Page images
PDF
EPUB

effect, and who does not see that over all the passions and feelings of men there presides an overruling power that moulds and fashions the life of nations to some particular purpose which they are to carry out, it may be in the far off future of the story of the human race.

All those who accept the Jewish and Christian revelations, must believe in numerous instances of this. But it needs no revelation to teach any careful student of history that often in the history of mankind events have marvellously and mysteriously prepared the way for things which manifestly appear to have been determined beforehand by a power that guides the course of human affairs. Old traditions have often kept alive, in the memories of a people, stories of their origin and their bygone days, which, in after times, have shaped themselves into facts influencing their course. More frequently prophecies, the source of which is lost in the darkness of remote antiquity, have found their verification in events occurring long after the prediction had become a household word. The greatness of Rome was foretold when its dominion extended but a few miles, and to this hour the traveller who looks upon the Tarpeian Rock can recall the tradition of more than 2,000 years, which told of the perpetuity of the capitol —

Capitoli immobile saxum,” as he remembers that from that rock the ensign of empire, spiritual or temporal, has not yet departed. Men may say that these are traditions which bring with them their own power, and prophecies which work out their own fulfilment. I am not ashamed to say that I prefer the higher and, as I believe, the truer faith, which recognizes, in the popular traditions and popular legends, those instincts of mankind which often discern afar off the things that are to come.

There is no people on earth about whose origin so many strange traditions gather, as those which surround the cradle

G

of the Irish race.

The strangest of all is that which associates them with the Jewish exodus from Egypt, and traces back the wanderings of the first settlers in Ireland to the shores of the Red Sea. These stories are not altogether mythical. Like most historical traditions of the olden time, legend mingles fable with the truth. Most unquestionably the traditions that have come down to us of the ancient greatness of our country are not altogether untrue. There were days when a civilized Ireland was supplied with her slaves from England and from Gaul. It was her slave trade that brought her great apostle to her shores. In her Christian era the stories of her learning and her sanctity rest upon the clearest proof. It is no myth that the College of Lismore, before the coming of the English, had 1,200 students coming from all parts of Europe to learn in its halls. In every part of Europe there are monasteries, the foundation of which was owing to the zeal of Irish monks, and which still retain the memorial of their Irish origin and name. In our own land marvellous architectural monuments remain the record of remote times. Of some of them the origin, like that of the Pyramids of Egypt or the Cyclopean Ruins of Etruria, is lost in the gloom of distant ages. But all of them tell us of a time long past, when Ireland was the home of a great and mighty people—many of them of a time when it was inhabited by an eminently Christian nation. There is scarcely one of the traditions of antiquity which have come down to us, whether it be one of our early origin or our ancient greatness——the legend of the shores of the Red Seathe story of the Round Towers—or the tale of the Ruined Abbey—which is not inseparably interwoven with some hope or prophecy of the return of the good old days—of the time when Ireland shall be once more a great and happy land.*

I

may mention the familiar instance of the story of St. Brendan's Isle. It reminds me that in the Middle Ages these Irish legends had an ascendancy in Europe. No legend acquired so universal a belief as the

*

It would make these pages a romance to mention even a few of the legends and the traditions in which Irish memory and Irish imagination link together the future and the past. I am not ashamed to say that I believe that these things are the speaking of the instincts of the nation—the presentiments of the future lying deep in the national heart. I am not foolish enough to say that because we have these legends and traditions it therefore follows that the presentiments to which they give utterance must necessarily be true. Yet I believe that the hopes which have been enshrined for long years in the hearts of nations, have been, in the world's history, realized far oftener than they have been disappointed. If we turn to the great leading facts of Ireland's history they are as strange as the legends of its fable or the predictions of its traditionary lore. Like those legends and predictions, they point to the belief that Ireland is reserved for some destiny as yet unfulfilled. story of the Westward voyage of St. Brendan, and the discovery of his enchanted isle. There is no reason to doubt that the legend was based on an historic fact. It seems almost certain that the adventurous Irish Abbot performed the voyage over the Atlantic many centuries before Columbus, and anchored in some of the rivers of the Western Continent. But in the then state of knowledge and navigation the story was converted into the legend of “St. Brendan's Enchanted Isle.” But that legend took so firm a hold that even in modern times a treaty by which the islands of the Atlantic were ceded to Portugal, excepted from the cession the Island of St. Brendan when it should be discovered. The legend is now associated with a strange tradition that as Irishmen were the first to discover America, it is fitting that America should be the home of the exiled Irish—but as St. Brendan brought back his crew, so Irishmen are one day to return across the ocean to their own land!

* It is strange how universal is the testimony borne to the general prevalence of this belief. Nine-tenths of Irishmen believe it. It is taught in many an ancient ballad—it has come down in many of the stories of the olden time. It is found embalmed in prophecies and legends which have been preserved in Continental countries from the days of the Middle Ages. Even those who devote themselves to the study of the Scriptural Prophecies have, with wonderful unanimity, fancied that they discovered grounds for the belief that Ireland, never having been subject to Imperial Rome, is to escape miseries which will fall on the other nations of Europe. I believe that in these common and general impressions, unaccountable as they often are, there is the evidence of truth. History tells us that such general beliefs have almost always proved true.

[graphic]

The increase of the Irish race and its diffusion through all the regions of the globe to which enterprize is carrying colonization are among the most marvellous facts in the history of man. By how many remorseless wars, by how many merciless slaughters have their oppressors sought to exterminate that race? Too often English rule in Ireland has been one bloody and pitiless attempt to drive them from the earth. Even Spenser, “the sweetest poet of his time," can scarcely forbear exulting in the desolation of Munster by the wars of Elizabeth and James I.* The war of the Great Rebellion made Ireland almost a desert. The destroying sword of Cromwell came to glean what the war and the pestilence had left. Persecution trampled down the Irish people—all policy and all power combined to crush them out of their native land. Misery and poverty seemed to leave them without the means of bringing up their little children to perpetuate their race. Every few years the periodical visitation of the Irish feverit had its own character—devastated their dwellings. Yet, like the Israelites in the land of Egypt, they multiplied and increased. In our own day they have been driven in thousands and hundreds of thousands from their homes. Evictions and famine have swept the land with scourges far more terrible than that of war. Yet the Irish people are still numerous and great—and the race which long and savage wars have given to the sword—the race which in the days of Spenser was represented by the gaunt spectres of famine creeping from the glens—the race whom the sword of Cromwell spared not—the race whom the famine of our own day swept down to the pit—the race whom the evictions of our own day had well nigh driven from their old land—that race has survived wars, and pestilences, and famines, and oppressions, and exterminations. The Irish are still the strongest in their own land—while millions of Irishmen, scattered over the globe, are banded as one man in love of their old country, and in remembrance of her wrongs !

*“The end will (I assure me) be very short, and much sooner than can be in so great a trouble, as it seemeth hoped for, although there should none of them fall by the sword, nor bee slaine by the souldier, yet thus being kept from maunrance, and their cattle from running abroad, by this hard restraint they would quickly consume themselves and devoure one another. The proof whereof, I saw sufficiently exampled in the late warres of Mounster; for notwithstanding that the same was a most rich and plentiful country, full of corne and cattle, that you would have thought they should have been able to stand long, yet ere one year and a halfe they were brought to such wretchednesse as that any stoney heart would have rued the same. Out of every corner of the woods and glynnes they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legges could not beare them, they looked like anatomies of death, they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eat the dead carrions, happy where they could find them, yea, and one another soon after, insomuch as the very carcases they spared not to scrape out of their graves ; and if they found a plot of water cresses or sham-rocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able long to continue there withall; so that in a short space there were none nost left; and a most populous and plentiful countrey suddainely left voyde of man and beast; yet sure in all

But even this is not all. This people, “scattered and peeled” as they are, have preserved their nationality in all the lands into which they have been driven. Like the chosen people of God, they are among the nations but not of them. Wherever the Irish are, they are separate and distinct. They associate with, but they are not mingled with the communities

that warre, there perished not many by the sword, but all by the extremities of famine, which they themselves had wrought."-View of the Condition of Ireland.

« PreviousContinue »