Senchus Mor

From Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894

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For an illustration of Irish Druidism, reference may be made to the translation, by Hancock and O'Mahoney, of the Senchus Mor. Some of the ideas developed in that Christian work were supposed traditional notions of earlier and Druidical times.

Thus, we learn that there were eight Winds: the colours of which were white and purple, pale grey and green, yellow and red, black and grey, speckled and dark, the dark brown and the pale. From the east blows the purple wind; from the south, the white; from the north, the black; from the west, the pale; the red and the yellow are between the white wind and the purple, &c. The thickness of the earth is measured by the space from the earth to the firmament. The seven divisions from the firmament to the earth are Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Sol, Luna, Venus. From the moon to the sun is 244 miles; but, from the firmament to the earth, 3024 miles. As the shell is about the egg, so is the firmament around the earth. The firmament is a mighty sheet of crystal. The twelve constellations represent the year, as the sun runs through one each month.

We are also informed that "Brigh Ambui was a female author of wisdom and prudence among the men of Erin—after her came Connla Cainbhrethach, chief doctor of Connaught. He excelled the men of Erin in wisdom, for he was filled with the grace of the Holy Ghost; he used to contend with the Druids, who said that it was they that made heaven and the earth and the sea—and the sun and moon," This Senchus Mor further stated that "when the judges deviated from the truth of Nature, there appeared blotches upon their cheeks."

It is not surprising that Dr. Richey, in his Short History of the Irish People, should write:—"As to what Druidism was, either in speculation or practice, we have very little information.—As far as we can conjecture, their religion must have consisted of tribal divinities and local rites. As to the Druids themselves, we have no distinct information." He is not astonished that "authors (from the reaction) are now found to deny the existence of Druids altogether." He admits that, at the reputed time of St. Patrick, the Druids "seem to be nothing more than the local priests or magicians attached to the several tribal chiefs,—perhaps not better than the medicine-men of the North-American Indians."

As that period was prior to the earliest assumed for the Welsh Taliesin, one is at a loss to account for the great difference between the two peoples, then so closely associated in intercourse.

The opinion of the able O'Beirne Crowe is thus expressed:—"After the introduction of our (Irish) irregular system of Druidism, which must have been about the second century of the Christian era, the filis (Bards) had to fall into something like the position of the British bards. —But let us examine our older compositions—pieces which have about them intrinsic marks of authenticity—and we shall be astonished to see what a delicate figure the Druid makes in them." On the supposition that Druidism had not time for development before the arrival of the Saint, he accounts for the easy conversion of Ireland to Christianity.

It is singular that Taliesin should mention the sun as being sent in a coracle from Cardigan Bay to Arkle, or Arklow, in Ireland. This leads Morien to note the "solar drama performed in the neighbourhood of Borth, Wales, and Arklow, Ireland."

Arthur Clive thought it not improbable that Ireland, and not Britain, as Caesar supposed, was the source of Gaulish Druidism. "Anglesey," says he, "would be the most natural site for the British Druidical College. This suspicion once raised, the parallel case of St. Colum Kille occupying Iona with his Irish monks and priests, when he went upon his missionary expedition to the Picts, occurs to the mind." Assuredly, Iona was a sacred place of the Druids, and hence the likeness of the Culdees to the older tenants of the Isle.

Clive believed the civilization of Ireland was not due to the Celt, but to the darker race before them. In Druidism he saw little of a Celtic character, "and that all of what was noble and good contained in the institution was in some way derived from Southern and Euskarian sources." May not the same be said of Wales? There, the true Welsh—those of the south and south-east—are certainly not the light Celt, but the dark Iberian, like to the darker Bretons and northern Spaniards.

Martin, who wrote his Western Islands in 1703, tells us that in his day every great family of the Western Islands kept a Druid priest, whose duty it was to foretell future events, and decide all causes, civil and ecclesiastical. Dr. Wise says, "In the Book of Deer we meet with Matadan, 'The Brehon,' as a witness in a particular case. The laws found in the legal code of the Irish people were administered by these Brehons. They were hereditary judges of the tribes, and had certain lands which were attached to the office. The successors of this important class are the Sheriffs of counties."

The learned John Toland, born in Londonderry, 1670, who was a genuine patriot in his day, believed in his country's Druids. In the Hebrides, also, he found harpers by profession, and evidence of ancient Greek visitants. In Dublin he observed the confidence in augury by ravens. He contended that when the Ancients spoke of Britain as Druidical, they included Ireland; for Ptolemy knew Erin as Little Britain. He recognized Druids' houses still standing, and the heathen practices remaining in his country.

"In Ireland," said he of the Druids, "they had the privilege of wearing six colours in their Breacans or robes, which are the striped Braceae of the Gauls, still worn by the Highlanders, whereas the king and queen might have in theirs but seven, lords and ladies five," &c. He had no doubts of their sun-worship, and of Abaris, the Druid friend of Pythagoras, being from his own quarters. While he thought the Greeks borrowed from the northern Druids, he admitted that both may have learned from the older Egyptians.

Rhys, as a wise and prudent man, is not willing to abandon the Druids because of the absurd and most positive announcements of enthusiastic advocates; since he says, "I for one am quite prepared to believe in a Druidic residue, after you have stripped all that is mediaeval and Biblical from the poems of Taliesin. The same with Merlin." And others will echo that sentiment in relation to Irish Druidism, notwithstanding the wild assumptions of some writers, and the cynical unbelief of others. After all eliminations, there is still a substantial residue.

One may learn a lesson from the story told of Tom Moore. When first shown old Irish MSS., he was much moved, and exclaimed, "These could not have been written by fools. I never knew anything about them before, and I had no right to have undertaken the History of Ireland."

An old Irish poem runs:—

"Seven years your right, under a flagstone in a quagmire,
Without food, without taste, but the thirst you ever torturing,
The law of the judges your lesson, and prayer your language;
And if you like to return
You will be, for a time, a Druid, perhaps."

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