ON THE ANCIENT RACES OF IRELAND (7)

Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

By Lady Francesca Wilde

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The great raths of Ireland, where the people enclosed their cattle by night, have been erroneously termed "Danish forts," but when the shannaghees are pressed for further information as to the date of their erection they say, "They were made by them ould Danes that came over with Julius Caesar." If, however, inquiry be made of the old illiterate Irish-speaking population, they will tell you that they were made by "the good people," and are inhabited by the fairies. Hence the, veneration that has in a great measure tended to their preservation; and I have no doubt that the ancient indigenous and venerated thorns that still decorate their slopes or summits are the veritable descendants of the quickset hedges that helped to form the breastworks, or staked defences, on their summits.

These forts are almost invariably to be found in the fattest pastures; so that if any of my friends were in the present day to ask me where they could best invest in land, I would fearlessly answer, "Wherever you find most ancient raths remaining;" and I know that many of our cattle prizes have been carried off by sheep and oxen fed upon the grass lands cleared and fertilized by the early Celts more than a thousand years ago, and a sod of which has not been turned for centuries. They were not originally the gentle slopes that now diversify the surface, but consisted in steep ramparts or earthworks, with an external ditch, on which a stout paling was erected against man or beast, a form of structure still seen in the kraal of the New Zealander. The Irish rath-maker was an artificer of skill, and held in high esteem, and occupied a dignified position at the great feasts of Tara—second only to the ollamh and the physician. That the soil of which they were constructed had been not only originally rich, but had been subjected to roan's industry, is proved by the fact that it is cow frequently turned out upon the neighbouring sward as one of the best of manures. Within these raths, some of which had double, and even treble entrenchments, were erected the dwellings of the people and their chiefs, the latter of whom were often interred within the mounds, or beneath the cromlechs that still exist in their interior, as, for example, in the "Giant's Ring," near Belfast. In some instances they also contained in their sides and centres stone caves, that were probably used as store-houses, granaries, or places of security.

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