulate the vague longings and ambitions of the passionate hearts around. Thus the literature of 1848, under the guidance of eminent and gifted men, became the glowing incarnation of the desire of a whole people to raise their country to a fitting place among the nations; and the spirit-power was the mighty force they used to overthrow narrow intolerance and prejudice, and to give the fierce, popular instincts for right and justice, a higher direction than mere reckless revenge over the oppressor. The leaders soon gathered round them by elective affinity all the glowing genius of the country, an impassioned race of poets and orators, famous afterwards in the history of the period as the "Young Ireland" party, whose words of power, to use Chaucer's phrase, were "like a trumpet thundering" in the ears of the people. The poets, above all, touched the heart of the nation, when, with a madness of inspiration, they chanted the wrongs and hopes of the people in rhythmic words. Most of the songs in Mr. Sparling's collection date from this period, when the whole life of the nation moved to music. Even the peasants and artisans of the time became poets, and some of their strong, fiery- verses, the product of powerful emotion, show how even the rudest elements were kindled and transfigured by the glory of the new light.
Thomas Davis, the chief of this young band of thinkers and workers, was an incarnation of passionate genius — the most powerful of the poets, the most brilliant of the essayists. His words, like a fiery cross, flashed through the length and breadth of the land, awakening mind, heart, and brain, from the dull apathy of centuries of oppression. With the tempest in his soul, and the lightning on his lips, he poured out for the people the divine wine of intellect that lifts humanity from the animal to the god. But his brief life of work for Ireland soon ended; it was scarcely more than a three years' fever, and then in the very prime of his youth and genius, and the full triumph of his successful leadership, as with a rainbow gleam he sprang into the sunlight and so died. He is well represented in the selections by several of his most striking poems: "Fontenoy," and "The Geraldines," "The Volunteers of 82," and others as celebrated and as popular. Charles Gavan Duffy, however, as editor of The Nation, had the chief direction of the new movement. A man of the highest culture, of exquisite literary taste, and a clear and powerful writer, both in prose and verse, lie was eminently fitted for guide and counsellor to all the young, fiery intellects that composed his staff, while his winning manners and earnest sympathy with all that was noble and beautiful in literature and art gained their admiration and love.
As a poet he stands in the first rank of the national bards. One of his best poems, "The Muster of the North" by the strong, fierce music of the rhythm, shows the true Celtic fire and force of his nature.
The leaders of Young Ireland were often likened to the men of the great French Revolution. Gavan Duffy was the Vergniaud, the organiser and inspirer. Meagher, in his beautiful youth, and with the passionate fervour of his eloquence, was the St. Just without his cruelty. John Mitchell, strong in words and powerful in purpose, was Danton, with his fearless gospel of audacity; while Isaac Butt, with his tossed masses of black hair, his flashing eyes, and splendid rush of classic oratory, was the Mirabeau of the party. Smith O'Brien was honoured as leader, from his lineage and rank.
Stately as a king, of rare and stainless honour, he seemed never to forget that he was the descendant of kings, and might even one day claim the title himself, if the revolution succeeded. John Dillon, father of the young patriot of the present day, was a grand specimen of the Spanish-Irish type, and the southern fire ran warm through his veins. He was one of the most impassioned speakers of the gifted band, and no assembly could resist the volcanic torrent of his burning words. These were the orators of Young Ireland. Like the Girondists, they set up a lofty ideal for humanity: to regenerate the people by culture, noble aims, noble lives, and the service of solemn devotion to their country. But there was no Marat among them; they had no plans of cruel vengeance and plunder; they counselled no crimes; their lives were as pure as their doctrines, and not a shadow rests upon their fair fame. As a poet described them, so were they:
Souls of fire like columns pointing
Flamelike upward to the skies,
Glorious brows which God's anointing
Consecrated altarwise; Stainless hearts, like temples olden
None but priests hath ever trod,
Hands as pure as were the golden
Staves that bore the Ark of God.
Yet these singers and scholars, these brilliant young orators and writers, who showed to what height Irish genius might rise if trained and guided, with their sublime ideal of nationhood and heroic means of action, were deemed more dangerous by England than even the assassin's knife; for enlightenment means independence.
But the selections in Mr. Sparling's work are not limited to one party or one theme. Every name of note down to the present day, and all political tendencies, with every chord that has vibrated to Celtic sentiment and feeling, will be found in the collection, making this pretty volume of Irish minstrelsy the most interesting and the most comprehensive compendium of national poetic genius yet given to the public. About twenty names will be found in the list of poets. Among them Florence McCarthy, the translator of Calderon; and Sir Samuel Ferguson, the bard and Brehon, who took the rude legends of early history and transfigured them by his poetic power into the stately majesty of national epics; and John Francis Waller, the sweetest living lyrist of Ireland, who unites all the subtle charm of faultless form and tender grace with perfect melody. And the weird fancies of Clarence Mangan are not forgotten; nor the spiritual delicacy and fine touch of William Allingham, nor the classic verse of Aubrey de Vere, glowing in thought and carefully chiselled, with well-skilled workmanship, contrasting well with the rough-hewn rocks of Banim's powerful verse streaked with rich veins of gold. And we have the playful humour of Sam Lover, that turns to music in the utterance; and the pathetic beauty of Lady Dufferin's songs, like the well-known "I'm sitting on the stile, Mary," which has been steeped in the tears of two hemispheres; and the fierce defiance of Ingram's great poem, "Who fears to speak of '98;" while the strong minstrelsy of the fiery North is illustrated by such ballads as Colonel Blacke's famous "Still put your trust in God, my boys, but keep your powder dry;'' and the stirring strains of "The Boyne Water" and "No Surrender/ 5 poems still chanted at all convivial meetings by the strong Ulster men, who always mean what they say and sing. Nor is Dion
Boucicault omitted, with his intensely Irish grace, music, fun, and pathos. There are, besides, quite a number of the peasant and street ballads, with all their floating philosophy and picturesque idiom correctly given for the first time in a poetical anthology, such as "The Wearing of the Green" so dear to the popular heart; the quaint and mystic Shan-van-Vocht, with its mysterious and cryptic meaning, and the rollicking humour of such ballads as "The night before Larry was stretched" with all its rich vernacular Dublin slang that recalls the almost extinct race of wandering blind Homers, of which the eminent "Zozimus" was perhaps the last representative. Happily, also, we find in the minstrelsy the last great poem that has attained marked celebrity — "God save Ireland," by T. D. Sullivan, M.P., late Lord Mayor of Dublin, the most ardent and powerful of the living Irish poets.
This spirited chant, which has all the strong, musical beat for which Mr. Sullivan's verses are noted, at once took the heart of the people by storm, and the chorus, caught up and echoed by twenty millions of the Irish race, was heard
throughout the world:
God save Ireland! say we proudly,
God save Ireland, say we all,
Whether on the scaffold high,
Or the battlefield we die,
what matter, when for Erin dear we fall.
All these illustrations of the passionate genius of Ireland find a place in Mr. Sparling's "Pantheon of Poets." And he well deserves the thanks of all true lovers of song for the admirable manner in which he has fulfilled his task, and the lucid arrangements of his materials. All the various strings of the Irish harp have been touched, and made to give up the strange, fitful, and wayward music that can move at will to tears or laughter, and which never fails to vibrate in the Irish heart.
For music and song are part of the life of the people; they give a glow to the stormy twilight of their troubled lives, and strength to bear the tragic terrors of a bitter destiny. Through music and song the Irish race has always uttered the strongest emotions of the vivid Celtic nature, and their poets and orators have ever had a sovereign power to lift them above the relentless tortures of privation and persecution, and to redeem them from the darkness of despair.
The passionate dreams of political enthusiasts may pass away, but the literary value of the songs remain as a richly illuminated page of Irish history.
Nothing really good in a nation's life is ever lost.
It remains an influence for all time; and the people will never now go back to the servile bondage of soul and spirit that held them enchained before the fetters were rent and the bonds broken by the genius and intellectual force, the lofty teaching, and the cadenced words of the men of '48.
There is every reason to believe that gold existed abundantly in Ireland in former times, and the mines of the South were worked, and the gold smelted in the various gold districts, probably a thousand years before the Christian Bra.
The earliest race, however, the men of the Stone Age, do not seem to have had any knowledge of metals, and no gold ornaments have been found in the ancient crannoges, or lacustrine habitations, or with the earliest remains of the dead.
But the next race, the Tuatha-de-Danans, were skilled in metallurgy, and eminent as artificers in gold and silver; so that in the popular belief they were held to be necromancers, and in league with the fairies and the spirits of the hill.
Dianecht, the chief smith of the Tuatha-de- Danans, still holds an enduring place in Irish tradition for his skill in the production of an artificial hand, fashioned of silver, which he made for Nuadhe, the king, who had lost his own hand in the great battle fought with the Firbolgs for the possession of Ireland, and in confirmation of this story the king is henceforth known in history as "Nuadhe of the silver hand."
The Milesians who followed and conquered the Tuatha, were a Celtic-Spanish race, according to tradition, and from them the chief existing noble families of Ireland claim descent, such as the O'Neills, the O'Connors, the O'Briens, and others, whose descendants are still honoured by the people for their ancient and noble blood.
The Milesians were a splendid and powerful people, wise and learned, who, after the conquest of Ireland, became the founders of a just and extended code of laws, and of a well-defined political social system.
To this great Milesian race may be attributed the vast quantity of manufactured gold which has been dug up from time to time from the soil and bogs of Ireland.
The ancient bardic legends and poems make frequent mention of the costly personal decorations worn by the kings and queens, the chiefs and princes, bards and Brehons; the massive torques, diadems, amulets, rings, and brooches; the gold trapping for the horses, the rich clasps for the royal mantles, and other ornaments of beautiful form and workmanship, all made by the native goldsmiths, who had a certain fixed size and weight for each ornament to suit the rank of the wearer. Even the very nature of the ornament was specified by law. Thus we read, that by command of one of the chief monarchs of Erin, at all the great festivals held at the Court of Tara, the princes were ordered to wear torques of gold and chains upon the neck, to distinguish them from the common people; and the nobles, rings of gold upon the fingers.
The bards were distinguished by a golden fillet round the brow, while the queens and royal ladies bound their long flowing locks with the circlet, or asion of gold. And we find it related of Maeve, the great Queen of Oonnaught, that when going to battle she rode in an open chariot, accompanied by four other chariots before her, behind her, and one on each side, to keep the golden asion on her head, and her royal robes from being defiled by the dust raised by the tramp of the horses and the men-at-arms as they rushed by. For all the sovereigns of Erin sat crowned as they drove in their war-chariots to battle, as well as at the public feasts and ceremonies.
Gold rings were also used as current money for barter, tribute, or reward. And the victor in a battle was often styled "The Exactor of Eings," because of the ransom he demanded from the vanquished. Of Queen Boanna, wife of the Poet- King of Munster, who gave her name to the River Boyne, it is told that, when she sat at the festivals beside the king, she had her arms covered with rings of gold, ready for bestowal on the poets who pleased her best by their recitations.
In the ancient "Book of Rights," gold-adorned shields are mentioned, also gold trappings for the horses, gold-trimmed cloaks and tunics, and. rings of "the red gold." The amount of gold given on various occasions is also distinctly stated by the chroniclers. Thus, Brian Boru, the king, made an offering of twenty ounces of gold at the shrine of St. Patrick; and Dermot MacMorrough, who first brought the Normans over to Ireland, gave a hundred ounces of gold to O'Rourke, Prince of Bresney, as an einach, or atonement, for having carried off his wife; while Devorgill, the fatal and
faithless spouse, when, repentant and sorrowful after seeing the invasion of her country, she entered the Abbey of Melifont to end her days, made an offering on the altar of a golden chalice, along with twenty ounces of gold, as an expiation for her sin.
When the King of Ulster visited Tara, the chief monarch of Ireland was bound to present him with a minn, or lunula, a crescent-shaped ornament for the head, "of the full breadth of his face in gold."
And the provincial kings had rings of gold upon every finger. Caps of gold were frequently offered by one king to another, and the tribute paid annually to the chief monarch by the minor kings included steeds with golden bridle-bits, and cloaks with golden clasps, swords, shields, and numerous caps of gold. The drinking-horns and wine-cups
were inlaid with gold; the sacred shrines were plated with gold, and encrusted with jewels; and the golden chalices, and other adornments for altar service, were of such splendour that the churches were frequently plundered by the Danes and other piratical Norsemen, for the sake of the rich spoil.
In 1169, "The Four Masters" record that Donogh O'Canoll, Lord of Airghialla, gave, when dying, three hundred ounces of gold to the clerics and churches for the love of God. From costly gifts of this kind, made by the kings and nobles, a vast amount of treasure was accumulated in the abbeys and monasteries, much of which became the prey of the rude invaders, and was carried off by them to their northern home.
As no native gold is found in Denmark, it is supposed that the Danes melted down the Irish gold, and then fashioned vessels and ornaments after their own manner, giving them the distinctive impress of Scandinavian art; and thus the presence of so many gold articles in the great northern museums may be accounted for.
The amount of ancient manufactured gold which has been found in Ireland is almost incredible. No other country in north-western Europe possesses so much belonging to early times; and it is remarkable that the same special character of ornamentation can be traced throughout all these magnificent specimens, called by Kemble the Opus Hibemicum, proving that they were the genuine product of Irish artistic skill.
In 1802, ten golden bracelets, of the open shape common to Egypt and the Bast, were found in Connaught, buried deep down in a bog, and sold afterwards for seven hundred pounds — the mere value in weight.
In 1854, while making the Bnnis railway, the workmen came upon a vast number of gold ornaments, all in one hoard. This great "Clare Find," as it is called, was discovered deep down in the ground, packed together in a little stone receptacle, the ornaments being neatly piled one upon the other, and covered with clay. The hoard comprised one hundred and thirty-seven rings of gold, numerous torques, gorgets, fibulae, bracelets, circlets, amulets, and other ornaments, all of pure gold, and bright as if just fresh from the goldsmith's hand, the value being estimated at five thousand pounds in mere weight, without considering the perfect workmanship. The hoard was supposed to be the spoil of a foray, carefully secreted by the victors, but never removed, probably from some adverse chance of war; and so the precious deposit had remained hidden and untouched in the earth for more than a thousand years.
A second hoard was discovered some time after when cutting another portion of the railway, of the value of two thousand pounds. Many of these costly articles were secured for the National Museum of the Royal Irish Academy, which now contains above three hundred specimens of manufactured gold, forming the most interesting Celtic collection to be found in Europe. The British Museum also obtained some specimens from the great "Clare Find," but a large portion disappeared in the smelting-pot. Gold diadems have been frequently found in the soil or the bogs. There are ten in the Dublin Museum, weighing from four to sixteen ounces. The finest was discovered twelve feet deep in a bog, in the County Limerick, and measures above eleven inches in height. The form is perfect and beautiful, having large gold discs to finish off the ends at the ears, and the ornamentation is, in the highest degree, artistic.
There are also thirty-seven gold torques in the museum, two of them being the most splendid specimens known, measuring above five feet in, length, and each being more than twenty-seven ounces in weight. They were discovered in 1810 by a peasant boy, at Tara, the ancient Court of the Kings, and after many vicissitudes, these costly historic relics found their way into the possession of the late Duke of Sussex, but were finally purchased by the Royal Irish Academy.
The torque, as a personal decoration, was well known to the ancient world, to Egypt, Persia, and, later, to the Romans. It can be seen in the Pompeian Mosaics and on the neck of "The Dying Gladiator;" and it is a well-known historic fact that the name Torquatos was given to Titus Manlius and his race for having taken a torque from the neck of a Celtic Gaul in battle. But, above all, it seems to have been the favourite ornament of the Celtic chiefs, and more golden torques have been found in Ireland, and of greater size, than exist in any Continental collection.
The torque (or tore in Irish), was in form a large hoop made of twisted ropes of gold, and was worn on the neck, or round the waist. The size and splendour of these magnificent personal ornaments show the instinctive love of the Irish for bright and glittering decorations.
It is recorded of Cormac Mac-Art, who reigned at Tara, that he sat at the banquet crowned with gold, wearing a fine, purple garment, a golden brooch on his breast, a collar or tore of gold round his neck, and a belt adorned with gold and precious stones encircling his waist. In the museum of Trinity College, Dublin, there is a fibula of pure gold, eight and a half inches long, and weighing thirty-five ounces, the heaviest as yet known to exist. It was no doubt one of the ancient regal ornaments used to fasten the mantle of the king on the shoulder.
Of the lunette (called minn or meend in Irish), there are eighteen specimens in the Royal Irish Academy, from five to eleven inches high, and there are three in the British Museum, brought over from Ireland. They were worn by chiefs, and the victors in a battle, and by royal ladies. It is recorded of Maireen, Queen of Dermot, chief monarch at Tara, that being bald, she wore one on her head to cover the defect; but a favourite of King Dermot's, being jealous of her, bribed a woman to tear the golden minn from the queen's head as she sat at the festival surrounded by the princes and nobles. "May God preserve me!" exclaimed Maireen, when she was conscious of the insult, placing her hand upon her head, when lo! before any of the Court had time to look, or mock at her, a flowing mass of golden hair fell down upon the queen's shoulders, covering her with its beauty. And thus she triumphed over her enemies.
Manufactured gold is generally found in Ireland hidden deep in the bogs, or, in isolated specimens of great value, in the vicinity of the ancient forts and battle-grounds, as if dropped by the vanquished in a hasty retreat, or buried, on some sudden surprise, for fear of the plundering invader.
The south-west is richer in these treasures than the north-west; but they are scattered broadcast over the country. The soil of Ireland seems literally strewn with gold, and many rich hoards will, no doubt, be discovered in time, according as the bogs are drained, or new cuttings for railroads made through the remote districts of the South and West.
Unfortunately, large quantities have been already destroyed and lost, from the ignorance of the finders respecting the antiquarian value of the articles, or through fear of detection; but chiefly from the absence of all law of treasure-trove; the present law, chiefly obtained through the valuable services and exertions of the late learned and gifted Lord Talbot-de-Malahide, having only come into operation in the year 1861.
Before that period the jewellers purchased largely from the finders for the purpose of melting down the gold. The leading goldsmiths of the present day estimate that within the last few years upwards of ten thousand pounds' worth of gold ornaments have passed into the crucible. A splendid fibula from one of the finds was sold for fifty-two guineas, its exact weight, and so has been lost to the national collection. But now, by the law of treasure-trove, the finder, if he brings the article to the nearest police-station, is given a receipt, with the promise of full value to be paid by the Government; the antiquarian value being four pounds the ounce, or even more, if the article is of special rarity or beauty.
According to the best Irish authorities, there is proof that the gold mines of Wicklow were worked fully three thousand years ago. They were well known to the people, and from the quantity of the metal found in the plain of the Liffey, the men of Leinster were anciently styled "The Lagenians of the Gold."
Gold is still found in Wicklow, but the mines are not worked, as the result was not considered equal to the cost of working; yet in 1796, an experiment having been made, ten thousand pounds' worth of the precious metal was procured in a few weeks from one of the Wicklow mines, and in the very place where, according to the old annalists, gold was first smelted and fashioned into ornaments.
Besides Wicklow, there are several other auriferous districts in Ireland: Wexford, Dublin, Kildare, Antrim, and Londonderry have all produced gold; and many places are associated with the word Oir (gold) from the quantity found there, either unwrought or manufactured. Thus in Kerry there is a place called Dun-an-oir, the Fort of the Gold, from the number of gold ornaments found secreted in one hoard, deep in the ground.
Irish gold in its native state is generally found in grains or nodules, frequently on the surface, washed down by the mountain streams and rivers.
It is always slightly alloyed with silver and copper. The silver was much used by the ancient artificers, and brooches were made of thin plates of gold hammered down on a basis of silver. A slight artificial alloy of silver or copper was also often used by the ancient goldsmiths to produce the colour required for manufactured ornaments, silver giving a pale hue, while the admixture of copper produced what is called "the red gold."
Renewed efforts will probably now be made to work the gold districts of Ireland, the attention of the Empire having been recently aroused to the value and importance of native gold by the interesting and very successful explorations in Wales.
Only a year ago operations were commenced in Merionethshire, through the influence and generous aid of Mr. Pritchard Morgan, the great Australian capitalist; it being well known that gold existed there, and had been worked in former times.
The result has been most encouraging ; for within four months above four thousand ounces of gold were obtained by the miners; the value being over fourteen thousand pounds.
Mr. Pritchard Morgan is now turning his attention to Ireland, and has already obtained Crown leases of fifty-four square miles of land in Wicklow, which he proposes working for gold, being convinced that with capital and proper machinery the Irish gold districts can still be worked with great commercial profit; but as a preliminary step, he is anxious that an influential gold mining company should be formed, as in Wales, without delay, to supply the necessary funds, and to direct and secure the success of the explorations.
Thus a rich source of wealth, and a new and profitable industry, may be opened to the Irish people to stimulate their energies, and to send a tide of fresh activity through the land.