HISTORIC AND PICTURESQUE
I. VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE.
II. THE GREAT STONE MONUMENTS.
III. THE CROMLECH BUILDERS.
IV. THE DE DANAANS.
V. EMAIN OF MACA.
VI. CUCULAIN THE HERO.
VII. FIND AND OSSIN.
VIII. THE MESSENGER OF THE NEW WAY.
IX. THE SAINTS AND SCHOLARS.
X. THE RAIDS OF THE NORTHMEN.
XI. THE PASSING OF THE NORSEMEN.
XII. THE NORMANS.
XIII. THE TRIUMPH OF FEUDALISM.
XIV. THE JACOBITE WARS.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Photogravures made by A.W. ELSON & Co.
PEEP HOLE, BLARNEY CASTLE IN THE DARGLE, CO. WICKLOW MUCKROSS ABBEY, KILLARNEY BRANDY ISLAND, GLENGARRIFF SUGAR LOAF MOUNTAIN, GLENGARRIFF RIVER ERNE, BELLEEK WHITE ROCKS, PORTRUSH POWERSCOURT WATERFALL, CO. WICKLOW HONEYCOMB, GIANT'S CAUSEWAY GRAY MAN'S PATH, FAIR HEAD COLLEEN BAWN CAVES, KILLARNEY RUINS ON SCATTERY ISLAND VALLEY OF GLENDALOUGH AND RUINS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES ANCIENT CROSS, GLENDALOUGH ROUND TOWER, ANTRIM GIANT'S HEAD AND DUNLUCE CASTLE, CO. ANTRIM ROCK CASHEL, RUINS OF OLD CATHEDRAL, KING CORMAC'S CHAPEL AND ROUND TOWER DUNLUCE CASTLE MELLIFONT ABBEY, CO. LOUTH HOLY CROSS ABBEY, CO. TIPPERARY DONEGAL CASTLE TULLYMORE PARK, CO. DOWN THOMOND BRIDGE, LIMERICK SALMON FISHERY, GALWAY O'CONNELL'S STATUE, DUBLIN
VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE.
Here is an image by which you may call up and remember the natural form and appearance of Ireland:
Think of the sea gradually rising around her coasts, until the waters, deepened everywhere by a hundred fathoms, close in upon the land. Of all Ireland there will now remain visible above the waves only two great armies of islands, facing each other obliquely across a channel of open sea. These two armies of islands will lie in ordered ranks, their lines stretching from northeast to southwest; they will be equal in size, each two hundred miles along the front, and seventy miles from front to rear. And the open sea between, which divides the two armies, will measure seventy miles across.
Not an island of these two armies, as they lie thus obliquely facing each other, will rise as high as three thousand feet; only the captains among them will exceed a thousand; nor will there be great variety in their forms. All the islands, whether north or south, will have gently rounded backs, clothed in pastures nearly to the crest, with garments of purple heather lying under the sky upon their ridges. Yet for all this roundness of outline there will be, towards the Atlantic end of either army, a growing sternness of aspect, a more sombre ruggedness in the outline of the hills, with cliffs and steep ravines setting their brows frowning against the deep.
Hold in mind the image of these two obliquely ranged archipelagoes, their length thrice their breadth, seaming the blue of the sea, and garmented in dark green and purple under the sunshine; and, thinking of them thus, picture to yourself a new rising of the land, a new withdrawal of the waters, the waves falling and ever falling, till all the hills come forth again, and the salt tides roll and ripple away from the valleys, leaving their faces for the winds to dry; let this go on till the land once more takes its familiar form, and you will easily call up the visible image of the whole.
As you stand in the midst of the land, where first lay the channel of open sea, you will have, on your northern horizon, the beginning of a world of purple-outlined hills, outliers of the northern mountain region, which covers the upper third of the island. On all sides about you, from the eastern sea to the western ocean, you will have the great central plain, dappled with lakes and ribbed with silver rivers, another third of the island. Then once more, to the south, you will have a region of hills, the last third of Ireland, in size just equal to the northern mountains or the central plain.
The lines of the northern hills begin with the basalt buttresses of Antrim and the granite ribs of Down, and pass through northern Ulster and Connacht to the headlands of Mayo and Galway. Their rear is held by the Donegal ranges, keeping guard against the blackness of the northern seas.
The plain opens from the verge of these hills; the waters that gather on its pleasant pastures and fat fields, or among the green moss tracts of its lowlands, flow eastward by the Boyne or southwestward by the Shannon to the sea.
Then with the granite mountains of Dublin and Wicklow begin the southern hills, stretching through south Leinster and Munster to the red sandstone ridges of Cork and Kerry, our last vantage-ground against the Atlantic.
Finally, encircling all, is the perpetual presence of the sea, with its foaming, thunderous life or its days of dreamy peace; around the silver sands or furrowed cliffs that gird the island our white waves rush forever, murmuring the music of eternity.
Such is this land of Eire, very old, yet full of perpetual youth; a thousand times darkened by sorrow, yet with a heart of living gladness; too often visited by evil and pale death, yet welling ever up in unconquerable life,—the youth and life and gladness that thrill through earth and air and sky, when the whole world grows beautiful in the front of Spring.
For with us Spring is like the making of a new world in the dawn of time. Under the warm wind's caressing breath the grass comes forth upon the meadows and the hills, chasing dun Winter away. Every field is newly vestured in young corn or the olive greenness of wheat; the smell of the earth is full of sweetness. White daisies and yellow dandelions star all our pastures; and on the green ruggedness of every hillside, or along the shadowed banks of every river and every silver stream, amid velvet mosses and fringes of new-born ferns, in a million nooks and crannies throughout all the land, are strewn dark violets; and wreaths of yellow primroses with crimped green leaves pour forth a remote and divine fragrance; above them, the larches are dainty with new greenery and rosy tassels, and the young leaves of beech and oak quiver with fresh life.
Still the benignance of Spring pours down upon us from the sky, till the darkening fields are hemmed in between barriers of white hawthorn, heavy with nectar, and twined with creamy honeysuckle, the finger-tips of every blossom coral-red. The living blue above throbs with the tremulous song of innumerable larks; the measured chant of cuckoos awakens the woods; and through the thickets a whole world's gladness sings itself forth from the throat of thrush and blackbird. Through the whole land between the four seas benediction is everywhere; blue-bells and the rosy fingers of heath deck the mountain-tops, where the grouse are crooning to each other among the whins; down the hillsides into every valley pour gladness and greenness and song; there are flowers everywhere, even to the very verge of the whispering sea. There, among the gray bent-spikes and brackens on the sandhills, primroses weave their yellow wreaths; and little pansies, golden and blue and purple, marshal their weird eyes against the spears of dark blue hyacinths, till the rich tribute of wild thyme makes peace between them.
The blue sky overhead, with its flocks of sunlit clouds, softly bends over the gentle bosom of the earth. A living spirit throbs everywhere, palpable, audible, full of sweetness and sadness immeasurable—sadness that is only a more secret joy.
Then the day grows weary, making way for the magic of evening and the oncoming dark with its mystery. The tree-stems redden with the sunset; there is a chill sigh in the wind; the leaves turn before it, burnished against the purple sky. As the gloom rises up out of the earth, bands of dark red gather on the horizon, seaming the clear bronze of the sky, that passes upward into olive-color, merging in dark blue overhead. The sun swings down behind the hills, and purple darkness comes down out of the sky; the red fades from the tree-stems, the cloud-colors die away; the whole world glimmers with the fading whiteness of twilight. Silence gathers itself together out of the dark, deepened, not broken, by the hushing of the wind among the beech-leaves, or the startled cluck of a blackbird, or a wood-pigeon's soft murmur, as it dreams in the silver fir.
Under the brown wings of the dark, the night throbs with mystic presences; the hills glimmer with an inward life; whispering voices hurry through the air. Another and magical land awakes in the dark, full of a living restlessness; sleepless as the ever-moving sea. Everywhere through the night-shrouded woods, the shadowy trees seem to interrupt their secret whispers till you are gone past. There is no sense of loneliness anywhere, but rather a host of teeming lives on every hand, palpable though hidden, remote from us though touching our lives, calling to us through the gloom with wordless voices, inviting us to enter and share with them the mystical life of this miraculous earth, great mother of us all, The dark is full of watching eyes.
Summer with us is but a brighter Spring, as our Winter only prolongs the sadness of Autumn. So our year has but two moods, a gay one and a sad one. Yet each tinges the other—the mists of Autumn veiling the gleam of Spring—Spring smiling through the grief of Autumn. When the sad mood comes, stripping the trees of their leaves, and the fields of their greenness, white mists veil the hills and brood among the fading valleys. A shiver runs through the air, and the cold branches are starred with tears. A poignant grief is over the land, an almost desolation,—full of unspoken sorrow, tongue-tied with unuttered complaint. All the world is lost and forlorn, without hope or respite. Everything is given up to the dirges of the moaning seas, the white shrouds of weeping mist. Wander forth upon the uplands and among the lonely hills and rock-seamed sides of the mountains, and you will find the same sadness everywhere: a grieving world under a grieving sky. Quiet desolation hides among the hills, tears tremble on every brown grass-blade, white mists of melancholy shut out the lower world.
Whoever has not felt the poignant sadness of the leafless days has never known the real Ireland; the sadness that is present, though veiled, in the green bravery of Spring, and under the songs of Summer. Nor have they ever known the real Ireland who have not divined beneath that poignant sadness a heart of joy, deep and perpetual, made only keener by that sad outward show.
Here in our visible life is a whisper and hint of our life invisible; of the secret that runs through and interprets so much of our history. For very much of our nation's life has been like the sadness of those autumn days,—a tale of torn leaves, of broken branches, of tears everywhere. Tragedy upon tragedy has filled our land with woe and sorrow, and, as men count success, we have failed of it, and received only misery and deprivation. He has never known the true Ireland who does not feel that woe. Yet, more, he knows not the real Ireland who cannot feel within that woe the heart of power and joy,—the strong life outlasting darkest night,—the soul that throbs incessantly under all the calamities of the visible world, throughout the long tragedy of our history.
This is our secret: the life that is in sorrow as in joy; the power that is not more in success than in failure—the one soul whose moods these are, who uses equally life and death.
For the tale of our life is mainly tragedy. And we may outline now the manner in which that tale will be told. We shall have, first, a long, dim dawn,—mysterious peoples of the hidden past coming together to our land from the outlying darkness. A first period, which has left abundant and imperishable traces everywhere among our hills and valleys, writing a large history in massive stone, yet a history which, even now, is dim as the dawn it belongs to. What can be called forth from that Archaic Darkness, in the backward and abysm of Time, we shall try to evoke; drawing the outlines of a people who, with large energies in our visible world, toiled yet more for the world invisible; a people uniform through the whole land and beyond it, along many neighboring shores; a people everywhere building; looking back into a long past; looking forward through the mists of the future. A people commemorating the past in a form that should outlast the future. A people undertaking great enterprises for mysterious ends; whose works are everywhere among us, to this day, imperishable in giant stone; yet a people whose purposes are mysterious to us, whose very name and tongue are quite unknown. Their works still live all around us in Ireland, spread evenly through the four provinces, a world of the vanished past enduring among us into the present; and, so mightily did these old builders work, and with such large simplicity, that what they built will surely outlast every handiwork of our own day, and endure through numberless to-morrows, bridging the morning and evening twilight of our race.
After this Archaic Dawn we shall find a mingling of four races in Ireland, coming together from widely separated homes, unless one of the four be the descendant of the archaic race, as well it may be. From the surging together of these four races we shall see, in almost pre-historic times, the growth of a well-knit polity; firm principalities founded, strong battles fought, a lasting foundation of law. In this Second Epoch, every thing that in the first was dim and vague grows firm in outline and defined. Names, places, persons,—we know them all as if they were of to-day. This is the age which flowered in the heroic days of Emain of Maca, Emain 'neath the beech-trees, the citadel of northeastern Ireland. Here we shall find the court of Fergus mac Roeg, a man too valiant, too passionate, too generous to rule altogether wisely; his star darkened by the gloomy genius of Concobar his stepson, the evil lover of ill-fated Deirdre. Cuculain, too, the war-loving son of Sualtam, shall rise again,—in whom one part of our national genius finds its perfect flower. We shall hear the thunder of his chariot, at the Battle of the Headland of the Kings, when Meave the winsome and crafty queen of Connacht comes against him, holding in silken chains of her tresses the valiant spirit of Fergus. The whole life of that heroic epoch, still writ large upon the face of the land, shall come forth clear and definite; we shall stand by the threshold of Cuculain's dwelling, and move among the banquet-halls of Emain of Maca. We shall look upon the hills and valleys that Meave and Deirdre looked on, and hear the clash of spear and shield at the Ford of the river,—and this even though we must go back two thousand years.
To this will follow a Third Epoch, where another side of Ireland's genius will write itself in epic all across the land, with songs for every hillside, and stories for every vale and grove. Here our more passionate and poetic force will break forth in the lives of Find, son of Cumal, the lord of warriors; in his son Ossin, most famous bard of the western lands, and Ossin's son Oscar, before whose might even the fiends and sprites cowered back dismayed. As the epoch of Cuculain shows us our valor finding its apotheosis, so shall we find in Find and Ossin and Oscar the perfect flower of our genius for story and song; for romantic life and fine insight into nature; for keen wit and gentler humor. The love of nature, the passion for visible beauty, and chiefly the visible beauty of our land, will here show itself clearly,—a sense of nature not merely sensuous, but thrilling with hidden and mystic life. We shall find such perfection in this more emotional and poetic side of Irish character as will leave little for coming ages to add. In these two early epochs we shall see the perfecting of the natural man; the moulding of rounded, gracious and harmonious lives, inspired with valor and the love of beauty and song.
Did our human destiny stop there, with the perfect life of individual men and women, we might well say that these two epochs of Ireland contain it all; that our whole race could go no further. For no man lived more valiant than Cuculain, more generous than Fergus, more full of the fire of song than Ossin, son of Find. Nor amongst women were any sadder than Deirdre and Grania; craftier than Meave, more winsome than Nessa the mother of Concobar. Perfected flowers of human life all of them,—if that be all of human life. So, were this all, we might well consent that with the death of Oscar our roll of history might close; there is nothing to add that the natural man could add.
But where the perfecting of the natural man ends, our truer human life begins—the life of our ever-living soul. The natural man seeks victory; he seeks wealth and possessions and happiness; the love of women, and the loyalty of followers. But the natural man trembles in the face of defeat, of sorrow, of subjection; the natural man cannot raise the black veil of death.
Therefore for the whole world and for our land there was needed another epoch, a far more difficult lesson,—one so remote from what had been of old, that even now we only begin to understand it. To the Ireland that had seen the valor of Cuculain, that had watched the wars of Fergus,—to the Ireland that listened to the deeds of Find and the songs of Ossin,—came the Evangel of Galilee, the darkest yet brightest message ever brought to the children of earth. If we rightly read that Evangel, it brought the doom of the natural man, and his supersession by the man immortal; it brought the death of our personal perfecting and pride, and the rising from the dead of the common soul, whereby a man sees another self in his neighbor; sees all alike in the one Divine.
Of this one Divine, wherein we all live and live forever, pain is no less the minister than pleasure; nay, pain is more its minister, since pleasure has already given its message to the natural man. Of that one Divine, sorrow and desolation are the messengers, alike with joy and gladness; even more than joy and gladness, for the natural man has tasted these. Of that one Divine, black and mysterious death is the servant, not less than bright life; and life we had learned of old in the sunshine.
There came, therefore, to Ireland, as to a land cherished for enduring purposes, first the gentler side, and then the sterner, of the Galilean message. First, the epoch almost idyllic which followed after the mission of Patrick; the epoch of learning and teaching the simpler phrases of the Word. Churches and schools rose everywhere, taking the place of fort and embattled camp. Chants went up at morning and at evening, with the incense of prayer, and heaven seemed descended upon earth. Our land, which had stood so high in the ranks of valor and romance, now rose not less eminent for piety and fervid zeal, sending forth messengers and ministers of the glad news to the heathen lands of northern and central Europe, and planting refuges of religion within their savage bounds. Beauty came forth in stone and missal, answering to the beauty of life it was inspired by; and here, if anywhere upon earth through a score of centuries, was realized the ideal of that prayer for the kingdom, as in heaven, so on earth. Here, again, we have most ample memorials scattered all abroad throughout the land; we can call up the whole epoch, and make it stand visible before us, visiting every shrine and sacred place of that saintly time, seeing, with inner eyes, the footsteps of those who followed that path, first traced out by the shores of Gennesaret.
Once more, if the kingdom come upon earth were all of the message, we might halt here; for here forgiveness and gentle charity performed their perfect work, and learning was present with wise counsel to guide willing feet in the way. Yet this is not all; nor, if we rightly understand that darkest yet brightest message, are we or is mankind destined for such an earthly paradise; our kingdom is not of this world. Here was another happiness, another success; yet not in that happiness nor in that success was hid the secret; it lay far deeper. Therefore we find that morning with its sunshine rudely clouded over, its promise swept away in the black darkness of storms. Something more than holy living remained to be learned; there remained the mystery of failure and death—that death which is the doorway to our real life. Therefore upon our shores broke wave after wave of invasion, storm after storm of cruelest oppression and degradation. In the very dust was our race ground down, destitute, afflicted, tormented, according to prophecy and promise. Nor was that the end. Every bitterness that the heart of man can conceive, that the heart of man can inflict, that the heart of man can endure, was poured into our cup, and we drained it to the dregs. Of that saddest yet most potent time we shall record enough to show not only what befell through our age of darkness, but also, so far as may be, what miraculous intent underlay it, what promise the darkness covered, of our future light; what golden rays of dawn were hidden in our gloom.
Finally, from all our fiery trials we shall see the genius of our land emerge, tried indeed by fire, yet having gained fire's purity; we shall see that genius beginning, as yet with halting speech, to utter its most marvelous secret of the soul of man. We shall try at least to gain clear sight of our great destiny, and thereby of the like destiny of universal man.
For we cannot doubt that what we have passed through, all men and all nations either have passed through already, or are to pass through in the time to come. There is but one divine law, one everlasting purpose and destiny for us all. And if we see other nations now entering that time of triumph which passed for us so long ago, that perfecting of the natural man, with his valor and his song, we shall with fear and reverence remember that before them also lie the dark centuries of fiery trial; the long night of affliction, the vigils of humiliation and suffering. The one Divine has not yet laid aside the cup that holds the bitter draught,—the drinking of which comes ever before the final gift of the waters of life. What we passed through, they shall pass through also; what we suffered, they too shall suffer. Well will it be with them if, like us, they survive the fierce trial, and rise from the fire immortal, born again through sacrifice.
Therefore I see in Ireland a miraculous and divine history, a life and destiny invisible, lying hid within her visible life. Like that throbbing presence of the night which whispers along the hills, this diviner whisper, this more miraculous and occult power, lurks in our apparent life. From the very gray of her morning, the children of Ireland were preoccupied with the invisible world; it was so in the darkest hours of our oppression and desolation; driven from this world, we took refuge in that; it was not the kingdom of heaven upon earth, but the children of earth seeking a refuge in heaven. So the same note rings and echoes through all our history; we live in the invisible world. If I rightly understand our mission and our destiny, it is this: To restore to other men the sense of that invisible; that world of our immortality; as of old our race went forth carrying the Galilean Evangel. We shall first learn, and then teach, that not with wealth can the soul of man be satisfied; that our enduring interest is not here but there, in the unseen, the hidden, the immortal, for whose purposes exist all the visible beauties of the world. If this be our mission and our purpose, well may our fair mysterious land deserve her name: Inis Fail, the Isle of Destiny.
THE GREAT STONE MONUMENTS.
Westward from Sligo—Town of the River of Shells—a tongue of land runs toward the sea between two long bays. Where the two bays join their waters, a mountain rises precipitous, its gray limestone rocks soaring sheer upwards, rugged and formidable. Within the shadow of the mountain is hidden a wonderful glen—a long tunnel between cliffs, densely arched over with trees and fringed with ferns; even at midday full of a green gloom. It is a fitting gateway to the beauty and mystery of the mountain.
Slowly climbing by stony ways, the path reaches the summit, a rock table crowned with a pyramid of loose boulders, heaped up in olden days as a memorial of golden-haired Maeve. From the dead queen's pyramid a view of surpassing grandeur and beauty opens over sea and land, mingled valley and hill. The Atlantic stretches in illimitable blue, curved round the rim of the sky, a darker mirror of the blue above. It is full of throbbing silence and peace. Across blue fields of ocean, and facing the noonday brightness of the sun, rise the tremendous cliffs of Slieve League, gleaming with splendid colors through the shimmering air; broad bands of amber and orange barred with deeper red; the blue weaves beneath them and the green of the uplands above.
The vast amber wall rises out of the ocean, and passes eastward in a golden band till it merges in the Donegal highlands with their immeasurable blue. Sweeping round a wide bay, the land drawls nearer again, the far-away blue darkening to purple, and then to green and brown. The sky is cut by the outlines of the Leitrim and Sligo hills, a row of rounded peaks against the blue, growing paler and more translucent in the southern distance.
Under the sun, there is a white glinting of lakes away across the plain, where brown and purple are blended with green in broad spaces of mingling color. To the west the ground rises again into hills crowded behind each other, sombre masses, for ages called the Mountains of Storms. Far beyond them, vague as blue cloud-wreaths in the blue, are the hills that guard our western ocean. From their sunset-verges the land draws near again, in the long range of the Mayo cliffs,—fierce walls of rock that bar the fiercer ocean from a wild world of storm-swept uplands. The cliffs gradually lessen, and their colors grow clearer, till they sink at last toward the sand-banks of Ballysadare, divided from us only by a channel of shallow sea.
The whole colored circle of sea and land, of moor and mountain, is full of the silence of intense and mighty power. The ocean is tremulous with the breath of life. The mountains, in their stately beauty, rise like immortals in the clear azure. The signs of our present works are dwarfed to insignificance.
Everywhere within that wide world of hill and plain, and hardly less ancient than the hills themselves, are strewn memorials of another world that has vanished, sole survivors of a long-hidden past. A wordless history is written there, in giant circles of stone and cromlechs of piled blocks, so old that in a land of most venerable tradition their very legend has vanished away.
Close under us lies Carrowmore, with its labyrinth of cromlechs and stone circles, a very city of dead years. There is something awe-inspiring in the mere massiveness of these piled and ordered stones, the visible boundaries of invisible thoughts; that awe is deepened by the feeling of the tremendous power lavished in bringing them here, setting them up in their ordered groups, and piling the crowns of the cromlechs on other only less gigantic stones; awe gives place to overwhelming mystery when we can find no kinship to our own thoughts and aims in their stately grouping. We are in presence of archaic purposes recorded in a massive labyrinth, purposes darkly hidden from us in the unknown.
There are circles of huge boulders ranged at equal distances, firmly set upright in the earth. They loom vast, like beads of a giant necklace on the velvet grass. There are cromlechs set alone—a single huge boulder borne aloft in the air on three others of hardly less weight. There are cromlechs set in the midst of titanic circles of stone, with lesser boulders guarding the cromlechs closer at hand. There are circles beside circles rising in their grayness, with the grass and heather carpeting their aisles. There they rest in silence, with the mountain as their companion, and, beyond the mountain, the ever-murmuring sea.
Thus they have kept their watch through long dark ages. When sunrise reddens them, their shadows stretch westward in bars of darkness over the burnished grass. From morning to midday the shadows shrink, ever hiding from the sun; an army of wraiths, sprite-like able to grow gigantic or draw together into mere blots of darkness. When day declines, the shadows come forth again, joining ghostly hands from stone to stone, from circle to circle, under the sunset sky, and merging at last into the universal realm of night. Thus they weave their web, inexorable as tireless Time.
There are more than threescore of these circles at Carrowmore, under Knocknarea. Yet Carrowmore is only one among many memorials of dead years within our horizon. At Abbey-quarter, within the town-limits of Sligo itself, there is another great ring of boulders, the past and the present mingling together. On the northern coast, across the Bay of Sligo, where the headland of Streedagh juts forth into the sea, there is another giant necklace of gray blocks ranged upon the moor. Farther along the shore, where Bundoran marks the boundary of Donegal, a cromlech and a stone circle rise among the sand-banks. All have the same rugged and enduring massiveness, all are wrapped in the same mystery.
Eastward from Sligo, Lough Gill lies like a mirror framed in hills, wreathed with dark green woods. On a hill-top north of the lake, in the Deer-park, is a monument of quite other character—a great oblong marked by pillared stones, like an open temple. At three points huge stones are laid across from pillar to pillar. The whole enclosure was doubtless so barred in days of old, a temple of open arches crowning the summit of the hill. The great ruin by the lake keeps its secret well.
Another ring of giant stones rests on a hillside across the lake, under the Cairn hill, with its pyramid crown. All these are within easy view from our first vantage-point on Knocknarea, yet they are but the outposts of an army which spreads everywhere throughout the land. They are as common in wild and inaccessible places as on the open plain. Some rise in lonely islands off the coast; others on the summits of mountains; yet others in the midst of tilled fields. They bear no relation at all to the land as it is to-day. The very dispersion of these great stone monuments, scattered equally among places familiar or wild, speaks of a remote past—a past when all places were alike wild, or all alike familiar.
Where the gale-swept moors of Achill Island rise up toward the slope of Slievemore Mountain, there are stone circles and cromlechs like the circles of Carrowmore. The wild storms of the Atlantic rush past them, and the breakers roar under their cliffs. The moorland round the towering mountain is stained with ochre and iron under a carpet of heather rough as the ocean winds.
Away to the south from Slievemore the horizon is broken by an army of mountains, beginning with the Twelve Peaks of Connemara. Eastward of these hills are spread the great Galway lakes; eastward of these a wide expanse of plain. This is the famous Moytura of traditional history, whose story we shall presently tell. Ages ago a decisive battle was fought there; but ages before the battle, if we are not greatly misled, the stone circles of the plain were already there. Tradition says that these circles numbered seven in the beginning, but only two remain unbroken.
Between Galway Bay and the wide estuary of the Shannon spread the moorlands of Clare, bleak under Atlantic gales, with never a tree for miles inward from the sea. Like a watch-tower above the moorlands stand. Slieve Callan, the crown of the mountain abruptly shorn. Under the shoulder of the great hill, with the rolling moorlands all about it, stands a solitary cromlech; formed of huge flat stones, it was at first a roomy chamber shut in on all four sides, and roofed by a single enormous block; the ends have fallen, so that it is now an open tunnel formed of three huge stones.
The coast runs southward from the Shannon to the strand of Tralee, the frontier of the southern mountain world, where four ranges of red sandstone thrust themselves forth towards the ocean, with long fiords running inland between them. On a summit of the first of these red ranges, Caherconree above Tralee strand, there is a stone circle, massive, gigantic, dwelling in utter solitude.
We have recorded a few only out of many of these great stone monuments strewn along our Atlantic coast, whether on moor or cliff or remote mountain-top.
There are others as notable everywhere in the central plain, the limestone world of lakes and rivers. On a green hill-crest overlooking the network of inlets of Upper Erne there is a circle greater than any we have recorded. The stones are very massive, some of them twice the height of a tall man. To one who stands within the ring these huge blocks of stone shut out the world; they loom large against the sky, full of unspoken secrets like the Sphinx. Within this mighty ring the circle of Stonehenge might be set, leaving a broad road all round it on the grass.
From Fermanagh, where this huge circle is, we gain our best clue to the age of all these monuments, everywhere so much like each other in their massive form and dimensions, everywhere so like in their utter mystery. Round the lakes of Erne there are wide expanses of peat, dug as fuel for centuries, and in many places as much as twelve feet deep, on a bed of clay, the waste of old glaciers. Though formed with incredible slowness, this whole mass of peat has grown since some of the great stone monuments were built; if we can tell the time thus taken for its growth we know at least the nearer limit of the time that divides us from their builders.
Like a tree, the peat has its time of growth and its time of rest. Spring covers it with green, winter sees it brown and dead. Thus thin layers are spread over it, a layer for a year, and it steadily gains in thickness with the passing of the years. The deeper levels are buried and pressed down, slowly growing firm and rigid, but still keeping the marks of the layers that make them up. It is like a dry ocean gradually submerging the land. Gathering round the great stone circles as they stand on the clay, this black sea has risen slowly but surely, till at last it has covered them with its dark waves, and they rest in the quiet depths, with a green foam of spring freshness far above their heads.
At Killee and Breagho, near Enniskillen, the peat has once more been cut away, restoring some of these great stones to the light. If we count the layers and measure the thickness of the peat, we can tell how many years are represented by its growth. We can, therefore, tell that the great stone circle, which the first growth of peat found already there, must be at least as old, and may be indefinitely older. By careful count it is found that one foot of black peat is made up of eight hundred layers; eight hundred summers and eight hundred winters went to the building of it. One foot of black peat, therefore, will measure the time from before the founding of Rome or the First Olympiad to the beginning of our era. Another foot will bring us to the crowning of Charlemagne. Yet another, to the death of Shakespeare and Cervantes. Since then, only a few inches have been added. Here is a chronometer worthy of our great cromlechs and stone circles.
Some of these, as we saw, rest on the clay, with a sea of peat twelve feet deep around and above them. Every foot of the peat stands for eight centuries. Since the peat began to form, eight or ten thousand years have passed, and when that vast period began, the great monuments of stone were already there. How long they had stood in their silence before our chronometer began to run we cannot even guess.
At Cavancarragh, on the shoulder of Toppid Mountain, some four miles from Enniskillen, there is one of these circles; a ring of huge stone boulders with equal spaces between stone and stone. A four-fold avenue of great blocks stretches away from it along the shoulder of the hill, ending quite abruptly at the edge of a ravine, the steep channel of a torrent. It looks as if the river, gradually undermining the hillside, had cut the avenue in halves, so that the ravine seems later in date than the stones. But that we cannot be quite sure of. This, however, we do certainly know: that since the avenue of boulders and the circle of huge red stones were ranged in order, a covering of peat in some parts twelve feet thick has grown around and above them, hiding them at last altogether from the day. In places the peat has been cut away again, leaving the stones once more open to the light, standing, as they always stood, on the surface of the clay.
Here again we get the same measurement. At eight hundred annual layers to the foot, and with twelve feet of peat, we have nine thousand six hundred years,—not for the age of the stone circles, but for that part of their age which we are able to measure. For we know not how long they were there before the peat began to grow. It may have been a few years; it may have been a period as great or even greater than the ten thousand years we are able to measure.
The peat gradually displaced an early forest of giant oaks. Their stems are still there, standing rooted in the older clay. Where they once stood no trees now grow. The whole face of the land has changed. Some great change of climate must lie behind this vanishing of vast forests, this gradual growth of peat-covered moors. A dry climate must have changed to one much damper; heat must have changed to cold, warm winds to chilly storms. In the southern promontories, among red sandstone hills, still linger survivors of that more genial clime—groves of arbutus that speak of Greece or Sicily; ferns, as at Killarney, found elsewhere only in the south, in Portugal, or the Canary Islands.
On the southwestern horizon from Toppid Mountain, when the sky is clear after rain, you can trace the outline of the Curlew hills, our southern limit of view from Knocknarea. Up to the foot of the hills spreads a level country of pastures dappled with lakes, broken into a thousand fantastic inlets by the wasting of the limestone rock. The daisies are the stars in that green sky. Just beyond the young stream of the Shannon, where it links Lough Garra to Lough Key, there is a lonely cromlech, whose tremendous crown was once upheld by five massive pillars. There is a kindred wildness and mystery in the cromlech and the lonely hills.
Southward again of this, where the town of Lough Rea takes its name from the Gray Lake, stands a high hill crowned by a cromlech, with an encircling earthwork. It marks a green ring of sacred ground alone upon the hill-top, shut off from all the world, and with the mysterious monument of piled stones in its centre; here, as always, one huge block upheld in the air by only lesser blocks. The Gray Lake itself, under this strange sentry on the hill, was in long-passed ages a little Venice; houses built on piles lined its shores, set far enough out into the lake for safety, ever ready to ward off attack from the land. This miniature Venice of Lough Rea is the type of a whole epoch of turbulent tribal war, when homes were everywhere clustered within the defence of the waters, with stores laid up to last the rigors of a siege.
The contrast between the insecurity and peril of the old lake dwellings and the present safety of the town, open on all sides, unguarded and free from fear, is very marked. But not less complete is the contrast between the ancient hamlet, thus hidden for security amid the waters, and the great cromlech, looming black against the sky on the hill's summit, exposed to the wildness of the winds, utterly unguarded, yet resting there in lonely serenity.
A little farther south, Lough Gur lies like a white mirror among the rolling pasture-lands of Limerick, set amongst low hills. On the lake's shore is another metropolis of the dead, worthy to compare with Carrowmore on the Sligo headland. Some of the circles here are not formed of single stones set at some distance from each other, but of a continuous wall of great blocks crowded edge to edge. They are like round temples open to the sky, and within one of these unbroken rings is a lesser ring like an inner shrine. All round the lake there are like memorials—if we can call memorials these mighty groups of stone, which only remind us how much we have forgotten. There are huge circles of blocks either set close together or with an equal space dividing boulder from boulder; some of the giant circles are grouped together in twos and threes, others are isolated; one has its centre marked by a single enormous block, while another like block stands farther off in lonely vastness. Here also stands a chambered cromlech of four huge flat blocks roofed over like the cromlech under Slieve Callan across the Shannon mouth.
The southern horizon from Lough Gur is broken by the hills of red sandstone rising around Glanworth. Beside the stream, a tributary of the Blackwater, a huge red cromlech rises over the greenness of the meadows like a belated mammoth in its uncouth might. To the southwest, under the red hills that guard Killarney on the south, the Sullane River flows towards the Lee. On its bank is another cromlech of red sandstone blocks, twin-brother to the Glanworth pile. Beyond it the road passes towards the sunset through mountain-shadowed glens, coming out at last where Kenmare River opens into a splendid fiord towards the Atlantic Ocean. At Kenmare, in a vale of perfect beauty green with groves of arbutus and fringed with thickets of fuchsia, stands a great stone circle, the last we shall record to the south. Like all the rest, it speaks of tremendous power, of unworldly and mysterious ends.
The very antiquity of these huge stone circles suggests an affinity with the revolving years. And here, perhaps, we may find a clue to their building. They may have been destined to record great Time itself, great Time that circles forever through the circling years. There is first the year to be recorded, with its revolving days; white winter gleaming into spring; summer reddening and fading to autumn. Returning winter tells that the year has gone full circle; the sun among the stars gives the definite measure of the days. A ring of thirty-six great boulders, set ten paces apart, would give the measure of the year in days; and of circles like this there are more than one.
In this endless ring of days the moon is the measurer, marking the hours and weeks upon the blue belt of night studded with golden stars. Moving stealthily among the stars, the moon presently changes her place by a distance equal to her own breadth; we call the time this takes an hour. From her rising to her setting, she gains her own breadth twelve times; therefore, the night and the day are divided each into twelve hours. Meanwhile she grows from crescent to full disk, to wane again to a sickle of light, and presently to lose herself in darkness at new moon. From full moon to full moon, or from one new moon to another, the nearest even measure is thirty days; a circle of thirty stones would record this, as the larger circle of thirty-six recorded the solar year. In three years there are thrice twelve full moons, with one added; a ring of thirty-seven stones representing this would show the simplest relation between sun and moon.
The moon, as we saw, stealthily glides among the fixed stars, gaining her own width every hour. Passing thus along the mid belt of the sphere, she makes the complete circuit in twenty-seven days, returning to the same point among the stars, or, if it should so happen, to the same star, within that time. Because the earth has meanwhile moved forward, the moon needs three days more to overtake it and gain the same relative position towards earth and sun, thus growing full again, not after twenty-seven, but after thirty days. Circles of twenty-seven and thirty days would stand for these lunar epochs, and would, for those who understood them, further bear testimony to the earth's movement in its own great path around the sun. Thus would rings of varying numbers mark the measures of time; and not these only, but the great sweep of orbs engendering them, the triumphal march of the spheres through pathless ether. The life of our own world would thus be shown bound up with the lives of others in ceaseless, ever-widening circles, that lead us to the Infinite, the Eternal.
All the cromlechs and circles we have thus far recorded are in the western half of our land; there are as many, as worthy of note, in the eastern half. But as before we can only pick out a few. One of these crowns the volcanic peak of Brandon Hill, in Kilkenny, dividing the valleys of the Barrow and Nore. From the mountain-top you can trace the silver lines of the rivers coming together to the south, and flowing onward to the widening inlet of Wexford harbor, where they mingle with the waters of the River Suir. On the summit of Brandon Hill stands a great stone circle, a ring of huge basalt blocks dominating the rich valleys and the surrounding plain.
In Glen Druid of the Dublin hills is a cromlech whose granite crown weighs seventy tons. Not far off is the Mount Venus cromlech, the covering block of which is even more titanic; it is a single stone eighty tons in weight. Near Killternan village, a short distance off, is yet another cromlech whose top-most boulder exceeds both of these, weighing not less than ninety tons. Yet vast as all these are, they are outstripped by the cromlech of Howth, whose upper block is twenty feet square and eight feet thick, a single enormous boulder one hundred tons in weight. This huge stone was borne in the air upon twelve massive pillars of quartz, seven feet above the ground, so that a man of average height standing on the ground and reaching upward could just touch the under surface of the block with his finger-tips. Even a tall man standing on the shoulders of another as tall would quite fail to touch the upper edge of the stone. If we give this marvelous monument the same age as the Fermanagh circles, as we well may, this raising of a single boulder of one hundred tons, and balancing it in the air on the crest of massive pillars may give us some insight into the engineering skill of the men of ten thousand years ago.
Across the central plain from Howth Head the first break is the range of Loughcrew hills. Here are great stone circles in numbers, not standing alone like so many others, but encompassing still stranger monuments; chambered pyramids of boulders, to which we shall later return. They are lesser models of the three great pyramids of Brugh on the Boyne, where the river sweeps southward in a long curve, half-encircling a headland of holy ground.
From near Howth to the Boyne and north of it, the coast is low and flat; sandhills matted with bent-grass and starred with red thyme and tiny pansies, yellow and purple and blue. Low tide carries the sea almost to the horizon, across a vast wilderness of dripping sand where the gulls chatter as they wade among the pools. Where the shore rises again towards the Carlingford Mountains, another cromlech stands under the shadow of granite hills.
A long fiord with wooded walls divides the Carlingford range from the mountains of Mourne. The great dark range thrusts itself forth against the sea in somber beauty, overhanging the wide strand of Dundrum Bay. The lesser bay, across whose bar the sea moans under the storm-winds, is dominated by the hill of Rudraige, named in honor of a hero of old days; but under the shadow of the hill stands a more ancient monument, that was gray with age before the race of Rudraige was born. On five pillars of massive stone is upreared a sixth, of huge and formidable bulk, and carrying even to us in our day a sense of mystery and might. The potent atmosphere of a hidden past still breathes from it, whispering of vanished years, vanished races, vanished secrets of the prime.
There are two circles of enormous stones on the tongue of land between Dundrum Bay and Strangford, both very perfect and marked each in its own way from among the rest. The first, at Legamaddy, has every huge boulder still in place. There is a lesser ring of stones within the first circle, with many outliers, of enormous size, dotted among the fields. It looks as if a herd of huge animals of the early world had come together in a circle for the night, the young being kept for safety within their ring, while others, grazing longer or wandering farther from the rest, were approaching the main herd. But nightfall coming upon them with dire magic turned them all to stone; and there they remain, sentient, yet motionless, awaiting the day of their release. By fancies like this we may convey the feeling of mystery breathing from them.
On the hill-top of Slieve-na-griddle is another circle of the same enormous boulders. A cromlech is piled in the midst of it, and an avenue of stones leads up to the circle. Its form is that of many circles with enclosed cromlechs at Carrowmore, though in these the avenue is missing. The thought that underlies them is the same, though they are separated by the whole width of the land; a single cult with a single ideal prompted the erection of both.
At Drumbo, on the east bank of the Lagan before it reaches Belfast Lough, there is a massive cromlech surrounded by a wide ring of earth piled up high enough to cut off the sacred space within from all view of the outer world. Like the earthwork round the cromlech of Lough Rea, it marks the boundary of a great nature temple, open to the sky but shut off from mankind. Even now its very atmosphere breathes reverence.
At Finvoy, in northern Antrim, among the meadows of the Bann, there is a cromlech within a great stone circle like that on Slieve-na-griddle in Down, and like many of the Carrowmore rings. The Black Lion cromlech in Cavan is encircled with a like ring of boulders, and another cromlech not far off rivals some of the largest in the immense size of its crowning block.
Three cromlechs in the same limestone plain add something to the mystery that overhangs all the rest. The first, at Lennan in Monaghan, is marked with a curious cryptic design, suggesting a clue, yet yielding none. There is a like script on the cromlech at Castlederg in Tyrone, if indeed the markings were ever the record of some thought to be remembered, and not mere ornament. The chambered cromlech of Lisbellaw in Fermanagh has like markings; they are too similar to be quite independent, yet almost too simple to contain a recorded thought.
We come once more to Donegal. On the hill-top of Beltaney, near Raphoe, there is a very massive circle formed of sixty-seven huge blocks. Here again the Stonehenge ring might be set up within the Irish circle, leaving an avenue eight paces wide all round it. The sacred fire was formerly kindled here to mark the birth of Spring. The name of the old festival of Beltane still lingers on the hill. At Culdaff in north Donegal, at the end of the Inishowen peninsula, stands another great stone circle, with which we must close our survey of these titanic monuments.
We have mentioned a few only among many; yet enough to show their presence everywhere throughout the land, in the valleys or on mountain summits, in the midst of pastures or on lonely and rugged isles. One group, as we have seen, cannot be younger than ten thousand years, and may be far older. The others may be well coeval. Their magnitude, their ordered ranks, their universal presence, are a startling revelation of the material powers of the men of that remote age; they are a testimony, not less wonderful, of the moral force which dedicated so much power to ideal ends. Finally, they are a monument to remind us how little we yet know of the real history of our race.
THE CROMLECH BUILDERS.
In every district of Ireland, therefore, there remain these tremendous and solemn survivors of a mighty past. The cromlechs, with their enormous masses upheld in the air, rising among the fertile fields or daisy-dotted pastures; the great circles of standing stones, starred everywhere, in the valleys or upon the uplands, along the rough sides of heather-covered hills. They have everywhere the same aspect of august mystery, the same brooding presence, like sentinels of another world. It is impossible not to feel their overshadowing majesty. Everywhere they follow the same designs in large simplicity; inspired by the same purpose, and with the same tireless might overcoming the tremendous obstacles of their erection; they are devoted everywhere not to material and earthly ends, but to the ideal purposes of the invisible and everlasting, linked with the hidden life of those who pass away from us through the gates of death.
Can we find any clue to the builders of these grand and enduring memorials, the conditions of their building, the age of our land to which they belong? If we wisely use the abundant knowledge of the past already in our possession, there is good reason to believe we can, establishing much with entire certainty and divining more.
The standing stones and cromlechs, as we know, are everywhere spread over Ireland, so that it is probable that throughout the whole country one is never out of sight of one of these solemn monuments. Their uniform and universal presence shows, therefore, a uniform race dwelling everywhere within the four seas, a universal stability and order, allowing such great and enduring works to be undertaken and completed. We must believe, too, that the builders of these giant stone monuments were dominant throughout the land, possessing entire power over the labor of thousands everywhere; and even then the raising of these titanic masses is almost miraculous.
But the history of the standing stones and cromlechs is not a page of Irish history only, nor can we limit to our own isle the presence of their builders, the conditions of dominion and order under which alone they could have been raised. We shall gain our first trustworthy clue by tracing the limits of the larger territory, beyond our island, where these same gray memorials are found.
The limits of the region in which alone we find these piles and circles of enormous stones are clearly and sharply defined, though this region itself is of immense and imposing extent. It is divided naturally into two provinces, both starting from a point somewhere in the neighborhood of Gibraltar or Mount Atlas, and spreading thence over a territory of hundreds of miles.
The southern cromlech province, beginning at the Strait of Gibraltar, extends eastward along the African coast past Algiers to the headland of Tunis, where Carthage stood, at a date far later than the age of cromlechs. Were it not for the flaming southern sun, the scorched sands, the palms, the shimmering torrid air, we might believe these Algerian megaliths belonged to our own land, so perfect is the resemblance, so uniform the design, so identical the inspiration. The same huge boulders, oblong or egg-shaped, formidable, impressive, are raised aloft on massive supporting stones; there are the same circles of stones hardly less gigantic, with the same mysterious faces, the same silent solemnity. Following this line, we find them again in Minorca, Sardinia and Malta; everywhere under warm blue skies, in lands of olives and trailing vines, with the peacock-blue of the Mediterranean waves twinkling beneath them. Northward from Minorca, but still in our southern cromlech province, we find them in southeastern Spain, in the region of New Carthage, but far older than the oldest trace of that ancient city. In lesser numbers they follow the Spanish coast up towards the Ebro, through vinelands and lands of figs, everywhere under summer skies. This province, therefore, our southern cromlech province, covers most of the western Mediterranean; it does not cover, nor even approach, Italy or Greece or Egypt, the historic Mediterranean lands. We must look for its origin in the opposite direction—towards Gibraltar, the Pillars of Hercules.
From the same point, the Pillars of Hercules, begins our second or northern cromlech region, even larger and more extensive than the first, though hardly richer in titanic memorials. From Gibraltar, the cromlech region passes northward, covering Portugal and western Spain; indeed, it probably merges in the other province to the eastward, the two including all Spain between them. From northern Spain, turning the flank of the giant Pyrenees at Fontarrabia, the cromlech region goes northward and ever northward, along the Atlantic coast of France, spreading eastward also through the central provinces, covering the mountains of the Cote d'Or and the Cevennes, but nowhere entering north Italy or Germany, which limit France to the east. There is a tremendous culmination of the huge stone monuments on the capes and headlands of Brittany, where France thrusts herself forward against the Atlantic, centring in Carnac, the metropolis of a bygone world. Nowhere are there greater riches of titanic stone, in circles, in cromlechs, in ranged avenues like huge frozen armies or ordered hosts of sleeping elephants. From Brittany we pass to Ireland, whose wealth, inherited from dead ages, we have already inventoried, and Britain, where the same monuments reappear. More numerous to the south and west, they yet spread all over Britain, including remote northern Scotland and the Western Isles. Finally, there is a streamer stretching still northeastward, to Norway and some of the Baltic Islands.
We are, therefore, confronted with the visible and enduring evidence of a mighty people, spreading in two main directions from the Pillars of Hercules—eastward through Gibraltar Strait to sunny Algeria, to southern Spain and the Mediterranean isles; and northward, along the stormy shores of the Atlantic, from within sight of Africa almost to the Arctic Circle, across Spain, Portugal, France, Ireland, Britain, and the lands of the Baltic and the North Sea. Throughout this vast territory there must have been a common people, a common purpose and inspiration, a common striving towards the hidden world; there must have been long ages of order, of power, of peace, during which men's hearts could conceive and their hands execute memorials so vast, so evidently meant to endure to a far distant future, so clearly destined to ideal ends. There must have been a great spiritual purpose, a living belief in the invisible world, and a large practical power over natural forces, before these huge monuments could be erected. Some of the stones upheld in the air in the Irish cromlechs weigh eighty or ninety or a hundred tons. If we estimate that a well-built man can lift two hundred pounds, it would demand the simultaneous work of a thousand men to erect them; and it is at least difficult to see how the effort of a thousand men could be applied.
We are led, therefore, by evidence of the solidest material reality to see this great empire on the Atlantic and along the western Mediterranean; this Atlantean land of the cromlech-builders, as we may call it, for want of a better name. As the thought and purpose of its inhabitants are uniform throughout its whole vast extent, we are led to see in them a single homogeneous race, working without rivals, without obstacles, without contests, for they seem everywhere to have been free to choose what sites they would for their gigantic structures. And we are irresistibly led to believe that these conditions must have endured throughout a vast extent of time, for no nation which does not look back to a distant past will plan for a distant future. The spiritual sweep and view of the cromlech-builders are, therefore, as great as the extent of their territory. This mysterious people must have had a life as wonderful as that of Greece or Rome or Egypt, whose territories we find them everywhere approaching, but nowhere invading.
What we now know of the past history of our race is so vast, so incredibly enormous, that we have ample space for such a territory, so widespread, so enduring, as we have seen demanded by the position of the cromlechs and standing stones; more than that, so overwhelming are the distances in the dark backward and abysm of time, to which we must now carry the dawn of human history, that the time needed for the building of the cromlechs may seem quite recent and insignificant, in view of the mightier past, stretching back through geologic ages. The nineteenth century may well be called the age of resurrection, when long-forgotten epochs of man were born again into our knowledge. We can carry back that knowledge now to the early Miocene period, to which belong the human relics found by the Abbe Bourgeois on the uplands of Thenay, in central France; and no one believes that the early Miocene age can be as recent as a million years ago. A vast space separates the Thenay relics from the later traces of man found in Pliocene sands with the bones of the archaic meridional elephant,—at a date when the German ocean was a forest, full of southern trees and huge beasts now long since departed from the earth. A period hardly less vast must separate these from the close of the glacial age, when man roamed the plains of Europe, and sketched the herds of mammoths as they cropped the leaves. That huge beast, too, has long since departed into the abyss; but man the artist, who recorded the massive outline, the huge bossed forehead, the formidable bulk of the shaggy arctic elephant, engraved in firm lines on a fragment of its tusk,—man still remains. Man was present when rhinoceros and elephant were as common in Britain as they are to-day in Southern India or Borneo; when the hippopotamus was as much at home in the waters of the Thames as in the Nile and Niger; when huge bears like the grizzly of the Rockies, cave-lions and sabre-toothed tigers lurked in Devon caverns or chased the bison over the hills of Kent. Yet this epoch of huge and ferocious monsters, following upon the Age of Ice, is a recent chapter of the great epic of man; there lies far more behind it, beyond the Age of Ice to the immensely distant Pliocene; beyond this as far as the early Miocene; beyond this, again, how much further we know not, towards the beginningless beginning, the infinite.
We are, therefore, face to face with an ordered series of almost boundless ages, geologic epochs of human history succeeding each other in majestic procession, as the face of our island was now tropical, now arctic; as the seas swelled up and covered the hills, or the bottom of the deep drove back the ocean and became dry land, an unbroken continent. The wild dreams of romance never approached the splendid outlines of this certain history.
There are dim outlines of man throughout all these ages, but only at a comparatively recent date have we traditions and evidence pointing to still surviving races. At a period of only a few thousand years ago, we begin to catch glimpses of a northern race whom the old Greeks and Romans called Hyperboreans or Far-Northerners; a race wild and little skilled in the arts of life; a race of small stature, slight, dusky, with piercing eyes, low brows, and of forbidding face. This race was scattered over lands far north of the Mediterranean, dwelling in caves and dens of the earth, and lingering on unchanged from the days of mammoth and cave-bear. We have slight but definite knowledge of this very ancient race—enough to show us that its peculiar type lingers to this day in a few remote islands on the Galway and Kerry coast, mingled with many later races. This type we find described in old Gaelic records as the Firbolgs, a race weak and furtive, dusky and keen-eyed, subjected by later races of greater force. Yet from this race, as if to show the inherent and equal power of the soul, came holy saints and mighty warriors; to the old race of the Firbolgs belong Saint Mansuy, apostle of Belgium, and Roderick O'Conor, the last king of united Ireland. In gloomy mountain glens and lonely ocean islands still it lingers, unvanquished, tenacious, obscurely working out its secret destiny.
This slight and low-browed race, of dark or sallow visage, and with black crisp hair, this Hyperborean people, is the oldest we can gain a clear view of in our island's history; but we know nothing of its extension or powers which would warrant us in believing that this was the race which built the cromlechs. Greek and Roman tradition, in this only corroborating the actual traces we ourselves possess of these old races, tells us of another people many thousand years ago overrunning and dominating the Firbolgs; a race of taller stature, of handsome features, though also dark, but with softer black hair, not crisp and tufted like the hair of the dwarfish earlier race. Of this second conquering race, tall and handsome, we have abundant traces, gathered from many lands where they dwelt; bodies preserved by art or nature, in caverns or sepulchres of stone; ornaments, pottery, works decorative and useful, and covering several thousand years in succession. But better than this, we have present, through nearly every land where we know of them in the past, a living remnant of this ancient race, like it in every particular of stature, form, complexion and visage, identical in character and temper, tendency and type of mind.
In Ireland we find this tall, dark race over all the west of the island, but most numerous in Kerry, Clare, Galway and Mayo; in those regions where, we know, the older population was least disturbed. In remote villages among the mountains, reached by bridle-paths between heath-covered hills; in the settlements of fishermen, under some cliff or in the sheltered nook of one of our great western bays; or among the lonely, little visited Atlantic islands, this dark, handsome race, with its black hair, dark-brown eyes, sallow skin and high forehead, still holds its own, as a second layer above the remnant of the far more ancient Firbolg Hyperboreans. We find the same race also among the Donegal highlands, here and there in the central plain or in the south, and nowhere entirely missing among the varied races towards the eastern sea.
But it is by no means in Ireland only that this tall, dark, western race is found. It is numerously represented in the nearest extension of the continent, among the headlands and bays and isles of Brittany—a land so like our own western seaboard, with its wild Atlantic storms. Following the ocean southward, we find the same race extending to the Loire, the Garonne, the Pyrenees; stretching somewhat inland also, but clinging everywhere to the Atlantic, as we also saw it cling in Ireland. In earlier centuries, long before our era opened, we find this same race spread far to the east,—as far, almost, as the German and Italian frontier,—so that at one time it held almost complete possession of France. South of the Pyrenees we find it once more; dominant in Portugal, less strongly represented in Spain, yet still supplying a considerable part of the population of the whole peninsula, as it does in Ireland at the present day. But it does not stop with Spain, or even Europe. We find the same race again in the Guanches of the Canary islands, off the African coast; and, stranger still, we find mummies of this race, of great antiquity, in the cave-tombs of Teneriffe. Further, we have ample evidence of its presence, until displaced by Moorish invaders, all along northern Africa as far as Tunis; and we come across it again amongst the living races in the Mediterranean isles, in Sardinia, Sicily and Southern Italy. Finally, the Tuaregs of the Central Sahara belong to the same type. Everywhere the same tall, dark race, handsome, imaginative; with a quite definite form of head, of brow, of eyes; a well-marked character of visage, complexion, and texture of hair.
Thus far the southern extension of this, our second Irish race; we may look for a moment at its distribution in the north. Across the shallow sea which separates us from Britain we find the same race, clinging always to the Atlantic seaboard. It dominates south Wales, where its presence was remarked and commented on by the invading Romans. It is present elsewhere through the Welsh mountains, and much more sparsely over the east of England; but we have ample evidence that at one time this tall, dark race held the whole of England in undisputed possession, except, perhaps, for a remnant of the Hyperborean dwarfs. In the west of Scotland, and especially in the Western Isles, it is once more numerous; and we find offshoots of the same race in the dark-haired Norwegians,—still holding to the seaboard of the Atlantic.
Such is the distribution of this once dominant but now dwindled race, which has gradually descended from the summit of power as ancient Rome descended, as Greece descended, or Assyria or Egypt. But we can look back with certainty to a time when this race, and this race only, held complete possession of all the lands we have mentioned, in north or south, in Europe or northern Africa; holding everywhere to the Atlantic coast, or, as in the Mediterranean isles, evidently pressing inward from the Atlantic, past the Pillars of Hercules, through the Strait of Gibraltar.
It is evident at once that the territory of this race corresponds exactly, throughout many countries, with the territory of the cromlechs and standing stones; where we find the one, as in Ireland, Brittany, Spain, we find the other; where the one is absent, as in Germany, or northern Italy or Greece, the other is likewise absent. The identity is complete. We are justified, therefore, in giving the same provisional name to both, and calling them Atlantean, from their evident origin not far from Atlas, and their everywhere clinging to the Atlantic coast. We can find traces of no other race which at all closely fulfills the necessary conditions of uniform and undisputed extension, through a long epoch, over the whole cromlech region—the only conditions under which we can conceive of the erection of these gigantic monuments, or of the long established and universally extended spiritual conditions which make possible such vast ideal enterprises.
In this race, therefore, which we have called Atlantean, we find the conditions fulfilled; of this race, and of no other, we still find a lingering remnant in each of the cromlech countries; and we hardly find a trace of this race, either now or in the past, in the lands which have no cromlechs or standing stones.
We have already seen that the standing stones of Cavancarragh, four miles from Fermanagh, were, within the memory of men still living or of their fathers, buried under ten or twelve feet of peat, which had evidently formed there after their erection. We have here a natural chronometer; for we know the rate at which peat forms, and we can, therefore, assign a certain age to a given depth. We have given one mode of reckoning already; we find it corroborated by another. In the Somme valley, in northern France, we have a Nature's timepiece; in the peat, at different levels, are relics of the Roman age; of the Gaulish age which preceded it; and, far deeper, of pre-historic races, like our Atlanteans, who preceded the Gauls. The date of the Roman remains we know accurately; and from this standard we find that the peat grows regularly some three centimeters a century, or a foot in a thousand years.
On the mountain side, as at Cavancarragh, the growth is likely to be slower than in a river valley; yet we may take the same rate, a foot a thousand years, and we shall have, for this great stone circle, an antiquity of ten or twelve thousand years at least. This assumes that the peat began to form as soon as the monument was completed; but the contrary may be the case; centuries may have intervened.
We may, however, take this as a provisional date, and say that our cromlech epoch, the epoch of the Atlantean builders, from Algeria to Ireland, from Ireland to the Baltic, is ten or twelve thousand years ago; extending, perhaps, much further back in the past, and in certain regions coming much further down towards the present, but having a period of twelve thousand years ago as its central date. It happens that we have traditions of a great dispersion from the very centre we have been led to fix, the neighborhood of Atlas or Gibraltar, and that to this dispersion tradition has given a date over eleven thousand years ago; but to this side of the subject we cannot more fully allude; it would take us too far afield.
We have gone far enough to make it tolerably certain, first, that these great and wonderful monuments were built when uniform conditions of order, uniform religious beliefs and aspirations, and a uniform mastery over natural forces extended throughout a vast region spreading northward and eastward from Mount Atlas or Gibraltar; we have seen, next, that these conditions were furnished when a well-defined race, whom we have called Atlantean, was spread as the dominant element over this whole region; and, finally, we have seen reason to fix on a period some eleven or twelve thousand years ago as the central period of that domination, though it may have begun, and probably did begin, many centuries earlier. The distribution of the cromlechs is certain; the distribution of the race is certain; the age of one characteristic group of the monuments is certain. Further than this we need not go.
When we try to form a clearer image of the life of this tall archaic race of cromlech-builders, we can divine very much to fill the picture. We note, to begin with, that not only do they always hold to the Atlantic ocean as something kindred and familiar, but that they are found everywhere in islands at such distances from the nearest coasts as would demand a certain seamanship for their arrival. This is true of their presence in Malta, Minorca, Sardinia; it is even more true of Ireland, the Western Isles of Scotland, the Norwegian Isles; all of which are surrounded by stormy and treacherous seas, where wrecks are very common even in our day. We must believe that our tail, dark invaders were a race of seamen, thoroughly skilled in the dangerous navigation of these dark seas; Caesar marveled at, and imitated, the ship-building of the natives of Brittany in his day; we equally admire the prowess of their sons, the Breton fishermen, in our own times. We find, too, that in the western districts and ocean islands of our own Ireland the tall, dark race often follows the sea, showing the same hereditary skill and daring; a skill which certainly marked the first invaders of that race, or they would never have reached our island at all. We are the more justified in seeing, in these dark cromlech-builders, the Fomorians of old Gaelic tradition, who came up out of the sea and subjugated the Firbolgs.
Even to those familiar with the geological record of man it is sufficiently startling to find that the Firbolgs, the early dwarfish race of Hyperboreans, in all probability were ignorant of boats; that they almost certainly came to our island dry-shod, as they had come earlier to Britain, migrating over unbroken spaces of land to what afterwards became the isle of Erin; for this race we find everywhere associated with the mammoth—on the continent, in Britain, in our own island—and the mammoths certainly never came over in ships. Needless to say, there is abundant geological evidence as well, to show our former union with continental Europe,—though of course at a time immensely more remote than ten or twelve thousand years ago.
We are, therefore, led to identify our Atlantean race of hardy seamen with the Fomorians who came up out of the sea and found the furtive Firbolgs in possession of our island; and to this race, the Fomorians of the sea, we credit the building of cromlechs and standing stones, not only among ourselves, but in Norway, in Britain, in Brittany, in Spain, in Africa.
We shall presently pick up the thread of tradition, as we find it in Ireland, and try to follow the doings and life of the Fomorian invaders; but in the meantime we may try to gain some insight into the most mysterious and enduring of their works. The cromlechs which have been excavated in many cases are found to contain the funereal urns of a people who burned their dead. It does not follow that their first and only use was as tombs; but if we think of them as tombs only, we must the more marvel at the faith of the builders, and their firm belief in the reality and overwhelming import of the other world which we enter at death. For of dwellings for the living, of fortresses or storehouses, of defences against the foes who later invaded them, we find few traces; nothing at all to compare with their massive mausoleums. The other world, for them, was a far weightier concern than this, and to the purposes of that world, as they conceived it, all their energies were directed. We can hardly doubt that, like other races who pay extreme reverence to the dead, their inner vision beheld these departed ones still around them and among them, forming with them a single race, a single family, a single life. This world was for them only the threshold of the other, the place of preparation. To that other their thoughts all turned, for that other they raised these titanic buildings. The solemn masses and simple grandeur of the cromlechs fitly symbolize the mood of reverence in which they drew near to the sublime world of the hidden; the awe with which their handiwork affirmed how greatly that world outweighs this. At these houses of the dead they were joined in spirit and communion with those who had passed away; once more united with their fathers and their fathers' fathers, from the dim beginning of their race. The air, for them, was full of spirits. Only the dead truly lived.
The circles of standing stones are also devoted to ideal ends. Though the men who set them up could have built not less wonderful forts or dwellings of stone, we find none of these; nor has any worldly purpose ever been assigned to the stone circles. Yet there seems to be a very simple interpretation of their symbology; the circle, through all antiquity, stood for the circling year, which ever returns to its point of departure, spring repeating spring, summer answering to summer, winter with its icy winds only the return of former winters: the circling year and its landmarks, whether four seasons, or twelve months, or twenty-seven lunar mansions, through one of which the wandering moon passes in a day. We should thus have circles of twelve or twenty-seven stones, or four outlying stones at equal distances, for the four seasons, the regents of the year. By counting the stones in each circle we can tell to which division of the year they belonged, whether the solar months or the lunar mansions.
But with all ancient nations the cycle of the year was only the symbol of the spiritual cycle of the soul, the path of birth and death. We must remember that even for ourselves the same symbolism holds: in the winter we celebrate the Incarnation; in spring, the Crucifixion; in summer, the birth of the beloved disciple; in autumn, the day of All Souls, the feast of the dead. Thus for us, too, the succeeding seasons only symbolize the stages of a spiritual life, the august procession of the soul.
We cannot think it was otherwise with a people who lived and built so majestically for the hidden world; these great stone circles symbolized for them, we must believe, the circling life of the soul, the cycle of necessity, with the door of liberation to the home of the blest, who have reached perfect freedom and go no more out. We may picture in imagination their solemn celebrations; priests robed, perhaps, in the mingled green and purple of their hills, passing within the circle, chanting some archaic hymn of the Divine.
THE DE DANAANS.
In the dim days of Fomorian and Firbolg, and for ages after, Erin was a land of forests, full of wild cattle and deer and wolves. The central plain was altogether hidden under green clouds of oak-woods, full of long, mysterious alleys, dimpled with sunny glades, echoing in spring and summer to the songs of innumerable birds. Everywhere through the wide and gloomy forests were the blue mirrors of lakes, starred with shaggy islands, the hanging hills descending verdant to the water's edge. Silver rivers spread their network among the woods, and the lakes and the quiet reaches of the rivers teemed with trout and salmon. The hilly lands to the north and south showed purple under the sky from among their forests, oak mingling with pine; and the four seas beat around our island with their white fringe of hovering gulls. Over all, the arch of the blue, clearer and less clouded then than now. A pleasant land, full of gladness and mystery.
We can but obscurely image to ourselves the thoughts and deeds of the earliest dwellers in our island. We know that they were skilled in many arts of peace and inured to the shock of war. The sky spread above them as over us, and all around them was the green gloom of the forests, the whiteness of lakes and rivers, the rough purple of the heather. The great happenings of life, childhood and age and death, were for them what they are for us, yet their blood flowed warmer than ours. Browned by wind and sun, wet by the rain and the early dew of the morning, they delighted in the vigor of the prime. Their love for kindred, for their friends and lovers, was as ours; and when friends and kindred passed into the darkness, they still kept touch with their souls in the invisible Beyond.
The vision of our days is darkened by too much poring over earthly things; but the men of old, like many of our simpler races now, looked confidently and with intent faith across the threshold. For them the dead did not depart—hidden but from their eyes, while very near to their souls. Those in the beyond were still linked to those on earth; all together made one undivided life, neither in the visible world alone nor in the hidden world alone, but in both; each according to their destinies and duties. The men of old were immeasurably strong in this sense of immortality—a sense based not on faith but on knowledge; on a living touch with those who had gone before. They knew both over-world and under-world, because they held their souls open to the knowledge of both, and did not set their hearts on earthly things alone. A strong life close to the life of the natural world, a death that was no separation, the same human hearts as ours,—further we need not go in imagining that far-off time.
A third people was presently added to these two, at an epoch fixed by tradition some four thousand years ago. A vivid picture of their coming has been handed down to us, and this picture we shall reproduce, as many circumstances and particulars of our knowledge drawn from other sources concur to show that our old legend is near to the truth, both in time and happenings.
The name these newcomers bore was Tuata De Danaan, the De Danaan tribes; they were golden-haired and full of knowledge, and their coming was heavy with destiny for the dark races of Fomor and Firbolg. Even to-day, mysterious whispers of the De Danaans linger among the remote valleys and hillsides of our island, and truth is hidden in every legend of their deeds. They have borne a constant repute for magical knowledge, and the first tradition of their coming not only echoes that repute, but shows how first they came by it.
The De Danaans came from the north; from what land, we shall presently inquire. They landed somewhere on the northeast coast of our island, says the tradition; the coast of Antrim was doubtless the place of their arrival, and we have our choice between Larne and the estuary of the Foyle. All between, lofty cliffs face a dark and angry sea, where no one not familiar with the coast would willingly approach; their later course in the island makes it very probable that they came to the Foyle.
There, still within sight of the Caledonian isles and headlands hovering in blue shadows over the sea, they entered, where the sun rose over long silver sands and hills of chalk, with a grim headland on the west towering up into sombre mountains. Once within the strait, they had a wide expanse of quiet waters on all sides, running deep among the rugged hills, and receiving at its further end the river Foyle, tempting them further and further with their ships. Up the Foyle went the De Danaan fleet, among the oak-woods, the deer gazing wide-eyed at them from dark caverns of shadow, the wolves peering after them in the night. Then, when their ships would serve them no further, they landed, and, to set the seal on their coming, burned their boats, casting in their lot with the fate of their new home. Still following the streams of the Foyle, for rivers were the only pathways through the darkness of the woods, they came to the Lakes of Erne, then, as now, beautiful with innumerable islands, and draped with curtains of forest. Beyond Erne, they fixed their first settlement at Mag Rein, the Plain of the Headland, within the bounds of what afterwards was Leitrim; and at this camp their legend takes up the tale.