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A REVIEW OF IRISH HISTORY.
To any account of the state of Ireland in modern times, a review of the history of the island is an essential introduction, inasmuch as the modern history is very intimately connected with the ancient, and cannot be understood apart from it. Accordingly, it is proper that such a review should here be attempted. The state of affairs in that country in 1835 should be set, as clearly as possible, in the light of the causes which produced it, to give the reader a chance of sympathising with Mr Drummond in his enthusiasm for Ireland and exertions on her behalf.
There are in Ireland, as it were, two nations interfused, yet distinct, with separate traditions, and differing in blood, temperament, and religion. The larger represents the tribes which occupied the country before the conquest; the smaller represents the conquerors. Their relations have been always hostile. The growth of the society which they compose has, consequently, been abnormal ; its growing pains acute and prolonged beyond parallel
. They have not yet ceased ; they are constantly inducing popular feverishness and delirium. Ireland, let us trust, will be happy yet.
But there have been times when her case has appeared to resemble
those terrible cases of which physiologists treat, in which, one, body growing, or trying to grow within another, both are destined to die at a certain stage of their development.
The history of Ireland is mainly that of the larger of the two nations—the nation of the tribes. In the time of Henry the Second this consisted, according to the computation of Sir William Petty, of not more than 300,000 souls, divided into a few tribes, and sub-divided into a great number of clans or septs. The Scots, long the dominant tribe, had, some centuries before, transferred themselves from Ireland to North Britain. The Firbolgs, Milesians, Picts, Tuatha de Danaans, and Caledonians, whom they left behind, were, by the time of the conquest, much interfused, and to be found in each of the five kingdoms into which the country was divided. The interfusion, however, had not been carried to that point where it induces national unity. Indeed, the population was far from approaching a state of political maturity. One of the five kings was styled the King of Ireland, but he was king in little more than name. The provincial kings, again, had no real sovereignty. They were the chiefs of the greater tribes; and within the tribes the chiefs of the greater clans recognised no paramount authority. The tribal bond was almost as loose as the national. In the population there were Scandinavian elements, but it was mainly Keltic.
The number of clans was prodigious. In Tir Eogain (Tyrone), which comprised the counties of Tyrone, Derry, and part of Donegal, there were thirty-four clans ; in Tir Conaill (the rest of Donegal), there were twenty. In Cavan and Leitrim there were thirty-three ; in Fermanagh, fourteen ; in North Connaught, including Sligo and Mayo, there were fifty; in South Connaught, including Roscommon and Galway, there were fifty-four. There were twenty-two in Dublin and Kildare ; thirty-three in King's and Queen's counties ; in Cork and Kerry, thirty-four; and forty-four in Waterford and Tipperary. They lay in like numbers over the rest of Ireland. Among the Munster Milesians there were forty-nine clans of Dalcassians, twenty of Eugenians, eight of the clan Kian (a tribal name), about ten of each of the Ithians and Degadians, and twelve of the Irians. Those enumerated were the chief clans in their respective districts; there were many others too insignificant to be counted. The division of the people into so many groups, asserting a high degree of independence, must long have prevented their becoming, politically speaking, a nation. Moreover, the obstacles to political union, which are commonly found existing in populations so divided, were unusually strong, owing to the Keltic temperament and love of fighting. The clan feuds were incessant; the tribal wars were almost incessant. Antipathies, founded on wrongs real or imaginary, divided the clans; antipathies, founded on real or assumed differences of race, divided the tribes. There were everywhere hereditary hatreds of unknown origin. The clans even contained within themselves the elements of discord, and fell into factions. It is probable that the modern faction-fights, the feuds which separate the inhabitants of adjoining hamlets, and which in some towns divide even the inhabitants of adjoining streets, though of the same religion, are the remains of those ancient antipathies, whose origin was probably no better understood at the time of the conquest than in the nineteenth century. Aytoun's humorous account of the cause of Mhic-Mac-Methusaleh's anti
pathy to the Fairshon is full of historical significance, if we throw out of view the wonderful age of the patriarch,
“ You are a plackguard, sir,
It is now six hundred
Since my glen was plundered.”
Abductions and raids for cattle-lifting were no doubt the chief sources of tribal animosities.
The other social forms were as immature as the political Property was held in common; the succession of sons to fathers had not been introduced. The tribes had been resolved into clans of different stocks; but the clans had not yet, properly speaking, been resolved into families. The tie of milk was superior to the tie of blood ; children belonged rather to the sept than to the family. They were rarely or never reared by their own mothers,—" the potent men selling,” says Sir John Davis, “ the meaner sort buying the alterage of their children.” These and other customs of the Irish demonstrated a stage of advancement not unlike that of the New Zealanders of our own time. It is true that (though in some districts the primitive pagan religion survived) the Irish had now for some centuries been Christians. That fact, however, has little bearing on the phase of civilisation through which they were passing. Christianity had been run into such social moulds as there were to receive it, pagan superstitions mixing with the doctrines of the Church, and the sept system determining its organisation. It was only on the family system that it could have acted quickly as a transforming power; it did not act quickly on that, so inveterate were the popular habits of lewdness and
licentiousness : on the other hand, it rather favoured the perpetuation of the systems, of property and succession.*
The law of succession was a powerful obstacle to political progress. The sept had always a chief, and a tanist, who was to be the chief's successor. When a chief died the tanist became chief, and a new tanist was elected. Any male of full age, belonging to the leading family group, was eligible for the office. The brother of the chief, or the male next to him in age of the same family, was usually chosen ; but frequently the appointment was the occasion of a contest, in which success lay with the most cunning and high-handed. These contests frequently led to feuds, and divided the sept into hostile factions. The law which gave the septmen the power of election was tanistry ; the same law regulated the succession to the headship in all the groups, and even to the kingship. It is needless to say that it favoured social disintegration. It divided the sept; it divided the tribe ; and it rent the kingdom. The law of property, on the other hand, was a powerful obstacle to industry, and, in particular, to agricultural improvement. The septs were the only landowners : the sept-lands were enjoyed according to the law of gavel-kind, which rendered all the land tenures uncertain. By this law the common was divisible among the family groups, on the principle of relative equality; practically the stronger got the larger shares. When
* In Sir John Davis' time (1613), the Irish were politically less advanced than, and socially not much advanced beyond, the stage in which they were seen by Giraldus Cambrensis. Ultimately, however, their religion improved their morals. While the Welsh still exhibit much of the ancient impurity, the Irish-thanks to the priesthood-are now perhaps the purest people in the world.