ON THE ANCIENT RACES OF IRELAND (9)

Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

By Lady Francesca Wilde

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The next immigration we hear of in the "Annals" is that of the Tuatha-de-Dananns a large, fair-complexioned, and very remarkable race; warlike, energetic, progressive, skilled in metal work, musical, poetical, acquainted with the healing art, skilled in Druidism, and believed to be adepts in necromancy and magic, no doubt the result of the popular idea respecting their superior knowledge, especially in smelting and in the fabrication of tools, weapons, and ornaments. From these two races sprang the Fairy Mythology of Ireland.

It is strange that, considering the amount of annals and legends transmitted to us, we have so little knowledge of Druidism or Paganism in ancient Ireland. However, it may be accounted for in this wise: That those who took down the legends from the mouths of the bards and annalists, or those who subsequently transcribed them, were Christian missionaries whose object was to obliterate every vestige of the ancient forms of faith.

The Dananns spoke the same language as their predecessors, the Firbolgs. They met and fought for the sovereignty. The "man of metal" conquered and drove a great part of the others into the islands on the coast, where it is said the Firbolg race took their last stand. Eventually, however, under the influence of a power hostile to them both, these two people coalesced, and have to a large extent done so up to the present day. They are the true old Irish peasant and small farming class.

The Firbolg was a bagman, so called, according to Irish authorities, because he had to carry up clay in earthen bags to those terraces in Greece now vine-clad. As regards the other race there is more difficulty in the name. Tuath or Tuatha means a tribe or tribe-district in Irish. Danann certainly sounds very Grecian; and if we consider their remains, we find the long, bronze, leaf-shaped sword, so abundant in Ireland, identical with weapons of the same class found in Attica and other parts of Greece.

Then, on the other hand, their physiognomy, their fair or reddish hair, their size, and other circumstances, incline one to believe that they came down from Scandinavian regions after they had passed up as far as they thought advisable into Northwestern Europe. If the word Dane was known at the time of their arrival here, it would account for the designation of many of our Irish monuments as applied by Molyneux and others. Undoubtedly the Danann tribes presented Scandinavian features, but did not bring anything but Grecian art. After the "Stone period," so called, of which Denmark and the south of Sweden offer such rich remains, I look upon the great bulk of the metal work of the North, especially in the swords in the Copenhagen and Stockholm Museums, as Asiatic; while Ireland possesses not only the; largest native collection of metal weapon-tools, usually denominated "celts," of any country in the world, but the second largest amount of swords and battle-axes. And moreover these, and all our other metal articles, show a well-defined rise and development from the simplest and rudest form in size and use to that of the most elaborately constructed and the most beautifully adorned.

I believe that these Tuatha-de-Dananns, no matter from whence they came, were, in addition to their other acquirements, great masons, although not acquainted with the value of cementing materials. I think they were the builders of the great stone Cahirs, Duns, Cashels, and Caves in Ireland; while their predecessors constructed the earthen works, the raths, circles, and forts that diversify the fields of Erin. The Dananns anticipated Shakespeare's grave-digger, for they certainly made the most lasting sepulchral monuments that exist in Ireland, such, for example, as New Grange, Douth, Knowth, and Slieve-na-Calleagh and other great cemeteries. Within the interior and around these tombs were carved, on unhewn stones, certain archaic markings, spires, volutes, convolutes, lozenge-shaped devices, straight, zigzag, and curved lines, and incised indentations, and a variety of other insignia, which, although not expressing language, were symbolical, and had an occult meaning known only to the initiated. These markings, as well as those upon the urns, were copied in the decorations of the gold and bronze work of a somewhat subsequent period. The Dananns conquered the inferior tribes in two celebrated pitched battles, those of the Northern and Southern Moytura. On these fields we still find the caves, the stone circles, the monoliths, and dolmans or cromlechs that marked particular events, and the immense cairns that were raised in honour of the fallen chieftains.

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