The Story of Ireland - Beatrice Home - ebook
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The Irish people are descendants of the same Celtic race that once occupied Gaul and Britain, and possess all the characteristics by which that imaginative and poetic race is distinguished. They are brilliant, witty, and affectionate, devotedly attached to their country and their leaders, but they lack much of the practical common-sense and submission to law and order of the English. Beneath their bright humour lies a deep-seated melancholy, due doubtless to their misty climate and the grey, stormy ocean that surrounds them, and at one time kept them isolated from the civilized world. Even to-day the peasant-folk are full of quaint poetic and superstitious beliefs, of fairies and gnomes who dwell among the mountains and streams of their romantic land, and who seem as real and vital to them as their present-day neighbours. The dreamy charm of Ireland's scenery has penetrated deep into the Irish nature, so that all the ballads are full of the beauty of the mountains, the lakes, the rocky bays, and the green valleys...

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The Story of Ireland

Beatrice Home

OZYMANDIAS PRESS

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Copyright © 2016 by Beatrice Home

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Before the Conquest

The Coming of the Normans

Under the Tudors

Under the Stuarts

The Fall of the Stuarts and the Institution of the Penal Code

Ireland in the Eighteenth Century

The Rebellion of 1798 and the Act of Union

The Nineteenth Century

Before the Conquest

HOWEVER CONTRARY THEIR POINT of view may be, all historians are agreed upon one thing, that the history of Ireland is one of the saddest on record, and that its unfolding story tells of a persistent and dogged ill-luck. At no period during the past centuries can the blame for the unsuccessful government of Ireland be laid entirely upon the English conquerors or upon the Irish people. A combination of circumstances, differences of race and religion, the Celtic temperament, climatic conditions, the partial conquest of Henry II., necessitating the constant, irritating renewal of English force—all have united to produce the almost continual civil war, suppressed or breaking out into open warfare, that has prevailed in the beautiful but unhappy island. There have been so few moments of real national triumph, that its history has been left for the invading conquerors to write, who naturally have exaggerated the outbreaks of disorder and tumult, describing as traitors those who in happier lands would be called patriots, and enlarging upon the almost insuperable difficulties of dealing with an unruly and ungrateful people. But the historians of the present age are, happily, more just and impartial, saying with Mr. Bagwell, who has made an exhaustive study of Ireland under the Tudors and the Stuarts, that “the history of Ireland is at best a sad one; but its study, if it be really studied for the truth’s sake, can hardly fail to make men more tolerant.”

The Irish people are descendants of the same Celtic race that once occupied Gaul and Britain, and possess all the characteristics by which that imaginative and poetic race is distinguished. They are brilliant, witty, and affectionate, devotedly attached to their country and their leaders, but they lack much of the practical common-sense and submission to law and order of the English. Beneath their bright humour lies a deep-seated melancholy, due doubtless to their misty climate and the grey, stormy ocean that surrounds them, and at one time kept them isolated from the civilized world. Even to-day the peasant-folk are full of quaint poetic and superstitious beliefs, of fairies and gnomes who dwell among the mountains and streams of their romantic land, and who seem as real and vital to them as their present-day neighbours. The dreamy charm of Ireland’s scenery has penetrated deep into the Irish nature, so that all the ballads are full of the beauty of the mountains, the lakes, the rocky bays, and the green valleys.

Perhaps one of Ireland’s earliest misfortunes lay in the fact that the Romans never landed on her shores, but only looked at her across the channel, and so deprived her of Britain’s initiation into the arts of peace and civilization and the value of centralized government. The rough tempestuous sea washing her coasts kept Ireland free from invaders for many centuries, and, unfortunately, when they did come, they spread ruin instead of good government throughout the country. Thus, while Britain was learning—painfully, no doubt, at first to build roads and bridges and houses, under Roman instruction, Ireland remained in a backward state, isolated even in her own land by the high mountains, the dense forests, and the vast peat-bogs that occupied the centre of the island. The only connection with the Continent lay through the Phœnician and Spanish merchants, whose vessels had long made an acquaintance with Ireland. The country was divided among tribes whose chiefs owned almost absolute power in their own domain, but at the same time acknowledged a king, who was the overlord of Ireland. This royal power lay for some centuries in the hands of the Hy-Nialls, the ancestors of the O’Neills of Ulster, but their authority was merely nominal, as they had neither council nor army to enforce their dictates. But, if their jurisdiction was limited, they enjoyed the gratification of a ceremonial coronation, a courtly following of nobles and bards, and regal assemblies on the hill of Tara, situated about twenty miles north-west of Dublin. Under the king came the chieftains, who kept up petty courts and maintained power over their lesser chiefs. The kings were elected on a popular basis, and their successor chosen during their lifetime, to avoid any confusion at a royal death. The successor, or Tanist, as he was known, was always selected from the royal family.

Tribal conditions dominated the life of the people, the nature of the country tending to separate them into clans and families, and so producing the inevitable feuds and strife of such a system. Every member of the tribe bore the same name, and was said to be connected with the chief, to whom they were devoted, following him to death in all his incessant conflicts with the neighbouring tribes. The lowest classes were represented by the slaves and the semi-free tenants, the latter being little removed from slavery, being completely under the power of the chiefs, who forced them to do all the work on the land. They were usually captives taken in war, or any outcasts from the tribes.

In primitive days all land was held in common, each clansman having a share in the possessions of the tribe, the chief merely being the father of the community. But by degrees separate ownership began to be established as life became more settled, for, though the family idea lingered long and was not entirely extinguished for many centuries, the patriarchal principle of common property was not long maintained in its most severe form. A man’s wealth lay, as with the patriarchs of old, in the number of his cattle, his horses, sheep and pigs, and the general produce of his land.

As there was no general council of the nation, corresponding to the Saxon Witan, the laws consequently were not the result of the deliberations of the people, but were compiled by an hereditary class of lawyers, known as Brehons. Elected in a similar manner to the chieftains, the Brehons acted both as law-makers and judges, and were a highly esteemed body of men. The laws they produced were extremely complicated in comparison with English laws, probably due to being the work of specialized men, rather than the general common-sense of a community meeting the needs of the moment. But, in spite of some unnecessary confusion, there was considerable justice in the Brehon law, though it has been much abused by the English lawyers of the Elizabethan age, who considered it beneath contempt. Certainly, to English eyes the punishment for murder was almost grotesque, being merely a money compensation. Unfortunately, there was no national system for enforcing the law, beyond the power of individual chieftains who maintained the law over their own people.

The early pagan religion of the Irish was some form of nature-worship, resembling that of the Druids. Christianity reached Ireland about the fourth century, and made some progress among the people; but it was not until the coming of St. Patrick that anything like a general conversion took place.

So many legends have surrounded St. Patrick that many people have almost begun to doubt the reality of his existence, but all the best historians of to-day give him a prominent place in the history of Ireland during the early Christian centuries. Indeed, Professor Bury claims for St. Patrick that “he must be placed along with the most efficient of those who took part in spreading the Christian faith beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire.” Many places have been assigned as the probable birthplace of St. Patrick, but Professor Bury, who has made a particular study of the life of Ireland’s patron saint, thinks that his home was somewhere in the west of Britain, and suggests that it was possibly near the Severn. His father was a Briton named Calpurnius, a small land owner who bore a Roman name, being a free Roman subject. About A.D. 405, when St. Patrick was about sixteen years old, some Irish pirates came to the coast of Britain, and carried him off along with other captives and booty. So far away did Ireland seem that St. Patrick writes of his being take to the ultimate places of the earth,” his destination being probably Connaught, and not Antrim, as it has been usually recorded. For six years he acted as swineherd for the master to whom he had been sold, these years also bringing him to a real faith in the God of whom he had learnt in his far-away home. So keen was his fervour that he used to get up before the sun rose, and, whatever the weather might be, go out into the rain or the snow to offer up his prayers to God. One day he heard a voice saying, “Behold, thy ship is ready,” which he understood to mean that it was now possible for him to escape. Relying upon spiritual help, he managed to slip away from his master, penetrate the dense forests, and finally to reach a port on the east coast, where he joined a vessel just ready to sail. After some persuasions the captain permitted St. Patrick to come on board, on condition that he worked his way to the next seaport, and without further adventure he eventually reached the coast of Gaul and safety.

St. Patrick could not forget the pagan darkness of Ireland, and so about A.D. 430 he returned to the land of his slavery, endowed with power by the Pope to convert the Irish. The story of his progress sounds miraculous, for the whole country seems to have fallen under the spell of his intense enthusiasm and to have accepted the Christianity which he offered. Doubtless the knowledge of the Irish character which he had obtained as a slave, helped him in his mission, for realizing the devotion to the chief, he invariably appealed first to the head of the tribe, and in winning him, won the whole clan. As has been mentioned before, St. Patrick did not introduce Christianity, but, as Professor Bury says, “he secured its permanence, shaped its course, and made it a power in the land.” By bringing it into contact with Rome, and teaching Latin to the clergy, he made all the culture of the Empire possible for Ireland, and in this way founded those schools of learning for which the island afterwards became famous. St. Patrick is entirely worthy of the reverence with which he is still regarded by the Irish people, for he “made Christianity a living force in Ireland which could never be extinguished.” So great was the zeal with which St. Patrick had inspired the Irish clergy, that not only were churches and monasteries built in their own land, but they spread themselves abroad, carrying the light of Christianity to the wilds of Germany and the Alps. St. Columba crossed over to Iona and converted the Picts, while other fervent missionaries were to be found as far south as Northern Italy. During the dark centuries when the Empire was being overthrown by the heathen barbarians, the Irish Church remained untouched, attracting to its schools students from all over Western Europe; indeed, at one time it seemed, as one writer puts it, that “Celtic, and not Latin, Christianity was to mould the destinies of the Church of the West.”

While Rome was occupied in preserving her very existence, the Irish Church was developing independence and producing certain differences of ritual and dress, which were later on a cause of its isolation, Rome considering these differences as schism. St. Patrick had endeavoured to institute the complete Roman method, but after his death the prevailing tribal system had influenced the Church, making it distinct from the distant and little-known Rome. The chief differences consisted in celebrating Easter according to the old reckoning of the Christians before St. Patrick, and the practice of a peculiar tonsure for the priests, the Druidical form, from ear to ear. Undoubtedly Ireland’s isolation at this period, and the development of a peculiar Irish Church, was a cause of additional trouble in later times.

While Ireland had attained a considerable reputation in the ecclesiastical world, in the secular she was still in a backward condition. The towns were merely collections of huts built of wood, and even the strongholds of the chiefs were very rough and primitive, the art of building in stone being practically unknown. But in certain forms of art the Irish were extremely skilful, as the gold ornaments to be seen in the museums witness. The famous Book of Kells is a masterpiece of illumination, and the numerous stone crosses of this period show very delicate carving. Music was much loved, the harper being a welcome guest everywhere, his proficiency over his instrument being remarked upon some time later when the English came to Ireland. As will be noticed, the arts were those of the monastery rather than of the outer world, road-making and bridge-building being still performed in a rude and primitive method.