IRISH LITERATURE.—It is uncertain at what period and in what manner the Irish discovered the use of letters. It may have been through direct commerce with Gaul, but it is more probable, as MacNeill has shown in his study of Irish oghams, that it was from the Romanized Britons that they first learned the art of writing. The Italian alphabet, however, was not the first to be employed in Ireland. Whoever the early Irish may have been who first discovered letters, whether from intercourse with Britain or with Gaul, they did not apparently bring either the Latin or the Greek alphabet back with them to Ireland, but they invented an entirely new one of their own, founded with considerable skill upon the Latin; this was used in very early times by the Irish Celts for inscriptions upon pillars and gravestones. This ogham script, as it is called, consists of lines, straight or slanting, long or short, drawn either over, under, or through a given straight line, which straight line is in lapidary inscriptions usually formed by the angular edge of a rectangular upright stone. Thus, four cuts to the right of the line stand for S, to the left of the line they mean C, and if they pass through the line they mean E. None even of the oldest Irish manuscripts preserved to us is anything like as ancient as these lapidary inscriptions. The language of the ogham stones is in fact centuries older than that of the very oldest vellums, and agrees to a large extent with what has been found of the old Gaulish linguistic monuments. Early Irish literature and the sagas relating to the pre-Christian period of Irish history abound with references to ogham writing, which was almost certainly of pagan origin, and which continued to be employed until the Christianization of the island. It was eventually superseded by the Roman letters which were introduced by the Church and must have been propagated with all the prestige of the new religion behind them; but isolated ogham inscriptions exist on grave stones erected as late as the year 600. When the script was introduced into Ireland is uncertain, but it was probably about the second century. Although it answered well, indeed better than the rounded Roman letters, for lapidary inscriptions, yet it was too cumbrous an invention for the facile creation of a literature, though a professional poet may well have carried about with him on his “tablet-staves”, as the manuscripts call them, the catchwords of many poems, sagas, and genealogies. Over a couple of hundred inscribed ogham stones still exist, mostly in the southwest of Ireland, but they are to be found sporadically wherever the Irish Celt planted his colonies in Scotland, Wales, Devonshire, and even farther East.
Earliest Manuscripts.—The earliest existing examples of the written Irish language as preserved in manuscripts do not go back farther than the eighth century; they are chiefly found in Scriptural glosses written between the lines or on the margins of religious works in Latin, preserved on the Continent, whither they were carried by early Irish missionaries, or written by them in the numerous monasteries which they founded in Switzerland, Germany, France, and Italy. The oldest piece of consecutive Irish preserved in Ireland is found in the “Book of Armagh“, written about the year 812. These early glosses, though of little except philological interest, yet show the wide learning of the commentators and the extraordinary development, even at that early period, of the language in which they wrote. Their language and style, says Kuno Meyer, stand on a high level in comparison with those of the Old High German glosses. “We find here”, he writes, “a fully formed learned prose-style which allows even the finest shades of thought to be easily and perfectly expressed, from which we must conclude that there must have been a long previous culture [of the language] going back at the very least to the beginning of the sixth century” (Kultur der Gegenwart, part I, section xi, p. 80). These glosses are to be found at Wtirzburg, St. Gall, Karlsruhe, Milan, Turin, St. Paul in Carinthia, and elsewhere. The “Liber Hymnorum” and the “Stowe Missal” are, after the glosses and the “Book of Armagh“, perhaps the most ancient manuscripts in which Irish is written. They date from about the year 900 to 1050. The oldest books of miscellaneous literature are the “Leabhar na h-Uidhre”, or “Book of the Dun Cow”, transcribed about the year 1100, and the “Book of Leinster”, which dates from about fifty years later. Both these books are great miscellaneous literary collections. After them come many valuable vellums. The date at which these manuscripts were penned is no criterion of the date at which their contents were first written, for many of them contain literature which, from the ancient forms of words and other indications, must have been committed to writing as early as the seventh century at least. We cannot carry these pieces farther back linguistically, but it is evident from their contents that many of them must have been handed down orally for centuries before they were committed to writing. It must also be noted that a seventeenth-century manuscript may sometimes give a more correct version of a seventh-century piece than a vellum many centuries older.
Earliest Christian Scholars in Ireland.—It happens that Ireland‘s first great saint is also the first person of whom it can be said without hesitation that some at least of the writings ascribed to him are really his. We actually possess a manuscript (Book of Armagh) 1100 years old, containing his “Confession“, or apology. There is no reason, however, for supposing that it was with St. Patrick that a knowledge of the Roman alphabet was first brought to Ireland. Before his arrival there were Christians in Munster. At the beginning of the third century there were British missionaries at work, according to Zimmer, in the southern province of the island. Bede says distinctly that Palladius was sent from Rome to the Irish who already believed in Christ “ad Scottos in Christum credentes” (Eccl. Hist., bk. I, xiii). Pelagius, the subtle heresiarch who taught with such success at Rome, and who acquired great influence there, was of Irish descent. “Habet”, says St. Jerome, “progeniem Scotticae gentis de Brittanorum vicinia” (P.L., XXIV, 682, 758). He came probably from those Irish who had settled in Wales and South Britain. His friend and teacher Celestius is said by some to have been an Irishman also, but this is doubtful. Sedulius, however (Irish Siadal, now Shiel in English), the author of the “Carmen Paschale”, who flourished in the first half of the fifth century, and who has been called the Virgil of theological poetry, was almost certainly an Irishman. Indeed the Irish geographer Dicuil in the eighth century calls him noster Sedulius, all of which shows that some Irish families at least were within reach of a cosmopolitan literary education in the fourth and fifth centuries and that they were quick to grasp it.
Existing Manuscript Literature.—Although so many scholars have during the last fifty years given themselves up to Celtic studies, yet it remains true that the time has not yet come, nor can it come for many years, when it will be possible to take anything like an accurate survey of the whole field of Irish literature. Enormous numbers of important MSS. still remain unedited; many gaps occur in the literature which have never been filled up, unless perhaps here and there by some short piece published in a learned magazine; of many periods we know little or nothing. There are poets known to us at present practically only by name, whose work lies waiting to be unearthed and edited, and so vast is the field and so enormous the quantity of matter to be dealt with that there is room for an entire army of workers, and until much more pioneer work has been done, and further researches made in Irish grammar, prosody, and lexicography, it will be impossible to reduce the great mass of material into order, and to date it with anything like certainty. The exact number of Irish MSS. still existing has never been accurately determined. The number in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, alone is enormous, probably amounting to some fifteen hundred. O’Curry, O’Longan, and O’Beirne catalogued a little more than half the manuscripts in the Academy, and the catalogue of contents filled thirteen volumes containing 3448 pages; to these an alphabetic index of the pieces contained was made in three volumes, and an index of the principal names, etc., in thirteen volumes more. From an examination of these books one may roughly calculate that the pieces catalogued would number about eight or ten thousand, varying from long epic sagas to single quatrains or stanzas, and yet there remains a great deal more to be indexed, a work which after a delay of very many years is happily now at last in process of accomplishment. The library of Trinity College, Dublin, also contains a great number of valuable MSS. of all ages, many of them vellums, probably about 160. The British Museum, the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the Advocates Library in Edinburgh, and the Bibliotheque Royale in Brussels are all repositories of large numbers of valuable MSS.
Contents of the Manuscripts.—From what we know of the contents of the existing manuscripts we may set down as follows a rough classification of the literature contained in them. We may well begin with the ancient epics dating substantially from pagan times, and probably first reduced to writing in the seventh century or even earlier. These epics are generally shot through with verses of poetry and often with whole poems, just as is the case in the French chantefable, “Aucassin et Nicolette”. After the substantially pagan epics may come the early Christian literature, especially the lives of the saints, which are both numerous and valuable, visions, homilies, commentaries on the Scriptures, monastic rules, prayers, hymns, and all possible kinds of religious and didactic poetry. After these we may place the many ancient annals, and there exists besides a great mass of genealogical books, tribal histories, and semi-historical romances. After this may come the bardic poetry of Ireland, the poetry of the hereditary poets attached to the great Gaelic families and the provincial kings, from the ninth century down to the seventeenth. Then follow the Brehon laws and other legal treatises, and an enormous quantity of writings on Irish and Latin gram-mar, glossaries of words, metrical tracts, astronomical, geographical, and medical works. Nor is there any lack of free translations from classical and medieval literature, such as Lucan’s “Bellum Civile”, Bede‘s “Historia Ecclesiastica”, Mandeville’s “Travels”, Arthurian romances, and the like. Finally, there exists a rich poetical literature of the last three centuries, and certain prose works such as Keating’s invaluable history of Ireland, with great quantities of keenes, hymns, lovesongs, ranns, bacchanalian, Jacobite, poetical, and descriptive verses, of which thousands are still to be found, although immense numbers have perished. To this catalogue may perhaps be added the unwritten folklore of the island both in prose and verse which has only lately begun to be collected, but of which considerable collections have already been made. Such, then, is a brief and bald resume of what the student will find before him in the Irish language.
There may be observed in this list two remarkable omissions. There is no epic handed down entirely in verse, and there is no dramatic literature. The Irish epic is in prose, though it is generally interwoven with numerous poems, for though many epopees exist in rhyme, such as some of the Ossianic poems, they are of modern date, and none of the great and ancient epics were constructed in this way. The absence of the drama, however, is more curious still. Highly cultivated as Irish literature undoubtedly was, and excellent scholars both in Greek and Latin as the early Irish were, nevertheless they do not seem to have produced even a miracle play. It has been alleged that some of the Ossianic poems, especially those containing a semi-serious semi-humorous dialogue between the last of the great pagans, the poet Oisin (Ossian he is called in Scotland), and the first of the great Christian leaders, St. Patrick, were originally intended to be acted, or at least recited, by different people. If this be really so, then the Irish had at least the rudiments of a drama, but they never appear to have carried it beyond these rudiments, and the absence of all real dramatic attempt, however it may be accounted for, is one of the first things that is likely to strike with astonishment the student of comparative literature.
Early Irish Epic or Saga.—During the golden period of the Greek and Roman genius no one thought of writing a prose epic or a saga. Verse epics they left behind them, and history, but the saga of the Northmen, the sgeul or tirsgeul of the Gael, was unknown to them. It was only in a time of decadence that a body of Greek prose romance appeared, and the Latin language produced in this line little of a higher character than the “Golden Ass” or the “Gesta Romanorum“. In Ireland, on the other hand, the prose epic or saga developed to an abnormal degree, and kept on developing, to some extent at least, for well over a thousand years. It is probable that very many sagas existed before the coming of Christianity, but it is highly improbable that any of them were written down at full length. It was no doubt only after the full Christianization of the island, when it abounded in schools of learning, that the Irish experienced the desire to write down their primitive prose epics and as much as they could recapture of their ancient poetry. In the “Book of Leinster”, a manuscript of the middle twelfth century, we find a list given of the names of 187 epic sagas. The ollamh (ollav), or arch-poet, who was the highest dignitary among the poets, and whose training lasted for some twelve years, was obliged to learn two hundred and fifty of these prime sagas and one hundred secondary ones. The manuscripts themselves divide the prime sagas into the following romantic categories, from the very names of which we may get a glance at the genius of the early Gael, and form some conception of the tragic nature of his epic:—Destruction of Fortified Places, Cow Spoils (i.e. Cattle-raids), Courtships or Wooings, Battles, Stories of Caves, Navigations, Tragical Deaths, Feasts, Sieges, Adventures of Travel, Elopements, Slaughters, Water-eruptions, Expeditions, Progresses, and Visions. “He is no poet”, says the “Book of Leinster”, “who does not synchronize and harmonize all these stories.”
In addition to the names of 187 sagas in that book, there exist the names of many more that occur in the tenth or eleventh century tale of MacCoise, and all the known ones, with the exception of one added later and another in which there is evidently an error of transcription, refer to events prior to the year 650 or thereabouts. We may take it then that the list was drawn up in the seventh century. Who were the authors of these sagas? That is a question that cannot be answered. There is not a trace of authorship remaining, if, indeed, authorship be the right word for what is far more likely to have been the gradual growth of stories, woven around racial or tribal or even family history, and, in some cases, around incidents of early Celtic mythology, thus forming stories which were ever being told and retold, burnished up and added to by professional poets and saga-tellers, and which were, some of them, handed down for perhaps countless generations before they were ever put on parchment or before lists of their names and contents were made by scholars. Those which recount ancient tribal events or dynastic wars were probably much exaggerated, magnified, and undoubtedly distorted during the course of time; others, again, of more recent growth, give us perhaps fairly accurate accounts of real events.
It seems quite certain that, as soon as Christianity had pervaded the island, and bardic schools and colleges had been formed alongside of the monasteries, there was no class of learning more popular than that which taught the great traditionary doings, exploits, and tragedies of the various tribes and families and races of Ireland. Then the peregrinations of the bards and the inter-communication between their colleges must have propagated throughout all Ireland any local traditions that were worthy of preservation. The very essence of the national life of the island was embodied in these stories, but, unfortunately, few only out of their once enormous number have survived to our days, and even these are mostly mutilated or preserved in mere digests. Some, however, exist at nearly full length, though probably in no case are they written down in the ancient vellums in just the same manner as they would have been recounted by the professional poet, for the writers of most of the early vellums were not the poets but generally Christian monks, who took an interest and a pride in preserving the early memorials of their race, and who cultivated the native language to such an amazing degree that at a very early period it was used alongside of Latin, and soon almost displaced it, even in the domain of the Church itself. This patriotism of the Irish monks and this early cultivation of the vernacular are the more remarkable when we know that it is the very reverse of what took place throughout the rest of Europe, where the almost exclusive use of Latin by the Church was the principal means of destroying native and pagan tradition. In spite, however, of the irreparable losses inflicted upon the Irish race by the Northmen from the end of the eighth till the middle of the eleventh century, and of the ravages of the Normans after their so-called conquest, and of the later and more ruthless destructions wrought wholesale and all over the island by the Elizabethan and Cromwellian English, O’Curry was able to assert that the contents of the strictly historical tales known to him would be sufficient to fill up 4000 large quarto pages. He computes that the tales belonging to the Ossianic and Fenian cycle would fill 3000 more, and that, in addition to these, the miscellaneous and imaginative sagas, which are neither historical nor Fenian, would fill 5000, not to speak of the more recent and novel-like productions of the later Irish.
Pagan Literature and Christian Sentiment.—T he bulk of the ancient stories and some of the ancient poems were probably, as we have seen, committed to writing by the monks in the seventh century, but are themselves substantially pagan in origin, conception, and coloring. And yet there is scarcely one of them in which some Christian allusion to heaven, or hell, or the Deity, or some Biblical subject, does not appear. The reason of this seems to be that, when Christianity had succeeded in gaining the upper hand over paganism, a kind of tacit compromise was arrived at, by means of which the bard, and the file (i.e. poet), and the representatives of the old pagan learning were permitted by the sympathetic clerics to propagate their stories, tales, poems, and genealogies, at the price of tacking on to them a little Christian admixture, just as the vessels of some feudatory nations are compelled to fly at the mast-head the flag of the suzerain power. But so badly has the dovetailing of the Christian into the pagan part been performed in most of the oldest romances that the pieces come away quite separate in the hands of even the least skilled analyzer, and the pagan substratum stands forth entirely distinct from the Christian accretion. Thus, for example, in the evidently pagan saga called the “Wooing of Etain”, we find the description of the pagan paradise given its literary passport, so to speak, by a cunningly interwoven allusion to Adam‘s fall. Etain was the wife of one of the Tuatha De Danann, who were gods. She is reborn as a mortal—the pagan Irish seem, like the Gaulish druids, to have believed in metempsychosis—and weds the King of Ireland. Her former husband of the Tuatha De Danann race still loves her, follows her into her life as a mortal, and tries to win her back by singing to her a captivating description of the glowing unseen land to which he would lure her. “O lady fair, would’st thou come with me”, he cries, “to the wondrous land that is ours”, and he describes how “the crimson of the fox-glove is in every brake—a beauty of land the land I speak of, youth never grows into old age there, warm sweet streams traverse the country”, etc.; and then the evidently pagan description of this land of the gods is made passable by an added verse in which we are adroitly told that, though the inhabitants of this glorious country saw everyone, yet nobody saw them, “because the cloud of Adam‘s wrongdoing has concealed us”.
It is this easy analysis of early Irish literature into its ante-Christian and its post-Christian elements which lends to it an absorbing interest and a great value in the history of European thought. For, when all spurious accretions have been stripped off, we find in it a genuine picture of pagan life in Europe, such as we look for in vain elsewhere. “The Church adopted [in Ireland] towards Pagan sagas the same position that it adopted towards Pagan law… I see no sufficient ground for doubting that really genuine pictures of a pre-Christian culture are preserved to us in the individual sagas” (Windisch, Irische Texte, I, 258) . “The saga originated in Pagan and was propagated in Christian times, and that too without its seeking fresh nutriment, as a rule, from Christian elements. But we must ascribe it to the influence of Christianity that what is specifically Pagan in Irish saga is blurred over and forced into the background. And yet there exist many whose contents are plainly mythological. The Christian monks were certainly not the first who reduced the ancient sagas to fixed form, but later on they copied them faithfully and promulgated them after Ireland had been converted to Christianity” (ibid., 62).
Irish Literature and Early Europe.—When it is understood that the ancient Irish sagas record, even though it be in a more or less distorted fashion, in some cases reminiscences of a past mythology and in others real historical events, dating from pagan times, then it needs only a moment’s reflection to realize their value. “Nothing”, writes Zimmer, “except a spurious criticism which takes for original and primitive the most palpable nonsense of which Middle-Irish writers from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth century are guilty with regard to their own antiquity, which is in many respects strange and foreign to them, nothing but such a criticism can on the other hand make the attempt to doubt of the historical character of the chief persons of the saga cycles. For we believe that Mew, Conor MacNessa, Cuchulainn, and Finn MacCumhail (Cool) are just as much historical personalities as Arminius or Dietrich of Bern or Etzel, and their date is just as well determined.” (Kelt-Studien, fast. ii, 189.) The first three of these lived in the first century B.C., and Finn in the second or third century. D’Arbois de Jubainville expresses himself to the same effect. “We have no reason”, he writes, “to doubt of the reality of the principal role in this [cycle of Cuchulainn]” (Introduction a l’etude de la litterature celtique, 217); and of the story of the Boru tribute imposed on Leinster in the first century he writes: “The story has real facts for a basis though certain details may have been created by the imagination”; and again, “Irish epic story, barbarous though it be, is, like Irish law, a monument of a civilization far superior to that of the most ancient Germans” (L’epopee celtique en Irlande, preface, p. xli). “Ireland, in fact,” writes M. Darmesteter in his “English Studies”, summing up his legitimate conclusions derived from the works of the great Celtic scholars, “has the peculiar privilege of a history continuous from the earliest centuries of our era until the present day. She has preserved in the infinite wealth of her literature a complete and faithful picture of the ancient civilization of the Celts. Irish literature is therefore the key which opens the Celtic world” (Eng. tr., 1896, 182). But the Celtic world means a large portion of Europe, and the key to its past history can be found at present nowhere else than in the Irish manuscripts. Without them we would have to view the past history of a great part of Europe through that distorting medium the colored glasses of the Greeks and Romans, to whom all outer, nations were barbarians, into whose social life they had no motive for inquiring. Apart from Irish literature we would have no means of estimating what were the feelings, modes of life, manners, and habits of those great Celtic races who once possessed so large a part of the ancient world, Gaul, Belgium, North Italy, parts of Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the British Isles, who burnt Rome, plundered Greece, and colonized Asia Minor. But in the ancient epics of Ireland we find another standard by which to measure, and through this early Irish medium we get a clear view of the life and manners of the race in one of its strong-holds, and we find many characteristic customs of the Continental Celts, which are just barely mentioned or alluded to by Greek and Roman writers, reappearing in all the circumstance and expansion of saga-telling.
Of such is the custom of the “Hero’s Bit”, mentioned by Posidonius, upon which one of the most famous of Irish sagas, “Bricriu’s Feast”, is founded. Again, the chariot, which had become obsolete even in Gaul a couple of hundred years before Caesar’s invasion, is described repeatedly in the sagas of Ireland, and in the greatest of the epic cycles the warriors are always represented as fighting from their chariots. We find, as Diodorus Siculus mentions, that the bards had power to make battles cease by interposing with song between the combatants. Caesar says (Gallic War, bk. VI, xiv) the Gaulish druids spent twenty years in studying and learned a great number of verses, but Irish literature tells us what the arch-poet, probably the counterpart of the Gaulish druid, actually did learn. “The manners and customs in which the men of the time lived and moved are depicted”, writes Windisch, “with a naive realism which leaves no room for doubt as to the former actuality of the scenes depicted. In matter of costume and weapons, eating and drinking, building and arrangement of the banqueting hall, manners observed at the feast, and much more, we find here the most valuable information” (Ir. Texte, I, 252). “I insist”, he says elsewhere, “that Irish saga is the only richly-flowing source of unbroken Celtism.” “It is the ancient Irish language”, says d’Arbois de Jubainville, “that forms the connecting point between the neo-Celtic languages and the Gaulish of the inscribed stones, coins, and proper names preserved in Greek and Roman literature.” It is evident, then, that those of the great Continental nations of today whose ancestors were mostly Celts, but whose language, literature, and traditions have completely disappeared, must, if they wish to study their own past, turn themselves first to Ireland, and there they will find the dry bones of Posidonius and Caesar rise up before them in a ruddy covering of flesh and blood, which, for the first time, will enable them to see what manner of men were their own forbears.
Three Principal Saga Cycles.—There are three great cycles in Irish story-telling, two of them very full, but the third, in many ways the most interesting, is now but scantily represented. This last cycle is the purely mythological one, dealing with the Tuatha De Danann, the gods of good, and the Fomorians, gods of darkness and evil, and giving us, under the apparent early history of the various races that colonized Ireland, what is really a distorted early Celtic pantheon. According to these accounts the Nemedians first seized on the island and were oppressed by the Fomorians, who are described as African sea-robbers; these races nearly exterminated each other at the fight round Conning’s Tower on Tory Island. Some of the Nemedians escaped to Greece and came back a couple of hundred years later calling themselves Firbolg. Others of the Nemedians who escaped came back later, calling themselves the Tuatha De Danann. These last fought the battle of North Moytura and beat the Firbolg. They fought the battle of South Moytura later and beat the Fomorians. They held the island until the Gaels, also called Milesians or Scoti, came in and vanquished them. From these Milesians the present Irish are mostly descended. Good sagas about both of these battles are preserved, each existing in only a single copy. Nearly all the rest of this most interesting cycle has been lost or is to be found merely in condensed summaries. These mythological pieces dealt with peoples, dynasties, and probably the struggle between good and evil principles. There is over it all a sense of vagueness and uncertainty.
The heroic cycle (or Red Branch, Cuchulainn, or Ulster cycle, as it is variously called), on the other hand, deals with the history of the Milesians themselves within a brief but well-defined period, and we seem here to find ourselves not far removed from historical ground. The romances belonging to this cycle are sharply drawn, numerous, and ancient, many of them are fine both in conception and execution. The time is about the birth of Christ, and the figures of Cuchulainn (Coohullin), King Conor Mac Nessa, Fergus, Naoise (Neesha), Meadhbh (Meve), Deirdre, Conall Cearnach, and their fellows, have far more circumstantiality about them than the dim, mist-magnified, distorted forms of the mysterious Dagda, Nuada of the Silver Hand, Bres, Balor of the Evil Eye, Dana, and the other beings whom we find in the mythological cycle. The best known and greatest of all these sagas is the “‘Fain Bo Chuailgne”, or “Cattle-Raid of Cooley”, a district in the County of Louth. It gives a full account of the struggle between Connacht and Ulster, and the hero of the piece, as indeed of the whole Red Branch cycle, is the youthful Cuchulainn, the Hector of Ireland, the most chivalrous of enemies. This long saga contains many episodes drawn together and formed into a single whole, a kind of Irish Iliad, and the state of society which it describes from the point of culture-development is considerably older and more primitive than that of the Greek epic. The number of stories that belong to this cycle is considerable. Standish Hayes O’Grady has reckoned ninety-six (appendix to Elea-nor Hull’s “Cuchulain Saga”), of which eighteen seem to be now wholly lost, and many others very much abbreviated, though they were all doubtless at one time told at considerable length.
After the Red Branch or heroic cycle we find a third very comprehensive and even more popular body of romance woven round Finn Mac Cumhail (Cool), his son Oscar, his grandson Oisin or Ossian, Conn of the Hundred Battles King of Ireland, his son Art the Lonely, and his grandson Cormac of the Liffey, in the second and third centuries. This cycle of romance is usually called the Fenian cycle, because it deals so largely with Finn Mac Cumhail and his Fenian militia. These, according to the Irish historians, were a body of Irish janissaries maintained by the Irish kings for the purpose of guarding their coasts and fighting their battles, but they ended by fighting the king himself and were destroyed in the famous cath (or battle of) Gabhra (Gowra). As the heroic cycle is often called the Ulster cycle, so this is also known as the Leinster cycle of sagas, because it may have had its origin, as MacNeill has suggested, amongst the Galeoin, a non-Milesian tribe and subject race, who dwelt round the Hill of Allen in Leinster. This whole body of romance is of later growth or rather expresses a much later state of civilization than the Cuchulainn stories. There is no mention of fighting in chariots, of the Hero’s Bit, or of many other characteristics which mark the antiquity of the Ulster cycle. Very few pieces belonging to the Finn story are found in Old Irish, and the great mass of texts is of Middle and Late Irish growth. The extension of the story to all the Gaelic-speaking parts of the kingdom is placed by MacNeill between the years 400 and 700; up to this time it was (as the product of a vassal race) propagated only orally. Various parts of the Finn saga seem to have developed in different quarters of the country, that about Diarmuid of the Love Spot in South Munster, and that about Goll the son of Morna in Connacht. Certain it is that this cycle was by far the most popular and widely spread of the three, being familiarly known in every part of Ireland and of Gaelic-speaking Scotland even to the present day. It developed also in a direction of its own, for, though none of the heroic tales are wholly in verse, yet the number of Ossianic epopees, ballads, and poems is enormous, amounting probably to some 50,000 lines, mostly in the more modern language.
Early Christian Literature.—Perhaps no country that ever adopted Christianity was so thoroughly and rapidly permeated and even saturated with its language and conceptions as was Ireland. It adopted and made its own in secular life scores and hundreds of words originally introduced by the Church for ecclesiastical purposes. Even to the present day we find in Irish words like pog, a kiss, borrowed from the Latin for “[the kiss] of peace”, pac[is], Old Irish poc; the word for rain, baisteach, is from baptizare, and meant originally “the water of baptism”. From the same root comes baitheas, “the crown of the head”, i.e. the baptized part. A common word for warrior, or hero, laich, now laoch, is simply from laicus, a layman. The Latin language was, of course, the one used for religious purposes, both in prose and verse, for some time after the introduction of Christianity. In it were written the earliest hymns; Patrick used it in his “Confession“, as did Adamnan in his “Life of Columcille”. But already by the middle of the eighth century the native language had largely displaced it all over Ireland as a medium for religious thought, for homily, for litanies, books of devotion, and the lives of saints. We find the Irish language used in a large religious literature, much of which is native, while some of it represents lost Latin originals which are now known to us only from the Irish translations. One interesting development of this class of writing is the vision-literature beginning with the vision of St. Fursa, which is given at some length by Bede, and of which Sir Francis Palgrave states that “tracing the course of thought upwards we have no difficulty in deducing the poetic genealogy of Dante’s Inferno to the Milesian Fursaeus”. These “visions” were very popular in Ireland, and so numerous that they gave rise to the parody, the twelfth-century “Vision of Mac Conglinne”. More important than these, however, are the lives of the saints, because many of them, dating back to a very remote period, throw a great deal of light upon the manners and customs of the early Irish. In the first half of the seventeenth century Brother Michael O’Clery, a Franciscan, traveled round Ireland and made copies of between thirty and forty lives of Irish saints, which are still preserved in the Burgundian Library at Brussels. Nine, at least, exist elsewhere in ancient vellums. A part of one of them, the voyage of St. Brendan, spread through all Europe, but the Latin version is much more complete than any existing Irish one, the original having probably been lost.
Irish Historical Literature.—Owing to the nature of the case, and considering the isolation of Ireland, it is extremely difficult, or rather impossible, to procure independent foreign testimony to the truth of the Irish annals. But, although such testimony is denied us, yet there happily exists another kind of evidence to which we may appeal with comparative confidence. This is nothing less than the records of natural phenomena as reported in the annals, for if it can be shown by calculating backward, as modern science has enabled us to do, that such natural phenomena as the appearance of comets or the occurrence of eclipses are recorded to the day and hour by the annalists, then we can also say with something like certainty that these phenomena were recorded at the time of their appearance by writers who personally observed them, and whose writings must have been actually consulted and seen by these later annalists whose books we now possess. If we take, let us say, the “Annals of Ulster”, which treat of Ireland and Irish history from about the year 444, but of which the written copy dates only from the fifteenth century, we find that they contain from the year 496 to 884 as many as eighteen records of eclipses and comets, and all these agree exactly to the day and hour with the calculations of modern astronomers. How impossible it is to keep such records unless written memoranda are made of them at the time by eye-witnesses is shown by the fact that Bede, born in 675, in recording the great solar eclipse which took place only eleven years before his own birth, is yet two days astray in his date; while on the other hand the “Annals of Ulster” give, not only the correct day, but the correct hour, thus showing that their compiler, Cathal Maguire, had access either to an original, or a copy of an original, account by an eyewitness. Whenever any sidelights from an external quarter have been thrown upon the Irish annals, either from Cymric, Saxon, or Continental sources, they have always tended to show their accuracy. We may take it then, without any credulity on our part, that Irish history as recorded in the annals may be pretty well relied upon from the fourth century onward.
The first scholar whom we know to have written connected annals was Tighearnach, Abbot of Clonmacnoise, who died in 1088. He begins in Latin with the founding of Rome, later on he makes occasional mention of Irish affairs, and lays it down that Irish history is not to be trusted before the reign of Cimbaed, that is, prior to about the year 300 B.C., “Omnia monimenta Scottorum [the Irish were always called Scotti till into the late Middle Ages] usque Cimbaed incerta erant.” In the fourth century B.C. the references to Ireland become fuller and more numerous, they are partly in Latin, partly in Irish, but towards the end of the work Latin gives way to the native speech. The greatest book of annals, with a few trifling exceptions also the latest, is that known under the title of the “Four Masters” (q.v.). It is evident from the entries that the compilers of the “Annals of Ulster” and the rest copied from ancient originals. In the “Annals of Ulster”, for instance, we read under the year 439 “Chronicon magnum scriptum est”, at the years 467 and 468 the compiler writes “sic in libro Cuanach inveni”, at 482, “ut Cuana s cripsit”, at 507, “secundum librum Mochod”, at 628, “sicut in libro Dubhdaleithe narratur”, etc. No nation in Europe can boast of so continuous and voluminous a history preserved in a vernacular literature. The only surviving history of Ireland as distinguished from annals was written under great difficulties by Geoffrey Keating, a learned priest, in the first half of the seventeenth century; it also is taken, almost exclusively, from the old vellum manuscripts then surviving, but which mostly perished, as Keating no doubt foresaw they would, in the cataclysm of the Cromwellian wars.
Early Irish Poetry.—There is no other vernacular poetry in Europe which has gone through so long, so unbroken, and so interesting a period of development as that of the Irish. The oldest poems are ascribed to the early Milesians and are perhaps the most ancient pieces of vernacular literature existing. None of the early poems rhymed. There is little that we can see to distinguish them from prose except a strong tendency, as in the Teutonic languages, towards alliteration, and a leaning towards dissyllables. They are also so ancient as to be unintelligible without heavy glosses. It is a tremendous claim to make for the Celt that he taught Europe to rhyme, yet it has been often made for him, and not by himself, but by such men as Zeuss, the father of Celtic learning, Constantine Nigra, and others. Certain it is that as early as the seventh century we find the Irish had brought the art of rhyming verses to a high pitch of perfection, that is, centuries before the rest of the vernacular literatures of Europe knew anything at all about it. Nor are their rhymes only such as we are accustomed to in English, French, or German poetry, for they delighted not only in full rhymes, like these nations, but also in assonances, like the Spaniards, and they often thought more of a middle rhyme than of an end rhyme. The following Latin verses, written no doubt after his native models by Aengus Mac Tipraite some time prior to the year 704, will give the reader an idea of this middle or interlinear rhyming which the Irish have practiced from the earliest times down to the present day:
Martinus mirus more
Ore laudavit Deum,
Puro corde cantavit
Atque amavit Eum.
A very curious and interesting peculiarity of a certain sort of Irish verse is a desire to end a second line with a word of a syllable more than that which ends the first, the stress of the voice being thrown back a syllable in the last word of the second line. Thus, if the first line end with an accented monosyllable the second line will end with a dissyllabic word accented on its first syllable, or if the first line end in a dissyllable accented on its penultimate the second line will end with a trisyllable accented on its ante-penultimate. This is called aird-rinn in Irish, as:
Fall’n the land of learned men
The bardic band is fallen,
None now learn a song to sing
For long our fern is fading.
This meter, which from its popularity may be termed the hexameter of the Irish, is named Deibhidhe (D’yevvee), and well shows in the last two lines the internal rhymes to which we refer. If it be maintained, as Thurneysen maintains, that the Irish derived their rhyming verses from the Latins, it seems necessary to account for the peculiar forms that so much of this verse assumed in Irish, for the merest glance will show that the earliest Irish verse is full of tours de force, like this “aird-rinn”, which cannot have been derived from Latin. After the seventh century the Irish brought their rhyming system to a pitch of perfection undreamt of by any nation in Europe, even at the present day, and it is no exaggeration to say that perhaps by no people was poetry so cultivated and, better still, so remunerated as in Ireland.
There were two kinds of poets known to the early Gael. The principal of these was called the file (filla); there were seven grades of files, the most exalted being called an ollamh (ollav). These last were so highly esteemed that the annalists often give their obituaries, as though they were so many princes. It took from twelve to twenty years to arrive at this dignity. Some fragments of the old metrical text-books still exist, showing the courses required from the various grades of poets, in pre-Norse times. One of these, in elucidation of the metric, gives the first lines of three hundred and fifty different poems, all no doubt well-known at the time of writing, but of which only about three have come down entire to our own time. If there were seven species of file there were sixteen grades of bards, each with a different name, and each had his own peculiar meters (of which the Irish had over 300) allotted to him. During the wars with the Norsemen the bards suffered fearfully, and it must have been at this time, that is in the ninth and tenth centuries, that the finely-drawn distinction between the poets and bards seems to have come to an end. So highly esteemed was the poetic art in Ireland that Keating in his history tells us that at one time no less than a third of the patrician families of Ireland followed that profession. These constituted a heavy drain on the resources of the country, and at three different periods in Irish history the people tried to shake off their incubus. However, Columcille, who was a poet himself, befriended them; at the Synod of Drum Ceat, in the sixth century, their numbers were reduced and they were shorn of many of their prerogatives; but, on the other hand, public lands were set apart for their colleges, and these continued until the later English conquest, when those who escaped the spear of Elizabeth fell beneath the sword of Cromwell.
Modern Irish Poetry.—Much of the ancient poetry of the schools was largely in the nature of a memories technica, the frame in which valuable information was enshrined, but the bards attached to the great houses chanted a different strain. So numerous are the still surviving poems from the period of the Battle of Clontarf down to the sixteenth century that Meyer has remarked that the history of Ireland could be written out of them alone. When the great houses fell beneath the sword of Elizabeth, of Cromwell, and of William, it is unnecessary to mention that the entire social fabric of Gaeldom fell with them. and amongst other things the colleges of the bards and brehons, which had existed, often on the same spot and in possession of the same land, for over a thousand years. The majority of the learned men were slain, or driven out, or followed their masters into exile. No patrons for the native arts remained in Ireland, and, worse still, there was no security for the life of the artist. The ancient meters, over three hundred of which had at one time been cultivated, and which, though reduced to less than a score in the Elizabethan period, were still the property only of the learned and highly educated, so intricate were the verse forms, now died away, completely. There was, perhaps, not a single writer living by the middle of the eighteenth century who could compose correct verses in the classical meters of the schools.
On the other hand, however, there arose a new kind of poetry, in which the consonant rhyming of the old school was replaced by vowel chiming or vowel rhymes, and in which only the syllables on which the stress of the voice fell were counted; a splendid lyrical poetry sprang up amongst the people themselves upon these lines. The chief poets of these latter times were in very reduced circumstances, mostly schoolmasters or farmers, and very different indeed in status from the refined, highly educated, and stately poets who had a century or two before sat at the right hand of powerful chieftains advising them in peace and war. A usual theme of the new poets, who seemed to revel in their newly found liberty of expression, was the grievances of Ireland sung under a host of allegorical names, the chances of the Stuarts returning, and the bitterness of the present as compared with the glories of the past, or the vision of Ireland appearing as a beautiful maiden. The poets of the South used even to hold annual bardic sessions, though such attempts must always have been attended with great danger, for the possession of a manuscript was often sufficient cause for persecuting or imprisoning the possessor; many fine books were on this account hidden away or walled up lest they should bring the owner into trouble with the authorities. Even as late as 1798, the grammarian Neilson of County Down, who was a Protestant clergyman of the Established Church and perfectly loyal to the Government, was arrested by a dozen dragoons and accused of treason because he preached in Irish.
It is very difficult to convey in the English language any idea of the beautifully artistic and recondite measures in which the poets of the last two or three centuries have rejoiced, both in Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland, where also hey produced a splendid lyrical outburst, about the same time as in Ireland, and on the same lines Suffice it to say that most of their modern poetry was written and is being written to this very day upon a wonderful scheme of vowel sounds, arranged in such a manner that first one and then another vowel will strike the ear at skillfully recurring intervals. Some poems are written entirely on the ae sound, others on the o, others on the u (oo), i (ee), or a (au) sounds, but most upon a delightful intermingling of two or more of them. Here is a typical verse of Tadhg Gaelach O’Sullivan, who died in 1800 and who consecrated his muse, which had at first led him astray, to the service of religion, his poems producing a profound effect for good all over the South of Ireland. The entire poem is made upon the sounds of e (ae) and o, but, while the arrangement in the first half of the verse is o/e, e/o, e/o, o, the arrangement in the second half is o, e/o, e/o, e/e. To understand the effect that this vowel rhyming should produce, we must remember that the vowels are dwelt upon in Irish, and not passed over quickly as they are in English:
The poets we praise are up-rai sing the no tes
Of their la ys, and they kno w how their to nes will delight,
For the go lden-haired la dy so gra ceful so po seful
So Gae lic so glo rious enthro ned in our sight.
Unfo lding a tale how the sou l of a fa y
Must be clo thed in the fra me of a la dy so bright,
Unto ld are her gra ces, a ro se in her fa ce is,
And no man so stai d is but fai nts at her sight.
Owen Roe O’Sullivan, the witty and facetious namesake of the pious Tadhg Gaelach, is the best known of the southern poets, and Raftery, who, like his famous Scottish contemporary Donnchadh Ban Mackintyre, was completely illiterate, but who composed some admirable religious as well as secular pieces, is best known in Connacht.
Irish Folk-Literature.—If any country in the world has ever undergone an educational martyrdom it is Ireland. From 1649, down to almost the present day, her Catholic population were either denied education by law or given an education which taught them to neglect their own country. Under the care-fully devised system of “National” education, as it was called, which came into being about the year 1830, and which supplanted the hedge schools of the natives, the children, who over a great part of Ireland were still Irish-speaking, were deprived of the right of being taught to read or write the language of their homes. Over a great part of the island, schoolmasters who knew no Irish were appointed to teach children who knew no English. Needless to say, this entailed a horrible amount of useless suffering all round, and blasted for over two generations the life-prospects of many hundreds of thousands of Irish children, by insisting upon their growing up unable to read or write, sooner than teach them to read and write the only language that they knew. Up to this period Irish MSS., which had, on the relaxation of the penal laws, ceased to be dangerous possessions, were commonly possessed and cherished, but from this time forward the peasantry began to neglect them. The new generation, taught in the government schools, conceived that Irish was the mark of the beast, and grew ashamed of it, and as a natural consequence the MSS. perished by hundreds and thousands. Admirable poets existed in Connacht and in Ulster in the middle and at the close of the eighteenth century whose works have absolutely disappeared, except a very few that were enshrined in people’s memories. The books that contained them were lost, torn up or burned. It is only a few years ago that an English gentleman stopping for the fishing at a farm-house in a midland county found a whole washing-basket full of Irish MSS. thrown into the rivsi to make room on the loft for his portmanteau. A friend saved for the present writer three MSS. which he found the children tearing up on the floor in a house in the County Clare, one of which contained one of the most valuable sagas known for elucidating the belief is metempsychosis of the ancient Irish, one for which d’Arbois de Jubainville, who was aware of its existence, had searched the libraries of Europe in vain.
The story continued thus until the rise of the Gaelic League and its rapid spread during the last few years. But in spite of the enormous loss of modern MSS. the memory of the people has preserved a very large quantity of excellent folk-poems on all the usual topics of folk-poetry, songs of religion, love, wine (or its Irish equivalent), and beauty; eulogies, laments, deathsongs, etc. These have only recently been to some extent recovered. In prose also the people have a large unwritten literature of folk-stories, the equivalent of the German Mdrehen, but as a rule much longer and better told. Many of these are stories of Finn and his Fenian warriors already mentioned, but many others are of pure Aryan origin and have their counterparts in most Aryan literature. Of these, too, it is only recently that collections have been made. There is one remark which must not be omitted about this folk-poetry and indeed about Irish MS. poetry as well—it possesses scarcely anything in the nature of a ballad. Lyrics couched in the most exquisitely artful rhyme, and didactic and bacchanalian and religious poetry of all sorts, Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland produced in plenty, but they have almost nothing in the nature of the splendid Lowland ballads. They could not tell a story in verse. With the exception of the Ossianic poems and a few poems of the classic school there was never any attempt made to recount a striking tale through the medium of verse.
Modern Irish Printed Literature.—For long it was believed that the Celtic languages were connected with the East—with the Phoenicians, according to a favorite theory—or at least that they had nothing in common with the Aryan, or Indo-European, group of tongues. All the scholars of the eighteenth century and of the beginning of the nineteenth took up this attitude. Even the great German scholar Hopp excluded Celtic from his Indo-European grammar. Lhuyd, the Welsh antiquary, had already shown early in the eighteenth century the close co—relationship between all the Celtic tongues, but it remained for the Bavarian Zeuss to prove to the world beyond yea or nay, in his “Grammatica Celtica” published in 1853, that the Celtic languages were Indo-European. Since that day Celtic scholar-ship, based upon Zeuss’s monumental work, has made enormous strides. The work of the great native Irish scholars O’Curry and O’Donovan, who first penetrated the difficult language of the Brehon Laws, and who from their marvelous and unique acquaintance with Irish manuscripts first gave to the world a general knowledge of Irish literature, was succeeded by the more strictly scientific labors of Whitley Stokes, Father Edmund Hogan, S.J., Robert Atkinson, and of Standish Hayes O’Grady (whose acquaintance with the modern and ancient literature makes him the legitimate successor of O’Donovan and O’Curry), of W. M. Hennessy and Father Bartholomew MacCarthy, all in Ireland, while Zeuss found a worthy successor in Ebel, who published a corrected and augmented version of his “Grammatica” in 1871. In recent days Windisch, Thurneysen, Zimmer, and Kuno Meyer have done immense work in the same field. In France, Gaidoz founded the “Revue Celtique” in 1870, afterwards edited by d’Arbois de Jubainville, and of which twenty-eight volumes have appeared; in them many Irish texts have been published and much light thrown upon Celtic subjects in general. The “Zeitschrift fur celtische Philologie” made its appearance in 1896, and was followed by the “Archiv fur celtische Lexicographie”.
Up to this point, and by most of these learned men, the Irish language was regarded as a subject for pure scholarship only, and as a thing dead, having no immediate or necessary connection with the country or the people that had given it birth. Their scholastic labors, however, may to some extent have unconsciously prepared the way for the popular movement which succeeded. Certain it is that a great popular movement in favor of the language and literature sprang up at the very close of the nineteenth century in Ireland itself, under the auspices of a society called the Gaelic League, founded upon a previous society called the Gaelic Union, which was an offshoot from an older and still existing body, the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language. The Gaelic League was founded in the year 1893; the objects were: (I) The preservation of Irish as the national language in Ireland and the extension of its use as a spoken tongue. (2) The study and publication of existing Irish literature and the cultivation of a modern literature in Irish.
Such was the intellectual stagnation in Ireland at the period of this foundation that it would be safe to assert that there were not, at the time, more than a few hundred people living, if so many, who could read or write in Irish. After many years of silent labor and much painful uphill toil, the League has at last become a widely spread popular movement throughout the Irish world. Hundreds of books have been written and published under its auspices, and many thousands of people have been taught to read them. It publishes a weekly and a monthly paper, and it has done a great deal towards collecting the rapidly perishing folk-lore of the country. The number of working affiliated branches belonging to the League, carrying on educational work from week to week, in the year 1908, was in Munster 192, in Leinster 115, in Ulster 113, and in Connacht 74. There were 22 branches in Scotland, 11 in England, and a few more isolated ones scattered over Europe and America. The League is governed by a president, two vice-presidents, and an annually elected executive of forty-five members, of whom fifteen must reside in or near Dublin, the rest represent various parts of the country and Scotland and England. These meet once a month in Dublin, and govern the League. They controlled and paid out of their own funds in 1908 seven organizers for Conn’s Half of Ireland (Connacht and Ulster), and there were forty-two district teachers working for the League in this part of Ireland. In Mogh’s Half (Leinster and Munster) there were six organizers and eighty district teachers. There are also six colleges connected with and practically founded by the Gaelic League, at Ballingeary in Cork, at Partry in Mayo, at Cloghaneely in Donegal, at Ring in Waterford, and one each in Dublin and Belfast. The country colleges have two terms, each of which lasts about six weeks. The Dublin and Belfast colleges are open during the winter. There were over two hundred students at each of the Cork and Mayo colleges in 1908.
Scores of writers in Irish have arisen under the impetus of the new movement, scarcely one of whom, it is safe to say, would ever have put pen to paper in English. Perhaps the best-known and most idiomatic writer in Irish at the present day is Canon Peter O’Leary, P.P., of Castlelyons in County Cork. He is a novelist, grammarian, and writer on miscellaneous subjects. Michael Breathnach (or Walsh), J. J. Doyle, T. Hayes, Father Dinneen, M. O’Malley, P. O’Conaire, Conan Maol (P. J. O’Shea), P. O’Shea. Agnes O’Farrelly, J. P. Craig, and Michael Mac-Ruaidhri (Rogers) are all story writers or novelists. D. O’Faherty, M. Timoney, Patrick O’Leary, M. Mac-Ruaidhri, the Rev. Dr. Sheehan, and the O’Malley brothers have all been rescuing Irish folk-lore both in prose and verse. The League abounds in grammarians, a phase of its activity which recalls to us the Greek renaissance of the sixteenth century. Fathers O’Leary, O’Reilly, Edmund Hogan, S.J., Crehan, Dr. Bergin, Dr. Henry, P. McGinley, J. H. Lloyd, D. Foley, S. O’Cathain, and J. Craig have all worked on grammar as well as on other scholastic and literary subjects; while the Rev. Dr. Henebry, Father Hay-den, S.J., Dr. Quiggin, and Father Mullin have written upon Irish pronunciation and dialects. Voluminous writers on history and other subjects are Michael Breathnach (d. in October, 1908), subjects O’Neachtain, and Sean O’Kelly. Father Dinneen is a lexicographer, editor of texts, and miscellaneous writer. Father John C. MacErlean, S.J., R. Foley, and Tadhg O’Donoghue are all editors of texts; the latter is also a poet and a miscellaneous writer. Canon O’Leary, Father T. O’Kelly, T. Hayes, W. Ryan, P. O’Conaire, Dr. O’Beirne, and F. Partridge have all written plays; Fr. O’Kelly has written the libretto of an Irish opera which was produced in 1909.
The Gaelic League has also published editiones principes of the poetry of Owen Roe O’Sullivan, Sedghan Cldrach MacDonnell, Pierce Ferriter, Geoffrey Keating, Geoffrey O’Donoghue of the Glen, Pierce Fitzgerald, Murphy of Raithineach, Colum Wallace, and others. The works of all these poets existed previously only scattered in manuscripts or in the mouths of the people until the League saved them. The Irish Texts Society, founded in London in 1898, has published ten handsome volumes of hitherto unprinted Irish texts, including Keating’s “History” in three volumes. T. O’Concannon, M. Foley, Rev. P. O’Sullivan (a Protestant clergyman), P. Stanton, the late Denis Fleming, and others have been enriching Irish by translations from English and other languages. Nearly all the Catholic and Nationalist papers now publish more or less Irish in every issue, so there is little danger of the language ceasing to be written. Of 11,332 students who followed the various courses under the intermediate, or secondary, school system in 1908-09, 6085 took up Irish as one of their subjects. The language is also taught more or less satisfactorily in 3047 primary schools out of about 8538. Of these schools, however, many belong to the more Protestant counties of the North of Ireland, and these have as yet had little to do with the new movement. The School of Irish Learning under Dr. Bergin, of which Dr. Kuno Meyer was the practical founder, gives higher university teaching in comparative philology, phonology, comparative grammar, and the reading of the old vellum MSS. Its courses in 1908-09 were attended by over 30 students, its journal “Eriu” and its “Anecdota Hibernica” are known to all Celtic scholars.
We may now briefly sum up what we have said about the native Gaelic literature. The Irish probably learnt the use of letters in the second century, but did not use the Roman alphabet till the country was converted to Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries. The earliest existing manuscripts do not go back further than the eighth century, but the inscribed Ogham stones are centuries older than these. The early epics and sagas contain a substantially accurate picture of pagan times and of pagan manners and customs. The feeling of the Church was from the first thoroughly sympathetic towards the native language and native scholarship. The number of existing Irish manuscripts is great, but it is difficult to say with accuracy what they contain, nor can they be certainly dated and sifted until Celtic studies have made further progress. The introduction of Christianity left its mark deeply upon the people and on the language. The Irish annals may be substantially relied on from about the fourth century onwards. The Irish had already highly developed the use of rhyme as early as the seventh century, and Zeuss, the father of Celtic learning, Constantino Nigra, and others ascribe the invention of rhyme to the Celts, but Thurneysen and others deny that. There has been a great loss of manuscripts in recent times, but owing to the literary revival brought about by the Gaelic League during the last fifteen years there is small fear of any further losses in this direction. Under the stimulus of the new literary movement dozens of modern Irish writers have sprung up, and a new literature of novels, stories, dramas, history, and poetry has arisen. This brings the story of Irish literature to a close. Whether the new movement will be an enduring one or not, no one can yet tell, but in 1909 the County Councils (i.e. the elective governing bodies) of twenty counties, including the whole of Munster and Connacht, 130 urban and district councils out of about 170, the general council of county councils (the largest really representative body in Ireland), the corporations of Dublin and other cities, and the Convention of the Irish Race, held in February, 1909, at which were present between two and three thousand delegates from public bodies, branches of the United Irish League, and A. O. H., all passed resolutions asking the Senate of the new National University of Ireland to make a knowledge of Irish an essential for matriculation. From which it would appear that there is up to the present no falling off in Gaelic enthusiasm, but rather a desire to rebuild the nation, if possible, upon native lines.
ANGLO-IRISH LITERATURE.—When the Norman knights landed in Ireland they arrived speaking Norman French, but soon they dropped French, and, becoming assimilated with the natives, used Irish only as their common language. The Palesmen, however, and the inhabitants of some of the walled cities like Kilkenny must have spoken early English side by side with French. About the oldest book produced on Irish soil which contains written English is a vellum MS. of sixty-four leaves in the British Museum marked Hari. 913, written in the first quarter of the fourteenth century, very probably at the Gray Abbey of Kildare, which contains among other writings no less than sixteen Old English pieces, some of which at least were composed in Ireland, for one is on the death of De Bermingham, the life-long enemy of the Irish, and another contains two Irish words, russin (Irish, russin, a luncheon) and corrin (Irish, cuirin, a pot or wallet). One piece is attributed to a Friar Michel Kyldare, which would make it appear that the author was an Irishman. One or two other vellum MSS. of the fifteenth century also exist in English writing which may have been produced in Ireland, “A Conquest of Ireland“, “Secreta Accrotorum”, and the Lamboth MS. 623, a kind of sixteenth-century miscellany, but with these very trifling exceptions, up to almost the end of the sixteenth century all literature written in Ireland had been either in Irish or in Latin. Strange as it may appear, the Latin language, although it yielded to Irish in the eighth century as a literary medium, was nevertheless almost universally learned in Ireland as a spoken language by every one of any pretensions to breeding or culture. Blessed Edmund Campion, who wrote his “History of Ireland” in 1571, writes thus of the “meere Irish”: “Without either precepts or observation of congruity, they speake Latine like a vulgar language learned in their common schools of Leach-craft and law.”
The earliest books of importance written in Ireland in the English language were probably Spenser’s “View of the present state of Ireland” and Hanmer’s “Chronicle”. In the seventeenth century, however, Ireland produced a more vigorous literature in English, which began to be occasionally written by natives as well as Palesmen. Stanihurst (1547-1618), although he wrote his “De rebus in Hibernia gestis” in Latin, was perhaps the first Irish-born man (he was a native of Dublin) to attempt more ambitious things in English verse. He translated the first four books of Virgil’s .Aeneid into “English heroicall Verse” in 1583, but only aroused the scornful derision of his English contemporaries by his effort. The seventeenth century, however, was in Ireland an era of great men and great learning, if not of great literature. It witnessed from start to finish a war of race and of religion, miserable and merciless, a long drawn out agony. Such eras are necessarily fatal to literature. During this century Keating and MacFirbis wrote in Irish, O’Mulchonry in Irish and Latin and translated from the Spanish, O’Sullevan Bearr wrote his great history of the Irish wars in Latin. Ussher, the renowned scholar and ecclesiastic, the glory of the Pale, wrote in Latin and English. Stanihurst, his uncle, answered him in Latin; Ward, Colgan, and O’Clery wrote in Irish and Latin. Ware wrote in Latin. So did Lynch, and Luke Wadding, pride of the Franciscan Order. Of all the great writers and scholars of the seventeenth century Keating, MacFirbis, and O’Flaherty were the only ones who remained throughout upon their native soil. During many years the lives of most of these men would not have been worth an hour’s purchase had they been caught upon their native soil.
It is indeed only with the advent of Molyneux (b. in 1656), that we find the first Irishman who used the English language with effect on behalf of Ireland her-self. He forms a kind of connecting link between the nationality of the Catholic and Celtic Irish, by this time largely banished, broken, or exterminated, and those Protestant nationalists who waxed ever stronger during the succeeding century. A scientific and learned writer of renown, a friend of Locke, and by training and inclination a philosopher, Molyneux was moved to write his “Case of Ireland” in 1698 by his indignation at the violent action of the English Parliament in ruining Ireland by forcibly throttling its woolen trade to help the traders of England. His book was by order of the British House of Commons burnt by the common hangman. But it found a mighty echo soon after in the sceva indignatio of Swift, and its legitimate consummation, three—quarters of a century later, in the burning eloquence of Grattan and the humiliation of England. One brilliant Irish writer of this century, Count Hamilton (b. at Roscrea, in 1646; d. 1720), used French for his literary medium. His “Memoires du Chevalier de Gramont” is a delightful classic, which gives a brilliant description of the Court of Charles II.
A number of poets of Anglo-Irish birth, but chiefly of English upbringing, whose names figure rather prominently in the story of English literature, are found through this and the next century. Of these, one of the most remarkable as a man, though hardly as a poet, was Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery, a son of the Earl of Cork. He was at once soldier, statesman, courtier, playwright, poet, and romancist. A bloody supporter of Cromwell, the murderer of the Bishop of Ross, and extirpator of the native Irish, he had the wit to turn with the times and under Charles II to exchange the rusty broadsword of Oliver for the polished pen of the wit and the graceful gibe of the courtier. A different character was Wentworth Dillon, Earl of Roscommon (1633-1684), whom Pope characterized as the most correct writer of English verse before Addison; he was almost the only moral writer of the reign of the “merry monarch”. Denham (1615-1668), “majestic Denham”, as Pope calls him, was also an Irishman, and was in a way a forerunner both of Dryden and of Pope, had much of the strength of the one and of the pointed antithesis and classic polish of the other. “He is one of the writers”, says Dr. Johnson, “that improved our taste and advanced our language.” His lines on the river Thames are widely known even still, though it is safe to say that not one in a thousand knows that they were composed by an Irishman. Richard Flecknoe (d. 1678), whom Dryden damned as being “without dispute… through all the realms of nonsense absolute”, was another Irishman. So were Tate and Brady, the translators of the Psalms into a kind of doggerel verse, which, bad as it was, held its own in Protestant worship for generations. So was Southern, the celebrated playwright, who made seven hundred pounds by a single play, while “glorious John” Dryden had to confess that he had never made more than one hundred. So was Farquhar (1678-1707), born in Derry, one of the most brilliant dramatists of his age. So was the inimitable Richard Steele (1676-1729), whose delightful essays glorified the “Spectator”. So was Parnell, the poet (1679-1717). Congreve, too, the witty dramatist, though born in England, was educated in Ireland.
Of all these men, however, and many more who might be mentioned, it may at once be predicated that though born in Ireland they did not draw from the land of their childhood any inspiration whatsoever. They were in Ireland but not of her; England they looked upon as their real country; to her and her alone they consecrated their talents. But in justice to them it must be remembered that men who would rise by the pen or shine in literature in the English language must look to England and to it alone, for there only was to be had a public who would understand them. It is really with Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) that English literature in Ireland for the first time allowed itself to be colored, in part at least, by the country of its birth. For although the bulk of Swift’s direct, lucid, powerful, and nervous writings belong to England, yet a considerable portion of them are the direct outcome of his Irish life and his Irish surroundings. It is true that Molyneux had preceded him as an exponent of that Protestant nationalism which, by making the English in Ireland as independent as possible of the English in England, tended also in some measure towards the up lifting of the enslaved and disfranchised native Irish. But Molyneux did not wield the pen of Swift. He was a thinker, not a stylist, a philosopher rather than a writer. Swift was both. He who in England had been beyond all comparison the most powerful political pamphleteer of his day, the protagonist and mainstay of his party, became in Ireland the determined supporter of the civil rights of his fellow—countrymen and their out spoken champion against English aggression. His services to his native country rendered his name endeared to hundreds of thousands of the native Irish Catholics, men whom he himself looked on, and quite truly, as being powerless in Ireland either for good or evil, merely “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. Indeed the dean was, like all the other Protestant dignitaries of his day, the declared enemy, if not of the Irish race, at least of the Irish language, which was the only one used by the great majority of the native inhabitants. At one time he thought he had a scheme by which the Irish language “might easily be abolished and become a dead one in half an age, with little expense and less trouble”. “It would be”, he said again, “a noble achievement to abolish the Irish language in the kingdom”, but whatever his scheme was, he did not further enlighten the public upon it and it died with him. One of his own most spirited poems, “O’Rorke’s Feast”, is a translation from the Irish, perhaps the first of the kind ever made in Ireland. He heard it sung at a banquet in the County Leitrim, and was so taken by the air that he asked for a translation and was told that MacGovern, the author, could give it to him either in Latin or in English. Several other poems of the dean’s relate to his life in Ireland and his surroundings there.
It is because a certain percentage of Swift’s writings both in prose and verse are concerned with the people and conditions of Ireland, that he may be regarded as the father of Anglo-Irish literature, a term which can properly be applied only to literature colored by or inspired by Ireland and Irish themes, written in the English language but by Irish-born people. If this definition of Anglo-Irish literature be correct it would exclude almost all Swift’s predecessors and many of his successors also, for indifference to Ireland on the part of Irish writers of English did not by any means end with Swift. With the eighteenth century it becomes increasingly difficult to place Irish-born writers, for an ever-growing number belong, like Swift, to both countries. It is hard to see how by any stretch of imagination Laurence Sterne, the author of “Tristram Shandy”, though born and partly educated in Ireland, could be called an Anglo-Irish writer. Ireland, as the Psalmist says, was not in all his thoughts. The same is true of Sir Philip Francis, the reputed author of the “Letters of Junius”. Even our beloved Goldsmith (1728-4774), typical and altogether delightful Irishman though he was, cannot properly be termed an Anglo-Irish poet. His “Vicar of Wakefield” struck a new note in English literature and even profoundly affected the rising genius of Goethe, but neither it nor his plays nor his poetry concerned themselves even indirectly with his native country. What is true of Goldsmith is true to some extent even of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), who was of pure Milesian descent, and whose nature like that of Goldsmith was Irish in the extreme. Bishop Berkeley (1684-1753), on the other hand, after whom the State University of California is named, is really an Irish writer. His wonderful “Queries” are almost as pertinent to the case of Ireland today as they were eight score years ago. Edmund Burke (1730-1797), the profoundest and perhaps the noblest political thinker that the British Isles ever produced, while he was never for a moment forgetful of the country of his birth, yet belongs for the most part, as far as his writings go, to England and English politics.
It is apparent from what we have written that Ireland gave to England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries some of its most distinguished authors, that these authors, though born in Ireland and brought up amidst Irish surroundings, were mostly of English descent, and turned naturally for a public to the England of their fathers, whose language they spoke and wrote. It is also evident that, as time went on, an ever-increasing number of Irish Gaels (still un-emancipated and denied education in their own language) joined the ranks of those English writers who looked to an English and not to an Irish public. It is only within the nineteenth century, however, that we get a vigorous and thriving Anglo-Irish literature, inspired wholly by Irish themes and written mainly for the Irish people themselves. The foremost of these new Anglo-Irish writers were, in prose, Miss Edgeworth and, in poetry, Thomas Moore.
Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849), the creator of the Anglo-Irish novel, was the scion of a good family, some of whose members belonged to the Catholic and some to the Protestant religion. She herself belonged to the latter, but it was a relative of hers (see Henry Essex Edgeworth) who attended the unfortunate Louis XVI to the scaffold. She was gifted with a mind as singularly open and unprejudiced as it was acute and observant. To this she united an admirable style, clear and pungent, and a dramatic power of presentment which rarely failed her. She never looked upon herself as a writer with a mission, but undoubtedly she was not with-out a certain didactic sense which impelled her to point out to Irishmen in her novels, some of the absurdities and faults of which they were guilty. Her “Castle Rackrent”, the story of the downfall through its own reckless squandering of a great Irish family, as told through the mouth of an ancient servitor of their house, is a tale of very great power. In her novel the “Absentee” she attacks, and with equal force though in a different vein, another side of the same social evil whose effects she had portrayed so powerfully in “Castle Rackrent”. Following Macklin (really McLaughlin) in his play of “The True-Born Irishman” produced in 1763, she holds up to merciless ridicule the Irish land-owners who deserted their own estates to try to cut a figure in London, and there compete with men who were at once much wealthier than themselves and also, so to speak, born and bred to the life of the English metropolis. Her “Moral Tales” are frequently reprinted even to this day. Miss Edgeworth cannot in any political sense be called a nationalist writer. The cry of “Ireland a Nation” never appealed to her, nor does she portray the struggle of the native Irish against the English garrison, nor the doings of the men of ’98, nor the feelings of the natives against the settlers. With her began the Irish novel, but not the Irish political novel. Her contemporary, Lady Morgan (1783-1859), wrote Irish novels also, but no one ever reads them now, while Miss Edgeworth’s popularity is perennial.
Of a different temperament was Thomas Moore (1779-1852), the first great Anglo-Irish poet. It is true that he had had some few predecessors, among whom were Ned Lysaght, the poet of Grattan and the Volunteers, and William Drennan, the poet of the United Irishmen, but he owed nothing to any of them. A Catholic and in his youthful days a sympathizer with the men of the ’98 Rebellion, and with Irish national aspirations, his muse spread the name and fame of his native island throughout thousands upon thousands of those gilded drawing-rooms, where, before that, Irish aspirations or even the very name of Erin would have been met only by a scoff or perhaps by some still more emphatic disapproval. While rescuing the admirable ancient music of Ireland from oblivion he wedded it to the most melodious songs that the English language had yet produced, and he never shrank from insisting upon the national character both of his music and his verses, nor hesitated to depict the sad and oppressed state of his mother country. Who can say what considerable if indirect influence Moore’s verses must have exercised on the hearts of men, when it came, as it soon after did, to dealing with the gravest Irish problems in the House of Commons, including the emancipation of the Catholics. Just as Sir Walter Scott’s novels effected a profound change in the outlook of England upon Scotland, and of the Lowlanders upon the Highlanders, so Moore’s “Melodies” must have made hundreds of thousands of Englishmen and loyalists for the first time familiar with the wrongs, the aspirations, and the inner soul of Ireland. Not that Moore was in any sense a poet of the people; he was a poet rather of the cultured classes and of the drawing-room, and thus the very antithesis of Burns. It is safe to say that the Irish peasantry themselves never grasped his melodies as a popular possession or sang them commonly at their firesides. But with the cultured classes his vogue was enormous. Probably no poet ever lived whose lines penetrated into so many drawing-rooms alien in sympathy to himself and his ideals.
It has been of late years the custom on many sides to decry Moore. It is, however, hard to subscribe to almost any of the complaints. It is true that divorced to a certain extent from the life of the native Gael, and being ignorant of the national language, he takes war tunes and welds them to lovesongs and takes love songs and makes slogans of them. This is a real fault of commission; with regard to the other criticisms it is not always fair to judge a poet for faults of omission, or in other words for not being what nature did not make him. Above all it is hard to accuse of time-serving or of pusillanimity a poet who could imperil his popularity in England by such a vigorous melody as that in which he compares the oppression of Ireland to the captivity of the Jews and prophesies the destruction of her tyrant. A great deal of Moore’s success as a poet is due to the national music of Ireland to which his songs are wed, and lyrics such as “Avenging and Bright”, “The Minstrel Boy”, “Let Erin remember”, “When he who adores thee”, and “She is far from the land” have become almost embedded in the life of Ireland and part and parcel of the national mind.
Moore died in 1852, but long before his death there had sprung into being a distinctively Irish literature in the English language, inspired by Irish feelings and ideals, and looking not to an English but to an Irish public. The poets Callahan and Walsh were its precursors. The foundation by Davis, Dillon, and Duffy of the weekly paper “The Nation” in 1842 produced a profound effect all over Ireland, but the Young Ireland writers who then arose never attempted to reach the people through any other medium than English, although at this time Irish was still the familiar speech of about four millions. Of the poets of the Young Ireland movement two stand out pre-eminently, Thomas Davis (d. 1845) and Clarence Mangan (d. 1849). Davis sang, not so much because he was born with the divine afflatus, as because he deliberately set himself to act upon the soul of the people through the medium of poetry. In this he succeeded, for his vigorous political verse, ballads, and other national and patriotic songs, thrown off in haste and not always polished, though generally powerful, exercised a profound effect upon Ireland. Mangan on the other hand, though a Young Irelander by conviction, shrank from the glare and blare of political movements, and led a lonely life, consumed by the fire of his own thoughts. Though the effect of his poems upon the people was far less than that of Davis, he, when at his best, as in his “Dark Rosaleen”, attained to heights which would have been impossible to the other. By far the greatest prose writer of the Young Ireland movement was that ardent rebel against English rule, John Mitchel (1815-1872), of whom it is safe to say that no man born in Ireland, Swift alone excepted, ever made such powerful use of the English tongue as a medium for thought, instruction, and invective. His powers of sardonic scorn and indignation are very Swiftian, and his “Last Conquest of Ireland (perhaps) “is one of the most scathing political works ever written, while his “Jail Journal” gives a good idea of the man himself.
At this time also appeared a group of novelists whose works have never ceased to be popular for nearly two generations. Of these the most remarkable was Carleton (1794-1859), who understood the peasantry and depicted their feelings in a way that no one else has ever done. In books like “Fardorougha the Miser”, the “Black Prophet”, and “Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry”, he portrays not so much the life as the passions of the people with vividness and power. Samuel Lover (1797-1868), on the other hand, and John Banim (1798-1844), were the novelists of the bourgeois class, and Charles Lever (1797-1868) and perhaps W. H. Maxwell, of the rollicking, sporting, jovial gentry, whose day of doom was even then approaching, though they knew it not. The gentle and retiring Gerald Griffin, a poet also, gave Ireland at least one novel of supreme excellence in the “Colleen Bawn”, and Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) left behind him some very weird stories, the excellent ballad “Shamus O’Brien”, and a capital novel of eighteenth century life in Ireland, “The House by the Churchyard”. On the whole it may be said of the Young Ireland movement that it, more than any other movement either before or after it, worked by and through letters; but strong political passions do not make for a true and abiding literature; and the vigorous ballads and political verses of Davis, Gavan Duffy (q.v.), and D’Arcy McGee and their group seem to us today to contain but little originality. After the great famine, and the dispersion of the Young Irish group, Ireland lay exhausted and listless until the Fenian movement stirred her into activity once more, in the sixties. But this movement passed off without great influence upon literature. Charles Kickham whose peasant ballad s are admirable and whose novel of “Knocknagow” is still widely read, was almost the only literary Fenian of any note. Then came the Land War and the Parnell movement, but it too produced no literary output of any consequence. The ballads and poems of Timothy D. Sullivan are probably the most popular and enduring of these writings.
Through all these periods of storm and stress, but almost wholly untouched by them so far as their art went, lived Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810-1886), the first and greatest poet to draw extensive inspiration from Ireland‘s Gaelic past, William Allingham (1824-1889), a graceful singer of the fairies, and Aubrey De Vere (1814-1902), the friend of Tennyson, and at once the most productive and the most essentially Catholic poet ever born in Ireland. Of these names Ferguson’s is the greatest. A scholar, an antiquary, and a successful man of the world he gave Ireland her best epic poems in his “Conary” and his “Congal”, while his translations from the Irish language have seldom been excelled. Dowden characterizes him as “the only epic poet of the Victorian age”, and Stopford Brooke as “the first and perhaps the best of all who have striven to bring into recognition, light, and beauty the Ancient Sagas and tales of Ireland“.
Taking as a whole the popular English poetry of Ireland, as produced from the close of the eighteenth till the last decade of the nineteenth century, we find it replete with notes and themes that would be practically unrepresented in English literature were it not for Ireland. Through a vast proportion of this poetry flame the lightnings of rebellion. To this is frequently joined a devoted Catholicism; for though the worst of the Ascendancy was over, and the blood-hounds were no longer taught, in the phrase of Thomas Davis, “alike to run upon the scent of wolf and friar”, still the memory of those days remained, and continued to color men’s passions and their poetry. Almost all of it is shot through with insistent national aspirations. Then we have the poetry of exile, which fills so dreadful a space in every Irish anthology, the wail of the emigrant, the cry of the coffin ship, the poetry of misery—the misery not of units but of a whole country—for as Stopford Brooke has well put it, “Ireland has added to English literature this poetry of the Sword, the Famine and the pestilence” (preface to the “Treasury of Irish Poetry”).
The early English verses of the Irish peasant himself, as distinguished from the poets of education, were made upon the models of his native songs, and consisted principally of word-rhyming. Unhappily no collection has been made of these pieces which are of great interest, for their manner rather than for their matter.
The last decade of the nineteenth century ushered in a fresh era for English-Irish poetry. A new band of poets made their appearance who sacrificed less to passion and more to craftsmanship. The Gaelic movement, unlike the upheavals that went before it, has created an atmosphere which is more favorable to poetry than the reverse, and many of these poets have written under its influence. Others of them, however, as Stopford Brooke writes in the preface to his and Rolleston’s anthology, “have been so deeply influenced by Wordsworth, Keats, and in part by Shelley, that even when they write on Irish subjects the airs of England breathe and the waters of England ripple in their poetry”. Of all these new writers there is an almost universal consensus of opinion that the greatest is William Butler Yeats. He has in his art applied the most refined technique to a subject-matter drawn alternately from things symbolic and mystic, or from nature in its simplest moods, or again from the old Irish sagas and folklore, which he visualizes from his own standpoint. Mysticism is also the prevailing note of George Russell (“A. E.”), painter, poet, and editor. On the other hand religion and simple faith are the distinguishing characteristics of Katherine Tynan Hinkson. Ardent love of country and depth of feeling mark the works of Anna MacManus (“Ethna Carbery”). Almost all the poets of the last fifteen years draw their inspiration more or less from Ireland and things Gaelic.
The greatest Irish historian of the last half century has been beyond all question W. E. Hartpole Lecky (1838-1903). His earliest writings were colored by a strong nationalism; this, however, gradually departed from him. Of the seventeen volumes of his “History of England” in the eighteenth century, five are given up to the history of Ireland during the same period, and these are written with an admirable impartiality which makes them a valuable and necessary antidote to the biased pictures of Froude. After Lecky’s works Alexander Richey’s (1830-1883) “Lectures on Irish History” present us with what are probably the soundest and most philosophic studies that have appeared on this subject. Another book which has produced a deep effect upon the country and upon the current of historic thought has been Alice Stopford Green’s “Making of Ireland and its Undoing” which appeared in 1908. A.M. Sullivan’s “Story of Ireland and P. W. Joyce’s “Social History of Ireland” are two popular and useful works.
We must now turn to Anglo-Irish drama. The Irish have always been a dramatic race, and also a race of born actors. Beginning with Lodowick Barry, an Irishman whose play of “Ram Alley” was actually written during Shakespeare’s life, Ireland has given to England an entirely disproportionate number of her best dramatists and actors. It is necessary only to mention the names of Southern, Macklin, Farquhar Steele, Goldsmith, Sheridan, O’Keefe, Kenney—and so on through Sheridan Knowles, Dion Boucicault and the two operatic composers, Michael Balfe and William Vincent Wallace, down to Bernard Shaw, to show how deeply this branch of English literature is beholden to Irishmen. Now again a vigorous Anglo-Irish drama is in full swing, and the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the direction of Lady Gregory and Mr. Yeats, where some forty-nine or fifty new plays by Irish writers have recently been produced, has aroused a great deal of interest and is undoubtedly the most remarkable development of Irish literature at the present day.
In romance Ireland seems at present to fall far short of the palmy days of Carleton and Lever, Le Fanu and Lover, Banim and Gerald Griffin. Of romance proper, Standish O’Grady, to whose stimulating books dealing with Gaelic Ireland a host of younger men owe inspiration, is the leading representative. One of the best Irish novel-writers of the day is Canon Sheehan of Doneraile, who has struck a new note in literature by his brilliant and sympathetic descriptions of clerical life inside the Catholic Church. Other well-known and widely-read authors are Jane Barlow, Lady R. M. Gilbert, Rev. James Hannay, Emily Lawless, the poet of the “Wild Geese”, Katherine Tynan Hinkson, and Shan Bullock. Nor can we close this article without some allusion to the translators of and adapters from the Irish, of whom two stand out preeminently, Lady Gregory in prose and Dr. Sigerson in verse. The one has popularized the ancient Irish sagas, and the other, in his “Bards of the Gael and Gall”, has given us in English verse a long vista of Irish poetry reaching back for some fourteen hundred years and lost in the dim twilight of bygone ages. Of memoirs and autobiographical works the most remarkable are Swift’s “Journal to Stella”, Wolfe Tone’s “Diary”, the “Memoirs of Joseph Holt”, a leader of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Carleton’s “Autobiography” (1896), Miles Byrne’s “Memoirs” (he was another ’98 man), and the remarkable series of letters, mostly unpublished, written by John O’Donovan on his official investigations into Irish topography—perhaps one of the most extensive collections of official letters in the world.