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In the Anglo-Saxon poem, commemorative of the battle of Brunanburh, there occur some verses which have been, rather too sanguinely, interpreted as containing a eulogium upon the character of the Irish people; whereas, so hopelessly vague and obscure are the structure and language of these verses, that they leave full scope for every possible variety of conjecture as to their meaning; and the opinion given of them long since by the poet Milton,* ought to have deterred all such rash attempts to sound their fathomless obscurity. As the supposed eulogy, however, upon the Irish, which has been conjured up out of them, is at least not undeserved, the passage, as rendered according to this view, may here be cited. After stating that Constantine left his own son on the field of battle, the poet is made to say that “neither was there aught for the yellow-haired race, the bold in battle, and the ancient in genius, to glory in; nor had Olaf, and the remains of the army, any reason to boast. . The sad remainder, in the resounding sea, passed over the depths of the waves to Dublin."t
In about seven years after his defeat on the field of Brunanburh, the gallant Anlaf, finding the course for his daring ambition again thrown open by the death of Athelstan, renewed his pretensions to the Northumbrian throne; and, having been invited over from Ireland with that view, was appointed by the people of Northumbria their sove. reign. Among the numerous errors occasioned by so many Danish princes bearing the name of Anlaf, may be reckoned the opinion entertained by some writers, that the brave competitor of Athelstan and of Edmund, just mentioned, was the same Anlaf whose name is found on an ancient Irish coin accompanied by a figure of the cross, denoting that the king, by whose orders this coin had been struck, wus a Christian. For this supposition, however, there appears not to be any foundation; as it was not till near seven years after the death of Anlaf of Brunanburh that the Danes of Dublin, to use the language of our annals, “received the faith of Christ and were baptized.” The coin in question, therefore, must have belonged to the reign of a later prince of the same name.
It was about the year 948 that the conversion of the Danes of Dublin to the Christian faith is, in general, supposed to have taken place. The Northmen of that city were, it is supposed, the first of their nation in Ireland who, in any great numbers, embraced the doctrines of the Gospel; but so little change did this conversion work in their general character,ll that, were there not an express record of the fact, it would not be easy for a reader of their history to discover thai they were not still immersed in all the darkness of heathenism. One early proof of religious zeal they indeed afforded, if it be true, as some historians state, that the celebrated abbey of St. Mary was founded by them in the neighbourhood of Dublin this very year. I
Prosperous as appeared to be, in many respects, the affairs of the Irish Danes at this crisis, and vast as was the command of resources wbich their possession of all the chief sea ports gave them, it is clear that the tenure of their power, bowever great its extent, was never for a single day certain or undisturbed. The indefatigable activity and bravery of the Irish people left not a moment of repose or security to their invaders; and though but too often, at the call of cupidity or revenge, the ever ready sword was drawn on the side of the foreigners,—though there were even found, as in the case of the Leinster men, large bodies of the natives almost habitually traitors, it is evident that the great mass of the population never ceased to resist, that they were strong in revenge and hatred against their oppressors, and wanted but one combined and vigorous effort to rid themselves of the yoke.
"To describe which (battle) the Saxon annalist (who is wont to be sober and succinct) whether the same or another writer, now labouring under the weight of his arguineni, and overcharged, runs on a ondden into such extravagant fancies and inetaphors as bear him quite beside the scope of being understood.”—Milton, History of Britain.
† The reader needs but to turn to the different versions of this passage by Gihson, Ingram. Turner, and Price, to perceive how utterly hopeless is the attempt to arrive at its real meaning; and of how little worth is the coinpliment to the Irish that has been extorted from it. He will find that the yellow-haired youth," or " nation," which figures so poetically in the version of three of these interpreters, is, in that of the fourth, transformed into a "grizzly.headed old deceiver."
If the Celtic tongue as above intimated, be open to the charge of vagueness and want of precision, what is to be said of this speciinen of the Gothic ?
1 For an account of this silver coin, see Ware's Antiquities, ch. xrxii., and Simon's Essay on Irish Coins. The whole subject of the coins supposed to have been struck in Ireland about this period, is beset with difficully and obscurity; but, in the writers just quoted. in Bishop Nicholson's Historical Library, ch. viii., and in Kedar's " Nummorum in Hibernia Cusorum, &c.:" a work compiled chiefly from the foregoing, the reader will find all that is known and conjectured on the subject. See also a nole by Dr. O'Connor, on the Ulster Annals, ad an. 937. and Dr. Lanigan, ch. xxii, note 138.
Ware, Antig chap. xxiv. ad ann. 948. i The insincerity of the conversion of the Danes of England is thus strongly represented by the author of the History of the Descent of the Normans:-" Plusieurs prirent, moyennani quelques concessions de terre. le titre et l'emploi de defenseurs perpétuels des églises qui' eux mémes avoieni brulées ; d'auires revêtireni l'habit de prêtres, et conservoient sous cel habit le fouge et la dureté d'âme des brigands de mer."
1 Ware, in loc. citat. Lanigan, chap. xxii. § 12 Archdall, Monastic. Hibern. at Dublin. See for the churches dedicated by them to their own saints, St. Olave, St. Michan, &c., Mr. W. M Mason's History of St. Patrick's Cathedral,
To go through all the monotonous details of battles and scenes of pillage which form the staple of the Irish records for this century, would be to render these pages like a confused and deathful dream. All those monasteries and religious establishments, which have already been enumerated, as furnishing victims for the Northmen's rage, were again and again visited, during this period, by the still refreshed spirit of cruelty and rapine. The venerable church of Columnba, ai Kells, the cells of the religious upon the islets of Lough Ree, the sacred edifices of Armagh,* the school of Clonard, renowned for its learning through Europe, and the ancient abbey of Down, the hallowed resliny.place of the remains of St. Patrick, -all these memorable and holy structures were, at different times, during this century, and in various forins of violation, profaned and laid desolate.t Therich shrines of Kildare, so frequently before an object of iheir cupidity, were broken and plundered by these spoilers on the very day sacred to the virgin saint. Even after the Danes themselves had professed to embrace Christianity, they did not the less deseo crate and destroy its venerable temples; and, in an attack made by them upon Slane, in the year 950, when they set fire to the church of that ancient place, a number of per: sons who were at the time assembled in the belfry, among whom was Probus, the histo. rian of St. Patrick, perished miserably in the flames.
It has been observed of the Dancs of England, that had they, at the commencement of this century, united the whole of their force under one supreme head, they would have been probably more than a match for the whole power of Edward; and doubtless the same im politic system of dividing their strength among a number of equal and independent chieftains, which so long delayed their complete conquest of England, was the cause likewise of their ultimate failure in Ireland. For, minute as was in this latter country the subdivision of sovereignty, a yet more multiple form of royally was adopted by the nations of the north; where, in the times preceding the cighth century, there existed in Norway itself no less than twelve kingdoms; and the small territory around Upsal was under the rule of nineteen different kings. I
This enfeebling partition of the kingly power continued to be the system adopted by the Northmen in Ireland; and the weakening effects of such a policy were the more felt, from the detached districts they severally occupied, which rendered it still more difficult for them to act with specd and decision in concert. While in England, too, the original affinity between their language,s and that of the Saxons afforded to the invaders such means of intercourse as greatly facilitated their progress and settlement in the country, the Danes in Ireland were, on the contrary, encountered by a language wholly and essentially different froin their own, and forming in itself a complete wall of separa. tion between them and the great mass of the natives. When such and so serious were the disadvantages under which they laboured, and boldly, constantly as every step of their way was contested, it is evident that nothing but a want of unity anong the Irish themselves, from the divided nature of their government, the feuds and jealousies among the people, and, too often, the treachery of their princes, could have delayed so long the utter expulsion of the foreign intruder from out the land.
What the Irish wanted at this crisis was evidently the ascendancy of some one potent spiril, who, whether for his own aggrandizement, or froin some more lofty motives, would devotc ardently the entire energies of his mind to the task of arousing and uniting his fellow.countrymen, so as, by one grand and simultaneous effort, to rid the whole island of the pestilent presence of the foreigner.
It was hardly possible that iwo such ascendant and stirring spirits as the roydamna and the King of Cashel
, should continue to move through the saine sphere of action, and generally in adverse directions, without coming at last into collision; and the triumphant ease with which, in the encounter that ensued between them, Murkertach mastered his antagonist, presents one of those instances of what is called poetical justice, which occur
• In 921, when Godfred, King of the Danes of Dublin, attacked and plundered Armagh, he is said to have spared the Churches, the Colidei, or Culdees (who were the otficialing clergy of the cathedral,) and the sick. + See our Annals. passim. 1 " The Herverar Saya mentions that, at one period, there were twelve kingdoms in Norway."-Turner, Hist. Anglo Sar., book iij. c l." In Upsal, nineteen of these petty kingdoms are enumerated." - Ibid.!
§ Lingua Danorum Anglicanæ lnquclæ vicina est.-Script. Rer. Danic Saxons, ) originally kindred, were melted into each other; their ancestors were of the same race, and might
“The languages (of the Danes and have been neighbours in their original seats" - Mackintosh, Hist. of England, c. ii. CAB Cyc.
According to a late learned work, however, (Rask's Anglo-Saxon Grammar.) by which a new light appears to have been thrown upon this subject, the Anglo-Saxon deviates considerably from the Danish and other Scandinavian dialects. -Sce Preface.
but too rarely in real history. After a successful course of warfare in different parts of the kingdom, the particulars of which it is unnecessary to dwell upon, the Roydamna proceeded at the head of his troops, and attended by a select band of 1200
939. warriors* from his own principality, to gather the fruits of his late successes, in the shape of tribute and princely hostages from the conquered. The Danes of Dublin, in acknowledgment of submission, surrendered to him their prince, Şitric; while, from the Lagenians, he not only enforced tribute, but carried away with him as hostage their king, Lorcar. But it was in Munster that the proudest trophy of this triumphal progresst awaited him. Entering boldly into the very territories of his rival, Callachan, he required of the Momonians, no less as a pledge of future fealty than, as an atonement for past transgressions, that they should deliver up their king unconditionally into his hands. This humiliating demand was, after some hesitation and parley, complied with; and the fierce Callachan, led in bondage from his own dominions, was sent soon after by the triumphant Roydamna, with all his other captives and hostages, to the monarch. How long his state of caplivity lasted does not very clearly appear; but there occurs once only, after this date, any particular mention of him; and then, faithful to his old habits of intestine warfare, he is found gaining a sanguinary victory at Maighduine, or the Field of the Fortress, over Kennedy, the father of the celebrated Brian Boru.
Murkertach survived but a short time his proud and triumphal circuit throughout the island, and died, || as he had for the greater part of his manhood lived, in
43. fierce conflict with the Danes; leaving, as a poet of that day strongly expresses it, all bis countrymen orphans. I In the record of his death we find him described as warrior of the Saffron bue, ** and the hero of Western Europe."tt.
It is a fact both curious and instructive, as showing of what materials the idols of the multitude are most frequently fashioned, that while such, as we learn from authentic records, were the respective careers of these two warlike contemporaries, the fame of Callachan, as transmitted by tradition, has far outrun that of his patriotic rival; and that even some modern Irish historians, by whom Murkertach is barely mentioned, have devoted whole pages to the narration of a wild and imaginary adventure related of the King of Cashel.If For this flimsy tale of romance there exist no grounds whatever in our annals; and the whole fable was probably the invention of some of those poet-historians, or scanachies, of the Eugenian princes, who sought to do honour to their royal masters by embalming in fiction the memory of a chieftain of their race. selection, however, of Callachan's name, as a theme for fable, shows that already he stood high in popular fame, having been handed down by tradition as the favourite champion of a period when valour was the virtue most in request; and when it mattered little to the fame of the hero whether he fought on the wrong side or the right, so he but fought boldly and successfully, and with the due heroic disregard to life, as well his own as that of others.
After a reign comprising in its duration nearly a quarter of a century, this year saw another of those shadows of royalty, which occupied in succession the throne of Tara, pass undistinguished into oblivion. This monarch's name, it may be re
944. membered, was Donough; and the annalist, in recording his death, cites a dis. tich inscribed by a poet of the day to his memory, in which the general condition of the
iv. Mag. ad an. 939. + There is still extant a poem on this circuit of Markertach, said to have been written by a contemporary and friend of that prince, Corhmacan Eigeas, the chief poet of Ulster. The monarch, gratified, we are told, by Murkertach's loyally, in delivering to him all the hostages, returned them again into his hands, consider. ing hin their fittest guardian. “To commemorate this event, and the mighty deeds of his prince, Corbma. can wrote bis poem of 256 verses, beginning Oh Muirceartach, son of worthy Niall, who hasl received hostages from Falia's Isle.'"— Trans. Iberno-Celt. Society. Mr. O'Reilly adds, that" a copy of this poem is in the O'Clery's Book of Conquests, and in the pedigree or the once royal family of O'Niell, which is in the hands of the assistant secretary of the society."
Annal. Inisfall. ad an. 941. iv. Mag. ad an. 942. Annal. Uit. 943. (ipre com. 944.) iv. Mag. ad ap. 941. Annal. Ult. ad an. 942 (æræ com. 943.) [Verses quoted by the Four Masters, in loc.
** The use of this colour in their garments continued to be a favourite fashion with the Irish down to so late a period as the time of Henry VIII., when it was, like all other things Irish, rendered punishable by law; and there is a statute of that reign, forbidding any one to " usp or wear any shirt, smocke, kerchor. bendol, neckerchour, mockel, or linnen cappe, coloured or dyed with saffron." See, for some amusing remarks upon this statute, Ledwich's Antiquities of the ancient Irish Dress." Campion, who wrote his account of Ire. land in the sixteenth century, says, " They have now len their saffron, and learne to wash their shirts four or five times in a yeare."
1 The Hector of Western Europe," as it is in the original of both the annalists above cited, - Ectoir tar. lair Eorpa. According to Dr. O'Connor, however, Ectoir is a very ancient Irish word, signifying hero, and compounded, as he rather too fancifully supposes, of Eachl, an achievement, and Oir, golden, or splendid.
di On this farrago of fiction Keating has bestowed no less than ten or eleven of his folio pages, while Dr. Warner has filled fourteen of his quarto pages with a verbosc dilution of the same traeh.
country is thus lamentably, and, we must believe, truly depicted. “ Without law to guide her, with rulers treacherous, false, and factious, the realm of Erin hath sunk into darkness. ***
Donough was succeeded in the supreme throne by a prince named Congelach, who, but a few months before his accession, had acquired considerable renown by a gallant attack on the city of Dublin, in which, being aided by the rare alliance of the people of Leinster, he reduced that city to a state of ruin and desolation, on which some of the annalists are not unpleased to dwell,t describing the burning of its ships and ramparts, the flower of its warriors laid in the dust, and the blooming youths and venerable matrons all led away in chains. The repeated attacks, indeed, made by the natives upon Dublin, who was again retaken from them as often as they possessed themselves of it, showed with what obstinacy the work of warfare was carried on, and by how little else the attention of either party could have been occupied. In the course of the very next year, Blacar, the Danish king, returning with fresh supplies of force, retook the city. The same alternations of success and reverse were exhibited some few years after, when Godfred, the son of Sitric, having been forced, with the loss, enormous for those times, of no less than 6000 men, to surrender and fly from Dublin, was enabled in like manncr, in the course of the following year, to recover his dominions. I
Early Life of Brian Boru.-Ilis first Battles under his Brother Mahon.-Defcat.-Victory at
Sulchoid.- Murder of Mahon.-Accession of Brian to the Throne of Munster.-Attacks and Defeats the Murderers of his Brother.—Death of the Monarch Congelach.-Domnal, his Successor.—Charter of the English King, Edgar, a Forgery.-Power of the Kingdom of Munster.- Increased considerably under Brian.-Accession of the Monarch Malachy.Gains a great Victory over the Danes.- Defeat of the People of Leinster by Brian.-Grow. ing Jealousy between this Prince and the Monarch.-Irruption of the laiter into Brian's principality.-Cuts down the Sacred Tree of the Dalcassians.- Invades and lays waste Leinster.-An army marched against him by Brian.-Convention between the two Kings.Joint Victories over the Danes.-Renewal of their mutual hostilities.—Brian invades the Territory of the Monarch.
How far the heroic Murkertach, had he lived to attain the supreme sovereignty, was likely to have succeeded in delivering his country from the foreigner, the imperfect outline we have of his character renders it vain to attempt to speculate. But there had now appeared on the scene of strife a young and enterprising warrior, whose proud destiny it was, at a later period, to become the instrument of effecting this glorious work; and whose whole long life seems to have been a course of maturing preparation for the great achievement he succeeded in accomplishing at its close. This prince, to whose original name, Brian, was added afterwards the distinctive title of Boromh, or Boru, was one of the numerous sons of Kennedy, King of Munster ;)) and, at the time of the accession of his brother, Mahon, to the throne of that kingdom, was in his thirty-fourth year. Being by birth a Dalcassian, he had naturally been nursed up, from his earliest days, amidst all those traditional incitements to valour which the history of the chivalrous tribe afforded. Their proverbial character, as always “the first in the field, and the last to leave it," was in itself, as repeated proudly from father to son, a motive and pledge for the continued valour of the whole race. While yet a youth, his high reputation for soldiership had collected around him a number of young followers; with whom, posting himself at defiles and mountain passes, or lying in wait in the depths of the forest, he frequently intercepted the enemy in their plundering expeditions, or harassed and cut them off in their retreats.*
• IV. Mag. ad an. 942 (ær.com. 944.)
† Ibid. 1 IV. Mag. ad an. 948.
Š A surname given to him, according to (Balloran, M'Curtin, and others, in consequence of the tribute (Boroimhe signifying a tribute of cows and other cattle) which he exacted from the people of Leinster; but derived by others with more probability from the name of the town Borumh, wbich stood in the neighbour. hood of his palace of Kincora in the county of Clare. See O'Brien's Dictionary, in voce Borumha.
| There is extant a poem, attributed to Mac Liag, the secretary of Brian, giving an account of the "Twelve Sons of chaste Cinneide." (Kennedy)--- Trans. Iberno Celt. Society,
Upon the accession of his brother Mahon to the throne of Cashel, the constant and active career of warfare in which that intrepid prince engaged, furnished a practical school for the ripening of Brian's military talents, and by inuring him to service in a subordinate rank, rendered himn the more fit for the highest. At a memorable slaughter of the Danes, by Mahon, near Lake Gur, it is supposed that Brian, though not expressiy mentioned, may have been present; but the first important event connected with his name was an expedition led by Mahon beyond the Shannon, to the districts bordering on Lough Ree. There, by predatory incursions in various directions, they had succeeded in amassing considerable plunder; when Fergal O'Ruarc, with a large army of Conacians, pouring suddenly down upon them, the brother chiefs were compelled reluctantly, to retreat. Followed closely as far as the banks of the river Fairglin, they there stood at bay and engaged their pursuers. But Brian's good genius had not yet exempted him from all failure. Notwithstanding the valour of Mahon, and the intrepid bearing of the future hero of Clontarf, the Momonian troops were defeated; and Mahon, forced to swim across the river to save his life, was compelled ingloriously to leave his shield behind him.
But the victory at Sulchoid over the Danes of Limerick, achieved principally through Brian's skill in partisan warfare, first gave earnest of the successful struggle he was destined to wage against the oppressor. A strong body of cavalry, detached from the Danish force stationed at Sulchoid, f having advanced to reconnoitre the army of Mahon, a sudden attack was made upon them by Brian at the head of some squadron of light horse, and with such effect that one half of their number lay dead upon the spot.. The remainder ded in confusion, pursued by Brian, to the main body of the army encamped at Sulchoid. Thither Mahon also followed rapidly with the whole of
969. his forces; and a general engagement ensued disastrous to ihe Danes, of whom no less than 3000 were slaughtered on the spot. The remainder fled, in confused rout towards Limerick, pursued so closely and eagerly that the victors entered the city along with the vanquished, making prisoners of all whom they did not put to the sword; and then, having ransacked that rich city of all its gold and merchandise, they left it a mass of ruins and flames.
There were yet other triumphs, won by the two brothers in concert, on which it is unnecessary here to dwell. To the gallant Mahon, however, the constant success that attended him in all his enterprises proved in the end fatal. A mortified rival, named Maolmua, who, having failed against him in the field, was resolved to accomplish by treachery what he despaired of in fair battle, concerted a plan by which, under the pretence of an amicable meeting for the purpose of conference, he induced the unsuspecting Mahon to trust himself, with a few followers, in his power.ll Thus unguarded, the king was made prisoner by the traitorous Maolmua and his brother conspira. 976. tors; and being then hurried away by night to a solitary place in the mountains, was there basely murdered,
The great importance attached by the Irish, from the earliest periods of their history, to the names and sites of places connected with memorable events, is shown in the instance of the supposed locality of Mahon's murder, which appears to have been as anxiously inquired into as it is variously stated. While some authorities mention, as the scene of the crime, a mountain now called Sliabh-Caon, near Magh-Feine, or the Sacred Plain, and describe the very spot where it was committed as being near the Red Gap, or fissure, in the hill of Caon, there are others which state the murder to have occurred on
Vallancey (from Munster Annals,)-Law of Tanistry, &c. 7 IV. Mag. ad an. 961 (ær. com. 963.) Vallancey, whose guide is the Munster Annals, makes it 965. In the account here given of the result of this battle, I have followed the authority of the Four Masters, which appears to me far more trustworthy than that of the poem cited from the Munster Book by Vallancey, attri. buting all the victory and the glory to the Munster hero. On the incident of the shield, it is fair to add, the Four Masters are silent.
1. “Suichoid is frequently mentioned in subsequent ages and wars, even as far down as the last campaigns and revolutions that happened in this kingdom, as a noted post for the encampment of armies ; being situ. ated in a plain, which is guarded by heights on both sides, within one day's march of Limerick, and in the direct road from Dublin to that town by the way of Cashel."--Law of Tanistry.
s Annal. Inisfall. (God. Bodleian.) ad an. 951. The events in this series of the Inisfallen Annals are in general antedated by fifteen, sixteen, or even a still greater number of years.
Annal. Oll. ad an. 975 i Annal. Inisfall. ad an. 976. “In my copy of the Inisfallenses," says Vallancey, “ Bearna. Dearg, now Red-Chair, on the mountain which was then called Sliabh.Caoin, but now Sliabh-Riach, between the barony of Fermoy and the county of Limerick, is said to be the pass on which Maolmuadh and his brothers waited for the royal captive, and put him to death. But, as this place was inuch out of their direct road from Dona.