Ossianic Literature

From Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894

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Ossianic literature had a higher opinion of the Bards; as, "Such were the words of the Bards in the days of the Song; when the King heard the music of harps and the tales of other times. The chiefs gathered from all their hills, and heard the lovely sound. They praised the voice of Cona, the first among a thousand bards." Again, "Sit thou on the heath, O Bard! and let us hear thy voice. It is pleasant as the gale of the spring, that sighs on the hunter's ear, when he wakens from dreams of joy, and has heard the music of the spirits of the hill.—The music of Cardil was like the memory of joys that are past, pleasant, and mournful to the soul. The ghosts of departed Bards heard it." "My life," exclaimed Fingal, "shall be one stream of light to Bards of other times." Cathmor cried, "Loose the Bards. Their voice shall be heard in other ages, when the Kings of Temora have failed."

Keating, amusingly credulous as an Irish historian, records with gravity the story of an ancient militia, numbering nine thousand in time of peace, who had both serjeants and colonels. Into the ranks of these Fine Eirion no one was admitted unless proved to be a poetical genius, well acquainted with the twelve books of poetry.

The Dinn Seanchas has poems by the Irish Bard of the second century, Finin Mac Luchna; and it asserts that "the people deemed each other's voices sweeter than the warblings of the melodious harp." On Toland's authority we learn that, for a long time after the English Conquest, the judges, Bards, physicians, and harpers held land tenures in Ireland. The O'Duvegans were hereditary Bards of the O'Kellies; the O'Shiels were hereditary doctors; the O'Brodins, hereditary antiquaries; the Maglanchys, hereditary judges. The Bards were Strabo's hymn-makers.

Mrs. Bryant felt that "The Isle of Song was soon to become the Isle of Saints;" and considered "Ireland of the Bards knew its Druids simply as men skilled in all magical arts, having no marked relation either to a system of theology, or to a scheme of ceremonial practice."

The Brehon Law gives little information respecting Druids, though the Brehons were assumed to have been originally Druid judges. St. Patrick has the credit of compiling this record.

These Brehons had a high reputation for justice; and yet it is confessed that when one was tempted to pass a false sentence, his chain of office would immediately tighten round his neck most uncomfortably as a warning. Of the Brehons, it is said by the editors—O'Mahony and Richey—"The learning of the Brehons became as useless to the public as the most fantastic discussions of the Schoolmen, and the whole system crystallized into a form which rendered social progress impossible." Though those old Irish laws were so oppressive to the common people, and so favourable to the hereditary chiefs, it was hard indeed to get the people to relinquish them for English laws.

In 1522, English law existed in only four of the Irish counties; and Brehons and Ollamhs (teachers) were known to the end of the seventeeth century. The founding of the book of Brehon Law is thus explained:—"And when the men of Erin heard—all the power of Patrick since his arrival in Erin—they bowed themselves down in obedience to the will of God and Patrick. It was then that all the professors of the sciences (Druids) in Erin were assembled, and each of them exhibited his art before Patrick, in the presence of every chief in Erin.—What did not clash with the Word of God in the written law, and in the New Testament, and with the consciences of the believers, was confirmed in the laws of the Brehons by Patrick, and by the ecclesiastics and the chieftains of Erin."

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